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Mystery, Babylon the Great

The various prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and the Apocalypse concerning Babylon are all in full accord, and refer to the same great city. And since these prophecies had but a very limited fulfilment upon the ancient, literal city, and those of the Apocalypse were written centuries after the literal Babylon was laid in ruins, it is clear that the special reference of all the prophets is to something of which the ancient literal Babylon was an illustration. It is clear also that, in so far as the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah concerning its downfall were accomplished upon the literal city, it became in its downfall, as well as in its character, an illustration of the great city to which the Revelator points in the symbolic language of the Apocalypse (Chapters 17 and 18), and to which chiefly the other prophets refer.

The Revelator intimated that it would not be difficult to discover this great mystical city, because her name is in her forehead; that is, she is prominently marked, so that we cannot fail to see her unless we shut our eyes and refuse to look--"And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and abominations of the earth." (`Rev. 17:5`) But before looking for this Mystical Babylon, let us first observe the typical Babylon, and then, with its prominent features in mind, look for the antitype.

The name Babylon was applied, not only to the capital city of the Babylonian empire, but also to the empire itself. Babylon, the capital, was the most magnificent, and probably the largest, city of the ancient world. It was built in the form of a square on both sides of the Euphrates river; and, for protection against invaders, it was surrounded by a deep moat filled with water and inclosed within a vast system of double walls, from thirty-two to eighty-five feet thick, and from seventy-five to three hundred feet high. On the summit were low towers, said to have been two hundred and fifty in number, placed along the outer and inner edges of the wall, tower facing tower; and in these walls were a hundred brazen gates, twenty-five on each side, corresponding to the number of streets which intersected each other at right angles. The city was adorned with splendid palaces and temples and the spoils of conquest.

Nebuchadnezzar was the great monarch of the Babylonian empire, whose long reign covered nearly half the period of its existence, and to him its grandeur and military glory were chiefly due. The city was noted for its wealth and magnificence, which brought a corresponding moral degradation, the sure precursor of its decline and fall. It was wholly given to idolatry, and was full of iniquity. The people were worshipers of Baal, to whom they offered human sacrifices. The deep degradation of their idolatry may be understood from God's reproof of the Israelites when they became corrupted by contact with them. See `Jer. 7:9; 19:5`.

The name originated with the frustrating of the plan for the great tower, called Babel (confusion), because there God confounded human speech; but the native etymology made the name Babil, which, instead of being reproachful, and a reminder of the Lord's displeasure, signified to them--"the gate of God."

The city of Babylon attained a position of prominence and affluence as a capital of the great Babylonian empire, and was called "the golden city," "the glory of kingdoms, and the beauty of Chaldees' excellency." `Isa. 13:19; 14:4`

Nebuchadnezzar was succeeded in the dominion by his grandson Belshazzar, under whose reign came the collapse which pride, fullness of bread and abundance of idleness always insure and hasten. While the people, all unconscious of impending danger, following the example of their king, were abandoning themselves to demoralizing excesses, the Persian army, under Cyrus, stealthily crept in through the channel of the Euphrates (from which they had turned aside the water), massacred the revelers, and captured the city. Thus was fulfilled the prophecy of that strange handwriting on the wall--"Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin"--which Daniel had interpreted only a few hours before to mean-- "God hath numbered thy kingdom and finished it. Thou art weighed in the balance and art found wanting. Thy kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians." And so complete was the destruction of that great city that even its site was forgotten and was for a long time uncertain.

Such was the typical city; and, like a great millstone cast into the sea, it was sunken centuries ago, never again to rise; even the memory of it has become a reproach and a byword. Now let us look for its antitype, first observing that the Scriptures clearly point it out, and then noting the aptness of the symbolism.

In symbolic prophecy a "city" signifies a religious government backed by power and influence. Thus, for instance, the "holy city, the new Jerusalem," is the symbol used to represent the established Kingdom of God, the overcomers of the Gospel Church exalted and reigning in glory. The Church is also, and in the same connection, represented as a woman, "the bride, the Lamb's wife," in power and glory, and backed by the power and authority of Christ, her husband. "And there came unto me one of the seven angels... saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he...showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem." `Rev. 21:9,10`

This same method of interpretation applies to mystical Babylon, the great ecclesiastical kingdom, "that great city" (`Rev. 17:1-6`), which is described as a harlot, a fallen woman (an apostate church--for the true Church is a virgin), exalted to power and dominion, and backed, to a considerable degree, by the kings of the earth, the civil powers, which are all more or less intoxicated with her spirit and doctrine. The apostate church lost her virgin purity. Instead of waiting, as an espoused and chaste virgin, for exaltation with the heavenly Bridegroom, she associated herself with the kings of the earth and prostituted her virgin purity --both of doctrine and character--to suit the world's ideas; and in return she received, and now to some extent exercises, a present dominion, in large measure by their support, direct and indirect. This unfaithfulness to the Lord, whose name she claims, and to her high privilege to be the "chaste virgin" espoused to Christ, is the occasion of the symbolic appellation, "harlot," while her influence as a sacerdotal empire, full of inconsistency and confusion, is symbolically represented under the name Babylon, which, in its widest sense, as symbolized by the Babylonian empire, we promptly recognize to be Christendom; while in its more restricted sense, as symbolized by the ancient city Babylon, we recognize to be the nominal Christian Church.

The fact that Christendom does not accept the Bible term "Babylon," and its significance, confusion, as applicable to her, is no proof that it is not so. Neither did ancient Babylon claim the Bible significance--confusion. Ancient Babylon presumed to be the very "gate of God"; but God labeled it Confusion (`Gen. 11:9`); and so it is with her antitype today. She calls herself Christendom, the gateway to God and everlasting life, while God calls her Babylon-- confusion.