1.3.4. Babylon is Jerusalem

Some preterist interpreters, such as Chilton, believe that Babylon is a code name for Jerusalem:1

The primary thrust of the prophecy has been directed against Jerusalem . . . John gives us no indication that the subject has been changed. As we shall see in Chapters 17 and 18, the evidence that the prophetic Babylon was Jerusalem is nothing short of overwhelming.2

In his first epistle, presumably written before the Revelation, St. Peter described the local church from which he wrote as “she who is in Babylon” (1Pe. 1Pe. 5:13). Many have supposed this to be Rome, where St. Peter was (according to tradition) later martyred, but it is much more likely that the apostle was in Jerusalem when he wrote these words. Based on data from the New Testament itself, our natural assumption should be that “Babylon” was Jerusalem, since that was where he lived and exercised his ministry.3

Preterists find support for this surprising claim in the great similarity between passages concerning apostate Jerusalem and what is said concerning the Harlot. But if the Harlot is the mother of all harlots, this is to be expected. It is important to recognize that the Harlot influenced all nations, including Israel. For “in her [the Harlot] was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth” (Rev. Rev. 18:24+). Thus, similarities between apostate Israel and the Harlot are certain to occur. But, as we have seen before, similarity does not make identity! An impressive array of OT Scriptures can be lined up in an attempt to prove that the Harlot is Jerusalem or Israel. However, this fails to account for another extensive list of passages which prove otherwise (often omitted by the Babylon is Jerusalem proponents). Identifying Babylon as Jerusalem completely contradicts the OT foundation upon which the destruction of Babylon set forth within the book of Revelation stands (Isa. Isa. 13:1, Isa. 14:1, Isa. 47:1; Jer. Jer. 50:1, Jer. 51:1). When we examine these OT passages, we find a consistent distinction between Babylon, the subject of God’s wrath, and Jerusalem and Israel, whom God will avenge:

For the LORD will have mercy on Jacob, and will still choose Israel, and settle them in their own land. The strangers will be joined with them, and they will cling to the house of Jacob. Then people will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them for servants and maids in the land of the LORD; they will take them captive whose captives they were, and rule over their oppressors. It shall come to pass in the day the LORD gives you rest from your sorrow, and from your fear and the hard bondage in which you were made to serve, that you will take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say: “How the oppressor has ceased, The golden city ceased!” (Isa. Isa. 14:1-4) [emphasis added]

Listen to Me, O Jacob, And Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has stretched out the heavens; When I call to them, they stand up together. All of you, assemble yourselves, and hear! Who among them has declared these things? The LORD loves him; He shall do His pleasure on Babylon, and His arm shall be against the Chaldeans. (Isa. Isa. 48:12-14) [emphasis added]

“Israel is like scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away. First the king of Assyria devoured him; now at last this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has broken his bones.” Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will punish the king of Babylon and his land, as I have punished the king of Assyria. But I will bring back Israel to his home, and he shall feed on Carmel and Bashan; His soul shall be satisfied on Mount Ephraim and Gilead. In those days and in that time,” says the LORD, “The iniquity of Israel shall be sought, but there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, but they shall not be found; for I will pardon those whom I preserve.” (Jer. Jer. 50:17-20) [emphasis added]

Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will raise up against Babylon, against those who dwell in Leb Kamai, a destroying wind. And I will send winnowers to Babylon, who shall winnow her and empty her land. For in the day of doom they shall be against her all around. Against her let the archer bend his bow, and lift himself up against her in his armor. Do not spare her young men; utterly destroy all her army. Thus the slain shall fall in the land of the Chaldeans, and those thrust through in her streets. For Israel is not forsaken, nor Judah, by his God, the LORD of hosts, though their land was filled with sin against the Holy One of Israel. 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.” (Jer. Jer. 51:1-6) [emphasis added]

“And I will repay Babylon And all the inhabitants of Chaldea For all the evil they have done in Zion in your sight,” says the LORD. (Jer. Jer. 51:24) [emphasis added]

“Let the violence done to me and my flesh be upon Babylon,” the inhabitant of Zion will say; “And my blood be upon the inhabitants of Chaldea!” Jerusalem will say. (Jer. Jer. 51:35) [emphasis added]

As Babylon has caused the slain of Israel to fall, so at Babylon the slain of all the earth shall fall. (Jer. Jer. 51:49) [emphasis added]

If language means anything, the interpreter cannot simply reverse the meaning of numerous passages of Scripture to suit his own predilection! But this is exactly what the preterist does. Between the OT and the NT, he completely reverses the meaning of words. Israel no longer means the nation of Israel, but now is to be read Church. Babylon no longer means the city on the banks of the Euphrates River in the land of Shinar, but now is to be read as Jerusalem! This illustrates some of the many dangers of Replacement Theology as fueled by the preterist interpretation:
  • Scriptural Confusion - Words are elastic and their meanings can be changed after-the-fact and even be completely inverted. God’s numerous OT prophecies and promises concerning Jerusalem and Israel are now reinterpreted to mean something else entirely. If we were to adopt the preterist interpretation, we could only conclude that in their original context such prophesies were misleading and even downright misrepresentations, for the way they were understood in the common language of the prophet and his listeners was not their true meaning.4
  • Dangerous Teachings - The inversion of meaning associated with various passages results in all sorts of unscriptural beliefs which can lead the believer, without even being aware of it, into a position in opposition to God’s will. For example, those who believe that the Church is the new Israel are likely to stand opposed to the true Israel in her claims based on God’s OT promises. Such believers stand opposed to God’s heritage (Jer. Jer. 50:11; Joel Joel 3:2)!
  • Denial of God’s Word - God’s promises no longer are reliable. If promises concerning the literal city Babylon and the literal nation Israel in the OT no longer apply to these same entities, but now are to be understood in an entirely new way—not just broader, but in a way which denies the meaning of the original context, then what confidence can we have in God’s promises to us? How do we know that eternal life is really eternal? How do we know the New Jerusalem is in fact a real city and as glorious as the NT describes? If we use similar interpretive techniques as the preterist, we may just find when we get to heaven that what God said in the NT—based upon the common rules of language and the context of the recipients—is not at all what He meant. Assigning such malleable meaning to the words of Scripture undermines the promises of Scripture and maligns the nature of God. It is no small matter!
The confusion of the preterists results in their denial of other things which are revealed concerning Babylon, such as the permanence of her destruction:

If the Babylon = Jerusalem hypothesis is correct then Jerusalem will never be rebuilt again. Revelation Rev. 18:21-23+ describes the permanent destruction of Babylon. . . . according to the Babylon = Jerusalem view, Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 and will never be rebuilt again. Yet, how can this be a description of Jerusalem when scripture repeatedly speaks of its return to prominence during the millennial reign (Isa. Isa. 2:3; Zec. Zec. 14:16; Rev. Rev. 20:9+)? Scripture is quite plain that God still has a plan for ethnic Israel and yet the Jerusalem view seems to teach the opposite.5

We also saw that at her destruction, Babylon will never be inhabited again. Clearly, Babylon cannot be Jerusalem, for Jerusalem is currently inhabited and has never been—nor shall ever be—destroyed in the manner which Scripture describes of Babylon. See The Destruction of Babylon. There is also a problem of pedigree when an attempt is made to identify Jerusalem as Babylon. Babylon is said to be, “the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth” (Rev. Rev. 17:5+). Scripture indicates the Jerusalem, at her worst times, is merely a daughter harlot:

Thus says the LORD God to Jerusalem, . . . “Indeed everyone who quotes proverbs will use this proverb against you: ‘Like mother, like daughter!’ You are your mother’s daughter, loathing husband and children; and you are the sister of your sisters, who loathed their husbands and children; your mother was a Hittite and your father an Amorite.’ ” (Eze. Eze. 16:3, Eze. 16:44-45) [emphasis added]

Son of man, there were two women, The daughters of one mother. They committed harlotry in Egypt, They committed harlotry in their youth; Their breasts were there embraced, Their virgin bosom was there pressed. Their names: Oholah the elder and Oholibah her sister; They were Mine, And they bore sons and daughters. As for their names, Samaria is Oholah, and Jerusalem is Oholibah. (Eze. Eze. 23:2-4) [emphasis added]

God, through Ezekiel, goes on to describe how Oholiah (Samaria, the northern kingdom) derived her harlotry from Egypt (Eze. Eze. 23:8) and was given into the hands of her lovers, Assyria (Eze. Eze. 23:9). When her sister, Oholibah (Jerusalem, representing the southern kingdom) saw her fate, rather than repenting she became even more corrupt. Then, her eyes lusting after the equivalent of pornographic images:

. . . she increased her harlotry; She looked at men portrayed on the wall, Images of Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, Girded with belts around their waists, Flowing turbans on their heads, All of them looking like captains, In the manner of the Babylonians of Chaldea, The land of their nativity . (Eze Eze. 23:14-15) [emphasis added]

In this significant passage of Ezekiel, Israel’s harlotry is repeatedly said to derive from Egypt (Eze. Eze. 23:8, Eze. 23:19, Eze. 23:27). Thus, she is a daughter harlot. In this same passage describing Jerusalem’s harlotry, Ezekiel links the nativity of her partners to Babylon. Like Rome, Jerusalem lacks the necessary antiquity to bear the dubious label of mother of harlots. See commentary on Revelation 17:5. Beale notes that evidence is lacking that “Babylon” has ever been a symbolic name for Israel: “There is not one example of ‘Babylon’ ever being a symbolic name for Israel, either before or after 70 A.D. . . . the burden of proof rests on those maintaining the Babylon = Jerusalem identification.”6 Another major weakness of the view that Babylon is Jerusalem is found in the dating of the book of Revelation. Unless John wrote the book before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then it becomes impossible to assign the destruction of Babylon in the book of Revelation to that event:

The view that Babylon is a code name for Jerusalem derives from a worldview that requires the writing and fulfillment of the Apocalypse before A.D. 70. Besides an impossible date for the book’s writing, this view goes against the historical fact that Jerusalem is related to the people of God and Babylon to the world at large (Lee).7

Nor does it make sense for Jerusalem to be Babylon when the earthly Jerusalem is a type or pattern for the New Jerusalem which is contrasted at every point with Babylon. See Babylon and the New Jerusalem. The view that Babylon means Jerusalem has almost nothing to recommend it and represents a most serious distortion of the word of God.

Notes

1 “J. Stuart Russell and others (Terry, Chilton, etc.) believe Babylon to be a symbolic designation for Jerusalem.”—Steve Gregg, Revelation Four Views: A Parallel Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), Rev. 14:8.

2 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), Rev. 14:8.

3 Ibid.

4 We are not talking here about progressive revelation which is a matter altogether different. Progressive revelation adds information and understanding to broaden an original prediction or promise. It does not deny the original content or understanding, nor does it reverse or drastically change its meaning to something that denies the basic understanding of the original recipients.

5 Andy Woods, What is the Identity of Babylon In Revelation 17-18?.

6 Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 25.

7 Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), Rev. 14:8.