“The Earth” as a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation: Part 2


“The Earth” as a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation: PART 2 of 3

“An In-depth Study of John’s Frequent Use of This Phrase to Indicate Israel’s Imminent Judgment in the First Century AD”

Adam Maarschalk: February 19, 2010

This is now the second post in this series regarding the phrase “those who dwell on the earth,” which is used 10 times in the book of Revelation and also appears in Revelation many times in other forms. In the first post we laid a foundation for the meaning of this phrase by examining the passage in which it is mentioned for the first time, Revelation 1:7, arguably Revelation’s theme verse. We noted how “the earth” is very often substituted for “the land” in Revelation and elsewhere in the New Testament. We also took into account three different viewpoints on the meaning behind the usage of this phrase in Revelation. Finally, we began by looking at two instances in Revelation where this phrase (or a form of it) is used: [1] Revelation 1:7 and [2] Revelation 3:10. In this post we will look at 10 more related case studies. Before doing so, here is an abbreviated outline for this series (we are now in section C).

ABBREVIATED OUTLINE

A. Laying a Foundation for the Meaning of “the earth” in Revelation
I. Revelation 1:7 as the theme of Revelation: The meaning of the phrase “tribes of the earth”
II. The interchangeable use of “land” and “earth” in the New Testament
B. Three Views on the Meaning of “those who dwell on the earth”
I. Future and worldwide: Thomas Ice’s analysis of Isaiah 24-27 and Revelation
II. Future and limited to Israel: Mo Dardinger proposes that they are non-Jews
III. Jews living in Israel prior to 70 AD: Kenneth Gentry and P. S. Desprez
C. 18 Case Studies for “the earth” As An Indication of 1st Century Israel
D. Appendix: The Term “sea” in Revelation (Brief Overview)

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The references to various Scriptures in Revelation are hyperlinked in order to point to the Bible studies we have posted which include these particular passages:

#3: REVELATION 6:3-4, 8 [When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another, and he was given a great sword… And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.]

Regarding the picture of civil war here, we noted the following in our study on this passage, which gives credence to the idea that “the earth” in this passage refers to the land of Israel, prior to 70 AD:

As a historical fact, in the fall/winter of 67 AD a brutal civil war broke out in Jerusalem and Judea between the revolutionaries and those who wanted to maintain peace with Rome. Jerusalem was eventually divided into three factions led by [1] Eleazar, who was over the Zealots [2] John of Gischala, who was over the Galileans, and [3] Simon, who was over the Idumeans. It remained this way until the city was destroyed. The conditions were awful. In one night 8500 people were killed, and their bodies were cast outside of Jerusalem without being buried. The outer temple was “overflowing with blood” and the inner court even had pools of blood in it. Homes and gravesites were looted.

Not only did Josephus and other first-century historians speak of pestilences, famine, and killing by the sword in Jerusalem during that time, but Steve Gregg (pp. 114, 116) sheds more light on the prophetic significance of John’s description of the fourth seal judgment in verse 8:

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

#4: REVELATION 6:9-10, 15-16 [When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” …Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?]

If this equating of the phrase “those who dwell on the earth” with Israeli citizens is accurate, would it have been out of place for believers martyred prior to 70 AD to cry out for their blood to be avenged upon Jewish persecutors? Not at all, for Jesus couldn’t have been more clear that His own generation in Israel would be held responsible for the shedding of the blood of the saints, prophets, and Himself (Matthew 21:33-45, 23:29-38). This was Jesus’ pronouncement of judgment upon the Jewish religious leaders of His day: “that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar… Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:35-36). Also noteworthy is this quote by Steve Gregg (p. 118) of J. Stuart Russell, who, writing in 1887, said,

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

Regarding Rev. 6:15-16, this is what we wrote in our study of this particular passage:

F.F. Bruce said the following in 1986 regarding this verse: “The best commentary on the present passage is found in our Lord’s words to the ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ on the Via Dolorosa (Lk. 23:30)… If the same crisis is in view here, the first six seals span the forty years up to A.D.70″ (“Revelation” in International Bible Commentary, p. 1608). This is what Luke 23:27-30 says:

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

Jesus spoke these things to the “daughters of Jerusalem,” concerning themselves and their children. If these things were to take place centuries later in judgment upon Gentile nations, why would He have directed these remarks in this way to the present generation of Jews whom He lived among? This is yet another indication that the judgments of the book of Revelation were directed toward apostate 1st-century Israel.

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

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

#5: REVELATION 7:2-3 [Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.]

Clearly, God is marking His faithful people so that they will be spared from an impending judgment. Our proposal here is that this judgment is meant to be understood as being local rather than global, and that it took place in the past, namely the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 AD. Steve Gregg points to a remarkable parallel event, recorded by Ezekiel, which occurred shortly before Jerusalem fell the first time:

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

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

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

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

Revelation 7:4 records the number of those sealed as being 144,000. Setting aside for now any discussion of whether or not this number is meant to be taken literally, what is relevant to this study is their testimony as recorded in Rev. 14:4, saying, “…These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb…” Steve Gregg aptly notes that this is confirmation that this group lived in the first century:

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.”

#6: REVELATION 8:5, 7, 13 [Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake… The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up… Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!’”]

This is the second of at least four instances in Revelation where we see these same phenomena: thunder, lightning, and rumblings (along with an earthquake in this case). The first instance was in Rev. 4:5, and we see this again in Rev. 11:19 and Rev. 16:18. Regarding their occurrence in Rev. 4:5, Steve Gregg (p. 88) says something very interesting (and this applies equally well in all four occurrences):

The lightnings, thundering and voices (v. 5) recall Mount Sinai, where God first established His covenant with Israel [Exodus 19:16; cf. Rev. 8:5, 11:19]. Similar phenomena are mentioned here to suggest the end of that covenant and its replacement with another. The writer of Hebrews (citing Hag. 2) likened the overthrow of the first covenant (publicly demonstrated by the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70) to the time of its establishment at Sinai, but the latter would be accompanied by even more fearful phenomena (Heb. 12:18-29).

When these phenomena are seen again in Rev. 11:19, it’s in the context of the ark of God’s covenant being seen in His temple. There is a transition of covenants taking place, which will become even more evident as we continue in this study. As Gregg pointed out, there is a clear parallel here with the comparison of the Old and New Covenants as pictured in Hebrews 12:18-29. The first century believers who were the original recipients of the book of Hebrews had “come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (verse 22), and were “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (verse 28), unlike the things pertaining to the Old Covenant which could be (and were) shaken (verse 27).

Regarding the burning of the trees (verse 7), if meant to be taken literally, this account from Josephus points to a very plausible fulfillment during the five-month siege upon Jerusalem leading up to its destruction in 70 AD (Steve Gregg, pp. 151-152):

And now the Romans, although they were greatly distressed in getting together their materials, raised their banks in [21] days, after they had cut down all the trees that were in the country that adjoined to the city, and that for ninety furlongs round about, as I have already related. And, truly, the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down: nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change; for the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste (Wars, VI:1:1).

In verse 13, we see that three woes are pronounced upon “those who dwell on the earth.” Steve Gregg quotes from Adam Clarke (1732-1815), who he says is a historicist but “accurately puts forth the preterist position”:

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

#7: REVELATION 9:1, 3-4 [And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit… Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.”]

Regarding verse 1, we considered in our study of Revelation 9 that the “star fallen from heaven” could be either: [1] Lucifer (See Luke 10:18 and Rev. 12:9-10), or, perhaps more likely [2] the great star that fell from heaven in Rev. 8:10. If it is the latter, we have these helpful notes from David Chilton:

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

We also noted that the language used by John regarding “Wormwood” mirrored the test for adultery under the Law of Moses, as recorded in Numbers 5:11-31, where the drinking of bitter water would reveal whether or not a woman was guilty of adultery. This has special application to Israel, as the nation which had been joined to God in a covenant, the breaking of which would bring the accusation of adultery.

The army which John was shown in verses 3-4, likened to locusts, was sent to torment people. This torment was to last for five months (verse 5). David Chilton informs us of the interesting fact that in Judea it was typical for locusts to appear in the land anytime between May and September, a period of five months. Most significantly, we know that the siege of the Romans upon Jerusalem in 70 AD indeed lasted for five months, and not just any five months but in fact the same time of the year when locusts would appear in Judea. Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 248) quotes the following details from F.F. Bruce (New Testament History, p. 382):

Titus began the siege of Jerusalem in April, 70. The defenders held out desperately for five months, but by the end of August the Temple area was occupied and the holy house burned down, and by the end of September all resistance in the city had come to an end.

In verse 6 we are told that, as a result of the locusts’ torment, people would “seek death and…not find it” and “long to die, but death [would] flee from them.” Did this happen in 70 AD? Josephus records that during the height of the siege surviving Jews “poured forth their congratulations on those whom death had hurried away from such heartrending scenes” as were seen during the siege. Thousands were literally starved to death, over a period of months and not just weeks. As we saw in our study on Revelation 6, Josephus also records that when the temple was burned in August 70 AD, many survivors retreated to Upper Jerusalem and some put on happy faces “in expectation, as they said, of death to end their miseries.” This longing for death is reminiscent of what Jesus said in Luke 23:27-30 (cf. Rev. 6:16).

Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, 1998, pp. 247-248) believes that demons (rather than literal locusts) are in view in this passage, and that “this fits well with requirements of the early date [for the writing of the book of Revelation, i.e. before 70 AD] and the prophetic expectation of Christ in Matthew 12:38-45. There Christ teaches that during His earthly ministry He had cast out demons in Israel, but because of Israel’s resistance to His message, the demons will return in greater numbers within the ‘generation.’”

#8: REVELATION 10:1-2 [Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land…”]

In the Appendix we will briefly make the case that “the sea” is a common reference in Revelation (and elsewhere in Scripture as well) for the Gentile nations. If this is the case here, then this angel’s action signifies a bridging of the gap between Jews (“the land”) and Gentiles (“the sea”). His proclamation only makes this point crystal clear:

And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as He announced to His servants the prophets (Rev. 10:5-7).

The phrase “the mystery of God” should ring a bell for anyone familiar with the epistles written by Paul. He speaks of this mystery in Romans 16:25-26 (cf. Rom. 11:25), but he covers this topic most thoroughly in his epistles to the Ephesians (1:7-10, 2:11-3:11, 5:31-32, 6:18-20) and to the Colossians (1:24-27, 2:1-4, 4:3-4 [cf. 3:11]). The following brief summary will lead us to a monumental statement made by Paul in Ephesians 3:6.

In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul reminds the Gentile believers that they were formerly called “the uncircumcision” (2:11), they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise” (2:12), and “far off” (2:13). Now they “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (2:13) and “made one new man” with Jewish believers (2:15). They are “no longer strangers and aliens,” but are “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:19), being “joined together…into a holy temple in the Lord” (2:21).

Paul told the Ephesians that by reading his description of the mystery made known to him by revelation (3:1-4), they could perceive his insight into “the mystery of Christ” which was not made known to previous generations as it had been revealed to the apostles and prophets in his day (3:4-5). Paul is then most explicit regarding what this mystery is in Ephesians 3:6, and this is most crucial to our understanding of Revelation 10:7:

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Therefore, David Chilton and Jay Adams are correct as they are quoted for the Preterist commentary on Revelation 10:7 in Steve Gregg’s book:

This ‘Mystery’ is a major aspect of the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians: the union of believing Jews and Gentiles in one church, without distinction (Chilton, as quoted in Steve Gregg, Revelation, p. 208).

The completion of the mystery of God (v. 7) refers to the fact that the “predominantly Jewish nature of the church was to be ended by the destruction of the temple, the distinctive feature in which it centered” (Adams). The mystery itself, of course, is that of which Paul frequently speaks, namely, as Adams writes, “that the Gentiles should come into the church on an equal footing with the Jews, not first having to become Jews themselves…” (Steve Gregg, ibid).

We might do well to remember that several years after Jesus had ascended the Jewish believers were astounded when salvation began to come to the Gentiles (Acts 10:45, 11:18, 13:46, 14:27, 15:9-10). In 70 AD the centerpieces of Old Covenant Judaism, the temple and the once holy city of Jerusalem, were taken out of the way. The kingdom was taken from national Israel and given to the Church, the people whom Jesus said would produce its fruits (See the ‘Parable of the Tenants’ in Matthew 21:33-45; cf. Hebrews 8:13).

The picture of the angel bridging the gap between land and sea is a beautiful symbol of God’s bringing Jews and Gentiles together in Himself on an equal basis, having torn down the dividing wall by His work on the cross (Eph. 2:14). The placing of this picture in the context of events taking place in 70 AD is not to say that this reality was only made true at that time. Rather this reality brought about by the work of the cross was made all the more apparent and universal when the physical temple, the central symbol of Old Covenant Judaism and Israel’s national pride, was visibly brought down forever in 70 AD in favor of “a holy temple in the Lord…a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22).

In Daniel 12:7, as in Rev. 10:5-6 we see an angel who “raised his right hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever.” The exact same language is used in both passages. When the angel raised his hand to swear by God the first time, he swore that the things being told to Daniel would take place over a 3.5 year time period (“a time, times, and half a time”). It would result in the “shattering of the power of the holy people.” From the time that Nero declared war on the land of Israel in late winter 67 AD until the temple was destroyed in August 70 AD, exactly 3.5 years transpired. No event in Israel’s history epitomizes the shattering of their power like what occurred in 70 AD.

Furthermore, Daniel was told that this would be a “time of trouble” for his people like never before (cf. Matt. 24:21, Jer. 30:7), but that everyone whose names were “written in the book” (believers in Christ; cf. Rev. 3:5, 20:12) would be delivered. This is precisely what happened during the Jewish-Roman War. As we wrote in our study of Rev. 7,

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

#9: REVELATION 11:6, 10, 18 [They [the two witnesses] 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… and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth… 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.”]

In the case of the two witnesses, we know for sure that their ministry ends with their death in Jerusalem, for Rev. 11:8 declares that “their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” Jesus was crucified within the vicinity of Jerusalem. If the ministry of the two witnesses took place entirely (or primarily) within Israel, it would make sense that “the earth” here is also Israel. That’s where their ministry caused torment, and that’s where their death caused rejoicing (verse 10).

The fact that Jerusalem is referred to here as “Sodom and Egypt” is no doubt a reference to her apostasy. When Isaiah was instructed to prophesy against Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1), 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,” and later (chapters 16-19) as “Babylon” and a bloodthirsty “harlot.” Jesus did the same (Matt. 23:37-38), and called for Jerusalem’s demise within one generation (Matt. 23:35-36, Luke 23:28-31) as a result. 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). This is covenant language, and only a nation that was once in such a covenant could be guilty of breaking it.

In our two posts on Revelation 11, here and here, we proposed that the two witnesses were in fact the Church living in the last days prior to the overthrow of Jerusalem. One of several reasons for believing this is seen in the language of verse 7: “And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them.” The same thing is said of the beast in Rev. 13:5-7 regarding not just two individuals, but all “the saints” under his authority: “And the beast…was allowed to exercise authority for 42 months… Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” This is also a description of the work of the dragon in Rev. 12:17, who bore the same features as the beast (cp. Rev. 12:3 and Rev. 13:1), clearly with regard to the Church as a whole: “Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.”

In our study of Revelation 13:1-10 we noted that Nero launched a vicious persecution against the Christians within the Roman empire beginning in November 64 AD. This campaign of persecution lasted until his death in June 68 AD, a period of 42 months. What does this have to do with Israel, if in fact Israel can be equated with “the earth” whose inhabitants rejoiced because of this persecution against the Church?

Israel had enjoyed a good relationship with Rome until the Jewish revolt began in 66 AD, and Judaism was recognized as a valid religion within the Roman Empire. Josephus wrote of this relationship, “It seems to me to be necessary here to give an account of all the honors that the Romans and their emperors paid to our nation [Israel], and of the leagues of mutual assistance they have made with it” (Antiquities, 14.10.1-2). The Jews frequently took advantage of this relationship to induce persecution against Jesus and His followers (Luke 23:2; John 18:28-31, 19:15; Acts 4:27, 16:20, 17:7, 18:12, 21:11, 24:1-9, 25:1-2). W.H.C. Frend even writes that “the promptings of orthodox Jews in the capitol had something to do with” Nero’s decision to begin persecuting Christians in 64 AD (The Rise of Christianity [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984], 109; quoted in Kenneth Gentry, “The Beast of Revelation,” 2002, p. 63). According to numerous accounts, the Jews made use of Nero’s wife at the time, who herself was a convert to Judaism.

#10: REVELATION 12:12, 15-16 [Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short! …The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But 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.”]

Futurists generally take this throwing down of Satan (verses 9-10) to be future, so that his arrival on earth triggers the last 3.5 years of a future 7-year Tribulation. However, a case can be made that Satan’s role as “accuser of the brethren” (verse 10) ended at the time of the cross, at which time he was also cast down from heaven. As we wrote in our study of Revelation 12, we see this Old Testament role of Satan (prior to the cross) 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 (p. 264),

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).

With the timing of Satan’s removal from heaven thus established, we can begin to see why Satan possessed only a short time to do a certain work in the first century in relation to “the earth” (Israel) and “the sea” (Gentile nations). Jesus had promised that certain things would occur within one generation of His own incarnational ministry (note these and other time statements: Matt. 23:35-36, 24:34; Luke 23:28-31). One of these promises was the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom “throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations” before the end would come (Matt. 24:14). Was this fulfilled prior to 70 AD? 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).

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). In John Wesley’s commentary on Matt. 24:14, he said, “And this was done by St. Paul and the other apostles, before Jerusalem was destroyed. And then shall the end come—Of the city and temple.” Wesley took this phrase, “and then the end shall come,” not as a reference to the end of world history but to the end of “the city and the sanctuary” (Daniel 9:26), i.e. the end of the Judaic age. It’s in this vein that the author of Hebrews speaks of “these last days” (Heb. 1:2; cf. Heb. 9:26), that Peter saw the day of Pentecost as part of “the last days” (Acts 2:17), that Paul spoke of a “present distress” (I Cor. 7:26) significant enough to advocate celibacy because “the present form of this world” was “passing away” (I Cor. 7:31), and Peter was also able to say that Jesus “was made manifest in the last times” (I Peter 1:20); cf. Acts 2:40, Rom. 13:11-12, Rom. 16:20, I Thess. 2:14-16, Heb. 10:25, James 5:7-9, and I Peter 4:7. Steve Gregg picks up on this line of thought (p. 268):

[Satan’s] 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.

In verse 14 we are told that the woman “was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time” (often understood to mean 3.5 years). This is thought to refer (as we did in the case study on Revelation 7) to the escape of the Judean church  to Pella (modern day Jordan) during the invasion of Rome from 67-70 AD. 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.

David Chilton (Gregg, p. 274) sees verse 16 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.” Thus, “the earth” as first century Israel here can be seen not only in Jesus’ words regarding the timing of Satan’s being cast out, as well as the historical parallels to the text under review here, but also in the imagery which echoes some of Israel’s unique history in the Old Testament era.

#11: REVELATION 13:1-3, 8 [And I saw a beast rising out of the sea… One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast…and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.”]

This beast is shown to be from among the Gentiles, as indicated by his rising “out of the sea” (see Appendix). In our study of Rev. 13:1-10 we took note of much evidence that this beast is [a] Nero, in the specific sense, and [b] Rome, in the general sense. It’s tempting to post some of the key pieces of evidence here, but a lot of space can be saved by pointing to this very concise summary post here. One piece to the puzzle, though, I will mention here, and that is the explanation of the beast’s seven heads (verse 1) as given in Rev. 17:9-10.

To John it was explained that the seven heads represented not only the “seven mountains on which the woman is seated,” but he was also told of: “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.” 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. Thus, Nero fits the bill as the one of whom it was said “one is,” and Galba fits the bill as the seventh king who remained “only a little while.”

Regarding the mortal wound of the beast which was healed, Steve Gregg comments (p. 282) on how this can be seen following Nero’s unexpected suicide in June 68 AD:

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).

If “the whole earth” (verse 3) indeed refers to the Jewish people, should it be a surprise that they would be prepared in the first century to 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.”

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 Rev. 17:10, where the seven “kings” can easily be understood as Roman emperors.

#12: REVELATION 13:11 [Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.”]; REVELATION 13:12, 14 [“…It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed…and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived.”]

In contrast to the first beast, which rose out of the “sea,” this second one rises out of the “earth.” We see a close alignment between these two beasts, with the second beast acting as a strong advocate for the first beast. A footnote in the English Standard Version notes that the phrase “in its presence” can also be translated “on its behalf.” Scholars seem to be united in their view that the second beast (from “the earth”) is one and the same with the false prophet (Rev. 16:13, 19:20, 20:10).

As we saw in the previous case study, “the whole earth” marveled as they followed the beast from the sea (verse 3). Now we see that they were compelled to do so by this second beast (verse 12). If “the earth” can be interpreted as a reference to Israel, and “the sea” as a reference to Gentiles, then the proposal here is that the Jewish religious leadership of Israel (the false prophet in a corporate sense) compelled the inhabitants of Israel to worship Rome leading up to (and during) Nero’s reign. We’ve already seen that in Christ’s day the Jewish population as a whole was willing to pledge allegiance to Rome (John 19:15). Does the New Testament establish a pattern of Jewish religious leaders cooperating with Rome in fighting against the Church? David Chilton believes it does (Steve Gregg, p. 298):

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).

Each of the references Chilton cited is worth studying out, but of particular interest is Acts 4:24-28. There we see that Peter and John were persecuted by [1] “the Gentiles” and “the peoples” (verse 25) [2] “the kings of the earth” and “the rulers” (verse 26). In verse 27 “the kings of the earth” are identified as none other than Herod and Pontius Pilate. We know that Herod and Pilate did not reign over the entire globe, including South America and Europe, but only over Israel. Thus, we have another example outside of Revelation where “the earth” is clearly identified with Israel. We know from Rev. 17:18 that “the kings of the earth” were under the dominion of “the great city,” i.e. Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8).

How devoted were the Jewish people to Rome prior to the Roman-Jewish War? We have this testimony from Josephus: “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 Nero (who reigned from 54-68 AD), 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.

Regarding the worship of the first beast’s image, see this post in order to get a picture of 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. The Roman historian Dio Cassius writes of such an incident. 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, Before Jerusalem Fell, 2002, 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.” It’s easy to imagine that if a Roman senator would be executed for failing to worship Nero, then this would be all the more true for subjects throughout the empire, including in Israel (verses 14-15). Interestingly, Justin Martyr, Clementine, and Irenaeus all record that the heretic Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24) had the ability to bring statutes to life.

In Rev. 13:16-17 we learn that this same beast from “the earth” prevented its subjects from buying or selling without a mark “on the right hand or the forehead” denoting “the name of the [first] beast or the number of its name.” This can be understood as either [1] a non-literal mark, as the seal on the foreheads of God’s servants (Rev. 7:2-3) is most often thought to be, or [2] a literal mark of some kind. In our study of Rev. 13:12-18 we noted three different testimonies regarding this matter:

[1] David Chilton: “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).]

[2] Richard Anthony: “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).”

[3] C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines Jr.: “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].”

For a clear and concise review of 10 distinct prophecies concerning the beast which were fulfilled by Nero and the Roman Empire, please see this post here.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

In the third and final post of this series we will examine six more case studies from the book of Revelation where the phrase “the earth” indicates first century Israel. We will also see that the Gentiles are often indicated by the phrase “the sea” in the book of Revelation and elsewhere.

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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