Revelation 18: The Great City Babylon

Revelation 18  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
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There is a deep importance for Christians, as well as intense solemnity, attaching to chapters 17 and 18, as therein we have a complete setting forth of the terrible character of the last phase of corrupt Christendom and of its final doom. In chapter 17 we have learned that the corrupt religious system that through the ages has professed to be the church of God, and finds its greatest expression in the Papacy, will at last be found in unholy alliance with a worldly empire that derives its power from the bottomless pit. While professing the Name of Christ, this false church is utterly untrue to Christ, as set forth by the figure of the false woman.
In chapter 18 we see this same corrupt religious system set forth under the figure of a great and imposing city, and we learn that the Papacy, which for ages has claimed to be exclusively the church of God, and thus “the habitation of God through the Spirit,” will, in its terrible end, “become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” These solemn truths are announced by an angel from heaven who, invested with great authority, enlightens the darkness of earth with the glory of heaven. With a strong voice that none can gainsay, the angel announces the fall of this false system, and in a few brief words sums up its evil effect upon the world at large.
“All nations” have been utterly deceived by her intoxicating influence. Kings have been indulged in evil by their unholy association with her; and the worldly minded have been “enriched through the might of her luxury.”
In view of the terrible character of this corrupt system, and the overwhelming judgment coming upon it, John hears a voice from heaven—which surely is the voice of Christ—saying, “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” In the beginning of the Christian period believers were exhorted to “come out” from among the idolaters of the heathen world, and be “separate” (2 Cor. 6:16-1716And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, (2 Corinthians 6:16‑17)). In the end of the Christian period, in which our lot is cast, believers are exhorted to “come out” of the corrupt Christian profession as represented in all the fullness of its evil by the Papacy. We are not called to attempt to reform it, or overthrow it; but to come out of it, lest we partake of its sins. Babylon means “confusion,” and no word could more adequately set forth the terrible result of that which professes the name of Christ being marked by the friendship of the world which is at enmity with God. It ends in the outward form of religion being used as a cloak to cover up “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Against these sins we are warned. Our danger is that, even as true believers, we may fall into “her sins. What are her sins? Is not this her outstanding sin, that, while professing to be the church of God, this terrible system is the practical denial of Christianity? She has dared to associate the Name of Christ with every worldly indulgence and fleshly lust. Instead of sheltering the Lord's people she has for ages been a persecutor of the saints. Instead of exalting Christ she has glorified herself. Instead of following Christ and letting go the present life, she has lived delicately. Instead of taking the path of a stranger and pilgrim as called out of this world, she has reigned as a queen in this world.
To escape these sins we are exhorted to “come out” and be wholly apart from the corruptions of Christendom. Our place as believers is outside the camp to gather to Christ who is in reproach in the world.
We are warned that the judgment of this worldly religious system will be sudden and overwhelming. The one that has boasted she will see no sorrow, will fall under “death, and mourning, and famine.” However powerful and firmly established she may appear before men, her fall will be complete: “she will be utterly burned with fire,” for “strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.” It is not for believers to attempt to wage a crusade against the wickedness of Rome. God, who is “strong,” will in His own time and way render to her double for all the misery she has caused to the true people of God. Our responsibility, as believers, is to obey the Lord's words, “Come out of her my people.”
Revelation 18:9-199And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, 10Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. 11And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more: 12The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, 13And cinnamon, and odors, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men. 14And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all. 15The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, 16And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! 17For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off, 18And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city! 19And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate. (Revelation 18:9‑19)
In the verses that follow we have the lament of “the kings of the earth,” and “the merchants of the earth,” over the fall of this vile system. The ten kings, under the beast, may be used for her destruction. But, having destroyed her, these kings and merchants will realize how much the material grandeur of their great cities and the prosperity of their commerce was dependent upon this false system. Discovering that her destruction is an immense loss, socially and commercially, they will lament her fall. The merchants of the earth that have been enriched by her love for magnificent buildings and earthly luxuries will lament that “no man buyeth their merchandise any more.” What a fearful condemnation of professing Christendom to learn that it is supported by kings because it adds to their earthly grandeur and luxury, and by merchants because it becomes a fruitful source of trade and money-making! Corrupt Christendom ends in becoming the greatest power on earth to advance worldliness, luxury, and material profit. In this evil system everything is turned into a means of worldly profit, from gold to the bodies and souls of men. And be it noted that in the things in which she traffics, “gold” has the first place and the “souls of men” the last place as being, in her estimation, of the least importance. In the judgment of God all will “come to naught” (vs. 17). She will be stripped of her earthly riches (vs. 14), and left “desolate” (vs. 19).
If on earth kings and merchants mourn over her fall, in heaven the saints, apostles, and prophets are called to rejoice, for in her fall God will avenge the sufferings of His people at her hands. It is not for believers to seek to avenge themselves. God cannot trust His people to take vengeance. The word is “Avenge not yourselves... for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay saith the Lord” (Psa. 94:11O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show thyself. (Psalm 94:1); Rom. 12:1919Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans 12:19)).
In the closing verses three leading truths come before us which sum up the instruction of the chapter as to the appalling character and terrible end of corrupt Christendom. Firstly, we learn how this religious corruption appears in the sight of men; secondly, we see its true character in the sight of God; and thirdly, we are told of the overwhelming judgment by which it will forever be removed from the earth.
Firstly, in the sight of men it is an imposing system, for it is spoken of as a “great city.” Eight times in the course of these chapters the city is referred to as “great.” There is everything in it to appeal to the natural man. In verse 22 we read of the music by which it charms the natural ear; of the “craft” that has filled Europe with magnificent buildings that gratify the eye. Then there is found within it the “millstone” that speaks of the commerce by which it has enriched men with material wealth. In it is found the artificial light of the candle speaking of its appeal to natural sentiment, and the voice of the bridegroom and the bride, speaking of natural joy.
Secondly, we have the outstanding marks of this corrupt system as seen by God. We read, “Thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of the saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.” (Professing Christendom ends in a system that is the exact contrast to all that the church of God is called to be. Firstly, it is marked by “merchants” and thus characterized by material riches rather than “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Secondly, it is marked by “great men,” rather than the weak and base things of the world that God has chosen. Thirdly, those in Babylon are “men of the earth” rather than heavenly men. Fourthly, this system by its “sorceries” is clearly under the influence of wicked spirits rather than the Holy Spirit of God. Fifthly, by it all nations are “deceived;” thus it propagates error rather than truth. Sixthly, in her is found “the blood of prophets and of saints.” Thus it persecutes instead of caring for the flock of God. Finally, “all that were slain upon the earth were found in her” setting forth that she is marked by death instead of life.)
Thirdly, we learn the overwhelming judgment that will end the history of corrupt Christendom. For fifteen centuries this awful system has been deceiving the world, but at last its judgment will come in “one day” or “one hour” (verses 8, 10, 17, 19). Like a great millstone flung into the sea, to be found no more on the earth, its judgment is overwhelming and final. It is striking how the Spirit of God repeats the words “no more.” When thrown down, it will be found “no more.” Its thrilling music that appeals to the natural ear, “shall be heard no more.” Its merchandise by which the merchants have been enriched and made great will be “no more.” Its natural light that appeals to the natural intellect will be “no more,” and its natural pleasures will be “no more.”