Before we leave the Great Tribulation period, we need to look at another event that will be happening during this time or shortly afterwards, and that is the destruction of Babylon the Great! It still is unclear exactly when this occurs.
The following passage refers to "seven angels," but these are not the angels with trumpets who are associated with the Great Tribulation as we read in the previous chapter. Rather, these are seven angels who appear after Jesus' Second Coming. These are carrying seven bowls filled with the Plagues of the Wrath of God that they pour upon the Antichrist and his minions.
At the time of John, the great Babylonian Empire had been gone for over 500 years. In fact, the great city Babylon was an abandoned ruin. This Babylon that John was being shown was not the Babylonian Empire but was something far more sinister and enduring. Her identity, at least in John's time, was a mystery!
We covered these verses in Chapter 3 of this book, and you'll remember that we concluded that this king that "has not yet come" is the Antichrist, who is both the seventh and the eighth heads and is ultimately headed for Hell. There has been much speculation around the rest of this passage. Some have suggested that the seven mountains represent the seven hills of ancient Rome, and hence by inference that Babylon is the Roman Catholic Church that is headquartered on one of those hills, the Vatican. But a close reading equates the seven mountains with seven kings and hence kingdoms. This Babylon comes riding on the back of the seven-headed Beast, on the back of the seven empires which you will remember are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Alexander's, Rome, and finally the Antichrist's. The Catholic Church wasn't even around during the time of the first five empires, so the Catholic Church is not this Babylon.
Some have contended that this Babylon is the nation of Iraq, since the site of the ancient city of Babylon is in that country. However, Iraq has neither the power nor the decadence to resemble this great harlot. This harlot is Mystery Babylon. She is not that readily or easily identified.
These horns are the ten rulers and nations that unite with the Antichrist, and are the core of his empire, who even go so far as to make war against Jesus Christ, the King of kings, and do so by initially persecuting those who believe in Jesus, and finally try to take on Jesus Himself in the Battle of Armageddon. The angel tells John:
This great harlot sits on all the peoples of the world and rides these empires like a mistress, as though she were their owner. And indeed she is. What or who has pulled the strings and dominated every empire?—Those who controlled the financial and commercial interests. This can be summed up as materialism, defined in this case as the devotion to material wealth and possessions at the expense of spiritual or intellectual values. Isn't a big, gaudy, decadent whore who throughout all ages oppresses all with her extravagances and abominations a fitting symbolism of the power of materialism?
But finally, the Beast itself has had enough of carrying this harlot through the centuries, and the ten horns on the last head, the Antichrist empire, turn on her with hatred and vengeance, leave her desolate and naked, and burn her with fire. But how will they do that? How do they attack a spiritual entity? Because she is not just a spiritual entity. The next verse goes on to explain: "And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth" (Revelation 17:18).
Materialism is at the core of the profit-driven system that dominates the economies and nations of today.
If we look around us, there is no single place today that epitomizes the devotion to material wealth and possessions more than the United States. And if there is any one great city of the USA that reigns over the kings of the earth, it is New York. If America was attacked and suffered some sort of nuclear conflagration, especially if her financial centers were incapacitated, the world's capitalistic, materialistic system would be shattered. While the United States and New York are perhaps only the most apparent manifestations of the materialistic mistress that rules the empires of man, nevertheless their destruction could fulfill this vision of Babylon being destroyed in one hour. The 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers made everyone painfully aware just how fragile and vulnerable a city like New York is. Whatever the attack portrayed in this chapter, it sounds sudden and severe. John continues:
These verses confirm that Babylon is not just a spiritual entity but is also an actual place:
What nation is the choice marketplace of the earth where all other nations wish to sell their wares, and that has a trade deficit in the billions of dollars with many of them? That is billions flowing to these countries, and in particular to their merchants. There is one nation that clearly stands out above all others in this way: The United States of America.
The destruction is going to be sudden. Here it says in one day; later in the passage it says one hour. And what has America "rendered" or exported to the world that sows destruction and that she therefore reaps? Armaments! America is not the only country that sells weapons, but she has the lion's share of the market. She sells many other things that could also be viewed as abominable by God. But weapons of war have caused such sorrow and pain and anguish and God would be justified to be furious. So much so that whatever torment and hell America's military-industrial complex has meted out will now be repaid in like measure. If you have seen scenes of destruction and death that have resulted from war, then you know what horrors lie in wait for "Babylon the Great," who "thinks herself a queen and knows no sorrow."
God calls His people to come out of her, so that must mean that there are some and probably many in her. There are millions of Christians and other God-loving people in that country, but as Billy Graham and others have said, if God doesn't judge America for her sins, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.
So as the merchants and businessmen of other nations mourn their lost markets, and therefore their lost wealth, the angel tells all Heaven, the apostles and the prophets included, to rejoice, for they are avenged. The U.S. itself hasn't persecuted all these. In fact, in many instances it has championed religious freedom and tolerance. It is not all Americans, or just America, being judged here. It is the anti-God, materialistic, soul-enslaving system that has existed down through the ages that at this time of destruction is now done away with forever. It is not just in America that "the Great Harlot" flourishes. It is a worldwide entity. But the USA could unfortunately be the final inheritor of all that Babylon—the wicked, materialistic, mammon-worshiping system that God pictures as a vain, decadent whore—has done since it started riding on the world's empires.
John writes: "Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, 'Thus with violence the great city Babylon shall be thrown down, and shall not be found anymore'" (Revelation 18:21). So when does this happen? Obviously the Antichrist and his ten kings are in power at this time, so it appears it happens during their reign, most likely after the covenant is broken. It is more than likely that it happens toward the end of the Tribulation or immediately afterward during the time that the plagues of wrath are being poured out. (See Chapter 10, "The Plagues of the Wrath of God.") We've already covered how the Tribulation is not a peaceful time, and a reading of Daniel 11 shows that war seems to be the Antichrist's stock in trade. The angel who showed John these things was also involved in pouring out the plagues of wrath, so that would seem to favor the destruction of Babylon occurring after the Second Coming. However, it also seems that at least some of God's people are still in this Babylon, so that would place its destruction during the Tribulation. Guessing at the timing is just hypothesis for now.