Who Is The Whore Of Babylon? (And Why Does It Matter?)

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The Book of Revelation is like an art gallery filled with pictures painted in colours borrowed from Old Testament canvases. If you want to understand “the Whore Of Babylon” you have to go way back in the biblical story.

In the Old Testament, the city of Babylon gave birth to an empire that ruled the known world and imposed a worldview upon all of the peoples that she conquered. Those she did not destroy, she subverted. She could be brutal; callous and proud and she believed that she would reign over the earth forever. She said in her heart: “I am, and there is no one besides me; I shall not sit as a widow or know the loss of children” (Isaiah 47:8 ESV).

She spoke as a god and she thought herself secure.

Her destruction is announced in Isaiah 47. In response to her wickedness, arrogance, self-indulgence, and brutality towards the people of God the Lord announces sudden doom:

But evil shall come upon you, which you will not know how to charm away; disaster shall fall upon you, for which you will not be able to atone; and ruin shall come upon you suddenly, of which you know nothing. (Isaiah 47:11 ESV)

And so it was.

History tells us that the Babylonian Empire fell very suddenly and very unpleasantly to the Persians under Cyrus The Great in 539 BC. Later when Darius was King the Babylonians revolted unsuccessfully and as a consequence, they experienced many of the same brutalities they had previously inflicted upon the Jews. The Babylonians themselves strangled many of their wives and children to keep them from starving to death during the brutal siege of their capital city. When the city fell Herodotus says that the gates were pulled down and 3000 of the leading citizens were impaled upon the walls. The once great city – the Queen of the world – was defeated, devastated and despoiled.

Just like God said.

Babylon next appears in the biblical narrative about 630 years later. The former seat of empire is now a village surrounded and nearly swallowed by a sea of sand. And yet her name begins to reappear in the New Testament canon as a symbol of the world at war with the people God. Peter uses it as a sort of code. He ends his epistle to the churches of Pontus and Bithynia by saying:

She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (1 Peter 5:13–14 ESV)

She who is at Babylon.

Peter was nowhere near Babylon when he wrote that letter; Peter was in Rome, but he uses the word “Babylon” as a symbolic way of referring to the new world culture at war with the covenant community. Peter is saying: Rome is the new Babylon. Rome is the new mistress who would seduce and subvert the people of God.

The city had become a spirit.

Her final appearance in the narrative comes in Revelation 17.

In The Book Of Revelation the reference to Babylon is obviously symbolic. John is carried away in the Spirit into the wilderness where he saw:

“a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.”  (Revelation 17:3–6 ESV)

The Whore of Babylon is the spirit of seductive culture, actively engaged in the deception and destruction of God’s people. That she rides upon “the beast” means she is propped up by the forces of anti-Christian government.

Just like the beast, who was, and is not and is about to rise, the “Whore” keeps on rising from the dead! A particular brand of her seductive charm may fall into the dust and be buried by the sands of time, but just you wait! Before you know it, she will rise again in another place, known by another name but waging the same destructive war against God’s covenant people.

As it was in the past, so shall it be in the future.

While scholars may debate some of the fine details of this particular vision, the main points of application seem abundantly clear:

1. Culture is not neutral.
2. The devil attacks God’s people via the front door through governmental persecution.
3. The devil attacks God’s people via the backdoor through seductive, idolatrous culture.
4. No enemy of God’s people will finally stand. The Lord has a day and that day is coming.

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Paul Carter

To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes.

An earlier version of this article can be found here.

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