Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Apocalyptic? #32: Armageddon IV--The Plague of “Darkness” Part 2 (On the Sun, Moon, and Stars): Josephus and Acts

The Plague of Darkness, Part 2:
 Previously, in Apocalyptic?  #26:  The Plague of “Darkness”:  Josephus, I presented the way John described the Plague of Darkness on the “Throne” of the Beast (Bowl #5).  Revelation 6:12-13 (NKJV), however, also mentions that, in Seal #6, “the sun became black as sackcloth,” but I believe these two darkness events are not referring to the same occasion.  Concerning Seal #6, John writes: “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind.    Trumpet #4 (in Revelation 8:12 NKJV) states, similarly: Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.”

The plague of Darkness in Egypt was the penultimate (next-to-the-last) plague for Pharaoh, just preceding the DEATH (See Seal #4 in Revelation) of the first-born of each Egyptian family (from which the Hebrews were protected in the Passover event by putting the blood of a lamb on their doorposts).  Likewise, Seal #6 is the penultimate seal—occurring just before the “divorce” of Israel in Seal #7.  In that way, “darkness” is a sort-of mirror-image of the history of the Jewish nation as God’s chosen people.  There was darkness just before Israel was called out of Egypt and led to the Promised Land and there is darkness just before Israel is divorced and expelled from the Promised land.  Trumpet #4 just mentions the three kinds of darkness, but Seal #6 mentions all three and adds a “blood” reference to the moon, the stars “falling,” an “earthquake,” and a curious comment about “the sky split . . . like a rolled scroll,” “mountains and islands” disappearing, and great men hiding “in caves and the rocks of mountains” (Revelation 6:14-16 NKJV):

Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!”


I’ll have more to say about mountains and islands” disappearing, and great men hiding “in caves and the rocks of mountains” in a future post, but these astrological, meteorological, and geological events, including earthquakes, are all quite similar to what Jesus predicted in his mini-apocalypse, the Olivet Discourse, Matthew 24:29-31 (NKJV):


 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (See also Mark 13:24-25 and Luke 21:25.)


What does “the sun will be darkened” mean? 
The sun is darkened by an extreme cloud cover or a solar eclipse.  In the first century A.D., according to Wikipedia, there were 58 total eclipses of the sun and 90 partial eclipses, so there was a partial eclipse about every year and a total eclipse more often than every other year.  The number of times the sun was darkened by extreme cloud cover is anyone’s guess.

What does “the moon will be darkened” mean? 
The moon is darkened by an extreme cloud cover, the earth’s obstruction of the sun from reaching the moon (i.e., a lunar eclipse), or the normal monthly lunar cycle.  We experience a monthly lunar cycle every 28 days (we call it a Moonth [=month]). According to, “In most calendar years there are two lunar eclipses; in some years one or three or none occur.” The term “blood moon” is non-scientific, but refers to a total lunar eclipse in modern parlance.  However, Jesus does not call this a “blood moon.”  The number of times the moon was darkened by extreme cloud cover is anyone’s guess.

What does “the stars will be darkened” or “stars will fall” mean? 
The stars are darkened by an extreme cloud cover.  We say that stars are falling when there is a meteorite shower. The number of times the stars were darkened by extreme cloud cover is anyone’s guess.  Of course, the stars do not technically fall during a meteorite shower any more than a moon is technically turned to blood or the sun technically turns black as sackcloth, but in the ancient world, all of these astrological, meteorological, and geological events, including earthquakes, were interpreted as messages from God. 

Astrological, Meteorological, and Geological Events:  During the War for Jerusalem, for example, Josephus himself interpreted a meteorological and geological event as a message from God.  According to Josephus, “there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, and continual lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth that were in an earthquake . . . that . . . foreshewed some grand calamities that were coming” (Wars IV,IV,4-5).  Of course, “in the night,” the sun would have been darkened and, given Josephus’s description of the “storm,” it is certain that the moon and stars would be darkened by the cloud cover.  This event (the storm in the night, with its attending darkness of sun, moon, and stars, and accompanying earthquake) occurred as the Idumeans, who eventually killed Ananus the High Priest, were attempting to enter Jerusalem.  The Idumeans had been sent for by the zealots, requesting assistance, on the pretext that Ananus was attempting to surrender Jerusalem to the Romans.  Once Ananus was aware of this move, he ordered that the gates of the city be shut, blocking out the Idumeans.  The Idumeans were enraged “by their exclusion out of the city.” “[T]hey lay all night before the wall” until the “prodigious storm” with earthquake broke out. (Wars IV,IV,1-5).

Such astrological, meteorological, and geological events caught the attention of Christians (and, at least one centurion and those with him) at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  Matthew 27:45-54 (NKJV) reports:

Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land.   . . . Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

Earthquakes have always been somewhat common in Israel, since it is located along the border between the African and Arabian tectonic plates. Jesus had said in his Olivet Discourse (in Matthew 24:7 NKJV): “there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.”  Fifty days after the remarkable geological events of the crucifixion, on the day of Pentecost, Peter announced concerning what was happening at that time (Acts 2:17-20):

is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams.  And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.  I will show wonders in heaven above And signs in the earth beneath:  Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.  The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.

It was not necessary that Peter include the portion of Joel’s text referring to wonders in heaven, the sun being turned to darkness, and the moon into blood, had he not considered those events to be occurring simultaneously with the happenings of the day of Pentecost. 

What does “the sky split . . . like a rolled scroll” mean? 
Literally, the Greek verb means that the sky or heaven “separated” or “split,” but then John uses the comparison to a “scroll that is being rolled up.”  Which is it?  Is the sky being separated or rolled back together?  NKJV (as cited here) translates: “Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up.”  The ASV translates: “And the heaven was removed as a scroll when it is rolled up.”  The ESV translates: “The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up.”  Did the sky “recede” or was it “removed” or did it “vanish”?  All three of these translations seem to translate a different (but similarly spelled) verb. John uses a form of the verb APOCHORIZO/ἀποχωρίζω, meaning “to separate or split.”  The three previous translations seem to interpret based on a form of the verb APOCHOREO/ ἀποχωρέω, meaning “to go away or depart.”  Interpreters have compared this passage with Isaiah 34:4: “and the heavens shall roll [up] like a scroll.”  The Hebrew and Greek words translated “roll/ed” do not always mean “roll/ed up.”  The word “up” is not present in the text.  Perhaps, John (or even Isaiah) sees the heavens “un”-rolled as a scroll.  Beale, offering a creative solution (p. 396), cites Zerwick and Grosvenor: “The division of heaven is pictured as a scroll that has been split and each of the two halves then rolled up.”  On the other hand, John often uses a free hand in his use of Old Testament allusions.  This could be a hapax legomenon of John’s.  The phrase hapax legomenon (pl. hapax legomena) means “word or an expression that occurs only once within a context: either in the written record of an entire language, in the works of an author, or in a single text” (Wikipedia).  Here, I mean by it that, prior to John’s usage of the expression, no one has used the expression “the sky split . . . like a rolled scroll” in any other existing writings. 

Under my categorization of hapax legomenon, John uses other (pl.) hapax legomena.  Prior to John, no one had used the gematria “666.”  Revelation 13:18 explains that it is the number of a man—the beast (Nero)—so that particular hapax legomenon is, thus, made clearer to most scholars.  Prior to John, no one had used the expression “Lake of Fire,” yet Daniel had used the expression “stream of fire” (Daniel 7:10) and we, therefore, can logically deduce what John means by his expression.  Prior to John, no one had used the term “Armageddon,” and (like the expression “the sky split . . . like a rolled scroll” expression), “Armageddon” seems to be a puzzle, based upon opposite meanings.  The Hebrew word “Ar” means “mountain” and “Mageddon” is a Greek spelling of the Hebrew word “Megiddo.”  However, Megiddo is a “plain,” just the opposite of a “mountain.” 

If John’s audience is seeing the heavens “separated” open like a scroll when it is “un-rolled,” perhaps John’s audience is expected to “read” the cosmological signs of the heavens as a “revelation” of God’s message, just as they would “read” his revelation in a (Bible) scroll.  It might, then, be the equivalent of “the heavens being opened.”  Ezekiel 1:1 says: “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.”  In Revelation 4:1, John saw “a door standing open in heaven” through which John viewed the heavenly thrones of God and Jesus.  In Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10, and Luke 3:21, following Jesus’ baptism the heavens were opened and the Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove.  In John 1:51, Jesus tells Nathanael: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  In Acts 7:56, at his martyrdom, Stephen exclaims: “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  In Acts 10:11, when Peter was confused about letting Gentiles become Christians, he “saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground,” with unclean animals that he was commanded to eat.  Peter got the point.  At the very least, it is not recommended that one interpret this passage (a hapax legomenon) as an indisputable suggestion that John is here predicting the dissolution of all heavenly bodies at this trumpet.  He will get to that prediction eventually, but not yet at this point.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Apocalyptic? #31: Armageddon III--The Plague of Famine: Jesus, John, Josephus


The Plague of Famine Transformed into War Terminology

When Jesus opened the first four Seals in Chapter 6 of Revelation, he outlined the development of the Battle of Armageddon as four men riding horses.  As I commented in an earlier post, conquest, war, and death are easily seen as war terminology, but “famine” could easily be taken as a “natural disaster.”  I promised, in that earlier post, to eventually demonstrate, by citing from Josephus, how “famine” became one of the greatest killers of Jews in the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 A.D.

1.      The first horseman was conquest, as the second horseman, war between the Romans and the Jews, was touched off by Jews wanting to conquer Rome at Masada.  Josephus writes: “[S]ome . . . [that wanted to] go to war, made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada . . . and slew the Romans that were there.  . . .  And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans” (Wars II.XVI.2).

2.      The third horseman, famine, followed shortly after the war began, and the fourth horseman was “Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth [land], to kill with sword, with hunger, with deathand by the beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:8 NKJV).

The Prediction by Jesus
:  In the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:7 (NKJV):

And Jesus . . . said to them: ‘. . . For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.’”


The Prediction by John:  In Revelation 6:5-6 (NKJV), John describes:

He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.” 


Defining Famine
: In Matthew 20:2, a denarius was a day’s wage for a farm worker and in John 12:5, three hundred denarii equals a year’s wage.  Working all day long for just a quart of wheat indicates famine.

Famines in Various Places: Even before the siege of Jerusalem, Jews in Judea were dying as a result of famine.  The sieges of the Romans on the various cities of Judea had the effect of producing famine.  For example, Josephus writes of the famine in Jotapata (Wars III.VII.11).  The Romans had destroyed the crops as they invaded the land of Israel. Josephus writes further: “[T]he people of Gamala . . . the more infirm perished by famine” (Wars IV.I.9), so it happened as Jesus had said: “there will be famines . . . in various places.”  But none of the prior famines compared to the famine in Jerusalem during the Battle of Armageddon.

The Prediction by Niger:  When the zealots managed to kill (one of the ten kings) Niger—in the civil war in Jerusalem—Josephus comments: “Now when they were slaying him, he made this imprecation upon them, that they might undergo both famine and pestilence in this war, and besides that they might come to the mutual slaughter of one another, all which imprecations God confirmed against these impious men, and was what came most justly upon them” (Wars IV.VI.1).  Niger’s prediction came true as the Zealots who killed Niger participated in the civil war activity that produced the famine.

Famine in the Civil War in Jerusalem:  The intemperate behavior of the various factions in the Jewish civil war in Jerusalem had the effect of producing famine.  Having arrived in Jerusalem after losing to the Romans in Gischala, John of Gischala joined in a civil war against other Jewish factions.  A bloody civil war broke out in the city between John, the zealot party, the Idumeans, and Simon son of Giora.  Josephus writes: “[T]hey were an unprofitable and a useless multitude, they spent those provisions beforehand, which might otherwise have been sufficient for the fighting men . . . they were the occasion of . . . famine therein” (Wars IV.III.3). Recall that Simon son of Giora had “enlarged many of the caves . . . as repositories for his treasures, and . . . the fruits that he had got by rapine” (Wars IV.IX.4) in his ransacking of the Acrabattene toparchy (Plague of the Locusts).  Meanwhile, the zealots had “seized upon the inner court of the temple . . . and . . . they had plenty of provisions” (Wars V.I.2).  Since “Simon had his supply of provisions” (Wars V.I.4), his adversary John of Gischala attacked Simon’s supplies:

[T]ill he set on fire those houses that were full of corn and of all other provisions.  The same thing was done by Simon . . . as if they had on purpose done it to serve the Romans, by destroying what the city had laid up against the siege . . . all the places . . . about the temple were burnt down, and . . . almost all the corn was burnt which would have been sufficient for a siege of many years.  So they were taken by means of the famine (Wars V.I.4).


Meanwhile, Josephus was using the famine to try to persuade inhabitants of Jerusalem to surrender: “For the Romans are not unacquainted with that famine which is in the city, whereby the people are already consumed” (Wars V.IX.3).

Famine Worsens: “Those that went out into the valleys to gather food,” as described by Josephus, did so because “the severity of the famine made them bold in thus going out; so nothing remained but that . . . they should be taken by the enemy” (Wars V.XI.1). Josephus describes the worsening state of the famine:

[T]heir famine . . . inflamed more and more . . . no corn . . . appeared publicly . . .but the robbers came running into . . . private houses . . . they saw that they would very soon die of themselves for want of food.  Many there were indeed who sold what they had for one measure; it was of wheat, if they were the richer sort; but of barley, if they were poorer.  When these had so done, they shut themselves up in the inmost rooms of their houses, and ate the corn they had gotten . . . they snatched the bread out of the fire, half baked, and ate it very hastily . . . children pulled the very morsels that their fathers were eating, out of their very mouths . . . so did the mothers do as to their infants; and when those that were most dear were perishing . . . they were not ashamed to take from them the very last drops that might preserve their lives . . . the old men, who held their food fast, were beaten . . . the women[‘s] . . . hair was torn . . . they lifted up children from the ground as they hung upon the morsels . . . and shook them down upon the floor (Wars V.X.2-3).


Eating Old Cow Dung
: Josephus describes the thousands who died in the famine: “Manneus . . . [told] Titus . . . that no fewer than one hundred and fifteen thousand eight hundred and eighty dead bodies” were carried out of Jerusalem through a single gate he was guarding in just a few days.  Manneus had been tasked with keeping an accurate count.  After that:

[M]any of the eminent citizens . . . told [Titus] that no fewer than six hundred thousand were thrown out at the gates . . . and . . . that when they were no longer able to carry out the dead bodies of the poor, they laid their corpses on heaps in very large houses, and shut them up therein; and also that a medimnus of wheat [=1 ½ bushels] was sold for a talent [=100 lbs. of either gold or silver] . . . some persons were driven to . . . the common sewers and old dung-hills of cattle and to eat the dung which they got there . . . now used for food (Wars V.XIII.7).


Eating Anything Chewable: When food was virtually gone, “those that perished by the famine . . . their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew everything . . . girdles and shoes; and . . . the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed . . . wisps of old hay” (Wars VI.III.3).

Eating Their Own Babies
: In what Josephus called “horrible” (Wars VI.III.3):

[T]here was a certain woman [whose] name was Mary [who had fled to Jerusalem when her town Bethezub was attacked but now] it was . . . impossible for her . . . to find any more food, while the famine pierced through her very bowels and marrow . . . .  She then attempted a most unnatural thing; and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, “Oh thou miserable infant! For whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine . . . be thou my food . . . she slew her son and then roasted him, and ate the one half of him, and kept the other half by her concealed” (Wars VI.III.4).

Burning the Victims of Famine
: After burning down the temple, Titus “gave orders to the soldiers, both to burn . . . the city . . . also . . . burnt down . . . were . . . those houses that were full of the dead bodies of such as were destroyed by famine(Wars VI.VI.3).  Josephus concludes:

Accordingly, as the people were now slain, many . . . deserters were caught . . . and were all slain; for these were too weak, by reason of their want of food, to fly away from them; so their dead bodies were thrown to the dogs [note the "beasts of the earth” reference in Revelation 6:8].  Now every sort of death was thought more tolerable than the famine . . . .  Nor was there any place in the city that had no dead bodies in it, but what was entirely covered with either those that were killed by the famine or the rebellion; and all was full of the dead bodies of such as had perished, either by that sedition or by that famine (Wars VI.VII.2).


“[W]hen [the Romans] were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is of such as died by the famine” (Wars VI.VIII.5).  The Four Horsemen had arrived:  Conquest, War, Famine, and Death.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Apocalyptic? #30: Armageddon II—Vengeance on the Villains


Vengeance is mine: I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19 ESV)

Seal #5:  The Martyrs’ Prayer for Vengeance (Revelation 6:9-11 NKJV):

“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. 10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth [Land]?” 11 Then . . . it was said to them . . . rest a little while longer, until . . . the number of . . . their brethren, who would be killed . . . was completed.

Vengeance Realized—Once Babylon the Great HAS FALLEN:


Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!(Revelation 18:9-11 NKJV)



Who is/are the major Jewish villain/s in the New Testament?  At least four of the Ten Kings of the Land were members of the High Priestly family.


A Refresher on the High Priests’ Role in Armageddon:
The High Priestly Family is referred to by John in several ways:  Harlot, Babylon, the second beast, the beast from the land, those who make war with the Lamb, the false prophet, two horns like a lamb, the mark of the beast, and the image of the beast.  A review is in order concerning this family and how they came to be the (illegitimate) high priestly family in Jerusalem.


Babylon:  Jewish historian Solomon Zeitlin reports that when Herod the Great was king of Judea, Herod himself wanted to succeed Antigonus as high priest, but he couldn’t because he was not of a priestly family.  He felt it to be politically dangerous to appoint a member of the [legitimate] Hasmonean family to a position of such great prominence . . . therefore, . . . he appointed Ananel (Hananel), a priest from the Babylonian Diaspora." This "Babylonian" priestly family was the one who ruled Judea and the Temple Cult throughout the New Testament period until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.  This high priestly family engineered the crucifixion of Jesus, declaring in John 19:15: “We have no king except Caesar!'" 

Image of the Beast:
  This high priestly family should be understood to be the talking "image" of the beast who compelled people to “worship” Rome.  Zeitlin observes that the Jerusalem Jews “chose as head of the government the High Priest Ananus . . . who inherently was for peace . . . [secretly attempting] to make peace with Rome.”  With the two major high priests Ananus and Jesus effectively “worshiping the beast,” by John’s definition, (and even telling the other Jews to similarly worship the beast) there was no need for a non-talking Caligula-like stone image to be placed in the temple—the living, breathing, talking “image” of the beast was already firmly ensconced in the temple—the High Priest.

Those Who Make War with the Lamb: 
The high priestly family is identified throughout the New Testament as the Jewish entity most responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (in league with the “kings of the earth/land”—"Roman" rulers, Pontius Pilate and Herod)—as well as the persecution of the church throughout the book of Acts.  In Acts 4:6, “Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest” imprisoned Peter and John and interrogated them for preaching about Jesus.  Again, in Acts 5:17-18, “the high priest” put the apostles in prison.  In Acts 7:1, the deacon Stephen was tried by “the high priest,” and became the first Christian martyr. His death-by-stoning was approved by Saul of Tarsus, who then proceeded to persecute the church with the written permission of “the high priest” (Acts 9:1).  Furthermore, the antagonism of the high priestly family toward Christians continued even to the time John wrote Revelation.  Just before John wrote Revelation, James, the brother of Jesus and some others were martyred by the authority of Ananus the high priest.  Ananus ordered this execution by stoning.  In a very real sense, due to his role in the martyrdom of Jesus’ brother, this Ananus can stand as a singular identity of the “second beast/false prophet,” just as Nero can stand as a singular identity of “the beast/number 666.” The fact that the names of James and Jesus were extremely well-known in Jerusalem in 62 A.D. is attested to by the archaeological discovery of the James Ossuary:

[The James Ossuary was] made known to the public in October, 2002. Ossuaries were used by Israel from about the second century BC until the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Over ten thousand such ossuaries have been discovered but only about one hundred contain inscriptions. Of these, only two have an identification similar to the one etched in the now famous . . . “James Ossuary.” The entire Aramaic inscription reads, “Jacob (James), son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” (Ya’akov bar Yosef akhui di Yeshua). [source:  Calvary Chapel | The James Ossuary: The Earliest Witness to Jesus and…]


I had the privilege of viewing the ossuary when it was exhibited to the public in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto in 2002, in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in that city.  There were early claims that this ossuary’s inscription was forged, but those claims have now been almost completely put to rest.  Since it was extremely rare that a “brother” would be mentioned in the inscription of an ossuary (only a very well-known brother would have been thus mentioned), this “Jesus” must have been a very well-known brother, indeed.  His brother James was also well-known. According to Josephus (Antiquities XX.IX.1): “Ananus . . . assembled the Sanhedrin of the judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or some of his companions] . . . he delivered them to be stoned.”


Wicked Priest:
 John in Revelation never referred to the Jewish priesthood as “priest,” possibly because John’s nomenclature refused to allow honorable terms (such as priest) to be given to the non-Christian Jews.  Instead, John reserves the title “priests” for identifying Christians.  In Revelation 1:6 and 5:10, Christians are called kings and priests.  By contrast, the Jerusalem high priestly family was considered the “wicked priest” by John the Baptist’s former community in Qumran (in the Dead Sea Scrolls).  Still, John gave “priestly” hints regarding them: 

Second Beast/Beast from the “Land”/Two Horns like a Lamb/False Prophet/Fire from Heaven:
 Revelation 13:1-17 introduces a second beast (not identical to, but similar to the Beast (of Rome).  While the first beast (Rome) arises out of the (Mediterranean) “sea,” this second beast arises out of the “land” (of Israel).  While the first beast has ten horns, the second beast has “two horns like a lamb.”  The “priests” were those who sacrificed the “lambs” at the temple.  Compare these two horns of a lamb with the seven horns of the Lamb (Jesus: our “perfect” sacrifice) in Revelation 5:6. The “lamb” reference has been seen by Revelation scholars as indicating that this beast is performing a primarily religious (for that matter, a sacrificial) function.  The beast from the land is also identical to the “false prophet” (16:13, 19:20, and 20:10), another religious office epithet. While it is true that one prophet—Elijah—called down “fire from Heaven” (II Kings 1:10-12) upon his enemies, later, in II Kings 18:38, he asked God to send fire to consume a sacrifice (the much more common situation of fire coming down from heaven).  This phenomenon of fire from heaven consuming sacrifices is recorded in I Chronicles 21:26, II Chronicles 7:1, Judges 13:20, and is implied in the “strange fire” of Nadab and Abihu incident in Leviticus 8-10.  In Jewish folklore, the way God demonstrated that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable, but Cain’s was not is that he sent fire from heaven to consume Abel’s but did not do so for Cain’s (Ginzberg I:107 and V:137).  From a Jewish perspective, sacrifices should only be offered on fire that came down from heaven, so Josephus (in the common assumption among Jews that the existing fire on the altar had been sent from heaven) comments that the fire on the altar at the temple was kept constantly burning: “[T]he custom was for every one to bring wood for the altar, (that there might never be a want of fuel for that fire which was unquenchable and always burning)” (Wars II.XVII.6).  Who was in charge of this fire?  The high priests.  Therefore, when Revelation 13:13 says that the second beast “performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men,” John is identifying the high priest as the second beast.

The Mark of the Beast: 
When Revelation 13:16 refers to the mark of the Beast on the right hand and forehead, the allusion is to the Jewish practice of wearing phylacteries on their hand and forehead, based upon Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18, and Exodus 13:9 and 16.  The chief enforcer of such Jewish practices (including sacrifice) was the High Priest. 

:  John repeatedly cites Psalm 2, describing, the Jewish leaders (whom Acts 4 identifies as the chief priests) and the Gentiles (whom Acts 4 identifies as Pilate and Herod) plotting together against the Messiah.  This alliance between the High Priestly party of Judaism with the Gentile leader Pontius Pilate to crucify Jesus amounted to ultimate harlotry/porneia.  She had conspired with pagan governmental authorities (Pilate and Herod) to crucify Jesus.  She had committed adultery/PORNEIA with the Beast/Rome!  The Old Testament harlot, Israel/Zion, is guilty of harlotry only to the extent she seduces and enters into alliances with her heathen neighbors.  On page 30 of my book Revelation:  The Human Drama, I point out:


J. Massyngberde Ford points out, "The harlot . . . is . . . a Jewish OT theme depicting Jerusalem . . . Babylon is . . . presented as a prostitute . . ., as is the faithless Jerusalem." Reflecting on the teachings of Qumran, Ford concludes, "These texts together with the OT ones indicate that the harlot in Rev 17 is Jerusalem, not Rome.  . . . [T]he harlot depicts particularly the condition of the high priesthood."


The high priestly family, especially Ananus, now again attempts to give Jerusalem to the Romans.             


Great City Divided into Three Parts:  John writes in Revelation 16:19 (NKJV): “Now the great city [Jerusalem] was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon [i.e., Jerusalem] was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath.”  Josephus writes concerning Jerusalem: “The city was fortified with three walls” (Wars V.IV.1).  When Titus prepared to attack:

[He] thought it best to make his assault upon the monument of John the high priest, for there . . . the first fortification was lower, and the second was not joined to it . . . here also was an easy passage to the third wall through which to take the upper city, and through the tower of Antonia, the temple itself (Wars V.VI.2). 


The Cities of the Nations Fell: 
From the Jewish perspective (which was also John’s perspective—see Apocalyptic?  #9:  Revelation 1:1-3 Commentary), the “cities of the nations” are the cities located among the Gentiles in which Jews lived.  The word (ἒθνοι) translated “nations” is the same word that is translated “gentiles” and the same word that is transliterated “heathen.”  According to Josephus, Agrippa had warned the Jews:

“[W]hen the Romans have got you under their power, they will . . . burn your holy city, and . . . the danger concerns not those Jews that dwell here only, but those of them who dwell in other cities also; for there is no people upon the habitable earth which have not some portion of you among them, whom your enemies will slay, in case you go to war . . . and so every city that hath Jews in it will be filled with slaughter” (Wars II.XVI.4).


By the time John wrote (in 69 A.D.), Agrippa’s warning had already been fulfilled.  The Jewish population of several “cities of the nations” HAD ALREADY FALLEN!  The city of Cesarea, in allegiance to Florus, promptly massacred 20,000 Jews “and all Cesarea was emptied of its Jewish inhabitants” (Wars II.XVIII.1).  Likewise, Scythopolis killed 13,000 (Wars II.XVIII.3), “Askelon slew two thousand five hundred [2500] . . . Ptolymais two thousand [2000] . . . Tyre also put a great number to death . . . those of Hippos and . . . Gadara did the like . . . as did the rest of the cities of Syria” (Wars II.XVIII.5).  Even the city of Alexandria (in Egypt), which had long been a safe haven for Jews in the Roman Empire, attacked (with two Roman legions) and killed 50,000 Jews (Wars II.XVIII.8).

The Plague of Hail Transformed into War Terminology: 
In Exodus 9:13-35, the plague of hail referred to an occurrence in nature.  Not so, for John.  John’s reference is to a war phenomenon.  John writes in Revelation 16:21 (NKJV): “And great hail from heaven fell upon men, each hailstone about the weight of a talent. Men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, since that plague was exceedingly great.”  According to Wikipedia, “The Roman talent consisted of 100 . . . (pounds) . . . The gold talent is reported as weighing roughly the same as a person, and so perhaps . . . 110 lb.”  (This gives new meaning to the phrase “worth your weight in gold!”)  In a description remarkably similar to Revelation 16, Josephus explains:

The engines that all the legions had ready prepared for them, were admirably contrived . . . and those that threw stones, were more forcible and larger than the rest . . . .  Now, the stones that were cast, were of the weight of a talent, and were carried two furlongs (1/4th of a mile) and further . . . .  [T]he Jews . . . at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was . . . white . . . and . . . could be seen before it came . . . the watchmen . . . cried out “THE STONE COMETH.”  . . . But the Romans . . . by blackening the stone . . . destroyed many of them at one blow (Wars V.VI.3).


The largest of such Roman engines, the Jews nicknamed “Nico” (Wars V.VII.2), the word that forms the first part of the

name “Nicolaitans” in the letters to the seven churches.  It means “conqueror” and when you add the concept of “laity,” you produce the term “Nicolaitan,” meaning “Conqueror of the People,” which John probably saw as the equivalent of the Hebrew term “Balaam = bala am = he has consumed the people.”  The plague of (hail) stones falling out of the sky from the Romans did indeed help them “conquer” the Jews, while the “porneia”—the adultery between Jewish Christians such as the Nicolaitans and Balaamites and the Beast/Rome—had the effect of “conquering/killing/consuming” the “people” of God (Christians).

In my next blogpost, we will turn from the Roman prosecution of the Battle of Armageddon to the Jewish prosecution of the Battle of Armageddon AGAINST EACH OTHER, in the Civil War that was going on that produced the Plague of Famine in Jerusalem.