When we are looking for Babylon’s true identity, we must realize that matching only a few of Babylon’s characteristics to a position does not identify her. So, if we are going to correctly identify the real Babylon, every characteristic must fit our selection.
Any attempt to identify Babylon should take into account all of her characteristics. Observe them briefly:
(1) Babylon sat upon many waters (17:1). The waters are peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues (17:15).
(2) The kings of the earth committed fornication with Babylon, and the inhabitants of earth were drunk with the wine of her fornication (14:8, 17:2, 18:3).
(3) Babylon sat upon the scarlet colored beast and was carried by this beast (17:3, 7). She was not the beast or any part of the beast. She was simply carried, or supported, by the beast.
(4) Babylon was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, and a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication (17:4, 18:16).
(5) On Babylon’s forehead was inscribed: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH (17:5).
(6) Babylon was that great city that reigned over the kings of the earth (17:18).
(7) Babylon was divided into three parts (16:19).
(8) In Babylon was found the blood of saints, martyrs of Christ, prophets and ALL that were slain upon earth (17:6, 18:20, 24).
(9) Babylon also became the habitation of devils, the hold of every unclean and hateful bird (18:2).
(11) Babylon said in her heart, “I SIT as A QUEEN AND I AM NOT A WIDOW, and will never see mourning.” (18:7).
(12) Of Babylon’s destruction it is said the ten horns of the beast would hate the whore, make her naked, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. Death, mourning, famine, and utter burning would be the result (17:16, 18:8).
(13) Babylon was to be rewarded double for her sins (18:6).
(14) The heaven, saints, apostles and prophets were avenged by Babylon’s destruction (18:20, 19:2).
Matching the Characteristics:
There are at least fourteen attributes which must fit our selection of the one identified as Babylon the Great. Matching a few of the traits is not sufficient. Every feature must fully correspond with our information. As we look for the identity of true Babylon, let us compare the three most popular identifications with the characteristics listed above.
1) Babylon Sat Upon Many Waters:
Babylon sat upon many waters (17:1). The waters are peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues (17:15).
Since every position depends upon peoples, multitudes, nations and languages, this characteristic fits all of the positions previously mentioned.
This characteristic fits Jerusalem especially well. Jerusalem was the capital of a spiritual nation, Israel, whose citizens were scattered into all the nations of the earth. Multitudes of them out of every nation came to Jerusalem to worship three times a year. Of the feast of Pentecost, 30 AD, Luke said, “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.” (Acts 2:5) (d. Josephus, Antiquities, 14,7,2). Let no one think for a moment that this characteristic does not fit Jerusalem.
2) Babylon, The Fornicator:
The kings of the earth committed fornication with Babylon, and the inhabitants of the earth were drunk with the wine of her fornication (14:8, 17:2, 18:3).
This distinction fits Jerusalem better than any other because God had accused the nation of Israel and her capital of this kind of behavior for centuries (cf. Jud. 2:17; 8:27, 33; 1 Chron. 5:25; 2 Chron. 21:11; Hos. 1:1-8, 2:1-5, 4:6-19; Isa. 1:21; Jer. 2:20, 25-28, 3:1-11, 5:7-9; Lam. 1:18-19; Mic. 1:7-9). The prophets are filled with God’s portrayal of Jerusalem as a harlot committing fornication with the nations (cf.Isa.57:3-12; Jer.13:27; Ezek.16:1-59, 23:1-49). These Old Testament passages and many more substantiate beyond question that Jerusalem fits this characteristic.
3) Scarlet Beast Carries Babylon:
Babylon sat upon the scarlet colored beast and was carried by this beast (17:3, 7). She was not the beast or any part of the beast but was simply carried, or supported, by the beast.
Jerusalem is the city that really fits this description. True, her citizens were subjected to Roman rule by conquest but they did not consider themselves as a part of the Empire. There were constant conflicts. The Romans were feared and respected as conquerors but were not accepted as benefactors to the Jews. The Jews paid their taxes but they would not serve in the Roman Armies. Yet, the Jews and their religion were tolerated and protected by the Roman Empire. In fact, the Jews were granted privileges by the rulers of Rome that were not afforded any other nation. This is the reason, no doubt, the Roman Empire is portrayed as carrying the harlot. (See Study Series 15 Lesson 7 for a detailed Sub Study on “The Beast.”)
4) Babylon’s Attire:
Babylon was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, and a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication (17:4, 18:16).
Jerusalem was described in scripture in these terms for centuries before John penned the Apocalypse. Jeremiah wrote, “Although you dress in scarlet, Although you decorate yourself with ornaments of gold, Although you enlarge your eyes with paint, In vain you make yourself beautiful. Your lovers despise you; They seek your life.” (Jer. 4:30; cf. Ezek. 16:1-63).
5) Babylon’s Forehead:
On Babylon’s forehead was inscribed: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH (17:5).
While the Roman Catholic Church could be called a religious harlot guilty of many abominations, she could not be termed the mother of harlots and abominations. All false religions are spiritual harlots but they are not the mother of harlots.
Rome would have been a political harlot as was Nineveh (Nah.3:4), Tyre (Isa. 23:17), and Babylon, but Rome could not have been the mother of harlots and abominations. When John wrote, Rome was the youngest of political harlots. She could have been called a daughter of harlots and maybe queen of harlots but never the mother of harlots.
Jerusalem, on the other hand, as the capital of Israel, was the oldest political, economic and religious harlot identified in scripture. Long before Rome attained fame and power, Jerusalem was accused of being “old in adulteries” (Ezek. 23:43). Jeremiah said Jerusalem had “a whore’s forehead” (Jer. 3:3). From a Biblical standpoint, no city could match Babylon’s description like Jerusalem.
6) Babylon’s Sovereignty:
Babylon was that great city that reigned over the kings of the earth (17:18).
Jerusalem also meets the requirements. First, because Jerusalem and new Jerusalem are the only cities in Revelation which are called “the great city” (11:8, 21:10). This fact alone should demand the close attention of Revelation students. Second, because no city or other entity exercised kingship or authority as a city as did Jerusalem. It was the city of God and No other city ever held this distinctive privilege and, because of this unique feature, Jerusalem possessed a sovereignty that was above that of the kings of earth. Rome’s power was through the sovereignty of her rulers, but Jerusalem’s power was through the majesty of her royal position as the city of God, the city of the great King. David said, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, In the city of our God, His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, Is Mount Zion in the far north, The city of the great King. God, in her palaces, Has made Himself known as a stronghold. For, lo, the kings assembled themselves, They passed by together. They saw it, then they were amazed; They were terrified, they fled in alarm. Panic seized them there, Anguish, as of a woman in childbirth.” (Psa. 48:1-6). Jerusalem is the great city that had a kingdom that was over (above) the kings of the earth. How could it be perceived as being any other?
7) Babylon’s Divisions:
Babylon was divided into three parts (16:19).
Jerusalem is the only position that fits the picture because she, like Babylon, was divided into three parts both geographically and politically. Geographically, Jerusalem was walled into three sections; the upper city, the lower city, and Ophel. The temple area, though located in Jerusalem, was a section walled from the rest of the city. Politically, Jerusalem was divided into three warring factions during the war with the Romans: Eleazar, leader of the zealots; John of Gischala, a Galilean leader, and Simeon, leader of the Idumeans. In the opinion of this Bible student, the dividing of Babylon into three parts is talking about the three political factions. However, any way we wish to look at it, Jerusalem matches this feature of Babylon. In fact, Jerusalem is the only identification of Babylon that does fulfill this characteristic.
8) Babylon, the Persecutor:
In Babylon was found the blood of saints, martyrs of Christ, prophets and ALL that were slain upon earth (17:6, 18:20, 24).
Jerusalem alone matches this feature. As a persecutor, Jerusalem had no equal. Of her Christ said, “It cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33). Now, we know that all prophets were not martyred in Jerusalem but they were slain by the nation of Israel. Jerusalem was Israel’s capital and was held responsible for these crimes. Christ died there to seal the fate of the nation and their city. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her!” (Luke 13:34). Jerusalem was held responsible for the deaths of the prophets. Responsibility for their deaths could be charged to no other city. Therefore, Babylon of necessity must be JERUSALEM because God avenged the blood of the prophets on her (Rev. 18:20).
Again, Christ said, “For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation,” (Luke 11:49-50). Christ was addressing the Jewish lawyers when He said this. In a similar statement in Matthew 23:34-35, Christ was clearly talking about the destruction of Jerusalem. Apostles and prophets were sent to the Jews whom they would persecute and slay that the blood of ALL the prophets might be required of that generation on Jerusalem. Babylon symbolizes Jerusalem.
Christ also said He would bring upon Jerusalem “all the righteous blood shed on earth” (Matt. 23:35). A similar statement is made concerning Babylon. “And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.” (Rev. 18:24). This can only be said of Babylon if she symbolizes Jerusalem. Otherwise, the statement is false. Jerusalem must be identified as Babylon.
In Jerusalem was found the blood of saints (both old and new testament varieties), apostles and prophets, and all that were slain upon earth Unless Christ was filled with sin (cf. 1 Pet. 2:22) and spoke out of both sides of His mouth, Babylon the Great and Jerusalem must be the same city. The message of Christ concerning Jerusalem’s forthcoming destruction, and why, is the same message revealed by His angel to John (Rev. 1:1). Unless we are ready to accuse Christ of lying, we must listen closely to what He has said. Only Jerusalem can be identified with Babylon the Great.
9) Inhabitants of Babylon:
Babylon also became the habitation of devils, the dwelling place of every unclean and hateful bird (18:2).
Jerusalem is the only position that fully explains this text. Josephus’ description of the character of Jerusalem’s inhabitants in her last days leaves no doubt about what John meant in this description. He described the three warring factions that converged on Jerusalem in her last days as “the scum, the spurious and abortive offspring of our nation.” He said, “It is impossible to go distinctly over every instance of these men’s iniquity. I shall therefore speak my mind here at once briefly: “That neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world.” (Josephus, Wars, 5,10,5; cf.4,6,3.). No one can doubt the application of this characteristic of Babylon to Jerusalem. (See also application of Matt. 12:43-45).
Further, it is of interest to note that Babylon, the harlot city, becomes so filled with wickedness that she was destroyed. By contrast, new Jerusalem, which is portrayed in all of her glory, is totally pure. Sin is not permitted within her gates (Rev. 21:27, 22:15). With the understanding that Babylon represents ancient Jerusalem, the city of God turned harlot, our vision of new Jerusalem which took her place is enhanced. What a marvelous picture!
10) God’s People Called Out Of Babylon:
God’s people were called to come out of Babylon lest they be partakers of her sins and her plagues (18:4).
Before God can call His people out of Babylon, He must have people in Babylon. The recognition of this fact eliminates nearly every identification made of her. God does not have people in iniquity, false religions and apostate churches (1 John 1:5-6). There is no need for God to call His people out of where they cannot be. Therefore, any identification of Babylon with any false religion is excluded.
Jerusalem is the only city that meets the requirements. God had people in Jerusalem. The New Testament order had its beginning there (Acts 2), and Christians remained there until a short time before it was destroyed. During His personal ministry, Christ warned His disciples of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and told them to look for the sign when they were to hastily leave the city. He said, “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place… must flee to the mountains” (Matt. 24:15-16). Luke quoted Christ as saying, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city;” (Luke 21:20-21). God had people in Jerusalem and He had good reason for calling them out. He was going to utterly destroy this city off the face of the earth. Babylon the Great symbolized Jerusalem.
11) Babylon’s Boast:
Babylon said in her heart, “I SIT as A QUEEN AND I AM NOT A WIDOW, and will never see mourning.” (18:7).
Jerusalem would make such a proclamation. Israel was married to God (Isa. 54:5; Hos. 2:1-2, 13; Jer. 3:8, 14) and because of this considered herself indestructible. The Jews felt that their special relationship with God in the past would protect them from His threatened punishment. Even to the end they held out hope that God would come to their rescue and save them from the Romans.” They refused to believe that God would make them a widow, but He did. No identification explains this characteristic like Jerusalem.
12) Babylon’s Utter Destruction:
Of Babylon’s destruction it is said the ten horns of the beast would hate the whore, make her naked, eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. Death, mourning, famine, and utter burning would be the result (17:16; 18:8).
Jerusalem fully fits the picture. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Empire when the kings of the provinces joined Vespasian and Titus in the Roman war against the Jews. She was made totally desolate, naked, and her citizens cast to beasts. Death, mourning, famine and total destruction were the results. Josephus wrote of Jerusalem, its inhabitants during its last days, and its destruction. He said, “The entire nation was now shut up by fate as in a prison, and the Roman army encompassed the city when it was crowded with inhabitants. Accordingly, the multitude of those that therein perished exceeded all the destructions that either men or God every brought upon the world; …And now the Romans set fire to the extreme parts of the city, and burnt them down, and entirely demolished its wall.” (Josephus, Wars, 6,9,4.). Again, he said, “Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury, … Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple …It was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This is the end which Jerusalem came to … a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.” (Ibid, 7,1,1.). Christ had said, “not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.” (Matt. 24:2). Jerusalem was totally destroyed as was Babylon and for the same reasons. Babylon symbolized Jerusalem!
13) Babylon’s Double Reward:
Babylon was to be rewarded double for her sins (18:6).
Jerusalem was rewarded by God severely. It is historical fact. Depending on what is meant by a double reward, Jerusalem was rewarded. If it means that Jerusalem was to be punished twice for her sins, she was. The city was first destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians and again in AD 70 by the Romans. If the expression means that her punishment was to be especially severe, it was. The city was totally laid even with the ground never to exist again as the city of God. Jerusalem fits the picture like no other.
Recall Israel’s attitude from the Old Testament: she says in her heart, “I SIT as A QUEEN AND I AM NOT A WIDOW, and will never see mourning.” (cf. Isa. 47:8-9; Lam. 1:1). Israel and Jerusalem were married to God under the Old Testament system (Isa. 54:5; Hos. 2:1-2, etc.), and it became difficult for them to conceive of God leaving them. This is an old story with them. Micah revealed, “Her leaders pronounce judgment for a bribe, Her priests instruct for a price And her prophets divine for money. Yet they lean on the LORD saying, ‘Is not the LORD in our midst? Calamity will not come upon us.’ Therefore, on account of you Zion will be plowed as a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, And the mountain of the temple will become high places of a forest.” (Mic. 3:11-12). Josephus relates that this was the precise attitude of the Jews of Jerusalem even while the Romans were besieging the city (Josephus, Wars, 5,11,2; 6,2,1.). The voice from heaven, however, decrees that her plagues will come, and she will be utterly burned with fire. This was God’s judgment against them, and it came in AD 70.
14) The Saints Avenged:
The heaven, saints, apostles and prophets were avenged by Babylon’s destruction (18:20, 19:2).
The reason for the avenging of the heaven, saints, apostles and prophets was because their blood was found in Babylon. She had been responsible for their deaths. This could not be said of the Roman Catholic Church; therefore, the Apostate Church cannot be Babylon the Great.
Rome does not match the qualification either. While Rome was responsible for the deaths of many New Testament saints, she was not responsible for the deaths of the apostles and prophets. Not one apostle or prophet can be named for whom Rome was solely responsible for their death! There is not one reason why God should avenge the blood of the apostles and prophets on Rome. To require Rome’s destruction for something she did not do would be totally unreasonable. Babylon the Great could not possibly be Rome.
Jerusalem was responsible for the deaths of all of them and God avenged their blood on Jerusalem exactly as He did on Babylon (Matt. 23:34-39; Luke 11:46-52, 13:33-35). If Jerusalem is not Babylon the Great, God avenged the blood of His servants on two distinctly different entities. He justly poured His wrath upon Jerusalem who richly deserved it, and unjustly poured it upon some other entity that did not deserve the judgment promised. Who could think for a moment that God would do such a thing? Yet, every identification of Babylon the Great, except Jerusalem, forces this conclusion upon the advocates. Jerusalem is Babylon the Great.
BABYLON AND THE PLAGUES OF EGYPT
Many scholars have noted that the book of Revelation draws heavily upon Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and that the plagues of Egypt are being brought against Babylon. The first plague of the bowls in Revelation 16 recalls the 6th plague of Egypt (Exod. 9:9-11). The second and third plagues recall the first plague (Exod. 7:17-21). The fifth bowl recalls the ninth plague (Exodus 10:21-23). The sixth bowl reflects to some degree the frog plague of Exodus 8. (Ford, Revelation, 265f for a fuller discussion of the plagues of Egypt and those of Revelation).
What is the meaning of the replaying of the Egyptian plagues in the book of Revelation? In Deut. 28:60, God threatened Israel that if they forgot their covenant with Him He would, “bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you.” God specifically threatened Israel with the plagues of Egypt if they forgot their covenant and rebelled against Him. Revelation portrays the fulfillment of God’s threat.
For objectivity sake, we must note that in Deut. 7:15 Yahweh promised that if Israel was faithful to Him none of these plagues would come upon them, but would come on their enemies.
Significantly, the judgments on Babylon follow the pattern established by God in Leviticus 26. (Ford, Revelation, 266-267,282). The judgments there are seven-fold, those in Revelation are seven-fold. Why would God use this language, so covenantal in nature, so exclusively belonging to Israel, to threaten Rome, apostate Christianity, the Roman Catholic church, the Eastern European Common Market, or anyone but Israel?
Revelation recreates the exodus. This time, however, the plagues come on another “Egypt,” the city where the Lord was slain (Rev. 11:8). The fact that Revelation draws so heavily on the Law of Blessings and Cursings (Deuteronomy 28 – 30), and Leviticus 26, to pronounce judgment on Babylon strongly indicates that Babylon was Jerusalem.
Every single characteristic of Babylon the Great are all attributes of Old Covenant Jerusalem. While some of the traits of Babylon may be seen in other cities or entities, only Jerusalem has all of the features. If we are to understand the Apocalypse, we must correctly identify Babylon for whom she represents.
I think it is beyond a shadow of doubt that in bible prophecy, BABYLON refers to the mother harlot city of Jerusalem. It was a wicked city in the first century generation of Jews that saw Christ’s first coming. Apostle Peter referred to “BABYLON” as the city in which the Jerusalem church was located. He established the time and location of “BABYLON” in prophecy. This was in AD 63-64, when he wrote First Peter, while Peter and Mark were still alive.
“She (the Jerusalem church) who is in BABYLON, elect together with you, greets you; and so does Mark my son.” (1 Pet. 5:13).
John wrote in the Revelation that in his vision he saw that “BABYLON” had fallen (Rev. 14:8; Rev. 18:2). This was describing the city of Jerusalem, which crucified the Lord (Rev. 11:8), and killed the apostles and prophets sent to it. It was where the Diaspora of Jews went annually from all the nations for the Old Covenant sacrifices and ceremonies. It was Jerusalem that received the sentence of condemnation from the Lord. It was the first century generation of the apostles that would see the destruction of Jerusalem.
Jesus said about Jerusalem: “34Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will KILL AND CRUCIFY, and some of them you will SCOURGE in your synagogues and PERSECUTE from city to city, 35that ON YOU may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abe/ to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you MURDERED between the temple and the altar . 36Assuredly, I say to you, ALL THESE THINGS WILL COME UPON THIS GENERATION . 37‘O JERUSALEM’ JERUSALEM, the one who kills the PROPHETS and stones those WHO ARE SENT to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but YOU WERE NOT WILLING! 38See! YOUR house is left to you DESOLATE.’” (Matt. 23:34-38; Luke 13:34-35).
The wrath of God was poured out on Jerusalem (aka: “Babylon”) and it was totally destroyed in AD 70. (Rev.16:19; Rev.17:5; Rev.18:10, 21). The Revelation of John described things that were to happen shortly, near, at hand, and quickly. This destruction of Jerusalem and the temple signified the passing away of the old heavens and earth cosmological order and the Old Covenant Jewish religious system and the physical nation of Israel in God’s redemptive plans. (Rev. 1:1, 3; 3:11; 22:6-7, 10, 12, 20). If one is to believe that the biblical meaning of “heaven and earth” have not yet passed away, then every single jot and tittle of the law is still valid today!
“17“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill* 18 For assuredly, I say to you, TILL HEAVEN AND EARTH PASS AWAY, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till ALL IS FULFILLED.” (Matt. 5:17-18).
See also related “Topic Studies & Terms”:
For a more in-depth study see the related full “Study Series” (available upon request if not hyperlinked):
“Study Series 16 Lesson 6 Rev. Chapters 17 thru 18 (sub study on Mother of Harlots)”