The Unveiling of Jesus Christ
THE SECRET OF BABYLON
UNDER the seventh bowl Babylon the great is brought to remembrance before God, to give her the cup of the wine of His furious indignation (Rev.16:19). The very wording of this sentence is cryptic. Babylon is a city, yet is presented under the figure of a woman. This suggests that there is something not seen on the surface which is so utterly detestable to God that He singles out this city for the supreme display of His fury. All of the cities of the nations fall, but one of them is reserved for a special doom. "The great city," Jerusalem, is spared, though trisected, but Babylon is so offensive to Yahweh that it is finally sunk out of sight.
This is not the first time that Babylon's doom has come before us. In the corresponding part of the previous temple section, immediately after the eonian evangel has been proclaimed, a second messenger declares, "It falls! It falls! - Babylon the great has made all nations drunk with the furious wine of her prostitution!" (14:8). If Yahweh is to fulfill His covenant with faithful Israel, He must rid the earth of the demoralizing influence of this great city. If He vindicates His broken law, He must hurl it into oblivion.
Babylon does not appear in the early parts of this apocalypse. It is not connected with the throne so closely as with the temple. Its activities are not relegated to the realm of rule, but rather to the sphere of religion. This, of course, is not absolute, but relative. As a woman, Babylon is a sovereign queen. As a city it has a suzerainty which makes vassals of the kings of the earth. Nevertheless, the vital point in its presentation lies in some secret relationship to God, and not in its rule over mankind.
We hardly need to press the importance of the part she plays in the divine drama of the end time. More than two long chapters are given to the elaboration of her career. About one-ninth of the whole Revelation is devoted to a description of her doom. There must be a secret of great moment associated with the city, which the saints of that day should understand, that they may be saved from her sins, and from her destruction. It is only as we, in spirit, transport ourselves into that era that we have a clear conception of her crimes and will be able to discern, in the world movements of today, the dim outline of the scarlet woman, already possessed of much of the wealth and power which will drag her down to perdition.
A summary of the babel of interpretations which have made the utmost confusion out of this section would convince us of only one fact, that the expositors of Christendom have utterly missed the meaning of these unfoldings. With a few notable exceptions, all insist on interpreting the literal explanation, and insist that Babylon is symbolic of Rome or some other city or system. As a consequence the secret of the city is unknown. Hence we insist on certain fundamental principles of interpretation which will bring harmony out of the confusion, and initiate us into one of the most subtle and surprising secrets in all the realm of revelation.
If we had the trumpet of one of the messengers of this Revelation, and could reach the ears of all of its expositors, we would shout with a voice of thunder, "Do not explain God's explanations!" There is no wrong in considering, comparing, or discussing them. But do not change them. When he says that the seven lampstands are seven ecclesias (1:20) insist that they are actual called-out companies, not an epoch in the history of Christendom. When a place is "spiritually" called Sodom and Egypt (11:8), on the other hand, insist that these places are not meant (for only one could be), but are figures for Jerusalem. But Babylon is not figuratively so called. It is not explained. It is the explanation.
The divine exposition is that the woman is a city (17:18). It is not a literal woman. It is a literal city. The people comprising the city are figured by a dissolute female. But they live in a real, not an ideal metropolis. The city is not in Egypt or Italy, England or the United States. It is on the plain of Shinar, on the banks of the Euphrates. Nothing could be more striking than to find this city, the first capital among the nations to rule the world at the beginning of the "times of the gentiles," once more exalted to a supremacy over the kingdoms of the earth. It is the Babylon restored by Nebuchadnezzar, the conqueror of Israel, the place of their captivity in the long ago, which will emerge once more to resume a headship over the nations.
It is a striking fact that Babylon is the only city, which has even had universal sovereignty in the past. It was not only the capital of the Babylonian empire, the head of gold of Nebuchadnezzar's image, but also of the succeeding empires. Alexander made it the seat of his government. These kingdoms practically ruled the known world. In contrast to them, the Roman empire had definite limits, in the north and in the east, which it was unable to pass. Rome never was able to subjugate parts of Europe. Under Trajan there a brief possession of Assyria, but it never formed an integral part of Roman territory. Babylon was always beyond or at the very bounds of the empire. It never was its capital.
As much of the confusion among students of prophecy arises from the injection of Rome into the prophetic outlook, we feel it our duty to graciously urge them to reconsider their position. The deductions they themselves make should show the fallacy of this teaching. For years many have been looking for a revival of the Roman empire, for it is clear that the iron kingdom and the wild beast are present at the end time. But such a restoration would be far from sufficient. Rome's territory was but a small fraction of the earth's surface. The kingdom of the wild beast will include all the earth. Rome, pagan or papal, has little place in prophecy.
If we must reason, let us deduce our conclusions from acknowledged facts. We know that the iron kingdom appears at the close of the eras of the nations and that it includes all peoples on the face of the earth. Reviewing universal history, we will find many great empires, some of which attempted to establish a worldwide rule. Napoleon conquered territory which Rome could not subjugate. The British Empire comprised far more territory than Rome could ever claim. The former Soviet Union covered a vastly greater area. The difficulty with all of these is that they are not universal, hence are not the subjects of Daniel's prophecy. Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece were invincible. Their boundaries were never defined. Their authority was undisputed. Rome was surrounded by enemies that defied them. They built a wall across England to keep out the northern invaders.
The imperial Roman edict which ordered the entire inhabited earth to be registered (Luke 2:1) was one of those grandiloquent gestures which characterizes the arrogance of Rome. Caesar Augustus could easily vanquish the world on paper, but his legions could not conquer Ireland or Scotland or Germany or Syria or the Scandinavian or Russian territories. We may be assured that no one in these regions was enrolled. Contrary to this, we are certain that the iron kingdom of the end time includes all nations, all peoples. It is especially notable that the kings of the east will bring their armies to Armageddon, wherein Rome had practically no control in the east. The greater part of the army of the wild beast comes from territory outside of Rome's jurisdiction.
The study of prophecy is continually discredited by those who follow false beacons. The prophetic waste basket is overflowing with discarded dates, and its calendar is full of days that will be thrown away. The revival of the Roman empire is another of these distracting diversions. It not only confuses, but makes it impossible to get a clear view of the prophetic outlook. Suppose the Roman empire were restored. Imagine England, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Palestine, Egypt, and Morocco under the dictatorship of the Antichrist. What about the rest of the world? Will the Antichrist rule over such a small section of the earth's surface? Where do the British dependencies come in? Has Germany and Russia no part with him? Are the Americas left out of his dominions?
Were it true, the Roman restoration would put us into accord with the prophecies of the end time. It produces the opposite effect. It creates more questions than it answers. Instead of reasoning that the kingdom of the future will be limited to the territory of the past, we should accept the divine declaration of its worldwide extent, and deduce from this that Rome was not the world empire foretold by Daniel. Then we are free to examine the prophecies afresh, with the result that they unroll before us with a seven-fold scope and magnificence. It is not a local Mediterranean conflict they present, but a tragedy embracing the east and the west, the Orient as well as the Occident, the heathen countries as well as Christendom.
Another disturbing fallacy is the assumption that the wild beasts of Daniel seven are the divine counterparts of the various divisions of the great image. The parts of the image are successive. They follow one another on the stage of history. The wild beasts are contemporaneous. They are all present at the end time. It is true that in Daniel, as in the Unveiling, the beasts give us the religious aspect, while the image emphasizes the political history of the gentile supremacy. But it does not follow that they deal with the same empires or the same time. Indeed, at the time Daniel received the vision of the wild beasts, Nebuchadnezzar, the head of gold, had passed into history.
All of these considerations are important, if we wish to understand the secret of Babylon and of the wild beast which is supporting her. This wild beast is undoubtedly the same one which came before us in the previous section, for it also has seven heads and ten horns. This wild beast must be a composite of those which Daniel saw, for this one has all the features of the four combined into one. If Daniel's beasts, corresponding to the image, were the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and another world empire, then the woman must be considered as being supported by these. If the woman is Rome, in any sense, then Rome was supported by Babylon!
There is something very remarkable and astounding in the secret of great Babylon and the wild beast. John certainly did not "admire" it. He marveled at it. It seemed unbelievable. This, we submit, is the touchstone which will test our understanding of this secret. Do we also feel dazed at it? Can we join with John in wide eyed wonder at the possibility of such a thing? If we find ourselves in sympathy with his mood we are probably in possession of the truth.
In the previous section we have the same characters, a wild beast and a woman. Throughout, however, there is the utmost enmity between the two. The woman is Israel, the faithful remnant. She is the victim of the world's religious powers, combined under the figure of the wild beast. The federated faiths of the world, Christian, Buddhist, Brahman, and Mohammedan, merged in one Godless, Christless, lifeless cult, to worship the human head of the world empire, try to exterminate the handful of Jews who remain faithful to the God of their fathers. John does not marvel at this. In a less degree he had experienced the hatred of the world himself.
But what is this? Here is a woman and the wild beast again. But there is no enmity. They are on the best of terms. In fact, the wild beast supports, instead of persecutes her! Can it be that Israel - even apostate Israel - will be in league with the enemies of Yahweh? Will she be the recipients of their favors? And, while thus allied with the powers of evil, she is not smitten by the wrath of God, but actually seems to enjoy the very favors which she should forfeit. Instead of losing the right to rule the nations, she seems to have put them into subjection and under tribute without the help of Yahweh!
This is what astonished John. This is the secret of Babylon and the wild beast. It lies in the relation of the apostate people to the godless religion of the end time. Instead of suffering like the saints, these supreme sinners seem to receive every token of divine approval. Without waiting for the return of Messiah, they rule a rebellious earth. The treasures of the nations are theirs without the intervention of Yahweh. They have taken their own destiny in hand, and have succeeded in gaining supreme control of the earth. They have established a super-government which dictates the policies of all cabinets and demands tribute from all treasuries.
The very name given to this woman should be sufficient to identify her. Only those in covenant relationship with God can be guilty of a breach such as is charged to her. No one who enters into relationship with God in this day of grace can possibly come under this condemnation. We are not under a covenant. Apostate Christendom is already accounted for. It is a part of the wild beast. God entered into covenant with Israel in the flesh, but with no other people. We have just seen how He remembers His covenant. Now we are to see how He deals with the covenant breakers, who are presented to us under the figure of a woman who is not true to her marriage vows. Babylon must have been married to Yahweh, otherwise she could not be judged for faithlessness.
The evidences of her perfidy abound, and may best be appreciated by contrast with the faithful woman of the preceding section, who is presented in the midst of pain and persecution, depending upon divine intervention for succor and sustenance, hated and hounded by the dragon, the wild beasts and the nations. The purple woman is the antithesis of all this. She is riding the wild beast. She has every appearance of worldly wealth and regal opulence. Purple and scarlet, gold and gems and pearls are the sure signs of her royal magnificence. She consorts with kings. What higher place could be given to her on earth? Her picture could be painted in no brighter colors.
The full significance of the purple robe upon the scarlet beast may not dawn on us until we read that she has a kingdom over the kings of the earth (17:18). As these kings are incorporated in the scarlet wild beast, her sway is suggested by the fact she is sitting on it. It not only is her support, but is under her control. She is a suzerain. This is the place which Israel will possess during the thousand years. Hence she is enjoying a false and premature millennium. It is a satanic travesty of Yahweh's kingdom, when His people will reign over the nations under the leadership of Messiah.
This woman is in process of formation at the present time. All that will blossom in Babylon is already in bud. All that we see here in the prophetic word is already taking form in the world about us. We can see the purple and the scarlet, the gold and gems and pearls. The people are already drinking out of the golden cup, and the woman is drinking the blood of the saints. This conviction has been greatly strengthened during the past few years by evidence gathered from many sources. Without interfering with the present administration, Israel is preparing to play her part in the impending era of God's indignation.
With this in view, let us see if we cannot discover, in the still shadowy outlines of present Jewish life, some of the purple which clothes, and some of the jewels which adorn this false courtesan. But first we will consider the golden cup with which she holds in her hand, and with which she intoxicates the peoples of the earth.