by Duncan McKenzie
I would like to address the what and why of Revelation. By what and why I mean, what is Revelation talking about and why is it using the symbols it uses? Is there any reason why Revelation is using the images that it does? The answer to this question is a definite yes. Revelation is showing the covenant curses that God said He would bring on His unfaithful old covenant people.
The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Antichrist and the Second Coming. The book is finished but I am still revising and refining it. It is 855 pages and will probably be 900 pages by the time it is done (maybe a svelt 600-700 pages in book form?)
Having looked at the when of Revelation (when it was written) and the how of the book (how to interpret it) I would like to address the what and why of Revelation. By what and why I mean, what is Revelation talking about and why is it using the symbols it uses? Is there any reason why Revelation is using the images that it does? The answer to this question is a definite yes.
I have already touched on how the images of two “women” (the harlot and the bride) who are two “cities” (Babylon and New Jerusalem) are symbolic of the two covenants (just like the two women/cities of Gal. 4:21-31 are). Revelation is unveiling the events surrounding the destruction of the old covenant and the full establishment of the new, the harlot is destroyed and then the bride becomes married; see my article “The Subject of Revelation for Dummies” http://planetpreterist.com/news-5044.html. Consistent with this is the fact that images of covenant judgment are pervasive throughout Revelation. The average Christian doesn’t notice them because he doesn’t know his Old Testament very well; as proof of this I ask the reader to see how many of the OT covenant curses he or she can name.
The book of Revelation draws many of its images from the covenant curses of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Indeed the very structure of Revelation (four sets of seven judgments) is built on the covenant curses that were to come on Israel (which also consisted of four sets of seven judgments, see below). These curses would culminate with the destruction of the harlot (unfaithful Israel) in Revelation 17-18 (cf Deut. 31:16-18; Ezek. 16) by the Antichrist (the beast).
In Leviticus and Deuteronomy God spoke of the plagues and curses that would come on His unfaithful old covenant people when they broke the covenant. In Leviticus 26 God told the children of Israel that if they broke the covenant He would set His face against them (Lev. 26:14-17). If Israel did not repent, God spoke of four sets of plagues and punishments that He would visit on them (Lev. 26:18, 21, 24 and 28). Each one of these sets of punishments was to have a sevenfold fulfillment.
I. Leviticus 26:18: “if you do not obey Me I will punish you seven times more for your sins”
II. Leviticus 26:21. Then, if you walk contrary to Me, and are not willing to obey Me, I will bring on you seven times more plagues, according to your sins.
III. Leviticus 26:23-24 And if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I will punish you yet seven times for your sins.
IV. Leviticus 26:27-28 And after all this, if you do not obey Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.
This pattern of Israel’s covenant punishments, four sets of punishments, each having a sevenfold fulfillment, provides the structure the plagues and punishments found in the book of Revelation. The four sets of sevenfold punishment in Revelation are:
I. The seven seals (Rev. 6:1-17; 8:1)
II. The seven trumpets (Rev. 8:2-10:7)
III. The seven thunders (Rev. 10:3-4)
IV. The seven bowls (Rev. 16:1-21)
A note on the seven thunders: John was instructed not to write down what they uttered so we don’t know exactly what they entailed. Seeing as how the other three sets of seven (the seals, trumpets, and bowls) were plagues and punishments, it follows that the seven thunders were also a set of seven punishments. This is especially true in light of the fact that thunder was often associated with God’s voice of anger and judgment (2 Sam. 22:14-16; Ps. 18:13-15; Is. 29:6). Ladd wrote the following along these lines. “The only hint we have as to the message of the seven thunders is to be found in the fact that in all other passages in the Revelation where thunders occur, they form a premonition of coming judgments of divine wrath (8:5; 11:19; 16:18). This fits the present context, for the angel announces that the consummation of the divine judgments is about to take place.” If John had been permitted to write down what the seven thunders uttered it probably would have been similar to the other sets of seven judgments, something like “the first thunder uttered” (and a certain judgment happened), “the second thunder uttered” (another judgment), and so on.
Ideally the purpose of the covenant punishments by God was not to destroy His old covenant people but to reform them, to get them to repent (“And if by these things you are not reformed by Me, but walk contrary to Me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I will punish you yet seven times for your sins.” Lev. 26:23-24). With this in mind, notice how the lack of repentance in response to the judgments in Revelation is noted in the context of the punishments (e.g. “But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands…” Rev. 9:20; cf. 16:9).
The punishments of Revelation culminate with the judgment and destruction of the great harlot in Revelation 17-18. This is exactly what God told Moses would happen to the children of Israel in the “later days” (…evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands” Deut. 31:29). In the last days (of the old covenant) Israel would end up breaking the covenant (by playing the harlot) and would be destroyed.
And the Lord said to Moses: “Behold you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’” Deut. 31:16-17
Revelation’s Use of the Covenant Curses of Leviticus
Besides providing the structure for the four sets of sevenfold judgments found in Revelation, some of the other connections between the covenant curses of Leviticus 26 and Revelation are the following:
A. Leviticus 26:3, 6 If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them… I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid; I will rid the land of evil beasts, and the sword shall not go through your land.
Israel was told that if she obeyed the Lord there would be peace in the Land and the sword would not go through it. The second seal of Revelation shows a reversal of this, peace is taken from the Land and a sword given to the rider on the red horse.
When He opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come and see.” And another horse, fiery red, went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth [ge, Land], and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword. Revelation 6:3-4 brackets mine
Note, the Greek word “ge” which is usually translated “earth” in Revelation is often more properly translated as Land (i.e. the Promised Land). I will discuss this more later.
B. Leviticus 26:26 When I have cut off your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall bring back to you your bread by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.
The third seal in Revelation 6 shows the supply of grain (and hence bread) being cut off. The price of grain in Revelation 6:6 is ten to fifteen times the usual price. As prophesied in Leviticus it is so scarce it is measured by weight.
When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures sayings, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and wine.” Revelation 6:5-6
The Jews supply of bread was cut off so severely in the Jewish war (AD 66-70) that Josephus recorded people bartering their possessions for a single measure of wheat or barley.
C. Leviticus 26:22, 25 I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, destroy your livestock and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate… And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of My covenant; when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you.
The fourth seal in Revelation shows this death by wild beasts, the sword and pestilence that God had threatened for breaking the covenant.
When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth [Land] to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth [Land]. Revelation 6:7-8 NASB
Again, “earth” should be translated as Land in Revelation 6:8. It was a fourth of the inhabitants of the Land of Israel that were killed by the plagues of AD 66-70, not a fourth of the inhabitants of the earth.
Revelation’s Use of the Covenant Curses of Deuteronomy
The book of Deuteronomy also describes the curses that would come on Israel when they broke the covenant. Some of the connections between the covenant curses described in Deuteronomy and the judgments of Revelation are the following:
A. Deuteronomy 28:26 Your carcasses shall be food for all the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and no one shall frighten them away.
Revelation 19 shows the birds of the air being invited to feast on the slain at the destruction of harlot Babylon at AD 70. There were few survivors left in Jerusalem in AD 70 to frighten away the scavenging birds. During the siege there were so many dead that the Jews couldn’t bury them all; because of this they threw the corpses over the walls of the city. Decomposing bodies filled ravines surrounding Jerusalem (Josephus, The Jewish War 5,7,3).
Then I saw and angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the birds that fly in the midst of heaven, “Come and gather together for the supper of the great God… And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh. Revelation 19:17, 21
B. Deuteronomy 28:41 You shall beget sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours; for they shall go into captivity.
If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. Revelation 13:10 NASB
Revelation 13:10 talks of those who dwell on the Land (Rev. 13:8) who are about to go into captivity. Most of the Jews who were not killed in the Jewish war went into captivity as slaves.
C. Deuteronomy 28:49-52 The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flies, a nation whose language you will not understand, a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show favor to the young. And they shall eat the increase of your livestock and the produce of you land, until you are destroyed; they shall not leave you grain or new wine or oil, or the increase of you cattle or the offspring of your flocks, until they have destroyed you. They shall besiege you at all you gates until you high and fortified walls in which you trust, come down throughout all your land; and they shall besiege you at all your gates and throughout all your land which the Lord your God has given you.
The nation of fierce countenance that God would bring for the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant curses (in AD 70) was Rome. The Romans showed no mercy to young or old (Josephus, The Jewish War 6,8,5); they spoke a language the Jews did not understand (Latin) and their symbol was the eagle. In Revelation 8:13 we are shown a flying eagle that is proclaiming woe against the inhabitants of the Land (note: the NKJV has “angel” instead of “eagle” here. The Critical and Majority texts have “eagle” here; it is most probably the correct reading.)
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound. Rev. 8:13 NASB
The flying eagle says that the next three trumpet blasts are three woes that are specifically focused on the dwellers on the Land (cf. Hosea 8:1 “Set the trumpet to your mouth! He shall come like an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed My covenant and rebelled against My law”). The very next section of Revelation after the flying eagle (ch. 9) contains references to Titus’ invasion of the Holy Land. I discuss this below under the locust plague of Revelation 9:1-11.
D: Deuteronomy 28:53-57 You shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you. The man among you who is sensitive and very refined will be hostile toward his brother, toward the wife of his bosom, and toward the rest of his children whom he leaves behind, so that he will not give any of them the flesh of his children who he will eat, because he has nothing left in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you at all your gates. The tender and delicate woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because of her delicateness and sensitivity, will refuse to the husband of her bosom, and to her son and her daughter, her placenta which comes out from between her feet, and her children whom she bears; for she will eat them secretly for lack of all things in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you at all your gates.
When the Roman armies invaded to the Holy Land in AD 67 they systematically besieged the cities of Israel working their way to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was such a fortified city that Rome’s main tactic was to surround the city to cut it off from essential resources such as food (cf. Luke 19:41-44). The resulting famine was so bad that the desperate quest for food pitted family members against each other (cf. Josephus, The Jewish War 5,10,3). The famine in Jerusalem became so severe that Josephus recorded an incident where a woman of noble birth killed, cooked and ate her infant son
There was a woman, Mary, the daughter of Eleazar, who lived east of Jordan in the village of Bethezuba, distinguished in family and fortune, who had fled with the rest of the people to Jerusalem where she became engulfed in the siege. Most of her property, which she had packed up and brought with her from Peraea to the city, had been plundered by the tyrants; the remnants of her treasure and any food she had managed to procure were being stolen day after day by their henchmen…[One day] seizing her child, a babe at the breast, she cried, ‘Poor baby, why should I keep you alive amidst war, famine and civil strife? We will only face slavery with the Romans, even if we survive until they arrive, but famine will forestall slavery, and the rebels are more cruel than either. Come, be my food and an avenging omen for the partisans, and to the world the only tale as yet untold of Jewish misery.’ So saying, she killed her son, roasted him, and ate one half, concealing and saving the rest…
The woman was discovered when her fellow starving Jews smelled cooking meat and went to investigate. This act (which fulfilled Duet. 28:53) horrified both the Jews and the Romans.
One of the plagues that come on harlot Babylon is famine (“in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire” Rev. 18:8). These plagues that were to come on harlot Babylon are exactly what happened to Jerusalem in AD 70.
E. Deuteronomy 29:19-20 and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying ‘I shall have peace, even though I walk in the imagination of my heart’- as though the drunkard could be included with the sober. The Lord would not spare him; for then the anger of the LORD and His jealousy would burn against that man, and every curse that is written in this book would settle on him, and the Lord would blot out his name from under heaven.
In Revelation, God promises the overcomer that, unlike those who came under the covenant curses, they would not have their life blotted out.
He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. Revelation 3:5
F. Deuteronomy 28:59-60 then the Lord will bring upon you and your descendants extraordinary plagues- great and prolonged plagues-and serious and prolonged sicknesses. Moreover He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you.
God told the children of Israel that he would send “extraordinary plagues” on them for breaking the covenant. He said that He would also bring the plagues of Egypt on His unfaithful old covenant people. Notice that a number of the judgments in Revelation parallel the plagues of Egypt. Jerusalem is even referred to as “Egypt” (Rev. 11:8). The judgments of Revelation bring to mind at least seven of the ten plagues that God brought on Egypt.
1. Water into blood: The first plague of Egypt (Exodus 7:17-21).
Then the second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it became blood as a dead man; and every living creature in the sea died. Then the third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water and they became blood Revelation 16:3-4
2. Frogs: The second plague of Egypt (Exodus 8:2-4).
And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are spirits of demons; performing signs, which go out to the kings of the earth and the whole world, to gather them to the battle of the great day of God Almighty. Revelation 16:13
These frog-like demons go out to gather the kings of the land and whole world for the battle of the great day of the Lord. It should be noted that Scripture consistently shows the battle of the ultimate day of the Lord as happening at Jerusalem (Is. 1-5; Dan. 11:40-12:7; Joel 2:1-11, 3:12-17; Zeph. 1; Zech. 14:1-9).
3. Pestilence: The fifth plague of Egypt (Exodus 9:3-7).
I looked, and behold, an ashen horse and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth [Land] to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth [Land]. Revelation 6:8 NASB brackets mine
4. Boils: The sixth plague of Egypt (Exodus 9:8-12).
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” [Land]. So the first went and poured out his bowl upon the earth [Land], and a foul and loathsome sore came upon the men who had the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. Revelation 16:1-2 brackets mine
5. Hail: The seventh plague of Egypt (Exodus 9:18-26).
And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. And men blasphemed God because of the plague or the hail since that plague was exceedingly great. Revelation 16:21
Josephus (The Jewish War 5,6,3) records that the Romans used catapults to rain great white stones on Jerusalem. These stones weighed a talent each (approximately 100 pounds, cf Rev. 16:21 NASB). Because they were white (like hail), these boulders were easy to see coming. The Roman eventually blackened them, with deadly results. This bombardment on the Jews is portrayed as a plague of hail to highlight the fact that it was the fulfillment of one of the covenant curses that God said he would bring on His unfaithful old covenant people.
6. Locust: The eighth plague of Egypt (Exodus 10:4-20).
Then the fifth angel sounded; And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth [Land]. And to him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. And the sun and the air were darkened because for the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth [Land]. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power…The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men. They had hair like women’s hair, and their teeth were like lions’ teeth. And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle. They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. Their power was to hurt men five months. And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon. Revelation 9:1-3, 7-11 brackets mine
This trumpet judgment (the fifth) involving a locust invasion deserves special attention; please allow me a short digression on it. First, this is the invasion that Joel prophesied (in Joel 1:1-2:11) to happen to Jerusalem on the ultimate day of the Lord (Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; for the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand.” Joel 2:1). These “locusts” have teeth like lions (Rev. 9:8; cf. Joel 1:4-6); the sun is darkened at their coming (Rev. 9:2 cf. Joel 2:2,10); their wings sound like horses and chariots running to battle (Rev. 9:9; cf. Joel 2:4-5).
While the locust army in Revelation 9 is ultimately demonic (coming out of the abyss, vv 1-3) I believe there are many physical referents contained in these symbols to aid in the identification of the historical correlates of this vision. First the king over this locust army is said to be named (in Greek)“Apollyon.”(v. 11). Aune noted an etymological link between Apollyon (which means “destroyer”) and the name of the god Apollo. Osborne also noted this, saying, “The name of the Greek god Apollo was taken from this term, and the locust was one of his symbols, since he was the god of pestilence and plague.” The Greek name for Apollo is "Apollon." Apollo/Apollon was the god of many things, one of them being, the destroyer of the wicked. Many of the ancients associated the name of Apollo with the root word apollumi “to destroy.” (see the Aune reference above) As the god who visited men with plagues, one of his symbols was the locust.
OK, this is all mildly interesting, but what does it have to do with the AD 70 invasion of Jerusalem on the ultimate day of the Lord? The connection between Apollyon and Apollo/Apollon is significant because the Roman legion that Titus headed up was dedicated to Apollo. That legion was the XVth Apollinaris (“sacred to Apollo”). Thus the god of Titus’ legion was Apollo (which in Greek is Apollon), the destroyer of the wicked.
In Revelation 9 verses 5 and 10 there are references to this invasion being five five months (“…their power was to hurt men five months” Rev. 9:10). When Titus came from Egypt for the final siege of Jerusalem (right before Passover of AD 70), the subsequent attack lasted five months. Roman Historian BW Jones wrote that Titus’ final victory over Jerusalem “was achieved after a siege of five months.” Interestingly enough, the time when locust plagues happen in Palestine are the five months of May-September, this was the time of the final siege of Jerusalem.
Given that the XVth Apollinaris was dedicated to Apollo (and that the locust was one of his symbols), it is possible that Titus’ legion carried banners with locusts on them. Notice that the shape of the “locusts” in Revelation 9 is like horses prepared for battle (v. 7), the sound of their wings was like chariots running into battle (v.9). These locusts had a sting in their tail like a scorpion. One of the weapons drawn into battle on the Roman chariots by their war horses was a quick firing arrow launcher; it was nicknamed the scorpion by the Romans. Added to this, the Roman army’s armor was segmented, (similar to the physiology of a locust), they even looked like locust.
Again, ultimately the army here is demonic. This is not simply a symbolic representation of the Roman army; it is a symbolic representation, an unveiling, of the demonic army that was behind the Roman army. The significance of the reference to locusts here is at least two fold. One, it is one of the plagues of Egypt (and thus one of the covenant curses). Two, it alludes to Joel 1-2 and the attack on Jerusalem on the ultimate day of the Lord. As in other places in Revelation, the physical referents (in this case to the Roman army) contained in the symbols provide historical correlates that aid in identifying the manifestation that this demonic invasion would take in the physical realm. Again, the book of Revelation is unveiling the invisible realm of the spirit, making it visible by way of symbols.
7. Darkness: The ninth plague of Egypt (Exodus 10:21-27).
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. Revelation 16:10.
This plague is not on the Land but on the throne of the beast (The Roman Empire). It speaks of the turmoil and confusion that happened after Nero died (July AD 68). The great tribulation involved the whole inhabited world. Rome was on the verge of collapse at this time of empire wide chaos as she went through three back to back civil wars. The Empire wouldn’t recover until December of AD 69. Roman historian Kenneth Wellesley, in speaking of the worldwide upheaval of kingdoms in AD 69, said the following:
The year 69, ‘that long but single year’ as Tacitus had earlier called it, offers a wealth of dramatic incident. After the solid and prosperous security of the first or Julio-Claudian dynasty, the ground opens. The vast edifice of the world empire is shaken. Pretender rises against pretender. The frontier armies move on Rome from Spain, Germany, the Balkans and the East. The frontiers themselves are breached by the barbarian. There are palace conspiracies, sudden assassinations, desperate battles, deeds of heroism and perfidy. The scene shifts continually from one end of the empire to the other, from Britain to Palestine, from Morocco to the Caucasus. Three emperors- Galba, Otho, Vitellius- meet their end. The fourth, Vespasian, survives by fate or chance or merit, and founds his dynasty for good or ill [8}.
G. Deuteronomy 29:22-23 so that the coming generation of your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land, would say, when they see the plagues of that land and the sicknesses which the Lord has laid on it: ‘The whole land is brimstone, salt and burning; it is not sown, nor does it bear, not does any grass grow there, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and His wrath.’
Deuteronomy 32:28-32 For they are a nation void of counsel, Nor is there any understanding in them…For their vine is of the vine of Sodom and of the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of gall, their cluster are bitter.
Not only did God promise to send the plagues of Egypt on His disobedient covenant people (Deut. 28:59-60), He also said the land of Israel would end up like Sodom and Gomorrah (cf. 17:28-37). Revelation makes the connection between “the great city” where Jesus was crucified and both Sodom and Egypt.
And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Revelation 11:8
God had said in Deuteronomy that His disobedient old covenant people would incur the plagues of Egypt, and the Land would be burned up like Sodom. Revelation makes this connection between Jerusalem (the city where Jesus was crucified) and “Sodom and Egypt.” Notice that the city where the Lord was crucified is called “the great city;” it is the same as Babylon, which is also designated as “the great city” (Rev. 17:18; 18:21). The judgment of harlot Babylon (unfaithful Israel) in Revelation was the AD 70 consummation of God’s judgment on the unfaithful dwellers on the Land.
H. Deuteronomy 31:16-17 And the Lord said to Moses: “Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters…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. For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose… Revelation 17:1, 16-17 emphasis mine
When Israel would go after the gods and ways of the Gentiles she was like an unfaithful wife playing the harlot (cf. Ezek. 16, 23). God went so far as to have Hosea marry a harlot as an object lesson of what it was like to be married (i.e. in covenant relationship) to His unfaithful old covenant people
When the LORD began to speak by Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea: ‘Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD.’ Hosea 1:2
The primary Old Testament image for the covenant is that of marriage. God’s covenant relationship with His people is likened to a covenant of marriage. This image is central to Revelation; the unfaithful old covenant wife is destroyed and then the faithful new covenant bride becomes married (Rev. 19; cf. Matt. 22:1-10). The kingdom of God was fully established at AD 70 (Rev. 20) as it was taken from the Jews and given to God’s new covenant people (Matt. 21:36-45).
Revelation 17-19 form the climax of God’s judgment on the Land as He has the Roman beast (the demonic ruler working through Titus) destroy the harlot “city” of Babylon (again, a symbol of God’s unfaithful old covenant people). Babylon was “the great city” where the Lord was crucified (Rev. 11:8; 17:18), it represented unfaithful Israel. Notice that the harlot is denying that she is a widow (she became a widow when she had her Husband, Jesus, killed); she is claiming that she is still a queen (Rev. 18:7). She is dead wrong about this, and soon plagues would come on her so would mourn as a widow should (Rev. 18:8). I have already mentioned how the plagues of harlot Babylon (pestilence, mourning, famine and burning) are exactly what happened to Jerusalem at AD 70.
I. Deuteronomy 31:19-22 When I have brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me and break My covenant. Then it shall be, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify against them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten in the mouths of their descendants, for I know the inclination of their behavior today, even before I have brought them to the land of which I swore to give them. Therefore Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the children of Israel.
In the OT there are two songs of Moses, one in Exodus 15 and one in Deuteronomy 31:14-32:47. The one in Exodus speaks of the deliverance of God’s people from Pharaoh and Egypt (Ex. 15:4); the one I cited above from Deuteronomy speaks of God’s covenant judgment that would come in response to Israel playing the harlot (Deut. 31:16-21). The song of Moses that is sung in Revelation alludes to both of these songs; it talks of the deliverance of God’s true people (from the beast), as well as the coming of His judgment. The judgment meaning of the song of Moses in Revelation 15 should not be missed; the song is sung right before God’s judgment is poured out in Revelation 16 (again, these judgments culminate with the judgment of unfaithful Israel, harlot Babylon, Rev. 16:19).
Revelation 15:2-4 And 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.”
The song of Moses was to be sung as a witness against the children of Israel when God’s judgment came upon them for breaking the covenant (by playing “the harlot with the gods of the foreigner of the land” Deut. 31:16). This song of Moses is sung in Revelation just prior to God’s wrath being poured out in Revelation 16. As God had said in Deuteronomy (31:19-29), the song was a testimony against the dwellers on the Land, a witness as God’s judgments came upon them.
While Israel had violated the covenant and incurred God’s judgment at various times in her history (cf. Dan. 9:10-14), the ultimate judgment for violating the covenant came in AD 70. This was because the Jew’s rejection and murder of Jesus was the ultimate breaking of their covenant relationship with God. Again, notice how the harlot is a widow (although she denies it, Rev. 18:7); she went from a being a queen to a widow when she had her King killed (i.e. Jesus; cf. Matt. 21:5). The final judgment for Israel’s unfaithfulness came in AD 70 with the destruction of the Jewish nation at the Second Coming of Jesus (cf. Dan. 12:7). This was the time that the Gentiles rejoiced as part of God’s true people (Deut. 32:28-43), something that did not happen in any of God’s pre-AD 70 judgments of the children of Israel. In Deuteronomy 28:63-64 God said that when the covenant judgments happened He would pluck the children of Israel off the Land and scatter them from one end of the earth to the other (cf. Rev. 13:10). This was ultimately fulfilled at AD 70 when the Romans scattered the Jews among the nations (cf. Luke 21:20-24).
Deuteronomy 28:63-64 And it shall be, that just as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor you fathers have known-wood and stone.
Finally, God said that when His old covenant people suffered the covenant curses they would be brought back to Egypt as slaves.
Deuteronomy 28:68 And the Lord will take you back to Egypt in ships, by the way of which I said to you. ‘You shall never see it again.’ And there you shall be offered for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you.
Josephus recorded that this happened at the end of the Jewish war in AD 70. At that time the tallest and most handsome of the survivors of the destruction of Jerusalem were taken to Rome; the rest were taken to Egypt as slaves.
All those who had taken part in sedition and brigandage (they informed against each other) he [one of Titus’ men] executed. He picked out the tallest and most handsome of the lot and reserved them for the triumph [in Rome]. Of the rest, those who were over seventeen, he put in chains and sent to hard labor in Egypt, while great numbers were presented by Titus to the provinces to perish in the theaters by sword or by wild beasts…
Also, as prophesied in Deuteronomy 28:68, because of the glut of Jewish prisoners, it was hard to find buyers for them.
Only the citizens [of Jerusalem] were allowed to remain [in Jerusalem]; all the rest were sold, along with the women and children for a trifling price per head, as supply was far in excess of demand…
The New Heaven and Earth
The judgments of Revelation culminate with the destruction of the harlot (Rev. 17-18) and then there is a new heaven and earth Rev. 21-22 (symbolic of the new covenant order). I don’t think most Christians are aware that the OT uses the creation of heaven and earth as a covenant image. In Isaiah God likened the establishment of the old covenant to the establishment of the heaven and earth.
But I am the Lord your God, who divided the sea whose waves roared-The Lord of hosts is His name. And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, lay the foundation of the earth, and say to Zion, “you are My people.” Isaiah 51:15-16 emphasis added
When the Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century BC Jeremiah likened it to a return to the chaos that existed on earth on the first day of creation (cf. Gen 1:2-3).
O my soul, my soul! I am pained in my very heart! My heart makes a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Destruction upon destruction is cried, for the whole land is plundered…I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form, and void; and the heavens, they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and indeed they trembled, and all the hills moved back and forth. I beheld, and indeed there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I beheld, and indeed the fruitful land was a wilderness, and all its cities were broken down at the presence of the Lord, by His fierce anger. Jeremiah 4:19-26 emphasis added
So in the OT the creation of the old covenant was likened to the creation of heaven and earth (Is. 51:15-16). When violence was done to the old covenant it was likened to a return of heaven and earth to its early chaos before man was created (Jer. 4:19-26). Added to this, heaven and earth were the “witnesses” of God’s covenant with Israel (Deut. 30:15-20). Given this use of the creation/destruction of heaven and earth as covenant images, it should not be surprising that Isaiah 65-66 likens the destruction of God’s unfaithful old covenant people and establishment of a new covenant with a new people to the creation of a new heaven and earth. This is significant because Revelation’s images of a new heaven and earth are taken from Isaiah 65-66 (the only place in the OT that explicitly talks about a new heaven and earth).
Isaiah 65-66 speaks of the destruction of God’s old convent people and the full establishment of His new covenant people (in a new heaven and earth). Isaiah said that God’s rebellious old covenant people (Is. 65:2) would be destroyed and a people that were not called by God’s name, a people who did not seek God (Is. 65:1; cf 1 Peter 2:7-10), would then be established.
I was sought by those who did not ask for Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by my name. I have stretched out My hand all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts. A people who provoke Me to anger continually to My face; who sacrifice in gardens, and burn incense on altars of brick…Therefore I will number you [the rebellious people] for the sword, and you shall all bow down to the slaughter; because, when I called you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not hear, but did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight. Therefore thus says the LORD God: ‘behold My servants shall eat, but you shall be hungry; behold My servants shall drink, but you shall be thirsty; behold, My servants shall rejoice, but you shall be ashamed; behold, My servants shall sing for joy of heart, but you shall cry for sorrow of heart, and wail for grief of spirit. You shall leave your name as a curse to My chosen; for the LORD God will slay you, and call His servants by another name; so that he who blesses himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of truth; and he who swears in the earth shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hidden from My eyes. For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. emphasis mine Is. 65:1-2, 12-17
In Romans Paul explicitly says that Isaiah 65-66 is contrasting old covenant Israel with God’s new covenant people (Rom. 10:19-21; cf. 9:21-33). God’s unfaithful old covenant people would be numbered for the sword (Is. 65:12) at the time His new covenant people would be established. This is the time when there would be a new heaven and earth (symbolic of the new covenant order, Is. 65:17). A parallel contrast to this mourning and rejoicing is shown in Revelation 18-19. In Revelation there is rejoicing as the bride becomes married (Rev. 19:1-9) at the time that there is mourning over the destruction of the harlot (Rev. 18:9-20). Isaiah shows this contrast between mourning and rejoicing of these two peoples (“Behold, My servants shall sing for joy of heart, but you shall cry for sorrow of heart Is. 56:14). Isaiah says that God’s new covenant people would be called by a different name (“…for the LORD God will slay you and call His servants by another name” Is. 65:15); as it turned out, that different name was Christian. This happened at the AD 70 destruction of the Jewish nation (cf. Dan. 12:1-7). According to Isaiah this was the time that there would be a new heaven and earth (Is. 65:17-25).
The new heaven and earth in Revelation (and Isaiah) is not heaven. Notice, it still has unrighteous people in it, those outside the New (covenant) Jerusalem (Rev. 22:14-15). The new heaven and new earth is a symbolic representation of the post AD 70 spiritual order of this planet. The old covenant order (the old heaven and earth) flees and the new covenant order (the new heaven and earth) is established (Rev. 20:11; 21:1-2). One has to constantly remember that the truths of Revelation are communicated by way of symbols (Rev. 1:1). In the new heaven and earth hose who are part of the New Jerusalem bride have access to the tree and water of life (Rev. 22:1-2); those outside of the new covenant city do not. The New Jerusalem is a picture of the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:9-10) only those who are in the Lamb’s Book of Life are part of her (Rev. 21:22-27). Those who are not part of the New Jerusalem are not part of the new covenant. There is no more death for those inside the city (Rev. 21:1-4); those outside the city are already dead (spiritually separated from God). Unless they turn to the Lord and become part of the new covenant bride) will end up in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15; 21:7-8, 27; 22:14-15).
Preterism is also known as “covenant eschatology.” While futurism says that Revelation is a more or less literal depiction of the end of the world, preterism says that Revelation is a symbolic depiction of the AD 70 end of the old covenant order and full establishment of the new covenant order. While futurism says that Revelation should be interpreted literally whenever possible (good luck on that), preterism says that Revelation should be interpreted symbolically. While Revelation is essentially symbolic, there are physical referents contained in the symbols to help one correlate a given symbol or set of symbols with their historical fulfillment (e.g. the great hail that weighs a talent, Rev. 16:21). Given the numerous references to the covenant curses in Revelation (indeed the book is patterned on the four sets of sevenfold covenant judgments of Lev. 26), covenant eschatology deserves careful and serious consideration by both layman and scholar.
1. Ladd, Revelation, 143
2. Josephus recorded, “Many secretly bartered their possessions for a single measure of wheat, if they happened to be rich, barley if they were poor. Then they shut themselves up in the darkest corners of their houses; in the extremity of hunger some even ate their grain unground, while others baked it, guided by necessity and fear. Nowhere was a table laid- the food was snatched half-cooked from the fire and torn into piece.” Josephus, The Jewish War, 5, 10, 2 trans. Gaalya Cornfeld (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 387.
3. Josephus, The Jewish War, (6,3,4) Gaalya Cornfeld, trans. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 416-417.
4. Aune, Revelation (52-b) 535.
5. Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moises Silva (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 374
6. In Rev. 9:5-6 we are told that the demonic army was not allowed to kill men (and they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months…In those days men will seek death and will not find it: they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.”). Death here is probably referring to spiritual death, i.e. separation from God (cf. Rev. 21:8; Matt 8:22). Men would seek (spiritual) death because as awful as separation from God is, it is even worse to be in the presence of an angry God. Revelation 6:16-17 makes this point, “And [they] said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
7. B.W. Jones writes, “The victory, achieved after a siege of five months, was celebrated by Titus with a long speech of praise for the army’s valour, with rewards for outstanding acts of bravery and with a festive banquet (BJ 7.1-17).” BW Jones, The Emperor Titus, 55.
8. Kenneth Wellesley, Tacitus: The Histories (New York: Penguin Books, 1975), 9-10.
9. Josephus said the following about the scorpion. “The catapults or scorpions were mechanical contrivances which discharged arrows…” Josephus, The Jewish War, Gaalya Cornfeld (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 219, footnote.
10. ibid The Jewish War 6, 9, 2, 444.
11. ibid The Jewish War, 6, 8, 2, 441.
Duncan McKenzie is a columnist for PlanetPreterist.com. Duncan has Masters and Ph.D degrees in Psychology and currently lives in Los Angeles, California.