From beginning to end, an important substratum of the biblical narrative is the kingdom of god. There are hints of this theme as early as Genesis 1, in which god is said to give the sun and the moon “to rule” the day and night, respectively (1.16-18). This “ruling” feature is baked into the cosmos, and its highest creaturely instantiation is the man and the woman, both of whom are created imago dei (1.27) and are created to “fill,” “subdue,” and “have dominion” (1.28) over the rest of creation–functioning particularly as the imago in these roles.
Revelation, concluding the canon, echoes much of what precedes it, but it even goes so far as to mark a perfect fulfillment of what was begun in Eden. Now, perfect communion between humanity and god will never be lost, the sun and the moon will lose their function because of the refulgence of god, and the tree of life will stand and be partaken of (Rev. 21.22-22.5). In other words, what was the intention from the foundation will be brought to fruition at the end. And we see a greater unveiling: what awaits at the end of time is the kingdom of god in its fullness.
What one sees as you read through Scripture, however, is not that the kingdom of god advances unassailed but rather that it progresses through the cosmos at the expense of an alternative kingdom. At the very beginning, before creation commences in earnest, “the earth was without form and void,” tohu va bohu. Tohu, used throughout the Hebrew Bible to designate an emptiness, frequently if not exclusively connotes a condemnable lack; it’s not a neutral emptiness but a growthless wilderness (e.g., Deut. 32.10). More so, tohu is used in Is. 34.11 to describe the just deserts of the nations that rage against Israel. “Emptiness” as that upon which god begins his kingdom, “emptiness” as that which the pagan nations have earned–tohu is the kingdom of darkness over against which the kingdom of god advances. The association between this emptiness and the contrary kingdoms of the world is strong enough to note here. It is further strengthened in Jeremiah 51, the oracle against Babylon, in which the prophet explicitly recalls Yahweh’s creative work in the beginning (vs. 15ff) as he prophesies concerning Babylon’s imminent destruction into a perpetual waste (v. 26). We’ll return to this.
In the beginning, we are privy to a succinct history of the beginning. At the end of this primeval history, after the deluge, the author makes note of the peoples descended from the sons of Noah (Gen. 10). Ham, Noah’s youngest and most-shamed son, fathered a laundry list of Israel’s enemies, including Egypt and all of Canaan’s children: the Jebusites, Hivites, Sodom, Gomorrah, etc.
Significantly, however, one of Ham’s grandchildren, through Cush, is Nimrod, the mythic warrior, through whose loins came “Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh…” (10.10, 11). Nimrod fathers babel and, at the very least, draws ashur into greater strength by building Nineveh. In what is either incredible prophetic foretelling or incredible literary foreshadowing, the shamed son becomes responsible for the two greatest threats to the kingdom of god: Babylon and Assyria.
“Wait,” you say, “Babel isn’t Babylon.” We’ll come to this in a moment. For now, recall the story of Babel (Gen. 11); it concludes the primeval history of Genesis, with the very next piece of the narrative being Abram’s call. We could understand Genesis 1-11 as a paradigmatic history of the world in its aversion to god. Whereas in Eden god had created the man and the woman to flourish within, spread across, and subdue the earth, at Babel men and women decided to congregate together “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (v. 4), and there built a ziggurat (Etemenanki, possibly) to challenge the god of heaven. Yahweh then “comes down” (v. 5) to Babel, apparently walking through the city as he did Eden, and “confuses” their language so that this kind of project could not again be attempted. Babel, then, functions as an antagonistic kingdom, one which contradicts the divine vision of expansion and fulfillment. Eden, created by god to expand past its initial boundaries and infuse all of creation with the divine presence and glory, is subverted by Babel with its desire to congregate and to “make a name” for itself.
Babel is the primeval prototype of the anti-kingdom, the kingdom of darkness. This prototype finds a temporary realization in the literal kingdom of Babylon, however. Babylon is the existential threat to Israel. The people whom god chose for himself are crushed initially by the Assyrians (cp. Gen. 10.11, 2 Kings 15) and are nearly obliterated by the Babylonian horde a century or so later. The Babylonian invasion was the defining moment of Israel’s history for generations; Jeremiah 52 describes Babylon sacking Jerusalem and torching the Temple, thereby snuffing out the covenant, as it were. Whereas Babel closes out the primeval history, Babylon essentially closes out the kingdom history; from that point, Hebrew authors would write from exile.
The literary relationship between Babel and Babylon is quite strong. The exact same Hebrew term is used to speak of both kingdoms: בָּבֶל, babel. One reading the pertinent passages in the prophets will see babel, just as they would were they reading Genesis 10 and 11. It’s as though the ancient foe of god’s kingdom had been reinvigorated, finding new life by demonic power (Bel/Marduk, perhaps, cf. Jer. 51.44). And we have reason to believe that the reader ought to make this connection. The Babylonian empire has another name–the Chaldeans–and it is frequently referred to as such, but as often authors refer to them simply as babel. The explicit connection to the early anti-kingdom (rather than referring to them as “the Chaldeans”) draws the reader’s attention to the primeval history, to the paradigmatic antithesis, such that one should not confuse the Chaldeans as “just another empire” but as one which echoes the (end of the) beginning.
To further reinforce this relationship, note Babel’s location at the close of the primeval history, which itself is opened by the creative work of god. As Jeremiah conveys the oracle of god against Babylon, Israel is reminded again of god’s initial creative work in the beginning. In declaiming his own faithfulness to Israel, god “has sworn by himself” that Babylon will be overthrown (51.14). And in buttressing that oath, Yahweh points to the beginning: “It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. … Not like [worthless idols] is he who is the portion of Jacob, for he is the one who formed all things, and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the Lord of hosts is his name” (51.15, 19). Remembering their god’s initial work over against “formlessness” and “Babel” allows Israel to hope in their current predicament, in the face of destruction and Babylon. He promises: “I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea before your very eyes for all the evil that they have done in Zion, declares the Lord” (51.24). You can detect even a subtle hint in what follows of the anti-kingdom’s contradiction to the divine kingdom. Whereas god created all things in order that life would blossom, Babylon is called the “destroying mountain, declares the Lord, which destroys the whole earth” (51.25). The language of the early chapters of Genesis is borrowed again and again. More, Jeremiah 51 is alluded to extensively throughout Revelation, even insofar as the chapter references Genesis. We’ll look at this again shortly.
The people of Israel, taken captive by Babylon and living within Babel’s realm (under their political influence, within the reach of their gods), are then living shadows of the coming reality, wherein those belonging to the kingdom of Christ dwell as exiles (cf. 1 Peter 1.2 et al.) within a foreign kingdom. Exilic Israel even echoes Abram, who was called “from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you” (Gen. 12.1); he was drawn out of, coincidentally, “Ur of the Chaldeans” (11.28, 31). Chaldea and Babel and Babylon litter the pages of the Hebrew scriptures in unexpected places.
Such is, in any event, the thrust of the theme in the Old Testament. Babel, the primeval prototype, reëmerges in the contemporary foe, babel, Babylon. Were this the extent of the theme and there no continuation or intensification in the New Testament, it would be incredible enough. Amazingly, the Babel/Babylon thread is picked up again, particularly in the book of Revelation.
It’s far too easy to be distracted by the extravagant imagery of the Revelation, losing sight of the crux of the book; the culmination of history is the reinstitution, consummation, and perfection of what was lost in Eden: god dwelling with his people as their god, and the realm of god encompassing the universe. The climax of the Revelation is the triune godhead with the New Jerusalem descending to earth and the boundaries of this temple-city expanding to an unbelievable size. With that in mind, understanding that the New Jerusalem is the protagonist (or, the emblem of the protagonist), we do well to recall that the kingdom of god does not conquer a blank canvas. The antagonist (or its emblem) is “Babylon the Great” (Rev. 14.8), which kingdom the author associates with “the Beast” of Revelation (Rev. 14.8,9; cp. Rev. 16.10) and with the “prostitute” (Rev. 17.3, 18).
The reference in Revelation 17.18, in which “Babylon” is associated with “dominion over the kings of the earth,” makes those anabaptist strings in my heart hum. Regardless, it’s enlightening, because it indicates that the Babylon of Revelation cannot neatly be associated with a single kingdom or empire; it rather stands for some extraneous force, some spiritual power, which stands behind political maneuvering. This represents, to be sure, a significant expansion of the Babylonian idea in Scripture. Whereas it could be questioned from the prophetic literature whether Babylon was motivated by some demonic force (e.g., Jer. 51.44), the questioned is firmly resolved in the Revelation by virtue of Babylon’s association with the Beast (Rev. 14).
Recall again the association between babel and the creation epoch, acting as a bookend to that period, and between babel and the “creating god’s” judgment (Jer. 51.15ff). This theme is continued into Revelation. In Revelation 14.6-13, we read a number of angels or messengers of god proclaiming “an eternal gospel” (v. 6) to people on the earth, and this gospel begins, “Fear God and give him glory …, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (v. 7). The “creating god” has been referenced once again. Once again, on its heels is a reference to Babylon: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,” a phrase which will be repeated in Revelation 18. Tying Babylon’s judgment to the creative judge from the beginning is a consistent feature of Babylon’s appearance in the text. It’s as though the only adequate persona for the judgement of this antagonist must be the one who has existed from the beginning. Whether that is because the invigorating force has existed from the beginning or that is because the danger’s so great is unclear. Regardless, the hope proffered to Israel in the Hebrew scripture and to the church in the New Testament is that the god who was there before there was is the selfsame god who will cast down Bel, Marduk, the Dragon, HaSatan.
The Revelation echoes the Isaian oracle (Is. 21.9), exulting twice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” (14.7, 18.2) Revelation 18 has a lot of interesting facets, but I want to draw your attention to just a few for the time being.
First, Babylon is identified with “all nations” and “the kings of the earth” (v. 3), both of whom represent traditional modes of power: fielding an army, exercising authority, enforcing law, etc. However, Babylon is also associated with “the merchants of the earth,” who “have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living” (v. 3). This is significant, as it demonstrates an understanding of babel which is limited not to de jure empires but also to de facto mechanisms of control. Wealth exerts power, and Babylon has corrupted empire and conglomerate alike.
Second, borrowing from Jeremiah 51 (yet again), the author urges the audience to “come out of her, my people” (v. 4), which assumes they live within the reach of Babylon–just as exiled Israel and Judah did. Consistent with the Pauline conception of the dark kingdom’s present existence (cf. 2 Tim. 4.18, in which full salvation/healing-from still awaits), the audience of the Revelation are still under the rule and reign of Babylon, despite belonging to another kingdom. All the more troubling, considering how much more intensive is this expanded kingdom.
Finally, the end of this kingdom mirrors the prophesied end of Old Testament Babylon: utter devastation, ruin, a return to the wasteland (cp. Rev. 18.17, 19; Jer. 51.26, 29, 37, 55). At least two of the reasons for Babylon’s destruction is carried from Jeremiah 51 to Revelation 18: revenge or vindication “for the slain of Israel” (Jer. 51.49) and “the blood of prophets and of saints” (Rev. 18.24), as well recompense for all evil Babylon committed (cp. Jer. 51.49 and Rev. 18.6). The image of utter devastation (wasteland-ing, as it were) recalls Jeremiah 51 but also Genesis 1’s and Isaiah 34’s tohu. The Greek term of Revelation 18.17 and 19 translated “laid waste” comes from ερεμος, which in at least one place in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint, LXX) is used to render tohu (Deut. 34.11). Babylon’s wasteland will be overcome by the kingdom of god, rejiggered to be filled with fruit and the glory of god rather than death and godlessness.
The Scripture begins with god creating against a backdrop of formlessness and void, a wilderness. In the wilderness, he made form and structure, even cultivating an especial garden wherein god dwelt with the man and the woman. Although the original horticultural goal was put on hold, the ultimate aim for creation was always to expand the kingdom into the wilderness, creating life and form where there was only death and disarray. Babel and Babylon have been the principal instantiations of this wilderness throughout Scripture, whether they were invigorated by Bel, the Dragon, or the Satan. At the conclusion of this age, these enemies and their kingdom will be vanquished, and all that will remain is the perfection of the heavenly kingdom throughout the cosmos.
 Really, the book should either be referred to as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” or, ideally, “The Unveiling of Jesus Christ.” Both are a bit unwieldy. And while I do prefer “the Unveiling,” there’s not a person reading this who would intuitively understand that reference. Maybe I’ll make a formal argument for translating apokalypsis “unveiling” rather than “revelation,” but that will wait for another day. In the meantime, prudence demands “revelation.”
Regardless, the longer titles of the books of Scripture are more helpful than the shorthand variants that the tradition of the church have brought. “The Gospel according to Matthew” reveals much more of the book’s purpose than “Matthew,” and “The Unveiling of Jesus Christ” is much, much more useful than “Revelation/s.” Nevertheless, prudence again wins this round.
 One thing that should be noted about Genesis 10 especially is the degree to which it reads as a kind of metaphorical history, in the sense that the sons listed are all names of locations and areas, which would become in later generations enemies of the people of Israel. It raises questions concerning not only the compositional history of the Pentateuch but also how one should read the text: are these intended to be the names of children, or are these to be understood more broadly as a kind of figurative history? I do not believe that either answer necessarily maligns an understanding of Scripture as god-breathed; it’s a matter of getting to a proper (i.e. defensible) read of the text. Only a naïve literalism eliminates from the outset the second reading. These ambiguities will not be addressed in this post. While I recognize that my list of possible future posts is adding up with every footnote, I must again push further consideration to another time.
 I will look more into this. The structure of Gen. 1-11 is curious, insofar as it is functionally distinct from the rest of Torah (“The Primeval History”) and insofar as it has a discernible arc from beginning to end (Eden to Babel).