Revelation 18:1-3 (NIV) 1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. 2 With a mighty voice he shouted: “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird. 3 For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”
On verses 1-3: In Revelation 17 we read about a drunk prostitute dressed in fine clothes, riding on a beast. We learned that this woman is called Babylon the Great and, according to many commentators, represents a spirit of false religion that is all about man thinking he can reach God by his own effort. At the end of chapter 17 we learned that Babylon would be burned alive by the very kings who used her and slept with her. Now in chapter 18 is heaven’s description of her demise and how various groups including kings, merchants, and sea captains will respond to her death.
Here in verses 1-3 an angel with great authority and splendor shouts that Babylon has fallen and become a home for demons and unclean birds. The angel summarizes how she intoxicated nations, slept with kings and made merchants rich with her materialism. We will hear from these kings and merchants later below.
Revelation 18:4-5 (NIV) 4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; 5 for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.
On verses 4-5: Babylon, the spirit of false religion, influenced people to build the Tower of Babel in an effort to reach heaven by their own strength, but that plan failed (Genesis 11). The only thing of Babylon’s that reaches heaven are her sins (v5). Thus a voice from heaven, that is, God’s voice, implores His people to have nothing to do with Babylon (v4).
Revelation 18:6-8 (NIV) 6 Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup. 7 Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.’ 8 Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.
On verses 6-8: God commands that Babylon be paid back double for the damage she has done (v6), be given as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself (v7), and be subjected to death, mourning, famine and fire as her judgment (v8).
Revelation 18:9-10 (NIV) 9 “When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!’
On verses 9-10: Here the kings who had reveled with Babylon and slept with her will weep and mourn for her.
Revelation 18:11-17 (NIV) 11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more– 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and bodies and souls of men. 14 “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out: “‘Woe! Woe, O great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls! 17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’
On verses 11-17: The merchants who sold their expensive goods to Babylon will also weep and mourn, not so much over Babylon personally, but over the fact that they have lost access to their biggest consumer and her vast wealth (v14-17). Notice all the different goods in verses 12-13 that Babylon chased after (“the fruit you longed for” – v14). It shows that while she was alive Babylon chased after “excessive luxuries” (v3b). As Pastor Jon Courson so creatively and cleverly puts it, reading verses 12 to 13 is like reading a floor by floor directory of a luxury department store that Babylon would keep going to shop at:
Thus when God says to His people in verse 4, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins”, in part this is a warning for us that we are not to become obsessed with accumulating material possessions.
Revelation 18:17-19 (NIV) 17…”Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. 18 When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ 19 They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out: “‘Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin!
On verses 17-19: All who travel by the sea will stand from a distance and be aghast at her destruction. It is verses like 17-19 and 21-24, in addition to Revelation 17:18, that lead some commentators to believe that in addition to representing false religion, Babylon may also represent an actual city or political kingdom. For more see my comments under verses 21-24 below.
Revelation 18:20 (NIV) 20 Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you.'”
On verse 20: While the kings and merchants who used Babylon will mourn over her, God calls heaven to rejoice because in His justice God has judged false religion for the damage she inflicted on His people.
Revelation 18:21-24 (NIV) 21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again. 22 The music of harpists and musicians, flute players and trumpeters, will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of a millstone will never be heard in you again. 23 The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world’s great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray. 24 In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth.”
On verses 21-24: Due to verses like 17-19, 21-24 as well as Revelation 17:18, some commentators leave open the possibility that Babylon may be a symbol for more than just false religion. Some commentators believe that Babylon in Revelation 17 and Babylon in Revelation 18 may actually represent two different things in Revelation: the first being false religion (in Revelation 17) and the other being an actual political kingdom (in Revelation 18). Thus in addition to seeing Babylon as representing false religion, some commentators have also linked Babylon to a variety of cities and political kingdoms, such as Rome, the Roman Empire, the ancient city of Babylon (currently located near modern day Baghdad in Iraq), a future city that they may be built and take on the name Babylon, Nazi Germany, and even the United States of America. Other commentators have suggested that Babylon may also symbolize more generally any political kingdom that is powered by false religion. Indeed there is a great variety of interpretations concerning what exactly Babylon represents. In any event, the lesson we can learn from Revelation 18 is that any kingdom, be it spiritual, political or economic, that leads people away from the Lord will eventually fall.
Heavenly Father, may I not be influenced by the spirit of false religion, that tendency to think that I don’t need You or that something else other than You can save me. May I not be caught up in building my own kingdom or chasing after material possessions, for these will not last. Thank You for showing us that Yours is the only kingdom that will stand in the end. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!