She Who Is in Babylon
Ron Rhodes’ book New Babylon Rising: The Emerging End Times World Order claims that ancient Babylon will be rebuilt (see my brief review). A similar view was held by Charles Dyer in his book The Rise of Babylon: Is Iraq at the Center of the Final Drama? first published in 1991 (rev. ed 2003).
Dyer linked Saddam Hussein with Nebuchadnezzar. The image below appears on the back cover of the first edition of The Rise of Babylon with the following text: “SADDAM HUSSEIN and the ancient world conqueror Nebuchadnezzar. Not only do they look alike, but their mission is the same—to control the world. And the symbol of this world domination is an ancient city…”
“They look alike”? How would anyone know this and what relevance does it have? For those who don’t know, Saddam Hussein is dead.
When a topic like the one chosen by Rhodes is turned into a book, it’s incumbent on the author to deal with contrary opinions in some detail and actually mention the works of those who hold to a contrary opinion. Rhodes does not mention Ken Gentry’s The Book of Revelation Made Easy that includes a lengthy study of the topic. Neither does he mention Peter Leithart’s two-volume commentary on Revelation published in 2018 by Bloomsbury T&T Clark. There are other works that should have been cited. As I mentioned in my short review of Rhodes’ New Babylon Rising, nearly every source he lists in his bibliography is from the dispensational camp. As I point out below, even here he does not list those of the dispensational camp that disagree with his position. I realize that no one can deal with every argument and every contrary opinion. The contention that New Babylon is Jerusalem is a major claim with a great deal of sound exegetical work in support of the position.
Babylon is mentioned several times in the New Testament. In four cases, the references are obviously to Old Testament Babylon (Matt. 1:11, 12, 17; Acts 7:43) and do not figure in the debate over the city’s New Testament identity. Most New Testament Babylonian references are found in Revelation 16–18. As one might expect, there is no consensus on what Babylon means as it relates to Bible prophecy. Preterists, those who believe that Revelation deals with events of the first century, understand Babylon to represent either first-century Rome or Jerusalem. Even futurists don’t agree on the identity of Revelation’s Babylon. Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the enormously popular Left Behind series and numerous non-fiction prophecy books, believes that Babylon will be rebuilt on its original site. He bases his rebuilt-Babylon scenario on the following:
An ancient rabbinic rule of interpretation says that when the Bible mentions an event twice, it means the event will happen twice. If this rabbinic guideline is correct, then we should be assured that Babylon will be rebuilt, for both Isaiah and the apostle John use the same double verbs to describe its destruction.1
“An ancient rabbinic rule of interpretation” is an interesting subject for study, but there is no such interpretive rule in the Bible. It’s rather curious that LaHaye, who continually insists on interpreting the Bible literally, must rummage through the writings of obscure rabbis to find support for his prophetic claims. The Bible is our authority, not the opinions of rabbis, especially when they dismissed more than 300 biblical prophecies that point to Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. If we follow LaHaye’s unreferenced “rabbinic rule,” then we must conclude that Sodom will rise from the Dead Sea and Jezebel and Balaam will be resurrected since the Bible mentions them a second time in Revelation.
While LaHaye claims that literal Babylon is going to be rebuilt during the post-rapture tribulation period, his own Prophecy Study Bible takes a completely different approach. An article entitled “The Figurative Babylon” appears in the context of Isaiah 13. Its author, Arno Froese, writes the following:
Even after Babylon no longer existed, the Bible speaks about Babylon in Revelation 17 as an entity that propels the Antichrist to power. Will ancient Babylon be rebuilt and become the center of the world’s economy, finances and religion? The Bible mentions, “Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the Earth” (Rev. 17:5). This verse does not refer to “Babylon” literally, but rather figuratively. This Babylon is a different entity than the one mentioned in Jeremiah 27:6.
While a literal Babylon no longer exists, the spirit of Babylon, characterized by rebellion and confusion, continues. Babylon is a symbol of rebellion against God, whose position in that regard passed to Media-Persia, then to Greece, and finally to Rome.2
Froese’s analysis of Revelation’s “Mystery, Babylon” contradicts LaHaye’s strongly held position that Babylon must be rebuilt. Their interpretations could not be any more different: literal Babylon must be rebuilt, or Babylon in Revelation does “not refer to ‘Babylon’ literally, but rather figuratively.” So who is right? LaHaye insists that we can “be sure that any city mentioned seven times in two chapters, as is Babylon in Revelation 17 and 18, will be a literal city.”3 But his own Prophecy Study Bible understands Babylon in Revelation to be symbolic. The symbolic interpretation seems to be the better approach. It fits well with the way Balaam (Rev. 2:14), Jezebel (2:20), Egypt (11:8), Sodom (11:8), and Gog and Magog (20:8) are used in Revelation as symbols of debauchery and evil. They each share a common feature: They persecuted God’s people.
Our conclusion is simple and straightforward. The way that the term “mystery” is used throughout Scripture reveals that it refers to something that was not previously revealed but is now revealed by God through divine revelation.4
In this case, it couldn’t refer to literal/physical Babylon because in it’s Old Testament incarnation, it’s a literal city and kingdom. The “mystery” is that first-century Jerusalem is the New Babylon.
Modern-Day Babylonian Symbolism
The symbolic approach should not surprise us since Babylon is used in a similar way today. The Roman Catholic Church has been described by Alexander Hislop as “Babylon.” Donald Grey Barnhouse, the former dispensational pastor of Tenth Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, writes the following on the front dust jacket flap: “The Author of The Two Babylons demonstrates that almost all the practices of the Roman cult have been brought over from paganism. When we come to see that the worship (or veneration–it is the same thing) of the Virgin Mary is really the worship of Venus, Astarte, and that it comes from Babylon, the center of the system is revealed to be Satanic.”5
Don’t think that Hislop’s The Two Babylons is an out-of-date conspirator’s diatribe from a time when anti-Catholicism was in vogue. Prophecy writer Dave Hunt raises a similar specter in his A Woman Rides the Beast: The Roman Catholic Church and the Last Days. Hunt insists that modern-day Babylon is a “world-wide religious system which is based in Rome and claims to be Christian but which has roots in Babel and Babylon…. Sadly enough, the Roman Catholic Church fits the description ‘mother of harlots and abominations’ [Rev. 17:5]…. There is no city upon earth, past or present, which meets all of these criteria except Catholic Rome and now Vatican City.”6 Given Hunt’s end-time prophetic system, it’s not surprising that the Roman Catholic Church, past, present, and future is interpreted as “Mystery, Babylon.” Like Froese, and contrary to LaHaye, Hunt considers Babylon to be symbolic.
Terry M. Crist, in his Learning the Language of Babylon, adequately summarizes the symbolic nature of the Bible’s use of Babylon and its varied applications:
Babylon represents man in his lowest estate separated from God and alienated from his original purpose. The very word Babylon means “to confuse, disintegrate, fragment and disunite.” We do not have to look hard to see the evidence of this moral and spiritual fragmentation everywhere around us—the obvious influence of demonic spirits at work in the kingdoms of this world.7
Babylon has become a symbol and synonym for wickedness, corruption, and depravity. The Bible reserves its Babylonian symbolism for the “great city, who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality” (Rev. 14:8). Its contemporary image can be found in cultural, artistic, religious, and political systems, but biblically, it was reserved for first-century Jerusalem.8
She Who is in Babylon
One question remains. In addition to the references to Babylon in Revelation, what is the meaning of the curious and cryptic allusion to the long-dead city in 1 Peter 5:13?: “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark.” There has been considerable debate over the identity of Peter’s Babylon reference. Four interpretations have been offered: (1) a temporary Roman military outpost named Babylon that was built near old Cairo in Egypt; (2) ancient Babylon in Mesopotamia; (3) first-century Rome; or (4) first-century Jerusalem.
There is no historical evidence that Peter was ever in Egypt or that the outpost would have been known well enough for his readers to identify its location. The site of original Babylon was deserted by the time Peter wrote his epistle: “The ancient city of Babylon, doomed by the prophets, had been reduced to ruins; it was largely abandoned at the time Peter wrote. The Jewish population had left, and there is no evidence of a church there or of any apostolic visit to the place.”9 In addition, there is no internal biblical evidence that Peter ever planned to go to the site of ancient Babylon to start a church.
The most popular symbolic interpretation is that Babylon refers to first-century Rome: “Some elements of contemporary Judaism had readily transferred prophecies of Babylon’s demise in the Old Testament to the new empire of Rome. ‘Babylon’ thus had become a fairly common cryptogram for Rome.”10 Of course, the fact that Jewish commentators called Rome “Babylon” should not surprise us “because the Roman armies destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 A.D., just as Babylon had done in the sixth century B.C.”11 Jews who did not acknowledge that Jesus was the Messiah never would have identified Jerusalem as Babylon, just as they never would have identified certain Jews as “a synagogue of Satan” and Jerusalem as “Egypt” and “Sodom.” But the Bible does (Rev. 2:9; 3:9; 11:8).
Paul described the Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah and persecuted Jewish converts (Gal. 5:11) as the “false circumcision” (Phil. 3:2). It was not out of character for New Testament writers, therefore, to identify first-century Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was crucified (Rev. 11:8) by His countrymen in collaboration with Rome (Acts 2:22–23), as “mystery, Babylon” (Rev. 17:5) or just plain “Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13).
Our best hope in identifying Peter’s Babylon is by practicing some biblical sleuthing, comparing Scripture with Scripture, to determine where Peter resided when he wrote his letter. After the death of Stephen, “a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). The apostles, including Peter, remained in Jerusalem. Jerusalem seems to have been Peter’s home base for his missionary efforts to the Jews (Acts 11:2). Peter was in Jerusalem when Herod Agrippa I arrested him (12:1–17). Peter was present at the council in Jerusalem (15:1–11). Mark was with Peter when he wrote his letter (1 Peter 5:13). Mark also had a residence in Jerusalem. After Peter’s miraculous escape from prison (Acts 12:3–11), he “went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying” (12:12).
Three years after his conversion, Paul goes “up to Jerusalem to be acquainted with Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days” (Gal. 1:8). Fourteen years later, Paul once again returns to Jerusalem where he meets with “James, Cephas and John” (2:1–10). While it’s true that Peter visited Antioch (2:11), a city far north of Jerusalem, his roots were still in Jerusalem, otherwise, why would he be concerned what the Jews thought? The only Jews he was concerned about were those living in Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish religion. Peter wrote his first letter “to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia…” (1 Peter 1:1). Apparently, Peter did not consider himself to be “scattered” because he was still in Jerusalem.
Here’s a point made by Michel Biehler that I had not considered:
In Chapter 16 we see that armies assemble at Armageddon before they destroy the “great city” (Rev. 16:16, 19) Now, Armageddon is just a few miles away from Jerusalem. If Babylon is Rome or New York City, why would the armies be gathering near Jerusalem? This is strong evidence that the “great city” called “Babylon” in chapter 16 is actually Jerusalem.
In the letter to the Romans, Paul extended greetings to an extensive list of people (Rom. 16:1–16). If Peter and Mark were residents of Rome, it is right to ask why they did not appear on the list. When all the internal evidence is in, the best evidence points to Jerusalem being Peter’s Babylon. This means that LaHaye’s insistence that Babylon will be rebuilt as some sort of end-time tribulation scenario is wrong-headed. Does this mean that the “spirit of Babylon” no longer exists? Not at all. The Babylonian worldview is all too prevalent in our society. It’s time that we abandon the fanciful end-of-the-world diatribes and get to work dealing with the spirit of Babylon and not see it as an overwhelming prophetic inevitability, either symbolically or literally.
- LaHaye and Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times? (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale, 1998), 137-138. [↩]
- Arno Froese, “The Figurative Babylon,” Prophecy Study Bible, gen. ed. Tim LaHaye (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), 703. Emphasis added. [↩]
- LaHaye and Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times?, 143. [↩]
- New Babylon Rising (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2019), 74. [↩]
- Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons or The Papal Worship Proved to be the Worship of Nimrod and His Wife, 2nd ed. (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers,  1959). [↩]
- Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast: The Roman Catholic Church and the Last Days (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1994), 65, 77, 85. [↩]
- Terry M. Crist, Learning the Language of Babylon: Changing the World by Engaging the Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 2001), 13. [↩]
- David Chilton, Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1987) and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology, 2nd ed. (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1997), 391–396. [↩]
- Edmund Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 224. [↩]
- Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 722. [↩]
- G. K. Beale, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 19. [↩]