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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Babylon, Its Fall, and the Mark of the Beast

Sep 19, 2015

OK, now you may think I have gone off the deep end: speaking on things that mere mortals must tread so very carefully on. No, I have not gone into a last days’ madness mode, and no, I do not claim to know much of anything very definite about this most mysterious of books: Revelation.

Anyone who knows me realises that while in my younger days as a believer I was very keen indeed on all things eschatological, in my more mature years I have eased up a bit, having realised that there is plenty of room to move in interpreting and understanding these matters, and that we need to be cautious, humble and a bit less dogmatic here.

So I am certainly not offering any sure word about the last days and the Lord’s return. I am just throwing up a few rather generic and guarded thoughts about a few matters. As to Babylon, or specifically, Mystery Babylon, as found in Revelation 17-18, the text, as hard to fully understand as it is, does offer some general clues as to what is being referred to.

revelation 4Babylon has had a long history in human affairs as well as in Scripture. We can go back to Nimrod and Babel in Genesis 10-11, through to the time of the Babylonian captivity, and right up until the end of the book of Revelation. But often Babylon is used in a more symbolic fashion in Scripture. It represents wider and bigger realities.

Indeed, what we have here is a tale of two cities. Augustine of course ran with that theme in his famous, The City of God. But the Bible in general and Revelation in particular make it clear that there is the heavenly city competing with the earthly city. As Tom Wright notes in his discussion of Rev. 18:

We shall see John’s own vision of this ideal city at the end of the book. But for the moment we are shown its opposite: the city which tried, like Babel of old, to make itself The Place, the summit of human achievement, by its own efforts and to its own glory – and which ends up shrinking to a shell, with the wild desert creeping back into its palaces, it temples, its fine streets and shops and courtyards. Creation will reclaim what arrogant humans had thought to construct. Babylon will become a place for demons, for unclean spirits, for birds and monsters of all the wrong kinds.

In 1996 James Montgomery Boice wrote the book, Foundations of God’s City. Chapter 5 discusses “The Two Cities: Babylon and Jerusalem”. He writes:

In both the Old and New Testaments both Babylon and Jerusalem take on more than life-size dimensions and become symbols of two entirely different relationships to God and ways of life. Babylon stands for earthly relationships and an earthly way of life. Jerusalem stands for spiritual realities, and God is its life. This was true of the earthly Jerusalem only at its best and in part. But it becomes so in full measure when the new Jerusalem rises on the ruins of the old.

And the contrast continues as we read about the fall of Babylon: “On earth the fall of Babylon is judged as unmitigated tragedy, a tragedy for all who were in her and for all who profited by her. In heaven her fall is a cause for the deepest rejoicing before God.”

William Dumbrell comments on the makeup of Babylon:

In a world controlled by divine order, it is inevitable that – given the pernicious nature of her influence through wealth and sensuality (18:3) – Babylon must fall. Babylon’s idolatrous and seductive social, economic, and moral actions will bring about her fall. Babylon’s blatant paganism will bring about her fall. And the leaders and peoples of Babylon’s world will fall with her. Indeed, all the Babylons throughout history must fall (cf. Isaiah 21:9). It is remarkable that divine patience permits the Babylons of history to endure until they collapse under the weight of their own excesses.

The fall of Babylon precedes the climax of history. David Pawson writes:

So sure is Babylon’s downfall that it is pictured in Revelation as already having happened. Christians can be absolutely certain of this. But there are practical reasons why they are being told about it. What is the relation between God’s people and this last ‘Babylon’? Three guidelines are given:
First, there will be many martyrs in the city….
Second, the Christians are told to ‘come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins’….
Third, when Babylon falls, a celebration is commanded….
The prostitute disappears and the bride appears. The ‘wedding supper of the Lamb’ is about to take place.

The Mark of the Beast

However exactly we are to understand Babylon (mentioned six times in Revelation), it is clear, especially from Rev. 18:9-20, that it certainly involves economic, commercial and financial aspects. As v. 11 states, “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore.”

Let me briefly discuss this aspect of Babylon which seems to be playing itself out today. In Revelation we read about several beasts, and we also are told about the ‘mark of the beast’. Now, do I know exactly what the mark of the beast is, or will be? No, and neither does anyone else with absolute certainty.

This too is a mysterious concept, bathed in apocalyptic language and symbolism. Although entire books have been penned on this, I for one am not going to say this is it or that is it. But we do have a few clues provided for us here. The thirteenth chapter of Revelation is all about these beasts, and in verses 16-18 we read this about the second beast:

It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.

Once again, what exactly the number 666 means and refers to we simply do not know with certainty, nor do we know exactly what this stuff about buying and selling is all about. However I wish here just to mention something which may be part of the whole package. And I realise I might be way off the mark here (no pun intended).

But as anti-Christian bigotry and persecution in the West heats up, one could almost imagine how all this might come about. Two main sources of hostility to Christianity can readily be identified: the radical homosexual lobby, and creeping sharia.

Between these two groups alone we are seeing more and more attacks on Christians, and this clearly involves the financial and commercial realms. For example, halal products are all over the place, and those believers who do not want to support political Islam are finding it increasingly difficult to find places where they can buy non-halal products.

It is the same with hundreds of companies, businesses, banks and corporations all fully promoting the homosexual agenda. Believers are rightly boycotting or avoiding such businesses. But as more and more groups jump on this bandwagon, there are getting to be fewer places for Christian consumers to turn to.

As I often say to those believers rightly concerned about all this, to be fully disassociated from such politicised and immoral businesses and services, we may have no choice but to live in a cave somewhere! It is getting that bad, but such complete isolation and separation may not be the answer.

Now in both cases much of this restriction in buying and selling – at least for now – is being done voluntarily by those who resist these two nefarious agendas. But one can see how this will continue to get worse, and we can certainly see already how more and more institutions, corporations and government bodies are forcing people to comply with the homosexual agenda and the spread of Islam.

Many people are losing their jobs or being fined or even jailed for refusing to go along with these agendas. Obviously all three types of penalties and punishments will greatly impact our buying and selling abilities. So I often wonder if part of the mark of the beast might be tied up with where the West is now headed in this respect.

Again, I certainly am not saying this is what those mysterious portions of Revelation refer to. But I can see how it might fit in somewhere along the line. As ungodliness and unrighteousness increase and abound, and as enmity towards Christians steadily grows in the West, we can see how the political and social and legal and financial systems of the world are so powerfully turning against the people of God.

So I am only speculating here – this is not gospel. But certainly one wonders as more and more of the corporate and commercial world turns hostile to believers, whether this might be part of it. But whatever the mark of the beast refers to, the good news of Rev. 18 and of the entire book is that God wins.

In the end, Babylon will most certainly fall and God’s complete reign and rule will run unhindered and unopposed. That is why William Hendriksen entitled his commentary on Revelation, More Than Conquerors. Jesus, and those who are with him, indeed conquer and triumph.

As he writes, “In short, the theme of this book is stated most gloriously and completely in these words: ‘These shall war against the Lamb, and the Lamb shall conquer them, for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings; and they also shall conquer that are with him called and chosen and faithful’ (17:14).”

[1671 words]

16 Responses to Babylon, Its Fall, and the Mark of the Beast

  • Bill, you have accomplished the virtually impossible task: given a general description and viable reason for what is happening in the world today. I have been thinking along those precise lines for some time and although, like you, I would never say ‘this is it’, what you have said makes a lot of sense when compared with biblical eschatology. I think every Christian needs to be alert to what is happening spiritually. We are not merely experiencing random events that can be laid at the door of political correctness (although this has a lot to answer for)… but there is a consistent and steadily increasing atmosphere of hostility against Christians, alongside increasing pressure to conform to anti-Christian agendas such as those embraced by the sharia and homosexual lobbies. Now is the time for us to be aware, to be ‘wise as serpents and harmless as doves’, and to pray as we have never prayed before. In other words, there is no place here for a lukewarm stance. It is time to ‘nail our colours to the mast’ rather than give in to fear and compromise. After all, what’s the worst that can happen? The Bible makes it clear that the greater the persecution for Christ, the greater the reward. The persecution is only temporary; the reward is eternal.

  • Amen Ann – well said.

  • Hey Bill, my Rabbi is very convinced that Babylon is Jerusalem in it’s current fallen state. The stark contrast of rejecting Jesus, whoring after other gods, to it’s ultimate goal of being New Jerusalem.

    Babylon is accused of slaying the prophets(Rev 18) – Jesus accused Jerusalem with those exact words in Matt 23:37.

    Great article…

  • So let me get this straight: The new Jerusalem is not a pyramid shaped space ship which will descent from the heavens and park on top of current day Jerusalem?
    Just checken man

  • Rome was a type of Babylon in the first century. Perhaps New York City is a type of Babylon today – UN headquarters, NY Stock Exchange, World Bank etc. The US Supreme Court made abortion easy and continues to spit in the face of God with its dictating on the immoral issue of homosexual marriage. Like the Canaanites. When ancient Israel turned from God its borders became less secure and they ultimately went into captivity. The World Trade Centre got truck bombed and years later there was 911. Unfortunately all the US’s military might may not stop it’s ultimate destruction as it continues on it’s current path – Islamic extremists could use a suitcase nuclear device in NYC – the merchants of the Earth would surely weep then.

  • I’m pleased to see your reference to William Hendriksen’s More than Conquerors. I found it a clear, careful and comforting commentary; a great help in understanding Revelation.
    The term Babylon seems to refer to a united, worldwide, antichristian culture and power. We’ve seen in Biblical and later history what happens when faithful believers refuse to subscribe to that culture. Daniel’s three friends were thrown into the fiery furnace. When Christians refused to conform to the Roman Empire’s godless culture and to worship the emperor they were persecuted horrendously. Similarly during the Great Reformation, when believers refused to subscribe to the dictatorial decrees of a pope in cahoots with western rulers, Protestants were persecuted terribly by the Inquisition. Today we are seeing a worldwide antichristian culture – pushed relentlessly by the leftist ideology of mainstream media – increasingly united and manifesting the hallmarks of Babylon. It’s an ideology fundamentally opposed to Christian norms and values, and is more and more embraced by those in government. As we read in Psalm 2: “the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.’” However, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision.”
    The reference to the great boycott in Revelation 13, where Christians are prevented from buying and selling, is already manifesting itself. We’ve seen examples as homosexuals, with the help of the law, closing down printing, bed and breakfast, cake bakery and other businesses. And we may expect the persecution to get worse.
    The good news is: the writing is on the wall; Babylon’s end will certainly come. The words of the Apostle Paul offer great comfort for those who suffer persecution because they confess Christ, wholeheartedly love Him and find their salvation in Him alone: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

  • Social Justice and a movement trying to change the Capitalist-based economic system seem benign to most, because the Pope even accepts it, along with many evangelical and mainstream churches. A new and very popular “Leap Manifesto” has taken people by a storm, in Canada, during a federal election (Google it).

    And, in a video lecture from 2013, Carl Teichrib, of “Forcing Change”, explains the dangerous path Christians are travelling down as Social Justice takes over, and calls for the overthrow of Capitalism.
    https://youtu.be/9BZ9c5qoIDY (He explains the Biblical meaning of social justice, which is not “community activism”)

  • I know I sound probably a bit like a copy cat, but I have also observed the battle lines being drawn along the lines of big money verses the small individuals whose only and yet sufficient defense is God. my question is now, how do we respond? We know we can’t stop the events of revelation and neither do we want to stop them since they are the only way which God has ordained the world should end and the sooner the better I think. I know as a small business owner we have the responsibility to be faithful to obey God’s commands rather than mans and not support those things which are hateful in God’s eyes. But how does this relate to where we spend our money. I personally have a problem with supporting companies who support ssm, and that is another thing I believe we have not sen before. I don’t recall another instance in history where businesses took a stand on issues that have nothing to do with business unless they were forced to by HItler for instance. But what do I say to my christian friends who pull up at Woolies which publicly supports Ramadan as a nice cultural festival, should I bother them and explain things or should I just leave them alone because what we do is not going to change anything anyway and we are not actually disobeying any of God’s commandments. And on the other hand is there something we as Christians should be doing to mitigate the suffering that is coming? Or should we just walk into it with our faith in God, but our eyes tightly closed?
    In response to the comment above the Jerusalem being Babylon. I have heard this before via lectures from a man called Ken Gentry and I found it very disturbing to say the least. Yes, God’s people are rightly accused of doing these things, but to call Jerusalem Babylon is to declare that God’s covenant has come to an end. Furthermore, God never made a covenant with Babylon. To throw the 2 into the same basket, I believe is getting onto dangerous ground.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Bill, this is my latest letter to the Australian Catholic Bishops.

    To the Bishops of Australia regarding the Proposed Plebiscite on Same-sex Marriage.

    I write to you again dear Bishops, this open letter, in these troubled times when the biblical truth of same-sex marriage is morally compromised. I make my comments with the greatest respect and in the belief that biblical morality matters to you.

    This is arguably the biggest issue you will be asked to confront during your time as bishop. You were consecrated to serve the Catholic faithful. It would be reasonable to expect that you would now boldly proclaim this tragically neglected biblical moral truth, even in the face of vigorous opposition.

    It is sometimes said, and with some justification I suspect, that many bishops view themselves as administrators. Whatever the truth of that, the Holy Spirit doesn’t consecrate a bishop to be an administrator. I believe that the two bishops who seriously responded to the content of my letter on “ Don’t Mess With Marriage” are men of God, concerned for the things of God. Thus I am not addressing all my comments to all bishops but you will be the judge of its applicability to you.

    Your Pastoral Letter “Don’t Mess With Marriage” is a document about marriage but there is nothing in it to persuade as to the merits or otherwise of same-sex marriage. The truth of same-sex marriage is not presented in that document.

    If there is a plebiscite and the plebiscite question reads “Should same-sex marriage be legalised?” those priests and bishops who propose some sort of contractual arrangement for same-sex couples, (not called marriage), will have to answer yes; there is no provision in plebiscites for ‘yes but’ answers. Of course one might ask why some priests and bishops might vote yes to a relationship of this nature.

    Because some priests and bishops vote thus suggests that Catholic moral teaching has been hidden away for years (not taught) and the impact of its absence has reached the highest levels of officialdom (priests and bishops). It seems that countless Catholics now accept something that has been anathema to the church for two thousand years and to the children of Israel for two thousand years before that.

    How did it get to this? Who is now going to take responsibility for those many years of culpable neglect which has resulted in this abysmal ignorance of biblical morality? Many now believe that legalised same-sex marriage is inevitable but the biblical truth does not change. Whilst the office of bishop has lucrative social and material benefits, it also carries with it heavy responsibilities. If you remain mute on the moral issues of same-sex marriage, thus giving the impression of agreement, you are in heresy. God will abandon you to yourself and you will forfeit your spiritual authority.

    Enough has been said about marriage. As custodians of the moral order, you have the duty to speak directly to the moral issues. Why have you not done this? We continue to pray for you each day and urge others to do likewise.

    B T Walters. (20-09-2015)

  • Good comments Bill. I’ve seen numerous claims over the year, that this, that or the other was the mark of the beast. I’ve probably seen 666 theories of what 666 stands for! Over the years I’ve become less certain that it is any one thing in particular, but rather a generic warning against worldliness and evil.

    I’m cautious about suggesting the Saviour will return soon. People have been predicting His return will be soon for a few hundred years, and countless sects have formed based on the belief his return would be within various timeframes. Certainly we are seeing extreme wickedness in the world that may indicate a return in the near future, but by the same token, people 200 years ago thought the wickedness of the world would soon issue in his return. I remember suggesting about a quarter of a century ago that surely the world couldn’t get much more wicked. Boy was I wrong! I see the important point being that whether his return is tomorrow or 200 years away, it is important that we are prepared now. If we are prepared we have nothing to fear – doesn’t mean we won’t suffer, but if we are right with God we will be able to face whatever evils the world may throw at us.

    While, like you, I won’t go so far as saying support of homosexuality is the mark of the beast (although it could be), it is interesting to note that their rainbow flag has 6 colours. So perhaps it is one sign.

  • Good article Bill and I have enjoyed & appreciated reading all the comments.

    I offer up my comment in the same way – not wanting to be ‘dogmatic’ and certain I have it right: there was a moslem who became a Christian by the name of Walid Shoebat. Now he has put forward a theory about the mark of the beast and while I am aware of its critics who I do not just dismiss, it is worth discussing, plus a thought at the end from me.

    Walid says that in earlier manuscripts on Revelation 13:18, the Greek letters that were translated as 666, known as “Chi Xi Sigma”, had an appearance that was very slightly different, where, above the middle 6 (i.e. threescore) there was a horizontal line with a little hook at the right hand end. The combination of the Sigma, as the third character, combined with the second character in the text (the horizontal line with the hook combined with the Xi below it), is in fact very similar to the Arabic phrase bismAllah, which means “in the name of Allah”. The first character, Chi, is more or less the same as two swords crossed together, which is the symbol of Islam that you can see in many places (e.g. the Saudi flag). Furthermore, in Arabic you read from right to left, which is what I have done above in the sense that bismAllah (left to right in English) is read from right to left in Arabic and in verse 18’s final three inscriptions. Islam is also a religion that is seeking to overrun the World, as we have all seen through Bill’s and other’s extensive writings it’s activities. Thus it is a possible model for what John was talking about.

    Walid goes on to say that there are valid alternate translations of two certain words in Revelation 13:18, namely “count” and “number”. Here is the complete verse in the NKJV:

    Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: His number is 666

    Now, another word for count is “reckon” or “decide” and another word for “number” is “multitude”. If we use these alternate words (and by no means am I trying to elevate this into a translation of Scripture) then the verse reads:

    Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding reckon the multitude of the beast, for it is the multitude of a man: His multitude is in the name of Allah.

    It is possible that the original scribes would not be able to understand what John wrote, which is why the horizontal line with the hook was dropped in later texts.

    A reasonable explanation, though not mine, is available, (after a short Google search) here:

    http://www.theseasonofreturn.com/files/QuickSiteImages/Chapter_13_-_The_Mark_of_the_Beast.pdf

    Now, there are plenty of good scholars who have come to the conclusion that this is not the intention of John when he wrote what Jesus gave to him, so it is not my intention to try and defend this viewpoint and call either side a heretic or deceived. We are called to unity (but not at any cost for certain doctrines) and I believe that when God’s prophetic foretold events come to pass, it will be abundantly clear to anyone who follows Christ and stays true to the Scriptures and is guided by the Holy Spirit to the best of their efforts, that they will recognize the mark of the beast.

    I have some time for the concept that, regardless of the identity of the second Beast, Islam is a counterfeit religion that is diametrically opposed to fundamental stances in the Christian Faith, and therefore is literally a false belief system created by none other than Satan himself, whereupon he managed to deceive one man, and now, many people. Allah is no-one other than Satan or a demonic principality in the kingdom of this fallen world. And in that sense, I would never wear the sign of Islam on my right hand or forehead as it means pledging my allegiance to the Devil himself and his kingdom which is opposed to God’s Kingdom, which God expressly instructs us not to in His Scriptures.

  • Christians across the board are coming to very similar conclusions. A couple of points: I seriously doubt that the mark is a physical mark if for no other reason than very little else in Revelations is physical, so some people, who think they are OK because they don’t have a physical mark, are in for a big shock. This is very similar to the church at Laodicea where people think they are rich and do not realize they are poor, naked, wretched etc. I believe it is likely, because we are already seeing the restriction on business and government dealings of Christians, that some people already have this mark and increasing numbers will be marked until the conclusion of this phase. It is part of the process of completing things.

    Regarding Matthew Webster’s remarks it is not the number of a man but the number of man (arithma anthropou.) the fact that it appears as 666 would not have been clear at the time (the reinforcement of the man number 6 and representing it as a trinity – man was created on the sixth day etc.) because the decimal system of representing numbers was not in use at that time.

    For those who do not already know, this is in contrast to the Greek gematria of Jesus (where you add up the original value of the letters under the original number system) :-

    I 10
    H 8
    S 200
    O 70
    U 400
    S 200
    Total 888

    Where we see 8 people saved in Noahs’s Ark, 8 individual instances of raising the dead in the scriptures, Jesus raised the eighth day, the eighth note of the musical scale bringing us “back to Do”, Pentecost and the resultant Christian worship being on the eighth day (first day) of the week etc., etc., etc. Jesus also said He was the alpha and Omega which not only is the beginning and end of the Greek alphabet, it is numerically the 1 and the 800.

    As far as timing is concerned we have two conflicting pressures. God has put an astonishing amount of effort into creation and He is not going to want to wind things up while more people are still able to be saved and so He asks His bride to be patient but on the other side, what bridegroom could stand aside and watch his bride being abused, stolen from and her rights taken away for long.

  • I forgot to mention, for those that think that the Beast relates to Islam they should look at Rev 16:13. Here we see the Dragon (Satan himself and his deception), the Beast (I believe is related to humanism as per 666 and the Beast coming out of the sea [of people as per Rev 17:15]) and the false prophet, as three separate entities.

  • Some extreme “fundamentalist ‘christians’”, after distorting the text and history to interpret whatever THEY want into the Bible, then go on to IGNORE the ONLY texts of Scripture which tell us about the ‘religious’ leanings of the Antichrist.

    In St. John’s letters (1 John 4, 2 John 1), John tells us that we will recognise the Antichrist by what John describes is the SPECIFIC “spirit of the Antichrist”: ie., the Antichrist’s emphatic DENIAL of the INCARNATION (the Son of God becoming man) and thereby ALSO the TRINITY (the Father and the Spirit, too)… John warns, that it is THIS PARTICULAR MINDSET that defines of the spirit of the Antichrist. It can be recognized already today, as it spreads like wild-fire among the intellectually-lazy.

    In a paganized culture — what possible remaining criteria could be left to define “civilized” —
    • Where abortion/murder and “selling- off-for-profit of dismembered babies’ body parts (for either “research” or to food/soft-drink companies as “flavor-enhancers” eg, by “Planned Parenthood”) are “normalized”;
    • Where even in primary schools homosexuality and all kinds or “disordered behaviour” are “normalized” and
    • Where one is forbidden to even debate the subject;
    • Where Christians are allowed to be demonized and actively persecuted (see on-line news the jailing and legal persecution against people, even in Canada and USA. when they dare to decline “to do business with a culture of pagan Babylon” – are sent into bankruptcy). The “mark of the beast” already in operation!
    • Where “Freedom of Speech” “Dignity and Respect for every Individual” is already a distant memory.
    • Where Democracy has ALREADY been “beheaded” even in several “first-world-countries!
    • Where the Beast or the Master of Lies has yet to reveal himself.
    Christians are already TODAY confronting the REALITY of very real PERSECUTION via the FIRST world’s “homo-FASCISM” … OR from the ISIS-style Saria-Law FASCISM — both FASCISMS which are already mercilessly RIPPING APART the civilization as we have known it.

  • I should also mention that the confusion about the number of the beast being the number of [a] man comes from the phrase “his number is 666” but if you actually look at what is translated “his” it is the Greek word “autou” which just shows possession (literally location and as in autonomous). It is translated “his” or “hers” or “its” as the translator sees fit for the English equivalent. In this instance I believe “its” would have been correct as “his” has resulted in the confusion that the Beast relates to a specific person.

  • Excellent content Bill, and to those above. We can see the influence of evil more and more these days. We should expect and prepare for it to increase, and pray and fast and ask for guidance in each particular case to deal with the impact of persecution. Others are watching and seeing what true Christians are going through and many are won over by our actions, enabled by Christlike example.

    I also see that as money or wealth becomes digital/digitised it will become much easier for government to control who buys what and when, controlling the purse strings much like the banks/govt. did in Greece and Cypress. Something to think about and prepare for maybe.

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