Theology 101

John’s Apocalypse & Babylon

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The Apostle John’s account of “the revelation of Jesus Christ,” the last book in our Bible, has much to teach us about the Kingdom of God. In my previous article, we looked at its teachings about “the Lamb.” Today, we will look at the description of “the beast” that is opposed to God and his kingdom.

Babel, the Beast & Utopia

The vision presented in the interlude of Revelation 18 fills out the picture of the last great monstrosity that bids all peoples everywhere on earth to give allegiance or die. It is personified in the first empire in the biblical record, which attempted to circumvent the prime directive to go out into the earth and subdue it and bring it into the service of God and man.

At Babel, the choice to seek security above courageous obedience led first to a sovereign scattering and eventually to a wicked empire. John sees this same evil in the final convulsions of a corrupt world system. Here is a kind of ultimate evil. Using government’s coercive powers to acquire and manipulate wealth for imperial control of the lives and livelihoods of others is a complete perversion of God’s original command to subdue and have dominion over the earth and all creation.

The prophetic charge is that “all the nations” (Rev. 18:3) have drunk the intoxicating nectar of governmental power being manipulated for the aggrandizement of the elitist few at the expense of those loyal to Christ, who are unable or unwilling to play Babylon’s game. This is hellish work, for it acquires wealth through intrigue, reputation, coercion, and the politics of preferential legalities, rather than through God-honoring labor, toil, thrift, and deferred rewards.

Babylon is symbolic of all the great imperial visions that have been swept away in the march of God’s sovereignty throughout history. Some have been directly destroyed by God’s revealed actions (Israel and ancient Babylon), others have been shown to be unable to resist his mighty works even as they continued to stand (Egypt), but all have passed from the scene just as surely as Rome did after its long run. All of them partook of Babel’s failed promise to deliver security and wealth through unholy and unbiblical departures from God’s rule fueled by covetousness, envy, and power-mongering.

Just as in the past, whatever final form the utopian vision takes, it will be judged by the one who rules “with an iron scepter” (Rev. 19:15). The warning to all is not to become worshippers of such a vision, particularly when it involves one’s own security and livelihood (Rev. 13:16-18).

To those who, through the faith they hold in “the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 19:10) and the courage they show in doing God’s will (Rev. 20:4, 22:14), overcome by endurance and patience (Rev. 14:12-13), the heavenly king will come at last to rule first on the old earth and finally over a new heavens and a new earth (Rev. 21:1). Only here is the better world which utopian visions of the present age can only imagine. Such a world must have the right king, have the right subjects, and be a place without a curse from sin’s presence (Rev. 22:3). Here and here alone can the commission and the promise of human dominion be realized.

Government at its Worst

John’s account of the unveiling of Christ in his kingdom power closes out the Bible’s ongoing polemic against the tendency of government, religion, and the masses of the people to confuse their assigned roles in order to create a false god. God’s world was created for men and women to rule and subdue as God’s stewards by adding their labor and God-given ingenuity to natural resources for the production of goods and wealth. Sin’s ravages first dethroned God in the hearts of men and women individually and then proceeded to create political, religious, and cultural structures that would make God irrelevant.

In time, great empires that slaughtered and enslaved whole civilizations took the place of God. Tragically, millions upon millions whom God created to freely and voluntarily exercise their stewardship under his leadership and that of his own special kind of servant hero/leaders were martyred or shackled; or, worse, they cooperated with evil despots for their own advantage. This collusion is a perversion of God’s mandate to both individuals and governments.

Government is best when it confines its business to arbitration between those aggrieved and their clear oppressors. Government is at its worst when it makes its own increase a goal and uses the moral perversity of its subjects to practice favoritism through legal immoralities and presumes to have the wisdom of God to “make a better world” or some such monstrosity. Government elites have consistently justified their activities by asserting some form of divine or moral right to do what they do. It is, therefore, no surprise to see in the Bible’s final prophetic words a picture of a great empire aided by religious perversity and deception convincing a world full of peoples and nations that government, not God, is the great blesser.

To those whose stock-in-trade is not loving, seeking, and doing the truth, the pull of this great lie is irresistible. In this way, a world gone astray from its true king can be convinced to surrender its liberty to one who sits in the place of God.

Revelation, and the entire biblical record, are overwhelmingly a call for the faithful to get their own house in order, not to seek to get the world’s twisted caricatures and dreamy, vaporous hopes in line with God’s revelation. Thus the King’s promise to “make all things new” assures us of his sovereign intention and our subordinate role.

Editor’s Note: This series was adapted from the IFWE research paper, God and Government: A Biblical Perspective (The Bible and Limited Government) by Dr. Tom Pratt. Read the full paper here.

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