Babylon the Great

Babylon the Great July 14, 2015

Four times Babylon is called “Babylon the great” (Babulon he megale) in Revelation, and the uses of the phrase form a simple chiasm:

A. Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, 14:8

B. Babylon the great is remembered before God, 16:19

B’. “Babylon the Great” on forehead of harlot, 17:5

A’. Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, 18:2

Four cities formed the original Babel (Genesis 10:10; the cities are Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh). From building those four cities, Nimrod went on to build four cities in Assyria (Nineveh, Rehboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen). Appropriately, Revelation concludes the biblical story of Babel with a twice-fourfold announcement of the fall of the fourfold city. “Fallen” is used of Babylon four times (2 pairs) and the phrase “Babylon the great” is used four times. Each “fallen, fallen” is a double witness, but when you double the double witness, you get a witness that stretches to the four corners, a witness of judgment that encompasses all four cities of Babel.

In addition, there are two, slightly variant references to “Babylon the great city.” 18:10 gives a chiastic title to the city: he polis he megale Babulon he polis he ischura, with the name “Babylon” occupying the center. 18:21 refers not to the fall but to the tossing of Babylon into the sea, Babulon he megale polis.

When we add these phrases to the four references to “Babylon the great,” we get six total designations of Babylon as a great city. It’s a fourfold city receiving fourfold judgment, but it also a city associated with 6, with the 666 of the beast, with the 6th day that is the day of man. Babylon the great/the great city is the highest achievement of humanity; it is the city of man. But it must fall as the city of God descends. 

To this we can add the 8 references to the “great city,” all references to Babylon but without using the name (11:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21). The number 8 typically has positive connotations, of a new week, of resurrection. In Revelation, the beast on which Babylon rides is an “eighth” who is also one of the seven heads who are kings (17:11). The beast (perhaps the same that “died and rose” in chapter 13) is a false Messiah preaching false resurrection. And the “great city” is the city that claims to be the community of that false resurrection. Babylon claims to be the city of the new order, but its claims are fraudulent. 

The true city of the new order is “new Jerusalem,” which is mentioned 3x in Revelation (3:12; 21:2, 10). It descends from heaven, rather than riding on the beast from the abyss; it is a bride, not a harlot; it is the city of the third day, the true city of resurrection life, inaugurated by Jesus’ third-day resurrection, sustained until the endless 8th day of eternal light. Jerusalem is also the twelvefold city of a reborn Israel (polis is used 12x in Revelation 21-22).

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