Fallen, Fallen Is Babylon!
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” So begins the famous novel by Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. The two cities are Paris and London during days leading up to the French Revolution. Revelation is also a tale of two cities—only it’s God’s view of the world leading up to Jesus’ return. The two cities are Babylon and New Jerusalem. Last Sunday, we looked at Babylon.
She’s no insignificant city. She has world-wide dominion. She has powerful allies. She’s able to sway nations by her wealth. She’s an impressive city. It causes John to marvel. But we also learned of Babylon’s judgment. Her alliance with evil will prove self-destructive. God will see to it that Babylon falls. That brings us to chapter 18.
Chapter 18 is the aftermath of Babylon’s judgment. Not that Babylon has fallen in our present experience. But from heaven’s perspective, it’s as good as done. But if Babylon falls, what does that mean for people setting their hopes in Babylon? If Babylon falls, what does that mean for those captivated by her riches? If Babylon falls, what does that mean for those oppressed by her? Let’s read and find out. Verse 1…
1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. 2 And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. 3 For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” 4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues, 5 for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6 Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. 7 As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ 8 For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.” 9 And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.” 11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. 14 “The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!” 15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, 16 “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! 17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” 19 And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out, “Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste. 20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” 21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more; 22 and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more, and a craftsman of any craft will be found in you no more, and the sound of the mill will be heard in you no more, 23 and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more, for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.”
Who is Babylon?
To grasp what’s going on, I’d like to answer four questions. First, Who is Babylon? Chapter 17 answered that in part; and it’s helpful to review what we learned. For starters, we learned that Babylon is a great prostitute in 17:1. She’s not like the Bride of Christ who remains loyal to her covenant Husband. No, Babylon runs around with other lovers, other false gods. She’s a city “full of abominations” in 17:4. Idolatry, sinful sex, corrupt political alliances, injustice to the poor, sorcery, false religion, confidence in riches—she normalizes moral compromise. That’s what she’s about.
We also observed that Babylon’s influence is far-reaching. The kings of the earth have slept with her—17:2. Peoples and multitudes and nations and languages sit under her control—17:15. Much of that is connected to her great wealth. Remember, she is “seated on many waters.” Meaning, Babylon controls the commerce. She’s number one in the world; and she flaunts it. That’s what entices people to form alliances with her. “Your best life now”—you can have it if you get in bed with Babylon. She’s got it all.
According to 18:11 and following, she’s got all the jewels and clothing you could want, all the industry and luxury you could want, all the spices and food you could want, all the delicacies and splendor you could want. Now, wealth isn’t bad on its own. Wealth can be used in service of the Lord’s work. Wealth can be used to love your neighbor in need. But that’s not what Babylon is about. Babylon’s wealth is about self-glory. In 18:3 the merchants grow rich “from her luxurious living,” which has to do with running wild in excess.[i] It’s unbridled spending, doing whatever it takes to get more.
In 18:7 she boasts, “I sit as queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.” Confidence in wealth has led to viewing herself as invincible. Her wealth isn’t serving God. It replaces God. She seeks to be God.
Nor is it serving neighbor. Did you see the end of verse 13? “Cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves [literally, bodies]…” She sells bodies. That should make your heart sink, given our own nation’s history. And to make sure you get it, the angel clarifies, “that is, human souls.” Image bearers treated like commodities—just thrown in with the spices and animals. Babylon represents the sort of people who devalue human souls, all to create more and more wealth.
Babylon also forms corrupt political alliances. In 17:3, she rides the Beast—which symbolizes political powers across time who oppose Jesus. Then, in 17:6 we learned that she also persecutes the church. She is drunk with the blood of the saints. That could be outright acts of murder. It could also be her influence shaping the economy, pressuring others such that Christians can no longer buy or sell—13:17.
In sum, Babylon represents the whole system of evil that opposes the Lord and oppresses his people. In that sense, she’s much like the Babylon we know from the Old Testament—only this one is worse. Babylon of old was but a shadow of the Babylon we find in Revelation. This one is “Mother of earth’s abominations.”
Also, when John describes Babylon in chapter 18, he uses imagery not just from the one ancient city of Babylon. He includes imagery that described unfaithful Jerusalem and pagan cities like Nineveh and Edom and Tyre. In fact, much of the language in chapter 18 comes from the fall of Tyre in Ezekiel 27-28. “Babylon the Great” comprises many kingdoms known for their opposition to God. That’s who she is.
Where is she going?
Here’s a second question: Where’s she going? According to chapters 17-18, she’s going down. We saw that much in 17:16. But her downfall then gets reiterated in chapter 18—at the beginning and at the end. In 18:1, an angel announces the fall of Babylon: “Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the Great!” That’s from Isaiah 21:9. A watchman looks out for approaching judgment. As the armies begin to crest the horizon, he knows defeat is inevitable: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon.” Same here: her downfall is certain.
Then the angel describes the aftermath as a desolate city in verses 1-2. “She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt [or a “hangout”] for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.” Back in 17:4, her cup was full of unclean things. The idea here is that God will give her over to those unclean things, and it will make her a city unfit for human life. We find similar judgments on Babylon in Isaiah 13:21-22 and Jeremiah 50:39. All that’ll be left are unclean scavengers picking up the remains.
Similar imagery comes in verse 21 as well. Once again, an angel announces the fall of Babylon, only this time he illustrates it. He takes up a great millstone—a millstone being a large stone used for crushing grain, perhaps a sign of prosperity. But here the angel yanks it up and hurls it into the sea: “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more.” She will sink, never to rise again.[ii]
Then, just like verse 2, the angel describes the aftermath as a desolate city. Verse 22, “The sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more, and a craftsman of any craft will be found in you no more, and the sound of the mill will be heard in you no more, and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more.”
Babylon is like one great Mardi Gras. It’s Vanity Fair in Pilgrim’s Progress. filled with all sorts of houses and lands, riches and delights, lusts and pleasures, games and adulteries. All of it strategically designed by the Enemy to distract you from the Heavenly Jerusalem. But when judgment falls, Babylon’s party will end. No music. No industry. No light. No joy. All the signs of life will be no more.[iii]
Why is she judged?
Why, though? Why is she judged like this? In these same bookends, we find several reasons. Look at verse 3. “For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” Again, in Revelation, sexual immorality isn’t limited to sinful sex. It’s a symbol for spiritual harlotry, unfaithfulness of all sorts. Babylon leads the nations to cheat on the Lord, to make compromises with false gods of all sorts.
Another reason is that “the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her.” Babylon forms political alliances built on corruption. Also, “the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” She entices others with wealth such that they serve money instead of God.
Look at the other bookend. Verse 23: “for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, since all nations were deceived by your sorcery.” Babylon keeps everyone under the spell of its false worship so that her lovers stay in power.
Verse 24 then gives another reason for her judgment: “and in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.” Throughout Scripture, God so identifies with his people that to mess with them is to mess with God. Babylon persecutes the church; the Lord will not tolerate it. He is jealous to protect his Bride. But God will also judge Babylon for their unjust brutality in general. Babylon is the sort of city that expands no matter how many human lives it costs. “It doesn’t matter if the diamonds are covered in blood, we want the profits. It doesn’t matter if the coltan is mined by 40,000 child-laborers in Congo and then sold to tycoons in China, we must sell iPhones. It doesn’t matter if we murder more babies for tissue research, we’re making money here.” That’s how Babylon talks. For that reason, God will judge her.
Her pride is another reason for judgment. As we noted earlier, she boasts in verse 7 as if she’s queen. It’s language from Isaiah 47:8, where Babylon is marked by this proud self-sufficiency. But as James 4:6 tells us, God opposes the proud.
That’s why Babylon is judged. Her whole agenda opposes God and the truth of his word. Her political, economic, and religious system is wired for self-glory and not for God’s glory. When she does business, she doesn’t ask, “Is it holy? Is it right?” She asks, “How much will it make me?” For this reason, God judges her.
How should we respond?
How, then, should we respond? That’s our final question; and the way we should respond is explicit. Verse 4, “Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people…” That’s the first way we should respond.
Now, this isn’t the first time God commands his people out of Babylon. Jeremiah 51:6 says, “Go out of the midst of her, my people! Let every one save his life from the fierce anger of the LORD.” Similar commands appear in Isaiah and Zechariah.[iv] Each time, God’s people are exiles in a foreign land, and they must separate from the culture that faces God’s pending judgment. Revelation draws from that imagery. We’re like exiles too; and while in exile we can’t grow comfortable with Babylon’s sinful ways. We must separate ourselves from those very things that invite God’s judgment. We must separate from her sins. That’s why he says, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins.” Break any ties with Babylon’s moral compromises. Break any ties with Babylon’s luxurious living. Break any ties with Babylon’s corrupt politics.
Why? Because her sins deserve God’s judgment. Verse 4 says, “Come out…lest you share in her plagues, for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.” Our English word “duplicate” may convey the idea better. Mix an exact duplicate—the point being that God measure out a fitting judgment.
He continues in verse 7, “As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.”
Pay her back. Mix a duplicate. Give her like measure. Some have asked if God is here calling Christians to “Pay her back”—since there doesn’t seem to be a shift in recipients between verses 4 and 6. If you go that route, it’s an activity that must wait for Christ’s return and the saints’ return with him. Until then, we must never avenge ourselves, Romans 12 tells us. More likely, there’s a shift in viewpoint. The voice commissions the agents of God’s judgment—such as the angels of chapter 16.
Either way, the emphasis rests not on the identity of those judging but on the objects being judged. In these words, the Lord reveals that Babylon’s sins deserve judgment, and her judgment is sure to come. That’s one reason to come out of her.
Another reason to come out is the misery that awaits all who set their hopes in Babylon. This is where the laments of verses 9-19 come into play. The angel mentions three groups. Kings in verse 9—in particular, kings who participate in Babylon’s unfaithfulness. Merchants in verse 11—but these are merchants who grow rich from Babylon’s luxurious living (Rev 18:3). Then he speaks of seafarers in verse 17 whose trade is on the sea—the sea possibly symbolizing the Beast’s domain or the waters of 17:15 where the prostitute dwells. In other words, these groups represent those who serve the interests of Babylon. Their hopes are bound up with Babylon.
But that’s also why they mourn when Babylon falls. Verse 9, they weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. They stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.” The same happens in verse 16 and verse 19.
These laments are written ahead of time, so that you aren’t part of that miserable existence. God means for these laments to peel back your fingers from clinging to anything related to Babylon. And I’ll tell you, it’s easy to get distracted with Babylon in our context. Last week, I mentioned several parallels between Babylon and America. Chapter 18 brings out some more. Babylon has a puffed-up view of herself. Far too often the messaging in our culture is similar. We’re number one, people like to say. Babylon accumulates wealth for self-glory; and one of the strongest temptations in America is the constant draw of earthly possessions. Babylon treats humans like commodities; and many economic choices in our culture don’t usually start with what’s good for human life, but what will create more wealth regardless of costs to human life.
These parallels show that Babylon is alive and well today. She entices us with all sorts of glamour and luxury, with all sorts of abominations; and we must recognize that we are vulnerable to her temptations. Do you remember the Christians at Pergamum and Thyatira? There were people in their churches teaching that it was okay to participate in the Roman culture’s idolatry; and part of that had to do with money. In that culture, the only way to prosper was to get chummy at the temple feasts and offer the incense. Sardis was asleep. The Christians at Laodicea were leaning too much on Rome’s wealth. Then come chapters 17-18 to say, “Wake up! Get out of Babylon! Don’t you dare set your hopes here! She’s doomed! She only leads to misery!”
Here’s another reason to come out of Babylon—that’s not who you are any more. Listen to the command again: “Come out of her, my people.” That’s covenant language. “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved’”—Hosea 2:23. “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”—Leviticus 26:12. “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”—Jeremiah 31:33-34.
Jesus the Lamb gave is life to make that possible for you. Jesus the Lamb spilled his blood to inaugurate a new covenant for you. Jesus the Lamb died to liberate you from Babylon and make you part of the New Jerusalem. Babylon isn’t your city anymore. You are God’s people. You are God’s kingdom of priests. Separate yourself from Babylon because grace has made you a new kind of person with a new will and a new nature and a new future dwelling with God.
Babylon leads to misery. But New Jerusalem is your never-ending joy. Babylon will hear no music. But New Jerusalem is filled with songs to the Lamb. Babylon will be desolate. But New Jerusalem will make the world an Eden-like paradise. Babylon’s riches will sink. But New Jerusalem’s riches will decorate a holy dwelling for all nations. Babylon will have no light shining in it. But New Jerusalem will have the glory of God brightening all things. Which city has your heart?
Here’s another way to respond: Rejoice. Verse 20, “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” Now, the actual rejoicing we don’t get until chapter 19:1. The great multitude sings, “Hallelujah!” For now, though, consider why the angel calls the saints to rejoice: “for God has given judgment for you against her.” He’s recalling the prayers of the martyrs back in 6:10—“How long, O sovereign Lord, holy and true, before you will judge and avenge our blood.” Here we find the answers to their cries. The Lord has seen his people’s sufferings under Babylon, and he will bring them justice. There is good news here in knowing that God will judge our enemies. God will right all wrongs.
My brother traveled to India recently. He and a team were visiting an orphanage and encouraging some local pastors. This is one of the pastors he met. Behind him is the pastor’s new house. When the team showed up to dedicate his house last Saturday, the pastor said that just the day before, his landlord where he was living evicted him because he found out he was preaching Christ to the villages. So, he lost his house on one day and received a brand new one the next.
My brother said that “he carries a heavy load. He preaches and shepherds and leads music at nine village churches. He’s been beaten multiple times for the gospel’s sake. But he keeps trucking along and knows that the Lord sees him.” And that’s right: the Lord does see him. The Lord hears his cries, “How long?” Babylon may be working to have him evicted and beaten, pressuring him to compromise and give in. But this brother and his wife—their hearts belong to the New Jerusalem. They are not swayed by Babylon’s treasures or threats. And they can rest assured that Babylon will fall.
Christ’s cross and resurrection have guaranteed Babylon’s fall. The Lamb has already claimed victory over the Beast and Babylon. His resurrection has set in motion a series of judgments that will eventually end Babylon and replace that abominable city of destruction with the abundant city of life. And for that reason, we should rejoice.
[i] Koester, Revelation, 699.
[ii] Similar imagery appears in Jer 51:63-64.
[iii] Isa 24:7-10; Jer 7:34.
[iv] Isa 48:20; 52:11; Jer 51:45; cf. Zech 2:6-7, which comes 19 years after Babylon fell to Persia.
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