The Voice Of Joy - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
Behold He Cometh - Chapter 44
I And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God:
2 For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.
3 And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.
4 And the four and twenty elders and the four beasts fell down and worshipped God that sat on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia.
5 And a voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great.
From one particular point of view the scene of the end has now been pictured in detail; and along just one line we have reached the very end of history. Babylon, as we saw, was the ultimate outcome of the line of false religion, of apostasy from the living God, of faith in the lie of Satan, "Ye shall not surely die, but ye shall be like God." The principle of this lie is that it rebels against the living God and tries to work out its own salvation and come to the establishment of its own kingdom, without God and without Jesus Christ. And the development of this lie in the new dispensation is that the apostate church commits fornication with the powers of the world, aids them in their efforts to establish that one and final, powerful kingdom, which shall exalt itself against the living God and do wondrous things. That church as an institute shall be done away with by the very powers which courted her favor, so that her spirit and principle shall ultimately embody itself in the great city which bears her name, Babylon. But as we saw in the preceding chapter, also this great city shall be destroyed, and that by the power of God through Jesus Christ.
As we studied the ultimate downfall of this Babylon, we had at the same time a most beautiful opportunity to obtain a glimpse of her real character, as it becomes manifest from all that is said of her in the eighteenth chapter of Revelation. We found that in every respect Babylon appears as a great world-center, as a city of worldwide significance. She is pictured as a center of world power, and all the kings and the great of the earth commit fornication with her. She is pictured as a center of commerce, and she has control over every article sold on the world's market. She is portrayed, too, as a center of industry and art and science: for every craftsman and artist finds his home in Babylon. But above all, she is presented as the great center of the luxury and dissipation, and, in close connection with this, as the embodiment of the wickedness of the earth. Her sin rises up to heaven; and in her is found all the blood of the saints and apostles and prophets who have died because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. And hence, her doom and punishment is inevitable. She falls!
Concerning her fall specifically, we found that the manner of it is not revealed to us, but that it appears to be sudden and complete and final. Babylon becomes a hold of demons; and after her fall she is utterly desolate, never to be rebuilt. We found, too, that this fall of Babylon is the fall of the entire antichristian power, that because of her greatness and worldwide significance it is plain that without her the world-power cannot exist. It is, therefore, completely destroyed. That is true for the very reason that the kings of the world and the merchants and sailors and shipmasters and all classes of people weep and wail over her destruction. And, finally, we found that the people of God are admonished to separate themselves from Babylon, - an exhortation which implies, no doubt, in the first place, that the children of the kingdom must separate themselves spiritually from the wicked city, so that they have no fellowship with her sins. But, in the second place, it becomes a powerful and irresistible call, taking the people of the Savior to glory immediately before the very last and final punishment of Babylon.
In the chapter now under discussion, we have a different scene, a scene of joy and exultation.
Joyful Multitude In Heaven
We may observe, in the first place, that in this chapter we meet once more one of those remarkable contrasts of which the Book of Revelation is full, and, in fact, which are numerous throughout the Word of God. The same event leaves different impressions and arouses radically different sentiments in different people. When the Savior is born and there is joy in heaven and the angels come down to shout of the glad tidings for the earth, the shepherds of Bethlehem in joyful expectation direct their way to the manger of Bethlehem, and even the wise men from the distant east follow the star of the King with keenest interest and deepest concern; but, on the other hand, you find that Herod is deeply worried about this event and makes the treacherous attempt to remove the Babe from the earth before it can rise to glory; and the scribes and Pharisees, the wise men of the nation, evidently meet it with stoical indifference. At the cross, which I for a moment appears to the bystanders as the last and complete defeat of the Man of Galilee, you may note Mary and John and the women who used to follow Jesus filled with astonishment and sorrow because of the things that happen; but there is also the exultant joy of the leaders, of the scribes and Pharisees, - a joy aroused by the same event as was the grief of the disciples. At the resurrection morning the disciples joyfully meet one another with the exultant greeting, "The Lord is risen indeed!" And their hearts are filled with a new-born hope. But the same fact of the resurrection caused the enemies to flee in dismay and filled the hearts of the leaders with devilish apprehension. Thus the illustrations might be multiplied. The same events, connected somehow with the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ and its coming, are the cause of fear and sorrow to some, of joy and gladness to others.
Thus it was with Babylon, the great city. For some time it had been the cause of dismay and fear and terror to the people of God. For Babylon embodied all the principles which they hated, and, therefore, became the cause of their persecution and tribulation. But the great of the earth committed fornication with her, and the masses in general were wondering at her glory and filled with joy because of the greatness of her power. But now the scene has changed. Babylon is fallen. And even as her glory was the joy of the world and the grief of the children of the kingdom, so also her downfall causes a two-fold sentiment to come to manifestation. But this time the joy is of God's people, and the grief is expressed by the children of unbelief.
Let us notice concerning these singers, in the first place, that they are in heaven. "After these things," so John informs us, "I heard a great voice of much people in heaven."
The scene of this chapter, therefore, connects itself with that of the preceding. It takes place after what has been recorded in Chapter 18; in fact, what is described here is occasioned by what is told us in Chapter 18. And the scene here described takes place in heaven. Heaven and earth are still separated. In fact, I imagine that there never was a moment in the history of the world that the gap between heaven and earth was so wide as at this present moment. Because of sin a breach was made between heaven, the dwelling-place of the Holy One and all His holy servants and of the saints who have gone before, and the earth, condemned and cursed because of the entrance of sin. Originally this was not so. There was harmony and unity between heaven and earth, a harmony which was purposed to grow and increase till all the world, heaven and earth, had become the glorious kingdom of our God in perfection. But sin made the breach, a breach which was scarcely visible in paradise, but which becomes wider and wider as history develops, until, at the time of Babylon's culmination and destruction, it has reached its climax. The man of sin has developed to his last stage. The iniquity of Babylon cried unto heaven, cried to Jehovah Sabaoth; and at this moment all that is left upon earth is a mass of misery and desolation. Children of God there are no more upon the earth.
The picture presents us with a scene of misery and desolation, wept over and bewailed by the great and merchants and all the people of the world. It is a picture of sorrow and grief. The kings of the earth express their grief. The merchants wail and weep over the loss of Babylon. And the shipmasters and sailors stand afar off to shed their tears of grief over Babylon's desolation. But it is a sorrow of the world. They are sorry not because the iniquity of the city called for the punishment of the Almighty. They are sorry not because they so greatly sinned and provoked the wrath of the Most High. But they are sorry because of material loss and because they cannot now continue to engage in wanton rebellion against the Most High and enjoy the pleasures of sin. It is the sorrow of the world. They are tears of sin and selfishness, not of true repentance, which are shed by the world over the destruction of Babylon. But however this may be, fact is that all the inhabitants of the earth are pictured as in misery because of the destruction of the great and glorious city.
But in heaven there is an entirely different scene. The very same event which causes so much misery and sorrow on earth among the people of the world fills the heavens with joy and causes them to rebound with a fourfold hallelujah, to the glory of Him who sitteth upon the throne. A tremendous contrast, therefore, is caused by the fall of Babylon, a contrast which finds its principle in the attitude of men to the Lamb. On earth were the followers of the dragon, the subjects of the beast, the worshippers of his image, who expected their all from him and his reign. And therefore they are disappointed at the desolation of the great city. But in heaven are the Lamb and His one hundred forty-four thousand and the holy angels, they that serve and love and fear the Lord and His name and look for the kingdom of God and His righteousness in perfection. They naturally are filled with joy because the destruction of the great city is their glory and victory. The joy is in heaven.
In the second place, we may ask the question: who are these who sing at the destruction of Babylon?
Must we think here of a particular class of people, as some venture to guess? Must we separate the people of God in heaven? Must we say that they are only those who have suffered directly from Babylon at the time of her culmination and greatest glory, the saints who were on earth at that time? I do not think that we are warranted at all in so interpreting the scene. True, it must be confessed that not all have been in contact with Babylon in her clearest and most blatant manifestation. Not all have suffered from her in an equal degree. But the fact remains that in principle Babylon always existed and that she has always been the enemy of the people of God. Besides, it is simply a monstrous and inconceivable assumption to suppose that part of the people of God should sing the praise of the Almighty while others would be profoundly silent it connection with the fall of Babylon. If it is true in regard to the suffering of this dispensation that all the members suffer where one member is in tribulation, it is equally true that in the state of glory all shall rejoice even though not all have been in equally close contact with the cause of this joy personally.
Besides, in the preceding chapter we read, in the first place, that Babylon is to blame for all the suffering of the children of God and that in her is found the blood of all the saints, of all who have been slain upon the earth. And, in the second place, we find that the call comes to all, the apostles and prophets and saints, to rejoice over the fall of Babylon, vs. 20. The song of this multitude in heaven is undoubtedly the response to that voice. Still more, the text is careful to mention all the people of God and, in fact, all the animate creation, as participants in this joy over fallen Babylon. In a very general way John tells us, in the first place, that he heard a tremendous voice, as of a great multitude, in heaven without specifically stating who belongs to this multitude. Even if he had not informed us further, we would not have the right to limit their number to any particular class. But he does speak more specifically too. He tells us that the twenty-four elders, - representatives, as we know, of the entire church, both of the old and of the new dispensation, - fall down and worship God and join in with the hallelujah that rebounds through the heavens. And not only they, but the four living creatures, - representative of the glorified creature delivered from the bondage of corruption, - worship Him that sitteth upon the throne. And finally, the voice comes from the throne, calling upon all the servants who fear the Lord, both small and great, to call upon the name of Jehovah in exultant praise.
The text, therefore, rather leaves the impression that this multitude embraces all the saints and even all the inhabitants of the heavens, and, still more widely, embraces all the animate creation, which sees in the destruction of Babylon its own restoration and deliverance. Abel and Noah, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Joshua, all the patriarchs and prophets and saints of the old dispensation, and all the apostles and martyrs and saints of the New Testament day join in with this song and give praise to God Almighty and unto the Lamb. And as they sing, the angels respond in songs of joy and gladness, and all creation as it is represented in the picture of the glorified economy in heaven worship and praise and sing their hallelujahs to the glory of the Most High God.
Song Which Is Sung
As to the song, we may remark, in the first place, that the glory of God is very emphatically the main theme of the entire praise that flows from the lips of this tremendous multitude. It is noteworthy that four times the shout of praise, "Hallelujah," is repeated by them; that the voice from the throne has but one message, "Give praise unto our God;" that the multitude sings, "Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power belong unto our God;" and, finally, that the four and twenty elders and the four living creatures fall down to worship repeating the "Hallelujah, Amen" of the saints and the holy angels. There is in this song nothing of man, nothing of the creature; it is all of God and His glory that all the creatures sing. And the purpose of all God's plans and works is certainly plainly reached when Babylon is destroyed. For He receives praise and adoration from all His creation, and His name is glorified.
Hallelujah is a word which occurs nowhere else in Revelation, and, in fact, nowhere else in the entire New Testament. Here it occurs four times in practically the same song. In the Old Testament it occurs very frequently, especially in the Psalms. It is a Hebrew word. The first part of it, hallelu, means "praise ye," while the second part of this compound noun is an abbreviation of Jehovah, the covenant name of God. And therefore, the entire word simply means, "Praise ye Jehovah; praise our covenant God."
The reason for this praise of Jehovah is further set forth in the following sentence of the song of the multitude: "Salvation, and glory, and power belong unto our God." It is because the salvation and glory and power belong to God that He must be praised. All these three attributes of God, all these three ascriptions of praise, must be taken in their most comprehensive sense. Salvation belongs unto our God, that is, salvation to its fullest extent. This multitude stands at the close of history. Babylon is already destroyed, and the power of Antichrist is broken. All things are ready for the coming of the new heaven and the new earth and the complete glorification of all God's saints and of all God's creation. The multitude naturally looks on salvation from this comprehensive point of view, salvation of body and soul, salvation of man and the whole world, the complete salvation and restoration and glorification of that entire kingdom which God created at the beginning, which for a time seemed to be in the hands of the devil, but which is redeemed by the Lamb. That salvation is of our God. It came from Him. He is the planner and the author of that salvation. He is the finisher of that salvation. He it is Who must receive all the glory. And from the depth of their heart all the saints who have been redeemed now shout and sing, "Salvation is of our God! Hence, to Him belongeth the glory." God's glory is the effulgence, the radiation, of His glorious being. In all His works, His name, the wonders of His revelation, the works of His hands, here especially the glory of God as it became evident in the work of salvation, more particularly in the destruction of Babylon, - in all this is manifested the radiation of God's glorious being. The same is true of His power. It is His mighty strength, over against which no enemy can stand, the power of His omnipotence, before which all the powers on earth and in hell are brought to nought.
But we must not forget that in these very words which ascribe salvation and glory and power to the Most High there is implied a silent contrast, which must, however, be very consciously before the minds of these singers. They undoubtedly mean to say too: "Salvation and glory and power belong not to the gods of the world, but to our God."
The world also has its gods. And for a time it seemed as if these gods were powerful and glorious enough to save the world from its misery and to establish the glorious kingdom of peace and justice without God and without the Lamb. In Babylon, the city of the great beast and of the dragon, there was joy and happiness and riches and luxury. There accumulated the tremendous wealth of the world. There shone the power of the world. There was heard the voice of the harper and the trumpeter, the voice of the bride and the bridegroom. It was a picture of joy and happiness and greatness and power. And it seemed as if the dragon finally had succeeded to make the world his glorious kingdom. It seemed as if salvation belonged to him. For only those who were of him and worshipped his image could partake of the blessings of that kingdom. It seemed as if all the glory of the world belonged to the dragon. For in fact all the inhabitants of the world wondered after the beast; and those who refused could find no place of safety in the world. It seemed as if all the power belonged to him: for all the kings of the world had added their power unto the beast, and the faithful worshippers of the Lamb were helpless and defenseless. And therefore, for some time it had seemed actually as if the hope of the people of God was idle and as if not their God, but the gods of the world were the authors of salvation, to whom belonged glory and power. And it was only by faith, as an evidence of things unseen and as the substance of things hoped for, that the faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ had maintained all the time that unto their God belonged salvation through the Lamb and that unto Him all glory and honor and power must be ascribed.
But now it is all so different. Gone is the power and the splendor and the glory of Babylon. The boasting of the dragon and of the beast has come to an end. Babylon is destroyed. The kingdom of Antichrist is no more. The historic proof has finally been given that salvation and glory and power did not belong unto the gods of this world, did not belong unto the beast, did not belong to the dragon, not unto all the world-powers, not unto the power of Antichrist, but unto God. On earth there is desolation and weeping and wailing because of the fall of the great city which once was the hope and the pride of the world. But in heaven are the Lamb and all His people and all the glorious angels, the entire glorious economy of the New Jerusalem that is presently to descend from heaven to earth. And therefore, that entire throng, in jubilant joy because of the victory of their God, breaks out in song. And in emphatic contrast with the gods of the world and their absolute failure to establish salvation and reveal their power, they sing, "Salvation and glory and power belong unto our God." Hence, the multitude sings, "Hallelujah, praise Jehovah." Hence, the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures bow down in reverent worship. Hence, all the servants of the Lord who fear His name, both small and great, are urged to sing praise unto the God Who has revealed His power and glory and His wonderful salvation.
It is, then, not in the abstract that they sing of God's glory, but in connection with the revelation of that glory in the specific incident of the destruction of Babylon. The joy of the world is the grief of God's children; the grief of the world is the joy of the children of the kingdom.
Not, indeed, as if the children of the kingdom should rejoice with a sinful joy over the suffering and agony of the dwellers in Babylon; but they rejoice in the righteous judgment of God. Babylon was for them the embodiment of rebellion and transgression against the God Whose name they loved. It is the city whose iniquity cries unto the heavens. There God's name was trampled under foot, and His righteousness and glory was despised. There the Savior of the world was mocked at and crucified, and His name was defiled. There the truth of God was denied, and the worship of God forbidden. There the people of God were persecuted and cast into severe tribulation. In a word, all that was connected with God, with their God and His name, was hooted at and despised and mocked and trodden under foot. The glory of God's name was covered up by the iniquitous rebellion of Babylon. But now the glory of that name has appeared. It has appeared in the judgment of Babylon, the great whore. It has appeared that God is righteous and just and powerful and glorious. And therefore, they sing in joy over the destruction of Babylon. Babylon hated God and His Christ: and therefore they hate Babylon. And hence, they cannot but exult in her weeping and wailing and desolation: "For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication." She it was that caused all the earth to depart from the living God and to rise in rebellion against Him. She it was that corrupted the whole earth with her harlotry. Her destruction is the destruction of the entire system of black iniquity inaugurated in paradise by the devil. And therefore, even as the whole earth justly rejoices in the eternal damnation of the devil, that prince of darkness, and no one can pity that embodiment of hellish iniquity in his suffering, so all the people of our God rejoice at the desolation of Babylon and all that her name implies and can have no pity with her hellish sorrow.
Finally, this multitude sings with joy over the destruction of Babylon because her destruction, besides being the justification of God, the theodicy, is at the same time the justification of all God's people.
With the opening of the fifth seal we saw how the souls under the altar cried to God Almighty for vengeance because their blood had been shed for the testimony of Jesus. Then it was told them that they should wait yet a little while and have patience until also the rest of their brethren had died and been killed by the power of Babylon. Since that time centuries have elapsed. And in those centuries the brethren have suffered and have been persecuted and put in prison and brought to the scaffold and to the stake; and the power of Antichrist has been triumphant in her wanton iniquity and godlessness and cruelty against the saints of the Most High. Streams of blood have flowed since that time. But now the time of judgment has come. It has become evident that the testimony of Jesus and the Word of God is true forevermore and that the cry of His people came into the ears of Jehovah Sabaoth: "He hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand." And once more, therefore, they sing and praise and shout for joy. For Babylon is fallen; and God is glorified and justified in her destruction; and they have been avenged for all the suffering and tribulation they endured at her hand. Small and great join in with the song of those who fear the name of God. For Babylon is fallen, fallen forever. For her smoke riseth forever and ever, and never shall the power of rebellion and iniquity arise again.
Once more, if we enter into the sanctuary of our God and notice the end both of Babylon and of God's people, can there be much doubt in our hearts as to the side we choose, by the grace of God, to take in this world? Heed, therefore, the call of your God, and go out from her; have nothing to do with the sins of Babylon, that ye may not partake of her judgments. Let us join in with the chorus of the multitude and of the elders and of the living creatures, and respond to the voice that goeth forth from the throne with the four-fold, "Hallelujah, Amen! Yea, Amen forevermore!"