Babylon the great strives to unite the world against God.

Summary

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

Babylon unites the world against God.

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

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

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

Babylon corrupts the people.

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

Babylon is not another mighty world ruler.

She symbolizes something substantially different from the world rulers because:

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

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

Babylon is worldwide.

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

Babylon always exists.

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

The kings will consume her with fire.

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

– END OF SUMMARY –


Purpose of this article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alternative Interpretations

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

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

Babel – City of Confusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ancient city of Babylon

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

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

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

Babylon unites the world against God.

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

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

Babylon corrupts the people.

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

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

Babylon is not another mighty world ruler.

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

Compare this to her relationship with the kings:

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

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

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

She reigns over the world rulers.

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

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

Babylon is worldwide.

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

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

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

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

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

Babylon always exists.

There are a number of indications that Babylon always exists:

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

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

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

Destroyed by kings

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

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

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

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

Final Conclusions

Babylon:

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

Articles in this Series

Other articles series:

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