For all its mysteries, the Book of Revelation makes one thing very clear: those who have claimed this fallen, sin-cursed world as their permanent home are the enemies of God and His people. Revelation calls them “those who dwell upon the earth,” or “earth-dwellers.” The word used in the original Greek text is the participle form of katoikeo, which means to settle down, to live permanently in.
It’s not hard to see this philosophy in everything from beer commercials to the latest alleged medical breakthrough that holds out the hope that people will one day live forever – on this same earth, with its wars, crime, hatred, greed, and lust! This world is all the earth-dwellers have and they hold on to it will all their strength and determination. They also resent any disruption of their enjoyment of this world, things like disease, accidents, and natural disasters. When homes are destroyed by hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes, we hear people say, “It’s just not right!” They want to blame someone. Ultimately, the one they blame is God. “How could a good God allow such terrible things to happen?” The Bible’s explanation that the sin of mankind brought all this misery, that Paradise was lost when man rebelled against God, is dismissed without a thought.
The Book of Revelation strips away the mask of self-righteousness from the earth-dwellers and shows them for the enemies of God they are. Let’s look at some passages.
The first mention of the earth-dwellers is in Jesus’ message to the small but faithful church of Philadelphia in Asia Minor, what is today Turkey.
Because you have kept the 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 dwell on the earth. (Rev. 3:10 NASB, phrase highlighted in bold throughout.)
Jesus assures His faithful followers that they will be protected from the wrath that will be poured out on the earth-dwellers. In Revelation 6:10, the martyrs in heaven appeal to the Lord for judgment of those who slew them for their faith.
“and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Rev. 6:10)
The attitude of the earth-dwellers toward God’s people is vividly portrayed in their hatred and persecution of God’s two witnesses (possibly representative of the Church in the last days)[i].
“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth." These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. (Revelation 11:3-10)
It’s Christmastime for the ungodly earth-dwellers when they believe they have silenced God’s witnesses forever! But that’s not the end of the story!
Judgment of the Earth-Dwellers
The judgment for which the martyrs prayed is announced in Revelation 8:13 --
Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!"
Those trumpet blasts announced the judgments of God recorded in chapters 9-11, which include the release of demonic hordes and painful torments on those very earth-dwellers who reject God. That judgment is further depicted in Chapter 11, after the rapture of God’s witnesses:
But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." Then they went up into heaven in the cloud,[ii] and their enemies watched them.[iii] And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly. Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever." And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, "We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. "And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth." (Revelation 11:11-18)
Rather than worshiping God, the earth-dwellers worship the Beast, Satan incarnate (Rev. 13:1-9), whom Paul calls “the man of sin” (or “lawlessness,’ 2 Thessalonians 2:3). The earth-dwellers are already being prepared for such a “leader,” as we see the rule of law being flouted shamelessly by national and world leaders. The arbitrary rule of a world dictator who will offer peace and prosperity to all who will give him absolute allegiance (e.g. “worship”) is more feasible than ever.
A Challenge to Citizenship
Everyone is a citizen of either this present world or the world to come. Paul contrasts the two when he encourages the Philippians to persevere in faith and holiness:
For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:18-21, bold print added.)
Sadly, some who once declared their allegiance to Christ and even ministered in his name eventually show that their true citizenship is in this present world. Such was Paul’s former co-worker Demas:
for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica . . .
(2 Timothy 4:10)[iv]
Where is your citizenship today? If you have lived for “this present world” up to this point, your future is not bright. But it doesn’t have to stay that way! The invitation of God’s Spirit is still extended:
The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. (Revelation 22:17)
The New Heaven and New Earth
In one of the most blessed passages of Scripture, the Apostle John describes his vision of what awaits those who have trusted Christ and are citizens of Heaven:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away." And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." And He said, "Write, for these words are faithful and true." Then He said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. "He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. (Revelation 21:1-7)
Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
Where is your citizenship? This old cursed world is coming to an end, and a glorious new Earth is coming soon.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13)
And Jesus said:
"And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book." (Revelation 22:7)
[i] See Beale, G. K., The Book of Revelation, for a thorough and compelling presentation of this view.
[ii] Compare 1 Thesssalonians 4:16-17 and 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.
[iii] As William Hendriksen pointed out in More Than Conquerors, this is “hardly a secret rapture!”
[iv] Contrast Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 1:24.