Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Revelation 18, The Judgment of Babylon

In this chapter, another angel of great authority repeats the prediction about Babylon’s complete and utter destruction and then signifies it with an unusual ritual last performed in the Old Testament.

v.1-3 "After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. And he cried mightily with a loud voice saying, 'Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.' "

This chapter continues with the fall of Babylon, but unlike the previous chapter, it’s not John’s eyewitness account of the city’s ruin. Instead, it's an angel’s narration of what occurs as a result of her judgment. A judgment so absolutely determined by God against the city that He sees fit to repeat the prediction in His Revelation to John.

God has spoken these words against Babylon before. Listen to the ancient prophets.
“Babylon is fallen, is fallen! And all the carved images of her gods He has broken to the ground” (Isa.21:9).

“‘For I will rise up against them,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And cut off from Babylon the name and remnant, and offspring and posterity,’ says the Lord. ‘I will also make it a possession for the porcupine, and marshes of muddy water; I will sweep it with the broom of destruction,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Isa.14:22-23).

"Because of the wrath of the Lord she shall not be inhabited, but she shall be wholly desolate. Everyone who goes by Babylon shall be horrified and hiss at all her plagues; 'They shall not take from you a stone for a corner nor a stone for a foundation, but you shall be desolate for ever,' says the Lord" (Jer.50:13; 51:26).
Why does God repeat in the future that which He declared in the past? Because the utter destruction announced against Babylon didn’t occur during the fall of the ancient city because it's reserved for the Tribulation upon the rebuilt city of Babylon. And at that time, the words of the prophets will come to pass. Everyone in the city will die, every one of her buildings and structures will be leveled, all will be wholly desolate, and nothing but demons released from the dead and scavenger birds coming to feed upon the carnage will even dare enter it.

“…the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.” In the same way Babylon was shown for her apostasy in the previous chapter, she is also indicted for luring man away from God through “commercialism” in this chapter. The Bible never condemns money itself as an evil, but it does adamantly call the love of money the “root of all evil” (I Tim.6:10). “You cannot serve God and mammon,” Jesus said. “For either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other” (Matt.6:24). And by the enticements of her luxury, Babylon causes man to love money and thereby to hate God; an idolatry associated with the city of Babylon’s glory long past, and once again predominate in the city of Babylon’s glory yet to come.

v.4-7 "And I heard another voice from heaven saying, 'Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mixed for her double. In the measure that she glorified herself and lived sensually, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, 'I sit as a queen, and am no widow and will not see sorrow.'

During the Tribulation, the rebuilt city of Babylon will thrive with international bankers and corporate executives, mercantile barons and shipping magnates. Even in the midst of the terrible plagues of the Tribulation, it will be business as usual. All the money-worshiping, power-seeking money kings will be there to take advantage of the situation and increase their riches still more, and Jews will likely be part of that mix; a probable reason why Jesus repeatedly warns them ("my people") to leave Babylon.

“For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” It has been said, "Babylon has a long history of accumulated sins, and God has the record.” The evil Babylon has long rendered to God, He will repay her "double" the evil in vengeance. In the same measure she has glorified herself and lived sensually God will measure unto her torment and sorrow.

"For she says in her heart, 'I sit as a queen, and am no widow and will not see sorrow.'” This was first said of Babylon after the ancient Empire conquered and mistreated Israel (check--Isa.47:5-8). It intends to show the prideful indignation of those in Babylon and carries the notion that they consider themselves above the children of Israel, and by their defeat of the Nation, above even the One true God.

v.8-10 'Therefore her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her. And the kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgments has come.'

Babylon’s destruction by “fire” will come unexpectedly, suddenly, and with utter destruction. The intensity of which is described by the prophets.

"Behold, they shall burn as stubble," Isaiah writes, "the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame; it shall not be a coal to be warmed by, nor a fire to sit before!" (Isa.47:14). "The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, and her high gates shall be burned with fire,” Jeremiah said. “The people will labor in vain, and the nations, because of the fire; and they shall be weary" (Jer.51:58).

As a result, people around the globe will dread the fire and stand at a distance “for fear of her torment.” Moreover, the corporate leaders, investors, and financiers who "committed fornication and lived luxuriously" with Babylon will stand back and wail—or more literally—they will sob convulsively and beat their breasts in anguish because of her destruction.

v.11-14 'And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men. And the fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all.

There is not a single necessity in this list. Everything mentioned is for either luxury, self-indulgence, or pleasure. It even includes the "bodies and souls of men”, perhaps a reference to the fashion or entertainment industry, or something more perverse like prostitution or pornography.

“And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore.” I have always considered this heavy lament over the fact that no one buys the goods and merchandise anymore to be somewhat of a mystery.

After all, it would seem that the goods and merchandise are replaceable, and they could be sold again despite the financial loss. Yet there is anguish, why? I believe that it’s because it concerns more than the loss of a few goods and services. In my opinion, when Antichrist destroys Babylon, he also does away with free enterprise. For soon after, his government will introduce the "mark" that controls who buys and who sells.

“And the fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you…” Jesus said, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15). When a person’s wealth becomes the “fruit” they most long to possess, it suggests a denial of God by neglecting the fruit of His Spirit.

v.15-20 'The merchants of these things, who become rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.' And every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade by the sea, stood at a distance and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, 'What is like this great city? And they threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate. Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!' "

It shouldn’t surprise us that God’s judgment of Babylon causes heaven to rejoice. For at long last the great city founded by man in rebellion against God (Gen.11:4) and the world system it produced at enmity with God (James 4:4) will be gone.

v.21-24 "Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, 'Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore. The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. And no craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore. And the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore. And the light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all nations were deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.' "

Taking up a stone and throwing it into the sea by this mighty angel is so similar to an action recorded in the book of Jeremiah that we would be remiss not to consider it as a probable explanation.

Prior to ancient Babylon’s fall to the Medes the prophet Jeremiah wrote upon a scroll all the words of God concerning her fall. Then he ordered a man named Seraiah to read the scroll aloud at Babylon followed with instructions to afterward tie it to a millstone and then throw it into the Euphrates (Jer.51:59-62). Listen to the rest of it:
“Now it shall be, when you have finished reading this book, that you shall tie a stone to it and throw it into the Euphrates. Then you shall say, ‘Thus Babylon shall sink and not rise from the catastrophe that I will bring upon her. And they shall be weary’ “(Jer.51:63-64)
In my opinion, this chapter repeats the action taken by Seraiah. The angel first recites the calamity of Babylon and then tosses a rock into the sea to confirm it. Moreover, I feel it all intends to show that Babylon has yet to endure the full wrath of God's judgment, but during the middle of the Tribulation, it will.

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