“Flee from the midst of Babylon!”

In the symbolic language of Revelation, Christians are commanded to distance themselves from false religions just like the Israelites were commanded to leave Babylon and restore true worship at Jerusalem.

“Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4).

When this was written, literal Babylon had lost its power two hundred years earlier, as predicted by Isaiah and Jeremiah. Thus, in Revelation, Babylon obviously refers to something other than the literal city.

Considering the seriousness of this warning, it is vital that we know what it means to come out of Babylon, so we can avoid her sins and her punishment.

To understand the imagery, we must examine Old Testament passages about Babylon and compare them with the warning in Revelation.

What is the historical basis for Babylon’s symbolism?

Babylon had a long history of rebellion against God.

Babel, the forerunner of Babylon, was one of the first cities built. Nimrod, who “began to be a mighty one on the earth” (1 Chronicles 1:10) founded Babel (Genesis 10:10).

The name “Babel” means “confusion” and originates from the confusion of languages, which halted the building of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:9).

Babylon used political force to promote false religion.

“All the people, nations and languages” were commanded to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s gold image (Daniel 3:1-7).

Isaiah and Jeremiah predicted the ruin of Babylon as punishment for idolatry.

“Babylon is fallen, is fallen! And all the carved images of her gods He has broken to the ground” (Isaiah 21:9).

“Declare among the nations, proclaim, and set up a standard; proclaim, and do not conceal it - Say, ‘Babylon is taken, Bel is shamed. Merodach is broken in pieces; her idols are humiliated, her images are broken in pieces’” (Jeremiah 50:2).

Bel and Merodach were Babylonian idols. Merodach was the patron deity of Babylon, a sun god, often pictured with a dragon.

Israel went into Babylonian exile as punishment for her own unfaithfulness and idolatry. God allowed the temple to be destroyed because He was disgusted by the hypocritical worship being conducted there (Isaiah 1:13-15).

Because the temple was indispensable for Old Covenant worship, the Israelites could not worship God according to His word in Babylon. When their captors asked them to sing a song of Zion, they replied: “How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4).

The Israelites were commanded to flee from Babylon.

To flee is to quickly get away from impending danger.

God used Babylonian captivity to bring Israel to repentance.

After 70 years of exile, the Israelites were allowed to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the temple, and restore Old Covenant worship.

Considering the many warnings, some must have preferred to stay in Babylon!

A messianic undertone is discernable in passages where Israel is commanded to flee from Babylon.

“Go forth from Babylon! Flee from the Chaldees! With a voice of singing, declare, proclaim ‘The LORD has redeemed His servant Jacob!’” (Isaiah 48:20). [See verses 12-22.]

“Depart! Depart! Go out from there, touch no unclean thing; go out from the midst of her, be clean, you who bear the vessels of the LORD” (Isaiah 52:11). [See verses 7-12.]

“‘In those days and in that time,’ says the LORD, ‘The children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together; with continual weeping they shall come, and seek the LORD their God. They shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces toward it, saying, “Come and let us join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that will not be forgotten”’” (Jeremiah 50:4, 5). [For additional insight read chapters 50 and 51.]

“Flee from the midst of Babylon, and every one save his life! Do not be cut off in her iniquity, for this is the time of the LORD’s vengeance; He shall recompense her” (Jeremiah 51:6).

“We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed. Forsake her, and let us go everyone to his own country; for her judgment reaches to heaven and is lifted up to the skies. The LORD has revealed our righteousness. Come and let us declare in Zion the work of the LORD our God” (Jeremiah 51:9, 10).

“My people, go out of the midst of her! And let everyone deliver himself from the fierce anger of the LORD” (Jeremiah 51:45).

“Up, Zion! Escape, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon” (Zechariah 2:7).

Observe that although God’s people in Babylon did not serve idols themselves, they were unclean and shared in her sins if they remained and did not go to Jerusalem to worship God according to His word.

What does Babylon represent in Revelation?

Babylon is first mentioned in chapter fourteen: “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Revelation 14:8).

To know the meaning of Babylon, we must understand various symbols in Revelation. The dragon is the devil (Revelation 12:9). As in Daniel, beasts represent governments. To the first beast the devil gives “his power, his throne and great authority” (Revelation 13:2). A second beast, who resembles a lamb but speaks like a dragon, exercises all the authority of the first beast, and causes everyone on earth to worship the first beast (Revelation 13:11-14).

Under the influence of these two beasts, all the world worships the devil except those whose names are in the Book of Life: “All the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; ... All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:3, 4, 8).

There are only two classes: the saints of God and those who worship the devil. Only by the blood of Christ can one be conveyed from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13, 14).

The second beast is “the false prophet” (Revelation 19:20). This beast is religious (religious authority) and is supported by the first beast (political authority).

Babylon is a symbolic representation of the false prophet, pictured as a harlot riding on a beast: “The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Revelation 17:4, 5).

The mystery is disclosed: “And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18).

When this was written, any reader would think of the Roman Empire. Thus Babylon (Rome) is a depiction of the false prophet. All religious and political rebellion against God is symbolized by the harlot and the beast she rides!

The harlot is not the literal city of Rome, but Rome as a symbol. Paul was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:27, 28). In his letter to the Romans, he did not tell them to leave the city.

Like ancient Babylon, Rome spread false religion by political force. After Augustus (27-14 BC) everyone was commanded to worship the emperor. Thus, like Babylon, Rome is a fitting symbol of all political and religious rebellion against God.

Babylon and Rome are the first and last of four kingdoms in Daniel that would be vanquished by God’s Kingdom (Daniel 2:31-45; 7:17-27).

How has Rome evolved in history?

The harlot on the beast was “drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Revelation 17:6).

Because they refused to worship the emperor, Christians were persecuted by pagan Rome, especially under Nero, Domitian and Trajan.

Pagan Rome mutated into “The Holy Roman Empire” (“holy” is a gross misnomer) with emperors appointed by the pope. Otto I was appointed by Pope John XII in 962.

Through the centuries this unholy Roman empire murdered non-Catholics with the blessing of the popes. Among the thousands killed was William Tyndale, the English Bible translator. He was burned at the stake in Vilvoorde, Belgium on 6 October 1536.

The “Holy Roman Empire” was dissolved by Napoleon in 1806.

After a period of conflicting claims to jurisdiction, the Vatican City State was recognized as a sovereign state in 1929. This ended Rome’s direct political power over kings. Even so, most European and many South American countries have Catholic political parties, and via its hierarchy, the Vatican exercises authority throughout the world.

The Roman Catholic Church is a world-wide, politically organized, pagan religion whose adherents worship images, dead people (“saints”) and a living, speaking idol, blasphemously called “the Holy Father”. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest body that claims to be Christian.

Why is Babylon called a harlot?

In prophetic symbolism, harlotry and fornication represent unfaithfulness to God: “They played the harlot with other gods” (Judges 2:17). [See also Exodus 34:15, 16; Leviticus 20:5; Deuteronomy 31:16; Psalm 73:27; Judges 8:33; Jeremiah 2:20; 3:1; Ezekiel 16:15-17.] Babylon’s fornication represents spiritual corruption. Babylon corrupts the world religiously.

Why is Babylon called the mother of harlots?

Remember that these symbols include everyone on earth who is not in the Book of Life (Revelation 13:3, 4, 8).

The researcher, David B. Barrett, identified 19 major world religions subdivided into about 10,000 distinct religions, and 34,000 denominations in Christendom. Now that is real Babel!

The devil has created this Babylonian “confusion” so people will worship him rather than God. The devil’s shopping mall offers something appealing for everyone. Denominationalism, which views divergent forms of Christianity as tolerable, is a tool of the devil. He encourages you to join the church of your choice rather than God’s choice.

Babylon in Revelation cannot refer to the Roman Catholic Church exclusively, as is sometimes claimed, since everyone in the world, except those in the Book of Life, worships the devil via these two beasts.

But the Roman Catholic Church is definitely the major embodiment (daughter) of prophetic Babylon as successor of the Holy Roman Empire and as the largest, most influential, false form of Christianity.

But she is not alone. Various Protestant denominations are merely spin-offs of the Catholic church, retaining many of her false doctrines and practices. All man-made denominations are daughters of the harlot because, like her, they do not submit to Christ. All false religions in the world are daughters of the harlot for the same reason. Islam, which is spread by political and physical force, is certainly a “daughter” of Babylon.

God will punish Babylon because of her sins.

As God punished ancient Babylon, He will punish prophetic Babylon.

“And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath” (Revelation 16:19). Religious and political opposition to God earn His wrath.

“Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her” (Revelation 18:2b, 3a).

Babylon’s ruin results from God’s defeat of the false prophet and the beast, representing all false religions and godless authorities. “Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet. ... These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Revelation 19:20).

Their patron, the devil, is also defeated: “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

The unredeemed share the devil’s punishment: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (Matthew 25:41).

We too must flee from Babylon!

“Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities” (Revelation 18:4, 5).

How do we flee from Babylon to escape her punishment?

Various passages in the New Testament clarify this warning. “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Corinthians 6:17). We may not participate in false religions or other forms of worldliness because that is spiritual fornication, uncleanness, unfaithfulness to God.

How can God’s people be in Babylon? Potential Christians and Christians associated with false religions must leave Babylon.

Among those called out of Babylon are people who will obey the gospel when they hear it.

Jesus told Paul: “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; ... for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9, 10). God had people in Corinth who would accept the gospel when they heard it. Paul’s preaching enabled them to escape from Babylon.

Among those called out of Babylon are also Christians who have compromised with “the lawless one” by being in denominations and religious organizations established by men rather than by Christ. The doctrine of such groups is always different from the doctrine of Christ, otherwise they would simply be a church of Christ rather than a human denomination.

Christians who associate with false forms of Christianity are trying to serve Christ in the camp of the antichrist! They think they can serve God although they worship with a denomination that deviates from the doctrine of Christ.

This is not possible because doctrinal soundness is essential to serving God. “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11).

Anyone who preaches a gospel that differs from the original gospel is accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).

When we fellowship those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ (even if we do not agree with them), we share in their evil deeds. “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4).

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).

“Belial” means “the worthless one” or “the lawless one”. The lawless one includes many who say, “Lord, Lord,” but do not obey Christ. Jesus tells them, “depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:21-23). They have allowed themselves to be deceived by the lawless one because they lack love for the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12).

The forces of religious evil called the “false prophet” and “Babylon” in Revelation, are called the “lawless one” by Paul and the “antichrist” by John. [See 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7.]

Since Israel returned from captivity, virtually no images have been worshiped by Jews. Yet, in describing the Jews of His day, Jesus said, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men(Matthew 15:8, 9).

Here Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 which describes Israel in the run-up to Babylonian captivity! Although the Jews had restored the temple service, their spiritual condition was the same as before the captivity!

The disciples were concerned that this harsh statement had offended the Pharisees, the strictest denomination of the Jews, but Jesus replied, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:13, 14).

“There is one body” (Ephesians 4:4), which is “the church” (Colossians 1:18). Thus, all religions and all denominations, which are not the church of Christ established by Him, constitute Babylon, are inspired by the devil, and will be uprooted by God.

If we are in a religious group of human origin, we must get out of it or we will be uprooted with it! We must serve God according to the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), we must serve God according to the gospel that went forth from Jerusalem in the first century! We must “ask the way to Zion” and “declare in Zion the work of the LORD our God.”

God’s warning is abundantly clear.

“Flee from the midst of Babylon, and every one save his life! Do not be cut off in her iniquity” (Jeremiah 51:6).

“Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4). Amen.
Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive