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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 18

Ironside's Notes on Selected BooksIronside's Notes

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Verses 1-24

Chapter Eighteen Babylon: Its Character And Doom (Part Two)

In the previous chapter I sought to identify the Babylon of the apocalypse. I tried to show just how it was linked with Babylon of the Old Testament, the literal city in the land of the Chaldeans on the plain of Shinar. This chapter will give more details as to its unholy character and its awful doom. We also will get a better idea of the incredible way in which its principles have permeated civilization, affecting the entire civil and commercial fabric of the age in which we live. All of these principles must be destroyed in order to prepare the way for a higher and happier condition of society to be ushered in at the Lord’s return.

The Fall of Babylon (Revelation 18:1-10)

The opening verses of chapter 18 synchronize with the second angel’s message in Revelation 14:8 and introduce the judgment of the seventh vial as foretold in chapter 16:19. Babylon will therefore continue up to the very end of the tribulation period. Its destruction by the beast and his ten kings will be a last frantic effort to rid themselves of this dreadful incubus, just before they are destroyed by the appearing of the Lord in glory. The antichrist will be the pretended incarnation of the woman’s seed and will be accepted as such by apostate Christendom and apostate Judaism. Thus Satan’s masterpiece will seem to carry all before it until the true seed of the woman appears from Heaven. He will descend with all His holy ones, to the consternation of His enemies and the joy of His suffering saints, the persecuted remnant of Israel and those from among the nations who will receive their testimony in that day. These are not people who in this present dispensation of grace have refused the message of the gospel; it is only those to whom that message will not have gone until after the rapture of the church. Second Thessalonians 2 bears a clear and convincing testimony to this distinction.

The description of fallen Babylon as the habitation of demons, the hold of evil spirits, and a cage of unclean birds is a most graphic one (18:2). It strikingly depicts the horrible end of the apostasy. That which professes to be the spouse of Christ, and which issues its often blasphemous decrees as under the direction of the Spirit of God, is seen to be but a Satan-inspired and demon-directed system. Every unholy thing flourishes in this system, and evil men can find shelter and are protected in the promulgation of their evil doctrines and practices. The papacy has fully answered to this in the past, and its character remains unchanged to this present hour. It would be practically impossible to find a viler history than that of the medieval popes and their emissaries. It was a Roman Catholic writer who said of this period, “The annals of the church are the annals of hell.”

The proverb, “The corruption of the best thing is the worst of corruptions” is strikingly illustrated in the history of the church. It seems almost impossible to believe that the church to which the apostle Paul addressed his Epistles could, in a few centuries, degenerate into the Roman church as now known. But this is the mystery of Babylon, as we have already seen. It is even more amazing that the Reformation churches, once delivered from this vile system, should now hopefully look for reconciliation with it, so readily forgetting its dreadful past and overlooking its present wicked pretensions! We in America, and our brethren in Britain, see Rome at its best, for men do not readily do in the light what they will do in the dark. But as it has been said, “Character is what a man is in the dark”; we may test this system by the same principle. If you want to know the true character of Catholicism, go to the lands where the light of Reformation has barely penetrated. Look at the countries south of us, the great Latin American republics, where the papacy has controlled and poisoned the morals of the people for centuries. There you will see the results of Babylonianism unchecked by enlightened Christianity. What a horrible cesspool of iniquity it is. There idolatry reigns in most abhorrent form. The gospel is a proscribed teaching, which would be absolutely prohibited if the church had full power as it did before.

In the Old Testament, idolatry is branded as spiritual fornication. In the New Testament it is the unhallowed union of the church and the world. We see both in this evil system today. Who is so un-blushingly idolatrous as Rome? Subtly she is enlarging her sphere of influence and will continue until the scarlet woman again rides the beast-until the church dominates the state. By devious ways she seeks to “make America catholic,” and undo the work of the Reformation in England.

Commercialism has always flourished under the patronage of the popes. This is another powerful weapon that Rome knows well how to use. Commerce is the goddess of the present feverish age, and to her everything must be sacrificed. The Babylon of the future is not only a great church, but a great commercial system as well. Men will finally turn to her for the solution of the problems that now perplex them. While she is the professed enemy of socialism, she delights to be regarded as the patron of the working classes on the one hand and the protector of capital on the other. She has a veritable genius for the commercial. “In Rome,” cried Luther, “they sell everything. They would sell the Father, and sell the Son, and sell the Holy Ghost.” The stamp of simony is on her brow and all who would glorify God should avoid her principles and flee from “the error of Balaam.”

The call of verse 4, if I understand it correctly, is not merely a warning to saints in a coming day who may be in danger of being deceived by her. It is also a message for all who even now discern her true character. Separation from evil is imperative for all who would have the Lord’s approval. This was the call heard by the reformers of the sixteenth century. But, unfortunately, many who are supposed to be their successors have returned in spirit to that which their fathers left behind. There is many a Babylonish garment today hidden in Protestant tents or even displayed on Protestant shoulders. How else are we to account for the widespread return to principles and practices once abhorrent to those whose boast it was that the Bible and the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants. The Bible is losing its hold on the consciences of the people because its inspiration and authority is being so widely denied by those who have solemnly sworn to teach it and defend it. We need not wonder that Babylonish ways and teachings are coming into vogue again. Men want something stable, something infallible; and if they cannot have the infallible Word of the living God they will turn to a professedly infallible church.

But the hour of God’s judgment draws on swiftly. He will not be a silent spectator of all these abominations forever. Soon He will pour out the bowls of His wrath on spiritual Babylon as He did of old on the city of idolatry on the Euphrates. “For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities” (5). Then will go forth the sentence recorded in verses 6-7.

A comparison of the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah in regard to the fall of ancient Babylon will show how plainly the doom of the spiritual counterpart is prefigured there. In several instances the same identical figures are used. This has led some commentators to suppose that the doom of the literal city was not final. So it is taught by some that Babylon is to be rebuilt on her ancient site. She is to flourish for a few years as the religious and commercial metropolis of the world, only to be destroyed for the final time at or immediately preceding the Lord’s second coming. These teachers generally agree in making this restored Babylon the seat of the antichrist. As a rule, they identify him with the future world emperor. But I think we have already shown that a careful comparison of the Old and New Testament Scriptures on these subjects make this view untenable. The city of old has fallen to rise no more. The system that succeeded it is to be judged by God and destroyed as literally as her predecessor, according to verse 8.

Although God will use the ten kings and the beast to bring this about, they will themselves bewail her fall, when they find to their horror that the whole fabric of civilization is falling with her (9-10). Something like this was seen in the days of the French Revolution and has been seen in measure in more recent history. With the destruction of the church, no matter how corrupt, came the breaking up of all social barriers. A flood of anarchy and violence seemed likely to involve the entire nation in ruin. Even Napoleon I saw the necessity of re-establishing the church-though largely shorn of its power-on the ground that a poor religion is better than none at all in holding the masses in restraint.

We can readily understand therefore how Babylon’s fall will send a thrill of horror through all who have been linked in any way with her. Her fall will cause the kings of the earth who have enjoyed her favor to bewail her and lament for her when they see the smoke of her burning. Standing afar off, they cry, “Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come” (10). It would seem that, coincident with the fall of the system, comes the fall of the city where she has had her seat. By some act of God, perhaps such as a great earthquake, it will be forever destroyed. That proud and haughty capital which has borne the title of “the eternal city” for two millenniums is surely doomed because of her impiety and hateful pride. It is a well-known fact that all southern Italy is of a peculiarly volcanic character. The very soil seems to be “stored with fire,” to use a Scriptural phrase which is applied in 2 Peter 3:7 (literal rendering) to the heavens and earth as a whole. In a very remarkable manner this is true of the vicinity of Rome, and it may yet prove to be the means of its complete destruction. In such a case the phrase “the smoke of her burning” may be far more literal than some have supposed.

The Lament of the Merchants (Revelation 18:11-19)

These verses present a magnificent elegy and deserve more careful consideration than our limited space will permit. They picture the destruction of the great commercial system that men are building up with such painstaking care and which some fondly view as the panacea for all the disturbances that have wrought such distress among the nations. How often was it said before the outbreak of World War I that labor would not fight and that capital dare not. It claimed that there was too much at stake; but how false have all such predictions proved. We may however be assured that when it is over, for a time a tremendous effort will be exerted to build up a financial system that will be world-embracive and that will unite the nations in the bonds of commercial self-interest. We know that all such schemes are doomed to disappointment, for the prophetic word has clearly foretold its failure. There can be no lasting peace until the Prince of Peace becomes the governor among the nations. And so we are permitted in this present portion of our book to stand by, as it were, and look on as Babylon falls and to hear her merchants bewailing her doom and their own tremendous losses. As her merchandise is tabulated, now with none to buy, we notice among the precious things mentioned are the bodies and souls of men-not merely “slaves,” as in the King James version. And this is the awful thing about Babylon. She has made merchandise of the bodies and souls of her dupes. Turning away from the rich grace revealed in the gospel, they have tried to purchase what God was freely offering. In the end they find that they have sold their souls to a cruel and avaricious system that is conscienceless and remorseless as the grave. How fearful must be the accounting at the judgment bar of God of those responsible for such terrible deceptions!

The Final End of Babylon the Great (Revelation 18:20-24)

No wonder Babylon’s fall brings joy in Heaven, though it involves the earth-dwellers in selfish sorrow. “Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her” (20). She had shed their blood like water, but the vengeance of God, though it seems to slumber long, will awaken at last. Every upright soul will justify God when He visits her in His wrath and indignation with the judgments symbolized in these verses.

The figure used in Jeremiah 51:63-64 is repeated in Revelation 18:21. A mighty angel is seen casting a great stone into the sea. This stone, like a tremendous millstone, is a fitting symbol of that mysterious power which had crushed the nations and ground the saints of God beneath it for so long.

How solemn are the angel’s words in verses 21-23. How solemnly do they contrast with the lamentations of the merchants of the earth, whose only grief is that no man buys their merchandise any more.

It is the destruction of the greatest schemes and works of man, to make way for that which has been in the mind of God and promised through His prophets from the beginning of the world. Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and built a city after the murder of his brother Abel. This was the beginning of man’s boasted civilization. All the arts and sciences had their origin there. There were artificers in brass and iron. Trade and barter, the pursuit of the unrighteous mammon began there. Those who handled the harp and the organ also dwelt there. Music charmed the weary sons of Cain as they sought to make themselves happy and this world attractive apart from God.

The Lord blotted all this out in the deluge, but it is evident that Ham, Noah’s son, had learned the same ways. The world as an ordered system of things, apart from God, had a new beginning in his family. We have seen that Nimrod built a city and a tower, and it became the mother-city from which others went out and built a civilization, godless and selfish. That system eventually crucified the Lord of glory. His accusation was written above Him in Hebrew, the language of religion; Greek, the language of culture; and Latin, the language of world-politics-the world, as such, arrayed against God and His Christ. And this is the world which is to reach its culmination in Babylon the great. The greatest geniuses that earth has ever produced will preside over it, only to be judged by God because of its inveterate enmity to everything holy and its constant rejection of His Son. Its downfall will prepare the way for the establishment of the kingdom of God and the reign of righteousness and peace, for which humanity has sighed so long. Man’s city must fall to give place to the city of God which will stand forever. Therefore the joy in Heaven at Babylon’s destruction.

“And in her”-that is, in Babylon-“was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth” (24). This closing verse of chapter 18 should make it clear that while Rome is the inheritor of the mysteries of ancient Babylon, it also is a world-inclusive system of apostasy. This, and this alone, fully meets the requirements of this last verse. When God makes inquisition for blood, He finds it all shed by Babylon the great. For, if man had not gone out from the presence of the Lord, this earth would never have been stained with human blood; brotherhood and righteousness would have prevailed everywhere. Babylon therefore is guilty of all the corruption and violence that have darkened the history of the human race; it caused the death of the Christ of God Himself. May grace be given to all to whom this message comes to “flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul” (Jeremiah 51:6).

Bibliographical Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Revelation 18". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/isn/revelation-18.html. 1914.
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