Here’s the third and final part of my personal study on “Mystery Babylon”. It probably needs a little editing, so it’s a rough diamond…
THE MERCHANDISE OF MYSTERY BABYLON: CHAPTER 18
Revelation chapter 18, which describes the destruction of a great city which has made the merchants of the world rich, is often interpreted as a literal city which will be rebuilt on the original site of Babylon. I said in the first two parts of this post that I don’t think this is true, and gave some of my reasons.
The first verses of chapter 18 recapitulate what we’re told in chapter 17: Mystery Babylon has corrupted the entire earth with her adulteries. But another dimension is introduced in verse 3: she has enriched the merchants of the earth with her “excessive luxuries”. Verse 7 tells us that she has given herself “glory and luxury”. From verse 9 we’re told about the merchants of the earth standing far off, watching and mourning over her destruction, because they’re no longer able to gain wealth from her as they did.
Along with “glory and luxury” the prostitute blesses herself with great wealth:
“The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold and precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand…” (17:4).
How does this picture of wealth relate to the interpretation I’ve given of the woman?
BABYLON AND IDOLATRY
I’ve talked about the woman’s adultery and prostitution being metaphors for false religion as well as rebellion against God. That is, along with rebellion the religions, gods and untrue theologies and philosophies of history all add up to “Mystery Babylon”. They’re a dominant component governing successive human civilizations.
“Idolatry” is another word used in the Bible for the worship of false gods, but it can also describe an obsession with luxuries, material wealth in general, and even other people. Something or someone we are obsessed with-something or someone we give our devotion to rather than giving that devotion to God-is our idol. I think this is what Revelation chapter 18 is mostly about: Mystery Babylon is not only a symbol for false religion and rebellion, but for man’s obsession with “stuff” and people we put on a pedestal, rather than putting God there. I’ve already written about the need for us believers to be separate from what the Bible calls “the world”, and how the world and its way of life apart from God relate to idolatry. Here are a few other examples from the Bible:
A greedy person (“covetous” in the KJV) is an “idolater” (Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5).
The worship of statues and false gods is called “idolatry” and “adultery” (Ezekiel 23: 35 and 37).
Obsession with food is making your stomache your god (Phillippians 3:19).
The worship of statues is called “prostitution” (Leviticus 17:7).
Paul called gods “idols” (I Corinthians 8:10).
Israel lusted after “the nations” as well as their gods: they wanted to be like them instead of being set apart for him. God called their lusting “prostitution”, “lewdness” and “promiscuity” (Ezekiel 23:29-31).
John said, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:15-17).
Remember that James called those who are friends of the world “adulterous people” (James 4:4). Therefore those things that come from the world, as listed by John above: the cravings, the lusting of the eyes and the boasting of what we have and do, are spiritual adultery.
So the Bible says that idolatry, which is spiritual adultery, is not only the worship of statues and false gods but can also be greed. It can be a continual lusting for something we haven’t got but are determined to have no matter what the cost to our spiritual condition, and it can be a prideful attitude about what we possess and what we do. It can therefore be something we “serve”- something which is our first love-our priority- rather than having God as our first love.
With this in mind, it seems logical that the obsession with worldly wealth spoken of in Revelation chapter 18 is referring to the idolatry of man, to materialism, to the lust for stuff and the wealth it brings, rather than the pursuit of God. The world’s merchants, we’re told:
“…grew rich from her excessive luxuries” (Revelation 18:3).
Mystery Babylon is the personification of idolatry. She is adultery, and she is rebellion and disobedience.
Jesus, having just told his disciples to store up treasure in heaven and not on the earth, said:
“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24).
THE CONTINUATION OF BABEL’S SIN
The sins of the “mother of prostitutes” have continued on in successive world empires ever since she appeared. They are the desire to congregate rather than to disperse; the desire to rule in a centralized power over the masses; the practice of idol worship and the worship of numerous false gods and philosophies rather than the one Creator God. Also among the sins passed on to subsequent empires are the persuit of a unified, multi-cultural, noted and revered humanistic society without God; an obsession with immorality and all kinds of sexual perversion; a smug arrogance and bloated image of its own wisdom, knowledge and importance (Isaiah 47:10 and Revelation 18:7b); the persecution of the real people of God; an obsession with material wealth and the worship of “super” humans such as movie stars, rather than God:
“Your merchants were the world’s great men” (Rev. 18:23).
BABYLON AND ON…
Mystery Babylon is seen to “ride” upon a seven-headed beast in Revelation chapter 17. As I’ll show in a later article the seven heads are commonly understood to represent seven kingdoms or empires which have arisen in chronological order throughout history. She has not only been the distinguishing characteristic of all these empires since the beginning of human civilization, but she has dominated them and controlled them:
“The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 17:18).
The kingdoms or empires normally associated with the heads of the beast, that is, the “five have fallen and one is” as recorded by John in Revelation, include Babylon, Assyria, Medo-Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Some people see the Ottoman Empire as one of the seven. It’s not greatly important which of the ancient empires God intended to be in the list: he knows who they are. But the last two or three are of great importance to us, particularly, of course, the last one, which is an eighth beast.
We could wonder why such nations and empires as those in the far east are not included in the lists made by theologians and prophecy “experts”. In answer, I would say that 1: Those in the list are the dominant empires of known human civilization, 2: They all had a profound effect on the nation of Israel-the location of Old Testament events and the nation which carried the human line of geneology to the Messiah and his place of birth and ministry, and 3: They are the “ancestors” of the future kingdom of the antichrist.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE HARLOT
Babylon’s destruction is said to take place “in one hour” (Rev, 18:10, 17 and 19). Proponents of the rebuilt city theory see this as evidence that a literal city of Babylon will be destroyed suddenly, possibly with nuclear weapons.
However, the use of the word “hour” in the Bible is sometimes used as a metaphor to mean a general time, not a literal hour of time. For example, the Tribulation, although known to be a period of at least three and a half years, is referred to as “the hour of trial that will come upon the earth” (Rev. 3:10). The time of judgment is referred to as “the hour of his judgment” (Rev. 14:7). The beast will have authority on the earth for “forty two months” (Rev. 13:5) and yet ten kings are seen to have authority along with him for “one hour” (17:12).
BURNED BY FIRE?
Revelation speaks of Babylon being consumed by fire (Rev. 18:9). I find it interesting that this seems to fit with a prophecy in Ezekiel in which, while Israel is being attacked by Gog and other neighboring nations, God says:
“I will send fire on Magog and on those who live safely in the coastlands” (Ezekiel 39:6).
Is this a literal fire, or is it a metaphor for some other major problem? The beast and his ten kings who will hate the prostitute:
“…will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire” (Rev. 17:16).
This must be a noxious collection of metaphors, because these world despots aren’t likely to leave a city literally “naked”, and they aren’t going to eat it. Therefore the word “fire” may well also be imagery for some other kind of attack.
WHY WOULD THE 8TH BEAST WANT TO DESTROY THE PROSTITUTE?
This is a fascinating question to me: what will be different about the final beast, the final kingdom and its leader, that would make them hate the woman and want to destroy her?
It’s necessary to remember that the beast is unknowingly employed by God to fulfill his will: the destruction of the prostitute (Rev. 17).
THE 8TH BEAST: A FEW THOUGHTS
The books of Daniel tells us that the antichrist will exalt himself above every “god” (Daniel 11:36 and 2 Thess 2:4). Daniel and Jesus tell us that he will desecrate the Jewish most holy place on the temple mount in Jerusalem. Revelation tells us that he will demand worship around the world. Paul tells us that he will claim to be God (2 Thess. 2:4).
They all tell us that he will speak against the Biblical God and blaspheme him. He will attempt to replace all other gods. He will persecute and kill Jews and Christians. He will seek and almost attain world domination. He will invade Jerusalem, believing it to be his, and occupy the temple mount. This is the spot where dedicated Muslims-with their fierce monotheism and hatred for the decadent West-obsessed with material wealth and luxury- have wished for hundreds of years to eradicate the memory of Judaism and Christianity, and enthrone its own god…