INDEX

Religion and commerce

Chapter eighteen continues the denunciation of 'Babylon' - the city portrayed as a prostitute, representing a global system of religion and commerce that is fundamentally opposed to God and has sought endlessly to entice people to abandon their intended position as sons and daughters of God and to try and make it through life on their own. In the previous study, we looked at chapter seventeen and the extended history of false religion throughout the history of the world. In this chapter, John looks at the other side of the coin: the economic and commercial system that has held the world in its grip for many years.

If we decide to 'run away from home' and abandon our dependance on God's provision for us as a loving, heavenly Father, we have to start looking out for ourselves and the acquisition of wealth has traditionally been the way in which people seek to build up a 'hedge' against the dangers and uncertainties of the world at large. Money for so many people seems to offer the security that they're looking for. This was certainly the case in Jesus' day when the pursuit of money and wealth was every bit as popular as it is today. Jesus referred to it as a kind of god with its own name: "Mammon". He warned people that Mammon could easily take the place of God in our lives. "No one can serve two masters... You cannot serve both God and Mammon." (Matthew 6:24)

Later, the apostle, Paul, said much the same thing in a letter to the young pastor that he was mentoring: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:10) As we continue to look at the cause of the downfall of 'Babylon', it presents an opportune moment, prayerfully to consider our own relationship with money.

An announcement of judgement

Revelation 18:1-3

John now sees another angel coming down from heaven. The light of our sun is brilliant but this angel is more than able to match it! His innate splendour and the fact that he is said to have "great authority" indicate that he has come directly from the presence of God and reflects His glory! What he has to say can be regarded as a 'fore-telling' of the judgement to come. He brings the Judge's 'summing-up' in which all the evidence against 'Babylon' is summarized to justify the verdict. The judgement on 'Babylon' is about to be delivered and it will be absolute and final.

This city (or global system of custom and practice) is certainly mighty, but it is also depraved. It is a habitat for everything that is loathsome, detestable and immoral. It provides a home and sanctuary for demons and evil spirits of every kind. Every nation and every leader, trader or business magnate has been implicated in its structures. So many have pursued its elusive goal of power and security, only to find that what they seek is actually the embrace of Satan and his power, which is really no power at all. The antichrist and those whom he has persuaded to side with him have never had any intention of following God’s ways or seeking what is good.

All who based themselves in 'Babylon' have become rich from immoral earnings, unjust profits and selfish control. Many have settled within its walls, desperate to win the 'lottery' that they believe it offers, only to find that they have lived out their lives in a toilet of filth and corruption. They have ignored God's system - His covenant that provided a life-giving structure of laws and loving relationships within which human beings could thrive. Instead, they have sought to enrich themselves at the expense of others, but now God will require an accounting.

A warning to the righteous

Revelation 18:4-5

God is an amazing, loving God and, as we have discovered time and time again during our study, He is not willing that any should perish. Accordingly, He sends a second angel to warn His people of the impending judgement and to urge them not to get involved in 'Babylon' or its activities - religious or commercial. God has continuously had to deliver His people from the predicaments in which they have become embroiled, especially through mixing with those who have chosen to ignore God and do their own thing instead. It began with Adam in the garden of Eden, who became ensnared by Satan and his conniving plans. It continued with Joseph's descendants in Egypt who had become enslaved there and diverted from God's original plan and purpose for them. Through Moses, God led His people out of Egypt and into the promised land where He helped to establish them as a nation. Through the period of the judges, when they again went their own way and were oppressed by their enemies, God delivered His people again and again through a series of leaders (judges).

This pattern continued right through to the time when He finally sent Jesus to pay the ultimate price for our freedom: Himself. Throughout the course of human history, God has gone to considerable lengths to explain to us that light cannot mix with darkness and that His desire is for His people to live according to His light. This 'light' is found especially in His word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) The apostle, Paul, gave the same message in his teaching. For example, he wrote to the believers in Corinth about the need to avoid becoming too involved with those who have no knowledge of God or have turned their backs on Him: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers." (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)

We are often in the same position today. We need to understand that God yearns to give us His very best, so we should not be satisfied with anything that is second best. It is so easy to justify becoming too involved with the society in which we live and we need to beware of that society squeezing us into its own mould. If we permit this, by yielding to its temptations, we face the likelihood that our witness as Christians will be compromised. This is not to say that Christians cannot have any interaction with non-Christians, but we need to avoid being "yoked together" in long-lasting relationships such as marriage or as business partners. How can a Christian make a godly decision, when there is an ungodly person wanting to go in a different direction?

Here we see God giving people one last chance to turn to Him while there is still time. Living "in the world" whilst not being "of the world" can be a difficult balance to maintain. Jesus did not pray that His Father would take His followers out of "the world" but that He would protect them, because they were no longer "of the world". (John 17:15-16) However, He also warned that "any who love their life will lose it, while any who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12:25) The notes in the "Life Application Bible" give some suggestions for how we can walk this tightrope:

  1. People must always be more important than products.
  2. We should avoid pride in our own plans and successes.
  3. Remember that God’s will and word must never be compromised.
  4. The needs of people must always be considered above our need for making money.
  5. We should do what is right, no matter what the cost.
  6. We should be involved in businesses that provide worthwhile products or services – not just things that feed the world’s desires.

For those who have turned to God during the "tribulation", there will be an urgent need to get out of 'Babylon' before it is too late. As Lot was urged to leave Sodom (Genesis 19:12); as Israel had to leave Egypt without delay (Exodus 8:1); as the people had to move away quickly from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:23-26) when they were punished and as Israel had to get out of Babylon when the time came (Isaiah 48:20-22; Jeremiah 50:8); so will those who turn to Christ for salvation at the very end need to come out of 'Babylon' when God judges ("remembers") her crimes.

Devastating but just

Revelation 18:6-8

How is this judgement going to unfold? It will be instantaneous and disastrous! When Jesus speaks about how God measures out His “giving” in the gospels, He uses examples to explain the spiritual principle. (Luke 6:38) This principle of reciprocity works in two ways. We may always have looked at this from a 'positive' perspective. As an example, when we give to the poor (or to someone we know who will benefit from our help), we know that God promises to return to us more than we have given. God is no one’s debtor! Conversely, from a 'negative' point of view, the same can be said when people give bad things. They too will reap a reward, which will be more than what they have initially given. Here we see that promise in action as God visits a whole litany of suffering, sorrow, plagues and calamities, together with pestilence, anguish, sorrow and famine, all in one day, on the new, worldwide religious system that has been set up. Satan’s scheme will be temporary and restricted by God, but God’s plan is eternal and totally unrestricted!

Three laments

Revelation 18:9-20

John picks out three groups of people who are particularly devastated by the collapse of 'Babylon', its world religion and its commercial activity and trade. Although Babylon is referred to as a single city, it is probably intended to represent all the major cities in the world where the new religion and the worldwide trading centres are established.

World leaders

As is so often the case now, many world leaders during the "tribulation" will have luxurious lifestyles and will be appalled at the sudden collapse of global religion and commerce. People will look in horror, as all their security disappears "in one hour". There have been major financial collapses in the past, but nothing is likely to compare with this widespread and sudden collapse of worldwide trade and finance. The leaders will mourn the loss of power and strength that had been associated with all these commercial centres.

Merchants and traders

John gives a lengthy description of the many goods and type of goods that will be lost. Like the world rulers, they will stand "a long way off" in despair at the loss of their entire livelihoods in one fell swoop. The antichrist had required everyone who wished to participate in this system to carry the "mark of the beast". Those who refused to bear the mark were excluded. Now it is the turn of those who designed and developed the system to be excluded. Justice indeed! Many of the goods listed by John were luxury items in his day and they include human beings being trafficked. The traders will mourn the loss of their jobs, but also the loss of so many fine and beautiful things that will never be replaced. The rich will, in one day, become paupers. Transport and shipping will be brought to a standstill and life will be reduced to basic necessities.

Seafarers

In John's time, transport by sea was the quickest and most efficient means of getting goods and people from one place to another. It may be that, during the "tribulation", "all who make their living from the sea" will include many more forms of transport and logistics companies, plus those who fish and maybe those who sell their land-grown produce all around the world. This judgement on 'Babylon' will have far-reaching effects on the whole world.

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of their debauchery and the smoke of their burning could be seen for miles in every direction, but that will be as nothing compared to the physical destruction of 'Babylon'. Even those who stood a long way off from 'Babylon', but traded with her, will be filled with absolute terror as they realise that their rich and varied, self-centered lives under the rule of the antichrist, have been completely destroyed. They will begin to fret about how to manage to scrape together enough to eat and to feed their families. Surely judgement has begun?

Nevertheless, people will still fail to turn their lives over to God, even in these last few days, preferring instead to believe the hideous lies of the antichrist, who by now, will have lost total control of all he sought to gain, except for his armies. But, contrast the response of those coming to terms with their losses on earth with that of the saints – the people of God in heaven and those few believers who are still alive at this time. Their prayers have been answered and their mourning has been turned to joy!

Faith comes from hearing the good news

We are looking ahead to the very last days of human history and, hopefully, it will spur us into a reassessment of how we spend our own time, here and now. We also have a responsibility: to proclaim the good news of salvation, so that no one we know will have to face going through this period of "tribulation". We have the answer and yet, how often do we keep silent? As believers, we know that Christ is very special. It has been said that every human has emerged from history, but Jesus is the only one who has ever come into history. He came from infinity (everywhere) to here, in order to lead us from here to everywhere (infinity)! The son of God became the 'Son of Man' in order that the 'children of Adam' might become 'children of God' and, because Jesus came out of eternity, He alone is able to lead us into eternity. What glorious news - news too wonderful to keep to ourselves! Churches have been likened to divine surgeries but, if people do not realise how ill they are, or know that a remedy is available, we cannot expect them to book an appointment or turn up unannounced! Whilst we sit smugly in our churches, there are people outside who are hurting. They desperately need the amazing word of truth - the healing word of the Lord - but that will never happen unless we tell them! “Faith comes from hearing; that is, hearing the good news about Christ.” (Romans 10:17 New Living Translation)

Sadly, so many churches are full of people who want to know God and recognise that they are not perfect, but have never got to grips with the fact that Jesus wants to know them personally and be a part of their daily lives. Some believe that simply coming regularly to church or being nice to people will make them 'Christians' and qualify them to go to heaven. We know that Jesus has a much more radical programme! He wants to change our 'hearts of stone' for living hearts that beat with the love of Christ and minds that are being renewed every day through ever-growing knowledge of His truth. Jesus made it clear that all believers have a responsibility to ensure that the good news is spread far and wide so that as many as possible can come to faith. (Matthew 28:18-20) Unless we dare to share, so many will never hear the word of the Lord. Jesus gave us His authority and the presence of the Holy Spirit as our constant counsellor and guide. There’s no better gift we can give others than the hope of heaven! So, with prayer and in the name and on the authority of Jesus, may we not be silenced - let us go!

A swift and violent end

Revelation 18:21-24

We first read about the city of 'Babylon' in the eleventh chapter of Genesis (where it is called "Babel"). (Genesis 11:1-9) This was humanity's first serious attempt to set up its own system of government without reference to God or His plans for the human race. At that time, God stepped in to frustrate their intentions by scattering people all over the earth and encouraging them all to develop their own particular languages, thus making any form of joint enterprise or activity much more difficult. Nonetheless, humanity persisted in its efforts to create alternative religions and an enduring system of trade and commerce that encouraged the selfish acquisition of wealth. It's not that having money is, in itself, sinful or wrong; it's simply that people find it all too easy to make this the 'be-all' and 'end-all' of their lives. Jesus warned us to beware of setting our hearts on riches and treasure. He encouraged us to look ahead to heaven and to set our hearts on that as our life goal. (Matthew 6:19-21)

These twin goals (of an alternative world religion and a unified system of commerce) went into overdrive when the antichrist took control during the "tribulation". Satan had probably intended this to last for thousands of years, but John now sees "a mighty angel" telling another story. He picks up a huge boulder the size of a millstone and throws it into the sea. This demonstrates that God's judgement of 'Babylon' will be swift, violent and irrevocable. The angel then declares the details of the judgement that will cover so much more than simply the religion and commercial system that it embodied. Beautiful music, artists and artisans alike, business and industry, rest, relaxation and happy social occasions will suddenly come to an abrupt end. Power and wealth will evaporate, leaving only poverty and hardship with the realisation that the promises of the false prophet and the antichrist were a mere facade - an empty shell of plans.

This worldwide system had been built upon falsehood and fallacy - a "magic spell" that distracted and deceived all the people of the world. Now the truth will be exposed. The blood of prophets and believers, together with all those ever massacred on the earth, will be laid squarely at the door of this system. It will be the final nail in the coffin for Satan and his followers. With the fall of 'Babylon' the "tribulation" is complete and we stand at the threshold of a new era: Jesus Christ is about to return to the earth.

Looking forward

At the end of his life, the apostle, Peter, was imprisoned in Rome by the cruel emperor, Nero. Peter knew that he would soon be executed and decided to write one more letter to other believers that were suffering persecution. Towards the end of the letter, his thoughts turn inevitably to what lies ahead: the "day of the Lord". (2 Peter 3:10-12) In view of what we are expecting, he says, "what kind of people ought you to be?" As Christians, we have chosen to follow Jesus Christ, to know Him as our Lord and Saviour and to walk by the power of His Spirit. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness. We just have to put our faith into action and get on with it. We may not still be here when these events start to take place, but it should fill us with such a heartfelt urgency to tell every man, woman and child of His love and care, of His power and authority, His grace and truth, so that all can share in the eternal life bought for us by Christ’s precious blood. This is why He saved us: to enjoy intimate fellowship with Him, on a daily basis and then to live with Him for ever, in glory.

Do you remember John's first vision of Jesus Christ in heaven? The scene was lit by the light and presence of the living God, where His presence brings life “for ever and ever”. It caused John to fall down, as though he were dead, at Jesus' feet. (Revelation 1:12-18) When we get to heaven, we shall continue to praise Him and to love Him for all that He has done for us but, chiefly, because God the Father sent His beloved Son to die in our place, so that we did not have to suffer what we deserved but, instead, could reach out and cross over the bridge of His death into heaven itself. How truly awesome is His grace and mercy! Let's not keep this wonderful gift to ourselves – gifts are for sharing!


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