THE TRIBULATION WILL NOT BE WORLD WIDE
I realize that most Christians today believe that the tribulation will be worldwide. I believe, however that there are several reasons why the student of God’s Word should question that widely held view.
THE JEWISH CHARACTER OF REVELATION
One reason to question the view that the tribulation will be world wide is the extremely Jewish character of the book of Revelation, which is the most extensive writing in the Bible about the tribulation. For example, we see in 1:5-6 a clue as to whom this book was written, “To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve His God and Father….”. To whom does the pronoun “us” refer? When we read Exodus 19:6 we will see that it is Israel that is the “kingdom of priests”. Ex. 19:3 reads, “Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called up to him and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel”. And Ex. 19:6 reads, although the whole world is Mine you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. Nowhere do we read of the Church being a kingdom of priests.
The only New Testament reference to a kingdom of priests is in I Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…”. But we must note that Peter wrote his epistle to “the elect strangers scattered throughout…..”, (I Peter 1:1) i.e. the dispersed of Israel. The Greek word “diaspora” translated here “scattered” occurs three times in the New Testament. In John 7:35 we read, “The Jews said to one another, ‘Where does this Man intend to go that we cannot find Him? Will He go where our people are scattered among the Greeks?” In this verse, it is obvious that “diaspora” refers to the scattered of Israel.
The second occurrence of “diaspora” is found in James 1:1, “To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations”. The reference here is also obvious.
The third occurrence is in I Peter 1:1, quoted above. We find in this matter a perfection in the Word of God which one would expect. That is, that the Greek word “diaspora” refers to the scattered of Israel. We read in Rev. 1:5-6 that the kingdom of priests is Israel. We cannot apply this phrase to the Church which is His Body (not a nation) without doing a great injustice to the written Word of God. This is not to say, of course, that when we read in Rev. 1:5 of the universal truth, “to Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins through His blood…” that only Israel was so blessed. Of course not! It does tell us however, that John’s revelation was written specifically to Israel and that all Bible believing Christians could understand this Book better if it is understood to be addressed to Israel.
Another clue to the Jewish character of Revelation is found in chapter 1 verse 10. “On the Lord’s day I was in the spirit…”. The question is, what is meant by the phrase “the Lord’s day”? Does it mean Sunday or for that matter, does it refer to any day of the week? Let us search the Scriptures.
1) Sunday is always referred to in the New Testament as “the first day of the week”. Saturday is always referred to in the New Testament as “the Sabbath”.
2) We read in Rev. 1:10 that “John was in the Spirit”. What does that mean? The same phrase is also found in Rev. 4:2, 17:3 and 21:10. These verses will help us to understand the phrase “in the Spirit”. Rev. 4:2 reads, “At once I was in the Spirit and there before me was a throne in heaven”. It is clear from this verse that when John was “in the Spirit” the result was that he saw a vision. Rev. 17:3 reads, “Then the angel carried me away in the Spirit into a desert. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast….”. It is clear from this verse also that when John was “in the Spirit” the result was that he saw a vision. Rev. 21:10 reads, “And he carried me away in the Spirit and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God”. Again, it is clear that when John was “in the Spirit” the result was that he saw a vision. Logic demands that the same phrase in Rev.1:10 also means that when John was “in the Spirit” the result was that he saw a vision. In 1:10 the visions John saw were of future events that include the great tribulation and the day of the Lord.
3) Given the monumental events recorded in the Revelation, it makes so much better sense to accept the “Lord’s day” of 1:10 as referring to a future day rather than to a day of the week.Everything that John recorded in Revelation was what he had seen while in the Lord’s day, and “the Lord’s day” includes the period known as “the day of the Lord”.
The phrase “the day of the Lord” occurs 15 times in the Old Testament. The context will show that all 15 of these passages are prophesies given directly to Israel or Her neighboring nations. (Please see the paper on this web-site Will All Believers World Wide Be Caught Up In The Clouds? for the Scriptural evidence of that statement.) The fact that the Old Testament prophecies about the day of the Lord concern themselves predominantly with Israel is another indication of the Jewish character of Revelation.
In the New Testament the phrase, “the day of the Lord” is found three times, I Thess. 5:2, II Thess. 2:2, II Peter 3:10. I Thess. 5:2 reads, “You know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night”. II Thess. 2:2 reads, “not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophesy or letter supposed to have come from us saying that the day of the Lord has already come”. II Peter 3:10 reads, the day of the Lord will come like a thief….” These epistles were all written before the church began after Acts 28 and therefore, cannot include the church in it’s teaching on the day of the Lord. Please see the paper on when the church began for the Scriptural evidence of that statement.
Another reason for my questioning the view of the tribulation being world wide is a passage concerning the tribulation in Matthew’s Gospel. We will begin by pointing out verse 16 of Matthew 24, “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains”. Obviously the whole world can not flee to the mountains and if the tribulation were worldwide would our Lord speak only to “those who are in Judea”? Note also verse 20, “Pray that your flight will not take place ……on the Sabbath”. Jews were not permitted to go very far on the Sabbath. The Gentile nations as such are certainly not interested in keeping a Sabbath that was part of a Law given to Israel. This verse also limits the scope of the tribulation to Israel.
Let us now examine a parallel passage to Matthew 24, namely Daniel 9. Compare Matt. 24:15 where Christ speaks of the “abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet” with Dan. 9:27, “…. And one who causes desolation will place the abomination on the wing of the Temple”. An abomination (an idol) concerns those who worship at the Temple in Israel. Note also Dan. 9:20, “Seventy sevens are decreed for your people and your holy city”, i.e. Jews and Jerusalem. If Daniel’s prophesy concerns Israel, (which, of course, it does) then the parallel passage, Matt. 24 also concerns Israel.
One last thing that shows the Jewish character of Revelation is the number of Old Testament quotations and references found in it. In the Gospel of Matthew (The Hebrew Gospel) there are 92 references to the Old Testament. In Hebrews there are 102 and in Revelation there are 285.
In view of the Old Testament character of Revelation and the fact that it is addressed to Israel, and that it is a prophesy concerning the day of the Lord, which in turn centers around Israel (and to a much lesser extent the countries surrounding Israel) I feel that there is at least a question as to the tribulation being world -wide.
In order to study this question one must be aware that, in the Greek language there are four words translated “earth ” or “world”. A study of these four Greek words is the topic of the next sections of this paper.
THE FOUR GREEK WORDS TRANSLATED “EARTH” OR “WORLD”
The four Greek words translated “earth” of “world” are “aion”, “kosmos”, “oikoumenee” and “ge”.
Dr. E. W. Bullinger defines “aion” as “an age or age time.” Because this particular word does not impact on the question at hand, i.e. is the tribulation world -wide, we will not do anything more than define it.
Dr. Bullinger defines “kosmos” as “the world created, ordered and arranged”. The Hebrew equivalent is rendered “ornament”.
“Kosmos” is best understood by looking at a few definitive verses. For example Matt. 16:26, “What good would it be for a man if he gains the whole world and yet loses his soul”. Consider these verses in the gospel of John: “He was in the world and though the world was made by Him, the world did not recognize Him” (Jn. 1:10). John 1:29 reads, “…. Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. John 4:42 reads, “…this Man really is the savior of the world“. John 8:2 reads, “I am the light of the world”.
I believe that it will be helpful at this point in our study to point out that there are only three occurrences of the Greek word “kosmos” in Revelation. They are 11:15, 13:8 and 17:15. 11:15 reads, “….there were great voices in heaven saying, ‘The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord…….”. 13:8 reads, “….the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world“. And 17:8 reads, “….the book of life from the foundation of the world“. It is clear that none of these verses refer to the events of the tribulation.
My point is that Revelation has the most to say about the tribulation and in not one instance is the word “kosmos” used in relation to the tribulation. That should, in my opinion, at least raise a question as to the geographic limits of the tribulation.
Dr. Bullinger defines “oikoumenee as “The world as inhabited. It is from the verb “oikeo:= to dwell. It is used of the habitable world as distinct from “kosmos“. Hence it is used in a more limited sense of the Roman Empire which was then predominant”. As in every language, a word is defined by its usage. I suggest therefore, that we look at how the Holy Spirit used this word.
“Oikoumenee” is used in Luke 2:1, “… .all the world should be taxed”. It is also used in Acts 11:28, “…..through the Holy Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire world“. (The NIV has “Roman World”). It is also used in Acts 24:5, “stirring up trouble among the Jews over the world“.
It is clear from these verses that what is intended for the reader to understand is a limited part of the world. That is to say, it was only a limited part of the world, a severe famine was spread over a limited part of the world, and there was a stirring of Jews over a limited part of the world.
I believe that the Holy Spirit used “oikoumenee” to refer to a limited portion of the world because of the verses quoted above, which obviously are limited, and also because He makes a distinction in such passages as Acts 17:24-31 between “kosmos” and “oikoumenee”. Actually the passage in Acts 17:24-31 is an excellent example of how the Holy Spirit uses precisely the word He wants that best conveys His meaning. Verse 24 reads, “…the God who made the world (kosmos), and verse 26 reads, “From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the world (kosmos)”. But in verse 31 we read, “He will judge the world (oikoumenee) with justice by the Man He has appointed” It is clear that the Holy Spirit makes a distinction between “oikoumenee” and “kosmos”. The “kosmos” was created by God, and man will inhabit the “kosmos”, but God will judge the “oikoumenee”, the inhabited world. In my opinion this passage does answer the question as to whether there is a difference between “kosmos” and “oikoumenee”.
Now that we have considered the New Testament use of the word “oikoumenee” let us try to answer the question of just how much of the earth is meant when the Holy Spirit used this term. It is clear that there are a few verses that can be taken to mean either the entire earth or a limited portion of it. But there are no verses where “oikoumenee” must mean the entire earth. And of the 15 occurrences, six, (one third) of those occurrences must be taken to mean a limited portion of the earth. Those occurrences are:
Luke 2:1, “And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the oikoumenee should be taxed”.
Acts 17:6, “And when they (the unbelieving Jews and “lewd fellows” of verse 5) found them (Paul and Silas, verse 4) not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city crying, ‘These that have turned the oikoumenee upside down are come hither also”.
Acts 11:28, “…Agabus signified by the spirit that there should be a great dearth (i.e. a famine) throughout all the oikoumenee”.
Acts 19:27, “So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed whom all Asia and the oikoumenee worship”.
Acts 24:5, “For we have found this man (Paul) a pestilent fellow and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the oikoumenee, and a ring leader of the sect of the Nazarenes”.
Romans 10:18, “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the ge and their words unto the ends of the oikoumenee”.
Given that there are no occurrences of “oikoumenee” which must be understood to mean the entire earth , and that there six in which it must be taken to mean a limited portion of the earth, I believe we may conclude that “oikoumenee” must refer, in every occurrence, to a limited portion of the earth.
(Because the correct understanding of the way that the Holy Spirit uses the word “oikoumenee”, is crucial to a correct understanding of the tribulation I encourage the reader to consider each occurrence in the New Testament of the word as presented in the Appendix at the end of this study.)
Let us consider one other aspect of this question. It is clear that the entire Bible, except for the prison epistles of Paul, centers on one nation, Israel. Other countries are spoken of, but only in terms of how they have impacted the history of God’s chosen nation. Furthermore, these nations are all nations surrounding or in the general area of Israel. That would mean that if we take the tribulation as coming to the entire world that would be the only book, (the most Israel centered book) to focus on the entire world. That does not seem very logical.
I believe that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that “oikoumenee” refers to a limited portion of the earth. Now the question is: which portion of the earth is meant? Dr. Bullinger suggests that it refers to the Roman Empire. I must confess that I don’t know precisely which nations are included in the term “oikoumenee”, but since we will see when we study the term in Revelation that the tribulation will cover only the oikoumenee, we do have some help in that question. Since Revelation is primarily about the tribulation and the day of the Lord, and the Old Testament prophesies concerning those times concern only Israel and the countries surrounding her, I believe it is safe to say that “oikoumenee” refers to Israel and the countries around Israel.
I realize that we are used to thinking of the tribulation as being worldwide and this seems like a very small portion of the earth, but let us consider that most of the Bible centers around a relatively small portion of the earth. God has chosen a nation, Israel, with which to accomplish His will. His will involves the whole world, But He chose to work through one tiny nation. In my opinion, it is more surprising to think of the tribulation involving the whole world than it is involving a portion of it around Israel, since God has always, since the choosing of Abram, centered His plans around that portion of the earth
We will continue our study with a consideration of the Greek word “ge”. “Ge” is the most complex word that is translated “earth” or “world” because it could mean one of three things. It can refer to land as opposed to water, it can refer to earth as opposed to heaven or it could refer to a region or nation as opposed to the whole earth. Fortunately, in every case the meaning is made quite clear by the context and/or a parallel passage.
The first occurrence of “ge” is in Matt. 2:6 and obviously refers to a particular nation, “But you Bethlehem in the land of Judah…”. Matthew 2:20 clearly has the same meaning, “…take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel”.
Some verses that refer to earth as opposed to heaven include, Matt. 5:18, “…until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter…will by any means disappear from the Law”. And Matt. 5:35, “Do not swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne or by the earth, for it is His footstool”. Matt. 6:10 reads, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
Matt. 10:29 is a good example of when “ge” means “the ground”. Yet not one of them (sparrows) will fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father”. Note also Matt. 13:5, “Some fell on rocky places where it did not have much soil“. And Matt. 15:35, “He told the crowd to sit down on the ground”.
In short, I believe that it is clear that one understands the meaning of “ge” by it context.
Now that we have considered the Greek words translated “earth” or “world” we are prepared to study a verse that will tell us exactly the geographic extent of the tribulation. That verse is Rev. 3:10 which reads, “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation (the Companion Bible suggests “trial“), which shall come upon all the oikoumenee to try (the Companion Bible suggests “test“) them that dwell upon the ge”.
The “trial” is, of course, the tribulation. We learn from this verse that the tribulation will come upon the oikoumenee, i.e. a limited portion of the earth. Because the tribulation will come upon a limited portion of the earth, it makes no sense to say that it will test the entire earth. We must conclude therefore, that it will test Israel.
In short, Rev. 3:10 tells us that the tribulation will come upon a limited portion of the earth to test Israel.
INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH
We are now ready to look at the verses where “ge” occurs in Revelation. As we do so we come across the phrase “inhabitants of the earth” or “those who inhabit the earth” 12 times. I believe that it would be helpful in our study to look at these twelve passages as a group, for, in my opinion, they all refer to a very specific group of people, i.e. those of Israel and surrounding nations.
The first occurrence of the phrase “the inhabitants of the earth” is found in Revelation 3:10 which has been discussed above..
The second occurrence in Revelation of the phrase “inhabitants of the earth” (or words to that effect) is found in 6:10, “How long till you judge the inhabitants of the earth (ge) …and avenge our blood? “Let us consider this verse more specifically.
Who were these asking to have their blood avenged? They were the martyrs of the tribulation. How do we know that? Let us compare 6:9, “I saw the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God”, with 6:11, “then each of them were given a white robe”, and 7:13-14, “These in the white robes, who are they?…And he said, ‘these are they who have come out of the great tribulation’”.
We have learned in the passages quoted above that the martyrs of the tribulation are asking God to avenge their blood on the “inhabitants of the earth”. This vengeance will be meted out in the day of the Lord on the great city of Babylon. Let us consider a few of the passages that tell us of the destruction of Babylon. Rev. 18:20, “Rejoice over her, thou heaven and ye holy apostles and prophets, for God hath avenged you on her“. Verse 24 reiterates, “and in her (Babylon) was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth”. Also Rev. 19: 2, “….for He hath……..avenged the blood of His servants at her hand”. Babylon will be the very seat of the antichrist in the end times. Babylon will be destroyed in the day of the Lord in part, to avenge the blood of the martyrs of the tribulation.
My point is that the vengeance will be meted out, not on the entire world, but on one city, i.e. Babylon, and on the kingdom of the antichrist which Babylon represents. (There are several reasons presented in this paper for my conclusion that the tribulation will not be world wide, I believe that the same reasons apply to the kingdom of the antichrist, i.e. it will not be world wide). Because the vengeance is geographically quite limited, I believe so too is the tribulation geographically limited.
The next occurrence of the phrase we are studying is found in 8:13, ” …Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels which are yet to come”. As we consider the work of the sixth angels which is the second of the three angels that “were yet to come” we will see that their work is limited to a portion of the earth.
We read in 9:14, “Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, ‘Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates‘”. Note that the four angels were not bound in rivers all over the entire world, they were bound in one specific river, i.e. the great river Euphrates. This river is, of course in the area of Israel and surrounding nations. So once again, we learn the limited geographic scope of the tribulation.
The fourth and fifth occurrences of the phrase is found in Rev. 11:10, “The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them (i.e. the two witnesses from God) because those two prophets tormented those who live on the earth”. The context will show how Israel centered, indeed how Jerusalem centered, these two prophets were. The two verses that precede the passage about the two witnesses concern the temple and the court of the temple. And verse 8 reads, “their bodies will be in the street of the great city…where their Lord was crucified”. Also verse 13, “…. a tenth of the city collapsed”. I believe that since the tribulation will be sent to test Israel that the ones tormented by the prophets were the unbelievers of Israel.
The sixth occurrence of the phrase under consideration is found in 12:12 which reads, “….woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a sort time'”. The “great wrath” spoken of in this verse is, or course, the great tribulation. Because, as we read in Rev. 3:10, the tribulation will come upon a limited geographic area (Gr. oikoumenee) we must conclude that the devil will exercise his great wrath on that area, i.e. Israel and surrounding nations.
The seventh occurrence of the phrase “inhabitants of the earth” in Revelation is found in 13:8, All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast-all who are not written in the book of life”. It is obvious in this verse that those whose names are not written in the book of life are unbelievers. The question is, does this verse apply to all unbelievers in the whole world (kosmos) or to those in Israel? I believe it applies to just those in Israel for the following reasons; 1) He (the beast- antichrist) opened his mouth to blaspheme God and to slander His dwelling place and those who live in heaven” Verse 14 tells us how His dwelling place was slandered, “He ordered them (the inhabitants of the earth) to set up an image in honor of the beast.” I can not believe that everyone in the whole earth was ordered to set up an image in Jerusalem.The setting up of an idol in the Temple would not be a major concern to many people in the world, including Hindus, Moslems, and peoples who care nothing about the Temple worship of the Jews or of Who Christ is, or for that matter, who the antichrist is. Therefore, I believe that inhabitants of the earth who will worship the beast are the unbelievers of the nation of Israel.
The eighth occurrence is in 13:12, “..and made the inhabitants of the earth worship the first beast”. This again refers to the idol in the Temple and again the whole world would not be concerned about an idol in the Temple where Jews worshiped God.
The ninth occurrence is in 13:14, “Because of the signs he (the “other beast” of verse 11) was given to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth”. Obviously, the ones that were deceived were unbelievers, but were they unbelievers of Israel? Verse 14 goes on to say that “He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast…”. Again, I do not believe that the entire world will be commanded to set up an idol in the temple at Jerusalem.
The tenth occurrence of the phrase appears in the King James Version in 14:6 but not in the NIV. It does appear in the Greek interlinear in the NIV and should be included in the 12. It reads, “Then I saw an angel flying in midair and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth…. to every nation, kindred, language and people”. At first reading it would appear that this verse does not limit the meaning of the phrase “those who live on the earth” to just Israel. Does this verse refer then to the entire world? Let us consider the context.
We read in verse 7 the angel’s message, i.e. “Fear God, and give glory to Him: for the hour of His judgment is come….”. And we read in verse 8, “And there followed another angel, saying, ‘Babylon is fallen…..”. Verse 8 explains the geographical limits of the “his judgment”, i.e. it will come on Babylon. Because God’s judgment, about which the angel warns will be on a very limited portion of the earth, we cannot, in my opinion, take the phrase “every kindred….”, out of context and apply it to the entire earth. (The phrase “every nation, kindred, tongue and people” will be discussed in a section below).
The eleventh occurrence is in 17:2, ” With her the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries”. In my opinion, because every other use of the term “inhabitants of the earth” refers to those of Israel and the countries surrounding her, I believe that it means the same here. But there is room for disagreement here, because as the reader will see in the section below having to do with the phrase “kings of the earth”, that phrase refers to the kings of the whole earth. I believe that all the kings of the earth committed adultery with the whore of Babylon, but this verse is telling us that the “inhabitants of the earth” refers to those of Israel and surrounding countries. But again, there is room for disagreement about this. However, even if the phrase “inhabitants of the earth” refers to everyone on earth in this verse, it does not mean that the tribulation will be world wide. It means only that everyone on earth partook of the “wine of her adulteries” which brings about the Lord’s vengeance, but has nothing to do with the geographical boundaries of the tribulation.
The twelfth and last occurrence of the phrase under consideration is found in Rev. 17:8, “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life will be astonished when they see the beast….”. While it is true that the book of life contains the names of all God’s faithful, I believe that when we read of it in Revelation, it takes on the limited scope of those who will be dressed in white, i.e. the overcomes of the tribulation. Since the tribulation is to test Israel (Rev. 3:10) the inhabitants of the earth as mentioned in 17:8 are the unbelievers (their names are not written in the book of life) of Israel.
I hope that the reader will agree that 1) the phrase “the inhabitants of the earth” in Revelation always refers to Israel, and 2) we can tell by the context what the meaning of the Greek word “ge” means.
KINGS OF THE EARTH
The phrase “kings of the earth” appears eight times in Revelation. We must allow the context to determine if it refers to the kings of the entire earth, or to the kings of a portion of the earth. The reader will see as we study this phrase, that in those verses where the context speaks of the kings of the entire earth, they do not impact on the question of whether the tribulation will be world wide.
The first occurrence is found in 1:5, “…and from Jesus Christ who is the faithful witness and who is the firstborn from the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth” This brings to mind one of the titles of Christ, “King of kings, and Lord of lords”. He will rule all the kings of the earth in His millennial reign. The eighth and last occurrence of the phrase is used in the same way. Rev. 21:24 reads, “The nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it (the New Jerusalem); and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor into it”. Here again, it is clear the kings of all the earth are to bring glory and honor to God. But that does not impact the question of the geographic boundaries of the tribulation.
The second occurrence of the term “kings of the earth” is in 6:15, “And the kings of the earth, and the great men…..hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains”. These kings are hiding from the catastrophic events described in verses 12-15 which occur when the sixth seal is opened which begins the day of the Lord, which is after the tribulation. But the very fact that not all nations have dens and/or mountains goes to show that in this verse, which does impact on the geographic boundaries of the day of the Lord, it cannot refer to the entire world.
In Rev. 16:14 the KJV has, “For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world (Gr. “oikoumenee”) to gather them to battle of that great day of God almighty”. The note in the Companion Bible tells us that the phrase “of the earth” does not appear in the texts. That makes sense because the word translated “world” is “oikoumenee” (inhabited world). That is to say, it doesn’t make sense to say that the kings of the entire earth are gathered and then in the next phrase say that the kings of a limited portion of the world are gathered. Therefore, I do not count this as one of the eight occurrences of the phrase, “kings of the earth”, but I do give it here for the sake of thoroughness.
The next four occurrences of the phrase appear in Rev. 17:2, 17:18, 18:3 and 18:9. Because they all have to do with Babylon we will consider them together. Rev. 17:2 reads, “With her (Babylon) the kings of the earth committed adultery and the inhabitants of the earth were intoxicated with the wine of her adulteries”. Rev. 17:18, “The woman that you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth”. 18:3, “…. the kings of the earth committed adulteries with her.” 18:9, “And the kings of the earth who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her shall bewail her and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning”.
Babylon will be the center of all that is vile and filthy in the world of the antichrist. But does the phrase, “kings of the earth” refer to the kings of the entire earth? It is true that all nations are guilty of the sins enumerated in these passages, but we must bear in mind that Revelation is centered on a specific time (the Lord’s day) and a specific geographic area (the oikoumenee). Let us consider the scriptures which tell us whether God’s wrath will be poured out.on the entire earth, or a limited portion of it. If a limited portion, then the passages which speak of the kings of the earth quoted above refer to the kings of a limited area.
I believe that Is. 66:20 will answer the question as to whether God’s wrath will be pourd out on the entire world or on a portion of the world, i.e. the oikoumenee. Let me explain. We know that believers will be raptured in order to escape the Lord’s wrath which will be meted out in the day of the Lord. But His wrath will not be over the entire world, it will be over the oikoumenee. How do we know that? We know that from the fact that as Is. 66:20 tells us, not all believers will be raptured. Let me quote Is. 66:18-20, “….I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory (this tells us, of course that this is a millennial passage).19) And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations….they shall declare My glory among the Gentiles. 20) And they shall bring all your brethren, for an offering unto the Lord out of all nations, upon horses and in chariots, and in litters, and upon mules and upon swift beasts, to My holy mountain Jerusalem….”.
What is important with respect to our study is the fact that obviously some of believing Israel will not be raptured in order to escape God’s wrath. Why is that? I believe it is clear that because the tribulation is not world wide, neither will the wrath of God be world wide, which makes a rapture unnecessary for those belieivers who will live outside the oikoumenee” (please see the paper on who will be caught up in the clouds for the Scriptural evidence of that statement).
In short, not all believers will be raptured because some will live in an area where God’s wrath will not be meted out, i.e. outside the oikoumenee. Therefore, the passages that speak of the day of God’s wrath do not refer to the entire world.
19:19, “Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gather together to make war against the rider on the horse (Christ) and His army.” I do not believe it is logical to assume that every nation in the entire world will gather to do battle against Christ. I believe, therefore, that in this verse, the phrase must refer to the kings of a portion of the earth.
“EVERY KINDRED AND TONGUE AND PEOPLE AND NATION”
I have tried to show in this paper that the end times center on Israel and surrounding nations. But there are a few verses which speak of “every kindred and tongue and people and nation”. I believe those verses should be addressed in order to determine if they are to be understood differently than the rest of the book of Revelation.
The first occurrence of the phrase under consideration is found in Rev. 5:9 which reads, “…For Thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation”. This verse seems to refer to everyone in all nations that had been redeemed. So the question is: who is the subject of this verse, it is every redeemed person, or is it a limited reference?
In point of fact in the very next verse, i.e. vs. 10 we find the answer to that question. “And hast made us unto our God kings and priests and we shall reign on the earth”. To whom does the term “kings and priests” refer? We read in Ex. 19:3-6, “Thus shall ye say unto the house of Jacob and the children of Israel …If ye shall obey My voice indeed and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all People, and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests and an holy nation….”. In other words, it is Israel that is God’s kings and priests.
Does that mean that only Israel is redeemed? Of course not! Every believer will be redeemed from the grave. But in this context it is not every believer that is in view, it is the redeemed of Israel.
In point of fact Rev. 1:5-6 is quite similar. “….Unto Him That loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God….”. We know that all believers are loved by God and have been washed in “His own blood”, but again, in this context it is in reference to Israel who alone is God’s kings and priests.
Coming back then to Rev. 5:9. I believe we may conclude that this verse, in this context, refers to those of Israel who will come “out of” every nation etc. .
Let us continue with a consideration of Rev. 7:9 which reads, “After this I beheld a great number and lo a great multitude which no man could number of all nations, and kindred, and people, and tongues stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands”.
The question is: Does the term “all nations, and kindred, and people, and tongues” refer to all nations or is it limited by the context? We must consider the phrase, “clothed with white robes” as it will tell us to whom this verse refers. We read in Rev. 7:13-14, “What are these which are arrayed in white robes…? ……These are they which came out of great tribulation,and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”. As this paper has shown it is Israel and surrounding nations that will endure the tribulation. Therefore, it is the people of those nations, and those nations only, of whom it can be said that they “came out of the great tribulation.
Rev. 10:11, “Thou must prophesy again before many peoples and nations and tongues and kings”..We read in the preceding verses of John eating a little book which was bitter in his belly. And then he was told to prophesy. I believe that we may conclude that John was told to prophesy concerning the things written in the book he had eaten. Logically this book contains the prophecies of Revelation. Because Revelation is centered on a limited portion of the earth, I believe that here too in Rev. 10:11 the phrase is limited.
Rev. 11:9, “And they of the people and kindreds and tongues shall see their bodies (the bodies of the two witnesses)…” We read in verse 10, “And they that dwell on the earth shall rejoice over them because these two prophets tormented them that dwell on the earth”. In verse 12 we read that “their enemies beheld them”, i.e. two witnesses as they ascended to heaven. And in verse 13 we read that there was a great earthquake in the city, i.e. Jerusalem.
There are a few reasons for my belief that the context limits this entire scene geographically. 1) Those who were tormented will rejoice. Who are they? They are unbelievers of Israel. How do we know that? The Greek “ge” translated “earth” in verse 10 often means the land of Israel. Given that the two witnesses preached in Jerusalem, I believe we may conclude that Israel was where they tormented unbelievers of Israel. 2) The earthquake was limited to Jerusalem, which fits the conclusion that this entire scene dealt with those of the land of Israel.
Rev. 13:7, “…and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues and nations…”. In verse 8 we read, “and all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life…”. The Greek word translated “earth” in verse 8 is “”ge” which is often used of Israel. This verse has to do with the power of the antichrist to persecute Israel. We read in Rev. 3:10 that .the tribulation will be allowed by God to test Israel.
Consider also Dan. 7:25 which speaks of the antichrist in the tribulation, “And he shall wear out the saints of the MOST HIGH, and think to change times and laws; and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time”. To begin, the Hebrew has “law”, singular. What times and law will the antichrist seek to change? We need not guess, as we are given the answer to that question in Dan. 9:27b, “in the midst of the week he (the antichrist) shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease”. I believe that the antichrist will change the Law of Moses which, of course, includes “the sacrifice and oblation”.
We learn from Daniel’s prophecy that the antichrist will “wear out the saints”. Given that the very next phrase speaks of the Mosaic Law, I believe we may conclude that the “saints” in this context refers to believing Israel, to whom the law had been given. My point is that Daniel also limits the tribulation to Israel.
We read in Rev. 14:6, “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth (Gr. “ge”), and to every nation, and kindred and tongue and people”. Then we read in verse 8 of another angel saying, “Babylon is fallen is fallen…”. My point is that the angel of verse 6 was, in my opinion, warning those who would be suffering as God poured out His wrath on Babylon. As the paper on who will be caught up in the clouds proves not all believers will be caught up. It will be only those believers of the oikoumenee that will be caught up because it is only they who will be in need of escaping (through the rapture) that wrath.
My point is that the context, in particular verse 8, is once again geographically limited.
Rev. 17:15, “…the waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues”. Verse 18 reads, “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth”.
OTHER OCCURRENCES OF ‘GE’ IN REVELATION
In the interest of making this study as uncomplicated as possible we will look only at those verses in which “ge” appears in Revelation that has a bearing on our question, i.e. will the tribulation be world-wide?
Rev. 5:6 and 5:10 are in the same context and will, therefore be considered together. Rev. 5:6 reads, “Then I saw a Lamb…. He had 7 horns and 7 eyes which are the 7 spirits of God sent out into all the earth”. Then we read of the four living creatures singing a new song, “You are worthy to take the scroll….”. Rev. 5:10 reads “You have made them to be a kingdom of priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth“. It is easier to determine the meaning of verse 10 because we have a reference to the kingdom of priests in Exodus 19:6 which tells us that it is Israel. But what about verse 6? One is tempted to assume that “ge” in verse 6 refers to the whole earth, but let us examine the context. Note verse 5 where Christ is referred to as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David”. Note also verse 10 in the same context which also refers to Israel. In my opinion, because “ge” is used of Israel in verse 10 and because the entire book of Revelation centers on the “Lord’s day”, which in turn centers on Israel, the “ge” in verse 6 refers to Israel.
The next two occurrences of “ge” that we will consider are in chapter 6 verses 4 and 8, . These verses explain some of the disasters that will come upon the “oikoumenee”, (a limited portion of the earth) during the tribulation (see Rev. 3:10). Verse 4 reads, “Then another horse came out…its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and make men slay each other”. Verse 8 reads, “They (Death and Hades) were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by the sword”. Because these events are part of the tribulation that will come upon one portion of the earth, obviously, the events will occur in a portion of the earth.
Chapter nine continues with the disasters of the tribulation which will occur in order to test Israel. Rev. 8:13 is a verse we have already considered because it deals with the “inhabitants of the earth” it reads, “…Woe to the inhabitants of the earth because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded”. Rev. 9:3-4 describe these disasters, “And out of the smoke, locusts came down upon the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads”. Since the woe is directed to Israel (the phrase “inhabitants of the earth” always refers to Israel-see paragraphs above), the disasters, must also be directed to Israel. Also, Rev. 7 explains that those who will be sealed are those of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Rev. 11:6 is another verse where the reader is tempted to assume that it is the entire earth that is meant, but we must examine the context. It reads, “…and they (the two prophets of God) have powers to turn the water into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as thy want”. We must be aware of several things in this passage. 1) verse 8 centers on the work of these prophets in Jerusalem, the capitol of Israel. “Their bodies will be in the street of the great city where their Lord was crucified”. 2) The word translated “earth” is not “kosmos” but “ge”. 3) Verse 10 reads, “the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them”. The “inhabitants of the earth” in this verse refers to the unbelievers of Israel as it does in every other occurrence of that phrase.
Rev. 13:3 reads, “One of the heads of the beast seemed to have been wounded, but the fatal wound had been healed. The whole world was astonished and followed the beast”. Chapter 13 is obviously about the antichrist and the tribulation which is going to come on the “oikoumenee” to test Israel (Rev. 3:10) Therefore those of Israel were astonished and followed the beast.
Continuing with the occurrences of “ge” in Revelation which have an impact on our question, is the tribulation worldwide, let us look at Rev. 17:5. It reads, “This title was written on her forehead, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTION AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH”. In this verse, I believe that the abominations spoken of refers to all the iniquities that center in Babylon at the time of the antichrist, but were, at least to some extent, “enjoyed” by the kings of the entire earth. This does not, in my opinion, mean that the tribulation will be worldwide, but I leave that to the reader.
Rev. 18:24 reads, “In her was found the blood of the prophets and of the saints and all those who have been killed on the earth”. We must ask, does the phrase “those who have been killed on the earth” refer to everyone who has been killed in the whole world from the beginning of time or is the phrase more limited? Once again, the context (near and far) will tell us. Rev. 19:2 speaks of the great prostitute (Babylon) who has been condemned, note the last sentence of verse 2, “He has avenged on her the blood of His servants“. This takes us back to Rev. 6:10 where the martyrs of the tribulation (see verse 11) ask the Lord, “How long, sovereign Lord, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood”. I believe that those of Rev. 18:24 “who have been killed” refers to those who have been killed during the tribulation. Since the tribulation lasts 3 and one half years, and it will come upon a limited portion of the earth, the ones spoken of in 18:24 are limited by time and geographical area.
I am fully aware that when read in English, Revelation seems to say that the tribulation will be world wide. I believe however, that by translating the Greek word “ge” “earth” or “world”, in each and every occurrence of the word, the translators have led the reader astray.
I believe that the tribulation will come on a portion of the earth surrounding Israel to test those in the land of Israel.
This interpretation is consistent with, 1) the Israel centered scope of the book of Revelation; 2) the translation of “ge” in accordance with its context; 3) the fact that the entire book of Revelation concerns the Lord’s day, which in turn centers on Israel.
APPENDIX: OCCURRENCES OF OIKOUMENEE
The first occurrence is found in Matt. 24:14 which is in a context of our Lord speaking of the end times, and the tribulation in particular. “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world (oikoumenee) for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come”. The note in the Companion Bible on the word “nations” is “nations = the nations”. Indeed the Greek does read “the nations”. The definite article “tois” (“the”) limits the noun, nations. I believe therefore that “oikoumenee” limits it to the nations of the Roman Empire.
The second occurrence of “oikoumenee” is found in Luke 2:1 where a decree is sent to the “oikoumenee”. As mentioned above, obviously this decree was sent out to a portion of the world.
Luke 4:5, “And the devil taking Him up into the mountain, shewed unto Him all the kingdoms of the oikoumenee in a moment of time”. This verse could possibly refer to every kingdom of the world, but it could also mean every kingdom of that portion of the world that Satan will try to get to worship him. That question remains to be answered as we continue in this study.
Luke 21:26, “Men’s hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the oikoumenee”. Verse 25 speaks of the day of the Lord. Here too, this verse could be dependent on how one interprets the geographical limits of the day of the Lord. The answer to this question too, will need to be put off until we have completed our study.
Acts 11:28, “…Agabus signified by the spirit that there should be a great dearth (i.e. a famine ) throughout all the oikoumenee”. Logic will not allow that there was going to be a famine throughout the entire world. This is one verse in which “oikoumenee” must mean a limited portion of the earth.
Acts 17:6, “And when they (the unbelieving Jews and “lewd fellows” of verse 5) found them (Paul and Silas, verse 4) not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city crying, ‘These that have turned the oikoumenee upside down are come hither also”. Paul and Silas certainly did not set the entire world upside down. They had visited much of the Roman Empire at this time, but they certainly did not go beyond that. So here too, this verse must refer to a limited to a portion of the world.
Acts 17:24-31. As mentioned in the body of this paper, this passage is an excellent example of how the Holy Spirit chooses very carefully (as He did with all the words of the Bible) His use of “kosmos” and “oikoumenee”.
Acts 19:27, “So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed whom all Asia and the oikoumenee worship”. Never, in the entire history of the world has one god or idol been worshiped in the entire world. Logic dictates therefore, that in this verse “oikoumenee” must refer to a portion of the world.
Acts 24:5, “For we have found this man (Paul) a pestilent fellow and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the oikoumenee, and a ring leader of the sect of the Nazarenes”. Again, Paul had certainly not visited enough of the entire world to be a “ring leader” and a “mover of sedition” among all the Jews of the entire world. Logic demands that in this verse “oikoumenee” must be understood as a limited portion of the world.
Romans 10:18, “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the ge (Land) and their words unto the ends of the oikoumenee”. The words of the prophets had certainly not gone out into the entire world at the time Romans was written. Therefore, here too, “oikoumenee” must refer to a limited part of the world.
Heb. 1:6, “And again, when He bringeth in the Firstbegotten into the oikoumenee, He saith, “And let all the angels of God worship Him”. Of course in one sense Christ was given to the entire world. But in another sense “He came unto His own”, to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Here too, “oikoumenee” may mean the entire world or it may also mean the limited portion of the world. Considering that the epistle was written by a Hebrew to the Hebrews, in my opinion, the latter interpretation (He came to a limited portion of the world) is more likely.
The same may be said of Heb. 2:5, “For unto the angels hath He not put in subjection the world to come, where of we speak”.
Rev. 3:10 was discussed in the body of this paper.
The next occurrence of “oikoumenee” in Revelation is in 12:9, “The ancient serpent who leads the whole world astray” There is no question that Satan does lead the whole world (kosmos) astray, but as we have seen, Revelation 1) is written to Israel, (1:6), 2) concerns the tribulation and the day of the Lord (1:10), which centers around Israel, and 3) the tribulation is going to come on the inhabited world (oikoumenee (3:10). So while it is true that Satan does lead the whole world (kosmos) astray, in this context i.e. Revelation, he is said to lead the inhabited world (oikomemee) astray. Note also Satan’s reaction to having been cast out of heaven, “When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the man-child“. The man child is, in my opinion, the remnant of Israel and the woman is, of course, Israel. See Rev. 12:5 and compare it with Psalms 110:1-2.
The last occurrence of “oikoumenee” in Revelation is in 16:14 and, in my opinion must be taken to mean a limited portion of the earth, “They are the spirits of demons…. and they go out to the kings of the earth and of the whole world to gather them for battle”. This passage was discussed under the heading “kings of the earth” found in the paragraphs above. I will say only at this point that it is not logical to think that every nation in the entire world will come to battle Israel.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org