Ekkehardt Mueller, ThD, DMin, is a retired associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, USA.

Babylon has interested and fascinated many people and is popular today: There is a website “washingtonbabylon.com.” A village with the name “Babylon” exists in Suffolk County, NY, USA. “Babylon Berlin” is a German public television series, and several movies carry the title “Babylon,” as does a Lady Gaga song. “Babylon” translation software, “Babylon Health,” “Babylon Lanes” of bowling, “Babylon.finance,” and “Babylon Bee,” a Christian news satire website, illustrate the popularity of Babylon.

In Scripture “Babylon” is typically understood negatively. Unexpectedly and without explanation, the second angel of Revelation 14:8 introduces Babylon for the first time by name in Revelation with, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great” (ESV).1


Babylon in Genesis. Details about historical Babylon are provided in the Old Testament. Babylon was founded very early (Gen 10:10). From its beginning, the city stood for self-exaltation, apostasy from and rebellion against God. Here the famous tower of Babel was erected (Gen 11:4). In irony Babylon’s name is identified with confusion (Gen 11:7, 9).

Neo-Babylonia. Later, the Neo-Babylonian Empire of the seventh and sixth centuries BC plays a significant role in the Old Testament and forms the major background to Revelation’s Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar had invaded Jerusalem in 605, 597, and 586 BC, deported Jews to Babylon, and destroyed the temple. The Babylonian exile was one of the most dramatic experiences in Jewish history. Major Old Testament prophets dealt with Babylon and its demise. In 539 BC the empire fell into the hands of the Medes and Persians, who allowed the Jews to return to Palestine. Isaiah, foreseeing this event, had written, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen!” (Isa 21:9). His call to go out from Babylon (Isa 48:20) became a possibility with the Persian conquest.

In Revelation, Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon becomes a type for the great and horrible city Babylon of the end time. Babylon had been an enemy of the people of God and a power opposed to God. So it is with end-time Babylon.


While the Old Testament background is very important, the Babylon John has in mind is the universal and symbolical end-time Babylon, not a limited, literal Babylon. The term “Babylon” appears in John’s Apocalypse always in an end-time setting (14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). Babylon is also called “the great harlot” (e.g., 17:1), “the woman sitting on many waters” (17:1) and “on a scarlet beast” (17:3), “the great city” (18:10), and is associated with the “Euphrates river” (16:12). Judgment will come upon Babylon under the sixth and seventh plagues (16:12–21), being spelled out in more detail in Revelation 17–19.

So, what is Babylon? This question is to be answered by the context of Revelation’s central vision (11:19–14:20). There, the most prominent and powerful opponents of God and His people are introduced as the “satanic trinity”: the dragon (Rev 12), the sea beast (Rev 13a), and the beast from the earth (Rev 13b). Under the seventh plague, Babylon will be split into three parts—evidently its original components (16:19). The message of the fall of Babylon is repeated in Revelation 18:2. There the information is followed by the call, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (18:4).

How should “fallen” be understood? The fall of Babylon could be taken as judgment, following Isaiah. However, the more likely option would be to understand it as the moral fall of the largely religious system of Babylon. It would be comparable to the fall of the church of Ephesus, which had grown cold in its love to Jesus and each other (2:4–5). While the people of God were called to leave Old Testament Babylon after its judgment had occurred, the people of God who are still in end-time Babylon are challenged to leave it before Babylon’s judgment (Rev 18). Therefore, “fallen” should not refer to judgment. If the second angel’s message is understood as a horrendous moral fall, a chronological sequence may be provided with the three messages: (1) All people are called to repent, fear God, and worship Him (14:7). (2) They are warned against the counterfeit system of Babylon that has perverted the gospel and is continuing to do so progressively (14:8). (3) They are informed about the impending judgment on Babylon’s followers (14:9–11) and in Revelation 17–19 on its constituent entities.

What, then, is the problem with Babylon? The second angel explains that “she . . . made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality” (14:8). She is the great harlot (17:1). God’s true church of Revelation 12 is contrasted with this ugly and dangerous counterimage, Babylon. Babylon’s preeminent characteristic of sexual immorality into which she draws all peoples (14:8; 17:2) stands for idolatry and apostasy from God. It is oftentimes found in syncretism and dual allegiance. But drawing people away from Jesus implies deception (see also 18:23) and/or force. They are intoxicated by her teachings and blinded by her approach to life. Babylon has corrupted the gospel and God’s commandments so that only the remnant are still following Christ (14:12).

Revelation has more to say:

  • Babylon the great has enormous, universal influence (17:1–2, 15, 18) and makes humans dependent on her.
  • Babylon associates with the blasphemy of the beast on which she sits (17:3). Blasphemy is primarily directed against God (13:5).
  • Babylon persecutes, particularly God’s people, and is drunk with the blood of true believers (17:6).
  • Demonic-spiritualistic elements are found in her (18:2).
  • Babylon’s sins reach to heaven (18:5). Her evil deeds require a corresponding judgment (Rev 18).
  • Babylon pretends to be a queen (18:7) and exercises royal reign over the kings of the earth (17:18). However, the real King of the nations is God (15:3), and Jesus is King of kings (19:16). Obviously, Babylon claims divine sovereignty.
  • Finally, Babylon’s prosperity and wealth (Rev 18) are contrasted with the wealth of the Lamb (5:12). Babylon’s wealth was gained through exploitation and suppression (18:13); Jesus’ wealth through His self-sacrifice.


Jesus Christ. Jesus is not mentioned in the second angel’s message, and yet He is very much present—indirectly, as we saw. The descriptions of Babylon show that this entity is opposed to Jesus and His people, while trying to take on His prerogatives.

The context is permeated with Jesus. The first and third angels’ messages deal with Jesus more directly. The eternal good news (14:6) of salvation is unthinkable without Jesus’ victory on the cross. The third angel’s message mentions the Lamb (14:10) and Jesus (14:12). The 144,000, who seem to proclaim the messages, are proleptically standing with Jesus on Mount Zion (14:1). His name is on their foreheads, and they follow Him wherever He goes (14:4). In Revelation’s central vision Jesus is prominent elsewhere. We find, for instance, His incarnation and ascension (12:4–5), His battle with Satan (12:7–8), His authority (12:10), and His death on the cross (12:11). Chapter 13 mentions “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (13:8) and the vision ends directly after the messages of the three angels with a symbolic description of Jesus’ second coming (14:14–20). The entire Apocalypse focuses on Jesus “who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father” (1:5–6). The second angel’s message is thus surrounded with Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and parousia.

Babylon’s attractiveness. Babylon’s deceptive wine is a counter-gospel that attempts to deny and undo what Jesus has done. Supposedly, salvation works differently and submission to another “lord” is enforced. Babylon’s philosophy and lifestyle may be quite attractive. Her teachings may appeal to people’s taste and self-assertion. Babylon may promise the highest degree of personal freedom and happiness without limits, obligations, and commitment: the God of the Bible and the Jesus of true Christianity are no longer needed; the will of God is irrelevant. Even Christians, surrounded by a Babylonian culture and worldview, may be in danger of concocting their own religion and their own god to suit themselves, and of rationalizing their wrongdoings.

But deceitful Babylon is morally and spiritually bankrupt: No peace. No salvation. No love. No real hope. Still, the great harlot and great city is dangerous and murderous, and has nothing of true value to offer.


The message of the second angel—to be accepted and shared—is: Do not get involved in Babylon’s apostasy. Come out of and stay away from it. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Commit yourself completely to Jesus and follow Him wherever He goes.

1 All biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version.

Ekkehardt Mueller, ThD, DMin, is a retired associate director of the Biblical Research Institute at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, USA.