THE DOWNFALL OF BABYLON THE GREAT
Now we come to a feature which is quite different from what we have considered up to this point. Those earnestly concerned with events that accompany the end of this age and the return of our Lord Jesus may be surprised at what is revealed of the coming destruction of "Babylon the Great" in the 17th and 18th chapters of Revelation. In contrast to the fantasy of futurist teachers who look for a rebuilding of the literal Babylon in Mesopotamia, the historicist sees Babylon the Great as the dreadful reality of which the Babylon of Daniel's day was only a type. Accepting the testimony of the Scripture, we notice that the seventh vial is poured upon the air and a great voice comes out of the Temple, from the throne, saying, "It is done!" (Rev. 16:17). There are lightnings and voices and thunders and an unprecedented earthquake, the great city is divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fall and Babylon the Great is remembered in the sight of God "to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath," (16:19).
Note that the judgement of Babylon is one of the items here, but announced only, with no explanation or details. The next chapter (17) fills in these details: "there came one of the seven angels that had seven bowls, and spake with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the judgement of the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters; with whom the kings of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication," (vs. 1, 2).
There are only two women presented in the seals, trumpets and vials of the Revelation. One in chapter 12 is mentioned nine times in verses 1, 4, 6, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. She is identified to a certainty by the enmity of Satan against her, in verses 4, 6, and 13, and is seen again in chapter 19:7-9, but with her afflictions over and glorified forever. She is the Bride of the Lord Jesus, the Church of God. The other woman is described in 17:3, 4 and 6 as arrayed in fine garments and "drunken with the blood of the saints." She is called a harlot and also "Babylon the Great," a woman and a city.
There is a marked contrast between the two women. Of the former it is written: "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready," (19:7). Note also verse 9, "Write, blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb," and later on: "And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (21:2). As we find the harlot linked with a city of evil memory and notorious wickedness, so in contrast the former woman is linked with the heavenly Jerusalem and is the Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ, i.e., the Church.
The early Protestant leaders maintained that this evil woman, Babylon the Great, is a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church, but their testimony has been rejected by many and forgotten by others. We must clearly distinguish this older view form that held by the presently popular futurists; it is important to note that "Babylon the Great" is not a city to be built (or rebuilt) in Mesopotamia. It is doubly symbolized as a woman and a city. That city is Rome, which was the centre of the ten kingdoms symbolized by the ten horns on the fourth beast mentioned in Daniel 7; in Revelation she is pictured as a woman associated with the beast and the kings of the earth. Instead of the fulfilment of this prediction coming after the Rapture and at the end of the supposed seventieth week, this, her last and most detailed description, is followed immediately by the account of her destruction. This description requires considerable information and explanation of the beast because he and the woman are so closely related.
Sometimes we are shown a double meaning in the symbolism, e.g., in chapter 17:9, 10: "The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth. And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come: and when he cometh, he must continue a short space." Rome has been the famed seven-hilled city of Western Europe, and besides this Rome, by the time of Constantine, had been ruled by Kings, Consuls, Dictators, Decemvirs, Military Tribunes, Military Emperors and Absolute Monarchs -- seven successive political heads from her beginning to A.D. 476.
Besides these marks of identity, we find there are "ten horns" which stand for ten kingdoms which, when John saw these things, were still to arise. They began their rise after the fall of the Western Empire in A.D. 476 and have been an obvious fact in the history of Western Rome until the present, for there are today in this area that number of states. (Lists of these kingdoms made fifty years apart show how constant this number has been. Note that in counting these, nations east of the Adriatic should be excluded except for Yugoslavia, for these would be in the Grecian area. Nor should nations north of the Danube or east of the Rhine be counted, for the Romans consolidated their Empire south of the Danube and west of the Rhine.) These ten kingdoms were to arise in Western Europe, i.e., Rome proper, for what was long called Eastern Rome was actually part of the third kingdom of Daniel's vision, i.e., Greece, the history of which continued though its world "dominion was taken away," (Dan. 7:12).
The harlot is also identified as "that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth," (Rev. 17:18). This last expression illuminates the symbolism. This New Testament rival and enemy of the people of God stands in relation to the New Testament church as Old Babylon stood to Judah prior to the destruction of that kingdom in 586 B.C. She it was who brought about what Luther called "the Babylonish Captivity of the Church."
Concerning the angel's announcement, "I will show thee the judgement of the great harlot," (Rev. 17:1) the event to which this passage refers must be of the greatest importance for, as we have seen, two chapters contain the identification and the terrible judgement of this system, not to mention the prior notice in Rev. 14:8 and the indication of its time in 16:19. It seems sad indeed that many of the thousands of evangelicals on this continent are anticipating that supposed secret coming of the Saviour and are utterly unaware of this staggering destruction which appears to involve the heart of that homeland of European civilization which has such historic links with the New World.
So we come to Rev. 18. There seems to be seven declarations in this section. The "revealing" of this section (as in most of this book ) is by symbolism of this same kind we find in chapter 13 concerning the beast, the false prophet, and the image of the beast. To these three entities is added, in chapter 17, the harlot. It is suggested here that chapter 17 identifies the harlot and chapter 18 narrates the action of this chapter, i.e., her destruction.
"An angel of great power" comes down from heaven and his glory lightens the earth, Rev. 18:1, 2. AS noted earlier, this is symbolism; we ought not to expect to see a literal angel at this point nor to hear his mighty cry, "Babylon the Great is fallen." The fulfilment in the past of such symbolism would lead us to expect the coming upon our race of the conviction that the Roman Catholic Church is the very opposite of what she claims to be: spiritually she is unclean, vicious and wicked. We do not say this of Roman Catholics, who are not thus described. The Roman Catholic laity are "the faithful" but Roman Catholic authorities do not consider them to be "the Church."
"A voice form heaven" says "come out of her, my people," (Rev. 18:4-8). This must be the voice of the Son of God calling His own. His voice is heard by those who are His and "they follow Him," (John 10:27). This reminds us of the Reformation when just such an impression fell on those who heard the preaching of the reformers and recognized the message of Jesus Christ the Saviour in their testimony. Thus there was an exodus from the Church of Rome, and, sharply distinct from her, the Protestant Church came into being. Still there is no trace of repentance in this Babylon, for she says in her heart, "I sit as a queen and am no widow and shall see no sorrow;" she is obdurate, but she cannot escape God's judgement. "Her plagues come in one day, death and mourning and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire."
The authoritative voice says the term of this judgement is "one day". This, judging form the prophetic scale used in this book and in Daniel, would stand for a year, but the swiftness of this destruction so impresses the onlookers that they say in is "in one hour," (vs. 10, 17 and 19). This on the above scale would indicate two weeks. The concluding declaration of this section, "she shall be utterly burned with fire," shows the terrible finality of God's judgement upon her.
The kings of the earth (vs. 9, 10) are the rulers (or ex-rulers) of the Roman world (Western Europe) which, in fulfilment of Daniel chapters 2, and 7, have ruled the Western world under the headship of the Pope form about A.D. 600 till the Reformation -- some of them until today. They have had a guilty and luxurious relationship with this "woman." They mourn and lament over her as they see "the smoke of her burnings," but there is no whisper of repentance on their part.
In Rev. 18:11-17 we have the dirge of the merchants of that world, involved in "big business" relationships with the whole world. The bombing of Western Europe in World War II could be witnessed by "big business" with the anticipation of profiting by the rebuilding that would follow. The scene at which these merchants stare is of such horror that no thought of recovery occurs to them. "No man buyeth their merchandise any more." They are impressed by the aspect of finality in this judgement. Verses 12-16 recount the commodities of trade which shall be found "no more at all" in that "great city." Verse 17a concludes this section, "For in one hour so great riches is come to naught."
The next section (Rev. 18:17b-19) draws attention to the maritime community -- "shipmasters", "the company in ships," "sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off and cried when they saw the smoke of her burning...[they] cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas that great city... for in one hour is she made desolate."
It seems that He who speaks in verse 4 saying, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" also reveals or narrates these scenes to the Apostle John from the words, "Come out of her, my people," to the end of verse 20.
"A mighty angel," perhaps the same angel who speaks in the first verse of this chapter, casts a stone like a great millstone into the sea, and says, "Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all," (Rev. 18:21). This becomes the theme of the lament addressed to Babylon in the following verses, (vs. 22, 23) "the voice of harpers, and of musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman of whatever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee; and the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; the voice of a bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee." Finally at the end of verse 23 we read, "By thy sorceries were all nations deceived," and in verse 24, "In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth." It is suggested that "the earth" here means the Roman earth -- that part of the world under the dominion of Rome. Note the reference to "that great city" about twelve times between chapters 11:8 and 18:21. This is not merely the city of Rome, but the Roman world, prophetically not less than the area of Italy; perhaps more, possibly Western Europe.
This view is warranted by the famous edict of Carcalla about A.D. 212. This was the extension of Roman citizenship to the people of the Roman world. This was done to involve the population of the Empire in the heavier taxes of "the citizens." It accords with our speech, to be specific, Rome the city must be distinguished from Rome the Empire and Rome the Church.
The destruction of Babylon the Great, predicted in Revelation 18, must precede the assault on Jerusalem and the destruction of the beast and the false prophet. It should be remembered, too, that the prophecy of Daniel's 70th week was completely fulfilled by the Lord Jesus. In a sense it had a double fulfilment, depending on whether the seventy-year period is measured in solar years form the decree of Cyrus mentioned in Ezra, or in lunar years from the decree of Artaxerxes in 444 B.C. No fraction of the 70th week remains for Antichrist to fulfill. Indeed, the very idea of his sharing this solemn and sacred week of years with the Lord Jesus is grotesque.