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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Revelation 18

toggle collapse

The Fall of Commercial Babylon

A. Announcing the fall of Babylon.

1. Introduction: is this the same Babylon as is described in chapter 17?

a. Good scholars see the issue differently. Some point to two manifestations of Babylon, one religious and one commercial or material. Others see the two as one, both being judged at the same time.

b. There are definite similarities between Babylon as described in Revelation 17 and Revelation 18.  Both are under the rule of Antichrist, and have ruling queens; both are filled with blasphemy; both hate the saints, and shed their blood; both are associates with kings in fornication; and both are under judgment and destroyed.

c. However, there are also some significant differences:

Religious Babylon (Rev. 17) Commercial Babylon (Rev. 18)
1. Mystery Babylon 1. Great Babylon; Babylon the Great
2. Symbol: a harlot woman 2. Symbol: a great city
3. Identified with Rome (inland) 3. Identified with a port city
4. Woman, whore, and mother 4. Habitation, great city, market place
5. Guilty: religious abominations 5. Guilty: greed, self-indulgence
6. Destroyed by a political power
that previously supported her
6. Destroyed by a sudden act of God

d. In my view, it is best to see them as intertwined, yet somewhat distinct. Religious Babylon of Revelation 17 is judged at the mid-point of the seven-year period of tribulation. Commercial Babylon is judged at the end of that period.

i. This breadth in prophecy shouldn't surprise us. Think of what the Old Testament says about the first coming of the Messiah:

- Micah said that Messiah would come out of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
- Hosea said that Messiah would come out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1)
- Malachi said that Messiah would come to the temple (Malachi 3:1)
- Zechariah said that Messiah would come to Zion (Zechariah 9:9)
- Isaiah said that Messiah would come to Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2)

ii. Which of these is true? They are all true. So it isn't strange at all to say, "Babylon is falling" and to mean it in two senses (religious Babylon and commercial Babylon) at two different times (the middle of the Great Tribulation and the end of the Great Tribulation).

e. This passage is very much in the style of Old Testament prophecies of doom regarding wicked cities. Two examples of this are Babylon (Isaiah 13-14, Isaiah 21 and Jeremiah 50-51) and Tyre (Ezekiel 26-28).

i. "John has caught the spirit of the prophetic doom songs." (Morris)

2. Is Babylon of Revelation 18 a literal or symbolic city?

a. Some have thought it to be a future rebuilt Babylon on the Euphrates River in the Middle East. This is now a desolate desert in modern day Iraq.

i. Sudam Hussein has been outspoken in his desire to resurrect the ruined city of Babylon in all of its glory. He may in fact do this, and it is conceivable that a rebuilt Babylon could be a world economic center, especially with the wealth of Mideast oil. But so far, Hussein has not made good on his dream to rebuild Babylon.

b. But most likely, commercial Babylon is symbolic, like religious Babylon. "When the Lord was here on earth He spoke of the great hatred that 'the world' had for Him and His own (John 15:18,19). What is this world but a combination of religion, government and commerce? In other words, Babylon in all its parts stands for that which Christ called 'the world.'" (Barnhouse)

i. "In portraying the destruction of a (symbolic) city, he describes God's judgment on the great satanic system of evil than has corrupted the earth's history." (Johnson)

ii. "In chapter 18, the context seems to indicate that Babylon here is viewed in its political and economic character rather than its religious aspect." (Walvoord)

3. (Rev 18:1-3) Announcement of the glorious angel.

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

a. Illuminated with his glory: This angel coming down from heaven is so "fresh" from God's presence that he glows. "So recently has he come from the Presence (of God) that in passing he flings a broad belt of light across the dark earth." (Swete)

i. "It is a matter of no great moment, whether by this angel we understand Christ, or a created angel; the description agreeth to Christ, and may agree to a created angel." (Poole)

ii. "The term 'another' (Gr., allon) makes it clear that this angel is the same in kind as the angel of 17:1." (Walvoord)

b. Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen: He announces that Babylon is fallen, fallen; the phrase is "repeated like a solemn dirge of the damned." (Robertson)

c. The city has become a dwelling place of demons: This is "A prophetic picture of absolute desolation where the proud achievements of man become the demonic haunts of unclean and horrible creatures." (Mounce)

d. Abundance of her luxury: Babylon's sin is not only idolatry (referred to with the term fornication), but also pride, greed and selfishly held and wealth.

4. (Rev 18:4-5) A call to God's people to separate from Babylon.

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

a. Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins: It is inconceivable that a child of God could be a part of religious Babylon (though elements may creep in). But commercial Babylon, with its materialistic lure, is a constant threat to be guarded against.

b. Lest you receive of her plagues: The warning is focused towards saints who are in the position Lot was in while living in Sodom (Genesis 19). These are God's people in a place they shouldn't be, a place ripe for destruction.

c. The call to depart from Babylon and the worldliness that it represents is a theme repeated frequently in the Scriptures.

i. Depart! Depart! Go out from there, touch no unclean thing; go out from her, be clean, you who bear the vessels of the LORD. (Isaiah 52:11)

ii. Flee from the midst of Babylon, and everyone save his life! (Jeremiah 50:8)

iii. My people, go out of the midst of her! And let everyone deliver himself from the fierce anger of the LORD. (Jeremiah 51:45)

iv. Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

v. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:11)

d. Their sins have reached to heaven: The sins of commercial Babylon have piled up like a tower - the tower of Babel.

e. God has remembered her iniquities: This is the destiny of the materialistic world, but towards believers, God says I will remember their sins no more. (Hebrews 8:12)

5. (Rev 18:6-8) A call to those who will carry out Babylon's judgment.

"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. 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.' 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."

a. Render to her just as she rendered to you: The ancient Greek word for render (apodidomi) means literally "to pay a debt" or "to give back that which is due." God will give to commercial Babylon exactly what she deserves.

b. Repay her double according to her works … mix for her double: Double restitution was required in the Old Testament in cases of theft (Exodus 22:4-9). This perhaps is a commentary on how Babylon has made her wealth - through dishonest dealings.

c. This passage presents a three-fold sin. First, self-indulgence (lived luxuriously). Second, pride (glorified herself … sits as a queen). Third, avoidance of suffering (am no widow, and will not see sorrow). All these things are characteristic of worldliness and materialism.

d. Therefore her plagues will come in one day: The destruction of commercial Babylon will come suddenly, and with completeness (utterly burned with fire).

B. Lament for commercial Babylon.

1. (Rev 18:9-10) Lament of the kings.

"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, 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.'"

a. Standing at distance for fear of her torment: So great is the heat and smoke of her burning that these kings must stand at a distance. Some think this may be an indication that nuclear weapons are used in the judgment of these commercial centers.

i. "Whether this is to be understood of the literal destruction of the city of Rome by fire, is surely doubtful, considering the mystical character of the whole prophecy." (Alford)

b. Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! "With a touch of grim humour he paints them as standing at a safe distance from the conflagration, and contenting themselves with idle lamentations." (Swete)

2. (11-17a) Lament of the merchants.

"And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: 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; 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. 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. The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, 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! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.'"

a. Merchandise of gold and silver: This long list needs little explanation, except to note these are all luxuries, not necessities. It is plain that the mourning is rooted in self-interest: for no one buys their merchandise anymore.

i. "The combined picture is one of complete abandonment to the wealth of this world and complete disregard of the God who gave it." (Walvoord)

b. And bodies and souls of men: The profits of commercial Babylon have come through cruelly using others. They sold the bodies and souls of men. This idea has many applications, none less so than today's widespread prostitution and pornography.

c. Those who lived for the luxuries of commercial Babylon will be tormented by hell all the more: you shall find them no more at all. Ultimately, hell will be a place of unfulfilled desire.

3. (17b-19) Lament of the sea-captains.

"Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, 'What is like this great city?' 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.'"

a. Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth: Again, little comment needs to be made on this, other than to notice that their sorrow at commercial Babylon's fall is selfish.

4. (Rev 18:20) Call to the heavens and the people of God: rejoice!

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

a. Rejoice over her: Should God's people rejoice when judgment comes? Yes, but we don't rejoice in the destruction in judgment. Rather, we rejoice in the righteous resolution God's judgment brings.

C. Finale: commercial Babylon's death knell.

1. (Rev 18:21) An angel graphically shows Babylon's fall.

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."

a. A mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea: This is reminiscent of Jeremiah's instructions to Seraiah to bind a stone to a text of Jeremiah and cast it into the Euphrates. Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her: and they shall be weary. (Jeremiah 51:61-64).

i. But it also reminds us of what Jesus said in Matthew 18:6: But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. This applies to Babylon in Revelation 18, because she led others into sin. It is a terrible thing to sin unto yourself; it is even more terrible to lead others into sin.

b. The great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore: Some day, this world system will pass away, like a great stone falls to the bottom of the sea.

i. Will this fall hurt us? We will only be hurt to the extent that we invest ourselves in the mentality of commercial Babylon's materialism and worldliness.

2. (Rev 18:22-23) Babylon is left desolate and powerless.

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

a. Shall not be heard … shall be found anymore … shall to be heard in you anymore … shall not shine in you anymore: In graphic and poetic language, John describes how the industry and commerce of Babylon come to an end.

b. For by your sorcery all the nations were deceived: Sorcery is the ancient Greek word pharmakia, which means, "to prepare drugs." The lure of commercial Babylon is like a drug addiction, fed by deceptive advertising.

3. (Rev 18:24) The ultimate reason for commercial Babylon's judgment: she has killed the prophets and saints.

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

a. The blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth: The extent of this charge is an indication that this great city is symbolic of the world system at large. There is no one literal city that is responsible for all who were slain on the earth.

b. God takes the persecution of His people as a personal offense. Those who attack His people really attack Him.

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission


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