Rev 18:4-5, 19:1-9 The Worshipping Church

We are nearing the end of our study of Revelation and as we come into today’s passage, I want to remind you of what we learned last week.  We witnessed the destruction of Babylon the whore.  When she collapsed we watched the whole system of false worship go with her – false religion, false prosperity, economic luxury.  For at the heart of every adulterous religion is an appeal to prosperity apart from God

As the whore was alive and awaiting God’s judgment, the Lord has a message for his people living in the midst of her shadow.  It is a message that begins with an appeal to her name.  The Church is the people of God.  She is ‘my people’ god says.  That term is used 220 times in the Scripture and in almost every single instance it is on the tongue of God addressed to his covenant people or nation.  It is really quite an amazing and endearing term for in Revelation there are only two forms of people – the covenant nation and everyone else.

 

The Exodus narrative refers to the covenant people 17 times as my people.  Let me read one of these that I think has bearing upon our passage. In Ex. 3:7-8, “The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey — the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” Isn’t that the Christian story told in Revelation – the faithful suffer, die, are imprisoned, and yet God promises to hear and answer their cry, beginning with those martyrs under altar (Rev 6:9-11) and culminating in the ultimate destruction of everything opposed to God – False prophet, beast, dragon and all who bow at his feet (Rev 18-20)?

 

And just like in the Exodus story, God calls his people to come out and live separate and distinct lives from those around them.  You see, the church is the new Israel and with great emphasis God tells her to come OUT! Come out of the great world system that pits itself against God.  This isn’t a suggestion or an encouragement, it is a command.  Leave.  There are so many OT parallels to this command, it would take all day to read them, so I have picked one: In Jeremiah, God is speaking to Israel about her need to leave Babylon before her violent destruction comes.  Familiar overtones, eh? Listen as God tells the people of Israel that if they want to be spared and not touched during her downfall, then they better be far away.

 

(Jer. 51:45-50) “Come out of her, my people! Run for your lives! Run from the fierce anger of the Lord. 46 Do not lose heart or be afraid when rumors are heard in the land; one rumor comes this year, another the next, rumors of violence in the land and of ruler against ruler. 47 For the time will surely come when I will punish the idols of Babylon; her whole land will be disgraced and her slain will all lie fallen within her. 48 Then heaven and earth and all that is in them will shout for joy over Babylon, for out of the north destroyers will attack her,” declares the Lord. 49 “Babylon must fall because of Israel’s slain, just as the slain in all the earth have fallen because of Babylon. 50 You who have escaped the sword, leave and do not linger! Remember the Lord in a distant land, and think on Jerusalem.”

 

John is receiving from the Lord essentially the same vision but it is being cast in eschatological tones so that the Christian church can get out of dodge before the world is judged.  So what exactly does God want his people to leave and distance themselves from?  The book of Revelation is full of things.  Let’s turn to Rev. 9:20-21 to get a couple of really good ideas: The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood — idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.

 

There are 5 main things listed in this passage, which the people of God must flee and abandon.  First, we must get rid of false worship and every form of idolatry.  That means anything we place our hope or trust in, whether it is a person, idea, philosophy, or object.  God alone is to be our hope and provider.  If you are unsure what your idol is – Tim Keller in his book Counterfeit Gods provides some ideas on how to discern the idols you need to abandon:

  1. Consider your imagination. “…the true god of your heart is what your thoughts effortlessly go to when there is nothing else demanding your attention. What do you enjoy daydreaming about? What occupies your mind when you have nothing else to think about?…what do you habitually think about to get joy and comfort in the privacy of your heart?” (168)
  2. Consider how you spend money. “Your money flows most effortlessly toward your heart’s greatest love. In fact, the mark of am idol is that you spend too much money on it, and you must try to exercise self-control constantly…Our patterns of spending reveal our idols.” (168)
  3. Consider your daily functional salvation. “What are you really living for, what is your real-not your professed-god? A good way to discern this is how you respond to unanswered prayers and frustrated hopes…when you pray and work for something and you don’t get it and you respond with explosive anger or deep despair, then you may have found your real god.” (169)
  4. Consider your most uncontrollable emotions. “Just as a fisherman looking for fish knows to go where the water is roiling, look for your idols at the bottom of your most painful emotions, especially those that never seem to lift and that drive you to do things you know are wrong.” (169)

 

Second we must flee what I am going to call unrighteous deeds.  They are listed as Murder, magic arts, sexual immorality and theft.  But these are just categorical heads of all forms of unrighteousness, which the Christian must flee.

 

The Heidelberg Catechism, unpacking the 10 commandments, which appear to be mentioned here, says “God’s will for you in the sixth commandment is that ‘I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor—not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, 
 and certainly not by actual deeds—and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge. I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. Prevention of murder is also why government is armed with the sword.” And in its next question it goes on to declare “envy, hatred, anger, vindictiveness” are roots of murder.  We are to flee all of this.

 

We are to flee magic arts, which would include witchcraft, sorcery, potions, Ouija, astrology, horoscopes, lucky pennies, rabbit’s feet, rituals done in a certain way to prevent bad luck or guarantee good luck.  Baseball is full of these magic arts kinds of things of the lower levels. “Ex-major leaguer Lou Skeins used to reach into his back pocket to touch a crucifix, straighten his cap and clutch his genitals. Detroit Tiger infielder Tim Maring wore the same clothes and put them on exactly in the same order each day during a batting streak.”[1] “In 1954, the New York Giants, during a 16-game winning streak, wore the same clothes in each game and refused to let them be cleaned for fear that their good fortune might be washed away with the dirt.”[2] “Rube Waddel, an old-time Philadelphia Athletic pitching great, had a hairpin fetish. However, the hairpin he possessed was only powerful as long as he won. Once he lost a game he would look for another hairpin, which had to be found on the street, and he would not pitch until he found another.”[3]  We might laugh at these things but these are magical rituals that are an affront to God and his providence as people try to control their world and other people.  So what are the ways you practice magic by trying to control God?  Is it a certain prayer formula – saying things a certain way?  Is it just turning to God in your need, as though he is a magic genie you can rub when the going gets tough?

 

We are to flee sexual immorality.  Again the Heidelberg declares, (HC109) “We are temples of the Holy Spirit, body and soul, 
 and God wants both to be kept clean and holy. 
 That is why God forbids all unchaste actions, looks, talk, thoughts, or desires, and whatever may incite someone to them.”  In common parlance of today, that means God demands that his people flee from lust, premarital and/or extramarital sex, the objectifying of women/men, rape, porn, homosexuality, bigamy, polygamy, polyandry…  And while my hope is that none of you would dare engage in these behaviors, it also includes dressing in a modest manner so that we don’t incite these behaviors in others.  Women, that means paying attention to your necklines and the fittedness of your tops.  Consider whether or not you would be comfortable with any man coming up and putting his hands at the lowest point of your neckline, or the highest button on your shirt.  Men and women consider how tight your jeans are. Ladies consider how short your skirt is.  I am not trying to be a prude, but I am calling all of us to recognize that we are called to flee sexual immorality in ourselves and in the lives of others.

 

We are also called to flee thievery which “includes all scheming and swindling in order to get our neighbor’s goods for ourselves, whether by force or means that appear legitimate such as inaccurate measurements…fraudulent merchandizing, counterfeit money, excessive interest, or any other means forbidden by God.  In addition God forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts” (HC110).  Thievery happens all around us all the time – let me ask you just one question since we are in tax season – Are you reporting every form of income you have made this year – not just the wages your employer paid you, but the cash you received for services rendered, the cash paid under the table so that you “would jeopardize your social security or unemployment, or disability benefits?

 

Those are the things we are to leave behind according to Revelation 9.  If we were to look at Rev 13:14 we would find that the inhabitants of the earth are being deceived and so God’s people are called to come out of being deceived.  We must leave the darkness and come into the light.  That means Scripture must govern our lives for understanding the natural and spiritual realm, sin and salvation, life and death… The word is our standard.  It must govern our faith and out life.

 

For example, increasingly there is a view afoot that says the word must be judged according to science and not science according to the Word.  We must not be deceived but such foolishness.  Now there may be a middle ground, which Augustine exposed in relation to understanding biblical texts.  He said, “if we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture it is not allowable to say, ‘The author of this book is mistaken’; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood.” [4] Translated into our current application of fleeing the deception of science being the judge of the Word, we would say, “If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction between Science an Scripture, it is not allowable to say “The scripture is mistaken”; but either the science is faulty, the methodology is wrong, or you have not understood both the science and the scripture properly.”

 

In Rev 14:5 we are told concerning the people of God that No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.  This clearly means that the people of God must flee from all lying and deception.  We must leave all falsehood behind and live the truth, speak the truth, know the truth.  Gossip, slander, demeaning speech, coarse joking, tearing people down and not building them up must be abandoned.  Half truths, partial truths, little white lies, etc. are to have no place in the Christian’s speech.

 

And finally, on top of abandoning idolatry and false worship, unrighteous actions, deceptions, and lies, today’s passage clearly calls the people of God to abandon vainglory and luxury.  Rev. 18:7 described the harlot’s punishment by saying, Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself.  God’s people must flee self-exaltation and self-indulgence.  Rather we are called to deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Christ.  This will require that we be able to leave behind the temptation to serve ourselves in order to be generous servants of the needy.  We are to extend the kingdom, not extend our comfort.

 

That is a lot to flee isn’t it?  How are you doing? Do you know why it is so hard?  Dennis Johnson, in his book Triumph of the Lamb, asks a question about which is Satan’s more dangerous weapon: persecution or seduction?  For modern westerners, I believe it is seduction.  The harlot and her wares are appealing, they are beautiful.  They look like they make life more enjoyable, but they always come with a cost.  Her wares are bought from the blood of saints and the haunt of evil spirits.  The only way we will be able to leave all of this behind is if we truly have the power of the Holy Spirit within us, convicting us and renewing us.  Any other attempt will be half-hearted and disastrous at best.

 

So if that is the life we are to flee and come out of?  What is the life we are to enter into?  What is the life of a worshipping church or a worshipping Christian?  Inherent in the command “come out” is the word “repentance” The life the covenant people are to live is a repentant life.  That means a life that flees sin, confesses sin and participates in a new way of living.  God’s people are not simply to agree that these things are sinful and to keep doing them, they are to agree they are sinful and to stop doing them.

 

Second, the life we are called to live is a life of worship.  Worship that declares who God is, his character: His glory and power and reign (Rev 19:2, 6) and his actions – condemning of sin, avenging saints and marrying his church (Rev 19:2, 7).  Our worship must incorporate both aspects – who he is and what he has done, is doing and will do.

 

The new life of the church is to be a persecuted life.  It will involve suffering and even death.  There is blood that must be avenged.  The Christian flees acceptance in order to take up persecution (Rev 19:2).  We flee unrighteous deeds in order to take up righteous one. (Eph. 2:10) “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Practically, HC 107 [speaking of not murdering] “…God wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly toward them, to protect them from harm as much as we can, 
and to do good even to our enemies.”

 

We flee leading ourselves to become led by God.  (Rev. 7:17) “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This is the life of the worshipping church – repentant, worshipful, persecuted, performing righteousness and being led by God.

 

Why would we leave all that the world offers, when it appears so alluring and good?  Why would we leave idolatry, unrighteousness, deception, lying, vainglory and luxury to take up repentance, worship, persecution, righteousness and being shepherded?  I believe Isa. 52:11 offers us one reason worth considering: Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing!  Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the Lord.”  We leave that stuff behind and take up the things God commands because this is the way of holiness and purity.  We take the step because we want to live like the one who called us.  We take the step because like the priests who carried the physical objects of worship for the Lord, we carry the Holy Spirit within ourselves.

 

Maybe a second reason we do this is because we don’t want to suffer the same fate as Babylon in this life or in the next.  We don’t want to be found living under God’s judgment because that is just miserable.  Maybe we live anew in order to mitigate our sins.  When we leave sin behind we cease to heap it upon Christ.  We don’t sin that grace may abound, rather we don’t sin so that we don’t abuse our Lord upon whom our sin is laid.

 

Maybe we flee so that God may be worshipped fully and completely.  Sin has a way of affecting our worship.  Have you ever tried worshipping when you are engaged in an overt sinful pattern of life?  It is hard, almost impossible and that is because God dwells in unapproachable light (1Tim 6:16).  It’s hard to worship when you are sinning because that sin is being exposed as God’s true and just judgment is declared.

 

But maybe the greatest reason why we must come out of sin and into life is because we are preparing for a wedding. Rev 19:7-8  “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.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)

 

The Jewish marriage custom involved 4 parts.  First was an Engagement, not very formal where a man expressed interest in a woman. This was followed by betrothal, which was formally binding and declared the man and woman, husband and wife.  At this point, the terms of marriage were made, etc.  Then comes a separation when the dowry is paid and the husband builds a house for his bride and prepares for his new life, and finally comes the Wedding Feast when groom goes to take possession of his wife and bring her home.[5]

 

We flee all that stuff, because according to the scriptures, we are in the state of betrothal, our husband, Christ has paid the dowry with is blood, he is building us a home and to fail to flee would be an issue of infidelity.  To be found in Babylon is to be caught in an affair!

 

Furthermore, to be a bride means we must be putting on our makeup, doing our hair, dressing in our lingerie and party dress.  As the people of God we leave behind all the ordinary ways of living – the dirty blue jeans and ripped t-shirts or life, the soiled garments, if you will, in order to dress in our finest for the groom who awaits us.  Most men probably don’t get this, since we hate to dress up and we put the tux on just for one day and then quickly return to normal dress.  But the women get the analogy don’t they?  This is a time to primp and prepare, to look good, so that your husband can’t resist you.

 

Men, to put this into a horrible analogy that you might understand but which is really short on theological backing it would be like putting on the team shirt, colors and going to the stadium game.  If you were really into the game, you wouldn’t dare go dressed without all the mascots, colors and probably even a little face paint.

 

That would be to treat the day as casual and nothing special.  But even worse would be to go dressed in the colors and mascot of the opposing team.  We are called to leave such traitorous actions and put on the team colors or righteousness, holiness, truth, peace and love. That is what Jesus is trying to get his church to realize.  We need to flee that old life in order to take on a new life.  It is the only dress befitting the people of God.

 

 


[2] ibid, p.3

[3] ibid, p.6

[4] from St. Augustine, Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, 11.5, in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (ed. Philip Schaff, 14 vols., 1st series, 1886–1894; repr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952.) IN http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/42/42-1/42-1-pp003-019_JETS.pdf

[5] Hendricksen, More than Conquerors, p.179-80

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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