At the tower of Babel we see all the people of the earth united together in idolatry. They unite to make a name for themselves. Whenever we work to make a name for ourselves, we are tearing down God’s name to do it. We can exalt both God and self. God is the one who makes a name for himself (Isaiah 63:12,14). The motive behind all he does is to glorify his name (Isaiah 48:9-11). We were created for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7) and are called to do everything for his glory (I Cor 10:31). And so our life’s purpose is to make a name for God, to exalt his name. God’s greatest goal and ours needs to be the same: the glory of God.
This is why Babel was so offensive. The people of the earth, united together to oppose God and to fight his name by exalting their own. And so God comes down. They believe their tower reaches the heavens, but the text mocks these builders as God has to come way down just to see their little, cute, pathetic pile of bricks. So God confuses their languages and disperses the people all over the earth. As a consequence we experience racial conflict, racism, and nation rising against nation.
But this confusing and dispersing is in anticipation of Christ coming to reverse Babel. At Pentecost the gospel is preached in all the languages of the visitors to Jerusalem. God is gathering a people from every language. In Ephesians 2 we learn that Christ came to break down the ethnic barriers. The horizontal ethnic hostility between Jew and Gentile are broken down as people are reconciled to God and to each other through Christ. The gospel is the great reconciler, people of every nation being reconciled to God the same way, through Christ.
In Revelation we see a glorious picture of the completion of the reverse of Babel. The creatures around the throne sing:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
And then in Revelation 7 John sees gathered around the throne “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes.”
At Babel, the people were unified in idolatry, so God confused their tongues and dispersed them. There’s been increasing racism and tribal conflict ever since. But in Christ the people and nations of the world will be united again in Christ, worshipping God around the throne. In Christ, God is reversing Babel and gathering his dispersed children.
God is all about glorifying his name, by purchasing through Christ’s death, a people from every tribe, tongue and nation, who are gathered in unity to worship and enjoy him forever. That’s what God is doing in the world. The church is joining God in this when we work for the same.
I think of 3 specific implications of this vision. Three things we do now as God’s church looking forward to that great day:
1. The church must fight all forms of racism.
At the root of all racism is a de-humanizing of other ethnicities. The thought process is that since that group is different, and less human than us and ought to be feared. We need to keep them away. But this dehumanizing view is what fuels violence and segregation.
But the Bible is saying something very radical: around the throne of God, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with people from every race, every culture, every tribe and tongue. People of other cultures and languages are our brothers and sisters. Sons and daughters of God. We are one family in Christ. The bible gives us a glorious vision of a multi-ethnic people of God surround his throne, Babel reversed and undone. And so the Christian church must work and fight to see racism end.
2. We must celebrate diversity and cultures
A multicultural church is heavenly. A mono-cultural church is lacking and broken, an inaccurate picture of heaven. A segregated church (intentionally mono-cultural) is sinfully inaccurate and evil.
Heavenly worship will be multi-cultural: every tribe, tongue and nation will be represented. I can picture there being african drums, sitars, Cambodian dancing, classical Bach, Latin beats, country twang, battling banjos, as every culture, tribe and tongue worship the One who sits on throne.
3. We continue to send and support missionaries globally.
God has purchased a people from the nations and he has called us to join his mission in bringing the gospel to them. Our church recently sent a young couple to Kenya to plant churches amongst the unreached nomadic tribes in the Hurri Hills. Nothing should elate us more as we see people devoting these years to seeing the gospel being proclaimed amongst the unreached.
There are today 3,096 unreached and unengaged people groups, comprising of 224 million people. Not only are these people unreached, there are no current efforts or strategies to reach them. So we need to keep sending and supporting missionaries, taking the gospel and planting churches particularly among the unreached. And we need to pray that God continues to raise up people who will be obedient and will go.
And until that day we pray for racial harmony and that our churches will accurately foreshadow the diversity and unity that will be shown around the throne of God.