The interpreting angel's speech ends with chapter 17. Suddenly he is replaced by another angel coming down from heaven. This angel had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor (18:1). He recalls the "mighty angel" John had seen long before, "coming down from heaven . . . robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars" (10:1). The two do not have to be the same, yet they are alike in radiating the visible brightness, and consequently the authority, of the sovereign God they both represent. The angel here is not explicitly said to be "mighty," but he does speak with a mighty voice (v. 2).
With the coming of the bright angel, the time frame changes. John has been hearing the fall of "Babylon," or Rome, predicted as a future event (17:16). For the present, she is still "the great city that rules over the kings of the earth" (17:18). Now suddenly it is as if John himself is transported into the future, where he can look back on the city's fall as something already accomplished. The message is a familiar one: Fallen! Fallen! is Babylon the Great! (v. 2) because all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries (v. 3). But there are two new elements here: a glimpse of the city's utter desolation and a view of what she has lost.
Rome's desolation is painted in colors taken from Isaiah's description of the ruin of old Babylon (Is 13:19-21) or Edom (Is 34:11-17). Rome, the new Babylon, has become a home for demons, a haunt of every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird (v. 2). In a strange way, the grim announcement dramatizes the point that the earth was illuminated by the angel's splendor (v. 1). The message he brings is bad news for Babylon, but good news for the earth. The word repeatedly translated "haunt" (Greek phylake) also means "prison," while the word "foul" is literally "unclean" (Greek akathartos). The message that Babylon will become a haunt or refuge for unclean spirits and unclean animals and birds means that the rest of the earth will be free of all such things. In particular, the three froglike "unclean spirits" that led the kings to assemble at Armageddon (16:13-14) will trouble the earth no more. The work of conquering unclean spirits, which Jesus began when he healed those who were demon possessed and continued in his resurrection, ascension and journey to heaven (1 Pet 3:18-19; Michaels 1988:206-11), is now complete. The stage is set for rejoicing over the earth's purification (see v. 20; 19:1-2).
The second new element in the bright angel's announcement is its emphasis on the economic power of the fallen city. Not only has she made the nations drunk and practiced immorality with the kings of the earth, but the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries (v. 3). With this the angel's oracle of judgment ends, leaving the impression that Rome's real crime is not her drunkenness or sexual immorality, but her acquisition of wealth and luxury through trade and economic alliances with a host of client states and cities. Drunkenness and immorality, it turns out, are simply metaphors for Rome's economic—and consequently religious—imperialism.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.