Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (LVII)

June 21, 2010

It is impossible to discuss adequately the relationship between Revelation 5:10 and 7:9 without getting into the wider usage that I have elsewhere called the “earth-dwellers” and the “heaven-dwellers” in the Apocalypse.  This will take a while.  So, you have two choices: 1) Settle in and read on, realizing that your patience will be richly rewarded; or 2) Look elsewhere on this blog and find my previous article, “The ‘Earth-Dwellers’ and the ‘Heaven-Dwellers’ in Revelation: An Overlooked Interpretive Key” (published in the theological journal, Faith and Mission, in 2001).

If you choose to move on to the article, I understand.  It’s all there in a convenient condensed form.  However, since I have had almost nine additional years to reflect on this material since I wrote the article, I think it is fair to say that I now have some additional ammunition to roll out—which you will miss out on, if you go the article route.  In the end, of course, it’s your choice.

It works better to start with the “earth-dwellers,” because they are mentioned first in the Book of Revelation.  The first usage of the phrase, which can be accurately paraphrased as “the earth-dwellers” (Gk. tous katoikountas epi tes ges), is in 3:10.  Notice that the promise to the church at Philadelphia is to “keep them from the hour of testing (Gk. peirasmou)” (i.e., a stated period of time) which will come upon the whole world (i.e., not just Asia Minor) for one stated purpose: to test (Gk. peirasai) “the earth-dwellers.”

When the dust settles, what is realized is that this verse initially sets up what will be a developing idea through much of the Book of Revelation: there are two categories of people, with very different futures in the Apocalypse.  Those in the category with the faithful church in Philadelphia are promised that they will be kept from the future universal “hour of testing.”  In stark contrast, those called “the earth-dwellers” are said to be the focus of the Divine judgment of that “hour of testing.”

A good question to bring into play here is: “What is meant by the ‘hour of testing’?”  It is a widely held—and I think correct—view that this wording is talking about the so-called Tribualtion period at the end of the age.  But, is there specific textual evidence to that effect?

Yes, I think there is.  In my mind, the parallelism between the following wording in 3:10 and 7:14 strongly infers they are both speaking of the same period of time:

3:10- ek tes horas peirasmou tes mellouses erchesthai epi tes oikoumenes holes (“from the hour of testing which is about to come upon the whole world”)

7:14- ek tes thlipseos tes megales (“from the Great Tribulation”)

The much longer wording in 3:10 describes the global impact of what is called “the hour of testing” for the earth-dwellers—from which the church at Philadelphia and, by application, all believers are protected.  The shorter, but still clearly parallel, wording in 7:14 chooses to employ well-known eschatological phraseology out of Daniel 12:1 and Matthew 24:21 to speak of the same period.  Because of the obviously parallel wording (i.e., ek tes horas vs. ek tes thlipseos), if the wording in 3:10 is taken to mean that believers are promised protection from the very time period itself (i.e., “the hour of testing”), the same would be true in 7:14 (i.e., the innumerable multitude arrives in heaven before “the Great Tribulation”).

Before moving on, we do well to ask who “the earth-dwellers” are in the wider Apocalypse.  To cut to the chase, 13:8 and 17:8 tell us that they are the non-elect.  That explains why they party after the death of the two witnesses in 11:10 and worship the Beast and his image in chapter 13.  It does not explain the only very slightly different wording in 14:6 (tous kathemenous epi tes ges): a group to whom the climactic preaching of “the eternal gospel” is directed known as, literally “those who sit on the earth.”  More on this group later!

Now, we go back to the second usage of “the earth-dwellers” in Revelation, in 6:10.  As the fifth seal is lifted from the scroll which had been seen in Jesus’ hand in 5:1ff., the words of the martyrs in heaven make it clear that “the earth-dwellers” are the ones who are guilty in their deaths.  Also, their question—“How long… until you judge and avenge our blood on the earth-dwellers?”—makes it clear that “the hour of testing” predicted in 3:10 could not yet have begun.  Why?  Because 3:10 says it is for the purpose of judging the earth-dwellers, which 6:10 effectively communicates has not yet started.

By contrast, when you arrive at 8:13, the third usage of the phrase “the earth-dwellers,” it does seem as if “the hour of testing… upon the whole world” (3:10) has most likely begun.  The effects of the first four trumpet judgment are much stronger than the corresponding part of the unsealing sequence in chapter 6.  There will undoubtedly be many people who die in the ships destroyed in 8:9 and by the poisonous water in 8:11.  However, it is only in the preview of the last three trumpet judgments in 8:13 in which we get the sense that they will be targeted directly at “the earth-dwellers,” in keeping with the Lord’s promise in 3:10.

Among other things, what that means is that the locust stings and the invasion of the demonic army of 200 million in chapter 9 are focused on the earth-dwellers, with the explanation about their utter lack of repentance in 9:20-21 being ultimately because they are the non-elect (13:8; 17:8).  And, since the seventh trumpet judgment apparently telescopes out structurally to include the climatic judgments of the bowls of wrath (ch. 16), that also explains the non-repentance expressed in 16:9, 11.

At this point, there is enough textual data in play to draw an important conclusion: the “hour of testing” predicted in 3:10 to come upon “the earth-dwellers” is not indicated in the text to be taking place until during the trumpet judgments (8:13).  Further, the most natural understanding of how the final three trumpets play out in the wider book extend that judgment on through the bowls of wrath to the Second Coming of Christ.  Relatedly, the question asked the Lord by the martyrs in 6:10 is most naturally taken to mean that the judgment of 3:10 has yet to begin at that point.

There is much more that could be said here.  However, I have run the risk of moving quickly through a limited—though I think sufficient—amount of data to make my point and hold your attention without going on at great length.  (Also, please understand that I am going to wait until after I have laid out the relevant data on “the heaven-dwellers” before I draw my overall conclusions.

Before we close this post, we need to quickly return to the odd wording “those who sit on the earth” in 14:6.  As we will see next time, that wording is one of several bridges to understanding the meaning and significance of “the heaven-dwellers.”

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