Revelation 18 Commentary: The Fall of Babylon Like A Millstone

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Please click here for a previous study on Revelation 17: Great Harlot.
Revelation 18:1-3: After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! 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 through the abundance of her luxury."

Our previous chapter closed with the story of the end of human history. We saw the world deceived by Satan and joining with him in a hopeless war against God. Will God permit the inhabitants of the world to fall into this mistake without giving them an adequate warning? No, His love is greater than that. Something very wonderful must come first.

John sees a mighty angel come down from heaven, and as one would watch a movie on a cinema screen, he sees our world from the viewpoint of an angel in heaven. The entire world is encircled with a glorious light reflected from this special angel's message.

Never has a Good News message from heaven penetrated so thoroughly into all the world. After Christ's ascension the apostles preached to all the then-known world, and great were the results of their work (see Colossians 1:6). But the inhabited world is much larger now, and there are many times more people in it. The work of this mighty "angel" far surpasses that of the early church.

In Bible lands farmers sowed their seed in time for the "early rain" which came just at the right time to make the seed germinate. Towards the end of the season, as the crops of grain neared the time for maturing, a second rainy season known as the "latter rain" came, and ripened the grain in time for the harvest.

The Bible likens the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles on the day of Pentecost to the early rain" of the gospel; and the "latter rain" is that which comes at the close of earth's great "harvest" (See Joel 2:23-32). That final outpouring of God's Spirit is the work of this mighty "angel."

It would not be fair for God to bring judgments on great Babylon without giving her one last warning. Heretofore it has been difficult to arrest the attention of the multitudes. But the Holy Spirit now gives God's servants power to tell the truth so clearly and forcefully that light is flashed into every human heart. Every nation, city, village, even every home, hears the warning cry. Prejudices and misunderstandings which have prevented many from considering God's last message of truth for the world are swept away; and Christ and His truth are uplifted and glorified.

The second angel's message said, "Babylon is fallen" (See Revelation 14:8). Since that message was first given, Babylon has continued to "fall" ever deeper. As she has persistently rejected truth from heaven, unclean spirits have entered into her. Not yet has her "fall" become complete; but the time is near when the startling message of this fourth mighty angel from heaven will be completely applicable.

The most effectual way a murderer could claim his victim would not be to openly feed him straight, undiluted poison; but to mix it cleverly with good food. Such is Satan's method to seduce the world.

For the superpowers in a hungry world to spend over a million dollars a minute for armaments, is crazy. Surely a visitor from another planet would think we are mad. Christ came to the world as the "Prince of peace." What creates war is not the acceptance of His message, but its rejection. And to ensure its rejection, Satan invented the confusion of Babylon. Lenin was mistaken because he did not understand the Book of Revelation: true Christianity is not the "opiate" of the people. The difficulty is caused by its clever perversion perpetrated by "Great Babylon."

What is the "Wine of the wrath" of Babylon's false teachings? This teaching is indirectly responsible for the increase of crime and violence in the world today:

(1) Religious teachers proclaim that the law of God is either no longer binding upon men, or that it cannot be obeyed. This naturally leads to lawlessness.

(2) A man-made sabbath imported from sun-worship is exalted in place of the seventh-day Sabbath of the Lord. This also casts contempt on the law of God.

(3) With the neglect of the Sabbath, the Bible doctrine of creation is also denied by most modern churches. No longer is it believed that man was created "in the image of God" as Genesis tells us. What follows naturally is the jungle rule of "survival of the fittest," or dog-eat-dog.

(4) Whereas the Bible clearly teaches that baptism is a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ repeated in the experience of the believer, many churches teach that sprinkling or pouring a little water on the head of an infant is sufficient. Meaningful commitment to Christ is thus undermined. This mistaken understanding of baptism hides the truth that self must be crucified and buried with Christ, and the soul rise to a radical newness of life in Christ.

(5) Seldom does one hear Christ-centered, Bible-centered sermons in the many churches today. It is no longer common practice for the professed followers of Jesus to "search the scriptures." The prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation are particularly neglected. The only truth that can effectively conquer sensuality and materialism is silenced.

(6) The precious doctrine of the sanctuary in heaven where Christ is now ministering as our High Priest in His closing work of atonement is wholly lost sight of in the churches of Babylon. The result is that they have no knowledge of the special work that Christ is doing today. Thus they are unprepared to follow Him by faith in His work of making a people ready for His second coming.

(7) Whereas the apostles taught the followers of Christ not to "love the world, or the things in the world," pride, luxury, and display are as common in the professed churches of Christ as in the ungodly world itself. "Know this, that in the last days . . . men will be lovers of themselves, . . . lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

(8) Scripture teaches us, "Whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). Yet the churches of Babylon have almost entirely ceased from giving any instruction in harmony with Scripture about healthful living or control of appetite. No distinction is made between the "clean" and "unclean" foods (see Leviticus 11), nor is there generally any teaching given concerning the moral and physical evils of the use of tobacco, intoxicating drinks or other harmful things.

(9) The doctrine that the lost are forced to endure eternal consciousness in the fires of hell has driven many thoughtful people to hate God for such terrible and unjust cruelty. Many professed Christians who still attend church doubt much of the Bible because they cannot bring themselves to believe a doctrine that is so obviously cruel and untrue. This error rests on still another one:

(10) The first lie Satan ever told in the garden of Eden was, "You will not surely die" (Genesis 3:4). The ancient heathen religions without exception incorporated that lie and taught that the dead are still alive. This false doctrine was passed on to the popular churches of today. If the dead are still alive, is it not the next logical step for them to come and visit with us and talk with us? This is Spiritualism itself and is one of the most dangerous false doctrines of Babylon, and will eventually make the nations "drunk." Evil angels who fell from heaven with Satan pretend to be the spirits of the dead. In this way they can gain complete control over the minds of those who do not know the truth.

Unscriptural ideas about Israel also make the nations "drunk." The Middle East is the sizzling fuse of the powder keg of world war. False ideas of prophecy about Israel add to this confusion.

Revelation 18:4-8: And I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix for her double. In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, 'I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.' Therefore her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her."

The voice of-the Holy Spirit calls God's people to awaken from their sleep. They must separate themselves from those churches which are soon to suffer the just reward of their apostasy. One writer has said:

Notwithstanding the spiritual darkness, and alienation from God, that exist in the churches which constitute Babylon, the great body of Christ's true followers are still to be found in their communion. There are many of the these who have never seen the special truths for this time. Not a few are dissatisfied with their present condition, and are longing for clearer light. They look in vain for the image of Christ in the churches with which they are connected. As these bodies depart further and further from the truth, and ally themselves more closely with the world, the difference between the two classes will widen, and it will finally result in separation. The time will come when those who love God supremely can no longer remain in connection with such as are "lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:4).

Will God's people listen to this voice and come out of Babylon? Yes, every one! Jesus says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27). The people of God will be like Matthew when he was sitting at his table receiving money as a publican. When Jesus passed by, He said, "Follow me. So he left all, rose up, and followed Him" (Luke 5:27, 28).

Revelation 18:9-13: "And the kings of the earth who have committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.' And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men."

John sees the symbolic fall of Babylon as though it were a literal seaport city in flames. The "merchants" in their ships and kings stand far out at sea bewailing the loss of the city where they had intended to bring their cargoes for profit. Some of these "merchants of the earth" are literal businessmen who have become rich through trade and commerce supported by Babylon. Others of the "merchants" may be priests, prelates, cardinals, and ministers, who have "sold" false doctrines to the multitudes. The false doctrine of purgatory, for example, has terrified many people into paying large sums of money in the hope that loved ones tortured in purgatory can be released. This money has found its way into the pockets of the "merchants of the earth."

Babylon's sin has been pride in her wealth, and a growing selfishness. God said to Jerusalem of old, "This was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had pride, fulness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty" (Ezekiel 16:49, 50).

Selfish human nature has been the same through all ages, and now at last judgment comes upon this pride. Revelation 18 is God's comment upon the rampant materialism of our modern "civilized" world. The same sin is growing in the Third World as it has grown elsewhere; and the same judgments will come worldwide as come to the "merchants" of the richer nations.

Revelation 18:14-19: "And the fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.' And every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, 'What is like this great city?' And they threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.'"

It seems as if the very foundations of civilization itself are destroyed. The economy is shattered beyond repair. All that people thought made life worth living comes to an end. "In one hour such great riches came to nothing." The language used is that of John's day; the figures of speech encompass all the materialistic wonders of our day which John could not have dreamed of. If John were writing today he would describe the airlines and their jet passengers. The merchants and others who bewail the fall of Babylon realize that they will soon share a fate similar to hers.

For some important reason the Lord has devoted this entire 18th chapter to a heart-moving description of the financial and economic ruin of the most prosperous civilizations of all time. We may note two important lessons: (a) This ruin follows speedily on the national abandonment of the principles of religious liberty which have made it possible for the progressive nations to become so prosperous and secure, (b) Our present economic and cultural securities are dependant on the continued blessing of God, holding back that tornado of passion symbolized by the loosing of the "four winds." In truth, not one of us holds even one dollar in security. We are only stewards temporarily entrusted with the wealth which we at present control, and we must soon face God's judgment as to how, as stewards, we have used what the cross of Christ proves is really not our own.

Now comes the sad story of no more Christmases, shopping malls, car factories, TV, skiing, bars, weddings, symphony or rock concerts, etc:

Revelation 18:20-23: "Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!" Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and threw it into the sea, saying, "Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore. The sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. And no craftsmen of any craft shall be found in you anymore. And the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore. And the light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore. And the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.'"

Babylon has always been the enemy of God's truth and of His people. It is not a petty, selfish vengeance that causes those who inhabit heaven to rejoice over her fall. Every right-minded man and woman is glad when evildoers are finally brought to justice, and principles of right are upheld.

No figure could be more vivid than that of a mighty angel taking up a great millstone and casting it into the sea. No more will the music of her choirs and pipe organs be heard in her giant buildings; no more will master craftsmen labor to build her ornate cathedrals; no more will the pomp and grandeur of extravagant weddings be seen in her; no more will soft candles flicker in the mysterious shadows of her altars to idolatry.

Revelation 18:24: "And in her was found the blood of prophets, and saints, and of all that were slain on the earth."

What an astonishing disclosure! The source of all evil in the world has been Babylon. False religion is "the abomination that makes desolate" the human heart (compare Daniel 11:31, 12:11). Satan has done his most successful work when he has professed to be "an angel of light," attempting to misrepresent and impersonate Christ Himself. The vast majority of earth's inhabitants will in future confuse Satan for their God. What will lead them to make this tragic choice? Love of self.

Only in the light of the cross can man learn what to do with his natural-born selfishness. There self is crucified with Christ, accomplished by faith. But because Babylon has professed to honor the sign of the cross and yet has denied the reality of the truth of the cross, the world will have been deceived to its eternal ruin. Thus Revelation depicts the great battle between the principles of its Hero, the Lamb, and those of the world's hero, Satan.

For a detailed, well researched and easy to read commentary on the book of Revelation I urge to buy a copy of Revelation of Jesus Christ: Commentary on the Book of Revelation This verse-by-verse commentary offers a text-focused and Christ-centered approach to the book of Revelation. Appropriate for personal study and as a college and seminary text, this volume provides both in-depth notes and lay-oriented exposition for use by scholars, students, pastors, and laypeople. An ever-increasing interest in the prophecies of the Apocalypse has resulted in deeper understandings which are introduced in this updated edition. 

Ranko Stefanovic is professor of New Testament at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. He holds a Ph.D. degree from Andrews University and is a well-loved teacher, popular speaker, and author of scholarly articles.

Please click here for the next study on Revelation 19: Marriage of the Lamb.

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