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QUESTION: After reading your book Last Days Madness, which is understandable for even a layman such as me, I have a couple of questions. First, the time indicators you reveal and clarify in your book point to an A.D. 70 fulfillment of the “great tribulation.” However, I do not see how the preterist view of Armageddon, where a third of the world’s population is destroyed, is dealt with on this issue. Second, in Revelation it refers to 200 million mounted troops. What is your position on these issues?
These are good questions. While it’s difficult to deal with the middle portions of Revelation without establishing its historical context (the judgment upon Jerusalem), the time element (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:7, 10, 12, 20), and interpretive methodology (Scripture with Scripture), what follows are some things to consider when looking at the above questions.
First, Revelation 16, the only place in the Bible where the word “Armageddon” is found, doesn’t say anything about the destruction of a third of the world’s population. You have to go back to chapters 8 (7–12) and 9 (15 and 18) for the context of this topic. There are a couple of things to notice. First, the Greek word for earth is gÄs and can be translated either “land,” “dirt,” “soil,” or “earth.” If you read these verses and insert “land” (i.e., “land of Israel”) where many translations use “earth,” a more local context is in view. The focus of Revelation is on Jerusalem’s coming judgment: “And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (11:8). Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem which had become similar to Sodom and Egypt in that their occupants persecuted the people of God.
Second, there are specific allusions to OT symbols and events. Revelation 8:10 says “a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers.” If one star hits the earth, the earth will be vaporized in an instant. In fact, if a star gets even close to the earth, the earth is going to burn up before it hits. Notice 8:12: “Then the fourth angel sounded, and a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were smitten, so that a third of them might be darkened and the day might not shine for a third of it, and the night in the same way.” How can a “third of the sun” be smitten without catastrophic results on the whole earth and not just a third of it? All of this language is drawn from the OT and only has meaning as it is interpreted in light of its OT context—the judgment and destruction of nations (Isa. 14:12; Jer. 9:12–16).
Third, if the claim is made that the “stars” are actually meteorites, then there is a problem with Revelation 12:4 where a “great red dragon” uses his “tail” to sweep a “third of the stars of heaven” to throw “them to the earth.” Such a barrage would destroy the earth, making it uninhabitable for man and beast for millennia. And yet, we are to believe that the armies of the entire world are going to pick a fight with Israel (Rev. 16:13–16) after a third of the earth’s population has been wiped out. Robert L. Thomas, who consistently criticizes those who interpret much of Revelation as symbolic, interprets the stars as “angels who fell with Satan in history past.” He might be correct, but this seems to violate his interpretive premise and that of dispensationalists in general that “a symbolic interpretation assumes the absence of strict realism in a vision.” So why not a real red dragon and literal stars in this context?
It’s in Revelation 9:15 that the four angels “kill a third of mankind.” If this judgment takes place in the land of Israel, then the use of “mankind” (lit., men) is a reference to those living in Israel during the time of the siege. Josephus records that more than a million Jews were killed during the war. This number is probably more than a third of the population, but we know that there were judgments to come (Rev. 16) before the final Roman onslaught against the temple and city. Eventually the total number killed will come to two-thirds of the population (Zech. 13:8), the million mentioned by Josephus.
Notice something important about the so-called “Battle of Armageddon” (16:16). John writes that the “kings of the whole world” will gather “together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty” (16:14). Many see this as a world-wide conflagration because of the use of “whole world.” But it’s not. The Greek word for “world” is oikoumene (not kosmos), the same word used in Matthew 24:14 and Luke 2:1 that has reference to the Roman Empire. The battle is waged by the world empire of the day—Rome—made up of many nations. The phrase is used in a similar way in the OT.
What of the 200 million troops on horseback (Rev. 9:16)? Hal Lindsey made this interpretation popular in his 1970 best seller The Late Great Planet Earth:
We believe that China is the beginning of the formation of this great power called “the kings of the east” by the apostle John. . . . In fact, a recent television documentary on Red China … quoted the boast of the Chinese themselves that they could field a “people’s army” of 200 million militiamen. In their own boast they named the same number as the Biblical prediction. Coincidence?
There aren’t 200 million horses in the entire world today. At most there are about 60 million worldwide. China’s horse population is less than 7.5 million. Why would China mount such a vast army after a third of the earth’s population has just been wiped out by plagues and falling stars to the Earth? It doesn’t make any sense. The world would be in such chaos that the last thing on anyone’s mind would be to round up 200 million horses, soldiers, weapons, saddles, and enough food, water, and hygiene facilities so they could make a nearly impossible trek from China (16:12) to Israel. Do we not remember how the world went on hold after 9–11?
It seems obvious from Revelation 9:17 and the rest of Revelation that this is a symbolic army, a demon-inspired army bent on destruction (9:1–11). The comments by Ralph E. Bass, Jr., are helpful in unraveling the meaning of this passage:
[This] is a number designed to terrorize. And indeed, that is its achieved result. As Carrington says, “. . . it is the empire of hell.” There never has been such an army and apparently never will be one. . . . But the number appears to have another meaning than the number of Roman soldiers from that area; it appears to suggest the number of demons that were released on Israel and Jerusalem. Remember the story of the demon possessed man from Garasenes (Luke 8:30)? He was possessed by a legion of demons. A legion was from 5,000 to 6,000 men, and all this in but one man! At 6,000 demons per person, it would only require a little over 33,000 inhabitants of Judah to justify these numbers.
The above interpretation at least has Scripture to back it up. We know these things from what the Bible actually says. If this army is symbolic of something else, then the futurists have some explaining to do. If it’s literal, then they still have some explaining to do.