26 Mar 2023
Passage Revelation 18
Speaker Chris Haley
Are you suffering from FOMO? No, it’s not a disease, or some strange condition! It’s stands for Fear Of Missing Out. Followers of Jesus, I think often go through periods of FOMO. We can often feel like we’re missing out. When I was a student I remember not being invited to parties or events, because I wasn’t raucous enough! Hard to believe I know! Maybe it’s being overlooked for that job promotion because we’ve not got the killer instinct, or because work is not everything to us, like our careerist friends. Maybe it’s when everyone else is settling down into a new stage of life; marriage, kids, grandkids, and we feel left behind because we wouldn’t compromise on who we dated or married. Maybe it’s when other families don’t need to think about church when they make their plans-they’ve got the whole weekend to themselves! It can sometimes feel like the world at large has it easy, and it would be so much easier to just go with the flow, to just buy into the world, and be ‘normal’. The pressure is here now to conform to the world around us: Buy this, wear this, like this, do this, live for this! It may feel more intense now, but it’s nothing new! The churches in the time when Revelation was written were facing those same pressures: Do this, wear this, enjoy this, worship this, live for this! And to be normal, to conform, can be really tempting, it can be seductive. A real danger for Christians is to fall in love with the world, to go after what the world goes after, to love the things the world loves, to be ‘normal’! But what the Bible say?
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15 ESV)
It doesn’t mean there by world ‘the people’- we are to love people- God loves people, but we are not to love the way of the world- the sinful seductive makeup of the world- the system that as we saw last week can be summed up in three words: money, sex, and power. Those are the things which make the world go round, but they shouldn’t be the things that make us go round- if you get what I mean? John’s Vision pictured ‘the world’ as we understand it here as Babylon, a partying prostitute that seduces and intoxicates the kings and the peoples of the world and leads them into sin and idolatry. In Revelation the beastly powers that be slay and destroy Christians, and Babylon seduces and deceives them. She kills with kindness, or more kills with conformity! But we as Christians are not to be conformed to this world, the Apostle Paul writes:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” (Romans 12:2a ESV)
We’re not to be like Babylon, we are to come out of Babylon, be counter-cultural, not conformed to the world around us. We’re to live as exiles in this Babylon, just as the OT believers lived in literal Babylon, and Revelation 18 this morning gives us really one massive reason why. This bit is not complicated. First point…
Babylon is Doomed v1-3, 7-8
Babylon will fall. Babylon is doomed. John tells us as much in simple language in 1 John:
“And the world is passing away along with its desire...” (1 John 2:17a ESV)
What’s the point of living for the world, when the world is passing away? What’s the point in investing in Babylon, when Babylon is doomed to fail, more than that will be judged! It would be like to trying to invest in Lehman Brother’s Bank or Blockbusters! Why live for something that has no future? Why buy an apartment in a building that you know is condemned? Why buy a ticket for the Titanic? Why play a game that everyone will lose? And yet that’s what we do day in day out, or at least what we’re tempted to do, day in day out! We invest in things that won’t last. We live for things that won’t endure. CT Studd the famous Victorian English Cricketer who gave away his millions and became a missionary wrote a poem, much to long to quote in full. Here’s the refrain though:
“Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
It’s a sobering thought isn’t it. Real estate in Babylon is bad investment. It will be desolate. It will be abandoned, left to birds and beasts, left to the unclean spirits that animated it and made it function. The words “Fallen, fallen is Babylon come from Isaiah 21. There it was a prophecy of what is to come. Here again this is a prophesy of what is to come. You want to see what became of the literal Babylon? Here it is. Bits have been rebuilt for tourists, but no-one lives there
It’s a ruin, a relic, on the rubbish dump of history, and that is the destiny of the Babylon.
The world as we know it is doomed. Why? Because it’s a system built on sin: verse 3
“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.” (Revelation 18:3 ESV)
It’s a system in rebellion against its creator, just like the first Babel: the Tower of Babel. It’s man vs God, and in that battle, man is doomed to lose! The Jezebel has been judged, the tempter has been terminated, Babylon is on the way out! So again why live for it? Why store your treasures on Earth, rather than in Heaven? Why support and be seduced by a system of sin? No, rather we are to live for the city that lasts! Speaking of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the author to the Hebrews writes:
“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13-16 ESV)
We do not belong to Babylon, so do not live for Babylon. Do not live for this world, this city, live for the better one that is to come. Who is it then who lived for Babylon? Those bound up in the system: point 2…
Those who have lived for Babylon will mourn for Babylon v9-20
We’ve often ended up recently having discussions in our family about what will and won’t be there at the end: Will there be jobs in the New Jerusalem? Will there be colour blindness- if that’s something you want? Will there be painless wounds like Christ had when he was resurrected? I remember doing a series of video studies in a home group a few years ago that talked about what life would be like after judgement day. The guy on the video got very excited about scuba diving, and mountain climbing, and space exploration, about mansions, and skyscrapers and advanced technology, but it just didn’t sit well with me- it sounded wrong. What life will be like there we don’t exactly know. We’ll see a bit in chapters 21-22, but spoiler alert, we won’t be able to answer all those questions. The thing that didn’t sit well though, was that those things are often things people get caught up with in the world. As though to live for those things now is wrong, but once we’re there it’s all ok! Now there is an element of recompense in the New Jerusalem, the New Creation. There’s a sense in which we suffer now, but the glory to come outweighs it. The sadness now is outweighed by the joy there, but I’m not convinced our happiness and joy will be in the things we mentioned before- whether we have them or not, because I worry we might just be projecting the things of Babylon and putting them in New Creation. What I mean is that if we want to get to glory for scuba diving, or for silver in our pockets. There’s a sense in which we’re still living for Babylon, we’re just prepared to wait for it! The clue for ourselves though is whether we mourn Babylon’s passing or rejoice in it, and look forward to it. There are people who will weep on that day that Babylon has fallen.
Kings and Rulers v9-10
“And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,
“Alas! Alas! You great city,
you mighty city, Babylon!
For in a single hour your judgement has come.” (Revelation 18:9-10 ESV)
‘King’ is not to be taken as a positive thing here, as though the important people will mourn her. The kings in Revelation were the ones gathering for war against the lamb in Revelation 16. They are the ones who have committed sexual immorality with Babylon. In other words the fall of Babylon means their party is over. Their ‘entertainment’ has been cut short, and now they fear the same is coming to them, and, do you know what, they’re not wrong! But they’re not the only ones, there’s also…
The Merchants v11-17a
Salesmen will mourn. There’s a list here of what they sell and it mostly focuses on indulgent high end goods: Gold, silver, jewels, pearls, silk, scented wood, marble, cinnamon, fine wine, horses. But Babylon is pragmatic. She promotes mid to high end too! Not just gold and silver, but iron and bronze. Not just silk, but fine linen, purple cloth, scarlet cloth and iron. Not just cinnamon, but all kinds of spices and incense. Not just wine, but oil, fine flour, and wheat, and not just horses, but cattle and sheep. They were within the reach of normal, everyday people. Still the luxury end, but Babylon is not just concerned with the superrich. This isn’t just the Jeff Bezos and Elon Musks of this world. Let me put it this way, on that last day it won’t just be the owners of Harrods and Harvey Nics who will be crying. It will be the owners of M&S, and Waitrose, and Booths shedding a tear too! Not that it’s wrong to shop at those places, anymore than it is wrong to have spices or oil in your cupboard at home, but it’s that whole system that lives for stuff- whatever that stuff is.
It’s also a good reminder too, that prophesy often gives us things from the time to speak about things in the future. I doubt we’re going to see a revival in the ‘Myrrh and Chariots’ market before Jesus returns, and hopefully not ivory or slaves as is just dropped in there at the end! But these show us the kind of things these people are involved in, and the fact they have no scruples in using people, even selling people if it gets them a quick profit. That is the way the world works. That is the way Babylon works. To live for stuff is to live for Babylon, and it’s hard not to play this game. We’re bombarded with adverts for stuff we don’t need from people who don’t care. Stuff that promises to make our lives better, but doesn’t bring us real happiness, and yet we get so attached to all this stuff. It’s like a web of more. We need more, more, more all in the pursuit of ease and happiness.
What if Apple, the tech firm collapsed- would you cry? No more iphones, no more macbooks. I bet you some people would cry! What about Amazon or Ebay or Etsy? What if someone came and took all your stuff? No TV, no devices, no car, no washing machine. Try watching “Can’t Pay We’ll take it away” you’ll see plenty of tears! Could we be like the Hebrew Christians who “joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property, since [they] knew that [they themselves] had a better possession and an abiding one.” (Hebrews 10:34b ESV) The merchants will mourn because no-one will buy their stuff anymore, that system will be over. No more living for stuff, and no more delivering stuff, so the shipping people will mourn!
Delivery people v17b-19
“And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,
“What city was like the great city?”
And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out,
“Alas, alas, for the great city
where all who had ships at sea
grew rich by her wealth!
For in a single hour she has been laid waste.” (Revelation 18:17b-19 ESV)
If nobody’s buying, then nobody’s delivering! Think of places like Liverpool that used to be great port cities. Rich from transatlantic trade. Known and revered around the world. Then the slave trade stops (thank goodness!) “Go Wilberforce!”, but now Liverpool is known for its deprivation and poverty… and the Beatles. Or imagine if all the online retailers closed. Delivery drivers across the world would be out of a job. Imagine if we stopped importing food and goods from overseas- lorry drivers out of work overnight. I’d say the Eddie Stobbarts of this world will cry, but from what I’ve heard he’s a Christian! But maybe Mr Yodel will, and Mr Hermes whoever they are! Really though it’s those who are invested in the system.
When the system falls, then the people who’ve lived from it and for it will mourn, and this tells us something about Babylon. They say you can tell something about a person by who comes to their funeral. Eleanor Rigby who we had mentioned a few weeks back: no-one came. The Beautiful South had a song a few years back, ok thirty-one years back! Called Old Red Eyes is back, about an alcoholic who’s funeral was attended exclusively by pub landlords. It says something about the person. Babylon is mourned by promiscuous princes, slave driving salesmen, and Yodel delivery drivers. Not all of those are necessarily as bad as each other! But it paints a picture again of system of money, sex and power. All gone in a heartbeat, an hour, a day: the day of the Lord! One day this whole system will be overturned, as Jesus Christ returns, and all that is built on cash, carnality, and coercion will be gone. Babylon will be no more, and a new world will begin with stronger foundations, foundations of righteousness, holiness, and peace. But for now, Babylon is still here- we still live in the world. So what do we do while Babylon still stands and we still live in her?
So Come Out From Her/Look Forward to Her Demise v4-6,v20-24
“Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,
“Come out of her, my people,
lest you take part in her sins,
lest you share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
and God has remembered her iniquities.
Pay her back as she herself has paid back others,
and repay her double for her deeds;
mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. (Revelation 18:4-6 ESV)
Now here we need some wisdom. We need to be careful in what we mean here- otherwise we’re going to end up with some very unhelpful conclusions. What does it mean to come of Babylon? First of all we need to recognise that’s a quote- you guessed it- from the Old Testament. In a passage prophesying the fall of Babylon, it’s written:
“Go out of the midst of her, my people! Let every one save his life from the fierce anger of the Lord!” (Jeremiah 51:45 ESV)
The message is clear, if you stay in Babylon, you will perish along with it! The language of that passage is reminiscent of the flight of Lot from Sodom, where he had to leave to avoid facing the Lord’s judgement on it. You cannot stay in Babylon and live. In that sense Babylon is like the City of Destruction in Pilgrim’s Progress that Christian must flee. Except that Babylon feels like the town of Vanity Fair- there are many enticements to stay. But that can’t mean that we literally run away from the world. There have been Christians who have taken that view down through the ages and have ended up shutting themselves away
Some in monasteries, and some in Christian bubbles. I remember chatting to an older saint, some years ago, who told me he had never had a non-Christian friend. He said he used to wear that like a badge of honour, but he now realised it was a mistake. That’s not what John meant. Jesus makes this clearer in John’s Gospel, in His High Priestly prayer for believers:
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:15-17 ESV)
Do you see what Jesus is saying there? It’s not about keeping ourselves out of society, it’s about keeping ourselves out of sin. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. We are to sanctified in the world, set apart, holy. We are to be a city on a hill, a light to the world, as we shine Jesus’ light. You don’t take a lamp and hide it under a bushel- whatever one of those is! The way we come out of Babylon is by saying no to her seduction, by saying no to just going with the flow, lest, says the voice in verse 4, we end up taking part in her sins, and then in her judgement, in her payback. Instead of colluding with the enemy, we are to be looking forward to her end verse 20:
“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” (Revelation 18:20 ESV)
The one who tried to shipwreck Christians has been shipwrecked. The one who tried to seduce the saints has been shattered. Do you long for a day when you won’t have to battle temptation? I do! Do you long for a day when you won’t feel like you’re missing out? When you won’t have FOMO? I do! But look of what becomes of those parties, and careerists, and smug newlyweds who rub it in your face verses 21-24:
“Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence,
and will be found no more;
and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters,
will be heard in you no more,
and a craftsman of any craft
will be found in you no more,
and the sound of the mill
will be heard in you no more,
and the light of a lamp
will shine in you no more,
and the voice of bridegroom and bride
will be heard in you no more,
for your merchants were the great ones of the earth,
and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
and of all who have been slain on earth.” (Revelation 18:21-24 ESV)
One day it will all be gone, because it was all based on Babylon. It was all built in Babylon, and one day Babylon will be no more! So, don’t pin your hopes on Babylon. Don’t live for the things of this world. Be in the world, but not of the world. Be sanctified by the word of truth, and do you know what you will miss out… on the things of this world, on Babylon, and her earthly seductions- at least you should do! But you won’t miss on the things that really matter: the things of heaven, the things of God, the things that endure into eternity. “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last."