Free Bible Study Magazine
When we studied chapter 17 we discovered that the fall of Babylon represented the destruction of all that is opposed to God. We also saw how the spirit of rebellion in the hearts of men and women is commonly manifested in religious observance, and how God will ultimately judge the hypocrisy of all such false religion. In chapter 17:16 we further saw antichrist’s regents destroying the harlot or false religious system that had dominated the earth.
Here in chapter 18 we see the destruction of another manifestation of rebellion in the heart of humanity – the world financial system.
The Nature of Babylon
In the beginning, when God made man, He gave him all he needed. But along with man’s sin came an increasing lust for material wealth and possessions. This is expressed today in the sometimes vicious and often dark world of commerce. Human lives mean nothing so long as men can make money. This lust for money is manifested overtly in the arms trade, the drugs trade, the still thriving slave trade, and the so called sex industry. Yet it is also active in less obvious ways, such as in the exploitation of manual workers; for instance the low-paid miners of South Africa or the sweat-shop garment makers of Bangladesh.
Since the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, Christ instructed his disciples “Do not seek these things, but seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be given you as well” (Matt. 6:33). The writer to the Hebrews re-iterates: “Be content with such things as you have, for he has said I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). The materialistic and money-grabbing age we live in is simply another manifestation of ‘Babylon’ – the symbol of man’s rebellion against God. At the first Babel Man built a tower reaching to the skies, thinking to build their own secure future and to be free of God. Today, as men trust in riches and make wealth their security, the inspired author of Revelation warns of the imminent destruction of that security.
18:1-3 After these things I saw another angel, who possessed great authority, coming down out of heaven, and the earth was lit up by his radiance. He shouted with a powerful voice: “Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great! She has become a lair for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detested beast. For all the nations have fallen from the wine of her immoral passion, and the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have gotten rich from the power of her sensual behavior.”
The angel who announces the fall of Babylon appears with such great authority that the whole earth is illuminated by his God derived glory. This is to remind us that although (in the previous chapter) the ten regents hate and destroy Babylon, their action has been ordained by the hand of God in order to bring about God’s judgment. Indeed, throughout this chapter it is God’s triumph over Babylon rather than Babylon itself which is in view. The complete system of godless world religion, politics and finance is implied in the word ‘Babylon’ and this, along with all temporal things, will pass away, leaving only God’s kingdom remaining.
The Identification of Babylon
Whilst the power of ‘Babylon’ extends to the whole earth, it does appear that a particular city is singled out both in chapter 17 and 18 as the centre of this world system at the end of time. Hence it is somehow the destruction of this city which brings about the utter collapse of that system. Some commentators maintain that the cities referred to in chapters 17 and 18 are different; but it should be kept in mind that there is no reason why, at the end of time, the same city might not act as world centre for both religion and commerce. Like the original Babylon, this city shall have dominion over the entire world, which is why it is called ‘great’. But its destruction will be utter and final – its ruins being so desolate that only demons and vultures could dwell there.
Many scholars have tried to identify this city from the brief description we are given here:
This ‘Babylon’ is a financial centre of extreme importance to the world economy; so much so that its destruction will bring about immediate and utter financial collapse worldwide.
It is evidently an important port, since all the sailors on earth bemoan the end of their trade with it.
It is clearly a political centre, for it “rules over the kings of the earth.”
It is also described geographically as being founded on seven hills.
In today’s world, New York is generally regarded as the most important financial centre. But although New York is a port, it is no longer an important one from the point of view of US trade. The busiest port in the world is in now Singapore, and in any case neither Singapore nor New York are built on seven hills. Nor are they political centres; the political might of America, for instance, resides in Washington DC – many miles inland.
Traditional commentators have of course suggested that the Jerusalem (or Rome) of a by-gone age is meant are meant. One of the main reasons why such traditional views fail to satisfy me is that the destruction depicted is both total and permanent; and in chapter 19 it is followed immediately by the return of Jesus Christ. Also, the world has yet to witness the exact type of government and its associated pseudo religious activity which the rise of ‘antichrist’ will inaugurate. With this ‘futurist’ view in our minds it is perhaps also worth noting that neither Jerusalem nor Rome are near to significant modern sea ports. Haifa is Israel’s most important port, and Gioia Tauro is Italy’s.
One popular view among many evangelicals is that the Vatican is pictured here. The Vatican is in Rome, which certainly sits on seven hills. Even Catholic historians would admit that the papacies of past ages were responsible directly or indirectly for the persecution and death of literally millions of believers around the world, who would not submit to what they saw as the Catholic system of idolatry. Evangelicals may consider the fact that popes have led kings and nations astray by false doctrine make the Roman church a perfect fit for this description of ‘Babylon’, but in reality this picture is not complete. The Vatican is no longer a centre of world trade. Rich it might be, but a state needs a large population to drive demand for goods, something the Vatican does not have. Even if we viewed its citizens as living all over the world, most Roman Catholics live in very poor countries.
So, to cut a very long story short, having studied some major Biblical commentators as well as the modern geography of leading world cities, I have not been able to identify any particular city from this description.
But this highlights that in one sense identifying the city is not as important as identifying what it stands for, and what its end will be.
The Challenge of Babylon
18:4-6 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, so you will not take part in her sins and so you will not receive her plagues, because her sins have piled up all the way to heaven and God has remembered her crimes. Repay her the same way she repaid others; pay her back double corresponding to her deeds. In the cup she mixed, mix double the amount for her.
Here is a call to separation. It would be too late to tell people to come out of Babylon after her destruction. So this warning, given by God himself, must be for those living in the time leading up to these events, including us today. Believers in every generation, as well as those alive at the time of the end, must separate themselves completely from this evil system of rebellion against God. Not to do so is to consent to its sins. Those who are affected by the influence of the sin all around are in danger of being swallowed up with it and hence subject to the plagues that will fall on it; hence the strongly worded warning of 2 Corinthians 6:17:
Therefore “COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM AND BE SEPARATE, SAYS THE LORD. DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN, AND I WILL RECEIVE YOU.”
When the Lord Jesus Christ spoke about the end time in which we are living, he warned his followers not to be taken up with the things of this life. “But be watching out for yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with hangovers and drunkenness and anxieties over [things] pertaining to everyday life, and that day come on you suddenly [or, unexpectedly]. (Luke 21:34)
Jesus illustrated his warning using the story of Lot’s wife. When Lot foolishly went to live in Sodom, his soul was vexed by the godlessness of the place. His wife, however, began to acquiesce in it. So much so that when God rained judgment down upon Sodom, her heart still being attached to the city and its lifestyle, she turned back to it and became a pillar of salt. “Remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32).
Worldliness has been identified in the scripture as hatred of God. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 John 2:15
We are to live as citizens of heaven, who have no permanent home here and who are quite alien to the world system of which God says “her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities (v5).” As she had treated the saints of God without mercy, so would she be judged without mercy. (v6)
18:7-8 As much as she exalted herself and lived in sensual luxury, to this extent give her torment and grief because she said to herself, ‘I rule as queen and am no widow; I will never experience grief!’ For this reason, she will experience her plagues in a single day: disease, mourning, and famine, and she will be burned down with fire, because the Lord God who judges her is powerful!”
One might see this as an apt description of affluent societies across the world today. The rich think themselves secure in their wealth and luxury and are careless about the coming judgment. They say “where is the promise of his coming?” But sorrow and torment will overtake them.
Humanity thinks that its empire is invincible, that humankind by means of intelligence or discovery will somehow be its own saviour. Even as global disasters face them, humankind thinks that technology, or their own inventive minds and skills will win the day. But God will destroy this illusion and bring utter destruction to the pride of all people by plagues of death, sorrow and famine which shall strike the world simultaneously. Babylon’s destruction will demonstrate that “mighty is the Lord who judges her”.
The Destruction of Babylon
18:9-20 Then the kings of the earth who committed immoral acts with her and lived in sensual luxury with her will weep and wail for her when they see the smoke from the fire that burns her up. They will stand a long way off because they are afraid of her torment, and will say, “Woe, woe, O great city, Babylon the powerful city! For in a single hour your doom has come!”
Then the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn for her because no one buys their cargo any longer —cargo such as gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all sorts of things made of citron wood, all sorts of objects made of ivory, all sorts of things made of expensive wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, perfumed ointment, frankincense, wine, olive oil and costly flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and four-wheeled carriages, slaves and human lives.
(The ripe fruit you greatly desired has gone from you, and all your luxury and splendour have gone from you —they will never ever be found again!)
The merchants who sold these things, who got rich from her, will stand a long way off because they are afraid of her torment. They will weep and mourn, saying, “Woe, woe, O great city — dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet clothing, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls —because in a single hour such great wealth has been destroyed!”
And every ship’s captain, and all who sail along the coast — seamen, and all who make their living from the sea, stood a long way off and began to shout when they saw the smoke from the fire that burned her up, “Who is like the great city?” And they threw dust on their heads and were shouting with weeping and mourning, “Woe, Woe, O great city —in which all those who had ships on the sea got rich from her wealth —because in a single hour she has been destroyed!” (Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has pronounced judgment against her on your behalf!)
The voices of the bridegroom and his bride will never be heard in you again. For your merchants were the tycoons of the world, because all the nations were deceived by your magic spells! The blood of the saints and prophets was found in her, along with the blood of all those who had been killed on the earth.”
The contrast between the citizens of earth and the citizens of heaven is striking if we compare these verses with those of Revelation 19. There the saints are called to rejoice (19:20) in the destruction of man’s rebellion, as vengeance is meted out for their sufferings and God’s kingdom is established on earth. But even whilst the people of heaven rejoice in the judgment of the great whore, the people of earth mourn and lament.
The destruction of the world’s centre of commerce brings about worldwide economic collapse, reducing the nations to abject poverty. All the leaders of the world, who had been unfaithful to God by their love of idolatry, immorality and luxury, as they witness the destruction of Babylon will weep and lament as everything which their souls had lusted after is permanently snatched from them. Standing at a distance, for fear lest they be engulfed in her torment they wail, “Alas! Alas!” As they recognize God’s judgment on the city.
Business men, who had made their fortune out of Babylon will also stand at a distance in terror and mourn, not for her destruction, but because they will no longer be able to add to their riches. The self-indulgence their souls craved shall be denied them from henceforth forever.
Those employed in sea trade, captains and crews also keep at a safe distance to watch her smoke rising to heaven. Never, they said, had there ever been such a great city on earth. V19 They throw dust on their heads, shrieking and weeping because all prospect of wealth was now denied them. The whole picture conveys a sense of eternal judgment beginning. Look at the language used:
18:21-24 Then one powerful angel picked up a stone like a huge millstone, threw it into the sea, and said, “With this kind of sudden violent force Babylon the great city will be thrown down and it will never be found again! And the sound of the harpists, musicians, flute players, and trumpeters will never be heard in you again. No craftsman who practices any trade will ever be found in you again; the noise of a mill will never be heard in you again. Even the light from a lamp will never shine in you again!
A powerful angel takes a large millstone and hurls it into the sea exclaiming that such will be the overthrow and complete ruin of Babylon; it will never be found again. Never again would there be heard the sound of music in her streets. There will be no skilled worker, mechanic, builder, or trader of any kind found there. Those who prepared and provided food shall cease to exist. The destruction of world rebellion has begun, and is now irreversible. Soon Christ will descend to battle and claim his rightful place as Lord. The judgment of the wicked which begins on earth shall be continued forever in hell.
As the lights of the city are extinguished for the last time, joyful voices, such as those of newly married couples will be heard no more. The picture presented is one of complete desolation.
The reason for God’s pouring out his judgment on Babylon is made clear at the very end of this chapter. The wealthy business men of the world who made their home there deceived the nations with sorcery, a word which denotes the use of drugs and occult power. In her ruthless greed, idolatry and ungodliness this “city” had slaughtered the saints and was held responsible for the death of all those killed on earth.
The world is not a good place to live! It is at enmity, or at war, with God. The cry from heaven should inform us today “Come out of her my people” Are you willing to turn your back on all that you know to be wrong in the sight of God and set your heart on things which are above (Colossians 3:1-3) so that you might rejoice and not mourn when God arises to judge the earth?