The risen Lord Jesus has exposed religion in the churches, revealed the working of religion by the imagery of the breaking of the seals, warned religionists by the trumpet blasts, identified the diabolic connection of the religious beast with the satanic dragon, and He now shows the destruction of the religious community represented as Babylon. It must be remembered that these are synchronous panoramas of what happens in "the enigma of the interval" between Christ's comings, rather than chronologically sequential segments of past history, present experience or future events.
Jesus Christ is preparing Christians in every age for the difficult trials they will encounter prior to His returning to earth again. His victory has been accomplished by His "finished work" (John 19:30) in death, resurrection and Pentecostal outpouring. Satan's work has been "rendered powerless" (Heb. 2:14) and "destroyed" (I John 3:8). Nevertheless the conflict continues so that the choice of faith among mankind may continue to be operative, and Christians might recognize the necessity of continuing their receptivity of divine activity in their lives, even if it means being "faithful unto death" (Rev. 2:10). Satan's substitute for "salvation through sanctification" (II Thess. 2:13) is self-righteousness through religion. The static activities of religion are the antithesis to the dynamic life of Jesus Christ being lived out through Christians. Satan will do all he can to quench the expression of Christ's life in Christians which serves to glorify God. But religion will not win the day. God will judge those who chose religion instead of Jesus Christ.
The scenario that unfolds in this perspective of the Revelation reveals God's judgment upon those in the religious community. The third vision of the seven trumpets indicated God's warning of judgments upon religion, and there was an interval before the seventh trumpet to intensify the call for repentance. The seven bowls of judgment in this "clip" of the big picture proceed uninterrupted with little or no expectation of repentance (16:9,11). The religionists seem to have become incorrigibly "fixed" in their attachment to the false god of religion, with "hardened hearts" toward all that God has for them in Jesus Christ.
As with the trumpet-judgments, these bowl-judgments have an obvious correlation with the plague-judgments that came upon Egypt prior to the exodus (Exod. 7-11). God's judgment came upon Egypt, the oppressors of God's people, in a series of natural phenomena which serve as a pre-figuring of God's judgment action against religion. The images of natural disaster employed in this vision symbolize the invisible and spiritual realities of God's judgment. The natural order of the physical universe is not be destroyed in these judgment scenes, for that will be presented later in 21:1.
John again describes the image of a temple in heaven (15:5), representing the presence of God. In the old covenant the "tablets of testimony" (Exod. 32:15) were the tablets of the decalogue, the ten commandments, which were in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle. Stephen declared that "our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness" (Acts 7:44; Numb. 1:50; 17:7; 18:2)), but after Christ has come "the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands" (Acts 7:48). The "tabernacle of testimony" was only a pre-figuring, "a shadow of heavenly things" (Heb. 8:5). "The temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven" is an expression of the dwelling-place of the witnesses of God in His presence.
Seven angels came out of the heavenly temple with seven plagues (15:6), representing God's judgment. They were "clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded with golden vests" (15:6). These represent priestly garb (Exod. 28:36-39).
One of the four living creatures John saw earlier (4:6,8; 5:6) gave the seven angels "seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God" (15:7). Bowls or basins were vessels used as containers for the blood of sacrificed animals in the religious function of the old covenant temple (Exod. 24:6; 27:3). Jeremiah reports that the Babylonians carried off all the temple basins to Babylon (Jere. 52:18), indicating the destruction of Jewish religion. But those stolen bowls will come back to haunt the figurative Babylon as the bowls from the heavenly temple are "full of the wrath of God, and religionists "will drink of the undiluted wine of the wrath of God" (14:10). That the golden bowls of heavenly temple service were previously filled with the fragrance incense of the prayers of the saints (5:8) serves to illustrate that God's wrath is not incompatible with His compassion.
John also observes that "the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power" (15:8). Smoke sometimes represents the fire of divine judgment or the darkness of hell-fire (9:1,2), but it would appear that it here represents the concealing of the invisible presence of God as was noted by Moses (Exod. 19:18) and Isaiah (Isa. 6:4) in the Old Testament. The completion of God's judgment activity against all that is contrary to His character is deemed so necessary that "no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished" (15:8).
A loud voice emanating from God's presence in the heavenly temple commanded the seven angels to "Go and pour out the seven bowls of the wrath of God into the earth" (16:1). The psalmist and the prophets spoke of God's wrath and indignation being "poured out upon the nations which do not call upon God's name" (Ps. 79:6; Jere. 10:25; Zeph. 3:8). The angels are instructed to "pour out the seven bowls of God wrath into the earth," or into the world-system of Satan in which religion functions.
When the first angel poured out his bowl of God's wrath into the earth, "it became a loathsome and malignant sore upon those who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image" (16:2). The plague of boils (Exod 9:9,10) may have pre-figured this judgmental consequence. A disgusting and ugly cancer is inflicted upon religionists. The previous discussion of the beast and those identified with him (13:16-18; 14:9,11; 15:2) explained that religion is "marked" and "stamped" with the character of Satan, and engages in the idolatrous worship of external expressions of ecclesiasticism, morality, doctrine, etc. God judges such diabolic identification and idolatrous worship of religion.
The bowl of the second angel is poured out into the sea, whereupon the sea becomes the "blood of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea dies" (16:3). This judgment may have been pre-figured by the plague of turning the water into blood (Exod. 7:17-21). As the sea is often portrayed as the reservoir of evil (13:1), this bowl seems to represent the judgment of death that will come upon those operating in the cesspool of religion.
"The third angel poured out his bowl into the rivers and springs of waters, and they became blood" (16:4). This too may have been pre-figured by the plague wherein God judged Egypt by "turning their rivers to blood, and from their streams they could not drink" (Ps. 78:44). The "rivers and springs of water" are the sources for the quenching of thirst. Religion offers a false fulfillment of man's God-given need of spiritual thirst, and God will judge those engaged in such fraudulent activity.
After this third picture of judgment John records the spontaneous shout of praise from "the angel of the waters" (16:5). Angels were often regarded as having specific guardianship over natural phenomena such as fire (14:18) or wind (7:1). The angel declares, along with the psalmist (Ps. 119:137), that God is righteous and holy in His judgment of the religionists and their activities. The rationale for such is that it was these very religionists that "poured out the blood of saints and prophets" (16:6; 17:6; 18:24), and now they in turn must drink blood. The punishment fits the crime! The "oppressors become drunk with their own blood" (Isa. 49:26). "They deserve it," declares the angel. This is justice! "Yes," says a voice from the heavenly altar, which may be the collective voice of the "souls under the altar" (6:9), "true and righteous are Thy judgments, O Lord God, the Almighty" (16:7). Note that the KJV translates "they deserve it," as "they are worthy," transferring the pronoun to indicate that Christian martyrs are worthy of God's judgment on religionists because their blood has been shed. The context does not seem to support the translation of the KJV.
The fourth angel then appears, pouring out his bowl upon the sun (16:8). God's judgment of fire scorches the religionists with fierce heat. Religion which has burned godly men at the stake, shall suffer the fire and the heat themselves. By contrast, for those faithful ones in the presence of God, the "sun does not beat on them, nor any heat" (7:16).
Do the religionists repent? No! Religion is recalcitrant in its rebellion (2:21; 9:20,21; 16:11). Instead, "they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues" (16:9,21), just as they are represented as doing in the figure of the beast (13:1,5,6; 17:3).
It is "the throne of the beast" (16:10) upon which the fifth angel pours out his bowl of God's wrath. The headquarters of religion, where they assume kingly authority on a "throne given to them by the devil" (13:2) as a parody of the authority of God on His throne, will be judged. Pre-figured perhaps by the judgment plague of darkness, the kingdom of religion will become darkened with "a darkness which can be felt" (Exod. 10:21). As they try to function without light, "they gnaw their tongues because of pain." This is contrasted, of course, with the absence of pain in the heavenly realm (21:4). Still, they do not repent, and continue to blaspheme God (16:11).
Then the sixth angel "poured out his bowl upon the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings of the east" (16:12). As with the judgment pictured in the sixth trumpet, the Euphrates river was the easternmost boundary of the territory given to God's people, beyond which lived the Assyrians and the Parthian barbarians who were used of God to invade and plunder God's people when they were unfaithful and turned to false religion. These occasions seem to have pre-figured the judgment of God in allowing the invasion of hostile and powerful forces upon adulterous religion. When the waters of the Euphrates are dried up, this allows easy access for the "kings of the east" to launch their assault. There is no reason to attempt to identify the "kings of the east" as particular world leaders in any given period of time, for it is merely a symbol of hostile and barbarian forces that attack the peoples of religion.
Following the description of the sixth bowl of judgment John saw a trio of images that represent those on whom these bowls of judgment are being poured. The dragon is the satanic source of evil (chapter 12). The beast is Satan's religious agency of evil (chapter 13). The false prophet is the religious method of evil, which Jesus said "would arise and show signs and wonders, in order, if possible, to lead the elect astray" (Mark 13:22). This trio are subjected to God's judgments, and will eventually be destroyed (20:10).
Out of the mouths of these three figures come "three unclean spirits like frogs" (16:13). This may have been pre-figured by the plague of frogs (Exod. 8:1-7), but John identifies these frog-like spirits as "spirits of demons" (16:14). Inherent within all idolatrous religion is demonic activity, as Paul explained to the Athenians (Acts 17:22) and the Corinthians (I Cor. 10:19-21). Recognizing that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers" (Eph. 6:12), Paul was concerned that Christians would not "fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (I Tim. 4:1). Demonic propaganda proceeds from the mouths of this threesome of religion.
Demonic activity also deceives men by "performing signs" (16:14) which are taken to be derived from God, but are actually the activity of Satan. Paul warned the Thessalonians of "the lawless one... whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders" (II Thess. 2:9). Religion attempts to parody the supernatural activity of God, as explained in the previous vision of the beast who "deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform" (13:14).
The demonically inspired religious agencies "go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty" (16:14). By their propaganda and demonstrations of power religion tries to influence governmental leaders and mobilize them to serve its purposes. Governments often cater to the power of religion and enter into alliances with religious leaders. The Messianic psalm indicates that "the kings of the earth take their stand against the Lord and against His Anointed, ...but God has installed His King upon Zion, the holy mountain" (Ps. 2:2,5). The conflict between God and the religious/governmental alliances has taken place in the past, continues to take place, and will take place until the ultimate showdown and war between Christ and the confederacy of evil. John sees them "gathered together at the place which in Hebrew is call Har-Magedon" (16:16). The Hebrew word Har means "mountain," and the word Magedon has often been connected with the site of Megiddo in the plain of Esdraelon at the foot of Mount Carmel. Megiddo was the site of much warfare throughout Biblical history (cf. Judges 4,5; II Chron. 35:20-27). In fact, the background of the name Megiddo seems to mean "attack, raid, maraud, plunder or pillage." Religion, like Megiddo, is a natural battleground, and engages in plundering attacks on those around them, desiring to the very end to be "king of the mountain." The physical site of Megiddo in Palestine symbolizes by its name and its history what religion does. This does not mean that Megiddo will be the physical site of what has been called "the final battle of Armageddon." The emphasis is not on the geographical location, but on the figurative significance of a mountain of destruction in the conclusive battle between Satan and Christ. In the pre-figuring of the physical Babylon as the opponent of God's people, they were identified as a "destroying mountain" (Jere. 51:25) which seems to coincide with the meaning of "Har-Magedon."
Apparently parenthetically, the risen Lord Jesus reminds Christians of His impending return which will be unannounced and unexpected, a sudden surprise "like a thief" (16:15). Jesus used the same metaphor with the church at Sardis (3:3), and Paul explained that "the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night" (I Thess. 5:2). A sense of urgency is intended, encouraging God's servants to be alert (Luke 12:37), watchful and discerning. Employing the third beatitude of the Revelation, Jesus says, "Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his garments, lest he walk about naked and men see his shame" (16:15). Christians are to be clothed with the character of Christ's righteousness and holiness, keeping their eyes open to the spiritual significance of what is happening.
When the seventh angel poured out the final bowl "upon the air, a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, 'It is done.'" (16:17). Remembering that Satan is "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), this scene depicts the completion of God's judgment upon religion. The victory of Christ over Satan was accomplished on the cross from which Jesus exclaimed, "It is finished!" (John 19:30), but the consummating completion of that which was set in motion on Golgotha is being portrayed here in the Revelation. God's judgment on religion will be "done," and the entirety of His restoration of the perfect order will be "done" (21:6).
Illustrating this final bowl of judgment were "flashes of lightning and sounds of peals of thunder" (16:18) representing God's powerful presence (4:5), as well as "a great earthquake" like none ever experienced previously. Religion is truly shaken up, but God's people are participating in "a kingdom which cannot be shaken" (Heb. 12:28).
Religion is wrenched apart in the scene where John sees "the great city split into three parts" (16:19). The "great city" is identified as "Babylon the great." The designation of Babylon was apparently derived from the religious effort at Babel (Gen. 11:1-9) which became a situation of confusion and a symbol of futility. The Babylon of ancient history is repeatedly referred to throughout the Old Testament as a feared opponent of God's people (Isa. 47,48; Jere 25,50,51; Ezek. 26-28; Dan. 2,7), which served as a pre-figuring of the satanically inspired evil of the spiritual city of Babylon, the religious community, and its barbarous adversarial assaults on the community of saints, the holy city of the new Jerusalem (21:10). Previously in the Revelation "the great city" is linked "mystically" or spiritually with the designation of Sodom and Egypt and Jewish Jerusalem (11:8), all of which represent communities of false religion, and could conceivably be connected with the "three part" split of Babylon.
In His omniscience God remembers the atrocities of Babylon, and gives to the collective religious community "the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath" (16:19). The "bowls" of judgment become the "cup" of judgment which religion must drink. The religious community will drink the cup like Jim Jones' community in Guyana, and be burned up (17:16) like David Koresh's community in Waco, Texas!
In this final divine judgment "the cities of the nations fell" (16:19) with all the social structures that are held together by religion. "Every island fled away" (16:20); all the religious refuges and hiding places are removed. "The mountains were not found" (16:20; the religious high-places where they encourage "mountain-top experiences," build their idolatrous temples, and continue to pile up mountains of traditions will vanish. Religion gets "pounded" with "huge hailstones" (16:21), which may have been pre-figured by the plague-judgment of hail upon Egypt (Exod. 9:22) and the punishment of the Amorites (Josh. 10:11). Despite the "plague of hail which is extremely severe" (16:21) the religionists refuse to repent, and with hardened hearts they "blaspheme God."
The seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of the Revelation provide an expanded and detailed explanation of the judgment of the seventh bowl against Babylon. The action of God against the religious community and the consequences of such judgment are more specifically illustrated.
John reports that "one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came" and invited him to come and see "the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters" (17:1). The "great city" (16:19) of Babylon is the "great harlot," as identified in 17:5. Whereas the Judaic city of Jerusalem was pictured as a harlot (Isa. 1:21) by its unfaithful participation in religion, the figurative city of Babylon, the community of religion, has prostituted itself with mankind, both figuratively and literally, in defiance of God. The "waters" on which this harlot sits are later identified as "peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues" (17:15), evidencing the universality of religion among men.
The religious prostitute has "committed immorality with the kings of the earth, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality" (17:2). There has always been an intimate intercourse between religion and the politicos of government as they meet each other's needs. Many have been intoxicated with the immorality of religion, with the self-indulgence and self-gratification of sensual passions and illicit liaisons. Just as judgment came upon Nineveh "because of the many harlotries of the harlot, the charming one, the mistress of sorceries, who sells nations by her harlotries," and God said, "'I am against you, and I will lift up your skirts over your face, and show to the nations your nakedness and to the kingdoms your disgrace" (Nahum 3:4), so God will judge the harlotry of religion.
Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, "in the Spirit," John was carried away into a wilderness where he saw "a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns" (17:3). The woman is the harlot of the religious community who is riding on the beast of religion (chapter 13) which has "seven heads," representing the religious pretense of perfect knowledge, and "ten horns," representing the religious parody of absolute power, with "blasphemous names" by which religion disparages God (13:1,5,6) expressed by the heads.
"The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls" (17:4). Purple and scarlet clothing provides a parody of the eminence and importance of royalty, for she will later declare herself a "queen" (18:7). Her excessive adornment reveals her to be but a gaudy tramp, just as religion is enamored with the external trappings of wealth and splendor. The harlot is to be contrasted, of course, with the "woman" who gives birth to the Messiah (12:1,6,14) which, if this represents the "Jerusalem above" (Gal. 4:26), can also be identified with "the bride" (19:7,8), who is clothed with the "bright and clean" garments of the purity of Christ's character.
If you have ever seen a drunk prostitute, you can envision God's portrayal of the religious community. She is "drunk with the blood of the saints" (17:6) and "has in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and the unclean things of her immorality" (17:4), whereupon she invites all to "drink to her success!" Such a drunken slut is a disgusting sight, and yet they think they are so beautiful and entertaining. The cup of the religious harlot is filled with all that is abominable to God and with the filth of spiritual fornication which is contrary to the character of God. The harlot is "high" on the blood of the saints, for it is religion that is guilty of most of the deaths by martyrdom of God's people, as Jesus explained to the religious scribes and Pharisees their guilt of "all the righteous blood shed on earth" (Matt. 23:35).
Upon the forehead of this "scarlet woman" on the "scarlet beast" was written a title of identification, "Babylon the great, the mother of harlots, and of the abominations of the earth" (17:5). The religious community is the womb for, gives birth to, and is the nurturer of the prostitution of God's created humanity. Religion is the mother of infidelity and every abominable misrepresentation of God's character. This diabolic character of religion is "written" upon all the depraved thinking that it generates.
The label by which the woman was identified was a "mystery" to John. He "wondered" at its meaning (17:6,7), but the angel volunteered to explain the mystery so that it would become a mystery "once concealed, but now revealed." The wisdom (17:9) to understand such, though, is only found in Christ, who is our wisdom (I Cor. 1:24,30). All those who are not Christians, whose names are "not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world" (17:8), the registry of heavenly citizenship known by the foreknowledge of God, they will continue to wonder at the mystery of the imagery of the woman and the beast. Indeed they still do as they continue to proffer increasingly absurd speculations about the meaning of the symbols contained in the Revelation. The world of mankind apart from Jesus Christ is constantly amazed at religion and how it works. Religion "keeps popping up!" You cannot keep it down. When the superstition and ignorance of religion are exposed and religion regresses, this is inevitably followed by the resurgence of religion in another form. Religion will continue to survive with "ups and downs" so long as man and the satanic world-system exist. It is "the beast that was and is not and will come" (17:8).
The angel thus explained the religious beast to John as that which "was and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and to go to destruction" (17:8). This may be a reference to the Judaic form of religion which was operative for centuries in the past, but at the time when John saw the vision of the Revelation it was no longer functioning since it was destroyed along with Jerusalem in 70 A.D. That did not mean, though, that the Judaic form of religion and many others as well would not "come up out of the abyss" (17:8) from the source of Satan, and be doomed to destruction.
Continuing to detail the meaning of the religious beast, the angel explains that "the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits" (17:9). The heads of religion are engaged in the "high places" of religious hierarchy and academic "higher learning." They can also be illustrated as "seven kings" in their pretense of the fullness of authority and power. The form of religion that "has not yet come" (17:10) but "will come" (17:8) and "is about to come" (17:10) may be the institutionalized misnomer of the "Christian religion" which was created when Constantine tried to merge Christianity with the Roman empire in the fourth century. The beast of so-called "Christian religion" is still with us today, "remaining a little while" (17:10) which is obviously relative to the context of God's eternity.
It appears that the angel is telling John that there will be an alignment of religion with the complete authority of world government, symbolized by "ten horns which are ten kings" (17:12). That alliance of government and religion will be brief, "for one hour" (17:12), whereupon the government leaders will abdicate their "power and authority to the beast" (17:13), to the religious leaders. Together they will then "hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her with fire" (17:16). Does this mean that the marriage of religion and government will betray and double-cross the religious community? This would be consistent with the love/hate relationship of religion and Satan, as well as the self-destructive tendency fostered by the destroyer of men. Like the sisters, Oholah and Oholibah which symbolize the religious harlotry of Samaria and Jerusalem in Ezekiel 23, the harlot of the religious community will be made "desolate and naked" (17:16). It will suffer the indignity of having its flesh eaten, as did another symbol of religion, Jezebel (II Kings 9:36; 2:20), and will be "burned up with fire" (17:16). The angel explains that God in His sovereignty has put it into the hearts of the world leaders to give up their kingdoms to the religious beast, in order "to execute God's purpose by having a common purpose, until the words of God should be fulfilled" (17:17). God can use Satan, religion and human government for His purposes, for ultimately everything serves the ultimate purposes of God.
The imagery of chapter seventeen is summed up when the angel explains to John that "the woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth" (17:18). The "great city," Babylon, is equated with the harlot-woman, as labeled in 17:5, forming the religious community which rides on the back of the religious beast (17:3). Religion and the religious community "reign over the kings of the earth" (17:18) and manipulate human government in one way or another. Together they"wage war against the Lamb" (17:14), for the alliance of religion and human government is in conflict with Jesus Christ and those identified with Him, "those who are the called and chosen and faithful" (17:14), i.e. genuine Christians. The outcome of this war has already been determined, for "the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings" (17:14). Jesus Christ has won the victory over all satanic efforts (I John 3:8: Heb. 2:14). His conquest was established by His death on the cross (John 19:30), whereby He overcame the world (John 16:33), and "sat down on the throne of His Father" (Rev. 3:21) as "the ruler of the kings of the earth" (Rev. 1:5). He is the divine "God of gods" (Deut. 10:17), "Lord of lords and King of kings" (I Tim. 6:15; Rev. 19:16).
The eighteenth chapter of the Revelation provides another "window" on God's judgment of Babylon, the city of harlotry, representing the religious community. Several of the images employed are similar to the pictorialization employed in the prophecy of Jeremiah as he told of the fall of physical Babylon, which served as a pre-figuring of the fall of the diabolically spiritual Babylon which is being referred to here in the Revelation.
John sees "another angel coming down from heaven, bearing God's authority" (18:1), and illuminating earth with the reflection of God's glory, which can only be described as "unapproachable light" (I Tim. 6:16). The angel declares, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!" (18:2), in like manner as the announcement of the pre-figuring of the fall of the Babylon of old (Isa. 21:9). The religious community will ultimately and finally be destroyed.
Rightfully so, for the religious community "has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison for every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird" (18:2). Religion is always a habitation of demons. It is by definition idolatrous and demonic activity. When Paul saw the idols in Athens, he explained that they were very "religious," with great respect for demons (Acts 17:22), and went on to tell Timothy that "in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (I Tim. 4:1). "Every unclean spirit" is operative in religion, contrasted with "nothing unclean" in the New Jerusalem (21:27). "Every unclean and hateful bird" is present in religious activity, meaning that the scavenger birds which prey upon others, such as hawks, kites, ravens and vultures (cf. Isa. 34:11,15) illustrate religious activity as they prey upon others.
The angel reiterates that "the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality" (18:3). The peoples of the world have definitely been intoxicated with the religious passion for self-indulgence, self-gratification and self-fulfillment. Religion traffics in sensual experiences (Gal. 5:19), and promotes intimate and illicit associations. World leaders have been seduced by religion and have entered into mutually self-gratifying alliances with religion. The merchants of the earth have become rich, since much of the economy of the world is greatly influenced or controlled by religion. The justice of God demands that He judge religion!
A voice from heaven (18:4) urges that God should "pay back religion even as she has paid" (18:6), according to her deeds. The principle of just retribution is ordained by God. Paul wrote, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap" (Gal. 6:7). In the pre-figuring of God's judgment on physical Babylon, she was to be "repaid according to her work" (Jere. 50:29), "for all the evil they have done" (Jere. 51:24). The punishment should fit the crime. In like manner as religion has destroyed, she shall be destroyed. Religion must drink the deadly brew which she has mixed and distributed. It might appear that God is being urged to repay "double" with "twice as much" (18:6) judgment consequence, but the word can also mean "to duplicate with equivalence." This would coincide with the next statement, "To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning" (18:7). Religion has certainly engaged in proud self-glorification, saying "Look at us; at our building and our statistical successes!" She has "lived sensuously," as can be seen in what she calls "worship," which is often but sensuous stroking of personal pleasuring. Religion pompously declares herself a "queen, who will never see the mourning of widowhood," just as Babylon of old declared (Isa. 47:7,8). She may indeed be the "queen of the house of prostitution," married to Satan until they are both destroyed in the end.
Jesus said, "Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled" (Luke 14:11), so the hubris and pride of religion will result in the humbling and pain of "torment and mourning" (18:7). Her preening pride will lead to "plagues of judgment, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire" (18:8).
The "kings of the earth" for whom religion served as paramour and mistress, will stand at a distance for their own self-preservation, and "will weep and lament over her burning" (18:9), crying "Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city!" (18:10), for they will see that she was "damned" and "cursed" of God. They will be surprised at the suddenness of the judgment on religion and how rapidly she is destroyed, in "one day" (18:8), even "one hour" (18:10,17,19).
Likewise, "the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over the destruction of religion, because no one buys their cargoes any more" (18:11). Religion not only purchases a vast amount of goods to invest on itself, but has fostered an attitude of physical materialism among men, and often directly or indirectly controlled the corrupt flow of commerce. In particular, religion has trafficked in commodities which are expensive and luxurious, extravagant and ostentatious, non-essential items which project glamour and prosperity and wealth, which they have used for their own self-indulgence and personal pleasure. The inventory listed in 18:12-14 even includes "slaves and human lives," as religion has indeed fostered such and profited from such. The merchants lament the destruction of religion (18:15-19), for she was their ticket to prosperity.
To cap off the picture of the final destruction of the religious community, John sees "a strong angel take up a stone like a great millstone and throw it in the sea, saying, 'Thus will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.'" (18:21). This imagery was also pre-figured in the conclusion of the prophecy of Jeremiah when he indicated that "a stone should be tied to the scroll and it should be thrown into the middle of the Euphrates, saying, 'Just so shall Babylon sink down and not rise again.'" (Jere. 51:63,64).
Some of the social consequences of the departure of religion are noted by the strong angel, which are similar to those noted by Jeremiah when he warned the people of Judah (Jere. 25:10). "The sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer" (18:22). Religion has long utilized and employed musicians to entertain people and play upon their emotions. God's judgment will silence "the noise of the sound of their songs" (Isa. 24:8; Ezek. 26:13), which is not pleasing to Him. "No craftsman of any craft will be found" in the religious community any longer (18:22). The best of the world's craftsmen have often been employed by religion for the construction of idolatrous buildings, furniture and other items. "The sound of a mill will not be heard" in the context of religion any longer (18:22), for religion has engaged in industry deriving great profits from business. The late-night fellowships will cease as "the light of the lamp will not shine any longer" (18:23) in the religious community. The gladness and merriment of weddings which have long been a specialty of religion, and a source of great profit, will be silenced (cf. Jere. 7:34; 16:9; 25:10; Lk. 17:27); "the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer" (18:23). The religious merchandising by which the peoples of the earth have been deceived and bewitched will cease (18:23). It is religion that is responsible for most of "the blood of prophets and of saints and all who have been slain on the earth" (18:24), as noted previously (16:6; 17:6), and as explained by Jesus (Matt. 23;35; Lk. 11:50).
The voice from heaven had encouraged Christians to avoid, escape and disassociate from religious involvement. "Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and may not receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities" (18:4,5). Just as at Babel when religion tried to construct "a tower that would reach into heaven" (Gen. 11:4), and just as the judgments on Babylon of old "reached to heaven" (Jere. 51:9), so the sins of religion "have piled as high as heaven" (18:5). God hates religion, and its sins will be judged! God's people (Hosea 2:23; Rom. 9:25; I Pet. 2:10), must get out, depart, exit and separate themselves from all religion. This has been God's command throughout history, to be seen especially in the Babylonian pre-figuring when God's people are told to "Go forth from Babylon," (Isa. 48:20), "Depart, depart, go out and touch nothing unclean" (Isa. 52:11; II Cor. 6:17), "Flee from the midst of Babylon" (Jere. 51:6), "forsake her" (Jere. 51:9), "come forth from her midst" (Jere. 51:45). Can it be any clearer that we are to extricate ourselves from any participation in the sins of religion? Only when we disassociate ourselves from religion will we avoid the judgments of God thereon.
After the judgments come upon the religious community, the heavenly voice explains that we should "rejoice over the destruction of religion, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her" (18:20). The entirety of the glorified church and the heavenly community will rejoice that God has justly judged religion by reversing the unjust judgments she has administered and administering the same unto her.
Because the purpose of the Revelation is to encourage Christians to avoid being seduced into religion, and to instead recognize the victory that is in Jesus Christ alone so as to endure, persevere, overcome and remain "faithful unto death" (2:10), each of the panorama-visions concludes with a victory celebration. Each of the messages to the seven churches concluded with a promise of victory (2:7,11,17,26,27; 3:5,12,21). The vision of the seals ended with victory (7:9-17), as did the trumpets (11:15-19), and the picture of the beasts (15:1-4). Now at the conclusion of the depiction of the fall of Babylon, we have another portrayal of victory (19:1-10), and we shall observe an extended celebration of victory after the demise of the devil in chapters 21 and 22. The risen Lord Jesus wants Christians to know of and participate in His victory over religion.
John records having heard "a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, 'Hallelujah!'" (19:1). The exclamation, "Hallelujah," is a Hebrew word meaning "praise to Jehovah." It is used many times in the Old Testament, but only four times within the New Testament, and all four of those usages are in the four-fold hallelujah expressions of this paragraph. The great multitude expressing their "praise to Jehovah" is surely the same "great multitude" referred to in 7:9. Again they are praising God for the salvation effected by the Savior, Jesus Christ, and by which men are "made safe" from the misuse and abuse of Satan in order to function as God intended by the restoration of God's life within humanity. The empowering for such functional humanity is the "power through His Spirit in the inner man" (Eph. 3:16), the working of which is unto His glory (Eph. 3:20,32). For such "salvation and power and glory" they are praising God, and also because God's judgments upon "the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality are true and righteous, for He has avenged the blood of His bond-servants upon the harlot" (19:2) of the religious community. Their praise, like the "song of the Lamb" (15:3), coincides with the song of Moses and their praise for the deliverance of God's people and judgment upon the adversaries. "Rejoice, O nations, His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance upon His adversaries" (Deut. 32:43).
A second time the multitude in heaven cries "Hallelujah!" (19:3). They praise God that the smoke of the burning (18:9,18) of the Babylon/harlot community of religion when she is "burned up with fire" (17:16; 18:8), continues to rise forever and ever, everlastingly tormenting "those who worship the beast and his image" (14:11).
"The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures" (4:4,6) are again seen to be worshipping God on the throne, saying, "Amen, Hallelujah!" (19:4). They are affirming the action of God's just judgment against the religious community, and praising Him for such.
A voice "from the throne," from the presence of God, says, "Give praise to God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great" (19:5). The place of the creature is always to praise the Creator God, to reverence Him, and to recognize that though we may be "small or great" in the designations of the world, we are all equal in Christ (Gal. 3:28). True Christianity will not discriminate on the basis of position, class, culture or socio-economic criteria.
The great multitude again praises God, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns" (19:6). It was a thunderous sound like the sounds of many waters, as this innumerable multitude exclaimed the absolute and ultimate and eternal reign of the Lord God Almighty. This may be a fulfillment of what God said through Isaiah, "My people shall know My name, that I am the One speaking, 'How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, Your God reigns!'" (Isa. 52:6,7). It is the message that Christians of every age are to learn from the revelation that Jesus gave through John: In spite of any appearances to the contrary, God in Christ reigns and is victorious!
The great multitude in heaven continues to encourage rejoicing and gladness and glory unto God, "for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready" (19:7). The concept of God's people being a bride married to God was pre-figured in the Israelite people of the old covenant (Jere. 2:2; Hosea 2,3), who provided an inadequate picture by their unfaithfulness (Isa. 1:21; Hosea 2:5). The prophet declared that a time would come when God's people would be "betrothed to Him in righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness, compassion and faithfulness" (Hosea 2:19,20). That is fulfilled in the people of God in the new covenant, Christians who are joined spiritually with the Lord (I Cor. 6:17) and are considered to be the bride of Christ. In Biblical times the man and the woman were first betrothed in a legally binding agreement, and then after a period of time which was often a year or longer, they were wed in an elaborate ceremony and their union was consummated. Analogous to this, Christians are regarded as having been "betrothed to Christ" spiritually, and after a period of time when Jesus Christ returns, they will be collectively "presented to Him as a pure virgin" (II Cor. 11:2) at the marriage of the Lamb. The spiritual bride, the Christian community, "makes herself ready" by allowing the Spirit of Christ to "sanctify her" in order to "present her to Himself in all her glory, holy and blameless" (Eph. 5:26,27). The bride of the Christian community "clothes herself in fine linen, bright and clean, which is the righteous acts of the saints" (19:8), the character of Christ Himself, which is in sharp contrast to the gaudy garb of the prostitute of the religious community (17:4). When Christ returns the "marriage of the Lamb" will take place and all Christians will participate in the consummation of eternally unhindered matrimony and intimacy with Jesus Christ, the bridegroom. "Blessed" indeed "are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb" (19:9), for only Christians are invited who have "been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 1:3) and have allowed themselves to be perfected (Phil. 1:6) in sanctification (Heb. 12:14), purity, holiness and righteousness.
The voice that John heard explained that what he had heard, and in particular the beatitude of blessing for "those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb," were definitely "the true words of God" (19:9). Christians down through the centuries have needed this assurance of the truth of God's words concerning our assured victory in Christ and our eternal union with Him.
For some reason John fell down to worship the one speaking to him (19:10). Perhaps he mistook him for Jesus, or perhaps he was so appreciative of being assured of ultimate victory and eternal union with Jesus that he fell down in worship. The one speaking to John said, "Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus" (19:10). This is similar to the occasion when Cornelius fell at the feet of Peter to worship him, and Peter told him to "Stand up; I too am a man" (Acts 10:25,26), as well as the situation when the people of Lystra tried to worship Paul and Barnabas, and they declared, "We are men of the same nature as you" (Acts 14:15). We are to "worship God" alone (Exod. 20:5), for He alone is worthy of our worship which should express the worth-ship of His worthy character.
The final words of the unidentified heavenly voice speaking to John are that "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (19:10). The basis for Christian prophecy, of which this very Revelation is identified (1:3), is that the one thus engaging in proclamation be a witness of Jesus Christ willing to invest his or her life for the out-living of the life of Jesus Christ consistent with His character, even unto martyrdom. The observing of such a criterion would certainly diminish the misunderstanding of the false prophecies that have abounded in religious communities for centuries.
What is the emphasis that Christians are to gain from this panorama of the fall of Babylon? We are brought to the point of decision. Are we going to dwell in the religious community of Babylon identified with the harlotries thereof, or are we going to dwell in the community of the New Jerusalem identified with the character of God? Will we settle for religion, or will we abide in Christ? The heavenly voice says, "Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues" (18:4). Christians must choose to run from religion and disassociate from the diabolic dalliances therein.
Though religion is thoroughly exposed within the Revelation and so much of the text pertains to the judgment of God upon those involved in religion, we must ever remember that "Vengeance is Mine, says the Lord" (Rom. 12:19). The purpose of the Revelation is not to promote vindictiveness, but to promote faithfulness among Christians in every age, in order that they might persevere and participate in Christ's victory. We do not want to develop an emphasis of anti-religion to the extent that we fail to focus on Jesus Christ and His sufficiency in all things unto the very end. We must remember the words at the beginning of the book that this is "the revelation of Jesus Christ."