Dr. Richard L. Strauss
June 24, 1979
We are studying the destruction of Babylon. Babylon, we have learned, is the name God applies to the apostate world church of the last days. We don't know exactly what this false religion is. We know it reaches to the ends of the earth. We know that it is a false religion--an apostate religion. It is a religion of humanism and materialism. It seems to involve the occult. It is an anti-God religion. But it is a religion. A false religion. And God gives it the name Babylon because the church will bear the major characteristics of the first organized false religion initiated at Babel in Genesis 11.
God gives us His viewpoint of that monstrous false religious system in chapter 17 of Revelation. He calls it a great harlot, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth. Unfortunately, men do not always see things as God sees them. When we reach chapter 18 of Revelation we find the human viewpoint of Babylon. Oh, there are still some statements from God's point of view in the chapter, but basically it centers around eleven verses that express man's sentiments about their recently destroyed religion.
Before we begin to expound this chapter, I would like to point out that the great majority of Premillennial Bible teachers believe that the Babylon in chapter 18 is different from the Babylon in chapter 17. (Remember, Premillennialists believe that Jesus will return to the earth and establish a literal, political, world-wide kingdom. It's a Millennial kingdom because Revelation 20 teaches us that it lasts 1000 years.) The popular opinion, expressed in the Scofield Reference Bible (old and new)--and taught by many of the teachers who taught me Bible prophecy--is that chapter 17 refers to Babylon in her religious aspects, the great apostate world church of the last days, and that chapter 18 refers to Babylon in her political and economic aspects, the kingdom of the Antichrist. In other words, the second Babylon of chapter 18 is actually responsible for the destruction of the first Babylon is chapter 17. And the destruction of the second Babylon in chapter 18 is 3-1/2 years after the destruction of the first Babylon of chapter 17. They maintain that while the first one is destroyed by the Antichrist at the middle of Daniel's Seventieth Week, the second one is destroyed at the coming of the Lord to earth at the conclusion of Daniel's Seventieth Week.
Now, I hesitate to stand alone, especially in contradiction to my own teachers. But as I study these two chapters, folks, I've come to the conclusion that they are one in the same. I think an accurate interpretation of the passage demands our viewing chapter 17 and 18 as one continuous narrative about the same event.
I have searched the commentaries which hold this distinction in order to discover their reasons, and I have been able to find three. The first one is that the many references in this chapter to the commercial activity of Babylon demand that this is a different Babylon than the religious system of chapter 17. Let me answer that reason as we expound the chapter in a few moments.
The second reason I have found is that the kings of the earth as well as the merchants will mourn the passing of commercial Babylon in chapter 18, but no mourning is mentioned concerning destruction of religious Babylon in chapter 17. This is an argument from silence and means nothing whatsoever. If the two chapters are telling the same story, we would not need to be told twice about the lamentation.
The third reason is that the first Babylon is destroyed by the Antichrist (17:16), while it is clearly stated that the second is destroyed by God (18:8). But in view of what we were told in Revelation 17:17, it becomes obvious that God was responsible for it, even though the Antichrist accomplished it.
"And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled" (Revelation 17:16-17).
On the other hand, there are so many similarities between the Babylons in each chapter that I cannot see how anyone can deny that they are one and the same. I want you to go through these with me. Now I realize that we're not expounding the text yet, but I think this is important. I'll admit that there be some unanswered questions with my point of view, but so there are with theirs as well. I'm not dogmatic about this; I could be wrong. But I want you to see this with me. Scan through chapter 18 and note the similarities with the Babylon we have already studied in chapter 17.
The first is her name, Babylon the great (Revelation 18:2; 17:5).
Second, the people of the earth are drunk with the wine of her fornication (Revelation 18:3; 17:2). And spiritual fornication, as we learned, is representative of embracing a false religion. You see, the Babylon of chapter 18 is still a false religious system.
Third, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her (Revelation 18:3; 17:2).
Fourth, she lives luxuriously (Revelation 18:7; 17:4). Chapter 17 doesn't use the word "luxurious," but when you read the verse you see that's what it is.
Fifth, she shall be burned with fire (Revelation 18:8; 17:6).
Sixth, she is arrayed in purple, scarlet, gold, precious stones, and pearls (Revelation 18:16; 17:4).
Seventh, she is a city (Revelation 18:18; 17:18).
Eighth, she shall be made desolate (Revelation 18:19; 17:16).
Ninth, she is drunk with the blood of the saints (Revelation 18:24; 17:6).
Evidence like this is hard to refute. Most who claim otherwise don't even try to refute it; they just conveniently ignore it. It's just hard to imagine that these are two different Babylons. And yet, most Premillennial Bible teachers and commentators on Revelation say that they're different. I'm even out of sorts with my father [Lehman Strauss] on this! You know, that really hurts!
I don't like to stand out from the crowd and be different. That makes me nervous. But here I stand. I cannot believe otherwise--at least today. Maybe you can convince me to the contrary. We are going to proceed today on the basis that the subject is still the fall of the apostate world church of the last days.
1. The Report of the Fall
It is another angel who makes the prophetic announcement to John that Babylon is fallen--a powerful angel who illuminates the earth with his glory. He cries with a strong voice, saying literally, "It is fallen, it is fallen, Babylon the Great." The tense of the verb indicates that it will be a sudden and decisive fall. The angel is speaking prophetically of a future event, but reports it as if it had already happened. The utter devastation of the great world church is that definite.
Now, notice what happens to it as a result of its fall. Its remnants and ruins become the habitation of demons, and the hold or cage of every foul spirit and every unclean and hateful bird (verse 2). Birds are often used in Scripture to represent evil spirits. For instance, in our Lord's parable of the sower and the soils, the birds that snatched away the good seed of God's Word are descriptive of "the wicked one" according to Christ's own interpretation (Matthew 13:19). In the parable of the mustard seed a few verses later (Matthew 13:31-32), we learn of the mammoth and rapid growth of Christendom in this age, but the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches of it. Here is the beginning of this Satanic trend, evil spirits, fallen angels, coming to lodge in the branches of progressing Christendom. And now that it is fallen in the last days, every foul spirit, all kinds of demons and fallen angels are caged in its ruins. The true church of Jesus Christ is declared to be the habitation of God through the Spirit in Ephesians 2:22. But the false church of the last days is the habitation of demons. How important it is for us to stand true to the Word of God, and avoid identifying ourselves with those who deny it.
The indictment against the great world church, which we saw in chapter 17, is repeated here in verse 3, but a new concept is added. The nations have drunk the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her. The kings of the earth and their subjects are guilty of embracing her false gods; they've worshipped her idols.
And then we are introduced for the first time to the commercial activities of this great world church. "The merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury" (Revelation 18:3b). Rather than prove that this is a different Babylon than chapter 17, this merely reinforces the vileness and apostasy of the great world church. It will become such a political and commercial force, that the economy of the world will be largely influenced by it. In other words, instead of occupying itself with spiritual things, the great world church has occupied itself with commercial things.
This is already happening before our very eyes. Organized religion is big business. Merchants of the earth have already grown rich through the abundance of her delicacies. If all organized religion were to be destroyed today, the economy of the world would be visibly shaken. No one really knows the actual extent of the vast wealth of the Roman Catholic church. Its business enterprises and investments reach into almost every facet of life. Its real estate holdings can hardly be matched by any other single organization. Put with that the assets of the major Protestant denominations, and you have unparalleled economic power. That is not why God instituted the church. He brought it into the world to rescue the lost from eternal condemnation, and to bring them into the fellowship of the body of Christ, where they can grow strong in God's grace and knowledge. So what it has become must be an abomination to Him. And some day He is going to destroy it. "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen."
2. The Request to God's People
Suddenly John hears another voice, this one from heaven. It is probably the voice of God Himself, and it is directed to His people. While the primary application of the plea is probably directed to Tribulation saints, I cannot help but believe this is God's Word to His people today who have come to discern the true character of the apostate world church which is forming already in our day. "Come out of her, My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).
In many of the world's religions today, I'm convinced that there are true believers in Jesus Christ. The leadership and hierarchy of those groups has denied the doctrines of Scripture--the inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Jesus Christ, His substitutionary death on Calvary's cross in our place for our sins, His bodily resurrection from the grave, salvation by God's grace received purely by faith. There are great religious systems today that deny those doctrines, and yet there are in those organizations or denominations, people who genuinely know Jesus Christ. They've come to know Him in a personal, saving relationship by faith in His shed blood. They love Him. They walk with Him. They want to serve Him. They have agony in their soul over the direction that their organizations are taking. They're trying to stem the tide and stop a headlong plunge to disaster. They pray for their organizations. They want to work within the framework of an apostate religious organization and seek to change it.
God bless them. My heart goes out to them. They are brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. But you know what God says to them? Right here in verse 4 He says it: "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues."
Now I don't talk about this very often. Frankly, I would far rather the growth of Emmanuel Faith Community Church come from the salvation of lost people who have been totally unchurched. We ought to be witnessing and bringing the lost to know the Savior--every one of us affiliated with this local church. But I would have to say to people who are affiliated with organizations that deny the great doctrines of Biblical Scripture: "Come out, come out of her, my people."
I believe that God reveals this to people at different stages of their spiritual growth. We do not go out of our way to get people out of other churches. I hope nobody in this church does. But there are teachers who deny these doctrinal truths and they're doing more harm than good, and God wants His people to come out.
Apostate religious organizations cannot be reformed. God has predicated the direction they shall take. To remain associated with them is first of all, to be responsible for their unbiblical principles and practices, to be guilty of their sins. And secondly, if we remain associated with them long enough, we will share in their punishment. Technically, the consequence could only be true of Tribulation saints. Only they could be present on earth when the destruction of the apostate world church occurs. But there is application here for believers today who are trying to fight a lost cause. To continue to associate yourself with such an organization is to rob yourself and your family of the blessing that comes from fellowship with other true believers in the Word. In one sense this could be termed a plague, the plague of spiritual barrenness.
Look at verse 5. "For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities" (Revelation 18:5).
This seems to be a reference to the original tower of Babel, the institution of organized false religion. Their tower never reached to heaven as they intended. But their sins did. And God doesn't forget sins that have never been dealt with by repentance and faith.
Her retribution is described in verse 6. The degree of her guilt deserves a double portion of punishment. She glorified herself (verse 7), and lived luxuriously (the word means literally "sensually," "wantonly"). She claimed to be a queen, not a widow, thus rationalizing her debased relationship with the kings of the earth. But her plagues shall come in one day (verse 8), death, and mourning, and famine, and she shall be utterly burned with fire. And there is no escaping this sudden and devastating judgment, "...for strong is the Lord God who judges her" (Revelation 18:8b).
The request to God's people is: Come out.
3. The Regret of the Kings
We now come to the human viewpoint of Babylon's destruction. First the kings of the earth express their feelings, those very kings who embraced her false gods, and profited by her commercial enterprises. They shall bewail her and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning (verse 9). But notice, while they lament, they are standing afar off (verse 10). They don't want to be affiliated with her in her judgment. "For in one hour your judgment has come" (Revelation 18:10b).
There are several points to make from these verses. For one thing, the very existence of these kings to lament indicates that this is the great world church that has just been destroyed at the mid-point of the Tribulation. If it were the kingdom of Antichrist, they would have been destroyed with it at the return of Jesus Christ. There would have been no kings that could lament.
Another thing that needs to be commented on here is the implication that this is a literal city that is destroyed, the smoke of which they see rising in the distance. It has certainly been implied in these two chapters that this is a literal city. I may not have made this clear heretofore, but I think that it's entirely possible that the apostate world church may find its headship in a particular city. Some claim that it will be a rebuilt Babylon on the Euphrates River. Others claim that it will be another city--perhaps Rome will be the Babylon of the last days. I don't know. God doesn't tell us. I would lean toward the latter in view of Isaiah 13:19-22 and Jeremiah 51:24-26, 61-64, which teach that the literal city of Babylon would never again be inhabited. That prophecy has been fulfilled to this day, and I think shall be forever, just as God said.
4. The Regret of the Merchants
Note next the sentiments of the merchants of the earth, who grew rich through the abundance of her delicacies (verse 3). They too weep and mourn over her. And the reason is purely mercenary (verse 11), "for no one buys their merchandise anymore." There follows a list of 28 types of merchandise that the great world church trafficked in, the market for which is non-existent now that she is gone.
There is one commodity that I particularly want you to notice; it's at the very end of verse 13, "the souls of men." Here is some indication of how depraved the great world church is--selling spiritual favors in order to increase her own wealth, playing fast and loose with the eternal destiny of men's souls in order to fatten her own coffers. The result is that people are dying without Christ and being consigned to an eternal hell because the church's primary goal has not been to preach Christ crucified and risen again. Rather, their goal has been to make merchandise.
Listen to the merchants, also standing afar off (verse 15), saying, "Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing" (Revelation 18:16-17a).
The last group of merchants to moan over her destruction is the shipping companies. Here are the fellows who made their fortunes hauling the commodities associated with the great world church. They too cried, "What city is like this great city?" And they cast dust on their heads, and cried weeping and wailing saying, "Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate" (Revelation 18:19). Note the suddenness of her destruction repeated again here. In verse 8 it was in one day. In verses 10, 17 and now in 19 it was in one hour of that day.
5. The Rejoicing in Heaven
But lest we end this story from man's point of view, the Spirit of God turns us back to heaven. There is no sorrow there over the judgment of Satan's church, only rejoicing. "Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!" (Revelation 18:20).
This hardly seems like the attitude of forgiving those who wrong us and praying for those who despitely use us as the Lord Jesus exhorted us to do. But there is no contradiction when we take into account the enormity of Babylon's sin, the ruthless martyrdom of the saints by her hand through the centuries (Revelation 6:9). The souls of those martyred saints have been waiting and praying that God would avenge them, and now His infinite righteousness and justice accomplishes just that. And there is rejoicing in heaven.
Notice the violence of her downfall, as pictured by the symbolic act of verse 21, a mighty angel casting a great millstone into the sea. Notice the absolute totality of her destruction indicated here and in the verses to follow. She shall be found no more at all. Never again will music be heard in her (verse 22). No craftsmen shall ever work in her again, to fashion idols or anything else for that matter. No more grain shall ever be ground. No more lights shall ever illuminate her at night. Never again shall the voices of a bride and bridegroom be heard in her. The silence of the city is testimony to the absolute devastating judgment of God. This great world church deceived the nations with her Satanic lies--do you see it in verse 23?--and now she is gone.
But the final word we read in verse 24 is, I believe, her major crime. It has been committed by Babylonianism through the ages. It will be committed in an unparalleled degree during the Great Tribulation. And it is for this reason first of all that God must destroy her. "And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth."
The next thing we read is about in the book of the Revelation is the announcement of the triumphant return of Jesus Christ. What a glorious expectation after reading about all this judgment. But folks, this judgment is part of God's Word. It isn't very often that we make this plea, but it is made in this chapter of the Word of God, and consequently, it is the primary application of this message today. It's there for our warning. "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).
Come out of her! Come out of her, my people!
You say, "But my religious organization is not guilty of these things you're talking about." Well I have to say that if that religious organization is favorably inclined toward those who are, the day will come when she will be also. Why not identify yourself with those who stand firm on the authority and inspiration of God's Word?
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Now, if you've never come to know Jesus Christ as your Savior, I'm not saying, "Come join Emmanuel Faith." You understand that, don't you? There is something far more important than your church affiliation because it affects eternity and your church affiliation has nothing to do with eternity. Absolutely nothing. It is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Have you come to the place where you've seen yourself as a sinner? Unworthy of God's favor; unfit for heaven's glory. Willing to admit that Jesus Christ died in your place and that your sins hung Him there, just as my sins hung Him there. And then put your total trust and dependence on Him for forgiveness, for salvation, and for eternal life. If you've never made that decision, we invite you to do it today. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we pray that those who listen to this message--a message of warning--will heed what Your Word has to say and act accordingly. And God, we do pray particularly for those who may not know Christ, that they may see Him as the lovely sinless Son of God, who bore the ugliness of their sin, and receive Him as their Savior. We ask it for Jesus' sake. Amen.
Continue to RV-13A: Behold, He Cometh (Part 1)