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In Revelation 11:8, Jerusalem is referred to as "the great city." At first thought, Jerusalem is not a great city as New York City is great; it does not occupy as much territory nor does it have the population base. It is not of that sort of magnitude. However, we must not forget that Jerusalem, as a capital city, represents the entire nation of Israel and its greatness lies in what was given to it and what was expected of it considering those gifts.
The apostle John writes in Revelation 14:8, "And another angel followed, saying, 'Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." He adds in Revelation 16:19, "Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath."
Babylon is great too. When "great" is so used in this kind of context, it is not complimentary. "Great" is megálee in Greek, and it literally means "big." It can mean big or great in size, magnitude, and intensity or rank in a good or bad sense. How it is to be understood depends on what is being compared.
When God symbolically dwelt in the Holy of Holies, Jerusalem was known by its citizens as "the holy city." Tradition tells us that God departed His residence in the Temple shortly before AD 70. Jerusalem's title as "the holy city" does not come back into the story flow until Revelation 21:2, when New Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven—long after the time covered in these prophecies. Revelation 21:3 specifically says that God again dwells there. However, at the time of the prophecies in Revelation 14 and 16, Revelation calls both Jerusalem and Babylon "great." This is not a positive comparison. Israel is great as Babylon is great, and at that time, neither of them is great in holiness.
Babylon is great in its anti-God, sinful influence and in economic, political, and military power, but it is most certainly not great in righteousness. Israel's conduct places it next to Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon in great defiance of God, His message, and His servants, and thus it loses its identification as "the holy city."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Five): The Great Harlot