Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 18
- 1 The Fall of Babylon the Great
- 2 The World Mourns for Babylon
- 3 The Completeness of Babylon’s Destruction
The Fall of Babylon the Great
- 1After these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power, and the earth was illuminated with his glory.
Commentary: This angel is described as producing his own radiance, an attribute often given to God. This sharing of a divine characteristic shows the angel’s importance, which in turn points to the importance of his message. The following lament for the city, however, is in John’s words, not those of the angel. Whether or not one believes that John actually saw visions, it seems clear he reflected on them before committing them to writing. The saturation of Old Testament imagery (see primarily, Is 13, 34: Jer 51; Ezk 26-28, and Nah 3), shows the reader as much the inner workings of John’s head as it does the actual vision itself.  Verses 1-3 refer to the city as already fallen, but latter in verses 4-8 the scene seems to be taken place in present.
- 2And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, “Babylon the Great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of demons, and the prison of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird, 3for all nations have drunk the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.”
Commentary: The repetition of the word fallen alludes to Isaiah's announcement where he declares twice: "Babylon has fallen, has fallen" (Isaiah 21:9). The repetition emphasizes the promise of what God said He would do and that's bring judgment upon Babylon.
The Greek word "phulake" is translated here as "prison," but it could also refer to a "watchtower." In any event, this verse conveys that the city is in a state of utter desolation. Quite simply, it has been destroyed and made the home of demons, foul spirits, and unclean birds (e.g., vultures). It is important to note that other translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version, utilize the word "haunt" here. The NRSV reads, "It has become a dwelling place of demons, a haunt of every foul spirit, a haunt of every foul bird, and a haunt of every foul and hateful beast." This description has strong allusions to Jeremiah 51:37 and Isaiah 34:11-15. The city was filled with demon infestation and inhabitants were held captive under the harlot's spell. The offering of immorality and sin 'without consequence' is provided.
It should also be noted that the "fornication" the kings of the earth have committed does not refer to literal sexual intercourse. This metaphor is utilized numerous times throughout the book of Revelation.
The reason behind the judgment brought down upon Babylon is found in verse 3. Babylon's influence was comprehensive. Simply put the punishment was due to the idolatry of materialism and greed in Babylon. It's important to note that the sin was not obtaining prosperity and wealth, but rather the pursuit of such where it becomes an idol replacing God.
- 4And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you do not partake of her sins, and so that you do not receive her plagues, 5for her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”
This could be a proclamation to leave Rome, if the reader believes that John knows that Rome will fall. However, Rome was doing well at the time and in no real danger of falling. This statement could then be a call for the reader to refuse to partake in the sins of room, such as excess, gluttony, and other various types of immorality that go against Christian teaching. Since it is made clear at many points in the book that Rome is evil, this passage would be redundant if that was its only purpose. However, if it is a warning against types of sin then it has a more specific purpose, although it still fits with the larger theme of righteousness throughout the book. There is another voice that comes from Heaven and that is Jesus. Jesus is speaking to people leaving under the captivity of Babylon and telling them to not give in to her allurements.
- 6“Reward her even as she rewarded you, and repay her double according to her works. In the cup which she has filled, fill to her double.”
Commentary: Here is ancient law of lex talionis -- eye for an eye -- which echoes throughout the book of Revelation. This concept of justice is founded upon the principle that the punishment must meet and not exceed the crime. The first part o f this verse is written much like the sermons of Jesus Christ in the Gospels (Matthew 5-7). In addition, the context of this verse resembles something that Christ would say in a sermon or teaching. The phrase "double according to her works" denotes full requital as seen in Jer. 16.18, 17.18, 50.29. This verse carries along a recurring motif of divine retribution. Witherington III adds that it indicates "divine lex talionis and, in particular, that the punishment should be fit for the crime."
While this verse may very well be an excellent example of "eye for an eye" justice, this particular discourse is more often than not, associated with the Old Testament. For example, God's justice takes the form of plague very similar to those in the Book of Revelation when Moses attempts to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Throughout the vast majority of the New Testament, Jesus' teachings focus on moving beyond this sort of archaic justice to a structure of forgiveness. If this is the tone that the majority of the New Testament, it is interesting that this verse in particular, and, in general, the rest of the Book of Revelation, departs so sharply from the prevailing tone.
- 7“As much as she has glorified herself and lived luxuriously, that much torment and sorrow give her, for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as a queen, and am no widow, and will see no sorrow.’ 8Therefore will her plagues come in one day: death, mourning, and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.”
Commentary: The amount of suffering she will endure is equivalent to the amount of pride she possesses. It is also ironic how quickly the plagues come upon her because she is a majestic city with much power. This city is home to all seven kings/kingdoms, yet it only takes God one day to destroy her. And the plagues that will befall the city are listed clearly: death, mourning, and famine. However strong she believed herself to be because of her connection with the dragon, God is stronger and will conquer all.
The fact the town is burned with fire could be referring to the experience of Rome under Nero's rule.
The World Mourns for Babylon
- 9“And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her, will wail and lament for her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city, for in one hour is your judgment come.’”
Commentary: The kings mentioned in verse 9 are most likely the 10 kings who rule the kingdom of the Antichrist. Here again is lex talionis: just as the kings have warred with the lamb for one hour in Rev 17.12-14, so judgment comes in a single hour when the cty of Babylon will fall. This in turn represents the destruction and fall of evil.
- 11“And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: 12merchandise of gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, fine linen, purple, silk, scarlet, citron wood, all kinds of objects of ivory, all kinds of objects of wood, brass, iron, marble, 13cinnamon, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, animals, sheep, horses, chariots, slaves, and people’s souls. 14And the fruits that your soul lusted after are departed from you, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from you, and you will find them no more at all.”
Commentary: These verses list all items that were imported into Rome. It is interesting to note that the gifts given to Jesus Christ upon his birth are also listed here (gold, frankincense, and myrrh). Also, more importantly pointing to Rome is the sense that human slaves were trafficked. During this time, it was a common practice to trade slaves that were mainly acquired from war with there being approximately 60 million slaves in Rome at the time of this writing. Also, its important to note that all these items were considered luxury items imported to Rome that only the wealthy could afford. We may compare this product listing with Tyre's listed luxurious items from Ezekiel 27.2-24.
- 15“The merchants of these things who were made rich by her will stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, 16and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, 17afor in one hour such great riches have come to nothing.’”
Commentary: The merchants who have continuously ripped off their customers with extremely high prices will no longer be able to sell. In a sense, their materialistic ways will be cut off, and come to have no value.
17b“And every shipmaster, and all who travel in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off 18and cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like to this great city?’ 19and they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships in the sea were made rich because of her wealth, for in one hour she has been made desolate.’”
Commentary: The fall of the city comes very quickly and God is taking his revenge for those sinners and murders of his prophet.
The Completeness of Babylon’s Destruction
- 20“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her.”
Commentary: These are four groups called to rejoice in the judgment of God. It is rejoicing in God’s wrath of the evil and bringing of justice. “Oh heaven” is a figure of speech in which Heaven is a person. Saints are people of God, believers in general since apostles and prophets are also mentioned. It is likely that Apostles refer to the twelve desciples (excluding Judas, including Paul) in this context. Prophets could indicate just Old Testament prophets, or both Old and New Testament prophets. The word kirma likely refers to judgment as passed by a judge. Thus Rome is being judged for the martyrs she has killed.
- 21And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and cast it into the sea, saying, “Thus with violence will that great city Babylon be thrown down and will be found no more at all.”
Commentary: This verse is similar to in Jeremiah, when Jeremiah tied his prophecies to a stone and threw them into the Euphrates River, symbolizing the fall of Babylon.
- 22“And the voice of harpers, musicians, pipers, and trumpeters will be heard no more at all in you, and no craftsman of any craft will be found anymore in you, and the sound of a millstone will be heard no more at all in you, 23and the light of a candle will shine no more at all in you, and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride will be heard no more at all in you, for your merchants were the great men of the earth, and by your sorceries were all nations deceived.”
Commentary: According to D.E. Aune, the believe is that the wealth of Rome could only be attributed to sorcery and not naturally capable. Sorcery, prostitution, and idolatry allude to descriptions of Jezebel in 2 Kings 9.22.
- 24“And in her was found the blood of prophets, saints, and all who were slain upon the earth.”
Commentary: Babylon is a complex concept in Revelation. It is associated with a city which is the seat of international power; with the empires which have ruled over Israel throughout history; with a confederation of ten nations in service of the Antichrist; with false religion, or the manipulation of religious institutions for ungodly ends; and with the abuse of power in general. Babylon is opposed to Christianity, for it is "drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (17:6). The Babylonian system gains total control by usurping both political and religious power. In its most consummated form, it features the Antichrist as a political leader who presents himself as a savior to the people of the world and insists on being worshiped as the incarnation of God. The false prophet, in cooperation with the Antichrist, and under the pretense of being a great man of God, is the most powerful religious leader in the world. With the influence of his office, he proclaims the Antichrist to be the Messiah and people are forced to worship him as such.
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge University Press, 2003.