deceptive words
don't you care?

under a spell


In Revelation chapters 15 through 18, we’re presented with John’s vision of the seven angels with the seven last plagues, the seven bowls of God’s wrath, and the fall of Babylon. If you think we’ve been on a wild ride so far in Revelation, hold on to your seats, because things are about to get really crazy.

For John and the early church, “Babylon” was a code word for “Rome.” The persecution by Roman authorities was his generation’s experience of the evil of Babylon, which had been burned into the biblical tradition. As we’ve seen, John is steeped in the prophetic writings, and he makes ample use of them in portraying the diabolical nature of the state’s behavior toward the church.

But of course, this isn’t just about the Roman Empire. In Breaking the Code, Bruce Metzger notes, “Babylon is allegorical of the idolatry that any nation commits when it elevates material abundance, military prowess, technological sophistication, imperial grandeur, racial pride, and any other glorification of the creature over the Creator. In these chapters we have an up-to-date portrait of what may occur when we idolize the gross national product, worship growth, and become so obsessed with quantity that we ignore quality.” (88)

The problem with building a society that way: important warning signs are missed. Even though it is apparently quite powerful, the seeds of its destruction are being sown. As a result, notice in chapter 18 that “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” (v. 2). For those not paying attention, its fortunes are suddenly reversed. Disaster comes “in one hour” (v. 10).

After commenting on how “the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore,” John provides an import-export list, demonstrating the economic might. The list ends in verse 13 with the items, “slaves—and human lives.” The immediate context would include those forced to satisfy various lusts—those compelled to work in the sex trade, and those compelled to fight as gladiators in the arena.

We can’t so easily dispense with that last item, “human lives.” We have to ask ourselves in what ways do we still trade in human life? How do we still commodify each other? Following along with verse 23, in which “all nations were deceived by your sorcery,” are we also spellbound?

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