Last week, I was given the opportunity to preach on Revelation in chapel. I chose to preach on something other than the common passages that one commonly hears in church, like the seven letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3). Revelation 18 seemed like a good choice. Here is how I went about it. I stated my central point as follows: Are we being faithful to Jesus in the midst of a secular world? I focus attention in the sermon on the Great Harlot, and the sins that she entices us to commit. In particular, in line with Revelation 18, I focus on how she tempts us to follow our desires for money, power, and worldly pleasures. She wants to draw us into pursuing these things in such a way that we fall into sin including covetousness, greed, and focusing too much on gratifying our desires for money, power, and worldly pleasures. Another way to say this is that she wants to tempt us to compromise our faithfulness to God by following in her ways, which are the ways of the kingdom of Satan and the Beast.
In order to draw out these points, I first introduce Babylon the Harlot by reading Revelation 17:1-5. Who is the Harlot? She is the city of the Beast, where he reveals his power. She is in direct contrast to the New Jerusalem. She is the city of the other kingdom, the kingdom of the Dragon (Satan), the Beast, and the False Prophet, that is, the unholy trinity of Revelation. She entices the people of the world to follow in her sinful ways.
Next, it is important to look at Revelation 17:8-10 in order to show that Babylon and the Beast have a long history. According to these verses, the Beast and his kingdom have a past, a present, and a future. That history of the Beast’s kingdom includes various anti-God rulers and the anti-God cities associated with them, like Babylon, Tyre, Samaria, and even Jerusalem (during the days of her unfaithfulness to God). If this is true, then we are currently in a situation in which we are being tempted by the Harlot as she manifests herself in our own time. She is tempting us to follow in her ways and to commit the sins that she is tempting all of the earth to commit.
After reading Revelation 18 as a whole, I show in the sermon that Revelation 18:4 is the key to applying Revelation 18 to believers today and in every age. It says, “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her my people, so that you might not participate in her sins, and so that you might not receive of her plagues.’” This verse seems directed to Christians in John’s time as well as in our own. According to the book of Revelation, the second coming of Jesus and the fall of Babylon will come upon us quickly. It will be too late at that point to try to repent and extricate ourselves from the sins of Babylon. Instead, Revelation 18:4 is exhorting us to avoid the sins of Babylon starting right now. Otherwise, we place ourselves in danger of falling into her sins, which could lead us down the path of falling away from Christ and experiencing the plagues that will come upon the Harlot. The danger is real, as the seven letters to the seven letters show, especially the Thyatira letter (2:18-29).
In order to clarify what the sins of Babylon are, I read one of Revelation’s lists of sins (9:20-21). Then, I talk about the central emphasis of Revelation 18, which is that Babylon can entice us into a sinful quest for money, power, and gratifying our desires for worldly pleasures. Here, I relate Revelation 18 to the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 6: 19-21, 24. Jesus cautions us about focusing on storing up treasures on earth and serving wealth.
It is not as easy to come out of Babylon as it sounds. We can see others around us, believers and unbelievers, being enticed by Babylon the Harlot. It can be more difficult to see how we ourselves are compromising with the Harlot. As noted above, the danger of compromising with the Harlot is real. The Laodicea letter, for example, portrays a wealthy church who is blind to her spiritual poverty (3:14-22). The Thyatira church has been enticed into thinking that she can worship God and worship the Beast as well (2:18-29). She does not appear to see the dangers of the compromises that she is making. One of the themes of the seven letters is to prepare ourselves for the second coming of Jesus. One of the ways that we do this is by coming out of Babylon.
Here is a link to the sermon.
For further development of these points, see Paul Hoskins, The Book of Revelation: A Theological and Exegetical Commentary.