Who or What is ‘Babylon” in the New Testament?
I received Ron Rhodes’ new book New Babylon Rising: The Emerging End Times World Order the other day. Rhodes seems to be the go-to guy when it comes to prophetic speculation of the dispensational premillennial variety. I’ve dealt with some of them here and here. In 2010, Rhodes wrote The Coming Oil Storm: The Imminent End of Oil … and Its Strategic Global Role in End-Time Prophecy. The book’s title and content seemed to fit the world of 2010, but as we know today, the United States have one of the world’s largest oil reserves. We are now an oil exporter. Rhodes wrote, “by 2015 the U.S. will be importing 75 percent of its oil (maybe more).” (63) In fact, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “In 2018, the United States exported about 7.59 [million barrels a day] of petroleum to 190 countries and 4 U.S. territories, of which about 26% was crude oil and 74% was non-crude oil petroleum.”
Neither I nor Rhodes knows when or if there will be an end to oil. But in Rhodes’ prophetic world, everything going on today can’t be understood without the understanding the end times.
Prophecy writers like Rhodes have never met a geo-political topic that they can’t fit into some end-time prophetic scenario. New Babylon Rising is no exception.
There is no need for me to give a comprehensive critique of New Babylon Rising. I’ve dealt with most of his prophetic system in numerous books and articles: Last Days Madness,Wars and Rumors of Wars, 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered, Prophecy Wars (PDF), Identifying the Last Days Scoffers, Is Jesus Coming Soon?
The following are some initial observations:
First, nearly every book in his bibliography is from a dispensationalist writer. There are a few exceptions. If you are going to write a book on a topic like this, it is necessary and crucial that the author deals with counter arguments. Rhodes only does this in passing. He gives his readers the impression that his view is the only view. It’s incumbent on writers in the area of apologetics, and eschatology is an area of apologetics, to deal with authors who argue that the Babylon of Revelation is not, according to Rhodes, the “literal city of Babylon on the Euphrates, the same Babylon of which Jeremiah spoke” (62). It’s in no way the literal city of Babylon reborn in the same way that Sodom and Egypt were not the literal cities where Jesus was crucified (Rev. 11:8), that is, Jerusalem.
Second, the longest endnote in New Babylon Rising is on the correct translation and meaning of the Hebrew word rosh. Should it be translated as “chief prince” or a geographical place, that is, the “prince of Rosh”? There’s a great deal of debate on the subject. Rhodes writes, “I see no legitimate linguistic reason for taking it as an adjective.” (209, note 1) There are many reasons not to take rosh as a place since the word is used in the Old Testament around 600 times and means “chief” or “head.”
Rhodes includes in his bibliography the two-volume commentary on Ezekiel by Daniel Block, one of the few non-dispensational works listed in his bibliography, but he never actually quotes him. Block translates Ezekiel 38:3, “[Son of Man], set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince, chief of Meshech and Tubal.”1 Here’s Block’s explanation:
[Rosh] is therefore best understood as a common noun, appositional to and offering a closer definition of [the Hebrew word] nasi [translated as “prince”]. Accordingly, the prince, chief of Meshech and Tubal, combines Ezekiel’s preferred title for kings with a hierarchical designation, the addition serving to clarify the preceding archaic term.2
In addition, “Meshech and Tubal are not linked with a place called Rosh in any of its other occurrences in the Bible. (See: Gen. 10:2; 1 Chron. 1:5; Isa. 66:19; Ezek. 27:13; 32:26). So it is extremely unlikely that in these two cases [Ezek. 38:2-3; 39:1], Rosh would suddenly take on an entirely different meaning from that used elsewhere in the Old Testament.” (Source)
Rhodes does not mention fellow-dispensationalist Charles Ryrie’s comment in his Study Bible where he writes, “‘The prince of Rosh’ is better translated as ‘the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.’“ Merrill F. Unger, another dispensational scholar, concludes, “Linguistic evidence for the equation [of Rosh with Russia] is confessedly only presumptive.”3
I have a comprehensive discussion of the various arguments used to identify the meaning of the Hebrew term rosh in my book The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance where I interact with the authorities and arguments Rhodes mentions in his long footnote as well as in Mark Hitchcock’s book Russia Rising (2017). In fact, I devote an entire chapter to the subject. Everything Rhodes mentions in his footnote was dealt with in my book in the 2006 and 2016 editions, as well as by others.
Of course, it’s possible that Rhodes doesn’t know anything about my book. But he does since he mentions my view in his book Northern Storm Rising: Russia, Iran, and the Emerging End-Times Military Coalition Against Israel4
Third, in the Introduction, Rhodes lists some preliminary arguments to help explain to his readers who or what New Babylon is. Here are two of them:
“[T]he book of Revelation contains 404 verses, and out of those, 44 deal specifically with Babylon” and “about 11 percent of the book of Revelation deals with Babylon. That’s a bit over one-tenth of the book.” (9)
I found this curious since Revelation 4 through 19 is supposed to be about Israel during the post-rapture seven-year period where the antichrist makes and breaks a covenant with Israel and yet the word “Israel” is only mentioned once in those 16 chapters (7:4).
Israel is mentioned in Revelation 2:14 but refers to the “sons of Israel” during the time of Balaam and Balak (Num. 22). In 21:12, Israel is mentioned in reference to the New Jerusalem.
If the number of times a word is used is significant, then why isn’t Israel mentioned more often in the one book that’s supposed to be all about Israel unless Babylon is Israel in Revelation?
Fourth, have you noticed how many times Revelation uses symbols, people, and places from the Old Testament: Jezebel (2:20; 1 Kings 16:31-32; 18:13-46; 19:1-3; 21:1-16; 2 Kings 9), Sodom and Egypt (11:8; Gen 19; Ex. 1-2), sun, moon, and stars (12:1; Gen. 37:11), beasts (13:1, 11; Dan. 8), Great Harlot (17:15-16; Ezek. 16), Gog and Magog (20:8; Ezek. 38:1-2; 39:1), and many others? It’s no different with Babylon. It’s being used metaphorically as a symbol.
No one expects there to be a literal Jezebel or real beasts in the distant future. These literary figures represent something. They are used as a form of interpretive shorthand. What is/was this “New Babylon” that’s given so much attention in the book of Revelation? It was New Testament Jerusalem/Israel.5 The thing of it is, the woman dressed in scarlet is said to be a “harlot” (Rev. 17:5). She is seated on the beast. She is not the beast. She is the “mother of harlots corresponding to Jezebel and her children (Rev. 2:20-23). These descriptions don’t fit either Babylon or Rome. As we’ll see, Israel is the harlot.
Rhodes writes the following:
Jerusalem and Babylon Are Opposites in Notable Ways. While Jerusalem means “city of peace,” Babylon means “city of confusion and war.” While Jerusalem is portrayed as God’s city (Revelation 21:2-3), Babylon is portrayed as a demonic city (18:2). While the future New Jerusalem is portrayed as a chaste bride (21:9-10), Babylon is portrayed as a great prostitute (17:1, 3). (213)
Jerusalem and Babylon are the same in notable ways. Unbelieving Jews in the lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem are said to be a “synagogue of Satan”: “Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you” (Rev. 3:9). Earthly Jerusalem “is in slavery with her children” (Gal. 4:25) because she is bound to the outdated elements of the Old Covenant (Heb. 5:12; 6:1), actually, “under bondage” to them (Gal. 4:3; Col. 2:8, 20) because of their rejection of Jesus.
As mentioned above, it’s earthly Jerusalem, not Babylon, that’s described as a harlot (Ezek. 16). Jerusalem/Israel is often depicted as the unfaithful wife in the Old Testament. Israel is often called the wife of God (Jer. 2:2; 3:14; Isa. 54:5) who ends up being the unfaithful wife (Jer. 3:20; Hosea 1:2; Ezek. 6:9; 16; Isa. 50:1). Consider this from Isaiah 1:21: “See how the faithful city has become a harlot.”
In a similar way, Israel prostituted herself to Rome when her leaders cried out, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). Here’s what Peter said of Israel in his day:
Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know—this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death…. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him (Acts 2:22-23; 3:13).
True Israel is made up of believing Jews and Gentiles. Believers from the nations have been grafted into the Olive tree of believing Israel, the first to embrace Jesus as the promised Messiah. Jews were also first to reject Jesus as the promised Messiah. God was keeping His covenant promises to Israel by redeeming a remnant (same under the Old Covenant: Ezek. 6:8) and at the same time expanding those promises to include Gentiles.
There are further indicators that Jerusalem is Babylon:
She sheds and fills herself with the blood of the prophets and saints (Rev. 16:6; 17:6; 18:20, 24). Jesus said this would happen (Matt. 23:37), and it did early in the development of the church with the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:52) and James the brother of John, an action by Herod that “pleased the Jews” (12:1-2). Jesus said the following to the Jewish religious leaders: “So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers” (Matt. 23:31-32; see Acts 5:30; 7:51; 1 Thess. 2:14-16). These Jews were like their fathers in that they murdered prophets who brought a message of repentance and redemption to the nation.
Babylon is described as “the great city” (Rev. 17:18). It’s not just “a” great city; it is “the” great city. What city in the book of Revelation is first called “the great city”? Jerusalem: “And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:8; 14:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21).
There is no disputing the fact that the first mention of “the great city” refers to Jerusalem which is also referred to as “Sodom and Egypt,” the city where Jesus was crucified. If “the great city” in Revelation 16-18 is different from “the great city” in Revelation 11, it seems we would read something like, “and I saw another great city.” There is no indication that there are two great cities in Revelation. There is one great city and it’s Jerusalem.
What is Babylon. It is the original city-and-tower that tried to be a false religious center to reach to heaven (Genesis 11). She is a harlot, a false bride and daughter. These facts tell us that Babylon is certainly not Rome or any secular power. Rather, she is the false church, as most pre-modern expositors of Revelation understood quite well. Most pointedly, Babylon is Jerusalem, but by extension, she is the Circumcision throughout the Roman oikumenē, tentacles of Jerusalem. As Babel was a city with a tower, so Jerusalem is a city with a tower, the Temple that “reaches to heaven.”6
Jerusalem only becomes “the great city” again when it becomes the “New Jerusalem” (Rev. 21:2, 10).
“The great city” is not ancient Rome, the Roman Catholic Church, the United States, or some resurrected modern-day Babylon. The Babylon of Revelation was Jerusalem. For a more detailed study of this view, see David Chilton’s The Days of Vengeance.
- Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25–48 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 432. Emphasis added. [↩]
- Block, Ezekiel, 2:435. [↩]
- Beyond the Crystal Ball (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 82. [↩]
- Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008, 14, note. [↩]
- To be fair, others who hold to a pre-AD 70 fulfillment of Revelation argue that it’s first-century Rome. I’ll let them argue their own case. [↩]
- James B. Jordan, The Vindication of Jesus Christ: A Brief Reader’s Guide to Revelation, 3rd ed. (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2008), 52. [↩]