John saw an angel, vested with great authority, descending from heaven. The glory or radiant splendor of this angel was of such magnitude as to illuminate the earth. He cried out with a strong voice, “Fallen, fallen [is] Babylon the great, and she has become a haunt of demons, and a prison for every unclean spirit, and a prison for every unclean bird, and a prison for every unclean and detested beast. For from the wine of the passion of her whoredom, all the nations have drunk, and the kings of the earth whored with her, and the merchants of the earth enriched themselves from the resources of her luxury.” (18:1-3)
This portrayal is of an uninhabited city in ruins, and parallels the foretold fate of ancient Babylon. “And Babylon, glory of kingdoms, proud splendor of the Chaldeans, shall become like Sodom and Gomorrah overturned by God. Nevermore shall it be settled nor dwelt in through all the ages. No Arab shall pitch his tent there, no shepherds make flocks lie down there. But beasts shall lie down there, and the houses be filled with owls; there shall ostriches make their home, and there shall satyrs dance. And jackals shall abide in its castles and dragons in the palaces of pleasure.” (Isaiah 13:19-22, Tanakh) “Wild animals shall live with hyenas in Babylon, and ostriches shall inhabit her; she shall never again be peopled, or inhabited for all generations.” (Jeremiah 50:39, NRSV)
In the case of Babylon the great, the reason for this severe judgment would be her baneful influence on earth’s inhabitants, causing them to be stupefied so as to conduct themselves in a divinely disapproved course. Corrupt, oppressive rulers would find pleasure in her presence as from the caresses of and sexual relations with a prostitute. Because she would amass great wealth from her supporters, she would provide a lucrative market for the commercial element of the world.
Another voice from the heavens resounded with the call, “Get out of her, my people, so as not to share in her sins and so as not to receive of her plagues, for her sins have reached the sky and God has remembered her injustices.” (18:4, 5)
The time for departure from Babylon the great is before the severe judgment befalls her. As in the case of ancient Babylon on the Euphrates, Babylon the great is an enemy of God’s people who may find themselves in her midst. (Compare Psalm 137:1-9.) Once the opportunity to depart opened up, God’s people exiled in ancient Babylon were able to act on the prophetic directive, “Go forth from Babylon, flee from Chaldea!” (Isaiah 48:20, NAB)
Over the centuries, many have reached the conclusion that Babylon the great represented Rome in its role as a vicious persecutor of Christ’s followers, paralleling Babylon on the Euphrates (the seat of a dominant political power in ancient times) with Rome (the seat of the dominant political power in the first century). In many respects, the language of the Hebrew prophets regarding ancient Babylon parallels the description in Revelation 18. (Compare Isaiah 21:9 and Jeremiah 51:8 with Revelation 18:2; compare Jeremiah 51:7 with Revelation 18:3; Jeremiah 50:8; 51:6, 9, 45 with Revelation 18:4, 5; Jeremiah 50:15 with Revelation 18:6; Isaiah 47:7-9 with Revelation 18:7, 8.) Historically, however, Rome did not fall like ancient Babylon nor did it become an uninhabited city. The earlier scene of the woman riding the beast (representative of a ruling power) in the wilderness does not match Rome, for Rome was the dominant governing power in the first century. Furthermore, the command for God’s people to get out of Babylon the great does not fit Rome, for merely being a city resident in the first century or in years thereafter would not make one a participant in its sins. To incur guilt, one would have to be a resident who actively shared in God-dishonoring practices.
The portrayal of a change from a woman representative of God’s people to a woman representative of a people disloyal to him does have historical and biblical support. The apostle Paul warned elders in the Ephesus congregation, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them.” (Acts 20:29, 30, NAB) To Timothy, he wrote that there would come to be “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:4, 5, NIV) In his first letter (4:1, 2, NRSV) to him, Paul said, “In later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron.” Jesus Christ revealed that the “sons of the kingdom” would become so intermingled with the “sons of the wicked one” as to become humanly indistinguishable. (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) He also indicated that there would be those who would seize authority to which they were not entitled, treat believers abusively, and in other ways conduct themselves in a God-dishonoring manner. (Luke 12:42-48) Upon his return in glory, Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’” (Matthew 7:22, 23, NAB)
A review of past and present history confirms that the various religious systems and movements claiming to be Christian have not made a commendable record for themselves. Prominent ones in their midst have courted the favors of the ruling authorities and supported their unworthy aims (with resulting bloodshed), have incited rulers to imprison and kill those not agreeing with them, resorted to bribery and subterfuges to protect assets and to advance church or organizational interests in other ways, concealed the debased practices of those in high positions to protect their image, accumulated wealth to support a lavish life style, emotionally abused others by making them feel guilty for not giving more of their time and money to support the church, assuming the role of lords instead of humble servants, and labeling anyone not agreeing with their interpretations as a heretic deserving the worst punishment imaginable. While certain movements may claim that they are clean respecting bloodshed and friendship with the world, they often have a leadership in place that has no qualms about demanding that the membership treat those disagreeing with their unique doctrines worse than hardened criminals. In their attitude, they reveal the murderous spirit of the harlot and are no different than the hypocrites who adorned the tombs of the righteous and said, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.” (Matthew 23:29, 30, NAB)
For those who seek to live upright lives as loyal disciples of God’s Son, getting out of Babylon the great may mean what it did for Levites and many other Israelites when Jeroboam instituted calf worship. They left the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. (2 Chronicles 11:13-17) Mere physical separation from a movement because of being mistreated, witnessing hypocrisy, or coming to see error in doctrines and practices, however, does not in itself constitute an exodus from Babylon the great. Lot’s wife left Sodom, but her attachment to the corrupt city remained. There must be a rejection of the God-dishonoring attitude and worldliness of Babylon the great and an ardent desire to be loyal to God and Christ. It is not an exchange of the flaws a person may see in one particular movement for a different set of errors and wrong practices in another movement, but it is an action that becomes necessary because of needing to be out of an environment that misrepresents God and Christ and proves to be spiritually harmful.
Because the weeds and wheat are intertwined, there are godly persons who have not felt the need for a physical separation from a church, denomination, or nondenominational body with which they may have serious disagreements. Like many in the ten-tribe kingdom who continued to serve God faithfully and did not move to the kingdom of Judah, they do not abandon the group with which they have had a long history. They continue to live godly lives within the system and bring honor to God and Christ by their genuine display of love for others and making expressions about their faith. In attitude, word, and action, they demonstrate that they do not have the spirit of Babylon the great and condemn her works (just as Noah condemned the world in which he lived). (Hebrews 11:7)
According to the angel’s proclamation, the record of Babylon the great’s sin reached up to the sky and deserved twofold retribution. As she had rendered to others, she should be repaid. In keeping with her abominable actions, she should receive twice as much in the way of retribution. As to the cup from which she made others drunk, she should be forced to drink a double portion. Instead of continuing to live in splendor and luxury, she should experience corresponding pain and mourning. Within herself, she imagined herself to be secure, sitting as a queen who would never experience bereavement or loss. On account of her arrogant attitude, plagues would come upon her quickly, in “one day,” death, mourning, and famine, and complete destruction by fire. There would be no escape from or defense against the severe judgment to befall her, for God, the one executing justice, is strong. (18:6-8)
Rulers who benefited from their intimate relationship with Babylon the great would be grieved about her fate and fearfully stand at a distance. They would lament about the suddenness with which impressive Babylon the great had come to an inglorious end. (18:9, 10)
Babylon the great is portrayed as having piled up great wealth and having provided a lucrative market for traveling merchants. This would cause them to mourn over the ruin of their commercial interests. These merchants who enriched themselves through trade with her would fearfully stand at a distance, weeping and mourning their sudden loss. “In one hour,” her wealth would cease to be. (18:11-17)
Those involved in transporting the abundant goods from distant places would likewise give way to mourning over the sudden end of Babylon the great. No longer would they be able to increase their riches through dealings with her, and this would make them weep and mourn. (18:17-19)
Among the angels of heaven, the holy ones or God’s faithful servants, the apostles and prophets, such mourning would have no place. They are invited to share in appreciative rejoicing, for God had executed the deserved judgment on Babylon the great. (18:20)
John saw a strong angel who lifted a stone, like a large millstone, and cast it into the sea. This act represented how Babylon the great would completely disappear as if quickly plunged to the bottom of the sea. All the sights, sounds, activities and functions associated with city life would permanently cease. (18:21-23)
The reason for the severe judgment is again set forth. With her sorcery, she caused nations to go astray. This could mean that she drew them into a God-dishonoring relationship with herself or made them wander in divinely disapproved ways. Only the future will reveal just how great the corruption among the faithless portion of those claiming to be God’s people will yet come to be and the kind of worldliness that will grow to shocking proportions. History is filled with sufficient examples that portend a frightful time prior to the execution of divine judgment. Babylon the great’s record of bloodshed is already extremely shameful, including the blood of prophets, holy ones, and many others. (18:23, 24)
In verse 2, the words “prison for every unclean beast” are missing in many manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus.
In verse 3, manuscript readings include “have drunk,” “have fallen” and “she has made drink.”