This is an article in the series on the identity of “Babylon the Great” (Rev 17:5).
This article shows, based on the following arguments, that Babylon symbolizes false Christianity.
1. Babylon is similar to the bride of Christ.
Revelation describes the bride of Christ (a symbol for God’s people) and Babylon as similar. Both are women but also cities and both are shown to John by one of the plague angels (Rev 17:1, 3, 18; 19:7-8; 21:9-11).
However, 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 17:1, 5; 19:7-8).
The similarities imply that Babylon claims to be the bride of Christ but the differences show that Babylon is in fact the very antithesis of the bride; the counterfeit bride of Christ.
2. The Old Testament described God’s unfaithful people as a harlot.
The Old Testament describes God’s Old Testament people, when they are unfaithful to Him, as a harlot (e.g., Exo 34:15; Jer 3:6, 9, 20; Ezek 16:6-19; Isa 1:21-23; Hosea 1:2). Since the book of Revelation uses concepts from the Old Testaments as symbols for New Testament realities, it seems logical that the harlot in Revelation symbolizes God’s unfaithful New Testament people.
3. The harlot is the driving force behind the sea beast, and this beast is a Christian entity.
A previous article identified the sea beast as the church of the Middle Ages, who killed thousands if not millions of God’s people.
Although Revelation 13, when describing the sea beast’s persecution of God’s people, does not mention Babylon, Revelation 17-18 shows that Babylon is the real cause of all killing of God’s people (Rev 18:24). Therefore, another article has concluded that the sea beast (Rev 13:1) is one instance of the timeless principle symbolized by the harlot (Rev 17:3). It follows that both the beast and the harlot are ‘Christian’, or claim to be Christian.
4. The earth beast – a Christian entity – is another instance of the harlot.
As discussed, the sea beast did its evil work during the Middle Ages. In contrast, the “image of the beast” is an end-time entity. It will kill people who refuse to accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-16).
However, it is the beast from the earth that convinces the people of the world to create that image (Rev 13:11, 14-15). So, the earth beast is the spiritual force behind the end-time killing of God’s people. Since we have already said that the harlot is the driving force behind all killing of God’s people (Rev 18:24), it follows that the earth beast also is an instance of the harlot, and there are many indications that the earth beast is a Christian entity. For example:
- It is “like a lamb” and Revelation symbolizes Christ about 30 times as a lamb (e.g., Rev 14:10).
- The earth beast is called “the false prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20; cf. Rev 13:12).
- It “deceives” by means of “signs.” Jesus also performed many “signs.” (Rev 13:13-14; 16:13; cf. Matt 24:24; 2 Thess 2:9).
- The earth beast “exercises all the authority of the first beast” (Rev 13:12), and the “first beast” has been identified as the church of the Middle Ages.
Therefore, since the earth beast is a Christian entity, and since the earth beast is an instance of the harlot, it follows that the harlot also presents herself as Christian.
5. In the letters to the seven churches, the enemy is inside the church.
For example, in Ephesus, the enemy is “those who call themselves apostles, and they are not” (Rev 2:2). Since the anti-God forces in the letters are early forms of the harlot Babylon, she is inside the church.
6. Babylon will suffer the penalty reserved for a priest’s daughter who has become a harlot.
Namely, “she shall be burned with fire” (Lev 21:9; cf. Rev 17:16; Deut 22:20-27).
7. Nothing in Revelation that shows that Babylon does not symbolize false Christianity.
The following do not prove that Babylon symbolizes false Christianity but are consistent with that identification:
(a) “Babylon is fallen” (Rev 14:8; 18:2), meaning that she was first something better, but has become corrupted.
(b) John was “greatly astonished” when he saw the harlot (Rev 17:6). That means he did not expect what he saw. If the church of Christ would become the intolerant and bloodthirsty persecutor of God’s people, that would have been truly dumbfounding.
(c) Babylon has a corrupting influence on the people of the world (Rev 17:2; 18:3).
(d) 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.
(e) The beast dies but is revived (Rev 13:3). This implies a period of temporary incapacity. Persecuting Christianity also has a period of temporary incapacity. During the Middle Ages, the church was strong and killed thousands (millions?) of God’s people. At the end of the Middle Ages, the beast was temporarily incapacitated when religious freedom became the norm in the Western world. But Revelation shows that, in the end-time, the beast will be revived in the form of the image of the beast. Then it will once again be able to persecute God’s people.
(f) Babylon will be destroyed by the people who previously supported her when they realize that she has deceived them (Rev 17:12-14, 16). This implies that her deception led them away from God, which implies her nature is religious.
The above shows that Babylon wears a Christian cloak.
Babylon is timeless.
As already discussed, Babylon is not always the same as false Christianity because Babylon exists everywhere and for all of human history. For example, she sits on all seven heads (Rev 17:9), and these heads include the ancient empires of Babylon, Mede-Persia, and Greece.
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. But, in the Christian era, the institutional church 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.
The end-time conflict
The end-time conflict as described in Revelation 13, based on the conclusion that Babylon wears a Christian cloak, is a Christian civil war. God’s true people are found in all denominations but Revelation presents the church as the beast to identify false Christianity as the true persecutor of God’s people.
Acts of Immorality
“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.
– END OF SUMMARY –
First, Revelation presents Babylon as the counterfeit bride of Christ.
In Revelation, there are two contrasting women. While Babylon is a harlot (Rev 17:1, 3), the pure woman, representing God’s people (2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:25-27), is called the bride and wife of Christ (Rev 19:7; 21:9).
There are many similarities between the two women:
Both are introduced by one of the plague angels (Rev 17:1; 21:9). In both introductions, the angel approaches John with the invitation: “Come, I will show you” (Rev 17:1; 21:9) and carries John “in the Spirit” to some other place to observe the woman (Rev 17:3; 21:10).
Both women are also cities:
- The bride of Christ is also the New Jerusalem (Rev 12:1; 19:7-8; 21:9-11).The harlot woman is also “the great city” (Rev 17:18).
Both women are married. The bride is “the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9) and Babylon says “I am not a widow” (Rev 18:7), implying that she is married.
Both are wealthy. The harlot Babylon is arrayed in purple and scarlet, glittering with gold (Rev 17:4; 18:16-17). The New Jerusalem “was pure gold, like clear glass” (Rev 21:18), and decorated with every kind of precious stone and pearls (Rev 21:18-21).
But they are very different:
Babylon is “the great harlot” (Rev 17:1); the immoral mother of “abominations” (Rev 17:2, 5; 18:2), a “dwelling place of demons” (Rev 18:2).
In contrast, the Lamb’s bride is clothed with “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:7-8). Nothing “unclean” and no “abomination” shall enter into the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:27; 22:3).
The wars in Revelation are essentially between these two women: Babylon attempts to kill the bride (Rev 18:24). The bride is persecuted; Babylon is the persecutor (Rev 17:6).
Consequently, while Babylon will be judged, hated, consumed, and destroyed (Rev 14:8; 16:19; 17:16; 18:17, 19; 19:1, 2), the bride will enter into the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 18:7), and exist for “forever and ever” (Rev 22:5; Heb 13:14).
Babylon, therefore, is the very antithesis of the bride. Since God’s people are symbolized as a woman and as a city, the description of Babylon as a woman and as a city implies that she also claims to be God’s people. She is a counterfeit bride of Christ.
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
Second, Revelation borrows the concept of a harlot from the Old Testament, where the harlot describes God’s people who have become unfaithful to Him.
The Old Testament uses the concept of harlotry in different ways. For example:
For Israel to “play the harlot with the strange gods of the land” is to worship “the strange gods of the land” (Exo 34:15; Deut 31:16; Jer 3:6, 9).
Jer 2:21 … I planted you a choice vine,
A completely faithful seed. …
Jer 3:1 … you are a harlot with many lovers …
Jer 3:6 … Have you seen what faithless Israel did?
She went up on every high hill and under every green tree
[this is where the places of idol worship were],
and she was a harlot there
[participated in idol worship].
Jer 3:20 Surely, as a woman treacherously departs from her lover,
So you have dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel.”
ALLIANCES WITH WORLD RULERS
Harlotry is also used as a symbol for alliances with world rulers. Ezekiel 16 represents Jerusalem as a woman chosen and favored by God (Ezek 16:6-14), who abandoned her faithfulness to God (Ezek 16:15-19):
“Make known to Jerusalem …
I also clothed you with embroidered cloth …
I adorned you with ornaments…
But you … played the harlot because of your fame …
You also played the harlot with the Egyptians …
you played the harlot with the Assyrians …
You also multiplied your harlotry with … Chaldea …
You adulteress wife, who takes strangers instead of her husband!”
The Old Testament also uses harlotry as a symbol for sin. For example, Isaiah wrote:
“How the faithful city has become a harlot,
She who was full of justice! …
But now murderers … rebels … thieves;
They do not defend the orphan,
Nor does the widow’s plea come before them”
(Isa 1:21-23; cf. Num 15:39; Ezek 23:8, 19, 37; 16:33-34; Jer 2:20-22; 3:1-8; and Hosea 2:1-5; 4:7-15).
DEPARTING FROM THE LORD
Perhaps Hosea included all of the above meanings of harlotry when he uses harlotry generally for departing from the LORD:
“The land has committed great harlotry
by departing from the LORD” (Hosea 1:2; cf. 4:12; cf. 1:2; 9:1)
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 (Rev 17:5).
In all the instances above, the harlot refers to the Old Testament people of God. Since Revelation focuses on the New Testament people of God, the harlot in Revelation is false Christianity.
As shown above, the Old Testament uses the concept of harlotry for different concepts, including idol worship, alliances with world rulers and sin. But, in Revelation 17, Babylon is represented as sitting on the beast, which symbolizes the world rulers (Rev 17:9-10, 12). The main meaning of harlotry in Revelation, therefore, is that God’s people set up alliances with world rulers.
THE BEAST IS THE CHURCH.
Third, a previous article identified the sea beast as the church of the Middle Ages. Since still another article concluded that the sea beast (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. To explain in a bit more detail:
As explained in another article, the scarlet beast, on which the harlot sits (Rev 17:3), is not the same as the beast from the sea (Rev 13:1). The beast from the sea has been identified as the prominent horn of Daniel 7 and as the church of the Middle Ages. The sea beast is one instance of the timeless and worldwide principle symbolized by the harlot sitting on the scarlet beast, namely that religion reigns over the rulers of the world. This principle explains that the beast from the sea, which is the church of the Middle Ages, actually consists of two parts:
- The beast part symbolizes the rulers of nations.
- Since the church ruled over the kings of Europe during the (High) Middle Ages, the Babylon part of the sea beast is false Christianity.
THE EARTH BEAST IS CHRISTIAN.
Fourth, there are a number of indications that the beast that comes out of the earth, which plays a key role in the end-time crisis, is a Christian entity.
It is the image of the sea beast which forces people, by threats of death and sanctions, 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 the image of the beast (Rev 13:11, 14-15). For the following reasons, the beast from the earth is also Christian:
(1) It “had two horns like a lamb” (Rev 13:11). Both the number two and the lamb indicate the Christian nature of this beast. The number two, in Revelation, symbolizes God’s people (e.g., Rev 14:12; 12:17; 11:3) and the lamb is a symbol for Christ (e.g., Rev 14:10).
(2) The beast from the earth is also called “the false prophet” (Rev 13:12; 16:13; 19:20) and, in the Bible, a prophet is somebody who speaks for God.
(3) The beast from the earth, “deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform” (Rev 13:13-14; 16:13). This is what the end-time false prophets will do (Matt 24:24; 2 Thess 2:9).
(4) The beast from the earth “exercises all the authority of the first beast” (Rev 13:12). Since “the first beast” is the church of the Middle Ages:
(a) The authority of the land beast is Christian in nature and
(b) The image of the beast is Christian, which the beast from the earth establishes, is also Christian.
(5) In Revelation, the earth and the sea represent the peoples of the world (e.g., Rev 12:12). While the waters symbolize the peoples of the world that are dominated by the harlot (Rev 17:15), but the earth seems to be a positive or at least a neutral force because it protects the woman against the persecuting waters (Rev 12:16). Therefore, the “earth,” out of which the earth beast comes, therefore represents either Christian nations or religious freedom.
Fifth, only God’s true people are persecuted in Revelation 13 and only false Christianity is able to identify and selectively persecute God’s true people.
Babylon is not some general malignant force that accidentally also persecutes God’s people. She is exclusively in opposition to God’s people; she is drunk with the blood of God’s people (Rev 17:6; cf. 18:24).
In history, God’s true people were never selectively persecuted by people outside the church. A nation or another religion is not able to identify God’s true people. Only false Christianity is able to identify and selectively persecute God’s people because they are the people who persistently protest against the church’s blasphemous teachings and practices (Rev 12:11). In the context of Revelation 13, God’s true people refuse to accept the mark of the beast, which is some blasphemous practice or teaching for which the church of the Middle Ages (the beast) was particularly known.
THE ENEMY IS WITHIN.
Sixth, in the letters to the seven churches, the enemy of the church is inside the church.
These letters contain many references to things that are mentioned later in Revelation, such as the tree of life, the second death, Satan’s throne, great tribulation, and the morning star (Rev 2:7, 11, 13, 22 and 28). Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that the anti-God forces in the letters are early forms of Babylon. In these letters, the forces opposing God are inside the church, not outside. For example:
In Ephesus, there were “those who call themselves apostles, and they are not” (Rev 2:2).
“Those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9; 3:9). In this verse, “Jews” should not be read literally, for why would a person who falsely claims to be a literal Jew be a particular danger for the church? Rather, “he is not a Jew who is one outwardly … But he is a Jew who is one inwardly” (Rom 2:28-29). Understood in this way, the person who calls himself a Jew is the person who calls himself a true Christian. Therefore, this “synagogue of Satan” symbolizes people inside the Church.
“You have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam” (Rev 2:14).
In the church in Thyatira, “the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess … leads My bond-servants astray” (Rev 2:20). In the history of Israel, Jezebel influenced her husband King Ahab to use civil force to promote the worship of Baal and to persecute Elijah and other followers of Yahweh. Jezebel, therefore, is an instance of the harlot Babylon, who uses political rulers to persecute the followers of Christ.
DRESSED LIKE A HIGH PRIEST
Seventh, Babylon is dressed in the clothes of the high priest of ancient Israel.
For example, similar to her clothes, 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 may be compared to the title HOLY TO THE LORD on the High Priest’s miter (Exo 28:36-38).
However, there is a difference. The colors of the robes of Old Testament high priests were “gold … blue and purple and scarlet” (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, implying that she resembles the high priest but does not comply with God’s commandments.
A PRIEST’S DAUGHTER
Eighth, Babylon suffers the penalty reserved for the daughter of a priest.
In the law of Moses, the penalty for fornication was stoning (Deut 22:20-27). But there was one exception to this rule, namely if the woman was the daughter of a priest, she was not to be stoned, but “she shall be burned with fire” (Lev 21:9). Since Babylon will be burned with fire (Rev 17:16), she will suffer the penalty reserved for the daughter of a priest.
The following are other characteristics of the harlot. These do not prove that Babylon symbolizes false Christianity, but they are listed here to show that this identification is consistent with these characteristics:
BABYLON IS FALLEN.
The angel announces, “Babylon is fallen” (Rev 14:8; 18:2). This is often understood as that she will one day fall, similar to how this term is used in the Old Testament (Isa 21:9-10), but Revelation explains: “She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird” (Rev 18:2). This means that she was previously something better, but has become corrupted.
John was “greatly astonished” when he saw the harlot (Rev 17:6). What he saw, therefore, was totally unexpected. His astonishment is part of the vision. It means that we should be astonished. This is hard to explain if Babylon only represents the persecuting Roman Emperors or hostile leaders in Jerusalem or a literal end-time city. However, if the church of Christ would become the intolerant and bloodthirsty persecutor of God’s people, that would have been truly dumbfounding.
A CORRUPTING INFLUENCE
Babylon has a corrupting influence on the people of the world (Rev 17:2; 18:3). Identifying her as false Christianity is consistent with this characteristic.
WAR OVER WORSHIP
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.
PERIOD OF INCAPACITY
The beast dies but comes back to life again (Rev 13:3). This implies a period of temporary incapacity. Since Babylon sits on the beast (Rev 17:3), she goes through the same period of incapacity.
This is consistent with the interpretation of Babylon as false Christianity. During the Middle Ages, the church was strong and killed thousands (millions?) of God’s people. At the end of the Middle Ages, the beast was temporarily incapacitated when religious freedom became the norm in the Western world, and the church, today, in most countries, became unable to kill. In the end-time, the beast will be revived. For a further discussion of this, see The Seven Heads.
THE PEOPLE DESTROY BABYLON.
In Revelation, the end-time confederation of the nations of the world (symbolized as the ten horns of the beast – Rev 17:12-13), “will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them” (Rev 17:14). Then “the ten horns … will burn her up with fire” (Rev 17:16). The fact that Babylon will be destroyed by the people who previously supported her when they realize that she has deceived them, implies that her deception led them away from God, which implies her nature is religious.
That the people destroy Babylon also means that she is something specific that the people of the world are able to destroy. Revelation predicts a resurgence of the power of false Christianity in the end-time (Rev 13) in one final attempt by the false church to silence her opponents. But God’s people will not be silent.
In this end-time war, Babylon will be the institutional church and God’s people will be a large number of individuals who do not belong to a particular formal organization, but who are trained to “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Rev 14:4). They are “those who are with Him” (Rev 17:14). Following Christ, they will refuse to accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-16). When the world witnesses the courage of God’s people, it will rid itself of the domination of false Christianity.
BABYLON ALWAYS EXISTS.
As discussed elsewhere, Babylon is not the same as false Christianity because Babylon always exists. For example:
She sits on all seven heads (Rev 17:9), including the ancient empires of Babylon, Mede-Persia, and Greece.
She is guilty of the deaths of ALL of God’s people who have been martyred for their faith in all ages (Rev 18:24).
She is the “mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev 17:5), which means that she is the origin of these things.
In other words, Babylon exists everywhere and for all of 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.
But, in the Christian era, the institutional church adopted that Babylonian principle and has become Babylon. Just as Israel killed the prophets and also Jesus Christ, so the church, according to historians, has killed millions of God’s people. The beast from the sea, symbolizing the church of the Middle Ages, is one instance of the Babylonian principle and has instigated the massacres of the Waldensians.
Please note that I am not saying that the Catholic church is Babylon or the beast. The beast is the church of the Middle Ages. But that church has broken up into many denominations. The Babylonian principle is present in all people and denominations. It is the challenge of every denomination to remain free from the Babylonian spirit.
It has also been argued before that Babylon is worldwide. It is possible to argue that Christianity is not entirely worldwide. However, “worldwide” in Revelation is perhaps not literally worldwide.
For example, the fourth beast of Daniel 7 is the Roman Empire, and the horns on the fourth beast are the nations that were formed in Europe when that empire dissolved in the centuries after Christ. (See, The Fall of Rome shows the Book of Daniel to be true prophecy.) These nations then proceeded to occupy territory in many parts of the world, including the current USA. The focus of the prophecies in the book of Daniel, therefore, is the nations that eventually became the Western World. Since Revelation is built on Daniel, it is possible that the “whole world” in Revelation may be limited to the Western World, which once confessed to Christianity.
Based on the above, it seems fairly clear that the end-time conflict, as described in Revelation 13, is a Christian civil war. The modern ecumenical movement, active first among Protestant churches in the first half of the twentieth century, then essentially combining (or at least fellowshipping) with the Catholic and Orthodox churches in the second half of the twentieth century, is also forming alliances with all other world religions. This may result in one great world religion, but then it will still be dominated by the Christian entities—the sea beast, the false prophet, and the image of the beast.
God’s true people are found in all denominations, but Revelation presents the church as the beast to emphasize that false Christianity is the true persecutor of God’s people. Whenever one finds a church or person who does not love his enemies but physically or mentally persecutes those who disagree with him, one sees the spirit of the beast at work.
In his book The 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 hit 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.
ACTS OF IMMORALITY
“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.
Religion has tremendous power over the minds of men. Therefore, religion and state often establish some kind of union in which the government supports the widely accepted religion, and this religion, in turn, would lend its influence to the state. Such unity strengthens both. An alliance with religion strengthens the control of the state over the people. And religion enjoys the protection of the state, using the strong arm of government to persecute those who oppose her.
Revelation refers to the unity of state and religion as immoral because true religion has a relationship with God only. True religion does not allow itself to be used for political gain.
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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.