In many ways the Bible is ‘a tale of two cities’. Two great cities dominate the theatre of Biblical revelation—Jerusalem and Babylon. Both these cities feature prominently in the events at the end of the age. Their history is wonderfully intertwined in Scripture. The rise of one inevitably meant the decline and fall of the other.
Today Babylon is a small settlement in Iraq. It has been most notable in recent times as the seat of one of Saddam Hussein’s extravagant palaces.
The Scriptures have a great deal to say about this city and understanding God’s purpose for Babylon is critical in understanding His purpose for these last days. It is not an overstatement of the case to insist that for God’s people to live as they ought in this age, and to have a right view of Christ’s return, they must have a right view of what God reveals about Babylon and Babylonianism.
Chapter one—Origins rooted in apostasy.
The origin of the city of Babylon is revealed in Genesis 10:8-10. It was initially the seat of power for Nimrod, the great-grandson of Noah. He is renowned in Scripture as a marauding, blood-thirsty rebel against God and Divine order. The words of Genesis 10:9, wherefore it is said… indicate that Nimrod’s opposition to God became proverbial. The beginning of his kingdom was Babel. Assuming Nimrod to have been born at the same time as his cousin Salah (Gen 11:12) he would have been born just about 38 years after the flood.
Babel is soon revealed as a centre of false worship—in essence, antichristianity. Genesis 11:1-9 records the purpose of men to build the tower of Babel as an idolatrous shrine. God steps in to confuse the language of mankind and so suspend this concerted attempt to overthrow God’s order in worship, and apostasy receives a major set-back. Yet, right until the end of the age the pedigree of every form of false religion can be traced back to Babylon! That city is the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth! Revelation 17:5. Babylon spawned every form of spiritual error known to man and all of these falsehoods will again converge and amalgamate in the final, single manifestation of Babylonianism—seen in Revelation 17 as the great whore.
Chapter two—Babylon’s golden era
Babylon fades from the Biblical scene almost entirely until the days of Nebuchadnezzar 1700 years later. The land of Shinar appears in Genesis 14:1, as being the kingdom of one of the kings who invaded Canaan in the days of Abraham and had subjugated the cities of the plain, one of which was Sodom.
There is poignant reference to its defiling influence in Joshua 7:21. Clearly, the Canaanite tribes had been affected by Babylon’s fashions and as Achan yielded to its appeal and took the goodly Babylonish garment, he grasped that which was accursed of God and brought the censure of God upon the whole nation of Israel.
When the Chaldeans assumed the status of superpower from the Assyrians and became the head of gold (Daniel 2:38) Babylon, already having been the focus of on-going power-struggles in the near east, became the seat of this power and formed the hub of the new and greatest empire the world has seen.
Secular history informs us of the splendours that Babylon accomplished during this Chaldean period of its history. It became the seat of fabulous wealth and power boasting one of the wonders of the ancient world—the hanging gardens.
Babylon and Jerusalem are first brought into direct contact during the reign of Hezekiah, II Kings 20:12. At this point it is a rising power subservient to Assyria, but is soon to challenge the Assyrians for supremacy. The Babylonian diplomats courted Hezekiah because of his recent defeat of the Assyrian army and perhaps from an astronomical curiosity into the miraculous sign of the sun going back ten degrees (2 Kings 20:9-10). With the succession of Nebuchadnezzar to the throne of Babylon and his meteoric rise to superpower status, Babylon and Jerusalem soon come into greater contact and conflict. This contact leads to the increasing subjugation of Judah—the northern kingdom of Samaria had been led captive by the Assyrians and those captives had been ‘inherited’ by Nebuchadnezzar when he defeated the Assyrians. Babylon’s contact with Judah climaxes in the phased captivity (Jeremiah 52:28-30) of many Jews who spent a total of 70 years in captivity and the sack of Jerusalem.
The downfall of Babylon from this pinnacle of glory was predicted by the prophet Jeremiah (25:12), speaking even before it had accomplished its full glory. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah address at some length the issue of Babylon’s downfall. See Isaiah 13 & 14, Jeremiah 51 & 52. Just as before at Babel, God stepped in and pruned back the growth of the city’s influence over the world.
However, a careful study of these predictions will reveal that the fall of Babylon at the hand of the Medes and Persians under the command of Cyrus (Daniel 5:31) do not completely fulfill the predictions made by the prophets and it becomes clear that there is obviously a fulfillment of these prophecies that is future and therefore supposes a rise to prominence and glory again for Babylon.
Babylon has a future!
The extent of the judgement predicted shows that it has not yet been fully fulfilled. If plain language means anything, statements in Scripture like those recorded below, cannot be said to have been fully fulfilled. It is easy to see in fact that the timing of the destruction of Babylon is linked to the last days when there will be supernatural signs in the heavens that announce the Saviour’s return.
- Jeremiah 50:39-40 Therefore the wild beasts of the desert with the wild beasts of the islands shall dwell there, and the owls shall dwell therein: and it shall be no more inhabited for ever; neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation. As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbour cities thereof, saith the LORD; so shall no man abide there, neither shall any son of man dwell therein.
- Jeremiah 51:26 And they shall not take of thee a stone for a corner, nor a stone for foundations; but thou shalt be desolate for ever, saith the LORD.
- Isaiah 13:19-22 And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.
- Isaiah 13:9-11 Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
The absolute annihilation of the city, parallel to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, is predicted. Yet Babylon continued to exist after its fall to the Medes. It was later conquered by Alexander for the Greeks in 331 BC. It was still in existence in Roman times as there is a church of Jewish believers in Babylon in Apostolic times, 1 Peter 5:13. John the Apostle, writing long after Babylon’s fall to Cyrus, writes in the Revelation of the future prosperity and final fall of that city and an empire associated with it as Christ returns. Today Babylon is still in existence and occupied—very much unlike Sodom and Gomorrah!
It will not be until the end that Isaiah’s and Jeremiah’s predictions will be fulfilled.
- Revelation 18:20-21 Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her. And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.
This passage is a very deliberate echo of the words and action of Jeremiah 51:63-64. Its use by John clearly shows that the prophecies made by Jeremiah and Isaiah still await final fulfillment.
A further argument for Babylon’s role in the future is that the predictions by the prophets of Babylon’s doom are intimately associated with the restoration of the nation of Israel to its land and to spiritual blessings of renewed fellowship with God having been cast away for a time.
That such a restoration takes place, and does so in conjunction with Divine destruction of Babylon, may be seen in the following statements:
- Jeremiah 50:4-6 In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the LORD their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten. My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.
- Jeremiah 50:18-19 Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria. And I will bring Israel again to his habitation, and he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan, and his soul shall be satisfied upon mount Ephraim and Gilead.
- Jeremiah 50:28 The voice of them [in the context these are Jews] that flee and escape out of the land of Babylon, to declare in Zion the vengeance of the LORD our God, the vengeance of his temple.
- Jeremiah 50:34 Their Redeemer is strong; the LORD of hosts is his name: he shall throughly plead their cause, that he may give rest to the land, and disquiet the inhabitants of Babylon.
- Jeremiah 51:20-23 Thou [i.e. Israel] art my battle axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms; And with thee will I break in pieces the horse and his rider; and with thee will I break in pieces the chariot and his rider; With thee also will I break in pieces man and woman; and with thee will I break in pieces old and young; and with thee will I break in pieces the young man and the maid; I will also break in pieces with thee the shepherd and his flock; and with thee will I break in pieces the husbandman and his yoke of oxen; and with thee will I break in pieces captains and rulers.
Such a restoration fulfilling the predictions of the prophets has plainly not yet occurred even though the first elements of that restoration have begun to appear with the return of Israel as a nation to her ancient territory.
Chapter three—Future rise to prominence.
As stated above, the predictions of the prophets of the final destruction of Babylon, require that city to again assume a place of power, glory and profound influence over the prophetic earth.
The Scriptures make it clear that such a time lies ahead for Babylon as the seat of antichristianity and apostasy when the man of sin appears on the scene. Babylon will be emphatically his city, the seat of his power and the centre of his economic, political and spiritual influence. With the setting up of the abomination of desolation in the Temple at Jerusalem the centre of his spiritual influence will move to that city from Babylon, yet Babylon will retain its political and especially its economic influence over the earth. This phase of Babylon’s history may be seen recorded in Revelation chapters 17 and 18.
In these chapters the religious and economic influence of the city is seen to be profound. She is the great whore that sitteth upon many waters… the waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. Revelation 17:1, 15. …All nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. Revelation 18:3 Her commercial power at this stage involves every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea… Revelation 18:17. She will reach the place of supremacy in the earth!
Chapter four—Babylon’s final destruction.
The prophetic Scriptures speak very dramatically of the final fall of Babylon that occurs just prior to the return of the Lord Jesus when He destroys the Antichrist and his kingdom.
Babylon’s final downfall involves several components.
1. Assault by the political enemies of Antichrist. Reference to this is found in several places. Daniel 11:40 speaks of a concerted attack upon Antichrist by the King of the North and the King of the South—divisions within the ten kingdom confederacy that he heads—at the time of the end. Antichrist has earlier usurped power in the northern (Syrian) kingdom as he rose to power (Daniel 11:21).
It is while he is engaged in this internal strife with the Syrian and Egyptian components of his confederacy that he hears a news report from the north—which is the Scripture’s uniform manner of describing travel from Babylon out of the east down into Israel where the Antichrist evidently is at this point. The news appears to be of an attack upon Babylon, his home base, which enrages him and he comes in fury against Jerusalem in a final attempt to destroy that city. Jerusalem is already under siege by him at this point, Zech 14:1-2, but he is stirred to make a final destructive push—perhaps in response to the threat posed by the Kings from the east, referred to below. It is as he pursues this purpose and masses his forces between the seas in the glorious holy mountain (i.e. in Israel) at Armageddon (Rev 16:16) to that end, that the Saviour returns to Jerusalem and destroys him with the breath of His mouth (2 Thess 2:8, Isaiah 11:4).
Apparently, this attack upon Babylon is described in Revelation 16:12 and will be a re-run of former events which led to the fall of the city to Cyrus. This should not come as a surprise as there are many ‘rehearsals’ in the past of what God will do in the future! Divine intervention prepares the way for a 200 million strong army to cross the Euphrates and attack Babylon. This future fall of Babylon to a military attack is described by Isaiah and Jeremiah.
- Isaiah 13:4 The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as of a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together: the LORD of hosts mustereth the host of the battle.
- Jeremiah 51:27 Set ye up a standard in the land, blow the trumpet among the nations, prepare the nations against her, call together against her the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashchenaz; appoint a captain against her; cause the horses to come up as the rough caterpillers.
2. Direct Divine action. In the run up to the appearance of Christ a number of Divine assaults are made on Babylon at the time of the end which are described in Revelation 16:10-21 and in Isaiah 13:10.
- Revelation 16:10-21 And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds. And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.
- Isaiah 13:10-11 For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine. And I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
It appears that these Divine assaults upon the city follows the successful military attack described above. The conquerors of Babylon have a short-lived enjoyment of their victory. The final three of the seven vials of wrath specifically target Babylon as the seat of the Beast. These three final plagues culminate in a great earthquake in which Babylon was divided into three parts and came in remembrance before God. The fall of the city is further described in Revelation 18 where the merchants of the earth mourn over the collapse of the city as the heart of the great trading empire that had made them rich.
Clearly, the fall of the city occurs just prior to the Antichrist’s final attack on Jerusalem and the visible appearance of the Saviour to stand upon the Mount of Olives.
- Daniel 11:44-45 But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many. And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.
Heaven rejoices when Babylon falls.
- Revelation 19:1-3 And after these things [the final fall of Babylon described in the previous chapter] I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever.
So ends the saga of the city of Babylon. Founded in apostasy and a seat of defiance of God all through its illustrated history, the city finally falls under Divine wrath. So all the wicked will perish however long their career of rebellion. The expectation that God will yet avenge the righteous upon the wicked is part of the hope that strengthens God’s people to go on in the last days.