City fire

Revelation 18:2a: Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons.

Revelation 18 records the burning of Babylon. As we’ve discovered throughout: For Gill, nearly everything bad traces back to the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, God reserves his harshest judgments for her in the end. 

Revelation 18 Summary

Perhaps a quick summary will clarify some things. First, Gill sees Babylon as the Roman Catholic Church and her tentacles, which reach deep into societies over which she has jurisdiction. Second, these “plagues” (Rev 18:4) are the physical outplaying of the seven bowl judgments from Revelation 16. Third, Gill proposes Rome and the Romish system will be burnt, literally and metaphorically. The city and the whole system will be destroyed. The 10 kingdoms who ceded their powers to the beast (i.e., the pope) in Revelation 17:12-17 will turn on the beast. The civil rulers will be the human instruments which administer the seven bowl judgments, which destroys the pope, Roman Catholicism, and the Roman church-state. 

Babylon

Gill believes Babylon is Rome Papal. Specifically, he takes this as the Roman Catholic Church and her civil influence on society.1See Gill’s comments on Rev. 14:8; 18:2. He even carves out from these judgments the European nations and the pagan and Islamic nations.2See Gill’s comments on Rev. 18:3. 

Gill believes Babylon is the Roman Catholic Church and her civil influence on society.

The Execution and Timing

In the previous chapter, Gill presented a scenario in which the 10 kings represent 10 kingdoms who give over their power to the pope’s rule. The pope harnesses these civil powers to set up a church-state reign of terror on God’s children. He will possess unprecedented power of both religion and state to make war on the Lamb. 

Yet, the previous chapter also indicates these same 10 kings will come to hate the wicked church-state system. They will turn on it and burn down the system. Gill hinted in the previous chapter that this could be at the beginning of the latter day glory when Christian princes and kings convert to Christianity.3See Gill’s comments on Rev. 17:16. Here, he seems more certain of it: 

[T]his will not be private, but public revenge, inflicted by Christian princes and magistrates, who are ministers of God, and revengers to execute wrath on them that do evil.

John Gill, comments on Revelation 18:6

He appears to think it is a mixture of both: some civil authorities turn on the pope due to jealousy; others turn on the pope due to conversion to Christianity.

The Symbolism

Under Gill’s rubric, much of Revelation 18 is symbolic. For instance, the “merchants” (18:3), who are later said to be “the great men of the earth” (18:23), are spiritual profiteers: the cardinals, archbishops, and bishops.4See Gill’s comments on Rev. 18:3. Gill states:

[T]hey are such who make merchandise of men, and pretend to sell them heaven, and the salvation of their souls; these are they that deal in pardons and indulgences, which they sell to ignorant people, and for a sum of money say Mass to fetch souls out of purgatory: all things have been saleable at Rome, crucifixes, priests, altars, temples, prayers, heaven, Christ, yea, God himself, as the poet Mantuan expresses it; and because of these idolatries, and wicked practices, Rome will be at last destroyed.

John Gill, comments on Revelation 18:3

Gill later claims, “[T]hey have pretended to have had the very liquid blood of Christ,” which they would show once a person “had given a good deal of money.”5See Gill’s comments on Rev. 18:12. His exegetical justification for such assertions is found in verse 13: the merchants buy and sell “human souls,” which is the Greek word, ψυχή (souls). 

Gill later claims, “[T]hey have pretended to have had the very liquid blood of Christ,” which they would show once a person “had given a good deal of money.”

John Gill,
comments on Revelation 18:12

It follows that the “ships” = the dioceses, abbeys, priories, and monestaries; the “shipmasters” = the leaders of the aforementioned: bishops, abbots, priors, and heads of the monestaries; and, the “sailors” are emissaries and spokesmen sent out by the pope.6See Gill’s comments on Rev. 18:17.

All of these worked in concert to create and perpetuate a false system of religious beliefs that reaches deep into the civil sphere. Here is a flavor of Gill’s perception:

The Romish priests pretend to redeem souls out of purgatory for such a sum of money, and sell pardons and indulgences, say Mass, and promise heaven itself for money . . . these fruits may intend universal dominion over nations and churches, the obedience of kings and princes, riches, honors, and pleasures of all sorts.

John Gill, comments on Revelation 18:14, 15

The result is a one world religion of sorts, which makes war on any Christian non-conformists. 

Reflections

There will be a burning down of Satan’s world system–religious and secular–in the the final days, whatever that system might look like. 

We have nothing new to critique here. We already have questioned whether Gill was too myopic, focused too exclusively on the Roman Catholic Church. 

For John’s part, perhaps he had his first century dealings with Rome and its secularist worldview in mind as “Babylon.” Rome was saturated with materialism, sexual immorality, and the blood of the martyrs. He, himself, was exiled on an island by that wicked system at the time he wrote these words.

In Gill’s day, we cannot argue that the Roman Catholic Church and her history of atrocities—in the name of God, no less—was unthinkable. 

In our day, we might ask, “Could this happen on an even larger scale in the future?” Could “Babylon” be Satan’s wicked world system that gets even wickeder in the final days? Indeed, the natural reading of Revelation indicates this judgment is poured out on earth dwellers who refused to repent and give God glory (Rev. 16:9); not merely those under the Roman Catholic Church’s jurisdiction, as Gill suggests. Certainly, the language in Revelation 18 lends itself to worldwide, not limited in scope, destruction. At the same time, no one knows the future. Perhaps greater atrocities than we can comprehend in the moment will arise in the future. 

Further, we can envision one greater than even the pope arising some day, harnessing all false religions and secularism under his power. Or, perhaps the Roman popes rise to prominence again, as they have throughout history, to wield such religious and civil power as Gill predicts. We hesitate to speculate. 

Gill, however, does present a reasoned view, and for that we are appreciative. You don’t have to agree with him, but reading him does help clarify this much: There will be a burning down of Satan’s world system–religious and secular–in the the final days, whatever that system might look like. 

References

References
1 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 14:8; 18:2.
2, 4 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 18:3.
3 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 17:16.
5 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 18:12.
6 See Gill’s comments on Rev. 18:17.
Author City fire

Chip Thornton

Pastor of FBC Springville, Alabama. Chip is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned his Ph.D. in expository preaching. He enjoys spending time with his family, has a passion for discipleship, and is committed to biblical exposition.

Free Email SubscriptionNew content, product discounts, and more!

Subscribe to our email list below and never miss the latest content or an exclusive offers.