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Just what is 'Mystery Babylon'?

In the rough-and-tumble world of Bible prophecy teachers, a few really big issues generate much controversy. Too often these days, these controversies leads to food fights among believers.

One of the biggest disagreements focuses on the identity of what the Bible refers to as “Mystery Babylon.” The apocalyptic book, “The Revelation,” reads in Chapter 17: “And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth.”

The overall picture in Chapter 17 is of a corrupt woman sitting on a beast (part of the vision John saw and recorded) and drinking from a golden cup of abominations. The Apostle John, writing from Patmos, refers to Mystery Babylon. For centuries, scholars and commentators have disagreed over the identity of Mystery Babylon.

Does it refer to the real, geographical, historical Babylon, the one located in what is today Iraq? Or is it a symbolic name for, say, the United States? Great Britain? Another entity?

One of the best-known prophecy commentators today is Joel Richardson. His recent books have burst onto the publishing scene and generated not only big sales, but big discussions. In particular, his views of Islam have brought a rich dialogue to the Bible prophecy community.

In a new book, “Mystery Babylon: Unlocking the Bible’s Greatest Prophetic Mystery,” Richardson brings his own fascinating views to the identity of Mystery Babylon, a key end-times player.

Richardson identifies the issue with all the flair of a bestselling novelist:

Few passages of the Bible have been more mysterious, more perplexing, than Revelation 17–18. Together these two chapters comprise the single longest prophecy in the New Testament. Its subject is “the great city” (Rev. 17:18), described metaphorically, using the imagery of an absolutely grotesque woman. She is at once a queen, a prostitute, and a cold-blooded killer.

Richardson then goes to the heart of the matter, that of God’s eventual justice:

God’s judgment, about to be poured out, looms over this woman, as an angelic voice from heaven trumpets a thunderous warning to the inhabitants of the earth, ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities’ (Rev. 18:4).

In a comprehensive way, Richardson explores the scores of pertinent questions related to the identity of Mystery Babylon, including: Does this have anything to do with modern Islam? Is the identity of the city actually the United States? These and other questions get the full Richardson treatment, which gives the reader a complete picture of competing views along with Richardson’s take on the matter. It will no doubt be one of the most talked-about prophecy books in a generation.

“Mystery Babylon” is broken into three parts: an examination of the complete two chapters of 17 and 18; the various interpretations already put forth; and finally, Richardson’s unique proposition.

One of the many great features of the book is a detailed look at the modern players in the Middle East, and how they might fit into Revelation 17 and 18. In addition, helpful maps help sort out who is who.

(Included, too, are tons of interesting facts, such as that Saudi Arabia spends 13 percent of its GDP on its military. By contrast, the U.S. spends 4 percent. This one fact alone sheds light on the volatility of the Middle East and how Mystery Babylon is prepared to step onto history’s stage.)

The summary of the book is riveting, as Richardson builds a case for his candidate as Mystery Babylon. We can’t give away that element, but he does offer powerful clues:

An economic seducer. The harlot Babylon’s material excess serves to greatly amplify her seduction and influence far beyond what she can accomplish through her religion alone. Both ‘merchants’ and ‘shipmasters’ have ‘become rich through the abundance of her luxury’ (18:3, 9). All of this material wealth is directly responsible for the kings of the earth joining in with her spiritual corruption and bloodshed (17:2; 18:3).

If you are a student of Bible prophecy, “Mystery Babylon” is a must-have for your collection.