Is Mystery, Babylon a Real Place?

By S. Douglas Woodward

               It’s one of the hottest topics in Bible prophecy today. Where is Mystery, Babylon? What if nobody has it right? Has the cipher ever been broken?

               Read these passages in Revelation 17:1,3,9,15,18:  

               And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, “Come hither; I will shew unto thee the judgment of the great w***e that sitteth upon many waters.”

               So, he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.

               And here is the mind which hath wisdom. The seven heads are seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.

               And he saith unto me, “The waters which thou sawest, where the w***e sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.”

               “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”

Many Ciphers, Considered Together, Identify Mystery, Babylon

Ancient Babylon

               One of the most decisive issues unlocking prophetic understanding in futurism consists in our understanding of where Babylon of the last days resides.

               Does finding Babylon come down to picking a specific location where we believe the Antichrist (or the Beast) will dwell, where he will set up his capital, and from which he will go about the business of enforcing authoritarian rule, and the slaughter of countless image bearers of God around the globe?

               Or, might it instead merely depict a spiritual condition of humanity and its institutions?

               Hearkening back to my earlier article, I ask the reader, “Is Mystery, Babylon a real place or just a symbol?” Could it be both? If it is both, how is it both a symbol and an actual location? 

               Of all the ciphers of Revelation, the ciphers of Babylon are the most puzzling. Are they merely symbolic? Absolutely not. But the meaning of the symbols is, I believe, distinct from the conventional wisdom of our day. And rightly understanding the symbols leads us to the most probable answer.

               I will argue the meaning of Mystery, Babylon is not obvious, and it differs significantly from opinions taught to the Evangelical church since Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earthin 1970.

               To understand the mystery, John testifies that we must have wisdom by which he means wisdom that comes from above – divine insight that understands what the ciphers mean and the will to accept what the ciphers represent. (Rev. 13:8, 17:9)

               The Apostle Peter teaches the same, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20)

               No doubt, Peter was influenced by what Jesus had said to him when he proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God, the Christ. “And Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:17)

               Consequently, to hold a true position, we must commit to New Testament doctrine that insists our interpretation be biblically based. Then, next, we must agree that our Father in heaven reveals the truth to whom He wills. If we accept these premises, we can decipher the meaning of Mystery, Babylon.

Revelation 17 and 18 Pose Six Places

The Great Mystery

               One of the challenges in establishing its location, where Babylon dwells, is that its description in Revelation 17-18 poses at least six different places. The confusion is apparent when we learn that the woman sits on many waters, is found in the desert, sits on seven mountains, and is the great city that rules over the entire earth.

               These symbols cannot all imply literal places because they contradict one another. To arrive at a coherent answer, we must understand the symbols and then progress to one or more possible answers.

               If we peek ahead to Revelation 18 we learn that the captains of industry (in biblical language, “merchants on great ships”) see Babylon burning, destroyed in one hour, dumbfounded by the scene, aghast at the consequences of what they witness, their sailing vessels keeping them a safe distance from the city – Babylon the Great – lest they partake of the fire and the plague visible in the city.

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               Their offshore station suggests that Babylon is a seaport, with a great harbor into which merchant vessels enter and depart. This memorable picture can be distinguished from the other possible locations of chapter 17, making no less than six different locations for Mystery, Babylon and perhaps separately, Babylon the Great (which I argue are distinct).

               When we include the label affixed to apostate Jerusalem, the mother of Judaism and Christianity (which arises from a passage in Revelation 11), we can identify these many different locations – six different ciphers, but all pointing to where Mystery, Babylon sits.

Is There One Right Answer or Multiple Babylon’s?

The ruins of ancient Babylon

               Hinting at my direction, this author asks rhetorically, “Could all of these symbols suggest different locations at different times in history?”

               Is there a way for them to be right simultaneously? Could they be instances of Babylon at different times during humanity’s reign on earth? Does one proceed the other? Does the Babylon of John’s vision transcend specific geography and definite times, suggesting more than one-and-only-one place on our globe is Mystery, Babylon, and poses the possibility that Mystery, Babylon continues to haunt humanity throughout history?”

               The Preterist argues that the location was most certainly Rome, the Rome of John the Revelator’s day. They assert the answer is “obvious.” The seven-hilled city is Rome. On the other hand, futurists create a much more challenging, somewhat open-ended option: While Mystery, Babylon could be today’s papal Rome (the Catholic Church and existing Vatican City), it could also be other locations. That is, it could signify more than one place, more than one institution.

               Futurists almost always seek to determine its place in the world as one and only one location. The notion that it could be symbolic only enjoys criticism since it follows the liberal hermeneutic of “spiritualizing” Scripture. In other words, symbols are always symbols and never reference a literal place, person, or thing. 

               Seeing in Mystery, Babylon a purely symbolic meaning would appear to be a rejection of the evangelical “literal” hermeneutic; thus, it finds it difficult to gain traction among Bible prophecy enthusiasts. This is a legitimate concern.

Jesus is the Bread of Life

Jesus Christ

               The issue of literalism as the best way to characterize the Evangelical hermeneutic is another study of its own. 

               For our purposes here, allow me to express my observation that most Evangelicals contend they “take the Bible literally;” hence talking about symbols or ciphers seems non-Evangelical. Everything must be “taken literally” all the time. However, as we are about to see, not dealing with what the Bible teaches about its use of symbols and their meaning, cannot be simplified to such a restrictive phrase as “taking the Bible literally.”

               Instead, we must become infused with the Scripture and let the Bible speak. We ought not impose a “pat answer” on a complex question set forth in Scripture, requiring a comprehensive knowledge of the Bible to come up with the right answer.

               While some say the Bible must be taken literally, it’s crucial to remember that Jesus taught in parables – word pictures or stories rich with symbolism. Generally, he did not speak plainly to the crowds, but only to the disciples when they were alone.

               “With many such parables Jesus spoke the word to them, to the extent that they could understand. But without a parable spake he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.” (Mark 4:34, cf. Matt 13:34; Luke 24:27; John 10:6; John 16:25)

               Christ revealed His truth to whom He willed just as the Father now reveals the truth to whom He wills. Think of all the metaphors Jesus used when seeking to express who He was – not a secondary matter – and yet He trusted this truth to symbol and metaphor. 

               He was the “bread of heaven.” (John 6:22-59)

               He was the “light of the world.” (John 8:12)

               He would supply His followers “living water.” (John 7:37-39)

               He, being divine, used common earthly symbols to convey who He was, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and if we consider (rightly) that Father is a metaphor, He spoke of the “Father in Heaven” as the first person of the Trinity.

Symbols of Babylon’s Location – Leading to More Than One Possibility?

The EU Parliament Building was built to resemble the Tower of Babel.

               To decipher Babylon’s “location,” we must consider all the following symbols regarding where we might find the woman marked Mystery, Babylon.

               Here, we identify six:  (1) the wilderness or desert to which John is supernaturally transported, (2) the many waters where the angel says she resides, (3) the seven mountains upon which the woman sits, (4) the great city which rules over all the kings of the earth (ambiguous if considered apart from the rest); (5) the great city that is the mother of Judaism and Christianity (drawn from Rev. 11:17), spiritually bereft Jerusalem; and lastly, (6) Babylon the Great, that great city that serves as the focal point of commercialism described in chapter 18, appearing to be the final Babylon whose destruction in one hour is plainly visible to the captains of commercialism, i.e., mercantilism.

               Consequently, when we consider where Babylon might exist in our world, it is no wonder that there are many cities that have been proposed by teachers and scholars throughout the history of Bible prophecy which are proclaimed passionately as the location of Babylon. Being more specific, champions of the different alternatives make summary points as follows:

·        The desolate city that today rests quietly on the banks of the great Euphrates, Babylon, which will be reborn to preeminence in the last days, located in a desolate desert in Iraq. There are capable scholars that believe historical Babylon has never been totally destroyed and its countryside made uninhabitable  While Babylon (after Alexander the Great who made Babylon his capital, circa 328 B.C.), was attacked by numerous armies at various times, the argument can be made (with some difficulties as we will discuss in another article), that its destruction was never anything akin to the obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah, which the scripture predicts will be the case: “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Jeremiah 50:12-13, 50:40).

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·        A city that “sits on many waters” later defined as, “all peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” – suggesting either a gentile empire or a universal, one-world kingdom. This cipher is used multiple times in Revelation. It infers that Babylon is a global capital, a “world city” if you will, that symbolizes humankind’s urban collective, its economics, its politics, as well as its many religions that – most importantly – team with civil power to control humanity (i.e., the “woman rides the beast”). Religion always plays the servant to political power. It can only be salty when it ceases to reinforce the values of a culture. When it ceases to function as a “corrective” or counter-point to secular power, it loses its saltiness and has become worthless. (Matthew 5:13)

·        The center of worship for what appears to be the greatest enemy of Christianity at this moment in history is Mecca, which is the religious heart of the fastest growing religion in the world. It also sits in a desert, this one in Arabia. Many have come to believe that the Antichrist will be Islamic, and Mecca its Mystery, Babylon. For those who expound the Islamic Antichrist point of view, the greatest empire was the Ottoman Empire, not Rome. The Ottomans lasted for approximately 500 years (until 1924) and will be revived in the last days with Turkey once again taking the lead. Its head will not only be the Mahdi but will also become Gog (Ezekiel 38-39) and ultimately be one and the same as Antichrist. That is, three characters are all incarnate in the same single personage. Likewise, the last war is Gog and Magog. Armageddon is but another name for that conflict, immediately as the Son of Man returns to the rule the earth.

·        The “eternal city” is the fourth location. It constitutes the sixth king – the sixth empire that is, while (possibly) also the origin of the seventh and eighth “kings” of Revelation 17:10-11. Most today’s prophecy scholars reckon this to be civil (political) Rome, revived at the end of the age. This view dates to the Church Fathers in the second and third centuries and continues to be favored down to this day, thanks in no small part to authors Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye. For them, Mystery, Babylon interweaves with the religious leadership of the Pope and the civil leadership of the President of a revived Roman empire. Typically, proponents regard the European Union as the foundation for this last attempt at global governance once the power of the United States has been dramatically diminished. Of course, the European Union has been hurt by Brexit and by the civil unrest in Paris. Europeans recognize that the EU Parliament is a collection of elites, not the elected, and not representative of the people but of their respective governments, dominated by globalists.

·        Papal Rome, which some evangelicals (rightly) distinguish from historical or modern Rome with the argument that its religious essence dominates the symbolism of Revelation 17, while a mercantile or consumer city appears the subject of chapter 18. Given that arguably the timing differs for the destruction of religious Babylon from that of commercial Babylon (as this author has argued in other places), we should not remove Papal Rome from consideration as Mystery, Babylon, even if civil Rome constitutes “the Great City” (or a different literal city) which serves as the Beast’s economic or political capital. Papal Rome, in this view, remains the focus. This perspective dominated the thinking of many scholars during and after the Protestant Reformation. It is closely associated with the Historicist view.

·        And the mother of Judeo-Christian religion, Jerusalem, which in its apostate state plays the harlot as often depicted in the Bible’s Old Testament prophets (2 Chr. 21:11, 13; Isa. 1:21; Jer. 5:7). It remains enemy number one to some in the Preterists fold, being the center of falsehood and sacrilege, where Jesus Christ was crucified (albeit just outside the city walls); infamously labeled “Egypt and Sodom” in Revelation 11:8, “And their dead bodies (the two witnesses) shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” If the two witnesses die in Jerusalem (which their interpretation contends), then Jerusalem is the capitol of Antichrist and his reign there completes the “time of the gentiles” where Jerusalem is trodden underfoot. (Luke 21:24; cf. Ezek. 30:3).

·        The modern city in America dominating banking, mercantilism, and consumerism – New York. Once the capital of the “hindermost” (youngest) of nations (labeled as such in Jeremiah 50:12), comprising also the wicked cauldron that spews out weapons of war and generously finances armies leading millions to their death; which also “traffics in the souls of men.” (Revelation 18:13). A slight twist to this choice is that New York and the City of London might both be one entity since the Anglo-American alliance sponsors the New World Order simultaneously and – economically speaking – acts in one accord. The banker conspiracy– that the Rockefellers and Rothschilds are not only cut from the same cloth but comprise an inseparable partnership in death – reinforces this alternative. And while some may decide that the New World City (the New Atlantis) does not comprise Mystery, Babylon or even the “final Babylon,” she might be especially fitting to be the “daughter of Babylon.” (Psa. 137:8, Isa. 47:1, Jer. 50:42, 51:33, Zec. 2:7)

To ascertain the most probable location, assuming a geographical location can be and should be determined, we must take up each of these possibilities – the oft-perceived geographical ciphers specified by John – and the supposed metropolis represented as the capitol and headquarters for operations of the Antichrist.

Assembling these symbols in one place provides a compelling picture of “where Babylon is,” as well as the key reason why Mystery, Babylon is truly so mysterious.

               These ciphers are offered by John to his readers with testimony and explanation by an angel who accompanied him during the visions of Revelation 17. Collectively, they expand our understanding of the meaning of Mystery, Babylon as well as how we should characterize its location.

               We will continue to explore this in the next article.

Learn more about “Mystery, Babylon” in S. Douglas Woodward’s book The Final Babylon. Click on the image to order it on Amazon.

This article originally appeared on Faith Happens at:

S. Douglas Woodward

S. Douglas Woodward, Th.M., MA in Finance (to be completed, May 2019), is 64. He grew up in Oklahoma City, where he lives once again, after working in Boston for six years and Seattle for 21. Doug’s experience lies primarily in business information technology and financial management where he has served as an executive for Oracle, Microsoft, and a Partner at Ernst & Young LLP. He also founded his own consultancy for young companies, Smart Starters, which he managed for 10 years, before becoming Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of Oklahoma, Price School of Business, where he has taught classes in entrepreneurship for five years. Over the past seven years, Doug has become a nationally recognized author having written fourteen books on the topics of America’s spiritual history, eschatology, theology, and geopolitics. His books of note include The Final Babylon, Decoding Doomsday, Power Quest (Books One and Two), Lying Wonders of the Red Planet, The Revealing, The Next Great War in the Middle East, and Revising RealityRebooting the Bible is number fifteen. He frequently appears on radio and television programs having been interviewed on over 100 different occasions on several dozen different shows. Additionally, he speaks at conferences concerning the multiplicity of topics about which he writes. Doug has two amazing adult children, an incredible daughter-in-law, two fabulous grandsons, and a beautiful wife, Donna, with whom he celebrates over 43 years of marriage. Discover more at and