Get Out – Revelation 18:1-20 06/13/21
We, each one of us, are a part of something bigger than just ourselves. We share responsibility, or culpability, for the organizations and systems that we prosper from. We need to seriously think about this. Our world is increasingly complex, and increasingly interconnected. In many cases, the products we enjoy are the direct result of the abuse of other human beings. At what level are we, who are benefiting from that abuse, responsible? Is ignorance a valid defense? I wish I had some simple answers for you, but I don’t. What I do have is a desire to honor God, I have His Word, and honestly, some very uncomfortable things to think about.
Our full text today is Revelation 18:1-20, which I leave to you to read through. Here we, the followers of Jesus (that would be you and me, I hope) are called upon to separate ourselves from the doomed empire, Babylon. The verb “I saw” (εἶδον) marks this as the continuation of John’s vision. The passage opens with a declaration, backed by the authority of God, although delivered through an angel; Revelation 18:2-3.
It’s interesting to me that the angel is more glorious than Babylon, and speaks with an authority more compelling than Babylon’s. Think about this, it’s not even God’s glory, it’s just that of an angel. His appearance and loud proclamation are intended to get the attention of any who may be in danger of falling under the spell of Babylon and the forces operating behind it. We know that evil in the world does not happen by accident, and we must not be a part of it. There are evil forces at work behind many of the events in human history. But here’s the thing, we are NOT helpless pawns, we are able to resist, we are able to stand ready and show the right in contrast to the wrong.
But here’s the thing, this is a time of opportunity, not of fear. It is a time when, as we’ve already seen, we will minister in the power of the Spirit in spite of any opposition the enemy may bring. That time is now. John writes using the backdrop of ancient Babylon to address current events (from his perspective) with what was happening with Rome, and what would shortly happen. John was recording prophesy against the backdrop of contemporary history. To put it another way, he used the canvas of history as the basis to paint his picture of the future. That brings us to considering the Roman Empire, described by John as “Babylon.”
The parallels with the historic record of Rome and the events in the Revelation are striking. Small wonder that many biblical interpreters have adopted a Preterist view (that is, the view that these things all took place during the first century). It doesn’t take a lot of research to tease out the history of the Roman Empire and note the similarities with many of the things recorded in Revelation, so I won’t take the space to go through those events here.
But let’s be clear about this, Babylon has always been demonic in nature and opposed to God on every front. Babylon’s identification with the Satan, the Beast, and with the False Prophet, is made clear through the revelation that they all possess “unclean spirits,” that is, “demons;” Revelation 16:13. With that observation, we come to the pivotal passage in the text; Revelation 18:4 ~
4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.
The reality of Babylon’s sin, as well as the certainty of her punishment, ought to be enough to prevent genuine Christian’s from being seduced into cooperating in her evil. Note that this command is addressed to those within the community of faith who God already calls, “my people.”
With this background in mind, we can safely conclude that “her sins” in verse 4 are primarily around the issue of idol worship. And as we’ve explored together previously, idol worship includes anything that takes priority in our lives in the place that rightly belongs to God. Idol worship is more than bowing down to a carved rock. It is robbing God of His glory. It is choosing human reason, and the perversions that invariably follow, over what God has planted in our hearts. The voice commanding separation from Babylon commands a separation from this sin.
Now, it seems likely that this summons to flee is symbolic.  The “her”, the city, refers to the demonic social and political power structure that constituted the Roman Empire that stands behind the forces of evil at work today, and that will constitute the Babylonian Empire. This is world-wide; where would you go to be physically separated?
Let’s think about this… As Christians we are not being required to withdraw from economic life. Honestly, that would be impossible. We all work, earn money, pay our bills, save for the future if we can. These things are necessary as we pilgrims sojourn in a foreign land. The summons to flight addresses the necessity of the Christian community to disentangle themselves (ourselves) and distance themselves (ourselves) morally, and perhaps even socially, from the corrupt and seductive influences of “the empire,”
We are commanded to come out, to be separate from, the Babylonian system. But let’s be honest, it is hard not to love money and the things it allows us to purchase. It is hard to love God before all things, that’s why the Spiritual Discipline of steward ship is so important. It reminds us that our stuff is not our stuff. We only manage it for God. Frankly, if that truth is not impacting you in practical, financial, ways, then you have not yet grasped the reality of your stewardship of God’s things.
The Church (that’s you and me) must beware of trusting in economic security lest we be judged along with the world. This historic indictment against Rome continues to speak in power against the dangers of placing material wealth, military power, technological sophistication, pride, or any other form of self-glorification, over the Creator.
The challenge for us is not to identify ourselves with what “Babylon” refers to, the challenge is to identify what has been allowed into our own lives that is actually part of the “Babylonian System”? What have we been a part of that stands in opposition to the nature and purposes of God? Our calling, our money, our attitudes, our actions, our investments, our activities must all fall under the central command summarized in Romans 13:10 ~
10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.