Exit signs can be crucially important. They mark a way to escape danger. Revelation 18:4–8 is a call to leave Babylon as it faces destruction.
Judgment is coming. Judgment is richly deserved. The voice of a mighty angel had announce the fall of Babylon, language taken from Isaiah 13:21,22. Isaiah was speaking to Judah at a time when it was being tempted to seek an alliance with Babylon as Judah was being threatened by Assyria. Isaiah foretold the fall of Babylon as a warning of its unreliability. God’s people were to put their trust in him, not in the powers of human kingdoms. Babylon, the name of a city, is the name on the forehead of the woman in scarlet in Revelation 17. She represents not just Rome, but all idolatrous, rebellious mankind. Just as ancient Babylon had been cruel, so the Babylon of John’s day—Rome—had persecuted the church. The blood of the martyrs is one reason that God brings this judgment. Rebellion against God takes the form of persecution of his people. Dennis Johnson describes “the sky-high compost pillar of her sins.” The reference to “double” does not mean twice as much as is deserved. Rather, its force is that the judgment is proportional. It is an image, a reflection of the sin.
Sin is self-centered idolatry. Human beings always worship. Either they worship the living and true God, or some idol. It may be an image. It may be wealth and power. But at the heart of rebellion against God is a worship of self. That is what you see in this symbolic woman, called Babylon. She considers herself a queen, untouchable by any calamity. But God’s judgment comes on her.
The day of judgment is near! There have been various judgments in history: the Exodus, the conquering of Canaan, the fall of Israel, then Judah, the destruction of the kingdoms represented in the image of Daniel 2, and now Rome. But all of these anticipate the judgment at the last day. That is the great event at the end of history of which these earlier judgments are intrusions. Remember that the last days began with the first coming of Christ. “Looking back to the exodus from Egypt, Isaiah foresaw a future exodus from exile and showed Israel that God’s promise of deliverance entails his summons to separate from all that defiles. . . . The sky-high compost pillar of her sins has not escaped God’s notice, for he has ‘remembered her iniquities’ (Rev. 18:5; cf. 16:19). The new covenant promise that God will ‘remember no more’ the sins of his people assures us of both forgiveness and release from punishment (Jer. 31:34). By contrast, the assurance that God ‘remembers’ Babylon’s sins means that he holds her fully accountable, so that her punishment is inescapable.” (Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, pp. 254–255). There is a day of judgment, and you need to be prepared for it. On an individual level, you may stand before the Lord at any time.
Flee! God commands you to come out. Isaiah warned God’s people to leave because the city was to be destroyed. The people of God are not the objects of his wrath on that day. Escape does not mean that we somehow literally exit the world. Nor does it mean that we become hermits. Rather, in order to flee the world, do not allow yourself to be seduced by its power and the pleasure it claims to offer. How do you accomplish that?
Come to the God who is mighty to save. Revelation 18 speaks of the might of the God who judges. That is true. But he is also a God who is mighty to save. Notice how many of the expressions used in describing judgment here in Revelation are used in the Old Testament as part of descriptions of God’s mercy. The sins of Babylon pile up the heavens—but Psalm 103 reminds you of God’s love for his people that is as high as the heavens are above the earth. The double is used in Isaiah 40 to emphasize God’s comforting mercy to his people. Whom does God command to come out? His people, echoing the language of Hosea. How can a God who is holy enough to punish cruel Babylon or Rome be merciful to you, a sinner? He cannot ignore your sin. He cannot simply turn off his holy wrath against it—for his holiness is part of his character. But what he can and did do was to send his Son into this world, so that you might escape from the judgment to come upon it. The wrath of God against your sin was borne by him. The only way to flee from God’s wrath is to flee to him in the person on his Son.
Be a people who have come out of the world. What do people who escape the wrath of God look like? How do those redeemed by Christ conduct themselves? Remember that Christ died and rose to make you his holy people. You have different standards than the world does. In 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1 Paul calls the Corinthians—and you—to a life of holy obedience. Don’t be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Christ died with the purpose of making you his holy people.
Judgment is coming. Flee out of the world—and to the Savior.