After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory. And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.” (18:1–3)
This solemn opening pronouncement of judgment gives two reasons for Babylon’s impending destruction: pervasive demonic activity and wretched sensuality. As it often does in Revelation (cf. 4:1; 7:9; 15:5; 19:1), the phrase after these things marks the beginning of a new vision. While still discussing the general theme of Antichrist’s world empire, destroyed finally by the seven bowl judgments (chap. 16), chapter 18 moves from its religious aspects to its commercial aspects. As this new vision opened, John saw another angel, distinct from the one in 17:1. Some view this angel as Christ, but the use of allos (another of the same kind) instead of heteros (another of a different kind) indicates that this is an angel of the same type as the one in 17:1. He may be the angel who had earlier predicted Babylon’s downfall (14:8). Three features in the text reveal his unusual power and importance.
First, he came down from heaven with great authority. He left the presence of God with delegated authority to act on God’s behalf.
Second, when he arrived, the earth was illumined with his glory. He will make his dramatic appearance onto a darkened stage, for the fifth bowl will have plunged the world into darkness (16:10). Manifesting the flashing brilliance of a glorious heavenly being against the blackness, the angel will be an awe-inspiring sight to the shocked and terrified earth dwellers.
Third, the angel cried out with a mighty voice. No one will be able to ignore him; everyone will hear him as well as see him. His message will add to the consternation and terror caused by his appearance. It will be a word of woe, ill tidings for Antichrist and his followers: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” The judgment predicted in 14:8 will now be carried out. This will be a greater and more far-reaching judgment than the one pronounced in identical words on ancient Babylon (Isa. 21:9). A comparison of this passage with 16:17–19 suggests that this judgment takes place when the seventh bowl is poured out:
Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying, “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.
The first cause given for Babylon’s destruction is that she has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit (a synonym for demons, cf. 16:13–14). It was in the vicinity of Babylon that 200 million formerly bound demons were released at the sounding of the sixth trumpet (9:13–16). They, along with the demons released from the abyss at the sounding of the fifth trumpet (9:1–11), those cast from heaven with Satan (12:4, 9), and those previously on earth, will be confined in Babylon. God will, so to speak, gather all the rotten eggs into one basket before disposing of them.
Babylon will also be a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. That phrase symbolizes the city’s total destruction (cf. Isa. 34:11). Like grotesque carrion birds, the demons will hover over the doomed city, waiting for its fall. The depiction of the demons as unclean and hateful reflects heaven’s view of them.
Babylon’s destruction will also come because all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality. Antichrist’s evil religious and commercial empire will spread its hellish influence to all the nations of the world. Having drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality (cf. 14:8; 17:2), the people of the world will fall into a religious and materialistic stupor. The all-encompassing terms all the nations, the kings of the earth, and the merchants of the earth reveal that Babylon will seduce the entire world. The unregenerate people of the world will lust for Babylon, passionately desiring to commit acts of spiritual immorality with her. Likewise, the merchants of the earth will have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality. In the beginning, the world will cash in on Babylon’s financial prosperity.
Having thrown off any semblance of self-control or self-restraint, sinners will indulge in a wild materialistic orgy. Like those in ancient Babylon, they will be partying when their city is destroyed (cf. Dan. 5:1–30). James’s condemnation of the ruthless wealthy could also apply to them:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. (James 5:1–5)
2 In words very similar to those of the prophets who encouraged God’s people as they faced ancient Babylon, the angel announces that Babylon the Great, mother of all the earthly prostitute cities, has fallen (cf. Isa 21:9; Jer 51:8 with Rev 14:8; 18:2). Again, in words reminiscent of the judgment announced against ancient Babylon, forewarning the city’s habitation only by detestable creatures and evil spirits (Isa 13:19–22; 34:11; Jer 50:39), John hears the same fate announced for this urban mother of prostitutes. “Demons” (daimoniōn, GK 1228) are associated elsewhere with idolatry (see comments at 9:20; 16:14). The “haunt” (phylakē, GK 5871) is a watchtower; the evil spirits, watching over fallen Babylon like night birds or harpies waiting for their prey, build their nests in the broken towers that rise from the ashes of the city (cf. Swete). She who was a great city has become a wilderness.
2 The declaration of the angelic herald is like that of Isa 21:9 when news of the capture of Babylon by Cyrus reached the children of Israel—“Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!” With a mighty voice the angel shouts out that Babylon the Great has fallen. Babylon has always been symbolic of opposition to the advance of the kingdom of God. As it fell in times past, so will it be destroyed in the future. Part of the reason for using “Babylon” is that the readers will know what God did to the first Babylon and be quick to recognize that in giving Rome that title he will once again carry out his judgment on the city. The aorist tense denotes the certainty of future fulfillment. It is the prophetic way of declaring that the great purpose of God in triumphing over evil is a fait accompli.
The once-proud city of Babylon is to lie utterly desolate. It is to become the haunt for evil spirits and all kinds of unclean creatures. For background we should turn to Isaiah’s oracle against ancient Babylon. There we find that Babylon once fallen will never again be inhabited except by creatures of the desert (Isa 13:20–21). Satyrs (RSV), demonic creatures having the appearance of hairy goats, will leap about among the ruins to the howling of hyenas and jackals (Isa 13:21–22). There is some question about the meaning of the word twice translated “haunt” in v. 2 as well as the relationship between the parallel clauses. The structure of the verse suggests that the word is roughly parallel to “home.” Demons dwell among the ruins of Babylon, as do unclean spirits and animals. It is not a place of detention11 but a place where they dwell undisturbed. In any case, it is a prophetic picture of absolute desolation where the proud achievements of the human race become the demonic haunts of unclean and detestable creatures. Since Rome is already the habitation of evil spirits, it follows that when she falls nothing will remain but the evil spirits and ceremonially unclean creatures.
18:2–3 / The great angel’s dirge begins by an ironical summary of the great event: Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! (cf. 16:19). That Babylon lies in ruins is indicated by its occupation by demons … every evil spirit … every unclean and detestable bird—all symbols of death and desertion (cf. Isa. 13:20–22; 34:11–15; Jer. 51:37; Luke 11:24–26).
The reasons for its fall suggest its former greatness. It brokered political power with nations … and the kings of the earth. Yet, its relationship with them was profane and illicit in that Babylon demands submission to its secular agenda and interests rather than to God’s reign. The image of adultery to characterize this relationship is an allusion to the familiar prophetic typology of Israel’s idolatry. John’s point, however, is a political one: it is idolatry whenever political values are legitimized by claims of national sovereignty. Only God is sovereign over the affairs of nations. In John’s world, Rome’s political greatness led to its arrogant refusal to submit its aims and purposes to the will of God and to its choosing instead the emperor cultus as the true and approved religion of God.
Babylon’s functional atheism is detected in the economic sphere as well. There the merchants of the earth profited from excessive luxuries. The word for excessive (strenos) occurs only here in the nt and lacks any precise equivalent elsewhere. Beckwith understands it as “self-indulgence with accompanying arrogance and wanton exercise of strength” (Revelation, p. 713), which seems true to the immediate context. The will of the social order and its ruling elite dominates in a world where “might makes right.” Merchants value economic profit, even as kings value national security. Such is the nature of idolatry, which results in self-destruction and divine judgment. Moreover, since God’s judgment is due in part to Babylon’s treatment of God’s people (18:24), John’s point interprets the church’s experience of powerlessness and poverty as well. The eschaton is for those who are now marginalized, whose political and economic conditions will be reversed in revelation of God’s righteousness (cf. Luke 1:51–53).
Ver. 2.—And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying; and he cried with a strong voice, saying. This “strong voice” is characteristic of the heavenly utterances (cf. ch. 7:2; 14:7, etc.). Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen. The event, though future, is described as past, being predetermined in the counsels of God. The words here are a reproduction of Isa. 21:9. And is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird; a habitation … a hold of every_ unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hated bird. “Devils” (Greek, δαιμόνια), inferior evil spirits. The three phrases express the same idea, viz. the loathsome and hateful state to which Babylon is reduced. The language is derived from the prophets (cf. Isa. 13:21, 22; 34:11–15; Jer. 50:39; 51:37). A hold (Greek, (φυλακή, “a strong place”); the natural and fitting stronghold of the devils, rather than a place to which they are involuntarily confined.
2a καὶ ἔκραξεν ἐν ἰσχυρᾷ φωνῇ λέγων, ἔπεσεν ἔπεσεν Βαβυλὼν ἡ μεγάλη, “Then he cried with a mighty voice, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.’ ” This phrase, which also occurs in 14:8 (see the more extensive Comment there), is probably an allusion to Isa 21:9 (Fekkes, Isaiah, 204–5, 213–14); cf. Jer 51:8 (LXX 28:8), καὶ ἄφνω ἔπεσεν Βαβυλών, “And immediately Babylon fell.” In LXX Isa 21:9 the double verb occurs in MS B (and two lesser MSS): πέπτωκεν πέπτωκεν Βαβυλών, “Babylon has fallen, fallen,” though this is a literal rendering of the Hebrew נָפְלָה בּבֶלָ נָפְלָה nāpĕlâ nāpĕlâ bābel, “fallen, fallen, is Babylon.” The aorist verbs ἔπεσεν ἔπεσεν, “fallen, fallen,” emphasize the certainty of the fall of Babylon-Rome, which, from the standpoint of the speaker, is an event that has not yet occurred (this same phrase also occurs in Rev 14:8). This is an example of the perfectum propheticum, “prophetic perfect,” used to describe a future event with a verb in the past tense as if it had already happened (GKC § 106n; Mussies, Morphology, 338). The phrase “fallen, fallen is so-and-so” originated as a lament uttered upon the death of an individual and is transferred to the actual or anticipated demise of a political unit such as a tribe, city, or nation (Eissfeldt, Introduction, 91–92; Yarbro Collins, “Revelation 18,” 192–93). The term πίπτειν, “fall,” was frequently used in the ancient world in the metaphorical sense of a person’s violent death, usually in war (Exod 32:28; 1 Sam 4:10; 2 Sam 1:19, 25, 27; 3:38; 21:22; Job 14:10 [LXX only]; 1 Chr 5:10; 20:8; 1 Macc 3:24; 4:15, 34; 2 Macc 12:34; Jdt 7:11; Gk. 1 Enoch 14:6; 1 Cor 10:18; Barn. 12:5; Iliad 8.67; 10.200; 11.157, 500; Xenophon Cyr. 1.4.24; Herodotus 9.67). The name “Babylon” occurs several times in Revelation (14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). (On the title “Babylon the great,” see Comment on 14:8.) While most commentators assume that “Babylon” is a code name for Rome (Bousset  384; Charles, 2:62–63; Müller, 267, 288–89), Lohmeyer rejects the view that Rome is specifically in view, since “Babylon” is a term used in the OT and Judaism for the earthly power opposed to God; no more specification is necessary (138–39, 147). Kraft identifies Rome with the “Babylon” of Rev 17 but not that of Rev 18 (229, 234), and other scholars understand “Babylon” of Rev 18 to represent Jerusalem (Ford, 285–86, 296–307; Beagley, Apocalypse, 92–102; Provan, JSNT 64  91–97). The historical fall of Rome occurred in August of a.d. 410 when the city was pillaged by Alaric and his army of Goths.
2b καὶ ἐγένετο κατοικητήριον δαιμονίων καὶ φυλακὴ παντὸς πνεύματος ἀκαθάρτου, “It has become the habitation of demons … reserve for unclean spirits.” This and what follows is an allusion to Isa 13:21–22a, where the devastation following the destruction of Babylon is graphically depicted using the topos of the deserted city as a dwelling place for wild animals:
21 But wild animals will lie down there,
and its houses will be full of howling creatures;
there ostriches will live,
and there goat-demons will dance.
22a Hyenas will cry in its twoers,
and jackals in the pleasant palaces. (nrsv)
It is also possible that there is an allusion here to Jer 51:37 (LXX 28:37), a possibility made more likely by the presence of seven other allusions to Jer 51 in Rev 18 (see Form/Structure/Setting on Rev 18, III. The Influence of Jeremiah). The MT text of Jer 51:37, which is longer than the LXX text (which probably represents an earlier Hebrew text) is represented here by the rsv:
And Babylon shall become a heap of ruins,
the haunt of jackals,
a horror and a hissing,
The aftermath of the destruction of Nineveh is described similarly in Zeph 2:14 (nrsv):
Herds shall lie down in it [Nineveh],
every wild animal;
the desert owl and the screech owl
shall lodge on its capitals;
the owl shall hoot at the window,
the raven croak on the threshold;
for its cedar work will be laid bare.
The same topos is used to gloat over the destruction of Tyre in Isa 23:1 and Edom in Isa 34:11–15 (nb. that Edom eventually became a code name for Rome in Jewish tradition; see 4 Ezra 6:7–10; Gen. Rab. 65.21). The emptiness and aridity of the location of a city punished by Yahweh is mentioned in Jer 50:12; 51:43. In Bar 4:35 it is predicted that the enemy of Israel will be destroyed by fire and inhabited by demons. Demons were associated with unsettled and desolate places (Isa 13:21; 34:14; Tob 8:3; Matt 12:43 = Luke 11:24; Mark 5:10). The threat of desolation is a frequently occurring theme in prophetic denunciations of nations and cities, including Judah and Jerusalem (Jer 4:26–27; 9:10–12; 22:5–6; Ezek 6:14; Hos 2:3; Joel 3:19; Zeph 2:13; Mal 1:3–4).
2c καὶ φυλακὴ παντὸς ὀρνέου ἀκαθάρτου καὶ μεμισημένου, “a preserve for every type of unclean and hateful bird.” This may continue the allusion to Jer 51:37 (LXX 28:37), “And Babylon shall become a heap of ruins, the haunt of jackals, a horror and a hissing, without inhabitant.” Yet similar phrases are used of Jerusalem in Jer 9:11, “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a lair of jackals; and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant.” It is of interest that when Trajan visited the famous Mesopotamian Babylon, ca. 115 a.d., he found it largely deserted, consisting mainly of mounds, stones, and ruins (Dio Cassius 68.30).
The Third Word: The Fall of Babylon (18:1–3)
The first angel has confronted John with the mystery of Babylon, and has then made him face one aspect after another of the beast and the woman who comprise it. We may or may not reckon to have grasped the meaning of his long discourse (17:7–18), but have we grasped its menace? The reader who has not been frightened by it has not begun to understand it. The ‘power of evil’ in the Satanism of cheap fiction is a mere pantomime demon compared with this description of the real thing. The angel scours the dictionary of metaphor to find synonyms of power to apply to the beast. Neither dare we underestimate the persuasiveness of the woman. We may react to the glamour of 17:4 with a shudder—‘How cheap, how tawdry!’—because that is what we think is expected of us. But in practice, in daily life, the pearls and the purple and the golden cup have an awful fascination. The world is powerful, its message is attractive, and we know what it is to be like the bird held by the glittering eye of the snake.
This is why the spell needs to be broken by a voice of even greater authority. The second angel comes from heaven, with a glory brighter and a voice more compelling than that of Babylon, to declare again that vital part of the divine message which assures us of her final downfall. It is the message which the finger of God once wrote over the actual historical Babylon: ‘God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end’ (Dn. 5:26). Whether it is totalitarian repression or decadent capitalism which Christians have to cope with, they need to be reminded that neither the beast nor the woman is permanently in power, despite all the symbolism of the ‘everlasting hills’, and that one day their universal dominion will be in retrospect no more than a nightmare from which one has awakened.
2. And he cried with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the Great. And she has become the dwelling place of demons, and the prison of every unclean spirit, and the prison of every unclean bird, and the prison of every unclean and hated beast.”
- “And he cried with a mighty voice, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the Great.’ ” The Apocalypse is replete with angels who cry out in a loud voice so that everyone on earth is able to hear (7:2; 10:3; 14:7, 9, 15; 19:17). The word mighty reflects the great authority that has been given to this angel. No one can ignore the voice of an angel who announces “an event which is stupefying in its magnitude.” Although his announcement is similar to that of the angel who cried “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the wrathful wine of her fornication” (14:8), there are differences. In this verse he first describes the dwelling place of Babylon by referring to it three times as a prison, and then he elaborates in successive verses.
John has taken the reference to Babylon from Isaiah 21:9, “Babylon has fallen, has fallen!” (see also Jer. 50:2; 51:8). The duplication of the verb to fall for emphasis is a typical feature in Semitic writing. Note that the past tense of the verb is given as if the actual destruction of Babylon had already taken place. The past tense states not merely the expectation but the certainty of this event.
- “And she has become the dwelling place of demons.” In desert places the goat demons dance and call to each other (Isa. 13:21; 34:14 NRSV). Evil spirits live in deserted places (Luke 8:29) and in a ruined city like Babylon. This ruined place is the home of demons, whose ruler is Satan. It will become a place void of any inhabitant (Jer. 50:39; 51:37). This is a picture of a world without God that is now in the power of evil spirits who can freely vex its people.
Babylon is the prison of every unclean spirit, every unclean bird, and every unclean and hated beast. In this context, the term prison suggests a dwelling place to which these creatures are consigned—not so much a prison, for that is the Abyss, but a place where they dwell. This desolate place is the home of unclean spirits and animals—a picture of a world completely devoid of God and his Word. How different is the city of God, where the Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts and lives of the saints! There the light of the gospel shines brightly and the people live in joy and happiness.