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Revelation 18: Babylon, lessons in materialism and divine justice

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Imagine a large corporation that has a significant impact on a small town. To some of the town’s residents, this corporation represents job opportunities, economic growth, and prosperity. They celebrate its success and view it as a vital part of their community.

However, to a group of environmental activists, this same corporation is seen as a polluter, harming the local ecosystem and endangering public health. They protest against its practices, calling for stricter regulations and its closure.

So, from one perspective, the corporation’s success is a cause for celebration, while from another, it is a cause for concern and protest.

In Revelation chapter 18:9-24, the merchants, the world economic powers, lament the fall of Babylon. However, Heaven’s inhabitants see Babylon’s destruction completely differently.

Here is what the sacred record says:

“And the kings of the world who committed adultery with her and enjoyed her great luxury will mourn for her as they see the smoke rising from her charred remains. 10 They will stand at a distance, terrified by her great torment. They will cry out, ‘How terrible, how terrible for you, O Babylon, you great city! In a single moment, God’s judgment came on you.’ 11 The merchants of the world will weep and mourn for her, for there is no one left to buy their goods. 12 She bought great quantities of gold, silver, jewels, and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk, and scarlet cloth; things made of fragrant thyine wood, ivory goods, and objects made of expensive wood; and bronze, iron, and marble. 13 She also bought cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, horses, wagons, and bodies — that is, human slaves. 14 ‘The fancy things you loved so much are gone,’ they cry. ‘All your luxuries and splendor are gone forever, never to be yours again.’ 15 The merchants who became wealthy by selling her these things will stand at a distance, terrified by her great torment. They will weep and cry out, 16 “How terrible, how terrible for that great city! She was clothed in the finest purple and scarlet linens, decked out with gold and precious stones and pearls! 17 In a single moment all the wealth of the city is gone!” And all the captains of the merchant ships and their passengers and sailors and crews will stand at a distance. 18 They will cry out as they watch the smoke ascend, and they will say, ‘Where is there another city as great as this?’ 19 And they will weep and throw dust on their heads to show their grief. And they will cry out, ‘How terrible, how terrible for that great city! The shipowners became wealthy by transporting her great wealth on the seas. In a single moment, it is all gone.’ 20 Rejoice over her fate, O Heaven and people of God and apostles and prophets! For at last God has judged her for your sakes. 21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a huge millstone. He threw it into the ocean and shouted, ‘Just like this, the great city Babylon will be thrown down with violence and will never be found again. 22 The sound of harps, singers, flutes, and trumpets will never be heard in you again. No craftsmen and no trades will ever be found in you again. The sound of the mill will never be heard in you again. 23 The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The happy voices of brides and grooms will never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the greatest in the world, and you deceived the nations with your sorceries. 24 In your[f] streets flowed the blood of the prophets and of God’s holy people and the blood of people slaughtered all over the world’” (Revelation 18:9-24).

Babylon is described as destroyed and wiped out. Her judgment has come swiftly and in a moment. The world’s political powers look on with great sadness. Business and economic powers are devastated by the rising smoke and charred remains of the city. Babylon is watched from afar because people are terrified by her inconceivable torment.

What has happened? Could it be that the city has suffered a nuclear blast? Some biblical scholars theorize the scale of destruction and the level of devastation seen in the ruins of the city, with the people standing at a distance as witnesses to her agony, may be consistent with the aftermath of a catastrophic event like a nuclear explosion.

There is no way to know for certain whether Babylon was destroyed by a nuclear attack. Some argue conventional warfare, fire, or deliberate destruction by invading armies, could account for its obliteration. Nevertheless, the words used to express Babylon’s ruin are unnerving. They are:

  1. Desolation – Revelation 18:19
  2. Woe – Revelation 18:10
  3. Fire – Revelation 18:8
  4. Burning – Revelation 18:8
  5. Lamentation – Revelation 18:15
  6. Judgment – Revelation 18:10
  7. Plagues – Revelation 18:8
  8. Death – Revelation 18:8
  9. Fall – Revelation 18:2
  10. Overthrow – Revelation 18:21
  11. Wrath – Revelation 16:19
  12. Utter Destruction – Revelation 18:8

These words emphasize the catastrophic nature of Babylon’s downfall, and Revelation 18:10 makes it abundantly clear that what happens is because of God’s judgment.

Note how the merchants of the world mourn over Babylon’s demise. Is it because their hearts are broken over the abundant destruction of human life? Is it because of the intense suffering of the city’s inhabitants? No, it is because there is “no one left to buy their goods” (vs. 11). In a single moment Babylon’s seemingly boundless wealth is gone.

The apostle James wrote in his epistle:

“Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. 2 Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. 4 For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. 5 You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and killed innocent people, who do not resist you.” (James 5:1-6).

One might perceive such texts to be condemning wealth or the accumulation of money and riches. But the Bible’s position is that wealth is neutral. It can be used in the right way to bring honor and glory to God, or it can be used to cause hurt and suffering.

There is an old story about a barefooted man who showed up one day at the gate of a monastery. When he found all the monks at work, he gravely shook his head and remarked to the abbot standing nearby, “Labor not for the meat that perisheth … Mary hath chosen that good part.” “Very well,” replied the abbot. Then with an undisturbed composure, the abbot ordered the devout stranger to a room and gave him a book of prayers to occupy his time.

The stranger sat hour after hour until the day had completely passed, and he was left wondering why no one ever offered him the slightest refreshment.

Hungry and weary, the man finally left his room and made his way to the abbot. “Father,” he asked. “Do not the brothers eat today?” “Oh yes,” said the abbot, “they have already eaten plenty.” “Then how is it, Father, that you did not call me to partake with them?” “For the simple reason,” said the abbot,” that you are such a spiritual man, that you do not need carnal food. For our part, we are obliged to eat, and for that reason, we work; but you dear brother, you sit and read all day long, and are above the want of ‘the meat that perisheth.’” “Pardon me, Father,” replied the mortified and confounded stranger, “I now perceive my error.”

Money is a necessity in life. Everyone must have some, and some may have much, and there is no sin in it.

In a great book titled From Cover to Cover, Dr. Brian Harbour has written:

“The basic theme of the Bible is not that it is wrong to have money, but that it is wrong for money to have you. Money becomes a danger when, instead of using it to further the Kingdom of God, we use it to foster an indulgent, extravagant lifestyle for ourselves…This message of the Bible, however, has been silenced by the modern world’s lunge toward luxury. Our insatiable desire for more has spawned credit buying and financial overextension which has many people on the brink of disaster. The problem is that our yearning capacity has exceeded our earning capacity…When we use our money wrongly it hurts us, not only financially but spiritually. Instead of controlling our money, we find ourselves in a situation where our money controls us. And we miss out on the investment in spiritual things which will reap eternal dividends.”

Harbour also shares this insightful illustration. He writes:

“A small town, weekly newspaper described the robbery and murder of a local businessman. He was waylaid after work on Saturday night on his way home. The newspaper article stated, ‘Fortunately for the deceased, he had just deposited his day’s receipts in the bank, with the result that he lost nothing but his life!’ Wasn’t he fortunate?”

What we see in the people who wail over Babylon’s fall is that they used their money solely for luxurious living. They consumed it upon their selfish lusts. They valued their wealth wrongly. They valued it over human life and suffering. Money, prosperity, capital, treasures, materialism, affluence, and privilege are the gods they serve. They put their trust and hope in these things, and it was gone in a moment. They invested merely in the temporal, and therefore, shall reap nothing eternal.

Let the wise hear the voice of the Lord. Don’t trust in your money or your riches, but trust in God. Don’t exalt wealth as the most important thing in life. Don’t make it your chief objective. Live generously. Give generously. Hear the admonishment of the Lord Jesus, “These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33). Serve God and your fellow man with your mammon.

Among the sounds of weeping and wailing over Babylon, the apostle John said that there were sounds of celebration that the city had been thrown down.

“Rejoice over her fate, O heaven and people of God and apostles and prophets! For at last God has judged her for your sakes. Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a huge millstone. He threw it into the ocean and shouted, ‘Just like this, the great city Babylon will be thrown down with violence and will never be found again” (vss. 20, 21).

Warren Wiersbe in his commentary on Revelation titled, Be Victorious, says:

“How important it is that God’s people look at events from God’s point of view. In fact, we are commanded to rejoice at the overthrow of Babylon, because in this judgment God will vindicate his servants who were martyred (see Revelation 6:9-11).”

Can you fathom what’s being said in this text? Believers are being called upon by God to cheer, celebrate, and delight in the destruction of the wicked materialistic system of Babylon. How is Babylonianism or should we say this worldly approach and usage of possessions described?

Babylon is associated with idolatry, the worship of false gods, or the pursuit of materialism over a relationship with the one true God through his Son, Jesus Christ. This is condemned throughout the Bible, including the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-6).

Babylon is depicted as a symbol of pride and arrogance, where people exalt themselves and their own accomplishments above God. This is seen in passages like Isaiah 14:12-15, where the fall of the King of Babylon is described.

The pursuit of money at the expense of others is a common theme associated with Babylon. The Scriptures warn against greed and the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable (Proverbs 28:25; James 5:1-6).

Babylon is often portrayed as a place of injustice and oppression, where the rights and dignity of individuals are disregarded. The Bible emphasizes the importance of justice and caring for the marginalized (Isaiah 10:1-2; Micah 6:8).

The Babylon of Revelation is guilty of these many sins. Worst of all, she martyred the prophets and the saints. Thus, the city’s judgment is inevitable and her collapse will be absolute.

Believers are to get out of Babylon and not be a part of it. They must not look back as Lot’s wife did with any longing for that which the Lord plans to destroy. Instead, they should revel and rejoice in its utter destruction. As Edward Hinson so eloquently writes in Revelation: Unlocking the Future:

“It cannot bring lasting joy or peace. It is but a glittering bauble that will ultimately return to the dust of oblivion. It will sink into the ocean like a giant millstone and be forgotten.”

However, there is a caveat to these words to help one avoid the misinterpretation of these verses. Wiersbe continues:

“We must not think that this voice of celebration calls us to be glad because sinners are judged. The fact of divine judgment ought always to break our hearts, knowing that lost sinners are condemned to eternal punishment. The joy in this section centers on God’s righteous judgment and the fact that justice has been done. It is easy for comfortable Bible students to discuss these things in their homes. If you and I were with John on Patmos, or with the suffering saints to whom he wrote, we might have a different perspective. We must never cultivate personal revenge (Romans 12:17-21), but we must rejoice at the righteous judgments of God.”

I must confess that in 2011 when President Barrack Obama announced Osama bin Laden had been killed by American special forces, it was somewhat bittersweet. I was saddened that bin Laden and other terrorists in his compound were shot to death and most likely immediately fell into the fires of eternal damnation, but I also celebrated the justice of God that a man so wicked, a man so dastardly evil that he plotted and executed the murder of nearly 3,000 innocent Americans in New York, was dead. The loss of his life was the gain of the whole world — justice was done. That event was something worthy of celebration.

The contrast we read in these ending passages of Revelation chapter 18 reminds us of the dual lenses through which we may view life: the eyes of the world or the eyes of God. Babylonianism celebrates material success and prosperity, valuing wealth, power, and indulgence. In contrast, God’s perspective focuses on righteousness, justice, compassion, and the eternal values of the Kingdom. While wealth itself is not condemned, the love of wealth and the pursuit of materialism at the expense of justice and righteousness are.

As we navigate our lives, we are called to align our perspective with God’s, seeking first His Kingdom and righteousness. This means valuing a personal right relationship with God through Jesus Christ first and foremost, valuing justice, compassion, and the well-being of others over the pursuit of worldly riches. While we may mourn the consequences of sin and injustice, we can ultimately find joy in the knowledge that God’s justice will prevail, and His Kingdom will come.

When Babylon falls, all that remains to happen on this earth is for Christ to come again and God will make Christ’s enemies his footstool (Psalm 110:1).

Rev. Mark H. Creech is Executive Director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. He was a pastor for twenty years before taking this position, having served five different Southern Baptist churches in North Carolina and one Independent Baptist in upstate New York.

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