Fallen is Babylon the Great! (T.F. Torrance on Revelation 17-18)

Revelation 17:1-6; 18:1-3, 19-20

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls…carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.… After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”…“Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste. Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!”

(The following sermon excerpt comes from T.F. Torrance, 1959. The Apocalypse Today. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, pp.120-2. Artwork by Chris Koelle, The Book of Revelation)

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There is no doubt as we read these strange chapters of the Book of Revelation, with their visions of monstrous and abominable creatures, that we shudder in our souls, and well we might! But let us look at the facts squarely. Look out abroad upon the world…and see the monstrosities of evil, unbelievable wickedness, and bloodshed. Then look again at the monstrous creatures of the Apocalypse, drunk with the blood of the people. Are they not much the same?…[T]hat is true of all the world today behind the economic strangle hold of world affairs. Behind all its commerce and trade, vast and wonderful as they are, there is traffic in the souls of men. The God Mammon even employs religion in its commercial enterprises. Behind many seemingly Christian enterprises there lies the darkest monster of all, the solidarity of human guilt, the dragon of unbowed pride. It is by pride that we turn the glory of Almighty God into the image of sinful man and what is even worse, the image of the beast. Man has been made in the image of God, but when the image of God in man is prostituted to human pride, man produces a monstrous evil and the mark of the beast is on him. Look at the beastly way in which the world crucified Jesus — that was done by religious pride.

If the Word of the Gospel discovered the secrets of the human heart so that men were offended at Him and resented Him and finally crucified Him because in their pride they were cut to the quick, then that is true of human history on a vast scale. The pressure of the everlasting Gospel evokes the organized and final opposition of collective human pride and Babylonian egoism. Surely that is the crisis of our times, the emergence amongst the nations of the image of the beast. At first it is only the scaffolding of a vast structure erected upon the pillars of social goods and western morality but before we know where we are, power is given unto this image. It thunders in arrogant pride and as many as will not do homage to it are sacrificed. It is the Babylonian captivity. But listen to the Book of Revelation, for pride cometh before a fall. “Babylon is fallen, is fallen! Babylon the great is fallen!” In the apocalyptic calendar it will disappear overnight like a huge stone cast into the midst of the sea. In one hour is her judgment come! Then shall the world weep and lament — all who were made rich by her costly merchandise, all who lived deliciously with her, all who were intoxicated with the wine of her culture, and all who trafficked in the souls of men. Then shall the redeemed rejoice, and all the holy apostles and prophets, for Babylon shall be found no more at all…

Such is the judgment of God upon the defiant pride and culture of man that tries to storm the way back into Utopia, into the Garden of Eden. That way is barred by an angel with a flaming sword. But there is a way, through the Garden of Gethsemane and through the Garden of Arimathea. It is the way of the Lamb. “I am the door,” He says. “He that entereth not by the door … but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).

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