Destruction of Babylon

SYNOPSIS – The complete destruction of Babylon is God’s response to the persecution by “her” of the “saints” – Revelation 18:9-24

Harbor - Photo by Jonas Tebbe on Unsplash
The book of Revelation now presents its detailed description of the destruction of “Babylon,” and the justification for this action. In part, the demise of the “Great City” is due to the hatred of the “ten horns,” the “ten kings” who are allied with the “Beast from the Sea” in their God-driven campaign to desolate and “burn her utterly with fire” - (Revelation 17:16).

The stress falls on two main misdeeds committed by the “Great Whore” – First, her involvement in world commerce and, second, her “sorcery.” The latter became manifest in her efforts to destroy the “saints.”

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 those cities depended on maritime trade for their prosperity - (Jeremiah 50-51, Ezekiel 26-27).

However, passages from the Hebrew Bible that referred originally to the enemies of Israel are now applied to the foes of the churches. Furthermore, prophecies made against the two city-states of Babylon and Tyre are now applied to the single “great city, Babylon.”

End-time “Babylon” is the world-city in which Jesus was executed, a city set on “seven mountains” that reigns over the “kings of the earth” and the “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues,” a world-power deeply involved in commerce throughout the known world. The first-century audience of Revelation could only have identified this “Babylon” with the Roman Empire.

In One Hour
  • (Revelation 18:9-19) – “And they shall weep and wail over her—shall the kings of the earth who, with her, committed lewdness and waxed wanton,— as soon as they see the smoke of her burning,— afar off standing, because of their fear of her torment, saying— Alas! alas! the great city! Babylon, the mighty city! That in one hour hath come thy judgment.  And the merchants of the earth weep and grieve over her, because their cargo no one buyeth any more: cargo of gold and silver and precious stone, and pearls and fine linen and purple, and silk and scarlet and all thyine wood, and every article of ivory and every article of wood most precious, and of copper, and of iron, and of marble, and cinnamon, and spice, and incense, and unguent, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and cattle, and sheep, and [cargo] of horses, and of chariots, and of bodies, and lives of men. And the fruit of the coveting of thy soul hath departed from thee, and all things rich and bright have perished from thee; and no more in anywise for them shall they seek. The merchants of these things who were enriched by her, afar off shall stand 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 hath 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 unto 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 reason of her costliness,— that in one hour she hath been laid waste!” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The primary allies of the “Great Whore” are the “kings of the earth,” a group over which Babylon presumes to “reign.” These “kings” were seduced into thralldom by “fornicating” with her. Elsewhere, 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.” They withdraw from her so as not to be consumed with the “Great City.” 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 this into their hearts to fulfill His will - (Revelation 17:16-17).

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 previously in Chapter 14 -  (Revelation 14:11 – “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 “spiritually Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” It is the same “city” where the “winepress of the wrath of God was trodden” without its walls. She is the “great city that reigns over the kings of the earth,” the “Great Whore” that sits on “seven mountains” - (Revelation 11:7-13, 14:8-20, 17:9, 17:18).

The first audience to hear this vision was comprised of the seven churches of Asia, congregations of believers who lived under Roman rule, the overlord over the entire Mediterranean basin, southern Europe, and much of the Near East. The imperial Roman economy was dependent heavily on maritime commerce. This does not mean that ancient Rome exhausted the application of this vision; however, it certainly is included it - (“There are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come”).

As previously, language from the judicial pronouncement of Jeremiah against ancient 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 has been laid waste such great wealth. The judgment period of “one hour” is repeated three times in this passage and 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, the climax toward which the book moves on multiple levels. Note the following verses:
  • (Revelation 3:3) – “If you do not watch, I will come as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”
  • (Revelation 3:10) – “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial that will come on the whole habitable earth.”
  • (Revelation 9:15) – “And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.”
  • (Revelation 11:13) – “And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell…
  • (Revelation 14:7) – “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come.”
The condemnation of the “merchants of the earth” and the listing of their merchandise borrows heavily from the pronouncement of the prophet 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 saith Yahweh, Behold, I am against thee, O Tyre, and will cause many nations to come up against thee”). Note well the parallels with the passage from the book of Revelation:
  • (Ezekiel 26:15-19) – “Thus saith the Lord Yahweh to Tyre: Shall not the isles shake at the sound of thy fall, when the wounded groan, when the slaughter is made in the midst of thee? Then all the princes of the sea shall come down from their thrones, and lay aside their robes, and strip off their broidered garments: they shall clothe themselves with trembling; they shall sit upon the ground, and shall tremble every moment, and be astonished at thee. And they shall take up a lamentation over thee, and say to thee, How art thou destroyed, that wast inhabited by seafaring men, the renowned city, that was strong in the sea, she and her inhabitants, that caused their terror to be on all that dwelt there! Now shall the isles tremble in the day of thy fall; yea, the isles that are in the sea shall be dismayed at thy departure. For thus saith the Lord Yahweh: When I shall make thee a desolate city, like the cities that are not inhabited; when I shall bring up the deep upon thee, and the great waters shall cover thee.”
  • (Ezekiel 27:1-25) – “Take up a lamentation over Tyre; O thou that dwellest at the entry of the sea, that art the merchant of the peoples unto many isles…Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of all kinds of riches; with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded for thy wares. Javan, Tubal, and Meshech, they were thy traffickers; they traded the persons of men and vessels of brass for thy merchandise. They of the house of Togarmah traded for thy wares with horses and war-horses and mules. The men of Dedan were thy traffickers; many isles were the mart of thy hand: they brought thee in exchange horns of ivory and ebony.  Syria was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of thy handiworks: they traded for thy wares with emeralds, purple, and broidered work, and fine linen, and coral, and rubies. Judah, and the land of Israel, they were thy traffickers: they traded for thy merchandise wheat of Minnith, and pannag, and honey, and oil, and balm…These were thy traffickers in choice wares, in wrappings of blue and broidered work, and in chests of rich apparel, bound with cords and made of cedar, among thy merchandise. The ships of Tarshish were thy caravans for thy merchandise: and thou wast replenished, and made very glorious in the heart of the seas.”
Ancient Babylon and the city of Tyre both suffered great losses long before John found himself on the Isle of Patmos.

In its economic critique of end-time “Babylon,” Revelation adapts the list of trade goods from the Ezekiel to correspond to the kind of commodities ships transported to 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 “make themselves utterly bald for thee, and gird them with sackcloth, and they shall weep for thee with bitterness of heart and bitter wailing.” Likewise, in Revelation – Though they mourn her and their loss, the “merchants” and the “kings of the earth” have no desire to partake of the plagues inflicted on “Babylon.”

Shipwrecks - Photo by Matin Tavazoei on Unsplash
Photo by Matin Tavazoei on Unsplash

For in one hour so great riches are made desolate.” The same Greek verb rendered “desolate” in Revelation 17:16 is used here - The agent that desolates the commercial empire of Babylon is the group of “ten kings” - (“The ten horns will hate the harlot and make her desolate”).

What city is like unto the great city?” The lamentations of the “merchants” and “sailors” echo the dirge of Ezekiel over Tyre, only now, they are applied to end-time “Babylon - “And in their wailing, they shall take up a lamentation for thee, and lament over thee, saying, What city is like Tyre, like the destroyed in the midst of the sea?” (Ezekiel 27:32).

Babylon” Laid Waste
  • (Revelation 18:20-24) – “Be glad over her, thou heaven! And ye saints and ye apostles and ye prophets! For that God hath exacted your vindication from her. And one mighty messenger lifted a stone, as it were a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying— Thus, with main force shall be cast down Babylon, the great city,— and in nowise be found any more; And sound of harp-singers and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters,— in nowise be heard in thee anymore; and any artisan [of any art],— in nowise be found in thee anymore; and sound of millstone,— in nowise be found in thee anymore; And light of lamp,— in nowise shine in thee anymore; and voice of bridegroom and bride, — in nowise be heard in thee anymore; because thy merchants were the great ones of the earth, because with thy sorcery were all the nations deceived: And in her blood of prophets and saints was found,— and of all who had been slain upon the earth” – (The Emphasized Bible).
Be glad over her…you saints and apostles and prophets, for that God has exacted your vindication from her.” The collapse of the economic system is not just a punishment for her sins, but also a vindication of the “saints” persecuted by the “Great Whore.” The inclusion of the “apostles and prophets” demonstrates that those who were persecuted by her were Christians – Followers of the “Lamb wherever he goes.”

The term “apostles” occurs only two additional times in the book - For the “false apostles” active in the Church at Ephesus, and for the names of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb” engraved on the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem - (Revelation 2:2, 21:14).

The call for the “saints” to “rejoice” echoes the pronouncement of Jeremiah against ancient Babylon for persecuting the Jews:
  • (Jeremiah 51:47-48) – “Therefore, behold, the days come, that I will do judgment upon the graven images of Babylon: and her whole land shall be confounded, and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her. Then, the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, shall sing for Babylon.”
Next, an angel next cast a great stone into the sea while proclaiming - “Thus, with main force, shall be cast down Babylon the great city, and in nowise be found anymoreAnd sound of harp-singers, and musicians, and flute-players, and trumpeters, — in nowise be heard in thee anymore.” Once again, the passage alludes to Jeremiah’s pronouncement against Babylon, and to Ezekiel’s lament over Tyre, as follows:
  • (Jeremiah 51:63-64) – “And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates: And thou shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her.”
  • (Jeremiah 51:37) – “And Babylon shall become heaps, a dwelling place for serpents, an astonishment and a hissing, without an inhabitant.”
  • (Ezekiel 26:13) – “And I will cause the noise of thy songs to cease; and the sound of thy harps shall be no more heard. And I will make thee a bare rock; thou shalt be a place for the spreading of nets; thou shalt be built no more: for I, Yahweh, have spoken it.”
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. This description is a further echo from the book of 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.
Because by your sorcery were all the nations deceived.” “Sorcery” translates the Greek noun pharmakeia, a term related to pharmakon or “sorcery,” a Greek word used elsewhere in Revelation and the New Testament for “sorcery” and “witchcraft” – as follows:
  • (Revelation 9:21) – “And the rest of mankind, who were not killed with these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood; which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk: and they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
  • (Galatians 5:20) – “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife…”
Pharmakon (the neuter case) often included the potions used by sorcerers in magical rituals and spells, whether to work good or ill. Closely related is the noun pharmakeus - A “sorcerer” who performed spells and prepared potions for use in them - (Revelation 21:8 – “But the fearful and unbelieving…and sorcerers will have their part in the lake which burns with fire”).

In this passage, it is not sorcerers and witches in general that are condemned, but the “great city” for her “sorcery.” The term pharmakon in the masculine gender (pharmakos), as here, in ancient Greece referred to human victims sacrificed or expelled as scapegoats during times of societal crisis, very often criminals and other undesirables. John may wish his readers to make this 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.  The Greek verb sphazo was used specifically for killing animals in sacrificial rituals.  It is the same term applied previously to the “slain” Lamb and the souls who were “slain for the word of God” under the altar when the fifth seal was opened (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 are the saints, apostles, and prophets slain on account of their testimony.

When the “Beast from the Abyss” killed the “Two Witnesses,” their corpses were left lying in the street of the “Great City” where also “their Lord was crucified.” The “inhabitants of the earth” rejoiced over their deaths because the Two Witnesses had “tormented” them with their prophetic “testimony.” It is for the “testimony of Jesus” that the “Dragon” and his vassals slay the “saints” - (Revelation 11:7-13).
  • (Revelation 1:5) – “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead.”
  • (Revelation 2:13) – “In the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwelleth.”
  • (Revelation 12:11) – “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.”
  • (Revelation 12:17) – “And the dragon was angered against the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed—with them who were keeping the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus.
  • (Revelation 17:6) – “And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.
  • (Revelation 20:4) – “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God.”
The judgment and destruction of end-time “Babylon” is the response of God to her persecution of the “saints,” as well as His vindication of their faithful “word of testimony.” Ultimately, in the book of Revelation, the conflict is between the Dragon and the Lamb, not between nation-states and conventional military forces. And this “war” plays out on the earth when the servants of the Devil persecute the followers of Jesus.

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