Image above is “The ancient city of Babylon, Babel Governorate, Iraq.” Image taken by Dr. Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Context: Rev. 16 describes the actual destruction of Babylon, and must not be separated from chapter 17. Chapter 17 describes Babylon in detail, but only predicts her future destruction.
Chapter 18 laments the destruction which has already occurred in the seventh bowl of wrath.
17 The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple, from the throne, saying, “It is done!”
18 And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake.
19 The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of his wrath.
20 And every island fled away, and no mountains were to be found.
21 And great hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, fell from heaven on people; and they cursed God for the plague of the hail, because the plague was so severe. [ESV]
Doré’s English Bible 1866 “Isaiah’s Vision of the Destruction of Babylon”
public domain image from Wikimedia Commons
God, through an angel, announces Babylon’s judgment and its severe effects, which will come because of her idolatrous seduction of people (18:1-3). (see Beale, p. 381, below).
I. Large nations, from earth’s viewpoint, have the appearance of indestructible power, but God has ultimate power and authority to destroy all godless nations. vs.1
vs. 1 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory.
Notice the difference between power and authority.
Power is the limited ability to exercise one’s will over others. (see Introduction to Sociology, below).
Authority is the absolute ability to bring one’s will to pass, with or without means. Compare Romans 13:1 “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”
Proverbs 21:1-3 is good reminder when we see wicked national leaders acting as if they are all-powerful. Their realm is established by God and is dependent on Him for continuance. (Substitute whatever job title a non-royal leader has today.)
1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.
2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.
3 To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
If we ever doubt the truth of God’s sovereignty over human affairs, we should call to mind Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar from the past. Nearer in history to us are Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao Zedong, etc.
“The ultimate authority of the universe is God Himself. But God delegates authority as He reigns and rules over His creation. God raises up human governments. But if somehow we can look through them, look past them, look over them, and see the One whom the Father has invested with ultimate cosmic authority, namely, Christ Himself, we’ll have an easier time…with our struggle to submit when we recognize we’re submitting ultimately to Christ, because we know He’ll never tyrannize or abuse us” (see Sproul, below).
My mother’s favorite verse still speaks to me when I see the seeming triumph of evil—Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. [NASB]
With this background, we will go into the meaning and application of Rev. 18:1.
The first phrase, “after these things” (meta tauta), is used in the Revelation to indicate a new scene, but it does not indicate chronological progression in the fulfillment of the vision. John sees the angel coming down from heaven to the earth.
The identity of the angel has raised quite a few questions among the commentators. Some have suggested that the angel is actually Christ himself. However, the text says it is “another angel” (allos angellos), which in Greek means “another of the same kind” as we’ve seen in the vision.
The angel of death striking a door during the plague of Rome: an engraving by Levasseur
after Jules-Elie Delaunay. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
This is another of the seven angels which poured out the bowls of wrath on the Beast’s kingdom—Babylon. Oftentimes, angels which are sent on a divine mission possess the glory and splendor of the person sending them. This explains the words “and the earth was illumined from his glory (doxa).” The authority (exousia) he possessed was derived from the one who sent him and was not the angel’s by inherent right.
One of my favorite hymns is “Jesus, the name high over all.” I first heard it quoted by Don Rulison, missionary to Hmong people of southeastern Asia. I met him, his wife and children at EI School of Biblical Training when I was a student and later when I was a teacher. After his wife’s death, he returned to Southeast Asia to live among the Hmong people again until his death. (Pictured above left is Don Rulison and his daughter Annabelle.) Hmong people from all over came to visit him in his closing days.
He often would quote a stanza of a hymn in his sermons. The quotation did not seem related to the sermon, at first. He called this “shooting a random arrow.” His quotation of the first stanza of “Jesus, the Name High over All” was an arrow to my soul which I needed at the time.
1 Jesus, the name high over all,
In hell, or earth, or sky:
Angels and men before it fall,
And devils fear and fly.
3 Jesus the prisoner’s fetters breaks,
And bruises Satan’s head;
Pow’r into strengthless souls He speaks,
And life into the dead.
We must keep our courage up even in the face of seemingly powerful nations that persecute believers. Ancient Babylon was such a nation at one time, but it fell in one night! Daniel 5 records Babylon’s fall—22 And you Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23 but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. 30 That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was killed. 31 And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old. [ESV; emphasis mine]
II. God’s destruction of “Babylon” in the end will be final leaving it empty except for demonic beings. vs. 2
vs. 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.
The tense or the verb “fallen” is the past tense. We put truths in the present tense normally e.g. 2 + 2 is 4, but the Greeks used the past tense e.g. 2 + 2 became 4. We expect the perfect tense in English, and the NIV translates it this way. It is a simple past tense in the Greek used to state a simple fact accomplished. The word translated “home” (katoiketerion) is “dwelling place.” The amplifying word given later is “prison” or ”haunt” (phylakē). Alan F. Johnson says “that the demons inhabit the city’s broken down towers watching for those upon whom they prey” ( see Johnson, A. F. below).
Picture of destroyed city. Copyright © 2014 Beth Immanuel. All rights reserved.
Isaiah 13:19-22 is in John’s mind as he writes—
19 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the splendor and pomp of the Chaldeans, will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.
20 It will never be inhabited or lived in for all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there; no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there.
21 But wild animals will lie down there, and their houses will be full of howling creatures; there ostriches will dwell, and there wild goats will dance.
22 Hyenas will cry in its towers, and jackals in the pleasant palaces; its time is close at hand and its days will not be prolonged.
The word for demon (diamonion) is associated regularly with idolatry, e.g., I Corinthians 10:20-21—
20 No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
And, I Timothy 4:1—Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons… .
The expression “unclean spirits” (pneuma akathartos) is reminiscent of the Gospels. See Luke 9:42—While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
Image from Antipas Ministries ©
The last part of this verse seems strange—”a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.” However, birds are used in the Gospels as symbols of the works of the devil, e.g., see Mark 4:4, 15
4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.
15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.
All three of the images describing Babylon—(1) the home of demons; (2) the haunt of evil spirits; (3) the haunt of unclean birds—are a way of saying that the Lord will give Babylon over to demonic forces and powers. No leaders among human beings will be left. Chaos will pervade Babylon after the 7th bowl is poured out.
III. God will break every enticing aspect of Babylon, so that she has no appeal with which to attract anyone any more. vs 3
vs. 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.”
The usual word for anger or wrath in Greek is thymos. But, here the word most likely means “passion.” The people have been driven crazy through partaking of the woman’s passion. The word translated “adultery” (porneuō) the usual word for sexual immorality of any kind forbidden by Holy Scripture. It does not necessarily imply immorality with a person to whom you are not married. The scarlet woman is a prostitute, not an unfaithful wife. “Immorality’ in Revelation means the worship of the beast instead of the Lamb.”
Etching left is by Arthur Hacker “By the Waters of Babylon” (1888). The woman is dressed in mourning garments.
The word translated “luxuries” (stranos) alludes to the excessive lifestyle that made the merchants rich. Remember in Rev. 6:5-6 that even in times of famine the luxuries were plentiful. The picture seems to be one of extreme riches among the elite contrasted with extreme poverty among the masses. In such conditions the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
I have read of similar incidents to which I was a firsthand witness one day. I had a round trip journey, of 45 minutes each way, from our home in Trenton to Greenwood to teach for several years. In the winter or early spring I saw a lot of “road-kill” on SC-25 going north. One day I saw a hawk feeding on a deer carcass in the road. I could see its eyes darting back and forth from the carcass to my car. I thought surely it will fly at the last second to escape inevitable collision with my car. I guess the meat was too tasty for the bird to fly away and return later like vultures do. I blew my horn, but the bird still fed away. At the last possible minute it thought it could fly to safety, it tried to. However, it hit my car’s grill and plunged into the ditch becoming itself road kill.
The allurements of “Babylon” keep people close to her and benefiting from the association. However, when can such a person stop the attachment to Babylon and escape its inevitable judgment? We only have the next breathe promised. As believers we must step away from Babylon and cling to Christ Jesus our King!
Remember, judgment is inevitable and will occur suddenly. Our Lord warned us in Revelation 16:15 “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”
“The world system is committed to at least four major objectives, which I can summarize in four words: fortune, fame, power, pleasure.”
“First and foremost: Fortune, money. The world system is driven by money; it feeds on materialism.
Second: Fame. That is another word for popularity. Fame is the longing to be known, to be somebody in someone else’s eyes.
Third: Power. This is having influence, maintaining control over individuals or groups or companies or whatever. It is the desire to manipulate and maneuver others to do something for one’s own benefit.
Fourth: Pleasure. At its basic level, pleasure has to do with fulfilling one’s sensual desires. It’s the same mindset that’s behind the slogan: “If it feels good, do it.” (see Swindoll, p. 219, below.)
Let us all bear in mind the Babylons of our day are doomed and will be destroyed and along with all of its inhabitants (the earth-dwellers). We should not get so close to the world’s system that we are judged along with it.
Next time we will see the call from God for His people to cut connection with godless, persecuting people.
(Commentaries on which I rely without direct quotation)
Answers in Genesis. (2010). Accessed 8 March 2021 from https://answersingenesis.org/answers/biblical-authority-devotional/why-is-god-the-ultimate-authority/
Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com
Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 125).
Introduction to Sociology. (n.d.). Accessed 8 March 2021 from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-introductiontosociology/
Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.
Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Sproul, R. C. (2017). “Living under Authority”. Accessed 8 March 2021 from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/living-under-authority/
Swindoll, C. (1987). Living Above the Level of Mediocrity. Dallas, TX: Word Publishing.
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