Revelation #12 : The fall of Babylon the great chapter 17-18
sermon Revelation 17 : Pierre Constant, 2022_10_23, AB Lausanne church
title : Revelation #12 : The fall of Babylon the great chapter 17-18
After the three cycles of judgments (seals, trumpets and bowls), John returns to a theme he has already
discussed: the judgment of Babylon (Revelation 14.8), or the destruction of the throne of the beast (evoked during the
fifth and sixth trumpets, as “God remembered Babylon the great”—Revelation 16:19). We have once again clues to the effect that the Apocalypse presents us with a series of “flashes” of which some are
superimposed on each other. In this regard, the Apocalypse looks like a movie trailer, where the scenes
are not presented sequentially, but intertwined to arouse the interest and whet the appetite of the
spectator. The book of Revelation does not present to us the chronological sequence of events, but rather a series of
flashes intended to encourage listeners and readers to persevere, to hold on, and to continue their testimony to Jesus.
Unsurprisingly, these two chapters of Revelation are the subject of quite marked differences between in interpration. Proponents of preterism see it as a prediction of specific events accomplished during the fall
of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD, those of the historical approach read there the fall of imperial Rome
in the fifth century, or that of religious Rome (at the time of the Reformation), the futurists interpret it
as a prediction of the kingdom of the Antichrist (yet to come), while the proponents of the idealist approach
perceive in it rather an announcement of the fall of Rome, symbolic of all the kingdoms
(totalitarian or not) opposed to God, past, present or future.
A. Babylon, the great harlot (Rev. 17:1-6)
Note that this time, it is not one of the four living beings who addresses John, but one of the seven angels who
held the cups. The same phenomenon will occur at the presentation of the Lamb’s bride (21.9).
Two women, therefore: the great harlot, and the bride adorned for her husband – the new Jerusalem (cf. 21.2).
The image of a woman evoking a city, or the people of God, finds a parallel in Ezra 9-10.
By presenting Babylon as a very powerful “woman sitting on a beast” with seven heads and ten
horns (Revelation 17.3), John reminds us that this beast is in the service of the dragon mentioned in chapter 12, who
is presented in the same way (Apoc 12.3). It is probably the same beast that rises from the
earth and who also has seven heads and ten horns (13.1).
The woman sits on this animal, not to use it as a means of transport, but as a support,
an ally. All these beautiful people are at the service of the enemy of God, the devil and Satan.
John also presents the fall of Babylon by borrowing from the images taken from the OT: the account of the bowls
already referred to several images taken from the plagues of Egypt (Revelation 16.3-21) while, even earlier in the story, the image of the two witnesses borrowed from the ministry of Elijah as well as from the books of Ezekiel and Zechariah
(Revelation 11.1-6); John now uses images from Isaiah and Jeremiah, as we will see.
Babylon is judged for her “misconduct” (twice in v. 2). The “dwellers of the earth” joined her
getting drunk on the wine of his misconduct. We will see in chapter 18 that the merchants of the earth
will mourn the fall of Babylon, mainly in commercial terms. Here, what is reproached to the
great prostitute is her misconduct (pornei,a), also translated as “debauchery” in some versions. The
perspective is spiritual: rather than serving God, rather than using one’s riches to glorify God,
she used it to rise and lay claim to the throne of God.
• Jezebel seduces Jesus’ servants in the Church of Thyatira to commit misconduct (2:20-21)
• Murder, spells, misconduct and theft are among the sins that human beings do not
not repent from, despite the plagues that kill a third of men (9.21)
• Babylon drenched all the nations with the wine of the wrath of her misconduct (14:8)
• The “dwellers of the earth” got drunk with her from the wine of her misconduct (17.2)
• All the nations of the earth drank of the wine of the wrath of his misconduct (18.3)
• The kings of the earth indulged with her in misconduct and luxury (18.9)
• She corrupts the earth by her misconduct (19.2)
This misconduct is not to be taken in the literal sense, but in the spiritual sense. All idolatry, all worship
granted to another person or to another power than to God himself, is filled with spiritual debauchery.
This theme borrows heavily from the OT, specifically from Isaiah and Jeremiah:
• Isa 23:15-18, where Isaiah prophesies against the city of Tire
• The prophet Ezekiel announces (Ezekiel 26 –28) the destruction of the city of Tire at the hands of the Babylonians
• In Jer 51.7-14, Jeremiah announces the fall of Babylon (literal)
• God denounces the disloyalty of Judah and Jerusalem by accusing them of infidelity (Jer 2.20-24, 13.26-27)
Thus, whether it be Tyr, its neighbor Sidon, or Babylon, prosperous, powerful, invincible cities (or at least, we
thought), all came to fall, because of their pride, their idolatry, their spiritual debauchery. Rome, the Babylon of John’s time, was to suffer the same fate, like all subsequent empires,
no matter their power and temporary hold on human affairs.
Any regime, whether political, military, or economic, which does not put itself in the service of God, comes
ultimately to rise, but also to disappear. God does not tolerate any competition when it comes to His
glory. Unfortunately, all regimes, regardless of their nature, tend to deify themselves and believe themselves
eternal. They only go more quickly to their loss.
Even if “Babylon the great,” even if this Rome seemed in full possession of its means, similar to
a drunk woman seated as an invincible beast, God announces to his witnesses that this empire is only temporary and
that it will in turn disappear. Even John is amazed at what he sees (Revelation 17:6).
B. Babylon identified (Rev. 17:7-18)
John sees his name written on his forehead: “Babylon the great” (v. 5). No need to speculate as to the identity of
this great prostitute, even though this is presented as a mystery, i.e., a secret once hidden but
The angel interprets the meaning of the woman and the beast, but he begins with the beast rather than the
women. v. 8-10 speak of the limited duration of the reign of the beast on which this woman sits. The beast
ascends from the abyss and goes to perdition. She was, she is no more, and she reappears (v. 8). When John
receives this revelation, the beast is no more, but it will reappear. This agrees with what we said
previously, that this beast does not only relate to a single character, a single empire, or
to a single event, but rather to a series of elements.
This beast, like the beasts often associated with kingdoms or kings in the book of Daniel, refers
presumably to a kingdom or empire, but not just one. Although it refers to Rome in the immediate context
, as the angel says in v. 9 (the seven mountains can only refer to Imperial Rome),
this beast also designates all the successive kingdoms which will have the same claims as Rome.
Rome saw itself at the time as the center of the universe. She controlled the trade, she was the
military superpower to which nothing could resist, and in addition, it demanded from all peoples
conquered a homage going as far as adoration. Rome had deified herself, she demanded sacrifices from
the emperor as to a god, she adored her emperors as gods, augusts, saviors, gods, lords,
and again and again. No wonder John presents her as a blasphemous beast (13:5-6)!
This Rome is in fact only one of the many manifestations of the devil. This one acts through history, sometimes
in one way, sometimes in another, sometimes with great ferocity, sometimes with seduction. He knows times
ascendants, peaks, disappearances as sudden as they are unforeseen, but it ends up resurfacing, opposing
new to God and his people (vv. 8-13). The devil does not work alone; he has allies (the beast, the false prophet,
the kingdoms of this world), all working in the same direction (v. 13).
However, this beast is not invincible, despite its power and that of its allies. John briefly mentions
in v. 14 which he will present in more detail in chapter 19: the victory of the Lamb and of the called, the elect, the
faithful. He has already mentioned this victory in the sixth and seventh cup, and he will come back to it again
in chapter 20.
Each of these empires, these kingdoms in history, comes to fall (vv. 16-17). The horns and the beast
come to hate the prostitute, to strip her, to lay her bare, to eat her flesh, to consume her with fire. That’s all
a series of metaphors which present this woman alternately as a naked prostitute, an animal
devoured, a city consumed by fire. If the kings have the same purpose (mi,an gnw,mhn) and give their power
and their power to the beast, at least for a time (vv.12-13), God reigns supreme: he has put in their
heart to carry out its purpose
until his words are fulfilled (v. 18).
C. Forsaken Babylon (Revelation 18)
Babylon the great grave! It becomes a habitation of demons, a den of every impure and hated bird.
These expressions are synonymous with the judgment of God in the OT:
• in reference to Babylon (Isa 13.19-22 )
• compared to Edom (Isa 34.9-14 , especially v. 13-14, and Mal 1.3 )
• about Jerusalem and the cities of Judah (Jer 9.11 , 10.22)
• on the city of Hatzor in Galilee, built by Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 49.33)
• again about Babylon (Jer 50.39 and 51.37, translated “wild beasts”) (see Jer 50.34 // Rev.
John presents three kinds of reactions to the fall of Babylon the great:
The reaction of God’s people (18:4-8)
A voice from heaven instructs the people of God: they are called to “come out of her.” This is a quote from
Jer 51.45 and is reminiscent of the text of Isa 52.11 (“Touch nothing unclean! Come out of her!
Purify yourself. . . ), words quoted in 2 Cor 6.17. Each time, it is not a withdrawal out of the world, or
of a call to the hermitage. This outing is not physical, but spiritual, just as Jesus implied.
in his prayer in John 17:15: “I pray you not to take them out of the world, but to keep them from evil. »
Often wrongly used to justify separations of Churches, this injunction is a call not to participate
to the sins of Babylon the great and thus not suffer the same judgments as her.
The reaction of the “dwellers of the earth” (18:9-19)
Others, far from coming out of the midst of Babylon, are nonetheless compelled to keep their distance (vv. 10, 15, 17).
The “kings of the earth” lament his misfortune, so sudden, so rapid (vv. 9-10).
The “merchants of the earth” (v. 11) also groan, not for the woes of Babylon, but for their own
misfortune ! They mourn the loss of their trade (vv. 11-16); their tears are signs of mourning, but not
signs of repentance! The long list of their wares (vv. 12-13) is typical of apocalyptic literature; it goes so far as to include the slave trade, which had nothing to do with races at that time,
but rather with the spoils of war.
Merchants, land or sea (cf. v. 17) weep and mourn (v. 15); they are desperate because,
having grown rich through it, their trade has now come to an end (vv. 15-18).
Reaction in heavenly places (18:20-24)
Finally, heaven and God’s people are called to rejoice (v. 20)! Because God did justice by judging her, an
echo and answer to the prayer of the saints under the altar in Rev 6.9-10.
Babylon is completely destroyed! (v. 21-24). In John’s day, Christians could certainly
remember that the real Babylon had been ravaged, and that she was no more than a despicable village without
importance, even if it had known hours of glory, that it had controlled an entire empire, that it had
sheltered for a time one of the seven wonders of the world (the famous hanging gardens). In the same way,
even if Rome seemed invincible, that its power was still growing in their time, the Christians
had to remember that this Babylon would be destroyed in its turn, even if the faithfulness of their testimony to
Jesus meant for some of them to die as martyrs (v. 24).
Babylon forever doomed :
If Babylon mainly refers to the city of Rome at the time of the apostle John, it also symbolizes all
the kingdoms and all the powers that oppose God and his people.
John reminds his readers, in language borrowing from Jer 51.64, that regardless of influence, power,
authority, military or economic strength of any system, all such systems will be judged and
will one day disappear. All will be accountable to the Lord of lords and the King of kings (17:14). this is
a serious warning to all members of God’s people who would desire to be too closely bound
with and linked with this present world (cf. 2 Cor 6.14 –7.1).
God’s people must walk in a narrow path, be “in this world” without being “of this world,” without
adopting its values, its interests, its idols. We are not of this world, the apostle John reminds us in
his first epistle (1 John 2.15-17).
It is sometimes not easy to take the necessary critical distance to judge whether or not we belong to
this world and its values. Whether we like it or not, we are very Western in our values and our
Whether it’s fashion, Facebook, music, computer games, school or work friends, our
loves, we are all called to make choices, to put our priorities in the right place. Of course, several
things are not necessarily bad in themselves and can even be used for the glory of God (beware of
legalism, here). However, does our love for Jesus Christ outweigh our attachment to all these things or
to these people? If they were to be taken from us, how would we react?
Let us remember the letters to the seven Churches. The Lord wants us each to be attached to Him above all else.
Leaving the city to live in the desert or in the forest, far from the “temptations of the world” will lead us nowhere for we would bring our hearts with us. We can, however, “come out of Babylon” by not sharing in his sins, and by continuing to bear witness to Jesus Christ where we are.
1. And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
2. With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
3. So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
4. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
5. And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
6. And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
7. And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.
8. The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
9. And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.
10. And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.
11. And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth, and is of the seven, and goeth into perdition.
12. And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast.
13. These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast.
14. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.
15. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
16. And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.
17. For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.
18. And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.
1. And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.
2. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.
3. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
4. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
5. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.
6. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.
7. How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.
8. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.
9. And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,
10. Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.
11. And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more:
12. The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,
13. And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.
14. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.
15. The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
16. And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
17. For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
18. And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!
19. And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.
20. Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.
21. And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.
22. And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;
23. And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.
24. And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.
Related Links / Notes
Study Notes are translated from the original French version prepared by Pierre Constant who has been Associate Professor of the New Testament at the Toronto Baptist Seminary since 2003. The orginal French notes are in “note” form, and are not a direct transcription of the video. The notes provided here follow that form, but are detailed enough to help provide a deep understanding of the texts in the book of revelation.
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