Rev. Ronald Hanko, minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches and
member of Covenant of Grace PRC in Spokane, WA

Previous article in this series: March 15, 2023, p. 272.

Habakkuk 2:5-20 and Revelation 16:17-18:24

Habakkuk 2:5-20 prophesies God’s coming judgment on Babylon. Though God Himself would use them to chastise His people, He would nevertheless hold them accountable for what they did to Judah and would punish them in turn. He pronounces His judgment in five woes, doing to them what they had done to Judah and to others.

There is an obvious parallel between Habakkuk 2:5- 20 and chapters 17 and 18 of Revelation. Both describe Babylon’s judgment, though Babylon in Revelation is not the old earthly city of Nebuchanezzar, but the spiritual fulfillment of all that city represented. Like Habakkuk’s description of Babylon, Babylon in Revelation is accused of pride, drunkenness (think of Belshazzar’s last feast, Daniel 5:2-4), fornication, violence, covetousness, and idolatry, but especially of violence against Judah. Also in Revelation the principle reason for Babylon’s judgment is: “And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth” (18:24).

The parallels, then, are many and notable. Both in Habakkuk and in Revelation Babylon is a city, wealthy and powerful, though in Revelation the city is also a woman, the great whore (Rev. 17:18), while in Habakkuk Babylon is portrayed as a man and personified in the person of its king or its god, Bel. In both passages the sins of Babylon are the same and are motivated by hatred of God and of His kingdom, resulting in open warfare against Him. The spiritual realities are the same in the Old and New Testaments.

Both Habakkuk and Revelation show Babylon as the teacher of wickedness to many: “all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies” (Rev. 18:3). Babylon in Revelation is “THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH” (Rev. 17:5). Both prophecies describe Babylon’s judgment as fitting its crimes against God and man: “Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double. How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow” (Rev. 18:6, 7).

Both in Habakkuk and in Revelation the cup of Babylon’s wickedness, filled with drunkenness and fornication becomes the cup of God’s judgment: “in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double” (Rev. 18:6). Both show Babylon guilty of the blood of God’s people and in Revelation of making war with the Lamb, exactly Babylon’s sin in the destruction of Judah, the temple and the city of Jerusalem. In both books, Babylon is the chief of the nations and Babylon’s punishment is also the punishment of the nations who are left bewailing Babylon’s fate: “And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come” (Rev. 18:9, 10).

Revelation 17 and 18 make it clear, then, that Habakkuk’s words have as much application today as when they were given, for Babylon is still here. Babylon is the ungodly world under the dominion of the prince of this world, a world that hates and persecutes the church; but Babylon is also the false church, really no different spiritually from the ungodly world. Babylon, Sodom, Egypt, and the Jerusalem that crucified our Lord (Rev. 11:8) are all the same place. Always, though that is not explicitly stated in Habakkuk, Babylon is associated with the beast “that was, and is not, and yet is” (Rev. 17:8) and that ascends out of the bottomless pit, clearly the same beast that John saw in Revelation 13.

That John is taken to the wilderness to see the great whore and the beast she rides is a commentary on the spiritual condition of this world. For all its achievements and wealth, this world is a spiritual desert, as we sing in Psalter #163 (Psalm 63:1),

Apart from Thee I long and thirst,

And nought can satisfy;

I wander in a desert land

Where all the streams are dry.

Both Babylon and the beast are always present until they go into perdition, and the woes pronounced on Nebuchanezzar’s city are still to be completed in the destruction of the kingdoms of this world and their glory. Both passages present Babylon’s judgment as sudden and violent: “Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her” (Rev. 18:8). “And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all” (Rev. 18:21). So it will be.

The details of John’s visions in Revelation 17 and 18 are not all easy to interpret, especially the last part of chapter 17 with its references to heads and horns. Nor is it necessary to be sure of all the details, for the emphasis is on Babylon’s judgment, past and future and on the church’s victory with Christ: “and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:14). Faithful indeed, for both in the Old Testament and in the New, they are the just who live by faith. Babylon appears to be supreme in power, but God is sovereign. All Babylon’s wickedness is under His sovereign direction: “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled” (Rev. 17:17). God is Lord of lords and King of kings.

We understand the great whore to be the false church, the bride of Antichrist, the antithesis of the true church, the bride of Christ. As a city, she is the antithesis of the city and kingdom of God. Her fornications are her godless and impious worship. The scarlet-colored beast, the waters on which she sits, represents the nations of the world: “The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues” (Rev. 17:15). That she rides the scarlet-colored beast shows the close association between the false church and the ungodly nations, as does chapter 18, which makes no distinction between them: the city and the whorish woman are the same.

The seven heads of the beast are “seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space” (Rev. 17:10). Likely the five fallen kings include such as Babel, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Greece, the great empires of the ancient world represented by their greatest kings, Nimrod, Pharaoh, Sennacharib, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, and Alexander. The kingdom at the time Revelation was written (“one is”) must be Rome and her emperor, Domitian, one of the great persecutors of the New Testament church and the emperor who banished John to Patmos. The kingdom yet to be is more difficult, but may be the Holy Roman Empire, the Romish church, or one of the great kingdoms of modern times, for the eighth is the Antichristian kingdom of the last day, represented by the Man of sin himself (Rev. 17:11).

Babylon is called Mystery Babylon in Revelation 17:5. Babylon is a mystery because it is always part of the history of God’s kingdom, from Babel to Antichrist. Babylon is a mystery also because what may be known of it, though hid from ages and generations, has been made known to God’s people for their comfort and peace. Babylon is Mystery Babylon especially because through all the ages she exists for the sake of the kingdom of God and is so used by Him until it is destroyed in the final conflagration of all things temporal.

The details of Revelation 17 and 18 are not as important as the message of those chapters, and the message is the same as that of Habbakuk 2: first, that Babylon will receive her just recompense from God and the blood of God’s people will be avenged; second, that the just shall live by faith through the evil of times of Babylon’s ascendency; third, that the kingdom of God is coming, the kingdom in which the knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea; and fourth, “that the Lord is in His holy temple,” sovereignly enthroned as the Ruler of the nations, the God of His people and the One who makes all things work together for their good.

That the Lord is in His temple as judge of the nations is the theme of Revelation 16:17-21:

And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

The temple is a major theme in Revelation, though Revelation 21:22 informs us that God Himself in Christ is the temple of the new Jerusalem. It is the place of God’s throne (16:17) and the place from which Babylon’s judgment comes (16:19). It is from the temple that God’s voice is heard (16:17) and in that way Revelation, like Habakkuk, tells us that the Lord is there.

The vision of the great whore and her judgment marks a turning point in the book of Revelation. The description of Babylon’s judgment and fall begins the next section of Revelation. The book has shown us three of the four great enemies of the Lamb, the dragon (chapter 12), the two beasts (chapter 13), and it now shows us the fourth, the great whore, in chapter 17, only to show us in reverse order their judgment, beginning with the judgment of the great whore in chapters 17 and 18, the judgment of the two beasts in chapter 19, and of the dragon in chapter 20.

Along side of the destruction of the Lamb’s enemies, chapters 19-22 of Revelation describe the final victory of those who live by faith, their eternal glory, and the blessedness and splendor of that kingdom in which God dwells with His people, is their light, their temple, and their glory. In that kingdom they no longer see through a glass darkly, but face to face and know even as they are known. Then, as Habakkuk prophesies, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

The message, though more explicit in Revelation 17 and 18, is the same as that of Habakkuk 2. It is first the call to recognize Babylon for what she always is, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth. It is, then, the call to be separate from Babylon’s wickedness and to live by faith: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). It is also the comforting truth that God is in His holy temple, that the Lamb is King of kings and Lord of lords, and those who are with Him are called and chosen and faithful.

Watch, therefore, and cling to the name of Jesus; and have no fellowship with the great sin of Babylon, namely, to be carried by the beast. For then you shall have no fellowship with her judgment. And be comforted with this thought: the Lord is King of kings and Lord of lords! The Lord is mightier than they all! The victory is assured!1

“And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God” (Rev. 19:6-9).

1 Herman Hoeksema, Behold, He Cometh (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Free Publishing, 1969), 577.