PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS
|The Great Harlot and the Beast||The Scarlet Woman and Scarlet Beast||The Fall of Babylon||The Famous Prostitute||The Great Prostitute|
|The Meaning of The Woman and the Beast||17:3-6a|
|17:7-18||The Symbolism of the Beast and the Prostitute|
|The Fall of Babylon||The Fall of Babylon the Great||Dirge Over the Fallen City||The Fall of Babylon||An Angel Announces the Fall of Babylon|
|The People of God Summoned to Flee|
|18:4-8||The World Mourns Babylon's Fall||18:4-8||18:4-8||18:4-8|
|Finality of Babylon's Fall||18:20|
READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
1. First paragraph
2. Second paragraph
3. Third paragraph
CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO REVELATION 17:1-18:24
A. These two chapters describe in detail the destruction of Babylon whose fall was mentioned earlier in 14:8 and 16:19, as well as 18:2,21. Each of these occurs in a separate literary unit (12-14), (15-16), and (17-19). This could be another example of parallelism or recapitulation.
B. The Old Testament background of these two chapters is found in the funeral dirges written to applaud the fall of ancient godless cities:
1. Babylon (cf. Isa. 13,14,21 and Jer. 50-51)
2. Tyre (cf. Isaiah 23 and Ezekiel 26-28)
3. Nineveh (cf. Nahum)
4. wicked Jerusalem (cf. Isa. 1:1-26; Ezek. 16:51-52)
C. This concept of a fallen world system that is antagonistic to God is presented in Psalm 2, Daniel 2; 7; 9:24-27; Matthew 24: Mark 13; Luke 21; and I John 2:15-20.
D. Revelation uses OT funeral dirges to describe the fall of Rome, the anti-God world empire of Johns' day. However, this same independent, arrogant, materialistic, anti-God world system is present in every age (cf. I John 2:18). It will also ultimately manifest itself as an end-time ruler and world empire (cf. II Thessalonians 2). The details that will help John's last generation readers identify the end-time Antichrist may reappear in the last days. The problem has been that every generation of believers has tried to force Revelation into its day!
This book has first-century relevance, every-century relevance, and last-century relevance. It is best not to push the details. They had meaning (first hearers); they will have meaning again (the last generation). But for the great majority of the generations of believers, they are mysteries. It is much better to assert the central truths of the seven literary units. These are eternally relevant! If the details become strictly literal for the last generations of persecuted believers they will not need a commentator to tell them!
E. William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, asserts the parallelism of all seven sections of Revelation (see note C. p. 10). In so doing he asserts the parallel of the fall of believers' enemies (Satan; two beasts; and Babylon, anti-God, anti-Christ world system). Although their destruction is dealt with separately (Satan, 20:7-10; the two beasts, 19:17-21; and Babylon, 18:1-19:4), they are really simultaneous, just like the seals, trumpets, and bowls.
In many ways this is an attractive interpretive structure that extends the obvious parallelism of the seals (4-7), trumpets (8-11), and bowls (15-16) to chapters 17-19 and 20-22.
WORD AND PHRASE STUDY
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 17:1-7
1Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality." 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. 4The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, 5and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, "BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." 6And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly. 7And the angel said to me, "Why do you wonder? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.
17:1 "one of the seven angels" Another angel is described in the same way in 21:9. The chronological relationship between chapters 17 and 18 and the pouring out of the bowls in chapter 16
1. may predate the pouring out of the bowls
2. it may be a further description of the result of the bowls
▣ "will show you the judgment of the great harlot" This spiritual seductress is described in v. 5 as "mighty Babylon, the mother of harlots," and in 18:10 as "the great city, Babylon." According to earlier chapters these designations refer to a fallen world system epitomized in:
1. Daniel's Babylon
2. Daniel's interbiblical Antiochus IV
3. John's Roman Emperor claiming deity.
In chapter 17 the seductive power of luxury and greed is matched with the commercial power of chapter 18. In the OT three cities are called whores.
1. Tyre (Phoenicia) in Isa. 23:15-16
2. Nineveh (Assyria) in Nahum 3:4
3. Jerusalem (fruitless Judah) in Isa. 1:21; Ezek. 16:31,35; 23.
▣ "who sits on many waters" The OT allusion is Jer. 51:11-14, which refers to the ancient city of Babylon, which was located on the Euphrates (as Nineveh was located on the Tigris River) and had an extensive system of manmade irrigation and transportation canals. However, in light of v. 15, this phrase is interpreted as an international kingdom (cf. Dan. 7:2,3).
NASB"with whom the kings of the earth committed acts ofimmorality"
NKJV, NRSV"with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication"
TEV"the kings of the earth practiced sexual immorality"
NJB"with whom all the kings of the earth have prostituted themselves"
This prostitution has two primary aspects:
1. commercial alliances (cf. Tyre, Isa. 23:13-18; and Nineveh, Nahum 3:4)
2. political alliances which involved the contractual worship of the gods of the nations in the ratification ceremonies (cf. Jerusalem also called a harlot in Isa. 1:21 and Jeremiah 3)
3. the worship of the Roman Emperor as divine
▣ "those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality" This is an allusion to Jer. 51:7. It is also introduced in 14:8. The phrase "those who dwell on the earth" is a recurrent theme in Revelation denoting unregenerate, fallen mankind apart from God (cf. 3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8,14; 17:8).
"Drink" is an OT metaphor for judgment (cf. Ps. 75:6-8).
17:3 "And he carried me away in the Spirit" This phrase is used to introduce John's visions (cf. 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). Many commentators base their understanding of the structure of Revelation on these visions. Remember, apocalyptic literature is a highly structured genre. The structure becomes a key in interpretation.
▣ "into a wilderness" This may be
1. a metaphor of a place of safety (cf. 12:6,14, where it is an allusion to the wilderness wandering period of Israel)
2. a place where evil and the demonic live (i.e., Lev. 16:8; 17:7)
3. an allusion to the ancient city of Babylon found in Isa. 21:1-10, where it is a metaphor of judgment
John's imagery is very fluid. In v. 1 the woman sits on many waters (the Euphrates River) and in v. 3 she sits on a scarlet beast in the wilderness.
▣ "and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast" The term "scarlet" could refer to
1. murder, cf. 17:6-7
2. luxury, f 18:12-16
3. Satan as a red dragon, cf. 12:3
The beast is described in detail in 13:1-10. It refers to the end-time Antichrist (cf. Daniel 7:9-14; 9:24-27; 11:36-45; II Thessalonians 2; I John 2:18).
▣ "full of blasphemous names" This is similar to 13:1,5-6. These titles are related historically to the Roman Emperor's self-deification. They claimed titles for themselves such as "divine," "savior," "lord." The beast's ultimate goal is not world political power, but religious worship (cf. Dan. 7:8,20; 8:11,25; 9:36,37) as a representative or incarnation of Satan (possibly represented in Isa. 14:13-14 and Ezek. 28:16-17).
▣ "having seven heads and ten horns" This description is similar to that of the red dragon (cf. 12:3) and the sea beast (cf. 13:1). The similarity is intended to show the unity of these different anti-God persons.
In numerical symbolism (1) the seven heads relate to "perfect" knowledge or the ultimate end-time world leader, while (2) the ten horns relate to complete power or worldly authority (cf. 17:7,9,12,16).
17:4 "The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet" These colors can refer to royalty (purple) and immorality (scarlet) or simply a metaphor for luxury, wealth, and opulence (cf. 18:12,16).
▣ "adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls" This is a symbol of earthly and spiritual power and position (used by Ezekiel as an Edenic metaphor for the pride of the King of Tyre cf. Ezek. 28:13).
▣ "a gold cup" This is an allusion to the city of Babylon (cf. Jer. 51:7).
17:5 "on her forehead a name was written" Seneca's Controversies 1:2 and Juvenal's Satires 6:122-123, record that Roman whores wore a band with either their own name or the name of their owner on their foreheads. This may be a historical allusion to John's day or in the context of Revelation; it may be a reference to the marking of the forehead of unbelievers (cf. 13:16-17; 14:9,11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4) which mimics God's sealing of believers (cf. 7:2; 9:4).
NASB"a mystery, 'Babylon the Great'"
NKJV"Mystery, Babylon the Great"
NRSV"mystery: 'Babylon the great'"
TEV"a secret meaning: 'Great Babylon'"
NJB"a name, a cryptic name: 'Babylon the Great'"
There is some disagreement as to whether the term "mystery" should be a part of the title or a way of referring to the symbolic nature of the title (cf. v. 7). Babylon has its origin in the first civilization, started by Nimrod (Babel), which rebelled against God and was dispersed in Genesis 11. From this usage and from the fact that Babylon took the people of God (Judah) into exile, it became a synonym for an evil, imperial world power. In John's day, this power was Rome (cf. I Pet. 5:13).
17:6 This verse speaks of the persecution and martyrdom of believers (cf. 11:7; 13:7; Dan. 7:21).
▣ "I wondered greatly" The KJV translates this as "with great admiration" but the NKJV has "I marveled with great amazement." John was not admiring her, but he was utterly astonished at her actions. She was allowed to persecute and kill God's people (cf. 13:5,7,15; 11:7).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 17:8-14
8"The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up out of the abyss and go to destruction. And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. 9Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits, 10and they are seven kings; five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while. 11The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction. 12The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour. 13These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast. 14These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful."
17:8 "the beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to come up" This chronological description has caused great consternation among commentators.
1. Some of them see it in a historical sense which applies particularly to the legend of Nero's return.
2. Others as a progression of world empires relating to Daniel 2, culminating in an anti-God end-time world system.
3. Others see it as related to the end-time activity of the beast described in 13:3,12,14, which relates to its mimicking or parodying the ministry of Christ.
4. It may relate to I John's concept of a spirit of antichrist in every age, which culminates in the Antichrist of the last day (cf. I John 2:18,22; 4:3; II John 7).
It is also another parody on YHWH's name (cf. 1:4,8).
▣ "the abyss" This is the Greek term for "depth" with the alpha privative. It is first mentioned in 9:1 and 11:7. It is the figurative abode of evil and the demonic. See note at 9:1.
▣ "the book of life" See notes at 5:1 and 13:8.
▣ "from the foundation of the world" See note at 3:5 and 13:8.
NASB, NKJV"Here is the mind which has wisdom"
NRSV"This calls for a mind that has wisdom"
TEV"This calls for wisdom and understanding"
NJB"This calls for shrewdness"
This phrase is similar to 13:18, which deals with the number of the name of the beast. This little Scripture teaser has caused everyone to put forth his/her own theory! However, the very fact that there is such a multiplicity of interpretations shows that there are not too many wise among us! (cf. I Cor. 1:26-31). To me, it is just another way for John to assert the mysterious, symbolic, cryptic nature of his writing (cf. Frank Stagg, New Testament Theology, p. 317).
▣ "the seven heads of the seven mountains on which the woman sits" This is an allusion to Rome. Rome, like Jerusalem, was built on seven hills. This phrase appears in many ancient writings to describe the city of Rome. Therefore, it is incumbent on interpreters to at least see this in light of the Roman Empire, although obviously the whole allusion of chapters 17 and 18 is an anti-God world system that will be in place at the end-time and in reality is in place in every age.
17:10-11 Some commentators see this as a series of Roman Emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero as "the five who have fallen." Vespasian is "the one who is current" and Titus is "the one who will come for a little while" (cf. F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p. 141). This interpretation is rather arbitrary; the three relatively minor Emperors (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) who vied for the throne in A.D. 68-69 have been omitted. However, even with its problems, this seems to be the focus of vv. 10 and 11, with an emphasis on the myth of Nero's resuscitation and return with the Parthian hordes to attack Rome (this may explain v. 16, cf. The Sibyllian Oracles, 5:361-368).
Others see this prophecy as being fulfilled in the persecutions of Domitian. There are some major hindrances to this interpretation:
1. it would require Revelation to have been written during the reign of Vespasian, which is at variance with the ancient church tradition that John wrote during the reign of Domitian
2. the symbolic use of numbers throughout the book
Why make this historically literal? Again, this may have been something that John did intentionally to show the symbolic nature of his visions, which were not meant to be totally locked into any historical period.
Another possible interpretation is that this refers to the series of OT empires who were enemies of God's people: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece ("five have fallen"), Rome ("one is"), end-time anti-God empire ("the other has not yet come"). This interpretation fits into the overall pattern of a series of anti-God world empires from Dan. 2:1-8 (cf. George Ladd, Revelation, pp. 227-231).
Still another ancient interpretation is the symbolic nature of all of the numbers and details of Revelation, which would simply turn this chapter into another example of the ultimate conflict between God and the evil one (cf. Alan Johnson's Revelation, pp. 152-153, 157-161).
This is a good example of my inner conflicts as an interpreter. There are so many different interpretations by godly scholars whom I trust. The first theory is by my favorite writer, F. F. Bruce. The next two are by my favorite commentators on Revelation, George Ladd and Alan Johnson. They all disagree! The crucial issue is whether the text is an allusion to first century Rome (F. F. Bruce), the OT (George Ladd), or apocalyptic imagery (Alan Johnson). At this point in my personal study I think Johnson's view is best.
17:12 "the ten horns which you saw are ten kings" This is an allusion to Dan. 7:7,23-24. Daniel 7 is a description of the end-time Antichrist. Some see this as being related historically to ten vassal kings of Rome, while others see it as the demonic hordes of Revelation 9. To many, the symbolic nature of the numbers in the book of the Revelation simply makes v. 12 refer to end-time world leaders, but without a specificity.
Many elaborate, literal interpretations of the book of the Revelation are based on the specific details of vv. 10-12. These prophecies are very specific, which tends to imply a literal fulfillment at the end-time. However, the nature of the literary genre points toward a symbolic interpretation of these numbers and details (at least for those of us who are not the last generation of persecuted believers).
17:13 This verse shows the unity of evil, while v. 15-16 shows the disunity of evil. Evil will ultimately be turned against itself as in 16:12.
17:14 "these will wage war against the Lamb" The Lamb is identified with His people (cf. Matt. 25:35-40; Acts 9:4).
▣ "but the Lamb will overcome. . .and those who are with Him" Notice the close identification between the victory of Christ and the victory of His people.
▣ "He is Lord of lords, and King of kings" This same title is mentioned in 19:16 as a characterization of the returning Messiah. Its origins are found in (1) a description of YHWH from Deut. 10:17; Ps. 136:2-3 or (2) a Babylonian title used for Nebuchadnezzar in Dan. 2:37,47. The number value of this phrase equals 777 in Aramaic, although this is not mentioned in the text.
▣ "the called and chosen and faithful" Notice the allusion to predestination found in the terms "chosen" and "called," but also notice they are called to perseverance linked to "faithfulness." We are His by call and faith (both initial and continuing). See Special Topic on Perseverance at 2:2.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 17:15-18
15And he said to me, "The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. 16And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire. 17For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled. 18The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth."
17:15 This verse shows the universal reign of the end-time anti-God leader and his empire. See note at 10:11.
17:16 This is an allusion to Ezek. 16:39-40; 23:25-27; 28:18. It seems to refer to internal strife among the forces of evil, as in 16:12. This infighting was a strategy of God (cf. v. 17).
17:17 "hearts" See Special Topic at 2:23.
17:18 This great city is mentioned in 11:8 and 16:19 with allusions either to Jerusalem (dispensationalists) or Rome (preterists). The context of the literary unit suggests an anti-God power structure symbolized as a city. Which city is not the issue; the point is the existence of a governmental system totally apart from God, humans attempting to meet all of their own needs (atheistic humanism).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 18:1-3
1After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory. 2And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. 3"For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committedacts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality."
18:1 "I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory" This was a tremendously powerful angel. The term "authority" (exousia) is not used for any other angel in the book. In John 5:27, it is used of God's authority given to Jesus. In 22:16 Jesus says He sent an angel to speak for Him as a representative.
18:2 "'Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!'" This is one example of the difficulty in interpreting the book of the Revelation. A piece of information is brought in at one point in the vision, partially developed at another point, and fully developed in yet another vision (e.g., cf. 11:8; 14:8; and 16:19-20 or this may be another example of recapitulation between the seven literary units). This is an allusion to Isa. 21:9 and/or Jer. 51:8.
▣ "She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird" This is an allusion to the ruins of ancient cities:
1. Babylon (cf. Isa. 13:21-22; 14:23; Jer. 50:39; 51:37)
2. Edom (cf. Isa. 34:10-15)
3. Nineveh (cf. Zeph. 2:14)
In the OT animals are often said to roam about in ruined cities. This is a symbol of both destruction and the presence of evil spirits (cf. NEB). Many of these birds represented demons.
John's writing is very fluid. This verse describes the city as desolate and indwelt with the demonic, while 19:3 describes it as burnt and smoldering.
18:3 "all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality" This phrase is an allusion to the OT prophecy of the destruction of Babylon (cf. Jer. 51:7). Jeremiah specifically uses drunkenness (i.e., "a golden cup") as a symbol of lust for wealth.
▣ "passion" This is literally "anger" (thumos). See full note at 7:14.
▣ "the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality" This is an allusion to the major problem of fallen mankind embodied in the self-centeredness and materialism of an end-time, anti-God world system. There are three groups of humans who mourn the fall of the great whore:
1. businessmen (cf. vv. 3,11-16)
2. kings of the earth (cf. vv. 3,9-10)
3. merchant sailors (cf. vv. 3,17-19)
These three represent worldwide human economic systems.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 18:4-8
4I heard another voice from heaven, saying, "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; 5for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. 6Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her. 7To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, 'I sit as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning.' 8For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong."
18:4 "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues" This is an OT allusion to Isa. 48:20; 52:11; Jer. 50:8,28; 51:6,9,45 or Zech. 2:6-7. It is an aorist active imperative which speaks of the urgency of God's people not being caught up in this fallen world system.
18:5 "for her sins are piled up as high as heaven" This is an allusion to Gen. 18:20-21 or Jer. 51:9. God's patience was used as an excuse to sin more instead of repenting (cf. 2:21; Rom. 2:4).
▣ "God has remembered" Often in the Bible, when God remembers the acts of the wicked it results in judgment (cf. 16:19; Ps. 79:8; Isa. 64:9; Jer. 14:10; 17:1-4; 44:21-23; Hos. 7:2; 8:13; 9:9; Amos 8:7).
18:6 "Pay her back even as she has paid" This is an allusion to the truth that we reap what we sow (cf. Gal. 6:7; for full list see www.freecommentary.org). This truth is presented in many different forms in the Bible (cf. Ps. 137:8; Jer. 50:15,29; Matt. 7:2; Rev. 13:10).
▣ "give back to her double according to her deeds" This is an allusion to Jer. 16:18 and 17:18, but the truth is expressed in many contexts (cf. Exod. 22:4-9; Ps. 75:7-8; Isa. 40:2). This idiom speaks of complete and full judgment, as does the next phrase. This verse would have been very encouraging to persecuted Christians.
▣ "the cup which she has mixed, mix twice for her" "Cup" is an OT metaphor for the judgment of God (cf. Ps. 11:6; 60:3; 75:6-8; Isa. 51:17,22; Jer. 25:15-16,27-28).
18:7 "for she says in her heart 'I sit as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning'" This specifically relates to Zeph. 2:15 and Isa. 47:7-8. It alludes to the self-sufficiency and pride, which may have been the source of Satan's fall (possibly alluded to in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28), mankind's fall (cf. Genesis 3), and this end-time world system. The problem is arrogant independence!
For "heart" see Special Topic at 2:23.
18:8 "for this reason in one day her plagues will come" This is a specific allusion to Isa. 47:9. The concept of grief overtaking her in a single day is repeated in vv. 17-19, where the Johannine term "hour" is used. This was a major encouragement to persecuted Christians.
▣ "she will be burned up with fire" This may be an allusion to Lev. 21:9. See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE at 16:8.
▣ "for the Lord God who judges her is strong" This is an allusion to Jer. 50:34.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 18:9-10
9"And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, 10standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, 'Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.'"
18:9-10 "the kings of the earth" These must be different from the kings mentioned in 17:12,16, who participated in the destruction and fall of the great whore. These kings were apparently merchant nations who benefitted from commercial trade with the anti-God world system. This is an allusion to the powerful commercial city of Tyre and its prideful king in Ezekiel 26-28. The remainder of chapter 18 deals with the intoxicating commercial power associated with all fallen world systems.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 18:11-20
11"And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more— 12cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every kind of citron wood and every article of ivory and every article made from very costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, 13and cinnamon and spice and incense and perfume and frankincense and wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, and cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives. 14The fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them. 15The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, 16saying, 'Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls; 17for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!' And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, 18and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, 'What city is like the great city?' 19And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, 'Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!' 20Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her."
18:11-19 "the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her" This is similar to Ezekiel 27:
1. v. 11 – Ezek. 27:31,36
2. vv. 12-13 – Ezek. 27:12,13,22
3. v. 15 – Ezek 27:31,36
4. v. 17 – Ezek. 27:26-30
5. v. 18 – Ezek. 27:32
6. v. 19 – Ezek. 27:30-34
It describes international trade:
1. silver from Spain
2. fine linen from Egypt
3. silk from China
4. citron wood from North Africa
5. ivory from Africa
6. iron from Spain or the Black Sea
7. cinnamon from India
8. the universal practice of slave trading
This refers to private, four-wheeled, luxury chariots, not war chariots.
18:14 "luxurious and splendid" This is a word play on the Greek terms lipara (luxury) and lampra (splendid).
18:17 This is an allusion to Ezekiel 26-28 (city of Tyre), where those employed in the transportation of these luxuries mourned because their own livelihoods had been affected.
18:19 "threw dust on their heads" See SPECIAL TOPIC: GRIEVING RITES at 1:7.
18:20 "Rejoice over her" This is an allusion to Jer. 51:48, although some see it as referring to Deut 32:43 (in the Septuagint) as the economic partners' grief over the fall of Babylon, so believers rejoice!
▣ "God has pronounced judgment for you against her" Throughout the book, God's judgments are connected with the prayers of His children (cf. 6:10).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 18:21-24
21Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, "So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. 22And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer; 23and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. 24And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth."
18:21 "Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea" This is an allusion to Jer. 51:63-64. It is a strong passage showing that Babylon will never, never rise again. As a matter of fact, in vv. 21-33, there are six double negatives, "certainly not," "not under any circumstances," and "never, no, never."
▣ "and will not be found any longer" This shows total, permanent destruction (cf. Ezek. 26:21).
18:22-23 These were the sounds of everyday life in the Ancient Near East. God's judgment brings an end to this godless society (cf. Isa. 24:8; Jer. 7:34; 25:10; Ezek. 26:13).
18:23 "all the nations were deceived by your sorcery" This is an allusion to Nahum 3:4. Notice that in vv. 23-24 there are listed three reasons for the fall of the great city.
1. pride and wealth ( cf. Isa. 23:8)
2. idolatry and sorcery (cf. Lev. 19:26,33; Deut. 18:9-12)
3. persecution of the people of God (cf. 16:6, 17:6).
18:24 This is an allusion to Jer. 51:49.
This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.
1. Are chapters 17 and 18 a literary unit? If so, why?
2. Why is it so difficult to interpret when Babylon fell?
3. Who does Babylon, the great whore, refer to in John's day? In our day? In the end-time?
4. What is the immorality and wine referred to in 14:8; 17:2; 18:3 in connection with this world system?
5. Please explain your interpretation of 17:10-11.
6. From what OT book are most of John's allusions taken?
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