In Revelation 17 + 18 we get a picture of Babylon and her demise. Due to technical difficulties, the video starts halfway through the sermon. See the transcript below for part 1.
There’s something subversive about worshipping God on the throne as we live in this world. We might not feel it the same way Christians living in the Roman Empire did, but this claim we make, that God is King of heaven + earth, resists any other claim that someone or something else is sitting on that throne. It’s a very old claim that we’re making. We get hints of it as early as Genesis, but it’s in Exodus, at Mt Sinai, where it becomes prominent. It’s there, when God shows up in a storm at the top of the mountain that we can picture him sitting down on his throne. He makes a treaty with the nation of Israel that day. He hands them the terms of a covenant that they would live by in the land he promised to give them – and they agree to it. This lived covenant would be how God would reveal himself to the rest of the nations. God would establish his kingdom on earth through his partnership with the nation of Israel – as they lived out his ways in the land. Like I said, it’s a very old claim that we’re making when we worship God on the throne. It’s also a very disputed claim. I invite you to picture yourself standing in line at the grocery store looking at the headlines of the most recent tabloid. On the cover you read “Babylon Exposed!” This is how I want us to view Revelation 17 + 18 – as an exposé of Babylon. First, some context. Babylon was long gone by the time Revelation was written. It was the nation that breeched the walls of Jerusalem in 586BC. Its army burned homes and the temple to the ground and took thousands of people from Judah into exile. They were the imperial power of that time, claiming one territory after another, leaving a wake of destruction and death. They claimed the throne. And then 70 years later, they were overturned by the Persian empire. When John gives us this “expose” on Babylon he’s speaking of another empire. The Roman Empire, which was imperial power of his day. What defined the Roman empire? What defines any empire? Control. Empires seek and take power and create systems that maintain it. Scot McKnight, in his book “Revelation for the Rest of Us,” names “7 Signs of Babylon” and this is what they are: anti-God, opulent, murderous, image-conscious, militaristic, economically exploitative, and arrogant. Empire is where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, where injustice is consistent, where violence is excusable, and domination is the goal. Empires worship idols (things that are not God), they corrupt religion, they turn arrogance, wealth, indulgence, and prosperity into virtues. Loyalty to the empire is its highest virtue. To be disloyal can be costly. In Rev 17 we get a description of Babylon/Rome and it’s a description of a prostitute. “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute,” one of the seven angels says to John. And the vision John sees describes her. But we will not read it, even though sexual immorality is a metaphor carried throughout Scripture to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, even though prostitution, like adultery, was a cultural reality, and even though the intensity and the graphic nature of the metaphor serves a purpose. We won’t read it here because it associates women and their sexuality with “evil, alluring Babylon” and men with those who fall victim to her temptations and are eventually violent toward her. I was thankful for commentator Brian Blount’s comments on this. He called this metaphor regrettable, showing that you can take issue with something in Scripture that strips dignity from your fellow humans. He said if he was preaching this text, he’d search for a different metaphor. So that’s what I did. How many of you have watched or read The Hunger Games? I watched Catching Fire to refresh my memory, and it turns out, The Capitol is the perfect description of an Empire like Rome’s: opulent, murderous, image-conscious, militaristic, economically exploitative, and arrogant. It mimics Rome’s ideology and idolatries and ruthlessly punishes those who don’t submit to its demands. Its residents, in their privilege and ignorance, are the amused spectators and consumers who benefit from the injustice taking place outside of it. While they live in luxury, excess, and extravagance, those outside the Capitol face oppression, poverty, and suffering. Think about what God wants for the world for minute – what were the terms of the covenant? And then think about the contrast we see in this description of empire. Think about the cost of this empire living its values. And then remember who the true King is. “Come and I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute,” the angel says to John at the beginning of ch. 17, and at the end of it, Babylon is destroyed. Ch. 18 is where we get an announcement of its destruction. Read 18:2-3.