************ Sermon on Revelation 18:1-20 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on August 23, 2009
Revelation 18:1 - 19:8
Revelation 17 ended with the death of the woman, the great prostitute, called Babylon the Great. She represents fallen human culture – the political, economic, military, religious, social, educational, and scientific realms – that seeks to seduce people away from God and Christ and the Gospel.
Now, what usually happens after a death? Isn't there a funeral? Isn't there a time of mourning and wailing and weeping? I want you to think of Revelation 18 as Babylon's funeral. And, who are the participants? This time, we see and hear a glorious angel and we hear a voice. Next time, we will see and hear a mighty angel as he throws a millstone into the sea, and we will hear a jubilant rejoicing crowd composed of a great multitude and the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures.
So, in front of us this morning is the first part of Babylon's funeral. As we look at this funeral, we learn something about Babylon, we learn something about ourselves, and we learn something about the world.
I The Fall of Babylon
A First of all, we learn something about Babylon. Let's start with verse 1:
(Rev 18:1) After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor."Another angel" – which presupposes a prior angel or angels – namely, the seven angels with the seven bowls of God's wrath. This angel has great authority – which means that what he says is very important and must be listened to. The importance of his message is emphasized by his glorious and splendorous appearance. In the Revelation, the word for splendor or glory – prior to this – has always been applied to God and Jesus. So, this is God's glory that the angel has; he comes from heaven and the presence of God and the Lamb. The point? We need to see the contrast between the glory of the angel and the darkness of Babylon; in other words, even an angel is greater than Babylon. Or, to put it another way, the fall of Babylon reveals the glory of God.
B Listen to the angel's pronouncement about Babylon. Now, as an aside, let me tell you that much of what we see and hear in Babylon's funeral service comes from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. What this first angel says comes from Isaiah 21. Why does John borrow from the prophets? Why doesn't he come up with something original? John has a reason, of course. He wants to tell his audience that what God has done in the past – at the time of the prophets – is the same thing God is doing in the present and the future. So, what did God do in the past? Listen to how Isaiah puts it:
(Is 21:9) Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!As you know, Babylon was destroyed; it became a barren wasteland. So, what is God doing in the present and the future? The same thing:
(Rev 18:2) Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.Again, Babylon has fallen and has become a barren wasteland.
Notice the repetition. Two times, Isaiah announces "Babylon has fallen, has fallen." Two times, the angel announces "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!" Why the repetition? Is John a deaf old man? Didn't John hear the first time? No. This is John's way of emphasizing the surety of God's judgment upon Babylon – who, remember, represents fallen human culture – that is in opposition to God and Christ and the Gospel.
"Fallen! Fallen!" Destroyed. Uninhabitable. Forsaken. A wasteland. Gone back to dust and weeds. A ghost town.
C I want you to notice how quickly Babylon falls, how quickly she becomes a ghost town. "One hour." That is repeated by the kings (Rev 18:10), by the merchants (Rev 18:17), and by the sea captains (Rev 18:19). One hour. The smallest unit of time measured by the Ancient World. In other words, Babylon's fall is quick. From a distance, Babylon looks invincible, almighty, a queen who will never mourn (Rev 18:7). But in reality, she is like a vapor or like a fog – one minute she is there and the next she is gone. Which shows us and tells us how much God hates Babylon's sin.
D Why such severe judgment? Notice how verse 3 starts? "For ..." Here is the reason. Here is the why.
(Rev 18:3) For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.Babylon did not sin alone. Babylon shared her sin with others: the nations, the kings, the merchants. Babylon's corrupting influence was widespread, universal, comprehensive.
Do you remember Babylon's sin? We looked at that sin when we looked at the Great Prostitute of Revelation 17. Babylon's sin was idolatry. The idolatry of materialism, of wealth, of riches, of economic prosperity. The idol of more, more, more; the idol of money, money, money; the idol of consume, consume, consume. Babylon – who represents fallen human culture – used the idolatry of wealth and riches and prosperity to seduce people away from God and Christ and the Gospel. Kings and merchants and sea captains made an idol of Babylon because of the riches she brought them.
Remember how this idolatry challenged the churches of Asia Minor during the time of the Roman Empire? To do business, to practice a trade, to buy and sell, you had to be part of a trade guild. Unfortunately, to be part of the trade guild meant participating in pagan worship – which included meat offered to idols and sexual perversions. Two of the churches – Pergamum and Thyatira – had members who actually taught it was okay to go along with this; after all, you had to feed your children, look after your wife, and support the church. How could you do any of this if you could not work? How could you do any of this if you were not part of a trade guild?
Let me be perfectly clear about this: Babylon's sin was not wealth; rather, Babylon's sin was the pursuit of wealth so that it became an object of worship, security, and trust. Babylon's sin was wealth as a substitute for God. Babylon's sin was belief in wealth's beguiling promises: I will take care of you; I will look after you; I will provide you with joy, happiness, contentment, meaning, satisfaction, health, security.
So, the funeral message of the first angel: Babylon has fallen because of her sin, her idolatry, her materialism, her opposition to God and Christ and the Gospel.
II Come Out of Her, My People
A Second, we learn something about ourselves in this funeral. This part of the funeral is dominated by "another voice from heaven" (Rev 18:4). The voice is "from heaven." But whose voice? It cannot be God's voice, because God is mentioned in the third person in verse 5. It cannot be an angel, because no angel has the right to address the church as "my people" (Rev 18:4). The voice from heaven can only be the voice of Jesus Himself.
B Who is Jesus speaking to? He speaks to "my people" (Rev 18:4). Not people in heaven. People on earth. People living in Babylonish captivity. People who, though they believe in Jesus, are tempted to compromise just a bit so life would be more bearable. In other words, Christians just like you and me.
C What does Jesus say? "Come out of her, my people ..." (Rev 18:4). Come out of who? Come out of Babylon. Babylon looks so attractive. Babylon looks so alluring. Remember how the woman who is Babylon dressed herself in Revelation 17?
(Rev 17:4) The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries.She was dressed as a prostitute. She looked glamorous on the outside but inside she was disgusting.
Permit me an observation. None of us are beyond the reach of Babylon's temptations, are we? Perhaps it isn't purple and scarlet, gold and precious stones and pearls, that attract us today. But let me translate this into today's language:
She was dressed in credit cards, debit cards, cash advances, lines of credit, and mortgages. In her hand she held a 52" flat panel TV, a Toshiba laptop, the key to a brand new pickup or latest SUV, an IPhone, and an Ipod.Is there anything wrong with any of these things? Of course not – unless, unless you turn them into an idol; unless you look to them for security, happiness, and meaning; unless you let them take God's place.
D Why are we told to come out of her? What makes this so crucial and so important? Listen to what Jesus says:
(Rev 18:4) Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues ...There is a sequence here. Step one – I am part of Babylon. Step two – I share in her sins. Step three – I receive her punishment.
"Come out of her, my people." Why? Because materialism, worldliness, the pursuit and love of wealth, is a sin – the sin of idolatry, the sin of serving God and money, the sin of putting someone or something in God's place. And sin, don't forget, brings judgment (we won't get into it, but the judgment is spelled out by Jesus in verses 6-8). And the God of judgment never misses a thing:
(Rev 18:5) for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.God knows. God sees. God saw, for instance, that the churches of Sardis and Laodicea had been seduced by Babylon, had fallen for Babylon, had been sucked in by Babylon – and the churches themselves didn't even know it! God saw, for instance, that the churches of Pergamum and Thyatira tolerated false teachers who urged compromises with Rome and Babylon so life would be easier and better.
"Come out of her, my people." Do you see how serious Jesus is about materialism, about the pursuit of wealth, about the idol of more? Jesus is so serious that He warns the churches of Sardis and Laodicea to repent or else they will not inherit eternal life.
"Come out of her, my people." If there is one thing the current economic crisis teaches us, it is this: money cannot be trusted; it is a terrible master; just like that, it can fail and does fail. And, those who trusted in it and its beguiling promises have been left holding an empty bag.
"Come out of her, my people." What do you live for young people, young adults, young couples? You are looking forward to owning your own car, getting your own furniture, having your own home. Nothing wrong with any of this. But is this most important? Is this what you are living for? Is this the goal of your life – to be seduced by Babylon?
"Come out of her, my people." In 1972 I went off to college. All of my possessions fit into one suitcase – and, it wasn't even a big suitcase. It took me five minutes to unpack. Then my room-mate moved it. He had an entire trunk load of stuff. Wow, I thought. Then I helped a cute little blond girl move in – I should have asked some questions first because her stuff filled most of a furniture truck. The last time I moved, all my stuff filled half of a moving van. Have I sold out? Have you? What are we teaching our children about money and furniture and things and stuff?
"Come out of her, my people." This is hard, so hard, for people who have been beguiled and bewitched and entranced by the world's Babylons. I want you to listen to a story:
(Mt 19:16-26) Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" (17) "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." (18) "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, "'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, (19) honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" (20) "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" (21) Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (22) When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (23) Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. (24) Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (25) When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" (26) Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.""Come out of her, my people." The rich young man was not able to do this. In fact, many of the rich are not able to do this.
This makes me think of a song. The rich young man could not sing it. Neither can most of the people of this world. Can you sing it?
I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold;Really? Do you mean this? Will you mean this when we sing these words?
I'd rather be His than have riches untold;
I'd rather have Jesus than houses or lands.
I'd rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
Than to be the king of a vast domain
And be held in sin's dread sway.
I'd rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.
So, the funeral message of Jesus to His people: come out of Babylon so you will not share in her materialism and her judgment.
III Weeping and Mourning - at a Distance
A Third, in the funeral we also learn something about the world. We hear the world's lament in verses 9-20 – the world's lament for Babylon.
Notice all the repetition in the world's lament? Whether it be king, merchant, or sea captain, all say "Woe! Woe, O great city" (Rev 18:10,16,19). Double woe. Double woe because the judgment is so quick and so intense and so total.
Another repeated phrase in these verses is "weep and mourn." In verse 9, we see that the kings of the earth weep and mourn over Babylon. In verses 11 and 15, it is the merchants of the earth. In verse 19, it is the sea captains. Now, the word for "weep" does not mean a slight whimper, a little sniffle; rather, it means a loud cry. And, the word for "wail" does not mean something private and quiet; rather, it means a violent expression of emotion, a beating of the breast. The weeping and mourning is loud and very public and very expressive.
"Woe! Woe!" "Weep and mourn." Meaning what? Meaning that the world loves Babylon. The world is enticed and allured by Babylon. The world has fallen for Babylon. And, the world has no interest in coming out of her. Babylon is her lover and to Babylon she belongs.
B But there is also something else about the world. Watch the pattern. King and merchant and sea captain all say, "Woe! Woe!" They all "weep and mourn." But they do this at a distance. Look at the kings: "Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off ..." (Rev 18:10). Look at the merchants: they "will stand far off, terrified at her torment" (Rev 18:15). As for the sea captains, they also "will stand far off" (Rev 18:17). These are Babylon's lovers! And they all stand far off. Shouldn't they be helping her? Shouldn't they be coming to her aid? Shouldn't they be holding out their hand? Yet, what do we see? We see them standing far off! They really don't care about Babylon at all.
They stand far off. Meaning what? Meaning they are scared what happens to Babylon will happen to them. Meaning their mourning is self-centered. Look at what the Revelation tells us. Babylon's destruction means the kings can no longer share in her luxury (Rev 18:9); it means the merchants have no one to buy their cargoes and make them wealthy (Rev 18:11,15); it means the sea captains have lost their source of wealth (Rev 18:19).
The world loves Babylon, but only because of what she gets out of Babylon. The world's love is entirely self-centered and self-serving. The world's rallying cry, the world's theology, the world's creed comes down to this: "What's In It For Me?" Secular companies of our age have used this as a sales technique: WIIFM, What's In It For Me. The world loves only so long as it can get something in return.
The world's love is always self-serving and self-centered. Young people, boys and girls, young adults, young couples – the world doesn't love you. It only pretends love because of what it can get out of you. You are nothing but a number, a consumer, something to make kings and merchants and sea captains rich; or, to put it in today's language, you are nothing but a consumer to make rich the politicians and business men and the transportation industry. Lose your usefulness, stop being a consumer – like the early Christians – and you are cruelly persecuted.
So, what do we learn in Revelation's funeral? First, Babylon is punished for her materialistic idolatry. Second, God's people are told to come out of Babylon. Third, the world's love is self-centered and self-serving.
At the center of all this, of course, is God. God is the One Who punishes Babylon. God is the One Who calls "my people" to come out of her. And, God is the One Whose love is never self-centered nor self-serving; rather, we look at Jesus and we see His love is self-sacrificing.
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