Revelation is possibly as rich in imagery as any book ever written, but I don’t agree that it’s impossible to unravel all those word-pictures. Here’s the result of my own on-going study of the mysterious “Mystery Babylon” of Revelation, in three or four parts…
Revelation chapters 17 and 18 discuss an amazing vision of a prostitute riding on a seven-headed beast. I could describe her here, but you’d be better off reading the two chapters to get the full effect of the scene. Notice how stunning and shocking is her appearance: she’s no ordinary woman, and of course the beast she’s riding is no ordinary beast. I’ve written a separate article about the beast, to be published at some time in the future, although the two are inextricably linked.
Who or what is the woman described here? I’m going to outline my own interpretation and explain my conclusions. But first, here’s a list of some of the most popular interpretations of this prophecy:
VIEWS OF BABYLON
1: The prostitute represents a global economic system
2: She represents an immoral world
3: She’s the Roman Catholic church from its inception to the end times
4: She’s a last-days world religion, or
5: She’s all false religion
6: She’s the future literal city of Babylon, rebuilt in her original location, and turned into the hub of international trade
7: She’s the present-day United States, or the United Nations, or New York city. Some think the fate of Babylon spoken of in chapter 18 will befall America. In fact, a few actually believe it’s already happened, and the “9-11” terrorist attack was, according to them, the fulfillment of chapter 18.
8: She’s the idolatrous world, including an obsession with materialism and wealth.
The name “Babel” comes from the Hebrew word “balal”, which is first used in the Hebrew Bible as a place name, called in English “Babylon” (Genesis 11:9). The word “babel” is of Akkadian origin and means “gateway to a god” (or gods). The ziggurats-a type of pyramid-built in ancient Mesopotamia had steps on the outside leading to a shrine a the top.
WILL BABYLON BE A LITERAL CITY AGAIN?
Some commentators think that the Babylon of Revelation chapter 18 will be a literal re-built city in its original spot, which will be destroyed at the end of the Tribulation: I don’t agree. Among the clues I see that she’s not a literal city even in chapter 18 are these:
1: “By your magic spell all the nations were led astray” (verse 23). Well, the truth is that the nations are already “astray” and have been so for a long time, and the city of Babylon hasn’t yet been rebuilt.
2: “In her was found the blood of prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth” (verse 24). We can hardly say that the blood of all people who have been killed on earth will be found in a city that hasn’t been built yet.
3: “The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever” (19:3). A literal city on earth will not be burning “for ever and ever”, and God plans to cleanse the earth after the Tribulation and remake it after the Millennium.
4: Her sins are “remembered” by God (18:5). More on this in a minute.
5: The destruction of Mystery Babylon is immediately followed by God assuming his reign over the earth (Revelation 19:1-6 and 11:15). If Babylon were one single city-however great-there would still be plenty of rebellious cities and nations left on earth.
BABYLON THE DYSPHEMISM
Sometimes names-city or nation names and names of people-are used in scripture to describe another city, nation or person which has become like the original. It’s usually a slur, a critical inference, a negative metaphor, an insult. This kind of association is sometimes called a “dysphemism”: it’s the opposite of a “euphemism”.
For example, chapter 11 of Revelation speaks of Jerusalem in derogatory terms, naming it after cities it had become corrupted to be like in the eyes of God:
“…the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (Revelation 11:8).
Secondly, when final judgments are meted out upon the earth, we’re told that God will think of Babylon as a memory:
“God remembered Babylon the Great…” (16: 17-21). He gives her “the fury of his wrath” .
He would not have to remember a literal city if it were right there in front of him in the present: at least some of its guilt is history. Again, while discussing the wealth earned by the merchants of the earth from the woman, and its destruction, God “remembered her crimes” (Revelation 18:5).
There’s a precedent for retrospective judgment, and we can see it’s not just a case of God getting mad about something which happened in the past. One day Jesus was denouncing cities of his day which would not repent, even though he had done great miraculous signs in them. He compared them to cities which had declined or fallen long ago, saying that both were to face a future judgment:
“Woe to you Korazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths…I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:20-24).
Thirdly, when Babylon is judged, we’re told that,“The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever” (Revelation 19:3). This would surely not be the case if she were a literal, physical city in the Middle East.
THE LAST-DAYS BABYLON
So the judgment of the city and/or empire of Babylon will be at least partially retrospective (Revelation 16:19), just as it will be with Capernaum and the other cities Jesus mentioned. However, since the final “beast” of Revelation will hate the woman and seek to destroy her (17: 15-18) there must be a contemporary manifestation of the woman on earth at that time: there must be a place, an organization, or an influence defined by God as an adulterous prostitute, and which reminds him of the old Babylon. The entity named after Babylon which has shaped the world and which has “ridden” upon successive world empires will be judged in the last of days, at the time of antichrist and his empire, as well as being judged in the memory of God.
So what exactly is that influence, entity, organization, place or system? What will (or does) the last-days manifestation of Babylon look like?
Part 2 will appear next week…
Copyright © Nick Fisher 2016