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