OVERVIEW – In Revelation, the “inhabitants of the earth” represent the men and women who are excluded from the “book of life” by their own decisions.
In Revelation, the “inhabitants of the earth” constitute the group that is unrelenting in its hostility to Jesus and his servants, even rejoicing in the violent deaths of his witnesses. Unlike the “nations” and the “kings of the earth,” apparently, this group is beyond redemption, and their names are excluded from the “Lamb’s book of life.” But its eventual destruction in the “lake of fire” is a fate of its own making.
“Inhabitants” translates the Greek verb katoikeô, meaning, “to dwell, inhabit.” In Revelation, it occurs only with negative connotations, and almost exclusively to refer to the “inhabitants of the earth,” a group always hostile to the “Lamb.” Its first use is in the “letter” to the church at Pergamos:
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These things declares he that has the sharp two-edged sword. I know where you dwell, even where Satan’s throne is; and you are holding fast my name, and did not deny my faith, even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” – (Revelation 2:12-13).
Traditionally, “where Satan dwells” is applied either to the seat of the Roman provincial government based in Pergamos, or to the temple there dedicated to the veneration of the emperor. Either application may be correct. However, there is something larger in view. “Dwell” is applied to Satan and to the church in Pergamos, which certainly did not reside in the governor’s residence, or in the temple dedicated to the emperor. Likewise, ‘Antipas,’ would not have been executed in either location. Most likely, he died outside the city walls.
Members of the congregation dwelled in the city or its nearby environs. Yet, the Risen Jesus assured them, he was certainly aware that they lived where “Satan dwells.” As will become clear, this statement has a broader application.
Jesus promised the church at Philadelphia that he would keep them “from the hour of trial, which is going to come upon the whole habitable earth, to try the inhabitants of the earth.” Here, the terms “whole habitable earth” and “inhabitants of the earth” are applied to the same situation. Implicit is the wider geographical area that will be affected by this “trial”; it will involve populations beyond the confines of Philadelphia – (Revelation 3:10).
The term “inhabitants of the earth” is derived from a passage in the Book of Daniel. After his downfall and restoration to the Babylonian throne, Nebuchadnezzar declared:
(Daniel 4:34-35) – “And at the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up my eyes to heaven, and my understanding returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and I praised and honored him that lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation; and all the INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH are reputed as nothing; and he does according to his will in the HOST OF HEAVEN, and among the INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH; and none can stay his hand or say unto him, What are you doing?”
Later, when the “Lamb” opened the “fifth seal,” John saw the “souls of them who had been slain for the testimony they held” underneath the “altar.” The image was based on the altar of burnt offerings from Leviticus, where the blood of sacrificial victims was poured out at its base. This is the picture behind the martyred “souls” found at the base of the “altar.” There, the martyrs pleaded for vindication against the “inhabitants of the earth.” Here, the group is linked explicitly to the persecution of believers – (Revelation 6:9-11).
After the first four trumpets sounded, John saw an “eagle” pronouncing a warning:
“Woe, woe, woe, for the inhabitants of the earth, because of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, who are yet to sound!” – (Revelation 8:13).
The first four trumpets unleashed “plagues” against the economical means of the empire – seaborne commerce, fresh water sources, and the like. The last three harmed the “inhabitants of the earth” themselves. “By these three plagues was the third part of men killed.” Nevertheless, they “repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”
When the “beast from the Abyss” killed the “two witnesses,” the “inhabitants of the earth rejoiced over them and made merry… for these two prophets tormented the inhabitants of the earth.” While it was the “beast” who carried out these violent acts, the “inhabitants of the earth” certainly took pleasure in them.
In chapter 12, after the “son” was caught up to the “Throne,” Satan was expelled from heaven and “cast down to the earth.” While heaven “rejoiced,” the “great voice in heaven” declared an ominous warning to the “inhabitants of the earth”:
“Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you that tabernacle in them. Woe for the inhabitants of the earth and the sea: because the Devil is gone down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time.” – (Revelation 12:12).
In this pronouncement, two groups are contrasted, which is indicated by the two verbs used: “tabernacle” and “inhabit” (or “dwell”). “Tabernacle” or “tent” indicates something temporary, such as a “tent” pitched during a journey. “Inhabit” or “dwell” suggests something more permanent. And note the expansion of the expression to the “inhabitants of the earth and the sea.” Unless the passage is a warning to sea creatures, the references are not geographical. Men reside on land, not in the sea.
For the men who were “tabernacling in heaven,” the expulsion of the Devil meant rejoicing. For the “inhabitants of the earth,” it meant something far more ominous. The identity of the ones who were “tabernacling in heaven” is provided by the context – the “brethren” who “overcame the Dragon by the blood of the Lamb.”
Precisely why the downfall of the “Dragon” meant “woe” to the “inhabitants of the earth” is not stated, other than the warning that he was enraged and had but a “short time” to vent his wrath. However, the target of his rage was NOT the “inhabitants of the earth,” but the “woman” and her “seed… they who have the testimony of Jesus.” The last clause links the latter group to the martyrs “under the altar” who had been slain on account of “their testimony.”
The same two groups are found again in chapter 13, those who “tabernacle in heaven” and the “inhabitants of the earth,” in the vision of the “beast from the sea”:
(Revelation 13:4-10) – “And they rendered homage to the Dragon because he gave his authority to the beast; and they rendered homage to the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast, and who is able to war with him? And there was given to him a mouth speaking great things and slanders; and there was given to him authority to continue forty and two months. And he opened his mouth for slander against God, to slander his name, and his tabernacle, them that tabernacle in the heaven. And it was given him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them… And all the inhabitants of the earth will render homage to him, whose name has not been written in the book of life of the Lamb that hath been slain.”
The rhetorical question, “Who is like him, and who can make war with him,” is reminiscent of Nebuchadnezzar’s declaration – “He does according to his will in the host of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, What are you doing?” As is now clear, the source of the two contrasting groups, those who “tabernacle in heaven” and the “inhabitants of the earth,” is the same passage from Daniel.
The “slander” is directed against “them who tabernacle in heaven.” The reference is NOT spatial. It does not refer to a group of beings floating in the sky. Rather, the terms differentiate between the groups based on allegiance, either to the “Lamb” or to the “beast.” The followers of the “Lamb” have not taken up permanent residence in the present age, therefore, they are now “tabernacling.”
The “slander” refers to accusations and charges brought against the saints by the “accuser of the brethren” and his earthly servants in earthly courts of law. A parallel is found in the letter to the church at Smyrna where the congregation was “slandered” before local authorities by Jews from the “synagogue of Satan.”
What identifies a person as a member of the “inhabitants of the earth” is not physical location, but whether his or her name is excluded from “the Lamb’s book of life.” In other words, all who render homage to the “beast”:
“And I saw another beast ascending from the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spoke like a Dragon. And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his sight. And he makes the earth and its inhabitants render homage to the first beast, whose death-stroke was healed. And he does great signs, that he should even make fire to come down out of heaven upon the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives the inhabitants of the earth by the signs which it was given him to do in the sight of the beast; saying to the inhabitants of the earth, that they should make an image to the beast who had the stroke of the sword and lived.” – (Revelation 13:11-14).
The second “beast,” the “false prophet,” ascended from the “earth” to deceive the “earth and its inhabitants.” This demonstrates that, in Revelation, “earth” means something beyond the physical planet. Just as the “sea” and the “Abyss” are sources and realms of evil, so, also, is the “earth.” This explains why the expulsion of Satan from heaven meant “woe” to those “inhabiting the earth and the sea.”
The “false prophet” had two horns “like a lamb,” and performed the same “signs” done previously by the “two witnesses.” He imitated the “Lamb” and his “witnesses.” Similarly, the “first beast” received the “stroke of death” but lived, a parody of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This suggests that their deception was a counterfeit of the true faith. In response, the “inhabitants of the earth” took the “mark of the beast,” thus, sealing their fate.
In chapter 14, an angel “flying in mid-heaven” proclaimed the everlasting gospel to the “inhabitants of the earth,” AND to “every nation and tribe and tongue and people”; thus, the “nations” and the “inhabitants of the earth” are not necessarily identical. The angel summoned them to “fear God and give him glory; for the hour of his judgment is come.” Rather than to the “beast,” they must “render homage to him that made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters.” Two more angels followed and pronounced judgment:
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, that made all the nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. And a third angel followed, saying with a great voice, If any man renders homage to the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead, or upon his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb” – (Revelation 14:6-13).
“Babylon, the Great Harlot” is described in detail in chapter 17. She was the one with whom the “kings of the earth” and the “inhabitants of the earth” committed “fornication.” As with the “nations,” so, also, the “kings of the earth” are distinguished from the “inhabitants of the earth,” though both groups were corrupted by “Babylon,” who was drunk with the “blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.”
The “Great Harlot” was carried by the “beast” that had “seven heads and ten horns.” It “was and is not; and is going to ascend from the Abyss,” references to the previous slaying and “resurrection” of the “beast from the sea,” and to the ascent of the “beast from the Abyss” to destroy the “two witnesses.” At this point, Revelation is pulling together themes from the preceding visions. The constant in each case was the hostility of the “inhabitants of the earth” to the “Lamb” and his servants, and their preference for the “beast,” his “name,” and his “mark”:
“And the inhabitants of the earth shall wonder, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast, how that he was, and is not, and shall come” – (Revelation 17:1-8).
The consistent refusal of the “inhabitants of the earth” to render homage to the “Lamb” and their approval of the persecution of his servants explains why their “name was not written in the book of life,” and their fate meted out at the “Great White Throne of Judgment.” At that time:
Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire, the second death. And if anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire” – (Revelation 20:11-15).
Their record also explains why the “inhabitants of the earth” were not found in the “city of New Jerusalem.” In Revelation, at times, the “nations” and the “kings of the earth” resisted the “Lamb.” Nevertheless, both groups are found in the city, they are not without hope:
“And the city has no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine upon it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the lamp thereof is the Lamb. And the nations shall walk amidst the light thereof: and the kings of the earth bring their glory into it” – (Revelation 21:23-24).
Thus, as a group, the “inhabitants of the earth” are beyond redemption, not because God is powerless to save, but because they refuse His every offer. No matter how many plagues He sends, they refuse to repent. Like Pharaoh, they only harden their hearts. They “fornicate” with “Babylon.” They celebrate the deaths of God’s servants. Rather than follow the “Lamb,” they “render homage to the beast,” and welcome its “mark.” They prefer the counterfeit faith offered by the “beast” and “false prophet.” In short, their names are excluded from the “book of life” due to their own decisions. God’s condemnation of them is fully justified.