Posted: 26 Dec 2010 11:00 PM PST
IF REVELATION 17 EXPOSES THE abominations of "Babylon," Revelation 18 announces her imminent destruction. Much of the language is drawn from Old Testament passages that predict the destruction of historic Babylon or some other pagan city characterized by corruption, violence, and idolatry.
Read the chapter again, slowly and reflectively. It is worth remembering that although Rome faced several major reverses during the ensuing three hundred years, it was not until the time of Augustine that the city was thoroughly sacked by the barbarians to the north. So much of the description of this chapter came to quite brutal and literal fulfillment. But by that time, Christianity had itself become the state religion, and many Christians therefore found the sacking difficult to accept, let alone explain.
It was Augustine who wrote a book that set the sacking of Rome in a theological context that helped Christians make sense of it all. His volume The City of God traces out two cities, the city of God and the city of man. (See the meditation for January 9.) These categories for him become the controlling typology not only for his rapid scan of biblical history, but for his analysis of good and evil within history. The work is masterful and deserves close reading even today.
Above all, Augustine warns us against associating the church and the Gospel too closely with the cities and kingdoms of this world, cities that are all temporal and temporary and slated for destruction, hopelessly compromised. By contrast, Christians should identify themselves with the new Jerusalem, the city of the great King, the Jerusalem that is above, whose builder and maker is God.
Getting these matters right is never easy or simple. "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues" (Rev. 18:4). In the context of the book of Revelation, this is a compelling exhortation not to align with any of "Babylon's" corroding riches and perverted values. One must "come out" and "leave" this doomed city which stands under the judgment of Almighty God. But these words have been used to justify second- and third-degree separation, as if that is what the Apocalypse were teaching. If some enjoy Babylon so much they end up being destroyed with her, others expect to build their own centers entirely removed from Babylon's corroding influence, without perceiving that until Jesus returns the people of God must constantly be tugged in different directions by the city of God and by the city of God's rebellious image-bearers. Our ultimate hope is in God himself, who not only introduces the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21–22), but who brings down this "mother of prostitutes" in his own sovereign judgment.
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