Sermon: Heaven’s Commentary Concerning Babylon: Revelation 18

Old Testament Reading: Jeremiah 51

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer against Babylon, against the inhabitants of Leb-kamai, and I will send to Babylon winnowers, and they shall winnow her, and they shall empty her land, when they come against her from every side on the day of trouble… For Israel and Judah have not been forsaken by their God, the Lord of hosts, but the land of the Chaldeans is full of guilt against the Holy One of Israel. ‘Flee from the midst of Babylon; let every one save his life! Be not cut off in her punishment, for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance, the repayment he is rendering her. Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, making all the earth drunken; the nations drank of her wine; therefore the nations went mad. Suddenly Babylon has fallen and been broken; wail for her! Take balm for her pain; perhaps she may be healed. We would have healed Babylon, but she was not healed. Forsake her, and let us go each to his own country, for her judgment has reached up to heaven and has been lifted up even to the skies. The Lord has brought about our vindication; come, let us declare in Zion the work of the Lord our God… ‘I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea before your very eyes for all the evil that they have done in Zion, declares the Lord. ‘Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, declares the Lord, which destroys the whole earth; I will stretch out my hand against you, and roll you down from the crags, and make you a burnt mountain. No stone shall be taken from you for a corner and no stone for a foundation, but you shall be a perpetual waste, declares the Lord… For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘The daughter of Babylon is like a threshing floor at the time when it is trodden; yet a little while and the time of her harvest will come.’ Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon has devoured me; he has crushed me; he has made me an empty vessel; he has swallowed me like a monster; he has filled his stomach with my delicacies; he has rinsed me out. The violence done to me and to my kinsmen be upon Babylon,’ let the inhabitant of Zion say. ‘My blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea,’ let Jerusalem say. Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will plead your cause and take vengeance for you. I will dry up her sea and make her fountain dry, and Babylon shall become a heap of ruins, the haunt of jackals, a horror and a hissing, without inhabitant…’ The sea has come up on Babylon; she is covered with its tumultuous waves. Her cities have become a horror, a land of drought and a desert, a land in which no one dwells, and through which no son of man passes… Go out of the midst of her, my people! Let every one save his life from the fierce anger of the Lord… Jeremiah wrote in a book all the disaster that should come upon Babylon, all these words that are written concerning Babylon. And Jeremiah said to Seraiah: ‘When you come to Babylon, see that you read all these words, and say, ‘O Lord, you have said concerning this place that you will cut it off, so that nothing shall dwell in it, neither man nor beast, and it shall be desolate forever.’ When you finish reading this book, tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted.’ Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.” (Jeremiah 51, ESV)

Sermon Text: Revelation 18

“After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.’ Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed. As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’ For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.’ And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning. They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, ‘Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.’ And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. ‘The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!’ The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, ‘Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.’ And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, ‘What city was like the great city?’ And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out, ‘Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste. Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!’ Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more; and the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more, and a craftsman of any craft will be found in you no more, and the sound of the mill will be heard in you no more, and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more, for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.’” (Revelation 18, ESV)

Introduction 

It is important that we see Revelation 18 as a continuation of the description of the judgement of the harlot that began in Revelation 17.

In 17:1 we read John’s words, “Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters…” (Revelation 17:1, ESV). After that John was shown a vision of the harlot. She was seen, “sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality” (Revelation 17:3–4, ESV).

When we consider the way that the harlot and the beast upon which she rides is described it becomes clear that, for the original recipients of the book of Revelation who were alive in Asia Minor in the first century A.D., she symbolized the seductiveness of the Roman culture in which they lived. The Rome (the city of seven hills) was seductive. It’s sinful pleasures did have the power to seduce men and women to abandon Christ and commit spiritual adultery, which is idolatry. So, for the members of the seven churches to who Revelation was addressed, the harlot was Rome.

But when we consider the harlot’s name it becomes clear that she symbolizes, not only Rome, but all of the cultures of the world that seduce in the way that Rome did, for “on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations’” (Revelation 17:5, ESV). By this time the ancient city of Babylon had come to symbolize the seductiveness of the world. It was ancient Babylon that conquered Judah. It was there to Babylon that the people of God were exiled. It was there in Babylon that the Israelites were to remain pure. It was from Babylon that God would rescue his people as the great city was judged. This is what was described in Jeremiah 51. And so ancient Babylon, Judah’s captivity there, followed by their redemption and the judgement of that place have come to have symbolic significance. Babylon is code for “all that is evil and seductive in the world which does tempt men and women to commit idolatry”. By the end of chapter 17 we are told that this harlot symbolizes “the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18, ESV).

For the members of the seven churches to whom Revelation was addressed, the harlot stood for Rome. For the people of Judah carried away to captivity in the sixth century B.C., the harlot was Babylon. For you and me who are alive today the harlot symbolizes the seductiveness of our own culture.

So just as the beast from the sea and the false prophet of Revelation 13 have alway been active in the world, so it is with the harlot. The dragon of Revelation 12 has always used these three – political powers that persecute, false teaching and the seductiveness of the world, to draw men and women away from the worship of the creator into an idolatrous worship of the creation instead.

So by the end of chapter 17 we have a good idea of what this prostitute represents. She represents the seductiveness of the world. She represents the way in which the world – particularly the great cultures and great cities of the world – seduce and drive men and women to chase after her pleasures and to make them ultimate – the pleasures of money, power, fame, and sexual immorality, to name a few. Indeed, the “kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality” with her. And it is from her cup that “the dwellers on earth have become drunk” (Revelation 17:2, ESV).

Notice also that by the end of chapter 17 we have only a description of the harlot (along with the description of the beast upon which she rides). She is beautiful and the power of her allure is recognized even by John. But as of yet we’ve heard nothing of her judgement as was promised to us in 17:1, when the angel said to John, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters…” (Revelation 17:1, ESV). That is what we have in the chapter 18 – a description of the judgement of this prostitute whose name is Babylon.

What is the point of all of this? Why was this vision given to John, and through him, to us? What does God desire for us to take away from this?

I think his desire is that we would come to see the sinful seduction of the world for what it is – something that is empty; something that leads only to death; something destined for judgement. And having come to see the harlot (or Babylon) for what she is, then we are able to flee from her to God through faith in Christ Jesus and to the heavenly and eternal city of Jerusalem.

Revelation 18 describes the judgement of Babylon (or the harlot) to us, but in such a way that we also receive a heavenly commentary on Babylon’s true nature. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion concerning the happenings of this world. Turn on the television or talk radio and you’ll find no shortage of commentators. But friends, it is God’s commentary that matters most. It is his perspective on the world that we should be most eager to hear. Indeed, it is his point of view that every child of his should adopt as their own.

Notice five things:

A City Already Fallen

First of all, recognize that when God comments on Babylon he speaks of her as already fallen. This we see in verses 1 through 3 of Revelation 18:

“After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.” (Revelation 18:1–2, ESV)

Of course, Babylon was not fallen in John’s day. Indeed, she is not fallen today (this world, and the great cultures of this word, are still very seductive). But this angel from heaven says that “Babylon the great” is “fallen, fallen”. It is as good as done. It is as if God has inscribed above the city the phrase, “abandon hope all ye who enter here”, for Babylon’s end is certain destruction.

From the human perspective it is hard to understand how this could be. When the Christians of the first century looked upon the Rome in all of its power and glory I’m sure they were tempted to think, “this empire will never be moved.” When the people of Israel were enslaved to Pharaoh I’m sure that they were tempted to think, “this power will never come to an end.” And we too are prone to look upon the great powers of the world in the same way today. These great nations and these great cultures seem to our natural senses to be immovable, all powerful, and eternal. It is no wonder, then, that men and women are often lured into the worship of them! These great powers seem to be almost divine and worthy of our worship to our natural senses !

But human history does show, and the word of God does plainly declare, that these powers are as good as fallen. This is true of individual nations, for in the last days “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…” (Matthew 24:7, ESV). But it is also true of the whole course of human history which is marked by the succession of nations for, in due time, “the end will come” (Matthew 24:14, ESV).

How foolish it is, therefore, to put ones ultimate hope is something that is destined to fail. That seems to be the point of it all. It is stupid to place your trust in, to live for, and to worship that which is as good as dead, and yet that is what men and women the world over do.

A City Fueled By An Insatiable Desire For Pleasure

Secondly, notice that Babylon is described as a city fueled by an insatiable desire for pleasure.

In verse 3 the reason for Babylon’s fall is given: “For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living” (Revelation 18:3, ESV). It is this passion for sexual immorality, for wealth, for power, and for luxurious living that drives Babylon. That’s what makes her tick.

Notice how those that belong to Babylon mourn when she is judged. Verse 9: “And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning” (Revelation 18:9, ESV). Verse 11: “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls” (Revelation 18:11–13, ESV). Do you see how far men will do to have pleasure in this world? They will stoop even to the level of trading in human souls!

In verse 14 the idolatrous love affair that these men did have with the world is most plainly seen as the voice from heaven ridicules them, saying, “The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!” (Revelation 18:14, ESV). Clearly these men were driven by an insatiable desire for pleasure. They loved to the core of their being this world and the things of this world. They worshipped the creation instead of the Creator. Do you see how throughout this passage they are, again and again, described as “weeping” and “mourning” and “crying aloud? Verse 19: “And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out, “Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste” (Revelation 18:19, ESV).

Truly, these men had their treasures stored up in Babylon. This is where their hearts were. They, being children of Babylon, lived with an insatiable desire for the pleasures of this world.

A City Filled With Pride 

Thirdly, notice that Babylon is described as a city filled with pride.

Verse 7: “As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, ‘I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.’” (Revelation 18:7, ESV)

Certainly this is how the prideful and powerful within our societies do think of themselves – as if they are untouchable, as if their empires will never come to an end.

A City Ripe For Judgement

Fourthly, notice that Babylon is described as a city ripe for judgement.

Verse 5: “For her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Pay her back as she herself has paid back others, and repay her double for her deeds; mix a double portion for her in the cup she mixed.” (Revelation 18:5–6, ESV)

The phrase “God has remembered her iniquities” is meant to be heard in contrast to the covenant promise made by God to his people, when he says, For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34, ESV). God has covered the sins of his people by the blood of Christ. Though their “sins are like scarlet”, God has made them “white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV). “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11–12, ESV).

Not so with those who are of the world. The worlds sins – the sins of those not in Christ – is piled high like heap of garbage, stinking and rotting. “Because of [their] hard and impenitent heart[s] [they] are storing up wrath for [themselves] on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5, ESV).

In verse 21 John sees a depiction of the judgment of Babylon: “Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more…” A milestone is a very large and heavy stone used to mill grain. You can imagine what it would look like for one of these to be thrown into the sea, and how quickly it sink and vanish into the dark abyss. So it will be with the judgemnet of Babylon.  Then we are told that “the sound of harpists and musicians, of flute players and trumpeters, will be heard in you no more, and a craftsman of any craft will be found in you no more, and the sound of the mill will be heard in you no more, and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more…” These things that once made the culture so pleasant – these guilds which the Christians and Rome after found themselves barred from – will come to an end. Why? “For your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.’”

This is quite a commentary on human culture. We should take care not to push this too far in assuming that all cultures are equally wicked. Indeed, some are corrupt than others. Some are more fueled by an insatiable desire for pleasure, than others. And some are, therefore, more ripe for judgement than others, the pile of their sins being heaped hire than others.

The judgement pronounced against Babylon here is not meant to be applied with such exactness, but communicates more generally that this is how the world works. The engine that drives the world is fueled by an insatiable desire for sinful pleasure. The sins of the world do not go unnoticed by God. The world – all not in Christ – is indeed “storing up wrath for [themselves] on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5, ESV)

A City To Flee

Fifthly, notice that Babylon is described as a city to flee from.

Verse 4 seems most important.: “Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues…’” (Revelation 18:4, ESV).

Here is the point. God wants his people to see the world for what it is. Recognize the seductiveness. See what is good in it and rightly to be enjoyed to the glory of God, but recognize also what is sinful. See how the world does temp men and women to live, not to the glory of God, but for their own pleasure. And see the end of the matter, that the world, and those of the world, are destined for judgement.

Flee from Babylon. “Come out of her… lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues.”

Of course this is not all call to leave any particular city, or cities in general, but to flee from worldliness in general.

Listen to what John says directly in 1 John 2:15: “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” (1 John 2:15–17, ESV). What John says directly here is communicated via the symbolism in Revelation 18.

Conclusion 

So what should we do in response to these things?

Come out of Babylon! Flee from the harlot. Her power may be concentrated in the large and prosperous and particularly seductive capitals and cities of this world, but her tentacles are far reaching.

I wonder, Christian, has she grabbed ahold of you? Does she have a hold upon your heart?

Your impulse might be to say, certainly not! But I would urge you to slow down in your reply.

How is your heart, friend?

How is your thought life?

What do you truly treasure? Is God and Christ? Or do you treasure the things of this world?

What is ultimate for you? What are living for? What can you not imagine living without?

The answers to these questions help us to identify the idols that do reside within our hearts.

Brothers and sisters, do not be deceived to think the things of this world to be of ultimate worth and worthy of our worship. Indeed, only God is worthy of our worship, and we must come to him through faith in Christ.

And once we come to faith in him we must worship and serve him as he has ordained in his word.

We are to obey God’s commandments in this world. We are to “Abhor what is evil [and] hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9, ESV).

We are to live for the furtherance of his kingdom in this world, understanding that there is also a kingdom of darkness.

We are to live in this world for his glory.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV)

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