I recently came across an article on Jesus’ words about casting a mountain into the sea (Matthew 21:20-22, Mark 11:21-24), and I found it to be very good overall. The author, Don Walker, discusses how His followers in the first century AD did exactly that with the specific mountain that Jesus was talking about – Jerusalem / Israel / the old covenant system. This is confirmed in Revelation 8:3-4, 8-9.
It’s a brief article and I will include it in this post. In the second paragraph, Don discounts other applications of this passage, and I understand his point about the failure to first consider how Jesus’ listeners would have understood His words (audience relevance). However, Jesus Himself makes a secondary, greater application to what He said about casting the mountain into the sea, and I want to focus on that application in the final section of this post. A mountain was cast into the sea in the generation of Jesus and His disciples, and great victories can also take place in our generation. Here’s a simple outline for this post:
1. Don Walker’s Article
2. A Further Explanation of That Mountain Being Cast Into the Sea
3. A Prototype for More Victories
1. Don Walker’s Article
Here’s Don Walker’s article, “The Mountain Cast Into the Sea”:
The failure of many scholars and Bible commentators to recognize the significance of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. is evidenced through much of their interpretation of the New Testament. One clear case of this is found in Matthew 21:21-22 where Jesus says: “Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it shall happen. And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”
This passage has been “fodder” for many sermons on “Mountain-Moving Faith.” I have heard sermons on “a mountain of debt,” “a mountain of worry,” “a mountain of problems,” “ a mountain of sickness,” on and on ad nauseam. Time and again this passage, along with Mark 11:23-24, becomes the “launching pad” for a “faith rocket” aimed in any direction we want it to go. This is a clear example of “a text taken out of context becoming a pretext for just about anything.” As an aside, having heard many of the so-called “faith preachers” expound on these verses about how they are to be taken “literally,” I have not, as of yet, heard of any one of them casting a “literal” mountain into the sea.
In order to properly interpret this passage we must note that Jesus did not say, “a mountain.” Jesus said, “this mountain,” which holds great hermeneutical importance. He is not speaking about “any mountain.” He is speaking about a specific one. The Greek language is quite clear on this point. There is a definite article following the word “oros” (meaning mountain). Without the definite article it would mean that this would be translated as “a mountain.” Obviously, “a mountain,” and “this mountain” makes a difference in how one interprets what Jesus was referring to.
What mountain was Jesus specifically speaking about? I believe Jesus’ Jewish disciples, steeped in the language of the Old Testament, knew exactly what Jesus was referring to in this instance, and which mountain was to ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea.’
Mountains in the Scriptures symbolize nations and people (Isa.41:14-16, Zech. 4:7). Exodus 15:17 tells us that God that would “plant” Israel “in the mountain of Thine inheritance.” Throughout the Old Testament the nation was spoken of as “Mount Zion” (example: Ps. 48:11, 74:2, 125:1; Isa. 8:18, 10:12, 24:23, 29:8; Joel 2:32). The disciples were well aware of this and understood the implication of Jesus’ words. In addition, William Telford in his book, The Barren Temple and the Withered Tree, states that the phrase “this mountain” was a standard expression among the Jewish people for the Temple Mount.
“This mountain” was understood, by the disciples, to be in reference to the nation of Israel which was directly related to the Temple. Coupled with this statement from Jesus, in the midst of His warnings about the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 20-25), is His cursing of an unfruitful fig tree, as a symbol of judgment upon Israel.
Jesus was not suddenly changing the topic away from the destruction of Jerusalem, but focusing in on the role of His followers to pray, in faith, for its destruction. Commenting on this passage in his book, Days of Vengeance, David Chilton writes:
“Jesus was instructing His disciples to pray imprecatory prayers, beseeching God to destroy Israel, to wither the fig tree, to cast the apostate mountain into the sea.”
In Revelation 8:8 we see the fulfillment of the prayers of the saints (Rev. 8:3-4), when we are told, “something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea.” This is also the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the judgment of Babylon, which Jerusalem had become, “a destroying mountain” on which God unleashed His wrath. The imagery of Revelation 8:8 parallels that of Jeremiah 51:25,42, which declares:
“Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, who destroys the whole earth,” declares the Lord, “and I will stretch out My hand against you, and roll you down from the crags and I will make you a burnt out mountain… The sea has come up over Babylon; she has been engulfed with its tumultous waves.”
The apostate mountain that is “cast into the sea” speaks symbolically of the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jewish people across the earth, into the “sea of humanity.” The mountain was not only “taken up” but also “cast into the sea” in the language of the Scriptures. It was, therefore, an actual fulfillment of the prayers of the saints who obeyed Christ’s instructions.
The “this mountain” that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 21:21 was replaced by “the great mountain” of Daniel 2:35. We see the replacement of the Harlot with the Bride, Israel with the Church, and Babylon (earthly Jerusalem) with the heavenly Jerusalem.
The failure of most Bible commentators to see the significance of the fall of Jerusalem “clouds” their interpretation of this and many other passages of Scripture. It has also hindered the Church of Jesus Christ from seeing the surpassing greatness of the New Covenant, which has made the old obsolete (Heb. 8:13).
2. A Further Explanation of That Mountain Being Cast Into the Sea
John Noē shares more details about how Jerusalem was on a mountain:
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).
In Revelation 6:9-11 John saw “the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held” crying out and asking God how soon He would judge and avenge their blood on those who were dwelling on the earth (or “in the land”). See also Luke 18:1-8 (the Parable of the Persistent Widow).
Centuries before it was prophesied that this blood would be avenged (Deuteronomy 32:43) upon “a perverse and crooked generation” (Deut. 32:5, 20; cf. Matthew 17:17) at Israel’s “latter end” (Deut. 32:28-29). Jesus also declared that His own generation would be held responsible and judged because of this righteous blood (Matthew 23:34-36). See also I Thessalonians 2:14-16.
As the seven angels prepared to blow the seven trumpets, John saw the following scene:
“Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. So the seven angels who had the trumpets prepared themselves to sound” (Revelation 8:3-6).
It seems evident that the collective prayers of the saints were received by God and that the seven trumpets which followed were connected to those prayers. This is how John described the second trumpet:
“Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood; and a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed” (Revelation 8:8-9).
As Don Walker pointed out, this calls to mind how Jerusalem and the Second Temple were burned and destroyed in 70 AD. It also calls to mind some of the battles that took place during the Jewish-Roman War (66-73 AD). According to Josephus and other historians, more than 150,000 Jews were killed in Galilee and Judea, and around 1.1 million were killed in Jerusalem in 70 AD. At least 97,000 Jews were sold as slaves to different parts of the Roman Empire. Here’s how Josephus described one battle that took place in the Sea of Galilee:
“Sometimes the Romans leaped into their ships, with swords in their hands, and slew them; but when some of them met the vessels, the Romans caught them by the middle, and destroyed at once their ships and themselves who were taken in them. And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels; but if, in the desperate case they were in, they attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands; and indeed they were destroyed after various manners every where, till the rest being put to flight, were forced to get upon the land, while the vessels encompassed them about [on the sea]: but as many of these were repulsed when they were getting ashore, they were killed by the darts upon the lake; and the Romans leaped out of their vessels, and destroyed a great many more upon the land: one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped” (Wars 3.10.9; also see Wars 3.9.3 for what happened near Joppa).
When we compare the literary structure of this verse in Revelation 8 to the literary structure of “the great city’s” downfall in Revelation 18, it’s even more clear that they are talking about the same thing (keep in mind that “the great city” was first identified as Jerusalem in Revelation 11:8):
|“And the second angel sounded,
||“And a strong angel
|and something like a great
||took up a stone like a great
||‘Thus will Babylon that great
|mountain burning with fire
|was thrown into the sea…”
||and threw it into the sea,
||will be thrown down with violence
||and it will not be found any longer.”
As the outpouring of judgment progresses in the book of Revelation, we see how God answers the cries of the martyrs:
Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters saying: “You are righteous, O Lord, the One who is and who was and who is to be, because You have judged these things. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due” (Revelation 16:4-6; see also Rev. 17:3-6).
“…Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!” …And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth” (Rev. 18:19-24).
“For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her” (Rev. 19:2).
In response to the prayers of the saints, that mountain was cast into the sea. “Mount Sinai” and “Jerusalem…in bondage with her children” were cast out, but the heavenly Jerusalem is free (Galatians 4:21-31) and God’s people have come to Mount Zion, the new covenant city of God (Hebrews 12:22-24).
3. A Prototype for More Victories
Are there grounds for seeing this as a prototype for other “mountains to be cast into the sea,” so to speak? I believe there are. After all, Jesus first caused a fig tree to wither and die as a prototype for how “this mountain” could be cast down (Matthew 21:18-20; Mark 11:12-14, 20-21). After affirming that His disciples also would have the authority to tell that mountain to be cast into the sea, and that it would be done, Jesus said this:
“And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22).
“Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24).
Here Jesus says to His disciples that just like they would be able to cast that mountain into the sea, they would also be able to see other victories take place and other strongholds fall. It wasn’t just the 12 disciples who prayed and declared the casting down of that mountain, but it was the saints as a whole.
Today we have an everlasting kingdom and dominion in our hands, but much of the body of Christ hardly realizes it:
“And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth… And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:35, 44).
“Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14).
“But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever… the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom… Then the kingdom and dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him” (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27).
“And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:33).
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
“…on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
“Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever‘” (Revelation 11:15).
In 1989 the Berlin Wall came down, and this is not the only victory seen during the last 2000 years of Church history. What strongholds, what “mountains,” what barriers are facing the body of Christ in this generation? What is exalting itself against the knowledge of Christ in our world, in your nation, or in our communities at this time?
Is it ISIS / terrorism?
Is it wars in different parts of the world?
Is it racism?
Is it poverty?
Is it government corruption?
Is it the Israeli/Palestinian conflict?
Is it the abortion epidemic?
Is it something else?
Just as the first century saints cast down the mountain that opposed the people, plans, and purposes of God in their time, we can and should unite in prayer and declaration to do the same to “mountains” that exalt themselves against the kingdom of God at this point in history.
In March 2016 I had the privilege of speaking at an “end times” conference in Long Island, New York which was hosted by Pastor Michael Miano of Blue Point Bible Church. I wrote about that here and here. One of the other speakers, Apostle Johnny Ova, impacted me with his words about living worthy of the kingdom of God, praying and declaring life instead of death. and how the state of this world is a direct reflection of the strength of the Church. At one point, he expressed dismay at the words of some Christians who are complaining about ISIS and Islam and even wishing death upon Muslims around the world. He said:
“Do you know what I want to see? I want to see everyone of them get saved and give their lives to Christ. That’s what I want to see. To me that would be an unbelievable miracle. Imagine that – a revival in ISIS, that no one wants to kill them anymore; all ISIS wants to give God praise now. To me that would cause shock waves throughout the whole entire world. Why aren’t we praying for that? If we would pray as much as we complain, we would see some genuine change in this world.”
Amen. Johnny’s entire message (26 minutes) can be seen here. This is a clip of the part (21:25 – 23:55) that impacted me the most:
Let’s be people who realize the power of the kingdom that we possess, and work and pray together to cast down mountains even as that mountain was cast down long ago.