Read Revelation 18
When the first Gulf War erupted in 1990, there was considerable speculation from a number of Christian groups that thought these events hailed the coming of Jesus Christ. They pointed to the destruction of Babylon, recorded here in chapter 18, as proof that we were witnessing the final events of the world as we know it. Babylon, as a Biblical nation, was located in modern day Iraq, its capital located in the central portion of the country between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The coalition attack on Iraq and subsequent speedy victory over the country, for some, became further proof that Jesus’ coming was right around the corner.
As we have talked about several times now, however, it is very difficult to make links like this between modern day events and what is written in Revelation. Sadly, a large number of failed predictions like this have led to a great deal of confusion and even apathy among believers when it comes to “end times” discussions.
John is taken by an angel to see the destruction of “Babylon,” which is described as “the great prostitute.” Remember that in Scripture, those people and nations who commit idolatry against the Lord by worshiping false Gods are often described by the prophets as having “prostituted” themselves to these idols. There is a considerable amount of sexual language and reference that is included in these references pointing to the intimacy of the relationship that God desires with us and the abundance of pain and betrayal that comes with idolatry. This language is no accident; even Paul writes that, in talking about the relationship between husband and wife he is also talking about Christ and the church.
Babylon, as a city and a nation, is used here to describe the seat of the resistance against God and His people. Babylon was, in the Old Testament, the second “Egypt experience” that God’s people had after Jerusalem was conquered and the people forced into exile in 587 B.C. In exile, the people of God were forced into idol worship, breaking the law by the foods that they were made to eat, and were completely cut off from their homeland and the Temple. This civilization was given considerable power by God to dominate the world at that time, punishing both Israel and the surrounding nations for the sins that they had committed.
Daniel, however, also records God’s punishment of the sins Babylon as well in the story of the writing on the wall in Daniel 5. At the peak of her power (and incidentally her idolatry as well) King Belshazzar holds a feast and uses many of the items from the Temple of the Lord. In the middle of the feast, a hand appears and writes on the wall something only Daniel could interpret: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN.” He translates it for the king: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed and found wanting; and PERES, the kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.
A similar fate is sealed for Revelation’s Babylon as well, though the Kingdom will not be divided but rather redeemed and restored to its rightful state and ruler, Jesus Christ.
A warning is issued to God’s people living in Babylon, they must leave or not even they will be spared the wrath of God that is about to be poured out. This warning echoes the story of Lot who is brought out of the city of Sodom before God destroys is and Gomorrah as well.
The doom of Babylon is said to be equal to that of the judgment that Babylon imposed on the people of God. This is, at least on some level, true of the Old Testament Babylon, losing everything just as the Jews lost everything. In Revelation, this is also true. As we have seen, Babylon, along with its leaders the dragon and the two beasts, have been active in their persecution of God’s people. Scripture says she receives a “double portion” of what she poured out. In essence, the scales are to not just going to be balanced at the end, but the weight of sin and evil will be completely eclipsed by God’s grace and love.
John records that many will mourn the loss of Babylon. Kings, merchants, and seamen are all groups of people that had benefitted greatly from Babylon and her luxuries. Their benefits and wealth are matched only by their grief for her loss, not because of a conviction of sins, however, but most likely a mourning of the great financial loss that they incurred because of Babylon’s fall.
There is one final point that is made about Babylon’s fall and that is the finality of it. After all of this is shown to John, the angel shows him exactly what this end is to mean for the “great” city. It will be like a millstone thrown into the sea; it will never be found again. While I think that we’ve talked about this a number of times, it does bear mentioning again that this is the ultimate trajectory of Revelation and it is an eternal one. The enemies of God will be thrown down, all opposition to God will be removed, and the earth will once again experience the full measure of love and grace with the presence of God being here with us.