Revelation Chapter 9


REVELATION 9

Adam Maarschalk: September 24, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 9

Quick review: In our study of Revelation 8, we read of a scene in heaven in which seven angels were given seven trumpets which they were to sound. The prayers of the saints were offered upon the golden altar before the throne, and this seemed to be directly related to the judgments which were about to follow. Chapter 8 covered the first four trumpets: [1] the burning up of a third of the trees and grass [2] the destruction of a third of the sea creatures and ships [3] a third of the water becoming lethally bitter [4] a third of the sun, moon, and stars struck and darkened.

A. Fifth Trumpet: Locusts from the Bottomless Pit (Rev. 9:1-12)

Verse 1: The one who was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit was “a star [that had] fallen from heaven to earth.” Might this have anything to do with the great star that fell from heaven in Rev. 8:10? Another possibility for the identity of this star, clearly a person or entity, would be that it is Lucifer (See Luke 10:18 and Rev. 12:9-10). David Chilton notes that “the bottomless pit,” referenced in verse 1, is referred to a total of seven times in Revelation (9:1, 2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3). He adds,

In Biblical symbolism, the Abyss is the farthest extreme from heaven (Genesis 49:25; Deuteronomy 33:13) and from the high mountains (Psalm 36:6). It is used in Scripture as a reference to the deepest parts of the sea (Job 28:14; 38:16; Psalm 33:7) and to subterranean rivers and vaults of water (Deuteronomy 8:7; Job 36:16), whence the waters of the Flood came (Genesis 7:11; 8:2; Proverbs 3:20; 8:24), and which nourished the kingdom of Assyria (Ezekiel 31:4, 15). The Red Sea crossing of the covenant people is repeatedly likened to a passage through the Abyss (Psalm 77:16; 106:9; Isaiah 44:27; 51:10; 63:13). The prophet Ezekiel threatened Tyre with a great desolation of the land, in which God would bring up the Abyss to cover the city with a new Flood, bringing its people down to the pit in the lower parts of the earth (Ezekiel 26:19-21), and Jonah spoke of the Abyss in terms of excommunication from God’s presence, a banishment from the Temple (Jonah 2:5-6). The domain of the Dragon (Job 41:31; Psalm 148:7; Revelation 11:7; 17:8), the prison of the demons (Luke 8:31; Revelation 20:1-3; cf. 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6), and the realm of the dead (Romans 10:7) are all called by the name Abyss.

St. John is thus warning his readers that hell is about to break loose upon the Land of Israel; as with Tyre of old, the Abyss is being dredged up to cover the Land with its unclean spirits. Apostate Israel is to be cast out of God’s presence, excommunicated from the Temple, and filled with demons. One of the central messages of Revelation is that the Church tabernacles in heaven (see Revelation 7:15; 12:12; 13:6); the corollary of this is that the false church tabernacles in hell (David Chilton, Days of Vengeance, 1987).

That the land of Israel is indicated here is further seen in the references to “the earth” (also properly translated as “the land”) in verses 3-4. In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subjectbeginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case (See, for example, the post on Revelation 1, where we examined the phrase “tribes of the earth” in verse 7, which is often thought to be worldwide in scope. When this prophecy is compared, though, to its counterpart in Zechariah 12:10-14, it’s clear that every one of those tribes belonged to the land of Israel).

Q: In verse 4, we see that the locusts are told not to harm the grass, green plants, or trees, but only those without the seal of God on their foreheads. Where have we seen this before?
A: We saw it in Revelation 7:1-4, with the sealing of the 144,000 Jewish believers before the destruction began.

Chilton notes that in Judea it was typical for locusts to appear in the land anytime between May and September, a period of five months. In this case they were to remain and attack relentlessly for five months. Regarding verse 4, Chilton reminds us that “[t]he vegetation of the earth is specifically exempted from the destruction caused by the ‘locusts.’ This is a curse on disobedient men.”

Q: What is the likely significance of the five month period cited in verse 5?
A: The siege of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70 AD lasted five months. It covered the time span of May to September, the exact time of the year when locusts normally would appear in Judea.

The “Models of Eschatology” blog site (moderated by a person identified as “wbdjr” for the United Christian Church in Richmond, Virginia) has this to sayabout the five month siege:

Five months is the time period that the Roman siege lasted around Jerusalem. During this time the Romans didn’t try to take the city, but let the work of the siege slowly weaken the city defenders and bring conditions upon them that could fit the definition of a great tribulation. During the siege the Zealots inside Jerusalem set fire to the foodstocks that were stored up thinking that without food the inhabitants would be more compelled to join them in fighting the Romans. As food disappeared people were compelled to eat leather from belts, shoes, and anywhere else it could be found.[1]

Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 248) also states, quoting from F.F. Bruce (New Testament History, p. 382): “Titus began the siege of Jerusalem in April, 70. The defenders held out desperately for five months, but by the end of August the Temple area was occupied and the holy house burned down, and by the end of September all resistance in the city had come to an end.”

Q: Where else in Scripture do we see a similar vision of a destroying army which is likened to locusts?
A: We see it in Joel 1:2-7; 2:1-11.

Verse 6: We are told that people would “seek death and…not find it” and “long to die, but death [would] flee from them.” Did this happen in 70 AD? Josephus records that during the height of the siege surviving Jews “poured forth their congratulations on those whom death had hurried away from such heartrending scenes” as were seen during the siege. Thousands were literally starved to death during this time. As we saw in our study on Revelation 6, Josephus records that when the temple was burned in August 70 AD, many survivors retreated to Upper Jerusalem and longed for death. Josephus said in Wars 6.7.2 that “as they saw the city on fire, they appeared cheerful, and put on joyful countenances, in expectation, as they said, of death to end their miseries.” This longing for death is reminiscent of what Jesus said in Luke 23:27-30 (cf. Rev. 6:16).

Kenneth Gentry (ibid, pp. 247-248) sees verses 1-12 as speaking strictly of demonic activity, and verses 13-19 as speaking of the invasion of a physical army. His reference to Jesus’ words in Matthew is most compelling:

Revelation 9:1-12 clearly seems to speak of demons under the imagery of locusts (perhaps due to their destructive power and the gnawing agony they cause). A great many commentators agree that, stripped of the poetical imagery, the locusts are really demons and their sting is that of the pain and influence of demonic oppression. This seems to be quite clearly the case in light of their origin (the bottomless pit, 9:1-3), their task (they afflict only men, 9:4), and their ruler (“the angel of the abyss,” surely Satan, 9:11). Were this a reference to the Roman army (or some later army), their restriction from killing (Rev. 9:5, 10) would be inexplicable in that the Roman army actually did destroy thousands of Jews in its assault. But if these are demons, and the physical killing is left to the armies (which are seen later, Rev. 9:13ff), the picture begins to come into focus.

If demons are in view in this passage, this fits well with requirements of the early date [for the writing of the book of Revelation, i.e. before 70 AD] and the prophetic expectation of Christ in Matthew 12:38-45. There Christ teaches that during His earthly ministry He had cast out demons in Israel, but because of Israel’s resistance to His message, the demons will return in greater numbers within the “generation.”

While I agree that this text does not speak of literal locusts present during this judgment, I see the possibility that in addition to a picture of demonic activity there are also hints of physical attacks, i.e. both happening concurrently. In verse 7, it is said that they appeared as “horses prepared for battle.” Their faces were “like human faces” (verse 7b), they had “hair like women’s hair,” they had breastplates of iron, and the noise made by their “wings” was “like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle” (verse 9). There are enough literal references mixed in to possibly portray a picture of 1st century-type warfare. Steve Gregg, editor of Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), has this to say (pp. 182, 184):

Though the locusts themselves are no doubt a portrayal of armies of demons that afflicted the whole society of the Jews during their conflicts with the Romans, the description is perhaps mingled with some features of the demonized zealots who made life so miserable for their fellow Jews during the siege. That they have hair like women’s hair [v. 8] may actually be a reference to their transvestitism, as Josephus describes:

“With their insatiable hunger for loot, they ransacked the houses of the wealthy, murdered men and violated women for sport; they drank their spoils with blood, and from mere satiety and shamelessness gave themselves up to effeminate practices, plaiting their hair and putting on women’s clothes, drenched themselves with perfumes and painting their eyelids to make themselves attractive. They copied not merely the dress, but also the passions of women, devising in their excess of licentiousness unlawful pleasures in which they wallowed as in a brothel. Thus they entirely polluted the city with their foul practices. Yet though they wore women’s faces, their hands were murderous. They would approach with mincing steps, then suddenly become fighting men, and, whipping out their swords from under their dyed cloaks, they would run through every passerby” (Wars, IV:9:10).

Regarding the appearance of this army, David Chilton adds,

The frightening description of the demon-locusts in Revelation 9:7-11 bears many similarities to the invading heathen armies mentioned in the prophets (Jeremiah 51:27; Joel 1:6; 2:4-10; cf. Leviticus 17:7 and 2 Chronicles 11:15, where the Hebrew word for demon is hairy one). This passage may also refer, in part, to the Satanic gangs of murderous Zealots that preyed on the citizens of Jerusalem, ransacking houses and committing murder and rape indiscriminately. Characteristically, these perverts dressed up as harlots in order to seduce unsuspecting men to their deaths. One particularly interesting point about the description of the demon army is St. John’s statement that “the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to battle.” That is the same sound made by the wings of the angels in the Glory-Cloud (Ezekiel 1:24; 3:13; 2 Kings 7:5-7); the difference here is that the noise is made by fallen angels.

Verse 11: The king over this army was named “Abaddon” in Hebrew, but “Apollyon” in Greek. According to Livius, an online ancient history encyclopedia compiled by the Dutch historian, Jona Lendering, “Apollo” was the favorite god of the Roman emperor, Augustus. For this reason, the famous 15th Roman legion was called “Legio XV Apollinaris.” When the Jewish revolt against Rome began in 66 AD, this 15th legion, Apollinaris, was moved from Alexandria, Egypt, and called to advance toward Judea. In 67 AD this legion captured Josephus in Jotapata (in Galilee).

After Vespasian was named emperor in 69 AD, his son, Titus, led the 15th legion, Apollinarus, toward Jerusalem. After a 5-month siege, Titus and his legion overthrew Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and burned the city. It appears that Titus was the Apollyon of Revelation 9:11. 

Emblem on the Shields of the Roman 15th Legion (Photo Source)

B. Sixth Trumpet: Angels from the Euphrates (Rev. 9:13-21)

David Chilton remarks: “John’s opening words about the sixth Trumpet (Revelation 9:13) again reminds us that the desolations wrought by God in the earth are on behalf of His people (Psalm 46), in response to their official, covenantal worship: the command to the sixth angel is issued by a voice ‘from the four horns of the golden altar [i.e., the incense altar] which is before God.’ The mention of this point is obviously intended to encourage God’s people in worship and prayer, assuring them that God’s actions in history proceed from his altar, where He has received their prayers.”

Q: How many were to be killed in this plague?
A: One third of mankind (Again, in context, I understand “mankind” to refer to the population of Judea).

We are told that four angels would be released from the river Euphrates where they had been bound in preparation for this very day and hour:

“Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million, and I heard the number of them” (Revelation 9:13-16, NKJV).

During the winter of 67-68 AD, Ananus II, the former high priest in Jerusalem, gave speeches urging the people of Jerusalem to oppose the lawless Jewish Zealots who had taken over the temple as “blood-shedding villains.” John of Gischala pretended to be on the side of Ananus and was invited to be an ambassador to the Zealots (Josephus, Wars 4.3.13). However, John quickly betrayed him and falsely claimed that Ananus had invited the Roman general (and soon-to-be emperor) Vespasian to conquer Jerusalem (Wars 4.3.14).

In response, the Zealot leaders Eleazar, the son of Simon and Zacharias, the son of Phalek requested help from the Idumeans. They told the Idumeans that “unless they would come immediately to their assistance, they should themselves be soon in the power of Artanus, and the city would be in the power of the Romans.” Josephus described the Idumeans as a “tumultuous and disorderly nation… delighting in mutations” and a people who would “make haste to a battle, as if it were to a feast” (Wars 4.4.1). The Idumeans promptly prepared an army of 20,000 directed by four commanders:

“Now these rulers were greatly surprised at the contents of the letter, and at what those that came with it further told them; whereupon they ran about the nation like madmen, and made proclamation that the people should come to war; so a multitude was suddenly got together, sooner indeed than the time appointed in the proclamation, and every body caught up their arms, in order to maintain the liberty of their metropolis; and twenty thousand of them were put into battle- array, and came to Jerusalem, under four commanders, John, and Jacob the son of Sosas; and besides these were Simon, the son of Cathlas, and Phineas, the son of Clusothus” (Wars 4.4.2).

Says David Chilton,

In verses 14-16, the sixth angel is commissioned to release the four angels who had been “bound at the great river Euphrates”; they then bring against Israel an army consisting of “myriads of myriads.” The Euphrates River to the north formed the boundary between Israel and the fearsome, pagan forces from Assyria, Babylon, and Persia which God used as a scourge against His rebellious people (cf. Genesis 15:18; Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:4; Jeremiah 6:1, 22; 10:22; 13:20; 25:9, 26; 46:20, 24; 47:2; Ezekiel 26:7; 38:6, 15; 39:2). It should be remembered too that the north was the area of God’s throne (Isaiah 14:13); and both the Glory-Cloud and God’s agents of vengeance are seen coming from the north, i.e., from the Euphrates (cf. Ezekiel 1:4; Isaiah 14:31; Jeremiah 1:14-15). Thus, this great army from the north is ultimately God’s army, and under His control and direction, although it is also plainly demonic and pagan in character (on the “binding” of fallen angels, cf. 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). God is completely sovereign, and uses both demons and the heathen to accomplish His holy purposes (1 Kings 22:20-22; Job 1:12-21.

Jay Adams (Westminster Theological Seminary) is one scholar who points out that Israel’s past conquerors had traditionally crossed the Euphrates before wreaking their destruction. He notes that Josephus (Wars 7:1:3) told of Roman armies stationed along the Euphrates, including the famed 10th Legion, before they made their final advance on Jerusalem in 69-70 AD (Steve Gregg, ibid, p. 186).

Verse 16: The number of mounted troops was 200 million. Or was it? Futurist interpreters often insist that this number is to be taken literally, and some have supposed that this must refer to a future army that will come out of China. Sam Storms says that in the Greek, the expression denotes “a ‘double myriad of myriads,’ a ‘myriad’ typically equivalent to 10,000.” Therefore, it’s very possible that John heard the number 20,000, but that this has often been wrongly translated as 200 million.

Q: What did the survivors of these plagues not repent of?
A: They did not repent of [1] the works of their hands [2] worshiping demons [3] idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood [4] murders [5] sorceries [6] sexual immorality [7] thefts.

Josephus says this of mid-first century Jerusalem:

…neither did any other city ever suffer such miseries, nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was from the beginning of the world… I suppose that had the Romans made any longer delay in coming against those villains, the city would either have been swallowed up by the ground opening upon them, or been overflowed by water, or else been destroyed by such thunder as the country of Sodom perished by, for it had brought forth a generation of men much more atheistical than were those that suffered such punishments; for by their madness it was that all the people came to be destroyed (Kenneth Gentry, ibid, p. 249).

David Chilton notes that Jerusalem (see the reference to the “great city” in Rev. 11:8, and then compare with 16:19, 17:18, 18:10, 18:16-21) is described in Revelation 18 as “a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird” (18:2).  He adds:

The entire generation became increasingly demon-possessed; their progressive national insanity is apparent as one reads through the New Testament, and its horrifying final stages are depicted in the pages of Josephus’ The Jewish War: the loss of all ability to reason, the frenzied mobs attacking one another, the deluded multitudes following after the most transparently false prophets, the crazed and desperate chase after food, the mass murders, executions, and suicides, the fathers slaughtering their own families and the mothers eating their own children. Satan and the host of hell simply swarmed throughout the land of Israel and consumed the apostates.

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Our study of Revelation 10 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] For more information regarding this 5-month siege, the famine in Jerusalem, etc., please see [1] here and [2] here.

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Revelation Chapter 8


REVELATION 8

Adam/Dave/Rod: September 17, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 8

A. Seventh Seal: Prelude to the Seven Trumpets (8:1-6)

Verse 2: The seven angels who were given the seven trumpets are said to “stand before God.” Is it possible that one of these seven angels was Gabriel, as he testified to Zechariah (Luke 1:19) that he “stands in the presence of God”? Steve Gregg, editor of Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), says, “For Israel, the trumpet was an instrument used to rally the troops for war or to warn of an enemy invasion. Likening the upcoming judgments to the sounding of trumpets suggests that God Himself is making war against His enemies in apostate Israel” (p. 146).

Verses 3-5: The “prayers of all the saints” were offered together with “much incense” on the golden altar that was in front of the throne pictured in heaven. It seems clear that the judgments that followed were, in part, a direct result of these prayers. Sam Storms sees a direct link between the cries of the martyrs for vengeance (Rev. 6:10) and God’s response here in these verses. As a result of the censer filled “with fire from the altar” being thrown to the earth, there were “peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.” One application to take away from this passage, then, is that God hears the prayers of His people and acts in a sovereign way in His own timing and according to His will. The thunder, lightning, and rumblings are again reminiscent of the giving of the Old Covenant through Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16), just as in Rev. 4:5.

In her book, “Revelation: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary,” J. Massyngberde Ford says that there are four striking reversals in the text for Israel:

1. From the throne and altar, the “mercy seat,” now comes wrath;
2. Incense, the “soothing aroma to the Lord” ( Leviticus 1:13), now becomes an agent of death (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16);
3. The trumpets, which called Israel to worship, now become heralds of her destruction;
4. The heavenly liturgy itself, appointed for Israel’s sanctification, becomes the means of her overthrow and dissolution.

John Piper said in 1994 that this text “portrays the prayers of the saints as the instrument God uses to usher in the end of the world with great divine judgments… [It] is an explanation of what has happened to the millions upon millions of prayers over the last 2,000 years as the saints have cried out again and again, ‘Thy kingdom come…’” Sam Storms, a Historicist, agrees with Piper’s cause/effect premise, but disagrees with him regarding the timing of God’s actions:

It may well be that the trumpets, no less than the sixth and seventh seals, are God’s answer to the prayers of his people in 6:9-11 for vindication against their persecutors. If so, this would strongly militate against the futurist interpretation which relegates the trumpets to the final few years of history just before the second coming. In other words, it seems unlikely that God would act in response to that prayer only at the end of history while passing by and leaving unscathed more than sixty generations of the wicked.

Sam Storms goes on to say that most of the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments “describe the commonplaces of history.” The Preterist response, of course, is that the prayers of the first-century martyrs who cried out “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10-11) were vindicated within one generation when God poured out His judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD (cf. Matt. 23:29-38; Luke 13:33-35; Rev. 17:6, 18:20, 24). The Historicist idea that God has continued to act in various ways upon the prayers of His people throughout history certainly applies.

B. First Trumpet: Vegetation Struck (8:7)

Hail and fire, mixed with blood, is thrown to the earth. In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case (See, for example, the post on Revelation 1, where we examined the phrase “tribes of the earth” in verse 7, which is often thought to be worldwide in scope. When this prophecy is compared, though, to its counterpart in Zechariah 12:10-14, it’s clear that every one of those tribes belonged to the land of Israel).

Steve Gregg notes that “[as] the first four seals [Rev. 6:1-8] were set off from the latter three, in that each of the first group revealed a horseman, so the first four trumpets are set off from the last three, in that the latter are referred to as ‘Woes.’ The entire series, however, is concerned with the Jewish War of A.D. 66-70, ‘the Last Days’ of the Jewish commonwealth” (p. 148). Steve quotes from Jay Adams, who notes that during this period “the land suffered terribly. The plagues are reminiscent of those in Egypt, at the birth of the Hebrew nation. Here they mark both the latter’s cessation, and the birth of a new nation, the kingdom of God (I Pet. 2:9, 10).”[1]

We are told that a third of the earth (the land of Israel), the trees, and the green grass were burned up in this judgment. This account from Josephus points to a very plausible fulfillment during the five-month siege upon Jerusalem leading up to its destruction in 70 AD:

And now the Romans, although they were greatly distressed in getting together their materials, raised their banks in [21] days, after they had cut down all the trees that were in the country that adjoined to the city, and that for ninety furlongs [10 miles] round about, as I have already related. And, truly, the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down: nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change; for the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste; nor if any one that had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again; but though he were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it notwithstanding (Wars 6.1.1).

C. Second Trumpet: The Seas Struck (8:8-9)

Verse 8: John was shown “something like a great mountain burning with fire …thrown into the sea.” Steve Gregg asserts that there is both a symbolic and a literal sense in which this trumpet can be applied to the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel in 66-70 AD: [1] It’s symbolic, in that in Biblical prophecy a mountain often refers to a government or a kingdom, even as it did for Israel (e.g. Exodus 15:17). The sea is a frequent prophetic “symbol of the Gentile nations, in contrast to ‘the land,’ signifying Israel. The symbolism could predict the Jewish state collapsing and the resultant dispersion of the Jews throughout the Gentile world.” (97,000 Jews were sold into slavery by Rome in 70 AD.) [2] It’s also literal in that Jerusalem was burned with fire by the Romans in 70 AD (pp. 154, 156).

Later John sees an angel picking up a great millstone and casting it into the sea, which the angel says is symbolic of “Babylon, that great city” being thrown down with violence (Revelation 18:21). The literary structures of these two passages show that they are parallel:

Revelation 8:8

Revelation 18:21a

Revelation 18:21b

“And the second angel sounded, “And a strong angel saying,
and something like a great took up a stone like a great ‘Thus will Babylon that great
mountain burning with fire millstone city
was thrown into the sea…” and threw it into the sea, will be thrown down with violence
and it will not be found any longer.”

See this post for more details on how the prayers of the saints were answered when the mountain of Jerusalem was cast into the sea: https://adammaarschalk.com/2016/07/25/that-mountain-was-cast-into-the-sea-and-these-mountains-can-be-too/.

Verses 8-9: John was also shown a third of the sea becoming blood, with the result being that a third of the living creatures in the sea died and a third of the ships were also destroyed. For those open to the idea of Revelation having been written before 70 AD,[2] this most definitely calls to mind some of the battles during the Jewish-Roman War (66-70 AD). The Roman Emperor Nero officially declared war on Israel in February 67 AD in response to the Jewish rebellion, and by the spring of that year his general Vespasian had marched into the land of Judea with 60,000 men. In the coming months more than 150,000 Jews were killed in Judea and Galilee. The Jewish historian Josephus described Galilee at one point as “filled with fire and blood.” Here is his description of one battle that took place in the Sea of Galilee:

“Sometimes the Romans leaped into their ships, with swords in their hands, and slew them; but when some of them met the vessels, the Romans caught them by the middle, and destroyed at once their ships and themselves who were taken in them. And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels; but if, in the desperate case they were in, they attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands; and indeed they were destroyed after various manners every where, till the rest being put to flight, were forced to get upon the land, while the vessels encompassed them about [on the sea]: but as many of these were repulsed when they were getting ashore, they were killed by the darts upon the lake; and the Romans leaped out of their vessels, and destroyed a great many more upon the land: one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped” (Wars 3.10.9).

With such carnage, it’s easy to see how many creatures in the Sea of Galilee were poisoned and did not survive, and how a third of its ships could have been destroyed. In another instance, Josephus described what happened to some Jews who had escaped from Joppa:

“Now as those people of Joppa were floating about in this sea, in the morning there fell a violent wind upon them; it is called by those that sail there “the black north wind,” and there dashed their ships one against another, and dashed some of them against the rocks, and carried many of them by force, while they strove against the opposite waves, into the main sea; for the shore was so rocky, and had so many of the enemy upon it, that they were afraid to come to land; nay, the waves rose so very high, that they drowned them; nor was there any place whither they could fly, nor any way to save themselves; while they were thrust out of the sea, by the violence of the wind, if they staid where they were, and out of the city by the violence of the Romans. And much lamentation there was when the ships were dashed against one another, and a terrible noise when they were broken to pieces; and some of the multitude that were in them were covered with waves, and so perished, and a great many were embarrassed with shipwrecks. But some of them thought that to die by their own swords was lighter than by the sea, and so they killed themselves before they were drowned; although the greatest part of them were carried by the waves, and dashed to pieces against the abrupt parts of the rocks, insomuch that the sea was bloody a long way, and the maritime parts were full of dead bodies; for the Romans came upon those that were carried to the shore, and destroyed them; and the number of the bodies that were thus thrown out of the sea was four thousand and two hundred” (Wars 3.9.3).

D. Third Trumpet: The Waters Struck (8:10-11)

This passage speaks of a “great star” falling from heaven, “burning like a torch,” causing many deaths because a third of the rivers and springs of water become wormwood (bitter). Some futurists interpret this trumpet judgment symbolically, as referring either to a future Antichrist (e.g. Arno Gaebelein) or a future Pope (e.g. H.A. Ironside) who causes much corruption (Steve Gregg, pp. 161, 163). Other futurist interpreters (e.g. Henry Morris, Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord) see this as a literal reference to a burning meteorite or “a giant set of meteors” that will enter earth’s atmosphere “with contaminating influence upon the rivers and waters” of the entire planet (p. 165). Steve Gregg’s articulation of the Preterist understanding is helpful:

The turning of fresh water sources bitter and toxic may be in part a literal result of the decaying corpses that lay in the Sea of Galilee and in the river as the result of war. However, this fouling of the waters has symbolic significance, occurring as it does here to the nation of Israel. There is probably an intentional allusion to the promise (and implied threat) God made to Israel when they first came out of Egypt. When they came to the bitter waters of Marah, in response to Moses’ casting a tree into the waters, God made the waters sweet and wholesome… However, God’s promise/warning implies that their disobedience to Him will result in His placing upon them the same plagues that He placed on the Egyptians—the waters can be made bitter again [cf. Exodus 15:25-26, Deuteronomy 28:59-60]… It is noteworthy that throughout the pages of Revelation, the plagues that come upon the apostates are comparable to those with which God afflicted the Egyptians in the days of Moses. The star which was burning like a torch (v. 10) is reminiscent of the tree cast into the waters by Moses, but has the opposite effect (pp. 160, 162).

David Chilton adds,

The name of this fallen star is Wormwood, a term used in the Law and the Prophets to warn Israel of its destruction as a punishment for apostasy (Deut. 29:18; Jer. 9:15; 23:15; Lam. 3:15, 19; Amos 5:7). Again, by combining these Old Testament allusions, St. John makes his point: Israel is apostate, and has become an Egypt; Jerusalem has become a Babylon; and the covenant-breakers will be destroyed, as surely as Egypt and Babylon were destroyed (Gregg, p. 164).[3]

[The following information in blue font was edited into this post on October 26, 2009:]

To further illustrate this point, it’s also instructive to consider the test for adultery under the Law of Moses, as recorded in Numbers 5:11-31. This test was to be administered by a priest in cases where a married woman was suspected of defiling herself in an adulterous manner (Numbers 5:11-14). The priest would mix dust from the floor of the tabernacle into holy water contained in a vessel, to create “the water of bitterness that brings the curse” (vss. 16-18). The woman would then take the following oath:

If no man has lain with you, and if you have not turned aside to uncleanness while you were under your husband’s authority, be free from this water of bitterness that brings the curse. But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you, then (let the priest make the woman take the oath of the curse, and say to the woman) the Lord make you a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord makes your thigh fall away and your body swell. May this water that brings the curse pass into your bowels and make your womb swell and your thigh fall away (vss. 20-22).

The woman would then say, “Amen. Amen,” and the curses would be written into a book and washed off into the bitter water. The woman would then be made to drink the water (vss. 23-26), with the following possible results:

And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people. But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children (vss. 27-28).

If this imagery and this procedure is what is mirrored by the third trumpet judgment, then this is one more indication that Israel had been found to be apostate. Many people died from the bitter water because they were indeed guilty of spiritual adultery, and were found to be in a state of defilement.

E. Fourth Trumpet: The Heavens Struck (8:12-13)

Verse 12: Regarding the common contention of Futurists that these judgments must literally take place in the future, i.e. a third of the light of the sun, moon, and stars will cease to shine; a practical question is in order. Since this is not to be the final plague, and other judgments must follow this one, is it possible that any life would continue to survive for even a few days, let alone months, under those conditions? We know that life exists on this planet because the sun basically maintains its present intensity. A significant increase or decrease in its intensity would either cause mankind to burn or freeze. Alternatively, David Chilton writes,

The imagery here was long used in the prophets to depict the fall of nations and national rulers (cf. Isa. 13:9-11, 19; 24:19-23; 34:4-5; Ezek. 32:7-8, 11-12; Joel 2:10, 28-32; Acts 2:16-21. [He quotes F.W. Farrar (1831-1903), who wrote that] “ruler after ruler, chieftain after chieftain of the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation was assassinated and ruined. Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, all died by murder or suicide;[4] Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa, and most of the Herodian Princes, together with not a few of the leading High Priests of Jerusalem, perished in disgrace, or in exile, or by violent hands. All these were quenched suns and darkened stars” (Gregg, pp. 166, 168).

Verse 13: As terrible as these plagues are, a flying eagle with a loud voice announces that the three remaining trumpet judgments are even more woeful. Their target again is “those who dwell on the earth,” another reference to the land of Israel, as discussed earlier. We will see these woes beginning in chapter 9. Steve Gregg quotes from Adam Clarke (1732-1815), who he says is a historicist but “accurately puts forth the preterist position”:

These woes are supposed by many learned men to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem: the first woe—the seditions among the Jews themselves; the second woe—the besieging of the city by the Romans; the third woe—the taking and the sacking of the city, and burning the Temple. This was the greatest of all the woes, as in it the city and Temple were destroyed, and nearly a million men lost their lives.

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Our study of Revelation 9 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] For more on the concept that 70 AD marked the birthing of God’s kingdom, in the exclusive sense that it was completely separated from the Judaic system, see [1]  here [2] here, and [3] Matthew 21:33-45, Hebrews 8:13.

[2] In my term paper on the destruction of Jerusalem, I included both external and internal evidence [part 1, part 2, part 3] that Revelation was written prior to Jerusalem’s downfall in 70 AD.

[3] Sam Storms shares some interesting thoughts as well regarding how Revelation parallels the plagues which came upon Egypt:

One of the fascinating things in Revelation is the way it portrays the experience of the people of God in terms very similar to what transpired for Israel in Egypt and the ten plagues of judgment. For example,

1) prominence of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:1-31) // 1) prominence of glassy sea (Rev. 15:2)
2) song of deliverance (Ex. 15:1-18) // 2) song of deliverance (Rev. 15:2-4)
3) God’s enemy: Pharaoh // 3) God’s enemy: the Beast
4) court magicians of Egypt // 4) the False Prophet
5) persecution of Israel // 5) persecution of the Church
6) protected from plagues (Ex. 8:22; 9:4,26; 10:23; 11:7) // 6) protected from wrath (Rev. 7:1-8; 9:4)
7) hardened/unrepentant (Ex. 8:15; 9:12-16) // 7) hardened/unrepentant (Rev. 16:9,11,21)
8] the name of God (Ex. 3:14) // 8] the name of God (Rev. 1:4-6)
9) Israel redeemed from bondage by blood // 9) Church redeemed from sin by blood
10) Israel made a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6) // 10) Church made a kingdom of priests (Rev. 1:6)
11) 7th plague (Ex. 9:22-25) // 11) 1st trumpet
12) 6th plague (Ex. 9:8-12) // 12) 1st bowl
13) 1st plague (Ex. 7:20-25) // 13) 2nd/3rd trumpet & 2nd/3rd bowl
14) 9th plague (Ex. 10:21-23) // 14) 4th trumpet & 4th bowl
15) 8th & 9th plagues (Ex. 10:1-20) // 15) 5th trumpet & 5th bowl

[4] See the chart of the Emperors here: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp5-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-2/.

Revelation Chapter 7


REVELATION 7

Dave: September 10, 2009/Adam: August 2011

Scripture text for this study:  Revelation 7

Notes from Adam were edited into this post in November 2009, and again in August 2011, and are in red:

Background Note: Chapter 7 is an interlude between the sixth seal (6:12) and the seventh seal (8:1). Revelation 6 ends with a statement that the great day of the wrath of the Lord had come, along with a question about who could stand in that day. That question is answered here in this chapter.

Verses 1-3: Here we see that four different angels have been given power to harm the earth and sea. However, with more judgment about to come, another angel intervenes and strictly commands the four angels to hold back this judgment until God’s servants could first be sealed on their foreheads. This intervening angel is said to have “the seal of the living God.” He also comes from the east. Why is that?

One possibility relates to what we know from the history of the Jewish-Roman War (66-73 AD). During the 5-month siege on Jerusalem in 70 AD, Titus made his headquarters on the northern ridge of the Mount of Olives, which was on the eastern side of Jerusalem. Attack plans and strategies were made from this location, which Titus called “Lookout Hill” (Mount Scopus). From there he was able to look into the city over its fortified walls. It was also from there that the famous 10th Legion of Rome used catapults to launch huge stones weighing 75 – 100 pounds into the city (this will be discussed further in our study of Revelation 16), causing much devastation. 

Arethas, the Bishop of Caesarea in the 10th century AD, gave an interesting commentary on these verses:

Here in a suitable manner are shown those evangelists which openly remained among the Jews in the war against the Romans in the avenging affliction of the Lord. For, the four angels saved the guards upon the four corners of the land of the Jews putting to flight their fear, whether it be fear of the certain sufferings and injuries or the unseasonable affliction of the country or of their beloved wives. These things, which were a near threat to Judea, are designated figuratively. But also the winds are to be prohibited from blowing upon the land or upon the sea . Upon the land indeed, lest either they find a small consolation in the time of war against the Romans or the vegetable farmers diligently arise rejoicing because their plants are being refreshed by the blowing of the winds. [Or the land or the sea may designate] the foot soldiers fighting in the war or the navy, since as Josephus says, ships also were used in the attack. For all these misfortunes happened to them.

Source: Francis Gumerlock, Revelation in the First Century, 2012

Verses 4-8: What do we know about the 144,000 from the text?

  • They are “sealed” on their foreheads (verse 3; compare with Rev. 3:12, 13:16).
  • There are 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • They have been protected from the wrath to be poured out on the earth (verse 3).

Q: Where else does the Bible talk about His people being sealed?
A: Ephesians 1:13-14, Ezekiel 9:4-6.

In Steve Gregg’s book, “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” he points to a remarkable parallel event, recorded by Ezekiel, which occurred shortly before Jerusalem fell the first time:

Jerusalem twice fell to invaders because of God’s judgment upon them: first, in 586 B.C., to the Babylonians; and second, in A.D. 70, to the Romans. Prior to the conquest in 586 B.C., God took care to identify His own and to separate them for safety during the holocaust. This fact was symbolically portrayed to Ezekiel in a vision of an angel marking God’s faithful with an ink mark on their foreheads. Following this marking, six angels with deadly weapons were dispatched against Jerusalem to slaughter its inhabitants (Ezekiel 9).

Here a similar vision is given to John prior to the second destruction of Jerusalem in his own day. This time, before the four winds (v. 1) are unleashed upon Israel, God’s servants are sealed on their foreheads for their preservation… Those who survived the holocaust of A.D. 70 were those who possessed the seal of God (Eph. 1:13), that is, the Jewish believers in Christ (pp. 126, 128).

Steve Gregg also wrote about the believers in Jerusalem successfully escaping before Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, just as Jesus warned them to do in Matthew 24:15-21 and Luke 21:20-24:

Just prior to the siege of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the Jewish Christians in that city were warned by a prophetic oracle to flee from the city (echoing Jesus’ own warning in Luke 21:20ff). Historian Eusebius (c. 325) wrote: “The whole body, however, of the church at Jerusalem, having been commanded by a divine revelation, given to men of approved piety there before the war, removed from the city, and dwelt at a certain town beyond the Jordan, called Pella.”

The normative view among evangelical preterists is that this 144,000 is a symbolic number representing the full number of Jewish Christians who escaped the doomed city before its destruction. That this group lived in the first century is confirmed in another passage, which calls them the “firstfruits to God” (Rev. 14:4). Since the church age has been one long harvest of souls (Matt. 9:37f; John 4:35-38), the “firstfruits” must have come in at the beginning of this time (compare James 1:1, 18, which speaks of the Jewish believers as “firstfruits”). If this 144,000 referred to some future group living in the end times (as the futurists believe), one would expect them to be called the “last fruits.”

Regarding the escape of believers to Pella (Jordan) before 70 AD, more is written about that here:

https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp14-abomination-of-desolation/ and
https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/pp18-the-historical-events-leading-up-to-70-ad-part-2/
 (includes a map)

The 144,000 are mentioned again in Rev 14:1-4. What additional information about this group do we find there?

  • They have the name of the Lamb and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.
  • They were redeemed from the earth.
  • They are virgins.
  • They follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
  • They are said to be redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb.
  • In their mouth no lie was found.

Q: Who do scholars think that they are?
A:
According to proponents of the Pre-tribulation rapture view, they are Jewish believers brought to faith after Jesus returns and removes (raptures) the church from the earth. Some view the 144,000 as the church.  According to John M. Frame and Vern S. Poythress, for example, the visions of the 144,000 and the international multitude are “complementary perspectives” on the Church. This view holds that the 144,000 and the group in 9-17 are the same people. Why this view is problematic to the leader of this study (Dave):

  • The group in 9-17 is “innumerable”; the group in 4-8 is numbered.
  • The group in 4-8 is from the 12 tribes of Israel; the group in 9-17 is from “all tribes and peoples and languages.

Kenneth Gentry, in his book, Before Jerusalem Fell (1998), says (pp. 232ff), ” The 144,000 are Christians of Jewish extraction.”

  • Jewish, because they are “in the land”
  • Jewish, because they are from the twelve tribes of Israel
  • Jewish, because they are contrasted with the multitude in 9-17

Verses 9-17: John then sees “a great multitude.” What do we know about this group from the text?

  • They are innumerable.
  • They come from all tribes and peoples and languages.
  • They are clothed in white robes.
  • They have palm branches in their hands.
  • They extol God for His salvation.
  • They are seen “coming out of the great tribulation”.
  • They are purified by the blood of the Lamb.
  • They are before the throne of God and serve Him night and day.
  • They are sheltered by His presence.
  • They no longer experience hunger or thirst.
  • They are no longer able to be overcome by heat.
  • The Lamb, who is said to be in the midst of the throne, is their shepherd.
  • He guides them to springs of living water (see John 4:14, 7:37-38; Isaiah 49:10).
  • God wipes away every tear from their eyes.

What is the great tribulation mentioned in verse 14?
A: Here are several views, depending on one’s interpretation of this term:

  • Futurist Pre-Tribulationist view: Seven years of suffering for those “left behind” after a future Rapture of the Church
  • Futurist Post-Tribulationist view: An “end-times” generation will suffer through a future 7-year outpouring of God’s wrath
  • Historicist view: The sufferings of the church from its inception (John 16:33)
  • Preterist view: A 3.5 year period that occurred in history, beginning with Nero’s declaration of war against Israel in February 67 AD until Jerusalem’s destruction in August 70 AD (Matthew 24:21; cf. Daniel 12:1, Jeremiah 30:7). This is our view, and more details can be seen in Part 3 of our series on the Olivet Discourse.

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It may be helpful to further clarify our reasons for believing that the predicted judgments alluded to here in this chapter were to be poured out primarily on the land of Israel. As noted above, one of the reasons Kenneth Gentry gave for seeing the 144,000 as believers of Jewish extraction was that they were shown to be “in the land,” a reference to verse 3 (some translations say “earth”). In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subjectbeginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.

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Our study of Revelation 8 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

Revelation Chapter 6 (Part 2)


REVELATION 6 (Part 2)

Adam Maarschalk: September 3, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 6:1-17 (Part 2 covers verses 9-17)

This is now the second part of our study on Revelation 6. It is recommended that one refer to the first part before reading what is to follow:

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E. Fifth Seal: The Cry of the Martyrs (6:9-11)

Rhetorical questions (open for further discussion): [1] In what sense did John see “the souls” of the martyrs (i.e. How can souls be seen)? [2] The martyrs had already passed on from this life and were safe in God’s presence, so why were they still concerned about vengeance? [3] If they hadn’t yet received their redeemed bodies, what were they to do with the white robes they were given? Were these literal robes?

Sam Storms says,

The fifth seal focuses on the oppression and martyrdom of God’s people. Unlike the first four seals, the fifth says nothing of an angelic decree of judgment or suffering but rather a human response to it… John’s language indicates that there is a specified number of God’s people who are destined to be martyred (the verb translated ‘should be completed’ in v. 11 can mean ‘to make something total or complete, to complete the number of’” (Aune, 2:412). Only when all have been killed in accordance with God’s plan will he act in judgment (http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-seven-seals-part-ii/).

Dr. Thomas Constable remarks (p. 71), “‘Those who dwell on the earth’ is almost a technical expression in Revelation describing unbelievers who are hostile to God (cf. 3:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 12; 17:2, 8).” I would agree, and would again add that the term “earth,” as considered earlier, refers specifically to the land of Israel and Palestine. [In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subjectbeginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]

The hostile unbelievers were primarily the apostate Jews of John’s day. Steve Gregg, editor of “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” remarks (p. 118):

As the blood of sacrificial animals was poured out at the foot of the altar (Lev. 4:7), so the souls of the martyrs (slain like animals by the Jewish priests) are seen under the altar (v. 9). “The soul [Heb. nephesh] of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). Their blood cries out for vindication, as did the blood of Abel (Gen. 4:10). The fact that the martyrs are asking for the avenging of their blood upon those who dwell on the earth [or land] (v. 10) suggests that their persecutors were still alive on earth at the time John saw the vision. Prior to A.D. 70, the main persecutors of the righteous Jews and Christians were the leaders of the Jewish nation, headquartered in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33).

These thoughts are brought together by Jesus when He predicted: “that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah…whom you murdered between the temple and the altar… All these things will come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:35f). The destruction of Jerusalem in that generation was the sentence of the divine Judge in response to the cries of the blood (souls) of the righteous slain by her leaders.

Indeed, Jesus couldn’t have been more clear that His own generation in Israel would be held responsible for the shedding of the blood of the saints, prophets, and Himself (Matthew 21:33-45, 23:29-38). We will also see in our study of Revelation 18 that the “saints and apostles and prophets” (verse 20) will be invited to rejoice over the destruction of Babylon the Great, i.e. Jerusalem (18:18, 21; cf. 11:8), because in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on the earth” (18:24; cf. 16:5-6). Their time of waiting (6:11) will have ended at that point. Babylon the Great, then, cannot be a city in the 21st century or beyond, because Jesus stated explicitly that the generation which crucified Him would be the one held responsible for the shedding of righteous blood and justly judged as a result. The generation which heard Jesus speak these things also saw them happen, just as He said they would, in 70 AD. Steve Gregg quotes J. Stewart Russell, who, writing in 1887, said:

[I]t is impossible not to be struck with the marked resemblance between the vision of the fifth seal and our Lord’s parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8): ‘And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith in the land?’ This is more than resemblance: it is identity.

One more note: These martyrs simply asked God to do what He had said long ago that He would do. This was not a brand new request. It was not a question of “if” this judgment would happen but “when” it would happen.

F. Sixth Seal: Cosmic Disturbances (6:12-17)

Verses 12-14: Sam Storms agrees with Preterists when he remarks,

“These verses and their vivid portrayal of disruptions in the heavens echo several OT texts: Isa. 13:10-13 (the defeat of Babylon); 24:1-6,19-23; 34:4 (the defeat of Edom); Ezek. 32:6-8 (the defeat of Egypt); Joel 2:10, 30-31 (judgment on Israel itself); 3:15-16; Hab. 3:6-11 (the defeat of the Chaldeans and other enemies of Israel). In particular, compare Isaiah 34:4 and God’s judgment against historical Edom with Rev. 6:13-14a.

‘and the powers of the heaven will melt, and the heaven will be rolled up like a scroll; and all the stars will fall . . . as leaves fall from a fig tree’ (Isa. 34:4).

‘and the stars of the heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind, and the heaven was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up’ (Rev. 6:13-14a).

The point is this: all these celestial (heavenly) and terrestrial (earthly) phenomena are prophetic hyperbole for national catastrophe. God’s judgment of earthly unbelief and idolatry is described in terms of heavenly disasters.

N. T. Wright is surely correct in contending that “it is crass literalism, in view of the many prophetic passages in which this language denotes socio-political and military catastrophe, to insist that this time the words must refer to the physical collapse of the space-time world. This is simply the way regular Jewish imagery is able to refer to major socio-political events and bring out their full significance” (Victory, 361)… In summary, Revelation 6:12-14 is stock-in-trade OT prophetic language for national disaster.”

Verses 15-17: “What sinners dread most is not death, but having to stand before a holy and righteous God” (Dr. Thomas Constable, quoting from Robert Thomas, ibid).

FUTURIST VIEWPOINT: “Next God will send a tremendous earthquake that will rock the whole world (cf. Luke 21:11). The darkening of the sun (cf. Isa. 13:10; Ezek. 32:7-8; Joel 2:10, 31; Amos 8:9; Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:24-25; Luke 21:25), the reddening of the moon (cf. Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20), and the falling of the stars to earth (a meteor-like shower?) appear from the context to be consequences of this judgment… Many commentators have taken this description as picturing a metaphorical convulsion among the nations, not a literal shaking of the earth and the heavens. We should probably take them literally for at least two reasons. First, Jesus used the same language in the Olivet Discourse and gave no indication that it was symbolic[1] (cf. Matt. 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11). Second, a shaking of the nations follows in verses 15-17” (Dr. Thomas Constable, p. 72, ibid).

As J. Stuart Russell pointed out, though, the “gorgeous symbolical imagery” used in this passage is fitting for the destruction of Jerusalem because “[t]hat event is not simply a tragical historical incident; it is not to be looked at as in the same category with the siege of Troy or of Carthage. It was a grand providential epoch; the close of an aeon; the winding up of a great period in the divine government of the world” (Steve Gregg, p. 124). Gregg clarifies, “The vision depicts the end of the Jewish state and the fall of its leaders” (p. 122).

In verse 17, John’s readers are told that the great day of God’s wrath has come. J. Stewart Russell says of this day (Gregg, pp. 120, 122), “This is… ‘the great and terrible day of the Lord‘ predicted by Malachi, by John the Baptist, by St. Paul, by St. Peter, and, above all, by our Lord in His apocalyptic discourse on the Mount of Olives. … It is impossible to overlook the connection between the seventeenth verse and the language of Malachi 3:2, ‘But who may abide the day of his coming?’ ” Revelation 6 ends with the question, “and who can stand?” We will see the answer to this question in our study on chapter 7.

Verse 16: It is said that those who would not repent called “to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb…’” F.F. Bruce said the following in 1986 regarding this verse: “The best commentary on the present passage is found in our Lord’s words to the ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ on the Via Dolorosa (Lk. 23:30)…” (“Revelation” in International Bible Commentary, p. 1608). This is what Luke 23:27-30 says:

And there followed Him [Jesus] a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for Him. But turning to them Jesus said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us,” and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?

Jesus spoke these things to the “daughters of Jerusalem,” concerning themselves and their children. If these things were to take place centuries later in judgment upon Gentile nations, why would He have directed these remarks in this way to the present generation of Jews among whom He lived?

The same prophecy was given by the prophet Hosea concerning Israel: “The high places of Aven, the sin of Israel, shall be destroyed. Thorn and thistle shall grow up on their altars, and they shall say to the mountains, Cover us, and to the hills, Fall on us” (Hosea 10:8). This is yet another indication that the judgments of the book of Revelation were directed toward apostate 1st-century Israel (Source).

On July 31, 70 AD, after a five month siege, the Romans succeeded in penetrating the final wall around Jerusalem and burned the temple to the ground. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed, but the surviving Jews retreated to the Upper City of Jerusalem, where many continued to plunder, ambush, and assault their fellow Jews. The victims were too weakened by famine to resist, and quite a few were killed senselessly. Josephus tried to persuade them to surrender to the Romans and spare what was left of the city, but he was only laughed at. Josephus also records that when the temple was burned in August 70 AD, many survivors retreated to Upper Jerusalem and longed for death. Josephus said in Wars 6.7.2 that “as they saw the city on fire, they appeared cheerful, and put on joyful countenances, in expectation, as they said, of death to end their miseries.” Many Jews sought refuge in the caves and underground caverns, hoping to remain hidden once the Romans would reach the Upper City, as Josephus records (Steve Gregg, pp. 124, 126):

So now the last hope which supported the tyrants and that crew of robbers who were with them, was in the caves and caverns underground; whither, if they could once fly, they did not expect to be searched for; but endeavored, that after the whole city should be destroyed, and the Romans gone away, they might come out again, and escape from them. This was no better than a dream of theirs; for they were not able to lie hid either from God or from the Romans (Wars, 6:7:3).

The Romans not only ravaged and leveled Jerusalem, but during the next three years they rooted out the Jews who had fled Jerusalem and attempted to hide out in various pockets of resistance in the Dead Sea areas. The famous hill fortress of Masada was the last to be taken by the Romans in April 73 AD, where 960 Jews committed mass suicide.

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Our study of Revelation 7 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] It can be said, though, that this language is indicated to be symbolic by the fact that the same type of language was used symbolically many other times in Scripture to refer to localized judgments.

Revelation Chapter 6 (Part 1)


REVELATION 6 (Part 1)

Adam Maarschalk: September 3, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 6:1-17 (Part 1 covers verses 1-8)

Brief review of chapter 5: We read of a worship scene around the throne of God in heaven, in which the Lamb who had been slain was found worthy to open a scroll and break its seals. This Lamb, Jesus, has “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and nation,” and “made them a kingdom and priests” to God. We will now learn what took place when the first six seals were opened.

A. First Seal: The Conqueror (6:1-2)

One of the four living creatures we saw in the last chapter says, “Come!” John said his voice sounded like thunder.

Q: Who was the first living creature talking to, John or someone else?
A: He was speaking to the rider on the white horse, who was wearing a crown, carrying a bow, and going out to conquer.

The command “Come!” appears three more times, at the end of verses 3, 5, and 7. This command was not given to John four times, but to each of the characters mentioned in verses 2, 4, 5, and 8. We will notice, as each of the first four seals are opened, that Jesus is the One who opens them, but each of the four living creatures in turn calls forth some individual to execute judgment.

This first seal judgment was fulfilled in early February 67 AD when Rome officially declared war on Israel, and Nero formally commissioned Vespasian as his general to lead the war to crush the Jewish rebellion. This took place 3.5 years before Jerusalem’s downfall in August 70 AD.[1] We will see the significance of this 3.5 year period later in our study of Revelation.

B. Second Seal: Conflict on Earth (6:3-4)

Q: Does the same type of warfare take place when the second seal is opened, or is there a difference?
A: This time the people are not attacked by an outside force, but they slay one another instead.

Mark A. Copeland, a Preterist, says of this passage that it “[r]epresents civil war, in which people would kill one another, such as God used in His judgment against Egypt (Isa 19:1-4).” This certainly fits the language used here. As a historical fact, in the fall/winter of 67 AD a brutal civil war broke out in Jerusalem and Judea between the revolutionaries and those who wanted to maintain peace with Rome. Jerusalem was eventually divided into three factions led by [1] Eleazar, who was over the Zealots [2] John of Gischala, who was over the Galileans, and [3] Simon, who was over the Idumeans. It remained this way until the city was destroyed. The conditions were awful. In one night 8500 people were killed, and their bodies were cast outside of Jerusalem without being buried. The outer temple was “overflowing with blood” and the inner court even had pools of blood in it. Homes and gravesites were looted (For more information, see Footnote #1).

Steve Gregg, in his book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” quotes from J. Stuart Russell, who says (p. 106),

The Jewish war, under Vespasian, commenced at the furthest distance from Jerusalem in Galilee, and gradually drew nearer and nearer to the doomed city. The Romans were not the only agents in the work of slaughter that depopulated the land; hostile factions among the Jews themselves turned their arms against one another, so that it might be said that “every man’s hand was against his brother.”

Gregg also quotes Josephus (from Wars, 2:18:2): “Every city was divided into two armies encamped one against another…so the daytime was spent in shedding of blood, and the night in fear.” Gregg himself adds (p. 108) that these verses in Revelation 6:3-4 substantiate the words of Jesus when He wept over Jerusalem:

The Jews had rejected the Prince of Peace, who had said, while weeping over Jerusalem, “If you had known…the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). The next words Jesus spoke predicted the Roman armies invading the land and leveling the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:43-44). What could speak more directly to the fulfillment of this threat than for Revelation to speak, as here, of one sent to take peace (v. 4) from the land? Zechariah also had predicted this as a consequence of the Jews’ rejection of Christ (Zech. 11:10-14).

At this point, it would be valuable to note that the Preterist viewpoint (which sees this as fulfilled in the land of Israel in the first-century) would be less plausible if the phrase “the earth” here refers to the entire globe. In chapter one,[2] we already got the sense that the predicted events in this book were to be localized, and that they had to do primarily with the land of Israel/Palestine as it existed in John’s day. You may recall that we compared the language of Revelation 1:7 with Matthew 24:30 and Zechariah 12:10-14, and saw (for example) that the term “tribes of the earth” clearly had to do with the tribes of the land of Israel. Kenneth Gentry is especially helpful in his book, “Before Jerusalem Fell” (1998, pp. 128-131), in explaining that “land” and “earth” are often used interchangeably in Scripture, with a meaning that is localized rather than global.

A quick glance at a couple of New Testament Scriptures begins to demonstrate this. For example, relating the circumstances surrounding Christ’s death on the cross, Matthew 27:45 in the ESV states, “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” A footnote says that “earth” could have been used instead of land in this text, but most readers will conclude that this darkness was localized that day and not global. Looking also at Luke 21:20-24, the context likewise shows that these events belong to Judea and Jerusalem, and even Futurists generally agree that this passage speaks of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem from 67-70 AD. Yet verse 23 says, “…For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people.” The phrase “this people” here no doubt refers to the unrepentant Jews, and “the earth” here is the land of Judea. The same is true in Revelation 6.

[In our study of Revelation, we will suggest that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]

C. Third Seal: Scarcity on Earth (6:5-6)

Q: Who made the remark about “a quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius”?
A: We are only told that there “seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures.”

The following is a short excerpt regarding this famine from a term paper I wrote in 2009:

…[T]he great famine predicted by Agabus in Acts 11:27-30 began in the fourth year of the reign of Claudius (i.e. 45 AD) and “was of long continuance. It extended through Greece, and even into Italy, but was felt most severely in Judea and especially at Jerusalem, where many perished for want of bread” [quote from George Peter Holford in 1805]. This famine was recorded by Eusebius [early church father], Orosius [3rd century Christian historian], and Josephus, who related that “an assaron [about 3.5 pints] of corn was sold for five drachmae” (in the heyday of ancient Greece in the 4th century BC one drachmae was the daily wage for a skilled worker). This brings to mind Revelation 6:6, where under the third seal judgment it is said that a denarius (or a typical daily wage) would only purchase a quart of wheat. This situation was said by Josephus to have climaxed during the five-month siege on Jerusalem in 70 AD.[3]

In December 69 AD John of Gischala foolishly set fire to the supply warehouses in Jerusalem, and nearly all the grain supplies were burned, which would have lasted the city for years. This set the stage for a massive famine which would prove to be Jerusalem’s undoing. The famine became so severe during the final five months in which Jerusalem was under siege by the Romans that there are records of parents roasting and eating their own children. Others ate their belts, sandals, dried grass, and even oxen dung. There were violent home invasions where anyone who was suspected of hoarding food was tormented until they revealed where it was. Some escaped from Jerusalem to the Romans because they couldn’t bear the conditions in the city any longer. Josephus records that some then failed to restrain their appetites, but quickly ate so much that they literally caused their bodies to burst open.[4]

No wonder Jesus had said, “Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!” (Luke 21:23; cf. Luke 23:28-29). Noting that Revelation 6:6 makes specific reference to wheat and barley, it’s interesting what Josephus said of the conditions in Jerusalem during the Roman siege in 70 AD (Steve Gregg, Revelation, p. 112): “Many there were indeed who sold what they had for one quart; it was of wheat, if they were of the richer sort, but of barley, if they were poorer (Wars, 5:10:2).” Steve Gregg also adds,

The statement, do not harm the oil and the wine (v. 6) could allude to the fact that some sacrilegious Jews pillaged the oil and wine from the temple. Josephus writes that John Gischala, the leader of one of the factions, confiscated the sacred vessels of the temple: “Accordingly, drawing the sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept for pouring on the burnt offerings, and which was deposited in the inner temple, [John] distributed them among his adherents, who consumed without horror more than a hin in anointing themselves and drinking (Wars, 5:13:6).

D. Fourth Seal: Widespread Death on Earth (6:7-8)

A quarter of the population was to be wiped out [1] with sword [2] with famine [3] with pestilence [4] by wild beasts of the earth. We’ve already seen how the period of time leading up to Jerusalem’s downfall was characterized by war and famine. Regarding pestilences, George Peter Holford (1805) added these details:

History…particularly distinguishes two instances of this calamity, which occurred before the commencement of the Jewish war. The first took place at Babylon about A. D. 40, and raged so alarmingly, that great multitudes of Jews fled from that city to Seleucia forsafety, as hath been hinted already. The other happened at Rome A.D. 65, and carried off prodigious multitudes. Both Tacitus and Suetonius also record, that similar calamities prevailed, during this period, in various parts of the Roman empire. After Jerusalem was surrounded by the army of Titus, pestilential diseases soon made their appearance there to aggravate the miseries, and deepen the horrors of the siege. They were partly occasioned by the immense multitudes which were crowded together in the city, partly by the putrid effluvia which arose from the unburied dead, and partly from spread of famine.

Steve Gregg (pp. 114, 116) sheds more light on the significance of John’s description of the fourth seal judgment:

The reference to the means of death, sword, hunger, death [i.e. pestilence], and beasts of the earth [v. 8] are a deliberate echo of Ezekiel 14:21, where “sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence” are called God’s “four severe judgments on Jerusalem.” In Ezekiel, God used these means to inflict judgment at the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., which was a precursor of this event, similar in detail and in significance, in A.D. 70.

Josephus describes the carnage and death in Jerusalem during the siege in the following terms: “So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged. The seditious…as not enduring the stench of the dead bodies…had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath. However, when Titus, in going his rounds along those valleys, saw them full of dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them, he gave a groan…and such was the sad case of the city itself (Wars, 5:12:3-4).”

INTERPRETATIONS OF THESE SEAL JUDGMENTS

We’ll examine the fifth and sixth seal judgments in the next post (covering Rev. 6:9-17). First let’s pause briefly and consider how these seals have been interpreted by various schools of thought:

FUTURIST VIEW (#1): “The first seal is a rider on a white horse who is given a crown and sets out to conquer. The second seal is the red horse of war. The remaining seals are famine, death, martyrs, and great earthquakes and astronomical events. In the Olivet discourse, Jesus describes the events leading up to the “great tribulation” as things which are merely birth pangs. These birth pangs, however, include false Messiahs (Matthew 24:5), war (24:6-7a), famines and earthquakes (24:7b). The comparison between this description of events and the first six seals is unmistakable. This suggests that the first six seal judgments take place in the first half of Daniel’s 70th week, and that the remainder of the judgments take place in the last half.” (Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership, “REVELATION – Survey of the New Testament: The General Epistles and Revelation,” Winter 2007, p. 14. At http://www.gcfweb.org/institute/general/revelation.pdf.)

FUTURIST VIEW (#2): “Some interpreters view the seals as describing conditions preparatory to the Tribulation. Other scholars believe that they picture events that are part of the [future Great] Tribulation. I favor the second view.” (Dr. Thomas Constable, Notes on Revelation: 2008 Edition, pp. 66-67. At http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/revelation.pdf)

HISTORICIST/IDEALIST VIEW: “The terrifying events of the first four Seals, which those who have to live through them might imagine to be signs of Christ’s return and of the close of the age . . ., are in fact the commonplaces of history. The four horsemen have been riding out over the earth from that day to this, and will continue to do so…” [Sam Storms (quoting Wilcock), “The Seven Seals – Part 1,” 7 November 2006. At http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-seven-seals-part-i/][5]

PRETERIST VIEW: “I view the first four seals as revealing forces God would use to bring judgment upon the oppressors of His people (1-8)” [Mark A. Copeland. “Revelation: Chapter 6,” http://www.ccel.org/contrib/exec_outlines/rev/rev_06.htm. “His people,” of course, refers to the body of Christ, not ethnic Jews, who themselves were the oppressors in partnership with Rome.]

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Our study of Revelation 6 (Part 2) continues here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.


[1] For further details, see: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp17-the-historical-events-leading-up-to-70-ad-part-1/.

[2] See here: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/revelation-1-study/.

[3] For further details, see here: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp13-signs-of-the-close-of-the-age/.

[4] For further details, see: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/pp18-the-historical-events-leading-up-to-70-ad-part-2/.

[5] Although Sam Storms is a Historicist, he views the Olivet Discourse in the same way as Preterists do. For example, noting the similarities between the Olivet Discourse and the seals of Revelation, he says,

What conclusions do we draw from this? Some have argued this proves that the Olivet Discourse and the Seals of Revelation are describing the same period of time, often thought to be the ‘tribulation’ immediately preceding the second advent of Christ. But I have argued elsewhere that the Olivet Discourse is actually concerned with events that the people of Jesus’ own ‘generation’ would witness, i.e., events characteristic of the first century, specifically the period 33-70 a.d…

This leads to one possibility, that Revelation was written before the events of 70 a.d. and is a graphic description, in obviously figurative language, of the fall of the city and destruction of the Temple. I’m more inclined to believe that the solution is found elsewhere… [C]ontrary to the futurist interpretation of the book, I do not believe these judgments are reserved exclusively for a period of ‘tribulation’ just preceding the second coming of Christ.