Babylon has fallen – Revelation 18:1-2

Previously: The waters and the woman – Revelation 17:15-18

The scripture

Rev. 18:1 – After this I saw another angel with great authority coming down from heaven, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. 2 He cried in a mighty voice: It has fallen, Babylon the great has fallen! She has become a dwelling for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, and a haunt for every unclean and despicable beast. (HCSB)

It has fallen

Light from heavenThe first eight verses of this chapter declare the fall of Babylon the Great. Verses 9-20 describe the earth’s response to her destruction, and verses 21-24 depict the finality of what transpires. The chapter begins with “another angel with great authority coming down from heaven” (v. 1). John writes that the earth is “illuminated by his splendor.” There is a heavenly radiance surrounding this angel that elsewhere is reserved only for the appearance of God (Ezek. 43:2-3), but we should not mistake this messenger for Yahweh. He comes brilliantly in the name of the Lord and represents His holiness. There also is a heavenly delight in the message he delivers as the cries of the righteous for judgment upon Babylon the Great are about to be answered.

Matthew Henry writes of this angel, “He had not only light in himself, to discern the truth of his own prediction, but to inform and enlighten the world about that great event; and not only light to discern it, but power to accomplish it” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 18:1–8).

Great  authority

The fact that the angel has “great authority” and comes “down from heaven” demonstrates that his message comes from God. His physical appearance radiates the purity and holiness of God. We see this in humans at times in scripture. Moses’ face, for example, shines after he has been in the presence of Yahweh, and he must cover himself with a veil. And Jesus, in His humanity, is transfigured before Peter, James and John. God is light, John reminds us, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). Those closest to God’s presence cannot help but reflect the purity of His divine nature.

We will see another angel, a “mighty angel,” in verse 21. He casts a large stone into the sea as a testimony against Babylon the Great, which falls as quickly and decisively as a boulder plunging into the ocean depths. But first, the angel with great authority must declare his message. He cries in a mighty voice, “It has fallen, Babylon the Great has fallen” (v. 2). This repeats an angel’s proclamation in Rev. 14:8, “It has fallen, Babylon the Great has fallen, who made all nations drink the wine of her sexual immorality, which brings wrath.”

Jurgen Roloff comments, “The past tense form signifies that before God, the city is already destroyed at the moment of his declaration of judgment, even if its realization is still to be expected at the level of earthly time” (Revelation: A Continental Commentary, pp. 204-205).

Keep in mind that while there are many views as to the identity of Babylon the Great (see the commentary on chapter 17), it may be best to understand it as the world system organized in rebellion against God throughout history, with the Tower of Babel, the Babylonian Empire, Rome, and even Jerusalem being classic expressions of this rebellion. “Babylon could include an actual city in the end times, but the ‘lament’ in Revelation 18 is modeled after Jeremiah 51, which says that the Babylonian Empire and the city will ‘never rise again’ [Jer. 51:64] (HCSB Study Bible, p. 2223).

A dwelling for demons

So what becomes of Babylon the Great? The angel says she becomes a dwelling for demons, a haunt (or prison) for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, and a haunt for every unclean and despicable beast (v. 2). What a contrast to the woman adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She is now desolate and fit only as a place where demons and unclean animals may live.

Warren Wiersbe comments, “The phrase ‘is fallen, is fallen’ not only adds dramatic effect to the announcement, but suggests a dual judgment: ecclesiastical Babylon, ‘the harlot,’ in Revelation 17, and political Babylon here in Revelation 18. This thought is amplified in Revelation 18:6 when God announces that Babylon will receive ‘double’ for her many sins. The church, the bride of the Lamb, is the habitation of God (Eph. 2:22); Babylon, on the other hand, is the habitation of Satan (Rev. 18:2). This parallels the judgment on ancient Babylon (Isa. 13:21ff; Jer. 51:37ff). Furthermore, John called the city ‘a cage of every unclean and hateful bird’ (Rev. 18:2). In Christ’s Parable of the Sower, He also used the birds as a picture of Satan (Matt. 13:31–32)” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 18:1).

It also should be noted that in ancient times it is a common notion that a city lying in ruins is a place where unclean spirits, wild beasts and predatory birds come to dwell. The image we are left with is one of utter desolation.

Are the events in chapter 18 an expanded view of what occurs in Rev. 17:16-17? Probably not. In Rev. 17, the beast and the kings of the earth hate the prostitute and make her desolate; they have “one purpose” in making her naked, devouring her flesh, and burning her with fire. In Rev. 18, however, it appears that God intervenes directly, a judgment that causes the kings of the earth, merchants, and seafarers – indeed the whole earth – to mourn. Whether God brings judgment by His own hand, or through the agency of human beings exercising their wills, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Lord is moving human history to its climax in the return of Christ and the defeat of Satan’s world system.

Next: All the nations have drunk – Revelation 18:3