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Revelation 18: A call to God’s people, separation from Babylon

Unsplash/ Humble Lamb
Unsplash/ Humble Lamb

Recently I came across a compelling illustration of the Kingdom of God, shared by John Hess-Yoder. Hess-Yoder had served as a missionary in Laos.

Providing some history of where he served, Hess-Yoder said that before the colonists drew national boundaries, the kings of Laos and Vietnam had always abided by an agreement regarding taxation. They placed people into two categories. “Those who ate short-grain rice, built their houses on stilts, and decorated them with Indian-style serpents were considered Laotians,” he said. “On the other hand, those who ate long-grain rice, built their houses on the ground, and decorated them with Chinese-style dragons were considered Vietnamese.”

The missionary said where people resided didn’t determine their nationality. Instead, people were considered to belong to the kingdom whose cultural values they embraced and demonstrated.

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Hess-Yoder concluded that similarly each of us demonstrates by what we love and how we live, whether we are of this world or Christ’s Kingdom. If we are professing Christians, we are called by God to follow the standards and values of His Kingdom.

In Revelation chapter 18 verses 4 through 8, the apostle John said that this is what he witnessed in his vision:

Then I heard another voice calling from heaven, “Come away from her, my people. Do not take part in her sins, or you will be punished with her. For her sins are piled as high as heaven, and God remembers her evil deeds. Do to her as she has done to others. Double her penalty for all her evil deeds. She brewed a cup of terror for others, so brew twice as much for her. She glorified herself and lived in luxury, so match it now with torment and sorrow. She boasted in her heart, ‘I am queen on my throne. I am no helpless widow, and I have no reason to mourn.’ Therefore, these plagues will overtake her in a single day — death and mourning and famine. She will be completely consumed by fire, for the Lord God who judges her is mighty.”

The voice the apostle hears is none other than the voice of God. It makes no sense to interpret it otherwise because the voice calls for “my people” (vs. 4) to come out of wicked Babylon.

Although this call from God is meant for the Tribulation saints, there is a sense in which every believer of every age is commanded to separate themselves from Babylonianism — worldly and idolatrous systems that oppose God and his righteousness and lead people away from true worship.

God has always called upon his people to live separately from this present world. In his book, Be Victorious, the former pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, Warren Wiersbee, has written:

“When God called Abraham, He ordered him to get out of his country (Genesis 12:1). God separated the Jewish nation from Egypt and warned the Israelites not to go back. The Church today is commanded to separate itself from that which is ungodly” (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1).

Many years ago, my wife and I bought a family pet, a parakeet. We named him Crackers. I wanted to teach him how to talk. At first, when considering the purchase, we thought about getting Crackers a companion, but it was explained to me that if we bought another bird, Crackers would never learn to talk, because the other parakeet would be too much of a distraction. 

In essence, if Crackers were to symbolize my sphere, he would need to remain distinct from the broader flock of parakeets.

In a similar way, if God’s people are to reflect the holiness of God, then they cannot mingle and make their lives after that which is unholy.

This was the appeal of the apostle Paul, who said in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:

Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the LORD. Don’t touch their filthy things and I will welcome you. And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.

My parents used to caution me with the same principle. They often admonished me as a child: “If you lay down with the dogs, you will get up with fleas.” It was a cautionary saying that imparted wisdom about the company one keeps. It suggested associating with negative or morally questionable influences can have detrimental consequences.

Obviously, God’s people cannot go through life without rubbing shoulders with people who don’t know God, and care nothing about his ways. Still, the commandment for moral and spiritual separation emphasizes the importance of remembering that when associating with the ungodly, we must do so wisely. We may have relationships with them, in the pursuit of helping them find Christ as “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), but even so, we must be very careful.

God’s people should surround themselves with others who uphold Christian virtues. All of God’s children by the new birth are encouraged to maintain a strong and supportive spiritual community that nurtures their beliefs and assists them in growing their faith. Choosing to partner, unite, or conjoin with those who do not share Christian values will make it easier to stray. The prospect of venturing beyond God’s boundaries should evoke a profound sense of circumspection.

Babylon’s sins have piled as high as Heaven, and God remembers her evil deeds (vs. 5). No doubt, this is a reference to the great Tower of Babel, the first Babylon. By their own works, the citizens of the “city of man” sought to reach Heaven itself, but just as it is for everyone who seeks to come any other way but by the blood, each self-righteous act is deemed but another brick in a structure, scheme, a method, which God intends to judge.

The Gospel is not so much about what we do, but about what Christ has done for us. No one will enter the Kingdom of God because they were good enough.

The heart of Babylonianism is the belief that I can be good enough without God. It is the belief that I don’t need to be saved from my sins because I’m not that bad. Babylonianism surmises if I’m a good person, then that should be enough – it’s all that matters.

Nevertheless, the Scriptures clarify God saves us by his grace when we trust in Christ. Christ has already done everything necessary to secure our redemption, we can’t take any credit for it. It is offered as a free gift through faith in Christ alone. It is not a reward for anything we have done, so no one can ever boast about it.

When we believe in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and look to him to change us from within, then we become God’s masterpiece. God, by his Spirit, makes us a new person so that we will desire, as well as have the capacity to do what he has ordained for us (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Babylonianism, however, reverses this concept and turns it on its head. It contends that it doesn’t matter what faith you acknowledge, what you believe, or even if you don’t believe anything, what matters is if you are good. The problem with this way of thinking is, at best, no one who subscribes to it can ever sufficiently meet God’s standard of what is good.

Christ alone met God’s standard by way of his vicarious life, death, and resurrection, and it is Christ’s perfect righteousness that must be credited to our account if we would be good enough to enter the Kingdom of God.

There is much debate today about America’s role in Bible prophecy. Most reputable scholars agree that there is no mention of America therein. I agree. Be that as it may, anyone willing to consider honestly the sins of the Western world, more specifically America, would have to concur that the description of Babylon in the Bible has a remarkable resemblance to the U.S.A. I say this with a patriot’s broken heart.

W. Phillip Keller powerfully and convincingly describes the decadence of the West in his book, Predators in Our Pulpits. He writes:

“It is generally assumed by Western nations, both in Europe and North America, that their culture and society are the most civilized in all of human history. This is simply not the case. Any people who conduct their social life in the way we do are extremely decadent.

“Especially is this the case when a people are so given to self-love and self-indulgence as to destroy the very fabric of their own world by greed, gross behavior, and personal gratification. A society which actually encourages all sorts of promiscuous relationships for sheer pleasure, then covers the consequences by worldwide abortions in the millions, is gross and bestial. Even dogs and donkeys will not do that.

“A people whose population is so permissive that it allows easy access to destructive drugs in the form of alcohol, nicotine, hallucinatory drugs, and other chemical stimulants and sedatives is headed for sure destruction. Ruined minds and twisted personalities, irresponsible behavior, crime, and violence are the end products of this scene. Increasingly millions are caught up in the carnage.

“A people whose chief end in life is leisure and pleasure will not long survive the onslaught of more disciplined cultures … Our generation seeks maximum wages for minimum work.

“In government, education, and social relationships of all sorts, outright corruption, distortion of truth, and failure to carry out personal commitments are common conduct. It is considered clever, sharp, and sophisticated to ‘put one over’ on other people. The individual is no longer respected for his or her integrity or decency but rather for the ability to ‘make a deal,’ even if the most subtle subterfuge is used.

“Rapidly the Western world is rejecting absolute moral standards which once were considered the hallmark of a so-called Christian society. Instead, young people are taught that anything goes; bend the law; take all that you can get away with — just don’t get caught. The ultimate evil is not to do wrong but to be found out. Use others to your own end.

“Our Christian leaders themselves emerge from this corrupt culture. It is the milieu which has shaped their mindset and conditioned their thinking. Many have been so much a part of the process that they accept it as the norm. Having grown up in it, they are neither startled nor grieved by the world in which they minister. Unless by the remarkable transformation of God’s presence in their own personal lives they look out on the social scene with his perspective [God’s perspective], they are not alarmed by the chaos nor saddened by the confusion and carnage.

“This explains why in so many places the pastors and teachers are well-nigh silent about social ills. They make no strong stand against those elements that are destroying their people. They carry no deep conviction about the corruption all about them. They will not risk a confrontation with the forces of evil. Their silence gives tacit approval to the wrong influences and human philosophies which are tearing us to pieces.

“The leaders are fearful lest they be branded eccentrics, puritans, or prophets of doom. They much prefer to be popular.”

Generally, the way of church leadership becomes the way of the congregation and the nation.

America is not necessarily the Babylon of Bible prophecy. Even so, in numerous ways, she definitely looks and acts like Babylon these days. And if our great nation doesn’t repent of her sins, she will be judged accordingly.

Just as Babylon’s sudden judgment will be proportional to her arrogance and luxury, so will God remember America’s iniquities and send plagues, mourning, deprivation, and destruction.

We need not be proud and presumptuous saying, “We have no reason to mourn” (vs 7). We are like royalty, sitting high and above such. That could never happen to us. We are not weak and helpless or subservient, but we are strong. This is the way of Babylon.

In the last days, God says he will not forget what Babylon has done, and her fiery end is so certain that it’s declared long before it even happens.

There is something quite surprising about this passage in Revelation chapter 18. Considering the severe persecution of believers everywhere, and the mark of the Beast has been imprinted on the foreheads and right hands of anyone who would buy and sell, one must ask, how is it that believers are living in Babylon at this juncture?

The passage seems to suggest the lure and threat of compromise. Yet God demands that his people get out of there before they also get caught up in the net of his wrath. Come away from her, my people (vs. 4), says the Lord.

There is a book in my library dated 1921, and in it is a quote from Rev. George H. Ferris, for whom I have no reference. Here is what Ferris said:

“In 1694 a law was passed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the effect that every settler who deserted a town when the Indians attacked it should forfeit all rights to that town. Thenceforth, his property belonged to the state. Such a law may seem harsh, but it is a force that will keep life from disintegration. In every state of moral conflict, in every time of spiritual crisis, earnest men are obliged to take a stand. Something must be done to crystallize the forces of good against the forces of evil. Things cannot be without resolve any longer. Men must be one thing or the other. Not to make a clear choice is still a choice. The act of neutrality is the same as betrayal. Whosoever declines the trials, the obligations, the battles of righteousness, standing aside in its hour of danger and difficulty, striving to keep clear of embarrassments and entanglements, thereby flings away all right to any participation in the hour of triumph and joy.”

Does this mean a believer can lose their salvation? No! What it does mean, however, is if you can be happy and satisfied living as a Babylonian, there is little assurance you will escape the wrath to come.

“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election” (I Peter 1:10).

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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