Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XXX)

April 16, 2010

For a number of years, I have had a growing curiosity about the identity of “Babylon the Great” in the Book of Revelation.  I have written notes for several different study Bibles that have included thoughts that clarify things about Babylon the Great to some extent.  I even did a scholarly paper with Emily Hunter McGowin, called “Getting in Touch with the ‘Feminine Side’ of the Apocalypse,” in which Babylon the Great was one of the several focal points.  Still, I realized recently that I have never gotten into the subject, so to speak, “up to my hip boots.”  So, the time has come for some direct study on my part (which you are welcome to watch, over my shoulder).

Almost all of the  sources I read on the identity of Babylon the Great in Revelation in my earlier Christian life and ministry concluded that the wording spoke of either: 1) a rebuilt end-times Babylon; or 2) the city of Rome and, usually, Roman Catholicism.  The first, fairly literal view is generally held by dispensationalists.  The second view is held by a wide variety of other non-Catholic groups.

There are significant problems with both viewpoints.  The first view flies in the face of Jeremiah 51, which repeatedly says that the city of Babylon would fall and “never rise again” (51:64), but instead remain “desolate forever” (51:26, 62).  Yes, something has taken place on the site of the ancient Babylon in the last couple of decades.  But, whatever that proves to be, it cannot prove to be what those who see Babylon in Iraq as the full meaning of “Babylon the Great” in Revelation, because it contradicts clear statements of Scripture in Jeremiah.

The Rome/Catholicism view is largely built on the wording of “seven hills” in Revelation 17:9, since Rome has historically been known as “the city on the seven hills.”  I do not dispute that identification, just that to see Babylon the Great as strictly and only Rome/Catholicism is to be guilty of biblical “tunnel vision.”

Why do I say that?  Allow to me lay out only two pieces of evidence (out of a good bit more–but this is enough to make my point), then to “exit stage left” until I have some more time to write on this subject in the next few days.

First key too-often-overlooked piece of evidence about the identity of Babylon the Great in Revelation: The wording “great city” is clearly applied to Babylon the Great in, e.g., 17:18; 18:10.  But, it is also used to speak of Jerusalem in 11:8–only a few verses after Jerusalem has been called the “holy city” in 11:2.  So, does that not imply that our concept of Babylon the Great should also include Jerusalem in some sense?

Second key too-often-overlooked piece of evidence about the identity of Babylon the Great in Revelation: 18:24 says of Babylon the Great “the blood of prophets and saints, and all those slaughtered on the earth, was found in you.”  This wording seems to describe the Divinely-focused responsibility for killing all the faithful martyrs throughout history.  It also sounds eerily similar to Matthew 23:34-37, which holds Jerusalem–and the religious leaders there–responsible for “all the righteous blood shed on the earth… from righteous Abel” forward (v. 35).  How should those two passages be understood side-by-side?

(To be continued)

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