RPM, Volume 18, Number 30, July 17 to July 23, 2016

To the Ends of the Earth

God Destroys Babylon (4)
Revelation 19:1-10

By Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Rejoicing in the judgments of God!

That is what Revelation 19 is about. Revelation 19 is the response to the exhortation of the previous chapter, to "Rejoice… rejoice…" (18:20). The sights and sounds of God's wrath upon Babylon brings forth the most joyful strains of worship from the hosts of heaven. It is at once a testimony to how far removed we often are from the biblical testimony to the character of God that we can so often recoil in horror at the graphic portrayals of God's wrath. But Bible saints saw things differently. The judgment of Babylon signals the triumph of Jesus. The destruction of the beast and the false prophet is proof that God is the ultimate ruler. The cries of the citizens of Babylon highlights the victory of the purposes of God.

What we have in Revelation is the original Hallelujah chorus!

There is something almost indescribable about the worship of heaven. John has to resort to the comparison "like" (19:1, 6, 12). There is no language that adequately describes it. What glory there is in heavenly worship!

Hallelujah! This is what they sing in heaven (19:1, 3, 4, 6). Surprising as it may seem, the word "Hallelujah" occurs for the very first time in the Bible at this point! This fact somewhat obscures the fact that its Hebrew equivalent, often translated "Praise the LORD" occurs frequently in the Old Testament (mainly in the psalms, and over half of these occurrences in the six Psalms 135, 146-150). The word has become so much a part of our Christian vocabulary, we might easily miss the appropriateness of its occurrence (four times) in this chapter. Coming as it does from the Hebrew, "praise Yahweh," it signals the desire of the heavenly multitude (19:1) to render all the praise to the Lord for the accomplishment of this downfall of evil's tyranny. It is the Lord who has done this great thing.

The fourfold hallelujah is worth noting, for each one has something significant to teach us.

The first hallelujah celebrates the righteousness of the act of judgment.

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for true and just are His judgments.
He has condemned the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.
He has avenged on her the blood of His servants.
(Rev. 19:1-3)

God's ways are "true and just." Everything about this action is pure. No evil motive can be applied to any of God's actions. The vengeance of God is an act of purity. At last, the cry of the martyred saints in 6:10, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" has been answered. "He has avenged on her the blood of his servants" (19:2). Justice has been seen to be done.

The second hallelujah signals the finality of God's judgment (19:3).

The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.
(Rev. 19:3)

The rising smoke that ascends over the burnt ruins of the city of Babylon is evidence of a battle fought and lost: Babylon is fallen never to rise again: "Never… never… never… "(19:21-23). Her doom has come (19:10). She has been brought to ruin (19:17). There is no Phoenix rising from the ashes here; Babylon's influence has been obliterated. God's people will never have to fear her ever again.

The third hallelujah is sung by twenty-four elders and the four living creatures (cherubim) alone. The twenty-four elders we have met before (4:4, 10; 5:8; 11:16). They are more than likely angels, twelve identifying the twelve tribes and twelve representing the twelve apostles, thus collectively representing the entire community of the Lord's people in both Old and New Testaments. The four living creatures, described earlier as cherubim, draws on the picture given in Ezekiel 1 (Rev. 4:6, 8, 9; 5:6, 8, 11, 14). Together, these angelic figures lead in the worship of God, underlining ("Amen" 1:4) what has been said already. These focus their worship exclusively upon the Lord and his character. They are, according to one writer, "the resident liturgical community around the throne." They are our constant encouragers as we worship God. Their appeal is followed by an antiphonal call from the throne itself (19:5). Comparing 6:6; 16:1, 17, the voice is that of Jesus.

[Choir:] Amen,
Praise our God, all you His servants,
you who fear him, both small and great!
(Rev. 19:4-5)

The fourth hallelujah is a response to the call to worship from the heavenly choir.

Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and His bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.
(Rev. 19:6-8)

This final hallelujah introduces us to a very different picture from that which has occupied us for some time: a wedding banquet. The trials of persecution have been a preparation for a wedding. Christ and His people are to be married for eternity and the banquet is upon us!

Some tension has been perceived between the idea of the bride making herself ready (19:7) and the fact that her clothes (representing her righteous deeds) are "given her" (19:8). The tension is only apparent, however, since the saints are justified by faith alone, but the faith which justifies is never alone; it is always followed by works.

Out of the ashes of catastrophe rises the salvation of God's people. Just as there is an inevitability to the final judgment of evil, so there is an inevitability to the salvation of God's people¾ inevitable, because God has so willed it. Through the judgment of Egypt, deliverance was brought about for the Israelites. So here: creation's pain will now be healed. God has been calling out of Babylon a people unto Himself, a bride for His Son. Babylon, the fallen cosmos, has been finally destroyed. The curse of sin that has ravaged her concord has now been eradicated. God is about to bring to pass a new creation, a church unsullied by her contact with Babylon. A pure bride is to emerge, one fit for God's perfect Son wearing garments of white linen (19:8; c.f. 7:13-15).

The first song had proclaimed "salvation" (19:1). The other songs had followed in its wake. God has rescued His people from certain destruction, snatched like brands from the burning. The imagery of the smoking earth (c.f. 2 Pet. 3:10), now gives way the festal sounds of a wedding celebration.

It is not without significance that John, in his Gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus, tells us that the first thing Jesus did when he began His public ministry was to attend a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). The ministry of Jesus has always been a preparation for a wedding. The Old Testament background has prepared us for this:

I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
(Isa. 61:10)

It is a blessed thing to receive an invite to this marriage supper (19:9).

In many ways, the Lord's Supper is an anticipatory meal of this coming union. We eat and drink "until He comes." We anticipate what is before us as much as we look back in remembrance of what He has already done.

What happens at a meal? We eat, of course; but, we also fellowship¾ talk, share stories, laugh, enjoy one another's company. There is nothing else in our lives that we do every day that comes close to reflecting the social and spiritual interaction that humans share than a common meal.

And heaven is like that!

We have some bizarre notions of what heaven will be like, from floating about on clouds with wings on our backs, to mystical experiences of a bodiless existence. But the Bible stubbornly maintains that heaven is corporeal: an existence much like that which we have here, but without the down-drag of sin.

John's response

John's response to this vision of heaven and the worship of God that takes place there is to join in with them. He falls down at the foot of the angel of verse 9 only to find himself rebuked. "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God!" (19:10). This is the regulative principle of worship: God alone is to be worshipped. It is never right to worship angels, no matter how full of wonder they are. At the close of the Bible we are given yet another reminder of how prone we are to commit idolatry. How right Calvin was to suggest as he did in the first part of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, that man's mind is a perpetual factory of idols (I.xi.8).

Verse 10 now adds some words of support to the call to worship Jesus: "For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." This may mean (taking the reference to "spirit" as the Holy Spirit) that the Scriptural testimony about Jesus Christ being the Lord and therefore worthy of worship is of the Holy Spirit. Most translations take the lower-case, suggesting that what is view here is that the true intent of all prophecy about Jesus is of this kind: He alone is to be worshipped.

Commentators have been puzzled at this response of the apostle and have given three possible reasons as to why the apostle blundered so badly:

i. He thought the angel was God ii. He thought that angels ought to have been worshipped iii. He was so emotionally overwhelmed that he didn't know what he was doing

Angels, of course, know a thing or two about worship. The angels swift and distressed response is worth noting. "I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers…" (19:10) indicates that we, just as the angels, are meant to bow before the Lord. When John bowed to the angel, he was robbing God of the glory that was His. False worship, however unintentional, always does that. Just as Paul reacted with some kind of paroxysm at the false worship of Athens, so the angel reacts here. (c.f. Acts 17:16). When Henry Martyn, the Cambridge translator of the Scriptures into Persian discovered a drawing of Jesus bowing in the presence of Mohammed, he turned aside and wept. When some thought he was overcome by the heat, he responded: "No! I could not live if my Saviour was thus dishonoured."

This passage is a lesson to those who sometimes say: "I get nothing out of that form of worship." It is not what we get out of worship that is of primary significance, but what God gets out of it. The test of worship is not our enjoyment of it so much as God's glory in it.

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