The secret of Babylon is a deep, deep secret; a mystery that has defied and bewildered many generations, but we believe that it is a mystery being revealed in these last days by God’s Holy Spirit.
The Tower of Babel by Brueghel
Almost two thousand years ago the Apostle John received a revelation of this biblical mystery. He saw Babylon as a woman arrayed in scarlet and purple, and decked with gold, precious stones and pearls. Although she was arrayed in royal and holy attire, he also noticed that the golden cup held in her hand was full of filthiness and fornication. Upon seeing this impostor of true righteousness, even John was amazed and wondered with great astonishment at the sight (Rev. 17:6). John then deals with the fall of Babylon in Revelation, chapters 14, 16, 17 and 18. He treats it as one of the major events of the end-days. It must surely be important to God’s people.
We can immediately understand that Babylon is far more than just a biblical city, or just the locale of the Hebrew exile. It is a spiritual symbol representing a problem deep within the human heart. Babylon is used as a code word for spiritual bondage and defilement of holy things. We can see from the Book of Daniel that the city of Babylon has political implications as well. It is the golden head that has directed the Gentile world governmental system from the fall of Israel in 586 BC until the present hour (Dan. 2:31-45). Mystery Babylon is somehow the religious side of this Gentile world governmental and economic system. However, in the last days the system will apparently turn upon her and destroy her (Rev. 17:16).
There are several places in scripture where the mysteries of Babylon are dealt with in some detail. In addition to the important chapters in Revelation that we have already mentioned, Isaiah chapters 47 and 48, and Jeremiah chapters 50 and 51 deal with this subject. No doubt, the foundational principles of Babylon are best seen in the episode of the Tower of Babel spoken of in Genesis 11:1-9. Let us look there first.
On the plain of Shinar in the area of Babylon, post-deluvian man assembled and sought to build a tower that would reach to heaven. Immediately, we gather that rebellious man was attempting to storm the heavens on his own terms. The tower was built with brick and not with stone. In the Bible, brick seems to represent man’s work, while stone represents God’s work. Man was attempting to make a name for himself instead of allowing God to make a name for him. He was attempting to build a city to his own glory. How different was this spirit from the spirit of Abraham who would later come on the scene. The Bible says of Abraham that “…he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
This man-made attempt at religious unity probably had some sorcery involved in it, as we see in other references to Babylon. The project was taken very seriously in heavenly realms, to the degree that God himself came down to see the city and the tower. God then made his decision to put a quick end to this humanistic new world order. In doing so, he scrambled the language of mankind. In their confusion these men ceased building
As we see from the remainder of the Bible, the subject of Babylon was not finished. Babylon continued on to distress God’s true saints. After the Temple was destroyed in 586 BC, the Children of Israel were carried captive there. The Babylonian captivity of Israel officially ended seventy years later. However, the bulk of those living in Babylon did not return home to Israel until the twentieth century. The remainder, 684,201, came back to Israel in 1948-51, in a giant airlift known as Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. Thus, we saw the real end of the natural Babylonian captivity in our times. Perhaps we will also see an end to spiritual Babylon in our day.
Babylon has not only affected the Jews, but she has also deeply affected Christians. Some in the church quickly became bound up with this proud, adulterous system of things. The beloved Apostle John, who probably knew Jesus better than any other person on earth, was not allowed entry into one early Christian church. John laments, “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us” (3 John 1:9). Already in apostolic times the proud and haughty principles of Babylon had defiled this church.
Since the subject of Babylon is an extremely complicated one, let us try to look at the basic principles which are involved in the Babylonian system.
SOME BABYLONIAN PRINCIPLES
First, there is the principle of pride. The people in Genesis 11:4 wanted to make a name for themselves. Jeremiah tells us that Babylon has been proud against the Lord (Jer. 50:29). We learn in Revelation 18:7, that Babylon has glorified herself. How many Christians and church leaders in our day have sought to make a name for themselves and to glorify themselves. How many of us would secretly like to do the same thing? This is all quite different from the spirit of the Messiah who “…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7).
Second, there is the principle of idolatry. Babylon was famous for her gods. There was a host of some 38 principal gods in Babylon. It was “a land of idols” (Jer. 50:38). We simply cannot comprehend the extent to which this has affected the world and even Christianity. Many of these gods and their customs of worship were later imported to Rome. Soon afterward, they indirectly found their way into some church practices. We do not have space to deal with this here, but if we look in any encyclopedia under the subject of Christian holidays, for example, we will learn about the pagan origin of many of them. This is only one small area where eastern idolatry has crept into the church.
Babylon was also famous for her covetousness. In Jeremiah 51:13, the prophet says of her, “You who live by many waters and are rich in treasures, your end has come…” The frightening thing about Babylon’s covetousness is that she is merchandising in gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, cinnamon, fragrances, ointments, frankincense, wine, oil, flour, wheat, etc. All these things may well represent pictures of redemption and of divine worship, for they were all present in Israel’s sacrifices. Babylon also merchandises in the souls of men (Rev. 18:12-13). One sad fact in Christianity is that the gospel has often been merchandised, and so have God’s people. This is spoken of in 2 Peter 2:3 “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you…” (KJV).
Another principle of Babylon is her sorcery. We read in Revelation 18:23, “…By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.” Isaiah says: “Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you” (Isa. 47:13). I like to define sorcery simply as taking our spiritual instructions from any other source besides God and his Word. Surely both Jews and Christians have been guilty here.
There are two more principles of Babylon. One is her adultery. In Revelation 17:5, John realized that that this mysterious woman was “…THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” To adulterate is to mix and to weaken. Babylonian principles have subtly infiltrated and weakened true religion. It has come about through compromise with the world system, and it has surely cost Christianity its pristine purity.
Last of all, Lady Babylon is guilty of murder. John says in Revelation 17:6: “I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished.” The spirit of Babylon somehow has managed to pursue and destroy godly people in every age. Often they have been killed in the name of religion.
As a result of all these things, Babylon is a land of confusion and division as seen in Genesis 11:7-8. It is also a land of deep spiritual bondage where God’s people can no longer freely sing his praises (Psa. 137:2).
COMING OUT OF BABYLON
For certain, the whole Babylonian system is about to collapse. Daniel in his vision saw a rock hewn out of the mountain. That rock came crashing into the image of this polluted world religious-economic-political system and it was instantly turned to dust (Dan. 2:34). Remember, the system all fell at the same time. The head collapsed with the body, and the golden head that has directed the whole mess, is Babylon. We understand from scripture that the rock is the Messiah and his government from Zion.
Isaiah warns God’s people, “Leave Babylon, flee from the Babylonians!…” (Isa. 48:20). John is even more insistent as he says, “Then I heard another voice from heaven say: ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.'” (Rev. 18:4).
A word of caution may be needed here. God never refers to his church as Babylon, and he never instructs his saints to judge Babylon. He only commands his people to come out of her. This coming out seems to be primarily a matter of the heart, and not a matter of pointing fingers at some group, or of leaving some institution or church which we have decided is “Babylonish.” We must come out of Babylon in our hearts.
However, it is extremely difficult for us just to come out of something. We must come into something as well, or else we are left stranded in no-man’s land. It is clear from scripture that we come out of Babylon in order to go up to Zion. In Jeremiah 50:5, the prophet says, “They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it. They will come and bind themselves to the LORD in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten” (cf. Jer. 51:50).
The spiritual return to Zion will begin to purge God’s people from the corrupting influences of Babylon. I am speaking here of a spiritual return to our biblical and Hebraic heritage. When we return to Zion; we return to God; and to Jesus (Heb. 12:22-24). We return to his pure Word (Isa. 2:3); we return to holiness (Isa. 35:8-10); we return to his rule (Psa. 2:6); and to many other righteous and glorious things. Whatever we have brought from Babylon we will have to lose, for the Bible says, “No rock will be taken from you for a cornerstone, nor any stone for a foundation,…” (Jer. 51:26).
It is interesting in Revelation 19:7, that as soon as the harlot Babylon is judged, the wedding of the Lamb begins to take place. We cannot clearly see the true until the false is taken out of the way. In that day, God will have his people. There will be no mixture in them, for they will not be defiled with women (Rev. 14:4). They will follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
This article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem
Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1525-30, the Netherlands