The Fall of Babylon
Chapter 18 continues the story of Babylon and her destruction. Revelation 16 showed Babylon destroyed in the pouring out of the seventh bowl of wrath. Chapter 17 described Babylon with all of her wealth, pleasure and seductive power. It also set the stage for her destruction as the beast who had empowered her turns on her and destroys her. In chapter 18, Babylon’s destruction is announced, mourned and illustrated.
Babylon’s Fall Announced
John saw another angel come down from heaven to make the announcement. This angel had great authority. In the structure of angels, he was very high up. Or, possibly, he had great authority over the earth. He also had great glory. His appearance alone made the earth bright with his glory. He must have been close to God because his glory is described in the same way as God’s in Ezekiel 43:2. There Ezekiel saw God’s glory in the eschatological temple and said “the earth shone with his glory”.
This angel repeats the announcement of the fall of Babylon, saying “fallen, fallen is Babylon the great”. This was first announced in 14:8 as the second of three angelic messages. As mentioned before, this is the language of Isaiah 21:9, where God decreed the fall of the physical city of Babylon in the Old Testament.
Babylon’s destruction is complete and devastating. This is shown by the fact that no humans will dwell with her. She is only occupied by demons and unclean things. (2) This is similar to the Old Testament judgments of God on cities, where he declared that they would only be occupied by beasts, birds and demons. For example, Isaiah 13 is about the judgment on Old Testament Babylon. God declared that it would never be inhabited by people, only wild animals and howling creatures.
When the kings of earth turn on her, she will have no one left to occupy her. She will be desolate. The system of pleasure and greed will be abandoned by humanity under the leadership of the Beast. The world that seeks to draw people away from Christ through out the age through the pursuit of wealth, power and pleasure will be destroyed. There is no place for this system in the perfect place God has for believers in eternity. Instead of Old Babylon, we will have New Jerusalem.
John saw the Great Prostitute, Babylon, as a queen, wealthy and seductive. But she becomes in judgment an empty, defeated shell. Instead of good things, only evil and death remain. Of course, it would be difficult for the Beast, who empowered the Prostitute, to deliver on promises of wealth and pleasure as God’s wrath is poured out upon the earth. At that point, it is better to make her the enemy.
In God’s purposes, there is no place for a system that seduces people into sin, especially idolatry, as he restores creation to perfection.
The angel makes clear that Babylon is destroyed as judgment. (3) She led the nations into idolatry. Kings followed her and merchants grew rich from the power of the luxury she created. Wealth is a seductive and powerful weapon in the battle for the souls of men and women. Because of her sins, Babylon the Prostitute faces God’s wrath in judgment.
The Call for Separation
The next message comes from a voice in heaven. The voice is not identified, but is apparently from God or his messenger, for the voice calls for God’s people to come out of Babylon, to come out of the world. If they do not, they will take part in her sins and suffer her judgment.
My mother used to say “bad company corrupts good morals”. While we live in the world and preach the gospel to it, we, as believers, do not become part of the world in the sense of adopting its values and attitudes. Ironically, the denominations and churches who have adapted their message to accommodate the world, have actually lost most of their membership and become irrelevant.
It is easy, when you live in the world, to live like the world. But God demands absolute loyalty. When the Israelites prepared to go into Canaan, God told them not to adopt the ways of the Canaanites in the land. He gave them a law to observe. That law made them different from every other nation in Canaan, both in appearance and in obedience to God’s standards of holiness. He promised to bless them for obedience and curse them for disobedience. When they became idolaters, he drove them from the land.
Jesus clearly taught this truth. He said no one could serve two masters, no one could serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24) He told us not to lay up treasures on earth but in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-20)He distinguished his followers from the world, teaching that the world would persecute his followers for they were not of the world. He said “if the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as it own, but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
And, in the letters to the seven churches of Asia, at the beginning of Revelation, Jesus again warned them against succumbing to the ways of the Roman Empire.
That message holds true for us today. If you succumb to the world, as represented by Babylon the Great Prostitute, you will share in the world’s judgment. But if you endure in the faith until the end, you will receive eternal life from Jesus. And so, God, through his angel, calls us to come out of the world and come into the Kingdom. This has been his message in every age. Abraham was called out of Ur. Israel was called out of Egypt. The Asian churches were called to come out of Rome.
This is an “exodus theme”. Hosea 11:1 refers to the original exodus. God said “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son”. Isaiah foresaw an exodus out of the world and into the kingdom with the coming of salvation. He wrote “Depart, depart, go out from there. Touch no unclean thing go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord.” (Isaiah 52:11)
God kept track of the Babylon’s sins. In verse 5, it says he “remembered her iniquities”
which were heaped as high as heaven. Now the time for judgment of those sins has come. God will punish by turning the Babylon’s sins back upon her. The voice said “pay her back as she herself has paid back others”. (6) Several English versions say to pay her back double for her deeds. However, I suggest that the better translation would be to repay her “duplicate” for her deeds and mix an equivalent portion in the cup she mixed.
The Bible has many instances of judgment being a punishment one inflicted on another now inflicted on the punisher. Many describe this as “an eye for an eye”. Some call it “lex talionis”, the law of retribution. God inflicted on the nations that attacked Israel the same sufferings they inflicted on Israel. This is borne out by verse 7, which says “give her a like measure of torment and mourning”, not twice as much. The world lived in luxury and splendor while persecuting the saints. God vindicates his saints. He will turn that same suffering back on the world that inflicted it on the saints.
The world is always arrogant in its success. Here Babylon says she sits as a queen and never suffers or mourns. So, God will bring all of the suffering on her in one day until she is destroyed, burned up with fire from he judgment of the Almighty God. (8) Peter also wrote “But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”. (2 Peter 3:7)
Next we will see the mourning of those who profited from Babylon contrasted with the rejoicing of those in heaven over her destruction.
Mourning Over Babylon
The next section is a lament, or a collection of laments. Those who profited from their relationship with Babylon mourn her destruction. William Hendriksen wrote “Hence, when Babylon perishes, the economic chaos is complete; the world of the unbeliever, that on which he has pinned his hopes and built his trust, collapses! (More Than Conquerors, page 210)
First the kings that allied with her in idolatry mourn. (9) Their power and wealth declines with her destruction. But notice they stand far off. Despite their former alliance, they attempt to distance themselves from her in her destruction. (10) Rome had many kings and governors who profited by their alliance. In return for loyalty and worship, the emperor provided safety and trade. When Rome fell, these kings fell also, or were at least greatly diminished. And every king in every age that commits idolatry in return for wealth and power will be judged and destroyed by the Lord.
The merchants also mourned. (11) Even as Rome declined, its biggest imports continued to be luxury goods. Here they mourn because no one buys their expensive goods. (12-13) Those goods included slaves. Note that the angel calls them “human souls”. (13) Slavery still exists in our time. Human trafficking is a major problem even in America. Each of these who are taken, sold and abused are human souls. God will hold those accountable who traffic in them for money.
As the kings did, the merchants stand far off to mourn. (15) They hope to avoid her fate. They note that all of Babylon’s wealth has been laid waste in a single hour. (17) When God deems it to be time, his judgment will be sudden and swift.
The shipmasters and seamen also mourn. Again it is because there is no one to buy their goods. All of those huge ships full of shipping containers will have no ports that want to receive them.
Yet, one group does not mourn. The angel called upon believers to rejoice in Babylon’s destruction. All of those persecuted by the world in every age receive vindication in answer to their prayers. The angel said “God has given judgment for you against her”. Or, it could read “God has inflicted on her the judgment you received from her”. That is vindication. And that is the reason for our rejoicing.
A Picture of Babylon’s Destruction
An angel graphically, and metaphorically, portrays the destruction of Babylon. As the saints rejoice, a mighty angel throws a millstone into the ocean. A millstone is a very large stone used to grind grain in a mill. It would sink straight to the bottom. It symbolizes a permanent end to the world system. It “will be found no more”. This is emphasized in verses 22-23 which lists all of the things that will no longer be found in Babylon.
This is similar to Jeremiah’s message regarding Old Testament Babylon: “Just so shall Babylon sink down and not rise again because of the calamity that I am going to bring upon her”. (Jeremiah 51:60) Then Jeremiah was told to tie the scroll to a stone and throw it in the Euphrates river.
There will be no signs of life in Babylon, no music, no craftsmen, no grinding of grain, no light and no marriage. This again is a symbol of desolation.
The last verses of the chapter reiterate the reasons for her destruction. She deceived all of the nations by her sorcery. (23) And in so doing, she killed the prophets and the saints. Their blood is on the world’s hands.