Babylon the great strives to unite the world against God.

Summary

Babylon the great” is briefly mentioned in Revelation 14:8 and 16:19 but Revelation 17 and 18 explains her in much more detail. The purpose of the current article series is to identify her. This first article discusses some general characteristics. Subsequent articles will propose an identification and evaluate alternative theories of her identity.

Babylon unites the world against God.

Babylon is first found in Genesis where the people built a city and a tower, “otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4). But God scattered them by giving them different languages (Gen 11:7), causing great confusion. Therefore, the city was called Babel, which means confusion.

Later, Babel became Babylon, located in current Iraq. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel, destroyed Jerusalem, and exiled the nation to Babylon (Jer 29:1). Babylon was the main enemy of God’s people Israel in the Old Testament.

Babel was the first recorded attempt to unite the world against God. Nebuchadnezzar attempted to reverse God’s action and unite the people by exiling nations to Babylon. Babylon, therefore, symbolizes the attempt to unite the world against God. The world’s final attempt to unite against God will be when they gather the rulers and their armies at Armageddon (Rev 16:14, 16; 19:19) “for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14).

Babylon corrupts the people.

Babylon “sits on many waters” (Rev 17:1). The “many waters” are “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev 17:15). That she sits on the people means that she exerts a corrupting and intoxicating influence on them (Rev 17:2; cf. 14:8; 18:3, 23).

Babylon is not another mighty world ruler.

She symbolizes something substantially different from the world rulers because:

She is a woman and the kings are men (Rev 17:18).

Her relationship with these men is described as immoral (Rev 17:2). The implication is that the expectation is that her relationship with the rulers would not be immoral, while relationships between the kings of this world is expected to be immoral. 

Babylon is worldwide.

For example, she sits on the “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev 17:1, 15), “ALL the nations have drunk of the wine … of her immorality” (Rev 18:3; cf. 14:8), and she is guilty of ALL deaths of God’s people who died for their faith (Rev 18:24 cf. Rev 17:6).

Babylon always exists.

For example, she guilty of the deaths of all of God’s people who died for their faith (Rev 18:24; cf. 17:6; 19:2), she is the “mother of harlots … of the earth” (Rev 17:5), and she sits on all seven heads of the beast (Rev 17:9), representing seven empires or ages from the time of the ancient prophet Daniel to the return of Christ.

The kings will consume her with fire.

The beast on which she sits “will burn her up with fire” (Rev 17:16-17). The same world rulers with whom she committed “acts of immorality” will turn on her and “burn her up with fire” (Rev 17:16). Babylon, therefore, is not some amorphous entity such as the power of money but symbolizes something specific that can be destroyed.

– END OF SUMMARY –


Purpose of this article

In Revelation, the name “Babylon the great” appears for the first time in Revelation 14:8, where the second angel declares:

Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,
she who has made all the nations drink
of the wine of the passion of her immorality
.”

Because she was not mentioned earlier in the book, this is a surprise mention. The second time that she is mentioned is in the seventh and final plague:

Babylon the great was remembered before God,
to give her
the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19).

This is also a surprise because she has not been mentioned at all in the previous plagues.

While Babylon the great is barely visible in the background of the previous chapters, the entire purpose of Revelation 17 and 18 is to explain her. Revelation 17 begins with the promise: “I will show you the judgment of the great harlot” (Rev 17:1) and then we are told that the name of this harlot is “BABYLON THE GREAT” (Rev 17:5).

The purpose of the current article series is to identify her. This first article discusses her general characteristics. Subsequent articles will propose an identification and evaluate various alternative theories of her identity.

To some extent, this article series assumes that the reader has already read the series of articles on Revelation 17.

Alternative Interpretations

Babylon the great, symbolized as a harlot woman (Rev 17:1) sitting on a scarlet beast (Rev 17:3) is variously interpreted:

    • Many Dispensationalists believe that Babylon is a LITERAL CITY that will dominate the nations of the world in the end-time. 
    • Others propose that Babylon is THE WORLD with its allure and resistance to God. 
    • In academic circles, where Revelation, generally, is not understood to be a prophecy of the future, Babylon is seen as a code name for the ancient ROMAN EMPIRE. 
    • Others interpret Babylon as RELIGION, or APOSTATE CHRISTIANITY, or ROMAN CATHOLICISM.

Babel – City of Confusion

Where does the name Babylon come from? Babylon is first found in Genesis 10. When Moses traces the descendants of Ham, he wrote:

Nimrod … became a mighty one on the earth …
the beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech …
in the land of Shinar” (Gen 10:8-10).

Genesis 11:3-4 records the rebellion of the people of Shinar against God. God commanded them to populate the whole world. He said to them:

Be fruitful and multiply,
and fill the earth‘” (Gen 9:1).

But the rulers desired control over the people. They defied God’s command and said:

Come, let us build for ourselves a city,
and a tower whose top will reach into heaven …
otherwise we will be scattered abroad
over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4).

In the time of Nimrod, to scatter the people around the world, God gave them different languages so that they would not be able to communicate with one another (Gen 11:7). That caused great confusion. Therefore, the city was called Babel, which means confusion.

The ancient city of Babylon

Babel later became Babylon, located in current Iraq, about 50 miles south of Baghdad on the Euphrates River.

Babylon’s greatest glory was during the time of the Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar; 600 years before Christ. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel, destroyed their city Jerusalem and its temple, and exiled the nation to Babylon (Jer 29:1). After this point in history, there has not been a king from the line of David on the throne of David in Jerusalem.

Babylon was the main enemy of God’s people Israel in the Old Testament. It is mentioned 260 times in Scripture; second only to Jerusalem and always in opposition to Jerusalem.  

Babylon unites the world against God.

Babel was the first recorded attempt to unite the world against God but God dispersed the people. However, strong-willed people always desire to control other people. Consistent with this principle, Nebuchadnezzar attempted to reverse God’s action and to again gather the people by exiling nations, including Israel, to Babylon (Jer 29:1). Babylon, therefore, symbolizes an attempt to unite the world against God.

The world’s final attempt to reverse the dispersion at Babel and to unite against God will be when they gather the rulers and their armies at Armageddon (Rev 16:14, 16; 19:19) “for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14).

Babylon corrupts the people.

Revelation 17 begins by saying that Babylon “sits on many waters” (Rev 17:1). Later, the angel explains the “many waters” as “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev 17:15). That means that Babylon is distinct from the peoples of the world.

Revelation 17:2 explains “sits on” as that “those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality” (Rev 17:2; cf. 14:8; 18:3, 23). In other words, she exerts a corrupting and intoxicating influence on the people of the world. She teaches them corrupting delusions. They are drunk, meaning unable to distinguish right from wrong.

Babylon is not another mighty world ruler.

Babylon the great makes the people “drunk with the wine of her immorality.” This is a one-way relationship: The people receive something from her but she receives nothing from them.

Compare this to her relationship with the kings:

John saw that she sits “on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns” (Rev 17:3). The angel explains this image as that “the woman … reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18). Consequently, the scarlet beast represents “the kings of the earth” (cf. Rev 17:9-10, 12) and Babylon reigns over them.

She commits “acts of immorality” with the world rulers (Rev 17:2), which implies a two-way relationship: She receives something from the kings and the kings receive something from her. This is like a partnership and is consistent with her description as a harlot (Rev 17:1)

Babylon is not just not another powerful world ruler. As indicated by the following, she symbolizes something substantially different from the world rulers

She reigns over the world rulers.

She is presented as a woman and the kings of the world as men (Rev 17:18).

Her relationship with these men is said to be immoral. Because the relationships between worldly kings are expected to be immoral, the implication is that the expectation is that her relationship with the rulers would not be immoral.

Babylon is worldwide.

The following indicates that Babylon’s corrupting influence is worldwide:

(1) Revelation uses four-fold phrases, similar to the “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev 17:15), several times (e.g. Rev 7:9; 10:11; 11:9; 13:7; 14:6). These phrases consist of four words that essentially have the same meaning to signify that something is worldwide. This is based on the principle that, in Revelation, the number four symbolizes the whole world (e.g. Rev 7:1). In other words, Babylon’s corrupting influence and immoral acts are worldwide.

(2) ALL the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality” (Rev 18:3; cf. 14:8).

(3) The kings of the earth have committed fornication” with her (Rev 17:2). None seems excluded.

(4) She is guilty of ALL deaths of God’s people who died for their faith (Rev 18:24 cf. Rev 17:6).

Babylon always exists.

There are a number of indications that Babylon always exists:

She guilty of the deaths of all of God’s people who died for their faith; from Abel onwards: “In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24; cf. 17:6; 19:2).

She is the “mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev 17:5). As such, she has daughters who also are harlots. Babylon, therefore, is the source of all the evil in the world today, which she passed on to her daughters. 

Babylon sits on the beast (Rev 17:3) but she also sits on all seven heads of the beast, which are seven consecutive “kings” (Rev 17:9-10). That means that Babylon exists during all seven heads. The article on the seven heads identifies them as seven empires or ages from the time of the prophet Daniel in the 6th century BC to the return of Christ. If Babylon exists from the time of ancient Babylon to the end of the world, she cannot be limited to the Roman Church or even to the Christian church in general.

Destroyed by kings

In the seventh plague, Babylon the great receives “the cup of the wine of His (God’s) fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19). Revelation 17 explains HOW God will pour out His wrath on the harlot:

The ten horns … and the beast,
these will hate the harlot and …
and will burn her up with fire.
For God has put it in their hearts
to execute His purpose
” (Rev 17:16-17).

In other words, God destroys Babylon during the seventh plague through the beast. The same world rulers with whom she committed “acts of immorality” will turn on her and “burn her up with fire” (Rev 17:16).

This implies that Babylon is something specific that can be destroyed. Some, for example, have proposed that Babylon symbolizes an amorphous entity such as the power of money or the world, but it is difficult to see how the people of the world could destroy such amorphous entities.

Final Conclusions

Babylon:

      • Symbolizes the attempt to unite the world against God.
      • Has a corrupting and intoxicating influence on the people of the world.
      • Is not another mighty world ruler.
      • Is worldwide.
      • Is not some amorphous entity such as the power of money but symbolizes something specific that can be destroyed.
      • Always exists.

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