PROCLAMATION FROM HEAVEN – Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Mix her a double portion from her own cup. Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.’ Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. (Revelation 18:4-8)
Come Out of Her – The warning “come out of her” is reminiscent of Jeremiah 50:8 “[f]lee out of Babylon.” From the apostate or world-conforming church there will likely be some (a great multitude?) of God’s invisible and true Church (a remnant) who previously were caught up in it. There will certainly be some believers caught up in the political/commercial Babylon. To be safe spiritually they must certainly come out of the former (apostate religious system). Once they come out of the former they likely will not be safe from the latter (persecution by the political/commercial Babylonian system). But even if they escape the persecution they risk physical harm from God’s judgment on this “Babylonian” Empire.
As Lot was warned to come out of Sodom just before its destruction, so it will be at the end of the age.(1) Thus, the voice from Heaven urges believers to resist the apostate religion and flee from the worldliness of the Babylonian system. They should have nothing to do with Mystery Babylon’s politics and commerce, it religious decay and apostasy. One cannot serve both God and mammon (“share in her sin”).(2)
The text offers two reasons for God’s people to separate themselves.
- So That You Will Not Share in Her Sins – The first is that they might avoid the pollution of their morals and “share in her sins,” as Paul admonished Timothy “do not share in the sins of others” (1 Timothy 5:22). The word used for share (partakers in some translations) means joint fellowship or partnership. There is a good partnership in the Lord as we share in the troubles of fellow believers (Philippians 4:14), but there is also an evil partnership with the “fruitless deeds of darkness” that we should have nothing to with (Ephesians 5:11). True unity of the Spirit exists among believers, but we must not compromise by joining forces with that which is opposed to Christ.
- So That You Will Not Receive Any of Her Plagues – The second reason is that God’s people might be spared the terrible plagues He will send on this Babylon. Up to this point, God had patiently endured the growing sins of the evil system. Now the time has come for His wrath to be poured out. He would treat Babylon just as she treated His people.(3) Those that are resolved to take part in the wickedness, or linger too long, will also receive her plagues.(4) We live in a fallen world, and there is always the danger of getting too cozy with its pleasures and excesses. We cannot flee from the world, but we can flee from these. What was true in the Garden of Eden is true today, and will be true in the tribulation – if you do not want to eat the apple, do not hang around the tree.
Give Back to Her – What is given back to her is a three-fold punishment:
- A Portion – For her evil deeds (“her sins are piled up to heaven”) in general.
- A Double-Portion – Of her own medicine for the bitterness (“give back to her as she has given”) caused to others. Paying back double is only mentioned here in the New Testament (after the dispensation of grace), whereas the Old Testament (dispensation of the law) often insisted on double recompense (Exodus 22:4, 7, 9).(5) Mixing a double portion refers to the drink’s potency, not necessarily a double amount of the drink.(6)
- In Proportion To – A commensurate measure of torture and grief for the self-glorifying pride and luxury she gave herself.(7)
God Who Judges Her – For a time, Babylon may sit as a queen in her arrogance and false sense of security (“I will never mourn”), but when it does come, the judgment for her mountain of sins (“piled up to heaven”) will be certain (“fallen, fallen”), forceful (“mighty is the God who judges her”) and swift (“in one day”). Those who doubt that Christ will come to judge are misconstruing God’s incredible patience for a lack of power or His willingness to bring about justice (2 Peter 3:3–9) on an unrepentant world.(8)
Which of her specific sins will God judge?
- For What She Has Done – First is the seductive and evil influence that Babylon will have on the nations of the world (“come out of her, my people”).
- For Her Boastful Pride – Second is her pride (“In her heart she boasts”). She sees herself as a queen who could never be dethroned, and this false confidence and pride could never be accepted by the Lord (see Isaiah 47 for the parallel, especially verses 7–9).
- For Her Self-Glory and Luxury – A third sin is Babylon’s worship of pleasures and luxury. She will live in “glory and luxury”, while others go without. Possessions and pleasures are more important than the needs of others. John summarized this worldly attitude as “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16).(9)
In One Day – The phrase, “in one day her plagues will overtake her,” is taken by many to be symbolic rather than literal, meaning that it will come upon her suddenly, as “in one hour” is used later in the text.(10) At the same time it could also be literal. As historical Babylon fell in one night, so too could Mystery Babylon fall on a specific day and hour in one great cataclysmic event (see also Isaiah 47:9). In His Sovereign power and righteous, God brings the whole force of His omnipotence to oppose and judge Babylon’s haughtiness.(11)
Rome on the other hand was not built in a day, nor did it fall overnight. The phrase fall of the Roman Empire was not some cataclysmic event that ended an empire that stretched from the British Isles to Egypt, Iraq and Turkey. There was no straining at the gates, no barbarian horde that dispatched the Roman Empire in one fell swoop. Rather, the Roman Empire was challenged from within and without, changing over the course of hundreds of years until its form was unrecognizable.
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, written by historian Edward Gibbon, fixes the year that Rome ceased to exist as 476 AD, the year the Germanic Chieftain Odoacer deposed the last Roman emperor in the western part of the Roman Empire. Others disagree and point to the rise of Islam and the fall of Constantinople and the eastern part of the empire in 1453 AD, as a more fitting bookend to the end of the empire.(12) The fall of Constantinople was the result of the conquest of that city by the Ottoman Empire under the command of Sultan Mehmet II. This event marked the final destruction of the Eastern Roman (“Byzantine”) Empire, and the death of the last Roman Emperor in the east, Constantine XI.(13)
Consumed by Fire – In antiquity, fire (“she will be consumed by fire”) was the standard method for destroying captured cities (Amos 1:4). Readers in John’s day might have remembered the wide-spread rumor that it was Nero who had burned down Rome in 64 AD, blaming it on the Christians.(14) Also, during Titus’ brief reign as emperor (79–81 AD), a series of natural catastrophes occurred. Mt Vesuvius in southern Italy erupted burying the towns of Pompeii, Stabiae, and Herculaneum in August, 79 AD. Another fire raged for three days and nights in Rome in 80 AD, spreading plague throughout the imperial city.(15) The Jews viewed these as judgments against Rome during the reign of Titus as divine retribution for the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD, when he was a mere general.(16)
Thus, we can see in this brief section on the destruction of a future “Babylon” potential references to both historical Babylon (“in one day”) and ancient Rome (“consumed by fire”) as types of the end times “Babylon.”
Her Boasts – Here the voice cites Isaiah’s (47:8–9) condemnation of Babylon’s claim that it would never fall (also Isaiah 32:9; Jeremiah 48:11; 49:31; Ezekiel 16:49; Amos 6:1; Obadiah 3).(17) “I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn” are indications of the arrogance in her position and confidence in her security (past, present, and future).(18) “I sit as queen” plays against the Queen of Heaven imagery from Revelation 12:1 and 17:1.(19)
Up Next – Laments over Babylon’s fall.
- Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 593). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 18:4). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 614). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
- Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2482). Peabody: Hendrickson.
- Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word studies in the New Testament (Vol. 2, p. 550). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
- Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 18:6). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
- Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation (p. 326). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
- Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J. P., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (p. 1910). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 614–615). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Re 18:8). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
- Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation (p. 327). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
- Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Re 17:15–16). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 397). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
- Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 18:8). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
- Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Re 18:7). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 594). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Re 18:7). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.