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Rev 18:23 "Your merchants were the world’s important people. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray."

Who are the "Merchants" and what was the "magic spell" that led all the nations astray?

The context names the Babylonians or the Chaldean's in v. 2, but then why would John be talking about an empire that no longer existed in that form? It is my understanding that the Roman empire was considered Antichrist by the early Church and by most Protestants, in both its forms, from Roman emperor to Roman papacy with Constantine leading the transition. What then does "Babylon" represent in the last days after Jesus Christ's ascension into heaven when John wrote this book? What is the meaning of the word "Babylon" and who are the merchants and what is the spell that led the whole Earth astray (in this context, i.e. Revelation 18:1-24)?

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A minor comment, but the title of the book is actually 'Revelation' in the singular, rather than 'Revelations' in the plural. The title comes from the first verse of the book: 'The revelation [singular] of Jesus Christ'. –  Mark Edward Nov 12 '13 at 1:38
@Mark Edward Thank you that was helpful, I did ask the question the other day as to whether it would be appropriate to say revelations..! Yes it will be 'the' revelation of Jesus Christ.' –  John Unsworth Nov 16 '13 at 0:01

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Babylon's "sorcery" is simply referring to her decptive, enchanting powers mentioned earlier in the chapter. The merchants, similar to the kings that "committed fornication with her", were enticed by her luxuries (see verse 3). To interpret this whole chapter more broadly, I believe that Babylon refers both literally to Rome and figuratively to the "world-system" of Mammon-worship that is necessarily directly opposed to God.

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Thats brilliant...! Romes intention now is to be in control of the world system as well, through corporatism...Well half of her is Corporation after all...she sells herself for Gold..! So in a sense Rome controlling the World through corporatism is a double literal fulfillment. She is both specifically Rome and becoming very quickly Babylon as the whole world is under her spell. When Rome falls, which she has not done yet, she will fall because of the restoration of the Jews, as a nation, under Jesus of Nazareth. Look how she tumbled at the reformation, imagine the end of her. –  John Unsworth Nov 14 '13 at 16:49
That gave me the most joy..! –  John Unsworth Nov 14 '13 at 16:53
The rising of the Jewish nation, as a people born of the Spirit, in Christ, will have an impact on the whole world according to Paul, it will be "as life from the dead" Rom 11...Such an outpouring of the Spirit of God on the World will bring Rome to her knees. The reformation was only a drop in the ocean. I would expect God to finish the history of redemption, with trumpets, loud thundering's and judgement's. Can you imagine, the people of Abraham embracing God in Jesus of Nazareth, as a Nation, laying down their weapons of death and going out to the whole World to preach Jesus is the Messiah. –  John Unsworth Nov 14 '13 at 17:29

I understand you may be looking for an exegesis that fits within your existing view ('that 90% of the Book of Revelations is yet to be fulfilled'). However, I will be offering a more grammatical-historical approach.

The Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and its temple in 70 AD, an event Jews quickly began comparing to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by the historical Babylon in 587 BC. Other Jews contemporary to John specifically call Rome by the name 'Babylon' as a symbolic gesture. [1] Accordingly, most scholars understand the name 'Babylon' in the Revelation to be symbolic for the city of Rome. John further identifies Babylon as 'the great city' which is seated on 'seven mountains'. Again, most scholars see this as a deliberate reference to Rome's nickname as 'the city of the seven hills'. [2]

Revelation 18 is thus understood as a lament for the downfall of Rome (patterned after Ezekiel 26-28), particularly as this downfall is perceived by the very people who prospered by Rome's violence and wealth. These are the merchants John mentions.

The 'magic spell' (other translations say 'sorcery' or 'enchantments') is the word φαρμακεια (from which we get the word 'pharmacy'), which describes something involving drugs. It could be used for magic-based potions, poisons, or even medicine. Because John says this φαρμακεια is the manner by which Rome deceived the nations, he may be referring back to the 'wine of her sexual immorality', mentioned in Revelation 14.8 and 17.2ff. She has made the nations drunk on her wine, and led them in the persecution of God's people.

[1] 1 Peter 5.13; 4 Ezra 3.1-2,28-31; 2 Baruch 10.1–3; 11.1; 67.7; Sibylline Oracles 5.180-201

[2] Cicero to Atticus 6.5; Georgics 2.534-535; Aeneid 6.781-783; Elegies 3.11.55-57; Tristia 5.69; Epigrams 4.64; Sibylline Oracles 2.19; 11.145-154; 13.61; 14.138

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Absolutely delighted to have you contributing Mark. Out of curiosity, do you love music‽ –  Jack Douglas Nov 12 '13 at 18:19
Thanks for the welcome! I absolutely love music. –  Mark Edward Nov 12 '13 at 18:31
Great answer! Merchants were very important to Rome and the Roman economy caused distress and starvation to the poor. The drug trade was massive as it is today and caused no less damage. –  gideon marx Nov 13 '13 at 18:51
@Mark Edward So does the grammatical historical approach, have an advantage over my position, that the majority of the book of revelation, is literal in the sense that it is yet to come! A futurist view fits far more realistically, than trying to 'fit it' with church events in the last 2 Millenia. If you can tell me where the reformation is mentioned literally in revelation, I will submit hands up. The Roman Empire has not fallen yet, if the Roman Papacy is still around.! Constantine brought state religion. Those that disagreed with the new state were persecuted. Donatists Montanists etc.. –  John Unsworth Nov 16 '13 at 0:22
I think you may be confusing grammatical-historical with historicism. Historicism is the view that sees the Revelation as being fulfilled slowly between the first and second comings, and usually associates 'the beast' with either Roman Catholicism and the Pope (as per the Reformation), or Islam. The historical-grammatical approach, however, simply means trying to understand the text as it would have been understood by the original readers. (continued...) –  Mark Edward Nov 16 '13 at 6:25

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