In most every generation since the time of Christ, sincere believers have expected Christ’s return within their lifetime; yet instructed believers ought to be able to discern the times and not provide an occasion for the enemies of God to blaspheme. Scripture is clear about the state of world affairs just prior to Christ’s return, and a careful consideration of this state reveals that the coming of our Lord has never been imminent, and strongly suggests that it yet remains far beyond the foreseeable future.
In the Bible it is written: “for thy merchants were the great men of the earth.” These words in Revelation 18:23 describe a particular city, which God calls Babylon The Great (Re 17:5), in anticipation of its complete destruction at the end of the age. At the time of this angelic proclamation this city has come to represent all enmity against God; she is Heaven’s focus, as if all other enemies pale in comparison with her: “Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.” (Re 18:20) These statements provide insight into the timing of the coming of our Lord since they must happen prior to His return. It is for this reason that any student of end time prophesy must carefully consider them.
As believers, it is true that we should not be caught by surprise at the coming of our Lord; we should be ever ready for His return: “Ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” (1Th 5:4-6) However, that said, it is also true that we should not be expecting Christ to return before His time: “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” (2Th 2:1-3) Paul is emphatic and passionate about the fact that certain events must come to pass, and certain states must be present in worldly affairs before our Lord’s return. God pleads with us to be aware of these things so that we are not vulnerable to needless concerns and harmful distractions.
The enemy delights in using indiscretion in God’s children to promote disdain and blasphemy among his own, and we should not give him this pleasure easily. God would find us both awake and alert when He comes for us, rather than sleeping with the world, but He also wants us to be informed, aligned with Him and aware of what He is doing. The Master is dishonored when gullible believers are continually distracted and deceived by those who would leverage the prophetic to excite and entertain us in order to make a name and fortune for themselves. Yet as it was in Paul’s day so it is in ours; sincere souls are regularly distracted and alarmed by those predicting the soon coming of Christ in ignorance of God’s timetable. It is essential that we be sober minded, discerning the times in these days of confusion, trouble and uncertainty.
Signs of the Times
Let us then soberly consider Revelation 18:23, which tells us that prior to the return of Jesus Christ a single city will so dominate the world that its merchants will be “the great men of the earth.” What does this imply about the coming of our Lord?
We begin by asking the obvious: does this phrase describe our present time? If we were to think of great men today, considering the most influential men on our planet, would we say that a significant portion of them are the retailers and merchants of a particular city?
Up until the recent rise of globally integrated commerce a question like this might not have made sense, but in a global economy such as we enjoy today making such a list is certainly plausible. Yet when we think of great men today are merchants even considered?
If we look to see what men and women are generally viewed as the most influential and powerful people on the planet, we find mostly men — presidents and key governmental leaders, investors and business men. Few merchants we would recognize, and clearly no large percentage of these influential people are calling any particular city home.
So we may say with reasonable certainty that there has never been at any point in earthly history a time when merchants of any particular city comprised a group that anyone would call the great men of the earth, and it is certainly not so today. For such a thing to become true the global economic environment must change significantly, even drastically. And from both history and common sense we would not expect such changes to happen very quickly … they are more often the process of decades, or even centuries.
So we must consider how such a city, the city of the future, will rise from relative obscurity to dominate the global social and economic landscape within the next several decades to the extent that the angelic utterance before us will be appropriate. This is challenging indeed, and therefore significant … for this vast transformation must precede the second coming of Christ.
Unprecedented Economic Centrality
This angelic proclamation then evidently describes a state prior to the return of Christ where certain men who buy and sell commodities out of The City, a particular city in a particular land under the vast global shadow of a fully evolved and utterly depraved religious system, are considered “the great men of the earth.” These men have evidently become extremely wealthy, influential and powerful through their religious connections and business dealings and have become known the world over as the most influential men of their day.
From considering the detail provided in the immediate context of Revelation 18, we find that these merchant men happen to utilize the shipping industry to transport wares to and from The City worldwide; the global economic infrastructure is so centralized in The City that when she is destroyed the entire shipping industry comes to a grinding halt. (vs 17b-19) Notice the intense repetition and detail provided in the account of the events surrounding the final destruction of this city and its inhabitants, particularly regarding its impact on global economy and shipping.
9 And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,
10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.
11 And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more.
12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,
13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.
14 And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
16 And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!
19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.”
20 Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.
21 And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.
22 And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;
23 And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.
24 And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth . (Re 18:9-24)
Several concepts are evident from carefully considering this passage in its full context:  The descriptive detail of the luxuries of The City which are lost in its destruction, and the manner in which specific people groups and industries are mentioned (vs 9, 11, 22, 23), and how the entire world appears to behold and mourn her physical destruction, preclude us from allegorizing the text and treating The City as a mere metaphor for some abstraction like Capitalism or Communism. To handle the text honestly we must accept it literally unless the context implies an absurdity, and it does not.  At the time The City is destroyed she has risen to such a dominant place, to such extreme prominence in the global economic and political infrastructure that her destruction decimates an immensely lucrative international commercial network. (vs 17-19) The consequences of her fall are so immediately and painfully clear to all who witness it, particularly in the government and commercial sectors, that they are promptly overcome with grief, panic, and despair. This implies that The City has somehow come to control and govern the flow of most all commercial traffic: she has become the epicenter of international trade, providing the core business processes and infrastructures sustaining and stabilizing most global economic activity.  The intensity with which the world mourns her loss seems odd if she has risen easily and quickly in their midst; they mourn as if she is irreplaceable, irrecoverable, and her destruction overwhelms and devastates them. This reaction is perfectly consistent with the fact that economies are extremely complex networks which tend to evolve over long periods of time, and this particular economy is entirely unprecedented: it is evidently both the largest and most complex economy of all time, extending to the far corners of the earth and energizing most every marketplace, and it is also the most centralized and integrated economy, routing most every significant economic transaction through a common, central focal point. So it seems quite likely that The City evolves into such unparalleled splendor, beauty and power over decades, or perhaps even centuries … and all this transpires in the future, before the return of Christ. Though the stage is indeed being set up before our very eyes, the formal rise of this great city has not yet even begun.
Unprecedented Global Wickedness
Further, The City‘s economic, political and social centrality seems to be a mere consequence of her spiritual influence and prestige. Note the remaining portion of the verse containing the above proclamation: “for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.” (vs 23b) The major world religions have evidently, by this point in Man’s history, combined and assimilated into a single vast spiritual-political infrastructure. This one-world religious system, which has become the religion of Earth, eventually degenerates into the very occult itself: unbridled witchcraft, focused on devil worship and sorcery. As the text ends with this sentiment, it also begins with it: “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” (vs 2) Evidently, The Religion will be saturated and infested with demons, it will promote idolatry of the basest forms, the worship of physical objects of most every durable composition, and be openly satanic. During this time it will be again as it was before the Great Flood: “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. ” (Ge 6:4-5). Prior to our Lord’s return the depravity of Mankind will again be on blatant and relentless display, and evidently in a more extreme manner: “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk: Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” (Re 9:20-1)
Yet institutions and infrastructures as massive as we find in major world religions like Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, steeped in rich histories of tradition and ritual, which all essentially promote the goodness of Man and universally held moral laws like The Golden Rule, they don’t turn on a dime … in such settings degeneracy most often happens very slowly and systematically over time, in steps that are hardly noticeable from year to year. This is how religions evolve … over the course of centuries. This is very likely how religion will continue to darken … slowly, over time.
Yet before the coming of our Lord this satanic system, The Religion, has permeated the whole of worldly culture. The angel proclaims, “For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.” (Re 18:3, 17:2) Sorcery has permeated all earthly government and culture, and every form and facet of spiritual wickedness has centralized itself within The City, with the result that she has become the focal point of world attention and the epicenter of global wealth and influence. Further, it would appear that The City has also become the center of martyrdom: anyone resisting this world religion of sorcery is turned over to authorities, transported to The City and executed there: “And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.” (Re 18:24, 17:6) We can be reasonably certain of one thing: such a vast transformation is not likely to happen very quickly.
Unprecedented Heavenly Focus
When the above angelic proclamation is made, the heavens are called to behold the destruction of God’s most notorious and prominent enemy. “Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her. And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.” (Re 18:20-1) Evidently, at the time of her destruction, Babylon The Great has become so central in any overview of Man’s rebellious history that she now embodies the sum total of all earthly enmity against God; no other single entity is highlighted in God’s response to His enemies as she is; the holy apostles and prophets themselves, along with the multitude of saints who have been persecuted and slain over millennia by satanic religious fervor, are all called to rejoice in her destruction. Mighty angels put on the equivalent of dramatic, violent, prophetic skits celebrating her soon demise. The enemy’s religion is so embodied and represented in The City and her religious queen it seems that all false religion the world has ever known is found and punished in her. She has risen to such prominence in God’s overview of history that “her sins have reached unto Heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities:” (vs 5) The City has become the singular focus of the vengeance of Heaven.
Uniqueness and Significance
It is perhaps stating the obvious, but at no time in the present history of Man has there ever been anything remotely close to what the Scripture describes as Babylon The Great, and we can see nothing at all like her on the horizon today, even at a great distance. The mystery of her rise to power evidently lies beyond the foreseeable, to be revealed at some point in the future. Cities that many might think are likely candidates for The City, such as perhaps Rome or Jerusalem, do not even make the top 50 wealthiest cities in the world today, and there is zero natural expectation that either of these particular cities will ever do so. Further; no classical world religion openly acknowledges or promotes the occult or occult-like activity in any meaningful form, nor would any support it today. So, no city currently fits the description of The City, and no commonly recognized religious institution or belief system fits the description of The Religion in any way, shape or form, not even remotely.
Yet by the time of our Lord’s return, the ascendance of Babylon The Great to prominence on the world stage is so complete and seemingly permanent that all former states of world affairs, including this present one, appear to be all but forgotten. All nations have a new allegiance to The City, every religious paradigm from Atheism to Zoroastrianism has been replaced by devil worship and witchcraft, and the entire socioeconomic landscape is completely transformed, thoroughly entrenched in every nation across the globe.
In considering the nearness of the coming of Christ we must then ask, How would we get there from here? This global economic, religious, political and cultural transformation must be firmly in place well before the second coming of our Lord. How long would such a complete shift in the core life patterns of every nationality and culture on Earth reasonably be expected to take?
Transformations Take Time
Well, let us objectively try and fathom how long it might take for all of the recognized religions of the world to essentially become obsolete; affection for current, standard religious tradition and ritual must very nearly vanish — worldwide. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, etc., along with all currently recognized Christian expression must become relatively obscure and rare in the public square, existing at best in the dark shadows of an entirely unprecedented global rise and acceptance of occult religion, a global culture of genuine, explicit witchcraft, revived out of and entirely engulfing all of the present world religions. The entire global economic engine must evolve into something completely and vastly different than what we see today; all international politics must re-align with a global epicenter springing up in The City, and the whole of world culture and societal focus must also shift there. These vast changes comprise no small thing.
Even with some type of cataclysmic event that essentially destroys current religious, political, economic and cultural structures and somehow creates a fantastic global vacuum to leverage, and even with instant global communication and social networking, to rid nearly all people on Earth of their religious and national loyalties and habits via natural processes, and to integrate all of the people groups of the world into a relatively homogeneous international occult religion might take at the very least a generation or two, and very likely several generations, or even more.
It is obviously impossible to predict with any real clarity how long this course might take since no such transformation has ever been observed before. Yet for this to happen in less than a few decades, knowing what we know about people and their resistance to change, it would seem that supernatural intervention would be essential, people will not likely change like this on their own accord. Yet there is not even a faint hint in the Apocalyptic description that supernatural forces have created Babylon The Great apart from the normal course of societal evolution. Rather, she appears to be the inevitable result of God letting the course of human depravity play itself out, much as it did in the ancient antediluvian world. If we accept this, and consider the dynamics of all past types of documented societal evolution, what type of timeline seems reasonable? a few centuries? a millennium?
An Age In Itself
And for God to treat The City as the embodiment of His enemies for all time, it would seem that the duration throughout which she has functioned in this utterly depraved global capacity, and the intensity with which she has fulfilled this role as God’s openly defiant enemy, must be rather lengthy and pervasive in comparison with all other phases of the enmity of Man combined together in which she was not so central, and such phases currently comprise the better part of six millennia. How long then is it reasonable to suppose that such an evil reign might be, in order that Babylon would so captivate the mind and focus of Heaven that she causes all other expressions and systems of Man’s rebellion to become all but lost and forgotten in comparison, inconsequential, a mere blip on the heavenly radar? Would a full millennia of such a reign wipe the memory of the previous six from heavenly remembrance? Would ten millennia? An hundred?
The extended overall duration of this end time period, a prolonged time of intense and violent wickedness against God and His people, is evidently such that it even frustrates believers who are already in Heaven: “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Re 6:10) Even those with a very real sense of God’s eternal plan and paradigm appear to grow impatient and frustrated with the longsuffering of God in enduring the unveiled enmity of Mankind. This is further evidence that it is no small expanse of time we are considering here; it is evidently profoundly long, even for those with eternal perspective.
Again, clearly, we cannot predict either the duration or the timing of the Apocalypse with any rigor or certainty, but from the evidence before us we can be reasonably confident that the duration of this steady state end time period is no small one relative to other historical periods of time: it appears to be an entire age of Man in and of itself. It is indeed a time that has not yet begun, and there is no present indication that it will come upon us any time soon. It would seem then that we are nowhere even remotely close to its true beginning, how much less then to its climax and ultimate end.
Therefore, in light of a plain and honest consideration of the Word of God, for any instructed follower of God to continue to allow themselves to be duped by those who leverage empty prophetic sensationalism to claim that the end times are imminently upon us, or for us to in any way support or encourage those promoting their name or wealth in predicting the imminent rise of the Anti-Christ or the return of Jesus Christ — this seems entirely unacceptable. Even so, I expect nearly all of us have been taken advantage of in one way or another here, or may have even spread the sensationalism ourselves … causing needless concern and distraction in the saints and giving even more ammunition to the wicked to mock us.
It is sad that intelligent, coherent, thorough instruction in these matters is so rare, pointing us to evidence in Scripture to help us evaluate these particular kinds of errors. What is written here in Revelation is convincing enough for me; I will no longer be moved in or distracted by end time propaganda that does not rationally account for the existence of Babylon The Great. I have no use for it: there can be no higher motivation to seek out God and live each day in fellowship with Him than what is plainly written in Scripture; there is no need whatsoever for presumption. Let us ignore such shallowness and be about the practical matters of the kingdom which are readily at hand.
We must be honest with the Scripture, especially with texts which appear to be positioned specifically and strategically by God to shine a light directly on the timing of the Apocalypse, and conclude that there is at present no sign whatsoever of the end times as we find them described in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. (Re 1:1)
Yes, there are indeed the perpetual “wars and rumors of wars,” (Mt 24:6) fears of global economic collapse and nuclear holocaust, threats of super viruses, pandemics and famines, and what seems to be political corruption and moral decline on every side. Yet in none of these things do we find the global unity and fully developed depravity of that dreadful state described in the Apocalypse … the worst of climates in our day pale in comparison to this: they are not even close. What we presently endure is evidently merely the timeless dampened depravity, confusion and chaos inherent in a world of sinners stumbling along without God, and so it is for us now much as it has always been for our ancestors in the faith. We are, it would appear by all accounts, not only not the final generation of this age … it is quite likely that neither are our great, great, great, great grandchildren.
Believers should be wise and careful, not so easily duped by those who continually look to exploit and fleece careless church-goers decade after decade with sensationalism and subjective assumptions about “eschatological developments” and “end time prophesy.” This has been a consistent problem for the Church of God, yet with growing shallowness in our churches, the erosion of long-held biblical foundations and intensified interest in the sensational and prophetic, this kind of error has become particularly problematic in recent times, a source of legitimate, repeated and open embarrassment for the people of God.
The presumption of those promoting the imminence of the end times in our day is at best a harmful distraction for the elect, pulling our focus from the simplicity and clarity of the Word of God and the practical call to live in wisdom, holiness and love in this present evil world. The ignorance and foolishness we find in prophetic circles today provides great occasion for the wicked to blaspheme our Lord and His Word, mocking all who claim the name of Christ and invariably harming those who manage by God’s grace to retain a sound mind in the midst of the present doctrinal chaos and confusion.
End time propaganda does not generally promote wholesome holiness but rather moves the weak to fear and hysteria, instigating a wide variety of irrational behaviors and sentiments much to their own hurt and confusion. We must pray for God to enlighten and strengthen His saints, humbly denouncing error with Scripture and holding each other accountable to walk in truth as best we can, leaving those who persist in false teaching to reap their due reward, whatever and whenever that may be.