Who Was the Beast? (Five Clues) – Long Island Conference Presentation


On March 25th I had the privilege of speaking for the second year in a row at the Blue Point Bible Conference in Long Island, New York. The theme of this conference, which was hosted by Pastor Michael Miano, was “Revelation Revealed.” It was a great weekend of fellowship, learning, encouragement, and discussion. I was also very glad to be able to bring my wife, Jasmine, along with me this year. My presentation revolved around five clues from the book of Revelation about the identity of the beast. Here’s the video, along with my written notes:

Introduction

The topic that I’m discussing is one that appears in eight out of 22 chapters in the book of Revelation. More space is given to this topic than to the harlot, the two witnesses, New Jerusalem, etc. So this topic is a key part of what John wanted to communicate to his first century readers. This topic is “the beast.”

In John’s day, the consequences for following the beast were very heavy, but the blessings for overcoming the beast were also very great. We see this contrast in Revelation 14 and 15, where one group received the full strength of God’s wrath and fiery torment, while the other group had the privilege of standing on the sea of glass and singing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb:

Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. And he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name’” (Rev. 14:9-11).

I saw something like a sea of glass mingled with fire, and those who have the victory over the beast, over his image and over his mark and over the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, having harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your judgments have been manifested’” (Rev. 15:2-4).

So there’s no doubt that the beast was a great enemy to the church, but who was this enemy? Was this enemy Roman? Or was it Jewish? Whoever or whatever it was, there are details about the beast in Daniel 7, and Revelation 11, 13 – 17, and 19 – 20 which all need to be reconciled. These details include:

  • 10 horns on the beast
  • a little horn coming up among the 10 horns
  • three horns that fell before the little horn
  • the little horn persecuting the saints for 3.5 years and changing time and law
  • a second beast that works very closely with the first beast
  • seven heads of the beast
  • a wounded head
  • the dragon, beast, and false prophet working together to gather people to a great battle
  • the beast and false prophet cast into the lake of fire

This presentation won’t cover all these details, but see the “Glossary of Terms” at the end of this article for some more details.

In my studies over the last six months or so, I’ve come to some very different conclusions than those I used to hold about the beast. Beginning in 2009, I believed that the beast was Rome (generally) and Nero (specifically). I did have unanswered questions, especially when it came to Daniel 7 and Revelation 19, but I kept those questions on the back burner. When I finally brought those questions to the forefront, I came to realize that Rome and Nero didn’t fit the visions that Daniel and John had about a beast that would oppose God’s people.

I’ve been putting together a series on this subject in chronological order, moving from Daniel 2 into Daniel 7 and on to Revelation 11, Revelation 13, and to the other chapters which at least mention the beast. In this presentation, though, I’d like to highlight certain pieces of evidence which I believe show that the beast was Israel, and in particular the Zealot movement in Israel that captured the loyalty of so many Jews in the first century. I’ve come to believe that the beast of Revelation wasn’t about emperor worship and persecuting those who wouldn’t worship the emperor Nero. Instead it was about:

  • extreme nationalism
  • idolizing and worshiping the kingdom of Israel
  • the persecution and killing of those who wouldn’t follow the war agenda of the Zealots and the Sicarii
  • a strong rejection of Jesus’ message that His kingdom isn’t of this world
  • a strong rejection of the Prince of Peace and His call to be peacemakers
  • clinging to Mount Sinai, the Jerusalem below, and the kingdom that could be shaken instead of embracing Mount Zion, the Jerusalem above and the kingdom that couldn’t be shaken (Galatians 4:21-31 and Hebrews 12:18-29)

Five Clues About the Beast’s Identity

In this presentation we will analyze five passages in Revelation in an effort to understand the beast’s identity:

1. The fifth bowl was poured out on the beast (Revelation 16:10-11).
2. The beast was given to the burning flame (Daniel 7:11; Revelation 19:20).
3. Who was killed by the sword AND went into captivity (Revelation 13:10)?
4. Who destroyed and burned the harlot (Revelation 17:16)?
5. How did the two beasts relate to “those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 13:3-15)?

1. The Fifth Bowl Poured Out on the Beast (Revelation 16:10-11)

The first piece of evidence I’d like to discuss has to do with the fifth bowl judgment. Here’s how Revelation 16:10-11 describes the pouring out of the fifth bowl:

Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues because of the pain. And they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and did not repent of their deeds.”

Notice that this bowl is poured out on the beast’s throne and kingdom. I want us to consider this fact in light of an observation that a number of preterist teachers and websites have rightfully made. That observation is that the seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls were opened, sounded, and poured out on 1st century Israel (Judea, Samaria, Galilee). For example, in the book, “Four Views on The Book of Revelation,” by Stanley Gundry and C. Marvin Pate, Kenneth Gentry represents the preterist view. He says this on page 72:

“John turns his attention to further judgments on the land [of Israel] by means of the three woes (14:6-21) and the seven bowls (chaps. 15-16).”

Kenneth Gentry, of course, is well-known for his books and DVDs which teach that the beast was Rome and Nero. I don’t mean any disrespect to him, but he contradicts himself here when he says that [1] all seven bowl judgments were for Israel and [2] Rome was the beast, and yet Revelation 16:10 says that the fifth bowl was to be poured out on the throne and kingdom of the beast. I used to be inconsistent on that point as well.

There are several reasons why it’s valid to say that Israel was the target of the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls. I’ll list two of them:

  • Concerning the seven bowls, Revelation 16:1 shows that their target is “the earth,” otherwise translated as “the land,” that is, the land of Israel (I’ll discuss this translation pattern more when we look at Revelation 13). Here’s what verse 1 says: “Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, ‘Go and pour out the bowls of the wrath of God on the earth’” (or ‘on the land’). So there was a specific land that the seven bowls would be poured out upon, and that land was Israel.
  • In Leviticus 26:18-28 God repeatedly warned Israel that a time would come when they would be punished “seven times” for their sins, as God would execute the vengeance of His covenant (verse 25). It’s no coincidence that the covenant imagery of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) appears in the opening of the seventh seal, the sounding of the seventh trumpet, and the pouring out of the seventh bowl (e.g. thunder, lightning, an earthquake, loud sounds, and smoke/fire).

Those seven-fold judgments of Leviticus 26 were reserved for Israel alone. They weren’t for both Israel and Rome. So it follows that when the fifth bowl judgment was poured out “on the throne of the beast,” it was Israel, not Rome, which experienced that darkness and pain. It was Israel that represented the kingdom of the beast. If the fifth bowl was poured out on Rome, then the bowls were only a six-fold judgment on Israel and “a one-fold judgment” on Rome, but that’s not the case. Leviticus 26 was completely, not partially, fulfilled.

Revelation 16:11 says that “pains” and “sores” would come upon the people who lived in the beast’s kingdom, and implies that further judgment would come upon this kingdom for refusing to repent. During the Jewish-Roman War did people throughout the Roman Empire experience “pains” and “sores,” or did this happen to the people of Israel? When we read Josephus’ descriptions of civil war, famine conditions, dead bodies lying unburied, etc., it’s easy enough to understand that Israel was plagued by “pains” and “sores” during that time, and this was especially true in Jerusalem. It was Israel that refused to repent, and it was upon Israel that more judgments were heaped.

2. The Beast Was Given to the Burning Flame (Daniel 7:11, Revelation 19:20)

The second point I’d like to bring up is the language of Daniel 7:11 and Revelation 19:20. Here’s what these two verses say:

“…I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame” (Daniel 7:11).

Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Revelation 19:20).

If the Roman Empire was the beast of Revelation, how was this empire captured, slain, destroyed, burned, and cast into the lake of fire? Rome actually came out of the Jewish-Roman War (AD 66 -73) stronger than ever. History tells us that Rome was stronger in the second century AD than it was in the first century AD.

Someone might say that this applied to Nero, who is said to be the beast in a singular sense. Nero was indeed killed – with his own sword, but he was not captured and he was not burned. Nor did he go down at the same time as any false prophets who worked with him.

It was Israel that was captured, slain, destroyed, and burned – as we can see in great detail in “Wars of the Jews” by Josephus.

3. Who Was Killed by the Sword AND Went Into Captivity (Revelation 13:10)?

On a related note, in Revelation 13:10 we see a prophecy about the ultimate fate of the beast, and this prophecy was to be a comfort to the saints who were under persecution. John writes: “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.”

Some Romans were certainly killed in the Jewish-Roman War, but the end result was victory for Rome. On the other hand, there were mass casualties for Israel, the Zealots, and the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem from many nations but got trapped in the city when the siege began in April AD 70.

It’s important to take note of the first part of this verse: “He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity…” The Romans took people captive, but were they themselves taken captive? No, they weren’t. The Jewish Zealots also took people captive, especially their fellow Jews who wouldn’t go along with their war agenda. Were the Zealots themselves taken captive? Yes, they were. This prophecy was about them.

To point out a couple examples, the Zealot leaders John Levi of Gischala and Simon Bar Giora were both taken captive by the Romans in August or September AD 70, and both were humiliated in a parade all the way to the city of Rome. John was sentenced to life in prison and Simon was executed as “the general” of the revolt. See Wars 6.9.4, Wars 7.2.2, Wars 7.5.3, Wars 7.5.6.

4. Who Destroyed and Burned the Harlot? (Revelation 17:16)

Revelation 16:10 predicted what the 10 horns of the beast would do to the harlot:

And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.”

The harlot, of course, was the city of Jerusalem. As we see in Revelation 17:18 and elsewhere, the harlot was also called “the great city.” And when “the great city” was first mentioned in Revelation 11:8 it was said to be the place “where our Lord was crucified,” i.e. Jerusalem. So let’s consider how the writings of Josephus answer three details in this verse:

1. Who made Jerusalem desolate?
2. Who ate her flesh?
3. Who burned her with fire?

Was it Rome, or was it Israel under the Jewish Zealots? Josephus addressed all three of these questions repeatedly. For example, in Wars 5.1.1, 5 Josephus said that when the Zealots attacked the people of Jerusalem in February/March AD 68, this was the beginning of the city’s destruction. He also said that the Zealots were “like a wild beast grown mad” that was “eating its own flesh” and tearing the city into pieces:

“Now as to the attack the zealots made upon the people, and which I esteem the beginning of the city’s destruction, it hath been already explained after an accurate manner; as also whence it arose, and to how great a mischief it was increased. But for the present sedition, one should not mistake if he called it a sedition begotten by another sedition, and to be like a wild beast grown mad, which, for want of food from abroad, fell now upon eating its own flesh… And now, as the city was engaged in a war on all sides, from these treacherous crowds of wicked men, the people of the city, between them, were like a great body torn in pieces.”

Josephus also said in Wars 5.6.1 that the Romans showed more kindness to Jerusalem than the Zealots did:

“…for they never suffered any thing that was worse from the Romans than they made each other suffer; nor was there any misery endured by the city after these men’s actions that could be esteemed new. But it was most of all unhappy before it was overthrown, while those that took it [i.e. the Romans] did it a greater kindness for I venture to affirm that the sedition destroyed the city, and the Romans destroyed the sedition, which it was a much harder thing to do than to destroy the walls; so that we may justly ascribe our misfortunes to our own people, and the just vengeance taken on them to the Romans…”

FIRE

So Josephus lays the blame upon the Zealots for Jerusalem’s destruction and also says that the Zealots consumed Jerusalem like a beast eating its own flesh. What about Jerusalem being burned with fire? In Wars 5.4.4, Josephus described how a number of key buildings in Jerusalem were burned and destroyed at the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War by “the robbers” and the “internal plotters,” meaning the Sicarii and the Zealots:

“But indeed it is not possible to give a complete description of these palaces; and the very remembrance of them is a torment to one, as putting one in mind what vastly rich buildings that fire which was kindled by the robbers hath consumed; for these were not burnt by the Romans, but by these internal plotters, as we have already related, in the beginning of their rebellion. That fire began at the tower of Antonia, and went on to the palaces, and consumed the upper parts of the three towers themselves.”

Before the Roman general, Titus, arrived and began the siege of Jerusalem in April AD 70, Josephus pointed out that John Levi and Simon Bar Giora, two main Zealot leaders, had already burned down “all the places” around the temple:

“[They] attacked the city also; as if they had, on purpose, done it to serve the Romans, by destroying what the city had laid up against the siege, and by thus cutting off the nerves of their own power. Accordingly, it so came to pass, that all the places that were about the temple were burnt down, and were become an intermediate desert space, ready for fighting on both sides of it; and that almost all that corn was burnt, which would have been sufficient for a siege of many years. So they were taken by the means of the famine, which it was impossible they should have been, unless they had thus prepared the way for it by this procedure” (Wars 5.1.4).

Then notice in Wars 4.6.3 what Josephus said they did to the temple itself:

“…these Zealots occasioned the fulfilling of those very prophecies belonging to their country. For there was a certain ancient oracle of those men, that the city should then be taken and the sanctuary burnt, by right of war, when a sedition should invade the Jews and their own hands should pollute the Temple of God. Now, while these Zealots did not disbelieve these predictions, they made themselves the instruments of their accomplishment.”

So Josephus said that the Zealots were the instruments by which the temple was burnt. To confirm this, here’s what Titus said in his speech to the Zealots soon after the temple burned down:

“When I came near your temple, I again departed from the laws of war, and exhorted you to spare your own sanctuary, and to preserve your holy house to yourselves. I allowed you a quiet exit out of it, and security for your preservation; nay, if you had a mind, I gave you leave to fight in another place. Yet have you still despised every one of my proposals, and have set fire to your holy house with your own hands” (Wars 6.6.2).

In Wars 6.2.9, Josephus described how the Jews started the fire in the temple. At one point, they even let the fire spread on purpose, believing that it would give them an advantage:

“[T]he Jews were so distressed by the fights they had been in, as the war advanced higher and higher, and creeping up to the holy house itself, that they, as it were, cut off those limbs of their body which were infected, in order to prevent the distemper’s spreading further; for they set the north-west cloister, which was joined to the tower of Antonia, on fire, and after that brake off about twenty cubits of that cloister, and thereby made a beginning in burning the sanctuary; two days after which, or on the twenty-fourth day of the forenamed month, [Panemus or Tamuz,] the Romans set fire to the cloister that joined to the other, when the fire went fifteen cubits farther. The Jews, in like manner, cut off its roof; nor did they entirely leave off what they were about till the tower of Antonia was parted from the temple, even when it was in their power to have stopped the fire; nay, they lay still while the temple was first set on fire, and deemed this spreading of the fire to be for their own advantage. However, the armies were still fighting one against another about the temple, and the war was managed by continual sallies of particular parties against one another.”

After this a Roman soldier set fire to a window of the temple which ultimately led to the fire getting out of control and the temple burning to the ground. According to Josephus, the fire had already been started by the Zealots in the inner court of the temple, and they had even fought against those who tried to put the fire out:

“…now that fatal day was come, according to the revolution of the ages: it was the tenth day of the month Lous, [Av,] upon which it was formerly burnt by the king of Babylon; although these flames took their rise from the Jews themselves, and were occasioned by them; for upon Titus’s retiring, the seditious lay still for a little while, and then attacked the Romans again, when those that guarded the Holy House fought with those that quenched the fire that was burning in the inner court of the Temple; but these Romans put the Jews to flight, and proceeded as far as the Holy House itself. 

At which time one of the soldiers, without staying for any orders, and without any concern or dread upon him at so great an undertaking, and being hurried on by a certain divine fury, snatched somewhat out of the materials that were on fire, and being lifted up by another soldier, he set fire to a golden window, through which there was a passage to the rooms that were round about the Holy House, on the north side of it. As the flames went upward the Jews made a great clamour…” (Wars 6.4.5).

10 HORNS

How do we identify the 10 horns that John said would hate the harlot? Among those who say that the beast was Rome, I’ve generally seen the explanation that they were the 10 Senatorial Provinces of the Roman Empire. However, as far as I’m aware, neither Josephus nor the Roman historians of that time period (e.g. Tacitus, Suetonius, Dio Cassius) ever said that those provinces assisted Titus in the siege of Jerusalem. Instead, Titus came with four legions (Wars 5.1.6).

The idea that the 10 horns were Roman provinces (or any land territories at all) really falls apart when we take note that Daniel 7:24-25 says that a little horn would arise and persecute the saints for 3.5 years AFTER the 10 horns arise. That little horn also had “eyes like the eyes of a man” (Daniel 7:8), which sure sounds like a human. So I believe the 10 horns were people rather than provinces, in the same way that the two horns of the ram in Daniel 8:20 were identified as “kings of Media and Persia” and the four horns on the goat (Daniel 8:8, 22) turned out to be four generals of Greece after the death of Alexander the Great.

Here’s my proposal about the 10 horns of the beast described in Daniel 7:7-8, 20-25 and Revelation 17:3, 7, 12-17. In December AD 66, Israel’s war effort was placed into the hands of exactly 10 generals (Wars 2.20.3-4). This decision was made after the Jews’ shocking victory over Cestius Gallus in late November AD 66. The Jews only lost a few men in that short battle, but they killed nearly 5,800 Romans (see Wars 2.19) in addition to the Romans they had already slaughtered at Masada and the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem. They knew it was only a matter of time before the Romans returned with a full-scale retaliation, and they needed to prepare.

Daniel provides a detail about the 10 horns which John never mentions in the book of Revelation. According to Daniel 7:8, 20, 24 three of the 10 horns would be “plucked out,” would fall, and would be subdued by a little horn. I believe those three horns were [1] Ananus ben Ananus [2] Niger of Perea, and [3] Joseph ben Gorion, who were among the 10 original generals. They were killed by the Zealots and the Idumeans during the Zealot siege of February/March 68 AD, and their deaths are recorded in Wars 4.5.2 and Wars 4.6.1.

Were they later replaced? Josephus was one of those 10 generals, and he was captured by the Romans (Wars 3.8.8) only about a year into the war. So at least four of the generals needed to be replaced if Israel’s war effort was to remain in the hands of 10 generals. In any case, John spoke as if the same 10 horns worked together until the harlot was consumed and burned with fire, but Daniel said that three out of the 10 horns would be removed. So this is a point of difficulty regardless of how a person identifies the beast (as being Roman, Jewish, etc.).

There is evidence, though, that the Zealots chose leaders as they pleased. Josephus said in Wars 4.4.1 that the Zealots seized the power of the government during the Zealot siege of February/March AD 68 and that they “presumed to appoint governors as they themselves pleased.”

5. How Did the Two Beasts Relate to “Those Who Dwell on the Earth” (Revelation 13)?

According to Revelation 13:8, 11-12, 14-15, the beast would be worshiped by all who dwelt “on the earth.” This expression, “on the earth,” can also be translated as “in the land,” i.e. the land of Israel. In the following verses, please notice that the expression “those who dwell on the earth” appears four times:

(Verse 8) “And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

(Verses 11-12) “Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.”

(Verses 14-15) “And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived. He was granted to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.”

I want to briefly give some background on this expression (“on the earth” or “in the land”) before explaining why this is so significant when it comes to the identity of the beast and the close partnership between the two beasts that we see in Revelation 13. There are two Greek words that are typically translated as “earth” or “world” in the New Testament. These words are “ge” and “kosmos.”

Dr. Jonathan Welton has shown that “kosmos” appears in Revelation only three times, even though John used this word 57 times in his gospel account and 17 times in I John. Dr. Welton explains that this word “refers to the entire globe, the entirety of planet earth, and the heavens.” On the other hand, the word “ge” appears in Revelation 67 times (i.e. 22 times more often than “kosmos”). Dr. Welton says that this word “refers to a localized inhabited civilization or the land of a particular nation.”

Source: Dr. Jonathan Welton

John’s books Number of chapters in each book Number of times John uses the word “kosmos,” meaning the entire planet Number of times John uses the word “ge,” meaning a specific land
The Gospel According to John 21 57 3
I John 5 17 1
II John 1 1 0
III John 1 0 0
Book of Revelation 22 3 67

This pattern was already established in the Old Testament, where a word which is often translated as “earth” meant “a specific land” rather than the planet. This pattern can be seen especially in the book of Isaiah. Thomas Ice, a Dispensationalist Futurist, acknowledged this in a 2008 article published in the Pre-Trib Research Center. He pointed out that the phrase “earth dwellers” appears about 50 times in the Hebrew Old Testament, and that “the overwhelming majority of times…it is rightfully translated as ‘land dwellers’ or ‘inhabitants of the land’ since the context references a localized area of land or country like Israel.”

Probably the clearest example of the word “ge” in the New Testament as a local (not global) reference is in Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:23). There, Jesus is clearly speaking about Judea, yet some Bible versions translate this word as “earth,” while others translate it as “land”:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people” (Luke 21:20-23).

If you do a study of the various New Testament passages which use the word “ge,” you’ll find that one Bible version consistently translates this word as “land” instead of “earth,” and that’s (Robert) Young’s Literal Translation. You can also see this in the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament by Albert Marshall.

In 1876 a book was published by the Biblical scholar, Alfred Edersheim, and was titled, “Sketches of Jewish Public Life.” Alfred wrote about the significance of the phrase “the land” to the Jewish Rabbis of the first century. “Palestine,” he said, “was to the Rabbis simply ‘the land,’ all other countries being summed up under the designation of ‘outside the land’” (p. 14). About 20 years before Edersheim’s book was published, P.S. Desprez made the following remarks in his 1855 book, “Apocalypse Fulfilled” (p. 13):

“[When the phrase ‘on the earth’ appears in the book of Revelation] 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.

This exact phrase (“those who dwell on the earth”) is found in 10 verses in the book of Revelation (3:10, 6:10, 8:13, 11:10, 13:8, 13:12, 13:14, 14:6, 17:2, and 17:8). Here’s where we come back to why this is so important when looking at Revelation 13 and the close relationship between the two beasts. Four of these 10 instances are in connection with the beast (the verses in bold font above), and three of them are in Revelation 13 (verse 8, twice in verse 12, and verse 14). Revelation 13 speaks of two beasts, one that rises up out of the sea and one that comes up out of the earth (land). What we see is that both beasts demanded worship and loyalty from “those who dwell in the land,” and one beast acted as an enforcer for the other.

It’s very significant that all the activity described in Revelation 13 was centralized in Israel. According to verse 3, all the land followed the beast. According to verse 4, they also worshiped the beast and said, “Who is able to make war with him?” I believe this describes the response after the Zealots kicked the Romans out of Masada and Jerusalem in August/September AD 66, and after they achieved victory over Cestius Gallus and his army in November AD 66. The second beast, described in verses 11-17, was later called “the false prophet” (Rev. 16:13, 19:20, 20:10). According to verses 11-14, that beast exercised authority in the presence of the first beast, causing the people in the land of Israel to worship him, to make an image to him, etc.

A number of preterist authors have identified the first beast as Rome/Nero and the second beast as the religious leaders of Israel. In other words, the implication would be that religious leaders in Israel forced the people of Israel to give their loyalty and worship to Rome and to Nero. However, this is simply not possible. There was an extremely anti-Roman climate in Israel, especially once the Zealots took over. Anti-Roman feelings were already strong in Israel before the war, but they were the only feelings that the people were allowed to have once the war began. Josephus repeatedly described the Zealots killing anyone whom they even suspected of wanting peace with Rome.

In Wars 2.19.4, Josephus said this about Jerusalem in November AD 66: “Now as for the people, they were kept under by the seditious.” Clearly, then, Jerusalem was under the control of the Zealots and already off-limits to the Romans by that time. So any 3.5 year period featuring a deep partnership between Rome/Nero and false prophets from Israel would have ended by AD 66 (even earlier actually), and therefore would have begun by at least AD 62. However, there was no such time period, and preterists don’t even look for any time period as early as that to fulfill the 42 months of Revelation 13, as far as I’m aware.

I would like to submit that Revelation 13 describes a partnership between the Zealot movement (the first beast) and the false prophets in the land (the second beast). Let’s look at a few examples from the works of Josephus to see what this partnership looked like.

Jewish False Prophets Working with the Zealots

In Antiquities 20.8.6 Josephus wrote the following about numerous false prophets who deceived the Jews during the time of the Procurators Felix (52-58 AD) and Festus (59-62 AD):

“These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God. And many that were prevailed on by them suffered the punishments of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and then punished them. Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives…”

In Wars 2.13.4-6 Josephus wrote about various false prophets and deceivers who worked to persuade the people to revolt against the Romans and who killed those who refused to revolt:

“There was also another body of wicked men gotten together… These were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration, but were for procuring innovations and changes of the government; and these prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty…

for a company of deceivers and robbers got together, and persuaded the Jews to revolt, and exhorted them to assert their liberty, inflicting death on those that continued in obedience to the Roman government, and saying, that such as willingly chose slavery ought to be forced from such their desired inclinations; for they parted themselves into different bodies, and lay in wait up and down the country, and plundered the houses of the great men, and slew the men themselves, and set the villages on fire; and this till all Judea was filled with the effects of their madness. And thus the flame was every day more and more blown up, till it came to a direct war.”

In Wars 6.5.1-2 Josephus talked about how, when the temple was burned down, the number of people killed in that blaze was especially high because so many people listened to the words of a false prophet. Josephus also revealed that this false prophet was one of many false prophets who had been hired by the Zealots to control the people and keep them from fleeing from their control:

“A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now there was then a great number of false prophets suborned [hired] by the tyrants to impose on the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting” (Wars 6.5.2).

Limitations of Nero’s Persecution

Some may ask, “Well, what about Nero’s persecution?” Revelation 13:5-7 says that the beast would have authority for 42 months (3.5 years) and would “make war with the saints” and overcome them. Didn’t Nero persecute Christians for 3.5 years, beginning in AD 64? Let’s quickly look at what historians say about why Nero persecuted Christians, where this persecution took place, and for how long it took place.

The Roman historian, Tacitus, wrote that Nero punished Christians in Rome in order to “get rid of the report” that he had ordered Rome to be burned. Tacitus only mentions this happening in the city of Rome, but not elsewhere in the empire:

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace… Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind” (Tacitus, Annals 15).

So Tacitus said that Christians in Rome were persecuted for “hatred against mankind” and as scapegoats for arson. This was an entirely different cause for persecution than what John saw taking place in Revelation 13:15. There John saw that persecution and death came from refusing to worship the image of the beast.

The “Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Volume 6” says that Nero’s persecution of Christians “does not seem to have extended through all the provinces [of the Roman empire], but rather to have been restricted to Rome and the surrounding country” (p. 956). On the other hand, John saw persecution happening to those who were dwelling in the land (i.e. of Israel), carried out by the second beast (false prophet) that came up out of the land, and taking place in the presence of the first beast (verses 11-14).

Again, it’s quite impossible to imagine the false prophets from the land demanding that the people of Israel worship Nero, and sentencing to death those who refused, when those same people came under the tight control of the fanatically anti-Roman Zealots in AD 66, less than two years after Nero’s persecution began. (There was a heavy anti-Roman climate in Israel even well before AD 66, and Jews were killed for feeling otherwise before AD 66 as well.)

Another resource, “A Critical Study of the Sources of the History of the Emperor Nero,” written by John Nicholas Henry Jahn, notes that Nero’s persecution may not have lasted even two years. This is because Nero left Rome in late AD 66 and went to Greece, where he remained for more than a year (pp. 14-15). Jahn also agreed that it “is not likely that Nero ordered the persecution to be extended to the provinces” of the Roman Empire (p. 15).

So various sources indicate that Nero’s persecution, as severe as it was, did not match the motive, location, or duration spoken of in Revelation 13:5-8. It also needs to be pointed out that Daniel 7 shows the little horn of the beast persecuting the saints for 3.5 years all the way up until the very time that the kingdom would be stripped from that beast and given into the hands of the saints. This does not suggest that the persecution stopped in AD 68 when Nero died, but rather that it stopped when Israel was stripped of the kingdom (Matthew 21:43-44) at the time of the Roman siege of Jerusalem in April – September AD 70.

Revelation 20:4 elaborates on Revelation 13 and Daniel 7 by saying that those who refused to worship the beast and receive his mark were beheaded. Quite a number of times, Josephus spoke of the Zealots cutting the throats of Jews in Jerusalem and elsewhere, especially those who talked about peace, showed disloyalty to their cause, or whom they suspected of wanting to escape to the Romans. The phrase “cut their throats” could very well mean beheading since the Zealots used swords and not just knives. Examples of this throat cutting from the fall of AD 66 through the summer of AD 70 can be seen in Wars 2.18.3, 4.4.3, 4.5.3, 4.6.3, 5.1.5, 5.8.1, and 5.10.1.

Conclusion

Among preterists, it appears that there has been a shift when it comes to the man of lawlessness of II Thessalonians 2. It used to be taken for granted that this man was Nero. In the Sibylline Oracles, dating to the end of the 1st century AD or the early 2nd century AD, Nero was depicted as the man of lawlessness of II Thessalonians 2:3-4 (Oracle 5, James Eason, “Nero As the Antichrist”). In the 4th century AD, Augustine, in his book “The City of God” (XX.19.3), also wrote that many thought Nero was the man of sin of II Thess. 2.

Now, however, a number of writers have concluded that the man of lawlessness was a Jew, one of the Zealots. I would like to suggest that this same shift is justified when it comes to the beast of Revelation.

Several early church fathers (e.g. Clement of Alexandria, St. Jerome, Augustine) seemed to hint that Nero was the beast of Revelation, but didn’t say it directly (source). From what I’ve seen, there were four different authors around the 1830s who were the first to directly say that Nero was the beast. Then this idea gained momentum with the publishing of “The Parousia” in 1878 by J. Stuart Russell, who shared this idea in his book. In any case, I’m hoping that a more critical analysis will be applied to the identity of the beast as some have done regarding the man of sin.

Takeaways

The primary message and agenda of the Zealots was war. They persecuted those who threatened that agenda or wouldn’t go along with it. The Zealots stood in total opposition to the message of Jesus, the new covenant, and the kingdom of God. They were determined to maintain, build, and spread their own kingdom. They were extreme nationalists, but ironically they destroyed their own nation and region fighting for that ideal.

The vision of the Old Testament prophets for the new covenant age was one of peace. That was true for the 1st century church during the Jewish-Roman War, and it’s true for the church now in the year 2017. Are there “beasts” even now trying to get us to follow some type of war agenda? How about the Christian Zionist movement with its open calls for war with Iran and any other perceived “enemies of Israel”? How about voices outside of Christianity, and unfortunately inside of Christianity as well, that want us to fight against refugees, Muslims, liberals, or other groups? N.T. Wright said this in his book, “Mark for Everyone” (p. 152):

“The word ‘brigand’ in Jesus day wasn’t a word for “thief” or “robber” in the ordinary sense, but for the revolutionaries, those we today would call the ultra-orthodox, plotting and ready to use violence to bring about their nationalist dreams. Part of Jesus’ charge against his fellow Jews was that Israel as a whole had used its vocation to be a light for the world as an excuse for a hard, narrow, nationalist piety and politics in which the rest of the world was to be not enlightened but condemned” (Source).

Let’s be careful not to go down the same type of path. Let’s be the peacemakers that Jesus called us to be.

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Glossary of Terms

(These are my suggestions. Please feel free to personally investigate these things.)

The beast: Judea/Israel and later Zealot-led Israel; referenced in Daniel 2, 7; Revelation 11, 13-17, and 19-20

A beast from the land: the false prophets (collectively) who worked with, and on behalf of, the Zealots/Sicarii; this beast was later called “the false prophet”; referenced in Revelation 13:11-17, 16:13, 19:20, and 20:10

10 horns: initially 10 Jewish generals chosen to lead Israel’s war effort (Wars 2.20.3-4) soon after the Jews’ surprising victory over Cestius Gallus in November AD 66 (Wars 2.19); later some of them were replaced as the Zealots pleased (Wars 4.4.1); referenced in Daniel 7:7, 20, 24; Revelation 13:1; 17:3, 7, 12-14, and 16-17

Three horns fell: [1] Ananus ben Ananus [2] Niger of Perea [3] Joseph ben Gorion; deaths recorded in Wars 4.5.2 and Wars 4.6.1; referenced in Daniel 7:8, 20, 24

A little horn: most likely Eleazar ben Simon, Zealot leader from late AD 66 until April AD 70 whose headquarters was the temple, including the inner court; this person: [A] came up among the 10 horns [B] plucked out three of the first horns [C] had a mouth speaking pompous words [D] made war against the saints [E] was different than the other 10 horns [F] would “intend to change times and the law [G] and prevailed against the saints for 3.5 years until the coming of the Ancient of Days and the possession of the kingdom by the saints; referenced in Daniel 7:8, 11, 20-22, and 24-27

Seven heads: the family dynasty of “Hezekiah the Zealot” (killed in 47 BC), who Josephus called “the head of the robbers” (Wars 1.10.5); included “Judas the Galilean” (Acts 5:35-37), his three sons, his grandson (Menahem), and Eleazar ben Jairus (Menahem’s cousin), who led the final rebel holdout at Masada until AD 73; referenced in Revelation 13:1, 3; 17:3, 7, and 9-11

Wounded head: Menahem, the seventh head who only continued “a short time” (Revelation 17:10); in late August AD 66 he raided Herod’s armory at Masada, “returned to Jerusalem in the state of a king”, “became the leader of the sedition” (Wars 2.17.8), led the massacre of the Roman garrison at Jerusalem’s Antonia Fortress, and was killed a month later; Menahem is recognized as a Messianic figure; his sudden death was a great blow to the Zealot cause because he was their top leader and it happened so soon after the war began; referenced in Revelation 13:3, 12

Deadly wound healed: two months after Menahem’s death the Zealots defeated the armies of Cestius Gallus, and their followers rejoiced and came to believe they could defeat Rome; another Messianic figure, Simon Bar Gioras, emerged as a hero of that war, became a “king” (Wars 4.9.4), took possession of Jerusalem (Wars 4.9.12, Wars 5.7.3), and was “the general” of the war (Wars 7.5.1-7); referenced in Revelation 13:3, 12

The saints persecuted for 42 months: approximately late fall AD 66 – spring AD 70; this persecution was carried out and/or supervised by the little horn up until the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom; referenced in Daniel 7:21-27; Revelation 13:5-7

No one may buy or sell: The Zealots minted their own coins beginning in AD 66 to represent their independence from Rome and discontinued the use of other coins in Jerusalem, at Masada (60 miles away), and perhaps elsewhere; some were labeled “For the Redemption of Zion”; referenced in Revelation 13:17

Two witnesses: Ananus ben Ananus and Jesus ben Gamaliel, two former high priests who led a peace movement in opposition to the Zealots until they were killed during the Zealot Temple Siege of February/March AD 68; they had “the mastery” over those who opposed them (Wars 4.5.2) until the time came for them to be killed; their bodies remained unburied in the streets of Jerusalem; they were killed the day after a great earthquake; their enemies rejoiced over their deaths; referenced in Revelation 11:3-13

For a more detailed study on the beast of Revelation, please see my series titled “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel,” which is being developed here.

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The Mystery of God (Revelation 10:7) Has Long Been Finished


Series: “Little Gems from Our Study of the Book of Revelation”

The following study was published yesterday in The Fulfilled Connection (TFC) Magazine, and was adapted from our study of Revelation 10:

“…in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets” (Revelation 10:7).

Like so many of the visions and prophecies in the book of Revelation, this one has a rich background in the Old Testament. John was told that the finishing of “the mystery of God” had been foretold by “His servants the prophets.” For a long time, the prophets had been looking forward to what John was about to witness!

Before we examine verse 7 and the meaning of “the mystery of God,” let’s briefly consider the context of this verse. The first six trumpet judgments are featured in Revelation 8-9. (One earlier post discusses the third trumpet, Wormwood, and another discusses the fifth trumpet, the locust invasion.) Then in Revelation 10:

  • A mighty angel comes down from heaven, whose appearance (verse 1) is similar to that of Jesus in Revelation 1:15-16, and his behavior resembles that of “the man clothed in linen” who announces the shattering of the holy people in Daniel 12:7.
  • This mighty angel “sets his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land” (verses 2, 5).
  • He swears that, without any further delay (verse 6), the sounding of the seventh trumpet would bring about the completion of the mystery of God (verse 7).

The expression, “His servants the prophets” (verse 7), was commonly used in the Old Testament to refer to the prophets God sent to the nation of Israel (e.g. II Kings 9:7, Jeremiah 7:25, Zechariah 1:6, and especially Daniel 9:6). The expression, “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 (see also 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).

Paul told the Ephesians that 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). Then in Ephesians 3:6, Paul explicitly defines this mystery, and this definition 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.

Indeed, in the previous chapter, Paul had already declared that Jesus had “broken down the middle wall of division” between Jews and Gentiles, creating “one new man from the two” (Eph. 2:14-15). They were joined together “into a holy temple in the Lord” (verse 21) and were “being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (verse 22). This, of course, lines up with other New Testament declarations that, in Jesus, there is no difference, no favoritism, and no distinction between Jews and non-Jews (Romans 10:12, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).

Here is one place where fulfilled eschatology and futurist eschatology can stand very far apart. Steve Gregg has edited an excellent book titled, “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).” His book features parallel commentaries from four different viewpoints regarding the book of Revelation. We have already observed how “the mystery of God” is clearly defined throughout the New Testament. Notice, then, how this phrase in Revelation 10:7 is defined in vastly different ways by [1] futurists and [2] preterists in Gregg’s book:

Futurist Interpretations of Revelation 10:7
Preterist Interpretations of Revelation 10:7
“Everything will then be made plain. The mystery of retribution—the mystery of predestination—the mystery of the great struggle between light and darkness and good and evil—all will be explained then” (H.A. Ironside, pp. 209-211).
“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” (David Chilton, p. 208).
“The reference to the mystery of God seems to mean truth concerning God Himself which has not been fully revealed. It is often overlooked, however, that the mystery is said to have been ‘declared to his servants the prophets’ (v. 7). The mystery of God which is declared as subject to fulfillment is unfolded therefore in the Old Testament in many passages which speak of the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth” (John Walvoord, p. 209).
“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.’ The mystery itself, of course, is… ‘that the Gentiles should come into the church on an equal footing with the Jews, not first having to become Jews themselves…’” (Jay Adams, p. 208).
[The mystery of God is] the secret of His allowing Satan to have his own way, and man too (that is to say, the wonder of evil prospering and of good being trodden underfoot)” [William Kelly, p. 209].
 
“How great has been that mystery! Evil had apparently triumphed; the heavens for so long have been silent. Satan had been permitted to be the god of this age deceiving the nations… And now the time has come when the mystery of God will be completed” (Arno C. Gaebelein, p. 209).
 

Each of these futurist interpretations of Revelation 10:7 completely miss Paul’s clear definition of the mystery of God. Perhaps, among futurists, there is a deliberate reluctance to compare Scripture with Scripture in this case, knowing that the first century transition from the old covenant to the new covenant (Hebrews 8:13) is easy to see here.

In this passage (Revelation 10:1-7), we can see the significance of the angel standing with one foot on the sea and one foot on the land (verses 2, 5). Numerous scholars have recognized a Scriptural pattern where “the sea” often represents Gentile nations and “the land” (or “the earth”) represents Israel. P.S. Desprez, for example, in his 1855 book, “The Apocalypse Fulfilled,” wrote the following concerning the expression “those who dwell on the earth” which appears often in Revelation:

“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.”

My 3-part study on this pattern can be seen here (part 1, part 2, part 3).

So if the sea is interpreted as a reference to the Gentiles, and the land as a reference to Israel (i.e. the Jews, generally speaking), then the image of the angel with one foot on both suggests a bridging of the gap between the two. This is precisely what we see in Paul’s definition of the mystery of God and his teachings that, in Christ, Jews and Gentiles are one. “Gentiles in the flesh” were once “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:11-12), but, in Christ, they were “no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens” (verse 19).

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. This mystery was made complete in John’s day, in the first century. All delay soon came to an end (Rev. 10:6) and the temple in Jerusalem, the chief symbol of old covenant Judaism and Israel’s national pride, was 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).

“…but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets” (Revelation 10:7).

Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever! …Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple…” (Revelation 11:15-19).

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All of our studies on the book of Revelation can be seen here.

Revelation: The Land (“Ge”) Is Referenced 22 Times More Often Than the World (“Kosmos”)


It’s well-known that the book of Revelation foretells, among other things, a series of frightening judgments falling upon an entity known as Babylon the Great and “the harlot.” Just as importantly, Revelation also portrays beautiful worship scenes and glorious destinies and realities for God’s people. Regarding the judgments, Does John picture them being poured out upon the entire planet, or upon a particular location?

Jonathan Welton, author of the book “Raptureless,” has created another helpful graphic illustrating the fulfillment of Bible prophecy (See his previous graphic on Daniel 2 illustrating that God’s kingdom has come). Titled “John’s Olivet Discourse: A Look at the Writings of John,” Welton’s graphic [1] makes a case that the book of Revelation contains John’s version of the Olivet Discourse [2] shows some of John’s time tables [3] notes an important principle of Bible interpretation, and [4] shows that John speaks far more about local events in Revelation than he speaks about global events.

We can also add Revelation 1:1 and 1:3 to Welton’s list of time statements made by the apostle John:

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place.
Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.

The last part of Welton’s graphic is very informative. The following chart takes the numbers he provides (plus a couple more that I looked up) and allows us to see how focused John was on local events in the book of Revelation compared to his gospel account:

John’s books Number of chapters in each book Number of times John uses the word “kosmos,” meaning the entire planet Number of times John uses the word “ge,” meaning the land (a region)
The Gospel According to John 21 57 3
I John 5 17 1
II John 1 1 0
III John 1 0 0
Revelation 22 3 67

In other New Testament passages where the word “ge” is translated as “earth,” many assume that those passages are speaking about the entire planet. We need to be more careful with this assumption. One instance where it appears is in Luke’s version of the Olivet Discourse (Luke 21:23). There, Luke is clearly speaking about Israel. Some Bible versions translate this word as “earth,” while others translate it as “land.” Here is how Luke 21:23 reads, in context:

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people” (Luke 21:20-23).

The same word that Luke used in reference to Judea is the one that John used 67 times in the book of Revelation.

18 Case Studies on How John Used “Ge” to Speak of 1st Century Israel in Revelation

In 2010 I wrote a 3-part series tracking this phenomenon throughout the book of Revelation. The phrase “those who dwell on the earth” appears 10 times in Revelation, and at least a couple dozen more times in various forms. This series presents 18 case studies showing when and how this expression is used, examining the context in each case, and seeing how it’s used elsewhere in Scripture. A strong case is made that this expression in Revelation indicates 1st century apostate Israel. This series can be seen here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. If you have the time to read it, I believe you’ll find it informative.

A Final Note on How John Used the Word “Kosmos” Three Times in Revelation

Although it’s fun and enlightening to see how John used the word “ge” so many times in reference to the land of Israel, it’s also enlightening to see how he used the word “kosmos” to speak of the planet on which we live. Two of these instances concern those whose names are, or are not, written in the Book of Life. This is a global reference, as it ought to be, for the body of Christ is global and the message of the gospel is for every nation, tribe, language, and tongue. The third reference is to the kingdom of God, its triumph and greatness over all the kingdoms of this world (planet), and the eternal and universal reign of Jesus Christ:

1. “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'” (Rev. 11:15)
2. “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
3. “The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is” (Rev. 17:8).

“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)

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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.

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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).

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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.