Chapter Ten - Babylon the Great (17:1-18:24)

 

1. INTRODUCTION TO REVELATION 17-18

John sees more concerning Babylon as his vision continues. In this section John begins to trace the development of a system that is called "Babylon" (17:5). Several things need to be kept in mind in the study of Revelation 17 to 18.

1.1. Revelation 17 and 18 are Not Chronological

The prophecies John is recording should not be understood as being chronological. What is revealed here does not necessarily imply that it follows the series of "bowl" judgments that have just been revealed. Revelation 17 and 18 are in the part of Revelation where John is prophesying "again" (cf. 10:11), is emphasizing "peoples and nations and tongues and kings." John focuses here on something that he calls "Babylon," which at one point in time represented a great nation that existed in the ancient world.

1.2. Not a Revival of Ancient Babylon

John is not picturing a revival of ancient Babylon. For Babylon to be resurrected as a nation during the Tribulation would violate the succession of Gentile kingdoms that was predicted in Daniel 2:36-45 and 7:1-14, a succession of:

  1. Babylon;

  2. Medo-Persia;

  3. Greece;

  4. Rome;

  5. Revival of ancient Roman Empire in ten nations form; and

  6. Christ's kingdom.

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SUCCESSION OF GENTILE KINGDOMS (DANIEL 2:36-45 AND 7:1-14)

John is not predicting a resurrected Babylon, but is picturing the final form of Gentile world authority that will exist during the Tribulation period as being characterized by the term "Babylon." In other words, John is saying that the final system existing in the Tribulation has some of the features that earlier were connected with the ancient civilization that existed in the Tigris-Euphrates valley.

1.3. Babylon Pictures as Apostate Religious System (Revelation 17) and Commercial System (Revelation 18)

Chapter 17 represents an apostate religious system that will be in place beginning in the early days of the Tribulation. It will become a worldwide apostate church that will exist following the rapture of the true body of Jesus Christ, the true church. This "Babylon" will be destroyed at the midpoint of the Tribulation, when the world dictator (i.e., the first beast or Antichrist) sets himself up as God and demands that the world worship him (2 Thessalonians 2:4). His right-hand man, the False Prophet (i.e., the second beast), will require everyone to receive his mark and the world's economy will be affected (cf. 13:16-17). Chapter 18 pictures this commercial "Babylon," which will exist during the last half of the Tribulation, as well as its final destruction.

 

2. THE JUDGMENT OF RELIGIOUS BABYLON (17:1-18)

2.1. The Description of Religious Babylon (17:1-6a)

Verse 17:1

And one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here, I shall show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters,

"One of the seven angels" who had been involved in the pouring out of the bowls came to John and informed him that he would next see a judgment that would fall on "the great harlot who sits on many waters."

The noun "harlot" (Greek: πόρνης, transliteration: pornēs) could refer to physical unfaithfulness to marital partner or spiritual unfaithfulness to God. In prophetic vocabulary, prostitution or adultery is equivalent to idolatry or religious apostasy (Isaiah 1:21; 23:15-17; Jeremiah 2:20-31; 3:8-9; 13:27; Ezekiel 16:17-19; Hosea 2:5; Nahum 3:4).

The concept of spiritual unfaithfulness is frequently used in describing the apostasy of Israel (Ezekiel 16:1-43; 23:1-49; Hosea 2:5). Characteristically, the Lord of the Old Testament is the husband of Israel (cf. Isaiah 54:1-8; Jeremiah 3:14; 31:32). In the New Testament, the church is viewed as a virgin destined to be joined to her husband (i.e., Christ) in the future (2 Corinthians 11:2), but she is warned against unfaithfulness (James 4:4).

It was mentioned in Revelation 14:4 that the 144,000 had "not been defiled with women, for they are virgins" which was understood to mean that they had not become involved in any way with the apostate religious system of the beast. They had remained faithful to God in spite of great persecution at the hands of the world dictator. So, "the harlot" is describing an unfaithful religious system which rejects the Lord Jesus Christ as her husband (cf. 2 Peter 2:1-2) that will exist after the rapture of the church.

The adjective "great" (Greek: μεγάλης, transliteration: megalēs) refers to the harlot system which will reach its zenith after rapture of the church. The prostitute exists today in many forms, including unfaithful Roman Catholic priests, liberal Protestant sects, the cults, etc., but after the true church is raptured, or perhaps even before it is raptured, they will unite and become one great ecumenical religious system.

The verb "sits" (Greek: καθημένης, transliteration: kathēmenēs) means to be seated or enthroned. It suggests the concept of control as well as unification. The noun "waters" (Greek: ὑδάτων, transliteration: hydatōn) is plural.  It is connected with Revelation 17:15, which states, "the waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues." It refers to the nations and the many people of those nations. Therefore, the phrase "who sits on many waters" refers to world-wide unification and control of many nations and peoples. The nations are religiously united and politically affiliated with each other through the power and control of this religious system and its head. When the church is raptured, the apostate system which will already have spread its tentacles all over the world, will quickly unite and become the one-world church. 

Verse 17:2a

with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality,

It is stated further that this harlot has been involved in immorality with "the kings of the earth," reveals that the scope of the harlot’s influence will be immense. Those at the highest levels of power and influence will commit spiritual fornication with her.

The phrase "committed acts of immorality" describes the harlot’s interaction with the political leaders, they have submitted to her, and she has led them down a path of unfaithfulness to God.

Verse 17:2b

and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality."

The phrase "those who dwell on the earth" is a technical term for unbelievers (3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6; 17:8). The unbelievers "were made drunk with the wine of her immorality."

The noun "wine" (Greek: οἴνου, transliteration: oinou) means furious potion, it is a symbol of the demonic doctrines produced by this religious/political alliance.

The verb "drunk" (Greek: ἐμεθύσθησαν, transliteration: emethysthēsan) means intoxicated, it is an escape mechanism and the result of negative volition, indifference, apathy, and rejection of God's revelation to men in the Bible and Christ.

The alliance of the apostate church (i.e., the harlot) with the political powers of the world during this future period of time not only debauches the true spiritual character of the church and compromises her testimony in every way but has the devastating effect of inducing religious drunkenness on the inhabitants of the earth. False religion is always the worst enemy of true religion. The hardest to win to Christ and the most difficult to instruct in spiritual truth are those who have previously embraced false religion with its outward show of a worship of God.

Verse 17:3

And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns.

"And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness," the angelic guide removed John's spirit to a different vantage point to give him a perspective of the harlot while his body was still staying at the island of Patmos. This is the third of four uses of "in the Spirit." In the other three, John finds himself on earth (1:10), in heaven (4:1), and on a mountain top (21:10).

This time the angel takes him into a "wilderness" which is a place of solitary wasteland. This wilderness alludes to Isaiah’s oracle concerning the wilderness (Isaiah 21:1) which includes the prophecy "fallen, fallen is Babylon" (cf. Jeremiah 51:8; Revelation 14:8; 18:2). It may anticipate the harlot’s solitary condition in the end (17:16). It is designed to picture the world which the woman and beast will rule. It will be full of cities and peoples, but it will be a spiritual desert. There will be no true spiritual food or water from this empty religious system.

From his new perspective, John saw "a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns." There clearly is a connection here with the beast, the rising world dictator (i.e., Antichrist) mentioned in 13:1-8, something also confirmed by the explanation of the angel in 17:7-15.

The fact that this "woman sitting" on the beast demonstrates that she is exerting control over him. It pictures the influence of the religious power over the secular leader. Throughout the first half of the Tribulation, apparently the worldwide apostate church and the rising political leader will work together as each seeks to advance its own cause. The world dictator will accept the support given to him by the apostate church, and the apostate church will use his political system to spread her false teachings.

The beast’s "scarlet" matches part of the woman’s clothing (17:4). The color symbolized luxury and splendor (cf. Numbers 4:8; 2 Samuel 1:24; Jeremiah 4:30; Matthew 27:28-29; Revelation 18:12, 16). But scarlet is also the color of sin (Isaiah 1:18) and contrasts with the whiteness of righteousness and purity. The beast is "scarlet" because he is blood-thirsty and will at the right time kill the woman (i.e., the apostate church).

The "blasphemous names" were on the seven heads in Revelation 13:1, but here they cover the beast’s whole body. In its ultimate form the blasphemous names on the beast refer to the self-deification of the Antichrist and his demands that his subjects worship him (cf. Daniel 7:25; 11:36; 2 Thessalonians 2:4).

As suggested at Revelation 13:1, the "seven heads" of the beast are seven consecutive world kingdoms throughout history, and the "ten horns" represent ten kings (17:12), who will rule as subordinates to the Antichrist (17:13).

The harlot’s alliances will be comprehensive, from kings to common people, all will worship and submit to her religion. The apostate church and nations will be united as never before in human history. She controls them, but she also is dependent on them as the friction between the two later in chapter 17 will show (17:16).

Verse 17:4

And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality,

The woman is described as "clothed in purple and scarlet and adorned with gold, precious stones and pearls."

"Purple and scarlet" have for centuries been the colours of royalty and of the wealthy. The former color denoted royalty and the latter luxury and splendor as outlined above in connection with the color of the beast. "Purple and scarlet" are the two colors used to describe the robe they tauntingly put on Christ (Matthew 27:28).

The "gold, precious stones and pearls" refer to her immense wealth. Her appearance was like the greatest queen in order to impress and attract her paramours. This flashy adornment may have recalled to John the finery of the temple prostitutes in Asia Minor, though prostitutes of all times and in all places adopt this kind of appearance (cf. Jeremiah 4:30).

"Having a golden cup" refers to her enticing manner of alluring men and nations. She invites men to drink of her deadly and stupefying wine by offering it in a golden cup, while arrayed in all her splendor. Jeremiah used a golden cup to picture the degrading influence Babylon on those around her (Jeremiah 51:7). All of this - the gold and religious trappings - appeals to the sensual, material and religious bent of man's sinful nature.

"Abominations" was a characteristic term for idols in the Old Testament, where it denotes ceremonial and moral impurity, but especially idolatrous rites (cf. Deuteronomy 29:17; 32:16; 1 Kings 14:24; 2 Kings 16:3; 21:2; 23:24; Ezekiel 8:6, 9, 13, 15, 17; 11:18; 14:6; 16:2; 20:7, 8). These are blasphemous activities that God detests, and the harlot’s cup is full of them!

"Unclean things of her immorality" refers not only to the nature of the doctrines taught, but what they lead to in the life, immorality and impurity. In the New Testament, it has associations with idolatry (2 Corinthians 6:17) and perhaps cult prostitution (Ephesians 5:5). So the harlot thrives on spreading her filthy vices and corruptions by allowing earth’s inhabitants to drink from her beautiful, but contaminated cup.

This appears to represent the worldwide apostate church that will come into existence some time after the rapture of the body of Christ. This religious body will promote the cause of world peace and support the world dictator, who appears to be a man of peace (cf. Revelation 6:1-2), when he rises to power. The apostate church will influence the other kings of the world to give their support to the rising "Antichrist," and he will go along with her throughout his rise to power. Of course, the way men view this religious system is that it is a thing of beauty, for it is adorned with costly stones and garments. God's opinion of this whole mockery is that it is a harlot, or that which is spiritually unfaithful to Him. The picture of this false church is contrasted with the true bride of Christ when she appears with Him in His return, for it is said that she is clothed in "fine linen, bright and clean" (cf. 19:8).

Verse 17:5

and upon her forehead a name was written, a mystery, "Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth."

It was customary in John's day for Roman prostitutes to write their names on their foreheads for easy recognition, the Babylon harlot also had "a name written on her forehead," which showed the shamelessness of their character. It revealed a seared conscience from continual rejection of God's truth.

The noun "mystery" here is a description of the name "Babylon the Great." The standard sense of "mystery" in the New Testament is to denote a secret formerly hidden but now revealed, especially God’s plan for world redemption (cf. Mark 4:11; Romans 16:25-26; Ephesians 3:3-6, 9; Colossians 1:26-27; Revelation 10:7). But it can also mean something puzzling or enigmatic, a symbol that needs interpretation to be understood completely (cf. Daniel 2:18-47; 2 Thessalonians 2:7; Revelation 1:20). The content of the "mystery" about this Babylonian system has the following suggestions:

  1. It has never been revealed in the New Testament before that there would be a church who would be unfaithful to God and actually support Satan's man in his rise to world power.

  2. It refers to the ironic or unexpected way in which the kingdom of evil will be defeated: that kingdom will turn against itself and start to self-destruct even before Christ returns (17:7-18). The political side of the evil system (i.e., the beast) will turn against the religious side (i.e., the harlot) and destroy it.

The name "Babylon the Great" assigned to this woman is not a reference to Babylon as a city or nation but a religious designation. This designation is full of biblical revelation that begins in Genesis 10 where mention is made of a descendant of Noah named Nimrod who began a kingdom that was known as Babel (Genesis 10:9-10). Nimrod's city contained a tower, made of huge mounds (ziggurats) of sun-dried bricks that became a temple, or a rallying center, symbolizing man's pride and rebellion against God. Towers of similar construction were built among all the scattering people groups and they became religious centers that honored local deities.

THE TOWER OF BABEL

According to tradition, Nimrod's wife Semiramis gave birth to a miracle child, Tammaz. According to Semiramis, the child was conceived miraculously, by a sunbeam, rather than through sexual intercourse. The child was thought by some to be the fulfillment of the promised seed that was to be born to the woman (Genesis 3:15). Semiramis was recognized as the head priestess of a religious system that introduced a number of "mysterious" teachings. This was the beginning of what came to be known as the "mother-child" cult. This cult became a problem to the nation of Israel and was one of the reasons for the downfall of the northern kingdom. Ezekiel observed women weeping for Tammuz in the gate of the Lord's house (Ezekiel 8:14), and Jeremiah mentions indiscretions connected with the "queen of heaven" (Jeremiah 7:18; 44:17-19, 25).

SEMIRAMIS, TAMMUZ, NIMROD

This ancient form of mother-child worship began at the ancient city of Babel. When the Babylonian kingdom fell, this mystery religion migrated westward and settled in the town of Pergamum (cf. Revelation 2:12-17). Later on, it moved to the capital of the Roman Empire. There it thrived until the fourth century, when Emperor Constantine the Great became a Christian and declared that the whole kingdom was to follow the Christian religion. If a culture has a religious system characterized by the statue of a seated woman who is holding a child on her lap, it would not be difficult to change the names on the statue's pedestal to "Mary-Jesus," and still continue on with the same religious practices as before. Such deception is exactly what the apostate church in the Tribulation will follow. It is not a true church, for it does not faithfully follow the living God. Rather, it is a Babylon, a professed church, that actually gives its support to Satan's man.

This worldwide apostate church will be "the mother of harlots," implying that this religious system of the Tribulation will bring together a number of groups to form this worldwide church. Each of them is actually a "harlot" in the eyes of God, for none of them are true followers of Him. There will be a number of religious bodies that will apparently resolve their differences in order to band together for the better good.

This apostate church is also described as "the abominations of the earth," meaning that she aggressively promotes her vice and corruption so that her idolatrous and immoral lineage is reproduced throughout the world.

Verse 17:6a

And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.

The vision of being "drunk with the blood of the saints" describes an excessive indulgence in persecution and execution of those who refuse to submit to the worldwide apostate church. While it appears that everything is moving forward for the apostate church during the Tribulation, John is shown that not everyone in the world will be brought under the sway of her apostasy. While the apostate church of the Tribulation appears to be a peace-loving group, she will be very intolerant of those who refuse to accept her teachings. One good way to promote the apostate church will simply be the annihilation of all opposition.

Multitudes of people will come to saving faith in Jesus Christ after the Rapture of the church and in early days of the Tribulation, but many of them will be martyred when they refuse to follow the dictates of the apostate church. This revelation fits with previous pictures of saints who have been martyred for "the witnesses of Jesus" and who have come out of Great Tribulation (cf. 6:9-11; 7:9-14; 13:7).

2.2. The Description of the Beast (17:6b-14)

2.2.1. John's wonderment

Verse 17:6b

And when I saw her, I wondered with great wonder.

As a result of the vision of the great harlot, John "wondered with great wonder" (Greek: ἐθαύμασα ... θαῦμα μέγα, transliteration: ethaumasa ... thauma mega). The cognate construction is literally, "I wondered a wonder." With the addition of "great," an already emphatic statement attains greater strength. It reflects his shock, fear, and surprise all at the same time. The reason for his great amazement is unstated. There are two possible reasons:

  1. When he was taken to the desert John had expected to see the judgment of the harlot (17:1) and her downfall, but up to this point he only sees her blaspheming God and murdering God’s people, she appears triumphant.

  2. He understood that the great harlot represented a false religious system, and that the beast was the Antichrist (cf. 17:3; 13:1). What he did not understand was the connection between the two figures. It had been revealed to John in a previous vision that the whole world would worship Antichrist (13:4, 8, 12). That may have been what raised the question in John’s mind as to how the great harlot fits into the picture, particularly how it is that the beast carries her.

2.2.2. The answer and promise of the angel

Verse 17:7

And the angel said to me, "Why do you wonder? I shall tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.

Up to this point in God's revelations to him, John had not been given any explanations concerning this adulterous woman called "Babylon," who he had seen riding on the back of a horrible beast.

"And the angel said to me, why do you wonder?" Seeing his astonishment, the angel asks him rhetorically the reason for his reaction.

"I shall tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her…" The angel, perceiving that John "wonders" at what he sees, states that he will declare the mystery of the woman and of the beast. He does so, however, by describing the beast first in detail, then the woman and subsequent action relating to her.

2.2.3. The description

This is the same beast as described in Revelation 13:1-8. Actually, seven things are stated about this beast beginning with verse 8 and continuing down through verse 14.

Verse 17:8

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come.

The phrase "the beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perditiondescribes the first beast (i.e., the Antichrist) and his political system in terms of the past, present and future. There are two possible interpretations, including:

  1. the beast's death and resurrection (Individual Sense); and

  2. the fall and revival of Roman Empire (Corporate Sense).

2.2.3.1. The beast's death and resurrection (Individual Sense)

The description of the beast as the one who "was, and is not" ties him to the beast with the death-wound who was healed (13:3, 12, 14).

The verb "was" (Greek: ἦν, transliteration: ēn) is imperfect tense, therefore the beast existed in the past. It refers to his first coming as a peace maker at the beginning of the Tribulation (cf. 6:2).

The verb "is" (Greek: ἔστι, transliteration: esti) is present tense, therefore the words "is not" indicates that the beast does not, at the time John is writing, exist in the living world. It refers to the disappearance of the beast from the world scene due to his sudden death at the midpoint of the Tribulation (cf. 13:3, 12, 14).

The verb "will" (Greek: μέλλει, transliteration: mellei) means to occur soon in the future, therefore the words "will ascend" indicates that the beast will come to life again (cf. 13:14). He appears in 13:3 as one with a mortal wound, whose deathblow had been healed (13:3, 12).

The phrase "out of the bottomless pit" means that the beast will come back in a demonic rather than a purely human form. This explains why the bottomless pit, the abode of demons (Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:1, 2, 11; 11:7), is his origin. He will reappear as an eighth king (17:11).

The phrase "go to perdition" refers to his future assignment to the lake of fire (19:20). He will depart only after he has deceived everyone but the elect (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22). His destiny will be eternal separation from God rather than an everlasting fellowship with God.

Both there and here the earth-dwellers express "wonder" (cf. 13:3) due to his miraculous recovery from his death-wound convince them of his invulnerability.

2.2.3.2. The fall and revival of Roman Empire (Corporate Sense)

The beast is the personification of the final form of Gentile world power, which in John's day was the Roman Empire.

The verb "was" refers to old Rome, the old Roman Empire of John's day, this is her past.

The words "is not" refer to the fall of Rome. From John's standpoint and ours, Rome would fall and pass from the scene, this is her present condition. That system of government appeared to go out of existence with the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476, but the authority of Rome was actually dispersed into many nations (i.e., the ten toes in Daniel 2:41-42 and the ten horns in Revelation 13:1; 17:7) and will rise again.

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THE OLD ROMAN EMPIRE

The words "will ascend" refer to the revived Roman Empire in its final form (European Union?) in the days of the Tribulation, this is her future. The true source of the power behind that resurrection is seen as being Satanic, for John was told that "the beast...will ascend out of the bottomless pit" or "the Abyss" (cf. 9:1-11).

THE EUROPEAN UNION

The angel's revelation provides the complete history of this final form of Gentile power when he notes that it will "go to perdition" (cf. 19:20; 20:10). During the Tribulation, the nations will see the rise of this final Gentile world leader as "wonder" (cf. 13:3-4, 8), and the whole world will follow after the beast. That a form of government could exist for a period of time, go out of existence for an extended period of time, and then be restored in all of its power is beyond human comprehension. However, those who come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ following the rapture of the church will not be swayed into following the beast. They will not be deceived, nor will they submit to his authority (cf. 13:7), which will result in the martyrdom of multitudes (cf. 7:9-17).

Verse 17:8b

And those who dwell on the earth...whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world...

"Those who dwell on the earth" will not be able to withstand deception by the beast because their "name has not been written in the book of life." The same reason for worship of and deception by the beast is given in 13:8. Being "written in the book of life" is a metaphor referring elsewhere to believers, whose salvific life has been secured, or, with the negative, to unbelievers, who do not have such security (cf. Psalms 69:28; Daniel 7:10; 12:1; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 20:12; 21:27).

The phrase "from the foundation of the world" means that this security or lack thereof was determined before historical time began (cf. 13:8). Protection for those written in the book of life comes from the Lamb (13:8; 21:27). The Lamb both gives life and has sovereignty over who receives life and who does not. Here the stress is on those who will not receive the salvific protection of the book.

Verse 17:9a

"Here is the mind which has wisdom.

The angel’s statement "here is the mind which has wisdom" invites John and his readers to pay close attention to what follows. This unusual expression introduces a difficult and complex aspect of this vision. As in 13:18, the astounding nature of the beast and the events precipitated by his coming demand much wisdom and spiritual insight to understand it, a fact often stressed in apocalyptic texts (Daniel 1:4, 17; 9:22; 11:33; 12:10). Perhaps only those alive at the time will fully comprehend it.

Verse 17:9b

The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits,

The angel then goes on to interpret further details regarding the beast in order to give John the understanding he lacks. The first aspect of the vision that needs to be understood is that the "seven heads" of the beast (17:3) are "seven mountains or hills on which the woman sits."

Mountains symbolize kingdoms in the Old Testament (Isaiah 2:2; Jeremiah 51:25; Ezekiel 35:3; Daniel 2:35, 45; Zechariah 4:7). In Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, that the stone that struck the image in the feet became "a great mountain" that "filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:35, 44-45). That "great mountain" was a picture of Messiah's kingdom and this, as well as the "seven mountains," is best understood as representing seven kingdoms. There are two symbolic meanings here:

  1. geographical; and

  2. political.

The geographical meaning is that what sitting on "seven mountains" indicates that the woman is associated with Rome, widely known in the ancient world as "the city of seven hills" (e.g., Virgil, Aeneid 6.782-83; Georgics 2.535; Martial, Epigrams 6.64), thus connecting the final worldwide apostate church with Rome. In other words, Rome will be the headquarter of the apostate church.

The Roman emperor Vespasian (AD 69-79) issued this coin that depicted the goddess Roma seated on the "seven hills" of Rome.

The political meaning is that the seven heads of the beast are "seven mountains" which, as we saw in the study on chapter 13, refer to seven successive world kingdoms represented by seven kings (cf. Revelation 17:10a) all of whom supported the religious system of the harlot.

Verse 17:10

and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while.

John receives an explanation as to the Gentile world power who will be prominent during the Tribulation. The angel shows John that this final power is really just a continuation of the same powers that have been in existence throughout history.

The "seven mountains" could refer to seven individual "kings" or seven "kingdoms." This is confirmed by the fact that they are also said to be "seven kings" (17:10a), with the king representing the kingdom as Nebuchadnezzar did for Babylon (Daniel 2:37-43). For the interchangeability of "kings" and "kingdoms," please see Daniel 7:17, 23. But what kingdoms are in view?

The "statute" of Daniel 2 provides useful information about the Gentile world powers. The golden head of the "statute" was Nebuchadnezzar’s great Babylonian kingdom (Daniel 2:37-38); the silver breast and arms were the Medo-Persian kingdom which displaced Babylon (Daniel 2:39; 5:28; 8:20); the brass belly and thighs represented the Grecian kingdom which superseded Persia (Daniel 2:39; 8:21). Following the same progression, the legs of iron clearly represented the great Roman Empire which would conquer Greece and most of the known western world (Daniel 2:40).

THE STATUE OF DANIEL 2:32-45 AND VISION OF DANIEL 7:5

The key to understanding the succession of Gentile world powers is to note that in the interpretation given by the angel it is said that "five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come."

The verb "is" (Greek: ἔστιν, transliteration: estin) is present tense, therefore the words "one is" refer to the kingdom during John's life-time. The prominent one, the persecutor of God’s people, in John’s day that "is" was certainly the Roman Empire.

The verb "fallen" (Greek: ἔπεσαν, transliteration: epesan) is aorist tense, therefore the words "five have fallen" refer to the past five kingdoms preceding John’s day.

If the Roman Empire is confirmed as the sixth kingdom, it is possible to identify five preceding Gentile nations who previously had an impact on the nation of Israel. In fact, in Daniel's prophecies it is possible to see all five Gentile kingdoms because three of those five kingdoms are mentioned by name, including:

  1. Babylon (Daniel 5:30);

  2. Medo-Persia (Daniel 5:28; 8:20; 11:2); and

  3. Greece (Daniel 8:21; 11:2-4).

Since Rome is kingdom six, Greece would be five, Medo-Persia would be four and Babylon would be three. But that still leaves two Gentiles kingdoms unaccounted for. Recalling the vision of Medo-Persia in Daniel 7:5, the bear had "three ribs" were in its mouth between its teeth. With that identification in mind, the "three ribs" stood for the three previous Gentile world kingdoms replaced by the Medo-Persian kingdom, that is, the Babylonian, the Assyrian and the Egyptian. This would fit perfectly with the interpretation of the angel, for Assyria would then be kingdom two and Egypt would be one.

In summary, "five have fallen" refers to the following five Gentile kingdoms, preceding to the Roman Empire, who have persecuted God’s people:

  1. Egypt (Ezekiel 29:1-30:26);

  2. Assyria (Nahum 3:1-19);

  3. Babylon (Isaiah 21:9; Jeremiah 50:1-51:64; Daniel 2:37-38; 5:30);

  4. Medo-Persia (Daniel 2:39; 5:28; 8:20; 11:2); and

  5. Greece (Daniel 2:39; 8:21; 11:3-4).

The phrase "the other has not yet come" refers to the kingdom after John’s day, that is, the seventh kingdom, which will be the revived Roman Empire or the Ten Nation Confederation at the first half of the Tribulation (Daniel 2:40-43; 7:7, 20, 24; Revelation 13:1; 17:3, 7, 12, 16).

This seventh kingdom will continue only for "a little while" indicates that its time will be shorter than the six previous kingdoms. The future leader (i.e., the Antichrist) and his kingdom will have a short life, specifically, three and a half year years, the second half of the Tribulation.

Verse 17:11

"And the beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth, and is one of the seven, and he goes to perdition.

How can the beast (i.e., Antichrist) be an eighth king and also one of the seven? The answer lies in the phrase "the beast which was and is not."

The verb "was" refers to the beast's first coming as a peace maker at the beginning of the Tribulation (cf. 6:2). The beast is also the personification of the final form of Gentile world power, which in John's day was the Roman Empire.

The words "is not" refer to the disappearance of the beast from the world scene due to his sudden death at the midpoint of the Tribulation (cf. 13:3, 12, 14). The death of the beast is also the personification of the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476. From John's standpoint and ours, it appeared to go out of existence, this is her present condition.

The phrase "the beast ... is one of the seven" means the beast (i.e., Antichrist) will be one of the kings who will rise up from one of the Ten Nation Confederation (i.e., the ten toes in Daniel 2:41-42 and the ten horns in Revelation 13:1; 17:7, the seventh kingdom, the revived Roman Empire, the European Union?). In simple words, the Antichrist will be one of the leaders of the Ten Nation Confederation (i.e., the seventh kingdom, the revived Roman Empire) before his supposed demise and resurrection at the first half of the Tribulation. Evidently he is one of the seven in the sense that his first kingdom is on a par with the seven major kingdoms just mentioned.

The beast is himself "also an eighth." From the seventh kingdom, the "little horn" (i.e., the beast, Antichrist) will emerge, taking the place of three of the existing kings (Daniel 7:8, 23-24). After his mortal wound had been healed (13:3, 12, 14) and coming back from the bottomless pit (11:7), the beast will receive supernatural powers from Satan to replace three of the existing leaders of the Ten Nation Confederation, in order to take full control and become the head of the revived Roman Empire (Daniel 7:8, 23-24) at the midpoint of the Tribulation. The seventh kingdom will take on the form of an imperial dictatorship and by this political change actually become an eighth kingdom, which comprises the revived Roman Empire and other alliance nations, this is a whole new, huge, and vicious form of government at the last half of the Tribulation. This beast would actually become the dictator of the "eighth" kingdom. In other words, the beast’s kingdom before his revival as the seventh kingdom and his kingdom after these events as the eighth.

In summary, all the major Gentile world kingdoms which relate to the nation of Israel up to the second coming of Christ are as follows:

  1. Egypt;

  2. Assyria;

  3. Babylon;

  4. Medo-Persia;

  5. Greece;

  6. Rome;

  7. Revived Roman Empire (i.e., European Union?); and

  8. Antichrist’s imperial form of the revived Roman Empire and other alliance nations.

See the source image

THE SUCCESSION OF GENTILE WORLD POWERS (REVELATION 17:10-11)

"He goes to perdition.This occurs in the last half of the Tribulation and lasts for three and a half year years, and then the beast will be destroyed by the second coming of Christ (Daniel 7:25-27; Revelation 19:19-20).

Verse 17:12

"And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast.

Having interpreted the beast’s heads, the angel turns to the interpretation of the horns.

The "ten horns" of the beast (13:1) builds on Daniel 7:7-8, 20-25, where it depicts "ten kings" from the final Gentile kingdom, with the "little horn" (i.e., the beast in Revelation) arising from these "ten horns" (Daniel 7:8, 23-24).

The kingdom that is yet to come will be the ten-horned (Daniel 7:7, 20, 24; Revelation 13:1; 17:3, 7, 12, 16), or ten-toed (Daniel 2:40-43) stage that will develop. The "ten horns" become the Ten Nation Confederation of nations that will join together under "ten kings." These are nations which were once a part of the ancient Roman Empire. At the early time of the Tribulation, these European nations will begin seeking a way to confederate together for political, military, and commercial reasons. It is a confederation that will take place partly because of pressure from the kings of the north and east, and partly because of a world-wide conspiracy led by Satan in preparation for his end time bid to be worshipped by man and to control the world (Revelation 13:12-17). 

John expressly says that "the ten kings ... have not yet received royal power." There are two levels of meanings here:

  1. They are not yet "kings," they will receive their power when the beast appears. John is emphasizing that they belong to the future.

  2. It appears self-contradictory in meaning. Can you imagine a "king" who has no "royal power"? Is it ridiculous? It may be possible that John saw and describing in his own language, he would like to communicate with his readers that the "ten kings" are actually short-term political leaders of the ten nations, they may be called "chairman" or "president" or "prime minister" in our modern political terms for they do not have the royal power to reign permanently or lifelong as a "true" king. It indicates that we are now living in the generation which is very close to the second coming of Christ. 

The ten kings "receive authority as kings ... together with the beast" means that they will join in a confederacy under the leadership of the beast in the final Gentile world kingdom. Historically, the background of the "ten kings" is Rome’s practice of using "client kings" to rule the ten provinces that made up the Roman Empire (e.g., King Herod and his sons). Therefore, these "ten kings" represent the world’s rulers who will give their allegiance to the beast.

"For one hour" indicates a very short time, their duration of power is brief. The duration of their ruling will be three and a half years until their war with the the Lord Jesus Christ at His second coming (17:14; 19:11-21).

Verse 17:13

"These have one purpose and they give their power and authority to the beast.

During their brief reign, the ten kings will be unanimously devoted to the beast. The "one purpose" of them is to solve the world's ruling problems. They will submit to the beast’s leadership to achieve this end. Evidently the beast will have to put down three of them who revolt against him (Daniel 7:24; Revelation 12:3; 13:1; 17:3).

There is a phase of the transmission of power from the ten kings to the beast. The ten kings will give their "power and authority to the beast" thinking he can solve the world's problems and provide a leadership which the world needs against the threat of the kings of the north and east, extra-terrestrial invasion, and the Arab-Israel dispute. 

Verse 17:14

"These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful."

Verse 14 jumps ahead to the ultimate demise of this alliance when they turn their military efforts against Christ at the very end of the Tribulation. The goal of the beast and his followers will be to destroy the Lamb (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ) and those connected with Him. It appears that the whole world will follow the beast (i.e., Antichrist) and the harlot (i.e., worldwide apostate church) that will develop during the days following the rapture of the church. As supporters of the beast, they must "wage war with the Lamb" when He returns to earth (cf. Daniel 7:21; Revelation 17:14a). This is the same battle that (16:14, 16; 19:19-21) describes in its chronological setting in the prophecy.

But God promises that "the Lamb will overcome them" (19:11-21). As in 19:19-20, the impression is that the victory is virtually instantaneous. The language here is a deliberate reversal of Daniel 7:21, there the little horn (i.e., the beast) conquers the saints, while here the Lamb conquers the beast and his followers.

The reason for this final victory is that the Lamb, not the beast, is "Lord of lords and King of kings." The Roman emperor was called "king of kings" because he presided over the vassal kings of the empire. But his absolute reign was pretense in light of the absolute sovereignty of the Lamb, the true "Lord of lords." This title was normally used of God, as often in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalms 136:3; Daniel 2:47; 2 Maccabees 13:4), and New Testament (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 1:5; 17:14b; 19:16). This title marking the Lamb as supreme over all earthly power (19:16).

The Lamb will not be alone in His triumph. The army which are in heaven that return with the triumphant king, will consist of the "called and chosen and faithful" saints (Jude 1:14; Revelation 19:14). This agrees with the promise to the overcomers in Thyatira, that the saints will share in this victory (2:26). This is also a further vindication of the saints and an additional answer to their cry for vengeance in 6:9-11. God answered their prayer partially in the trumpets and bowls; now he responds further by allowing them to participate in the great victory over those who have martyred them.

The description of them as "called" (Greek: κλητοὶ, transliteration: klētoi, meaning: someone whose participation has been officially requested), and "chosen" (Greek: ἐκλεκτοὶ, transliteration: eklektoi, meaning: selected by someone in preference to others), and "faithful" (Greek: πιστοί, transliteration: pistoi, meaning: allegiance to someone) continues the theme of divine ownership and perseverance.

"Called" and "chosen" occur together in Matthew 22:14, where the Lord Jesus' statement is, "Many are called, but few are chosen." The idea of being God’s possession is seen in the "seal" of Revelation 7:2-4 and in their names "written in the book of life before the foundation of the world" in 21:27 (cf. 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15). The point is that they belong to God as His "chosen" ones. To be "chosen" by God is more than being "called" by Him. In order of time "called" comes first, but in order of moral significance "chosen" precedes "called." Not all who are "called" are "chosen," but all the "chosen" are first "called" (cf. 2 Peter 1:10).

"Faithful" indicates the fulfillment of the human response by this select group. The "faithfulness" of the saints climaxes the calling and election by God. The necessary response is seen in their remaining "faithful" to God in the midst of temptation and persecution, with Christ as "faithful witness" as their model (1:5; 3:14; 19:11) and their own "faithfulness" as the result (2:10; 17:14; cf. 13:10b; 14:12; 16:15). In other words, participation in the heavenly army demands lives of "faithfulness" to the "commands of God and the testimony of the Lord Jesus" (12:17; 14:12).

2.3. The Destruction of the Harlot (17:15-18)

At the beginning of the chapter, John had been summoned to witness "the judgment of the great harlot" (17:1); but thus far, John has learned more about the beast and his heads and horns (7:8-14) than about the woman. In this concluding section, John turns his attention to the woman and relates the means God uses to bring about her destruction.

2.3.1. The explanation of the waters

Verse 17:15

And he said to me, "The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.

The angel continues his interpretation by identifying the "waters" upon which the harlot sits as "peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues." By its own interpretation, the text tells us the waters are symbolic. In the Old Testament, "waters" is a common symbol for people (Psalms 18:4, 16; 124:4; Isaiah 8:7; Jeremiah 47:2; 51:13). This fourfold grouping stresses universality. It refers to the vast majority of the people of the earth.

As  mentioned earlier in 17:1, the verb "sits" (Greek: καθημένης, transliteration: kathēmenēs) means to be seated or enthroned. Therefore, the phrase "the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues" refers to the "harlot" controls the lifestyle of the mixed populations of the world through the false doctrines of her "apostate church."

2.3.2. The desolation of the harlot

Verse 17:16

"And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire.

Antichrist’s alliance with the worldwide apostate church will not last. Eventually the "ten horns" (i.e., the ten kings who rule under Antichrist) and the "beast" (i.e., Antichrist himself) "will hate the harlot." Having used the apostate church to help him gain control of the world, Antichrist will discard it.

The apostate church will not exist throughout the entire seven-year Tribulation period. The time of the event may be placed at the midpoint of the seven years of Daniel’s seventieth week (i.e., the Tribulation). During the first half of the seven years, apostate Christendom flowers and establishes its power over all the world. During this period, there is a measure of religious freedom as indicated by the fact that the Jews are allowed to rebuild their temple, worship, and renew their sacrifices (Daniel 9:27). All religions of the world, apart from the true faith in Christ, gather in one worldwide apostate church. However, with the beginning of the second half of the Tribulation, the ruler of the imperial form of the revived Roman Empire and other alliance nations, who is the political head of the world kingdom (i.e., the beast, the Antichrist), will rise to his ultimate power and proclaim himself dictator of the whole world. In this capacity, he no longer needs the help and power of the apostate church. At that time the false prophet will bring about the worship of the beast as God (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 13:4, 8, 12, 14-15). If the whole world is required to worship the beast, surely no other religious system will be tolerated.

The first act of hatred against the "harlot" will make her "desolate," that is, her wealth, buildings and properties will be confiscated, her leaders killed, and everything else destroyed. The verb "desolate" (Greek: ἠρημωμένην, transliteration: ērēmōmenēn) is perfect tense, therefore the harlot will be completely destroyed, and nothing will be left.

Then they will make her "naked," that is, expose her moral corruption to public view. She will lose her rich adornment (17:4) and former spiritual power over her lovers.

Following this, the ten horns and the beast "will eat her flesh." The figure recalls the eating of Jezebel’s flesh by dogs (1 Kings 21:23-24; 2 Kings 9:30-37). This is what wild beasts do to corpses, and so it became a vivid way of describing the utter destruction of the apostate church by Antichrist (cf. Psalms 27:2; Jeremiah 10:25; Micah 3:3; Zephaniah 3:3).

The apostate church’s ultimate fate at the hands of her former lovers is to be "burned up with fire." The wording of this destiny comes from a legal formula condemning those who had committed detestable fornications (cf. Leviticus 20:14; 21:9; Joshua 7:15, 25). These graphic words clearly picture the downfall of the apostate church of the future.

2.3.3. Fulfillment of God's purposes

Verse 17:17

"For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God should be fulfilled.

This vision shows that this destruction comes about because God "has put" in the hearts of these kings "to execute His purpose." The verb "has put" (Greek: ἔδωκεν, transliteration: edōken) is proleptic aorist tense, adopting a perspective after the predicted events take place, thus emphasizing the certainty of the future fulfillment. God has used the forces of evil for His own purposes before (cf. Judges 7:22; Jeremiah 25:9-14; Ezekiel 38:21; Zechariah 14:12-14; Revelation 16:13-14, 16).

The phrase "common purpose" refers to God gives them the agreement with one another is in "giving their kingdom to the beast." God’s words dictate that the kingdom of this world be under the control of the beast until the end of the Tribulation. The allied kings will submit to the beast’s leadership because this will help them achieve their goal of attaining universal power and resisting God. The ten kings and the beast are unconscious that they are carrying out God’s plan. They think they are fulfilling their own plans.

This unity of mind in joining with the beast will continue "until the words of God will be fulfilled." The "words of God" pertain to more than just the overthrow of the city. They are all the prophecies of last events until the overthrow of Antichrist. This statement recalls the words of the angel in 10:7 regarding the fulfillment of the mystery of God. The prophecies will reach their goal as God permits wickedness to continue until the cup of iniquity overflows. Here the unexpected aspect of the fulfillment is that the kingdom of evil unknowingly will begin to destroy itself by battling against itself and destroying its own religious and economic foundations. Only inspiration from God could cause them to commit such a shortsighted and foolish act. At the end of history God will cause "Satan to rise up against himself and be divided so that he cannot stand but will have an end" (Mark 3:26). 

2.3.4. Final identification of the woman

Verse 17:18

"And the woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth."

The angel states the identity of the woman riding on the beast "is the great city which reigns over the kings of the earth." Clearly this "great city" is Rome, the city that ruled over all the world in John’s day. There are many reasons for identifying the "great city" as Rome:

  1. Any first-century reader of John’s Apocalypse would have noted the reference to the seven hills, since almost every inhabitant of the Empire knew that Rome was the city of seven hills (17:9).

  2. The scarlet woman is the religious side of Rome. Geographically, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, that is Vatican, is located in Rome. The colour for bishops and other prelates is purple, for cardinals is scarlet. The Roman Catholic Church is incredible wealth. 

  3. When the true church is raptured to the Heaven, all professing Christians will be left behind on earth. Since the Roman Catholic Church is a universal church with worldwide influence power under the reign of a Pope, it is convenient for Satan to utilize the existing apostate Roman Catholic Church system to unite the other religious organizations, such as apostate Greek Orthodox Church, Protestant churches, Islam, Buddhism, New Age, etc., to form a united worldwide religious system. This final form of world religion will not even be Christian in name, and will actually be an atheistic, humanistic, satanic system which denies everything related to the true God.  

  4. The "great city" is obviously a reference to Babylon in its religious rather than its historical significance. The influence of Babylon on Roman Christianity was responsible for the assumption by Rome of political power, namely, the authority of the church over the state. Just as ancient Babylon conquered kings in a political way, so its religious counterpart would dominate political states during the period of Roman papal power.

2.3.5. Summary of these events

These events will be happened about the beginning of the Tribulation or Daniel's seventieth week. It will coincide with the events of Revelation 12 (when Satan is booted out of heaven) and with Ezekiel 38 and 39 (when Russia invasion Israel and is destroyed, assuming the king of the north is Russia). This will create the vacuum needed for world control.

Because of the treaty signed with Israel (Daniel 9:27) which allows them to have their temple and peace in Jerusalem, there will undoubtedly be a certain amount of religious freedom during the first three and half years of the Tribulation.

Before the commencement of the Tribulation, the true church will be raptured to the heaven, while false Christians and unbelievers will be left behind on the earth. In this connection, this will create the vacuum needed for a counterfeit religious system for those left behind. At the beginning of the first half of the Tribulation, a worldwide apostate church (i.e., the harlot, the woman) will be developed, its headquarters will be located in Rome. It will exercise great power in the world, even having an effect on the political arena, for it will support the world dictator (i.e., the beast, the Antichrist) in his rise to power.

There will be wide-spread preaching of the gospel, but genuine believers will be extremely persecuted (17:6). The reason for this is that other religious systems won't pose a threat to the harlot's system, they will all be eventually amalgamated, but genuine Christianity will not join their ranks and will pose a threat, they will therefore be persecuted.

At the midpoint of the Tribulation, the leader (i.e., the beast, the Antichrist) of the imperial form of the revived Roman Empire and other alliance nations will proclaim himself dictator of the world. He therefore destroys the worldwide apostate church. So, in the absence of the apostate church, he puts aside all deities in favour of worship of himself (Daniel 11:36-39; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 13:4, 8, 12, 14-15), it is called the "abomination of desolation" (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15).

After the disposal of Babylon in its religious form (i.e., the harlot, the worldwide apostate church) by its destruction at the hands of the beast, the prophetic revelation in chapter 18 then deals with Babylon as a commercial force also destined for destruction at a later date.

 

3. DESTRUCTION OF COMMERCIAL BABYLON (18:1-24)

The announcement of the destruction of "religious Babylon" (17:16-18) brings to a conclusion the revelation concerning the worldwide apostate church that will exist during the first half of the Tribulation period. But then, in chapter 18, additional revelation concerning a Babylon is given. John saw "another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority" (18:1). This angel does not come to duplicate the revelation that has already been given, but to present further information concerning the Babylon system that will be in effect during the last half of the Tribulation period.

While Babylon originally referred to an area near the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, the importance of Babylon here is not its location but the attitude that it demonstrates. The thing that characterized ancient Babylon was the idea of rebellion against the true God (cf. Genesis 10:9-10; 11:1-9). That attitude of rebellion against the living Lord is what is demonstrated both by the worldwide apostate church in the first half of the Tribulation period and the world dictator who becomes "commercial Babylon" during the second half.

The angel’s promise to reveal the punishment of the harlot in 17:1 is expanded in chapter 18 (cf. earlier allusions in 14:8; 16:19; 17:16), especially as it relates to her economic downfall. Babylon’s coming judgment means that believers must leave the city lest they share in the punishment she will soon receive (18:1-8). The funeral atmosphere takes center stage in 18:9-19, where we hear laments from three groups: kings, merchants, and mariners. Finally, in 18:20-19:5, Babylon’s doom is complete, and in contrast to the mourners, God’s people are called to rejoice that He has brought justice and vindicated His people.

3.1. The Announcement of Judgment (18:1-3)

Verse 18:1

After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory.

The opening phrase of chapter 18, "after these things," marks a later revelation than that given in chapter 17, generally introduces something new (cf. 4:1, 2), denoting a new commencement and a new set of circumstances. The question is, how different from the Babylon of chapter 17 is the Babylon of chapter 18?

Undoubtedly the city is the same, because both of them:

  1. have the name "Babylon the great" (17:5; 18:2);

  2. are guilty of fornication (17:1, 2, 4, 5, 16; 18:3);

  3. causing the kings of the earth and the earth-dwellers to imbibe of the wine (of the anger) of the city’s fornication (17:2; 18:3);

  4. to be burned with fire (17:16; 18:8, 9, 18);

  5. become an utter desolation (17:16; 18:17, 19);

  6. wears the apparel and adornment of a harlot (17:4; 18:16); and

  7. are responsible for the martyrdom of the faithful (17:6; 18:20, 24).

Yet a different aspect of the city is in view in chapter 18. The major guilt in chapter 17 stems from the city’s abominations (17:4, 5), but in chapter 18 it is her sensuality associated with luxury (18:3, 7, 9). Heavy interaction with the merchants of the earth (18:3, 11, 15, 23) and those connected with the sea (18:17) characterizes the Babylon of chapter 18, but is missing from chapter 17. Chapter 18 attributes to Babylon a distinctive attitude of arrogance that is missing from chapter 17 (18:7). The deep lamentation of uninvolved witnesses of her destruction in chapter 18 (18:9-11, 15-16, 19) contrasts strongly with the absence of such witnesses and lamentations at the destruction of Babylon in chapter 17 (17:16). The economic prosperity and luxury of the latter Babylon (18:11-14, 19) is a marked difference from anything said about the earlier Babylon.

The similarity between the two chapters is that between two systems that have the same geographical headquarters. In chapter 17 it is a religious system that operates independently of and in opposition to God, but in chapter 18 it is an economic system that does the same. The collapse of the city leaves an unspeakably large void in both areas. The two chapters tell how two aspects of the city’s function will come to a dramatic end and how this will affect other world entities at the time. They both will mark the internal deterioration of the beast’s kingdom prior to the defeat of his political structure by the second coming of Christ (19:11-21).

John declares, "I saw another angel coming down from heaven." The phrase "another angel" makes clear that the angel of chapter 18 is:

  1. a different angel from that of 17:1; and

  2. the same in kind as the angel of 17:1.

The new angel who pronounces judgment on Babylon is different from the one who served as John’s guide (17:1, 7, 15). His function is to announce Babylon’s doom in conjunction with the vision granted through the earlier angelic guide. He resembles those who descend from heaven to fulfill special missions in 10:1 and 20:1. 

The angel is described as "down from heaven, having great authority," probably indicative of the importance of the judgment he announced. His description has led some interpreters to conclude that he is the Lord Jesus Christ. However, his clear identification as an angel and the function he performs seem to mark him as an angel (cf. 14:8). Evidently his task required great authority. He left the presence of God with delegated authority to act on God’s behalf.

When he arrived, "the earth was illumined with his glory." His great glory, with which he illuminated the earth, suggests that he had just come from God’s presence (cf. Exodus 34:29-35; Ezekiel 43:2). He will make his dramatic appearance onto a darkened stage, for the fifth bowl will have plunged the world into darkness (Revelation 16:10). Manifesting the flashing brilliance of a glorious heavenly angelic being against the blackness, he will be an awe-inspiring insight to the shocked and terrified earth dwellers.

Verse 18:2

And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! And she has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.

The angel "cried out with a mighty voice" not only manifests tremendous light energy but also sound energy. As all can see him, so can all hear him (cf. 7:2; 10:3; 14:7, 9, 15; 19:17). The adjective "mighty" (Greek: ἰσχύϊ, transliteration: ischui) means powerful and strong. It reflects the great authority that has been given to this angel.

The angel’s proclamation, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great" is a deliberate echo of 14:8. The judgment predicted in 14:8 will now be carried out. This will be a greater and more far-reaching judgment than the one pronounced in identical words on ancient Babylon (Isaiah 21:9).

Note that the proleptic aorist tense of the verb "fallen" (Greek: ἔπεσε, transliteration: epese) is given as if the actual destruction of Babylon had already taken place. It states not merely the expectation but the certainty of this event. The duplication of the verb "fallen" for emphasis is a typical feature in Semitic writing. It may also represent the fall of Babylon religiously (chapter 17) and then commercially (chapter 18).

In the second part of verse 2 we are told that Babylon is demonic to the core. This is stressed in three statements:

  1. dwelling place of demons;

  2. prison of every unclean spirit; and

  3. prison of every unclean and hateful bird.

According to Old Testament imagery, when a city is completely destroyed it is no longer suitable for human habitation but will become a haunt for savage creatures and possibly evil spirits (Isaiah 13:21-22; 34:11-15; Jeremiah 50:39; 51:37; Zephaniah 2:14). So, Babylon is seen as "a dwelling place of demons" (cf. Baruch 4:35), a "prison for every unclean spirit" (cf. Luke 4:33; 9:42; Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 16:13), and "unclean and hateful bird." These creatures typify a great city laid waste.

Clearly, a connection is made between this Babylon and the demonic influence that is behind her. That Satan himself is the power behind the beast cannot be debated (cf. 13:2). It was also pointed out that at about the beginning of Daniel's seventieth week the activity of Satan and his demons, symbolized here in the figure of unclean and hateful birds, will be happened to the earth (cf. 12:7-10).

Verse 18:3

"For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality."

The three groups, "all the nations, the kings of the earth, and the merchants of the earth," encompass the entire population of the world. Everyone has united in an ungodly union with Babylon.

The phrase "for all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immoralityrepeats the sin of Babylon mentioned in 14:8. We are told "all the nations" are involved. This is worldwide. Every nation has turned away from God for the almighty dollar and the luxuries it can buy.

The verb "have drunk" (Greek: πέπτωκαν, transliteration: peptōkan) is perfect tense which focuses our attention on the abiding results of Babylon's evil influence, specifically, her spiritual, moral, political and national stupor. The world is already drunk and getting more so every day on materialism and the commercial mania of the times. 

As throughout the book of Revelation, "immorality" (Greek: πορνείας, transliteration: porneias) refers to both sexual immorality and religious apostasy especially idolatry (Hosea 4:10; Jeremiah 3:2). Their acts of "immorality" certainly will include worship of the beast (i.e., Antichrist) instead of worship of the Lamb (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ).

The phrase "the wine of the passion of her immorality" is a reference to the world ideologies of Babylon, which will prostitute the divine institutions God has established for man's protection like: freedom, volition, marriage and the family. Some of these intoxicant agents are the New Age movement, commercialism, gross immorality, and idolatry (cf. 9:20-21; 13:5-6, 16-17).

The "kings of the earth" have committed immorality with her. This evil seduction has affected particularly the political leaders. This tells us the means Babylon used to entice the world leaders to the worship of the beast.

We are told "the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality." The word for "merchants" (Greek: ἔμποροι, transliteration: emporoi) comes from combining "in" (Greek: ἐν, transliteration: en), and "journey" (Greek: πόρος, transliteration: poros). A merchant is one on a journey to conduct business.

The noun "wealth" (Greek: δυνάμεως, transliteration: dynameōs) means power, and strength. Here it refers to the power and strength of her sensuality that controls the world of mankind. It is clear that Babylon not only will involve a false worship, but also an economic factor. This should come as no surprise, because in the second half of the Tribulation the False Prophet will introduce an economy based on people receiving the mark of the beast (cf. 13:16-18). Surely, in the midst of such wickedness and corruption, underhanded deals will be made at every opportunity, enabling many to become wealthy.

The noun "sensuality" (Greek: στρήνους, transliteration: strēnous) meaning arrogant or unrestrained luxury. The idea of the term is that of insolent luxury, self-indulgence with accompanying arrogance, and unruliness arising from the fullness of bread (cf. Deuteronomy 32:15; 1 Timothy 5:11). The connection of immorality and luxury in this verse indicates that Babylon’s immorality consists not only of idolatry, but also includes her pride in excessive wealth. False religion often has gone hand in hand with the accumulation and abusive use of luxury. Commercial Babylon, with its worship of money and power, will promote unrestrained luxury, sensuality, and pleasure. Babylon will promote the philosophy that happiness, significance, security, and fulfillment are attained by the abundance of the things people possess.

The merchants will suffer more than the kings with the fall of the city because the kings will have their political power left. They have only lost a partner in immorality, but the merchants will have lost everything. Commerce and trade are the major subject of the remainder of the chapter.

3.2. The Appeal for Come Out (18:4-8)

3.2.1. The appeal

Verse 18:4

And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, "Come out of her, my people, so that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues;

John heard "another heavenly voice" follow up the angel’s proclamation. Since it immediately addresses John’s readers as "my people," the "voice" belongs either to God or to Christ (10:4, 8 and 14:2, 13). However, the reference to God in the third person in 18:5b, suggests that it is perhaps more logical to identify the speaker as Christ.

The first-person pronoun "my" (Greek: μου, transliteration: mou) with the vocative noun "people" (Greek: λαός, transliteration: laos) indicates that this summons addresses to the faithful believers. They are primarily those living at the apex of the beast’s kingdom and the climax of the Babylonian system.

Christ’s point is clear and direct. His people must "come out" of Babylon.  The verb "come out" (Greek: ἐξέλθατε, transliteration: exelthate) is aorist imperative expresses the urgency and decisiveness of the call. The call to flight is a regular theme in the record of Israel’s history, when God’s people are urged to escape his coming judgment (cf. Genesis 12:1-3; 19:12-22; Exodus 12:30-32; Numbers 16:26-27); and it reappears in the New Testament as an exhortation to be separate from the world (2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 5:11). This call resembles the ones to leave Babylon in the Old Testament (Isaiah 48:20; 52:11; Jeremiah 50:8; 51:6, 9, 45; Zechariah 2:6-7). This is not only a physical separation from the enticements of idolatry, self-sufficiency, and reliance on luxury, but a mental separation from materialism as a way of life.

When Christ says, "Come out," He implies that many have already bought their way in. John makes this clear in his letters to the seven churches. Only two of those churches, Smyrna, and Philadelphia, are described as impoverished. By contrast, believers in the other churches are chastised because they have amassed wealth and prestige by accommodating themselves to doing whatever was necessary to participate in the Roman economy.

The purpose for the call to "come out" is twofold:

  1. you may not participate in her sins; and

  2. you may not receive of her plagues.

Believers are to flee Babylon so that they "may not participate in her sins." The verb "participate" (Greek: συγκοινωνήσητε, transliteration: sygkoinōnēsēte) means be a partner with. Rather than becoming partners with the Babylonian world system, we are to be partners with the Lord Jesus in His enterprise on earth. The words "her sins" pointing to the sins of commercialism, the things which caused the destruction of the divine institutions, and the search for happiness in luxurious living. The materialistic, pleasure-mad, and demon-infested city of Babylon will exert an almost irresistible influence on believers to participate in her sins. In its application it is a relevant call to believers in every day to avoid compromise with Satan's world system in its every form - religious and commercial (Genesis 6:8-7:1; 19:12-14; Numbers 16:23-26; Isaiah 48:20; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17).

God’s people must flee Babylon not only to avoid being contaminated by her sins but also "may not receive of her plagues." Both Noah and Lot were warned by God and were then spared the judgment that fell on the earth. So too, in the future Tribulation the righteous will be warned before the judgment of God falls. Some view the "plagues" as a reference to the bowl judgments, which are also called plagues (15:1, 6, 8; 16:9). The bowl judgments, however, are worldwide in scope, hence, there would be no place to escape to (cf. 18:9-10). Therefore, it is best to see these plagues as specific judgments on Babylon, perhaps, in conjunction with the outpouring of the seventh bowl (cf. 16:17-19).

3.2.2. The basis of the appeal

But why does this judgment of God fall on "Babylon the great!"? This appeal is substantiated upon three spiritual principles:

  1. The law of remembrance;

  2. The law of retribution; and

  3. The law of retaliation.

Verse 18:5

for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.

3.2.2.1. The law of remembrance

John depicts the sins of the city as "have piled up as high as heaven" (cf. Jeremiah 51:9). The verb "have piled" (Greek: ἐκολλήθησαν, transliteration: ekollēthēsan) means to glue together. The idea is that Babylon’s sins cling to each other steadily until the cumulative "structure" of which it has finally reached to heaven. The allusion is possibly to the use of bricks in building the tower of Babel of ancient Babylon. The first Babel conspiracy attempted to build a tower to reach heaven and challenge God (Genesis 11:3-4), this last Babylon conspiracy piles up her sins to heaven in defiance of God. This hyperbole clearly pictures an excessive amount of sin, but also gives the assurance that God has not forgotten all that has been done. The principle is God does not ignore or forget sin. He permits the build up of sin, but eventually judgment must come.

Verse 18:6

"Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her.

3.2.2.2. The law of retribution

Babylon’s judgment is defined as the angel now speaks not to John, but to God. His call for vengeance on Babylon, "pay her back even as she has paid," parallels the prayers of the martyred saints recorded in 6:9-10. The verb "pay" (Greek: ἀπόδοτε, transliteration: apodote) is imperative aorist tense, it is a strong request to give back in one goal that which is due. The angel’s request for justice is based on the Old Testament law of retribution, the principle of "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" (Exodus 21:23-24; Leviticus 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 19:21; Psalm 137:8; Matthew 5:38). Babylon has been extended enough grace and heard enough warnings. It is time for vengeance.

The angel requests God to "give back to her double according to her deeds." "Double" has the sense of completeness. In the Mosaic Law, wrongdoers were often required to pay "double" retribution for their crimes (Exodus 22:4, 7, 9). The prophets note that Israel received double for her sins (Isaiah 40:1-2; Jeremiah 16:18). Because of the enormity of her sin, the judgment to be carried out is a double portion, which demonstrates that there will be no mercy shown to the world dictator and those who follow him.

Further stating his request that God fully punish Babylon, the angel asks that "in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her." Fittingly, in the very cup that Babylon used to deceive the nations (Jeremiah 51:7; Revelation 14:8, 10; 16:19; 17:2, 4; 18:3) she is to receive a double portion of God’s wrath.

Verse 18:7

"To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ‘I rule as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning.’

3.2.2.3. The law of retaliation

Then the angel calls on God a third time to exact complete vengeance on Babylon: "To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning..."

"To the degree" is a call to match the punishment to the crime, a biblical principle (Isaiah 3:16ff.; Luke 14:11). Here are three sins call for Babylon’s judgment:

  1. glorified herself;

  2. lived sensuously; and

  3. self-sufficiency.

First, she was proud, she "glorified herself." Such arrogance is frequently derided in Scripture. Luke 14:11 says, "Those who exalt themselves will be humbled" (cf. 2 Samuel 22:28; Job 40:11; Isaiah 2:12, 17; 5:15; 1 Peter 5:6). Those who seek their own glory will not only lose all glory in the life to come but also face the judgment of God. One of the major themes of this book is that glory belongs only to God ((Isaiah 42:8), and all who refuse to acknowledge Him will face his wrath.

Second, she "lived sensuously." The verb "lived sensuously" (Greek: ἐστρηνίασεν, transliteration: estrēniasen) means both sensual and luxurious living. Their sensuality is expressed not only in immorality but in opulent living. This is another primary theme of the chapter, for both sensuality and materialism flow out of a self-centered greed that is the antithesis of holiness. The Bible pronounces those who do so to be dead even while they live (1 Timothy 5:6).

Third, she was guilty of "self-sufficiency," of presumptuously overestimating her power; she said in her heart, "I rule as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning." The verb "I rule" (Greek: Κάθημαι, transliteration: Kathēmai) is a present tense of a continuous condition, therefore she think nothing can upset this mighty system and she shall reign forever. The noun "queen" (Greek: βασίλισσα, transliteration: basilissa) refers to a female absolutely sovereign ruler of a kingdom, therefore she thinks that she is very powerful, self-sufficient and in need of nothing.

That proud boast "I am not a widow, and will never see mourning" echoes that of ancient Babylon, who said "I will be a queen forever... I will not sit as a widow, nor know loss of children" (Isaiah 47:7, 8; cf. Ezekiel 27:3; 28:2; Zephaniah 2:15). Yet God’s devastating reply was that "these two things shall come on you suddenly in one day: Loss of children and widowhood. They shall come on you in full measure in spite of your many sorceries, in spite of the great power of your spells" (Isaiah 47:9).

It reflects the world dictator's belief that he will always be supported by the kings of the earth and the people who are wondering after him. A widow is one who mourns because of a loss. She has illicit love affairs with all the kings so how can she become a widow? Because she is only a harlot who sells herself. They love her not for herself but for what they can get out of her.

Verse 18:8

"For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong.

Then the angel notes that "for this reason," the sins of her political and economic arrogance, her judgment comes "in one day." Babylon’s destruction will not be progressive. The wicked city will be instantly destroyed (Revelation 18:10, 17, 19; cf. Daniel 5:30; Isaiah 47:7-9; Luke 12:16-20). The first Babylon fell in one night and the "Babylon" of the world dictator will suffer the same fate (cf. 16:17-21).

As noted above, the plagues that will destroy Babylon are specific judgments on that city, possibly in connection with the seventh bowl. Three plagues will result in Babylon’s complete devastation: "pestilence and mourning and famine." After those three plagues have run their course, Babylon "will be burned up with fire" (cf. 17:16).

Babylon’s doom is certain and cannot be avoided for "the Lord God who judges her is strong" (cf. Jeremiah 50:34). No one can frustrate God’s plans or keep Him from accomplishing what He purposes to do (cf. Job 42:2; Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 14:27).

3.3. The Anguish of the Kings (18:9-10)

After completing his call for God’s people to remove themselves from Babylon, the interpreting angel describes the laments of:

  1. the kings (Revelation 18:9-10);

  2. the merchants (18:11-13, 15-17a); and

  3. the sea people (18:17b-19).

The background to this part of Chapter 18 (18:9-19) can be located in Ezekiel’s lament over Tyre in (Ezekiel 27:1-36). There the same three groups of mourners appear:

  1. the kings are horribly afraid (Ezekiel 27:35);

  2. the merchants hiss (27:36); and

  3. the mariners wail aloud and cry bitterly (27:29-31).

Verse 18:9

"And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning,

The first lament is that of "the kings of the earth." These are not only the kings of the ten nation confederation of 17:12-16 who turn upon the religious Babylon (i.e., the worldwide apostate church), but also the governing heads of all nations who have entered into trade with the commercial Babylon. They all mourn because of the destruction of Babylon. Why? Because her commercialism means the control of the people and luxury in their courts, all of which is now lost.

The reason "the kings of the earth" weep over Babylon is twofold. First, they have "committed acts of immorality," referring to the immorality and idolatry they have shared with Babylon in 14:8; 17:2, 4; 18:3. They have lost their paramour and are bereft. Second, they have "lived sensuously with her," a reference back to the sensuous luxury condemned in 18:7. "The kings of the earth" shared in all this wealth gathered at the expense of the common people.

Thus, they "weep and wail over her," a sign of mourning and sorrow. This alludes to Ezekiel 27:35, in which "the kings shudder with horror, and their faces are distorted with fear" at the destruction of Tyre. The point is, when they see the object of their trust and the source of their happiness go up in smoke, they come unglued.

The "smoke of her burning," the evidence of her fall, is the sight that provokes the misery of the kings (cf. Genesis 19:28; Isaiah 34:10; Ezekiel 28:18). Other plagues contribute to Babylon’s downfall (cf. Revelation 18:8), but fire is the main cause of the city’s ruin (14:11; 17:16; 18:8, 18; 19:3).

Verse 18:10

standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’

The kings of the earth do not rush to the rescue of their paramour but "standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment." They were afraid of being tormented with her. They too were guilty of the same sins and so tried to keep a safe distance from the scene of devastation, for they were terrified that they were next.

The exclamation, "Woe, woe, the great city," is repeated by the merchants and the seafarers (18:16, 19). The doubling of the onomatopoeic word "woe" (Greek: οὐαί, transliteration: ouai) expresses the depth of their sorrow occasioned by the suddenness of Babylon’s fall and the emptiness of life without her. The illusion was that the "great city Babylon" could defy God, martyr His saints, and get away with it, but now that misconception has disappeared.

Babylon is called "the great city, ... the mighty city." The kings, the merchants, and the seafarers all describe Babylon as "the great city" (18:10, 16, 19), but here the text is amplified by "the mighty city." The adjective "mighty" (Greek: ἰσχυρά, transliteration: ischyra) means strong and powerful. It is an obvious contrast to the one who alone is truly "mighty," the Lord God (18:8). Babylon is characterized as "great" as well as "mighty." But John wants believers to see that no might can stand against that of the Lord God.

Babylon’s judgment is dramatically swift: "for in one hour your judgment has come." In verse 8 the suddenness of her destruction was seen coming "in one day." Now this is intensified, as her judgment is seen coming "in one hour." The notion of immediate demise comes from Jeremiah 51:8 (cf. Daniel 4:33; 5:1-30). The city that seemed so strong and powerful has fallen. In one hour, her doom had come.

There is a clear contrast between the destruction of the great harlot's "religious Babylon" (17:16-17) and the world dictator's "commercial Babylon" (18:9-14). The first destruction will not result in any sorrow; in fact, the kings of the earth will hate the harlot and they will be glad when she is removed. The same thing cannot be said for the destruction of the "commercial Babylon."

3.4. The Anguish of the Merchants and Mariners of the Earth (18:11-19)

Verse 18:11

"And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more;

The next mourners to appear on the scene are "the merchants of the earth." The noun "merchants" (Greek: ἔμποροι, transliteration: emporoi) refers particularly to wholesalers, those who deal in large quantities of trade items involved in international commerce. They made rich through trade (18:3).

These businessmen will "weep and mourn" over Babylon because "no one buys their cargoes any more." Their sorrow, like the sorrow of the merchants of Tyre (Ezekiel 27:27, 36), was at the loss of trade and profit. The reason for their sorrow has no connection with love for Babylon but rather is entirely focused on the loss of trade and profit.

The collapse of commercial Babylon results in merchants being unable to buy and sell goods. They lament the loss of customers, but they previously denied the right to buy and sell to anyone who did not have the mark of the beast (13:17). These merchants also concern for the luxurious lifestyle that they have been enjoying, which truly comes to an end with the destruction of the beast and his kingdom.

Verse 18:12

cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every kind of citron wood and every article of ivory and every article made from very costly wood and bronze and iron and marble,

John gives a list of the merchandise for which there are no more buyers. Most of these items are found in the dirge over Tyre (cf. Isaiah 23:1-18; Ezekiel 16:9-13; 27:12-24). A total of twenty-eight categories are listed, fourteen in this verse and fourteen in the next. The vocabulary is one appropriate to the first century readers, even though John was actually seeing events of the last days. The variety of the goods John listed suggests how extensive trade will be at this time in history. The market is the world.  All the endless variety of materialistic possessions which men and women have sought through the human history, for which they have labored and schemed and even stolen and killed, are symbolized here as the merchandise of Babylon.

First are listed the chief items of timeless value, the cargoes of "gold and silver and precious stones and pearls." These precious metals and jewels have always served as the measure of value and the basis of monetary systems. Especially in times of inflation, such as in the years of the Tribulation, men seek to protect their savings by investing in items of intrinsic value, including gold, silver, gemstones, and pearls.

Next in order are the fine fabrics used for the apparel of the world, composed of two most valuable materials, "fine linen and silk," and two most esteemed colors of "purple and scarlet." They are listed as representative of the tremendous commerce in clothing around the world.

The luxury of their apparel is matched by the rich furnishings of their homes including articles of "citron wood, ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble." "Bronze and iron" are the two most important metals for practical uses are also included. They can be used as building materials as well as musical instruments, appliances, machinery, tools, and weapons.

Verse 18:13

and cinnamon and spice and incense and myrrh and frankincense and wine and oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, and cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human souls.

Expensive perfumes and spices are mentioned, such as "cinnamon and spice and incense and perfume and frankincense." "Cinnamon" is used as a spice, perfume, incense, and a flavoring for wine. "Spice" is used to make hair fragrant. "Incense" blended several ingredients for both religious and home use. "Myrrh" is for perfume or medicine. "Frankincense" is another expensive perfume (cf. Matthew 2:11). All of these could be afforded only by the wealthy.

Next is mentioned the abundance of foods, such as "wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep." Of special interest, is the inclusion of "wine and oil" in the catalog of valuable commodities. These were noted as specially important during the time of the seal judgments (Revelation 6:6). "Wine" is a representative of intoxicating beverages. In the wicked days of the Tribulation, ungodly men will turn to intoxicants far more than ever in history. The great demand for intoxicants in these coming days will surely be further stimulated by the ungodly and covetous merchants who profit so greatly from them.

And "oil" is there in the listing too. In the apostolic period, a reference to oil would have been understood as olive oil used for anointing and medicinal purposes. Although petroleum was essentially unknown in the ancient world, it does seem probable, in the context of the Tribulation, that this is a prophetic reference to that kind of oil which would come to dominate the economies of the world in the latter times. Oil has today become a vital necessity for all the world’s transportation and industrial systems.

"Fine flour and wheat" can be understood as representing all kinds of agricultural products that are important in world trade. Not only agricultural commodities but also livestock trading is of great commercial importance. The "cattle" mentioned in the list include any kind of domestic animals. "Sheep" is vital for its wool as well as its meat.

"Horses" are animals for riding, both for recreational and transportation uses. It may be possible that John saw and describing in his own language, this term refers to the great car industry of the last days.

CAR LOGOS WITH HORSE

The inclusion of "chariots" in the list is also intriguing. The noun "chariots" (Greek: ῥεδῶν, transliteration: hredōn) means a four-wheeled vehicle. In ancient Babylon, "chariots" were used by armies as transport or mobile archery platform. Therefore, it could very appropriately be interpreted to include modern-day multi-wheeled military vehicles. It may be possible that John saw and describing in his own language, this term refers to modern mobile missiles tanks.

A MODERN MOBILE MISSILES TANK

The profit in selling military weapons is much higher than luxurious goods. The arms industry is unlike any other. It operates without regulation. It suffers from widespread corruption and bribes. And it makes its profits on the back of machines designed to kill and maim human beings.

PROFITS IN SELLING MILITARY WEAPONS

Finally, there is a sadly climactic reference to "slaves and human souls" as one of the items of international commerce. "Slavery" has not been really abolished (especially in African and Asian countries) and it may well be that it will be revived in other nations during the Tribulation.

"Human souls" refers to the international traffic in forced prostitution, kidnapping of children and sales of human organs. These vice barons are particularly venomous great men of the earth, not only amassing great wealth for themselves, but destroying both the "bodies and souls" of the hapless girls and boys who come under their control.

PROFITS MADE FROM HUMAN TRAFFICKING

In addition, according to the World Health Organization, thousands of sales or purchases of black market human organs take place every year. It is a financially lucrative business of modern times and will undoubtedly become even bigger in the evil days ahead.

BLACK MARKET VALUES FOR VARIOUS BODY PARTS

The profits in selling military weapons and human trafficking are much higher than luxurious goods. This is the picture of nowadays sinful world. The depth of their sin is covered with the veneer of their luxurious and contented living. All this goes on in the midst of the Tribulation.

In summary, 28 items are listed and it is a story of luxury, indulgence, military threats, and impeachment of human rights:

  1. Jewellery items - precious stones and costly metals.

  2. Apparels - fine fabrics used in their clothing composed of linen and silk in luxurious colours of purple and scarlet.

  3. Luxurious furnishings - furniture made of expensive building materials, such as citron, ivory, brass, iron, and marble.

  4. Perfumes and Spices - cinnamon, spice, incense, perfume, and frankincense. These were things which could only be afforded by the ultra-wealthy.

  5. Food stuffs - wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep.

  6. Transportation items - horses (comparable to our cars).

  7. Military weapons - chariots (comparable to our military tanks).

  8. Slaves and human lives - traffic in forced prostitution, kidnapping of children, and sales of human organs.

Three features should be noted about this list:

  1. most of the items are luxury items;

  2. military weapons; and

  3. human trafficking.

Verse 18:14

"The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all.

Continuing their lament, the merchants now address Babylon directly. First, they mourn the disappearance of "the fruit that your soul longed for." The "fruit," which is obviously the list of luxuries in 18:12-13, these merchants so desire is no longer available (cf. Jeremiah 40:10, 12; Jude 1:12). It expresses that the core of Babylon’s being is committed to satisfying herself with economic wealth instead of desiring God’s glory. The "soul" here may well refer to the sinful nature which seeks its happiness apart from God. 

The "rich" refers primarily to exotic foodstuffs, the "splendid" refers to clothing and decorative objects. The destruction of the Babylonian system means the destruction of all that it purchased from the merchants. The merchants will also lose their luxurious possessions. 

Since all these costly things perished along with the system, people "shall find them no more at all" in Babylon. It emphasizes the temporary nature of these things (cf. Matthew 6:19-20). People will not be able to find the treasures they once collected. In former times, great merchants, and kings, when suffering financial losses, could always hope to gain them back again. But this time the loss is total and the damage irreparable.

Verse 18:15

"The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning,

In this verse, we now return to the merchants of 18:11. "These things" is the listed items of verses 12-13. They are described as having "became rich from her," certainly true considering the vast numbers of wealthy merchants. But this also means that they share the guilt of Babylon, for they have participated in it themselves.

Like the kings, the merchants too "will stand at a distance" from the scene of destruction (18:10, 17) rather than rushing in to try to stop it because they fear the same thing might happen to them. These merchants are filled with fear, because they are fully aware that their doom is near, and they will suffer the same "torment."

Their "weeping and mourning" is centered in the fact that their great riches have come to nothing in so short a time (18:17-18). There is no actual sympathy but a self-centered sorrow at all they have lost and a terror of suffering the same fate.

Verse 18:16

saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls;

The description of the city here is very similar to that of the harlot in 17:4. One city is in view in both chapters. This dirge begins (18:16) and ends (18:17a) the same way as that of the kings in 18:10 did. 

The phrase "woe, woe, the great city" is found also in 18:10, 19 and expresses horror at the destruction of the world’s capital city that is now a wasteland (18:2, 22-23).

The "fine linen, purple, scarlet, gold, precious stones, and pearls" are all items from the list of merchandise in 18:12-13. 

However, the merchants bewail the city’s lost opulence and splendor whereas the kings grieved over its broken strength. Each group evaluates the disaster in terms of its own self-interest.

Verse 18:17

for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’ And every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance,

The merchants mourn because "in one hour" her great wealth have been laid waste.

The third group that "stood at a distance" watching the city burn is all those who have profited from Babylon’s sea trade. The picture of these mariners closely resembles that of the kings (18:10) and the merchants (18:15). The list of mariners, which is similar to Ezekiel 27:29, consists of four categories of people:

  1. shipmaster;

  2. who travel by ship;

  3. sailor; and

  4. trade on the sea.

The noun "shipmaster" (Greek: κυβερνήτης, transliteration: kybernētēs) means a person who steers a ship (i.e., pilot).

The verb "who travel by ship" (Greek: πλέων, transliteration: pleōn) means anyone who travel on water. It could refer to the ship’s captain, but it more probably refers to the ship’s passengers.

The noun "sailor" (Greek: ναῦται, transliteration: nautai) means any member of a ship's crew.

The phrase "trade on the sea" (Greek: τὴν θάλασσαν ἐργάζονται, transliteration: tēn thalassan ergazontai) includes others such as fishermen and divers for pearls who also make their living from the sea. Perhaps these mariners are of special interest because they represent distributors of goods.

Verse 18:18

and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’

Like the kings (18:9), they "saw the smoke of her burning," but this group exclaims, "What city is like the great city?" Behind this is Ezekiel 27:32b, "Who is like Tyre, surrounded by the sea?" This parallels Revelation 13:4, "Who is like the beast?" The implied answer is that no city can match Babylon in its material greatness. Babylon that represents all that a city can be in the realm of materialism is no more! The smoke of the city’s burning provokes deepest regrets among the mariners. They also lament because of the collapse of this great commercial kingdom.

Verse 18:19

"And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’

The mariners also echo the laments and repeat the behavior of the kings (18:10) and the merchants (18:15, 16-17). However, this group demonstrated their sorrow even more visibly, they "threw dust on their head" symbolized great grief in the Old Testament (cf. Joshua 7:6; 1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:2; 13:19; 15:32; Job 2:12; Ezekiel 27:30). 

Their lament begins similarly to those in Revelation 18:10, 16, "Woe, woe, the great city," but then focuses explicitly on the fact that "all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth." The mariners were similar to the merchants that Babylon expanded their trade and allowed them to become wealthy.

The cry regarding the suddenness of her destruction (i.e., "in one hour she has been laid waste") follows closely the wording of 18:17a. Previously, one-third of the ships will have been destroyed (8:9). They are in deep mourning because their business is suddenly being destroyed and their source of wealth has gone up in flames. Their lament is a mourning for themselves, for they had lost their livelihood. They have participated in the economic sins of Babylon and so share her fate.

3.5. The Acclaim of Heaven Over the Fall of Babylon (18:20-24)

In contrast to the grief overtaking kings, merchants, and mariners by the destruction of Babylon, those in heaven (19:1), are requested to rejoice over the destruction of this wicked satanic kingdom. Verses 18:20-24 divide up into four sections:

  1. The request to rejoice over Babylon's fall (18:20);

  2. The portrayal of Babylon's fall (18:21);

  3. The extent and nature of Babylon's fall (18:22-23a); and

  4. The reason for Babylon's fall (18:23b-24).

3.5.1. The request to rejoice over Babylon's fall

Verse 18:20

"Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her."

This verse represents a sudden change of mood, instead of the lamentation over the destruction of Babylon, the people of God are called upon to "rejoice" in His justice. Whereas in 11:10 the inhabitants of the earth rejoiced at the death of the two witnesses, now the heaven and God’s people are requested to "rejoice" over his judgment of Babylon (Jeremiah 51:48). The verb "rejoice" (Greek: εὐφραίνου, transliteration: euphrainou) is imperative mood that expresses a command or request. They are not rejoicing at the suffering of the wicked but celebrating God’s victory over evil and His faithfulness to His suffering people.

The noun "O heaven" (Greek: οὐρανέ, transliteration: ourane) is vocative mood, it changes the mood of singing from lamentation to that of gaiety. The same thing that causes deep sorrow on earth brings great jubilation to heaven. It addresses to all the occupants in heaven including angels and men.

"Saints" is a general term for all the faithful. "Apostles and prophets" are special classes of saints in the early church period (cf. Revelation 11:18). A similar call in 12:12 and a response to this call to rejoice (19:1-5) would imply that the saints appealed to are in heaven. They are the Tribulation martyrs and raptured church instead of believers on earth.

But God's requests are never without reason. So, we read next "because God has pronounced judgment for" the martyred saints in heaven, who have been crying out to God for Him to avenge their blood shed on the earth (cf. 6:9-11). God's final and complete judgment on the Antichrist will fall in answer to their continual cry. This shows that God's judgments do not always fall when men think they should, but that is not to say that God does not have the power to act. It simply must be remembered that He has a plan, and that plan will be carried out in His time.

3.5.2. The portrayal of Babylon's fall

Verse 18:21

And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, "Thus will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.

This is the third and last time "a mighty angel" appears in the book (5:2; 10:1-2). In his previous two appearances he bore the scroll containing God’s plan for ending this world. His "might" is seen as he picks up "a stone like a great millstone." This millstone was used to grind large amounts of grain and weighed several tons.

The angel "threw it into the sea" is a symbolic act representing Babylon’s violent destruction. This is similar to the scene where Jeremiah ties "a stone to the scroll" and throws it into the Euphrates, saying, "So will Babylon sink to rise no more" (Jeremiah 51:63-64; cf. Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:1-2). Ironically, the millstone sinks into the sea that had been integral to the city’s wealth. The sea had once signified prosperity, since ships brought the world’s goods across the sea to the city, whose empire dominated the waters (Revelation 17:1). But now the stone sinks into the sea as a symbol of the city’s coming demise. Babylon will fall, but the God who created the sea will remain (10:6; 14:7).

This picture is designed to portray the violent downfall of the commercial Babylon and its system as:

  1. Sudden - It will be sudden as when a stone falls into the sea, suddenly, with a splash.

  2. Violent - Such a great stone would cause tidal waves which move across land destroying everything in their path. The destruction of Babylon leads to the destruction of the rest of its system.

  3. Permanent - Like a stone which is cast into the sea and sinks out of sight, so the destruction of Babylon will be so permanent that it "will not be found any longer" (Jeremiah 51:64; Exekiel 26:21).

3.5.3. The extent and nature of Babylon's fall

Verse 18:22

"And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer;

John now spells out the effects of the violent overthrow of commercial Babylon. Previously the lament has been concerned with external relations and trade, now John turns to internal affairs. He describes various aspects of everyday life in Babylon that will never again take place. 

First, the streets will never again be filled with music. Where once the streets were filled with "the sound of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters," now an eerie silence has taken over. Isaiah describes the coming universal judgment as a time when "The gaiety of the tambourines is stilled, the noise of the revelers has stopped, the joyful harp is silent" (Isaiah 24:8; cf. Ezekiel 26:13). The harp and flute are associated with carousing (2 Samuel 6:5; Isaiah 5:12). Flutes were used both at festivals (Isaiah 30:29) and at funerals (Matthew 9:23). Trumpets served for games and in the theater. The commercial world often seeks escape in song and music in various places of night entertainment. However, silence will reign in the fallen city. 

Second, not only has music ceased, but also the sounds of "craftsmen of any craft" plying their trade as well. The tools of the craftsmen who furnished the items of luxury will suddenly be as silent as a tomb. This means that the wheels of industry and the pens which write the orders for merchandise will come to a halt. The entire economy has abruptly ceased. 

This is intensified by a third woeful reality, the cessation of food. The "sound of a mill" is heard no more. The millstones which grind the grain for flour will also stop. The food supply, which at that point is already in short supply, will now disappear altogether.

Verse 18:23a

and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer;

Fourth, "the light of a lamp will not shine" adds to the desolation of the fallen city. Jeremiah describes the years of Israel’s exile as a time when God will banish from them "the sounds of joy and gladness, the voices of bride and bridegroom, the sound of millstones and the light of the lamp" (Jeremiah 25:10). Under the judgment of the fifth bowl of wrath (Revelation 16:10), the throne of the beast and his kingdom had been plunged into darkness. No doubt the city will have been designed with ultramodern illumination facilities, but the probability is that the power stations serving the city will malfunction under the impact of the plagues. The lamp which lights the home and business will be put permanently out. The busy city was accustomed to lights that burned by night as craftsmen worked long hours to fill their orders. But now the blackness of night blankets the deserted and lonely metropolis. Darkness, symbolizing the spiritual state of the world and the system of the beast, will now engulf everything. 

Finally, the joy of matrimony, which is the closest bonding of human relationships, is likewise past. The words "the voice of the bridegroom and bride" recall Jeremiah 7:34; 16:9; 25:10-11; cf. John 3:29. Wedding customs varied, but the bride and groom typically dressed in their finest, and a banquet was hosted for guests at the bride’s home. The bride was escorted to the groom’s home with a torchlight parade, and those accompanying the wedding party shouted and sang (2 Samuel 17:3; Matthew 9:15; 25:10; cf. Revelation 19:7-9). The cessation of the sound of the bridegroom and bride points to desolation (Jeremiah 7:34; 16:9; Baruch 2:23). Death would turn the wedding into mourning and its music into a funeral dirge (1 Maccabees 9:39-41). The nations will never again know the celebration of a wedding, while the church will become the "bride" of Christ (Revelation 19:7-8; 21:2, 9). Nowadays, marriage means little more than a license for prostitution, a temporary contract. As Christ prophesied, men and women will be marrying and remarrying without any real concern for marriage as a divine institution of God (Mark 10:2-12). This institution will be abolished in Babylon in the future.

3.5.4. The reason for Babylon's fall

Verse 18:23b

for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery.

The angel gave three reasons for Babylon's fall:

  1. merchants were great men of the earth (18:23b);

  2. all nations were deceived by her sorcery (18:23c); and

  3. the martyred blood of prophets and saints (18:24).

First, her "merchants were the great men of the earth," using their wealth to ascend to positions of power, prominence, and influence. The noun "great men" (Greek: μεγιστᾶνες, transliteration: megistanes) means very important person, such as the chief, lord, and noble of society. Money and luxury are god, and people with money are the ones who become the chief men of society. These are the men who are looked up to, worshipped, honored, and presented to everyone as the ultimate. They have power in society, they control the destinies of men, and live in the super luxury which everyone is supposed to want, and that people think will give them happiness. People worship and long for wealth and luxury and thereby compromise principles. This viewpoint is a perversion and a prostitution of divine values (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31). Now note that it is because of this viewpoint that judgment comes.

Verse 18:23c

because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery.

A second reason for Babylon's fall because "all the nations were deceived by her sorcery." The noun "sorcery" (Greek: φαρμακείᾳ, transliteration: pharmakeia) means the use of drugs or potions as in casting magic spells. The word was used of poisoning, witchcraft or trafficking in the demonic. In the Old Testament, "sorcery" has connections with Jezebel (2 Kings 9:22), Babylon (Isaiah 47:12), and Nineveh (Nahum 3:4). In Revelation 9:21, it refers to sorcery. This states in effect that the Babylonian system will use whatever method it can to poison the minds of men, to "deceive" all the nations, and to allure them into a spiritually immoral relationship with herself (cf. Nahum 3:4). Please note that sorcerers will be excluded from the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:8; 22:15).

Verse 18:24

"And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth."

The third and final reason is the murder and martyrdom of the people of God, "in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints" (cf. Jeremiah 51:35, 36, 49; Revelation 6:10; 11:7; 13:7, 15; 16:6; 17:6). The responsibility for the blood of God’s servants martyred for their testimonies lies at the feet of this system. The murder of prophets is especially serious since they bore the word of God, but killing any saint is bad enough.

The phrase "all who have been slain on the earth" looks to the future and a massive system that will encompass the globe in its animosity against Christians. The last great secular society will demand that all people wear the "mark of the beast" (13:16), but genuine believers remain true to the Lord Jesus Christ; as a result, religious persecution will follow. Unbelievers have killed many believers, directly and indirectly, in their pursuit of material possessions. But Babylon will collapse in defeat, and the Lord Jesus will return to praise those who have been faithful to the end.

To summarize, the Babylon John described in this chapter is the commercial system of buying and selling goods to make a profit that includes capitalism. As religious Babylon includes all forms of religion (non-Christian as well as Christian), so economic Babylon includes all types of economies (capitalism, socialism, communism, etc.). This economic system will have its headquarters in Rome during the Tribulation, and it will burn up. This system has become so much a part of life that it is hard for us to imagine life without it. Nonetheless, this chapter teaches that it will end just before the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it will exist no longer. This system began when people first assembled to make a name for themselves at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). As Christians, we need to make sure that we are not citizens of this Babylon, by laying up treasure on earth, but truly citizens of heaven, by laying up treasure there (cf. Matthew 6:19-21). This chapter should challenge us to evaluate our financial goals and to repudiate selfish living. 

Following this revelation concerning the destruction of the religious Babylon (chapter 17) and commercial Babylon (chapter 18), the way is prepared for the presentation of the major theme of the book of Revelation, the second coming of Christ and the establishment of His glorious kingdom.

 

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