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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Revelation 18

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-24

ANOTHER ANGEL OF special power and glory now appears, coming down from heaven and announcing Babylon’s fall. In Revelation 14:8, John saw an angel who made this announcement, but here it is given with greater impressiveness and with more detail. The evil system which is thus represented had long been fallen morally, now it is fallen under Divine judgment. Yet it is acknowledged as “great” even by this angel, who himself had “great power.” Men are naturally inclined to worship what is great, especially if it is something produced by themselves, though this had really been Satan’s masterpiece.

When God judges any system or individual their real character is made wholly manifest. This feature is seen here. Babylon had become infested with evils of the most virulent type. Demons had made it their habitation or dwelling place, and not merely a spot that they visited occasionally. Moreover every foul or unclean spirit was there. Demons are spirits but men have spirits that sin has made utterly unclean, and every kind of spirit is included in this statement. Thirdly, there are hateful birds. We may remember that in the parable of the sower the Lord used the birds as figures of agents that Satan uses in the world of men. So Babylon had become a place where demons were perfectly at home, and where every kind of evil spirit and evil man had been held as in a cage or prison. A fearful and crushing indictment indeed!

Verse Revelation 18:3 again emphasizes what had been stated in the previous chapter. This abominable system by her very corruption had exercised a controlling fascination over the kings of the earth—the leaders of earth’s politics. And her wealth and luxury had equally fascinated and controlled the merchants of the earth—the leaders of earth’s commerce. So in the last days religion, politics and commerce will find for a brief moment in Babylon a centre that unifies. And the religion will be as earthly as the politics and the commerce.

A voice from heaven gives the final cry, “Come out of her, My people.” One can hardly imagine that many of those, who can be owned as God’s people, will be in any sense inside such a system as it faces its final overthrow, yet doubtless there will be some like Lot, who was only dragged out of Sodom at the last moment. It is ever God’s way to give such a final warning. Another illustration of it is seen in the Epistle to the Hebrews, written a short time before the destruction of Jerusalem, and calling upon Jewish Christians to go forth to the rejected Christ without the camp, and reminding them that they had no continuing city on earth.

Those who in the last days might remain in Babylon would run the risk of partaking of her sins and of the plagues visited upon her sins. This also is vividly illustrated by the case of Lot, his wife and daughters. But do not let us miss the application of all this to ourselves. Verse Revelation 18:4 plainly declares that association with evil has a defiling effect. By remaining in an evil and defiling system we become a partaker of its sins, and eventually of the governmental judgments of God that fall upon it.

In our day religious evil and sin is not yet headed up in one great system, but is surrounding us in many lesser and apparently conflicting systems. There are many traps for our feet though smaller ones. The situation is more confused, but no less seductive. Let us be careful to obey this injunction to come out; cutting our links with associations that defile. And having come out, let us keep out.

It is God’s way to sever His people from the ungodly, and take them out of their midst, before His judgment falls. He acted thus before the flood, and again in Egypt, as well as in the case of Sodom, and with His people before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Thus it will be with the Church before the vials of wrath are poured out, and with earthly saints who may be entangled in Babylon before it is judged. This is shown in verse Revelation 18:4.

Verse Revelation 18:5 shows that judgment only falls when the cup of iniquity is full to the brim; or, as it is stated, “her sins have reached unto heaven.” This is striking language, for the ancient city, Babylon, started when men began to federate, with the idea of self-aggrandizement and influence by the building of a city and tower, “whose top may reach unto heaven” (Genesis 11:4). The ancient Babylon reached the height of its splendour under the famous Nebuchadnezzar, who wielded the widest influence and reached the top-stone of self-aggrandizement. Shortly after this, the city lost its supremacy and descended into ruin. The principles for which it stood were, however, perpetuated in Rome; first in the imperial, and then in the papal form.

In this mystical Babylon, then, we see all the old evils displayed in their intensest and most virulent form, and at last the “tower” of man’s iniquity does indeed attain such dimensions that it has “reached unto heaven.” In drastic fashion the well-merited judgment then falls and the hateful thing sinks out of sight for ever.

Verses Revelation 18:6-7 emphasize how apposite are God’s judgments. They fit the case exactly. The same thing may be noticed in the enactments of the law of Moses, which brought upon the offender the very penalty he had inflicted on another, and relieved the offended party. Babylon is to get her exact “double” or equivalent, and her torment and sorrow is to be the counterpart of her previous self-glorification and luxury.

There is an allusion in verses Revelation 18:7-8 to Isaiah 47:8-9. What was said, in predicting the fall of the literal Babylon by the Euphrates, is duplicated in the judgment of the mystical Babylon, but with one addition. It is the mystical Babylon who says, “I sit a queen.” This again is striking, for here we have the full-blown result in display of the apostate “church.” The true church is the bride of Christ, and destined to be His partner in the day of the glory of the kingdom. The apostate church is “no widow,” though her Lord has been slain upon the earth, and she claims to be “queen”, though He is absent, and the day of His power not yet come. She aims at queenly influence and a life of delicious self-indulgence and self-glorification, while He is still absent and rejected.

But judgment is to fall upon her “in one day.” A stroke of terrible severity and swiftness falls upon her; described as plagues, death, mourning. famine. Nothing mitigates the stroke; no time for a parley to avert it. The overwhelming stroke is administered by the ten kings, as the end of Revelation 17:1-18 showed, but behind their action is the hand of God. The Lord God who judges her is strong, and all her tinsel glory vanishes beneath His avenging hand.

Verses Revelation 18:9-19 indicate how the kings of the earth, the merchants of the earth, and the shipmasters of the sea will react to her judgment. The ten kings, who had been dominated by her, rise up and destroy her, but outside the ten-kingdom empire are many kings who had profited by their connection with her, and they lament. By “kings” we understand national leaders: by “merchants of the earth” leaders of trade and commerce: by “shipmaster and all the company in ships” leaders in transport. For all these her destruction is a disaster, for she was the great trafficker in all earth’s luxuries. The list of verses Revelation 18:12-13 begins with gold. It ends with the bodies and souls of men.

Even today there is no sadder scandal than Rome’s traffic in the bodies and souls of men—more particularly in their souls. Souls become most profitable “merchandise,” when it is a question of extricating them from an imaginary “purgatory;” merchandise which has brought into her coffers more gold and silver and precious stones than all the trading in other objects of luxury put together.

The lament of verse Revelation 18:16 has a familiar sound to those who know Rome’s ways in lands where her sway is nearly absolute. Many years ago we stood in the great Cathedral of “Our Lady of the Pillar,” in Saragossa, Spain, and watched some kind of “mass” being performed by ecclesiastics, gorgeous in “fine linen, and purple, and scarlet.” Then some visitors were being shown the great collection of gifts, left by deluded votaries, housed in a kind of side chapel. We slipped in with them, and beheld enormous cases reaching up the walls, which, when the lights were turned on, sparkled with “gold and precious stones, and pearls” in dazzling variety.

And just when all this greatness and costliness and outward glory reaches its finest display, her outrageous sin reaches its climax, and the judgment of God falls. The action of the mighty angel, recorded in verse Revelation 18:21, gives us an idea of the violence of the overthrow from the hand of God.

How great is the contrast between earth and heaven! Their respective reactions could not be more opposite. The casting of dust upon the head, weeping and wailing, on the one hand; rejoicings, on the other. Holy apostles and prophets are now avenged on her: further proof, if it be needed, that mystical Babylon represents the great system of false and corrupted religion, which from the outset has persecuted the servants of God. This interpretation is further reinforced by the last verse of the chapter. The day of reckoning had now come. Individual sinners have an eternity to spend. Evil systems do not pass into eternity. Their judgment in its full weight falls upon them in this world.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 18:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/revelation-18.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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