PMT 2014-013 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In Revelation John uses Babylon as a metaphor of Jerusalem. Before I can demonstrate this, I must rehearse two important interpretive keys to the Book of Revelation:
(1) Revelation is dealing with events “which must soon take place” (Rev 1:1; cp. 1:3; 22:6, 10). It is not prophesying events thousands of years distant from John’s original audience.
(2) John is reflecting on Jesus’ Olivet Discourse and has his stated theme the judgment of Israel in AD 70. Note that the only two verses in the Bible that merge Dan 7:13 and Zech 12:10 are Matt 24:30 and Rev 1:7. In Matt 24:30 Jesus is clearly dealing with the destruction of the temple (Matt 24:2, 16) in the first century (Matt 24:34). John’s theme in Rev 1:7 states that Jesus is coming in a cloud-judgment against those who crucified him (in the NT the Jews are blamed for Christ’s crucifixion (Matt 26:59, 66; 27:1; Mark 14:64; Luke 23:22–23; 24:20; Acts 2:22–23, 36; 3:13–15a; 4:10; 5:28, 30; 7:52; 10:39; 13:27–29; 1 Thess 2:14–15). As a consequence, all the tribes of “the Land” (the Greek ge is usually translated “earth,” but can and should be translated “Land,” i.e., the Promised Land).
In Revelation 17:3–6 John views a horrifying sight. Seated upon the dreadful beast is the sinful Harlot:
“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.” And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus. When I saw her, I wondered greatly.”
Since she sits on the seven-headed beast, some believe she represents the city of Rome.
This is because she is resting on Rome’s seven hills and is called “Babylon,” which often applies to Rome in antiquity. But since the beast itself represents Rome, it seems redundant to have the woman representing the same. Also, the name “Babylon” does not historically belong either to Rome or Jerusalem, and thus cannot prove that the city is Rome. I am convinced beyond any doubt that this harlot is first-century Jerusalem. The evidence for so identifying Jerusalem is based on the following considerations.
First, Revelation 14:8 calls Babylon “the great city.” But in the first mention of “the great city” in Revelation 11:8, this indisputably refers to Jerusalem, “where also our Lord was crucified” (cf. Lk 9:31; 13:33–34; 18:31; 24:18–20). Her greatness especially highlights her covenantal status in the Old Testament (Jer 22:8; Lam 1:1).
But even pagan writers speak highly of Jerusalem as a significant contemporary city. Tacitus calls it “a famous city.” Pliny the Elder comments that it is “by far the most famous city of the ancient Orient.” Appian, a Roman lawyer and writer (ca. AD 160) called it “the great city Jerusalem” (Tacitus, Histories 5:2; Fragments of the Histories 1; Pliny, Natural History 5:14:70; Appian, The Syrian Wars 50). The Sibylline Oracles, Josephus, and the Talmud concur in calling Jerusalem “a great city” (Sibylline Oracles 5:150–154, 408–413; Josephus, J.W. 7:1:1; 7:8:7. For Talmudic references, see: Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, 82). Thus, the first interpretive clue to Babylon’s identity points to Jerusalem.
Second, the harlot is filled with the blood of the saints (Rev 16:6; 17:6; 18:21, 24). Of course, with the outbreak of Nero’s persecution, which commences just prior to John’s writing Revelation, Rome is stained with the saints’ blood. But Rome has only recently entered the persecuting ranks of God’s enemies.
Throughout Acts Jerusalem is appears as the persecutor and Rome as the protector of Christianity (Acts 4:3; 5:18–33; 6:12; 7:54–60; 8:1ff; 9:1–4, 13, 23; 11:19; 12:1–3; 13:45–50; 14:2–5, 19; 16:23; 17:5–13; 18:12; 20:3, 19; 21:11, 27; 22:30; 23:12, 20, 27, 30; 24:5–9; 25:2–15; 25:24; 26:21. See also: 2 Co 11:24; 2Th 2:14–15; Heb 10:32–34).
Interestingly, in the Olivet Discourse context Jesus reproaches Jerusalem: “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. . . . Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Mt 23:34–35, 37).
efore his stoning Stephen rebukes Jerusalem: “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who showed before of the coming of the Just One, of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers” (Ac 7:51–52).
Paul warns of Jewish persecution: “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost” (1Th 2:14–16).
Third, the harlot’s dress reflects the Jewish priestly colors of scarlet, purple, and gold (cp. Rev 17:4–5 with Ex 25:2, 4; 26:1, 31, 36; 27:16; 28:1–2, 5–12, 15, 17–23, 33). In fact, she even has a blasphemous tiara on her forehead, which reads: “Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth” (Rev 17:5). This negatively portrays the holy tiara that the Jewish high priest wore, which declares “Holy to the Lord” (Ex 28:36–38). Still further, the harlot has a gold cup in her hand, reflecting the high priest on the Day of Atonement, according to the Jewish Talmud.
Fourth, Rome cannot commit adultery against God, for she had never been God’s wife. But Jerusalem was God’s wife (Isa 1:21; 57:8; Jer 2:2, 20; 3:1–20; 4:30; 11:15; 13:27; Eze 16; Hos 2:5; 3:3; 4:15), and Scripture often charges her with committing adultery against him (Isa 1:21; 57:8; Jer 2:2, 20; 3:1–20; 4:30; 11:15; 13:27; Eze 16; Hos 2:5; 3:3; 4:15). The harlot imagery better suits an adulterous wife, such as Jerusalem.
I will conclude this study in my next blog article.
1. Golden vessels are common on the Day of Atonement. The fire-pan for scooping cinders was gold (Yoma 4:4). “The High Priest always sanctified his hands and his feet from a golden jug” (Yoma 4:5).