WHO SHE IS – The woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth. (Revelation 17:18)
John is told by the angel that the woman is “the great city that rules over the kings of the earth.” There are a variety of interpretations given by various Bible scholars. Last week we looked at the Babylon interpretations. This week we will look at the “revived” Roman Empire interpretations. I apologize for its length, but perhaps some might find the narrative compelling.
Revived Roman Empire (Geographical) – What is perhaps the predominant belief of evangelical Christians today is that this end times’ “empire” will come from within the same geographic area as Roman Empire of history. Many view this as the European Union (Figure 21.2), which includes part but not all the territory of the historical Roman Empire. It also comprises some territories that fall outside of the historical Roman Empire.
The European Union was founded in 1948, in the aftermath of World War II, the same year as modern-day Israel (coincidence?). Its stated purpose was to promote stability and economic cooperation between its member states, which is currently comprised of 28 European countries. These members are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.(1)
The European Union is comprised of three institutions (the Council – representing the individual national governments, the European Parliament – representing the people groups of the member countries, and the European Commission – representing the collective European interest), that democratically legislate matters of joint interest to participating countries at a European-wide level.(2) In many respects, this make it appear like an end time confederation that many believe will come under the sway of the anti-Christ.
The European Union Flag is comprised of 12 yellow stars (sounds like Joseph’s dream in the Old Testament?) in a circle on a blue background. This is meant to symbolize the ideals of unity, solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europe. Its motto is United in diversity. It signifies how Europeans have come together, in the form of the European Union, to work for peace and prosperity, while at the same time being enriched by the continents’ diverse cultures, traditions and languages(3) (“The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages”).
Revived Roman Empire (Demographical) – A second, but presently minority view, is that this end-times’ empire will be comprised of the various people groups that made up the Roman Empire of history, but not necessarily contained within the same geographic area. This has led some to speculate that the United States could be Mystery Babylon.
The United States is somewhat unique in its heritage in that it is largely comprised of a “melting pot” of immigrants, which until recent years was predominantly European in origin (the countries of the Old Roman Empire). In the 18th and 19th centuries, this metaphor of a “crucible” or “(s)melting pot” was used to describe the fusion of different nationalities, ethnicities and cultures. It was used together with the concept that the United States was an ideal republic, a “city upon a hill” or new “promised land.” It was a metaphor for the idealized process of immigration and colonization of different “peoples, multitudes, nations and languages” blending into a new utopian community of new men and women.
The term “melting pot” came into general usage in 1908, after the premiere of the play The Melting Pot by Israel Zangwill. The United States was characterized as a country where individuals from all nations were melted into a new race of men, as described by J. Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer:
“Whence came all these people? They are a mixture of English, Scotch, Irish, French, Dutch, Germans, and Swedes. What, then, is the American, this new man? He is either a European or the descendant of a European; hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. The Americans were once scattered all over Europe; here they are incorporated into one of the finest systems of population which has ever appeared.”(4)
The Seal of the United States and its currency include the phrase E pluribus unum, which is Latin for out of many, one. The traditionally understood meaning of the phrase was that out of many states (or colonies) emerged a single nation. However, in recent years its meaning has come to suggest that out of many peoples, races, religions, languages, and ancestries has emerged a single people and nation, further illustrating the concept of the melting pot.
But beyond this, what other characteristics could possibly link the United States to ancient Babylon and/or the old Roman Empire? Consider the following:
Prosperity – Besides freedom of religion, the chance for a more prosperous life drew many immigrants to the New World, leading to its being known as the land of opportunity. Until recently (and since 1872 when it overtook the United Kingdom), the United States has held the title of world’s largest economy. Not until 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund, was it knocked off the top spot by China (although these numbers are somewhat disputable.(5)
Power – The United States abandoned its isolationist policies and began to emerge as a world power following its entry into World War I. It came into its own as a one of the world’s reigning super powers after World War II. It has since emerged as the sole remaining super power with a military superiority that is unquestionable both in size, technology and spending (Figure 21.3). Interestingly, military overspending has been attributed as one of the reasons that led to the fall of the Roman empire.(6)
Polluted Morals – A study of the signs leading up to and the social mores that characterize the time of the Great Tribulation cannot help but make one wonder how the declining morals in the United States in the late 20th and early 21st century might fit into the narrative of the end times.
Once upon a time, the characterization of the United States as principally a Christian nation would have been largely unchallenged. In fact, in 1892 the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, in The Church of the Holy Trinity versus the United States, unanimously decided that America was indeed a Christian Nation. They wrote, “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of The Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise, and in this sense, and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.” And later in the same document, they wrote, “These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.”(7)
Yet a look at recent Gallup poll numbers (see figure 21.4) shows that the American public has become more tolerant on moral issues(8) that historically were viewed as Christian virtues. Thus today, some 125 years later, many might call into question whether today’s Supreme Court would uphold the 1892 decision that our laws “embody” Christ’s teachings and that our civilization and institutions are “emphatically Christian.”
Jon Meacham, former Editor of Newsweek and author of American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, wrote in Newsweek’s April 4, 2009 cover story:
The End of Christian America:
According to a new NEWSWEEK Poll, “fewer people now think of the United States as a ‘Christian nation’ than did so when George W. Bush was president (62 percent in 2009 versus 69 percent in 2008). Two thirds of the public (68 percent) now say religion is ‘losing influence’ in American society, while just 19 percent say religion’s influence is on the rise.”
“Many conservative Christians believe they have lost the battles over issues such as abortion, school prayer and even same-sex marriage, and that the country has now entered a post-Christian phase (emphasis added).”
The country’s leading citizen, President Barack Obama, stated during a joint news conference with Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul on April 6, 2009: “One of the great strengths of the United States is, although as I mention we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation, or a Jewish nation, or a Muslim nation, we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”(9)
Persecution of Believers – Some might legitimately question whether Christians are being persecuted in the United States. If persecution means one must be burned alive inside churches like Christians in Nigeria, then they are not. If persecution only applies to those who are beheaded with a dull-edge sword like Christians in Syria, then again, the answer is no. If persecution must be so severe that it rises to the level of acts like the crucifixion of Christians that are occurring in Pakistan and elsewhere, then the answer is still no. Yet there is a subtler form of persecution of Christians that is occurring in America. It includes the mild mocking by the media and others of those claiming to be “born again” such as Jimmy Carter’s claim when he ran for President in 1976.(10)
Senator Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, states that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. Every generation has to fight for it. We sort of feel that in America today with respect to what I think is the foundational freedom, the freedom of conscience, the freedom of religion. If you don’t have the freedom of religion or the freedom of conscience then all these other freedoms really don’t stack up to very much.”(11) Santorum goes on to say that the growing threat towards American religious freedom by our own government could lead to “Christian persecution,” similar to how the oppression of Jews and Christians evolved over time under Nazi Germany. Arguing that the rise of the Nazi regime happened in a stable country where it was not expected, Santorum said that a similar situation could occur in the United States where, according to Santorum, religious liberties are “under direct assault” for the first time in history. “The idea that you can have this kind of persecution take place over a period of ten years — where you go from Christians — Jews, obviously, but also Christians — being not just persecuted but put to death — was unfathomable,” he said. “It was unfathomable to them that (in) a country like this, this could happen. Same thing here.”
While the former presidential candidate did acknowledge that persecution in America is “fairly mild” compared to what’s going on in other parts of the world, he warned that it is still dangerous because “it’s something that grows over time.” “It starts in a gradual erosion,” Santorum said. “We’re not in a dire situation right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get there. I would argue that there’s a certainty that we will get there if we don’t push back and defend our liberties.” “If we don’t nip it here, then things get a lot worse,” he continued. Asked why such attacks on religious liberties exist in America, Santorum said it is mostly a result of government overreach.(12) But how does one go from “mild persecution” to life-threatening persecution? It happens in stages.
Stage One: Stereotyping the targeted group – To stereotype is to take a quality or observation of a limited number and generalize it to describe the whole group. It involves a simplified and standardized conception or view of a group based on the observation of a limited sample. Individual Christians will manifest some negative traits, but stereotyping, vilifying, and crudely and indiscriminately presuming the negative traits of a few to be common to all is unjust. Consequently, Bible-believing Christians are often caricatured in the media as “Bible thumpers,” simpletons, haters of science, hypocrites, self-righteous, old-fashioned, and backwards.
Stage Two: Vilifying the targeted group for alleged crimes or misconduct – As the stereotyping grows in intensity Christians who do not conform to the “cultural revolution” are described as close-minded, harmful to human dignity and freedom, intolerant, hateful, bigoted, unfair, homophobic, reactionary, exclusive, mean and basically bad people.
Stage Three: Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society – Having popularized the false premise that the Church and the Christian faith are very bad and even harmful to human dignity and freedom, the critics proceed in the next stage to relegate the role of the Church to the margins of society. They will perhaps let Christians have their hymns, etc. within the four walls of the church, but the faith must be banished from the public square. Many indeed feel quite righteous, quite politically correct in their work to separate the practice of the faith from the public square. In this stage, it becomes increasingly unacceptable and intolerable that anyone should mention God, pray publicly, or in any way bring their Christian faith to bear on matters of public policy.
Stage Four: Criminalizing the targeted group or its works – To many, it is clear that efforts to criminalize certain aspects of Christian behavior are increasing in today’s culture and signals the continued erosion of religious liberty in America. An increasing amount of litigation is being directed against the Church and Christians for daring to live out their faith. Often Christians and Christian organizations must go to court to fight for the right to practice their faith openly. Many of these attempts to criminalize the faith have been successfully rebuffed in the courts thus far, but the number and frequency of the lawsuits, and the time and cost involved with fighting them impose a huge burden.
Stage Five: Outright Persecution of Targeted Group – If current trends continue, Christians, especially religious leaders, may not be far from facing heavy fines and/or incarceration. Already in Canada and in parts of Europe, clergy have been arrested and charged with “hate crimes” for preaching Christian doctrine on homosexual activity. In this country, there are greater provisions for free speech, but we are seeing a steady erosion of our religious liberty. The trajectory, if not reversed points to suffering, lawsuits, fines, and ultimately jail.
Is this unlikely? Are we being alarmist? Well, one might argue that stages one through four is pretty much in place in America. One may wish to “whistle past the graveyard,” but it is looking more and more likely that we are well positioned for stage five.(13)
Pride – In his second inaugural address, Bill Clinton stated his belief that “America stands alone as the world’s indispensable nation.” In his memoir of the Clinton presidency, The Clinton Wars, political journalist Sidney Blumenthal elaborated on what the phrase was intended to represent: “Only the United States had the power to guarantee global security: without our presence or support, multilateral endeavors would fail.” Madeleine Albright, then secretary of state, began using the phrase often, and most prominently in February 1998, while defending the policy of coercive diplomacy against Iraq over its limited cooperation with U.N. weapons inspectors when, during an interview on the “Today Show,” she said: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.”
President Barack Obama emphasized this point repeatedly, and most expansively in May 2014 while giving a commencement address to West Point cadets: “When a typhoon hits the Philippines or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help. So, the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century past and it will be true for the century to come.”(14) There was a time when the United States attributed its “most favored nation” status to the blessings of Almighty God. But if we ever get to the point where we believe that we are indispensable because we are America, and not because God has ordained a prominent place in His Story to be used by Him, then we are in grave peril.
It happened to ancient Babylon. Under Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon became the fabled city of luxury and splendor (sound familiar) with which its name is commonly associated. Partly because of the king’s haughty belief that he alone was responsible for his kingdom’s glory, partly because of his tyrannical oppression of the poor, God struck Nebuchadnezzar with a fit of temporary insanity. For a period, according to the Book of Daniel, the great Babylonian monarch believed that he was an animal. He lived outdoors “with the beasts of the field,” and “ate grass like an ox,” until “his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.” When his reason finally returned, Nebuchadnezzar was a humbler king (Daniel 4).(15) The splendor of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, however, did not last. Nebuchadnezzar’s son reigned only two years before being overthrown and subsequent leaders experienced severe challenges. As Babylon weakened, its Persian neighbors to the east grew stronger.(16)
As noted earlier, in 539 BC the Persian ruler Cyrus II (the Great) entered and took Babylon without a fight. This ended Babylon’s dominant role in Near Eastern politics.(17) Following is the account from Daniel 5:18-28:
“O king, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. Because of the high position he gave him, all the peoples and nations and men of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like cattle; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes. But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. This is the inscription that was written: mene, mene, tekel, parsin. This is what these words mean:
Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
For years, as signs of the end times increased, and the world dominance of the United States also increased, Bible scholars have pondered this “mystery” – how could a nation as prominent as the United States be missing from the prophecies concerning the end of the world? There are at least three possible explanations:
It Declines or Falls – Like all world powers throughout History, the power, splendor and influence of the United States declines to such an extent (or falls) that is no longer a main actor in the final act of mankind.
Devastated by Tribulation Judgments – The United States is so devastated during the judgments of rapture and tribulation that it is no longer able to play a major part in the final act of mankind’s story.
It Is Mystery Babylon – The United States has a very prominent part to play in the last act because it is Mystery Babylon. If weighed on the scales will we be found wanting? Are our days being numbered and brought to an end?
Up Next – Spiritual Babylon.
- Wilson, J. L. (2009). Fresh Start Devotionals. Fresno, CA: Willow City Press.
- http://blog.adw.org/2014/09/the-five-stages-of-religious-persecution/ By: Msgr. Charles Pope and Johnette Benkovic, of Women of Grace EWTN.
- Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 248). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
- Osborne, W. R. (2012, 2013, 2014). Babylon. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.Browning, D. C., Jr. (2003). Babylon. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R.
- Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 159). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.