Various nations turn on Babylon, that is, Rome, when her end finally comes because it represents the end of their subjugation to her (Rev. 17:15–18). However, not every person celebrates once Babylon falls. In fact, for many people, the collapse of Rome as a great cultural and economic power is a cause for lament, as we see in Revelation 18:9–19.
Rome’s fall is a great economic calamity, and that is the reason for the lamenting. As verses 11–15 indicate, the loss of Roman hegemony means a loss of trade in all manner of goods and services. With the imperial government no longer functioning, safe travel becomes impossible. Merchants and traders can no longer move as freely as they once did, and economic collapse destroys the market for luxuries and other things. The early medieval church father known as the Venerable Bede comments that “they bemoan the loss of all the spectacles of the world and those things that are pleasant to the senses of the body and that are suitable for external use.”
The prophesied fall of Rome, then, matches what the other visions in Revelation have shown us about what happens when judgment falls on those who are committed to wickedness. Instead of repenting and returning to the Lord, they bemoan the loss of worldly comforts (9:20–21; 16:8–11). Of course, we do not want to minimize the real problems of economic calamity, poor health, and the other things brought on by the divine judgments in Revelation. The point is that these problems are not ultimate. Those who lament the loss of earthly goods while their hearts are far from the Lord are missing the point of suffering as God’s wake-up call to the impenitent.
When Rome falls, however, there is rejoicing on the part of those whom she has persecuted. Believers are exhorted to rejoice, for Rome receives the destruction that she has inflicted on others (18:20). Rome will be destroyed as surely as Babylon, the earlier “Rome” that persecuted old covenant saints, fell. Jeremiah 51:63–64 describes how Jeremiah told another official, Seraiah, to record the prophecies of judgment against ancient Babylon in a book, tie it to a rock, and cast it into the Euphrates River as a sign that Babylon would likewise fall. Revelation 18:21–24 borrows this imagery, likening the Babylon of the first century—Rome—to a millstone that will be cast into the sea. Just as ancient Babylon’s sure fall happened in history, so would Rome fall, ending its threat to believers.