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Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation
An Introduction to The Parousia: A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of the Lord's Second Coming
by James Stuart Russell (1878) // Written by
Todd Dennis, Curator

Russell's Parousia

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The Parousia

By James Stuart Russell



On the 'Babylon' of 1 Peter 5:13

‘The church in Babylon [she in Babylon] elected together (with you) saluteth you; and Marcus my son.’

It is not easy to convey in so many words in English the precise force of the original. Its extreme brevity causes obscurity. Literally it reads thus: ‘She in Babylon, co-elect, saluteth you; and Marcus my son.’

The common interpretation of the pronoun she refers it to ‘the church in Babylon;’ though many eminent commentators---Bengel, Mill, Wahl, Alford, and others---understand it as referring to an individual, presumably the wife of the apostle. ‘It is hardly probable,’ remarks Alford, ‘that there should be joined together in the same message of salutation an abstraction, spoken of thus enigmatically, and a man (Marcus my son), by name.’ The weight of authority inclines to the side of church, the weight of grammar to the side of wife.

But the more important question relates to the identity of the place here called Babylon. It is natural at first sight to conclude that it can be no other than the well-known and ancient metropolis of Chaldea, or such remnant of it as existed in the apostle’s days. We are ready to think it highly probable that St. Peter, in his apostolic journeyings rivalled the apostle to the Gentiles, and went everywhere preaching the Gospel to the Jews, as St. Paul did to the Gentiles.

There appear, however, to be formidable objections to this view, natural and simple as it seems. Not to mention the improbability that St. Peter in his old age, and accompanied by his wife (if we accept the opinion that she is referred to in the salutation), should be found in a region so remote from Judea, there is the important consideration that Babylon was not at that time the abode of a Jewish population. Josephus states that so long before as the reign of Caligula (A.D. 37-41) the Jews had been expelled from Babylonia, and that a general massacre had taken place, by which they had been almost exterminated. This statement of Josephus, it is true, refers rather to the whole region called Babylonia than to the city of Babylon, and that for the sufficient reason that in the time of Josephus Babylon was as much an uninhabited place as it is now. Rosenmüller, in his Biblical Geography, affirms that in the time of Strabo (that is, in the reign of Augustus) Babylon was so deserted that he applies to that city what an ancient poet had said of Megalopolis in Arcadia, viz. that it was ‘one vast wilderness.’ Basnage, also, in his History of the Jews, says, ‘Babylon was declining in the days of Strabo, and Pliny represents it in the reign of Vespasian as one vast unbroken solitude.’

Other cities have been suggested as the Babylon referred to in the epistle: a fort so called in Egypt, mentioned by Strabo; Ctesiphon on the Tigris; Seleucia, the new city which drained ancient Babylon of its inhabitants: but these are mere conjectures, unsupported by a particle of evidence.

The improbability that the ancient capital of Chaldaea should be the place referred to may account in great measure for the general consent which from the earliest times has attached a symbolical or spiritual interpretation to the name Babylon. If the question were to be decided by the authority of great names, Rome would no doubt be declared to be the mystic Babylon so designated by the apostle. But this involves the vexed question whether St. Peter ever visited Rome, into the discussion of which we cannot here enter. The gospel history is totally silent on the subject, and the tradition, unquestionably very ancient, of St. Peter’s episcopate there, and of his martyrdom under Nero, is embarrassed with so much that is certainly fabulous, that we are justified in setting the whole aside as a legend or myth. There is an a priori argument against the probability of St. Peter’s visit to Rome, which, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we hold to be insurmountable. St. Peter was the apostle of the circumcision; his mission was to the Jews, his own nation; we cannot conceive it possible that he should quit his appointed sphere of labour and ‘enter into another man’s line of things,’ and ‘build upon another man’s foundation.’ St. Paul was in Rome in the days of Nero, and nothing can be more improbable that that St. Peter, the apostle of the circumcision, in extreme old age, and ‘knowing that shortly he must put off his earthly tabernacle,’ should undertake a voyage to Rome without any special call, and without leaving any trace of so remarkable an event in the history of the Acts of the Apostles.

But if Rome be not the symbolical Babylon referred to, and if the literal Babylon be inadmissible, what other place can be suggested with any show of probability? Is there no other city which might not as fitly be called the mystical Babylon as Rome? No other which has not similar symbolical names attached to it, both in the Old Testament and in the New? It seems unaccountable that the very city with which the life and acts of St. Peter are more associated than any other should have been entirely ignored in this discussion. Why might not the city which is called Sodom and Gomorrha be just as reasonably styled Babylon? Now Jerusalem has these mystic names affixed to it in the Scriptures, and no city had a better claim to the character which they imply. Jerusalem also seems undoubtedly to have been the fixed residence of the apostle; Jerusalem, therefore, is the place from which we might expect to find him writing and dating his epistles to the churches.

Whatever the city may be which the apostle styles Babylon, it must have been the settled abode of the person or the church associated with himself and Marcus in the salutation. This is proved by the form of the expressions h en babulwni, which, as Steiger shows, signifies ‘a fixed abode by which one may be designated.’ If we decide that the reference is to a person, it will follow that Babylon was the place where she was domiciled, her settled place of abode, and this, in the case of Peter’s wife, could only be Jerusalem. The apostolic history, so far as it can be gleaned from the documentary evidence in the New Testament, distinctly shows that St. Peter was habitually resident in Jerusalem. It is nothing else than a popular fallacy to suppose that all the apostles were evangelists like St. Paul, travelling through foreign countries and preaching the Gospel to all nations. Professor Burton has shown that ‘it was not until fourteen years after our Lord’s ascension that St. Paul traveled for the first time, and preached the Gospel to the Gentiles. Nor is there any evidence that during this period the other apostles passed the confines of Judea.’ But what we contend for is, that St. Peter’s habitual or settled abode was in Jerusalem. This will appear from a variety of circumstantial proofs.

  1. When the Jerusalem church was scattered abroad after the persecution which arose at the time of Stephen’s martyrdom, St. Peter and the rest of the apostles remained in Jerusalem. (Acts viii. 1.)
  2. St. Peter was in Jerusalem when Herod Agrippa I. apprehended and imprisoned him. (Acts xii. 3.)
  3. When St. Paul, three years after his conversion, goes up to Jerusalem, his errand is ‘to see Peter;’ and he adds, ‘I abode with him fifteen days’ (Gal. i. 18). This implies that St. Peter’s place of abode was Jerusalem.
  4. Fourteen years after this visit to Jerusalem, St. Paul again visits that city in company with Barnabas and Titus; and on this occasion, also, we find St. Peter there (Gal. ii. 1-9). (A.D.50---Conybeare and Howson.)
  5. It is worthy of notice that it was the presence in Antioch of certain persons who came from Jerusalem that so intimidated St. Peter as to lead him to practise an equivocal line of conduct, and to incur the censure of St. Paul. (Gal. ii. 11.) Why should the presence of Jerusalem Jews intimidate St. Peter? Presumably because, on his return to Jerusalem, he would be called to account by them: thus implying that Jerusalem was his usual residence.
  6. If we suppose, which is most probable, that Marcus, named in this salutation, is John Mark, sister’s son to Barnabas, we know that he also abode in Jerusalem. (Acts xii. 12.)
  7. Silvanus, or Silas, the writer or bearer of this epistle, is known to us as a prominent member of the church of Jerusalem: ‘a chief man among the brethren’ (Acts xv. 22-32).

We thus find all the persons named in the concluding portion of the epistle habitual residents in Jerusalem.

Lastly, we infer from an incidental expression in chap. iv. 17 that St. Peter was in Jerusalem when he wrote this epistle. He speaks of judgment having begun at the ‘house of God;’ that is, as we have seen, the sanctuary, the temple; and he adds, ‘if it first begin at us,’ etc. Now, would he have expressed himself so if at the time of his writing he had been in Rome, or in Babylon on the Euphrates, or in any other city than Jerusalem? It certainly seems most natural to suppose that if the judgment begins at the sanctuary, and also at us, both the place and the persons must be together. The vision of Ezekiel, which gives the prototype of the scene of judgment, fixes the locality where the slaughter is to commence, and it appears highly probable that the coming doom of the city and temple was in the mind of the apostle, as well as the afflictions which were to befall the disciples of Christ. Wiesinger remarks: ‘It is hardly possible that the destruction of Jerusalem was past when these words were written; if that had been so, it would hardly have been said, o kairoz tou arxasqai.’ No; it was not past, but the beginning of the end was already present; the judgment seems to have commenced, as the Lord said it would, with the disciples; and this was the sure prelude to the wrath which was coming upon the ungodly ‘to the uttermost.’

But it may be objected, If St. Peter meant Jerusalem, why did he not say so without any ambiguity? There may have been, and doubtless were, prudential reasons for this reserve at the time of St. Peter’s writing, even as there were when St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. But, probably, there was no such ambiguity to his readers as there is to us. What if Jerusalem were already known and recognised among Christian believers as the mystical Babylon? Assuming, as we have a right to do, that the Apocalypse was already familiarly known to the apostolic churches, we consider it in the highest degree probable that they identified the ‘great city’ whose fall is depicted in that book, ‘Babylon the great,’ as the same whose fall is depicted in our Lord’s prophecy on the Mount of Olives.

This, however, belongs to another question, the discussion of which will come in its proper place,---the identity of the Babylon of the Apocalypse. Let it suffice for the present to have made out a probable case, on wholly independent grounds, for the Babylon of St. Peter’s first epistle being no other than Jerusalem.

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