Last week, we saw the seven bowl judgments poured out upon the earth before Jesus Christ comes back. All water is ruined, the massive earthquake strikes the entire world, the sun is scorching people to death, and the armies of the world are being prepared to gather together to fight against Jesus Christ. In these bowl judgments the wrath of God was finished (15:1). Now, we are about to focus in on, get specific with, one aspect of the end-times world that will be judged: Babylon the Great. We have read about Babylon twice now in our study of Revelation: in chapters 14 and 16. When an angel flew in midheaven proclaiming the eternal gospel, another angel proclaimed,
Rev. 14:8 ..."Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who has made all the nations drink of the wine of the passion of her immorality."
And during the great earthquake,
Rev. 16:19 ...the cities of the nations fell. And Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His fierce wrath.
Babylon has been referred to as a woman both times. Now, we will see her personified.
In order to understand the mystery of Babylon, I'm going to have to go back to nearly the beginning. To try - as quickly as possible - to give you a history lesson, so that you can understand this chapter.
Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was wicked, and his descendants were too. Ham had a son named Cush, and...
Gen. 10:8-10 Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD." And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel and EH-rek and Ak-KAD and Kal-NEH, in the land of Shinar.
What doesn't come across in English is how Nimrod was. His name means, "the Rebel." He was not just a hunter "before" the Lord. He was a hunter "in the face of" the Lord. He was a hunter of men. He was a chieftain, a tyrant, the first dictator on the earth.
The beginning of Nimrod's kingdom was Babel in Shinar. It was in this place that man first entered into idolatry. They said,
Gen. 11:4 ..."Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top unto heaven..."
Many of us may have the Sunday School image of something that looks like the Washington Monument - something so tall that they think it will reach heaven. But that is not what it was. It was not a tower reaching as high as heaven, it was a tower unto heaven.
This was the reason that God confused their language and spread people abroad over the whole face of the earth.
Why have I taken you to the tower of Babel? In Hebrew it is "Bah-BEL", in Greek it is "Bab-oo-LONE." Babel is Babylon. And Babel is the origin of every abominable religion, every occultic practice in history.
You see, Nimrod had a wife named Semiramis. And when Nimrod died, being killed by a wild board, Semiramis put ashes on her head and mourned for 40 days, giving up all pleasures and food. But then, she discovers that she is pregnant. She declares that it is a miraculous conception, that her dead husband Nimrod has been conceived inside of her. It is springtime, and in celebration of this miraculous pregnancy, this divine fertility, she has an egg of gold made, calling it the golden egg of Astarte. The Babylonians also celebrate the event by coloring eggs and worshipping rabbits, the symbol of fertility.
The baby is born, a boy, and Semiramis names him Tammuz. The Babylonian religion becomes centered around the worship of Semiramis as the queen of heaven and Tammuz as the sun god. Every winter, in late December, as the days grow shortest, it was believed that the sun god had died. But then, he resurrects from the dead, and the days became longer again. The Babylonians would observe this by burning a log, called "the log of the son" (the word is "Yule" in Babylonian). It was burned in the fire to symbolize his death. But the next day, they would decorate a live evergreen tree with silver and gold. The log that was burned was now alive again!
A priesthood was established. The high priest was robed in scarlet and wore a crown in the shape of a fish head that had the words "Keeper of the Gate," because "Babel" means "Gate of God." The high priest had absolute authority.
The other priests were commanded to be celibate. They would burn incense, sprinkle holy water, and direct the people to worship the queen of heaven and her son. They would spiritually inscribe the T (for Tammuz) over the people.
This false religion of idolatry and abomination spread throughout the world. The mother/child abomination spread to every known society. Ultimately, Semiramis and Tammuz of Babylon became Ashteroth and Baal in the land of Canaan, Venus and Cupid to the Romans, Eros and Aphrodite to the Greeks, and Isis and Horus to the Egyptians.
When the Babylonian empire was conquered by the Medes and Persians in 539BC, the central power of the Babylonian cult moved from Babylon to Pergamum. Then, in 133BC, Pergamum became part of the Roman Empire. The Babylonian cult again moved to the central city of power, Rome.
In 313AD, Constantine was battling to become the emperor of Rome. He claimed that he saw a burning cross in the sky, with the words, "in this sign, conquer." When he was victorious, he gave Christians the freedom of worship. By 392AD, Christianity was made the Roman Empire's official religion.
You would think that the powerful priests of the Babylonian religion wouldn't have stood for this. But in fact, the religion's priests and practices were simply assimilated into the Christian church.
The "keeper of the gate," retained his title. In Latin, it is "Pontifex Maximus." He kept his fish hat, his scarlet robe, and his supreme power. The priests remained celibate, kept sprinkling the people with holy water, and inscribing the sign of Tammuz over the people.
They kept their worship and holidays as well. The queen of heaven and her child became the Madonna and child. The spring holiday of the golden egg of Astarte, which had become known as Ishtar, was called Easter, and given the meaning of observing the resurrection of Christ. The late-December holiday when they burned the Yule log and decorated the evergreen tree was given the name Christmas, presumably to celebrate the birth of Christ.
The Babylonian religion is alive and well in Rome, under the leadership of the "Keeper of the Gate," the "Pontifex Maximus." The Christian church has unknowingly absorbed much of her idolatry and abominations into her traditions.
Now, let us examine the Scriptures to see again what is said regarding Babylon, the mother of Harlots.
John is shown the woman. She is described with six statements:
1. She sits on many waters, committing immorality with the kings of the earth.
2. She is sitting on a scarlet beast.
3. She is clothed in purple, scarlet, gold, precious stones, and pearls.
4. She has a gold cup in her hand full of abominations and the unclean things of her immorality.
5. She has a name on her forehead, "BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH."
6. She is drunk with the blood of the saints and witnesses of Jesus.
Verse one told us that she "sits on many waters." The angel will explain,
Rev. 17:15 ..."The waters which you saw where the harlot sits, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues.
So the woman Babylon has worldwide influence and rule. Her power is worldwide, and even with the rulers of the earth.
We have seen the beast before, in chapter 13 (vv. 1, 3-8). He is the antichrist. Scarlet, the same color as the red dragon, the devil. Full of blasphemous names, another indication of his big mouth, always speaking blasphemies against the Lord God. The seven heads and ten horns will be explained to us by the angel in a few verses.
Purple was the color worn by the Caesars of Rome. Scarlet was the color worn by the Babylonian high priest. She is incredibly wealthy, being adorned with all manner of gold, precious stones, and pearls.
She holds in her hand a golden cup. Her cup, her portion, is full of abominations and immorality.
In the Bible, harlotry is ascribed to people who claim to know God with their lips, but is unfaithful to Him. The woman Babylon gives birth to people that claim to follow God, but are in fact idolaters.
She has also given birth to the abominations of the earth. An abomination is something that seems to be religious, yet is detestable to God. Idolatry and false religious practices are abominations.
She is drunk with the blood of the saints. She revels in, is intoxicated by, killing Jews and Christians. Amazingly, during the Tribulation, the primary murderer of Christians will be the false church itself.
The angel knows that John is amazed and confused by these things, and is about to explain them.
First, the angel explains the beast she is sitting on. We have of course seen him before, in chapter 13 (vv. 1, 3-8). He is the antichrist. He is the one who was assassinated, yet rose from the dead, to deceive the people that dwell on the earth. He is scarlet, the same color as the red dragon, the devil. He is full of blasphemous names, another indication of his big mouth, always speaking blasphemies against the Lord God. Fortunately,at this point his time is short. Jesus will soon be coming back to throw him into destruction.
The beast was described as having seven heads and ten horns. These are now explained to us as well. The seven horns are seven mountains.
To John, this would make perfect sense. If I said to you, "this is the Big Apple," you would know that I was talking about New York. If I said, "this is Beantown," you would know that I was speaking of Boston. Well, the angel uses a common first century reference. More than a dozen ancient writings refer to the city that was built on seven mountains - Rome.
The seven horns simultaneously tie in with seven kings. Five which had fallen, one which was alive in John's day, and one which hadn't come yet.
The five were the Roman Caesars that had fallen: Julius Caesar, Tiberius Caesar, Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. The one which is was Domitian, alive in John's day. The seventh is the antichrist - the next Roman Caesar, the coming leader of a revived Roman Empire.
In addition to being the seventh, he will also become an eighth. He will go beyond the Roman Empire, to rule the entire world.
There were ten horns on the beast, who will have the authority of kings, but only for a short time.
Ultimately, at the end of the Tribulation, these ten guys will lead the armies of the earth to Armageddon, trying to fight against and destroy God.
The woman Babylon seems to be riding the beast for the first half of the Tribulation. But it turns out that the beast was merely carrying her - she suited his purposes for the time being. But now, the ten kings, with authority from the antichrist, destroy her.
Babylon will once again be relocated and re-established. Zechariah saw this in a vision, telling us in Zech. 5 about the woman's relocation to Shinar, the area of Babylon. In chapter 18, we will see that Babylon is once again established in the city of Babylon. This is right in the middle of modern-day Iraq, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, and situated on both sides of the Euphrates River.
Babylon will no longer be a mixture of religions, and anti-Christian ecumenicalism. It will worship one god: the antichrist. And when God judges it, its destruction will be massive. We'll see that next week.