- 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
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