Because Babylon is the city responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem’s first temple in 586 b.c., John uses this ominous symbol to describe the Babylon of his day—Rome, the city on seven hills. In a.d. 70, the Roman armies march against Jerusalem, destroy the second temple, and scatter the Jewish people.
The whore, who is identified as Babylon, is a symbol to readers in John’s day of Rome and its allure. Its beauty and power are legendary, but beneath the surface lies the truth of its nature. People who ally themselves with Rome and all that it represents are partners with ruin. In the years since John’s Revelation was first written, the whore has been seen as many different world forces. What Rome represents in John’s day has been replicated by many different world powers and their material attractions.
18 Next I saw another messenger descending from heaven. I knew he possessed great authority because his glory illuminated the earth.
2 Heavenly Messenger (with a powerful voice): Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great city!
It has become a habitat for demons,
A haunt for every kind of foul spirit,
a prison for every sort of unclean and hateful bird.
3 For all the nations have drunk deeply
from the wine of the wrath of her immorality,
And the kings of the earth have disgraced themselves by engaging in gross sexual acts with her,
and the merchants of the earth have grown fat and rich, profiting off the power purchased with her luxury.
4 Then I heard another voice from heaven urge,
A Voice: My people, get away from her—fast.
Make sure you do not get caught up in her sins.
Put some distance between you so that you do not share in her plagues,
5 For her sins are higher than the highest mountain. They reach far into the heavens,
and God has not forgotten even one of her missteps.
6 Deal out to her what she has dealt out to others,
and repay her double according to her deeds.
In the cup where she mixed her drink, mix her a double.
7 Whatever glory she demanded and whatever luxury she lived,
give back to her the same measure in torment and sorrow.
Secretly she says in her heart:
“I rule as queen;
I am not like a widow;
I will never experience grief.”
8 Because of this arrogance, in a single day, plagues will overwhelm her.
Her portion will be death and sorrow and famine,
And she will be incinerated with fire,
for mighty is the Lord God who exacts judgment on her.
9 And the kings of the earth, who committed lewd, sexual acts and lived lavishly off of her, will weep and wail over their loss when they see the smoke from her burning body rise into the sky. 10 They will stand at a distance, fearing they, too, might fall victim to her torment. They will moan,
Woe to you, our great city!
Babylon, the most powerful city in the world.
In a single hour, your day of judgment has come.
Since greed and seeking unjust gain are two of Babylon’s greatest sins, economic collapse becomes the basis of God’s judgment.
11 And the merchants and the magnates of the earth weep and mourn over her demise because no one is buying their goods any longer: 12 warehouses remain full of gold, silver, jewels, and pearls; fine fabrics, purple, silk, and scarlet cloth; fragrant woods, items made of ivory, and items finely crafted out of expensive wood; bronze, iron, and marble; 13 cinnamon, spices, incense, myrrh, and frankincense; wine, olive oil, rich flour, and wheat; cattle, sheep, horses, chariots, and human cargo (the trafficked souls of humanity).
14 Everything your heart desired
has gone away;
All the glitz and glitter
are lost to you forever;
you’ll never have them again!
15 The sellers of these goods, who made a fine profit from her, will stand at a distance. Like the kings, they will fear her punishment might fall on them too. They will weep and mourn their loss.
16 Woe to you, our great city,
dressed in finest linens, in purple and scarlet fabrics,
dazzling in gold and jewels and pearls.
17 In a single hour, all this wealth is gone.
And all the sea captains, all those who sail the seas, sailors, and those who make a living by the sea, stood at a distance. 18 Strong men were reduced to tears as they gazed on the smoke that rose from her ruins. “Was there ever any city like her?” they asked. 19 They threw dust in the air covering their heads. They wept bitterly and mourned their loss.
Woe to you, our great city;
all who had ships at sea
became rich off your wealth!
In a single hour, you have been utterly ruined.
20 Rejoice over her torment, O heaven. Join in the celebration, you saints, emissaries,[a] and prophets because God has judged in your favor and against her.
21 Then a mighty messenger picked up a huge stone—it looked like a great millstone—and he cast it into the sea.
Mighty Messenger: Watch and see. This is how Babylon, the great city,
will be thrown down; violently will she go down,
and they will search for her in vain.
22 Never again will the sound of music grace your streets.
The melodies and harmonies of the harpists and musicians and flutists and trumpeters
will never be heard again.
And never again will an artisan of any craft
be found in your markets,
And never again will the grinding of the millstone
provide rhythm to your city,
23 And never again will the light of a lamp
bring warm light to your houses,
And never again will the voices of the bridegroom and bride
bring joy to your festivities.
For the merchants were the magnates of the earth,
and all the nations fell prey to your sorceries.
24 And in her streets the blood of the prophets, saints,
and all who have been slaughtered upon the earth, ran freely.
- 18:20 Literally, apostles