WHO OR WHAT IS BABYLON?
This seems to always have been a mystery. It is of extreme importance to arrive at an answer to this question because it is the answer, which clarifies much of the confusion regarding the Seventieth Week.
Most Biblical scholars agree that two Babylon’s are spoken of in the Book of Revelation: “Spiritual Babylon” (chapter 17) and “Commercial Babylon” (chapter 18). Regarding “Spiritual Babylon,” it is important to note that it is the not the Beast upon which she rides, that is referred to as “Spiritual Babylon” in chapter 17. The fact that she rides on the Beast indicates that she ‘derives her power from him. That two Babylon’s are spoken of is evident from the fact that when “Spiritual Babylon” is destroyed shortly after the Abomination of Desolation, she is destroyed because of the jealousy and hatred of the Ten Kings and the Beast (Revelation 17:6). Nevertheless, when “Commercial Babylon” is destroyed, these same Rings, together with the business leaders of the world, are sorrowful and mourn her destruction.
The Great City of Revelation 18
Many exegetes of previous years have held to a literal reconstruction of the ancient city of Babylon in the end time because of the image of the “great city” in Revelation 18. However, as one examines the text carefully, one can find as many, if not more, genuine reasons to understand the “great city” as a symbol of something far greater than a literal city. It is this “great city” (v. 16) that the chapter is concerned about its downfall and destruction.
Within the structure of the book of Revelation, chapter 18 is an exposition of the seventh bowl (16:17-21). Within the occurrences of the seventh bowl comes the destruction of the “great city.”
Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour, she has been brought to ruin! (18:19)
One should not forget, however, that the fall of Babylon was initially announced in the fourteenth chapter (v.8). Thus, the seventh bowl, as well as the entire 17th and 18th chapter should be exegeted within light of that announcement. It is interesting to note the many parallelisms, which exist between the seventh bowl and the sixth seal. In addition, if we choose to interpret the “great city” as a commercial system (which we shall advocate later) then another parallel can be found with the third trumpet. This third trumpet seemingly details the collapse of a worldwide commercial structure. Thus, Revelation 18 can be seen as a portrayal of the sixth seal, the third trumpet and the seventh bowl.
The reader should, first, distinguish between the “great city” of Revelation 18 and the “great whore” of’ Revelation 17. The imagery that exists concerning Babylon in both chapters 17 and 18 point out distinct differences concerning their different activities, although they exist under one governmental banner. Some have argued that Revelation 18 describes the destruction of the “great whore” (before interpreted as a worldwide political and ecclesiastical system). That could quite possibly be true; the fall of Babylon in chapter 18 could encompass both the “great whore” and the “great city.” However, an in-depth study of Revelation 18 reveals the following characteristics of the “great city” which differentiate it from the “great whore:”
1) Kings participate in the luxuries of the “great city” (v. 9).
2) Merchants are involved with the “great city” (v. 3b).
3) The location of the “city” is inferred to be as a port or a marketplace.
4) The “city” is depicted as a place for the buying and selling of cargoes (v. 9-15).
Thus, one can see that the nature of the “great city” is much more political than an ecclesiastical influence. Also of interest is the original purpose of the first Babylon: Babel. Built by Nimrod, Babel served as a unifying point for all men, religions, languages, governments, and commerce. His goal was a “great kingdom of a one world government (Zondervan’s Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol. I, p. 162).”
Thus, most evangelical scholars today see the “great city” as the “personification of the commercial spirit as well as the ecclesiastical–a secret system dominating the nations of the world (F. A. Tatford, God’s Program for the Ages, p. 90).” It is, however, obviously not a completely secret “organization (?)” as the merchants and kings of the earth deal with her.
A closely linked definition is one, which identifies Babylon as “civilized man apart from God, man in an organized but godless community” (Leon Morris, The Revelation of St. John, p. 202). Thus, the “great city” can be understood as a clear symbol of all earthly communities and cites. Either, way, the “great city” is definitely portrayed as the “center of luxury and vice that embodies the world” (Albertos Pieters, The Revelation of Saint John, p. 258).
It is thus a spirit of commerce, which is depicted in Revelation 18. Commercialism here is not of God because it covers the earth with a spirit of self-confidence and rebellion. It eventually paves the road for the introduction of the mark of the beast. Interestingly, the three major literary prophets of the Old Testament prophecy concerning the spirit, nature and doom of “Babylon: (Isaiah 13, 14, 21), (Ezekiel 26-28, on the fall of Tyre), and (Jeremiah 50, 51).”
A quick study of these passages would disclose clear parallels of language, imagery, and occurrences in the prophetic writings to John’s apocalyptic description of the destruction of end-time Babylon. Compare, for instance, Jeremiah’s prophecy to Revelation 18:
Jeremiah’s Babylon as a Contrast with Revelation’s Babylon
51:8 “Babylon will suddenly fall and be broken” (vs. 2, 10, 17, and 19)
51:9 “…her judgments reaches to the skies, it rises as high as the clouds” (v. 5)
51:37 “Babylon will be a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals, an object of horror and scorn, a place where no one lives” (v. 2)
51:45 “Come out of her, my people…” (v. 4)
51: 48 “Then heaven and earth and all that is in them will shout for joy over Babylon…” (v. 20)
51: 49 “Babylon must fall because of Israel’s slain…” (v. 24)
51: 63, 64 “…tie a stone to it and throw it into the Euphrates. Then say, ‘So will Babylon sink to rise no more…’” (v. 21)
Thus, although the fall of Tyre and ancient Babylon took place as prophesied, many commentators see a double fulfillment in these prophecies. Theologians would understand Revelation 18 to be the sum: of all prophetic oracles on the doom of the spirit of Babylon–“civilized man apart from God”–which finds its climax and culmination in the spirit of commercialism and industrialism in the end-time Babylon. This systematic structure, “the beloved capitol of the entire civilization” (W.R. Newell, The Book of Revelation, p. 263) is brought to naught in a one-hour period of the climactic end-time judgment of the wrath of God.
A couple of notes to be added concerning the calling out of the people (v. 4-8) and the reason of destruction (v. 19-24) should be inserted here. The purpose of the calling out of the people is not just to reassure the saints about the justice of God to give them courage; but also to “summon God’s people to leave the city” (D.J. Wieland, Visions of Glory: Studies in the Book of Revelation, p. 99). This passage is directly parallel to the last five verses of the chapter, which acts as the fulfillment of the announcement in the eighth verse. In the last five verses, the avenging of the blood of the saints which had been cried and pleaded for (seal # 5: 6:9-11) is finally consummated. Undoubtedly, the blood of all saints can be seen to lie within the political, ecclesiastical, and commercial systems on and of the world.
The fall of Babylon in chapter 18, however, as aforementioned, is not just restricted to the entire commercial and industrial system. Both chapter 17 and 18 focuses on different aspects of the totalitarian governmental structure at the end of the age. They are, however, linked together under the rule of the Antichrist. Other similarities include their association with the kings who also come under the rule of the Antichrist. Further, they are both full of blasphemy and hate for the saints, having shed their blood. Thus, God judges this “great city” (which can be seen to include the “great whore”. Both systems are brought down simultaneously for the chief purpose of avenging the saints. Revelation 18 is the climax of the judgment of God upon the world. A chorus of “hallelujahs” and the millennial reign of Christ (Chapters 19, and 20) follow it. Both express the joy of the multitudes over the judgment of the world.
BABYLON HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
The ancient city of Babylon grew in size and importance from the days of Nimrod (Genesis 10:10) until it reached its greatest glory in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar – B.C. 604 – 562. As described by Herodotus, it was an exact square of same 15 miles on a side, or 60 miles around, and was surrounded by a brick wall 87 feet thick and 350 feet high, though probably that is a mistake, 100 feet being nearer the height. On the wall were 250 towers, and the top of the wall was wide enough to allow six chariots to drive abreast. Outside this wall was a vast moat surrounding the city, kept filled with water from the river Euphrates; and inside the wall, and not far from it, was another wall extending around the city.
Twenty-five magnificent avenues, 150 feet wide, ran across the city from north to south, and the sane number crossed them at right angles from east to west, making 676 great squares, each nearly 3/5 of a mile on a side. The city was divided into two equal parts by the river Euphrates, that flowed diagonally through it, and whose banks within the city were walled up and pierced with brazen gates with steps leading down to the river. At the ends of the main avenues, on each side of the city, were gates, whose leaves of brass shone as they opened or closed in the rising or setting sun like “leaves of flame.”
The Euphrates within the city was spanned by a bridge, at each side of which was a palace, and these palaces were connected by a subterranean passageway underneath the bed of the river, in which at different points were located sumptuous banqueting roans constructed entirely of brass.
Near one of these palaces stood the “Tower of Bel” or Babel, consisting of eight towers, each 75 feet high, rising one upon the other, with an outside winding stairway to its summit, which towers, with the chapel on the top, made a height of 660 feet. The chapel itself was lavishly furnished. One golden image alone stood. 45 feet high and the whole of the furnishings could be understood in today’s dollars as approaching $1,300,000,000 (excluding the statues).
The “Hanging Gardens” of Babylon were renowned as one of the wonders of the Ancient World. These gardens were 400 feet square and were raised in terraces one above the other to a height of 350 feet. The topmost terrace was reached by staircases 19 feet wide. The top of each terrace was covered with large stones, on which was laid a bed of rushes, then a thick layer of asphalt, next, two courses of bricks cemented together, and finally, plates of lead to prevent leakage; the whole was then covered with earth and planted with shrubbery and large trees. The whole had the appearance from a distance of a forest-covered mountain, which was a remarkable sight in the level plain of the Euphrates.
Babylon was probably the most magnificent city the world has ever seen: “poor” Jerusalem was but a small, provincial and tacky village in comparison! Babylon the Great” – that “Great City” (Revelation 18:2) – Jerusalem, “the Holy City” (Revelation 11:10) – “small and compact” (Psalm 122:3).
In Scripture, Babylon represents-the kingdom and glory of Satan (Revelation 17: 1-8); Jerusalem is the city of the Living God (Revelation 12:22).
Satan is called the “Prince of this World” (John 12:31); 14:30; 16:11) over which sits Babylon, the city of Satan. What is meant by the term “world?” The word “world” is the translation of the Greek word “kosmos,” .which means a harmonious order or arrangement, and it is used in three ways in the New Testament.
First, it means the MATERIAL UNIVERSE (Acts 17:14; Matthew 13:35; John 1:10; Mark 16:15).
Second, it means (a) THE INHABITANTS OF THE WORLD as a whole (John 1:10; 3:16; 12:191 17:21); and (b) THE WHOLE RACE OF MAN ALIENATED FROM GOD AND HOSTILE TO TIE CAUSE OF CHRIST (Hebrews 11:38; John 14:17; 14:27; 15:18); this is but an extension of (a) above and is the meaning we are most concerned with here.
Third, it means the whole circle of worldly goods, endowments, riches, advantages, pleasures, which though hollow and fleeting, stir our desires and seduce us from God, so that they are obstacles to the cause of Christ (I John 2:15; 3:17; Matt. 16:26;.1 Cor. 7:31 2:12; 3:19; 7:31; Titus 2:12;. II Pet. 1:4; 2:20; I John 2:16-17; James 1:27) – the world of our split-level hones, two cars, good careers, good education, bank accounts, vacations, etc. It is when these “pleasures” and even so-called “necessities” of life “possess our heart” and crowd out our commitment to the Lord and to His people that they have in reality become part of the “kosmos.”
Moreover, the word “kosmos,” taken in conjunction with the three meanings described above implies that behind all this there is a mind – the Prince of the World – that gives order and arrangement to all of it. John says, “The whole KOSMOS, (as described above) lies in the Evil One (John 5:19). He is the kosmokrater or world-ruler – a word, which, however, appears only once, used in the plural of his lieutenants: “the WORLD-RULERS OF THIS DARKNESS” (Eph. 6:12).
Politics, education, literature, science, art, law, commerce, music, our homes, careers, etc. together, they constitute the “kosmos” as they vie for “spiritual” pre-eminence with the Kingdom of God. Subtract them, and the world as a coherent system ceases to exist. It is the development of these things, which constitute history. The question is which direction is history tending? What is its ultimate goal – BABYLON THE GREAT, the masterpiece of Satan! That is the direction of the world’s advance – the kingdom of Antichrist, and we are only seconds away as God’s prophetic clock winds down.
THE WORLD (KOSMOS) IS SATAN’S GRAND CREATION AND HE HAS DIRECTED ALL HIS STRENGTH AND IMMENSITY INTO CAUSING IT TO FLOURISH. TO WHAT END? TO CAPTURE MAN’S ALLEGIANCE AND DRAW HIM TO HIMSELF. HE HAS ONE OBJECT: TO ESTABLISH HIS DOMINION IN HUMAN HEARTS WORLDWIDE. BABYLON IS THE CENTERPIECE, THE MOUNTAIN TOP OF HIS GREAT DESIGN.
The Book of Revelation suggests that Satan will set up his kingdom (the kingdom of Antichrist) in the political and commercial worlds (chapters 13 and 18) and in the religious world. It is on these twin pillars that he will rest the foundation of his kingdom Babylon the Great – and will rule over it as KING OF BABYLON: you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury (Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint and Syriac; the meaning of the word in the Masoretic Text is uncertain) has ended! (Isaiah 14:4).
However, it is “Commercial Babylon,” not “Spiritual Babylon,” that we are most interested in here. The Bible provides us with an interesting, and rather detailed description of “”Commercial Babylon.” In this connection, it is necessary to note that we are here speaking not of a mere city to be rebuilt on the site of Ancient Babylon; such a concept is in conflict with Isaiah 13:19-22: Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonians’ pride, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. 20 She will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there, no shepherd will rest his flocks there. 21 But desert creatures will lie there, jackals will fill her houses; there the owls will dwell, and there the wild goats will leap about. 22 Hyenas will howl in her strongholds, jackals in her luxurious palaces. Her time is at hand, and her days will not be prolonged (please see p. 1347 of the Old Scofield Bible):
- SHE IS NOT ONE OF THE TEN NATIONS of the European Economic Community, but is an ELEVENTH nation, one that “canes out from” or receives its heritage from these ten: “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully… I also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully… The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings… (Daniel 7:8, 20, 24).
- SHE DWELLS IN THE “MIDST OF MANY WATERS.” The United States lies between the two greatest bodies of water in the world: the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans: You who live by many waters and are rich in treasures, your end has come, the time for you to be cut off (Jeremiah 51:13).
- SHE IS MUCH YOUNGER THAN THE ORIGINAL TEN NATIONS ARE. While all the nations of Europe can trace their origins back more than a thousand years, the United States only some 200 years old owes largely to the fact that the North American continent was hidden for so many years by the oceans that surround it. The Hebrew words translated “little” and “hindermost” convey the thought of “younger” as in “little” girl: “While I was thinking about the horns, there before me was another horn, a little one, which came up among them; and three of the first horns were uprooted before it. This horn had eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke boastfully…The ten horns are ten kings who will come from this kingdom. After them another king will arise, different from the earlier ones; he will subdue three kings… your mother will be greatly ashamed; she who gave you birth will be disgraced. She will be the least of the nations— a wilderness, a dry land, a desert (Daniel 7:8 and 24; Jeremiah 50:12).
- SHE IS A MINGLED PEOPLE, THAT IS TO SAY, A “MELTING POT” OF MANY PEOPLES, CULTURES AND RACES. The United States has always taken pride in this fact, as witness the words on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me, you’re poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .” A sword against her horses and chariots and all the foreigners in her ranks! They will become women. A sword against her treasures! They will be plundered (Jeremiah 50:37).
- SHE IS MUCH MORE POWERFUL THAN THE ORIGINAL TEN NATIONS: also wanted to know about the ten horns on its head and about the other horn that came up, before which three of them fell—the horn that looked more imposing than the others and that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully (Daniel 7:20).
- SHE EVIDENTLY HAS NEVER KNOWN THE HEEL OF A CONQUEROR AND IS EXCEEDINGLY POWERFUL MILITARILY: These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. 5 No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. (Revelation 18:4-5 – implied).
- THE NATIONS OF TIE EARTH MUST LIVE UNDER HER SHADOW: When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her (Revelation 18:9).
- SHE IS THE GREATEST ECONOMIC POWER IN THE WORLD, A POWER SO GREAT THAT THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH ARE ABLE TO GROW RICH IF THEY CAN TRADE WITH HER OR ARE ALLOWED ACCESS TO HER MARKET PLACES: For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.” “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble (Revelation 18:3, 11, 12).
- BY MEANS OF HER ECONOMIC POWER (COVETOUSNESS) SHE CONTROLS THE WORLD: Lift up a banner against the walls of Babylon! Reinforce the guard, station the watchmen, prepare an ambush! The Lord will carry out his purpose, his decree against the people of Babylon (Jeremiah 51:12).
- HER PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW THE BITTERNESS OF POVERTY AND LIVE IN GREAT WEALTH: Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her (Revelation 18:8).
- THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH MUST TRADE WITH HER BY SEA: They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out “‘Woe! Woe! O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin! The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of Bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again. Your merchants were the world’s great men. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray (A confirmation of #2 above – Revelation 18:19, 23).
- HER WHOLE LAND IS FULL OF IMAGES, AND THE PEOPLE ARE MADLY IN LOVE WITH THEIR IDOLS: A drought (a sword against) on her waters! They will dry up. For it is a land of idols, idols that will go mad with terror (The work of their own hands – e.g. their homes, their cars, their green lawns, etc. – Jeremiah 50:38).
- BABYLON IS A VAST LATTER DAY NATION, NOT A SINGLE CITY. These verses speak of the cities of Babylon; the fact that Revelation 18 speaks of city (singular) is symbolic; but more than that, it is in keeping with the customs of the ancient world which spoke of vast empires in terms of a single city – for example, the city of Rome: when speaking of the empire of Rome, the city of ancient Babylon when speaking of the empire of Babylon: Babylon was a gold cup in the Lord’s hand; she made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore they have now gone mad (Jeremiah 51:7).
- BABYLON WAS AT ONE TIME A GOD FEARING LAND (A GOLDEN CUP IN THE LORD’S HANDS), BUT ONE WHICH FELL INTO DEGRADATION AND WHICH THEN INTOXICATED THE WORLD WITH HER INIQUITY. It is indeed unfortunate that this description, more than all the others, fits the United States today. How our Pilgrim Fathers would grieve: Babylon was a gold cup in the Lord’s hand; she made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore they have now gone mad. (Jeremiah 51:7)!
From such a description, we see that “Commercial Babylon” is the paramount military and economic power of the “Last Days.” IT IS AS KING OF BABYLON THAT ANTICHRIST SECURES AND ENHANCES HIS WORLD DOMINATION: On the day the Lord gives you relief from suffering and turmoil and cruel bondage, 4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury (Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint and Syriac; the meaning of the word in the Masoretic Text is uncertain) has ended! 5 The Lord has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers, 6 which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression (Isaiah 14:3-6).