Does Revelation 19:20 Really Suggest that the Beast is Israel?

PRETERIST BIBLE COMMENTARY Forums Forum Does Revelation 19:20 Really Suggest that the Beast is Israel?

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    Of course Jerusalem was burned by the Romans in A.D. 70, does this historical fact mean that the beast is Israel? I do not believe so. In the future I plan on writing a series of posts addressing all the arguments I am aware of suggesting that the beast is Israel. Adam Maarshalk has recently posted a series of thought-provoking arguments suggesting that the beast is Israel. Though I disagree with this view, I believe that Adam is a great scholar and perhaps one of the nicest preterists on the web. So, of course, this post and any future posts on this topic are in the spirit of friendly debate as I respect Adam and his work on this topic, and I believe “iron sharpens iron.”
    I do not believe Revelation 19 is just about A.D. 70. This chapter seems to be a brief summation of the Jewish War from A.D. 66 to its climax in A.D. 70. The first historically datable event in Revelation 19 actually appears to have transpired in A.D. 66, not AD 70. In Revelation 19:11-16 Jesus leads an army of angels on horseback in the sky. I believe this event was literally seen (albeit in visionary form) in A.D. 66:
    [O]n the twenty-first day of the month of Artemisius [Jyar], a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared; I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sunsetting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities (Wars of the Jews 6.5.3).
    The similarities between this army of angels in the clouds in A.D. 66 is too similar to the army of angels of Revelation 19 to be ignored. This is one of the reasons why I believe the Parousia began in A.D. 66 (which was the “coming” aspect of the Parousia) and extended to A.D. 70 at the resurrection of the last trumpet. (“Parousia” is a term that just means a “royal visit” and so it can be of any duration.) See Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. Thus I believe this vision begins in A.D. 66, not in A.D. 70.
    Then in v. 17 the birds flying in midair are summoned to gather for the great supper. I believe that these birds refer, in part, to the Romans who are symbolized by the Aquila. The Aquila was the main ensign of the Roman legions and was a metal eagle held high on a pole by standard bearers in the Roman legions. I believe the summoning of the Roman legions mentioned in v. 17 probably refers to the initial arrival of the Roman legions under Titus and Vespasian in A.D. 67. Verse 19 then records their arrival: “Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army.”
    The king of the earth in v. 19 appears to refer to Agrippa II who ruled over the tetrarchy of Philip, Lysanias (Abilene), and Varus (Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 20.7.1.) as well as large parts of Galilee and Perea. Agrippa II also appointed the high priest. After the fall of Jotapata, Agrippa II accompanied the Roman legions throughout the rest of the war assisting them with his troops as indicated in v. 19 (Sir Charles Moore Watson, The Story of Jerusalem, 2nd ed. (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1918), 109.). Queen Berenice also accompanied the Romans at that time during which she an affair with Caesar Titus.
    How is it that the beast waged war against Christ, the rider on the horse, in v. 19? Of course we all know that Nero persecuted Christians. But many preterists are unaware of the hostile feelings Titus also had toward the God of Israel and the Christians and their religion. Sulpicius Severus says the following in Chronica 2:30.7:
    But others, on the contrary, disagreed–including Titus himself. They argued that the destruction of the Temple was a number one priority in order to destroy completely the religion of the Jews and the Christians: For although these religions are conflicting, they nevertheless developed from the same origins. The Christians arose from the Jews: With the root removed, the branch is easily killed.

    Furthermore, Gittin 56b of the Babylonian Talmud say the following:
    This was the wicked Titus who blasphemed and insulted Heaven. What did he do? He took a harlot by the hand and entered the Holy of Holies and spread out a scroll of the Law and committed a sin on it. He then took a sword and slashed the curtain. Miraculously blood spurted out, and he thought that he had slain God himself . . .”
    Gittin 56b of the Babylonian Talmud also records Titus literally declaring war on “the rider on the horse,” the God of Israel, by saying, “If he [the rider on the horse, the God of Israel] is really mighty, let him come up on the dry land and fight with me.”
    In v. 20 the beast and the false prophet are thrown alive into the lake of fire. At first glance it looks like this points to the burning of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and if it does perhaps this suggests that the beast is Israel? I do not believe the burning of Jerusalem is likely in view in v. 20. Though the lake of fire mentioned in v. 20 may refer to the burning of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, I believe that this verse is probably an allusion to A.D. 68, not A.D. 70. Recall that the beast receives a fatal wound in Revelation 13:3. This was fulfilled in the death of Nero. After Nero’s suicide and the subsequent series of civil wars that almost collapsed the empire, Rome temporarily ceased its assault on Israel and metaphorically died according to the Apocalypse. The beast then rises from the dead when it rises out of the Abyss in Revelation 17:8: “The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction.” I believe the Abyss is synonymous with “the lake of fire.” The ascent of the beast out of the Abyss is resurrection imagery fulfilled in the restoration of the life of the Roman Empire, the beast, under the Flavian Dynasty. The rising of the beast out of the abyss is also mentioned in Revelation 9. This chapter is fulfilled in the coming of the Romans to besiege Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The earthly counterpart of the angel of the abyss, Apollyon (a play on words for “Apollo” and “destroy”), mentioned in this chapter is Caesar Titus who was the commander of the Legio XV Apollinaris (Fifteenth Apollonian Legion) before becoming the general over all the legions at the siege of Jerusalem.
    If the lake of fire in Revelation 19 refers to the burning of Israel and Jerusalem during the Jewish War, then I believe this still points to the beast. Recall that Rome, the beast, is thrown “alive” into the lake of fire. Titus and Vespasian were continuously amidst the fires their armies set to scorch Israel and destroy its cities and countryside, but they were, of course, alive amidst all these conflagrations.
    After the beast is thrown into the abyss or lake of fire, v. 20 says, “The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.” As stated above, the birds in this v. is probably an allusion to the Romans and their standard, the eagle Aquila. But who are the “rest” referred to in v. 20? Are they the army of the beast as is commonly supposed? I believe the immediate context much more likely suggests that the “rest” mentioned in v. 20 are the people who received the mark of the beast, not the army of the beast. Revelation 19:20-21 reads,
    But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs HE HAD DELUDED THOSE WHO RECEIVED THE MARK OF THE BEAST and worshipped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. THE REST OF THEM (those who received the mark of the beast) were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.
    From the immediate context it appears that the “rest” killed in these vs. are those who received the mark of the beast, not the entire multitude of Jewish rebels and Roman soldiers. Revelation 14:9-11 reads:
    A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.”
    Notice that the worship of the image of the beast and the reception of its mark mentioned in Revelation 19:20 are also mentioned in Revelation 14:9-11. And according to Revelation 14:9-11, those who worshipped the image of the beast and received its mark were to be cast into the lake of fire. This punishment looks just like what is said to happen to the “rest” in Revelation 19:21. Those who received the mark of the beast and worshipped his image were NOT the Zealots. Though far from saints themselves, the Zealots and Romans were God’s instrument to enact judgment on those Jews who had the mark of the beast as it was both the Zealots and the Romans who together robbed and killed these people throughout the Jewish War.
    Those Jews who received the mark of the beast were the primary villains in Revelation. The mark of the beast is a spiritual mark with an obvious physical symbol. The charagma or mark of the beast was the idolatrous worship of money above or instead of God as Roman money was said to be “marked” (the same language used in Revelation) with the name and image of Caesar and Rome, the beast. These rich Jews who killed Jesus, the prophets and the saints killed Jesus and all other Messianic contenders presumably for the same reason: a war of independence would inevitably leave them broke through the destruction of the Temple (the source of their wealth as Jerusalem’s whole economy was rooted in the Temple), the destruction of their property and pillaging to feed the war effort. This is why Jesus says, “[I]t is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24).” Because the Jews expected an earthly king which would cause a war with Rome and leave them broke, this is why Jesus told the wealthy to sell everything and follow him as wealth was the single biggest hurdle–by far–to following any potential Messiah (Luke 18:18-26; 19:1-9). If Israel declared Jesus or any other man the sovereign king of the Jews, this would be an act of treason which would inevitably trigger a war with Rome since Israel was a Roman province, not a sovereign nation. These wealthy men used blasphemy as a charge to legitimize Jesus’ death, but making divine claims was not why they wanted Jesus killed (these murderers were not religious men): “’These people [the Pharisees and teachers of the law] honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Matthew 15:8).” When the Sanhedrin (the wealthy religious elites) plotted to kill Jesus they made it clear that their motive was to prevent a war with Rome:
    ‘What are we [the Sanhedrin] accomplishing?’ they asked. ‘Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation [the source of our status and wealth].’ Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish (John 11:47-50).’
    Here the high priest (who secured his post by a bribe as the list of first century high priests was a list of the wealthiest people in Jerusalem) masks his malignant intention to kill Jesus in order to keep his post by killing one man in order to prevent a war with Rome (Christians can readily see the unintended spiritual significance of these words): “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish (by the hands of the Romans).” Here the motive for Jesus’ death is clear: prevent a war with Rome. This is why these murderers chanted “We have no king but Ceasar!” (John 19:15) during Jesus’ trial. But there was certainly a conflict of interest here as preventing a war with Rome had great financial benefits for these wealthy men of the Sanhedrin. And it was this greed (the mark of the beast) that ultimately inspired these men to enact their murderous intentions. Consider the following verses:

    Now listen, you RICH PEOPLE, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. . . . You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. YOU HAVE CONDEMNED AND MURDERED THE INNOCENT ONE [Jesus Christ], who was not opposing you [Jesus never intended to rule as earthly king of Israel] (James 5:1-6). (Here we explicitly see that it was the RICH who killed Jesus.)
    “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? (James 2:6)” (Here we see that it was the rich who were also persecuting Christians.)
    “[T]he love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10).” (It was greed that inspired the rich to kill Jesus and His followers to prevent a financially disastrous war of independence that would leave them all penniless.)
    “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness (Luke 11:39). (The Pharisees and teachers of the law plotted to kill Jesus.)
    “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight (Luke 16:13-15).
    Consider the story of the rich man and Lazarus and how the rich man is sent to the Abyss (Luke 16:19-31)
    On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching (Mark 11:15-18). (Jesus knew–like all other potential Messiah’s–he too would be killed because of money made by the rich merchants and chief priests off the Temple economy which was threatened to be destroyed by a war with Rome.)
    Consider also the following quote from 1 QpHab 2:7-11 of the Dead Sea Scrolls:
    Because you [the last priests of Jerusalem] have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you because of the blood of men and the violence done to the land, to the city, and to all its inhabitants. Woe to him who gets evil profit for his house; who perches his nest high to be safe from the hand of evil! You have devised shame to your house: by cutting off many peoples you have forfeited your own soul [emphasis mine]. (1QpHab 2:7-11.)

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