In times of crises and doubt, the book of Revelation is a wonderful reminder of the sovereignty and salvation of God. The times were far different, the suffering had a human cause, but the book highlights the concern of God, a reminder we urgently need today. Read with me, please, the eighteenth chapter of the book.
God caused the great fall of Babylon, in Revelation 18. The name of the city figuratively represented Rome. As the great capital of Babylonia had fallen, so would the center of the Roman empire, whence came the sufferings and persecutions of the saints to whom the apostle John had written.
Because of her glorying in self and her many luxuries, unlike the plagues of Egypt, “her plagues will come in a single day” (Revelation 18:8 ESV). The chapter emphasizes how Rome’s fall would be sudden.
- Kings would lament, “For in a single hour your judgment has come” (v. 10).
- Merchants would wail, “For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste” (v. 17).
- Shipmasters and sailors and those who worked on the sea would cry, “For in a single hour she has been laid waste” (v. 19).
God’s judgment is not only certain, but swift.
In this chapter, these three lamentations by these groups observing the fall of Babylon are surrounded by the pronouncements of doom by two angels. The fall is announced, the saints are urged to come out of her, all are assured that “God has remembered her iniquities” (v. 5). Its fall would be violent and definitive (vv. 21-24).
Some versions place verse 20 within the lamentation of the seafaring traders. Many scholars, however, see it as a word from heaven, from one of the angels, or from the apostle John himself. It’s almost certainly not the perspective of those who see Rome fall from their ships. It’s a centerpiece of the chapter:
Rejoice over her, O heaven,
and you saints and apostles and prophets,
for God has given judgment for you against her!
This call to rejoice comes to a persecuted people. It’s a far different type of rejoicing than that which Proverbs (24:17, 18) warns against:
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
lest the LORD see it and be displeased,
and turn away his anger from him.
The saints and apostles and prophets were suffering under the hands of the Roman empire. God will give them relief. Their rejoicing is in the victory assured to them in Christ. It is the vindication of their faith, the validation of their hope, the appearing of their salvation, that causes them to rejoice.
When life is being snuffed out, when security becomes oppression, when faith slips under the crushing crucible, it can become hard to keep the vision of the invisible God, to know that this present pain has purpose and conclusion. So this chapter declares it right out:
… for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her (v. 8).
For that, the book of Revelation was written, to paint with large letters the assured victory of the God who is more present now than ever. Chapter 18 reveals the turning point. Just as events can quickly sour and joy be overrun by extreme loss, God can and will turn the tide, thrown down the enemy, and bring his beloved people whole and restored to the other side.
In this certain truth is our present joy, in the midst of trial.