All of us must admit that we do not know when the book of Revelation was written. I have presented the case for the early dating of the Apocalypse but I cannot prove exactly when this marvelous book was written. Someone recently said, "The important issue in understanding the book of Revelation is not the date... The real issue is not so much when the book was written but what was it all about?" I agree, which explains the approach taken in my previous articles. If we can establish what this book is about, we can go a long way in finding the answers to the book. I personally think we ought to thrash it out until we get to the bottom of it. It is attainable. I gladly make my contribution even if proven wrong in the end. I hope all who read this presentation will accept the same challenge.
In previous articles, I presented evidence from the Apocalypse tying it to other Biblical sources demanding identical recognition. If our reasoning was correct, we accurately connected the Revelation to the desolation of the nation of Israel and the destruction of their capital city, Jerusalem. This would argue that the book was written before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. I contend that Babylon the Great symbolizes Jerusalem and that her destruction portrays the destruction of Jerusalem which was approaching when John wrote.
Others contend for the Babylon = Rome theory. Some very strong arguments support this view. Let us give due consideration to these arguments before closing this part of our studies.
One of the strongest arguments for the Babylon = Rome view is found in Revelation 17:9. John writes, "And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth" (Revelation 17:9). Many contend that the seven mountains correspond with the seven hills of Rome identifying the royal city which governed and controlled the Roman Empire. On the surface this argument looks reasonable but it is based entirely upon supposition and assumption.
Men read this text and immediately assert that John said hills. Then it is claimed that "every body understood what was meant when talking about the seven hills of Rome in a first century context." Where do we get the right to change the word mountains to hills? Mountains are not hills. The scriptures make a distinction (cf.Luke 3:5; 23:30). Even those who argue this recognize the difference. Recently, a lecturer who argued this, later said, "Jerusalem was up in the mountains and they (the horses, AMO) don't work too good up there. When we talk about the mountains of Jerusalem, they were really mountains and Rome we are talking about hills for the most part." So, you see, he knew the difference. When we have to change the word of God to fit our theories we are treading on dangerous grounds.
I too have argued that the seven heads identify with Rome (cf.Avenging, pages 280, 331). My reasons are simple, reasonable and contextually sound. I reached this conclusion without consideration of the harlot. You see, the seven heads are on the sea beast which represents the Roman Empire (cf.Revelation 13:1-3). The heads are seven "mountains" and "kings" (Revelation 17:9,10). John was not identifying geographic location. I think he used mountains in the symbolic sense of governments as used in the Old Testament. The king of Babylon was a destroying mountain and would become a burnt mountain (Jeremiah 51:25; cf.Isaiah 2:2,3). Each Roman king had his own government or administration. There were seven administrations under Rome's first seven kings. These were the seven mountains with their kings. The seat of government for these kings and their administrations was Rome. The seven heads, therefore, symbolize the power structure which controlled the Empire from Rome.
This is how I backed into the position that the seven mountains symbolized Rome. The heads were a part of the beast and not a part of the harlot. Babylon simply sat (or was carried by the beast) upon the seven heads which identified the kings of the Empire ruling from Rome.
Some have said, "it would not make sense for Jerusalem to set upon the heads. If it were Jerusalem, it would make more sense if she sat upon the back or on the tail." Absolutely not! To symbolize Jerusalem, Babylon had to sit on the heads. Here is why. The harlot was carried by the beast. The word carried means "to carry a burden." (Thayer, pages 98,99). The beast (Roman Empire) carried the harlot as a burden. Only the heads would carry Jerusalem. The rest of the Empire would not. Josephus is full of it. The peoples of the Empire resented the Jews getting special treatment because of their religion. So, they persecuted them in efforts to bring them into compliance. The Jews through Jerusalem's power structure constantly appealed to the Caesars and the Senate for protection of their religious rights. Decrees were passed down protecting the Jews and their religion. It was the governments of the Roman Empire which protected and granted their rights and in that sense carried them as a burden (cf.Josephus, Ant., 14, 10). If the Roman kings and their administrations had not supported the Jews, the peoples of the empire would have turned upon them long before 70 A.D. So, you see, there is a reason why the harlot (Jerusalem) is portrayed as sitting on the heads. This was the proper place for her because it portrays reality.
Again, the harlot is not the beast or any part of the beast. She was simply carried by the beast. In order to clearly evaluate John's picture, let me ask a simple question. Was Rome any part of the Roman Empire (the beast)? Is it not true that Rome existed long before the Empire was born and was always the essential ingredient of the Empire? Yet, in John's presentation, the harlot is not on the beast when it first appears (Revelation 13) and she is not on the beast when it is destroyed (Revelation 19). Rome, therefore, was not Babylon the Great because Rome was a part of the Roman Empire from beginning to end. John's picture of Babylon fits Jerusalem perfectly.
Perhaps the strongest argument for the Babylon = Rome theory is based upon Revelation 17:18. "And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth." It is contended that this settles the matter since Rome was the one and only city that ruled over the kings of the earth. Therefore Babylon had to equal Rome.
It is my contention that Jerusalem and Jerusalem alone fulfills this text. Note carefully that Babylon ruled as a city. This is where men ignore what John said. Babylon ruled as a city! Note carefully that this is a city reigning over the kings of the earth. It is not kings reigning over other kings, but a city reigning. Did Rome reign as a city over kings? No, a 1000 times. Did Rome reign as a city over her own kings? Was it not the other way around? Kings ruled Rome! Indeed, that is the way it was. Rome never ruled as a city but Jerusalem did and we do not have to go out of the scriptures to prove it. We can explain how Jerusalem reigned as a city but we cannot explain how Rome reigned as a city over the kings of the earth. We can only explain how Rome ruled through the sovereignty of kings. Did Rome rule the Caesars? The fact is that Rome as a city ruled no one. Jerusalem ruled through her power and influence as the city of the great King. Actually, through her power politics, Jerusalem even exercised dominion over the Roman kings. Read Josephus, he is full of it. We have to be blind not to see how it worked.
My position that Jerusalem reigned with a sovereignty that was above that of kings has been questioned by some. I realize that the natural understanding of the text in our English translations suggests the idea of "exercising authority over." The only reason I offered the other explanation was that Vine suggested it (cf.Avenging, page 333). He said the words used here were "suggestive of a distinction between the sovereignty of mystic Babylon and that of ordinary sovereigns" (Vine, Vol.3, p.269). I have no reason to believe that Vine thought Babylon was Jerusalem, but he suggested that the rule of Babylon was different from that of kings. Was the rule of Rome different from that of kings or was the rule of Rome that of her sovereign kings? We know the answer. Jerusalem ruled as the city of the great king but her rule was not that of kings. Her power and rule came from the fact that she was the one and only Holy City in the world of that day. She truly ruled as a city.
The word translated over in this text means over or above. I have no problem with our present translations but the passage may be saying that Babylon had a sovereignty that was above, i.e., greater, superior, or higher than that of earthly kings. I take this view of the passage because it is the best way to understand the sovereignty of a city. Let me also add, that whether Jerusalem was occupied by foreign powers had nothing to do with this kind of rule. Jerusalem ruled as a city even while lying in ruins (Daniel 6:10; cf.2 Chronicles 6:36-38; Psalms 137).
I can say without fear of contradiction that Jerusalem reigned as a city over the kings of the earth. The BIBLE proves this. Some think that these two above arguments clearly identify Babylon as Rome but they do not come close to it. These arguments are neither conclusive nor convincing.
Some are wondering what drives us to find another explanation other than the clearly Babylon = Rome explanation. The reason is very simply. Rome does not fit the picture. There is no fulfillment of the things forecast for Babylon if she is Rome. Think about this seriously, friends. If Babylon is Rome, there is yet to be a destruction. This denies the "at hand" fulfillment foretold. No, Babylon cannot be Rome because Babylon was to be destroyed by the sea beast which represents the Roman Empire and it never happened. The Roman Empire was destroyed nearly 1500 years ago while Rome, the Eternal City, has never been destroyed. There is no way you can shake it and come up with a fulfillment. A failure to have a fulfillment of the destruction of Babylon the Great, per the Babylon = Rome theory, seriously questions the integrity of both Jesus and John as prophets of God. Let us remember the warnings of Revelation 22:18,19.
Further, Rome does not fit the picture because it ignores John's chronological order. In Revelation 14, the fall of Babylon precedes the warning against the worship of the beast and his image (Revelation 14:8,9). In Revelation 17-19, the fall of Babylon precedes the destruction of the sea beast and the false prophet. Chronological order is essential since John revealed things that were shortly to come to pass (Revelation 1:1). Prophecy is history revealed before it happens, therefore, it must have chronological order. If Babylon symbolizes Rome, John's order is wrong because any fall of Rome argued must follow the worship of the beast and his image. Christianity's conflict with the Roman Empire was over before the city of Rome was ever threatened. Since Rome has never been destroyed as described by Babylon's fall, the fall of the Roman Empire preceded any prescribed fall of Rome. I am sorry about Rome because it does not fit John's picture.
When we consider Jerusalem as the city symbolized by Rome, we have no problem with chronological order. The everlasting gospel was preached to all men, Jerusalem fell and Christianity's conflict with the Roman Empire developed precisely as pictured in Revelation 14:6-11. Again, Babylon fell in Revelation 17-18 followed by Christianity's confrontation with the Roman Empire and the religions which served the Empire. Jerusalem's fall fits the chronological order. Rome does not.
Our next article will continue our study of the Babylon = Rome theory.
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