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Babylon and the Beast

Revelation 14:8 A second angel followed and said, "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries."

Revelation 16:19 The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath.

Revelation 17:3-5 Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. 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. This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES, AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.

Revelation 17:16 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.

Revelation 18:2 With a mighty voice he shouted: "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird."

Revelation 18:11 The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more.

Revelation 18:19 They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out: "Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth! In one hour she has been brought to ruin!"

Revelation 18:20-21 Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you. 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."
Background Notes:

In the first book of the Bible we read about the building of the Tower of Babel, and in the last book of the Bible we read about the fall of Babylon. Is there any connection? To miss the obvious would be spiritual blindness! The Tower of Babel in Genesis was the effort of man, in defiance and disobedience, to make a name for himself and exalt himself above his Maker. The fall of Babylon in Revelation will be the final judgment of God upon man for his continued refusal to recognize the supremacy of his Creator.

The book of Revelation is apocalyptic literature—that is, literature containing a prophetic vision of the future. Apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic, although not entirely symbolic. For this reason the book of Revelation is not easy to interpret, and it’s especially difficult because the events have not yet taken place! But the book of Revelation is part of the inspired Word of God, and the Lord expects us to read it and try to understand it. So let’s discuss the prominent figures of “Babylon and the Beast” in this vision of the future.

Babylon is first mentioned in the book of Revelation in chapter 14, verse 8, where her coming judgment is anticipated. End-time Babylon is judged under the seventh “bowl judgment” in Revelation 16, and in chapters 17 and 18 we have a detailed description of the fall of Babylon.

Who or what is “Babylon” in the book of Revelation? Babylon, in brief, is the name that is used for the evil system of the end times that seeks to enforce a one-world government and a one-world religion. It is not an empire like the ancient Babylonian empire, but a system—an evil religious / economic / commercial / political system that will be centered in a great city (17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 21). Just as the name “Hollywood” refers to both a city and an industry, so the name “Babylon” refers to both a city and a system of the last days. In Revelation 17 the religious side of end-time Babylon is in view, and the commercial side is seen in Revelation 18.

As we seek to interpret Revelation, a major question arises: Is the “Babylon” of Revelation the literal city on the Euphrates River in Iraq, where Babylon has always been located? Will this same city rise again to become a world religious and commercial center? Or is Babylon just one of many symbols used in the book of Revelation? Ancient Babylon was the focus of the religious and commercial culture of this world, which was in opposition to the one true God. Is the Babylon in Revelation a symbolic name for some great city of the end-times, a city that will be the “home base” for world religion and world commerce, as the world continues its opposition to the one true God of the Bible?

If the name “Babylon” is only symbolic for end-time, anti-God religion and commerce, then the literal great city which “reigns over the kings of the earth” may be Rome, as many commentators believe. When the true church leaves at the rapture, Rome is a likely place for apostate Christendom to be centered. The seven mountains of Revelation 17:9 seem to support this view, because Rome has always been known as the seven-hilled city. In addition, the fact that the smoke of burning Babylon is seen from ships at sea fits better with the city of Rome, which is not far from the Mediterranean Sea, than with the literal inland city of Babylon (Revelation 18:17-18).

On the other hand, Revelation 17:10 seems to suggest that the seven mountains are not literal mountains, but rather symbolic for seven kings or powers. If, after the true church leaves this earth, a world-wide movement takes place to join Islam and apostate Christendom into one all-encompassing false world religion, what better place in the world to set up an anti-God religious center than the literal city of Babylon? The remains of the ancient city of Babylon are still in existence, with plans for restoration and expansion already in place. So the Babylon of the end times may indeed be the actual city, and not merely a symbolic name for the evil, anti-god, one-world government and religion of the last days.

A point in favor of end-times Babylon being the literal city on the Euphrates River is found in Zechariah 5. In Zechariah’s vision, “wickedness” is pictured as a woman who is held captive in a basket with a heavy lead cover. In his vision, Zechariah saw the basket being carried through the air, and he was told that the basket was being taken “to the country of Babylonia, to build a house for it. When it is ready, the basket will be set there in its place.” (Zechariah 5:11) The land of Shinar or Babylonia, of course, is the home of the original Tower of Babel.

While “wickedness” is presently under restraint (pictured by the lead cover on the basket), this vision predicts that at a future time wickedness will be exalted, and its focal point will be in literal Babylon. Notice that the religious side of end-time Babylon is emphasized in Zechariah 5—the pedestal for wickedness will be contained in a temple.

Of course we can’t be dogmatic as to the details of these future events. We don’t know for sure if the literal rebuilt ancient city of Babylon is involved in these prophecies. However, we can be sure of the following doctrinal points from Revelation 17 and 18.

Doctrinal / Teaching Points:

1: Religious Babylon is the false religious system of the end times.

First of all, notice that end-time Babylon is pictured as a prostitute in Revelation 17. The true Church is the bride of Christ, and leaves the earth to join the Lord at the time of the rapture. The false religious system of the end times is represented as a prostitute. She causes the kings of the earth to commit spiritual fornication and leads all the inhabitants of the earth astray—away from the true God and the way of salvation.

The prostitute is beautifully dressed and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls, but she carries a cup filled with filth and abominable things (Revelation 17:4). False religion always looks attractive on the outside, but it is evil at its core.

The prostitute’s true description is in her title: “Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and of the Abominations of the Earth.” (17:5). Think of all the evil that has been committed in the name of religion throughout human history—including the martyrdom of true believers (17:6). This evil will continue and intensify during the Tribulation period of the end times. Religious Babylon is the false religious system of the end times.

2: Religious Babylon will be overthrown by the beast of the end times.

At the beginning of chapter 17 we see Babylon the prostitute riding on a beast, but at the end of the chapter she is overthrown and destroyed by the beast. Who is this beast?

The beast in Revelation 17 appears to be the same as the beast of Revelation 13:1-10 —bothbeasts have seven heads and ten horns. The beast of Revelation 17 is also strikingly similar to the beast with ten horns seen in Daniel 7—specifically the final stage of the fourth beast, that precedes the coming of the Son of Man to receive His earthly kingdom in the last days. The fourth beast of Daniel 7 apparently represents the Roman Empire (The first 3 beasts represent the empires of Babylon, Persia, and Greece, respectively.), so the final end-time stage of Daniel’s fourth beast will be some kind of a 10-power confederation and, in some way, a revival of the old Roman Empire. Revelation 17:8 states that this beast was, but now is not, but will be revived—and when it is revived it will be from the abyss, completely evil and demonic.

“The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 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 a little while” (Revelation 17:9-10). Do these seven hills and seven kings represent different stages of world history, or different forms of government, or different Roman rulers—or something else? At this present time, we can’t say for sure.

Revelation 17:11 indicates that the beast is one of the seven, but becomes an eighth king: “The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.” Revelation 13 tells us that one of the heads of the beast had a deadly wound but survived (v3)—apparently referring to a leader who was mortally wounded, but lived (v14). In Revelation 17:12 we see that ten kings or powers (represented by the 10 horns) rule simultaneously, headed by the beast, but only for a short time. The beast, the eighth king, appears to be the end-time ruler of this revived Roman Empire. He is the beast whose “number is 666” (Revelation 13:18).

In Revelation 17:16 we read that the ten-horn political confederation and the beast hate the false religious system, Babylon, because it has control over them. This control is portrayed by the prostitute sitting or riding on the beast (v3). At some point the beast is able to overthrow the prostitute, the great false religious system of the end times, and to utterly destroy her. “These will hate the harlot and bring her to ruin, and make her desolate and naked, and will eat her flesh and burn her up with fire” (Revelation 17:16).

The overthrow of religious Babylon will probably take place in the middle of the seven-year Tribulation period. At that point, the beast with the number 666 will destroy the false religious system and will begin to demand worship of himself—the worst kind of idolatry! Many faithful believers of the Tribulation period will refuse to receive the “mark of the beast” and will be martyred during the reign of the beast.

However, God will work all these events into His plan for bringing down the beast and all end-time power structures (v17). Revelation 17:14 and 19:19 state that the ten kings of the revived Roman Empire, under the authority of the beast, direct their forces against the Lamb. They are no match for the Lamb, however, because the Lamb is the Lord of lords and the King of kings! Revelation 19:20-21 tells us that the beast will be seized and thrown alive into the lake of fire!

Religious Babylon will be overthrown by the beast of the end times—and then, praise the Lord, the beast will be overthrown by the Lord Himself!

3: Commercial Babylon will fall and rise no more.

In Revelation 18 the destruction of end-time commercial Babylon is prophesied. We see that there is great weeping on the one hand (18:9, 15, 19), and great rejoicing on the other hand (18:20). The kings and merchants of this earth will weep because their source of wealth and profit will be destroyed. However, the saints, apostles and prophets will rejoice! The wicked will reap what they have sown—and God’s righteousness will be vindicated!

The sudden, violent and complete destruction of commercial Babylon is illustrated in verse 21 by a strong angel taking up a great millstone and throwing it into the sea. Babylon will sink, never to be found again. Commercial Babylon will fall and rise no more!

Practical Application:

1. Can you find yourself in Revelation 17?

If you are a believer, you can find yourself at the end of verse 14. When the Lord returns to earth to overthrow the beast and set up His kingdom, others are with Him—those who are “His called, chosen and faithful followers.” That includes you, if you are a believer!

We see this truth also in Revelation 19:14, where we have a description of the Lord’s return to earth in judgment to set up His promised kingdom. The Lord, who is called “Faithful and True,” is riding on a white horse.The armies of heaven are following Him, ridingon white horses and dressed in white linen. If you are a believer, you will be in these armies of heaven! Can you find yourself in Revelation 17?

2. Don 't watch your investments go up in smoke!

The people of this world will weep when they see the burning of end-time Babylon. Why? Because they will see their investments literally going up in smoke. Well, what about us? Will we see our investments go up in smoke one day? As believers, only the investments that we send on ahead of us—the investments of time, talents and money that we give in the service and work of the Lord now will endure the testing fire of 1 Corinthians 3:13. The rest will go up in smoke! Don’t watch your investments go up in smoke!
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