Babylon and Armageddon
The book of Revelation, as we already have noted, comes filled with images and language taken directly from the Old Testament. For instance, the name Babylon appears six times in Revelation. But it is not talking about the ancient kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar, which had passed from world history hundreds of years earlier. Instead, John is using Old Testament imagery to express a truth. In this case, Babylon—a massive political and religious power that had oppressed God’s people—now describes the massive religious and political powers that will seek to do the same in the end times.
Something similar happens with the word Armageddon. The word occurs only in Revelation, but it is based on a Hebrew phrase that seems to mean “Mount of Megiddo,” a reference to a location in ancient Israel. A great deal of speculation exists about Armageddon, with many people looking for a massive military battle to take place there, in Megiddo, near the end of the world.
This week, we will look at Babylon and Armageddon and seek to learn what the Bible is telling us with these images.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, June 23.
It has been said that the Bible is a tale of two cities, Jerusalem and Babylon. While Jerusalem stood for the city of God and His covenant people all through the Bible (Ps. 102:21, Isa. 52:9, 65:19, Rev. 3:12), Babylon has stood for oppression, violence, false religion, and outright rebellion against God.
Think, for instance, of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:9). The Hebrew word for “Babel” is the same word for the kingdom of “Babylon.” In 1 Peter 5:13, Peter sends greetings from the church in “Babylon,” which generally is understood not to mean from the ruins of the old kingdom located in today’s Iraq but from Rome itself, soon to be the church’s oppressor. This is an interesting appellation in light of the book of Revelation and the role of Rome as presented in it.
There is no question that the power that Babylon represents, as depicted in the book of Revelation, is a greatly corruptive influence that extends across the whole world. The phrase “the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Rev. 14:8) is clearly a reference to false doctrine, false teaching, and corrupt practices as well as the end results that come from them. Babylon is a force for evil that has spread to “all nations” (Rev. 18:3). Hence, everyone needs to take heed lest he or she be corrupted, as well.
However corrupt and far-reaching the influence of Babylon has been in the world, the book of Revelation teaches that one day it will all end.
The second angel’s message (Rev. 14:8) about the fall of Babylon is repeated here, in Revelation 18:2. It is an expression of just how corrupt this entity has become.
“The Bible declares that before the coming of the Lord, Satan will work ‘with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness;’ and they that ‘received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved,’ will be left to receive ‘strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.’ 2 Thessalonians 2:9–11. Not until this condition shall be reached, and the union of the church with the world shall be fully accomplished throughout Christendom, will the fall of Babylon be complete. The change is a progressive one, and the perfect fulfillment of Revelation 14:8 is yet future.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 389, 390.
Whether that “perfect fulfillment” now has come, only God knows. But what we do know is that, according to these texts, spiritual Babylon will one day face the judgment of God because of her great evil. “For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities” (Rev. 18:5). This expression reflects language from the Old Testament about ancient Babylon, as well (see Jer. 51:9), and means that a time of judgment is sure to come.
Of course, this coming judgment shouldn’t be surprising. After all, Babylon of old faced judgment (see Daniel 5). Scripture in numerous places is very clear that one day everyone will have to answer for their deeds, including Babylon. How comforting to know that as Christians we have an Intercessor in that judgment who will stand for us (1 John 2:1; Dan. 7:22). Otherwise, our fate might not be much better than that of Babylon’s.
Although most people, including many Christians, don’t know much about the book of Revelation, one image or word from it has reached popular culture: Armageddon (see Rev. 16:16). Even in secular culture the word has come to stand for a final struggle in which the fate of the earth hangs in the balance. Hollywood produced a movie called Armageddon about a giant asteroid poised to destroy the planet. To some degree, the idea of the world’s end is in the minds of secular people, as well.
Many Christians who are familiar with the book of Revelation and believe in it see the battle of Armageddon as a literal military conflict in the Middle East near the end of the world. One version has a 200 million–man army from Asia sweeping into northern Israel. Others are fixated on the various military and political conflicts in that part of the world that will, in their understanding, set the stage for the final military battle of Armageddon in the area of Megiddo.
However, the Bible gives a totally different picture. Scripture presents Armageddon as the ultimate climax—not between squabbling nations, but between the two sides of the cosmic controversy. It’s a religious struggle, not economic or political, however much economic and political factors might come into play.
First, notice just how symbolic the language is here. Spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, the mouth of the beast, and the mouth of the false prophet (references to the powers of Revelation 13; the “false prophet” here must be a reference to the land beast of Revelation 13:11). The great controversy is seen here, too, as the “spirits of demons” (Rev. 16:14, NKJV) go out to battle on the “great day of God Almighty” (Rev. 16:14). In whatever manner Armageddon will unfold, it’s a worldwide conflict between the forces of Christ and Satan. It is not a local battle in the area of Megiddo any more than Babylon in Revelation is talking about events in a corner of modern-day Iraq.
What, though, is this great battle of Armageddon? First, the name seems to mean “Mountain of Megiddo.” However, there is no mountain in the area known as Megiddo, but Mount Carmel was located in the vicinity. So, some scholars have seen the phrase Mountain of Megiddo as a reference to Mount Carmel.
More to the point, Bible students have seen the story of Elijah and the false prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel as a symbol, a type to what is going to unfold in Revelation 13.
As seen yesterday, Revelation 16:13, with its reference to the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, points back to events in Revelation 13, the counterfeit trinity that we saw in week 9.
Issues in Revelation 13 start to come to a climax in verses 13 and 14, when the second beast performs supernatural acts, even making “fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (Rev. 13:13). These events then lead to the direct confrontation between God and Satan, as well as between those worshiping the true God and those worshiping the “image to the beast” (Rev. 13:14).
In many ways, what we see here is a stark portrayal of the great controversy. Elijah states the issue very plainly in verse 18: people have forsaken God’s law and are worshiping and following false gods. Has not this always been the issue, regardless of the endless forms and ways in which this evil has been manifested throughout history? We are either worshiping “Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water” (Rev. 14:7, NKJV), or we are worshiping someone or something else. In Revelation 13, instead of worshiping the Lord, people are worshiping the beast and his image. There is no middle ground. We are either on the side of God or on the side of Satan. That’s how important the issues at stake are, now and especially in the battle of Armageddon, where, as we will see in the story on Mount Carmel, the distinction becomes very clear.
The battle on Mount Carmel was between Elijah, prophet of God, and the hundreds of priests of Baal. (Notice how the evil outnumbered the good.) It was a test to demonstrate who is the true God—the God who created the heavens and the earth, or Baal, just another manifestation of “the dragon” and another means by which he seeks to deceive the world (Rev. 12:9).
The priests prayed to Baal to send fire to burn up their bull sacrifice. They shouted from morning to noon. “ ‘Cry aloud,’ ” taunted Elijah. “ ‘Perhaps he is sleeping’ ” (1 Kings 18:27, NKJV). The priests worked themselves up into a frenzy. They slashed themselves with swords until the blood flowed freely. Weary and worn, they gave up at the time of the evening sacrifice.
Elijah’s sacrifice was soaked three times, and water overflowed the trenches. Elijah prayed a simple prayer to God. God instantly burned up everything, including the stone altar and soil beneath. The power of the true God in contrast to Baal was now unmistakable.
Whatever remains unknown about Armageddon, at least for now, we know the outcome: destruction of the enemies of God and vindication for God and His saints.
Further Thought: “In several places in the battle of Armageddon narrative the hideous creatures and the ugly events take the back stage for a moment and a glimpse of more personal truth appears. As we have seen, one of them is Revelation 16:15: ‘Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed’ (NIV). This text, coming right in the middle of the one place in the Bible that actually names Armageddon, echoes many New Testament passages about personal preparation for the return of Jesus and the events of the end.
“Another such text is Revelation 17:14: ‘These will make war with the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them, because [H]e is Lord of lords and King of kings—and those with [H]im are called and chosen and faithful’ (author’s translation). Here the great war at the end engages an army of people whose primary purpose is not to destroy others with weapons, but to be faithful to their divine calling and election. This is a very different kind of battle from the ones that nations and insurgent operations still fight today. As I have said repeatedly, the battle of Armageddon is a struggle for the mind. It is also a battle for the heart—a call to heartfelt allegiance to the Lamb that was slain (Rev. 5:9, 10, 12; 13:8).”—Jon Paulien, Armageddon at the Door (Hagerstown, Md.: Autumn House Publishing, a division of Review and Herald® Publishing Association, 2008), p. 193.