William Kelly Major Works Commentary - Revelation 18:1 - 18:24

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William Kelly Major Works Commentary - Revelation 18:1 - 18:24

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Revelation Chapter 18

Chapter 18 need not delay us long. It is not. the warning beforehand, as in Rev. 14, announcing Babylon's fall before the fact; nor is it its exact place as the last of the Bowls of God's wrath; nor yet as in Rev.17 the relation of Babylon to the Beast and the kings of the earth in contrast with the Bride's to the Lamb and the millennial kings as in Rev. 21. It is the catastrophe viewed as come, with a preceding call to God's people, and consequent on her ruin the lamentations of all from kings to seamen over her who had contributed to their pleasure and earthly greed. But there is a call for the joy of heaven, and of saints, apostles, and prophets, that God has judged her, the shameless deceiver and prostitute.

Thus runs the introduction. "And after these things I saw another angel descending out of the heaven, having great authority: and the earth was lightened with his glory, and he cried, saying, Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great, and become a habitation of demons, and a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hated bird; because of the wine of the fury* of her fornication all the nations have drunk, and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich by the might of her luxury. And I heard another voice out of heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not of her strokes; for her sins reached up to the heaven, and God remembered her unrighteousnesses. Award her, even as she awarded, and double to her double according to her works: in the cup which she mixed, mix to her double. How much she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so much give her torment and grief: because she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and I am no widow, and in no wise shall I see grief. For this reason in one day shall come her strokes, death, and grief, and famine; and she shall be burnt with fire; for strong [is] the Lord God that judgeth her."

* "Poison" has been suggested by pious and learned men. But it is better rendered homogeneously with what is said elsewhere. we cannot apply "poison" to God's wrath, but we may with many scriptures employ "fury" to mark His extreme indignation, and Babylon's excessive deception and unbridled iniquity.

It is a description, as we readily see, not of the corrupt woman's relation to the Beast but of the city's fall, with certain dirges put into the month of the different classes that groan because of her extinction here below. But along with that, God warns of her total ruin, and calls on His people (verse 4) to come out of her. "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins reached up to the heaven, and God remembered her unrighteousnesses." Then the word is, "Award her even as she awarded you, and double to her double according to her works: in the cup which she mixed, mix to her double. How much she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so much give her torment and grief: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and I am no widow, and I shall in no wise see grief."

Babylon is viewed in this chapter not so much in her mysterious and religious form, giving currency to every kind of confusion of truth and error, of good and evil, intoxicating, corrupting, and seducing, as all can see, through her wickedly ecclesiastical influence; she is regarded here as the most conspicuous aider and abettor of the world in its luxuries and delicacies and the pride of life, or what men call "civilisation."

This is accordingly traced in our chapter with considerable detail, and unto the sorrow and vexation of all the different classes who on the fall of Babylon groaned over her destruction, and the loss of their wealth and enjoyment, or their occupation.

"And the kings of the earth, that committed fornication with her and lived luxuriously, shall weep and wail over her, when they behold the smoke of her burning, standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Woe, woe, the great city Babylon, the strong city, because in one hour came thy judgment. And the merchants of the earth weep and grieve over her, because no one buyeth their lading any more, lading of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet; and all thyine wood, and every vessel of ivory, and every vessel of precious wood; and of brass, and of iron, and of marble; and cinnamon, and spice, and incense." Nor are these by any means all. "And unguent, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and cattle and sheep, and of horses and chariots, and of bodies, and souls of men. And the ripe fruits thy soul desired are departed from thee, and all the fair and bright things are perished from thee, and they shall find them no more at all. The merchants of these things, who were enriched by her, shall stand afar off for fear of her torment, weeping, and grieving, saying, Woe, woe, the great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, for in one hour so great wealth was desolated. And every steersman, and every one sailing to a place, and sailors, and as many as ply their work on the sea stood afar off, and kept crying as they beheld the smoke of her burning, saying, What [city] is like the great city 7 And they cast dust upon their heads, and kept crying, weeping, and grieving, saying, Woe, woe, the great city in which all that had ships in the sea were enriched by her costliness; for in one hour was she desolated. Rejoice over her, heaven, and ye saints and ye apostles and ye prophets; for God judged your judgment upon her."

Yet is it a profound error to infer from the divine denunciation of her far-reaching and malignant influence as the centre, and factor, and patron of the world's luxury, that so vast an impulse to commerce is Babylon's worst virus. That she, proclaiming herself the church, should thus play the harlot instead of being a chaste virgin for Christ, is no doubt monstrously false and evil. But to combine idolatry with the Lord's name is viler still and unpardonable before God; to which must be added her implacable and deadly hatred of all that truly bear witness to God and His Anointed.

But the graphic account does not end until the Spirit of God shows us another figure of Babylon's downfall. "And a strong angel took up a stone as a great millstone, and cast [it] into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall be cast down Babylon the great city, and shall be found no more at all; and voice of harp-singers and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no artificer of any art shall be found any more at all in thee; and voice of millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee; and light of lamp shall shine no more at all in thee; and voice of bridegroom and bride shall be heard no more at all in thee; because thy merchants were the grandees of the earth, because by thy sorcery all the nations were deceived. kind in her was found blood[s] of prophets and saints, and of all that were slain on the earth." The reason is given at the close; not only "for by thy witchcraft were all the nations deceived," but above all "and in her was found blood of prophets and saints, and of all that were slain on the earth."

What a solemn and weighty fact in the government of God! How can it be said that this vile, corrupt, idolatrous system of the last days was guilty of the blood of all the martyrs? She followed and had inherited the spirit of all, from the days of Cain, who had lifted up their hands against their righteous brethren. Instead of taking warning from the wickedness of those before her, who had seduced on the one hand and persecuted on the other, she had, when she could, gone on increasing in both, until at last the blow of divine judgment came. It is thus that God is wont to deal as a rule in His judgments, not necessarily on the one that first introduces an evil, but on those that inherit the guilt and perhaps aggravate it, instead of being warned by it. When God does judge, it is not merely for the evil fruits of those then judged but for all from its first budding till that day. Far from being unrighteous, this is, on the contrary, the highest justice from a divine point of view in public government.

We may illustrate it by the members of a family, and suppose, for instance, a drunken father. If the sons had a spark of right feeling, not only must they feel the utmost shame and pain on account of their parent, but they would endeavour (like the two sons of Noah, who had a due sense of what was proper) to cast some mantle of love over that which they could not deny, yet would not look at; but surely above all things they would watch against that shameful sin Alas! there is a son in the family, who, instead of being admonished by his father's sin, tales licence from it to indulge in the same. On him the blow falls, not on the unhappy parent The son is doubly guilty, because he saw his father's nakedness, yet felt it not enough to turn away in silent sorrow. He ought to have felt the shame as holily hating the sin itself, yet withal in deep compassion for his parent But far from this, the unwitting exposure he wilfully exposed in mockery, not in grief. Then and thus is guilt aggravated in the case of his wicked son.

It is a similar case here. Babylon had once heard the varied testimony of God; for what had she not heard of truth? The gospel had been preached at Rome, as she of Chaldea had heard of law and prophet. The Roman Babylon too must hear the final testimony of God, the gospel of the kingdom that is to go forth in the last days; but she loves earthly pleasure and power, and refuses truth in any measure. She despises everything really divine; she will only use whatever of God's word she can pervert for increasing her own importance, and gaining a greater ascendancy over the consciences of men, whilst enjoying herself more luxuriously in the present life. For it is here to obliterate all remembrance of heaven, and to make this world such a paradise as suits her, which she embellishes, not with pure and undefiled religion, but with the arts of men, the idolatries of the world, and the snares of Satan.

This it is which will bring out the indignant judgment of God upon the last phase of Babylon, so that the guilt of all blood of holy ones shed on the earth shall be imputed to her, and she may be judged accordingly. It does not hinder, of course, that in the judgment of the dead each man is judged for his own sin. This remains true. The day of the Lord on the world in no way sets aside His dealing with souls individually for eternity. The judgment of the dead is strictly individual judgments in this world are not. His blows on the quick come more nationally as on Israel; incomparably more severe, as in possession of greater privileges, is the judgment of corrupt Christendom, or Babylon here so called. But according to His principle of government it is not merely personal guilt, but that which, from despising the testimony of God, thus morally accumulates from age to age in the ratio of the testimony of God and of men's wickedness indulged in spite of it. All Israel too shall be saved (Rom_11:26) as a people, and for the glory of Jehovah on the earth. But there is neither restoration nor mercy for Babylon, but unmitigated destruction, extinction at length through God's indignant judgment.