Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 18:1–5

Revelation 18:1–5
After these things I saw another angel, who possessed great authority, coming down out of heaven, and the earth was lit up by his radiance. 2 He shouted with a powerful voice:
“Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great! She has become a lair for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detested beast. 3 For all the nations have fallen from the wine of her immoral passion, and the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have gotten rich from the power of her sensual behavior.”
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, so you will not take part in her sins and so you will not receive her plagues, 5 because her sins have piled up all the way to heaven and God has remembered her crimes.”
(NET Bible)

Babylon the Great: Destruction

“Turn out the lights; the party’s over” — in Babylon. Where did you say you live?

The tone of chapter 18 is unusual, and Grant Osborne says: “[David] Aune calls this a ‘prophetic taunt song,’ beginning with the angel announcing the ‘death’ but with overtones of joy at the judgment.”[1] Greg Beale adds, “The assurance of worldwide Babylon’s fall in the future is rooted in the fact that the fall of old Babylon was predicted in the same way, and the fulfillment came to pass.”[2]

Revelation 17:3 explains the main mechanism by which Babylon/Rome seduced its client states. Osborne says of this verse: “[It] introduces one of the major themes of the chapter — materialistic luxury. . . . It was often said that Rome conquered the world as much through its merchants as through its armies. Like all tyrannical governments, Rome grew enormously ‘fat’ by exploiting the conquered nations, for most of their goods benefited Rome far more than themselves.”[3]

Tomorrow we will detail the ways in which Roman mercantilism harmed common people by favoring Rome. For the moment it is enough to say that John’s initial audience, Asia, was the wealthiest of all the Roman provinces and thus the one in which the pressures on Christians to compromise would also have been greatest.

But we do not worship a God of compromise! A voice from heaven (18:4) summons believers to flee from the context of compromise so that judgment will not fall on them too. Both ancient Rome and Babylon/Rome to come will operate on the same seductive, self-serving principles. Beale says, “As elsewhere in Revelation, the pride and fall of historical Babylon is taken as a typological pattern of the hubris [pride] and downfall of the worldwide Babylonian system at the end of history.”[4]

In 18:7–8, God declares that end-times Babylon will have the same pride and suffer the same fate as ancient Babylon. Cyrus the Persian captured ancient Babylon in a single night, and Jesus will overthrow Babylon-to-come in a single day (18:8).

But what about all those clients who enjoyed the luxury and reveled in the immorality? They will “weep and wail” (18:9), but “they will stand a long way off because they are afraid of her torment” (18:10). It will be their voices which announce the woes of Babylon and its sudden collapse.

The Great Panic

During the Fall of 2008 the economic system of the United States suddenly lost wealth valued at over 12 trillion dollars. Worldwide losses were even greater. Foreclosures, bankruptcies and stock losses took place at historic levels. Not only were the vast losses unexpected, but the recovery from the debacle may take decades, assuming a complete recovery occurs.

Unfortunately, the result of this financial disaster was not an influx of people into our churches. That is especially surprising since the tragedy revealed stunning greed, selfishness and recklessness — all universally recognized as wrongs but not recognized as sins. America’s love affair with the security and immorality funded by wealth is apparently not over.

Peter’s somber words seem appropriate here:

For the time that has passed was sufficient for you to do what the non-Christians desire. You lived then in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, carousing, drinking bouts, and wanton idolatries. 4 So they are astonished when you do not rush with them into the same flood of wickedness, and they vilify you. 5 They will face a reckoning before Jesus Christ who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:3–5).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 634, citing Aune (2:976).

[2] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 893.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 637.

[4] Beale, Revelation, 903.

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:22-23

Matthew 6:22-23

The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

The focus of attention tells all

Scientists use a whole array of instruments to see what is visually unseen. Sonar does the job in water, ground-penetrating radar reveals objects underground, and ultrasound can show a tumor. But how can we illuminate the spiritual contours of the human heart?

In a context (6:19-34) that plainly deals with material possessions, Matthew 6:22-23 is challenging. The big question seems to be: in what sense is the eye the lamp of the body? I will answer that question next.

Of all the things the eye could see, it focuses attention on what the heart wants. The healthy eye gives attention to the things of God and his kingdom, and that fills the disciple of Jesus with light. But the diseased eye (6:23) prioritizes its vision for the things offered by the world, especially money and possessions or sex. The diseased eye incarnates the tastes of the diseased heart, a heart filled with darkness.

Having given the basic interpretation, we will now examine some of the details. Jesus states the basic principle first: “The eye is the lamp of the body” (6:22a). Using the lamp as a metaphor for the eye is not self-explanatory. A lamp provides light for the constructive activities of life.

But the eye is not free to look anywhere it likes; it looks where the heart directs it. So, the images admitted by the eye are a commentary on the interests of the heart. To focus on the positive, we will look closely at the meaning of the word translated healthy (6:22). The Greek adjective means: “pertaining to being motivated by singleness of purpose so as to be open and aboveboard, single, without guile, sincere, straightforward.”[1]

Since Jesus has just commanded that his disciples store up treasures in heaven (6:20), it is clear that Jesus has in mind a singleness of purpose that will animate his disciples to serve the kingdom of heaven. He will say that explicitly in Matt. 6:33, when he says, But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

But something else is going on here as well. Jesus has previously commanded his disciples to be generous toward others in need (5:42), so in this context about material possessions it would not be surprising to see that theme recur. Sure enough, a secondary meaning of the word translated healthy (6:22) is generous. This dual meaning for the healthy eye, expressing both single-minded and generous, will help us understand what the diseased (6:23) eye means.

The diseased eye causes inner darkness primarily because it is not focused on the kingdom of God. But David Turner explains that a secondary meaning involves greed and stinginess.[2] In other words, the person with a diseased eye turns away from his brother in need and thus shows he is no disciple of Jesus.

This complex wordplay would have been much more obvious to those listening to Jesus because these alternate meanings were well-known in those times. It is obvious, however, that the way we look at the world tells a great deal about what we are like inwardly.

Measuring spiritual heart health

Prejudices, assumptions, blind faith in certain unbiblical ideas, and false ways of determining truth all play a role in blinding us to what God wants us to see. The eye that sees like Jesus will not look on the world with greed but will see others in need and meet those needs. In doing so, the nature of the heart is revealed.

Apparently, the best way to be sure that material possessions do not come between you and God is to give them away to meet the needs of others. Such a person is a visionary for God!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] BDAG-3, haplous, straightforward, q.v.

[2] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2008) 262.

 

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:19-21

Matthew 6:19-21

Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(NET Bible)

Where do you do your spiritual banking?

At the shooting range, you learn early that the proper sequence is: Ready; Aim; Fire!

Too many of Jesus disciples are living their lives by the sequence: Ready; Fire; Aim. If you leave the aiming of your life to the end, do not be surprised when that trajectory takes you somewhere you do not want to go. What is the spiritual target you are shooting for? How is your aim?

The introduction to this lesson asserts that too many Christians are aimless about how they conduct their lives. Of course, they are not the only ones. Recently an American actor died after living a life in which he starred in two popular movies, drank a lot of alcohol and took a lot of drugs. Yet he was called a legend. I think not! But he did accomplish what he aimed for.

Jesus raises with his disciples the question of how their lives are being lived; he does so using the metaphor of accumulating treasures. He combines that metaphor with the powerful contrast between the phrases on earth (6:19) and in heaven (6:20). Those two locations describe potential storage points for the accumulated treasures (6:19, 20).

Craig Keener informs us about wealth in the world of the first century: Views on wealth varied among thinkers in the Greco-Roman world, but most people then like most people today pursued whatever material advancement was available. . . . Because people often kept all their monetary savings in strongboxes in their own homes or buried beneath their floor, the danger of thieves and corruption was quite real.[1] Since homes for most people were made of sun-dried mud bricks, a thief had only to dig through the outer wall of the house.

Greek grammar experts[2] make the point that Jesus was likely using forms that mean the disciples must stop storing up for yourselves treasures on earth (my translation of 6:19a). In other words, they had already been doing the wrong thing and must quit!

The strongly parallel wording of verses 5:19-20 focuses attention on the few words which differ. The word not, present in verse 19, disappears in verse 20, because Jesus switches from a prohibition (5:19) to a positive command (5:20). The main focus falls on the phrases on earth (5:19) and in heaven (5:20). This means that any disciple aiming earthward is making a dire mistake; instead, they must focus heavenward. Obeying Jesus is all a matter of where a disciple aims.

Verse 5:21 gives the reason for what Jesus commands. Treasures exert something similar to gravitational attraction. The more we accumulate treasures on earth, the more our hearts will be pulled to the concerns of the earth. But the disciple of Jesus will give priority to the demands of the kingdom, and that will result in treasure in heaven. For this reason, one mark of a Christ-follower is to give generously to the needs of others; that giving is contrary to earthly values. So is serving selflessly, another mark of one who obeys Jesus words.

The pronoun you in the form your (6:21) is singular. Jesus is bringing the responsibility to guard the heart right down to the individual level. No one can do this for you!

David Turner makes a significant point when he says, Seeking heavenly treasure, however, does not amount to avoidance of earthly involvement.[3] We are sojourners on the earth as we watch for the return of Christ, and he does not call on us to retreat into monasteries.

Time to check your aim

Since we have found that living aimlessly is opposite to what Jesus commands his disciples, we have to assess what we are aiming at.

You may strike out on earth, but the chief goal of life is to hit a home run with God. Make sure you are swinging for that heavenly fence!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 230.

[2] See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995) 724, and A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 3rd rev. ed. (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1919) 851852.

[3] David L. Turner, Matthew, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008) 196.