Recently we saw our stock market take a dive due to the coronavirus. That should remind us how fragile the financial system of the world actually is—sort of like a Jenga tower we’ve built up about a hundred feet high. The slightest breeze could topple it.
Consider what happened in prewar Germany. The German Deutsche Mark began to inflate so rapidly that by 1923, it cost a billion marks to buy a loaf of bread.
“By September 1923, as the hyperinflation crisis neared its worst, Germans needed enormous amounts of paper money for even basic commodities. It was not uncommon to see shoppers hauling buckets, bags, even wheelbarrows full of banknotes. One Munich woman dragged a suitcase of banknotes to her local grocery store; when she left it outside briefly, someone stole the suitcase but emptied the money onto the street. Children played with worthless banknotes as toys; their mothers used money to light stoves and boilers, used them as wallpaper. Many Germans abandoned money altogether and began bartering as a means of obtaining what they needed.”
Eventually, the government was printing currency in denominations in two hundred billion Mark notes.
For a lot of Germans, that was the end of the world. Decades of personal investment and hard work literally vanished as though it had never happened. German culture itself seemed to unravel.
At times of such great uncertainty, we often find we’ve misplaced our trust and hope. It becomes obvious we’ve been treating certain things as though they were God, and then find their loss unbearable. In the grip of resulting panic, we do things like buy all the toilet paper in town, or two hundred bottles of ketchup at the grocery store.
Revelation chapter 18 captures a great deal of grief and disappointment. In those verses, the bottom has fallen out of commercial markets, devaluing everything.
God thus calls us to come out of the world system. This time He’s not just telling us “do not love the world.” He’s saying, “Get out of there!”
Before He does, though, He gives the reason:
1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast…4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; 5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.
Some say the angel mentioned here is actually Christ, since such a magnitude of glory is involved. But even if it is just an angel, all such glory is derived from God, anyway. And it takes this kind of light to expose the depravity of the world. When something brighter than Babylon is brought to bear upon Babylon, every sick, perverted, bizarre thing, gets exposed. In the wake of such exposure, God calls us to “Come out.”
The hysteria surrounding the commercial market collapse is remarkable:
8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.” 9 And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.” 11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.
Everything in this world has an attached market value, including human beings, from head to foot. But not in this moment. According to verse 11, there are no more buyers, and the global economy runs on the ying & yang of buy and seller. One cannot exist without the other.
The despair grows deeper:
15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, 16 “Alas, alas!…17… And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning…19 And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out…“Alas, alas!…”
In the midst of this chaos, the heavenly voice switches directions, changes mood, and says,
20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!”
At some point the people of God will have been so harassed, victimized, used, and abused by the system, that they’ll be thrilled to see it fall. But if the world is so bad, why does God have to tell us to come out of it? The answer, in short, is that we’re not yet so convinced it is that bad. Who wants their stock portfolios to devalue? Who is rooting for their pensions and savings to fail? In the current moment, the good outweighs the bad.
When God calls us to come out as He does here, He is speaking from the future, backward into our current times.
He always has.
During the turbulent sixties, we made a lot of important social changes, many of them good. We ultimately failed, though, to transform the human heart. The very kids wearing the headbands with flowers on them, would later become “the man” the next generation would be trying to overthrow. God’s message to that generation: If you want real change, Come out of that world!
During the seventies, the sexual revolution emerged, and we thought we’d discovered a sweet, exciting new freedom. As it turned out, we reaped a harvest of broken relationships, and STD’s. God was speaking to that era, Do you want real freedom? Come out of all that!
During the eighties, we stopped being hippies, and became yuppies instead. It was a decade of excess, and rampant materialism. But it was empty. God cried, If you want true satisfaction, come out!
In the nineties, information technology boomed, and with the advent of the internet, we were learning things at an exponential rate. Unfortunately, we were also laying the groundwork for a host of paralyzing new screen addictions. God was calling to us, Do you want real knowledge? Come out!
The early 2000’s saw communication advances with cell phones and Facebook. We thought we’d be more connected than ever before. Yet we ended up individualized and isolated on social media. God said, Do you want true fellowship? Come out!
And finally, during these last ten years, we sought to assert ourselves, and right wrongs–in some cases, for the better. But we ended up in tribalism, outrage, and identity politics, adopting hate to deal with hate, and intolerance to deal with intolerance. God spoke to this self-contradictory, hypocritical era, Do you want justice? Come out!
You see, when God judges Babylon in total, He doesn’t want to find His people packaged in there with it.
How do you “Come out of her,” and disentangle from the global world system? For most of us it won’t involve moving to the desert and starting a commune, or paying your doctor with a pig. It begins at heart level. Our heart is the secret inward place where we can be wrapped up with the world in ways we’re hardly even aware of.
For instance, money. I’ve never been too financially motivated. I’ve lived a somewhat modest life, enjoying the simple things, and being happy with Jesus. On the other hand, I’m complicated. Folks at my age and beyond, tend to see money as a firewall—a security feature. Money helps ensure that in years of declining health I’m not running around trying to work multiple jobs, and then at the age of ninety, dying in a Walmart greeter’s vest. I tend to trust earthly riches to keep that from happening.
Those of you who are younger, are complicated as well, even if you give, and you’re saintly. You tend to see money as an enabler, because it helps you fulfill your dreams. During your years of relative productivity and good health, there’s an ongoing flurry of accumulation and enjoyment. Larger, fancier, more expensive, becomes the order of the day. Put bluntly, money to you means pleasure.
We’ve all got this bug to a certain extent. Scripture tells us even a close co-worker of the Apostle Paul, Demas, fell in love with this present world (2 Tim. 4:10). Demas had worked with a man who wrote over half the New Testament. Yet at one point the decision came down to following Jesus, or giving his soul, perhaps, to a little bungalow on the Mediterranean with a manicured yard, and a designer donkey.
He chose foolishly.
To come out of the world system as a start, means we need to spend time soaking in a glory beyond Babylon, just as chapter 18 introduced. It involves submerging oneself in the fellowship of the saints and the Word. It means arriving at a sure conviction that Jesus Christ is far better than anything a credit card could buy.
But God, as always, is the consummate reasoner. He wants to make sure we see the fullest picture so we actually will come out. He provides, therefore, a description of the world’s eventual desolation:
21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more; 22 and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more, and a craftsman of any craft will be found in you no more, and the sound of the mill will be heard in you no more, 23 and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more, for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.”
Such forlorn descriptions can be effective when it comes to our decision making. Think of the number of times you’ve fallen in love with a product you’ve seen on Amazon, like say, a “Miracle Omelet Maker.” But you scroll down and see a number of poorly starred reviews. One says, “Made cheaply, don’t waste your money.” Another talks about how the plastic gadget melts while you’re trying to cook with it. A few reviewers admit they wish they’d listened to the others before they’d bought the item.
My point is, Scripture is full of negative reviews about this world, all authored by the Holy Spirit. We can believe them. They tell us the world is not worth the price of our souls. The one Person who deserves your soul is the very One who died for it on the cross, shedding His blood for you, paying an eternal penalty.
I’ve had people ask me about the coronavirus, and where it belongs on the prophetic timeline. I don’t know, and frankly, I’m not sure it really matters. Moments like these don’t call for pontificating. They call for soul searching. For instance, there may have been a lot of playing and partying in our lives up until this moment. The Lord could have been calling “Come out” for a while already, but we haven’t heard, or haven’t wanted to hear.
A time such as this one is ideal for recommitting to Jesus.