Cities in the book of Revelation are pictured as contrasting women. First there is the Whore of Babylon and then there is the Bride of Christ, which is the New Jerusalem.
All through the book there is this silent question of what city will you identify with?
When John spoke of Babylon he was using an Old Testament reference to describe the Roman world in which they lived. In the book of Revelation, Babylon becomes a kind of shorthand for the way that human power and authority. We find out in Revelation that Babylon is built on a foundation of lies and that are beautiful and alluring.
The Whore of Babylon is a word picture of the goddess Roma, and she offers her alluring wine for all to drink. Babylon is this symbol of what it looks like to put money before people. Babylon is what we get when our value is determined by what we have rather than whom we belong to. Babylon is what we wake up to every day. It’s not a nation state, but it is the culture that drives nearly all of them.
In Babylon things like accruing power become very important. What you wear reveals your status. Money is the main driver of life. In Babylon you are constantly sold this lie. One day I was headed home from Palm Springs when I saw a billboard on the freeway that said, “What does your driveway say about you?” Really? My driveway reveals things that are core to my identity?
Every day we wake up in Babylon. It is so easy to be shaped by the life that Babylon provides. As I write this, Apple is releasing the new iPhone 7 and there is something in me that wants to lust after that object. There is something in me that makes me think, “if I just had the iPhone 7 everything would be different. Life would certainly be better!”
But I know that is a lie.
The lie that Babylon feeds to us is that if we find our identity in wealth, relationships, stuff and status that we will be made whole. What we don’t see is that a commitment to a life in Babylon is a commitment to the oppression of the poor of the world. In Revelation 18 after we hear about the fall of Babylon, her merchants weep and mourn. They just lost their way to make money, which we think is sad until we realize that the reason why Rome was so wealthy is because they exploited the citrus wood trade in North Africa. They oppressed people who worked in the gold mines of Spain. Among the cargo list found in chapter 18 are, “human beings sold as slaves.”
There is a hidden cost to run Babylon. A cost which if we saw it fully would make us sick. It is a cost to miners in Africa who mine precious metals for our iPhones. It is a cost to children who make t-shirts in free-trade zones in the global south. They are out of sight from our eyes, but rest assured, they work more in 5 years than most people will in 50. Creation bears the brunt of our addiction to stuff, the great Pacific Trash Island can attest to this. Just floating below the surface there is a garbage patch the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean. Babylon breeds its own industry of the death of unwanted babies.
Babylon has an allure. It is glamorous and a wonder to gaze upon. But, that is only because we don’t see the hidden costs of Babylon. We don’t see all of those who are hurt by her way of life.
So I want to ask you. Please. Will you make my words worth something? Will you make the 9 commentaries and the endless hours spent in this book apply to your life?
I want to invite you into a very different life, the life of the lamb:
The lamb that loves and gives dignity to all humanity.
The lamb who values the poor.
The lamb that gives dignity to those who are oppressed by Babylon.
The lamb that executes perfect justice.
The lamb who is marked by truth.
The lamb who wants to wash you with his own blood.
Babylon will always be left wanting. A life based on a Babylonian value system will always be incomplete.
Make these words worth something…
Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
“‘Come out of her, my people,’
so that you will not share in her sins,
so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
5 for her sins are piled up to heaven,
and God has remembered her crimes.
6 Give back to her as she has given;
pay her back double for what she has done.
Pour her a double portion from her own cup.
7 Give her as much torment and grief
as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
‘I sit enthroned as queen.
I am not a widow;
I will never mourn.’
8 Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.