The Earth Dwellers of Revelation

Dr. Thomas Ice

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Revelation 3:10is rightly know as a passage that supports the pre-trib rapture doctrine, butthe second half of the verse introduces us to the first use of the term "earthdwellers." "Because you have keptthe word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing,that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwellupon the earth." 3:10 is the firstuse in Revelation of a phrase I call "earth dwellers" but usually translated"those who dwell upon the earth." This phrase is used eleven times in nine verses in Revelation (3:10;6:10; 8:13; 11:10 2xs; 13:8, 12, 14 2xs; 14:6; 17:8). "Earth dwellers" is a designation for persistent unbelieversduring the tribulation.

Old Testament Background

Likemost New Testament terminology, "earth dwellers" originates in the OldTestament. A couple forms of theconstruct is used almost 50 times in the Hebrew Old Testament,[1]not including a similar phrase "world dwellers" that occurs five times.[2] The overwhelming majority of times that"earth dwellers" is used in the Old Testament it is rightly translated "landdwellers" or "inhabitants of the land" since the context references a localizedarea of land or country like Israel. However, in a global context, the same Hebrew phrase is best rendered"inhabitants of the earth" (Psa. 33:14; Isa. 18:3; 24:6, 17; 26:21; Jer. 25:30;Joel 2:1; Zep. 1:18). All fiveuses of "inhabitants of the world" appear to be in a global context (Psa. 33:8;Isa. 18:3; 26:9, 18; Lam. 4:12) and in all but one instance (Lam. 4:12) areused in the same context with "earth dwellers." When "earth dwellers" and "world dwellers" are used in thesame contexts it serves to strengthen the notion that a global rather thanlocal context is intended.

Everyglobal use of "earth dwellers" in the Old Testament appears in a judgmentcontext and probably all phrases also will take place in the future, during theday of the Lord or tribulation period. It is of special significance that both "earth dwellers" and "worlddwellers" are used multiple times in Isaiah 24—27, often called "Isaiah'sApocalypse." Chapter 24 tells usthat God's worldwide judgment will come upon all mankind because of specificsins of "the inhabitants of the earth" (24:5, 6, 17). Isaiah 26:9b says, "For when the earth experiences Thyjudgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness." The final two verses of chapter 26speak of the tribulation period. Verse 20 says that Israel will be hidden away and protected "untilindignation runs its course." Since the remnant of Israel will be protected during the tribulation,then what will be God's purpose for the judgment of this period? Verse 21 answers that question as follows: "For behold, the Lord is about to come out from His place to punish theinhabitants of the earth for their iniquity; and the earth will reveal herbloodshed, and will no longer cover her slain." Thus, we see that a purpose for the tribulation will be to"punish" the earth dwellers. Thisis very similar to the statement in Revelation 3:10 that says the Lord will"test those who dwell upon the earth." It seems clear that Isaiah 24—27, and especially 26:21 providesthe backdrop for understanding what is meant in Revelation 3:10, as well asJohn's used of "earth dwellers" throughout Revelation.

To Test The Earth Dwellers

Sinceone of the main purposes of the judgments of the tribulation are to "punish"(Isa. 26:21) or "test" (Rev. 3:10) the earth dwellers,[3]it is important to know what this means. The Greek word for "test" is peirazo,which means "to endeavor to discover the nature orcharacter of something by testing, try, make trial of, put to the test."[4] It is important to keep in mind that amajor purpose for the judgments of the tribulation in Revelation (4—19)are to test the earth dwellers under the most extreme circumstances in order tovindicate their rejection of the Lamb (Jesus) and His message (the gospel). No matter the severity of the judgmentsthat are issued from heaven, no a single earth dwellers repents (see Rev.6:15–17; 9:20–21; 16:9, 11, 21).

Thefact that not a single earth dweller repents in the detailed account of theirtesting in Revelation is likely the reason that the retributive term "punish"is used in Isaiah 26:21. Isaiah'sprophecy pictures a finished evaluative conclusion, while John speaks of thepurpose before it has produced a certain outcome. However, the subsequent events of Revelation make it clearthat the testing of the earth dwellers vindicates God's judgment upon them.

Who Are The Earth Dwellers

Whenwe survey the eleven uses of "earth dwellers" in Revelation, we see aninteresting composite that develops. Not only are they to be tested in order show their true metal (3:10),they are clearly identified as those who are persecuting and killing believersduring the tribulation (6:10). Many of the judgments of the tribulation are targeted for the "earthdwellers" (8:13). It is the "earthdwellers" who rejoice and send gifts to one another when the two witnesses arekilled in Jerusalem during the middle of the tribulation (11:10). When the Beast (Antichrist) isintroduced in Revelation 13, it is noted that, "all who dwell on the earth willworship him" (13:8, 12). Thus,100% of the "earth dwellers" receive the mark of the beast and will spendeternity in the Lake of Fire. During the tribulation, as followers of the Beast, the "earth dwellers"will be deceived by the false signs and wonders of the Beast and will erect animage of the Beast, likely in the Jewish Temple (13:14). While the target of the preaching ofthe gospel by an angelic messenger will be "earth dwellers" (14:6), not asingle one of the will follow the Lamb, instead they will wonder after the Beast(17:8).

TonyGarland correctly surmises that the term "earth dwellers" conveys a"soteriological/eschatological[5]meaning in the book of Revelation for it denotes the unsaved at the time ofthe end who steadfastly continue in their rejection of God."[6]Thus, "earth dwellers" are a moralrather than a geographical term, even though the phrase has a geographicalconnotation. "Earth dwellers"appear to be a figure of speech called a synecdoche, where the whole (earthdwellers) is put for one of its parts (unbelievers during the tribulation).[7]

"Earthdwellers" are contrasted to the proper focus in Revelation upon the heavenlytemple, from where God's orders go forth in order to establish the Kingdom ofGod upon earth. Instead, the focusand ambitions for the "earth dwellers" are limited to the earth and not God'swill, which is issued from heaven and enacted upon the earth. "This fact explains," notes Garland,"why the events of Revelation include great judgments poured out upon thenatural systems of the earth for the earth has become an idol of worship forthe earth dwellers."[8] "In contrast to the faithful who are aliens and sojourners upon the earth (Lev. 25:23; Num. 18:20, 23; 1Chr. 29:15; Ps. 39:12;119:19; John 15:19; 17:14, 16; Php. 3:20; Heb. 11:13; 1Pe. 2:11) and whose hopeis heavenward (Heb. 11:13–16; Rev. 13:6), these that dwell upon the earth are trusting in man and hisenvironment."[9] Renald Showers tells us: "All of theseRevelation references to 'them that dwell upon the earth' clearly indicate thatthey will be unsaved people of the future period of testing who will never getsaved. . . . In spite of thedevastating horrors of the sixth trumpet, which will kill one-third of mankind,the earth-dwellers will not repent of their wicked deeds (Rev. 9:20–21)."[10]

Other References

Luke 21:35, partof our Lord's Olivet Discourse about the end times, warns: "for it will comeupon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth." In this instance, the "earth dwellers"will be the ones caught off guard by the judgment of the tribulationperiod. The same theme ofunpreparedness is found in 1 Thessalonians 5 and the sons of darkness(5:1–11). They are unpreparedbecause they have not trusted Christ as their Savior.

A similarpassage, which does not use the term "earth dwellers" but almost certainly hasin mind the "earth dwellers" by a different name (those who love not thetruth), provides further insight into this matter. "And for this reason God will send upon them a deludinginfluence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all maybe judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness" (2Thess. 2:11–12). Thisstatement reinforces the notion that a purpose for the tribulation includes atesting and judgment of the "earth dwellers." Here God is seen as the One who enables the man oflawlessness to produce false signs and wonders because the do not love thetruth. Maranatha!


[1] From asearch conducted by the computer program Accordance, version 7.4.2.

[2] From asearch conducted by the computer program Accordance, version 7.4.2.

[3] The othermain purpose of the tribulation is to lead to Israel's conversion andacceptance of Jesus as their Messiah (Isa. 26:11–20; Jer. 30:1–24;Ezek. 20:33–44; 22:17–22; Dan. 12:1–13; Zech.12:10—13:1, etc.).

[4] WalterBauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other EarlyChristian Literature, a translation andadaptation by William F. Arndt & F. Wilbur Gingrich (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957),p. 793.

[5]Soteriological means the study of the doctrine of salvation, whileeschatological means the study of the doctrine of last things.

[6] (italicsoriginal) Tony Garland, A Testimony of Jesus Christ: A Commentary on theBook of Revelation, 2 vols. (Camano Island,WA:, 2004), vol. 1, pp. 264-65.

[7] SeeEthelbert W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in The Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, [1898] 1968), pp.637–38.

[8] (italicsoriginal) Garland, Revelation, vol. 2,p. 281, e.n. 77.

[9] (italicsoriginal) Garland, Revelation, vol. 2,p. 265.

[10] Renald E.Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Come(Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1995), p. 265 as cited inGarland, Revelation, vol. 2, p.265.