Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Dec 27 2013 - Revelation 18:1-24 – Evil Empire

Revelation 18 paints a vivid portrait of God’s judgment upon the evil empire which was Rome. But it provides us also with a salutary portrait of the evil nature of human empire as such.

The power of empire is used to sustain the riches and luxury of those in power at the expense of those whom they exploit. It is the merchants (a word from which we get our word “Empire” – hence “emporium’) who stand appalled at the destruction of Babylon the Great. The merchants and the owners of the ships which carried the luxurious cargoes mourn and wail at the loss of their business. These cargos includes slaves, “the souls of men” (Revelation 18:13). The wealth of empire was built with the bodies and souls of slaves.

The power of empire was also maintained by military might. Some of the references to purple and scarlet may reflect the splendour of the uniforms of Roman soldiers.

Modern empires have generally displayed the same attributes. The creation of wealth demands that those in power and those who hold a monopoly in the trade of goods and capital are rewarded with unimaginable riches while others are forced to labour for a pittance. Slavery continues to be the foundation of modern empire, though it is often invisible because the slaves are “hidden” in far flung corners of the globe where they and their children may work in dangerous conditions: over 1,000 people died in the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh in July 2013, others have died in factory fires. The insatiable desires of empire continue to be satisfied by exploitation and safeguarded through military power.

Modern empire also seeks to maintain its riches and splendour not only through the exploitation of other people (slavery), but also through the ravaging of the earth. The seas are emptied of fish; forests are torn down; the earth is scarred and poisoned; the atmosphere is polluted; the very fabric of the created world groans and cries out for relief.

It is difficult to avoid complicity in the evil acts of empire. When we fill our vehicles with fuel, when we insist on cheap food, cheap clothing and imported goods from around the world, we provide support to the machinery of empire.

God’s judgment upon empire is a reflection of his concern for freedom and justice. The gospel is concerned not merely with a message of spiritual blessings; it concerns the transformation of the world. God’s judgment is proclaimed upon greed, exploitation, injustice, poverty, inequity and the maintenance of such evils through the (ab)use of power – the military-economic machine.

In what ways could we be at work now for the transformation of our world? In what ways could we seek to build a more just and sustainable economic system? These are questions that we should be seeking to address as those who belong to a different kingdom. The call is for us to “Come out of her, my people” (18:4), but it will not do simply to cut ourselves off from a world that has been corrupted by greed – to walk on by on the other side; we are to long for, pray for, look for and work towards its healing.

A new year will soon be upon us. How can we use this new year to stand against the culture of our age and bear witness to a better kingdom?

Lord Jesus, we look for and long for the day of your coming when the deep hurts of our world shall at last be healed. Give us the wisdom to live now as those who belong to a better kingdom. Teach us how to withstand the subtle pressures to become conformed to the patterns of this world and to graciously bear witness to the transforming and healing power of the Lord Jesus Christ. Help us to bring healing to our world rather than increase its hurts.

Peter Misselbrook