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Bible Commentaries

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann
Revelation 18

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-3

The Fall and Destruction of Anti-Christ's Kingdom.

The angel's announcement:

v. 1. And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.

v. 2. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the Great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.

v. 3. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.

This entire paragraph reminds one of chap. 14:6-7, where an angel was pictured as lying in mid-heaven: After these things I saw another angel descending out of heaven having great power, and the earth was lit up by his glory. The reference is undoubtedly to Luther and his co-workers in the great work of the Reformation. The Gospel which they once more proclaimed was not their own, but was the message of God from heaven, and therefore was full of power. Nor was this movement one that was done in secret, but the preaching and the writing of these men of God was done before the whole world, and gave true spiritual light to all men that accepted the pure doctrine of salvation.

The specific message of the angel on this occasion is recorded by the prophet: And He cried with a mighty voice, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great, and has become the habitation of demons and a hold of every unclean spirit and a hold of every unclean and loathsome bird; for of the wine of the wrath of her fornication all nations have drunk, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich through the power of her luxury. That was the effect of the preaching of the pure Gospel upon the kingdom of Anti-Christ, especially on the Pope and his hierarchy. Spiritually the empire of the Pope has been cast down; his show of spirituality has been taken from him, his magic is no longer as effective as formerly. To all believers that do hot willfully close their eyes the true nature of the Roman Church as such has been revealed. Since the Church of the Pope has officially rejected the preaching of the pure Gospel and declared her unwavering devotion to the fundamental errors that crept into the Church in the Middle Ages, since that time the Church of the Pope as such has hardened her heart, has become obdurate against all true reform. It has become the habitation of devils, of unclean spirits, and of loathsome birds, as the prophets describe the condition of all anti-Christian bodies, Isa_13:21-22; Isa_34:14; Jer_50:39; Jer_51:8-38. And that is a just punishment of God upon the kingdom of Anti-Christ, for the deliberate guilt of this Church as such is such as cannot be adequately expressed. She has done more to spread the anti-Christian doctrine of works than any other organization in the world, trying especially to obtain influence with the great and powerful in the world, to lead them into the ways of idolatry and to make them her willing servants. And so far as the merchants of the earth are concerned, including many of her own high officials, the luxury and pomp of this Church have brought them untold wealth. The very name of God, which the Church of the Pope piously used, was and is made a bait for the unwary, and the wrath of the zealous God is aroused to the utmost pitch.


Verses 4-8

The warning voice from heaven:

v. 4. And I heard another voice from heaven saying, Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.

v. 5. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

v. 6. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works; in the cup which she hath filled, fill to her double.

v. 7. How much she hath glorified herself and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her; for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.

v. 8. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death and mourning and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire; for strong is the Lord God, who judgeth her.

This passage is strongly reminiscent of the so-called psalms of vengeance, where the wrath of God is poured out upon His enemies in fearful measure. The voice of the Lord follows the voice of the angel: And I heard another voice out of heaven saying, Come out from her, My people, lest ye become guilty of her sins, and lest ye receive of her plagues; for her sins are heaped up unto heaven, and the Lord has called to remembrance her misdeeds. Reward her as she rewarded you, and make the retribution double, twofold, according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed mix to her double. This is a terrifying arraignment, the proper understanding of which ought to open the eyes of many people. Rome has added sin upon sin, in a heap which now reaches to heaven; she has become guilty of so many deeds of unrighteousness that it is impossible for the Lord to ignore the situation. His warning call, therefore, goes out to all such as may be outwardly affiliated with this Church, but do not realize the depth of depravity which their organization represents, that they should leave her organization; for to remain in their connection with her will expose them to the same punishment as will strike her, since their association with her will make them guilty of her sins. God will judge and punish her with a fearful double punishment; and woe to all that are found in her company! The Lord wants no false sympathy with the Church of Anti-Christ, such as many are inclined to give in our days; He wants the testimony against the great harlot to double in force, in order that men everywhere may realize what the cup of abominations in her hand really is, namely, the sum total of all the idolatrous practices that have ever been invented against the holiness of the Lord.

This is brought out also in the next verses: As she glorified herself and lived a wanton life, to that extent give to her torment and Borrow; for in her heart she says, I sit a queen and am no widow and know no sorrow. For this reason her plagues shall come in one day, death and sorrow and famine, and she will be burned with fire; for strong is the Lord God that judges her. Here it appears that the punishment, although carried out, to some extent, by men as God's instruments, is all divine, and includes no personal revenge on the part of men. There is not a suspicion of repentance in the great harlot; she still vaunts herself, she continues her luxurious, wanton life, her show of pomp and power is as great as ever. Her boast is even today that she is the queen of the world, and that she, the Church of Rome, is the only saving Church. Her very existence is a blasphemy of Jesus Christ, for she is the Church of Anti-Christ. But the day and hour of her final judgment is even now fixed in the counsel of the Lord; on one day, the day of God's vengeance, all the plagues will strike her, death, sorrow, famine, and fire; the mighty power of the Lord will be revealed in His judgment.


Verses 9-14

The description of the desolation:

v. 9. And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her and lament for her when they shall see the smoke of her burning,

v. 10. standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour is thy judgment come.

v. 11. And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more;

v. 12. the merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,

v. 13. and cinnamon, and odors, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.

v. 14. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.

So the judgment of the Lord, which was spoken of in chap. 17:16-17, has already gone forth, as is here pictured with intense dramatic power: And there will cry and wail over her the kings of the earth that have committed fornication with her and lived a wanton life, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, Woe and alas, the great city, Babylon the mighty city! For in one hour thy doom has come. So the same rulers and kings that have been the instruments of God in bringing about the punishment of Anti-Christ's kingdom were also the companions of the great harlot in her sins. They themselves have kindled the fire of Rome's destruction, but when they see the smoke of her burning, they are terrified and prefer to remain at a safe distance, since their conscience tells them of their guilt. Time and again the lament of the mighty of the earth has arisen in the last four hundred years when the power of Anti-Christ had received a severe setback. The great and mighty city that has bidden defiance to all enemies has been conquered, her real power being broken forever. The doom of one mightier than she has fallen upon her, and she will never regain her original prestige.

But the doom of the papal power strikes another class of men still worse: And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because their merchandise no one buys any more, the merchandise of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls; and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet goods, and all kinds of citron wood and all manner of ivory vessels and all manner of vessels of most costly wood and of brass and of iron and of marble, and cinnamon and balsam and spices and myrrh and frankincense, and wine and oil and the finest flour and wheat, and cattle and sheep, and some horses and wagons and slaves, and the souls of men; and the fruit of thy soul's desire has gone away from thee, and all the luxurious and splendid things have been lost from thee, and men shall find them no more. There is a deliberate irony in the long enumeration of things which have delighted the heart of the great Roman harlot, which she has made the object of her desires, which her merchants, her vassals, the men that trafficked in these things to their own enrichment, now bewail as lost forever. For the possession of many of these things is in itself not wrong; it has become a sin only in the case of the Church of Anti-Christ on account of the sinful uses to which these things have been put. The pomp, the lavish display of glory which Rome affects wherever she gains a foothold, requires such costly and luxurious things; whenever, therefore, this power is taken from her, it means a loss to the scheming members of the hierarchy and other sycophants that grow rich and live in luxury under the fostering care of their spiritual mother, the Church of Rome. But the climax is reached in the traffic in souls which is carried on in that Church, in taking away the simple doctrine of faith in Christ's salvation and supplanting it with man-made doctrines, especially that of salvation by works, and in the delusion which places thousands of young men and women into monasteries and nunneries every year, all in the vain hope that they will thereby merit heaven and its glory.


Verses 15-20

These features are so prominent that they are treated in another paragraph:

v. 15. The merchants of these things which were made rich by her shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,

v. 16. and saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls!

v. 17. For in one hour so great riches is come to naught. And every shipmaster and all the company in ships and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,

v. 18. and cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city?

v. 19. And they cast dust on their heads and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! For in one hour is she made desolate.

v. 20. Rejoice over her, thou heaven and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.

Just as the kings and rulers before them, so here the merchants bewail the fall of the anti-Christian kingdom, which has always offered them such a lucrative trade: The traders in these things, that have grown rich from her, stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, Woe and alas, the great city, that was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet goods, and ornamented with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour has been made desolate such great wealth. All this is not due to mere outward sympathy, but they are included in the bankruptcy of the great harlot. They furnished the goods for her sinful and godless traffic and are therefore bound to be included in the damage that results to her. At the same time their selfishness causes them to keep their distance, lest someone identify them with her whose desolation has become so apparent.

They are finally joined in their wailing by another class of people that has grown rich from the traffic of Rome: And every shipmaster and all sea-faring people and sailors, and all whose business takes them on the sea, stood at a distance and cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, Who is like to the great city? And they threw dust on their heads, and they cried, weeping and lamenting, saying, Woe and alas, the great city, in which grew rich all that have ships on the sea from her expensive habits! For in one hour she has become desolate. This scene reminds one strongly of the destruction of the great commercial city Tyre, Eze_27:32, since anti-Christian Rome is also pictured as sitting upon great waters and doing a big business in all parts of the world. No wonder that shipmasters and sailors, and all whose business is on the sea, feel the loss of business very keenly when the power of Rome declines, that they give way to the utmost protestations of grief and lament the fall of her whose luxurious tendencies and expensive habits were a source of great gain to them.

In sharp contrast to these selfish wailings and lamentings is the triumphant cry which is here inserted: Rejoice over her, O heaven and saints and apostles and prophets, for God has judged her with your judgment. The victory always rests with the Lord and with all those that are faithful to Him, and so heaven celebrates the triumph over the great harlot, over the kingdom of Anti-Christ. And not only God and all the host of heaven are here called upon to rejoice, but also the apostles and prophets, since their earnest teaching and warning was directed against all antichristian doctrine and activity as it finally came to a head in the empire of Anti-Christ. By the fall of Rome they have been avenged, they have been vindicated, they have been given justice by God's vengeance upon the great harlot.


Verses 21-24

The punishment completed:

v. 21. and a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down and shall be found no more at all.

v. 22. And the voice of harpers and musicians and of pipers and trumpeters shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;

v. 23. and the light of a candle 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 the e; for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.

v. 24. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all that were slain upon the earth.

Here the seer pictures inevitable doom, total and terrible desolation: And there lifted up one mighty angel a stone like a millstone, and threw it into the sea, saying, Thus with force shall be thrown down Babylon, the great city, and shall no more be found; and the voice of harpists and minstrels and flutists and trumpeters no more shall be heard in thee, and all craftsmen of every craft shall no more be found in thee, and the sound of the millstone shall no more be heard in thee, and the light of a lamp shall no more shine in thee, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall no more be heard in thee, because thy merchants were the magnates of the earth, because by thy incantations were deceived all nations, and in her was found the blood of prophets and saints and of all those that had been slain on the earth. That is the sentence of doom, given in the form of a rhythmic song, and introduced by a symbolic action resembling that of Jer_51:63-64. The judgment of the great city, of spiritual Babylon, the kingdom of Anti-Christ, is sealed; the blow given her by the Reformation was so strong as to lay her low forever. No matter what efforts the papacy makes to regain her former absolute reign in the world, all such attempts are bound to result in failure. The glory which she formerly held is departed from her forever. The sins of spiritual adultery, of idolatry, and of the magic spells with which Rome managed to seduce the mighty ones of the earth, the blood which she has shed during the thousand years and more which she has been in existence, call down upon her the curse of the Lord, His eternal damnation.

Summary

The fall and destruction of the kingdom of Anti-Christ is here described in full, together with the wailing complaint of rulers and merchants and shipmasters that grew rich in the traffic in her goods and luxuries, while there is rejoicing in heaven over the vindication of the martyrs and prophets and apostles.

 


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Bibliography Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Revelation 18:4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/revelation-18.html. 1921-23.

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