Standing up to the ‘all powerful’ presence of Empire
Revelation 14: 6 – 8
Then I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people. He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgement has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ Then another angel, a second, followed, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.’
Babylon has fallen! The author of Revelation makes this claim twice. And yet the writer lived in the midst of the unrivalled pomp and power of Empire and its persecution of any and all who resisted her. Yet within years of this prophetic pronouncement Rome, (Babylon), had indeed fallen. Empire was humbled by the resistant spirit of movements within its colonised lands, movements like the one stirred up by Jesus of Nazareth. Maybe we think Empire has passed and we live in a democratic era. But, the dominating powers of today, present in all dimensions of systems of politics, society, economics and Church, exercise power over us unjustly, like Empire.
So, we hear the text in an era of a different form of Empire announce the good news to a hurting world that Empire has fallen! How can we say Babylon is fallen? We do so because in the face of dominant powers we believe in the ultimate power of God, who is counter-creating in our midst a new heaven and earth, who in the company of peasant girls is working to bring the powerful down from their thrones, (Luke 1: 52)
We have the witness of the Biblical text to remind and inspire us that Empire has fallen. The claims, powers and blandishments of Empire are empty and bring not blessing but curse. We cannot approach the text other than to realise Empire is behind the text, in the text and in front of the text. The dynamic of God’s people in the midst of Empire shapes the drama of both testaments and our interpretations of the text.
How can we say Babylon is fallen? By being part of what subverts it, and reveals its shame and charade.
Rise up Jesus.
Rise up in power to inspire and lead us.
Reveal in our midst the world you are creating.
May your ‘last will be first’ Spirit
move us to do and believe your word:
“Your Kingdom come, O Lord, Your will be done”
The Rev’d Dr Peter Cruchley is the Mission Secretary for Mission Development for Council for World Mission and a minister of the URC.
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