Commentary on Revelation 18

Notes (NET Translation)

1 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.

The angel’s great authority refers to his power to proclaim his message to the entire earth and to the incredible nature of his proclamation. He comes from the presence of God and reflects God’s radiance to such an extant that it illuminates the earth.

2 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.

The opening of the proclamation echoes the words of Isa. 21:9 (“Babylon has fallen, fallen! All the idols of her gods lie shattered on the ground!”). The second half of the proclamation is an echo of Isa. 13:20-22. This is a picture of absolute desolation.

3 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.”

This verse provides the reason for Babylon’s fall. The language of sexual immorality refers to the seduction of the nations to idolatry and apostasy. There is also the hint of Babylon providing economic security to the nations and thereby providing a temptation too great to resist.

4 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, 5 because her sins have piled up all the way to heaven and God has remembered her crimes.

Since v. 5 speaks of God in the third person we are probably to identify this voice as that of another angel commissioned by God. The people of God are called out of Babylon so that they do not take part in her sins and will not receive her plagues (cf. Jer. 51:45; Gen. 19:14). The people of God must be separate, at least ideologically, from the sinful world around them. “They are to remain in the world to witness (11:3–7) and to suffer for their testimony (6:9; 11:7–10; 12:11, 17; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24), but they are not to be of the world (e.g., 14:12–13; 16:15). Absolute physical removal would contradict the essence of the Christian calling to witness to the world” (Beale 898). To partake in the world’s sins leads to facing the world’s judgment. The piling up of sins recalls Jer. 51:9. “When God ‘remembers,’ he acts (part of the meaning of the verb). When he remembers his people, he works on their behalf (Ps. 105:8–11; 111:5–6; Ezek. 16:60); when he remembers sin (Ps. 109:14; Jer. 14:10; Hos. 8:13; 9:9), he acts in judgment” (Osborne 640).

6 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.

Babylon is to repaid in kind for her transgressions. The language of being paid back double (literally, “Double the double according to her deeds”) is a conventional expression of full requital. “The double measure would then be the appropriate measure to match exactly what Babylon made the nations drink, in her very same cup now transformed into the cup of God’s judgement (see 14:8–10)” (Boxall 258).

7 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!’

Babylon’s monologue is similar to Isa. 47:7-8. “These words express profound self-assurance in her unassailable political dominance, and her ongoing ability to find suitable ‘husbands’ to support her in the manner to which she has become accustomed. The denial of her widowhood reflects the poverty and powerlessness of this social group, which she cannot contemplate ever belonging to” (Boxall 258).

8 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!”

The political and economic arrogance of Babylon (v. 7) is the cause of her downfall. The language of v. 8 echoes that of Isa. 47:9, 14. Disease, mourning, and famine are regular consequences of warfare.

9 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.

The destruction of the city is now mourned by three groups who benefited greatly from the city: kings (vv. 9-10), merchants (vv. 11-17a), and seafarers (vv. 17b-19). They weep not so much for the city itself as for their personal loss of what the city gave them and their own imminent judgment. These are not the kings of 17:16 that helped destroy the city. Rather they are the kings who entered into trade with Babylon.

10 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!”

Those who benefit from the city will desert her at her judgment by standing a long way off (vv. 15, 17). They are both afraid of the torment the city is undergoing and the possible torment they have coming to themselves for committing immoral acts with her. The three sets of woe in this passage repeat the three woes of the trumpet judgments (8:13; 9:12; 11:14).

11 Then the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn for her because no one buys their cargo any longer – 12 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, 13 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 merchants mourn for their loss in trade, not for the city itself. The inventory of merchandise is similar to Tyre’s inventory in Ezek. 27:7-25 but fits a description of first-century Rome. “The trade goods listed were selected because they represented the kind of luxury products in which Rome overindulged in an extravagantly sinful and idolatrous manner” (Beale 909). In order to acquire all these goods Rome needed to import them from throughout the world.

The word translated “slaves” in many contemporary versions is literally “bodies.” This is a vivid commentary on the social conditions of the day. Slave traders regarded their human cargo as so much merchandise to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. It is estimated that there were as many as 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman Empire. The final item on the list, “souls of men,” is an old Hebrew phrase that, according to Swete, means little more than human livestock. It may, however, refer to something even more sinister than the regular slave trade. While some slaves served in the houses of the great, “there were others whose fate was to fight for their lives and to die for the entertainment of the Roman crowds in the amphitheaters built for that purpose by the Caesars.” Most commentators take the expression in apposition to slaves and translate the connective “even.” (Mounce loc. 6144-6151)

14 (The ripe fruit you greatly desired has gone from you, and all your luxury and splendor have gone from you – they will never ever be found again!)

The “ripe fruit” is the list of luxuries mentioned in vv. 12-13.

Babylon has lost that fruit she set her heart on but which could never sustain either her or the humans she seduced. Far from pursuing the important matters—justice, peace and integrity—she has wasted her power and wealth on mere fripperies: luxuries and glittery things (literally ‘all the luxurious and bright things’) which have now quickly perished, never again to be found. It is a damning indictment of any city or civilisation, obsessed with the accumulation of expensive and extravagant trinkets, while the poor go hungry, fellow human beings are sold into slavery, and innocent blood is shed in that city’s name. (Boxall 261)

15 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, 16 saying, “Woe, woe, O great city – dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet clothing, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls – 17 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 18 and began to shout when they saw the smoke from the fire that burned her up, “Who is like the great city?”

A “captain” was the steersman or pilot of a ship, not the owner. The question “Who is like the great city?” echoes the similar question about Tyre in Ezek. 27:32 (cf. Rev. 13:4).

19 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!”

The dust on their heads was an act of mourning.

20 (Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has pronounced judgment against her on your behalf!)

As in 12:12 we may see those in heaven as the glorified church. The church is to rejoice that God has judged the one who accused and persecuted the saints (Rev. 6:9-11; 8:3-4; 19:1-2).

The rejoicing does not arise out of a selfish spirit of revenge but out of a fulfilled hope that God has defended the honor of his just name by not leaving sin unpunished and by showing his people to have been in the right and the verdict rendered by the ungodly world against the saints to be wrong. (Beale 916–917)

21 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!

The angel’s action is reminiscent of Seraiah’s throwing a stone into the Euphrates to prophesy the destruction of Babylon (Jer. 51:59-64).

22 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.

We now have a view from inside the city describing its desolation. Music, whether for celebration or mourning, will never be heard again (contrast Rev. 5:8; 14:2). Trade and commerce will cease.

23 Even the light from a lamp will never shine in you again! 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!

Darkness will blanket the city (contrast Rev. 21:23). Weddings are a thing of the past (contrast Rev. 19:6-9; 21:2, 9). The great wealth of the merchants implies their arrogance. The nations were deceived by Babylon’s offer of a false sense of security, not literal magic spells. It is for reasons like this that Babylon was destroyed.

24 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 prophets are a sub-group of the saints. The killing did not stop with the saints. This is another reason for Babylon’s judgment.

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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