“I heard another voice from heaven, saying, "Come out of Babylon, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues;”
Revelation 18:4 NASB
This is an important verse for us at NCCF to bear in mind in these last days, when deceptions are rampant. If we aren’t careful, even though we may have started well, seeking to “come out of Babylon,” yet we may find from time to time that there is a little bit of the spirit of Babylon still inside of us, or that finds its way into us. So it’s good to revisit this command regularly.
Revelation 17 and 18 paint a vivid picture of the destruction of Babylon. It is such a wondrous triumph, in fact, that it is followed by the only use of the word “hallelujah” in the entire Bible (Revelation 19:1, 3, 4, 6). If it’s so magnificent to see the Lord triumph over Babylon that the multitude in heaven rejoice with such praise, we would be wise to know what Babylon is, and why her destruction is so wonderful. It will also help us understand why the Lord commands His people to “come out of Babylon,” as the verse above says. Understanding the warning against Babylon — a system and spirit of religiosity that is especially dangerous to Christians — has not only sobered me, but has also brought me tremendous clarity and peace in anticipation of the tumultuous last days.
The answer to the question “What is Babylon?” is unlocked by one word which is used to describe Babylon numerous times throughout the book of Revelation: Babylon is known as “the harlot.” (Rev 17:1,15,16,19:2). What does that mean? She is one who is unfaithful, lavishing her love on many lovers, rather than being a faithful bride.
And while there is a sense in which intimacy with this world itself is adultery (James 4:4) — and we should definitely be on guard against a love of this world (1 John 2:15) — yet the warning to “come out of Babylon,” speaks of coming out of a system of belief, coming out of a spiritual environment, which isn’t singular and pure in devotion to Christ, rather than merely coming out of the world alone. To come out of the world is one thing; to come out of — and continually guard against — a wrong spirit of religiosity is quite another entirely. We can leave the world, and yet enter into, or unwittingly accept, a mixed religion masquerading as true Christianity. And this is why the command to leave Babylon has particular relevance to our day.
My understanding is that the problem with Babylon is that it is an incredibly religious system, and the danger it represents is that of convincing sincere believers that it is the truth simply because of its sheer religiosity. That’s why even God’s Own people (those who have rejected the world and its attractions) are still commanded to “come out of Babylon” in Revelation 18: it’s an impure system which deceives believers into accepting a mixed system of devotion, rather than maintaining a pure, simple devotion to the Lord Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3). Notice how Babylon is described:
“Then a strong 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 not be found any longer. And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer; and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.’”
Revelation 18:21-24 NASB
What a mixture! Beautiful music, high craftsmanship, good food, religious symbols and ceremonies, business among the greats, and the blood of the prophets and saints! This is why John must have “wondered greatly” when Babylon was revealed (Revelation 17:1, 5-6): she has much that looks very good, yet mixed with filth! And because of this mixture of so much good with the bad, it isn’t entirely obvious to a casual observer that at the bottom, it’s an evil system. There is much to admire. And yet, in the end, it will be revealed that this much-admired religious system has been responsible for persecuting the true saints in the earth throughout the ages.
The Apostle Paul warns against “another Jesus” (2 Cor 11:4) and “a different gospel” which isn’t really the gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-7). Even Jesus Himself warned that not only would deceivers come in His name, they’d also do wonderful works in His name, and if possible lead even the elect astray (Matthew 7:23, 24:24). Why did the Holy Spirit see fit to repeat such strong warnings? Because He knew we’d be particularly vulnerable to blindly accepting those who come in the name of Jesus!
My casual observation is that whenever someone takes the name of Jesus — whether in a church, or a bestselling book, or a movie, or a song — most Christians drop their guard and imbibe freely, with very little discretion. We even love it when non-Christian artists cover “Christian” subjects, as that’s taken as permission to enjoy “a bit of the Lord, but at the world’s production values!” We are far more willing to accept someone who proclaims Christ than not, and yet the great warning of the Lord to His disciples is to be especially on the look out for the ones who say they’re coming in His name! Wolves in sheeps’ clothing are much more dangerous than wolves in wolves’ clothing. But if some wolf even attempts to “baaa” like a sheep, we gladly open the gate of our hearts to his influence. We are so easily deceived by externals, patterns, and symbols, and have so little ability to discern the presence (or absence, as is more often the case) of the Lord. But His presence alone is the true mark of His choosing, favor, and blessing (Exodus 33:14-16, Acts 2:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
For as long as people have worshipped God, they have been prone to get caught up with a pattern or name only, and to disregard God’s actual presence. That was Cain’s problem (Genesis 4:3-5), the problem at the end of the era of the judges (see 1 Samuel 2:12-4:22), at the end of the era of the kings (see Jeremiah 7:3-8:19), after the return of the exiles from Babylon (Malachi 1:4-14), and on into Jesus’s time (Matthew 23:23). And it didn’t stop with Biblical times! Throughout church history, there have been godly men who have raised up a standard, only for their movements to die out because their followers got caught up with the founder’s pattern, but didn’t know the founder’s God. What’s sad is how few even recognize the difference! Even during the so-called revivals of 200 years ago, one godly observer remarked, “I see churches and schemes and missionary enterprises, and holiness movements, all tagged with His Name and how little of Himself!” And it is no different today. We at NCCF are not immune! We can fall prey to same underlying deception as well. No church or group is impervious to the spirit of Babylon seeping in.
These are some of the evidences that the spirit of Babylon has crept into a group: a confident outward testimony, but without God’s presence (Revelation 3:17-20). An emotional stirring, without a changed life (Galatians 6:15). A coherent system of theology that does not produce the fruit of the Spirit (2 Timothy 3:7). A great reputation which covers up spiritual deadness underneath (Revelation 3:1). Multitudes gathering with no discernment regarding sin in the midst (Joshua 7:7-12). Sacrifices without love for God or others (Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:13). Seemingly spectacular spiritual works without an underlying relationship with the Lord Jesus (Matthew 7:22-23). Spiritual gifts without power (2 Timothy 3:5) and without spiritual growth (compare 1 Corinthians 1:7 with 3:1-3).
We have to take the Holy Spirit’s warning to come out of Babylon — and to rid ourselves of any of the indwelling spirit of Babylon — seriously! I have learned to be wary of any apparently spiritual activity, ministry, interest, or influence which boasts of anything other than Christ. Numbers are one of Babylon’s greatest boasts — note how many times Babylon is called “great” in Revelation, contrasted with Zion, the “holy city” — along with its love for commercial success. We are so easily taken up with multitudes in attendance, and with “mainstream crossovers.” What a different attitude Jesus had when multitudes flocked to Him (see John 6 in entirety)! When the crowds wanted to make Him king, He hid Himself in the mountains! And when the same crowds sought Him out across the sea, He issued some of His strongest teaching (John 6:52-57) without bothering to clarify what offended the vast majority of His hearers (John 6:66). He reduced a crowd of thousands down to just 12 people, and He wasn’t even concerned about convincing them to stick around (John 6:67)!
We cannot afford to accept all who come in the name of Jesus, whether they be teachers, authors, musicians, or movements. We cannot afford to be deceived by an emphasis on numbers, or commercial success, or emotional appeals, or intellectual stimulation, or apparent social impact, or any other variable. The only thing that matters is, is God among us? If we seek to preserve a purity of devotion to Jesus Christ, and a passionate longing to be a disciple who does all that He has commanded, then we can be confident that He will be pleased to manifest His presence among us (Matthew 28:20).
This is our burden at NCCF, to rid ourselves of the slightest hint of the spirit of Babylon, and to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit, in devotion and obedience to Jesus Christ. We ourselves will never be free from the tendency to rely upon a pattern, but our protection lies in being aware of the danger, and ruthlessly rooting out anything we might place confidence in other than Christ Himself, and His presence among us.