- Jeremiah 51:45 to 18:4
- Jeremiah 51:9b to 18:5
- Jeremiah 50:29 and Psalm 137:8 to 18:6
- Isaiah 47:8-11 to 18:7
- Ezekiel 26:15-17 to 18:9-10
- Ezekiel 27:36 to 18:11
- Ezekiel 27:1-24 to 18:12-13
- Ezekiel 27:25-34 to 18:17b-18
- Isaiah 44:23 and Jeremiah 51:48 to 18:20
- Jeremiah 50-51 to 18:21-24 See my comment below
- Ezekiel 26:13 and Isaiah 24:8 to 18:22
- Jeremiah 25:10 to 18:22-23
Monday, May 11, 2020
COMMENTATORS ON REVELATION 18:1-19:5
Martin Rist (497-507)
Rist considers the material in 17:1-19:10 to be a series of seven visions. So, the material under consideration he organizes as vision three through six. I believe this is an unnecessary chopping up of the narrative in an artificial way, possibly just to come out with a group of seven.
He considers 18:1-3 to be an “amplification of the woe upon Babylon pronounced by the angel of 14:8…” Throughout his discussion of chapter 18, Rist considers “Babylon” to be equivalent to the Rome of John’s day, and he uses “Rome” rather than “Babylon” in his discussion. The coming destruction of Rome is because “Rome had seduced the peoples under her sway with the idolatrous worship of the state and its rulers…[and] those who were seduced would share in her ruin.”
He notes also that Rome’s destruction also was because the “merchants...had become rich…” He summarizes the historical facts of the Roman Empire: “The Roman imperium, with its unified and relatively peaceful rule over the Mediterranean world, a natural political and economic unit of extensive size, had produced trade and commerce and, with these, prosperity and wealth to a degree that was unprecedented in the ancient world.” He goes on to say that it was “only natural that the author [John], a member of a poor and weak religious group being persecuted for its beliefs, should associate the merchants with the oppressors of the Christians.”
Rist, throughout his comments on chapter 18, notes a number of parallel passages in the Old Testament. Among these are the following:
As he comments on 18:21-24, he especially focuses on a passage in Jeremiah 50-51, in which Seraiah carries a scroll to Babylon. The scroll contains an “oracle against Babylon” from Jeremiah. Seraiah ties the scroll to a stone and throws it into the River Euphrates. Rist believes John has adapted this story in the account of the angel who throws the millstone into the sea. “This scene is another enlightening illustration of John’s literary skill in adapting and reinterpreting a prophetic, noneschatological source to create an apocalyptic scene. Also, this demonstration of his use of a written source provides additional support for the conviction that Revelation is a carefully composed literary work, and not the mere record of visionary experiences.” I note, first, that Rist accords due respect for John as a writer, and, second, that he imposes a naturalistic interpretation upon the book. I mean, by naturalistic, the denial of the supernatural, including visions, in the process of writing Revelation. Rist is honest and open in revealing his own presuppositions.
In commenting on 18:23c-24, Rist states that the “main cause for Rome’s impending doom is her...shedding the blood of the prophets and saints…” He considers that John believed Rome’s destruction “was to happen so soon that John writes as if it had already occurred.” He considers that John has developed the Old Testament “doctrine of divine retribution” into “an eschatological, apocalyptic triumph of the righteous over their enemies and persecutors.”
Rist notes that the Hebrew Hallelu-jah (which is in Revelation 19:1) is used frequently in the Psalms, especially those Psalms that “deal with God’s might and power…[and] deliverance of his people…” These are also the emphases, he points out, in Revelation 19:1-5. There are also parallels in the passage to earlier passages in Revelation--12:10, 16:7, and 17:1. He notes that part of verse 19:3 is “probably a quotation from the description of the burning of Tyre in Isa. 34:10b…” He comments that the idea of the smoke rising forever should not be taken literally because “not even the earth on which Rome is situated is to last very much longer…” He references 20:11 and 21:1, which both refer to the disappearance of the earth.
He notes that the 24 elders and four living creatures make their last appearance in Revelation in 19:4. Though they played prominent roles in early sections of Revelation, they will not be heard from in the “concluding scenes” of the book.
G. Eldon Ladd (235-245)
Ladd refers to some of the same Old Testament passages that Rist does in citing parallels to sections of chapter 18.
He considers that the means by which Babylon has enticed the leaders of the world is by fornication, which, he says, is “a biblical word for idolatry.” He expands this: “In the Revelation, it means the worship of the beast instead of worship of the Lamb.”
He notes that that the warning to Christians to flee the city (18:4-5) indicates that “martyrdom of the church by the beast will not be complete.” (That is, all members of the church will not be killed.) He considers “this period” (which he does not clearly define) to the “greatest tribulation” that Jesus mentions in Matthew 24:21. He mentions the fleeing of “Christian Jews” from Jerusalem to Pella during the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem as a precursor to this escape.
Ladd considers the language of retribution in 18:6ff to echo “a theme that runs unbroken throughout the Bible.” He describes this theme as loving enemies and leaving revenge to God: “God alone knows the motivations of the heart and can judge justly…”
He is careful to distinguish the “kings of the earth” (18:9) from the “ten kings” who are allies of the Beast. He describes the “wider circle” of kings: “These have not been so openly devoted to the satanic purposes of the beast, but they have been enticed and deceived by the great harlot…” Their lament over Babylon is because they realize they have been “grossly” deceived. They are joined by the merchants, whose grief is “altogether selfish and mercenary…”
Ladd comments on the wording in 18:13: “...slaves, that is, human souls.” He says:
It is not clear why John adds to the trade in slaves the words, ‘that is, human souls.’ In its Hebrew context, the word for soul, nephesh, does not designate a higher immortal element in man in contrast to his body, as psyche usually does in Greek thought, and as ‘soul’ usually does in English. Nephesh simply designates human life or vitality (see Mark 10:45) and sometimes it is used of men as slaves (Ezek. 27:13; I Chr. 5:21). John probably used the word here to suggest that men, even though slaves, have a life which animals do not share. In any case, too much should not be read into the word.
He explains the “song of vindication” (18:20) by pointing out that the background is “the question whether God’s rule or Satan’s deceptive power is to triumph in human affairs. The time of the great tribulation (715; Matt. 24:21) will be a period when Satan will be allowed to do his worst.” Satan will be “incarnate in the beast” and “his capital city” will be “drunk with the blood of the martyrs.” The judgment of Babylon is “necessary” to uphold righteousness and to save God’s people. Therefore heaven rejoices over God’s victory.
Ladd notes that Babylon’s destruction is proclaimed “as accomplished fact” in 14:8 and 18:2 and prophesied as imminent in 17:16 and then announced again in 18:21: “Apocalyptic language is not prose but a series of pictures whose main concern is not chronology and sequence, but ultimate realities.” This is a hard lesson to learn. He refers to the story of Seraiah that Rist also points to as a model for John’s narrative and Ladd considers as an example of “prophetic symbolic acts.”
He comments on the statement that Babylon’s “merchants were the great men on the earth” (18:23b): Babylon’s “sin did not consist always in the fact of her great wealth, but in the overweening pride and self-exaltation induced by her wealth.” He interprets Babylon’s guilt for “all who have been slain on earth” to refer to Babylon as the inspiration for “other cities to follow her example of persecuting the saints.”
He believes that no “historical equivalent” for this degree of persecution “is known in the first century…” Therefore, he concludes that “John is thinking of eschatological [last-days] Babylon.” This is consistent with Ladd’s Futurist viewpoint.
Ladd focuses on the word “salvation” in 19:1: “The judgment of Babylon is one aspect of the divinely planned salvation.” He considers that salvation is more than deliverance from persecution. It “is the safeguarding, the maintenance in triumph of the whole cause of God’s Kingdom with its blessedness.” This triumph “of necessity means the removal of all that stands in the way [and frustrates] the divine rule.” Babylon and her corrupting influence must be removed in order for the Kingdom of God to be established. (See 19:2.)
Morris also refers to Old Testament “prophetic doom songs” in Ezekiel 26-28, Isaiah 13, 14, 21, and Jeremiah 50-51. “John has caught the spirit of the prophetic doom songs.” Morris says we “miss the point of it all if we concluded with many modern critics that John is concerned only to denounce contemporary Rome.” John, says Morris, is not thinking of the fall of one “city or empire but the collapse of civilization. Final judgment means the overthrow of all that opposes itself to God.”
In his comments on verses 4 and 5, Morris states: “Compromise with worldliness is fatal. God’s people must, while playing their full role in the community, hold themselves aloof from the world in many of its aspects.”
He comments on the rejoicing over Babylon’s destruction (18:20): It “is not a vindictive outcry. It is a longing that justice be done...John and his readers were not armchair critics...They were existentially committed. They had staked their lives on the truth of the Christian faith.”
Morris’ take on the guilt of Babylon for “all who have been slain on earth” (18:24): “There is no one city on earth of which this can be said. Babylon is clearly a symbol for all earthly cities (cf. the similar statement about Jerusalem, Mt. xxiii.35).” Contrast this understanding with Ladd’s comments above: Ladd believes that there will be a future city that will fulfill this description.
In commenting on 19:2 in which Babylon is indicted because she “corrupted the earth with her immorality…” Morris quotes at length from one of his references (Morris’ bibliographic note: The Apocalypse Today by Thomas F. Torrance, 1960):
The world likes a complacent, reasonable religion, and so it is always ready to revere some pale Galilean image of Jesus, some meagre anemic Messiah, and to give Him a moderate rational homage...The truth is that we have often committed adultery with alien ideologies, confounded the Gospel with religions of nature, and imbibed the wine of pagan doctrines and false principles and deceitful practices. We have sought to bend the will of God to serve the ends of man, to alter the Gospel and shape the Church to conform to the fashions of the times.
He quotes another commentator (J. P. Love. I, II, III John, Jude, Revelation by J. P. Love ((Layman’s Bible Commentaries)), 1960.) on 19:1-2: “We like to think of a Hallelujah chorus in the style of Handel...the triumphant worship of the reigning Lord… But…[John knows] that first there must be...rejoicing over the downfall of evil at the hand of God.” This is an important principle that Ladd as well as myself made reference to: for the Kingdom of God to arrive, evil must be vanquished.
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.
Morris, Leon. The Revelation of St. John. in Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. R. V. G. Tasker, Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co. and The Tyndale Press, 1980.
Rist, Martin. “The Revelation of St. John the Divine” in The Interpreter’s Bible. Vol. 12, Nolan B. Harmon, Ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
- The just punishment of Babylon 18.1-8
- Announcement of the fall of Babylon 18.1-3
- Description of the announcing angel 18.1
- Announcement 18.2-3
- Fallen 18.2
- Reason: the seduction of the earth 18.3
- Order to leave Babylon 18.4-5
- Order 18.4
- Reason: her many sins have been judged 18.5
- The cry for justice 18.6-7
- Pay her back double 18.6
- Punish her equal to her luxury 18.7
- The sudden coming of her punishment 18.8
- The mourning for Babylon 18.9-20
- The kings of the earth 18.9-10
- The merchants 18.10-17
- The sailors 18.18-19
- Encouragement for her victims to rejoice 18.20
- The finality of her punishment 18.21-24
- The violent takedown 18.21
- The end of normal life in Babylon 18.22-23a
- The reason 18.23b-24
- Great merchants and deceiving sorcery 18.23b
- Persecution of God’s servants 18.24
- Praise to the victorious God 19.1-5
- The praise 19.1-3
- The response 19.4
- Call for all to praise 19.5
(Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.
Abbreviations: ESVSB = English Standard Version Study Bible
NIVSB = New International Version Study Bible)
Revelation chapter 18 is the conclusion of the story that begins in chapter 17. In 17:1, the angel announces that he will show John the “judgment of the great prostitute.” Much of the rest of chapter 17 is devoted to descriptions of two important characters, the Great Prostitute and the Beast. Toward the end, the subject of the judgment of the Prostitute is returned to. In 17:16, the 10 kings (and likely the Beast, although he recedes into the background) attack and destroy the Prostitute. Chapter 18 expands that idea in what some would call a “taunt song.” Taunt songs are found in the Old Testament prophets.
SOME OLD TESTAMENT TAUNTS
Habakkuk 2 is the Lord’s promise to Habakkuk concerning the ultimate end of the “enemy,” which is Babylon. Verse 2:1 is Habakkuk’s readiness to hear from God. Verses 2:2-5 is the Lord’s preliminary answer: that Babylon will ultimately be judged. Verses 2:6-20 is a “taunt” of Babylon when it is ultimately destroyed. Although this can apply to the defeat of Babylon by the Medes and Persians in 539 BC, it also could be the ultimate defeat of “Babylon” of the last days. Note verse 2:2-3: the “revelation” that will answer Habakkuk “speaks of the end.” This is the end of ancient Babylon, but, perhaps, also is the end of eschatological Babylon. Perhaps it is the end of “civilized man apart from God, man in organized but godless community,” which is Leon Morris’ interpretation of the Babylon of Revelation (Morris, 202-203). (See Isaiah 13 and 14 for additional predictions of the Lord’s triumph over Babylon. Isaiah 14:3-21 is a taunt song against Babylon. NIVSB notes that the “King of Babylon” was a title that was used by the Assyrian king and that these passages may apply both to the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.)
Habakkuk 2:6-20 defines itself as a “taunt” (see 2:6). The passage includes five “woes,” which are as follows.
- “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own…” (2:6b)
- “Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm!” (2:9a)
- “Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity!” (2:12)
- “Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink...in order to gaze at their nakedness!” (2:15)
- “Woe to him who say to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise!” (2:19a)
The indictment against Babylon that comes from the Lord carries with it two assurances. First, that the Lord sees the evil and does not ignore it. Second, that the Lord will punish Babylon. Verse 2:16b: “The cup from the Lord’s right hand is coming around to you…”
THE JUST PUNISHMENT OF BABYLON
In Revelation 17:16, the ten kings destroy Babylon. They “make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.”
In 18:2, a mighty angel announces this destruction had made Babylon a “dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, ...bird…[and] beast.” The reason for this devastation is stated in the following verses (18:3-8). Those verses step back in time to shortly before the destruction and describe that destruction as a prophecy (verse 18:8). The reasons for the destruction of Babylon are:
- Her seduction of the nations and their kings into “sexual immorality” (18:3a and b)
- Her luxurious living has been (implied) a temptation for the merchants of the earth (18:3c)
- Her sinfulness has exceeded all bounds (18:5)
- She has exacted vengeance on others (18:6)
- She glorified herself (and by implication did not glorify God) (18:7a)
- She is lifted up in pride, believing herself secure (18:7b)
Because she is about to be destroyed, God’s people are warned to escape from her for two reasons. First, they must leave so that they will not be involved in her sins. Second, they must leave to avoid the destruction that is coming. (18:4)
The angel who announces all of this in 18:2-8 calls for justice:
- As she has exacted vengeance, exact a double portion of vengeance on her. (18:6)
- Measure out her “torment and mourning” by the degree of her self-glorification. (18:7)
The person addressed by the angel in his call for justice is not identified, but the implication is that it is the Lord God.
Her destruction (“plagues”) “will come in a single day,” because of her false sense of security. (18:7-8)
THE IDENTITY OF BABYLON
The mystery of the identity of Babylon is not solved by this passage. I have discussed that identity in the material concerning chapter 17. As one reads this section as well as the material that follows, there are certain hints of identity that strike one.
First, this city is extremely wealthy and powerful.
Second, its wealth is the driving force of the economy of the whole world.
Third, a combination of wealth and trade enable her to seduce the world into a pornographic world culture that is filled with pride, security, sin, and godlessness.
So, when she is destroyed, her “clients” (she is, after all, a prostitute) are shocked and go into mourning to see what they thought would forever be a way of life come to an end.
- The kings of the earth were deeply entwined in her lifestyle and are shocked at her sudden destruction. (18:9-10)
- The merchants are heartbroken that their economic base has been overcome. (18:11-17a)
- The sailors and others who transported goods in the fabulous economy mourn at the loss of their livelihood because the engine of the economy has been devastated. (18:17b-19)
Keep in mind that the poetic “justice” of this picture of mourning in 18:9-19 is not merely giving a picture of those persons who are affected by the fall of Babylon. In fact these verses are describing the entrenched relationships among money, power, and sin that is rampant in the world at all times. The fall of the human race has resulted in the perversion of those created things that potentially can bring glory to God. Wealth can be used to relieve the plight of the poor. Power can protect the vulnerable. Sex can be integrated into a beautiful “one-flesh” relationship between and a man and a woman. Worship of the true God can reinforce the love relationship between God and His people. So, “Babylon” is a picture of humankind caught up in the perversion of the created order. But the warning is clear: “Come out of her...lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues…” (18:4b)
The ancient cities of empires that are now in ruin--the cities of Egypt, Nineveh, Babylon, Rome--were wealthy, powerful, and full of sin. The true God was not worshiped in any of them (except for small, vulnerable minorities). With the exception of the defeat of Babylon by the Medes and Persians, they did not fall in a single day, but nevertheless they all fell. Other empires and other cities have risen and fallen all over the world. This taunt of the Babylon of Revelation could be sung again and again throughout history.
However, in the context of Revelation, there is an “eschatological Babylon” that will rise and fall in the last days. It is possible that it will not be a single city, but rather a complex world economic and political empire. It will be held together by money, power, and “sex.” The “sex” part will include definitely, I think, illicit sex, but it will also include the Biblical equivalent of fornication, which is a perversion of religion. Rather than worship of the true God, this Babylon will promote false worship, including worship of the Beast. Thus, money, power, and deception will be a heady mixture that fill people’s hearts with lust for more and more.
HER VICTIMS REJOICE
At the same time, there will be the party-poopers. The last-day witnesses to truth will warn the frothy civilization that it is a train wreck waiting to happen. The reaction of Babylon is persecution unto death of the saints to such a degree that she and her partners will be drunk on their blood. (17:6) So, the followers of the Lamb are encouraged to enjoy her destruction. (18:20)
THE FINALITY OF HER PUNISHMENT
Another mighty angel comes on the scene to give a vivid picture of the takedown of Babylon: like a huge millstone thrown into the sea, Babylon will experience an horrific, violent end. (18:21) The outcome is silence and darkness. In dramatic poetic terms, the doom of Babylon is described. A doom that ends the sounds of music, construction, and manufacturing. A doom that shuts off the lights and cancels weddings. The economy has collapsed, an economy that was deeply integrated with Babylonian “sorcery.” (18:22-23a)
THE REASONS FOR BABYLON’S JUDGMENT
Three reasons are given for why this violent destruction of Babylon, which leads to an end of all normal life, will come. (18:23b-18:24)
- Your “merchants were the great ones of the earth…” This does not sound like a reason at first glance. I think that the picture that has been drawn of the integration of the economy, military power, and a corrupt, perverted lifestyle gives understanding of this indictment. Babylon has developed a culture that can roll over any resistance. Anyone who has gone to the office party and seen the liquor, the sex games, the gossip--all mixed in with an understanding that “this is your job”--will understand the potency of economics to strip integrity out of a person’s soul.
- All “nations were deceived by your sorcery.” The word that is translated “sorcery” is one of a group of related Greek words that are the roots of our words “pharmacy,” “pharmacology,” and “pharmaceutical.” They refer to various forms of magic, sorcery, drugs, and witchcraft of the ancient world. This group of words are included in some lists of sins that I call “laundry lists.” They are lists that are intended to cover the gamut of sin and are to be taken as open-ended (not exhaustive). These lists are found in the following: Galatians 5:19-21 (the works of the flesh), Revelation 9:21 (list of sins of unrepentant people), Revelation 21:8 (list of the sins of people who are headed for the Lake of Fire), Revelation 22:15 (list of people who are outside the gates of the New Jerusalem). This sin of sorcery is emphasized as one of the overt expressions of a depraved heart. It is especially heinous because it is predatory through deception. Babylon has practiced the “magic arts” that divert people’s minds from following the true God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
- She has the blood of Christians on her hands. She is a persecutor of the church, of the prophets and saints. There is added “and of all who have been slain on the earth.” That seems strange. But what is being implied, it seems to me, is that Babylon is murderous and the instigator of murder, of violence and of hate that leads to murder. If she can slay the sheep of Jesus’ fold, who bear no one ill, then she has opened the way for all forms of violence and hate.
PRAISE TO THE VICTORIOUS GOD
Heaven now responds to the overthrow of Babylon. It begins with “Hallelujah!” This is an Old Testament word that means: “Praise Jah.” Jah is a shortened term referring to Yahweh, the personal name of God that is generally translated “LORD” in English Bibles. In the Old Testament the clause “praise the Lord” or “Praise ye the Lord” is often a translation of the Hebrew Hallelu-jah. In Greek the word is Allelouia (following the rules of transliteration) with a “rough” breath sign on the A. This means that an “h” sound begins the word. The “e” is the Greek letter eta, which is pronounced as a long “a.” The “ou” is pronounced as a long “u.” This word is only found in Revelation 19.
The continuation of the praise is “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God…” There is no “belong” in the Greek, but “our God” is genitive and a literal translation could be: Salvation and glory and power belonging to our God…” The praise goes on: “For His judgments are true and just.” The praise continues to relate the fact that God has judged “the great prostitute…and has avenged...the blood of his servants.” There follows an additional “Hallelujah!” and the observation that the smoke of Babylon’s burning goes up “forever and ever.
It is significant that God is praised for the destruction of Babylon. This is specifically explained to be a vengeance for the persecution of God’s servants. And it is explained that God’s judgments are “true and just.” G. Eldon Ladd commented on the Final Judgment, often called the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15) and the rebellion led by Satan after the Millennium (20:7-10). His comments are in the context of how unregenerate humans will follow Satan even after the perfect reign of Christ in the Millennium,:
There are theologians today who insist that the love of God demands that hell be evacuated of every human being, that God cannot be a righteous and just God if a single soul perishes. The very idea of eternal punishment is utterly repugnant to the modern mind...The “sterner aspects of God’s love” cannot be diluted into sentimentality that does not take sin seriously. The millennial reign of righteousness is the backdrop of the last judgment that when the final terrible doom of the wicked is pronounced, God may be justified in his acts and his righteousness vindicated in his judgments. (Ladd, 631)
So, with true and just judgments, God judges the Prostitute because she “corrupted the earth with her immorality.” This “corrupted” is a corruption that destroys (as the word is translated in several places). So, Paul warns that “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him…” (I Corinthians 3:17). Babylon has led the earth down a primrose path to destruction. So, God, with “true and just” judgments has recognized that Babylon’s immorality--sexual and religious--has corrupted the earth to the point of disintegration and destruction. Moreover, God judges Babylon for “the blood of his servants.” This whole edifice, a mighty civilization with loads of money and power that leads people into all sorts of blasphemy and evil, has reacted to the truth-tellers with brutal vengeance and killed as many as she could. Now, God has avenged their blood. The persecutor reacts to uncomfortable truths that threaten his position of power and authority. But God stands beside the one who is persecuted and will avenge his or her blood.
In Revelation 19:3, the praise is repeated: “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever!” The celebration is for the eternal finality of the judgment upon Babylon. She will never corrupt or persecute or blaspheme again.
Now, the praise begins to spread through heaven. (Revelation 19:4) Beings whom we first meet in chapter 4 now participate in the praise of God. The 24 elders are mentioned in Revelation 4:4. Also the four living creatures are mentioned in 4:6. Both of these groups join in the “Hallelujah chorus.”
Then, a voice from an unnamed source gives a general command for all the servants of God to praise Him.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DESTRUCTION OF BABYLON
“Preparation-realization” is one of the rhetorical devices that Bible students are taught to look for. The idea is that a particular subject is prepared for and then that preparation is realized in the narrative. There are three instances in which we are prepared for the destruction of Babylon. (Bold face within or without quotations was added by me.)
- In chapter 14, there is a series of short scenes or vignettes (“a short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or character and gives a trenchant impression about that character, an idea, setting, and/or object. It is a short, descriptive passage, more about evoking meaning through imagery than about plot”--Wikipedia). Among these vignettes are descriptions of how three angels each fly overhead and make an announcement. These announcements are
- The “eternal gospel” which is “Fear God and give him glory…” (14:6-7)
- “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” (14:8)
- “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath…” (14:9-11)
The other vignettes in chapter 14 are the 144,000 “virgins” (14:1-5)
and the two harvests--one a harvest (most likely of grain) which
seems to be a harvest of the righteous (14:14-16) and the other a
harvest of wrath (14:17-20). In the middle of the chapter, 14:13, is a
comment: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” I
think what we see in chapter 14 are sharp contrasts between the
righteous and the unrighteous--those “in the Lord” and those who
are in Babylon or who take the Mark of the Beast.
- Chapter 16 describes the seven bowls of God’s wrath. The sixth bowl is described in 16:12-16. In its description three demonic spirits assemble the kings of the earth for the battle of Armageddon. The seventh bowl is described in 16:17-21. In that description, a great earthquake splits the “great city” into three parts and “God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.” Thus, the judgment on Babylon is closely related to the great final battle.
- In chapter 17, Babylon is described in some detail (17:1-6) and in 17:16 is the scenario in which the 10 kings turn on her and destroy her completely.
Revelation 18:1-19:5 is the realization of what has been prepared for previously in the book. We are prepared for the justice of the destruction of Babylon, and we are prepared for the suddenness and completeness of that destruction.
The picture in chapter 17 of this great “city” that rules over the nations is a picture of corruption, deception, immorality, and religious perversion. It is also a picture of an economic powerhouse that seduces all the world into her immorality (whether sexual or religious sin). And it is a picture of the enemy of God’s people, who persecutes and kills them. Thus, God in His justice pours out his punishment upon her.
The announcement from the angel in chapter 14 has a sense of urgency or warning: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon…” Mixed with the other warnings and sharp contrasts in chapter 14, it contributes to a picture of the world being turned upside down.
- 144,000 followers of the Lamb in a lifestyle that is foreign to much of the world
- Three angels making earth-shattering announcements--fear God because judgment is coming, Babylon is fallen, do not take the Mark of the Beast
- It’s a good thing to die--if you are in the Lord
- The whole world is reaped of the righteous, and the wrath of God is trampled out of the grapes of wrath
The seventh bowl of God’s wrath includes the fact that God remembers Babylon. Babylon is on His list and it’s not going to be good.
Thus, we are prepared to see Babylon go down. But, I think we have to step back one more time and recognize what a “player” this Prostitute is. In one sense, although we have been given the signals and have been prepared for the realization of the destruction of Babylon, we can easily miss her importance. We have some big-time characters in the drama: the One on the Throne, the Lamb, the 24 elders, the four living creatures, the various angels who announce and explain and accompany John in the visions, the 144,000, the great red Dragon, the Beast, the False Prophet, the ten kings. We have other big events yet to come: the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the Word of God leading the armies of heaven against the Beast and his armies, the Millennium, the last rebellion, the Great White Throne Judgment, the renewal of creation, the descent of New Jerusalem, the institution of God’s dwelling with His people. Yet, the one event that concludes with a praise service that lasts an entire chapter (18:1-19:5) is the destruction of Babylon.
There were two hints, in 14:8 and 16:19, that Babylon was going to fall. Both of these proleptic (expressions of a future event as though it is happening or has already happened) announcements give us some awareness that this “Babylon” and its fall are very significant. There is the devotion of part of chapter 17 (especially 17:1-6) to a description of the Prostitute also known as Babylon, and this description gives us awareness of her evil. But three verses in chapter 17 give us special insight into her importance. Verse 17:18 states that the this “woman” is “the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” Babylon is politically, economically, and culturally dominant over the entire world. Second, verse 17:1 describes her as “seated on many waters…” and verse 17:15 explains that “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” This also describes her world-wide dominance, but it also describes her WORLD-WIDE ENTRENCHMENT IN THE CULTURE OF THE WORLD. It seems to me that this is describing a CIVILIZATION.
The “world” of I John 2:15 is seducer of all people and a danger to all Christians. We are warned: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” ESVSB makes these comments (bold in the original):
The Lure of This Fleeting Age. [the title that ESVSB gives to I John 2:15-17] The love of the Father implants a desire to break with idolization of the world. NOTE ON 2:15 Do not love the world should not be read as an utter rejection of the world, for “God...loved the world” (John 3:16). Rather, John warns against devotion to a world system that is opposed to God (cf. John 12:31; James 4:4; I John 5:19). Love of the Father probably carries a double meaning, referring both to the love God has for his people and the love they have for him. The former generates the latter (4:7, 9-10)
Another observation that is pertinent is that the Prostitute, Babylon, is RIDING THE BEAST in Revelation 17:3. We can infer the following from this position:
- The Prostitute is dominant at the beginning of the Beast’s rise to power.
- The Beast and the Prostitute are in deep concert in their motives and strategies.
- The Beast and the Prostitute have a common inspiration from the Dragon, that is, Satan.
- Destruction of the Prostitute, although it is the Beast’s idea (see 17:13 and 17:16), is a component in also defeating the Beast AND the Dragon.
Finally, although we must anticipate material that we have not yet covered, it is important to observe the position of the destruction of Babylon in the narrative of Revelation. The events toward the end of the book include the following:
- The rise of the Beast and the world-wide worship of the Beast (chapters 13 and 17)
- The seven bowls of wrath, chapters 15 and 16
- The destruction of Babylon, chapters 17:1-19:5
- The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (or, at least, the announcement of the Supper)
- The battle between the Word of God and the Beast and his armies, which ends in the defeat of the latter
- The Millennium
If we consider that the final battle (usually referred to as Armageddon) is preparatory to the Millennial Kingdom and if we note the destruction of Babylon just precedes that battle, then we might surmise that the DESTRUCTION OF BABYLON IS ALSO A NECESSARY PREPARATORY TO THE KINGDOM.
Now, at least for me, the extravagant praise and rejoicing over the destruction of Babylon makes more sense. Babylon is the final manifestation of the world system. It is a civilization that is thoroughly evil and hostile to God and His people. It is intimately involved in the rise of the Beast and Beast worship. It includes economic and cultural power that sweeps all of the earth-dwellers into its drunken party. It must fall in order that the Kingdom of God might shine like the sun. (See Matthew 13:41-43.)
Ironically, though the Beast is intimately connected to the Prostitute, he and his cohorts cannot abide any competition for loyalty, and so the Beast and the 10 kings turn in rebellion and destroy the Prostitute/Babylon. In doing so, they unwittingly accomplish the will of God and begin the preparation for the triumph of Christ and the Millennium.
Crossway. The ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version. Crossway, 2008. (Kindle edition)
Ladd, George Eldon. A Commentary on the Revelation of John. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1972.
Morris, Leon. The Revelation of St. John. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 20. R. V. G. Tasker, Gen. Ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1980.Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ., 2002