Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XXXII)

April 19, 2010

OK, I’m busting out with ideas of where I want to “go exploring” next in Revelation.  However, I still need to wrap up on my musings—with, hopefully, some solid conclusions—on the identity of “Babylon the Great” in the Apocalypse.

When I previously ended I had just brought up the intriguing observation that, just as Babylon the Great is called “the great city” in chs. 17-18, so “the great city” in 11:8 is “where their Lord was crucified, i.e., Jerusalem.  And, you add in that Babylon the Great is closely related to a place of “seven hills” (17:9 [the Greek oros is translated as either “hill” or “mountain,” depending on the context]), which almost certainly is referring to Rome, which has historically been known as the city on the seven hills.  Add to that that Babylon the Great is guilty of “the blood of prophets and saints, and all those slaughtered (better ‘murdered’) on earth” (18:24) and you have the makings of a pretty fair mystery on your hands.

Before following up on those clues, let me hasten to jump in and speak to the origins of the wording “Babylon the Great.”  Without question, Greg Beale is right in his assertion that the wording echoes Nebuchadnezzar’s words in Daniel 4:30: “Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built by my vast power… to display my majestic glory?”  The utter arrogance in those words are certainly the attitude displayed by the pseudo-regal woman, Babylon the Great, in Revelation 17:4, 18:7.

However, is the attitude of Nebuchadnezzar or Babylon the Great in Revelation really notably different than that of those who built the tower of Babel in Genesis 11?  Instead of worshipping and glorifying God, they said “Let us make a name for ourselves” (11:10).

Thus, is it not quite possible that the origin of Babylon the Great goes back much, much further than Nebuchadnezzar?   And, especially since Revelation 18:24 seems to say that Babylon is held responsible for the deaths of all martyrs of all times, are we not quite likely looking at an entity that has existed throughout all of time?

And, even though the portrayals of Revelation, Daniel and Genesis 11 add up to an arrogant and evil entity, how do we account for the “great city” references in Revelation 11 and 17 that point to Jerusalem and Rome?  I think that the earlier reference in 11:2, to Jerusalem as “the holy city,” gives us a very helpful clue to work from.

What is that implication  ?  It is that Babylon the Great is a concept broad enough to incorporate what we could call “the dark side” of even Jerusalem, and that very likely could extend to Rome and the Catholic Church that is centered in “the great city” which is on “seven hills.”

But, before we start thinking we are at a point where we can draw overall conclusions, we dare not forget the “earth-dwellers” in Revelation.  After all, they are the ones for whom the “hour of testing” (3:10) is designed and they are the ones who are said to be responsible for the murders of all the martyrs who died for the Lord (6:10).  In that light, is it merely a coincidence that the climactic brunt of God’s wrath actually falls on Babylon the Great (16:17-21) and that Babylon the Great is said to be responsible for the murders of the godly in 18:24?

Having sifted all this relevant evidence, it is hard to get around the logical conclusion that “the earth-dwellers” and Babylon the Great are so closely related as to be ultimately interchangeable concepts in Revelation.  To be more precise in regard to the flow of the book, the things that are predicted early on in regard to the “earth-dwellers”—when Babylon the Great is nowhere to be found, until the firs mention in 14:8—come to pass in regard to Babylon the Great in the latter part of the book—when the concept of the “earth-dwellers” is not nearly so prominent, then sputters and comes to the end of the literary trail in 17:8, just as the descriptions of Babylon the Great are beginning to be filled in with great detail in chs. 17-18.

There appears to be something ultimately very significant for this study in Revelation 17:8.  It relates to the shared identity of the “earth-dwellers”… and, because of their virtual Siamese twin—or alter ego—relationship, that of Babylon the Great.  In 17:8 (as earlier, in 13:8), the “earth-dwellers” are unmasked as those “whose names are not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world” (HCSB).  So, when  the dust finally settles, the curtain has been drawn back on the heart of the matter of who both the earth-dwellers and Babylon the Great are: the non-elect.

But, now another question remains: if the “earth-dwellers” and Babylon the Great are, effectively, one and the same group of people—though Babylon’s power appears to be an added element—why the different depictions throughout the book of Revelation?  I will take on that issue in my next post.


2 Responses to “Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XXXII)”

  1. Duncan said

    Hey Boyd,

    You will probably erase this (which is fine, but at least check out the article on Babylon, it is short)

    The dwellers on the Land (of Israel) were very much connected to Babylon. The great city of Rev. 11 is the same as the great city of Rev. 17-18 (cf. Ezek. 16).

    God Bless,


  2. boydluter said


    I am still trying to figure out how to reply to comments on my new blog. I thought the previous one I had was completely erased. But, the comments are still there, which muddies the water for handling those related to my new one.

    Actually, in many respects, I think your work on Babylon the Great is very helpful. You’ve definitely got the angle about Revelation being largely a book that faces off two female figures down cold. Emily Hunter McGowin and I did a paper for an Evangelical Theological Society meeting a few years back, called “Getting in Touch with the ‘Feminine Side’ of the Apocalypse: The Role of Female Figures in Revelation,” that developed almost all of the comparisons/contrasts. We just did not proceed forward beyond the obvious conclusions to consider the wider implications. That is what I have not come back to.

    Again, thank you for your very helpful work on Babylon the Great! While we are working from two different overall interpretive approaches, we can each certainly profit from the other’s research in an “iron sharpens iron” manner.

    Blessings, Boyd

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