Revelation 18

Revelation 18  •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 11
Another vision opens out now before the mind of the apostle. In the preceding chapter the judgment of the great harlot was announced, and the instruments of its execution are revealed; whereas now we are permitted to see the disappearance of wicked Babylon, and the effects upon the various classes of the empire who had been in relation with her. But, as has been more than once pointed out in these Apocalyptic visions, the result is anticipatively proclaimed. John thus writes: “And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird” (vss. 1-2). Twice before the judgment of Babylon had been mentioned (Rev. 14:88And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. (Revelation 14:8); Rev. 16:1919And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. (Revelation 16:19)), and now the providential governmental instrument, the angel, descends to earth for its accomplishment, working however, as we have learned from the previous chapter, through human agents, the beast and his vassal kings. But it is rather the accomplishment announced by the angel, revealing at the same time what Babylon, that which once bore the name of Christ, has become—the dwelling-place of demons, and the prison of unclean spirits, and of every form of Satan’s power. (The reader may compare Isa. 21:99And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men, with a couple of horsemen. And he answered and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground. (Isaiah 21:9); Jer. 50:3939Therefore the wild beasts of the desert with the wild beasts of the islands shall dwell there, and the owls shall dwell therein: and it shall be no more inhabited for ever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation. (Jeremiah 50:39); Jer. 51:8,378Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed: howl for her; take balm for her pain, if so be she may be healed. (Jeremiah 51:8)
37And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwellingplace for dragons, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant. (Jeremiah 51:37)
, as to the destruction of the historical Babylon.) The grounds, or one ground (See Rev. 19:22For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. (Revelation 19:2)), of her judgment is stated. Balaam had taught Balak how to seduce the children of Israel to eat things offered to idols, and to commit fornication (Rev. 2:1414But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. (Revelation 2:14)). Jezebel in Thyatira followed in his steps (Rev. 2:2020Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. (Revelation 2:20)); but Babylon seduced the nations and the kings of the earth with the golden cup of her abominations and her fornication (Rev. 17:44And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: (Revelation 17:4)). (The reader may instructively compare Ezek. 16:15-3415But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was. 16And of thy garments thou didst take, and deckedst thy high places with divers colors, and playedst the harlot thereupon: the like things shall not come, neither shall it be so. 17Thou hast also taken thy fair jewels of my gold and of my silver, which I had given thee, and madest to thyself images of men, and didst commit whoredom with them, 18And tookest thy broidered garments, and coveredst them: and thou hast set mine oil and mine incense before them. 19My meat also which I gave thee, fine flour, and oil, and honey, wherewith I fed thee, thou hast even set it before them for a sweet savor: and thus it was, saith the Lord God. 20Moreover thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast borne unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured. Is this of thy whoredoms a small matter, 21That thou hast slain my children, and delivered them to cause them to pass through the fire for them? 22And in all thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted in thy blood. 23And it came to pass after all thy wickedness, (woe, woe unto thee! saith the Lord God;) 24That thou hast also built unto thee an eminent place, and hast made thee an high place in every street. 25Thou hast built thy high place at every head of the way, and hast made thy beauty to be abhorred, and hast opened thy feet to every one that passed by, and multiplied thy whoredoms. 26Thou hast also committed fornication with the Egyptians thy neighbors, great of flesh; and hast increased thy whoredoms, to provoke me to anger. 27Behold, therefore I have stretched out my hand over thee, and have diminished thine ordinary food, and delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee, the daughters of the Philistines, which are ashamed of thy lewd way. 28Thou hast played the whore also with the Assyrians, because thou wast unsatiable; yea, thou hast played the harlot with them, and yet couldest not be satisfied. 29Thou hast moreover multiplied thy fornication in the land of Canaan unto Chaldea; and yet thou wast not satisfied herewith. 30How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord God, seeing thou doest all these things, the work of an imperious whorish woman; 31In that thou buildest thine eminent place in the head of every way, and makest thine high place in every street; and hast not been as an harlot, in that thou scornest hire; 32But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband! 33They give gifts to all whores: but thou givest thy gifts to all thy lovers, and hirest them, that they may come unto thee on every side for thy whoredom. 34And the contrary is in thee from other women in thy whoredoms, whereas none followeth thee to commit whoredoms: and in that thou givest a reward, and no reward is given unto thee, therefore thou art contrary. (Ezekiel 16:15‑34).) She, moreover, who had professed to belong to Him, who when here had not where to lay His head, made the merchants of the earth “rich through the abundance of her delicacies” (Rev. 18:33For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. (Revelation 18:3)). Not only therefore had she become false to Christ, but she was the practical denial of all that He was and is, and in fact utterly apostate, completely ruled as she was by the god of this world.
Another voice is now heard “from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities” (vss. 4-5). This appeal to the people of God has occasioned considerable difficulty, inasmuch as on the surface it leads to the supposition that saints might still be found in Babylon. It must be remembered then, in the first place, that Babylon represents a spiritual system, and that this system, in its main moral features, has been in existence ever since the days of John. Thyatira and Laodicea, in fact, contained the root of all the evils which are afterward seen fully developed in Babylon. The instruction therefore is for all ages, calling upon God’s people to come out, and to be separate from that which can be spiritually discerned as Babylon, in which, as in Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s days, so many saints are enslaved. (Compare Jer. 50:88Remove out of the midst of Babylon, and go forth out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as the he goats before the flocks. (Jeremiah 50:8); Jer. 51:6-96Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul: be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the Lord's vengeance; he will render unto her a recompence. 7Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord's hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad. 8Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed: howl for her; take balm for her pain, if so be she may be healed. 9We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed: forsake her, and let us go every one into his own country: for her judgment reacheth unto heaven, and is lifted up even to the skies. (Jeremiah 51:6‑9).) And they are also reminded that, if they continue to be mixed up with such a system, they will become partakers of her sins, and be governmentally subject to her plagues. Was there ever a day since these words were written when this solemn, urgent call needed to be more persistently sounded out through the length and breadth of Christendom than now? For what do we behold? Babylon plainly manifesting herself, and boldly rearing her head with her arrogant claims, as well as insinuating herself into popular favor and acceptance by her subtleties and flatteries. Let God’s people therefore everywhere be obedient to this heavenly voice, and come out of her; for her sins are fast reaching up unto heaven, and the cup of her iniquities is already nearly full.
The question still returns, Is there no application to the eve of Babylon’s destruction? That there can be no Christians in Babylon, at this period, is seen from the fact that the church is already in heaven. There will be Jewish saints on the earth, and, as Revelation 7 teaches, also Gentile believers who will have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. However we have no information as to whether any of these, wearied out with their persecutions, may be tempted to seek shelter within the precincts of Babylon. If so, the call would be also addressed to such; yet the main significance of the cry is to all who may have become at any time mixed up with the principles that will finally concentrate and express themselves in Babylon.
The following verses need careful attention. The voice continues: “Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double. How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow” (vss. 6-7). The question is, To whom are these words addressed? It would seem to be a continuation of the address to God’s people commenced in verse 4; but this is scarcely possible on two grounds; first, because the saints are not the executors of judgment upon Babylon; and secondly, because we know that the beast and the kings, the ten horns, are the appointed instruments for this purpose. This has led some to suppose that the address is to the latter. This, however, would scarcely be in accord with what is found in this book. Consequently we regard these verses more in the light of an annunciation of the judgment and the principle upon which it will be executed, than as a summons to those chosen to be the vessels of God’s vengeance. The principle of the judgment is a known one in Scripture. God dealt in the same way even with Jerusalem (Isa. 40:22Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:2)); and in Babylon being “rewarded” as she had “rewarded” God’s people, we have a direct reminiscence of the manner of the judgment upon Babylon of old. (See Psa. 137:8-98O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. 9Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones. (Psalm 137:8‑9); Jer. 50:15-2915Shout against her round about: she hath given her hand: her foundations are fallen, her walls are thrown down: for it is the vengeance of the Lord: take vengeance upon her; as she hath done, do unto her. 16Cut off the sower from Babylon, and him that handleth the sickle in the time of harvest: for fear of the oppressing sword they shall turn every one to his people, and they shall flee every one to his own land. 17Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away: first the king of Assyria hath devoured him; and last this Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones. 18Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria. 19And I will bring Israel again to his habitation, and he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan, and his soul shall be satisfied upon mount Ephraim and Gilead. 20In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve. 21Go up against the land of Merathaim, even against it, and against the inhabitants of Pekod: waste and utterly destroy after them, saith the Lord, and do according to all that I have commanded thee. 22A sound of battle is in the land, and of great destruction. 23How is the hammer of the whole earth cut asunder and broken! how is Babylon become a desolation among the nations! 24I have laid a snare for thee, and thou art also taken, O Babylon, and thou wast not aware: thou art found, and also caught, because thou hast striven against the Lord. 25The Lord hath opened his armory, and hath brought forth the weapons of his indignation: for this is the work of the Lord God of hosts in the land of the Chaldeans. 26Come against her from the utmost border, open her storehouses: cast her up as heaps, and destroy her utterly: let nothing of her be left. 27Slay all her bullocks; let them go down to the slaughter: woe unto them! for their day is come, the time of their visitation. 28The voice of them that flee and escape out of the land of Babylon, to declare in Zion the vengeance of the Lord our God, the vengeance of his temple. 29Call together the archers against Babylon: all ye that bend the bow, camp against it round about; let none thereof escape: recompense her according to her work; according to all that she hath done, do unto her: for she hath been proud against the Lord, against the Holy One of Israel. (Jeremiah 50:15‑29).)
Then, after the principle of the judgment is explained, we have a striking presentation of the moral character of Babylon. She had “glorified herself, and lived deliciously.” (vs. 7) What a revelation! And what an unfolding of her utter apostasy! Self-exaltation, the perfect antithesis to the life of our blessed Lord, had been her sole object! And, moreover, her “life” expended itself in her own gratification. Morally she was in the desert, and yet she deceived herself into the belief that it was a paradise, and lived deliciously. Even more than this; “for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.” (vs. 7) This language corresponds, almost exactly, with that used by Isaiah, when denouncing judgment upon the “daughter of Babylon” (Isa. 47:11Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. (Isaiah 47:1)); and it teaches us therefore that the mystic Babylon of the future is the moral descendant of the city of Nebuchadnezzar, embodying the same moral features, and drawing down from heaven the same vengeance. A still more striking thing to be observed is that Laodicea’s boast, “I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” (Ch. 3:17) is the moral root of all the evil here portrayed as existing in Babylon. While, however, man in his vain self-confidence may shut God out, seek his happiness in his own resources, and vaunt himself upon his own acquisitions and their stability, the time will come, as in the case before us, when God will interpose and exact a strict account according to the standard of His own holy requirements.
Hence it is, as following upon the statement of Babylon’s pride, self-glorification, and self-sufficiency, that it is said, “Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her” (vs. 8). It is the beast and his horns (Ch. 17:16) who are the seen executors of the judgment, but they are but the blind servants of the will of God.
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 next place, down to verse 18, a description is given of the effect upon various classes of the destruction of Babylon. It will suffice to specify one or two features of the picture. It will be noted, first of all, that the kings of the earth, those who had committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, are loud in their lamentations over the destruction of “that great city Babylon.” (vs. 10) This is by no means inconsistent with the fact that they, or some of them, had united with the beast to despoil her of her possessions. Many a gigantic abuse has often been judged in great popular movements, or even by peaceful legislation, and yet the framework of society has been shattered by its removal. Babylon, with its wide-spreading roots, will have interlaced itself with almost every social fiber of the life of the nations; and her fall, therefore, will spread universal dismay and confusion as well as render human governments unstable and powerless. This will account for the wail of these kings, as they stand “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” (vs. 10). The other mourners over Babylon’s fall are commercial, “the merchants of the earth” (vs. 11), those who had been “made rich by her” (vs. 15) in their traffic in all the various articles, for which the demand had been created or stimulated by Babylon’s needs and influence; and “every ship master, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea” (vs. 17); for all that had ships in the sea had also been made rich “by reason of her costliness” (vs. 19).
All this description, it will be at once understood, is symbolical, the import of which is that the whole commercial system of the empire is utterly deranged, if not destroyed, by the judgment upon Babylon. The blow that falls upon her destroys with her the prosperity of the habitable world; and hence the universal sorrow; for men are ever ready to bewail the loss of the means of their comforts, wealth, and affluence. A striking example of this is seen in the fact that, after the healing of the demoniac, and the consequent destruction of the swine, the Gadarenes prayed the Lord Jesus to depart out of their coasts. They preferred to have the demoniac and their swine, to the presence of Jesus, because He had interfered with their earthly possessions.
There is ever an utter contrariety between God’s thoughts and man’s. All classes of the people sorrow over Babylon’s fall; and now we are permitted, in contrast with this, to hear the estimate in heaven of this event. “Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her” (vs. 20). (Literally it is, “For God hath judged your judgment upon her.”) What thus causes universal sorrow and widespread dismay on earth is the occasion of joy to heaven, and to those who had been witnesses for Christ, and some of these martyrs for His name’s sake (vs. 24) on earth.
We have thereon a symbolic action to describe Babylon’s destruction. “And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all” (vs. 21). So was it with ancient Babylon. Jeremiah “wrote in a book all the evil that should come upon Babylon,” (Jer. 51:6060So Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that should come upon Babylon, even all these words that are written against Babylon. (Jeremiah 51:60)) and he directed Seraiah, who accompanied Zedekiah to Babylon in the fourth year of the latter’s reign, after he should have read the book in the very presence of Babylon’s prosperity and magnificence, to bind a stone to it, and to cast it into the midst of Euphrates; and as he did so, he was to say, “Thus shall Babylon sink, and shalt not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her” (Jer. 51:60-6460So Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that should come upon Babylon, even all these words that are written against Babylon. 61And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, When thou comest to Babylon, and shalt see, and shalt read all these words; 62Then shalt thou say, O Lord, thou hast spoken against this place, to cut it off, that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but that it shall be desolate for ever. 63And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates: 64And thou shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her: and they shall be weary. Thus far are the words of Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 51:60‑64)). The meaning of the action is the same therefore in both cases; it betokened violent, complete, final and irreversible destruction. Never more was either to rise again; and thus we have in our chapter the solemn declaration that henceforth all strains of music, all mechanical activities, the sound of millstones, should be forever silenced, that nevermore should shine within her the light of a candle, or be heard the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride. The desolation was to be complete; “for 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 saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth” (vss. 23-24). Combining the several grounds of Babylon’s judgment it will be seen that they are four—“idolatry, corruption, worldliness, and persecution.” (Synopsis, J. N. Darby, 5:552). God had borne long with this wicked system which had profaned His name, and falsified His truth; but now His mighty hand has descended upon it, taking vengeance for all the iniquities which had filled the earth with defilement and corruption.