Summary: In Chapter 17, Babylon represents a false religious system that we guard against by being with the Lamb.
Although we’ve certainly come across some difficult passages in our journey through the Book of Revelation, there is little doubt that the passages that we’ll examine over the next two weeks in chapters 17 and 18 are the toughest to deal with. There are so many different opinions about what all the details in these chapters represent. For instance, the city represented by the woman in chapter 17, which we’ll look at in just a few moments, is identified by various commentators as Jerusalem, Rome, the city of Babylon, or even New York City. But as we’ve seen with much of the book of Revelation, it seems silly to argue about these kinds of details when frankly God just doesn’t give us enough information to make those kinds of determinations with any degree of certainty. And the danger of that approach is that while we’re arguing over the details, we are probably going to miss what we can learn and apply from taking a step back and looking at the big picture.
So before we tackle chapter 17 this morning, it’s really crucial for us to take a step back and understand the overall picture that is painted for us in chapters 17 and 18.
The first thing that is apparent in these two chapters is that much of this is clearly figurative or symbolic language. Just like the beasts we saw earlier in the book were not literal beasts, but rather represented the human Antichrist and false prophet, the woman prostitute that we’ll see in chapter 17 is not a literal woman who is seated on literal waters. We can be confident of that conclusion because many of the elements in this chapter are identified clearly in the chapter as symbols which represent something else.
The other important element that ties these two chapters together is that of Babylon. As a city, Babylon is second in importance in the Bible only to Jerusalem, with nearly 300 mentions in Scripture.
In the Book of Revelation, Babylon represents more than just a physical city located in present day Iraq. It is used as a symbol in much the same way that we use the terms “Wall Street” or “Hollywood”. Although those terms do indicate a physical location, we generally use them to represent much broader concepts like our financial system or the film industry.
We are going to see that in the book of Revelation, Babylon represents two separate, but related, aspects of the human systems that will be significant factors in the events surrounding the Day of the Lord.
• Chapter 17 – a world religious system
• Chapter 18 - a political and economic system.
This morning, as we examine chapter 17, we need to take some time to understand the Biblical and historical background of the world religious system that has its roots in Babylon.
We are first introduced to Babylon, in Genesis 10, where it is known by its ancient name of Babel:
Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.
Genesis 10:8-10 (ESV)
So we see that Babel is founded by Nimrod, who is described here and elsewhere in the Scriptures as a “mighty man”. After the flood up until this time, mankind was governed by the patriarchal system where the heads of families heard from God and guided their individual tribes. But then Nimrod became a mighty man and crowned himself the first king in history. And among the cities which were part of that kingdom was Babel.
In order to preserve his kingdom, Nimrod needed two things: a central place where the people could come together and be united and a means to encourage and inspire his people. In essence, Nimrod becomes the first person to try and establish a one world government and he attempts to accomplish that through his plan that is described for us in Genesis 11:
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth
Genesis 11:1-4 (ESV)
The first part of Nimrod’s plan is quite evident. He convinced the people to all settle in one central location in a plain in the land of Shinar. But to fully understand the second aspect of his plan we need to go to historical records that provide us with some more insight into the reasons behind building the tower.