BABYLON: THAT GREAT CITY
Babylon is called “that great city,” or “the great city” (Revelation 14:8, 18:10).
In Revelation 11:8, we find the city that is guilty of slaying the two witnesses of God. Thus, we have the same persecuting city as in chapters 16 – 18, and it is called “the great city.” Not only is it called “the great city,” but it is also, “spiritually called Sodom and Egypt.” In other words, whoever the “great city” was, to the readers of the Apocalypse, she was to be identified with the traits of Sodom and Egypt. Does the Bible ever call any city, other than the historical cities themselves, by the name of Sodom and Egypt?
Only one city, other than historical Sodom, was ever called Sodom. In Isaiah 1:10, 3:9; Jeremiah 23:14 and Ezekiel 16:44-49, it is none other than Jerusalem. It was Jerusalem’s sin that caused her to earn the epithet Sodom. Given the apostate condition of Jerusalem in Christ’s day, is it not difficult to see that she had once again earned that badge of distinction?
In Deuteronomy 32, known as The Song of Moses , Yahweh contemplated Israel’s last days. In describing the reasons for the judgment to fall on her in the last days, the Lord declared, “Their vine is the vine of Sodom and of the fields of Gomorrah” (Deut. 32:32). Thus, in contemplation of the last days, and the judgment of Israel, the Lord spiritually designated Israel as Sodom.
John’s Apocalypse is about the fulfillment of the Old Covenant prophets (Rev. 11; 22:6-7). The Old Covenant prophets, e.g., Deuteronomy 32, foretold the destruction of Israel – as Sodom. To identify Rome as Sodom in Revelation, one has to show that the Old Testament predicted the fall of Rome as Sodom as well. This cannot be done.
Deuteronomy 32 deals with Israel – identified as “Sodom” – and her last days, terminating in the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. John was living in the last days (Acts 2:15-17; 1 John 2:18), and wrote of the impending destruction of a city called “Sodom.” Yet, we are supposed to ignore this prophetic, scriptural, and historical connection, and think of another city – that had never been called Sodom – as the object of John’s Revelation.
For whom was the term “Egypt” significant? Surely it was the Jewish Christian. It should never be forgotten how distinctly “Jewish” is the book of Revelation. What did Egypt signify? Bondage.
In Galatians 4, Paul discusses two mountains, two Jerusalems, two covenants. He says, “The Jerusalem that now is, is in bondage with her children” (Gal. 4:25. Where did she learn her ways, and this identification as Egypt? See Ezek. 23:1-4, 8). So, here we have in Revelation, Jerusalem, “where their Lord was crucified,” pointedly referred to as the capitol of bondage.
Paul discusses at length the problem of those who would bring Gentile Christians into bondage of the Old Law (Gal. 5.)( Explore Paul’s use of bondage in Romans 6-8, 2 Cor. 3, Colossians, all of Galatians, etc .. Bondage to the Old Covenant system is a constant theme). In the conflict over the identity of the true children of God (Rev. 2:9, 3:9), the controversy is with the Jews, not Rome.
Harnack says, “The hostility of the Jews appears on every page of Acts from chapter 12 onwards, and can be traced with the aid even of the evangelic narratives, whose sources go back to the period preceding AD 65.” (Adolf Harnack, Mission and Expansion of Christianity, (Harper and Brothers, 1961)57.).
Walk through Acts and see for yourself. Persecution against the church in Ephesus, in Thessalonica, in Corinth, in Lystra, in Antioch, everywhere Paul preached, or the church was established, the Jews stirred up the Gentiles. Jerusalem was the center of worldwide persecution against the church, as evidenced by Paul himself (Acts 22:3-5, 23:10-11).
Thankfully, Revelation 11:8 gives the inspired interpretation of Sodom and Egypt, it is the city, “where their Lord was crucified.” John was given both the spiritual identification of the city, and the divine interpretation of the spiritual language. If one admits for one moment that, “where their Lord was crucified” is interpretative, the identification of “the great city” is settled.
Please note, John is told that the great city is, “spiritually called Sodom and Egypt.” Then he was told it was, “where also the Lord was slain.” The city was called something spiritually, but it was not spiritually where the Lord was slain. The spiritual designation is Sodom and Egypt. The geographical identification is, “where the Lord was slain.”
Observe that the city is called Sodom. It is also where the Lord was slain. This is significant. The Revealer is informing the reader that he is changing from the spiritual designation to the interpretation of the spiritual language. The text does not say the city is spiritually called Sodom, and spiritually called where the Lord was crucified. The spiritual designation ends at the geographical identification. This positively identifies the great city as first century Jerusalem.
What would the 1st century Jewish Christian reader of Revelation think of, “where the Lord was slain?” Consider 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16: “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us, and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins, but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.” (NKJV) Paul identified the Jews as the ones guilty of crucifying the Lord. (It goes without saying that He was actually slain in Jerusalem, does it not?) Would the readers of Revelation think differently about this matter? While Pilate certainly passed the sentence against Jesus, it is a fact that the Jews instigated Christ’s trial, and the persecution of the church. Pilate washed his hands of the affair.
The cry of the Jews on the occasion of Christ’s trial is answered in Revelation. They cried, “Let his blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25), and the book of Revelation is about the judgment of the city that killed the Lord. Did Yahweh require the blood of His Christ on a different city from the one that acknowledged its guilt for slaying Him?
Commentators seek to change, “where the Lord was slain,” to, “by whom” the Lord was crucified. Yet, the Bible settles even the “by whom” question, and it is not Rome.
The Bible identifies both by whom and where the Lord was crucified. The Jews were the ones guilty of crucifying the Lord. It is hardly justifiable, therefore, to make the phrase, “where the Lord was crucified,” apply to Rome, or any future city.
The similarities, and direct parallels between the descriptions of “that great city” in Revelation precludes the possibility of two separate cities. Notice the chart below that lists the characteristics of “that great city” as described by John.
|The Great City (Revelation 11)||The Great City (Rest of Revelation)|
|Jerusalem – where the Lord was slain (11:8)||Babylon (14:8; 16:19; 18:10)|
|Killed the prophets (11:3, 7-10)||Killed the prophets (16:6, 18:20, 24, 19:2)|
|Cup of sin full through persecution (6:11; 11:3, 7-10)||Cup of sin full through persecution (17:6; 18:20,24, 19:2)|
|Destroyed in a great earthquake (11:13)||Destroyed in a great earthquake (16:18)|
|Destruction at the resurrection and vindication of martyrs (11:15-18)||Destruction at the resurrection and vindication of martyrs(18:20, 24, 19:2, 7-9)|
|Kingdom comes at time of destruction (11:15-18)||Kingdom comes at time of destruction (19:16-21)|
|No deliverance of the great city, only judgment||No deliverance of the great city, only judgment|
|Jewish city Called “that great city” (11:8)||Not a gentile city (16:19, contrasted with the cities of the Gentiles) Called “that great city” (14:8; 16:19; 18:10)|
These parallels prove that “that great city” is one city, and it is not Rome. There is a major difficulty for the millennial view of delineating between Jerusalem in Revelation 11 and 16:1-18, and Babylon of Revelation 16:19. The millennialists believe the visions of Revelation are consecutive, and not concurrent. That is, they believe that the 7 Seals are fulfilled, and in the 7th Seal the 7 Trumpets are revealed and begin to be fulfilled. Likewise, the 7 Trumpets sound, and in the sounding of the 7th Trumpet, the 7 Vials are revealed (Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, Charting the End Times, (Eugene, Ore, Harvest House, 2002)59+.).
Here is the problem with that paradigm thinking:
The “great city,” Jerusalem, of Revelation is destroyed in Revelation 11:9f under the 7th Trumpet. However, per the millennialists, in Revelation 16 we are dealing with the time of the 7 Vials, and at that time, “that great city” (i.e. Jerusalem) is destroyed, again (Rev. 16:19a). Thus, per the millennial paradigm, there must be two yet future destructions of Jerusalem during the seven year tribulation period. This encounters severe difficulties in regard to the avenging of the martyrs.
Revelation 6, the time of the 7 Seals, records the prayer of the martyred saints longing for vindication and the judgment on their persecutors. That vindication would come at the Day of the Lord (6:12-17). However, chapter 11, the time of the 7 Trumpets, is also about the vindication of the martyrs since the two martyred witnesses are resurrected, and we have the time of their vindication and reward when the city that killed them is judged (11:8-18). Likewise, chapter 16, the time of the Vials, is the time of the judgment of the city guilty of killing the prophets and saints (16:6f). Thus, if the visions of Revelation are consecutive, and if that “great city” of Revelation 6, 11, and 16:1-18 is Jerusalem as posited by Hitchcock, then there are in fact three destructions of Jerusalem during the Tribulation period of 7 years. That means that there are not only three destructions of Jerusalem, but three different vindications of the martyrs during that same 7 year time period. Are we to believe that Jerusalem will fill up the measure of her sin, by persecuting the saints, three times during the Tribulation period, and be destroyed, three times, and rebuilt, during that proposed 7 year period? I know of no one that suggests this, and it is untenable to say the least.
There is a final piece of evidence, to be expanded in our examination of Revelation 16, and that is that the great city is divided into three parts. The background for this imagery is (read) Ezekiel 5, where the son of man prophet foretold the fall of Jerusalem for her sin. Thus, in Revelation 11 the identification of “that great city” is clearly Jerusalem, and in Revelation 16, Babylon and her judgment is described by calling to mind the judgment of Jerusalem. It is difficult to imagine that this is mere coincidence, or even that John is so radically altering the prophetic background of Ezekiel.
Unless one can prove indisputably that “the great city” of Revelation 11 is different from chapters 16-18, Babylon was Jerusalem. Unless one can prove that two different cities, other than historical Sodom, are “spiritually called Sodom,” Babylon was Jerusalem. Unless one can show that Jesus was slain in two different cities, Babylon was Jerusalem. Unless one is willing to ignore or deny the united testimony of the Lord, and the apostle Paul, as to the identity of the slayer of Jesus, Babylon was Jerusalem.
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 3 Rev. Chapters 10 thru 12 sub study Who is Babylon” also see eschatology “Study Series 15 Lesson 1 Revelation Intro, Purpose and Background”]
[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 16 Lesson 6 Rev. Chapters 17 thru 18 (sub study on Mother of Harlots)”]