Fleeing Mystic Babylon

Remove out of the midst of Babylon, and go forth out of the land of the Chaldeans, and be as the he goats before the flocks.--Jeremiah 50:8

Carl Hagensick

Babylon was not only a literal city and empire, but also a symbol of oppressive captivity. Thus it was not unusual for first century Jews to refer to Rome as Babylon. It is in this sense that we see Babylon referred to as emblematic of a great power oppressing true Christians in Revelation: “And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Revelation 17:15).

Just as many literal Israelites fled literal Babylon when the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1) granted them the freedom to do so, Jeremiah predicts that many Christians (symbolic Israelites) leave the oppressive system that persecuted them when the greater-than-Cyrus (the Messiah, Isaiah 45:1) gives them the same opportunity. Just as it was only a minority of Jews who left literal Babylon, so it only a minority of Christians will heed the call to flee mystic Babylon.

“Come Out of Her”

It is right after the strong condemnation of “Babylon the Great” in Revelation 17 that we read these words: “After these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.”

Two voices are heard in the these pronouncements: the first is that of a bright-shining angel, with a description matching that of Christ at his second advent, with a simple judgmental statement, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen”; the second is merely described as “a voice from heaven” calling a warning to “my people” to come out lest they partake of her sins and receive the consequential plagues. These words echo a similar denunciation and warning in Revelation 14:8-12.

The reason for the condemnation of Babylon is because she “is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean bird.” These terms indicate that the system called “Babylon” has become a haven for disreputable and unchristian elements.

Nearly all expositors attribute the term Babylon to a rejected and worldly church system, with most Protestant writers being more specific in applying it to the papal power. However, Revelation 17:5 gives a broader application, referring the term not only to the rider of the beast but also indicating that she is a “mother of harlots,” implying a guilty complicity not only of Papacy, but of the Protestant sects that emerged from her.

The lowering of Christian standards and the wide-scale use of such attractions as bingo parties, bazaars, and athletic events to broaden the appeal of Christianity have certainly resulted in a sizable influx of church members for other than spiritual reasons. In many cases the church has become a social club and in its wildest excesses has harbored outright scam artists cloaked in the garb of clergy.

A second condemnation relates to her committing fornication with the kings of the earth, a thinly veiled metaphor for the formation of unions and the use of accompanying political and military power to put down dissent.

Jeremiah Prophesies Doom

In a soulful lament, the prophet Jeremiah decries the foretold crisis in Christendom: “How do ye say, We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us? Lo, certainly in vain made he it; the pen of the scribes is in vain. The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them? Therefore will I give their wives unto others, and their fields to them that shall inherit them: for every one from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness, from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them that fall: in the time of their visitation they shall be cast down, saith the LORD. I will surely consume them, saith the LORD: there shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things that I have given them shall pass away from them. Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent there: for the LORD our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD. We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble!”

The general charge here appears to be unawareness. The attempt to heal the ills of Christendom amounted to little more than a new patch on an old garment. The healing attempt was too little, merely the saying of “Peace, peace!” The lack of true spiritual fruitage became evident and the Lord said he would withdraw his favor from them.

The sincere Christian laity was disturbed but, rather than taking a stand for the principles of righteousness, they responded with the plaintive cry, “Why do we sit still? assemble yourselves, and let us enter into the defenced cities, and let us be silent there: for the LORD our God hath put us to silence, and given us water of gall to drink.” Far better would it have been to “come out of her” instead of hunkering down and accepting the pathetic status quo.

It is just such an attitude that the Revelator calls “partaking of her sins.” Such an attitude while remaining in the “defenced cities” of Babylon, fails to remove them from the impending danger of the resultant plagues.

Whither Shall We Go

The Revelation call to “come out” does not give direction as to where to go. Certainly it is not the thought to merely depart and form another sect. That has been done countless times since the Great Reformation with the resulting new church soon copying the errors of its predecessor.

Perhaps the answer is best given in Isaiah: “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain” (Isaiah 26:20,21).

The departure is not into another denomination but into a closer personal bond with God, a bond of personal prayer and fellowship. Such a tie does not preclude fellowship with other like-minded sincere Christians, but it does indicate a relationship where beliefs are not dictated in creedal fashion but arrived at independently through personal conviction. In Isaiah, as in Revelation, the prophet indicates that this self-imposed exile is only for a short time, until the Lord has finished punishing the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity. Not only will the sins be punished but all attempts to cover up will be removed for the earth “shall no more cover her slain.”

The Destroying Plagues

Just as a series of plagues in ancient Egypt paved the way for the Israelites to realize their destiny in the promised land of Canaan, so a series of “seven last plagues” removes the effete religious systems of our day to prepare the ground for the “promised land” of Messiah’s kingdom.

This series of plagues is described in detail in Revelation 16. Taken as a whole they represent the fullness of “the wrath of God” (Revelation 15:7). While the sum total of these plagues may be what is described in Revelation 18:8 as the plagues of “death, mourning, and famine,” it is more likely that these describe a still different set of troubles yet in store for antitypical Babylon.

Revelation 18

The contents of this chapter appear to fall into three sections:

  1. Verses 1 through 8 describe the pronouncement of judgment on Babylon and the reasons for it.

  2. Verses 9 through 20 describe the reaction of those who trafficked with her to her impending calamitous overthrow.

  3. Verses 21 through 24 describe the final collapse of these systems called “Babylon.”

In the first section, her boastfulness is seen when she proudly proclaims, “I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.” Some see in this proclamation a hint that there will be a future union between church and state. Other texts do seem to indicate such an action, particularly Revelation 16:13 where, during the sixth plague, the beast, dragon, and false prophet speak with one united voice. This union is apparently dissolved in the seventh plague (Revelation 16:19).

However our text in the 18th chapter does not seem to refer to this incident. Note that it is Babylon (Papacy) itself that states the claim to be a queen. The Papal system never claimed to be married to the kings of the earth, denying a fact which is manifestly evident. Instead they have always claimed to be a virgin church, married only to Christ. It appears to be their continued insistence on this claimed relationship which they here maintain, self-confident that such a claim will protect them from the “sorrow” of the destructive plagues to which they are sentenced.

In the second section of the chapter three classes bemoan the impending doom of Babylon: 1) the kings of the earth; 2) the merchants; and 3) the shipmasters. Each has profited historically from their relationship with the great religions of the world. It has been the so-called Christian nations that have pushed the trade barriers to the farthest corners of the earth and promoted the cause of imperialism, forcing the poorer nations to become the colonies of their far-flung empires.

In the last section of the chapter, the final collapse of Babylon is prefigured as a millstone that is raised up on high only to be hurled into the sea. Its fall is complete and final for it “shall be no more at all.” In this ultimate destruction comes the final expose of their wickedness in persecuting the true saints as “in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.”

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

Literal Babylon came to its end suddenly as the besieging Median forces under Darius dug a channel to divert the waters of the Euphrates, opening up a dry channel by which to enter the walled and heavily fortified city even as the Babylonian king Belshazzar celebrated a great feast in his palace. The commentator John Gill connects this feast with the annual Sachaenean feast in honor of the Babylonian god Shach (or Sheshach, see Jeremiah 25:26). Daniel predicted this conquest as he interpreted four words that mysteriously appeared on the palace wall: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. “This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:26-28). Each word bore its own separate meaning in the announcement of the overthrow of Babylon.

  1. MENE: Implying a specific due time for the final punishment of that mighty empire.

  2. TEKEL: Showing that their deeds had been weighed in the balance scales of justice and did not match up to their responsibilities.

  3. PERES (UPHARSIN): The mode of carrying out the sentence was a conquest by the united empire of the Medes and Persians.

Many Bible Students see a deeper and cryptic meaning to these words as well, indicating the time lapse between the rise of literal Babylon and mystic Babylon. Each of the three unique words was also a unit of weight in the Chaldean system.

  1. A Mene (often translated “pound”) was equivalent to 1,000 gerahs, the basic unit of weight.

  2. A Tekel (or shekel) was worth 20 gerahs.

  3. Peres (meaning a division or half) was used in the way we use the term “half dollar” and referred to a half maneh (or mene), thus equaling 500 gerahs.

Put together, two manehs, one shekel, and one half-maneh totaled 2,520 gerahs, the same number as the days in seven prophetic years, a time period associated the Gentile dominion over Jerusalem. This stretches from the beginning of the Babylonian conquest of Israel under Nebuchadnezzar in 607 B.C. to 1914 when World War I undermined the power base of church-state unions by exposing the claim of the “divine right of kings” as false and gradually replacing reigning autocracies with more democratic forms of government.

As He-Goats Before the Flock

Those who are admonished to flee Babylon are described as the “he-goats before the flock.” Thus the exodus of sincere Christians from the corruption of mainline Christianity is only the forerunner of all being freed from the oppressions and spiritual misrepresentations of that system called “Babylon, the Great.”

The call continues to echo throughout the world: “Come out of her, my people!”