Dave: December 10, 2009
Scripture text for this study: Revelation 18:1-24
This post begins with a study prepared by Dave, in black font. Dave has asked a number of very good questions. Feel free to take on these questions in the “Comments” section. An additional study has been prepared by Adam, and is in maroon font below Dave’s study.
Do you see any words or phrases that remind you of other things we have studied in Revelation?
- An angel with a mighty voice (see Rev. 10:1)
- “kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her” (Rev. 17:2)
- Babylon was arrayed like the prostitute (Rev. 18:16 and 17:4)
- The great city (Rev. 11:2, 8; see also 18:2, 10, 16, 18, 19, 21)
- Babylon was full of the blood of prophets and saints (Rev. 18:24 and 16:4-6, 17:6; cf. Matt. 23:29-38)
- Babylon’s self-sufficiency is similar to what John wrote of the Laodicean church (Rev. 18:7 and 3:17)
What recurring themes or words do you see in chapter 18?
- Sexual immorality (verses 3 and 9)
- Unclean (verse 2)
- Luxury/riches/wealth ( verses 3, 7, 9, 14, 19)
- The great city (verses 2, 10, 16, 18, 19, 21)
- Saints, apostles, prophets (verses 20 and 24)
- Famine, death, judgment, and morning (verses 8, 9, 10, 15, 19)
What are the major contrasts in chapter 18?
- [A] Luxury/wealth/riches/greatness vs. [B] plagues/death/mourning/famine
- [A] Sexual immorality (verses 3 and 9) vs. [B] standing far off (verse 10)
- [A] Rejoicing (on the part of the saints, in verse 20) and [B] weeping and mourning (on the part of the merchants, in verse 11)
- [A] Wealth/greatness/industry/splendor vs. [B] desolation/darkness
Do any questions jump out at you when you read Chapter 18?
- Who is Babylon?
- If Babylon is a city, why are the seven churches in Asia (the recipients of the letter) told to “come out of her”? The saints who are being written to are nowhere near this city. Is something else meant other than physically removing one’s self from a particular city?
- Can the admonition from the voice of heaven in verse 4 have an application to us here in Minneapolis in the year 2009-2010?
- In verse 7, Babylon declares, “I am no widow…” What is meant by this attitude?
- Who are the Bride and the Bridegroom in verse 23?
What are some lessons that we can take from Chapter 18?
- Riches are not a universal indication of God’s approval. Babylon had great wealth but God brought upon her plagues, famine, destruction, desolation and death. Her death is celebrated in heaven. Financial prosperity can be very dangerous.
- Rev. 18 helps us to persevere when we see the temporary prosperity of the wicked and godless. See also Psalm 37 and Psalm 73.
- We need to be wary of our associations. “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins” (verse 4).
What do we know about Babylon?
- Her fall is sudden (verses 10, 17, 19).
- Her fall is permanent (verse 22).
- She had been a wealthy, prominent, and influential city (verses 11-17).
- Other leaders and traders are grieved (verses 9, 11, 15, 17).
- Holy prophets and saints rejoice (verses 20 and 24).
Which of the above lend credence to Babylon being Rome?
Which lend credence to Babylon being Jerusalem (or Judaism)?
What would you say?
Adam’s Study on Revelation 18: Posted on January 30, 2010
Revelation 18 concerns the irreversible overthrow of Babylon. In the two previous posts on chapter 17, much has already been said regarding Babylon and her identity. These posts can be seen here and here, and the first one lists 13 reasons for why Babylon is to be identified with 1st century Jerusalem and Judaism. Sam Storms, as most Historicists do, sees Babylon as representing Rome. Still, even though his viewpoint is different than what is being proposed here, he makes a number of helpful observations, including this chapter outline here:
(1) the prediction of Babylon’s fall (vv. 1-3); (2) an exhortation to God’s people to separate from Babylon before judgment comes (vv. 4-8); (3) the lament of those who cooperate with Babylon (the kings of the earth) [vv. 9-10], the merchants of the earth [vv. 11-17a], the mariners [vv. 17b-19]); and (4) the rejoicing of the faithful once Babylon’s judgment is complete (vv. 20-24).
Verses 1-2: In chapter 17 John was spoken to and carried away in the Spirit by “one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls.” Now another angel announces to John that Babylon is fallen, and in her fallen state she is a “dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.” Steve Gregg, on page 424 of his book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” states:
The fact that Babylon has become a habitation of every foul spirit and every unclean and hateful bird (v. 2) is known to be true of Jerusalem, which became overrun by demons, as Christ predicted (Matt. 12:38-45), and which, being reduced to ground level, again as Christ predicted (Matt. 24:2), became the haunt of the desert creatures considered unclean in the Jews’ religion. No such literal fulfillment of these words has been demonstrated with regard to Rome.
Verse 3: Gregg notes that some see evidence for Rome’s identity with Babylon because of the last phrase in this verse: “…and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” The idea is that Rome was more known than Jerusalem for having “had a major impact upon the world’s economy.” Yet we noted in the previous post that famous historians also spoke of Jerusalem’s political greatness and magnificent structures, and such accolades imply at least a respectable level of material wealth, even if not at Rome’s level.
In our study of Revelation so far, we have also suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. We first saw this in Revelation 1:7, a clear throwback to Zechariah 12:10-14. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case. What is being communicated here, then, is that Jerusalem made the merchants of Israel/Palestine wealthy by what she had to offer.
The first part of verse 3 reads this way: “For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her…” Is the “sexual immorality” here meant to be understood literally as sexual contact between human beings, or is spiritual unfaithfulness in mind here? The former understanding has led some to believe that Babylon is the United States, because the US is known for exporting pornography around the world. Sam Storms understands it to be the latter, saying this phrase is meant to “portray religious and philosophical idolatry.” This is also similar to our preferred understanding in chapter 14 that the 144,000 “virgins” held such a status not in the sexual sense, but in terms of being righteous and faithful to God. Steve Gregg notes how very similar language was used of Jerusalem before Jerusalem’s fall at the hand of Babylon in 586 BC, and deduces what this means for 1st century Jerusalem even as she takes on the name of her old conqueror (pp. 424, 426):
Jerusalem was charged with committing fornication with the kings of the earth (v. 3) in Old Testament times (Ezek. 16:14-15, 26, 28-30; 23:12-21). The prophet used this imagery to explain God’s reason for bringing judgment upon Jerusalem by the hands of the Babylonians in 586 B.C. It would seem appropriate that the New Testament apostle/prophet would employ the same language in describing a near-identical event, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.
As it may be helpful to see what Ezekiel said of Jerusalem some 600 years before Christ’s birth, I will quote a portion of the above-mentioned passage here: “And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed upon you, declares the Lord God. But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passer-by; your beauty became his… How lovesick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute…” The greater context of this quoted passage (Ezek. 16:14-15, 30) shows that Jerusalem’s prostitution at that time had to do with sharing in the idolatry being practiced by surrounding nations.
Verse 4: Steve Gregg (p. 428) remarks,
The call to Come out of her, my people (v. 4) not only echoes similar exhortations concerning ancient Babylon (cf. Isa. 48:20; Jer. 50:8; 51:6), but also Christ’s instructions to the disciples to flee from the condemned city at the first sign of its imminent doom (cf. Luke 21:20-23). The epistle to the Hebrews as a whole (and especially passages like Heb. 12:25-29; 13:13-14) constitutes just such a call as that found here.
Dave (above) asked a couple of very pertinent questions regarding this verse: “If Babylon is a city, why are the seven churches in Asia (the recipients of the letter) told to ‘come out of her’? The saints who are being written to are nowhere near this city. Is something else meant other than physically removing one’s self from a particular city?” Dave is right to ask what it would have meant for the inhabitants of Asia Minor to come out of Babylon, if only the physical city of Jerusalem is meant here. I believe that this was a command to part ways with Old Covenant Judaism once and for all. In the second half of our discussion on Rev. 17:1-6, I wrote, “Babylon represented not only Jerusalem, but also the unfaithful community which had rejected Jesus in order to maintain corrupted Old Covenant practices. Both physical Jerusalem and temple-based Judaism were judged and destroyed in 70 AD.” A more lengthy discussion of these matters can be found at that post.
John does seem to switch back and forth in his speech between the physical representation of Jerusalem (the city) and her spiritual representation (Judaism). This is also done elsewhere in Revelation and other Biblical texts on other subjects (e.g. In Romans 9-11, Paul uses the term “Israel” at times to refer to the geographical nation known by that name, but also refers to the Church by the same term, as in Romans 9:6). In any case, the Lord’s admonition to His people to “come out of her” is probably similar to Peter’s words in Acts 2:40, where it is recorded: “And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’”
Verses 5-6: In these verses Steve Gregg (p. 430) draws three more parallels to Old Covenant Jerusalem:
 The statement that her sins have reached to heaven (v. 5) is an apparent allusion to God’s assessment of Sodom in Genesis 18:21, and Sodom has already been used as a symbolic name for Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8).
 One of the provisions of the New Covenant was God’s promise that “I will remember no more” the sins and iniquities of His people (Jer. 31:34). This is one of the “better promises” (Heb. 8:6) by which the New Covenant outshines the first. Contrarily, it can be said of her who related to God on the basis of the Old Covenant, and violated it, that God has remembered her iniquities (v. 5). This was Jerusalem.
 That God has determined to repay her double (v. 6) for her sins is another link to Jerusalem and Judah, of whom the prophet said, “I will repay double for their iniquity and their sin” (Jer. 16:18) and, “Bring on them the day of doom, and destroy them with double destruction!” (Jer. 17:18).
Verse 7: Here we read of Babylon’s pride, as she says in her heart, “I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.” Sam Storms calls this idolatry and false security, and points out the similarities between these statements and what is written of Babylon in Isaiah’s day: “Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me, I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children.’” Also, very interestingly, Lamentations, written shortly after Jerusalem fell the first time in 586 BC, begins this way: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.”
One author, referencing the Jewish historian Josephus, writes of the over-confidence of the Jewish people regarding their city and the temple and the bitter anguish they experienced when the temple was destroyed by fire in 70 AD: “No one believed that God would permit His Temple to be destroyed, and when this finally did happen, everyone within the city, men and women, young and old, were crazed with despair. Thousands cast themselves into the fire while others fell on their own swords.”
Verse 8: Just like Babylon in Isaiah’s day (Is. 47:9), the Babylon John was speaking of was to receive her plagues “in a single day”: death, mourning, famine, and burning with fire. It’s well documented that these very things took place in Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, and I previously wrote in detail about these events here, here, and here.
Verses 9-10: These verses read, “And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. Then they will stand afar off, in fear of her torment, and say, ‘Alas! Alas! You great city, you might city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.’” George Peter Holford, basing his 1805 account on the writings of Josephus, wrote the following graphic details in describing the burning of Jerusalem’s temple in 70 AD:
The Romans, exasperated to the highest pitch against the Jews, seized every person whom they could find, and, without the least regard to sex, age or quality, first plundered and then slew them. The old and the young, the common people and the priests, those who surrendered and those who resisted, were equally involved in this horrible and indiscriminate carnage. Meanwhile the Temple continued burning, until at length, vast as was its size, the flames completely enveloped the whole building; which, from the extent of the conflagration, impressed the distant spectator with an idea that the whole city was now on fire. The tumult and disorder which ensued upon this event, it is impossible (says Josephus) for language to describe. The Roman legions made the most horrid outcries; the rebels, finding themselves exposed to the fury of both fire and sword, screamed dreadfully; while the unhappy people who were pent up between the enemy and the flames, deplored their situation in the most pitiable complaints. Those on the hill and those in the city seemed mutually to return the groans of each other. Such as were expiring through famine, were revived by this hideous scene, and seemed to acquire new spirits to deplore their misfortunes. The lamentations from the city were re-echoed from the adjacent mountains, and places beyond Jordan. The flames which enveloped the Temple were so violent and impetuous, that the lofty hill on which it stood appeared, even from its deep foundations, as one large body of fire. The blood of the sufferers flowed in proportion to the rage of this destructive element; and the number of the slain exceeded all calculation. The ground could not be seen for the dead bodies, over which the Romans trampled in pursuit of the fugitives; while the crackling noise of the devouring flames mingled with the clamor of arms, the groans of the dying and the shrieks of despair, augmented the tremendous horror of a scene, to which the pages of history can furnish no parallel.
Verses 11-14: Verse 11 is the first of five verses which will speak of the permanency of Babylon’s fall, the others being verses 14, 21, 22, and 23. This lends credence to the earlier assertion that what is primarily being seen here is the fall of Old Covenant temple-based Judaism, even more so than simply the city of Jerusalem. Try and plan as they might, no one has been able to practice all (or even most of) the tenets of Judaism since the complete and final destruction of the temple in 70 AD. John Hagee, Benny Hinn, and others would do well to reconsider the funds they have raised in order to see a Third Temple built in Jerusalem one day. God was serious about dismantling the Old Covenant system, and the New Covenant means a lot to Him too.
Sam Storms points out that in verses 11-13 there is a list of 28 different types of cargo, no longer to be found in Babylon anymore after her downfall. Most shocking on this list is the mention of “human souls” (verse 13), and Sam Storms believes this indicates not only greed but also a brutality of some sort in the pursuit of all the other 27 items. Some object to Babylon’s identity as Jerusalem because they believe these items indicate a commercial center as prominent as Rome, and more prominent than Jerusalem. Steve Gregg answers this objection (p. 436): “[It] may be said that the demands of the passage do not require that the city in question be the greatest commercial center in the world—only that it was a wealthy, cosmopolitan trading city, by whose business international merchants were made rich. These things were certainly true of Jerusalem. In The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim writes concerning Jerusalem:
In these streets and lanes everything might be purchased: the production of Palestine, or imported from foreign lands—nay, the rarest articles from the remotest parts. Exquisitely shaped, curiously designed and jeweled cups, rings, and other workmanship of precious metals; glass, silks, fine linen, woolen stuffs, purple, and costly hangings; essences, ointments, and perfumes, as precious as gold; articles of food and drink from foreign lands—in short, what India, Persia, Arabia, Media, Egypt, Italy, Greece, and even the far-off lands of the Gentiles yielded, might be had in these bazaars. Ancient Jewish writings enable us to identify no fewer than 118 different articles of import from foreign lands, covering more than even modern luxury has devised.”
David Chilton further comments, “The wealth of Jerusalem was a direct result of the blessings promised in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. God had made her a great commercial center, but she had abused the gift. While there are similarities between the list of goods here and that in Ezekiel 27:12-24 (a prophecy against Tyre), it is likely that the items primarily reflect the Temple and the commerce surrounding it” (emphasis added). On this last statement, Duncan McKenzie has much to say in his 2006 article titled “The Merchandise of the Temple.” The following is an excerpt from that article:
First; why is John providing so much detail about Babylon’s merchandise? How does it add to what he is telling us? It is my position that this list of items is another example, one of the most extensive in Revelation, of physical referents being given in the midst of a symbol to aid in the identification of that symbol. As I have stated earlier, Babylon was not a literal city (not Jerusalem and certainly not Rome). It was a symbol of a community of people, a symbol of God’s unfaithful old covenant community. This community is being represented by images associated with the Temple and the priesthood. If Babylon were a literal city this list of items would add little to the story being told here. If on the other hand Babylon is a symbol of unfaithful Israel then all of a sudden this merchandise makes much more sense. Quite simply, the “merchandise” of Babylon is the merchandise of the Temple.
Carrington wrote the following on the goods of Babylon, “The long list of merchandise in 18:11-13 is surely a catalogue of materials for building the Temple, and stores for maintaining it” [Phillip Carrington, The Meaning of Revelation, (London: Society for Promotion Christian Knowledge, 1931), 287]…
Of the items which are listed in Rev 18, gold and silver, precious stones, fine linen, purple, silk (for vestments) scarlet, precious wood, bronze, iron (cf. Deut 8:9), marble cinnamon (as an ingredient of the sacred anointing oil), spices, incense, ointment, frankincense, wine, oil fine meal (Gr. Semidalis, used frequently in Leviticus for fine flour offering), corn, beasts, sheep are all found in use in the temple. Ivory and probably pearls were found in Herod’s temple. Although horses and chariots do seem to be incongruous, the Greek word for chariot is rhede, a four-wheel chariot, a fairly rare word which appears to come from the Latin name. The author may be insinuating that Roman ways were introduced into the sacred city [ J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, The Anchor Bible, vol. 38, eds. William R. Albright and David N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 304-305]. The four wheeled chariots (or carriages as Aune translates rhede) may allude to the wealthy aristocracy that had arisen around the current and former high priests.
The listing of merchandise in Revelation 18 is similar to the listing of the merchandise of Tyre in Ezekiel 27:12-24, as is the lamenting by those who got wealthy off the respective cities (Ezekiel 27:28-36). In Ezekiel 27 the city of Tyre is pictured as a ship (vv. 5-9) that sinks at sea (vv. 26, 32, 34). In Revelation 18 the Temple system of unfaithful Israel is pictured as a city that is overthrown. As Ford noted, the items in Revelation 18 are considerably different with those of the (literal) city of Tyre. Only fifteen of the twenty-seven items in Revelation 18:12-13 are the same as the thirty eight items listed in Ezekiel 27:12-24. [The count changes by an item or two depending on what translation one uses and whether one counts “bodies and souls” as two items or one (i.e. “slaves, the souls of men” RSV)] There is, however, a connection between the commerce of the Temple and that of Tyre. The currency of Tyre was the only currency allowed in the Temple. Thus Revelation 18’s allusion to the commerce of Tyre may contain an allusion to the commerce of the Temple.
McKenzie then elaborates on the ornate decorations in the Temple of Herod, whose lengthy and famous restoration project was only completed in 65 AD, merely five years before it was destroyed. McKenzie also hosts a discussion of the precious metals used in the temple, and cites the writings of Josephus on this matter. He also shows how “Revelation 18:13 consists mostly of items that were used in the sacrifices and offerings of the Temple: cinnamon, incense, fragrant oil, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep.” His take on the mention of “slaves, that is, human souls” in verse 13 is this:
The leaders of the Jewish temple system were enslaving men’s souls by turning them away from Jesus and attempting to keep them under the old covenant. The Temple hierarchy had been in bed with Rome (so much so that Rome even appointed the high priest). The Roman beast was about to turn on the harlot and destroy the whole old covenant system.
Interestingly, McKenzie points out,
Jesus had accused the Jewish leadership of enslaving men’s souls by preventing them from entering the kingdom of God: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matt. 23:13, 15).
In Galatians 4:24-25 Paul tells how those under the old covenant were enslaved, as opposed to those under New Covenant who were free (Gal. 4:26-27). This gets back to the parallel between the two women/cities of Galatians 4:21-31 and the two women/cities of Revelation. Just as the “other woman” in Galatians had children who were enslaved (those staying under the old covenant, Gal. 4:24-25), so harlot Babylon had her slaves.
Verses 15-19: In verse 16 we see that the great city “was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls.” We saw this same description in our study of Rev. 17:4, speaking of the woman, “the great prostitute” (17:1) and “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (17:5). There we noted that “the description of the harlot’s attire (purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls) was nearly identical to the ephod worn by the high priest (…Exodus 28:5-21).” The same is true here; this is another reference to Jerusalem and the temple priesthood of the Old Covenant.
In verses 9-10, “the kings of the earth” were shown standing afar off and weeping and wailing over the smoke of Babylon’s burning. In verses 15-16, the “merchants of…wares” were shown doing the same. Now in verses 17-19 all the “shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea” mourn in the same manner. Babylon is referred to again as “the great city,” as is done in several other places (Rev. 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21). We first saw this title given to Jerusalem in Rev. 11:8, the passage which speaks of the two witnesses who would “lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.”
Verse 20: Here we read, “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” The same indictment was given in Rev. 16:4-6 and 17:6, and will be repeated again in 18:24. This time it includes a statement of justice for “apostles” as well. If this judgment is yet to come, as proposed by the Futurist standpoint, what 21st century entity might be responsible for shedding the blood of the apostles? However, we know, for example, that James the brother of Jesus was martyred in Jerusalem in 62 AD by the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders, and that Peter and Paul were martyred at the command of Nero as he was instigated to do by the Jews (see our study on Rev. 17:3).
More importantly for our study, though, we have the clear prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 23:29-38 that the martyrdom of the saints and prophets would be held to the account of His first-century Jewish audience: “that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth… Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation…” (Matt. 23:35-36; cf. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16, Luke 13:33-34 and Acts 7:52). This judgment was poured out within the timeframe of the generation that heard Jesus speak these things, when Jerusalem was laid waste in 70 AD.
Verses 21-23: Once again it is said of Babylon that she “will be found no more.” Here this is demonstrated by a mighty angel throwing a great millstone into the sea. Duncan McKenzie comments, “Seeing the harlot as the old covenant temple system helps to explain Revelation 18:21 (that says Babylon would not rise again). The city of Jerusalem has risen again; the old covenant temple system has not risen again (and won’t).” The angel then recites a list of activities which would no longer be heard or found in Babylon anymore.
Verse 24: Very similar to verse 20, we read here: “And in her [Babylon] was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.” These words are so similar to what Jesus said in Matthew 23:35 that the connection should be unmistakable. The fulfillment of this prophecy simply can not be yet future, in light of what Jesus said in the next verse, nor can it have been fulfilled in any other geographical location other than Jerusalem and the surrounding region. Babylon, that is, Jerusalem and Old Covenant Judaism as represented by her famous temple, were thrown down in judgment in 70 AD, just as Jesus said would happen. When we consider, as we did in verse 3, that the phrase “on earth” (also translated “land”) is a natural reference to Israel, this is further borne out.
Our study of Revelation 19 can be found here.
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.