The book of Revelation, packed with rich imagery and symbolism, has long sparked the imaginations of Christian writers and philosophers. But does it have anything to teach us about investing?
We may be surprised to learn that Revelation does indeed give important insight into the difference between godly and ungodly investing.
Two centers of economic activity emerge in the last six chapters of Revelation. These chapters depict two very different cities: Babylon (Rev 17-18) and the New Jerusalem (Rev 21-22). To give an idea of the cultural and economic differences between Babylon and the New Jerusalem, here are some of the ways Revelation describes these two cities.
Babylon is called “the great whore” (Rev 17:1) and “the mother of whores and of earth’s abominations” (Rev 17:5). Notably, Babylon’s economy is propped up on the backs of slave labor. In fact, “human lives” are traded in Babylon as freely as gold and spices (Rev 18:13). More broadly, the abomination central to Babylon’s sin is human exploitation for the sake of profit. The result is an unjust distribution of the benefits of commerce. A relatively few people prosper. Meanwhile, the large majority of the population suffer as a result of the exploitative economic system.
Babylon ends up being severely punished for this exploitation. God brings “pestilence, mourning and famine” to the entire city (Rev 18:8), and traders who used to do business with Babylon marvel that the former economic powerhouse has been brought to nothing. It is said that the merchants literally weep, “Alas, alas, the great city, clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!” (Rev 18:16-17).
Babylon represents the inevitable reckoning that comes to every attempt to pursue economic growth apart from God. Its example is all the more deceptive because, on the surface, Babylon has every appearance of being the paradise for which we long. Its gold and jewels recall the splendor of God’s temple, and it exercises authority over the nations who bring into the city their wealth. And yet, because it is based on exploitation, the economic success of Babylon is counterfeit. The city, its people, and its economic system is doomed — exposed as corrupt by God’s eventual judgment.
The New Jerusalem
An opposing model of economic activity is depicted in the godly city of the New Jerusalem. This city is called “the bride, the wife of the lamb” (Rev 21:9). The New Jerusalem could not be more different from Babylon. While Babylon is ruled by thief-like moguls who exploit their workers, the New Jerusalem is “the home of God among mortals” where God himself wipes “every tear” from his people’s eyes (Rev 21:4). Whereas Babylon is a society that directly causes suffering, in the New Jerusalem “mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev 21:4). Whereas Babylon is destroyed by God in an instant, the New Jerusalem will exist forever, ruled over by God himself, who the Bible reminds us is “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev 21:6).
In the New Jerusalem, workers and investors uphold the highest standards of morality and honesty. “Nothing unclean will enter” the city, “nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood” (Rev 21:25).
Inside the city, the New Jerusalem is described as a place where people with different skills and backgrounds work together in harmony. “Its gates will never be shut by day,” and people who travel to the city “will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations” (Rev 21:25). This is directly opposite to the exploitation endemic to Babylon. Its commerce enriched a few but enslaved many. In the New Jerusalem, by contrast, the blessing created by economic activity is not confined to a lucky few. The open gates of the New Jerusalem demonstrate how this city leverages the gifts and resources of all righteous people to add to the flourishing of all.
Readers might be tempted to view both Babylon and the New Jerusalem simply as symbols – allegories for some spiritual teaching divorced from modern business practice. This risks missing the strong economic message that Revelation intends. Instead, we must see Babylon and the New Jerusalem as real places. They are not just symbols, they are cities — real centers of commerce, bustling with people engaged in real work and real profit-seeking.
So what is Revelation’s broader lesson for today’s investors?
In fact, Revelation offers a crucial warning: God sees a world of difference between economic growth driven by value creation versus growth driven by value extraction (exploitation). This means investors must look beneath the monetary gains of any potential investment to the mechanisms that are driving its growth. Do our investments grow because they deliver real value? Or does the expected gain come from one or another form of exploitation?
Are we serving others, in the model of the New Jerusalem? Or are we following Babylon’s model and serving ourselves at others’ expense?
Revelation’s end-times imagery reminds us that all business practices which don’t reflect God’s standard for justice will eventually be brought down. On the other hand, when investors and workers engage in economic activity that blesses others, that economy flourishes and becomes a magnet for righteous workers from all around the world.
With its dramatic depictions of both God’s love and wrath, the book of Revelation will continue to challenge us to think about the eternal value of our work and our investments. Whatever practical steps we draw from this reflection, we can all take encouragement from Revelation’s three-fold promise:
1) God cares deeply about the ways in which we work and invest.
2) God has a plan for rewarding good and rebuking evil.
3) God is ultimately sovereign over every sphere of society.
This communication is provided for informational purposes only and was made possible with the financial support of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), an investment adviser. Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is an educational initiative of Eventide. Information contained herein has been obtained from third-party sources believed to be reliable.