The complete destruction of Babylon, especially her economic power is God’s response to her persecution of the “saints” – Revelation 18:9-24.
Next, Revelation presents the detailed description of the destruction of the “Great City,” and the justification for this action. In part, her demise is caused by the hatred of the “ten kings” that are allied with the “Beast” and driven by God to desolate and “burn her utterly with fire” for her dominance of world commerce and her “sorcery.”
The description of her judgment uses language from the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel – Judicial pronouncements made originally against the ancient cities of Babylon and Tyre, both of which depended on maritime trade for their prosperity – (Jeremiah 50-51, Ezekiel 26-27).
End-time “Babylon” is the world-city in which Jesus was executed, the city set on “seven mountains” that reigns over the “kings of the earth” and the “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues,” and a political entity deeply involved in global commerce. John’s first-century audience most certainly would have identified her with the city of Rome.
- (Revelation 18:9-19) – “And they will weep and wail over her, the kings of the earth who fornicated and waxed wanton with her as soon as they see the smoke of her burning, and standing afar off because of their fear of her torment, saying: Alas, alas, the great city Babylon, the mighty city that in one hour has you’re your judgment… The merchants of these things who were enriched by her will stand afar off because of their fear of her torment, weeping and grieving, as they say: Alas, alas, the great city! She that was arrayed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stone, and pearl, that in one hour has been laid waste such great wealth as this! And every pilot, and every passenger, and mariners, and as many as by the sea carry on traffic afar off did stand, and they cried out, seeing the smoke of her burning, saying: What city is like the great city? And they cast dust upon their heads, and cried out, weeping and grieving, saying: Alas, alas, the great city! Whereby were made rich all that had ships in the sea by her costliness, that in one hour she has been laid waste!”
Her allies are the “kings of the earth,” the group over which “Babylon” presumes to “reign.” They were seduced into thralldom by her “fornications.” Elsewhere in the book, the “kings of the earth” are allied with the “Beast” in its war against the “Lamb” – (Revelation 6:15, 16:14, 17:18, 19:19).
The “kings of the earth” mourn when they see the “smoke of her burning” and withdraw from her so as not to be consumed by her punishment. In the preceding chapter, John was informed that the “ten kings” would hate the woman, “eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.” God had put it into their hearts to fulfill His will.
The “smoke of her burning” is conceptually parallel to the “smoke of the torment” produced by the punishment of the men who rendered homage to the “Beast” described in chapter 14 (“The smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever”).
“Alas, the Great City, Babylon.” This is the same “Great City” that rejoiced over the dead bodies of the “two witnesses” slain by the “Beast from the Abyss.” She is the “city” called “Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” It is the “city” where the “winepress of the wrath of God was trodden” without its walls. And she is the “great city that reigns over the kings of the earth,” the “Great Harlot” that sits on the “seven mountains” – (Revelation 11:7-13, 14:8-20, 17:9, 17:18).
The first audience to hear this was comprised of the churches in Asia, Christians who lived under the rule overlordship of Rome. Its economy was dependent on maritime commerce, especially the grain shipments from Egypt. That does not mean Ancient Rome exhausted the application of this vision, but it certainly is included it – (“There are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come”).
As before, language from the judicial pronouncements of Jeremiah against Babylon is adapted to describe the downfall of end-time “Babylon”:
- (Jeremiah 51:8-9) – “Babylon is suddenly fallen and destroyed… We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed. Forsake her and let us go everyone into his own country: for her judgment reaches unto heaven.”
“In one hour.” The judgment period of “one hour” is repeated three times in this passage. It corresponds to the “in one day” from the last chapter. The same term is applied elsewhere for the final “hour” when the “Lamb” arrives in judgment – (Revelation 3:3, 3:10, 9:15, 11:13, 14:7).
The condemnation of the “merchants of the earth” and the listing of their merchandise borrows heavily from the pronouncement by Ezekiel against the old seafaring city-state of Tyre. Because of its exploitation of the kingdom of Judah, God pronounced the destruction of its commercial empire – (“Thus says Yahweh, Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will cause many nations to come up against you” – Ezekiel 26:15-19, 27:1-25).
Ancient Babylon and Tyre suffered great loss long before John found himself on Patmos. In its economic critique of “Babylon,” Revelation adapts the list of trade goods from Ezekiel to correspond to the commodities transported by ship to the city of Rome from around her empire.
“The merchants who were enriched by her stand afar off weeping.” This statement corresponds to Ezekiel 27:31 – The merchants of Tyre “made themselves utterly bald for you, and girded them with sackcloth, and they will weep for you with bitterness of heart and bitter wailing.” Likewise, in Revelation, though they mourn over her and their loss, the “merchants” have no desire to partake of her plagues.
“For in one hour so great riches are desolated.” The same Greek verb rendered “desolate” in the previous chapter is used here. The agent that desolates the commercial empire is the group of “ten kings” – (“The ten horns will hate the harlot and make her desolate” – Revelation 17:16).
“What city is like the great city?” The lamentations of the “merchants” and “sailors” echo the judgment dirge of Ezekiel on Tyre but now applied to end-time “Babylon” – (Ezekiel 27:32).
- (Revelation 18:20-24) – “Be glad over her, you heavens! And you saints and you apostles and prophets! For God has exacted your vindication from her. And one mighty angel lifted a stone, as it were a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying: Thus, with main force will be cast down Babylon, the great city, and in nowise will be found any more. And the sound of harp-singers and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters in nowise will be heard in you anymore; and any artisan in nowise will be found in you anymore; and sound of millstone in nowise will be found in you anymore; and the light of lamps in nowise will shine in you anymore; and the voice of bridegroom and the bride in nowise will be heard in you anymore; because your merchants were the great ones of the earth, because with your sorcery were all the nations deceived. And in her the blood of prophets and saints was found, and of all who had been slain upon the earth.”
“Be glad over her.” The collapse of the economic system is not just a punishment for the city’s sins, but also the vindication of the “saints” who were persecuted by the “Great Harlot.” The inclusion of the “apostles and prophets” demonstrates that those who were persecuted by her were Christians.
The term “apostles” occurs only two more times in the book. Once for the “false apostles” at Ephesus, and once for the names of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb” that were engraved on the foundation stones of New Jerusalem – (Revelation 2:2, 21:14).
Next, an angel cast a great stone into the sea while proclaiming – “Thus, with main force, will be cast down Babylon the great city, and in nowise will be found anymore. And the sound of harp-singers, and musicians, and flute-players, and trumpeters, — in nowise be heard in you anymore.” Once again, the passage alludes to Jeremiah’s pronouncement against Babylon, and to Ezekiel’s lament over Tyre – (Jeremiah 51:63-64, 51:37, Ezekiel 26:13).
“Because your merchants were the great ones of the earth.” This identifies the “merchants” with the “great ones” who, along with the “kings of the earth,” attempted to hide from the “wrath of the Lamb” when the “sixth seal” was opened. It is a further echo from Ezekiel:
- (Ezekiel 27:33) – “When thy wares went forth out of the seas, you filled many people; you enriched the kings of the earth with the multitude of your merchandise. In the time when you will be broken by the seas in the depths of the waters your merchandise and all your company in the midst of you will fall.”
“By your sorcery.” “Sorcery” translates the Greek noun pharmakeia, a term related to pharmakon or “sorcery,” the Greek word used elsewhere in Revelation and the New Testament for “sorcery” and “witchcraft” – (Revelation 9:21, Galatians 5:20).
Pharmakon often included the potions used by sorcerers in magical rituals. Closely related is the noun pharmakeus – A “sorcerer” who performed spells and prepared potions – (Revelation 21:8 – “But the fearful and unbelieving… and sorcerers will have their part in the lake which burns with fire”).
But it is not individual sorcerers and witches that are condemned, but the “great city” for her “sorcery,” which she used to “deceive the nations.” In the masculine gender, as here, pharmakon referred to human victims sacrificed or expelled as scapegoats during times of societal crisis. John may wish his readers to make that connection. The “nations” and the “kings of the earth” were deceived by her “sorcery” into persecuting the saints, for the blood of the “saints” and “all who had been slain upon the earth” was found in her.
The Greek term rendered “slain” refers to the “slaying” of sacrificial victims, not to killing in general. It was used for killing animals in sacrificial rituals. It is the same term applied previously to the “slain” Lamb and to the souls who were “slain for the word of God” that John saw under the altar – (Revelation 5:6-12, 6:9, 13:8).
If this connection is correct, the “sorcery” of Babylon refers to the offering of sacrificial victims to appease her gods, and thereby, preserve societal order and prosperity, not to the practice of witchcraft in general. Her sacrificial victims were the saints, apostles, and prophets slain on account of their testimony. Thus, the destruction of “Babylon” is the response of God to her persecuting activities.