Monday, October 28, 2019

The Wedding of the Ages- Revelation 19:7-10

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The wedding industry is a powerful thing. With reality shows devoted to picking the perfect dress to the huge money spent on venues, photographers, catering, music, and decorations, these ceremonies and receptions, with all their pomp and circumstance, still hold a special place in our culture. Having recently attended my sister’s wedding I can personally vouch for how mush interest there is in who is in the wedding party, what the ceremony will include, what song the couple will use for their first dance, and so much more. However, as beautiful as my sister’s wedding was and as wonderful as my sister and mom proved as wedding planners, there is at least one better. Believe it or not, in the pages of Revelation—filled with plagues, doom, cosmic conflict, and beasts—there is a wedding celebration. At this most wondrous occasion, recorded for us in Revelation 19:7-10, the reader witnesses the end of one era and the dawning of a new. Therefore, let’s take a close look at three pronouncements made in this passage (as we crash this eschatological wedding) and celebrate along with the guests the culmination of Christ’s redemptive work for his bride.

a. Pronouncement #1: Announcement of the Marriage-19:7-8

With the celebratory tone already set by the four-fold hallelujah chorus of verses 1-6, Revelation 19 immediately ushers the reader to a much-anticipated occasion—the marriage supper of the Lamb. Continuing the exuberant theme of joy, the reader is encouraged to “rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him” (19:7a). This kind of call is often used “to urge someone to unite with the speaker in a course of action upon which he has already decided” (Chamberlain, Exegetical Grammar, 83). Here, the speaker is calling John and his audience to join in the excitement of heaven upon the culmination of the marriage of Christ and his bride, the church. In other words we are to join the party that is already in process.

The much-anticipated celebration is identified in the second part of verse 7 when the speaker says, “for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready,…” (19:7b). In order to fully appreciate what this wedding celebration means, one must be aware of ancient Jewish wedding traditions that, no doubt, run parallel to this passage.

In the ancient Jewish world, weddings were a big deal (believe it or not, an even bigger deal than many make them out to be today). Celebrations could last days and, more importantly, these celebrations took place at the culmination of a long process. Stage 1: The betrothal and the payment of the dowry. In this stage the groom approaches the father of the bride and agrees on a dowry for the bride and signs a contract to that end. Once an agreement is made, the couple is engaged and, “as good as married” in every legal sense. In fact, many engaged couples referred to themselves as “husbands” and “wives” and, believe it or not, it required a formal divorce to break up such an engagement. One example of this phase of the marriage process is beautifully illustrated in the life of Mary and Joseph prior to the birth of Jesus. Joseph had already agreed to and paid a dowry for Mary and they were formally engaged. This is why upon hearing of the baby he wonders if he should not divorce her quietly. Stage 2: The preparation for the celebration. Following the engagement, the groom would make his house ready to accept his bride into their new home. Most engagements lasted (at most) a year and during this time gifts were exchanged between the two families. Stage 3: The snatching of the bride. Once preparations for the groom’s home and marriage celebration were nearing completion, the bride would make herself ready, dressing in all kinds of finery, to be picked up by the groom on the way to his home for the marriage celebration. Though brides and their wedding parties would know about when this would take place, they didn’t know for sure exactly when the snatching the bride would happen. Most of the time at night, the groom would call out to his bride, with much noise, fanfare, and romance, and proceed to carry her to his home. There is an interesting parallel parable that describes this phase of the marriage in detail.

Matthew 25:1-12-“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”

Stage 4: The Marriage celebration. Once she was picked up, the bride, her wedding party, and invited guests would gather at the home of the groom. Here, bride and groom would enter the huppah, recite a blessing over the wine (a symbol of joy), and finalize their vows. Now finally, the couple would consummate their marriage and then enter the reception party where they would celebrate along with friends and family, sometimes for days. At this point the couple would be fully married and allowed to live their new lives together.

Interestingly, each of these major stages of ancient Jewish weddings are represented in the redemption saga between Christ and his bride, the church. After all, the church is described as the bride of Christ multiple times in the New Testament.

Ephesians 5:25-27-“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her,…”

2 Corinthians 11:2-“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.”

John 3:29-“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete."

The church’s relationship with Jesus can be traced using the same stages already described of an ancient Jewish Wedding.  In stage 1, Christ paid the highest price for his bride on the cross and reached an agreement with God on behalf of the church. In this, Jesus showed his willingness to give all to be with his desired bride (how romantic). At the moment of payment, sealed with the resurrection, those who are in Christ by repentance and faith are engaged—“as good as married”—with an engagement that cannot be broken off no matter how long it may take for the groom to make final preparations during stage 2. At some point in the future, and quite unexpectantly, Jesus, the groom, will call for his bride, the church, and snatch her away to heaven to be with him in stage 3. This is why the Bible constantly encourages readiness, watchfulness, and sober-mindedness (Matt. 24:4; Lk. 12:40; Mk. 13:33-37). Luke 12:35-38 says “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks.” Here, in Revelation 19, we read about stage 4, the bride and groom have finally made it to his house, have made their final vows, and enter the reception hall after their long betrothal and engagement.

In this passage, the Godhead is cast as a divine wedding planner who set up His son, Christ, with his bride, the Church, made the arrangements of the wedding, and picked the date. However, his provision doesn’t stop there.

God even makes provision by purchasing the wedding gown for the bride, “It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints,…” (19:8). The passive voice here prohibits the reader from believing the bride (church) in and of herself has had any kind of active and/or compelling role in bringing about her readiness for marriage. This readiness has been granted her by God—righteous garments. In other words, this bride’s wedding dress was gifted to her as she was woefully incapable of affording it or earning it in any way. This is a real Cinderella story here!

That the bride’s appropriate dress is identified as the righteous acts of the saints is established earlier in the Bible.

Isaiah 61:10-“I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Job 40:10-“Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity, And clothe yourself with honor and majesty.”

2 Corinthians 5:4-“For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.”

Galatians 3:27-“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”


Here, righteous acts, acts that believers are not capable of performing apart from a relationship with Christ, are described as wedding garments that identify them as the bride of Jesus before a jealous world.

b. Pronouncement #2: Blessing for the Invited Guests-19:9

After announcing the marriage celebration, the speaker breaks out into one of seven beatitudes/blessings (see 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 20:6; 22:7, 14) found in the Book of Revelation—“Then he said to me, ‘Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb’” (19:9a). In this beatitude God’s role as wedding planner extends beyond arranging the marriage, picking the date, and purchasing the dress to include sending out invitations for others to join the celebration. While in 19:7 believers are symbolized as the bride who has been clothed in righteousness in preparation for the marriage ceremony, here, believers are introduced as invited guests to the wedding celebration. Thus, according to Revelation, saints are both the bride and the invited guests. This kind of mixing of metaphors was common in the ancient world to add “richness to the imagery” (Osborne, Revelation, 675). Just as the church is often described in the New Testament as the bride of Christ, so too is there biblical precedent for understanding believers as invited guests.

Matthew 22:1-14-“Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, 2’The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ But they paid no attention and went off--one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.11 But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. 13 Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 ‘For many are invited, but few are chosen.’”

In Revelation 19:9, the ones who have heard the invitation of God to this most wondrous occasion and have responded positively (RSVPing via faith and repentance) are those who are called “blessed” for they are allowed to celebrate the wedding feast of victory in heaven.

After voicing this blessing over those who have responded positively to God’s invitation to the wedding for the ages the speaker exclaims, “These are true words of God’…” (19:9b).

c. Pronouncement #3: Correction for John-19:10

In view of such splendor and in reaction to these pronouncements, images, and symbols, John says “then I fell at his feet to worship him” (19:10a). It is obvious here that John interpreted the speaker and his message to mean that he (the pronouncer) was divine. However, the speaker reveals that this is a mistake.

“But he said to me, ‘Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God” (19:10b). The speaker’s correction reveals several things: 1) this angel is not divine and/or equal to God. 2) the only proper destination for our reverent awe and praise is God himself. 3) human beings like John and angels share solidarity (“they are brothers and sisters”) in that they have faithfully testified about Christ.

Curiously, the speakers continues with “for the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy” (19:10c). This is similar to what was stated in Revelation 1:9-“I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” If these two passages are taken together, they might suggest that “the testimony that Jesus is speaking (in certain spots, especially chapters 2-3) is the same message that the Holy Spirit is speaking through the rest of the prophecy in Revelation” (Wilson, ZIBBC, 335). Quite simply, the whole book is inspired either by Jesus or by the Spirit but, ultimately, all by God.

So What?

What a beautiful scene—a much-anticipated wedding ceremony between the Bridegroom (Christ) and his bride (the church). This marks the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. One might also remember that it was at a wedding that Jesus performed his first recorded miracle, instigating, in some ways, his earthly ministry. There, the miracle hinted at the end of one age (the old covenant) and the beginning of a new one (the new covenant). Here again, at a wedding, Jesus turns the page and says that one age is done (the church age and tribulation) and a new one is on its way (the millennial Kingdom of God). In the face of so glorious a spectacle what are we to do? What are we to take away? For those in Christ, this ought to inspire perseverance. The same Christ who saved you (purchased the rights to marry you and entered into a covenantal bond because of his death and resurrection) will one day seal the deal and introduce you to a new and better life. Paul puts it this way “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). What an encouragement it is to remember when we find ourselves impatient and tired of waiting that Christ has not forgotten us. In fact, to the contrary, he is getting things ready for us. Does he not say in John 14 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself that where I am you have be also…”? Make yourself ready and do not be dismayed!

However, for those without a relationship with Christ today, consider for what you have settled. Revelation only mentions two potential relationships in connection with the two kinds of people in this world (the people of God and the people of the world). Either you are a part of the bride of Christ (married to the perfect husband), or a suitor of the great harlot (deceptive, unfaithful, dangerous, and ultimately unsatisfying). The latter might offer cheap thrills for a season, but in the end, as we’ve read in Revelation 17-18, she and all who lie with her, will be destroyed. Also consider what James says in James 4:4-“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy.”

The good news is that the invitation to the wedding we read about here in Revelation 19 extends to everyone. Isn’t it about time to RSVP for this celebration by forsaking the mistress of this world and embracing what Jesus has done on your behalf?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Facing the Music Pt. 2 Revelation 19:1-6

Two weeks ago we began a two-part series entitled “Facing the Music” that decided to look at two songs found at a pivotal moment in the Book of Revelation. The first of these was the song of Revelation 18:9-24—a song that mourned the loss of the fallen world order with its temporary powers and corruptible sources of wealth. Facing the music for those singing in chapter 18 meant recognizing their doom after having placed their hope in the wrong thing. We learned in the pitiful singing of the world that our hope must be found in something beyond this world as it currently exists and placed in someone outside of ourselves. Today, as we turn to the next chapter in Revelation, we hear a new song that celebrates the reign and power of the One who is lacking in nothing and is eternally sovereign over all. Facing the music for those in chapter 19 means acknowledging the ultimate authority already in place and extending him all praise, glory and honor. Let’s listen to four verses of the song in Revelation 19:1-6 and celebrate the coming victory of our sovereign Lord.


Once again, in chapters 17-18 the long sad song of a world in the process of being destroyed is heard, illustrating how futile it hope in temporary powers or material wealth is. In chapter 19, a new song is sung—a celebration song consisting of four verses.  This tune, which sharply contrasts the one in the preceding chapter, is introduced with “After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven” (19:1a). This great multitude is the same group of saints envisioned earlier in chapter 7:9. There, as here, they are seen standing before the throne, praising God for his salvation.
The first verse of the song that this multitude sings is introduced with “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God” (19:1b). It might surprise you to learn that Revelation 19 records the only four uses of “hallelujah” in the New Testament. However, this familiar exclamation comes from a Hebrews word meaning “Praise the Lord!” that is found frequently in the Book of Psalms. One Old Testament song that celebrates the greatness of God following the eradication of sin is found in Psalm 104:35-“Let sinners be consumed from the earth and let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!” (i.e. “hallelujah”). This Old Testament reference appears to run parallel to what is celebrated here in Revelation 19 in both the words used (hallelujah) and reasons for their expression (victory over sin).

God is to be praised, according to the multitude as “salvation and glory and power belong to our God” (19:1b). This is another example of a triad (group of three things, people, or ideas that are connected contextually and/or grammatically in the Book of Revelation). While some of these triads accentuate three separate but related theological ideas/personalities, others are used to demonstrate or emphasize a sentiment or quality of a single entity. Here something of greatness of God is emphasized by three characteristics connected to his being and ministry. First God can and has provided salvation for his people. Following the destruction of the world, he will also bring about ultimate salvation for those who belong to him. Second, God is and has always been glorious and deserving of all glory. And third, God is powerful (and certainly his power has been witnessed in amazing ways through the vision given to John).

Salvation, glory, and power have been on display in a couple of specific ways in the book thus far. These are presented as reasons offered by the multitude for God’s worthiness to be praised.  First, he is praised “because His judgments are true and righteous” (19:2a). This is quoted, nearly verbatim, from Revelation 16:7 and in both passages. God’s justice is described as “true” because it is based on his own faithfulness and “just” because it is based on his own holy character. “In other words, his judgments are both morally true and legally just” (Osborne, Revelation, 664).

The recipient of his morally true and legally just punishment is the coming world order (Babylon the Great)—“For he has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality” (19:2b). There is an interesting juxtaposition of verbal tenses here that is worth exploring in detail. God is said to “have judged” the power that “was corrupting.” It is a vivid way of saying that God has put a decisive end (see the culminative aorist function of “has judged”) to an ongoing/continuous process (see the progressive imperfect function of “was corrupting”). The visions in Revelation have already revealed that the world’s corruption has and will continue to involve rampant idolatry (the worship of something/someone other than God), either of the economy in overt materialism (see Rev 18:9ff), of the temporal powers in place (see Rev 18:1ff), or seen in the pagan worship of the Beast (see Rev. 13). This multi-pronged program of corruption will continue to the end when God will put a sudden end to it in his final judgment of the fallen world.

In addition to putting an end to corruption, God will “avenge the blood of his bond-servants on her” (19:2c). He will finally answer the cries of the martyred saints in heaven heard in Revelation 6:10-“and they cried out with a  loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’”. The wait for retribution is over and the same world that stopped at nothing to silence God’s people will itself by silenced once and for all.

This important conclusive note on evil in the world is an important truth to keep in mind when considering the problem of sin that we deal with on a daily basis. Evil certainly exists. However, this truism, if accepted in isolation, leads to a number of problems that one might expect in an incomplete reading of Scripture. Evil exists, but the Bible also teaches that evil is limited, will be judged, and will ultimately be eradicated. You cannot read Genesis 3 (the account of the fall of man) and skip 3:15 (the proto-euangelion/first gospel). Nor can we read Revelation 13-18 and skip Revelation 19. Be encouraged--God is greater than your sin and the evil in this world! Hallelujah!

b. Second Verse: HALLELUJAH, GOD’s JUDGMENT ENDURES-19:3-“…And a second time they said, ‘Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever,…”

The second verse of the song sung is voiced by the same multitude as the first—“and a second time they said, ‘Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever’…” (19:3). This short refrain celebrates the extent of the punishment that was identified in the first verse against the wicked. The language reflects Revelation 14:11-“And the smoke of her torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” There is a lot of smoke in the Book of Revelation that indicates the presence of difference things. There is the smoke of the prayers of the saints that rises as incense to the throne room of God (see Rev. 8:4). There is also the smoke of the glory of God that fills the temple (Rev. 15:8). However, in contrast to these images is the smoke of war (Rev. 19:14-21) and the smoke of torment that accompanies the lake of fire to be described later (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14-15). The latter is probably what is in view here, indicating the judgment of God endures forever against his enemies.


The third verse of the tune is sung by a different group of choristers—“and the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who sits on the throne” (19:4a). Throughout the Book of Revelation in these moments of worship we often see this collection of singers. They were first introduced in Revelation 4.

Revelation 4:4ff-“Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads,…and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal; and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind”

In Revelation 4, these worshipers praised God for his unmatched holiness and ability to create the universe. In Revelation 5, the same group sings a new song to the Lamb who emerges onto the scene. There, they praise Christ for his ministry of redemption and his ability to set in motion those things that will end the world as we know it (see 5:14 and 7:12). In Revelation 14:3, these same beings sing a song that no one else knows—looking forward to the victory of the Lamb. Here, in Revelation 19, this victory is secured and the twenty-four elders and four living creatures once again voice their praises to God who sits on the throne. It is his absolute authority that is most in focus here. After all it is his sovereign plan that has created the world, saved the world, and now judges the world so as to usher in a new world for his people.

Their posture before the throne says it all and rather than elaborate on their reasons for praising the Lord, they simply agree with what the multitude has already voiced “saying, ‘Amen. Hallelujah!’…” (19:4b). This simple affirmation is similar to what was voiced after a prayer for deliverance in Psalm 106:47-“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Let all the people say, ‘Amen, hallelujah!’”. As in this Old Testament context, those singing in Revelation recognize the Lord’s unique ability to deliver his people from whatever threats they face. This is certainly fitting given the tribulation described in the Book of Revelation and the persevering power of God that sustains his people therein.

d. Fourth Verse: HALLELUJAH, GOD REIGNS-19:5-6

The final verse of the song found in Revelation 19:1-6 begins with a call to worship—“And a voice came from the throne, saying, ‘Give praise to our God, all you His bondservants, you who fear Him, the small and the great’…” (19:5). Though exactly who this voice belongs to is unmentioned, it can be assumed that whoever issues this command has the authority to do so (Aune, Revelation 17-22, 1027). This voice extends an invitation or request for those on the earth to join in the celestial worship of God. “all you his bondservants, you who fear Him, the small and the great” are those believers on the earth who have come to faith during the tribulation period described in Revelation 6ff. With the dead in Christ (the multitude) and a host of heavenly beings (elders and creatures) already worshiping, there are few left who can join the chorus. What is implicit in this call is a desire to see the worship of God that exists in the heavenly realm echoing in the earthly realm among all who belong to him (his bondservants), fear him (the obedient and reverent), no matter who they are (small and the great). After all, everyone in Christ is equal before the throne of God. Along with this shift from the heavenly to earthy realm is a shift in tone. Though the judgment of Babylon the great has been celebrated up to this point in the song sung, the final verse celebrates the anticipated reward of the saints (see also 11:18) (Wilson, ZIBBC, 353-54).

“Then I heard something like the voice of a great multitude and like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder” (19:6a). The same group that opened the song in verse 1 now closes it in verse 6. Here, added descriptive phrases “like the sound of many waters” and “like the sound of mighty peals of thunder” highlight the volume of this climactic refrain. In Revelation 1:15 the voice of “the one like a son of man” was “like the sound of many waters,” and in 14:2-3 the harpists singing the “new song” were as loud as “many waters and loud thunder” (Osborne, Revelation, 672).  The decibels associated with this final verse are in keeping with the great message it communicates.

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns” (19:6b). This is the last “hallelujah” of the four. A lofty title for God is employed once again—“Lord God Almighty” to highlight the Father’s omnipotence and sovereignty. It is He who reigns—a present progressive verb demonstrating an ongoing and consistent activity. Here, the activity involves ruling “as a king with the implication of complete authority…” (Louw & Nida).  The change of tense is significant when one considers what is happening in this pivotal chapter. While ongoing continuous corruption characterized the planet in verse 2’s description of the fallen world (“was corrupting”) because of God’s culminative and decisive act of judgment (see verse 2) a new existential reality pervades the planet—God reigns. Hallelujah!

So What?

Revelation 18 and 19 reveals that there are two kinds of people in existence: the people of the world and the people of God. These two types of people are illustrated by the songs they will sing in the end. The question today is this: What tune will be on your lips when you are made to face the music? Will your confidence in what this world can provide you or what you can provide for yourself have you singing a song of doom and gloom prior to being judged by the God you either denied or ignored? Or will your trust in Christ and the salvation he alone can provide have you singing a song of praise to a sovereign Lord who is on the throne and working all things out for an ultimate good to those who love Him and are called according to his purposes?

Monday, October 7, 2019

Facing the Music Pt. 1-Revelation 18:9-24

Songs are often written and/or sung to commemorate/celebrate/reflect on certain life events. Think of all the breakup songs there are in country and pop music today, all the party songs that get people on the dance floor, or those songs of remembrance that have us thinking about bygone eras. Each of these songs has an intended purpose—some happy and some sad. Interestingly, there are many songs in the Book of Revelation that serve specific purposes. Today and next week we are going to look at two of them. First up is a sad song of lament sung by the world as it anticipates the fall of Babylon the Great. This song is sung in Revelation 18:9-24 as two reactions are given to the destruction of the coming world order. It is my prayer that as we hear this pathetic tune, we will, as God’s people, find reason to rejoice that the same fate lamented in this passage by citizens of the world is not the destiny reserved for us who are in Christ.

a. REACTION #1: The Sad Song of the World-18:9-20

Prior to the events that will lead to the end of the world as we know it, those belonging to the fallen system will see the writing on the wall and mourn their imminent loss. The first to sing their sad song are the “kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her”—i.e. those who traded a meaningful relationship with Christ for trysts with the things/personalities of the world. These “will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning” (18:9). It is important to recognize both with the song of the kings and the merchants that these are not manifestations of repentance. They are saddened that their source of power and wealth is now destroyed. While they ought to be broken over how their sin has grieved the heart of God and incurred his wrath, they are upset first and foremost by how God’s judgment has inhibited their personal source of power. Instead of subjecting themselves to the true sovereign of the universe, they grieve that their own sovereignty is thrown into jeopardy.  

In addition to be upset by a loss of power, the “kings” are terrified at the fate of the capitol and, in an effort to escape the same punishment, these are shown “standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city!’…” Though these kings recognize that the hour of judgment has come for Babylon—“for in one hour your judgment has come’”—little to do they know that their fate is connected to this powerhouse and they will soon experience the same.

The swiftness of the judgment (in one hour) on a regime called “Babylon” (the coming world order) is parallel to the fate of the Babylon of the Old Testament in Daniel 5. There, a celebration of idolatry and licentiousness is interrupted by a supernatural message via a floating hand that inscribes a message on the plaster wall of the palace. The message, interpreted by Daniel, spelled swift judgment for a regime that had forgotten Daniel’s God and, as Daniel puts it “that same night, Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain” (Daniel 5:30). Here, an idolatrous and immoral world power is handed the same quick fate and, at least in this context, the kings are able to recognize the writing on the wall.
Not only do the kings mourn the loss, so do the merchants—i.e. those benefiting economically from the world’s system. The text reads as follows: “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more—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 an d 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. 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,…” (18:11-14). The list of cargo mentioned here is teaming with historically significant connotations. These products were very expensive and affordable only to the wealthy of Roman society in the first century (when this was written). In fact, the immediate context to which this book was sent (Asia minor) was one of the richest provinces in the ancient Roman empire and exported many of these products throughout Rome. The indictment being made here in Revelation is therefore an indictment on excessive materialism and affluence of a world that seeks to serve itself at any cost—trading what is of lasting value (righteousness in Christ) for what is only of temporary significance (the things of this world).  

Some of the more interesting commodities mentioned in the list include “slaves and human lives” (18:13). In the first century, slaves, most of whom were men, numbered about 10,000,000—approximately 20% of the population of the empire (Wilson, SIBBC, 351). Slavery looked very different in Rome than it did in the history of the United States. Slavery was often entered into voluntarily to pay a debt and was a temporary condition that people could work their way out of. The prediction here in Revelation 18 reveals that in the future, people will be economically enslaved to the coming world order—a regime that controls every aspect of the lives of its citizens and trades people and their skills like commodities to serve its nefarious purposes.

Like the kings mentioned earlier, “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!’...” (18:15-17a). Again, as with the kings, the sadness of these merchants is not at their sin and how they’ve scammed the system and exploited people to get rich; it is that their cash cow is being taken away. Swift judgment will, like a massive stock market crash, devalue the wealth of the world, leaving no buyers left to make these merchants rich.

The shipmasters, sailors, and passengers join in on the lament of these merchants in verses 17b-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?’…” Accompanying their cries is the expression of their distress—“and they threw dust on their heads” (Rev. 18:18). This is a sign of acute mourning/grief in the Old Testament (often accompanied with rolling in ashes) (see Josh. 7:6; Ezek. 27:30). What is fueling this dramatic display of displeasure is again revealed in verse 19 “Woe, 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!’…”.  These merchants are grieved that the wealth of the world that made them rich is gone.

As the merchants, sailors, and others concede the defeat of their 401Ks and nest eggs, another voice interrupts the pathetic song with “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and you apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her’…” (18:20). When the fallen world mourns, God people can rejoice. After all, saints, apostles, and prophets are not of this fallen world and look forward to a new world to come. Because the fate of God’s people are not connected to the world as it currently exists, they do not mourn as the rest of the world does when its institutions are dismantled. Instead, they rejoice, knowing that just around the corner, there is a better reality awaiting them.

b. REACTION #2: The Proclamation of the Strong Angel-18:21-24

Following the reaction of the world’s sympathizers is a proclamation given by “a strong angel.” This proclamation begins with a concrete illustration of what the fall of Babylon will look like. “Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer,’…” (18:21). The violence of the act symbolizes the violence with which Babylon will be destroyed (see Jeremiah 51:63-64 for a similar demonstration). Babylon’s fall, still future, will come by means of two separate but related events: the civil war already described in 17:16 in which the Antichrist will consolidate absolute power over the world order, and in the final destruction at the return of Christ in Revelation 19:11-21. These two events will sink Babylon in the abyss of history, much as the millstone thrown by the angel, no doubt, sunk in the sea.

Though the city will be, at its height, a veritable metropolis teaming with activity, affluence, and attention—not unlike New York, Dubai, or London today—once this future Babylon falls this angel reveals “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;…” (18:22-23a). The lack of music suggests that there is no longer anything to celebrate (as all celebrations centered on the world’s successes and that world has failed). The absence of craftsman and the silence of the mill suggests that there is nothing to work for (because there is no one left who can afford what is produced). The darkness that envelopes the once well-lit and gleaming district is indicative of the spiritual and existential darkness that characterizes this place and its citizens. While the millstone was heard during the regular workday, the lamp indicated life at night. Here, both the day life and night life of this coming world power has ceased (Osborne, Revelation, 657). Additionally, people are no longer giving themselves in marriage as they know time on the earth is short. Ultimately, this ominous presentation indicates that “the normal activities of life—music, work, and marriage—will forever disappear from the streets of Babylon” (Wilson, ZIBBC, 352). Very suddenly, what was the center of the world will become a ghost town, making what was seen at Pompeii after the eruption of Vesuvius look like practice.

After proclaiming the fate of Babylon, the “strong angel” outlines the reasons for this in verses 23b-24—“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,…”. In ancient courts, crimes were always read aloud as the sentence was carried out. Following this custom (and in addition to those crimes already listed in places like 18:2-3, 7), the angel spells out against exactly what charges are being punished. First, “your merchants were the great men of the earth.” This summarizes the emphasis on wealth, luxury, and greed already mentioned in the chapter (Osborne, Revelation, 658). Second, “all the nations were deceived by your sorcery.” This context uses “sorcery” figuratively to describe the demonic deception behind the mass buy in to the world in general, its leadership in particular, and the Antichrist most specifically. For instance, earlier, the false trinity was described as having “deceived” the nations (see 12:9; 13:14) into worshiping the beast. This is no surprise as the Scripture frequently connects idolatry to demonic influence (see Deut. 32:16-17; Ps. 106:35-37; 1 Cor. 10:20). The third indictment brought against Babylon is the murder of the saints—“And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth,…” (18:24). Accentuated in its own separate independent clause and the sudden move from 2nd to 3rd person, this is what grieves God most—that the wicked world would seek to destroy his people and anyone made in his image. So much life has been lost during this period and what was dealt by this corrupt world system will now be dealt to her.

So What?

The sad song of the world and the proclamation of the strong angel in this passage illustrate something very important: the world stands to lose everything in its focus on material possessions and temporal sources of strength. Thankfully, there is another way to live that is not dependent on fleeting things. There is another kind of security that is not limited to whomever controls whatever government is currently in power. Psalm 20:7-9 reads “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. Lord, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!” In what are you placing your trust today? What kind of song will you be singing when what is prophesied in Revelation comes to pass? Will you be mourning the loss of your assets or will you be rejoicing in the hope of victory?