Jul 2, 2011

Is the USA the "Babylon" of Revelation?

Tony GarlandBy Dr. Tony Garland

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Q. I enjoyed your recent article on Babylon of Old. In it you list several verses from Revelation about Babylon (Rev 14:8; 18:10; 18:21). I have read those verses and wonder who in this world today fits the Babylon that made the nations drink of the wine of passion of her immorality? I know there is supposed to be a revived Roman empire and would expect that power to play that role. I see the European Union of today and expect them to be the 10 toes of Daniel because they never really give up their identity in that role. They do not achieve that kind of power. Today I have to wonder if the United States is the one that influences all the other world countries with the monies that we buy their favor and try to control with our giving to the point that we are a country on the brink of bankruptcy.

What other power in the world does this kind of influencing that the USA does? So I have to wonder if the USA might possibly be the Babylon spoken of. Also the Rev. 18:10,21 make it sound like the USA (if indeed we are that power of the end times) ceases to exist. That may by why the most powerful country in the world today is not mentioned in the Bible. I'm no doctor of any kind or even have any Bible study college to lean upon, only my love for the end-time prophesy events.

A. There are several reasons I would disagree with your suggestion that either the European Union or the USA are the Babylon mentioned in Revelation.

The European Union?

Concerning the view that Babylon is the European Union: even if the European Union was held to be the ten toes of the image in Nebuchadnezzar's dream (Daniel 2:41-42)—an identity which is conjectural—then it could not be Babylon (the “power to play that role”, as you put it) because the ten toes of Daniel correlate with the ten horns on the last head of the beast which are ten kings (Rev. 17:12). These ten horns “hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire” (Rev. 17:16). These ten kings burn her (the harlot, Babylon) with fire—therefore they cannot themselves be Babylon.

USA Babylon?

The USA?

Concerning the USA: Babylon cannot be the USA—or any other country for that matter—because the text tells us that Babylon is a city (Rev. 17:18; 18:10,16,18,19,21). If we are prepared to ignore the plain message of the text and entertain our own fancies as to the identity of Babylon then we will only get what we deserve: deception. It simply will not do to walk right past the main interpretive clues as to her identity and set up our own conjectured identity!

Another reason why the USA—or any other city in the world—cannot be Babylon is because God has given a geographically-specific curse concerning the destruction of Babylon which has never yet been fulfilled. It is this curse which is alluded to in Revelation 18 when the angel casts the millstone into the sea at Babylon's final destruction (Rev. 18:21):

Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, "Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore”

Here is the original curse anchored in its historical context (Jer. 51:59-64):

The word which Jeremiah the prophet commanded Seraiah the son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, when he went with Zedekiah the king of Judah to Babylon in the fourth year of his reign. And Seraiah was the quartermaster. So Jeremiah wrote in a book all the evil that would come upon Babylon, all these words that are written against Babylon. And Jeremiah said to Seraiah, "When you arrive in Babylon and see it, and read all these words, "then you shall say, 'O LORD, You have spoken against this place to cut it off, so that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but it shall be desolate forever.' "Now it shall be, when you have finished reading this book, that you shall tie a stone to it and throw it out into the Euphrates. "Then you shall say, 'Thus Babylon shall sink and not rise from the catastrophe that I will bring upon her. And they shall be weary.'" Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.

We need to pay attention to the original curse in its historical context. Jeremiah sent Seraiah to a specific geographic location to pronounce God’s curse. We know that, like prayer, a curse of God can operate from a distance. There is no intrinsic requirement that God needed to deliver this curse concerning the destruction of Babylon from a specific place, yet he did!. I’m convinced that one reason He did so was to help us avoid reinterpreting Babylon in Revelation at the time of the end to be: [insert your least favorite Godless city or country here]. Jeremiah sent Seraiah to the banks of the Euphrates at Babylon to pronounce a curse against the city and to throw it, in written form, into the Euphrates. Notice that the curse entails cutting off the city such that none shall remain in it, neither man nor beast, but it shall be desolate forever. This curse given from Jeremiah through Seraiah has never been fulfilled: the history of occupation at the geographic site of Babylon testifies to this fact.

Prophetic Parochialism

You asked, “who in this world today fits the Babylon that made the nations drink of the wine of passion of her immorality?” The revelation given to John concerning Babylon and the dragon-empowered beast having seven heads which the harlot rides takes in a large historical span (e.g., Rev. 12:3; 17:3; cf. Luke 4:5). This is what ties the Babylon of old (Babel) to the Babylon to come at the time of the end. It is a city at the time of the end which is destroyed, but the harlot is manifest through most of history, and in our day, by her influence over peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues. This came about by the dispersal of mankind at Babel such that the harlot’s influence is presently operating globally. When we assume to establish her identity right now as some major influential city (which the historic site of Babylon clearly is not at present) we are essentially saying that we know the timing of when these things will be, but we don’t! So when we look to Rome, London, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, or what-have-you for our “Babylon of the hour,” we are exhibiting what I would call “prophetic parochialism”. We are attempting to force-fit what God has revealed about the future into today when in fact the timing is premature (Hab. 2:3). Here, for example, we ignore that God has tied a prophesy concerning the destruction of Babylon to a specific geographic location, ignore that God has said repeatedly Babylon is a city (and not just any city, but one spanning all the way back to the beginning with historical span influencing all nations), and then assume fulfillment must be “within our historical context.”

Also, as regards an important role for the USA in end-time prophecy, here again we are exhibiting “prophetic parochialism.” The USA is a late-comer on the stage of Biblical history. Moreover, its life-span—if present trends, Biblical principles, and history can serve as our guide—is likely to be a relatively short-lived 'blip' on the radar screen of history, especially in relation to the Biblical purview with Israel at its center. Some of the same questions and thoughts could just as easily have been expressed (and no doubt were) by people living in England during the Victorian Era.

Besides all this, we know that Biblical revelation is not even-handed when it comes to inclusion of many powerful nations of history—that isn't its focus. Instead, it concentrates on the role of Gentile nations mainly in relation to their intersection with the chosen nation of Israel, especially in relation to interfering with her covenantal destiny (Rom. 11:29 cf. Zec. 12).

I believe we would do well to step out of our own time, view the Biblical text from a wider historical perspective, and take care to pay attention to Scriptural specifics as a helpful antidote to our natural tendency to see fulfillment of “nearly everything” in our own immediate time. If, as I believe, Babylon is Babylon, then it will have to become a city of some influence before the events of Revelation 17-19 find their culmination. How soon this could happen only God knows. But it simply isn't helpful in the meantime to try and force fit Babylon into some other movement, nation, or city while running past the Biblical specifics which have been given in God’s Holy Word.