URC Daily Devotion 30 September 2023

Revelation 18

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendour. He called out with a mighty voice,

‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
    It has become a dwelling-place of demons,
a haunt of every foul spirit,
    a haunt of every foul bird,
    a haunt of every foul and hateful beast.
For all the nations have drunk
    of the wine of the wrath of her fornication,
and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,
    and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxury.’

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

‘Come out of her, my people,
    so that you do not take part in her sins,
and so that you do not share in her plagues;
for her sins are heaped high as heaven,
    and God has remembered her iniquities.
Render to her as she herself has rendered,
    and repay her double for her deeds;
    mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed.
As she glorified herself and lived luxuriously,
    so give her a like measure of torment and grief.
Since in her heart she says,
    “I rule as a queen;
I am no widow,
    and I will never see grief”,
therefore her plagues will come in a single day—
    pestilence and mourning and famine—
and she will be burned with fire;
    for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.’

And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning;  they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

‘Alas, alas, the great city,
    Babylon, the mighty city!
For in one hour your judgement has come.’

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more,  cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble,  cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives. 

‘The fruit for which your soul longed
    has gone from you,
and all your dainties and your splendour
    are lost to you,
    never to be found again!’

The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

Alas, alas, the great city,
    clothed in fine linen,
        in purple and scarlet,
    adorned with gold,
        with jewels, and with pearls!
For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!’

And all shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,

‘What city was like the great city?’

And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out,

‘Alas, alas, the great city,
    where all who had ships at sea
    grew rich by her wealth!
For in one hour she has been laid waste.’

Rejoice over her, O heaven, you saints and apostles and prophets! For God has given judgement for you against her.

Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying,

‘With such violence Babylon the great city
    will be thrown down,
    and will be found no more;
and the sound of harpists and minstrels and of flautists and trumpeters
    will be heard in you no more;
and an artisan of any trade
    will be found in you no more;
and the sound of the millstone
    will be heard in you no more;
and the light of a lamp
    will shine in you no more;
and the voice of bridegroom and bride
    will be heard in you no more;
for your merchants were the magnates of the earth,
    and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
And in you was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
    and of all who have been slaughtered on earth.’


Every human empire comes to an end. John in his vision sees a truly dramatic end to the Roman empire – and to all colonialism. We can easily be mesmerised or revolted by the gory details of the drama.

But the core of the vision is the description of those who mourn Babylon.  Kings mourn the end of their luxury (verse 9). Seafarers mourn the loss of their trade (verse 17).  Merchants mourn the loss of their businesses in precious metals, jewellery, fashion, furniture, gourmet food, “horses and chariots, slaves – and human lives” (verse 11).  It is sometimes said that the Bible fails to condemn slavery.  But surely this is the condemnation – that those whose merchandise is slaves mourn the loss of their wealth and not the suffering of the enslaved.  All the mourners in this vision care more for themselves than they do for the human lives lost through their own activities or through the retribution that befalls Babylon.

Meanwhile, heaven rejoices (verse 20).  Not in the carnage, but in the destruction of a system that has meant that so many people and animals – and God’s creation itself – have suffered so much.  If that is what makes heaven rejoice, then surely that is what should make the Church rejoice?  A church that seeks its own wealth, or that of its members or the nation where it is situated, will deservedly decline and die.  And heaven will rejoice at its decline. 
The Church of Jesus Christ will be found in those who give up their lives for the truth (20.4), in those who can be judged favourably “according to what they had done” (20.13).  John is convinced that these people comprise a church that will never be defeated, and will live again in the new heaven and the new earth (21.1). 


We have closed the Book of Revelation
because we find the reasons for rejoicing in heaven disturb us.
Is it really true that the angels sing when comfortable lives are turned upside down?
Can it be that archangels blow trumpets when ill-gotten gains are destroyed?
Open us to realising the effects of our actions on other people and creatures
so that we may be less guilty of trading in animal and human lives. Amen.

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