Babylon the Great always exists and symbolizes a timeless principle.

Purpose

This is an article in the series on the identity of “Babylon the Great” (Revelation 17:5). The purpose of the current article is to explain the relationship between Babylon and the evil characters in Revelation 13, namely the dragon, the beast from the sea, the false prophet, and the image of the beast. 

Summary

Babylon sits on a scarlet beast (Rev 17:3). In other words, she is distinct from this beast. The scarlet beast symbolizes the rulers of this world. That she sits on them means that she “reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18).

Babylon is part of the beast.

In Revelation 13, four entities persecute God’s people:

(1) The dragon,
(2) The beast from the sea,
(3) The beast from the earth, and
(4) The image of the beast (Rev 13:1-2, 11, 14).

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

      • While they persecute God’s people, Babylon is guilty of their blood (Rev 18:24).
      • The three angels (Rev 14:6-11) bring their warning messages during the crisis of Revelation 13 but they announce that Babylon is fallen (Rev 14:8).
      • In the plagues, the dragon, the sea beast, and the false prophet gather together the kings of the world (Rev 16:13-14), but then Babylon is punished (Rev 16:19).

How do they relate?

The question is, how does Babylon relate to the four entities above?

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

      • The dragon (Rev 12:3) is the Roman Empire.
      • The sea beast is the church of the Middle Ages.
      • The false prophet comes into existence when it comes out of the earth and the image of the beast comes into existence when the people of the world create it (Rev 13:11, 14).

In contrast, as indicated by the following, Babylon and her beast always exist:

      • She is guilty of the deaths of all of God’s people (Rev 18:24).
      • She is the “mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev 17:5).
      • She sits on all seven heads of the beast (Rev 17:9), and these heads symbolize seven ages from the time of the prophet Daniel in the 6th century BC to the return of Christ.

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 her beast always exist, 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 earth and false Christianity (the harlot) which dominated them, using them to silence her opponents.

The other articles in this series identify 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 OF SUMMARY –

The Scarlet Beast

After Babylon was briefly mentioned in Rev 14:8 and 16:19, she is described in much more detail in Revelation 17 and 18. In Revelation 17, she sits on a scarlet beast (Rev 17:3) and is eventually destroyed by that beast (Rev 17:16). In other words, she is distinct from the scarlet beast.

The scarlet beast has seven heads and ten horns (Rev 17:3). Both the heads and the horns are explained as rulers of nations and empires (Rev 17:9-10, 12). In other words, the beast symbolizes the rulers of this world and that she sits on them is explained as that she “reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18). (For the identity of the beast and its heads, see the articles on the beast or on the seven heads.)

Revelation 13

In Revelation 13, four entities persecute God’s people (Rev 13:1-2, 11, 14):

(1) The dragon,
(2) The beast from the sea (often simply called “the beast” (e.g., Rev 19:19),
(3) The beast from the earth (also called the false prophet – Rev 16:13; 19:20), and
(4) The image of the beast.

These entities work together and relate to each other:

The sea beast receives his “power and his throne and great authority” (Rev 13:2) from the dragon and makes the world worship the dragon (Rev 13:4).

The earth beastexercises all the authority of the first beast” (Rev 13:12) and “makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast” (Rev 13:12). (The first beast is the one from the sea.)

Through miracles, the earth beast deceives the people “to make an image to the beast” (Rev 13:14). It is then the image of the beast which kills the people who refuse to accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15).

Authority, therefore, passes from the dragon to the beast, from the beast to the false prophet, and from the false prophet to the image of the beast.

Babylon in Revelation 13

Babylon is not mentioned at all in Revelation 13, but, for the following reasons, she must be part of these four entities:

Firstly, while the beast and its allies persecute God’s people (e.g., Rev 13:7; 13:15), Babylon is guilty of their blood: “In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24).

Secondly, the third angel warns against the beast, its image, and its mark (Rev 14:9). In other words, the three angels (Rev 14:6-11) bring their messages during the great end-time persecution of God’s people as described in Revelation 13; when the image of the beast forces people to accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13:16). But then, surprisingly, the second angel announces. “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great” (Rev 14:8).

Thirdly, in the sixth plague, we again see the dragon, the sea beast, and the false prophet at work. They send forth demon spirits to gather together the kings of the world (Rev 16:13-14). Again, Babylon is not mentioned, but. in the next and final plague, again surprisingly, Babylon receives God’s “fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19).

Babylon, therefore, is not something distinct but an integral part of the other four evil characters described in Revelation 13. The question is:

How do they relate?

Both the scarlet beast of Revelation 17 and the beast from the sea in Revelation 13 have seven heads and ten horns (Rev 13:1; 17:3). Superficially, this seems to indicate that they are one and the same. But if they are the same and if Babylon is distinct from the scarlet beast, then Babylon is also distinct from the sea beast, which would contradict the conclusions above.

Therefore, we propose that the scarlet beast (Rev 17:3) is not the same as the sea beast (Rev 13:1). For one thing, the sea beast is in control and is worshiped by the whole earth (Rev 13:8) while the scarlet beast has an inferior role: The harlot sits on it and reigns over it (Rev 17:3, 18).

Specific Organizations

As discussed in the article – The Seven-Headed Beasts – the four entities in Revelation 13 are specific organizations that come into existence at specific points in history:

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

The article on the seven-headed beasts identifies the sea beast as the 11th horn of Daniel 7 that grows out of the Roman Empire. Another article identifies it further as the church of the Middle Ages. In other words, it no longer exists today but has broken up into the modern denominations. It only exists today in the form of its influence through the present-day denominations and their orthodox doctrines.

The false prophet comes into existence when it comes out of the earth and the image of the beast comes into existence when the people of the world make it (Rev 13:11, 14). These, therefore, are also specific organizations that come into existence at specific points in history.

Babylon Always Exists.

In contrast to these four entities, the following indicates that Babylon and her beast always exist:

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 the “mother of harlots,” 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. 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. 

Babylon sits on the beast (Rev 17:3) but she also sits on all seven heads of the beast. The seven heads are seven consecutive “kings” (Rev 17:9-10) or empires, which means that Babylon exists during all seven consecutive 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. Babylon, therefore, exists at least from the time of ancient Babylon to the end of the world.

Since Babylon always exists, the scarlet beast on which she sits also always exists. They cannot be limited to a specific time in the past, present or future.

A Timeless Principle

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 her beast always exist, this is a worldwide and TIMELESS PRINCIPLE.

The dragon, the beast, the false prophet and the image of the beast are specific organizations. Each exists for a specific period and each of them is one specific instance of the Babylonian principle.

The other articles in this series identify Babylon as religion. The vision of Babylon sitting on the beast, therefore, symbolizes how religion has always dominated the civil authorities to force people to accept her doctrines.

The Beast

The beast from the sea has been identified as the church of the Middle Ages. In Revelation 13, the beast is in charge since all who dwell on the earth will worship it (Rev 13:8). However, Revelation 17 reveals that that beast consisted of two parts: The kings of the earth and false Christianity (the harlot) which dominated them, using them to silence her opponents.

The Babylonian principle also applied in the first three centuries. 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.

In the fourth century, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and the emperors appointed the church leaders and the church leaders became accountable to the emperor. Thereafter, Christianity evolved and took on the nature of the Roman Empire; thereby adopting the Babylonian principle.

A series of articles on the website explains the development of the church. 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. Eventually, during the High Middle Ages, the church dominated the kingdoms of Europe and persecuted God’s people through political powers. The alliances between church and state during the Middle Ages was one example of the general principle of the woman (false religion) sitting on (reigning over) the beast (the kings of the world) (Rev 17:3, 18). 

The Image of the Beast

The image of the beast will be a replica of the system during the Middle Ages, namely the unity of the institutional church and the state in such a way that the church will dominate the political rulers. This will be another instance of the Babylonian principle.

The Babylonian Spirit

That the church of the Middle Ages was a form of false religion does not refer to specific doctrines. The clearest characteristic of the Babylonian spirit is the proud and arrogant spirit of persecution; completely dissimilar to that of the humble Servant (Phil 2:5-7). Whenever we see Christians persecuting other Christians, we see the beast in action. Persecution may take various forms.

However, certain doctrines, such as the doctrine that sinners will be tormented eternally, present God as a cruel tyrant and promote that spirit of cruelty.

Final Conclusions

Babylon is part of the dragon, the beast from the sea, the beast from the earth, and the image of the beast.

Babylon and her beast always exist. She and the beast on which she sits symbolizes a timeless principle, namely that religion “ reigns over the kings of the earth.” The dragon, the beast, the false prophet and the image of the beast are specific instances of the Babylonian principle.

Articles in this Series

Revelation 17:4-6 – Babylon the great, the mother of harlots

REVELATION 17:4

The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet,
and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls,
having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations
and of the unclean things of her immorality,

In verse three, John saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast. That verse gave some details of the beast. Revelation 17:4-6 continues the vision but describes the woman.

The woman was clothed – In Revelation, clothes symbolize the character of the person. For example:

God’s people have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). 

The bride is clothed “in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:8).

… in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls – In the ancient world, scarlet clothing was difficult to manufacture and very expensive. It was only be worn by the rich. In the Scriptures, purple and scarlet are symbols of status, wealth and royalty (e.g., Judg 8:26; Matt 27:28-29).

The “gold, precious stones and pearls” also indicate her worldly wealth. The Son of Man had “nowhere to lay His head” (Matt 8:20), but Babylon, in the view of sinful man, seems beautiful. 

… having in her hand a gold cup – In Revelation, a cup and wine symbolize that harm will be done to somebody. For example:

God will give Babylon “the CUP of the wine of His fierce wrath” (Rev 16:19; cf. 14:10).

God’s people will “pay her back … In the CUP which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her” (Rev 18:6).

.. full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality – This refers back to verse 2 “The wine of her immorality” is interpreted as her blasphemous doctrines.

The word translated as “abominations” is translated as “detestable” in the following statement which accurately describes the harlot:

That which is highly esteemed among men is
detestable in the sight of God
” (Luke 16:15).

REVELATION 17:5

and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery,
“BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.”

and on her forehead a name was written – The mark of the beast and the seal of God are also names on foreheads. The 144000 have God’s name on their foreheads (Rev 7:3; 14:1; cf. 22:4) while the beast’s followers have his name on their foreheads (Rev 13:16-17). Names on foreheads, therefore, represent character. Babylon claims to sit as queen (Rev 18:7) but the name on her forehead reveals her true character.

… a mystery – Some English translations print the word ‘mystery’ in capital letters, implying that it is part of the woman’s name. But in the NASB, quoted above, the word “mystery” is not part of Babylon’s name. That means that her actual identity is a great “mystery.” In other words, her name is symbolic and requires interpretation. This is also what the term “mystery” means elsewhere in Revelation (Rev 1:20 and 17:7).

… “BABYLON THE GREAT – This woman is the enemy of God’s people; she is “drunk with the blood of the saints” (Rev 17:6). Babylon, therefore, is a fitting name for her because ancient Babylon was the powerful enemy of the people of God in the Old Testament (Isa 13:19; 14:3-6; Jer 50:15, 29, 31-32, 38; 51:5, 13; Dan 4:29-30).

… THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” A separate section below gives ten reasons for identifying Babylon as false Christianity. For example, Revelation symbolizes both the people of God and Babylon as both a woman and as a city, implying that both claim to be God’s people. However, in the Bible, harlotry is a symbol for unfaithfulness to God, indicating that the harlot symbolizes God’s unfaithful people.

REVELATION 17:6

And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints,
and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.
When I saw her, I wondered greatly.

… And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. – Blood is a symbol for death. For example, the innumerable multitude wash their clothes in the Lamb’s blood (7:14), symbolizing Christ’s death.

Babylon is drunk with the blood of God’s people: “In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints” (Rev 18:24). In the plagues, which are God’s revenge for the deaths of His people (Rev 19:2), God gives people blood to drink because they have “poured out the blood of saints” (Rev 16:6). Therefore, becoming drunk from drinking the blood of the saints means that Babylon has persecuted and killed them (cf. Ezek 39:18-19). 

Babylon does not kill God’s people directly; she kills them through the beast. She sits on the beast (Rev 17:3), and the beast overcomes the saints (Rev 13:7) and the beast’s image kills those who refuse to worship (obey) the beast (Rev 13:15). False religion controls the political rulers to force people to accept her doctrines and decrees. In the process, over the centuries, Judaism and the church have caused the deaths of millions of God’s people. Israel even killed the Son of the God.

The martyrdom of God’s people is a main theme in Revelation. Antipas was a faithful martyr (Rev 2:13). John saw “the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held” (Rev 6:9). The people who “came to life” when Christ returns (Rev 20:4) were all martyred. In Revelation’s apocalyptic language, “those who dwell on the earth” (Rev 17:1) are all murderers and all of God’s people are murdered.

The current verse describes God’s people with two phrases (“the saints, and … the witnesses of Jesus” – Rev 17:6) because the number 2 is associated with God’s people. (See the discussion of the number 2 in a separate section below.) 

When I saw her, I wondered greatlyJohn “was completely amazed” (GNB). John’s amazement does not necessarily mean that he understood the prophecy. His amazement is part of the vision. It tells us that we should be amazed. It tells us something about the harlot.

It is hard to understand this amazement if the harlot riding the beast only represented the persecuting Roman Emperors, as some suggest, or the hostile leaders in Jerusalem. Nor would a literal Babylon justify this amazement. However, if the apostolic church of Christ, which has grown into the powerful, dignified, educated and civilized church, is really the intolerant and bloodthirsty enemy of God’s people, that would be truly dumbfounding.

The purpose of the book of Revelation is to reveal that which only God is really able to see (Rev 1:1). It reveals the true nature of the church. It shows that Satan uses the church to destroy God’s true followers. The church “has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit” (Rev 18:2).

THE NUMBER TWO

In Revelation, the number 4 symbolizes the entire world. For that reason, Revelation describes the people of the world using four words where one would have been sufficient, for example, “peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues” (Rev 17:15; cf. 10:11; 14:6). 

Similarly, the current verse describes God’s people with two phrases (“the saints, and … the witnesses of Jesus” – Rev 17:6) because the number 2 is associated with God’s people. Consequently, Revelation uses two concepts to describe them and their things. For example:

      • The word of God and …
        the testimony of Jesus Christ
        ” (Rev 1:2);
      • Fellow servants and … brethren” (Rev 6:11);
      • Prophets and … saints” (Rev 18:14; cf. 11:18; 16:6);
      • Commandments of God and …
        the testimony of Jesus
        ” (Rev 12:17; cf. 14:12);
      • The prophets and …
        those who heed the words of this book
        ” (Rev 22:9);
      • Their witness to Jesus and …
        the word of God
        ” (Rev 20:4).

Similarly, God has two witnesses (Rev 11:3). They are “the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (Rev 11:4).

Therefore, when it says that the beast from the earth “had two horns like a lamb” (Rev 13:11), both the number two and the word “lamb” are indications that this beast appears Christ-like.

BABYLON SYMBOLIZES FALSE CHRISTIANITY

For the following reasons, Babylon is a symbol for false Christianity:

(1) Both God’s people and Babylon are both a woman and as a city.

While Revelation describes God’s people as the bride of Christ and as the New Jerusalem (Rev 12:1; 19:7-8; 21:9-11), it explains Babylon as “the woman” and “the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18). This implies that they are similar and that both claim to be God’s people.

(2) Harlotry symbolizes unfaithfulness to God.

In the Old Testament, harlotry is a symbol for Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, implying that Babylon symbolizes God’s unfaithful people. For example:

Ezekiel 16 represents Jerusalem as a woman chosen and favored by God (Ezek 16:6-14), who abandoned her faithfulness to God and descended into adultery and prostitution (Ezek 16:15-19).

Isaiah wrote, “See how the faithful city has become a harlot” (Isa 1:21-23). For other examples, see Ezek 16:33-34; 23:37; Jer 2:20-22; 3:1-8; and Hosea 2:1-5; 4:7-15).

Jerusalem, representing Israel, had a harlot’s forehead because she “refused to be ashamed” (Jer 3:3). In contrast, in Revelation, Jerusalem is always pure and Babylon is the one with the harlot’s forehead.

(3) Babylon is dressed as a high priest.

In Revelation, Babylon is dressed in the clothes of the high priest of ancient Israel. For example, the Ephod contained purple, scarlet, and gold (Exo 28:5-6), and both the ephod and breastplate contained precious stones (Exo 28:9-13 and 17-21). And Babylon’s forehead inscription resembles the title HOLY TO THE LORD on the High Priest’s miter (Exo 28:36-38).

But there is a difference. The colors of the robes of Old Testament high priests were made “of gold, of blue and purple and scarlet material” (Exo 28:6). The blue was to remind the people of the Commandments of the Lord (Num 15:38-39). The harlot’s adornment lacks the color blue, which implies that she symbolizes the high priest but she no longer complies with God’s commandments.

(4) Babylon suffers the penalty reserved for the daughter of a priest.

Babylon will suffer the penalty reserved for the daughter of a priest who is guilty of fornification, namely, to be burned with fire. She will be burned with fire (Rev 17:16). In the law of Moses, the penalty for fornication was stoning (Deut 22:20-27). But there was one exception to this rule. If the woman involved was the daughter of a priest, she was not to be stoned, but “she shall be burned with fire” (Lev 21:9). Babylon is treated as the daughter of a priest would be treated in similar circumstances.

(5) The beast is a symbol for the church.

As concluded in the previous article, Babylon is the power behind the beast of Revelation 13 and a previous article concluded that:

The beast is the 11th horn of Daniel 7 which blasphemes God, persecutes His people and will “intend to make alterations in times and in law” (Dan 7:25). This identifies it as false religion.

The beast is the church of the Middle Ages.

(6) The false prophet has two horns like a lamb.

God has “two witnesses” (Rev 11:3). Revelation 11:7-11 describes their defeats and victories at the end of the world’s history (cf. Rev 11:15). The opposite of the two witnesses is “the false prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20). This false prophet is symbolized as a “beast coming up out of the earth.” (To see this, compare Rev 13:12 and 19:20). This beast convinces the world to create an image of the beast (Rev 13:14) and has two horns like a lamb (Rev 13:11). The number two, in Revelation, symbolizes God’s people and the lamb is a symbol for Christ (e.g., Rev 14:10).

(7) Babylon kills God’s people.

Babylon is guilty of the deaths of all of God’s martyrs (Rev 18:24) and only the church is able to selectively identify and persecute God’s true people.

The church is able to identify God’s true people because they oppose the church’s blasphemous practices and doctrines. In history, God’s true people were never selectively persecuted by people outside the church.

(8) God’s enemy is inside the church.

In the seven letters (Rev 2-3), the powers that oppose God’s true people are inside the Church. 

(9) The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet deceive people by means of signs and wonders (Rev 13:13; 16:13. This is what the end-time false prophets will do (Matt 24:24; 2 Thess 2:9).

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

BABYLON ALWAYS EXISTED.

That Babylon has a Christian face is one of the most startling messages of Revelation. However, there are a number of indications that Babylon always existed:

She is guilty of the deaths of ALL OF GOD’S PEOPLE who have been killed for their faith: “In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24).

Since she is the “mother of harlots” (Rev 17:5), she is the source of spiritual harlotry.

She sits on all seven heads (Rev 17:9) and the heads include the ancient empires of Babylon, Mede-Persia, Greece and Rome.

The vision of Babylon sitting on the beast, therefore, is a timeless description of how religion has always dominated the civil authorities so that she could force people to accept her doctrines. But in the Christian era, the church took over the role of Babylon because only the church is able to identify and selectively persecute the true people of God. Political authorities are not able to do that. The true people of God are identified by their persistent testimony against the blasphemous doctrines and decrees of the church (Rev 17:6; 12:11):

The beast from the sea, symbolizing the church of the Middle Ages, is one instance of Babylon with a Christian face.

The beast from the earth looks like Christ (Rev 13:15, 11) and symbolizes the end-time church, but speaks like Satan (Rev 13:11; 12:9), and, therefore, is described as the false prophet (Rev 19:20) is another such instance.

TOWER OF BABEL

The apostasy from the true faith goes back to the Tower of Babel where the descendants of Noah were scattered and given different languages (Gen 11:1-9). Just as ancient Babel (the Hebrew name for Babylon) was the place of great opposition to God after the Flood, Babylon is the mother of harlots and the source of everything that opposes God from the time of the tower of Babel to the end of history. Present-day false religions, including false Christianity, are her children (Rev 17:5), for example:

There were two women,
The daughters of one mother.
They committed harlotry in Egypt, …
As for their names, Samaria … and Jerusalem
” (Ezek 23:2-4).

BABYLON IS BOTH AN OPPRESSOR AND A HARLOT.

In the Old Testament, Babylon represents oppression. The Old Testament does not refer to Babylon as a prostitute. But Revelation 17 describes the enemy of God’s people both as a harlot, symbolizing apostasy from the true faith, and as Babylon, symbolizing oppression. 

TRANSVERSAL PRINCIPLES

Babylon symbolizes the enemy of God’s people.

Babylon is a symbol of the Christian church.

The vision of Babylon sitting on the beast symbolizes how false religion has always dominated the civil authorities so that she could force people to accept her doctrines. But in the Christian era, the church took over the role of Babylon.

In Revelation, the number 2 is associated with God’s people.