Ted Grimsrud

(10) Triumph of the Lamb—Revelation Seventeen and Eighteen

[From Ted Grimsrud, Triumph of the Lamb. Herald Press, 1987; reprint edition: Wipf and Stock, 1998.]

 

The Fall of Babylon

 

Study Questions

(1) What could be the Writer’s expectation with the invitation issued in 17:1-2?

(2) What imagery is employed in 17:1-6 and with what meaning?  What dominant suggestions does the vision of the woman give?

(3) Note how 17:8-14 interprets 17:7.  How do you understand the interpretation?  What additional detail is supplied by 17:15-18?

(4) In the interpretation, what is the relation between the beast, the heads, and the horns?

(5) What does the angel’s expectation of 17:15-18 add to the whole?

(6) In chapter 18, who are the participants and what role does each play?  To what or whom does Babylon refer?

(7) What is the dominant tone of chapter 18?  How is the tone produced?  What introduces a note of conflict?  With what effect?

(8) How is the greatness of Babylon portrayed?  How is the sinfulness presented?  How is the completeness of Babylon’s fall conveyed?

 

17:1-6—Summons to View Babylon’s Punishment

Chapters 17 and 18 elaborate the seventh bowl.  Verse 19 of chapter 16 says, “The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered great Babylon, to make her drain the cup of the fury of his wrath.”  In his picture of Babylon, john is issuing a sharp warning to those in the church who might be allured by her.  That is his primary concern.

John is summoned to view the judgment of the harlot by one of the bowl angels (17:1), who also later (21:9) appears to show John the bride, the wife of the Lamb—the New Jerusalem.  The contrast is crucially important.  When the great harlot is seen to be who she actually is, the bride also will be seen to be who she actually is—in all her beauty and true wealth.

Cities counted as Israel’s enemies are occasionally called harlots by the Old Testament prophets, for example Nahum 3:4 regarding Nineveh; Isaiah 23:17 regarding Tyre.  When the Jewish people were in rebellion against God this image was used of Jerusalem (Isa. 1:21; Jer. 3; Ezek. 16:23).

The adultery into which the harlot secudes the inhabitants of the earth and their kings (17:2) is not mere sexual sin; it is the worship of the dragon instead of God (cf. 13:11-12).

John is carried away in the Spirit to the desert (17:3).  This is a place of safety and refuge (cf. ch. 12), a secure place from which to watch what happens.  Only there could he be safe from the lies of the dragon, the threats of the beast, and the seductions of the harlot.

The “scarlet beast” here is of the same type as the dragon (who was red—12:3) and the beast from the sea (who had ten horns and seven heads, each with a blasphemous name—13:1), but it is not identical with them.  The blasphemous names that cover its body indicate that it is corrupt through and through.  Perhaps some reference is meant to the blasphemous claims to detiy made by Roman emperors who used such titles as “divine,” “savior,” and “lord.”

The golden cup the harlot held was filled “abominations” (17:4).  They are not so horrible in terms of conventional morality.  But the idolatry was a horror—an abomination.  Abomination was a characteristic Jewish term for an idol.

Verse 5 explicitly identifies the harlot as Rome.  Rome is in mind, but as a representative of the spiritual reality of rebellious Roman civilization.  Babylonis also other empires: ancient Assyria, France under Napoleon, imperial England, Germany under Hitler, the present-day United States and Soviet Union.  The concern is with people’s loyalties and commitments.

“The woman [is] drunk with the blood of the saints” (17:6).  This is the wine of God’s wrath which cause her downfall.

 

17:7-14—The Corrupt Kings Exposed

This section has caused as much, if not more, speculation than the earlier references to “666” and “Armageddon.”  The “seven kings” may refer to the history of “human kingship” or political authority.  That five have already fallen is a sign that the end is nearing.  We only have “three and one-half years” to go.  That the beast is an eighth king but belongs to the seven could indicate that he is the real power behind their power.

The main point in these verses is that the kings are corrupt; they are deceived by the harlot, and are opposed to God.  People of faith must not worship them, but must stay with the Lamb.  Verse 14 affirms again the victory of the Lamb.

17:15-18—Evil’s Self-Destruction

Verses 16 and 17 contain a fascinating image.  The beast turns on the harlot and brings her to ruin.  This is a vivid symbol for the self-destructive nature of evil.  It turns on itself and destroys itself.  God is behind it all somehow, directing what happens and using the beast’s fury “until the words of God shall be fulfilled.”  This is the kind of thing that happens throughtout the book.  The deeds are done by evil beings, not by God.  But God uses them.

 

18:1-3—“Fallen Is Babylon the Great!”

In 18:1 the earth which is made bring from the splendor of the angel is an allusion to Ezekiel 43:2, which speaks of God’s splendor making the earth bright.  Ezekiel used this to highlight the destruction of Jerusalem and to connect it with the promise of a new Jerusalem.  John’s use of the image may be similar.  It is a sign connecting the judgment and destruction of Babylon with the coming of the New Jerusalem.

The angel’s speech in 18:2-3 is in the form of a funeral dirge—a song of mourning.  The reference to Babylon’s fall alludes to a number of Old Testament passages, the most significant being Isaiah 13:19-22: “Babylon, the glory of kingdoms…will be like Sodom and Gomorrah when God overthrew them.  It will never be inhabited or dwelt in for all generations;…wild beasts will lie down there, and its houses will be full of howling creatures.…”

The root image is total destruction.

Some people understand Babylon as referring strictly to Rome.  Others see it as a broader, more universal symbol of which Rome was but one example.  The connection between Babylon and Rome was made by contemporary Jewish and Christian writers (cf. 2 Baruch 11:1; Sybilline Oracles 5:143,158; 2 Esdras 2; 1 Peter 5:13).  But Babylon embraces more than one culture or empire and should be seen in terms of dominant ideologies more than geographical or temporal boundaries.  Certainly this critique of Babylon was originally primarily a critique of Rome.  But it applies to any society characterized by similar realities.

Verse 3 alludes to Jeremiah 51:7:  “Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, making all the earth drunken; the nations drank her wine, therefore making all the earth drunken; the nations drank her wine, therefore the nations went mad.”  The image of all the nations drinking “the wine of her impure passion” implies complicity.  Perhaps Babylon was deceptive, but all the nations willfully joined in.  “Fornication” implies idolatry, spiritual bondage, and total compromise.

This verse reflects a strong antipathy on John’s part toward the “powers that be” in the empire, both at the center (Rome) and at the outskirts (the nations like Asia Minor).  These outskirts were part of the empire and their leaders willingly joined in Rome’s practices and values.  The early mention of the merchants, who are highlighted more than the kings of the earth in this chapter, indicates that John had a special concern for the unjust economic impact of Roman rule and commerce.

These verses set the tone for the rest of the chapter.  They reflect a negative view of Rome and the complicity of local leaders in Roman dominance and injustice.  We also found here a special concern about economic exploitation and an implicit warning to John’s readers regarding the dangers of compromise and, ultimately, of idolatry.

 

18:4-8—The Call to “Come Out of Her”

Verse 4 is a key verse.  The call, “Come out of her, my people” echoes numerous calls in Isaiah and Jeremiah to the people of God in Babylon.  It may also allude to the calls concerning Sodom and Egypt (cf. Rev. 11:8).  If so, the call picks up the Exodus motif, applying it to the movement from Babylon to the New Jerusalem.

In reference to ancient Babylon, Jeremiah 51:6 proclaims in strictly negative terms, “Flee from the midst of Babylon, let every person save his life!  Be not cut off in her punishment, for this is the time of the Lord’s vengeance, the requital he is rendering her.”  Isaiah 48:20 had a more positive emphasis:  “Go forth from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it forth to the end of the earth; say, ‘The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!’”

This call to “come out” should be seen a metaphorical.  It calls its hearers to refuse to cooperate with Babylon’s injustice, idolatry, and violence.  But it is not a call to physically remove oneself from the Roman Empire, for chapter 11 includes an explicit call for the people of God to witness on the streets of the “great city.”

Verse 4 also reinforces the motif of the “eschatological protection” of God’s people.  They will not be a part of God’s ultimate destruction of the forces of evil.  The call here is similar to the sealing of the 144,000 in chapter 7 and the measuring of the true worshipers in 11:1-2.  It announces the eschatological protection of those who remained faithful at the great day of the Lord.  The image of Babylon’s sins piled high as heaven in 18:5 underscores her evil by identifying her with ancient Babylon (cf. Jer. 51:9 where Babylon’s “judgment has reached up to heaven and has been lifted up even to the skies”), the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:4), and perhaps even Sodom (Gen. 18:20-21).

Babylon gets her just deserts, 18:6 tells us.  The implication here is that Rome is to be destroyed just as she herself destroyed.  She had waged many wars to gain control over others and had destroyed Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  The idea of the double draught can be traced back to Jeremiah’s preaching regarding Judah’s judgment:  Yahweh “will doubly recompense their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted the land with the carcasses of their detestable idols and have filled God’s inheritance with their abominations” (Jer 16:18).

Babylon is to be judged for her self-glorification and luxuriating (18:7).  She is ambitious and totally self-absorbed and therefore blind to her own injustice and oppression.

Verse 7 contains one of the more striking images in the chapter.  Babylon deserves judgment because of her complacency and arrogance:  “A queen I sit, I am no widow, mourning I shall never see.”  This closely parallels Isaiah 47:5-9: “You [Babylon] shall be called the mistress of kingdoms.…You said, ‘I shall be mistress for ever.’…Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is not one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children’:  These two things shall come to you in a moment, on one day; the loss of children and widowhood shall come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and the great power of your enchantments.” The widow was the perfect example of poverty and helplessness—the opposite of Rome’s splendor and power.  But John is echoing Isaiah’s proclamation that in a moment she will lose everything.  An ironic contrast to this impending widowhood is pictured in Revelation 19 with the marriage supper of the Lamb.

According to Leviticus 21:9, the punishment of harlotry was to be “burned with fire.”  One background prophecy to John’s vision in 18:8 is Ezekiel 23:25-35 concerning Jerusalem, which concludes, “Because you have forgotten the Lord and cast him behind your back, therefore bear the consequences of your lewdness and harlotry.”  Images like this suggest that John was not making a strict church/world separation as much as he was a separation on the basis of coherence with God’s values.  When the faith community departs from these values it, too, receives judgment.  And the works of the nations that cohere to these values will find their way into the New Jerusalem.

The emphasis on the suddenness of the judgment in 18:8 underlines the urgency of the call to “come out from her” in 18:4 and the foolishness of Babylon believing her own claims in 18:7.

 

18:9-19—A Taunting Dirge

The special source behind this section is the prophecy of the fall of the great Phonecian shipping city of Tyre in Ezekiel 26–27.  Tyre was especially blameworthy in Ezekiel’s eyes because it gloated over the fall of Jerusalem (26:2), possibly because Tyre could gain some economic advantage thereby.

This section, a litany of sorrow utilizing the dirge form, makes up the core of the chapter.  Within the section, the lament of the merchants (18:11-17) is central, being flanked by the kings’ lament (18:9-10) and shipmasters’ lament (18:17-19).

The effect of this structure is to focus attention on the merchants and their grieving at the loss of so much wealth (18:17).  This loss was due to the greed of the merchants in contributing to Babylon’s wantonness.  They consequently were going down with her in her judgment.  Perhaps to some degree John reflects an antipathy toward merchants characteristic in general of pre-modern societies.

John highlights the merchants in this chapter for a number of reasons.  First, he was aware of and likely agreed with the Old Testament prophets’ negative views of foreign trade, which facilitated ties with foreign nations.  Besides the risk that such a contact brought in itself, foreign trade brought wealth, heightened social stratification, and oppression of the poor.

Second, John was concerned with the temptations facing Christians living in commercial centers like Thyatira and Laodicea.  The church at Thyatira was taken to task for tolerating the culture conformist tendencies of “Jezebel” (2:18-29), and the church at Laodicea deceived itself into thinking (falsely) that because of its material wealth it was in need of nothing.

A third reason John focused on the merchants stemmed from his perspective that wealth tends to create a false sense of security (cf. the harlot in 18:7) which blinds people, preventing them from seeing greed, cruelty, and injustice in their true light.

The use of the dirge in articulating the laments of the kings, merchants, and shipmasters evokes sense of sadness, poignancy, even awe over such a loss.  “What city was like the great city?” (18:18) in the mouths of the shipmasters echoes John’s feelings.  Back in chapter 17 he had to be told to not stare in wonder at the great harlot (17:6-7).

John, however, is aware of the city’s true nature.  The jarring conclusion to the list of cargoes in 18:12-13 emphasizes this.  The cargoes are listed in descending order of value, finishing with livestock, “horses and chariots, and slaves, that is human souls”!

John’s purpose in this passage was not to evoke sympathy for Babylon and her cohorts.  Kings, merchants, and shipmasters, mournful as they were, were not people John’s readers would have empathized with.  The ultimate purpose of the songs of lament was to announced in one more way the judgment—subtly yet effectively.

 

18:20-24—Call to Rejoice at Babylon’s Demise

Verse 20 also precludes sympathy for Babylon with its call to rejoice over the fall.  The point is not to gloat, but be grateful.  Such gratitude and rejoicing could instill faith in a time when Babylon seemed anything but fallen.

The literal sense of 18:20b is “God has judged her for the way she judged you”; that is, as Babylon has (unjustly) found the saints, prophets, and apostles guilty and condemned them, so God has done the same to Babylon.  John likely had the law of malicious witness in mind here; “If a malicious witness…accuses his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother” (Dt. 19:16-20).

John alludes to various Old Testament passages in this section, perhaps the central one being Jeremiah 51:60-64, which concludes: “When you finish reading this book [of Babylon’s evils], bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the evil that I am bringing upon her’.”

Key phrases in 18:21-24 (NIV) include “never to be found again” and its variants “never be heard again” and “never shine…again.”  These are used first of Babylon herself, then of the various mundane, human things that will no longer be found in her: musicians, craftsmen, the sound of a millstone, the light of a lamp, the voice of bridegroom and bride.  This refrain is then given an ironic and very telling twist in 18:24:  “And in her was found the blood of “all who have been slain on earth.”  This is the final and perhaps most forceful reason given for Babylon’s condemnation, effectively emphasized as the conclusion of the vision that makes up chapter 18.

The “mighty angel” John reports on in 18:21 is the third mentioned in the book.  The other two had to do with the two scrolls (5:2; 10:1) that contain the records of God’s work in fulfilling God’s purposes in history.  The reference to the mighty angel here likely implies that with the final fall of Babylon, those purposes are fulfilled.

The merchants are brought into the picture again in 18:23 as perhaps the prime example of how “all nations were deceived by the harlot’s sorcery.”  The harlot controlled the lives of the people who grew rich from serving her.

The black arts were common in John’s world, but the reference here to “sorcery” would seem to be broader.  John likely had in mind Rome’s apparent control of the world’s powers and resources; the perception of which led people to accept her claims to divinity and eternality.  In particular, the “sorcery” is put indirect relation to commerce and wealth.  This certainly could be an echo of Jesus’ teaching regarding the dangers of wealth.

The concluding reference to Babylon proclaims that “in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.”  Besides emphasizing a major reason for Babylon’s condemnation, this comment serves to universalize Babylon beyond just Rome.  Babylon somehow encompasses every society that has unjustly shed the blood of righteous people.

This closing section, like 18:9-19, evokes sadness, poignancy, and a sense of tragedy.  But the punch line of 18:24 effectively precludes any sympathy for Babylon and her fate.

 

Summary

Chapters 18 and 18 elaborate on the seventh bowl (16:19), emphasizing that Babylon—the “anti-Jerusalem,” or city symbolizing human civilization in rebellion against God—will not escape judgment.

Babylon, the great harlot, is pictured as it really is:  corrupt, evil, deceptive, and seductive.  This is a blunt statement meant to warn Christians to avoid Babylon’s enticements because they lead only to death.  Rome and the idolatry of emperor worship may have been in mind, but the warning applies to all manifestations of the spirit of Babylon.

In the midst of the discussion of Babylon, John reminds his readers of the victory of the Lamb (17:14) and of the fact that the Lamb is the true King of kings and Lord of lords.

Verses 16 and 17 of chapter 17 show the beast turning on the harlot and bringing her to ruin.  This is a vivid symbol for the self-destructive nature of evil.  It turns on itself and destroys itself.  God is behind it all somehow, directing what happens and using the beast’s fury for God’s purposes until “God’s words are fulfilled.”

Chapter 18 is a lament over Babylon’s fall modeled after Ezekiel’s lament over Tyre (Ezek. 26–28).  Babylon was a place for people with many good, human activities that were at times twisted and corrupted.  Unfortunately, much of what could have been good was corrupted.

God’s people are called to “come out of her” (18:4).  Wake up, do not be deceived, if you take part in her sins you are bound to share in her plagues.

The kings, merchants, and sea captains do not go down with her.  They stand afar off and lament her fall because they cannot continue their worship of her.  But now, perhaps, with the great deceiver gone they may wake up and turn back to God.

 

Meditation

The fate of two cities dominates the last six chapters of the book of Revelation.  These two cities are Babylon and Jerusalem.  It is surely no coincidence that John discusses what happens to both in the same context.  John is providing a picture of the destiny of the city dedicated to opposing God.  He shows the city of death and the city of life.

While we see clearly here the contrast between the two cities, we nonetheless must not lose track of the fact that the things that happen to them, their ultimate fates, are all part of one work of God, the work of bring about salvastion for people of every tribe and nation.

God’s work of destroying evil is portrayed in Revelation as three series of seven plagues each.  Each series is more intense than the one preceding it.  The first series—pictures as the opening of the seven seals attached to the scroll in chapter 6—shows one quarter of the earth being killed.  The second series of plagues is portrayed as seven trumpet blasts in chapter 8.  The vision of the trumpet plagues shows one third of the earth being burned.

The third series of plagues is portrayed in chapter 16 as seven bowls being poured out.  The effect of the bowl plagues is total.  Whereas in the trumpet plagues we are told that one-third of the living creatures died (8:9), with the bowl plagues we are told that “every living thing died” (16:3).

These various plague visions are awesome and terrible.  It is important to remember that they are symbolic.  Even after all the plagues, which if taken literally would seem to have killed every person in the world many times over, we still read of people cursing God (16:21).

The plague visions represent the spiritual battle taking place between God and forces of evil.  But it is a special kind of battle.  The outcome is already decided, due to the victory of the Lamb who defeated death by his non-retaliatory, unconquerable love.  This means that evil will indeed be destroyed, that the New Jerusalem will replace Babylon as the habitat for those who dwell on the earth.

Although the victory has actually already been won, the battle still continues for a time.  What is at stake is the loyalty of the people on earth.  Satan, the dragon, maintains the power to deceive, to receive worship and trust.  The victory of God is experienced by people in this age as the ability to remain faithful to the way of the Lamb and to worship nothing else.

The wrath of God is worked out as evil exposed for what it really is.  It turns on itself and eventually destroys itself.  This process is pictured in chapter 17, where we are told that the beast itself brings the city of Babylon to ruin.  “For God has put it in their hearts to carry our his purpose” (17:17).

God’s purpose is the total redemption of creation.  The end result of—this work of redemption is the destruction of Babylon—the symbol of all that is opposed to God’s love—and the establishment of the New Jerusalem:  “The dwelling of God is with people.  He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (21:3-4).

Historical Babylon was a city-state in what is now southern Iraq.  It gained prominence as an early empire dominating other city-states in the time around 1700 B.C.  To maintain its political control of the Middle East, Babylon imposed its religion and its worship of the God Marduk on the whole area.  Babylon thus became a kind of holy city.

In the seventh century B.C., after a time of decline, Babylonia regained its control of the area.  This included domination of Israel.  Babylon then became a symbol for the anti-God forces in the world.  It was a combination of their oppressive political dominance and their pagan religion that made the Babylonians so evil in the sight of the Israelite prophets.

The real Babylon rapidly lost is importance.  It was conquered by the Persians in 539 B.C. and gradually lost its power and prestige.  By 100 B.C. it was pretty much forgotten and by A.D. 200 it was totally deserted.  But the idea of Babylon—as a theological symbol—remained very strong among the Jewish people.  In later Jewish writings after the Old Testament and the New Testament, Babylon was the clear symbol of the anti-God forces in the world.  Babylon is therefore used in Revelation as a symbol for the concentration of forces of evil, the forces which oppose God and God’s way of love.

On one level, Rome is being thought of here.  As the historic Babylon had oppressed God’s people and tried to impose a false religion on them, so too Rome oppressed God’s people and tried to impose the false religion of emperor worship.  It would thus stand to reason that Rome would be called Babylon.  That Rome was not supreme or immortal—that Rome’s oppression of them would someday end—is an important affirmation for John and his readers.

It would be wrong, however, to tie this image too closely to Rome, or to any other literal city.  That which is destroyed in chapter 18 is not people, but spiritual forces.  The kings of the earth, the merchants, the sea captains—all of whom were corrupted by Babylon—stand and watch Babylon get wiped out.  But they themselves are not wiped out.

This shows that the real enemies of God are not people.  Rather, the enemies of God are the great harlot, Babylon (who bewitches all the nations), the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet.  These are all symbols of the spiritual reality of evil which God must destroy for people to be truly free and able to fulfill God’s creative intentions.

These enemies of God have corrupted the whole earth.  They have corrupted the kings of the earth, who have transformed the necessary function of providing for social order into one of providing wealth and privilege for themselves and their special interest allies.  These kings are themselves victims of the harlot Babylon, in whom they trust and who fails them.

These enemies have also corrupted the merchants of the earth, who have misused valuable and worthwhile resources, part of God’s good creation (18:11-13).  These merchants are totally obsessed with their own wealth, even to the point of being indifferent to the buying and selling of the bodies and souls of human beings (18:13).  These victimizers are also themselves victims of the magic spell of the harlot.  Ultimately, their quest for wealth leaves them with only poverty.  When Babylon falls they experience only terror.

It is essential to realize that it is for the very sake of the kings and merchants and captains that Babylon is destroyed.  Ultimately, the magic of evil can only be broken when evil itself is destroyed.  When that happens, the fruits of creation are no longer worshiped themselves, but will be given their proper place in God’s order.  These same kings of the earth who mourn the fall of Babylon will in the end bring their splendor into the New Jerusalem (21:24) along with the glory and honor of the nations (21:26).

Again, the enemies of God are not people but rather the forces that destroy that which is human in people—the forces which cause people to rebel against God and do violence to other people.  People are to be loved.  This is the idea behind Jesus’ call for us to love our enemies and Paul’s call for us to pray for our persecutors.

The proper response to violence is not only concern for the victim and anger at the evil which has been done, but also compassion and love for the oppressor.  Persons who surrender to Satan and use violence separate themselves from God and dehumanize themselves in that act, even as they dehumanize our victims.  The oppressor, too, falls victim to the evil powers.

True healing, true redemption, comes only when the cycle of evil is broken, when the hate of the oppressor is countered by love.  A story I read recently illustrates this idea.  Will Campbell is a Southern Baptist preacher who has for many years been active in civil rights work in the South.  In his book Brother to a Dragonfly (New York:  Seabury, 1976), Campbell tells how in the mid-1960s he was at a meeting of Northern student activists where they were shown a CBS documentary film of the Klu Klux Klan. The film documented such horrors as the murder of three civil rights workers and the death of four Sunday School children in Birmingham.  Viewers were then taken inside a Georgia Klan hall where an initiation ceremony was in progress.  At one point the candidates were lined up in military formation and the command, “Left face!” was shouted.  One scared and pathetic figure turned right, bringing confusion to the formation and cheers, jeers, and catcalls from the audience viewing the film.

Campbell concluded that there were no true radicals in that whole audience.  For if they were radical, how could they laugh at a poor ignorant farmer who did not know his left hand from his right?  If they had been radical, they would have been weeping, asking what had produced him.

The people who serve the forces of evil are themselves victims of those very same forces.  God’s destruction of Babylon is for the benefit of those who served the harlot as much as it is for the benefit of the prophets and saints whose blood was found there (18:24).

Our call, in the light of this, is to love our enemies, to seek their redemption—for that is how we are seen to be children of God.

 

Questions for Thought and Discussion

(1) What does Babylon refer to?  Does it have present-day manifestation?  Why do you or do you not think so?

(2) Do you agree that in his condemnatory picture of the harlot, Babylon, John is in reality issuing a strong warning to those in the church who might be allured by her?  What might be alluring about the Babylon of John’s day?  How about the Babylons of our day?  How can we help one another resist this allurement?

(3) In terms of your own awareness and life experience, what do you think the most important contrasts between Babylon and the New Jerusalem are?

(4) Do you think that the image of a harlot could be applied to the church in history and/or the present?  Is this label irrevocable?

(5) Are there “blasphemous names” (17:3) in use today?

(6) Do you agree that Babylon is Rome but also ancient Assyria, France under Napoleon, imperial England, Germany under Hitler, the Soviet Union, and the United States?  Why or why not?

(7) Can you think of examples of how evil turns on itself?  Do you think God is behind this phenomenon?

(8) What is the point of the social criticism of Babylon (Rome, et al) in chapter 18?  Is it merely condemnatory or meant to motivate John’s readers to faithfulness and good deeds?

(9) Do you think 18:9-19 is a criticism of wealth and commerce?  Are there any valid reasons for focusing on merchants as the special mourners of Babylon’s fall?  Might these still apply?

(10) Does it make any sense to you to say that the fate of Babylon is part of God’s redemptive work in establishing the New Jerusalem?

(11) Do you agree that we should make a distinction between the forces of evil at work in people and the people themselves?  If so, how does that affect your attitude toward people in the world?  Do you want your enemies to be freed from Satan’s hold?  Does one’s view of these things affect one’s understanding of how violent Revelation is to humans?  How can we say that it is for the sake of the kings and merchants that Babylon is destroyed?  Is that possibly true yet today?

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