As we approach the famous Mayan doomsday the world has become more attuned to its demise. Earth-shattering meteors, environmental disasters, zombie apocalypses, and even a revival of the 1990’s boy-band era have disturbed the sleep of many end-time worriers.
The re-establishment of Israel, the rise of world war, and the chaos in the Middle East have piqued the interest of Christians awaiting the second coming of Christ. With this newfound interest, many readers have come across prophecies about an ancient city – Babylon.
Born out of the cradle of civilization, the Babylonians were an ancient superpower that slaughtered the Jews and sent them into a seventy-year captivity. The Babylonians lost their superpower status 2,500 years ago, but their legacy lives on even to this day.
In the future, the city of Babylon will rise again to become a terrible oppressor of God’s people during the Tribulation. Babylon will lead a false religious system that will target multitudes of Christians. The antichrist will conquer Babylon, making it his own world capitol for the remaining portion of the Tribulation.
The Bible prophesies that God will destroy Babylon once and for all at the end of the Tribulation. Unfortunately, that is where much of the agreement in Christian circles ends. Who is this future superpower that is destined to cause so much destruction?
There is no nation or city called Babylon today, at least with any political power. Iraq currently watches over the remains of the ancient city, but the Iraqis are Arab and Islamic in culture, not Babylonian. Saddam Hussein admired the ancient Babylonians and thought of himself as a reincarnated Nebuchadnezzar. Look how that turned out for him. Iraq is no Babylon.
The absence of Babylon today has led to a number of theories – most of which cannot be true.
False Theory #1: Babylon does not exist today. Therefore the Babylon of Revelation must refer to a future, modern-day superpower, not a revived Babylon in the Middle East.
This is where the whoppers begin. Christians have named countless “Babylons” through the ages. Looking for potential superpowers today that could represent Babylon, many have labeled the United States as a modern-day Babylon. Culturally America has grown decadent and it is the center of all trade (for now).
The European Union (which is on the verge of collapse) has also been a targeted Babylon. Even individual cities such as Rome and New York City have been labeled as potential homes to the future super-power.
If we adhere to a literal interpretation of the Bible’s prophecies (all previously fulfilled prophecies have been fulfilled literally) we must assume that God is discussing the same Babylon of history, restored in the same ancient location in Iraq.
Fortunately, geographic fulfillment dictates that America cannot be the Babylon of Revelation. Americans, you can now relax, unpack your bags, and try to get a refund of that hefty plane ticket to Australia. America is not Babylon.
Adherents to this view find it hard to believe Babylon will become a world power. The Middle East is a wreck. Iraq has only recently experienced economic success and can hardly be labeled a functioning state, let alone a regional power.
Lest we forget Israel’s miraculous rise in 1948, prophetic events can happen very quickly and without warning.
False Theory #2: The absence of Babylon today proves that the prophecies of Babylon’s destruction have already been fulfilled.
The books of Jeremiah and Isaiah illustrate a calamitous end for Babylon. A quick look at history will show that Babylon has never been destroyed in the manner described by scripture.
After the Persians conquered Babylon in 539 BC they used it as a regional capital. Alexander also made Babylon a capital of his own Empire. The Romans eventually incorporated Babylon into their empire in 116 AD.
As late as the 6th century AD Babylon continued to thrive. With the advent of Islam, residents around Babylon began moving to nearby cultural and economic centers such as Baghdad, leaving the ancient city to the desert nomads.
Today some of the walls have been rebuilt and its gates restored. Saddam Hussein had ambitious plans to restore the ancient palaces until the Americans threw a wrench into those plans.
The collapse of Babylon was gradual, not sudden as the Bible predicts. The swift biblical destruction of Babylon simply doesn’t fit with the gradual decay of the city. Below are four characteristics of Babylon’s future destruction.
#1: Babylon will be a desolate haunt of demons, uninhabitable by man...forever.
And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird (Revelation 18:2).
“Therefore the desert creatures will live there along with the jackals; The ostriches also will live in it, And it will never again be inhabited Or dwelt in from generation to generation. “As when God overthrew Sodom And Gomorrah with its neighbors,” declares the Lord, “No man will live there, Nor will any son of man reside in it (Jeremiah 50:39-40).
It will never be inhabited or lived in from generation to generation; Nor will the Arab pitch his tent there, Nor will shepherds make their flocks lie down there (Isaiah 13:20).
Arab shepherds still pitch their tents around Babylon. Archaeologists rummage through its ruins. After the collapse of the Hussein regime, tourism has showed signs of life again. At least 165 excited foreigners have visited the ancient city in 2010. Nothing to shout about, but a start nonetheless. Babylon is not a desolate place yet.
#2: There will be no survivors of future Babylon
The Persians hardly killed anyone in their conquest of the city in 539 BC. The city largely gave up peacefully. This is a far cry from the prophecies of Babylon’s destruction.
Come to her from the farthest border; Open up her barns, Pile her up like heaps And utterly destroy her, Let nothing be left to her. Put all her young bulls to the sword; Let them go down to the slaughter! Woe be upon them, for their day has come, The time of their punishment (Jeremiah 50:26-27).
And their bows will mow down the young men, They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb, Nor will their eye pity children. And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride, Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 13:18-19).
#3: Heralds a worldwide economic collapse
“And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’ “And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more— (Revelation 18:9-11).
After Persia conquered Babylon, life went on as usual. Trade still flowed in and out of Babylon. After the future destruction of Babylon, the entire (lost) world will mourn her destruction. Babylon will be the center of all trade and commerce.
#4: Destroyed by the Medes, not the Persians.
The Medes are closely related to the Persians ethnically, but have their own distinct history. The future destruction will be largely a Mede endeavor according to Jeremiah and Isaiah.
Sharpen the arrows, fill the quivers! The Lord has aroused the spirit of the kings of the Medes, Because His purpose is against Babylon to destroy it; (Jeremiah 51:11).
Consecrate the nations against her, The kings of the Medes, Their governors and all their prefects, And every land of their dominion (Jeremiah 51:28).
Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them, Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold. (Isaiah 13:17).
The Medes are mentioned in both Babylonian destruction passages as leading the attack from the north. The modern-day descendants of the Medes are the Kurds of the Middle East. It will be interesting to watch Bible prophecy fulfill itself with the Kurds in the future. Without sovereign boundaries and persecuted throughout history, the Kurds will have a homeland once again in the Middle East. Sound familiar?
Timing of Babylon’s future destruction
Both Jeremiah and Isaiah predict an end-times destruction that supports the one cited by Revelation.
“In those days and at that time,” declares the Lord, “the sons of Israel will come, both they and the sons of Judah as well; they will go along weeping as they go, and it will be the Lord their God they will seek. They will ask for the way to Zion, turning their faces in its direction; they will come that they may join themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten (Jeremiah 50:4-5).
The Jews will not turn to Christ as a nation until Christ returns at Armageddon. This places the destruction of Babylon toward the end of the Tribulation.
Isaiah also gives detailed Tribulation imagery to pinpoint the future destruction of Babylon.
Behold, the day of the Lord is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger,To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises And the moon will not shed its light. Thus I will punish the world for its evil And the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless. (Isaiah 13: 9-11).
The details of “the day of the Lord” are nearly universally accepted as part of the Tribulation. It also happens to be in the same chapter (13) that depicts the destruction of Babylon. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
The Real Babylon will stand up – in Babylon
If the Bible’s prophecies are to be taken literally, then we should look for a literal city of Babylon to ascend in the Middle East, not in New York, Rome, or even Scranton, PA.
We may have to wait awhile for this prophecy. Iraq is currently weaker than both the Iranians and the Turks. It still struggles with terrorism, sectarian strife, and the instability of being a young democracy.
The Iraqis aren’t on the verge of regional power status, nor of abandoning Islam for their ancestral culture. The most popular Iraqi boy baby names are still Ahmed and Omar, not Nebuchadnezzar or Hammurabi. One day the land of Mesopotamia will become a Babylonian superpower once more.
Jeremy Stevens is a historian, author, and teacher. His latest book, "So What Happens Next? Exploring Biblical Prophecies to Make Sense of Today's Chaos" is available at all participating bookstores.