“The Earth” as a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation: Part 3

“The Earth” as a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation: PART 3 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 third and final 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 the previous post (PART 2)  we looked at 10 more related case studies. In this post we will examine the final six case studies listed in the outline in Post #1. We will also see a brief overview for “the sea” being a common indication for Gentiles in Revelation and elsewhere in Scripture. Before doing so, here is an abbreviated outline for this series (we are now toward the end of section C, which we will complete in this post along with section D).


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)


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:

#13: REVELATION 14:3, 6, 18-19 [“…and 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… Then 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… And 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. 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.”]

These are the same 144,000 whom we spoke of in our case study on Rev. 7. There we noted that they were sealed by God prior to the destruction which was to come upon “the earth,” and that this mirrored the protection that was afforded the believers who fled to Pella (Jordan) at some point prior to the siege on Jerusalem in 70 AD. Now we see that they have been “redeemed from the earth.” Here we also see them standing on Mount Zion with the Lamb (verse 1), a reference which is remarkably similar 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.”

Their very early placement in Church history is confirmed by verse 4, which states that they are “firstfruits for God and the Lamb.” As Steve Gregg writes in his commentary on this verse,

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.”

Thus, there is a solid basis for believing that this group belongs to the first century AD, rather than in our future. The case that “the earth” here (verse 3) is a reference to Israel is very easily made by the fact that every member of this group is from one of the 12 tribes of Israel (Rev. 7:4-8).

Regarding verses 18-19, it makes sense that the wrath of God upon the nation of Israel in 70 AD would be described in these terms. Similar language was used in speaking of God’s judgment upon Jerusalem and Judah in 586 BC, in Lamentations 1:15-20 (“…the Lord has trodden as in a winepress the virgin daughter of Judah…the Lord has commanded against Jacob that his neighbors should be his foes; Jerusalem has become a filthy thing among them…”).

The amount of blood that flowed, not only in Jerusalem but also throughout the surrounding region, in 70 AD could easily suggest the fulfillment of Revelation 14:20, which says, “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.

Josephus writes [concerning the Roman soldiers, after they had burned down the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD], “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). Jerusalem was geographically situated on a mountain, so the flow of blood in the quantity suggested by Josephus would have flowed downward beyond the city. Furthermore, Jerusalem was only the central target of Rome’s wrath, but by no means the only location within Judea that experienced great carnage at this time.

#14: REVELATION 16:1-2, 18-19 [Then I heard a loud voice from the temple telling the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God. So the first angel went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and harmful and painful sores came upon the people who bore the mark of the beast and worshiped its image… And there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, and a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth, so great was that earthquake. The great city was split into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell, and God remembered Babylon the great, to make her drain the cup of the wine of the fury of His wrath.”]

If the first plague of “harmful and painful sores” is to be taken literally, it’s of much significance that the people of Israel were warned that this would happen to them if they were not faithful to His covenant: “The Lord will strike you with the boils of Egypt, and with tumors and scabs and itch, of which you cannot be healed… The Lord will strike you on the knees and on the legs with grievous boils of which you cannot be healed, from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head” (Deut. 28:27, 35; cf. Exodus 9:8-11). This lends credence to the notion that 1st century Israel is to be identified with “the earth,” the recipient of this plague.

A very strong case can be made that the third bowl (verses 4-7) could have no target aside from the land of Israel, and no possible fulfillment beyond the first century AD. In this judgment “the rivers and the springs of water…became blood,” prompting an agnel to say, “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for You brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!” To only one entity belongs this charge, and that is the nation of Israel, specifically the generation alive at the time of Christ’s earthly ministry: “…so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent 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. 23:29-36; esp. note verses 35-36; cf. Acts 7:51-53, I Thess. 2:14-16).

Regarding verses 18-19, we noted in our case study on Revelation 8 that “the lightnings, thundering and voices…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 New Covenant].” This interpretation is now vindicated as we read of “a great earthquake such as there had never been since man was on the earth.” In comparing the Old Covenant to the New Covenant (Heb. 12:18-28), the author of Hebrews says:

At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken… (Heb. 12:26-28; cf. Matt. 21:43-44).

Old Covenant temple-based Judaism was shakable, but the New Covenant, “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22-24), is not. This is the symbolic fulfillment of this earthquake, if taken this way. How about the more literal fulfillment? Regarding the splitting into three parts of “the great city,” which we know to be Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8), Philip Carrington wrote in 1931:

This refers to the division into three factions, which became acute after the return of Titus. While Titus was besieging it from without, the three leaders of rival factions were fighting fiercely within: but for this the city might have staved off defeat for a long time, even perhaps indefinitely, for no great army could support itself for the long in those days in the neighborhood of Jerusalem; there was no water and no supplies. The fighting within the city delivered it quickly into the hands of Titus (Steve Gregg, pp. 393-94).

The three factions, we are told by Josephus and others, were 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. The city remained divided this way until it was destroyed (cf. Rev. 6:3-4).

There is also a strong allusion here in Revelation 16 to Ezekiel 5:1-12, where we read that Ezekiel was required to shave his head and divide it into three parts. He was told by God, “This is Jerusalem” (Ezek 5:5).  One third was burned, one third was chopped up by the sword, and the last third was scattered into the wind.  This happened in 586 B.C. (some were burned inside the city, some were slain by sword by the Babylonians, and those remaining were scattered among the nations). The city was again divided in this way in 70 AD.

Further evidence for equating “the earth” with Israel in this passage is drawn from Rev. 16:21. Josephus gives us great insight into the “hailstones, weighing about one hundred pounds” which were to fall on “the great city.”  He wrote of large stones being shot from catapults by the Roman armies, which the watchmen in Jerusalem reported as appearing white in the sky (Gregg, pp. 395-96). In Wars 5:6:3, Josephus records the following account:

Now the stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs and further. The blow they gave was no way to be sustained, not only by those that stood first in the way, but by those that were beyond them for a great space. As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white color, and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but could be seen also before it came by its brightness.

#15: REVELATION 17:1-2, 5 [Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.’ …And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.’”]

Notice that the reference to “the kings of the earth” here is distinct from the reference to “the kings of the whole world” in Revelation 16:14, where that reference was to the provincial kings of the entire Roman Empire. The Roman world was the world of John’s readers in his day, and in other places in the New Testament “the world” is identified in the same way (e.g. Luke 2:1; Acts 2:5, 9-11). The image of “the great prostitute who is seated on many waters” is clearly symbolic of an entity, rather than a woman (in fact, in verse 18 we’re told that the woman is a city). Likewise, the reference to “sexual immorality” is also symbolic, most naturally of spiritual unfaithfulness. Kenneth Gentry, in his book Before Jerusalem Fell, lists a set of reasons for identifying 1st century Israel with “the great prostitute” shown here (pp. 240-241):

Briefly, the evidence for the identifying of Jerusalem as the Harlot is based on the following: (1) Both are called ‘the great city’ (Rev. 14:8; 11:8). (2) The Harlot is filled with the blood of the saints (cp. Rev. 16:6; 17:6, 18:21, 24; with Matt. 23:34-38; Luke 13:33; Acts 7:51-52). Jerusalem had previously been called by pagan names quite compatible with the designation ‘Babylon’ (cp. Rev. 14:8 and 17:5 with 11:8). (4) Rome could not fornicate against God, for only Jerusalem was God’s wife (Rev. 17:2-5, cp. Isa. 1:20; Jer. 31:31). (5) There is an obvious contrast between the Harlot and the chaste bride (cp. Rev. 17:2-5 with Rev. 21:1ff.) that suggests a contrast with the Jerusalem below and the Jerusalem above (Rev. 21:2; cp. Gal. 4:24ff.; Heb. 12:18ff.). The fact that the Harlot is seated on the seven-headed Beast (obviously representative of Rome) indicates not identity with Rome, but alliance with Rome against Christianity (cp. Matt. 23:37ff.; John 19:6-16; Acts 17:7).

In Jeremiah 3, Israel is also called “a whore” for her spiritual unfaithfulness in Jeremiah’s day (when Jerusalem was destroyed the first time, in 586 BC). In Jer. 3:3 it was said that Israel had “the forehead of a whore.” Likewise, here in Rev. 17:5, “on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.’” If Israel is to be identified with “the earth” here, in what sense was Israel full of abominations? In Daniel 9:26-27 we see that it is on “the wing of abominations” that one comes “who makes desolate” (cf. Rev. 17:16, Matt. 23:38). This is in reference to the destruction of “the city and the sanctuary” (as related to Daniel’s own people and his holy city—Dan. 9:24). What are the abominations spoken of in both Daniel and Revelation? Regarding Daniel 9, John Calvin several centuries ago remarked:

I have no hesitation in referring this language of the angel to that profanation of the Temple which happened after the manifestation of Christ, when sacrifices ceased, and the shadows of the law were abolished. From the time, therefore, at which the sacrifice really ceased to be offered; this refers to the period at which Christ by his advent should abolish the shadows of the law, thus making all offering of sacrifices to God totally valueless… God’s wrath followed the profanation of the Temple. The Jews never anticipated the final cessation of their ceremonies, and always boasted in their peculiar external worship, and unless God had openly demonstrated it before their eyes, they would never have renounced their sacrifices and rites as mere shadowy representations. Hence Jerusalem and their Temple were exposed to the vengeance of the Gentiles.

Physical Jerusalem, as well as Old Covenant, temple-based Judaism, came under judgment in 70 AD. In Rev. 17:4, the woman is seen to be wearing purple and scarlet, and gold, jewels, and pearls. She had in her hand a golden cup “full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality.” Todd Dennis, the founder of the Preterist Archive, makes some helpful observations here:

…the description of the harlot’s attire (purple, scarlet, gold, jewels, and pearls) was nearly identical to the ephod worn by the high priest (Revelation 17:4; cf. Exodus 28:5-21). The golden cup she held was likely symbolic of the temple vessels, the greatest part of which were gold and silver, according to the Jewish historian Josephus (Wars 5.4.4). On Aaron’s forehead was the inscription “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 28:36). The harlot’s forehead, on the other hand, bore the title “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Rev. 17:5).

Again, as we’ve seen earlier, only Israel could be charged as drunk “with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus” (Rev. 17:6). Jesus had laid this charge upon Israel during His earthly ministry, and He called for judgment to come within one generation (Matt. 23:35-36).

#16: REVELATION 17:8, 18 [The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come… And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”]

Regarding “the dwellers on earth” (i.e. the inhabitants of Israel/Palestine) marveling over the beast (i.e. Rome in the general sense, and Nero in the specific sense), we covered this in our two case studies on Revelation 13 and don’t need to repeat these things here. The following passages will grant a quick survey of how the Jewish leaders worked together with Rome to persecute 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.

In verse 18 John was explicitly told that “the great prostitute” he had seen was “the great city.” This designation was first given to Jerusalem in Revelation 11:8, and is later repeated as a reference to Babylon the Great on at least seven occasions (16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21; cf. Rev. 14:8). There is also a significant parallel between the language the angel uses here to describe this “great city” and the language used on more than one occasion by Jeremiah to describe Jerusalem in his day. Lamentations, written shortly after Jerusalem fell the first time in 586 BC, begins this way: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.” Interestingly, the great city in John’s day also says, “I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see” (Rev. 18:7). Also when Jeremiah prophesied of Jerusalem’s soon coming destruction in his day, he wrote:

And many nations will pass by this city, and every man will say to his neighbor, “Why has the Lord dealt thus with this great city?” And they will answer, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them” (Jeremiah 22:8-9).

Thus, Jerusalem was primarily a “great city” because of her covenant status. Jerusalem apparently was great in the political sense as well, though. As Kenneth Gentry writes (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 171),

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).

J. Stuart Russell makes another observation, regarding the phrase “kings of the earth” used in this verse and often thought to be wider in scope than Israel/Palestine. Not only is this expression found throughout Revelation, he says, but it’s also in Acts 4:26-27. There “Herod and Pontius Pilate are identified by the very same expression. Plainly, then, in Acts the expression means ‘the leaders or rulers of the Land’ (i.e. of Israel). If that is the phrase’s meaning here in verse 18, then Jerusalem surely can be said to be the city that reigns over the rulers of Israel” (Steve Gregg, p. 422).

#17: REVELATION 18:3, 9, 11, 23-24 [For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living… And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning… And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls… and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more, for your merchants were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.”]

In verse 3 we see that “Babylon the Great” (Rev. 18:2) receives the same indictment as “the great prostitute” and “the great city” in Rev. 17. Indeed, these are one and the same, i.e. three different terms are used to describe the same entity. Steve Gregg notes how very similar language was used of Jerusalem before Jerusalem’s fall at the hand of Babylon in 586 BC, and deduces what this means for 1st century Jerusalem even as she takes on the name of her old conqueror (pp. 424, 426):

Jerusalem was charged with committing fornication with the kings of the earth (v. 3) in Old Testament times (Ezek. 16:14-15, 26, 28-30; 23:12-21). The prophet used this imagery to explain God’s reason for bringing judgment upon Jerusalem by the hands of the Babylonians in 586 B.C. It would seem appropriate that the New Testament apostle/prophet would employ the same language in describing a near-identical event, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

In addition to “the kings of the earth” spiritually fornicating with apostate Israel/Judaism (cf. Acts 4:26-27), the same is said to be true for “the merchants of the earth.” Both groups, as well as those at sea (verse 17) were to witness and weep over “the smoke of her burning” while standing far off (verses 10, 15, 17). How might this apply to 1st century Israel, if indeed “the earth” here is a reference to a local entity in the past rather than a global reference for the future? George Peter Holford, basing his 1805 account on the writings of Josephus, wrote the following graphic details in describing the burning of Jerusalem’s temple in 70 AD:

The Romans, exasperated to the highest pitch against the Jews, seized every person whom they could find, and, without the least regard to sex, age or quality, first plundered and then slew them. The old and the young, the common people and the priests, those who surrendered and those who resisted, were equally involved in this horrible and indiscriminate carnage. Meanwhile the Temple continued burning, until at length, vast as was its size, the flames completely enveloped the whole building; which, from the extent of the conflagration, impressed the distant spectator with an idea that the whole city was now on fire. The tumult and disorder which ensued upon this event, it is impossible (says Josephus) for language to describe. The Roman legions made the most horrid outcries; the rebels, finding themselves exposed to the fury of both fire and sword, screamed dreadfully; while the unhappy people who were pent up between the enemy and the flames, deplored their situation in the most pitiable complaints. Those on the hill and those in the city seemed mutually to return the groans of each other. Such as were expiring through famine, were revived by this hideous scene, and seemed to acquire new spirits to deplore their misfortunes. The lamentations from the city were re-echoed from the adjacent mountains, and places beyond Jordan. The flames which enveloped the Temple were so violent and impetuous, that the lofty hill on which it stood appeared, even from its deep foundations, as one large body of fire. The blood of the sufferers flowed in proportion to the rage of this destructiveelement; and the number of the slain exceeded all calculation. The ground could not be seen for the dead bodies, over which the Romans trampled in pursuit of the fugitives; while the crackling noise of the devouring flames mingled with the clamor of arms,the groans of the dying and the shrieks of despair, augmented the tremendous horror of a scene, to which the pages of history can furnish no parallel.

The reason for the weeping of the “merchants of the earth,” we are told, is because there were 28 types of cargo they would no longer be able to sell (verses 11-13), the most shocking being “human souls.” Concerning this list, David Chilton writes the following (Steve Gregg, pp. 436): “While there are similarities between the list of goods here and that in Ezekiel 27:12-24 (a prophecy against Tyre), it is likely that the items primarily reflect the Temple and the commerce surrounding it” (emphasis added). On this last statement, Duncan McKenzie has much to say in his 2006 article titled “The Merchandise of the Temple.” The following is an excerpt from that article:

First; why is John providing so much detail about Babylon’s merchandise? How does it add to what he is telling us? It is my position that this list of items is another example, one of the most extensive in Revelation, of physical referents being given in the midst of a symbol to aid in the identification of that symbol. As I have stated earlier, Babylon was not a literal city (not Jerusalem and certainly not Rome). It was a symbol of a community of people, a symbol of God’s unfaithful old covenant community. This community is being represented by images associated with the Temple and the priesthood. If Babylon were a literal city this list of items would add little to the story being told here. If on the other hand Babylon is a symbol of unfaithful Israel then all of a sudden this merchandise makes much more sense. Quite simply, the “merchandise” of Babylon is the merchandise of the Temple.

Carrington wrote the following on the goods of Babylon, “The long list of merchandise in 18:11-13 is surely a catalogue of materials for building the Temple, and stores for maintaining it” [Phillip Carrington, The Meaning of Revelation, (London: Society for Promotion Christian Knowledge, 1931), 287]…

Of the items which are listed in Rev 18, gold and silver, precious stones, fine linen, purple, silk (for vestments) scarlet, precious wood, bronze, iron (cf. Deut 8:9), marble cinnamon (as an ingredient of the sacred anointing oil), spices, incense, ointment, frankincense, wine, oil fine meal (Gr. Semidalis, used frequently in Leviticus for fine flour offering), corn, beasts, sheep are all found in use in the temple. Ivory and probably pearls were found in Herod’s temple. Although horses and chariots do seem to be incongruous, the Greek word for chariot is rhede, a four-wheel chariot, a fairly rare word which appears to come from the Latin name. The author may be insinuating that Roman ways were introduced into the sacred city [ J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, The Anchor Bible, vol. 38, eds. William R. Albright and David N. Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 304-305]. The four wheeled chariots (or carriages as Aune translates rhede) may allude to the wealthy aristocracy that had arisen around the current and former high priests.

The listing of merchandise in Revelation 18 is similar to the listing of the merchandise of Tyre in Ezekiel 27:12-24, as is the lamenting by those who got wealthy off the respective cities (Ezekiel 27:28-36). In Ezekiel 27 the city of Tyre is pictured as a ship (vv. 5-9) that sinks at sea (vv. 26, 32, 34). In Revelation 18 the Temple system of unfaithful Israel is pictured as a city that is overthrown.

McKenzie shows how “Revelation 18:13 consists mostly of items that were used in the sacrifices and offerings of the Temple: cinnamon, incense, fragrant oil, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep.” His take on the mention of “slaves, that is, human souls” in verse 13 is this:

The leaders of the Jewish temple system were enslaving men’s souls by turning them away from Jesus and attempting to keep them under the old covenant. The Temple hierarchy had been in bed with Rome (so much so that Rome even appointed the high priest). The Roman beast was about to turn on the harlot and destroy the whole old covenant system.

Interestingly, McKenzie points out,

Jesus had accused the Jewish leadership of enslaving men’s souls by preventing them from entering the kingdom of God: “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matt. 23:13, 15).

In Galatians 4:24-25 Paul tells how those under the old covenant were enslaved, as opposed to those under New Covenant who were free (Gal. 4:26-27). This gets back to the parallel between the two women/cities of Galatians 4:21-31 and the two women/cities of Revelation. Just as the “other woman” in Galatians had children who were enslaved (those staying under the old covenant, Gal. 4:24-25), so harlot Babylon had her slaves.

In Rev. 18:24, we have the fifth of six references to the shedding of the blood of God’s servants, the others being Rev. 6:10, 16:6, 17:6, 18:20, and 19:2. In several of these passages, Babylon is held responsible for the bloodshed of “saints and prophets.” In Rev. 18:20 even the “apostles” are told to rejoice at the overthrow of Babylon, implying that Babylon was responsible for their martyrdom as well. We can presume that “James the brother of John” was one who rejoiced at Babylon’s overthrow (see Acts 12:1-3). We see another indication that Babylon is Jerusalem, if we note how similar these passages are to II Chronicles 36:15-16, where the chronicler hones in on why Jerusalem fell the first time in 586 BC:

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against His people, until there was no remedy.

In Rev. 18:24, this is what we read: “And in her [Babylon] was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who have been slain on earth.” These words are so similar to what Jesus said in Matthew 23:35 that the connection should be unmistakable. The fulfillment of this prophecy simply cannot be yet future, in light of what Jesus said in the next verse, nor can it have been fulfilled in any other geographical location other than Jerusalem and the surrounding region (cf. Luke 13:33). Matt. 23:35 even uses the phrase “on the earth” to indicate where the blood of the saints and prophets had been shed. We know from the context that all of the guilty ones lived within the borders of Israel; the scope was local, not global. Babylon, that is, Jerusalem and Old Covenant Judaism as represented by her famous temple, were thrown down in judgment in 70 AD, just as Jesus said would happen.

Consider also what Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica: “For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last!” (I Thessalonians 2:14-16)

On verse 16, the famous theologian Jonathan Edwards said, “The ‘wrath is come,’ i.e., it is just at hand; it is at the door: as it proved with respect to that nation: their terrible destruction by the Romans was soon after the apostle wrote this epistle.” (Jonathan Edwards, Works, vol. iv. p. 281). Some translations say that God’s wrath has come upon the Jews “to the uttermost” (KJV, NKJV, NASB), “completely” (Amplified, ESV footnote), or “forever” (Amplified, ESV footnote).

Paul spoke these things nearly 20 years before Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, so why was he so confident to say this? Was it not because of Jesus’ promise that the shed blood of God’s servants, prophets, and apostles would be avenged within one generation (Matt. 23:35-36, Mark 13:Luke 11:49-51). Indeed, Paul’s words regarding the hindrance toward the spread of the gospel among the Gentiles seem to also reflect the words of Christ as recorded in Luke’s gospel account: “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

Kenneth Gentry, representing the preterist view in the book Four Views on the Book of Revelation, writes (pp. 46-47) that one of the dramatic results of “the destruction of Jerusalem and her temple in A.D. 70” is the “[effective universalizing of] the Christian faith by freeing it from all Jewish constraints (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 2:12-22) that tend to ‘pervert the gospel of Christ’ (Gal. 1:7; cf. Acts 15:1; Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16).” By anticipating God’s wrath as he did, Paul should not be seen as having a bloodthirsty vendetta against his fellow Jews, but rather as rejoicing that this great hindrance to the spread of the gospel would be removed.

#18: REVELATION 19:1-2, 19 [After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for His judgments are true and just; for He has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of His servants.’ …And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against Him who was sitting on the horse and against His army.”]

The kings, merchants, and shipmasters “of the earth” mourn when the great prostitute is judged and burned (see previous case study), but all of heaven rejoices. God’s servants, those who have been martyred, are vindicated.

Verse 19 (along with v. 20) briefly portrays one of the three judgments pronounced against the beast—the other two woes can be found in Rev. 13:10 and Rev. 16:10. In verse 20 we see that the beast is captured along with the false prophet, and thrown alive into the lake of fire. For a discussion of the identity of these two entities, which I propose to be Nero/the Roman Empire (the beast) and Judaism/Jewish leadership (the false prophet), please see this post on Revelation 13. It’s interesting that in verse 19 the beast is pictured with “the kings of the earth with their armies,” but in verse 20 the beast is said to be captured along with “the false prophet.” To what degree are “the kings of the earth” (which we have previously understood to be Israel/Palestine; cf. Acts 4:26-27) and “the false prophet” related? The most important detail, though, is that they are captured because they had gathered to make war against Him who was sitting on the horse and against His army (verse 19).

Is this particular detail a reference to a physical battle, or a spiritual one—namely the persecution of God’s people? We saw this same expression used in Revelation 17:12-14, where the ten kings joined the beast for one purpose: “They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful.” This speaks of persecution against the saints, for it clearly parallels two other Biblical accounts: [1] Acts 9:5, where Jesus took Saul’s persecution of the saints personally and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” [2] Revelation 13:5-7, where the beast was given authority to “make war on the saints and to conquer them” for 42 months (exactly what Nero did during his campaign of persecution from November 64 AD until his death in June 68 AD).

In this understanding, then, the capturing of the beast and the false prophet had everything to do with Christ and the Church overcoming the very agents that had persecuted the Church and had tried to stamp it out. As we have seen, Rome led this effort—prodded on by Israel—beginning in 64 AD under Nero, but prior to Nero’s intense campaign the primary persecuting power against the Church was national Israel (e.g. 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). Thus, it’s once again reasonable to conclude that “the kings of the earth” are confined to a local region (Israel), and are not seen as ruling over the entire globe. By principle, the fulfillment of this passage (Christ’s victory over the persecutors of His people) need not be limited to the events of 70 AD. David S. Clark (a preterist), while seeing in this passage an application to the events of 70 AD, also summarizes his application of this text in the same way that a Historicist like Sam Storms would do (Gregg, p. 454):

But does the conquest of this rider on the white horse pertain only to the Roman Empire? Must we be ever dealing with things that are dead and buried centuries ago? Is there nothing in all this that touches and vitalizes the church of the present day? Or are we never to get beyond the dry dust of the catacombs? … Let the church remember that this rider on the white horse is the living Jesus, that He is in the forefront of every battle, that just as He conquered the beast and the false prophet, so He will conquer every enemy… The rider on the white horse is still riding on. Let the church follow, clothed in linen, clean and white.

Even if the war described in verse 19 is related to the persecution of God’s people more so than to a physical battle, there certainly is a physical battle alluded to in this passage (Rev. 19:11-21). This is the classic text describing the famed “Battle of Armageddon,” although more details are given in two other texts: [1] Rev. 14:17-20, where the “winepress of the wrath of God” is also spoken of (just as in Rev. 19:15), and [2] Rev. 16:12-16, where the name “Armageddon” is actually named as a place. We noted in our study of Revelation 14 and also in our study of Revelation 16 that Tim Lahaye and other Futurist authors generally say this battle 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.[2] 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)…

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.”

Verses 17-18, and 21, speak of a large gathering of “all the birds that fly directly overhead…for the great supper of God,” human flesh. This is clearly in contrast to the “marriage supper of the Lamb” spoken of in verse 9. Sam Storms takes note of Old Testament parallels to John’s vision in these verses:

Here the angel announces the coming destruction of the beast, false prophet, and their followers through the same imagery found in Ezek. 39:4,17-20 where the defeat of Gog and Magog is described. The picture of vultures or other birds of prey feasting on the flesh of unburied corpses killed in battle (see also Rev. 19:21b) was a familiar one to people in the OT (cf. Deut. 28:26; 1 Sam. 17:44-46; 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:24; 2 Kings 9:10; Jer. 7:33; 15:3; 16:4; 19:7; 34:20; Ezek. 29:5).

Deuteronomy 28:26 is very interesting in this regard, for this prophecy in Revelation 19 mirrors one of the curses for disobedience if the nation of Israel was to forsake God: “And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away.” This is also similar to what Jesus said in Matt. 24:28 (to be fulfilled within one generation from the time of His prophecy—Matt. 24:34): “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

This happened when Jerusalem fell the first time in 586 BC (Psalm 79:2-3), and it was to happen once again when Jerusalem fell the second time. Indeed, it did happen in 70 AD. Josephus records the fact that thousands of dead bodies in Jerusalem were “cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath” (Wars 5.12.3), and “those valleys [were] full of [unburied] dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them” (Wars 5.12.4). No doubt these thousands of unburied dead bodies would have been the very thing needed to attract “the birds that fly directly overhead.

D. Appendix: The Term “Sea” in Revelation

Just as the term “the earth” often refers to the land of Israel in Revelation and elsewhere in Scripture, the term “sea” appears to be applied at times in Revelation to the Gentile nations. So far we have kept our focus on references to “the land” or “the earth” in Revelation. Here we will briefly note a few cases in Revelation where “the sea” appears to represent the Gentiles, i.e. non-Jews. One passage where this is almost certainly the case is Revelation 13:1, in referring to the beast with ten heads and seven horns. This is very similar to (and likely based on) one of Daniel’s visions where he saw four great beasts coming “up out of the sea” (Daniel 7:3); all of them are Gentile leaders. Most scholars are united in saying that these beasts represent [1] Babylon [2] Medo-Persia [3] Greece [4] Rome, with the Roman beast being the one that John saw.

Perhaps an even clearer indication of this idea is seen in Revelation 17:15 where the angel says to John, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages” (cf. Rev. 17:1). The word “sea” is not used in this instance, but the same idea (“many waters”—verse 2) is communicated, and this is done in terms of a clear reference to the Gentiles. In Rev. 12:12, we see that a woe is pronounced upon the inhabitants of “the earth and sea” because “the devil has come down to you in great wrath.” It seems it would make more sense for the Gentiles to be alarmed over this fact than for the whales and other sea creatures to feel distress.

Again, though, the mention of the word “sea” does not automatically indicate a reference to the Gentiles. Context matters. For example, Revelation 16:3 reads, “The second angel poured out his bowl into the sea, and it became like the blood of a corpse, and every living thing died that was in the sea.” I take this to refer to a literal sea. If it were a reference to Gentiles, there would have been no survivors among the Gentile nations of the first century. Revelation 8:8-9 is another reference to literal seas.

The Old Testament basis for this pattern of “the sea” as a reference to Gentiles can be seen in the following passages:

[1] Psalm 65:7; The “roaring of the sea” and the “roaring of the waves” is equated with “the tumult of the peoples.” The latter phrase is understood in the Old Testament to be a reference to the Gentiles.
[2] Isaiah 17:12-13; In verse 12, “many peoples” is compared to “the thundering of the sea” and “the roaring of mighty waters.” In verse 13 the same is said of “the nations,” a clear reference in Isaiah’s day to the Gentiles.
[3] Isaiah 57:20; “The wicked,” it is said, are “like the tossing sea,” whose “waters toss up mire and dirt.”
[4] Isaiah 60:1-5; This is a prophecy for the Church, deemed as such by New Testament writers (e.g. Eph. 5:14 RE: verse 1, Rev. 21:24 RE: verse 3). In verse 5 a direct parallel is drawn between “the sea” and “the nations”: “…the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” Some translations use the phrase “the Gentiles” instead of “the nations.”
[5] Jeremiah 6:23; Here, Jeremiah is prophesying of “a people coming from the north country” (verse 22) to make Jerusalem a desolation (verse 8). Their sound, Jeremiah said, “is like the roaring sea.” Babylon fulfilled this prophecy within Jeremiah’s lifetime when they devastated Jerusalem in 586 BC.

A prominent example of “the sea” as a reference to Gentiles in the New Testament outside of Revelation can be seen in Luke 21:25. Here Jesus is speaking of Jerusalem’s impending desolation (verse 20), what would be an imminent call for all who are in Judea to flee (verse 21), and wrath against “this [same] people” (i.e. the Jews) along with “great distress upon the earth” (or “the land,” i.e. Israel). Jesus prophesies the trampling of Jerusalem by the Gentiles (which Revelation 11:2 indicates would last for 42 months) in verse 24. In His very next thought, Jesus then utilizes a common reference to Israel (“sun and moon and stars”; see Genesis 37:9-10), and says that “on the earth” (Israel/Palestine) there would be “distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves” (verse 25). This is the same language we see used commonly in the Old Testament.

Here in Luke 21:20-25, “the earth” (Israel) is shown to be distinct from “the seas” (“the nations” and “the Gentiles”) in the same passage. This same distinction also takes place within several passages in Revelation:

[1] Revelation 13:1-18; The “beast rising out of the sea” (verse 1) is distinct from the “beast rising out of the earth” (verse 11), though the second beast ends up working on behalf of the first one (verses 12-17; Rev. 16:13) and is captured along with it (Rev. 19:20, 20:10). In our study of Revelation 13, we gave good reasons for believing the sea-beast to be Rome (in the general sense) and Nero (in the singular sense), and the earth-beast to represent Jewish leadership.
[2] Revelation 16:19; The “great city,” explicitly shown to be Jerusalem in Rev. 11:8, is shown to be distinct from “the cities of the nations.” The terms “earth” and “sea” are not used here, but this same idea is communicated.
[3] Revelation 17:15-18; An angel refers John back to Rev. 17:2-3 where he had seen “the great prostitute who is seated on many waters…sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.” She is equated with “the great city” (verse 18), which we know is Jerusalem (Rev. 11:8), and the “waters…are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” The Jewish prostitute is seen sitting on the Gentile beast. Early on they are on good terms with one another, but later on the beast causes the demise of the prostitute (verse 16).

The picture before John then is of Israel’s national and religious leadership having taken a stand against God’s people in partnership with the primary Gentile force of her day, Rome. This is signified by the “sea” and “earth” dichotomy in the book of Revelation. One more reference to “the sea” in Revelation, which some scholars do take to indicate Gentiles, is in Revelation 21:1. There we read, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” Does this mean that when this passage is (or was, or is being) fulfilled, that there are to be no more non-Jews? No, but it certainly could mean that there would be no more distinction made between Jews and Gentiles. After all, this is the message of Revelation 10:7, the fulfillment of “the mystery of God” (cf. Eph. 3:6; Rom. 10:12-13; Gal. 3:28, 5:6, 6:15). One’s view on whether or not this is John’s indication here in Rev. 21:1 depends on whether one takes the “new heaven and a new earth” and “the holy city, new Jerusalem” (verse 2) to be New Covenant Christianity (Gal. 4:24-26; Heb. 12:22-24) or simply a literal and future dwelling place. Our study on Revelation 21 is not yet posted, but should be within a few days.


I hope you’ve found this three-part series to be a blessing, and also informative. As a reminder, our list of chapter studies on the book of Revelation can all be found here: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/revelation/. All future posts related to the book of Revelation will also be listed at this link. Expected future posts or series on the book of Revelation include a compilation of direct allusions (in Revelation) to:

[1] the Old Covenant given to Moses at Sinai (meant to contrast the emergence of the New Covenant Church totally separated from temple-based Judaism)
[2] Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC (meant to foretell a very similar downfall about to occur in 70 AD, with Jerusalem taking on the name of her 586 BC conqueror–Babylon)
[3] the plagues which came upon Egypt (meant to point out that the punishments inflicted on Israel’s old enemy would now be inflicted upon her)
[4] justice for the martyred and persecuted saints and prophets at the end of the Judaic age

[1] Another seemingly obvious parallel to Rev. 19:9 (and therefore a contrast to Rev. 19:17) is The Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1-11. In this parable, speaking of the kingdom of heaven (vs. 2), a king (God) was to prepare a wedding feast for his son (Jesus), but those who were originally invited (the Jews) refused to come (vss. 3-5) and even killed the king’s servants who had invited them (v. 6). Therefore, these murderers were destroyed (cf. Matthew 23:29-38; Rev. 16:4-7, 17:6, 18:20, 18:24), and their city was burned (cf. Rev. 18:8-10, 18; 19:3). This is precisely what we see having happened in Jerusalem’s destruction and burning in 70 AD. The invitation then goes out to others (Gentiles as well as Jews; vss. 9-10), but only those with proper wedding garments were allowed to remain (vss. 10-14; cf. Rev. 19:8). Those who lacked these garments remained in outer darkness and were not part of the chosen people of God (vss. 13-14; cf. Matt. 8:11-12), despite the claims of John Hagee and other Christian Zionists to the contrary. See also Eph. 5:25-27 and II Cor. 11:2-3, where Paul spoke of preparing the Church in his day as a chaste virgin to be prepared for Christ.

One thought on ““The Earth” as a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation: Part 3

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