Saturday, September 22, 2018

Reading Through The Revelation #5 (Chapters 15-18)

Revelation WrightI am continuing the read-through of the Revelation in my 2017-18 devotional read through of the New Testament, accompanied by The Early Christian Letters For Everyone by N.T. Wright. Chapters 15-16 describe the bowl judgments and the destruction of “Babylon.” With these God puts an end to violence and oppression and judges the people and empires that profit from the enslavement and abuse of others. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

The bowl judgments are introduced in chapter 15. This will be the completion of judgment, because God's wrath will have accomplished its goal, the removal of all evil. The picture is one of celebration and worship in the throne room of God. The martyrs sing a song of victory as they are vindicated, through Jesus, as their blood will be the means of victory. This is a song of worship for God's righteous judgment and faithfulness to His promise to unite all nations in worship of God and defeat the evil powers of the earth (Exodus 15) and the evil spiritual rulers of the nations (Deuteronomy 32). These judgments are poured out in chapter 16. In the first four bowl judgments all creation fights back against those who have rejected God's purpose for humanity. In bowls 5 and 6 evil reaches its peak and destroys itself as the accumulated effect of sin is fully realized and all the world goes to war against itself. With the 7th bowl judgment is complete. Unrepentant evil, its systems, and all those who hang onto it are removed and God's judgment is finished. 

This is a solemn moment. The new song is exuberant, and heartfelt. Deliverance has occurred. But now we are homing in on the greatest showdown of them all. We left the dragon and the two monsters behind, two chapters ago. They have drawn many into their destructive ways. It is time, now, for the destroyers to be destroyed. This is the purpose of the seven last plagues, and of the cataclysmic judgments which follow them. 140, Revelation 15

The ‘wrath’ of the creator God consists of two things, principally. First, he allows human wickedness to work itself out, to reap its own destruction. Second, he steps in more directly to stop it, to call ‘time’ on it, when it’s got out of hand. If we knew our business, we would thank God for both of these, even though both can appear harsh. 142, Revelation 16.1-9

John is saying. I’m talking about the serious danger of deceitful spirits let loose into the world. Many of you have a poor track record at recognizing deceit when it stares you in the face...That would be the wrong mistake to make. These final three plagues, which complete the sequence of the seven bowls, are terrible indeed, and part of their terror is the sense of how easy it is to give allegiance to the systems that are here under judgment. 145-146, Revelation 16.10-21

Chapters 17-18 describe God's judgment of the world systems that began at the tower of Babel and refuse to submit to God. These "great empires" conquer by violence, oppress and enslave people, and entice them into idolatry and degradation. They create religious systems which abet and support the ruling powers and keep people enslaved. God will allow their evil to accumulate, and in one great climactic "beast empire," destroy themselves with their own violence. Those who have profited from the violence and oppression will mourn the destruction of this great economic power, but God's people will rejoice in God's righteous judgment of their persecutor. God is about to complete his judgment and that is good news for his people and for the entire cosmos.

This terrifying, multi-layered denunciation of the outwardly delightful and inwardly deceitful city ought to give pause for serious thought to all those of us who live within today’s glossy Western culture – and all others who look on and see our glitzy world from afar. Where are we in this picture? 153, Revelation 17.1-8

The brutal but seductive ‘civilizations’ and national empires, which ensnare the world by promising luxury and delivering slavery, gain their power from the monster, the System of Imperial Power...John’s readers already know that this system itself gains its power from the dragon, the accuser, the satan. Those who are caught up in the resultant battles need not feel that they are merely part of a dangerous confusion, of ignorant armies clashing by night. They are part of the lamb’s victorious army, who will conquer the monster in the usual way, by his blood and by the word of their faithful testimony. 157, Revelation 17.9-18

The angel who shouts out that Babylon has fallen (echoing Isaiah 21.9 and Jeremiah 51.8) is bringing the news that human arrogance and oppression, and the wanton luxury and vice to which they lead, will not have the last word. God will have the last word, and creation itself will hear this word as a word of freedom, a sigh of relief, a flood of glorious light (verse 1) let in upon a darkened dungeon. 159, Revelation 18.1-8

Babylon is a city founded on violence, not only the blood of the martyrs. Babylon has been at the centre of a network of violence that spanned the world, and all who have been slaughtered on earth have, in a sense, been slaughtered at the behest of Babylon. The merchants have grown rich on the back of military conquest. Money and power have done their collective worst, and John lumps them together, as we have seen, under the metaphor of fornication. Babylon the whore is gone, and will not return. 166, Revelation 18.9-24

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