Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 18:15–17

Revelation 18:15–17
The merchants who sold these things, who got rich from her, will stand a long way off because they are afraid of her torment. They will weep and mourn, 16 saying, “Woe, woe, O great city– dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet clothing, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls– 17 because in a single hour such great wealth has been destroyed!”
(NET Bible)

Babylon/Rome’s future loss of . . . everything!

Every time a ship or airliner sets out to cross the ocean, it eventually reaches the point of no return. At that halfway point in the journey, the path onward to the destination is shorter than turning around to go back.

Each of us has advanced in a journey toward being fully conformed to the social, material and sexual values of Babylon. Have we passed the point of no return? Can we still turn toward being conformed to the image of Christ?

In yesterday’s lesson we had the first funeral dirge from the kings of the earth (18:9–10) for Babylon the great. Today we have two more dirges. Grant Osborne says: “The three funeral dirges are sung by three groups who profited most greatly from the largesse of Babylon/Rome: the kings who grew rich from her, the merchants who shared her expanding markets, and the shipping people who carried her cargo all over the world.” [1]

Craig Keener gives insight into Roman commercial practices, which affected John’s first readers, when he says: “Pagan symbols were prominent at major Mediterranean ports, and activities of the shipping lines and merchant guilds involved aspects of the [Roman] imperial cult [i.e. worship of the emperor].”[2] Anyone who wanted in on the flow of wealth had to play the game of idolatrous patriotism. Christians unwilling to worship the emperor might be cut out altogether.

The extensive cargo list of Revelation 18:11–14 demonstrates the comprehensive scope of economic interests during the Roman Empire. Keener[3] explains how Rome’s new rich flaunted their gold from Spain, pearls from India, silk from China, citron wood from Morocco, ivory from Syria and Africa, bronze from Corinth and marble from Africa and Greece. They enjoyed cinnamon from Zanzibar, frankincense from South Arabia, and fine wine from Spain. Deny yourself nothing!

Keener adds: “Africa and Egypt supplied most of Rome’s ‘wheat’ via the imperial grain fleet, which consisted of thousands of ships run by merchants but supervised by the state. Much of this wheat came from taxes on the provinces [often paid in wheat], but it was distributed free to Rome’s inhabitants.”[4] This is just one example of how the whole system took from the common citizen of the Empire to give to the Roman elite.

The final item in the list (“bodies and human lives” NET, or “slaves, that is, human souls” ESV) is likely a reference to slaves (18:13). NT scholar Ben Witherington says, “Estimates vary, but most scholars believe that one-third to one-half of the population of the Empire were slaves. . . . Indeed, one could say that the Roman Empire as it was would have been impossible without slavery.”[5] Slaves — human beings — were just another luxury.

The indictment of 18:23b is ominous. The tycoons — so NET says, but better “important people” with the NIV 2011 — were merely instruments of Satan (ultimately), and their culture of luxury, sexuality and power were the figurative magic spells that deceived the nations. Carried to the extreme, under the beast, these values led to the slaughter of the saints and many others (18:24).

In contrast to this depraved situation, 18:20 commands heaven, the saints, the apostles, and the prophets to rejoice over the destruction of Babylon. It will fall and never rise again!

Who, then, are we?

It cannot be comforting to read what God says about Babylon, because we have drunk water from the same well. Keener says it pointedly: “Today, as in John’s day, profit margins matter more to some people than justice. God has promised to set those matters straight.”[6] We need to bring that idea down to a personal level.

Jesus plainly said to us, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). We individually and as a nation have been given much, and we will answer to Jesus for it all.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 644.

[2] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 427.

[3] Keener, Revelation, 428-429.

[4] Keener, Revelation 429.

[5] Ben Witherington III, Revelation, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press) 229.

[6] Keener, Revelation, 446.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 18:1–5

Revelation 18:1–5
After these things I saw another angel, who possessed great authority, coming down out of heaven, and the earth was lit up by his radiance. 2 He shouted with a powerful voice:
“Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great! She has become a lair for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detested beast. 3 For all the nations have fallen from the wine of her immoral passion, and the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have gotten rich from the power of her sensual behavior.”
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, so you will not take part in her sins and so you will not receive her plagues, 5 because her sins have piled up all the way to heaven and God has remembered her crimes.”
(NET Bible)

Babylon the Great: Destruction

“Turn out the lights; the party’s over” — in Babylon. Where did you say you live?

The tone of chapter 18 is unusual, and Grant Osborne says: “[David] Aune calls this a ‘prophetic taunt song,’ beginning with the angel announcing the ‘death’ but with overtones of joy at the judgment.”[1] Greg Beale adds, “The assurance of worldwide Babylon’s fall in the future is rooted in the fact that the fall of old Babylon was predicted in the same way, and the fulfillment came to pass.”[2]

Revelation 17:3 explains the main mechanism by which Babylon/Rome seduced its client states. Osborne says of this verse: “[It] introduces one of the major themes of the chapter — materialistic luxury. . . . It was often said that Rome conquered the world as much through its merchants as through its armies. Like all tyrannical governments, Rome grew enormously ‘fat’ by exploiting the conquered nations, for most of their goods benefited Rome far more than themselves.”[3]

Tomorrow we will detail the ways in which Roman mercantilism harmed common people by favoring Rome. For the moment it is enough to say that John’s initial audience, Asia, was the wealthiest of all the Roman provinces and thus the one in which the pressures on Christians to compromise would also have been greatest.

But we do not worship a God of compromise! A voice from heaven (18:4) summons believers to flee from the context of compromise so that judgment will not fall on them too. Both ancient Rome and Babylon/Rome to come will operate on the same seductive, self-serving principles. Beale says, “As elsewhere in Revelation, the pride and fall of historical Babylon is taken as a typological pattern of the hubris [pride] and downfall of the worldwide Babylonian system at the end of history.”[4]

In 18:7–8, God declares that end-times Babylon will have the same pride and suffer the same fate as ancient Babylon. Cyrus the Persian captured ancient Babylon in a single night, and Jesus will overthrow Babylon-to-come in a single day (18:8).

But what about all those clients who enjoyed the luxury and reveled in the immorality? They will “weep and wail” (18:9), but “they will stand a long way off because they are afraid of her torment” (18:10). It will be their voices which announce the woes of Babylon and its sudden collapse.

The Great Panic

During the Fall of 2008 the economic system of the United States suddenly lost wealth valued at over 12 trillion dollars. Worldwide losses were even greater. Foreclosures, bankruptcies and stock losses took place at historic levels. Not only were the vast losses unexpected, but the recovery from the debacle may take decades, assuming a complete recovery occurs.

Unfortunately, the result of this financial disaster was not an influx of people into our churches. That is especially surprising since the tragedy revealed stunning greed, selfishness and recklessness — all universally recognized as wrongs but not recognized as sins. America’s love affair with the security and immorality funded by wealth is apparently not over.

Peter’s somber words seem appropriate here:

For the time that has passed was sufficient for you to do what the non-Christians desire. You lived then in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, carousing, drinking bouts, and wanton idolatries. 4 So they are astonished when you do not rush with them into the same flood of wickedness, and they vilify you. 5 They will face a reckoning before Jesus Christ who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:3–5).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 634, citing Aune (2:976).

[2] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 893.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 637.

[4] Beale, Revelation, 903.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 14:6–10

Revelation 14:6–10
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, and he had an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth– to every nation, tribe, language, and people. 7 He declared in a loud voice: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has arrived, and worship the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water!”
8 A second angel followed the first, declaring: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great city! She made all the nations drink of the wine of her immoral passion.”
9 A third angel followed the first two, declaring in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and takes the mark on his forehead or his hand, 10 that person will also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath, and he will be tortured with fire and sulfur in front of the holy angels and in front of the Lamb.”
(NET Bible)

The Tale of Two Cities

Revelation 14 reminds us not to become victims of divided interests. We cannot serve both God and the things offered by this world. Those who try to have it both ways always find in the end that the powerful tug of sexual immorality, power and wealth are too great to resist.

And we all know how that works out, do we not?

If Revelation 13 presented the conquest of the saints, Revelation 14 shows that the beast’s victory will not last. Revelation 14 begins the “Tale of Two Cities,” a contrast between the city of God (Zion, 14:1) and the city of the world (Babylon, 14:8).

This helps explain the otherwise difficult 14:4, which says of the 144,000 that they “have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins.” That is a figurative statement, which Craig Keener explains by saying: “These 144,000 have refused to commit immorality with Babylon, the prostitute (cf. 18:3). The symbolism thus makes a strong point: Christians must be pure and faithful to Christ if they wish to be prepared for and engage in the Lamb’s holy war. Unlike the world (13:17), believers cannot indulge in divided interests.”[1]

Revelation 14:6 marks a signal moment in human history: the very last offer of the gospel to lost humanity. Grant Osborne says: “Everywhere that [Greek] euangelion [“gospel”] is found in the NT, it implies the gracious offer of salvation.”[2] When you consider how the people dwelling on the earth have helped the beast kill Christians, and probably Jews as well, this final extension of grace speaks of God’s preference for mercy over judgment (James 2:13).

A second angel follows (14:8) with a momentous announcement: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great city!” The angel speaks of a future event (see 16:19 and 18:2–4) as if it had already taken place. God’s promised future actions are so certain that they may be stated in the same manner as completed history!

Concerning the name Babylon, Keener informs us:

There can be no question that this text [14:8] implies especially Rome. Early Jews often used Babylon as a code name for Rome, as did early Christians (1 Peter 5:13). Such allusions made sense; as Israel once experienced exile under the evil empire Babylon, now they are experiencing the captivity of a new evil empire in Rome. Both Babylon and Rome destroyed the temple.[3]

Both Babylon and Rome were known for three things that resonate with the end of history: power, wealth and sexual depravity (Isa. 13:19–22; 14:20–23; Jer. 25:12–14; 50:35–40; 51:24–26.). The added metaphor in 14:8 of drinking someone’s wine means to participate in their lifestyle. Like Babylon and Rome, the beast’s empire will force others to participate in “the wine of her passionate immorality” (BDAG-3, the standard lexicon for New Testament Greek).

A third angel ( 14:9–11) warns the world that those who have a taste for the beast’s wine will “also drink of the wine of God’s anger that has been mixed undiluted in the cup of his wrath” (14:10). Keener explains: “Ancients normally diluted wine with two parts water to every part wine, except when they wished to get drunk. But God will administer this wine of his anger ‘full strength’ (14:10).”[4] Those who drink with the beast will be made sloshing drunk with the wine of God’s wrath!

The final interpretation-issues for chapter 14 involve 14:14–20. The key issue is to determine the nature of the two harvests (14:16 and 14:19). For brevity, I will give my conclusions. Osborne says, “It is likely that 14:15 describes the harvest of the redeemed and 14:17–20 of the unsaved.”[5] Presumably the redeemed are those who responded to the final offer of grace (14:6–7).

Through an angel, God speaks from the temple to Christ, who reaps the redeemed before the harvest of others for the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19). God makes no apology for dealing finally and effectively with the wicked rebels who refuse his mercy (14:17–20).

The output of the great winepress will be blood (14:20) — a very great deal of blood!

Two roads and a winepress

The discerning reader will realize that in the end times there will be no neutral parties. There will be those who are marked as the beast’s own and those who belong to the Lamb, who are mostly killed for their faith. The wide road that leads to destruction will have plenty of worldly reward, while the narrow way that leads to life “requires the steadfast endurance of the saints” (14:12).

Did I mention that the wide road leads to a great winepress?

Craig Keener, whose insights we frequently enjoy, says that many today try to avoid scaring people into the kingdom. Then he reveals that as a young atheist he decided the doctrine of hell made the stakes too high to ignore. He gave his life to Christ and has no regrets. [6]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 371.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 535.

[3] Keener, Revelation, 373.

[4] Keener, Revelation, 374.

[5] Osborne, Revelation, 552.

[6] Keener, Revelation, 382.