“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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The Seven-Headed, Ten-Horned Beast of Revelation 17


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

UPDATE: This post was written when I understood the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 to be the same as the sea beast of Revelation 13:1-10, the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 to be the first seven Roman emperors, and the 10 horns of Revelation 17:12-14 to be the rulers of Rome’s 10 Senatorial Provinces. I now understand the seven kings to Revelation 17:10 to be the high priests of the house of Annas, and the 10 horns to be 10 Jewish generals (named by Josephus) who were appointed around January 67 AD to oversee specific territories and to prepare for war with Rome. This post will be updated accordingly when time allows.

In a recent post,The Harlot of Revelation 17 and Its Relationship to Old Covenant Israel,” we examined the first six verses of Revelation 17. There we were introduced to “a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns” (verse 3). In that article, we mainly discussed the harlot who sat on this beast. In this article, we will take a closer look at this beast and the significance of its seven heads and ten horns.

This is the same beast as the beast from the sea, which John saw in Revelation 13:1-10. That beast also had seven heads, ten horns, and a blasphemous name (13:1). Just as the whole world marveled and followed him (13:3), here in Rev. 17:8 we see that “those who dwell on the earth will marvel” at the beast.

The Beast’s Seven Heads

The angel tells John that the beast’s seven heads represent two things: “seven mountains on which the woman sits” and [2] “also seven kings” (verse 9). In his book,Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” Steve Gregg quotes from David S. Clark, who says,

“We had the beast located geographically on the seven hills, which meant Rome. Now we have him located in history to tell us what period of Rome we are dealing with. And there is no period of Rome’s history that will fit this description but the dynasty of the Caesars.”

Kenneth Gentry, in his book, “Before Jerusalem Fell,” notes (p. 163) that the Coin of Vespasian (emperor of Rome from 69-79 AD) discovered by archaeologists pictures the goddess Roma as a woman seated on seven hills. First-century Rome used to celebrate a feast called Septimontium, the feast of “the seven-hilled city.”

Rev. 17:10 provides a remarkable time marker for when this was written: “There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time.” The following chart shows the first 10 emperors of the Roman Empire, who reigned until the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. The first five are the ones who had fallen by John’s day, and the sixth is the one who was presently reigning when John wrote Revelation:

Order of Emperors Name of Emperor Length of Reign Notes/Details
#1 Julius Caesar October 49 BC – March 44 BC “Perpetual Dictator”
#2 Augustus January 27 BC – August 14 AD -time of Jesus’ birth
#3 Tiberius August 14 AD – March 37 AD -time of Jesus’ ascension
#4 Caligula March 37 AD – January 41 AD Murdered
#5 Claudius January 41 AD – October 54 AD Assassinated
#6 Nero October 54 AD – June 68 AD Committed suicide
#7 Galba June 68 AD – January 69 AD Murdered
#8 Otho January 69 AD – April 69 AD Committed suicide
#9 Vitellius April 69 AD – December 69AD Murdered
#10 Vespasian December 69 AD – June 79 AD Destroyed Jerusalem

Although some historians do not consider Julius Caesar to be one of the emperors, Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD) was one who did, and the above list reflects his own in Antiquities of the Jews (Books 18-19, 93 AD). Numerous Roman historians contemporary to Josephus agree, including Dio Cassius and Suetonius (70-135 AD), who wrote Lives of the Twelve Caesars and De Vita Caesarum. It’s also noteworthy that Julius Caesar was appointed as “perpetual dictator” in 42 BC.

According to the above list, then, Nero was the “king” of whom John said “one is” (i.e. “he is reigning now”), and Galba was the one who had “not yet come.” Galba reigned only six months, and he is the one of whom the angel said “he must continue a short time.”

There is no barrier to this interpretation in the fact that John uses the term “kings” and not “emperors.” Tiberius was referred to as a king in John 19:15 and Claudius was referred to as a king in Acts 17:7. Both were Roman emperors.  One may also note that the chart above indicates more Roman emperors than were referenced by John. Kenneth Gentry quotes J. Russell Stuart, who spoke on this matter in his book Apocalypse:

But why only seven kings? First because the number seven is the reigning symbolic number of the book; then, secondly, because this covers the ground which the writer means specially to occupy, viz., it goes down to the period when the persecution then raging would cease (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 163).

Nero began persecuting Christians throughout the Roman Empire beginning in November 64 AD. This persecution only ended upon his death in June 68 AD. This was 3.5 years later, fulfilling Revelation 13:5-7, which said that the beast would make war with the saints and overcome them for 42 months.

The Beast’s 10 Horns

John is then introduced to 10 more kings in verses 12-13. He is told that the beast’s ten horns are “ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind and hand over their power and authority to the beast.” Some have thought these 10 kings to be the very ones listed in the chart above, since all 10 of them reigned (or had begun to reign, in Vespasian’s case) before Jerusalem’s destruction. However, John wrote that in his day they had “not yet received royal power,” so this view is eliminated.

Another more likely view is that these 10 kings were the rulers of the 10 senatorial provinces of Rome who were empowered by Nero to assist him in carrying out his campaign of persecution against the saints. Revelation 17:14 called this campaign making “war with the Lamb.” Jesus took it personal when His followers were persecuted and martyred. This was also true when Paul (formerly Saul) was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). When he was knocked to the ground on the road to Damascus, a voice from heaven said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5).

The Global Glossary on the Greco-Roman world says there were 10 Senatorial Provinces in ancient Rome: They were “areas that were governed by Roman pro-magistrates; there were ten senatorial provinces, eight of which were led by ex-praetors and two of which were led by ex-consuls.” Wikipedia lists these 10 Senatorial Provinces, as they existed in 14 AD, as follows: [1] Achaea [2] Africa [3] Asia [4] Creta et Cyrene [5] Cyprus [6] Gallia Narbonensis [7] Hispania Baetica [8] Macedonia [9] Pontus et Bithynia [10] Sicilia. One Biblical mention of a Roman provincial ruler is in Acts 18:12-17, where we are told of Gallio the “proconsul of Achaia.” In Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas had direct contact with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7). See here for more information on the Senatorial Provinces of the Roman Empire, and how and by whom authority was distributed.

The above quotation from Wikipedia lists the 10 provinces of Rome as they were then named. Steve Gregg lists them by names that would be considered more modern (p. 456): Italy, Achaia, Asia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Germany. As seen in this map, Israel/Palestine belonged to the province of Egypt. Indeed, the Roman Empire was the world at that time, as can be seen by Luke’s description of Caesar Augustus’ decree “that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1; cf. Acts 2:5).

Roman Empire

Photo credit: http://gbgm-umc.org/UMW/corinthians/empire.stm (Original source: David Camden)

In Rev. 17:15-17 the angel explains to John why the harlot was shown sitting “on many waters” (verse 1). John was told that they represent “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” Steve Gregg shares this quote from David Chilton (pp. 416, 418):

Jerusalem could truly be portrayed as seated on “many waters” (i.e. the nations) because of the great and pervasive influence the Jews had in all parts of the Roman Empire before the destruction of Jerusalem. Their synagogues were in every city, and the extent of their colonization can be seen in the record of the Day of Pentecost, which tells us that “there were Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).

In verse 16, we are told that the 10 horns (kings) would join the beast in hating “the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.” Steve Gregg points out that this very same turn of events was predicted for Jerusalem just before it fell in 586 BC for playing the harlot (pp. 418, 420):

I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure… I will gather them from all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them… And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged; I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy… They shall burn your houses with fire…and I will make you cease playing the harlot (Ezekiel 16:37-41).

It’s probably no coincidence that the word “desolate” is used in verse 16, just as it is used in Rev. 18:17, 19 and also in Daniel 9:27 and by Jesus in Luke 21:20. In each case it’s used concerning first century Jerusalem, the “house” that Jesus said was left desolate (Matthew 23:38).

We also know from accounts provided by Josephus (a Jewish historian) and Tacitus (a Roman historian from the same time period) that a number of kings from surrounding provinces joined Vespasian and Titus in Rome’s war against Israel from 67-70 AD. At the very end of July 70 AD, on the exact same day that Jerusalem was burned in 586 BC, the Second Temple was burned to the ground. Josephus remarked that from a distance the entire city of Jerusalem appeared to be on fire. In fact, during August and September 70 the rest of the city was set on fire and leveled to the ground.

In Rev. 17:18, the woman is identified as “the great city” and is said to have “dominion over the kings of the earth.” The designation “great city” was first given to Jerusalem in Revelation 11:8, where it was said to be the place “where also our Lord was crucified.” It’s repeated here in these chapters as a reference to Babylon the Great on at least seven occasions (16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21; cf. Rev. 14:8). Steve Gregg quotes from David Chilton on why it’s fitting that Jerusalem was known as “the great city” (p. 422):

If the City is Jerusalem, how can it be said to wield this kind of worldwide political power? The answer is that Revelation is not a book about politics; it is a book about the Covenant. Jerusalem did reign over the nations. She did possess a Kingdom which was above all the kingdoms of the world. She had a covenantal priority over the kingdoms of the earth.

Lamentations, written shortly after Jerusalem fell the first time in 586 BC, begins this way: “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.” Interestingly, the great city in John’s day says, “I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see” (Rev. 18:7). Also when Jeremiah prophesied of Jerusalem’s soon coming destruction in his day, he wrote:

And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them” (Jeremiah 22:8-9).

Jerusalem apparently was great in the political sense as well, though. As Kenneth Gentry writes (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 171),

Jerusalem housed a Temple that, according to Tacitus “was famous beyond all other works of men.” Another Roman historian, Pliny, said of Jerusalem that it was “by far the most famous city of the ancient Orient.” According to Josephus, a certain Agatharchides spoke of Jerusalem thus: “There are a people called Jews, who dwell in a city the strongest of all other cities, which the inhabitants call Jerusalem.” Appian called it “the great city Jerusalem.” …More important, however, is the covenantal significance of Jerusalem. The obvious role of Jerusalem in the history of the covenant should merit it such greatness… Josephus sadly extols Jerusalem’s lost glory after its destruction: “This was the end which Jerusalem came to be the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificance, and of mighty fame among all mankind (Wars 7:1:1)… And where is not that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation, which was fortified by so many walls round about, which had so many fortresses and large towers to defend it, which could hardly contain the instruments prepared for the war, and which had so many tens of thousands of men to fight for it? Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations” (Wars 7:8:7).

J. Stuart Russell makes another observation regarding the phrase “kings of the earth” used in verse 18. Not only is this expression found throughout Revelation, he says, but it’s also in Acts 4:26-27. There “Herod and Pontius Pilate are identified by the very same expression. Plainly, then, in Acts the expression means ‘the leaders or rulers of the Land’ (i.e. of Israel). If that is the phrase’s meaning here in verse 18, then Jerusalem surely can be said to be the city that reigns over the rulers of Israel” (Gregg, p. 422).

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This article is adopted from our study of Revelation 17 (Part 2), and is also featured in The Fulfilled Connection (TFC) Magazine.

Revelation Chapter 18


REVELATION 18

Dave: December 10, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 18:1-24

This post begins with a study prepared by Dave, in black font. Dave has asked a number of very good questions. Feel free to take on these questions in the “Comments” section. An additional study has been prepared by Adam, and is in maroon font below Dave’s study.

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Do you see any words or phrases that remind you of other things we have studied in Revelation?

  • An angel with a mighty voice (see Rev. 10:1)
  • “kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her” (Rev. 17:2)
  • Babylon was arrayed like the prostitute (Rev. 18:16 and 17:4)
  • The great city (Rev. 11:2, 8; see also 18:2, 10, 16, 18, 19, 21)
  • Babylon was full of the blood of prophets and saints (Rev. 18:24 and 16:4-6, 17:6; cf. Matt. 23:29-38)
  • Babylon’s self-sufficiency is similar to what John wrote of the Laodicean church (Rev. 18:7 and 3:17)

What recurring themes or words do you see in chapter 18?

  • Sexual immorality (verses 3 and 9)
  • Unclean (verse 2)
  • Luxury/riches/wealth ( verses 3, 7, 9, 14, 19)
  • The great city (verses 2, 10, 16, 18, 19, 21)
  • Saints, apostles, prophets (verses 20 and 24)
  • Famine, death, judgment, and morning (verses 8, 9, 10, 15, 19)

What are the major contrasts in chapter 18?

  • [A] Luxury/wealth/riches/greatness vs. [B] plagues/death/mourning/famine
  • [A] Sexual immorality (verses 3 and 9) vs. [B] standing far off (verse 10)
  • [A] Rejoicing (on the part of the saints, in verse 20) and [B] weeping and mourning (on the part of the merchants, in verse 11)
  • [A] Wealth/greatness/industry/splendor vs. [B] desolation/darkness

Do any questions jump out at you when you read Chapter 18?

  • Who is Babylon?
  • If Babylon is a city, why are the seven churches in Asia (the recipients of the letter) told to “come out of her”?  The saints who are being written to are nowhere near this city. Is something else meant other than physically removing one’s self from a particular city?
  • Can the admonition from the voice of heaven in verse 4 have an application to us here in Minneapolis in the year 2009-2010?
  • In verse 7, Babylon declares, “I am no widow…” What is meant by this attitude?
  • Who are the Bride and the Bridegroom in verse 23?

What are some lessons that we can take from Chapter 18?

  • Riches are not a universal indication of God’s approval.  Babylon had great wealth but God brought upon her plagues, famine, destruction, desolation and death.  Her death is celebrated in heaven.  Financial prosperity can be very dangerous.
  • Rev. 18 helps us to persevere when we see the temporary prosperity of the wicked and godless.  See also Psalm 37 and Psalm 73.
  • We need to be wary of our associations.  “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins” (verse 4).

What do we know about Babylon?

  • Her fall is sudden  (verses 10, 17, 19).
  • Her fall is permanent (verse 22).
  • She had been a wealthy, prominent, and influential city (verses 11-17).
  • Other leaders and traders are grieved (verses 9, 11, 15, 17).
  • Holy prophets and saints rejoice (verses 20 and 24).

Which of the above lend credence to Babylon being Rome?

Which lend credence to Babylon being Jerusalem (or Judaism)?

What would you say?

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Adam’s Study on Revelation 18: Posted on January 30, 2010

Revelation 18 concerns the irreversible overthrow of Babylon. In the two previous posts on chapter 17, much has already been said regarding Babylon and her identity. These posts can be seen here and here, and the first one lists 13 reasons for why Babylon is to be identified with 1st century Jerusalem and Judaism. Sam Storms, as most Historicists do, sees Babylon as representing Rome. Still, even though his viewpoint is different than what is being proposed here, he makes a number of helpful observations, including this chapter outline here:

(1) the prediction of Babylon’s fall (vv. 1-3); (2) an exhortation to God’s people to separate from Babylon before judgment comes (vv. 4-8); (3) the lament of those who cooperate with Babylon (the kings of the earth) [vv. 9-10], the merchants of the earth [vv. 11-17a], the mariners [vv. 17b-19]); and (4) the rejoicing of the faithful once Babylon’s judgment is complete (vv. 20-24).

Verses 1-2: In chapter 17 John was spoken to and carried away in the Spirit by “one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls.” Now another angel announces to John that Babylon is fallen, and in her fallen state 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, on page 424 of his book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” states:

The fact that Babylon has become a habitation of every foul spirit and every unclean and hateful bird (v. 2) 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. No such literal fulfillment of these words has been demonstrated with regard to Rome.

Verse 3: Gregg notes that some see evidence for Rome’s identity with Babylon because of the last phrase in this verse: “…and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.” The idea is that Rome was more known than Jerusalem for having “had a major impact upon the world’s economy.” Yet we noted in the previous post that famous historians also spoke of Jerusalem’s political greatness and magnificent structures. It’s also worth noting Josephus’ description of Jerusalem in his introduction to Wars of the Jews: 

“it had so come to pass, that our city Jerusalem had arrived at a higher degree of felicity than any other city under the Roman government, and yet at last fell into the sorest of calamities again” (Wars Preface 1.4).

In our study of Revelation so far, we have also suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. We first saw this in Revelation 1:7, a clear throwback to Zechariah 12:10-14. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case. What is being communicated here, then, is that Jerusalem made the merchants of Israel/Palestine wealthy by what she had to offer.

The first part of verse 3 reads this way: “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…” Is the “sexual immorality” here meant to be understood literally as sexual contact between human beings, or is spiritual unfaithfulness in mind here? The former understanding has led some to believe that Babylon is the United States, because the US is known for exporting pornography around the world. Sam Storms understands it to be the latter, saying this phrase is meant to “portray religious and philosophical idolatry.” This is also similar to our preferred understanding in chapter 14 that the 144,000 “virgins” held such a status not in the sexual sense, but in terms of being righteous and faithful to God. Steve Gregg notes how very similar language was used of Jerusalem before Jerusalem’s fall at the hand of Babylon in 586 BC, and deduces what this means for 1st century Jerusalem even 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 it may be helpful to see what Ezekiel said of Jerusalem some 600 years before Christ’s birth, I will quote a portion of the above-mentioned passage here: “And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed upon you, declares the Lord God. But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passer-by; your beauty became his… How lovesick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute…” The greater context of this quoted passage (Ezek. 16:14-15, 30) shows that Jerusalem’s prostitution at that time had to do with sharing in the idolatry being practiced by surrounding nations.

Verse 4: Steve Gregg (p. 428) remarks,

The call to Come out of her, my people (v. 4) not only echoes similar exhortations concerning ancient Babylon (cf. Isa. 48:20; Jer. 50:8; 51:6), but also Christ’s instructions to the disciples to flee from the condemned city at the first sign of its imminent doom (cf. Luke 21:20-23). 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.

Dave (above) asked a couple of very pertinent questions regarding this verse: “If Babylon is a city, why are the seven churches in Asia (the recipients of the letter) told to ‘come out of her’?  The saints who are being written to are nowhere near this city. Is something else meant other than physically removing one’s self from a particular city?” Dave is right to ask what it would have meant for the inhabitants of Asia Minor to come out of Babylon, if only the physical city of Jerusalem is meant here. I believe that this was a command to part ways with Old Covenant Judaism once and for all. In the second half of our discussion on Rev. 17:1-6, I wrote, “Babylon represented not only Jerusalem, but also the unfaithful community which had rejected Jesus in order to maintain corrupted Old Covenant practices. Both physical Jerusalem and temple-based Judaism were judged and destroyed in 70 AD.” A more lengthy discussion of these matters can be found at that post.

John does seem to switch back and forth in his speech between the physical representation of Jerusalem (the city) and her spiritual representation (Judaism). This is also done elsewhere in Revelation and other Biblical texts on other subjects (e.g. In Romans 9-11, Paul uses the term “Israel” at times to refer to the geographical nation known by that name, but also refers to the Church by the same term, as in Romans 9:6). In any case, the Lord’s admonition to His people to “come out of her” is probably similar to Peter’s words in Acts 2:40, where it is recorded: “And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’”

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.” Sam Storms calls this idolatry and false security, and points out the similarities between these statements and 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.’” Also, very interestingly, Lamentations, written shortly after Jerusalem fell the first time in 586 BC, begins this way: “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.”

One author, referencing the Jewish historian Josephus, writes of the over-confidence of the Jewish people regarding their city and the temple and the bitter anguish they experienced when the temple was destroyed by fire in 70 AD: “No one believed that God would permit His Temple to be destroyed, and when this finally did happen, everyone within the city, men and women, young and old, were crazed with despair. Thousands cast themselves into the fire while others fell on their own swords.”

Verse 8: Just like Babylon in Isaiah’s day (Is. 47:9), the Babylon John was speaking of 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 here, here, and here.

Verses 9-10: These verses read, “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 might 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 graphic details in describing 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. The tumult and disorder which ensued upon this event, it is impossible (says Josephus) for language to describe. The Roman legions made the most horrid outcries; the rebels, finding themselves exposed to the fury of both fire and sword, screamed dreadfully; while the unhappy people who were pent up between the enemy and the flames, deplored their situation in the most pitiable complaints. Those on the hill and those in the city seemed mutually to return the groans of each other. Such as were expiring through famine, were revived by this hideous scene, and seemed to acquire new spirits to deplore their misfortunes. The lamentations from the city were re-echoed from the adjacent mountains, and places beyond Jordan. The flames which enveloped the Temple were so violent and impetuous, that the lofty hill on which it stood appeared, even from its deep foundations, as one large body of fire. The blood of the sufferers flowed in proportion to the rage of this destructive element; and the number of the slain exceeded all calculation. The ground could not be seen for the dead bodies, over which the Romans trampled in pursuit of the fugitives; while the crackling noise of the devouring flames mingled with the clamor of arms, the groans of the dying and the shrieks of despair, augmented the tremendous horror of a scene, to which the pages of history can furnish no parallel.

Verses 11-14: Verse 11 is the first of five verses which will speak of the permanency of Babylon’s fall, the others being verses 14, 21, 22, and 23. This lends credence to the earlier assertion that what is primarily being seen here is the fall of Old Covenant temple-based Judaism, even more so than simply the city of Jerusalem. Try and plan as they might, no one has been able to practice all (or even most of) the tenets of Judaism since the complete and final destruction of the temple in 70 AD. John Hagee, Benny Hinn, and others would do well to reconsider the funds they have raised in order to see a Third Temple built in Jerusalem one day. God was serious about dismantling the Old Covenant system, and the New Covenant means a lot to Him too.

Sam Storms points out that in verses 11-13 there is a list of 28 different types of cargo, no longer to be found in Babylon anymore after her downfall. Most shocking on this list is the mention of “human souls” (verse 13), and Sam Storms believes this indicates not only greed but also a brutality of some sort in the pursuit of all the other 27 items. Some object to Babylon’s identity as Jerusalem because they believe these items indicate a commercial center as prominent as Rome, and more prominent than Jerusalem. Steve Gregg answers this objection (p. 436): “[It] may be said that 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 concerning Jerusalem:

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.”

David Chilton further comments, “The wealth of Jerusalem was a direct result of the blessings promised in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. God had made her a great commercial center, but she had abused the gift. While there are similarities between the list of goods here and that in Ezekiel 27:12-24 (a prophecy against Tyre), it is likely that the items primarily reflect the Temple and the commerce surrounding it” (emphasis added). On this last statement, Duncan McKenzie has much to say in his 2006 article titled “The Merchandise of the Temple.” The following is an excerpt from that article:

First; why is John providing so much detail about Babylon’s merchandise? How does it add to what he is telling us? It is my position that this list of items is another example, one of the most extensive in Revelation, of physical referents being given in the midst of a symbol to aid in the identification of that symbol. As I have stated earlier, 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. If Babylon were a literal city this list of items would add little to the story being told here. If on the other hand Babylon is a symbol of unfaithful Israel then all of a sudden this merchandise makes much more sense. Quite simply, the “merchandise” of Babylon is the merchandise of the Temple.

Carrington wrote the following on the goods of Babylon, “The long list of merchandise in 18:11-13 is surely a catalogue of materials for building the Temple, and stores for maintaining it” [Phillip Carrington, The Meaning of Revelation, (London: Society for Promotion Christian Knowledge, 1931), 287]…

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. Although horses and chariots do seem to be incongruous, the Greek word for chariot is rhede, a four-wheel chariot, a fairly rare word which appears to come from the Latin name. The author may be insinuating that Roman ways were introduced into the sacred city [ J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, The Anchor Bible, vol. 38, eds. William R. Albright and David N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 304-305]. The four wheeled chariots (or carriages as Aune translates rhede) may allude to the wealthy aristocracy that had arisen around the current and former high priests.

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. As Ford noted, the items in Revelation 18 are considerably different with those of the (literal) city of Tyre. Only fifteen of the twenty-seven items in Revelation 18:12-13 are the same as the thirty eight items listed in Ezekiel 27:12-24. [The count changes by an item or two depending on what translation one uses and whether one counts “bodies and souls” as two items or one (i.e. “slaves, the souls of men” RSV)] 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 then elaborates on the ornate decorations in the Temple of Herod, whose lengthy and famous restoration project was only completed in 65 AD, merely five years before it was destroyed. McKenzie also hosts a discussion of the precious metals used in the temple, and cites the writings of Josephus on this matter. He also shows how “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.” His take on the mention of “slaves, that is, human souls” in verse 13 is this:

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). The Roman beast was about to turn on the harlot and destroy the whole old covenant system.

Interestingly, McKenzie points out,

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.” We saw this same description in our study of Rev. 17:4, speaking of the woman, “the great prostitute” (17:1) and “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (17:5). There we noted that “the description of the harlot’s attire (purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls) was nearly identical to the ephod worn by the high priest (…Exodus 28:5-21).” The same is true here; this is another reference to Jerusalem and the temple priesthood of the Old Covenant.

In verses 9-10, “the kings of the earth” were shown standing afar off and weeping and wailing over the smoke of Babylon’s burning. In verses 15-16, the “merchants of…wares” were shown doing the same. Now in verses 17-19 all the “shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea” mourn in the same manner. Babylon is referred to again as “the great city” (see also Rev. 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21). We first saw this title given to Jerusalem in Rev. 11:8, the passage which speaks of the two witnesses who would “lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.”

Verse 19 says that Jerusalem would become “desolate” in one hour. According to Josephus, when Israel lost the Jewish-Roman War (66 – 73 AD), Jerusalem was not merely “taken” as it had been five times previously. Instead this was its second “desolation”:

“And thus was Jerusalem taken, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, on the eighth day of the month Gorpeius [Elul]. It had been taken five times before, though this was the second time of its desolation; for Shishak, the king of Egypt, and after him Antiochus, and after him Pompey, and after them Sosius and Herod, took the city, but still preserved it; but before all these, the king of Babylon conquered it, and made it desolate, one thousand four hundred and sixty-eight years and six months after it was built” (Wars 6.10.1).

Verse 20: Here we read, “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” The same indictment was given in Rev. 16:4-6 and 17:6, and will be repeated again in 18:24. This time it includes a statement of justice for “apostles” as well. If this judgment is yet to come, as proposed by the Futurist standpoint, what 21st century entity might be responsible for shedding the blood of the apostles? However, we know, for example, that James the brother of Jesus was martyred in Jerusalem in 62 AD by the Pharisees and Jewish religious leaders, and that Peter and Paul were martyred at the command of Nero as he was instigated to do by the Jews (see our study on Rev. 17:3).

More importantly for our study, though, we have the clear prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 23:29-38 that the martyrdom of the saints and prophets would be held to the account of His first-century Jewish audience: “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. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16, Luke 13:33-34 and Acts 7:52). This judgment was poured out within the timeframe of the generation that heard Jesus speak these things, when Jerusalem was laid waste in 70 AD.

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 (that says Babylon would not rise again).  The city of Jerusalem has risen again; the old covenant temple system has not risen again (and won’t).” The angel then recites a list of activities which would no longer be heard or found in Babylon anymore.

This is also parallel to “the great mountain being thrown into the sea,” which John saw earlier in the sounding of the trumpet judgment (Revelation 8:8-9). The similarities are clearly seen when we compare the literary structures of these two passages:

Revelation 8:8

Revelation 18:21a

Revelation 18:21b

“And the second angelsounded, “And a strong angel saying,
and something like a great took up a stone like a great ‘Thus will Babylon that great
mountain burning with fire millstone city
was thrown into the sea…” and threw it into the sea, will be thrown down with violence
    and it will not be found any longer.”

See this post for more details on how the prayers of the saints were answered when the mountain of Jerusalem was cast into the sea: https://adammaarschalk.com/2016/07/25/that-mountain-was-cast-into-the-sea-and-these-mountains-can-be-too/.

Verse 24: Very similar to verse 20, we read here: “And in her [Babylon] 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. The fulfillment of this prophecy simply can not be yet future, in light of what Jesus said in the next verse, nor can it have been fulfilled in any other geographical location other than Jerusalem and the surrounding region. Babylon, that is, Jerusalem and Old Covenant Judaism as represented by her famous temple, were thrown down in judgment in 70 AD, just as Jesus said would happen. When we consider, as we did in verse 3, that the phrase “on earth” (also translated “land”) is a natural reference to Israel, this is further borne out.

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Our study of Revelation 19 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

Revelation Chapter 17 (Part 2: Verses 7-18)


REVELATION 17: Part 2

Adam Maarschalk: December 3, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 17

UPDATE: This post was written when I understood the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 to be the same as the sea beast of Revelation 13:1-10, the seven kings of Revelation 17:10 to be the first seven Roman emperors, and the 10 horns of Revelation 17:12-14 to be the rulers of Rome’s 10 Senatorial Provinces. I now understand the seven kings to Revelation 17:10 to be the high priests of the house of Annas, and the 10 horns to be 10 Jewish generals (named by Josephus) who were appointed around January 67 AD to oversee specific territories and to prepare for war with Rome. This post will be updated accordingly when time allows.

In Part 1 of our study of Revelation 17, we examined the first six verses of this chapter. We considered the identity of Babylon the Great, and saw numerous reasons for believing that this was in fact first-century Jerusalem, as well as Old Covenant temple-based Judaism. We were also introduced again (as in chapter 13) to the beast with seven heads and ten horns. In this second part, we will see how the angel unveils to John the meaning of the prostitute (Babylon the great) and the beast. When we come to verse 18, we will consider the significance of the reference to a “great city.”

B. The Meaning of the Woman and the Beast (Rev. 17:7-18)

Verse 7: The angel now prepares to tell John clearly who the woman and the beast are. He begins with the beast. Again we are told that the beast carries the woman. Recall that in our study of Revelation 13 a few weeks ago, we took note of the fact that the beast of the sea is both spoken of as an individual (the specific sense) and as a kingdom (generic sense).

Verse 8: The angel tells John that all “the dwellers on earth” (Israel)** whose names were not written in the book of life would marvel to see the beast that “was and is not and is to come.” There is a clear parallel here to Revelation 13:3-4, which states “…and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast…” (cf. Rev. 13:12 and the discussion there regarding the beast’s mortal head wound). More is said on this in verse 11.

**[In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]

Verses 9-10: Steve Gregg comments,

The principal concern in verses 7 through 11 has to do with the meaning of the seven heads of the beast as mountains (v. 9) and kings (v. 10). David S. Clark writes: “We had the beast located geographically on the seven hills, which meant Rome. Now we have him located in history to tell us what period of Rome we are dealing with. And there is no period of Rome’s history that will fit this description but the dynasty of the Caesars…”

In our study of Revelation 13, we looked ahead to this very passage. This is what we noted regarding the reference to the seven mountains spoken of in verse 9:

…there should be no doubt that this is speaking of Rome, and even Futurist scholars generally concede this point (although they may anticipate a revival of the Roman Empire). Kenneth Gentry also notes that the Coin of Vespasian (emperor of Rome from 69-79 AD) discovered by archaeologists pictures the goddess Roma as a woman seated on seven hills. Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, is the one city in history famous for its seven mountains. First-century Rome used to celebrate a feast called Septimontium, the feast of “the seven-hilled city.”

We also noted the following regarding the seven kings of verse 10, which states, “they [the seven heads] are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while”:

This description of the seven kings lines up well with historical data showing the emperors who reigned in the Roman Empire up until the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, which is as follows:

Order of Emperors Name of Emperor Length of Reign Notes/Details
#1 Julius Caesar October 49 BC – March 44 BC “Perpetual Dictator”
#2 Augustus January 27 BC – August 14 AD -time of Jesus’ birth
#3 Tiberius August 14 AD – March 37 AD -time of Jesus’ ascension
#4 Caligula March 37 AD – January 41 AD Murdered
#5 Claudius January 41 AD – October 54 AD Assassinated
#6 Nero October 54 AD – June 68 AD Committed suicide
#7 Galba June 68 AD – January 69 AD Murdered
#8 Otho January 69 AD – April 69 AD Committed suicide
#9 Vitellius April 69 AD – December 69AD Murdered
#10 Vespasian December 69 AD – June 79 AD Destroyed Jerusalem

Some historians do not consider Julius Caesar to be one of the emperors, and rather designate him as one who played a key role in transforming the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD), however, was one who did, and the above list reflects his own list in his writing titled Antiquities of the Jews (Books 18 and 19). Numerous Roman historians contemporary to Josephus agree. Among these were Dio Cassius and Suetonius (70-135 AD), who wrote Lives of the Twelve Caesars and De Vita Caesarum. Julius Caesar was appointed as “perpetual dictator” in 42 BC, so his inclusion in such a list would not have been strange.

According to the above list, then, Nero was the “king” of whom John said “one is” (i.e. “he is reigning now”), and Galba was the one who had “not yet come.” Galba reigned only six months, making him a good candidate to be the one who “must remain only a little while.”

There is no barrier to our interpretation here in the fact that John uses the term “kings” and not “emperors.” Tiberius was referred to as a king in John 19:15, and Claudius was referred to as a king in Acts 17:7. Both were Roman emperors.  One may also note that the chart above indicates more Roman emperors than were referenced by John. Kenneth Gentry quotes J. Russell Stuart, who spoke on this matter in his book Apocalypse:

But why only seven kings? First because the number seven is the reigning symbolic number of the book; then, secondly, because this covers the ground which the writer means specially to occupy, viz., it goes down to the period when the persecution then raging would cease (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 163).

We know that the imperial persecution initiated by Nero ceased with his death in 68 AD. Gentry makes the point that if it can be accepted that Revelation was written prior to that time, then “the enumeration of the ‘kings’ covers all of imperial history up until John’s time and the events ‘shortly’ to follow [a reference to the word ‘shortly’ in Rev. 1:1]… For then it would be the case that in John’s day only six emperors had ascended the imperial throne.”

Verse 11: We are told that the beast “was and is not”, but also [1] is an eighth king [2] belongs in some sense to the seven kings, and [3] goes to destruction. For Jay Adams, this “represents the remainder of the emperors who will be of or like the former seven.” Is this a reference to the fact that the Roman Empire fell into such chaos and disorder during the “Year of the Four Emperors” (following Nero’s suicide) that it nearly ceased to exist? See the study on Revelation 13:12 for this discussion.

Kenneth Gentry believes that the key to understanding this reference to “an eighth” is found in the language of the text. He notes that up until this phrase is mentioned, the definite article “the” is used when referring to the seven kings. However, it is “conspicuously absent in the reference to the eighth head/king…the eighth is “an eighth.” He continues,

This indicates that John is not concerned with the number of the particular emperor arising after the seventh in the Roman Civil War. Rather he is interested solely with the fact that there is one coming soon, who will, as the empire’s stabilizing head bring life back to the empire. There is a very important sense in which the revival of the Empire under Vespasian, was a revival under “an eighth,” who is “of the seven.” It is the same Roman Empire that is brought to life from the death of Civil War. John’s concern is particularly with the contemporaneous events, i.e., here the Roman Civil War that occurred within the compass of the reign of the seven kings… The fact that this revival is of an eighth head, however, indicates the rapid recovery of the Beast. That recovery will come shortly after the demise of the original seven (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, pp. 315-316).

Verses 12-14: John then turns to a discussion of the ten kings who represented the ten horns of the beast. We also visited this topic in our study of chapter 13, and I will reproduce some of our conclusions here:

John says in Rev. 17:12-13 [that these 10 horns] are “ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind and hand over their power and authority to the beast.” Some have thought these 10 kings to be the very ones listed in the chart above, since all 10 of them reigned (or had begun to reign, in Vespasian’s case) before Jerusalem’s destruction. However, John wrote that in his day they had “not yet received royal power,” so this view is eliminated. Another more likely view is that these 10 kings were the rulers of the 10 empirical (senatorial) provinces of Rome who were empowered by Nero to assist him in carrying out his campaign of persecution against the saints, which Scripture refers to as “war on the Lamb” (Rev. 17:14; cf. Acts 9:5 where Paul, as an unbeliever, also made “war on the Lamb”).[1]

The Global Glossary on the Greco-Roman world says there were 10 Senatorial Provinces in ancient Rome: They were “areas that were governed by Roman pro-magistrates; there were ten senatorial provinces, eight of which were led by ex-praetors and two of which were led by ex-consuls.” Wikipedia lists these 10 Senatorial Provinces, as they existed in 14 AD, as follows: [1] Achaea [2] Africa [3] Asia [4] Creta et Cyrene [5] Cyprus [6] Gallia Narbonensis [7] Hispania Baetica [8] Macedonia [9] Pontus et Bithynia [10] Sicilia. One Biblical mention of a Roman provincial ruler is in Acts 18:12-17, where we are told of Gallio the “proconsul of Achaia.” In Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas had direct contact with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7). See here for more information on the Senatorial Provinces of the Roman Empire, and how and by whom authority was distributed.

David S. Clark’s description is helpful in seeing how vast this empire was:

We know that Rome embraced at that time the countries of Europe that bordered on the Mediterranean Sea, and the northern part of Africa and considerable territory in Asia, and also in central Europe. Rome had conquered the world (Steve Gregg, p. 414).

The above quotation from Wikipedia lists out the 10 provinces of Rome as they were then named. Steve Gregg lists them by names that would be considered more modern (p. 456): Italy, Achaia, Asia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, Spain, Gaul, Britain, and Germany. As seen in this map, Israel/Palestine belonged to the province of Egypt. Indeed, Rome was the world at that time, as can be seen by Luke’s description of Caesar Augustus’ decree “that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1; cf. Acts 2:5).

Photo credit: http://gbgm-umc.org/UMW/corinthians/empire.stm (Original source: David Camden)

Verses 15-17: John is then told the meaning of the “many waters” referred to in verse 1. They represent “peoples and multitudes and nations and languages,” and this is where the prostitute was seated. As seen already, the scope of these many waters could certainly be a valid description of the Roman Empire in the first century. Does this indicate that the prostitute IS the Roman Empire, or simply that its influence reached throughout the Roman Empire? David Chilton opts for the latter (as do I), saying (Steve Gregg, pp. 416, 418),

Jerusalem could truly be portrayed as seated on “many waters” (i.e. the nations) because of the great and pervasive influence the Jews had in all parts of the Roman Empire before the destruction of Jerusalem. Their synagogues were in every city, and the extent of their colonization can be seen in the record of the Day of Pentecost, which tells us that “there were Jews staying in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).

In verse 16, we are told that the 10 horns (kings) would join the beast in hating “the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire.” Earlier in verse 3 we saw the prostitute (Jerusalem) sitting on the beast which was “full of blasphemous names” (Rome). Now the beast has turned on the prostitute with hatred. Steve Gregg points out that this very same turn of events was predicted for Jerusalem just before it fell in 586 BC for playing the harlot (pp. 418, 420): “I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure…I will gather them from all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them…And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged; I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy…They shall burn your houses with fire…and I will make you cease playing the harlot (Ezekiel 16:37-41). What is the significance of verse 16 then, in light of Jerusalem’s downfall in 70 AD?

First, it’s probably no coincidence that the word “desolate” is used here, just as it is used in Rev. 18:17, 19 and also in Daniel 9:27 and by Jesus in Luke 21:20 (recognized even by most Futurists as referring to Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD). Thus, the use of this word again here in reference to Jerusalem would be more than fitting. Secondly, we do know from accounts provided by Josephus (a Jewish historian) and Tacitus (a Roman historian from the same time period) that a number of kings from surrounding provinces joined Vespasian and Titus in Rome’s war against Israel from 67-70 AD. Thirdly, at the very end of July 70 AD, on the exact same day as Jerusalem was burned in 586 BC, the Second Temple was burned to the ground. Josephus remarked that from a distance the entire city of Jerusalem appeared to be on fire. In fact, during August and September 70 the rest of the city was set on fire and leveled to the ground. More will be said of this in our study on chapter 18. Suffice it to say that all the elements necessary for this prophecy to be fulfilled were present in 70 AD.

Regarding the second point, that multiple provincial kings joined Rome’s war against Israel, it was already mentioned in our discussion of verse 3 that this began with a Jewish revolt in the fall of 66 AD. I wrote in greater detail about this sequence of events in my term paper:

[1] Zealots and Revolutionaries (against Rome) take control of the Jerusalem temple. [2] The Jewish/Roman War begins in October with a revolt at Caesarea due to a group of Greeks sacrificing birds in front of a local synagogue. The revolt occurred because the Jews were frustrated that the local Roman garrison did not intervene. [3] The High Priest successfully leads a massacre of the Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem. [4] The Romans in Caesarea slaughter 20,000 Jews. [5] About 13,000 more Jews are put to death in Damascus, Syria.

This was just the beginning of the carnage. After a less than successful attack on Galilee and Jerusalem by Cestius Gallus, the Roman governor of Syria, Nero declared war on Israel in February 67 AD, dispatching Vespasian as his general with triple the forces initially led by Cestius Gallus. The link I provided above provides many details of the events which transpired during the next 3.5 years.

Verse 18: As already pointed out, the woman is identified as “the great city” and is said to have “dominion over the kings of the earth.” The designation “great city” was given to Jerusalem in Revelation 11:8, and is repeated here in these chapters as a reference to Babylon the Great on at least seven occasions (16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21; cf. Rev. 14:8). Steve Gregg notes that this verse “is considered most definitive in the recognition of Rome as the harlot city,” for those who are of this opinion. He adds, “if no other data were given in Revelation for the identification of the city, no one would question that this is Rome” (p. 420). Yet we have seen a wealth of data suggesting otherwise. Steve Gregg then quotes David Chilton on this matter (p. 422):

If the City is Jerusalem, how can it be said to wield this kind of worldwide political power? The answer is that Revelation is not a book about politics; it is a book about the Covenant. Jerusalem did reign over the nations. She did possess a Kingdom which was above all the kingdoms of the world. She had a covenantal priority over the kingdoms of the earth.

Lamentations, written shortly after Jerusalem fell the first time in 586 BC, begins this way: “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.” Interestingly, as we will see in our study of chapter 18, the great city in John’s day says, “I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see” (Rev. 18:7). Also when Jeremiah prophesied of Jerusalem’s soon coming destruction in his day, he wrote:

And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them” (Jeremiah 22:8-9).

Jerusalem was great in the political sense as well, though. Take note of Josephus’ description of Jerusalem in his introduction to Wars of the Jews:

“it had so come to pass, that our city Jerusalem had arrived at a higher degree of felicity than any other city under the Roman government, and yet at last fell into the sorest of calamities again” (Wars Preface 1.4).

Kenneth Gentry also writes (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 171),

Jerusalem housed a Temple that, according to Tacitus “was famous beyond all other works of men.” Another Roman historian, Pliny, said of Jerusalem that it was “by far the most famous city of the ancient Orient.” According to Josephus, a certain Agatharchides spoke of Jerusalem thus: “There are a people called Jews, who dwell in a city the strongest of all other cities, which the inhabitants call Jerusalem.” Appian called it “the great city Jerusalem.” …More important, however, is the covenantal significance of Jerusalem. The obvious role of Jerusalem in the history of the covenant should merit it such greatness… Josephus sadly extols Jerusalem’s lost glory after its destruction: “This was the end which Jerusalem came to be the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificance, and of mighty fame among all mankind (Wars 7:1:1)… And where is not that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation, which was fortified by so many walls round about, which had so many fortresses and large towers to defend it, which could hardly contain the instruments prepared for the war, and which had so many tens of thousands of men to fight for it? Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations” (Wars 7:8:7).

J. Stuart Russell makes another observation, regarding the phrase “kings of the earth” used in this verse and often thought to be wider in scope than Israel/Palestine. Not only is this expression found throughout Revelation, he says, but it’s also in Acts 4:26-27. There “Herod and Pontius Pilate are identified by the very same expression. Plainly, then, in Acts the expression means ‘the leaders or rulers of the Land’ (i.e. of Israel). If that is the phrase’s meaning here in verse 18, then Jerusalem surely can be said to be the city that reigns over the rulers of Israel” (p. 422).

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Our study of Revelation 18 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] This campaign of persecution led by Nero took place from November 64 AD – June 68 AD, a period of 42 months, which most preterists see as a fulfillment of Revelation 13:5-7. See here for more details.