Abbreviation: ESV = English Standard Version
Scripture quotations are from ESV.
INTERPRETATION OF REVELATION 9
BY J. S. RUSSELL
“With our attention fixed on a single spot on earth, and absolutely shut up to a very brief space of time, it is comparatively easy to read the symbols, and still more satisfactory to mark their perfect correspondence with facts.” (411, all page numbers in this section refer to Russell) Russell’s interpretation of this chapter follows his approach to all Scriptures that are often interpreted as prophetic by others. The “single spot on earth” is the land of Israel. Any use of the Greek word “ge,” which is usually translated “earth,” he maintains, refers to Israel. The “brief space of time” for Russell is the period from the time of Christ to AD 70, and especially the few years leading up to 70. This time was when the Roman-Jewish conflict was heating up so that it culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70. With this understanding in mind, Russell imposes interpretations of the scenarios in Revelation in ways that reinforce his theory. That theory has come to be called “Preterism” or “Preterist.” Russell is the father of what I call “Evangelical Preterism.” It differs somewhat from the Preterism of scholars whose approach is moderate or liberal.
Trumpet 5 (9:1-12): Russell decides that the locusts who come from the Abyss cannot be a human army. (He decides otherwise for the cavalry in Trumpet 6.) So, he describes them as “the host of hell swarming out upon the curse-stricken land of Israel.” (411, italics in original) The fact that the land was demon possessed, he says, was predicted by Jesus in Matthew 12:43-45. I certainly cannot disagree with this reference. Jesus castigates the generation in which He lived as wicked and unrepentant (Matthew 12:33ff, 12:39ff). Then He describes how a demon goes out of a person and comes back with seven more and enters the cleaned up “house.” The final condition of that person is worse than when he or she was possessed by a single demon. “So it will be” for His generation, writes Russell. The termination, of course, was the AD 70 devastation.
Russell believes that the land was “curse-stricken” (see above), and that the people devolved into terrible immorality and injustice. He cites Josephus to prove his point. However, his citations are lifted out of context. The two citations (412) in Josephus—Book 5, chapter 10 and 13—are not so much descriptions of the degradation of the people. Rather, in each case, Josephus is describing the perfidy of the so-called leadership. These leaders were illegitimate pretenders and horrible tyrants with no regard for the Jewish religion. They treated their people in a terrible fashion and desecrated the Temple well before the Romans ever got to it. In addition, the people themselves did not always behave so nobly, but this mostly was because of the desperate conditions of the siege. (Whiston, 718-726)
The following are details of Russell’s interpretation. These do not differ greatly from those of other interpreters.
· The star fallen from heaven he equates with Satan in his fall. (412-413)
· The cloud of locusts is a host of malignant spirits led by Satan to torment people. (413)
· The abyss is the abode of the demons. (Luke 8:31) (413)
· The torments from the locusts are consistent with the gospels, which describe demon possession as having physical effects. (413)
· The description of the locusts as horses is consistent with the fact that many people compare them to the appearance of horses. (413)
· The five month torture is consistent with the 5-months of the year locusts are typically active. (413)
· The previous two he regards as “minutiae” that are poetic imagery. (413)
· Their king is Satan himself. (413)
· He describes the spiritual condition of the land by using the description used of Babylon in Rev. 18:2. (413-414)
Trumpet 6 (9:13-21): Russell seems to get a little excited about his methodology: “It is in these crucial instances, which defy the dexterity of the most cunning hand to pick the lock, that we prove the power of our master key.” (414) He does not define his “master key” and he does not really apply a single interpretative method to the material. I can only infer that the “master key” is his belief that the time frame is the period approaching and including AD 70 and that the location of all events in Israel and especially Jerusalem. However, those assumptions by themselves do not serve to interpret the passage. Those assumptions give him “permission” to look for any historical fact that might correspond to the material in the passage.
Russell points to Josephus as proof that the “invading army that followed Titus to the siege and capture of Jerusalem was actually drawn in great measure from the region of the Euphrates” and that the four angels represented the four legions guarding the Euphrates. (415) However, when one reads the passage in Josephus (Whiston, 696-699), one learns that only about 3,000 came from the Euphrates to join four legions (about 20,000) from other areas. So, Russell’s claim is exaggerated. He also claims that Tacitus describes the Eastern kings in the area contributing significantly to the manpower of Titus’ army. I read from Tacitus on-line and could find no numbers given, so it is difficult to know how significant this contribution was.
I consider that Russell grasps at whatever he can find that is consistent with his Preterist theory. Note that he employs two very different interpretations of the fifth and sixth trumpets. I do not think he is inaccurate to consider the locusts to be demons. It would seem consistent to regard the cavalry of the sixth trumpet also to represent demons. However, Russell believes he has historical references that he can use in this case. This methodology seems inconsistent and opportunistic.
Russell endeavors to explain the reference in 9:20 to idolatry. He is well aware the Jews were not idolaters in the manner of the pagans throughout the Roman Empire. Yet, this verse seems to refer directly to this sort of idolatry. Russell still believes this verse refers to the Jews, and he promises to prove (in the interpretation of Revelation 17) “that in the Apocalypse the sin of idolatry is imputed to those who, though not guilty of the literal worship of idols, were the obstinate and impenitent enemies of Christ.” (416) This strikes me as another stretch for Russell to make in order to maintain his singular theory. The comment in 9:20 is that “rest of mankind” (who were not killed by the plagues) did not repent of idolatry. The term “mankind” translates “anthropoi,” which usually is translated “men.” I surveyed the use of this word in Young’s Concordance. Is far as I can tell, “anthropoi” is not for “people” in the sense of a country or ethnic group. The term “laos” (from which we get “lay” as in “lay people of the church”) is used for this application. Almost always, “laos” refers to the Jewish “people,” as in Matthew 2:4: “the chief priests and scribes of the people.” On some occasions it refers to the people of God in the church (Titus 2:14). In Revelation 5:9, 7:9, 10:11, etc. it refers to nations or ethnic groups. Another term, “ochlos” is quite often used for “people,” though it is also translated “crowd” or “multitude.” “Anthropoi” can mean a particular group of men (males) or people (of both genders), such as the reference to the apostles in Acts 5:28. It can also refer to people in general, such as Matthew 5:13 (“trampled under people’s feet). So, the use of “anthropoi” in Revelation 9:20 is almost certainly not referring to the Jewish people, but rather to people in general (ESV: “mankind”). Thus, idolatry in its usual sense almost certainly is meant. This presents as many problems for the futurist as it does for Russell (because idolatry is not, at least in the 21st century, characteristic of people in general).
INTERPRETATION OF REVELATION 9
BY J. DWIGHT PENTECOST
The complexity of Dispensationalism is exhibited in Pentecost’s interpretation of the seven trumpets. In some cases his conclusions are consistent with an overall scheme of interpretation, but in other cases he takes great liberty to speculate and create scenarios for which there seems little foundation. Keep in mind that the Tribulation period—also called the 70th Week of Daniel—is the main framework for Dispensational interpretation. In some cases, various passages from Daniel and Ezekiel and other Old Testament Scriptures are the background for their conclusions. One of the problems with their methodology is that they often do not show how a particular New Testament passage, for example in Revelation, is to be identified with an Old Testament passage. For example, in Matthew 24:15, Jesus mentions the Abomination of Desolation that has its origins in Daniel. That provides an anchor for the passage that can be helpful in interpretation. One is warranted to consider the 70th Week of Daniel in relation to the Great Tribulation that Jesus describes in Matthew 24:21. However, the kind of conclusions that Pentecost draws in his interpretation of chapters 8 and 9 of Revelation have no such anchors in the text, and one must ascribe his interpretation to speculation.
The material that I shall describe is found on pages 361-363 of Pentecost.
On these three pages Pentecost interprets each of the seven trumpets at least twice and three times in some cases. There is a loose connection between the two or among the three interpretations, but in some cases the connection is very loose. In most cases, Pentecost begins with a fairly constrained interpretation. He then, in some cases, comes back and draws out from the original interpretation a more “spiritual” or allegorical interpretation. Then, as he seeks to set his interpretation into his big picture of the events of the Tribulation, he brings out a second or third interpretation. Below I have gathered the multiple interpretations for each trumpet.
a. A judgment on the earth
b. “Earth” probably means Palestine: judgment on Palestine
c. Rise of great military powers in the middle of the seven years of the Tribulation
a. Judgment on the sea
b. “Sea” probably means the “nations”: judgment on the Gentile nations
c. Former (established) kingdoms are overthrown by new military powers
a. Judgment on the rivers and fountains of waters
b. “Rivers and fountains” represent the source of spiritual life: judgment upon those from whom living water has been taken away because they believed the lie (II Thessalonians 2:11)
c. A great leader will arise, who is the Beast/Antichrist
a. Judgment on the sun, moon, and stars
b. These represent governmental powers: judgment of God upon world rulers
c. The Beast will overthrow governments and authorities
a. An individual energized by hell who can let loose torment (through the locusts, who are not literal locusts)
b. (Because the 144,000 are referred to in 9:4) the torment is inflicted on reprobate Jews
c. The northern confederacy (of Ezekiel 38) will invade the land of Israel with a “great marching [army]”
a. “[A] great army turned loose to march with destructive force across the face of the earth”
b. An attack on the West, especially western “Christendom”
c. “Gentiles powers will jockey for position, which causes great destruction…”
7th Trumpet: The Second Coming of Christ
Thus, Pentecost understands the seven trumpets to provide an outline of the Tribulation period, especially the second half of that period. My impression of the logic of his interpretation was to approach chapters 8 and 9 of Revelation with a fairly complete scenario of what will take place during the Tribulation already in mind. Then, he managed to make the Trumpets fit that scenario. He based the scenario on other considerations. For example he had already presented his reasons for believing the Ezekiel 38 invasion (see under 5th Trumpet) would take place in the middle of the 70th Week (350-355).
It is difficult to avoid a harsh judgment on this example of interpretation. First, Pentecost devotes four chapters, pages 1-64, to interpretation methodology. He insists that the allegorical or “spiritual” method of interpretation should generally be avoided. Yet, his interpretations of the seven trumpets use an allegorical or “spiritual sense” again and again. Second, he introduces conclusions and scenarios from his conception of events in the Tribulation period. He imposes these scenarios upon the seven trumpets despite the fact that there is no warrant for doing so in chapters 8 and 9. Third, he puts forward two and three different interpretations for each of the trumpets. In some cases the multiple interpretations have some relationship to one another. In other cases the relationship is very loose if there is any.
When one reads defenses of the Dispensational school, the defenders of this method are very harsh toward other methods and boast of their strictly literal methods. Moreover, Dispensationalism has a huge following among fundamental and evangelical Christians, and one can be a somewhat intimidated to ever question Dispensational thought. I grew up steeped in this understanding of Scripture. Yet, as I have delved into the details of Dispensational interpretation, I have been disappointed to find that much of it is very weak. I think the examples above illustrate this weakness.
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Pentecost, J. Dwight. Things to Come. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publ. House, 1958.
Russell, J. S. The Parousia, A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our
Lord’s Second Coming. (Google Internet Book) London: Daldy, Isbister
& Co., 1878.
Whiston, William, translator. The Works of Josephus. United States: Hendrickson Publ., 1987.
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