Text: Rev 17:6b-18
NT Text: 1 Peter 5:13 She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son.
Featured Verse: Rev 17:9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated;
Main Idea: In any particular age, the "City of Man" takes the form of various human empires. For the first century Christians, Rome was the embodiment of Babylon.
[Verses 15-18 will be part of the Sunday Sermon, so we will not discuss them much today.]
Yesterday we saw that Babylon is a symbolic representation of the "City of Man." But in every age, Babylon shows up in various human empires. All of these particular empires are destined to fall, and at the end of time the entire system of worldly human rebellion will crumble before the power of the Lord Jesus.
There are many aspects of the depiction of Babylon - the great prostitute - that show timeless principles. These things are associated with every human empire in every age. In particular, we have seen that she influences with power (17:18), sex (17:2,4), and money (17:4, + repeated references to "luxury" and "wealth" in chap 18.) These things are true in varying degrees in every manifestation of Babylon - in every human empire. BUT... there are also features of Babylon which bear a particular resemblance to the Roman Empire experienced by the first century Christians to whom John wrote this letter.
Tim Chester has a detailed analysis of why "Babylon" should be understood to be referring to 1st century Rome.** In particular, Rome was described by its own writers as being the "City of Seven Hills." John tells us that the interpretation of Babylon the Great "calls for a mind of wisdom", and then he says, "the seven heads are the seven hills on which the woman is seated." (17:9) He seems to be giving us a clear hint about the way in which the churches would experience the power of Babylon in their time. It is also noted that the Roman Emperors wore purple, but their priests wore scarlet, the clothing that the Prostitute is said to be wearing. (Rev 17:4,18:12) Finally, there is other evidence that first century Christians began calling Rome by the name "Babylon" because of its oppressive imperial power. Peter seems to do this at the end of his first letter. (See additional reading.) This process may have been accelerated after 70 AD, when Rome followed its namesake and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple.
Conclusion and Application
When I titled this post " Babylon with a Roman Nose**", I was expressing the idea that the ubiquitous "Babylon, City of Man" has some features which seem to link it closely to first century experiences with the actual Roman Empire. This helps us to remember that "Babylon, the Great" is not just a theoretical abstraction, but it takes the form of real institutions and cultural practices. The seductive power of the City of Man had already been gaining inroads in the churches of Asia Minor. Back in chapter 2, the church in Thyatira was warned that the false teacher named for the OT queen Jezebel was luring the church into compromise on sexual immorality. This is essentially Babylon/worldly influence finding a home in the church!***
Honest recognition of the seductive power of Babylon helps us resist the siren call of worldliness. Unfortunately, it isn't just "out there", but the ideas of the world find influence among those who claim to be Christian teachers. The past ten years have been filled with numerous painful examples of public Christian figures renouncing their position on historic Christian teaching - particularly around sex and gender. John reveals the power of these temptations, the diabolical origins, and the end result of those who align themselves with the powers of Babylon.
* Greg Beale (in his typical exhaustive detail) lists the many similarities between the OT character of Jezebel and the Babylonian Harlot of chapters 17-18. Revelation: A Shorter Commentary, p377.
** Wikipedia has a short entry on "Roman noses" for those interested. Apparently, they are found in lots of people groups who have no apparent Italian connection. But, I hope you see that is not the real point of this, anyway.
Aquiline nose - Wikipedia
*** Tim Chester, Revelation For You, pages 127-129.
# The photograph used at the head of this post was taken by Andre Sinou and found on a website dedicated to the photos that he took while on active duty in Iraq. May 2003 photographs of Babylon (stlcc.edu)