Who is Babylon the great, the mother of harlots (Revelation 17:5)?

Purpose of this article

In Revelation chapters 12 to 16, God’s people are persecuted by a dragon (Rev 12:3), a beast from the sea (Rev 13:1; 17:3), a beast that comes out of the earth (Rev 13:11), and an image of the beast that kills people who do not accept the beast’s mark (Rev 13:15-16). Babylon the great is not mentioned, except briefly in Rev 14:8. But then, at the end of Revelation 16, Babylon has to drink the cup of God’s fierce wrath (Rev 16:19) and the entire Revelation 17 and 18 are devoted to her.

Revelation 17 symbolizes Babylon as a harlot woman sitting on a scarlet beast (Rev 17:1, 3, 5). The dragon wars with God’s people (Rev 12:17), the beast from the sea overcomes the saints (Rev 13:7), the beast from the earth deceives those who dwell on the earth with signs and wonders (Rev 13:13-14) and convinces the people to create the image of the beast that kills God’s people (Rev 13:14-16), but Revelation 17 and 18 reveal that it is really Babylon who kills God’s people:

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).

Alternative interpretations

Who is “Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots” (Rev 17:5) and how does she relate to the other beasts?

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 as ROMAN CATHOLICISM.

This article is a summary of a series of articles that discusses her characteristics, proposes an identification, and then evaluates alternative theories of her identity. The list of article is provided at the end of this article and links to these articles are also provided in the section headings.

Babylon’s General Characteristics

This section is a summary of the article, Babylon strives to unite the world against God. This article identifies certain general characteristics.

Babylon unites the world against God.

Babylon is first found in Genesis where the people, contrary to God’s command to “fill the earth” (Gen 9:1), 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 on the Euphrates River. King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel, destroyed Jerusalem, and exiled the nation to Babylon (Jer 29:1). As such, Babylon became the main enemy of God’s Old Testament people.

Babel was the first recorded attempt to unite the world against God. Baie years later, Nebuchadnezzar attempted to reverse God’s action and unite the people by exiling nations to Babylon. Babylon, therefore, symbolizes attempts 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 “for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (Rev 16:14, 16; 19:19).

Babylon intoxicates people.

The angel said that Babylon “sits on many waters” (Rev 17:1). The angel explained the “many waters” as “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (Rev 17:15). That she sits on the people means 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 an intoxicating influence on them, and the thinking of drunk people is confused.

Babylon is not another mighty world ruler.

The entity symbolized by Babylon is something substantially different from the world rulers because:

She is a woman and the kings are men, for example, “the woman whom you saw … reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18).

Her relationship with these men is described as immoral: “With whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality” (Rev 17:2). The implication is that her immoral relationship with the kings is a surprise and that we would expect her to have a moral relationship with the rulers; consistent with God’s will. This is in contrast with relationships between the kings of this world, where we would not be surprised to find immoral behavior.

Babylon, therefore, is not simply a mighty world ruler.

Babylon is worldwide and always exists.

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; 19:2).

That she always exists is also indicated by her description as the “mother of harlots … of the earth” (Rev 17:5), and that she sits on all seven heads of the beast (Rev 17:9), because these seven heads are the seven phases of the beast, representing seven empires or ages from the time of the ancient prophet Daniel to the return of Christ.

The kings will burn her up with fire.

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

Babylon the Great symbolizes a timeless principle.

This section is a summary of the article with the same title. The purpose here is to explain the relationship between Babylon and the dragon, the beast from the sea, the false prophet, and the image of the beast. 

She reigns over world rulers.

Babylon sits on a scarlet beast (Rev 17:3). In other words, she is distinct from this beast.

The scarlet beast has seven heads and ten horns. Both the heads and horns are explained as “kings” (Rev 17:9-10, 12). The seven heads are the seven phases of the beast and the ten horns symbolize an end-time coalition (Rev 17:12). The beast, therefore, is a composite symbol for the rulers of this world over time. Therefore, that she sits on them is explained as that she “reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18). She reigns over the kings during all seven phases and during the end-time coalition.

Babylon is part of the sea beast.

While, in Revelation 17, Babylon is distinct from the scarlet beast, she is part of the sea beast. To explain: As previously mentions, in Revelation 13, four entities oppose and persecute God’s people:

(1) The dragon,
(2) The beast from the sea,
(3) The beast from the earth – also called the false prophet (Rev 16:13, 19:20), and
(4) The image of the beast (Rev 13:1-2, 11, 14).

Although Babylon is not mentioned at all in Revelation 13, she must be part of these four entities because:

While they persecute God’s people, Babylon is guilty of their blood (Rev 18:24; 17:6).

The three angels (Rev 14:6-11) bring their warning messages during the crisis of Revelation 13 (compare Rev 14:9 to Rev 13:16) but they announce that Babylon is fallen (Rev 14:8).

During the seven last plagues (cf. Rev 15:1), the dragon, the sea beast, and the false prophet gather together the kings of the world (Rev 16:13-14), but then, surprisingly, Babylon is punished (Rev 16:19).

How does Babylon relate to the sea beast?

The question is, how does Babylon relate to the beast from the sea and the other entities in Revelation 13? This is explained as follows:

Specific organizations

Each of the four entities described in Revelation 13 is a specific organization that exists for a specific period:

The dragon, when it has seven heads and ten horns (Rev 12:3). is the Roman Empire.

The sea beast is the church of the Middle Ages. (The Roman Empire and the church of the Middle Ages are two of the beast’s heads. Actually, every time that we see a seven-headed beast in Revelation, we see one of the seven heads of the beast.)

The false prophet comes into existence when it comes out of the earth and the image of the beast comes alive when the false prophet gives breath to it (Rev 13:15).

Timeless principle

In contrast, as discussed above, Babylon and her beast always exist. That Babylon sits on the scarlet beast (Rev 17:3) is explained as that: “The woman … reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18). Since Babylon (and, therefore, her beast) always exists, this is A TIMELESS PRINCIPLE. The dragon, the beast, the false prophet, and the image of the beast are specific instances of the Babylonian principle:

For example, the beast from the sea has been identified as the church of the Middle Ages. But Revelation 17 reveals that that beast consisted of two parts: The kings of the world and false Christianity (the harlot) which dominated them, using them to silence her opponents.

The Babylonian principle also applied to the Roman Empire. In those centuries, Babylon (false religion) took the form of emperor worship and other pagan religions which encouraged the empire to persecute God’s people.

The next section identifies Babylon as false religion. The vision of Babylon sitting on the beast, therefore, symbolizes how religion has always dominated the civil authorities so that she could force people to accept her doctrines.

End-time Babylon is false Christianity.

This section is a summary of the article that identifies Babylon as false religion, with the emphasis on false Christianity. This conclusion is based on the following seven observations:

(1) Babylon is the counterfeit bride.

In Revelation, there are significant parallels between the bride of Christ (a symbol for God’s people) and Babylon.

    • Both are women but also as cities.
    • One of the plague angels show both to John by taking him in the Spirit somewhere else (Rev 17:1, 3, 18; 19:7-8; 21:9-11).

But, while the Lamb’s bride is clothed with “the righteous acts of the saints,” Babylon is “the great harlot” and the mother of “abominations” (Rev 19:7-8; 17:1, 5). The similarities imply that Babylon claims to be the bride of Christ but the differences show that Babylon is the very antithesis of the bride; and, therefore, the counterfeit bride of Christ.

(2) Babylon is a harlot.

This conclusion is supported by the identification of Babylon as a harlot (Rev 17:1, 5), because the Old Testament uses the symbol of the harlot for the people of God when they are unfaithful to Him (e.g., Exo 34:15; Jer 3:6, 9, 20; Ezek 16:6-19; Isa 1:21-23; Hosea 1:2). Since Revelation is given to the church, the harlot in Revelation symbolizes false Christianity.

(3) The beast from the sea is Christian.

Another article identifies the sea beast as the church of the Middle Ages. As discussed above, the beast from the sea (Rev 13:1) is one instance of the timeless principle symbolized by the harlot (Rev 17:3), the church of the Middle Ages was one example of the harlot.

(4) The beast from the earth is Christian.

In Revelation 13, the image of the beast forces people to accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-16). But it is the beast from the earth that convinces the people of the world to make that image of the beast (Rev 13:11, 14-15). There are several indications that the beast from the earth is a Christian entity. For example:

      • It is “like a lamb” and, in Revelation, the lamb often (28 times) serves as a symbol for Christ (e.g., Rev 14:10).
      • It is also called “the false prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20; compare with Rev 13:12), and God’s people are called prophets (e.g., Rev 18:20).
      • The beast from the earth “deceives” with “signs” (Rev 13:13-14; 16:13), and Jesus said that “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders” (Matt 24:24; 2 Thess 2:9).
      • It “exercises all the authority of the first beast” (Rev 13:12), which has been identified as the church of the Middle Ages.

(5) Only God’s people are persecuted.

Only God’s true people, namely those who refuse to accept the mark of the beast, are persecuted in Revelation 13 (Rev 17:6; cf. 18:24). The important point is that only false Christianity is able to identify and selectively persecute God’s true people because they are the people who persistently protest against the church’s blasphemous teachings and practices (Rev 12:11). Foreign nations and other religions are unable to distinguish God’s true people from the church in general.

(6) The enemy is inside the church.

The letters to the seven churches (Rev 1-3) contain many references to things mentioned later in Revelation, such as the tree of life and the second death (Rev 2:7, 11). For that reason, we can assume that the anti-God forces in the letters are early forms of Babylon.

In these letters, the enemy of the church is inside the church. For example, in Ephesus, there were “those who call themselves apostles, and they are not” (Rev 2:2; cf. 2:9; 14, 20). Therefore, Babylon is inside the church.

(7) Penalized as a daughter of a priest

In the law of Moses, the penalty for fornication was stoning (Deut 22:20-27). But there was an exception; when the woman was the daughter of a priest, “she shall be burned with fire” (Lev 21:9). Babylon will be burned with fire (Rev 17:16), implying that she will suffer the penalty reserved for the daughter of a priest.

Babylon’s other characteristics

Some of Babylon’s other characteristics are listed here – not to prove that she symbolizes false Christianity – but to show that they are consistent with that identification:

Babylon is fallen” (Rev 14:8; 18:2), which means that she was previously something better, but has become corrupted.

John was “greatly astonished” when he saw the harlot (Rev 17:6). That means that what he saw was totally unexpected. If the church of Christ would become the intolerant and bloodthirsty persecutor of God’s people, that would be truly dumbfounding.

Babylon corrupts and intoxicates the people of the world (Rev 17:2; 18:3).

The main word in Revelation 13 and 14 is “worship” (13:4, 8, 12, 15; 14:7, 9, 11). This final conflict, therefore, may be described as a war over worship.

The beast dies but is revived (Rev 13:3). This implies a period of temporary incapacity. That can be explained: During the Middle Ages, the church was strong and killed thousands (millions?) of God’s true people. At the end of the Middle Ages, the beast was temporarily incapacitated when religious freedom became the norm in the Western world. In the end-time, the beast will be revived when the image of the beast is formed.

Babylon is more than the church.

As shown above, Babylon exists everywhere and for all human history. Consequently, Babylon, sitting on the beast, symbolizes a timeless principle, namely that false religion always dominates world rulers to force people to accept her doctrines.

Babylon, therefore, is NOT limited to false Christianity. However, in the Christian era, the institutional church has adopted that Babylonian principle and has become Babylon. Just as Israel killed the prophets, so the church, according to historians, has killed millions of God’s people.

Conclusions

Christian civil war

⁠Based on the above, it seems fairly clear that the end-time conflict, as described in Revelation 13, is a Christian civil war. God’s true people are found in all denominations, but Revelation reveals to God’s people that false Christianity is the true persecutor of God’s people.

Unity of church and state

The kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her” (Rev 18:3). Since Babylon represents false Christianity, “acts of immorality” symbolize alliances between church and state or even unity of church and state.

Your merchants were the great men.

Revelation 18, while still describing Babylon, is substantially different from Revelation 17. The last verse of Revelation 17 identified the woman as “the great city” and Revelation 18 continues to describe her as a city. As part of that symbolism, that chapter emphasizes commercial aspects and Babylon’s merchant. For example:

Your merchants were the great men of the earth” (Rev 18:23).

This section is a summary of an article that explains who Babylon’s merchants are. For the following reason, this section identifies the merchants as the prophets of false religion:

(1) The merchants are part of Babylon.

Babylon sits on the kings and the peoples of the world (Rev 17:3, 15). In other words, she is distinct from the kings and the people. But the merchants, in contrast, are described as “your merchants” (Rev 18:23). The word “your” means that they belong to her. They are part of her and work for her. Therefore, since Babylon symbolizes false Christianity and since the merchants are part of her, they are the prophets of false Christianity.

(2) The merchants are not literally rich.

Babylon’s merchants “have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality” (Rev 18:3). This does not refer to literal wealth because the merchants are “the great men” (Rev 18:23) and Revelation makes a distinction between “great men” and “the rich” (Rev 6:15).

(3) Buying and selling are symbolic.

In Revelation, buying and selling must be interpreted symbolically. For example:

To buy gold and white clothes means to accept salvation (Rev 3:18) and to purchase people means to save them (Rev 14:3-4; 5:9).

To be wealthy means to be saved and to be poor means to be lost (Rev 2:9; 3:17).

In the end-time, “no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark” (Rev 13:15). With the interpretation of buying and selling above, this would mean that nobody will be allowed to preach, except the people with the mark of the beast.

Conclusion: Babylon’s sensuality

The merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality” (Rev 18:3). Since Babylon is “the great harlot … with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality” (Rev 17:1-2), “her sensuality” is what attracts the kings to her. “Her sensuality” refers to the power that religion has over the minds of people. “Kings” (political authorities) desire this power to strengthen their control over people.

Her “sensuality” is also the source of the merchants’ wealth (Rev 18:3). The merchants’ “wealth” is indicated by how many followers they have (how many people they have “purchased”). Her “sensuality” – the power that religion has over the minds of people – assures them of many followers.

Babylon is not a literal end-time city.

The literal interpretation of Babylon is that it refers to the ancient city Babylon that will be rebuilt on the banks of the literal Euphrates River, to become the literal political and commercial capital of the world. The section is a summary of the article that analyzes the arguments for this proposal.

Revelation uses Old Testament language.

To support the literal interpretation of Babylon, interpreters point out that Revelation, to describe end-time Babylon, draws both the name and imagery of ancient Babylon from the Old Testament. For example, in both the OT and in Revelation, Babylon dwells on ”many waters” (Jer 51:13; Rev 17:1), is suddenly destroyed – on a single day (Jer 51:8, 30; Rev 18:8, 17) – by fire (Jer 51:30; Rev 17:16; 18:8), completely (Jer 50:39; Rev. 18:21), and deservedly (Jer 51:63-64; Rev 18:21).

The literal interpretation argues that Revelation repeats the Old Testament predictions of the destruction of ancient Babylon because the destruction of Babylon, which the Old Testament predicted, literally still lies in our future. However, for the following reasons, this argument is not accepted:

Tire language

Firstly, to describe Babylon, Revelation also draws language from the destruction of another mighty Old Testament city (Tire). For example, both Tire and Babylon in Revelation are women with daughters (Ezek 26:6; Rev 17:5) and will cease to be forever (Ezek 27:36; Rev 18:21). This argues against the literal interpretation of end-time Babylon.

Revelation changes the meaning.

Secondly, Revelation changes the meaning of the Babylon-imagery it borrows from the Old Testament. For example, the Euphrates River literally ran through the ancient city. For that reason, the Old Testament says that literal Babylon “dwell by many waters” (Jer 51:13). Similarly, in Revelation, Babylon “sits on many waters” (Rev 17:1), but now the “many waters” have become a symbol for the peoples of the world (Rev 17:15). Since Revelation changes the meaning of the Babylon-language it borrows from the Old Testament, such language must be interpreted symbolically.

In particular, in both the Old Testament and in Revelation, the Euphrates is Babylon’s river (cf. Rev 16:12; 17:1, 5). For that reason, and since Revelation explicitly defines the Euphrates as a symbol (Rev 17:1, 15), Babylon must also be a symbol.

Jerusalem is a symbol.

Thirdly, if the Babylon of Revelation is a literal city, then ancient Babylon’s great enemy (in both the Old Testament and in Revelation), namely the city Jerusalem, must also be a literal city. But Revelation uses the New Jerusalem as a symbol for God’s people from both dispensations (Rev 21:9-10, 12, 14).

Place names convey qualities.

Translations of Revelation 17:5 print the name on Babylon’s forehead in capital letters. In the NASB, we read: “a mystery, BABYLON THE GREAT.” This means that “mystery” is not part of her name. Rather, her name is “a mystery.” Consequently, Babylon is not her real name but a symbol.

Similarly, in Revelation 11:8, we read:

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

The great city” is Babylon (e.g., Rev 18:21). The word “mystically” means that what follows is a symbolic description of Babylon. “Sodom” emphasizes moral depravity and “Egypt” identifies “the great city” as the enemy of God’s people. In other words, Revelation uses place names to communicate qualities. Since, in the Old Testament, ancient Babylon was the great enemy of God’s people, the name “Babylon” also identifies this entity as the enemy of God’s people.

Unfulfilled Prophecies

A second argument in support of the literal interpretation is that many prophecies of the destruction of ancient Babylon in the Old Testament have not been fulfilled. The Old Testament predicted that Babylon will be destroyed suddenly, violently, literally, completely, and permanently (Isa 13:1, 19‑22; 14, 47; Jer 50:13, 35, 39‑40; 51:8, 24‑26) in the “Day of the Lord” (Isa 13:6‑11; 13:1; 14:1‑3; Jer 50:1‑6) when there will be a disturbance in the sun and moon (Isa 13:10). These prophecies have never been literally fulfilled.

That, however, is consistent with the dual fulfillment of classical prophecies. For example, in a single prophecy, Joel 2:28-3:1 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.

Similarly, in the wisdom and foreknowledge of God, the Old Testament prophecies of the fall of Babylon predict both the historical fall of ancient Babylon and the end-time destruction of the age-old and worldwide enemy of God’s people.

Symbols explain other symbols.

A third argument to justify the literal interpretation is that Revelation 17:18 explains Babylon as “the great city” and, if that is not a literal city, then one symbol (great city) explains another (Babylon). However, Revelation frequently explains symbols with other symbols. For example, the seven heads are seven mountains (Rev 17:9) and the beast is an eight head (Rev 17:11).

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

A different Babylon in Revelation 18

The Babylon of Revelation 17 is a harlot woman and seems to describe her as a spiritual entity, but Revelation 18 describes her as a city emphasizing commercial aspects. Therefore, literal interpreters propose that the harlot and the city symbolize two different things and that the Babylon of Revelation 18 is a literal city.

Two different names?

But how could this be possible if the harlot and the city have the same name? Therefore, the literal interpretation proposes that the names of the harlot and the city are different. In the KJV of Revelation 17:5, the harlot’s name is “Mystery Babylon” while the city is called “Babylon the great” (Rev 16:19; 17:18). However, in the NASB translation of 17:5, “mystery” is not part of her name. That this translation is correct is confirmed two verses later, where the woman herself is described as a “mystery” (Rev 17:7).

Two different exterminators?

Another justification for the view that the harlot and the city symbolize two different things is that the beast consumes the woman of chapter 17 (Rev 17:16) whereas God judges Babylon in chapter 18 (e.g., Rev 18:8). However, both are destroyed by God (Rev 17:17; 18:5, 8) through fire (Rev 17:16; 18:8-9, 18) and both will become an utterly desolate (Rev 17:16; 18:17, 19).

The harlot is the city.

Contrary to the literal interpretation, there are many indications that the harlot and the city are one and the same. For example:

    • The harlot is explicitly explained as the city (Rev 17:18).
    • The New Jerusalem is also both a woman and a city (Rev 21:9, 10).
    • Both are wealthy (Rev 17:4; 18:16, 19), deceive the nations (Rev 17:2; 18:24) and persecute God’s people (Rev 17:6; 18:20, 24).
    • Revelation 19 continues to describe Babylon’s destruction, but here she is again “the great harlot” (Rev 19:2-3).

Conclusion

This section has shown that the evidence for the literal interpretation is weak. Above we showed that Babylon has existed for all human history. That means that the ancient Babylon of the Old Testament is too young to be the Babylon of Revelation. 😊

Is the Papacy the harlot of Revelation?

Another view is that the harlot Babylon symbolizes Roman Catholicism. This view may be justified as follows:

(1) The Papacy’s blasphemous claims, such as that the pope is the head of all churches, the judge of the living and the dead, the true vicar (substitute) of Christ, and the supreme teacher in the church.

(2) The harlot Babylon is “drunk with the blood of the saints” (Rev 17:6). The Papacy’s history was marked with the shedding of the blood of saints, for example, the slaughter of 20000 citizens of Beziers, France on July 22, 1209, nearly 1 million Waldensian Christians between 1540 – 1570 and tens, even hundreds of thousands of people during the Spanish Inquisition.

(3) The harlot “reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18). During the Middle Ages, “kings had to … be in communion with the Pope, as essential conditions of their reigning lawfully; if these conditions were broken, of which the Pope was the judge, then … he could … declare their ruler unfit to reign” [Cath Dic, 257].

(4) “The woman was … adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls” (Rev 17:4), indicating her wealth. The Catholic Church, similarly, has untold wealth. It is “one of the greatest fiscal powers in the world” [Nino Lo Bello, The Vatican Empire, p.8].

(5) According to Daniel 7, some power emanating from the Roman Empire will become the antichrist and will continue until the return of Christ. Historians inform us that the Roman Catholic Church descended from Rome and inherited its authority from the Roman Empire

However, the Babylon of Revelation has always existed and is worldwide. It is the mother of all harlots and abominations of the earth, including ancient paganism, Chinese Confucianism, Asian Buddhism, Indian Hinduism, Shamanism and all the world’s vast complex of “many gods and many lords” (1 Cor 8:5). Roman Catholicism is not “the mother of the harlots” (Rev 17:5).

We must also distinguish between the church of the Middle Ages and the Papacy. The identifications above describe the church of the Middle Ages. But that church no longer exists. It has broken up into many denominations (daughters?).

The church of the Middle Ages has been identified as the beast. In the end-time, when the image of the beast is formed (Rev 13:14), that spirit will be revived but we will be deceived if we expect the attack to come from the Papacy. We need to recognize that all people and denominations, to some extent, carry within them the Babylonian spirit. Given the right circumstances, cruel men will assume leadership positions in Protestant churches and transform the bride of Christ into the blood-thirsty persecutor of God’s people.

Other Interpretations

The City Jerusalem

Some argue that the Babylon of Revelation is the physical city Jerusalem because:

The “great city,” which is Babylon (Rev 18:10), is described in Revelation 11:8 as the place where also their Lord was crucified.  Literally interpreted, this is Jerusalem.

In Babylon “was found the blood of prophets and of the saints” (Rev 18:24). This is also what Jesus said of Jerusalem (Matt 23:35, Luke 11:50-51).

The color and adornment of the harlot (Rev 17:4) reflect the Jewish priestly colors of scarlet, purple, and gold (Exo 28:33).

Babylon has the name “mother of harlots” on her forehead while Judah had a harlot’s forehead, and was a harlot (Jer 3:3-6).

But Babylon cannot be Jerusalem because it cannot be said that Jerusalem rules over the kings of the earth (Rev 17:18), or that Jerusalem has a dominating influence over the world’s population (Rev 17:15), or that the merchants grow rich from Jerusalem’s excessive luxuries (Rev 18:3). Since Israel did not even exist as a nation until the time of Jacob, it is obvious that she cannot be the mother or originator of harlots and of the abominations of the earth (Rev 17:5), corrupting the earth with her fornication (Rev 19:2).

The World

Some understand Babylon as all entrenched worldly resistance to God; the total culture of the world apart from God; the world with its cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes, and the boasting of what he has and does (1 John 2:16); the world’s power, the world’s riches; the world of lust, all that appeals to the flesh or the mind and entices and seduces us away from God.

This view properly accounts for Babylon’s age-old existence and global influence but does not for characteristics such as:

      • Babylon is something specific which the kings are able to kill (Rev 17:16).
      • She is the earthly counterfeit bride, exclusively opposed to God’s people.
      • In Revelation, wealth is a symbol of a spiritual condition.

The Ancient City of Rome

In the Academic world, Revelation is generally seen not as predictions of the future, but as descriptions of events in John’s time, presented in the form of a prophecy.  General, the academic view is that Babylon is Rome of old and the Beast is Nero. This view is based on detailed and complex justifications, mostly based on writings from outside of the Bible.

This view makes John to be a liar because he writes that the things he saw “must soon take place” (Rev 1:1).

One of the major justifications is the assumption that the seven hills of Revelation 17:9 identify the topography of the ancient city of Rome. But these seven hills are defined as seven consecutive kings (Rev 17:10). (The KJV translation is misleading here in its inference that the seven mountains are different from the seven kings. The Greek says, “the seven heads are seven mountains … and they are seven kings.”)  The seven heads, therefore, cannot be the Seven Hills of Rome. 

Many other identifications of Babylon, as discussed above, disqualify Rome. For example, Babylon is destroyed after the temple in heaven is closed (Rev 16:19, 15:8), which happens after every person has made his or her final decision for or against God. (In the final crisis on earth, everybody will have to make a choice. On the one hand, the Image of the Beast will persecute all who do not accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-16). On the other hand, God’s message will be proclaimed with such power that the whole earth will be lightened (Rev 14:6).)

Books can be written to oppose this view, but it would not avail much, as academics attempt to compete in the scientific world, and science excludes the possibility of the supernatural. The scientific method, therefore, does not accept that God is able to make accurate predictions of the future. Should the reader is interested:

The article When Daniel was written provides ample proof that Daniel was written long before Antiochus Epiphanies IV, and even before the Greek Empire, which is specifically mentioned in Daniel 8:21.

The article on the Fall of Rome shows that Daniel correctly predicts HOW the Roman Empire will fall in the fifth century AFTER Christ, namely that it will be subdivided into many kingdoms which will be a continuation of it. This is excellent proof of God’s supernatural ability to predict the future.

Rick Joyner

In his book The Final Quest, Rick describes “The Prisoners.” They are a vast multitude of Christians. They were all wounded, and were guarded by Fear and Depression. The only food they received was Condemnation. When Condemnation hits a prisoner, he would stand up and march a little straighter for a while, and then slump over, even weaker than before.

Occasionally, a weak prisoner would stumble and fall. As soon as he or she hits the ground, the other prisoners would begin stabbing them with their swords (meaning, quoting Bible verses), scorning them as they did so. Their depression would then become even worse.

These prisoners thought that the vomit of condemnation was truth from God. These prisoners actually thought they were marching in the army of God! They naively accepted everything that happened to them as being from the Lord.

Then the voice of the Lord came to me saying, “This is the beginning of the enemy’s last day army. This is Satan’s ultimate deception, and his ultimate power of destruction is released when he uses Christians to attack other Christians. Throughout the ages he has used this army, but never has he been able to capture so many to be used for his evil purposes.

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