The Symbolic Meaning of “Earth” (Thirteen 5)

While the concept of “sea” is always negative in the book of Revelation, the concept of “earth” is more ambiguous (1:5; 5:6; 6:4; 11:6, 18; 13:12; 14:15-19; 18:1-3; 19:2). In Revelation 12:16 it is the “earth” that helps the woman by swallowing up the flood of water the serpent/dragon spews out of its mouth after her. In Revelation 11:4 it speaks about the “Lord of the earth.” In these contexts “earth” functions in a positive way. When contrasted with “sea” earth is a positive concept. On the other hand, when contrasted with heaven, it is almost always negative (9:1; 14:3, except 21:1 of course). “Those who live in heaven” are always positive in Revelation (13:6; 19:1, 14), whereas “those who live on earth” refer to opponents of God and His people (6:10; 8:13; 13:8; 17:8). So the meaning of “earth,” whether positive or negative from the perspective of Revelation’s author, needs to be determined from the context.

When earth is contrasted with sea or flooding waters, then, the earth is positive rather than negative as a symbol. The earth helps the woman, who represents the faithful people of God (Rev. 12:16). The beast from the land or earth is contrasted with the beast from the sea. Compared to the sea beast’s history (Rev. 13:1-7), the history of the beast from the earth is relatively positive (Rev 13:11). So 12:16 and perhaps 11:4 provide a positive setting for the reference to earth in 13:11. In the next blog, I will spin off from these observations to consider the historical identity of the land beast.

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