Question: "What does God mean when He says, "Come out of her" in Revelation 18:4?"
Answer: In Revelation 18 John records a vision of a mighty angel descending from heaven to announce the fall of Babylon the Great. This evil world system, associated with the Antichrist of the end times, is pictured as a prostitute committing fornication with the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:1–2). The “whore of Babylon” or “mystery Babylon” makes war against the true saints of God (verse 6) and is best interpreted as an ungodly, end-times religious system.
The command to “come out of her” in Revelation 18:4 is a warning to God’s people to escape the judgment that is to come upon Babylon the Great. The false religious system had her time of influence, when “the kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries” (verse 3). But she is the subject of God’s wrath, and she will be judged: “Her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes” (verse 5). She will suffer a quick demise: “In one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire” (verse 8), and “the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again” (verse 21).
God calls His people during the tribulation to disassociate from Babylon the Great. They must “come out of her” (Revelation 18:4). Have nothing to do with the false religion of the Antichrist. Separate from that system and its sinfulness; have no fellowship with her. Do not commit spiritual adultery. To “come out of her” is to withdraw from her activities, to refuse her luxuries, and to condemn her sinful plans.
To “come out of her” is to follow the path of liberty and safety. The voice from heaven that commands the separation from Babylon also gives the reason for the command: “‘Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4). To share in the sin is to share in the guilt. God wants His people to maintain their purity and to be free from judgment.
The command to “come out of her” in Revelation 18:4 finds a counterpart in history. In the end times, God’s people are told to separate from spiritual Babylon, but in the Old Testament, they were to separate from physical Babylon. Israel had been held captive in Babylon for seventy years, and when it was time to return home to Jerusalem, God told them to flee: “Flee from Babylon! Run for your lives! Do not be destroyed because of her sins. It is time for the LORD's vengeance; he will repay her what she deserves. . . . She cannot be healed; let us leave her and each go to our own land, for her judgment reaches to the skies, it rises as high as the heavens. . . . Come out of her, my people! Run for your lives! Run from the fierce anger of the LORD” (Jeremiah 51:6, 9, 45; cf. Isaiah 52:11 and Jeremiah 50:8).
In times of judgment, God separates His people from those being judged. Abraham pointed out this truth in his conversation with the Lord before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you!” (Genesis 18:25). When God judged the Egyptians with the plagues, He made a distinction between His people and those being judged (Exodus 8:22–23; 9:4–6, 26; 10:23; 11:7).
In a foreshadowing of the New Testament command to “come out of her,” Moses commanded the Israelites to separate themselves from the family of Korah. Just before God’s judgment of the rebels, Moses “warned the assembly, ‘Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of all their sins.’ So they moved away from the tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram” (Numbers 16:26–27). Immediately following, the earth opened up and swallowed Korah and the other rebels alive (verses 31–33).
Christians today are told, in essence, to “come out of her”; that is, to separate themselves from the wickedness of the world: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. . . . Therefore, ‘Come out from them and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you’” (2 Corinthians 6:14–17).
During the tribulation, when the people of the world see the destruction of Babylon the Great, they will mourn the loss of their source of riches and pleasure (Revelation 18:9, 15, 19). But those who have come out of her and who had been persecuted by her will celebrate:
“Rejoice over her, you heavens!
Rejoice, you people of God!
Rejoice, apostles and prophets!
For God has judged her
with the judgment she imposed on you” (verse 20).