1523 woodcut by Hans Burgkmair, for Martin Luther’s translation of the New Testament.

Lurker’s Guide to Babylon the Great, Part 2

Was Jerusalem the Harlot of John’s Apocalypse?

by COLIN MACINTYRE

We have already looked at four good reasons to believe that the woman of Revelation 17, called BABYLON THE GREAT, was in fact the city of Jerusalem as it existed in the years after Christ’s death. Here are five further clues to help us unpack her identity.

5. BABYLON VS. A NEW JERUSALEM

There is an unmistakable contrast throughout Revelation between two great cities, each the antithesis of the other — Babylon the Great and New Jerusalem. It follows that a new Jerusalem coming down out of the clouds implies an old one on earth!

And indeed, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul puts this forward by recalling Abraham’s two sons by two couplings — one a fleshly impulse by a slave, the other the promised fruit of a free woman:

Tell me, you who want to be under the Torah, do you not listen to the Torah? For it has been written that Abraham had two sons… the one from the maidservant was born according to the flesh, and the one from the freewoman through the promise. These things are told allegorically, for these are two covenants — the one from Mount Sinai, giving birth for slavery, is Hagar. And this Hagar…Mount Sinai…corresponds to the present-day Jerusalem, for she slaves along with her children. But the Jerusalem above, our mother, is free…
But just as, back then, the one born according to flesh persecuted the one according to spirit, so it is now. But what does the scripture say? “Cast out the maidservant and her son, for by no means shall the maidservant’s son inherit along with the freewoman’s son.”

This ex-Jerusalem, with all her legalism and Sanhedrin-borne orders of persecution needed to be driven out in order for the new Jerusalem — the heaven-sent kingdom of Messiah — to truly be free and revealed for the glory that she is (Gal 4:30; 2Co 3:7–18).

6. THE HARLOT AND THE VIRGIN BRIDE

Another contrasting picture comes in the form of the harlot versus the virgin bride (Rev 17:2–5, 21:1). The words written on the harlot’s forehead, MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES, echoed many of the Old Testament prophets depictions of Jerusalem. Long before John’s vision, Isaiah had cried over apostate Judah and Jerusalem with the words, “how is the faithful city become a harlot!” (Isa 1:21) due to Israel playing the adulteress in her covenant marriage with God.* In fact, the first mention of Babylon in the book of Revelation comes in 14:8, where an angel declares:

Fallen, fallen, Babylon the Great who has given all the gentiles to drink from the wine of the fierceness of her whoring.

From Jesus’ perspective, even pagan Nineveh and the Queen of the South, would have risen up in judgment against the abomination of that generation (Mat 12:41–42). The more one studies this first century period, the more one comes to realize that it was like no other time in Israel’s 1500-year history of being joined to the Lord.

The second reference to BABYLON THE GREAT is found in the chapter previous to the introduction of the whore. There, the following dire passage (16:19).

And Babylon the Great was remembered before God — to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.

Of note are the three potent omens that surround it — Armageddon, a city split in three, and white hailstones descending from the sky.

7. ARMAGEDDON

In 16:14, John sees evil spirits causing kings to assemble in Armaged’don. This corresponds to the hills nearest the plain of Megiddo, which guarded the pass to Jerusalem, and which Roman legions would march through on their way to siege the city in AD 70 (see Luke 21:20).

Hundreds of years earlier, Josiah, one of Israel’s most beloved kings, had died on the plains of Megiddo at the hands of the Egyptian ruler Neco. Before his death, in a truly spectacular burst of zeal, Josiah had renewed the covenant with the Lord, celebrated a massive Passover for the first time since Joshua, appointed priests and Levites back to their duties, removed from the temple all Ba’al and Asherah paraphernalia, slaughtered the idolatrous priests, tore down the quarters of the male shrine prostitutes and female weavers, desecrated the high places (including those Solomon had built for the “vile” gods and goddesses of Sidon, Moab and Ammon), desecrated the valley shrine where children were sacrificed to Molek in flames, removed from the temple entrance the horses dedicated to the sun (and burned their chariots), pulled down the altars on the roof, and smashed to pieces those the previous king had built in the two temple courts, demolished the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles, ground them to powder, and covered the sites with human bones. Furthermore, after looking around, he saw tombs on the hillside, had the bones removed and burned on the altar to defile them, just as God’s prophet had spoken at a time when (apparently) no one was listening. Josiah rid the land of mediums and spiritists, the household gods, the idols and did everything he could possibly do to undo what previous evil kings had done. It was said of him,

Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did — with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.

Yet despite all of it, because of the depravity of his predecessor, God still would not be deterred from judgment.

I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, “My Name shall be there.”

Shortly afterward, on the plains of Megiddo, Josiah died in a hail of arrow-fire. The Egyptian ruler Neco, marching on to join his Assyrian ally at the river Euphrates, was defeated by the new king of the hill, Babylon. Retracing Neco’s path, the marauding Babylonians overthrew Jerusalem and took her inhabitants captive.

Clearly, the mention of this location by the Apostle John did not bode well for the Holy City.

8. A TERRIBLE TRI-CITIES

16:19 states:

And the great city came to be broken into three parts.

Josephus, an eyewitness to events leading to Jerusalem’s destruction, records the splintering of the revolutionary factions which had taken over the city. The metropolis, swollen with desperate refugees from Galilee and Idumea, was eventually divided among three faction leaders in AD 69. Eleazar, head of part of the Zealot forces. John of Gischala, over the Galileans and remaining Zealots. And Simon bar Giora, chief of the Idumeans and surviving Moderates. These three would vie bitterly for control through cruel ambushes, massacres and forced starvation, only to unite when the Romans realized there would be no surrender and pressed the attack. Jerusalem had plenty of chances to survive, but, overrun by revolutionaries and madmen, the once magnificent city perished in a maelstrom of fire and blood that would go down as one of the most horrific siege battles of the ancient world.

Eleazar splits from John and takes the inner Temple, instigating a three-way battle among the factions.

9. THE SKY IS FALLING

16:21 describes:

And a great storm of hailstones, the weight of talents fell from the sky upon mankind and mankind blasphemed God from the pounding...

Historical records show that Rome’s legions featured the most advanced tactics and firepower of any military force at the time. But Josephus’ eyewitness account relates the exact nature of the terrible weapons used in the siege on Jerusalem in May, AD 70:

The engines that all the legions had ready prepared for them were admirably contrived; but still more extraordinary ones belonged to the tenth legion… Now the stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs and further. The blow they gave was no way to be sustained, not only by those that stood first in the way, but by those that were beyond them for a great space. As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white color, and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but could be seen also before it came by its brightness; accordingly the watchmen that sat upon the towers gave them notice when the engine was let go, and the stone came from it, and cried out aloud, in their own country language, “THE SON COMETH,” so those that were in its way stood off, and threw themselves down upon the ground. (Wars 5.6.3)

This strange cry, undoubtedly Aramaic, is theorized about by James Stuart Russell in his landmark work The Parousia. He writes:

It could not but be well known to the Jews that the great hope and faith of the Christians was the speedy coming of the Son. It was about this very time, according to Hegesippus, that St. James, the brother of our Lord, publicly testified in the temple that the Son of man was about to come in the clouds of heaven, and then sealed his testimony with his blood…
It seems highly probable that the Jewish rebels, when they saw the white mass hurtling through the air, raised the ribald cry, “The Son is coming,” in mockery of the Christian hope of the Parousia [Christ’s coming], to which they might trace a ludicrous resemblance in the strange appearance of the missile.

Of course, an alternative explanation is that, by this point, the Roman commander Vespasian had left for Italy, leaving his son Titus to finish putting down the Jewish revolt.


* Especially compelling is the related theory that the apocalyptic opening of the seven seals was a depiction of ceremonial divorce. Not a divorce from people, as that would seem to go against God’s nature, but from the apostate elements (Gr. stoicheia) that veiled the bride of Christ, the true Israel, from her true Husband.

Thanks for reading!

Lurker’s Guide to Babylon the Great, Part 1 ← P R E V I O U S

N E X T → Lurkers Guide to Babylon the Great, Part 3