The book of Revelation gives more attention to an entity called “Babylon the Great” than to any other single subject, with more than two chapters (17:1–19:5) dedicated to a discussion of this entity. As it is presented in this section, Babylon the Great is clearly the most significant player in the world of the end times. As such, its identification ought to be obvious to anyone living in the end times. However, at present pretribulational dispensationalists are badly divided as to the interpretation of these chapters, and commentators who do not follow a strictly futuristic view of Revelation 4–22 add even more interpretations to the mix. The lack of consensus on the identification of a prophetic entity that ought to be plainly evident indicates that none of the prevailing views does justice to the text of the book of Revelation, resulting in a state of confusion.
This article will argue that Babylon the Great is the United States of America, and that this identification is definitive and excludes all other possibilities. What follows below is a summary of a much longer and more detailed argument regarding the identity of Babylon the Great, available for free download here. This article is part of a commentary I am writing on the book of Revelation. If you are interested in supporting the writing of this commentary, whether by prayer, as a reviewer, financially, or simply as an interested reader, please leave a comment on this post. (Comments are not posted publicly unless I approve them, so please specify in the comment if you intend it as a private message.) The pdf article will be expanded when my next two blog articles are posted, on the imminence of the rapture and on practical applications of the identification of Babylon the Great with the United States.
The Unity of Revelation 17 and 18
Traditionally, most (not all) pretribulationist interpreters have differentiated the Babylon the Great of Revelation 17 from the Babylon the Great in Revelation 18, arguing that Revelation 17 speaks of an apostate church symbolically as a harlot, and that Revelation 18 describes a literal city. However, an analysis of Revelation 17–18 shows that both chapters refer to the same entity, and that this is a political entity, not an apostate church.
First, Revelation 17:18 directly states that the harlot of Revelation 17 is the great city (more accurately, the great “polis,” or state) of Revelation 18: “And the woman whom you saw is the great state, which has a kingdom over the kings of the earth.” Revelation 17:18 clearly establishes that the harlot is a political entity, not a religious one. Babylon the Great is a world hegemon, a superpower that dominates world politics, economics, and culture in the last days.
On the other hand, there is no direct statement of any kind in Revelation 17:1–19:5 to the effect that the harlot is an apostate church or other ecclesiastical entity, rather than a political entity with ungodly spiritual values and practices. Revelation 17 does not even mention a false religion or system of worship of any kind, such as idolatry and occultism (contrast Rev 9:20) or heretical teaching (contrast Rev 2:14-15). There is a remarkable lack of references to a religion of any kind in Revelation 17:1–19:5. The major argument that Revelation 17 describes a worldwide church is that this is an implication of the term “fornication” and the figure of a harlot. However, a study of references in Scripture to committing fornication in a figurative sense shows that this figure is used of a nation (Ezek 16:26; Jer 2:20; Mic 1:7) and individuals (Jer 5:7; Matt 12:39), but nowhere in Scripture is a false religion or apostate church said to commit fornication. Likewise, while individuals are sometimes said to figuratively “play the harlot” (Exod 34:15-16) or to be “adulterers” (Isa 57:3; Jer 9:2; Heb 12:16; James 4:4), and the figure of a harlot may be applied to nations or cities, it is never applied to a false church or religion. The harlot image is used of Jerusalem (Isa 1:21; Ezek 16), of Israel and Judah (Jer 3:1-10; Ezek 23; Hos 2:1-13), of Tyre (Isa 23:15-18), and of Nineveh (Nah 3:4). The latter two uses show that harlotry can refer to commercial intercourse and the transmission of the materialistic value system which accompanies it, as well as to a powerful country that lures other countries to itself and then takes their money.
The main difference between the Revelation 17 and Revelation 18 is this: Revelation 17 portrays Babylon the Great and its fall by means of heavenly signs and symbols, whereas Revelation 18 portrays the impact of Babylon the Great’s fall on the earth in a largely non-symbolic fashion.
The Name “Babylon the Great”
Traditionally pretribulationists have held one of two major views of the identity of the political Babylon the Great, which all acknowledge is described at least in Revelation 18. These are the proposals that Babylon the Great is Rome and that it is old city of Babylon in Iraq. The identification of Babylon the Great as Rome was originally developed by Protestant Reformers who saw the Roman Catholic Church as the primary source of evil in the world; now, its major proponents are critical (liberal) scholars and other preterists who believe that John was describing the politics of his own day, rather than prophesying. If one believes that John was prophesying of an eschatological entity, and that the Roman Catholic Church is not the primary source of evil in the world, then there is virtually no basis whatsoever for the identification of Babylon the Great with Rome; thus, few pretribulational dispensationalists now hold this view. The view that Babylon the Great is the city of Babylon in Iraq is more widely held by pretribulational writers. This view is based almost exclusively on the use of the name “Babylon.” However, the assertion that this name must refer to a rebuilt city of Babylon in Iraq falls apart quickly upon analysis.
First, it is striking that in Revelation 17:5, John says the name of the harlot is a “mystery,” even though he reads it plainly. That verse is best translated, “and upon her forehead a name written, a mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of the Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth.” Although some translations attempt to alleviate this difficulty by making the word μυστήριον, mystērion (“mystery”) the beginning of the harlot’s name, this is an extremely improbable interpretation. Babylon the Great is never called “Mystery” elsewhere, as would be expected if this word were part of its name. The only other occurrence of μυστήριον, mystērion in Revelation 17:1–19:5 is in 17:7, in which the angel tells John that he will reveal “the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carries her.” Thus, it is the woman’s identity that is a mystery; mystery is not part of her character, as if she represents a mystery religion (i.e., a religion with occultic secrets).
If Babylon the Great were a reference to the rebuilt city of Babylon in Iraq, its name would be no mystery. Even if it were a reference to Rome, the name would not be especially mysterious, since Rome was the great world power of John’s day, and Peter even refers to Rome as “Babylon” in 1 Peter 5:13. Instead, Revelation 17:5 indicates that the name refers to some future entity whose identity was entirely unknown in AD 96, which was therefore represented symbolically—as with other eschatological entities in the book of Revelation. The characterization of the name “Babylon the Great” as a mystery shows that it is consistent with the literal hermeneutic to understand the name as referring to something other than a rebuilt city of Babylon in Iraq.
Virtually all writers refer to Babylon the Great as “Babylon,” which tends to leave the impression that Babylon the Great is the old city of Babylon, rebuilt. However, an examination of the occurrences of this name in Revelation reveals that John never follows this practice. The book of Revelation calls this entity “Babylon the Great,” “the great city, Babylon,” and “Babylon, the great city,” but never “Babylon” absolutely, alone and without modifiers (Rev 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). Four times, it is simply called “the great city,” without the use of the name “Babylon” (Rev 17:18; 18:16, 18-19). Conversely, in the Old Testament, Babylon is only called “great Babylon” (= “Babylon the Great”) once, in Daniel 4:30, and there in a speech by a pagan king. It is never called “the great city, Babylon,” “Babylon, the great city,” or even “the great city.” If a rebuilt city of Babylon were in view in Revelation, it ought to be called “Babylon” without modifiers at least once, if for no other reason than to make it clear that Babylon the Great is indeed the old city of Babylon, rebuilt. Instead, the consistent use of the descriptive adjective “great” accompanied by the definite article indicates that a different entity is in view in the book of Revelation. Following the biblical terminology, this article always uses “Babylon the Great” for the eschatological entity in Revelation 17:1–19:5.
The primary reason that the book of Revelation calls the harlot “Babylon the Great” is that she represents an entity that did not exist and was wholly unknown at the time the book was penned. Hence, the Revelator chose to use a metaphor and state that the real name was a mystery (Rev 17:5). Similar naming conventions are used in the Bible for other future entities: Russia is called “Gog,” and many of the modern countries mentioned with it in Ezekiel 38:1-6 are called by other now-defunct names. The antichrist’s ten-nation confederation is represented by the Roman Empire (Dan 2:40-43; 7:23-24). The name of Antiochus IV was not given in his descriptions in Daniel 8 and 11. The name of the antichrist is never given, only the number of his name (Rev 13:18). But even though none of those names is given, there has been and will be no doubt as to the identification of these persons or nations when they come, for the Bible gives identifying information that is far more specific than a name. The name “Babylon the Great” was chosen, rather than some other name, to show that the entity it represents is the pinnacle of the glory, wealth, power, and wickedness of the kingdoms of man.
Babylon the Great is not Destroyed at the End of the Tribulation Period
It is commonly held that Babylon the Great is destroyed at the end of the tribulation period, either at or just prior to the second coming of Christ, due to the placement of Revelation 17:1–19:5 in the narrative and the mention of Babylon the Great in the description of the seventh bowl (Rev 16:19). If this view is correct, then Babylon the Great would have to stand for the antichrist’s kingdom or base of power, since the antichrist dominates the world economic system throughout the second half of the tribulation period (Rev 13:16-17) and is the most powerful ruler on earth (Rev 13:7). On the other hand, if Babylon the Great is destroyed at any time before the second coming, and especially if it is destroyed before the midpoint of the tribulation period, it could not be identified with the antichrist’s kingdom, since the antichrist remains in power until Armageddon (cf. Rev 13:5-7). Babylon the Great must refer to some other entity that is even more powerful than the antichrist’s kingdom at the start of the tribulation period. The destruction of this entity is therefore necessary to facilitate the antichrist’s rise to power. A number of reasons will be presented in favor of the latter position.
In Revelation 14:8, which is the first verse to mention Babylon the Great in the book of Revelation, an angel proclaims “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the Great, which has given all the nations to drink of the wine of the wrath of its sexual immorality.” The two verbs ἔπεσεν ἔπεσεν, epesen epesen (fallen, fallen) are in the aorist tense, which is typically used to indicate past action. Within the narrative context of the book of Revelation, this proclamation is issued at the midpoint of the tribulation period. Even if one does not accept that the book of Revelation is organized chronologically, it should be noted that the sequence of angelic announcements in Revelation 14:6-11 is very specific. The angel who warns against receiving the mark of the beast is said to have “followed” the angel who proclaimed the fall of Babylon the Great in the past (Rev 14:9). The mark of the beast is implemented after the midpoint of the tribulation period, which marks the time of these angelic announcements as the midpoint. Thus, Revelation 14:8 is a clear statement of the fall of Babylon the Great before the midpoint of the tribulation period.
According to Revelation 17:16-17, Babylon the Great is destroyed by the antichrist and the ten kings in the European alliance that comprise his base of power (cf. Dan 2:42; 7:7-8, 24; Rev 13:1). Prior to this time, Babylon the Great has dominated world politics and has controlled the world economy. Since Revelation 13:3-7 presents the antichrist’s kingdom as the dominant world power during the second half of the tribulation period, and Revelation 13:16-17 shows that he controls the world economic system throughout the second half of the tribulation period, Babylon the Great must be destroyed before the midpoint of the tribulation period. Certainly the fact that Babylon the Great is destroyed by the antichrist’s militaries, rather than directly from heaven, argues strongly for its fall occurring before the second advent.
If Babylon the Great is destroyed before the midpoint of the tribulation period, this raises the question of how this momentous event is related to the judgments of the first half the tribulation, namely, the seal judgments and the first six trumpet judgments. While the seal judgments do not directly mention Babylon the Great, there are many textual indications that Babylon the Great is destroyed early in the tribulation period, as a major part of the first four seal judgments. The first seal judgment pictures the antichrist conquering through war (Rev 6:1-2), and it is entirely in accord with Revelation 17 to understand this to signify his destruction of Babylon the Great.
While Babylon the Great is mentioned in the narrative of the seventh bowl judgment (Rev 16:19), that verse does not state that Babylon the Great itself is destroyed with the cities of the nations after the seventh bowl is poured out, but rather that Babylon the Great called to remembrance before God, for the purpose of finishing God’s wrath against her. To use the terminology of the book of Revelation, Babylon the Great caused all the nations to drink of the wrath-bringing wine of her fornication (Rev 14:8; 18:3; cf. 17:2). According to Revelation 16:19, it is exactly this wine that is poured out in the seventh bowl judgment. By judging the nations that drank of Babylon the Great’s cup, God is judging Babylon the Great itself, destroying and condemning all that she has produced.
Revelation 17:1–19:5 is placed between the narrative of the seventh bowl (Rev 16:17-21) and the narrative of the second advent (Rev 19:6-21) because the entire word system created by Babylon the Great will be judged at the second advent. However, Revelation 17:1–19:5 is a topical unit, not a narrative unit. The introduction of Babylon the Great and the description of its fall are dramatically placed just before the final judgment. Yet while the final judgment is universal, the destruction of Babylon the Great is a targeted judgment which occurs at an early stage of the tribulation period.
The Identification of Babylon the Great as the Great World Superpower of the End Times
A study of Revelation 17:1–19:5 shows that Babylon the Great is the world’s great superpower in the end times. The following facts emerge from an analysis of this section of the book of Revelation: (1) Babylon the Great has the largest economy of any entity in the world. It is the center of wealth in the world, and it is responsible for an extended period of global wealth creation in the end times. (2) Babylon the Great has shaped global culture in the end times, in a directly antichristian manner. (3) Babylon the Great has the greatest political power of any entity in the end times. (4) Babylon the Great is considered to have the strongest military in the world of the end times. All of these characteristics uniquely and definitively match the United States of America. For exegetical details, see the larger paper.
Most commentators assume, based on the use of the Greek word πόλις, polis with reference to Babylon the Great, that Babylon the Great is a city, not a large nation-state composed of many cities, towns, and villages. However, “city” is only one possible meaning of word πόλις, polis. The lexicon LSJ gives “country,” “state,” and “community” as other possible meanings, with numerous examples from Classical Greek. In fact, πόλις, polis was the normal word for “state” in extrabiblical Greek, and typically carried political implications. It is hard to think of a better term that the angel could have used to describe the United States than ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη, “the great polis.” The term ἔθνος (nation) generally denotes a racial or ethnic group, and there is no American race. The term βασιλεία (kingdom) encompasses all the domains ruled by a state, not just the state itself—which in the case of Babylon the Great could refer to the entire earth (Rev 17:18). The term βασιλεύς (king) would create confusion as to whether a nation or a its leader is in view, and is not the normal term for a political entity in Greek. The term χώρα (country) refers to a tract of land or a district, and does not carry political implications. Thus, there is no better term in the Greek lexicon to describe a modern sovereign state than πόλις, polis.
Babylon the Great is a world hegemon, a country which dominates world politics, economics, and culture in the end times. Further, the text of Revelation indicates that it is a unique entity in the world, ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη the great polis. It uniquely makes all the nations of the world wealthy, reigns over the nations of the world, imposes its culture on all the nations, and leads them in a massive downward spiral of materialistic depravity that culminates in worldwide worship of Satan and the antichrist during the second half of the tribulation period. These are things that can only be done once, and the United States is now doing them. Never before in history has a single country dominated all the other countries of the world and enjoyed such preeminence in comparison to all the others. The United States finds itself in the historically unique position of monopolizing every significant power source in the world—a position it began to occupy since the end of World War II, and which was greatly enhanced by the end of the Cold War.
In summary, the book of Revelation describes Babylon the Great as the dominant superpower in the world of the end times—so dominant, that it actually shapes the culture and economy of the world as it exists at the start of the tribulation period. The nature and scope of Babylon the Great’s dominance is such that only one such entity could ever exist in the history of the world, and there is no doubt that the United States of America is this entity. While some aspects of the prophecy remain to be fulfilled—most notably the prophecies of Babylon the Great’s attempts to put Christians to death worldwide (Rev 17:6; 18:20, 24; 19:2)—enough aspects already match so as to leave no doubt as to the fulfillment of the rest.