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 17:1-5

Revelation 17:1-5

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke to me. Come, he said, I will show you the condemnation and punishment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed sexual immorality and the earth’s inhabitants got drunk with the wine of her immorality. 3 So he carried me away in the Spirit to a wilderness, and there I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. 4 Now the woman was dressed in purple and scarlet clothing, and adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She held in her hand a golden cup filled with detestable things and unclean things from her sexual immorality. 5 On her forehead was written a name, a mystery: Babylon the Great, the Mother of prostitutes and of the detestable things of the earth.
(NET Bible)

Babylon the Great Prostitute

Not all that glitters is gold. I invite you to think about the scramble for gold that is currently going in. Seeking gold, hording it and spending it are activities that drive multitudes today.

The Great Prostitute and the beast heartily approve! Does that give you pause?

Grant Osborne provides a great summary of chapters 17-18: Chapter 17 centers on Rome as the great prostitute who is drunk on the blood of the saints, while chapter 18 then looks at Rome as the great city destroyed. . . . Chapter 17 is complex and hard to understand while chapter 18 is far more clear.[1] The angel says, I will show you the condemnation [chapter 17] and punishment [chapter 18] of the great prostitute who sits on many waters (17:1).

To interpret this difficult chapter (17) requires all the help available. So, we immediately note that verse 15 defines the waters in verse 1 to be peoples, multitudes, nations, and languages on which the prostitute sits. We are also told in 17:18 that the woman ? identified in 17:5 as Babylon the Great, the Mother of prostitutes ? is the great city that has sovereignty over the kings of the earth. But which city?

Though the name Babylon is given, all agree the name is symbolic. The definitive clue comes in the clause The seven heads are seven mountains the woman sits on (17:9). The Seven Hills of Rome are legendary.

But in this case Babylon/Rome represents two kingdoms. First, it symbolizes the Roman Empire which persecuted the seven churches in Johns day. But we are also being informed about the nature of the beasts kingdom near the end of history. The beasts kingdom will have wealth, power and sexual depravity similar to that displayed by ancient Rome.

It is difficult for contemporary readers to understand what is meant by the prostitution depicted in Revelation 17. In the NT world much of the prostitution was carried out by temple prostitutes whose income helped support pagan temples. So, fornication was often an overtly religious matter as well as a sexual one.

Be clear on the fact that God expects and deserves exclusive worship from all humanity, and he regards worship of other gods as entirely illicit. This is conveyed using metaphors of practicing immorality and harlotry. Such metaphors relied upon the common knowledge of how sexual and polytheistic Roman culture was. The Roman Empire was filled with religions from other cultures.

Literal prostitution was pervasive in Rome. Indeed, our word fornication derives from the arched alcoves (called fornices) of the Circus Maximus — the chariot racing venue — where brothels set up shop during the frequent races. Scholars have found that brothels also riddled the urban area of ancient Pompeii (near modern Naples, Italy). An exhibit of Pompeiis artifacts and business signs, unless severely restricted, is not fit for adults, much less a family.

Two broad issues remain: (1) the relationship between the prostitute and the beast, and (2) the dramatic fall of the prostitute at the hands of the beast. Concerning the first, Osborne says:

While the beast is the political ruler of the empire, the woman represents the blasphemous religion that seduces the nations and the economic system that draws them into its earthly luxury.[2]

Clearly the beast plans to exploit the prostitutes allure of worldly wealth to entrap many in his schemes. That sounds familiar, does it not?

All in all, Revelation 17 presents a bleak picture of the world in the final days. Yet 17:16 offers a beautiful contrast: They will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those accompanying the Lamb are the called, chosen, and faithful. Do not forget that God will fully and finally deal with the beast and the great prostitute whose wealth and power so entice humanity.

Staying out of the trap

Sometimes people complain that Washington has been bought by the rich and powerful. The truth is that it is easier to talk about that than to focus attention to how much we have personally invested into the worlds values and pleasures.

Whether we are managing what we have for Christ or being used by our worldly holdings to strengthen the dark kingdom ruled by Satan is a live question. Make sure you are among the called, chosen and faithful (17:16).

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 605.

[2] Osborne, Revelation, 610.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 16:12-16

Revelation 16:12-16

Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates and dried up its water to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 Then I saw three unclean spirits that looked like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are the spirits of the demons performing signs who go out to the kings of the earth to bring them together for the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-Powerful.
15 (Look! I will come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays alert and does not lose his clothes so that he will not have to walk around naked and his shameful condition be seen.) 16 Now the spirits gathered the kings and their armies to the place that is called Armageddon in Hebrew.
(NET Bible)

The seven bowls of Gods wrath

We were twenty-five miles from a paved road and even farther from the nearest campground. Our campsite sat in a forest well off the dirt road, near a stream. It was dark and a light rain fell through the rising wind. Lightning punctuated the scene, showing two families camped in a looming forest.

“Where is the fire starter?” they said, and I grinned in the darkness. “Is it on the checklist?” I replied, though I knew it was. They had teased me mercilessly about my four-page checklist, so I always made them use it when they really needed something. In a dark, mountain forest on a stormy night, you want to know you are ready for whatever comes.

Gods great storm is coming at any time. Have you done what is necessary to prepare?

The seven final bowl judgments bring us very close to the end of history. Grant Osborne says, God is now the one who is and who was (16:5; cf. 11:17); there is no is to come for the end has arrived.[1]. But the response is blasphemy and a lack of repentance (16:9, 11).

Considering the kings from the east (16:12), Craig Keener pokes fun at those who have been quite ready to identify the kings as whatever Asian power was ascendant at a given time: in the nineteenth century the Turkish Ottoman Empire was a popular choice; later it was the Japanese; most recently the Chinese are wearing the kingly mantle.[2]

Much more likely is the view expressed by Osborne: It is better to see the kings from the east coalescing into the kings of the whole earth and preparing for Armageddon . . . . Thus, as in Ezek. 3839, the war of Gog and Magog against the people of God (see Rev. 19:17 and 20:8 for the imagery) forms the background.[3] By reading Ezekiel 38-39, it becomes obvious that God will use various means to gather the worlds armies against Israel in the last days. They will never leave there alive!

In fact, 16:13-14 show that the Satanic trio of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet will use demonic spirits, symbolized by frogs coming out of the mouth, to assemble the worlds rulers and their forces for the battle that will take place on the great day of God, the All-Powerful (16:14).

The final warning (16:15)

The parentheses around 16:15 show that this verse is an interjection into the vision; it is addressed to those believers alive at the unknown time of Christs appearing. The one who might be shamefully naked is the one who is not dressed and ready for his Lords return (Luke 12:35-40). The command to be alert appears here because the completed gathering of the armies for the great battle will be the moment of Christs return.

John names Armageddon (16:16) as a strategic location related to the last battle. Osborne says, The natural meaning from the Hebrew would be mountain ([Hebrew] har) of Megiddo, but there is no Mount Megiddo. The town of Megiddo was — and remains today — in the Valley of Jezreel near Mount Carmel. Greg Beale mentions another problem: That Armageddon is not literal is evident from the observation that OT prophecies of the final battle of history place it, without exception, in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem and Mount Zion or its surrounding mountains.[4] How do we solve these mysteries?

I have my own suggestion about the resolution of these issues. Perhaps interpreters have misunderstood the gathering being mentioned in Rev. 16:16. We have already been told in 14:14 about the gathering of nations for battle, and no doubt that is what the beast thought he was accomplishing. But in 14:16 the demonic spirits were unwittingly gathering the armies for burial!

Ezekiel 39:11 says: On that day I will assign Gog a grave in Israel. It will be the valley of those who travel east of the sea; it will block the way of the travelers. There they will bury Gog and all his horde. Generally, the sea is what we call the Mediterranean Sea, and the Valley of Jezreel, containing Megiddo, extends from Israels central mountains down to the sea. While there is not currently a mountain at Megiddo, a vast burial mound in time to come is not out of the question.

In that scenario, the last battle takes place around Jerusalem, but afterwards God will command the land to be cleansed by burial of the unholy dead. Ezekiel 39:12-13 says:

For seven months Israel will bury them, in order to cleanse the land. All the people of the land will bury them, and it will be a memorial for them on the day I magnify myself, declares the sovereign Lord.

One last word: there is a town overlooking Megiddo and the Valley of Jezreel, the town in which Jesus grew to manhood — Nazareth!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 576.

[2] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 398.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 590-591.

[4] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 838.