And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: "Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations." (Revelation 17:5 ESV)
One of our Bible study groups is going through the book of Revelation. There is much helpful background and exposition on this book by Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, who served as professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, as well as being a teaching elder at Believers Chapel in Dallas, Texas. Many of his messages are available at the SLJ Institute website here.
Here are a few excerpts on the background of the "mystery" of Babylon...
John wrote in his first epistle, “We know we are of God and the whole world lies in the evil one.” Nowhere do we see that spirit more clearly than here in the building of the great tower of Babylon. “Grandiose in its imagination, rebellious in its pretensions, yet reflective of a basic insecurity,” someone has said. God said when He gave the original command to the early individuals upon the face of this earth, “Subdue the earth.” So now evidently, they have reached the conclusion that if God told us to subdue the earth, why not master it as well?
And so, like Lucifer, it is quite evident that they have for themselves the idea that they would like to be like God Himself.
But the principle, and this is the important thing, the principle is not the glory of God. The principle is the glory of man... So instead of doing what God wanted them to do, with a systematic colonization of the earth that God had given to men, they wanted a strong central society.
Well, this was the folly of man. Man calls it the “gate of God”. God calls it confusion. Any time that He is not supreme in our thinking and in our lives and in our activities, it’s confusion. Babylon’s importance then is seen in its assembly of collective defiance. Not individual, like Adam, Eve, Cain, ... But here we have collective defiance. Human autonomy. No wonder in the Book of Revelation in chapter 18, Babylon is called the “dwelling place of demons”. This is the beginning of its history.
God’s program is a program of unity too. And it leads ultimately to the heavenly Jerusalem, so we are told in the Book of Revelation, where there is unity, but unity in Christ. What a difference; unity in Christ and unity in men.
The mystery of godliness progresses along with the mystery of iniquity. And we surely have a great deal of iniquity progressing and progressing in our day. But the mystery of godliness makes its progress founded in the blood of Calvary, extended by the rushing mighty, wind of the Holy Spirit’s uniting action on the Day of Pentecost when individuals who could not speak the same language, nevertheless, by that mighty power of God began to speak the same language. Incidentally, that was God’s way of saying that the time was coming when Babylon will be reversed. God’s society is being constructed, united in the passion of Calvary, possessed of the Holy Spirit, all one body, we move to the city of God, the great city Jerusalem.
--Dr. S. Lewis Johnson on the origin of Babylonianism.
Image credit: above, painting of The Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1563.