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)?

  • 4
    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'.
    – user2910
    Nov 12, 2013 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.' Nov 16, 2013 at 0:01

2 Answers 2


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.

  • 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. Nov 14, 2013 at 16:49
  • That gave me the most joy..! Nov 14, 2013 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. Nov 14, 2013 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 text-critical approach.

In AD 70 the Roman Empire destroyed Jerusalem and its temple. Within a couple of decades, Jewish authors began comparing the event to the first destruction of Jerusalem and its temple by Babylon in 587 BC. In fact, some of John's contemporaries called Rome by the name 'Babylon' to make this identification explicit.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, with John inspired by the style of Ezekiel 26-28; specifically, John writes about the city's downfall from the perspective of very people who prospered by Rome's violence and wealth. These are the merchants whom John mentions.

The 'magic spell' (other translations say 'sorcery' or 'enchantments') is the word φαρμακεια (from which we get the word 'pharmacy'), which literally refers to some form of 'drug magic'. 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

  • 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. Nov 13, 2013 at 18:51

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