Revelation 16:19

Saturday, 15 May 2021

Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath. Revelation 16:19

The previous verse referred to a great earthquake, one greater than has occurred in all of human history. The result of this is stated now, saying, “Now the great city was divided into three parts.” In the coming clause, it will speak of “great Babylon.” For this reason, many scholars conclude that this is the city being referred to in this clause as well. Further, the next two chapters will deal with Babylon. However, this is not completely certain.

It could be that this is first a reference to Jerusalem, and only after that is the fall of Babylon described. Jerusalem is called “the great city” in verse 11:8, and so it could be a reference to the cataclysm that is coming as described by Zechariah –

“Then the Lord will go forth
And fight against those nations,
As He fights in the day of battle.
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,
Which faces Jerusalem on the east.
And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two,
From east to west,
Making a very large valley;
Half of the mountain shall move toward the north
And half of it toward the south.
Then you shall flee through My mountain valley,
For the mountain valley shall reach to Azal.
Yes, you shall flee
As you fled from the earthquake
In the days of Uzziah king of Judah.
Thus the Lord my God will come,
And all the saints with You.” Zechariah 14:3-5

For the entire Mount of Olives, which is in the location of Jerusalem, to split in two would indicate a massive earthquake. Further, the same earthquake could also divide Jerusalem elsewhere, thus causing it to divide into three sections. Therefore, this could be speaking of Jerusalem.

However, it could also be referring to Babylon in advance of naming it. Babylon is called “the great city” in verses 14:8, 17:18, 18:18, 18:19, and 18:21. Therefore, this is a likely candidate as well. Either way, Babylon will see its entire destruction, something not necessarily implied in this clause now. John next says, “and the cities of the nations fell.”

It is another clue that the first clause is speaking of Jerusalem. The cities of the nations are distinguished from Jerusalem in this clause, and then they will be distinguished from Babylon in the next clause. Or it could be referring to the headship of Babylon. Just as Babylon fell, so will the cities that were under the authority of Babylon. This would then make the earthquake symbolic rather than literal, something not likely from the description of the earthquake.

Either way, whether literal or symbolic, and whether Jerusalem or Babylon, the events are future and so it is better to consider both options, knowing that the events will be known as fulfilled when they occur. With this in mind, John next says, “And great Babylon was remembered before God.”

This seems to put “the great city” in opposition to Jerusalem. Otherwise, it would not appear necessary to say the same thing again. However, it could be a literary device where the second thought names and further describes the first thought, placing the two in apposition. Either way, the final clause of the verse is directed to Babylon, regardless as to which city the first clause was referring to. God will remember great Babylon in order “to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.”

The cup has already been used as a descriptor of judgment and punishment in Revelation. In Chapter 14, it said –

“Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Revelation 14:9, 10

Those who worship the beast and his image, and who receive his mark, will drink of the cup of God’s wrath. Likewise, great Babylon will also drink of such a cup. For her, a complete end will come. When God is done with Babylon, it shall never rise again.

Life application: As the events of Revelation are future, and because symbols are used to represent other things at times, it’s hard to be dogmatic about whom “great Babylon” is.

There are various thoughts that have been pondered over the years. One is that it is actually Babylon of the past, and which is resurrected in modern times. It was destroyed long ago, and today it will be rebuilt into a center of power. This idea has especially developed in recent history when Saddam Hussein began rebuilding it during his time. The area has been the focus of much change in recent years. It could be that because of Islamic growth on the world stage, it will again be a center for rebellion of the world against the true God.

Another option is that this is speaking of Jerusalem. Revelation is highly focused on the Jewish people as they are readied for the return of the Messiah. In Zechariah 13:9, we read the purpose of the affliction of the trials coming upon Israel –

“I will bring the one–third through the fire,
Will refine them as silver is refined,
And test them as gold is tested.
They will call on My name,
And I will answer them.
I will say, ‘This is My people’;
And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’”

As noted in the main commentary, in the next chapter of Zechariah, the Mount of Olives is said to split in two when the Lord returns. This would certainly be caused by a cataclysmic event. Therefore, Jerusalem is a possibility. However, what seems most likely is that “Babylon” is a code word for Rome.

The description of Babylon will continue through the next two chapters, and there we will see terminology which certainly seems to point to Rome. Further, Daniel 9 shows that the antichrist will be a Roman. As an additional justification for this being Rome, we can look to the words of Peter in his first epistle –

“She who is in Babylon, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son.” 1 Peter 5:13

Peter, writing from Rome, identifies that city as “Babylon.” He was writing to the “pilgrims of the dispersion,” meaning Jewish people. The placement of the book of Peter within the Bible and the addressees in his epistle certainly point to a prophetic note that “Babylon” of the future is centered in Rome. Also, the descriptions to come seem to point to the workings of Rome throughout the church age, specifically in its treatment of the saints of God.

Wherever it ultimately proves to be, God will “remember” her. This doesn’t mean He ever forgot the deeds of this city, but that He is calling it to account for its harlotry and idolatry; it will now be judged, receiving its cup of judgment.

It is important to remember that Christ also took the cup of God’s wrath upon Himself. It was delivered to the Lord on the night of His crucifixion –

“And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, ‘Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.’” Luke 22:41, 42

The wrath that each person rightly deserves was given to the Lord to drink, and He willingly accepted it. God’s wrath for our sins was poured out on Him during the torture before the cross and during His actual death upon the cross. Because our sin was judged in Him, it can never be judged again. We are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.

However, for those who have not accepted His offer of peace, there is only one choice left – to face God’s wrath apart from Christ Jesus. The cup which will be poured out on the world will be without mercy, and it will be exhaustive in its purging of evil from the world. Be wise and call out to God now. Receive the pardon that Christ purchased for you through the giving of Himself. Call today on JESUS.

Lord Jesus, You took the punishment that we rightly deserve upon Yourself. All of the Father’s wrath for the sins we have committed were judged in You. We accept the payment rendered and the pardon which is offered. We give to You our allegiance, our hearts, our souls, and our love. May You alone be praised for the restored relationship between God and each one of us! Thank You, Lord! Amen.