The World's Crushing Defeat
March 20, 2016 | Randy Smith
The World's Crushing DefeatRevelation 18:1-24
Sunday, March 20, 2016
Pastor Randy Smith
Regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature, The Pilgrim's Progress, written by English Puritan, John Bunyan, in 1678 is an allegory of the Christian life. It has been translated into more than 200 languages and has never been out of print.
The primary character in the story is a man named Christian. Christian meets Evangelist and comes to faith in Christ. Immediately he realizes that the Christian faith is a calling to renounce one's old way of life and run wholeheartedly without reservation to Jesus. It's a one-time decision, yet a daily battle to live no longer for ourselves and the ways of the world, but rather demonstrate unwavering devotion to the Savior.
This is symbolized in Christian's first call to flee from the City of Destruction. "The city stands [not as a literal city, but] as a symbol of the entire world as it is, with all of its sins, corruptions, and sorrows. No one living there can have any hope of salvation. Convinced that the city is about to be blasted by the wrath of God, Christian flees and sets out alone on a pilgrimage which he hopes will lead him to Mount Zion, to the Celestial City, where he can enjoy eternal life in the happy company of God and the Heavenly Host" (CliffsNotes, Pilgrim's Progress).
Along the journey, the Christian pilgrim must pass through several unavoidable challenges, many of them solemn and dark that seek to pull him off the narrow way that leads to the Celestial City. Some of them are struggles from within (the flesh) and some of them are from without (the world).
One of these such challenges that Christian faces is seen when he and his fellow pilgrim, Faithful must pass through a city named "Vanity Fair." Vanity Fair represents the world in all her glory that tempts every believer to be pulled away from Christ by adopting her ways and dreams and philosophies that are diametrically opposed to Scripture.
Unbelievers are lost in the world, but even to the believer, ones saved out of the world and given a "citizenship is heaven" (Phil. 3:20), the world still has a gravitational pull that forever seeks to draw us back into its mold.
When we give in, the Bible says we turn our love against God. James 4:4, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." Yet when we resist the world, we can expect the world to fight back against us with all its might. It's been said, "Hell hath no fury (in this case) like the world scorned."'
We've studied incredible detail over the past weeks examining Revelation and seeing the world's hatred toward the people of God. The world pulls us in because of their threats. But the world also pulls us in because she appears at times more attractive than Christ. She forever seduces us, oftentimes with innocent pleasures, but devices powerful enough to misdirect our affections away from Christ.
Last week in Revelation we were given God's perspective of the world. When we cut through all the bright lights and tinsel, we see the core principles and driving force behind the world. Remember, she was the "great harlot" (Rev. 17:1). Personified, she is the opposition to God that seeks to spiritually prostitute people away from cherishing Christ. She rides on the back of the "scarlet beast" (Rev. 17:3, 7). That is, she is propelled by Satan and all the forces of darkness. On the outside she appears attractive, "adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls" (Rev. 17:4), but in reality she is "drunk with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus" (Rev. 17:6). In her hand she holds "a gold cup" (Rev. 17:4) which appears to satisfy our thirst, but in that cup is "full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality" (Rev. 17:4).
Last week we learned that our primary tool to resist the world is to see her for who she is (an ugly and deceptive harlot destined for judgment) and keep our gaze on the superior beauty and worth of Jesus Christ who can truly satisfy as He fulfills promises that are not empty and vain, but rather meaningful and eternal.
After exposing the dark and empty promises of the world in chapter 17, chapter 18 now describes the crushing downfall and defeat of the world in addition to all who make the foolish choice to align with her to the exclusion of God in their lives.
Chapter 18 is basically a poetic dirge over the fallen city of Rome. At the time of John's writing Rome (the present world power) had not yet fallen, but in prophetic nature John was given a vision from God as to what would soon take place. John therefore writes from the perspective that it already happened.
Yet what we must also understand is that Rome as she is described here is just an example for all the worldly kingdoms that set themselves up in opposition to God. So it may be called Rome. John often likes to use the term Babylon (a city that already fell). We see the world called that in verse 2. Or it may be called America. The world is every city, but no city in particular. Again, it's not the people themselves; it's the system, the ideas, the motivations, the pleasures, the things that are in opposition to Christ.
Again, the goal here is for the Christian to recognize and escape her corruptions. Like Christian we are called to run to Christ and run from Vanity Fair because her promises are empty and her doom is sure.
Verse 1 of chapter 18 says, "After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory." Verse 2, "And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, 'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! And she has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.'"
What we get here is a prophetic picture is of absolute desolation. Babylon, the world, is crashing down and when she's gone, there will be nothing of substance to be seen in her. No lasting legacy. No hope for her former inhabitants. Contrast this dark image that John establishes for us with the glory that the world promises us today.
The anti-God disposition of the world is now announced. Verse 3, "For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality."
In line with the prophets of old, the world's goal, we can say the great harlot's goal is to spiritually prostitute people away from God, offering them the spiritual wine that intoxicates their affections and makes them dull to the things of God. Possibly nowhere is this better seen than in the youth of our culture. They are so drunk with her wine, that Jesus Christ is often not even a consideration.
In verse 4, John says he "heard another voice." Most likely this is another angel quoting God. The call is to believers. "Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues."
The world is under the wrath of God. Judgment is coming. Because, verse 5, "Her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities." Don't mistake God's patience with His tolerance. God will not be mocked. Sins are being tallied. The ledger is growing. God remembers. Judgment is coming.
Like God said to Lot and his family in Sodom, we must flee from the world lest we be swept up in her judgment. Again, the call for spiritual withdrawal from Vanity Fair. The call is for Christians, while still living amongst her, not to be identified with her regardless of the cost. Our goal is to be saved from the world, not to be corrupted by the world and perhaps condemned with the world.
Verses 6-8 describe the fierceness of her judgment. "Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her. To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ÔI sit as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning.' For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong."
Not revenge, just requital. Not excessive, but fitting the crime. Not unjust, but righteous. The very cup she made the nations drink, she is now required to drink herself. She who glorified herself, will now be visited by the Lord of glory.
The next section of chapter 18 describes the responses to the world's destruction from the perspective of three different people groups. See if you can notice some common themes that permeate these passages.
First the kings are spoken of in verses 9 and 10. Follow along in your Bible. "And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, 'Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.'
Second we read about the land merchants in verses 11-17. "And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes anymore; cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every kind of citron wood and every article of ivory and every article made from very costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, and cinnamon and spice and incense and perfume and frankincense and wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, and cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives. And the fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them. The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, 'Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls; for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!'"
Third we read about the sea merchants in verses 17-19. "And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, 'What city is like the great city?' And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ÔWoe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!'"
Did you notice some common themes?
One is that the people groups show no love lost for the world itself, but only what they could get out of the world. They are not saddened that the world is coming down, but saddened that they can no longer use the world to satisfy their desires. The text speaks of literal business profits. We can also take that symbolically to refer to all the world's empty pleasures. Take away the world from the lost, and the lost will soon turn on the world in search of another idol to fulfill their satisfaction.
Remember last week we learned that the beast would turn on the world (rev. 17:16). The world is only his tool to further his diabolical purposes. When he's done with the world, he no longer has a purpose for the world. Likewise, these people groups only loved the world for what the world could give them and when the world can no longer deliver, well...
And second, when the world is being judged, which will happen swiftly ("one hour" - verses 10, 17 and 19), people seek to remove their once devoted loyalty in hopes of escaping the sure torment that awaits them as well. Verse 10, the kings were "standing at a distance." Verse 15, the merchants will "stand at a distance." And in verse 17, those who worked through the sea "stood at a distance." They know it's from God. They clearly speak of God's wrath in the form of "woes" (verses 10, 16 and 19).
Any anti-God system that is built on greed and jealousy and self-will is doomed to implode on itself. Quite often enemies unite around a common enemy, but once that enemy is removed, the relationship ceases. Just observe countless church-splits. I was thinking of Pilate and Herod who "became friends that very day" in their common hatred of Jesus (Lk. 23:12). Relationships built on the deeds of the flesh will fail. They will also be judged because they are in opposition to God. In what appears out of nowhere, a sudden crushing blow, and the glory of the world is reduced to ashes.
It's too late for those in the world. They try to "stand at a distance", but they have chosen their team and now will suffer loss with their team. That's why God warns us now, as we saw in verse 4, to "come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive her plagues." The message of chapter 18 is flee from the world now because you'll want to flee when she is judged and by that time it will be too late to flee.
And for those who have sided with God's team, they are promised to share in God's victory. The call to them is not to mourn over the world's destruction, but rather (verse 20) to rejoice - rejoice not in revenge, but because God as the rightful judge is executing His perfect justice. Right will triumph in the end. And in the end, woes for the world as we just witnessed and as we see now, joys for the church.
Verses 20-24, "Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her. And a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, 'Thus will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer; and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.'"
The world is reduced to deafening silence and darkness. The laughing and merriment is gone. In her judgment she will be seen for what she really is-emptiness.
As Christian and Faithful made their way through Vanity Fair in Bunyan's allegory they stood out like a sore thumb. The world found them very offensive. They were taken, beaten and jailed. They were brought before the court of Vanity Fair. Mr. Hate-Good was the Judge, and the jurors included such characters as Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. High-mind, Mr. Cruelty, and Mr. Hate-light. Eventually their charge was handed down - disturbing the peace because of their unwillingness to conform with the world.
My friends, if such charges were brought against us, would there be sufficient evidence to convict?
Allow me to conclude and summarize this chapter with a brief poem I wrote last night.
The world stands adorned with apparent glories full,
The naive pass by and are deceived by her pull.
They sing and dance
Romanced by the harlot,
As she makes them drunk
Riding her beast of scarlet.
She uses and abuses,
Scares and tears;
People keep giving in,
Thinking she cares.
She hates the Almighty and the crucified Lamb
Piling up sins as she awaits to be damned.
Yet it is the Way who brought us the door
That we may flee to Him
And we run from the whore.
Christian, see through her lustful eyes,
Knowing that Christ is life,
And all with herdies.
Therefore Christ is my hope,
The One who is true;
This world is not my home,
I'm only passing through.
Thankful for the work of Derek Thomas ("Vanity Fair") that was helpful in preparing parts of this sermon.