A Bible Mystery Unveiled
THERE is a common adage, “What don’t know won’t hurt you,” yet ignorance has brought about many deaths. Religious ignorance is the most deadly, as Jesus pointed out concerning the Pharisee religious leaders: “Blind guides is what they are. If, then, a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matt. 15:14) There exists a monstrous deception, a great mystery, that has brought about more violent deaths than anything since the beginning of mankind. It is a religious mystery, based on a deeply laid plot that had its beginnings in the early days of mankind. Its beginnings are mentioned in the first book of the Bible, and in the last book of the Bible it is described as reaching its zenith and being unveiled and exposed in this time of mankind’s history more than four thousand years from its start.
The mystery has a name and is portrayed as a bad woman. “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.’” (Rev. 17:5) She is said to have affected all the nations and is foretold to suffer a fall. “And another, a second angel, followed, saying: ‘She has fallen! Babylon the great has fallen, she who made all the nations drink of the passion-arousing wine of her fornication!’”—Rev. 14:8.
The ancient city of Babylon was founded by Nimrod upon rebellion against God. In later years it became a world power, the outstanding feature of which was religion. It suffered a fall to the Persian World Power in 539 B.C.E., though the city still remained. Its religion, which had already affected all pagan religions, survived and, in the fourth century C.E., maneuvered so as to get control of apostate Christianity.a This development has been especially marked in the Catholic section of Christendom. What influence did Babylonish religion have, if any, upon Protestantism? It is necessary to get the answer to this question before we can fully unveil the mystery of Babylon the Great.
THE PROTESTANT REBELLION
Although there were earlier sections of Christendom, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church, to protest and rebel against the Roman Catholic claim to primacy for its pope, the Protestant movement took form in the sixteenth century. It was known as the Reformation. The questions arise, What did it reform? Did it remove itself from the foundations of apostate Christianity? Did it merely revise the religion taught by the Catholic church or did it completely reform to the extent of restoring the true worship practiced in the days of the apostles of Jesus Christ?
The fire of the Protestant religious movement was lighted on October 31, 1517 C.E., by Martin Luther, who was a Catholic priest. He was shocked at the Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences pertaining to sins. On this day he nailed a list of ninety-five theses against them, on the door of the Castle church at Wittenberg, Germany. Luther, refusing to recant, was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Leo X. He exhibited his defiance by publicly burning the papal bull of excommunication on December 10, 1520. Luther set forth his interpretation of the Bible mystery by referring to Rome as the new Babylon, saying: “Let us forsake her then to become a dwelling place of dragons, evil spirits, goblins, and witches, and her name as eternal confusion.”b In fact, Protestantism in general has offered a solution to the mystery of the woman Babylon’s identity by applying the terms Babylonian and Scarlet Woman to the Roman Catholic Church. (See Webster’s New International Dictionary, Unabridged, 1961 and 1934.) Let us see if the evidence supports this proposed solution.
Following Luther’s action things developed rapidly. Charles V, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, called an imperial diet at Spires in 1529. The diet issued a decree to support the doctrines of the Church of Rome. But on April 19, 1529, six princes who supported Luther, together with the deputies of thirteen Imperial towns, protested formally and solemnly against the diet’s decree. For this, the designation “Protestant” was applied to the followers of Luther, but later its scope was widened out to include Calvinists and other religious sects that rebelled against the pope of Rome. The Protestant League of Schmalkald was entered into on December 31, 1530.c
From 1531 onward many Protestant religious reformers appeared on the scene. It was in this year that King Henry VIII of England broke with the pope of Rome, made himself head of a national church, the Church of England, and imposed on the clergy of the land his royal supremacy. In 1534 he was styled “Head of the Church,” and the authority of the pope of Rome was abolished in England. Many religious sects came to America when it began to be colonized, and the Protestant Episcopal Church of America was established as a break from the Church of England after the American Revolution of 1775-1783. Because of the constitutional separation of Church and State, America became the home of more than two hundred religious organizations, all professing to be Christian.
So, as had been the case with the Catholic church, national loyalties and bitter disagreements tore Protestantism into many factions and sects. Hundreds, yes, upward of a thousand sects have sprung up in different parts of the earth to which Christendom’s missionaries have been sent. Jesus’ words that his disciples should be one, and the exhortation of the apostle Paul: “That you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you,” have been grossly violated by Christendom, for she has claimed to belong to Christ. She has confused people and made it a puzzle for them to find the truth. Others she has disgusted, causing many to turn away from God. Thereby she has brought great reproach upon the name of God and of Christ in the territories of both Christendom and pagandom.—John 17:21, 22; 1 Cor. 1:10-13.
THE REFORMATION NO RESTORATION
Then was the Reformation really a restoration of true worship? Religious and secular history answer No! Protestantism did not recover from the apostasy that set in after the death of the apostles of Christ (1) in that it retained the basic religious doctrines of the Catholic church, such as trinity, immortality of the human soul and punishment of wicked souls after death in an invisible spirit realm; (2) in its organizational structure it maintained the division of its worshipers into clergy and laity; and (3) the method of preaching does not follow the general priesthood principle of the early Christians, who were zealous, from the least to the greatest of them, in preaching and teaching from house to house and in every place.—Acts 2:46, 47; 20:20.
Additionally, Protestantism has joined with the rest of Babylonish religions in supporting worldly politics, resulting in many Church-State unions, even trying to dominate the governments of this world. Christendom’s religions have all celebrated religious holidays with pagan background and have shown lack of respect for the blood of man and beast, just as Nimrod, who founded Babylon and built the first empire, was spoken of in the Bible as “Nimrod a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah.”—Gen. 10:8-12; 9:1-6.
The facts show that the religion of Babylon really formed the foundations of both the Eastern and the Western divisions of the Catholic churchd and also the Protestant division of Christendom. The practices of Babylon’s religion in a political sense have also been carried out by Christendom. So the religion of ancient Babylon really gained control of all the religions of the world, both of pagandom and of Christendom. Now we have a complete basis for identifying Babylon the Great of the Bible book of Revelation. Let us proceed.
IDENTITY OF THE MYSTIC BABYLON
Babylon the Great could not refer to the ancient city of Babylon, for it lost its hold as a world power in 539 B.C.E. and, though it existed for centuries afterward, finally fell into complete decay and ruin. Its site is marked at the present time by only a wooden signboard by the side of the railroad which runs through this desolate area. However, ancient Babylon’s outstanding feature was its religion; also it was always opposed to God and from earliest times was the set enemy of Zion or Jerusalem. Its priesthood and religion survived and impregnated all the religions of this world so that their fundamental doctrines are based on the religion of ancient Babylon or Babel.
Controlling all worldly religions and from the very beginning carrying out the will of its god, Satan the Devil, to fight the true worshipers of the Almighty God Jehovah, Babylon has been a religious empire. So Babylon the Great is bigger than the Catholic church or than all Christendom. It is the WORLD EMPIRE OF FALSE RELIGION. This includes all the religions of the world that have as a foundation the religious teachings and practices of ancient Babylon. It is, like Nimrod, “in opposition to Jehovah.” Although Babylon the Great is a religious empire, it has become commercial and political in itself and has formed alliances with the political and commercial elements of the Gentile world. As in an empire one section may try to gain the dominance, so in Babylon the Great one religious sect may try to gain the powerful position of domination over the whole realm of religion. Christendom has been the most aggressive part of Babylon the Great, Roman Catholicism taking the lead.
Even Judaism is a part of Babylon the Great, for when Jesus and his disciples were on earth they applied to Judaism prophecies concerning Babylon. Judaism turned almost the whole nation against Jesus the Messiah, and to this day has not changed its position.
We should be highly interested, therefore, in the announcement of the angel at Revelation 14:8: “She has fallen! Babylon the great has fallen, she who made all the nations drink of the passion-arousing wine of her fornication!” To understand how this occurs, we must look at what happened to ancient Babylon. This city suffered a sudden and surprising fall to the Medes and Persians in 539 B.C.E. and was forced to let go her Jewish captives and others who had taken up the worship of Jehovah. Nevertheless, the city itself continued on for centuries and finally came to a complete desolation. Her antitype, Babylon the Great, therefore must suffer a fall, losing her hold over her religious captives, but must remain for some time before she is totally destroyed, as described in later chapters of the book of Revelation.
NATIONS MADE DRUNK
By making alliances and friendships with political rulers of this world, the religious empire of Babylon the Great has committed spiritual fornication with them. (Jas. 4:4) In her maneuvering for power she has used her religious influence and directed the millions of her adherents to support the Gentile world powers and, in doing so, has caused the nations to drink a “passion-arousing wine,” namely, political, commercial and economic oppression, religious persecution, holy wars, religious wars and crusades, as well as the wars of the nations for purely political and commercial reasons. Until this very day she sanctifies them by making her people believe that the wars are by God’s will, hence, to take part in these wars is to do the will of God. But really they are unknowingly bringing forth the “works of the flesh,” which are against God and his kingdom and which have brought death to countless millions.—Gal. 5:19-21; Jas. 4:1-3; Jer. 50:7.
The time would come when Babylon would face her test. She had supported the Gentile rulers, but in 1914 the seven times of the Gentiles had ended. The time arrived for the end of the rule of the Gentile powers without interference and for beginning the rule of Christ, the one “who has the legal right.” (Dan. 4:25; Ezek. 21:27; Rev. 11:15) The greatest test came upon the dominant part of Babylon the Great, known as Christendom, which professed to be, not Babylon, but God’s visible organization, spiritual Zion. Now that the time for world rulership to change had come, would she at last change or would she continue to go along as the mistress of worldly governments in their efforts to maintain world domination? She claimed to support the kingdom of God. In fact, in 1917, eight of the leading clergymen of five religious denominations in Britain came out with a declaration published in the British press indicating that they thought the crisis that existed then pointed toward the close of the times of the Gentiles, that His rule would take over all nations and would bring blessings to mankind.e
But World War I, which broke out in the very heart of Christendom, continued until the fall of 1918. The above-mentioned clergymen went back on their prediction and repudiated it. Only four of the twenty-seven nations involved in the great war were not a part of Christendom, though their religious systems were all a part of Babylon the Great. But the churches of Christendom, instead of trying to prevent this war for world domination by human governments, put their church members in it on opposite sides. They not only threw millions into the conflict this way, but also persecuted true Christians who would not join in the mass slaughter.
The special target of these religious organizations of Babylon the Great were the dedicated, baptized Christians known then as International Bible Students, who were pointing to the kingdom of God as the only hope, as they preached and distributed literature published by the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society. The clergy seized upon the war hysteria as an instrument to get political action. The book The Finished Mystery, which gave an explanation of the entire book of Revelation (Apocalypse), and the tract called “Bible Students Monthly,” one issue of which carried an article entitled “The Fall of Babylon,” were banned in Canada and shortly afterward in the United States. Then eight agents of the Watch Tower Society, including its president, were arrested and sentenced on June 21, 1918, to eighty years’ imprisonment in a Federal penitentiary.
Besides this persecution of the Watch Tower Society’s agents, the Christian Bible students who had cooperated with them in the preaching of the Kingdom and the fall of Babylon were persecuted fiercely by mobbings, arrests, loss of employment and in other ways, all egged on by the religious clergy in Canada and America.
Who had been right? Certainly Jesus’ words at Matthew 24:7-13 and Revelation 12:5-10 had been fulfilled in the tremendous loss of life along with the pestilences, earthquakes and famines that accompanied the war, proving that Jesus Christ had stood up in power in heavenly Mount Zion, that the kingdom had been born in the heavens in 1914. (Matt. 24:3, 7-9) The war had ended with an armistice on November 11, 1918. It had not been a war to establish God’s kingdom but, rather, a war between the nations for world domination because, as foretold at Revelation 11:18, the nations were angry rather than happy and willing to accept God’s kingdom. Really the war had been merely a fight over world domination by one part of Christendom over another part and, as a result, instead of God’s kingdom, the Anglo-American World Power, foretold in the Bible as the Seventh World Power, continued its domination over the earth. However, Babylon the Great had not fallen, for she now had taken into captivity God’s witnesses, the Christian Bible students who had been proclaiming Jehovah’s judgments against her, and she had broken up their worldwide organization and stopped their work. But where did she stand before God? She had brought herself into a position to experience divine judgment for opposing his kingdom on heavenly Zion and for persecuting his Christian witnesses and bringing them into captivity because of her spiritual fornication with the political powers to carry out her will.
BABYLON THE GREAT FALLS, TO LOSE HOLD ON HER CAPTIVES
Great was the rejoicing of the clergymen, especially those of Christendom, at the captivity of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, and they would have delighted to see the captivity continue forever so that the work of proclaiming the Kingdom message in the earth would be dead.f But what a surprise they experienced! They overlooked the fact that the Greater Cyrus, Jesus Christ, was now reigning on Mount Zion with all power in heaven and in earth. With the suddenness of the fall of the ancient city Babylon, which formidable and supposedly impregnable city was taken in one night by Cyrus of Persia, the tables were turned. In March of 1919 the prison doors were forced open to Jehovah’s witnesses by order of the Federal Court of Appeals and the charges for which they had been incarcerated were shown to be false. The eight prominent agents of the Society were completely exonerated.
What had happened? Well, Babylon the Great had not been destroyed, just as ancient Babylon remained intact when Cyrus took her. But she had now absolutely lost power to hold her captives. From now on all who were worshipers of Jehovah as well as those under her domination who desired to worship Jehovah could come out and freely worship him with spirit and truth. They could join in declaring the judgments of Babylon, soon to be completely put out of existence, just as she deserved for her opposition to Jehovah The agents of the Society immediately upon their release got busy and repaired its worldwide organization, reestablishing international contacts. An international assembly was held on September 1-8 and on the fifth day the Watch Tower Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford, addressed the assembly on the subject “Announcing the Kingdom.” He made a modern application of the prophecy of Isaiah 52:7 (AV), which had applied to the release of the Israelites from Babylonian captivity: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!” Then on Sunday, September 7, he addressed a public audience of 7,000 on the subject “The Hope for Distressed Humanity” and spoke in favor of God’s kingdom as against the human substitute, the then-proposed League of Nations.
It was indeed a joyful announcement to God’s people Zion, “Thy God reigneth!” Yes, the fall of Babylon in the spring of the year 1919 was further proof that the Greater Cyrus had begun his Kingdom rule and had opened Babylon’s gates, broken the “copper doors” in pieces and cut down the “iron bars” holding Jehovah’s people.—Isa. 45:1, 2.
So Jehovah unravels for us the great Bible mystery, a mystery not of God’s making, but one that God’s opponent, Satan the Devil, has promoted. But Satan has lost. His secret is out and no one has to be bound in death-dealing ignorance by it. With the destruction of Babylon the Great and her political, commercial friends and supporters and the bringing in of a new order under the rule of Christ’s Kingdom government, confusing religious ignorance will be nonexistent. The resurrection will bring back millions who in the past have been victims of Babylon the Great, to learn the truth. Exercise your opportunity now to flee from and stay out of Babylon in order to avoid being lastingly crushed in the fast-approaching day of her destruction.
a For details in proof see “Babylon the Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules! (704 pages), by Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, New York (1963).
b See page 284 of New Light on Martin Luther, by Albert Hyma, Professor of History, University of Michigan, edition of 1958.
c See History of the Reformation in Germany, by Von Ranke, New York edition of 1905. See The Golden Age as of December 30, 1936, pages 206-208.
d For proof, see the book “Babylon the Great Has Fallen! God’s Kingdom Rules! or The Watchtower, issue of May 1, 1966.
[Picture on page 308]
Luther Burning Papal Bull, Dec. 10, 1520