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Bible Commentaries

Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament

Revelation 18

Verse 1

Rev 18:1. The angel had great power which is from EXOUSIA, the leading meaning of which is "authority." The possession of that qualification is explained by the fact that he came down from heaven which is the seat of all authority. It is understandable also why his glory would light up the earth, for everything that pertains to that celestial region is glorious. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Introduction. XI THE FINAL PROCLAMATION OF DOOM ON JERUSALEM (Chapter 18) The approaching fall of Jerusalem, under the symbol of Babylon was envisioned in this chapter. It pictured the overthrow of Judaism and the Jewish state as having been actually accomplished when in fact it was an apocalyptic forecast of an event still future, described in the details of past occurrence. Verse 1. (1) The angel's announcement--Revelation 18 :l-3. This is another instance of a proleptic utterance by an angel, as the following verses of the chapter outline the successive stages of the fall and the desolation of the Babylon--Jerusalem. The proclamation of doom was delivered by an angel having great power, a power commensurate with the magnitude of the proclamation and which signified the authority to pronounce a final doom. As a result of the proclamation the earth (land of Judea) was lightened with glory, as the heavens are aglow with lightenings attending the thunders. This was symbolic of the awe and terror of the appalling events impending.

Verse 2

Rev 18:2. The preceding chapter pictures conditions just prior to the revolution of the Reformation. The present chapter will extend the vision on through that period, showing the effects it will have among the nations of the world, and will predict the permanent end of the union of church and state. We should keep clearly in mind the truth that we are studying a book of symbols, and therefore we will not try to make a literal application of the symbols. However, even political and religious advantages may sometimes bring material gains to men of selfish character, hence we should not be surprised to see indications of that in some instances. The angel cried with a strong voice, which signified that his announcement was of interest to many. Babylon here means the institution formed by the union of church and state. That body had been in control since the time of Constantine, but now it is destined to be dissolved by the work of the Reformation. Babylon is fallen, is fallen; the repetition is for emphasis. The fall refers to the disolving of church and state through the influence of the Bible that had been given to the people by Luther and his fellow workers. Is become the habitation, etc. This is symbolic and the language is formed from what literally happened to the ancient city of Babylon after it was destroyed by its conqueror. The description of that destruction from which our verse gets its symbols may be seen in Isa 13:19-22 and Jer 50:35-40. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 2. The dirge of fallen Babylon in verse two, was an extension of the same vision in Rev 14:8, and was substantially the same lamentation over the fall of the ancient Babylon recorded in Isa 21:9 : "Babylon is fallen, is fallen; and all the graven images of her gods he hath broken unto the ground." The Babylon of this chapter was symbolic of Jerusalem, and the voice of verse two was crying a threnody--a dirge of lamentation--on the day of doom for the once faithful but apostate city. The latter part of the verse describes Jerusalem as the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. The severance of all commercial affiliations by the siege of Jerusalem and the devastation of Judea, had reduced the city to a haunt, symbolized by the demoniac habitation of evil spirts, devils and vultures. The visions of the overthrow of Tyre and Babylon in the Old Testament were combined in these same symbols.

Verse 3

Rev 18:3. Wine of the wrath of her fornication. This combines several symbolical thoughts. Wine suggests drunkenness and that is used figuratively sometimes to mean being beside oneself through the influence of false doctrine, which certainly was an outstanding characteristic of Rome. It also stands for the wrath of God upon evildoers, and fornication refers to intimacy with unlawful organizations. Kings and merchants all reaped personal advantages from their subjects and customers, because they were duped into thinking they should submit to the wishes of their superiors. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 3. The repetition in verse three of the harlot's winecup, representing her multiplied forms of seduction. The reference to the kings of the earth was used in the sense of the rulers and authorities of Judea and Palestine; and the reference to the nations was a designation for the heathen. They were all particeps criminus, having drunk of the harlot's seductive wine-cup of abominations. The language was symbolic of Jerusalem's heathen affiliations. Thus the proud capital of the Jews, once the dwelling place of God and the depository of the Oracles and the center of Judaism, by apostasy had come to destruction and was reduced to a haunt of the demon-world of heathenism, the habitat of the diabolical agents of the satanic beast.

Verse 4

Rev 18:4. Come out of her my people. Even after the work of the reformers was well under way, and the institution of Babylon as a body had fallen, there were still some individuals connected with the church part of the former institution who were honest and at heart were desirous of serving God. They are the ones who are called my people because the Lord considered them true to the testimony of Christ as far as they had been permitted to learn it- Now if they will heed the call to come out and line up with the workers of the Reformation they will be received by Him. If they refuse to heed this call they will have to receive of her plagues. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 4. (2) The call to the faithful--Rev 18:4-8. The voice from heaven introducing verse four was a call to the faithful saints to depart from the doomed city before the calamity struck. It is manifestly parallel with the Lord's exhortation in Mat 24:15-16 for his faithful disciples to flee Jerusalem when the signs of the impending destruction appeared. The same call was spiritually applied by Paul to the Corinthians (2Co 6:14-18), beseeching them to cut all the ties that would bind them to heathenism or in any way maintain affiliation with the heathen world and its temple of Belial. Its derived or applied meaning was to abandon all that both Judaism and heathenism represented.

Verse 5

Rev 18:5. Sins have reached unto heaven means the corruptions of Rome were an offense to heaven, and also had become notoriously public so that God remembered (took unfavorable notice of) her iniquities. Rev 18:6. The pronoun you refers to "my people" in the preceding verse. Human beings cannot bring judgment upon a universal body of corruption by mere human strength. But if they will come out and then use their influence to expose the harlot (which many people did as shown in various histories of the Reformation), they will bring about a chastisement of her that is figuratively described as making her drink a double measure of her own wine. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 5-6. The enormity of Jerusalem's sins which reached unto heaven are underlined in verses five and six in the exercise of the prerogatives that belongs only to God--"Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord"--He remembered her iniquities, and rendered due reward double unto double, according to her works. Again, it was Lord's answer to the altar cry of martyrs in Rev 6:10, "how long, 0 Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth."

Verse 7

Rev 18:7. The leaders in Rome or Babylon had been living a selfish life at the expense of their helpless dupes. Now that they have been undeceived by the workers in the Reformation, they are urged to make their condemnation all the more severe upon her. A queen would be in good circumstances in that she would have one on whom to depend for support and would have no sorrow or anxiety. Rev 18:8. One day cannot be restricted to a period of 24 hours, but the things predicted of her will come on the same day or by the same cause. That will be the effects of opening the eyes of the nations that have been oppressed by her. The mourning will be literal and it will be over the loss of her former power- Utterly burned with fire denotes that the fire of God's jealousy will bring utter (complete) destruction to the combination of church and state--not to each separately, but the combination will be dissolved for ever. Verses 7-8. The description of the proud, and presumptuous city of David, which for centuries had enjoyed the admiration expressed in verse seven, to sit as queen, employed symbols of glory. The old city declared that she was no widow and would see no sorrow (of widowhood), for she was the Jerusalem of the Israel which was wedded to the God of the Jews. But verse eight bluntly decreed that destruction would come upon her in one day, as suddenly as the Lord's statement in Mat 24:16-18 : "Then let them which be in Judea flee . . . let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes." Hence, the expression one day symbolized the suddenness of the impending judgment against Jerusalem and the shortness of time for the faithful to respond to the call to come out of her. The extended application, as in 2Co 6:17, meant to come out of the evils and the errors of Jerusalem's apostasies and of heathendom's idolatries. The last line of verse eight, for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her, meant that God's word was inexorable, and without change of purpose he would destroy the apostate city.

Verse 9

Rev 18:9. Kings of the earth had been protected in their defrauding of the uninformed people. Committed fornication. Rome has been called a harlot hence those who have been intimate with her are guilty of fornication. It is natural for them to lament seeing her burning (under the fiery judgments of God.) Rev 18:10. The symbols are changed from a woman to a city. But it means the same thing for the mother of harlots had her seat where she carried on her adulterous practices in the city of Babylon. Of course to see her "red light district" going up in smoke means the end of her trade. One hour is used here to mean the same period as one day in verse 8. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Veses 9-10. (3) The three-fold threnody over the ruined city-- Rev 18:9-19. These verses form the threnody of kings, merchants and seamen--their song of lamentation, as a dirge over Jerusalem, the fallen city. They were represented in verses nine and ten as having thrived on her harlotries, but cut off from the lucrative revenues of her commerce they were envisioned as standing afar off, offering no help but bewailing the plight of besieged Jerusalem: Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.

Verse 11

Rev 18:11. The merchants were the prominent leaders in Rome who had been reaping much gain (both political and material) by imposing their false doctrines on them. There will now be no demand for such "wares" for the customers will have learned that they had been defrauded. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verse 11. The statement of verse eleven, that the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her was parallel with Rev 1:7 : "Behold, he cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him." This coming referred to the destruction of Jerusalem, as in Zec 14:1-21; and the declaration that every eye shall see him referred to the universal knowledge of what was happening to Jerusalem; and all the kindreds (tribes) of the earth shall wail denoted the mourning of all Jewish families in all parts of the world over the destruction that had befallen their beloved city.

Verse 12

Rev 18:12-13. All of the articles named in this paragraph are literal products, and doubtless the leaders in the corrupt institution dealt in such property for their own selfish enjoyment, but the literal articles are used as symbols of the selfish enjoyments they had by being able to extract the services of the dupes under them. Rev 18:14. This virtually continues the same prediction that is made in the preceding verses, but I will call attention to the words about these gains that thou shalt find them no more at all. That means the advantages once enjoyed by Babylon (church and state) were never again to be enjoyed by her as before because she will never exist again to enjoy them. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 12-14. The rulers, merchants and mariners of Palestine bewailed the calamity for no man buyeth their merchandise any more. The valuables of the merchandise in which this trade consisted were listed in verses twelve to fourteen. The description of gold, purple and spice were symbols of the flow of commerce which characterized Jerusalem's prosperity. But with the severance of all trade, deprived of all commerce, the authorities of Judea, the merchants and the shippers, once associated with Jerusalem in all of her luxury and wantonness, then stood aloof as witnesses of the destruction, deploring the devastation; but only to bewail her plight.

Verse 15

Rev 18:15. This is virtually the same lament that is described in verse 9, 10, because of their loss of unlawful privileges at the expense of the people. For the fear of her torment denotes that the sight of such a burning will give them a feeling of horror. Lest the reader gets lost in all this array of figurative judgments, I shall again state that it is a symbolical picture of the political and religious revolution that came upon the old wicked institution of Rome, after the work of the Reformation broke up the great conspiracy. Rev 18:16. The items mentioned are used symbolically, but there is some special appropriateness in the materials named. The formalities of the old Pagan Roman ceremonies were copied by the clergy of Papal Rome. Linen was used for the official robes in the services, and purple and scarlet were the royal colors. The garments were decked literally with gold and precious stones. The city is said to have all these decorations because the scarlet woman was located in the city for her corrupt practices. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 15-16. The extensive traffic in thirty articles specified by John represented the affiliations of the Jewish capital with all the heathen world. Included in this commercial revenue was the traffic in slaves, and souls of men--meaning the lives of men. There was no source of revenue from the heathen world not included in the coalition between Jerusalem and the merchants of the earth, as described in verses fifteen and sixteen.

Verse 17

Rev 18:17. One hour calls for the same comments that are offered at verse 10. The chapter as a whole is a vision in symbolic form, yet the institution of Babylon or Rome was so widespread, that it was logical to include many of the activities of the members of it. Hence the people interested in the traffic of the sea are brought into the picture, among those whose selfish practices were to be cut off by the downfall of the city. Rev 18:18. What city is like means a general statement of her greatness as of the past, for now she is very low and worthless since she is being destroyed by fire. Rev 18:19. There is not much change in the significance of the symbols of this verse. Casting dust on their heads was an ancient custom to give expression to feelings of mourning and dismay (Jos 7:6; Job 2:12; Lamentation 2:10). One hour is the same figurative phrase that is in verse 10. Made desolate means that Babylon the Great as the union of church and state was to be deserted and cease to be. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 17-19. In continuation of this resplendent description verses seventeen through nineteen recorded the lamentations of the merchant--men because the luxuries and revenues in which they had shared had come to nought and were no more at all. In unison they cried: What city is like unto this great city . . . alas, alas, that great city . . . she is made desolate. Thus the traffickers of the heathen world lamented the ignominious end of the once glorious city of Jerusalem.

Verse 20

Rev 18:20. The speaker is still the voice from heaven (verse 4) which is bidding the apostles and prophets to rejoice over the downfall of Babylon (union of church and state). It was especially appropriate to congratulate these great servants of God, because they had been foremost in defending the lawful church of the Lord against the encroachments of the apostate church. Now that the conspiracy formed by the union of church and state was thrust down, they had great and just reason to rejoice. Rev 18:21. Mighty angel is said to indicate the size or weight of the stone that was to be handled. The stone was like great millstones which were heavy, and their weight was such that if they were thrown into the water they would most assuredly sink; nor would such an object float back up to the surface. That is doubtless why Jesus used it in his comparison of the irreparable fate of certain sinners (Mat 18:6). After this mighty angel had cast the stone into the sea he made his explanation of the symbol; it represented the casting down of Babylon. We know it does not mean literal Babylon for that city had not been in existence for centuries (Isa 13:19-22). We know also it does not apply to the religious part of the corrupt institution (though it also was known as Babylon), for that apostate church is not to be destroyed until Jesus comes (2Th 2:8). Hence this can apply only to the Babylon that was composed of church and state. When the stone that represented it was cast into the sea, the angel said that it shall be found no more at all. From the foregoing evidences we are given the divine assurance that there will never be another world-wide union of church and state. Rev 18:22-23. The enterprises and activities of human interest that are mentioned in these verses have all been considered in this chapter and understood to have a symbolical meaning. In this paragraph they may be used in both symbolical and literal senses. In either sense the announce ment is made that they will never be done again. However, this is not true until we apply it in the light of a proviso that is stated as follows. The phrase in thee is used five times in these two verses, and that is the key to the subject. There is not an interest mentioned that will not continue to be practiced as long as the world stands. But they will not be done "in thee" (Babylon as the union of church and state), for that institution will have gone down never• to rise again. Rev 18:24. This short verse is merely a summing up of the crimes that have been committed by Babylon, on account of which she was doomed to complete overthrow. Comments by Foy E. Wallace Verses 20-22. (4) The anthem of rejoicing over the fall of Apostate Jerusalem--Rev 18:20-24. It seems unnecessary to follow the order of line by line comments on these verses, which would involve so much repetition. This last section of the chapter, verses twenty to twenty-four, represented John's own rhapsody of rejoicing over the avenging judgment of God on Jerusalem, the once faithful city which had turned harlot. In contrast with the wailing of the associates in the harlotries of the city, John was joined in vision to the witnesses and apostles and saints who had been victims of Jerusalem's murderous wantonness--a united chorus in celebration of the end of the abominations of Jerusalem and the obstructions of Judaism. The Lord foretold this fulfillment in Mat 23:29-38 : "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. 0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." This anticipated fulfillment of the Lord's predictions received and written by John in the Neronic period and represented the Lord's words, "fill ye up then the measure of your fathers." In the symbols of this chapter verse twenty-one, the angel casts a great millstone into the sea as a sign of irretrievable doom for Jerusalem. The same symbolism was adopted in Jer 51:63-64 to signify the end of old Babylon: "And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates: And thou shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her: and they shall be weary. Thus far are the words of Jeremiah." Verses 23-24. It is appropriate that the end of the symbolic Babylon, Jerusalem should be signified by the same imagery. The symbols meant the total disappearance of both the literal and the figurative Babylons. Verse twenty-three includes the symbols of the crafts of prosperity, of marriages and of merriment, all of which were to be no more; and verse twenty-four reverted to the sins of Jerusalem in the guiltiness of the blood of prophets, and of saints, and all that were slain upon the earth (Mat 23:29-39). In the avenging judgment on Jerusalem the guilt of the blood of these slain ones found retribution. It is needless to go out of the Neronic period or away from Jerusalem to find the facts of history that meet all the demands of these apocalypses. They do not fit Rome, nor any other city than Jerusalem; where the prophets, apostles and saints were slain. The usual interpretation to bring the apocalypse down through the ages to stage again the historical pageantry of the Roman empire, in the effort to find a future fulfillment, takes all the force out of the words of Christ in Mat 23:1-39; Mat 24:1-51, and robs the apocalypse of its immediate message. The apostate Jerusalem was the object of the visions of Revelation, and all things else in the book were collateral to the implementation of the symbols. The readers should not fail to consider that all these visions were recorded before the events occurred, therefore bearing a pre-destruction of Jerusalem date; and Revelation takes its place alongside the Lord's own forecast of Mat 24:1-51, Mar 13:1-37, and Luk 21:1-38, some thirty-seven years before the siege of Jerusalem, the Revelation itself bearing the date of the early part of the Neronic reign, several years previous to A. D. 70, when Jerusalem was besieged and later desolated. It is evident that the visions of Revelation belong to the ten days period of Roman emperors from Nero to Diocletian, the period of the persecution of the church resulting from the destruction of Jerusalem. It is not a sane interpretation of the apocalyptic symbols to pass over the corresponding events of history then in process-the current events and the contemporary kings of Rome and Judah--in order to link the fulfillment of these symbols to future events which, if they should come to pass, could not provide a more perfect similitude between the symbol and the event that fulfills it than was present in the events of the history surrounding Jerusalem and Judah; and which followed in immediate rapid succession the fall of Jerusalem, Judaism and the Jewish state. The theories of futurism would revive kingdoms that have perished, and their kings who have turned to dust; and after several thousands of years in an ultra-special sort of resurrection stage a historical pageant to parade them all before the world again in order to meet the demands of a future fulfillment of Revelation. It is not compatible with the announced purpose of the book nor the character of its symbols, the fulfillment of which was accomplished in the corresponding events of that period, and in the experiences of the churches then living--events long ago committed to the annals of history and to the archives of earth's treasures. Jerusalem had filled up the measure of its sin of the slain prophets and servants of God and the rejection of the Son of God, the Saviour of man. It had therefore to expiate the guilt incurred by Israel and officially accepted by the officials of the nation: His blood be upon our heads and upon the heads of our children. With this vision the judgment on Jerusalem was completed and sealed.
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Bibliographical Information
Zerr, E.M. "Commentary on Revelation 18". Zerr's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/znt/revelation-18.html. 1952.