Because Revelation 17 and 18 are two parts of this parenthetic break between the final seventh Bowl Judgment recorded at the end of chapter 16 and the Second Coming of Jesus presented in the middle of chapter 19, it’s worth a quick recap of what John is referring too when he mentions the judgment of the great city of Babylon.
Historically, we know ancient Babylon possessed a significant place on the world stage. And yet, for the last 2000 years, it’s simply a fact, the city itself has laid in complete ruin. While it’s possible that in this End Times scenario, Babylon will once again rise from the ashes to dominate the world stage, it’s more likely John is employing figurative language.
In presenting “Babylon the Great” in chapter 17 as being the “Mother of Harlots” riding upon the “scarlet beast,” John was illustrating the fallen, Satanically-conceived, secular, moral system that has always facilitated man’s attempt to build a life apart from God.
In this chapter, John is now going to present Babylon as being a great city so that he can describe her destruction and the world’s reaction. Again, while this chapter may document the judgment of an actual port-city central to the global order, I lean towards this all being a literary technique whereby John is articulating God’s judgment of something much larger.
As I noted last Sunday, it’s vitally important you see what John is referencing using the term “Babylon the Great” as being intentionally broad and non-specific. In discussing the judgment of religious Babylon recorded in Revelation 17, it’s clear John was not describing a perversion of Roman Catholicism but any world system of morality apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Again, as we look at the judgment of this wicked city in chapter 18, it’s important we avoid narrowing the interpretation to only one institution.
Before we dive into the text, I need to establish an idea that will aid in your understanding of this chapter. Because John uses the same term “Babylon the Great” in both Revelation 17 and 18, we can safely say he’s referencing two things that are absolutely linked to one another — think of them as being two sides of the same coin. And yet, as you work through the text, you’ll notice the system of Babylon judged in this chapter is distinctly different.
A great example of this contrast is the way in which Babylon is judged in Revelation 17 as opposed to the way she’ll be judged in this chapter. Concerning the moral systems antithetical to God, she’ll prove to be her own undoing. Secular humanism (the structure which exalts man in place of god) will give way to a twisted monotheism (the worship of one man)! Babylon will be destroyed by the very beast it rode to power!
And yet, regarding the city of Babylon being described in this chapter, in verse 8 we read, “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.” It’s evident this manifestation of Babylon will be brought to ruin by the very hand of Almighty God.
In order to understand the interesting connection as well as the distinction of these two expressions of Babylon, think back to the first mention of Babel in Genesis 11. In this scenario, where the descendants of Noah decided to rebel against the commands of God to spread out and fill the earth following the flood, we discover two distinct characteristics.
Initially, there was this moral framework introduced by Nimrod that sought to exalt man into a position where he was no longer in need of God (“let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth”). And yet, as the story unfolds, it was this moral framework that then practically manifested into the creation of a brand new society… We read, “They built a city” with “a tower whose top was in the heavens.”
Culturally speaking, this is the universal pattern that has remained consistent throughout the ages — moral systems create the foundation upon which societies are formed. Let me provide you several examples of how this works… Hitler’s socialist pursuit of a Third Reich was based on Darwinistic ideas concerning human value and worth. Understand, the holocaust was the logical result of the survival of the fittest central to evolutionary theory.
Stalin’s Communist Revolution in Russia, Mao’s in China, or Fidel’s in Cuba were all born from Marxists' concepts concerning how society might best fulfill basic human needs and define the benefits of work in the place of any type of Theistic influence regarding man.
Societies like ancient Egypt, the Aztecs, or more recently seen in Imperial Japan, North Korea, or Iran were entirely established on the deification of a supreme leader. In a similar fashion, the Ming Dynasty, the early days of the British Empire, Vatican City, or present-day Saudi Arabia are all societies driven by the wishes of an absolute monarch.
Even democracies require certain basic moral foundations to exist… For example, in the West, democratic ideas were originally born from a largely Judeo-Christian ethic. In fact, one can argue democracy can only exist with this particular theological foundation — which explains why so many of our freedoms are now under attack. It’s only natural that as our moral system moves away from Christian principles so will our system of governance.
If you think I’m taking this to an extreme, this whole idea is why nations who move further away from a core belief in God become more communistic, socialist, or even nationalistic as the State and in some instances a charismatic leader fills the role of being the supreme, guiding authority. It’s also why nation-building as a geopolitical strategy was a terrible idea.
It’s simply a reality that countries without a Judeo-Christian worldview eventually fail to adopt a democratic form of governance. The progress of Indian has been hampered by the Hindu caste system. Beyond this, the theological tenants of Islam have made it virtually impossible for democratic freedoms to take root in places like Afghanistan or Iraq.
Again, all societies are built upon moral systems — which is why a broad interpretation of what we’d call economic Babylon is so helpful. No matter the particular era or specific culture, nation, or commercial system, it is always this spirit of Babylon (a moral system opposed to God) that creates the city of Babylon (the pursuit of some type of societal utopia apart from the influence of God). Not only do these things always end up failing but as we’ll see this morning they will all be brought to ruin through the judgment of God.
Revelation 18:1-3, “After these things (after the destruction of religious Babylon when the Antichrist declares himself to be god) 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.’”
Back in the parenthetic break of Revelation 14 situated between the last Trumpet and first of the Bowl Judgments, John records three angelic proclamations to all of the earth that occur towards the end of the Tribulational Period. The first angel was sent to declare the “everlasting Gospel” and the third came to provided humanity a stark warning as to what the eternal consequences would be for anyone who took the Mark of the Beast.
Between these two pronouncements, John records a second angel flying through the midst of heaven declaring, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” It would seem Revelation 18 opens with John returning back to Revelation 14:8 in order to give us more details on what the angel said and to explain what the ultimate judgment of Babylon would practically look like.
I mentioned in our commentary of chapter 14 that this phrase “Babylon is fallen, is fallen” is better translated in the active tense as “Babylon is falling, is falling.” In context, the angel was warning the world not to place her trust in what was going to be destroyed.
To this point, in verse 8, we’ll read a voice come from heaven declaring, “Therefore her plagues will come in one day” lending to the idea this angelic declaration was predictive. By the close of the chapter, we will witness the fruition of this angelic warning when the society the city of Babylon represents is eventually wiped from the face of the earth.
As for the timing of this judgment, in his record of the last Bowl Judgment, John writes in Revelation 16:19, “And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.” It’s safe for us to assume Babylon’s ultimate judgment and therefore what we have recorded in this chapter happens at the very end.
With regards to the final societal manifestation this moral system created only to become dominated by the Antichrist, look back at verses 2 and 3… The angel declares that the city of Babylon had “become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” There is no doubt this worldly society had grown wicked and depraved, embraced evil, and had become demonically-influenced.
Additionally, the angel adds that “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.” Not to beat a dead horse but the language used here is describing a global system and not a specific city.
While this final world-society born from a moral framework co-opted by the Antichrist will be incredibly profane and grotesque, she will also be immensely wealthy. Materialism will flourish. The riches of men will abound. Most interestingly, this Greek word “luxury” literally refers to an excessive strength longing to break forth. Men will pursue an eager desire that is never fulfilled or met. The word can be translated into English as wantonness or delicacy.
Revelation 18:4-7, “And I heard another voice from heaven (likely this is the voice of Jesus) saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. (We’ll leave our commentary on this verse for the end of our study.) For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.
(On account of her sins, Jesus says God will…) Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works (the Law of Restitution at work); 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.’
Not only will God judge the world according to her crimes and in the manner of justice as articulated in His Word (double restoration), but you can’t help but notice the world’s pride, incredible arrogance, and the false sense of security yielded by her wealth.
Revelation 18:8, “Therefore (as a consequence of these things) her plagues (literally her judgments) will come in one day — death and mourning and famine (will result). And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.”
Keep in mind, the description being provided in this text isn’t an economic collapse or a market crash. Instead, Jesus is saying the judgment of this world will be swift, complete, and total. In one day, everything this world holds dear and takes pride in… Everything mankind has built for himself and finds security in… will be destroyed and brought to ruin.
Imagine such a scenario where the markets are gone and the bedrock of the global economy is completely demolished. Businesses, portfolios, investment accounts, retirement funds, even money will become obsolete. With every city brought to rubble, island sinking, and mountain flattened, it’s hard to imagine real-estate being a safe hedge at this point.
As we’ll see in verses 12 and 13, material possessions won’t even matter. Contrary to what William Devane says not even gold or silver will be able to protect your wealth. My guess is by this point even Tom Selleck will give up peddling reverse mortgages to seniors. Jesus says in “one day” this entire society and economy built by man will be destroyed and “utterly burned with fire” making any security found in such things seemingly foolish.
Notice the world’s reaction to this judgment… Revelation 18:9-13, “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.’ (People are shocked how fast the judgment came.)
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.”
In response to the sixth Seal Judgment, John writes, in Revelation 6:15, how “every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains.” In fact, the existence of slaves during the Tribulation Period will be confirmed again in Revelation 19:18.
While it’s difficult to consider a future scenario where slavery is once again accepted, it’s worth pointing out the belief that the majority of our society is somehow free is comical. How many people in our present commercial system really work for themselves?
Most work a 9 to 5 at a job they hate, doing a task that’s uninspiring, for a boss they resent, with people they despise, so that a corporation is enriched, for a check that’s insufficient to cover their essentials, pay the person who’s raising their children, and get out from under the debt of a student loan they got for their useless Liberal Arts degree. Yeah, freedom!
In a way that only they can, the Babylon Bee recently posted a satirical article illustrating this dynamic titled, “Woman Escapes The Patriarchy To Find Freedom In Grueling 80-Hour Work Week” … CHICAGO, IL — According to sources, local business analyst Abby Staughton has finally escaped the shackles of the patriarchy to find freedom and worth in an 80-hour workweek, working for an overbearing boss. "This is true happiness," said Staughton as she sat through her fourth meeting of the day discussing first-quarter sales figures for Melcorp Corporation. "My feminist ancestors fought so I could answer to 12 different middle managers in a thankless job before going home to an empty apartment and drinking wine. I have reached the pinnacle of womanhood.”
Staughton has said that while she has to deal with unreasonable demands from male co-workers and sometimes even sexual harassment, at least she doesn't have to live a boring life of homemaking with a husband and kids. "I don't want all that domestic suburban bliss, because that's not feminist," she said aloud as she daydreamed about being barefoot in the kitchen with a rich lumberjack husband. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have to redo the cover sheets on these TPS reports before my boss threatens to fire me again."
In verse 14, Jesus provides the real inditement of this economic system… Revelation 18:14, “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.”
As I mentioned earlier, moral Babylon is the foundation upon which the city of Babylon is based. And because this is the case, it’s worth pointing out there is a lie at the heart of it all.
Instead of finding one’s satisfaction, meaning, and purpose in a restored relationship with the Creator, Babylon points to the world man creates for himself as being the ultimate source of his fulfillment. Sadly, what Babylon promises it can never make good on.
For example… If pleasure is “the fruit that your soul longed for,” have you ever had a physical experience that didn’t leave you longing for more? If money is “the fruit that your soul longed for,” have you ever reached a bank balance you found to be enough? Rockefeller was once asked how much more he needed. His reply, “One more dollar!”
If notoriety, accolades, and fame is “the fruit that your soul longed for,” have you ever reached a social status you were finally content with? If you’re being honest with yourself this morning, the answer to these questions is NO! You see the honest anthem of Babylon was sung by Mick… No matter what I try… “I can’t get no satisfaction!”
Revelation 18:15-18, “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.’ (Solomon would describe these things as vanity.) 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?’
Revelation 18:19-20, “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.’ (Verse 20 adds an exhortation to all the followers of Jesus in light of the judgment…) ‘Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!’” (In the end, we will rejoice not because so many people were hurt in the process, but because this was the just and righteous resolution to these things.)
Revelation 18:21, “Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone (John describes a massive boulder) and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore.’”
In the Seventh Bowl Judgment, recorded in the final few verses of Revelation 16, John notes how, as a result of this massive earthquake, all “the cities of the earth fell.” It appears this event and what we have recorded in these verses document the same occurrence. “With violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down” and wiped from the face of the earth.
In Matthew 18:6-7, Jesus establishes an interesting principle relevant to these things when he cautions that “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. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” You see, while all sin will be judged, there seems to be a greater judgment for the person or system that leads someone else into sin.
The might angel observes… Revelation 18:22-24, “The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. (On account of God’s judgment there will be no more entertainment nor amusement.) No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore (all human work will cease), and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore (all industry will be brought to an end).
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. (In the Greek, “sorcery” is the word pharmakeia from which we get pharmacy — it was like a drug.) And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.”
As I explained in our introduction… All societies are built upon moral systems. From the moment of man’s original rebellion, it has always been this spirit of Babylon (a moral system antithetical to God) that has laid the foundation upon which man has built his unholy city (a man-centric society void of the divine influence).
Not only does the story conclude with God bringing to an end man’s reign by wiping from the earth Babylon the Great, but as we’ll see next Sunday something amazing happens… Jesus returns to this earth and institutes a new society based upon an entirely different ethic. The spirit of truth will lay the foundation for the Kingdom of God!
In closing, I want to return to what Jesus said in verse 4. Knowing the judgment of Babylon was forthcoming, John hears Jesus declare, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” While there is undoubtedly an application for the Tribulational saints, I want to extrapolate from this an important lesson for you and me.
Even in America, we are presently living in a society founded upon Babylon the Mother of Harlots. And whether it be an economic structure based upon capitalistic principles or one that becomes more socialistic in nature, never forget neither is God’s ideal. They are both fallen systems created by sinful man in his attempt to build for himself his own utopia.
For starters, when Jesus says, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins” He’s not endorsing an Amish approach by which we seek to remove ourselves from the world. Instead, what Jesus is encouraging is the foundational idea of being in the world but not of the world. From the macro-perspective, Jesus is speaking to matters of the heart.
Those who were ultimately caught up in the judgment of Babylon were the folks who’d placed their security into material things and sought to be fulfilled by the temporal. Following such a swift and dramatic judgment, this was clearly foolish. This is what Jesus is encouraging you and me to be extremely cautious of! Instead of Babylon, the people of God need to keep their eyes to heaven and their earthly wealth in context.
In a sermon in which He discusses the ethic of His Kingdom, Jesus would say to His followers, in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Aside from the obvious implications of wealth and how the way in which we use it reveals much about a person’s heart (“for where your treasure is, there you heart will be also”), there is another significant point about money Jesus is making in these verses rarely discussed.
While the principle can also apply to our time and energy, within the specific context of what we do with our financial resources, Jesus cautions against using these things to accumulate “treasures on earth” pointing out the tenuous and obvious temporal nature in doing so (they can be destroyed by “moth and rust” and “thieves” can “break in and steal” them).
In contrast, because of its eternal security and natural longevity, Jesus encourages His followers to use our earthly finances to “lay up treasures in heaven” or literally to place treasures on layaway for a future enjoyment! The implication is that it’s entirely possible for you to spend your money in such a way that it’ll incur value and rewards in heaven.
In the end, money is nothing more than an amoral tool that can be used to accomplish incredible good that results in spiritual rewards you’ll enjoy in heaven for eternity or waisted on earthly things that will be destroyed and thus carry with them no lasting legacy. In the context of what will come of Babylon, it’s wise to invest our money in the coming Kingdom!
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