Friday, November 19, 2021

63. The Revelation: Babylon, Judgment Pronounced and Avoided (Revelation 18:1-5)


Throughout history the petty kingdoms and empires built by proud, arrogant, God-rejecting rebels have come and gone. The spirit of humanism first expressed at Babel has permeated human history ever since. Unshakably optimistic despite centuries of war, slaughter, injustice, and cruelty, people still seek a utopia, to be brought about by humanity’s upward scientific progress. Having taken control (so they think) of their own destiny through science, sinners have no use for God and haughtily replace Him as self-styled gods devoted to their own sovereignty.

Compared to the glorious, indescribable majesty of the omnipotent God, all of man’s vaunted empires are a mere “drop from a bucket” (Isaiah 40:15), and God “has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed” (Acts 17:31). Nowhere in Scripture is there a more detailed description of the coming judgment than in Revelation 6–18. With the destruction of the last and greatest human empire, the stage is set for the triumphant return of the Lord Jesus Christ. That final empire is commercial Babylon, and its pending destruction is the theme of chapter 18.

Though some view it as a symbol for Antichrist’s whole godless system, the Babylon described here is most likely an actual city. It is called a city five times in the chapter (verses 10, 16, 18, 19, 21), and other features in the text imply that a literal city is in view. Since the text plainly describes Babylon as a city, it is safest to view it as a real city. Although it will be one city, its influence will be worldwide. As Antichrist’s capital city, it will represent his commercial empire. The judgment and destruction of Babylon will kill the head, and the rest of Antichrist’s world empire will follow in death.

Despite repeated warnings—including 144,000 Jewish evangelists, the two witnesses, and an angel flying in the heavens and proclaiming the gospel message—the people of the world will refuse to repent (cf. 9:20–21; 16:9, 11). Finally, God’s judgment will fall on Babylon. Chapter 18 records seven aspects of that judgment on Antichrist’s commercial empire.


"After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory. And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. 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.” (Rev. 18:1–3)

This solemn opening pronouncement of judgment gives two reasons for Babylon’s impending destruction: demonic activity and sensuality. The phrase “after these things” marks the beginning of a new vision. While still discussing the general theme of Antichrist’s world empire, destroyed by the seven bowl judgments of chapter 16, chapter 18 moves from its religious to its commercial aspects. John saw another angel, distinct from the one in 17:1. Some view this angel as Christ, but the use of the Greek word indicating another of the same kind explains that this is an angel of the same type as the one in 17:1. He may be the angel who had earlier predicted Babylon’s downfall (14:8). Three features reveal his unusual power and importance.

First, the angel came down from heaven with “great authority.” Second, when he arrived, “the earth was illumined with his glory.” He will make his dramatic appearance onto a darkened stage. The fifth bowl will have plunged the world into darkness (16:10). The flashing brilliance of a glorious heavenly being against the blackness will be an awe-inspiring sight to the shocked and terrified earth dwellers.

Third, the angel “cried out with a mighty voice.” No one will be able to ignore him. Everyone will hear him as well as see him.

His message will add to the terror caused by his appearance. It will be a word of woe for Antichrist and his followers: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” 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). A comparison of this passage with 16:17–19 suggests that this judgment takes place when the seventh bowl is poured out.

The first cause given for Babylon’s destruction is that “she has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit.” It was in the vicinity of Babylon that two hundred million formerly bound demons were released at the sounding of the sixth trumpet (9:13–16). They, along with the demons released from the abyss at the sounding of the fifth trumpet (9:1–11), those cast from heaven with Satan (12:4, 9), and those previously on earth, will be confined in Babylon.

Babylon will also be “a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.” That phrase symbolizes the city’s total destruction. Like grotesque carrion birds, the demons will hover over the doomed city, waiting for its fall. The depiction of the demons as unclean and hateful reflects heaven’s view of them.

Babylon’s destruction will also come because “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.” Antichrist’s evil empire will spread its influence to all the nations of the world. Having drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality (14:8; 17:2), the people of the world will fall into a religious and materialistic daze. The all-encompassing terms “all the nations, the kings of the earth, and the merchants of the earth” reveal that Babylon will seduce the entire world.


"I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Rev. 18:4–5)

God’s judgment on this commercially prosperous but morally bankrupt society can be avoided, as another voice from heaven makes clear. The message the angel proclaims, “Come out of her, my people,” is a call for God’s people to disentangle themselves from the world system. It may also be an evangelistic call to God’s elect to come to faith in Christ and come out of Satan’s kingdom (cf. Colosssians 1:13). In both cases, the message is to abandon the system.

First, believers are to flee Babylon so that they “will not participate in her sins.” The materialistic Babylon will exert an almost irresistible influence on believers to participate in her sins. Second, God’s people must also flee so they do not “receive of her plagues.” It is best to see these plagues as specific judgments on Babylon, perhaps with the outpouring of the seventh bowl (16:17–19). Finally, believers must flee Babylon because “her sins have piled up as high as heaven.” “Piled” is from a Greek word that literally means “to glue together” or “to join.” Then the angel adds that “God has remembered her iniquities.” He will take note of them as He did that earlier monument to man’s sinful, prideful rebellion at the tower of Babel (Genesis 11).