When we read Revelation we naturally think that John was talking about the oppressive Babylonian Empire when he references Babylon—but John’s audience knew he was talking about the oppressive Rome. They knew this because, for one, the Babylonian Empire had crumbled some 500 years earlier and, for two, John described the Lady Babylon with characteristics that everyone related to the city of Rome. She was “seated on many waters” and “seated on seven mountains,” which are descriptors of the physical landscape of Rome. On top of that, the Lady Babylon is pictured as riding the beast, and the beast was representative of the Roman cult and government.
That being said, John wanted his readers to recognize that the Babylon of old wasn’t dead. It’s never dead. The domination system that exists when Satan takes control will always rise back up when humans choose luxury over love and when we view people as objects instead of souls. It will always return with our Babylonian idol worship as we find ourselves practicing the ideologies of those idols. Therefore, every nation this side of the resurrection has the capacity of Babylon within them or already is a Babylon.
Throughout Revelation 18:11-13, John describes some of the ways that Babylon had seeped into Rome via their luxurious economy. They had it all. They have gold and silver from Spain; jewels and pearls from India; fine linen from Asia and Egypt; purple cloth from Asia minor; silk from China; scarlet cloth from Asia; all kinds of scented wood from Africa; all kinds of articles of ivory from Syria; bronze from Corinth; iron from Spain and Pontos; marble from Africa, Egypt, and Greece; cinnamon from India and Ceylon; spice from South India; incense from across the East; myrrh from the Near East; frankincense from Southern Arabia; wine from Sicily and Spain; oil from Africa and Spain; fine flour and wheat from Egypt; the riches that come with cattle, sheep, horses, and chariots; and last, but not least—slaves, or as John pauses to call them: human souls.
Slaves aren’t at the end of John’s list because they’re not important. They’re at the end of the list because John knows that slaves are the fuel of Babylon. It’s the oppression of these human souls that makes the world go round and that’s a huge part of the reason Lady Babylon will be judged. Both she and the nations that sleep with her have gotten rich off their oppression of these human souls and God hates to see the poor and the marginalized persecuted. And it’s that kind of oppression of the poor and powerless that has brought God’s judgment on nations in the past—including Sodom and Gomorrah (see Ezekiel 16:49-50).
John saw that Babylon would face the same judgment for her sins. Treating human souls as though they’re another luxury to be owned on a list next to flour and wheat—that whole system will come to an end. God’s got an eye for the oppressed, and he will not allow it to go on forever; for he knows that to oppress or overlook the poor is to live as Satan’s Babylon.
It’s convicting to note that John saw participation with the every-day slave trade to be participation with Babylon, because we in America are guilty of the same thing—not only from legalized slavery in our past or illegal human-trafficking in our present, but because every day, tons of products are being shipped into America that are made by the poor and oppressed. And yes, some of those poor and oppressed are slaves. Simple products such as chocolate and coffee have been noted to be acquired by slaves across the world living in incredibly inhumane conditions. And since the same companies that make things like chocolate also make things like kitty litter, cat food, baby food, ice cream, and more—well it doesn’t take long to see that everyday items that we partake in are making us complicit with Babylon.
Even Israel themselves had become a Babylon of sorts at one point, which is why God had to send them into exile. And if we do not adamantly keep our eyes open, I fear Christians, too, have the capacity of Babylon within us. And so we must keep our eyes on Jesus and His Kingdom of Heaven as we prophesy over the earthly nations we find ourselves in.