Your merchants were the great men of the earth (Revelation 18:23).

Summary of this article

The merchants are part of Babylon.

Babylon sits on the kings and the peoples of the world (Rev 17:3, 15). In other words, she is distinct from the kings and the peoples. But the merchants, in contrast, are described as “your merchants” (Rev 18:23). The word “your” means that they belong to her. They are part of her and they work for her.

Buying and selling

Babylon’s merchants “have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality” (Rev 18:3). This does not refer to literal wealth because the merchants are “the great men” (Rev 18:23) and Revelation makes a distinction between “great men” and “the rich” (Rev 6:15).

Rather, the following indicates that the merchants are the prophets of false religion:

Babylon symbolizes false Christianity and the merchants are part of her, as indicated by the phrase, “your merchants” (Rev 18:23).

In Revelation, buying and selling must be interpreted symbolically. For example:

        • To buy gold and white clothes means to accept salvation (Rev 3:18) and to purchase people means to save them (Rev 14:3-4; 5:9).
        • To be wealthy means to be saved and to be poor means to be lost (Rev 2:9; 3:17).

Religion’s power over the minds of people

The merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality” (Rev 18:3). Since Babylon is “the great harlot … with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality” (Rev 17:1-2), “her sensuality” is what attracts the kings to her. “Her sensuality” refers to the power that religion has over the minds of people. “Kings” (political authorities) desire this power to strengthen their control over people.

Her “sensuality” is also the source of the merchants’ wealth (Rev 18:3). The merchants’ “wealth” is indicated by how great their followings are (how many people they have “purchased”). Her “sensuality” – the power that religion has over the minds of people – assures her prophets of a great following.

– END OF SUMMARY –


Categories of people

Revelation describes Babylon as a woman with different relationships with different categories of people:

BABYLON THE GREAT

Kings – She sits on the beast (Rev 17:3). This is explained as that she “reigns over the kings of the earth” (Rev 17:18). In return, “the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality” with her (Rev 17:2). This implies a symbiotic relationship.

People of the world – She also “sits on many waters” (Rev 17:1). The “many waters” symbolize the people of the world (Rev 17:15). That she sits on them means that “those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality” (Rev 17:2). 

God’s people – She kills God’s people. “In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24). In the Old Testament, literal Babylon was the main enemy of God’s people. For that reason, Revelation uses Babylon as a symbol for the great enemy of God’s people.

Merchants – Babylon sits on the kings and the peoples of the world (Rev 17:3, 15). In other words, she is distinct from the kings and the peoples. But the merchants, in contrast, are described as “your merchants” (Rev 18:23). The word “your” means that they belong to her. They are part of her and they work for her.

The purpose here is to explain who Babylon’s merchants are. Revelation 18 refers four times to Babylon’s merchants.

Not literal wealth

The merchants “have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality” (Rev 18:3) but this does not refer to literal wealth. The merchants are “the great men” (Rev 18:23) and Revelation makes a distinction between the “great men” and “the rich” (Rev 6:15). The merchants, therefore, are not the literal wealthy peoples of the world.

For the following reasons, it is proposed that the merchants are the prophets of false religion:

The merchants are part of Babylon.

Firstly, a previous article identified Babylon as false Christianity. Since the merchants are part of Babylon (as in, “your merchants” – Rev 18:23), they work for false Christianity and have “became rich from her” (Rev 18:15).

Trade in salvation

Secondly, these are symbolic merchants. If one attempts to find the meaning of this symbol from Revelation, one finds that selling symbolizes preaching. In Rev 3:18, Jesus is the Merchant:

Buy from Me gold refined by fire
so that you may become rich,
and white garments
so that you may clothe yourself
.”

What Jesus offers, in reality, is salvation. Revelation uses buying as a symbol of saving people:

The 144,000 who had been purchased from the earth.  …
have been
purchased from among men” (Rev 14:3-4).

You … purchased for God with Your blood
men from every tribe and tongue
” (Rev 5:9).

To buy or sell, therefore, symbolizes preaching or trading in assurances about salvation; to assure people of temporal and/or eternal goodwill of God. 

In the end-time, “no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark” (Rev 13:15). With the interpretation of buying and selling above, this would mean that nobody will be allowed to preach, except the people with the mark of the beast.

To be wealthy means to be saved.

As confirmation that the “merchants” trade salvation, the letters to the seven churches use the concepts of poverty and wealth as symbols of spiritual condition. Jesus said to Smyrna:

I know … your poverty (but you are rich)” (Rev 2:9).

Smyrna, in other words, is literally poor, but spiritually rich (Rev 2:9). Laodicea is the opposite. To this church, Jesus said:

You say, ‘I am rich,
and have become
wealthy,
and have need of nothing,’
and you do not know
that you are wretched and miserable
and
poor and blind and naked” (Rev 3:17).

When Laodiceans claim that they are rich, it means that they think of themselves as justified (right with God). When Jesus responds and accuses them of poverty, it means they are far from God. Wealth, therefore, symbolizes being right with God.

Merchants become great through deception.

The merchants become great through Babylon’s deception.

Your merchants were the great men of the earth,
because all the nations were deceived
by your sorcery
” (Rev 18:23). 

The devil and the false prophet deceive (Rev 12:9; 20:3, 8, 10; 13:14; 19:20). Since the merchants become great through deception, they are not neutral forces but part of Satan’s army.

They sell a false justification (a false means of being reconciled to God). Based on what we read in the Bible, particularly in Paul’s letters, they teach that we need to do certain things to be saved, rather than simply to trust that God loves us. (See, Man is judged by his deeds; not justified by the works of the law.)

In the final analysis, they present a false picture of the character of God. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). This wonderful truth is being distorted and we are told that God is cruel and judgmental.

Babylon’s sensuality

Continuing the symbolism of an immoral sexual relationship, Revelation 18:3 says that “the merchants of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.” 

Now that we have identified Babylon and her merchants, we are also able to define “her sensuality.” Since Babylon is “the great harlot … with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality” (Rev 17:1-2), “her sensuality” is what attracts the kings to her.  

It does not ‘the sensuality of her wealth’ but “the wealth of her sensuality.” In other words, it is not her literal wealth that attracts kings; “her sensuality” symbolizes something else:

Since Babylon symbolizes false religion, her sensuality is the power that religion has over the minds of people. “Kings” (political rulers) have always desired to control this power to strengthen their own control over people.

Her “sensuality” is also the source of the merchants’ wealth (Rev 18:3). The success of literal merchants is measured by their literal wealth. But these are symbolic merchants; symbols of Babylon’s false prophets. Their success is measured by how many followers they have. Babylon’s “sensuality” – the power that religion has over the minds of people – is the power that assures the merchants of many followers.

After Babylon has been destroyed, the merchants “mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes any more” (Rev 18:11, 15). In other words, the people no longer buy their stories.

Articles on Babylon

For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

 

The throne of the beast is Christian religious authority.

WHAT IS THE THRONE OF THE BEAST?

The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast” (Rev 16:10), with four consequences:

      • “His kingdom became darkened,”
      • “They gnawed their tongues because of pain,” (Rev 16:10)
      • “They blasphemed the God of heaven,” and
      • “They did not repent of their deeds” (Rev 16:11).

A king’s throne is a symbol of his authority. Similarly, God’s throne represents His authority and the throne of the beast symbolizes its authority. It is not a literal beast and not a literal throne.

The main purpose of this article is to determine what the beast’s authority is. What gives it the power to rule? Is it military might, or the power of money, or perhaps religious authority?

To understand the nature of the final conflict, this question is important, for the authority of the beast determines by what kind of power God’s people will be persecuted.

THE THRONE OF THE BEAST IS
CHRISTIAN RELIGIOUS AUTHORITY.

The current article proposes that the authority of the beast is religious authority; specifically Christian religious authority, which means that the end-time conflict is the persecution of God’s real people by the church. This is argued as follows:

(1) ONLY THE CHURCH IS ABLE TO PERSECUTE GOD’S PEOPLE SELECTIVELY.

Only the church is able to identify God’s true people. It is able to identify them because they oppose its blasphemous practices and doctrines. Therefore, only the church is able to selectively persecute God’s true people. In history, God’s true people were never selectively persecuted by people outside the church.

(2) GOD’S ENEMY IS INSIDE THE CHURCH.

In the seven letters (Rev 2-3), the powers that oppose God’s true people are inside the Church. Since the nature of the conflict in the seven letters should be the same in the end-time conflict, God’s end-time people will be persecuted by the church.  

(3) GOD’S PEOPLE ARE PERSECUTED BY THE HARLOT.

According to Revelation 17, the harlot Babylon persecutes God’s true people (Rev 18:24). Since the true church is represented by a pure woman (Rev 12:1), the harlot Babylon is the fallen church. This symbolism is based on the Old Testament which refers to unfaithful Israel as an adulteress woman.

(4) DECEIVE BY MEANS OF SIGNS AND WONDERS

The dragon, the beast, and the false prophet will deceive people by means of signs and wonders. That identifies them as religious organizations. Furthermore, according to Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonica 2, this is what the end-time false prophets will do.

(5) THE SEA BEAST IS THE HORN OF DANIEL 7.

The Sea Beast of Revelation is the 11th horn of Daniel 7 and that horn will blaspheme God, persecute His people and “intend to make alterations in times and in law” (Dan 7:25). This identifies it as false religion.

(6) THE END-TIME PERSECUTION IS OVER WORSHIP.

The main word in Revelation 13 and 14 is “worship.” This final conflict may, therefore, be described as a war over worship, and therefore, a religious war.

(7) THE BEAST FROM THE EARTH IS CHRISTIAN.

The beast from the earth has two horns like a lamb (Rev 13:11). In other words, it looks like Christ. Another indication of its Christian nature is that it is called the “False Prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20).

– END OF SUMMARY – 

(1) ONLY THE CHURCH IS ABLE TO SELECTIVE PERSECUTE GOD’S PEOPLE.

The Beast will make war with the saints and to overcome them (Rev 13:7):

In the Bible, it never was foreign nations that selectively persecuted God’s true people; neither are they even able to identify God’s true people.

Over the centuries, it always was the people who pretended to speak for God who persecuted God’s real people. For example, Jesus was killed by the Jews, who manipulated the power of the government. And it was the Jews who killed Stephan and also all the prophets of old; not foreign nations.

The church (or Israel in the Old Testament) is able to identify the true people of God by their opposition to the blaspheming teachings and practices of the religious authorities of the day.

Applying this principle to the end time, God’s people will be persecuted by the church for their unorthodox teachings.

(2) GOD’S ENEMIES ARE INSIDE THE CHURCH.

The seven letters in Revelation 1 to 3 serve as an introduction to the book of Revelation. The nature of the conflict in the seven letters should, therefore, be the same as the nature of the end-time conflict. An analysis of the powers that oppose true God’s people in the seven letters shows that God’s people are not persecuted or threatened by forces outside the church, but always by forces within the church, namely:

Evil men “who call themselves apostles, and they are not” (Rev 2:2), and

The woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess”, but she teaches God’s bond-servants to commit acts of immorality (Rev 2:20).

(3) THE CHURCH IS PERSECUTED BY A WOMAN.

Compared to the earlier chapters, Revelation 17 uses a different set of symbols. Instead of the dragon, the sea beast, and the false prophet of the previous chapters, we find a harlot woman—Babylon—sitting on a scarlet beast (Rev 17:3). In this symbolism, the harlot persecutes God’s true people (Rev 18:24). The following are indications that this harlot is the church: 

(A) There are two women in Revelation. The first is the pure woman (Rev 12:1); also called the bride of the Lamb (Rev 19:7). The second is this harlot Babylon. By describing both as women, the Author of Revelation tells us that the persecuting harlot is, in some respects at least, similar to the woman who represents God’s people.

(B) Babylon claims that she is “not a widow” (Rev 18:7). By implication, she claims to be the Lamb’s true wife (cf. Rev 21:9).

(C) Both Israel (in the Old Testament) and the church (in the New Testament) are described as women, and as adulteress women when unfaithful (e.g., Ezek 23:8, 19, 27; Hosea 1:2; 4:12; 9:1; Isa 1:21-23; Num 15:39).

(D) God’s people are called out of Babylon (Rev 18:4) which means they are part of Babylon, which also implies that Babylon is the church.

(E) Babylon “has become a dwelling place of demons” (Rev 18:2; cf. 14:8), which means that she was not always evil.

(F) The 144000 never defiled themselves with women (Rev 14:4). The “women” in this verse are Babylon’s daughters, who herself is the “mother of harlots” (Rev 17:5). The fact that the 144000 never defiled themselves with these women means they never agreed with Babylon’s blasphemous practices.

While Revelation 13:11-18 focuses on the end-time, Rev 17 provides a long-term perspective. But this description of the harlot Babylon is also applicable to the end-time. Since Babylon represents the fallen church, God’s people, in the end-time, are persecuted by the church.

(4) DECEIVE BY MEANS OF SIGNS AND WONDERS

Moses performed “wonders and signs” (Acts 7:36). Jesus was “attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him” (Acts 2:22; Heb 2:4). The Lord confirmed the word of the apostles “by the signs that followed” (Mark 16:20). “Many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles” (Acts 2:43; Acts 5:12). However, in the end-time conflict, signs and wonders will confirm the anti-God powers:

The beast from the land “performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (Rev 13:13-14; cf. Rev 19:20).

In the sixth plague, the dragon, beast, and false prophet will be assisted by “spirits of demons, performing signs” (Rev 16:14).

This identifies them as religious organizations. Furthermore, the NT warns that false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders:

“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders” (Matt 24:24; Mark 13:22).

The man of lawlessness … whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders” (2 Thess 2:3, 4, 9).

In Biblical context, false prophets, and therefore the dragon, beast and false prophet, pretend to speak for God.

(5) THE BEAST IS THE 11TH HORN OF DANIEL 7, AND THAT HORN IS FALSE CHRISTIANITY.

The beast receives its power and throne and great authority from the dragon (Rev 13:2), which is the Roman Empire. The beast is another symbol for the 11th horn of Daniel 7, which grows out of the Roman Empire.

To a large extent, this horn is a continuation of the Roman EmpireThe authority of the Roman Empire was military might but the 11th horn, which grew out of it, is “different” (Dan 7:24). It will overpower the saints (Dan 7:21), “speak out against the Most High and … intend to make alterations in times and in law” (Dan 7:25). This identifies it as false religion; specifically, false Christianity. Since the Sea Beast of Revelation is another symbol for the 11th horn, this confirms that the Sea Beast is religious (Christian) in nature.

(6) THE END-TIME PERSECUTION IS OVER WORSHIP.

The word “worship” is used five times in Revelation 13 and 14.  Four times it is used for the people worshiping the beast (Rev 13:8, 12) and his image (Rev 13:15; 14:11), while the three angels warn the people to worship the Creator alone (Rev 14:7).  This last conflict may, therefore, be described as a war of worship and, therefore, as a religious war.

(7) THE BEAST FROM THE EARTH IS CHRISTIAN.

The beast from the earth, which deceives the people of the world to create “the image to the beast” (Rev 13:14), looks like a lamb (Rev 13:11). The word “lamb” occurs 29 times in Revelation, and only in this one instance does it not refer to Jesus Christ.  The Earth Beast, therefore, appears to be Christian, but it speaks like a dragon (Rev 13:11), which refers to Satan (Rev 12:9). In other words, it acts like Satan. For that reason, it is called the “false prophet” (Rev 16:13; 19:20). Both the words “lamb” and “prophet” imply that it is Christian in nature.

THE BEAST IS NOT A GENERAL FORCE.

Some preterist commentaries view Revelation as a general description of the war between good and evil. They do not agree that the characters and events in Revelation were ever or will ever become real characters or events. Some such commentaries interpret the evil powers of Revelation as the power of money. It is true, particularly in Revelation 18, that economic power is prominent:

Babylon is clothed in wealth (Rev 17:4), and in Revelation, clothes depict the nature of the entity. 

Her merchants became rich from her (Rev 18:15).  They “were the great men of the earth” (Rev 18:23).

However, the beast is not a general force such as economic power:

Firstly, the beast is a specific entity with a specific date of origin (Rev 13:1). It looks like a leopard, has the feet of a bear and the mouth of a lion, and receives its power from the dragon (Rev 13:2). These are the four animals of Daniel 7, representing Ancient Babylon, Mede-Persia, Greece, and the Roman Empire. The beast of Revelation, therefore, received something from each of these empires and came into existence after them.

Secondly, the Beast persecutes the saints and overpowers them (Rev 13:7). Economic power never persecutes the true people of God SELECTIVELY.  It is not able to distinguish between God’s true people and others.

Thirdly, the Beast’s authority is primarily religious in nature because its primary purpose is to oppose God, not to accumulate wealth. The Beast uses wealth as a tool but it is not its ultimate purpose.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN LAST PLAGUES

Introduction
     Revelation 15
First four plagues
Not interpreted individually
Overview – refuse to repent
Fifth Plague
The Throne of the Beast
The Mighty Angel of Revelation 18.
Conclusions
Sixth Plague
The Great River, the Euphrates, dries up.
The Kings from the East
Armageddon
Does “coming like a thief” support a secret rapture?
Why the Euphrates has to dry up
Summary & Conclusions
Seventh Plague
Purpose of the Plagues
To show that God judges perfectly
      Why is it necessary to show that God judges perfectly?

For further reading on Revelation, Jon Paulien’s commentary is recommended. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.