Revelation Chapter 14


REVELATION 14

Dave: November 5, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 14

(Notes from Adam are in maroon-colored font; A new section reflecting the Historicist viewpoints of Sam Storms can be found at the bottom of this post, and was added on November 30th.)

Verse 1: Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.

What do you recall from Revelation 7 about the 144,000?
• They are sealed from the wrath to come
• They are servants of God
• There are 12,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel
• They are sealed on their foreheads

Some view the 144,000 from chapter 7 as the same group as the multitude in chapter 7. Can you recall the arguments against this view?

Note the similarity of this verse to Hebrews 12:22 – 23, which states, But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” Steve Gregg writes in his book, Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), that some believe this passage here in Revelation “influenced the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, a suggestion which, if true, tends to establish the pre-A.D. 70 date of writing for Revelation” (p. 314). Gregg also writes,

The first vision of this chapter, depicting the 144,000 with the Lamb standing on Mount Zion (v. 1), is reminiscent of the second psalm. The psalm speaks of the kings and rulers vainly rebelling against and resisting God and the Messiah, but declares that God laughs at their futile efforts to unseat Him from His sovereign position. God tells them, “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion” (v. 6). Despite all the efforts of the dragon and the beast to eliminate the church, the Judean believers stand secure with the Lord in victory (p. 312).

Verses 2-5: 2And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, 3and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, 5and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.

What do we learn about the 144,000 from chapter 14?
• They are standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion
• They have the name of the Lamb and His Father’s name written on their foreheads.
• They were redeemed from the earth.
• They (and only they) could learn the new song that was being sung
• 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 for they are blameless

Q: Who are the 144,000?
A: According to the Pre-tribulation rapture view, they are Jewish believers brought to faith after Jesus returns and removes the church from the earth (How they are brought to faith is a question which naturally accompanies this view, since many who hold this view believe that the restrainer of II Thessalonians 2:6-7 is the Holy Spirit who is removed from the earth along with the Church). Kenneth Gentry, a partial-preterist, says (Before Jerusalem Fell, 1998, pp. 232ff) that 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

**[In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” (also translated “the land”) 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.]

Q: Does the fact that they are termed “firstfruits” shed light on whether they are from the AD 60’s or from a time period yet to come?
A: Yes. As Steve Gregg has written, “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’ ” (Source: See chapter 7 study).

Q: Why might John be bringing up the 144,000 again?
A: Possible answer: as an encouragement to those persecuted by the beast – that they will soon be with the Lord in Mt. Zion.)

Regarding the 144,000, who are said to be virgins: Note that being virgins might not pertain to their marital status or moral purity; rather it might have to do with the fact that they have not been defiled by the harlot, Jerusalem (more on this when we reach chapters 16-18 in our study, or feel free to look here for my personal take on this).

Q: Why does John describe them as blameless?
A: Possible answer: it is because of their redeemed state.

Verses 6-8: 6Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
8Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”

This is the first mention of Babylon. What do we know of it from the text?
• She was “great”
• She was influential
• She was lawless

Q: Who or what is Babylon?
A: (Preterists are split . . . Jerusalem or Rome; again, more on this in our study of chapters 16-18, but feel free to look here for my personal take on this)

Steve Gregg notes that there are those (like David S. Clark) who believe that the “eternal gospel” here is simply “the announcement of the doom and judgment” which is depicted as soon to fall (p. 320). However, adds Gregg, “most expositors would see this as a reference to the regular message of salvation that Christ told His disciples to preach, and which He indicated would be preached in all the world before ‘the end comes’ (Matt. 24:14).” He quotes from J. Stuart Russell, who wrote:

There is a manifest allusion here to the fact predicted by our Lord that, before the coming of “the end,” the Gospel of the kingdom would first be preached in all the world…”for a witness to all nations” (Matt. 24:14). This symbol, therefore, indicates the near approach of the catastrophe of Jerusalem,–the arrival of the hour of Israel’s judgment.

The following is an excerpt from my term paper on 70 AD, regarding the idea that the gospel was preached in all the world by 70 AD:

…it’s interesting that Paul told his Roman readers that their faith “is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8). In his epistle to the Colossians he also said that “the word of the truth of the gospel,” which had come to them, had gone to “the entire world” (Colossians 1:6) and had “been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (verse 23). Devout Jews “from every nation under heaven” even heard the gospel in their own languages on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5).

Do these statements not indicate that Matthew 24:14 had already been fulfilled by the time they were written? The phrase “the whole world” here then must mean what it meant in Luke 2:1 when we are told that “the entire world” was registered in the days of Caesar Augustus, i.e. the known world or the Roman Empire (cf. Luke 11:28, Acts 24:5, Romans 16:25-26). Eusebius (263-339)…said this about Matthew 24:14:

Thus, under the influence of heavenly power, and with the divine co-operation, the doctrine of the Saviour, like the rays of the sun, quickly illumined the whole world; [1] and straightway, in accordance with the divine Scriptures, [2] the voice of the inspired evangelists and apostles went forth through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world;  the Apostles preached the Gospel in all the world, and some of them passed beyond the bounds of the ocean, and visited the Britannic isles (Dennis Todd [4]; [8], 2009).

Verses 9-11: 9And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus
.

Q: What is the mark that John is referring to?
A: The mark of chapter 13.

Do you see any contrasts to anything earlier in the book?
• “Forehead” in 14:1 (the foreheads of God’s faithful servants)
• “no rest day or night” in 4:8 (i.e. for the four living creatures, who worship the Lord without ceasing)

Two views of verses 9-12:
• The description of hell awaiting all non-believers
• The violent destruction that awaited historical Jerusalem or Rome; in this regard, Steve Gregg (p. 328) notes that the imagery here (“fire and sulphur”) reminds one of the destruction that came upon Sodom and Gomorrah. He adds, “If one argues that Sodom’s smoke did not ascend ‘forever and ever,’ it should be noted that Jude spoke of Sodom and Gomorrah as ‘suffering the vengeance of eternal fire’ (Jude 7)… [The context in Jude indicates] the visible destruction of the cities as a historical witness to God’s wrath toward sin.”

Verse 13: 13And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”

Why are the dead blessed?
• They experience relief from persecution
• They receive entrance into the presence of Christ

Is it still the case that the dead in the Lord are blessed?

What does “their deeds follow them” mean? And is this still the case?

What is the significance of “from now on”?
[1] From this point in history (70 AD) onward (See Hebrews 9:8, which, according to some interpreters, indicates that the “way into the holy places” was not fully opened as long as the Jerusalem temple–“the first section” was “still standing“). This is not necessarily a typical partial-preterist viewpoint.
Or [2] From the point of death onward

Regarding the first option, Steve Gregg states (p. 332):

It is also possible that the emphasis is upon the state of those who die in the Lord after a certain point in history–in which case, the allusion may be to the change occasioned by the replacement of the Old Covenant with the New. If the fall of Jerusalem has been the subject of this chapter to this point, then it would follow naturally that this passage considers the impact of the Old Covenant’s passing upon the postmortem experience of believers. Remembering that “the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing” (Heb. 9:8), [David] Chilton writes: “By the work of Christ, heaven has been opened to God’s people. The limbus patrum, the afterlife abode of the Old Testament faithful (the ‘bosom of Abraham’ of Luke 16:22), has been unlocked and its inhabitants freed (cf. I Pet. 3:19; 4:6). Death is now the entrance to communion in glory with Christ and the departed saints.”

Verses 14-20: 14Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand. 15And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.” 16So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. 18And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” 19So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.

Q: What are the differences between these two reapings? What are they referring to?
A: There is a distinction between a “dry” ripening (v 15-16) and a grape ripening (v. 18). See Matthew 3:11-12; 13:31-34. The first reaping is said by some to be a reaping of the righteous; the second of the unrighteous. Others say that both are of the unrighteous. Of the first view, Steve Gregg comments (p. 336), “Many expositors believe that the reaping of verses 14-16 has to do with the salvation of the believers, or their gathering to safety (the escape of the Judean Christians to Pella in A.D. 66-70), while the vintage vision of verses 17-20 depicts the judgment upon the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.” He quotes from J. Stuart Russell, who believes that verses 14-16 are “the fulfillment of the prediction, ‘The Son of Man shall send His angels, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds‘ (Matt. 24:31-34), an event which was to take place before the passing of that generation.” Gregg then adds,

Some have thought it strange that Christ, the Lord over all angels, would take instructions from an angel who urges Him to Thrust in Your sickle and reap (v. 15). However, the angel simply represents the church praying in obedience to Christ, who commanded that believers “pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matt. 9:38). In response to the request, laborers are in fact sent and the earth (or land) was reaped (v. 16).

Regarding the harvest of verses 17-20, there is a direct correlation to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC (See Lamentations 1:15 – 20; This makes much sense if the same imagery used in Jeremiah’s day is used once again when Jerusalem falls for the second time in 70 AD because of Israel’s unfaithfulness–and rejection of her Messiah). The bloodshed foretold in 19-20 is said by Preterists to be fulfilled in the Roman army’s attack in 70 AD. The following information is taken from my term paper on Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD:

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Josephus writes [concerning the Roman soldiers, after they had burned down the temple in Jerusalem], “they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many houses was quenched with these men’s blood” (The Wars Of The Jews, 6:8:5).

The amount of blood that flowed, not only in Jerusalem but also throughout the surrounding region, could possibly bring to mind a passage like Revelation 14:19-20, which says, “So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia [about 184 miles].” This was the understanding of John Wesley (1703-1791) who, in his commentary on this passage, wrote:

And the winepress was trodden – By the Son of God, Rev 19:15. Without [outside] the city – Jerusalem. They to whom St. John writes, when a man said, ‘the city,’ immediately understood this. And blood came out of the winepress, even to the horses’ bridles – So deep at its first flowing from the winepress! One thousand six hundred furlongs – So far! At least two hundred miles, through the whole land of Palestine.

Wesley, like many today, tied this passage (Revelation 14:19-20) to Rev. 19:11-21, and rightly so. This is often referred to as the “Battle of Armageddon,” which Tim Lahaye and other Futurist authors generally say will happen in the plain of Megiddo. Author John Noe, on the other hand, notes that what the Bible refers to as a “battle on the great day of God the Almighty” (Rev. 16:14) would transpire “at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon” (Rev. 16:16). In Hebrew it’s actually “Har-Magedon,” as “har” means mountain in Hebrew (“Armageddon” is based on the Greek rendering, since “h” is silent in Hebrew). Therefore, this battle was to take place primarily on a mountain, not in a valley. Noe adds,

The most likely case is that Revelation’s “Har” is Jerusalem. Geographically, Jerusalem sits on top of a mountain. To get there from any direction one must go “up to Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 19:34; 1 Ki. 12:28; 2 Ki. 18:17; 2 Chron. 2:16; Ezra 1:3; 7:7; Zech. 14:17; Matt. 20:17, 18; Mark 10:32, 33; Luke 18:31; 19:28; John 2:13; 5:1; Acts 11:2; 15:2; 21:12, 15; 24:11; 25:9; Gal. 1:17, 18). Jerusalem is also called God’s “holy mountain” (Psa. 43:3) and the “chief among the mountains” (Isa. 2:2-3; also 14:13; Exod. 15:17; Joel 2:32; 3:16-17)… “Magedon/Megiddo” may also be comparative imagery. A great slaughter once took place in the valley of Megiddo (2 Ki. 9:27; Zech. 12:11). Throughout ancient history, this valley was also a favorite corridor for invading armies and the scene of numerous famous battles (Jud. 4-7; 1 Sam. 29-31; 2 Sam. 4; 1 Ki. 9:15; 2 Ki. 9-10; 22; 2 Chron. 35). So much blood was shed in this valley of Jezreel or Megiddo that it became a synonym for slaughter, violence, bloodshed, and battlefield, as well as a symbol for God’s judgment (Hos. 1:4-5). In our day, Armageddon has also become synonymous with and a symbol for the ultimate in warfare and conflict.

In a similar fashion, the word “Waterloo” has garnered a symbolic use. Back in 1815, this town in Belgium was the battleground and scene of Napoleon’s final defeat. Today, we have a saying that some one or some thing has met their “Waterloo.” We don’t mean they have met that city in Europe. We mean, by way of comparative imagery, that they have met a decisive or crushing defeat, or their demise. I suggest Revelation employs the word Magedon/Megiddo in this same manner. History records that a great slaughter took place on a mountain in Palestine within the lifetime of the original recipients of the book of Revelation. In A.D. 70 the Roman armies of Titus totally destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple. According to Eusebius, 1.1 million Jews were killed.

This description by Josephus also shows how the fulfillment of this prophecy could have taken place during the Roman-Jewish War of 67-73 AD, regarding which he provides the following account:

Now, this destruction that fell upon the Jews, as it was not inferior to any of the rest in itself, so did it still appear greater than it really was; and this, because not only the whole of the country through which they had fled was filled with slaughter, and [the] Jordan [River] could not be passed over, by reason of the dead bodies that were in it, but because the Lake Asphaltitis [the modern Dead Sea] was also full of dead bodies, that were carried down into it by the river. And now, Placidus, after this good success that he had, fell violently upon the neighbouring smaller cities and villages; when he took Abila, and Julias, and Bezemoth, and all those that lay as far as the lake Asphaltitis, and put such of the deserters into each of them as he thought proper. He then put his soldiers on board the ships, and slew such as had fled to the lake, insomuch that all Perea had either surrendered themselves, or were taken by the Romans, as far as Macherus (Josephus, “Account of the Lake Asphaltitis,” War of the Jews 4:7:6).

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The following notes from Sam Storms are based on the Historicist viewpoint (and are his direct quotes):

Insofar as the majority of chapters 12-13 focused on the persecution of believers by the Dragon (Satan) and his earthly agents, the sea-beast and the land-beast, it is understandable that chapter 14, together with 15:2-4, should describe the reward of the persecuted faithful and the final punishment of their enemies. In other words, “chapter 14 briefly answers two pressing questions: What becomes of those who refuse to receive the mark of the beast and are killed (vv. 1-5)? What happens to the beast and his servants (vv. 6-20)?” (Johnson, 141).

VERSE 1: On occasion in the OT, Zion could refer to the hilly area in southeast Jerusalem, to the temple mount, to the historical city of Jerusalem, and even to the entire nation of Israel. In Psalm 2:6, Zion is the “holy mountain” of God on which he installs Messiah as King. In other words, Zion may be the eschatological city where God dwells with and protects his people. Heb. 12:22-23 (cf. Gal.4:25-27) refers to Zion as the ideal, heavenly city to which believers even now aspire (and in which they hold citizenship; cf. Phil. 3:20) during the course of the church age. In certain texts, Zion is indistinguishable from the redeemed who dwell there (see Isa. 62:1-12). Many contend that it is, in fact, a reference to the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21) which “comes down out of heaven” as a dwelling for God’s people. In any case, it is where the Lamb and his redeemed share fellowship and the authority of the kingdom.

… … Another interesting fact is that the numbering (144,000) is probably used to evoke images of the OT census, which was designed to determine the military strength of the nation (see Num. 1:3,18,20; 26:2,4; 1 Chron. 27:23; 2 Sam. 24:1-9). The point is that these in Rev. 7 and 14 constitute a Messianic army called upon, like Jesus himself, to conquer the enemy through sacrificial death. In the OT those counted were males of military age (twenty years and over). This explains why the 144,000 in Rev. 14:1ff. are adult males, i.e., those eligible for military service. According to Num. 31:4-6, one thousand soldiers from each of the twelve tribes were sent into battle against Midian.

… … Most dispensational, pre-tribulational, premillennialists, i.e., most who read the book in a futurist sense, understand the 144,000 to be a Jewish remnant saved immediately after the rapture of the Church. Many then argue that, in the absence of the Church, they serve as evangelists who preach the gospel during the Great Tribulation… Be it noted, however, that there is nothing explicitly said in this passage about these people functioning as evangelists or being responsible for the salvation of the multitude. (Sam Storms then asks several questions, including: [W]hy would God protect only Jewish believers and leave Gentile believers to endure such horrific judgments?) …[In Revelation] 9:4 we read that only those with the seal of God on their foreheads are exempt from the demonic torments that are so horrible and agonizing that men will long to die. Is it feasible or consistent with the character of God that he should protect only a select group from such wrath while afflicting the rest of his blood-bought children with it? The answer is a resounding No. Therefore, those who are sealed on their forehead in 7:4-8 (and 9:4) must be all the redeemed, not a select few.)

… … Others, such as myself, contend that the number 144,000 is symbolic (as is the case with virtually every number in Revelation). 12 is both squared (the 12 tribes multiplied by the 12 apostles? cf. 21:12,14) and multiplied by a thousand, a two-fold way of emphasizing completeness. Hence, John has in view all the redeemed, all believers, whether Jew or Gentile . . . i.e., the Church. As Beale points out, “if Gentile believers are clearly identified together with ‘the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel’ as part of the new Jerusalem (21:12,14,24; 22:2-5), then it is not odd that John should refer to them together with Jewish Christians in 7:4 as ‘the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel’” (417). Let us also not forget that the “seal” of 7:2-3 is equivalent to their receiving a name. And one of the names written on Gentile believers, in addition to the name of God and Jesus, is “the name of the new Jerusalem” (3:12)! Finally, as noted earlier, in Rev. 9:4 the demonic scorpions are told to harm only those “who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads,” implying that all Christians (whether Jewish or Gentile) have such a seal.

VERSE 3: In 14:1-5 it may be that they are portrayed at the close of history, in heaven, having suffered martyrdom under the beast but triumphant in Christ.

VERSE 4: Others see in the word “virgins” (parthenoi) a metaphor of all saints who have not compromised with the world system or yielded to its idolatry. They have remained loyal as a “virgin bride” to their betrothed husband (see 19:7-9; 21:2; 2 Cor. 11:2)… Note also the many OT texts where the word “virgin” is applied figuratively to the nation of Israel (2 Kings 19:21; Isa. 37:22; Jer. 14:17; 18:13; 31:4,13,21; Lam. 1:15; 2:13; Amos 5:2), as well as the fact that idolatry and injustice are often figuratively pictured as “harlotry” or “sexual immorality” (see Jer. 3:1-10; 13:27; Ezek. 16:15-58; 23:1-49; 43:7; Hosea 5:4; 6:10). Israel’s idolatry was also described as “defilement” (Isa. 65:4; Jer. 23:15; 51:4). This is similar to what we find in Rev. 2:14,20-22. In other texts in Revelation, to “fornicate” (porneuo) and its cognates usually are metaphorical for spiritual apostasy and idol worship (14:8; 17:1,2,4,5,15,16; 18:3,9; 19:2). When these words are used literally, they are part of vice lists (9:21; 21:8; 22:15).

Source: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/a-study-of-revelation-14-15-part-i/

VERSES 6-7: Is the “gospel” preached by this angel designed to lead to conversion? Or is it simply the declaration of final judgment on those who have rejected it? Those who favor the latter point to what follows: vv. 8-11 proceed to describe the eternal judgment of unbelievers. They also point to the similarity between this angel and his gospel, on the one hand, and the messenger of the three woes in 8:13. Both speak “with a loud voice” (8:13; 14:7) while “flying in mid-heaven” (8:13; 14:6). Both also address unbelieving earth-dwellers (8:13; 14:6)… On the other hand, these verses sound similar to 11:13 where we earlier concluded that the possibility of conversion is in view. Even if the angel is holding out one final opportunity to repent and be saved, the subsequent context would seem to indicate it goes unheeded.

VERSE 10: Second, they will be “tormented with fire and brimstone” (v. 10b). Punishment with “fire and brimstone” is also found in Gen. 19:24 (Sodom and Gomorrah) Ps. 11:6; Isa. 30:33; Job 18:15. The combination of fire and brimstone (or sulphur) as a means of torment occurs 4x in Revelation (14:10; 19:20; 20:10; 21:8)… Moses Stuart contends that “the addition of brimstone to the imagery renders it exceedingly intense, for this not only makes the fire to rage with the greatest vehemence, but is noisome to the smell and suffocating to the breath” (2:298).

VERSE 11: First, the “smoke” of their torment, i.e., the smoke of the fire and brimstone (v. 10) “goes up forever and ever”. See Isa. 34:9-10 for the OT background. It is almost as if there is a smoldering testimony to the consequences of sin and the justice of God’s wrath. The duration of this phenomenon is said to be, literally, “unto the ages of the ages”. This terminology occurs 13x in Revelation: 3x with reference to the duration of praise, glory, and dominion given to God (1:6; 5:13; 7:12); 5x with reference to the length of life of God or Christ (1:18; 4:9,10; 10:6; 15:7); once referring to the length of God’s reign in Christ (11:15); once referring to the length of the saints’ reign (22:5); once referring to the ascension of the smoke of destroyed Babylon (19:3); once referring to the duration of torment of the devil, beast, and false prophet (20:10); and, of course, once here in 14:11.

Source: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/a-study-of-revelation-14-15-part-ii/

VERSE 14: Whereas some have argued that the “one like a son of man” here is simply another angel, the likelihood is that this is an allusion to Dan. 7:13 and that the exalted Christ is in view.

VERSES 15-16: There is no debate about the meaning of vv. 17-20. Everyone agrees that those verses describe the final judgment of unbelievers only. But what about vv. 15-16?

Those who argue that vv. 15-16 refer to judgment only appeal to the following points: (1) Both vv. 15-16 and vv. 17-20 are a clear allusion to Joel 3:13, a passage that deals only with divine judgment. (2) The “sickle” is more normally viewed as a negative instrument of judgment, designed to inflict harm, not to provide help. (3) The phrase “the hour to reap has come” in v. 15 sounds similar to “the hour of His judgment has come” in v. 7, the latter clearly referring to the eschatological judgment. (4) The image of a “harvest” is common in the Bible for divine judgment (see Isa. 17:5; 18:4-5; 24:13; Jer. 51:33; Hosea 6:11; Joel 3:13; Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43; Mark 4:29).

Those who argue that vv. 15-16 refer primarily to a redemptive ingathering of souls from among the nations at the end of history appeal to these points: (1) The 144,000 are described as “firstfruits”, in the sense that they are an initial redemptive ingathering that anticipates or serves as a pledge of a final redemptive harvest. Vv. 15-16 describe the latter. (2) It is no less the case that the image of a harvest (especially “reaping”) can be used in a positive sense as a metaphor of the gathering of God’s elect (see Luke 10:2; Mt. 13:30,43; John 4:35-38. (3) There is no reference in vv. 15-16 to the metaphors of threshing and winnowing (common images of judgment).

VERSES 17-20: The OT background is probably Isa. 63:1-6.

Source: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/a-study-of-revelation-14-15-part-iii/

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Our study of Revelation 15 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.

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Revelation Chapter 13 (Part 5: Ten Fulfilled Prophecies)


REVELATION 13 (Part 5: Ten Fulfilled Prophecies Regarding the Beast)

Adam Maarschalk: October 22 & 29, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 13:1-18

By way of reviewing the previous four posts, the following is a chart indicating what was foretold regarding “the beast from the sea” in Revelation 13 and 17, and how these things were true of Nero and the empire he led, represented, and personified. In some cases it would be possible for another entity aside from Nero to fulfill one of these prophecies (being identified with “666,” for example), but the fact that each one of these prophecies fits Nero and first-century Rome makes for a very compelling case that the fulfillment of Revelation 13 is past and not future. Keep in mind, as we noted in Part 1 of this Revelation 13 series, that the beast is seen in both the singular and the general sense (i.e. as an individual, and at the same time as an empire).

10 PROPHECIES REGARDING THE BEAST FROM THE SEA

FULFILLMENT BY NERO/THE ROMAN EMPIRE

1. The beast was to have ten horns, which would carry it, give to it their own power and authority, persecute the saints, and finally turn on the “great prostitute” to the point of burning her with fire (Rev. 13:1; 17:3, 7, 12-14, 16-17).

The Roman Empire contained 10 Senatorial Provinces, and the governors of each one granted their authority to Rome and also exercised authority on its behalf (See Part 1). This included aiding in Nero’s persecution of the saints, and carrying out the Roman war against Israel which resulted in the burning of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

2. The beast had seven heads. To John it was explained that the seven heads represented not only the “seven mountains on which the woman is seated,” but also “seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is [in John’s day], the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while” (Rev. 13:1; 17:3, 7, 9-10).

Rome is the one city in history famous for its seven mountains, and first-century Rome celebrated the feast of the “seven-hilled city.” According to Josephus, Dio Cassius, Suetonius, and other historians, the first five Roman emperors (or “kings”; cf. John 19:15) were [1] Julius Caesar [2] Augustus [3] Tiberius [4] Caligula, and [5] Claudius. The sixth was Nero (54-68 AD), and the next emperor was Galba, who reigned for only six months before he was murdered (Again see Part 1).

3. The beast was to have a mouth like a lion (Rev. 13:2).

The apostle Paul, referring to his trial before Nero, testified that he was “rescued from the lion’s mouth” (II Timothy 4:16-17).

4. One of the beast’s heads was to receive a mortal wound, but the beast’s wound would be healed, causing the whole earth to marvel “as they followed the beast” (Rev. 13:3, 12).

Nero committed suicide in June 68 AD, bringing an end to the blood line that had sustained Rome since it had become an empire. His death was followed by chaos and civil war, causing the empire to nearly collapse, and Josephus testified that “every part of the habitable earth” under the Romans “was in an unsettled and tottering condition” (Wars 7.4.2). The next three emperors (Galba, Otho, and Vitellius) each reigned considerably less than a year, each tried desperately to resurrect Nero’s image and authority, and it was only when Vespasian came to power in December 69 AD that Rome stabilized and became more powerful than ever (See Part 2 and Part 3).

5. The “whole earth” would worship the beast, extolling it as incomparable and overwhelmingly powerful to any who would dare to oppose it. Only those whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain” would not worship the beast (Rev. 13:4, 8; 17:8).

See Part 2 for the very pronounced and extravagant worship demanded by, and received by, Nero during and after his reign. This included offering sacrifices to Nero’s spirit in the public square even after his death. One statue of Nero stood more than 110 feet high, and coins and other inscriptions hailed him as “Almighty God” and “Savior.” He was hailed as Apollo, Hercules, “the only one from the beginning of time,” and even rulers from other lands had to publicly worship both Nero and his images which were set up on lofty platforms. As for the reference to “the whole earth,” this can either be understood as referring to the Roman Empire (cf. Luke 2:1), or to Israel (See my 3-part study outlining nearly 20 cases in Revelation where the context seems to demand that the expressions “the earth” and “those who dwell on the earth” be understood as dealing with the land of Israel/Palestine rather than to the entire planet [Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

6. The beast was to be given authority “to make war on the saints and to conquer them” for a period of 42 months. The scope of his authority would be “over every tribe and people and language and nation” (Rev. 13:5-7).

It’s a historical fact that Nero began to persecute the Christians throughout the Roman Empire in mid-November 64 AD. This intense persecution only ended when Nero committed suicide in June 68 AD. Thus he made war on the saints for a period of exactly 42 months. See Part 1.

7. The saints were called to endure and remain faithful in light of the fact that the beast who so often wielded the sword would himself be killed by the sword (Rev. 13:10, 14).

In June 68 AD Nero ended his life by thrusting his sword through his own throat, with the help of his personal secretary, Epaphroditus, in part because he realized that his popularity had waned and also because of an attempted coup (See Part 1). Nero lived by the sword, and died by the sword. Tertullian [145-220 AD] credited “Nero’s cruel sword” as providing the martyr’s blood as seed for the church. At one point he urged his readers to “consult your histories; you will find there that Nero was the first who assailed with the imperial sword the Christian sect.”

8. The beast from the sea would be given much support from a second beast (“from the earth”), which would compel “the earth and its inhabitants” to worship the first beast. An image of the first beast would be given breath, so that it might “even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain” (Rev. 13:11-15).

Paul Kroll (1999), of Grace Communion International, notes that early church writers Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (among others) wrote of Simon Magus (mentioned in Acts 8:9-24) being able to bring statues to life in the first century AD. Kroll remarks that it was common during this era for statues to be deemed able to speak and perform miracles. The Roman historian Dio Cassius records in detail how a foreign king, Tiridates, literally and publicly worshipped Nero and his images in one particular conference. A number of ancient and modern historians insist that those who refused to do so, both during and after Nero’s reign, were executed.

David Chilton (quoting from Austin Farrer’s 1964 work) points out that these executions were carried out not only by Roman authorities, but also by Jewish authorities aligned with Rome: “[The Jewish leaders] organized economic boycotts against those who refused to submit to [Nero] Caesar as Lord, the leaders of the synagogues ‘forbidding all dealings with the excommunicated,’ and going as far as to put them to death” (See Part 3).

Much more is written on this in Part 2 (See especially View #3, as the reference to “the earth” here again likely indicates that Israel was in view).

9. No one would be able to buy or sell unless he had the mark of the beast on his right hand or forehead, “that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (Rev. 13:16-17).

C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines Jr. (1995) record that those who worshipped Nero “received a certificate or mark of approval – charagma, the same word used in Revelation 13:16.” Richard Anthony (2009) adds these details: “All those under the jurisdiction of Rome were required by law to publicly proclaim their allegiance to Caesar by burning a pinch of incense and declaring, ‘Caesar is Lord’. Upon compliance with this law, the people were given a papyrus document called a ‘libellus’, which they were required to present when either stopped by the Roman police or attempting to engage in commerce in the Roman marketplace, increasing the difficulty of ‘buying or selling’ without this mark (emphasis added).” See Part 3.

10. John’s first-century readers, if they had wisdom and understanding, were to be able to identify the beast by calculating his number, which was “666.” John wrote this as if the beast was already in power as he was putting these things down in writing (Rev. 13:18).

In Hebrew gematria, which John’s readers would have been familiar with (given the vast number of Hebrew references in Revelation), Nero’s name (NRWN QSR) = 666. The values of these seven Hebrew letters are 50, 200, 6, 50, 100, 60, and 200, respectively, adding up to 666. John’s code would have utilized the Hebrew language rather than Greek or Latin in order to avoid detection from Roman authorities, being that he had been exiled to Patmos (a Roman prison island) by Rome.

Nero’s name also adds up to “616,” which some early manuscripts refer to as the number of the beast because of a later transliteration into Latin. In this case “Nero Caesar” = 616 in Latin just as “Neron Caesar” = 666 in Hebrew, so Nero’s identity is confirmed by both renderings. See Part 3.

It is likely that even more prophecies concerning the beast will be seen to have been fulfilled in Nero’s day once we examine Revelation 17 in more detail. For now, though, I would like to close out this series on Revelation 13 by re-posting the “brief study on the Antichrist” which appeared in Part 2:

Revelation 13 seems to be the first passage one thinks of when considering the person popularly known in American church culture as “the Antichrist.” Other passages which are rightly or wrongly said to speak of “the Antichrist” are II Thessalonians 2 (“the man of sin”), Daniel 9:24-27 (the 70 Weeks Prophecy), and Daniel 11:36ff. However, it’s most interesting to note that none of these passages even mention the term “Antichrist.” This term can only be found in two books, both written by John, but neither of them being the book of Revelation. Here are the passages where this term is found: [1] I John 2:18 [2] I John 2:22 [3] I John 4:3 [4] II John 7.

In these passages, which hardly any Dispensationalist will go to in a discussion of the Antichrist, John makes the following points: [1] His readers had heard that “antichrist is coming.” [2] Many antichrists had come, indicating that it was the last hour (in John’s day). [3] Anyone who denies the Father and the Son, or that Jesus is the Christ, is “the antichrist.” [4] The “spirit of the antichrist” was in the world in John’s day, and was characterized as denying that Jesus is from God. [5] “The antichrist” is anyone who does not “confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” Such a person is a deceiver, and many such persons existed in John’s day.

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Our study of Revelation 14 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 13 (Part 4: Nero’s Beastly Character)


REVELATION 13 (Part 4: Nero’s Beastly Character)

Adam Maarschalk: October 22 & 29, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 13:1-18

We have now reached the fourth post on Revelation 13. The first post looked at the first 10 verses in this chapter, showing that Nero fit the description of the first beast in the specific sense and that first-century Rome fit the description of this same beast in the general sense. In the second post, we were introduced to its main advocate, a second beast, and we considered four different views regarding the identity of this second beast. In the third post we examined the healing of the first beast’s mortal wound, the mark of the beast, and the fact of its identification with the famous “666″ symbol. In this post we will look more closely into the character of Nero and the atrocities he committed, and in doing so we will see that the term “beast” fits him well.

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In the first post on chapter 13 we saw a number of details regarding Nero’s campaign of persecution from November 64 AD – June 68 AD (42 months). Some of these details will be quickly summarized here, as this contributes to our understanding of his beastly character. First, we are told by numerous early church writers (e.g. Eusebius, Lactantius, and Sulpicius Severus) that Nero was the first emperor to persecute the saints, with Clement of Rome (30-100 AD) saying that Nero targeted “a vast multitude of the elect…through many indignities and tortures.”

These tortures included being “wrapped in the hides of wild beasts…torn to pieces by dogs, or fastened to crosses to be set on fire, that when the darkness fell they might be burned to illuminate the night” (Tacitus, Annals 15:44); Nero’s vast garden was lit at night so he could provide raunchy entertainment of all kinds. Some believers were beheaded (Paul), others were crucified (Peter), while others were “thrown to the lions, exposed to the cold, drowned in rivers, thrown into cauldrons of boiling oil, daubed with pitch and burned for torchlights” (David S. Clark).

This persecution came about after Nero’s Jewish wife persuaded him to blame the Christians for the burning of 10 of Rome’s 14 city divisions. Legend has it that Nero “fiddled while Rome burned,” with some ancient historians affirming this account (Suetonius, Cassius Dio) and others (e.g. Tacitus) calling it into question. Clement of Alexandria [150-215 AD], Tertullian [160-220 AD], Augustine [354-430 AD], and Jerome [347-420 AD] are among the early church writers who stated their belief that Nero was the beast foretold in the book of Revelation, and Jerome even stated that there were “many” in his time who shared this view because of Nero’s “outstanding savagery and depravity.” The following information (in maroon-colored font) is taken from a term paper I wrote several months ago:

Richard Anthony (The Mark of the Beast, 2009) shares more details about Nero’s life and character, all of which is substantiated by Suetonius (in his book Nero) and other historians who lived during the first two centuries AD:

According to Suetonius, he [Nero] murdered his parents, wife, brother, aunt, and many others close to him and of high station in Rome. He was a torturer, a homosexual rapist, and a sodomite. He even married two young boys and paraded them around as his wives. One of the boys, whose name was Sporus, was castrated by Nero. He was truly bestial in his character, depravity, and actions. He devised a kind of game: covered with the skin of some wild animal, he was let loose from a cage and attacked the private parts of men and women, who were bound at stakes. He also initiated the war against the Jews which led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.

At one point, writes Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, 2002), Nero divorced his first wife, Octavia, in order to marry Poppaea, his mistress. Poppaea then gave orders to have Octavia banished to an island, where in 62 AD she was beheaded. Three years later, when Poppaea was pregnant and ill, Nero kicked her to death. For entertainment, according to the Roman historian Suetonius, Nero “compelled four hundred senators and six hundred Roman knights, some of whom were well to do and of unblemished reputation, to fight in the arena.” The Roman historian Tacitus (55-117 AD) knew Nero as the one who “put to death so many innocent men,” and Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) called Nero “the destroyer of the human race” and “the poison of the world” (p. 52).

In Revelation 13:2 the beast is described as having a mouth “like a lion’s mouth.” It’s most revealing that the apostle Paul describes his deliverance from the emperor Nero as being “rescued from the lion’s mouth” (II Timothy 4:16-17). Also fitting is this quote from Apollonius of Tyana (15-98 AD), a Greek philosopher:

In my travels, which have been wider than ever man yet accomplished, I have seen many, many wild beasts of Arabia and India; but this beast, that is commonly called a Tyrant, I know not how many heads it has, nor if it be crooked of claw, and armed with horrible fangs. …And of wild beasts you cannot say that they were ever known to eat their own mothers, but Nero has gorged himself on this diet.

[Source: A.T. Robinson, Redating the New Testament. Philadelphia: Westminster (1976), p. 235. This quote was taken from Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, Oxford Press, 1912, p. 38.]

Apollonius was not the only contemporary of Nero to refer to him as a “beast.” Josephus and Suetonius also did so, according to David Lowman, an author and a pastor in Colorado Springs. Lowman adds that Nero schemed with his mother to kill his father and half-brother, and then attempted at least seven times to kill his mother. He also “executed one of his two closest advisers and forced the other to commit suicide.” Regarding again Nero’s persecution of the saints, Lowman notes that Nero had some “drawn and quartered”; others tied to the tusks of elephants which then were made to charge each other; others disemboweled while alive; and still others “sawn in two with palm branches – a very long lasting and brutally painful penalty.” Lowman wrote the following concerning Nero’s “garden parties”:

The most horrific stories of Nero’s brutality involved the lighting of His garden parties. It was known that in order to light his three and four day garden parties he would have Christian impaled with large wooden posts, and while still alive, struggling for breath, would have them covered in flammable tar and oil and light them on fire. He would place the posts along the outskirts of the large palace garden and along the roads to light the way for his guests. Quite often the events listed above would be done in front of rather large audiences in the arena. he would end these events with tortuously long musical performances that attendees could not leave under the penalty of death, including the ruling Senators of Rome.

Under Nero, John was tarred and feathered, boiled in oil (yet he miraculously survived), and then exiled. This is according to the testimony of early church writers such as Tertullian and Jerome, as I wrote here.

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The next and final post on Revelation 13 (Part 5 of 5) will feature a comparative chart showing 10 prophecies regarding the beast from the sea and their non-coincidental fulfillment by Nero and the Roman Empire which he led, represented, and personified.

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

Revelation Chapter 13 (Part 3: Verses 12-18)


REVELATION 13:12-18

Adam Maarschalk: October 29, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 13:11-18

This is now the third post on Revelation 13. The first post looked at the first 10 verses in this chapter, showing that Nero fit the description of the first beast in the specific sense and that first-century Rome fit the description of this same beast in the general sense. In the second post, we were introduced to its main advocate, a second beast, and we considered four different views regarding the identity of this second beast. In this present post we will see more about the healing of the first beast’s mortal wound, the mark of the beast, and the fact of its identification with the famous “666” symbol.

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Verse 12: We read again about the “mortal wound” of the first beast having been healed. Before examining what this might refer to, it’s good to remember that we have already seen that the first beast is manifested as both an individual (Nero) and an empire (Rome). Many Futurists gravitate only toward the idea of “the Antichrist” dying from an assassination attempt, but returning to life all the more demon-possessed. It’s often not considered that it could be the Roman Empire which survived, rather than the mortally wounded “head” (verse 3). In my 70 AD term paper, I presented two popular Preterist views regarding this healing, and I will again present these here. The following information can be found here (excerpts are in maroon-colored font):

The first possibility is that the wounded head did, in a sense, come back to life as Nero’s successors tried to keep his image, his policies, and his memory very much alive. It’s already been noted how far Vitellius went in deifying Nero in the eyes of the Roman populace. Vitellius, who reigned only eight months, was the third emperor to reign after Nero’s demise, before he was murdered. The first, Galba, reigned only six months and then was murdered. After him, Otho reigned four months before he committed suicide like Nero. It is said of Otho that he paid Nero “all public honors.”

The historians Tacitus, Suetonius, and Zonaras affirm that after Nero’s death proclamations continued to be published in his name as if he was still alive, and that his image was frequently placed upon the rostra (large speaker’s platforms in Rome) “dressed in robes of state.” Even Jewish and Christian writers began to foretell that Nero was back from death as the dreaded Beliar demon. Paul Kroll (1999) adds the following details:

Nero committed suicide in June of AD 68. However, a rumor arose and persisted that he had not died but had fled across the Euphrates river to Rome’s arch-enemy, Parthia. It was said that one day Nero would return at the head of Parthian armies to destroy Rome. This became the so-called “Nero redivivus” myth. In fact, during the decades following Nero’s death, several pretenders did come forth claiming to be Nero (Tacitus, Histories 1.78; 2.8; Suetonius, Nero 57). By the turn of the first century a further twist was added to the Nero legend. It was said he would actually rise from the dead, return to Rome and seize the empire… This myth of Nero’s return so captured the popular fancy that it found its way into Jewish and Christian apocalyptic writings. Here the triumphant Nero was sometimes even pictured as the antichrist (Ascension of Isaiah 4:1-14; Sibylline Oracles 4:119-124; 5:137-154, 361-374)…

Otho also allowed himself to be hailed as “Nero” or “Otho Nero,” and he used Nero’s name in official letters to provincial leaders as well as in official letters to Spain. He reinstated the procurators and other government officials who had ruled during Nero’s reign, and in many ways took on the persona of Nero (See Kenneth Gentry, pp. 309-309). Gentry also notes (p. 303), “In the pagan literature, references to the expectation of Nero’s return after his fall from power can be found in the writings of Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio Cassius, Xiphilinus, Zonaras, and Dion Chrysostom.”

A second possibility is that it was the beast in the form of the Roman empire which dramatically recovered from the mortal wound of one of its seven heads (Nero). This is in fact what happened in first century Rome. Upon Nero’s demise [in June 68 AD], the Roman Empire immediately fell into chaos and civil war… What followed was the “Year of the Four Emperors,” the reigns of Galba (six months), Otho (four months), Vitellius (eight months), and Vespasian (beginning in December 69 AD)…

Nero’s death by the sword is the type of mortal wound that John said the beast would receive (Revelation 13:12, 14). Richard Anthony (2009) and Kenneth Gentry (1998) postulate that the healing of this wound can perhaps be seen in what took place in the Roman Empire immediately following Nero’s death. Upon his death, the Roman Empire’s founding family suddenly had no representative. “The blood line that had given birth to, extended, stabilized, brought prosperity to, and had received worship from the Roman Empire was cut off forever” (Gentry, p. 311). The “Julio-Claudian House” became extinct. The empire was plunged “into civil wars of horrible ferocity and dramatic proportions” and Rome appeared ready to topple.

The general Vespasian pulled back from the wars he was committed to, including the siege on Jerusalem, because of the turmoil on his own home front.  Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius all recorded that Rome at this time was brought near to utter ruin, with Josephus saying that “every part of the habitable earth under them [the Romans] was in an unsettled and tottering condition” (Wars 7.4.2). It wasn’t until Vespasian took the throne in December 69 AD, initiating the Flavian Dynasty, that stability was restored.

Verses 13-15: This second beast is said to perform great signs on behalf of the first beast, and in this way deceives “those who dwell on earth” (Israel).** The common people are compelled to create an image for the first beast (Rome) “that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.” This particular activity would have taken place, then, between 68-70 AD. The details in View #3 and View #4 (see previous post) say much about what took place in the Roman empire, and also in Israel, during this time.

**[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.]

Verses 16-17: Selling and buying was limited only to those who bore the mark, i.e. “the name of the beast or the number of its name.” David Clark comments, “This was to boycott or ostracize the Christians, and deprive them of the common rights of citizens, or the common rights of humanity. The pressure of economic distress was to be laid on them to compel them to conform” (Steve Gregg, p. 304). David Chilton adds, “Similarly [the Jewish leaders] organized economic boycotts against those who refused to submit to Caesar as Lord, the leaders of the synagogues ‘forbidding all dealings with the excommunicated,’ and going as far as to put them to death.” [Here Chilton partially quotes from Austin Farrer in his 1964 work entitled The Revelation of St. John the Divine (p. 157).] Richard Anthony (2009) speaks further of the allegiance required by Nero during his lifetime:

All those under the jurisdiction of Rome were required by law to publicly proclaim their allegiance to Caesar by burning a pinch of incense and declaring, “Caesar is Lord”. Upon compliance with this law, the people were given a papyrus document called a “libellus”, which they were required to present when either stopped by the Roman police or attempting to engage in commerce in the Roman marketplace, increasing the difficulty of “buying or selling” without this mark (emphasis added).

In the first post for chapter 13 we also saw a quote from C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines Jr., from their 1995 book entitled Doomsday Delusions, in which they said,

Megalomaniac that he was, Nero had coins minted in which he was called “almighty God” and “Savior.” Nero’s portrait also appears on coins as the god Apollo playing a lyre.  While earlier emperors were proclaimed deities upon their deaths, Nero abandons all reserve and demanded divine honors while still alive (as did also Caligula before him, AD 37-41).  Those who worshipped the emperor received a certificate or mark of approval – charagma, the same word used in Revelation 13:16 [the famed mark of the beast].

In verse 16, were John’s original readers meant to understand that the followers of the beast would receive a literal and visible mark on their hands or forehead? If so, then the two quotes above lend credence to the idea that such a thing occurred in Nero’s day. Or did the language John used primarily hearken back to classic Old Testament metaphors of the hand representing one’s deeds and the forehead representing one’s thoughts? Perhaps this is a reference to Moses’ instructions to the people of Israel that they were to bind the words of God “as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes” (Deuteronomy 6:8). Only, in this case, the apostate followers of the beast would not be symbolically marked with the words of God, but with their allegiance to the one who stood opposed to God and His people.

Verse 18: John appeals to the wisdom and understanding of the reader here, regarding the “number of the beast.” While the beast has so far been portrayed as an empire, it’s clear in this instance that the beast is also an individual, indicated by the words “it is the number of a man.”

Q: Did John expect his original audience to be able to calculate the beast’s number, and thus know his identity?
A: Yes, by the language he used, he clearly did. Therefore, it is good to re-emphasize the point that John was not referring here to a 21st century Antichrist.

Hank Hanegraaff agrees, as he remarked in his 11/21/2004 broadcast on Voice of Reason, “John is saying to his readers [living in his own generation] that with wisdom and understanding they could discern the number of the Beast and the number of his name.  If, in fact, the Beast was not around at that time, he would have been giving them false information… The beast is singularly Nero” (Source). Steve Gregg comments (p. 302):

John obviously did not expect his readers who had understanding (v. 18) to have any difficulty in identifying the beast, since they could simply calculate the meaning of this cryptogram. Here using English characters, the Hebrew form of “Caesar Nero” is Nrwn Qsr (pronounced “Neron Kaiser”). The value of the seven Hebrew letters is 50, 200, 6, 50, 100, 60, and 200, respectively. The total is thus 666. This is the solution advocated by David S. Clark, Jay Adams, Kenneth Gentry, David Chilton, and most others [i.e. partial-preterists].

Most likely, the code utilized the Hebrew form rather than the Greek or Latin form of the name to avoid detection from Roman authorities, who would know both Latin and Greek, but not Hebrew. The readers of the book, however, knew considerable Hebrew, judging from the many symbols taken from the Old Testament and also John’s use of Hebrew words like Armageddon, amen, hallelujah, Satan (a Hebrew name, used in addition to the Greek word for devil), and Abaddon (in addition to its Greek counterpart Apollyon). The Hebrew language has exerted so great an influence over the writing of Revelation, in fact, that some scholars have even speculated that John originally wrote it in Aramaic (his native tongue and a cognate of Hebrew).

Don Walker concurs, saying, “Let us remember that John is writing from the isle of Patmos, where he has been imprisoned. This letter would have been, in all likelihood, carried off the island by Roman soldiers. John had to send his message in ‘code’ lest his captors understand his reference to the emperor. Instead of openly stating who the ‘Beast’ was, he left them a clue that every Hebrew could easily discern.” I also wrote the following in my term paper, here:

John revealed the identity of the beast to his readers in a coded manner, Richard Anthony (2009) says, using the system of Gematria which assigned numerical values to the alphabet: “John used this puzzle to reveal Nero without actually writing down his name. Remember, the early churches were being persecuted during this time—not only from the Jews, but also from the Romans.” The following chart shows the Hebrew letters in ‘Nero Caesar’ (NRWN QSR):

Nero 666Don Walker also adds,

Another interesting factor to consider is what is called the “textual variant.” If you consult a Bible with marginal references you will find something quite intriguing. Regarding Revelation 13:18, your reference may say something to the effect: “Some manuscripts read 616.” The fact is that the number 666 in some ancient manuscripts is actually changed to 616… The difference surely is no accident of sight made by an early copyist. The numbers 666 and 616 are not even similar in appearance — whether spelled out in words or written in numerals. As textual scholars agree, it must be intentional.

A strong case has been made for the following probability. John, a Jew, used a Hebrew spelling of Nero’s name in order to arrive at the number 666. But when Revelation began circulating among those less acquainted with Hebrew, a well meaning copyist who knew the meaning of 666 might have intended to make its deciphering easier by altering it to read 616. It is certainly no mere coincidence that 616 is the numerical value of “Nero Caesar,” when spelled in Hebrew by transliterating it from its more widely familiar Latin spelling. Such a conjecture would explain the rationale for the deviation: so that the non-Hebrew mind might more readily discern the identity of the Beast.

David Chilton, in his 1987 book “Days of Vengeance,” said the following on this matter:

The form Neron Kesar (1) is the linguistically “correct” Hebrew form, (2) is the form found in the Talmud and other rabbinical writings, and (3) was used by Hebrews in the first century, as archaeological evidence has shown. As F. W. Farrar observed, “the Jewish Christian would have tried [tested] the name as he thought of the name – that is in Hebrew letters. And the moment he did this the secret stood revealed. No Jew ever thought of Nero except as ‘Neron Kesar,’ and this gives at once . . . 666″ (The Early Days of Christianity, Chicago and New York: Belford, Clarke & Co., 1882, p. 540). Of some related interest is the fact that if Nero’s name is written without the final n (i.e., the way it would occur to a Gentile to spell it in Hebrew), it yields the number 616 — which is exactly the variant reading in a few New Testament manuscripts. The most reasonable explanation for this variant is that it arose from the confusion over the final “n.”

Kenneth Gentry (p. 205) quotes Robert H. Mounce, a Futurist author who says, “John intended only his intimate associates to be able to decipher the number. So successful were his precautions that even Irenaeus some one hundred years later was unable to identify the person intended.” Gentry rightfully notes the irony of Mounce’s statement, in that he admits that John’s original 1st-century audience knew who he was speaking about in Rev. 13:18, yet Mounce believes that John was prophecying about a figure who was to live some 2000 years later. In other words, Mounce would have us believe that John intended for his first-century readers to discern that the beast was (let’s say, for example) a 21st-century leader of the European Union.

The manuscript bearing the number “616” is almost non-existent today, but it was already a factor before Irenaeus lived (130-200 AD). Kenneth Gentry (p. 197) notes that in his work Against Heresies 5:30:1, Irenaeus writes regarding this matter:

I do not know how it is that some have erred following the ordinary mode of speech, and have vitiated the middle number in the name, deducting the amount of fifty from it, so that instead of six decads they will have it that there is but one. Others then received this reading without examination; some in their simplicity, and upon their own responsibility, making use of this number expressing one decad; while some, in their experience, have ventured to seek out a name which should contain the erroneous and spurious number.

The “Nrwn Qsr” rendering is the ancient Hebrew or Aramaic spelling of “Nero Caesar,” as attested to by the Talmud and other Rabbinical writings, says Gentry (p. 199). Being that John was primarily addressing believers who “were of Hebrew extraction,” his code of “666” appealed to this very rendering. The “616” variant was apparently copied this way intentionally by a well-meaning translator, who did so “by transliterating it from its Latin spelling” (p. 203). This does nothing to harm the theory that John meant “666” to refer to Nero, and in fact it serves to further confirm it. “Neron Caesar” written in Hebrew characters is equivalent to “666” and “Nero Caesar” in the Latin form is “616.” Nero’s identity is confirmed by both the common rendering as well as the obscure textual variant.

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Our study of Revelation 13 (Part 4 of 5)  continues 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 13 (Part 2: Verse 11; Identity of beast #2)


REVELATION 13:11 (and identity of beast #2)

Adam Maarschalk: October 29, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 13:11-18

This is now the second post on Revelation 13. In the first post, which can be found HERE, we looked at the first 10 verses in this chapter. We saw that Nero fit the description of this beast in the specific sense, with his 42-month reign of persecution from November 64 – June 68 AD (vss. 5-7), with his death by the sword [even as he had used the sword to cause death] (verse 10), and with his demand for worship (vss. 4, 8). We also saw that first-century Rome fit the description of this beast in the general sense, with its identification as the fourth beast in Daniel’s similar vision (Daniel 7:1-8), and with the healing of the mortal wound suffered by one of its heads (vss. 1-3; cf. Rev. 17:7-10). In this post we will be introduced to its main advocate, a second beast.

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A brief study on “the Antichrist”: This seems to be the first passage one thinks of when considering the person popularly known in American church culture as “the Antichrist.” Other passages which are rightly or wrongly said to speak of “the Antichrist” are II Thessalonians 2 (“the man of sin”), Daniel 9:24-27 (the 70 Weeks Prophecy), and Daniel 11:36ff. However, it’s most interesting to note that none of these passages even mention the term “Antichrist.” This term can only be found in two books, both written by John, but neither of them being the book of Revelation. Here are the passages where this term is found: [1] I John 2:18 [2] I John 2:22 [3] I John 4:3 [4] II John 7.

In these passages, which hardly any Dispensationalist will go to in a discussion of the Antichrist, John makes the following points: [1] His readers had heard that “antichrist is coming.” [2] Many antichrists had come, indicating that it was the last hour (in John’s day). [3] Anyone who denies the Father and the Son, or that Jesus is the Christ, is “the antichrist.” [4] The “spirit of the antichrist” was in the world in John’s day, and was characterized as denying that Jesus is from God. [5] “The antichrist” is anyone who does not “confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.” Such a person is a deceiver, and many such persons existed in John’s day.

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B. The Beast from the Land—the Second Beast (Rev. 13:11-18)

Verses 11-12: We are now told of a second beast coming up “out of the earth.” Thus far in the book of Revelation it seems that references to “the earth” (or “land”) refer to the nation of Israel. Is this the case here?** Preterists are divided on this point, and on the identity of this second beast. There does seem to be consensus, though, that this second beast is one and the same with the “false prophet” spoken of in Rev. 16:13, 19:20, and 20:10. This second beast exercises the authority of the first beast (identified in the previous post as Nero). It does so “in its presence” (or “on its behalf,” as stated in a footnote in the ESV). It makes “the earth” (i.e. Israel) to worship the first beast. The following section will examine four different views regarding the identity of this second beast.

**[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.]

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VIEW #1 (The Roman Concilia/”Cult of the Emperor”): Steve Gregg comments (pp. 292, 294), “The most frequently encountered view [among preterists] suggests that this beast is a symbol for ‘the cult of the emperor,’ that is, that organized force within the [1st century Roman] empire that sought to enforce the worship of the Caesars. The second beast’s two horns like a lamb (v. 11) suggest a religious nature more than a political one.”[1] David S. Clark and Jay Adams hold to this position, as did Ray Summers in his 1951 book entitled Worthy is the Lamb (Nashville, TN: Broadman Publishing, pp. 174-175). Summers identified the second beast as the Roman Concilia, a government entity whose job it was in ancient times to regulate all details related to emperor worship. This entity had the authority to impose economic sanctions on individuals who would not prove their willingness to worship the emperor.

VIEW #2 (A Jewish Leader/Governor): J. Stewart Russell, on the other hand, believes this beast must be confined to Israel because it comes “out of the earth.” For him, the reason the second beast has only two horns in contrast with the 10 horns of the first beast is because of its smaller “sphere of government” (pp. 294, 296). Says Russell, “He can be no other than the Roman procurator or governor of Judea under Nero, and the particular outbreak must be sought at or near the outbreak of the Jewish war.” Russell points to Gessius Florus, who was hands down the worst and most oppressive governor of the Jewish province, ruling from 64-66 AD. Josephus says he was also the primary cause for the Jewish revolt which led to the Roman-Jewish War of 66-73 AD. Russell acknowledges that Josephus and other historians don’t specifically record that Gessius Florus enacted “compulsory enforcement of homage to the emperor’s statue and the ascension of miraculous pretensions” (which we see in verses 12-17). But he adds that “the image of the beast is clearly the statue of the emperor.” Russell also notes that we know historically that “the test by which the martyrs [of this period] were tried was to adore the emperor, to offer incense before his statue, and to invoke the gods” (Steve Gregg, p. 298).

VIEW #3 (Judaism and Jewish Leadership): A somewhat alternative view is taken up by David Chilton, who, according to Steve Gregg, sees the second beast as representing “the Jewish religious system and leadership collectively as a false agent of God.” Chilton says,

The Jewish leaders, symbolized by this Beast from the Land, joined forces with the Beast of Rome in an attempt to destroy the Church (Acts 4:24-28; 12:1-3; 13:8; 14:5; 17:5-8; 18:12-13; 21:11; 24:1-9; 25:2-3, 9, 24)… The Book of Acts records several instances of miracle-working Jewish false prophets who came into conflict with the Church (cf. Acts 8:9-24) and worked under Roman officials (cf. Acts 13:6-11); as Jesus foretold (Matt. 7:22-23), some of them even used His name in their incantations (Acts 19:13-16).

One blogger, who holds to this view, wrote the following, after citing John 19:15-22, where the chief priest declared “We have no king but Caesar“:

Not only did the religious leaders reject their true King, they also pledged their allegiance to Rome. The book of Acts also tells of both Jewish false prophets who performed signs and wonders (e.g. Simon the Magician, Acts 8:9-24) through magic, and of the allegiance between Rome and Jewish false prophets and leaders. Both of these come together in Acts 13:6-11, where a false prophet and magician named Bar-Jesus is with the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus, as well as Elymas the Magician. The role of the second beast was to point back to the first beast, working with the first beast against the Church. This is exactly what we see apostate Jewish leaders doing throughout the Gospels, and Acts. By the time of the Neronic persecution, this only intensified. So, just as the Roman Empire, under the rule of Nero, fits the description of the first beast, the apostate Jewish leaders who point away from the true King towards Rome and the Caesar fit into the description of the second beast. They were certainly “from the land,” worked in accordance with the Roman Empire, pledging allegiance to their “king,” and opposed the church. They also performed signs and wonders and were considered false prophets, just as the second beast is called throughout Revelation.

As noted in the previous post, even during the time of Christ, Israel as a nation had shown devotion to the Roman government (John 19:15 is probably the most blatant example). Kenneth Gentry also records that “since the times of Julius Caesar, Israel had benefited from certain special privileges from Rome that were not allowed to other of its subjects.” This included the ability of the Jews to gather freely for their special religious meetings, contrary to Roman policy (Josephus, Antiquities 14:10:8), and “to maintain its strict monotheism” (pp. 281-282). It’s quite likely that this relationship is what was symbolized by the harlot woman “sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns” (Rev. 17:3). The Jews enjoyed even more favor when Nero’s second wife, Poppaea Sabina, became intensely interested in Judaism.[2]

Gentry adds, “The Jews responded to the favors of Rome…by offering ‘sacrifices twice every day for Caesar, and for the Roman people’” (Josephus, Wars 2:10:4; cf. Daniel 11:31, 12:11). This offering in honor of Caesar, however, was stopped in the summer of 66 AD, which Josephus says led to the Jewish-Roman War:

Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated in the divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans: for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account: and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice, which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not be prevailed upon.

VIEW #4 (Vitellius, Rome’s 9th Emperor): This is the view that I was personally leaning toward when I wrote a term paper a few months ago on Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD. I now favor view #3 above, but I will post this excerpt anyway, especially because it says much about the level of worship that Nero demanded during his reign and the consequences for failing to do so. These details are excellent background, in any case, for Rev. 13:12-17. The excerpt which follows is taken from here:

Vitellius, the ninth emperor, [was very devoted] in his worship of Nero. It is said that he “greatly pleased the public by offering sacrifices to Nero’s spirit in the Campus Martius [Latin for Field of Mars, a 2 sq km public square in Rome], making all the priests and people attend.” These were his “funerary offerings to Nero” and this left “no doubt in anyone’s mind what model he chose for the government of the State” (Suetonius, Vitellius 11:2). The actions of Vitellius appear to fulfill what was written in Revelation 13:11-12 of a second beast, referred to later as the false prophet. This text states: “Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence [or on its behalf], and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed.” Vitellius had such a rabid fascination with Nero that Vespasian had to “make a determined effort to check the growth of the Nero cult when he came to power.”

Paul Kroll (1999) writes the following about the prospect of Vitellius, or someone like him, fulfilling the role of the false prophet in Nero’s time:

The false prophet sends out a universal order to “set up an image in honor of the beast” (verse 14)… Strangely enough, the false prophet gives the inanimate image breath so that it can speak. Thus, the second beast has power to animate the image of the first beast. In the time Revelation was written, this was not an alien idea. The ancients believed that statues spoke and performed miracles. It was thought that the gods and demons used statues as conduits to communicate with humans and work miracles. For example, the heretic Simon Magus is said to have brought statues to life (Clementine Recognitions 3.47; Justin, Apologia 1.26; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.23). In ancient times, that was precisely the point of having idols. People thought that the life of the person or being was actually in the idol.

In their book, Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (1999), the authors (Brown, Bowersock, Grabar) write about the common sight of images of Roman emperors in the third and fourth centuries. These images took prominent places throughout the empire and were literally worshipped. This was ordinary in the first century as well:

Those who beheld Constantine in his golden raiment were said by Eusebius to be “stunned and amazed by the sight—like children who have seen a frightening apparition.” But away from court and capital, emperors rarely appeared in person. In the provinces, their presence was represented by statues and other images. Municipal squares were dominated by imperial statues; the portraits of emperors hung in official buildings, shops, theaters, and public porticoes… In their range and variety, imperial images made emperors omnipresent…the crowd applauded not only the emperor but also his image as it was paraded around them, surrounded—like the emperor himself—by the imperial bodyguard… These mirror images of majesty not only made permanent the transitory messages of imperial ceremonial, but were designed to blur the distinction between emperors and their representations… [There was] a rigid insistence on the performance of the same rituals and ceremonies before imperial images as before the emperor himself. Those approaching an emperor’s statue were required to prostrate themselves “not as though they were looking at a picture, but upon the very face of the emperor.” A proper atmosphere of sanctity was to be maintained at all times (pp. 173-174).

As expected then, statues of Nero’s likeness already existed in the Roman Empire during his lifetime, even from early in his reign. In 55 AD, the second year of his reign, the Roman senate erected a statue of Nero in the Temple of Mars that stood between 110 and 120 feet high. “The emperor’s brow was crowned with rays, suggesting a comparison or identification with the Sun-god” (Kenneth Gentry, 2002). His portrait appeared on coins at the time as Apollo playing the lyre. “He appears with his head radiating the light of the sun on copper coins struck in Rome and at Lugdunum.” Even his mother, Agrippina, was hailed by provincial coins “as goddess and the parent of a god.” Inscriptions found in Ephesus called Nero “Almighty God” and “Savior,” and inscriptions found in Cyprus called him “God and Savior” (pp. 80-81). The behavior of the highly-revered Augustus Caesar (27 BC-14 AD) was very modest compared to the worship Nero demanded for himself. Dio Cassius writes of an incident in which a regional king was compelled to worship both Nero and his image. This occurred in 66 AD when Tiridates, King of Armenia, paid Nero a visit:

Indeed, the proceedings of the conference were not limited to mere conversations, but a lofty platform had been erected on which were set images of Nero, and in the presence of the Armenians, Parthians, and Romans Tiridates approached and paid them reverence; then, after sacrificing to them and calling them by laudatory names, he took off the diadem from his head and set it upon them…Tiridates publicly fell before Nero seated upon the rostra in the Forum: “Master, I am the descendant of Arsaces, brother of the kings Vologaesus and Pacorus, and thy slave. And I have come to thee, my god, to worship thee as I do Mithras. The destiny thou spinnest for me shall be mine; for thou art my Fortune and my Fate” (Gentry, p. 82).

“By this action this king actually worshiped ‘the image of the Beast’ (Rev. 13:15),” says Gentry. One senator, though, failed to worship Nero and his “Divine Voice,” and Dio Cassius records that he was executed: “Thrasaea was executed because he failed to appear regularly in the senate…and because he never would listen to the emperor’s singing and lyre-playing, nor sacrifice to Nero’s Divine Voice as did the rest.” Nero was even deified in Greece, where he spent a significant amount of time in 67 AD as a musician and actor in the Grecian festivals. There he was proclaimed as “Zeus, Our Liberator,” and his statue was set up in the temple of Apollo where he was called “The new Sun, illuminating the Hellenes.” When he returned to Rome in early 68 AD, the entire population was made to come out and greet him with these words: “Hail, Olympian Victor! Hail, Pythian Victor! Augustus! Augustus! Hail to Nero, our Hercules! Hail to Hero, our Apollo! The only Victor of the Grand Tour, the only one from the beginning of time! Augustus! Augustus! O, Divine Voice! Blessed are they that hear thee” (Gentry, p. 83).

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Our study of Revelation 13 (Part 3 of 5) 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] Futurists also tend to agree that the second beast functions in more of a religious role, while the first beast is political in nature.

[2] Edward Gibbon, a foremost authority on ancient Rome, asserts that Poppaea was one of the Jews’ “powerful advocates in the palace,” and that it was she who incited Nero to blame the Christians for the fire in Rome in July 64 AD. Source: Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume 1. Page 459. Modern Library, New York.

Revelation Chapter 13 (Part 1: Verses 1-10)


REVELATION 13:1-10

Adam Maarschalk: October 22, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 13:1-10

A. The Beast from the Sea—the First Beast (Rev. 13:1-10)

Introduction/Disclaimer: In this five-part discussion, it will be suggested that the beast spoken of in this chapter is Nero, who ruled Rome from 54-68 AD. This premise flies in the face of the rather popular view that Revelation was written in 95 or 96 AD, so if this is new or troublesome to the reader, it may be helpful to first take a look at some compelling evidence that Revelation was written prior to 70 AD: [1] External evidence [2] Internal evidence (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). Other internal evidence for an early date for the writing of the book of Revelation has been presented in our previous Revelation studies (chapters 1-12), all of which can be found here.

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Verse 1: We are introduced now to a beast which John describes as “rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.” The red dragon in Rev. 12:3 is also said to have “seven heads and ten horns,” and we know that this dragon is Satan (12:9), so this beast here in chapter 13 is clearly empowered by Satan. Additionally, it seems that “the sea” where mentioned elsewhere in this book refers to Gentiles [See the Appendix (D) in this post here, for a more detailed explanation of this pattern]. So this reference here is very likely a way of telling the first century reader that this beast is a prominent Gentile figure. This is similar to one of Daniel’s visions where he saw four great beasts coming “up out of the sea” (Daniel 7:3).

We will be told more about this beast, here in chapter 13 and also in chapter 17, including details about its 10 horns and seven heads. Before proceeding, though, I think this is an appropriate place to note the twofold nature of the beast. The following quote is a helpful one, from Kenneth Gentry in his book “Before Jerusalem Fell” (1998, p. 310):

…John allows some shifting in his imagery of the Beast: the seven-headed Beast is here conceived generically as the Roman Empire, there specifically as one particular emperor. It is impossible to lock down the Beast imagery to either one referent or the other. At some places the Beast has seven-heads that are seven kings collectively considered (Rev. 13:1; Rev. 17:3, 9-10). Thus, he is generically portrayed as a kingdom with seven kings that arise in chronological succession (cf. Rev. 17:10-11). But then again in the very same contexts the Beast is spoken of as an individual (Rev. 13:18), as but one head among the seven (Rev. 17:11). This feature, as frustrating as it may be, is recognized by many commentators [emphasis added].

So the beast in Revelation is sometimes spoken of as an individual (specific sense) and sometimes as a kingdom (generic sense). It’s not surprising that the beast is interchangeably an individual and a kingdom, if ancient Rome is in view here. As Gentry also notes, the Roman poet Ovid (43 BC-18AD) once wrote regarding the emperor Augustus, “The state is Caesar.”

We will now look ahead briefly to the passage referred to in Revelation 17:9-10, where John speaks of this same beast and explains what the seven heads are. The following information is taken from a term paper I wrote earlier this year, entitled, “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD,” and can be found here:

More compelling evidence for an early date is found in John’s reference to seven kings in Revelation 17:9-10, which states, “This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while.” This description of the seven kings lines up well with historical data showing the emperors who reigned in the Roman Empire up until the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, which is as follows:

Order of Emperors Name of Emperor Length of Reign Notes/Details
#1 Julius Caesar October 49 BC – March 44 BC “Perpetual Dictator”
#2 Augustus January 27 BC – August 14 AD -time of Jesus’ birth
#3 Tiberius August 14 AD – March 37 AD -time of Jesus’ ascension
#4 Caligula March 37 AD – January 41 AD Murdered
#5 Claudius January 41 AD – October 54 AD Assassinated
#6 Nero October 54 AD – June 68 AD Committed suicide
#7 Galba June 68 AD – January 69 AD Murdered
#8 Otho January 69 AD – April 69 AD Committed suicide
#9 Vitellius April 69 AD – December 69AD Murdered
#10 Vespasian December 69 AD – June 79 AD Destroyed Jerusalem

Some historians do not consider Julius Caesar to be one of the emperors, and rather designate him as one who played a key role in transforming the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD), however, was one who did, and the above list reflects his own list in his writing titled Antiquities of the Jews (Books 18 and 19). Numerous Roman historians contemporary to Josephus agree. Among these were Dio Cassius and Suetonius (70-135 AD), who wrote Lives of the Twelve Caesars and De Vita Caesarum. Julius Caesar was appointed as “perpetual dictator” in 42 BC, so his inclusion in such a list would not have been strange.

According to the above list, then, Nero was the “king” of whom John said “one is” (i.e. “he is reigning now”), and Galba was the one who had “not yet come.” Galba reigned only six months, making him a good candidate to be the one who “must remain only a little while.”

The chart above indicates that there were more Roman emperors than were referenced by John. Kenneth Gentry quotes J. Russell Stuart, who spoke on this matter in his book Apocalypse:

But why only seven kings? First because the number seven is the reigning symbolic number of the book; then, secondly, because this covers the ground which the writer means specially to occupy, viz., it goes down to the period when the persecution then raging would cease (Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 163).

We know that the imperial persecution initiated by Nero ceased with his death in 68 AD. Gentry makes the point that if it can be accepted that Revelation was written prior to that time, then “the enumeration of the ‘kings’ covers all of imperial history up until John’s time and the events ‘shortly’ to follow [a reference to the word ‘shortly’ in Rev. 1:1]… For then it would be the case that in John’s day only six emperors had ascended the imperial throne.”

Regarding the reference to seven mountains, there should be no doubt that this is speaking of Rome, and even Futurist scholars generally concede this point (although they may anticipate a revival of the Roman Empire). Gentry also notes that the Coin of Vespasian (emperor of Rome from 69-79 AD) discovered by archaeologists pictures the goddess Roma as a woman seated on seven hills. Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, is the one city in history famous for its seven mountains. First-century Rome used to celebrate a feast called Septimontium, the feast of “the seven-hilled city.”

Revelation 13:1 also depicts the beast as having 10 horns, which John says in Rev. 17:12-13 are “ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. These are of one mind and hand over their power and authority to the beast.” Some have thought these 10 kings to be the very ones listed in the chart above, since all 10 of them reigned (or had begun to reign, in Vespasian’s case) before Jerusalem’s destruction. However, John wrote that in his day they had “not yet received royal power,” so this view is eliminated. Another more likely view is that these 10 kings were the rulers of the 10 empirical (senatorial) provinces of Rome who were empowered by Nero to assist him in carrying out his campaign of persecution against the saints, which Scripture refers to as “war on the Lamb” (Rev. 17:14; cf. Acts 9:5 where Paul, as an unbeliever, also made “war on the Lamb”).

The Global Glossary on the Greco-Roman world says there were 10 Senatorial Provinces in ancient Rome: They were “areas that were governed by Roman pro-magistrates; there were ten senatorial provinces, eight of which were led by ex-praetors and two of which were led by ex-consuls.” Wikipedia lists these 10 Senatorial Provinces, as they existed in 14 AD, as follows: [1] Achaea [2] Africa [3] Asia [4] Creta et Cyrene [5] Cyprus [6] Gallia Narbonensis [7] Hispania Baetica [8] Macedonia [9] Pontus et Bithynia [10] Sicilia. One Biblical mention of a Roman provincial ruler is in Acts 18:12-17, where we are told of Gallio the “proconsul of Achaia.” In Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas had direct contact with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7). See here for more information on the Senatorial Provinces of the Roman Empire, and how and by whom authority was distributed.

empire2a

Photo credit: http://gbgm-umc.org/UMW/corinthians/empire.stm (Original source: David Camden)

David Sielaff of Associates for Scriptural Knowledge answers the Futurist supposition that the beast will be a revived Roman empire, somehow corresponding with the European Union. He shows how this is impossible, since the borders of the EU are very much unlike the boundaries of the old Roman empire:

It is important to consider how the Roman Empire was constituted. It was a vast empire that spread from Britain in the north to south of Egypt, from Spain and North Africa in the west to the borders of Parthia (Iran today) in the east. In the 1st century, when the New Testament was written, the border of the Roman Empire in Europe stopped at the Rhine and Danube Rivers. It never included any significant portion of Germany or Eastern Europe. The center of the Roman Empire was never Gaul (France today). The heart of the Roman Empire in the 1st century were the great cities of Rome itself, Alexandria in Egypt, and the great Greek cities, with the great cities of Antioch, Damascus, and Jerusalem that were inland from the Mediterranean coast.

Source: David Sielaff, The Ten Nations and the Roman Empire, http://www.askelm.com/news/n040724.htm, 2004.

Verse 2: The beast is now described in such a way that it incorporates the traits of all four beasts that Daniel saw in a vision in his day (Daniel 7:1-8): that of a leopard, a bear, a lion, and having ten horns. Bible scholars seem to be in general, if not full, agreement that the beasts in Daniel’s vision represented the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. Steve Gregg remarks (in his book, Revelation: Four Views [A Parallel Commentary], pp. 280, 282), “It is interesting that, when Paul was discussing his release from imprisonment under Nero, he remarked, “I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tim. 4:17).

Q: Whose power, throne, and authority were given to this first beast?
A: The beast’s power, throne, and authority came from “the dragon,” whom we know to be Satan from Revelation 12:9.

Certain preterists, according to Steve Gregg, believe that “the concern of the Apocalypse has now shifted from the doom of Jerusalem to the judgment of Rome. Others, such as Milton Terry, think Rome is only brought into the picture as a chief agent of the judgment that came upon Jerusalem in A.D. 70.” I agree with Milton Terry, who adds that “we have before us the Roman empire as a persecuting power…conceived as the organ of the old serpent, the Devil, to persecute the scattered saints of God” (p. 280).

Verses 3-4: John now observes that one of the beast’s seven heads had what appeared to be a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, causing the whole earth [or “land,” a common reference to Israel, as we have seen in previous posts] to worship the beast. This will be brought up again when we come to verse 12, but two theories regarding this mortally wounded head are that it refers to the survival of the Roman Empire after the stunning deaths of [1] Julius Caesar or [2] Nero. At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves, Steve Gregg comments (p. 282):

Even if Nero is the head mortally wounded, it is not he who personally survives the wound, but the beast that survives the wounding of one of its heads. At the death of Nero, the Roman Empire was thrown into violent convulsions of civil war and anarchy, in which three emperors succeeded one another within a single year. Historians consider it astonishing that the empire stabilized and survived this period that might easily have spelled the end of the imperial rule. Thus the recovery of the empire under Vespasian was a marvel to all—the beast of the empire had survived the mortal wounding of one of its heads (Nero).

[Surprisingly, several Futurist writers agree with this interpretation, including John Walvoord, Robert H. Mounce, G.B. Caird, and James Moffat, who (despite being a late-date scholar) even attributes this passage to the “terrible convulsions which in 69 A.D. shook the (Roman) empire to its foundation” (Gentry, p. 315). Walvoord believes the “wounding of one of the heads” to be “a reference to the fact that the Roman Empire as such seemingly died and is now (in the future) going to be revived” (Gregg, p. 285).

It’s only fair to point out that some partial-preterists view the healed mortal wound as a reference to the survival of the Roman empire, not after the death of Nero (in 68 AD) but after the death of Julius Caesar (44 BC). Arthur M. Ogden, for example, in his book “The Avenging of the Apostles and Prophets: Commentary on Revelation” (Ogden Publications: Pinson, AL, 1985), tied this prophecy to events during the nearly 30 year “transfer of power from the (Roman) republic to the empire (61 BC—31 BC).” He writes:

“(Julius Caesar) wore the purple robe of royalty, but the old prejudice against kings denied him the title and crown. Yet he was made dictator for ten years, and then became censor and high priest for life… All responsible authority centered in himself as monarch of the Roman Empire… From the chief executive power in the State, the Senate was degraded to the place of an advisatory council” (Joy, James Richard, Rome and the Making of Modern Europe, [New York; Flood and Vincent, 1893], page 100)…

The smoldering fires of anger among the degraded senators erupted into full flame when, on March 15, 44 B.C., 60 members of the Senate attacked him on the Senate floor. With daggers in hand they inflicted 23 wounds which insured his death. With cries of “Liberty is restored” they celebrated what they thought was the end of Imperialism, but “his deadly wound was healed” (cf. Rev. 13:3) and the empire survived.]

Is it a surprise that the Jews** (“the whole earth”; verse 3) would worship the beast? Do we see any indication in the gospels of their willingness to do so? Steve Gregg (p. 286) reminds us of an instance where the Jews not only refused to give allegiance to Christ, but they clearly expressed their allegiance to Caesar instead:

Given the opportunity to own Christ as their king before Pilate, the Jews proclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar!” (John 19:15). Alfred Edersheim writes: “With this cry Judaism was, in the person of its representatives, guilty of denial of God, of blasphemy, of apostasy. It committed suicide.”

As a side note, in this example from John’s gospel, we see that the rulers of Rome were not only called “emperors,” but also “kings.” This brings further light to the text of Revelation 17:10, where the seven “kings” can easily be understood as Roman emperors. Here in Revelation 13:4, we see not only the Jews’ adoration of Rome’s incomparable power and stamina (“Who is like the beast…?”), but also their sense of being powerless to oppose Rome in any way (“…and who can fight against it?”).

**[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.]

Verses 5-7: The beast, who John told us has a mouth like a lion, begins to speak “haughty and blasphemous words.”

Q: What type of blasphemies did the beast speak?
A: He spoke blasphemies against God’s name, God’s “dwelling,” and against those who dwell in heaven.

Q: What was the extent of the authority granted to the beast?
A: He was allowed to make war on the saints and conquer them, but only for 42 months. He had authority “over every tribe and people and language and nation.” This can be seen to refer to the known world at the time, or to the Roman Empire (See Luke 2:1 to observe how “all the world” clearly referred to the Roman Empire).

The following information is taken from my term paper on 70 AD, with this specific portion coming from here:

Prior to Nero’s persecution, writes Kenneth Gentry (2002), persecution against Christians had come largely from the Jews. Christianity was considered a sect of Judaism, which was a “legal religion.” Gentry notes, “Earlier Paul had safely appealed to Nero Caesar (Acts 25:11-12; 28:19) and in A.D. 62 had been acquitted and released.” Herbert Workman, in his 1906 work, Persecution in the Early Church, said that Rome didn’t make a clear distinction between Christianity and Judaism until 64 AD (pp. 62-63).

Kenneth Gentry takes note of the testimonies of early historians regarding Nero’s campaign of persecution against Christians (pp. 54-55, 64-66). Clement of Rome (30-100 AD) said that it targeted “a vast multitude of the elect…through many indignities and tortures.” Eusebius (260-340 AD) pointed out that Nero was “the first of the emperors who showed himself an enemy of the divine religion,” and Lactantius (240-320 AD) agrees by saying of Nero, “He it was who first persecuted the saints of God.” Sulpicius Severus (360-420 AD) said that he was “the basest of all men, and even of wild beasts, [showing himself] in every way most abominable and cruel…he first attempted to abolish the name of Christian.” Sulpicius devoted two chapters to Nero’s reign of terror in his Sacred History, but only three sentences for Domitian. In 1854 church historian John Laurence von Mosheim added these thoughts:

Foremost in the rank of those emperors, on whom the church looks back with horror as her persecutors, stands Nero, a prince whose conduct towards the Christians admits of no palliation [minimizing], but was to the last degree unprincipled and inhuman. The dreadful persecution which took Diace by order of this tyrant, commenced at Rome about the middle of November, in the year of our Lord 64. This dreadful state of persecution ceased with the death of Nero. The empire, it is well known, was not delivered from the tyranny of this monster until A.D. 68, when he put an end to his own life.[1]

Tacitus, the Roman historian who lived from 56-117 AD, wrote in detail of Nero’s move to persecute the saints soon after the fire that raged through Rome, destroying 10 out of 14 city divisions:

But by no human contrivance, whether lavish contributions of money or of offerings to appease the gods, could Nero rid himself of the ugly rumor that the fire was due to his orders. So to dispel the report, he substituted as the guilty persons and inflicted unheard-of punishments on those who, detested for their abominable crimes, were vulgarly called Christians…wrapped in the hides of wild beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or fastened to crosses to be set on fire, that when the darkness fell they might be burned to illuminate the night (Tacitus, Annals 15:44).

The most remarkable detail about Nero’s campaign of persecution is that it lasted just over 42 months, which Revelation 13:5-8 records is the length of time that would be given to the beast to war against and conquer the saints. The persecution ended when Nero died on June 9, 68 AD. In this context, Revelation 13:10 was a comfort to the saints. Not only were they already told that the beast would only be allowed to persecute them for 3.5 years, but they were also told how their persecutor would be removed: “…he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and faith of the saints.” Nero ended his life by thrusting his sword through his own throat, with the help of his personal secretary, Epaphroditus, when he realized that his popularity had waned and that a coup was in the making.

Verse 7: God allows the beast “to make war on the saints and conquer them.” We saw in chapter 12 how the dragon (Satan) became enraged with “the woman” and “went off to make war on the rest of her offspring” (Rev. 12:17). This is clearly a reference to persecution of the Church, for “her offspring” are identified as “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.” At this point, the Jewish believers have escaped from Jerusalem (Rev. 12:13-16; also the post on Revelation 7), but the believers in general throughout the Roman Empire are targeted for persecution and many are martyred. (Note the language in 12:17, which says “And he [the dragon] stood on the sand of the sea.”) John records that authority is given to the beast, not just over Israel, but “over every tribe and people and language and nation.” Steve Gregg (p. 288) quotes from David S. Clark, who writes regarding Nero’s campaign of persecution,

Rome becomes the Devil’s agent. History tells us of the persecutions of Rome; how Paul was beheaded, and Peter crucified head downwards; how the Christians were thrown to the lions, exposed to the cold, drowned in rivers, thrown into cauldrons of boiling oil, daubed with pitch and burned for torchlights; how every conceivable torture was inflicted on them; how all the might and power of the Roman empire were exerted to extirpate them, till the church at length conquered its persecutor.

Regarding the 42 month limit for the beast’s intense persecution of the Church, Jay Adams tells us why it was important for John’s first-century readers to know this detail:

Since many were about to face a period of great persecution, they are encouraged to endure by the comforting revelation that though it will be severe, it will be short. The time of the dragon’s authority to overcome the saints is only 42 months (Steve Gregg, p. 288).

Here I would like to quote again from what I wrote in my term paper a few months ago. This is takenfrom the following post:

Numerous church fathers and leaders during the first several centuries identified Nero as the beast of the book of Revelation, or speculated that it was he. These include Clement of Alexandria [150-215 AD], Tertullian [160-220 AD], Augustine [354-430 AD], and Jerome [347-420 AD] who stated the following in his commentary on Daniel 11:27-30:

As for the Antichrist, there is no question but what he is going to fight against the holy covenant, and that when he first makes war against the king of Egypt, he shall straightway be frightened off by the assistance of the Romans. But these events were typically prefigured under Antiochus Epiphanes, so that this abominable king who persecuted God’s people foreshadows the Antichrist, who is to persecute the people of Christ. And so there are many of our viewpoint who think that Domitius Nero was the Antichrist because of his outstanding savagery and depravity.

C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines Jr. (1995) point to historical details from the reign of Nero to show how he fit the Biblical description of the beast introduced in Revelation 13 (pp. 41-42, emphasis added):

The blasphemous worship demanded by the beast distinctly reminds one of the imperial cult of the first century, and the war the beast wages on the saints cannot help but recall the intense persecutions Nero, and later Domitian, inflicted on Christians because they did not worship Caesar.  Nero’s persecution of Christians from November AD 64 [when he blamed the Christians for the massive fire he started] to June AD 68 could account, in part, for the forty-two months (or 3 ½ years) of oppression mentioned in Rev. 13:5. The reference in Revelation 13:11-15 to the beast of the land securing worship for the beast from the sea (Rome was across the sea from the place of the writing of the Apocalypse, Asia Minor) reminds one of the local priests of the imperial cult in Asia Minor whose task was to compel the people to offer a sacrifice to Caesar and proclaim him Lord.  Megalomaniac that he was, Nero had coins minted in which he was called “almighty God” and “Savior.” Nero’s portrait also appears on coins as the god Apollo playing a lyre.  While earlier emperors were proclaimed deities upon their deaths, Nero abandons all reserve and demanded divine honors while still alive (as did also Caligula before him, AD 37-41).  Those who worshipped the emperor received a certificate or mark of approval – charagma, the same word used in Revelation 13:16 [the famed mark of the beast].

Verses 8-10: All of national Israel (note the phrase “all who dwell on earth”), worshipped the beast, except for those whose names were “written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.”

Verse 10 is stated quite differently in the [1] ESV (English Standard Version) than it is in the [2] New King James Version: [1] “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” [2] “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”

Without attempting to do a Greek study to see which translation is more accurate, suffice it to say that this appears to be a clear prophecy regarding how the beast (in the singular sense) would be slain. Verse 14, in fact, speaks of “the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.” Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 218) and others believe this prophecy pointed to Nero’s impending death. This was to be taken as a comforting fact, helping the believers in Nero’s day to endure through intense persecution in light of this prophecy. Nero martyred thousands (including Paul) by the sword, and Kenneth Gentry reminds us that “Tertullian [145-220 AD] credits ‘Nero’s cruel sword’ as providing the martyr’s blood as seed for the church” (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 218).  It’s a historical fact that Nero also met his own suicidal demise at the hand of a sword. He did indeed live and die by the sword. It was this event in June 68 AD which brought an end to this most intense period of persecution against the Church.

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In the next post (part 2 of 5), we will be introduced to the beast’s main advocate, a second beast.

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


[1] I Clement 6:1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2:25:2-3; Lactantius, On the Death of the Persecutors 2:2; Severus, Sacred History 2:29; John L. von Mosheim, History of Christianity in the First Three Centuries (New York: Converse, 1854) 1:138-139.

Revelation Chapter 12


REVELATION 12

Rod: October 15, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 12

In this post, three views will be presented:

[A] The Preterist view, which holds that these events were fulfilled in the first century
[B] The Futurist view, which says that these events are yet to be fulfilled during a future great tribulation

[C] The Historicist view, which sees many of these events as ongoing in Church history, including this present time.

(Notes and updated changes from Adam are in maroon-colored font.)

A. Preterist View:

[Much of the following material is taken from Steve Gregg’s book, Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary). Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, 1997. Pp. 252-276]

Glossary of Terms:

Woman = [1] Old Testament Israel (i.e. the faithful remnant among the Israelites); and [2] later God’s people, the remnant among the nations, after Christ’s death and resurrection
Dragon = Rome, under the influence of Satan

Male Child = Jesus Christ

Verse 1: Preterists agree with Futurists that the woman here refers to the nation of Israel, with the imagery being reminiscent of Joseph’s dream as recorded in Genesis 37:9.

Verse 2: The birth pangs and agony of giving birth symbolize the suffering of the Jewish people during the time of Roman rule before the birth of Christ. Steve Gregg (p. 256) writes that the “travailing of the woman is understood to refer to the centuries of affliction suffered by the faithful Jews as they awaited the coming of their Messiah.”

Verse 3: The dragon had seven heads, ten horns and seven diadems. As we will see, this is very similar to the description of the beast (Revelation 13:1) who received authority from the dragon (Rev. 13:2).

Verse 4: In the first half of verse 4, speaking of the dragon with seven heads and 10 horns, we read:

“His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.”

There is reason to believe that these “stars” are angels. In Revelation 1:20, stars are seen as angels: “…The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches…” Here in verse 4, the dragon is able to throw stars to the earth, but in verses 9-12 we see that “the great dragon…that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan” would himself be cast out of heaven to the earth, along with his angels.

Some believe that verse 4a is parallel to Jude 6:

And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own habitation, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day.”

Others see a parallel to Daniel 8:10, which speaks of “a little horn” (Antiochus Ephiphanes, a Greek king of the Seleucid Empire from 175 – 164 BC):

And out of one of [the four horns] came a little horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Glorious Land. And it grew up to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and some of the stars to the ground, and trampled them…” (Daniel 8:10-11).

Albert Barnes, in his 1834 commentary on Revelation 12, took note of this parallel and wrote the following:

“The main idea here undoubtedly is that of power, and the object of John is to show that the power of the dragon was as if it extended to the stars, and as if it dragged down a third part of them to the earth, or swept them away with its tail, leaving two-thirds unaffected. A power that would sweep them all away would be universal; a power that would sweep away one-third only would represent a dominion of that extent only… Suppose, then, that the dragon here was designed to represent the Roman pagan power; suppose that it referred to that power about to engage in the work of persecution, and at a time when the church was about to be greatly enlarged, and to fill the world; …the conditions here referred to would be fulfilled…

The second half of verse 4 may be a reference to Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus by enforcing the death of all Hebrew children below age 2:

“And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.”

In Matthew 2:1-18 we read about the wise men from the east who came to Jerusalem asking about the birth of the King of the Jews (verses 1-2). This troubled Herod, who quizzed the chief priests and scribes and found out that, according to Micah 5:2, the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (verses 3-6). He instructed the wise men to find the Child, Jesus, and to let him know where he was (verses 7-8). However, the wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod (verse 12), and Herod, when he discovered that they had deceived him, put to death all children below the age of two throughout Bethlehem and its districts (verses 16-18). Joseph and Mary had already been warned in a dream to take Jesus and flee to Egypt (verses 13-15).

Duncan McKenzie, on the other hand, believes this is a reference to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead:

In Revelation 12 we are being shown this “birthing” of the Messiah. The male Child, after being born, is caught up to God’s throne. Once again what is being shown here is not Jesus being born on earth, but His being “born” when God the Father raised Him from the dead (Acts 13:33).* Thus, as soon as the male Child is delivered He is caught up to God’s throne. Jesus referred to the birthing analogy in talking about His death and resurrection in John 16:20-22. Notice how the dragon (Satan, Rev. 12:9) was expecting to devour the male Child. Satan thought he would be destroying Jesus at the cross. Instead the Child is caught up to the throne of God. Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God the Father at the resurrection (Acts 2:31-36). Satan, instead of devouring the Child as he had planned, ends up being cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:9).

*Acts 13:33 reads this way: “God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’”

Verse 5: The first half of verse 5 refers to the birth of Jesus, either by Mary (specifically) or through the seed of Abraham (generally). The second understanding is to be preferred when we note the progression of what happens to this woman – [1] birthing Jesus and [2] later being protected in the wilderness for 3.5 years (verses 6, 13-17). The first part of verse 5 is also parallel to Psalm 2:9 and Revelation 19:15.

“She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron…”

Psalm 2 is a Messianic prophecy about the coming reign of Jesus, of whom the Father would say, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You” (verse 7). Jesus would be set on God’s “holy hill of Zion” as King (verse 6), would receive the nations as His inheritance (verse 8), and would “break them with a rod of iron” and “dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (verse 9).

This prophecy is repeated in John’s vision of Christ sitting on a white horse, judging and making war (Revelation 19:11). The armies in heaven would also follow Him riding on white horses (verse 14), and a sharp sword would come out of His mouth, which He would use to “strike the nations” and “rule them with a rod of iron” (verse 15).

The second half of verse 5 refers to Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:9-11).

“And her Child was caught up to God and to His throne.”

Acts 1:9 records Jesus being “taken up” and received by a cloud out of the disciples’ sight. Two angels confirm that He was taken “into heaven” (verse 11). Daniel 7:13-14 reveals that He then appeared before the throne of His Father and was given the everlasting kingdom:

“I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.”

As Daniel reveals, this kingdom was then promised to “the saints of the Most High” (Daniel 7:18). The “time came for the saints to possess the kingdom” when the horn and the fourth beast was making war against them and prevailing “until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints” (verses 21-22; see also Revelation 13:5-7 and Matthew 21:43). The fourth beast and the persecuting horn would prevail over the saints for 3.5 years (“a time and times and half a time”) before his dominion would be taken away and the saints would receive the kingdom (Daniel 7:25-27).

Revelation 12:6-17 goes on to record a Satanic battle leveled against God’s people, which would precede the giving of the kingdom into the hands of the saints (Daniel 7; Revelation 11:15).

Verse 6: God used an attack on Jerusalem for the purpose of judging a rebellious people, says Jay Adams, after God preserved His own, “rescuing them from the fierce attack upon Jerusalem… It may be viewed, therefore, either from the side of Satan’s persecution or God’s wrath.” The woman remains safe in the wilderness during the time of tribulation in Israel for 3½ years (or “42 months”; See Rev. 11:2, 3). This reference to 1,260 days, says David S. Clark, is a term borrowed from Daniel, where it was a period of persecution.”

As I wrote in my term paper on Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, the early Church writer Eusebius (263-339 AD) records that when Vespasian began to close in on Jerusalem, believers living there received a sign, “given by revelation to those in Jerusalem who were ‘approved,’ bidding them leave the doomed city and settle in Pella” (F.F. Bruce, New Testament History, 1983, p. 375). Pella was a community on the other side of the Jordan River in modern day Jordan… Pella is indicated by the number “2” on the map.

holyjordanmap[1]

The timing of this event is based on the testimonies of Eusebius and Remigius (437-533 AD), who said that the Christians dwelling in Jerusalem and the surrounding regions fled to Pella “on the approach of the Roman army.” The first Roman army, led by Cestius Gallus, came in November 66 AD, but was defeated by the Jews. In April 70 AD Titus led the Roman army that burned Jerusalem and the temple. 

Verses 7-9: Here we see a scene in heaven of a war between the dragon and the archangel Michael, and also between their two respective armies of angels. Michael and his armies win the war, and the dragon and his angels are cast down to the earth. Steve Gregg writes (p. 262), “The war in heaven (vs. 7) is not chronologically sequential to the flight of the woman into the wilderness.” He quotes David Chilton, whose view is that verses 7-12 explain why the woman needed to flee into the wilderness. Verse 13 returns to the scene of the flight of the woman.

Interestingly, the Roman historian Tacitus records that the following took place in the skies in 66 AD:

“Prodigies had indeed occurred, but to avert them either by victims or by vows is held unlawful by a people which, though prone to superstition, is opposed to all propitiatory rites. Contending hosts were seen meeting in the skies, arms flashed, and suddenly the temple was illumined with fire from the clouds. Of a sudden the doors of the shrine opened and a superhuman voice cried: ‘The gods are departing.’ At the same moment the mighty stir of their going was heard. Few interpreted these omens as fearful. The majority firmly believed that their ancient priestly writings contained the prophecy that this was the very time when the east should grow strong and that men starting from Judea should possess the world” (Tacitus’ Histories 5.8.13-14).

Josephus also wrote similar words:

“Such prodigies had happened, as this nation, which is superstitious enough in its own way, would not agree to expiate by the ceremonies of the Roman religion, nor would they atone the gods by sacrifices and vows, as these used to do on the like occasions. Armies were seen to fight in the sky, and their armor looked of a bright light color, and the Temple shone with sudden flashes of fire out of the clouds. The doors of the Temple were opened on a sudden, and a voice greater than human was heard, that the gods were retiring, and at the same time there was a great motion perceived, as if they were going out of it, which some esteemed to be causes of terror. The greater part had a firm belief that it was contained in the old sacerdotal books, that at this very time the east would prevail, and that some that came out of Judea should obtain the empire of the world” (Wars 6.5.3).

Verses 10-11: We see that Satan is referred to as “the accuser of the brethren.” We can certainly see him playing this role in Old Testament times, and before Jesus went to the cross. We see this in the case of Job (Job 1:6-7), where Satan stands before God accusing Job of being incapable of serving God if he is left unprotected. We see this again in Zechariah 3:1, where Satan is pictured standing before the angel of the Lord to accuse Joshua the high priest. In Luke 22:31 we are told that Satan has put in a specific request to sift Peter as wheat. A not-as-clear reference to this type of activity also appears in Jude 9, where we learn that Satan entered into contention with the archangel Michael over the body of Moses. Steve Gregg also writes,

Because the great dragon was cast out (v. 9) as a consequence of the battle, we can pinpoint the heavenly battle as being at the same time as the accomplishment of the atonement at the death and resurrection of Christ.”  One of several evidences of this is found in Jesus’ statement (recorded by the same author): “now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out”  (John 12:31). Another evidence appears in the announcement that Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ has come (v. 10). This also coincides with the atonement. In addition, other New Testament authors confirm that a victory of this sort over Satan was accomplished by Christ in His death (cf. Col. 2:15, Heb. 2:14-15).

The death of Christ did not put Satan entirely out of business, but it ended his career as the accuser of our brethren (v. 10), his principle role in pre-Christian times (cf. Job 1-2; Zechariah 3). The blood of Christ has undermined the grounds of every charge that Satan might bring against the brethren [Romans 8:33-34]. Satan is cast to the earth. He cannot accuse the saints before God any longer, as they overcame his accusations by appeal to the atoning blood of the Lamb (vs. 11). They also take territory from the satanic kingdom by the word of their testimony (that is, preaching the gospel), and by their willingness to die rather than be intimidated by persecution (vs. 11).

Interesting in this light is a statement that Jesus made to His disciples in response to a question from Judas: “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on Me…” (John 14:30).

Verse 12: Again quoting Steve Gregg (p. 268), “A woe is pronounced upon the inhabitants of the earth [or land] (v. 12) since the thwarted dragon is now limited in his range of activity and will vent his wrath both upon the saints and upon the apostate Jews. His intention is to stamp out the church before it can extend itself as a globally entity. Since Jesus indicated [Matt. 24:14] that this would be accomplished within a single generation (Matt. 16:28; 24:34), the dragon has only a short time (vs. 12) to stamp out the infant movement. Thus, he goes to war with the remaining seed of the woman.”

Heaven rejoices, along with the citizens of heaven, but a woe is pronounced upon those who dwell on the earth and the sea, i.e. in Israel and in the Gentile nations. [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.]

Verses 13-16: This is the time, says David Chilton (Gregg, p. 270), when “in obedience to Christ’s commands (Matt. 24:15-28), the Christians escaped to shelter in the caves of the desert.” Steve Gregg continues, “The wings of a great eagle (v. 14) which carry the woman to safety are an echo of the Exodus, in which God told Israel that He had carried them out of Egypt on eagles’ wings (Exodus 19:14). Like the woman in this vision, Israel had been delivered from the dragon (cf. Psalm 74:13-14; Ezek. 32:2) and sustained by God in the wilderness.” Steve Gregg then quotes from Steve Farrer, who adds,

The woman is treated as the congregation of Israel, saved from Egypt, lifted by the Lord on eagles’ pinions and brought to Sinai. The dragon’s pursuit of her by throwing a waterflood after her is a generalized image for the action of Pharaoh, who [1] commands Israelite children and especially Moses to be washed down the Nile, [2] comes out after escaping Israel with a host, and [3] counts on the Red Sea to shut Israel in.

However, “Satan’s attempt to destroy the Church” in the first century was no more successful than Pharaoh’s attempt to wipe out the Israelites in his day, because “the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth” (verse 16). David Chilton (Gregg, p. 274) sees this verse as suggesting that, with the woman (God’s faithful remnant) gone from Jerusalem/Judea/Galilee, “the land of Israel swallows up the river of wrath, absorbing the blow in her place.” This principle of God looking out for His people was to be true not only in the first century, but also throughout the centuries even up to our own time, as God sustains His people in the midst of persecutions of all kinds. This is not to say that believers will be spared from suffering and death–and we do know that a tremendous number of believers have been martyred during the last century–but this is to say that God walks with His people through the fiercest of trials and sustains His people even when the enemy strikes his hardest.

Verse 17: “The dragon became furious with the woman” and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring.” Instead of admitting defeat, writes Steve Gregg (p. 276), he “continued his attack against not only the woman (the Jewish church), but also the rest of her offspring (v. 17). This must refer to the Gentiles brought into God’s family through the Jewish remnant church.” Concludes Steve Gregg (p. 276), “The next attack upon the saints will be seen as conducted through Satan’s agents, the two beasts who arise in the next chapter.”

B. Futurist View:

[Many of the details expressed in this viewpoint are taken from The John MacArthur Bible Commentary, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2005. Pp. 2015-2017].

Verses 1 and 2: The woman depicted here is one of four mentioned in the book of Revelation. She is thought to be the mother of Jesus by Roman Catholic expositors. However, most of those in Protestant circles don’t believe this – they believe the woman to represent Israel, and the child is Jesus Christ. Dispensationalists also hold this view.

Verse 1: “…clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of 12 stars” correlates with Genesis 37:9, in which this same description represents the family of Jacob.

Being clothed with the sun likely speaks of glory, dignity and the exalted status of Israel. The moon under her feet possibly describes God’s covenant relationship with Israel, since new moons were associated with worship (1 Chr. 23:31; 2 Chr. 2:4; 8:13, Ezra 3:5; Ps. 81:3). The twelve stars represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

Verse 3: The red dragon is thought to represent Satan. The seven heads and the ten horns are tied to the first beast of chapter 13. Futurists generally hold the view that the third of the stars swept down by his tail (verse 4) can refer to angelic beings (see Rev 1:20, 9:1 and Job 38:7). This event would likely describe when Satan revolted against heaven and took with him a third of the angels (Jude 6, 2 Peter 2:4). Unable to prevent the virgin birth, Satan tried to kill the child in a general massacre of male children commanded by Herod (Matt 2:13-18, cf. Luke 4:28-29).

Red speaks of bloodshed (John 8:44). Seven heads…ten horns…seven diadems = figurative language depicting Satan’s domination of seven past worldly kingdoms and ten future kingdoms (Daniel 7:7, 20, 24). Satan has and will rule the world until the seventh trumpet blows (11:15) and has inflicted relentless pain on Israel (Daniel 8:24), desiring to kill the woman before she could inflict pain on him.

Verse 5: “She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron…” correlates to a promise made to Christ in Psalm 2 and repeated again in Revelation 19:15.

Verse 6: …and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she to be nourished for 1,260 days.”

God will protect Israel from Satan by hiding her in the wilderness, perhaps in the regions of Moab, Ammon, and Edom, east of Palestine. These countries are spared from the Antichrist’s attack against the Holy Land (Daniel 11:41). The 1,260 days represents the first half of the tribulation, at which point the Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel, stops temple worship, and sets up the abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:27; Matt. 24:15). Many Jews will flee for their lives, but God will preserve them for the final 42 months (3½ years) of the Great Tribulation.

Verses 7-13: A state of war has broken out in heaven and has existed since the fall of Satan (Daniel 10:13, Jude 9). The war will intensify, possibly due to the raptured saints passing through the realm of the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2). Satan will continue to deceive people during the Great Tribulation (cf. 13-14, 20:3, John 8:44). After his release from the bottomless pit at the end of the Millennium, he will briefly resume his deceitful ways (20:8, 10).

Verse 14: “the wings of a great eagle…” This doesn’t refer to actual birds’ wings, but is a graphic depiction of God’s providential protection over Israel. “A time and times and half a time” refer to the 3½ years, or the second half, of the Great Tribulation (cf. 11:2-3; 13:5).

Verse 16: “the earth opened its mouth…” A great army will come against Israel like a flood (v. 15; cf. Jer. 46:8, 47:2), only to be swallowed up by a great earthquake (6:12; 8:5; 11:13; 19; 16:18; Matt 24:7). Satan will then take a position in the midst of the nations of the world, represented by the sand of the sea.

C. Historicist View:

[Source: Sam Storms, War in Heaven, War on Earth: A Study in Revelation 12, November 7, 2006]
[a] http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/war-in-heaven-war-on-earth-a-study-in-revelation-12-part-i/
[b] http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/war-in-heaven-war-on-earth-a-study-in-revelation-12-part-ii/

  • Sam Storms sees Revelation 12-14 as a parenthesis between the seven trumpet judgments and the seven bowl judgments
  • What is shown in chapter 12 is a picture of the spiritual conflict between the world and the Church
  • The heart of John’s message in this chapter is that “although Satan is the principal source of the persecution of God’s people, he has been decisively defeated by Christ, a victory in which we now share even in the midst of suffering and martyrdom.”

Verse 1: Storms notes various interpretations for the woman throughout history:

[1] Eve
[2] Mary, the mother of Jesus
[3] Mary Baker Eddy and other female cult leaders
[4] “the bride, the heavenly Jerusalem of Rev. 19:7-8; 21:9-10”
[5] exclusively OT Israel (John Walvoord)
[6] exclusively the NT church

  • Here is Sam’s personal viewpoint (which I would agree with): “The most probable interpretation is that the woman symbolizes what we might call the believing messianic community: both OT Israel and NT Church. Later in the chapter we read that when the woman is persecuted she flees into the wilderness and has other children who are described as faithful Christians. In other words, the woman is both the community of faith that produced the Messiah and the community of faith that subsequently follows and obeys him. John clearly envisioned an organic and spiritual continuity between OT Israel and the Church. They are one body of believers.”
  • Storms also notes the following: “In the OT a woman often represents Israel (see Isa. 52:2; 54:1-6; 61:10; 62:1-5,11; 66:7-13). This imagery is also used of the Church in the NT (see 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:31-32; 2 John 1; cf. Rev. 21:2,9; 22:17). The imagery of a woman in the pains of childbirth is also a common one in the Bible, and is used often of Israel in distress. See Isa. 21:3; 26:17-18; 37:3; 51:2-3; 54:1-3; 65:9,23; cf. 66:10 and 22; Jer. 4:31; 6:24; 13:21; 22:23; 30:6; Micah 4:9). Isa. 66:7 is especially vivid, for there we find the metaphor of Israel bearing a child to indicate the arrival of the period of salvation and restoration.”
  • Regarding the 12 stars: “At minimum, the 12 stars would seem to stand both for the 12 tribes of Israel and the reconstitution and continuation of true Israel in the 12 apostles of the church.”

Verse 2: “The woman is pregnant and suffering birth pangs. On the one hand, this represents the longing expectation and anticipation of the Messiah’s birth on the part of those in the OT community of faith (cf. Luke 2:25-38). But it is also a symbolic reference to the persecution of the covenant community and the messianic line during the period of the OT leading up to Christ’s coming. That persecution is in view is evident from the word translated “in pain” ( basanizo). This term is used in the NT of suffering, punishment, trial, and persecution (Matthew 8:6,29; 14:24; Mark 5:7; 6:48; Luke 8:28; 2 Peter 2:8) and in Revelation of torment inflicted by demons (9:5) or by God (11:10; 14:10; 20:10).”

Verse 3: “The word “dragon” (drakon) is used in the OT (LXX) for the evil sea monster that symbolizes kingdoms that oppose and oppress Israel (especially Egypt and Pharaoh). See especially Pss. 74:13-14; 89:10; Isa. 30:7; 51:9; Ezek. 29:3 (where Pharaoh is called “the great dragon”); 32:2-3; Hab. 3:8-15. But the “dragon” in Rev. 12 is more than an evil kingdom(s). It also stands for Satan, the one who both represents and energizes all individual and corporate opposition to the kingdom and persecution of the people of God (see 12:9; 20:2, 10).”

Verse 4: “The picture of the dragon sweeping away one-third of the stars of heaven is probably taken from Daniel 8:10. There we read of a ‘little horn’ that ‘grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down.’ The ‘little horn’ is clearly a reference to Antiochus Epiphanes IV, eighth ruler in the Seleucid line, 175-164 b.c. (he died in 163).”

  • Storms does not see this verse then as the angelic hosts which fell from heaven with Lucifer, and who now function as demons. Rather, just as Antiochus Epiphanes was a persecutor of God’s people in the OT, “Rev. 12:4 is probably describing the persecution by Satan of God’s people [in the NT], perhaps even their martyrdom.”
  • Storms further notes that this event is seen to take place “immediately before the birth of Jesus, whereas most believe that the angelic rebellion occurred prior to creation, or at least no later than the events of Genesis 6.”
  • Storms cites another interpretation of this verse: “Some have suggested the ‘falling’ of these ‘stars’ refers to the deceived in Israel who apostatize from the faith and were therefore never fully identified with the 12 stars of v. 1.”

Verse 5: Storms says, “The deliverance in v. 5b is not protection from death but resurrection and ascension. The allusion to the prophecy of Ps. 2:7-9 indicates that whereas this will be consummated at the end of the age (see Rev. 19:15), an inaugurated fulfillment has already begun (see Rev. 2:26-28). Jesus has ‘already’ received the authority spoken of in the Psalm but has ‘not yet’ manifested that authority in its fullness. In the ancient near east, the birthday of a king was not the beginning of his physical existence but the day of his accession to the throne and the taking of regal power. Thus the day on which the “Son” is “begotten” is the resurrection, the day of his glorification and subsequent exaltation to the right hand of the majesty on high (see Acts 13:33).”

Verse 6: “Whereas the woman in v. 1 was primarily the covenant community of believers prior to the incarnation of Jesus, the woman in v. 6 is the covenant community of believers subsequent to his resurrection. But it is the same, one people of God, the one olive tree, predominantly Jewish in v. 1 (in its OT manifestation) and a glorious, universal mixture in v. 2 (in its NT manifestation).”

  • Some, mostly preterists, have taken this as a literal, physical escape of Christians to Pella (modern Tabaqat Fahil, 20 miles south of the Sea of Galilee) as they fled the Roman seige of Jerusalem in 66 a.d., a view that is obviously only as good as the argument for a pre-70 a.d. authorship of the book.”
  • Dispensational pretribulational premillennialists, i.e., those who hold to an exclusively futurist interpretation of the book, contend that whereas v. 5 speaks of events in the first century, v. 6 speaks of events at the end of the age. I agree with Beale that ‘such a temporal hiatus can be read into the text only by a prior end-time scheme that an interpreter brings to the text’ (642; emphasis mine).“
  • “Steven Gregg mentions Hal Lindsey’s futuristic interpretation of v. 14 and ‘the two wings of the great eagle.’ Says Lindsey: ‘Some kind of massive airlift will rapidly transport these fleeing Jews across the rugged terrain to their place of protection. Since the eagle is the national symbol of the United States, it’s possible that the airlift will be made available by aircraft from the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean’ (179; !!!).”
  • Storms believes that the 1260 days represents “the entire inter-advent age, and not some chronologically precise 3 ½ year period at the end of history.”

Verses 7-9: Storms says, “I believe it is because of the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that this defeat of the Devil occurs, indeed, has already occurred. Michael and his angels are given the task of expelling Satan consequent to the victory of Jesus at the time of His first coming (Lk. 10:18).”

  • “Satan’s accusations no longer have any legal or moral force following his defeat at the cross. This, I believe, is the meaning of his being ‘thrown down’ and there no longer being a ‘place found for them in heaven.’ In other words, this is not a description of a literal or spatial or geographical change in the devil’s dwelling place.”

Verse 10: “The fact that Satan has been defeated, that the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus have stripped him of his legal right to accuse the brethren is evidence that the ‘kingdom’ of God and the ‘authority’ of Christ have been inaugurated. Thus 12:10 does not merely anticipate the final and consummate coming of God’s kingdom but celebrates the presence of the kingdom in the here and now. See Mt. 12:28.

  • “There is also a correspondence or parallel between Satan’s fall in Rev. 12:10 and what we read in John 12:31-33. In this latter passage Jesus relates his impending work on the cross and his triumph over death in the resurrection to the demise of the devil: ‘”Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world shall be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.’”

Verse 11: “Satan wins whenever we treasure anything more than Jesus… When you prioritize your life so that nothing means more to you than Jesus, you deprive Satan of any legal right to your heart or mind; you undermine and shortcircuit his power to influence your soul.”

Verse 12: “Note the description of saints in heaven as, literally, “tabernacling” there. The point is that they abide in a heavenly temple, i.e., in the very presence of God himself.”

  • Storms adds, “’he [the devil] has only a short time.’ This ‘short time’ = the 3 ½, 1,260 days, 42 months of 11:2-3; 12:6, 14 and 13:5.” As already noted, Storms sees this as a non-literal period of time, representing the Church age.

Verses 13-14: “These verses pick up where vv. 6 and 12 leave off. Failing to destroy the ‘child’ (Jesus), Satan turns his destructive attention to the ‘woman’, i.e., the people of God = the church.”

Verses 15-16: “Here the devil’s persecution of the church is described in the vivid imagery of water pouring forth from the serpent’s mouth in an effort to drown the woman. Again, some preterists want to find the fulfillment of this statement in the flooding of the Jordan river in 68 a.d. which prevented many Jews from escaping their Roman enemies, the result of which was their slaughter.”

  • “Historically speaking, one cannot help but recall the persecution of the church by Nero (late 60’s), Domitian (90’s), Marcus Aurelius (late 2nd century), Decius (@ 250 a.d.), Diocletian and Galerius (303-311 a.d.), and the almost unimaginable persecutions that we witnessed in the 20th century.”
  • “In addition to the above, vv. 15-16 also allude to the barrier of the Red Sea during Israel’s exodus from Egypt which God overcame and even turned against their enemies. In the Song of Moses we read: ‘Thou didst stretch out Thy right hand, the earth swallowed them’ (Exod. 15:12). This was done so that Israel could then proceed to God’s ‘holy habitation’ (Exod. 15:13; ‘holy resting place’ in LXX) which God had ‘prepared’ (Exod. 15:17; LXX) for them. Later in the wilderness ‘the earth opened its mouth and swallowed’ the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram because of their resistance to Moses’ leadership (Num. 16:12-14; Deut. 11:5-6; Ps. 106:17).”

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PJ Miller was so kind to reproduce a section from Steve Gregg’s book, Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), regarding the period designated as 1260 days in Revelation 12:6 (cf. verse 14). This reproduced section (below) can be found here, posted as a comment:

http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/11/07/revelation-12-future-or-fulfilled/

THE 1260 DAYS: INTRODUCTION

In chapters 11-13 of Revelation are repeated references to a period of time alternately designated as “forty-two months”, “twelve hundred sixty days” or “a time, and times, and half a time”.

These are probably three different ways of saying “three and a-half years.”

It is said that the Gentiles will trample the outer court and the holy city for this period (11:2). It is also the duration of the testimony of the two witnesses (11:3), of the preservation of the woman pursued by the dragon (12:6, 14), and of the continuing blasphemies of the beast (13:5).

Some believe the references are to the same three and a half year period.

Among Preterists, some identify the period as that of the Jewish war in rebellion against Rome (AD 66-70). Others think it corresponds to the length of Nero’s persecution of the Church, which began in November of AD 64 and ended with Nero’s death, June 9, AD 68.

Perhaps most futurists see here two such periods, totaling seven years. Some would suggest that all the events from Revelation 4:1 through chapter 19 transpire during this period, referring to it as “the Great Tribulation”.

Historicists understand the 1260 days as symbolic, for the same number of years, citing “the year for a day principle” from Ezekiel 4:6 as their basis.

According to this view, the synonymous periods ( “forty-two months”, “twelve hundred sixty days” or “a time, and times, and half a time”) should all be recalculated as 1260 days, and the days then interpreted as years. While Historicists are agreed upon this general rule, there is no consensus whatever regarding the beginning and ending of the period thus designated. One suggestion is that the period is the 1260 years from AD 538, when Ostrogoths abandoned their siege of Rome, until 1798 when the Pope was taken prisoner by the French General under Napoleon.

Another is that the 1260 years began at 606AD, when Phocas decreed himself to be the supreme head of the Church. Other opinions place the beginning of the period in AD 1 (Joachin), 455 (Mede), 533 (Cuninghame), 576 (Bengel), 608 (Elliot), 660 (Melancthon), 672 (Guinness), and 727 (Fysh).

Matthew Henry endorses the year for a day principle, and suggests that the 1260 years represents the reign of the antichrist (the Papal church) until the end of the world, but says the beginning of the period is unknown.

A common assumption among those who espouse a spiritual interpretation is to see the forty two months as symbolic of a period of indefinite length, the whole period of the suffering of the people of God in this dispensation, corresponding to the entire church age. Using three and a half years to describe the church age may be chosen to recall the “three and a half years of terror under Antiochus Epiphanes when the temple was desecrated (June 168 to December 165 BC)

Alternately, it may be intended to correspond to the actual length of Jesus’ earthly ministry, comparing the character of the church’s ministry to that of Christ.

Some commentators studiously avoid specificity on this point. Homer Haley simply says that the forty two months “indicates a broken period of time, a period of trial, persecution and oppression…the period of Roman persecution”

Leon Morris, after likening the period to that of Antiochus Epiphanes, concludes “So John will mean his readers to discern that the trial of the people of God will be of measurable duration and that they will be delivered out of it”

Ladd sees value in both the futurist and the spiritual explanations, thus “the three and a half years appear to represent the entire period of the domination of evil, but with special reference to the last days of this age”

The decision about which of these opinions is most correct, will be inseparably tied to the identification of the two witnesses (chapter 11), of the beast (chapter 13) and of the events described in chapter 12.

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Our study of Revelation 13 (Part 1 of 5) begins here.

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

Revelation 11 (Part 2: Historicist View)


REVELATION 11

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 11:1-13

This post was created on December 6th (but backdated to November 2nd so that it’s not out of order) to supplement Dave’s previous post on Revelation 11. This is a summary of Sam Storms’ views on this chapter—at least up through verse 13. Sam Storms, by the way, is a Historicist in his interpretation of the book of Revelation. His study of Rev. 11 takes up two separate posts on his website, so I have taken a summary of both posts and placed them below under the labels of “PART 1” and “PART 2,” respectively. A source link is given at the end of each part. While not a Historicist myself per se, I feel there is plenty of valuable information in Sam’s study, as well as much that I’m able to agree with him on.

Adding this information to the previous post would have made it too long; thus the decision to create a second post. Dave’s earlier post can be seen here.

PART 1

Verses 1-2: Aside from the partial-preterist view of this passage which formed the primary basis for Dave’s post, Sam Storms articulates several other positions. He summarizes the “traditional dispensational, pretribulational (or futurist) interpretation” in this way:

[It] is that the temple is the literal structure to be rebuilt in or just before the tribulation period at the close of history. [For John Walvoord, the] worshipers are faithful, believing Jews of the tribulation period who will have reinstituted the sacrifices and rituals of the Mosaic economy. Their activity, however, will be terminated by the Beast who will bring desolation to the temple service and subject the holy city of Jerusalem to severe affliction for the last (literal) 3 ½ years (or 42 months) of the (literal) 7 year tribulation period.

If this is an accurate representation of this view, how sad that “faithful believers” are seen reverting back to the types and shadows which pointed the way to the cross, and this more than 2000 years after Christ came the first time as Messiah, Savior, and Redeemer. How any true believer could reinstitute these sacrifices and rituals, if given the opportunity to do so, is almost beyond comprehension. It seems more tragic than verbally denying one’s faith when sentenced to die by the blade of a guillotine.

Storms moves to the position of George Ladd, who was a Historic Premillennialist. For Ladd, Revelation 11:1-13 is “descriptive of the preservation and salvation of the Jewish people as portrayed in Romans 11:25-27.” He says, “The most natural meaning of Jerusalem is that it stands for the Jewish people.” Ladd sees “a contrast between a faithful remnant of believing Israelites who, in contrast to the city as a whole will be trodden down by the nations, i.e., they will fall under the divine judgment because they have become spiritually apostate.”

Sam Storms’ own position is this:

[All of Revelation 11:1-13] describes symbolically the mission and fate of the Church during the present inter-advent age, culminating in the final period of opposition and persecution by the Beast. On this view, the temple or sanctuary, together with the altar and the worshipers, stands for the church as God’s people (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5). The Greek word translated ‘temple’ is naos which without exception in Revelation refers to the present heavenly temple (7:15; 11:19; 14:15,17; 15:5-6,8; 16:1,17) or to the temple of God’s presence in the age to come (3:12; 7:15; 21:22). Thus the people of God, the members of God’s temple in heaven, are referred to in their existence on earth as ‘the temple of God.’

Regarding verse 2, Storms adds:

The measuring of the temple speaks of spiritual preservation from God’s wrath, but not from physical persecution and martyrdom. The people of God are sustained and protected in their faith while suffering greatly at the hands of the Beast. Thus this ‘measuring’ is equivalent to the ‘sealing’ of chapter seven and the ‘worshipers’ in 11:1 are the same as the ‘144,000’ in 7:4 (see 2 Sam. 8:2b; Isa. 28:16-17; Jer. 31:38-40; Ezek. 40:1-6; 42:20; Zech. 1:16; for OT examples of ‘measuring’ as ‘protection’; for the notion of destruction see 2 Sam. 8:2a; 2 Kings 21:13; Amos 7:7-9; Isa. 34:11; Lam. 2:8)…

Storms then, speaking for himself, says some things regarding verse 2 which I find myself agreeing with more and more:

Some say this is descriptive of the church’s experience viewed from two different perspectives. The church is spiritually protected from God’s wrath (the inner sanctuary) but is physically oppressed by pagan forces (outer court). According to this view the holy city must be yet another symbolic designation of the church. In Revelation “city” (polis) is used four times of the future heavenly city, the New Jerusalem (3:12; 21:2, 10; 22:19). This is similar to what we read in Hebrews 11:10; 12:22; and 13:14. The people of God on earth are members and representatives of the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 4:26). I believe this is also the meaning of the “beloved city” in Rev. 20:9.

But is it plausible to believe that the temple, the altar, the outer court, and the holy city, here in 11:1-2, all refer figuratively or symbolically to the church, i.e., the believing community of God’s people now on earth? Yes! Let us remember that in Rev. 3:12 the church, the believing community of God’s people now on earth, are promised that they will be “a pillar in the temple” of God. They will have written on them the name of God and “the name of the city” of God, “the New Jerusalem”!

Verses 3-13: George Ladd saw the two witnesses as two latter day prophets who would minister during “the final calamitous days of the tribulation period,” and whose “resurrection and ascension (11:11-12) are not literal but symbolic of the spiritual restoration or conversion of the nation Israel, spoken of in Ezek. 37 and again in Rom. 11:25-27.”

John Walvoord and other Futurists are open to the two witnesses being “individuals who are characterized in their persons and ministries by the elements and activities of [Moses and Elijah] as recorded in the OT narratives.”

Sam Storms says, “The two witnesses are not real or historical individuals, but symbolize the Church in its missionary and prophetic role during the present age and particularly at the close of history.”

Source: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/revelation-111-13-part-i/

PART 2

Verses 3-4: Continuing on with his discussion of the two witnesses, Sam Storms lists numerous possibilities which have been suggested for their identity. The following are several of the suggestions which are beyond the usual ones:

[1] Peter and Paul – Some point to the martyrdom of these two apostles and the tradition that Nero prohibited their burial (cf. Rev. 11:19).
[2] The OT and the NT – Or more likely, the Law (represented by Moses) and the Prophets (represented by Elijah).
[3] The Word of God and the testimony of Jesus – See Strand (AUSS 19 [1981], 127-35.

Storms further comments,

[T]hey are called “two olive trees and two lampstands” (11:4), the latter of which clearly reminds us of the lampstands in Rev. 1:12, 20; 2:1 which Jesus says represent the churches. Says Bauckham, “if the seven lampstands [in 1:20] are churches, so must be the two lampstands. But it would be better to say that, if the seven lampstands are representative of the whole church, since seven is the number of completeness, the two lampstands stand for the church in its role of witness, according to the well-known biblical requirement that evidence be accepted only on the testimony of two witnesses (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15; cf. Matt. 18:16; John 5:31; 8:17; 15:26-27; Acts 5:32; 2 Cor. 13:1; Heb. 10:28; 1 Tim. 5:19). They are not part of the church, but the whole church insofar as it fulfills its role as faithful witness” (274). This probably explains why there are “two” lampstands here instead of one as in Zech. 4.

Storms notes that Leon Morris suggests another plausible explanation for why there are two witnesses spoken of here:

As John has spoken of seven churches only two of which (Smyrna and Philadelphia) are not blameworthy, it is tempting to think of the two witnesses as standing for that part of the church which is faithful. Perhaps he has the martyrs in mind.

Storms then makes the point that the language of verse 7 (“the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them…”) is a clear echo of “Dan. 7:21 where the objects of persecution are collectively the people of God.” This is a good point, and it also echoes Rev. 13:5, which says, “Also it [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” This reference is also to the people of God in a collective sense, so why wouldn’t it be the same in Rev. 11:7?

Storms also references Greg Beale, who says, “[T]he corporate interpretation is pointed to by the statement in vv. 9-13 that the entire world of unbelievers will see the defeat and resurrection of the witnesses. This means that the witnesses are visible throughout the earth.” [If this has a first-century fulfillment, we can think in terms of the Roman Empire (cf. Luke 2:1, Acts 2:5), rather than globally. We might also limit the scope of “the earth” to Israel/Palestine, since that seems to be the usage of this phrase in other passages (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 belongs to the land of Israel).]

Regarding the two witnesses being clothed in sackcloth (verse 3), Storms adds this study note:

Sackcloth…was a dark-colored fabric made of goat hair or camel hair and was worn in the OT for any one of several reasons: (1) as a sign of individual mourning or national distress (Gen. 37:34; 2 Sam. 3:31; Lam. 2:10; Esther 4:1; Ps. 30:11; Isa. 15:3; 22:12; Joel 1:13; Amos 8:10); (2) as a sign of submission when supplicating people or offering prayers to God (1 Kings 20:31-32; Jer. 4:8; 6:26; Dan. 9:23); (3) as an expression of repentance and sorrow for sin (1 Kings 22:27-29; 2 Kings 19:1-2; 1 Chron. 21:16; Neh. 9:1; Ps. 35:13; Jonah 3:5-8; or (4) as the clothing of prophets as they anticipated a coming judgment (Isa. 50:3; cf. Rev. 6:12).

Verses 5-6: Regarding the fire which comes out of the mouths of the witnesses, Storms says,

That “fire” should proceed “out of their mouths” points again to the symbolic nature of both the witnesses and the ministry they are described as fulfilling. In Rev. 1:16; 19:15,21, Jesus is portrayed as judging his enemies by means of a “sharp sword proceeding from his mouth” (cf. 2:16). This is clearly a metaphor of the effect and fruit of his spoken word, whether it be of judgment or blessing (cf. John 12:48 (“the word I spoke is what will judge him on the last day”). We read of this same imagery in Jer. 5:14, “Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, ‘Because you have spoken this word, behold I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it will consume them’” (cf. also Ps. 18:13).

Storms, without being dogmatic, suggests that the witnesses have the power to shut the sky, turn water into blood, etc. in the sense that God responds with judgment on an unbelieving world which disregarded their witness:

But precisely what is meant, practically speaking, by the imagery of the church, through her ministry, stopping the rain, turning water into blood, and smiting the earth with plagues? Is the idea that God will, in response to the preaching, praying, and prophesying of the church, pour out his judgments on an unbelieving world? Beale suggests that “the church’s prophetic declaration of God’s truth concerning the gospel, including the message of final judgment, unleashes torments toward those who remain ultimately impenitent” (584). See also 11:10 where the two witnesses are described as having “tormented” the earth-dwellers. Is the torment equal to the trumpet judgments? Is the church and its ministry one of the means by which the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments are poured out? Is the torment psychological in nature, as, for example, when Paul preached to Felix and provoked this response: “And as he [Paul] was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25)? The church not only brings comfort, consolation, and joy to the repentant, it also brings discomfort, conviction, and consternation to those who continue to resist the truth of the gospel.

Verses 7-10: At the mention of the phrase “when they have finished their testimony,” Storms now sees the end of history as being in view. Also, quoting Beale, he sees that “the beast’s spirit has stood behind the earthly persecutors throughout history, and at the end he will manifest himself openly to defeat the church finally.” However, the beast is conquered by the faithfulness of the martyrs it puts to death. Storms speculates that the “great city” of verse 8 is Rome, a matter on which I personally don’t agree with him (much more will be said on this point in our study on chapters 17-18).

Verses 11-13: Storms believes that the portrayal of resurrection here “is an echo of Ezek. 37:5 and 10, where we read of God’s restoration of Israel out of the Babylonian exile. The nation in exile is described as corpses of which only dry bones remain: ‘Thus says the Lord God to these bones, “Behold I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life”… So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.’”

[That’s an interesting connection! Ezekiel 36:26-28 and 37:15-27 are especially reminiscent of Jeremiah’s picture of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; cf. Hebrews 8:6-13, Ephesians 2:11-22). These passages surround the text being alluded to here. That being the case, and considering how much we’ve seen by way of the Old Covenant being contrasted with the New Covenant, how are we to understand the imagery of believers receiving a breath of life and being called up to heaven in the sight of their enemies? Is this also a picture of the final transition from one covenant to the other, where the kingdom of God has been taken from national Israel and given exclusively to the body of Christ, completely divorced from temple-based Judaism (Matt. 21:33-46, Daniel 7:13-27, Hebrews 8:13)? Without taking away from that question, is this also a portrayal of the Church having overcome a time of great persecution through her faithfulness even in the face of martyrdom?]

Beale, on the other hand, maintains “that this scene is simply a symbolic portrayal of vindication. He writes: ‘The acceptance of the witnesses into the cloud [v. 12] shows the divine approval since the cloud…in the OT was representative of God’s presence either in judgment or in commissioning his prophetic servants.’”

Regarding the seven thousand killed in the earthquake (verse 13), Storms speculates:

If the two witnesses are linked to the ministry of Elijah, the 7,000 who die may be the just equivalent of the 7,000 faithful who “did not bow the knee to Baal” (cf. Rom. 11:4).

This marks the end of Sam Storm’s commentary on Revelation 11. He does not appear to deal with verses 14-19.

Source: http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/revelation-111-13-part-ii/

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Our study of Revelation 12 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 11


REVELATION 11

Dave: October 8, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 11

[Notes from Adam were added on November 3rd and 8th, with Dave’s permission, and are in maroon font.]

Verses 1-2: The Two Witnesses
1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

David Chilton comments: “Measuring is a symbolic action used in scripture to ‘divide between the holy and the profane’ and thus to indicate divine protection from destruction (see Ezek. 22:26; 40-43; Zech. 2:1-5; cf. Jer. 10:16; 51:19; Rev. 21:15-16)” [Source: Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), p. 220]. Some preterists find this text to be one of the strongest indications of an early date. Examples of this can be seen in the following quotes taken from the Preterist Archive:

[1] Johannes Friedrich Bleek (1870): “As to the time of writing, there are several statements which indicate this with tolerable clearness, and to which we have already referred. In the first division (ch. xi. 1-14)… Jerusalem and the temple are spoken of as still standing.” (An Introduction to the New Testament, 2:226.)
[2] James M. Macdonald (1877):
“It is difficult to see how language could more clearly point to Jerusalem, and to Jerusalem as it was before its overthrow.”, (The Life and Writings of St John , p. 159.)
[3] Bernhard Weiss (1889): “The time of the Apocalypse is also definitely fixed by the fact that according to the prophecy in chap. xi. it was manifestly written before the destruction of Jerusalem, which in xi. 1 is only anticipated.” (Bernhard Weiss, A Manual of Introduction to the New Testament, 2:82; 1889.)
[4] John A.T. Robinson (1976): “It is indeed generally agreed that this passage must bespeak a pre-70 situation.. There seems therefore no reason why the oracle should not have been uttered by a Christian prophet as the doom of the city drew nigh.” (Redating the New Testament pp.. 240-242).
[5] Kenneth Gentry (1998): “If John wrote about literal Jerusalem (“where also their Lord was crucified”)  twenty-five years after the destruction of the literal Temple (as per the evangelically formulated late date argument), it would seem most improbable that he would speak of the Temple as if it were still standing. The symbol would be confusing in its blatant anachronism. The Temple is required to be standing for the symbolical action of the vision to have any meaning. John uses the future tense when he speaks of the nations’ treading down the city. As just stated, this is not a reminiscence of a past event, but rather a future expectation.” (Before Jerusalem Fell, p.175)

David S. Clark (1989) is also quoted in this regard by Steve Gregg (p. 222): “Here is so plainly the destruction of Jerusalem that it could hardly be put in plainer words. It seems evident that there is no getting away from the fact that here we are dealing with the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70,–that all that John has said hitherto was leading up to this great fact,–that here we have the culmination of these prophetic seals, and this is where the first half of the book lands us.”

• If Revelation was written in 95 AD, then what temple is being referred to here? Herod’s temple had been long destroyed.
• If the temple here is referring to a temple that is “future” (as futurists believe), why would such a temple be necessary in light of the work of Christ and the new covenant that has replaced temple sacrifices? See Hebrews 9-10. If a new temple is necessary and said to be the “temple of God” in Rev 11:1, this would dangerously minimize the work of Christ.
• Rev 11:2 says that the holy city will be “trampled” for 42 months. This prophecy is remarkably similar to the one spoken by Jesus in Luke 21:24, where it is said that “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” And Luke 21:24 is commonly believed to be referring to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
• The “holy city” is Jerusalem as described in 11:8 [see below].
• 42 months is the length of time that historians say the Roman army attacked and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. This 42 months covers the period from February 67 AD – August 70 AD, that is, from the time that Rome declared war on Israel (and Vespasian marched into Judea, Galilee, and on toward Jerusalem) until Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed. From Scripture we know that Jerusalem had been known historically as “the holy city” (Nehemiah 11:1; Isaiah 48:2, 52:1; Daniel 9:24; Matthew 4:5; Matthew 27:53), and this was still its historic designation despite the fact that Jesus had pronounced it desolate (Matt. 23:38). In 1851, Moses Stuart (Professor at Andover Theological Seminary) made the following remarks concerning Revelation 11:2 and the trampling of the holy city for 42 months, his point being that the mention of “the holy city” also referred to Israel as a whole:

“Jerusalem, as being the metropolis, is, as often in the Old Testament, made the symbol or representative of the whole country or nation. The reader needs only to be reminded, how often Zion and Jerusalem stand, in prophetic language, as the representatives of the Jewish government, polity, land, and nation, in order to accede to the position, that the capitals in the Apocalypse are to be considered as the symbols of the country and of the government to which they belong.

“When John therefore predicts, in Rev. 11:2, that “the holy city shall be trodden under foot 42 months,” this of course involves the idea, that the country of which the holy city is the capital, is also trodden under foot. To make their way to the capital, a foreign enemy, coming (as the Romans did) from the north, must have overrun a great portion of Palestine antecedently to the capture of Jerusalem. The prediction of course includes both, inasmuch as the holy city is made the representative of the country at large.”

Source: Moses Stuart, Hints on the Interpretation of Prophecy, New York: Van Nostrand and Terrett, pp. 115-116; available online at http://www.preteristarchive.com/Books/pdf/1851_stuart_hints_interpretation.pdf

Discussion item: read Luke 21:5-33
• My ESV Bible heading, and the accompanying explanation, claim that verses 20-24 refer to AD 70. If so, how could the rest of the text refer to a future “end times”?
• Could the entire passage refer to AD 70?
• What is the significance of verse 32 to the issue?

I have to admit that for some time I’ve been a bit perplexed over the language used in verses 1-2. I can see the basis for saying that this passage is written as if the Second Temple was still standing when John received his vision (and I believe it was), yet the use of the phrase “temple of God” seems to indicate that the Church is also being referred to here (cf. Eph. 2:11-22; II Cor. 6:16; I Cor. 3:16, 6:19). Therefore it may be that John was (symbolically) measuring the Church which would be trampled (persecuted) for 42 months (see Rev. 13:5-7). Given the similarity between this passage and Luke 21:24, the physical temple was also probably being alluded to. It may be that both ideas were being spoken of in this case (more will be said on this later in this post).

David Chilton may be on to something, then, as in the quote above he referred to a division between the holy and the profane. That may very well be what John is seeing contrasted here. In other words, the desolate physical temple (cf. Matthew 23:38) would soon disappear, and only God’s holy temple (His people) would remain standing (cf. Hebrews 8:13, 12:18-29). I also appreciate what David Lowman (a Presbyterian pastor in Colorado) has said concerning these things:

The measuring of the Temple is patterned, like so much of the book of Revelation, after the book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel we are shown an angel of the Lord measuring the Temple representing the future for Jerusalem and God’s Holy people after a return from exile. Conversely, John measures the temple to determine its soon coming destruction and its being ‘trampled’ for 42 months…

What John does, though, is give us a beautiful, symbolic picture of God’s preserving work, for only the outer courts of the Temple are seen as being trampled, while the Temple Proper (Holy Place and Holy of Holies) is preserved. This would be God’s remnant preserved through the soon coming wrath and destruction. The physical Temple faced the wrath of God and His judgment, but His true Temple – the Church – survived and thrived amidst the persecution and tribulation…

God here, in this interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets, is once again showing His protection of His people. He has measured them out and has determined to protect them through the 3 1/2 year time of judgment set against apostate Israel and the physical representation of the old and obsolete Covenant, the Temple.

Kenneth Gentry (p. 174) writes in a similar manner, saying that “the measuring of the Temple is for the preservation of its innermost aspects, i.e., the…altar, and worshippers within (Rev. 11:1).” He adds,

This seems to refer to the inner-spiritual idea of the Temple in the New Covenant era that supercedes the material Temple of the Old Covenant era. Thus, while judgment is about to be brought upon Israel, Jerusalem, and the literal Temple complex, this prophecy speaks also of the preservation of God’s new Temple, the Church…that had its birth in and was originally headquartered at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 8:1; 15:2). Notice that after the holocaust, the altar is seen in heaven (Rev. 11:18), whence Christ’s kingdom originates (John 18:36; Heb. 1:3) and where Christians have their citizenship (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1, 2).

The external court of the Temple complex, however, is not “measured”; it is “cast out”… All the Israelites who refuse the new priesthood of baptism are cast out and their Temple destroyed. The Temple is not destined for preservation, “for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months” (v. 2). The prior prophecy of Christ (Matt. 24:2) absolutely prohibits any expectation of even a partial preservation of the literal Temple. Thus, John reveals both the prophetic certainty of the material Temple’s destruction and the fact of the preservation of His true Temple, His Church, His New Covenant people, His new priesthood [As such, Rev. 11:1, 2 functions in the same way as the “sealing of the 144,000” passage in Rev. 7]. The proper understanding of the passage requires a mixture of the figurative-symbolic and the literal-historical.

Steve Gregg (p. 220) adds these helpful notes,

As at the end of chapter 10, where John’s eating of the book repeats Ezekiel’s action of centuries earlier, here in chapter 11 John is told to do something else that also has a precedent in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 40-47 a man measures the temple with a measuring rod. In Revelation 11 John himself is given a reed for the same purpose. In both cases, the action depicts the defining of the true spiritual temple in view of the impending destruction of the physical structure in Jerusalem (by Babylonians in Ezekiel’s day, by Romans in John’s).

Verses 3-6: 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire…

The two witnesses
• There is all sorts of speculation about the identity of the two witnesses amongst preterists, futurists, and everyone else!
• The reference to the two olive trees and two lampstands is from Zechariah 4:11-14. There the reference is to the high priest, Joshua, and the governor, Zerubbabel. (Read Zech 4)
What do we know about the two witnesses from the text?
• They prophesy for 1260 days (vs. 3)
• They are clothed in sackcloth (vs. 3) (Why? Perhaps because their message is one of impending destruction)
• They have power to harm their adversaries (vs. 5)
• They have power over nature and to strike the earth with plagues (vs. 6)
• They are overcome and killed by the beast in God’s time (vs. 7)
• Their dead bodies will lie in Jerusalem for 3 ½ days (vs. 9)
• Their death will be celebrated (vs. 10)
• They have been a “torment” to those on the earth (vs. 10) How and why?
• God will make them alive again after 3 ½ days! (vs. 11)
• They are taken up to heaven on a cloud! (vs. 12)
• A deadly earthquake fell on the city after their departure (vs. 13)

Explanations given for the identity of the two witnesses:
• Religious and Civic authority (represented by the high priest and governor of Zech 4)
• Moses and Elijah returning to earth
• Elijah and Enoch returning to earth
• James and Peter
• Two people that God raised up for the role

Kenneth Gentry has the following to say regarding their identity and significance:

(1) This is recognized on all hands to be one of the more difficult identifications in Revelation.
(2) Somehow these witnesses relate to Moses and Elijah in that imagery from their ministries appear in the passage (water to blood and drought, v6).
(3) They also related to Zechariah’s prophecy of the gold lampstand and two olive trees in Zech 4:2-3, which speak of the rebuilding of the OT temple under Joshua (priest) and Zerubbabel (governor).
(4) In both allusions we have reference to the original founding of Israel as a nation and the re-establishment of it after the Babylonian exile.
(5) Thus, the two witnesses represent the founding of a new order for Israel upon the ruins of the old, earthly Israel. This is the church of Jesus Christ. Remember: Jesus said he will take the kingdom from Israel and give it to a nation bearing the fruit thereof. (Mt 21:43). Despite the persecution of Christianity it shall arise from apparent defeat.

Tony Denton (www.asiteforthelord.com) offers these interesting thoughts:

Under the Mosaic law, two witnesses were necessary to put any man to death; so, in that sense, God was providing two witnesses against Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple. These two witnesses would prophesy against Jerusalem and warn the people for 3.5 years.

Not only did sackcloth represent great sadness at an impending disaster due to sin, but also it (typically made of camel’s hair) was traditionally worn by prophets (like John the Immerser); perhaps this was because prophets were practically always warning of these disasters.

The two witnesses comprise one set of two olive trees and one set of two lampstands. So what or who do these trees and stands represent? Briefly…

This is derived from Zechariah 4:1-12 where the reader finds that one olive tree represents the anointed king David, and the other represents the anointed priest Aaron—thus king and priest; the idea here seems to be that Christ’s church (made up of Christians who were/are both kings and priests, Rev. 5:10) would be witnesses of God against Judaism. And…

We already know that individual congregations of the church universal were represented to John as lampstands (Rev. 1:20), they who shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15).

James MacDonald, in his 1877 book The Life and Writings of St. John, was of the opinion that we don’t have a historical record of the activity of the two witnesses during the Roman-Jewish War because the historians we rely on from that time were either Jewish (Josephus) or Roman (e.g. Tacitus), and none were Christian:

If we had a Christian history extant, as we have a Pagan one by Tacitus and a Jewish one by Josephus, giving an account of what occurred within that devoted city during that awful period of its history, then we might trace out more distinctly the prophesying of the two witnesses. The great body of Christians, warned by the signs given them by their Lord, according to ancient testimony, appear to have left Palestine on its invasion by the Romans . . . . But it was the will of God that a competent number of witnesses for Christ should remain to preach the Gospel to the very last moment to their deluded, miserable countrymen. It may have been part of their work to reiterate the prophecies respecting the destruction of the city, the temple, and commonwealth… The olive-trees, fresh and vigorous, keep the lamps constantly supplied with oil. These witnesses, amidst the darkness which has settled round Jerusalem, give a steady and unfailing light… If these two prophets were the only Christians in Jerusalem, as both were killed, there was no one to make a record or report in the case, and we have here therefore an example of a prophecy which contains at the same time the only history or notice of the events by which it was fulfilled… There seems to be a peculiar fitness in these witnesses for Christ, men endowed with the highest supernatural gifts, standing to the last in the forsaken city, prophesying its doom, and lamenting over what was once so dear to God (pp. 161-162)

Moses Stuart (Professor of Andover Theological Seminary), in his 1851 work Hints on the Interpretation of Prophecy, saw a significance in the number of witnesses chosen by God to prophesy during this time of judgment upon apostate Israel. He remarks, “Two witnesses, and but two, are specified, as we may naturally suppose, because, ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter is established.'” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 19:15 (cf. II Cor. 13:1).

Although history doesn’t seem to record the activities of two witnesses as some might expect if this is a past event (and if it is assumed that they are merely individuals), Josephus does record some interesting details regarding the activity of one man, whose behavior shows that he functioned very much as a prophet in the city of Jerusalem. The following excerpt is taken from a term paper I wrote a few months ago:

Jesus, the son of Ananus and a common Roman citizen, came to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem during a time of great peace and prosperity and began to cry out, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” He continued to do this for seven years and five months, day and night, in all the lanes of the city, crying out the loudest during the festivals. He was often whipped until his bones were bare, but witnesses say he never shed a tear, only crying out at every lash, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” He was dismissed by the Roman Procurator as a madman… [In April 70 AD he was] killed by a large stone flung from one of the Roman engines… Just before he was struck, he cried out with great force, “Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house! Woe, woe to myself also!”

In verse 6 we read that the two witnesses have the power to strike “the earth” with every kind of plague. Is their ministry worldwide or local? 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.

Verse 8: We know that Jerusalem is being spoken of because it is said that this is “where their Lord was crucified.” The following details also come from my same term paper:

It’s worth noting that “Revelation 11:8 suggests that Jerusalem’s streets were intact at the time of John’s writing” (Kenneth Gentry, 1998, p. 236) because the dead bodies of the two witnesses were to lie there for several days. If John wrote this in 95 or 96 AD, Jerusalem would have been a wasteland. As Kathleen M. Kenyon remarked [Jerusalem: Excavating 3000 Years of History, 1967, p. 185], “It was two centuries or more [after 70 AD] before human activity began once more to make its mark in the whole area of ancient Jerusalem.” It’s also significant in Revelation 11:8 that Jerusalem is called “the great city.” This is the same title given to Babylon the Great on at least six occasions (17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21).

To be called “Sodom,” of course, is not a compliment. When Isaiah was instructed to prophesy against Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:10), he called the Israelites by the same name because of their apostasy. It would make sense for John to speak of apostate Jerusalem, once known as the holy city, as Sodom, Babylon, and a harlot. Todd Dennis writes, “The image of the unfaithful wife, the harlot, was often used of Israel in the OT. Israel is repeatedly called the wife of God (Jer. 2:2, 3:14, Is. 54:5). But she was an unfaithful wife (Jer. 3:20, Hos. 1:2, Ez. 6:9, Ez. 16, Is. 50:1) behaving as a prostitute (Jer. 3:1-2).

Luke is very clear that Jerusalem was to be the place where Jesus would be crucified. In his account of the Transfiguration, Luke says, “Then behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).

Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 171) notes that Jerusalem was great in not only its “covenantal-redemptive [i.e. spiritual] signficance,” but also because of its historical fame. He quotes the Roman historian Tacitus who refers to Jerusalem as “a famous city” (Histories 5:2). Gentry adds,

Jerusalem housed a Temple that, according to Tacitus “was famous beyond all other works of men.” Another Roman historian, Pliny, said of Jerusalem that it was “by far the most famous city of the ancient Orient.” According to Josephus, a certain Agatharchides spoke of Jerusalem thus: “There are a people called Jews, who dwell in a city the strongest of all other cities, which the inhabitants call Jerusalem.” Appian called it “the great city Jerusalem.” …More important, however, is the covenantal significance of Jerusalem. The obvious role of Jerusalem in the history of the covenant should merit it such greatness… Josephus sadly extols Jerusalem’s lost glory after its destruction: “This was the end which Jerusalem came to be the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificance, and of mighty fame among all mankind (Wars 7:1:1)… And where is not that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation, which was fortified by so many walls round about, which had so many fortresses and large towers to defend it, which could hardly contain the instruments prepared for the war, and which had so many tens of thousands of men to fight for it? Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations” (Wars 7:8:7).

Verses 9-12: Here we read that the dead bodies of the witnesses would lie unburied in the streets of the great city, Jerusalem, for “three and a half days,” before “a breath of life from God” enters them and they’re caught up to heaven in a cloud. A very natural explanation for “those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations” (verse 9) being present in Jerusalem to see these dead bodies is that this would take place during one of the annual festivals. As an example of this, Luke says that on the Day of Pentecost “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Some of these nations are listed in Acts 2:9-11.

In several places Josephus speaks of dead bodies being left unburied in Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War (Wars 4.5.2, 4.6.1, 4.6.3, and 5.13.1). Josephus says this about the death of Niger of Peres which took place in Jerusalem:

“Nor did Niger of Peres escape their hands; he had been a man of great valor in their war with the Romans… he besought them to grant him a burial; but as they had threatened him beforehand not to grant him any spot of earth for a grave, which he chiefly desired of them, so did they slay him [without permitting him to be buried]. Now when they were slaying him, he made this imprecation upon them, that they might undergo both famine and pestilence in this war, and besides all that, they might come to the mutual slaughter of one another; all which imprecations God confirmed against these impious men, and was what came most justly upon them, when not long afterward. they tasted of their own madness in their mutual seditions one against another” (Wars 4.6.1).

In Wars 4.6.3 Josephus describes the fate of many Jews who “deserted every day, and fled away from the zealots, although their flight was very difficult, since they [the Zealots] had guarded every passage out of the city, and slew every one that was caught at them, as taking it for granted they were going over to the Romans.” Josephus adds this:

“Along all the roads also vast numbers of dead bodies lay in heaps, and even many of those that were so zealous in deserting at length chose rather to perish within the city; for the hopes of burial made death in their own city appear of the two less terrible to them. But these zealots came at last to that degree of barbarity, as not to bestow a burial either on those slain in the city, or on those that lay along the roads; but as if they had made an agreement to cancel both the laws of their country and the laws of nature, and, at the same time that they defiled men with their wicked actions, they would pollute the Divinity itself also, they left the dead bodies to putrefy under the sun; and the same punishment was allotted to such as buried any as to those that deserted, which was no other than death; while he that granted the favor of a grave to another would presently stand in need of a grave himself.”

Verse 13: We are told that a great earthquake takes place, causing a tenth of the city of Jerusalem [identified as such in verse 8] to fall, and 7000 to be killed as a direct result of the earthquake. This is said to occur in the same hour as the end of the ministry of the two witnesses. This account from Josephus, (said to take place during the first half of 68 AD, appears to be the fulfillment of this event:

There broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming (Wars 4:4:5). [Taking advantage of the noise of the storm, some of the Jewish zealots cut the bars of the temple gates with temple saws, allowing the Idumaeans to come in and join them in slaughtering some of the people]. The din from all quarters was rendered more terrific by the howling of the storm. And by daybreak they saw 8,500 dead bodies there (Wars 4:4:7-4:5:1).

Josephus does not attribute a certain number of deaths to the earthquake, and a certain number of deaths to the warfare which took place, but only notes that a total of 8500 dead bodies were discovered the morning after this earthquake. This is remarkably close to the Biblical account. Estimates of Jerusalem’s population prior to its destruction (at non-feast times) range as high as 200,000. This number in 68 AD, however, should have been lower considering that the Christians had fled and the city was in the throes of civil war. Josephus then records that the Idumaeans and the Jewish zealots succeeded in killing Ananus the high priest and his next-in-command, Jesus son of Gamalas (also known as Joshua), showing them much dishonor:

“Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial. I should not make a mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city [when the Jews] beheld their high priest, the captain of their salvation, butchered in the heart of Jerusalem” (Wars 4:5:2).

This is not to suggest that Ananus and Joshua were the two witnesses, but it sheds further light on verse 9 which indicates that the two witnesses were also not to be buried (cf. Psalm 79:1-4, where very similar conditions were described by Asaph).

Verses 14-15: 14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come. The Seventh Trumpet 15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

There is much discussion about the meaning of v. 15. Within the Preterist view, in what way can it be said that “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of His Christ”? One response is that, with the trampling of the great city and the destruction of the temple, the kingdom of God is clearly shown that it is not a “national theocracy” limited to the Jewish people. The kingdom of Christ is available to all people (as demonstrated by Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles). The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46) is most interesting in this regard. It speaks of the pattern of national Israel and its religious leaders throughout the Old Testament in killing God’s prophets and servants. At last they killed God’s Son, Jesus. When Jesus asked what would be done to the tenants of this vineyard, the chief priests, elders, and Pharisees (vss. 23, 45) rightfully answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruit in their seasons” (verse 41). Jesus then speaks of their rejection of Him (verse 42), and declares that the kingdom of God would be taken away from national Israel “and given to a people producing its fruits” (verse 43).

Who is this people? Of course, it’s the Church, made up of Jewish and Gentile believers, among whom there is no distinction made (Galatians 3:28, 5:6, 6:15; Colossians 3:11; I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 2:13-17). When did this happen, though, that the kingdom was taken away from national Israel and given exclusively to the Church? It can be said that this transaction took place at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection, even at Pentecost when the Church was born. However, the physical manifestation of national Israel being taken out of the way, and the final consumation of the Jewish age, took place when Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed in 70 AD. It’s quite possible that this event was on Jesus’ mind when He said, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (verse 45). The old covenant was in the process of vanishing away when Hebrews was written (see Heb. 8:13), but at this time it completely vanished away, and remains no more. Now to the Church belongs the kingdom (cf. Daniel 7:13-27).

In the Futurist view, the proclamation in verse 15 heralds the return of Christ and the end of the world. They point to verse 18 as the commencement of the final judgment.

Verse 19: As we saw in Rev. 4:5 and 8:5, the cosmic phenomena in verse 19 mirrors the phenomena that occurred when Moses delivered the Law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16). The significance of this parallel is that Jerusalem’s destruction (along with the temple) completed the transition from Judaism (the Old Covenant) to the New Covenant.

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Our study of Revelation 11 (Part 2: Historicist View) continues here. Our Revelation 12 study 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.