I’m Calling You Out!
That phrase has come to be understood as meaning we’ve caught someone in a lie or crime. But there is literal meaning as well:
Come out of her, my people! Run for your lives! Run from the fierce anger of the LORD. —Jer. 51:45
Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “ ’Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; —Rev. 18:4
I’ll be focusing on the connection between those two passages shortly. But first, I want to tell you that I believe God is calling His people out of an entity very much like ancient Babylon: the institutional or traditional ”church“. As you read the rest of the post, keep this in mind and ask yourself how it might apply to both the current state of Christianity and prophecies yet remaining.
- by the Euphrates River about 50 miles south of modern Baghdad in Iraq
- est. about the 23rd century BC
- Per Gen. 10-11, it was probably founded by Nimrod, who might have been the same person as Sargon
- a later leader called Hamurabi was famous for his ”code“ or law system, which was based on earlier laws
- geological details confirm Biblical statements
- the materials listed in the Bible’s account of the Tower of Babel match those of the ziggurats (rectangular stepped towers for religious purposes) there
- Babylon’s ”hanging gardens“ were a wonder of the ancient world
- its religion was temple-centered and dominated by mythology and legends, such as the famous Epic of Gilgamesh, a flood story
- it was in Babylon that God ”confused“ the language of the people into many languages
- its name has come to symbolize the confusion caused by godlessness
- it blended together many religious concepts over time
- it is probably best known for its astrology and divination, with great concern about omens, as well as magic and sorcery
- the average citizens had personal gods who were treated more like servants which could be discarded for failing to perform
Of course I view the historical record of religion in general as the history of knowledge that was regained and developed as a corruption of the original knowledge of God, while most religious histories assert that the views of the ancient Hebrews were simply derived from older religions. That many similarities would be observed should come as no surprise, but neither should they be considered proof of a cause/effect process.
Now back to the two passages of scripture. Reading both of them, we see above all that there are physical and spiritual components. The ancient city was a real place, but in both cases God uses figures of speech about its spirituality as well. In both cases God’s people are told to rush out of the city before it is judged, but the cause of the judgment is not only what happened within the city walls; it involved the spread of the city’s false religious views and practices to the entire world. Both Jer. 51:25 and Rev. 11:18 speak of the judgment against those who ”destroy the earth“.
Also note that Babylon was a ”city/state“. Modern equivalents would include Monaco and Vatican City. (For the issue of whether the Bible was wrong to say Babylon would never be inhabited again (Jer. 50:39-40 and Isaiah 13:19-22), please see ’Alas, Babylon?’ at the Tektonics site.) But while people can flee a physical location, how can they flee a spiritual entity? And since the city/state of Babylon had been long gone by the time John was given the Revelation, what would the people of the time have thought it meant to come out of it, since John used the future tense regarding it?
One possibility is that they would expect Babylon to be rebuilt. Another is that it was a metaphor for Rome. In 1 Peter 5:13 Peter mentions a church there, but no historical evidence exists that he was ever associated with any literal Babylon. A third, which would only make sense in hindsight, is that it refers to all of church history.
Since Babylon was a real place, and since the parallels between the OT and NT passages are so strong, it would be irresponsible to simply brush off all of Rev. as a vague description of church history to come. No one disputes that Rev. is dripping with symbolism; the real debate is over the object of the symbolism. And in these two passages we have much to support the view that there will be a city/state that governs the world, whose religion will be like that of the first Babylon.
Look at the Rev. passage now, and notice that this city/state will be rich, powerful, global in influence— and dealing in slavery and spiritual adultery. This future Babylon will be much more than a city, more than a government: it will be a religion. But only an entity that once belonged to God can possibly ”cheat“ on Him, and there are only two such entities in the Bible: Israel and the church.
That this can’t be Israel is seen clearly in ch. 17, and that leaves only the church. The woman riding the ”beast“ is described in great detail there:
- she sits on seven hills, which are also (not only!) mapped to seven kings, five of which had already passed and another was present in John’s day
- she sits on many waters, which the angels says are many nations
- she will be hated by the ”beast“, who will turn on her after having carried her for a while
- she is ”the great city that rules over the kings of the earth“
Prophecy in the Bible is unique in its precision, as can be seen especially in Daniel. So unless an interpretation covers all the pertinent details it cannot be the complete fulfillment. It may be that the Babylon of Rev. refers to a rebuilt city to come, or to church history, or to the only city/state in Rome: the Vatican. Yet it seems that none of the three views completely accounts for all the details.
But whatever it turns out to be, we are undoubtedly seeing the construction of this city/state. Slavery is alive and well in many parts of the world, even here in the US. Mysticism is becoming pervasive even in the churches, and has long lived in other religions. Personal gods are very popular today, as is the worship of the earth itself— another hallmark of Babylonian religion.
Surely we cannot expect such a colossus to arise overnight! And its roots go back very deep into history. Yet the top floor is being finished; furniture is being carried in; people are starting to move into the offices. Many empires have come and gone since John’s vision, but none could literally cover the planet as is happening now. And we can’t forget the HUGE prophetic sign of national Israel which tells us that the ”season“ is upon us. (Mt. 16:3)
God is even now calling out His people— from idolatry, from the world, from all that smells like Babylon. We are not appointed to ”receive her plagues“ or suffer the wrath of God (1 Thes. 5:9). Many believers have in fact stopped believing that all these things will happen exactly as foretold, calling our ”blessed hope“ escapist and accusing us of not caring about the lost. But since it all depends not on years but on numbers of Gentiles saved (Rom. 11:25), we are all the more eager and motivated to get the gospel to the lost. And we care about the suffering of many, and how many more will be born and likely die without Christ the longer Jesus’ return is delayed.
God is calling all of His people to get out of Babylon, to ”fill the earth“ with the hope of the gospel, and to finally ”enter his rest“— NOT ”work"! Jesus’ burden is light, as opposed to the heavy one tied on the backs of most church-goers by control freaks and self-absorbed kings. Get out of the cages they’ve lured you into, and enter the freedom of a restored relationship with God instead. And keep looking up! (Rev. 1:3)
Sisters and brothers, we really don’t need to write to you about times and seasons, because you already know that the Day of the Master comes like a thief in the night. When they say “peace and safety”, extermination will come out of nowhere, like labor pains, and they will not escape. But you, on the other hand, are not in the dark, that this Day should surprise you like a thief. You are all of the light and the daytime, not the darkness and the night.
So don’t doze off like the rest but watch and be sensible. For those who doze off sleep at night and the drunks get drunk at night; but we are of the day and must be sensible, putting on the body armor of faith and love, and the helmet of the hope of salvation. Because God did not appoint us to suffer his anger but to acquire salvation by means of our Master Jesus the Anointed One, who died for our sakes, so that whether we are alert or dozing off we will simultaneously live together with him. So comfort each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
1 Thes. 5:1-11