BABYLON AT THE ABYSS
The Not-So-New World Order
What are we to make of the upheaval happening around us in this centennial summer since World War I began? There are only a few possibilities. Either it is a restructuring of the current world order to some new equilibrium, or it is the destruction of the current world order and the establishment of something new, or it is the end of the world as we know it. If asked which of these is correct, my answer is, “Yes”.
The restructuring of the current world order would mean realignment of the relative powers within the nation-state system that has ordered global affairs for the last 500 years. The order established after the First World War organized the nations of the earth around a collective security apparatus called the League of Nations. However, since the two major powers of the 20th century initially opted out, that system required significant correction. The United States, which alone among the Great Powers escaped the war with relatively little damage, decided that it would be better to use its war wealth and start a national celebration that continues to this day. The rest of the world was permitted to drift as Americans indulged their tastes for baseball, movie stars, and investment plans, as well as social behavior that continuously pushed the envelope of moral decency according to the biblical standards that had guided America’s rise to prominence. On the other side of the globe, Russia fell into disarray as Bolshevism violently transformed the tsars’ empire into the Soviet Union. With neither of the future superpowers available, and with Germany, Austria, and Turkey defanged and out of the picture, it fell to an exhausted Britain and France to police the world. They were not able to do so of course, leading to the significant corrective action of World War II. The system following those years of turmoil featured a new United Nations in which all the nations of the earth at least had a voice, but generally lined up with whichever of the superpowers offered the best deal. The rise of China and the disintegration of the Soviet Union made the game more interesting, yet through it all the hand of American leadership and petrodollars ensured the balance of power. Thus the greatest development in this summer of 2014 is the prospect of America relinquishing its prominent place. As the new order takes shape the United States will be at best an equal among other Great Powers, vying for advantage in a nation-state system that is itself on life support.
The end of the nation-state system seems to be the goal of the “new world order” which academics, visionaries, and conspiracy theorists have proclaimed for the last two generations. I am not one to take conspiracy theories at face value, yet I can see an intellectual link between Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive vision of an age of peace among nations and the vision of a one-world government divided into regional economic spheres. The European Union has arguably demonstrated the viability of such a vision, and it is quite likely similar regional unions are in the preparation for the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. Whether nation-states can survive the transition to such a system is problematic. Their national sovereignty certainly would not, but their character as national ethnic and cultural entities just might. Until, that is, the inevitable transfer of populations seeking better opportunities elsewhere eventually changes the very nature of these national entities. For examples of this we need look no further than Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and other states of Europe where Islam has made significant inroads and where languages and cultures other than those of Europe have become commonplace. Yet such transformations apparently do not concern the visionaries who seek to implement such a global order. What they value most may be whatever serves to manage the earth efficiently, but as with all idealistic dreams this one will come up against the hard truth of subjective reality. Simply put, the nations will not die easily. Consequently the only way this new order can come into existence is with a tremendous amount of bloodshed. In this respect the “new world order” shall be no different than every order which preceded it, except in the amount of blood to be shed. I would argue that that bloodshed has already begun.
And this brings us to the third possibility: are we at the end of the world? It is at this point that we investigate what the Bible says about this topic. However, there is no need to go to Scripture to assert that the entire human population is now at very great risk. Weapons of mass destruction, which made their debut in the form of chemical weapons on the battlefields of World War I, have now become commonplace. Since 1945 we have understood that nuclear weapons held the potential to eradicate human life from the planet. That understanding shaped the foreign and domestic policies of the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and their respective allies for nearly fifty years, pushing each to arm themselves to the point that they could guarantee their opponents’ destruction, but never daring to push too far lest they unleash forces of their own undoing. Nuclear proliferation since then has placed these weapons in the hands of less scrupulous actors, such as North Korea, and those living next to mortal enemies, such as Pakistan and India. Now Iran is on the threshold of nuclear power, leaving the world to wonder whether the ayatollahs are willing to trust to Allah’s protection as they unleash what would surely be an apocalyptic backlash. When we add biological weapons to the mix the prospect of the next global war becomes truly frightening. Those not killed outright by the tools of war will suffer from the inevitable evils that follow every conflict: hunger and disease. Thus even without resorting to any biblical analysis we come to this dire biblical prediction:
When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8 NKJV)
This is where we get to the ultimate difference between the plethora of secular humanist Western-style explanations of human existence and the various religious traditions. Secular humanist views, having taken root in the Enlightenment, hold that human society is continuing to improve itself and that one day we shall reach utopia, however that may be defined. The world’s religious traditions (at least the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions I have studied) generally hold to the belief that at some point God (or gods) will intervene and establish direct rule over the earth, saving humanity from certain destruction in the process. In considering this current round of conflict, the secular humanist would argue that the world is now entering the next iteration of systemic change or evolution, and quite likely shall come out of it with the utopian global order firmly established. The Christian or Jewish observer might say that, if this is indeed the end of the age, we should expect Messiah to arrive (either returning or coming the first time) and establish God’s rule over the earth. A Muslim, whether Sunni or Shi’a, would be expecting the same thing, only in his understanding Allah would be sending the Mahdi to put down all resistance. Each of these views (secular humanist, Judeo-Christian, and Islamic) entails the very disturbing prospect of death and destruction on a scale never before seen, even to the point of threatening the extinction of humanity.
Given the dire outlook of each of these viewpoints, it is in everyone’s best interest to take notice and try to understand what is happening in this summer of 2014. Are we really on the verge of the Apocalypse? If so, which one? How is one to know which is right? How is one to survive? Or is this all just a bunch of nonsense?
It is most certainly not nonsense. Something unprecedented is happening in the world, and it will cost the lives of many millions before it is complete. As for which viewpoint is correct, it just so happens that the Bible has much to say on each one. In fact, what the Scriptures tell us about this end of the age incorporates both the secular humanist and Islamic end times scenarios. Let us assume, therefore, that we are at the end of time as we know it. Somehow the things that happen from now on will be different from the things that have happened before, going back to the beginning of recorded history. What is so different?
We are about to witness the destruction of the Babylonian global order.
Babylon originated at the dawn of current human history, after the Flood which destroyed the first global civilization. The first nine chapters of the Bible explain how God created the heavens and the earth, but that He had to destroy the population of the earth with a global Flood because the wickedness of humanity had grown too great (Genesis 6:1-8). Nevertheless, God made a way for salvation by instructing Noah and his family to build an ark in which representatives of all animal species, as well as any humans who chose to come in, could escape. Sadly, there were only eight human survivors: Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives. After the Flood these eight people repopulated the earth, seeking to build a new human civilization that obeyed the Lord God and followed His commandments. It was not long, however, before rebellion against God began once more. That rebellion became institutionalized within three generations of Noah, when his great-grandson established the first world kingdom:
Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.” And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city). (Genesis 10:8-12 NKJV, emphasis added)
Nimrod is often equated with the ancient Babylonian heroes, usually Gilgamesh, but also Marduk. He established Babylon as the world system to govern human society in rebellion against the Most High God. Babylon has been with us ever since, and will remain with us until God Himself brings it down. God has blocked Babylon’s advances on numerous occasions, starting with the frustration of Nimrod’s efforts at building the Tower of Babel. Yet He has often used Babylon to further His own plans, such as when He brought judgment on the kingdom of Judah through Nebuchadnezzar, ancient Babylon’s greatest king (Jeremiah 25:1-14). Babylon represents both the best and the worst of humanity. It is the ultimate fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – humanity’s best effort at ruling this earth according to our own standards rather than the standards of God.
Ultimately these human standards of conduct have their origins in God. He, after all, is the Source of all life. Although we humans are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, our powers of creation are limited since they must draw on His power and revelation. And, of course, God wisely chooses what He will permit His creatures to do, if for no other reason than because He desires that we not destroy ourselves. The sad truth is that the desires of our hearts are still wicked; we want to rule our own little worlds as our own little gods, and thus we take what the Father Creator has given us and reshape it in our own image. That is the true meaning of Babylon. Whether it is an outright rejection of the very existence of God, or the syncretistic mixture of God’s revelation with paganism or humanistic philosophy, the nature of the Babylonian system is to divert humanity from God’s ideal and keep us in pursuit of some other vision of reality. This insidious Babylonian system pervades every realm of human endeavor: government, economics, philosophy, religion, art, science, warfare, and more. It is the tares which the enemy of our souls has sown among the wheat God planted.
Scripture contains abundant explanation of how the tares of Babylon will be judged in the last days. For now, God allows those tares to grow up beside His good seed for two very good reasons. First, if He were to pluck up the tares now, He would uproot the wheat. The good seed is so entwined with the Babylonian tares that it would be destroyed should God do anything before both crops ripen to maturity. Second, God has plans through this wheat and tares experience to teach humanity the folly of following any wisdom other than His. Like any good parent, He wants to make sure His children learn by experience so that they do what is right of their own free will rather than by coercion. That means He must leave us to make our own mistakes and reap the woes we have sown so that we have direct understanding of why His way is best. Yet God’s parenting plan is far grander than anything human parents ever attempted. Through poor choices a child may suffer burnt fingers and broken limbs, or loss of privileges, friends, or opportunities before a parent steps in to avert total disaster. In the same way, God has promised to step in before we destroy ourselves, but He will allow us to get to the brink of that destruction. Lest there be any doubt about this, consider the consequences of our poor choices up to this point. The tale of human suffering through death, disease, warfare, economic collapse, oppression, slavery, and more is readily apparent through even the most casual study of history. In the final cataclysm the seeds of our destruction will bear their final fruit. Yeshua explained it this way:
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. (Matthew 24:21-22 NKJV)
What Yeshua describes is the end of this current age, when God brings judgment on the Babylonian system. Much of His judgment is merely allowing the natural consequences of human rebellion to play out to their logical conclusion. In contrast to the secular humanist perspective, humanity is not evolving into ever better states, but rather is devolving into more and more depravity. This is evident in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision recorded in Daniel 2, in which the king sees a giant statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay. These are the successive world empires that will govern humanity until God establishes His kingdom over the whole earth. Babylon is the head of gold. The subsequent kingdoms, which Bible scholars generally associate with Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and Rome’s successor kingdoms, are not world orders different from Babylon, but rather progressively more depraved expressions of it. This is apparent in the prophesied judgment on Babylon given through Jeremiah:
Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord‘s hand, that made all the earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore the nations are deranged. (Jeremiah 51:7 NKJV)
When we consider the record of human history, we can see that each world system is still essentially Babylonian. At its root is the intent to dominate every aspect of life through persuasion, cooptation, or coercion, and all in the understanding that the particular people conducting the domination have the best idea for ordering human affairs. Ultimately these expressions of Babylon contain the seeds of their own destruction simply because the desire to dominate leads to competition that tears the system apart. In recognition of this, America’s founders developed the ingenious Federal system of checks and balances that pitted competing factions against one another to ensure that none gained dominance over the others. This experiment worked very well, and in fact has been reflected in the various collective security arrangements instituted over the last two centuries, particularly after World War I. Thus the Babylonian system has indeed been a “golden cup in the Lord‘s hand”, acting as a check on the outrageous passions and ambitions of humanity. That check, however, is about to be removed.
“Babylon is fallen, is fallen!”
The ultimate battle at the end of this age is between God the Creator and Satan the Usurper. Isaiah 14 explains the rebellion of Satan as a cosmic power grab:
How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north;I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.” Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit. (Isaiah 14:12-15 NKJV)
Interestingly, this description of Satan’s (Lucifer’s) rebellion comes in yet another chapter of the Bible detailing the judgment on Babylon. Satan’s rebellion in heaven is the same as that which he sowed in the Garden of Eden, when he persuaded our ancestors that they could be “like God, knowing good and evil” (see Genesis 3:1-5). Ever since, humanity has had to deal with these two seeds growing up inside of us: the good seed of God’s image, and the tares, or bad seed, of Satan’s rebellion. Both of them have played out in the Babylonian world system. God and Satan have both used Babylon for their purposes, either to save and preserve humanity from its worst excesses, or to drive humanity to destruction and leave Satan in control of the earth. The Apostle Paul refers to this Babylonian system, apparent in his day as the Roman Empire, in his instruction to the congregation at Thessaloniki:
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless oneis revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you? And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned. (II Thessalonians 2:1-12 NRSV, emphasis added)
The “one who restrains” is the Babylonian system, which asserts a measure of lawful order over the earth. God has used many nations and empires in this capacity, including the United States of America. Now, however, it appears that the last shred of lawful order is leaving the world system. This is inevitable and necessary. It is inevitable because the Babylonian system is, after all, a human invention established in rebellion against God, and ultimately rebellion consumes itself. In other words, the poisonous fruit of the tares eventually kills its host. It is necessary because God must eventually judge all sin, which the Bible defines as rebellion against His Law (I John 3:4). It appears that His judgment of Babylon comes by removing His hand of protection from the Babylonian system, thus allowing the seeds of Babylon’s own destruction to bear fruit, and allowing Satan to have his way and establish his own world order for a time. This is most clear from the Apostle John’s account in Revelation:
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped. Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs. (Revelation 14:6-20 NKJV, emphasis added)
Consider the first part of this passage, in which three angels make proclamations to the entire population of the earth. The first angel calls all humans to fear God and worship Him, and announces that God’s judgment has come. This is in line with Yeshua’s explanation that, “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14 NKJV) The Lord God will ensure, by multiple means, that His glory is evident over all the earth. Consequently, the entire population of the globe will be without excuse if they make the wrong choice in response to these three proclamations.
The second angel pronounces the fall of Babylon, which is recorded in great detail in Jeremiah 50 and 51 and Revelation 17-18. After a description of Babylon’s wickedness in Revelation 17, the Apostle John opens the next chapter with this cataclysmic event:
After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. And he 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! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.” And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. (Revelation 18:1-5 NKJV, emphasis added)
Everything of Babylon is undergoing judgment – not just the political, economic, and philosophic portions, but the religious as well. God expects His people to come out of this system, regardless how familiar and comfortable it is, and regardless how difficult the transition will be. He will no longer tolerate mixture of His ways with man’s ways, and therefore He demands full allegiance from His people. The alternative for staying in Babylon is certain destruction.
There is, however, a third alternative: pledging allegiance to the New World Order. That new order is the subject of the third angel’s pronouncement. It is nothing less than the world government of the Beast, or Antichrist (Antimessiah), which will have dominion over the earth for a short (3 ½ year) period between the fall of Babylon and the return of Messiah Yeshua (see Daniel 7:23-27, 12:5-13; Revelation 12). If the book of Revelation depicts a chronological unfolding of events in the last years of this age, the Beast government will take shape even as Babylon is in its death throes (see Revelation 13), and for a time will empower Babylon (Revelation 17), until the Beast finds the Babylonian system is no longer useful. Then the Beast will have a hand in the destruction of Babylon so that he can exercise dominion over the earth. Interestingly, the characteristics of the Antimessiah seem to match the characteristics of Islam’s Mahdi, indicating that this Beast government could be Islamic in nature. Thus we have come full circle at last: the biblical view of the last days does indeed incorporate both the secular humanist and Islamic end times scenarios.
Understand the great dilemma facing the peoples and nations of the earth at this point in future history. They are given three stark alternatives: follow God, stay with the doomed Babylonian system, or pledge allegiance to the Beast and suffer the eternal consequences. It is a frightening prospect. Two choices carry with them the certainty of destruction. The only choice that offers the promise of life is the one that requires turning away from everything a person has known in life – career, religious tradition, political preference, favorite pastimes, and even family ties. It just so happens that Yeshua had something to say about this as well:
When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38 NKJV, emphasis added. See also Mark 10:29-31.)
Part V will continue this series with an analysis of the momentous shifts we now witness in the context of prophecies for the end of this age.
 My good friend Thad Moe deserves much credit for helping me understand the Babylonian global order. Through many lengthy discussions he acquainted me with his considerable meditation on the subject, particularly the various manifestations of Babylon in every realm of human endeavor. The thoughts presented here reflect the development of our mutual understanding on the Scripture’s meaning about the destruction of Babylon. Although it is difficult to distinguish which contributions are his and which are mine, it is Thad who first acquainted me with this perspective of the three angels’ proclamations in Revelation 14 and the consequences thereof for every person and nation on earth. I probably would not have embarked on this line of reasoning without his inspiration.