Earlier chapters announced the fall of Babylon (14:8;16:9,19; Cf. Isa 21:9). In Ch 17 her idolatrous and bloodthirsty character is described as is her demise at the hands of her own political leaders. Babylon to C1 readers was Rome and John has traits of Rome in his description of the city. However, Babylon is more than Rome. In its precise sense, it is the city and civilisation of the antichrist that precedes the return of Christ; it is the final godless world empire. But Babylon has existed for centuries. It is essentially human culture in every age opposed to God. Various OT texts including the fall of ancient Babylon and Tyre shape John’s language for they are part of the composite civilisation opposed to God (Jer 25, 51; Ezek 27); the final ‘great city’ is an echo of godless cities that have preceded her and she shares their fate. John’s vision is nothing less than the collapse of human civilisation.
Thus as we look at John’s picture of the demise of Babylon we should remember Babylon is a symbol for a world opposed to God and so devoted to destruction; it s the kingdom of the beast.
1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. 3 For all nations have drunk. the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”
Vv1-3 Babylon’s fall heralded.
In Ch 18 the focus on Babylon’s continues: Babylon’s fall is announced (vv1-3); God’s people are called to come out of her that they may not share in her judgement (vv 4-8); a series of laments at her downfall follow (vv 9-19); contrasting with the laments is a call for rejoicing by heaven and the saints at her demise (vv20); and finally, her downfall and its implications are once again heralded (vv21-24).
The fall of Babylon is heralded (14:8, 16:19; Isa 13:19-22; Jer 51:37). John speaks of it as an accomplished fact so certain is he of its destruction. It is desolate. Implied in its fall is the destruction of its idolatries (Isa 21:9) the reason for her demise (v5, 17:2, 4,5).
In Ch 18, the focus is chiefly Babylon’s idolatry of wealth and extravagant living. Babylon has always been idolatrous and no doubt in here last manifestation will have many idolatries chief among them it seems is her love of wealth. Kings and merchants of the world were intoxicated by both (v3; Ezek 27:33). They compromised themselves to gain what she had to offer. However, like all faithless cities, she will be razed and her ruins will become the home of the demonic and unclean, the things that fill her before her destruction (Isa 13:19-23; Zeph 2:13,14; Jer 9:10-11). The invincible empires of men have feet of clay before the judgement of the Lord.
4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, 5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. 7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ 8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.”
VV4-8. Judgement and escape
However, luxurious living is not her only sin. We are told her sins , like the Tower of Babel, reach up to heaven and God has remembered them (v5 ; Jer 51:9 Cf. Gen 11:4). No doubt she plays a part in promoting worship of the beast. God’s justice requires that she be paid back as her sins deserve, a form of Lex talionis…an eye for an eye (Cf. 16:4-7). She is to be treated as she treated others and according to her luxury so will her poverty be. Double may mean twice or perhaps as a number of commentators think, it may mean ‘equivalent’ (Ex 22:4, 7, 9; Isa 40:2). Equivalence certainly fits the context; Babylon’s influence in the world is destructive and so she will be destroyed.
A voice from heaven (seventh and last time the expression is used according to Ian Paul) calls upon God’s people to come out from her and not partake of her sins (2 Cor 6:17). They are to flee the city under judgement (Jer 50:8, 51:45; Isa 52:11) … presumably mainly the plagues of judgement already indicated in the bowls (Ch 16). Judgement will be sudden and absolute (in a single day). Like other cities before her (Ezek 28:2; Zeph 2:15) she has become intolerably proud. Her self-regard, arrogance and misplaced sense of security will collapse under the onslaught of judgement (Dan 4:30; Isa 47:7-12; Zech 9:4; Rev 3:7). She is not a queen just a common prostitute. To place trust in Babylon is a great mistake. Even today the corruptions of Babylon are evident. God’s people flee Babylon by not embracing her values; to be like her will be to share in her judgement just as receiving the mark of the beast means sharing in its judgement (Ch 13). Whatever part the beast plays in her destruction (Ch 17) it is ultimately the might of the Lord God who judges her.
9 And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,
“Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.”
11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. 14 “The fruit for which your soul longed. has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendours. are lost to you, never to be found again!” 15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,
16 “Alas, alas, for the great city. that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! 17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” “Alas, alas, for the great city. 19 And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out, where all who had ships at sea. grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste.
VV9-19 Three laments at Babylon’s fall
Various groups mourn the fall of Babylon. We should not underestimate the collapse of Babylon. With her collapse is the collapse of civilisation itself. The wealthy and influential of the world realise their comfortable and cushioned life of often fabulous luxury has collapsed. The world’s merchants lament her fall for with it comes the end of trade and commerce in all kinds of extreme luxury goods which they sold to Babylon and from which they gained their wealth. Much of Rome’s trade came by sea and so seafarers also lament her fall. The lament is uniform, ‘Alas, alas for the great city’ (9,16,19); they lament, for in its demise is theirs. The smoke of her burning suggests the permanence of her end, the end of the city that had trafficked in human souls and built its great wealth upon human misery (v13). There is grief expressed at her demise but no repentance even although in Babylon’s fall is their fall.
20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her.
V20 God’s people rejoice
If the kings and merchants of the world mourn then heaven rejoices at Babylon’s judgement (Jer 51:48). The contrast is marked. God’s people on earth rejoice too for in the judgement of Babylon God has declared himself to be for his people. In her judgement is their vindication.
21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more; 22 and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more, and a craftsman of any craft. will be found in you no more, and the sound of the mill. will be heard in you no more, 23 and the light of a lamp. will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride. will be heard in you no more, for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.”
Vv21-24. Babylon’s End
An angel casts a boulder into the sea symbolically enacting the sudden destruction of Babylon (Isa 47:9; Jer:51:63,64). Babylon’s sorceries have deceived the world. Her idolatries have mesmerised human hearts. She is about to come to a violent end (16:19; 17:16,17). Everything that signals joy and well-being is forever gone – music, love, work, and light (Jer 25:10; Ezek 26:13). She will be a wasteland (18:2,3). Again John concludes by naming one of Babylon’s most damning sins. Her judgement is justified because ‘in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on earth.’ No doubt the sacking of Rome in 410 AD, the eternal city, has a place in this prophecy, however, as we noted at the beginning of this post, Babylon is the final kingdom that precedes the Second Coming. It is the kingdom of the beast, of the antichrist, who will also play a part in her final destruction (17:16).
Covid has shown just how easily God can bring a whole economic and social culture to its knees. We should not underestimate his ability to bring the world to its knees. The city of man is no match for the might of God.
Babylon is no more but soon John will see the city of God, the New Jerusalem which will endure forever. There may be no bride in Babylon and no light but the true eternal city will herself be a bride and the city will be lit by the everlasting radiance of the glory of God.