|By: Dr. Robert Thomas; ©2002|
|Continuing his study of Revelation chapters 17-19, Dr. Thomas describes the events surrounding the fall of Babylon and the attitudes of the people involved.|
- 1 The Seventh Bowl: Part Five of Intercalation #1, Fall of Commercial Babylon Completed
- 1.1 Prediction of a Voice from Heaven with the Details of Babylon’s Fall (18:4-20) A call for God’s people to leave Babylon (18:4-8).
- 1.2 Laments by the kings of earth, the merchants, and the sea people (18:9-19)
- 1.3 Rejoicing of God’s People over the fall
- 1.4 Second Angelic Announcement of Judgment on Babylon (18:21-24)
The Seventh Bowl: Part Five of Intercalation #1, Fall of Commercial Babylon Completed
Last month we began a look at a description of commercial Babylon’s fall in Revelation 18:1-8. This month we will continue and complete that description in Revelation 18:9-24. This continues our examination of the account of Intercalation #1 which extends from 17:1– 19:10 of the book. This intercalation or “parenthesis” in the ongoing chronological progress of Revelation furnishes important insights into the consequences of the seventh of seven bowl judgments in Revelation 16.
Chapter 18 includes the first of two angelical pronouncements regarding the fall of Babylon in verses 1-3, a prediction of a voice from heaven with the details of Babylon’s fall in verses 4-20, and a second angelic announcement of judgment on Babylon in verses 21- 24. Last month we reviewed verses 1-3 and examined verses 4-8 as we began studying the details of Babylon’s fall. Next in the predictive section come the laments by the kings of earth, the merchants, and the sea people in 18:9-19. Our outline for this section was
Prediction of a Voice from Heaven with the Details of Babylon’s Fall (18:4-20) A call for God’s people to leave Babylon (18:4-8).
Continuing that outline, we next move to
Laments by the kings of earth, the merchants, and the sea people (18:9-19)
Versification of the sub points is as follows: kings of the earth in verses 9-10, merchants in verses 11-13, 15-17a), and sea people in 17b-19. Verse 14 is a complaint of the merchants that briefly interrupts the series of lamentations.
The kings bemoan having lost their power so suddenly (18:10). They sob openly as they mourn over the smoldering city (18:9). They had committed fornication with her and her merchants (18:3), meaning they had been enriched by her luxury. The city had promoted herself by instilling an unquestioning faith in her supposedly inexhaustible resources, thereby discouraging any sense of a deeper need for God. The kings, having joined in that false worship, are now deprived of any power that such great wealth brought to them and the city. As they witness the city’s burning, they keep a safe distance away, because they are afraid the same thing may happen to them. They pronounce a twofold “woe” as they see the great city’s judgment firsthand.
The merchants are next to take up a dirge, weeping and grieving because no one buys their merchandise any longer (18:11). Their wail is longer than that of the kings. They have made money their god and used unscrupulous means to accumulate material goods. Their whole confidence lay in this great world center of commerce (18:16-17a). Their dirge centers on trade because the wealth it generates is usually associated with a false sense of security it generates. That wealth is now gone; no one buys from them now. In their misery the merchants list twenty-eight items from which they had profited in satisfying Babylon’s demands (18:12-13). Such a list of saleable merchandise is unparalleled for length elsewhere in Scripture. The items illustrate goods from John’s own time and from Old Testament times, but the materialism of the future as portrayed in this prophecy will far outdo anything that has preceded it. People will build their lives around great financial prosperity so that when the Babylonian system collapses, they will find nothing but grief and sorrow because of their material losses.
In the midst of the merchants’ dirge, the revealing angel injects their complaint (18:14), but then continues their deep lament by noting that the merchants, like the kings, will keep their distance “because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning” (18:15). They are crying and mourning just like the kings in 18:11. Likewise, they too have a twofold “woe” (18:19; see 18:10), but theirs pertains to the city’s opulence and splendor rather than her strength. This phase of lamentation closes on the same note as that of the kings: the brevity of the process of Babylon’s destruction, i.e., “in one hour” (18:17a; see 18:10).
Next a new set of mourners enter the picture, the sea-people (18:17b). They too stand at a distance, lamenting the city’s burning and marveling at her greatness. In that future day just before Christ returns, Babylon’s wealth will represent great spending power, making her a welcome resource for seafarers who use her port. Through her fall, those who make their living on the sea will lose their income and will therefore be full of grief (18:19). Their wealth, like that of the merchants, will go up in flames, and the destruction will occur in a very brief moment, i.e., “in one hour.”
Rejoicing of God’s People over the fall
The revealing angel generates a sudden change in mood as he calls on heaven and God’s people to rejoice over the same event that will cause such great mourning by the kings, merchants, and sea-people. The same thing that brings such deep sorrow on earth brings great jubilation to heaven and to “the saints, even apostles and prophets” (18:20). “Saints” is a general term for all the faithful. Apostles and prophets are special classes of saints whose ministries led the church in the initial stages of her existence. Many of them were martyred by the same false system that will grow to its prime toward the end of Daniel’s future seventieth week. The angel calls them to merriment in light of God’s future judgment on Babylon.
Second Angelic Announcement of Judgment on Babylon (18:21-24)
Revelation 18 ends the way it started, that is, with an announcement of God’s judgment on Babylon (18:21-24; see 18:1-3). Two angels, the revealing angel introduced in 17:1 and the angel making the first announcement of 18:1, have already participated in earlier parts of chapter 18. Next, a third angel, “a strong angel” (18:21), comes into the picture to issue a second pronouncement of Babylon’s judgment.
He foretells the city’s destruction, first in symbolic act (18:21) and then in explicit terms (18:22-24). To begin, he picks up a stone like a large millstone, one that in the day when John wrote was four to five feet in diameter, twelve inches thick, and thousands of pounds in weight. He then threw the stone into the sea to portray graphically the doom of Babylon. His accompanying explanation emphasizes the sudden and complete elimination of “Babylon the great city” from the earth and the finality of her disappearance as when a large stone sinks beneath the water’s surface, never to be seen again.
After his symbolic act, the angel becomes quite explicit in speaking of the absence of music, trades, and industry in the city (18:22). He notes the cessation of illumination and marriage festivities also (18:23a) and the causes for the demise of all such activities in Babylon (18:23b-24). The first cause is the emergence in the city of powerful people who selfishly exalt themselves (18:23b; see also 18:3, 7, 11ff). The second cause, an outgrowth of the first, is the city’s leading astray of the nations through her seductions (18:23c; see also 17:2; 18:3, 6-7, 9). The third cause, a further outgrowth of the first, is the shedding of righteous blood (18:24). As throughout Revelation, innocent blood violently shed cries out for vengeance until it is rewarded by punishment of the murderers. The destruction of Babylon answers to that punishment.
At the end of last month’s lesson we compared the materialism of the United States of America with that of future commercial Babylon in Revelation 18. Every passing day seems to emphasize even more how much the lives of most people in the USA center in material possessions. Their dominant attention focuses on the state of the economy and how that has a direct effect on their lifestyles. They vote for people for public office on the basis of who they think will boost the economy the most. Personal possessions and comfort are at the top in their scale of values. Mammon is their god. Friends, we need to guard ourselves from making the same mistake as Babylon of the future lest we too fall under the judgment of God. We must seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matt. 6:33). In doing that, we have Jesus’ promise that He will meet our physical needs. We must trust Him, His death, and His resurrection for salvation first. Then the rest of our life rests securely in His hands.
Note: For more details about Babylon’s reactions to God’s dealings with the city’s commercial interests under the seventh-bowl judgment, see my discussion in Revelation 8–22 (Moody Press, 1995), pages 327-351. To order this volume, you may contact Grace Books International at (800) GRACE15 or www.gbibooks.com.