The mystery religion of Babylon has been symbolically described in the last book of the Bible as a woman “arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: and upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev. 17:1-6).
When the Bible uses symbolic languages, a “woman” can symbolize a church. The true church, for example, is likened to a bride, a chaste virgin, a woman without spot or blemish (Eph. 5:27; Rev. 19:7-8). But in striking contrast, to the true church, the woman of our text is spoken of as an unclean woman, a defiled woman, a harlot. If it is correct to apply this symbolism to a church system, it is clear that only a defiled and fallen church could be meant! In big capital letters, the Bible calls her “MYSTERY BABYLON.”
When John wrote the book of Revelation, Babylon – as a city had already been destroyed and left in ruins, as the Old Testament prophets had foretold (Isa. 13:19-22); (Jeremiah 51:47-52).But though the city of Babylon was destroyed, religious concepts and customs that originated in Babylon continued on and were well represented in many nations of the world. Just what was the religion of ancient Babylon? How did it all begin? What significance does it hold in modern times? How does it all tie in with what John wrote in the book of Revelation? And furthermore, does it really matter? We shall see!
Turning the pages of time back to the period shortly after the flood, men began to migrate from the east, “and it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there” (Gen. 11:2). It was in this land of Shinar that the city of Babylon was built and this land became known as Babylonia or later as Mesopotamia.
Here the Euphrates and Tigris rivers built up rich deposits of earth that could produce crops in abundance. But there were certain problems the people faced. For one thing, the land was overrun with wild animals which were a constant threat to the safety and peace of the inhabitants (cf. Ex. 23:29-30). Obviously anyone who could successfully provide protection from these wild beasts would receive great acclaim from the people.
It was at this point that a large, powerfully built man by the name of Nimrod appeared on the scene. He became famous as a mighty hunter against the wild animals. The Bible tells us: “And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord” (Gen. 10:8-9).
Apparently Nimrod’s success as a mighty hunter caused him to become famous among those primitive people. He became “a mighty one” in the earth – a famous leader in worldly affairs. Gaining this prestige, he devised a better means of protection. Instead of constantly fighting the wild beasts, he organized the people into cities and surrounded them with walls of protection? Then, why not organize these cities into a kingdom? Evidently this was the thinking of Nimrod, for the Bible tells us that he organized such a kingdom. “And the beginning of his KINGDOM was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar” (Gen. 10:10). The kingdom of Nimrod is the first mentioned in the Bible.
Whatever advances may have been made by Nimrod would have been well and good, but Nimrod was an ungodly ruler. The name Nimrod comes from marad and means, “he rebelled.” The expression that he was a mighty one “before the Lord” can carry a hostile meaning – the word “before” being sometimes used as meaning “against the Lord.” The Jewish Encyclopedia says that Nimrod was “he who made all the people rebellious against God.”
The noted historian Josephus wrote: “Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God... the multitudes were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high. The place where they built the tower is now called Babylon.”
Basing his conclusions on information that has come down to us in history, legend, and mythology, Alexander Hislop has written in detail of how Babylonian religion developed around traditions concerning Nimrod, his wife Semiramis, and her child Tammuz. When Nimrod died, according to the old stories, his body was cut into pieces, burnt, and sent to various areas. Similar practices are mentioned even in the Bible (Judges 19:29; I Sam. 11:7).
Following his death, which was greatly mourned by the people of Babylon, his wife Semiramis claimed he was now the sun-god. Later, when she gave birth to a son, she claimed that her son, Tammuz by name, was their hero Nimrod reborn. The mother of Tammuz had probably heard the prophecy of the coming Messiah to be reborn of a woman, for this truth was known from the earliest times (Gen. 3:15).She claimed her son was supernaturally conceived and that he was the promised seed, the “savior.” In the religion that developed, however, not only was the child worshipped, but the mother was worshipped also!
Much of the Babylonian worship was carried on through mysterious symbols – it was a “mystery religion.” The golden calf, for example, was a symbol of Tammuz, son of the sun-god. Since Nimrod was believed to be the sun-god or Baal, fire was considered as his earthly representation. Thus, as we shall see, candles and rituals fires were lighted in his honor. In other forms, Nimrod was symbolized by sun images, fish, trees, pillars, and animals.
Centuries later, the Apostle Paul gave a description which perfectly fits the course that the people of Babylon followed: “When they knew God, they glorified him not as God – but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an IMAGE made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things, they changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the CREATURE more than the CREATOR for this cause God gave them up unto vile affections:” (Rom. 1:21-26).
This system of idolatry spread from Babylon to the nations, for it was from this location that men were scattered over the face of the earth (Gen. 11:9). As they went from Babylon, they took their worship of the mother and child, and the various mystery symbols with them. Herodotus, the world traveler and historian of antiquity, witnessed the mystery religion and its rites in numerous countries and mentions how Babylon was the primeval source from which all systems of idolatry flowed. Bunsen says that the religious system of Egypt was derived from Asia and “the primitive empire in Babel.” In his noted work Nineveh and its Remains, Layard declares that we have the united testimony of sacred and profane history that idolatry originated in the area of Babylonia – the most ancient of religious systems. All of these historians were quoted by Hislop.
When Rome became a world empire, it is a known fact that she assimilated into her system the gods and religions from the various pagan countries over which she ruled. Since Babylon was the source of the paganism of these countries, we can see how the early religion of pagan Rome was but the Babylonish worship that had developed into various forms and under different names in the countries to which it had gone. Bearing this in mind, we notice that it was during this time when Rome ruled the world that the true Savior, Jesus Christ, was born, lived among men, died, and rose again. He ascended into heaven, sent back the Holy Spirit, and the New Testament church was established in the earth. What glorious days! One only has to read the book of Acts to see how much God blessed his people in those days. Multitudes were added to the Church, the true Church. (For more information on the true church of God read our reprint article History of the True Church of God.)
Great signs and wonders were performed as God confirmed his word with signs following. True Christianity, anointed by the Holy Spirit, swept the world like a prairie fire. It encircled the mountains and crossed the oceans. It made kings to tremble and tyrants to fear. It was said of those early Christians that they had turned the world upside down! – So powerful was their message and spirit.
Before too many years had passed, however, men began to set themselves up as “lords” over God’s people in place of the Holy Spirit. Instead of conquering by spiritual means and by truth – as in the early days-- men began to substitute their ideas and their methods. Attempts to merge paganism into Christianity were being made even in the day when the New Testament was being written. Paul mentioned that the “mystery of iniquity” was already at work, and warned that there would come a “falling away” and some would “depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils” (demons); the counterfeit doctrines of the pagans (II Thess. 2:3, 7; I Tim. 4:1-2). By the time that Jude wrote the book that bears his name, it was necessary for him to exhort the people to “earnestly contend for the faith that was once delivered unto the saints,” for certain men had crept in who were attempting to substitute things that were not part of the original faith (Jude 1: 3-4).
Christianity came face to face with the Babylonian paganism in its various forms that had been established in the Roman Empire. The early Christians refused to have anything to do with its customs and beliefs. Much persecution resulted. Many Christians were falsely accused, thrown to the lions, burned at the stake, and in other ways tortured and martyred.
Then great changes began to be made. The emperor of Rome, Constantine, professed conversion to Christianity. Imperial orders went forth throughout the empire that persecutions should cease. Bishops were given high honors. The church began to receive worldly recognition and power. But with all of this, a great price had to be paid! Many compromises were made with paganism. Instead of the church being separate from the world, it became a part of this world’s system. The emperor showing favor, demanded a place of leadership in the church; for in paganism, emperors were believed to be gods. From here on, wholesale mixtures of paganism into Christianity were made, especially at Rome. We hope that this article will inspire people – regardless of their church affiliation-- to forsake Babylonish doctrines and concepts and see a return to the faith that was one delivered unto the saints.
We have many articles and sermons identifying and explaining the “Babylonian Mystery” religion on our website, cognwm.org. God commands us to come out of this system or be partakers of her plagues (Rev. 18:1-4). Look it up for yourself on the internet, prove for yourself the illegitimacy of this great false religious system. Learn the truth about the gospel of Christ and the message of His soon coming Kingdom to this earth. Enroll today in our Mini-Correspondence Course. And learn the truth about the “traditional Christian doctrines” that are a part of this Mysterious System. Enroll in our “Traditional Christian Doctrine” series. They are FREE!