Shouting in Heaven

After this, I heard what sounded like a vast crowd in heaven shouting, “Praise the Lord! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. His judgments are true and just. He has punished the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality. He has avenged the murder of his servants.” And again their voices rang out: “Praise the Lord! The smoke from that city ascends forever and ever!””Revelation‬ ‭19:1-3‬ ‭NLT

The Apostle John’s vision moves onto happier times. “Babylon” is no more and the celebrations in Heaven, focussed on God, declare His righteous judgements. The wrongs committed against God’s servants, during their times on earth, are finally righted. The balance between good and evil is redressed. Only what has survived the fire of God’s judgements has prevailed. We don’t know how long the party lasts, but they note that the smoke of the smouldering remains of “Babylon” ascends forever.

Heaven will be so different to what we pilgrims experience in our lives here on Planet Earth. Gold on earth, so beloved by the world’s inhabitants, is used for paving roads in the New Jerusalem. The world’s value system has either been turned upside down or doesn’t exist anymore because it is considered irrelevant. But how did it come to this? God wanted His people to be rich on earth. Take Job for example. We read in Job 42:12, “So the Lord blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning. For now he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys.” Job was a wealthy, but righteous man, and he knew the blessings of God because he had a right relationship with Him. 

But sadly, what God wanted as a blessing for His people became corrupted by the devil’s schemes. People abandoned God and instead put their faith in the worldly kingdom, in riches and wealth, without acknowledging God as their Source and Heavenly Father. Hence the birth of “Babylon”.

Our loving Heavenly Father was never going to let this state of affairs last forever, and our verses today describe the party going on in Heaven. Let’s make sure we are there to enjoy it as well.

Father God. Can we hear in our spirits the shouting and singing reverberating around the Heavens? In faith we reach out to You, confident, through Your Son, Jesus, of our place there with all Your people. We are so grateful. Amen.

Luxury Goods No More

“The merchants of the world will weep and mourn for her, for there is no one left to buy their goods. 
And they will weep and throw dust on their heads to show their grief. And they will cry out, “How terrible, how terrible for that great city! The shipowners became wealthy by transporting her great wealth on the seas. In a single moment it is all gone.” Rejoice over her fate, O heaven and people of God and apostles and prophets! For at last God has judged her for your sakes.”
Revelation‬ ‭18:11, 19-20‬ ‭NLT

The precarious nature of the world economic system has been exposed. We have received hints of what this might look like in this century. The financial meltdown around 2008. The impact of the war in Ukraine. The Covid pandemic. It doesn’t take much to shock the world economy into recession or worse. Babylon is a picture for a global social-religious-economic hybrid that has its foundations on nothing more substantial than thin air.

The impact of the destruction of “Babylon” is described in great detail in Revelation 18 – a sobering read at the best of times. But Jesus taught us about the folly of hanging our coats on the Babylonian peg. He taught constantly about a new Kingdom. God’s Kingdom. The true and lasting Kingdom. But making the transition from the kingdom of the world, “Babylon”, to God’s Kingdom was a step too far for some. We read about the “Rich Young Ruler” in Matthew 19:21-22, “Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” However, Zacchaeus managed it. In Luke 19:8-9 we read, “Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus responded, “Salvation has come to this home today, for this man has shown himself to be a true son of Abraham.

God brought an end to “Babylon” for the sake of His people. Only lasting fruit in His Kingdom will survive the transition into our Heavenly home.

Dear Jesus. Only You have the words to eternal life. Only You can show us the way to the father, because only You are the way, the truth and the life. we praise and worship You today. Amen.

Mourning Kings

And the kings of the world who committed adultery with her and enjoyed her great luxury will mourn for her as they see the smoke rising from her charred remains. They will stand at a distance, terrified by her great torment. They will cry out, “How terrible, how terrible for you, O Babylon, you great city! In a single moment God’s judgment came on you.””
Revelation‬ ‭18:9-10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Let’s work backwards, starting with Babylon, the global secular, materialistic and evil religious system. Any allegiance to God was sacrificed long ago on the altar of a global economic trading and social system that delivered more and more luxurious goods and hedonistic practices. “If it feels good just do it” is the increasingly strident cry echoing round the corridors of societies everywhere. There are no limits to the depravity of mankind. Shame and guilt have become forgotten words and emotions. But a series of catastrophes, a.k.a. the plagues, dismantle and destroy what had been built by the “kings of the world” under the directions of the beast. 

Nations all over the world were now in shock, and their leaders, their kings, were suddenly facing into a situation that left them bereft of the lifestyles they had previously enjoyed. A global economic crash totally beyond any previous experience had put them back to the survival days of subsistence farming and bartering. And the charred, smoking remains of banks, shopping malls, the vestiges of a previous age, literal and symbolic, smouldered on. Terror and mourning replaced immorality and luxury. And it all happened “in a single moment”.

But it was a different story for the pilgrims still alive at this time. Their mourning was turned into dancing. They remembered Psalm 30:11-12, “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!” Pilgrims remember also the prophecy from Isaiah 61:2-3, “He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favour has come, and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies. To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory”. Yes, God’s people still alive will be suffering too from the collapse of the world system, from the death of “Babylon”, but they take the long view. They would soon find themselves in God’s presence.

Dear Father God. Thank You that worldly commerce will not find a home in Heaven. Your Kingdom is built on pure, holy and proper foundations. we’re eternally grateful. Amen.

Babylon is Fallen

“He gave a mighty shout: “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen! She has become a home for demons. She is a hideout for every foul spirit, a hideout for every foul vulture and every foul and dreadful animal. For all the nations have fallen because of the wine of her passionate immorality. The kings of the world have committed adultery with her. Because of her desires for extravagant luxury, the merchants of the world have grown rich.””
Revelation‬ ‭18:2-3‬ ‭NLT

The bright angel had a declaration to make. He spoke out, shouted even, the final condemnation of the world religious system, which had finally collapsed, taking with it everything that is foul and corrupt. In his vision, John saw a literal city called Babylon. There is of course a possibility that this was the case, but the result will ultimately be the same. In John’s vision, Babylon imploded and ended up as a smouldering pile of ruins, spiritually, religiously, morally, economically, nationally, and even globally. Babylon is fallen.

The language John used to described the fall of Babylon in his vision is graphic. You can almost see the horror and disgust dripping from his pen, or feel the shivers of dread running up the spines of the observers. The words he used, such as “foul”, “dreadful”, “immorality”, “adultery” – they all capture the event. But he also observes something we might see little harm in – words such as “luxury” and “rich“.

The bright angel, with his shouts, exposed all that is wrong with the world religious system. I use the word “religious” because that is what our world culture has become. The religion of secularism, materialism, and godlessness, and including a spiritual system conforming to what Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:5, They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. …..”. And, ominously, a component part of “Babylon” is those things that make our life comfortable – luxury and wealth.

Jesus taught about the power of money in His parable taught in Matthew 6:21, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” and in Matthew 6:24, He said, “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money“. 

We pilgrims have to be discerning when it comes to having comfortable lives. If we are fortunate enough to enjoy luxury and wealth, we must hold what we have with open hands. Always aware that our riches, no matter how modest, must be under our control, not controlling us. One day, the world system, of which luxury and wealth is a part, will collapse. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-20, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal”. Eternal Heavenly treasure will be the only commodity of value when we pass from this life.

Dear Father. We know that You wish to richly bless Your children. Please help us to be good stewards of what You have entrusted to us in this life, and help us discern and seek out those things of Heavenly value. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Woman and the Beast

“So the angel took me in the Spirit into the wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns, and blasphemies against God were written all over it. The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and beautiful jewellery made of gold and precious gems and pearls. In her hand she held a gold goblet full of obscenities and the impurities of her immorality. A mysterious name was written on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” I could see that she was drunk—drunk with the blood of God’s holy people who were witnesses for Jesus. I stared at her in complete amazement.”
Revelation‬ ‭17:3-6‬ ‭NLT

The angel leading the Apostle John in his vision is filling in more details to explain what is meant by the “great prostitute”. We see a picture of a desert containing a multi-headed, multi-horned, beast clothed in scarlet and covered in blasphemous words. The prostitute was beautifully and expensively dressed and was carrying a goblet with horrible contents. A label naming what she represented was attached to her forehead. And she was drunk. Drunk, we are told, on the blood of the martyrs. John couldn’t believe what his eyes were seeing.

The angel took John to a place, in his vision, where he could get some hints about what was really behind what he was seeing. And many people since have tried to work out what was symbolically meant by what John recorded. But what do we pilgrims make of it? There is, in my opinion, only limited value in trying to interpret what the “seven heads and ten horns” represent. Suffice to say, that there is being portrayed here an alternative society, the antithesis of that followed by God’s people. It was a global cult that became fashionable to be a part of, but its roots were blasphemous and pure anti-God. A religion that would be expected to emerge from the devil himself.

We pilgrims must be discerning. Some denominations today have tried to absorb worldly philosophies into their Christian liturgies and cultures, and in the process abandoning the purity of God’s Word. Proverbs 30:5-6, “Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection. Do not add to his words, or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar“. So we have liberal theologians reinterpreting Scripture to suit their own world view. And if passages in the Bible, which are clear and non-negotiable, don’t fit in with their views, such people ignore them, or suggest they must have been there for a different culture or age. Someone with such a liberal mindset has taken a step on the slippery slope leading to apostasy and membership of the world religious cult epitomised by the “great prostitute”. 2 Timothy 3:5 reads, “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” The same chapter in 2 Timothy ends, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realise what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy‬ ‭3:16-17‬). We pilgrims must be aware that there is a global religion working behind the scenes, one that is using all sorts of ploys to divert Christians away from the purity of their faith.

As an example of this, think about mindfulness, which is increasing in popularity these days. Here is a definition I found from Mr. Google, “Mindfulness is a practice involved in various religious and secular traditions—from Hinduism and Buddhism to yoga and, more recently, non-religious meditation“. I recently came across a very sincere Christian man who promotes “Christian Mindfulness”. But I haven’t discovered how he reconciles Hinduism and Buddhism with Christianity. An example of how the “great prostitute”  is infiltrating the church perhaps? Hmmm …

Father God, once again we pray for discernment in these dark and difficult days. Lead us by Your Spirit we pray, and grant us the wisdom we need to navigate the paths before us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Seventh Plague

“Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air. And a mighty shout came from the throne in the Temple, saying, “It is finished!” Then the thunder crashed and rolled, and lightning flashed. And a great earthquake struck—the worst since people were placed on the earth. The great city of Babylon split into three sections, and the cities of many nations fell into heaps of rubble. So God remembered all of Babylon’s sins, and he made her drink the cup that was filled with the wine of his fierce wrath. And every island disappeared, and all the mountains were levelled. There was a terrible hailstorm, and hailstones weighing as much as seventy-five pounds fell from the sky onto the people below. They cursed God because of the terrible plague of the hailstorm.”
Revelation‬ ‭16:17-21‬ ‭NLT‬‬

No details of the Armageddon war are included in Revelation 16. The narrative in John’s vision jumps to the seventh plague. But there are three words that have been heard before in another place, during another momentous event. “It is finished!” In our verses today, these words emanate from the very throne of God. In the form of a loud and triumphant shout. God has finally brought to an end worldly judgements.

We will remember the last time these words were uttered. Jesus died on the cross at Calvary after declaring probably what are the most profound words ever spoken. In John 19:30 we read, “When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit”. In the Matthew account of the moment of Jesus’ death we read, “At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart”. (Matthew 27:51). ‭But in the Revelation account the impact of “It is finished!” effectively preceded a reforming of the earth, in that there was a great earthquake of a severity never before seen. All the islands disappeared. Mountains were mountains no more. And hailstones weighing what the King James Version of the Bible calls a talent, a unit of weight equivalent to thirty two kilograms or thereabouts, fell from the sky. That is an extremely heavy lump of ice and it would do serious amounts of damage to property, crops, animals and, of course, people. No wonder God received some complaints in the form of curses levelled against Him! If only they had repented.

Babylon crops up again in these verses. It refers to the personification of all the wickedness and sins of the world’s population, past, present and future. John’s vision referred to Babylon as a place that included not just the “great city” but also “the cities of many nations“. And they were reduced to heaps of rubble. But there is more to come about Babylon in John’s vision, recorded in Revelation 17 and 18, which we have yet to consider.

To us pilgrims we can only breathe a collective sigh of relief after reading these verses. The difficulties facing human beings in those days doesn’t bear thinking about. What a narrow escape we have had from disaster. Imagine what would have happened if we had failed to accept God’s invitation of grace when we did? Of course, we might have passed on before all these plagues had finally been dispensed on earth and its population, but we would not have escaped the judgement to come. 

When I have shared these scenes from Revelation with people I meet, a common response is, “How do you know that there is a life after we die, after all, no-one has ever returned to tell us what will happen, if anything”? Many people believe that once death overtakes us, there will be just blackness. Nothing else. Some people suggest that the death experience is like falling asleep but never waking up. Eternal sleep. But we pilgrims, through our faith, believe differently. Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see“. We hope for a future, eternal life, in God’s presence. And our faith assures us that that will be the case. Through our belief and faith in the rightness of God’s Word, we believe what He has promised. Hebrews 11:13 reads, “All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth“. As we plod along the paths of life, pilgrims together, we see in the distance our promised land. And one day we will get there and receive the fruit of that promise.

Dear Lord. Thank You for Your assurance that You are making a place in Heaven where we can join You. You said it. We believe it. We worship You today. Amen.

The Second Flying Angel

“Then another angel followed him through the sky, shouting, “Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen—because she made all the nations of the world drink the wine of her passionate immorality.””
Revelation‬ ‭14:8‬ ‭NLT

The Apostle John’s vision is certainly full of action. The first of the three flying angels is still in his memory, as he mulls over the implications of the global declaration of the Gospel. Perhaps the first angel is still visible, just on the horizon. But he now sees another one coming towards him, shouting a very different message. A message about the fall of Babylon.

Babylon was the capital city of successive empires that flourished many years before the birth of Christ. And today its ruins are located quite close to Baghdad, in Iraq. It was probably the largest city in the ancient world and had enormous significance in the lives of the Jews because so many of them were attacked and killed, and many of their people exiled, by Babylonian oppression. There are several passages in the Old Testament that detail the evil intent of the Babylonians. In Jeremiah’s day, the Babylonians were besieging Jerusalem, and we read about a request made to the prophet in Jeremiah 21:2, “Please speak to the Lord for us and ask him to help us. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is attacking Judah. Perhaps the Lord will be gracious and do a mighty miracle as he has done in the past. Perhaps he will force Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw his armies.” Daniel, a young Jewish man, was exiled to Babylon, and what happened to him and his colleagues there can be read in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament. His story starts in Daniel 1:1, “During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it.” And continues with Daniel’s exile, recorded in Daniel 1:3, “Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives.” And there are many further accounts in the Bible about Babylon and its role in Jewish history. Babylon became a symbol of evil and oppression, immorality and idol worship, cruelty and a place where you just didn’t want to be.

So in John’s vision what was the implication of the angel’s message, “Babylon is fallen” and what was “her passionate immorality”? To the Jews, the oppression and cruelty of the Babylonians made them a feared and evil enemy. The word “Babylon” came to mean wicked, debauched, evil, hated. In fact, every negative descriptive phrase all bundled up in just one word. Psalm 137:8 encapsulates what the Jews dreamt of concerning Babylon. “O Babylon, you will be destroyed. Happy is the one who pays you back for what you have done to us“. I’m sure this is the sanitised version of what the psalmist really thought!

Babylon became associated with sinful sexual acts, prostitution, idol worship and other immoral content too graphic to be shared here. And in Revelation, John wrote that “all the nations of the world” came to be the immoral legacy of the Babylonians. Here in the End Times, Babylon and its influence is finally dealt with and destroyed. No prizes for guessing who was really behind Babylon, its culture, its society, its influences, and its peoples.

We pilgrims can only look on with sadness and concern, that so many generations of people in the earth’s nations were taken in by the Babylonian immoral and evil spiritual influences. Not for us that sinful life, but we must be careful because the lusts of our sinful nature could quickly cause us to be sucked into a Babylonian lifestyle. Our twisted logic could be something like, “Just once won’t hurt”. Or “I’m only researching for my essay”. And before we know it we are fully paid up members of the Babylonians. Our enemy, the devil, knows where we are weakest and he will pick away at our resolve unless we stand firm against him.

We have all the tools we need to stand firm against the devil’s ploys. Ephesians 6:13 says, “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm“. And the remaining verses in Ephesians 6 break down the weapons we have at our disposal. We have the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. We have Gospel shoes and a shield of faith. A helmet of salvation and an offensive weapon, the sword of the Word of God.

We pilgrims are called to a life of purity. It isn’t easy. In fact it is very hard. The Apostle Paul knew that, and he appealed to the Ephesians to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. (Ephesians 4:22-24). But if we stumble and fall, there is a remedy. 1 John 1:9 reads, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness“. 

The second angel announces the demise of the Jews’ arch-enemy Babylon and its associated immorality. Most of the world would have been stricken with regret, their lifestyles overturned. The party over. But is that a cheer I can hear from that synagogue over there?

Dear Father. Thank You that through the gloom of the End Times comes a ray of light, as the wickedness in the world is finally dealt with. Please help us to stay strong in the face of temptation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.