Three flying angels bearing news are described in Revelation 14, the first of whom proclaims the gospel and calls for people to fear the Lord (vv. 6–7). In today’s passage, John tells us about the second angel, who announces the fall of Babylon (v. 8).
Babylon no longer existed as an imperial threat in the first century, so the name represents a different power. A minority of commentators hold that Babylon is the city of Jerusalem, which had rejected Christ. That is possible if Revelation was written before AD 70. However, even if Revelation was written that early, Babylon does not have to represent Jerusalem. In fact, Babylon almost certainly stands in for Rome and its empire. First-century Jews sometimes used Babylon as a code word for “Rome,” including Christian Jews such as Peter, who uses it that way in 1 Peter 5:13. This use makes a lot of sense. Like Babylon, Rome was a pagan empire that ruled over the Jews and ultimately destroyed the Jerusalem temple. Note also that the reason for Babylon’s fall in Revelation 14:8 is that she “made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” In Scripture, “sexual immorality” does refer to fornication, homosexuality, and other forms of illicit sexual behavior, but the prophets also use it metaphorically to refer to idolatry (for example, Hos. 1:2–3). First-century Jerusalem was certainly guilty of many sins, but the ancient Jews uniformly rejected actual sexual immorality and did not practice pagan idolatry. Rome and its empire, however, frequently celebrated sexual immorality and worshiped pagan deities.
Revelation 14:8 announces the fall of Babylon, that is, Rome, but it does not get into this fall until chapters 17–18. This announcement, then, foreshadows Rome’s defeat, giving hope to John’s original audience that the immoral, pagan empire oppressing them could not and would not last. Significantly, though, the announcement of Rome’s fall in 14:8 comes after the preaching of the gospel in verses 6–7. That clues us in to something important: the defeat of Rome comes as a consequence of the gospel. In the gospel, God announces His reconciliation with His people, which is achieved through Christ’s defeat of all His and our enemies (Isa. 52; Col. 2:13–15). Jesus has already defeated all His foes, which means that no power that wars against His people can finally endure.