John Wesley's Explanatory Notes
Verse 1. And I saw another angel coming down out of heaven -Termed another, with respect to him who "came down out of heaven," Revelation 10:1. And the earth was enlightened with his glory - To make his coming more conspicuous. If such be the lustre of the servant, what images can display the majesty of the Lord, who has "thousand thousands" of those glorious attendants "ministering to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand standing before him?"
Verse 2. And he cried, Babylon is fallen - This fall was mentioned before, Revelation 14:8; but is now declared at large. And is become an habitation - A free abode. Of devils, and an hold - A prison. Of every unclean spirit - Perhaps confined there where they had once practised all uncleanness, till the judgment of the great day. How many horrid inhabitants hath desolate Babylon! of invisible beings, devils, and unclean spirits; of visible, every unclean beast, every filthy and hateful bird. Suppose, then, Babylon to mean heathen Rome; what have the Romanists gained, seeing from the time of that destruction, which they say is past, these are to be its only inhabitants for ever.
Verse 4. And I heard another voice - Of Christ, whose people, secretly scattered even there, are warned of her approaching destruction. That ye be not partakers of her sins - That is, of the fruits of them. What a remarkable providence it was that the Revelation was printed in the midst of Spain, in the great Polyglot Bible, before the Reformation! Else how much easier had it been for the Papists to reject the whole book, than it is to evade these striking parts of it.
Verse 5. Even to heaven - An expression which implies the highest guilt.
Verse 6. Reward her - This God speaks to the executioners of his vengeance. Even as she hath rewarded - Others; in particular, the saints of God. And give her double - This, according to the Hebrew idiom, implies only a full retaliation.
Verse 7. As much as she hath glorified herself - By pride, and pomp, and arrogant boasting. And lived deliciously - In all kinds of elegance, luxury, and wantonness. So much torment give her -Proportioning the punishment to the sin. Because she saith in her heart - As did ancient Babylon, Isaiah 47:8,9. I sit - Her usual style. Hence those expressions, "The chair, the see of Rome: he sat so many years." As a queen - Over many kings, "mistress of all churches; the supreme; the infallible; the only spouse of Christ; out of which there is no salvation." And am no widow - But the spouse of Christ. And shall see no sorrow - From the death of my children, or any other calamity; for God himself will defend "the church."
Verse 8. Therefore - as both the natural and judicial consequence of this proud security Shall her plagues come - The death of her children, with an incapacity of bearing more. Sorrow - of every kind. And famine - In the room of luxurious plenty: the very things from which she imagined herself to be most safe. For strong is the Lord God who judgeth her - Against whom therefore all her strength, great as it is, will not avail.
Verse 10. Thou strong city - Rome was anciently termed by its inhabitants, Valentia, that is, strong. And the word Rome itself, in Greek, signifies strength. This name was given it by the Greek strangers.
Verse 12. Merchandise of gold, &c. - Almost all these are still in use at Rome, both in their idolatrous service, and in common life. Fine linen - The sort of it mentioned in the original is exceeding costly. Thyine wood - A sweet-smelling wood not unlike citron, used in adorning magnificent palaces. Vessels of most precious wood - Ebony, in particular, which is often mentioned with ivory: the one excelling in whiteness, the other in blackness; and both in uncommon smoothness.
Verse 13. Amomum - A shrub whose wood is a fine perfume. And beasts - Cows and oxen. And of chariots - a purely Latin word is here inserted in the Greek. This St. John undoubtedly used on purpose, in describing the luxury of Rome. And of bodies - A common term for slaves. And souls of men - For these also are continually bought and sold at Rome. And this of all others is the most gainful merchandise to the Roman traffickers.
Verse 14. And the fruits - From what was imported they proceed to the domestic delicates of Rome; none of which is in greater request there, than the particular sort which is here mentioned. The word properly signifies, pears, peaches, nectarines, and all of the apple and plum kinds. And all things that are dainty - To the taste. And splendid - To the sight; as clothes, buildings, furniture.
Verse 19. And they cast dust on their heads - As mourners. Most of the expressions here used in describing the downfall of Babylon are taken from Ezekiel's description of the downfall of Tyre, Ezekiel 26:1.
Verse 20. Rejoice over her, thou heaven - That is, all the inhabitants of it; and more especially, ye saints; and among the saints still more eminently, ye apostles and prophets.
Verse 21. And a mighty angel took up a stone, and threw it into the sea - By a like emblem Jeremiah fore-showed the fall of the Chaldean Babylon, Jeremiah 51:63,64.
Verse 22. And the voice of harpers - Players on stringed instruments. And musicians - Skilful singers in particular. And pipers - Who played on flutes, chiefly on mournful, whereas trumpeters played on joyful, occasions. Shall be heard no more in thee; and no artificer - Arts of every kind, particularly music, sculpture, painting, and statuary, were there carried to their greatest height. No, nor even the sound of a mill-stone shall be heard any more in thee - Not only the arts that adorn life, but even those employments without which it cannot subsist, will cease from thee for ever. All these expressions denote absolute and eternal desolation. The voice of harpers - Music was the entertainment of the rich and great; trade, the business of men of middle rank; preparing bread and the necessaries of life, the employment of the lowest people: marriages, in which lamps and songs were known ceremonies, are the means of peopling cities, as new births supply the place of those that die. The desolation of Rome is therefore described in such a manner, as to show that neither rich nor poor, neither persons of middle rank, nor those of the lowest condition, should be able to live there any more. Neither shall it be repeopled by new marriages, but remain desolate and uninhabited for ever.
Verse 23. For thy merchants were the great men of the earth - A circumstance which was in itself indifferent, and yet led them into pride, luxury, and numberless other sins.
Verse 24. And in her was found the blood of the prophets and saints - The same angel speaks still, yet he does not say "in thee," but in her, now so sunk as not to hear these last words. And of all that had been slain - Even before she was built. See Matthew 23:35. There is no city under the sun which has so clear a title to catholic blood-guiltiness as Rome. The guilt of the blood shed under the heathen emperors has not been removed under the Popes, but hugely multiplied. Nor is Rome accountable only for that which hath been shed in the city, but for that shed in all the earth. For at Rome under the Pope, as well as under the heathen emperors, were the bloody orders and edicts given: and whereever the blood of holy men was shed, there were the grand rejoicings for it. And what immense quantities of blood have been shed by her agents! Charles IX., of France, in his letter to Gregory XIII., boasts, that in and not long after the massacre of Paris, he had destroyed seventy thousand Hugonots. Some have computed, that, from the year 1518, to 1548, fifteen millions of Protestants have perished by the Inquisition. This may be overcharged; but certainly the number of them in those thirty years, as well as since, is almost incredible. To these we may add innumerable martyrs, in ancient, middle, and late ages, in Bohemia, Germany, Holland, France, England, Ireland, and many other parts of Europe, Afric, and Asia.
on the Whole Bible