It was September 14, 2001, 3 days after the attacks in New York and DC. We still didn't know – would we be attacked again? What exactly were we up against? It was frightening.
On that day, we had a conference call scheduled for work. We were supposed to discuss our 6-month ministry plan, which now seemed crazy in the context of global chaos. But I was looking forward to hearing how everyone was doing and just reconnecting.
Amazingly, we actually did begin talking about our 6-month plan. In excruciating detail. I hesitated, being the new kid, but finally asked if they had...uh...gotten any news out their way? And if in light of that, maybe we might spend some time asking God's direction? Well, of course they knew our new context. “All the more reason to push on,” one said, “our work is more important than ever!” I got quiet and stayed that way.
Later than night, I got a group email from the CEO of a ministry I followed and he said, “If you haven't read Revelation 18 in light of recent events, you should”. It was indeed creepy.
The chapter is about the fall of Babylon, and how when she falls (sometime in the future), the merchants of the world would “weep at the smoke of her burning” because they'd made so much money off of her. Her fall would only take an hour. The chapter sounds like a chilling depiction of 9/11, particularly the events in New York.
I'm not saying New York is THE Babylon discussed there, but she is certainly a type. You can still say about New York City the things which are said about Babylon. And that thought alone shook me. The passage says heaven rejoices when she falls. Like "ding dong the witch is dead" kind of rejoicing. She's bad. And eternal beings are glad she's gone. It's a glimpse into the end of the world.
So I wanted to talk about this with my thinking friends. I had recently graduated with people who challenged each other's ideas all the time, so I threw this idea out and was amazed what I heard back.
My friends fell into two camps – the missionary/global worker/expat types said New York could not be Babylon because we as Christians had not yet completed the Great Commission. (The Commission is Jesus' command to go and tell all the world about Him, and after that, the end will come.) Well, the end can't come, they reasoned, because not everyone knew Him yet.
And the pastor/American church/ministry types said New York could not be Babylon because Revelation 1-17 hadn't happened yet. The end can't come, they reasoned, because we know what that's gonna look like and it doesn't look like that yet.
That same week, the news – which is to say all of TV on every channel, constantly – was more patriotic and unifying than it had ever been. Sometimes in odd ways. A local channel was stopping people in downtown Atlanta traffic asking why they didn't have a flag sticker on their car. Drivers looked dumbfounded. I would have, too – I'm a Christian but I don't have a fish on my car. It was weird. An awkward, forced patriotism.
Rudy Guiliani, the mayor of New York City at the time, was treated like a savior, or at least a unifying figure, by all news outlets, even those that had been his political enemy. Another forced allegiance. What was going on?
Guiliani made me think this was how the end could be. That the antichrist would not be someone who was clearly evil and anti-Christian, but someone who was loved. Revered. Someone who, if you opposed them, would make you look unpatriotic. Or unchristian. I don't think Guiliani is that person, but he and the media showed me how even believers could be led astray by a strong national leader. And I don't think NYC is Babylon, but New York showed me how easily we could dismiss it if she were.
That Friday stayed with me. It alarmed me. It uncovered an arrogance I had held myself.
Arrogance that we can proclaim how important our work will be over the next six months (the Bible warns against that).
Arrogance that we can know when Jesus is coming back (the Bible warns against that).
Arrogance that we are the greatest and have all the answers (again, warnings). It's the same arrogance we are seeing in this election.
Part 2: What is going on in this world?