Beginning this Wednesday evening (April 13, 2005), NBC will air the first installment of its “Revelations” series.[1] Like so many evangelicals, the series operates by asking this question: “Could the end be near? To get a jump on the commentary that will follow the series, I’ve decided to jump start the discussion by dealing with questions that Christians often have about the book of Revelation. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have already commented on the series after viewing the first episode.  LaHaye said that the “story is based on some writer’s imagination about the Book of Revelation. However, the writer clearly has not studied the book or maybe even read it.”[2] This is probably true.  The following question was sent to me, and it fits well with what is coming in the “Revelations” series.

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[3] 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?

**ANSWER:**Revelation 16 doesn’t say anything about the destruction of a third of the world’s population. You have to go back to chapter 8, verses 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 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 ge and can be translated either “land,” “dirt,” “soil,” or “earth.” If you read these verses and insert “land”—“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).

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.”[4] 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.”[5] 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 are judgments to come (Rev. 16) before the final Roman onslaught against the temple. 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.[6]

What of the 200 million troops on horseback (Rev. 9:16)? There aren’t 200 million horses in the entire world today. Even some futurists see this imagery as symbolic. Why would these nations mount such a vast army after a third of the earth’s population has just been wiped out by plagues and stellar phenomena? 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, their uniforms, weapons, saddles, and enough food and water 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 9:17 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:

[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.[7]

This 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 he still has some explaining to do.


[3] “Preterist” refers to what is past. Unlike a futurist who believes the events of Revelation are yet to be fulfilled, a preterists believes that the prophecy relates to events leading up to an including the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The time texts “soon” (1:1), “near” (1:3; 22:10), and “quickly” (22:7, 12, 20) tell the reader that the prophetic events of Revelation were on the horizon.
[4] Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8–22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 124. [5] Thomas, Revelation 8–22, 16. John Walvoord, a thorough-going dispensationalist, sees the stars as symbols of political powers. See his The Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), 189. [6] See Gary DeMar, Zechariah 12 and the “Esther Connection” (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2004).
[7] Ralph E. Bass, Back to the Future: A Study in the Book of Revelation (Greenville, SC: Living Hope Press, 2004), 241.