March 7, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 19:00 in the audio file.
Or, When Silence Falls on the Great City
Series: Just Conquer Part 49
Revelation is not only the last book in God’s Word, it is God’s Word on the last things. Revelation is the apocalypse, which at least in Greek (and before all our modern novel accoutrements) means unveiling. This is an apostle-written, Spirit-given unveiling of eschatology: the last things.
Future things can be hard to study. Men have proven themselves more than capable of ignoring and even intentionally misreading finished events, which are already laid out on the table, let alone showing awe-inspiring ineptitude at reading our own times. Christians who read the Bible want to get it right, past and present and future, and often that results in a theological fight. Doctrines about the future have certain caused confusion, consternation, even conflict. But God didn’t provide this prophetic word to cause conflict, He revealed it to us so that we wouldn’t be cowards (Revelation 21:8).
I’ve made a few tongue-in-cheek comments about there being an eagerness of some to be finished with this series, and soon. It is sooner now than ever. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. It really has, though, been a blessing. Reading Revelation is a self-fulfilling prophecy: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). We may not all agree on certain points of interpretation, but we have disagreed as those who are on the same side. We’ve disagreed as brothers, and we’ve not “punted” to the jest of pan-millennials, that it will all just pan out in the end.
As I’ve been studying through Revelation these last couple years I have been unimpressed with evidence and arguments that all of this was fulfilled in AD 70 with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. But I have been even more unimpressed with the dispassionate and discouraged tone among those who think the worst is yet to come. God didn’t provide these prophecies for our internal conflict, nor did He provide them for us to complain that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, though it is. He’s given revelation so that we could see wickedness uncovered, so that we could see deception uncovered, so that we could see, out in the open, the futility and the shame of all who reject God as God and Jesus as Lord.
When we think about the Antichrist, we’re to think of him as a desperate character, thin and full of Lamb-envy. When we think about the false prophet we’re to think about how, no matter the number of people who believe him, he still is a fraud, a con-artist, a quack. When we think about the slendor of a global economy, we’re to think of her like a great prostitute. Those who give themselves to her will have given themselves to a comet, bright only as long as she is burning out. This is like reading the plot of of a movie on IMDB and seeing at what point the bad guys are identified and exposed.
God keeps giving believers encouragement in the apocalypse. It is not as much a warning to the wicked, it is not as much a call to repentance. It is a blessing that strengthens God’s people to keep living holy lives, no mater the cost, and to have faith in God who sees. The seals and the trumpets and the bowls are not merely repetitions of one another, but even if that’s all they were, what an impression they make. In the last paragraph of chapter 18 God recaps the fall of Babylon “the great.” Yet her fall has already been portrayed (17:1-18), proclaimed (18:1-8), and cried over (18:9-20). Do we really need more? Apparently, yes. It isn’t just rubbing the rebels’ faces in judgment, it is food for the faith of those who fear Him. The Spirit inspired this summary, and next week we’ll see God’s servants praising His salvation. Silence falls on the “great” city, and she will be great not at all any more.
In this non-superfluous paragraph we’ll see an enacted parable, a list of six “no mores,” and then three reasons why Babylon will be sunk. Beloved, see the end of the unrighteous.
A third and mighty angel comes into the scene of chapter 18. Most of the paragraph is what he says, but before his announcement he illustrates what is about to happen: a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into sea.
A millstone was used to crush and grind grain. This was not kitchen-sized, it was more the size of a kitchen, the size that required a donkey or similar beast to turn and crank. What made for a good millstone was that it was hard and heavy, and many millstones in John’s day were a thousand-plus pounds. This stone the angel picked up was like that, requiring beyond-human strength to throw. It sank down into the sea with no future. There would be no retrieval as it rested under the water.
Similar imagery was used by Jeremiah about the historical Babylon in Jeremiah 51. He told Seraiah, “When you finish reading reading this book, tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her” (verses 63-64). Ezekiel also prophecied similarly about Tyre, that she will be as stones cast into the sea and will “never be found again” (Ezekiel 26:12, 21). These were judgements that foreshadow the final judgment.
A couple things surface about these next few lines. They describe the end of civilization. The kings and merchants lamented the crash of the system, but the losses here are more personal, more normal, and more final. It’s one thing for the faceless Establishment to fall, it’s another when basic human experience is gone. These “no mores” relate the end of the end. As the stone would not be salvaged, so the city and her life would be forsaken.
Observe the repetition of “no more” in the ESV six times. This was also Tyndale’s translation. The NASB phrases it as “not any longer,” the NIV “never again,” while YLT has “not at all any more.” This will truly be a new normal.
The first “no more” explains the stone throw and gives a general description: So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more. There is irony in that she is still nicknamed “great.” There is irony that she will be handled violently as she herself handled others. There is irony in her being thrown down while she had lifted herself up. There is irony that such a dominant city, with a ubiquitous network and influence around the world would be lost, found no more. She was like a mist that is about to vanish for good.
The second “no more” is one of three judgments of silence. The music is gone: and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more. All categories of instruments except percussion are included: strings, wind, and brass. The word musicians is a catch-all group, more than singers.
For how many centuries has music been so delightful and so present in human existence? How many days, and what percentage of those days, is music playing, at least in the background? Music is a soundtrack to life, whether as diversion or as cultural expression and artifact. The songs will fall silent for all who refused to sing their songs as praise to God.
The third “no more” is about work and calling: and a craftsman of any craft will be found in you no more. These are men who worked with their hands in any variety of things, buildings or furniture or art. It’s more than artisans, it’s the ones who build Budweiser plants not just craft micro-breweries. There will be no more hammers hitting, delivery trucks beeping, or any other sound of industry. The workers will be gone.
The fourth “no more” is about sustanence: and the sound of the mill will be heard in you no more. Bread is the representative staple food; there is nothing more basic than bread and water. A mill took grain and prepared it a flour. No working mill meant there was no flour to sell and no bread to bake. This is not even a good sign for the gluten intolerant.
The fifth “no more” is more homey: and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more. In John’s day lamps illumined residences; there were less businesses operating at night by the lamp. But wherever there had been lamps, they are black. The city is silent during the day and dark at night. There is no cozy sitting or reading or knitting or talking together by the lamp.
The sixth “no more” is relational: and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will be heard no more. Of all the great occasions, a wedding was anticipated and prepared for, an occasion that brought together family and friends and neighbors. Numerous times in the Old Testament the most joyous person was compared to the bridegroom, eager to take his bride, as the sun looks forward to his daily rise and race. What was a time for feasting and shared memories and hopefulness would be no more.
After the general loss of the city, it is interesting that all the rest are simple signs of life, simple and daily pleasures or experiences that belong to all cultures. The Establishment crashes and demons haunt the desolate place (Revelation 18:2), but the final words of judgment recapped are about the sorts of things we’re tempted to take for granted. For the unbelievers, they will be no more.
It’s not as if we haven’t heard the sins of Babylon already, but here they are again.
She was full of greed and vainglory: for your merchants were the great ones of earth. The material prosperity and luxury caused men to be puffed up with their accomplishments and their hideous strength deceived them from realize their dependence on God.
She had also deceived so many on earth. She was full of guile: and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. The point is the fraud, the lies. Sorcery was a supernatural, idolatrous, even demonic influence, which shouldn’t surprise us since the beasts were from the pit.
In her pride and power she killed. She was full of bloodguilt: And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints; and of all who have been slain on earth. From the hatred and martyrdom of the two witnesses to those who loved not their lives to death, and even those who were not believers but resisted the party line, men and women were killed and their blood is not forgotten.
How are we supposed to think about all this? We’re to think in terms of, and anticipate, the end. Justice will be done. The merchants and men of the world will weep over their losses. The Lamb’s glory will be known. Eternal joy belongs to those who fear Him (as we’ll see in the next paragraph, Revelation 19:1-5), and eternal punishment belongs to those who do not, and the smoke of their torment will rise.
Of the reasons I don’t think this is being fulfilled now is because, from my perspective, it is the godly who see the collapses today more than the vainglorious. And there is still music and commerce and bread and light. They will be no more at all any more on that day for Babylon the “great.”
He will bring back on them their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the LORD our God will wipe them out.
The arrogant will be judged. So I charge you, Christians, to be humble. And in your humility let the music be loud and let the melody lift your heads to consider the cosmological harmony and praise to God. Let the work of your hands in whatever you craft remind you to thank God for your hands and your responsibilities. Eat your bread and drink your wine giving glory to God. See all things in His light. Rejoice with the wife of your youth and rejoice when you receive wedding invites. God has saved you and is training you to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions (Titus 2:11-12) in the present age.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3–4, ESV)