What does Babylon mean in Revelation?
a major city of our day such as London or New York?
Who or what does the Harlot represent?
An end-time ecclesiastical system?
Judaism (apostate Israel)?
Babylon of Old
Nimrod, king of Babel
was Nimrod who was king of
Babel (Gen. 10:8-12).
His kingship resulted in the judgment of the tower of Babel, the
introduction of languages, and the dispersion of mankind
Babylon in Iraq
The Destruction of Babylon
Prophecy indicates a cataclysmic overthrow.
There are two primary views concerning how to interpret
prophecies concerning the destruction of Babylon:
1) Dramatic Hyperbole
- God made use of extensive
(dramatic exaggeration) to indicate His anger against sin.
Details of the destruction are not to be taken literally.
The passages were fulfilled in events of the past or speak in general of
2) Literal Prediction
- Prophetic passages may utilize some
hyperbole , but on the whole they are to be taken literally
and therefore, have not been fulfilled.
Babylon's Historic Fall
to Persia in 539 B.C., but the city was not destroyed. Subsequently,
different forces and empires took the city, but in no case was it destroyed.
Although it continued to be inhabited until at least A.D. 115, it was eventually deserted through neglect.
Then, in the mid-1800s archaeological expeditions began to investigate the
site. Later, in 1987, Saddam Hussein began to restore parts of the city.
Babylon's Predicted Destruction
Scripture predicts her cataclysmic overthrow like Sodom and Gomorrah
She is never to be inhabited
She is to be utterly destroyed, desolate
Her destruction is to be
The Timing of Babylon's Destruction
During the Day of the Lord
John's vision contains extensive prophecies concerning her destruction so
it is obviously future to John's day (95 A.D.).
Key passages concerning her destruction include
is a key
Day of the Lord
passage as are the passages in Revelation.
The destruction takes place in the Day of the Lord, when Israel undergoes
and the seventh bowl of God's wrath is poured forth
Babylon is the World?
A Symbol of Global Ungodliness
" Babylon is an eschatological symbol of satanic deception and power; it is adivine mystery that can never be wholly reducible to empirical earthlyinstitutions. It may be said that Babylon represents the total culture ofthe world apart from God. " While there is a measure of truth to this view (Babylon's global cultural influence), it fails to account for aspects which seem to speak of a specific and literal location.
Babylon is Rome?
Similarities with Rome
Babylon represents the Roman Empire, or the city of Rome in general.
Advocates point to attributes of Rome which seem to match Scripture:
ruling over the kings of the earth;
sitting on seven hills;
a center of the world's merchandise;
a historic persecutor of the saints.
is used of Rome in extra-biblical writings.
Evidence against Babylon = Rome
The use of
for Rome does not occur until the second century.
Old Testament prophecies concerning
would have to have been given using a code word which
did not obtain its final meaning (Rome) for hundreds of years.
This violates the rules of interpretation where the meaning of language is
established by its original context.
The seven hills
are actually seven
which are said to be seven
The mountains are symbols of kingdoms
over which the Harlot sits, not a
Rome did not appear on the world stage early enough to be a
harlot. She is merely an influential
Babylon is Jerusalem?
Babylon represents the capital of Apostate Israel
Many preterist interpreters believe the book of Revelation is
fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Therefore, they take
as a code word for
Advocates of this view point to many similarities between what is said of
apostate Jerusalem and what is said concerning the Harlot and Babylon.
Evidence against Babylon = Jerusalem
The Old Testament passages concerning the destruction of Babylon
consistently contrast Jerusalem with Babylon. When Babylon is destroyed,
Jerusalem is vindicated and restored. The preterist view completely
reverses the meaning of many passages
Scripture records that Babylon will be destroyed
never to be inhabited again.
If Babylon is Jerusalem and was destroyed in A.D. 70, then why is it
inhabited and a bone of contention today?
Babylon is to be
whereas Jerusalem is to be
This view is a serious and dangerous
distortion of God's Word!
Babylon is Babylon!
Old Testament Context
Communication depends upon the transference of
from an originator to a recipient. For meaningful communication,
the flow of information depends not only on the
intentions of the originator, but also on the
understanding of the recipients.
God is not free to say something which means one thing to those who receive
it, but then later redefine or even
This is the bedrock foundation of historal-grammatical interpretation.
A Literal City
Reasons we believe
The meaning of
in the Old Testament context within which it was given
a literal meaning.
It is found in conjunction with the Euphrates River
Place names have their literal significance in Revelation. When they don't,
it is made obvious
Old Testament passages concerning Babylon also mention the literal city of Jerusalem.
It is inconsistent to take Jerusalem to be literal, but Babylon
The Harlot is said to be "the great city" which we will see is Babylon. If Babylon is not literal, then we have a
figure (Harlot) standing for a figure (figurative Babylon).
Wickedness is to be transported back to
Shinar (Zec. 5:8).
Proponents of a Literal Babylon
There are many who have held this view. Before Iraq became a nation in 1932:
Bullinger (d. 1913),
Before Saddam Hussein rose to power (and US intervention deposed him):
Wickedness to Shinar
Zechariah is shown a basket containing a woman covered with a lead disk.
The woman is identified: "This is Wickedness!" The basket with the woman is transported back to
the land of Shinar, "when it is ready, the basket will be set there on its base." This appears to be the transfer of wickedness, with a commercial emphasis,
back to the region of Babel/Babylon.
Zechariah 5 and Revelation 17-18
Revelation 17 & 18
Woman sitting in a basket.
Woman sitting on the Beast, seven mountains, and many waters.
Emphasis on commerce (a basket measuring grain).
Emphasis on commerce.
Woman's name is wickedness.
Woman's name is Babylon the Great, Mother of Harlots and
Abominations of the Earth.
Focus on false worship (a temple is built for the woman).
Focus on false worship.
Woman is taken to the land of Shinar (Babylon).
Woman is called Babylon.
The Great Harlot
She is the
She must predate both Egypt and Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon. She rides the
seven-headed beast which is also identified with Satan
(Rev. 12:3). His dominion over earthly kingdoms goes all the way back to the garden
(Luke 4:5-6). She cannot be a relative newcomer upon the stage of world history--such
as Rome. Rome is merely one of her
Her harlotry speaks of spiritual idolatry
She birthed her daughter harlots and her pollution went out to all the earth
Is Mystery in Her Title?
Does "mystery" belong in her title? Or does it describe previously unknown aspects of the vision
which John sees concerning her
It does not appear to
be part of her title. She is called merely "Babylon the Great" elsewhere
The angel who explains the mystery includes
and the beast on which she rides
One or Two Babylons?
(Revelation 18, 19)
Called "The Great Harlot"
Holding a Cup
Fornicating with Kings
Drunk with Wine of Immorality
Destroyed by Fire
Destroyed by God
Clothed with Purple, Scarlet, Gold, Precious Stones, Pearls
For additional information on this topic, see the commentary.