Babylon in the Book of Revelation
In our day, Babylon lies in ruins in the country of Iraq, about 59 miles southwest of Bagdad near the modern city of Hilla. Babylon was the capital city of the ancient civilization of the Neo Babylonian Empire about 626-539 B.C. When the name Babylon is used in the book of Revelation, it is probably not referring to this literal city.
There are various theories as to its use. Most likely, Babylon expresses figuratively all that is evil and in rebellion to God. But there are several different aspects of that rebellion. For example, The Great Harlot was named Babylon because she symbolizes false religion. There are other uses as well which we will see in this article.
In total, Babylon is used six times in four different contexts throughout the book of Revelation: 1) 14:8, 2) 16:19, 3) 17:5, 4) 18:2, 10, & 21. The book itself gives us the nuances of the name when interpreted within context. Each use is pertinent in understanding the course of end-time events and all the evil that will come together against God at the end of this present evil age. So, please, follow along closely!
#1 Worship of The Antichrist
We begin with Revelation 14 where the Apostle John is reporting what he saw in a vision. Remember, he uses past tense language, but the events he is describing are future.
And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, “Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”
And another angel, a second one, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality.” Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.
And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.” Revelation 14:6-13 NASB
There are three angels of God in this passage that each bring a pronouncement.
The first angel signals a call to the entire world to worship the true and living God because the hour of His judgment has come. The second angel announces a judgment on Babylon – “Fallen, Fallen!” The third angel gives the reason and warning for this announcement of judgment on Babylon. It is a judgment upon any who worship the Beast and his image (ie. Antichrist). Within context, this label Babylon concerns itself with the worship of the Antichrist. Please note, it gets down to the individual level – “if anyone worships the Beast.” The Antichrist, and all who bow down to him, will be judged by God. “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” Revelation 13:8 Therefore, we see in Revelation 14, Babylon signifies false worship and specifically that of the Beast, Antichrist. It represents those who worship him.
Notice, the third angel issues another call. It is to those who worship the Lord for perseverance in the midst of what is going on in the world and the blessings of faithfulness to the end. And, there is a voice from heaven that reassures those who die in the Lord of eternal reward!
#2 End-Time Global System
We see another meaning of the name Babylon in Revelation 16:
Then the seventh angel poured out his bowl upon the air, and a loud voice came out of the temple from the throne, saying “It is done.” And there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder; and there was a great earthquake, such as there had not been since man came to be upon the earth, so great an earthquake was it, and so mighty. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men; and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe. Revelation 16:17-21 NASB
In the first part of Revelation 16:1-16 we have the first six bowls of God’s wrath described and then the gathering together for the last great battle at Armageddon. Each bowl is a specific kind of judgment that God pours forth in His wrath. The bowl quoted above is the seventh and final bowl of God’s wrath. It is the very end of this present evil age. Here Babylon is referred to as “the great city and the cities of the nations.” It is “the islands…the mountains…the men who blasphemed God.”
This is the final global kingdom of the Beast brought to its terrible judgment. It is allowed to have one corporate fist to shake in God’s face, in rebellion to Him. Then it is judged by His wrath and destroyed. So, Babylon represents the corporate global rebellion (Final Beast) before God that is destroyed at the very end of this present evil age.
#3 False Religion
In Revelation 17, Babylon symbolizes the Great Harlot. She is named “Mystery, Babylon the Great.” She is the epitome of false religion. We won’t go into great detail here, but you can read all about the Great Harlot in The Great Harlot.
#4 Global Economy
We now come to chapter 18 of Revelation. We should note that this is a new vision given by a different angel than the one in chapter 17. So, even though we have the same term, Babylon, we will get a different perspective on the characteristics of the term. Look for that reality as you read, starting with the introductory text:
“After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory. And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.’” Revelation 18:1-3 NASB
Notice that Babylon here has to do with the sensuality and immorality of living for the fulfillment of human longings for purely selfish satisfaction. As we continue reading, it is yet a different voice speaking than the previous angel, but still referring to Babylon:
I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Pay her back even as she has paid, and give back to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her. To the degree that she glorified herself and lived sensuously, to the same degree give her torment and mourning; for she says in her heart, ‘I sit as a queen and I am not a widow, and will never see mourning.’ For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong. Revelation 18:4-8 NASB
There is a “sensual woman who sits as a queen” (verse 7) who thinks of herself as invincible. She is the opposite of humble thankfulness and submission to God. She is proud, sensual, self-glorified and self-satisfied. God’s judgment for this particular woman is swift and severe. Continuing on:
“And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’
“And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more— cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every kind of citron wood and every article of ivory and every article made from very costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, and cinnamon and spice and incense and perfume and frankincense and wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, and cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human lives. The fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them. The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls; for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’ And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’ And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’ Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” Revelation 18:9-20 NASB
The incredibly intertwined world economy is represented as a city, “Queen Babylon,” who everyone “observes” being destroyed and they grieve because of her destruction. Whether this represents a particular geographic local or the whole remains to be seen. The world’s merchants stand weeping over her because they made their living off of her. Even those shipmasters who distributed goods cry because of her ruin. This is a super destruction of global commerce because of the significance this “city” had. The individual hearts of those who loved her fell along with her!
Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer; and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your merchants were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” Revelation 18:9-24 NASB
This then becomes the final description of the judgment of the whole earth as it relates to the love that it has for this “great city” and the idolatry that the world shares in with her.
A very important point needs to be brought up as we have now seen the various aspects of the term Babylon is this: Babylon was a place where religion, commerce, and government authority intertwined as a unit. They did not function separately such as what we might be used to with separation of powers. In history, this is typical of kingdoms. They were ruled by sovereigns who had some hand in the entire fabric of the culture over which they ruled. The final end-time descriptive term of Babylon is used as an over-arching term to reflect this reality. It is used of each aspect of a particular “piece” of the final rebellion of mankind against the Holy God and Creator, described in the Scriptures, who is our only Savior in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ of the gospel!
In summary, Babylon is described in Revelation in four different ways. Each is a form of rebellion against God. God’s judgment comes against each one. Notice the destruction associated with each:
- 1. Babylon as the Beast: The Worship of the Antichrist King (Revelation 14)
- -The people who worship the Antichrist are individually and eternally “destroyed” (an eternal judgment) in the lake of fire and brimstone by God.
- 2. Babylon as the Beast: The “City”/Cities of the World Global Government (Rev. 16)
- -The global rebellious system at the end of this present evil age is physically annihilated in God’s wrath.
- 3. Babylon as the Great Harlot: False Religion (Revelation 17)
- -The Great Harlot, who sat on many waters, is destroyed by the Beast as allowed by God.
4. Babylon as the “Great” City (Sensual Queen): Global Commerce (Revelation 18)
- -The great city is destroyed in one day by what seems to be a cataclysmic event sanctioned by God.
Christian, take heed! Christian, be comforted! God is sovereign even over Babylon!