Revelation 17 showed us the fall of Rome. Revelation 17:16 showed the great prostitute made desolate and naked. She is stripped of her power and authority and is burned up with fire. God is the one who purposed this fall to occur. Revelation 18 describes the impact and meaning of the fall of Rome.
Fallen Is Babylon (18:1-3)
Another angel comes down from heaven, carrying great authority and full of glory. He calls out the message of judgment. Babylon is fallen because of its great immoralities. Once again the angel speaks with prophetic certainty. Though Rome has not fallen yet at the time of the writing of Revelation, the angel declares its fall in the past tense to show how surely Rome and her empire will fall. Rome has become a dwelling place of wickedness and evil. Not only has Rome been the heart of wickedness, but the nations “have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” The nations are not innocent. They also have been participants in the immorality of Rome. The merchants of the earth has prospered through the immorality of Rome. History reveals the luxurious living that took place in Rome over the centuries because of its extensive trade routes. Trade extended well past the border of Rome’s empire, which was millions of square miles. Trade routes also existed to India and China. Archaeology has found many pottery sherds from the far east. The merchants were made rich by buying, selling, and trading goods with Rome.
Call To God’s People (18:4-8)
Another voice calls out from heaven for God’s people to come out from her. This is a prophetic reference from Jeremiah and Isaiah’s ministries.
Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it, send it out to the end of the earth; say, “The LORD has redeemed his servant Jacob!” (Isaiah 48:20 ESV)
Depart, depart, go out from there; touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the LORD. (Isaiah 52:11 ESV)
“Flee from the midst of Babylon; let every one save his life! Be not cut off in her punishment, for this is the time of the LORD’s vengeance, the repayment he is rendering her. Babylon was a golden cup in the LORD’s hand, making all the earth drunken; the nations drank of her wine; therefore the nations went mad. (Jeremiah 51:6–7 ESV)
The call of the voice from heaven is for the people of God to remove themselves from the ways and immoralities of Rome. Do not participate in the sinfulness of that world. Otherwise, you will share in the plagues that are coming upon Rome and her empire. The judgment of the seven bowls showed seven plagues being poured out on the beast and its throne. God gives an important warning. If you act like the world, you will be judged with the world. Come out from the world and separate yourselves from the Roman ways and sins. They have heaped up their sins as high as the heavens and God has remembered those sins. God is going to pay her back. God is going to pay her double for her deeds. This is just because its sins were so severe that it not only affect them, but also carried the whole world into sinfulness with its idolatry and paganism. God calls for a double portion to be mixed for her in the cup. Recall that we saw this cup as the cup of God’s anger poured full strength (Revelation 14:10). The voice from heaven says that we need to make it a double. Double up the portion in the cup of God’s anger.
Verses 7-8 continue to explain why God’s wrath is so violent against Rome and her empire. Rome glorified itself and lived in luxury. No one gave glory to God for their prosperity. They elevated themselves and glorified themselves. Further, they think they will never fall. They think that these times will never change. They think this prosperity will never end because they think they did it all. They rule and think that rule will never end. God says in verse 8 that this is the reason that they will be struck down suddenly. Rather than life and prosperity, the empire will crumble into death, mourning, and famine. Revelation is not predicting that Rome fell in one day, just as the scriptures are not predicting other nations falling in one day (cf. Isaiah 47:9). It is a symbol of the suddenness of the loss of power and authority. It would seem that the empire would never end and suddenly the empire will be in trouble. It will lose its power and be destroyed. This is the imagery of the fire. Revelation is not predicting Rome literally burning (cf. Isaiah 47:14). The fire is a symbol of judgment. Its time of glory and rule is over. The empire has fallen. Rome has lost her power.
Before we leave verses 4-8 we must see this paragraph contains very important messages for our country. The parallels are very strong. We are full of prosperity and wealth just like Rome. Most live in wasteful, luxurious living just like Rome. Our country shows the same arrogance in thinking that it is the world power that will never fall. Certainly the sins of our nation are heaped as high as heaven. The more this nation turns people away from the true God to worship false gods and religions, the closer we come to meeting the same judgment that Rome met for its sins.
The Lament of the World (18:9-19)
We saw in Revelation 17:16 that the world turned against Rome. Rome deteriorated from the inside as the empire turned against the rule of Rome. However, they do not realize the massive impact of Rome’s fall. They do not understand that Rome’s fall will be the end of the prosperity of the world. The world will end up wailing at the fall of Rome. The merchants of the earth will mourn because all of those trade routes will be lost. No one will be buying and selling across the earth any longer. The goods listed in verses 12-13 are a sampling of the many goods that traded through the might of the Roman Empire. Their economy is crushed. All the luxuries and splendors that the people enjoyed are gone.
Not only are the merchants and traders devastated by the fall of Rome, but the shipmasters and seafaring men who worked on the sea will also lose their wealth and business. While Rome does not sit on the coast, it had built an amazing trade city called Portus just west of Rome that did sit on the sea. The Tiber River runs between Portus and Rome and archaeologists have found the massive amount of trade that went through Portus on its way to Rome. There was also a Roman road from Portus to Rome. I encourage you to go online and read about the findings about Portus particularly under Trajan who made this port massive for all the trade that Rome was engaged in. All the captains no longer have a business. All the sailors no longer have work. Their cry is an accurate description of the greatness of Rome. “Where is there another city as great as this?” (NLT) The great city where all the ships of the sea grew rich is now gone. The same three groups wail at the fall of Babylon in Ezekiel 27:29-36. It is the end of the empire.
The Faithful Rejoice (18:20-24)
The holy people of God, the apostles, and the prophets are called to rejoice over the judgment of Rome. They are called to rejoice because they have been killed by Rome. Chapter 13 showed us that the beast would kill those who did not worship it. Judgment has come and it is time for the people of God who suffered and died to rejoice. God has given judgment for you against her. God has brought his holy judgment for the sake of his people.
A great symbolic act is revealed. A mighty angel takes a stone like a great millstone and casts it into the sea. While doing this the angel says that Babylon has been thrown down with violence and will never be found again. The Roman Empire will never rise again and will never be a world power. Those who know the timeline of world history know that the collapse of the Roman Empire led into a time period that would be called the Dark Ages. The world was completely changed with the fall of the Roman Empire. This language is the same as what Jeremiah did concerning the judgment against Babylon.
When you finish reading this book, tie 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 disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted.’” Thus far are the words of Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 51:63–64 ESV)
The end of the Roman Empire has been set by God who has purposed its collapse because of its sins.
The call for the people is to come out from the nation and be separate. Do not engage in the sins of the nation. Do not be like the world. That call was not exclusive for those Christians to come out from Rome, but it is a truth for Christians for all time. Note Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians.
For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:16–18 ESV)
Do not dress like the world. Do not act like the world. Do not think like the world. Do not live like the world. Do not love the world. God is in fellowship with you. You cannot be in fellowship with the world and be in fellowship with God. Act like the world and you will be judged with the world in eternal punishment. Come out from the world and be separate. Then God will be your father and you will be his child. God is not our father and we are not his children we look, act, think, and live like the world around us. Come out and be separate!