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Article 55 - Great City of Revelation

What Was the Great City of Revelation?

Jon Gary Williams

The "Great City," the "Harlot" and "Babylon" - - Do these identifications refer to Rome, or do they refer to Jerusalem?

1) The "great city" is identified as the place where Jesus was "crucified" (11:8). This of course refers to Jerusalem. Note that earlier Jerusalem was called "great among the nations" (Lam. 1:1), the "great city" (Jer. 22:8) and the "joy of the whole earth" (Ps. 48:2; Lam. 2:15).

In an attempt to make the "great city" refer to Rome, some say the phrase "where our Lord was crucified" is merely a figurative reference to corrupt Jerusalem, and along with Sodom and Egypt is used to describe Rome.

However, the phrase "where the Lord was crucified" is not linked with the figurative terms "Sodom and Egypt." Rather, the phrase "which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt" stands alone as a descriptive (qualifying) phrase. By removing the qualifying phrase the identity of the "great city" is clear. Thus, "And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city - - - - where also our Lord was crucified."

Note that the figurative reference of "Sodom" is exactly how Jerusalem was identified elsewhere (Is. 1:10; Jer. 23:14; Ezek. 16:46-49).

2) The "great city" is called "Babylon" (14:8; 18:21). Note: The name "Babylon" does not historically identify either Rome or Jerusalem. Hence, it is an assumption to claim that it refers to Rome rather than Jerusalem.

3) The great city is called the "holy city" (11:2) which, of course, describes Jerusalem (Matt. 4:5; 27:53). To apply this to Rome is pure speculation and makes no sense.

4) The "holy city" was to be "tread under foot" for 42 months (11:2). This fits perfectly with Jerusalem's 3-1⁄2 years of annihilation by Rome, 67-70 A.D. All attempts to apply this to Rome are, at best, awkward.

5) Babylon, the harlot, was guilty of "fornication" against God (14:8;17:1,2,4;18:3). This can only describe Jerusalem, for Rome was never thought of as married to God. Likewise, the "great city" was a fornicating "harlot" (14:8). This is precisely how the "faithful city," Jerusalem, was earlier described (Is. 1:21).

6) The harlot is arrayed in scarlet, purple and gold (17:4; 18:16). These were the colors of the Jewish priestly garments (Ex. 28:6,8,15,33) and were the exact colors found in the Jewish temple in the 1st century A.D.

Josephus describes the colors of the Jewish temple as: "Babylonian tapestry in which blue, purple, scarlet and linen were mingled" (Wars 5:5:4). (Notice the subtle comparison of Jerusalem and Babylon.)

7) Babylon, the great whore, had been guilty of the blood of God's servants (16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2). This was true of Jerusalem's history (Matt. 23:34-38; Lk. 11:49-51; 13:34,35; Acts 7:51,52).

8) The "beast" was to destroy the "harlot" (17:16). Those who teach the "harlot" is Rome also believe the "Beast" is Rome. However, if both the "beast" and "harlot" are Rome, this forces the odd conclusion that Rome would destroy Rome. However, since Jerusalem was the city Rome destroyed, this means the "harlot" is Jerusalem.

9) The "great city Babylon" would be burned with fire (18:8,18), thrown down and found no more (18:21) and this would come rapidly (18:10). This was true of Jerusalem but never of Rome.

10) Notice how several pagan writers described Jerusalem:
  • Tacitus -- "a famous city" (Histories 5:2)
  • Pliny -- "by far the most famous city in the orient" (Natural History 5:14:70)
  • Appian -- "the great city Jerusalem" (The Syrian Wars 50)