Thursday, February 11, 2010

Breaking the Apocalypse Code: Not-So-Mystery Babylon

In "The Dating Game" (part 1 and part 2) I reviewed chapter 11 of Breaking the Apocalypse Code in which Hitchcock and Ice present the external and internal evidence they insist overwhelmingly support a mid-90s date for the writing of Revelation. We discovered that the testimony of some of the earliest Church Fathers, Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, was that John was banished to Patmos before Domitian, under Nero, and that the words contained within Revelation strongly favor a mid-60s date while the Jerusalem temple was still standing. While the evidence may not be 100% conclusive, what is absolutely clear is that futurists cannot argue against preterism based on the date Revelation was written.

The logic and exegesis exhibited by the authors of Breaking has thus far left something to be desired. I'm honestly surprised that the book was given the kudos included at the beginning of the book. Clearly we've yet to see the "excellent point-by-point critique of...preterist interpretations of end-time events" that Dr. Norman Geisler read. Nor have we seen the "insightful study, biblical exegesis and historical survey" that Dr. Ed Hindson found in the book. Let's see if we begin to see what these scholars saw as we look at some of the other chapters.


"The book of Revelation contains 404 verses, and 44 of these verses deal with Babylon (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:1-18:24). That's about eleven percent of the entire book of Revelation devoted to one main topic--Baylon, the great harlot...In chapter 5 of AC (Historical Principle), Hanegraaff contends that the 'harlot' city in Revelation 17 is the nation of Israel/the city of Jerusalem. He presents his view of Babylon in Revelation 17 as a virtual slam dunk and wonders why others have missed what is so obvious to him...But is is certainty well-placed?" (p. 169)

I'll be honest, when during my "conversion" to preterism I became convinced that Babylon was apostate Jerusalem, I was surprised I'd been blind to the obvious for so long. Thus I can relate to Hanegraaff's statement that "What has puzzled me over the years is not the identity of 'the great prostitute,' but how so many could mistake her historical identity" (The Apocalypse Code, p. 118). But perhaps I was right before, and am blinded now, rather than then. Hitchcock and Ice begin by attempting to refute two arguments Hanegraaff makes in his book.

"First, he notes that in Revelation 17, Babylon is referred to as a harlot. He then notes that in biblical history the only nation that is 'inextricably linked to the moniker "harlot"' is the nation of Israel...It is true that Israel is portrayaed as a harlot, especially in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. However, as Hanegraaff mentions in a footnote, Nineveh is also called a is the city of Tyre...So, the harlot imagery is not as clear a link to Israel as Hanegraaff states." (p. 170)


The authors of Breaking point out that Hanegraaff admits that Nineveh and Tyre are also associated with harlotry. However, it is telling that they do not quote the footnote in question:

"Even the two exceptions once worshiped the one true God of Israel. Nineveh was transformed through the preaching of Jonah (Jonah 3) and Tyre assisted Solomon in the construction of the Jewish temple (1 Kings 5). Thus, their apostasy is associated with harlotry." (The Apocalypse Code, p. 256)

So Nineveh could be called a harlot because she apostatized from her God. As Matthew Henry wrote in his commentary on the opening of Nahum:

"About 100 years before this Jonah had, in God’s name, foretold the speedy overthrow of this great city; but then the Ninevites repented and were spared, and that decree did not bring forth. The Ninevites then saw clearly how much it was to their advantage to turn from their evil way; it was the saving of their city; and yet, soon after, they returned to it again; it became worse than ever, a bloody city, and full of lies and robbery."

Tyre, too, had once served the Lord:

"When Hiram [king of Tyre] heard the words of Solomon, he rejoiced greatly and said, 'Blessed be the LORD today, who has given to David a wise son over this great people.' So Hiram sent word to Solomon, saying, 'I have heard the message which you have sent me; I will do what you desire concerning the cedar and cypress timber.'" (1 Kings 5:7-8)

"Then Huram, king of Tyre, answered in a letter sent to Solomon: 'Because the LORD loves His people, He has made you king over them.' Then Huram continued, 'Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who has made heaven and earth, who has given King David a wise son, endowed with discretion and understanding, who will build a house for the LORD and a royal palace for himself.'" (2 Chronicles 2:11-12)

Babylon, on the other hand, is never recorded as serving the Lord. It was a pagan kingdom of godlessness, and under Nebuchadnezzar it beseiged Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, sending the Israelites into exile (Ezekiel 24:2, 2 Kings 25). Yet in all its inquity, Babylon is never called a harlot in the Old Testament, because she was never in a relationship with God. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that the "great harlot" of Revelation is literal Babylon.


"Second, Hanegraaff says, 'The biblical link between Ezekiel 16 and Revelation 17 in itself is enough to preclude misidentification.'...While there are some parallels between these two texts, the Old Testament passage that most closely parallels Revelation 17-18 is Jeremiah 50-51, not Ezekiel 16. Jeremiah 50-51 is an Old Testament passage that describes the destruction of the literal city of Babylon on the Euphrates." (p. 170-171)

Hitchcock and Ice understate the parallels between Ezekiel and Revelation. They are not limited to Revelation 17. As Hank points out,

"Revelation is a virtual recapitulation of Ezekiel, from the four living creatures (Ezekiel 1//Revelation 4) to the mark on the foreheads of the saints (Ezekiel 9//Revelation 7); from the eating of the scroll (Ezekiel 3//Revelation 10) to the measuring of the temple (Ezekiel 40//Revelation 11); from God and Magog (Ezekiel 38//Revelation 20) to the river of the water of life (Ezekiel 47//Revelation 22). And even that but scratches the surface." (The Apocalypse Code, p. 121-122)

Indeed, I would add the four judgments upon Jerusalem in Ezekiel 14:21 as compared with the authority given the fourth horseman in Revelation 6:8. It is important that we remember that the first half of Ezekiel is not just a depiction of the abominations and harlotry committed by Israel; it foretells the seige upon Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple that stood in Ezekiel's day! These parallels, then, are a striking indication that the great harlot of Revelation is, in fact, the apostate Jerusalem of John's day, upon whom God was preparing to pour out His wrath.


But what about the claim made in Breaking the Apocalypse Code that "the Old Testament passage that most closely parallels Revelation 17-18 is Jeremiah 50-51, not Ezekiel 16?" The authors go on to list the many parallels between these two passages, saying, "The many parallels between this passage and the future Babylon in Revelation 17-18 indicate that they are both describing the same city" (p. 171). They go on to say,

"Every Old Testament mention of Babylon is a reference to the literal city on the Euphrates River. By the time one gets to Revelation there are hundreds of references to literal Babylon. A consistent pattern has been developed. To use Hanegraaff's language, 'someone with the background music of the Old Testament coursing through their minds' should know that in the Old Testament Babylon means Babylon (about 300 times), not Israel or Jerusalem." (p. 172)

I cannot help but wonder if Hitchcock and Ice understand the concept of biblical typology, "the doctrine or study of types or prefigurative symbols." The Bible powerfully testifies to the sovereignty of God over His creation by the many literal events and entities in the Old Testament which serve as types fulfilled in the New Testament. The Mosaic Law, the temple and the sacrifices performed there by its priests, the Jewish Feasts; all are types fulfilled by their antitype, the New Covenant:

"Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, 'SEE,' He says, 'THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN.' But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises." (Hebrews 8:4-6)

"The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience...But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." (Hebrews 9:8-9, 11-12)

"For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near." (Hebrews 10:1)

"Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ." (Colossians 2:16-17)

It would seem the authors of Breaking would have us believe that, given the great number of parallels between them, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant must be one and the same! Now obviously, I don't think Hitchcock and Ice would actually make that claim. Nevertheless, their insistence that the parallels between Babylon in Jeremiah 50-51 and Babylon in Revelation 17-18 prove they refer to the same literal city is unjustified. It is quite possible that the historical Babylon served as a type of the "great harlot" that we see in Revelation.


Of course, this begs the question: Is there exegetical justification for viewing the Babylon of Revelation as the antitype of a forerunner? Hitchcock and Ice would say no, there is not:

"Think about it...why would John suddenly change the established meaning of Babylon, which is reinforced about 300 times in the Old Testament, to Jerusalem the last time Babylon is mentioned in the Bible? No careful, informed reader could expect this sudden shift, this hermeneutical jolt, just a few chapters from the end of the Bible, yet this is what AC would have us believe." (p. 173)

It is here that the authors of Breaking begin setting themselves up for embarrassment. Any reader familiar with this passage in Revelation ought to see it coming. They go on to say:

"The one time John wants to identify a geographical location using symbolic language, he alerts the reader to the fact that it is non-literal. In Revelation 11:8 he refers to Jerusalem as 'Sodom and Egypt,' but he makes it clear that he is not speaking literally: 'The great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt' (italics added). John is being very careful here to let the reader know when he is not speaking literally of Sodom and Egypt...While it might be possible that the name 'Babylon' is a code name...there is no such indication in the text." (p. 173-174)

Did you catch it? Notice they say that because John refers to "the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt" he therefore "is not speaking literally of Sodom and Egypt." This utterly shatters their own case, for look at how various translations render Revelation 17:5 (I've added the emphasis to each):

"and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, 'BABYLON THE GREAT'" (NASB)

"This title was written on her forehead: MYSTERY BABYLON THE GREAT" (NIV)

"A riddle-name was branded on her forehead: great babylon" (The Message)

"And on her forehead there was inscribed a name of mystery [with a secret symbolic meaning]: Babylon the great" (Amplified)

"A mysterious name was written on her forehead: 'Babylon the Great'" (NLT)

"And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT" (KJV)

"And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: 'Babylon the great'" (ESV)

"On her forehead a mysterious name was written: I AM THE GREAT CITY OF BABYLON" (CEV)

"And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT" (NKJV)

Hitchcock and Ice cite Henry Morris as saying, "It must be stressed again that Revelation means 'unveiling,' not 'veiling.' In the absence of any statement in the context to the contrary, therefore, we must assume that the term Babylon applies to the real city of Babylon" (p. 174, citing The Revelation Record). As we've seen, John provides just the statement necessary by calling the harlot "Mystery Babylon," or calling it a "mysterious name."

The word is μυστήριον (mystērion) and means "hidden thing, secret, mystery;" "a hidden or secret thing, not obvious to the understanding." What I would ask the authors of Breaking is, in what way is the moniker "Babylon" meant to keep the identity of the harlot "a hidden or secret thing" if she is, in fact, the literal Babylon of history? Clearly, John is expecting us to understand his Babylon as a symbolic representation, a type fulfilled by its antitype, the "great harlot."


"One also wonders why Hanegraaff never considers the numerous obstacles to taking the harlot in Revelation 17 as Jerusalem. Proper exegesis would require at least an awareness of these problems." (p. 174)

Let's take a look at these "obstacles" one-by-one. First, "Jerusalem doesn't sit on many waters...While the waters in 17:15 are identified as the nations of the world, it appears that this city is a major source of international sea trade (18:17-18)" (p. 174). The harlot is said to sit upon a beast whose seven heads are seven hills, suggesting alliance with Rome, the city upon seven hills, the empire comprised of the nations of the world. And the Romans ruled Judea from Caesarea, which is where Herod, who ordered the slaughter of the small children in Bethlehem, had built his palace, and which was the official residence of Pontius Pilate, who eventually gave in to the demands of the apostate Jews and ordered Jesus' death. Caesarea had a very impressive harbor, one described by Josephus as being as large as Athens' major harbor at Piraeus. And the merchants who frequented the harbor at Caesarea had extensive economic dealings with Jerusalem.

Second, "Revelation 17:18 says that the great city of Babylon reigns over the kings of the earth. Clearly, Jerusalem did not reign over the kings of the earth in AD 70. She did not even reign over herself in the first century" (p. 174-175). No, but she "reign[ed] over the kings of the land" of Judea (the word is γῆ, ge, and can mean "a country, land enclosed within fixed boundaries, a tract of land, territory, region"). As Josephus wrote, "[Judea] was parted into eleven portions, of which the royal city Jerusalem was supreme and presided over all the neighboring country as the head does over the body" (Josephus, The Jewish War, book 3 chapter 3).

Third, "In the first century Jerusalem was never the world economic city described in Revelation 17-18. Even in one's wildest imagination, the city of Jerusalem in the first century cannot even come close to the description of Babylon as the economic juggernaut and hub of the world" (p. 175). Here Hitchcock and Ice are simply wrong. As Philip A. Harland writes, "wealth in the form of rents, taxes, and tithes flowed toward urban centres, especially Jerusalem (and the Temple)...In many respects, Jerusalem and the Temple were the hub of commercial activity and trade in Judea" (The Economy of First-Century Palestine: State of the Scholarly Discussion). But as Harland also notes, the wealth that flowed toward Jerusalem was distributed asymmetrically "in favor of the elite, a small fraction of the population...consisting of the royal family, aristocrats, religious leaders and some priests." Thus it is precisely that element of apostate Jerusalem that was in bed with Rome and in opposition to God which grew rich as a result of the economic prosperity generated through Jerusalem.


We see, then, that the "obstacles" presented by the authors of Breaking are not obstacles at all, and are perfectly compatible Hanegraaff's identification of the great harlot of Revelation as Jerusalem. But if she is, in fact, Jerusalem, is there any additional evidence, besides the harlot imagery, with which the proverbial coffin can be nailed shut?
  1. The harlot is called the "great city" (17:18). As Hitchcock and Ice readily admit, Jerusalem is called the "great city" in Revelation 11:8.
  2. The harlot is "drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus" (17:6). Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees, "I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth...all these things will come upon this generation" (Matthew 23:34-36). Before Stephen was martyred by the Council he said to them, "you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become" (Acts 7:51-52). No better candidate exists for a harlot "drunk with the blood of the saints" than first century apostate Jerusalem.
  3. A voice from heaven says, "Come out of [the great harlot], my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues" (18:4). This brings to mind Jesus' warning to His disciples in the Olivet Discourse, saying, "when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city" (Luke 21:20-21).
  4. John contrasts the great harlot with the purified bride saying, "He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality...His bride has made herself ready" (19:2,7). Since the "bride adorned for her husband" is "the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God" (21:2), it suggests that the "great harlot" is the earthly Jerusalem of John's day. The contrast between earthly and heavenly Jerusalem had been illustrated earlier by Paul using a contrast between a bondwoman and a bride (Galatians 4:25-26).

The identity of Babylon, the great harlot of Revelation, is thus not such a mystery at all. Only apostate Israel could be called the "mother of harlots," and within that context only apostate Jerusalem called the "great city." The Babylon of history, identified with oppression of God's people and godless idolatry, naturally serves as a type finding its fulfillment in the harlotry of apostate Judaism, which had left its God and which persecuted the saints. The great harlot is the Jerusalem from below, contrasted with the purified bride, the Jerusalem from above. And God's people were called to flee from her midst, for her destruction was near.

Hitchcock and Ice conclude their examination of the harlot saying, "Hanegraaff's identification of Babylon in Revelation 17 as Jerusalem is not consistent with the text, with sound exegesis, or even with his own 'code' of tethering our interpretations to the Old Testament" (p. 175). As we've seen, quite the opposite is true. Proper exegesis of the text and application of Old Testament typology demands we accept that "Mystery Babylon" is, in fact, first century apostate Jerusalem.

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