THOSE WHO DWELL ON THE EARTH (1)

rev-6-vv-9-10PMT 2016-079 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

In Revelation we frequently read about “those who dwell upon the earth.” This is an important recurring phrase that serves as a terminus technicus for John. It occurs twelve times in seven closely related grammatical forms (3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10 [2 x]; 13:8, 12, 14 [2x]; 14:6; 17:2, 8). The form we have here at 6:10 is: tōn katoikountōn epi tēs gēs. Elsewhere we find the following:

tous katoikountas epi tēs gēs (3:10; 8:13; 11:10b; 13:14a)
hoi katoikountes epi tēs gēs (11:10a; 13:8; 17:8)
tois katoikousin epi tēs gēs (13:14b)
tēn gēn kai tous en autē katoikountas (13:12)
tous kathēmenous epi tēs gēs (14:6)
hoi katoikountes tēn gēn (17:2).

The variations are minor, due largely to case changes necessary for fitting them into their several contexts, though epi does not appear in 13:12 and 17:2.

The vast majority of commentators interpret this phrase as applying broadly to the human race in its opposition to God (Gill 711; Alford 586; Hort 35; Mounce 103, 148; Morris 79; Beale 290; Kistemaker 163; Harrington 71, Thomas 1:289; Keener 151; Smalley 92; Osborne 193; Resseguie 98–99; Boxall 73).

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But we do find a number of able scholars who dispute this universal description. The following interpret the phrase as referring to those who live in the Land of Israel (some only in a passage or two, others more fully): Stuart (2:161, 236), Russell (1887: 394), Charles (1:289–90), Carrington (131, 157), Ford (180), Beagley (68), Chilton (282), Van De Water (245–61), Malina (61–62, 128, 147), Lupieri (159, 223), Penley (105–19), and Buchanan (111, 175). Interestingly, even the dispensationalist work Doomsday Delusions (Pate 1995: 49) argues regarding 6:10: “while the phrase can mean ‘the inhabitants of the world,’ the more likely meaning of the phrase in Revelation 6:10 is ‘the inhabitants of the land [Palestine].”

But how does this phrase function for John? Reflecting his OT backdrop, John takes up the prophetic mantel and like the prophets of old once again charges Israel with idolatry in the new covenant era. He effectively denounces the Jews basically as “unbelieving idolaters,” to use Beale’s phrase but in a different way. In John’s forensic drama this idolatry charge applies to the Jews whom he deems organized as a “synagogue of Satan” who only falsely claim to be true Jews (2:9; 3:9). Indeed, their holy city is designated “Sodom and Egypt” (11:8) — and “Babylon” (16:9; 17:5).


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Throughout his Gospel John shows that Jesus constantly calls upon Israel to believe (Jn 1:7; 3:18; 6:35–36; 8:24; 12:46; 20:31). Sadly though, both the rulers and the majority of the people reject him and remain in unbelief (Jn 5:38, 44, 47; 8:45; 10:25; 12:37–39; 16:9). He eventually declares of Israel’s religious leaders: “you are of your father the devil” (Jn 8:44). In the end the Jews cry out against Christ and before the Roman procurator Pilate: “We have no king but Caesar” (Jn 19:15). In this they prefer over Christ the emperor Tiberius who is descended from the “deified Julius” and “deified Augustus” (Suet., Lives, bks 1 and 2). And this despite his predecessor Augustus being “given honors equal to those of the Olympian gods” (Philo, Embassy 22 §149–50). Jesus implicitly warns them not to give to Caesar the things that belong to God, i.e., worship (Mt 22:17–21).

All of this parallels Rev’s even more scathing denunciation of Israel. In Revelation Jerusalem sides with idolatrous Rome (Rev 17:3) and persecutes Christ’s followers (17:6).

“The Land”

I will analyze the Land-dweller phrase in its biblical setting to show its powerful rhetorical function in Rev. I will begin by briefly considering the Land in the OT, where our phrase first occurs. Then I will move from considering the Land to focusing on the Land-dweller phrase.

Everyone understands the significance of the Land to Israel and its important role in the OT. It first appears in the Abrahamic Covenant as a key feature of God’s blessing upon him and his descendants: “Now the LORD said to Abram, / ‘Go forth from your country, / And from your relatives / And from your father’s house, / To the land which I will show you” (Ge 12:1). As a consequence of this and the fuller biblical revelation of God’s covenant with Israel, we understand that “the land of Israel belonged to Judaism’s understanding of itself” (DLNTD (642). Indeed, “the Holy Land is a central category in Judaism” (DJBP 323). Scripture often call this Land an “inheritance” from God (Nu 34:2, 29; 36:2; Dt 3:28; 4:21; 15:4; 19:14; 25:19; 31:7; 1Sa 26:19; 2Sa 14:16; 1Ki 8:36; 1Ch 16:18; Ps 68:9; 79:1; 105:11; Jer 2:7; 3:18; cp. Ac 13:19).

Stuart (2:161) notes regarding the Hebrew word for Land (ha’aretz): “the meaning . . . may be general or particular, just as the context requires. The Hebrews, who in prose used only one word (‘eretz) for earth, country, region, etc. never found any difficulty in this, because the context of course limits or expands it, just as the case may require.” Thus a general, broad term often functions as a specific, focused designation for Israel’s God-given gift. The Land is called the “holy land” in Ps 78:54; Zec 2:12; 2 Mac 1:7; Wisd 12:3; Bib. Ant. 9:10; 2 Bar 71:7; 84:8. The Land is called: his/my/the Lord’s land in Lev 25:23; Dt 32:43; Ps 10:16; Jer 2:7; 16:18; Eze 36:5, 20; 38:16; Hos 9:3; Joel 2:18; 3:2; and Zec 9:16. Clearly the Land is a greatly-beloved feature of God’s love for Israel.

But now, how does this affect our understanding of Revelation?

To be continued.

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One thought on “THOSE WHO DWELL ON THE EARTH (1)

  1. Sean Turconi October 31, 2016 at 11:44 am

    Great stuff! Looking forward to part 2!

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