Heavenly father, we come to you in praise and thanksgiving. You have gathered us from the four corners of our community to share your Word and to learn from it. We thank you for the words of your prophets who pointed the way to your blessed Son Jesus. As we continue to study your Word, we pray that You will fill us with your peace. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Many of you know that my sister Jean passed away unexpectedly last October. Though I went to her funeral and saw her one last time before the casket was closed, there are still moments when I cannot believe that she is gone from us. I know in my heart that my sister is with God. but sometimes I look at her photo and wonder – where is heaven? Is she truly happy? Is she with mom and dad? Has she met St. Peter? I wish then that my sister would phone me and fill me in on everything that she is experiencing, but then I remember Jean doesn’t have her address book, so she may not remember my phone number.
Our contemporary culture gives us a poor view of heaven. It shows us cartoon like pictures of people sitting on fluffy clouds plucking harp strings, and little baby angels darting to and fro, shooting tiny arrows at people in love. Not all that interesting, is it?
John’s vision of heaven, on the other hand, gives us a sense of the wonder and beauty and majesty of God’s eternal home, a home God wants to share with us. It is a place beyond our wildest dreams, where even our imaginations cannot take us. St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians: …“eye has not seen, and ear has not heard….what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
In John’s vision heaven also appears to be a very busy place. Joyful Christian witnesses praise God both in song and prayer. Legions of angels hurry about fulfilling God’s commands. The prayers of the faithful on earth ascend in an unbroken stream to heaven, and God’s answers to those prayers, His blessings, descend like a gentle rain back to earth. In all this joy and beauty and activity, there is also evidence of a deadly war being waged for the souls of mankind.
The book of Revelation has shown us the army of the Lord and God’s battle plan. We have looked in awe at the magnificence and power of the leader of God’s forces – the Lord Jesus Himself. And we have been assured that the outcome of the battle is already known, for by His Cross and Resurrection, Jesus defeated the forces of evil, who are now on the run. What remains to be done, a sour own military generals would say is, “mopping up” – collecting up and removing the remaining enemies and restoring the universe to its original beauty and order. We don’t know how long this will take, as there are still battles to be fought and souls to be save. We are an important part of this war. We are the “church militant”, the church still on earth.
We have been surprised at the battle strategy of God. It can be described in just one word: “Truth”. No ak-47’s, cruise missiles or nuclear weapons needed – just Truth! “The Truth of the Word of God is so powerful that it can conquer the physical kingdoms of this world, and it breaks the dragon’s power over peoples minds.” Those who will accept the truth will be on the winning team and spend a joyous eternity in the presence of God. Those who will not accept God’s truth will spend eternity – somewhere else.
In chapter 17 of the book of Revelation, John continues the story of this war which is being fought between good and evil. He begins this chapter by describing one of God’s enemies – Babylon. This is not the true name of the enemy – for the name is code for the Roman empire.
Why did John use the name of Babylon to hide his message? Remember in our studies this year, we learned that Babylon was the first empire to desecrate and destroy the Jerusalem Temple – the place where God dwelt on earth. Those in John’s congregation would recognize the overwhelming danger which faced them. The enemy – Babylon – would attempt to destroy the new Temple of God which dwelt within every baptized Christian.
At the time of John’s writing, Rome was the most powerful nation on earth. Rome had civilized much of the known world and had conquered other great empires until it was the only one left. Among its many accomplishments, Rome had built roads to connect all of its territories and had kept the roads secure, making travel and commerce possible. It had instituted methods of governance and provided a common language for all of the conquered territories. Many of the Roman empire’s actions over the preceding centuries before Jesus’ birth, provided the means through which the Gospel had spread so quickly.
Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans that “everyone should be subject to authority. For there is no authority except from God…” (Romans 13:1-6) After the persecutions by the Romans began, John insists that Christians must oppose and resist the demands of the empire with every fiber of their being.
The Roman empire, which once had been a help to the growth of the church, was now promoting a belief that its emperor was a god. Rome demanded that its subjects, citizens and non-citizens alike, must worship the emperor publicly.
John calls Rome “the great harlot who lives near the many waters”. With the Mediterranean sea surrounding the empire’s headquarters in Rome, it could control all the profitable trade routes in the known world. Through this convenient avenue of travel, Rome could quickly send its forces wherever they were needed to quell uprisings or conquer new territories. Like a spider in its web, Rome’s tentacles reached out in every direction.
John tell us that the “inhabitants of the earth became drunk on the wine of her harlotry”. Wealth and luxurious living are powerful temptations, as we all know. It was desirable and profitable to turn from true worship of God to worship of the emperor, if that brought good living and freedom from oppression. Many Christians abandoned their faith in Jesus when the persecutions began.
John tells us that he saw a “woman seated on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names… wearing purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls…she was drunk on the blood of the holy ones and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus.”
Here John has described in vivid language the state of Rome’s soul and her ultimate fate. Though Rome is rich and powerful, she has persecuted and killed Christians, and eventually she will be alone and defeated, punished for her sins. She cannot escape God’s judgment.
John saw that Rome would go the way of other empires – the Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian and Persian to name only a few. These empires had ceased to exist, each one overtaken by one more powerful. The only empire which will survive is the one that John himself had preached: the kingdom of God.
In Chapter 18 John describes the fall of Rome. He sees “an angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth became illumined by his splendor.” That angel had come to deliver God’s judgment.
John tells us that many nations were in thrall to Rome. Rome’s allies, whose kings had been placed on the thrones of the conquered nations by the Roman emperor, had “drunk the wine of her licentious passion.” He is tell fellow Christians that the entire Roman Empire is not safe for them. The vassal kings will do as Rome demands to keep their power and position.
A voice from heaven warns Christians to “depart from her … so as not to take part in her sins or take part in her plagues…” But there was nowhere to go outside the Roman influence. With these words John cautioned his congregations that they must stay close to their faith, or they would suffer the same fate that awaited Rome and her allies.
The entire populace of the Roman Empire deserted their Roman connections over time. Corruption of the governing class, disregard for the well being of the people, greed and immorality rotted the nation’s core, and in so doing, Rome became vulnerable to attach from her enemies. The once glorious and powerful empire faded from history.
John’s story of vice, corruption and evil transcends time. His words have a lesson for us too. There are questions we must ask ourselves, such as “Where do we fit into this timeless story”?
We can be certain that we have been called to Christ in Baptism – Jesus knows each one of us and wants us to belong to Him. As Psalm 139 tell us: “for you formed my inward parts, you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret…” And we have certainly been chosen by Christ as members of His mystical Body – His Church one earth.
Are we truly following Jesus as God requires of us? Have we allowed worldly idols to rule our lives, or do we live faithful to the Lord? We know that materialism is a powerful force which can rip us, body and soul, away from Jesus and the eternal life He offers to us.
Have we responded to the Lord’s call? Have we used the gifts given to us to spread Christ’s message? Have we been an example for Christ in the way we live our daily lives? Do we refuse to go along with the Christ? Are we willing to accept rejection by our friends or even our families, if that is what it takes to live the Word? to be true followers of Christ we must answer “yes” to these 5 questions.
The citizens of Rome must have been aware of the evil around them, yet they did nothing to stop it. Will we be like them? Can we see the evil which is almost epidemic in our culture? Will we be like the early martyrs, Agnes and Cecilia and other ancient Christians, and stand against evil when we see it, whatever form it takes?
In China and many Muslim countries, faithful Christians are standing for the truth of Christ. And many are dying for their faith. Though we live in a country which now allows us the freedom to worship as we choose, we have seen our faith being attacked from many sides even here. The time has come when we must stand up for our faith in the public sphere.
Our actions will influence the path of our lives, as it did for the early Christians. At the end of our lives, the choices we have made – whether to follow the Lamb of God or turn our back on Him, will be used to judge us.
The invasion of Rome by the Germanic tribes in the third century fulfilled John’s prophecy of destruction. The ancient Roman monuments and buildings which remain have become a symbol for the fall of a great empire. the faith of the martyrs has outlived the powerful Roman emperors and their wealth. For the faith in Jesus has spread to the four corners of the earth and will be triumphant until the Day of Judgment.
There are real challenges that you and I must face daily in our consumption-oriented world. We have been called by our Baptism to live the Gospel values which were secured by the blood of Jesus and those who walked in His footsteps.
In Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.”
As disciples of our Risen Lord, our future is known, and it is glorious and wonderful. Let us wait then in calm anticipation for Jesus to come and take us home.