Gaining an understanding of what “mystery” means in a biblical context is an important step to finding the identity of Babylon the Great. The word “mystery” appears in Revelation 17:5, which is the verse where John described the name of the harlot that he saw:
“And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” (Revelation 17:5)
Debate exists about what the importance of the term “mystery” is in Revelation 17:5. Some people believe that the word “mystery” is an important part of Babylon the Great’s title while others believe that the word “mystery” should not be a part of Babylon the Great’s title. I will explain which side of the debate I currently support in this article.
“Mystery” in Revelation 17:5
The Greek word for “mystery” in Revelation 17:5 is “mustērion”. Easton’s Bible Dictionary defines a “mystery” as “a truth undiscoverable except by revelation, long hid, now made manifest”.1 Meanwhile, Thayer’s Greek Definitions provides several definitions for the word mystery/mustērion, including the following definition:
1c1b) a hidden purpose or counsel of God: the secret counsels which govern God in dealing with the righteous, which are hidden from ungodly and wicked men but plain to the godly.2
The reason I’ve shared these definitions of the word “mustērion” is that these definitions are not usually what I think of when I think of the word “mystery”. I tend to think of a mystery as an enigma that is difficult to solve (i.e. a crime mystery). However, the definitions provided above seem to be closer to how the word “mystery” is used in several New Testament passages. For example, Christ told His disciples that they have would be able to understand the mysteries of the kingdom of God/heaven while others would not understand even though they hear the same words.
|Know the Mysteries|
|Matthew 13:10-13: (10) And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? (11) He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. (12) For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. (13) Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.|
|Mark 4:10-12: (10) And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. (11) And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, allthese things are done in parables: (12) That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.|
|Luke 8:9-10: (9) And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? (10) And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.|
The idea that mysteries/hidden truths are made known to certain people is also reflected in 1 Corinthians 2:7-10:
“(7) But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: (8) Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (9) But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (10) But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:7-10)
The idea that mysteries are truths that are revealed to people is also found in the following passages:
“(25) Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, (26) But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: (27) To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen. Written to the Romans from Corinthus, and sent by Phebe servant of the church at Cenchrea.” (Romans 16:25-27)
“(25) Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; (26) Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: (27) To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (28) Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:” (Colossians 1:25-28)
Also consider Revelation 1:20. The word “mystery” appears in connection with the seven stars and seven candlesticks in the first half of the verse. In the second half of the verse, Christ revealed the meaning of the seven stars and seven candlesticks:
“The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” (Revelation 1:20)
Thus, a “mystery” can be viewed as a hidden truth that is revealed to those receptive to God’s words.
Another thing to consider when assessing the importance of the word “mystery” in Revelation 17:5 is the fact that the harlot is not referred to as “Mystery Babylon the Great” elsewhere in the Book of Revelation. In contrast, the terms Babylon the Great, great Babylon, Babylon, and Babylon the great city are found. This fact suggests that the word “mystery” is unlikely a significant element of the harlot’s name (i.e. a way to signal that Babylon’s location is symbolic).
The way to signify that a location is symbolic in the Book of Revelation appears in Revelation 11:8. The word “spiritually” (Greek: pneumatikōs) is used to alert readers that Sodom and Egypt symbolically represent a great city where the Lord was crucified (Jerusalem):
“And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” (Revelation 11:8)
The Greek word for “mystery” in Revelation 17:5 is mustērion, so it is not the word used in Revelation to signify that a location is symbolic. Therefore, the presence of the word “mystery” is not a reason to dismiss Babylon, Iraq as a candidate to represent Babylon the Great.
Given all of this, I support the view that the word “mystery” is not an important element of the harlot’s name, but is a word that signifies that information about the harlot will be revealed.
What is the “Mystery” of the Woman?
The angel accompanying John told him that the mystery concerning the beast that carries the woman and the woman will indeed be revealed:
“And the angel said unto me, Wherefore didst thou marvel? I will tell thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, which hath the seven heads and ten horns.” (Revelation 17:7)
The mystery of the beast that rides the harlot is described in Revelation 17:8-14. Meanwhile, the mystery aspect of Babylon the Great is discussed in Revelation 17:15-18.
(15) And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. (16) And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire. (17) For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled. (18) And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth. (Revelation 17:15-17)
The “mystery” is no longer a mystery after the angel’s words. The woman is revealed to represent a great city that has a very prominent place among nations, multitudes, peoples, and tongues & rules over the kings of the earth.
Feel free to post a comment if you have any thoughts about this or any other topic. If you would like to read about the possibility for Babylon, Iraq to represent Babylon the Great, click this link for my article on the topic.