Revelation 17 – Babylon

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What is Babylon?  This is a question we have to address in chapter 17.  We have seen several references to it during our journey through Revelation, but as we near the end the focus shifts onto Babylon and it’s eventual demise.

Babylon is described as a prostitute sitting by “many waters.”  In the Old Testament, those of the people of God or other nations who worship idols and followed false gods were often described as “prostituting themselves” before those gods.  This language of sexual intimacy as it relations to our relationship with God is not at all accidental.  Indeed there is nothing in the human experience that can really relate the depth of intimacy that God desires with us than that of a monogamous relationship between husband and wife.

Scripture uses such language to talk about God’s love for Israel which is described as a “bride” waiting for her groom.  In the same way, when Israel commits idolatry, it is as if she were committing adultery; the depth of the betrayal and hurt is that intense.  This, however, only further reveals the love that God has for His people as He continues to pursue them, working for their salvation.

Babylon, though, is the “great prostitute.”  The “many waters” that she sits by are the “inhabitants of the earth,” all those who have turned away from God.  When the angel takes John into the wilderness he sees this woman who is sitting on the beast, an interesting metaphor for showing that her actions and the beasts are very much related.  The beast being scarlet shows a similarity to the dragon we met earlier in chapter 12; the beast is the beast from the earth, that is the false prophet who led many astray to worship the other beast.

The women, whose name here is “Babylon the great,” is adorned with many great looking things.  Just as the things of this world often look great on the outside, so too does the great prostitute entice the people of the world to join her.  It seems also that she has partaken in the persecution and murder of God’s people again solidifying the idea that her actions and that of the beast are one and the same.

As the angel is explaining the mystery of the woman and the beast, we get a sense of imitation that is going on here.  The beast “once was, now is not, and yet will come.”  This could be a two-fold description of an imitation of Jesus who lived, died, and rose from the dead as well as perhaps being significant of a set of time periods where the beast will be present, then will not be prominent for a while, and then will return.  Evil is certainly persistent, and we can probably look back through history to see times when it seemed like evil was much more prevalent than at other times.

Following this is a series of references to seven hills, seven kings, an eighth king, and then ten more kings.  These have been interpreted in a number of different ways.  Seven hills could be an obvious reference to Rome, a city built on seven hills.  Hills and mountains, though, are also a reference to royalty and power, something that coincides with the references to kings.  The seven kings have been interpreted as seven emperors of Rome and also as rulers of some of the empires that had come before.  An eighth king comes along, a reference to the antichrist, to whom all the other kings give their power.

So, is Rome (the city or the empire) actually what is being referenced when we say “Babylon?”  Perhaps.  It is difficult to identify one specific interpretation that fits everything.  As we have seen throughout Revelation, though, these references to royal and political power that resist and stand in opposition to God could very easily be speaking to the totality of political, economic, and other worldly powers that turn from Christ and resist both God and oppress the people of God.  We can see examples of this throughout history and even in our present day governments.  Revelation could be revealing the trajectory of secular power, the governments of the world, that move away from Christian principles and even go so far as to oppress Christians.

If that is the case, it is also possible that the woman that is depicted here could be representative of the people of God.  As I said, this image of an elegantly adorned woman is one that is used in the Old Testament to describe Israel.  Perhaps what John is seeing here is not just the city of Babylon but rather, the people of God who have sold themselves out to the secular powers of politics, culture, civil religion, and anything else that promises some sort of hope but ultimately, as John records at the end of chapter 17, leaves her naked and ruined.

In this instance, perhaps Revelation is issuing a warning to the people of God not to follow the currents of the world, to stay separate and chaste from the idolatry that the world offers.  Certainly, this has implications for the church today as we have seen a dramatic shift toward cultural trends that demand we stay “relevant” and “up to date” on things.  Often times our emphasis on such things leads us away from the truths of Scripture for the sake of contemporary (here and now) significance.  When we turn toward these things as our hope and strength… perhaps we become the prostitute?

 

 



Ephesians 6 – God's Armor

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God’s armor helps us defend against the constant attacks of the enemy.

Paul does two things here that are necessary for us as Christians to understand the reality of the battle that we are facing.  First, he helps us determine where the battle is being fought and second, helps us to understand the resources at our disposal for this battle.

One of the greatest struggles in any conflict is determining who the true enemy is.  Often it is easy to over-generalize the enemy, especially in war.  We go to war with a country, but the true enemy is a rogue government or evil dictator, not the citizens trapped therein.  In North America, the Church finds itself at odds with culture, often over-generalizing the enemy that is being fought as an ideology, supreme court decision, or political party.

While there may be some truth to these particular segments, they are gross over-generalizations that vilify things and people whilst distracting us from the true battle that is going on.  Paul cuts through this and points to the true culprit behind not just western culture’s moral decline, but every temptation, sin, and evil that has ever been: the great deceiver, Satan, and the plane that this war is taking place on is much greater than any one single issue or act.

As such, the armor and weapons that are needed for this battle are also greater than any human creation or action.  These are things that can only come from God.  Lately, it seems, and far too often, the Church has relied less and less on God’s armor and more on political structures and lobbying groups to confront the enemy and all his scheming… and to no avail either.

We need to understand the nature of the war that we are in.  It isn’t one that we are going to win on our own.  In fact, it isn’t going to be one until Jesus Christ comes again and wins it for us once and for all.  The image of the Church in the world will not be crafted by how we get our way in governmental structures, whether or not abortion is legal, or any other such thing.  Rather, as Scripture tells us,

Rather, as Scripture tells us, we will face troubles in the world and should expect that.  God has given us weapons to defend against these attacks.  He has also shown us how, exactly, the world will know our identity as Christ followers, and that is through the love that we show all those around us in spite of governmental decisions, moral cultural decline, and the like.



John 7 – Who Are We Looking For?

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In the time of Jesus, there was a considerable amount of unrest within the Jewish community; they were on the hunt for a Savior.  In fact, between the time of Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament (mid 500s B.C.), and the time that Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans (70 A.D.), several people rose up as prospective messianic figures and whose rebellions were summarily snuffed out.  Suffice it to say, the people were on the lookout for a Savior.

When Jesus comes on the scene, He works miraculous signs, fulfilling Scripture left and right, and teaching with an authority much greater and more pronounced than the other religious leaders.  We see that something sets Jesus apart by the comments that the people make about Him.  Many are impressed by His teachings while others are extremely threatened by Him.

One of the reasons that the Jews were looking for a Messiah was because of the cultural and political climate that was present in that time.  Roman rule and oppression had been going on for years but the Jewish people had a vision of a “restored kingdom,” like that of King David, and thought that the prophesied Messiah was going to rise up to overthrow the oppressive regime and restore Israel to its former glory.

Sound familiar?  The current state of the U.S. and the political climate of the 2016 presidential election seems to have taken on some of the same themes.  No matter the political affiliation that you hold, many are angrily looking for someone to be America’s “savior.”  We seem to be willing to listen to just about anything that offers some semblance of hope.

Sadly, doing this relates us more closely to the Pharisees, those who doubt Jesus’ identity, than to His disciples, those who follow Him.



Luke 12 – Be Alert

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These warnings of Jesus ring true for us, even in the 21st century.  There are innumerable forces and influences in the world today that offer us a “path to salvation.”  Proponents of such messages are new, exciting, sometimes even vulgar, playing off of the emotions of people who thought the last new and exciting thing would save them, or those that knew it wouldn’t and are seeking an alternative.

It may seem like I am talking about politics here, and that wouldn’t be a wrong assumption, but this is also true in many other realms of life.  Jesus writes in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 that “many will come in my Name…” and that we need to watch out for this.  Jesus also says here, that we should “have no fear.”

Jesus is getting at a deep application of our faith in practice.  Those that are trusting in Jesus should not be looking elsewhere for hope or salvation.  Believers aren’t so concerned about making a country great but rather about caring for the widow and the orphan.  We don’t buy into the notion that a political party can make a country “whole,” because we know the true path to wholeness comes through Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.  And we don’t latch on to the ideas of Socialism because at its very core, the Church should already be doing these things in their communities, showing deep concern for the marginalized.

Seeking any party, program, or other sources to do these things for us is not simply a matter of laziness, but a matter of salvific preference.  Do we turn to Jesus and follow Him and His great commission?  Or do we place our trust in others to do it for us… and in place of Him?



Mark 3 – Divided Kingdom

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After healing a man with a shrivled hand, the religious leaders have trouble finding a way to accuse Jesus and destroy His ministry.  Interestingly, and somewhat ironically, they finally decide to accuse Jesus of being on the side of the enemy, working for satan himself.  Sometimes the words of the pharisees remind me of the ways that our politicians act, accusing each other of different things so as to gain the upper hand, to retain their power and status.

Jesus is not so easily swayed or overcome by these arguments.  Whereas it seems today that the accusation of anything in today’s political arena would garner a recant, reversal, or otherwise change of action or statement, Jesus stands firm in His mission, His Kingdom focus.

Sometimes it feels like the church faces this sort of division in our culture.  We desire to advance the Kingdom, to be on mission with God, and yet we fear the reprisal and accusations of those around us.

The Kingdom of Heaven in not one of timidity, it is not one of scared political correctness or middle of the road decisions.  Jesus doesn’t, in the face of questions about keeping the Sabbath or any such thing, decide to heal the shrivled hand tommorow, He takes action now.  This is the nature of God’s work of grace, healing and transformation.

This doesn’t mean biligerence.  Scripture says often to remember the “weaker brother.”  Jesus doesn’t get in their face, He doesn’t start a protest movement against the religious leaders or an “occupy the Temple” movement against the observation of the law.  Rather, calmly and consistently, He brings healing in God’s name, and teaches about the true nature of God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom that above all finds it’s foundation on God’s unquenchable love and desire for reconciliation.