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.
Rev. 18:3 – For all the nations have drunk the wine of her sexual immorality, which brings wrath. The kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown wealthy from her excessive luxury. (HCSB)
The angel spells out the reasons for the fall of Babylon the Great in verse 3: “For all the nations have drunk the wine of her sexual immorality, which brings wrath. The kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown wealthy from her excessive luxury.” The wickedness of the world system opposed to God has been exposed. Not only has Babylon the Great abandoned the one true and living God, but she has replaced Him with multiple false deities that lure the world’s inhabitants through the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the sinful pride of one’s lifestyle (1 John 2:16).
How applicable is this indictment of Babylon on today’s society, which embraces “spiritualism” at the expense of true worship. As the apostle Paul warns, “But know this: Difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people” (2 Tim. 3:1-5).
When we boast that we are spiritual but not religious; when we lament the addition of a fish to the endangered species list but celebrate the right to end the life of an unborn child for any reason; when we abrogate the responsibility of individuals and families to work hard and care for their own by increasing our dependency on government entitlements; when we insist that ethics are situational and reject absolute truth as a vestige of less-enlightened times; when we say all forms of religious expression are fine as long as the name of Jesus is excluded; when a 50th wedding anniversary between a man and a woman is rare but gay marriage is normative; and when a theory of origins based on time and chance is called an indisputable fact but a theory that points to intelligent design is considered rank scientific heresy – we have become the people who drink the wine of Babylon the Great’s sexual – that is, spiritual – immorality. And we have invited the wrath of God.
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
The 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).
Rev. 17:1 –Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the judgment of the notorious prostitute who sits on many waters. 2 The kings of the earth committed sexual immorality with her, and those who live on the earth became drunk on the wine of her sexual immorality.” 3 So he carried me away in the Spirit to a desert. I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and 10 horns. 4 The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She had a gold cup in her hand filled with everything vile and with the impurities of her prostitution. 5 On her forehead a cryptic name was written: BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE VILE THINGS OF THE EARTH. 6 Then I saw that the woman was drunk on the blood of the saints and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. (HCSB)
A tale of two cities
Revelation contrasts two women who also are depicted as cities. First, there is the faithful bride of Christ represented as the New Jerusalem. Second, there is the great prostitute, who is denoted as Babylon. John draws from the Old Testament to help us identify these women. In the Old Testament, Israel appears either as a pure bride (Isa. 54:5-6; 62:5; Hosea 2:19-10) or as a prostitute or adulteress (Jer. 3:6-10; Ezek. 16:15-22; 23:1-49; Hosea 4:12-13; 5:3), depending on her relationship with God at the time the prophets spoke.
This imagery is carried forward into the book of Revelation. It’s important to note that sometimes the harlot is not Israel but evil foreign lands such as Nineveh (Nahum 3:4) or Tyre (Isa. 23:17).
In addition to the prostitute imagery, John draws from the ancient city of Babylon, well-known for materialism and immorality. Revelation combines the images of the great city of Babylon with that of a prostitute to describe a center of pagan power. The image appears in Revelation as the “prostitute” (Rev. 17:1, 5, 15, 16; 19:2), the “great city” (Rev. 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21), and “Babylon” (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21).
John’s focus in Revelation 17-18 is on God’s judgment of the prostitute. She has aligned herself with the beast from the sea and demonic spirits. Her own idolatry and immorality have corrupted the nations around her. Her wealth and power accelerate her corrupting influence.
Previously: Assemble them for battle – Revelation 16:14-16
Rev. 16:17 –Then the seventh [angel] poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the sanctuary from the throne, saying, “It is done!” 18 There were flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder. And a severe earthquake occurred like no other since man has been on the earth – so great was the quake. 19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the Great was remembered in God’s presence; He gave her the cup filled with the wine of His fierce anger. (HCSB)
“It is done!”
When the seventh angel pours out his bowl into the air, a loud voice from the sanctuary declares, “It is done!” The 24 elders make a similar pronouncement in Rev. 11:15-19. They announce that “the time has come for the dead to be judged and to give the reward to Your servants the prophets, to the saints, and to those who fear Your name, both small and great, and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth” (v. 18).
More importantly, this cry echoes the declaration of a triumphant Jesus on the cross. Just before His death He shouts, “It is finished!” At Calvary, the Son of Man completes the work of redemption, bearing our sin and receiving the wrath of God on our behalf. Like a Roman commander overlooking the battlefield, He shouts, “It is finished!” because He has vanquished the evil one and released those bound to him in captivity. And like the high priest on the Day of Atonement, He shouts, “It is finished!” because no more sacrifices will be accepted. Both the Roman soldiers and the Jews around the cross have a clear context for understanding the significance of the Lord’s declaration. Jesus has fulfilled the law through His sinless life; fulfilled the types and shadows of the Old Covenant; fulfilled the prophecies of Messiah’s suffering; and completed the task for which the Father sent Him and the Spirit empowered Him. The work of redemption – it is finished!