We live in a world where material things seem to rule the roost; our Western society values money, commerce, luxuries and wealth as prizes to accommodate a level of living which even a few generations ago would have seemed impossible. This has always been the case, though, as the gold of Egypt and the wealth of Babylon testify. Money and the things it can buy have always been seen as a measure of success, often the only one recognised by leaders and peoples alike.
Yet the Bible makes it plain that there is far more to life than material wealth and places a far higher value on spiritual treasure (Matt 6:19-20). In Revelation 18, we see that worldly success will not mean spiritual security, as Babylon (representative of the world in its independence, industry and economic prowess) ultimately faces the judgment of God and is fallen. (Rev 18:2)
Babylon, with its merchants and ‘cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves’ (Rev 18:12-13), represents the kind of wealth most of us can only aspire to. Yet this chapter makes it plain that this kind of success is transitory and cannot atone for sin. God sees her as ‘a dwelling for demons and a haunt for every impure spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.’ (Rev 18:2) Plagues, death, mourning, famine and fire are the fate which awaits her. (Rev 18:8)
John’s vision of the total destruction of one of the most celebrated cities of the ancient world reminds us that we need to see things from God’s perspective. Rev 18:22-24 shows us an abandoned, derelict city with no sound of music or rejoicing, no bustle of work, no light or vitality. We might ask how this state of affairs comes about, and see that it is because of the rejection of God and the violence done to His people. Paul urges the Corinthians to keep an eternal perspective, especially with regard to suffering and evil. (2 Cor 4:16-18) We do well to do the same. An eternal perspective keeps us from the shallowness of judging life simply by what we can see (as Asaph did in Psalm 73) and helps us to trust in the righteousness and holiness of God to do what is right in the end.