REVELATION - CHAPTER 18
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
18:1. “And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.”
In chapter 17 John was shown the coming destruction of the great apostate religious system at the hand of the ten kingdom confederation that will be political Rome revived in the Tribulation era, but now it seems that he is being shown the final destruction of that system, which, under the beast (the final Roman emperor), will be the ultimate combination of political, military, commercial, and religious power, the Destroyer of the whole system being God Himself.
The identity of the angel through whom this additional revelation is given is not disclosed, nor is it essential to the understanding of the revelation, though the reference to earth’s being lightened with his glory, leaves little doubt that He is Christ.
18:2. “And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.”
As noted already, there is nothing to support the idea that literal Babylon is ever to be rebuilt. The reference is to the evil system that originated there, but which has existed for more than two thousand years in Rome, and will be still centered there in the Tribulation. The double “is fallen, is fallen....” may imply a dual fall, first religious, then political and commercial. The present tense “is fallen” is used because, though still future, that fall is as certain as though it were already accomplished.
As also noted already, that destruction of religious Rome by the ten kingdom coalition at the mid point of the Tribulation, is not to be understood as the destruction of the system, but rather the absorption of the religious into the equally godless political and commercial system that will be the old Roman empire revived, and that will be headed up by the man described as “the beast” out of the sea, i.e., arising from the “sea” of the nations. Its existence as a separate religious entity will cease (chapter 17), but it will continue to exist for the final three and a half years as an integral part of the political, commercial, and religious system ruled by the beast.
The reference to “devils ... foul spirits ... unclean and hateful birds” declares that the terrible system ruling the world for the final three and a-half years of the Tribulation - a system personified by the beast ruler wielding all power, religious, political, and commercial - will be simply the visible expression of the demonic forces that have always been the unseen rulers of these three parts constituting human society. Satan is still the prince of this world, and will be until that soon coming day when the Lord Jesus Christ takes up the scepter of earth, and banishes him into the bottomless pit for the duration of the Millennium.
Clearly what we have here is not simply a more detailed description of the destruction of religious Rome at the hand of the beast: this is the description of the final destruction of the whole system, political, commercial, and religious, by God near the close of the Tribulation, prior to the Lord’s return to establish His millennial kingdom. With the outward form destroyed by God, all that will remain will be what has always been - the invisible evil spirits who are the real power behind earth’s political, religious, and commercial systems, those evil spirits being described as “devils ... foul spirits ... unclean and hateful birds.”
18:3. “For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.”
That the spiritual evil is more heinous to God than the corruption of the political and commercial, is apparent from the repeated reference to fornication, a figure used Scripturally to represent spiritual unfaithfulness. The extent of the religious influence of the great apostate religious system in the Tribulation, is disclosed in the assertion that “all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication....” God, however, is careful to include the political and the commercial as objects of His anger, as is made clear by the mention of “kings and merchants.”
It is significant that only the nations are said to “have drunk the wine of the wrath of her fornication....” implying that they were stupefied or deluded by her evil doctrine, that delusion being the result of their having deliberately rejected the truth. Not so with the kings and merchants, however. The kings were not duped. They were fully aware of the evil of the system, but embraced it for the advancement of their own purposes. Nor were the merchants duped. Gain was the objective in their association with the evil system. But John was shown the day of recompense. All must pay the price of their folly.
18:4. “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”
“My people” identifies the speaker as God. The call to “come out of her” assures us that there will be some true believers in the midst of that corrupt system in the Tribulation era, even as there are today. It assures us also of God’s concern for His own wherever they are found, but warns us that we are not to remain in association with a system which we know to be wrong. Some true believers remain in such associations, hoping to improve them. God says “Come out.”
This is but the echo of the call given in Jer 51:6,45, “Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul: be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance; he will render unto her a recompense. Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad. Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed.... My people, go ye out of the midst of her, and deliver ye every man his soul from the fierce anger of the Lord.”
Not only would God have His own deliver themselves from suffering under judgment that is meant for the harlot: He would extend His mercy to those who are not His people: He would have men save their souls. “God is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish....” (2 Pe 3:9).
Two reasons are given why they should come out. One is, “that ye be not partakers of her sins.” A believer cannot continue under a wrong system without being guilty of sin. His very presence gives credence to the doctrine of the system, and his money supports it.
The second reason is, “that ye receive not of her plagues.” For the believer, the sin of association will bring chastisement rather than blessing. For the unbeliever, continued association will bring eternal judgment of body and soul in the lake of fire.
18:5. “For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.”
“God is longsuffering.” He “waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing” (1 Pe 3:20). His promise to Abraham concerning Israel was that their possession of Canaan would be in the fourth generation “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Ge 15:16). Instances could be multiplied. The harlot Rome has been given an amazingly long probation. Judgment is withheld until “her sins have reached unto heaven.” Since the days of Nimrod, God has borne patiently with the activity of this iniquitous system, but the chapter we are now studying brings us to that day, not far off, when, with His patience exhausted, He will vent His judgmental wrath upon the whole Satanic system, and bring it to nothing.
In this reference to her sins “reaching unto heaven” we cannot but recall Babylon’s beginning, “Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, lit., be very high” (Ge 11:4). What began literally with slime and brick is revealed for what it was: the outward expression of that rebellion that would produce the great mystic Babylon. The literal tower of slime and brick was but the outward symbol of her sins which have now reached the height of heaven, and have called down the judgment of which the confusion of tongues was but a shadow. The confusion of that primitive society adumbrates the confusion that will follow God’s judgment of the Babylonian system as it will exist in its final form in the last three and a half years of the Tribulation era.
18:6. “Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.”
The voice is that of the second speaker introduced in verse 4, and those addressed are they who have already been commanded to come out of the false system.
If we have been correct in viewing this as the final destruction of the great harlot system by the returning Christ at the end of the Tribulation, then those addressed would be they who will accompany Him on that glorious occasion - the redeemed of the Church age. He and His Church, enjoying the same close relationship as husband and wife, are viewed as one. His actions are no less hers; what has been done to them is viewed as having been done to Him, e.g., His words to Saul, “... why persecutest thou me?” (Ac 26:14). Though Christ alone will be the Executor of judgment, it will be judgment meted out on behalf of His own who through the centuries have suffered so much at the hands of this evil harlot system. So close is the union between the Lord and His Church, that His actions in that coming day will be viewed also as hers. The harlot’s persecution of believers is no less her persecution of Him; nor will His soon coming judgment of her be any less also their judgment against her.
In all ages God has called His own to separate themselves from the godless system represented by Babylon, not only outright idolatry, but unbelieving Judaism, and apostate Christianity.
18:7. “How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.”
Her present glory is the measure of her coming torment and sorrow. Nor should we miss the significance of the reference to her being both a queen and a widow. The true Church on earth, separated from her Lord in heaven, is as a widow. She mourns for her absent Lord. It is very different, however, with the harlot system that calls itself the Bride of Christ. That system began with the great rebel Nimrod, the beginning of whose kingdom was Babylon (Ge 10:10). After his death at an early age, he was deified and worshipped as the constellation Orion, the hunter. Shortly after this, his widow, the vile Semiramis, gave birth to a son, who she claimed, was Nimrod reincarnated. The adoration given Nimrod as Orion, was then given this child, and the worship given at first only to him, was soon given also to the mother: thus began the worship of the queen of heaven, the mother and son, a worship which many mistakenly believe to have originated with Roman Catholicism. Rome’s idolatrous worship of Mary with the infant in her arms, is simply the continuation of the evil system which began in Babylon at the dawn of human history, but is now cloaked under the guise of Christian worship.
Since the days of Nimrod, the emblems of the queen of heaven, with the infant in her arms, have been found in virtually every country on earth. Under different names, at different times, in different places, the figures are the same: Aphrodite and Eros, Venus and Cupid, Isis and Horus, Ashtaroth and Tammuz - all have been traced back to the Babylonian original, Semiramis and her son.
When the world swarmed into the Church following the alleged conversion of Constantine, the whole idolatrous system was Christianized by transferring the worship to Mary and the baby Jesus. And as it began, so will it end. The great harlot church, like the ancient Semiramis, will continue to the end saying, “I sit a queen, and am no widow.” This describes her state exactly. She is not a widow, for she has never entered into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
18:8. “Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.”
If we have been correct in taking this chapter as being descriptive of the final destruction of this evil system by the Lord at His return to end the Tribulation, and establish His millennial kingdom, then the suddenness of the destruction is easily understood. The “one day” can scarcely be anything other than the day of the Lord’s return.
“... burned with fire” is not to be taken literally, but rather, as symbolic of the holiness of God, that holiness being like a devouring fire in the presence of which evil cannot survive.
18:9. “And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning.”
The fornication, of course, is figurative of spiritual unchastity. The kings of the earth, by no means blind to the evil of the system, have nevertheless endorsed it, and embraced it as a matter of expediency.
There are admittedly many things in this chapter which could apply to the destruction of religious Rome by the hand of the beast at the mid point of the Tribulation, just as easily as to the final destruction by God at the end of that era, and certainly it would be foolish to contend for one to the exclusion of the other. It may well be that there is a blending together of both. If the wailing and lamentation result from her final destruction at the end of the Tribulation, rather than at the mid point of that age, then there is implied an interval between the Lord’s coming to end the Tribulation, and His judgment of the nations that will result in the banishment of all unbelievers from the earth.
18:10. “Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.”
As already noted, the destruction is not of literal Babylon, which has been a heap of ruins for centuries, but of the evil religious system that originated in that ancient city, and is today centered in Rome, as it will be also in the Tribulation.
18:11. “And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:”
Like all the unconverted, the world’s merchants will lament the loss of earthly riches, and yet be totally indifferent to what must soon follow: the loss of their souls, in regard to which God asks the question, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mk 8:36).
18:12. “The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,”
18:13. “And cinnamon, and odors, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.”
The very fact that many of the things listed are used in Scripture, not only literally, but also symbolically, would indicate that all of them perhaps have a symbolic meaning; and while I am unable to translate all of them, some yield their meaning very easily. Gold, for example, is the Biblical symbol of divine glory; silver, of redemption; precious stones, of believers; fine linen, of righteousness; purple, of royalty; scarlet, of earthly glory, and also of sin; brass of judgment; iron, of strength; the spices, of worship; wine, flour, and wheat, of the written Word; oil, of the Holy Spirit; sheep, of humanity; and horses, of strength. The great harlot system has traded, not only in these literal things, but in the spiritual realities of which they are but the symbols.
The reference to “slaves” declares that the harlot’s trading has all been directed to the enslavement of men, while the reference to “souls” points to the nature of that slavery: it has been spiritual, rather than literal, and therefore the more terrible.
18:14. “And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.”
The application is to literal things, for man in his natural state has little desire for what is spiritual; but the greater truth being declared is that in the destruction of these things which man values so much, both literally, and as symbols of the evil spiritual things that he mistakes for genuine spiritual verities, there comes also the destruction of any hope of salvation, for if we have been correct in viewing this as the final destruction at the Lord’s return, then these unbelievers have passed for ever beyond the hope of mercy.
18:15. “The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing.”
In that soon coming Tribulation age when the whole world will have heard the Gospel, and when men will have been confronted with the wrath of God in the form of the terrible judgments that will mark that period, many will remain blind to the true worth of things. They will still value the temporal more than the eternal.
18:16. “And saying, Alas, alas that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!”
Man’s misconception of the great harlot system is revealed in this symbolic description. He perceives her to be righteous (the fine linen), regal (the purple), glorious (the scarlet). The glory represented by the gold, however, goes beyond what is represented by the scarlet. Man believes her glory to be divine, while the precious stones point to man’s acceptance of her false teaching that only within her fold is eternal life to be found. All outside her borders, she says, are lost.
18:17. “For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,”
While certainly the language may be literal, its being found in the context of Babylon’s destruction, would indicate that it is more likely to be symbolic. Babylon represents the great false church, and, as here, her activity is described as being in connection with the sea, so is the activity of the true Church connected with what the sea represents - earth’s unconverted masses (Isa 57:20), for we remember that the Lord called the first disciples to be fishers of men, and there are indications that ships are symbolic of assemblies, corporate bodies of believers passing through the great sea of humanity on their way home to heaven, being witnesses for God in the course of their journey. This trade by sea would point to that illegitimate trading in spiritual things which has always been the business of the great harlot system, a trade that has made her fabulously rich temporally, but that has in corresponding measure impoverished her and her dupes spiritually.
All who will have been partakers in her evil will then have to stand “afar off” witnessing her devastation, seemingly unaware that their own destruction is but a step away.
18:18. “And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!”
Right to the end blinded men will remain dazzled by her outward splendor, failing to perceive that that external glory is but the veneer over utter spiritual corruption.
18:19. “And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.”
Man’s obsession with temporal riches, rather than spiritual, continues to be demonstrated in the language with which they will bewail the destruction of the harlot system.
18:20. “Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.”
If God’s destruction of the harlot system causes lamentation amongst the unbelievers of earth, it brings a corresponding measure of rejoicing, not only in heaven, but also in the hearts of those on earth who through faith in Christ are in the kingdom of heaven.
The reference to apostles and prophets seems to confirm that those associated with Christ in this judgment at the end of the Tribulation era, will be exclusively the believers of this present Church age, for since the prophets here follow the apostles, they appear to be the prophets of the Apostolic rather than the OT age.
18:21. “And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.”
It is significant that a millstone is connected with the judgment of any who would harm those who belong to Christ, “For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mk 9:41-42).
The great harlot system, by her murderous persecution of believers, has made herself the heiress of judgment - the very judgment symbolically announced by the Lord two thousand years ago.
18:22. “And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;”
18:23. “And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.”
This is more than the description of the utter destruction of the terrible system to which Babylon has given its name: it declares in symbol the extensive sphere of her evil influence: it touches every facet of life. The Lord’s judgment, however, will end for ever that baleful influence.
18:24. “And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.”
The reference to “prophets and saints” points to the fact that this evil system is not just Roman Catholicism: it is godless religion in any form, beginning with the Babylonian, and existing today as the Roman Catholic; and in the ages between, including also apostate Judaism. The characteristic of the system, no matter what the outward form in any particular age, has been that of bitter hatred of all that is of God, that hatred always very effectively masked under the guise of religion; and in the case of Judaism and Roman Catholicism, of obedience to God.
In spite of the religious pretence, the fact remains that in every age she has shed the blood of true believers.
“... all that were slain upon the earth,” refers obviously to all who have, and yet will be slain for their faith.