THE book of Revelation contains expressions that are not to be understood literally. (Revelation 1:1) For example, it mentions a woman with the name “Babylon the Great” written on her forehead. This woman is said to be sitting on “crowds and nations.” (Revelation 17:1, 5, 15) Since no literal woman could do this, Babylon the Great must be symbolic. So, what does this symbolic harlot represent?
At Revelation 17:18, the same figurative woman is described as “the great city that has a kingdom over the kings of the earth.” The term “city” indicates an organized group of people. Since this “great city” has control over “the kings of the earth,” the woman named Babylon the Great must be an influential organization that is international in scope. It can rightly be called a world empire. What kind of empire? A religious one. Notice how some related passages in the book of Revelation lead us to this conclusion.
An empire can be political, commercial, or religious. The woman named Babylon the Great is not a political empire because God’s Word states that “the kings of the earth,” or the political elements of this world, “committed fornication” with her. Her fornication refers to the alliances she has made with the rulers of this earth and explains why she is called “the great harlot.”—Revelation 17:1, 2; James 4:4.
Babylon the Great cannot be a commercial empire because the “merchants of the earth,” representing the commercial elements, will be mourning her at the time of her destruction. In fact, both kings and merchants are described as looking at Babylon the Great from “a distance.” (Revelation 18:3, 9, 10, 15-17) Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that Babylon the Great is, not a political or a commercial empire, but a religious one.
The religious identity of Babylon the Great is further confirmed by the statement that she misleads all the nations by means of her “spiritistic practice.” (Revelation 18:23) Since all forms of spiritism are demon-inspired, it is not surprising that the Bible calls Babylon the Great “a dwelling place of demons.” (Revelation 18:2; Deuteronomy 18:10-12) This empire is also described as being actively opposed to true religion, persecuting “prophets” and “holy ones.” (Revelation 18:24) In fact, Babylon the Great has such deep hatred for true religion that she violently persecutes and even murders “the witnesses of Jesus.” (Revelation 17:6) Hence, this woman named Babylon the Great clearly represents the world empire of false religion, which includes all religions that stand in opposition to Jehovah God.