And then came the crash. Just like the Old Testament prophets, John denounces the city as it collapses under God’s judgment.
Which city is this? Some through the centuries have seen this as a picture of Satan’s Kingdom, defeated by the Kingdom of Christ. The city therefore pictures any godless regime or ideology which opposes the Gospel. Others have been sure that John is foretelling the demise of Rome, the “Babylon” of godlessness and persecution of the church. Afterall, the city is portrayed as being “great” (vv.10, 16, 19), and having commercial and other influence over many nations (vv.3, 11-15, 19). So, it’s Rome, right?
Actually, the best reading of the text and the context suggests that it’s that rather small city, Jerusalem. She has already been denounced by John. In the immediately preceding chapters, the Jerusalem of John’s day has been identified as godless, ruthless, seeking to profit from her relationship with Rome, and destined to face God’s judgment. She has already been styled as Babylon (17.5). Small(ish) she may have been, but she enjoyed the attentions of trading nations, and enjoyed the luxuries John speaks of here.
Her covenant faithlessness brings God’s covenant curse. God faithless people were besieged and their city was sacked. “Was there ever a city like this great city?” (v.18), a city which knew so much of God’s favour, only then to be abandoned to His wrath? No wonder Jesus wept for her, and then spoke of her coming judgment (Luke 19.41-44).
A Prayer to Pray
Lord, why do people try to push the fact of Your judgement to one side? And why am I so casual about the truth of Your wrath? Show me the cross again, that I might be shocked at the lengths You went to for my salvation, as my sin and Your wrath were heaped upon Your Son. Then teach me to walk humbly with You, my God. Amen.