What is the eschatological secret of Babylon? Many have tried to understand this over the years. I confess that I am one of them. There are two primary narratives as to what is end-times Babylon. What is most popular? Which account makes the most sense – at least to me?
Babylon has a long and storied history. It is the physical location of dark spiritual ambitions that have spread like ever-increasing waves across the face of the planet. Babylon’s anti-God fervor is legendary. The city and region are famous for the Plains of Shinar, where Nimrod led the effort to build the Tower of Babel. Dark magic arts from its deeply demonic roots have swept over mankind and bewitched many. It has been the locus of evil since time immemorial.
In New Testament times, Babylon was used as a code word for Rome. When the apostles wrote letters referring to Rome, they often used the term Babylon to throw off any authorities that might get their hands on the epistles and cause harm to the community of Roman believers.
One focus of the final book of the Bible is on the fate of Babylon described in Revelation 17-18. Here we encounter two aspects of the city: religious and commercial. Many Bible prophecy teachers agree that religious Babylon is Rome, or more specifically, the Vatican. There is enough evidence to convincingly suggest that the Harlot riding the Beast in Revelation 17 is the Roman Catholic Church, which is also prophetically seen symbolically as the Church of Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29.
The dispute arises as to the identity of commercial Babylon. Is it also Rome? I believe this is the most popular view. Or is it the literal, historical Babylon in modern day Iraq? I think part of the problem in accurately identifying its eschatological location has to do with the description given in Revelation 17:5 (KJV):
And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon The Great, The Mother Of Harlots And Abominations Of The Earth.
There is a mystery associated with Babylon. I personally believe part of the mystery is wrapped up in its identity as both a commercial and religious center. It is The Mother Of Harlots. It is also associated with the Abominations Of The Earth. Are they one and the same, or different?
Revelation 17 seems to be clear as to the destruction of the Harlot world religion by the Ten Kings. A good case can be made that they ravish and destroy the Catholic Church as a religion along with the physical Vatican. Surely this institution has wielded great dominion over the kings of the earth (Revelation 17:18). Dave Hunt in A Woman Rides the Beast (https://www.amazon.com/dp/1565071999) thoroughly outlines this fact.
Revelation 18 pictures the coming apocalypse upon Babylon. The following verses give an illustration of this:
v2: And he called out with a mighty voice,
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast.
v8: For this reason her plagues will come in a single day,
death and mourning and famine,
and she will be burned up with fire;
for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her.”
v10: They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,
“Alas! Alas! You great city,
you mighty city, Babylon!
For in a single hour your judgment has come.”
v17: “For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” …
The question remains: Is it Rome or actual Babylon to which these refer?
There are good and cogent arguments for the location of religious Babylon to be Rome. However, I look at the Old Testament prophecies – oracles concerning Babylon and God’s judgment – and I come to a different conclusion. One of the main issues I see is that the ancient site has never been destroyed as God declares it will.
Let’s look at several of these prophecies. In Isaiah 13, I think we see a then and future oracle. It appears to me that the prophecy is declaring both destruction of Babylon during that OT period, but also looks forward to the Tribulation. The different timeframes are interwoven because Isaiah, as with most prophets, didn’t/couldn’t differentiate when exactly one portion or another of their prophetic Word would occur. For instance, Isaiah 17:17 speaks of God stirring up the Medes. In fact, it was the Mede and Persian empires that succeeded Babylon as a world power. However, Isaiah 13:9-16 seems like a description that fits the awful seven years of the Tribulation. Immediately following the reference to Babylon in Isaiah’s time, the prophecy appears to revert to end-times, as we see in Isaiah 13:20-22:
It will never be inhabited
or lived in for all generations;
no Arab will pitch his tent there;
no shepherds will make their flocks lie down there.
But wild animals will lie down there,
and their houses will be full of howling creatures;
there ostriches will dwell,
and there wild goats will dance.
Hyenas will cry in its towers,
and jackals in the pleasant palaces;
its time is close at hand
and its days will not be prolonged.
I think we can safely say this has never yet happened. There has been activity there for years since Saddam Hussein wanted to rebuild the area to his glory. Interestingly, the last time I looked on Google Earth, the location of Babylon was blurred out. Why? I have no idea. As some Bible prophecy teachers suspect, is this the future HQ of Antichrist, perhaps in the form of a relocated United Nations? Again – I don’t know, but it’s not something I would discount.
In Isaiah 21:9 the prophet states what is echoed in Revelation 18:2 quoted above:
And behold, here come riders,
horsemen in pairs!”
And he answered,
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon;
and all the carved images of her gods
he has shattered to the ground.”
Here is a key verse in Isaiah 47:11:
But evil shall come upon you,
which you will not know how to charm away;
disaster shall fall upon you,
for which you will not be able to atone;
and ruin shall come upon you suddenly,
of which you know nothing.
Isaiah is not alone in foretelling Babylon’s fall. Note Jeremiah 50:12-13:
… Behold, she shall be the last of the nations,
a wilderness, a dry land, and a desert.
Because of the wrath of the Lord she shall not be inhabited
but shall be an utter desolation;
everyone who passes by Babylon shall be appalled,
and hiss because of all her wounds.
Jeremiah 50:40 states:
As when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring cities, declares the Lord, so no man shall dwell there, and no son of man shall sojourn in her.
And Jeremiah 51:26:
No stone shall be taken from you for a corner
and no stone for a foundation,
but you shall be a perpetual waste,
declares the Lord.
A final one (although there are more) from Jeremiah 51:64:
… ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted.’”
As you can see, there is quite an extensive litany of foretellings regarding Babylon’s demise. From what I can see, none of them have a symbolic reference that could lead one to think they refer to Rome rather than the actual city of Babylon.
The one argument I could possibly concede from those who believe Rome is in view in Tribulation is Revelation 18:24:
And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
and of all who have been slain on earth.”
As Bill Salus (whose prophetic insights I love) points out (The Next Prophecies, pg. 206), this implies that Babylon – whichever location – had to be responsible for the death of two or more of God’s prophets or apostles. That would seem to mean that only Rome fits the bill. It certainly rules out New York City or Mecca, as some believe. My take on that is to refer to the fact that we’re dealing with an unrevealed mystery. Were these men of God killed in the city of Rome (certainly some were), or could the mystery of Babylon refer to the demonic system arising out of its dark depths that has surely killed many more prophets and apostles?
If you’ve ever wondered what Bible prophecy teachers discuss and contend about, this is an inside peek at one of those issues.
Perhaps in the days ahead that we spend with the Lord following the Rapture, we’ll learn the truth of the matter. One of the things that’s important to keep in mind is that it’s unlikely whether any single one of us will be completely right in our eschatological interpretations. Only God knows the end from the beginning and the final resolution of these matters.
That should keep us humble.