Babylon stands for all that is the world, as over against the call of the heart of God. . . . There is a form of Babylon which is political, and there is a form which is religious.1
What is before us now is the mystic Babylon, that huge system of spiritual adultery and corruption which holds sway over the whole prophetic scene. It is scarcely possible [writing before 1860!] to conceive of a huge system of wickedness eagerly embraced by the nations once called Christian. It will nevertheless be so.2
[Isaiah Isa. 13:6 is a] prefigurement of the final destruction of Babel (Babylon), connoting prophetically the disordered political and governmental system that characterizes the earth during the times of the Gentiles (Luke Luke 21:24; Rev. Rev. 18:1-24+). This political Babylon, together with ecclesiastical Babylon . . . shall be destroyed at the second advent of Christ. Political Babylon stands in contrast to the divine order (Isa. Isa. 11:1-Isa. 12:6) with Israel in her own land, the center of spiritual blessing and the divine world government of the King-Messiah (Isa. Isa. 2:1-5).3In this view, the term Babylon is not to be associated with any physical location, but denotes the practices which originated in Babylon and then spread throughout the world. Thus, to destroy Babylon is to destroy these religious and commercial systems, wherever they may be found.
The ancient Babylon is better understood here as the archetypal head of all entrenched worldly resistance to God. Babylon is a trans-historical reality including idolatrous kingdoms as diverse as Sodom, Gomorrah, Egypt, Babylon, Tyre, Nineveh, and Rome. Babylon is an eschatological symbol of satanic deception and power; it is a divine mystery that can never be wholly reducible to empirical earthly institutions. It may be said that Babylon represents the total culture of the world apart from God.4We believe this view, while having some measure of truth, is inadequate. It properly accounts for the global influence clearly attributed to Babylon (Rev. Rev. 17:5+, Rev. 17:15+, Rev. 17:18+; Rev. 18:24+), but in doing so it also overlooks many aspects which are difficult to interpret as pertaining to anything other than a specific physical location. Babylon is called a city and is associated with the Euphrates River. She is destroyed at the hands of the Beast and his ten kings (Rev. Rev. 17:16-18+), but they themselves are not destroyed by this same event. Yet they represent worldly ungodliness in the extreme. At her destruction, she becomes a dwelling place for demons (Rev. Rev. 18:2+). Mention is made of merchants, ships, musicians, and craftsmen. Furthermore, she is differentiated from the nations which she influenced (Rev. Rev. 14:8+; Rev. 17:2+; Rev. 18:2+, Rev. 18:23+). If she deceived the nations (Rev. Rev. 18:23+), how can she be those ungodly systems whom she herself produced by her deception? Another weakness of this view, which is shared by other views, is the artificial distinction which is made between The Great Harlot and the city Babylon. We believe this distinction is brought to the text, but not derived from the text which indicates they are one and the same (Rev. Rev. 17:18+; Rev. 18:21+-Rev. 19:2+).5 A variation of this view takes Babylon to be a literal city, but as any commercial center at the time of the end which God chooses to judge, wherever located: As far as we are concerned, the city that represents commercial Babylon could be any great port city in the world to which the commerce of the world should be transferred, and which should thus head up the whole idea of commerce to be brought into judgment and sudden destruction.6 Thus Babylon could have been Liverpool when it was a great shipping port or New York today or any ungodly city of tomorrow. The city represents the concept of commercialism, wherever God happens to decide to judge it when the time is right. But contrary to Barnhouse and others, Scripture knows of no commercial Babylon as opposed to any other noncommercial Babylon. See One or Two Babylons? See The Great Harlot See Babylon is Babylon!
5 Barnhouse, normally a very reliable commentator, is interesting in this regard. After a lengthy and informative exposition of most of Revelation Rev. 17:1+ wherein he holds the Harlot to be an ecclesiastical system, he concludes some nineteen pages of discussion with an exposition of the 17th verse. There the commentary ends and runs off into a blank page! Not only doesnt he comment on the last verse, verse 18, he doesnt even mention it! MacArthur is similarly silent at the end of his commentary on Revelation Rev. 17:1+, commenting on verse Rev. 17:17+ but not 18. Why? We can only guess because this verse stands as a contradiction to their schemes of interpretation which take the Harlot to be an ecclesiastical system. For verse Rev. 17:18+ tells us that the woman is that great city.