Revelation 17:1-19:10: Fallen is Babylon


The Bible frequently uses both women and cities as rhetorical devices that communicate greater principles. Examples include the feminine figures that correspond to both Wisdom and Folly (Pr. 9). Elsewhere, Paul employs both images to explain the difference between the Old and the New Covenant, comparing them respectively with Hagar and Sarah, and to “the present city” of Jerusalem and the Jerusalem “that is from above” (4:21-31). Israel is often depicted as God’s (unfaithful) bride (Ez. 23), and cities like Sodom are archetypal cities of destruction (Isa. 1:9-10; Mat. 11:23-24). Meanwhile, Jerusalem—Mount Zion—is pictured as the idyllic place where God and His people dwell together (Heb. 12:22-24). Here, beginning in Revelation 17, we are introduced to Babylon, who is both a woman and a city.

In one of the most difficult passages of the entire Bible, John sees Babylon, “the great prostitute,” pictured as “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast” (17:2, 3). Thankfully, angelic messengers explain this disturbing image to John and to us (17:6-18). We learn from them that the woman represents a “great city,” (17:18; 18:10, 21), but even then, there is no consensus as to what city it is, if indeed it is a literal city.

Some believe Babylon is the same capital of the ancient Babylonian Empire to be rebuilt in defiance to God’s decree (Isa. 13:19-22). Others posit that Babylon is the City of Rome, restored for a short of time as the center of the Beast’s global empire (Rev. 17:9). A Preterist interpretation assumes Babylon to be Jerusalem, which was fallen in AD 70 as a result of divine judgment (Gal. 4:24-26).

Others teach Babylon is not a city, but a system or a spiritual force. It is the embodiment of spiritual adultery and rebellion. She is “THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES” (17:5) who leads the nations into sin and idolatry. She is the personification of “the world” – not limited to a place or a people – but to all religions, ideologies, institutions, governments, arguments, and pretensions that are antithetical to God’s righteous ways (2 Cor. 10:3-5; 1 Jhn. 2:15-17). In league with the Beast, Babylon can organize into a globalist government that is entirely opposed to God’s Kingdom.

Still others maintain that Babylon is a religious system, the epistome of fallen man’s impulse to worship idols and sacralize their abominations. A popular theory is that the Roman Catholic Church, historically tied to the City of Rome and the Roman Empire, is the “whore of Babylon,” the false church, in contrast to the true Church, which is “the Bride of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:6-8). This interpretation holds that Babylon is the state religion of the Beast’s satanic regime, an unholy covenant between religious and civil authority.

So, who or what is Babylon? In our futurist understanding of Revelation, we can only speculate how she might manifest and where she may be headquartered during the tribulation. It is enough for us to know that she is a demonic entity, a “haunt for unclean spirits” (18:2) that promotes false worship and leads the world astray. While she may one day manifest in a one world religion in bed with a one world government, her works are evident all around us today. Everywhere we go, we observe those who are drunk on her wine, and committing adultery with her, both physically and spiritually. No matter when or where we live in this age, we are called, as God’s holy people, to “come out” of Babylon, to not share in her sins, lest we share in her plagues (18:4).

I. Revelation 17:1-18: The Mystery of Babylon

17 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits by many waters. With her the kings of the earth committed adultery, and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries.”

Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand, filled with abominable things and the filth of her adulteries. The name written on her forehead was a mystery:

babylon the great

the mother of prostitutes

and of the abominations of the earth.

I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus.

When I saw her, I was greatly astonished. Then the angel said to me: “Why are you astonished? I will explain to you the mystery of the woman and of the beast she rides, which has the seven heads and ten horns. The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.

“This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

12 “The ten horns you saw are ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast. 13 They have one purpose and will give their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

15 Then the angel said to me, “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages. 16 The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire. 17 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled. 18 The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.”

II. Revelation 18:1-24: The Fall of Babylon

18 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. With a mighty voice he shouted:

“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’
    She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit,
    a haunt for every unclean bird,
    a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.
For all the nations have drunk
    the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
    and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”

Then I heard another voice from heaven say:

“‘Come out of her, my people,’
    so that you will not share in her sins,
    so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
for her sins are piled up to heaven,
    and God has remembered her crimes.
Give back to her as she has given;
    pay her back double for what she has done.
    Pour her a double portion from her own cup.
Give her as much torment and grief
    as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
    ‘I sit enthroned as queen.
I am not a widow;
    I will never mourn.’
Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
    death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
    for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.

“When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!’

11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

14 “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!’

“Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. 18 When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, ‘Was there ever a city like this great city?’ 19 They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    where all who had ships on the sea
    became rich through her wealth!
In one hour she has been brought to ruin!’

20 “Rejoice over her, you heavens!
    Rejoice, you people of God!
    Rejoice, apostles and prophets!
For God has judged her
    with the judgment she imposed on you.”

21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said:

“With such violence
    the great city of Babylon will be thrown down,
    never to be found again.
22 The music of harpists and musicians, pipers and trumpeters,
    will never be heard in you again.
No worker of any trade
    will ever be found in you again.
The sound of a millstone
    will never be heard in you again.
23 The light of a lamp
    will never shine in you again.
The voice of bridegroom and bride
    will never be heard in you again.
Your merchants were the world’s important people.
    By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.
24 In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people,
    of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.”

III. Revelation 19:1-10: Victory Over Babylon

19 After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
    for true and just are his judgments.
He has condemned the great prostitute
    who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.
He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

And again they shouted:

The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.”

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried:

“Amen, Hallelujah!”

Then a voice came from the throne, saying:

“Praise our God,
    all you his servants,
you who fear him,
    both great and small!”

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:

    For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
    was given her to wear.”

(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

10 At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For it is the Spirit of prophecy who bears testimony to Jesus.”


Come Out of Babylon

Call Others Out of Babylon

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