Revelation 18:9-20: Three Woes

“9 ‘When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:

‘“Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!”

11 ‘The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more – 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

14 ‘They will say, “The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendour have vanished, never to be recovered.” 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out:

‘“Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!”

‘Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. 18 When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, “Was there ever a city like this great city?” 19 They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out:

‘“Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    where all who had ships on the sea
    became rich through her wealth!
In one hour she has been brought to ruin!”

20 ‘Rejoice over her, you heavens!
    Rejoice, you people of God!
    Rejoice, apostles and prophets!
For God has judged her
    with the judgment she imposed on you.’” NIV UK


Everything in the world which is man-made, however glorious it may appear, has a ‘sell-by’ date on it. It won’t last. Nothing in this world will, but Jesus’ words ‘’will never pass away’’ (Matthew 24:35).

I was considering this recently while on holiday in the beautiful Italian city of Florence. Jilly and I visited the Pitti Palace, where the powerful Medici family once lived and ruled. Their art treasures may still be around, but they are long gone. In the state rooms we saw portraits of various people who must, at one time, have been famous, wealthy, and maybe even feared. But we had no idea who they were! So it goes with this world’s pomp and glory. It is fading and passing.

‘The pleasures of sin are but for a season, and they will end in dismal sorrow.’ Matthew Henry

‘Babylon’ – the world system – is under God’s judgment, and it is a just judgment. She is on borrowed time. I was impressed by this quote from the ‘IVP New Testament Commentary’:

‘The kings, merchants and seafarers of the earth mourn Babylon’s demise with three variations, or stanzas, of the same song (18:10, 16/17, 19)…The merchants and the seafarers elaborate the basic stanza in keeping with their respective interests…The seafarers do not know it yet, but before long the sea itself will be gone (21:1).’

‘’The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever’’ (1 John 2:17).