What is “Babylon the Great”?

In the book of Revelation there are two cities. One is called “the holy city” and is identified as the New Jerusalem. The second is called “the great city” and is named Babylon the Great. Both are also compared to women. One is the “mother of harlots” while the other is the “bride of the Lamb.” Much has been written during the last two thousand years about both. What is Babylon the Great?

Let us begin progressively from the first mention to the last. The word “Babylon” occurs 6 times. But the first reference to this city is in Revelation 11:8 -

“And their fallen body will be on the Broadway of the Great City. A ‘spiritual’ City called Sodom and Egypt where their Lord was impaled.” [NCMM]

Here is the first mention of “the great city” in a manner common in Revelation - introducing a subject that will be expanded later. The identity of the “two prophets” has been discussed elsewhere. [For details see notes in Nazarene Commentary 2000 on Revelation 11:1-13.] These notes indicate the “two prophets” are the end-time Saints who experience a three and a half year period of Great Oppression or persecution just before the Return of Christ. Here in the vision the end-time Saints [ = 144,000 or Large Crowd] their fallen “body” [singular], or corpse, are seen apparently slain on the “broadway of the Great City.” Evidently a sizable body of the Saints will be executed or killed in the persecution during the Great Oppression. [Daniel 7:25; Matthew 24:21, 22; Revelation 7:14; 13:5-7]

If the end-time Saints are “on the broadway of the great city” then they are within it. Twice later these end-time Saints are seen rescued out of this “great city.” For example, a few verses later Revelation 11:12, 13 the end-time Saints are pictured as being raptured out of this city, likely from its broadway -

And the 2 Witnesses heard a great voice out of Heaven, calling: “Come up here!” And the 2 Witnesses ascended into Heaven in the cloud [2 Kings 2:11; Daniel 7:13] and their enemies beheld them. In that hour there occurred a great earthquake. [Ezekiel 38:19, 20] A tenth of the (Great) City fell. [Isaiah 6:13] 7,000 names of men [1 Kings 19:2] were killed by the earthquake. The remaining became frightened and they glorified The God of Heaven. [Isaiah 66:5] [NCMM]

God’s own people are still within Babylon. They are called out in Revelation 18:4 by a snatching to safety in the Rapture. [For details see notes in Nazarene Commentary 2000 on Revelation 18:4.] When this rapturous escape from the Great City occurs it is said 1/10th of the City fell and 7,000 were “killed” by the earthquake that shook the Great City. It is possible these allusions to Isaiah 6:13 and 1 Kings 19:2 are symbols of the end-time Saints who, though suffering during the Great Oppression, are now delivered as Daniel 12:1 foretells. Note also that when this happens those left behind “became frightened and they glorified The God of Heaven.” This would indicate that those left behind or abandoned were at least worshippers of the true God. The language is very similar to Isaiah 66:5 where such glorification of God is hypocritical.

The Great City is identified by three other name-places. First, Sodom. It is possible this is an allusion to some other Bible verses:

Isaiah 1:9 “If Yehowah of Hosts Himself had let only a very small remnant survive, we would have become exactly as Sodom and we would have looked like Gomorrah.” [NCMM] [Note Paul quotes this verse at Romans 9:29.]

Isaiah 3:8, 9 “Because Jerusalem has tripped, and Judah has collapsed, because both their words and actions were opposed to Yehowah. … Their own expressions convict them and their Sodom-like sin exposes them.” [NCMM]

Deuteronomy 32:31, 32 “For our Rock is not like their stone! Our enemies had judged us! For their vine is like the vine of Sodom.” [NCMM]

It is interesting that in both the cases of Sodom and Egypt, Yehowah had people in those immoral and spiritually apostate places whom he delivered miraculously. So in both cases God’s own People had been within both Sodom and Egypt and would have never survived had God not virtually “raptured” them out of those places.

Both Sodom and Egypt were highly immoral and engaged in “gross immorality”. Egypt itself had a religious hierarchy and doctrine received from Babylon itself. Egypt is often the source of complicated theologies and cosmologies. Plato himself studied Egyptian religion and one can find echoes of triune gods and immortal souls in his own philosophies.

Lastly here, the Great City is said to be “where their Lord was impaled.” Literally speaking, Christ was not impaled within any city. [Hebrews 13:11, 12] But, generally the city of Jerusalem is highly associated with the death of Jesus Christ. Above Israel with its capitol city of Jerusalem are compared to Sodom. So in such a spiritual sense the Great City may be compared to elements of Sodom, the land of Egypt, and apostate Jerusalem of the 1st Century.

Jesus clearly condemned the Jewish inhabitants of his generation, calling them “an adulterous generation” - wicked, faithless, twisted -- whose religious hierarchy could not escape Gehenna. [Matthew 12:39-42, 45; 16:4; 17:17; 23:15, 33] Those Jews taught false doctrines which rendered their worship futile. [Matthew 15:6-9] Indeed, the body of Christ as a corpse fell in that city of Jerusalem - a city that could be identified with Sodom and Egypt - and with great similarities to the end-time Saints, Jesus was also caught away or received up in the clouds of the sky.

Jesus was a Jew within Israel and a frequent visitor to Jerusalem. He did not go along with the apostate Jewish rituals and doctrines. Though he was within that city he managed to remain separate from it. Just so, the end-time Saints are within a great city similar to Jerusalem. Evidently, these Saints share a similar identification as a “religion.”

There is something here that echoes the Nazarene’s parable of the Sower. There the Sower Jesus plants the seed of God’s Word. The “field is the world of humanity.” However, the enemy of Christ, Satan, sows another seed among the wheat. The harvester angels want to know if they should uproot the weeds, but the Sower says, “let them grow together.” So throughout the Gospel Age both wheat and weed grew together, often making it difficult to identify the wheat. [For details see notes in Nazarene Commentary 2000 on Matthew 13.]

There may well be something of a parallel here between the end-time Saints and the Great City. Like their Lord they find themselves part and parcel with the Great City, perhaps sometimes indistinguishable from the majority of the inhabitants in that city like Sodom and Egypt. In God’s own time the “wheat” will be separated from the weeds.

Any serious student of religion and history can trace much of modern Christianity to the plains of Shinar where the first great city was built - Babel. [Greek Babylon; Genesis 10:10] The roots of religion from the land of Shinar were circular or cyclic in theology, in contrast to the linear view of the Hebrews. While those who came from Babylon believed in an ever recycling of creation, the Hebrews believed God created all things with a purpose and this purpose would go directly forward to its finale. The citizens of Babylon believed in a variety of doctrines present today within what is called Christendom [as well as the Hindus and Buddhists] - a controlling religious hierarchy, a belief in a hell-fire torment, a belief in an immortal soul that may be recycled, a belief in triads and trinities, the worship of a heavenly woman, and a multitude of lesser rituals and concepts.

Historians acknowledge ancient Babylon as an influential religious empire. The Bible As History reports: "Altogether there are in Babylon 53 temples of the chief gods, 55 chapels of Marduk, 300 chapels for the earthly deities, 600 for the heavenly deities, 180 altars for the goddess Ishtar, 180 for the gods Nergal and Adad and 12 other altars for different gods." [W. Keller -- page 301]

The Encyclopedia Americana says: "Sumerian civilization [or, Babylonia] was dominated by priests; at the head of the state was the lugal (literally 'great man'), the representative of the gods." [(1977), Volume 3, page 9]

That the later world powers were influenced by Babylon is shown by M Jastrow Jr.: "Egypt, Persia, and Greece felt the influence of the Babylonian religion . . . The strong admixture of Semitic elements both in early Greek mythology and in Grecian cults is now so generally admitted by scholars as to require no further comment. These Semitic elements are to a large extent more specifically Babylonian." [The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, pages 699, 700] Gods in triads and triune forms were also a hallmark of Babylonian religion: "The Platonic trinity, itself merely a rearrangement of older trinities dating back to earlier peoples, appears to be the rational philosophic trinity of attributes that gave birth to the three hypostases or divine persons taught by the Christian churches. . . . This Greek philosopher's [Plato's] conception of the divine trinity . . . can be found in all the ancient [pagan] religions." [Nouveau Dictionnaire Universel (Paris, 1865-1870), edited by M. Lachâtre, Volume 2, page 1467]

Thus, “Babylon the Great” of Revelation is just the most recent metamorphose of a long line of religious ceremony and doctrine dating back millennia. Though in its Christian form just before the Return of Christ, Babylon largely has maintained the primary doctrines of the Trinity, hell-fire torment, and soul immortality.

In Revelation this Babylon the Great is identified by several factors which establish it to be a religious kingdom:

These identifying features lead some to the conclusion that Babylon the Great is primarily the sum total of what is also called “Christendom” the most influential religion on earth at the beginning of the 3rd millennium. It also includes many “harlots” of a multitude of other religions. From one perspective Babylon the Great is that whole lump of the Nazarene’s parable at Matthew 13:33. Or, that resulting large tree with such small beginnings. [Matthew 13:31, 32] Also, that field in which the Lord first planted the Gospel seed where weeds planted by the Devil engulf the wheat. [Matthew 13:37-41]

Babylon the Great is that sum total of the great apostasy foretold by Paul:

3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for that day cannot come without the coming of the apostasy first, and the appearing of the man of sin, the son of perdition, who sets himself against, 4 and exalts himself above, every so-called `god' or object of worship, and goes the length of taking his seat in the very temple of God, giving it out that he himself is God. The Lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will sweep away with the tempest of His anger, and utterly overwhelm by the awful splendour of His Coming. 9 The appearing of the Lawless one will be attended by various miracles and tokens and delusive marvels -- for so Satan works -- 10 and by every kind of wicked deception for those who are on the way to perdition because they did not welcome into their hearts the love of the truth, so that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God sends them a misleading influence that they may believe the lie; 12 in order that all may come under judgement who have refused to believe the truth and have taken pleasure in unrighteousness. [Weymouth Translation]

Come Out of Babylon the Great

If the end-time Saints will find themselves within Babylon the Great at some future moment, how could they ever get out? By a rapture to heaven, is the answer given by Jesus Christ as he unseals the book of Revelation: “And the Two Witnesses heard a great voice out of Heaven, calling: “Come up here!” And the Two Witnesses ascended into Heaven in the cloud and their enemies beheld them.” [Revelation 11:12 NCMM; compare also 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17] Thus the end-time Saints leave their enemies behind in Babylon the Great. It is in this manner they escape the coming plagues against Babylon the Great. This is the meaning of the heavenly call in Revelation 18:4, “And I heard another heavenly voice, saying: “Come out, my People, so that you share not in her sins and that you receive not of her plagues.” [NCMM]

The last Christian Saints on earth at this moment will rise “to meet the Lord in the air.” [1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17] They will be safely in heaven enjoying the grand marriage feast of the Lamb. [Revelation 15:1, 2; 19:1-3, 7-9] However, below on earth Babylon the Great -- including all the weed-like “sons of the Wicked One” and all those “goats” who refused to be kind to the end-time Saints -- will suffer a period of great plagues. [Compare Matthew 13:38, 40; Matthew 25:41-46 Revelation chapter 16]

These plagues on Babylon the Great will culminate in her destruction at the hands of her former political friends. Revelation 17:15-18 predicts:

“And the Angel is saying to me: “The waters which you saw, where the Harlot [Babylon the Great] is sitting, are peoples, crowds, nations, and tongues. And the 10 Horns which you saw, and the wild Sea Beast will hate the Harlot. They will desolate the Harlot, stripping her naked, eating her flesh, and burning her in fire. The God will put into their hearts his opinion to give their kingdom to the wild Sea Beast, until the words of The God will be finished. And the Woman you saw is the Great City, the one reigning over the kings of the earth.” [NCMM] [For details see notes in Nazarene Commentary 2000 on Revelation.]

Babylon the Great, after a reign of over four millennia, will be gone forever. Her great choirs, her famous artisans and their artworks, her grand weddings of princes and princesses and kings and queens will be gone forever. [Revelation 18:22, 23] Gone forever will be her countless inquisitions. Gone all religious control she held over the political powers of earth. Gone will be her “teachings of demons.” [1 Timothy 4:1-3] Gone her control over the lives of sincere worshippers. Gone her religious hypocrisy and twisted moral standards. Gone her money-loving religious hierarchy.

How glad and happy we should be to have identified this religious system. With joy we look forward to God’s thought or opinion being fulfilled against this bloodthirsty and materialistic Great City. How we long for those heavenly words: “Come on up here!” [Revelation 11:12]

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Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller

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