PMW 2022-068 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
This is the fourth and final article in a series exploring the meaning of “those who dwell on the earth” in Revelation. I am arguing that “earth” should be translated “Land” (i.e., of Israel), and that the phrase refers to the Jews in Israel. So let’s continue!
We find the second clear reference in our text in 6:10. Here we read: “They cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth [tōn katoikountōn epi tēs gēs]?’” (6:10). That the Land-dweller phrase clearly applies to Jews in Israel appears on the following evidence.
(1) In the NT the only other phraseology outside of Rev that is similar to this appears in Lk 21:35 which bears “striking similarities” (Penley 90; cp. 105ff) to Rev 6:10 and which applies to Israel in AD 70. There we read of judgment that will suddenly come: “for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.” As I argue in the Introduction to this commentary, John’s drama is a revelation from Jesus Christ (1:1) and draws frequently from Jesus’ teaching. In fact, the seals specifically follow the pattern of his Olivet Discourse and Lk 21:35 appears in Luke’s version of that Discourse. There in Luke the phrase is expanded: epi pantas tous kathēmenous epi prosōpon pasēs tēs gēs. The major translations give a universalistic reading along the lines of the NASB: “all those who dwell on the face of all the earth.” The translators are mistaken, for Luke 21 is dealing with God’s judgment on Israel. As evidence I would offer the following:
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(a) The Lord’s eschatological discourse arises from his announcing the temple’s approaching doom (Lk 21:5–6). (b) He expressly warns his disciples of the desolation coming upon Jerusalem (v 20), the need to flee from Judea (v 21), and the Gentile trampling of the holy city (v 24). Within this five verse section (Lk 21:20–24) — which clearly emphasizes Jerusalem’s destruction — appears his first mention of “the land” and its people: “there will be great distress upon the land, and wrath to this people” (anagkē megalē eip tēs hēs kai orgē tō laō toutō). Most commentators recognize this as referring to Israel. Thus, what we have here is “Luke’s first use of tēs gēs in the eschatological discourse sets a precedent that is taken up again in Lk. 21.35” (Penley 100). (d) Immediately after Jerusalem’s destruction (vv 20–24) Jesus mentions cosmic signs that cause dismay among the nations, which is language that is applied to Israel’s judgment in the OT. We see this in Jer 4:27–28 (=Israel, vv 14, 16, 20, 22) and Joel 2:10 (=Israel, vv 1 [hoi katoikountes tēn gēn], 12–13, 15–18). Thus, in these OT references, as in Lk 21, God’s localized judgment reverberates throughout the earth (see the clear example of Egypt’s judgment causing dismay among many nations, Eze 32:7–10). (e) In Lk 21 Jesus repeatedly warns of the nearness of the judgment (which we know relates to AD 70, vv 20–24). The word “near” (engus / eggizei) appears in vv 28b, 30, 31b, as well as the statement “this generation will not pass away until all things take place” (v 32).
(2) John’s record of the cry of the martyrs also strongly reflects the sentiment (at least) of Jesus’ statement (though having only a small lexical correspondence) that is uttered just before the Olivet Discourse. In 6:10 we read their cry for God’s “judging and avenging our blood [haima] on those who dwell “on the earth” (epi tēs gēs). In Mt 23:35 he warns Jerusalem: “upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood [haima] shed on earth [epi tēs gēs].” The martyr’s cry for God’s judgment against who shed their blood corresponds with Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees and religious rulers of Israel (Mt 23:2, 29). I would note also that the context of both statements includes the idea of filling up the proper number of martyrs: “You are the sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure” (Mt 23:31–32) / “rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants . . . would be completed” (Rev 6:11). They also involve the nearness of God’s wrath: “all these things will come upon this generation” (Mt 23:36) / “rest for a little while longer, until” (Rev 6:11). In Exc 8 (at 6:11) below I will provide abundant evidence that first-century Jews did severely persecute Christians.
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(3) As just noted, the seal judgment in 6:11 urges them to rest only “for a little while longer” (Rev 6:11). This requires that their vindication through God’s judgment upon their enemies (“the Land-dwellers”) would be soon. This matches well with AD 70 and the argument that these are indeed dwellers in the Promised Land of Israel. John wrote his great prophetic work almost 2000 years ago.
(4) I would also note that immediately following the fifth seal, the sixth one speaks of “the kings of the earth” (6:15). I show in the Exc 2 (at 1:5) that this seems to be John’s imagery for the religious rulers of Israel, as kings of the “Land.” This fulfills (at least in part) the promised judgment against Land-dwellers in the preceding seal judgment. John associates the Land-dwellers with the “kings of the Land’ once again in 17:2. And just as the blood of the martyrs deserves vindication against the Land-dwellers in 6:10, so the “kings of the earth” in 17:2 are “drunk with the wine of her [Babylon-Jerusalem’s] immorality which involves being “drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus” (17:6).
Our final two clear references appear in 11:10: “those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.”
As Charles (1:289–90) argues, the Land-dwellers in 11:10 necessarily refers to “the inhabitants of Palestine” because the events there occur in Jerusalem (11:1–2, 8). On p. 289 he further notes regarding our phrase here (the only place in Rev where he interprets it thus): “It is hard to see what the inhabitants of the earth would have to do with the two prophets who appear in Jerusalem in the struggle against the Beast from the abyss. And besides, when the Witnesses fell, the inhabitants could within three and a half days hear of their death, rejoice and send presents to each other; but this could not be possible if the phrase were taken to mean the inhabitants of the earth.” He continues (289–90): “the phrase meant the inhabitants of Palestine, and there is no convincing ground for assigning a different meaning to it.”
This whole setting in Rev 11 fits perfectly with John’s Israel-judgment theme (1:7). And it strongly underscores the meaning of the Land-dwellers as representing the Jews in the Land of Israel.. As I will demonstrate in the commentary at the proper place, this chapter opens with a reference to the coming destruction of the temple in 11:1–2 which is strongly modeled on Lk 21:24 as found in the Olivet Discourse. Then it moves on to relate the deaths of the two mysterious prophets who are slain in the street of Jerusalem (11:8) which causes the Land-dwellers to rejoice (11:10).
Second, the very likely allusions. Like 3:10 (a clear allusion) both 13:7–8 and 14:6 set “every nation and tribe and tongue and people” over against the “land dwellers.” These verses probably continue the pattern of synthetic parallelism established in 3:10. Rev’s main theme is God’s judgment upon Israel (1:7) but it places Israel’s situation squarely within the wider Roman imperial setting. Not only so but, the Land-dwellers are set in theological contrast to those who “dwell in heaven” at 13:6, just as are the Jews (or Jerusalem) in Gal 4:25 and Heb 12:22. (And just as the earthly altar and temple are set in opposition to the heavenly altar and temple.) The Jewish interest in the Land and the externals of religious devotion are well known. Thus, the first-century Jews are particularly interested in a Messiah who would free their Land from Roman rule (Jn 6:15; Lk 24:21). Rev will be showing an “exodus” out of the Land though. By his synthetic parallelism John is theologically condemning them for their fixation upon earthly things.
Third, the quite possible allusions. In 17:2 we see the Land-dwellers linked with the “kings of the earth [Land]” as in 6:10–11. This linkage suggests their possible relationship as people (Land-dwellers) to their rulers (kings of the Land, the Jewish religious leaders). If this linkage holds (and I believe it does), then it would draw in with it the Land-dwellers in 17:8.
Fourth, uncertain allusions. The remaining examples of the Land-dwellers are found in 8:13 and 13:12, 14 [2x]. Their contextual settings are not clear on the surface, though I believe that a proper interpretation of those contexts well support their uniform identification along with the others.
As I show above, and as I will show even more in comments on each of the relevant passages, John uses the Land-dweller phrase in speaking of the non-Christian Jews in Palestine. This term is used in a derogatory way to expose Israel’s vehement opposition to Christ and his people.
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