Revelation 18.

THE FALL OF BABYLON: LAMENTATION ON EARTH; TRIUMPH IN HEAVEN.

THE ANGEL AND HIS CRY.

Rev. 18:1, 2. — “After these things I saw another angel descending out of the Heaven, having great authority: and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried with a strong voice, saying, Great Babylon has fallen, has fallen.” Although the subject of Babylon is resumed in this chapter, yet it forms a distinct and subsequent revelation contained in vision. The phrase “after these things” (cp. Rev. 4:1; Rev. 7:1, 9) notes a new commencement, and introduces a new set of circumstances; it also serves to direct attention to the distinctive unity of the subject or subjects so prefaced. In this point of view the chapter is an interesting one. Babylon, of course, is in the forefront of both chapters 17 and 18, and we may also add in the first three verses of the following one. Here the Beast is not once named, nor the ten kings, so active in the destruction of Babylon. In this chapter the human agents disappear, and the ruin of that awful system of corruption is traced to God as the source. Babylon, neither as a woman in relation to the Beast nor as a whore in relation to Christendom, is mentioned in the vision — one as distinctive as that in the previous chapter. The fall of Babylon (Rev. 17:16) in its civil relations does not exhaust the judgment of God upon that organised system of evil (Rev. 18:4, last clause). But of this more anon.

1. — “Another angel,” in contrast to the Vial angels (Rev. 17:1; Rev. 21:9). “Descending out of the Heaven” intimates the heavenly character of the action, and the deep interest there taken in the character and fate of Babylon. “Having great authority.” There are orders and degrees amongst the angelic hosts.* Some are more distinguished than others in service and in position. All are characterised by might (2 Thess. 1:7; 2 Peter 2:11), but on some is conferred special power to act for God in certain circumstances; others, again, have a defined authority within a circumscribed area, but universal authority is never ascribed to an angelic being. The Lord Jesus Christ as Man and Son is the appointed Heir of all things (Matt. 28:18; Matt. 11:27; Heb. 1:2). As Creator, His claim to universal dominion is not a conferred one, but is sovereign and independent (Col. 1:16), founded on the rights and glory of His Person as God.

{*See remarks on Rev. 8:2.}

The angel in our text has “great authority,” and is probably the angel to whom the judgment of Babylon is committed. Here he announces its fall, but as a preliminary to further and more awful dealing. The angel has ample authority conferred upon him to deal thoroughly with the subject on hand, namely, the most iniquitous religious system on earth. “The earth was lightened with his glory.” This is a testimony that God is in the scene, that it is He Who is acting in judgment. The fall of Babylon was a public event — the smoke of her burning (v. 18) as it darkened the heavens proclaimed this far and near; but the earth lightened, not by the reflection of the sun, but by the glory of the descending angel, witnessed to the fact that, whoever the actors and agents might be, yet God, as the Righteous Judge, judges Babylon. Probably the angel here referred to is none other than Christ, the same as in Rev. 8:3 and Rev. 10:1. Christ, the Angel-Priest, on behalf of His suffering remnant (Rev. 8). Christ, the Angel-Redeemer, taking possession of His inheritance (Rev. 10). Christ, the Angel-Avenger of His people, taking vengeance on Babylon (Rev. 18).

Rev. 18:2. — “He cried with a strong voice.” This is a quality in which angels excel (Ps. 103:20).* The cry of the angel was the welcome proclamation of Babylon’s downfall, not anticipative, but as having actually taken place. “Great Babylon has fallen, has fallen.” The fall of that mighty system which, while guilty of falsehood and treason against Christ, yet bore His Name is here publicly announced. This in the previous chapter was executed by the western powers. There we had the Beast, to whom the power or civil authority had been entrusted,** becoming for a time the willing slave of the woman. She sits upon it in pride, an object of wonder and of admiration to all, save to those whose eyes are opened through grace to discern her true character. But the power which is with the Beast, not with the woman, gets restless under restraint, and chafes under her intolerant sway. Her wealth, too, is eagerly coveted by the civil and apostate powers. The ten kingdoms and the Beast, the whole material strength of the empire, combine to effect her ruin. In this commission of vengeance upon the worst system of evil and tyranny the sun has ever looked down upon, the confederate ten kings are even more active than the Beast himself, i.e., the little horn of Daniel 7. The woman is stripped of her possessions and wealth, which go to swell the respective treasuries of the great chiefs of the empire. The woman, or the system she represents, is brought down to the lowest depths of degradation, an object of scorn and contempt even to those who before sought her favours and courted her smile. She lies before us a wreck of her former self. The apostate civil authority has triumphed over her by brute force; then the ten kings yield themselves and their kingdoms up to the coarse and brutal will of the Beast. Bad as things are under the woman a worse condition will ensue under the unchecked will of the Beast satanically inspired.

{*See remarks on Rev. 5:2.

** Nebuchadnezzar received his appointment as chief of the world in civil power directly from God (Dan. 2:37, 38), the succeeding powers only came upon the scene providentially, but in their case no formal grant of power or authority was directly bestowed. In the last days of the fourth empire Satan endows it with his authority and seat and power (Rev. 13:2). What a contrast between the two empires — the first and the fourth. God established the first! Satan establishes the fourth!}

ANNOUNCEMENT BY THE MIGHTY ANGEL.

2, 3. — Babylon “has become the habitation of demons, and a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hated bird. Because all the nations have drunk of the wine of the fury of her fornication; and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have been enriched through the might of her luxury.” This is the condition of Babylon after and consequent upon her political downfall. She was overthrown, not destroyed. This latter is sudden. “She shall be utterly burned with fire” (v. 8) is subsequent to the burning noted in the previous chapter (Rev. 17:16).

Has become.” Babylon having lost her public place of supremacy, being torn to pieces by the very powers which once formed her strength, is reduced to a state of desolation described in language of unexampled force. The description is evidently borrowed from Isaiah 13:21, 22, in which the grandest of the Hebrew prophets foretells the ruin of Babylon, once the proud mistress of the world, now the most debased of all cities; here we have the moral counterpart. This, then, is what the professed spouse of Christ “has become.” There are three parts in the description which in the aggregate constitute an awful moral horror.

(1) “The habitation of demons.”* Their proper home is the abyss** (Luke 8:31, R.V.). Who demons are, whether lost angels or the souls of lost men, or a class of lost and miserable beings by themselves, to whom future torment is known and assured, we know not.*** What an amazing thought that the abyss in the underground world, and the professed spouse of Christ on earth, should both be regarded as the habitation of demons! We could readily understand the abyss as the dwelling of these emissaries of Satan, but that the professing Church should become that almost exceeds belief.

{*We may remark that the word satyrs (Isa. 13:21) is rendered in the LXX. demons.

**The reader who desires help on the demonology of the New Testament would do well to read “Critical Studies in St. Luke’s Gospel: Its Demonology and Ebionitism,” by Colin Campbell, B.D. (Blackwood & Sons).

***See an interesting paragraph, containing probably all that is known of demons, in “From Advent to Advent; or, The Outline of the Gospel according to St. Luke,” by C. E. Stuart.}

(2) “A hold of every unclean spirit.” Satan establishes his spiritual forces in the ruined Church system. He makes it a hold, or stronghold, which is the force of the word, and thither the uncleanness and foulness of the pit congregate. There the doleful cry is heard and wicked deed perpetrated, “every (foul or) unclean spirit” gathers to ruined Babylon as to a centre.

(3) “A hold of every unclean and hated bird.” We gather that demons and unclean spirits referred to in our text are personal beings. The unclean birds, birds of prey and of darkness, signify the many and varied agents of Satan (Matt. 13:4, 32; Jer. 5:27; especially Isa. 34:11-15), those, of course, of a highly pernicious and destructive character. Thus is Babylon a very sink of corruption, an abomination in the sight of God.

GRAVE INDICTMENT AGAINST BABYLON.

The grounds of God’s judgment on Babylon are next stated. These are:

(1) “Because all the nations have drunk of the wine of the fury of her fornication.” The peoples of the prophetic earth have drunk, and drunk eagerly out of her golden and intoxicating cup. She has seduced the nations from their allegiance to God and Christ, and established herself in the affections of the masses of mankind. The peoples of Christendom, if not of a wider geographical area, have been captivated by the splendour of her services, her high and ornate ritual, and general display of gorgeous vestments and millinery, all so fitted to act on the ignorant mind and unbridled imagination of the populations of our cities, towns, and villages. Add to this the easy terms on which she offers salvation to her devotees, with, on the other hand, the threat of no salvation outside the pale of her communion, and need we be surprised that the nations get morally intoxicated, or mad, over a system which offers such advantages, while blind to all true judgment as to her real condition before God! At the period contemplated in our chapter the Bible will have been dethroned from its place in public, as also from the conscience of the masses of even religious people. Hence they will fall an easy prey to the seductions of Babylon.

(2) With whom “the kings of the earth have committed fornication.” The personal heads of the ten kingdoms which form the territorial area of the empire, when revived, must be distinguished from the kings of the earth. The former are the destroyers and burners of the woman (Rev. 17:16); they turn to hate her. Not so the kings, or chiefs, of Christendom, they lament her fate (Rev. 18:9); they, not the ten western kings, a specific class and number, commit fornication with Babylon. Love of display, of which the Romish Church boasts, is her argument and appeal to the senses, and before this god the nations will bow, but the kings of the earth, or leaders, are more guilty, more sober, as befits their position; they yield themselves up to the blandishments of the woman. The Church hugs the world for what of numbers and wealth she can get, and the world gladly welcomes her embrace, for has she not promised to open Heaven to all comers who pay well? The keys of St. Peter are dangled before kings and people, and so the chair of “The Vicar of Christ” and “Universal Bishop” will yet be exalted to a moral height far beyond that of the palmiest days of the papacy in either of the three centuries so renowned for Romish arrogance and pride, the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth.

(3) “The merchants of the earth have been enriched through the might of her luxury.” This third class has trafficked with her for gain. There has always been a numerous class of people who attach themselves to religion for what they can get, using the Church as a stepping-stone to advance their temporal interests. Babylon will offer a tempting bait to all such. The abundance of her luxuries will attract “the merchants of the earth,” who will enrich themselves thereby. Soon, however, the scene will change, and these same traffickers weep and wail over the ruin of that from which they enriched themselves.

A CALL FOR SEPARATION.

Rev. 18:4, 5. — “And I heard another voice out of the Heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye have not fellowship in her sins, and that ye do not receive of her plagues: for her sins have been heaped on one another up to the Heaven, and God has remembered her unrighteousnesses.” An angel descending from Heaven (v. 1), and a voice heard in Heaven (v. 4), express different actions. The latter is the expression of the mind of God, in which all in Heaven are in unison.

4. — The call, “Come out of her, my people,”* is, of course, applicable at all times, and is never out of season wherever Babylon in principle is found. But the exhortation has its special force after the overthrow of Babylon from its commanding greatness (Rev. 17) and before its final doom (Rev. 18). The call is imperative. Babylon as a system cannot be remodelled on scriptural lines, and hence there is ever but one course open to the faithful — one of thorough separation from that which falsely bears the Name of Christ. No doubt some real believers will be found in Babylon, even in her worst and most corrupt condition, probably to avoid persecution and death. These adherents must make a complete severance from Babylon, or if they remain in it become partakers of her plagues.**

{*Compare with Jeremiah 51:6: Isaiah 48:20.

**These plagues are death, mourning, and famine (v. 8).}

4. — The call is based on two grounds: (1) “that ye have not fellowship in her sins.” By remaining in it they would become partakers of her guilt. (2) “That ye do not receive of her plagues.” The warning here is on account of consequences — judicial and governmental. Eternal security is in no wise imperilled by the divine threat. The guilt and punishment of all remaining in Babylon are here predicated. God is about to overwhelm the whole apostate ecclesiastical system with utter and irremediable ruin, and in view of this final downpour of wrath, here termed “plagues,” the last call is heard, “Come out of her, my people.” We would naturally conclude that the exodus of saints from Babylon is accomplished ere the last stroke falls, crushing her to powder. As another has said, “The full judgment comes after God’s people are come out of her.”

Rev. 18:5. — But why such stern judgment? Why such awful dealing both from man and God? “For her sins have been heaped on one another up to the Heaven.” Of the first Babel confederacy without God we read, “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto Heaven” (Gen. 11:4). They would build an enduring monument of their folly, one of stone. But here the sins heaped up reach “the Heaven,” the monument of her shame if she only knew it. What a striking picture is here presented, a Babel tower, not of stones but of sins; not simply sin on earth calling for judgment, but sins so aggravated, so numerous, and so bold and impious that Heaven itself is outraged.* “God has remembered her unrighteousnesses.” Judgment, stern and unsparing, must take its course.

{*See Ezra 9:6; also Jeremiah 51:9; there the LITERAL Babylon; here the MYSTICAL, the one being the counterpart of the other.}

RIGHTEOUS RETRIBUTION.

Rev. 18:6. — “Recompense her even as she has recompensed; and double (to her) double, according to her works. In the cup which she has mixed, mix to her double.” On textual considerations the “you” in the Authorised Version is omitted in the Revised Version, while as a matter of interpretation its introduction unduly narrows the sense of the passage. The previous verse directly addresses itself to the people of God, but in that before us it is for saints. Then, as now, the principle is asserted that God acts in retributive justice. It is a statement of the principle on which God acts towards nations, as Matthew 7:2 shows its application to individuals. Jewish law demanded “an eye for an eye,” but the vengeance here demanded goes far beyond that — the measure is doubled.

PRIDE BEFORE DESTRUCTION.

Rev. 18:7, 8. — “So much as she has glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so much torment and grief give to her. Because she says in her heart, I sit a queen, and I am not a widow; and I shall in no wise see grief: for this reason on one day shall her plagues come, death, and grief, and famine, and she shall be burned with fire; for strong (is the) Lord God Who has judged her.” The principle of retributive judgment is next shown in the first part of verse 7, not in relation to what Babylon has done (v. 6), but because of what she is in herself. Having been degraded from her public place by the kings of the Roman world she yet maintains her pride. Her spirit is unbroken. Her haughtiness is asserted in spite of the fact that she sits in the dust of her former grandeur, and that her final end is at hand. The kings of the earth may lament over her, but help her they cannot. Her boasting is within; she says in her heart, “I sit a queen.” Her public downfall had already taken place, hence the assertion of her queenly state would be out of keeping if openly expressed. “I am not a widow.” Does she expect that her fortunes are to be retrieved? That she will once again mount the throne? “I shall in no wise see grief,” and this while the clouds lower and the tokens on every hand presage her immediate and final judgment at the hand of God. Utter destruction is signified in the words, “she shall be burned with fire.” This goes beyond the more historical scene in Revelation 17:16. The fire here makes an utter end of Babylon. The mighty God is Babylon’s Judge.*

{*We quote from another, “Rome means strong, but her strength is nothing. Strong is the Lord Who judges her.”}

THE DIRGE OVER BABYLON.

Rev. 18:9, 10. — The lamentation over Babylon is taken up by all classes, for all are affected by it. The general bearing of the whole passage is so simple that detailed exposition is needless. The articles of merchandise specified in which Babylon trafficked are twenty-eight in number. The first in the list is gold, the last is souls. The ruin of Babylon will seriously affect the whole commercial and social life of the world, and it is on this account that her judgment is so deplored by those who shared in her wealth and profited by intercourse with her.

9, 10. — “The kings of the earth” lead in the general mourning. They were the most intimate with her, and hence more than others feel her loss. These kings, or chiefs, must not be confounded with the ten kings who hate the woman. The former mourn over her, and are unable to prevent her ruin, whereas the latter are the prime movers in her political downfall (Rev. 17:16). The kings of the earth, or, in other words, the distinguished leaders in Christendom, as apart from the ten kings of the Roman empire, are in fear. Standing afar off they witness the awful conflagration of that mighty system of evil with which they had been so closely identified, and in which they had lived and rioted in luxury. They tremble and fear at the awfulness and suddenness of the judgment, “for in one hour is thy judgment come.”

Rev. 18:11-13. — “The merchants of the earth” sorrow over Babylon, not because of any love they bear the system, but simply because their trade and wealth are ruined. Babylon, besides her religious character, is here viewed as the centre of vast commercial interests. The varied character of the merchandise — the product of all countries — shows the wide influence of Babylon, and how she attracts to herself as to a centre the world’s riches. Think of this gigantic combination of the secular and religious trading, amongst other commodities, with the bodies and souls of men (v. 13) — named last, as of least account. In the enumeration of Babylon’s merchandise she is simply the world’s storehouse, or universal emporium, embracing all that is most esteemed down to that which is regarded as of least value. There are seven departments under which the various articles are classified. (1) Valuables and ornaments, as gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls. (2) Costly array, as fine linen, purple, silk, and scarlet. (3) Sumptuous furniture, as vessels manufactured from the most precious woods, ivory, and metals. (4) Rich odours, as cinnamon, frankincense, and ointments. (5) Abundant living, as wine, oil, flour, wheat, beasts, and sheep. (6) Triumphal pageants, as horses and chariots. (7) Infamous traffic in the bodies and souls of men.

The lamentation of the merchants is interrupted by an episode narrated in verse 14, and the mournful strain is resumed in verse 15. The complete ruin of the merchandise of Babylon, that which selfishly bound to her king and peasant, leaves her a wreck. All her resources are gone; she is utterly despoiled of her former means of self indulgence; her sources of enjoyment are dried up; and, in fact, all that ministered to her pride, and everything essential to her existence, perishes in the unexpected and sudden blow from the divine hand. She is directly addressed by a voice from Heaven (v. 14).

Rev. 18:15-17. — Then the strain is resumed, but on a wider basis. Merchants in general, which is explained to mean those “who had been enriched through her,” take up the lamentation expressed in words similar to that of the kings (v. 10). There is one difference, however, which may be noted. The kings in their lament say “In one hour is thy judgment come,” whereas the merchants say “In one hour so great riches have been made desolate.” Uniting the two statements we gather that the judgment of Babylon involves the destruction of her temporal prosperity, and, further, that the stroke of vengeance from the hand of the Almighty is sudden and unlooked for.

Rev. 18:17-19. — Shipmasters, sailors, and all seafaring interests suffer equally with those already named. The past greatness and riches of Babylon are remembered and mourned over in the pathetic dirge from the sea (see Ezek. 27).

The judgment of Babylon takes effect in full sight of kings, merchants, and sea traders, the various classes enriched through connection with her. Her torment is their fear.*

{* “We have the fall of Babylon distinguished, I think, from the destruction of Babylon. Her fall includes moral degradation, and being the dwelling place of unclean spirits. This is judgment on her; and she falls because of her making the nations drink of the wine of her fornication (Rev. 14:8). This we find in the ecclesiastical course, so to speak, of closing facts. Her final judgment we find in the close of the filling up the wrath of God (Rev. 16:19). The connection of the former seems to be with Rev. 18:2; of the latter with Rev. 18:21.” — “Notes on the Book of Revelation,” in loco. This little work, by the late J. N. Darby, of 172 pages, is an invaluable aid, not in details, but in masterly unfolding of the great principles and truths contained in the Apocalypse.}

HEAVEN REJOICES.

Rev. 18:20. — We have had the voice from Heaven heard first in verse 4, and last in verse 20. In this latter reference Heaven is called upon to rejoice. If there is lamentation on earth there is rejoicing in Heaven. The place and inhabitants unite in the song of triumph. There are three classes: saints, apostles, and prophets (R.V. of v. 20). The first term is a general one, and includes believers both of Old and New Testament times; the second refers to those of Christian times (Eph. 4:11), and “the twelve” as well; the third is, of course, the prophets of old. All the three classes mentioned are in Heaven, and there rejoice. “God has judged your judgment upon her,” that is, the righteous judgment passed upon Babylon by saints, apostles, and prophets — for all had suffered at her hands — is now executed by God Himself.

THE UTTER RUIN AND EVERLASTING DESOLATION OF BABYLON.

Rev. 18:21-24. — “And a strong angel took up a stone, as a great millstone, and cast (it) into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall Babylon the great city be cast down, and shall be found no more at all.” The action is significant and prophetic, and sublime withal. A similar dramatic proceeding pointing to the overthrow of Babylon of old is described in Jeremiah 51:60-64; there, however, Seraiah was the actor; here an angel of might. Both the literal and mystical cities were to be utterly and suddenly destroyed by violence. The two chapters, Jeremiah 51 and Revelation 18, should be carefully studied and compared. Then follows in verses 22 and 23 a beautifully descriptive and touching account, poetically expressed,* of her utter desolation. How complete the ruin! Joyless, dark, and silent, Babylon stands out as a monument of the utmost vengeance of God. Wickedness had sat enthroned in the midst of that professedly bearing the Name of Christ; but at last, when she had filled to the full her cup of iniquity, God rises in His fierce anger, His indignation burns, and Babylon falls to rise no more. Her destruction is irremediable. The chapter closes with a reiteration of the bloody character of the system** (see Rev. 17:6; Rev. 18:24).

{*Compare with Jeremiah 25:10.

**“Alas! she has erected the prisons, and prepared the rack, and lighted the fires of what she calls the holy office of the Inquisition in Italy, Spain, America, and India. She lauds one of her canonised Popes, Pius the Fifth, in her Breviary as an inflexible Inquisitor. She has engraven the massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Day on her papal coins, and there represents it as a work done by an angel from Heaven. And the Roman Pontiff of that day went publicly to Church to return thanks to God for that savage and treacherous deed.” — Wordsworth.

The term “blood” is literally bloods, a Hebraism, of course, but does it not point to the fact that all the blood so wantonly shed on earth in its numerous and varied ways is at the last found in Babylon? — a system sometimes governmentally curbed and checked, but never improved, and never repentant.}