Today we finish the book of Revelation (thanks be to God!). Our last reading in Revelation ended with the destruction of the woman sitting on the beast who was drunk with the blood of the saints – that is, the destruction of those who oppose Jesus and His Kingdom and all who believe in Him.
Today, our reading starts with an angel proclaiming the destruction of Babylon, which may represent Rome, or an actual restored Babylon, or just evil in general. And the angel talks about the three main groups what will lament this destruction.
The first group are “the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury…they will weep and mourn for her. Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!'” (18:9-10). So all the rulers who were in league with evil will see its destruction and lament and be afraid – likely because they know they will be destroyed as well.
The second group are the merchants. They “will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore…They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep an mourn and cry out: ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls! In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!'” (18:11, 14-17a). So all the merchants who benefited from evil will also see its destruction and lament and be afraid, just like the rulers.
The third group are “every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea” (18:17b). They, too, “will stand far off. When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out: ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin!'” (18:18-19). So all those who transport the goods, making a living off of evil, will also mourn its destruction.
And each group proclaims that the city was destroyed in one hour – so the destruction will not only be complete, but it will be sudden and quick.
But the seafarers tell the Kingdom of God: “Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you” (18:20). Then an angel throws a huge boulder in the sea to demonstrate the violence of the destruction of Babylon and to prophesy the complete destruction that will follow – nothing will be left and it will never be inhabited again, because “In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth” (18:24).
And in response to this, there is great rejoicing in heaven and praise for God. They say, “Hallelujah! 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” (19:1b-2). And the twenty four elders and the four living creatures also bow down and worship and praise God. It’s a party in heaven! And the angel tells John, “‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God'” (19:9). And to get an invitation to the wedding supper of the Lamb, one needs to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and turn your life over to Him. And John tries to worship the angel, but the angel says he’s just another servant of God, and that John should worship (only) God.
Then John sees a white horse, whose rider is most likely Christ, returning as the Judge/King, who “with justice he judges and makes war” (19:11b). This is the ultimate justice, the justice of God, not humanity. And the war He makes is with evil, and all the birds of the air are called to the battleground between God and evil, in which many, if not all, rulers of the earth participate. The birds are called because there will be so many dead from this war that the birds will have a feast, a (rather gruesome) “great supper of God” (19:17c). And the battle happens and the beast and the false prophet are captured, and “the two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (19:20c) and the birds get their feast on the remains of the dead. It seems kind of gory, but, well, evil is gory.
Then the dragon/serpent/Satan gets locked up for a thousand years and “those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God [who] had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (20:4b). After this thousand years, the dragon/serpent/Satan is let out and gathers all the nations for battle. “they marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever” (20:9-10). So the forces of evil, all the way up to the Devil himself, will be overcome and will be punished and unable to hurt God’s people ever again. This is a message of hope for all who believe and suffer for that belief. And I think most of us who truly believe in Jesus suffer in some way for that belief – even if it is just grief over our own sins and the sins of humanity, though some may be called to martyrdom.
And then John records that after this war and the throwing of the beast and the false prophet into the fire comes Judgment Day, when “each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown in to the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:13b-15). So even those whose name is written in the book of life are judged, but since we believe, our sin is covered by Jesus’ atoning death, and our names are written in the book of life, so we will not be thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented forever.
And John records, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (21:1-4). So the war with evil is over – it has been won by Jesus Christ, and we who believe in Him have been purified and will be able to take our places in the new heaven and earth, and dwell with God forever. And “nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27).
And then John is shown a beautiful river flowing through the tree of life, which will bear abundant fruit. “And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (22:2c-5). This is what we who believe in Jesus have to look forward to – a time of peace and joy where we can see our Lord face to face and live – live with Him in glory and honor forever and ever. There will be no darkness, and thus no fear, no evil. Just the eternal presence of God! How awesome is that?
The book ends on a note of hope for those who believe, but warning for those who do not, because Jesus says, “Behold! I am coming soon!” (22:7a). And He reiterates the hope that has been shown in the last part of the book: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gate into the city” (22:14). And He also reiterates the warning: “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (22:15). In other words, those who do not love God and do not strive to live a life that delights Him will not be allowed to enter this new Holy City nor live with God eternally. And Jesus confirms, “Yes, I am coming soon” (22:20a). To which we who believe ought to say without fear and with great hope: “Amen! Come Lord Jesus!” (22:20b).