The Fall of Babylon

The Babylonian Empire fell more than 2,500 years ago. Yet the Bible predicts that “Babylon the great” will fall before Christ returns. How does the Bible explain the fall of two Babylons?

In October of 539 B.C. the ancient empire of Babylon came to an end. The history of this Chaldean kingdom goes back to 2300 B.C. and the Tower of Babel in the book of Genesis (Genesis 11:1-9). It is most remembered for its greatness during what was called the Neo-Babylonian Empire (626-539 B.C.) under its most famous king, Nebuchadnezzar II (634-562 B.C.).

The Bible records that King Nebuchadnezzar had a very troubling dream in his second year (around 603 B.C.), not long after the first Jewish captives came to Babylon. God gave the interpretation of the dream to a young Jewish captive and prophet named Daniel who, in turn, explained it to the king. Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar, “You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; … you are this head of gold [seen in the dream]” (Daniel 2:37-38).

As a result of the interpretation, Daniel was highly respected and had considerable influence with King Nebuchadnezzar. Three times the king would recognize the God of Daniel as God (Daniel 2:47; 3:29; 4:34).

It was King Nebuchadnezzar II who built the magnificent hanging gardens, the incredible double walls 15 miles square around the city, the beautiful Ishtar Gate, and the many monuments of splendor that marked the zenith of Babylon’s history. The fall of the Babylonian Empire came more than 20 years after his death, but its fall was prophesied more than two centuries before his birth.

Babylon prophesied to fall

More than two centuries before the fall of Babylon, God inspired the prophet Isaiah to write, “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited, nor will it be settled from generation to generation” (Isaiah 13:19-20).

This prophecy would not be fulfilled until God had first sent His people, Judah, into national captivity by the hand of King Nebuchadnezzar II. The fall of Babylon came as the kingdom of Judah’s prophesied 70 years of national captivity was ending (Jeremiah 25:11-12).

It was through the prophet Isaiah that God prophesied in advance that the people of Media, the Medes, would take the city of Babylon (Isaiah 13:17; 21:2). It was announced two centuries before the fall of Babylon that “Babylon is fallen, is fallen! And all the carved images of her gods He has broken to the ground” (Isaiah 21:9).

Another remarkable prophecy

Another amazing prophecy not only speaks of the fall of Babylon, but actually gives the name of the king, Cyrus, who would conquer Babylon—150 years before his birth. It was further prophesied that after conquering Babylon, King Cyrus the Great—who was the head of the Medo-Persian Empire—would give a decree allowing the captive Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). In speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” and to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid”’” (Isaiah 44:28).

It continues in chapter 45:1, “Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors [of Babylon], so that the gates will not be shut.” God continues to emphasize that He has called Cyrus by his name to show that “there is no God besides Me” (Isaiah 45:3-5). The fall of the Babylonian Empire to King Cyrus the Great of the Medo-Persian Empire is described in the fifth chapter of Daniel.

The handwriting on the wall

In October of 539 B.C. King Belshazzar, who was coregent with his father, King Nabonidus, began a celebration to the Babylonian gods by desecrating the gold and silver vessels taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. (Daniel 5:1-4). Within the same hour, the appearance of a man’s hand miraculously began to write on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, causing Belshazzar to have great fear and concern.

Daniel was summoned to explain what it meant. He gave God’s interpretation of the handwriting on the wall to King Belshazzar. The message from God was that Belshazzar’s kingdom was “numbered … and finished” (Daniel 5:26). That very night Belshazzar was slain and the city of Babylon was taken by Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:30-31).

Some critics have questioned who Darius the Mede was because his name is not found in historical records, but we believe the account in the book of Daniel is historically correct and that it is attested to being correct by Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:15).

The Greek historian Herodotus provides more information as to how Babylon fell that night. He records that the Babylonians had initially prepared for Cyrus’ attack by accumulating provisions in the city. According to Herodotus’ account, the siege dragged on indecisively, until Cyrus or one of his advisers devised a plan to divert the water in the river into an excavated lake, thus reducing the depth of the water so that it was fordable.

The Persian army then entered the river, whose waters were now no more than thigh-deep, and invaded the complacent and unprepared city. “There was a festival going on, and they continued to dance and enjoy themselves, until they learned the news the hard way” (Herodotus, Histories, 1:191).

The accounts of Daniel 5 and Herodotus explain how the two prophecies in Isaiah were fulfilled in the fall of Babylon. Not only did the Medes enter the city (Isaiah 13:17-19; 21:2, 9), but they did it under the rule of Cyrus the Great, a Persian who was the overall conquering king of the Medo-Persian Empire (Isaiah 45:1-6).

Though the city of Babylon fell that night, it would continue to thrive under the Persians, Greeks and Seleucids. But by the time of the Parthians in A.D. 141 it was abandoned (Joshua J. Mark, Ancient History Encyclopedia website). With the coming of the Muslim invasions around A.D. 650, Babylon was becoming buried under the desert sands.

This fulfilled God’s word through Isaiah: “And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It will never be inhabited, nor will it be settled from generation to generation” (Isaiah 13:19-20).  

A second Babylon is prophesied by Jesus Christ

This future Babylon will be both religious and political. The woman represents a false church that will control a revival of the Roman Empire, which will for a short time be an economic superpower.In the book of Revelation Jesus Christ reveals to the apostle John a woman called “Babylon the great,” who rides on a beast and is also a “great city which reigns over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:5-7, 18). This future Babylon will be both religious and political. The woman represents a false church that will control a revival of the Roman Empire, which will for a short time be an economic superpower.

For more information about this woman, the beast she rides and the city that “reigns over the kings of the earth,” please read our articles “Mystery, Babylon the Great” and “Who Is the Beast?

The 18th chapter of Revelation first gives a warning to believers and then goes on to describe how this second Babylon will fall. The warning says, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4). Jesus Christ, through the apostle John, warns millions of deceived people who have become a part of this religious system to come out of her before she receives her punishment.

The church that will lead this second Babylon has a long history and is responsible for the martyrdom of apostles, prophets and saints (Revelation 18:20, 24). The name Babylon is not its actual name. The name symbolizes the confusion of this system in contrast to what Jesus Christ taught and established in His Church.

The second Babylon will come to a sudden end

The 18th chapter of Revelation describes the end of this second Babylon at the second coming of Christ. Jesus, through the pen of the apostle John, says, “Therefore her plagues will come in one day—death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God who judges her” (Revelation 18:8).

Not only will it be destroyed in one day, but three times it says it will be destroyed in “one hour” of one day (Revelation 18:10, 17, 19). The fiery end to the second Babylon in one hour of one day leaves very little doubt as to how sudden her destruction will be.

The book of Revelation is also clear in revealing that Isaiah’s prophecy—“Babylon is fallen, is fallen”—was speaking of both the fall of ancient Babylon and the fall of a second Babylon at the end of this age (Isaiah 21:9; Revelation 14:8; 18:2). In the case of both Babylons, God has declared “the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10).

What does it mean to you?

Similar to ancient Babylon, the Babylon at the end of this present age will also espouse false religion. There is a warning to believers in Isaiah and Revelation. The message in the detailed prophecies of both Babylons is that man must come out of false religion and worship only God in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

May we all understand and heed God’s warning.

Learn more in our free booklet The Book of Revelation: The Storm Before the Calm.

About the Author

Jim Haeffele

Jim Haeffele

Jim Haeffele is a church pastor in the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He currently pastors congregations in Fort Myers, Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida. He has served in the ministry of the Church of God for over 46 years. During those years he and his wife, Lois, have served congregations from Portland, Oregon, where he grew up, to Utah, Ohio, North Carolina, and now Florida.

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