Revelation 18

Chapter 18

v1: "After this I saw" signals a new section. Is a supreme angel from heaven declaring God's purpose, and with a bright glory that is reflected upon the earth beneath it. A truly awesome image. This superior "authority" stresses the certainty of what the angel declares, but perhaps it's action behind the human events bound to the fall of Babylon too. We also learn is the different orders of angels.
     v2: He came with a mighty voice reflecting his authority that Babylon "the great" - the city of 17v18, is fallen (Is 21v9). The context suggests this is an announcement of what is about to happen, and tells us the means of her fall at a human level is not the return of Christ which has not yet happened, but is the action of the beast and its ten horns/rulers (17v16) who have turned against the one who previously rested on their support (17v3). This shows the stupidity of siding with the beast. God will eventually use him to punish those who give him their allegiance!
     This also helps us locate Babylon's fall in time. It is not during the period of the 7 heads/Caesars but the 10 horns/future rulers when the beast is again personified. So the fall of Babylon is absolute and final (v22) unlike the fall of Rome, and it is followed by the return of Christ in marriage to his bride (ch. 19). This is the fall of whatever city is the centre of ungodly society at the end of history - a fall that heralds final judgment in which all who have persecuted God's people under the influence of other such centres will finally get their comeuppance. It is in this sense that there is relief and praise at its destruction.
     It's not clear whether verse 2 describes Babylon's state before or after her fall, but to my mind the note of uncleanness and context of v3-4 implies before - as reasons for her judgment. She has become the home of all that's unclean and so unfit for God's presence (this may therefore be a play on Is 13v20-22 which portray such things as the effect not cause). We have seen the demonic influence. "Spirits"  may imply the same or refer to the souls of the wicked. "Birds" and "beasts" is probably just to emphasise the point - what is of Babylon cannot enter God's kingdom.
     v3: With vivid imagery we're told the reason for the uncleanness is that the nations have committed spiritual unfaithfulness with Babylon, turning from God as right husband to give the city their love and drink deeply of her delights. And so the luxuries she offers are like the beauty and perhaps sexual practices of the prostitute Babylon has been pictured as, powerfully enticing the world away from the Lord and so making traders rich as they come and buy.
     It's a particular warning to those of us who live in a materialistic age. Although the beast isn't personally present throughout history, Babylon, seated on his influence is. And she entraps people with the goods and entertainments she offers, drawing their love from the lord. There is something positive about capitalism in raising many out of poverty, but there should also be caution for the Christian. People love excess, and there is real spiritual danger in being part of a society where more and more can be drunk of. This explains Jesus' frank teaching that we "cannot love both God and money." Indeed as Paul says "the love of money is the root of evil." Of course socialism can be just as enticing, if not more so - offering material gain for free, without work. This text doesn't commend a political system but warns against the allure of materialism.
     v4: Another voice speaks and seems to be that of God or the Lamb as calls "my" people out so that they do not partake of her sins, and by consequence endure her punishment. However v5-6 may suggest an angelic representative as they refer to God paying her back. It would be hard (but not impossible) for God's people to remove themselves from society which would be necessary of the judgments were on a city rather than psychological/spiritual. If the latter, then the can is to distance oneself from the allure entirely of ungodly society. We're told of the extremity of her sin reaching to heaven itself and so known to God who has therefore "remembered." The point is that his justice may be delayed but sin is not forgotten by him. Sinners will not get away with it.
     v6-8: God is now addressed by the angel speaking, or perhaps by Christ. The idea of "double portion" of a cup highlights it is more extreme wrath Babylon will stagger and fall from like one who drinks an excess of wine. The principle of justice as always is that of lex talionis. As she has paid back others - in persecution and suffering, so she is to be paid back. But the focus is more on punishment for pride. She has boasted in the glory and luxury she gave herself, no doubt on the backs of the poor (v13), as if it was her own doing, just as Nebuchadnezzar did. She regards herself as secure - a queen who reigns over the earth, and who will never mourn the loss of her husband, who should be the Lord, but is in reality the many nations she prostitutes herself with (v9).
     The heights of Solomon's reign show there is nothing inherently wrong with glory and luxury if it is laid down in service of God with thanksgiving. The biggest sin of every prosperous and ungodly society is its boasting arrogance and self-reliance that refuses to honour the Lord. Every politician and people group should remember prosperity will only continue and plans with only proceed "if it is the Lord's will" (James 5). And so he should be replied on and thanked for every good.
     Because of this we are told that suddenly, in one day, Babylon's "plagues" - i.e. the judgements intended for her, will overtake her. These are "death" of those within her, "mourning" the loss of them and of all her glory and luxury, and "fire" perhaps in literal destruction, but certainly figurative of God's wrath. And the reason such an apparently great and secure city will fall so quickly is because the Lord who judges her is mighty. The point is that our society's pride in it's own strength is laughable when considering the creator it is subject to, as the destructive power of his creation to societies today makes so clear. What is built up over millenia can be brought down by God in a day.
     v9-10: The nature of Babylon prostitution is now clarified. The earth's kings give themselves to her for pleasure rather than looking to God. No doubt they will mourn her destruction because it puts an end to their luxuries, but here it also in fear of being judged and so tormented in the same way. They will marvel at the speed of her destruction on a "single hour" - figurative for short time.
     v11-17: Merchants will weep too, but only selfishly because of its impact on trade. We must ask why such a large section is given to them and to shipmasters. It highlights the evil of materialism at the heart of Babylonian society. The list of items (v12-13) stresses the luxuries that will be wasted through lack of demand from Babylon's inhabitants. And the evil of the trade is noted by the final comment - it includes trade in human souls. Babylon was destroyed not just for her pride but because her materialism ran roughshod over people. It's a salutary word in our day of mass slavery and the lesser slavery of not paying people their dues. 
     v14-17: Verse 14 declares to Babylon now fallen that all the luxury goods and wealthy items she longed for are gone never to be regained. The assumption is not that Babylon/society has ceased to exist, but that she has lost everything - perhaps a hint to the conscious ruin that is hell itself. Like the kings, the merchants who gained so materially from her stand far off,  mourning and in fear of her torment overcoming them. This repetition surely urges the reader to ensure they repent of any intimacy with the great prostitute so that they escape similar judgment (cf. v10). Their cry is one of despair at the speed with which the "great city," who was clothed with such finery, was destroyed. We should never be fooled into thinking any world system is unshakeable. It smremains only by God's patience and mercy.
     v17-19: We turn now to seafarers who trade not on land but sea. Following Ezekiek 27 the point is that the whole world economic system is affected. They also cry out at "the smoke of her burning" - that is the evidence that she has been destroyed (v9). Asking "what city was like the great city" emphasises the shock that this could happen and signals that it could therefore happen to any lesser city too. With dust on their heads - the classic sign of mourning they lament the speed of her being laid waste because of its impact on their money making. It is striking that the weeping and wailing is a selfish one over a lack of gain rather than over the lives lost. There is nothing commending here.
      v20: Whether the vision has the seafarers acknowledging the justice of the situation, the voice of v4 doing so, or John himself, we cannot know. But the sentiment is clear. Believers (saints=holy ones), apostles and prophets whose spirits reside in heaven longing for justice (6v9) are called to rejoice that God has finally executed judgment for what was done against them. This is to rejoice "over" Babylon, ie. as her destruction is looked upon. This logic means that "rejoice...O heaven" must refer to these categories of people in particular rather than angels (though they no doubt rejoice too). And we should note that although we often can't comprehend it, when rightly understood God's terrible justice is something that will bring joy as wrongs are righted.
     "Prophets" probably refers to those in the 1st century who with the apostles received revelations and were responsible for preaching. 10v7 implies this because they are those to whom the mystery is revealed (cf. Eph 3v5). However the category could refer to those who bear witness throughout the church age (11v3). If the persecuted throughout that period are in mind it is another affirmation that Babylon represents ungodly society spanning history since the time of Christ. If it is simply 1st century individuals being called to rejoice this doesn't discount such a broad understanding of Babylon as they would still find justice in this entity that once persecuted them being destroyed. Indeed, Rome didn't fall for centuries anyway meaning that it was not the structures or people that so oppressed them that were laid waste then. One might note too, that Rome's fall was not at the hand of a Caesar like figure with world rulers serving him. And it was hardly at a time warranting it as it had then been Christianized.

     v21-24: Another angel means another section. Their "might" stresses the awesomeness of the events. This throws something Luke a millstone into the sea - the place of evil and chaos from which the beast arose and where those in the immediate context carried out their trade. It's a prophetic action for the violent fall of Babylon - disappearing as into the sea. Perhaps the millstone pictures it's work in crushing God's people. What follows gives poetic emphasis. Music and the joy it brings, craft, industry, the light of city life, and the delight of marriage will be no more. The reason for the end of these things is the evil accompanying her prosperity. Her merchants are classed as "the great ones of the earth," implying arrogance. And they deceived all nations. "Sorcery" may simply refer to the anklet magical hold the city had on the earth through its trade, deceiving people into a false security or the false worship of is gods. But the greatest evil was the blood she shed. And the category seems broad. Everyday Christians, those preaching the gospel (prophets?), yet others too. The final category may be a general one for Christians (as 19v2) or refer to any have been slain to further her ends, whether Christian or not.