Making Sense of Ezekiel’s Temple Vision by Steve Gregg


Ezekiel 40-48 has been seen by many as a challenging section of Scripture. Steve Gregg asks some good questions and offers a good analysis in the article below. In the next post I would like to interact with Philip Mauro’s thoughts on this subject in his 1922 book, “The Hope of Israel.”

————————————————————————

This article first appeared in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 35, number 03 (2012). 


The book of Ezekiel closes with a vision of a temple and its associated rituals. In chapter 40, the prophet is transported in vision from his home among the exiles in Babylon to Israel, where a divine messenger holding a measuring rod appears to him. The messenger gives Ezekiel a tour of the temple, measuring the various walls, gates, and courts. At one point, the glory of the Lord, which was seen departing from the temple in an earlier vision (chap. 10), is seen returning to inhabit the temple (43:1–4).

The following chapters describe various sacrificial rituals performed by priests. Special attention is given to the role of one who is referred to as “the prince.” Near the end, a river is seen flowing out of the temple from under the threshold. The book closes with portions of the land assigned to various tribes.

Biblical scholars acknowledge that the temple vision, which occupies the last nine chapters of Ezekiel, presents special challenges in its interpretation. Some have even described it as the most difficult passage in the Old Testament.

As with the descriptions in Exodus of the tabernacle and its furnishings, many readers will find this section of Ezekiel tedious, due to its many arcane details, but this is not the greatest difficulty presented by these chapters. By far, the greater difficulty has to do with identifying the time and manner of the fulfillment of the vision.

Is It Solomon’s Temple? When Ezekiel saw the vision (573 BC), there was no temple standing in Jerusalem. Solomon’s temple, which had previously stood there, had been destroyed thirteen years earlier by Nebuchadnezzar, when he conquered Jerusalem and deported the citizens to Babylon. This means that Ezekiel was not seeing Solomon’s temple, or any temple that was actually standing at the time. What temple, then, was he shown?

Is It Zerubbabel’s Temple? Perhaps the answer that first comes to mind would be that this was the temple that came to be built, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, on the return of the Jews from Babylon to Jerusalem. However, this solution seems to be ruled out by the fact that Zerubbabel’s temple ended up being much smaller, and less elaborate, than the one Ezekiel describes. If Ezekiel was prophesying that the temple built by the returning exiles would fit this description, the prophecy failed to come true. This option does not commend itself to those who accept the inspiration of Scripture. Other interpretations, therefore, have been offered by evangelical scholars.

Is It the Church? Some Christian commentators have understood the content of these chapters as an apocalyptic vision, which is best interpreted spiritually. They point out that the church, in the New Testament, is often referred to as God’s “temple” or habitation. Each Christian is a “living stone” (1 Pet. 2:5), built, along with others, “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20) into a “temple of God” (1 Cor. 3:16). On this view, the features of temple worship—priests, altars, sacrifices, blood rituals—would be seen as pertaining to spiritual, rather than literal, realities, and applied to our worship of God in the present time. In particular, the description of the river, in chapter 47, would seem to support a nonliteral interpretation. If this is the correct view, we would be required either to see many of the tedious details as being either superfluous or as corresponding to spiritual ideas that would be very difficult to identify with confidence.

Is It the Millennial Temple? Another view of this vision, commonly held among dispensationalists, is that Ezekiel’s temple will be established after the second coming of Christ and will serve as the worship center for all people during the “millennium.” On this view, the one described as “the prince” is often identified as Christ Himself, ruling over the millennial kingdom.

Choosing a Hermeneutical Strategy. In choosing among these options, we are compelled to decide between differing hermeneutical priorities. One of the chief hermeneutical principles recommended by dispensationalist scholars is that of maintaining a consistently literal interpretation. This would mean that “spiritualizing” the text must be seen as a departure from the most faithful handling of Scripture. Therefore, dispensationalists argue for a literal, physical building to be established in fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision. Since the temple erected after Ezekiel’s time did not fit Ezekiel’s description, they believe that there must be another temple in the future that will do so more admirably.

It would be easier to accept this theory if we did not have the New Testament to guide our thinking. The most obvious problem presented here is that the book of Hebrews (e.g., 10:1–18) speaks of the death of Christ on the cross as a termination of the efficacy of bloody animal sacrifices, such as those Israel offered in the temple. If Ezekiel’s vision applies to a future time, why do we again find the offering of animal sacrifices?

The dispensationalist answer is that the millennial sacrifices will not be intended to atone for sins. The blood of Christ precludes any need for that. Just as the Old Testament sacrificesanticipated the death of Christ as a future event, it is suggested the future millennial sacrifices will commemorate the death of Christ as a past event.

The text of Ezekiel, however, seems to preclude this, since the various offerings in the temple are said to “make atonement for the house of Israel” (45:17).1 Thus, the sacrifices are presented as an atonement for sin, not as a memorial. Christ Himself recommended the use of wine and bread to commemorate His death (1 Cor. 11:24–26). Why would God replace this with animal sacrifices in which God never found any particular pleasure (Ps. 40:6; 51:16; Heb. 10:6)?

Further, Ezekiel says that “the prince” will offer a sin offering “for himself and for all the people” (45:22). If the prince is required to offer sacrifices for his own sins, this would militate against any theory that identifies him with Christ, who never sinned.

Other objections to the idea that Ezekiel’s vision describes a worship economy to be established in the future would include the following:

  • The vision presents a centralized worship in a specified geographical place. In the Old Testament, people were expected to approach the tabernacle, or (later) the temple, for this purpose (Deut. 12:5, 11). Jesus, however, announced to the Samaritan woman that the time of centralized worship was soon to end and to be replaced with spiritual worship, which does not depend on being in any particular place (John 4:21–24; cf. Acts 7:48–50).
  • In Ezekiel’s vision, the Levites and Aaronic priesthood are seen in their former places of service. According to the New Testament, there has been a change of the priesthood (Heb. 7:12). The Jewish priesthood has been replaced by a different priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5) and a non-Aaronic high priest (Jesus). This modification will not be reversed, for Christ is said to be “a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:17, 21).

Literal Interpretation Is Not Always Best. While the difficulties of the dispensational interpretation seem insurmountable, its only strength lies in its hermeneutic of literal interpretation. There is another hermeneutic principle, however, that overrides literalism—namely, the superior revelation given in Christ.

Hebrews 1:1–3 affirms that, while God spoke to Israel through various prophets in the past, the revelation that has come through Christ is more comprehensive because He is no mere prophet, but “the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of His person.” The New Testament is not a mere appendix added to the writings of the Old Testament prophets. It is a revelation of the new order in Jesus Christ, in whom all previous revelation finds its fulfillment, and through whom all previous revelation must be understood.

Christ opened the understanding of His disciples so that they “might understand the [Old Testament] scriptures” (Luke 24:45). This being the case, it would be foolish for us to seek a meaning of the prophets contrary to that which Christ and the apostles taught. It is their witness that provides the strongest objections to any literalistic interpretation of Ezekiel 40–48. In Christ’s new order (which, unlike the old order, is permanent), the temple, priesthood, and sacrifices are likewise spiritual (1 Pet. 2:5).

Making Sense of the Vision. How then are we to understand the temple vision? First, one might reasonably refer to the vision as that which “might have been,” had the Jewish exiles in Babylon exhibited a more thorough repentance than they did. There is an indication that the realization of this vision in Israel’s future was contingent on the people being sufficiently ashamed, or repentant, of their past sins: “Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple” (Ezek. 43:10–11).

The response of the Jews to their opportunity to return and to rebuild their temple was notoriously tepid. Only a small remnant opted even to return to Jerusalem, while the rest were content to remain in Babylon. As a result, the temple they built proved to be inferior to the one that Ezekiel described.

Though the Jews did not meet the conditions to have such a temple as Ezekiel’s, the pattern preserved in these chapters stands as a description of an intended order, which, had it materialized, would have testified, as the tabernacle once did, as a type and shadow of “heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5)—the new order in Jesus Christ. This, we may assume, was the long-term purpose served by the vision.

Though some features of the vision were probably intended symbolically from the start (e.g., the seemingly miraculous, ever-deepening river), it is probable that the temple and its rituals would have been literally instituted, as here described, had Israel met God’s conditions.

Whether or not the temple had ever actually been rebuilt, the new revelation in Christ encourages us to see its pattern as having been fulfilled in Jesus Christ Himself, who is the final atoning sacrifice and the eternal high priest of God’s people.

—Steve Gregg

Steve Gregg is the author of Revelation: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary, and host of the radio show The Narrow Path (www.thenarrowpath.com). He lives in Temecula, California.


NOTES

  1. All Bible quotations are from the New King James Version.
Advertisements

Revelation Chapter 21 (Part 2: Verses 5-27)


REVELATION 21 (Part 2: Verses 5-27)

Adam Maarschalk: February 3, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 21:1-27

Introduction: In the previous post, we covered the first four verses of Revelation 21, giving special attention to the imagery of a new heaven and a new earth (“for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”), and the New Jerusalem coming down from God out of heaven. Our conclusion is that John was being shown the final transition from the Old Covenant age to the New Covenant age (exclusively and in fullness) in 70 AD. In other words, the New Jerusalem came down from heaven at that time, and is a present reality now, just as the author of Hebrews also said (Heb. 8:13; 12:22-24). The events of 70 AD demonstrated decisively that the kingdom no longer belonged to the Jewish nation, but to the holy nation created at Pentecost (Matt. 21:43-44, I Peter 2:4-10; cf. Daniel 7:22, 27), made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers who enter God’s kingdom on an equal basis.

It is recommended that one read Part 1 of our study of Revelation 21 before proceeding here, in order to have a basis for what is to follow. We will now continue with our study, picking things up in verse 5. We will be relying much on Steve Gregg’s commentary on this chapter.

Verse 5: The One on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…” While the literalist position most often takes this statement to refer, along with the rest of the chapter, to a future physical new heavens and earth, this can also quite naturally be understood as a reference to the same truth which is articulated in II Corinthians 5:17. This verse reads, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” As believers submitted to Christ, every area of our lives should experience renewal. Even as this is true on a personal level for each believer, it’s also true in terms of the New Covenant. In the book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” Steve Gregg writes (p. 491):

The language of these verses also can apply to the passing away of the old covenantal order, which has been so completely replaced by the new order that God commands His people: “Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I will do a new thing” (Isa. 43:18-19). No place remains for the old covenant, as the writer of Hebrews explains: “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13).

Verses 6-7: The text here reads, “And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be His God and he will be My son.’” Is this a present reality, or a future reality to be experienced in the eternal state? Steve Gregg reminds us (p. 491):

[T]he promise, I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts (v. 6), is clearly the same as that made twice by Jesus in John’s Gospel (cf. John 4:10, 14; 7:37f). Also, the phrase He who overcomes (v. 7) is characteristic of the phraseology in the promises made by Christ in the letters to the seven churches (cf. 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21).

The one who overcomes receives this promise: “and I will be His God and he will be my son.” A similar promise is given in II Corinthians 6:18, a passage speaking of the Church as the temple of the living God. There we read: “and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.” This present position as God’s children is also spoken of in Romans 8:15-17. Kenneth Gentry, in his latest book “Navigating the Book of Revelation,” adds:

John is encouraging the beleaguered first century saints to hold on through their trials: Once Jerusalem falls, they will complete their entry into the final redemptive-historical order which has been gradually dawning since the time of Christ (John 4:21-23). As the writer of Hebrews puts it: Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28 NIV; cf. Heb. 8:13). Or as Paul expresses it in the mid-50s: “And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:11-12) – a reality worthy of enduring persecution.

Jesus promises His disciples that some of them will live to see the kingdom’s final establishment in power: “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” (Mark 9:1). Thus in Revelation 21 John paints nascent, post-A.D. 70 Christianity – now finally separated from Judaism – in glowing terms, as a firmly established, glorious reality (p. 167).

Verse 8: This verse reads, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake of fire that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Steve Gregg notes that many scholars have equated “the cowardly” with apostates “who defect from the gospel rather than enduring hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ,” in contrast to those “who overcome” (v. 7).

We also saw a reference to the lake of fire and the second death in Revelation 20:14, with regard to the Great White Throne Judgment. This is where, according to that passage, death and Hades was to be thrown, along with anyone whose name was not found in the book of life (Rev. 20:15).[1]

Steve Gregg makes a very interesting observation at this point. Speaking of the preceding 8 verses in relation to the rest of the final two chapters, he observes (p. 492):

One way of understanding the structure of these final chapters is to see this whole segment (vv. 1-8) as an outline or summary of the remaining portion of the book. A remarkable correspondence exists between the progression of thought in these first verses and in the remaining chapters.

Compare, after the introductory statement in verse 1:

CONTENT

In Verses 1-8

In the Remainder

New Jerusalem Verse 2 21:9-21
God dwells among men Verse 3 21:22-27
Renewal of the world Verse 5a 22:1-5
“These words are true and faithful” Verse 5b 22:6-10
Work completed: “I am Alpha and Omega” Verse 6a 22:11-15
Final blessing: water of life to all who thirst Verses 6b – verse 7 22:16-17
Final curse upon the rebellious Verse 8 22:18-19

Verse 9: John is now taken to see “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” by one of the same seven angels who held the bowl judgments. Steve Gregg notes (p. 493) that one of these same angels—perhaps even the same one—had also taken John to see the great harlot in 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.’” He says that this “provides a structural link, deliberately placing the harlot in juxtaposition with the bride.” We made the same observation in our study of chapter 17, comparing the language of these two texts as follows:

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.”

Earthly Jerusalem and the Old Covenant temple system are thus contrasted with heavenly Jerusalem and the New Covenant (cf. Galatians 4:21-31; Hebrews 12:18-28). On the different destinations to where John was taken in these two visions, Steve Gregg comments: “The bride-city is elevated upon a mountain, ‘beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth’ (Ps. 48:2), while the harlot city is situated in a barren wasteland.”

Verses 10-11: The descending of “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” was also shown to John in verse 2. Steve Gregg comments on the significance of her attire:

Here, the attire of the bride is seen to be her having the glory of God (v. 11). The Shekinah that once rested upon the temple in earthly Jerusalem has departed from that institution and come to alight upon the church, the new temple of the Holy Spirit and the new City of God. The inheritance and hope of the New Testament believer is the hope of obtaining the glory of God (Rom. 2:7; 5:2; 8:18; Col. 1:27; I Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 2:14; Heb. 2:10; I Pet. 5:1, 10). This speaks of the likeness of Christ Himself seen upon His people (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; 2 Pet. 1:19; I John 3:2).

The light radiating from the glorious bride-city is compared to the radiance of a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal (v. 11), which probably refers to a diamond. The believing remnant is likened to jewels in the Old Testament. In Malachi 3:16-17, it is said of those who fear the Lord and meditate on His name, “‘They shall be Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘on the day that I make them My jewels.’” The context in Malachi [3:16-4:6] suggests that the reference is to the Jewish believers in Christ, who escaped the desolation of the capital city in A.D. 70. In this place also some find grounds for seeing the bride as the surviving church at the time of the destruction of the Jewish polity.

Verses 12-13: This text reads, “It [the New Jerusalem] had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates.” Steve Gregg comments (p. 494),

The city is described as surrounded by a great and high wall (v. 12). This is applicable to the church as a spiritual city even today. In speaking of the spiritual Jerusalem, God predicted “and you shall call your walls Salvation” (Isa. 60:18), and “I…will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst” (Zech. 2:5). If Salvation is the wall—indeed, God Himself is the wall—of the city, then the city and its wall appear to be spiritual in nature. This would be a figurative means of expressing the reality of the believer’s security in the City of God.

The wall of the city has twelve gates (v. 12) which have written upon them the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. In Isaiah, the same passage that calls the city’s wall “Salvation” goes on to say, “And your gates [shall be called] Praise” (Isa. 60:18). The most important of the twelve tribes was Judah, whose name means “Praise.” In Isaiah, the city’s gates are named after this tribe; in Revelation, the gates bear the names of all twelve tribes. There may be no conflict here, since in Judah, that is, in Christ, who is of that tribe, all the “twelve tribes” of the spiritual Israel are included. The attachment  of the tribal names to the gates may suggest that through Israel God made a way for the world to enter the City of God, for “salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Of course, this is only another way of saying that salvation is through Jesus Christ, who sprang from the Jewish race…

Another observation concerning the 12 gates with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel is that this parallels Ezekiel’s vision, where he saw the same thing (Ezekiel 48:30-34). Gregg continues,

It is expedient that there should be three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west (v. 13), to speak of the universal access into the church, for Jesus predicted that “They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).

In the passage just quoted from Luke 13, we should note that just before Jesus said these words, He also said to the unbelieving Jews that they would be cast out of the kingdom of God and would experience weeping and gnashing of teeth while the patriarchs, prophets, and many Gentiles would find entrance. This mirrors what Jesus said in the Parable of the Tenants (Matt. 21:43-44; cf. Matt. 22:1-14).

Verse 14: This verse reads, “And the walls of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Steve Gregg’s commentary on this verse is very insightful (p. 494):

Further evidence for identifying the city with the church is seen in the city foundations that have upon them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (v. 14). This detail communicates pictorially what Paul said more directly, that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). This is the city for which Abraham looked: “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb. 11:10).

Duncan McKenzie likewise says, “A physical structure (a city) is being used here as a symbol to portray the totality of God’s people, just as God’s people are likened to a physical structure (a temple) in Ephesians 2:19-22—notice that both “structures” are built on the foundation of the apostles (Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14).”

Verse 15: Here we read, “And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls.” Steve Gregg again comments (pp. 494-495):

The measuring of the city, its gates, and its wall (v. 15) recalls Ezekiel 40:3, where an angelic messenger carried a measuring line and a reed to measure the gates and walls of “something like the structure of a city” (Ezekiel 40:2) and the temple in it. It seems likely that this vision corresponds to that of Ezekiel, although premillennialists generally apply Ezekiel’s to the Millennium and this one to the state of things after the Millennium.

We should note that a major difference between Ezekiel’s account and John’s account here is that (as we will see) there is no temple in John’s vision. Ezekiel, on the other hand, goes into great detail in describing the temple he sees in his vision [In Philip Mauro’s classic work in 1922, “The Hope of Israel,” he noted that the promises given through Ezekiel were conditional (e.g. Ezekiel 43:9-11), and that these visions had to do with the return from the Babylonian captivity some five centuries before Christ with some foreshadowing also of Christ and the coming Church age].

Verses 16-21: We are now given the physical description of the holy city. Futurists, and premillennialists in particular, see this as a literal description of a future, physical city to be enjoyed during the eternal state following Christ’s millennial reign. On the other hand, as we will see, there is Scriptural warrant for seeing this description as depicting with rich symbolism the glories of the New Covenant church in this present age. Here is the text at hand:

The city lies foursquare; its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia [about 1380 miles]. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement. The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

One key comparison to take note of is the fact that the holy city in John’s vision is cube-shaped, just as the holy of holies in Solomon’s temple was (I Kings 6:20). The holy of holies was overlaid with pure gold, while the holy city in John’s vision is entirely made of pure gold. What follows is Steve Gregg’s commentary on these verses, found on pages 495-496 of his book:

[VERSES 16-17] Since John sees no temple in the city (v. 22), we may imply that the whole city is the temple, or more specifically, the holy of holies. It is the place of the glory of God (cf. v. 11). This is the place of God’s residence (Eph. 2:20-21; I Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; I Pet. 2:5), where God communes with men. Earlier [Rev. 11:1-2], John had measured the holy of holies (the naos) for its protection and preservation. In this vision, the naos is again measured, indicating its permanence, but it is now identified with the City of God, the church of Jesus Christ.

Part of the adorning of the bride is her jewelry… The walls, foundations, and gates are all made of great gemstones. This harks back to a prophecy of the Old Testament concerning the church: “O you afflicted one, tossed with the tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay your stones with colorful gems, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of crystal, and all your walls of precious stones” (Isa. 54:11-12). [Steve Gregg’s endnote: That the church is here pictured seems a necessary conclusion to be drawn from Paul’s quotation of the first verse of the chapter in Galatians 4:26-27 and his application of it to the Gentiles of the New Covenant church.]

[VERSE 18] (T)he city itself was of gold, so thoroughly purified as to become transparent. This is an image used to describe the refined character of the sanctified believer (Job 23:10; Zech. 13:9; Mal. 3:3; I Pet. 1:7; Rev. 3:18).

[VERSES 19-20] The twelve gems comprising the foundations call to mind the twelve gems worn upon the breast of the high priest, though again the individual stones are not identical (cf. Ex. 28:15-21). Since these same stones bear the names of the twelve apostles, it could be understood as a statement about the leadership of the people of God having transferred from the high priesthood of the temple to the apostles of the church.

[VERSE 21] There may be symbolic significance to the fact that the twelve gates were twelve pearls (v. 21). Unlike the previously named gems, pearls are created organically. A rough grain of sand irritating the tissues of the oyster causes the secretion of a substance that transforms the source of irritation into a pearl. The pearl thus may stand for affliction turned to benefit, even as silver and gold refined by fire are used in Scripture for the same concept. The gates are the means of entry into the city. If the pearl is understood in this light, we have a picture of one of Paul’s preaching themes: “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

In Scripture a way of life is frequently called a path, a way, a highway, or a road (e.g. Prov. 4:18; Isa. 35:8). Therefore it is reasonable to understand the street of the city (v. 21) as representing the way of life of those who comprise the New Jerusalem. This street was pure gold, like transparent glass, which speaks of the godly character and behavior that comes from enduring the refining fires of tribulation.

Verses 22-27: John continues to describe what he observes concerning the heavenly Jerusalem:

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Steve Gregg’s commentary again follows, including a most helpful chart comparing this portion of Revelation 21 with a corresponding portion of Isaiah 60 (pp. 496-497):

On the statement, I saw no temple in it, [J. Stuart] Russell writes: “Some of the features [of this vision] are evidently derived from the visionary city beheld by Ezekiel [chapters 40-48]; but there is this remarkable difference, that whereas the temple and its elaborate details occupy the principal part of the Old Testament vision, no temple at all is seen in the apocalyptic vision—perhaps for the reason that where all is most holy no one place has greater sanctity than another, or because where God’s presence is fully manifested, the whole place becomes one big temple.” Rather than going to a particular place to worship and appearing before God “in the sanctuary,” today one needs only be found “in God” or “in Christ” to worship acceptably, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple (v. 22).

A helpful way of treating this segment is to look at it alongside an Old Testament passage with which it coincides. Compare the details point-by-point with Isaiah chapter 60:

Isaiah 60

Revelation 21

The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the Lord will be to you…light (v. 19) The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it for the glory of God illuminated it (v. 23)
The Gentiles shall come to your light (v. 3) The nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light (v. 24)
Kings shall minister to you (v. 10); the glory of Lebanon shall come to you (v. 13) The kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it (v. 24)
Your gates shall be open continually…not shut day nor night (v. 11) Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there) (v. 25)
The wealth of the Gentiles shall come to you (v. 5) They shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it (v. 26)
Also your people shall be all righteous (v. 21) There shall by no means enter it anything that defiles (v. 27)

In Isaiah 60, all of this is precipitated by the dawning of the glory of the Lord in a glorious new day (Isa. 60:1-3). This day was seen to dawn with the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus (cf. Luke 1:76-78; Matt. 4:13-16). Both passages then would appear to speak, albeit in symbolic terms, of the realities of the New Covenant age. The coming of the Gentiles into the church and the submission of kings to Christ has been in progress for nearly two thousand years now.

These facts alone (those highlighted in the paragraph above) would seem to be conclusive proof that these prophecies found here simply cannot be said to await a future dispensation or realm, but are indeed realities which have characterized the Church for nearly 2000 years.

This brings us to the end of the chapter, in terms of looking at it verse-by-verse. In this post, we have noted several parallels with the book of Ezekiel. This is actually a very common pattern with the book of Revelation, and numerous scholars have recognized that John borrows much from—or alludes much to—Ezekiel. Just for fun, here is a brief summary from Pastor Sam Frost of some of the parallels between Revelation 21 and various visions of Ezekiel:

Ezekiel is taken to a high mountain by angel and sees a city (40.1-3). John is taken to a high mountain by an angel and sees a city (21.10). The first thing Ezekiel sees is the wall (40.5) that surrounds the city. The first thing John sees is the wall surrounding the city (21.12). The first gate Ezekiel sees is the ‘east gate’ (40.6). The first gate for John is the ‘east gate’ (21.13). Ezekiel sees the East, North (40.20-23) and the South (40.24-27), in that order. John follows the same order: ‘From the East gates, three; and from the North gates, three; and the South gates, three’ (21.13). One omission: Ezekiel does not mention a West gate, but John does.

Each gate/alcove for John and Ezekiel are ‘three’ (21.13; cf. 40.10). Each are being measured (21.15-ff; cf. 40.10-ff). John then measures the city itself and its foundations. Here, Ezekiel goes into the city and sanctuary and begins measuring their dimensions.

Obviously, Ezekiel’s vision is much more detailed that John’s. Nonetheless, the pattern is there, plainly. Each gate (four in all, with three alcoves, giving a total of 12) are named after the tribes of Israel (Ez 48.31-ff). Same as John (21.12). The City has ‘living waters’ in Ezekiel 47.1-ff. So does John (22.1-ff). I can expand the list, but we would be here a little longer. By now, you ought to get the point.

Before we bring this post to a close, and by way of review, the following is a selected outline of Kenneth Gentry’s reasons[2] for seeing a first-century fulfillment of the vision of Revelation 21. My numbering of Gentry’s points is a bit different than his own numbering, as I have left out certain points for the sake of brevity:

[1] The flow of Rev’s drama expects the immediate appearance of the New Jerusalem bride (21:2). John’s theme involves Christ’s judging Israel (1:7), which leads to the destruction of old, historical Jerusalem (under the image of Babylon…). Once the old city is destroyed in AD 70 we should expect the New Jerusalem to take its place. Indeed, the NT declares the heavenly Jerusalem is already present in Christianity, as over against Judaism (Gal 4:26; Heb 12:22; cp. vv 18–21).

[2] Per the “unanimous agreement among scholars” (Mathewson, A New Heaven and a New Earth, 33; cf. Beale, Revelation, 1041), John’s immediate source material is surely Isa 65:17–20 (cf. LXX). Isaiah’s prophecy portrays the coming new covenant order established by Christ (cp. 2Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15; Eph 2:10; 4:24). As Young (Isaiah 3:514) explains: “Heaven and earth are employed as figures to indicate a complete renovation or revolution in the existing course of affairs. With the advent of the Messiah the blessing to be revealed will in every sense be so great that it can be described as the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.”

[3] The coming down of the new Jerusalem (21:2) leads to the loud proclamation from God’s throne: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them.” This transpires in the first century, as a result of Christ’s work and his pouring out God’s Spirit. Paul writes in 2Co 6:16: “We are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

[4] …The promise of the water of life without cost reflects Isa 55:1 and the offer of salvation, which is related to the redemptive-historical order established by Christ in the first century. In his Gospel John speaks of the water of life flowing from Christ during his incarnation (4:10–14) and promises its fuller flow at his exaltation (7:38–39; cp. Ac 2).

[5] The twelve foundation stones of the city in 21:14 picture the historical church, which Paul presents as already “having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20).

[6] …John writes in 21:22: “And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, are its temple.” This suggests a first century reality, for with Christ’s coming and death the temple is rendered unnecessary (Mk 15:38//; Jn 4:21; Ac 17:24; Heb 8:13), for he is the temple (Jn 2:19–21; Eph 2:19–20) and is greater than the physical temple (Mt 12:6).

[7] That “the nations shall walk by its light” (21:24a) suggests that the nations as separate national entities still exist. Thus, historical conditions still prevail, rather than radically new, eternal conditions of perfect union and the fading of all distinctions.

[8] The city is not a purely consummational phenomenon, for the “unclean” and he “who practices abomination and lying” are not allowed in (21:27). This implies a pre-Judgment setting, where sinners still exist. In fact, the city contains the “tree of life,” which produces leaves “for the healing of the nations” (22:1–2). This also requires conditions subsisting prior to the eternal order. The healing of the nations obviously suggests conversion. John even declares the continued existence of “dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (22:15), though they are “outside” of the city. Presumably they are the targets of evangelism, for whom the healing leaves of the tree of life exist. (pp. 2-3)

Summary Statement: “So there you have it! John is picturing the glory of new covenant Christianity, which arises from the fallen ashes of collapsed Judaism (cp. Matt 8:11–12; Heb 8:13).”

An Invitation for Feedback

It seems that this is as good a place as any to pose a question I’ve been wishing to resolve for some time. I have no dogmatic position on this as of yet, and would love to have some thoughts/feedback. My question is this: What is the significance of Hebrews 9:8-10, if any, to Revelation 21? This passage in Hebrews reads as follows:

By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

Rightly or wrongly, I’m linking this passage to Revelation 21 since, as we noted when looking at verse 16, the cube-shaped holy city in John’s vision replaces the cube-shaped holy of holies of the Old Covenant temple (I Kings 6:20). Among my suppositions and considerations are these:

[1] Unless there is a tense error in the English Standard Version from which I quoted this text in Hebrews 9, the first century readers seem to have been told that the way into the holy places was not yet opened in their day, but that it would be opened once the first section no longer stood. This “first section” was spoken of in Heb. 9:6, and is a reference back to Numbers 28:3 where we see a prescription for the regular offering of two male lambs without blemish. Does Heb. 9:8 mean that the first section must no longer physically stand (a reality accomplished only in 70 AD), or simply that it must no longer stand as covenantally significant (a reality accomplished at the cross)?

[2] By the phrase “the present age,” I understand the author of Hebrews to mean the Old Covenant/Judaic age which ended in 70 AD with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple at the hands of the Romans (see this post here for “a discussion of two ages”). [By the way, if “the present age” is understood—as it popularly is—to mean this present church age, then is “the way into the holy places” still not opened, even in our day? Of course it is. Or is there indeed a tense error in this quoted passage? Curiously, in the ESV the past tense is used in verses 1-5, but the present tense is used in verses 6-10. I’m not so sure that it should be this way. This whole passage may even refer to the wilderness tabernacle, and thus have nothing to do with 70 AD except for the mention of “the present age.”]

[3] The phrase “the time of reformation” I would understand to refer to Christ’s work on the cross, for it was surely this work which brought an end to the imposing of “food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body…”

[4] I want to be careful not to assign any significance to the events of 70 AD which is instead properly assigned to the cross. Jesus and Him crucified must remain central.

So, does anyone have thoughts on this matter? Thanks in advance for any feedback.

————————————————————————————————————————-

Our next post brings us to Revelation 22, which will be our final post in this series of chapter-by-chapter studies of the book of Revelation.

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


[1] As we saw in a previous post, Duncan McKenzie makes a good case that the great white throne judgment is a past event—for those who have already died. He sees it as an ongoing event ever since 70 AD, so that everyone who has died since then experiences a personal judgment following their physical death, rather than a one-time event in the future to be experienced by all humanity at once. Hebrews 9:27 (“…it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”) is said to reflect this sequence, as is Revelation 11:18. This was also the viewpoint of J. Stuart Russell (1816-1895), who wrote the landmark book “The Parousia.”

[2] Source: Kenneth Gentry, “New Creation as New Covenant” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 4.

Revelation Chapter 21 (Part 1: Verses 1-4)


REVELATION 21

Adam Maarschalk: February 3, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 21:1-27

Introduction to Revelation 21-22

Steve Gregg, the editor of the highly resourceful book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” provides the following breakdown of how these questions tend to be viewed by believers today (p. 485): Will There Be a Literal New Heavens and New Earth? What Is the New Jerusalem?

Literalist: Non-Literalist:
  • Some take the descriptions in these chapters fairly literally, as applied to a brand new planet and universe, which will be created after the close of the Millennium (premillennialists) or else at the Second Coming (some amillennialists and some postmillennialists).
  • The New Jerusalem described here will be the eternal home of the redeemed.
  • Some spiritualize the whole vision, applying it to a nonmaterial state of existence in heaven.
  • Others take the “New Heaven and the New Earth” to represent what Paul called “a New Creation” (2 Cor. 5:17)—that is, the condition of those who are in covenant with God and Christ through the New Covenant, the “Old Heaven and the Old Earth” (meaning the Old Covenant) having passed away.
  • The New Jerusalem represents the church itself, represented under the imagery of a new Holy of Holies—the tabernacle of God with men—in its present earthly existence.

A large portion of this first post will be spent discussing just the first 2 verses of Revelation 21, as they lay a foundation for what is to come, and also because they use language which appears fairly often throughout the rest of Scripture. We will only cover the first four verses of the chapter in this post, and the remainder of Rev. 21 will be covered in a second post.

Verse 1: John sees that [1] a new heaven and a new earth have replaced the old heaven and earth [2] there was no more sea. Steve Gregg (p. 486) speaks further on what he sees as the three major ways this text is interpreted:

The new heavens and the new earth have been interpreted in essentially three ways: (a) literally of a future material universe after the coming of Christ (so most futurists believe); (b) symbolically of heaven, the abode of the glorified saints; or (c) spiritually of the New Covenant community (the church) that has replaced the Old Covenant community of Israel.

Many tend to take the first position as the primary meaning and to acknowledge secondarily a spiritual application to the present believing community, which has already “tasted of the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5), but which still awaits the establishment of the literal “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13) at the return of Christ or after the Millennium.

Some may be surprised to know that many well-respected preachers of the past did not primarily see Revelation 21 through the lens of explanation (a) above. At the end of this post, we will note some quotes from Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. For now, let’s note how Charles Spurgeon viewed the meaning of “the new heavens and the new earth” in this excerpt from a sermon he preached in 1865:

Did you ever regret the absence of the burnt-offering, or the red heifer, or any one of the sacrifices and rites of the Jews? Did you ever pine for the feast of tabernacle, or the dedication? No, because, though these were like the old heavens and earth to the Jewish believers, they have passed away, and we now live under the new heavens and a new earth, so far as the dispensation of divine teaching is concerned. The substance is come, and the shadow has gone: and we do not remember it (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxxvii, p. 354).

Spurgeon evidently saw the language of the new heavens and the new earth as one and the same with the arrival of the New Covenant. I share his viewpoint, at least in the primary sense. This fits with everything else we’ve been seeing in our study of the book of Revelation; the completed transition from the Old Covenant age (ending in 70 AD) to the New Covenant age (inaugurated at the cross, and overlapping with the Old Covenant age for one generation). Kenneth Gentry likewise sees a first-century fulfillment for this passage here in Rev. 21, in part based on its correlation with a similar prophecy by Isaiah. Gentry says on page 173 of his newest book, “Navigating the Book of Revelation,”

Isaiah prophesies the Church age by using dramatic new creation language: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

Proponents of all viewpoints seem to agree that John’s vision was a clear allusion to this text from Isaiah. The different interpretations have to do with the perceived timing of its fulfillment. Some see it as a yet future reality, to be fulfilled and made manifest after Christ’s future Second Coming. Futurist Arno C. Gaebelin said of Revelation 21, “We now come to the revelation concerning the final and eternal state of the earth” (Gregg, p. 486). John Piper sees Revelation 21 as speaking of the future “age of the resurrection.” Others, like Gentry and Charles Spurgeon, believe that this reality has been realized ever since the last symbols of the Old Covenant disappeared with Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD, now replaced by the New Covenant and the New Jerusalem. Looking again at Isaiah’s parallel account, Gentry further clarifies his points on this matter[1]:

Isaiah’s prophecy clearly portrays the coming new covenant order established by Christ, which Paul calls a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; cp. Ephesians 2:10; 4:24)… We know that Isaiah was not speaking of the consummate order, for he includes aspects of the present fallen order in his description: “No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred shall be thought accursed” (Isaiah 65:20). The eternal order will not include infants, death, aging, and curse (p. 169).

Steve Gregg also expresses some thoughts on the Isaiah – Revelation 21 connection (pp. 488-489):

The concept of a new heaven and a new earth (v. 1) is first given clear expression in Isaiah and is later mentioned by Peter, probably alluding to Isaiah (2 Pet. 3:13). God first speaks of His intention to “plant the heavens, lay the foundations of the earth, and say to Zion, ‘You are My people’” (Isa. 51:16). Since this is uttered after the first heaven and earth were created, this must speak of planting a new heaven and earth… This could refer to the establishment of the New Covenant, since certain elements of the New Covenant order are said to be something that God “creates” (Isa. 4:5; 57:19). Also, the specific promise of “new heavens and a new earth,” found exclusively in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22, fall within a portion of Isaiah which New Testament writers applied to the present age.

Regarding the portion of Isaiah which New Testament writers applied to this present age, Steve Gregg offers the following comparisons (p. 506):

[a] Isaiah 65:23 with I Cor. 15:58
[b] Isaiah 65:25 with Luke 10:19
[c] Isaiah 66:1f with I Tim. 3:15
[d] Isaiah 66:8 with Gal. 4:26
[e] Isaiah 66:11 with Matt. 5:6
[f] Isaiah 66:12 with John 14:27
[g] Isaiah 66:15f with Matt. 22:7
[h] Isaiah 66:18 with Matt. 8:11
[i] Isaiah 66:19 with Eph. 3:8 and Col. 1:27
[j] Isaiah 66:20 with Rom. 15:16

David Curtis, pastor of Berean Bible Church in Chesapeake, Virginia, has this to say:

In biblical apocalyptic language, “heavens” refers to governments and rulers, and “earth” refers to the nation of people. This can be seen in the book of Isaiah [e.g. Isaiah 1:1-2, 10]…

Isaiah 34:4-5 (NKJV) All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, And the heavens shall be rolled up like a scroll; All their host shall fall down As the leaf falls from the vine, And as fruit falling from a fig tree. 5 “For My sword shall be bathed in heaven; Indeed it shall come down on Edom, And on the people of My curse, for judgment.

Here we have a description of the fall of Edom; notice the language that is used. This is Biblical language to describe the fall of a nation. It should be clear that it is not to be taken literally. God says that, “His sword will be bathed in heaven,” then explains what He means by saying “It shall come down on Edom.” The NIV puts it this way, “My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed.” So, God speaks of His sword being bathed in heaven, meaning the nation Edom, not the literal heaven. Edom shall be rolled up like a scroll.

Isaiah 51:13-16 (NKJV) And you forget the LORD your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens And laid the foundations of the earth; You have feared continually every day Because of the fury of the oppressor, When he has prepared to destroy. And where is the fury of the oppressor? 14 The captive exile hastens, that he may be loosed, That he should not die in the pit, And that his bread should not fail. 15 But I am the LORD your God, Who divided the sea whose waves roared; The LORD of hosts is His name. 16 And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.'”

The time of planting the heavens and laying the foundation of the earth that is referred to here, was performed by God when He divided the sea (ver. 15) and gave the law (ver. 16), and said to Zion, “Thou art my people; that is, when He took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a covenant nation. He planted the heavens and laid the foundation of the earth: that is, brought forth order, and government.

If the destruction of heaven and earth were to be taken literally in all of the Old Testament passages, it would mean that heaven and earth were destroyed a bunch of times. This language is clearly not literal, but figurative and apocalyptic [the same also being true in a New Testament passage like Matthew 24:29].

Australian Pastor Andrew Corbett (a partial-preterist) says on this matter:

When the Lord speaks [throughout Scripture] of a new heaven and a new earth there may be some merit in regarding this as Biblical language for a new covenant. This suspicion is increased when we consider how Christ used this expression as well: For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18).

Since Christ fulfilled the Law, was He right in stating that heaven and earth passed away? If we regard the expression ‘heaven and earth‘ as referring to God’s covenant with mankind, then this statement makes perfect sense. It seems that Christ was therefore saying that once the Old Covenant is fulfilled it will be done away with and replaced by a new covenant.

Hebrews 8:13 says that the Old Covenant became obsolete at the Cross, but it was still to be done away with. Since we now know that the Book of Revelation was written around 64AD (just after the Epistle to the Hebrews, which referred to the Old Covenant as still being in existence – note Hebrews 8:13) Revelation’s announcement of a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ was perhaps announcing that a change in covenant-order was pending…

Could the picture of a new heaven and a new earth in the Book of Revelation be describing a coming new physical reality? Perhaps. But we have some Biblical precendent for regarding it as an expression of God’s covenant relationship with mankind… Therefore, while there may be future physical implications of this Biblical prophecy, there might not be.

Putting these thoughts together (if we are on track), the use of the words “heaven” and “earth” in Revelation 21:1 represents [1] the final passing of the Old Covenant Judaic age in light of the destruction of the second temple and the city of Jerusalem when God poured out His wrath upon apostate Israel in 70 AD, just as Jesus predicted (e.g. Matthew 8:10-12; 11:21-24; 21:33-45; 22:1-14; 23:29-24:35; Luke 11:47-51; 13:1-5; 19:41-44; 21:1-36; 23:28-31); [2] the full establishment of the New Covenant age and the kingdom of God (no longer encumbered by Judaism), in which it is openly manifest that God’s covenant people are only those who place their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. I believe that the remainder of our study of Revelation 21 will bear these things out, as we compare Scripture with Scripture.

I appreciate what David Lowman says here: “So, perhaps it is best to understand the NHNE [new heavens and new earth] covenantally as a picture of the promised New Covenant that finds origination in the Old testament, institution in the Gospels, unfolding in the [book of] Acts and explanation in the rest of the New Testament.”

Regarding the absence of the sea in Rev. 21:1b, Steve Gregg says (p. 489), “Many take the sea symbolically as representing the nations and peoples of the Gentiles. According to this theory, only the spiritual Israel remains of all the nations that once covered the planet. The glory of the Lord thus fills the earth as the waters once covered the sea (Hab. 2:14).”[2]

Back in February, I posted a 3-part series titled “‘The earth’ as a Common Reference to Israel in Revelation.” The first post can be seen here, the second post here, and the third post here. This 3-part series was an in-depth study of John’s frequent use of the phrase “the earth” as an indication of the impending judgment upon apostate Israel in 70 AD. In the third post, I included an appendix briefly discussing a similar use of the phrase “the sea” to indicate the Gentile nations. Here is a large excerpt from that appendix:

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…

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 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.

Verse 2: John saw “the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” As noted earlier, many today see the “new Jerusalem” as a future, physical reality. Is there any precedence elsewhere in the New Testament for seeing the New Jerusalem as a present, non-physical reality? Recall Spurgeon’s quote at the beginning of this post, and how he related the dichotomy of the old and new heavens/earth with the Old/New Covenants. I haven’t read his entire sermon, but I’m willing to bet that he had this passage in mind:

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons,one by a slave woman andone by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, whilethe son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are twocovenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, “Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear; break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor. For the children of the desolate one will be more than those of the one who has a husband.” Now you, brothers,like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say?“Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave butof the free woman (Galatians 4:21-31, emphasis added).

Bear with me as I take us on a brief rabbit trail here, but one that should prove to be valuable. The passage quoted in Galatians 4:27 is Isaiah 54:1. Most are agreed that this passage in Isaiah is parallel to Isaiah 66:8-9, seen in context here: “Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at His word: Your brothers who hate you and cast you out for My name’s sake have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy’; but it is they who shall be put to shame. The sound of an uproar from the city! A sound from the temple! The sound of the Lord, rendering recompense to His enemies! ‘Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?’ says the Lord; ‘shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?’ says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn for her (Isaiah 66:5-10).

Dispensationalists and Christian Zionists insist that Isaiah 66 predicts Israel’s birth as a nation in 1948. However, if it is indeed parallel to Isaiah 54:1, it must be seen in the same way that Paul made application of Isaiah 54:1 in Galatians 4. Isaiah foresaw the birthing and the breaking forth of the heavenly Jerusalem (66:8-10), even as earthly Jerusalem met her demise (66:6). Ironically, Isaiah 66 does not speak of the restoration of earthly Jerusalem into the hands of mostly unbelieving Jews in 1948. Rather, it mirrors the taking away of the earthly kingdom from apostate Israel (in 70 AD), and the giving of the heavenly kingdom exclusively to God’s holy nation, the Church, just as Jesus predicted (Matthew 21:43-44; cf. Daniel 7:18, 22, 27). It speaks of the full establishment of the New Jerusalem for the Church invisible, the dissolving of the Old Covenant in favor of the New Covenant. This is the point of Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, and John.[3]

In our study of Revelation 17, we noted the same dichotomy which we just saw in Galatians 4, as John was shown a contrasting picture of two women: the harlot of chapters 17 and 18, and the bride in chapter 19 clothed with “fine linen, bright and pure…the righteous deeds of the saints (see verses 1-8). In Hebrews 12:22-24 we see the same language, where the picture of the New (heavenly) Jerusalem is again linked with the New Covenant: “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, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Looking at the larger context, the author of Hebrews is comparing and contrasting the giving of the Old Covenant (verses 18-21) with the granting of a non-physical kingdom even as the old physical kingdom (the Jerusalem temple; cf. Heb. 9:8-10) was about to be removed.

In John’s letter to the Church in Philadelphia, this promise was also given to those who would be found faithful: “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from My God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev. 3:12). This was a promise to first-century believers. The temple of which Christ spoke, of course, is the Church (I Cor. 3:9, 16-17; 6:19; II Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22), a very present reality.

In this same vein, Kenneth Gentry stated, “The new Jerusalem is a symbol of the redeemed people of God in whom God dwells (Rev 21:3), much like the “temple” in Paul’s writing often represents the people of God and not a physical building (1 Cor. 3:16–17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21).”[4] Steve Gregg adds (p. 490), “Since the New Jerusalem is later described as the ‘Lamb’s wife’ (v. 9), we can readily identify the symbol with the church, which is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:31-32).”

Can you see it in these passages? It’s time that the Church shakes off the false teachings of dispensationalism and Christian Zionism, with their heavy emphasis on an earthly kingdom for one particular ethnic group (the Jews), and lives in the present realities of the New Covenant, the heavenly kingdom which cannot be shaken.

Steve Gregg also adds, on pages 489-490:

The mixing of metaphors in the holy city, New Jerusalem…prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (v. 2) is arresting. That a city could be dressed in bridal attire is difficult to picture with the mind. Yet it is not the first time the images of a city and a woman have been joined in describing one entity. In Revelation 17, the great harlot was also Babylon, and a divine interpreter explained that “the woman whom you saw is that great city” (17:18). The figure of a woman to represent a city goes back to the Old Testament, where Jerusalem is referred to as “the virgin, the daughter of Zion” (Isa. 37:22)…

The bride is here prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (v. 2), suggesting the wedding day. In chapter 19, the announcement was made that the marriage of the Lamb had come and His wife had made herself ready (19:7), yet no description of the wedding or the bride was offered. This vision seems to pick up where that one left off, for here we see the procession of the bride in her readiness to be joined to her husband.

Verse 3: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.’” The language used here is quite similar to the description of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The phrase “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men” also hearkens back to Ezekiel 37:27-28, a passage which follows shortly after the New Covenant promises articulated in Ezekiel 36:24-28. Furthermore, in Ezekiel’s own vision of a city, he was told that it would be the place where God would dwell with His people (Ezekiel 43:7, 48:35). Steve Gregg notes that this promise was first made conditionally in Leviticus 26:11, and further comments:

The destruction of Solomon’s temple and the removal to Babylon in 586 B.C. was God’s way of revoking this privilege because of the Jews’ disobedience. While in Babylon, however, Ezekiel prophesied that there would come a time of ultimate restoration of God’s people under the terms of the New Covenant, resulting in the renewal of the original privilege: “My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore” (Ezek. 37:27). Many interpreters apply Ezekiel 37 to the Millennium, though the repetition of Ezekiel’s words in this place [Revelation 21] would favor a fulfillment in the new creation.

Is this promise awaiting future fulfillment? The apostle Paul didn’t believe so when he quoted Exodus 29:45 and Lev. 26:11 as a present reality for the Church in his own day (II Corinthians 6:16).

Verse 4: John is told that tears will be wiped away, and there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain, “for the former things have passed away.” Of all the statements in Revelation 21, this might be the hardest one to explain as a present reality. Here are some questions that we can ask to help us think through what John is told in this verse:

1. Since God can’t wipe away what isn’t there, can we conclude that tears are present when He wipes them away? If this is so, what is the likely setting where this takes place – on this earth during our lifetimes, or beyond the grave?

2. What does the rest of the New Testament say about “death” and its relationship to followers of Christ? What does the New Testament say about what Jesus has already accomplished with regard to death?

3. What does the New Testament teach regarding “former things” passing away, or “the old order of things” (as the NIV puts it) passing away? Does the NT elsewhere present the passing away of former things as an accomplished reality, or a future reality?

From Isaiah 53:4, we know that Jesus bore our griefs and sorrows on the cross. From John 3:16, we know that God gave His Son, Jesus, so that those who believe in Him would not perish. From II Timothy 1:10, we know that Jesus has already abolished death and brought life and immortality to life through the gospel. From II Corinthians 5:17, we know that the old has already passed away, the new has come, and we are new creations in Christ. From Galatians 6:15, we know that this new creation counts as everything. From Hebrews 12:24, we know that we have a new covenant with better promises and realities than ever existed in the old covenant. 

Revelation 21:4 is based on Isaiah 25:8, which says: “He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; The rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth…” The context shows that God would ruin one city (Isaiah 25:2, 26:5), but on a mountain He would create “for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines…” (verse 6). He would destroy “the veil that is spread over all nations” (verse 7) and bring salvation (verse 9). The walls of the new city would be marked by salvation (26:1) and a righteous nation would enter the open gates (26:2; see Rev. 21:24-26). 

According to Paul, there was a veil over the mind when reading the old covenant, and that veil is only taken away in Christ (II Corinthians 3:14). The old covenant was also a ministry of death (II Cor. 3:7). So, when examining the background of Revelation 21:4, we can see that the death and sorrow was covenantal, and those “former things” passed away with the creation of the new covenant at the cross (Matthew 26:28) and the destruction of the old covenant system in 70 AD.

Steve Gregg remarks on these things (p. 490),

Some have so construed the promise God will wipe away every tear from their eyes (v. 4) as to teach that there will be tears in heaven. Biederwolf, however, suggests that the words simply mean “that He will so constitute things that no more tears will be shed.” …The causes of present mourning and crying are eradicated forever.

There is also a present realization of these truths, since, for the Christian, Christ has “abolished death” (2 Tim. 1:10), so that “whoever lives and believes” in Christ “shall never die” (John 11:25). As for sorrow, grief, and pain, our relationship with God through Christ has even transformed these experiences so that, while we do still mourn the loss of loved ones, we do not “sorrow as others who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:13).

Is Rev. 21:4 also a reflection of the truths laid out in Hebrews 2:14-15? There we read, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” In any case, one of the provisions of the New Covenant brought about by Christ’s death on the cross is the deliverance from the fear and sting of physical death (and, of course, exemption from the second death—Rev. 20:6, 14).

————————————————————-

Before moving on to our next post, where we will continue with our study of Revelation 21 (beginning with verse 5), I would like to close this post with some pertinent quotes from Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) and John Owen (1616-1683) which mirror what we have been saying here:

[1] Jonathan Edwards: “The Scriptures further teach us to call the gospel-restoration and redemption, a creation of a new heaven and a new earth… The gospel-state is everywhere spoken of as a renewed state of things, wherein old things are passed away, and all things become new… And the dissolution of the Jewish state was often spoken of in the Old Testament as the end of the world. But we who belong to the gospel-church, belong to the new creation; and therefore there seems to be at least as much reason, that we should commemorate the work of this creation, as that the members of the ancient Jewish church should commemorate the work of the old creation…

Heaven and earth began to shake, in order to a dissolution, according to the prophecy of Haggai, before Christ came, that so only those things that cannot be shaken may remain, i.e. that those things that are come to an end may come to an end, and that only those things may remain which are to remain to all eternity.   So, in the first place, the carnal ordinances of the Jewish worship came to an end, to make way for the establishment of that spiritual worship, the worship of the hearts, which is to endure to all eternity.   This is one instance of the temporary world’s coming to an end, and the eternal world’s beginning.  And then, after that, the outward temple, and the outward city of Jerusalem, came to an end, to give place to the setting up of the spiritual temple and the spiritual city, which are to last to eternity.

[2] John Owen: [regarding II Peter 3] “It is evident, then, that in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by heavens and earth, the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the men of them, were often understood… On this foundation I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state.

(1.) Because whatever is here mentioned was to have its peculiar influence on the men of that generation. He speaks of that wherein both the profane scoffers and those scoffed at were concerned, and that as Jews, some of them believing, others opposing, the faith. Now there was no particular concernment of that generation, nor in that sin, nor in that scoffing, as to the day of judgment in general; but there was a peculiar relief for the one and a peculiar dread for the other at hand, in the destruction of the Jewish nation…

(2.) Peter tells them, that after the destruction and judgment that he speaks of (vers. 7-13), “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth,’ etc. They had this expectation. But what is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isa. lxv. 17. Now, when shall this be that God shall create these new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness? Saith Peter, “It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the gospel, that I foretell.” But now it is evident from this place of Isaiah, with chap. lxvi. 21, 22, that this is a prophecy of Gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of Gospel ordinances to endure forever. The same thing is so expressed Heb. xii. 26-28…

He will come- He will not tarry; and then the heavens and earth that God Himself planted, -the sun, moon, and stars of the Judaical polity and church, -the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinancy against the Lord Christ, shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed: this we know shall be the end of these things, and that shortly.” (Sermon on 2 Peter iii. 11, Works, folio, 1721.).

———————————————————————————————

In Part 2 of our study of Revelation 21, we will examine the remainder of the chapter (verses 5-27). We will also note a number of similarities between Isaiah 60 and Revelation 21, Ezekiel 40-48 and Revelation 21, and other fascinating allusions to other Scripture texts in Rev. 21.

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, “Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues,” GoodBirth Ministries: Fountain Inn, SC, 2009.

[2] Kenneth Gentry notes that “John Walvoord (Revelation, 311) takes a strongly literal approach,” saying, ‘The new earth apparently will have no bodies of water except for the river mentioned in 22:2.’” Gentry himself agrees that the replacing of the old heavens and earth with the new heavens and earth is a picture of the Old Covenant order. Gentry comments,

John witnesses the New Jerusalem “coming down out of heaven” (Rev 21:2). In John’s drama the collapse of the Jewish temple in AD 70 opens direct access to God (Rev 11:2, 19; cp. 19:1–2, 9; 22:14). If God descends with his New Jerusalem people “then the barrier of the glassy sea [Rev 4:6; cf. 4:2–5, 9–5:1, 6–7], which in the present age separates his dwelling from the earth, will have to have been done away with” (Mealy, 195). This is precisely what we see in Rev 21:3–5.

This new covenant principle of open access to God appears elsewhere in the NT. For example, we see this when Jesus promises that soon people will no longer need to worship in Jerusalem but can call upon God from anywhere (Jn 4:21, 23; cp. Mal 1:11). This begins to occur when the temple veil is torn and creation is darkened and shaken (Mt 27:45//, 51b; cp. Rev 21:1), for after that event Christians are urged to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16; cp. 7:19) because of the removal of the old covenant (Heb 8:13; 12:22–28) which blocked access to the holy place (Heb 9:8). This removal of the old covenant is dramatically exhibited and finalized in AD70.

In that the Exodus motif appears frequently in Rev, the removal of the sea may also reflect the drying of the Red Sea so that Israel could enter the Land (Ex 14:21–22; Ps 18:15; 106:9; Isa 44:27; 50:2; 51:10; 63:11–12; Jer 51:36; Nah 1:4). But even here we may note the separation from God involved, for the sea separated Israel from God’s promised inheritance, requiring that God overcome this impediment. Hence, the image of the Exodus / Red Sea underscores the symbol of open access to God.

I do believe the absence of the sea in Rev 21:1 portrays just this sort of image. The new covenant access to God is a major consequence of the removal of the old covenant and rituals portraying the hiddenness of God. As Christianity takes the place of Israel at AD 70, God’s people can come boldly before the throne of grace in a way they could not have in the OT.

Source: Kenneth Gentry, “No More Sea” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 4.

[3] Some (e.g. Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Gary DeMar) would say that Peter makes the same point in II Peter 3:1-14, where he speaks of scoffers “in the last days” (of the Old Covenant age?), the existence (at least in his day) of “the heavens and earth,” and the coming “day of the Lord” (70 AD?) in which the heavens would pass away with a roar along with the burning up of “the earth and the works that are done on it,” giving way to “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” Others, like partial-preterist Kenneth Gentry, see Revelation 21:1-2 as primarily speaking of the events of 70 AD, but II Peter 3 speaking of what will take place at the end of world history with the future Second Coming of Christ. Here is what Kenneth Gentry says regarding these things:

My understanding of Revelation 21–22 is that John provides an ideal conception of new covenant Christianity as the new creation and the new Jerusalem. Though the ultimate, consummate, eternal new creation is implied in these verses, his primary focus is on the redemptive new creation in Christ. John is encouraging the beleaguered Christians to hold on through their trials: Once Jerusalem falls and Nero dies, they will have entered into the final redemptive-historical order in history. And he paints Christianity in glowing terms [p. 1, underlining added]… John’s new creation revelation differs from Peter’s (2 Pet. 3:10ff) [in that Peter highlights the eternal result of the temporal redemption in Christ that John speaks of].

Source: Kenneth Gentry, “New Creation As New Covenant” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, pp. 1, 4.

Rightly or wrongly, some have taken Gentry to task for inconsistency in these matters.

[4] Source: Kenneth Gentry, “Dispensationalism and the New Jerusalem” (Supplement to his newest book, Navigating the Book of Revelation: Special Studies on Important Issues), January 2010, p. 5.

Revelation 20: Premillennial Viewpoint


Revelation 20: An Introduction to the Premillennial View 

Rod: January 27, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 20:1-15

Introduction (by Adam)

On January 27th, our Bible study group met as we usually do on a weekly basis, and studied Revelation 20, the classic text on “the Millennium.” That night three of us took a limited amount of time to present three different views of the Millennium: [1] premillennialism (Rod), [2] postmillennialism (Dave), and amillennialism (myself). This subject of the Millennium requires more coverage than we were able to give it in just one meeting, so we have turned this into a project of sorts, as I wrote in our Introduction and Outline of Revelation 20. That outline provides links to all of our posts on the subject of the Millennium and Revelation 20. Neither Rod (the author of this post) nor I hold to the premillennial position, but this material is being presented in order to give coverage to multiple viewpoints. Both Rod and I lean toward the amillennial viewpoint.

Adam

Primary sources for this post:

[1] Steve Gregg, “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary),” pp. 457-483.
[2] Sam Storms, the founder of “Enjoying God Ministries”:

[a] http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-kingdom-of-god-already-but-not-yet-part-i/
[b] http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-kingdom-of-god-already-but-not-yet-part-ii/

Premillenialism, which is usually associated with a futurist viewpoint on the book of Revelation, teaches that Christ will return bodily in power and glory before the “thousand years” (millennium) to defeat and destroy the beast and the false prophet in the battle on the “great day of God the Almighty” at Armageddon (16: 14-16; 19:11-21). This battle will result in the binding (but not destruction) of Satan, which will keep him from deceiving the nations for one thousand years (Gregg, pp. 458-459). This period is interpreted by most premillennialists to be a literal one thousand years.

During that time Christ’s saints, having received their immortal bodies either by being resurrected from the dead (or, if they were still alive, being instantly transformed–1 Thess 4:13-18), will reign with Christ on the present earth, still surrounded to some degree by sin and sorrow but relieved to a significant degree of sin’s societal and physical consequences. According to this viewpoint, sin, sorrow, and death will not be eliminated until the new heaven and earth displace the first heaven and earth (Rev 21:1-4). The descendants of those who survive the battle of Armageddon will remain on the earth, ruled by resurrected saints and living to extraordinary ages (Isaiah 65:20-25).

The following is a brief summary of variations within the premillennialist camp:

Dispensational premillenialists believe that Old Testament prophecies of Israel’s restoration to political and material blessedness will happen during this millennial kingdom reign. At the end of the one thousand years, a second rebellion against Jesus’ reign will provoke another war, at which time the dragon (Satan) will be defeated and finally destroyed. The wicked at this time will be raised bodily to face God’s last judgment and eternal wrath. They will be thrown into the lake of fire, which is the “second death” (20:6, 11-14). The old heaven and earth will be replaced by a new heaven and earth where curses, sin, sorrow, suffering and death will no longer exist for those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 21, 22).  Dispensational premillenialism expects that the millennium will witness a virtual restoration of the OT economy: temple, worship, priesthood, sacrificial system, etc.

Classic Premillenialism expects a future one thousand year reign of Christ on earth with believers and non-believers, prior to the final judgment. Therefore, it expects Christ will return before the one thousand years, but after a great tribulation before Christ returns (this is the post-trib rapture view). Classical premillenialists differ over whether the renewed earth will begin the millennium or the eternal state.

Pretribulational Premillenialism also expects a future one thousand year reign of Christ on earth, but it expects that Christ will first come secretly to take believers from the earth before a “great tribulation” of seven years. After this tribulation period, it expects that Christ will come back publicly to reign on the earth and that He will bring back believers at that time. There is often much overlap between pretribulation premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism.

A quick overview (Gregg, pp. 460-482):

1. Premillenialists (PMs) see chapter 20 as happening directly after the events of chapter 19, which is interpreted to be a description of the second coming of Christ.
2. The unnamed angel in Revelation 20 is most likely Michael (as in Rev. 12 and Jude 9).
3. The bottomless pit is thought to be a location on earth, and the star mentioned in chapter 9 was given the key to this pit.
4. The dragon is bound for one thousand years, and this disabling is very thorough. Satan is thrust into the pit and sealed away for one thousand years (although it is said that sin will still exist during this time). Because of Satan’s continued influence in the world today, this vision is yet future for premillennialists.
5. Satan will be released after the one thousand years of Christ’s peaceful reign for one final rebellion before the new eternal creation will come.
6. The identity of those who sit on the throne is unknown–perhaps God, Christ and the angels, 24 elders, the martyrs who did not worship the beast, or saints from the Old Testament and New Testament.
7. Verses 4-6 point to the resurrection of the saints who will reign on earth with Christ during the one thousand years. The PM would see this resurrection as a physical one, not a spiritual resurrection as  the postmillennialist or amillennialist sees it [This is a key difference, because only the premillennialist sees two general resurrections, separated by 1000 years, the first one for the righteous and the second one for the wicked. The premillennialist also only sees this 1000-year separation taught here in Revelation 20, and nowhere else in Scripture where the doctrine of the resurrection is taught].
8. One is particularly blessed who takes part in the first resurrection, as they will live in the millennium and escape the second death to live in the New Jerusalem in the new creation, becoming priests of God.
9. Satan will rise up in rebellion, and raise up the nations not under Christ’s rule (designated as Gog and Magog) to go to war (see also Ezekiel 38-39, and our post on the subject of Gog and Magog). This attack is said by premillennialists to target the literal city of Jerusalem.
10. God rescues the city with a great hail of fire and brimstone. The final judgment occurs and Satan is then tossed into the lake of fire.
11. The throne is thought to be the same throne as in Rev. 4:2. The one seated could be God or Christ, but the speaker is Christ.
12. The old heavens and earth “flee away” to make way for the new heavens and the new earth.
13. The dead are seen as those who did not experience the first resurrection.
14. There are two books: one containing the judgments for the dead and the other the book of life. It is interesting to note that there are books (plural) with judgments for the dead.
15. No one escapes the final judgment as in accordance with the prophecy in Isaiah 26:21.
16. Death and Hades were found riding a pale horse and slaying a fourth of mankind in Rev 6:8. Here they are personified as having held the dead captive, but now releasing their prey, as predicted by Paul in I Corinthians 15:26.

According to Steve Gregg, who summarized the premillenialist viewpoint:

“In the view of premillennialists, the golden age of peace and righteousness will not and cannot be realized until Jesus personally returns. He will then bind Satan for 1,000 years and reign over the earth with a rod of iron. The saints who rule with Him will be the righteous who have experienced resurrection earlier at his coming. Satan will be given one last chance at the end of this time and will deceive many people, but his rebellion will be supernaturally crushed and he will be eternally judged” (Gregg, p. 483).

According to non-dispensational premillenialists:

One purpose of the millennial kingdom would be to serve as the time and place (at least initially) wherein the OT promises of God’s earthly rule over His people will be fulfilled, and another purpose of the millennium would be that Christ’s kingdom will be disclosed in history.

To note some key differences between premillennialism and amillenialism (the viewpoint which held sway through most of Church history), compare this post with some of the following resources:

[A] Our posts on amillennialism:

Part 1 (a verse-by-verse study),
Part 2 (a verse-by-verse study continued),
Part 3 (two articles: [1] “Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism” [2] “A Return to Types and Shadows in the Millennial Age?”,
Part 4 (two articles: [1] “Has the New Covenant Arrived Yet?” [2] “Problems with Premillennialism” by Sam Storms

[B] http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/the-amillennial-view-of-the-kingdom-of-god/ (Sam Storms; some of the material in this article is also referenced in our posts on amillennialism)

Sam Storms is an amillennialist (as well as a Historicist), and has the following to say in his summary of some of the tenets of premillennialism:

1. PMs insist that the relationship between the events of Rev. 19:11-21 and the events of 20:1-3 is one of chronological and historical sequence – which means the binding of Satan for a thousand years comes directly after the second coming of Christ.
2. PMs insist that the NT evidence concerning the activity of Satan in this present age does not line up with the description of the restrictions placed on Satan’s power by the angel in 20:1-3. Since Satan is not bound, then the events of verses 1-3 must be future, they say.

**Sam Storms lays out an argument against these claims, saying that the phrase “I saw” does not necessarily indicate the order in which the visions were to play out in history, but is only an indication of the order in which he received them. A second objection follows with Sam pointing out that in 16:13-16 the nations were deceived, and then were destroyed in 19:19-21.

PMs believe there will be two age-transitioning wars: one before the millennium (Armageddon: Rev. 16:17-21; Matt 24:29) and one after the millennium (Gog-Magog, Rev. 20:9-11). However, a reading of Hebrews 12:26-27 would seem to indicate that there was to be only one such war.

Sam Storms believes that there is evidence from Ezekiel 39:17-20 that the battle of Armageddon (Rev 19) and the battle of Gog-Magog (Rev 20) are one and the same…and NOT two battles separated by one thousand years. PMs point to the fact that according to Rev 20:10 Satan is cast into the lake of fire where the Beast and False Prophet already are. So these two entities must have been cast into the lake of fire before the millennium started (19:20). [Again, for a thorough discussion regarding Gog and Magog, and the relationship between Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation 19 & 20, please see our own post on this subject.]

**Sam Storms argues that a better understanding of the verbs used would tell of the devil being cast into the lake of fire along with the Beast and False Prophet…which would be at the conclusion of the war (Armageddon/Gog Magog). So historically these events happen at the same time, but John received two different visions subsequently offering two different vantage points.

PMs insist that the binding of Satan as stated in Rev 20:1-3 is not compatible with the dimensions of Satan’s present activity as portrayed throughout the NT. PMs insist that Satan must be bound from being able to carry out ANY activity.

However, verse 3 states that Satan was bound so that he could no longer deceive the nations. Then in verse 8 he is released so that he can deceive the nations which are the four corners of the earth. John does not say that Satan cannot persecute Christians or prowl about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, disrupt church unity, disguise himself as an angel of the light, etc. He was bound only to the extent that he could not rally the nations to war in unity against the city of God (the Church, the New Jerusalem–e.g. Hebrews 12:22, Gal. 4:24-26) until the millennium comes to an end. See our first post on amillennialism for a more thorough treatment of this subject.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

In the following post, we will examine several minority viewpoints on the millennium, views which fall outside of the traditional “big 3” (a-, post-, and pre-millennialism).

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

Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 1)


Revelation 20: Amillennial Viewpoint (Part 1)

Adam: January 27, 2010

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 20:1-15

 

Introduction

On January 27th, our Bible study group met as we usually do on a weekly basis, and studied Revelation 20, the classic text on “the Millennium.” That night three of us took a limited amount of time to present three different views of the Millennium: [1] premillennialism (Rod), [2] postmillennialism (Dave), and amillennialism (myself). This subject of the Millennium requires more coverage than we were able to give it in just one meeting, so we will be turning this into a project of sorts, as I wrote in our Introduction and Outline of Revelation 20. This will serve as the first of at several posts on amillennialism, the viewpoint I’m personally leaning toward more than others at this time. The first two posts will be a verse-by-verse discussion of Revelation 20 from an amillennial viewpoint. We will discuss the first four verses of Revelation 20 in this post, and the remaining 11 verses in the next post. Additional posts will feature excerpts from online articles on amillennialism, etc.

Steve Gregg, on page 457 of his book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), summarizes the general Amillennial approach to Revelation 20 as follows:

  • The binding of Satan represents the victory of Christ over the powers of darkness accomplished at the cross.
  • The 1000 years is symbolic of a long, indeterminate period, corresponding to the age of the church (now).
  • Satan will be loosed briefly to wreak havoc and to persecute the church in the end of the present age.
  • The fire coming from heaven and consuming the wicked is symbolic of Christ’s Second Coming.
  • A general resurrection and judgment of the evil and the good will occur at Christ’s coming, followed by the creation of new heavens and a new earth.

Steve Gregg also notes that, among amillennialists, there is no single interpretration for the previous chapters of Revelation (chapters 1-19). In other words, some amillennialists have been Historicists (like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Sam Storms); others preterists (like Jay Adams and Steve Gregg himself, though he doesn’t say so in this book); others have taken the Spiritual approach; and in rare cases some have even been futurists. Steve Gregg goes on to say,

Thus the categories pertaining to the four approaches of the Apocalypse simply do not transfer to the millennial debate. This is because Revelation 20, like many other prophecies in Scripture, deals with the ultimate question of God’s kingdom being established on earth. The interpretation of Revelation 4-19, on the other hand, is concerned only with the timing of the Great Tribulation, whether it be placed early or late in the church age, or whether it is coextensive with the whole of the church age [Historicism]. Thus the timing of the Tribulation and the timing of the kingdom of God are separate and independent concerns (pp. 459-460).

Sam Storms, of Enjoying God Ministries, is an amillennialist and at the same time a Historicist. He has the following to say by way of defining what amillennialism is and is not:

Amillennialism (hereafter cited as AM) has suffered greatly in the past because of its seeming negative character. In other words, definitions of AM have focused more upon what the view denies (namely, a personal, earthly reign of Christ) than on what it affirms. In order best to counter this negativism, the definition of AM presented here will concentrate on its fundamental affirmations concerning eschatological truth. They are as follows:

1. Contrary to what the name (Amillennialism) implies, AMs do believe in a millennium. The millennium, however, is now: the present age of the church between the first and second comings of Christ in its entirety is the millennium. Therefore, while the AM does deny the Premillennial belief in a personal, literal reign of Christ upon the earth for 1,000 years following His second coming, he affirms that there is a millennium and that Christ rules. However, this messianic reign is not necessarily for a literal 1,000 years and it is wholly spiritual (non-earthly, non-visible) in nature. “This millennial reign is not something to be looked for in the future;” writes Hoekema, “it is going on now, and will be until Christ returns. Hence the term realized millennialism is an apt description of the view here defended–if it is remembered that the millennium in question is not an earthly but a heavenly reign,” (The Bible and the Future, p. 235).

A few of Storms’ other affirmations will be presented later in this study (from other articles as well). Jason Robertson says the following by way of showing how prominent Amillennialism has been in Church history (even if this theology has not always been called by this name):

Dr. John Walvoord, a dispensational premillennialist, admitted, “Reformed eschatology has been predominantly amillennial. Most if not all of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation were amillennial in their eschatology, following the teachings of Augustine” (Bibliotheca Sacra, Jan.-March, 1951).

Dr. Louis Berkof said, “The name is indeed new, but the view to which it is applied is as old as Christianity.” Since the second century it has “been the view most widely accepted, is the only view that is either expressed or implied in the great historical Confessions of the Church, and has always been the prevalent view in Reformed circles” (Systematic Theology, p. 708)…

It believes entrance to the on-going millennium is gained solely through the new birth, and that John refers to this as the first resurrection in Revelation 20:6 (supported by Ephesians 2:1, 5, 6 and Colossians 2:13; 3:1). It believes that every person who is born again immediately becomes a child of the King and immediately begins an eternal reign with that King, and that the present phase of that reign is a mere foretaste of what lies beyond the Second Coming…

To read more from Robertson, including a 13-point review of what Amillennialism is not and a 20-point synopsis of what it is, please see here: http://fide-o.blogspot.com/2006/08/quick-look-at-amillennialism.html.

A. Satan Bound for 1000 Years (Rev. 20:1-3)

Verse 1: Who is the angel with the key to the bottomless pit? Steve Gregg says that, even though the text is silent on the identity of the angel with a great chain, he is often seen as either Michael or Christ Himself. It might be good to note the similarity between this verse and Rev. 9:1, where a fallen star is shown at that time to have “the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.”

Verses 2-3: This angel seizes, binds, and seals the devil for “one thousand years.” This has the effect of not allowing him to “deceive the nations any longer.” Does this mean that Satan has no other abilities during these one thousand years, or only that he is restricted in this one area? I appreciate the following explanation by Alan Nairne (1931-2009) in this regard:

Up until that time the Gentile nations and empires – Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome had been in bondage to idolatry. They were completely under the dominion of Satan. But following the ministry of Christ, culminating in his death, burial, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God, and the pouring out of the promised Holy Spirit, the whole Roman Empire was evangelised within a generation. The effect upon society provoked reaction–

  • These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also (Acts 17:6).

Paul could write to the Romans (10:18): “Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.”

One of the indications of a non-literal binding of Satan, says Gregg, is the fact that Satan is a spiritual being and “one would think of spiritual beings as not being susceptible to confinement by physical restraints” (p. 460). Gregg also says (p. 462, 464),

The nature of the binding itself is not absolute, so as to preclude every activity of Satan. It is specifically limited in this passage to the devil’s power to deceive the nations (v. 3) for the duration of this period. That Jesus in some sense bound Satan during His ministry is affirmed by Christ Himself [Gregg then points to Matthew 12:29, where Jesus speaks of the binding of the strong man, and the parallel account in Luke 11:14-23]. Thus, according to Christ’s own teaching, the imagery of “binding Satan” conveys the fact that Satan has been rendered incapable of successfully resisting the forward advance of God’s kingdom. Additional passages in the New Testament use similar images to describe the decisive victory of Christ over His foes. Colossians 2:15 exults in the fact that Christ “disarmed principalities and powers” through the cross, and Hebrews 2:14 states that Jesus endured death so that He might thereby “destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” The meaning of this binding of Satan, then, is that Christ, at His first advent, brought about a conclusive victory, leaving Satan impotent to prevent the success of God’s kingdom (underlining added).

We will come back to this idea of Satan’s binding shortly, and explore it in more depth. First, though, is this period of “one thousand years” to be taken literally? Premillennialists say, “Yes, and it will begin in the future, after the Second Coming of Christ.” Both postmillennialists and amillennialists say, “No, and the Church has already been in it for nearly 2000 years.” So, for the amillennialist, the “thousand years” is simply a symbolic reference for the span of time between Christ’s first coming and His Second Coming which we are waiting for.

Kenneth Gentry has written[1] that the large, perfectly rounded numbers found in Revelation are more likely to be understood as symbolic (e.g. 1000; 144,000; 200 million). The smaller numbers and time-frame references are far more likely to be taken literally (e.g. the seven heads and ten horns of the beast; the seven churches which initially received the book of Revelation; 42 months (corresponding with 1260 days; and a time, times, and half a time). Steve Gregg adds:

The number “a thousand” is frequently used in Scripture without the intention of conveying statistical information. It is given as the number of generations to which God keeps His covenants (Deut. 7:9), the number of hills upon which God owns the cattle (Ps. 50:10), the number of enemy troops that one Israelite shall chase (Josh. 23:10), the number of those who shall fall “at your side” as opposed to the ten thousand who will fall at your “right hand” (Ps. 91:7), etc. Furthermore, the expression “a thousand years” is never used elsewhere in Scripture for an actual number of years, but only to suggest the idea of a very long time (cf. Ps. 90:4; Eccl. 6:6; 2 Peter 3:8). So also here, the reign of the martyrs during the time of Satan’s incarceration is simply a very long time, as the figure “a thousand years” generally means (pp. 467-468).

If we are in the Millennium now, premillennialists will likely ask, in what sense is the wolf dwelling with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6), the cow and the bear grazing together (verse 7), the nursing child playing over the hole of the cobra (verse 8), and the earth full of the knowledge of the Lord (verse 9)? Good question—let’s ask the apostle Paul. He quoted the next verse as being fulfilled in his own lifetime:  “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of Him shall the nations inquire, and His resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:10). Romans 15:12, where Paul cites this verse, reads this way: “The root of Jesse will come, even He who arises to rule the Gentiles, in Him will the Gentiles hope” (Romans 15:12).

The context of both Isaiah 11 and Romans 15 suggests a bringing together in Christ the remnant of God’s people from among both the Jews and the Gentiles. Isaiah uses apocryphal language; Paul in Romans is more straightforward. Why not? The “mystery of God” spoken of by the prophets had been revealed and was about to be fulfilled in Paul’s day (cp. Eph. 3:6 with Rev. 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” (Eph. 3:6). There is no Jew or Gentile in Christ Jesus (Rom. 10:12-13; Gal. 3:28, 5:6, 6:15-16); “the dividing wall of hostility” has been broken down (Eph. 2:14). The wolf (Gentiles), so to speak, now dwells safely with the lamb (Jews), i.e. among those who truly belong to Christ. The Gentile nations which were deceived and dwelling “far off” (Eph. 2:11-22; Rom. 9:22-26) prior to Christ’s work on the cross are now brought near (so that without distinction “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”; Rom. 10:12-13); in this way, Satan’s deception over the nations is broken (Rev. 20:3).

Paul’s application of a classic “premillennial passage” (Isaiah 11) to his own lifetime (Romans 15) is not an isolated incident in the New Testament. In a future post, I hope to bear this pattern out some more. Paul and other New Testament authors would likely be accused of being “replacement theologians” if they were alive today. Simply put, a lot of Old Testament passages taken by premillennialists to refer to a future, physical kingdom centered around earthly Jerusalem actually have to do with a present, non-physical kingdom centered around the New Jerusalem, the Church (Gal. 4:24-27, Heb. 12:22-24). Kim Riddlebarger articulates an important distinctive between Amillennialism and Dispensational Premillennialism, as regards the modern nation of Israel:

Understanding the difference between the amillennial hermeneutic and the dispensational hermeneutic is the key to understanding the essence of this debate. Every major dispensational theologian from Walvoord to Pentecost to Ryrie to MacArthur himself, insists that God has two distinct redemptive programs–one for national Israel and one for the Gentiles. Reformed amillennarians reject this understanding of God’s redemptive purposes. God’s purpose is not to save two distinct peoples (divided by ethnicity), but to save his people (the elect), a multitude which no man can number (Revelation 7:9), and which includes each and every one of those whom God has chosen, whether they be Jew or Gentile.

In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul addresses this very point when discussing God’s redemptive purpose for Gentiles and national Israel. Here, Paul flat-out contradicts the dispensational assertion that God has distinct redemptive purposes for national Israel and for the church. According to Paul, God’s purpose in the New Covenant is to remove the ethnic distinctions between Jew and Gentile (between Israel and the church) which had been dividing them. Paul says that Jesus came to tear down the barrier wall which formerly divided the two, in order to make the two peoples into one so as to form Jew and Gentile together into the one living temple of the Lord–the church. In this spiritual temple, Christ is the chief cornerstone, and the foundation is the prophets and apostles.

Coming back to the binding of Satan for a thousand years (Rev. 20:3), Kenneth Gentry, representing the preterist position in C. Marvin Pate’s book Four Views on the Book of Revelation, sums up the amillennialist position[2] on this matter (pp. 83-84):

Christ bound Satan for a well-defined purpose: “to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore” (Rev. 20:3, italics added). In Old Testament times only Israel knew the true God (Ps. 147:19-20; Amos 3:2; Luke 4:6; Acts 14:16; 17:30). But Christ’s incarnation changed this as the gospel began flowing to all nations (e.g., Isa. 2:2-3; 11:10; Matt. 28:19; Luke 2:32; 24:47; Acts 1:8; 13:47). In fact, Christ judged the Jews and opened His kingdom to the Gentiles (Matt. 8:11-12; 21:43; 23:36-38)…

Despite Satan’s “authority” before Christ’s coming (Luke 4:6; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Eph. 2:1-2), Christ now claims: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18-19). Christ commissioned Paul for this very task: “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Acts 26:17-18).

Consequently, the New Testament speaks frequently and forcefully of Satan’s demise in this regard (see Matt. 12:28-29; Luke 10:18; John 12:31; 16:11; 17:15; Acts 26:18; Rom. 16:20; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14; I John 3:8; 4:3-4; 5:18). Jesus’ own words harmonize well with Revelation 20: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out [Gk. ekballo]” (John 12:31). Revelation 20:3 says that Christ “threw” [Gk. ballo] Satan into the Abyss. Other New Testament writers agree. Paul wrote: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15). The author of Hebrews noted: “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). And John expressed it this way: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (I John 3:8).

The binding of Satan, then, began in the first century. Christ initiated it during His ministry (Matt. 12:24-29), secured it in legal fact at His death and resurrection (Luke 10:17; John 12:31-32; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14-15), and dramatically “proved” it in the collapse of Christianity’s first foe, Judaism (Matt. 23:36-24:3; I Thess. 2:14-16; Rev. 3:9). Jerusalem’s demise [in 70 AD] is significant in that the satanic resistance to Christ’s kingdom first comes from the Jewish persecution of Christ and Christianity.

Sam Storms, agreeing with this position, notes some of Satan’s current activity despite being bound with regard to deceiving the nations: professing believers could be delivered to him “for the destruction of the flesh” (I Cor. 5:5); he blinds the minds of unbelievers “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (II Cor. 4:3-4); he has schemes and flaming darts, and presides over darkness and “spiritual forces of evil” (Eph. 6:10-20); he hinders workers of the gospel (I Thess. 2:18); he needs to be resisted and will flee when God’s people do this (James 4:7); he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8-9); he “is in the world” but is not as great as God (I John 4:4); and “the whole world lies” in his power (I John 5:19). Thus, his binding is clearly not absolute, but is specific with regard to the advance of the gospel among the nations of the world.

The binding of Satan also appears to parallel the picture of Satan being thrown down to the earth in Revelation 12:7-12. There, his work as the “deceiver of the whole world” (12:9) and “accuser of our brothers” (12:10) is brought to an end by the coming of “the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ,” and God’s people conquer him “by the blood of the Lamb” (verse 11). In short, this is brought about by the work of the cross. As we wrote in our study on Revelation 12, “We can certainly see [Satan] playing [the role of accuser of the brethren] in Old Testament times, and before Jesus went to the cross. We see this 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… Steve Gregg also writes,

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 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).

Interesting in this light is a statement that Jesus made to His disciples in response to a question from Judas: “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on Me…” (John 14:30). Well-known amillennialist Anthony Hoekema adds the following[3] to this discussion:

When the seventy returned from their preaching mission, they said to Jesus, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk. 10:17-18, NIV). These words, needless to say, must not be interpreted literally. They must rather be understood to mean that Jesus saw in the works his disciples were doing an indication that Satan’s kingdom had just been dealt a crushing blow — that, in fact, a certain binding of Satan, a certain restriction of his power, had just taken place. In this instance Satan’s fall or binding is associated directly with the missionary activity of Jesus’ disciples… Another passage which ties in the restriction of Satan’s activities with Christ’s missionary outreach is John 12:31-32:

“Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’” (NIV). It is interesting to note that the verb here translated “driven out” (ekballo) is derived from the same root as the word used in Revelation 20:3, “He [the angel] threw [ballo] him [Satan] into the Abyss.” Even more important, however, is the observation that Satan’s being “driven out” or “cast out” (RSV) is here associated with the fact that not only Jews but men of all nationalities shall be drawn to Christ as he hangs on the cross.

We see then that the binding of Satan described in Revelation 20:1-3 means that throughout the gospel age in which we now live the influence of Satan, though certainly not annihilated, is so curtailed that he cannot prevent the spread of the gospel to the nations of the world.

There are some, however, who do more or less hold to the amillennial view, but who believe that the Millennium began (officially, perhaps) in 70 AD following the destruction of Jerusalem. We will take note of this view in our post on Minority Views of the Millennium.

B. The Saints Reign with Christ for 1000 Years (Rev. 20:4-6)

Verse 4: John sees thrones, on which those sat who were given the authority to judge. This imagery brings to mind two promises Jesus gave in His letters to the seven churches: [1] “The one who conquers and who keeps My works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from My Father” (Rev. 2:26-27). [2] “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne” (Rev. 3:21).

Q: According to this passage, do all believers throughout Church history receive authority to sit on thrones and judge?
A:
Many proponents of amillennialism say or imply that we do; that is, after passing from this life. However, some believe that the text leaves no room for anyone to receive this authority unless they were martyred and directly resisted an opportunity to worship the beast or its image. Kenneth Gentry is now of this latter viewpoint and we will examine his views in the post titled “Revelation 20: Minority Views and a Discussion of Two Ages.”

Steve Gregg notes that the primary view among amillennialists is that this passage “describes the blessedness of the departed saints in heaven after death, but prior to the resurrection” (p. 466); in other words, in the intermediate state. This is Sam Storms’ view, as we know from his talk during the “Evening of Eschatology” hosted by John Piper in September 2009. This is different than the view held by Augustine, who saw the reign spoken of in this passage as “the spiritual reign of believers on earth in the present age, symbolizing the victory through which it is written that “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37).”

Sam Storms also notes this difference of opinion among amillennialists, and briefly articulates the main dividing point between amillennialism and postmillennialism:

2. As to the precise character of this spiritual rule of Christ, AMs differ:

(a) Some contend that the millennium is restricted to the blessings of the intermediate state; i.e., the millennium as described in Rev. 20:4-6 refers to the present reign of the souls of deceased believers with Christ in heaven. Others would go a step further and restrict the experience of the millennial blessings to the “martyrs” now in heaven with Christ (i.e., those who were slain while on the earth by reason of their testimony for Christ and the gospel).

(b) Other AMs interpret the millennium as encompassing all the inward spiritual triumphs experienced by the church on earth (i.e., Christ ruling in the believer’s heart). By far the more common form of AM is the first alternative under (a).

3. As a direct corollary to ‘2’ above, AM maintains that there will, therefore, be no millennium in the sense of a semi-golden era of earthly prosperity for the kingdom before Christ returns. There will be no visible earthly expression of Christ’s reign over the world as a whole; the church will not make disciples of all (i.e., the vast majority) nations, nor will it gain a dominant or widespread influence throughout the world. Thus it is here, and for all practical purposes only here, that AM differs from Postmillennialism.

Steve Gregg takes note of the fact that John, in his vision saw on thrones “the souls of those who had been beheaded,” and makes what is probably a very key observation on this point (p. 466):

The only place for the disembodied souls of saints since the accomplishment of our redemption has been in heaven, and the only time-frame during which souls can be found there (sans [without] bodies) is from the point of their deaths till the time of their resurrection at the Second Coming of Christ. Thus the time-frame would seem to be the present age of the church, from John’s own century to the time of the resurrection.

This is a good observation. If premillennialism is true, and the 1000-year reign is a yet future kingdom on earth, why would John see souls sitting on thrones rather than glorified bodies? The existence of these believers as “souls” is applicable to the intermediate state, the time between one’s physical death and the physical resurrection of believers which will take place at Christ’s Second Coming. It’s not a fitting description for those who would have already received their glorified bodies at the time of Christ’s Second Coming, i.e. if the Millennium is to follow that event as premillennialists say. Sam Storms says on this matter:

That John is talking about the intermediate state in 20:4-6 seems obvious once the parallel with 6:9-11 is noted. In my research I have not as yet encountered one PM [premillennialist] author who denies that 6:9-11 is a vision of the heavenly bliss of those who have suffered martrydom for Christ. Yet when they encounter virtually the same terminology in Rev. 20 they can only see a post-Parousia millennial kingdom on the earth of embodied believers. A careful examination of these two passages, however, will reveal that they are describing the same experience.

Revelation 6:9

Revelation 20:4

“And . . . I saw” (kai eidon) “And I saw (kai eidon)
“the souls of those who had been slain” (tas psuchas ton esphagmenon) “the souls of those who had been beheaded” (tas psuchas ton pepelekismenon)
“because of the word of God” (dia ton logon tou theou) “because of the word of God” (dia ton logon tou theou)
“and because of the testimony which they had maintained” (dia ten marturian hen eichon) “because of the testimony of Jesus” (dia ten marturian Iesou)

That John is describing the same scene, that of the blessedness of the intermediate state, seems beyond reasonable doubt.

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

In the following post, we will continue on in our verse-by-verse study of Revelation 20 (from an amillennialist viewpoint) by examining the remainder of this chapter, verses 5-15.

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


[1] I can’t remember where I saw these statements from Gentry (which I’ve paraphrased). I don’t like to attribute things to authors without providing a proper reference, so if anyone knows where Gentry said this, please let me know. Thanks. In C. Marvin Pate’s book Four Views on the Book of Revelation, though, Gentry does say this (p. 56): “Frequently Scripture uses the number 1,000 as a symbolic value, not expressing a literal enumeration (e.g. Ex. 20:6; Deut. 1:11; 7:9; 32:30; Josh. 23:10; Job 9:3; Ps. 50:10; 84:10; 90:4; 105:8; Eccl. 7:28; Isa. 7:23; 30:17; 60:22; 2 Peter 3:8). On p. 83, he comments, “Only one place in all of Scripture limits Christ’s rule to a thousand years: Revelation 20:1-10, a half chapter in the most highly figurative book in the Bible… Scripture frequently employs this number in a non-literal fashion: Does God, for example, own the cattle on only one thousand hills (Ps. 50:10)?”

[2] Kenneth Gentry himself is a postmillennialist, but on this matter of Satan’s binding, the positions of amillennialism and postmillennialism converge. It’s only premillennialism that sees Satan’s binding as yet future, and extending to every facet of human existence.

[3] I only agree with some of Hoekema’s conclusions in this article, but I do agree with the portion I have quoted.

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


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

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

Adam Maarschalk: February 19, 2010

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

ABBREVIATED OUTLINE

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

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

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

OUTLINE

A. Laying a Foundation for the Meaning of “the earth” in Revelation
I. Revelation 1:7 as the theme of Revelation: The meaning of the phrase “tribes of the earth”
II. The interchangeable use of “land” and “earth” in the New Testament
B. Three Views on the Meaning of “those who dwell on the earth”
I. Future and worldwide: Thomas Ice’s analysis of Isaiah 24-27 and Revelation
II. Future and limited to Israel: Mo Dardinger proposes that they are non-Jews
III. Jews living in Israel prior to 70 AD: Kenneth Gentry and P. S. Desprez
C. 18 Case Studies for “the earth” As An Indication of 1st Century Israel
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 16


REVELATION CHAPTER 16

Rod Opferkew: November 26, 2009

Scripture text for this study:  Revelation 16

[Primary source: Revelation: Four Views – A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg (1997); pages 352-397. Contained in this post is a consideration of the preterist viewpoint. Notes from Adam are in red font.]

First and foremost, who is the recipient of the judgments in this chapter?  The first fifteen chapters present a lot of evidence that the target of God’s wrath was Israel, or more specifically, the capital city of Jerusalem.  However, some Preterists say there may be evidence that Rome was the target.  One expositor in particular, Jay Adams, breaks up Revelation into essentially two sections. He then points out that the bowl judgments seem to parallel the trumpet judgments. He states that the trumpet judgments are meant for Israel, and the bowl judgments are meant for the Roman Empire. David Chilton, Kenneth Gentry, and others believe that first-century Israel is designated for judgment throughout the entire book, with the exception of judgment upon the beast in Rev. 13:10, 16:10, and 19:20.

Here in verse 1 we see that the seven angels are told to “pour out on the earth the seven bowls of the wrath of God.” In our study of Revelation so far, we have 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.

The trumpets and bowls do have distinct differences.  The effects of the trumpet judgments are often only partial (affecting one-third of the earth, trees, green grass, sea, ships, springs of water, the sun, moon, and stars–see Revelation 8:6-12), whereas the effects of the bowl judgments are total. The bowls are associated with the seven last plagues, as seen in Revelation 15:1.  A likely scenario is that “the trumpets depict preliminary calamities that fall upon Israel during the Jewish War, while the bowls present plagues associated with the final and utter devastation of Jerusalem” (Steve Gregg, p. 360).

First bowl (verse 2): This plague was likely symbolic, though there is evidence that literal boils and rashes were present due to the lack of proper sanitation in the besieged city (Jerusalem, especially during the final five-month siege from April-September 70 AD). Remember, there were thousands of dead bodies and streets were filled with blood and sewage, making disease rampant.  It can be seen that in verse 11, the people were still afflicted as they remained unrepentant of their sin and rejection of Christ.

It should be noted that the plagues in this first bowl judgment parallel the plagues that Moses brought down on Egypt in Exodus 9:8-12 (See Appendix 1 below for more such parallels).  Also a striking coincidence is that this is the same warning that Moses gave to the people of Israel if they were to become disobedient and unfaithful to His covenant (Deuteronomy 28:27, 35).

Second bowl (verse 3): Notice the parallel with the first plague in Egypt, i.e. the Nile turning to blood in Exodus 7: 17-21.  However, the blood is not free-flowing, it is like the blood of a corpse, “clotted, coagulated and putrefying” (Gregg, p. 360).  Judea was being compared to the sea, which has been seen elsewhere in Revelation to represent the Gentile nations (e.g. Revelation 13:1-10).  Josephus writes of a battle that took place on the Sea of Galilee in which the Romans overtook the fleeing Jews in boats and massacred them in the water (Wars, III: 10:9). I wrote the following in my term paper on Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD:

In early spring 67 AD, which was 3.5 years before Jerusalem’s final downfall, Vespasian first entered Judea with a 60,000-member army. In the campaign which was to follow he destroyed at least 150,000 inhabitants of Galilee and Judea, along with many towns. One of the first towns Vespasian crushed was Joppa, because its inhabitants had provoked his men by their frequent piracies at sea. The Jews there tried to flee from Vespasian on their ships, but Vespasian was helped by a tremendous storm that blew in just as they began to flee. Their vessels were crushed against each other and against the rocks, and when this slaughter was complete more than 4,200 bodies were strewn along the coast and a very long stretch of the coast was stained with blood.

Third bowl (verses 4-7): Literal “streams of blood” are well documented during the siege of Jerusalem, as blood flowed freely in the streets and polluted the water sources. Also in my term paper I wrote the following regarding the bloody slaughter which occurred immediately following the burning of the Second Temple in Jerusalem:

The Romans then hoisted their own idol-covered banners at every key point of the temple area, and plundered and burned the houses in the city. They murdered by the sword every Jew they could find, man, woman, and child. Their only compassion was for the dead, whom they encountered in mass numbers in many of the houses, mostly victims of the famine. Josephus writes, “But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but 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).

The amount of blood that flowed, not only in Jerusalem but also throughout the surrounding region, could possibly bring to mind a passage like Revelation 14:19-20, which says, “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. 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.”

We also have this account from Josephus:

Now, this destruction that fell upon the Jews, as it was not inferior to any of the rest in itself, so did it still appear greater than it really was; and this, because not only the whole of the country through which they had fled was filled with slaughter, and [the] Jordan [River] could not be passed over, by reason of the dead bodies that were in it, but because the Lake Asphaltitis [the modern Dead Sea] was also full of dead bodies, that were carried down into it by the river. And now, Placidus…slew such as had fled to the lake, insomuch that all Perea had either surrendered themselves, or were taken by the Romans, as far as Macherus (Josephus, “Account of the Lake Asphaltitis,” War of the Jews 4:7:6).

Verse 6 seems to point to Jerusalem in A.D. 70 instead of Rome.  The killing of the prophets was among the great sins of Israel (This can be seen, for example, in 2 Chronicles 36:15-16, Luke 13:33-34 and Acts 7:52).  Jesus named this fact as the very reason that the symbolized blood of the righteous would be poured out in judgment upon that generation which heard Him speak (Matt 23:31-36) (Gregg, p. 366). More is said on this in our study of Revelation 17:6 and also Rev. 18:20, 24.

Fourth bowl (verses 8-9): These verses probably need to be taken symbolically, as there is no record of increasing heat that was both dangerous and scorching to the people during this time.  The sun in this instance is seen “as a symbol of mighty political and religious leaders…or refers to the oppression and tyranny exercised by the leaders of the Zealot sects that terrorized the citizens inside the besieged city of Jerusalem,” assuming Jerusalem was the intended target for this judgment.  If Rome is the target, then this judgment “may represent the tyranny of Roman leaders or the ruthlessness of the gothic and Vandal kings that attacked Rome and brought about her downfall [in 476 AD]” (Gregg, p. 368). God declared that He would judge an unfaithful Israel in this way (with scorching), as seen in Deuteronomy 28:22.

** Note that this is the opposite of the blessing the Israelites received in the Exodus, when Israel was shielded from the heat of the sun by the Glory-Cloud (Exodus 13:21-22, also Psalm 91:1-6). Also it was pointed out in our study of chapter 8 that judgment references to the sun in the Old Testament were clearly not meant to be seen as literal. David Chilton wrote regarding Revelation 8:12:

The imagery here was long used in the prophets to depict the fall of nations and national rulers (cf. Isa. 13:9-11, 19; 24:19-23; 34:4-5; Ezek. 32:7-8, 11-12; Joel 2:10, 28-32; Acts 2:16-21. [He quotes F.W. Farrar (1831-1903), who wrote that] “ruler after ruler, chieftain after chieftain of the Roman Empire and the Jewish nation was assassinated and ruined. Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, all died by murder or suicide; Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa, and most of the Herodian Princes, together with not a few of the leading High Priests of Jerusalem, perished in disgrace, or in exile, or by violent hands. All these were quenched suns and darkened stars” (Gregg, pp. 166, 168).

Fifth bowl (verses 10-11): This verse clearly seems to be pointed at the Roman Empire. The throne of the beast is well thought to be the city of Rome itself (See our study on Revelation 13). David Chilton is referenced here, and he writes,

“Although most of the judgments throughout Revelation are aimed specifically at apostate Israel, the heathen who join Israel against the Church come under condemnation as well. Indeed the Great Tribulation itself would prove to be “the hour of testing, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the Land” (372).

The darkness referenced here which comes upon the throne of the beast (i.e. Rome) is symbolically taken to be the political turmoil and overthrow of its leaders, in particular when Nero (the beast in the singular sense) committed suicide in 68 A.D.  Upon his death, the Roman Empire quickly began to crumble, and the following year (69 A.D.) became known as the “Year of the Four Emperors” because of the rise and fall of four more leaders in Rome – Galba, Otho and Vitellius, all of whom reigned for eight months or less.

Those expositors who see the second half of Revelation as pointing to the fall of the Roman Empire refer to these verses as pertaining to the invasions which led to the ultimate fall of Rome in the fifth century.

Sixth bowl (verses 12-16): The great river Euphrates is represented in this bowl judgment just like it was in the sixth trumpet judgment. (The drying up the river was the strategy of Cyrus the Persian, the conqueror of historical Babylon in 536 B.C. The river was diverted away from the walls of Babylon, and this allowed his army to march under the wall and overtake the city and its king, Belshazzar, without much resistance.)  Here, the Babylon of Revelation is seen by some to be Rome and this bowl judgment to be the downfall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century A.D. (Gregg, p. 378).

Other writers see the Babylon of Revelation again pointing to Jerusalem and its related destruction in 70 A.D. God helped his people Israel through the drying up of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22) and the River Jordan (Joshua 3:9-17; 4:22-24).  It is ironic that God is now using this same type of judgment against Israel, the new Babylon which is invaded by a new Cyrus (all the while miraculously saving the true Covenant people). History tells us that this vision mirrors the return of Vespasian’s armies (now led by his son, Titus) bringing in reinforcements, and Josephus writes that these reinforcements came from the region of the Euphrates in the east (Gregg, p. 380).

Coming from the mouth of the devil (the dragon) were three unclean spirits like frogs, a parallel to the second Egyptian plague (Ex. 8:1-15). “Natural Egypt was judged with natural frogs, and spiritual Egypt (Israel) was judged with spiritual frogs” (p. 380).

Neither preterist camp believes that Armageddon is a literal place in northern Israel, but that it instead refers to the “mountain of Megiddo”, the nearest hill to the plain of Megiddo where many Old Testament battles were fought (Judges 5:19; 2 Kings 9:27; 2 Chron. 35:20-25). There is debate over whether this refers to the siege on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. or whether it foreshadowed the destruction of Rome. The Historicist view is that the term “Armageddon” simply refers to any great nation suffering a great disaster (pp. 382, 384). Earlier we saw that John Wesley tied this passage to Rev. 19:11-21, and rightly so. We noted the following in our study of Revelation 14:

This is often referred to as the “Battle of Armageddon,” which Tim Lahaye and other Futurist authors generally say 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. 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.

In verse 15, Jesus tells us that He is coming like a thief.  This parallels His words to the Laodiceans, stating that they should buy white garments (see Rev. 3:18), and also His similar words to the people of Sardis (see 3:5).

Steve Gregg writes,

Jesus told His disciples that some of them standing with him “shall not taste death” before they “see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom” (Matt. 16:28).  This could not have been fulfilled much later than A.D. 70, since most of the generation of disciples would have died by that time.  This “coming” of the Son Man could refer to the judgment upon Jerusalem (384).

If interested in a more detailed discussion of whether or not Christ came in judgment upon Jerusalem in 70 AD, please see this post here and also this post here.

Seventh bowl (verses 17-21): Again, which city is this judgment falling on, Jerusalem or Rome?  Steve Gregg notes that some Preterists see Revelation 11:13 and 16:19 as concrete evidence that Revelation chapters 4-11 refer to the judgments on Jerusalem (Israel) and that chapters 13-19 refer to the fall of Rome. If referring to Rome, this bowl judgment would have been consummated in 476 A.D, the year pagan Rome fell. There is more evidence, however, to support the idea that the great city is referring to Jerusalem, and its fall in 70 A.D. The following post on Revelation 17 will get into this evidence in much more detail.

Verse 18: We are told that there was a great earthquake, greater than any other in history. The writer of Hebrews notes that a great earthquake in both heaven and earth would take place with the dissolution of the Old Covenant (Heb. 12:26-28, also see Heb. 8:13). As we saw in Rev. 4:5, 8:5, and 11:19, the cosmic phenomena here (“flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder“) mirrors the phenomena that occurred when Moses delivered the Law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16). The significance of this parallel is that Jerusalem’s destruction (along with the temple) completed the transition from Judaism (the Old Covenant) to the New Covenant.

Verse 19: It should be noted that the city was broken up into three parts. This can only mean Jerusalem.  This is a reference to Ezekiel 5:1-12, when the prophet was required to shave his head and divide it into three parts, and 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 swords by the Babylonians, and the remaining were scattered among the nations). The city was again divided like this in 70 A.D. Josephus, and also the early church writer Eusebius, tell us that at least 1.1 million Jews were killed in the burning of the Second Temple and Jerusalem, some due to the fire, and some due to the sword (see quotes from the section on the Third Bowl Judgment above). Just as in 586 BC, those who survived were sold into slavery:

All above the age of seventeen were sent in chains into Egypt, to be employed there as slaves, or distributed throughout the empire to be sacrificed as gladiators in the amphitheatres ; whilst those who were under this age, were exposed to sale.

Philip Carrington (in 1931) noted an additional means of fulfillment for this vision,

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 (Gregg, p. 393-94).

The three factions 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. 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” (says Josephus) and the inner court even had large pools of blood in it. Homes and gravesites were looted.

Verse 21: Josephus gives us great insight into the “hailstones, weighting about one hundred pounds.”  He wrote of large stones being shot from catapults by the Roman armies, which the watchmen in the city reported as appearing white in the sky (Gregg, p. 395-96). I wrote the following in my term paper on Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD:

The 10th Legion of the Romans begins to launch white boulders as heavy as 100 pounds over the city walls into Jerusalem. They are cast by catapults from Roman engines from a distance of up to two furlongs (a quarter mile) away. Josephus records that the watchmen on the wall, if they saw them coming, would shout, “The Son cometh!” (Wars 5.6.3). After a while the Romans learned to blacken the stones so that they couldn’t as easily be detected, and thus many were crushed by these stones.

J. Stuart Russell, in his 1878 book titled The Parousia, offers this explanation [for the words of the watchmen] (p. 482): “It could not but be well known to the Jews that the great hope and faith of the Christians was the speedy coming of the Son. It was about this very time, according to Hegesippus [110-180 AD], that St. James, the brother of our Lord, publicly testified in the temple that ‘the Son of man was about to come in the clouds of heaven,’ and then sealed his testimony with his blood [in 62 AD]. It seems highly probable that the Jews, in their defiant and desperate blasphemy, when they saw the white mass hurtling though the air, raised the ribald cry, ‘The Son is coming,’ in mockery of the Christian hope of the Parousia.”

Stones used by Roman catapults

Boulders believed to be used in Roman catapults (Photo Source)

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

APPENDIX 1:Comparison of the Trumpet and Bowl Judgments of Revelation with the Plagues upon Egypt

David Chilton saw many parallels between the seven Trumpet Judgments (Revelation 8:6-9:21, 11:15-19), the seven Bowl Judgments (Revelation 16:1-21), and the ten plagues upon Egypt (Exodus 7:14-11:32). Many of these parallels are demonstrated in the chart below. Just as God’s people, Israel, came out of Egypt during the days of Moses, God’s people (the Church) came out of apostate Israel/Judaism during the generation following Christ’s death and resurrection, at which time He inaugurated the New Covenant. Before drawing this comparison, Chilton gives a brief summary of how this imagery has played out since the blowing of the Seventh Trumpet:

The Seventh Trumpet was the sign that ‘there shall be no more delay’ (cf. 10:6-7). Time has run out; wrath to the utmost has now come upon Israel. From this point on, St. John abandons the language and imagery of warning, concentrating wholly on the message of Jerusalem’s impending destruction. As he describes the City’s doom, he extends and intensifies the Exodus imagery that has already been so pervasive throughout the prophecy… St. John’s more usual metaphors for the Great City are taken from the Exodus pattern: Jerusalem is not only Egypt [Rev. 11:8], but also the other enemies of Israel. He has shown us the Egyptian Dragon chasing the Woman into the wilderness (Chapter 12); a revived Balak and Balaam seeking to destroy God’s people by war and by seduction to idolatry (chapter 13); the sealed armies of the New Israel gathered on Mount Zion to celebrate the feasts (Chapter 14); and the saints standing in triumph at the ‘Red Sea,’ singing the Song of Moses (chapter 15). Now, in Chapter 16, seven judgments corresponding to the ten Egyptian Plagues are to be poured out on the Great City. There is also a marked correspondence between these Chalice [Bowl]—judgments and the Trumpet—judgments of Chapters 8-11. Because the Trumpets were essentially warnings, they took only a third of the Land; with the Chalices, the destruction is total.

TRUMPET JUDGMENTS BOWL JUDGMENTS CORRESPONDING PLAGUES ON EGYPT
1.  On the LAND; 1/3 earth, trees, grass burned (Revelation 8:7) 1. On the LAND, becoming sores (Revelation 16:2) 1. Boils (6th Plague: Exodus 9:8-12)
2. On the sea; 1/3 sea becomes blood, 1/3 sea creatures die, 1/3 ships destroyed (8:8-9) 2.  On the sea, becoming blood (16:3) 2.  Waters become blood (1st Plague: Ex. 7:17-21)
3. On the rivers and springs; 1/3 waters become wormwood (8:10-11) 3. On rivers and springs, becoming blood (16:4-7) 3. Waters become blood (1st Plague: Ex. 7:17-21)
4. 1/4 of sun, moon, and stars darkened (8:12) 4. On the sun, causing it to scorch (16:8-9) 4. Darkness (9th Plague: Ex. 10:21-23)
5.  Demonic locusts tormenting men (9:1-12) 5. On the throne of the Beast, causing darkness (16:10-11) 5. Locusts (8th Plague: Ex. 10:4-20)
6. Army from Euphrates kills 1/3 mankind (9:13-21) 6.  On Euphrates, drying it up to make way for kings of the East; invasion of frog-demons; Armageddon (16:12-16) 6. Invasion of frogs from river (2nd Plague: Ex. 8:2-4)
7.  Voices, storm, earthquake, hail (11:15-19) 7.  On the air, causing storm, earthquake, and hail (16:17-21) 7. Hail (7th Plague: Ex. 9:18-26)

Source: http://www.preteristarchive.com/StudyArchive/c/chilton-david.html

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

APPENDIX 2: WAS FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS FAMILIAR WITH THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN?

A couple weeks ago, PJ Miller highlighted a most interesting comparison of three prophecies in Revelation 16 and three similar accounts from Josephus, the famous Jewish historian who was an eyewitness to the Roman-Jewish War of 67-73 AD. They are as follows:

1. John’s Revelation – “And there were noises and thundering and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.” (16:18)

1. Josephus – “for there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming” (“Wars of the Jews” 4:4:5)

2. John’s Revelation – “Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.” (16:19)

2. Josephus – “it so happened that the sedition at Jerusalem was revived, and parted into three factions, and that one faction fought against the other; which partition in such evil cases may be said to be a good thing, and the effect of divine justice.” (5:1:1)

3. John’s Revelation – “And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent.” (16:21)

3. Josephus –  “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;” (5:6:3)

Source: http://pjmiller.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/flavius-josephus-and-the-apocalypse-of-john/
Original Source: http://www.preteristarchive.com/JewishWars/credibility-and-importance.html

Regarding #1 above, we noted in the body of this post that verse 18 actually appears to parallel the phenomena which occurred when Moses delivered the Law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16). It’s possible that the “great earthquake” spoken of here was not a physical one, but was rather a spiritual earthquake signifying the overthrow of the Old Covenant in favor of the New Covenant existing exclusively and universally (Hebrews 12:26-28, Matthew 21:33-45). Personally, I view Josephus’ account of that earthquake as a fulfillment not of Revelation 16:18, but of Rev. 11:13, which reads, “And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.”

The reason for this is that a few short sections later after Josephus’ words quoted above, still speaking of this same event, he adds, “[Taking advantage of the noise of the storm, some of the Jewish zealots cut the bars of the temple gates with temple saws, allowing the Idumaeans to come in and join them in slaughtering some of the people]. The din from all quarters was rendered more terrific by the howling of the storm. And by daybreak they saw 8,500 dead bodies there” (Wars of the Jews 4:5:1). This occurred in 68 AD.

Josephus does not attribute a certain number of deaths to the earthquake, and a certain number of deaths to the warfare which took place, but only notes that a total of 8500 dead bodies were discovered the morning after this earthquake. This is remarkably close to the Biblical account (i.e. it’s entirely possible that 7000 were killed due to the earthquake, and 1500 due to the warfare). These things were discussed here.

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

Our study of Revelation 17 (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.

Revelation Chapter 1


The following study on Revelation 1 was prepared for our group’s weekly Bible study. This post can also be found here, where all of our chapter-by-chapter studies on Revelation will be posted in the coming months: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/revelation/.

—————————————————————————————————–

REVELATION 1

Adam Maarschalk: June 25, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 1:1-20

[New notes were added on October 14th, and are in blue font. They are based in part on Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).”]

A. Prologue (1:1-3)

Verse 1: The purpose for the giving of the “revelation of Jesus Christ” is stated in the first verse. His servants were to be shown “the things that must soon take place.” This revelation was delivered to John, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, through an angel. A good exegetical question is this: How would John’s first century readers have understood and interpreted the phrase “things that must soon take place“? This will be discussed shortly.

Steve Gregg (p. 52) notes that the Greek language behind the expression “The Revelation of Jesus Christ” could either indicate that Jesus is [1] the subject being revealed or [2] the One doing the revealing. The first option certainly resonates with the reader when John vividly describes Jesus in chapters 1, 5, 14, and 19. Gregg says the second alternative “seems to agree with the rest of the verse, which suggests that the material of the visions was revealed first to Christ by God (the Father), then by Christ to an angel, who passed it along to John [who then bore witness to the visions].”

Verses 2-3: “Forty-four times in this book John wrote ‘I saw’ (1:12-13; 4:1, 4; 5:1, 2, 6, 11; 6:1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 12; 7:1, 2, 9; 8:2, 13; 9:1, 17; 10:1; 13:1, 3, 11; 14:1, 6, 14; 15:1, 2, 5; 16:13; 17:3; 18:1; 19:11, 17, 19; 20:1, 4, 11, 12; 21:1, 2, 8).” [Source: Dr. Thomas Constable]

Q: When verse 2 says that John bore witness to the testimony of Jesus Christ, is this referring to the vision He received as recorded in this book, or does it refer to the things Jesus taught during His incarnation? Or both?

John states that what he is about to record are “things that must soon take place” (verse 1), and that “the time is near” (verse 3). There are two ways this is commonly interpreted: [1] that these things were going to take place soon after they were written, i.e. during the first century [2] that once these events would commence all would be finished quickly. Interestingly, Daniel, who received some similar revelations, was told to seal his book (Daniel 12:4, 12:9) because what he saw was still far off (Daniel 8:26, 10:14), but John was told that what he saw was about to take place  and thus he should not seal his book (cf. Revelation 22:10). This makes a case for the first interpretation being the correct one. If the fulfillment of these visions has still not come in our day, how do we account for these different instructions, when one set of prophecies was given about 2550 years ago (to Daniel) and the other set about 1950 years ago (to John)? As Kenneth Gentry likes to ask, “If these phrases [‘soon’ and ‘near’] don’t truly indicate nearness in time, because they are spoken from God’s perspective and not ours, what other words would God possibly use to communicate such concepts to us?” As I wrote elsewhere,

John wrote the book of Revelation in such a way that the subject matter of the entire book, not just his letters to the churches, was urgent for and relevant for those churches. At the end of the book, Jesus said, “And behold, I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7). God, speaking in terms that man would understand, spoke through John saying, “The Revelation of Jesus, which God gave him to show his servants the things that must soon take place…Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:1-4). We see that the seven churches who received this writing were encouraged to read the entire book aloud in their assemblies, and to keep what was written in it. 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. Four times Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly” (Revelation 3:11; 22:7, 12, 20). In some translations, “soon” is used instead of “quickly.”

John’s words in verse 3 seem to express urgency. The original recipients of this book (the seven churches in Asia) were to receive a blessing if they read the words of this prophecy aloud as they assembled together, and also if they would hear and keep what was written.

B. Greeting to the Seven Churches (1:4-8)

Verse 4: Steve Gregg reminds us that Asia in John’s time “was not, as now, the name of a continent, but of a Roman province, identified with modern Turkey” (p. 54). Dr. Thomas Constable remarks, “The phrase ‘seven Spirits’ may refer to seven principle angelic messengers (cf. v. 20; 8:2, 6; 15:1; 1 Kings 22:19-21; Heb. 1:14). Another possible view is that the phrase refers to the Holy Spirit in His fullness (cf. Isa. 11:2-3; Zech. 4:2-7).”

Verses 5-6: Jesus is called [a] the faithful witness [b] the firstborn of the dead (cf. Colossians 1:18) [c] the ruler of kings on earth. He [a] loves us [b] freed us [c] made us a kingdom (corporately) [d] made us priests (individually), and all glory and dominion belongs to Him forever. Steve Gregg adds (p. 56), “The reference to Christ’s God and Father (v. 6) calls to mind the words of Christ recorded elsewhere by the same apostle: ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God’ (John 20:17).” Regarding the expression “kings and priests,” also found in Rev. 5:10 (and echoed in Rev. 20:6), Gregg comments (pp. 55-56), “This is one of the many New Testament verses that give to the church titles originally applied to Israel (cf. I Peter 2:9-10), suggesting that God’s kingdom is now to be associated with the church rather than Israel.”

Verse 7: This verse begins with the phrase, “Behold He is coming with clouds…” Steve Gregg writes, “The comfort that this promise contains for the suffering believers, and the warning for the obstinate, will be elaborated upon throughout the remainder of the book” (p. 56). Constable (a Dispensationalist) believes that the phrase “every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him” either refers to Jews living in the final generation (based on Zechariah 12:10-14), or that this imagery could stand for all of Jesus’ enemies up until the Second Coming (the event which he believes is in view here). Personally, I believe that it refers to the very individuals who pierced Christ at the cross (and those who, looking on, approved), meaning that some of them would have still been alive to see this prophecy fulfilled in 70 AD.[1] The following two quotes reflect this same position:

QUOTE: “Another theme that permeates the book is the concept of Jesus’ soon coming. But note in the passages below what ‘kind’ of coming is in view [i.e. Is it a reference to Christ’s Second Coming, or to His coming in judgment (cf. Rev. 2:5, 2:16, 3:3)?]. Again, note the similarity in the first and last chapter of the book.

Rev 1:7 Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.

22:12 Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done.

Note that this [coming is] directed at ‘those who pierced’ him and that it involves his recompense, his retribution. One can stretch the meaning of those who pierced Him to be any one sinner in history metaphorically, but the most obvious and ‘literal’ rendering would be of those who physically put Him to death, which would be the Jews and Rome… There is no mistaking the ‘soon’ nature of the passages. Some have tried to argue that the phrase ‘quickly’ is in reference to when the events do start to happen, that they will happen quickly. This does nothing to answer the immediacy of the expectation and those expected to be still alive when these events take place.”

[Source: David Lowman, http://low5point.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/revealing-revelation-the-early-date-theory-part-1/]

QUOTE: “Most writers consider the theme of the book to be Revelation 1:7. This verse is very similar in context to Matthew 24:30.

Revelation 1:7, ‘Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds [Greek word #5443] of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.

Matthew 24:30, ‘And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes [Greek word #5443] of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.

…Zechariah 12:10-14, ‘And I will pour upon the…inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only sonIn that day shall there be a great mourning in JerusalemAnd the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of Shimei apart, and their wives apart; All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart.’

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.”

(Source: Richard Anthony, http://ecclesia.org/truth/revelation.html)

Steve Gregg (p. 57) articulates the position of some preterist commentators:

[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.

[As we continue 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.]

Verse 8: For the second time, God is referred to as the One “who is and who was and who is to come.” The speaker here appears to be Jesus.

C. Vision of the Son of Man (1:9-20)

Verse 9: John was in Patmos, a Roman prison island off the coast of modern Turkey. It was located in the Aegean Sea southwest of Ephesus. Steve Gregg notes (p. 57) that “Patmos is a rocky, crescent-shaped island about 37 miles southwest of the mainland of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), where the seven recipient churches were located.” Only the Romans could banish their subjects to Patmos, so in what sense was John a “partner in the tribulation” with the seven churches? Until Nero’s campaign of persecution from November 64 AD – June 68 AD, the Church experienced persecution primarily from the Jews. When John wrote Revelation, though, they were apparently also under a significant Roman persecution. No Roman Imperial persecution was as intense as the one under Nero.[2] As I wrote here,

John wrote to seven historical churches in Asia Minor (Rev. 1:4, 11) which were going through a time of great trouble and tribulation, just as he was (Rev. 1:9, 2:3, 2:9-10, 2:13, 3:10). What better candidate was there for such an intense time of trouble than the first and greatest imperial persecution of Christianity initiated by Nero from late November 64 AD until his death in early June 68 AD?

Verse 11: John was instructed to get these writings into the hands of the believers in seven locations. Each of the seven churches received not only the statements that were directed to them, but the entire book of Revelation. This means that the subject matter of the entire book of Revelation was urgent for and relevant to these churches. The same tribulation and persecution spoken of in chapter 1 is alluded to time and time again throughout the book. As Kenneth Gentry says, “Put yourself in first century sandals: Would you think John might be speaking of events occurring untold centuries after the collapse of the Empire which was presently persecuting you? Would you surmise that he was not really relating a message about Imperial Rome?”[3] Steve Gregg notes how the seven churches are listed and then remarks:

The cities are listed in the logical order in which they would likely receive the letter. Assuming Ephesus would receive the letter first, it would travel northward then east and southward again in a horseshoe-shaped route.

Seven Churches 1

Verse 12: Steve Gregg writes (p. 59),

The first thing that caught [John’s] attention was the seven lampstands of gold, recalling the seven-branched lamp, by whose light the priests offered their incense in the tabernacle. As verse 20 informs us, these lampstands represent the seven churches addressed in the letter. The church is the light of the world (Matt. 5:14; Phil. 2:15; Eph. 5:8-13). It may be significant that John’s vision of Christ was set in the midst of the churches (v. 13), suggesting that it is in the gathered assemblies of Christians that the presence of Christ resides on earth today (Matt. 18:20).

Verse 13: John Piper notes, “The word translated ‘robe reaching to the feet’ is not used anywhere else in the New Testament, but in the Old Testament it almost always refers to the robe of the high priest. And the gold band across his chest shows two things: the fact that it is high—not around the waist but around the chest—and the fact that it is gold, show that the priesthood that he holds is very great” (Source: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByScripture/17/822_A_YearEnd_Look_at_Jesus_Christ/).

Verse 14: “His head, even His hair, was very white, as Daniel described the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:9 (i.e., God the Father). White hair often represents wisdom and the dignity of age in Scripture. John referred the images of God the Father in the Old Testament to Jesus Christ, thus granting to Jesus the attributes and titles previously reserved for the Father (cf. v. 18; 2:8; 5:12; 22:13). This is one way of stressing the equality of Jesus with the Father, here specifically His eternal pre-existence.” (Source: Dr. Thomas Constable, ibid.)

Verse 15: Steve Gregg asserts (p. 60) that the description of Jesus’ feet being “like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace” is given to “suggest the irresistibility of His judgment as He will later tread the ‘great winepress of the wrath of God’ (Rev. 14:19).”

Verse 16: The image of Jesus having a “sharp two-edged sword” coming out of His mouth is depicted again in Revelation 19:15 when He goes out to war against the nations. Steve Gregg (p. 60) is of the opinion that this image “can hardly refer to anything other than His word (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17).” John sees the face of Jesus as “the sun shining in full strength.” Steve Gregg remarks (p. 60) that His shining face is “reminiscent of that which John had seen on the Mount of Transfiguration decades earlier (Matt. 17:2). As for the seven stars Jesus held in His right hand, verse 20 tells us that they were “the angels of the seven churches.”

Verse 17: John fell “as though dead” at Jesus’ feet when he saw Him. This is similar to Daniel’s experience in which he “retained no strength” and “was in a deep sleep” on His face (Dan. 10:8-9).

Verse 18: Jesus identifies Himself as “the first and the last, the living One.” He spoke of His death and resurrection, and His victory over death and the grave.

Verse 19: John is told to write about [1] things he had already seen [2] things which were presently taking place, and [3] things which had not yet taken place.

Verse 20: Steve Gregg comments (pp. 61-62):

Whether the “angel” of each church refers to a heavenly being, like a guardian angel, or to an earthly messenger (Gr. angelos simply means messenger), like a pastor or bishop, has been disputed. In each of the letters that follow, the angel of each church is addressed as the recipient. Since these angels are expected to pass along to the churches the information communicated to them by Christ, many commentators feel that they must be visible, human messengers in contact with the congregations. We may justly conceive of the communication between God and His heavenly angels as being somewhat more direct than to require letters posted by apostles.

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Our study of Revelation 2 (Part 1) can be found here: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/26/revelation-chapter-2-ephesus-and-smyrna/.


[1] Regarding the topic of Jesus’ coming in judgment in 70 AD, when Jerusalem and apostate Israel were destroyed as Jesus had predicted, please see the following posts: [1] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp11-did-jesus-come-in-70-ad-part-1/ [2] https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/15/pp12-did-jesus-come-in-70-ad-part-2/.

[2] See this post for further details: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp6-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-3/.

[3] See here for further details: https://kloposmasm.wordpress.com/2009/08/14/pp7-internal-evidence-for-an-early-date-revelation-part-4/.