Prophetic speculation is rampant. Books dealing with the end times continue to flood the market. Is America part of Bible prophecy? What about Russia? Two recent books. Let’s not forget blood moons . . . earthquakes . . . ellipses . . . hurricanes . . . wars. Probably the most talked about and written about so-called end-time sign relates to Israel. We’ve been told to keep an eye on Israel. The book of Revelation is “all about Israel.” The thing of it is, Revelation is all about Israel. But you’ll be surprised to learn that the modern state of Israel is not the Israel Revelation is discussing.
Brian Godawa has been studying and writing and speaking on the topic of Bible prophecy for many years. The following article is his latest attempt to put the book of Revelation in historical perspective. — Gary DeMar
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ONE LITTLE WORD CHANGES EVERYTHING
REVELATION IS SURELY ONE OF THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL AND DEBATED BOOKS OF THE BIBLE. IT IS VISIONARY, IT IS FANTASTIC, IT IS EARTH-SHATTERING IN ITS SIGNIFICANCE. AND I HAD ALWAYS ASSUMED IT WAS ABOUT THE END OF THE WORLD IN OUR FUTURE. BUT I WOULD EVENTUALLY DISCOVER THAT IT WAS NOT ABOUT THE END OF THE WORLD, BUT ABOUT THE END OF THE OLD COVENANT AND ITS EARTHLY ELEMENTS OF HOLY CITY AND TEMPLE IN THE PAST. IT IS EARTH-SHATTERING IN HEAVENLY SIGNIFICANCE, BUT NOT IN EARTHLY GEOGRAPHIC SCOPE.
AND I CAN PROVE THAT WITH ONE LITTLE WORD: EARTH.
You see, the word “earth” shows up a lot in English translations of Revelation, and it is that word that makes it so apparently obvious to modern readers that it’s about the end of the world, the earth.
Here are some examples of “earth” used in Revelation:
- The horsemen of the apocalypse “take peace from the earth” (Rev 6:4) and kill “a fourth of the earth” (Rev 6:8).
- The seven trumpets of woe are blown over “those who dwell on the earth” (Rev 8:13).
- The seven bowls of wrath are “poured out upon the earth” (Rev 16:1).
- God avenges the blood of his martyrs by judging those “who dwell on the earth” (Rev 6:10).
- The Two Witnesses call down plagues upon the earth (Rev 11:6).
- The grape harvest of wrath is judgment “of the earth” (Rev 14:18-19).
- The Great Harlot, Mystery Babylon, is guilty of the “earth’s abominations” (Rev 17:5) and the blood of “all who have been slain on the earth” (Rev 18:24).
The problem is that the English word conjures in our modern scientific minds a picture of the globe, as seen in NASA pictures. That is not what it meant to the ancient Jews writing and reading Revelation. The Greek word translated “earth” (gē), and its Hebrew equivalent in the old testament (eretz) has several different meanings based on context. One of those meanings may be the earth as God’s creation (Gen 1:1), but more often it means, soil, ground, individual countries or regions, or land.
And that word “land” is the key. Because to the ancient Israelite, the word “land” was an often repeated meme that meant “the land of Israel.” As scholar Kenneth Gentry explains in his forthcoming commentary on Revelation, in the Old Testament, a majority of the contexts that the word for “earth” appears (both Hebrew and Greek) refer to the land of Israel. He writes,
This particularly abundant use of gē is significant in that the land promised to Israel was central to God’s covenant with her (e.g., Ge 12:1–7; Ex 3:7–18; 6:2–8). The Land was one of the three realia [objects] dominating her devotion: the Land, Jerusalem, and the temple. As [the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis] (1:522) puts it: “the land on which Israel lived forms one of the primary theological and ethnic foci of the faith of Israel and of the OT scriptures.” When God established Israel as a nation, her founding documents elevated the Land as the first of these great hopes: “In terms of the Hexateuch there is probably no more important idea than that expressed in terms of the land promised and later granted by Yahweh.” In fact, “the motif of the Promised Land is a major pattern in the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua” (DBI 665), which record the historical foundations of Israel as a people, society, and nation. The Land was also “of central importance to all of the writing prophets” (AB 4:149). Indeed, “the prominence of the Land of Israel in the Bible is the result of deep religious conviction, pervading all sacred Jewish literature.”
Here is how I know that “earth” should be better translated as “land” in most of Revelation, and in particular meaning the land of Israel: Take a look at the beginning of the letter where John explains one of the main purposes of the judgment he was predicting: “Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of Him” (Rev. 1:7).
So, you would assume the “tribes of the earth” is a reference to everyone on the earth. Jesus is coming to judge everyone on the earth. Sounds simple, right? But you would be wrong.
That Old Testament prophecy that John quotes is from the book of Zechariah…