Elon, North Carolina
We have come in our study of the Book of Revelation to the topic of Babylon. Two whole chapters of the book are devoted to that topic (Revelation 17-18).
Last week, we looked at the strange, mysterious woman found in Revelation 17. It is the chapter about the filthy rich prostitute with the golden cup full of abominations sitting on a seven-headed blasphemous beast.
There are a lot of things that we don’t know about this woman. She is a mystery, but we know that she represents a false religious system, a one-world prostitute religious system that will exist in the Tribulation Period.
We don’t know exactly what this system will look like, but it certainly will not be limited to the Roman Catholic Church, as some preachers have said. In fact, it will not be limited to false Christianity. It will involve false religion.
The last verse of the chapter tells us something else about this woman. The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:18 NIV). The woman also represents a real city.
City and System
Babylon will be both a city and a false religious system. That raises this question. How can cities represent things? How can Babylon be both a city and a system? Cities are known for things. They get a reputation for certain things.
Madison Avenue is a real place in New York City. It also stands for something. It is home to some of the most extravagant shops in the entire world. It stands for advertising.
Wall Street is another real street in New York City, but it also stands for the financial center of the country. It is the largest stock exchange in the world. It is the home of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
Washington, D.C. is a real city. People live there. It is also where our government is located – all three branches of government. The White House is there. This city is famous, not for advertising or finance but for politics.
Las Vegas is a real city in Nevada, but it also has a reputation for some things. It has a reputation for casinos and gambling. It is known as “Sin City”. It is modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah.
Nevada is the only place in the U.S. state where prostitution is legal. Surprisingly, it is not legal in Las Vegas (where most people think it is), but it is legal in other countries in Nevada.
Hollywood is a city in California, but it also stands for the movie industry. That is where television and movie studios are located. It is where movies are made. When you think of Hollywood, you think of movie stars.
Some cities have a reputation for crime. Many big cities have a high crime rate. It is not safe to be in them. The woman of Revelation 17 was both a city and a symbol.
When we come to Revelation 18, we see the destruction of the actual city. We do not know what city it is, but it was a real city. We do not know where this city is located but in Revelation 18 that city is completely destroyed. It is wiped out.
This city will not be destroyed by some natural catastrophe or natural disaster. It will be destroyed by God. It will be destroyed violently (Revelation 18:21). How do we know? This will be divine judgment.
Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God WHO JUDGES HER. (Revelation 18:8 NIV)
“Rejoice over her, you heavens! Rejoice, you people of God! Rejoice, apostles and prophets! For GOD HAS JUDGED HER with the judgment she imposed on you.” (Revelation 18:20 NIV).
For her sins are piled up to heaven, and GOD HAS REMEMBERED HER CRIMES. (Revelation 18:5 NIV). God destroyed cities in this past and He will destroy this city.
Four thousand years ago, God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire. He destroyed the city of Babylon.
Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the pride and glory of the Babylonians, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. (Isaiah 13:19 NIV).
This makes you wonder when judgment is coming to America. What does this chapter say to us today? We learn some things about God’s judgment in this chapter.
Six Truths from Revelation 18
1) God’s Judgment is Certain
King Solomon said, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.” (Ecclesiastes 8:11 NIV).
Criminals are emboldened to commit crimes because there is no punishment. They commit crimes because they can get away with it.
Sinners think they can get away with rebellion. They can defy God and disobey His Word.
Judgment may be delayed but it is not denied. Judgment is certain. It is going to take place. We see that in our chapter.
After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. 2 With a mighty voice he shouted: ‘FALLEN! FALLEN is Babylon the Great!’ (Revelation 18:1-2 NIV)
It is announced by an angel, a bright angel, shining with the glory of God. One angel can make the whole earth bright. This radiant angel makes a special prophecy. With a mighty voice he shouted: ‘FALLEN! FALLEN is Babylon the Great!’
He says it twice, not because it will happen twice (a double fall), as some have suggested, but for emphasis. It is so sure that it will take place that it is put in the past tense as if it already happened. It is guaranteed to happen.
In fact, this is not the first time an angel gave this message. We saw another angel say this in Revelation 14. A second angel followed and said, “‘FALLEN! FALLEN is Babylon the Great,’ which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries (Revelation 14:7 NIV).
2) God’s Judgment is Fair
That is clear from this section. This punishment is deserved. God will give her back as she has given (Revelation 18:6). This was not only a great city; it was a wicked city.
This city not only had some sins, it had a lot of them. Her sins are piled up to heaven (Revelation 18:5 NIV). That makes you wonder if America’s sins are piled up to heaven.
Not only did this city have a lot of sins, God knew what they were and remembered them. God has remembered her crimes. (Revelation 18:5 NIV).
That is interesting. If we are saved, God doesn’t remember our sins. We are forgiven, not some of them but all of them.
For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:12 NIV)
as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12 NIV)
Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18 NIV)
If we are saved, God forgives our sins, even bad sins are forgiven. He does not just forgive them; He forgets them. If we are unsaved, He remembers everything we do. In fact, He has a book of works which contains all of it. That is a terrifying thought.
3) God’s Judgment is Surprising
God’s judgment will be a surprise. It will come when people least expect it. That is why Jesus said that He will come as a thief in the night.
People were surprised when God sent a flood which destroyed everything on the planet (men, women, children, animals).
They were shocked when God rained fire down from heaven and wiped out the wicked city of Sodom and Gomorrah four thousand years ago. There is archeological evidence to confirm its destruction.
They were shocked when Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead in the Book of Acts. They were Christians. They had been baptized. They were members of the first church in Jerusalem. There were apostles in that church and God judged them.
People will be shocked when this city falls. The one thing that people thought would never happen and could never happen will happen.
Not only will a city fall but a great city, a powerful city, a wealthy city, a famous city will fall, and people will be shocked.
When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ (Revelation 18:18 NIV).
4) God’s Judgment is Terrifying
When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 TERRIFIED at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “Woe! Woe to you, great city, you mighty city of Babylon! In one hour your doom has come!’ (Revelation 18:9-10 NIV)
The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, TERRIFIED at her torment. They will weep and mourn (Revelation 18:15 NIV)
“Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. 18 When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city? (Revelation 18:18 NIV)
Everyone stands afar off, all of the monarchs, mariners and merchants. They don’t want to get too close to the ashes. The politicians do not want to get too close. Neither do the businessmen and sailors.
They are both sad and afraid. When God’s judgment falls, people are terrified. It is an absolutely terrifying thing for a person to face the judgment of God.
That is why the Bible says that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 ESV).
It is a fearful thing for sinners to fall into the hands of an infinitely holy God. It is scary. We have seen this in the Book of Revelation. We saw it with the Sixth Seal Judgment.
When the Sixth Seal was opened, there was a great earthquake, the Sun turned black. The Moon turned red. The stars fell. The heavens receded and the mountains moved.
Apparently, everyone knows who is causing it. It is God and He is angry. Everyone begins to hide. They hide in caves and under rocks. They would rather die than face God, who was sitting on the throne. They would rather die than face the wrath of the Lamb.
That is not the God of modern Christianity. It is not the God that most Christians worship. God is loved but not feared. We do not see God as anyone to be afraid of. That is not the God of the Bible.
5) God’s Judgment is Swift
It will not be gradual. It will not take place over a long period of time. It will take place quickly. That is the big problem with identifying this city completely with Rome.
That is the most common view among biblical scholars today. Rome is called Babylon in the NT (I Peter 5:13). It seems like Rome. This was the city that killed the prophets and saints (Revelation 18:24).
The harlot woman of Revelation 17-18 is Rome, and this is talking about the Fall of Rome. There is only one problem. It is a big problem, in my opinion. The Fall of Rome did not happen quickly.
Historians agree that it happened gradually over hundreds of years. Rome was not built in a day and did not fall in a day. The city in this chapter fell very quickly. We are told that four times in the chapter.
Therefore in ONE DAY her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her (Revelation 18:8 NIV).
Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: “‘Woe! Woe to you, great city, you mighty city of Babylon! In ONE HOUR your doom has come!’ (Revelation 18:10 NIV)
In ONE HOUR such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’ (Revelation 18:17 NIV)
They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out: “‘Woe! Woe to you, great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In ONE HOUR she has been brought to ruin!’ (Revelation 18:19 NIV)
This has happened in our history. It happened when the stock market crashed in 1929 (Black Monday and Black Tuesday) but there it only lost half of its value. In Russia (1917) and China (1949), it went down to zero. There is talk now that if the US defaults on its debt, there will be an economic catastrophe.
6) God’s Judgment is Permanent.
This city was going to fall. It was never going to come back. That is mentioned six times in the chapter.
Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, NEVER to be found again.
22 The music of harpists and musicians, pipers and trumpeters, will NEVER be heard in you again. No worker of any trade will EVER be found in you again.
The sound of a millstone will NEVER be heard in you again. 23 The light of a lamp will NEVER shine in you again. The voice of bridegroom and bride will NEVER be heard in you again. (Revelation 18:21-23 NIV)
One imaginative preacher entitled this chapter, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
What bearing does this chapter have on us today? We don’t even live in the Tribulation Period. Things are not falling from the sky. We have not seen any demonic locusts. The Antichrist has not revealed himself yet. How does this apply to us?
This chapter applies to believers today who do not live in the Tribulation Period. There are two commands in this chapter to believers. We need to see what these two commands are.
Come Out of Babylon
The first command in this chapter is a command to separation. This time God speaks directly. He talks directly to His people. Notice what He says.
Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “‘Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues (Revelation 18:4 NIV)
Apparently, there will be believers living on earth during the Tribulation Period. Apparently, some of them will be living in Babylon. There were some advantages to living there. You could get rich living there.
God says, “come out”. This is an allusion to Isaiah 52:11, which is talking about Babylon. Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure (NIV).
That was a command for Levites and priests but Paul quotes that verse in II Corinthians 6:14-18 and applies it to us today.
In Revelation 18, it is applied to Babylon. Touch not the unclean thing. There were a lot of unclean things in Babylon (unclean spirits, unclean birds, unclean animals, unclean moral practices, like prostitution). The great harlot held a gold cup in her hand full of all kinds of unclean things.
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:11 NIV)
God commands believers to come out of Babylon, not to stay in it. If you don’t come out of Babylon, God says that you can share in its sin.
If you live in a very wicked environment, it is easy to act like the people around you. What does that mean not to be Babylonian? What is the spirit of Babylon?
What is the Spirit of Babylon Today?
1) The Spirit of Wickedness
Babylon was a wicked city. This city was known for wickedness. Sexual immorality was part of it. Its name was “Babylon the Great, the mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth.” (Revelation 17:4)
Its sins reached up to heaven (Revelation 18:5). It had a reputation for sin. Sin was open and celebrated in Babylon. Does that sound familiar? What God called evil; Babylon called good. Included in the list of sin was slavery.
The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore… cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves (Revelation 18:11, 13 NIV)
Sex trafficking is still going on today. It is a modern Babylonian practice. It takes place in America today. It is in the news but most sex trafficking in the world is in Asia (India, China, Thailand).
Countries treat this very differently. In some countries it is illegal and prosecuted, like the US. In other countries, it is allowed, and nothing is done to stop it.
This city was not only wicked; it was demonic. There were demons in this city. It was a habitation of devils. There were evil spirits in the place.
She has become a dwelling for demons and a haunt for every impure spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal. (Revelation 18:2 NIV)
You have heard of haunted houses. This was a haunted city, a dwelling place for demons. It was not limited to future cities. There are cities like this today. It makes you wonder what the most demonic city is today.
Are you a part of the wickedness of your city or do you stand out from it? Are you involved in any form of demonic activity in your personal life?
2) The Spirit of Greed
This city was known for its wealth. It was known for its luxury. It was known for its prosperity and materialism.
There is nothing wrong with being wealthy but you don’t want to live in luxury and ignore the needs of those around you, as many do. Many turn wealth into idolatry. They begin to worship stuff. They feel like they no longer need God.
Paul said that covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). That is what the monarchs, merchants and mariners did. They laid up treasure on earth. Their god was money and wealth.
Their whole life was tied up in the city of Babylon and, when it was gone, they were devastated. Their fortune was lost. That is why they were weeping. They got rich from Babylon (Revelation 18:3, 15, 19).
The Bible does not teach that it is a sin to be rich, but it does teach that it is a sin to be greedy. Are we greedy? Are we covetous? Do we make a god out of material wealth?
Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15 NIV)
As we get older, we tend to accumulate a lot of things. We cannot even find a place to put them.
3. The Spirit of Pride
In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit enthroned as queen. I am not a widow; I will never mourn.’ (Revelation 18:7 NIV)
It became wealthy and then it became proud. Wealth can lead to pride. Ezekiel 28:5 says, “By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth, and because of your wealth your heart has grown proud” (NIV)
People who get wealthy sometimes look down on poorer people and call them names (like “white trash”). We tend to think that we are better than them just because we have more money than other people. That is pride.
The Bible says that Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18 NIV). This city was proud and will suffer destruction, complete destruction. Is pride something that we struggle with on a personal level?
4. The Spirit of Idolatry
Babylon was a center of idolatry. It is where idolatry began. It began at the Tower of Babel. It was a center of organized rebellion and defiance against God.
This city deceived the nations by her sorcery (Revelation 18:23). This city was in the business of deception. God’s people are to come out of this false religious system.
It is a call to separate from Babylon, not from other Christians but sometimes a spirit of Babylon can take over a whole church or denomination.
Many recently broke away from the Methodist Church, because Babylon has entered the church. It was good for Martin Luther to come out of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, even though he did not do it by choice.
There is a time to work within a church and a time to leave, especially when false doctrine has infiltrated the place.
What is the second command? It is a command to rejoice. Notice the end of the chapter.
“REJOICE over her, you heavens! REJOICE, you people of God! REJOICE, apostles and prophets! For God has judged her with the judgment she imposed on you.” (Revelation 18:20 NIV)
This is strange. Heaven does not just rejoice over the fall of Babylon; they are commanded three times to rejoice over the fall of Babylon. People in heaven and God’s people are COMMAND to rejoice.
Why are they told to rejoice? God judged Babylon. Is this unchristian? Is it vindictive? No. It is celebration of the justice of God. God has judged her with the judgment she imposed on you.
The judgment was fair. Jesus said, “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2 NIV)
This is something that we NEVER do in church. We celebrate grace. We celebrate when we don’t get what we deserve. Here, we are commanded to celebrate God’s justice, not just His grace.
We are not to render evil for evil. We are not to take vengeance on people ourselves, but God can render evil for evil. It is His job. We live in a world when we rarely even see justice at work. What does God say?
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19 NIV).