Conveniences. Comforts. Luxury. If we’re honest with ourselves, we are more attached to the things of this world than we would like to admit. But when we get to Revelation 18, a sobering truth hits us between the eyes: the things we spend so much time and attention on acquiring will one day suddenly be burned up in the fire of divine judgment.
In Revelation 18, we are going to witness the destruction of the economic system of Babylon and the city that is the seat of that economic system. Just as Wall Street represents both a location and a system, so does the Babylon of chapter 18. It is the economic engine of the world that is run by the Antichrist, and there is most likely a city that represents its center.
Many will mourn Babylon’s destruction. God tells John three groups will join in the lamentations over the economic collapse of Babylon: kings of the earth (18:9–10), merchants (18:11–17), and seafarers (18:17–19).
- The Anguish of Kings (18:9-10)
World leaders will mourn when the commercial spirit of Babylon that sustains and enables them to live in luxury, expressed as “committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her,” suddenly collapses (Revelation 18:9). The seventh bowl contains a worldwide earthquake (Revelation 16:18–20), which shakes Babylon. But apparently the real destruction comes not from the quake, but the fire that rages as a result of the quake (Revelation 14:11; 17:16; 18:8–9, 18; 19:3).
The kings of the earth stand at a distance from burning Babylon. But their distance isn’t merely physical; it is also spiritual. As the Lord said, they stand off “because of the fear of [Babylon’s] torment” (Revelation 18:10). These kings, who became fat on the economic wealth of Babylon, want to distance themselves from God’s judgment. They won’t be able to. God knows all and will judge all.
The collapse of Babylon, as God promised in verse 8, will happen quickly, in “one hour” (Revelation 18:10). And the “kings of the earth” (Revelation 18:9) who watch Babylon burn will mourn with laments of “woe” (Revelation 18:10). Usually, pronouncements of “woe” in the Bible, and especially in Revelation, express divine doom (Revelation 8:13; 12:12). But the exclamations of “woe” in chapter 18 are expressions of sorrow. Doubling the “woe” increases the sorrow, almost to wailing. The city had been “great” and “strong,” but the “Lord God who judges her” is stronger (Revelation 18:8).
- The Anguish of Merchants (18:11-16)
Merchants, whose livelihood depends on the economic spirit of Babylon, lament over her destruction because they can no longer conduct business. In an instant—“in one hour” (Revelation 18:17)—all the businessmen who relied on the Babylonian economy will go bankrupt. It will be worse than the stock market crash in 1929 or the housing market crash of 2008.
Goods sit in warehouses, on docks, and store shelves because “no one buys their cargoes any more” (Revelation 18:11). If this takes place after the destruction of the ecclesiastical spirit of Babylon—the apostate church of chapter 17—when the Antichrist establishes himself as an object of worldwide worship, then the wailing of the merchants is greater than that of the kings or seafarers because not only are the merchants unable to buy goods, they cannot sell goods. Their businesses will be restricted to only those with the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:17), but now the merchants can no longer even do business with them.
In such a short period of time—“in one hour”—all the accumulated wealth that was begged, borrowed, and stolen by applying the spirit of Babylon just vanished into thin air. It was, in the words of the mourning merchants, “laid waste!” (Revelation 18:17)
- The Anguish of the Seafarers (Revelation 18:17-19)
The second half of verse 17 concerns the mourning of the seafarers—ship’s passengers, captains, and sailors.
Specifically, verse 17 divides seafarers into four distinct groups:
- “Shipmasters” (kybrnetes)—helmsmen such as captains and crew officers
- “Passengers” (pas ho epi topon pleon)—literally: “one who sails to a place”
- “Sailors” (nautai)—boatswain, seaman, mates
- “Make their living by the sea” (ten thalassan ergazontai)—fishermen and divers of pearls
Just like the others, these seafarers watch Babylon burn from “a distance” (Revelation 8:17). And just like the kings and the merchants, they too lament the destruction of the economic spirit of Babylon. They “were crying as they saw the smoke of her burning” (Revelation 18:18). But unlike the other mourners, who mourned the loss of political strength and her commercial wealth, the seafarers mourn the loss of Babylon’s greatness (Revelation 18:18). They ask, “What city is like the great city?” The implied answer is that no city is as great as Babylon in political or material greatness.
Genesis 11 tells us that the original rebellious residents of Babylon built the city and the tower to the heavens, brick by brick. God did not destroy the city after the first brick or second brick was laid, but only after it was defeated did God destroy the city instantly and completely.
The same will be true for the final manifestation of Babylon—both the capital system and the economic system. God doesn’t destroy it immediately but He does so eventually, and completely.
The same with how God deals with us. He doesn’t destroy us after our first sin, or second, or third. Some people are constructing their lives of rebellion against God action by action, and thought by thought with no apparent consequences. And so they make that fatal mistake: they confuse God’s patience with God’s tolerance.
If God has delayed His judgment on your life, He has done so for only one reason—to give you an opportunity to repent of your sins. But make no mistake, without that repentance, God’s judgement against the life of rebellion you have constructed will come suddenly and completely.