To understand the significance of Babylon for us today, we must go back in time to the beginning of human civilization.
In one sense, the story of Babylon begins long before there was a city by that name. it begins with the founding of human civilization on earth, when somewhere in the “land between the rivers” God prepared a garden and created the first human beings.
The Bible tells us that the Creator shaped man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the first breath of physical life “and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). This first human being was different from anything that had been previously created. Whereas God had made all other forms of life after their own kind, he said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26)
Since man was made after God’s image, and according to God’s likeness, there was a vast difference, a qualitative, not just quantitative difference between animals and human beings. Animals do not have the ability to question what is morally acceptable or what is right and wrong. They do not question the greater meaning of existence or search for immorality. People do, and that is what sets them apart. Human beings were created with “minds of their own,” and God wanted to know how they would use those minds.
Many people are familiar with the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit tree in the Garden of Eden. But very few have really understood its significance. The Garden of Eden was a carefully planned habitat. As Adam and Eve looked after the garden, they would learn in the familiar words of the King James Version, how to “dress and to keep” the environment (Gen. 2:15).
God focused their attention on two trees in the garden. He gave Adam and Eve the right to eat from the “tree of life.” This tree represented God’s ultimate purpose for creating man, that he should have life! Not just a temporary mortal existence but eternal life.
The other tree in the garden was the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” but God placed it very firmly “off limits.” There were some aspects of creation that lay outside the human ability to understand or control. In some areas, God knew best and mankind needed to take his word for it. “In the day that you eat of it (the tree of the knowledge of good and devil) you shall surely die,” he warned (Gen. 2:16-17). But would man heed?
The answer to the question determined the direction that human progress would take. Would this newly created species, made in the image of God himself, choose to remain under the authority of God? Or would the man and the woman choose to go their own way, deciding for themselves what was right and what was wrong? It was a crucial moment in human history.
At this stage Satan, in the form of a serpent, entered the picture. He sowed the seeds of doubt in Eve’s mind. The tree was beautiful; the fruit looked good to eat. If the tree represented the authority or power to decide what was good and what was evil, why did God not want Adam and Eve to have it? Because, explained Satan, God knew that “in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be (as gods – KJV), knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). And, Satan suggested, didn’t they want to be like that?
It was indeed tempting. First Eve, and then Adam succumbed. God had learned what he wanted to know. These new creatures, made with minds that could think and choose, could and would choose to disobey. That was a serious matter. It has always been God’s intention that human beings, made in his image, would eventually become even more like God. But, not until they had learned to behave and think like God.
Since they had chosen not to obey, Adam and Eve and their descendants would have to learn the consequences of that decision. Otherwise, it would mean everlasting confusion, dispute, argument, and frustration, and life eternal would not be worth living!
So God banished Adam and Eve from the garden. He did not abandon them entirely, but by denying them access to the tree that provided spiritual understanding, man would eventually be forced to learn through hard, cold experience that obedience to God was the only way to go. As Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden behind them, the human race took its first steps in the direction of Babylon.
It took more than 17 centuries for mankind to get from the innocence of Eden to its first attempt to build Babylon. The Bible records show us that this was a violent period in history. It began when Cain slew his brother Abel, and culminated in the great Flood in which human life, except for the family of Noah, perished.
As the flood waters drained away, God brought Noah and his family from the ark. He instructed them to begin again, living in harmony with creation and with each other.
It was the opportunity for a fresh start. Some heeded, but the desire to be self-reliant and independent was a strong temptation. The old attitudes quickly sprung up again as men and women thought they knew better than God. A few score years after the flood a group of travelers wandered into Mesopotamia. As they journeyed, “they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there” (Gen. 11:2).
They needed a base, a central rallying point. The plain of Shinar seemed like an ideal location. There they found resources and materials to build a substantial city. But it wouldn’t be just any city. “They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, ‘come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens’” (Gen. 11:3-4).
According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the leader of these people was Nimrod, a grandson of Noah’s son Ham. The Bible tells us that he gained the reputation for being a “mighty hunter before the Lord” (Gen. 10:9), an expression that implies opposition to God.
There have been many artist’s impression of what the Tower of Babel may have looked like. Most are fanciful, some ridiculous. The tower was almost certainly a far less ambitious building. The plain of Shinar is generally flat, and even today a building a hundred or so feet high can be seen for miles around. A tower that “reached to heaven” would not have had to be any higher to be a landmark in this region. The attitude of the builders was “let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4).
This was not what God had intended. The earth had to be repopulated, and the human race diversified. God allowed the builders to continue to work on the tower for a while (Sumerian tradition has it for two years), but eventually he decided to intervene. “But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built” (Gen. 11:5).
The little, baked brick tower, protruding impudently out of the plain posed no threat to God, but it was a symbol of defiance and an expression of the self-confident, independent attitude that had gotten Adam and Eve and their descendents in trouble. God could not allow it to continue unchecked.
The Bible tells us that at this time mankind shared a common language (Gen. 11:1). Other languages existed before the Flood, but it is quite logical that the first few generations of the descendants of Noah would have shared a common family tongue. It should have been a great advantage, but this fledgling civilization was clearly developing in the wrong direction
So as God reviewed the progress at Babel, he knew what had to be done. He would not prevent humans from following their chosen course, but he would slow them down.
Genesis tells us what happened. “And the Lord said, ‘indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do, now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech’” (Gen. 11:6-7).
The builders were unable to communicate clearly with each other, and so the building of the Tower of Babel came to a halt. Families went their separate ways, to be scattered over the face of the earth and eventually to become tribes and nations.
It was the first time that God intervened in the development of a “Babylon,” but it would not be the last.
Under Nebuchadnezzar’s leadership, Babylon became the greatest and most impressive city of the ancient world.
Warfare often rocked the cradle of civilization. Mesopotamia was the scene of many battles in the centuries that followed the attempt to build the Tower of Babel. The city of Babel -or Babylon- as we know it in later history waxed and waned. Built on the banks of the Euphrates River, Babylon was attacked and destroyed several times, but rose from its ruins even more magnificent than before. Under Hammurabi the Babylonians controlled an empire that stretched from the Persian Gulf to the upper reaches of the Tigris River. In the mid-second millennium B.C., this dynasty fell into the hands of enemies and Babylon’s power declined.
Others now had control over Mesopotamia. For several centuries, Babylon’s influence would only play a secondary role. But in 612 B.C. the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, fell to a combined force of Babylonians and Medes. Seven years later, the Babylonians (also known by this time as the Chaldeans) defeated the Egyptian forces of Pharaoh Necho at Carchemish; then Babylon once again became the dominant power in the region under the leadership of the brilliant Nebuchadnezzar.
Nebuchadnezzar was an ambitious and capable ruler, who had planned an extensive building program of palaces, temples and waterways for his capital. Under his rule, Babylon would become the most impressive city the world had ever seen.
What Nebuchadnezzar did not realize was that his rise to power was part of a divine plan. The proud king saw himself as undisputed master of the world. God chose this moment to teach him, and all who followed him, who really controlled the destiny of nations. His empire would now confront a nation that was not like the others he had subdued.
This nation was Judah, remnant of the kingdom of Israel that had been established by God when he had led their ancestors out of Egyptian captivity more than 800 years earlier. They were a chosen people, who had entered into a covenant with God. Their destiny depended not on their military power, or the strength of their alliances, but on whether or not they obeyed God’s laws.
There was a moment when both Babylon and Judah maintained distant but cordial relations when both were under Assyrian domination. The Bible tells us how, about a century earlier, the Babylonians had sent a good will mission to Judah’s King Hezekiah to congratulate him on his recovery from serious illness. Hezekiah had shown the Babylonian emissary the treasure of the Temple, built by an earlier king, Solomon. This proved to be a costly mistake (see II Kings 20:2-19).
The Babylonians’ sentiments toward Judah changed now that they were the chief power in the region. Nebuchadnezzar demanded the subjugation and tribute of the kingdom of Judah, which was now in serious decline. Several times the Babylonians invaded, each time taking away captives and treasure. Jerusalem fell and the “Temple was destroyed in July 587 B.C.
Nebuchadnezzar brought the most intelligent and capable of his foreign captives to his court to receive special training in the language and literature of the Chaldeans (Daniel 1:3-4).
The stage was set for an unusual partnership between the great Babylonian king and a young Jewish captive named Daniel. We find the story of Daniel’s relationship with the king in the book of the Bible that bears his name.
What neither Daniel nor Nebuchadnezzar understood at this time was that they were living at a landmark moment in history. For nearly a thousand years, God had been working with his chosen people of Israel and Judah. He had sent them warning after warning about what would happen if they did not obey Him, but they had not heeded. So God had allowed them to be taken captive by the hostile nations around. The inhabitants of Samaria, Israel’s capital were finally taken captive, in 721 B.C., by the Assyrians. Now Judah had fallen prey to the forces of Nebuchadnezzar. It seemed like the end of the nation that God had brought out of Egypt and established in a promised land. Actually, as one chapter of God’s dealing with mankind, was ending, another was about to begin.
In a series of dramatic visions, God began to outline the course of future events. It began with a strange dream that Nebuchadnezzar had one night. None of the magicians and astrologers of his court could interpret his dream. Daniel was summoned and with God’s help was able to explain what the dream meant. You can read the entire story in the second chapter of the book of Daniel.
Daniel reminded the king that he has seen a great image, with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of brass, and legs of iron, with feet of iron mixed with clay. He then explained that the image represented a succession of empires that would dominate the world from that time on. Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon was only the first, represented by the head of gold. Later it would fall, to be replaced by three others. Eventually, God would destroy the last of these empires and established his kingdom on earth.
This was not what Nebuchadnezzar wanted to hear. Was he not the all-powerful “king of kings”? Wasn’t he the one who had to be addressed “O king, live forever”? His Babylon was the greatest city the world had seen. It was unthinkable that its glory would fade. God was giving this king a lesson in humility that he was at first reluctant to accept. But God was using this situation to teach not just Nebuchadnezzar, but all who followed him in positions of leadership, an all-important lesson.
In the book of Daniel, chapter 4, another dream greatly disturbed the king. He saw a great tree that was cut down to the ground until only a stump was left. He once again summoned Daniel for an explanation. Daniel explained to the king that this dream was a warning from God. The proud tree represented Nebuchadnezzar, who would soon be cut down. The king did not heed Daniel’s warning. The fourth chapter of Daniel tells us what happened next:
“At the end of the twelve months he (Nebuchadnezzar) was walking about the royal palace of Babylon. The king spoke, saying, ‘Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?’ While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you know the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.’ That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 4:29-33).
Nebuchadnezzar’s fit of insanity lasted for seven years. At the end of that time his mind was restored. He learned his lesson. He passed it on to posterity, in his own words, recorded in Daniel 4:34-37: “And at the end of the time I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me; and I blessed the Most High and praised and honored Him who lives forever; for His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me.
“ ‘Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to abase.’ “
Nebuchadnezzar’s experience should have served as a warning to successive rulers of Babylon. He was succeeded on the throne by his son, the unpopular Amel-Marduk (562-560) - the Evil-Merodach of scripture. He, in turn, was murdered and succeeded by his brother-in-law Mergal-sharra-usur (Neriglissar) (560-556), a general and son-in-law of Nebuchadnezzar. Following Neriglissar death under obscure circumstances, his young son, Labashi-Marduk, reigned for three months before being removed in a rebellion. Nabu-na’id (Nabonidus) came to the throne. His son and crown prince was Bel-shar-usur (the biblical Belshazzar).
Belshazzar was as proud and arrogant as Nebuchadnezzar once had been. Although Babylon at this time was besieged by enemies; Belshazzar remained unconcerned, trusting that the city’s formidable defenses would keep him safe. In Daniel, chapter 5, we read that he planned a great feast. In a great show of conceit, he ordered the drinks and the meal to be served in golden goblets and on plates plundered from the Temple in Jerusalem.
Even as he sat feasting, the party was stunned into silence as a mysterious hand appeared and began to write on the wall of the throne room. None of the king’s magicians could understand. Once again Daniel was summoned. He explained that the writing was a message from God. God was bringing the proud rule of Belshazzar to an end. Babylon was finished. The kingdom would be divided between the Medes and the Persians, who were even as they spoke entering the city.
On that night, in October 539 B.C., God intervened in the affairs of Babylon again. What happened was a dramatic confirmation of God’s earlier hand in history. God had prophesied the end of Babylon, in a detailed prophecy delivered through Isaiah nearly two hundred years before!
Isaiah prophesied that God would make it possible for a king, Cyrus by name, to conquer the many kingdoms that ultimately would make up his empire:
“Thus says the Lord to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held – to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors (or, two leaved gates), so that the gates will not be shut” (Isa. 45:1).
The “double doors” that would not be shut or locked is a reference to the remarkable way in which Cyrus was able to capture the city of Babylon. With its massive high walls, Babylon appeared impregnable from the outside. When Cyrus’ main army encamped around the city, the Babylonians laughed! Aware of his advance, they had stored up provisions for many years, and could survive a siege indefinitely.
Unknown to the Babylonians, however, Cyrus was implementing an ingenious plan. Some of his men were busy upstream diverting the Euphrates River which normally flowed through massive river gates into the city. They dug a channel to redirect the river into an old lake. The river level soon sank, permitting the Persians to wade under the gates and into Babylon under cover of darkness.
Cyrus apparently had also gotten a spy into the city, who on the appropriate night had unlocked a set of gates –the prophesied “double door” – in the wall that stretched along the bank of the river. Through these gates, Cyrus’ army swarmed into the metropolis, The Babylonians were surprised and offered no effective resistance.
So large was the city that when the outer parts were already taken, those living in the center of Babylon remained unaware of the city’s demise. Celebrating what may have been the New Year Festival, they continued their merriment until the truth became all too apparent.
The greatest city of the ancient world had fallen! Over the next few centuries, it slowly declined and finally crumbled into ruins.
THE ‘CYRUS LEGEND’
Cyrus II called “the Great” – was king of Persia from B.C. 558 to 529 B.C. He brought the whole of the Near East – including mighty Babylon-- under his rule, from the Aegean Sea to the Indus River. Significant among his deeds was his granting of permission to the Jewish captives in Babylonia to return to their homeland. That much is history. But what is not widely realized is that almost two centuries before Cyrus, the prophet Isaiah recorded (Isa. 44:28) that a man named Cyrus would permit the exiled Jews to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple which, in Isaiah’s day, had not yet been destroyed! Isaiah also prophesied Cyrus’s overthrow of Babylon (Isa. 45:1-3).
Not only did God call Cyrus by name long before he was born, he saw to it that Satan the devil was prevented from putting the infant Cyrus to death and thwarting his plan. Greek sources – Herodotus, Xenophon and Ctesias-- provided considerable information about Cyrus’ early life. Notice the remarkable story surrounding Cyrus’ birth and childhood, according to a version related by Herodotus in his History (l.107-130):
Astyages, king of the Medes, was overlord of the Persians; Astyages gave his daughter Mandane in marriage to his vassal Cambyses, king of the Persians.
From the marriage of Mandane and Cambyses, Cyrus was born. Astyages, however, had a dream that the baby would grow up to overthrow him. So he ordered his adviser, Hapagaus, to personally kill the infant. Hapagaus, however, entrusted the execution to a herdsman named Mitradates.
On finding that his wife had just given birth to a stillborn child, the herdsman substituted Cyrus, and reared him as his own son. When Cyrus was 10 years old, Astyages discovered the deception. In spite of the dream, the king was persuaded to let the boy live.
When he reached manhood, Cyrus ascended the Persian throne (c. 558 B.C.). In 553 he led a rebellion against his maternal grandfather. In 550 Astyages marched against Cyrus, but his army deserted him and surrendered to the Persians. Astyages – the last ruler of Media--- was captured and dethroned, though he was permitted to live out his life in peace. Thus Cyrus became king of the Medes and Persians, firmly established on his throne and poised to fulfill his amazing prophetic destiny.
The time of the “head of gold” was over. Now the empire represented by the chest and arms of silver would control the world for a season. The Medo-Persian Empire ruled over Babylon and many countries for just over two centuries until it fell to the forces of Alexander the Great (the belly and thighs of bronze of Nebuchadnezzar’s image). Alexander wanted to make Babylon the capital of his empire, but his dreams were thwarted when he died of a fever, probably in the throne room of Nebuchadnezzar’s old palace.
In the years that followed, the desert slowly took over. Babylon’s palaces and temples crumbled. Shifting sand buried the parks and waterways. Even the river shifted its course. Nebuchadnezzar’s once great city was no more. But, in another sense, it was not the end.
The Bible tells us of another Babylon – destined to be the greatest of them all! We find it in the lst book of the Bible, the Apocalypse or book of Revelation.
The book of Revelation is often considered to be one of the most difficult books of the Bible to understand. It’s strange imagery, peculiar visions and complicated language baffle laymen and scholars alike. And yet the book is intended to be a revelation, not an obscuring. It was given by Jesus Christ to John, the last survivor of the original apostles, so that the Church would understand the framework of events that were to occur between their time (the last of the first century A.D.) and the return of Christ to earth to establish the kingdom of God.
The events it describes occur at a time the Bible calls the “end of the age,” in a world that is very different to what we know today. Revelation is set in the future, but not the distant future. It describes a series of events that bring mankind to a crisis point unparalleled in history.
Let’s pick up the story in chapter 17, at a point where centuries of greed, violence and mismanagement have finally caught up with the human race. Vast areas of the earth have been ravaged by war, famine and disease. As civilization is poised on the edge of disaster, the world’s affairs are dominated by a strange power. The Apocalypse describes the situation like this:
“And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns” (Rev. 17:3).
Much of the information in the book of Revelation is revealed in symbols. This peculiar beast and others like it are described in several other places throughout the Apocalypse. Other prophecies make it clear that they represent a series of regimes that have controlled the territory once ruled by the old Roman Empire and its heirs. The Roman Empire fell in A.D. 476, but Rome had a continuing influence, particularly on central Europe. A succession of governments based on the Roman model has ruled the areas for most of the time between the fall of the Empire and today. But revelation 17 is describing more than regional power.
John describes the woman riding on the beast as a “great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (Rev. 17:1-2).This great harlot has influence that extends far beyond the confines of the old Roman Empire. Who is she to wield such extraordinary power? Obviously, not a real person. Like the beast, she is symbolic.
“And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. ‘And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth’ “(vs. 5, 18).
Babylon again! Not this time limited to a city, Babylon is personified as a harlot, a prostitute, who seduces and influences the destiny of the world. The rest of Revelation 17 describes a violent, turbulent world dominated by the woman on the beast. Together they are preparing the inhabitants of the earth to fight against the returning Messiah!
This is certainly not the world we know today. We have our problems, but we have not reached a crisis like this. We may not have a world of peace and plenty for all nations, but the leaders of the world’s major nations are generally sensible reasonable men and women. In spite of their differences, they have enough common sense and self-control not to bring down civilization.
So how does this grim world described in the Apocalypse come about? Major changes in the world situation don’t just happen. They are caused, even while most people do not recognize what is happening.
This is because most of us tend to understand the news in terms of the headline events, like an assassination, a revolution or a declaration of war. We forget that these are only the ultimate effect of pressures that have been building sometime for decades. The forces of economics are far more influential in framing the mood of the world than we realize.
For example, in the 1920s, few people foresaw the Great Depression, the rise of Nazi Germany, and the Second World War. But the roots of those calamitous events were planted firmly by the economic and diplomatic decisions made in the years following the First World War.
Then for four decades after the Second World War, East and West glared at each other across the Iron Curtain. It seemed that the precarious status quo was only able to be maintained by an ever-accelerating arms race. But it has been economic pressures, caused by decisions made since the war, that have largely been responsible for upsetting the balance of power and breaking the diplomatic log jam, making possible the recent changes in Europe.
So even though the world described in the book of Revelation may seem unlikely now, if we look carefully we may see how the future could be dominated by a system like “Babylon the great.”
There never has been a time quite like this. We are now beginning to face up to the fact that our civilization has some critical and perhaps terminal problems. The earth has been polluted, poisoned and stripped of resources.
History has shown that it does not take long for a desperate, frightened world to become even more selfish and cruel. In times of crisis, even the most freedom-loving people are willing to surrender some of their rights and freedoms in the interest of preserving their lifestyle and values. This can bring to power a form of government we have come to know as fascism, where all power, military, economic, political and even religious is gathered in the hands of the state. It is not an attractive way of life to contemplate, especially while things are going well. But modern history has shown that in a crisis, people turn to a strong party, or a strong man, for leadership. Do terms like “forward”, progressive, fair-share, and equality for all ring a bell? The present president of the United States built his first campaign around the slogan, “Change”. And he is doing just that! He is fundamentally changing the United States from a capitalistic society to a socialistic society. And following that comes communism or fascism. History proves this. Are you watching?
To preserve their prosperity, certain nations or groups of nations will look again to a form of fascism in the years ahead. A fascist government seems to bring stability and preserve the prosperity of those who go along with the system, while those who do not cooperate become “enemies of the state” to be ruthlessly suppressed. Nationalism and religion became tools to be manipulated by the authorities, and history has shown that patriotism and piety can be a potent mixture. Ordinary, decent people are sincerely deceived and swept along in the current, for the regime seems to be upholding and preserving values and traditions that are being threatened. In this paranoid, emotionally supercharged political climate, values and loyalties blur and people become intimidated, willing to betray friends and even family members to gain favor or to identify with the prevailing mood.
Most of us have never known a time like this. And it may seem farfetched. But this century has seen just such a tragedy befall some of the most cultured and advanced nations on earth, and the Bible tells us that it will happened again. Only this time on a terrifying worldwide scale.
The book of Revelation describes humanity held in the grip of just such a totalitarian superpower. The harlot woman of the Apocalypse represent a system that dictates the way the world ought to work. Those who go along with her decisions survive and even prosper. She wields her authority through a military and economic superpower, the symbolic “beast.” It takes its cue from rigid regimes of the past. It makes the decisions over who gets which resources, who can produce what, and where they can dump their toxic wastes. It is ruthless and efficient and allows no opposition.
It might not be the ideal, but it may seem to be the only alternative to a complete collapse of the worlds systems. So, the Bible tells us, most of the world will cooperate with this system, allowing “Babylon” increasing control of all aspects of life: economic, political, military, and even religious.
“And he (the symbolic “beast”) causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name” (Rev. 13:16-17).
Who will fill these roles in this nightmare vision of the future? The book of Revelation is like a screen play. The script has been written, and the main characters’ roles established. But the cast has not been chosen.
It is certainly not the intention of the reasonable leaders today to lay the foundation of such a monstrosity. They are careful architects, diligently drawing up plans for a peaceful, law-abiding future that will ensure peace and prosperity. But architects cannot always be sure what will become of the buildings they design.
These Bible prophecies should send a chilling note of caution through the corridors of power today. The nations of the world are like animals being herded into a trap. They feel the pressures driving them in new directions. They may still snarl and snap at each other, as their old animosities surface. They don’t realize that they are all being driven to the brink of ruin.
For behind the woman riding the beast is another power – the evil genius of Satan. This is his best effort to deceive mankind, using a religious, political, economic and military superpower by which he can direct the destiny of the world to his own end. He has but one goal. In the Garden of Eden, he attempted to thwart God’s plan. Once more, in Babylon the great, Satan is behind the scenes. He has never been more tempting, or more dangerous. He has succeeded in deceiving the whole world (Rev. 12:9).
Across the centuries, God has allowed mankind to make mistakes. But, like a watchful father, he has never taken his eyes off us, for he has never lost sight of his purpose for creating us. When the world groans under the yoke of Babylon the great, it will be time for God to come to the rescue. Mankind, blinded by Satan, may have thought there was no other choice but to submit to this oppressive system, in which humanity might survive, but freedom, mercy, love and truth cannot.
And so, once again, God will intervene in the affairs of Babylon. “After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, ‘Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hatred bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury’ “ (Rev. 18:1-3).
Babylon the great may have been ruthless with all those who opposed her, but she has made the world work for those who go along with her system. She has given mankind the economic, political and religious fruits of the world chosen in the Garden of Eden. For those who cannot see through her deceit, Babylon seems to be the last hope for preserving civilization. God cuts her off at what seems like the high point of her success. It will seem like a disaster:
“And the kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come” (Rev. 18:9-10).
It will mean the collapse of the world’s economic system. “And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore” (v. 11). Babylon has organized trade in “merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots.” And more sinisterly, “bodies and souls of men,” meaning slaves (vs. 12-13).
International trade in the modern world has become one vast intricate network. Massive deals are made at a touch of a button. Fortunes hang in the balance, and messages go back and forth between computers at the speed of light. Cargoes are sold, resold, diverted and diverted again, even as the great containerships and tankers ply the oceans. Then in one awful hour, the screens go blank, the telephones stop ringing, the telexes no longer clatter, as the intricately balanced, carefully controlled, ruthlessly enforced network of a final Babylon the great suddenly ceases to function.
No wonder, then, that “the merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment., weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.’ And every ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea, stood at a distance and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying. ‘What is like this great city?’ And they threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate’ “(Rev. 18:15-19).
Surely, only an enemy of mankind would want to see all this destroyed. So when Jesus Christ returns to take over the governments of the world and establish the kingdom of God, he will not at first be greeted as a liberator. He will seem like a usurper, another threat to be resisted and suppressed. What is actually the greatest day in history will be thought of as a calamity. Christ will return to establish a new world order of peace, love, cooperation and harmony among all the nations of the world. But the dawn of this new era of hope will seem like the end of the world. Satan will have done his work well.
Nothing can be salvaged from this greedy, selfish, ruthless, evil empire. It is the opposite of all that Jesus Christ stands for, the antithesis of everything he plans to accomplish as he rebuilds the world. The Babylonish system must be purged from the earth once and for all. So, symbolically, “a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore’ “(Rev. 18:21).
Babylon as a system will not so easily disappear. It will take time for its memory to fade for it has produced a way of life, politics, economics, religion, and dealing with problems between nations and individuals that is the opposite of God’s way. It is a way of life based on human reasoning and human understanding, aided and abetted by the perverted thoughts of Satan. It has persisted on the earth from the days of the Garden of Eden and it won’t be changed overnight.
Jesus Christ cannot build his new society on the foundation of the old. He cannot use its systems, its administrations, its habits or its customs. Those who were deceived into prolonging the old system will need to be reeducated. Christ will have to start again, with new administrators who have learned, over the centuries to think like he does, and who have proved they will be competent and loyal in applying and enforcing the laws of God.
But where will he find such people in a world that has been so thoroughly misled by Satan?
Two women are described in symbols in the book of Revelation. One-- we have already met – a corrupt, cunning, treacherous harlot, who sits astride the beast, seducing the governments of the world to follow her ways (the Roman Catholic Church – THE HARLOT). The other could not be more different. She is a chaste bride, much persecuted but always patient and virtuous, diligently preparing for marriage. She represents the spiritual people of God that he has called from every age. They have overcome their sins, and have learned to live in obedience and harmony with the laws of God. The book of Revelation tells us that they will be resurrected at Christ’s return, to live and reign with him a thousand years (Rev. 20: 4).
Across the centuries, many of those whom God has called to follow his way of life have died, often violently, for their faith. They are awaiting a resurrection at Christ’s return, their salvation assured. (Heb. 11). But many are alive today, and many more are yet to be called. Nothing would give Satan more satisfaction in his ages-long quest to thwart God, than to deceive the end-time spiritual people of God, and make them a part of Babylon the great.
So, they will have to face some of the greatest challenges that any of God’s people have ever confronted.
The Satan we read about in the 3rd chapter of Genesis is restrained, cunning and persuasive. He subtly deceived Eve. The Satan that confronts mankind in the book of Revelation is violent, vengeful and angry, “having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time” (Rev. 12:12). He must work quickly before his opportunities to deceive are brought to an end. While there are still those on earth who are loyal to God, and looking to him for guidance, inspiration and salvation, he feels there is still a chance to thwart God’s plan. It would not prevent Christ from winning, but it would certainly spoil his victory.
Overt persecution tends to strengthen God’s people. Satan’s best weapon has always been deceit. How, then, could he destroy the end-time people of God? He could lure them away from their calling and their commitment through a clever trap.
During the last few decades, most of us who live in the developed world have enjoyed a standard of living and prosperity greater than anything that has ever gone before. What in earlier times would have been considered the height of luxury we now take for granted. Yesterday’s marvels are today’s trinkets. Progress and prosperity are not wrong of themselves, for it is God’s will that we be in health and prosper (III John 2). But not if it means compromising with what is right.
Babylon the great, as described in the Apocalypse, will be alluring. Those who conform will continue to enjoy the fruits of prosperity, for a while. Those who reject Babylon and her ways will be thrust out, left to fend for themselves, and to risk persecution, slavery, even death – for a totalitarian system is ruthless in crushing all who oppose. Hitler’s rise to power proves this. All those who stood against him were annihilated!
Yet those who know the truth must not compromise. This is the challenge facing this last generation of the people of God. They are a Church built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, called to overcome their sins, Satan and the world, as they prepare to live and reign with Jesus Christ. Like Daniel, who resisted the temptation of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, they must remain faithful to their calling and their God as Babylon the great dominates all aspects of life around them.
So, as the great harlot sits confidently astride her beast, edging the world ever closer to disaster, God pleads with his people, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).
This may not be so easy for a people used to prosperity and comfort. They have come to expect freedom and tolerance, and perhaps even take it for granted. Perhaps they have come to regard their high level of material prosperity as a blessing from God, the natural consequence of their faithfulness to him.
As people around them sell out on their principles and conscience for a few more years of materialism, will this end-time generation of the Church have the faith and the conviction to hold fast? In the face of mounting opposition, will the richest, most materialistic Christians who have ever lived be able to face poverty, become social outcasts, and endure persecution as those who preceded them in the faith so often had to do?
Jesus Christ has promised to sustain them, to provide for their needs, and even to protect them from the full horror of end-time events. But will they claim that promise and endure to the end? “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth” asked Jesus in Luke 18:8?
It depends on the decisions that are being made even now, Spiritual muscles, like physical ones, cannot be built instantly. When Babylon the great is unleashed on this earth, it may be too late to begin building enduring faith. That is why Jesus Christ tells his Church to always be in a state of readiness, and not to put undue trust in material possessions.
The Bible emphasizes that no one knows the exact day or hour of Jesus Christ’s final intervention in the affairs of mankind, but there are ominous indications that the revival of Babylon may not be far off. It would be foolish to ignore them.
The story of Babylon is a sobering one. The old city beneath the Mesopotamian plain has come to represent human society as it develops apart from God. It has been both the pinnacle of man’s achievements, and a millstone around his neck. When the angel lifts that millstone and symbolically casts Babylon the great into the depths of the sea, a great weight will have been lifted off human civilization.
When Jesus Christ returns, he will replace it with a kingdom that the Bible tells us will never be destroyed (Dan. 2:44). Under his firm but gentle rule, the nations and races of mankind will begin to work together, in mutual trust and cooperation, toward the great purpose for which we were all created. Babylon the Great will be no more!