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Babylon in the book of Revelation

Babylon is first mentioned in the book of Revelation at chapter 14:8.  John writes, “And another, a second angel, followed, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, that hath made all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”  The Babylonian Empire had already fallen hundreds of years before these words were written.  What then is John writing about?  Who is Babylon?  Why is Babylon falling?  A study of the book of Revelation reveals Babylon to be the world of sin and sinners.  She is Satan’s realm (see John 12:31; 16:11; 1 John 5:19).  Babylon is used, throughout the book of Revelation, as a personification of things opposed to the authoritative will of God.  She is powerful, seductive, and terrible (see Daniel 2:31).  Knowledge of Revelation’s Babylon will better equip the saints today to identify sin and avoid it rather than participating in it (see Revelation 18:4).

Babylon‘s History

The name “Babylon” in the book of Revelation is used exactly as the name “Edom” in the Old Testament.  God spoke of Edom as a personification of sin throughout the Old Testament (see Isaiah 34:1-4; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 35; Obadiah 15; Malachi 1:1-5).  The Lord switches to Babylon, “the great city,” as a type of sin and sinners in the New Testament book of Revelation (Revelation 16:19; 17:1-5, 18).  The Babylon we read of in the book of Revelation is “spiritually called Sodom and Egypt” (Revelation 11:8-9).

Babylon rose as a world power around the year 565 BC.  The city of Babylon was encircled by double walls.  The inner wall was known as “Imgur-Enlil.”  The inner wall was constructed of mud brick 21 feet thick and had 100 towers along it at intervals of sixty feet.  Twenty three feet outside the inner wall was the outer wall known as the “Nimit-Enlil.”  The outer wall was 12′ thick making the total defensive wall a whopping 57 feet.  Sixty five feet outside the outer wall was a moat that was linked to the Euphrates on the North and South sides of the city (ISBE Volume 1 page 386).  No matter how powerful and beautiful she may have seemed to the world Jeremiah writes, “Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, and though she should fortify the height of her strength, yet from me shall destroyers come unto her, saith Jehovah” (Jeremiah 51:53).

Babylon stands as a perfect type of the world of sin because of what she was.  She considered herself to be a deity and was given to serving the idols of Bel, Nebo, and Merodach (Isaiah 47:8-10).  Babylon was proud (Jeremiah 50:29), covetous (Jeremiah 51:13), and given to pleasure (Isaiah 47:8).  Babylon put her trust in wickedness (Isaiah 47:10), treasures (Jeremiah 51:13), and Idols (Jeremiah 51:40).  She stood for all that the world of pride, vain glory, and sensuality is (see 1 John 2:15-17).

Babylon‘s Identity in Revelation

John is writing about the world of sin when he uses the name “Babylon” in the book of Revelation.  When the world looked upon Babylon they saw a “great, mighty, excellent, and terrible” city (Daniel 2:31).  Everyone wanted to be a part of Babylon.  Babylon was wealthy, beautiful, powerful, and successful (see Revelation 18:11-20).  People felt like they were missing out on something important if they were not a part of Babylon.  The world was enamored by her physical attributes.  The life of sinners has the outward appearance of fun and excitement yet there is always heavy baggage that comes with it.  Today, television commercials and shows depict sin as very exciting and fun.  We hear, “Stay thirsty my friend,” “Bacardi started the party,” and “When you got it flaunt it.”  Adulterous affairs, partying, and luxurious living appear to be the way to go.  The book of Revelation paints a very different picture of sin and sinners than does the world.  John sees the great misery sin brings now and forevermore in Revelation.

While the world is mesmerized and enamored with Babylon’s power, beauty, excitement, riches, glory, and fun the Lord exposes her for what she really is.  There are three words used in Revelation to identify Babylon.  First, John writes, “And upon her forehead a name written, MYSTERY, Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and the abominations of the Earth” (Revelation 17:1-5).  The word “abomination” (Greek bdelugmaton) means, “To be detestable, loathe, and abhor” (Moulton 68).  God’s view of Babylon and what she represented was loathsome, abhorrent, disgusting, and detestable.  There is no stronger word for God’s disposition toward unauthorized practices (see Deuteronomy 7:26).

Secondly, the Apostle John writes, “1 After these things I saw another angel coming down out of heaven, having great authority; and the earth was lightened with his glory. 2 And he cried with a mighty voice, saying, Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, and is become a habitation of demons, and a hold of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hateful bird. 3 For by the wine of the wrath of her fornication all the nations are fallen; and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth waxed rich by the power of her wantonness” (Revelation 18:1-3).  “Wantonness” (Greek strenous) means “headstrong pride; luxury, or voluptuousness (devoted to or frequently indulging in sensual gratifications {given to the gratification of sexual appetites}… sensual desires… pleasure)” (Moulton 378).  Babylon stands for hard hearted pride, luxury, and sensuality.

The third word used to describe Babylon, as a type of sin and sinners, is “iniquity.”  John writes, “4 for her sins have reached even unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities” (Revelation 18:5).  The word “iniquity” (Greek hadikemata) means “wrong doing” (LS 13) and “unrighteousness, unjust, wrong, iniquity, or falsehood” (Moulton 7).  The Babylon of Revelation stands as a type of the detestable conditions of pride, love of luxury and money, sensuality, and pleasure.  She is the world of sin (1 John 2:15-17).

The meanings of all three of the above words suggest a supreme authority that upholds a standard that must be met (see Colossians 3:17).  God alone has the sovereign right, as creator of man and universe, to set his desired standard for man at righteousness and justice (see Isaiah 28:17).  All things opposed to the standard of righteousness are identified as sin (see Romans 1:26-31; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21).

The message is clear in the book of Revelation.  The saints of God should see her for what she really is.  God’s people are not to be enamored, wowed, excited, and or moved to envy her due to her supposed success and fun.  Such admonition is sound yet to exercise self control over Babylon is easier said than done.  Babylon is very powerful.

Babylon‘s Power

Babylon is very popular among the world of sinners.  Her pleasures are very seductive.  If sin had no power of pleasure then man would have no problem expelling her.  Babylon; however, is very pleasurable (see Hebrews 11:24-26).  The sinful pleasures of Babylon make her very powerful and hard to reject.  Before Christians look too far down their nose at those who fall prey to her please consider God’s warnings about Babylon’s power.  God acknowledges the power and seductive characteristic of sin (see Revelation 18:3 and 2 Corinthians 2:11).  Sin is so powerful that people are willing to exchange the glory of God for the glory of error (Romans 1:23; Jude 7-8).  Sin is so powerful that the whole world falls prey to its seductive pleasures, wealth, and glory (see Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8; Revelation 13:1-4).  Even the elect of God are conquered by her seductive and sensual ways (Matthew 24:24).  Furthermore the Apostle Paul was slain by the power of sin on occasions (Romans 7:9-25).

God’s people are commanded to wage war against the urge or temptation to sin in the book of Revelation.  The Christian has the blood of Christ to win the battle (see Revelation 17:14).  God’s will is that we would faithfully wage the battle against sin till the day we die (Revelation 2:10; 12:11).

The Consequences for Fellowshipping Babylon

Everyone wants to be like Babylon and to be seen with her.  Sin is decked out in such a glorious way that people conclude that it must be a wonderful state to be in (see Revelation 17:1-4).  Sin is clothed in the royal colors scarlet and purple.  Sin is wealth and no problems.  Though sin appears to be so wonderful it has a dreaded end.  The Apostle John writes, “1 After these things I heard as it were a great voice of a great multitude in heaven saying, Hallelujah; Salvation, and glory, and power, belong to our God: 2 for true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great harlot, her that corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand” (Revelation 19:1-2).  The word “corrupt” (Greek phtheiro) means “to ruin, waste, spoil, and destroy” (LS 860).  The wrongful and erring ways such as the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the vain glories of life will utterly ruin, waste, spoil, and destroy an individual for all eternity.  Babylon is the cause of sinful man’s misery.  There are always consequences to sin now and forevermore (see Proverbs 6:12-15; 22:8; 24:15-16, 21-22).  Man cannot choose the glittery and glorious path of sin without feeling the sting of its error.

Some are blind to the beauties of eternity and strive for the riches of this world.  The Apostle Paul writes, “But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lust, such as drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).  Remember the words of Jesus, “For what shall a man profit if he shall gain the whole world and forfeit his life?  Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)  Interestingly, there have been documentaries of unlikely people winning lotteries and becoming millionaires over night.  Most of these people’s lives are then wrecked.  Their wives leave them.  Their children, family and friends hate them.  Their whole world comes crashing down because they desired to be rich.

Those who choose to drink alcohol are in the end bitten by a snake (see Proverbs 23:29-35).  Families are destroyed because of one person’s attraction to alcohol.  A father, mother, or child may kill someone or they may be killed by a drunk driver.  Liver and brain disease occurs in heavy drinkers.  Some newer research is even associating some forms of cancer with drinking alcohol.  When one drinks alcohol their sexual guard is let down.  Young men and women are likely to make a life altering mistake when influenced by alcohol.  Anger and aggression accompany alcohol and it is sure to get one in trouble.

Those who choose to live sexually immoral must live with the consequences of that sin too.  The heartache of a child born out of wedlock and sexually transmitted disease are just a few.  Some commit adultery and wreck their entire family for that moment when they thought that it would be a good course to take (see Proverbs 5:1-9).

Again, those who seek glory in this life pierce themselves through with many sorrows (see John 12:37-43).  Many are willing to toss out their faith for a moment of popularity and acceptance.  Others seek out the cheers and aggrandizement of man.  Though Jesus should have been glorified his life was anything but what man seeks after today (see Isaiah 53:1-6).

There are many sins a man may choose to commit but we must realize that there are always consequences to those decisions.  While doing sinful things may seem like the cool and exciting thing to do, at the moment, it ends in trouble.  Have you ever felt the sting of your own personal sin?  Have you ever felt the awful feeling of guilt because you knew that you disappointed God (see Matthew 26:69-75)?  There is no greater feeling and personal satisfaction than knowing that you are right with God.

Not only are there immediate troubles associated with a life of sin but there are eternal consequences as well.  The Apostle Paul writes, “For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19).  The Apostle John sees the lake of fire that burns with brimstone as the wicked of all times are cast therein (see Revelation 20:10-15).

To choose a life of sin is to lose now and forevermore.  The message of the book of Revelation, in relationship to Babylon, is that she falls and fails in every generation (see Revelation 14:8; 16:17-21; 17:8-11, 14; 18:2; 19:19-21). No matter how successful, fun, pleasurable, and exciting the moment it always ends in failure.  To put one’s hope, trust, and interest in the things of this earth is to be disappointed and to fail.  God will soon crush Satan once and for all and all who follow his Babylon of sin shall also be crushed (see Revelation 14:9-11).  The Apostle Paul writes, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap.  For he that sows unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that sows unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).

The book of Revelation is warning man of the consequences of giving glory to sin rather than to God.  To live a life of sin is to be destined for failure, defeat, heartaches, and in the end, the eternal fires of hell (Revelation 14:8; 18:2; 19:20).  John writes, “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come forth, my people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues:” (Revelation 18:4 see also 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).  We are not to participate in sin (Romans 6:1-11) but rather exercise self control by putting on the Christian graces (2 Peter 1:1-11).  No one, not even God, has ever said that avoiding sin was easy.  However, once we identify sin and its consequences we will be better prepared to wage war against it (see Ephesians 6:10ff).