A Lament for Babylon
A Lament for Babylon
Brad Mills / General
Revelation / Judgment; Idolatry; Harlot / Revelation 18:1–24
Babylon and the beast represent the assault of Satan upon the Church through the seduction of our lustful desires and indulgence of our misplaced fears. Those threats are not finally removed until they are destroyed by Christ at his Second Coming. That can only be seen from a heavenly vantage point. The believer is filled with hope recognizing that the proper view of judgment is to be taken from this eternal perspective.
Another way to view judgment is through the lens of the unbeliever. Their lamentation is filled with shock and regret. They weep and they mourn for what they have lost. Rather than hope, the unbeliever feels angst for the future.
This chapter includes both perspectives, which are the only two options. It illustrates the consequences of an idolatrous life, which warns us to flee from the wrath to come.
Read Revelation 18.
1. The Declaration of Babylon’s Judgment (1-8)
The angel with such “great authority” that his glory lights up the whole earth is probably a Christophany—an appearance of Jesus Christ (1). We know that God will judge the nations through Christ, “judge of the living and the dead” (Ro 2:16; Acts 10:42). “Glory” is a term used exclusively of God or Christ in Revelation.
His “mighty voice” emphasizes his authority to declare judgment upon the harlot Babylon, which will become a ghost town (2). Instead of the city becoming nothing more than a place for birds and wild animals (Isa 13:20-22), Babylon’s judgment symbolizes her spiritual bankruptcy—it will only be fit for uncleanspirits, birds, and beasts.
The severity of her punishment is due to the extent of her influence (3). “All nations” had drunk of her sexual immorality. The immorality of the nations and kings represents their acceptance of Babylon’s corrupt practices and the incorporation of her idolatry into the economy. The merchants had reaped the financial rewards of her power and luxury.
Babylon had seduced the nations to practice idolatry by offering economic security (Beale). This was evident in every Roman occupied territory. The economy was intricately connected to the worship of various trade guild deities. The culture had become drunk with immorality which removed their inhibitions to further indulgence and numbed their sensitivity to God’s warnings.
They had no shame in their idolatry and no fear of the consequences.
Interrupting this declaration of judgment is a brief call for God’s people to flee Babylon (4). If they engage in the corruption of the culture, not only would they participate in her sins, but they would also share in her plagues.
Jeremiah had given the exiles in Ancient Babylon a similar command (Jer 51:6, 45). If they remained in the midst of Babylon when God brought his vengeance upon her, they would not be spared from her punishment. This was the same danger that Lot and his family faced in Sodom. When Lot’s wife longingly looked back upon Sodom and Gomorrah, she turned into a pillar of salt (Gn 19:26).
God has taken account of Babylon’s mountain of sin (5) and she is about to receive her due penalty (6). She would receive pay back that is in direct proportion to the evil she stirred up for the world (“double” is better translated “duplicate”). The measure of her luxury would be turned into a like measure of torment and mourning (7). Her proud boasting will be reversed in a single day (8).
We experience many joys in this life that are the result of cultural engagement. Appreciating sports and novels and entertainment is not bad in and of itself. You do not have to deprive yourself of “culture” in order to honor God. Nor should you feel restricted to listening only to “Christian music”, only reading “Christian books”, only watching “Christian movies”, only cheering for “Christian athletes”, and only voting for “Christian politicians”—as if there were no value whatsoever in secular culture.
What comes under judgment is not the enjoyment of the physical world, but the enjoyment of the corruption of the physical world.
We can appreciate the talent and skill and leadership exhibited in the world, even by those who do not acknowledge God as the giver of those good gifts. God’s “common grace”—the grace that is common to all mankind—ought to be appreciated.
But there is a difference between appreciating God’s common grace and appreciating the corruption of that grace. There is a difference between glorifying the gift and glorifying the Giver of that gift.
Notice who God calls to “come out” from Babylon (4): “my people.” Only those God has set apart as his own chosen people are called to flee Babylon and refrain from taking part in her sins. Those who have been called by God, are also called to follow him out from the world’s corruption.
This is not a call to isolate ourselves from the world. It is not a call to hole up in a bunker and wait for the apocalypse. We are to witness to the world (Re 11:3-7) without being compromised by the world (1 Jn 2:15). We can participate in this world without adopting the sinful values and corrupt principles of this world.
Jeremiah exhorted Babylonian exiles to engage in the life of the culture:
Jeremiah 29:4–7 ESV
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
In the same way, we are called to be salt and light in this world. Our Christian values ought to stand out in the way that we work and play. And as we await Christ’s return in judgment, Jesus warns us to “Remember Lot’s wife” (Lk 17:32). Do not be so enamored by the world that you lose your life trying to preserve what will ultimately be destroyed.
› The declaration of Babylon’s judgment is followed by…
2. The Reaction to Babylon’s Judgment (9-20)
The kings, who had become engrossed by the harlot’s immorality, now mourn her death (9). It is possible that these are the same kings who destroyed her in disgust (Re 17:16), but the text does not identify them with the horns of the beast (Re 17:12). John seems to make a distinction between the kings who committed sexual immorality with her and those who were utilized as the agents of God’s judgment. But, these same kings who “weep and wail over her” also “stand far off, in fear of her torment” (10). Their words suggest lament and astonishment that she is gone so suddenly.
Poythress: They are terrified by the destruction that they see, and they stand far off, fearful of getting caught in the destruction (vv. 10, 15, 17). But they do not repent.
With the death of Babylon, merchants are left to mourn the loss of their financial gain (11). Since her immorality covered every section of the economy, her death brings catastrophic consequences upon every industry in Rome’s corrupt trade system (12-13). The list is partially based upon a list of products found in Tyre Ezek 27:7-25.
These products are the idols that the world lives for, and God is promising to remove them for good (14). Just like the kings, these merchants will also stand far away from Babylon’s fire, fearing her torment (15). They weep and mourn, lamenting her swift death (16-17a).
Tyre, Babylon, and Rome, came under judgment for the corruption of their economy. The devastation these nations experienced, foreshadows the devastation that awaits the world system upon Christ’s return.
Sailors join in the spectacle of fear and lamentation (17b-18). Their bitter lamentation adds more aspects of mourning, but it begins with similar language to the others (19). They too are shocked by how suddenly her death came.
It is a bit unclear who is speaking in verse 20. The ESV has included it with the words of the sailors. However, it makes more sense if these reflect the words of the angel (1) or the voice from heaven (4). Either way, while the death of Babylon is cause for lamentation among the unbelieving world, it is a cause for rejoicing in heaven (20).
We will see the believer’s reaction to the death of Babylon in the next chapter (Re 19:1-4). They will rejoice and praise the God who put an end to her immorality, which is precisely what verse 20 exhorts them to do.
The world’s reaction to the loss of their god shows us what false repentance looks like. They mourn over what they have lost. They are not driven to God in their sorrow. They do not mourn over their indulgence in Babylon’s abominations. They are driven to despair because they have lost what is most precious to them. Paul calls this a “worldly grief” that stands in sharp contrast with “godly grief”:
2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Anyone is capable of lamenting. Everyone mourns their losses. But, only those who are genuine believers mourn their sin as an offense against God. And this repentance is always accompanied by faith that brings salvation.
› Declaration > Reaction…
3. The Devastation of Babylon’s Judgment (21-24)
It seems likely that the same angel who opened a declaration of judgment with a “mighty voice” is now seen as “a mighty angel” who announces the devastation of Babylon’s judgment (21). The great millstone that is thrown into the sea is a depiction of what is about to happen to the great city.
The musicians will be silenced, craftsman will disappear, mill workers will have nothing to mill (22). The lights will go out and marriages will cease, because the economy had been overrun with corruption (23), and she had devoured prophets, and saints, and others (24).
Babylon served the beast by attempting to seduce and entice the saints with temptation. She was responsible for the economic and social hardships that believers face in every age. But she will receive her just reward. Babylon’s immoral music will be silenced forever, while heaven is filled with the sounds of praise.
Beale: Babylon, who removed the joys of life from the saints, will have her own pleasures taken away.
The judgment of idolatry serves a deeper purpose than the display of God’s justice and power. It also serves to point us to the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Jeremiah Burroughs provides page after page of illustrations of man’s depravity in his book The Evil of Evils. But his purpose in doing so is not to leave the reader disgusted with themselves. He writes,
I do this that you may come to know yourselves; that you may come to know Christ; that Christ may be precious in your thoughts; for the special end of Christ’s coming was to take away sin, to deliver from sin.
The devastation of Babylon is incredible news for anyone who hates their sin!
1 John 2:15–17 ESV
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
John goes on to encourage them to prepare for the opposition of the antichrist and to expect people to leave the faith they once professed. Those who know the truth will confess their faith in the Son, which confirms their faith in the Father. In this truth they will abide until they inherit the promise of eternal life.
› On the other hand, Re 18 reveals that…
Idolaters will never be satisfied, but will always lament the loss of whatever they glorified.
By contrast, those who glorify God through faith in Jesus, will find their satisfaction complete in Him!
Exported from Logos Bible Software, 7:33 AM January 27, 2020.