Comparing the fall of the Historical Babylon and the Babylon of Reveltion
To understand the symbolism between the two Babylons of the bible, one must first understand the fall of each and how the two compare. There is a lot to be said about the events that took place during fall of the Historical Babylon how these events are related to the fall of the Babylon of Revelation.
To begin with I will describe the fall of the Historical Babylon and then relate this to two mainstreams of thought regarding the fall of the Babylon of Revelation. These two ideas are the futuristic and the historical views of Babylon’s fall. The reason for these two separate views is because there is certainly no book in the Bible that has given more difficulty to interpreters than the book of Revelation. Many things about it continue to puzzle the serious Bible student, and many points remain obscure.(ref.# 4, p.220)
Babylon was an enormous city and thought by its inhabitants to be impregnable. Some estimates put the area of the city at as much as 200 square miles, with many fields and orchards within the city walls (ref.# 2, p320). The river Euphrates flowed through the city, entering in under the city walls. The walls of Babylon are believed to have been around 80 feet thick, with some area being over 120 feet thick (ref.# 7, p.68). 100 gates of bronze gave entry to the city.
In 604 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar led an invasion of Jerusalem, taking many Jews captive and beginning the captivity and seven times punishment that had previously been prophesied. At this time Babylon was the greatest empire on earth, but a new force was emerging. The Medes and Persians were becoming a mighty empire. In the time of Belshazzar, grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, war was raging between the two empires.
The Babylonians, which were not caring about the enemy who were even then at the gates of the city, engaged in a huge, drunken party. During this feast the golden vessels, taken from the temple at Jerusalem and reserved for pure service to God, were abused at the command of the king. The judgment of God was revealed by the “writing on the wall”. That night the city was invaded, and the Medes and Persians under Darius and Cyrus were victorious (ref.#1 p.431)
During the night of the drunken feast, the river and its tributaries that ran under the city walls were blocked and the water diverted into canals and ponds dug by the Medes and Persians for that purpose. The result was that the army of the Medes and Persians could literally walk in under the wall.
The army entered Babylon at one end and rapidly moved through the city, meeting little resistance from the defenders, who were caught completely off-guard. The city of Babylon was utterly destroyed (ref.#7). Babylon had a warning of their judgment for over 100 years, a warning given by God Himself. The warning was scorned and ignored by a Godless people. This foolish rejection of the Word of God led to total destruction.
The promise of the return of Christ, signaling the end of the world, as we know it, has been scorned by mankind, just as the prophecy of the fall of the Babylonian Empire. This is why the book of Revelation relates the fall of Babylon with the modern day world. Men and women today would rather indulge in a drunken party than seek the Lord. The need to have a spirit-filled-soul, and to remain “in the Spirit” – grows more urgent every day. Jesus said, “Watch, for you know not when your Lord may come!”
This Babylon is of course a symbolic figure representing the evil on earth that distracts God’s children from their commitment to Him. Babylon is called the “great harlot” in Revelation. This indicates a Babylon that allures, tempts, seduces, and draws people away from God. The literal Babylon of Biblical times reminded one of the pleasure-mad, arrogant, anti-God cultures that put pleasure ahead of all else. Babylon of old was described as of the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” (1 John 2:16).
In Revelation 18 John writes, “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues.” Here John is talking about Babylon (see verse 2). Christians are to live in the world, but they are not to be of the world. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 6:17, “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“and do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.” Babylon is the world, the seduction of the world, at any moment of history, which would draw away a Christian from God. In John’s day Babylon would have been represented by the Roman Empire. Today, it would be represented by all cultures that seek to seduce the Christian away from God.
It is the desire of the futuristic interpretation that in context, the fall of Babylon is directly related to an eschatological setting. Certain passages relate the fall of Babylon to the Day of the Lord.
Babylon’s fall and the Day of the Lord
The futuristic interpreters insist that Isaiah 13:6, 9, 13 definitely establishes the setting for the fall of Babylon as the Day of the Lord. To these interpreters the Day of the Lord is always an eschatological event. Since in Isaiah 13:2-16 the terminology “Day of the Lord” appears these verses must have a future fulfillment. But if these verses have a future fulfillment then it would seem to be impossible to interpret verses 17 through 20, which describe the overthrow of Babylon as having been fulfilled in the past.
The conclusion is therefore offered that since the fall of Babylon as prophesied in Scripture is to take place in the setting of the Day of the Lord; and since the Day of the Lord is yet future, then it follows that the destruction of Babylon yet awaits fulfillment.
The futuristic interpreters point out that the prophecy of Babylon’s fall not only relates to the Day of the Lord but also to the events that mark the beginning of the Millennium. The passage which most clearly supports this contention is Isaiah 14:1-7.
This idea points out that there are at least three things in these verses concerning Israel’s history, which have not come to pass:
- God has not yet set them in their own land (14:1);
- Israel does not yet possess the peoples of the earth for servants and handmaids (14:2);
- Israel has not yet taken them captive whose captives they were, nor ruled over their oppressors (14:2).
Thus Scripture makes Babylon’s fall contemporaneous with two concurrent events-the forgiveness of Israel and the coming Day of the Lord. Even if it could be shown that the desolation of Babylon and its land has reached a point that adequately answers to predictions of Scripture respecting it, a revival of Babylon would still be necessary in order for Scripture to be accomplished.
The Historical View of Babylon’s Fall
The Babylon role is played several times in the Scriptures. In Revelation the three angels would begin to fly one after the other. The first angel announced the beginning of the judgment period which precedes the coming of Christ. God called many around the world to begin to study the 2300-day prophecy. The most prominent of these was a Baptist farmer, William Miller. In 1818 he came to the conclusion that the judgment would begin around 1843 and that Jesus would then return in glory to cleanse the earth by fire. (Of course he was wrong about the return of Jesus.) His public ministry began in 1831.
Before the time of disappointment in 1844, had been joined by around 300 other ministers. 135,000 people are estimated to have expressed their commitment to the movement. This was a significant part of the population of the United States (ref.#8). Thus 1831 would mark the beginning of the call of the first angel (Rev. 14:6, 7). As the movement was coming to its climax, the Protestant churches began to denounce the new ideas, placing themselves in the position of corrupted Babylon.
The second angel’s message, therefore, began shortly before the time of disappointment in the fall of 1844. The third angel predicts God’s final wrath for those who accepted the beast’s mark. It began when the significance of his message was discovered from the Scriptures by those who earnestly studied and prayed after the disappointment. “And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” (Rev. 14:8)
The Historical interpiters believe that Babylon was the Roman church which developed new doctrines adulterated by combining Biblical truth with pagan beliefs. The effects of the Counter Reformation and the refusal of the Protestant churches to continue searching the Scriptures for new truth, was bringing them into the camp of spiritual Babylon.
The verse just quoted, the angel simply says “Babylon is fallen.” Can be contrasted to the message of the powerful angel of Revelation 18 who cries out mightily in a loud voice with the same message. The angels continue to fly and the messages continue to be increasingly urgent until the climax in chapter 18. There the final call is given to come out and the punishment of plagues predicted by the third angel is given to Babylon who is pictured as the woman on the beast. It is in this sense that Protestantism may be said to have fallen.
The advent preachers were wrong about Jesus coming in 1844, and the churches of the time justly pointed out their error. The churches failed, however, to recognize the leading of God and refused to see that the temple to be cleansed was in heaven (Heb. 8). In other words, these Protestant churches rejected the idea that something important had happened. At the same time the vast majority of the people who had been moved by the Holy Spirit to repent and prepare for the judgment quickly returned to their old ways without further study to understand what had happened to the calculations and events predicted.
In contrast to the futuristic view of Babylon’s fall the historical interperters holds the view that the Old Testament prophecies relating to the fall of Babylon have already been fulfilled. They contend that the prophecies regarding Babylon’s fall do not relate to one specific historical situation but to an ideal fall of the city.
The definite historical beginning of the ideal fall of Babylon is indicated in the prophecies of the coming of the Medes (Isaiah 13:17; 21:2, 3; Jeremiah 51:11, 28). Cyrus is named as the leader in the expedition against Babylon (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1). Because of these definite historical allusions the historical school of interpreters cannot see how the fall of Babylon could be an eschatological event.
While the futuristic interpreters distinguish between the Babylon of Revelation 17 and that of chapter 18 the historical interpreters, as a rule, do not. Whatever interpretation is given to the harlot of Revelation 17 is also given to the metropolis of chapter 18. Among the interpreters who reject any reference to literal Babylon in Revelation, three views prevail. Some hold that Apocalyptic Babylon is the figurative application of that name to a totally different city, Rome. Others hold that Apocalyptic Babylon is the apostate church. A third group holds that the term Babylon in Revelation applies to a system or civilization rather than to any specific geographical center.
However diverse their explanations of the Apocalyptic Babylon may be, these interpreters are convinced that no reference to literal Babylon is intended. They feel that the notion that literal Babylon is to be rebuilt is in conflict with the Old Testament prophecies, which indicate Babylon is to be destroyed and never again inhabited.
Revelation has been very difficult for many to understand for many biblical scholars, however in researching the two mainstreams of thought regarding the fall of Babylon of Revelation I have come to my own understanding that the fall of Babylon has yet to come. And I am reassured of this because Revelation gives details related to the collateral damage caused by the fall of Babylon. Which seems that these are warnings and descriptions of things to come. Also I believe that Christ warns of the fall of Babylon in the Parable of the Ten Virgins.
This pattern of events traced in Jesus’ story of the ten virgins. All carried oil in their lamps, but five foolish ones didn’t carry extra oil with them. The foolish virgins ran out of oil and were not admitted to the wedding. All are claiming a place in the wedding but some won’t be as ready as they had imagined. The wedding represents the time when the members of the kingdom of God are identified in judgment and become the bride of Christ. In Luke 12:32 we see Jesus coming out from the wedding and into the wedding feast. Thus the wedding begins before Christ returns in glory. It ends at that time when we go to celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).
Many of the references seem to indicate that fall of Babylon will strongly affect the social and economic structure of the world. They imply that the creativity, skill and naturally industrious nature of man will suddenly come up missing. And darkness will descend on mankind as the light of the world; the “candles” shine no more “at all in thee”(Rev.18:23). Jesus related the light of a candle to the inner spirit of man, comparing it to either evil (darkness), or goodness (light) (Luke 11:33-36).
Revelation states that when Babylon falls, she is to be “utterly burned with fire (Rev.18: 8:9).” At Pentecost, tongues of fire sat over the heads of the apostles, but they were not harmed. Instead they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). The firebrand that destroys Babylon will not be made of the natural material we humans might first consider. The fire that destroys Babylon is the fire of the Holy Spirit. And as its power floods the earth, whether directly or through man, it will finalize the removal of man’s bondage to the physical world and set him eternally free. What a wonderful day this will be, when we will be set free!
- Jones, Alonzo Trevier. The Great Empires of Prophecy. Chicago: Review and Herald Publishing Company, 1898.
- Goodspeed, George Stephen. A History of the Babylonians and Assyrains. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1917.
- King, Leonard W. A History of Babylon. London: Chatto and Windus, 1919.
- Hislop, Rev. Alexander. The Two Babylons or The Papal Worship. New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Bible Truth Depot, 1944.
- Winckler, Hugo. The History of Babylonia and Assyria. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1907.
- Parrot, Andre. Babylon and the Old Testament. New York: Philosophical Library, 1958.
- Saggs, H.W.F. The Greatness that was Babylon. New York: Hawthorn Books Inc. Publishers, 1962.
- Maxwell, C. Mervyn. God Cares Vol. 2. Boise, Idaho; Oshawa, Ontario, Canada: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1985.