"And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." Revelation 14:8
The word Babylon is used six times in the book of Revelation (14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21). In each case the adjective "great" is used to describe it. Although usually referred to as a city, Babylon is also pictured as a harlot. Revelation touches mainly on its final condemnation and fall.
Because the ancient city of Babylon now lies in ruins, our usual approach to the concept of Babylon in Revelation is to treat it as a symbol. We speak of "spiritual Babylon" in contradistinction to "literal Babylon." We assume that the application of the term at the end of time requires Babylon to have a different identity than it had in the days of Daniel. But that's because we're only seeing Daniel's Babylon as a geopolitical kingdom that has long since passed away. But if we turn our attention to the religion of ancient Babylon, there we have something that can point today to the very thing that existed in Daniel's day. As a religious influence, the Babylon of Revelation is the direct continuation of the ancient Chaldean worship. It is one and the same.
Babylonian worship is characterized both in Scripture and in history by the term "mystery."
"And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT. . . ." Revelation 17:5
"I will tell thee the mystery of the woman. . . ." Revelation 17:7
According to Alexander Hislop in his book, The Two Babylons (page 4), the grand distinguishing feature of the ancient Babylonian system was the Chaldean "mysteries," that formed so essential a part of that system. All the Satanic religions of antiquity in fact participated in what we call the "ancient mysteries" that date back to the period of the tower of Babel.
The apostle Paul referred to these pagan doctrines and customs as the "mystery of iniquity," which even in his day began to creep into the church (2 Thessalonians 2:7). Of that, Ellen White writes:
"Little by little, at first in stealth and silence, and then more openly as it increased in strength and gained control of the minds of men, the mystery of iniquity carried forward its deceptive and blasphemous work. Almost imperceptibly the customs of heathenism found their way into the Christian church. The spirit of compromise and conformity was restrained for a time by the fierce persecutions which the church endured under paganism. But as persecution ceased, and Christianity entered the courts and palaces of kings, she laid aside the humble simplicity of Christ and His apostles for the pomp and pride of pagan priests and rulers; and in place of the requirements of God, she substituted human theories and traditions. The nominal conversion of Constantine, in the early part of the fourth century, caused great rejoicing; and the world, cloaked with a form of righteousness, walked into the church. Now, the work of corruption rapidly progressed. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror. Her spirit controlled the church. Her doctrines, ceremonies, and superstitions were incorporated into the faith and worship of the professed followers of Christ." GC 49, 50.
So we find that the term "mystery of iniquity" refers to the heathen beliefs and practices that permeated the ancient world. What held back paganism's influence on Christianity for a time was the persecution of the church. Persecution kept the church relatively pure until the reign of Constantine. Then the mystery cult of Babylon penetrated and perverted the Christian religion.
The book of Revelation declares that the Babylonian mysteries, adopted into the imperial church in the fourth century, have ultimately spread to all nations (14:8; 18:3). Even the daughters of the great whore of Revelation 17 are described as harlots. With this information we are now prepared to identify the "three parts" (16:19) of Babylon as the "dragon," the "beast," and the "false prophet" (16:13).
The fundamental manifestation of Babylon is paganism, signified in Revelation 16:13 as "the dragon." This is the religion of Satan, the great dragon (12:9). When paganism was incorporated into the Roman church, "the beast" was formed. This is the second manifestation of Babylon. And to whatever extent the churches of Protestantism are influenced by the other two, they form the third manifestation of Babylon, "the false prophet."
Presented under the two symbols of a "city" and a "woman," the term Babylon in Revelation is not just a symbol. It is exactly what it always has been, the religious apostasy of Babel.