Chapter 18: Babylon Is Fallen!

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of The Book of Revelation


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Chapter Text

Come Out of Her! (18:1-8)

  1. After these things I saw another Angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with His glory.
  2. And He cried out with a mighty voice, saying: Fallen, Fallen is Babylon the great! And she has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.
  1. For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.
  2. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying: Come out of her, My people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues;
  3. for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.
  4. Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her.
  5. To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart: I sit as a queen and am not a widow, and will never see mourning.
  6. For this reason in one Day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for strong is the Lord God who judges her.

1          St. John is now introduced to another Angel – probably the Lord Jesus Christ, considering the description of Him, compared with statements about Christ in St. John’s Gospel: He comes down from heaven (John 3:13,31; 6:38,58), He has great authority (John 5:27; 10:18; 17:2), and the earth was illumined with His glory (John 1:4-5,9, 14; 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46; cf. 1Tim. 6:16). The expressions parallel those in 10:1, which, as we have seen, are clearly speaking of the Son of God. The last phrase is virtually a repetition of Ezekiel 43:2, where it says of God that “the earth shone with His glory.” Christ Himself, who brings the wrath of god upon the Harlot-City, comes to proclaim her judgment. The destruction of the covenant apostates manifests His authority and glory in the Land.

2          The proclamation of God’s Messenger is consistent (cf. 14:8): Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! Her doom is certain, and thus is spoken of as already completed. This is similar to the funeral dirge Amos sang against Israel:

She has fallen, she will not rise again –

The virgin Israel.

She lies neglected on her land;

There is none to raise her up. (Amos 5:2)

Jerusalem’s apostasy has become so great that her judgment is permanent and irrevocable. She is Babylon, the implacable enemy of God, having become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird, in contrast to the New Jerusalem in 21:27 (“nothing unclean… shall ever come into it”). The Harlot is in a wilderness (17:3), having been made desolate for her sins (17:16; cf. Matt. 24:15; our words wilderness, desert, desolation, and desolate are basically the same word in Greek). The desert is, as we have already noted, the place of sin and demons (Matt. 12:43; cf. Luke 8:27). An important source for this is the original desolation of the world through the demon-inspired rebellion against God (Gen. 3:17-18). Following from this, on the Day of Atonement a goat was driven into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people. This “scapegoat” was, literally, said to be sent to or for “Azazel” (Lev. 16:8, 10, 26),[1] a name for the “goat-demon” who lived in the wilderness.[2] Isaiah had prophesied about the desolation of Babylon:

Desert creatures will lie down there,

And their houses will be full of owls,

Ostriches also will live there,

And goat-demons will frolic there. (Isa. 13:21)

God’s wrath against Edom was phrased in much the same language:

It shall not be quenched night or day;

Its smoke shall go up forever;

From generation to generation it shall be desolate;

None shall pass through it forever and ever.

But pelican and hedgehog shall possess it,

And owl and raven shall dwell in it;

And He shall stretch over it the measuring line of desolation

And the plumb line of void….

And thorns shall come up on its fortified towers,

Nettles and thistles in its fortified cities;

It shall also be a haunt of jackals

And an abode of ostriches.

And the desert creatures shall meet with the wolves,

The goat-demon also shall cry to its kind;

Yes, the night demon [Lilith] shall settle there

And shall find herself a resting place. (Isa. 34:10-14)

Now the Angel’s decree applies the ancient curses to the rebellious Jews of the first century. Because Israel rejected Christ, the entire nation becomes demon-possessed, utterly beyond hope of reformation (d. Matt. 12:38-45; Rev. 9:1-11). Underscoring the tragedy of this is John’s use of the term dwelling place (katoikētērion), a word elsewhere used for the place of God’s special Presence, in heaven, in the holy city, in the Temple, and in the Church; “the Place (katoikētērion) O LORD, which Thou hast made for Thy dwelling, the sanctuary, O LORD, which Thy hands have established” (Ex. 15:17; cf. 1 Kings 8:39, 43, 49; 2 Chron. 30:27; Ps. 33:14; 76:2; 107:7; Eph. 2:22). Jerusalem, which had been God’s dwelling place, has now become the unclean dwelling place of demons.

3          Israel’s abandonment and perversion of her calling as teacher-priest to the nations is again stated to be the reason for her destruction (cf. 14:8; 17:2, 4). She has committed fornication with the nations, with the kings, and with the merchants, prostituting her gifts instead of leading the nations to the Kingdom, joining with them in the attempted overthrow of the King. The stress on the merchants is most likely related to the commercial activities around the Temple (see below, on 18:11-17a). The corruption of Temple commerce affected the liturgy of the nation. All of life flows from the religious center of culture;[3] if the core is rotten, the fruit is worthless. This is why Jesus came into conflict with the Temple moneychangers (Matt. 21:12-13; John 2:13-22). Observing that many of the shops belonged to the family of the high priest, Ford cites Josephus’ characterization of the high priest Ananias as “the great procurer of money.” In particular, “the court of the Gentiles appears to have been the scene of a flourishing trade in animal sacrifice, perhaps supported by the high priestly family.”[4] This would agree with the observation already made, that Babylon is no ordinary prostitute: Her punishment by fire indicates that she is of the priestly class (see on 17:16).

4-5      Since Israel was to be destroyed, the apostles spent much of their time during the Last Days summoning God’s people to a religious separation from her, urging them to align themselves instead with the Church (cf. Acts 2:37-40; 3:19-26; 4:8-12; 5:27-32). This is St. John’s message in Revelation. God’s people must not seek to reform Israel, with its new religion of Judaism, but must abandon her to her fate. The Jews had “tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the Age to come” – the Age brought in by Christ’s redemptive act – and had fallen away. It would be “impossible to renew them again to repentance.” Judaism – the vain attempt to continue the Old Covenant while rejecting Christ ”is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned” (Heb. 6:4-8). Old Covenant religion cannot be revivified; it is impossible to have the Covenant without Christ. There can be no turning “back” to something which never existed, for even the fathers under the Old Covenant worshiped Christ under the signs and seals of the provisional age (1 Cor. 10:1-4). Now that ”the Age to come” has arrived, salvation is with Christ and the Church. Only destruction awaits those who are identified with the Harlot: Come out of her, My people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues (cf. Heb. 10:19-39; 12:15-29; 13:10-14). Time for Israel’s repentance has run out, and by now her sins have piled up [literally, have adhered] to heaven (cf. Gen. 19:13; 2 Chron. 28:9; Ezra 9:6; Jer. 51:9; Jon. 1:2). Jesus had foretold that this crucifying generation would “fill up the measure of the guilt” of their rebellious fathers, and thus that upon them would fall “all the righteous blood shed on earth” (Matt. 23:32-35). This prophecy was fulfilled within the first century, as St. Paul observed: “They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess. 2:15-16).

Therefore, not only religious separation was demanded – that you may not participate in her sins – but physical, geographical separation was necessary as well (cf. Matt. 24:16-21), that you may not receive of her plagues. The language is reminiscent of God’s call to His people to come out of Babylon at the end of the captivity. The Old Testament texts speak in terms of three ideas: the coming destruction of Babylon, the coming redemption of the faithful Covenant people, and the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 1:2-3; Isa. 48:20; 52:11-12; Jer. 50:8; 51:6, 9, 45). Similarly, the New Covenant people were to separate themselves from Israel. The persecutors were about to suffer destruction at God’s hands, the Church’s redemption was drawing near (Luke 21:28, 31), and the new Temple was about to be fully established.

6-8      The righteous Judge demands full restitution: Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her (cf. Jer. 50:15, 29; Ps. 137:8; Isa. 40:2). This command, presumably, is spoken either to the angels of heaven, or to the Roman armies who are the agents of God’s wrath. The expression translated give back double actually has a Hebraic duplication of the term, providing a “double witness,” for purposes of emphasis: Double to her double things. This is the ordinary restitution required by Biblical law (Ex. 22:4, 7).[5] Thus, to the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning. Double (or multiple) restitution in the Bible is not more than the criminal deserves. It is exactly what he deserves – a strict, proportional accounting of wrath according to God’s lex talionis principle of equivalence: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Ex. 21:23-25).

This punishment comes on the Harlot because she says in her heart: I sit as a queen and am not a widow, and will never see mourning – paralleling the boast of the Laodicean church: “I have become rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (3:17). The text is based on God’s condemnation of Babylon in Isaiah 47:6-11, a pronouncement of judgment which would come upon her for mistreating the Covenant people:

You did not show mercy to them,
On the aged you made your yoke very heavy.
Yet you said, “I shall be a queen forever.”
These things you did not consider,
Nor remember the outcome of them.
Now, then, hear this, you sensual one,
Who dwells securely,
Who says in your heart,
“I am, and there is no one besides me.
I shall not sit as a widow,
Nor shall I know the loss of children.”
But these two things shall come on you suddenly in one day:
Loss of children and widowhood.
They shall come on you in full measure
In spite of your many sorceries,
In spite of the great power of your spells.
And you felt secure in your wickedness and said,
“No one sees me.”
Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you;
For you have said in your heart,
“I am, and there is no one besides me.”
But evil will come on you
Which you will not know how to charm away;
And disaster will fall on you
For which you cannot atone,
And destruction about which you do not know
Will come on you suddenly.

Jerusalem has committed the sin of Eve, who committed fornication with the Dragon, in seeking to make herself God (Gen. 3:5); for when she says, “I am,” she contradicts the declaration of the Most High God: “I, even I, am the LORD; and there is no Savior besides Me” (Isa. 43:11). For this reason in one Day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for strong is the Lord God who judges her. The Day of the Lord would come upon Israel in fiery judgment, bringing swift destruction (1 Thess. 5:2-3). The term Day here does not signify some specific duration of time; but it is used here to indicate relative suddenness, as well as emphasizing that the destruction of Jerusalem would be no random occurrence: it was coming as the Day of Judgment. As the priest’s daughter who turned Harlot, she would be burned with fire (Lev. 21:9). After that awful Day came, “there was left nothing to make those who came there believe it had ever been inhabited.”[6]

Reactions to Babylon’s Fall (18:9-20)

  1. And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning,
  2. standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying: Woe, woe, the great City, Babylon, the strong City! For in one hour your judgment has come.
  3. And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more;
  4. cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls; of fine linen, purple, silk, and scarlet; and every kind of citron wood, every article of ivory, and every article made from very costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble;
  5. and cinnamon, incense, perfume, and frankincense; and wine, olive oil, fine flour, and wheat; and sheep and cattle, of horses, of chariots, and of bodies; and souls of men.
  6. And the fruit of your soul’s desire has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them.
  7. The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning,
  8. saying: Woe, woe, the Great City, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls;
  9. for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste! And every shipmaster and everyone who sails anywhere, and every sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance,
  10. and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying: Who is like the Great City?
  11. And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying: Woe, woe, the Great City, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her costliness, for in one hour she has been laid waste!
  12. Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has judged your judgment against her!

9-10    Three classes of people lament for the destruction of Jerusalem. The first group comprises the kings of the earth, the nations of the empire who aided and abetted the faithless Covenant people in their apostasy from God. The destruction of the Harlot is a fearful sign to them of God’s rigorous and inexorable judgment. They see the smoke of her burning – a symbol borrowed from the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19:28) and the later, metaphorical description of the fall of Edom (Isa. 34:10)-and are reminded that a similar judgment on themselves cannot be long in coming. God declared to the prophet Jeremiah that the nations of the earth would be forced to drink the cup of His fierce wrath: “And it will be, if they refuse to take the cup from your hand to drink, then you will say to them, Thus says the LORD of hosts: You shall surely drink! For behold, I am beginning to work calamity in this City which is called by My name, and shall you be completely free from punishment? You will not be free from punishment; for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the LORD of hosts” (Jer. 25:28-29).

The lament of each group ends with the words, Woe, woe, the Great City! This expression would turn out to have great significance for those living in Jerusalem in the years before and during the Tribulation. Josephus tells of a Jewish prophet (interestingly, his name was Jesus) in the Last Days, whose cry of “Woe, woe!” became a familiar aspect of life in the City.

A portent still more alarming had appeared four years before the war at a time when profound peace and prosperity still prevailed in the city [i.e., A.D. 62]. One Jesus, the son of Ananias, an uncouth peasant, came to the feast at which every Jew is expected to put up a tabernacle for God [i.e., the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkoth]; as he stood in the Temple courts he suddenly began to cry out: ”A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the Four Winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Sanctuary, a voice against the Bridegroom and the Bride, a voice against the whole people!” Day and night he uttered this cry as he went about all the alleys.

Some of the leading citizens, seriously annoyed at these ominous pronouncements, laid hold of the man and beat him savagely. But he, without uttering a word in his own defense, or for the private information of those who were beating him, persisted in uttering the same warnings as before. Thereupon, the magistrates, rightly concluding that some supernatural impulse was responsible for his behavior, took him before the Roman governor. There, although flayed to the bone with scourges, he neither begged for mercy nor shed a tear, but, raising his voice to a most mournful cry, answered every stroke with “Woe, woe, to Jerusalem!” When Albinus, the governor, asked him who he was and whence he came and why he uttered these cries, he made no reply whatever, but endlessly repeated his dirge over the city, until Albinus released him because he judged him insane.

Throughout this time, until the war broke out, he never approached another citizen nor was he seen talking to any, but daily, like a prayer that he had memorized, he recited his lament: “Woe, woe, to Jerusalem!” He never cursed any of those who beat him from day to day, nor did he thank those who gave him food; his only response to anyone was that melancholy prediction.

His voice was heard most of all at the festivals. So, for seven years and five months he continued his wail, his voice as strong as ever and his vigor unabated, till, during the siege, after seeing the fulfillment of his foreboding, he was silenced. He was going his rounds, shouting in penetrating tones from the wall, “Woe, woe, once more to the city, and the people and the Temple!” Then, when he added a last word – “And woe to me also!” – a stone hurled from the ballista struck him, killing him on the spot. Thus, with those same forebodings still upon his lips, he met his end.[7]

11-17a The second and largest group of mourners is comprised of the merchants of the Land, weeping because no one buys their cargoes any more. The wealth of Jerusalem was a direct result of the blessings promised in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. God had made her a great commercial center, but she had abused the gift. While there are similarities between the list of goods here and that in Ezekiel 27:12-24 (a prophecy against Tyre), it is likely that the items primarily reflect the Temple and the commerce surrounding it. Ford observes that “foreign trade had a great influence on the holy city, and the temple drew the largest share. The chief items were food supplies, precious metals, luxury goods, and clothing materials.”[8] Josephus described the luxurious wealth of the Temple’s facade (cf. Luke 21:5): “The first gate was 70 cubits high and 25 broad; it had no doors, displaying unhampered the vast expanse of heaven; the entire

face was covered with gold, and through it the arch of the first hall was fully visible to an onlooker without in all its grandeur, and the surroundings of the inner gate, all gleaming with gold, struck the beholder’s eye…. The gate opening into the building was, as I said, completely overlaid with gold, as was the whole wall surrounding it. Above it, moreover, were the golden grapevines from which hung grape clusters as tall as a man. In front of these hung a veil of equal length of Babylonian tapestry embroidered with blue, scarlet and purple, and fine linen, wrought with marvelous craftsmanship…. The exterior of the sanctuary did not lack anything that could amaze either mind or eye. Overlaid on all sides with massive plates of gold, it reflected in the first rays of the sun so fierce a flash that those looking at it were forced to look away as from the very rays of the sun. To strangers as they approached it, it seemed in the distance like a mountain clad with snow; for any part not covered with gold was of the purest white.”[9]

Josephus also records that one of the priests, named Jesus, turned over the treasures of the Temple to Titus: “He came out and handed from over the wall of the sanctuary two lampstands resembling those deposited in the sanctuary, as well as tables, bowls, and platters, all of solid gold and very heavy. He also handed over the curtains, the vestments of the high priests, set with precious stones, and a multitude of other objects required for the Temple services. In addition, the Temple treasurer, Phineas by name, when taken prisoner, disclosed the tunics and girdles of the priests, a large supply of purple and scarlet kept in store for repairing the curtain of the Temple, together with a large supply of cinnamon and cassia and a multitude of other spices, which were blended and burned daily as incense to God. He delivered many other treasures, with an abundance of sacred ornaments….”[10]

In the midst of a lengthy passage describing Jerusalem’s extensive commerce, Edersheim reports: “In these streets and lanes everything might be purchased: the production of Palestine, or imported from foreign lands – nay, the rarest articles from the remotest parts. Exquisitely shaped, curiously designed and jewelled cups, rings, and other workmanship of precious metals; glass, silks, fine linen, woolen stuffs, purple, and costly hangings; essences, ointments, and perfumes, as precious as gold; articles of food and drink from foreign lands – in short, what India, Persia, Arabia, Media, Egypt, Italy, Greece, and even the far-off lands of the Gentiles yielded, might be had in these bazaars. Ancient Jewish writings enable us to identify no fewer than 118 different articles of import from foreign lands, covering more than even modern luxury has devised.”[11]

St. John’s list of trade goods divides into several sections, generally of four items each; the prosaic, businesslike enumeration concludes with a shock:

1)  cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones, and pearls;

2)  of fine linen, purple, silk, and scarlet;[12]

3)  and every kind of citron wood, every article of ivory, and 
every article made from very costly wood, bronze, iron, and 

4)  and cinnamon, incense, perfume, and frankincense; 

5)  and wine, olive oil, fine flour, and wheat; 

6)  and sheep and cattle, even of horses, of chariots, and of 

7)  and souls of men.

The final phrase, adapted from the description of Tyre’s slave traffic in Ezekiel 27:13, is applied to Jerusalem’s spiritual bondage of men’s souls. As St. Paul noted in his contrast of the earthly, apostate Jerusalem with the Church, the heavenly City of God: “The present Jerusalem… is in slavery with her children,” while “the Jerusalem above is free; She is our Mother” (Gal. 4:25-26). Jerusalem trafficked in many goods, from all over the world. In keeping with the promises of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, God had made her into a great commercial center. But she abused God’s gifts: Her most basic trade was in human souls. Instead of fulfilling her proper function as the mother of all mankind, she prostituted herself, and led her children into demonic bondage, statist oppression, and finally annihilation.

Briefly, the narrative turns to address Jerusalem herself: And the fruit of your soul’s desire has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them. By heeding the Serpent and seeking to become as God, the Bride committed apostasy and thus lost access to the fruit she desired [cf. Matt. 21:19, 43]; barred from the Tree of Life, she lost also the other blessings of the Garden, “all things that were luxurious and splendid.”

The merchants of Israel had been enriched, Spiritually and (therefore) materially, from their relationship with Jerusalem; now, at the sight of her destruction, they are helpless to do anything but weep and mourn for the Great City, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls. Again, the description of the Harlot City indicates her identity as apostate Jerusalem, arrayed in the glory of the Temple and dressed in the fine linen of the righteous Bride (19:8). Those who have profited from Jerusalem’s riches are shocked at the suddenness of her destruction: for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste! The expression translated laid waste is, as we should by now expect, desolated: It is the promised desolation of Jerusalem (Matt. 23:38; 24:15, etc.) that is being described. The term hour is not to be taken in a strictly literal sense here, any more than in many other metaphorical uses of the word; rather, it is often used, especially in St. John, to refer to a particularly critical time (cf. Matt. 25:13; Mark 14:41; John 2:4; 5:25,28; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23; 17:1; 1 John 2:18). There is, however, the sense of swiftness. Jerusalem’s destruction was sudden, and even unexpected: right up to the end the people were looking for a miraculous deliverance. The world of apostate Judaism was stunned at the desolation of its City and Temple. The fall of Jerusalem was a shock to the system from which it has never recovered.

17b-19 The third group that mourns for the fallen City is made up of every shipmaster and everyone who sails anywhere and every sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea. They too weep over the loss of Jerusalem, because all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth. Obviously, investment in Israel’s economy ceased to be profitable after A.D. 70, but it seems likely that the mourning of the “seafarers” points to the nations of the world (of which seafaring men would in any case be representatives).

St. John has already spoken of the sea in relation to the Great City: the waters, over which the Harlot is straddled on the Beast, “are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (17:15). He has also listed three classes of people affected by the Harlot’s destruction: “the kings of the earth,” “the merchants of the Land,” and “all who had ships at sea.” These seem to correspond to the threefold designation of those who had been corrupted by the Harlot, given in verse 3: all the nations... the kings of the earth… the merchants of the Land. “Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters” should have been instructed in the ways of the Lord, that they might call upon Him in their distress, that He might show them His Covenant mercy (Ps. 107:23-32). And, indeed, when Israel walked worthy of her calling, the whole world was enriched by her wealth: she had been “a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and truth” (Rom. 2:19-20). When Israel was in fellowship with God and under His Spiritual and material blessing, the nations had come to her both for wisdom and for trade and commerce (Deut. 28:12; 1 Kings 10:23-25). In apostasy, however, trade became a snare, a means of committing fornication with idolaters, and Israel corrupted not only her own children, but the nations of the world as well. She had arrogated to herself the honors of deity, so that the seafarers cried out: Who is like the Great City? (cf. the cry of the worshipers in 13:4: “Who is like the Beast?”). But because she had said in her heart, “I will ascend to heaven…. I will make myself like the Most High,” Jerusalem was cast down to hell (Isa. 14:13-15). In one hour she was laid waste, desolate, never again to be the Great City.

20       There is a fourth response to Jerusalem’s downfall: that of the Church. God’s people are instructed by the angel to rejoice over her. The Church tabernacling in heaven – saints and apostles and prophets – had prayed for the destruction of the apostate, demonized City that led the world in rebellion against God and persecution of His children. As the smoke of the whole burnt offering ascends to heaven, the saints are to rejoice that their prayers have been answered: God has judged your judgment against her! the angel announces, employing a Hebraic pleonasm to express the divine Court’s “double witness” against her. Again we find that the Biblical image of the Church, tabernacled in heaven, is firm in its opposition to evil, praying for God to vindicate His people in the earth. Note well: the judgment on the Harlot is called “your judgment,” the Church’s judgment. It was the just retribution to Israel for her oppression of saints, apostles, and prophets throughout her history, and culminating in the Last Days in her war against Christ and His Church. It was she who had inspired the Roman persecution of Christians; but the heathen wrath which she had stoked up had been poured out on her head instead. If the Church in our age is to proceed from victory to victory as did the Church in the apostolic age, she must recover the triumphalistic perspective of the early saints. The Church must pray for her enemies’ defeat – a defeat that must come either by conversion or by destruction. We are at war, a war in which the definitive victory has been won by our King. All of history is now a mopping-up operation in terms of

that victory, looking forward to the conversion of the world and the final overcoming of Death itself. Our opposition is doomed to perish, and the Church is called to rejoice in the certain knowledge of her earthly vindication and ultimate triumph.

Babylon is Thrown Down [18:21-24]

  1. And a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying: Thus will Babylon, the great City, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.
  2. And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer;
  3. and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the Voice of Bridegroom and Bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all nations were deceived by your sorcery.
  4. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.

21       Jesus had instructed His disciples to pray for the mountain of Jerusalem to be cast into the sea (Matt. 21:21); He had warned the Pharisees that the man who opposed the Gospel and hindered the “little ones” from receiving it would be better off “if he had a millstone hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Luke 17:2; cf. Matt. 18:6; Mark 9:42). Here, in similar language, Jerusalem’s destruction is symbolically portrayed by the dramatic action of a strong angel, the third and final occurrence of this expression in Revelation. In the first (5:2), he is heard calling for someone to open the scroll declaring God’s covenantal judgments on Jerusalem; in the second (10:1ff.), he is seen as the Witness to the New Creation, holding the “little scroll” which spoke of the New Covenant and of the Church’s role in the history of redemption, in the “finishing” of “the Mystery of God” in the Last Days. A related expression is used in 18:1-2, in which an angel with a “strong voice” announces the final doom of Babylon. Now, in fulfillment of all of these, the strong angel casts a great millstone… into the sea. All productivity (the millstone) is gone (cf. v. 23); in contrast to the Church (1 Cor. 15:58), Jerusalem’s labor has been in vain. She and her works are hurled into the Abyss. The Old Testament background of this image comes from the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, according to Moses’ song on the shore, echoed by the song of the Levites at the return from the Babylonian captivity:

The LORD is a warrior;

The LORD is His name.

Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea;

And the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea.

The deeps cover them;

They went down into the depths like a stone….

Thou didst blow with Thy wind, the sea covered them;

They sank like lead in the mighty waters. (Ex. 15:3-5, 10)

Thou didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt,

And didst hear their cry by the Red Sea….

And Thou didst divide the sea before them,

So they passed through the midst of the sea on dry ground;

And their pursuers Thou didst hurl into the depths,

Like a stone into raging waters. (Neh. 9:9-U)

The symbol is also based on the prophetic drama performed by Seraiah, Jeremiah’s messenger of judgment (Jer. 51:61-64). After reading the prophecy of Babylon’s “perpetual desolation,” he tied the scroll to a stone and threw it into the Euphrates, declaring: “Just so shall Babylon sink down and not rise again….” Applying Seraiah’s words to the Harlot, the angel says: Thus will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. How was this fulfilled in A.D. 70, if “Jerusalem” is still standing in the twentieth century? In a physical sense, of course, Jerusalem was not destroyed forever in A.D. 70, any more than Babylon or Edom or Egypt was destroyed “forever.” But prophecy is covenantally and ethically oriented; it is not primarily concerned with geography as such. For example, consider Isaiah’s prophecy against Edom:

Its streams shall be turned into pitch,
And its loose earth into brimstone,
And its land shall become burning pitch.
It shall not be quenched night or day;
Its smoke shall go up forever;

From generation to generation it shall be desolate;
None shall pass through it forever and ever. (Isa. 34:9-10)

This is evocative language, associating the desolation of Edom with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In a “literal,” physical sense, the prophecy was not fulfilled; but it has been fulfilled, in terms of its actual meaning and intent. The ancient territory of Edom still contains trees and flowers, portions of it are used as cropland, and travelers continue to pass through it. As Patrick Fairbairn observed, “Edom was to be stricken with poverty and ruin: Edom, however, not simply, nor chiefly as a land, but as a people. This was what the prophecy foretold, and it has been amply verified…. The Edom of prophecy – Edom considered as the enemy of God, and the rival of Israel – has perished forever; all, in that respect, is an untrodden wilderness, a hopeless ruin; and there, the veracity of God’s word finds its justification.”[13]

Fairbairn explained how Edom is used in prophetic symbolism: “In the latter stages of the history of Israel, the Edomites surpassed all their enemies in keenness and intensity of malice; and hence they naturally came to be viewed by the Spirit of prophecy as the personification of that godless malignity and pride which would be satisfied with nothing less than the utter extermination of the cause of God – the heads and representatives of the whole army of the aliens, whose doom was to carry along with it the downfall and destruction of everything that opposed and exalted itself against the knowledge of God. This is manifestly the aspect presented of the matter in verse 15 of the prophecy of Obadiah; the fate of all the heathen is bound up with that of Edom:

For the Day of the LORD draws near on all the nations;
As you [Edom] have done, it will be done to you;
Your dealings will return on your head;

– that is, in Edom, the quintessence of heathenism, all heathenism was to receive, as it were, its death-blow.”[14]

Moreover, the prophet Amos foretold the subjugation of “Edom” under the rule of the House of David (Amos 9:11-12), and the New Testament interpretation of this text explains it as a prophecy of the conversion of the nations under the government of Christ (Acts 15:14-19). “This clearly implies that the Edom of prophecy, which was doomed to utter prostration and eternal ruin, is only the Edom of bitter and unrelenting hostility to the cause and people of God; that insofar as the children of Edom ceased from this, and entered into a friendly relation to the covenant of God, and submitted to the yoke of universal sovereignty committed to the house of David, instead of breaking it, as of old, from their necks, they should participate in the blessing, and have their interests merged in those of the people on whom God puts His name to do them good. A promise and prospect like this can never be made to harmonize with the result that is obtained from the predicted judgments upon

Edom, as read by the strictly literal style of interpretation; for, according to it, there should be no remnant to be possessed, no seed or place of blessing, as connected with Edom, but one appalling scene of sterility, desolation, and cursing.”[15]

Similarly, the “forever” desolation of Jerusalem means that Israel, as the covenant people, will cease to exist. Jerusalem – as the Great City, the Holy City – will not be found any longer.[16] True, as Romans 11 clearly shows, the descendants of Abraham will be grafted into the covenant again.[17] But they will not be a distinct, holy nation of special priests. They will join the peoples of the world in the saved multitude, with no distinction (Isa. 19:19-25). By His finished work Christ “made both groups [Hebrew and Gentile believers] into one” (Eph. 2:14). They have been united “in one Body,” the Church (Eph. 2:16). There is one salvation and one Church, in which all believers, regardless of ethnic heritage, become children of God and heirs of the promises to Abraham (Gal. 3:26-29; cf. Eph. 2:11-22). Old Jerusalem, the apostate harlot, has been replaced by New Jerusalem, the pure Bride of Christ. There is no salvation outside of the Church.

22-23 As a further indication of the removal of the Harlot’s covenantal status, the angel announces that the blessings of the Garden of Eden will be forever taken away. Alluding both to Jeremiah’s prophecies against the rebellious Jerusalem of his day (Jer. 7:34; 16:9; 25:10; cf. Isa. 24:7-12), and to Ezekiel’s prophecy against the king of Tyre (Ezek. 28:11-19), he pronounces the City’s doom in five parts:

First, there is a fourfold description of the loss of music throughout the entire Land: And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer (cf. the mention of “tambourines” and “flutes” in Ezek. 28:13 [margin]).

Second, the productivity of the Land disappears, as the workman is taken from Israel and cast into the Abyss: No craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer. According to Zechariah, the tyranny of heathen nations over Israel would be restrained by her craftsmen {Zech. 1: 18-20. But, for apostate Israel, this bulwark against oppression will no longer exist.

The third and middle item in the list is significant: The sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer. The image of the Mill was, throughout the ancient world, a symbol of the foundation of the cosmos, grinding out peace and prosperity; the Mill’s destruction signifies the End of the Age.[18] The centrality of the mill in this passage may indicate that the Temple, as the Mill that supports the world, is to be destroyed; Christ has brought in the Final Age.

Fourth, Israel will suffer the loss of God’s Word, of discernment and wisdom, and of eschatological hope: The light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer.

Fifth, the summing-up of Jerusalem’s desolation is that, as the unfaithful wife, the Harlot, she has been cast out and replaced by another: The Voice of Bridegroom and Bride will not be heard in you any longer.

These five points mark several important characteristics of the Jerusalem Temple:

  1. Music – the Levitical orchestra and choir (1 Chron. 25)
  2. Craftsmen – cf. Bezalel, Oholiab, Hiram, etc. (Ex. 31:1-11; 1 Kings 5)
  3. Mill – the Temple itself (the “threshingfloor”; 2 Chron. 3:1)
  4. Lamp – the Lampstand(s) (Ex. 25:31-40; 2 Chron. 4:19-22)
  5. Marriage – the marriage of the Lord and Israel (Ezek. 16:1-14)

The desolation of Jerusalem is said to fall on her for two reasons. First, her merchants were the great men of the Land. This should not seem strange at first glance; much the same could be said of any city in history. In any prosperous economy, merchants will be prominent. But what, in the final analysis, were Israel’s “merchants” trading in? The souls of men (v.13). As Jesus had thundered to the “great men of the Land”: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one convert; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves!” (Matt. 23:15).

The second reason for Jerusalem’s punishment flows from the first: all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. Israel had been the priest to the nations of the world, ordained both to bring them the light of salvation and to offer up sacrifices on their behalf. This should have culminated in the presentation of Christ to the nations as the Light of the world and the true sacrifice for their sins. Instead, Israel rejected Christ, the sum and substance of Biblical religion. By attempting to retain the formal structure of the Old Covenant in its rejection of the New, Israel essentially created a hybrid religion of occult Satan – worship and statism.[19] And she was torn in pieces by her own gods.

24       St. John provides a final clue to the Harlot’s identity in this verse, confirming our interpretation that she represents Jerusalem: In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth. This is a clear allusion to Christ’s condemnation of Jerusalem, at the close of His final discourse in the Temple:

Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, that upon you may fall all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! (Matt. 23:34-37)

This language cannot be used of Rome or any other city. Only Jerusalem was guilty of “all the righteous blood shed on the earth,” from Abel onward. Historically, it was Jerusalem that had always been the great Harlot, continually falling into apostasy and persecuting the prophets (Acts 7:51-52); Jerusalem was the place where the prophets were killed: as Jesus Himself said, “It cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her!” (Luke 13:33-34). St. John’s “Covenant Lawsuit” was true, and effective. Jerusalem was found guilty as charged, and from A.D. 66-70 she suffered the “days of vengeance,” the outpouring of God’s wrath for her agelong shedding of innocent blood.

[1] See the discussion of this point in Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), pp. 231, 234f., 243.

[2] This was not to be interpreted as a sacrifice to the demon himself (Lev. 17:7). Centuries later, the apostate Northern Israelites under Jeroboam did in fact offer worship to this goat-demon (2 Chron. 11:15).

[3] See Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1959); Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1931)

[4] J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary (Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1975), pp. 30lf.

[5] Cf. God’s declaration of judgment against Judah: “And I will first doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted My land” (Jer. 16:18); “Bring on them a day of disaster, and crush them with twofold destruction!” (Jer. 17:18). Contrast with this Isa. 40:2: “Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and call out to her that her warfare has ended, that her iniquity has been removed, that she has received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins.” On the pleonasm as a double witness, see James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), pp. 96, 106; on the laws of restitution, see pp. 134ff.

[6] Josephus, The Jewish War, vi.i.1.

[7] Josephus. The Jewish War, vi.v.3.

[8] Ford. p. 305.

[9] Josephus, The Jewish War, v.v.4, 6.

[10] Ibid., vi.viii.3.

[11] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, two vols. (McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Co., n.d.), Vol. 1, p. 116.

[12] As mentioned earlier (on 17:4), this may well be a reference to the Temple curtain, a “Babylonian tapestry embroidered with blue, scarlet and purple, and fine linen, wrought with marvelous craftsmanship.” Josephus, The Jewish War, v.v.4.

[13] Patrick Fairbairn, The Interpretation of Prophecy (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1865] 1964), p. 221.

[14] Ibid., pp. 22lf.

[15] Ibid., pp. 224f.

[16] This expression is used six times in verses 21-23, connoting the fact that Jerusalem has fallen short – that, like Babylon of old, it has been weighed in the scales and found deficient, and is about to be overthrown, with its kingdom given to others (Dan. 5:25-28).

[17] See David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 125-31.

[18] See Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, Hamlet’s Mill: An Essay on Myth and the Frame of Time (Ipswich: Gambit, 1969). On the symbolism of Samson’s grinding at the mill (Jud. 16:21), see James B. Jordan, Judges: God’s War Against Humanism (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1985), p.273.

[19] On the intimate historical relationship between occultism and statism, see Gary North, Unholy Spirits: Occultism and New Age Humanism (Ft. Worth, TX; Dominion Press, 1986).