The Fall of Babylon
Chapter 18 continues the story of Babylon and her destruction. Chapter 17 described Babylon with all of her wealth, pleasure and seductive power. It also set the stage for her destruction and 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. 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 accompanied 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. When the kings of earth turn on her, she will have no one left to occupy her. The system of pleasure and greed will be abandoned by humanity under the leadership of the Beast.
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.
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 everyone else. 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. He distinguished his followers from the world, teaching that the world would persecute his followers for they were not of the world.
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.
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. (6) 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.