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Slavery, the Bible, and Prophecy

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. (Revelation 18:11-13)

This chapter in Revelation depicts the moment in the Great Tribulation that nothing in any part of life, including economics and financial transactions, merchandising, and trade, will even appear to be normal any more. The last bit of the economy will be crushed under the righteous hand of Jesus as He smashes any semblance of business at all.

I’d like to focus on the last part of verse 13. One of the items traded will be slaves, that is, the souls of men. We know the purpose of the Tribulation period will be to finish punishing Israel for her rebelliousness and for her to come to salvation. It is also to pour out wrath upon the unbelieving world, wrath that has been stored up during the Age of Grace. Since sin will be allowed to come to its full expression, the value of human life will proportionally dwindle. Slavery will be rampant. Some believe the verse means that people will be enslaved to a false religion, and in fact they will be. The antichrist’s religion will cover the whole world. Others think the slavery reference will be more metaphorical. I believe as Dan Duncan (Pastor of Believers Chapel) does.

Now, that’s indicated, I think, in the last commodity on this list: slaves and human lives. It’s estimated that the Roman empire had 60 million slaves. And this future revived Roman empire will also have slaves, literally, slaves and human lives or bodies and souls of men. That’s probably a reference to the same thing, not two different groups, but one group. Put that way in order to say that slaves have souls, which distinguishes them from the animals that are listed in this list. They are real people, but they are listed after the cattle, and sheep, and horses, suggesting that to the merchants, and the consumers, slaves are just bodies. They’re little more than human livestock. This is the world. It is self-indulgent and it is callous. That’s the nature of the world in which we live. It’s a cruel place. Dan Duncan, Believer’s Chapel

Many modern-day thinkers believe that slavery is stamped out. It isn’t. We are not modern, and prophecy is true. Slavery exists now, as this recent Bloomberg news link attests-

Nearly 46 Million People Trapped in Modern Slavery, Report Finds
The Australia-based rights group on Tuesday released its global slavery index, which tracks the number of people stuck in “situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception.” The instances include forced labor in farming, fishing and manufacturing, commercial sex work and forced marriage.

One way to visualize the Tribulation would be to think of  it as a time when the sins that social pressure and governmental laws have suppressed in depraved, unbelieving man are then released to become gleefully visible. Worse than visible, what man increasingly shamelessly hides today will not only be visible, but celebrated (Romans 1:32) but in a thoroughly evil way in the future that would shock us to the core.

Therefore it is no surprise that slavery, one of the world’s most persistent and dehumanizing evils, will be a trade that greedy merchants mourn the loss of, as we see in the verse. They will not celebrate that an evil is stamped out, but mourn that the money they get from their dehumanizing, evil practices have ceased.

As deeply as I mourn the coming Tribulation on behalf of the world’s people, I am joyfully excited for the coming Rapture. I don’t know when it will take place, but the Bible tells us it will be soon. (Revelation 3:11, Revelation 22:7). Since 2000 years have gone by since Jesus’ last message to us, then it’s sooner than ever! We do not need to fear going through the Tribulation but we do need to have a healthy fear and awe of the One who holds all that wrath in His hand and who will unleash it on the world. The world rejects Jesus but they do not know they are enslaved to their sin. That is the worst slavery of all. He came to set the captives free, but many do not believe they are held captive. Pray for the souls of men, before the time comes when they are enslaved in body AND soul during the worst time on earth that ever was and ever will be. (Matthew 24:21)


Further Reading

Does the Bible support slavery?

Does the Bible condone slavery?

William Wilberforce and slavery

Why is slavery permitted in the Bible?

Why was slavery allowed in the New Testament?


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.