Structure in Revelation 18

Structure in Revelation 18 July 16, 2015

Revelation 18 has an obvious surface structure. Three speakers are introduced – an angel from heaven (v. 1), another voice from heaven (v. 4), and a strong angel tossing a millstone (v. 21). 

The first angel and the strong angel have a similar message. The first speaks of the fall of Babylon (v. 2), while the strong angel announces that Babylon will be thrown into the sea (v. v. 21), and demonstrates how. (The sea is the waters on which the harlot city sits [17:15]; in a replay of the deluge, the great city is submerged.) The first angel warns that the city will become an infernal aviary (v. 2); the strong angel describes those who are silenced or driven from the city (vv. 22-23). The nations drink of the wine of the passion of the harlot’s porneia (v. 3), and that wine of passion is the blood of the saints (v. 24; cf. 17:4, 6). So, a neat inclusio around the whole chapter.

The voice from heaven begins speaking for itself, instructing the people of God to “come out” from the doomed city (vv. 4-8); the speech ends with another direct address to the “saints, apostles, and prophets” to “Rejoice” (v. 20). Both of these sections refer to God’s judgment against the harlot (vv. 8, 20).

Then the voice ventriloquizes: He do the police in different voices, three in particular: Kings of the land (vv. 9-10), merchants of the land (vv. 11-17a), and then the shipmasters, passengers, sailors, and others who make a living on the sea (vv. 17b-19; note four categories). Each of these groups speaks a double woe over the city (vv. 10, 16, 19), and each ends with a reference “one hour” (vv. 10, 17a, 19) in which the harlot is “judged” (v. 10) or “laid waste” (vv. 17a, 19). 

The merchants’ section is far and away the longest; the word “merchant” (emporos) appears twice within this speech (vv. 11., 15), not to mention once at the beginning and again at the end of the chapter (vv. 3, 23). All three of the speakers  – another angel, voice from heaven, strong angel – have something to say about these merchants. A long list of the wares of the city slows down the merchants’ lamentation (vv. 12-14).

Putting these details together, we find this overall pattern:

A. Another angel: Babylon is fallen, vv 1-3

B. Another voice: Come out my people; Lord judges, vv. 4-8

C. Kings of land: Woe, woe; one hour vv. 9-10

D1. Merchants of land weep and mourn, v. 11

D2. Wares of the city, vv. 12-14

D1′. Merchants: Woe, woe; one hour, vv 15-17a

C’. Shipmasters, passengers, sailors: Woe, woe; one hour, vv. 17b-19

B’. (Another voice): Rejoice, v. 20

A’. Strong angel: Babylon is tossed, vv 21-24


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