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Revelation 18

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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2. Commerce in the Great Tribulation ch. 18

God next led John to reveal the destruction of the commercial and economic system that Babylon also symbolizes to inform his readers of its end in the future. "Wall Street" identifies a particular geographical location in New York City, but it also represents an economic and commercial system that has its center there. Likewise "Babylon" has throughout history represented a particular economic and commercial system that originated in the geographical city of Babylon as well as a particular religious system.

Many commentators believe chapters 17 and 18 describe the same thing, namely, the destruction of Babylon.

"Having portrayed the fate of the harlot-city through the onslaught of the Antichrist and his allies, John composes a dirge over the city in the style of the doom-songs of Old Testament prophets." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 262. Cf. Beale, p. 890.]

What Babylon symbolizes in this chapter is somewhat different from what it symbolizes in chapter 17. Nevertheless, the literal city is also in view in both chapters since it is the historical and philosophical headwaters for both systems. In this chapter there are many references to Babylon’s commercial activity. Though God did not identify Babylon’s religious influence expressly in chapter 17, the harlot seems clearly to symbolize that. The vision in chapter 18 gives further information about the announcements in Revelation 14:8 and Revelation 16:19-21. The belief that salvation is by works is the bedrock of religious Babylon (Genesis 11:4: "Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven."). The desire to glorify self rather than God is the foundation of economic Babylon (Genesis 11:4: "and let us make for ourselves a name").

The parallels between chapters 17 and 18 are as distinctive as the differences. Note Babylon’s designation (Revelation 17:5; Revelation 17:18; cf. Revelation 18:2; Revelation 18:10), its description (Revelation 17:4; cf. Revelation 18:6; Revelation 18:16), its deeds (Revelation 17:2; Revelation 17:6; cf. Revelation 18:3; Revelation 18:24), and its destruction (Revelation 17:16-17; Revelation 18:5; Revelation 18:8).

"The striking parallels between the chapters go beyond coincidence to point to a unified system. That system is identified in both chapters as a city that rules the world." [Note: Charles H. Dyer, "The Identity of Babylon in Revelation 17-18," Bibliotheca Sacra 144:575 (January-March 1987):311.]

"The distinction between the two chapters is that between two systems or networks that have the same geographical headquarters. In chapter 17 it is a religious system that operates independently of and in opposition to the true God, but in chapter 18 it is an economic system that does the same." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, pp. 313-14.]

Johnson did not believe we should look for the rebuilding of ancient Babylon but saw the city only as representing a system.

"He [John] is not writing a literal description, even in poetic or figurative language, of the fall of an earthly city, such as Rome or Jerusalem; but in portraying the destruction of a city, he describes God’s judgment on the great satanic system of evil that has corrupted the earth’s history." [Note: Johnson, p. 565. The New Scofield . . ., pp. 1370; Pentecost, Things to . . ., pp. 368-69; Heater, pp. 23-43; and Wiersbe, 2:614, also held this view.]

I expect that the literal city may be rebuilt and may suffer destruction at the end of the Tribulation. However, I also believe that what is in view here is more than just the literal city. It is also what the city has stood for and promoted throughout history, namely, a satanic system marked by every form of idolatrous humanism. Harris preferred the view that a literal city is in view, but he did not know what city. [Note: Harris, p. 240.]

Verse 1

John next saw another scene on earth (Gr. Meta tauta eidon, "After these things I saw," cf. Revelation 4:1). Another angel of the same kind as in Revelation 17:1 (i.e., one who descends from heaven to fulfill a special mission; cf. Revelation 10:1; Revelation 20:1) announced the next scene that John saw in his vision. This angel possessed great authority and glory, probably indicative of the importance of the judgment he announced. His description has led some interpreters to conclude that he is Jesus Christ. [Note: E.g., M. Robert Mulholland, Revelation, Holy Living in an Unholy World, p. 284; and Chilton, The Days . . ., pp. 445-46.] However his clear identification as an angel and the function he performs seem to mark him as an angel (cf. Revelation 14:8). [Note: Düsterdieck, p. 442; Beckwith, p. 712.] Evidently his task required great authority. [Note: Wilcock, p. 166.] His great glory, with which he illuminated the earth, probably suggests that he had just come from God’s presence (cf. Exodus 34:29-35; Ezekiel 43:2).

Verses 1-3

The first angelic announcement of judgment 18:1-3

Verse 2

The repetition of the word "Fallen" (cf. Revelation 14:8; Isaiah 21:9; Jeremiah 51:8) probably indicates that God guaranteed this judgment and that it will happen quickly (Genesis 41:32; cf. 2 Peter 3:8). This is another proleptic announcement in which the angel described a future action as already having happened. The prophetic aorist tense of the Greek verb makes this clear.

"It is the prophetic way of declaring that the great purpose of God in triumphing over evil is a fait accompli." [Note: Mounce, p. 323.]

The description of Babylon in this verse is what it will be after God judges it (cf. Isaiah 13:21; Isaiah 34:11; Isaiah 34:14; Isaiah 47:7-9; Jeremiah 50-51; Ezekiel 26-28; Nahum 3; Zephaniah 2:15). Ancient Babylon fell to Cyrus the Persian in 539 B.C., but that fall did not fulfill Old Testament prophecies about Babylon completely (cf. Isaiah 47:11; Jeremiah 51:8). [Note: Kiddle, pp. 359-60; Wilcock, p. 168; Bullinger, p. 553.] John had described God only through hymns of worship to this point, and he now similarly described the fall of Babylon through the laments of onlookers. [Note: Caird, p. 227; Sweet, p. 267; Mounce, p. 323.]

"The prophecy thus indicates that before the advent of the warrior-king in Revelation 19:11-16, Babylon will rise to its greatest heights, not only of idolatry (chap. 17), but also of luxury (chap. 18). . . . Babylon of the future, therefore, will be the center for both false religion and world economic prosperity." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 317.]

Apparently it is the city that will be the prison of demons, a place where they are safe but kept against their wills (cf. Isaiah 13:21-22; Isaiah 34:11-17; Jeremiah 51:37). A prison (or haunt) for unclean birds is a figure of desolation (cf. Isaiah 34:11; Isaiah 34:13; Jeremiah 50:39). Babylon will become utterly desolate.

Verse 3

This verse is very similar to Revelation 17:2. However it seems that in view of the description God gave of Babylon in the rest of chapter 18 it is not exactly the same Babylon pictured in chapter 17. The political, economic, commercial system that originated in Babylon and that leaves God out seems to be in view here. Her philosophy has influenced all the nations that have acted immorally as a result and grown rich at the expense of and in defiance of others. Babylon’s influence has been worldwide. Political self-interest and materialism are its chief sins (cf. Revelation 18:23). [Note: Wall, p. 213.]

Verse 4

Another voice from heaven instructed God’s people to separate from the system that the city symbolizes so they would avoid getting caught in her judgment. The being speaking is evidently an angel who speaks for God (Revelation 18:4-5; cf. Revelation 11:3; Revelation 22:7-8). He called God’s people to leave a city (cf. Genesis 12:1; Genesis 19:12; Exodus 8:1; Numbers 16:26; Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 52:11; Jeremiah 50:8; Jeremiah 51:6-9; Jeremiah 51:45), but beyond that to forsake the enticements of the idolatry, self-sufficiency, love of luxury, and violence that the city symbolizes. The people addressed are faithful believers living in the Tribulation. Unless they separate from her sins, they will be hurt by the judgment coming on her, but if they do separate, they will enjoy protection (cf. Revelation 12:14; Matthew 24:16). They should not have the attitude of Lot’s wife who hankered after another worldly city that God destroyed (cf. Genesis 19:26; Luke 17:32).

Verses 4-8

The call for God’s people to leave Babylon 18:4-8

Verses 4-20

The prediction of the voice from heaven 18:4-20

This section contains a call for believers to leave Babylon, laments over Babylon’s destruction by those afflicted by it, and rejoicing in heaven over Babylon’s fall.

Verse 5

Another reason for abandoning Babylon and Babylonianism is that God is about to judge her. Her sins, like the bricks used to build the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:3-4), have accumulated so they finally reach heaven. She has exhausted God’s patience (cf. Jeremiah 51:9). God has noticed and remembered her sins, and because He is righteous, He must judge them.

Verse 6

The angel further called on God’s enemies whom He will use to pay Babylon back fully for its wicked deeds, pride, and self-indulgent conduct (cf. Revelation 17:16-17; Jeremiah 50:29). This is a call for God’s application of the lex talionis, the law of retaliation (cf. Matthew 7:2; Galatians 6:7-8). To pay back double is a way of saying to pay back fully (cf. Revelation 18:7; Exodus 22:4; Exodus 22:7; Exodus 22:9; Isaiah 40:2; Isaiah 61:7; Jeremiah 16:18; Jeremiah 17:18; Zechariah 9:12). [Note: Hailey, pp. 361-62; Hughes, p. 191; Meredith G. Kline, "Double Trouble," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32:2 (June 1989):171-79.] Babylon had persecuted and murdered the saints (Revelation 18:24; Revelation 19:2). The cup she used to seduce others will become the instrument of her own punishment (cf. Revelation 18:3; Revelation 14:10).

"This is not a prayer for personal vengeance by the persecuted saints, but a heavenly interpretation of the divine response to cruelty committed by wicked persons who have passed the point of no return in their moral choices. The last hour has now struck, and it is too late for repentance. This is a judicial pronouncement against a sinful civilization that has reached the ultimate limit of evil." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, pp. 322-23. Cf. Kiddle, pp. 366-67; Hughes, p. 190.]

Verse 7

Luxurious living provides another reason for Babylon’s judgment. Her claims of superiority and self-sufficiency echo those of ancient Babylon (cf. Isaiah 47:7-9; Ezekiel 27:3; Ezekiel 28:2; Zephaniah 2:15). They also recall the words of the Laodicean church (Revelation 3:17).

Verse 8

The "one day" may very well be literal (cf. Daniel 5:1; Daniel 5:3-5; Daniel 5:30). "One day" also expresses suddenness, as does the "one hour" in Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:16; Revelation 18:19 (cf. Isaiah 47:9). Likewise we could interpret the burning literally (cf. Isaiah 47:14). Rebuilt Babylon and the cities that are the centers for this worldwide network of political, commercial activity will evidently burn up in the great earthquake (Revelation 16:18-19). She will collapse suddenly, like the World Trade Center towers in New York City in 2001, not decline gradually. The strength of the Lord God will accomplish this destruction, but He will use means (Revelation 17:16-17).

Verse 9

World government leaders will mourn when they see the collapse of the system that has sustained them and enabled them to live luxuriously. Committing fornication with her is a way of expressing sharing in Babylon’s luxury (cf. Ezekiel 26:16; Ezekiel 27:30-35). [Note: Johnson, p. 567.] Evidently fire will be the main cause of the city’s destruction (cf. Revelation 18:8; Revelation 18:18; Revelation 14:11; Revelation 17:16; Revelation 19:3). The smoke of her burning, the evidence of her fall, is what caused these rulers misery (cf. Genesis 19:28; Isaiah 34:10; Ezekiel 28:18).

Verses 9-19

Laments over this judgment by those affected 18:9-19

Three groups of people mourn Babylon’s destruction in these verses: kings (Revelation 18:9-10; cf. Ezekiel 26:15-18), merchants (Revelation 18:11-13; Revelation 18:15-17 a; cf. Ezekiel 27:36), and sea people (Revelation 18:17-19; cf. Ezekiel 27:29-36).

Verse 10

Babylon will fall quickly, in "one hour" (Revelation 18:10, cf. Revelation 18:19; Jeremiah 51:8; Ezekiel 27). These kings mourn because they have lost their power suddenly. These rulers must be different from the 10 kings who destroy the city (Revelation 17:16). These woes are an exclamation of sorrow; the earlier ones in the book are announcements of doom (Revelation 8:13; Revelation 12:12). [Note: Lee, 4:770; Robertson, 6:440.] Doubling the woes increases the perception of the strength of the sorrow (cf. Revelation 18:6). This city was strong, but its Judge is stronger.

Verse 11

The merchants also lament over the destruction of this system, further indicating that this is a different system than the religious one symbolized in chapter 17. The collapse of economic Babylon results in merchants being unable to buy and sell goods. They sorrow over the loss of customers and profits that its destruction causes. However the city itself is a treasure that they also regret losing (cf. Ezekiel 27:25-31). [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 267; Wall, p. 216.] The wailing of the merchants is greater than that of the kings and sea people in this context because their loss is greater. They bemoan the loss of customers, but they previously denied the right to buy and sell to anyone who did not have the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:17).

Verses 12-13

The variety of the goods John listed suggests how extensive trade will be at this time in history. The market is the world. Most of the items listed were luxuries in John’s day (cf. Isaiah 23; Ezekiel 16:9-13; Ezekiel 27:12-24). There are seven categories into which these 29 items fall. These categories are precious metals and gems, clothing, furnishings, spices, food, animals and implements, and people. People are even buying and selling other human beings.

"Persons are ’bought and sold’ (and even traded!) by athletic teams; and our great corporations more and more seek to control the lives of their officers and workers. As people become more enslaved to luxury, with more bills to pay, they find themselves unable to break loose from the ’system.’" [Note: Wiersbe, 2:615.]

Verse 14

The fruit (Gr. opora, lit. ripe autumn fruit) these merchants so desire is no longer available (cf. Jeremiah 40:10; Jeremiah 40:12; Judges 1:12). "Luxurious" and "splendid" refer to food and clothing respectively. [Note: Swete, p. 235; Charles, 2:108.] The merchants will also lose their luxurious possessions. People will not be able to find the treasures they once collected. The Greek construction of the last clause indicates that these things will never ever return. [Note: Robertson, 6:442.] There are two double negatives in the Greek text.

Verse 15

Again the merchants bewail their fate. Selfishness and greed characterize these individuals. They too, like the kings, stand at a distance viewing the destruction of the city (cf. Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:17).

Verse 16

The description of the city here is very similar to that of the harlot in Revelation 17:4. One city is in view in both chapters. This dirge begins and ends the same way as that of the kings in Revelation 18:10 did. However the merchants bewail the city’s lost opulence and splendor whereas the kings grieved over its broken strength (cf. Ezekiel 16:23; Ezekiel 28:13).

Verse 17

The first clause of this verse concludes the mourning of the merchants. It expresses the reason for their sorrow.

The second part of this verse begins the description of the mourning of sea people. The four groups of sea people represent helmsmen (Gr. kybrnetes), passengers (pas ho epi topon pleon), sailors (nautai), and those who work the sea (ten thalassan ergazontai) such as fishermen and divers for pearls. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 339.] These too stand at a distance watching the city burn. Perhaps these sea people are of special interest because they represent distributors of goods.

Verse 18

They also lament because of the collapse of this great commercial empire. Their question echoes the one about Tyre in Ezekiel 27:32. [Note: Lee, 4:774; Wall, p. 217.] The implied answer is that no city can match Babylon in its material greatness.

Verse 19

Throwing dust on one’s head symbolized great grief in the Old Testament (cf. Joshua 7:6; 1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:2; 2 Samuel 13:19; 2 Samuel 15:32; Job 2:12; Lamentations 2:10). People earlier behaved similarly over Tyre’s demise (Ezekiel 27:30). These sea people also echo the laments and repeat the behavior of the kings (Revelation 18:10) and the merchants (Revelation 18:15-17).

"How do we see the luxury of this world? Do we see it as it really is? Can we use it without getting it into our hearts? How would you feel if the luxuries in your life which you have come to consider necessities suddenly went up in smoke?

"Would it break your heart if you saw the things of this world go up in smoke? Or is your heart in heaven, fixed on Christ?" [Note: McGee, 5:1041.]

Verse 20

Heavenly rejoicing over Babylon’s fall 18:20

In contrast to the earth-dwellers, God’s people will rejoice when Babylon falls (cf. Revelation 11:10). The songs in Revelation 19:1-5 may be their response to this invitation. Heaven rejoiced over the fall of ancient Babylon too (Jeremiah 51:48-49). [Note: Hughes, p. 194.] What causes bitter mourning on earth brings great exultation to heaven.

The speaker is evidently the angel (Revelation 18:4; cf. Revelation 12:12). Saints are all believers. Apostles, who died as martyrs, and prophets are special groups of saints (cf. Revelation 11:18). The similar exhortation in Revelation 12:12 suggests that all these believers are now in heaven. The reason for this merry-making is that God has pronounced a verdict in their favor. He has vindicated them by punishing their oppressors (cf. Revelation 19:2-3). This seems more likely than the interpretation that they should rejoice because God was punishing their enemies in kind.

Believers characteristically have greater interest in glorifying God and helping other people than they do in hoarding earthly treasures for themselves (Matthew 6:19-34; Matthew 22:34-40). The desire of unbelievers to accumulate wealth for themselves has resulted in untold opposition to the gospel and God’s servants throughout history (cf. Revelation 6:9-11).

Verse 21

The angelic act of throwing the millstone into the sea is symbolic of Babylon’s fate (cf. Jeremiah 51:63-64; Matthew 18:6). As it is impossible for that huge stone to rise to the surface, so the economic system that has driven this world virtually throughout its history will sink. It will never rise again (cf. Exodus 15:5; Nehemiah 9:11). Millstones in John’s day often measured four or five feet in diameter, were one foot thick, and weighed thousands of pounds (cf. Mark 9:42). [Note: Johnson, p. 568.] The strong angel (cf. Revelation 5:2; Revelation 10:1) also explained his symbolic action. Babylon’s destruction will be sudden, violent, and permanent.

Verses 21-24

The second angelic announcement of judgment 18:21-24

Verses 22-23

Many things will end with the destruction of this system. John mentioned the rejoicing of unbelievers, the work of producers of goods, the use of their tools, the light their activities produced (literally and figuratively), and the happiness that resulted. No music, trades, or industry will continue (cf. Jeremiah 25:10). Where there had previously been hustle and bustle, there will then be silence.

The angel gave three reasons for this devastation, two in Revelation 18:23 and one in Revelation 18:24. The Greek word hoti, "because," appears twice in Revelation 18:23. Each time it introduces a reason. First, men whom the world regards as great have enriched themselves and lifted themselves up in pride because of Babylon’s influence (cf. Isaiah 23:8). Second, as a result of the first reason Babylon has seduced all nations. She deceived all the nations into thinking that joy, security, honor, and meaning in life (i.e., "success") come through the accumulation of material wealth. She used sorcery (cf. Revelation 9:21) to seduce the nations into following her (cf. 2 Kings 9:22; Isaiah 47:9; Isaiah 47:12; Nahum 3:4).

Verse 24

The third reason for Babylon’s judgment is that she slew the saints (cf. Jeremiah 51:35-36; Jeremiah 51:49). The angel stated this reason as a fact rather than as an accusation. The responsibility for the blood of God’s servants martyred for their testimonies lies at the feet of this system. The murder of prophets is especially serious since they bore the word of God, but killing any saint is bad enough. Unbelievers have killed many believers, directly and indirectly, in their pursuit of material possessions. This verse could hardly apply only to the city of Babylon, though it includes that city. Through her example Babylon has been responsible for all the slayings on the earth (perhaps hyperbole), so guilt rests on her shoulders.

"Blood violently shed cries out for vengeance until it is rewarded by the punishment of the murderers. The destruction of Babylon answers to that punishment." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 347. Cf. Genesis 4:10.]

To summarize, it seems that the Babylon John described in this chapter is the commercial system of buying and selling goods to make a profit. As religious Babylon includes all forms of religion (non-Christian as well as Christian religions), so economic Babylon includes all types of economies (capitalism, socialism, communism, etc.). This economic system will have its headquarters (at least ideologically if not also geographically) in Babylon on the Euphrates River during the Tribulation, and it will burn up. Self-interest is at the root of this system. Whereas believers have always lived within this system, we have always known that we must not adopt the philosophy that drives it, namely, selfishness. Possession of wealth is not the problem so much as the arrogant use of it. [Note: Sweet, p. 264.] This system has become so much a part of life that it is hard for us to imagine life without it. Nonetheless this chapter teaches that it will end just before or when Jesus Christ returns at His second coming, and it will exist no longer. This system began when people first assembled to make a name for themselves at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). As Christians, we need to make sure that we are not citizens of this Babylon, by laying up treasure on earth, but truly citizens of heaven, by laying up treasure there (cf. Matthew 6:19-21). This chapter should challenge us to evaluate our financial goals and to repudiate selfish, arrogant living.

"The destruction of the city of Babylon is the final blow to the times of the Gentiles, which began when the Babylonian army attacked Jerusalem in 605 B.C. (cf. Luke 21:24)." [Note: Walvoord, "Revelation," p. 973.]

Following this revelation concerning the destruction of the major religious and commercial systems of the world, God moved John along in his vision. He proceeded from the Great Tribulation (chs. 8-18) to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (ch. 19), the climax of this book.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 18". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/revelation-18.html. 2012.
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