Revelation 18 Commentary

v.2 “Babylon was the name of both an evil city and an immoral empire, a world center for idol worship […] Just as Babylon was the Jews’ worst enemy, the Roman empire was the worst enemy of the early Christians.  John, who probably did not dare speak against Rome openly, applied the name Babylon to this enemy of God’s people (Rome) – and, by extension, to all God’s enemies of all times.”[1]

v. 3 “Merchants in the Roman empire grew rich by exploiting the sinful pleasures of their society.”[2]

“Economic security would be removed from Babylon’s subjects if they did not cooperate with her idolatry.  Such security is too great a temptation to resist.  Therefore the verb ‘drank’ refers to the willingness of society in the Roman Empire to commit itself to idolatry in order to maintain economic security.  Once one imbibes, the intoxicating influence removes all desire to resist Babylon’s destructive influence, blinds one to Babylon’s own ultimate insecurity and to God as the source of real security, and numbs one against any fear of coming judgment.  Therefore Babylon will be judged because of her seduction of people into idolatry and false economic security.”[3]

vv. 4-7 Come out of her, my people […] Even in its OT setting, this was no mere warning to leave the actual city of Babylon, much less here in Revelation […] Wherever there are idolatry, prostitution, self-glorification, self-sufficiency, pride, complacency, reliance on luxury and wealth, avoidance of suffering, violence against life (v.24), there is Babylon. Christians are to separate themselves ideologically and physically from all the forms of Babylon (chs. 2-3).[…]Babylon’s threefold web of sin is described as satiety (‘luxury’), pride (‘boasts, I sit as a queen’), and avoidance of suffering (‘I will never mourn’). These three may be interrelated. Luxury leads to boastful self-sufficiency (Eze 28:5), while the desire to avoid suffering leads to the dishonest pursuit of luxury (Eze 28:18).”[4]

vv. 4-5 “Persecuted and harried as they were, the people of God must have been sorely tempted to come to terms with the city. Then not only would their persecution cease, but the city would make them rich and comfortable… Compromise with worldliness is fatal. Gods people must, while playing their full role in the community, hold themselves aloof from what is involved in being worldly-minded.”[5]

v. 8 “Four plagues are singled out. Death, of course, should end everything. The meaning may be that, though some die in the city, the city continues for a time […] With this are linked mourning, famine, and fire. Together this means disaster for the city and this will certainly happen, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”[6]

v.9 “The close connection between idolatry and economic prosperity was a fact of life in Asia Minor of John’s time, where allegiance to both Caesar and the patron gods of the trade guilds was essential for people to maintain good standing in their trades….[The rulers] lament over Babylon’s desolation because it means their own loss of economic standing and power.”[7]

vv. 11-13 “The merchants wail. They have most to lose because Babylon the Great was built on luxury. The lists that follow are inventories of exotic items reminiscent of the great Oriental marketplaces. In v.13 bodies and souls of men requires special mention: Bodies is a Greek idiom for slaves, while souls means essentially persons. Thus the whole expression means ‘slaves, that is, human beings.’”[8]

“The vision (particularly 18:13) gives a reader a glimpse of how the wealth of Babylon has been gained at the expense of millions. Luxury items here gravitate to the center to supply an insatiable need. Those on the periphery become merely the means of supplying the needs of others. John’s vision is an evocation of the consequences of a narcissistic social order, in which everything revolves around the needs of a demanding upper class that makes itself the center of the universe and preserves that position by force, ideology, and demands for conformity.”[9]

v. 20 “Babylon has also persecuted the church of Jesus (saints, apostles, prophets). Regarding apostles, John may have had in mind Herod’s martyrdom of James (Ac 12:1-2) or Rome’s killing of Peter and Paul (cf. v.24).”[10]

“The call to rejoice at the destruction of the city appals [sic] some modern students. But we should notice in the first place that this is not a vindictive outcry. It is a longing that justice be done. And in the second, John and his readers were not armchair critics pedantically discussing rights and wrongs in an academic fashion. They were existentially committed. They had staked their lives on the truth of the Christian faith […] The words are a passionate cry uttered out of the deep conviction that right must triumph and which eagerly welcomes that triumph.[11]

v. 21. “The final lament over the fall of Babylon, spoken by an angel, is poignant and beautiful. A mighty angel picks up a huge stone like a giant millstone (four to five feet in diameter, one foot thick, and weighing thousands of pounds) and flings it into the sea. One quick gesture becomes a parable of the whole judgment on Babylon the Great! Suddenly she is gone forever (cf. Jer 51:64; Eze 26:21), leaving only melancholy behind.”[12]

v. 24the blood . . . of all who have been killed on the earth refers to all those who have been martyred because of their loyalty to the true God. Once again, in John’s mind, Babylon the Great encompasses all the persecution against the servants of God until his words are fulfilled (cf. 17:17).”[13]

“Possession of wealth is not the reason for God’s judgment of Babylon.  The cause lies, rather, in ‘the arrogant use of it’ and trust in the security that it brings, which is tantamount to idolatry.”[14]


[1] Life Application Study Bible, study notes (co-published by Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1991) 2321.

[2] Life Application Study Bible, study notes (co-published by Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1991) 2326.

[3] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 896.

[4] Frank E. Gaebelein,  Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for chapter 18.

[5] Leon Morris, Revelation,  Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 209.

[6] Leon Morris, Revelation,  Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 211.

[7] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 905.

[8] Frank E. Gaebelein. Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for chapter 18.

[9] Christopher C. Rowland,  “The Book of Revelation”,  New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998) 696.

[10] Frank E. Gaebelein,  Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for chapter 18.

[11] Leon Morris,  Revelation,  Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 215-216.

[12] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for chapter 18.

[13] Frank E. Gaebelein,  Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for chapter 18.

[14] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 925.

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