There is a range of teachings on Mystery Babylon, from symbolic to literal. Symbolic interpretations include viewing Mystery Babylon as a conglomeration of false religions, the United States of America, ecumenical “Chrislam”, Roman Catholicism, and others. Literal suggestions include Rome/Vatican City, rebuilt Babylon in Iraq, Mecca, New York City, and Jerusalem. Having looked into all angles, I have come to the conclusion that Mystery Babylon is a literal city – the great city of Jerusalem as it will exist in the end times. The best exposition of this is the book Mystery Babylon by Chris White and I highly recommend it for further study. I will present a summary of the model here.
Over 90 specific qualities are given in Scripture to “Mystery Babylon”. That “she” is a literal city is seen when she is burned down and the smoke can be seen from the nearby sea, merchants sell items to it, and it experiences famine. The “great city” is mentioned ten times in the book of Revelation, always in reference to the city of Jerusalem. When speaking of the death of the two witnesses, John writes “and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” (Revelation 11:8). Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. Revelation 16:19 distinguishes the “great city” from the cities of the nations (Gentile cities). That so much time is spent detailing her destruction (over 2 chapters) signifies its’ importance – it is the culmination of judgment upon a city and nation foretold throughout the whole of Scripture. No other city or nation in the world is so tied in to Scripture than Jerusalem and Israel. This forms our base as Mystery Babylon being the literal city of Jerusalem, as she will exist in the 70th week of Daniel as the head of all cities (yet future).
Mystery Babylon, or Babylon the Great, and her destruction, is introduced in Revelation 16:
The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. Babylon the Great was remembered in God’s presence; He gave her the cup filled with the wine of His fierce anger. (Revelation 16:19)
We are then given a very detailed description of the above verse in Revelation chapters 17-18.
First, Babylon the Great is described as a prostitute. Jerusalem is specifically called a “harlot” (prostitute) hundreds of times in the Bible, always referring to its’ spiritual idolatry. Ezekiel chapter 16 is about this:
Son of man, explain Jerusalem’s detestable practices to her…you were confident in your beauty and acted like a prostitute because of your fame. You lavished your sexual favors on everyone who passed by. Your beauty became his. You took some of your garments and made colorful high places for yourself, and you engaged in prostitution on them. These places should not have been built, and this should never have happened! You also took your beautiful jewelry made from the gold and silver I had given you, and you made male images so that you could engage in prostitution with them… You built your elevated place at the head of every street and turned your beauty into a detestable thing. You spread your legs to everyone who passed by and increased your prostitution… You adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! (verses 2, 15-17, 25, 32)
God’s relationship with Israel, and Israel’s spiritual adultery, is portrayed through the book of Hosea as well.
Babylon the Great sits on many waters, which is explained in Rev 17:15,18 as peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. She, along with the beast she rides (who rose out of the sea in Rev13), reigns over the kings of the earth. It appears that this city becomes the head of a world empire, or is raised above all other cities in the world. This is foretold in the Messianic Kingdom prophecies (Zechariah chapter 12 & 14, Isaiah 66). The antichrist will try to appear to fulfill these prophecies and convince Israel that he is ushering in the Messianic Kingdom. In Revelation 18, we do indeed see people bringing gifts and making pilgrimages to Jerusalem just as they will in the true Messianic Kingdom.
This “great city” corrupts the whole world with her fornication. Jerusalem will promote the antichrist so intensely and passionately, that the whole world will be enticed (and likely pressured) to worship the beast. It seems that Jerusalem embraces the antichrist as her Messiah, and not only that, but as “god” himself. Her cup contains her own sin and idolatry, and the nations are made drunk with her idolatry.
She rides a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns, covered in blasphemy. We have seen this beast before, in Revelation 13:1. The beast is almost universally understood to be the antichrist. The antichrist is full of blasphemy (Revelation 13:1-6, Daniel 7:8, 20, 25, Daniel 11:36, 2 Thessalonians 2:4). The Great City is upon his back, but is a drunken passenger – she has no reigns or control.
Mystery Babylon is dressed in purple and scarlet, which are the colors of royalty. She is clothed in fine linen, and decked in gold, precious stones, and pearls. These all have strong parallels to Israel’s temple and to God’s clothing of Israel as described in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. She fulfills the role of an idolatrous high priest. (But is not the False Prophet).
Upon her forehead is a name, “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” Of note is that her name is on her forehead, just as upon Aaron’s forehead was written “Holiness to the Lord” as high priest. The 144,000 sealed Israelites in Revelation 7 are also marked upon their foreheads. This is some kind of stamp, or seal, of loyalty and allegiance. It marks the bold and wholehearted belief that is out in the open (not concealed). The fact that the name is a “mystery” is an argument against it being the actual restored city of Babylon. In Revelation 11, Jerusalem is called by the names of Sodom and Egypt according to the sins of those cities. Now Jerusalem is being called Babylon, as she is spiritually reflecting the sin of that city – the heart of the antichrist religion. Jerusalem is the mother, and her inhabitants are her “children” or “daughters”. The mystery is because she shares Babylon’s sins, its’ power over the other nations (Babylon was the “world capital” at that time) and will face similar judgment.
End-Times Jerusalem, in promoting the antichrist as messiah, will kill a lot of saints who believe Jesus is Messiah. We are told that the antichrist chooses Jerusalem to set up his “palatial tents” and is where he declares himself to be “god” (2 Thessalonians 2:4, Matthew 24:15, Daniel 11:31-32). While many cities and nations have persecuted saints in the past, Jesus defines the worst period of persecution as yet future. This event (the abomination of desolation) begins the greatest religious persecution of all time against true believers in Jesus Christ, and it centers around the city of Judea (Jerusalem) (Matthew 24:15-21).
Revelation 17 goes on to describe the beast/antichrist in greater detail, which I will discuss in a separate post.
Revelation 17 ends with the beast turning on the woman – 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. 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. (v16-17) This will be in fulfillment of the prophecy in Ezekiel 16:
Again the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations…And I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. And I will give you into their hands, and they shall throw down your vaulted chamber and break down your lofty places. They shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful jewels and leave you naked and bare. They shall bring up a crowd against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. And they shall burn your houses and execute judgments upon you in the sight of many women. I will make you stop playing the whore, and you shall also give payment no more. So will I satisfy my wrath on you, and my jealousy shall depart from you. I will be calm and will no more be angry. (v1-2, 38-42)
In Jeremiah 4:30, Jerusalem’s lover is prophesied to despise her and take her life:
And you, devastated one, what are you doing
that you dress yourself in scarlet,
that you adorn yourself with gold jewelry,
that you enlarge your eyes with paint?
You beautify yourself for nothing.
Your lovers reject you;
they want to take your life.
This is exactly what happens in Revelation 17-18.
The beast and his ten kings aren’t the only ones to act in judgment upon Mystery Babylon. God will judge her too, with the 7th bowl of His wrath. This involves earthquakes and giant 100-pound hailstones.
Chapter 18 of Revelation gives a further detailed vision of Mystery Babylon’s destruction. An angel declares that “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen” (Rev 18:2), which is the exact phrase used when the literal city of Babylon was destroyed (Isaiah 21:9). Its’ destruction is imminent and certain. It has become the home of demons.
The antichrist, possessed by satan, ruling from Jerusalem is the epitome of satan’s blasphemy against God. In Michael Heiser’s Unseen Realm, he discusses the allottment of the nations by God after the tower of Babel. Israel is the land and people that God chooses for Himself; hence, it becomes the bulls’ eye target for satan. Israel’s history confirms this. Satan, through the antichrist, seeks to “change the times and laws” by setting up his rule on God’s property – God’s holy ground. It’s his final attempt to resurrect his religion, his own worship and perhaps offering to humanity that “ye shall be as gods”. That the majority of Hebrews will go along with this and raise him up as messiah is the mystery that leaves John absolutely astounded.
The ultimate blasphemy leaves no question as to the necessity of Mystery Babylon’s judgment. Revelation 18:3 reiterates that the whole world has been enticed into this religion. Israel is so deceived by the antichrist that she passionately promotes him and worships him as her long awaited messiah, king, and “husband”. Israel has finally heaped her sins as high as heaven, and the time of her ultimate judgment has come. Yet, God offers one last chance at salvation:
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. (Revelation 18:4-5)
I believe this is where Jesus splits the mount of Olives, to allow the Israelites one last chance to flee before the great earthquake that will destroy Mystery Babylon (Jerusalem):
On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives that lies before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley, so that one half of the Mount shall move northward, and the other half southward. And you shall flee to the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him. (Zecharaiah 14:4-5)
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls. Joel 2:32
That most of Jerusalem is not aware that she is worshiping the antichrist is seen in Revelation 18:7, where she “sits as a queen and is no widow”. Jerusalem believes she has found her true King. The fact that she is not a widow could refer back to the beast’s resurrection from the dead. It also is the exact phrase used by the ancient city of Babylon right before its’ destruction (Isaiah 47:8).
Mystery Babylon is wrong, she will indeed see mourning. Revelation 18:8 states that “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”. Verse 10 adds “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.” Her destruction will come swiftly and suddenly. This hearkens back to Jesus’ statement that he will come as a thief, as well as His statement about “no man knows the day or the hour.” (Matthew 24). The Day of the Lord both begins and ends with Jesus coming suddenly and unexpectedly with destruction upon those who are not watching. Both times, however, those who are watching do not need to be taken by surprise. At the beginning of the Day of the Lord, the believing body of Christ is snatched out – away from the time and place of wrath. At the end of the Day of the Lord, the believing remnant has one last chance to “come out” before the final bowl of wrath is spilled upon Jerusalem.
The kings of the earth who mourn her destruction and wail at the smoke of her burning are not part of the beast’s 10 kings who help destroy her. These are the nations that are “living deliciously” with her through financial gain. Note that the merchants sell to her all kinds of items specifically used for Temple worship: gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls (Rev 18:12-13).
In Revelation 18:20, as the merchants of the earth mourn over Mystery Babylon’s destruction, they cry out “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” God has answered the prayers of the Seal 5 martyrs, and judgment has been meted out in completion. The multitude in heaven does indeed rejoice:
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.” Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” (Revelation 19:1-3)
Mystery Babylon is held accountable for the “blood of the prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on earth” (Revelation 18:24). Basically, end-times Jerusalem is being held accountable for all murders of the righteous from the beginning of humanity. In this way, the blood guilt of earth will be cleansed for Jesus’ Kingdom reign. Jesus says “for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you…” (Luke 13:33-34). Jesus also says “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!…And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” (Matthew 23:29-32,35). We also know that the worst martyrdom in human history will originate from Jerusalem starting at the Abomination of Desolation. God’s judgments are true and just. Notably, Deuteronomy Chapter 21 details a procedure by which Israel was able to absolve itself of bloodguilt. If they had followed God’s commands, they would not have heaped judgment upon themselves. God always provides a way out, if only we would take it!
Revelation chapter 18 ends with the utter and complete destruction of Jerusalem as Mystery Babylon. The entire earth is refashioned in a giant earthquake, and the area of Jerusalem is raised up onto a plain. Jerusalem, it appears, will be rebuilt along with a Millennial Temple described in Ezekiel 40-48.
Further Recommended Reading:
Mystery Babylon – Chris White
The Bible is infallible. I am not. Be a Berean – examine the scriptures for yourself to see if these things are so!