BABYLON’S FALL Revelation 18–19
“Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!” (Rev. 18:10)When Christ intervenes, all the world holds to be important will be and mean nothing at all.
Babylon has both historic and symbolic significance throughout Scripture. Babel was the site of man’s first banding together to build a city, and a tower, “that we might make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:1–5). Later the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar served as the symbol of ultimate worldly power and wealth, and the temporary conqueror of God’s people. The prophets rail against the pride and arrogance of Babylon; a pride rooted in military success and wealth. It is little wonder that here in Revelation the name “Babylon the Great” is given to human civilization itself. Mankind bands together, not to serve God and neighbor, but to make a profit, and enjoy luxuries which all too often are exacted from the poor and the oppressed. In Revelation’s picture of the fall of Babylon the Great at history’s end, we read God’s evaluation of worldly society itself. We read His contempt for the greed that motivates us, for the avarice that makes us passionately desire luxuries over justice, and for all our craving for power. As we read of Babylon the Great, and observe its fall, we remember the verdict expressed in John’s first letter: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything that is in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15–17).
An angel announces the end of human civilization, “Babylon the Great” (18:1–20). The judgment is carried out (vv. 21–24), to heavenly Hallelujah’s (19:1–10). At last the heavens open, and Christ is revealed at the head of heaven’s armies, as King of kings and Lord of lords (vv. 11–16). Earth’s armies gather for a last desperate stand, only to be crushed by Christ Himself (vv. 17–21).
Understanding the Text
“A home for demons” Rev. 18:1–3. Babylon is a place where demons feel comfortable, because the values expressed in the society Babylon represents are at such odds with the values of our God. We must be careful, lest in valuing the wrong things, we find ourselves at home with evil (see DEVOTIONAL). “Come out of her, My people” Rev. 18:4–8. The power and luxuries enjoyed by the men and women of this world are real enough. But they are devastating to the spiritual life. The greatest danger in having many possessions is that in time they begin to possess you. God has given us all things richly to enjoy. But nothing must become more important to us than God. And no thing must become more important than a brother in need. Babylon is condemned because her people value material possession so much that they willingly commit crimes against their fellow man. One of the greatest discoveries of my life came when I realized, after purchasing my first car, that I did not really care whether I had it or not. Since then I have lived alone in a single room, and been the owner of a fine, large house. And learned that there is no real difference to being with and being without. Enjoy the things God gives you. But in your heart surrender them so perfectly to God that if He should take them all, you would suffer not one moment’s grief. “They will weep and mourn” Rev. 18:9–17. In 1929, as the stock market crashed, many a New Yorker opened his windows, and jumped. They would understand completely the grief expressed in Revelation 18, for they too cried out, “All your riches and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.” Because they mistook the shadow for reality, the passing scene for stability, and the temporal for the eternal, they were unable to withstand the sense of loss. How terrible to be a citizen of Babylon. How much better to fix our gaze and hopes on heaven. “All who earn their living from the sea” Rev. 18:17–20. Again, the sea represents mankind. Those who earn their living from the sea are those whose whole grasp of life’s meaning is bound up in society’s material values. As civilization, with its wealth and splendor, comes crashing down at history’s ends, such men will weep. But the saints, apostles, and prophets of God will rejoice. Perhaps we should rejoice even now when we experience reverses. To lose what we cannot keep, that your desires may again be fixed on what we cannot lose, is great profit indeed. “The light of a lamp will never shine in you again” Rev. 18:21–24. The world created by lost humanity is doomed to endless destruction. In biblical times a light was always kept burning in a family’s home at night. Even the poor kept a single lamp lit. For one’s “lamp to go out” symbolized an empty and abandoned home. And so it is with Babylon. When with great violence God overthrows Babylon, that city of the lost will never be built again. Remember that, as you watch the endless stream of commercials that try to convince you that you must possess more and more. Babylon’s light will soon go out, never to shine again. The spells that led all the names astray will crumble into dust. And those who resisted Babylon’s allure will know an endless joy. “Hallelujah!” Rev. 19:1–10 The scene again shifts to heaven. There the fall of Babylon is a cause for rejoicing. God now reigns. And all the saints will celebrate at the wedding supper of the Lamb. The symbolism here is powerful too. In the Old Testament God is pictured as the Husband of Israel. In the New Testament Christ is the Bridegroom, the church His chosen bride. In biblical times the joining of the betrothed occasioned a week-long celebration. Friends and neighbors feasted, danced, and sang as they shared the newly married couple’s joy. The wedding supper thus joyously marked the inauguration of the rest of life: a life in which two who had been separate would now be one. Just so with us. Earth’s tragic tale is ended. Babylon lies in ruins. And at last Bridegroom and bride sit down together at the nuptial feast. For all eternity ahead life will be new. And they will at last be one. “Kings of kings and Lord of lords” Rev. 19:11–21. Christ now and at last leads armies of angels that snuff out mankind’s last resistance to His rule. Satan is bound. The beast and false prophet are summarily condemned to the lake of fire. And as for the rest, “the rest of them were killed with the sword that comes out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorge themselves on their flesh.”
O Babylon!(Rev. 18:1–13)
The city of man. John writes, “She has become a home for demons.” If you wonder why, and want a standard against which to compare Babylon, choose Eden. In Eden man lived in harmony with nature. An intimate relationship existed between Adam and Eve, and the first pair and God. The scene is pastoral; the dominant impression is one of harmony and simple joys. In the quiet of Eden there is time to contemplate; time to discover; time to grow and to become. In contrast the clamor of construction echoes throughout Babylon. The city rumbles with activity. Bustling crowds rush here and there, eager for success, zealous to gain some new luxury. God’s gentle rule is replaced by an authoritarian government that maintains its power by serving the passions of its citizens, and carelessly crushing those who oppose. Shops filled with unnecessary goods stimulate citizens to greater effort to gain more. Everywhere in Babylon there is luxury without satisfaction, achievement without delight, success without fulfillment. In the mad rush of Babylon mankind is caught up in the pursuit of the meaningless. In the lights of the city mankind’s eyes are blinded to the real issues of life, even as a moth is drawn to the flame that snuffs out its life. Babylon is a trap, crafted by Satan, populated by the foolish, filled with the detestable, rich in material wealth but utterly poverty-striken in the coin of heaven. Babylon is a home for demons, a snare for humankind. In the coming year, guard your motives, and keep watch over your desires. Babylon is here around us. Do not let her seduce you.
Learn to see the demonic in what to others seems to give life meaning.
“The final chapter of human history is solely God’s decision, and even now He is everywhere active in grace or judgment. Never in all history have men spoken so much of end-time, yet been so shrouded in ignorance of God’s impending doomsday.”—Carl F.H. Henry