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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 18

 

 

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Introduction

The Sixth Vision. The Seven Bowls of Wrath and the Destruction of Babylon the Great (chapters 15-18).

It is noteworthy that before each vision dealing with activities on earth there is an assurance that God’s people are well catered for. The seven seals (chapter 6) are preceded by the representation of the twenty four elders in Heaven and their assurance of Revelation 5:9-10. The seven trumpets (chapter 8-9) are preceded by the sealing of the people of God and the heavenly multitude (chapter 7). The attacks on the two witnesses are preceded by the measuring of the Temple (chapter 11). The attacks of the monster and the beast (chapters 12-13) are preceded by the victory cry with respect to the redeemed and by the deliverance of the woman (Revelation 12:10-11; Revelation 12:14-16). The judgment of the world is preceded by the gathering of the redeemed on the heavenly Zion (chapter 14). Now again, before the outpouring of the bowls of wrath, we have a picture of the redeemed (Revelation 15:2-4).


Verse 1

‘After these things I saw another angel coming down out of Heaven, having great authority, and the earth was lightened with his glory.’

Another great angel is seen as involved with the fulfilling of God’s final purposes. Note that none of these angels are ever named apart from Michael, who is named because he is the angel prince of Israel (Revelation 12:7). While prominent, they maintain an anonymous position for they seek no glory for themselves. They are all equally God’s servants and none will seek to obtain prominence over another. (How different we are today). So effective is the presence of this angel that earth itself indirectly perceives his presence by a ‘lighting up’ with his glory.


Verses 1-8

The Destruction of Babylon the Great (chapter 18).

The Fall of Babylon the Great (Revelation 18:1-8).

We now have in more detail an explanation of the mystery of the prostitute. The connections between Revelation 18 and Jeremiah 50, 51 stress that the essential nature of the prostitute parallels Babylon. Compare Jeremiah 51:25 with Revelation 18:8, Jeremiah 50:8; Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:45 with Revelation 18:4; Jeremiah 51:9 with Revelation 18:5; Jeremiah 17:18; Jeremiah 50:15; Jeremiah 50:29; Jeremiah 51:24-49 with Revelation 18:6; Jeremiah 51:8 with Revelation 18:2; Jeremiah 51:63-64 with Revelation 18:21. She shares the essential nature and destiny of Babylon. Of all the nations that will drink of the cup of God’s wrath, Babylon will be the last (Jeremiah 25:26). (Sheshach is a cypher for Babel).


Verse 2

‘And he cried with a mighty voice saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great, and is become a habitation of devils, and a haunt of every unclean spirit and a haunt of every unclean and hateful bird”.’

The angel declares that Babylon the Great is fallen. Becoming a haunt of birds is a favourite indication of dreadful judgment (Isaiah 34:11; Isaiah 34:14; Zephaniah 2:14). ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen’ comes from Isaiah 21:9 where emphasis is laid on the destruction of its idols and images (compare Jeremiah 51:8). The future desolation of Babylon is described in Isaiah 13:19-22. So Babylon was not only a symbol of overweening pride and idolatry, but also of destruction and emptiness. In this chapter it is as a symbol of world cities and what they signify (commercialism and worldly control), that she is described. In John’s day Rome was the commercial centre of the world. All things poured into Rome. But she received rather than gave. Today commercialism is more widespread, but it is still basically the enemy of God and His ways.


Verse 3

‘For by the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen, and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth waxed rich by the power of her wanton luxurious living.’

Her love of idolatry, sexual deviancy and the occult have brought on her the wrath of God and their participation in this, with its consequences, is depicted as wine drunk by the nations. The rulers of the earth sought to please her and gain her favours and the merchants of the earth prospered by reason of her propensities. All sought to benefit from her evil ways. This applied to Rome in John’s day and it applies to many centres of ‘civilisation’ in our own. The people to whom John wrote would see the woman as Rome. We may see it as many cities, centres of great empires, for men always tend to establish their own empires. Then it was done by blatant conquest, now it is done by assimilation. They may pay lip service to God but at heart they oppose all He stands for.


Verse 4-5

‘And I heard another voice from Heaven saying, “Come forth, my people, out of her so that you have no fellowship with her sins and so that you do not receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached even unto Heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities”.’

The voice from Heaven can only be that of the Lamb for He speaks of them as ‘My people’, and then calls on God to render judgment (compare ‘my people’ in Jeremiah 51:45, see also Romans 9:25-26; 2 Corinthians 6:16).

‘Come forth --- out of her’. Compare how Jeremiah three times warned the people to ‘flee out of the midst of Babylon’ because of the judgments coming on her (Jeremiah 50:8-9; Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:45 compare also Isaiah 48:20). It is not wise to stay in a place where sin is rife. The Christian is to be ‘in the world but not of the world’, but there are times when they must learn the art of fleeing when the desires of the flesh are in mind (1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22), otherwise they may well find themselves drawn in. It should be noted that the great sin of Babylon was not that she was commercial (she only buys, not sells) but that she engaged in idolatry, luxurious living and the occult.

That God’s people are there emphasises again that Great Babylon’s demise comes a short time before the resurrection and therefore before the final judgment. John may well have had in mind here how the Christians fled from Jerusalem when the wrath of God was to be visited on it. In the same way this is suggesting they flee from any ‘great city’ that behaves in this way, when they see the ominous signs of the end approaching. Christians are to be awake to the signs of the times. It is an indication of how near her judgment is that Christians are no longer called on to evangelise her. Her opportunity has passed.

‘For her sins have reached even unto Heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities’. This has in mind the tower of Babel which was intended to ‘reach to Heaven’ (Genesis 11:4). By many later readers, as in John’s day, this was taken literally. But, the speaker is saying, while the tower never did reach to Heaven, the iniquities of Babel represented by it have. Compare how Jeremiah describes the situation as ‘her judgment reaches to heaven, and is lifted up even to the skies’ (Jeremiah 51:9). Compare also Genesis 18:20-21 of the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, and what is said about that other great city Nineveh (Jonah 1:2).

‘God has remembered her iniquities’ (see Revelation 16:19). He has a long memory when men refuse to repent, a memory that goes back even to the tower of Babel.


Verse 6-7

‘Render unto her even as she rendered, and double unto her the double according to her works. In the cup which she mingled, mingle to her double. To the same extent as she glorified herself, and bathed in luxury (waxed luxuriously or behaved wantonly), so much give her of torment and mourning, for she says in her heart, “I sit as a queen and am no widow, and shall under no circumstances see mourning”.’

These are not the words of John but are the words of the One Who has been speaking of ‘My people’, the words of the Lamb. No one but He Who is the Judge of all would have the right to speak them. From the lips of Christians they would be unacceptable, but from the lips of Him Who has been ordained to judge the world there can be no complaint. The time of final judgment is fast approaching and this is the preliminary skirmish. He is passing His verdict on Godless civilisation.

‘Render unto her even as she has rendered.’ This is justice. As Jeremiah puts it, ‘It is the vengeance of the Lord. Take vengeance upon her. As she had done, do unto her’ (Jeremiah 50:15, compare v. 29. See also Jeremiah 51:24; Jeremiah 51:49 and compare Psalms 137:8, ‘Oh daughter of Babylon, you who are to be destroyed, happy shall he be who rewards you as you have served us’.

(But even the judge could not say the next verse in Psalms 137, that was only excusable for those to whom it had recently been done, in the white heat of their grief. However, before you pass judgment on them wait until you too hold the limp distorted body of your own child, covered in blood and with his head broken open, as you gaze at similar desolation around and are overwhelmed with a grief so great that it is beyond bearing, and watch those who in a mad fit of bloodlust continue their murderous activities).

‘And double unto her the double according to her works. In the cup which she mingled, mingle to her double.’ It is the Lord, and the Lord alone Who can reward double for sin (Isaiah 40:2; Jeremiah 16:18; Jeremiah 17:18). The cup she mingled was the cup of idolatry and what goes with it, which deserves double punishment (Jeremiah 16:18). For ‘mingle unto her’ see Revelation 14:10; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 17:4. As a result she will become a widow in mourning, bemoaning her own fate.

‘For she says in her heart, I sit as a queen and am no widow.’ Had she been a widow she would have had to go in mourning and deny herself the pleasures she longed for, but she rejects such a position and justifies her search for luxurious living by claiming royal rights. Compare what Isaiah said of Babylon, ‘you said, I shall be a lady for ever, so that you did not lay these things to heart, nor did you remember their latter end’ (Isaiah 47:7). In both cases they failed to recognise what their true position was.


Verse 8

‘Therefore in one day will her plagues come, death and mourning and famine, and she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judged her.’

This came upon Rome even though by that time it called itself a ‘Christian’ city. But it was still a cesspool of sin and its nature essentially Godless. It was only changed outwardly, not inwardly. Sin, whether in individuals or in great cities, will receive its inevitable consequence, and that consequence often comes suddenly. For however great the propagators of sin, the Lord God is greater.

Isaiah also declared that Babylon’s destruction would come ‘in one day’ (Isaiah 47:9). The description is typical of a besieged city, and the fate typical of ‘great cities’ through the ages - death, mourning, famine, then utterly burned with fire (compare ‘the smoke of her burning’ (v. 9; v. 18)). While we may tend to feel ourselves beyond it, it has even happened to great cities in our own day. Man can ever surprise us with his propensity for evil.

It is important to recognise, as you read this chapter through, that what is rejoiced over is the end of Great Babylon and what it represented. The people are in the background.


Verse 9-10

‘And the kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived wantonly with her, will weep and wail over her when they look on the smoke of her burning, standing far off for fear of her torment, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city Babylon, the strong city. For in one hour is your judgment come”.’

The picture is of men who have made use of a prostitute. But when she is in trouble they do not want to know. In mind, however, as subsequent verses also reveal, is what they have gained from her. They have benefited greatly at her hands, but they will not intervene to help her. Their regret is not in what has happened to Babylon but in what they have lost through her demise. They had received much at her hands, but now they stand afar off and watch her burn. They do not want to be involved.

‘Woe, woe’. Here there are the first two woes (Revelation 11:14 on), the third woe is the final day of judgment, but this is prior to that. The second woe was directly connected with the Euphrates as Babylon also was.

‘In one hour’. The ten kings were given ‘one hour’ in which to reign (Revelation 17:12). This is part of the consequence of their hour. It is again stressed that retribution comes suddenly. It is clear that there is a difference of opinion between the kings of the earth and the ten kings about the destruction of Babylon but they all stand by and let it happen.


Verses 9-19

Lamentation over Babylon the Great by the Self-Seekers (Revelation 18:9-19).

We have witnessed the fall of Babylon the Great, now we witness the ‘grief’ of her ‘friends’. The kings, the merchants and the ship-owners all weep over her, but their main concern is how it will affect them. The reader is aware of the irony. Did they but know it they are nearer the final day of judgment than they realise.


Verses 11-13

. ‘And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, for no man buys their merchandise any more.’

They weep not for her but for themselves. Their means of profit has gone. Then are outlined in great detail the merchandise in question to bring out both her luxurious living and the loss to the merchants. At first they seem fairly innocent, but they are luxuries traded in a world of poverty, and significantly the list ends with trade in armaments, and trade in slaves and the lives of men. These merchants are not too particular in what they trade. Many great companies today are equally not particular. Yet they should remember that these merchants will shortly themselves face the judgment day of God, and that these merchants could be themselves.


Verse 14

‘And the fruits which your soul lusted after are gone from you, and all things that are dainty and sumptuous are perished from you, and men shall find them no more at all.’

The woman is in direct contrast with the bride of Christ in chapter 19. The bride is clothed in the righteous living of the people of God. This woman is clothed in luxury and evil. But now she will be stripped naked. As Jesus said, ‘do not labour for the food that perishes but for that which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you’ (John 6:27).


Verses 15-17

‘The merchants of these things who were made rich by her will stand far off for fear of her torments, weeping and mourning, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city. She who was arrayed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stone and pearl. For in one hour so great riches are made desolate.’

As they consider the woman they see her as she was in her splendour, and they mourn because they can no longer provide her with such things at great profit to themselves. But this also reminds the reader how temporary such things are. The two woes again remind us of the fifth and sixth trumpets.


Verses 17-19

‘And every ship’s captain, and everyone who sails anywhere, and seamen, and as many as gain their living by the sea, stood afar off, and cried out as they looked on the smoke of her burning, saying, “What city is like the great city?” And they threw dust on their heads and cried, weeping and mourning, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city by means of whom were made rich all who had their ships in the sea as a result of her extravagance, for in one hour is she made desolate”.’

Here it those who benefited by her extravagance as seagoers who are now brought to the fore. In all these descriptions John is brilliantly bringing out two things. The fact that the woman lived so wantonly and in such luxury and godlessness, and has now been made desolate, and the total self-seeking of those who mourn her passing. We do not know which is worse. Here are men’s souls laid bare. This is the third repetition of the two woes which emphasises that they are to be seen as significant. We are intended to recognise that the third woe is just ahead, and it will encompass all who mourn here. (For such a scene compare Ezekiel 27:29-30 spoken of the destruction of Tyre).

We note that there was no hint by the seafarers of criticism for the extravagance and behaviour of the city. Their concern is that it will affect the wealth of shipowners. The world is ever concerned about its wealth, not for what good they can do with it, but so that they may satisfy their own greed.

‘They stood afar off.’ They have left their ships to come and survey the city but they do not want to become involved. They watch the smoke of its burning from afar. Then they will leave shortly to turn their attention to trade elsewhere. Again it is emphasised how quickly her end had come. She had seemed so permanent that nothing could touch her, but as Nineveh, Babylon, Rome, Constantinople and many others discovered, in the end nothing is impregnable.

An interesting feature of these verses is in the tenses. The kings ‘willweep and wail over her’ (future tense - v. 9), the merchants ‘areweeping and wailing over her’ (present tense - v. 11) and the seafarers ‘cried, weeping and wailing’ (past tense) . It is as though we see the scene being enacted and moving on before our eyes.


Verse 20

The Verdict of Heaven (Revelation 18:20-24).

‘Rejoice over her, you Heaven, and you people of God (saints) and you Apostles and you prophets, for God has judged your judgment on her.’

The judgment is not that of the people of God but by the Judge Himself (v. 11). Here the heavenly beings and the Old Testament prophets and the apostles and all the people of God join together in rejoicing. They accept His judgment as righteous for she has been guilty of wholesale murder, especially of God’s people (v. 24). There comes a time when mercy rejected is superseded by judgment, something that He alone can decide, and recognising that this is the case here they are told to rejoice that the murderers of the people of God are no more, and that justice has been done. It would have been wrong for Christians to seek to exact vengeance themselves, but Satan did the work for them, and it is always right that Christians rejoice in what God allows (Revelation 17:17), whatever it may be, for they know that what He does is right.


Verse 21

‘And a strong angel took up a stone, as it were a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, “Thus with a mighty fall shall Babylon the great city be cast down and shall be found no more at all”.’

This is a further interesting example of how quickly the scene can move forwards and then backwards. We have seen the great city destroyed, now we see an angel forecasting its future destruction. We might have expected this to come earlier but John is not so much concerned with chronology as in painting each picture fully. The picture of the great stone crashing into the water symbolises the speed of Babylon’s destruction.

Compare with this scene how in Jeremiah 51:60-63 Jeremiah wrote about all the evil that would come on Babylon, and then gave it to Seraiah who was taken captive to Babylon with Zedekiah the king, and told him that when he had read it he should ‘bind a stone to it and cast it into the middle of the Euphrates, and you shall say, “Thus shall Babylon sink and shall not rise again because of the evil that I will bring on her”.’

So Babylon the Great is destroyed, none shall ever rise like her again. The earth is freed from her idolatry, uncleanness and occult practises. No great city will ever again dominate an empire. But only because the scarlet beast from the abyss has destroyed her in order to replace her with his own monotheistic religion inspired by Satan. The end will not be long.

Thus the building of a city (Genesis 4:17) and of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11) has been reversed, and as in the Garden of Eden we come back to a face to face confrontation between God and Satan with man caught in the middle.


Verse 22-23

‘And the sound (voice) of harpists and minstrels and flute-players and trumpeters will no more at all be heard in you, and no craftsman of whatever craft will be found any more at all in you, and the sound of the millstone will be heard no more at all in you, and the light of a lamp shall shine no more at all in you, and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in you, for your merchants were the princes of the earth, for with your sorcery were all the nations deceived.’

Some of these ideas come from Ezekiel 26:13 combined with Jeremiah 25:10. The idea is that normal life will have ceased. Instead of the joy of music there will be silence. Instead of the intricacies of the designer and craftsman there will be emptiness. Instead of honest toil there will be a void. Instead of light there will be darkness. Instead of the happy voices of bridegroom and bride there will be misery. It is possible that we are to see in the mention of bridegroom and bride a gentle pointer to the heavenly Bridegroom and His bride of the next chapter. In contrast with that joy, here there is only judgment. And why should all this be? Because she led astray the princes of the earth with her false religion and she deceived the nations with her occult practises.


Verse 24

‘And in her was found the blood of prophets and of the people of God (saints) and of all who have been slain on the earth.’

But she was also responsible for the martyrdom and murder of the countless millions who have died by violence through the ages. This could not be said individually of Babylon or of Rome, for neither could take the blame for all, and the great city Jerusalem had to bear the blame for some (Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:50). Thus this condemnation can only be seen as applying to the great cities of the earth as a whole, whose influence was responsible for such atrocities. This confirms what we have seen, that the idea of Babylon the Great includes all cities who through her influence and example control empires and nations in a Godless fashion, wherever they may be. It is this control that will be taken over by the scarlet beast and Satan himself. This whole description of the destruction of Babylon the Great, as with so much in Revelation, is to be an encouragement to the church as it faces persecution.

So we see here a reversal of Genesis 1-11. In Genesis 1-11 we have creation, Paradise, the intervention and success of Satan, the building of a city and the establishment of Babel, in Revelation we have the destruction of Babel, the intervention and defeat of Satan, the heavenly Paradise and the new creation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 18:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/revelation-18.html. 2013.

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