Babylon the Great—Fallen and Judged
“SHE has fallen! Babylon the Great has fallen, she who made all the nations drink of the wine of the anger of her fornication!” “Babylon the Great has fallen, and she has become a dwelling place of demons and a lurking place of every unclean exhalation and a lurking place of every unclean and hated bird!”—Revelation 14:8; 18:2.
What a startling prophecy! “Babylon the Great has fallen!” For centuries this symbolic statement has intrigued students of the Bible. Why should it interest you? Because, according to Bible prophecy, Babylon the Great’s destiny will soon affect all mankind. As we have seen in the April 1 and April 15 issues of this magazine, this influential harlot is clearly identified as Satan’s world empire of false religion.*
But in what way has she fallen? And when?
Babylon Fallen but Not Destroyed
To get the full significance of the fall of Babylon the Great, we have to understand what occurred when ancient Babylon fell in 539 B.C.E. At that time God’s people, Israel, had been in captivity for nearly 70 years. Now they were expecting a release in accordance with the words of their prophets. (Jeremiah 25:11, 12; 29:10) How thrilled they must have been when Cyrus the Persian caused Babylon’s downfall and released the Jews to trek back to their holy city, Jerusalem!—Isaiah 45:1-4.
However, although Babylon’s power over the Jews was broken, it did not mean the end of ancient Babylon. Historian Joan Oates writes in her book Babylon: “Cyrus entered Babylon in triumph, forbade looting and appointed a Persian governor, leaving undisturbed the religious institutions and civil administration. . . . Indeed on the surface the private lives of Babylonian citizens appear to have changed very little under Persian rule. Religious forms were preserved and commercial activity prospered.” Thus, in spite of her fall, Babylon continued to function, but with one big difference—God’s people, Israel, were no longer held captive. They returned to Jerusalem to restore true worship there.
About 331 B.C.E. when Greek general Alexander the Great entered Babylon, he was given a warm welcome by the citizens. He decided he wanted to convert it into his eastern capital, but he died before he could fulfill his ambition. This shows that Babylon still flourished at that late date.
Thus, Babylon’s fall in 539 B.C.E. did not mean that it ceased to exist. It continued to function for centuries. How has this been reflected in the modern fulfillment of prophecies involving Babylon the Great?
Babylon the Great Takes a Fall
It has its parallel in the fall of symbolic Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. In the early part of our 20th century prior to 1919, the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, had to be released from a form of spiritual captivity to the ideas and practices of false religion. Although having rejected such false teachings as the Trinity and the immortal soul, they were still tainted by Babylonish practices. Many had developed a self-righteous attitude in character development. Some were exalting creatures, indulging in a personality cult that focused on Charles T. Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Without any Biblical basis, they were observing birthdays and Christmas. The cross was still prominent in their thinking. Some even wore a cross-and-crown lapel emblem, while others sought the respectability accorded Christendom. Then, in 1917, shortly after the death of Russell, a significant change began to take place.
In that year the Watch Tower Society published a commentary on Revelation under the title The Finished Mystery. This book exposed the clergy of Christendom, including their involvement in the Great War that was then raging in Europe. Some of the Protestant clergy, a faction of Babylon the Great’s representatives in Canada, took these quotes to their political cronies in the Canadian government and denounced the Bible Students as seditious. On February 12, 1918, the Watch Tower Society was banned in Canada.
The clergy in the United States were not slow to follow the example of their Canadian brethren. Within days, Watch Tower Bible publications were confiscated in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. Then, in May 1918, warrants were issued for the arrest of J. F. Rutherford, the new president of the Watch Tower Society, and seven other Watch Tower associates. In June, with surprising swiftness, these Christian men were haled before a court and condemned. Seven were sentenced to 20 years in a penitentiary, and one to 10 years. What was the clergy’s reaction? Martin Marty states in his book Modern American Religion: The Irony of It All: “The clergy turned against the Russellites [later known as Jehovah’s Witnesses] and cheered to hear that twenty-year sentences were to be imposed upon convicted Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders.” The representatives of Babylon the Great were laughing. They overlooked that he who laughs last laughs best.
Thus, in 1918, symbolic captivity to Babylon also became a literal imprisonment for some of Jehovah’s people. A wave of persecution of the Bible Students swept across the United States, Canada, and other countries. Nationalistic clergy organized mobs to chase them out of towns. Bible Students were tarred and feathered and beaten with clubs. A shameful record of injustice was established against this tiny minority of sincere Christians.*
Then, in 1919, an unexpected reversal of events occurred. The Great War had ended in November 1918. The sentences against the officials of the Watch Tower Society were appealed as being a miscarriage of justice. To the chagrin of their religious enemies, Rutherford and his companions were released from prison. As Marty states: “There were no cheers by the orthodox church members.” Eventually, all the accused were totally exonerated. The biased Catholic judge, Martin T. Manton, who was later made a “knight of the order of St. Gregory the Great” by Pope Pius XI, had refused the eight Witnesses bail and thus caused their unjust imprisonment for nine months. His true colors were shown later, in 1939, when he was sent to prison for soliciting bribes!
On their release from prison in 1919, Rutherford and his associates returned to the Brooklyn headquarters of the Watch Tower Society. They then set about reorganizing for the biggest Kingdom-preaching campaign the world has ever known. The Bible Students had broken the shackles of the fear of man and now saw clearly where they stood in relation to all false religion. Babylon the Great was their relentless enemy and would have to be exposed as fallen. True worship would have to be restored among the nations.
Those intrepid Christians intensified their house-to-house ministry. They also paraded publicly, exposing false religion with placards that stated: “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket” and, “Serve God and Christ the King.” False religion still continued to flourish and function, as it had done in ancient Babylon, but in relation to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Babylon the Great had fallen in 1919. They were free from Babylonish restraint!
Babylon’s Waning Influence
Now, 70 years later, we can see that in many parts of the earth, the influence of Babylon the Great has waned. True, religion still seems to prosper in the United States, where a more emotional sector of the populace is exploited by TV evangelists and religious psychologists. Yet, even some of these materialistic charlatans have recently been unmasked and disgraced. Religion appears to flourish in the Republic of Korea, where Christendom’s churches have become deeply involved in politics. Evidently, Babylon the Great, although “fallen,” is still functioning.
In the wake of the world wars, however, orthodox religion has lost its mass following in countries such as Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Britain. Even Catholic countries such as Italy, Spain, and France have noted a falling away from the traditional Catholic practices of confession and attendance at Mass. The numbers of those studying for the priesthood have plummeted. And the very fact that the present pope feels the need to travel the world more than any other pope in history is a symptom of a church in crisis.
Furthermore, since 1917 most socialistic countries have relegated religion to a minor role and cut off its former political influence. On a world scale, traditional religion is still the cause of so much hatred and bloodshed that many thinking people have turned away from all religion, whether Western or Oriental. Yes, the symbolic waters on which Babylon the Great sits, the peoples under her control, are drying up. Babylon the Great is being judged, and her execution is near.—Revelation 16:12; 17:1, 15.
What basis does Jehovah have for judging the world empire of false religion? Surely, some might think, he should view with favor all the schools, hospitals, and charitable works that various religions have promoted. But how does all that measure up against the indictment that Jehovah levels against the world’s religions? Let us briefly examine that indictment and the record of religion.*
“One of the seven angels that had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying: ‘Come, I will show you the judgment upon the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, whereas those who inhabit the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.’” (Revelation 17:1, 2) As we have clearly shown in our issues of April 1 and April 15, 1989, religion’s complicity with national rulers, “the kings of the earth,” to the detriment of the people down through history, may be compared to the behavior of a self-seeking, fornicating harlot. But the indictment continues.
“And I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of the holy ones and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” “Yes, in her was found the blood of prophets and of holy ones and of all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.” (Revelation 17:6; 18:24) Bloodguilt must be charged against Babylon the Great because of her martyring true Christians over the centuries, including a number who dared to translate the Bible into the language of the common people, and also many who dared to possess and read the Bible. Great Babylon is bloodguilty also on account of the true Christians who have been martyred more recently in prisons and concentration camps, whether under Nazism, Fascism, or other dictatorships. Note that the indictment refers to “all those who have been slaughtered on the earth,” which would include the hundreds of millions all over the world who have died in wars and vendettas that have been fought down through history by people claiming to be religious.—Compare Matthew 23:34-36; 2 Timothy 3:5.
God’s judging of Babylon the Great addresses another aspect of her guilt. The judgment states: “By your spiritistic practice all the nations were misled.” (Revelation 18:23) Interestingly, “spiritistic practice” translates the Greek phar·ma·kiʹa, which “primarily signified the use of medicine, drugs, spells; then, poisoning; then, sorcery.”* In a spiritual sense, false religion has poisoned the nations, misleading them into believing in false gods and teachings that have diverted their attention from Jehovah and the issue of universal sovereignty. By its erroneous teaching of the immortality of the soul, false religion also laid the foundation for every kind of spiritism and sorcery, inspiring fear of the dead and worship of ancestors. God’s condemnation of Babylon the Great is totally justified. As John wrote: “Her sins have massed together clear up to heaven, and God has called her acts of injustice to mind.”—Revelation 18:5.
What Must We Do?
In view of the fallen state of Babylon the Great and her judged condition, what must sincere lovers of truth now do? Isaiah’s prophecy relating to ancient Babylon applies with even greater force with regard to false religion today: “Turn away, turn away, get out of there, touch nothing unclean; get out from the midst of her, keep yourselves clean, you who are carrying the utensils of Jehovah.” (Isaiah 52:11) This urgent call parallels that of Revelation 18:4: “And I heard another voice out of heaven say: ‘Get out of her [Babylon the Great], 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.’”
Yes, it is time to sever all affiliations with false religion. But if we get out of Babylon the Great, where must we turn? To Jehovah’s true worship in association with his witnesses. Already, millions from all the nations of the earth are streaming to the symbolic “mountain of Jehovah.” You too are invited to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses and join in this true worship.—Isaiah 2:2-4; 43:10-12.
Now the question remains, If Babylon the Great has fallen and been judged, what is next on the divine agenda? What is going to happen to Satan’s world empire of false religion? Our next issue, May 15, will explore that question in line with Bible prophecy.
Babylon the Great cannot symbolize politics and big business, as they are shown lamenting her fall. (Revelation 18:9-11) The only other major element of Satan’s world system is religion. Her ties with spiritism serve to confirm the religious identification.—Revelation 18:23.
For more details of this persecution, see the 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 94-119.
For a detailed consideration of this subject, see the publication Revelation—Its Grand Climax At Hand! pages 235-71, published in 1988 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Volume IV, pages 51-2.
[Picture on page 7]
Even though Babylon fell in 539 B.C.E., it continued to function as a city for hundreds of years