Definition: The world empire of false religion, embracing all religions whose teachings and practices do not conform to the true worship of Jehovah, the only true God. Following the Flood of Noah’s day, false religion had its beginning at Babel (later known as Babylon). (Gen. 10:8-10; 11:4-9) In time, Babylonish religious beliefs and practices spread to many lands. So Babylon the Great became a fitting name for false religion as a whole.
What evidence points to the identity of Babylon the Great, referred to in Revelation?
It could not be the ancient city of Babylon. Revelation was written at the end of the first century C.E. and describes events that would reach down to our day. The Encyclopedia Americana says: “The city [Babylon] was taken by the Persians under Cyrus the Great in 539 B.C. Later Alexander the Great planned to make Babylon the capital of his eastern empire, but after his death Babylon gradually lost importance.” (1956, Vol. III, p. 7) Today the city is an uninhabited ruin.
In the symbolism of Revelation, Babylon the Great is referred to as a “great city,” a “kingdom” that rules other kings. (Rev. 17:18) Like a city, it would have many organizations within it; and like a kingdom that includes other kings in its domain, it would be international in scope. It is described as having relations with political rulers and contributing much to the wealth of men in commerce, while itself being a third element that “has become a dwelling place of demons” and a persecutor of “prophets and of holy ones.”—Rev. 18:2, 9-17, 24.
Ancient Babylon was outstandingly noted for its religion and its defiance of Jehovah
Gen. 10:8-10: “Nimrod . . . displayed himself a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah. . . . And the beginning of his kingdom came to be Babel [later known as Babylon].”
Dan. 5:22, 23: “As for you [Belshazzar king of Babylon] . . . against the Lord of the heavens you exalted yourself, . . . and you have praised mere gods of silver and of gold, copper, iron, wood and stone, that are beholding nothing or hearing nothing or knowing nothing; but the God in whose hand your breath is and to whom all your ways belong you have not glorified.”
An ancient cuneiform inscription reads: “Altogether there are in Babylon 53 temples of the chief gods, 55 chapels of Marduk, 300 chapels for the earthly deities, 600 for the heavenly deities, 180 altars for the goddess Ishtar, 180 for the gods Nergal and Adad and 12 other altars for different gods.”—Quoted in The Bible as History (New York, 1964), W. Keller, p. 301.
The Encyclopedia Americana comments: “Sumerian civilization [which was part of Babylonia] was dominated by priests; at the head of the state was the lugal (literally ‘great man’), the representative of the gods.”—(1977), Vol. 3, p. 9.
Reasonably, therefore, Babylon the Great as referred to in Revelation is religious. Being like a city and an empire, it is not limited to one religious group but includes all religions that are in opposition to Jehovah, the true God.
Ancient Babylonian religious concepts and practices are found in religions worldwide
“Egypt, Persia, and Greece felt the influence of the Babylonian religion . . . The strong admixture of Semitic elements both in early Greek mythology and in Grecian cults is now so generally admitted by scholars as to require no further comment. These Semitic elements are to a large extent more specifically Babylonian.”—The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (Boston, 1898), M. Jastrow, Jr., pp. 699, 700.
Their gods: There were triads of gods, and among their divinities were those representing various forces of nature and ones that exercised special influence in certain activities of mankind. (Babylonian and Assyrian Religion, Norman, Okla.; 1963, S. H. Hooke, pp. 14-40) “The Platonic trinity, itself merely a rearrangement of older trinities dating back to earlier peoples, appears to be the rational philosophic trinity of attributes that gave birth to the three hypostases or divine persons taught by the Christian churches. . . . This Greek philosopher’s [Plato’s] conception of the divine trinity . . . can be found in all the ancient [pagan] religions.”—Nouveau Dictionnaire Universel (Paris, 1865-1870), edited by M. Lachâtre, Vol. 2, p. 1467.
Use of images: “[In Mesopotamian religion] the role of the image was central in the cult as well as in private worship, as the wide distribution of cheap replicas of such images shows. Fundamentally, the deity was considered present in its image if it showed certain specific features and paraphernalia and was cared for in the appropriate manner.”—Ancient Mesopotamia—Portrait of a Dead Civilization (Chicago, 1964), A. L. Oppenheim, p. 184.
Belief regarding death: “Neither the people nor the leaders of religious thought [in Babylon] ever faced the possibility of the total annihilation of what once was called into existence. Death was a passage to another kind of life.”—The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p. 556.
Position of the priesthood: “The distinction between priest and layman is characteristic of this [Babylonian] religion.”—Encyclopædia Britannica (1948), Vol. 2, p. 861.
Practice of astrology, divination, magic, and sorcery: Historian A. H. Sayce writes: “[In] the religion of ancient Babylonia . . . every object and force of nature was supposed to have its zi or spirit, who could be controlled by the magical exorcisms of the Shaman, or sorcerer-priest.” (The History of Nations, New York, 1928, Vol. I, p. 96) “The Chaldeans [Babylonians] made great progress in the study of astronomy through an effort to discover the future in the stars. This art we call ‘astrology.’”—The Dawn of Civilization and Life in the Ancient East (Chicago, 1938), R. M. Engberg, p. 230.
Babylon the Great is like an immoral harlot, one living in shameless luxury
Revelation 17:1-5 says: “‘Come, I will show you the judgment upon the great harlot who sits on many waters [peoples], with whom the kings [political rulers] of the earth committed fornication, whereas those who inhabit the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.’ . . . And upon her forehead was written a name, a mystery: ‘Babylon the Great, the mother of the harlots and of the disgusting things of the earth.’” Revelation 18:7 adds that “she glorified herself and lived in shameless luxury.”
Is it not true that the dominant religious organizations have made it a practice to consort with political rulers for power and material gain, though this has resulted in suffering for the common people? Is it not also true that their higher clergy live in luxury, even though many of the people to whom they should minister may be impoverished?
Why can religions that profess to be Christian properly be viewed as a part of Babylon the Great, along with those who know nothing of the God of the Bible?
Jas. 4:4: “Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” (So, though they know what the Bible says about God, they make themselves his enemies if they choose friendship with the world by imitating its ways.)
2 Cor. 4:4; 11:14, 15: “The god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine through.” “Satan himself keeps transforming himself into an angel of light. It is therefore nothing great if his ministers also keep transforming themselves into ministers of righteousness. But their end shall be according to their works.” (Thus Jehovah’s chief adversary, Satan the Devil himself, is really being honored by all who do not worship the true God in the manner that He has appointed, even though they may claim to be Christians. See also 1 Corinthians 10:20.)
Matt. 7:21-23: “Not everyone saying to me [Jesus Christ], ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Why is it urgent to get out of Babylon the Great without delay?
Rev. 18:4: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.”
Rev. 18:21: “A strong angel lifted up a stone like a great millstone and hurled it into the sea, saying: ‘Thus with a swift pitch will Babylon the great city be hurled down, and she will never be found again.’”
Luke 21:36: “Keep awake, then, all the time making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur, and in standing before the Son of man.”
What will happen to people who did not know Bible truth but lived and died in the past as part of Babylon the Great?
Acts 17:30: “God has overlooked the times of such ignorance, yet now he is telling mankind that they should all everywhere repent.”
Acts 24:15: “There is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.” (As to which ones of “the unrighteous” will be raised, God will decide.)
Job 34:12: “For a fact, God himself does not act wickedly, and the Almighty himself does not pervert judgment.”