Even among dedicated Bible scholars and teachers, there is a wide range of views about the identity of Mystery Babylon, ranging from very allegorical to literal.
Some very popular teachers assert that Mystery Babylon is metaphorical and that it is not an actual city, but rather that it is symbolic of something else, possibly a world pagan religious system and/or a world financial system.
In counting the characteristics given to Mystery Babylon in Revelation 17 and 18, I have found over ninety distinct qualities given to it by Scripture. In this study, I will show that there are explicit biblical interpretations of most, if not all, of these ninety characteristics, and that by comparing Scripture with Scripture, we can come to a more biblical identification of Mystery Babylon.
The angel in Rev 17:18, while interpreting John’s vision, mentions that the woman is a city.
“And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” - Rev 17:18
Mystery Babylon (MB) is referred to as a city eight times in the book of Revelation, and many of the things that happen to it in the narrative seem to be talking about a literal city. For instance, the city is burned down and the smoke can be seen from the nearby sea, merchants sell items to it, it experiences famine, and many other factors which we will soon see cause many to believe that MB is in fact a literal city just as the angel said.
Those who see MB as a literal city have proposed several candidates for the identity of the city over the years including:
I believe Mystery Babylon is the last days city of Jerusalem. I chose my words very carefully in this description. In other words, I believe it is the Jerusalem of the end times where, according to Daniel 11:45, the antichrist sets up his headquarters.
According to this view, the people of the city of Jerusalem will promote the antichrist as their Messiah and as the one true God, thereby committing the ultimate abomination, the ultimate harlotry. Not only that, but they will promote him and entice the world to follow them in their worship of the Man of Sin (Rev 17:2).
We know that the antichrist will choose Jerusalem as the place to declare himself to be god (2 Thes 2:4, Mat 24:15, Dan 11:31-32). And we know that the greatest religious persecution of all time, which is prompted by the Abomination of Desolation will happen in the city of Jerusalem, according to Matt. 24:15-21. So we already understand that there is a relationship between the antichrist and the city of Jerusalem, but few of us have put all the pieces together to understand the significance of the antichrist’s apparent focus on Jerusalem.
Too often people look at the “woman who rides the beast” and try to define her in terms of what we have already seen in history, as opposed to what Scripture says we will see in the future. That is the primary reason people miss this because, as we will see, it is certainly not because of a lack of biblical support.
For instance, Rev. 18:24 says: “And in her was found the blood of prophets…”
We don’t even have to speculate as to what city the prophets were killed in, as Jesus says it is impossible for a prophet to be killed anywhere except Jerusalem!:
“The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, ‘Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee.’ And he said unto them, ‘Go ye, and tell that fox, behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk today, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem2, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!’” Luke 13:31-34
This idea is repeated by the Lord in other places, as well. For instance, He tells them that their fathers killed the prophets and they hypocritically built their tombs. (Luke 11:47). In Matthew 23, He names Zechariah as such an example who He mentions was killed near the temple. He says that they will be held accountable and judged for the blood of all the prophets ever killed:
...The blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world...
If the “blood of the prophets” is found in the city of Mystery Babylon, it is strong evidence in favor of it being the city of Jerusalem.3
Jerusalem is specifically called a “harlot” multiple times in Scripture and always in a spiritual context, that is, the spiritual prostitution of following false gods instead of the one true God, and killing His prophets, etc.
Just a small sampling of this is in Isaiah 1:21:
“How is the faithful city become an harlot! It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.” - Isaiah 1:21
Ezekiel 16 is entirely about this subject, and it starts out by saying:
“Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations...” - Eze 16:1-2
He spends the whole chapter saying things like:
“But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown, and pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by; his it was. And of thy garments thou didst take, and deckedst thy high places with divers colours, and playedst the harlot thereupon: the like things shall not come, neither shall it be so.” – Eze 16:15-16
Jerusalem is constantly warned in Scripture that if they do not turn from their “harlotries” they will be judged. As we go through Revelation 17-18, we will find that the specific judgments Mystery Babylon gets are the exact same as the ones promised to Jerusalem because of her spiritual harlotry.
This idea that Jerusalem is as a harlot, and also has children or inhabitants that are harlots, is what is meant when Revelation says that the “Woman” is the “mother of harlots” – the harlots are the inhabitants and Jerusalem is the mother.
I think that much of the confusion comes from the fact commentators want to put in the word ALL there: “the mother of ALL harlots,” as if MB was the source of all bad things from the history of the world. But that’s not what the text says. Mystery Babylon is "The mother of harlots" which is a figure of speech referring to the idea that she has harlot children, or inhabitants.
Like many others, I used to think the “Woman” was Rome or the Vatican, and I hope that like me, when we look closely at the verses about the “seven mountains,” you will see why I see this interpretation, held by so many, is grammatically and contextually impossible. But we won’t have to wait until that section to see that that particular interpretation is on shaky ground.
I also used to believe that it was referring to an allegorical amalgamation of the world’s occult religions or financial system. You will see that that view requires a deliberate departure from the plain and simple meaning of the text. It also goes against the angel’s own interpretation of this “Woman.”
This imaginary “ALL” we discussed earlier makes people think that they have to have Mystery Babylon account for all the evil in the world, past, present, and future. So they go looking, in the past or in the present, for the most evil thing they can think of and that’s pretty much how they come up with their interpretation – whatever the most evil thing is in their paradigm, is what MB will be to them. It’s not a coincidence therefore that all the books about MB being some aspect of Islam showed up after 911.
The strength of going verse by verse through this difficult section of Scripture is its thoroughness. As I mentioned before there are over 90 characteristics of MB in these verses, and if you have the correct interpretation, all 90 should line up with your view.
Going verse by verse and line by line (also known as an expositional study) might be the first time some of you have heard that Scripture has things to say about MB that don’t line up with your current view of it. I hope you will get as much out of reading it as I have researching it. This study will give me an opportunity to teach some of the most complicated aspects of the antichrist, as well as the city in which he chooses to set up shop.
At the end of this book you will find a section called Answers to Common Objections.