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Sins Piled High


Revelation 18:1-8
February 21, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

The sermon starts around 18:15 in the audio file.



Or, Or, Double, Double, Torment and Trouble
Series: Just Conquer Part 47

Introduction

One question that I don’t remember being asked over these last ten years is why I usually use a second title for each sermon. There is a title, then an “or” subtitle. I’ve been doing it for lo, these many years, and it has a couple connections in my mind.

More than anything, it is a titling shout out to many of the Puritans who regularly had paragraph length sub-titles; their sub-titles were more like a synopsis. Even today, many books have a title and a tagline, intended to tell you a little more about the contents, or catch your interest. I have no reason to suspect that the Puritans were in it for the marketing aspect. They were in it for the clarity, and generally they had time and words to spend.

I will admit that the device of title then an alternative title also featured in the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” episodes my dad enjoyed to turn on when I was a kid. Our family has some DVDs that we pull out every once in a while, and there is quite a comedic cleverness on display.

So for me, the double attempt to tease out the direction of the message has some playfulness, and whether it always connects well, I do pray that it works toward helping us understand and remember the passage.

The phrase, “double, double, toil and trouble” comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It’s hard to forget, in Act 4 Scene One as a foreboding chant made three times by all three witches. Whether you’re reading the repetitions or watching it performed, it’s a dark and ominous, even demonic, scene. More than just finding the word “double” in Revelation 18, the story of Macbeth is one of ambition and arrogance and conspiracy and murder. Rather than get away with it, Macbeth is haunted and neck deep in his guilt. Your sin will find you out, and losing your mind may result in losing your head.

This is where we find “Babylon” in Revelation 18. But this story is not fictional, and it’s not limited to one throne. Her sins are heaped up high toward heaven, and her torment and trouble will be doubled.

It’s been twelve Lord’s Days since our last look at the Apocalypse. We finished the last part of Revelation 17 the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Chapters 17 and 18 really can’t be separated, and I mentioned even then that stopping in between would be sort of like parking downhill, easy to get going again.

The time is near for finishing our study of this book. We have seen the opening of the seven seals, which led to the blowing of seven trumpets, which led to the pouring out of seven bowls. While I’ve tried to see the angle of those who argue that the three series of judgments are different ways of referring to the same judgments, overlapping in meaning though using different descriptions and symbols and orders and even numbers, I don’t believe that’s what John wrote. I am still committed to hardly using the word literal for my arguments, while also still being committed to accept what the Word says even if that seems crazy to someone.

However much we might be tempted, 2020-21 is not playing out these prophecies in front of us, though our news cycle has pushed some of our imaginary boundaries for what’s possible. There are though, undoubtedly, similarities between what various world leaders are trying to arrange today and what the beasts will accomplish, but our leaders are beastish. The final embodiment of the political and religious beasts has not taken shape. We don’t have an image of the beast to worship (Revelation 13:14-15), and the COVID vaccine is not the mark of the beast.

The resemblances between world leaders and the final world leaders are like that of a redwood sapling and centuries old redwood possessed by demons; the nature is just not full grown. First, like today, the power of these future rulers is real, and based on deception. It’s driven by envy, not by true glory. They are successful posers, perfect imposters, if that is a thing. They will cause true damage, canceling those who oppose them and even killing many, no doubt in the name of what’s best for society. Their efforts are built on Trinity envy.

Second, the judgment of these future figures is as certain as the judgment of Macbeth, and of our current rulers. It is so easy to for our eyes to see only what’s in front of us, only current events. We see unrighteous men appear to get away with it (“the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily” – Ecclesiastes 8:11). But we don’t know how much guilt is gnawing at their consciences; we do know that God sees. Their sins are piling up, and so they are “storing up wrath for [themselves] on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5).

Revelation 18 begins with the calls of two great voices in verses 1-8. In the middle of the chapter are three laments, verses 9-20, with the final section and another angel, verses 21-24. We’ll see both the a prophetic taunt and a prophetic summons in verses 1-8 today.

A Prophetic Taunt (verses 1-3)

John is writing about a woman, “Babylon.” She is bigger than a city, or better stated, the city represents a variety of spheres beyond the political sphere—that’s the AntiChrist, and more than the religious sphere—that’s the false prophet.

There was a “woman” referred to as “the great prostitute” in chapter 17, decked in superficial splendor, cozy with the beast, until he turns on her with a hatred like Amnon. An angel comes to further announce her downfall. After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory (verse 1). Though this angel has glory, it is not necessary to refer to Christ as an angel. Christ also has a dazzling bright appearance, but this angel has come from God, and he called out with a mighty voice,

> “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.”

The cry of “fallen” echoes a similar oracle in Isaiah 21:9, and is so sure that it’s presented as finished (also heard in Revelation 14:8). The French would say, fait accompli, an accomplished fact to be accepted (Mounce). The city, and especially her network of financial affluence, will be uprooted. The top of her tree will be cut down. And what had been the spiritual reality behind the scenes comes to the front of the stage.

At least in the ESV the triple mentions of haunt and unclean are hard to miss. The haunt is more than a “dwelling place” (NASB), and not necessarily a “prison” (also NASB), though the Greek word φυλακή can be used in those ways. Think Detroit desolate. Think broken down and abandoned villain’s lair left to the sketchy and the scavengers. The city becomes like who she worshiped, the unclean and demonic and detestable.

Verse 3 reiterates why she became so gross.

> For all the nations of drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”

Here is another three-fold description, with Babylon at the center. The nations, especially as represented by their kings, are “of one mind and hand over their power and authority to the beast” (Revelation 17:13). They are “of one mind and (are) handing over their royal power to the beast” (Revelation 17:17), such that the woman had “dominion” over them. The nations loved what she was selling. Like too much wine lowers inhibitions to the point that there’s little power, or interest, to resist, the nations are drunk and fat with foul sins.

A third group is mentioned here, and become a focal point for this chapter, the merchants (used four times in Revelation and only in this chapter). Here is the explicit economic emphasis. Merchants were businessmen, import and export men, traders and profiteers. Everything was working well for them, business was great, until the whole thing collapsed. Again, there’s more about them starting in verse 11.

The power of her luxurious living is a presumed security that comes from money, or at least from financial agreements. When you’re full of bread and meat, you’re tempted to be full of yourself. Strength without self-control is indulgent and reckless. But it will fall apart.

A Prophetic Summons (verses 4-8)

There are two messages from another voice from heaven, one to God’s people, and one to those who will execute judgment on God’s enemies. Is this another angel? Is this God Himself? Since God is mentioned in the second half of verse 4, it seems to be a different voice than His.

A Summons for Separation (verses 4-5)

God is holy, He calls His people to be holy. A regular prophetic call was for His people to separate themselves from their idolatrous neighbors, and here is another call with more reasons.

> “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.

The identity of God’s people, I believe, at this point in the Apocalypse, are mostly Jews in the final days who have been saved through the work of the witnesses. By this point many of God’s people have been persecuted, even to death, and those who remain will no doubt be tempted to compromise, as has been a theme throughout John’s writing. Don’t do it, he says, don’t even stick around. There are some sins that we fight, there are some times that we flee. Take the exit. Lot was told by angels to get out of Sodom (Genesis 19:14), otherwise he would not have escaped the burn. Christian was not to stay in Vanity Fair, and this is Vanity Fair with botox and implants.

Babylon’s sins are heaped high as heaven. This is a striking image, as of making a pile bigger and taller and unmistakeable. I worked at UPS as a loader, and my job was to stack the packages in my assigned trucks, and the belt never seemed to stop bringing boxes. To sins they add more sins. They really put the im in immorality. It is a mountainous garbage heap to the sky, like those in Babel wanted to stack bricks for their own tower.

A Summons for Retribution (verses 6-8)

The time for executing the sentence has come. The agents who will execute God’s judgment are not named, but they are called to action.

> Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.

This is the what-goes-around-comes-around, reap what you sow, conspire only to be conspired against, eye-for-an-eye reality of the world we live in. It is a reality because God still runs this world. Pay back is a bother. Cheaters will be cheated, not out of trouble but into more trouble. No one cheats themselves out of justice. That she is repaid double for her deeds and drinks a double portion of her poison doesn’t mean that it’s unfair, it means her iniquity has earned interest; double, double, torment and trouble.

> As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and morning, since in her heart she says, “I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.”

Her apparent prosperity caused her to be too big for her britches. Like described in the Psalms, she was convinced she was too big to fail. “They say, ‘The LORD does not see’” (Psalm 94:7). Whether she really deceived herself that she was invincible or whether she was just braying, she elevated herself like a queen and acted as if widowhood, with its uncertainty and isolation, could never happen.

> For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.

God won’t need fifteen days to flatten the corruption. This crash will happen in a day, upsetting because unexpected and unstoppable. King Belshazzar of Babylon was killed by Darius who overtook Babylon in one night (Daniel 5:30). It’s one thing to anticipate falling, it’s another thing to be caught off guard. Her guard will be down, and God will bring punishment of fire. She will be tormented and in mourning (18:7, 8, 11, 15, 19).

Conclusion

Evildoers do evil in secret, and they will be exposed. We have witnessed more evildoers doing evil in public, and attempting to define their evil as good, and then being celebrated for doing “good.” It can be discouraging for God’s people to watch the boat crash and sink while the news spins it as a triumph.

But God has given us His Word, and by that I mean He’s told us His perspective and He’s given His promises to gift His people with courage, with endurance, and eventually with vindication. We would be swallowed up alive, but our help is in the name of the Lord who prepares a place for us in heaven and will come to judge the earth.

> The righteous shall see and fear, > and shall laugh at him, saying, > “See the man who would not make > God his refuge, > but trusted in the abundance of his riches > and sought refuge in his own destruction!” > (Psalm 52:6–7, ESV)


Charge

Not all the assembly was present last Lord’s Day, and so you may or may not have heard my comments about the benediction and about the purposeful gesture of the minister raising his hands as he pronounces, representing the Lord, God’s blessing to His people. These hands raised are like a covering, a cloud of shade on a hot day and a cloud of rain on a dry day. Let this remind you to get under God’s blessing all the time.

Benediction:

> Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. > The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, 28, ESV)