Babylon is the false religion that drives the evil trinity against God.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

The purpose of the current article is to explain the relationship between Babylon and Revelation’s evil trinity: the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.  This article will show that Babylon exists always and everywhere, while the evil trinity are specific human organizations or movements that come into existence at specific points in time.

This is an article in the series on the identity of the Harlot of Revelation. Other articles have shown that:

Babylon is false religion and her merchants are her false prophets.

Her name is Babylon, but she is not the reconstructed ancient city of Babylon.

SUMMARY

BABYLON ALWAYS EXISTED WORLD-WIDE

Babylon always existed and is world-wide because she is:

      • The mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth,”
      • Guilty of the death of all of God’s people who have been slain for their faith,
      • Intoxicates all peoples of the world,
      • Reigns over the kings of the earth,
      • Reigns over all seven heads of the beast, symbolizing seven phases of human existence from the 6th century BC to the Return of Christ,

BABYLON IS PART OF THE EVIL TRINITY.

Babylon is, somehow, related to the evil trinity; the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.  These three are described as the enemies of God’s end-time people, but Revelation later devotes more than two chapters (16:19-19:3) to explain who Babylon is. The point is that, although Babylon is not mentioned as one of the characters in the end-time crisis, she is the driving force behind the evil trinity. Specific indication of this includes the following:

    • Revelation 12 to 14 describes how the evil trinity persecutes God’s people but then three angels proclaim, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.”
    • In the sixth plague, the evil trinity calls on fallen angels to gather together the kings of the world at Armageddon but in the next plague, Babylon receives “the wine of His fierce wrath.” 
    • The evil trinity kills God’s people but Babylon is guilty of their blood.
    • All four of these characters deceive the peoples of the world.

BABYLON IS FALSE RELIGION THAT
DRIVES THE EVIL TRINITY.

Babylon, therefore, is not something distinct from the evil trinity but part of it.  The question is, what is the relationship between Babylon and the other three characters?

While Babylon has always existed everywhere, the evil trinity consists of three specific human organizations or movements that come into existence at specific points in time.

Revelation 17 represents Babylon as sitting on a scarlet beast (17:3), identified as the kings of the world (17:18). As argued in another article, this symbolizes the general principle that false religion, in all ages, dominates the kingdoms of the world.  One example of this principle was when Christ was killed by the Romans on demand of false religion in the form of the rulers of Israel. This principle also applies to the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet:

The Dragon symbolizes the Roman Empire, dominated by false religion. In the first three centuries, emperor worship and other pagan religions encouraged the empire to persecute God’s people.

The Beast from the Sea has been identified as the 11th horn of Daniel 7, which has been identified as the church of the Middle Ages. The Church dominated the nations in the West and persecuted God’s people through the political powers.

FALSE PROPHET

The False Prophet will, in the end-time, convince the people of the world to make an Image of the Beast, which is a copy of the system during the Middle Ages, which is unity of church and state in such a way that false Christianity (the False Prophet) will dominate the political rulers of the western world and lead them to persecute God’s people.

– END OF SUMMARY –

ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE

This first part of this article discusses indications that Babylon always existed and that she is world-wide.

MOTHER OF HARLOTS

Babylon is:

The mother of harlots and
of the abominations of the earth
” (17:5).

In other words, she is the source of all the evil in the world today. Long before the time of Nebuchadnezzar, Moses identified certain practices as abominations (Lev. 7:18; 11 cf. Deut. 18:9-12). Since the Harlot is the mother of the abominations of the earth, she predates Moses. 

Since she is the “mother of harlots,” she has daughters who also are harlots.

BLOOD OF ALL PROPHETS

Another indication that Babylon exists always and everywhere is that she guilty of the death 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” (18:24; cf. 17:6; 19:2).

SITS ON MANY WATERS

Babylon sits on “many waters” (17:1).

The “many waters” are explained as “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev. 17:15). This four-fold phrase, consisting of four words that essentially have the same meaning (“peoples … multitudes … nations … tongues”), is used many times in Revelation and signifies that this includes all peoples of the world (e.g. 7:9; 10:11; 11:9). This is based on the principle that, in Revelation, the number 4 symbolizes the whole world (e.g. 7:1). This means that Babylon’s influence is worldwide:

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

Babylon, therefore, has a corrupting and intoxicating influence on the people of the world. They are unable to distinguish right from wrong. In his description of “the day of the Lord,” Paul wrote that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” It is being restrained but, in the end-time:

God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false” (2Thess. 2:1-11).

SITS ON THE BEAST

Babylon sits on the “many waters” (17:1) but she also sits “on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns” (17:3). Revelation 17:18 explains this symbol as that “the woman … reigns over the kings of the earth” (17:18):

The seven-headed beast, therefore, represents “the kings of the earth.

That she sits on (“reigns over”) them means that Babylon is the spiritual force that drives the Beast against God.

For the purpose of the current article, note that none of the kings of the world seems excluded. That also implies that she has always existed and is world-wide.

The kings of the earth have committed fornication” with her (17:2). This means that all the kings of the world have used religion to strengthen their power over the people; just as Babylon’s daughters (17:5) have agreed to support the civil authorities in exchange for physical protection.

SITS ON THE SEVEN HEADS

In addition to sitting on the “many waters” and on the beast, Babylon also sits on the seven heads of the beast (17:9). The article on the Seven Heads identifies these heads as the four beasts of Daniel plus the three phases of the 11th horn that grows out of Daniel’s fourth beast:

The four beasts in Daniel 7 are the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires.

The 11th horn in Daniel is symbolized in Revelation by the Beast that comes out of the sea (13{1), which will only be destroyed at the return of Christ (19:20).

Since the seven heads represent world empires from the 6th century BC to the Return of Christ, Babylon exists for all of that time.  She cannot, therefore, be limited to the Roman Church or even to the Christian church in general.

THE NUMBER SEVEN

Furthermore, in Revelation, just like the number four symbolizes geographical completeness, the number seven symbolizes temporal completeness. For example, the seven trumpets follow one after the other over time, with the last being the return of Christ. The same applies to the seven seals and the seven plagues.

In other words, the number seven means ‘always’ or ‘for the whole time’. From this perspective, the seven heads may also be understood as all the kingdoms of human history. Since Babylon sits on them, it means that she also exists for all of human history.  She cannot be limited to our time or some other specific time.

CONCLUSION

Babylon always existed and everywhere because she is:

      • The mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth,”
      • Guilty of the death of all of God’s people who died for their faith,
      • Intoxicates all peoples of the world,
      • Reigns over the kings of the earth,
      • Reigns over all seven heads of the beast, symbolizing world empires from the 6th century BC to the Return of Christ,

PART OF THE EVIL TRINITY

This second part of this article shows that Babylon is, somehow, related to the evil trinity; the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet. The last part of the article will explain what that relationship is.

Revelation describes God’s end-time enemies as the trinity consisting of:

      • The Dragon (12:3),
      • The Beast (from the Sea – 13:1) and
      • The False Prophet (the Beast from the Earth – 13:11).

These three work as a unit:

The Sea Beast receives his “power and his throne and great authority” from the Dragon (13:2) and makes the world to worship the dragon (13:4).

The Earth Beast (the False Prophet – 19:20) “makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast” (13:12).

Through miracles, the Earth Beast deceives the people “to make an image to the beast” (13:14). This “image” is not a separate fourth organization but is the revived Sea Beast after it recovers from its deadly wound. It is then this Image that persecutes God’s people in the end-time (13:15).

These three are described as the enemies of God’s end-time people, but Revelation later devotes more than two chapters (16:19-19:3) to Babylon’s judgment. The point is that, although Babylon is not mentioned as one of the characters in the end-time crisis, she is the driving force behind the scenes.

REVELATION 12 TO 14

We see this in Revelation 12 to 14. Revelation 12 and 13 describe the end-time persecution of God’s people. They mention the evil trinity but there is no mention of Babylon. In Revelation 14, three angels warn against the evil trinity (14:9). They, therefore, give their message while the Image of the Beast is putting the mark of the beast on people (13:16). But, even though Babylon is not mentioned in chapters 12 and 13, the second of the three angels proclaim, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great” (14:8).

BABYLON’S PLAGUES

Similarly, in the sixth plague, the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet call on the assistance of fallen angels to gather the kings of the world at Armageddon (16:13-16). But in the next and final plague, “Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath” (16:19).  This is another surprise mention because she was not mentioned in any of the previous plagues.

BLOOD OF THE SAINTS

A further indication that Babylon is the driving force behind the evil trinity is that, while the evil trinity persecutes God’s people (e.g. 12:17; 13:7; 13:15), Babylon is guilty of their blood (18:24).

DECEIVES THE NATIONS

A fourth indication that Babylon is part of the Dragon, Beast and False Prophet is that all four of these characters them deceive the peoples of the world:

    • The dragon “deceives the whole world” (12:9).
    • The “whole earth was amazed and followed after the beast (from the sea)” (13:3).
    • The false prophet “deceives those who dwell on the earth” (13:14).
    • Babylon makes the nations “drunk” with “the wine of her immorality” (14:8; 17:2).

THE HARLOT REIGNS OVER THE BEAST.

It is, therefore, clear that Babylon is not something distinct from the evil trinity. Somehow, it is part of the evil trinity.  The question is, what is the relationship between Babylon and the other three characters?

SPECIFIC HUMAN ORGANIZATIONS

While Babylon has always existed everywhere, the evil trinity consists of three specific human organizations or movements that come into existence at specific points in time:

The article – The Seven-Headed Beasts – identifies the Dragon of Revelation 12:3 as the Roman Empire.

The same article identifies the Sea Beast as the 11th horn of Daniel 7. It is a specific entity that comes into existence when it arises out of the sea (13:1).

The False Prophet also comes out of the Earth at a specific point in time (compare 13:11-14 to 19:20).

Babylon, because she always existed, predates them all.  Revelation 17 represents Babylon as sitting on a scarlet beast (17:3), identified as the kings of the world (17:18). As argued in another article, this symbolizes the general principle that false religion, in all ages, dominates the kingdoms of the world.

ROMAN EMPIRE

As stated above, the Dragon, when it has seven heads and ten horns (12:3), symbolizes the Roman Empire. That Empire consisted of two parts:

The political rulers, and

False religion that drove the empire to persecute God’s people.  In the first three centuries, emperor worship and other pagan religions encouraged the empire to persecute God’s people. Later, in the fourth century, after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the emperor appointed the bishops and they were accountable to him. Christianity then slowly evolved and began to take on the nature of the Roman Empire. 

CHRISTIAN CHURCH OF THE MIDDLE AGES

The Beast from the Sea has been identified as the 11th horn of Daniel 7, which has been identified as the church of the Middle Ages. After the Western Roman Empire divided into the kingdoms of early Europe in the fifth century, the Christian Church remained behind as the remnant of the Roman Empire. It eventually, during the High Middle Ages, dominated the nations in the West. The factors that contributed to its dominance include the following:

Its strong organization and administration, compared to the weak systems of the ‘barbarian’ nations of Western Europe.

Initially, it was opposed theologically by the Arian nations that assumed control of Europe in the fifth century, but Justinian conquered the major Arian nations in the sixth century.

Justinian was followed by the Byzantine Empire, during which the Eastern Emperor effectively ruled the nations in the west through the Church.

In the High Middle Ages, the Pope dominated the kingdoms of Europe and persecuted God’s people through the political powers. Several articles on this website explain that history.  See, for example, the Catholic Church authorized the massacres of the Waldensians. The partnership between church and state during the Middle Ages was one example of the general principle on the woman (false religion) sitting on (reigning over) the beast (the kings of the world) (17:3, 18). 

Another example of this principle was when Christ was killed by the Romans on demand of false religion in the form of the rulers of Israel.

That the Christian Church of the Middle Ages was a form of false religion does not refer to specific doctrines, but the proud and arrogant spirit of persecution; completely dissimilar to that of the humble Servant (Phil. 2). 

However, certain doctrines promote this proud and cruel spirit. Some doctrines present God as a cruel tyrant. For example, the doctrine of an eternally burning hell, and the doctrine that God unilaterally decides who should be saved and who will go to hell. Such doctrines affect the people that hold such views, for people become like their gods. 

IMAGE OF THE BEAST

The Renaissance, the Reformation, and the resultant world view of religious freedom in the Western World made an end to the persecution of God’s people during the Middle Ages.  But the Bible predicts that, in the end-time, the fatal wound of the Beast will be healed. The False Prophet will be allowed to convince the people of the world to make an image of the Beast. This will be a copy of the Beast; a copy of the system during the Middle Ages, which is unity of church and state in such a way that false Christianity will dominate the political rulers of the western world and lead them to persecute God’s people. The spirit of Babylon, lurking in all people, will once again be allowed to use Christianity to oppose God.

As a general principle, any time that we see Christians persecuting other Christians, then the persecuting Christian body is doing the work of the antichrist. The clearest characteristic of the Beast-power is that it persecutes God’s people. The Beast is not identified by one or other doctrine. It is identified by Satan’s character, which is to intimidate and a complete lack of humility. Persecution takes many different forms. Emotional persecution can sometimes be worse than physical persecution.

THE REAL ENEMY

To return to the structure of the book of Revelation: Through Daniel’s prophecies and the earlier parts of Revelation, God informs us of the specific empires and movements that will dominate His people on earth. But in chapters 17 and 18, God draws the curtains a bit wider open to allow us to see the real culprit as the false religion that has always existed and always dominated the civil and political rulers of this world to direct them against God and against His people.  Babylon does not represent a specific entity that is limited to one specific time or place.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

Babylon always existed and is world-wide.

Babylon sitting on the scarlet beast (17:3) symbolizes the general principle that false religion, in all ages, dominates the kingdoms of the world. 

While Babylon has always existed everywhere, the evil trinity (the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet) consists of three specific human organizations that come into existence at specific points in time.

Although Babylon is not mentioned as one of the characters in the end-time crisis, she is the driving force behind the evil trinity.  

AVAILABLE ARTICLES ON REVELATION

INTRODUCTORY
   Why is the title of this website Revelation BY Jesus Christ?
   Are events described in chronological sequence? 
   Is a consistently literal interpretation appropriate?
   Does Revelation present Jesus as God?
   God’s throne – the center of the universe.
BABYLON
   Babylon; the mother of harlots
   Babylon’s merchants are her false prophets.
   Babylon is not the reconstructed ancient city of Babylon.
   How does Babylon relate to the beast?
SEVEN-HEADED BEASTS
   The Seven-Headed Beasts of Revelation
   The three beasts are three of the seven heads.
   The Seven Heads Identified
REVELATION 13
    13:1-2 – The Beast relates to Daniel 7.
   13:3-4 – The fatal wound
   The identity of the beast
SEVEN SEALS
   Introduction to the Seven Seals – What book is this?
   Seven seals explained
   Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?
SEVEN PLAGUES
   The Plagues of Revelation – 16 articles

For further reading, Jon Paulien’s commentary is recommended. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

 

Her name is Babylon, but she is not the Ancient Babylon.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

ANCIENT BABYLON

This is an article in the series on the identity of the Harlot of Revelation:

On her forehead a name was written, a mystery, ‘Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots’” (17:5).

A common interpretation of “Babylon the Great” among literal interpreters is that it refers to ancient Babylon that will be rebuilt on the literal Euphrates River, to become the literal political and commercial capital of the world. The current article discusses various arguments for and against this proposal. To do this, we have to ask, why is she called “Babylon?” What is the significance of that name?

SUMMARY

BABEL – CONFUSION

Babel” was one of the cities in Nimrod’s kingdom (Genesis 10). God commanded the people, “Fill the earth,” but the people refused. They said, “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.” To force people away from the city, God gave them different languages. Because of the confusion which this caused, the city was called Babel, which means confusion.

ANCIENT BABYLON – JERUSALEM’S ENEMY

Babel later became Babylon, located on the banks of the Euphrates River in current Iraq. Babylon invaded Judea, destroyed Jerusalem and its temple, deported Judah’s king and took the people hostage. Babylon took the land away that God gave to His people. Because it is the main enemy of God’s people in the Old Testament, Babylon is mentioned 260 times in the Scriptures; second only to Jerusalem.

REVELATION USES OLD TESTAMENT LANGUAGE.

Revelation uses Old Testament language to describe end-time Babylon. For example, in both the Old Testament and in Revelation:

Babylon sits on “many waters.”

The destruction of ancient Babylon is predicted to be sudden, complete, and with fire.

Due to the similarity of the language, literal interpreters argue that end-time Babylon will be a literal city. However, for the following reasons, the use of Old Testament language to describe end-time Babylon does not prove that it will be a literal city:

1. Revelation also uses language from another mighty Old Testament city (Tyre) to describe end-time Babylon.

2. Revelation changes the meaning of the language it borrows from the Old Testament. For example, the “many waters” on which ancient Babylon sat was the Euphrates. But the “many waters” on which end-time Babylon sits are explicitly defined as the peoples of the world (17:15).

3. Since the Babylon of the Old Testament was built on the banks of the Euphrates, and since the Euphrates becomes a symbol in Revelation, it follows that Babylon must also become a symbol.

4. If the Babylon of Revelation is a literal city, then the Jerusalem of Revelation should also be a literal city, but the New Jerusalem is a symbol of God’s people.

5. Babylon is “the great city,” but “the great city” is also called Sodom and Egypt (11:18). The name “Egypt” identifies it as the enemy of God’s people. The name “Sodom” signifies its morally “fallen” condition.

In other words, PLACE NAMES COMMUNICATES QUALITIES. Revelation borrows the name and description of Jerusalem’s great Old Testament enemy but uses it as symbols for the enemy of God’s people all over the world and for all time.

UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES

A further justification for a literal end-time city is that many Old Testament prophecies of the destruction of Babylon have not been fulfilled.

This is true. Ancient Babylon ‘fell’ numerous times at the hands of different invaders, but it never suffered anything like the predicted complete destruction. The land around her did not become des­olate but continued to be populated and fertile.  There was no disturbance in the sun or moon, nor did universal peace follow.

That, however, is consistent with the dual nature of Old Testament prophecies. They combine end-time events with major events in the near future of the prophet. Only in hindsight are we able to distinguish between these events. The Old Testament prophecies of the fall of Babylon, therefore, apply both to the historical fall of ancient Babylon and the end-time destruction of the age-old and world-wide enemy of God’s people.

This fact confirms that literal Babylon will NOT be rebuilt, for it means that the city has already been destroyed as predicted, and those same predictions teach that it will never be rebuilt.

A SYMBOL EXPLAINING A SYMBOL.

Revelation 17:18 explains the harlot as the “great city.” Literal interpreters argue that the “great city” must be understood literally; otherwise we should have the anomaly of a symbol explaining another symbol. However, Revelation frequently explains symbols with other symbols. For example:

      • The seven heads are seven mountains (17:9),
      • The beast is an eight head or mountain (17:11) and
      • Jesus is both a lion and a lamb (5:5, 6).

Revelation, therefore, often use more than one symbol for the same reality.   In the same way, in 17:18, the harlot and the “great city” are two symbols for the world-wide resistance to the truth of God.

ANCIENT BABYLON IS TOO YOUNG.

The Babylon of Revelation exists throughout history (e.g. 17:5; 18:24). It follows that the literal Babylon of the Old Testament is too young to be the Babylon of Revelation.

– END OF SUMMARY –

BABEL – CITY OF CONFUSION

Babylon is found first 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 and … in the land of Shinar” (Gen. 10:8-10).

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

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

But Shinar defied this command. They said:

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).

This was the first recorded attempt to unite the world against God. At the end of time, the kings of the world will again unite at Armageddon (16:16) “for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14).

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

ANCIENT BABYLON – JERUSALEM’S ENEMY.

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. 

To the Jews, Babylon was where they were exiled to under Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 29:1), who invaded their land, destroyed their city Jerusalem and its temple, and deported Judah’s king. After this point in history, there has not been a king from the line of David on the throne of David in Jerusalem. So, historically, we see that Babylon begins as the place of man’s rebellion against God. But eventually, it took the land away that God promised to His people; the Israelites.

Babylon is mentioned 260 times in Scripture; second only to Jerusalem. These two cities are always seen in opposition to each other.  Babel has become Babylon; the main enemy of God’s people Israel in the Old Testament.

TO DESCRIBE BABYLON,
REVELATION USES OLD TESTAMENT LANGUAGE.

One argument, which literal interpreters use to support the proposal that end-time Babylon will be a literal city, is that Revelation uses Old Testament language to describe Babylon.

EXAMPLES OF OLD TESTAMENT LANGUAGE

Revelation 17 and 18 frequently use terminology from the Old Testament (Jeremiah 50-51 and Isaiah 47) to describe end-time Babylon. In both the OT and in Revelation, Babylon:

      • Dwells on “many waters” (Jer. 51:13; Rev. 17:1, see also Ps. 137:1);
      • Boasts that she sits “as queen and am no widow, and will not see sorrow” (Rev. 18:7; Isa. 47:7-9);
      • Commits much sorcery and spells (Rev 18:23; Isa 47:7-9);
      • Has something in a gold cup that makes the people of the world drunk (Jer. 51:7; Rev. 17:3-4; 18:6); and
      • Is suddenly destroyed, on a single day (Jer. 51:8; Rev. 18:8; Jer. 51:30; Isa 47:7-9) by fire (Jer. 51:30; Rev. 17:16; 18:8), finally (Jer. 50:39; Rev. 18:21), and deservedly (Jer. 51:63-64; Rev. 18:21).

As another example of the use of Old Testament language to describe Babylon, an angel takes up a stone and throws it into the sea, saying,

Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore” (Rev. 18:21).

This is an intentional allusion to something which Jeremiah instructed his assistant to do, namely to read the book, that predicts the destruction of literal Babylon, before all the people and then:

You shall tie a stone to it and throw it out into the Euphrates. Then you shall say, ‘Thus Babylon shall sink and not rise from the catastrophe that I will bring upon her” (Jer. 51:59-64).

DESTRUCTIONS ARE SIMILAR

Literal interpreters also point out that the Old Testament predictions of the destruction of literal Babylon are similar to Revelation’s description of the destruction of end-time Babylon:

      • Sudden (“in one day” [18:8, 17]);
      • Complete (18:21) and
      • With fire (Rev. 18:18; 16:17‑21).

They, therefore, argue that the same destruction-event is in view in both the Old Testament and in Revelation. 

END-TIME BABYLON WILL NOT BE A LITERAL CITY.

However, the use of Old Testament language to describe end-time Babylon does not prove that it will be a literal city on the banks of the Euphrates, for the following reasons:

TYRE ALSO BECOMES A SYMBOL FOR BABYLON.

Firstly, Revelation also uses language from another mighty Old Testament city—Tyre—to describe end-time Babylon. 

For examples, both Tyre and Revelation’s Babylon:

    • Are women with daughters (Ezekiel 26:6; Rev. 17:5);
    • Are wealthy (Ezek. 27:12, 18; Rev. 18:12, 13);
    • Support trade via ships (Ezek. 27:9; Rev 18:19); and
    • Enrich others by their wealth (Ezek. 27:33; Rev 18:19).

And both Tyre and Revelation’s Babylon will:

    • Have their music silenced (Ezekiel 26:13; Rev 18:22).
    • Cease to be forever (Ezek. 27:36; Rev 18:21).
    • Be lamented by the princes of the sea (Ezekiel 26:16; Rev 18:17-19), who will cast dust on their heads (Ezek. 27:30; Rev 18:19) and say, “who is like” this city (Ezek. 27:32; Rev 18:18).

This supports the view that the descriptions should be interpreted symbolically.

REVELATION CHANGES THE MEANING.

Secondly, Revelation changes the meaning of the language it borrows from the Old Testament. For example:

1. In the Old Testament, literal Babylon “dwell by many waters” (Jer. 51:13) for it was built on the banks of the literal Euphrates River. In Revelation, Babylon also “sits on many waters” (17:1), but now the “many waters” are used as a symbol for the peoples of the world (17:15).

2. In the Old Testament, “sitting” simply meant that Babylon was built on the banks of the river, which supported life in the city. In contrast, in Revelation, “sitting on” signifies Babylon’s influence over the people, namely, Those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality” (17:2; cf. 14:8; 18:3).

3. When the Old Testament said that Babylon “is fallen,” it meant that it will surely physically fall. Revelation uses the same phrase to indicate that Babylon has already fallen spiritually because it “has become” a prison of evil spirits (18:2).

4. In Jeremiah 51, Babylon is a gold cup in God’s hands. Revelation changes this symbol to a gold cup in Babylon’s hands, “full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality” (17:4).

Since the language borrowed from the OT changes in meaning, it must be interpreted symbolically. Revelation borrows the name and description of Jerusalem’s Old Testament enemy but uses it as symbols for the enemy of God’s people all over the world and for all time.

JERUSALEM BECOMES A SYMBOL.

Thirdly, if the Babylon of Revelation is a literal city on the banks of the literal Euphrates River because it has that meaning in the OT, then the Jerusalem of Revelation should also be the literal Jerusalem in Judea, for these two cities are the two great enemies; both in the Old Testament and in Revelation. But the New Jerusalem in Revelation includes all of God’s people; from both the Old and New Testaments (21:9, 10, 12, 14).

PLACE NAMES COMMUNICATE QUALITIES.

Another justification proposed for the view of end-time Babylon will be a literal city is that the names of places have their literal significance in the letters to the seven churches (1:9; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14) and the writer of Revelation is very clear to point it out when he intends a figurative meaning, for example, as in 11:8:

The great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt.”

The great city,” elsewhere, always refers to Babylon (17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21, and 16:19). Revelation 11:18, therefore, refers to Babylon as Sodom and Egypt:

Egypt” was not a city, but a nation. Babylon and Egypt were Jerusalem’s two great enemies in the Old Testament. It is for that reason that Revelation uses these names for the enemy of God’s people for all times and places: In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24).

Sodom” was a city of ill repute. This name emphasizes the morally “fallen” condition of this enemy of God: All the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her” (18:3).

Names in Revelation, therefore, communicate certain qualities. We should not interpret these names literally as referring to a literal end-time city on the site of ancient Babylon.

THE EUPHRATES BECOMES A SYMBOL. 

Literal interpreters also assume that the mention of the Euphrates River, in conjunction with Babylon, means that a physical city is in view. 

However, it actually proves that Babylon must be understood symbolically, for Revelation explicitly redefines the Euphrates as the peoples of the world (17:15).  The Euphrates is Babylon’s river.  It is not possible to separate Babylon from the Euphrates because the Babylon of the Old Testament was built on the banks of the Euphrates.  Since the Euphrates becomes a symbol in Revelation, then it follows that Babylon must also be a symbol.

UNFULFILLED PROPHECIES

A further justification for the view that end-time Babylon will be a literal city, is that many prophecies of the destruction of ancient Babylon in the Old Testament have not been fulfilled.

PROPHECIES OF THE DESTRUCTION OF BABYLON

In these prophecies, Babylon will be destroyed physically, suddenly, violently, literally, completely, and permanently through catastrophes, as was the case in Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa. 13:1, 19‑22; 14, 47; Jer. 50:35, 39‑40 51:8, 24‑26).  It would become an uninhabitable wasteland.  Her walls will be completely destroyed and her gates burned with fire.  There will be nothing left of her, no person shall ever reside there, “nor will the Arabian pitch tents there, nor will the shepherds make their sheepfolds there” (Is. 13:19-20).   It “shall be wholly desolate” (Jer. 50:13).  “The wild desert beasts shall dwell there with the jackals” (Jer. 50:39-40). This destruction will come in the “Day of the Lord” (Is. 13:6‑11; 13:1; 14:1‑3; Jer. 50:1‑6).  Then there will be a disturbance in the sun and moon (Isa. 13:10). There-after, “the whole earth is at rest and is quiet; They break forth into shouts of joy” (Is. 14:7).

CYRUS CONQUERED THE CITY IN 539 BC.

These prophecies have never been fulfilled as they were stated.  On the night that Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain and the city came under the control of Cyrus, king of the Medes and Persians, there was no large-scale attack upon the city.  In fact, many within the city were not even aware, for quite some time afterward, that the city had been taken.  Cyrus diverted the waters of the Euphrates and by night entered the city through the dried-up channel. This allowed armed forces to wade under her defenses without much of a fight.

SLOW DECAY OVER MANY YEARS

After Babylon fell on October 12, 539 B.C. to Cyrus of Persia, the city slowly decayed due to competition and neglect.  Xerxes plundered it.  Even when Greece, the great leopard beast of Daniel’s night vision, came in the form of the empire of Alexander the Great, the city was not destroyed.  Alexander marched to Babylon on Oct. 1, 331 BC, and the Persian garrison offered no opposition.  After Alexander, the city was ruled by the Seleucid kingdom during which Babylon’s economy declined sharply due to competition with the new capital at Seleucia on the Tigris (274 B.C.).  Although the city still stood when Roman emperor Trajan entered it in AD 115, by about AD 200 the site of the city was deserted.  Babylon soon became a desert.

CONCLUSION

Ancient Babylon ‘fell’ numerous times at the hands of different invaders, but it never suffered anything like the predicted complete destruction.  The land around her did not become des­olate but continued to be populated and fertile.  There was no disturbance in the sun or moon, nor did universal peace follow.

That, however, is consistent with the dual nature of Old Testament prophecies:

God, for example, through Joel, said, “I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind … The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes … When I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem” (2:28-3:1).

This prediction, therefore, promised both that Jerusalem would be restored and that the Holy Spirit would be poured out. Only in hindsight are we able to distinguish between these events.

Jesus, similarly, in Matthew 24, predicted both the fall of Rome and the end of the world. Again, it is only in hindsight that we are able to distinguish between the two events. 

The Old Testament prophecies of the fall of Babylon, therefore, apply both to the historical fall of ancient Babylon and the end-time destruction of the age-old and world-wide enemy of God’s people.

In general, these prophecies combined end-time events with major events in the near future. This fact confirms that ancient Babylon will NOT be rebuilt, for it means that the city has already been destroyed as predicted, and those same predictions teach that it will never be rebuilt.

ONE SYMBOL EXPLAINS ANOTHER SYMBOL.

Still another argument which literal interpreters use for a literal end-time city is that Babylon is explained as “the great city” (17:18), and if that is not a literal city, then one symbol (great city) explains another (Babylon). However, Revelation frequently explains symbols with other symbols.

The seven heads are seven mountains (17:9).

The beast is an eight head or mountain (17:11).

The seven lamps are “the seven Spirits of God” (4:5).  “Seven,” here, is not literal, because God does not literally have seven Spirits.  The number “seven” means that God’s Spirit is ALWAYS present.

The seven stars are “the angels of the seven churches” (1:20). These cannot be literal angels, for Jesus accuses them of sin, for example, “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (3:1).

The seven lampstands are the seven churches (1:20), but these churches also represent all churches of history, as discussed elsewhere.

The innumerable multitude is the people that have washed their clothes in the blood of Jesus (7:14).

The two witnesses are “two olive trees and the two lampstands” (11:4) that kill their enemies with fire from “their mouth” (11:5).

The 144000 are those that did not defile themselves with women (false churches) (14:4).

Revelation, therefore, often use more than one symbol for the same reality. Jesus is both a lion and a lamb (5:5, 6) and the beast from the earth is also “the false prophet” (13:12-13; 19:20).  In the same way, in 17:18, the harlot and the “great city” are two symbols for the world-wide resistance to the truth of God.

ANCIENT BABYLON IS TOO YOUNG.

Another article in this series shows that the Babylon of Revelation exists throughout history (e.g. 17:5; 18:24). It follows that the ancient Babylon of the Old Testament is too young to be the Babylon of Revelation. 

Some literal interpreters defend this point by saying Babylon is actually the false system of worship which originated in Nimrod’s days.  If that is the argument, then the name Babylon means the persisting influence that false religion on the kingdoms of the world. In that case, “Babylon” no longer means what it meant in the Old Testament, but has become a symbol for that false religion.  If Babylon exists for all human history in the form of that religious influence, why does it have to be rebuilt? By the way, more recent research disputes the truth of the Semiramis and Tammuz religion.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

The Babylon of the Book of Revelation is not a literal city.

Revelation uses names and events from the Old Testament to describe end-time events by means of symbols. In the process, the meaning of the names and events changes. Place names communicates qualities. 

Revelation borrows the name and description of Jerusalem’s Old Testament enemy but uses it as symbols for the enemy of God’s people all over the world and for all time.

Many OT prophecies of the destruction of Babylon have not been fulfilled. This is due to the dual nature of Old Testament prophecies. They combine end-time events with major events in the near future of the prophet.

Revelation frequently explains symbols with other symbols.

AVAILABLE ARTICLES ON REVELATION

INTRODUCTORY
   Why is the title of this website Revelation BY Jesus Christ?
   Are events described in chronological sequence? 
   Is a consistently literal interpretation appropriate?
   Does Revelation present Jesus as God?
   God’s throne – the center of the universe.
BABYLON
   Babylon; the mother of harlots
   Babylon’s merchants are her false prophets.
   Babylon is not the reconstructed ancient city of Babylon.
   How does Babylon relate to the beast?
SEVEN-HEADED BEASTS
   The Seven-Headed Beasts of Revelation
   The three beasts are three of the seven heads.
   The Seven Heads Identified
REVELATION 13
   13:1-2 – The Beast relates to Daniel 7.
   13:3-4 – The fatal wound
   The identity of the beast
SEVEN SEALS
   Introduction to the Seven Seals – What book is this?
   Seven seals explained
   Does the seventh seal include the seven trumpets?
SEVEN PLAGUES
   The Plagues of Revelation – 16 articles

For further reading, Jon Paulien’s commentary is recommended. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.