Bye Bye Babylon

Posted: March 27, 2011 in Revelation

Revelation 18:1-24, “Bye Bye Babylon”

Looking around at the news headlines, it’s easy to wonder: is God’s judgment ever going to come?  There’s so much pain & injustice in the world – will there ever be an end to it?  The book of Revelation assures that there will be – part of which we see in Ch 18 as the all-consuming political & economic system of Babylon is judged.

Chapters 17 & 18 are best seen as a part 1 & part 2.  In Ch 17, John was given a vision of a woman (richly dressed, but in reality a drunken prostitute) riding a hideous beast that fit the description Antichrist.  The woman had a name on her head: “Babylon the great – the mother of harlots & of the abominations of the earth” & was revealed to be a great city that reigns over the kings of the earth (Rev 17:18).  In the vision, the harlot Babylon (speaking of spiritual fornication: idolatry) was ravaged & destroyed by 10 kings who served Antichrist (Rev 17:16).  At that time there was no mourning at all for Babylon; just a hatred of her after using her for their purposes.

Picking up again in Ch 18, we see Babylon all over again & this time, scores of people weep & mourn for the city.  What gives?  Are there 2 different cities named Babylon?  No.  But there are several aspects to the city – each of which is judged in its own time.  Ch 17 looked at the spiritual harlotry of Babylon – how it engaged in all sorts of idolatry & persecution of the people of God, and how Antichrist eventually consumed the harlot as he causes all the people of the world to worship himself as God.  Ch 18 picks up on the political & commercial aspects of Babylon.  Babylon is not just a place of spiritual idolatry, but a place of debauched excess – a place and system that deceives the world & kills the people of God.  In Ch 17, God used the 10 kings according to His own purposes to ravage spiritual Babylon; in Ch 18, God displays His own strong vengeance as political Babylon is thrown down.  With Babylon’s fall the world mourns, but the heavens rejoice as God shows forth His consuming love for His people.

Revelation 18 (NKJV)

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

  1. Who is this glorious angel?  He’s not named.  Some have suggested this is Jesus Christ, but this is unlikely from the text.  (“another angel”)  Jesus did sometimes appear as the Angel of the Lord in the OT, but He is far higher than the angels!  In Revelation, it’s uncertain that Jesus ever appears as an angel; most frequently He’s seen as the Lamb who was slain & the Mighty Conquering King. It’s probably best to think of this angel along the same lines as the mighty angel from Rev 10: someone who comes in the power & authority of Christ (representing Christ), but not Jesus Himself.  This angel comes with the glory of God & great authority – showing that the judgment is at hand.
  2. Don’t miss the significance of the brightness of his glory.  It’s enough to light up the entire earth!  Remember that during the 5th bowl judgment the kingdom of Antichrist was plunged into darkness (Rev 16:10); the contrast with the coming of this angel would have been striking (to say the least)!
    1. Obviously, the Scripture here is speaking of literal events that will happen at the end of the Tribulation.  Yet this is also what spiritually occurs to every single person who comes to faith in Jesus Christ.  We who were once enslaved by darkness come into the glorious light of our Savior…

 

2 And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! 3 For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.”

  1. The angel’s proclamation of judgment.  Similar to the earlier proclamation of the three angels prior to the final harvest (Rev 14: one preached the gospel, one proclaimed the fall of Babylon, one warned people from taking the mark of the beast).  This may even be the same angel as the 2nd angel in Rev 14, only with an expanded description of what he proclaims.
  2. Declares the past state of Babylon: luxurious fornication that enticed all the world.  This is what the world had received through Babylon – this was the main attraction.  The world’s greed bought into her luxury, and the luxury brought them to fornication. The kingdoms of the world will be intertwined with Babylon & thus share in her fate.
  3. Declares the present state of Babylon: an accursed prison.  The verb tense indicates that even prior to God’s judgment, this is something that was already true.  Before Babylon is thrown down, it was already a prison – a place of punishment. It was a “dwelling place of demons” & all 3 descriptions basically paint the same picture (birds were often symbols of evil spirits).  As a literal city, Babylon will be overrun with demons; as a world-wide system, Babylon will be infected with demonic influence.  It was already a kind of a Hell on earth, even if no one saw it for what it was.  People didn’t even realize that what the city that they loved ought to have been despised because it was a prison for accursed things.
    1. This is true also of the slavery of sin!  People love what they ought to despise.

 

4 And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.

  1. Not only were the nations of the earth & the kings enamored with the stinking prison of Babylon, but apparently so were some of the people of God!  It’s sad enough to see the people of God today caught up with sinful excess; it’s hard to imagine how Christians during the Tribulation time will be caught up with it.  After all, these will be men & women who put their lives on the line to follow Christ by refusing to take the mark of the beast…  Yet apparently the appeal of Babylon is so strong that even those who claim to follow Christ will need to make the choice between the two.
    1. Too many Christians still try to ride the fence between God & the world.  No one can serve two masters (Mt 6:24), yet that’s exactly what many people attempt.  They put up their “Christian” front to certain friends, and show off their “worldly” side to others.  Or they try in a vain attempt to “have it all” by declaring their love for Christ on one hand, and then demonstrate a love for the world on the other.  The solution?  Come out!  Leave the shallow deceptions of the world behind to follow Christ & Christ alone. []
  2. What’s the problem when Christian’s don’t come out?  They shared in the sins; they will share in the judgment.  The same thing happened in ancient times.  Although God sent the people to captivity in Babylon for discipline, He also warned them not to stay in the city & get too comfortable because it would be judged. Jeremiah 51:6 “Flee from the midst of Babylon, And every one save his life! Do not be cut off in her iniquity, For this is the time of the LORD’s vengeance; He shall recompense her.” []  As with the ancient Jews, the people of God in the Tribulation time are not to get caught up in the excesses of Babylon; they needed to come out of the city.  There’s a great illustration of this with Lot & Sodom… (Gen 19)
    1. Question: if a professing Christian doesn’t leave Babylon, will they still be saved?  From the warning, it would seem that they would share in the judgment. Of course, with Lot, we see God go to extreme circumstances to take him out prior to judgment coming.  Should any professing Christians receive of Babylon’s judgment, we can be certain it won’t be God’s fault!  The more pressing question is: why wouldn’t someone who professes Christ leave?  It’s possible that they would be a false convert…  It’s certain that they were not abiding in the Lord Jesus!
    2. We can’t leave this without some personal application.  Is there something in which you’re caught up with the world?  Certain movies – internet sites – places you hang out – bad influences?   Is there an area in which you know you’re riding the fence of Christianity?  Come out!  Come follow the one you profess as Lord! …  Even if you don’t receive of the wrath of God (like those in Babylon), you can still receive of the consequences that come with sin.  We reap what we sow (Gal 6:7-8)…  What are you sowing?

 

5 For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.

  1. Like the original Tower of Babel, the sins of Babylon “reached to heaven.”  The verb for “reached” actually implies something being glued together, or clinging together.  Just as Babel had brick laid upon brick in an attempt to do without God, so does the Antichrist Babylonian system lay iniquity upon iniquity in its attempt to supplant God.  That God “remembers” her sins is not to say God had forgotten them – but rather that He allowed them to fill up on the full measure of His wrath.  When the time comes for Him to act, God will act.
  2. There’s quite a contrast here with the Church.  For those who have placed their trust in Christ, God has forgotten our sins (Isa 43:25) – our sins have been removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12).  Yet for those who continue in Babylon, their sins will be remembered.  Not a single sparrow falls without the God of heaven knowing it – how much more will He remember the sins of those who have hated His Son & His people?

 

6 Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her. 7 In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.’

  1. Judgment has been pronounced; now the measure of judgment is made known.  It’s double.  No longer will it be “an eye for an eye,” but “2 eyes for 1 eye.” Speaks of the fullness of the wrath of God that will be poured out.  The time for mercy is done; now there will be only judgment for Babylon.  There will be no sin left uncovered – no deception left unaddressed.  The system & city of Babylon will have spilled the blood of God’s beloved people, and deceived the world into rebellion; God’s judgment will be absolutely thorough.
  2. Yet Babylon itself will go to the end thinking it will be victorious.  God’s judgment will have been proclaimed over & over.  God has sent the two witnesses, the 144K of Israel, the multitudes of people from every nation, the angelic witness, the 7 seals, 7 trumpets, and 6 (to this point) bowl judgments.  And still the city & system of Antichrist’s Babylon will imagine itself to be victorious.  She’s blinded by pride as she declares: “I sit as a queen…will not see sorrow.”  Not true!  She sits as a harlot & will know nothing BUT sorrow in judgment… 

 

8 Therefore her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.

  1. Her judgment is assured & her judgment will be swift.  Like Babylon of old, which was overthrown by the Persians in a day – so will Antichrist’s Babylon be thrown down.  Isaiah prophesied of ancient Babylon in similar terms: Isaiah 47:8–9 “(8) “Therefore hear this now, you who are given to pleasures, Who dwell securely, Who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one else besides me; I shall not sit as a widow, Nor shall I know the loss of children’; (9) But these two things shall come to you In a moment, in one day: The loss of children, and widowhood. They shall come upon you in their fullness Because of the multitude of your sorceries, For the great abundance of your enchantments.” []  Because of the crimes of Babylon, there will be no doubt about the source of judgment of Babylon.  It will be swift & severe because it will come from the hand of God.
  2. Why such a severe judgment?  Because our God is strong – “for strong is the Lord God who judges her”.  He is fully capable of bringing His righteous judgment upon those who deserve it. … Some might doubt that God will ever judge – or perhaps think that God is too weak to judge.  Perish the thought!  Our God is strong – He’s powerful – there is nothing too hard for God to accomplish.  Some might look around at the world & think, “Well, it’s been 2000 years, and God hasn’t done anything yet.  Maybe He doesn’t care – or maybe He’s never going to judge at all.”  Be careful!  Our God is a consuming fire!  Our God is the Lord of Heaven & Earth.  When God is ready to judge, be assured that He WILL judge – and it will be swift & complete & fully righteous in all His ways.

 

–          3 laments over Babylon

9 “The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, 10 standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’

  1. Lament #1: the kings.  These may or may not have a connection with the 10 kings of Ch 17 that had killed the religious harlot Babylon; this seems to be a reference to the various leaders and kings from around the world.  When they see the destruction of the city, they lament Babylon’s power.  It was a “mighty city.”  Mighty = the same word used to describe God in vs. 8.  This was a city from which they derived their own power & authority & what they thought had been unbeatable was overthrown & destroyed in a matter of moments by the infinitely stronger Lord God.
  2. Why do they stand at a distance?  Apparently they are afraid of being caught up in the “torment” themselves.  Whether through the great burning or the massive earthquake of the 7th bowl judgment, apparently the destruction of Babylon was seen from miles around & could affect those who were too close to the city.
    1. It’s ironic that the kings of the earth knew to stand apart from Babylon, but the Christians needed to be persuaded to leave.

 

11 “And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: 12 merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; 13 and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men.

  1. The next who mourn are the merchants.  They don’t mourn for the judgment of God so much, as their lack of income – “for no one buys their merchandise anymore.” What did they sell?  Anything money can buy…including people.  Many translations interpret this as “slavery” (and that definitely could be an idea here), but the literal translation is as the NKJV: “bodies and souls of men.” (καὶ σωμάτων, καὶ ψυχὰς ἀνθρώπων.) Quite possibly, this could be a reference the terrible pornography & sex-slavery industries so prevalent today.
  2. Everything the world could have wished for was found in Babylon.  There was no lack of money, yet a serious lack of righteousness.  The material goods here sound attractive (with the obvious exception of slavery), but don’t forget that this was a city steeped in demons & spiritual fornication.  It was an “everything-but-God” society & beloved by the world.

 

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. 15 The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, 16 and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! 17 For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.’ …

  1. Lament #2: the merchants.  They lament Babylon’s beauty & riches.  For the economic leaders of the world, the Babylonian system was a goldmine – a never ending opportunity to make money.  There was always something more to buy & sell, and it was beautiful to them.
  2. Yet for all the confidence they had placed in their riches, they found that the riches of the world are fleeting – “in one hour such great riches came to nothing.”  It’s amazing how much the value of something can change based upon our circumstances.  A cup of water at a local diner is often handed out for free; that same cup of water in a desert can be very expensive.  Imagine the opposite scenario with the riches of the world.  Today, gold runs for over $1400 per ounce & investors of the world clamor to get it.  Yet what will be its value in the Day of Judgment?  When standing before the Lord God, the size of our bank accounts no longer matter – those great riches come to nothing.
    1. The key is to be rich in the things of the Lord!  Don’t store up treasures on earth; store up treasure in heaven. (Mt 6:20)

 

…Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance 18 and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What is like this great city?’ 19 “They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’

  1. Lament #3: the shipmasters/sailors.  Quite possibly, this could include all those who dealt with transportation.  It seems that Babylon will be a port city (whether on a river such as the Euphrates or by a sea like the Mediterranean), but the general category seems to include anyone whose jobs were benefitted by the earlier merchants. 
  2. The sailors lament Babylon’s ability to impart wealth.  If the merchants lamented the opportunity for wealth, the shipmasters more directly lament their own demise from acquiring that wealth.
  3. Note that by this point all kinds of people mourn over Babylon: (1) the political class & leadership, (2) the rich & upper class employers & merchants, (3) the working class.  They have mostly selfish reasons for weeping over Babylon, but although they weep over the city, not once do they shed a tear over the sin that was there. …  Even in the midst of Babylon’s judgment, they’re still blinded by their sin!

 

20 “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!”

  1. The world lamented over Babylon, but heaven was to rejoice!  This was the right reaction!  (We’ll see what the rejoicing looks like in Ch 19)
  2. Who rejoices?  Everyone.  “Heaven” would include all the angelic creatures.  “Holy” is better translated “saints” – meaning anyone who has been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ & set apart for His purposes.  And then the elders of the people of God are mentioned: the apostles (NT) & prophets (OT).
  3. Why will we rejoice?  Because we will have seen the vengeance of God.  … We typically might not think of God’s vengeance as something to rejoice over.  Recent controversies in evangelicalism center around the idea that God is always a “loving” God & never a vengeful God. …  Yet the Bible clearly speaks about the holy vengeance of God.  God describes Himself in the same breath as keeping mercy for thousands as He does visiting the iniquity of the fathers (Exo 34:7).  God declares firmly that vengeance belongs to Him (Rom 12:19).  God obviously takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Eze 33:11), and as the judge of all the earth He will always do what it right (Gen 18:25).  Part of doing what is right is standing up as a Judge for those He has promised to protect.
    1. Can God be both vengeful & loving?  Absolutely.  Look at God’s reason for vengeance in vs. 20: the Church.  Babylon had slaughtered the saints – the world system has continually persecuted the people of God for millennia, and it all comes to a head during the Great Tribulation in the Babylon system.  Because God loves His people so much, He exacts His righteous vengeance upon Babylon.
    2. There’s a direct implication here regarding the existence of Hell.  We know that God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son (Jn 3:16).  From that, some argue that God would never truly allow anyone in Hell because of the greatness of God’s love in Christ Jesus.  Yet if that is the case, what does that say about the love of God the Father for God the Son?  Surely we cannot assume that God loves Jesus any less than humanity?  If God loved us enough to send Jesus to save us, what is the proper response for God to show the people who hate & reject Christ?  The loving response of God the Father towards His Son would be to allow those people to go to Hell.  God IS love.  Yet mercy is not the only way in which God’s love can express itself; it can also be expressed in His vengeance and wrath on behalf of those whom He loves.

 

21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore.

  1. Very similar to how God pronounced judgment on ancient Babylon.  Jeremiah 51:63–64 “(63) Now it shall be, when you have finished reading this book, that you shall tie a stone to it and throw it out into the Euphrates. (64) Then you shall say, ‘Thus Babylon shall sink and not rise from the catastrophe that I will bring upon her. And they shall be weary.’ ” Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.” []
  2. What’s a millstone?  The tool used to grind wheat into flour: a very heavy, circular stone – about “four to five feet in diameter, on foot thick, and weighing thousands of pounds” (A. Johnson).  Imagine the kind of splash something like that would make in a pool…that’s the kind of violence that is spoken of. … Remember that Jesus warned those who would deceive His children that it would be better to have a millstone around their neck & be thrown into the sea (Mt 18:6) – that’s the judgment inflicted upon Babylon.

 

22 The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore, and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore. 23 The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. …

  1. The extent of Babylon’s destruction?  All signs of city life would be forever cut off.  No sound of joyful music – no sound of construction or city life – no lights will be shown – no weddings or celebrations of life – nothing.  Everything that was originally found attractive about Babylon to the rest of the world will cease to exist in Babylon – it will be left in utter ruins & destruction. “The very silence of the city is a testimony to God’s devastating judgment.” (Walvoord)
  2. This is why the different groups of people wept – but remember that this is really a reason to rejoice!  All of the things mentioned in vss. 22-23 are good things – who wouldn’t want those in their city?  Yet all of it was a mask for the fornication & sin that took place there.  This is a city deserving of judgment for their crimes.  See vs. 23-24…

 

… For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.”

  1. Crime #1: deception.  Specifically, the nations were deceived by the “sorcery” of Babylon.  Some have noted a connection between the word for sorcery (φαρμακείᾳ ~ “pharmacy”) & the vast abuse of drugs today.  It’s probably best to think of Babylon’s sorcery as their influence over the rest of the world.  What this city/world system does is so enticing, it’s as if the rest of the nations had been placed into a drug-induced stupor, completely willing to follow along with anything Babylon said to do.
    1. What’s the problem with deception?  Deceived people still go to Hell.  Deceived people still have sin that needs to be addressed – just ask Adam & Eve!  Claiming “I was deceived” is not an excuse to engage in sin & debauchery.  God has already revealed Himself through creation & our consciences, so that mankind is left without excuse (Rom 1:20).
    2. Yet because people are deceived, it underscores the need for the Church to go out & share the truth!
  2. Crime #2: persecution.  Babylon & the system behind it is guilty of the murder of the OT prophets & NT saints.  Babylon is ultimately guilty for all people who were murdered throughout the Tribulation (if not all of history).  From the very beginning, we see the spirit of Babylon at place with Cain & Abel.  Cain was jealous of his brother’s relationship with God, but instead of seeking to do better, he sought Abel’s destruction (Gen 4) – not unlike what Babylon does with the people of God in the Tribulation time.  Because the city was guilty of murder, it earned for itself the judgment of God.

 

Conclusion:

God judges Babylon – praise the Lord!  This is a reason for all people to rejoice – although most of the world will mourn its fall.  Those who have selfishly enriched themselves off of Babylon’s excesses will weep & wail at its demise.  Yet God’s judgment will be righteously poured out as He shows Himself strong on behalf of His people and His own holiness.

Obviously, these are all future events.  Revelation 18 gives a very picturesque way of describing it, but these are literal events that will take place at the end of the Great Tribulation.  Knowing that we (as born-again believers in Jesus Christ) won’t be here for those days, what does this say to us?

  1. Don’t get caught up in Babylon.  Beware of serving 2 masters – it can’t be done!   There are many things about this world that might seem to be attractive, but in the end it only brings death.
  2. Rejoice in the strength & justice of our Lord God.  There are many things about this world that are indeed unjust.  There are people who are unfairly taken advantage of – there are women & children who are oppressed – there is false teaching that abounds in the name of Christianity.  God has not forgotten any of this.  All of it will be judged, and it will be judged appropriately.
  3. Just as there was a call for God’s people to come out of Babylon, so is there still time for people to come out of the darkness of sin to Christ Jesus.  Until that Day of Judgment comes, there is an opportunity for people to repent.  May we be among those pleading with them to come out – sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

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