Rev. 18:9 – The kings of the earth who have committed sexual immorality and lived luxuriously with her will weep and mourn over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off in fear of her torment, saying: Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the mighty city! For in a single hour your judgment has come. (HCSB)
The kings of the earth
The declaration of the fall of Babylon the Great is recorded in verses 1-8. The next 11 verses form a litany of lamentation as kings, merchants, shipmasters, seafarers, and business people mourn the destruction of the great city where they have made their fortunes. There is a three-fold pattern to these laments: first, a cry of sorrow; second, a summary of what has been lost; and third, a confirmation of the suddenness of Babylon’s fall. A single verse follows – verse 20 – calling for a different response from heaven. The saints, apostles, and prophets are to rejoice because God has executed judgment on their behalf.
The first to mourn are the kings of the earth who have committed sexual immorality and lived luxuriously with the Mother of Prostitutes. The world system over which Satan is prince has seduced common men and women into becoming uncommon beasts who wield terrifying power over their subjects. While these rulers live in barricaded opulence, the people who look to them with hope live in squalor a stone’s throw away. From the cult of Caesar worship to the killing fields of Cambodia, rulers with a desire to make themselves like the Most High God become madmen who use Christians as human torches or slaughter millions in the name of ethnic or political cleansing. The kings of the earth gladly mix politics, religion and commerce to solidify their power and cement their place in history.
Atilla to Idi
Consider just a few kings of the earth:
- Attila the Hun, the epitome of cruelty and rapacity in Western Europe in the 5th Century, who drowned in his own blood on his wedding night.
- Maximilien Robiespierre, the driving force behind the French Reign of Terror in the 18th Century.
- Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who executed 30,000 political activists in Iran.
- Idi Amin Dada, who killed as many as 500,000 after seizing power in Uganda and died without ever expressing remorse.
- Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, who imposed an extreme version of communism and killed nearly one-third of the country’s population.
- Ivan the Terrible of Russia, who in addition to torturing and killing citizens beat his pregnant daughter-in-law, causing her to miscarry.
- Alolph Hitler, perhaps the most notorious monster of the modern era, who ruled over the death of 6 million Jews in gas chambers and concentration camps.
- Josef Stalin, whose purges in Russia were so vast that the estimated number of citizens killed ranges from 10 million to 60 million.
We could add to this list the Roman emperor Caligula, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Chinese ruler Mao Tse-tung, and scores of others, but the point is that while many kings have ruled with decency and valor, the pages of history are written with the blood of tyrants who committed sexual immorality and lived luxuriously with the Mother of Prostitutes.
And so, when this wicked world system crumbles, the kings of the earth weep and mourn over her when they see the smoke of her burning. They stand far off in fear of her torment and cry, “Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the mighty city! For in a single hour your judgment has come” (v. 10).
The cause of mourning
Matthew Henry makes a keen observation: “What was the cause of their mourning; not their sin, but their punishment. They did not lament their fall into idolatry, and luxury, and persecution, but their fall into ruin – the loss of their traffic and of their wealth and power. The spirit of antichrist is a worldly spirit, and their sorrow is a mere worldly sorrow; they did not lament for the anger of God, that had now fallen upon them, but for the loss of their outward comfort” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 18:9-24).
We should take note of the fact that judgment comes in “a single hour” (v. 10). This is a recurring theme. Verse 8 records that Babylon’s plagues come “in one day.” The merchants lament in verse 17 that in “a single hour” the city’s fabulous wealth is destroyed. And those who do business by sea mourn that in “a single hour” Babylon is destroyed (v. 19). In every case these phrases may be translated “suddenly.” The wealth of nations, the consolidation of power, the rise of dynasties, the construction of great monuments, the accumulation of rare treasures – all of these worldly accomplishments take time, planning and effort. Yet they are gone suddenly, in a single hour.
God’s judgment is like this. It falls suddenly, but never without warning. Throughout scripture we see the grace and mercy of God extended to all people. For example, Noah preaches for 120 years before the skies open with torrential rains. The wicked inhabitants of Canaan are given more than 400 years before their measure of sin is full and God displaces them with His chosen people. Israel and Judah are sent good kings and great prophets, and they are given generations to turn from their idolatry and wickedness back to Yahweh before He uses the Assyrians and the Babylonians as His instruments of judgment.
Today, we live in a period of extended grace as we await the Lord’s return. Paul seems to think he will see the day when Christ splits the clouds of heaven and comes back to fulfill all things. So do Peter, James, and the writer of Hebrews. Every generation of Christians since the first century has looked longingly into the heavens and asked, “How long, Lord?” And yet there is a purpose in His delay. Paul writes that “God our Savior … wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). And Peter pens these words: “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Peter follows that up immediately, however, with a reminder that “the Day of the Lord will come like a thief” (v. 10); in other words, when judgment comes, it will come suddenly.
Next: The merchants – Revelation 18:11-17