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Two Reactions

Revelation 18:19-20
They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out: '"Woe! Woe to you, great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin! Rejoice over her, you heavens! Rejoice, you people of God! Rejoice, apostles and prophets! For God has judged her with the judgment she imposed on you.' (NIVUK)

As the merchants and sea captains understand the enormity of the sudden collapse of Babylon, the global political and trade superpower, they react in despair (Revelation 18:17-18). By contrast, the angels command rejoicing in heaven and in the church. Why are the two responses so different, and what can they teach us today?

Firstly, we need to remind ourselves that this vision predicts what will happen at the end of time (Revelation 1:2; 22:6). Although we read about it in the past tense, it is yet to come. Secondly, the fall of the 'city/woman/prostitute' (Revelation 17:1, 5) is the result of human activity. Previously powerful people had become trapped in this world-wide trading system and become pawns to serve its evil interests. Their revolt against being manipulated was entirely self-centred: but God used their violent discontent to achieve His purpose of removing yet another prop to human society that sets itself up against Him (Revelation 17:16-17). This time, international trade grinds to a halt and wealth has no more value.

The transport bosses, with ships laden with luxury goods have no port to dock in, and nobody to pay for the consignment. Ships are laden with so much which cost a fortune, but is worth nothing. Not only is their mission futile, their livelihoods have gone and they have nowhere to call home apart from the smoking ruin overtaken by death. There is no logic to anything; emotion overflows in anguished crying and they throw dust on their heads as a sign of utter despondency (Lamentations 2:10; Ezekiel 27:30). 

The purpose of our existence is not to please ourselves but to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Everything that does not glorify Him will be burned up (1 Corinthians 3:11-15). While the ungodly dissolve in remorse as their play-things are taken away, the godly rejoice that God is faithful to His Word. John's vision has demonstrated  that well. 2 Peter 3:11-13 affirms it: "Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in  keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells." That is our daily choice, with His help and by His grace.

Righteous One. Thank You for Your mercy to repentant people and Your wrath towards evil. Forgive me for living in the ways of the world, when You have called me to glorify You. Please help me to follow Jesus well so that He will be glorified, because everything else has no value or future. In His Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams