For some, the book of Revelation is an altogether frightening read with little to commend it. Another group sees it as a gold mine of future events encoded in cryptic symbolism and rhetoric. These individuals obsess over every comma, period, phrase, and image. Both of these two groups miss the point of Revelation as stated by the Lord himself: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you [John] about these things for the churches…” (Revelation 22:16a, ESV). In this passage, these things refer to the previous twenty one chapters including the one with this verse. The content of the entire book has been given by the Lord to his people as represented by the phrase, the churches. My conclusion is simple and twofold. Number one, the book of Revelation was meant to give hope to its readers rather than fear (Rev. 1:3, ESV). Number two, it is not a catalogue of encoded secrets about the future.
If the last book of the bible contains God’s words to his people, then it behooves his church to read and study them. What does he want to say that is so important? After all, the apostle John records all that he sees and hears into a manuscript called The Revelation (Rev. 1:1-2, 11, ESV). This has been preserved for nearly 2000 years. I find it hard to believe that the sole purpose of the book of Revelation after 2000 years is simply as something to decode. There is a message contained within it. In fact, this New Testament book contains multiple messages and themes pertinent to the present day. One important theme comes to light in the following verse:
“Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘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'” (Rev. 18:4-5, ESV).
When the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, the Roman Empire neared the peak of its dominance. The Caesars demanded veneration from the people in exchange for protection and provision. The Christians in John’s day refused to bow to Caesar and Rome. Many responded to God’s call to come out of Babylon. Throughout the book of Revelation, Babylon symbolizes the dominant world system of evil, which demands worship of itself rather than to God. Needless to say, these first century Christians lost their lives for their obedience to God. These brave men and women and children believed that whole-hearted devotion to God trumped anything that Caesar and Rome could offer in this life. These Christians were in the world, but not of the world.
God’s clarion call to his people in our day is to align themselves with him rather than the world. It is a constant battle. Unlike the times in which John lived, Christians in the West do not face the same degree of persecution like our first century brethren. This is not the case for Christians in the Middle East and Asia. Over this summer, Christians in Northern Iraq have fled to other countries for their lives. This region had a long history of Christianity, but this is soon to be a distant memory. The persecution has been intense upon these men and women in Christ, whose devotion is to the one true God rather than Allah, Buddha, or Krishna or any other pagan deity. There is a saying, “we become what we worship.” The point being that what I worship shapes or forms my life. Another way to say this is that leaving Babylon is not only a choice of who to worship, but it is also a lifestyle one.
If I refuse to obey God’s command to come out of Babylon, then compromise that leads to sin will surely follow. Once sin is present in my life due to compromise, then the judgment of God looms over my life. What I have described is a progression implied from the text in Revelation 18:4-5. In many respects, certain streams of the Western church have refused to come out of Babylon as they opt to remain in it. This has lead to moral compromise with the culture and society. Some examples are the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and Exodus International. The latter no longer exists as a faith-based entity. The previous two Protestant denominations have slid into Liberalism, which is nothing more than a form of godliness that denies its power (2 Timothy 3:5, ESV).
In no way do I want to suggest that the solution for coming out of Babylon is to live like a hermit. Jesus teaches his people that the spiritual life of the kingdom of heaven demands that one penetrates the culture like salt and light (Matthew 5:13-15, ESV). Those who claim to follow Christ like yours truly must leave the salt shaker in order to season and preserve society and culture with God’s truth. To shine as a light means allowing the light of God to shine through me. This implies humility and meekness. Humility demonstrates my posture before God while meekness is toward men. These qualities require lifelong pursuit and discipline, which suggests a way of life or a lifestyle. My sense is that God bellows to the church in the west to come out of Babylon. He beckons us to him through his word by the Holy Spirit. May we not grow dull hearts and ears toward him and his word.