After the vision and interpretation of the Woman (Prostitute) on the Sea-Creature (chap. 17), a second and related visionary scene occurs in chapter 18. It is not an extended vision, but a manifestation of heavenly Messengers to the seer (John). In the first announcement (vv. 1-3), a Messenger is seen descending from heaven; in the second (vv. 4ff) a great voice makes the announcement from out of heaven.
“With [i.e. after] these (thing)s I saw another Messenger stepping [i.e. coming] down out of heaven, holding great e)cousi/a, and the earth was (fill)ed with light out of his splendor.” (v. 1)
The Messenger in chapter 17 was identified as one of the group of seven that poured out the Judgment in the bowl-visions, continuing the narrative theme of that vision-cycle. This is a different Messenger, marking a climax to that visionary narrative, announcing the fall of the great city “Babylon” in the most solemn terms. The detail of the earth being filled with light (passive of vb fwti/zw) serves two purposes: (1) it indicates that the great Judgment on earth is coming to a close, and (2) it enhances the dramatic setting for the announcement of the City’s fall. The e)cousi/a (“authority, power, ability”) the Messenger holds is given to him by God, much as the kings of the earth, etc, hold e)cousi/a from the Sea-Creature (who, in turn, holds it from the Dragon).
“And he cried out in a strong voice, saying: ‘Fallen, fallen (is) Babilim (the) great! She even came to be a house put down for daimons, and a guard for every unclean spirit, and a guard for every unclean bird, [and a guard for every unclean wild animal], even (those) having been (full of) hate!'” (v. 2)
This same announcement of Babylon’s fall appeared earlier in 14:8—the same Judgment setting, but in a different vision. The wording resembles that of Isaiah 21:9, while the announcements in chapter 18 as a whole also reflect the oracles against Babylon in Isa 13-14 and Jer 50-51. Throughout the book of Revelation “Babylon” is referred to as “the great (city)”, and symbolizes earthly/worldly power, i.e. as held and exercised by the nations and their kings. At the time of the first destruction of Jerusalem, the pre-eminent Near Eastern Empire was centered at Babylon; at the time of the second destruction, it was the Empire of Rome. For the author and audience of the book of Revelation, at the end of the first century A.D., Rome represented the pinnacle of earthly power, and also its wickedness. As most commentators recognize, the city of Rome (and her empire) is the primary point of reference for the symbol of “Babylon”. For more on this, cf. the prior notes on chapter 17 and 14:8.
Two (related) statements are made about the fallen city:
- it has become the dwelling-place (“house [set/put] down”) of daimons
- (it has become) the “guard” (fulakh/) of unclean (and hateful) creatures
This reflects traditional imagery related to any city that has been abandoned or destroyed, leaving it a desolate wasteland. It is typical of the Old Testament nation-oracles (e.g., Isa 34:11-15; Zeph 2:13-14; Jer 9:10-11); however, the language here is specifically drawn from the Old Testament oracles against Babylon (Isa 13:21-22; Jer 50:39; 51:37). The first-century destruction of Jerusalem, as predicted by Jesus, was similarly referred to as her “desolation” (Lk 20:21 [cp. Mk 13:14 par]; Matt 23:38, cf. also Lk 19:41-44), just as it was of “Babylon” earlier in 17:6.
Demons and evil spirits were thought especially to inhabit desolate places (cf. the ±¦z¹°z¢l Day of Atonement ritual in Lev 16:8ff). This may seem rather superstitious to our thinking today, but it was a very real part of the worldview for many ancient peoples. As far as “unclean birds”, this is very much a natural phenomenon, referring to birds of prey and scavengers who use a desolate city as their haunt; the idea of scavenging off the bodies of the dead is probably alluded to as well. This also applies to “unclean wild animals”, such as jackals, hyenas, etc. There is some textual uncertainty about the phrase referring to “wild animals”, but it is likely original; the repetitious nature of the phrasing would have led copyists, even accidentally, to delete one of the phrases.
“‘(For it is) that out of the wine of the impulse of her prostitution all the nations have drunk, and the kings of the earth engaged in prostitution with her, and the (one)s making passage in (the lands) of the earth (as merchants) became rich out of the power of her rough (pleasure)s.'” (v. 3)
This concludes the Messenger’s announcement, emphasizing again the motif of the prostitution, central to the vision in 17:1-6ff, and also part of the earlier vision in 14:8ff. The related motif of drunkenness, as associated specifically with Babylon, goes back to Jeremiah 51:7. It is natural enough, the association between drunkenness and wickedness. The expression “wine of the impulse (qu/mo$) of her prostitution” repeats the idiom of 14:8; 17:2, and is parallel to the wine of God’s anger—his impulse to punish wickedness (14:10, 18ff; 16:19). The use of wine as a metaphor for blood also alludes in these visions to the persecution and death of believers at the hands of the wicked (16:6; 17:6).
To the imagery of 17:2, 12ff—that of kings engaged in prostitution with “Babylon” —is added the participation of merchants, etc, in her wicked ways. This represents the commercial aspects of imperial power (du/nami$), as people grow rich (vb ploute/w) in connection with the sinful luxury of the Great City. The noun strh=no$ (occurring only here in the New Testament) basically means “roughness”, and I have translated the plural here as “rough (pleasure)s”, connoting passionate and excessive behavior, which runs “roughshot” over accepted standards of morality and decency. Inclusion of merchants/traders in this imagery likely derives from a separate tradition, the oracle against the city-state of Tyre in Ezekiel 27:9-25; it will be developed further in the announcement of 18:4ff.
The second heavenly announcement parallels the first, but is much more extensive, spanning much of the remainder of the chapter (vv. 4-20). The primary message comes in verses 4-8, which will be discussed in the next daily note.