- 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
SURVEY OF REVELATION 18:1-19:5, PART B
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.