Revelation Chapter 19


REVELATION 19

Mike**: December 17, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 19:1-21

——————————————————————————————————————————

**Our study of Revelation 19 was led by Mike on December 17th, 2009, but there is much here in this post beyond what was presented that evening. This post was created on Mike’s behalf, with his permission.          –Adam

——————————————————————————————————————————

Verses 1-6: In the previous chapter we saw much mourning on the part of the kings, merchants, and shipmasters “of the earth” (which we understood to be Palestine)[1]** because of Babylon’s destruction and burning. Here at the beginning of this chapter we see that all of heaven rejoices, for God “has judged the great prostitute…and has avenged on her the blood of His servants” (verse 2). As we have already discussed in chapters 16-18 there is only one entity that Jesus said would be held responsible for the shed blood of His saints, prophets, and apostles, and that is first-century Israel (Matthew 23:35-36, Luke 11:50-51; cf. Rev. 16:4-6, 17:6, 18:20-24).

**[In our study of Revelation so far, we have also suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]

As we also discussed in our studies of Rev. 17 and Rev. 18, the expression “the smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (verse 3) is more a reference to the eternal extinction of Old Covenant temple-based Judaism than it is to the physical city of Jerusalem, though both were laid waste in 70 AD. This expression was also used in Rev. 14:11 regarding the torment laid up for those who would worship the beast and its image. It hearkens back to Isaiah 34, where the same expression was used in regard to the judgment upon Edom, and perhaps even further back to the judgment upon Sodom (Jerusalem’s namesake; cf. Rev. 11:8) and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:28).

In his book,Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” Steve Gregg presents David Chilton’s side-by-side comparison of the first six verses of Revelation 19 with the last five verses (15-19) of Revelation 11. Chilton indicates that very similar subject matter is established “in the two passages which represent the closing visions of the two major sections of the book.” These are the six similar elements identified by Chilton (p. 440):

1. loud voices…in heaven (11:15; 19:1);
2. the declaration of the commencement of the reign of God (11:15, 17; 19:1, 6);
3. the twenty-four elders fall on their faces and worship (11:16; 19:4);
4. the avenging of the blood of His servants is announced (11:18; 18:24; 19:2);
5. reference to God’s servants…who fear Him, small and great (11:18; 19:5);
6. loud noises, including thunderings (11:19; 19:6).

In verse 6, we see a reference to the onset of God’s kingdom in its fullness in the words of the great multitude crying out: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.” In the preterist section of the book “Four Views on the Book of Revelation” (edited by Stanley N. Gundry and C. Marvin Pate, Zondervan Publishing: 1998), Kenneth Gentry (pp. 80-81) shares these details about the significance of the kingdom being taken from the harlot and given to the bride:

The New Testament records the gradual establishment of the kingdom (cf. Matt. 13:31-33; Mark 4:26-29): from its ministerial announcement (Matt. 12:28; Mark 1:15) to its legal security at the cross (Matt. 28:18; Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:1-11; Col. 1:13; 2:14-15) to its public vindication in Israel’s overthrow (Matt. 23:32-24:21; Gal. 4:21-31; I Thess. 2:16; Rev. 6-19). God’s removal of the temple system—physically breaking down the “dividing wall of hostility” legally broken in Christ (Eph. 2:14)—conclusively ended the early Zionistic tendencies of many first-century Christians (e.g. Acts 11:1-3; 15:1; Rom. 14:1-8; Gal. 1-5; Col. 2:16; Tit. 3:9) and established Christianity as a separate religion in its own right (this is why Jesus likens the great tribulation to “birth pains,” Matt. 24:8).

In conjunction with the marriage feast preparations, the bridegroom appears. In fact, his divorce and the capital punishment of his adulterous wife-prostitute provide the very justification for this celebration and new marriage (19:11-18). The lesson of Revelation now becomes clear: Christ gloriously appears as a warrior-bridegroom, punishing faithless Jerusalem and taking a new bride.

To this picture of Christ taking a new bride we now turn; we will also see this picture expanded upon greatly in our study of Revelation 21.

Verse 7: Here we see a call for rejoicing, “for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready.” Steve Gregg cites a couple of examples from elsewhere in the New Testament showing that this was an ongoing process during the generation after Christ’s ascension to the Father (pp. 442, 444):

A prerequisite of the coming of the marriage day is that His wife has made herself ready (v. 7). Chilton comments: “The duty of the apostles during the Last Days was to prepare the Church for her nuptials. Paul wrote of Christ’s sacrifice as the redemption of the Bride: He ‘loved the Church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word; that He might present to Himself the glorious Church, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless’ (Eph. 5:25-27). Paul extended this imagery in speaking to the Corinthians about the goal of his ministry: ‘I am jealous for you with godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one Husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin’ (2 Cor. 11:2-3).”

The preparedness of the bride involves two distinct aspects. On the one hand, the righteous acts that comprise her wedding attire are a gift of grace granted [v. 8] to her by God. On the other, she has made herself ready (v. 7). These bring out both man’s (I Tim. 4:16; I John 3:3) and God’s (Col. 1:22; Eph. 5:26) agency in the sanctification of the church (cf. I Thess. 5:15-24).

David Chilton echoes Gentry’s words earlier with this observation (Steve Gregg, p. 440):

[T]he destruction of the Harlot and the marriage of the Lamb and the Bride—the divorce and the wedding—are correlative events. The existence of the Church as the congregation of the New Covenant marks an entirely new epoch in the history of redemption. God was not now merely taking Gentile believers into the Old Covenant (as He had done under the Old Testament economy). Rather, He was bringing in “the age to come” (Heb. 2:5; 6:5), the age of fulfillment… With the final divorce and destruction of the unfaithful wife in A.D. 70, the marriage of the Church was firmly established.

The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-45) foretold this divorce of faithless Israel, and the corresponding marriage of the Church (giving of the kingdom to the Church). The religious leaders of Israel (vs. 45), being guilty of murdering the prophets (vss. 34-36) and finally rejecting and murdering God’s Son (vss. 37-39, vs. 42), were to suffer the loss of the kingdom (vs. 43) when the owner of the vineyard came in judgment (vss. 40-41). The language of verse 44 (“And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him”) seems to be a clear reference to the catastrophic downfall of Jerusalem and temple-based Judaism in 70 AD.

Regarding Chilton’s statement that “the destruction of the Harlot and the marriage of the Lamb and the Bride…are correlative events,” we made the same observation in our study of chapter 17. There we compared the language of Revelation 17:1, 3 with the language of Revelation 21:9-10:

A. Revelation 17:1: “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.’”

A. Revelation 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels which had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’”

B. Revelation 17:3: “And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.”

B. Revelation 21:10: “And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

Verse 8: The bride is pictured clothed “with fine linen, bright and pure.” We are told explicitly that the fine linen is “the righteous deeds of the saints.”

Verse 9: An angel instructs John to write these words, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” A seemingly obvious parallel to this is The Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22:1-11, which follows directly after the Parable of the Tenants cited above. 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.

Verses 11-16: In this section we see Christ proceeding out of an open heaven on a white horse, followed by the armies of heaven, and wielding a sharp sword in His mouth. John’s description of Christ here is beautiful.

Interestingly, Josephus recorded that, in the spring of 66 AD shortly before the Jewish-Roman War began, a “star resembling a sword” appeared over Jerusalem (remaining for a year) and there were also many in Judea who saw chariots and soldiers running in the clouds:

“Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them. Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year… Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities” (Wars 6.5.3).

The 1st century Roman historian, Tacitus, also said this:

“
There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms,
 the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds” (Histories, Book 5).

Sam Storms shares how John draws from the background of the Old Testament:

A sharp “sword” from his mouth is used to “smite the nations”, which he rules “with a rod of iron” (v. 15). The OT background for this is found in Isa. 49:2; 11:4; and Ps. 2:9. He treads “the wine press” of God’s wrath (v. 15). This image is drawn from Isa. 63:2-6. See also Rev. 14:19-20.

Regarding “the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure” following Christ on white horses, are they [1] angels [2] humans? The best argument for their being humans comes from earlier in this chapter. Rev. 19:8 speaks of a company clothed with “fine linen, bright and pure,” and there is no doubt that these are believers (i.e. humans), for they are the Bride (verse 7) emanating “righteous deeds” (verse 8). Yet there is also some basis for the possibility that this army is angelic. Storms astutely notes, as we also did in our study of Revelation 15, the one instance where non-human entities are seen clothed in pure, white linen: “After this I looked, and the sanctuary of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests” (Rev. 15:5-6).

As these angels in Revelation 15 came bearing judgment and plagues, it’s possible that they appear again here in chapter 19, as the context is once again judgment. That angels are in view here is further indicated by a parallel passage in Zechariah 14. There we read:

Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations as when He fights on a day of battle… And you shall flee to the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains shall reach to Azal. And you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord My God will come, and all the holy ones with Him (Zech. 14:1-5).

Some Bible translations agree with the ESV (quoted here) in using the phrase “the holy ones” (e.g. NIV, NASB, NLT, Young’s Literal Translation), while others use “holy angels” (e.g. Contemporary English Version). The King James Version uses the phrase “all the saints,” as does the NKJV. Interestingly, The Amplified Bible uses the phrase “saints and angels.” There are plenty of indications that Zechariah’s prophecy concerns the events of 70 AD, including the New Covenant language of Zech. 13:9, the reference to the taking of the city of Jerusalem (14:2), and the fleeing of God’s people to the mountains (14:5). For the sake of time and space, I will mention only one more indication (though there are many) that this text is speaking of the events of 70 AD. In Zech. 14:7 we read: “And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.” Josephus records a most interesting event which took place less than a year before Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD: “On the eighth of the month Zanthicus, (before the feast of unleavened bread) at the ninth hour of the night, there shone round about the altar, and the circumjacent buildings of the temple, a light equal to the brightness of the day, which continued for the space of half an hour” [Source: George Peter Holford, 1805].

The idea that angels are involved in the judgment of Rev. 19:14-15 is also consistent with the statement that Jesus made to His disciples in Matthew 16:27-28, where He said: “For the Son of Man is going to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay each person according to what he has done. Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” Some contend that this statement was fulfilled in Christ’s transfiguration six days later, because they find it impossible to avoid the fact that this prophecy was to find fulfillment within the lifetime of some who heard Him say these words. If this is the case, though, in what sense did Jesus “come with His angels” at that time and repay each person according to what he had done (a clear picture of judgment)? This explanation fails, because none of Jesus’ disciples died during the six days after Jesus made this statement, but some were indeed martyred before 70 AD. This text finds a clear parallel in Rev. 22:12 (“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing My recompense with Me, to repay everyone for what He has done“).

Verses 15-18: Here is fulfilled what was prophesied in Revelation 1:7. After all, this text (Rev. 19:11-16) speaks of Christ coming to strike down the nations, and being ready to “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (vs. 15).

An additional note may be helpful here. This is the classic text regarding the famed “Battle of Armageddon” which many believe is to happen in our future. Many more details are actually given in two other texts: [1] Rev. 14:17-20, where the “winepress of the wrath of God” is also spoken of, 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). In our day, Armageddon has also become synonymous with and a symbol for the ultimate in warfare and conflict.

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

Josephus also records these details regarding the bloody slaughter that occurred immediately following the burning of the temple:

“[The Romans] ran everyone through [with swords] 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).

John Wesley (1703-1791) understood this event to be the fulfillment of these passages in Revelation, for he wrote the following in his commentary:

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.

The phrase “the nations” in verse 15 does not necessarily need to be understood as worldwide in scope, for 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.

File:First century palestine.gif

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:First_century_palestine.gif

Kenneth Gentry adds his own reasons for allowing that the destruction of “the flesh of all men” (verse 18) could legitimately have been a local judgment, rather than a global one[3]:

[A]pocalyptic imagery often engages in hyperbole by making universalistic statements. For instance, Isaiah speaks of the destruction of Idumea in Isa 34 as if “all the nations” are to be “utterly destroyed” (34:2) and the universe is to collapse (34:4–5)… Second, even in more mundane contexts Scripture can make universal statements without requiring a global interpretation. Paul states that in his day the gospel was “proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1:23), “in all the world” (Col. 1:6), “throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:8). All agree that he is not claiming the gospel had been preached in South Africa, Antarctica, and Detroit. Elsewhere he is accused by the Jews of preaching “to all men everywhere [pantas pantachç]” (Acts 21:28). Again no record exists for his preaching in Cleveland or even in Gaul. If these statements can be made in mundane narratives, why can they not in apocalyptic drama?

On the fleshly feast prepared for “all the birds that fly directly overhead” (verse 17), Sam Storms has these thoughts:

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).

Steve Gregg comments further (pp. 452, 454),

The calling of the birds…for the supper of the great God (v. 17) is no doubt intended as a contrast to the marriage feast referred to in verse 9. Jay Adams writes: “Chapter 19 is the story of two suppers. They contrast sharply. One is a joyous marriage feast; the other the carnage of vultures.”

Chilton, who sees the losers of this battle—those who become food for birds—as Israel in A.D. 70, reminds us that “a basic curse of the covenant is that of being eaten by birds of prey (cf. Deut. 28:26, 49). Israel is now a sacrificial corpse (Matt. 24:28), and there is no longer anyone who can drive away the scavengers (cf. Gen. 15:11; Duet. 28:26). John’s language is borrowed from God’s invitation through Ezekiel ‘to every bird and beast of the field’ to devour the corpses of His enemies (Ezek. 39:17-20).”

Gregg’s conclusion that Israel had become the sacrificial corpse spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24:28, fit to be the prey of birds, is interesting in light of one fact that the Jewish historian Josephus recorded concerning the Roman armies that decimated Jerusalem in 70 AD. I wrote the following in my term paper on this subject:

[George Peter] Holford [referencing Josephus in his 1805 work titled “The Destruction of Jerusalem”] picks up on the phrase spoken by Jesus in Matthew 24:28, “For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.” Without being dogmatic on the meaning of this phrase, he notes that not only was Israel fit to be described as a carcass in 70 AD; being spiritually, politically, and judicially dead; but it was also a curious fact that the eagle was the principal figure on the Roman ensigns which were planted throughout the city of Jerusalem and finally in the temple itself.

In the preterist section of the bookFour Views on the Book of Revelation,” Kenneth Gentry points to another interesting detail recorded by Josephus (p. 81):

Christ is Israel’s ultimate judge (Matt. 24:29-30; 26:64); he is the one who makes war against her (Rev. 19:11; cf. Matt. 21:40-45; 22:1-7). He so severely judges her that her citizens receive no proper burial, being consumed by birds (Rev. 19:17-18). Robert Thomas well remarks: “The worst indignity perpetrated on a person in that culture was to be left unburied after death (cf. Ps. 79:2-3).” Josephus notes that the bodies of the dead in Jerusalem were “cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath” (Wars 5.12.3). Indeed, “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.

We would also do well to remember that Revelation 17:16 states that the 10 horns, along with the beast, would not only burn the prostitute with fire, but would also “devour her flesh.

Verses 19-21: This passage 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. They are captured because they had gathered to make war against Him who was sitting on the horse and against His army (verse 19).

——————————————————————————-

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


[1] In earlier posts, we have noted that the phrase “the earth” (also properly translated as “land”) in Revelation is a frequent reference to Israel/Palestine (See, for example, the post on Revelation 1, where we examined the phrase “tribes of the earth” in verse 7, which is often thought to be worldwide in scope. When this prophecy is compared, though, to its counterpart in Zechariah 12:10-14, it’s clear that every one of those tribes belonged to the land of Israel).

[2] Sam Storms agrees that Scripture does not indicate a future battle in the plain of Megiddo, the ancient Canaanite stronghold, and that there is no such place as the Mountain of Megiddo (the literal rendering of Har-Magedon).

[3] Source: Kenneth Gentry, “Recapitulation v Progress.” This publication is a primer for a full-length, verse-by-verse commentary on Revelation which Gentry is currently working on. It’s the 13th among his Revelation Commentary Updates.

Advertisements

Revelation Chapter 6 (Part 1)


REVELATION 6 (Part 1)

Adam Maarschalk: September 3, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 6:1-17 (Part 1 covers verses 1-8)

Brief review of chapter 5: We read of a worship scene around the throne of God in heaven, in which the Lamb who had been slain was found worthy to open a scroll and break its seals. This Lamb, Jesus, has “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and nation,” and “made them a kingdom and priests” to God. We will now learn what took place when the first six seals were opened.

A. First Seal: The Conqueror (6:1-2)

One of the four living creatures we saw in the last chapter says, “Come!” John said his voice sounded like thunder.

Q: Who was the first living creature talking to, John or someone else?
A: He was speaking to the rider on the white horse, who was wearing a crown, carrying a bow, and going out to conquer.

The command “Come!” appears three more times, at the end of verses 3, 5, and 7. This command was not given to John four times, but to each of the characters mentioned in verses 2, 4, 5, and 8. We will notice, as each of the first four seals are opened, that Jesus is the One who opens them, but each of the four living creatures in turn calls forth some individual to execute judgment.

This first seal judgment was fulfilled in early February 67 AD when Rome officially declared war on Israel, and Nero formally commissioned Vespasian as his general to lead the war to crush the Jewish rebellion. This took place 3.5 years before Jerusalem’s downfall in August 70 AD.[1] We will see the significance of this 3.5 year period later in our study of Revelation.

B. Second Seal: Conflict on Earth (6:3-4)

Q: Does the same type of warfare take place when the second seal is opened, or is there a difference?
A: This time the people are not attacked by an outside force, but they slay one another instead.

Mark A. Copeland, a Preterist, says of this passage that it “[r]epresents civil war, in which people would kill one another, such as God used in His judgment against Egypt (Isa 19:1-4).” This certainly fits the language used here. 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 (For more information, see Footnote #1).

Steve Gregg, in his book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” quotes from J. Stuart Russell, who says (p. 106),

The Jewish war, under Vespasian, commenced at the furthest distance from Jerusalem in Galilee, and gradually drew nearer and nearer to the doomed city. The Romans were not the only agents in the work of slaughter that depopulated the land; hostile factions among the Jews themselves turned their arms against one another, so that it might be said that “every man’s hand was against his brother.”

Gregg also quotes Josephus (from Wars, 2:18:2): “Every city was divided into two armies encamped one against another…so the daytime was spent in shedding of blood, and the night in fear.” Gregg himself adds (p. 108) that these verses in Revelation 6:3-4 substantiate the words of Jesus when He wept over Jerusalem:

The Jews had rejected the Prince of Peace, who had said, while weeping over Jerusalem, “If you had known…the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). The next words Jesus spoke predicted the Roman armies invading the land and leveling the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:43-44). What could speak more directly to the fulfillment of this threat than for Revelation to speak, as here, of one sent to take peace (v. 4) from the land? Zechariah also had predicted this as a consequence of the Jews’ rejection of Christ (Zech. 11:10-14).

At this point, it would be valuable to note that the Preterist viewpoint (which sees this as fulfilled in the land of Israel in the first-century) would be less plausible if the phrase “the earth” here refers to the entire globe. In chapter one,[2] we already got the sense that the predicted events in this book were to be localized, and that they had to do primarily with the land of Israel/Palestine as it existed in John’s day. You may recall that we compared the language of Revelation 1:7 with Matthew 24:30 and Zechariah 12:10-14, and saw (for example) that the term “tribes of the earth” clearly had to do with the tribes of the land of Israel. Kenneth Gentry is especially helpful in his book, “Before Jerusalem Fell” (1998, pp. 128-131), in explaining that “land” and “earth” are often used interchangeably in Scripture, with a meaning that is localized rather than global.

A quick glance at a couple of New Testament Scriptures begins to demonstrate this. For example, relating the circumstances surrounding Christ’s death on the cross, Matthew 27:45 in the ESV 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. The same is true in Revelation 6.

[In our study of Revelation, we will suggest that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]

C. Third Seal: Scarcity on Earth (6:5-6)

Q: Who made the remark about “a quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius”?
A: We are only told that there “seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures.”

The following is a short excerpt regarding this famine from a term paper I wrote in 2009:

…[T]he great famine predicted by Agabus in Acts 11:27-30 began in the fourth year of the reign of Claudius (i.e. 45 AD) and “was of long continuance. It extended through Greece, and even into Italy, but was felt most severely in Judea and especially at Jerusalem, where many perished for want of bread” [quote from George Peter Holford in 1805]. This famine was recorded by Eusebius [early church father], Orosius [3rd century Christian historian], and Josephus, who related that “an assaron [about 3.5 pints] of corn was sold for five drachmae” (in the heyday of ancient Greece in the 4th century BC one drachmae was the daily wage for a skilled worker). This brings to mind Revelation 6:6, where under the third seal judgment it is said that a denarius (or a typical daily wage) would only purchase a quart of wheat. This situation was said by Josephus to have climaxed during the five-month siege on Jerusalem in 70 AD.[3]

In December 69 AD John of Gischala foolishly set fire to the supply warehouses in Jerusalem, and nearly all the grain supplies were burned, which would have lasted the city for years. This set the stage for a massive famine which would prove to be Jerusalem’s undoing. The famine became so severe during the final five months in which Jerusalem was under siege by the Romans that there are records of parents roasting and eating their own children. Others ate their belts, sandals, dried grass, and even oxen dung. There were violent home invasions where anyone who was suspected of hoarding food was tormented until they revealed where it was. Some escaped from Jerusalem to the Romans because they couldn’t bear the conditions in the city any longer. Josephus records that some then failed to restrain their appetites, but quickly ate so much that they literally caused their bodies to burst open.[4]

No wonder Jesus had said, “Alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!” (Luke 21:23; cf. Luke 23:28-29). Noting that Revelation 6:6 makes specific reference to wheat and barley, it’s interesting what Josephus said of the conditions in Jerusalem during the Roman siege in 70 AD (Steve Gregg, Revelation, p. 112): “Many there were indeed who sold what they had for one quart; it was of wheat, if they were of the richer sort, but of barley, if they were poorer (Wars, 5:10:2).” Steve Gregg also adds,

The statement, do not harm the oil and the wine (v. 6) could allude to the fact that some sacrilegious Jews pillaged the oil and wine from the temple. Josephus writes that John Gischala, the leader of one of the factions, confiscated the sacred vessels of the temple: “Accordingly, drawing the sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept for pouring on the burnt offerings, and which was deposited in the inner temple, [John] distributed them among his adherents, who consumed without horror more than a hin in anointing themselves and drinking (Wars, 5:13:6).

D. Fourth Seal: Widespread Death on Earth (6:7-8)

A quarter of the population was to be wiped out [1] with sword [2] with famine [3] with pestilence [4] by wild beasts of the earth. We’ve already seen how the period of time leading up to Jerusalem’s downfall was characterized by war and famine. Regarding pestilences, George Peter Holford (1805) added these details:

History…particularly distinguishes two instances of this calamity, which occurred before the commencement of the Jewish war. The first took place at Babylon about A. D. 40, and raged so alarmingly, that great multitudes of Jews fled from that city to Seleucia forsafety, as hath been hinted already. The other happened at Rome A.D. 65, and carried off prodigious multitudes. Both Tacitus and Suetonius also record, that similar calamities prevailed, during this period, in various parts of the Roman empire. After Jerusalem was surrounded by the army of Titus, pestilential diseases soon made their appearance there to aggravate the miseries, and deepen the horrors of the siege. They were partly occasioned by the immense multitudes which were crowded together in the city, partly by the putrid effluvia which arose from the unburied dead, and partly from spread of famine.

Steve Gregg (pp. 114, 116) sheds more light on the significance of John’s description of the fourth seal judgment:

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.

Josephus describes the carnage and death in Jerusalem during the siege in the following terms: “So all hope of escaping was now cut off from the Jews, together with their liberty of going out of the city. Then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged. The seditious…as not enduring the stench of the dead bodies…had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath. However, when Titus, in going his rounds along those valleys, saw them full of dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them, he gave a groan…and such was the sad case of the city itself (Wars, 5:12:3-4).”

INTERPRETATIONS OF THESE SEAL JUDGMENTS

We’ll examine the fifth and sixth seal judgments in the next post (covering Rev. 6:9-17). First let’s pause briefly and consider how these seals have been interpreted by various schools of thought:

FUTURIST VIEW (#1): “The first seal is a rider on a white horse who is given a crown and sets out to conquer. The second seal is the red horse of war. The remaining seals are famine, death, martyrs, and great earthquakes and astronomical events. In the Olivet discourse, Jesus describes the events leading up to the “great tribulation” as things which are merely birth pangs. These birth pangs, however, include false Messiahs (Matthew 24:5), war (24:6-7a), famines and earthquakes (24:7b). The comparison between this description of events and the first six seals is unmistakable. This suggests that the first six seal judgments take place in the first half of Daniel’s 70th week, and that the remainder of the judgments take place in the last half.” (Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership, “REVELATION – Survey of the New Testament: The General Epistles and Revelation,” Winter 2007, p. 14. At http://www.gcfweb.org/institute/general/revelation.pdf.)

FUTURIST VIEW (#2): “Some interpreters view the seals as describing conditions preparatory to the Tribulation. Other scholars believe that they picture events that are part of the [future Great] Tribulation. I favor the second view.” (Dr. Thomas Constable, Notes on Revelation: 2008 Edition, pp. 66-67. At http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/revelation.pdf)

HISTORICIST/IDEALIST VIEW: “The terrifying events of the first four Seals, which those who have to live through them might imagine to be signs of Christ’s return and of the close of the age . . ., are in fact the commonplaces of history. The four horsemen have been riding out over the earth from that day to this, and will continue to do so…” [Sam Storms (quoting Wilcock), “The Seven Seals – Part 1,” 7 November 2006. At http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-seven-seals-part-i/][5]

PRETERIST VIEW: “I view the first four seals as revealing forces God would use to bring judgment upon the oppressors of His people (1-8)” [Mark A. Copeland. “Revelation: Chapter 6,” http://www.ccel.org/contrib/exec_outlines/rev/rev_06.htm. “His people,” of course, refers to the body of Christ, not ethnic Jews, who themselves were the oppressors in partnership with Rome.]

——————————————————————————-

Our study of Revelation 6 (Part 2) continues here.

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


[1] For further details, see: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp17-the-historical-events-leading-up-to-70-ad-part-1/.

[2] See here: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/revelation-1-study/.

[3] For further details, see here: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/16/pp13-signs-of-the-close-of-the-age/.

[4] For further details, see: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/pp18-the-historical-events-leading-up-to-70-ad-part-2/.

[5] Although Sam Storms is a Historicist, he views the Olivet Discourse in the same way as Preterists do. For example, noting the similarities between the Olivet Discourse and the seals of Revelation, he says,

What conclusions do we draw from this? Some have argued this proves that the Olivet Discourse and the Seals of Revelation are describing the same period of time, often thought to be the ‘tribulation’ immediately preceding the second advent of Christ. But I have argued elsewhere that the Olivet Discourse is actually concerned with events that the people of Jesus’ own ‘generation’ would witness, i.e., events characteristic of the first century, specifically the period 33-70 a.d…

This leads to one possibility, that Revelation was written before the events of 70 a.d. and is a graphic description, in obviously figurative language, of the fall of the city and destruction of the Temple. I’m more inclined to believe that the solution is found elsewhere… [C]ontrary to the futurist interpretation of the book, I do not believe these judgments are reserved exclusively for a period of ‘tribulation’ just preceding the second coming of Christ.