Though I believe that the beast and false prophet are ultimately demonic beings and it is them that are cast into the Abyss, the realm of death, in A.D. 70, I believe their human counterparts, Vespasian and Titus, symbolically enact this event in a mundane sense, a fact that adds poetic depth and earthly meaning to this heavenly or spiritual event. There appears to be another (mundane) way in which the beast and the false prophet were “thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur” which applies to Vespasian and Titus.
In Luke 17:21 Jesus says that the kingdom of God also known as the kingdom of heaven is present with the physical presence of Christ and His disciples: “For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” In the same way that the kingdom of heaven is present with Christ and His disciples, I believe the kingdom of the Abyss is also present with the beast and the false prophet, the beast out of the Abyss (see In the Bible “Earth” Signifies the Specific Land Addressed While “Sea” Symbolizes Foreign Nations and The Poetic Biblical Link Between “Sea” and “Abyss”).
Preterism and How the Beast and the False Prophet were thrown “ALIVE” into the Lake of Fire: Jerusalem and Israel were Burned by the Romans during the Jewish War.
Before explaining how the kingdom of the Abyss is present with the beast and the false prophet some things must first be explained. During the gradual conquest of Israel during the Jewish War, Rome, the beast, set fire to city after city as well as the surrounding countryside as part of Rome’s scorched-earth policy. As a result, Jerusalem and much of the rest of Israel was progressively engulfed in a literal lake of fire in partial fulfillment of 2 Peter 3:7: “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” As an earthly shadow of the Abyss, the fiery lake of burning sulfur in v. 20, Israel, the earth, was engulfed in fire during the Jewish War: “Now this country [Jericho] is then so sadly burnt up that nobody care [sic] to come at it…”1 “[N]or did the Romans . . . leave off either by night or by day, burning the places in the plain . . . so that Galilee was all over filled with fire and blood. . . .”2 “He [Vespasian] also set fire, not only to the city [of Gadara] itself, but to all the villas and small cities that were round about it. . . .” Titus also totally demolished Jerusalem, setting the entire city and its suburbs on fire.3 Much of the rest of Israel was also left charred and desolate, suffering the same fate as that of Jerusalem, Jericho, Gadara and Galilee mentioned above.4
A Preterist View of How the Beast and the False Prophet were thrown “ALIVE” into the Lake of Fire: Israel is described as a “Fiery Lake of Burning Sulfur” to Poetically Link the Burning of Israel to Hell.
The fact that Israel seems to be described as a “fiery lake of burning sulfur” in Revelation 19:20 appears to poetically link the burning state of Israel to the fiery Abyss of the damned. As a “fiery lake of burning sulfur,” Israel, having killed Christ and the prophets, becomes an earthly beacon of the ultimate fate of many of its people in the life to come. The beast, Vespasian, and the false prophet, Titus, are the ones ultimately responsible for the burning of Israel. Their physical presence in Israel while it lay burning is another way in which these human embodiments of Rome are said to have been “thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.” The fact that they are thrown alive into the lake of fire hints not only at their presence in Israel while it lay burning, it also seems to foreshadow their ultimate fate in hell after death.
Realized Eschatology and How the Beast and the False Prophet were thrown “ALIVE” into the Lake of Fire: The Bible often describes Burning Places in the Image of Hell.
The fact that Israel and Jerusalem are called a lake of fire is not without precedence. As stated in v. 3, the destruction of Jerusalem as Babylon is also described in the imagery of hell: “The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.” This same language is used in Isaiah 34:9-10 regarding the destruction of Edom: “Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night and day; its smoke will rise forever.” It is also worth noting that Jesus often refers to hell as Gehenna, a burning trash heap in the valley of Ben Hinnon outside of Jerusalem. It is interesting to note that during the siege of Jerusalem, the Jews did not bury the dead. Instead, they cast the dead over the city walls into the valleys like the valley of Ben Hinnon where Jesus says the bodies of the wicked would be cast (Matthew 5:29-30; 10:28; 18:9).5 As is illustrated in the examples above, the authors of the Bible often describe burning places on earth in the imagery of hell. That being said the opposite is also true. As will be shown in Revelation 21: A Preterist Commentary and Revelation 22: A Preterist Commentary, the New Jerusalem of this world is described in the image of heaven.
Covenant Eschatology and How the Beast and the False Prophet were thrown “ALIVE” into the Lake of Fire: Israel is described as the Abyss, the “Fiery Lake of Burning Sulfur,” in v. 20 to symbolize the Conquest of Israel, the Earth, by Rome, the Abyss.
The fact that Israel and its most religiously significant city, Jerusalem, is described as a “fiery lake of burning sulfur” not only poetically links the burning state of Jerusalem and Israel to the fiery Abyss, the afterlife realm of the damned, it also signifies the conquest of Israel, the earth, by Rome, the sea or Abyss. As stated often in this commentary, Israel is represented by the earth and Rome, by the sea or Abyss (see In the Bible “Earth” Signifies the Specific Land Addressed While “Sea” Symbolizes Foreign Nations and The Poetic Biblical Link Between “Sea” and “Abyss”). In A.D. 66, Israel, the earth, rebelled and declared independence from Rome, the sea. The fact that Israel, the earth, becomes a “fiery lake” in v. 20 is a metaphorical flood pointing to the destruction of the earth by the sea. As a result of the conquest of Israel, the earth, by Rome, the Abyss, Israel, the earth, sinks below the sea reverting back to its pre-creation water world state of Genesis 1:1-8. It is perhaps no coincidence that as Rome conquered city after city in Israel, it burned these conquered regions as part of Rome’s scorched-earth policy. This scorched earth policy is itself an earthly symbol of Israel, the earth, being conquered by Rome, the Abyss—the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
Therefore the fact that the beast as Vespasian, and the false prophet, Titus, “were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur [the Abyss]” may also signify their living presence in Israel, the earth, during its military conquest by Rome, the fiery Abyss. Thus as mentioned above, in the same way that the kingdom of heaven is present with Christ and His disciples (Luke 17:21), the kingdom of the Abyss (representing Rome and the afterlife realm of the dead simultaneously) is also present with the beast and the false prophet, the beast out of the Abyss. Thus in this way the beast and the false prophet are also thrown alive into the Abyss as predicted in v. 20.
Thus in this context when Revelation 19:20 says that the beast and the false prophet are seized, this seizure is akin to Ezekiel 38:3-9 when Gog, the leader of Magog, is seized by God so that he may be drawn out with his vast army to attack Israel: “I will turn you [Gog] about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army. . . . in the latter years you will come into the land that is restored from the sword, whose inhabitants have been gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel . . .” Like Gog the leader of Magog, the beast and the false prophet are also seized and drawn out to attack Israel by the command of the angel in v. 18. When the beast and the false prophet obey this command and enact the punishment ordained by God, they are set in the midst of the lake of fire which as explained above symbolizes Rome and its fiery conquest of Israel as a result of Rome’s scorched-earth policy.6
A Preterist View of How the Beast and the False Prophet were thrown “ALIVE” into the Lake of Fire: The Deaths of Titus and Vespasian at the Coming of Christ fulfills Revelation 19:20 and 2 Thessalonians 2:8.
The fact that Titus and Vespasian “were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur” may also hint at their ultimate demise at the coming of Christ. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 reads, “And then the lawless one [Titus and Vespasian] will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.” The fact that the lawless one is overthrown by the “breath of his [Jesus’] mouth” is another way of saying that they are destroyed by the Word of God which is symbolized by the sword that came out of the mouth of Jesus, the rider on the white horse, in Revelation 19:15. See 2 Thessalonians 2:1-9: A Preterist Commentary–The Man of Lawlessness Revealed! For a detailed explanation of the compelling historical evidence of what appears to be the miraculous coming of Christ at the deaths of Titus and Vespasian see The Miraculous Historical Appearance of Christ at the Death of the Beast Fulfills 2 Thessalonians 2:8 and Revelation 19:19-20 and The Coming of Christ in A.D. 70–Like You’ve Never Heard it Before!
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 4.8.3.
- Ibid., 3.4.1.
- Ibid., 5.6.2, 6.4.1-6.9.4.
- Ibid., 4.8.3, 4.9.7, 6.1.1.
- Josephus The Wars of the Jews 22.214.171.1248.
- Some might be tempted to argue that the beast and the false prophet cannot be Romans like Vespasian and Titus as they both survived the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. In response some preterists have proposed various Jewish candidates like the four zealot leaders: John, Simon, Eleazar ben Jair, and Eleazar ben Simon. While it is true that three of these zealot leaders could be said to be cast alive into the lake of fire, that is the fiery fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, as they, like Titus, were physically present in Jerusalem at its fall, John and Simon ultimately survived the war. Simon was captured and slain in Rome at the Roman triumph, John was sentenced to life in prison (Josephus The Wars of the Jews 126.96.36.1993-434). Less is known concerning Eleazar ben Simon who was attacked by John’s forces in the Temple (Ibid., 5.3.1) but later joined forces with John in his fight against Simon (Ibid., 5.6.1). How or when Eleazar ben Simon died is lost to history. Eleazar ben Jair died at the fall of Masada in A.D. 74.