The last time we read about the seven bowls of God’s wrath which were poured out on the wicked. And those seven bowls represent the temporal punishments which the Lord sends on the wicked every day; and they culminate in the great Day of Judgment to come, when the Lord will come with flashes of lightning and rumblings and peals of thunder and a severe earthquake to judge the living and the dead and to condemn all those who refuse to believe in his Son.
The Lord is on his throne and he rules over the world and all who are in it. And though it might seem that the world is in chaos, and though it might also seem at times that the church is weak and vulnerable and under attack from persecutors, though it might seem like that to us, the truth is that the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb reign; and they’re working out their purposes day by day. And in these, the last days, all of God’s people must remain faithful to him, persevering through every trial and standing firm against every temptation, because one day the church militant on earth will become the church triumphant in heaven, where God will keep us safe for ever.
In the remainder of the book of Revelation, John describes for us two cities: there’s Babylon the Great; and there’s the New Jerusalem. And the key to understanding what these two cities are is found right at the beginning of the Bible. You watch a murder mystery on TV, or you read a whodunnit, and maybe in the first chapter, or in the opening scene, there’s an object on the mantlepiece which seems unimportant, but in the end, it’s the key to the mystery. And right at the beginning of the Bible, after Adam and Eve admitted their sin to God, the Lord spoke to the serpent who had tempted Eve and he spoke about two seeds: the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Ultimately, he was referring to the Devil and to the Lord Jesus, because the Devil would attack the Lord Jesus, nipping at his heels, if you like; but eventually, the Lord Jesus would crush the Devil and destroy him for good. But those two seeds also represent two lines, or two families which appear in different forms again and again in the Bible. And they always oppose one another and they’re always in conflict with one another.
So, think of Cain and Abel and how godly Abel was killed by ungodly Cain. Or think of Moses and the Israelites who were persecuted and oppressed by the Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Or think of David and the Israelites who had to defend themselves against Goliath and the Philistines. Or, think of King Herod who wanted to kill the infant Jesus. Throughout the Bible and throughout history, we see these two seeds, these two lines, these two families, opposed to one another and in conflict with one another: all those who belong to the Lord; and all those who have sided with the Devil.
It’s the church and the fallen world. And Babylon the Great and the New Jerusalem represent these two seeds: because Babylon the Great represents the fallen world in rebellion against God; and the New Jerusalem is the church; and it’s especially the church in its final, glorious state when the new heavens and the new earth have appeared. And in Revelation 17, John describes what Babylon the Great is like. And in Revelation 18, we have an announcement that it is fallen. And in the beginning of Revelation 19, there’s rejoicing in heaven because Babylon the Great has fallen. And, then in Revelation 21, we read about the New Jerusalem.
And what I want to do today it to provide an overview of what these chapters tell us about Babylon the Great.
And so, in chapter 17, John sees and describes Babylon the Great. And really the vision begins in verse 3 where John sees a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered in blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. We’ve met this beast before: it’s the beast from the sea which we read about in chapter 13 and it’s one of the Devil’s allies and it represents the Devil’s persecuting power which he directs against the church in these, the last days. And, of course, the spirit of this beast reveals itself in different forms: the seven heads and the ten horns represent a multitude of kings and kingdoms who have risen up through the generations to oppose and persecute the church.
But let’s turn our attention now to the woman, because, you see, this woman, who was sitting on the beast, is Babylon. We know that because of verse 5 where John tells us that on her forehead were written the words:
Mystery. Babylon the Great.
So, this woman is Babylon, the fallen world. And Babylon, this fallen world, is depicted as an adulterous woman, because this fallen world has power to seduce people and to lead them astray.
Look at her appearance in verse 4: she’s dressed in purple and scarlet, colours which speak of luxury and royalty. And she was glittering with gold and precious stones and pearls. Again, it speak of luxury; this woman looks like a million dollars. And she held a golden cup in her hand. Well, if you see a golden cup, then you expect it to be filled with the finest wine. But the golden cup in her hand is filled, not with the finest wine, but with abominable things and with the filth of her adulteries. You see, this woman — for all her finery — is an adulterous woman; in fact, it’s worse than that, because she’s a prostitute. And on her forehead, the title she’s given is:
The Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the Earth.
She’s the one who gives birth to all forms of prostitution and everything that is abominable and despicable on the earth.
Now, remember: this is a picture, an image, a symbol. Adultery in the Bible, and prostitution, represent spiritual adultery and unfaithfulness to the Lord. Think of the prophet Hosea in the Old Testament who was commanded by God to marry an unfaithful woman in order to represent how the people of Israel had become unfaithful to the Lord. Adultery in the Bible is symbolic of spiritual unfaithfulness. And so, Babylon is depicted as a prostitute and the mother of prostitutes because it represents the fallen world and all the ways the world seduces us and attracts us and tempts men and women and boys and girls to turn away from the Lord. It appeals to our sinful flesh and to all our sinful desires and inclinations and thoughts and attitudes. And those who pay heed to it are drawn away from God and from the way of righteousness.
And look at verse 6 were John tells us that the woman was drunk. But the thing that was making her drunk was not wine or whiskey, but it was the blood of the saints. You see, she’s sitting on the beast, which represents the Devil’s persecuting power. And the two of them work together to persecute believers and to hurt them. But, of course, when he refers to the blood of the saints, we’re not only to think of how believers are martyred for the faith; we’re to think of all the ways the world opposes us and hurts us, including the pressure which it puts on us to compromise our faith and to conform to the ways of the world. And the woman’s power and influence extends throughout the world, because look at verse 18 at the end of chapter 17 where it tells us that the woman is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth. She rules over all, and she uses all of her beauty and charm and luxury to seduce men and women and boys and girls.
We all know something of the power of the fallen world. Pick up any magazine and its pages are filled with all the wonderful things the fallen world has to offer us: luxury cars, and luxury watches, and fancy clothes, and the finest food. And people pore over these things and their eyes bulge as they look at all these things; and inside, their hearts are drawn to all the wonderful things which the world has to offer us. Now, don’t get me wrong: these things are fine in themselves; they’re fine in themselves. But you see, the fallen world uses these things to draw us away from the Saviour. It uses these things to keep our hearts and our minds on earthly things which are destined to perish, instead of on heavenly things that will never perish. It uses these things to amuse us, so that we forget about the judgment to come and the need to repent and to believe. There is nothing wrong with these things in themselves; but Babylon, the fallen world, uses these things to distract us and to lead us away from God. And, of course, Babylon does not only tempt us with physical things, but she tempts us with other earthly things, like pride and glory, the desire to create a name for ourselves and to be admired by others; or the desire for power and influence. Babylon, this fallen world, this adulterous woman, tempts us with such things as these.
But as we turn to chapter 18, John tells us about another vision he saw. And this vision is also about Babylon; but this vision is about Babylon’s fall. Verse 1: John saw another angel coming down from heaven; and with a mighty voice he shouted:
Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!
It hasn’t happened yet. Babylon, the fallen world, still exists and is still seducing men and women and boys and girls. But John’s vision is a vision of the end, when this fallen world will come to an end. Look at verse 5: her sins are piled up to heaven; but God has announced that she will be paid back double for what she has done. That doesn’t mean that she’ll be punished twice what she deserves; it means instead that her punishment will match, or it will be the double, of her sins; and the torture and grief she’ll receive will match her proud boasting. And in the following verses — verses 9 to 20 — we have a threefold lamentation for Babylon. First of all, all the kings and other mighty people who went after her and who were seduced by her lament for her and for the judgment that has befallen her. And so it will be: all who belong to this fallen world and who have loved it and who did not forsake it will lament because the judgment that falls on Babylon will fall on them.
Secondly, the merchants of the earth who made themselves rich because of this fallen world will lament, because it has all come to an end.
Thirdly, every sea captain and passenger, every sailor and all who earn their living from the sea and who went here and there in pursuit of all that this fallen world has to offer will lament, because it has all come to an end. Everything they once loved and which the fallen world offered them is gone and there is nothing left. And so, in verses 21 to 24, we read how a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and he threw it into the sea to represent how Babylon, this fallen world, will be thrown down and it will sink, down, down, down to the depths; and the sound of music, and the sound of workmen will be silenced; and the lights will be put out, and there will only be darkness; and the joyful sounds of a wedding will never be heard again, because this fallen world will be punished for leading the nations astray and for persecuting and opposing the church.
Whereas chapter 18 finished with silence, because Babylon was no more, chapter 19 begins with a sound like the roar of a great multitude in heaven, shouting:
Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.
And the 24 elders and the four living creatures in heaven fell down and worshipped God. And another voice was heard:
Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great!
And again, the great multitude shouted again:
Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
Why? Because a wedding is about to take place between the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb who was slain for us, and the church, who is the bride of Christ. You see, long ago, before the world was made, God the Father promised to give his Son a bride. And when the time was right, the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world; and, on behalf of his bride, he paid what was owed to make her his wife. And the time is coming, when the Bridegroom will come and fetch his bride and bring her — to bring us, the church, his bride — to the marriage supper of the Lamb, when we will live with him and dine with him for ever and for ever. Babylon, the fallen world, this adulterous woman, will be destroyed; but the New Jerusalem, the church of Jesus Christ, who is his bride and who has been made pure and spotless by the Lamb, will live for ever.
Well now, back in verse 4 of chapter 18, John heard a voice say:
Come out of her, my people. That is:
Come out of Babylon, my people, so that you will not share in her sins.
How are we to live in these, the last days? Well, we must be careful not to fall for Babylon and for all the ways she tries to seduce us; we must be careful that we’re not taken in by all which this fallen world has to offer. This doesn’t mean we should shut ourselves off from the world and have nothing to do with it. It doesn’t mean that, because God calls us to love and serve the people around us; and he calls us to be salt and light in this dark world. We’re not to shut ourselves off from the world; but we’re to take care and we’re to watch out lest we’re taken in by this fallen world and if we become ensnared by it. We’re not to love the fallen world, and we’re not to love what it offers. Instead we’re to love the Lord and we’re to love righteousness and we’re to love what is good and pure and pleasing in his sight, because this is his will for his people in these the last days, while we wait for our Saviour, our Bridegroom, to come for us.