The intervening chapters have detailed God’s cataclysmic explosion of judgmental fury on the sinful world. That fury began to be poured out when the Lord Jesus Christ, the rightful heir to the universe, received the title deed to the earth from His Father (5:1–14). As He unrolled that scroll and broke its seven seals, terrifying judgments struck the earth. The seal judgments were followed by the equally devastating trumpet and bowl judgments.
Some might think heaven’s rejoicing over Babylon’s destruction to be insensitive and uncaring. But that shortsighted view ignores the reality that those sinners will have had the greatest opportunity to repent of any people who have ever lived. They will have experienced the unprecedented disasters of the Tribulation, which they will acknowledge to be God’s judgments (6:17). They will also have heard the most powerful preaching of the gospel in history, from the 144,000 Jewish evangelists, the two witnesses, the host of the redeemed saved during the Tribulation, and even a powerful angel (14:6–7). Yet despite all that, they will remain unrepentant to the very end (9:20–21; 16:9, 11), hardened into irreversible unbelief and defiant hatred of God.
The praise seen in heaven throughout Revelation (4:8–11; 5:9–14; 7:10–12; 11:15–18; 15:3–4; 16:5–6) reaches a crescendo in this text. The heavenly rejoicing is not over the damnation of those who reject God (cf. Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11), but because Jesus Christ will soon remove those obstinate sinners from the world. God will then be properly honored, the Lord Jesus Christ enthroned, and the earth restored to its lost glory. Heaven rejoices because history is finally going to reach its culmination as the true King establishes His kingdom on earth.
In Jewish practice since at least the first century, the four consonants that make up the divine name have been considered sacred and were never pronounced. To keep the reader from pronouncing and thus profaning the sacred name of God, the Masoretes put the vowel pointing for אֲדֹנָי (ʾădōnāy, “Lord”) under the consonants of the divine name יְהוָה (yhwh) to prompt the reader to pronounce אֲדֹנָי (ʾădōnāy) in place of the divine name wherever it appears in the text.
Heaven rejoices specifically because salvation has come for God’s people, and with it the glory and power that belong to God (cf. 1 Chron. 29:11) have been put on display. The word salvation does not focus on justification or sanctification, but celebrates the final aspect of salvation history, the glorification of the saints in the kingdom of Christ. The imminent coming of Jesus Christ prompts this praise as the angels anticipate the glory of His kingdom.
Heaven also rejoices because God’s judgments are true and righteous (cf. 16:7), as evidenced by the destruction of wicked, deserving Babylon. That joy over the imminent triumph of God’s justice is something that all who pray and work for righteousness can relate to. Throughout history God’s people have been disturbed by the inequity, injustice, and unrighteousness in the world, and have longed for God’s justice to come. Anticipating the coming of the Messiah, Isaiah wrote:
Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, they eagerly anticipated the day when God’s justice would triumph. God’s people hate sin because it mocks God and love righteousness because it exalts Him. They long for a world characterized by holiness and justice. But that will only happen when Christ establishes His righteous kingdom and rules with a rod of iron
The evil of the commercial and religious Babylon will be pervasive and dominant, leading to equitable retribution from God.
It is both fitting and just that those who caused the moral ruin of the world and persecuted God’s people should face His vengeance.
Babylon’s judgment provoked the first outburst of heavenly rejoicing; the aftermath of her destruction prompts the heavenly chorus for a second time to say, “Hallelujah!”
That the smoke rises up forever and ever indicates that this judgment is final, permanent, and irreversible. The language is similar to that used of God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:28), and Edom (Isa. 34:10). The flames and smoke will eventually die out, but the judgment is eternal on the souls of the sinners destroyed.
The destruction of the last and most powerful empire in human history marks the end of man’s day. The rebellion that began long ago in the Garden of Eden is finally ended (apart from a futile, short-lived revolt at the end of the Millennium; 20:7–10). There will be no more false religion, worldly philosophy, injustice, unrighteousness; all the sorry results of human depravity will be vanquished.