The world around us is changing before our very eyes. Atheists often bitterly oppose any public expression of faith in Jesus Christ. Gays vehemently attack any organization supporting God’s design for marriage and family. Political and legal pressures are exerted against Bibles in schools, prayers in public, the Ten Commandments in government buildings, historical reminders about the Judeo-Christian roots of our nation, and other practices that reflect Christian truth and values.
More and more it seems as if we are living in Babylon, a place of rebellion against God. Ancient Babylon made its debut early in the Bible as a city where people decided to build a tower that would reach to heaven itself. They wanted to make a great name for themselves, without any regard for God’s agenda. The builders of that tower were so far out of step with God that he disrupted their ability to understand one another, effectively putting a stop to their selfish project (Genesis 11:1-9).
Later in Scripture, Babylon emerged as a world power that attacked and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, the spiritual center for God’s people Israel. Nebuchadnezzar’s armies leveled the holy city and destroyed its great Temple, built by Solomon as the premier place of worship for Israel. Those who survived the brutal attack were carried off to Babylon. They found themselves living in a godless country that did not share their beliefs or values (2 Kings 25). Daniel was one of the young Israelites carried away, never to see his homeland again.
Daniel and his friends were hard-pressed to live according to God’s revealed truth in a land full of idols and idol-worshipers. Nevertheless, he and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, courageously refused to go along with the wicked flow of Babylonian society. Daniel’s friends found themselves facing death in a fiery furnace, but refused to disobey God no matter what the cost (Daniel 3). Daniel himself was thrown into a lion’s den because he insisted on praying to God even though the government had outlawed his prayer (Daniel 6).
Centuries later the Apostle Peter, the fisherman-turned-follower of Jesus, wrote to God’s people during the early days of Christianity. In his letter he referred to the Church as “she who is in Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13). His reference was not to a geographic location on any map of the Middle East. Peter was referring symbolically to the godless Roman culture in which followers of Jesus found themselves. Like ancient Babylon, the first-century Roman Empire was out-of-step with the ways of the Lord and intolerant toward the people of God.
Peter opened his letter by referring to first-century followers of Jesus as strangers in the world, scattered, yet chosen by God (1 Peter 1:1-2). God-fearing disciples of Jesus Christ found it very difficult to live righteous lives in such an unrighteous environment. The prevailing cultural values made their lives difficult and it made them unpopular, at times the recipients of brutal and merciless persecution.
God’s people have often found themselves at odds with the societies and cultures of this unrighteous age. Social groups which are guided by and obedient to the values and truths revealed in the Bible have been few and far in between. Political groups that try to govern by the principles of Christianity eventually resort to compromising their core beliefs and values in order to protect their power and privilege in a world full of persistent sin and rebellion.
Babylon appears not only near the beginning of the Bible, but also toward the end. In the Book of Revelation we read that Babylon will be the dominant religious, political, and economic force in the last days. At the very end of this age Babylon, the ultimate representation of the spiritually corrupt power structures in this fallen world, will be persecuting God’s people and promoting godless practices. In other words, this deadly intense wrestling match between culture and the Church will persist until Jesus’ Second Coming.
What are God’s people to do? Perhaps we should take a cue from Daniel in Babylon. Daniel refused to embrace the sinful lifestyle of the society around him. God chose to give him great political influence for a time and gave Daniel great favor with the Babylonians. As a leader in godless culture, Daniel lived and governed according to his faith. He refused to compromise in order to stay in power. He even risked his life to remain faithful to the Lord. And when political fortunes changed, he accepted a role of diminished influence.
God has not called us to overthrow or redeem Babylon. He will deal with Babylon when the time comes (see Revelation 18). Meanwhile, whether we have political influence or suffer political defeat, our mission is to remain faithful to the Word of God by proclaiming the truth and to remain faithful the ways of God by living in obedience to his commands. A great cloud of witnesses has gone before us. Now is our time to serve; and our labor in the Lord will not be in vain.
May the Lord enable us to be faithful in all circumstances,