Pastor Scott Andrews | March 19, 2023
Let me briefly share with you a little of my weekly process as I prepare to preach each Sunday. Every Monday morning, I begin by reading the next couple of chapters or so of the book we are studying, which means by the time we get to a text, I’ve read it many times. Of course, each Monday, I focus especially on the text I’ll be covering the following Sunday. Tuesday and Wednesday are meeting days, but by Wednesday, I try to start some reading on the text, but Thursday is what I call reading day – where I am reading all day long, between meetings, emails and phone calls.
But, that means by Friday morning, I’m ready to start writing – I call it writing day. I typically make no appointments on Friday. My goal is to be mostly done by the time I leave at the end of the workday. Typically then, Saturday I come into the office to finish any writing, reread the now highlighted commentaries, making sure I’ve covered everything well, practice preaching through the text, and finally prepare the Powerpoint. Which brings us to today, Sunday. If Wednesday and Thursday are reading days, Friday and Saturday writing days, then Sunday is talking day.
I don’t mind telling you the weekly grind is both rewarding and challenging. I love God’s Word, and I can’t believe I get to spend my life studying and sharing it. When I first came in ’97, there was a college pastor here named Tim. The elders had asked him if he wanted to be considered for the open senior pastor position. He told them no, he liked what he was doing. When I arrived, he told me about that. He said, I see it like this. All week you go through labor to prepare a sermon to deliver it on Sunday, only to have to get pregnant again on Monday. Sorry ladies, in no way am I comparing labor and delivery to sermon prep – but the process is somewhat the same.
Why do I share all that? Well, for the past many Mondays, reading the text for Sunday has been honestly more challenging than rewarding. We have been in the judgments of God for months now – since August 28 of last year. I know you’re tired of it, namely because you’ve told me so. I am too. So, these past few weeks, and especially last Monday, as I read ahead, my heart was heavy – knowing that we again had to cover the never-ending death of Babylon. Will you just die already? I’ve tried to cover it faithfully but expeditiously. I’ve covered the last three chapters of Revelation – 15, 16 and 17 – in three weeks – a chapter each Sunday. And I intended to cover all of chapter 18 – 24 verses – today. Don’t worry, we won’t.
But I must tell you, as I went through my weekly process and began studying the text in depth, my heart sank further. Why? Because the description of Babylon and the funeral dirges for her sound appropriate, applicable to our country today. I was literally brought to tears as I read about the opulence, luxury and wealth of this city – representative of all cities and nations and empires which pursue wealth – or something else, false gods – rather than the true God. Cities, nations, empires who make possessions their idols. And if God gets in the way of those pursuits, well, God must go. As you look at the trajectory of our country, and read this description, there are many startling similarities. I’ve often heard that biblical scholars search in vain to find the US in the prophetic words of Scripture – well, maybe not.
And so, the challenge for us is to not be sucked in by Babylon’s pursuits – to come out from her – not physically, but spiritually, morally, and even materially. That message won’t fly in many churches today which have made the pursuit of wealth somehow spiritual. I am suggesting that we must remember the words of Jesus, what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul. To remember, it is better to give than receive. To remember, do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Does that resonate with us and our hearts’ passions?
To remember the words of Paul, the love of money and material possessions is a root of all kinds of evil – to want to get rich as our highest pursuit is to fall into temptation, and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. To remember James, to say we will go to this or that city, engage in business and make money – that sounds like a business plan to me – is to forget that our lives are just a vapor that appears for a little while then vanishes. You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. Instead, we ought to say, if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that. Whatever this or that is – this or that is not our highest pursuit – rather, it is the will of the Lord.
As it is, James goes on, many boast in our arrogance, not knowing such boasting is evil. You say, wait just a minute, are you saying that our planning and prosperity are evil? Not necessarily. Not unless it takes the place of God. If the Lord wills, we will do this or that.
Well, look with me and see if this description of Babylon hits too close to home. In chapter 16, we saw the seven angels pour out the seven bowls of judgment – and in them, the wrath of God is finished. Included after the sixth bowl was the gathering of the armies of the Antichrist to fight against God in a place called Armageddon. How ridiculous, what greater expression of independence, of self-assured arrogance is there than to think you can fight against God?
The armies will gather – likely in a plain called Megiddo – to stage a final battle in this age-long cosmic war between the forces of evil and God. We don’t really read about the battle until the return of the Lamb in chapter 19 – but its outcome is most sure.
At the end of chapter 16, the seventh angel pours out his bowl and there are flashes of lightning, peals of thunder, and an earthquake – and the great city, Babylon the Great, is split into three parts – total annihilation. We saw that Babylon, while a euphemism for Rome, remembering John wrote under the Roman Empire, was also a type of every city, nation and empire which arrays itself against God.
Then, in chapters 17 and 18, John rewinds a bit to describe in more detail the destruction of Babylon. You say, I’m tired of this – so am I. But imagine this destruction not taking place since August 28, but that for which all rebellious humanity is headed, in culmination to be experienced for time, times and half-time, 42 months, three and one-half years.
In chapter 17, Babylon’s doom is assured with the coming of the Lamb, which again, doesn’t take place until chapter 19. But we see a description of the harlot – the prostitute called Babylon the Great which led all nations into immorality – specifically, idolatry and all that comes with it – sexual immorality and self-aggrandizement and wealthy pursuit. Did you hear that – turning away from God, sexual immorality, arrogant self-worth, and a pursuit of wealth. Does any of that sound at familiar?
We found the woman is riding the beast of chapter 13 – the beast which rises from the sea. He is Antichrist, who receives his power and authority from Satan himself. The Antichrist carries the woman around in all her opulence and false glory and wealth and grandeur – enticing all those to come to bed with her, filled with abominations and the uncleanness of her immorality.
Then, rather oddly, the Antichrist with a seeming federation of ten kings – I think representative of all nations of the earth opposing God – the Antichrist turns against the harlot Babylon. It’s pure civil war, because evil implodes on itself. Of course, through this infighting, they were simply fulfilling God’s purposes as the end of days has come – the great day of the Lord and His judgments have arrived, and they will participate in their own destruction.
- The Fall of Babylon (1-3)
- The Call for Believers to Flee Babylon (4-8)
- The Funeral Dirges for Babylon (9-19)
- The Call for Heaven and God’s People to Rejoice (20)
- The Destruction of Babylon (21-24)
Which brings us this morning to chapter 18. I’m not going to read the whole chapter at once – we’ll read each section as we get to it. But the chapter records the fall of Babylon, and the funeral dirges about her, and further, the call for believers to come out of her, to not be persuaded by her abominations lest we be caught up in her destruction. And not only that, but also the call for believers to celebrate the justice of God.
Wait, we’re supposed to celebrate the destruction of Babylon – that doesn’t seem quite right. Well, while our hearts may be grieved over the destruction of people, unbelievers, we must not grieve the destruction of that which many pursue. For example, consider: as we watch the unfolding drama of the destruction of our own country – are we grieved by the rebellion of our nation generally because of its downward spiral into grosser immorality, or are we more grieved that such decline has led to economic challenge, out of control inflation, spiraling stock market, rising interest rates, five dollar eggs, and that the dollar doesn’t go as far to pursue our wealth? Meaning, have we been sucked into Babylon, and is it time to wake up and come out?
That’s the basic outline of the chapter – I’ve put it on the screen if you’re taking notes. But let’s begin with verses 1-3 where we see the Fall of Babylon.
As I’ve suggested throughout our study of Revelation, there are more OT references in this book than any other in the NT. This entire chapter is filled with such OT allusions – or even direct quotes. Many OT prophets prophesied, foretold, called for, and even recorded the fall of Babylon, to include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.
Here, John says after these things, he saw another angel coming down from heaven, from God’s presence is the idea, and therefore having great authority. The earth was filled with his glory – that is, the reflected glory of God. And he cried out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great.” This is, of course, coming on the heels of the beast and the ten kings turning on her in chapter 17 where they made her desolate and naked, having eaten her flesh and burned her with fire. This is severe apocalyptic language speaking of her total destruction. As a result, her dwelling place has become simply a place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit and every unclean bird. Again, apocalyptic language speaking of her total annihilation that allows for only demons and other unclean things to exist within her borders.
So the angel declares Babylon the Great has fallen. This is a quote of Isaiah 21, which reads, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the images of her gods are shattered on the ground.” Don’t miss that with the fall of Babylon came the destruction of her false gods, with which she led the nations into idolatry. This is Babylon of old and Babylon at the end of time in this age-long battle – setting themselves up against God. Isaiah speaks of the literal coming destruction of Babylon which came in 539 BC; John is speaking of the future destruction of Babylon/Rome as representing all those nations she led into idolatry and immorality. We see it happening in our own country. I’m not suggesting we should leave, but that we wake up and come out of her.
You see, verse 3 says all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her – speaking of her idolatry and all the immorality that comes with it. Notice, he says the merchants of the earth have participated by becoming rich with the wealth of her sensuality or luxury. One author called this economic sins.
Which brings us to a voice from heaven to God’s people – a call to believers alive at this time – let’s read verses 4-8.
“Come out of her my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive her plagues” – that is, the destruction about to be righteously poured out upon her. This begs a question – is the voice from heaven calling for a physical removal of God’s people from such deplorable, idolatrous places? Some have thought so, and I will not condemn their practices of removing themselves from such immoral and horrible places. However, the consistent biblical, NT injunction to His people is not a physical removal, but a spiritual and moral removal. That is, don’t be caught up in the sins of the culture. People ought to be able to tell a difference between us and the culture at large.
This is always a problem for believers – living in a pagan, ungodly society – to be tempted by its enticements. That is the concern here. But don’t remove yourself physically – where then would the witness of Christ be? We remember when Jesus prayed in John 17, His prayer was not that we be removed physically, but protected spiritually. John 17 says, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify [make them holy, separate] them in the truth; Your word is truth.”
And we remember the same author of Revelation said in I John 2, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. [You can’t be divided – you can’t love God and money too.] For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts…” All that we pine for, passing away. And we see it happening here – this world in its fallen, sinful rebellion and all that comes with it – idolatry, immorality and even materialism, will pass away, starting with Babylon. So my brothers and sisters, while we live in the world, we remain lights in the world; don’t be sucked into its pursuits.
So that you don’t participate in her plagues – her judgments. Verse 5, for her sins have piled as high as the heaven – obviously symbolic language pointing to the fact that her sins were many and known in heaven, and so God remembered her iniquities so as to do something about them.
And so, the voice says, pay her back as she has also paid – the principle of lex talionis – you reap what you sow. She has sown idolatry, immorality and death, give her back double according to her deeds, in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her. Double doesn’t seem to make the punishment meet the crime. Unless, it simply means pay her back in full retribution. And the truth is, throughout the Scripture God says He will pay the rebellious back many times over – the idea is, sinful rebellion deserves full, unrequited retribution.
We see that clearly in verse 7, “to the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously (luxuriously), to the same degree – the punishment does meet the crime – to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she arrogantly says in her heart, ‘I sit as a queen and am not a widow, and will never see mourning.’” A quote from Isaiah 47 where Babylon proudly proclaimed, in the midst of promised defeat, I will remain a queen – I won’t be a widow and mourn for my soldiers fallen on the battlefield. She arrogantly proclaimed her indestructibility, and her destruction, complete with torment and mourning, she will see.
Think about that: the arrogant and rebellious think themselves indestructible, untouchable, beyond accountability and retribution. But notice verse 8, “For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong.” Her end is sure, and it will come.
As a result, leading to three funeral dirges of those who committed acts of immorality with her: kings, merchants and seafarers, those who were made rich by her practices. Read verses 9-19.
We notice some similarities in all three dirges. In all of them, those lamenting the fall of Babylon have somehow been involved with her. In all three, they cry out, woe, woe, because the city is no more. In all three, they stand at a distance, because they know they deserve her punishment, and don’t want to get too close. In all three, they notice the swiftness of her destruction – in one hour your judgment has come. And in all three, their mourning is not so much for her, but for themselves, for what they lose because she is no more. And so again, the mourning over the state of our nation – is it because of its idolatry and immorality, or because its decline has touched our investments and bank balances? The loss of capitalism and all that comes with it?
The kings committed immorality with her, likely speaking of idolatry and all that goes with it. They lived sensuously or luxuriously with her. They weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning. Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city, is no more.
The dirge of the merchants is rather lengthy, and the one that caught my attention this week. They weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargo anymore. It’s a selfish lament – the merchants have lost their customers, by whom they have been made rich. In fact, it is said that Rome conquered the world as much by her merchants as by her armies.
It’s very interesting, the voice from heaven, which started in verse 4 and goes through verse 20, lists a manifest – a shopping list of all the merchants used to carry to Rome. The city was decadently wealthy – luxurious – ostentatious – opulent. They flaunted their wealth, and everything was about getting rich and richer, and putting it on display, so that all would know. Oh, and by the way, sexual immorality was rampant in the city. Look briefly at the list – its cargo is listed in six groups:
Precious gems and metals – Gold was the most important, imported from Spain, but it was so plentiful that the Romans started valuing silver. Couches, plates, baths were made of silver – it was a great status symbol. Precious gems mostly came from India, but pearls, at the top of the list were considered, with diamonds, to be the most luxurious. They came from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and cost lots of money. But no matter, they were everywhere.
Luxurious fabrics – included fine linens, which could cost in today’s measure, hundreds of thousands of dollars. Purple cloth, a symbol of royalty and wealth, was especially expensive since the dye came from a tiny shellfish. It took an incredible number of these tiny shellfish to dye a single garment. Silk came from the East and could only be afforded by the wealthiest.
Expensive wood and building materials make up the next group. The most expensive wood, citron, came from a tree in North Africa. The wood pattern was exquisite. They were used to build ornate tables with ivory legs, which were extremely popular among men, a symbol of status, and could cost literally millions in todays dollars. Ivory was so popular it about decimated the Syrian elephant. There was brass or bronze, iron, and marble – also imported.
Next were spices and perfumes. Cinnamon came from East Africa or East Asia and was used for perfume, incense, and flavoring. Spice is the word for amomum, a fragrant spice from India used in hair. Incense, myrrh and frankincense were quite expensive, which is why it was sought.
The food items listed were not that special or extravagant, unless, of course, it was used in frequent and lavish banquets provided to demonstrate wealth. Food like wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat was imported from all over the empire. Wine came from Spain and Sicily. Because of its conspicuous consumption of bread, Rome imported lots of wheat, which put the rest of the empire in peril. While not listed, Rome had its own specialty items like the tongues of nightingales and the breasts of doves.
Last was animals and slaves – animals like cattle and sheep, horses and chariots – not to eat, but to do work and for the famed chariot races. And of course there was the ever present need of slaves – that is, human souls – the more the better to demonstrate wealth. It is said there were 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire – many, per capita, in Rome alone.
An impressive list. One of my commentators, a seminary professor, said he would often read the list to his students, and then ask, how many of these things do you have in your homes? Pliny the Elder was an author and philosopher who lived in the first century AD. He gave list of the most luxurious items of Rome – his list included 18 of the 27 items here – again, many found in our homes. You do understand that your income, almost regardless of what it is, puts you in the top ten percent of the world’s wealth. Do we even know it? Are we thankful, are we content, or do we want more? We have become Rome of old. Now, is it wrong to have these things in our homes? Probably not. But the challenge is when we make these things our greatest pursuits. When we sacrifice to get them, when we find our worth in them, when they become more important than our pursuit of God.
Look at verse 14, “The fruit you long for has gone from you, and all the things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them.” The fruit – this list the angel gave is what they longed for. Do you see why, as I read this text, I was so heavy for the people of our nation – indeed even the church which longs for these things way too much. There is coming a day when Babylon will be destroyed, and people will no longer find this stuff. Because in the end, they do not matter.
Verses 15-17, “The merchants of these things, who became rich from her (Babylon), will stand at a distance [better not get too close since they deserved the same punishment] because of the fear of her torments, weeping and mourning, saying ‘Woe, woe, the great city, [and then notice, the same description of the harlot we saw in chapter 17] she was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls [because she had made them her passionate pursuit and imported it from all over the world]; for in one hour [speaking of a short time] such great wealth has been laid waste!’ Is it here we find the US in prophecy?
Peter told us in his second letter, “But the day of the Lord [that which we are reading about] will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.” And he goes on, “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God…?”
We’ll pick up the rest of chapter 18 next week since it goes with the beginning of chapter 19 anyway. But hear Peter’s question – what sort of people ought we to be in holy conduct and godliness as we look for our blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ? Can people see a difference in us and the culture around us?