Commentary on Revelation (covers all chapters from 1 thru 22, including Introduction)
Copyright © 2019 by Steve Sewell, Theology First. All Rights Reserved
All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Many Bible teachers view “Babylon the great” in this chapter as a literal city, such as a rebuilt Babylon, Rome, Jerusalem, or even the United States (if you can believe it). However, that interpretation falls far short of the greater picture presented here. As we’ve already learned, “Babylon the great” is symbolic for the world and the whole world system. Thus this chapter is about the end of the world, the end of all mankind on earth. To limit Babylon to a single city or a single religion is to miss the greater object in view.
Some Bible teachers also separate chapters 17 and 18. They view the Babylon of chapter 17 as religious Babylon, and the Babylon of chapter 18 as political/commercial Babylon. That’s a common premillennial interpretation. First, as already stated, I believe these interpretations are too limiting. But also, there is nothing in these two chapters or in this whole book that suggests that we’re dealing with two different types of Babylons. That’s an idea that must be forced or assumed. I make a case for the identity of Babylon below (for a broader view of Babylon, see my commentaries on chapters 14, 16 and 17).
This chapter literally portrays the end of all things of our world—with an emphasis on the physical aspect of it, which may involve a combination of God’s direct judgment and the release of nuclear weapons (see commentary Rev 16). For an Old Testament view of this same end of the world judgment, read Isaiah chapter 13. This is immediately followed by the resurrection of those judged (all unbelievers), the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15), the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:7-9), and the Eternal Kingdom of the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1-3).
Same Event: The judgment of “Babylon the great” is the destruction of the harlot (Rev 17:16-17); the harvest of the world, “the great winepress, of the wrath of God” (Matt 23:36-42; Rev 14:17-20); the sixth seal (Rev 6:12-17); the seventh trumpet (Rev 11:15-19); the seven bowl judgments (chapter 16); the war of Armageddon (Rev 16:13-16); the return of Christ in judgment (Rev 19:11-21); the war of Gog and Magog (Rev 20:7-10). These are not different events, but different views of the same event.
Reasons for identifying Babylon the Great as the entire world and its system:
1 – The last verse in this chapter is a key:
(Rev 18:24) – 18:24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that have been slain upon the earth.
If John had stopped with “the blood of prophets and of saints,” there might be a little room for a different interpretation. However, “the blood of all that have been slain upon the earth,” can only refer to the death of all people at the hands of a worldwide system, and not a particular city or system of belief.
2 – In the two places where “Babylon the great” is mentioned in this book, outside of chapter 17 and 18, it’s in the context of God’s judgment upon the world:
3 – A careful comparison of the “great city” of this chapter (verses 10,16,18,19,21) and of Rev 11:8, 16:19, 17:18, provide a picture of the world, not of a particular city (please see commentary on those passages).
4 – The heavenly celebration of Rev 19:1-6 (which connects the events of chapter 18), reveal more than the celebration of the defeat of a certain city or belief system:
(Rev 19:1) – 19:1 After these things I heard as it were a great voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, Hallelujah; Salvation, and glory, and power, belong to our God:
This is obviously a great celebration in Heaven about a major event that took place on earth.
(Rev 19:2) – 19:2 for true and righteous are his judgments; for he hath judged the great harlot, her that corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.
This “great harlot,” which is Babylon the great, has been judged because she “corrupted the earth with her fornication.” This harlot is responsible for the corruption of the entire earth. This cannot refer to a single city or a single belief system, but can only describe a world system that affects all people. Furthermore, John says that God “avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.” This refers to all of God’s servants who are persecuted and martyred for Christ throughout history. This cannot possibly be due to a single city or a single belief system. The shed blood of God’s people all around the world, throughout history, can only be attributed to a worldwide system that opposes the truth of Christ and His people. (1 John 2)
(Rev 19:3-4) – 19:3 And a second time they say, Hallelujah. And her smoke goeth up for ever and ever. 19:4 And the four and twenty elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God that sitteth on the throne, saying, Amen; Hallelujah.
Compare the celebration and worship in the passage below (seventh trumpet) with this passage in chapter 19. The “twenty-four elders” and God’s “reign” (verse 19:6) are mentioned in both passages. A careful comparison of both passages reveal the celebration and worship of the same event, which is clearly God’s judgment upon the world and its whole system—not just a single city or single belief system. Both reveal the end of the world and the beginning of God’s eternal reign:
(Rev 11:15-19) – 15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there followed great voices in heaven, and they said, The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign for ever and ever. 16 And the four and twenty elders, who sit before God on their thrones, fell upon their faces and worshipped God, 17 saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who art and who wast; because thou hast taken thy great power, and didst reign. 18 And the nations were wroth, and thy wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged, and the time to give their reward to thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to them that fear thy name, the small and the great; and to destroy them that destroy the earth. 19 And there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven; and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant; and there followed lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail.
(Rev 19:5) – 19:5 And a voice came forth from the throne, saying, Give praise to our God, all ye his servants, ye that fear him, the small and the great.
If “Babylon the great” was a particular city or a particular belief system that only affected one group of people during a certain time in history, why would “all” of God’s servants be instructed to “give praise to our God?” That would make no sense. What does make sense is that they all have a common enemy – throughout history – and that common enemy can only be a general worldwide system that is in opposition to God and His people. “Babylon the great” has to be that world system. It has to be the whole world.
(Rev 19:6) – 19:6 And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunders, saying, Hallelujah: for the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigneth.
Again, the mention of God’s “reign” that is also in Rev 11:15,17, indicates that the two passages are dealing with the same event, which is God’s judgment upon the world—the end of the world.
5 – The “wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Babylon), is compared to the “wine of the wrath of God” in the context of God’s judgment upon the world:
(Rev 14:8) – 14:8 And another, a second angel, followed, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, that hath made all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
(Rev 17:2) – 17:2 with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and they that dwell in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her fornication.
(Rev 18:3) – 8:3 For by the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen; and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth waxed rich by the power of her wantonness.
(Rev 14:8-10) – 8 And another, a second angel, followed, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, that hath made all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. 9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a great voice, If any man worshippeth the beast and his image, and receiveth a mark on his forehead, or upon his hand, 10 he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
Major key: Notice that “Babylon the great” and “the wine of the wrath of her fornication” is mentioned first. Then the “beast and his image” is mentioned. Then John associates the “wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Babylon) with the “beast and his image” by referring to the “wine of the wrath of God.” What this passage reveals is what I’ve been saying all along, that Babylon the Great is the beast and his image of Revelation—because the beast is the kingdom of darkness, and his image is the kingdom of the world. Babylon is the world and its system. The two are one and the same. The judgment of God is upon both because they are the same.
(Rev 16:19) – 16:19 And the great city was divided into into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.
Again notice that “Babylon the great” receives the “cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath,” just as God gave “the beast and his image” the “wine of the wrath of God.” Again, the two are the same.
There should be no doubt that “Babylon the great” is symbolic for the whole world and its whole world system.
6 – The context of this chapter (18) itself reveals a worldwide judgment, and not a judgment of a particular city or a particular religious system.
7 – It only makes sense that we would be given a visual of the end of our world, just as we’re given a visual of the Eternal Kingdom in the last two chapters of Revelation. Neither go into a lot of detail, but enough detail to recognize that we’re seeing the end of one world and the beginning of another. That is, the beginning of God’s Eternal Kingdom where the Father and Son will reign forever and ever.
(Rev 18:1) – 1 After these things I saw another angel coming down out of heaven, having great authority; and the earth was lightened with his glory.
In the very first verse we’re given a major clue that this judgment is on a worldwide scale. “The earth” speaks of a global event. This indicates a judgment on the whole world—on all the sin, all the evil, all the false gods and false religions, all the philosophies of the world, and on all those who oppose the truth—which at that point in time, only unbelievers are on the earth. The resurrection of the redeemed has already occurred just prior to this judgment (see commentary on Rev 11).
Of course, reference to the earth also indicates that this judgment includes the physical part of the world, which is what’s primarily in view in this chapter. The surface of earth will be almost completely destroyed: the cities, the mountains, the islands. And the oceans and lakes and all streams of water will be completely contaminated. This is a judgment on all mankind and of the earth they inhabit. I believe this could be via the release of nuclear weapons (see commentary Rev 16).
The “glory” of this angel should be understood as the glory of God, as a reflection of His glory. God is glorified through this judgment, as the holy and Sovereign God of the universe, who is light and truth.
(Rev 18:2) – 2 And he cried with a mighty voice, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, and is become a habitation of demons, and a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hateful bird.
LEB – 2 And he cried out with a powerful voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen [is] Babylon the great, and it has become a dwelling place of demons and a haunt of every unclean spirit and a haunt of every unclean bird and a haunt of every unclean and detested animal.
Because of manuscript differences, many modern translations include the last phrase of the verse: “and a haunt of every unclean and detested animal.” A few of the translations that include this phrase are the NET, ESV, NIV, NRSV.
Notice that there is no mention of people—just demons, birds and animals. This could be figurative language to put the focus on the judgment of mankind and the world that they loved. However, it could also be the same thing that’s described in Rev 19:17-21. In the early stages of this judgment, birds and animals will feed off the dead bodies of people around the world. Eventually, however, all mankind, beast and bird will be destroyed.
As for the mention of demons, they are spirit, and it’s the judgment of the physical things of the world that are primarily in view in this chapter. However, that does not mean that they and their kingdom of darkness is not also judged. They are all cast into the lake of fire with all those whom they deceived (Matt 25:41; Rev 19:20; 20:10-15).
(Rev 18:3) – 3 For by the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen; and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth waxed rich by the power of her wantonness.
NET – 3 For all the nations have fallen from the wine of her immoral passion, and the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have gotten rich from the power of her sensual behavior.”
ESV – 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.”
Other translations, like the ESV, has “drunk” instead of “fallen.” Whichever is correct, the meaning is the same. The nations have “fallen” due to their “drunkenness.” The people of the world fall due to drunkenness from their sins and teachings and values of the world system.
“the wine of the wrath of her fornication”
“the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality,
The “passion” described here is one of “wrath” or anger or rage.
Verses 2 and 3 are basically a repeat of Rev 14:8:
(Rev 14:8) – 14:8 And another, a second angel, followed, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, that hath made all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
Since I already went into extensive detail on this verse, I invite you to read the commentary on that. See also the commentary on Rev 17:2.
As I mentioned in the introduction (#5), the fact that “Babylon the great” is mentioned in the context of God’s judgment upon the world in Rev 14 (also Rev 16:19), reveals that we’re seeing the same thing in this chapter.
(Rev 18:4) – 4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come forth, my people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues:
NET – 18:4 Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, so you will not take part in her sins and so you will not receive her plagues,
I believe this has a dual meaning. First, God’s people are to come out from among the world and be separate (2 Cor 6:17) in the way we live our lives. We’re not to live as those who do not have Christ. Second, I believe this primarily refers to our resurrection. This judgment upon “Babylon” is upon unbelievers only. The resurrection of the redeemed occurs right before this judgment.
I believe the reference to “her plagues” is what we see in the seven bowl judgments of chapter 16—which, again, I believe could involve the release of nuclear weapons around the world. In other words, when God pours out His wrath on the world – which the physical world is included – I think it’s likely that it set off the nuclear weapons of the world. It’s a logical outcome.
Let’s think about what John is saying in this verse. Why would there be so much focus on a single city or a particular religious system, when the description of this verse applies to every Christian wherever they live, and at every point in history? It makes far better sense that what’s being revealed here is the judgment of the whole world and its system—which of course, would include all the false religions and philosophies of the world.
(Rev 18:5) – 5 for her sins have reached even unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.
What I said in the last paragraph of verse 4, applies here as well.
(Rev 18:6) – 6 Render unto her even as she rendered, and double unto her the double according to her works: in the cup which she mingled, mingle unto her double.
NET – 6 Repay her the same way she repaid others; pay her back double corresponding to her deeds. In the cup she mixed, mix double the amount for her.
Whatever the people of the world system inflicted upon the people of God, it will multiplied to her in judgment.
(Rev 18:7) – 7 How much soever she glorified herself, and waxed wanton, so much give her of torment and mourning: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall in no wise see mourning.
NET – 7 As much as she exalted herself and lived in sensual luxury, to this extent give her torment and grief because she said to herself, ‘I rule as queen and am no widow; I will never experience grief!’
The pride of the world, those who exalted themselves against Christ and His people, will be severely judged. God hates pride. It’s only as one humbles themselves before God via faith in Christ, that one escapes His judgment.
(Rev 18:8) – 8 Therefore in one day shall her plagues come, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire; for strong is the Lord God who judged her.
I believe this is likely figurative language to represent short duration, because in verses 10,17, and 19, we’re told that her judgment comes in “one hour.” Therefore, both phrases represents sudden destruction, however long that is. It could actually be a few days—which is what I tend to believe.
“burned with fire”
As I’ve already stated, I believe this could be the result of nuclear explosions, which will incinerate the whole world. Again, this would be the “plagues” of Rev 16. I believe this is part of the means by which God “judges her” (Rev 17:15-18).
(Rev 18:9-10) – 9 And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived wantonly with her, shall weep and wail over her, when they look upon the smoke of her burning, 10 standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.
“the great city, Babylon”
As I’ve already explained, this is the world and the whole world system that opposes Christ and His truth.
This provides us with a scene of the last days of mankind on earth. All the ungodly leaders (“kings”) of the earth – throughout history – who lived according to the world belief system, are said to have “committed fornication” with her (vs. 3). Since I believe that this “burning” is likely the result of the release of nuclear weapons, I believe the leaders of the world will “weep” with regret at what they’ve done when they see the destruction of the entire world at their hands. Keep in mind that this is a scene of the early stages of the earth’s destruction. Eventually, of course, all the people of the world will also go up in “smoke.” I believe this scene indicates that God will give people plenty of time for the reality of the consequences of their sins and of their rejection of Christ to sink in.
(Rev 18:11-14) – 11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, for no man buyeth their merchandise any more; 12 merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stone, and pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet; and all thyine wood, and every vessel of ivory, and every vessel made of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble; 13 and cinnamon, and spice, and incense, and ointment, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and cattle, and sheep; and merchandise of horses and chariots and slaves; and souls of men. 14 And the fruits which thy soul lusted after are gone from thee, and all things that were dainty and sumptuous are perished from thee, and men shall find them no more at all.
Verses 11-14 provide a snapshot of common life in the world. The “merchants of the earth” are the business people of the world, which covers every type of enterprise. Buying and selling is how the world functions. It represents everything we have and do. It represents normal life in the world. And here, we’re seeing the end of it—the end of all things of this world.
(Rev 18:15-19) – 15 The merchants of these things, who were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning; 16 saying, Woe, woe, the great city, she that was arrayed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stone and pearl! 17 for in one hour so great riches is made desolate. And every shipmaster, and every one that saileth any whither, and mariners, and as many as gain their living by sea, stood afar off, 18 and cried out as they looked upon the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like the great city? 19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and mourning, saying, Woe, woe, the great city, wherein all that had their ships in the sea were made rich by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.
Verse 15-19: See verses 9-10.
In regard to verse 16, this description represents the wealth and values of the world. We live in a very materialistic world. People lust and strive after “riches.” The riches of this world are the god of many, and they will “weep and mourn” as they see their god being destroyed, as they realize that their life of riches and power and pleasure are all coming to an end.
(Rev 18:20) – 20 Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye saints, and ye apostles, and ye prophets; for God hath judged your judgment on her.
This “judgment” upon the world, will lead to the throne of judgment of Rev 20:11-15. The people of the world will be judged by the very One whom they hated and rejected.
All of God’s people throughout history will “rejoice” over the destruction of the world and its anti-Chrisian system. The world opposes Christ and His people. The people of God have endured much persecution and suffering and death at the hands of the ungodly. But in the end, we win (vs. 6)! We have all eternity in the presence of God to look forward to, while the people of the world will spend eternity away from God. This is what a love for the world leads to.
This should cause every professing Christian to evaluate their heart and the kind of life they’re living to make sure it’s the Christian life they’re living, and not the same life of those who belong to the kingdom of the world.
(Rev 18:21) – 21 And a strong angel took up a stone as it were a great millstone and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with a mighty fall shall Babylon, the great city, be cast down, and shall be found no more at all.
This “millstone” being cast into the ocean, is of course, symbolic. It provides a picture of worldwide destruction, and not simply the destruction of a single city—for all the oceans of the world are connected. This is actually a key verse in determining the extent of this judgment. The world will be “no more at all.”
(Rev 18:22-23) – 22 And the voice of harpers and minstrels and flute-players and trumpeters shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft, shall be found any more at all in thee; and the voice of a mill shall be heard no more at all in thee; 23 and the light of a lamp shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the princes of the earth; for with thy sorcery were all the nations deceived.
As with verses 11-14, music, manufacturing, marriage, business people, all represent normal life in our world. We continue to see the end of all these things here.
“for with thy sorcery were all the nations deceived”
This “sorcery” represents all that opposes the truth. The world belief system casts its “magic spells” (NET) upon the nations, and by those spells, the people of the world are deceived.
(Rev 18:24) – 24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that have been slain upon the earth.
“All that have been slain,” refers to all people, no matter what the cause of death—for the evil system of the world slays all who follow her, which ends in eternal separation from God.
I think that it’s significant that this chapter ends with a major clue as to the extent of this judgment—in case there’s any doubt about it. As I discussed in the introduction, “all that have been slain upon the earth” can only refer to all people throughout history who have been slain. It’s not possible for a single city to be responsible for the death of every person of the world, throughout every era of history.
Of special note, are the “prophets and saints.” These are all who have been “slain” because of their testimony for Christ.
As we’ve seen throughout this commentary, the book of Revelation is a book that highlights the persecution of God’s people. But it also highlights the eternal rewards of those who remain faithful.