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 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.