“The Great City Babylon…Shall Not Be Found Anymore” (Revelation 18)


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the Book of Revelation”

The following study was published yesterday in The Fulfilled Connection (TFC) Magazine, and is adapted from our study of Revelation 18:

Revelation 18 concerns the final and irreversible overthrow of Babylon. My two previous articles in this series reveal much about Babylon and her identity: [1] The Harlot of Revelation 17 and Its Relationship to Old Covenant Israel and [2] The Seven-Headed, Ten-Horned Beast of Revelation 17This article will build on those posts.

Verses 1-2: This chapter begins with a glorious angel announcing to John that Babylon is fallen, and that she is 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.” Steve Gregg, in his book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” states (p. 424):

[This] is known to be true of Jerusalem, which became overrun by demons, as Christ predicted (Matt. 12:38-45), and which, being reduced to ground level, again as Christ predicted (Matt. 24:2), became the haunt of the desert creatures considered unclean in the Jews’ religion.

Verse 3: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.” Just as the 144,000 of Revelation 14 were called “virgins” because of their faithfulness, Babylon was found guilty of spiritual unfaithfulness. Steve Gregg notes how similar language was used of Jerusalem before falling to Babylon in 586 BC, and deduces what this means for first century Jerusalem as she takes on the name of her old conqueror (pp. 424, 426):

Jerusalem was charged with committing fornication with the kings of the earth (v. 3) in Old Testament times (Ezek. 16:14-15, 26, 28-30; 23:12-21). The prophet used this imagery to explain God’s reason for bringing judgment upon Jerusalem by the hands of the Babylonians in 586 B.C. It would seem appropriate that the New Testament apostle/prophet would employ the same language in describing a near-identical event, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

As I noted in my previous article, first century historians spoke of Jerusalem’s political greatness, magnificent structures, and wealth. Jerusalem made the merchants of Israel/Palestine wealthy (“ge” in Greek can be translated as “earth” or “land”).

Verse 4: And I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.’” It’s important to realize that Babylon was not just a city (Jerusalem). John wrote to seven churches in Asia Minor, to people who didn’t live in Jerusalem or even in Israel. So this was not a call to flee from a city, but to part ways with old covenant Judaism once and for all. Babylon represented the unfaithful community which had rejected Jesus and was clinging to the old covenant. Both Jerusalem and temple-based Judaism were judged and destroyed in 70 AD. The Lord’s admonition to “come out of her” is similar to Peter’s words in Acts 2:40: “And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’” Steve Gregg (p. 428) remarks,

The call to Come out of her, my people (v. 4)…echoes similar exhortations concerning ancient Babylon (cf. Isa. 48:20; Jer. 50:8; 51:6)… The epistle to the Hebrews as a whole (and especially passages like Heb. 12:25-29; 13:13-14) constitutes just such a call as that found here.

Verses 5-6: In these verses Steve Gregg (p. 430) draws three more parallels to Old Covenant Jerusalem:

[1] The statement that her sins have reached to heaven (v. 5) is an apparent allusion to God’s assessment of Sodom in Genesis 18:21, and Sodom has already been used as a symbolic name for Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8).

[2] One of the provisions of the New Covenant was God’s promise that “I will remember no more” the sins and iniquities of His people (Jer. 31:34). This is one of the “better promises” (Heb. 8:6) by which the New Covenant outshines the first. Contrarily, it can be said of her who related to God on the basis of the Old Covenant, and violated it, that God has remembered her iniquities (v. 5). This was Jerusalem.

[3] That God has determined to repay her double (v. 6) for her sins is another link to Jerusalem and Judah, of whom the prophet said, “I will repay double for their iniquity and their sin” (Jer. 16:18) and, “Bring on them the day of doom, and destroy them with double destruction!” (Jer. 17:18).

Verse 7: Here we read of Babylon’s pride, as she says in her heart, “I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.” Compare this to what is written of Babylon in Isaiah’s day: “Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me, I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children’” (Isaiah 47:8). Interestingly, Lamentations 1:1 says this about Jerusalem shortly after she fell the first time in 586 BC: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.”

Verse 8: Just like Babylon in Isaiah’s day (Is. 47:9), “Babylon” in John’s day was to receive her plagues “in a single day”: death, mourning, famine, and burning with fire. It’s well documented that these very things took place in Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, and I previously wrote in detail about these events herehere, and here.

Verses 9-10: “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. Then they will stand afar 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.’” George Peter Holford, basing his 1805 account on the writings of Josephus, wrote the following about the burning of Jerusalem’s temple in 70 AD:

The Romans, exasperated to the highest pitch against the Jews, seized every person whom they could find, and, without the least regard to sex, age or quality, first plundered and then slew them. The old and the young, the common people and the priests, those who surrendered and those who resisted, were equally involved in this horrible and indiscriminate carnage. Meanwhile the Temple continued burning, until at length, vast as was its size, the flames completely enveloped the whole building; which, from the extent of the conflagration, impressed the distant spectator with an idea that the whole city was now on fire.

Verses 11-14: Verse 11 is the first of five verses which speak of the permanency of Babylon’s fall (cf. verses 14, 21, 22, and 23). Indeed, no one has been able to practice old covenant Judaism since the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

These verses list 28 different types of cargo which would no longer be found in Babylon, including “human souls” (verse 13). Steve Gregg remarks about this list (p. 436): “The demands of the passage do not require that the city in question be the greatest commercial center in the world—only that it was a wealthy, cosmopolitan trading city, by whose business international merchants were made rich.” These things were certainly true of Jerusalem. In The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim writes:

“In these streets and lanes everything might be purchased: the production of Palestine, or imported from foreign lands—nay, the rarest articles from the remotest parts. Exquisitely shaped, curiously designed and jeweled cups, rings, and other workmanship of precious metals; glass, silks, fine linen, woolen stuffs, purple, and costly hangings; essences, ointments, and perfumes, as precious as gold; articles of food and drink from foreign lands—in short, what India, Persia, Arabia, Media, Egypt, Italy, Greece, and even the far-off lands of the Gentiles yielded, might be had in these bazaars. Ancient Jewish writings enable us to identify no fewer than 118 different articles of import from foreign lands, covering more than even modern luxury has devised.”

Duncan McKenzie has much to say about these verses in his 2006 article titled “The Merchandise of the Temple.” The following is an excerpt from that article:

Babylon was not a literal city (not Jerusalem and certainly not Rome). It was a symbol of a community of people, a symbol of God’s unfaithful old covenant community. This community is being represented by images associated with the Temple and the priesthood… Of the items which are listed in Rev 18, gold and silver, precious stones, fine linen, purple, silk (for vestments) scarlet, precious wood, bronze, iron (cf. Deut 8:9), marble cinnamon (as an ingredient of the sacred anointing oil), spices, incense, ointment, frankincense, wine, oil fine meal (Gr. Semidalis, used frequently in Leviticus for fine flour offering), corn, beasts, sheep are all found in use in the temple. Ivory and probably pearls were found in Herod’s temple…

The listing of merchandise in Revelation 18 is similar to the listing of the merchandise of Tyre in Ezekiel 27:12-24, as is the lamenting by those who got wealthy off the respective cities (Ezekiel 27:28-36). In Ezekiel 27 the city of Tyre is pictured as a ship (vv. 5-9) that sinks at sea (vv. 26, 32, 34). In Revelation 18 the Temple system of unfaithful Israel is pictured as a city that is overthrown… Only 15 of the 27 items in Revelation 18:12-13 are the same as the 38 items listed in Ezekiel 27:12-24… There is, however, a connection between the commerce of the Temple and that of Tyre. The currency of Tyre was the only currency allowed in the Temple. Thus Revelation 18’s allusion to the commerce of Tyre may contain an allusion to the commerce of the Temple.

McKenzie also points out that “Revelation 18:13 consists mostly of items that were used in the sacrifices and offerings of the Temple: cinnamon, incense, fragrant oil, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep.” He has some interesting thoughts on why “bodies and souls of men” are among the merchandise in verse 13:

The leaders of the Jewish temple system were enslaving men’s souls by turning them away from Jesus and attempting to keep them under the old covenant. The Temple hierarchy had been in bed with Rome (so much so that Rome even appointed the high priest)…

Jesus had accused the Jewish leadership of enslaving men’s souls by preventing them from entering the kingdom of God: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matt. 23:13, 15).

In Galatians 4:24-25 Paul tells how those under the old covenant were enslaved, as opposed to those under New Covenant who were free (Gal. 4:26-27). This gets back to the parallel between the two women/cities of Galatians 4:21-31 and the two women/cities of Revelation. Just as the “other woman” in Galatians had children who were enslaved (those staying under the old covenant, Gal. 4:24-25), so harlot Babylon had her slaves.

Verses 15-19: In verse 16 we see that the great city “was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls.” In our study of Rev. 17:4, we saw this same description given to the harlot, Babylon the great (17:1, 5). There we noted that the description of the harlot’s attire was nearly identical to the ephod worn by the high priest (Exodus 28:5-21).

Babylon is referred to again as “the great city” (Rev. 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21). This title was first given to Jerusalem in Rev. 11:8, where it’s said that two witnesses would “lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” In Rev. 18:17-19 we see the “merchants of wares” and the sea traders weeping and wailing as they watch Babylon burn.

Verse 20:Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” This same indictment was given in Rev. 16:4-6 and 17:6, and is repeated again in 18:24. This time “apostles” are included as well as prophets and saints. James, the brother of Jesus, was just one of the apostles martyred in the first century. In 62 AD he was thrown off the temple by the Pharisees and religious leaders, and was then stoned to death. Peter and Paul were martyred by Nero, at the instigation of the Jews.

Jesus clearly prophesied that the martyrdom of the saints and prophets would be held to the account of His first-century audience in Israel: “…that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth… Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation…” (Matt. 23:35-36; cf. Acts 7:52).

Verses 21-23: Once again it is said of Babylon that she “will be found no more.” Here this is demonstrated by a mighty angel throwing a great millstone into the sea. Duncan McKenzie comments, “Seeing the harlot as the old covenant temple system helps to explain Revelation 18:21… The city of Jerusalem has risen again; the old covenant temple system has not risen again (and won’t).”

Verse 24: “And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.” These words are so similar to what Jesus said in Matthew 23:35 that the connection should be unmistakable. Babylon was judged in 70 AD, just as Jesus said would happen. The one who said she was a queen and would never see sorrow was irreversibly put to death, but God’s dwelling place was found with His new covenant bride.

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3 thoughts on ““The Great City Babylon…Shall Not Be Found Anymore” (Revelation 18)

  1. Used a lot of material from your website in teaching my adult Sunday School class last week. Didn’t know how preterism would go over. Class loved it. Some said Bible especially Revelation finally made sense to them. They also said no one had ever taught them about Christ being the new Israel of God. I am very pleased.

    Liked by 1 person

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