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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Revelation 18

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

REV:18

The relationship of this chapter to the preceding one is generally admitted, although there are several views with regard to the exact nature of that relationship. That the judgment of the great whore is still under consideration seems certain; but Criswell thought that Revelation 18 deals with the particular "judgment of God himself upon Babylon,"[1] as sharply distinguished from the judgment of Revelation 17, in which "the nations of earth, not by the intervention of heaven, but by something that mankind does, grow weary of her and destroy her."[2] As we see it, this is a distinction without a difference. "God puts into their hearts to do his mind" (Revelation 17:17); therefore, it is still God's judgment in both instances. The judgment of Jerusalem was nonetheless God's, because it was executed by Roman armies (Matthew 22:7); nor is the destruction of the harlot any less the judgment of God himself because it was effected by multiple kingdoms of the earth who finally had enough of her.

In the great judgment scene of Revelation 16:20, the final overthrow of "Babylon the great" was briefly mentioned; and both Revelation 17 and Revelation 18 are a double recapitulation of that same event, Revelation 17 being given over to the revelation of "Babylon's" identity, as indicated by the brief tie-in by another reference to her destruction in Revelation 17:17. Next, comes Revelation 18 with a particular close-up of conditions in Babylon on the eve of the final overthrow in the last judgment. One of the big expressions in this chapter is "one hour," that being the period of the ten kings (Revelation 17:12) who "burnt" the whore and ate her, not realizing in doing so that they also destroyed themselves. These are the mysteries cleared up in chapter 18. Thus it will be seen that the principal events here are what takes place against Apostate Christianity during the period of the ten kings and the eighth beast with whom they are surely identified and to whom they gave their mind and authority.

Ladd gave this analysis of Revelation 18:

After foretelling the destruction of Babylon by the beast (the ten kings) and his vassal kings, a long section on the same theme depicts in greater detail the destruction of the once proud city.[3]

Thus, both Revelation 17 and Revelation 18 are successive "close-ups" of the great judgment of Revelation 16:20. At the end of these (Revelation 18:21), the final judgment is again symbolized by the hurling of the mighty boulder into the sea, making both of these chapters another recapitulation ending in exactly the same place as the previous sections have ended; namely, in the final judgment of the last day. In our interpretation, the events of chapter 18 are future from our own times, because they belong to the period of the ten kings and the eighth beast which apparently have not yet been fully manifested upon earth. Still, there have been enough "partial" fulfillments to leave an element of uncertainty. Here is an outline of the chapter:

A CLOSE-UP OF BABYLON'S JUDGMENT

1. The announcement of her fall (Revelation 18:1-8).

2. Consequences of her fall for the world (Revelation 18:9-20).

3. The finality of her doom (Revelation 18:21-24).

THE IDENTITY OF THE HARLOT

Once more, it is incumbent upon us to explain our persistent identification of the harlot with Apostate Christianity, the great Roman Catholic Church itself being a conspicuous element of that apostasy, but by no means all of it. The extensive details in this chapter regarding business, commerce, merchandise, and trade have led some to make confident assertions limiting these references to pagan Rome, overlooking the fact, as Alford pointed out, that, "The difficulty of doing so is unsolved."[4] Whatever may be intended by these elaborate commercial symbols:

One thing cannot be denied: the muddy Tiber flowing through Rome could never carry the enormous maritime traffic portrayed here. Pagan Rome was never famous as a center of selling and exchanging merchandise.[5]

Despite all the insoluble problems of doing so, some scholars insist that the harlot is pagan Rome. "Babylon is a figure of the city of Rome."[6] "The great harlot symbolizes the city of Rome."[7] The destruction of the harlot is used here to picture "the destruction of the Babylon of the New Testament, Rome,"[8] etc. Nevertheless, we are certain that this view is incorrect and that the elaborate commercial symbols which in no sense can properly symbolize pagan Rome have a far more appropriate meaning.

There are some who cannot see anything here except Papal Rome as the harlot; and, as Smith said, "There is much here to support their view,"[9] but, as frequently noted in this commentary, we simply cannot thus limit it. Much more is involved than the Papacy, despite the undeniable truth that the Papacy must certainly be included in the meaning.

Morris rejected the inadequacy of applying this chapter merely to pagan Rome, thus:

John is thinking not of the fall of one city or empire but of the collapse of civilization. Final judgment means the overthrow of all that opposes itself to God.[10]

This is correct as far as it goes, but it falls short of including the religious situation as it must be related to all this. In short, it leaves out the Papacy (as so many do); and without that nothing is explained.

Wilbur M. Smith believed that the fall here presented is that of the "Apostate Christianity, the world religion that has betrayed Christ, and is interlocked with pagan, godless governments."[11] This too is correct as far as it goes, but it leaves unexplained the inconceivable grief in which the very people who destroyed the Apostate Christianity greeted the actual accomplishment of it. To understand this is to understand the passage. True, the destruction of the harlot was the destruction of Apostate Christianity; but that is not all it was. Merely getting rid of all religion would have been greeted with howls of glee all over the world if that had been all that the destruction of the harlot meant. We shall attempt to show the larger picture of what actually is prophesied as happening.

The limited views already noted, that "the great world-city," "cities everywhere," "urban civilization," etc., are what is meant by the harlot, is absolutely contradicted by one thing, the hatred of the ten kings (Revelation 17:17) who are the symbols of great world governments. We cannot imagine, nor can anyone else, that there can ever come a time when the great governments of the earth will "hate" urban civilization, the great world city, or cities everywhere, which have always been, are now, and shall ever continue to be the very essence and foundation of world governments. Could any government hate and willfully destroy its tax base? We cannot believe that Revelation prophesies any such thing. Is it not clear that it is the religious thing which will at last incur the wrath and hatred of the kings? This is the undeniable fact that absolutely requires that the Papacy and related phenomena be included in the understanding of who the whore is, and all that was involved in her destruction.

The ten kings, who are the executioners of God's wrath upon the whore, will hate her, not the great populous cities of the world, either singly or collectively; but what they will overlook in their terminal assault upon the whore is that the whore herself is the principal element of stability in the whole civilized world, and that her fall will have fatal repercussions for themselves. Christendom, in a remarkable degree, is an edifice constructed by the harlot; and this is as good a place as any to take a look at the harlot's contribution to the world structure in which she is yet the principal glue that holds the whole thing together.

ADMIRATION OF THE HARLOT

John himself wondered at the harlot "with great admiration" (Revelation 17:6 KJV), and there are ample reasons for our own very great admiration of her. Some of these are:

1. The stern, basic moralities advocated and taught by the Apostate Church are the principal foundation of all commerce, business, industry, and trade. Nearly half a billion Roman Catholics are basically honest, virtuous, sober, truthful, and diligent, opposed to violence, murder, theft, abortion, etc. Without such virtues, which the Apostate Church has effectively promulgated, no business, industry, or civilization can endure. To be sure, the Apostate Church has allowed, or even sold the right of violation of these principles, nevertheless her achievement in enforcing them generally cannot be denied.

2. The art, music, architecture, and culture of our whole civilization are, in large measure, the achievement of the harlot. Volumes could be written about any one of these.

3. The stability and sanctity of marriage and the home, which is the basic building block of all civilized order, are due, more than to any other single agency of their advocacy, to the accomplishments of the harlot. What will happen to any society when such things are no longer effectively advocated and promulgated? The incredibly dark scenes of this chapter which confounded the "smart" kings who decided to get rid of religion, with the sudden and unexpected result, when they had done so, of their glee being turned into howling misery - these scenes depict exactly what happened!

4. It is the Roman Catholic Church which alone is the worldwide Christianity, imperfect and apostate though it is; and there is not a church of any name on earth today that does not in some degree stand indebted to her accomplishments, which have been providentially used for the protection of the truly faithful. Nevertheless, "the true followers of Christ" on earth today are a dwindling minority with reference to the whole of mankind; and when the Apostate Christianity is destroyed, as it will be, that minority will either go underground or perish, thus reducing what little impact they have upon "all people" even further toward the vanishing point.

Here then, in Revelation 18, is the mystery of the ten kings hating the whore. They are blind to the truth that when they "burn her with fire" and destroy her, they will at the same time kindle the fires of their own destruction, remove the keystone from the arch of world order, and reduce the vaunted civilization of which they are a part to utter chaos and disorder. The foolish dream of modern humanist fools who vainly believe that they can produce a good society apart from its roots in the religion of Christ is an idiot's nightmare. The fruits of a Christian world (imperfect as they are) will not be kept alive apart from their roots in the word of God. When "the kings" shall see what follows their removal of the whore, that is when the howling, the wailing, the cries, the mourning, and the casting of dust on their heads will take place. In America today, there are at the top intellectual level a horde of humanistic atheists who are paving the way for the "ten kings." "The 1955 Harvard Report on Education claimed that Western Civilization would never again utilize Christianity as the foundation of our social structure."[12] This report rejected Christianity without ever knowing what it really is. The harlot has herself long resorted to war and cruelty as instruments of policy; and this fact colored their distorted view. They just overlooked other qualities of the harlot's work.

"The mystery of iniquity" is in this (2 Thessalonians 2:7), and other theological questions of the utmost significance are also present.

When every church on earth has lost its tax status and the Christian religion is outlawed everywhere as it already is in Russia, the situation will be the beginning of what Revelation 18 describes. All enterprise, business, commerce, industry, trade, etc., will be slowed down, thwarted and halted, because the basic morality upon which such enterprise rests will have been destroyed. Human rights will no longer exist. The basic ethics of the harlot are Christian in many particulars; and when she falls, the disaster will be sudden, complete, and final. The sacred virtues of the holy faith in Christ will be unable to prevail afterwards, except in a beleaguered remnant. The reason for this is that the harlot taught such basic virtues as hers, existing through her authority, and enforced through her power, and not as Christ's requirements. This was the fatal error. When she falls, as far as the world as a whole is concerned, all the hoops will be removed from the barrel of the world's morality and order.

For these, and a multitude of other considerations, we must, through our tears, see the harlot as Apostate Christianity, most conspicuously represented by that form of it known all over the world in every village and hamlet of it, and the sole historical figure large enough to fit the description of it; namely, the Papal system and its derivatives.

And what are those derivatives? Practically all of Protestantism is included in this. What church is free of the guilt? This writer has experienced in his own ministry bulls of excommunication, anathemas, and denunciations just as bitter as any ever issued by any Pope, and which came from little popes and agents of Diotrephes from within his own communion. Where is the church that does not have its synod, conference, presbyter, president, moderator, chairman, or some other substitute for a pope? And if these are not found, some college, publication, preacher, or other functionary is allowed to serve the same end. Christendom itself is apostate; and we freely confess that we do not know any patent solution of the problem. Freely admitting this still leaves us no escape from reading the harlot as the one most conspicuously identified as the historical church and its papal apparatus. If there is any solution of the apostasy, it must be allowed as the one proposed by Reuel Lemmons, distinguished editor of the Firm Foundation: "Let us be sure that those whom we convert are truly converted to Christ."[13]

When God used Rome to destroy apostate Israel (Jerusalem), as revealed in Matthew 22:7, the true Israel (the church) was also nearly annihilated at the same time; and from this we may suppose that when the new Israel turned harlot receives the wrath of God from the "ten kings," that the righteous remnant of the true faith will suffer their greatest test. We pray that in our understanding Roman Catholicism as the harlot, that this extended explanation and definition of it will also be considered. There is nothing narrow, sectional, denominational, or vindictive in this. It is a tragedy that reaches all the way to heaven, and the shadow of the apostasy, in one form or another, falls upon every Christian upon earth. For some, it is in the innovations with which they worship God; for others it is the totalitarian organization of their church; for some it is the perverted form of the baptism they receive; for many it is the secularization of their faith; for yet others it is the false idea that the church is the dispenser of salvation; for still others it is their acceptance of tradition instead of the word of God; and many have elevated a "priesthood" between themselves and the Lord, etc.

[1] W. A. Criswell, Expository Sermons on Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1962), IV, p. 16.

[2] Ibid.

[3] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 235.

[4] Alford as quoted by Wilbur M. Smith, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1089.

[5] Ibid.

[6] J. W. Roberts, The Revelation of John (Austin, Texas: R. B. Sweet Company, 1974), p. 145.

[7] Albertus Pieters, Studies in the Revelation of St. John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1954), p. 250.

[8] Ray Summers, Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1961), p. 193.

[9] Wilbur M. Smith, op. cit., p. 1089.

[10] Leon Morris, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 20, Revelation Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), p. 214.

[11] Wilbur M. Smith, op. cit., p. 1089.

[12] James D. Strauss, The Seer, the Saviour and the Saved (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1972), p. 225.

[13] Reuel Lemmons, Editorial, Firm Foundation (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1978), Dec. 12,1978.

After these things, I saw another angel coming down out of heaven, having great authority; and the earth was lightened with his glory. (Revelation 18:1)

Another angel coming down out of heaven ... This angel does not mean that another vision is being introduced. "The Babylon of Revelation 18 is identical with the Babylon of Revelation 17 ... the theme of great Babylon's downfall is continued."[14]

Having great authority ... This together with the glorious appearance of the angels emphasizes the eternal truth of what would be revealed.

ENDNOTE:

[14] F. F. Bruce, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969),p. 659.


Verse 2

And he cried with a mighty voice, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, and is become a habitation of demons, and a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hateful bird.

It should be noted that it is not merely the fall of Babylon (a symbol of pagan Rome) that is announced, but of "Babylon the great," the symbol of something far more extensive.

Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great ... "Here is portrayed not merely the doom of an ancient city, but the sure collapse of all human organization, commercial and otherwise."[15] See chapter introduction for an elaboration of this. "Mystical Babylon is the representative of religious degeneracy, not wickedness."[16] This announcement is not made so that the earth will know it; the earth will already know it when this occurs. "Babylon is in ruins and does not need to be told. The announcement is because the destruction is so vast and terrible."[17]

That the actual city of Rome is in some way to be identified with Babylon cannot be denied. "There can be no doubt that the preterists are right in asserting this; but the historicists may be right in applying it to the Papacy."[18] They are both right. Just as Jesus' prophecy had reference to: (1) the fall of Jerusalem, and also to (2) the end of the world, this prophecy also is big enough to take care of both events. Rome is properly identified both as the pagan city and also as the later headquarters of the harlot. It is the vain effort to nullify and discard this second meaning that we reject.

And is become a habitation of demons ... The pagan city made "demons" of its dead emperors and worshipped them; but the papal city did exactly the same thing with its dead "saints," making them objects of worship and invoking their names in the public worship.

And a hold of every unclean spirit ... This also was true both of the pagan city with its sorcery, witchcraft, and savage cruelty exhibited daily in the Coliseum, and likewise later of the apostate Christianity with its inquisitions, persecutions, and vicious politics.

And a hold of very unclean and hateful bird ... "This probably alludes to the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31,32), indicating the demonic forces at work in the apostate system."[19] See our exegesis of that parable in my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 192-194. Hendriksen's view that "hold" here should be understood in the sense of a prison, with the meaning that, "The unclean spirits and hated birds consider it a prison,"[20] does not appear to be correct. "This meaning as a place where unclean spirits are confined seems hardly appropriate."[21] It merely means that "they have built their nests in the church," after the analogy of the parable. "It is their natural and fitting stronghold, rather than a place where they are involuntarily confined."[22]

[15] Ibid.

[16] Charles H. Roberson, Studies in Revelation (Tyler, Texas: P. D. Wilmeth, P.O. Box 3305,1957), p. 134.

[17] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Revelation (Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), p. 515

[18] Ralph Earle, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 598.

[19] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1968), p. 105.

[20] William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 207.

[21] Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1919), p. 713.

[22] A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Revelation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 431.


Verse 3

For by the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen; and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth waxed rich by the power of her wantonness.

By the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen ... This places the blame squarely upon the harlot herself for the universal disaster about to fall. How is this so? The essence of this wine that at last intoxicates all mankind, especially the "ten kings" who are the executioners of this judgment, is that man himself is the supreme authority. In the elevation of a human being as the head of God's church and by giving his word precedence and greater authority than the word of the Son of God himself, this harlot established the prototype of the ultimate and final rebellion of mankind against all that God said. If a man is really supreme, people can logically dispense with the whole system of Christianity; and the tragedy unfolded in this chapter is what takes place when "the kings" at last catch on to this and decide to act in accordance with the very principles the harlot herself established. This was prefigured, of course, in the pagan city, by the cult of emperor worship; but it would issue ultimately in the savage, atheistic humanism of the last days, thus applying appropriately to both situations.

And the kings of the earth committed fornication with her ... They presumed to rule by "divine right." They accepted the principle of the supremacy of a man; but, in the episode of the "ten kings" they decided themselves to be "the man," leading to their rejection and hatred of the whore through their acceptance of her principles. It is totally inadequate to view the seduction of "the kings" as being derived solely from "the vast luxury trade bringing widespread prosperity."[23] Something far more significant is indicated.

And the merchants waxed rich ... This enters into the ultimate disaster, because the proliferation of a rich class indicates a loss of spiritual values. "The English word waxed comes from the German word, "wachsen", to grow or increase."[24] The implication is that the rich, borrowing the principles of the harlot, grew selfish and unmindful of other duties.

Up through this verse, the prophecy views the fall of Babylon as in the past, having already happened, as announced in Revelation 16:19; but there were still some things to be related concerning the "hour" leading up to this; therefore, the next verses, beginning with Revelation 18:4, retrogress in order to relate it. "In Revelation 18:2,3, by means of aorists, Babylon's fall is viewed as having occurred; but the imperatives of Revelation 18:4ff present her as still standing with all her seduction."[25] Not merely by the use of different tenses, but by the introduction of another "voice from heaven" (Revelation 18:4), the transition is indicated.

[23] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 223.

[24] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 223.

[25] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 517.


Verse 4

And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come forth, my people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues:

Another voice from heaven ... See under the preceding verse for the reason behind this.

Come forth, my people, out of her ... Amazing! Does God have people in the harlot church? Yes, nor should this surprise us. There were also saints in Sardis (Revelation 3:14), and much people who belonged to God even in pagan Nineveh (Jonah 4:11). Even of wicked Corinth, God said to Paul in the night by a vision, "I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to harm thee: for I have much people in this city" (Acts 18:10). We shall leave it to others to edit these words out of the New Testament. The very fact of God's having people in the apostate church itself points to his having people, in one sense or another, in all the harlot daughters as well; and there is no way to harmonize this with any classification of people by denominations or groups as either saved or lost, on the basis of blanket judgments of the evil accepted by any group. Salvation is an individual matter; and Christ has specifically warned his people against "'judging." That was the great sin of the great harlot herself who arrogated to herself alone the right of deciding who is saved or lost, and then enforcing that decision even through the gates of the cemetery. "The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Timothy 2:19); and we consider it unchristian to meddle with this question in any manner. We have the commission to teach what the New Testament says, but not the right to bind our deductions from it upon others. That God's people in the apostate church are in mortal danger is clear enough, for they are ordered to "Come out!"

That ye have no fellowship with her sins ... "Through history, God is always calling his people to cut their connection with sin and to stand with him and for him."[26] "Persecuted and harried as they were, God's people must have been tempted to come to terms with the city; for she could make their lives rich and comfortable."[27] This call to "Come out" was the call of God to Abraham (Genesis 12:1), and to Lot (Genesis 19:12-14), to Moses (Numbers 16:23-26), to Israel (Isaiah 48:20), and to Christians (in this verse, and in 1 Corinthians 6:15,16). "This precept is obeyed by standing aloof from evil in the very heart of the world's traffic."[28]

That ye receive not of her plagues ... This is a warning that God's people, by their very association with apostasy, may also incur its penalties.

[26] William Barclay, The Revelation of John (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 151.

[27] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 215.

[28] Charles H. Roberson, op. cit., p. 138.


Verse 5

for her sins have reached even unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

For her sins have reached even unto heaven ... There is something resembling the quality of "glue" in the metaphor here. As Beckwith said, "The thought is not that the sins cleave to the skies, but that they cleave to each other, forming a mass reaching to heaven."[29] Moffatt saw it as a "gluing together of the leaves comprising a roll";[30] Rome's sins would make a roll reaching all the way to heaven! No catalogue of these could be complete.

And God hath remembered her iniquities ... God remembers all sins, unless they are forgiven, in which case they are forgotten. This indicates that the harlot church was not only powerless to forgive the sins of her followers, but that she was also utterly unable to procure forgiveness even for her own sins. As Spurgeon once admonished his church:

Therefore, if some shaveling priest shall lift his hand to absolve thee, even upon thy deathbed, lift thy bony hand and absolve him; thou hast the same right!

[29] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 714.

[30] James Moffatt, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 457.


Verse 6

Render unto her even as she rendered, and double unto her the double according to her works: in the cup which she mingled, mingle unto her double.

Render unto her even as she rendered ... The ultimate accountability of men, all people, for the evil that they do is inherent in this. We are ashamed of the commentators who view the sentiments of these verses as unchristian. It is they themselves who are sub-Christian, having fallen in some way with Satan's primeval lie that there is no penalty of sin. God told Eve of the penalty; but Satan said, "Thou shalt not surely die"; and it was a lie. Barclay pointed out that this is not an instruction to men."[31] It is the operation of the divine principle that, "Vengeance belongeth unto me, saith the Lord; I will repay" (Romans 12:19). God will surely punish sin unless it is repented of and forgiven.

Render unto her double according to her works ... Does this mean she is to be punished more than she deserves? "The last clause shows clearly that she receives just the amount that she deserves.[32] This verse reflects Jeremiah 50:29, where, "The archers arrayed against Babylon are told to recompense her according to her work."[33]

Who is to do all this to Babylon? Many think that they are the ones mentioned in Revelation 17:16,17, the more so since God puts into their minds the consent to do his will.[34] We agree with this. It is the "ten kings" who shall rise up long after the sixth and seventh heads of the beast are gone, in the times of the eighth beast, who shall execute the wrath of God upon Babylon, showing conclusively that the "Babylon the great" of this passage cannot possibly be literal Rome.

According to her works ... Christians should never forget this clause which sounds repeatedly like a refrain throughout the New Testament. The popular doctrine of salvation by "faith alone" is not a repeal of this principle, even if some think it is.

In the cup which she mingled, mingle unto her double ... This is a repetition, for emphasis, of the first clause of this verse.

[31] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 153.

[32] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 224.

[33] Martin Rist, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York-Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 497.

[34] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 518.


Verse 7

How much soever she glorified herself, and waxed wanton, so much give her of torment and mourning: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall in no wise see mourning.

The first extended clause here is merely the reiteration, for emphasis, of what was said in Revelation 18:6.

For she saith in her heart ... Making such a boast to others was bad enough; but, "In her self-glorification, presumptuousness, and boastfulness, she had said it in her heart, which is even worse than saying it to others."[35]

I sit a queen ... Even the coinage of the pagan city proclaimed her as "the eternal city."[36] Lenski noted that we should not pass lightly over "I sit."[37] Where does the sitting take place? In the church of God, no less. See 2 Thessalonians 2:4 and our comments on that passage, also the "Excursus on the Man of Sin," my Commentary on 2Thessalonians, pp. 106-117.

And am no widow ... "It is curious that she should say, no widow."[38] God's entire true church is spiritually "widowed" in the absence of the Bridegroom from the earth; but this whore has picked up another in his stead to be the "head of the church," illegally taking the place of Christ who is the lawful and rightful head.

The meaning of this boast is that the harlot is certainly not looking to be overthrown. An arrogant confidence born of centuries of unjust domination has created within her the delusion that nothing can stop her. She will continue, so she believes, to be stronger and stronger; but there is no fall like that that comes to one who thinks that it cannot happen to him.

Arnold Toynbee's History of the great world civilizations shows that all great civilizations, including Rome, fell at the height of their power.[39]

[35] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 208.

[36] J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 150.

[37] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 520.

[38] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 217.

[39] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 224.


Verse 8

Therefore in one day shall her plagues come, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire; for strong is the Lord God who judged her.

In one day shall her plagues come ... "The prophet sees not a decline and fall, but a sudden collapse.[40] One day the dam will break, and utter lawlessness shall engulf mankind. The tragic thing is that blind and stupid governments are doing nothing to prevent this. The basest of violent criminals are tolerated, protected, excused, and justified by silly laws enacted in the name of humanism.

Death, and mourning, and famine ... It is no light judgment that will fall.

For she shall be utterly burned with fire ... This points squarely to Revelation 17:16,17 for the agencies by which this judgment will come. The kings of the earth, the "ten kings," the ones finally identified as giving their mind to the eighth beast, whose dominion is only "one hour" before the final judgment (an indefinite, but short period), - these are they who shall execute God's wrath upon the whore, and inadvertently upon all mankind at the same time also.

For strong is the Lord God who judgeth her ... Strauss' comment on this was:

She did not consider the greatest of her enemies, the Holy and Righteous God. She thought no one could call her to give an ac count, but the Almighty is the one who judged her; and she was unprepared for that summons.[41]

[40] James Moffatt, op. cit., p. 457.

[41] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 226.


Verse 9

And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived wantonly with her, shall weep and wail over her, when they look upon the smoke of her burning,

Here is the great paradox, without the understanding of which there can be no explanation of these passages.

And the kings ... shall weep and wail ... Commentators have really struggled with this, for these are exactly the ones who did the burning and the eating of the harlot's flesh. How can this be? The best explanation, short of the true one, is by Lenski:

They cooled their vengeance upon the whore and then grieved that they had done so. Let the paradox remain. There is no reason ... The lover of a whore strangles her, and then weeps like a fool.[42]

Interesting as that comment is, there is nevertheless a reason, and a very good one. The humanistic kings simply failed to realize that it was the true Christianity, imperfectly taught by the harlot, that actually formed the foundation of their world. The evil, atheistic, humanist kings proudly imagined that they could get along without any religion whatever, having finally rejected even the apostate forms of it; but their stupid action in burning up the whore destroyed everything, for not even the harlot ever went as far away from God and the truth as did those kings, or governments, of the final age. Their philosophy was dogmatically stated by a member of one of the great theological seminaries fifty years ago, by Dr. George Albert Coe, who wrote:

The sovereign for this universe, that is, the sovereign for us, is just ourselves when we cooperatively assist in providing ourselves with what we want.[43]

Coe's hometown, New York city, is today virtually bankrupt; and the rising tide of violence, corruption, and irresponsibility may yet cause its utter ruin, unless there is a repudiation of the type of humanistic philosophy which has caused the decline. Clearly, it is exactly this type of thinking that will lead to the "ten kings'" destruction of the whore.

Shall weep and wail ... when they look upon the smoke of her burning ... It is of prime significance that there is prophesied here the "burning" of the harlot.

In Moses' Law (Leviticus 21:9), burning appears to have been the form of punishment for fornication only in the case of a priest's daughter, another indication that Babylon is a wicked religious person.[44]

They look upon the smoke ... Smoke is the result of fire; and that is what put the disaster upon them. There were the most diabolical repercussions which ensued when the last visible support of religion crumbled into ashes in the flames of their hatred, repercussions of such a vast and terrible nature that they bankrupted and destroyed civilization. That is the absolute climax of the present dispensation, as prophesied here! Of course, those wailing and weeping kings were not at all concerned about the whore; they made no move to assist her; they were screaming only about their business and their profits (Revelation 18:11), and the precious fruits that perished (Revelation 18:14), the desolation of so great riches (Revelation 18:17), and the loss of jobs (Revelation 18:17). Disasters such as these were indeed the sorrow of kings. No wonder they wailed.

When Babylon perishes, the economic chaos is complete. The world of the unbeliever upon which he pinned his hopes and built his trust collapses.[45]

Do we have to point out that such a complete ruin of the whole world could not be conceived of as the result of the total ruin of any single city? Berlin collapsed, but nothing like this occurred, nor did this happen even when pagan Rome fell. Those who attempt to interpret this as the fall of pagan Rome are refuted by every word in this chapter.

[42] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 522.

[43] George Albert Coe, Educating for Citizenship (New York, 1932), p. 143. (Coe was Professor of Education at Columbia University until 1928, and Professor of Religion in Union Theological Seminary for many years thereafter.

[44] Frank L. Cox, Revelation in 26 Lessons (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1956), p. 107.

[45] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 210.


Verse 10

standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.

Standing afar off ... They make no move to help Babylon; they do not wish to be involved; it has not yet dawned upon them that all things rest upon divine authority (even as inadequately taught and delivered by the harlot), and they still do not see that in burning her they have burned down their own kingdoms. They still seem to think that they shall escape the holocaust.

Woe, woe, the great city, the strong city ... "The imagery here is from Ezekiel 26-27."[46] Barclay quoted a number of Old Testament passages called the dirge songs of Tyre, Nineveh, Edom and Babylon;[47] but John's words here do not come from any of them. The terrible judgments of the Old Testament do, however, have one utility; they show that, "God looks upon worldly wickedness at any time according to the same principles with which he regarded Babylon and Tyre of old."[48] Regarding the terrible judgments here predicted, Eller commented that, "In spite of the propriety of evil's collapse, the event itself nevertheless carries overtones of tragedy."[49]

For in one hour is thy judgment come ... "Three times we are told that the desolation is to be accomplished in one hour, and we are reminded of the ten kings' reign with the monster."[50] This makes it certain that these events are prior to the actual judgment day; they are the last act, we might say, leading up to it. Of course, the judgment is already done (Revelation 18:1-3), and thus this is a playback showing some of the antecedent particulars connected with it. Beasley-Murray thought the kings of this passage were different from the "ten kings" (Revelation 17:16,17); but we view them as positively identical.

[46] James D. Strauss, op. cit., p. 222.

[47] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 150.

[48] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 1087.

[49] Vernard Eller, The Most Revealing Book of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 171.

[50] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 225.


Verse 11

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, for no man buyeth their merchandise any more;

And the merchants weep and mourn ... Why? "For no man buyeth their merchandise any more." The economic ruin is total. If they have any goods left, they will be looted or stolen, not bought.


Verse 12

merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stone, and pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet; and all thyine wood, and every vessel of ivory, and every vessel made of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble;

There is no point in commenting upon this inventory, which is but a partial catalogue of all the precious goods of the world. The extensive nature of this list prompted the great scholar Alford to say that, "Certainly the details of this far more nearly suit London than Rome of any assignable period of her history."[51]

ENDNOTE:

[51] Alford as quoted by Wilbur M. Smith, op. cit., p. 1089.


Verse 13

and cinnamon, and spice, and incense, and ointment, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and cattle, and sheep; and merchandise of horses and chariots and slaves; and souls of men.

This is more of the same inventory, but there are a couple of items of special interest:

And slaves ... The mention of these in connection with "the souls of men" is intriguing. "Slaves" is clear enough, as "There were 60,000,000 slaves in the Roman empire when this was written."[52] So much for pagan Rome; now what is the spiritual counterpart of this in the apostasy?

And the souls of men ... How were these sold? By means of the doctrine of purgatory, in which the souls of the departed are "sold" to their living relatives for money to get them prayed out of purgatory. We are looking for a better explanation of this, but where is it?

ENDNOTE:

[52] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 162.


Verse 14

And the fruits which thy soul lusted after are gone from thee, and all things that were dainty and sumptuous are perished from thee, and men shall find them no more at all.

The fruits ... all things dainty ... men shall find them no more at all ... The recurrence of this ominous refrain, "no more at all," some five times in the final paragraph has prompted some scholars to suppose that this verse belongs there instead of here; but Beasley-Murray skillfully refuted this: "This verse does not suit the final paragraph, but it is related to the paragraph of the merchants,"[53] where it is found. See further word on this in the final paragraph,

ENDNOTE:

[53] G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (Greenwood, South Carolina: The Attic Press, 1974), p. 268.


Verse 15

The merchants of these things, who were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning; saying, Woe, woe, the great city, she that was arrayed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and previous stone and pearl!

The wail of the merchants is like that of the kings, for they too stood "afar off." The ancient prejudice of businessmen that they are not concerned with religion will at last be confounded when there is none, or so little that it hardly counts on any effective scale.

Woe, woe ... They shall cry not for lost faith, but for lost profits. Caird confused the present tense of these supplementary and recapitulatory views of an end that has already occurred, saying, "After it has happened, men are still able to stand afar off and watch the smoke of their burning."[54] The events here are not after the end; they are before it. See under Revelation 18:3. "There is something almost pathetic about these laments. In every case, the lament is not for Rome, but for themselves."[55]

[54] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 227.

[55] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 164.


Verse 17

for in one hour so great riches is made desolate. And every shipmaster, and every one that saileth any whither, and mariners, and as many as gain their living by sea, stood afar off,

For in one hour ... The triple mention of this (Revelation 18:9,17,19) makes it imperative to relate these events to the brief ascendancy of the final "ten kings" (Revelation 17:12-17). See comment there.

"It is the loss of the wealth, not any concern for people, that the merchants express."[56]

ENDNOTE:

[56] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 220.


Verse 18

and cried out as they looked upon the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like the great city?

And cried as they looked upon the smoke of her burning ... The repetition of "smoke of her burning" is of interest. It does not seem that the kings, merchants, etc., were much concerned about the "burning" of the harlot, but the smoke of it, indicating that it was the subsequent consequences of her destruction which confounded them. No! They did not care at all about the harlot being burned, but they certainly got the message from the smoke!


Verse 19

And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and mourning, saying, Woe, woe, the great city, wherein all that had their ships in the sea were made rich by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.

Note that it is not for the harlot that all of the weeping and wailing and mourning and crying and casting dust on the heads comes about, but for "the great city." This is the great world-city, the complex of urban civilization, so identified in earlier chapters. Even at this late hour, the mourners cannot see the connection that the harlot had with all this.

Cast dust on their heads and cried, etc. ... "The awful woes that are sure to come upon mankind when they turn completely away from God and burn even the apostate version of holy religion, which is all that they know, will issue in the wholesale destruction of all that is worthwhile on earth. In a pale little epitome of what is yet to happen upon a far more vast scale, Hitler and his peers burned the Bibles at Nuremburg; and what followed? The most awful slaughter in nineteen centuries! When the liberal theologians, atheistic humanists and insane Marxists have finally dismantled the last vestiges of religion, even in its apostate forms, the true and final holocaust will suddenly appear. God be merciful and delay that day.

As Morris pointed out, it is the working class, the sailors, who carry their mourning the furthest by casting dust on their heads.[58] And, as in the case of the other mourners, it is not weeping for lost faith, but for lost jobs. There is here the evident truth that laboring humanity will suffer first and longest. The godless labor unions that have led the world in their defiance of true religion as well as every other form of it shall suddenly discover that the society which they helped to kill was their own. It will be too late for dust on the head to do any good.

What all this means is that a working coalition between a watered-down, apostate Christianity and the unbridled forces of the devil will one day be terminated, and the final prejudgment wreck of the whole social order will reach its roaring climax.

THE FINAL JUDGMENT

Again, the Book of Revelation shows us the judgment, particularly as it comes to human civilization: there will be a summary end of it. Before depicting it, as usually throughout the prophecy, the vision will first show us a scene of rejoicing in heaven, for the purpose of showing that the wreck of all things shall not in any manner hurt God's people.

ENDNOTE:

[58] Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 221.


Verse 20

Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye saints, and ye apostles, and ye prophets; for God hath judged your judgment on her.

Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye saints ... Of course, the saints and apostles are not yet in heaven, but they will be; and the vision is to encourage all who may yet die in the fires of persecution. The reason for the rejoicing is that, after all, God's word has been proved true; the righteous shall be saved and the wicked punished, and the universe itself will finally be demonstrated as just. No greater cause of rejoicing could be imagined.

"This is not a song of gleeful rejoicing, but an announcement of the vindication of God's justice and righteousness."[59] "How can there be anything but rejoicing when wrong is righted and truth justified?"[60] There comes a time to rejoice over the defeat of evil. When the heartless, bloody Robespierre was finally overthrown in Paris, and he lay wounded, bleeding, and dirty with his jaw shattered by a bullet and hanging down upon his chest, someone approached and after gazing a long time said, "Yes, Robespierre, there is a God."[61]

"The analogy of this passage shows that this verse is not directed to saints in heaven - nothing is implied as to where these are, or whether they are living or dead."[62]

And ye apostles and ye prophets ... The thought of the martyrdoms of Paul and Peter which had probably already occurred when this was written seems to be in the background here. All of the apostles recognized what their fate at the hands of Rome would be.

For God hath judged your judgment upon her ... Rome had burned the saints for the false reason that they had burned Rome; but now God would execute the judgment upon her which she had falsely imposed upon them. The Greek reads literally, "God has judged (upon Rome) your judgment from her."[63] Of course, this is the primary and immediate application; but it also applies equally well to the end of the age situation when the wicked humanist kings shall burn all religion in their vain destruction of the harlot, only to find their own kingdoms burned as a consequence.

[59] George Eldon Ladd, op. cit., p. 241.

[60] Vernard Eller, op. cit, p. 171.

[61] Stanley Loomis, Paris in the Terror (Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1964), p. 400.

[62] Isbon T. Beckwith, op. cit., p. 718.

[63] G. B. Caird, op. cit., p. 229.


Verse 21

And a strong angel took up a great stone as it were a great millstone and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with a mighty fall shall Babylon, the great city, be cast down, and shall be found no more at all.

A strong angel ... stone ... cast into the sea ... This is the final judgment of Babylon, the great city, the latter words showing that more than just pagan Rome is meant; this is the final day, the ultimate judgment of the great day of God at the Second Advent of Christ. The Biblical background of the figure is in Jeremiah 51:59-64:

Jeremiah instructed Seriah who was traveling to Babylon to take a scroll of Jeremiah's prophecy of the destruction of Babylon, and upon his arrival in Babylon to read it to the city, and then to throw this scroll, weighted with a stone, into the Euphrates river. As it sinks, he is to prophesy that thus shall Babylon sink to rise no more (paraphrase).

The significant thing is that the prophecy was literally and summarily fulfilled; the old Babylon sank into oblivion, and even the ancient site of it is today not certainly known. A similar finality of the overthrow of mystical Babylon is indicated by the employment of the same imagery here. The choice of the figure demands this conclusion; therefore, this is not merely a temporary judgment. The final end at the last judgment is indicated. The placement of the verbs in the Greek indicates "the final act of judgment."[64] This verse is a reiteration of Revelation 16:19,20.

And shall be found no more at all ... The ominous phrase "no more at all" occurs six times in this chapter, five times in these last verses, indicating the absolute finality of the judgment. It is impossible to limit the application of this merely to pagan Rome. "This judgment is sudden, complete and final."[65] Let those who deny that such a thing as this will take place show us the site of the old Babylon. Where is it? Earth knows not even the place. Exactly the same word of God that doomed the old one, doomed also the one in view here.

[64] R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 530.

[65] Frank L. Cox, op. cit., p. 109.


Verse 22

And the voice of harpers and minstrels and flute-players and trumpeters shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft, shall be found any more at all in thee; and the voice of a mill shall be heard no more at all in thee;

This verse merely catalogues the phases of city life that shall perish forever when judgment falls.

No more at all ... This is the refrain. "Civilization is as though it had never been."[66] Was the fabled city of Atlantis a historical type of this?

ENDNOTE:

[66] Michael Wilcock, I Saw Heaven Opened (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975), p. 66.


Verse 23

and the light of a lamp shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the princes of the earth; for with thy sorcery were all the nations deceived.

The light of a lamp ... the voice of the bridegroom ... of the bride ... shall be heard no more at all in thee ... The marriage business has always been a big thing with churches; and thus there would seem to be in this litany of the doomed and destroyed city a religious coloring, even in the catalogue of her eternal silence.

Thy merchants were the princes of the earth ... "Princes of the Church" they are sometimes called, an incongruous title for followers of a crucified Saviour who had nowhere to lay his head. That something like this is meant appears in the fact that this is stated as a "reason why" of the fall.

With thy sorcery were all the nations deceived ... This is another "reason why" of the fall. Truth was forsaken and deception practiced.


Verse 24

And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that have been slain upon the earth.

And in her was found the blood ... prophets ... saints ... and of all that have been slain upon the earth ... Is this mere hyperbole? No! If the religious wars promulgated to advance the harlot's designs are remembered, the figure appears appropriate enough. Furthermore, the murder of one is, in principle, the murder of all. There is no single literal city of earth that answers to this, not even Rome. It is the spirit of lawlessness and apostasy from the truth, spectacularly represented in the harlot; it is that whole religious apparatus moving throughout history and responsible for wholesale deaths all over the world. Also, there is something else in it.

Jesus told Jerusalem that in their murder of the Messiah all of the blood shed from Abel until that very day would come upon her. (See pertinent comment on this in my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 373,374.) In exactly that same way, the system that murdered the Christians, the true spiritual body of Christ, was chargeable with all the blood ever shed on earth. The two cases are exactly parallel.

This concludes the awful picture of the final judgment in this sequence.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 18:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/revelation-18.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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