“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.


“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).


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:

#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.

“The Earth” as a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation: Part 1

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

“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


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
1. Revelation 1:7
2. Revelation 3:10
3. Revelation 6:3-4, 8
4. Revelation 6:9-10, 15-16
5. Revelation 7:2-3
6. Revelation 8:5, 7, 13
7. Revelation 9:1, 3-4
8. Revelation 10:1-2
9. Revelation 11:6, 10, 18
10. Revelation 12:12, 15-16
11. Revelation 13:1-3, 8
12. Revelation 13:11-12, 14
13. Revelation 14:3-6, 18-19
14. Revelation 16:1-2, 18-19
15. Revelation 17:1-2, 5
16. Revelation 17:8, 18
17. Revelation 18:3, 9, 11, 23-24
18. Revelation 19:1-2, 19
D. Appendix: The Term “sea” in Revelation (Brief Overview)

A. Laying a Foundation for the Meaning of “the earth” in Revelation

At this point we have completed and posted our studies on the first 19 chapters of Revelation. In our study of Revelation so far, we have often suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In this study I will outline nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case. Before doing so, however, I will attempt to explain why and how this pattern can be established (This will be a three-part series).

I. Revelation 1:7 as the theme of Revelation: The meaning of the phrase “tribes of the earth”

Many scholars from various viewpoints believe that Revelation 1:7 is the theme of the book of Revelation. This passage reads: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen.” Kenneth Gentry, in his book “Before Jerusalem Fell” (1998), quotes from the following authors who all agree with the premise that Rev. 1:7 is the book’s theme: [1] Moses Stuart (1845) [2] Friedrich Dusterdieck (1886) [3]Bernhard Weiss (1889) [4] Justin A. Smith (1884) [5] Milton S. Terry (1898) [6] J. Stuart Russell (1887) [7] Thomas Dehany Bernard (1864) [8] Donald W. Richardson (1964) [9] David Chilton.[1]

More important than these and other like-minded testimonies, says Gentry, is “the emphasis placed on [Christ’s] coming that is a constant refrain in the personal letters to the Seven Churches (Rev. 2:5, 16, 25; 3:3, 11, 20) and elsewhere (Rev. 16:15; 22:7, 12, 20).”[2] If it is established, then, that this is Revelation’s main theme, it is wise to take notice of a phrase like “the tribes of the earth” rather than casually passing it by. Indeed, from all appearances, its usage here sets the tone for how to understand the phrase “the earth” where it is mentioned in most cases throughout the remainder of the book.

Why is this so? One strong indication can be seen in the fact that Revelation 1:7 is an undeniable reference to Zechariah 12:10-14. It’s helpful to look at that text in order to better understand what is being communicated as Revelation’s theme, and in particular what is meant to be understood by the phrase “the tribes of the earth”:

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on Me, on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.

In analyzing the comparison between Revelation 1 and Zechariah 12, I agree with the conclusions of Richard Anthony, who states:

Obviously, this is the foundation for John’s statement that ‘every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth (or land) shall wail because of him.’ So, in essence, Zechariah was saying that the ‘tribes of the land’ would mourn for Him whom they had pierced. Who were those tribes? ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem.’ This also helps us identify the ‘earth’ in Revelation 1:7. According to Zechariah, the ‘earth’ is the land of Palestine, specifically, Jerusalem. Also, it is those tribes, i.e., the nation of Israel, who would ‘look upon Me whom they have pierced.’ And because of that, ‘the mourning in Jerusalem’ would be great. With all of this information, we can see that the ‘tribes of the earth’ in Revelation 1:7 are the nation of Israel. The ‘earth’ is Palestine. The land that would mourn is Jerusalem. So, the main purpose of Revelation would be to reveal Jesus to the nation of Israel. The place of this revealing would be Jerusalem. Lastly, this revealing would be to those who pierced Him, i.e., the Jews. [3]

Concerning the Greek word used for “tribe” in Revelation 1:7, Kenneth Gentry notes (p. 127) that when used elsewhere in the New Testament it “most frequently refers to the Jewish tribes.” He cites The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament which states that this Greek word “with few exceptions…becomes a fixed term for the tribal system of Israel.” This is likewise the conclusion of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, and this pattern is also borne out in the Arndt-Gingrich and Thayer Greek lexicons. Continues Gentry, “The term obviously has that import in Revelation 7:4ff, where it is used of each of the specifically named Twelve Tribes.”

II. The interchangeable use of “land” and “earth” in the New Testament

Gentry is especially helpful (pp. 128-131) in explaining that “land” and “earth” are often used interchangeably in Scripture, with a meaning that is localized rather than global. He notes (p. 128) that literal translations such as [1] Robert Young’s Literal Translation of the Holy Bible and [2] Alfred Marshall’s The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament come up with the phrase “tribes of the land” rather than “tribes of the earth” in their translations of Revelation 1:7. In this way, “the term can be understood as designating the Promised Land.”

A quick glance at a couple of New Testament Scriptures begins to demonstrate that this is also true outside of the book of Revelation. For example, relating the circumstances surrounding Christ’s death on the cross, Matthew 27:45 in the English Standard Version states, “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.” A footnote says that “earth” could have been used instead of “land” in this text, but most readers will conclude that this darkness was localized that day and not global.

Looking also at Luke 21:20-24, the context likewise shows that these events belong to Judea and Jerusalem, and even Futurists generally agree that this passage speaks of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem from 67-70 AD. Yet verse 23 says, “…For there will be great distress upon the earth and wrath against this people.” The phrase “this people” here no doubt refers to the unrepentant Jews, and “the earth” here is the land of Judea. We should at least consider that the same could be true in the book of Revelation, where we frequently see the phrase “the earth” (and especially the phrase “dwellers on the earth” or “those who dwell on the earth”). Other New Testament texts which use the phrase “the earth” in this way likely include Matthew 23:35, Acts 1:8, Acts 4:26-27, and Romans 10:18.

B. Three Views on the Meaning of “those who dwell on the earth”

There is no one view among scholars, teachers, and laymen regarding the identity of “those who dwell on the earth,” a phrase that appears repeatedly in Revelation. Some see these individuals as taking up residence worldwide, while others believe the reference is limited to the land of Israel. Some envision these individuals living in the future, while others believe they lived and died in the past. In this section we will examine three different views regarding their identity and placement in history.

I. Future and worldwide: Thomas Ice’s analysis of Isaiah 24-27 and Revelation

Thomas Ice, a Dispensationalist Futurist, agrees that the terms “the earth” and “the land” are interchangeable. Though he comes to a different conclusion than I do regarding their meaning in Revelation, he makes some notable observations:

Like most New Testament terminology, “earth dwellers” originates in the Old Testament. A couple forms of the construct are used almost 50 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, not including a similar phrase, “world dwellers,” that occurs five times. The overwhelming majority of times that “earth dwellers” is used in the Old Testament, it is rightly translated “land dwellers” or “inhabitants of the land,” since the context references a localized area of land or country like Israel… When “earth dwellers” and “world dwellers” are used in the same contexts, it serves to strengthen the notion that a global rather than local context is intended… Every global use of “earth dwellers” in the Old Testament appears in a judgment context… [Thomas Ice, “The Earth Dwellers of Revelation,” Midnight Call. Referenced February 10, 2010.]

So Ice concludes that 45 out of 50 times that a form of the phrase “earth dwellers” is used in the Old Testament, this is a reference to a local rather than a global region (Israel in particular). In only five cases, he says, a global context is likely intended, because this phrase is coupled with the phrase “world dwellers.” Yet, despite making no attempt to link the phrase “those who dwell on the earth” in Revelation with any phrase resembling “world dwellers” there, Ice maintains that the “earth dwellers” in Revelation will inhabit the entire globe in the future. According to Ice, then, even though this phrase clearly originated in the Old Testament (a point on which I agree with him), it no longer functions in the book of Revelation as it did in the Old Testament. This seems to be a peculiar conclusion, one perhaps involving some preconceived notions (and this is not to say I’m incapable of having preconceived notions myself).

Ice draws particular attention to Isaiah 24-27, which he rightly observes is known as “Isaiah’s Apocalypse” and likely serves as “the backdrop for understanding what is meant in Revelation 3:10, as well as John’s used of ‘earth dwellers’ throughout Revelation.” Those who examine these four chapters in Isaiah will likely see that Ice has a valid point here. Again, though, it seems that this should lead him to consider that this phrase, as it appears in Revelation, was meant to aid the first-century reader in understanding that the nation of Israel was in view.

After all, in Isaiah’s case, “the earth” was defiled because its inhabitants had “violated the statutes” and “broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:5). In Isaiah’s day, what nation was known for having a divine covenant with many statutes? That would be Israel. As in Matthew 27:45, my ESV Bible has a footnote for Isaiah 24:1 (“Behold, the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate, and He will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants”). This footnote says that the phrase “the earth” can be translated as “the land,” and that this is the case throughout the entire chapter. The phrase “the earth” appears in Isaiah 24 a total of 17 times: Isaiah 24:1, 3, 4 (2x), 5, 6 (2x), 11, 13, 16, 17, 18, 19 (3x), 20, and 21 (2x).[4]

[I have recently received approval to take on this subject (“’The Earth’ As a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation”) for a term paper I need to write for my university studies. In my term paper I plan to study out Isaiah 24-27 in more depth, as well as interact more thoroughly with Thomas Ice’s arguments. I’m excited by the parallels I see between Revelation 4-21 and Isaiah 24-27, and the implications these hold. When this term paper is completed, I will most likely post that study of Isaiah 24-27 as a follow-up to what can be presently seen here.]

II. Future and limited to Israel: Mo Dardinger proposes that they are non-Jews

Mo Dardinger, an author with Strong Tower Publishing, is another Futurist who has studied out this matter. Unlike Ice, though, he concludes that “the phrase ‘those who dwell on the earth’ actually refers to a subset of humankind, not to all the unsaved… The consensus among scholars is that none of the earth dwellers are redeemed. Indeed, throughout Revelation, they are contrasted with the redeemed and other groups…” [Mo Dardinger, “Earth Dwellers Identified,” 9 August 2008]. For Dardinger, Rev. 1:7 “is a critical piece of the puzzle,” and his comparison of this text with Zechariah 12:10-14 leads him to conclude that:

[The phrase] ‘those who dwell on the earth’ could be equally translated ‘those who dwell on the Land [of Israel].’ … I have not seen anything in the context of Revelation that would tell me the whole world is in view. In fact, the quotation from Zechariah strongly suggests that the context is uniquely the Holy Land.

This drives Dardinger’s interpretation of this phrase (in its various forms) throughout the book of Revelation. On this, I agree with Dardinger. However, his application of this interpretation is radically different than mine. His apparently Dispensationalist theology leads him to propose that the “earth dwellers” of Revelation are not only future, but that they will be non-Jews living in Israel:

They are not the Jews. The earth dwellers never repent—the Jews do. In fact, the earth dwellers are contrasted with the Jews. The spiritual context is worship of the Antichrist and, by extension, persecution of the Jews… Rather than unrepentant humanity, they are invaders. They will illegally and immorally occupy God’s Holy Land during the End Times. Israel is intended by the Almighty to be inhabited by the Jews in perpetuity (and not by those who hate and persecute His Holy People).

The burden of proof is on Dardinger to demonstrate that Revelation portrays [1] ethnic Jews as victims of persecution rather than the perpetrators (Rev. 2:9, 3:9; see also our study on Rev. 13:11—View #3) [2] the repentance of the Jewish people, aside from the remnant in Rev. 7:4-8 [3] the political nation of Israel as a “Holy Land” rather than bearing the stigma of “Sodom and Egypt” (Rev. 11:8) and “Babylon” (see our study on Rev. 17:1-6) [4] ethnic Jews as God’s “Holy People” rather than the Church having this role (Rev. 19:7-9; cf. Matt. 8:10-12, 21:43, 22:1-14; Acts 13:45-46; Romans 2:28-29, 9:6-8; I Peter 2:9-10). I believe that our study in the following section will debunk Dardinger’s premises as to the identity of the “earth dwellers” in Revelation.

III. Jews living in Israel prior to 70 AD: Kenneth Gentry and P. S. Desprez

Kenneth Gentry (p. 128) quotes from P. S. Desprez, who, in his 1855 book titled “The Apocalypse Fulfilled,” wrote the following on the matter of understanding the phrase “on the earth” in Revelation (emphasis added):

But the words in question are sometimes found qualified by governing considerations which define and determine their meaning, and this is always the case, when they are found in connection with the governing clauses “they that dwell”… Then they have, and can have, only one meaning; then they refer only to one land and to one people, and this land and this people must be the land and the people of Judea.[5]

I believe that the contexts in which this phrase appears in Revelation will bear out what Desprez is saying. This phrase can be seen in Revelation 3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10, 13:8, 13:12, 13:14, 14:6, 17:2, and 17:8. Shorter or similar forms of this phrase can be seen in numerous other texts as well. We will examine many of these in the following section.

All of this does not mean, though, that every single time the word “earth” appears in the book of Revelation, that this is a reference to the nation of Israel. The context will generally show whether or not this is the case. For example, Revelation 5:3 reads, “And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it.” Here “earth” is contrasted with “heaven,” and I do not assume that this is a reference to Israel.

C. 18 Case Studies for “the earth” As a Representation of 1st Century Israel

I would suggest that the following are among the instances in Revelation where the phrase “the earth” (or “land” in some translations) refers to the nation of Israel in the first century. 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:

#1: REVELATION 1:7 [Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all the tribes ofthe earth will wail on account of Him. Even so. Amen.”]

This passage has already been discussed in the introduction, but it would be good to add some further thoughts here. Kenneth Gentry (p. 127) notes that historian Adam Clarke “argues for an early date for Revelation based on Revelation 1:7,” saying, “By this the Jewish people are most evidently intended, and therefore the whole verse may be understood as predicting the destruction of the Jews; and is a presumptive proof that the Apocalypse [Revelation] was written before the final overthrow of the Jewish state [in 70 AD]”[6]

We haven’t yet noted that unmistakably similar language is also used by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). Some translations use the word “nations” instead of “tribes,” but this is of little consequence. In our study of Revelation 19 we noted that “in 70 AD the land of Palestine was made up of the following nations: [1] Phoenicia [2] Galilee [3] Samaria [4] Judea [5] Idumea [6] Philistia [7] Gualanitis [8] Decapolis [9] Perea [10] Nabatea.”

Aside from this detail, though, there are plenty of indications in Matthew 24 that Jesus is predicting a local judgment, rather than a global one, including [1] the context of Matthew 23, in which Jesus pronounces numerous woes upon the Scribes, Pharisees, and Jerusalem, even limiting their fulfillment to the generation that heard Him speak these things (Matt. 23:35-36) [2] the explicit references to the temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 23:38; 24:1-3) [3] the command to flee to the mountains, which is only given to “those who are in Judea” (Matt. 24:15-16) [4] the reference to fleeing on the Sabbath (Matt. 24:20), a distinctive Jewish custom [5] the parallels between “the great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be” in Matt. 24:21 and similar utterances in Jeremiah 30:7 (“That day is so great there is none like it; it is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it”) and Daniel 12:1 (“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found in the book”), and [6] the sun, moon, and stars (Matt. 24:29) as being established symbols for Israel ever since these symbols appeared in Jacob’s dream (Genesis 37:9-10).

Furthermore, we have the time reference of Jesus limiting the fulfillment of His words thus far in the Olivet Discourse to the generation which heard Him speak those things (Matt. 24:34). Much more is written on all these things in the sections of my term paper on 70 AD which discuss the Olivet Discourse:  [1] here [2] here [3] here [4] here, and [5] here.

Keeping in mind that the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 contains numerous specific references to the land of Israel/Palestine, Kenneth Gentry reminds us of an interesting fact (pp. 130-131): The Gospel of John is completely silent concerning the Olivet Discourse. Because of this fact, there are many who speculate that the book of Revelation “served as [John’s] exposition of the Discourse.” J. Stuart Russell, in his 1887 work titled “The Parousia,” shared this sentiment, saying,

The silence of St. John in his gospel is the more remarkable in that he was one of the four favoured disciples who listened to that discourse; yet, in his gospel we find no trace of it whatever… But the difficulty is explained if it should be found that the Apocalypse [Revelation] is nothing else than a transfigured form of the prophecy on the Mount of Olives.

If it’s true that John expands on the Olivet Discourse in Revelation, and this certainly appears to be the case, then it should be no surprise that the book of Revelation deals largely with the coming judgment upon Israel, the same topic Jesus dealt with in the Olivet Discourse recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John’s time references speaking of a near fulfillment for his visions take up slightly different language than what Jesus used (e.g. Matt. 24:34), but they are nevertheless frequent and clear enough to give pause to the Futurist position which says that the bulk of Revelation is still awaiting fulfillment: Revelation 1:1-3 (“the things that must soon take place…for the time is near”); 3:11 (“I am coming soon”); 22:7 (“I am coming soon”), 22:12 (“I am coming soon”; cf. Matt. 16:27-28), 22:20 (“I am coming soon”).

We can also note that the Greek word used for “soon” here is the same one Jesus used when He said His time to be crucified was “at hand” (Matthew 26:18), and when John said “the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand” (John 7:2), events that no doubt were literally near. If it is somehow maintained that the words “soon” and “near” in the book of Revelation mean something else (i.e. 2000 years later or so), what words could God have used instead if He really did mean to communicate nearness in time (i.e. the expected fulfillment within the lifetime of John’s original readers)?

Steve Gregg, in his book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” provides a most concise and helpful articulation of the preterist (i.e. past fulfillment) position on Revelation 1:7, which applies with equal strength to Matthew 24:30 (Gregg, p. 57):

[They] suggest that the passage does not predict the literal Second Coming, but is a figurative description of Christ’s coming in vengeance to destroy Jerusalem, not in person, but using the Roman armies in A.D. 70… Such interpreters note the following considerations: The principal features of the prediction are (a) Christ coming, (b) His coming with clouds; (c) every eye will see Him, even they who pierced him; and (d) all the tribes of the earth [or land] mourning at His coming.

(a) The expression coming of the Lord is used in many contexts that do not appear to be referring to the Second Coming (e.g., Rev. 2:5; 3:20; cf. Deut. 33:2; Isa. 19:1; Zech. 1:16; Mal. 3:1-2; Matt. 10:23), thus leaving open the possibility of another meaning here;

(b) The specific language of the Lord coming with clouds is used in the Old Testament with reference to historic judgments not associated with the end of the world (Isa. 19:1; Ps. 104:3) and may be so understood here as well;

(c) Jesus placed the time of His “coming with the clouds” within the lifetime of some of His contemporaries (Matt. 16:28; 24:30, 34; 26:64). This would allow one to understand they who pierced Him as the actual generation that crucified Christ, which would be the natural understanding to the literalist…

(d) The judgment of Jerusalem is implied by the expression all the tribes of the earth (which can be translated, “all the tribes of the land [Israel]“) will mourn. The Old Testament passage which is alluded to is a prophecy concerning “the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Zech. 12:10). This view finds further support in the fact that Israel is divisible into tribes, whereas the earth is generally divided into nations.

#2: REVELATION 3:10 [Because you have kept My word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.”]

This was a prophecy to the first-century church living in Philadelphia. In our post on this chapter, we quoted from Sam Storms who noted that it would be most odd if the Futurist position were to be true in this case, as it would mean that Jesus promised to protect one church in Asia Minor “from an event that not one single individual in that church would ever see, indeed, an event that would not transpire for at least another 1,900 years!” Steve Gregg’s note on this verse is helpful, especially in squashing the idea that this refers to a future Rapture event (pp. 76-77):

…removal of Christians from the earth [need not be] the only possible way in which Jesus could keep His people from the wars and plagues anticipated to occur at that time. For example, Jesus prayed thus for His disciples: ‘I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one’ (John 17:15)… Preterists argue that an empire-wide crisis would satisfy the normal use of the terminology in Revelation 3:10. The whole world is a term used to designate the Roman Empire in Luke 2:1 and elsewhere. That it is to test those who dwell on the earth (or “land,” i.e. Israel) may suggest that there is a crisis that will shake the whole empire and put the Jews, in particular, into special peril. In A.D. 68, the death of Nero, and the civil wars that followed, greatly threatened the stability of the Roman Empire, until Vespasian was made emperor in A.D. 70. During this same period (A.D. 66-70), the Jews were embroiled in a fight for the survival of their nation against the Romans…which they lost. Preterism suggests that this judgment on Jerusalem is what is implied in the promise, I am coming quickly! (v. 11).


In part 2 of this study we will examine 10 more passages in Revelation where this pattern is also borne out.

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

[1] Kenneth Gentry, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (An Exegetical and Historical Argument for a Pre-A.D. 70 Composition), American Vision: Powder Springs, GA. 1998, pp. 121-122.

[2] Gentry goes on to note that, “although the fact of Revelation’s theme is widely agreed upon, the nature of the fulfillment of the fact is not so broadly agreed upon.” That is, Futurists tend to see all expressions related to Christ’s coming as referring to the Second Coming. Preterists, on the other hand, are more likely to understand such expressions (in places) as referring to Christ’s non-physical coming in judgment upon faithless Israel in 70, in order that the Kingdom might belong instead to the Church (Matt. 21:43-44; 22:2-14). This is a topic I’ve previously discussed here.

[3] While it can be said that all of humanity, in effect, has its part in having pierced Christ, this charge is most specifically laid by Scripture upon the Jewish people in the first century, as Kenneth Gentry elaborates (“Before Jerusalem Fell,” pp. 123-125): “The biblical record is quite clear: the Jews are the ones who sought His death (John 11:53; Matt. 26:4; 27:1), who paid to have Him captured (Matt. 26:14-15, 47; 27:3-9), who brought false witnesses against Him (Matt. 27:59-62), who initially convicted Him (Matt. 27:65-66), who turned Him over to Roman authorities (Matt. 27:2, 11, 12; Acts 3:13), and who even arrogantly (and disastrously!) called down His blood upon their own heads (Matt. 27:24-25).” See also John 18:38-40; 19:6, 11-12, 14-15, for the Jews’ reaction to Pilate in this regard, and especially see Acts 2:22-23, 36; 5:30; 7:52; I Thess. 2:14-15 for explicit statements made by Peter, Stephen, and Paul regarding the guilt of the Jews in murdering Christ and nailing Him to the cross. In case this analysis might receive any charge of anti-semitism, this video by Kenneth Gentry should be helpful in explaining otherwise, as should this source.

[4] I have recently received approval to take on this subject (“’The Earth’ As a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation”) for a term paper I need to write for my university studies. In my term paper I plan to study out Isaiah 24-27 in more depth, as well as interact more thoroughly with Thomas Ice’s arguments. I’m excited by the parallels I see between Revelation 4-21 and Isaiah 24-27, and the implications these hold. When this term paper is completed, I will most likely post that study of Isaiah 24-27 as a follow-up to what can be presently seen here.

[5] Alfred Edersheim, in his 1876 work titled “Sketches of Jewish Social Life,” wrote concerning the significance of the phrase “the land” to the Jewish Rabbis of the first century, prior to Jerusalem’s downfall in 70 AD. To the Rabbis, “the precise limits of Palestine were chiefly interesting so far as they affected the religious obligations or privileges of a district… Indeed, viewing the question from this point, Palestine was to the Rabbis simply ‘the land,’ all other countries being summed up under the designation of ‘outside the land.’”

[6] Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary, 6 vols. (Nashville: Abingdon [c. 1823] rep. n.d.) 6:971.

Revelation Chapter 5

Revelation Chapter 5

Rod: August 27, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 5:1-14

Notes are based in part on a sermon preached by Pastor John Piper, at Desiring God Ministries. [Notes from Adam were added on October 14th, and are in blue font. They are based mostly on Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).”]

1. Verse 1:  A scroll with seven seals.  What is this scroll?
John Piper: The scroll represents the decrees of God of what will happen in the future.  In chapter 6, we can see that the seals are opened up one by one revealing the coming judgements upon the earth.  The opening of the seals is the course of history leading up to the end, and the rest of the scroll is the story of the end of the world and God’s final triumph. (Keep in mind that John Piper writes these things as a futurist who sees most of the book of Revelation as yet unfulfilled. The preterist view sees here the announcing of a series of judgments which were soon, in John’s day, to come upon apostate Israel as the end of the Old Covenant age drew near at that time.)

2. Verse 1:  What else do you see that is significant about this scroll?
John Piper: The scroll is being held in God’s right hand.  All of earth’s history is in the right hand of God, and nothing can change that.  The scroll is also complete, full both front and back.  Nothing can be added to it – it is full, complete and safe in the right hand of God.

Steve Gregg (p. 93) quotes Henry Morris and John Walvoord who are Futurists in regard to the judgments spoken of in Revelation:

Henry Morris, in agreement with many dispensational interpreters (e.g. Ironside, Criswell, Lindsey), wrote, ‘But what is this remarkable scroll? It is nothing less than the title deed to the earth itself.’ Walvoord notes, ‘Roman law required a will to be sealed seven times as illustrated in the wills left by Augustus and Vespasian for their successors.’ The mighty judgments of the Tribulation period that are unleashed by the opening of the document all are part of God’s reclaiming for Himself the control of the earth, which was forfeited to Satan by the fall of Adam and Eve long ago. The ‘redemption of the purchased possession’ (Eph. 1:14) is accompanied by long-overdue punishments upon the usurpers who have ‘destroyed the earth’ (Rev. 11:18).

I find these statements a bit odd. Walvoord sounds like he is speaking on behalf of radical environmentalists who are deeply concerned about mankind’s misuse of the planet’s resources (not to say this isn’t a valid concern). It’s the final generation which will experience God’s full wrath for the injustice of altering the environment, he implies. Furthermore, he suggests that their punishment has a lot to do with “our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14, ESV) being granted to us one day yet to come.

On the other hand, Steve Gregg also references Jay Adams, who advocates the Preterist view and goes back to the courtroom theme alluded to in the previous chapter (p. 92): “In Jay Adams’ view, the scroll with the seven seals is the sentence handed down by the judge against Jerusalem for its part in shedding ‘all the righteous blood’ of the martyrs (Matt. 23:35).” I’m personally much more comfortable with this explanation for why God is shown here preparing to release the seal judgments. See also Revelation 16:6, 17:6, and 18:24 in this regard; these passages serve to demonstrate that Jerusalem is one and the same with Babylon the Great here in this book (cf. Rev. 11:8, where Jerusalem is identified as “the great city” just as Babylon the Great is in Rev. 16:19, 17:18; 18:9, 16, 18-21.

Verses 2-5: A strong angel loudly asks for someone who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals. No one in heaven or on earth was found who was worthy to do so, causing John to weep. He had to be told by one of the 24 elders that One had been found, that is, Jesus.

How is Christ recognized in verses 5 and 6?
John Piper: As a Lion, of the tribe of Judah (an animal that is strong, majestic and dangerous). See Genesis 49:9-10.

In verse 6, John is allowed to see the Lion.  He now appears before the throne as a Lamb (an animal that is weak, harmless and lowly). Jesus is also referred to as “the Root of David,” a title borrowed from Isaiah 11:1, 10 and Romans 15:12, where the point is that He rises to rule the Gentiles and “in Him will the Gentiles hope.” This is not something awaiting a 21st century fulfillment so that it can become a reality. It was very much a reality in the 1st century AD.

4.  In verse 5, the elder says that the Lion of Judah has conquered.  What does this conquering refer to, as mentioned later in the text?
In verse 9, the four living creatures and twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb and sang a song exclaiming that He conquered by being slain and His blood ransomed people for God.

Steve Gregg remarks (p. 94): “Comparing Christ with a lamb is not a reference to His gentleness, since He is portrayed in the following chapters as anything but gentle (cf. 6:16)! His role as the Sacrificed One explains His being likened to a lamb (cf. John 1:29).”

5.  Jesus is symbolized as a Lamb standing before the throne.  What are some characteristics of this lamb and what do they mean?
John Piper: The Lamb (who was once slain) is now standing.  He has seven horns, which is a sign of strength and power throughout Revelation (12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 12) and also in the OT (Deuteronomy 33:17; Psalm 18:2; 112:7).  The number seven signifies completeness and fullness. John Piper concludes that Jesus is shown here as “a Lion-like Lamb and a Lamb-like Lion.”

Verses 8-10: Steve Gregg comments on the heavenly scene pictured here in these verses, along with the significance of the song sung by the four living creatures and the 24 elders (pp. 96, 98):

The taking of the scroll by the Lamb provokes an outburst of worship and praise in heaven, and a new song (v. 9) is introduced. In Revelation 4:11, they had sung an “old song” of praise to God for His older work of creating all things. The new song praises Him for His new work of redemption in Christ. This worship is accompanied by the priestly worship form of the offering up of incense (v. 8), which here represents the prayers of the saints—most likely the Christians who are being persecuted and are pleading for deliverance (cf. 6:10). This deliverance comes when their persecutors in Jerusalem are judged, after the seven seals of the scroll are broken. Making the redeemed kings and priests (v. 10), or, as some manuscripts have it, “a kingdom of priests,” implies that the original kingdom of priests, Israel (Ex. 19:5-6), has been done away with and replaced by the Church (cf. Heb. 7:12; 8:13).

The Futurist view of verse 10 is expressed this way in Gregg’s book (p. 99):

The reign of the saints on the earth (v. 10)—as opposed to “in heaven”—is a reference to the millennial reign of the saints with Christ after He has returned to earth to establish His kingdom. Henry Morris writes: “Three times in the book of Revelation it is said that believers are to be made kings and priests (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). These functions apply particularly in the millennial kingdom, when there is still need for them.” According to dispensational expectations, many unsaved people will live on earth during the Millennium, and the saints will reign over these people from their headquarters in Jerusalem (cf. Luke 19:17).

I highlighted part of Morris’ quote above because I find it rather astonishing. To be fair, he didn’t say the functions of believers as kings and priests apply exclusively to a future Millennium, so I suppose he leaves room for them to apply now. I certainly hope so. Revelation 1:6 was written beyond the shadow of a doubt to a group of first-century churches, and they were very much a kingdom of priests then just as believers are now: “John to the seven churches that are in Asia…Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood and made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:4-6). This has been a present reality for all believers ever since Jesus died and rose again. Peter, writing to a different first-century audience, concurs: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9).

It seems that Morris made his statement based on the common Premillennialist idea that sacrifices will be carried out in a physical temple in Jerusalem during a future Millennium period. Thus, for Morris, there would be a need for believers to function as priests, apparently just as there was once such a need under the Old Covenant. This would suggest a regression back to the types and shadows that have been fulfilled by Christ’s first coming. Whether or not this is the idea intended by Morris’ statement, let it be clear that followers of Jesus are, in this present age, that kingdom of priests which John and Peter wrote about.

Verses 11-14: “The song of 4:11 was sung by the 24 elders alone. In the song of 5:9-10, they were joined by the four living creatures. Now many angels (v. 11), numbering into millions, add their voices in attributing glory to the Lamb” (Steve Gregg, p. 100). They cry out:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! …To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!


Our study of Revelation 6 (Part 1) can be found here.

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

PP10: Jerusalem’s Destruction Foretold in the Olivet Discourse

This is now the tenth post in our series on “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” This is the same title as a term paper I recently submitted to Northwestern College. All the previous posts can be found here, and it’s recommended that they be read in order before reading this post:

[1] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/brief-explanation-of-partial-preterism/
[2] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp2-references/
[3] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/pp3-external-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation/
[4] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp4-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-1/
[5] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp5-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-2/
[6] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp6-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-3/
[7] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp7-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-4/
[8] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp8-daniels-70-week-prophecy-part-1/
[9] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp9-daniels-70-week-prophecy-part-2/

In this post we will begin to examine the three New Testament accounts of the Olivet Discourse, delivered by Jesus and recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

Adam Maarschalk


E. Jerusalem’s Destruction Foretold in the Olivet Discourse

Futurists and Preterists alike seem to agree that there are remarkable parallels between the revelation given to John and the teachings of Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13, Luke 21). After all, Jesus speaks of His prophesied events as “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21) and John uses the same phrase (Revelation 7:14). One’s preconceived ideas can lead to vastly different assumptions about these details. For Futurists, the bulk of what Jesus shared in the Olivet Discourse refers to events which have not yet taken place, and this is in keeping with their view that the bulk of the book of Revelation is also not yet fulfilled. For Preterists, Jesus spoke far more in Matthew, Mark, and Luke regarding 70 AD than Futurists give Him credit for, and this is in keeping with the Preterist view that the parallel events found in the book of Revelation took place by 70 AD.

It can be noted that the Olivet Discourse, as it is recorded in Luke, is somewhat different than its parallel account in Matthew and Mark. Mike Rusten (2009 [1]), Associate Dean of The Bethlehem Institute and formerly an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, observes, “Whereas in Matthew the disciples ask two questions, ‘Tell us, when will these things happen (i.e. the destruction of the temple), and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?’ Luke only records the disciples asking about the time of the destruction of the temple.” He further notes that unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not make reference to false prophets, an increase in lawlessness, enduring until the end[1], or the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel. On the other hand, Matthew and Mark do not explicitly mention Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, the days of vengeance upon Israel, Jerusalem being trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, or the Jews being led captive into all the nations.

Mike Rusten concludes that “the times of the Gentiles,” as mentioned in Luke 21:24, refer to the nearly 2000 years which have transpired since the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (Luke 21:20-24a) and the Second Coming of Christ (Luke 21:25-27), which we currently await. If this is true, though, one must still grapple with the fact that Matthew 24:4-28 and Luke 21:8-24 are parallel passages to a very large extent. In both passages readers are warned of [1] imposters claiming to be Christ [2] wars and rumors of wars [3] nations and kingdoms clashing [4] earthquakes [5] famines [6] persecution and martyrdom [7] betrayal and hatred [8] a signal indicating the need to flee to the mountains without the slightest delay [9] the difficulties for pregnant woman and those who will be nursing infants in those days [10] great distress and tribulation.

Matthew 24:29-31 and Luke 21:25-28 are parallel passages as well. The difference is that Matthew says the coming of the Son of Man would immediately follow “the tribulation of those days,” while Luke does not use the same phrase but instead refers to the slaughter and captivity of the Jewish people, the trampling of Jerusalem, and the times of the Gentiles. Futurists generally agree with Preterists that Luke indeed refers to 70 AD at this point, but they place a multi-century gap in Luke 21:24a so that verses 25-28 are yet future. Futurists can’t place any gap before Matthew 24:29, however, because Matthew uses the word “immediately.” So they consign “the tribulation of those days,” described in verses 15-28, to the future as well. They have no choice but to do so, if Matthew 24:29-31 is yet future. The Futurist interpretation then is left to explain why the above 10 warnings refer to two entirely different time periods, depending on the book in which they are found; i.e. in Luke they refer to a time period in the first century, and in Matthew (as well as Mark) they refer to a time period no sooner than the 21st century.

This leads to a dilemma when we come to the next set of parallel verses, Matthew 24:32-35 and Luke 21:29-33. In both cases Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” For the Futurist, this means that all the things Jesus prophesied will take place in one future (or present) generation which will see them begin. At first glance, this seems to work in Matthew’s account of the Olivet Discourse because, says the Futurist, the vast majority of Matthew 24 must refer to a generation alive in the 21st century. This line of reasoning falls apart with Luke’s account, however, because the Futurist admits that the “great distress” in Luke 21:20-24a took place around 70 AD. By any reckoning, a “generation” is far shorter than 1939 years.

Mark’s account of the Olivet Discourse is interesting in this regard. After Jesus prophesies of the impending overthrow of the temple (Mark 13:1-2), Mark records the disciples asking Him only one question (verses 3-4, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”) Jesus then articulates all of the same 10 warnings which were noted above in the accounts of Matthew and Luke. In Mark’s account, verses 24-27 are parallel with Matthew 24:29-31 and Luke 21:25-28. Mark’s transition is more similar to Matthew’s use of “immediately” in that he says, “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkenedAnd then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:24, 26). This is significant because Mark is only addressing the question of the temple’s overthrow, and the signs which would show it was about to happen. We know without any doubt that it happened in 70 AD.

It may be possible to account for the different details highlighted by each author by considering the audiences to which they were writing. For example, Luke, a Gentile doctor, may have repeatedly made specific references to Jews and Gentiles because he expected his audience to be Gentile. Matthew, however, may have chosen not to do so because his audience was primarily Jewish. By this way of thinking, Luke perhaps omitted any explicit reference to the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel because such a reference was less likely to resonate with his Gentile audience.

In any case, it’s even more interesting that John, in his gospel account, omits the Olivet Discourse entirely, even though he was no doubt present when Jesus spoke those things. From the Preterist viewpoint, one likely reason for this curious fact is that the book of Revelation, which he authored, actually functions as his exposition of the Olivet Discourse, albeit in a more detailed manner. Therefore, he felt no need to include the Olivet Discourse passage in his gospel account, especially if the book of John was written after the book of Revelation.

Regarding the notion that the question posed by the disciples in Matthew 24:3 is different in nature than the question posed in the other two accounts, the Preterist view is that there is no division of questions. The disciples did not ask about the end of the world, but rather the end of the age (i.e. the Jewish age) as spoken of by Daniel and other Old Testament prophets. So what appears to some to be a 3-part question is simply the disciples asking questions about the same event; i.e. the destruction of the temple, the coming of Christ in judgment, and the end of the age. Thomas Newton, in 1754, said (Todd Dennis [20], 2009), “‘The coming of Christ,’ and ‘the conclusion of the age,’ being therefore only different expressions to denote the same period with the destruction of Jerusalem, the purpose of the question plainly is, when shall the destruction of Jerusalem be, and what shall be the signs of it?” Kevin Daly (2009) likewise remarks:

It is Jesus’ emphatic confirmation of the Temple’s fate that leads to the disciples’ question: ‘When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ While some argue this to be three separate questions – so that Jesus’ answer in the subsequent verses must be unraveled and applied to three different events – this is not supported by the parallel accounts in Mark’s and Luke’s gospels: ‘Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?’ (Mark 13:4); ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?’ (Luke 21:7). What Jesus prophesied against the Temple would happen at our Lord’s coming in judgment and would also, by implication, bring about the end of that age.

[1] One could say, though, that those spoken of in Luke 21:8 are false prophets, and that Christ does speak of endurance leading to salvation in verse 19.

PP1: Brief Explanation of Partial Preterism

I have decided to post my recent term paper here on this blog. The title of this paper is “A Partial-Preterist Perspective on the Destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.” It was submitted to Northwestern College in Saint Paul, Minnesota as part of my course requirements, and is 48 pages in length. Due to its size, I plan to post it one segment at a time. For any readers who are not part of our Minneapolis-based Bible Study group here, in June 2009 we began to study the book of Revelation. As we study Revelation we are also comparing the popular Futurist viewpoint with the less popular, but more historic Partial-Preterist viewpoint. This paper will serve to foster further discussion and study.

Here’s a very brief note on my personal journey as it regards eschatology. I was taught the Pre-Tribulation Rapture view growing up, and believed it and passed it on. However, a few years ago I became convinced that this view is not correct or Biblical. At that time I instead embraced the Post-Tribulation Rapture view, based in part on the language used in Matthew 24:29-31 and II Thessalonians 2:3-4. However, during the last six months or so I’ve studied this subject more deeply than ever before, and have now embraced the Partial-Preterist view (As will be seen, I no longer view Matthew 24 or II Thessalonians 2 the way I did as a Post-Tribulationist). I’m certainly not infallible, so anything I post here should be seen for what it is, the writings of a fellow human who is continuing to learn and submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As you read this, please do follow the example of the Bereans who searched the Scriptures to make sure that what they were hearing was the truth (Acts 17:10-11). Responsible comments and critiques will be welcome, and I expect to learn from and be challenged by them.

As a practical note, the title of each segment belonging to this term paper will begin with “PP” and the appropriate number (e.g. this first one begins with “PP1”, the next segment will be headed by “PP2,” etc). It’s recommended that these segments be read in order. This first segment contains the paper’s Title Page, Outline, Introduction, and a brief introduction to Partial-Preterism. The outline will indicate the type of content that is to follow in future posts. All of the posts can also be found here:


Adam Maarschalk

[DISCLAIMER (Early 2011): Since 2009, when I wrote this paper, I have progressed in my understanding of eschatology. I’m now closer to full preterism than I was at that time, so please take what I said about the differences between partial-preterism and full preterism with a grain of salt. Thank you.]


A Partial-Preterist Perspective of the Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD

By Adam Maarschalk

Mentor: Mike Rusten

Course: Global Studies

Northwestern College

July 10, 2009

(Second Edition: August 5, 2009)



A. Introduction
B. Partial-Preterism Explained
C. The Book of Revelation: Early or Late Authorship?

I. External Evidence for an Early Date
II. Internal Evidence for an Early Date
D. Daniel’s 70-Week Prophecy

E. Jerusalem’s Destruction Foretold in the Olivet Discourse

I. Did Jesus Come in 70 AD?
II. Signs of the Close of the Age
III. The Abomination of Desolation
IV. No Greater Tribulation Before or Since
F. The Man of Lawlessness (II Thessalonians 2)

G. The Historical Events Leading Up to 70 AD

H. The Spiritual Significance of 70 AD
I. References



Search the average church website in America for teaching articles related to 70 AD, and no results are likely to turn up. A search for articles related to a future temple, though, one which is allegedly to be rebuilt in modern Jerusalem, is more likely to produce results. Taking the internet out of the equation, Church history reveals that this would not have been the case prior to the 1830s. This was the pivotal decade when John Nelson Darby laid the framework for dispensationalism, that system of belief which not only divides history into successive ages but holds to a sharp distinction between Israel and the Church. Dispensationalism was further popularized when the Scofield Reference Bible was published in 1909. As prophecy students were baited with the prospects of a future “third temple,” the story behind the previous one was pushed out of view, perhaps intentionally.

If it weren’t for the censorship of the history of Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, the faith of many Christian believers in America today could be enriched by the knowledge of those events and their significance. The events leading up to and surrounding this event are full of rich implications, especially as they involve the disbanding of the Old Covenant and related practices, beliefs, superstitions, and man-made traditions. A case can be made that the period of time between Christ’s resurrection and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD was a period of transition, and that this event brought about a culmination of the Old Covenant dissolving in favor of the New Covenant. Hebrews 8:13 seems to indicate this when it uses the present perfect tense to say, “In speaking of a new covenant, He makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

What happened in 70 AD is not pleasant to consider, as will be seen, but it was accomplished through God’s very hand of judgment. It was not simply a satanic plot to exterminate the Jews, as is often taught by dispensationalists. These events were of such importance that Luke was moved to say, “These are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written” (Luke 21:22). After 70 AD it was abundantly clear that a life immersed in Jesus was the true way of life, not Old Covenant Judaism. The events of that year were an outstanding fulfillment of many prophecies given by the prophets, apostles, and by Jesus Himself, and it’s a curious reality that this is not more often pointed out in Christian teaching today.

B. Partial-Preterism Explained

Admittedly, the events which took place around 70 AD hold more importance among Preterists than they do for Dispensationalists. This is because Preterism views this point in history as marking the fulfillment of a great deal of Biblical prophecy, while Dispensationalism holds that most Biblical prophecy remains yet to be fulfilled, including Daniel’s 70th Week, a 7-year tribulation period, and the salvation of national Israel. There are fundamental differences of opinion, then, in these two systems of thought regarding large portions of Biblical text. In this work, Partial-Preterism, rather than Hyper-Preterism, will be advocated and it will be through this lens that the events of 70 AD will be viewed. According to Wikipedia (2009),

Partial preterism is a form of Christian eschatology that places the events of most of the Book of Revelation as occurring during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD…yet still affirms an orthodox future bodily return of Christ to earth at an unknown day and hour. Partial preterism sees Matthew 24, Matthew 25:31-46[1], the Book of Daniel and most of the Book of Revelation (besides its last 2 or 3 chapters) as speaking about events no later than the first century AD, and about a coming of Christ in judgement, not the (second, final and bodily) coming of Christ and Last judgement.

Most Partial Preterists also believe the term Last Days refers not to the last days of planet Earth or the last days of humankind, but rather to the last days of the Mosaic Covenant which God had exclusively with national Israel… As God came in judgment upon various nations in the Old Testament, Christ also came in judgment against those in Israel who rejected him. The “last days,” however, are to be distinguished from the “last day,” which is considered still future and entails the Second Coming of Jesus, the Resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous dead physically from the grave in like-manner to Jesus’ physical resurrection, the Final Judgment, and the creation of a literal (rather than covenantal) New Heavens and a New Earth…. Thus partial preterists are in agreement and conformity with the historic ecumenical creeds of the Church and articulate the doctrine of the resurrection held by the early Church Fathers… Because of the widespread acceptance of Dispensational Futurism amongst American evangelicals, Partial Preterism is often considered unorthodox by many… Partial Preterism is distinct from Full Preterism, which holds that ‘all’ biblical prophecy was fulfilled in the past.

Todd Dennis, founder of the comprehensive and highly resourceful Preterist Archive (www.preteristarchive.com), himself a Partial-Preterist, defines Preterism this way: “Preterism places the prophecies of intense evil and foreboding gloom in the first century, focusing on the events surrounding the forty-two-month long Neronic persecution, the forty-two-month long Jewish war with Rome, and the destruction of the temple. The word ‘preterist’ is based on the Latin ‘praeteritus,’ meaning ‘gone by’ or ‘past’” (Todd Dennis [25], 2009).

Notable proponents of Partial-Preterism include John Wesley, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, R. C. Sproul, David Chilton, Kenneth Gentry, Gary DeMar, and Hank Hanegraaff. In his book, The Last Days According to Jesus, R.C. Sproul (1998) clarifies that the Partial-Preterist position does not teach that the Second Coming took place in 70 AD, only that certain Biblical texts which are assumed by some to refer to the Second Coming in fact refer instead to a different type of coming. He says, “While partial preterists acknowledge that in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D.70 there was a parousia, or coming of Christ, they maintain that it was not the parousia” (page 158). Sproul outlines the differences between the two comings in this way:

A coming (parousia) of Christ The Coming (parousia) of Christ
A day of the Lord The Day of the Lord
A judgment The (final) Judgment
The end of the Jewish Age The end of history
The Resurrection of the dead
The Rapture of the living

[NOTE (added on March 14, 2010): Some partial-preterists do apparently see the Second Coming as a past event. One of these is Duncan McKenzie, who says,

Like full preterists, I see AD 70 as the time of the Second Coming, resurrection and judgment (with the resurrection and judgment having an ongoing fulfillment since that time).  Like partial preterists I see certain prophetic events that still await fulfillment (e.g., the destruction of Satan at the end of the millennium described in Revelation 20:7-10).  While my position is much closer to full preterism, I strongly disagree with its premise that all biblical prophecy was fulfilled by AD 70. Our approach is most similar to that of nineteenth-century theologian James Stuart Russell.  Like full preterists, Russell saw AD 70 as the time of the Second Coming; unlike full preterists, Russell saw the Second Coming as the beginning of the millennium, not its end.]

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), in his work titled “Miscellany #1199, directly tied Christ’s predictions of His coming as recorded in the gospels to the events of 66-70 AD:

Tis evident that when Christ speaks of his coming; his being revealed; his coming in his Kingdom; or his Kingdom’s coming; He has respect to his appearing in those great works of his Power Justice and Grace, which should be in the Destruction of Jerusalem and other extraordinary Providences which should attend it [So in Luke 17:20 – 18:8].

As this idea of Christ’s coming in 70 AD is likely revolutionary for anyone immersed in Dispensationalist thought, it will be given more attention in the section where Christ’s words in the Olivet Discourse are examined. Jonathan Edwards, though, in his work titled “History of Redemption,” called this event the “final end to the Old Testament world,” and added that “the dissolution of the Jewish state was often spoken of in the Old Testament as the end of the world.” According to Edwards, this was an “instance of removing those things which [were] ready to vanish away, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain,” a reference to Hebrews 8:13 and 12:27-28.

Edwards’ position was that the Old Covenant was rendered obsolete because of Christ’s work on the cross, yet it was still “becoming” obsolete at the time Hebrews was written because the worship life that centered on Jerusalem and the temple was still alive (though meaningless) as long as the temple stood (Dennis Todd, 2009 [1]). These things did vanish away in 70 AD, and it became abundantly clear to anyone with eyes to see that all types and shadows had been replaced by the reality, Christ Himself. Judaism has never been the same since that time. With this interpretation John Piper (1996), the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, agrees. He states that it “is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of what happened in A.D. 70 in Jerusalem. It was an event that, for Jews and Christians, was critical in defining their faith for the next 2000 years.”

It was noted that Hyper-Preterism, also known as Full-Preterism, goes far beyond Partial-Preterism in the significance it ascribes to 70 AD. The following, according to Todd Dennis (2009 [1]), are some of the tenets of Hyper-Preterism: [A] All Bible prophecy was fulfilled by 70 AD. [B] The atonement was incomplete at the cross, but was completed in 70 AD. [C] “The Consummation of the Ages” came in 70 AD. [D] “The Millennium” is in the past, having occurred from 30 AD to 70 AD. [E] The Christian Age began in 70 AD, and this present earth will never end. [F] “The Day of the Lord” was Israel’s destruction ending in 70 AD. [G] The “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ took place around 70 AD. [H] The Great Judgment took place in 70 AD, and there will be no future Judgment. [I] The Law, death, sin, the Devil, Hades, etc. were utterly defeated in 70 AD. [J] “The Resurrection” of the Dead and Living is past, having taken place in 70 AD (Dennis Todd, 2009 [2]). These tenets should not be seen as forming the basis for what is to follow.

[1] The inclusion of Matthew 25:31-46 here, implying a past fulfillment of this text, is debatable. An interesting article relating this judgment event as already fulfilled, but from a Full Preterist viewpoint, can be seen here: http://web.archive.org/web/20051218184900/www.preterism.us/judgement.htm