Judgment of Babylon
Who, what and where is Babylon? Why is it given two complete chapters from Revelation? Is it a single literal place or is it symbolic of something else?
Before we begin our quest to understand chapters 17 and 18, let’s examine what we do know. We know;
1. It is first mentioned in Genesis 10:10 as the city of Babel and it is last mentioned in Revelation 18:21. It was a city-state that over time became a large empire.
2. All the major prophets of the Bible make comments concerning Babylon. For example; Isaiah 13 times, Ezekiel 17 times, Jeremiah most of all with 186 times.
3. In Revelation the word “Babylon first occurs in 14:8 and the second time is in 16:19. Both these verses tell us of the fall and judgment of Babylon. Chapter 17 and 18 give us the details of 16:19.
4. We know historically there was a city named Babylon on the plain of Shinar.
5. Genesis 11 refers to it as the seat of idolatry.
6. It was the center of a great empire that dominated much of the ancient world.
7. Babylon developed shortly after about 2000 B.C. around the time of the Hebrew patriarchs. It developed as an independent kingdom of Semitic westerners, the Amorites. Hammurabi (1792 – 1750 B.C.) was the sixth king of this First Dynasty of Babylon.
8. It was located on the Euphrates River about 50 miles south of the current location of the city of Baghdad.
9. Babylon was considered to be the political seat of power of southern Mesopotamia.
10. After a brief period of glory under Nebuchadnezzar I (1124 – 1103 B.C.) it enter a dark age for two centuries.
11. Following Assyrian domination, Nebuchadnezzar II (605 – 603 B.C.) restored the empire and marched on Jerusalem in December 598B.C.
12. Nebuchadnezzar II was the most powerful and feared king of the Neo-Babylon Period and the last truly great ruler of Babylon.
13. Cyrus II captured Babylon in 539 B.C. and its domination of Near East ended.
14. The city continued to be a culture and economic center. The Geek historian Herodotus said it “surpassed in splendor any city of the know world” in 460 B.C.
15. The site of the city was deserted by 200 A.D.
16. Symbolically it represents evil in the world.
“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowels came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.”
We cannot be sure which of the seven angels speaks to John. The angel asked John to view “the judgment of the great harlot.”
In 16:19 told us that “the great city was divided into three parts” and “great Babylon” was judged by God. Chapter 17 and 18 are about the judgment of 16:10 and 16:19.
The vast majority of conservative Christian scholars see “the great city and great Babylon” as a revived Roman Empire or papal system seated in Rome. A few of the reasons they give in support of their position are as follows;
1. Verse 9 speaks of seven mountains, and Rome is the city of seven hills.
2. The woman is sitting on an Imperial beast and wearing purple and scarlet robes.
3. She has great influence over masses of nations.
4. Kings of the earth have lived in guilty intimacy with her, seeking her favor.
5. Blood of the saints, martyrs, are found in her.
However, we must consider some other thoughts to be fair. Idolatrous worship is frequently represented in Scripture by the character of a whore or whoredom.
Isaiah 1:21 refers to Judah and Jerusalem this way, “How the faithful city has become a harlot! It was full of justice; righteousness lodged in it, but now murderers.”
In His letter to the church of Thyatira, Jesus refers to “Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”
I believe the harlot of verse 1 and the woman of the following verses to be a false religious system and its leadership. The harlot includes the apostate church, both Protestant and Catholic, as well as other world religions such as Moslems, Buddhists, and all other faiths that exclude Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Like other question we have reviewed in our study, Babylon could well have a double meaning; both symbolic and literal. It could easily be a place and the symbol of a false religious system.
Let’s keep an open mind as we let God unveil Chapter 17. What we do know from verse 1 is that the great harlot controls many nations (sits on many waters).
“2 with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”
The kings of the earth have committed spiritual immorality with the great harlot. The results of their sin have spread to the inhabitants of the earth. Her deceit is neither limited nor localized. Her control could be either political or spiritual. I believe it is most likely both. Satan and the two beasts have drawn the world toward one world government and a single idolatrous religious system, combining church and state.
When the fifth angel poured out his bowel on the throne of the beast, punishment comes to the great harlot and her followers. The seat of power of the beast includes a religious system that includes all manner of sects and the apostate church. The apostate church has become an anti-Christendom sect led by the anti-Christ and the false prophet.
So complete are her delusions that her followers blindly chase after her as if in a drunken stupor. Reason and logic have left them. As God pours out the final judgments on a drunken man-kind, he shakes his fist in defiance of God.
“3 So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.”
John is given spiritual insight to the nature of the woman. There is little doubt that the woman of this verse and the harlot of verse 1 are the same person or entity.
The scarlet beast may be a symbol of political power. If this is the case, the woman riding the political power may be symbolic of political power being controlled by a religious power.
As we saw in pervious chapters; Satan, the false prophet and the anti-Christ transition from political leadership of the world to religious domination. So much so that the world worships the image of the beast and Satan as god.
Beginning with verse 8, we are given additional details about the nature and purpose of the woman and the beast she rides.
“4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.”
There is an obvious reference to great wealth and position of the woman. But in spite of her wealth she drinks from the cup of her sin, the wine of her formation mentioned is verse 2.
“5 And on her forehead a name was written:
BABYLON THE GREAT
THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS
AND OF THE
ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
All these titles or names bring to bear the great discuss that God has for false religion. Remember the first commandments, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image --- any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me…….”
During the Great Tribulation, the false religious system has broken every part of these first commandments. Not only has man-kind denied God, they have made Satan their God.
During the rule of the Roman Empire, harlots would write their name on their foreheads so that their clients would remember them. She is not ashamed of who she is.
Sin that once was hidden because of it was socially taboo, is now proudly displayed as a badge of honor. We see that in our lives today, don’t we? God is not happy when his church does not stand up against such social and political disregard for Him. Remember what Jesus said to the lukewarm church in the seven letters that began this study?
An example of this comes from a recent statement by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He spoke of his moral upbringing and made the statement that adultery and homosexuality were immoral. Immediately, elected officials, the press, and many others called for his resignation for making such a socially unacceptable statement.
We live in times were unchanging Biblical principles take a back seat to changing social lifestyles. Little by little Satan is drawing us away into a society that is unaccountable for the desires of its heart.
“6 I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.”
John marvels at the drunken state of the false religion that has brought about the blood of the saints. This represents the blood of all saints and especially those who are martyred for their witness and testimony for Jesus.
“7 But the angel said to me, “Why did you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.”
“8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not and yet is.”
Those that believe the beast represents a revived Rome Empire offer this viewpoint; the beast existed in the past but for a time does not, but it will ascend once again out of the bottomless pit to be finally destroy in the end.
However, there have been many empires that have risen and fallen in the Middle East. One of them was Babylon that represents both a political and religious power engaged in idol worship.
“9 Here is the mind which has wisdom: The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.”
“10 There are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time.”
“11 The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eight, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.
Here too, many highly respected Bible scholars hold these verses to be a clear indication of a revived Rome Empire. The seven kings are seen as seven forms of Roman governments.
The woman controls seven governments (mountains) and their leadership. Five of these have fallen and only one exists. And there is one who will come but serve for only a brief time.
I offer the possibility that the five fallen kingdoms have been or will be united into one. At some time during the Great Tribulation a new king, the anti-Christ will reign. This would not have to be Rome. It could be any number of combinations.
We may never understand these verses until they come to be.
“12 The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.”
“13 These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.”
Consider the possibility of the Moslem world being united under one leader just prior to the beginning of Tribulation. All Christians are called into heaven leaving the world at their mercy. Non-Christian Israel is left to stand against them.
In any case, the ten kings have power briefly and willing give control of their kingdoms to the beast (political power of the harlot). As we have seen in previous chapters, Satan is combining political and religious power.
“14 These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen and faithful.”
Jesus wins! At the end of the Tribulation Period Jesus returns to earth and Satan and all his followers are defeated. All those who have rejected Christ are included in Satan’s defeat.
Overcomers (true believers) share in the victory and called chosen and faithful. What a great honor that will be!
“15 Then he said to me, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.”
We are given a simple explanation of verse 1. The harlot sits on or controls all manner of man-kind.
“16 And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and bur her with fire.”
For some untold reason, the political power turns against the religious power. Their angry is so great it takes four punishments to describe it.
Those that hold to the Roman Empire as the beast see this as the political governments seated in Rome turning against the papal religious system.
“17 For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled”
God’s will be done! We may not understand His reasons, but we can know that He will fulfill His promises and prophecy. God is always in control. He allows us to use our free will but in the end His will will be done.
“18 And the woman whom you saw is the great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.”
Many see the great city which is the seat of power for the false religion as Rome, while others understand it to be Babylon. I see it as a symbol of all false religion. But where is its seat of power; Rome, Babylon, or maybe Jerusalem?
Funeral Song For Babylon
The Believer’s Bible Commentary offers these opening remarks for Chapter 18.
Chapter 18 consists primarily of a funeral song, celebrating the fall of Babylon. As mentioned, this refers to the harlot church which in not only a vast religious system but perhaps the greatest commercial establishment in the world.
This untied church and state power is fallen. As we saw in 17:16, the political seat of power turns against to religious authority. Could it be that these two powers have separated locations? I believe it may be possible that Babylon is the seat of power for the political authority while Jerusalem is the location of the false religious system. Did not the two beasts; the Anti-Christ and the false prophet build the false temple in Jerusalem? And, was not the false temple the location of the idol that was the image of the beast?
If it is a single location, for me that location is not Rome nor Babylon, but Jerusalem. Symbolically, the fallen Babylon speaks of a world-wide corrupted political and religious system.
Some believe that Chapter 17 and 18 speak of different people and systems of government and religious leadership. I have never understood their position. For me Chapter 18 is an obvious continuation of Chapter 17.
“After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory.”
Here an angel of judgment comes down from heaven. This is the same angel we saw in 8:3 and 10:1. The angel is our Lord Jesus. He has “great authority” and “the earth was illuminated with his glory”.
“2 And he cried mightily with a loud voice saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!”
God’s judgment is realized. In 14:8 there was a prophetic announcement of its fall while in 16:19 its fall is anticipated. Here it is celebrated!
The harlot (false church and political system) is the home of every form of evil. Just as in the time of Noah, every though is of evil.
“3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.”
All nations which shared in her glory days now share in her despair and judgment. All those who have benefited from taking the mark of the beast now suffer. The reason for her fall is the absolute corruption she has practiced.
“4 And I heard another voice form heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.”
“5 for her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”
I think it is important for us to remember that Chapters 17 & 18 speak to the judgments of 16:10 and 16:19. This is not an additional time or judgment, but additional details of the judgment of Chapter 16.
Many times throughout Scripture God has warned His people before some great calamity or judgment. For example; Noah and his family in Genesis 6:13-22, Lot and his daughters in Genesis 19:12-22, the church before the Rapture in Revelation 4:1.
Those that have been converted during the Tribulation Period and that have survived without receiving the mark of the beast are warned to flee. I believe they will flee to that protected place we saw earlier in our study.
Her sins have piled up until they symbolically reach heaven and God has had enough.
“6 Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she mixed, mix double for her.”
“7 In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; for she says in her heart, “I sit as queen, and am no widow, and will not see sorrow.”
So great is her sin God calls for her punishment to be double the normal portion. I find it interesting that the instruction for her punishment calls for the same cup she used to mix her sin is used to mix her punishment.
The false church and political systems have lived in luxury and in their arrogance have declared themselves untouchable by God or man. Many times I have heard similar words from lost and unrepentant men and women in my ministry. They do not fear God and see themselves as above it all. From a world view they are successful, on top of the world. But in time they too will know that wrath of God. We, as the true church, cannot be deceived into believing that worldly success is eternal. Everyone who rejects Christ will suffer and be rejected by Him, without exception.
“8 Therefore her plagues will come in one day --- death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her.”
As we discussed in Chapter 16, the final crushing blow of the vial or bowel judgments come rapidly, one after the other.
God’s wrath comes in five forms; plagues, death, mourning, famine and fire. All these are seen in the bowel judgments.
“9 The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning”
“10 standing at a distance for fear of her torment saying, “Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city!” For in one hour your judgment has come.”
“11 And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore.”
The kings and merchants are shocked by the destruction of the religious and political world power. A power that appeared to be supreme, beyond any other authority, without equal is now rapidly and completely destroyed. They weep and mourn because of their lost of luxury and financial gain and security. Notice they abandon her and stand at a distance in fear that they too will suffer her fate.
“12 merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron and marble;”
“13 and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men.”.
“14 The fruit that your soul longed for has gone from you, and all the things which are rich and splendid have gone from you, and you shall find them no more at all.”
“15 The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing.”
“16 and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls!”
Twenty-eight items are mentioned. This represents all manner of world trade, beginning with gold and silver and ending with bodies and souls of men. Total economic collapse!
Those that have profited from their relationship with her now can only stand and watch. Their weeping and wailing is for themselves. Those who deny God and follow Satan will weep for themselves on that day that Satan is thrown into the fiery pit.
“17 For in one hour such great riches came to nothing. Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance.”
“18 and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying ‘What is like this great city?”
“19 They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.”
The impossible has happened. Once again we hear the cry, “Alas, alas that great city is fallen.” “How can this be,” would be an accurate way to describe the feeling here. Jesus warned us He would come swiftly, without warning when the time was right. He has come!
How many lost souls that are with us each day express the similar feelings? Today is great. My life is good. Why should I worry about God now? I have everything my heart desires. They too will be in awe, weeping and wailing when they come before God.
“20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!”
We move quickly from the worldview to the heavenly view of the same judgment. For
God, the apostles, prophets and all overcomers it is a time of rejoicing. Satan and his followers are defeated. God has judged the harlot for her treatment of His people.
One commentary that I read makes the point of how out of tune earth can be with heaven. The Scriptures warn us against laying up corruptible treasures on earth and teach us to lay up treasures in heaven that will not pass away.
One of the lessons for us here is that we should consider the consequences of the compromises we make for worldly gain vs. heavenly reward or judgment. Do we put God and His will first or do we yield to our worldly carnal desire? Are we at times the great harlot?
“21 Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore.”
“22 Then sound of harpists, musicians, flutists, and trumpeters shall not be heard in you anymore. No craftsman of any craft shall be found in you anymore, and the sound of a millstone shall not be heard in you anymore.”
“23 The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For you merchants were great men of the earth, for by your sorcery al the nations were deceived.”
As a point of emphasis, we are given nine things which will not be seen anymore within the great city, meaning that all life is gone from the city. Her ruin is final, complete and irreversible.
I can’t help but to think of Jeremiah 51:64, “Then you shall say, Thus Babylon shall sink and not rise from the catastrophe that I will bring upon her…..”
Satan has deceived many; great men and nations are his victims. Only God and his true church stand against Satan and his lies. That is true of today as well as the end of times.
“24 And in her eyes was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.”
From the creation of man to the end of times, fallen unrepentant man is due no pity. Those who follow Satan and deny God are the great city which is the harlot. Thereby, they are guilty of the blood of the prophets and the saints.