Revelation 16:19

Now the great city was divided into three parts
Great city probably refers to Jerusalem,1 as it is contrasted with the cities of the nations (“Gentiles”) and Babylon. Although the same phrase elsewhere refers to Babylon (Rev. Rev. 14:8+; Rev. 17:18+; Rev. 18:10+, Rev. 18:16+, Rev. 18:18+, Rev. 18:21+), it is not exclusively hers. It is also used of Jerusalem (Rev. Rev. 11:8+) and of the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. Rev. 21:10+). The division into three parts would more naturally speak of Jerusalem, for we know that the Mount of Olives will divide in two when Messiah returns (Zec. Zec. 14:4). Perhaps this causes a three-way division (north, south, and west) within Jerusalem itself.2 “First of all, the effects of the earthquake upon the great city, Jerusalem, are seen. It is not mentioned by name, but it is so clearly distinguished from ‘the cities of the nations,’ that there can be no doubt. Here is the moment of the fulfillment of several prophecies concerning geographical changes in Jerusalem.”3 The destruction which is prophesied for Babylon is far more severe than a mere division into three parts, but involves an overwhelming devastation resulting in her complete unfitness for further habitation. See The Destruction of Babylon.

Thus, the purpose of the earthquake as it relates to Jerusalem is not to judge the city, but to enhance it. Jerusalem was judged earlier in the Tribulation by an earthquake, which led to the salvation of those who were not killed (Rev. Rev. 11:13+). Thus, there is no need for further judgment on that city.4

Jerusalem alone, of all the great cities of the earth, is thus to be spared destruction by the earthquake at the end of the tribulation. It is the one eternal city, and will survive as long as the earth endures in its present form, finally being replaced as the new Jerusalem, in the new earth.5

and the cities of the nations fell
Nations is ἐθνῶν [ethnōn] , translated elsewhere as “Gentiles,” (Mtt. Mat. 4:15; Mat. 6:32; Mat. 10:5; Mat. 12:18; Mat. 20:19; Rev. Rev. 11:2+; etc.). This refers to all the cities other than Jerusalem, including that center of ungodliness, Babylon itself. The cities of the nations fall because they are aligned implacably against God and have supported the Harlot (Rev. Rev. 17:13+). Moreover, they are drunk with the “wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Rev. Rev. 14:8+). Having participated in her fornication, they now suffer God’s wrath. See commentary on Revelation 14:8.

Man has a proverb that God made the country and man made the town. Truly these great cites of the earth are heartless and cruel, and those who have lived close enough to their hearts to hear their poisonous beats, know how much evil is hid behind the great lights of the world’s great agglomerations. They are all to fall. . . . We believe, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that this prophecy covers Peking and Philadelphia, Moscow and Melbourne, Berlin and Buenos Aires, Cairo and the Cape, Bombay and Boston, Istanbul and Chicago, Naples and New York. In short, all the cities shall be destroyed. It cannot be otherwise.6

And great Babylon was remembered before God
The phrase great Babylon alludes to Nebuchadnezzar’s boastful statement made immediately before he was struck with an affliction by God, living like a beast for seven years (Dan. Dan. 4:30).7 Both Jerusalem and Babylon are “great” cities, and are affected by this mighty earthquake. But they are affected differently based on God’s different purposes for their future. Jerusalem is to be restored (Isa. Isa. 62:1) to be the home of The Abiding Presence of God (Isa. Isa. 60:3; Eze. Eze. 43:2-4) and serve as the capital of the Millennial Kingdom. Babylon is to be completely destroyed , permanently uninhabitable, and become a prison for unclean spirits (Isa. Isa. 13:21-22; Rev. Rev. 18:2+). See commentary on Revelation 14:8. See The Destruction of Babylon.

It should be noticed that there is a gradation in the judgments here meted out to the cities of the world. Just as the Lord announced that some would be beaten with few stripes and some with many, so there is a progress in the devastation that falls upon the habitations of men. Two parts of Jerusalem seem to be destroyed, all of the Gentile cities, but the greatest of all judgments is kept for Babylon, seat of Satan’s power.8

the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath
Fierceness is θυμοῦ [thymou] , translated as wrath in Rev. Rev. 14:10+. Wrath is ὀργῆς [orgēs] , translated as indignation in Rev. Rev. 14:10+. Of the two, θυμοῦ [thymou] (here translated fierceness) is the more intense and shorter lasting. See commentary on Revelation 14:10. Concerning God’s wrath, see commentary on Revelation 16:17.

The same cup with which she intoxicated the nations will now be used to serve her the wine of God’s wrath. “Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her” (Rev. Rev. 14:6+).


Notes

1 Several interpreters take “great city” here to refer to Babylon: [E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935)], [A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877)].

2 Preterist interpreters see mention of three parts as an application of the judgment to befall Jerusalem in the days of Ezekiel. “It is an echo of Ezekiel Eze. 5:1-12, where the prophet was required to shave his hair from his head, divide it into three parts, and conduct a symbolic action upon each part. He was told by God ‘This is Jerusalem’ (Eze. Eze. 5:5). One third of the hair was burned, another third was to be chopped up with a sword, and the remaining third was to be scattered into the wind. This symbolized the fate of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.: some were to be burned inside the city, some would be slain by the swords of the Babylonians, and the rest would be scattered among the nations. That which happened in 586 B.C. happened again in A.D. 70. The dividing of the city into three parts symbolizes that fact.”—Steve Gregg, Revelation Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 392. No statistics from the A.D. 70 destruction are given in support of this claim.

3 Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), 307.

4 John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2000), Rev. 16:19.

5 Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), Rev. 16:19.

6 Barnhouse, Revelation, 308.

7 As we noted elsewhere, a striking parallel to the 70th Week of Daniel during which another Beast prevails.

8 Barnhouse, Revelation, 308-309.

Read Revelation 16:19