Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the Book of Revelation”
“And [the angel] cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” (Revelation 18:2)
A survey of the Old Testament reveals a common theme, as God repeatedly proclaimed that Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple were His dwelling place. Consider the following texts (this is just a sample):
“You will bring them in and plant them In the mountain of Your inheritance, In the place, O Lord, which You have made for Your own dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established” (Exodus 15:17).
“But you shall seek the place where the Lord your God chooses, out of all your tribes, to put His name for His dwelling place; and there you shall go” (Deuteronomy 12:5).
“In Jerusalem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling place in Zion” (Psalm 76:2).
“For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place” (Psalm 132:13).
At the same time, God’s dwelling place was in heaven (e.g. I Kings 8:30, 39, 43, 49):
“And may You hear the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive…”
A survey of the Old Testament also reveals that Israel and Jerusalem often proved unworthy of serving as a dwelling place for God. In these times of unfaithfulness, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea were among those who referred to Israel as a harlot:
The Lord said also to me in the days of Josiah the king: “Have you seen what backsliding Israel has done? She has gone up on every high mountain and under every green tree, and there played the harlot. And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also” (Jeremiah 3:6-8).
“But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it” (Ezekiel 16:15).
“I have seen a horrible thing in the house of Israel: There is the harlotry of Ephraim; Israel is defiled” (Hosea 6:10).
When Jesus came, He summed up what had become of Jerusalem in this lament:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).
Strong’s Concordance defines the word “desolate” (#2048), used by Matthew here, as “lonesome, waste, desert, solitary, wilderness.” In the New Testament, we see indications that demons are attracted to such places:
“For Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For it had often seized him, and he was kept under guard, bound with chains and shackles; and he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the wilderness” (Luke 8:29; some translations say “solitary places” or “deserted places”).
Similarly, recall what Jesus said would be true of the nation of Israel in His generation:
“The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:41-45).
John wrote the book of Revelation in Jesus’ generation, and there we see a tragic picture of what had become of His former dwelling place, as John describes “Babylon the great”:
“And [the angel] cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” (Revelation 18:2).
Someone may object here and say that Babylon the great is not Jerusalem. However, if we pay attention, John does positively identify the great city, Babylon. In the previous chapter, John is shown “the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication” (Rev. 17:1-2). She is shown sitting on a great beast (verse 3), and on her forehead are written these words: “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (verse 5). John sees her drunk with the blood of the saints and the martyrs (verse 6). The angel says to John, “The woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (verse 18). So the following is clear:
The harlot = Babylon the great = the great city
The “great city” is mentioned five times in Rev. 18 (verses 10, 16, 18, 19, and 21). In verses 10 and 21 it’s referred to as “the great city Babylon.” (See also Rev. 14:8.) Yet it’s in the first mention of “the great city” where we see the positive identification of that city. We see this in the scene of the two witnesses who are killed by the beast:
“And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:8).
Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. Therefore, “the great city” is Jerusalem. This title was also given to Jerusalem by Josephus (Wars 7:8:7) and Appian, a Roman historian of the same era. It may also be a throwback to Jeremiah’s words when he described the soon-coming judgment upon Jerusalem by Babylon, which took place in 586 BC:
And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them” (Jeremiah 22:8-9).
The great city, Babylon, is further confirmed as Jerusalem in at least the following three ways:
 This would not be the first time that Israel was referred to as “Sodom.” Isaiah did the same thing: “Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah: ‘To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?’ says the Lord…” (Isaiah 1:10-11). John invokes the names of two of Israel’s oldest enemies, Sodom and Egypt, and uses them to describe first century Jerusalem.
 John describes the great city using the imagery of a harlot. As discussed above, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea referred to Israel as a harlot in their day. Israel was in a covenant relationship with God, and therefore capable of spiritual adultery, unlike other nations in John’s day (or the United States or any other nation in our own day).
 John sees the harlot, Babylon the great, drunk with the blood of martyrs and saints (Rev. 17:6), and filled with the blood of prophets and apostles (Rev. 18:20, 24; see also Rev. 16:6, 19:2). Jesus said that Israel would be held responsible and judged in His generation for shedding this very blood (Matthew 23:29-36). He also said that “it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33).
In all this we see that a terrible thing had happened to Jerusalem, God’s former dwelling place. It was given over to spiritual adultery and had become overrun by demons:
“Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!” (Revelation 18:2).
With God having abandoned Jerusalem as His dwelling place, was He then without a dwelling place of His own? Not at all. In the next post, we will see that God has chosen as His dwelling place the new Jerusalem, the community of saints who abide in His Son, Jesus.
For more information and details on the content in this post, see our studies on Revelation 17 (verses 1-6 and verses 7-18) and Revelation 18.
If time allows, consider also our study on Revelation 9, where John sees an army of torturing locusts emerging out of the abyss. There is good reason to believe John witnesses a horde of demons sweeping through the land of Israel. The locusts didn’t touch any vegetation, but were given authority to torment only those who were not God’s servants, and this torment was to last for five months. In Judea, locusts typically came between May and September (a 5-month period), and this is roughly the same period when Rome laid a 5-month siege upon Jerusalem in 70 AD leading to Jerusalem’s downfall in September of that year.