Bible Study Series: Revealing Jesus in Revelation
Revelation 17: Mystery Babylon - The Coming World Religion
by I Gordon
- The background - where did Babylon begin in scripture and what does its first mention in the Bible teach us about its end?
- Why is it called 'Mystery Babylon' in Revelation 17 and why is she portrayed as a woman riding a beast?
- And what is the end of this woman? As she is riding the beast, will she be eventually thrown off? And if so what will the final form of religious worship be before the second coming of Jesus?
Ok... let's dive in!
- Babylon's first mention - Gen 10:8-11 Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. (9) He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, "Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD." (10) The first centers of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Akkad and Calneh, in Shinar. (11) From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah
Both Babylon (Babel) and Nineveh in Assyria were two notable cities and areas of wickedness and oppression of God's people throughout the ages.
- Nimrod means 'to rebel'. And he was essentially the world's first dictator. As such, he is a type of the world's last dictator, the Antichrist. When it speaks of him being 'a mighty hunter before the Lord' it is not wild game he is hunting for but men's souls, turning them from God2. The Jerusalem Targum says: "He was powerful in hunting and in wickedness before the Lord, for he was a hunter of the sons of men, and he said to them, 'Depart from the judgment of the Lord, and adhere to the judgment of Nimrod!' Therefore it is said: 'As Nimrod the strong one, strong in hunting, and in wickedness before the Lord.' "
- It was Nimrod who led the build of the infamous 'Tower of Babel' which was to unite the people, exalt themselves, and rebel against God's authority. This is the 'spirit' of Babylon.
|Gen 11:1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.
|This is the spirit of Babylon. It is to join forces and come as one. This is the essence of Mystery Babylon that we shall see in Revelation 17 which will see a uniting of the world religions for control and power.
|Gen 11:4 "Come, let us build for ourselves..."
|This is mankind coming together as one, but in opposition to God. Beware the call to 'come together' when it is not under God and based on truth. Not all unity is good unity. The Babylonian unity expressed here is to unify against God!
|Gen 11:4 "Come, let us build... a tower whose top will reach into heaven"
|Babel is noted specifically for its tower whose purpose was religious in nature. This tower was a ziggurat where people gathered to worship the sun, moon and stars as well as other 'gods' - instead of the living God. Their intention was to reach into the heavens themselves just as their unseen leader, Satan, always had the goal of ascending into heaven (Isa 14:14)
|Gen 11:4 "... so that we may make a name for ourselves"
|The desire to come together is for self glory, to make a name for themselves. This is always man's goal after the fall, following on from Satan's desire. This is the opposite of the truth which is to glorify God alone.
When used symbolically in the Bible, the 'woman' can either speak of a true or false religious system. Being a harlot is a pointer to spiritual adultery and idolatry3 which places her firmly in the latter category! So straight off the bat, we should know that Revelation 17 is giving us a glimpse into the religious and spiritual form of Babylon that will be prevalent in the coming last days. She is sitting on many waters which is interpreted for us later in 17:15 where we read '"The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.' So this harlot is influencing all nations and peoples. There are none upon this earth that are not affected and enticed by her advances. It was secular humanist Karl Marx who famously said 'religion is.. the opium of the people'. We will see that in the last days. In fact the Bible says that the earth will be intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries. So there is something about this woman that is alluring the people out of their right minds. True faith in Christ is a relationship, not a religion, but false religion will be big in the Tribulation period. The Bible also says that the kings of the earth were seduced by this woman. This has been true through Church history where the Roman Catholic church has held great power over the ruling monarchy and so it will play out again in the last days. The Pope and the Catholic church will play a big part in this mystery religion of the last days but this 'woman riding the beast' will be more than just Catholicism. She includes all of apostate Christendom along with other religions. You may remember that when we examined the letters to the seven churches in Revelation we saw that three out of the last four churches will at least in part enter the Tribulation period. As a refresher:
'As a religious system, Babylon came into being long before Christianity, but in Satanic imitation it anticipated the coming true Messiah. According to religious history and legend, the Babylonian religion was founded by the wife of Nimrod (a great-grandson of Noah), named Semiramis. She was a high priestess of idol worship, and she gave birth to a son who she claimed was conceived miraculously. The son, named Tammuz, was considered a savior. Many ancient artifacts remain with the familiar motif of the mother Semiramis holding the savior-infant Tammuz, which predate Christianity. It was also said that Tammuz was killed by a wild beast and then miraculously brought back to life. Baal was the local, Canaanite name for the Babylonian Tammuz.'
"The saints" probably refers to Old Testament saints, and "the martyrs of Jesus" refers to New Testament saints. This indicates that "BABYLON" is more than just Romanism. Rather, it is an amalgam of all religions. All true believers were caught up at the Rapture, and Babylon is the residue of what is left. Babylon is a composite religious system which includes Protestantism, Romanism, cults—the whole lot which was not raptured, you see. It is confusion compounded and is the fountainhead of all religious error and idolatry. Babylon in the Old Testament persecuted God's people and was the enemy of God. It was Babylon that put the three Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace because they would not worship an image."
J. Vernon McGee
Now when John saw this woman he was greatly astonished. So if you are struggling to understand, you are not alone! Another version says he marveled with great amazement. He literally couldn't believe what he was seeing. Needless to say there is something astonishing about what is to come. If it was just left to us to interpret this vision, we would struggle with this image. But thankfully God knew that and sent His angel to give the interpretation. Let's look at what the angel reveals now.
- Rise 1: 'The beast that you saw was' - This points to his initial rise amongst the 10 kings (Daniel 7:8,24,25)
- Fall 1: 'And is not' - This speaks of his 'fatal wound' by the sword (Rev 13:3, Zech 11:17)
- Rise 2: 'And is about to come out of the abyss' - This is his apparent resurrection back to life and ascension from the underworld, that will leave the world in total awe and worship (Rev 13:3)
- Fall 2: 'And go to destruction' - This is the Antichrist's ultimate defeat by Jesus at the 2nd coming and entry into the lake of fire for eternity (Rev 19:10-20)
- 'five have fallen': In John's day there were five kingdoms that have dominated this world that had already fallen or passed: 1. Egypt 2. Assyria 3. Babylon 4: Medo-Persia 5: Greece
- 'one is': In John's day one was still ruling - the Roman empire.
- 'the other has not yet come; and when he comes, he must remain a little while': This points to the revived Roman Empire in the form of 10 kings from which the Antichrist shall arise. They are said to only rule for a short time which points to the last 7 year period on earth before Jesus returns.
- 'The beast which was and is not, is himself also an eighth and is one of the seven, and he goes to destruction.': This is the final world dictatorship of the Antichrist. He is part of the 7th empire as he arises amongst the 10 kings (Dan 7:8,24) but will gain full power following his resurrection and have total dominance in the last 3 1/2 years of the tribulation. But thankfully he will 'go to destruction'!
The ten horns of this vision correspond with the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel chapter 2 and the ten horns of Daniel 7. Some see these as 10 countries coming out of Europe though passages such as Daniel 7 indicate that these 10 kings have global control. The world could be divided into 10 regions each with its leader. We also know from Daniel that these 10 kings will arise first and the Antichrist will follow them. Daniel 7:24 also tells us that the Antichrist will subdue three kings. That is, he will force them under his authority in his rise to full power. Eventually, as we see here in Revelation 17:13, all 10 will give their power and authority to the Antichrist and will do his bidding. And that bidding is to oppose God, oppose the Lamb, and oppose His followers. But the Bible is clear that the Lamb will overcome them all. We, as His saints. will come with Jesus when He returns but we won't need to fight... He has got this all in hand, all by Himself!
In other words, God is well and truly in control even in the midst of earth's chaos. His word will be fulfilled and He directs even the hearts of those that oppose Him to ultimately do His will! This should give us encouragement for today as well. What is it that brings you fear or confusion? What are you currently worried about? As an old song we used to sing says:
"God is in control. We believe that His children will not be forsaken
Oh, God is in control"
In this prophetic passage, a woman, who is said to be 'wickedness', is thrown inside an ephah and carried back to the land of Shinar, Babylon. And why? What are they doing for her there? They are building a religious temple where she can be seated. While there are some uncertainties in how this will all be fulfilled, it will be fulfilled in the last days and involves the original land of Shinar - Babylon. One thing is clear and that is that Babylon, with both her false religious and commercial elements, will be overthrown. And to that the saints rejoice!
Yet she will come to an end. And she is not the last religious system that will dominate this planet. While initially she is seen riding the beast, she will be thrown off and trampled upon. She will come to an end so Satan's long held desire to be worshipped can be achieved. Worship of the beast (Antichrist) and the dragon (Satan) will be the final religion before the coming of Jesus.
I have spoken about this in another study so we'll keep it brief here, but if interested there is more here:
"It was he who attempted to bring together the human race after the Flood in an effort to get them united into a nation of which he could become the great world ruler. He was the rebel, the founder of Babel, the hunter of the souls of men. He was the lawless one, and he is a shadow or a type of the last world ruler, the Antichrist who is yet to appear."
J. Vernon McGee
The Jewish historian Josephus wrote:
"Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to reach. And that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers. Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than any one could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water. When God saw that they acted so madly, he did not resolve to destroy them utterly, since they were not grown wiser by the destruction of the former sinners; but he caused a tumult among them, by producing in them diverse languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another. The place wherein they built the tower is now called Babylon, because of the confusion of that language which they readily understood before; for the Hebrews mean by the word Babel, confusion..."
Josephus, Flavius. "Antiquities of the Jews — Book IV
Prostitution frequently symbolizes idolatry or religious apostasy (cf. Jer 3:6-9; Eze 16:30 ff.; Rev 20:30; Hos 4:15; Hos 5:3; Hos 6:10; Hos 9:1). Nineveh (Nah 3:1, Nah 3:4), Tyre (Isa_23:17), and even Jerusalem (Isa_1:21) are also depicted as harlot cities."
"Clothed in purple and scarlet - Purple was the predominant color of Roman imperialism. Every senator and consul wore a purple stripe as a badge of his position, and the emperor's robes were purple. Scarlet is the color adopted by Roman Catholicism."
See the note on Jezebel in this study for more information: