“After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory. And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! And she has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. “For 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, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.” And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. “Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her. “To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ‘I SIT as A QUEEN AND I AM NOT A WIDOW, and will never see mourning.’ “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. “And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’ “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more; cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every kind of citron wood and every article of ivory and every article made from very costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, and cinnamon and spice and incense and perfume and frankincense and wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, and cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives. “And the fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them. “The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls; for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’ And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’ “And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’ “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” And a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “Thus will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. “And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer; and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the 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 the earth.”
Have you ever bought into a big lie? Not a little lie, like, not swimming for exactly one-half of an hour after eating–but a big lie, like, “God wants us to prosper financially, to have plenty of money, to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us.” Joel Osteen
Reading this passage, I am remembering one of the biggest lies I was told. Not only did I listen, I repeated it to others as if the truth. I believed that I believed it. However, a lie, no matter how beautifully told, is still a lie. I only regurgitated what was relayed to me, from someone who heard something similar from someone else–a cycle of lies. And that lie was…something we’ll cover later. For now, let’s waltz, considering the Context, the Author’s aspirations to his audience, the Genre, and using s proper Expository exegesis of examples–Dividing rightly the word of truth. We are in Revelation 18, we have but 5 chapters left, including this one. We won’t be picking apart every word in chapter 18, yet we’ll still be able to infer the imagery because of what we have learned and because we waltz, taking our Vitamins, C, A, G, E and D. My suggestion to read the text two or three times, if one has time for that. The reason being that it’s full of seemingly simple things like cinnamon, but I believe nothing is as it seems. Let me explain:
I make the argument that the beast is the early Roman empire, and I believe it to be true. Even more specifically, I believe the beast to be Nero. Do I think Nero represents almost every single world leader throughout history? I do, I believe he is representative of worldly peoples and worldly governments. One recalls Israel’s demand for an earthly king in 1 Samuel 8: “And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his first-born was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judging in Beersheba. His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. “Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. “Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.” So Samuel spoke all the words of the LORD to the people who had asked of him a king. And he said, “This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. “And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. “He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. “And he will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. “And he will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards, and give to his officers and to his servants. “He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys, and use them for his work. “He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
Therefore, when we read chapter 18 in Revelation, one may think that this great city is Rome, but I don’t think that it is. Actually, I don’t think it’s a city at all. I know what you are thinking, “but Russell, it’s called ‘the great city’ on multiple occasions.” This is true. What is also true is that in this apocalyptic genre, the King of kings and Lord of lords is also a Lamb or a Lion, depending on the angle. Seven golden lampstands are seven churches and seven Stars are seven angels. 144,000 is a number no one can count and seals, bowls and trumpets are synonymous. We see a Lamb standing as if slain, which makes no sense, and we read of earth shattering events that don’t shatter the earth. Revelation is replete with imagery, symbolism, similes, hyperbole and metaphors. Why then do we look for a far-future, for the first century church, Babylon, that exists in some farcical, fanciful, fantastic fantasy, when this city resembles many cities throughout history. Let’s look at the most obvious for us, New York City, September 12, 2001. How many people read Revelation 18 that day, do you suppose? Nevertheless it’s not new, Rome burned, Berlin burned, Boston burned, Chicago burned and London burned at least twice. There was another city that burned at least twice–Jerusalem.
Let’s examine the inner workings of our intellect. While Jesus was on the cross, suffering greatly for our sins, that he didn’t commit but we did, the Father turned his back on Jesus and Jesus cried out to him. What did Jesus ask the Father about his forsaking him? Yes, I gave you a big clue. What words came out of Jesus’s mouth at that moment?
If you answered, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You are incorrect. If you answered, “My God my, God, why hast thou forsaken me?” You are still incorrect. You are correct however, if you answered, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” We tend to wrap things up in our own cultural containers. We see things through our own lens. We shape things to fit our own environmental mold. None of this is surprising, after all, it’s what we know. When reading the Genre of Revelation, we tend to take the content and familiarize it to our circumstances rather than familiarize ourselves with the culture and climate of the original audience. This is why I frequently poke fun at the claim that the locusts in Revelation are attack helicopters. It’s a good demonstration of one in the 20th century, contemporizing the content of Revelation to fit within their surrounding culture, climate and time. However, we’re now in the 21st century and drones are beginning to supersede helicopters in battle.
In the same way we must meet the metaphor in the first century. We cannot strain over the images, we must see what the images represent. What is the meaning of the metaphor? What was John’s aspirations to his first century audience of christians? Even more precisely, what was Jesus showing John? Consider Deuteronomy 18; “For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so. “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. “This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ “And the LORD said to me, ‘They have spoken well. ‘I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. ‘And it shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. ‘But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ “And you may say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
Let’s look quickly at three things; God promises a prophet, namely, the Christ, himself. He also promises that prophecies made by false prophets, that don’t come to pass, if listened to, result in death. Particularly, he promised that the presumptuous prophet’s prophecies are just that, personal assumptions. We see a similar situation in the following scenario in Jeremiah 28:
“Now it came about in the same year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, in the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet, who was from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the LORD in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. ‘Within two years I am going to bring back to this place all the vessels of the LORD’S house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. ‘I am also going to bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles of Judah who went to Babylon,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’ ” Then the prophet Jeremiah spoke to the prophet Hananiah in the presence of the priests and in the presence of all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD, and the prophet Jeremiah said, “Amen! May the LORD do so; may the LORD confirm your words which you have prophesied to bring back the vessels of the LORD’S house and all the exiles, from Babylon to this place. “Yet hear now this word which I am about to speak in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people! “The prophets who were before me and before you from ancient times prophesied against many lands and against great kingdoms, of war and of calamity and of pestilence. “The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the LORD has truly sent.” But it didn’t happen. God told Jeremiah this and he told the people. The ironic part is that the people lauded Hananiah and wanted to kill Jeremiah, he was thrown into prison. Tradition says that he was stoned to death. Which isn’t surprising considering Jesus said that the prophets were killed. They wanted their ears tickled I suppose.
The more I read the Old Testament and the people’s pension for false prophets, and their disdain for the true prophets, Jesus included–and the more I read Revelation, which reads much more like the Old Testament than the New–I can’t help but see 1 Corinthians 10. We are a type of Israel, yet are not to be like Israel. Do we read into the text or attempt to see what the first century church saw? Do we look for signs or look for Christ?
Thinking about these things, I re-engage in Revelation. I don’t look for hidden meanings and messages, I look for Christ–it is his book. That was Israel’s error, they looked at false prophets and not the true prophet, that is the Christ. They looked for someone to save them from Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, but ultimately, Rome. Is not the pre-tribulation rapture the exact same thing? Are we looking to false prophets promising a plucking from these truculent times? We are promised tribulation. Quarrelsome and contrary behavior hardly compare to the tribulation of the first century church under Nero and the other emperors. We must read Revelation as Christ’s unveiling. It reads like the prophecies of the Old Testament with a huge boost–Jesus is named. We don’t wonder who or when the Messiah is coming. He came and will come. In the meantime we are given a glimpse into his inner workings.
Therefore, Revelation 18 is not about real estate, is it? A great indication of this is found within the phrase of verse four; “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues…”
According to a prevailing prominence of pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, this “people” cannot be the church because the church is not mentioned after chapter 3–they have been raptured. However, this conclusion creates catastrophic capitulation, it surrenders the systematic sequence shown throughout the Scripture. By the pastors’ and preachers’, theologians’ and teachers’ own admission, this “left-behind” group of followers would be adhering to Mosaic Law. However, Hebrews, amongst all other New Testament books, categorically denies this will happen. Hebrews 8:13 “When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” So we see that even if sacrifices return, they are meaningless at best and truthfully, blasphemous at worst.
Problem number 2: Church, which is a bad translation to begin with, is not always referred to as “church.” John in Revelation is far from obliged to use the word church to refer to believers. Apocalyptic genre could account for this. Consider the Lion and the Lamb. However, let’s also consider the author, John. In his Gospel, John uses the word translated as church, a mind-boggling 0 times. That is correct, you read it rightly–in fact, John only uses the word in 3 John and Revelation. Mark, Paul’s second letter to Timothy and his letter to Titus don’t use the word church. Peter, himself, never uses the word. I hope you find my argument poor, because it is, as is the anti-argument.
I could go on but it bogs down the context of Revelation 18. We must put aside foolish arguments and unfruitful debates that neither explain nor edify. But we also must attempt to read Revelation for all that it was written. Seeing these things, consulting our OTT and the New Testament, read Revelation 18 fresh and see what you see then. Not a city, but two types of people. If it is a city however, what city is it based on in previous context? Consider the final line of chapter 18; “And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” Remember, cities are made up of people.
One last thing before I sign off; not only would the return of animal sacrifices be blasphemous and spit in the face of the Lamb who paid for it all. The practice and the people have also been eternally judged. Paul writes to the Corinthian church; “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be babes, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “BY MEN OF STRANGE TONGUES AND BY THE LIPS OF STRANGERS I WILL SPEAK TO THIS PEOPLE, AND EVEN SO THEY WILL NOT LISTEN TO ME,” says the Lord.” He is quoting Isaiah who wrote, “Indeed, He will speak to this people Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue, He who said to them, “Here is rest, give rest to the weary,” And, “Here is repose,” but they would not listen. So the word of the LORD to them will be, “Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there,” That they may go and stumble backward, be broken, snared, and taken captive. Therefore, hear the word of the LORD, O scoffers, Who rule this people who are in Jerusalem, Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, And with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by, For we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception. “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed. “And I will make justice the measuring line, And righteousness the level; Then hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, And the waters shall overflow the secret place. “And your covenant with death shall be canceled, And your pact with Sheol shall not stand; When the overwhelming scourge passes through, Then you become its trampling place. “As often as it passes through, it will seize you. For morning after morning it will pass through, anytime during the day or night. And it will be sheer terror to understand what it means.” The bed is too short on which to stretch out, And the blanket is too small to wrap oneself in. For the LORD will rise up as at Mount Perazim, He will be stirred up as in the valley of Gibeon; To do His task, His unusual task, And to work His work, His extraordinary work. And now do not carry on as scoffers, Lest your fetters be made stronger; For I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts, Of decisive destruction on all the earth. Give ear and hear my voice, Listen and hear my words.”
The big lie I repeated? That Jerusalem was the holiest place on earth. You can smell the holiness, taste it, feel it; one can almost reach out and grab a hold of it. Jerusalem, the city of peace, with its four quarters–with its bullet holes and fisticuffs between so-called christians over real estate. Jerusalem on earth is no more holy than Hollywood. It’s divided real estate. And all the religions which congregate there participate in partial piety. God is a God of all nations and people. He is also the judge of the rest. “Come out of her my people,” is not about the real estate, it’s about those who do not follow Christ–represented by an unholy city. It’s a metaphor.