A preterist perspective — Revelation 8:8-9

Previously: Hurled into the sea (Rev. 8:8-9)

The scripture

Rev. 8:8 – The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain ablaze with fire was hurled into the sea. So a third of the sea became blood, 9a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (HCSB).

A preterist perspective

There is a fascinating perspective that some preterists share about the symbolism in these verses. Preterists, you’ll recall, believe the events of Revelation are fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age and argue that the symbolism used here depicts the collapse of the Jewish state and the dispersion of the Jewish people. They begin by taking us to the time when Jesus curses the barren fig tree, which probably symbolizes the fruitless and unbelieving nation of Israel (Matt. 21:18-19). When the tree withers immediately, the disciples are amazed. Jesus responds, “I assure you: If you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you tell this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ it will be done” (Matt. 21:21, emphasis added).

Since Jesus’ statement is connected with the cursing of the fig tree, it is possible that His reference to “this mountain” being thrown into the sea is His prediction that the corrupt nation of Israel will be crushed by Gentile oppressors (the Romans) and the people dispersed among the Gentile nations. If this is the case, His judgment of Israel is in response to the prayers of the saints in Rev. 8:3-5.

Four major views of the second trumpet

So, how do proponents of the four major interpretations of Revelation view the second trumpet?

  • Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – say the entire series of trumpet judgments is concerned with the Jewish War of 66-70 A.D., the “last days” of the Jewish commonwealth. Symbolically, the “great mountain ablaze with fire” is the nation of Israel under God’s fiery judgment. The sea is frequently used in prophecy as a symbol of the Gentile nations. Therefore, the Jews, defeated at the hands of the Romans, are now dispersed among the Gentile nations. Perhaps a more literal fulfillment may be seen in an event recorded by the historian Josephus, who describes a battle in which the Romans pursue many Galileans onto the Sea of Galilee and slaughter them there. Josephus’ description of the battle closely parallels John’s report of a third of the sea becoming blood and of the destruction of fish and ships, although Josephus never read Revelation. The phrase “a third” is a rabbinic reference to a large number and should not necessarily be interpreted literally.
  • Many historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – identify the great mountain with the Vandals, who leave their ancient home in the Baltic to invade Rome, ravage the once-undisputed masters of the sea and cause great damage to the islands. Some, however, see the mountain as a heretical leader who causes great damage to the church.
  • Many futurists – who argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – say the mountain-like object falling into the sea represents the influence of an Antichrist-led coalition on the Gentile nations (the sea). Some, however, equate the mountain with spiritual Babylon, which is prominent later in Revelation and symbolizes the false church (meaning Roman Catholicism) that will by destroyed by the people she once tyrannized. Still others take a literal approach, arguing for a giant meteorite, or asteroid, or even a satellite orbiting another planet and hurled to the earth. One popular futurist argues that the mountain is in fact a hydrogen bomb.
  • Some idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – believe the great mountain burning with fire and cast into the sea is drawn from the images of Babylon’s fall in the Old Testament (Jer. 51:25, 42). Some unidentified power – perhaps the Roman Empire – will fall in similar manner. Others suggest this is a volcano whose ashes pollute the sea; perhaps this is fresh in the minds of first-century readers who are familiar with the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. One commentator reminds us that the particular mention of the loss of shipping may mean that while the first plague hits our environment, the second impacts our commerce.

Next: The third trumpet (Rev. 8:10-11)