Ten Visions Of Christ Triumphant
5 . Visions 8 & 9.
The Lamb goes forth to war
"After these things I saw another angel come (coming) down from heaven...and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen." (Rev.18:1‑2)
One of the most significant events in the chequered history of Israel was the collapse of the Babylonian world power when Cyrus the Persian captured Babylon, and restored the people of Israel to their own land. In a very real sense the fall of the ancient city of Babylon marked the end of a world order. The Babylonians were the last surviving remnants of the people who populated the "plain of Shinar" after the Flood, built the notorious Tower of Babel, and instituted a system of world dominance allied with false religion which profoundly affected and moulded human thought and development for twenty‑five centuries. Writing, mathematics, the sciences, law, together with religious doctrine and ceremonial, all has its source in Babylon. As a centre of population it goes back nearly five thousand years; as a political power dominant over the then known world more than four thousand. Our units of time and distance, our weights and measures—until the considerably inferior metric system was adopted—all are derived from Babylon. The ceremonials, the trappings, the buildings, even to some extent the doctrines of institutional Christianity in the world today include much that is derived from Babylon. And the dominant characteristic of Babylon was that it supported a politico‑religious system based upon the worship of false gods which themselves were but reflections of the imaginations and standards and vices of men. Abraham was called to separate himself from the land of which Babylon was the chief city and to come into a land which God would show him and which therefore became in due time the land peculiarly sacred to God. The two cities, Jerusalem and Babylon, became respectively the cities of the ways of God and the ways of man. To the God‑fearing Jew who looked upon Jerusalem as the city of righteousness, Babylon was the city of evil.
It is for this reason that the eventual fall of Babylon and the end of that order of things is alluded to so often in the Scriptures to picture the end of the very imperfect and largely godless rule of man upon earth at the time when the Lord Christ takes up his power and commences his Messianic reign. In the symbolism of Revelation, the fall of symbolic Babylon occurs at the time of the Second Advent. Just as Cyrus the Persian with his armies put an end to the empire of Babylon and assumed the regal power, so does the Lord Christ with his Church from heaven put an end to the present world order and initiate a new one, "wherein dwelleth righteousness" as Peter puts it. (2 Pet.3:13) This is the theme of this 18th chapter.
The angel coming down from heaven in power and great glory of verse 1 is our Lord Jesus Christ in one of the many aspects of his Second Advent. This is not merely an angelic messenger commissioned to come to earth with a message. The description is too exalted for that. There is a definite correspondence between Rev.18:1 and the vision of the Almighty described by Ezekiel in Ezek.43:2‑4 and Ezek. chaps.1‑5. The same expression is used of the coming of the Most High in Ezekiel’s vision "the earth shined with his glory" (v.2) and the theme was the same, the Lord coming to execute judgment upon an evil order of things that approached its deserved end. But just as the vision was vouchsafed only to Ezekiel and it was his responsibility to make its implications known to Israel, so now the glory of the revealed Lord at this moment is perceptible only to the people of the Lord, the Church in the flesh at the time of the event, and the Church is to make the message known. The remainder of chapter 18 makes it plain that the destruction of Babylon, although expressed in the past tense, is a future, albeit imminent, event—what is known in prophetic parlance as "proleptic", i.e., a future event described as though it has already taken place.
This aspect of the Advent is that in which the returned Lord, already moving in the affairs of the world to bring about the introduction of his kingdom, as yet unperceived by mankind in general, is revealing to his own followers the nature of the judgment which is about to befall the world order. In the first place (ch.18:2) He declares that Babylon has become the haunt of demons and unclean spirits. It is tempting to associate this statement with the tremendous increase in dealings with the occult and supernatural which is so marked a feature of contemporary society, and it may yet be demonstrated that in sober fact the hidden spiritual powers of evil are attaining a sphere of influence in the affairs of the world today similar to that obtaining (existing) in the days before the Flood. It was that malevolent interference in the affairs of earth by those demonic powers of evil which more than anything else "filled the earth with violence" (Gen.6:13) and brought about the end of that world. Maybe history will repeat itself.
Verse 3 pictures all nations as intoxicated by their allegiance to the ruling principles of Babylon, the ruling powers united in purpose and action, and the commercial interests drawing their wealth and position from their connection with the system. The picture is that of the entire world making common cause in supporting a world order which enshrines much that is immoral and unjust, but men cling to it partly because it serves their self‑interest and partly because they know no other. But to those who are Christ’s, whose lives are dedicated to him and who look for a vastly better order of things when He takes his great power and assumes control of this world, there comes his call to stand separate from this corrupt and doomed system. "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues." (v.4) That injunction is not to withdraw from the world as such and adopt a hermit‑like, separatist, and exclusive existence, eschewing even the good things and the beautiful things and all that is upright and just and moral in the world; there is much of that even though the evil things appear to be in the ascendancy. The command is to withdraw from co‑operation with, and support of, the evil elements which are driving the world to destruction. Christians are to stand as lights in the world, having "no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." (Eph.5:11)
The reaction of men to this collapse of the world system is vividly portrayed in the remainder of this chapter, all depicted as part of the message declared by the present Lord at the relevant time. The position is markedly similar to that obtaining at the time of the Flood. Jesus likened his own Advent to that time. As it was in the days of Noah, He said, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man. (Matt.24:37‑39) The world of that day went on its way, completely heedless of the prophet in its midst who warned of the cataclysm that was imminent and would put an end to that world and all the evil that was in it. (2 Pet.2:5) (The details of Noah’s preaching and witness to the coming destruction are not elaborated in Genesis but are related in fuller degree in the "Book of Enoch.") So it will be now. The message will be given; in fact has been given, consistently and persistently, by Christian groups large and small, warning those who would listen of the inevitable consequence of the world’s present course. As in the days of Noah, the warning has been ignored, and will be, until the end comes. Here in this chapter three distinct classes of society are mentioned, each lamenting the disaster which has come upon them. The kings of the earth, the rulers of men, the political powers and organisations, (vv.9‑10) will, more or less unavailingly in all probability, hurriedly try to dissociate themselves from the system which is crashing into ruins in their midst, and bewail the end of all that in which for so long they have put their trust. And be it remembered that the end of organised political rule in the earth invites anarchy and no man can foresee what form it will take. Hence the commercial interests of the earth (vv.11‑16) join in the general apprehension as they see their own particular interests threatened and their commercial empires vanish overnight. "No man buyeth their merchandise any more" is the eloquent comment in v.11. The commercial men have relied upon the political powers to keep the world safe for their activities and the political powers have failed them. Finally the trading systems of the world, pictured here in vv.17‑19 as shipowners (not "shipmaster" as in the A .V.) and all who have to do with trade by sea, join in the general outcry, like the others chiefly concerned over the effect upon their own interests, "wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea." (v.19)
The suddenness of the catastrophe is clearly marked. "In one hour is thy judgment come" (v.10) say the kings and rulers of the earth. "In one hour so great riches is come to nought" (v.17) echo the commercial men, the merchants. "In one hour is she made desolate" (v.19) cry the trading tycoons. The implication is that when the crash does come, it will be swift and decisive. This old world has been a long time dying; it was not really until the twentieth century that it became more or less a single unit with each nation or area interdependent upon all the others. But almost at once the rot began and for all of the century the forces of disintegration have been active and gathering strength. So many observers have said that the year 1914 was the beginning of the end and nothing has gone right since. The structure of modern society—political, commercial, social—is such today that it only wants one kingpin to be knocked out of place for the entire edifice to come down with a crash. That aspect of the matter is vividly forthshown by the sequel to this vision. John listened to the message to its end and then he beheld while "a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all." (v.21) That which John thus witnessed was a repetition of a similar incident in the story of literal Babylon. A few years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians at the time of the Captivity, when Babylon was at the height of its power and magnificence under its famous king Nebuchadnezzar II, Jeremiah the prophet sent an emissary to Babylon with a book—probably a parchment or leather scroll—in which he had written a complete prophecy of the eventual doom and destruction of Babylon, then more than half a century distant. That denunciation is recorded for modern readers in the 50th and 51st chapters of Jeremiah. Arrived at Babylon, Seraiah was to read the entire message in public and then, tying the parchment to a stone, throw it into the midst of Euphrates, which ran through the centre of the city. He probably stood in the centre of the stone bridge which spanned the river near the celebrated Tower of Babel to do so—as public a place as Westminster Bridge in London: the Euphrates at Babylon was as wide as is the Thames at Westminster. And as he thus cast the book into the water, he was to say "thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her" (Jer.51:64)
So, suddenly but not without warning, the existing worn‑out world order crumbles to dust and vanishes away. "That which decayeth and waxeth old" said the writer to the Hebrews "is ready to vanish away." (Heb.8:13) It will be a drastic and a terrible end to a world order which has been built up during thousands of years and has served the needs of humanity tolerably well for much of that time, but because injustice and inequity, to say nothing of downright evil, has been built into its structure there is only one possible end. Whatever is of evil contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. And there is a better world to succeed it. Babylon falls, as fall it must, but by the grace and mercy of God its fall is timed to occur at just that period when the kingdom of Christ on earth is ready to take its place. The transition will give rise to violence, for after Babylon’s fall the powers of earth make one final attempt to resist the incoming kingdom, but the influences of Heaven will be victorious, and humanity will enter upon the Millennium, the thousand years of peace, with Christ in full and effective control.
* * *
It is that last conflict which is the subject of vision 9. The story is found in the nineteenth chapter of Revelation. Following an important sequence in which the Revelator hears the announcement of the "marriage supper of the Lamb," indicating that at this point the completed Church of this present Age has been fully gathered to eternal association in the heavens with the Lord Christ, there comes an aspect of the Advent in which that resurrected and glorified company directly participates from the celestial realm. This is the point of history at which the reality of the Advent is forced home upon the peoples of earth. In some unmistakable manner no one will be able to deny the fact; it will be true that in some very definite manner all peoples of earth shall "see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory", as Jesus predicted in Matt.24:30.
The vision as it is unfolded in ch.19:11‑21 opens with the spectacle of a majestic figure upon a white horse descending from the heavens. He is a martial figure, armed for combat, crowned to denote that he is also a king—in fact his name is given as "King of kings, and Lord of lords." He is also designated "The Word (Logos) of God." (v.13) Both titles identify the Rider as the Lord Jesus Christ. He comes as a warrior; "in righteousness he doth judge and make war." (ch.19:11) He is followed by "the armies which were in heaven" all upon white horses and clothed in fine linen. (v.14) This is a symbol of the resurrected Church, for "to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen…for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." (v.8) This then is the revelation of Christ and his Church to the world at the extreme end of the Age when Heaven actively intervenes in earth’s affairs to quell all opposition and initiate the Millennial or Messianic era. Thus verse 15 comes in naturally at this point: "out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron." This is an allusion from the Old Testament. The "rod of iron" is the shebet, which is the word used for both a king’s sceptre and a shepherd’s crook. In this case, where "rule" is poimaino, meaning to shepherd a flock, the true meaning of the phrase is that Christ will shepherd the nations with his shepherding crook, by no means so oppressive a process as might be surmised from the mistranslation "rule them with a rod of iron." The "sharp sword," be it noted, comes from his mouth; it is the piercing and penetrating power of his message and his teaching which will "smite" the nations, a clear and incisive exposition of right and wrong which will vindicate the righteously inclined and condemn the unrighteous. Isaiah had the same idea in mind when he said, referring to this precise same event in history "he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked." (Isa.11:4) So our Lord is revealed to the world as their Deliverer, to put down all forces of evil and injustice and establish an era of peace and security in which all men will be able to develop their full potential for useful and happy living.
At this point battle is joined. "I saw the (wild) beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him who sat on the horse, and against his army." (ch.19:19)
The "wild beast" is a symbolic figure appearing at various points in the Book of Revelation to picture, in general terms, the whole conglomeration of religious‑cum‑political power which, arising from the ruins of the Roman empire in the early centuries of the Christian era, progressively extended its scope and influence until a thousand or more years later it had attained world‑wide dimensions. Upon the well‑known principle that "all power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" the "wild‑beast" justified its Biblical name by using its power for the oppression of men in general. Now here there is pictured a complete alliance between what is left of this system in the Last Days, and the kings and rulers of all the earth, of whatever ideology or political complexion, to resist the threat to their interests from above. In what way they are able to sense the nature of this celestial invasion, and with what kind of weapons they propose to achieve their object, is by no means clear in the Revelation passage. It is evident, however, that this vision in Revelation is a highly symbolised representation of the same event in history that is foreseen by the prophets Ezekiel and Zechariah. (Ezek.38‑39 & Zech.14) They saw the last conflict of this Age in terms of a united onslaught by the nations from the four quarters of the earth upon the earthly people of God, purified Israel, dwelling at peace in its own land, and the intervention of Heaven to save Israel, defeat the attackers, and immediately establish the Millennial kingdom. Be the details what they may, the vision here in Revelation pictures a final conflict at the end of this Age between the incoming beneficent powers of Heaven and the united powers of evil of the earth, determined to resist and prevent the introduction of a completely just and beneficent rulership over mankind. As might be expected, Heaven is the victor and the opponents are dispersed. As Isaiah (chaps.11 & 32), says of this stupendous event and the era of peace and blessing that will follow, "Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment...the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear (reverence) of the LORD...and my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places...they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain (kingdom): for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea...and the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever." (Isa.32:1; 11:2; 32:18; 11:9; 32:17)