9 “When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: ‘Woe! Woe to you, great city, you mighty city of Babylon! In one hour your doom has come!’ 11 The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.
14 They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out: ‘Woe! Woe to you, great city, dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls! 17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’
Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. 18 When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ 19 They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out: ‘Woe! Woe to you, great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin!’ 20 Rejoice over her, you heavens!
Rejoice, you people of God! Rejoice, apostles and prophets! For God has judged her with the judgment she imposed on you.” ~ Revelation 18: 9-20
Here is the main idea of the passage: “Chapter 17 describes the ‘Great Prostitute,’ called ‘Babylon the Great,’ and why she would need to be destroyed (Revelation 17:1). This section describes that destruction- how it occurred and its effect upon the inhabitants of the world. First, an angel proclaimed judgment on the great city (Revelation 18: 1-8). The rulers of the world lament the destruction of the city (Revelation 18: 9-10), as do the merchants who have become rich through trade (Revelation 18:11-16), the ship owners, and the captains of the merchant ships (Revelation 18:18-20).” (Life Application New Testament Commentary)
- 9-20- “The kings, merchants and seafarers of the earth mourn Babylon’s demise with three variations, or stanzas, of the same song (Revelation 18:10, 16-17, 19). Each group of mourners stands far from the city watching it burn, fearful for their own safety (vv. 9-10, 15, 17-18). The elements common to all three laments are identifiable in the dirge sung by the kings: Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come (v. 10).” (The IVP New Testament Commentary)
- 9- “The political leaders of the world will weep because of the loss of his capital city will signal the doom of the Antichrist’s empire, and with it, the source of their power. ‘Weep’ means ‘to sob openly.’ ‘Lament’ translates the same Greek word used to express the despair of the unbelieving world at the return of Christ.” (John MacArthur Study Bible Commentary)
- 11- The people have been swayed by lust of materialism and luxuries.
- 16-19- “The merchants and the seafarers elaborate the basic stanza in keeping with their respective interests. To the merchants, ‘the great city’ had been dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls (v. 16). To the seafarers, it was where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth (v. 19). All share the common opening line, Woe! Woe, O great city, and a concluding line introduced by the words in one hour (compare 17:12, ‘who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast’).” (The IVP New Testament Commentary)
- 20- “When all in Heaven, including the saints and apostles and prophets, are invited to rejoice in God’s judgment of Babylon, a transition is made from earthly lament to the heavenly celebration.” (ESV Study Bible Commentary)
How is this text applicable in the 21st Century?
“Babylon represents the dead-end street of humanity’s attempt to build their culture apart from God. It has every appearance of being the paradise for which humanity has always longed. It is no coincidence that its gold and jewels recall those of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 17:4). Like the New Jerusalem, Babylon exercises authority over the nations and receives their wealth (note the references to “the merchants of the earth” in Rev. 18:3 and the lament of the sea traders in Rev. 18:15–19).
But it is in fact a counterfeit, doomed to be exposed by God in the final judgment. Especially instructive is the cargo list in Revelation 18:11–13 (see Bauckham, ‘Economic Critique,’* which describes the luxury goods flowing into Babylon). The list is modeled on Ezekiel 27:12–22 and the fall of Tyre, but it has been updated to include the luxury goods popular in Rome in John’s day.
And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore—cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.
The final note about ‘human lives’ likely relates to the slave trade, and it is the final nail in the coffin of Babylon’s exploitative empire: she will stop at nothing, not even trafficking in human flesh, in pursuit of sensual self-indulgence.
The lesson that God would judge a city for its economic practices is a sobering thought. Economics is clearly a moral issue in the book of Revelation. The fact that much of the condemnation appears to stem from its self-indulgence should hit with particular force at modern consumer culture, where the constant search for more and better can lead to a myopic focus on satisfying real or imagined material needs. But the most worrisome thing of all is that Babylon looks so close to the New Jerusalem. God did create a good world; we are meant to enjoy life; God does delight in the beautiful things of earth. If the world system were a self-evident cesspool, the temptation for Christians to fall to its allures would be small. It is precisely the genuine benefits of technological advance and extensive trading networks that constitute the danger. Babylon promises all the glories of Eden, without the intrusive presence of God. It slowly but inexorably twists the good gifts of God—economic interchange, agricultural abundance, diligent craftsmanship—into the service of false gods.” (Theology of Work Bible Commentary, A Tale of Two Cities)
“Many times during our brief sojourn on this earth, we experience the nauseating plummet from joy to mourning. What seemed like solid ground will sometimes crumble beneath our feet. That reversal can take a variety of forms- from the loss of a job to the loss of a loved one, from a disappointing diagnosis to a life-altering prognosis. However, the Book of Revelation reminds us that one day the world’s great mourning will be turned to an endless chorus of heavenly hallelujahs.” ~ Chuck Swindoll
Additional Reading: Revelation 19
Prayer: Father God, forgive me when I fall short of Your glory. Wash me in Your blood, and I pray that I live life holding loosely to all materialistic items. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.