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 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.

Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 1:1–3

Revelation 1:1–3
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must happen very soon. He made it clear by sending his angel to his servant John, 2 who then testified to everything that he saw concerning the word of God and the testimony about Jesus Christ. 3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy aloud, and blessed are those who hear and obey the things written in it, because the time is near!
(NET Bible)

Unveiling the future

Perhaps you have heard the old news-joke: “End of the world! Film at 10:00.” These days we might wonder what kind of Twitter messages — called Tweets — would be posted when dire judgments unfold and sweep the earth.

Perhaps you have also heard that this world is not going to go on forever. Fact check says, “TRUE.” But surely that cannot happen on your watch, can it? Can it?

“The revelation of Jesus Christ” looks to us like the beginning of a sentence, but it is actually the title of this written account, which records the visions given by God to the Apostle John. To understand what a revelation is, think of the sudden appearance of a new car model as the covering drape is pulled aside. New Testament scholar Grant Osborne says, “In the NT the word group occurs 44 times . . . nearly always with the basic thrust ‘to uncover what has formerly been hidden.’”[1]

So, what is being uncovered? We get a big clue in the phrase “the revelation of Jesus Christ ” (1:1). The Greek underlying the italicized phrase does not tell us whether the revelation is from Jesus Christ or about him. In fact, I agree with Daniel Wallace, who thinks the answer is both.[2] Jesus Christ is both the source of the information given to John and its subject as well.

We encounter a difficulty in the clause “what must happen very soon” (1:1) in that over 1900 years have passed since the revelation was recorded. New Testament scholar Craig Keener makes the point that the phrase “the time is near” in 1:3 sheds light on the issue. He says, “Whatever else ‘the time is near’ (1:3) might mean, it probably means that the events of the end will be unexpected and that we should be ready for them at any time (Mark 13:32–37; 1 Thess. 5:2), so that believers should live ‘every moment as though it were our last.’”[3] So, we must stay on constant alert.

The phrase “very soon” (1:1) is used seven times in the New Testament. It is interesting that John opens Revelation with an emphasis on the any-moment-onset of the predicted events and closes the book on the same note. Jesus expressed this idea when he said, “But as for that day and hour no one knows it – not even the angels in heaven — except the Father alone” (Matt. 24:36). Almost immediately Jesus applied the concept by saying, “Therefore stay alert, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come” (Matt. 24:42).

John mentions his own role, that of being a witness to the word of God and what he has seen (1:2). The combination of word and witness is thematic. These references make clear that giving witness to the Word of God and to Jesus can result in both exile and death, a fact not well appreciated in the safety of the United States.

Note carefully that John calls what he has written a prophecy (1:3). On this basis, Osborne[4] expresses the idea that Revelation must be characterized not as apocalyptic but as prophetic-apocalyptic. The prophets did not merely spin out visions; they demanded accountability from the people to God!

John quickly turns attention to those receiving the revealed knowledge he has recorded (1:3). Verse 3 is notable for having forms translated in present tense: “the one who reads” and “those who hear and obey.” Osborne sums up their combined emphasis by saying, “God’s blessings will be experienced by those who persevere.”[5] Notice that the sequence of blessing starts with knowledge gained from the one who reads, but the blessing only extends to those who both hear and obey. So, the study of God’s Word is foundational to pleasing him, but it must be obeyed not just read.

Keener captures much of the significance held by John’s prophecy when he describes what the return of Jesus will provide: “[God promises] a happy ending to God’s people but a tragic one for all who chose to reject his way. Because the specific time is unknown and near, no one dare postpone repentance.”[6]

Do Not Stop Short!

How satisfied would your boss be if you told him that you had driven three-fourths of the way to work? Not very! Did you do the required reading but not the required report? Not likely! In a similar way, you would be foolish to read Revelation only for its predictions about end-times events. The greater blessing comes when you hear and obey, because that is what God requires.

Jesus made himself very clear: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the flood came, and the winds beat against that house, but it did not collapse because it had been founded on rock.” (Matt. 7:24–25). The final storm is coming to test every house!

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) 52.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 120–121.

[3] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 61.

[4] Osborne, Revelation, 58–59.

[5] Osborne, Revelation, 57.

[6] Keener, Revelation, 61.