Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #19)
The fall of “Mystery Babylon” in The Revelation is important enough for two entire chapters of the 22-chapter book to be devoted to it. That right there should tell us just how near and dear the subject is to God’s heart. In my previous post, I explained that the title “Mystery Babylon” refers not just to the city of Rome but also to the system of religion and commerce that emanates out of that city. And what is that system of religion and commerce? The Roman Catholic Church.
The Roman Catholic Church will continue to thrive and prosper both numerically and commercially well into the tribulation period. That’s sad because it means that the majority of Roman Catholics aren’t saved and will miss the Rapture. I do believe there are some genuinely born-again Catholics. I also believe that Catholicism does some good in the world – e.g., hospitals, orphanages, and conservative stances on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and gay marriage. Still, it is undeniable that Catholicism as a whole is a false, works-based religion that dooms most of its adherents to eternal separation from God. I don’t type this with a smile on my face. It’s just the truth.
In Revelation 17:1-2, the Roman Catholic Church is symbolically portrayed as “the great harlot who sits on many waters.” In Revelation 17:3-4, the city of Rome itself is symbolically portrayed as “a woman sitting on a scarlet beast.” The “scarlet beast” refers to the Antichrist, which means that when the Antichrist steps to the stage of world power at the beginning of the tribulation period, the city of Rome will be quick to align itself with him and embrace him. Jerusalem wouldn’t accept its Messiah (Jesus), but Rome will accept its false messiah.
By implication, the Roman Catholic Church, which again is the religious and commercial system that flows out of the city of Rome, will become an ally of the Antichrist. We can just imagine the Antichrist, in his early role as a peacemaker and shrewd politician, making the requisite trip to the Vatican to honor the Pope even as the Pope tries to formulate a plan to use this new political star to the advantage of Catholicism. This kind of thing has been going on between the Popes and Europe’s political leaders for centuries. And so an alliance will be struck between the Antichrist and the Roman Catholic Church, and that alliance will be honored by both sides during the first half of the tribulation period.
Everything will change, though, at the midway point of the period when the Antichrist becomes demon-possessed (see post #14). Once he has set himself up as a megalomaniac, godlike figure, he will have no further use for the Roman Catholic Church. That is when the ten kings who rule under him in the revived Roman empire of the tribulation period will mount a vicious attack on “the great harlot.” Revelation 17:16 says those kings (“horns”) will “hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.” Whatever all this means specifically, it will be the end for the religious system that began when the Roman emperor Constantine made the fateful decision to merge true Christianity with the mother/child false religion that began way back in ancient Babel (see post #18).
This brings us then to Revelation 18:1-24 and the account of the destruction of the actual city of Rome. John begins the chapter by saying, “After these things…” These words inform us that the destruction of Rome will not occur simultaneously with the end of the Roman Catholic Church. There won’t be a great deal of time between the two events but there will be some as the city of Rome will roll on for a while without its most historically prominent feature: the Roman Catholic Church.
It won’t be too long, though, before the city will be unexpectedly hit with a great cataclysm. John says the city’s “plagues will come in one day” (Revelation 18:8), even in “one hour“(Revelation 18:10,17,19). People will “see the smoke of her burning” and will “stand at a distance for fear of her torment” (Revelation 18:9-10). The city will be “thrown down” (Revelation 18:21), and in the aftermath it will become “a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” (Revelation 18:2). We’re talking about destruction so thorough that in its wake only demons will want to remain in the city. By the way, if demons (foul spirits) remain in the city of Rome even after its destruction, doesn’t that mean that they are abiding there comfortably before the destruction? Yes, it does. Of course, I’m sure there are demons who dwell in most cities.
Obviously, it’s hard to read all this and not wonder what kind of cataclysm could produce such devastation. One possibility is a military strike that bombs Rome into oblivion. By this time in the tribulation period the Antichrist will surely have made some enemies. The events of the seven bowl judgments will have people worldwide in a bad mood, and he, for all his big talk and arrogance, will come up short in the “god” department by having no answers for those judgments. Prophecy experts are far from agreement as to the correct interpretation of the military movements described in Daniel 11:40-45, but it is possible that some of those movements speak of military forces coming against the Antichrist and his forces in the closing days of the tribulation period. If this is a correct interpretation, perhaps some enemy army will drop a hydrogen bomb or an even worse bomb on Rome to lay waste to the capital city of the Antichrist’s revived Roman empire.
A second possibility (and the one that I tend to favor) is that Rome will get taken down by the seventh bowl judgment (Revelation 16:17-21). Remember that this judgment will feature an earthquake the likes of which the planet has never seen. John says the earthquake will cause every island to flee away and the mountains to not be found (Revelation 16:20). Regardless of whether or not that description is hyperbole, we’re talking about an earthquake that will redefine what an earthquake can be. John also says it will cause the cities of the nations to fall (Revelation 16:19). It only makes sense that Rome will be one of those cities. Just to finish out the report on the earthquake, the quake will be followed by huge hailstones, each one weighing one hundred pounds or so, that will fall from the sky (Revelation 16:21). These hailstones will help finish off whatever is left of the world’s cities.
On the subject of an earthquake destroying Rome, news broke in November of 2016 that a long dormant volcano that lies underneath Rome’s suburbs in the Colli Albani Volcanic District appears to be slowly reawakening. An international team of researchers published their findings that the ground in that region is rising at a rate of 2 millimeters per year, steam vents are emerging, and underground chambers located several kilometers below the towns of Ariccia, Castel Gandolfo, and Albano are filling up with magma. Satellite imagery and seismographic readings also indicate the volcano is waking up.
While it’s true that the research team was quick to point out that it might be another 1,000 years or longer before the volcano explodes, that’s not taking into account the earthquake of the seventh bowl judgment. Did you know that the massive eruption of Washington state’s Mount St. Helens in 1980 was triggered by a seismic event? So, could it be that the earthquake of the seventh bowl judgment will set geographic and seismic forces into motion that will cause the Colli Albani volcano to erupt? I’m not saying this is what’s going to happen. I’m simply offering it as an example of how the destruction of Rome really could take place in one hour. The same thing occurred in Italy once before in 79 AD when the city of Pompeii was buried under 13 to 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Whatever form Rome’s sudden annihilation will take, the destruction will be made even more world impacting by the fact that, apparently, the city will become the world’s leading center of commerce in the tribulation period. Consider the following:
- Revelation 18:3 tells us that at the time of the cataclysm: “the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.”
- Revelation 18:9 speaks of: “The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her”
- Revelation 18:11 says: “And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore.”
- Revelation 18:12-13 itemizes the commodities, goods, and merchandise that will move through Rome in the tribulation period: gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, fine linen, silk, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, marble, cinnamon, incense, fragrant oil, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, horses, chariots, and the bodies and souls of men (a reference to a slave trade). (By the way, Revelation 19:17-18 indicates that horses and presumably chariots will be used during the battle of Armageddon. I’ll say more about that when we get to our study of that battle.)
- Revelation 18:19 says: “all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth!”
This matter of the ships of the sea and their close economic ties to “Mystery Babylon” is an important one because it helps us identify the city. In Revelation 18:17-18, John talks about how the shipmasters, sailors, and sea traders will stand at a distance and see the smoke rising up from the burning city. These ships will be sitting in the port of “Mystery Babylon” in the immediate aftermath of the judgment. Furthermore, considering the lengthy list of commodities, goods, and merchandise that John says will be coming in and out of the city, these ships will be large, international freighters capable of carrying tons of cargo. Such ships require not just a port but a deep-water one or else they’ll run aground.
The plain truth is that the location of the ruins of ancient Babylon has no such port. Babylon was located on the Euphrates river. As a matter of fact, the Euphrates ran right through the heart of the city. To get to any kind of sea, a ship would have had to sail down the Euphrates some 400 miles, into what we now call the Persian Gulf, and out into the Arabian Sea. In reverse fashion, any sea ships coming into Babylon would have had to make the journey up the Euphrates. Even if we concede that smaller vessels could have made this trip up and down the Euphrates, the massive cargo ships we have today simply couldn’t because the water isn’t deep enough in places.
Those who cling to the idea that “Mystery Babylon” will be ancient Babylon rebuilt argue that the rebuilt Babylon will have a specially engineered waterway that links the Euphrates river to the sea. However, the problem with this theory is that the entire Euphrates river will get dried up by bowl judgment #6 (Revelation 16:12). This fact in and of itself completely rules out a rebuilt city at the site of ancient Babylon as the “Mystery Babylon” of the tribulation period.
At this point, perhaps you are asking, “But the city of Rome isn’t really a port-city either, is it?” Good question. It isn’t in the classical sense of being located directly on the shores of a sea, but it is only fifteen miles inland from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Fifteen miles looking straight inland from the sea is easily close enough for seafarers to see the smoke involved with the level of cataclysmic destruction that John describes in Revelation chapter 18.
Another potential explanation involves the Roman sites of Ostia and Portus. Ostia was located in Rome’s suburbs at the mouth of the Tiber River directly bordering the Tyrrneian Sea. The site is much closer to the city than fifteen miles. In ancient times, Ostia served as Rome’s great harbor. When Ostia could no longer handle the volume of commerce that Rome required, the Romans devoted twenty years to carving out the coastline of the Claudian Basin and thus building the artificial harbor of Portus, which is located twenty miles southwest of Rome. Portus has been called one of Rome’s greatest engineering achievements. The sites of Ostia and Portus are currently little more than archaeological digs, and the buildup of silt over the centuries now has each site located approximately two miles from the coastline of the Tyrrenian Sea. It’s possible, though, that in the tribulation period or perhaps even before the Rapture that either Ostia or Portus will be rebuilt as a harbor for the city of Rome.
As long as I’m on this whole subject, let me mention that more and more students of prophecy are now asserting that “Mystery Babylon” will somehow involve America. Some believe that America itself is “Mystery Babylon” while others identify the specific city as New York City. Certainly it is undeniable that New York City can be understood to fit not only the description of a deep-water port but also the description of the world’s leading city for commerce. Furthermore, New York City is the site of the United Nations. So, then, is New York City “Mystery Babylon”? My answer is, no. As I see it, the problems with this interpretation are easy to spot, and I’ll offer them as a way of closing out this post.
First, “the bodies and souls of men” are bought and sold in “Mystery Babylon.” As I said earlier, this seems to be a pretty clear reference to a slave trade. Well, given America’s sordid history with slavery, it’s hard to fathom any set of circumstances, even in the tribulation period, that would take New York City into that despicable market. Some attempt to make the argument that America already has an illegal, underground, slave trade that operates under the term “human trafficking.” Tragically, we do. But it’s a stretch to say that America’s “human trafficking” fits John’s description of the buying and selling of “the bodies and souls of men” when all the other items on John’s list of commodities, goods, and merchandise that will be bought and sold in “Mystery Babylon” are perfectly legal and above board. (Ivory might be the lone exception to that rule.)
Second, in Revelation 18:24, John says of “Mystery Babylon”: “And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth.” While I’ll admit that America doesn’t always live up to its reputation as a place of religious freedom and tolerance, the blood of prophets and saints is relatively safe within her borders in comparison to other parts of the world. New York City, in particular, takes great pride in its diversity and tolerance in every realm, including the realm of religion.
Third, the Antichrist will arise from a revived Roman empire (see post #6 and post #14) and the city of “Mystery Babylon” will sit atop him (Revelation 17:3). This makes perfect sense if we interpret “Mystery Babylon” as Rome. After all, just as Rome was the capital city of the original Roman empire, it will most likely be the capital city of the Antichrist’s revived Roman empire. You see, to make New York City the city that sits atop the Antichrist is to completely ignore the Antichrist’s association with Rome. New York City certainly isn’t the new Rome.
Fourth, the symbolism of Revelation 17:3 depicts the Antichrist with seven heads. In Revelation 17:9-10, an angel explains to John that these seven heads have a dual meaning. They represent not only seven historical rulers of the Roman empire but also “seven mountains on which the woman (“that great city” Revelation 17:18) sits. Rome is legendary as being the city that sits on seven hills, but New York City has no link to seven mountains or seven hills. This leaves those who believe that New York City is “Mystery Babylon” to attempt to make the case that the “seven mountains” actually refer to the seven continents of the world and that America is the worldwide superpower that, in a sense, sits over those continents. In my opinion, though, that take on the whole matter throws far too wide a loop to be correct.