PMT 2015-044 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is the second in a series answering a reader’s (Rick) question as to whether preterism leaves us empty and spiritually depressed (see PMT 2015-043). I did not think that telling him that I feel pretty good on most days would be all that helpful. He obviously is seriously considering the implications of preterism, and I commend him for that.
In the introductory article I presented his question, then reduced it to a series of focused observations. In this article I will consider the first implication.
What is the mountain burning with fire in Rev 8:8? That text reads: ‘The second angel sounded, and something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea; and a third of the sea became blood.’ Preterism seems to reduce this enormous catastrophe to a relatively minor occurrence.
In asking this question Rick was assuming that the preterist sees this burning mountain as an image of the Roman siege equipment arrayed against Israel in AD 70. Though this could possibly be speaking of such, I think there is a better understanding available to us.
Given the fact that Revelation is clearly focusing on AD 70 — due its near-term indicators (Rev 1:1, 3; 22:6, 10) and its theme of judgment against the Jews for killing Christ (Rev 1:7) — I believe an alternative view is much superior.
We must recognize that Scripture often uses mountains to represent kingdoms (Isa 2:2–3; 42:15; Jer 51:25; Am 6:4; Mic 6:1–2; Rev 17:9–10). So here in Rev 8:8 the imagery suggests the collapse of a kingdom. And given John’s time-frame and Jewish-focus, it speaks of the destruction of the nation of Israel.
More particularly though, in keeping with the exodus imagery so abundant in the trumpet judgments and throughout Rev, the “great mountain burning with fire” which was “thrown into the sea” (8:8a) reverses Israel’s Mount Sinai experience. At that original smoldering-mountain episode (Ex 19:16–18), God establishes Israel as a nation (Ex 19:5–6) after her exodus from Egyptian bondage (Ex 20:1). But here in Rev Israel as a nation is destroyed as she is “thrown” down “into the sea” as Rome overwhelms her.
But there is more! John’s imagery appears to be multi-faceted, for this reversal of their Sinai experience also applies Babylon-destruction imagery to Israel. When Babylon falls in the OT, Jeremiah likens it to being overwhelmed by the sea: “The sea has come up over Babylon; / She has been engulfed with its tumultuous waves” (Jer 51:42). That image in Jeremiah almost certainly speaks of the flood of armies overflowing her, as John’s does here in Rev. Jeremiah also speaks of Babylon as a “burnt out mountain”: “‘Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, / Who destroys the whole earth,’ declares the LORD, / ‘And I will stretch out My hand against you, / And roll you down from the crags, / And I will make you a burnt out mountain’” (Jer 51:25).
But this is not all of the significance packed into this image!
The burning-mountain image focuses even more narrowly on a particularly significant result of the collapse of Jewish government in AD 70. It reflects the fiery destruction of Israel’s beloved temple — which destruction could not happen apart from the collapse of the Jewish state. This is significant in that, the temple is the central focus of Israel’s religious affections. And in the OT God’s temple is called a “holy mountain” (Isa 56:7), “the mountain of the house of the Lord” (2Ch 33:15; Isa 2:2–3; Mic 4:1–2; cp. Jer 26:18; Eze 43:12).
John probably also alludes to Jesus’ prophecy regarding the temple mount in Matt 21 (we must remember that John’s great prophecy is “the revelation of Jesus Christ” [Rev 1:1a]). After he cleanses the temple (Matt 21:12–13) and curses the fig tree (Matt 21:20), and just before he denounces the temple authorities (Matt 21:23–46), the Lord prophetically declares: “Truly I say to you, if you have faith, and do not doubt, you shall not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it shall happen” (Matt 21:21). This points to the coming destruction of that temple which sat on the Temple mount.
John’s image of the burned mountain (temple-mount) cast into the sea anticipates the final destruction of Jerusalem-Babylon which is later expressed as follows: “And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste! Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.’ Then a strong angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, ‘So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer’” (18:19–21).
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In AD 70 the Jewish temple sitting on the temple mount is burned as the Roman legions flood into Jerusalem over her toppled walls — as per the image in Rev 8:8. Josephus speaks of the elevated location of the temple: “Now this temple, as I have already said, was built upon a strong hill” (J.W. 5:5:1 §184). Thus, he records the terrible site of the temple’s burning with the following tragic words employing mountain-burning imagery:
“While the holy house was on fire, every thing was plundered that came to hand, and ten thousand of those that were caught were slain; nor was there a commiseration of any age, or any reverence of gravity, but children, and old men, and profane persons, and priests were all slain in the same manner; so that this war went round all sorts of men, and brought them to destruction, and as well those that made supplication for their lives, as those that defended themselves by fighting. The flame was also carried a long way, and made an echo, together with the groans of those that were slain; and because this hill was high, and the works at the temple were very great, one would have thought the whole city had been on fire.” (J.W. 6:5:1 §271–73)
The destruction of the temple is no small, local matter. It results in the final closing of the old covenant and the removal of the temple system. Preterism is not making much ado about nothing. And John most definitely uses imagery in his remarkable book — images such as a seven-headed beast, fire-breathing prophets, lion-headed locusts, and a woman standing on the moon.
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