The Babylons of Revelation 17 & 18

Babylons_of_Revelation_17_18

posted 01 January, 2005

There are many beliefs and opinions as to what end-time Babylon comprises among those who study and examine end-time prophecy. They range from believing that Ancient Babylon will be rebuilt to that Babylon is a religious system to even that Babylon the Great is the United States of America. Some believe that Babylon represents a system, while others interpret it as being a literal city. Some of the views are somewhat odd, and others are Biblically sound (at least in their own right) and have points of validity. In light of current events and the various opinions surrounding what many believe end-time Babylon to be, it is important to examine key Scriptures that give us clues to its potential identity, and what we should be aware of as we examine the Last Days and what is to befall it.

We will discuss and examine three common aspects to the Babylon phenomenon, which many pre-millennial prophecy teachers will agree with, based on Scripture references from Revelation chs. 17 and 18:

  1. Babylon as the end-time apostate religious system
  2. Babylon as a literal city on Planet Earth
  3. Babylon as the worldwide antimessiah/antichrist system

Babylon as the End-Time Apostate Religious System

“And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. 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, 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 I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Yeshua. When I saw her, I wondered greatly” (Revelation 17:3-6).

The most common view in evangelical Christian circles is that end-time Babylon is the apostate religious system of the antimessiah/antichrist. This certainly has merit, and is widely agreed upon by many Messianics as well. This interpretation is primarily based on Revelation 17:3-6 focused around the idea that this religious system is led by the Roman Catholic Church, and that “Babylon” is a symbolic representation of Rome. Rome being representative of “Babylon” is well-attested to in the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament) and early Church writings. The Apostle Peter writes his first letter from Rome, stating, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark” (1 Peter 5:13). According to Christian tradition from the Second Century, the Apostle Peter traveled to the city of Rome with Mark, and it is from Peter’s account of Yeshua’s life to Mark, that Mark wrote his Gospel. This is substantiated by the Fourth Century historian Eusebius’ remarks in his book Ecclesiastical History:

“This account is given by Clement in the sixth book of his Institutions, whose testimony is corroborated also by that of Papias, bishop of Hierapolis. But Peter made mention of Mark in the first epistle, which he is also said to have composed at the same city of Rome, and that he showed this fact, by calling the city by an unusual figure of speech, Babylon…” (2.15.2).[1]

Historically, Christian exegesis of Revelation has usually equated any reference to “Babylon” as being associated with the city of Rome. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible Bible, noting on 1 Peter 5:13, indicates that “Babylon, a reference to Rome, identifies the letter’s probable city of origin and alludes to the letter’s exile motif.”[2] Ancient Rome was a symbol of great opulence, wealth, and corruption for the early Believers, and Peter’s usage of “Babylon” is likely a veiled reference to Rome to protect the Believers from the forthcoming persecution they would be facing. Understanding Rome’s position as one of decadence, but also one of spiritual evil, is important, because for a Jew of the First Century the only other thing that he knew to compare Rome to would have been Ancient Babylon.

The Prophet Jeremiah said to Ancient Babylon, “Babylon has been a golden cup in the hand of the LORD, intoxicating all the earth. The nations have drunk of her wine; therefore the nations are going mad” (Jeremiah 51:7). John the Apostle writes in Revelation 17:6, telling us that he “saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Yeshua.” Here, Babylon is identified as “the woman,” which likely distinguishes it from Ancient Babylon in modern day Iraq, even though there remain parallels. Consequently, evangelical Protestants building on the belief that Babylon is Rome, associate it with being the Roman Catholic Church and the apostate religious system that it represents.

For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church, as a state church, has persecuted and killed true Believers for their faith. This occurred during the Reformation, the Inquisition, Holocaust, or otherwise. It is true that not all members of Roman Catholic clergy were responsible for heinous acts of aggression, because some have tried to be pious servants of God, but many Catholic cardinals, bishops, and priests have been responsible for terrible deeds against the saints. These deeds have had to be acknowledged in recent times as the Catholic Church has become more ecumenical, and has sought some limited reconciliation with Jews and Protestants.

Theologically speaking, Roman Catholicism is full of complete mystery. A great number of Catholicism’s practices and traditions, while claiming to be from the Bible, in actuality originate in pagan sun worship from Ancient Babylon via Rome. When the Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal with the Edict of Milan in 313 C.E., Fourth Century Christian practice had to merge with religious practices in the Roman Empire, making the religion palatable to pagans. Some of this was already taking place in the Christian Church as early as the Third Century, as clergy sought to merge Biblical ideas with pagan practice, giving “Christian” meanings to pagan traditions, in an effort to convert the heathen. Tertullian, a mid-Third Century Christian leader, wrote:

“By us, to whom Sabbaths are strange, and the new moons and festivals formerly beloved by God, the Saturnalia and New-year’s and Midwinter’s festivals and Matronalia are frequented—presents come and go—New-year’s gifts—games join their noise—banquets join their din! Oh better fidelity of the nations to their own sect, which claims no solemnity of the Christians for itself! Not the Lord’s day, not Pentecost, even it they had known them, would they have shared with us; for they would fear lest they should seem to be Christians. We are not apprehensive lest we seem to be heathens! If any indulgence is to be granted to the flesh, you have it” (On Idolatry 14).[3]

Some of the clergy, being ignorant of the Torah, did not know of the prohibition of not learning the ways of the nations (Deuteronomy 18:9), and no doubt participated in such things in ignorance. However, as the Protestant Reformation took hold in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, many had to recognize (1) the opulence of Catholicism, and how it could in no way be the original, simple faith as laid out by the Apostles, and (2) how many extra-, if not non-Biblical, traditions, practices, and theologies had swept into the Church and needed to be purged. Having limited information at their disposal, the Reformers eliminated as much Catholic opulence as could directly see opposed by the Scriptures. Of course, being humans they still made errors, but they did attempt to get Believers to return to the primacy of the Bible and we as Messianics are in their debt.

One of the most common arguments given for determining that the end-time Babylon of Revelation 17 is the Roman Catholic Church is that Rome is often called the “city on seven hills.” Babylon is described as sitting on seven mountains or hills as detailed in Revelation 17:9: “Here is the mind which has wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.” Some take issue with this verse, because the text appears to use “mountains,” as opposed to “hills,” and thus Rome as a city is disqualified. Expositors who point this out sometimes have an allegorical interpretation of the passage. But the Greek word rendered as “mountain” or “hill” (NIV), oros, often used in the LXX to render the Hebrew word har, is employed in the Gospels speaking of Yeshua and the crowds going up to the mountain, or coming down from the mountain, speaking of the rolling hills of the Galilee, as opposed to a massive mountain that one must actually “climb.”[4]

Given the description of Babylon in Revelation 17, the opulence that it represents, and the fact that it is “drunk with the blood of the saints,” it cannot be Babylon in Iraq. Understanding that Rome is indeed “the city on seven hills,” and that oros can mean both “mountain” and “hill,” referring to rolling hills and not just giant mountains, is a qualifier for Babylon here being Rome, and even more specifically, being the Vatican and Roman Catholic Church. This is the city that is prophesied to be destroyed by God in Revelation 17:16:

“And the ten horns which you saw, and the beast, these will hate the harlot and will make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and will burn her up with fire.”

If the “prostitute” (NIV) of Revelation is the city of Rome, here embodied in an end-time ecumenical, apostate Roman Catholic Church, that is presumably leading the world religiously and is indeed “whoring” (to adopt the KJV rendering) around with other religions, leading the masses astray from the truth of the Scriptures, then it would only make sense for God to judge it. What is interesting, of course, is that it is said that the “ten horns” are those who “hate the harlot,” and they are used by the Lord to exercise His judgment upon her. Revelation 17:12 describes these ten horns as having limited power with the beast, or antimessiah/antichrist:

“The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but they receive authority as kings with the beast for one hour.”

While not stated in the text directly, why do these ten kings or rulers only have authority with him for “one hour”? Whether this represents a year, a month, a week, a day, or even a literal hour is unimportant, because it is a very short period of time in comparison to the beast’s power which is to last “a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 12:7), generally agreed by pre-millennialists to be three-and-a-half years. Could it be that these political leaders hate the authority of the Vatican, because as secularists its religious authority gets in the way of their authority? Could it be that in the Last Days when the globalist agenda takes focus that there is internal squabbling between secular and religious powers, each of which has its own plans for the world? Here, we just might see the reason why Rome is destroyed. It is interesting to note that the Scriptures tell us that the antimessiah will have Roman ancestry (Daniel 9:26), and that if he arises from Europe as many expect and the “ten horns” are European leaders, that many Europeans disapprove strongly of organized religion and the Catholic Church and Europe is where the Catholic Church is significantly losing the battle to secularism. (This is in contrast to Latin America, where almost 40% of the world’s Catholics live, and Catholicism has a very strong foothold.) It would not be surprising if such individuals are responsible for burning the Vatican with fire as Revelation 17:16 states. But this, of course, remains speculation, and we will have to wait and see.

The view that end-time Babylon is somehow involved with the Roman Catholic Church is the most commonly held view among evangelical Christians and Messianics. However, are there other aspects to Babylon that must also be considered that do not directly relate to Roman Catholicism and the Vatican? Are there aspects that we have missed, and have applied to something else that is not necessarily religious?

Babylon as a Literal City on Planet Earth

Continuing in Revelation 18, the Apostle John records more details concerning the destruction of Babylon. Revelation 17 ends with the words, “The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.” This would be in reference to the Vatican. However, Revelation 18:1 starts another series of judgments, that while can be applied to the Catholic Church (we will certainly not deny the fact that in spite of our interpretations God will judge the Vatican, as He will judge all false religions), may not necessarily apply to the Vatican City and Rome as directly as we may think. While Babylon is described as a woman and as a city in Revelation 17:5-18, being the ecumenical religious system of the antimessiah/antichrist, headed by the Roman Catholic Church, we see some different descriptions that do not correlate to a religious system in Revelation 18. Revelation 18 describes Babylon as a city with traits that cannot necessarily be fully applied to the Catholic Church or Vatican.

“After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory. And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.’ I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities’” (Revelation 18:1-5).

Revelation 18:1-5 gives us some interesting clues about Babylon that can certainly apply to the Vatican and Catholicism to a certain extent. Revelation 18:2 describes Babylon as “a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird.” It can be easily said that the Vatican is full of paganism, occultic rituals, and high demonic activity, reminiscent in these words; but these words could likewise be applied to any city on Planet Earth that is religiously, and perhaps ethnically diverse, and a habitation of evil. Revelation 18:3 says that “all nations have drunk the wine of her impure passion, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness” (RSV). Again, some of these characteristics can be applied to the Vatican, as many nations have indeed had relations with the Catholic Church and may be described as having “fornicated” with it. But at the same time, not all nations have “fornicated” or conspired with it as there are countries whose regimes are secular, or who have no major Christian tradition to speak of and thus no significant ties to Catholicism. We are told that “the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries” (NIV), implying that this is a financial center and a place of luxurious exports, which the Vatican City is not. These descriptions of Babylon cannot totally apply to the Vatican, but have to relate to another city on Planet Earth that is a financial hub of activity, and is a haven of great evil.

The text of Revelation 18 cannot be entirely applied to the Roman Catholic Church or Vatican, as the Catholic Church has no “power of…luxurious living” (Revelation 18:3, ESV) to speak of, as it does not export a lifestyle of humanistic wantonness, focused on self-pleasure, entertainment, and sexual fantasy. Interestingly, Revelation 18:4-5 tells us, “I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.’” This Scripture can be applied in any number of ways, but most importantly it directly relates to those who are living in the midst of this city that is to be judged by God because it represents evil, sin, and the demonic. This can apply to the Vatican and Rome; but does it exclusively apply? The Lord is telling those who are living in this city to leave it because it will be judged. The Lord is also telling those that are a part of the system propagated by this city to leave. Clearly, there are aspects to the Babylon of Revelation 18 that do not apply to the Babylon of Revelation 17, and vice versa. But what does it primarily mean in relation to the judgment that God is to exact?

“[F]or her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her. To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning.’ For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong. And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come’” (Revelation 18:5-10).

Revelation 18:5-10 gives us important clues as to what city this might be. The city is described as being sinful (v. 5), proud and haughty (v. 7), a center where the leaders of Planet Earth delight in its pleasures (v. 9), and it is most certainly deserving of God’s judgment (v. 6). V. 8 describes this city, Babylon, as being “utterly burned with fire” (KJV), and v. 10 further tells us, “For in one hour your judgment has come.” Looking at this prophecy today, and the fact that weapons of mass destruction do exist, the technology is available for this city to destroyed in a period of sixty minutes or less.

This text actually describes the fact that some people are going to be able to physically see its burning from a distance. The majority of these people are likely sea merchants, as indicated in vs. 15, 17-18 (quoted below). The statement “I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn” (v. 8, NIV) actually parallels a similar judgment that is levied by the Lord against the city of Tyre in Ezekiel 28:2-8:

“Son of man, say to the leader of Tyre, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Because your heart is lifted up and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of gods in the heart of the seas’; yet you are a man and not God, although you make your heart like the heart of God—behold, you are wiser than Daniel; there is no secret that is a match for you. By your wisdom and understanding you have acquired riches for yourself and have acquired gold and silver for your treasuries. By your great wisdom, by your trade you have increased your riches and your heart is lifted up because of your riches—therefore thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Because you have made your heart like the heart of God, therefore, behold, I will bring strangers upon you, the most ruthless of the nations. And they will draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. They will bring you down to the pit, and you will die the death of those who are slain in the heart of the seas.’”’”

In this Scripture, the king of Tyre actually proclaims of himself, “I am a god; I sit enthroned like a god in the heart of the seas” (NJPS), and the Lord is forced to judge the king of Tyre for his arrogance against Him, actually first comparing him to be as though he were a perfect angel in the Garden of Eden who fell down and will be as ashes under the feet of men (Ezekiel 28:11-20). This judgment, while giving us some important clue as to the attitudes of those in “Babylon” in Revelation 18, also gives us some clues regarding what kind of city this “Babylon” is, as it may be compared to Tyre.

Tyre was part of the Phoenician Empire, located immediately north of the Land of Israel in what is modern-day Lebanon. It “was situated on a small island which was originally unconnected with the mainland….King Hiram of Tyre (981-947) sent messengers to David, along with cedar trees, and carpenters and masons who helped to build his palace (II Sam. 5:11; I Chr. 14:1). Hiram, who was considered a friend of David, was also in contact with his successor, King Solomon, whom he also supplied with timber of cedar and cypress (I Kings 5; I Chr. 22:4; II Chr. 2:3-18)…Hiram sent able seamen to the new fleet which Solomon built at Ezion-geber to sail in the Red Sea and to Ophir (I Kings 9:26-28)….It was Hiram who built the big breakwater in Tyre, which made the harbor one of the best in the E Mediterranean….Tyre played an important role in purple production, and its purple was the most famous and precious of the dyes in ancient times. Tyrian ships sailed to Egypt, Cyprus, Rhodes, Sicily, and the colonies in North Africa and Spain. In addition to dyed cloths they delivered timber, wheat, oil, and wine. Also, metal, slaves, and horses were sent to Egypt” (IDB).[5] In ancient times, Tyre, being an island somewhat separated from the mainland (but later connected), had a strong reputation for being a center of commerce and a major seaport. A king of Tyre became so absorbed with the power that his city had because of its wealth by trading on the seas, that God saw fit to destroy him. Understanding what Ancient Tyre represented as a seaport, may help us understand the Babylon that God judges in Revelation 18:

“And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more—cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every kind of citron wood and every article of ivory and every article made from very costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, and cinnamon and spice and incense and perfume and frankincense and wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, and cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives. The fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them. The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls’” (Revelation 18:11-16).

Revelation 18:11-16 gives a detailed description about what type of goods this Babylon trades in. There are things here that can in no way apply to the Vatican, or even to the city of Rome that will be judged by God in the end-times. These verses tell us that Babylon is a major center of commerce and trade and that “merchants…became rich from her” (v. 15); but that later they “will stand from afar because of the fear of her torment” (v. 15, KJV). As v. 11 puts it, “the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more,” saying that as a result of this city’s destruction, they lose business. It is notable that the word gomos does not just mean “cargo,” but actually “a ship’s freight, burden, tonnage” (LS).[6] This tells us that the merchants who weep over Babylon’s destruction are sea merchants, and as we see later on, they are able to watch the city burning with fire from their ships, seemingly as they leave or have attempted to enter its port:

“‘[F]or in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’ And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’ And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’ Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her” (Revelation 18:17-20).

Revelation 18:17-20 concludes with telling us what comes of this city’s destruction and gives us further clues as to its potential identity. This Babylon is clearly a city that can be seen from the sea, as ships commonly come into its port and trade (v. 19). The Babylon of Revelation 18 cannot be describing a rebuilt Ancient Babylon in the Middle East (although certain general characteristics can still be applied). The ancient city of Babylon could not be seen from the ocean as it was inland, unlike this end-time counterpart. Some still might say it is Rome, as ships on the Italian coastline may be able to see Rome from afar; but even this is unlikely as Rome is too well inland to be considered a port city. Regardless, Revelation 18:20 concludes telling us, “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her,” confirming that this city was indeed a haven of wicked deeds and activities which God has finally exercised His judgment upon. These sins impeded the spread of the gospel and work of the Lord’s servants, and now God is finally able to bring an end to it and vindicate His followers.

When we consider the evidence before us in Revelation 18, what city could this be? Does it exist on Planet Earth today? There are aspects of this city Babylon in Revelation 18 that cannot apply to the Babylon in Revelation 17, even though God will judge “Babylon.” The Babylon of Revelation 17 (the woman) has historically been held to be the city of Rome, and specifically a reference to the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican, which likely will head the prophesied world religious system of the antimessiah/antichrist (Revelation 13:11-15). However, there are aspects of Babylon in Revelation 18 that do not necessarily describe the Vatican City, but can most certainly be applied to other cites that exist today. The Babylon of Revelation 18 is described as being a center of commerce and trade (vs. 11-16), a center of evil (vs. 5-10), and a seaport (vs. 17-20). Using the ancient city of Tyre as a point of reference, which was a center of commerce and trade, a seaport, a center of evil whose king was judged by God in Ezekiel 28, and which was located on an island off of the mainland (but later connected to the mainland), what city might the Babylon of Revelation 18 be talking about?

Could the Babylon described in Revelation 18 be New York City? Consider the fact that New York is the world’s most important financial center and it is a major seaport. Like Ancient Tyre, it sits on an island, but is connected to the mainland. New York City is the headquarters for the United Nations where the rulers of Planet Earth meet, and many of those rulers indeed do impede and stop the work of Believers in the world. New York City is most certainly a haven for demonic evils and perversions and the luxuries of the flesh. When you look at the aspects of Babylon in Revelation 18, could the city spoken of be New York? New York has been a major target for decades, clearly evident by the attacks of September 11, 2001, so could New York’s judgment come in one hour? If the Vatican were destroyed, would the world mourn its loss as much as the destruction of what some have called the “capital of the world” (Revelation 18:9)? Put another way, how would the financial markets react to the destruction of New York versus the destruction of Rome? While both would be bad, which would be worse?

The Babylon of Revelation 18 may be New York City. I believe this is something that needs to be considered when examining the end-times and the rise of the antimessiah/antichrist, and the potential involvement of the United States in prophecy. New York certainly fits the criteria listed, and is generally not a place that we associate with godliness.

Babylon as the Worldwide Antimessiah/Antichrist System

Perhaps some of you are asking why it appears that Revelation is cryptic about the identity of Babylon. From what we have discussed, the Babylon of Revelation 17 is different than that of Revelation 18 and vice versa. There are different qualities regarding Babylon in each chapter that could very well be describing two different “Babylons.” Why did the Apostle John write the Book of Revelation in such a way that he used terms such as “Babylon”?

The word translated “Babylon” in the Hebrew Scriptures is Bavel and it is transliterated into Greek as Babulōn. BDB says that the “name” Bavel is “connected with [b-l-l] confuse, confound.”[7] The Hebrew verb balel, in the Qal stem (simple action, active voice) means “mix, confuse (languages)” (CHALOT).[8] Consequently, it should not be surprising that the Book of Genesis tells us that the world was first confused at Babel:

“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words…They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’ The LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:1, 4-9).

At Ancient Babel or Babylon, God confused the languages and mankind was forced to scatter across the face of the planet. It should also be noted that Ancient Babylon (and the surrounding region of Sumer) is the same location that many of the ancient pagan sun worship and rituals originated that impacted the Ancient Israelites, the same being responsible for many of today’s occultic practices and influences in Roman Catholicism. It can easily be said that the paganism originating in Ancient Babylon has been permeated throughout the globe.

More importantly, by identifying what Ancient Babylon was, we can more clearly understand why John used this term to describe the phenomenon that he saw in Revelation 17 & 18. The Holman Bible Dictionary describes how elaborate Ancient Babylon actually was, paralleling the future Babylonian system that the Apostle John prophesies about:

“The city spanned the Euphrates and was surrounded by an eleven-mile long outer wall which enclosed suburbs and Nebuchadnezzar’s summer palace. The inner wall was wide enough to accommodate two chariots abreast. It could be entered through eight gates, the most famous of which was the northern Ishtar Gate, used in the annual New Year Festival and decorated with reliefs of dragons and bulls in enameled brick. The road to this gate was bordered by high walls decorated by lions in glazed brick behind which were defensive citadels. Inside the gate was the main palace built by Nebuchadnezzar with its huge throne room. A cellar with shafts in part of the palace may have served as the substructure to the famous ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon,’ described by classical authors as one of the wonders of the ancient world. Babylon contained many temples, the most important of which was Esagila, the temple of the city’s patron god, Marduk. Rebuilt by Nebuchadnezzar, the temple was lavishly decorated with gold. Just north of Esagila lay the huge stepped tower of Babylon, a ziggurat called Etemenanki and its sacred enclosure. Its seven stories perhaps towered some 300 feet above the city. No doubt Babylon greatly impressed the Jews taken there in captivity and provided them with substantial economic opportunities.”[9]

Metaphorically speaking, we are told, “The city of Babylon became to the Old Testament writers the symbol of utter rebellion against God and remained so even into the New Testament (Revelation 17:1-5).”[10] TWOT notes that “It is no wonder that God took Judah to Babylon so as to preserve a remnant of Judah by allowing them to experience first-hand the horrible folly of idolatry.”[11] In essence, because of what God did at the Tower of Babel (confusing the languages), has the same been reversed because we nearing the return of Yeshua? There are very few language barriers today with English as the universal language of business, and various cultural divisions are being steadily eroded through multiculturalism and globalization. Just as God led a portion of His people into Babylon to teach them a lesson, is He perhaps leading us out of it to do the same? Are we not seeing the spiritual bankruptcy of the ways of the world that have influenced much of the modern Church, by studying the Torah and seeing more and more of God’s will implemented in our lives, by entering into a Messianic walk of faith?

Are there cities or places on Planet Earth today that instill an anti-God or antimessiah Babylonian mentality? Yes, and there are certainly many of them. As it relates to this study, are the cities of New York and the Vatican such places? Certainly, characteristics of Ancient Babylon are prevalent in both locations, and likely many more. Assuming that the city Babylon of Revelation 18 is New York, then the Apostle John could only compare it to Ancient Babylon, for it was the only city he knew of to compare it to. Similarly, if Revelation 17 speaks of the Vatican City, then John could only describe it as being Babylonian, as many of the traditions and practices of Roman Catholicism stem from Ancient Babylon, having been adopted by intermediaries such as Greece and Rome.

Overall and ultimately, Babylon must be viewed as anything opposed to God or to His Son, Yeshua the Messiah, and the ways of God as laid out in the Bible. The current world system, composed of political, economic, and religious elements is very much like that of Ancient Babylon and should be considered non-Biblical and antimessiah, ultimately opposed to the will of God and His Divine authority. Interestingly, some interpret prophetic Scriptures relating to the phrase “king of Babylon” as a reference to the antimessiah. This is somewhat compelling, because when the antimessiah comes to power and establishes his world government—regardless of where he is from—he will indeed become king of “Babylon,” i.e., the worldwide anti-God system that originated on the Plains of Shinar (Genesis 11:2). However, we must also consider the fact that only God is the One who can fix these problems.

Overall, Babylon should be taken as composing the end-time system of the antimessiah/antichrist. In Revelation 17:5, John describes Babylon as being a “mystery,” which I personally interpret as meaning that the Babylonian phenomenon of confusion is too complex and multifaceted to figure out completely, composed of political, economic, and religious elements. In Revelation 18:4, the Believers are told to “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues.” This admonishment certainly has multiple meanings. For those living in the city Babylon of Revelation 18 in the end-times, perhaps New York, it is telling them to leave for their own safety. For those that have deeply partaken in the Babylonian world system, it telling them likewise to leave. But have we arrived at that point yet? Only time will tell.

Is the United States Babylon?

One concept that has intrigued some prophecy teachers, and certainly many Americans who study prophecy, is the United States’ potential involvement in end-time events. From one perspective, there are those who have the view that the United States is not mentioned in Bible prophecy in any way, and from another, you have the view that the United States is perhaps at the very center of the Tribulation period. It would seem unlikely that the United States is not mentioned at all in the Bible, as it is the most powerful country or “empire” that has existed on Planet Earth. But the United States clearly cannot be the central focus of the Last Days, which is the restoration of Israel.

Some believe that the United States of America is end-time Babylon the Great. Proponents of this claim that the text of Revelation 18 applies to America (as opposed to a literal city Babylon as the Scripture clearly indicates), and that the U.S. is judged in one literal hour (Revelation 18:10). People believing this concept may “confirm” their beliefs by researching out people who claim to have had extra-Biblical “dreams or visions” detailing the supposed destruction of the United States. Although one can certainly draw parallels from the Babylonian system described in Revelation 18 and apply them to America, I have serious reservations in believing the claim that Babylon the Great is the U.S. (Although I will certainly not dismiss the fact that the United States will be judged for its sin).

The reason that I do not believe that the United States is Babylon the Great of Revelation 18 is two-fold. (1) Babylon is described in these passages as being a city, and (2) many proponents of this our ministry has encountered base their belief on extra-Biblical dreams and visions which may not be accurate. Although the technology exists for every square inch of the United States to be destroyed in one literal hour, radiation and the other agents used would spread outside the borders of the United States, eventually killing all of humanity in perhaps a number of days or weeks. One must not forget that the Tribulation period is seven years, not seven days long! The concept that America is Babylonian may be Scriptural, but the belief that the U.S. will be destroyed in a period of sixty minutes, as opposed to a single city (New York?) as Revelation 18 tells us, is highly questionable.

Consistent with the concept that America is Babylon the Great and due for “coast-to-coast toast” destruction, in a short period of time, is the notion that American Believers must leave the United States. In Revelation 18:4 we are told to “Come out of her, my people,” but assuming that the United States is Babylon the Great as some suggest, where does one go? Note that Revelation 13:4 plainly tells us, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?” This Scripture says that the antimessiah/antichrist is going to have much power, and no human being will be able to fight him. This implies that no place on Planet Earth is safe from the antimessiah, including the most populated city of the United States to the most remote region of the Sahara Desert. Revelation 18:4 primarily speaks to those in the city Babylon, and secondly implies that Believers should distance themselves from the worldwide Babylonian system. There has to be a proper and Biblical manner in which to view the United States’ potential role in Bible prophecy, which is not consistent with the notion “run for your lives.” Consider the words of the Apostle Peter, who writes,

“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Messiah as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Messiah will be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14-16).

Although we do not believe that the United States is Babylon the Great, it is a strong possibility that New York City is perhaps the city Babylon the Great of Revelation 18. However, rather than debate the exact identity of the United States in prophecy, a more imperative ideological question must be answered: Will the United States of America be judged for its sin?

Zechariah 14:2 tells us that God will “gather all the nations to Jerusalem for the war,” which is preceded in Zechariah 12:9 with, “It shall be on that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come upon Jerusalem.” Surely, among those spoken include the United States. America does not have “special status” in the eyes of God. The U.S. will be judged along with any other country. Unfortunately, this very concept (the judgment of America) alone is hard for many American Christians to accept, but they must. Our country is no more or less sinful than any other on Planet Earth.

Conclusion

Are there two distinct Babylons in Revelation chs. 17 and 18? Surely, the Babylonian antimessiah/antichrist system permeates them both and there are overlapping qualities. There are parts of the Babylonian phenomenon that are confusing. But can we know for certain that one is the Vatican (Revelation 17) and one is New York City (Revelation 18)? No. We are dealing with future events and they are open for interpretation. As students of the Word, we have to know what the various possibilities are so that if we see the fulfillment of these things in our lifetimes we will be ready.

We have just analyzed only one aspect to the Babylonian phenomenon. There are others. Will Ancient Babylon be rebuilt? What will end-time Babylon’s purpose be? Why should we study these issues?

The subjects regarding Babylon are very complex and confusing at times (hence the name, Babylon—confusion). Unfortunately, very few have studied it from the perspective that it encompasses many things, as opposed to exclusively this or exclusively that. There will continue to be a wide variety of beliefs and views concerning end-time Babylon. However, from what we have concluded here, it is ultimately the worldwide antimessiah/antichrist system composed of political, economic, and religious aspects—of which the United States of America is certainly a part.

In the end, Babylon—whatever it is—will be defeated. The antimessiah and those who conspired with him will suffer the fate of the Lake of Fire. The Lord will judge Babylon, and vindicate His servants who were hindered from His work because of its existence. The anti-God Babylonian system running this world will be no more and Yeshua the Messiah Himself will reign from Yerushalayim (Jerusalem), not Bavel (Babylon)! The return of the Lord and establishment of His eternal reign on Earth is something that each of us should pray for and endeavor to see.


NOTES

[1] Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, trans. C.F. Cruse (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 50.

[2] Donald Senior, “The First Letter of Peter,” in Walter J. Harrelson, et. al., New Interpreter’s Study Bible, NRSV (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 2188.

[3] The Ante-Nicene Fathers, P. Schaff, ed.; Libronix Digital Library System 1.0d: Church History Collection. MS Windows XP. Garland, TX: Galaxie Software. 2002.

[4] TDNT notes that “The LXX almost always uses óros for Heb. har, which also means either a single mountain or a range…Many sayings reflect Palestinian geography, e.g., the city on a hill (Mt. 5:14), the sheep left on the hills (18:12)…” (W. Foerster, “óros,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, abrid. [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], pp 732-733).

[5] A.S. Kapelrud, “Tyre,” in George Buttrick, ed., et. al., The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1962), 4:721-722.

[6] H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 167.

[7] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 93.

[8] William L. Holladay, ed., A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden, the Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1988), 41.

[9] Dan Browning, “Babylon, History and Religion of,” in Trent C. Butler, ed., et. al., Quickverse 6.0: Holman Bible Dictionary, CD-ROM, Hiawatha IA: Parsons Technology, 1999.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Louis Goldberg, “Babel, Babylon,” in R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 1:89.

About J.K. McKee 759 Articles
J.K. McKee (B.A., University of Oklahoma; M.A., Asbury Theological Seminary) is the editor of Messianic Apologetics (www.messianicapologetics.net), a division of Outreach Israel Ministries (www.outreachisrael.net). He is a 2009 recipient of the Zondervan Biblical Languages Award for Greek. He is author of numerous books and commentaries, dealing with a wide range of topics that are important for today’s Messianic Believers.

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