There are three visionary scenes in this chapter, which effectively concludes the depiction of the great Judgment upon the earth. The seal-vision cycle offered a brief description (6:12-17), foreshadowing the trumpet- and bowl-cycles where the earthly Judgment was portrayed in full. It also featured in the intermediate visions of chapter 14 (vv. 8ff, 14-20). The visions and announcements of the fall of “Babylon” in chapters 17-18 belong as part of the bowl-cycle (chaps. 15-16) and must be understood in relation to that visionary narrative cycle. The same is true, to a large extent, for the visions in chapter 19. The Great City’s fall was depicted in the seventh bowl vision (16:17-21), and extended into chaps. 17-18. Meanwhile the scene of the judgment of the Nations in the sixth bowl vision (16:12-16) was left unfinished and unresolved. This delay is, in part, a narrative device which builds suspense, akin to the delay between the sixth and seventh visions in the earlier cycles. The fall of the City and defeat of the Nations (in battle) are two sets of images for the same basic idea—the end-time Judgment of the Nations by God.
Each of the main cycles of visions is preceded by a heavenly scene, in which the People of God (i.e. the righteous/believers) are gathered together and worship God and/or the exalted Jesus (the Lamb). The throne scene in chapter 4 (and 5) precedes the seal-vision cycle; chapter 7 precedes the trumpet-cycle (along with a brief heavenly scene in 8:3ff); while chapter 15 (esp. verses 1-4) precedes the bowl-cycle. Similarly, in the chapter 14 visions, the scene with the 144,000 and the Lamb (vv. 1-5) precedes the Judgment visions. So it is also here in chapter 19:
The first scene in verses 1-10 may be divided further into several components, including three specific instances where the People praise God; or, perhaps better, two parallel instances with an intervening moment:
Verses 9-10 are a separate episode, an exchange between a heavenly Messenger and the seer (John). We begin in this note with the first song of praise by the “throng (of) many (people)” (vv. 1-3).
“With [i.e. after] these (thing)s, I heard as (though) a great voice of a throng of many (people) in heaven saying:
‘Hallelu-Yah! The salvation and the honor and the power of our God—
(for it is) that true and just are His judgments,
(in) that He judged the great Prostitute who corrupted the earth in her prostitution,
and He worked out justice (for) the blood of His slaves out of her hand’ —
and a second (time) they have uttered ‘Hallelu-Yah!’ —
‘and her smoke steps up into the Ages of Ages!'”
This heavenly “throng of many (people)” represent the collective People of God, who speak in unison with a united voice (a “great voice”, fwnh/ mega/lh). On numerous occasions a great voice was heard coming out of heaven; generally this would be understood as the voice of God Himself, but here it is clearly that of a multitude, i.e. God’s People. I have previously discussed how many of the symbols in the book of Revelation have both earthly and heavenly aspects. That is certainly the case with the People of God, a comprehensive symbol for believers, but not limited to the idea of believers on earth; moreover, in their heavenly aspect, the People of God is hard to distinguish from the other groups and multitudes of heavenly beings. No such distinction is made here, with parallels in 7:9-10 and 15:3 (where human believers are clearly in view), and also 12:10ff (where Angels are suggested by the immediate context).
These are instances of praise to God, as is indicated by the use of the Greek a(llhloui+a/, a transliteration of the Hebrew expression Hy` Wll=h^ (Hal®lû Y¹h), meaning something like “Give a shout to Yah(weh)!” It opens a number of Psalms in the last division of the Psalter (111-113, 135, 146-150); it is used both in the opening and closing of Psalm 106. The Greek transliteration occurs only here in Revelation 19 (4 times) within the New Testament. The initial words of praise in v. 1 are similar to those in 12:10, juxtaposing swthri/a (“salvation”) and du/nami$ (“power”), along with do/ca (“honor/esteem”, = basilei/a in 12:10); cf. also 7:10, 12; 4:9, 11; 5:12-13. God’s people refer the salvation and power and honor/esteem they experience back to God as its source. This draws upon the traditional covenant idea, the bond between sovereign and vassal. In ancient Israel the covenant model was applied to the people as a whole, in their relationship with God (YHWH).
The core of this song of praise emphasizes justice and the role of God as judge, the fundamental context being the great end-time Judgment upon the wicked. Three distinct statements are made in the lines of verse 2:
- God’s judgments (kri/sei$) are true and just (di/kaiai)
- He judged the great Prostitute for her prostitution, i.e. for her actual crime, showing that his judgment is fair
- He worked out justice for the victims of her crimes—i.e. for believers persecuted and put to death
The profligacy and extent of the Woman’s (the Great City’s) “prostitution” (pornei/a) was noted in 17:2, 4, 15ff and 18:3, 9 (also 14:8), involving all the kings and nations of the earth (cf. Jer 51:24-25). The same cup that poured out the wine of immorality also poured out blood—the violence done against believers in Christ (16:6; 17:6; 18:20, 24). The dual imagery of wine/blood is especially vivid in the vision of 14:17-20 (cf. also 18:4ff). Overall, the wording of verse 2 echoes that of 18:20:
- “God judged your judgment out of her” (18:20)
- “(God) worked out justice for the blood of his slaves out of her hand” (19:2)
The prepositional expression “out of her (hand)” refers to the reason for the judgment—i.e. her punishment comes out of (or as a result of) her own actions (“her hand”). The verb e)kdike/w (“work out justice”) is generally synonymous here with kri/nw (“judge”); since God is true and just, his judgment establishes justice.
The final expression of praise in verse 3, prefaced by another shout of “Hallelu Yah!”, draws upon the image of a destroyed and burning city (as in 18:9, 18). The announcement of “Babylon’s” fall in chapters 17-18 clearly depicts it as the result of a military attack (17:16). The specific motif of the city’s smoke rising up (eternally) is derived from the Abraham narrative (19:28); the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah came to be a traditional symbol for the end-time Judgment. A similar sense of finality is expressed in Isaiah 34:10, in the context of a nation-oracle that takes on eschatological significance. The same imagery was used in 14:11 for the heavenly aspect of the Judgment—that is, the eternal punishment that awaits for the wicked.
If the fall/destruction of the Great City represents the judgment on the Nations, it is depicted again, in different terms, in verses 17-21 (to be discussed). This is parallel to the visions in chapter 14, which, indeed, have a similar structure:
The first episode is an oracle of the Judgment, the third a description of the Judgment itself. There is thus no need to consider the fall of the Great City and the defeat of the Nations as separate events (indeed, they are combined in 16:17-21). However, it is possible that the author (and his readers) would have expected to see “Babylon” (i.e. Rome) fall at the beginning of this Judgment, with the defeat/destruction of the remaining nations following thereafter. This will be discussed further when we examine various interpretive approaches to the eschatology of the book, at the conclusion of this series.