Revelation part 2 – Babylon 

(Part 1, yesterday)

The kingdom opposing the Church is given a name: Babylon. Which may not mean much to us, but to the Jewish Christians reading the book of Revelation in the first century it would, because Babylon had destroyed their country in 587 BC and dragged them off as captives. Everything they’d held dear as Jews, their city, the temple, their traditions, rituals, teachings – all wrecked because of Babylon.  

And now it was being revealed 600 years later that Babylon had risen from the ashes of its destruction by God (Jeremiah 25:12-14), and this time to wreck the Church. And like the Babylon of old it would become THE power in the world too, described in Revelation 17:5 as “Mystery Babylon the Great, the Mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the Earth.” 

And this awful Babylonian prostitute “woman,” verse 6, would exist for one reason, to become “drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.” Its one purpose and goal is to suck the life out of the Church and that way eradicate anything to do with Jesus.  

That being the case, how does Babylon do it? Is it by open warfare against Christians, like Saul chasing down Christians far and wide and having them arrested? Well, yes, because that’s happening today too, but violence and persecution haven’t been Babylon’s main weapons of choice in its attempt to destroy the Church. 

Its main weapon and greatest strength, according to Revelation, is its ability to seduce. She’s the “mother of prostitutes” – and she’s very good at it too, “For ALL the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her immorality. Kings have committed adultery with her, and because of her desires for extravagant luxury, the merchants of the world have grown rich by her,” Revelation 18:3

It makes Babylon easy to recognize, because the culture it creates is obsessed with two things: “luxury” (whatever money can buy), and “immorality” (perverted sexual fantasy). Which isn’t surprising because, verse 2, Babylon is “a home for demons and every evil spirit.” It’s through a demonically driven culture, therefore, that we see Babylon’s main weapon of choice. So has it worked? And more to the point, is it still working today? (Part 3 tomorrow…)

The book of Revelation – who for, and why?  

The “Who” is stated clearly in Revelation 1:1. God gave the book of Revelation to Jesus “to show his servants what must soon take place.” An angel then passed the revelation on to John, who addressed it to “the seven churches (Jesus’ servants) in the province of Asia,” verse 4.

So this is a message meant for Jesus’ servants, the Church, as a reminder that Jesus “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father,” verse 6. But why was that so important? 

Because there’s another kingdom in operation on this planet that’s also fully aware that the Church is God’s kingdom in the making, and one day it will take over. So, how can this other kingdom stop it happening?   

No way can it defeat God’s Church in open battle, because the power behind the Church is “the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and Hades,” verse 18. The Church is the instrument of the resurrected Jesus, “seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power, and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come,” Ephesians 1:20-21.  

So what can this other kingdom do about that? If nothing, then it might as well pack up bags and not fight a battle it obviously can’t win. And that could have been the end of the book of Revelation, one chapter and all done. But the story continues in chapter 2, because the other kingdom hasn’t given up, despite the odds so obviously stacked against it. And, amazingly, despite the heavy artillery all being on the Church’s side, this other kingdom makes some serious inroads into the Church. 

And those inroads are all directed toward one end too, to get the Church to “lose its connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow,” Colossians 2:19

Which explains why Revelation opens with a stirring picture of Jesus, and nailing it down that he’s one who “gives the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God,” Revelation 2:7. He holds the key to that, and because he’s also “the First and the Last,” Revelation 1:17, he can take us right back to when things began in the Garden of Eden and re-create the chance for us to eat off the tree of life instead. 

He can do that. And the other kingdom knows it, so how does it get the Church’s eyes off it? (Part 2 tomorrow…) 

What did Jesus mean by “Church”?

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said he would build his Church, and there’s a clue in what he meant by that in the Greek word for “Church” in that verse. It’s Ekklēsia (ek-lay-see-ah), a familiar word back then to both Greeks and Romans as a form of government

Ekklēsia, for instance, was the word used by the Greek city-state of Athens to describe its sovereign governing body, which it called “The Athenian Assembly.” The Assembly was the cornerstone of Athenian democracy, because it was open to all adult male citizens of Athens, regardless of their wealth, occupation or social standing. Any one of them could address the Assembly directly, speak his mind openly, hear what others had to say, and together they would vote in laws for the governance of their city. 

The Ekklēsia, therefore, was the ruling council of Athens, but not a hierarchy. It was made up of ordinary citizens being called to assemble together to come up with laws and decrees that met the needs of the state. It was totally secular, and not a religious body at all.   

It seems odd, then, that Jesus didn’t use any religious term to describe his Church, nor did he say, “I will build my temple.” Instead, he used a form of secular government initiated in Greece and adopted in part by the Romans of his day too. The Roman Ekklēsia, for instance, was also a ruling council of citizens, acting as an arm of the Roman government to make sure the policies and decrees of Rome – passed down to them by the local Roman governor (like Pontius Pilate) – were put into action.  

And this was all very familiar to the Jews of Jesus’ day; they knew who the Ekklēsia were and what their job was. So when Jesus mentioned that he was establishing his own Ekklēsia, imagine the impact that word would have had. It meant that he too was setting up a ruling council, a called out assembly of citizens, whose job as his Ekklēsia would be to act as an arm of the kingdom of God to ensure that the policies and decrees of Heaven were established on the Earth.  

It was a secular government model, therefore, that Jesus was patterning his church on, to describe what the Church’s purpose was. It gets the point across that his Church exists to re-establish God’s government on the Earth – exactly as God intended in Genesis, that through his ruling council of Adam and Eve and their descendants the kingdom of God would be planted all over the Earth to transform the world into the likeness of Heaven. 

Well, now it’s the turn of his Ekklēsia in this day and age to do that, so that wherever us ordinary folk are the kingdom of Heaven is being established. 

Electric cars – and Psalm 8

Psalm 8 gives an extraordinary answer to the psalmist’s question, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” – the answer being: we were made just “a little lower than God,” verse 5, “crowned with glory and honour” as “rulers over the works of God’s hands,” verse 6, with “everything put under our feet.” 

So it comes as no surprise to see Christian and non-Christian alike taking a serious interest in the environment, since we were born to look after the planet. Some, unfortunately, actively resist looking after the planet in pursuit of profit and prestige, and some “worship and serve created things rather than the Creator,” Romans 1:25 – like the worship of the Earth goddess Gaia making a comeback today. But putting aside the worship of money and a pagan goddess, the desire to preserve and sustain our planet is a worthwhile goal, isn’t it? 

But we don’t seem to be very good at it. We’re very good at flying private jets to locations where we come up with visionary ideas for saving the planet, but we’re not very good at playing out these ideas in real life. 

Take the electric car, for instance. Visions of non-polluting (and non-existent) tail pipes caught my imagination too, and especially when fears of the globe heating up and cities disappearing under water inflamed the news and authors of doom. And politicians were outdoing each other in their proclamations on which year their countries would have “zero emission” cars too.   

So I dutifully did my research on electric cars, kicked a few tires on live specimens, and imagined sailing by filling stations feeling very good about myself. It was more than a trifle disappointing in my research, then, to discover that the cost to the planet to build and operate electric cars, and provide a sufficient grid system to power millions of them as governments mandate we all drive electric only, was unnerving to say the least. And the pollution created in mining the materials for just one battery – well, I didn’t feel good at all about electric cars after that. 

What seemed so obvious and certain began to show cracks. I began to wonder what the real motive behind pushing electric is: Was it the love of money, yet again? If so, Paul wrote, “Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so arrogant and obsessed with money….and tell them to be rich in helping others, being generous and willing to share, because that’s a firm foundation for life now and forever,” 1 Timothy 6:17-19

And a firm foundation for fulfilling Psalm 8 too. 

Who’d feed pearls to pigs, eh?

It’s worried me that I haven’t had much effect on getting people interested in God. “Yes, but,” someone said, “why bother trying to tell people anything about God if they’re not interested? Like Jesus said in Matthew 7:6, ‘Don’t give dogs what is sacred, and don’t throw your pearls to pigs.’” 

But didn’t Jesus himself tour town and country to wake people up to the new world and new humanity God sent him to get started – to people who mostly weren’t interested back in his time too?  

Did it bother him that they weren’t interested? Yes, he felt deep compassion for people wandering clueless through life like lost sheep – but he also told his disciples in Mark 6:11, that if “any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” If they won’t listen, you have no further responsibility to them. Your conscience is clear.  

So when Paul and Barnabas were expelled from Antioch by the Jewish leaders, “they shook the dust off their feet” and “as a warning” or testimony too – just like the warning Jesus gave to the Jews who rejected him, that “it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for you.” 

It seems harsh, but Jesus laid it on the line with them: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him,” John 3:36. You either accept that or you don’t, and if you don’t then you face God. And in saying that, Jesus’ job was done. It was now over to them.

And Christianity through the ages has made that pretty clear too. We come with a simple message: “Listen to what God said through his Son and eternal life is yours. That’s the kind of God he is. Good news, eh?” 

It’s the best news ever, because what have we humans come up with that’s better? We’re stuck in this endless merry go round of life and death, with no clue what life is for. Same as the people in Jesus’ day. 

We, like Jesus then, have pearls to offer, a message of great news for people and the planet. But if our pearls are treated like pig swill, there’s no need to flagellate ourselves for it. Brush off and move on.     

Stories from the Old Testament for coping with 2023 

Daniel – part 2 (part 1, March 17)

Seven years into his reign, Nebuchadnezzar 11 had become the most powerful man in the world. He didn’t tolerate opposition or threats by other empires like Egypt, and he certainly didn’t take kindly to the king of the Jews refusing to pay the tribute owed to him from his victory over Judah in 597 BC. 

But he was also God’s “servant,” Jeremiah 25:9. God used this powerful man to punish the Jews for refusing to heed Jeremiah’s warnings to them to stop “serving and worshipping other gods,” verse 6. So in 587 BC Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Judah, and took the Jews into captivity in Babylon for “seventy years,” verse 12. By this time Daniel had already been in Babylon for 18 years, and was probably in his early thirties. 

A lot had happened to him in that 18 years. Nebuchadnezzar had established a three year training school for the brightest and best “to enter the king’s service,” Daniel 1:3-6, including Daniel and others in the royal family of Israel.  

But God had a purpose for him too. He gave Daniel “knowledge and understanding of all kinds,” verse 17, so that at the end of his three year training course he and his three Jewish compatriots came top of the class – and “ten times better” than all the others too, according to Nebuchadnezzar (verse 20). So God is using both the king and Daniel, and like two lines on a graph they’re about to converge to provide an amazing story for us as our world now becomes more and more like Babylon

The similarity takes shape in chapter 2, in the dictatorial manner of the king, who has a troubling dream and demands an interpretation from his astrologers, or else he’ll “cut them in pieces and have their homes turned into rubble,” Daniel 2:5. It reminds me of similar dictators during the pandemic who demanded vaccination or else face loss of privileges, loss of contact with family, loss of jobs, careers, education, unemployment insurance, reputation, bank accounts, and even loss of medical care.  

And just like Nebuchadnezzars’s threat, people’s lives in our “Babylon” were cut to shreds and businesses were turned to rubble. But under that kind of threat to his own life and career (verse 13), what did Daniel do? Did he curl up in fear, march in protest, run for his life, leave the country, demand his constitutional rights, hire a lawyer, or – or what?….(part 3, March 31)          

Got any new ideas? 

When Paul arrived in Athens in Acts 17, it was a bit of a culture shock, because “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived in Athens spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas,” verse 21. Imagine that: being able to sit around and do nothing but discuss whatever the latest “new” ideas are, verse 19

But isn’t that a bit like our world today, because we too have our share of rich globalists who seem to be doing nothing but meeting together to talk about and listen to new ideas for saving the planet. But what they’re coming up with is quite bizarre, like getting us all to eat insects rather than meat, or get all of us driving electric cars, or get us all vaccinated with experimental drugs, or get us all herded into 15 minute cities, or control our every move through surveillance, or block out the sun to cool the planet – and whatever else they can dream up, outdoing each other with their nonsense. And millions of people support the craziness – not because it’s tried and tested, but simply because it’s “novel” and new. 

We live in a world hooked on novelty, witness those who line up outside stores for hours to grab the latest new technology, or those swooning over ridiculous new ideologies like biological men becoming “women” and allowing them to compete in women’s sports. It’s ludicrous, but it’s novel, it’s new, so “let’s try it and see what happens.” Like what happens to children being sexually groomed by cross dressing adults in school. And then make sure it happens by censoring and shaming anyone who disagrees, and ridiculing those who talk of consequences and damage. 

We’re all being treated like guinea pigs by bored and weird people who lust for the power to see their nutty ideas come to fruition, no matter what damage to people or the planet. Which made me wonder what God would have us Christians do. 

We’ve got one thing in our favour, in that nothing God asks of us is novel or new or untried. It’s all tried and tested. It works. And for centuries it’s worked wonders in shattered and empty lives.

So we wait while the world revels in its nonsense until the consequences are too great to ignore, and shattered people are ready to listen to what God has to offer – just as those bored, restless Athenians were willing to listen to Paul in Acts 17. “Got any new ideas?” they asked him. Yes, he said: God exists and we are his children (verses 24-29), so try that on for size and see what happens.  

Obeying Christ in every thought – but how?

I woke up at 2:00 am, my mind thrashing away about things I was falling behind on, the new pains I was getting, the horrible way people dealt with each other in the movie I watched last night, and on and on it went. My mind was all over the place, like a herd of startled wildebeest.

It worried me, because if I don’t have the power to bring just those thoughts “into captivity,” how can I bring EVERY thought “into captivity to Christ,” as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:5?

I can’t. Once my mind gets started on something it’s impossible to get it to stop. Just like Eve who couldn’t stop thinking about the forbidden fruit, or the Israelites who couldn’t get their minds off wanting what other nations had.

But why would God give us a mind like that? Why give us the remarkable ability to think, but not the ability to control everything we think, as well? Why give us powerful drives and appetites but not a powerful braking system that automatically kicks in every time our thoughts race out of control or drift off course? It’s like giving a teenager the keys to a Ferrari and expecting him to drive at the speed limit. Of course he can’t. So why would God expect us to keep our minds at his speed limits too, when he gave us minds that can’t?

Because, Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9, our helplessness allows Christ’s power to be made perfect in us. What we lack in our brains is the power of Christ, and what better way is there of helping us admit it and want it, than hurtling through life in a Ferrari approaching a right angle bend and finding the brakes don’t work? That’s me at 2:00 am; I’m a Ferrari with weak brakes, a mind full of racing thoughts I cannot control, and it’s scary, because where might my thoughts take me if I can’t stop them?

We know the answer to that, because look at the state of our world today, with its endless and unsolvable conflicts in families, nations, between neighbours, and even among religious people too, and all because we cannot stop the thoughts in our heads that stir these conflicts in the first place. Clearly, then, we need a power in our brains that we don’t have, and that’s what Paul came to realize, but it turned into something wonderful, because any time his own brain failed him, he could turn to Christ for the power to bring his thoughts into captivity, and Christ’s power was right there for him.

Oh yes, justice will be done

Staggeringly, there are people who believe this life is it. Good, bad or ugly, the end is the same: You die, and “that’s yer lot, chum.”

So all those people who lived a horrible life, in poverty and polluted cities, in constant threat of lunatics and psychopaths, who lived out their lives in unceasing pain, damaged by poor choices and drugs, who were scammed, cheated and lied to, were stuck in unhappy marriages, and had to watch their kids be consumed and groomed by filthy minded deviants, and all of it without justice ever being done – and people casually say, “Well, that’s life, chum, that’s all there is, so suck it up because there’s no hope or proof of anything better.” 

And that’s acceptable? By whom, pray tell? 

Not by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus, who all believe in justice, because of one crucial point: that this life isn’t all there is. There’s a life after death, preceded by a day of reckoning in which all of us are held accountable for our actions in this life now (Romans 2:5-11). Bad people get what’s coming to them. But people who tried their level best to live by the Golden Rule, live a good life in accord with their conscience, and brought up their kids to be responsible citizens – surely, there has to be justice for them too, right?

Absolutely right, say Christians, because that’s why Jesus came to this earth as a human being, to take upon himself every injustice ever done in all human history, take the suffering and punishment it all warranted and deserved, and without doing one wrong thing himself be falsely charged and put to death at the hands of self-righteous hypocrites gleefully using their power to get rid of him. So he knows what injustice feels like, all right.  

We’re not alone, then, when we’re tormented by injustice too. And what a relief that three days after Jesus was unjustly murdered he was raised back to life again, and given the power to deal with all this awful injustice going on. And it’s so good to know that God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed,” Acts 17:31

We cry out for justice, because God built that into us. As children we’re incensed if something isn’t fair. And we’re in a world right now that cries out for “equity.” Well if we don’t get it now – because it’s simply beyond us to create it – the good news is: justice will be done, the proof of which was God “raising Jesus from the dead,” verse 31.

My life, my choice, my freedom – so back off!

The pandemic evolved into a nasty face-off between governments and the people they were elected to serve. Which brought to mind how fortunate we are as Christians knowing we have a high priest who deeply cares for us and hears our concerns (Hebrews 4:14-16), so that we’re not drawn into hurtful and divisive mud slinging, and nor are we contributing to the already overheated rhetoric being spewed out by social and news media. We have all that we need – as Peter phrases it – to “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires,” 2 Peter 1:4.  

And how deeply thankful I am for that, because I could just as easily yell in defiance, “My life, my choice, my freedom – so back off!” I’ve come to realize, however, that all three of those claims, “my life, my choice, and my freedom” are redundant in the kingdom of God. I don’t have to defend them or base my emotional well being on them. My life, for instance, is totally secure eternally because my life is now ”hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3), I’m “united with Christ in his resurrection” (Romans 6;5), and I’m “seated with him (already) in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:6). My life into eternity, and my worries in this life too, therefore, have been totally taken care of. 

But how about “my choice”? Surely one’s freedom of choice is sacred, and given to us by God, right? Yes, but evil is way too powerful for us to make right choices. There’s only one human who truly had the freedom to choose, and that was Jesus. And fortunately, he’s thoroughly willing to live his ability to make right choices in me. So that’s a worry off my mind too.  

Ah but, what about “freedom”? Surely, no one should have such control over us that we are subject to their whims and psychoses. But millions have died fighting for freedom against such tyranny – which is ironic, because if you’re dead you don’t get to experience that freedom yourself, do you? And meanwhile, Jesus said it’s the truth that makes us free, not fighting. So long as I’ve got the truth, then, I’m free. So that worry is taken care of too.  

So I looked in Scripture for how Christians dealt with government resorting to unsavoury tactics, and discovered their (Christian) concern wasn’t their personal freedom, it was the freedom to get the good news about Jesus to the public (Acts 4:17-20). Any threat to that and they went to God to deal with it, and in no uncertain terms too (verses 23-28). 

Paul said the same thing in 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 as well: “Pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread…and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men.” 

That’s our concern, then, not crying in defiance, “My life, my choice, my freedom – so back off!”