In my first article in this brief series I noted that Jonathan Edwards appeals to Revelation 18:20 as evidence that the saints in heaven not only will be aware of the judgment of the unrighteous in hell but will also be called on to “rejoice” that such is the case.
The identification of “Babylon” in Revelation 18 is one of the more controversial issues in the study of this book. My own opinion, as expressed in an earlier study of Revelation 17, is that Babylon is the symbol of human civilization with all its pomp and circumstance organized in opposition to God. It is the sum total of pagan culture: social, intellectual, commercial, political, and religious. It is the essence of evil, the heartbeat of heathenism, the symbol for collective rebellion against God in any and every form. It is the universal or world system of unbelief, idolatry, and apostasy that opposes and persecutes the people of God.
What’s most important for us to note here is that Babylon is judged and punished without mercy. God’s wrath is vented in full on Babylon for her religious and philosophical idolatry and her unrepentant immorality (read 18:1-19), as well as for her persecution of the people of God (cf. 18:24; 16:6).
There can be no mistake that the “saints and apostles and prophets” now in “heaven” (v. 20) are called upon to “rejoice” over her judgment.
In Jeremiah 51:48 we read that “heaven and earth and all that is in them will shout for joy over Babylon, for the destroyers will come to her from the north, declares the Lord.” Just as the judgment of historical ancient Babylon was cause for celebration, so too will be the judgment of eschatological Babylon.
The reason for this celebration is found in a difficult statement at the close of v. 20. Although there are a number of possible translations, it most likely should be rendered either (1) “God has given judgment for you against her,” or (2) “God pronounced on her the judgment she passed on you.” Together with 19:1-5, this passage constitutes the consummation of God’s response to the prayer of the martyred saints in Rev. 6:10. God has truly acted to vindicate both the honor of his name and the righteousness of those who were killed for the testimony of Jesus.
The argument of Revelation 18:20 is continued in 19:1-5. In 19:1-2 we read of a “great multitude” in heaven shouting praise to God. Some argue these are the angelic hosts gathered in ceaseless praise. Others would restrict it to the 24 Elders, although it seems odd to refer to only 24 beings as a “great multitude”! Other possible candidates are the four living creatures of Rev. 4-5. The martyred saints of Rev. 6 are also a possibility. But it seems more likely that all the inhabitants of heaven, both angelic and human, of all ages are in view.
Their declaration of praise is no doubt in response to the judgment on Babylon described in chapter 18. This is confirmed by v. 2 (note the transitional word “because”). God is to be praised and all power and glory ascribed to him precisely because he has “judged the great harlot” (v. 2). Far from the outpouring of wrath and the destruction of his enemies being a blight on God’s character or a reason to be offended or to question his love and kindness (as unbelievers so often suggest), they are the very reason for worship!
As is also affirmed in 15:3-4 and 16:5-7, God’s judgments against the unbelieving world system and its followers are “true and righteous”. The reason for the latter is that the harlot “was corrupting (cf. 17:1-5; 18:3,7-9) the earth with her immorality,” thereby meriting divine vengeance.
As if once were not enough, now a “second time” in 19:3-4 the cry of Hallelujah! is sounded.
A “voice” (Rev. 19:5-6) again comes from the throne calling on all God’s servants to praise him for his execution of judgment on Babylon and all his enemies. Those who praise include all God-fearing bondservants, both great (powerful and important) and small (weak and unnoticed). Worship of God for the expression of his wrath is incumbent on us all, regardless of our earthly status, reputation, or accomplishments.
Again, a “great multitude” shouts forth its praise (v. 6). Surely this is the same group, whoever they may be, that began this worship service in v. 1. Only here their voice is even louder (like the “sound of many waters” and “mighty peals of thunder”), gradually increasing as they reflect more deeply on the reasons why God is worthy of praise (as stated in v. 2 and all of chapter 18).
In his sermon, Edwards also points to other texts he believes demonstrate that the saints in heaven will be aware of the judgment on the unrighteous in hell. However, only two of those texts seem worthy of note. One is Luke 16 and the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Considerable disagreement exists over the extent to which we can press the details of this incident. Much depends on whether or not it is a parable. Edwards himself believes that it proves that both the unrighteous in hell (as seen in the experience of the rich man) and the saved in heaven (as seen in the experience of both Abraham and Lazarus) are aware of the other’s condition.
The second important text is Revelation 14:9-11. Here it is explicitly said that those in hell are tormented “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (v. 10). Nothing is said of anyone else witnessing their suffering. However, this text does make an important point. Clearly, Jesus (the “Lamb”) is keenly aware of their eternal judgment, yet he lives forever in the bliss and joy of heaven with the saved. Is it possible that the perspective which enables Jesus to enjoy heaven while simultaneously aware of the existence of hell will in some way be imparted to us?
My conclusion is that, in view of what we learned in the previous lesson, together with the passages in Revelation 14, 18, and 19, there is no escaping the fact that the righteous in heaven will be aware of the suffering of the unrighteous in hell. Our next task, with Edwards’ help, will be to determine how this can be true without heaven being spoiled or its joy being undermined.