Revelation 18:1-24 Voices Cry Out The Fall of Great Babylon
In the evangelical world, we have sometimes been comfortable “using the language of culture” to communicate the gospel. We frequently talk about taking the timeless message of the gospel and “packaging” it in ways people can understand. But if we are not careful, we can move from “using language” to baptizing idolatry. One extreme example played out on Easter 2010. As a means of “reaching out” to the community, a Texas megachurch gave away sixteen cars, fifteen flat-screen televisions, furniture, and other prizes. This kind of “get them in the building at any cost” approach seems to blur the lines between faithfully witnessing and indulging gross materialism.12
The last chapter described the process of the Great Babylon’s destruction – which was led by gross materialism.
Why do we see Babylon again in chapter 18 after seeing her destroyed in chapter 17? Because chapter 17 deals with the false religious system Babylon represents, while chapter 18 deals with the literal city of Babylon. Chapter 17 deals with religious Babylon. Chapter 18 deals with political and economic Babylon.3
This chapter is full of sadness. This chapter is a collection of funeral dirges, not for the “helpless” sons of God, but for their “mighty” foe.4 Various voices call out the fall of Great Babylon. The voices call out an event that will certainly happen.
SEVEN VOICES THAT CALL OUT THE FALL OF GREAT BABYLON
1. The voice of condemnation (Revelation 18:1-3)
“After this I saw another angel with great authority coming down from heaven, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. He cried in a mighty voice: It has fallen, Babylon the Great has fallen! She has become a dwelling for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, and a haunt for every unclean and despicable beast. For all the nations have drunk the wine of her sexual immorality, which brings wrath. The kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown wealthy from her excessive luxury.” (Revelation 18:1–3, HCSB)
An angel cries out the condemnation of Great Babylon. He cries out the fact that Great Babylon will fall and end in destruction. The fact that the angel says “it has fallen” means that this event in the future is certain to occur. This chapter recalls Jeremiah 51 and Isaiah 13.
2. The voice of separation (Revelation 18:4-8)
“Then I heard another voice from heaven: Come out of her, My people, so that you will not share in her sins or receive any of her plagues. For her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. Pay her back the way she also paid, and double it according to her works. In the cup in which she mixed, mix a double portion for her. As much as she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, give her that much torment and grief, for she says in her heart, “I sit as a queen; I am not a widow, and I will never see grief.” For this reason her plagues will come in one day — death and grief and famine. She will be burned up with fire, because the Lord God who judges her is mighty.” (Revelation 18:4–8, HCSB)
Another angel calls for people to not participate in the sins of Great Babylon. Because sin is destructive, we are called to be separated from sin. Sin always involves consequences, even when we deny it (“I will never see grief”).
The goal of the builders of the Tower of Babylon’s birthplace was to “build a tower whose top may reach unto heaven” (Genesis 11:4). In reality, the only thing that reached to heaven was their iniquity.5
The pursuit of prosperity remains one of the most powerful temptations faced by contemporary Christians in the West.6 Revelation 18 reminds us that although we may still see these temptations, God call us to live a life of love for Him because these riches will fall one day.
Harvard professors examined what observers thought of individuals who deviate from the norm in a workplace and retail setting. They asked store clerks and customers to rate what they thought of others who walked into luxury stores wearing gym clothes. The customers said, “That person seems out of place. Who would wear casual gym clothes to a fancy store?” However, the sales associate’s mentality is the complete opposite: the one in the casual gym clothes is more likely to make a purchase at the luxury store than a person wearing fancy clothes. The person in the gym clothes is confident enough to show that they have the money and status to walk into the store and make a purchase.
Are you confident in your faith to walk into a place and have people say, “Wow! There is something unique about that person. I wonder what makes them so happy and positive”? Or are people saying, “Oh, that person? They’re no different from any of us here. They’re nothing special.”78
The funeral atmosphere takes center stage in Revelation 18:9–19, where we hear laments from three groups: kings, merchants, and mariners.9 There are three voices of lamentation or sadness.
3. The kings cry (Revelation 18:9-10)
“The kings of the earth who have committed sexual immorality and lived luxuriously with her will weep and mourn over her when they see the smoke of her burning. They will stand far off in fear of her torment, saying: Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the mighty city! For in a single hour your judgment has come.” (Revelation 18:9–10, HCSB)
Politicians will cry and grieve. They will recognize how Great Babylon was in opposition to God and they themselves married the prostitute. Like lobbyists who tried to get influence from Congress, these political leaders have spent their time trying to get rich off of this new Satanic system. It will seem normal to them. But in the end, they will recognize God’s judgment will soon come. They see the judgment played out on Great Babylon and watch in shock and grief.
4. The merchants mourn (Revelation 18:11-17)
“The merchants of the earth will also weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their merchandise any longer…All your splendid and glamorous things are gone; they will never find them again. The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand far off in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying: Woe, woe, the great city, dressed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls, for in a single hour such fabulous wealth was destroyed!…” (Revelation 18:11–17, HCSB)
People who become wealthy will also mourn. The merchants became rich from the economic system from which they benefited.
H.M.S. Queen Mary ruled as sovereign of the seas when launched in 1936. A thousand magnificent feet long and 81,000 tons in weight, she possessed every possible convenience and appointment. Shipbuilders reached the zenith of their craft in her construction. Yet, that great ocean liner nearly capsized in December, 1942, while carrying 15,000 soldiers from America to England. A rogue wave, formed when three or four giant waves synchronized their strength, struck her vertically to starboard, then pounded on her broadside with mountainous fury. She listed until her upper decks were awash and her safety margin was no more than five degrees. Had she listed just inches more to port, the Queen Mary would have gone to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Human ability, however brilliant, and human resources, however enormous, have a limit. We sometimes forget that when we consider our dazzling technological advances since World War II. We find ourselves ruling land, sea, and space, but not our own depravities and frailties. We are awash in our sins and nearly drowning in our corruption. We who rule everything God’s hands made must yield to him to bring ourselves under control.10
“…And every shipmaster, seafarer, the sailors, and all who do business by sea, stood far off as they watched the smoke from her burning and kept crying out: “Who is like the great city?” They threw dust on their heads and kept crying out, weeping, and mourning: Woe, woe, the great city, where all those who have ships on the sea became rich from her wealth, for in a single hour she was destroyed…” (Revelation 18:17–20, HCSB)
The politicians, the businessmen, and now the sailors mourn and cry. They reflect on the wealth they shipped. They are shocked at how a very rich system could destroyed so quickly.
6. The voice of celebration (Revelation 18:20-21)
“Rejoice over her, heaven, and you saints, apostles, and prophets, because God has executed your judgment on her! Then a mighty angel picked up a stone like a large millstone and threw it into the sea, saying: In this way, Babylon the great city will be thrown down violently and never be found again.” (Revelation 18:20–21, HCSB)
The mighty encourages all of God’s people – His people on Earth and in Heaven to cheer. This is the voice of an angel who has seen God become victorious over the evil Great Babylon. So while the people who participated with Great Babylon are in mourning, the people of God are celebrating.
7. The voice of silence (Revelation 18:22-24)
“The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters will never be heard in you again; no craftsman of any trade will ever be found in you again; the sound of a mill will never be heard in you again; the light of a lamp will never shine in you again; and the voice of a groom and bride will never be heard in you again. All this will happen because your merchants were the nobility of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery, and the blood of prophets and saints, and of all those slaughtered on earth, was found in you.” (Revelation 18:22–24, HCSB)
At this point in our study, the political and economic system of “the beast” has at last been destroyed. All that remains is for Jesus Christ to come from heaven and personally meet and defeat “the beast” and his armies. This He will do, and then establish His righteous kingdom on earth.11
The city was powerful, rich, and cruel, and now it has all come to this. “This is how the world ends, this is how the world ends, this is how the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper” (T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men)12
A story was told of Dietrich Reinhold, a man known throughout his community to be very wealthy. One night he went to sleep in his huge mansion, only to wake up a couple hours later in a cold sweat, frightened by a dream in which an angel appeared to him, saying, “At midnight, the richest man in the valley shall die.”
That’s me, thought Reinhold, and he sent a servant to quickly fetch the doctor.
The doctor came hastily, listened to Dietrich’s story, and sat with him until the clock struck twelve. When the last bell sounded, just as Dietrich was breathing a huge sigh of relief, he heard a pounding on his door. He opened it to find one of his servants.
“Master! Master Reinhold! Hans has just died!”
And suddenly Dietrich Reinhold understood that Hans, the servant who was known throughout the region as one who loved the Lord, was the richest man in the village.
Dear friend, in one hour—and the hour could be very soon—your entire empire, however big or small it might be, could burn. That is why Jesus said we are fools if we’re rich on earth but paupers in heaven.13
1 Lillian Kwon, “Texas Megachurch to Give Out Cars, TVs at Easter Services,” Christian Post, April 2, 2010, http://www.christianpost.com/news/texas-megachurch-to-give-out-cars-tvs-at-easter-services-44579/.
2 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 237.
3 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1764.
4 William B. Coble, “Revelation,” in The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, ed. H. Franklin Paschall and Herschel H. Hobbs (Nashville: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1972), 816.
5 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1764.
6 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 236–237.
7 Shirley S. Wang, “Success Outside the Dress Code,” http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304017604579445140870078088.
8 Jim L. Wilson and Joe Lam, “Dressing for Success by Wearing Sweatpants,” in 300 Illustrations for Preachers, ed. Elliot Ritzema (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015).
9 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 232.
10 Virgil Hurley, Speaker’s Sourcebook of New Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas: Word Publishers, 2000), 227.
11 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 616.
12 Earl F. Palmer and Lloyd J. Ogilvie, 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation, vol. 35, The Preacher’s Commentary Series (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1982), 219.
13 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1770.