Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #18)
In Revelation 14:8, we read about an angel who makes a predictive pronouncement in the opening days of the last half of the tribulation period. The angel cries out, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Later on, in Revelation 16:19, after the seventh bowl judgment has produced a planet-rocking earthquake, we read: “And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.”
It is with these two verses in mind that we now come to chapters 17 and 18 of The Revelation. These are two parentheses chapters in the book’s chronological timeline. They serve the purpose of providing us with more detail about the fall of Babylon. It’s as if God enjoys the fall so much that He brings everything to a halt and says, “Let’s not rush past this because I want to savor it and bask in it.”
However, every student of prophecy who comes to these chapters must answer a fundamental question right at the front gate. That question is: Does John use the name “Babylon” to refer to the actual city of Babylon or does he use it symbolically to refer to another city? The answer that I give and many others give is: He uses it to refer to the city of Rome. Let me give you five facts that lead to this conclusion:
- There are certain Old Testament prophecies – namely Jeremiah chapters 50 and 51 – that seem to teach that Babylon will never again be a major city.
- In Revelation 17:18, John describes the city in question as “that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” It’s important to note that he didn’t call it “that great city which will reign over the kings of the earth.” In John’s day, the city that reigned over the known world was Rome. The Babylon of that time was a small and insignificant town.
- In Revelation 17:5, John uses the title “Mystery Babylon” rather than just “Babylon.” This shows that he is referring to a city other than literal Babylon.
- In Revelation 11:8, John refers to Jerusalem as “Sodom” and “Egypt.” This proves that he didn’t mind labeling one city with the name of another if the symbolism fit.
- Revelation 18:17 says that sailors and those who trade on the sea will be able to stand at a distance and see the smoke from this burning city. The actual city of Babylon cannot be seen from the sea. Babylon’s only possible link to the sea would be down the Euphrates river into the Persian Gulf and out into the Arabian sea, but the Euphrates river gets dried up in the sixth bowl judgment (Revelation 16:12). The city of Rome, of course, sits in close proximity to the Mediterranean Sea.
- It is logical to assume that if the Antichrist leads a revived Roman empire, the city of Rome will be a major player in the tribulation period.
- In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter actually refers to the city of Rome as “Babylon.” This probably shows that “Babylon” was a code name for Rome among the early Christians.
Still, though, even if we concede that John’s “Babylon” is Rome, we must keep in mind that Rome isn’t just a city in Italy; it is also a system. Just as Wall Street is an actual street in the city of New York, it is also a symbolic title for the system of high finance that flows out from that street. Just as Madison Avenue is an actual avenue in the city of New York, it is also a symbolic title for the system of advertising that flows out from that avenue. Just as Las Vegas is an actual city in Nevada, it is also a symbolic title for the system of gambling that flows out from that city. And, yes, just as Rome is an actual city in Italy, it is also a symbolic title for the system of religion and commerce that flows out from that city.
And what is the system of religion and commerce that has flowed out of Rome for almost 2,000 years? The Roman Catholic church. Therefore, chapters 17 and 18 of The Revelation foretell the demise of not only the city of Rome itself but also the Roman Catholic church in the last half of the tribulation period. Chapter 17 deals with the downfall of the Roman Catholic church and chapter 18 deals with the downfall of the city.
Everything starts in Revelation 17:1 as one of the angels involved with the bowl judgments says to John, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters.” Thankfully, we don’t have to guess what the symbolic imagery of the “many waters” means. In Revelation 17:15, the angel explains that the waters are “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.” Okay, got it. But who is “the great harlot”? It is the Roman Catholic church. The teaching is that the Roman Catholic church has a worldwide religious and economic influence.
But how can the Roman Catholic church be thought of as a “harlot”? For one thing, the Bible frequently uses the imagery of harlotry to describe false religion, particularly false religion that involves idolatry. Catholicism is certainly a false religion that involves idolatry, such as the kneeling down before statues of Mary or Jesus. For another thing, a harlot has relations with many men. The Catholics, of course, boast numbers by the millions around the globe.
In Revelation 17:2, the angel offers two other thoughts about the great harlot. First, the “kings of the earth” have “committed fornication” with her. For centuries, the Roman Catholic church has seduced and compromised large numbers of the world’s political leaders to further its religious and commercial interests. Second, the “inhabitants of the earth” have been “made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” Multiplied millions around the world have bought into Catholicism’s error-riddled “gospel,” built their lives around her false doctrines, kept her rituals, excused her gross sins, and trusted in her to get them into heaven. That’s what you call being “made drunk with the wine or her fornication.”
Next, in Revelation 17:3, John moves from talking about “the great harlot who sits on many waters” to talking about a strange looking woman who sits atop a scarlet beast. Here again we get some angelic help concerning the symbolism. In Revelation 17:18, the angel identifies this “woman” as “that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” That city is Rome. As for the beast, it surely represents the Antichrist just like it did in Revelation chapter 13.
Summing things up then, the “woman” is the actual city of Rome, while the “great harlot” represents the Roman Catholic church that is based in the city and sends out its system of religion and commerce to all the world from there. The fact that the “woman” rides the “beast” shows that the city of Rome will attach itself to the Antichrist in the first half of the tribulation period. This makes perfect sense considering that the Antichrist will springboard to power from a ten-division revived Roman empire. Where else would a revived Roman empire be based except in the city of Rome?
As usual with The Revelation, we can’t just have a plain “woman” or a simple “beast.” Each one has to have outlandish features that force us to try to understand the symbolism. The beast has seven heads and ten horns and is full of names of blasphemy. Since I’ve used previous posts (post #6 and post #14) to explain the symbolism attached to the Antichrist, I won’t rehash it all here. I will say that him being called a scarlet beast speaks to the fact that he will be responsible for high death tolls and much bloodshed during the last half of the tribulation period.
But what about the woman (the city of Rome)? Oh, she is quite the spectacle.
- She is “arrayed in purple and scarlet” (Revelation 17:4). These two colors have both been long associated with royalty, nobility, and wealth. No one was more royal, noble, and wealthy than Rome’s emperors. In addition to this, the Vatican – the headquarters of the Roman Catholic church – is located in the city of Rome, and purple and scarlet are often worn by the Pope and his Cardinals.
- She is “adorned with gold, and precious stones, and pearls” (Revelation 17:4). Rome was the most important city in the world long before the origination of the Roman Catholic church. It was the capital city of the sprawling, wealthy Roman empire. It was called “the eternal city,” and a common saying was “all roads lead to Rome.” It featured beautiful, elaborate structures such as the Colosseum, the Temple of Caesar, the Temple of Saturn, the Temple of Jupiter, and the Arch of Septimius Severus. When the Roman Catholic church came into being and eventually built impressive structures such St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, and the Vatican Museums that house all kinds of art masterpieces, the city’s wealth only increased.
- She holds in her hand “a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication” (Revelation 17:4). The city of Rome’s history is a sordid one that does indeed involve various kinds of abominations (the worship of the emperors), filthiness (the gruesome man-to-man battles in the Colosseum), and fornication (both spiritual and sexual).
- She is drunk “with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6). It is impossible to total up an accurate figure for the number of Christians that were put to death in the city of Rome. For example, in the wake of the great fire that occurred during the reign of the emperor Nero, Nero blamed Christians for the fire and had untold numbers of them rounded up and put to death. Legend says that Nero was responsible for the deaths of Paul and Peter.
- On her forehead was written: “MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHERS OF HARLOTS, AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” In ancient Rome, it was customary for a harlot to wear a headband that had her name on it. (I’ll explain the name “Mystery Babylon” in just a moment, so keep reading.)
In the end, though, the alliance between the Antichrist and Rome will end badly for the city and its system of religion and commerce. Revelation 17:12-13 says the kings of the ten divisions that will make up the Antichrist’s revived Roman empire will give their power and authority to him to do with as he pleases. Not surprisingly, when he changes at the midway point of the tribulation period and begins conducting himself as a messiah, those ten kings will tolerate no rivals to his new religion. Obviously, rival religions don’t come much bigger than the Roman Catholic church. This explains why Revelation 17:16 says the ten kings will grow to hate “the great harlot” and will make her “desolate” and “naked.” They will also “eat her flesh” and “burn her with fire.” Wow, all that sounds terrible. But what does it mean?
The idea of making the Roman Catholic church “desolate” and “naked” is most likely a reference to how the ten leaders will use their power to strip the Roman Catholic church of all its lands, wealth, possessions, and power. Burning her “with fire” might refer to the burning of Catholic cathedrals and other buildings. Perhaps even the Vatican complex itself will be set ablaze. Eating “her flesh” could be a graphic way of saying that when the ten kings are finished with the Roman Catholic church, there won’t be anything left of it. They will have devoured it completely.
But now let me explain why the woman (the city of Rome) has the name MYSTERY BABYLON written on her forehead. I wish there was a shortened, simplified way to explain this and do it any kind of justice, but there isn’t. So just hang with me.
Genesis chapters 10 and 11 tell of an impressive leader named Nimrod. He was the great-grandson of Noah through Noah’s son, Ham. The beginning of Nimrod’s kingdom was Babel (Genesis 10:8-10), and Nimrod and his followers built the Tower of Babel to be the centerpiece of the city of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). That building project didn’t sit well with God, though, and He stopped it by confusing the peoples’ languages so that they never completely finished it. Centuries later that general site became Babylon, the capital city of the Babylonian empire.
Now, as far as the Bible’s record goes, this is about all we know of Nimrod. However, there are historical records and stories that tell us a great deal more about the man. These records and stories sometimes differ a bit in the details but the basics are usually in place. First, Nimrod worshiped the sun god Molech. Second, the priests of Molech instructed him to marry his mother. Her name was Semiramis. Third, according to the mythical legend that surrounds Semiramis, when Nimrod was killed she claimed that he was the sun god. Fourth, Semiramis supposedly miraculously conceived a son by way of a sunbeam and claimed that he was Nimrod reborn. No doubt she did this as a way of holding on to her power after Nimrod’s death. She named the son Tammuz. Fifth, when Tammuz was grown, he was supposedly killed by a wild boar, which prompted Semiramis to weep for him for 40 days, after which he allegedly miraculously arose from the dead.
Semiramis became known as “the queen of heaven” and Tammuz became known as miraculously conceived-miraculously resurrected messianic figure. In Babel, a system of worship grew that centered upon the mother (Semiramis) and the child (Tammuz). This religion was filled with rites, rituals, mysteries, and secrets. It featured: the confession of sins to a priest, the lighting of candles, an annual 40 days of weeping for the death of Tammuz, and a feast in honor of his resurrection. As a part of this feast, the people exchanged eggs, with each egg symbolizing new life.
As the centuries rolled on, this system of worship that was based upon the mother/child false religion spread like a cancer. It even made major inroads into Israel. In Jeremiah 44:17-23, the women of Judah profess their belief that going through the rituals of worshiping “the queen of heaven” brought supernatural blessings upon their lives. Similarly, in Ezekiel 8:14-17, Ezekiel sees Jewish women at the temple in Jerusalem going through the ritualistic weeping for Tammuz.
Of course, whenever the religious system made its way to a new people who had a different language and a different culture, it would be adapted to fit that language and that culture. Thus, Semiramis (the queen of heaven) and Tammuz (the messianic son) came to be known by many different names. At its core, though, the system of worship was the same one that had first begun in ancient Babel.
Finally, the system made its way to Rome, and it held sway there for a long time. This was the “Mystery Babylon” that John knew in his day. But something shocking happened in 312 A.D., a couple of centuries after John and the other early Christians had died off. A Roman emperor named Constantine became a professing Christian. Whether or not he actually got saved is very much up in the air, but there is no denying that Constantine began a systematic process whereby Rome’s version of the Babylonian mother/child religion was merged into true Christianity. This merging created a truly bizarre mix of authentic Christianity and rank idolatry and paganism. And what would this mix come to be known as around the world? The Roman Catholic church. This then is the “Mystery Babylon” that Revelation chapter 17 prophesies will come to an end in the tribulation period. You see, Catholicism is not the pure, undiluted false system of worship that began on the sands of ancient Babel, but it houses within it the remains of that system as it is a weird mixture of that system and authentic Christianity.
So, does this mean that no Roman Catholic is saved? I didn’t say that. I am of the opinion that there is enough of biblical Christianity in Catholic teaching for an individual to have a “born again” experience if that individual will place his or her belief in Christ alone for salvation. Consequently, I think there are some authentic Christians within the ranks of Catholicism who tragically are spending their lives bogged down in a religious system that is half Christian and half Babylonian idolatry.
But let me be clear: The fact that there is a “Mystery Babylon” in the tribulation period proves conclusively that there will be millions of Catholics left on earth after the Rapture. I don’t say that with any joy, mind you, but I do say it. This is a stark reminder that born again Christians should not compromise with the Roman Catholic church, let alone give it the vaunted place of religious preeminence that it craves and demands. I’m not anti Catholic, but I am anti Catholicism. And the assertion that the Roman Catholic church is the “true church” is just plain wrong.