It is the last day of the year (finally!), which means I have again read the last chapters of the book of Revelation. So it is back to Genesis tomorrow. Despite all the mysterious uncertainties of the final biblical book, and so many interpretative options, its main message is clear: the Lamb wins! That is good news indeed.
And we get wonderful verses like Rev. 21:4 as well: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” That helps put into perspective everything we are now going through.
And there is more good news found throughout the book, such as the fall of Babylon and the rejoicing that goes along with that. Chapters 17-19 give us plenty of information on this. And these chapters are so very comforting as well. They tell us quite clearly that evil will not prevail, and the good guys will win in the end.
The truth is, one need not be some zany conspiracy theorist to know that we are up against The System. Anyone who is a biblical Christian knows that there is a corrupt world system that is fully opposed to God and his people. It is in a life and death struggle with us, and at times it seems it is getting the upper hand. But Revelation makes it clear who comes out on top.
As mentioned, various interpretative schemes to help us understand Revelation exist, and many believers can shy away from the book with all its interesting yet perplexing symbolism and strange scenes. Some Christians can be so focused on their particular end-times theories that they will miss the forest for the trees.
They can be so into pinpointing everything in the book and tying it down to this or that current event that they overlook the main message. And many of the good commentaries and books on Revelation state that message in their titles, such as Triumph of the Lamb by Dennis Johnson, or More Than Conquerors by William Hendricksen.
For an introduction and overview of the book and a reading guide, see this piece: billmuehlenberg.com/2018/12/26/bible-study-helps-revelation/
But I want to return to the theme of Babylon and its fall. I have written about this before, so I refer you to some of these articles, such as: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/09/19/babylon-its-fall-and-the-mark-of-the-beast/
In that article I discuss how there are various ways to look at Babylon, but one main way is to see it as the world as opposed to God. If Jerusalem stands for God’s people, Babylon stands for those who are opposed to God and his people. And it is often seen in terms of a system: a political, economic and religious system which stands against God. As Joel Beeke writes:
Augustine began writing The City of God when he was in his late 50s, and labored on this great apologetic work for over a decade. The basic premise of the book is that there are two cities – the heavenly city, Jerusalem, and the worldly city, Babylon. The entire human race belongs to one or the other of those two cities. We are citizens of Babylon or the heavenly Jerusalem. All of human history can be reduced to a tale of these two cities.
Or as Hendricksen says:
The admonition to leave Babylon [Rev. 18:4] is addressed to God’s people in all ages (cf. Is. 48:20; 52:11; Je. 50:8, 41-44; Zech. 2:7). From this fact it appears that Babylon is not only the city of the end-time. It is the world, as the centre of seduction, in any age. To depart from Babylon means not to have fellowship with her sins and not to be ensnared by her allurements and enticements. Those who set their heart on the world shall also receive of her plagues. It may seem as if God has forgotten Babylon’s sins. In the day when Babylon falls it will become evident that He has most certainly remembered them.
Please read through Revelation 17-19 to get a feel for all this. So evil is Babylon, that its destruction is swift, severe and certain. And the heavenly hosts praise God for it. See Rev. 18:2-3 for example:
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.
For all nations have drunk
the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”
We can rejoice at the downfall of evil. Beeke continues:
Believers will rejoice at the funeral of Babylon on judgment day. They will rejoice when Babylon’s unholy mix of religion, sexual permissiveness, idolatry, and injustice turns to smoke in the fire of God’s wrath. Here on earth, God’s saints suffer much because of the world around them. . . . Every time we are tempted by idolatry, immorality, and evil, we should remember the end of the harlot Babylon.
James Hamilton discusses the harlotry imagery:
The harlotry in view is spiritual adultery. The whole world owes allegiance, fidelity, to God. The whole world should relate to God as a wife does to a husband, in pure devotion. But the world has forgotten God, betrayed him, and sold herself to anyone who will pay. The world is a whore. Every human government that does not honor Christ is prostituting itself to agendas and worldviews and national interests that are nothing but pimps and customers. This description of the world as a prostitute is a statement about how the world should relate to God but does not. This description of the world as a prostitute reveals the discrepancy between what the world was made to do and what it has done instead. We should be emotionally dismayed by the way the world is as we would be to behold a woman who has been so degraded as to prostitute herself.
The destruction of Babylon is good news, as it brings justice and vindication to God’s suffering people. As Douglas Kelly comments on Rev. 18:
God commands his saints to rejoice over Babylon’s fall: ‘Rejoice over her, thou heaven and ye holy apostles and prophets…’ (v. 20). Is it proper ever to rejoice over some mighty, seemingly disastrous judgment to a large group of people? This verse says that under certain conditions it is not only right, but it is even commanded for the saints. Looked at in this way, the collapse of humanistic hope and power is for believers on earth and angels above, very good news. We often do not think of it that way. One reason God tells his beloved people on earth and in heaven to rejoice when Babylon is cast down, is that he has in due time heard our prayers. In due season, he has answered the specific prayers of his suffering people for vengeance.
And Richard Phillips says this about Babylon’s fall via the judgment of God:
The end of history will see God glorified not only in saving his people but in judging the wicked. The angels thus praise God’s holy justice: “for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute” (Rev. 19:2). God is glorified in his wrath for sin, since “his judgments are true and just.” God is not capricious or unfair in judging, but exercises perfect justice in accord with his law.
There is much more to the book of Revelation of course than God’s righteous judgment on evil, and the evil world system, but that clearly is a major theme of the book. And that in good measure is to give God’s people hope, and to help us persevere.
It is too easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged with the rising tide of darkness and evil all around us. And it seems to be getting worse each passing day. Thus to know that God is still on the throne, and that a heavenly pay day is going to take place, and that the evil world system WILL be judged, is great news indeed.
As we read in Rev. 19:1-5:
After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
Once more they cried out,
The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”
And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying,
“Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
small and great.”