Tradition teaches that the Great City, the Whore of Babylon / Harlot in Revelation 17 & 18 is either Rome or the Roman Catholic church. Other more recent theories, popularised by futurists say that she is going to be a rebuilt Babylon in Iraq or the headquarters of the United Nations in New York.
It never ceases to amaze me how people come up with these crazy ideas. But I do know why. They ignore the historical context of the Bible, along with its 1st-century audience. As a result, they write themselves into the bible and make it all about themselves.
- What on earth has the United Nations got to do with the 1st-century audience John was writing to?
The answer is a resounding NOTHING.
The Church is in a mess because of its crazy eschatological paradigms!
- Did citizens from Rome or New York ever kill the Old Covenant prophets?
No, neither of those cities killed or persecuted the Old Testament prophets. However, scripture says that Israel killed them and the city of Babylon symbolizes the unfaithful community of people in the Old Covenant world of Judaism.
- Armageddon is not far from Jerusalem. If Babylon is Rome or New York why would the armies be gathering near Jerusalem before they destroy ‘the great city’?
Babylon represented all Jews from the apostle’s generation who rejected Jesus, not just the city of Jerusalem.
For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.’ ~ Luke 11:49-51
You can read my separate post explaining Jesus’ statement from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah here.
You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; ~ Acts 7:51-52
Where and who was the Great City of Babylon?
- John tells us that it was the same place where Jesus was crucified – Jerusalem.
- Therefore Babylon symbolized the unfaithful old covenant community – The Woman/ The Harlot that was centred in Jerusalem (in the Temple) who rejected Jesus – Judaism.
The Great City
Babylon is called the great city in Revelation and we are given many clues of who she is, as the bible is its own best interpreter. The first mention of the great city is in Revelation 11.
And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. ~ Rev 11:8
Jesus was not put to death in the streets of Rome, Jesus died where all the prophets before Him died …in Jerusalem as seen in Luke 13:33, as it was only fitting that a prophet should be killed there.
The Merchandise of the Great City
The great city is also mentioned in Rev 18:16-21 and the merchandise listed was used to build the temple and used in the running of the temple, which made many tradesmen very rich. King Herod’s temple was a masterpiece of engineering and architecture. It was made of marble and was covered on the outside with gold and some even referred to it as being the eighth wonder of the world as it was such a glorious building.
‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls; for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’ And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’ And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’ Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer. ~ Rev 18:16-21
James also warned of its destruction:
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! 4 Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. 5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. ~ James 5: 1-5
John was alluding to Jeremiah 7 when he wrote Rev 18:22-23:
And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer; and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer ~ Rev 18:22-23
Then I will make to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land will become a ruin. ~ Jeremiah 7:34
The seven heads are seven hills, on which the woman sits.
In Revelation 17:9, we are told that the great city sits on seven mountains or hills.
Traditionally Rome has been incorrectly identified as the great city because Rome also sits on seven hills. But few people realize that Jerusalem is also a city that sits on seven hills.
1. The Mount of Olives
2. Mount Scopus
3. Mount of Corruption
4. Original Mount Zion/called Temple Mount
5. The New Mount Zion/called Western Hill
6. Mount Ophel
7. Antonia Fortress Hill
Priestly Jerusalem is also portrayed as an adulterous woman – a harlot.
The Whore of Babylon
Yahweh calls Judah a whore or a harlot in the Old Testament. She did not repent so she was sent into Babylonian exile. Seventy years later the people came out of Babylon but Babylon did not come out of the people. The people came out as Babylon and during the intertestamental period, Judah became totally corrupted.
And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel (~> Northern Kingdom), I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees. Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart, but rather in deception,” declares the Lord. ~ Jeremiah 3: 8-10
The Harlot city is dressed in the clothes that the High Priest would wear!
When John writes about the clothing of the harlot, his original first-century audience would have known immediately that he was referring to the Temple and priesthood centered in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a priestly city.
“They shall take the gold and the blue and the purple and the scarlet material and the fine linen. ~ Exodus 28:5 “And thou shalt make a plate of pure gold, and grave upon it, like the engravings of a signet, HOLINESS TO THE LORD. And thou shalt put it on a blue lace, that it may be upon the mitre; upon the forefront of the mitre it shall be. And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted before the LORD.” ~ Exodus 28:36-38
In the Book of Revelation, the colours match the clothing of the Priesthood and John describes the High Priest crown which the High priest wore across his forehead in the temple. He also alludes to the High Priest breastplate that was decorated with different coloured jewels. John uses this symbolism to show how corrupt the old covenant temple system and its priesthood had become.
And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness; and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” 6 And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.~ Rev 17:1-6
John also would have been reminded of the Veil of the temple and its colours as described by Josephus:
But then this house, as it was divided into two parts, the inner part was lower than the appearance of the outer, and had golden doors of fifty-five cubits altitude, and sixteen in breadth; but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful.
And the punishment for becoming a prostitute, when of priestly descent was by fire as listed in Leviticus.
Also the daughter of any priest, if she profanes herself by harlotry, she profanes her father; she shall be burned with fire. ~ Leviticus 29:9
As you can see Rome does not fit the criteria at all!
In my next post, we will look at how Israel is not only the harlot but is also the mother of harlots and we’ll discover who her daughters are.
This is part of a subset of articles from The 2nd Exodus series on the blog.