“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11).
“And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. 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. 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” (Rev. 18:1–3).
Commentators differ over whether this angel is intended to represent the Lord Jesus, or whether he is simply one of the greater created beings. As there is no explicit reason for identifying him with Christ, it is perhaps best to simply take the description at face value. This is an angel with “great power,” and with the kind of vivid luminosity that lit up the earth. We should perhaps think of the kind of light that He has “great power,” and he cries out “mightily” with a “strong voice.” The message he declares is one of the great themes of this book—the collapse of the old Babylon, and her replacement by a virgin bride, the new Jerusalem.
The first thing the angel says is that Babylon “the great” has fallen utterly. The first set of descriptions show the greatness of her calamity—and also helps to identify her as the city under judgment, the city of Jerusalem. First, she has become the “habitation of devils” and a stronghold of “every foul spirit.” This is precisely what happened to the military defenders of that desolate city, and exactly what Jesus had predicted.
“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation” (Matt. 12:43–45).
Jesus was using a cleansed demoniac as an illustration—but what he was actually talking about is what would happen to that unrepentant nation after His ministry of casting out demons. He spent three years casting them out, and yet the rulers of Israel rejected their Messiah. The end result was a revolt against Rome that was literally a pandemonium, a frenzy, a warp spasm of iniquity.
The Lord had said this about Jerusalem—it was going to be flattened.
“And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (Matt. 24:2).
When this kind of complete destruction comes upon a city, the next residents will be the foul and unclean birds. This had been expressly declared as the future of Babylon.
“But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; And their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; And owls shall dwell there, And satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, And dragons in their pleasant palaces: And her time is near to come, And her days shall not be prolonged” (Is. 13:21–22).
Some question the identification of Babylon here with Jerusalem—was Jerusalem really that great a merchant power, such that the merchants of the earth would weep and lament her fall? I believe that this is the point that John is making—while perhaps he is keying more off the descriptions of an unfaithful and luxury-loving Jerusalem in the Old Testament than he is saying something about the GDP of Jerusalem in the first century. But even here we should be careful—there is no reason for assuming that it was not an economic power.
“Thou hast played the whore also with the Assyrians, because thou wast unsatiable; yea, thou hast played the harlot with them, and yet couldest not be satisfied. Thou hast moreover multiplied thy fornication in the land of Canaan unto Chaldea; and yet thou wast not satisfied herewith. How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord God, seeing thou doest all these things, the work of an imperious whorish woman;” (Ezekiel 16:28–30, cf. 14-15, 26; 23:12-21)
After all, when we read these words with the assumption that the Old Testament is our primary context, the identification seems sure.
“Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, That made all the earth drunken: The nations have drunken of her wine; Therefore the nations are mad” (Jer. 51:7).