Yesterday, I participated in a debate with Brian Godawa on Parker J. Cole’s program, “Parker’s Comparables.” The show’s theme was to address the Harlot of Babylon, Revelation 17. But we spent a good deal of time on the matter of the audience of the book. Was it targeted just to those living in the first century? Or was it prophetically addressed to those at the end of the age? You might not be familiar with the Preterist viewpoint that sees all of John’s Apocalypse focused on the first century only. The debate spans about 100 minutes.
Brian takes the position that Revelation was written around circa 60-62 A.D. and addresses the persecution by Nero of Christians in the few years thereafter. I take the position that the book was written 30 years later, circa 92-95 A.D. during the time of Domitian’s persecution of Christians, but is addressing the persecution that would ensure for the next 200 years and focuses most of its text on events that come to pass at the “end of days.”
Regarding the “woman” of Revelation 17, Brian takes the view that it identifies Jerusalem as the “harlot” while I take the view that the woman is not just one city but symbolizes many cities through the past 2,000 years that stand in opposition to the Kingdom of God. Ostensibly, it is Babylon. But when John expresses the words of the many angels, “Babylon is FAllen, is Fallen!” was he talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Rome in the 21st Century, a rebuilt Babylon on the Euphrates, Mecca, or New York? Revelation 16:9 asserts that it is a city divided into three parts: religious, political/military, and financial. Furthermore, when John speaks of the city that sits on seven mountains, is he speaking of Rome? Or Moscow? Or Washington? Or Mecca? Is he speaking of the seven heads as “kings” or “kingdoms?”
Here is a link to the debate:
Included here also is a brief paper I’ve put together that speaks to some of the more salient issues on symbols of Revelation 17. Also, I’m referencing a paper written by Dr. Michael Heiser, readable for the layperson while academic in orientation, which provides a technical argument considering both possibilities but favoring the later date.
Here is a link to Dr. Heiser’s paper:
Click here: THE DATE OF THE APOCALYPSE
by Dr. Michael Heiser
Here is my paper, updated from an earlier posting, but quite relevant to the discussion we had yesterday.
Is Babylon One City or Many?
And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication. (Revelation 17:1,2)
The greatest mystery of all biblical mysteries in the Bible is known as “Mystery Babylon.” Surrounding it are many other mysteries, foremost of which are the identities of the two beasts that are introduced in Revelation 12.
- The first is a beast that comes from the seas, generally a symbol in the Bible for gentile nations. He is most often called The Antichrist although he is known by over 20 names in the Bible. But he is especially well-known for his blasphemy. “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy…And there was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies”(Revelation 13:1,5) He is like the “little horn” of Daniel, “I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things.”(Daniel 7:8)
- The second is a beast from the land. He is usually identified as The False Prophet. “And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon.”(Revelation 13:11) The reference to the lamb, suggests a connection to the lamb of God, a term that is used in the Book of Revelation referencing Jesus Christ. This is one reason that many see The False Prophet as a religious leader. There are strong arguments that the Pope (either today’s Pope or a future Petrus Romanus) will become The False Prophet.Could “the land” reference Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel? Might this suggest The False Prophet is Jewish? It stands in contrast to the sea, which as I indicated, scholars often regard as the chaos of the gentile nations.
- The third character supersedes these two, a woman, shrouded in deeper mystery. Her name is MysteryBabylon, aka The Whore or The Harlot. “I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters: With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”(Revelation 17:1,2) Revelation 14:8 introduces this woman, “And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”The woman is not a whore from Babylon. She is Babylon. We will focus on this woman and lay the groundwork her for her identification, which is as we will see, mysterious since she will be called, Mystery – Babylon. She is not easily identified and will cause John to marvel (wonder) after her (Rev. 17:6,7).
Each of these three evil entities as presented in the Bible constitutes a symbol, and yet we commonly believe all three are personified in some way. While the two beasts are quickly identified by Bible scholars as future human beings comprising flesh and blood persons, the third – the Whore Babylon– is not identified as a human being, but an image of a woman. This must be recognized plainly lest we falsely identify Babylon solely as a single city, a specific nation, or a particular religion. The woman is an all-encompassing symbol of idolatry and for the worship of earthly things which is idolatry. This does not mean that the woman can never be identified or incarnated as a single city, land, or religion. It can be all three. But we must first recognize that Babylon is a symbol for that which stands opposed to Yahweh and His Son, Jesus Christ.
This woman rides the first beast. That is to say, the woman drives the Beast – controlling the Beast’s actions. What the woman wants and where she wishes to go leads the Beast. The motivation that the woman infuses into those who worship her is materialism or perhaps more precisely, mercantilism – the “belief in the benefits of profitable trading, aka commercialism” (Oxford). The woman has a close association with merchants which we will see in Revelation 18. We will also tie this to the presentation to the prince and king of Tyre in Ezekiel 26-28. But in Revelation 17, the woman appears to represent false religion and a betrayal of the true religion the woman once had, which we call apostasy. Apostasy comes from the Greek, apostasia, which means “departure from or falling away.”
In short, the relationship between the Beasts and the Woman gets “complicated.” We must explore that symbiotic connection step-by-step.
Like a mother, the woman gives birth to the Beast. Like the mythical Semiramis who gives birth to a son
Tammuz (upon which the ancient cult of the mother and a son regarded as principal gods if not “saviors”), both are destined to be destroyers instead. Revelation calls the spirit from the bottomless pit, Apollyon in Revelation 9:11. John explains, “And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).”Apollyon and Abaddon are also connected to Apollo. Apollyon also being another form of Apollo. Abaddon is mentioned in the Old Testament as the personification of the abyss (See Prov. 15:11, 27:20, Job 26:6, 28:22, 31:12; and Ps. 88:11.) “Naked is Sheol before Him, And Abaddon has no covering,” Job 26:6, NASV) Even in the bottomless pit, whether we refer to it as Sheol or to its personified name, Abaddon, God is aware of what transpires there. Psalm 139:8 teaches us, “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell (Sheol), behold, thou art there.” There is no covering, no curtains, no hiding.“The Spirit of Abaddon is the spirit which indwells the Antichrist. This spirit shall make the Antichrist “the man of sin.” (2 Th 2:3) Only Judas and Antichrist are referred in the Bible as “the man of sin.”
The mystery of Mystery Babylon begins with this incongruity, the fact that the beasts will be incarnated as individuals while the woman will be manifested, not in flesh, but in a symbolic representation of that which opposes God. This motif, this theme, is so pronounced throughout the Bible that we could call the Bible itself, the “tale of two cities.”
Therefore, we follow the lead of most commentators and conclude that while the two beasts of Revelation 13 are humans, the woman is not. She remains first and foremost, a symbol – Her complexity will astound us, just as John marveled or was astonished by what he saw. The woman presents an unforgettable portrait of a monstrous prostitute.
Consequently, John equates the woman to Babylon. She is viewed as a great city that made all nations of the globe drunk with “the wine of her fornications.” Babylon is understood as much more than a single city. Babylon is the dwelling of every evil thing that humanity desires when it is apart from God. “And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.”(Rev. 18:2)
In Revelation 14, we learn that the woman makes the world drunk with her intoxicating wine of commercialism and a conjoined false religion. However, this analogy of wine is turned, curiously, into a symbol of the wrath of God to be poured out upon those who worship the beast and his image – those that receive the mark of the beast. “The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.”(Revelation 14:10) The wine of wrath is not “watered down.” It comes full strength. (Indeed, later we will see that it is “doubled.” (Rev. 18:6) This wine constitutes pure torment, fire and brimstone, a judgment witnessed by the Son of God (the Lamb) and His Holy Angels who have waited for thousands of years to see the vengeful wrath of God wreaking retribution on those that once crucified Christ and martyr his saints – in the past, the present, and the future.
But the woman plays the harlot. Instead of being true to the one for which she was betrothed, she fornicated with the enemy of her husband-to-be. She did not commit adultery for she was not yet married. Her sin was her failure to maintain her purity until she was wed. We can readily resolve that this woman, this apostate religion, was not the true religion of The Church of Jesus Christ, commonly referred to the bride of Christ.Nor is this unfaithful woman who equates to a city, the city which comprises the New Jerusalem. “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2) The woman of Revelation 17, most assuredly, was not that bride.
To follow the motif of two cities, the woman was not the better city which Abraham sought. She was the city from which Abraham had to depart, aka Ur in the Chaldees, later known as the land of the Chaldeans, the land in which Babylon was located. “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God… (for Abraham desired a better ‘city’) “that is, a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”(Hebrews 11:10,16b) The writer to the Book of Hebrews links this city to all those who demonstrate faith, who hope for “a better resurrection.” Hebrews 11:35 states that, “Women received their dead raised to life again: and others (who) were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection.”
These two cities comprise the greatest chasm of contrast. One is likened to Babylon, the whore, and harlot, while the other constitutes the New Jerusalem. Jesus promises those that overcometh, that are not caught up in the sins of Babylon (that “come out of her” as Abraham came out of the land of the Chaldees), that they would enjoy the wine that Jesus has not drunk since he left his earthly tent. Those who are faithful and look for a better city will not incur the wrath of wine that those who choose Babylon will swallow. “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”(Revelation 3:12)
Mystery Babylon is the “woman” – but neither a literal woman nor a literal city either. While Babylon was a physical city and empire that thrived for several hundred years on the Euphrates in what is today Iraq, Mystery Babylon is a mystery in part because it is neither a physical feminine human being nor is it a physical city with buildings and streets. It is much larger than a city or even a nation. It comprises a vast collage of horrifically powerful realities that collectively comprise a rebellion directed toward the God of Heaven. It is metaphorically speaking, a city in three parts: economic, political, and religious. For we read, “And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.”(Revelation 16:19)
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My late friend, Cris Putnam, once mentioned to me that if the Pope’s miter (his tall headdress) was looked at from the side, the observer would notice it resembles two horns.
“These mourning ceremonies were observed at the door of the Temple in Jerusalem in a vision the Israelite prophet Ezekiel wass given, which serves as a Biblical prophecy which expresses the Lord’s message at His people’s apostate worship of idols:
“Then he brought me to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was toward the north; and, behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then said he unto to me, ‘Hast thou seen this, O son of man? turn thee yet again, and thou shalt see greater abominations than these.” —Ezekiel 8:14-15
Tammuz idol worship was inconsistent with Yahwism.
Ezekiel’s testimony is the only direct mention of Tammuz in the Hebrew Bible, though echoes of Tammuz have been seen in the Book of Isaiah and the Book of Daniel.”
See Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tammuz_(mythology).
Some suggest that Tammuz is Nimrod, aka Nipr. The mother of Tammuz, Semiramis, was originally a goddess of the high regard in ancient Anatolia (today’s Turkey). She was adopted by Greece and later Rome. In Rome, she became known as the mother of all the gods. She was known as, “the accessible one.” Many Protestants argue that the adoration of Mary, the mother of God – Jesus, bespoke the connection to Cybele. The New World Encyclopedia notes, “The popularity of the Cybele cult in the city of Rome and throughout the empire is thought to have inspired the author of Book of Revelation to allude to her in his portrayal of the mother of harlots who rides the Beast.” See http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Cybele.
Technically speaking, the Bible never uses the phrase, “the Bride of Christ.” The scripture compares the Church to a bride, and the people of God (the believing Jews) as the bride of the Lamb. The New Jerusalem, the City of God, is specifically called the Bride of Christ which is an interesting study in its own right. I take this up with my co-author Gary Huffman in our book, The Revealing (Oklahoma City, Faith-Happens, 2017).
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