|By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2002|
|Babylon’s sins, and therefore her guilt, have already been described, now John describes the judgment that will come upon her. Dr. Thomas leads us through the descriptions found in Revelation 18.|
The Seventh Bowl: Part Four of Intercalation #1, Fall of Commercial Babylon Begun
A review of our April, May, June, and July lessons would be helpful in this point, but since those lessons are available elsewhere on this website, we will at this point recall only that Intercalation #1 covers Revelation 17:1–19:10. As an extended description of Babylon’s history and fall, the Intercalation constitutes an integral part of the Seventh Bowl Judgment. Parts Four and Five of that Intercalation—Revelation 18:1-24—tell of the fall of commercial Babylon. Parts Four and Five have three parts: a first angelic pronouncement of judgment on Babylon (18:1-3), a prediction of a voice from heaven with details of Babylon’s fall (18:4-20), and a second pronouncement of judgment on Babylon (18:21-24). This month we will discuss 18:1-8 as Part Four and next month 18:9-24 as Part Five.
First Angelic Pronouncement of Judgment on Babylon (18:1-3)
A new angel descended from heaven at this point in John’s vision. Because of the angel’s “great authority” and the illumination produced by his glory (18:1), some have thought this to be Christ Himself. That identification would hardly suit calling this being “another angel” (18:1), however. The angel has special prerogatives because of the seriousness of the announcement he has to make, but he is not Christ.
“Babylon” (18:2), the subject of his pronouncement, is the same as the Babylon described in Revelation 17. Both chapters refer to “Babylon the great” (17:5; 18:2), in both the city is guilty of fornication (17:1, 2, 4, 5, 16; 18:3) and of causing kings and earth-dwellers to imbibe of the wine of the city’s fornication (17:2; 18:3), and in both it will become an utter desolation (17:16; 18:17, 19). The city named in the two chapters has other common features. Yet chapter 18 views the city from a perspective different from chapter 17. The city’s abominations (17:4, 5) are causes of the city’s guilt in Revelation 17, but in chapter 18 her sensuality associated with luxury (“wantonness,” “excessive luxuries,” “delicacies,” or “luxury,” 18:3) are reasons for the guilt there. Abundant interaction with merchants of the earth (18:3, 11, 15, 23) and with those connected with the sea (18:17) characterizes the Babylon of Revelation 18, but not the city described in chapter 17. A notable economic prosperity and luxury marks the Babylon of chapter 18, but chapter 17 says nothing about such economic conditions.
The two chapters distinguish between two systems that have the same geographical headquarters. Chapter 17 highlights a religious network that operates independently of and in opposition to the true God; chapter 18 features an economic network that also operates independently and in opposition to the true God. When those two aspects of the city’s function collapse, that collapse will leave a large void worldwide both religiously and commercially. As part of the Seventh Bowl judgment, the collapse will mark the internal deterioration of the beast’s empire prior to the defeat of his political structure by Christ at His second coming (Rev. 19:11-21).
The angel’s pronouncement comes with a “loud voice” and duplicates the announce‑ment of Revelation 14:8: “Babylon the great has fallen, has fallen” (Rev. 18:2). Both passages refer back to Isaiah 21:9 and perhaps to Jeremiah 51:8. The declaration expresses the certainty of the city’s demise as part of a solemn dirge over the condemned city. Ancient Babylon fell in 539 B.C., but that historical event did not ultimately fulfill Old Testament prophecies of the city’s fall. Ultimate fulfillment of those prophecies and the predictions of Revelation await a future climax in conjunction with the return of Jesus Christ. The city’s destruction will become so complete that the site on which it lies will become “the habitation of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit and a prison of every unclean bird and a prison of every unclean and hated beast” (Rev. 18:2).
The cause of such desolation is the city’s prostitution with the kings of the earth and her luxurious immorality with the merchants of the earth (18:3). The passionate luxury and materialism of the great city will intoxicate all the nations, a sin for which God will hold her responsible. The city will promote herself by instilling in the peoples of earth an unquestioning faith in her supposedly inexhaustible resources. That action will discourage any sense of a deeper need for God. The “power of her wantonness” (18:3) depicts an insolent luxury, a self-indulgence with accompanying arrogance and vicious exercise of strength, exuberance of strength that is the flower of pride, or the impudence of wealth, wantonness, and unruliness arising from her fullness of supply. Besides the city’s fornication that consists of idolatry, she also has pride in her excessive wealth.
Prediction of a Voice from Heaven with the Details of Babylon’s Fall (18:4-20)
The details of Babylon’s fall divide into three parts: a call for God’s people to leave Babylon (18:4-8), laments by the kings of earth, the merchants, and the sea people (18:9- 19), and a note of heavenly rejoicing (18:20).
A call for God’s people to leave Babylon (18:4-8). “Come out of her, My people, that you not share with her sins, and that you might not receive of her plagues” initiates the call from “another voice from heaven” to God’s people in Babylon. The call, similar to calls in Jeremiah 50:8; 51:6-9, 45, urges departure from a literal city, but beyond that it is also a call to shun the enticements represented by the system that the city embodies. It is a call to leave the enticements of idolatry, self-sufficiency, reliance on luxury and violence against human life.
The sins of the city have indelibly impressed themselves in the memory of God (18:5), who will eventually vindicate Himself and His own (18:6). Christians should bless their persecutors (Matt. 5:43) and never repay evil for evil (Rom. 12:14, 17; 1 Thess. 5:15; 2 Tim. 4:14; 1 Pet. 3:9), but God will in His time implement the law of retaliation. Revelation 18:6 is not a prayer for personal vengeance by persecuted saints, but rather a heavenly interpretation of the divine response to cruelty committed by wicked people who have passed the point of no return in their moral choices.
The executioners of God’s judgment addressed in verse 6 are apparently the enemies of God. Just as He will use the beast and his allies to destroy the religious outreach of Babylon (Rev. 17:16-17), He will use the same group to eliminate the commercial outreach of Babylon. He chose His enemy Cyrus to carry out His judgment against Israel (Isa. 44:28; 45:1) and often in Scripture has collaborated with man in the execution of His will (see Exod. 14:26-27; 17:12-13; Judges 4–5; 7). He will do the same in disposing of commercial Babylon. The burning of the city in Revelation 18:8, 9, 18 will coincide with the burning of Revelation 17:16).
The city’s judgment relates to her self-glorification and satisfaction with luxury (Rev. 18:7). The latter sin, “become wanton” (18:7), denotes a luxurious lifestyle with the accompanying trappings of discourtesy, arrogance, self-indulgence, ruthless exercise of strength, and unruliness. The divine scrutinizer of motives detects a self-centeredness that is tantamount to self-deification, and He cannot let such sins pass without punishment. In addition to inflicting death, sorrow, and famine on the city, He will have the city burned up with fire (18:8).
We will continue John’s description of God’s dealings with commercial Babylon next month, but in the meantime, can we fail to see the similarity between Babylon’s material prosperity and that currently enjoyed by citizens of the United States of America? A few years ago, a question arose as to whether the United States of America had a place in biblical prophecy. That speculation depended on an identification of the USA with the Babylon of Revelation 18 because of the materialism that was and is paramount in both entities. Though the interpretation of Revelation 18 does not permit a reading the USA into the chapter, a similarity in materialism that has replaced the central role that belongs to God does exist in both areas. In America we enjoy much by way of material blessing, but we dare not allow those blessings to replace the singleness of devotion that belongs only to God who has provided eternal salvation for all who believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Note: For more details about God’s dealings with commercial Babylon under the seventh-bowl judgment, see my discussion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 310-327. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or www.gbibooks.com.