Revelation Chapter 10 – 11
Rev. 10.1 Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. 2 He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, 3 and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. 4 And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.”
- As in the seals, the sequence of the sixth and seventh trumpets is interrupted to provide additional information bearing on the previous events and to prepare the reader for further developments. The author sees a mighty angel (possibly Michael, “the great prince” of Da 12:1), whom he describes in such dazzling terms that some have wrongly identified him with Christ. The voice that speaks in vv. 4, 8 could, however, be that of Jesus.
The angel has in his hand a small scroll (v. 2)—not to be confused with the Lamb’s scroll of chs. 5-7 but connected with the symbolic scroll of Ezekiel (Eze 2:9-3:3; cf. Jer 15:15-17). This prophet was told to “eat” the scroll, just as John is told to eat the scroll given him (vv. 9-10). Such an action symbolized the reception of the Word of God into one’s innermost being as a necessary prerequisite to proclaim it with confidence. John could see the words on the scroll because it “lay open” in the angel’s hand. The angel standing on both land and sea symbolizes that the prophetic message is for the whole world.
When the angel shouted (v. 3), seven thunders spoke, and John proceeded to write down their words. But he is interrupted and is commanded, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down” (v. 4). Conceivably, this might have been another series of sevens. Either the seven thunders were intended for John’s own illumination and were not essential to the main vision of the seven trumpets, or the reference is designed to strike a note of mystery with reference to God’s revelatory activities (cf. 2Co 12:4). As the visible portion of an iceberg is only a small part of the iceberg, so God’s disclosures reveal only part of his total being and purposes.
- another mighty angel. Like God on his throne, he is surrounded by a rainbow (cf. 4:3). Like the Son of Man, he comes with a cloud, and his face shines like the sun (cf. 1:7, 16). His legs like pillars of fire reflect the glory of God’s presence in the wilderness (Ex. 13:21–22; 14:24). His voice like a lion roaring could belong to the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5; see Amos 3:7–8). Therefore some interpreters think this is Jesus himself. However, since Rev. 1:1 describes an angel sent by Christ to deliver God’s revelation to John, many see this as simply “another” great angel.
- 10:2 The scroll is open because the Lamb has broken its seals. The scroll is little compared to the great size of the angel, whose stride spans sea and land. It will be given to John to eat and to proclaim (vv. 10–11), completing the process of transmission (from God to Christ to angel to John to the churches) initiated in 5:7.
- 10:3–4 John must seal up—keep secret by not writing—the messages of the seven thunders. This prohibition may serve a similar purpose to the angel’s announcement that “there would be no more delay” (v. 6), since reporting these seven messages would have further delayed the seventh trumpet’s blast. Christ’s church must live by faith amid the unrevealed mysteries of God’s purposes.
Rev. 10.5 Then the angel I had seen standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven. 6 And he swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it, and said, “There will be no more delay! 7 But in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.”
- The angel’s action of raising his right hand to heaven doubtless alludes to the Jewish oath-swearing procedure (Dt 32:40; Da 12:7). He swears that “there will be no more delay” (v. 6). Clearly there is some type of progression in the seals, trumpets, and bowls that nears its conclusion as the seventh trumpet is about to sound (v. 7). When the seventh trumpet is finally sounded, there is an announcement that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ” and that the time has come to judge the dead, to reward the saints, and to destroy the earth destroyers (11:15, 18). These events are recorded in the remaining chapters of the book, which include the seven bowl judgments and the new heavens and the new earth. Thus, here in 10:7 it is announced that “the mystery of God” is accomplished. That mystery is his purposes for humanity and the world as revealed to both OT and NT prophets.
- The way the NIV translates v. 7 suggests that the consummation comes before the blowing of the seventh trumpet: “when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet. . . .” While this is grammatically possible, it is also possible to render the expression “about to sound” as “when he shall sound.” Thus understood, the meaning is that during the time of the sound of the seventh trumpet, when the angel sounds, the final purposes of God will be completed. This rendering clarifies the statement in 11:14, “The second woe has passed: the third woe is coming soon,” a statement made just before the seventh trumpet sounds. Hence, the seventh trumpet will reveal the final judgments of the bowls and the final establishment of God’s rule on the earth.
- The angel’s stance—one foot on sea, one on land, and right hand raised to heaven—unites three spheres of the created order (see 5:13; Gen. 1:6–10) as their divine Creator is invoked to witness the angel’s oath (cf. Dan. 12:7; also Gen. 14:22; Deut. 32:40). The angel swears that the era of God’s longsuffering, which entailed delay of his martyrs’ vindication (Rev. 6:10), will end when the last trumpet sounds. The mystery of God to be fulfilled when the seventh trumpet sounds is his plan to unite all things in heaven and earth under Christ’s headship (Eph. 1:10), making visible to all the sovereignty by which the Son now orchestrates every event for his church’s welfare (Eph. 1:20–22). This “mystery” includes the unrestrained expression of God’s wrath, signified in the bowl judgments, toward all who resist his reign (cf. Rev. 15:1, where “finished” translates the same verb [Gk. teleoœ] rendered “fulfilled” in 10:7).
Rev. 10.8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
Rev. 10.9 So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.” 10 I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. 11 Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”
- John, like Ezekiel, is now commanded to take the prophetic scroll and eat it. The scroll tasted “as sweet as honey” but was bitter to the stomach. Receiving the Word of God is a great joy; but since the Word is an oracle of judgment, it results in the unpleasant experience of proclaiming a message of wrath and woe (cf. Jer 15:16, 19). The symbolic act of eating the scroll might also mean that the prophetic message was mixed with joy and comfort as well as gloom. The sweetness should not be taken to refer to the joy of proclaiming a message of wrath, for to all God’s prophets this was a sorrowful, bitter task (Jer 9:1).
- The chief import of ch. 10 seems to be a confirmation of John’s prophetic call, as v. 11 indicates: “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.” This prophesying should not be understood as merely a recapitulation in greater detail of the previous visions but a further progression of the events connected with the end. John uses the word “kings” instead of “tribes” (as in 5:9; 7:9; 13:7; 14:6); this may anticipate the emphasis on the kings of the earth found in 17:9-12 and elsewhere.
The two witnesses (11:1-14)
- Some have considered this chapter one of the most difficult to interpret in the book of Revelation. In it John refers to the temple, the Holy City, and the two prophets who are killed by the beast and after three and one-half days are resurrected and ascend to heaven. Does John intend all this to be understood literally—namely, the literal temple in Jerusalem; two people prophesying for 1,260 days, who are killed by the Antichrist, raised from the dead, and ascend to heaven; a great earthquake that kills seven thousand people and the survivors of which glorify God? Or does he intend all or part of these as symbols representing something? Most commentators take at least part of these things as symbolic. Furthermore, how does this section (11:1-13) relate to the total context (10:1-11:19)?
- While details of interpretation vary, there are but two main approaches to the chapter:
- (1) the temple, altar, worshipers, and Holy City have something to do with the Jewish people and their place in the plan of God; or
- (2) John is here referring to the Christian church. As in ch. 7, John’s references to particular Jewish entities create the chief source of the problem.
- At the outset, it may be helpful to state why the Jewish view is less preferable. This approach has two slightly different aspects. Dispensational commentators generally understand the “temple” and the “city” to refer to a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. While some elements may be symbolic, the main import of the passage depicts a future protection of the nation of Israel prior to her spiritual regeneration. The Antichrist (beast) will permit the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem and the restoration of Jewish worship for three and a half years; then he will break his covenant and trample down a part of the temple and the Holy City until Christ returns to deliver the Jewish people (cf. Da 9:27).
- Others have argued for a modified Jewish view. To them, John is prophetically predicting the preservation and ultimate salvation of the Jewish people, similar to Paul in Ro 11:26. This group believes that the temple and the city of Jerusalem are not the literal Jewish restored temple or the city located in Palestine. Rather, they represent, on the one hand, the believing Jewish remnant (temple, altar, and worshipers) and, on the other hand, the Jewish people or nation as a whole who are now under Gentile oppression (outer court and city). Both Jewish views suffer from their inability to relate this chapter to the context of ch. 10, to the parallelism in the seal interlude (ch. 7), to the ministry and significance of the two witnesses, or to the further chapters in Revelation (esp. chs. 12-13). Therefore, it is better to understand John as referring in ch. 11 to the whole Christian community.
Rev. 11.1 I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there.
- John is given a “reed” (GK G2812), long and straight like a “rod” and thus suitable for measuring a large building or area (cf. Eze 40:5). Its purpose is to “measure the temple of God and the altar.” Most agree that the principal OT passage in John’s mind was Ezekiel’s lengthy description of the measuring of the future kingdom temple (Eze 40:3-48:35). Since interpreters are confused about what Ezekiel’s vision means, the ambiguity extends also to John’s description. Measuring with a reed or line may have various metaphorical meanings. It may refer to the promise of restoration and rebuilding, with emphasis on extension or enlargement (Jer 31:39; Zec 1:16). It may also be done to mark out something for destruction (2Sa 8:2; 2Ki 21:13; Isa 28:17; La 2:8; Am 7:7-9). In Eze 40:2ff., this latter sense would be inappropriate. But what does John’s measuring mean?
- Since John is told in v. 2 not to measure the outer court but to leave it for the nations to overrun, it seems that here in ch. 11 the measuring means that the temple of God, the altar, and the worshipers are to be secured for blessing and preserved from spiritual harm or defilement. In 21:15-17, John similarly depicts the angel’s measuring of the heavenly city (with a golden rod), apparently to mark off the city and its inhabitants from harm and defilement (21:24, 27). As a parallel to the sealing of 7:1-8, the measuring does not symbolize preservation from physical harm but the prophetic guarantee that none of the faithful worshipers of Jesus as the Messiah will perish, even though they suffer physical destruction at the hand of the beast (13:7).
- In Eze 43:10, the prophet is told to “describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins.” The purpose of the elaborate description and temple measurement there is to indicate the glory and holiness of God in Israel’s midst and convict them of their defilement of his sanctuary (43:12). Likewise, John’s prophetic ministry calls for a clear separation between those who are holy and those who have defiled themselves with the idolatry of the beast.
- John is to measure “the temple of God.” There are two Greek words used in the NT for temple. Hieron (GK G2639) is a broad term that refers to the whole structure of Herod’s temple, including courts, colonnades, etc. (e.g., Mt 4:5; Jn 2:14). Naos (GK G3724) is narrower and refers to the sanctuary or inner house where only the priests were allowed (Mt 23:35; 27:51; always in Revelation). While the distinction between the two words is not always maintained, in this context (11:1) it may be appropriate since the next verse mentions the outer precinct as a separate entity.
- Does John mean here the heavenly temple often mentioned in Revelation (cf. 11:19; 15:5, 8; 16:17), or does he refer to the Christian community, as in 3:12: “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God”? Naos always refers to the Jerusalem temple in the Gospels with the single exception of John’s Gospel, where it refers to Jesus’ own body (Jn 2:19-21; cf. Rev 21:22). Outside the Gospels it refers either to pagan shrines (Ac 17:24; 19:24) or, in Paul’s letters, metaphorically to the physical bodies of Christians or to the church of God (1Co 3:16; 6:19; 2Co 6:16; Eph 2:21; most likely also 2Th 2:4). Since John refers to the “outer court” in v. 2, it is likely that he has in mind not the heavenly temple of God but an earthly one, and likely also, symbolically, the covenant people. To take the temple in this verse as representing the church in the Great Tribulation is not without problems, but this seems the best view.
- The “altar” (GK G2603) would then refer to the huge stone altar of sacrifice in the court of the priests, and the expression “the worshipers” would most naturally indicate the priests and others in the three inner courts (the court of the priests, the court of Israel, the court of the women). These represent symbolically the true servants of God and the measuring symbolizes their recognition and acceptance by God in the same manner as the numbering in ch. 7. The writer of Hebrews likewise speaks of an “altar” that Christians eat from, but that Jewish priests who serve in the temple are not qualified to eat from (Heb 13:10). By this language he speaks of the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross utilizing the background of the temple images, as does John.
2 But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.
As the “outer court” in the Jerusalem temple was frequented by a mixed group including Gentiles and unbelievers, so in John’s mind the earthly temple or community of God may involve a part where those who are impure or unfaithful will be (21:8; 22:15). The effect of not measuring this part of the temple is to exclude those in it from spiritual security and God’s blessing. So in measuring the temple, Ezekiel is instructed to exclude from the sanctuary “the foreigners uncircumcised in heart and flesh” (Eze 44:5-9)—i.e., pagans who do not worship the true God and whose presence would desecrate the sanctuary. Previously, John has shown concern over those who were associated with the local churches but were not true worshipers of Christ (cf. 2:14-16, 20-25; 3:1-5, 16). When the great test comes, they will join the ranks of the beast and reveal their true colors.
On the other hand, it may be better to understand the desecration of the outer court as a symbolic reference to the victory of the beast over the saints (described in v. 7). Thus by using two slightly different images, the “temple-altar-worshipers” and the “outer court-holy city,” John is viewing the church under different aspects. Though the Gentiles (pagans) are permitted to touch the “outer court” and to trample on the “holy city” for a limited time (“42 months”), they are not able to destroy the church because the “inner sanctuary” is measured or protected in keeping with Christ’s earlier word in Mt 16:18.
Since John says the outer court will be “given to the Gentiles,” it is important to establish the best translation of “Gentiles” (ethnos; GK G1620). (1) In some NT contexts, this word may have the more general sense of “nations,” describing the various ethnic or national groups among humankind (e.g., Mt 24:9, 14; Lk 24:47; Ro 1:5; 15:11). (2) In other contexts, it denotes “Gentiles” in contrast to the Jewish people (e.g., Mt 4:15; 10:5; Lk 2:32; Ac 10:45; Ro 11:11). In many cases the broader sense may shade off into the narrower, producing ambiguity. (3) But there is a third use of ethnos . Just as the Jews referred to all other peoples outside the covenant as “Gentiles,” so there gradually developed a similar Christian usage of the term that saw all peoples who were outside of Christ as ethnos, including unbelieving Jews (1Co 5:1; 12:2; 1Th 4:5; 1Pe 2:12; 3Jn 7; cf. our word” “pagan” or “heathen”). When the sixteen cases of ethnos in Revelation are examined, not once is “Gentiles” appropriate. Everywhere they are the peoples of the earth, either in rebellion against God (11:18; 14:8; 19:15; 20:3) or redeemed and under the rule of Christ (2:26; 21:24, 26; 22:2). There is no good reason why John does not intend the same sense in 11:2.
To sum up, “given to the Gentiles” refers to the defiling agencies that will trample down the outer court of the church, leading to defection from Christ or physical destruction, though all the while the inner sanctuary of the true believers will not be defiled by idolatry. This spiritual preservation of true believers will be accomplished by John’s prophetic ministry, which distinguishes loyalty to Christ from the deception of the beast.
The nations will “trample on the holy city for 42 months.” What is “the holy city”? The more literal viewpoint sees it as the earthly city of Jerusalem. Support for this is found in (1) the OT’s use (Ne 11:1; Isa 48:2; 52:1; Da 9:24) and Matthew’s use of “holy city” for Jerusalem (Mt 4:5; 27:53), (2) the proximity of the term “the holy city” to the temple reference (v. 1), and (3) the mention in v. 8 of the “great city . . . where also their Lord was crucified.”
Since Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70, and since Revelation was presumably written about 95, these interpreters hold two views about the meaning of this reference to the city. Some believe it to refer to a rebuilt Jerusalem and temple during the future Tribulation period. Others see it as merely a symbolic reference to the Jewish people without any special implication of a literal city or temple. But if John does in fact differentiate here between believing Jews (inner court) and the nation as a whole (outer court), this would be the only place in the book where he does so. Furthermore, such a reference at this point in the context of chs. 10-11 would be abrupt and unconnected with the main themes in these chapters—the nature of the prophetic ministry and the great trial awaiting Christians.
Far more in keeping with the emphasis of the whole book, and of these chapters in particular, is the view that “the holy city,” like the temple, refers to the church. The consistent usage of the expression “holy city” means the community of those faithful to Jesus Christ, composed of believing Jews and Gentiles (21:2, 10; 22:19; cf. 3:12; 20:9). It should also be noted that the name Jerusalem nowhere appears in ch. 1, though a circumlocution for it in v. 8 (“where also their Lord was crucified”) is prefaced with the word “figuratively” (see comment on v. 8). While the vision of the future Holy City (chs. 21-22) describes the condition of the city when she has completed her great ordeal and is finally delivered from the great deceiver, the present reference is to God’s people as they must first endure the trampling of the pagan nations for “42 months.”
Does the trampling (GK G4251) indicate defilement and apostasy, or does it instead mean persecution? This word can metaphorically mean either of these. Two factors favor the latter sense. The time of the trampling is “42 months,” which is the exact time John attributes to the reign of the beast (13:5-7). Furthermore, in Daniel’s prophecy the trampling of the sanctuary and host of God’s people by Antiochus Epiphanes (Da 8:10, 13) is clearly a persecution of the people of God.
But what of the term “42 months”? This exact expression occurs in the Bible only here and in 13:5, where it refers to the time of the authority of the beast. Mention is also made of a period of 1,260 days (i.e., 42 months of 30 days each) in 11:3 and 12:6. In 12:14 a similar length of time is referred to as “a time, times [i.e., two times] and half a time.” All these expressions equal a three-and-one-half-year period. In Revelation, “42 months” refers to the period of oppression of the Holy City and the time of the authority of the beast (11:2; 13:5). The “1,260 days” is the period the two witnesses prophesy and the time the woman is protected from the dragon’s reach (11:3; 12:6). “Time, times and half a time” seems to be used synonymously for the 1,260 days during which the woman will be protected in the desert (12:14). We cannot assume that because these periods are equal, they are identical. On the other hand, the three different expressions may well be literary variations for the same period.
Daniel is generally taken to be the origin of the terms. In Da 9:27 a week is spoken of (“seven,” NIV), and the context makes it clear that this is a week of years, i.e., seven years. Further, the week is divided in half—i.e., three and a half years for each division. These half weeks of years are spoken of in Da 7:25 as “a time, times and half a time.” Both early Jewish and Christian interpreters referred this to the period of the reign of the Antichrist. In Da 12:7 the identical expression refers to the period “when the power of the holy people has been finally broken”; in 12:11 the equivalent period expressed in days (1,290) refers to the time of the “abomination” and defilement of the temple. Whether or not these references refer to the second-century B.C. activities of Antiochus Epiphanes must be left to the exegetes of Daniel; but it is known that the Jews and later the Christians believed that these events at least foreshadow, if not predict, the last years of world history under the Antichrist. Thus John would have a ready tool to use in this imagery for setting forth his revelation of the last days.
Some commentators suggest that the first three and a half years is the period of the preaching of the two witnesses, while the second half of the week is the time of bitter trial when Antichrist reigns supreme. Others believe the expressions are synchronous and thus refer to the identical period. With some reservations, the former view is preferable. The 1,260-day period of protected prophesying by the two witnesses (11:3-6) synchronizes with the period of the woman in the desert (12:6, 14). When the death of the witnesses occurs (11:7), there follows the forty-two-month murderous reign of the beast (13:5, 7, 15), which synchronizes with the trampling down of the Holy City (11:2). This twofold division seems to be also supported by Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, where he speaks of the “beginning of birth pains” (Mt 24:8) and then of the period of “great distress” shortly before his second coming (Mt 24:21).
Finally, are the two periods of three and a half years symbolic or do they indicate calendar years? Not all will agree, but a symbolic sense that involves a real period but understands the numbers to describe the kind of period rather than its length is in keeping with John’s use of numbers elsewhere (cf. 2:10; 4:4; 7:4). Hence, if we follow the twofold division of Daniel’s seventieth week of seven years, the preaching of the two witnesses occupies the first half, while the second half is the time of trial when the beast reigns supreme, and during which time the fearful events of chs. 13-19 take place. This explanation must, however, remain tentative.
3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
Perhaps a greater diversity of interpretation surrounds these two personages than even the temple in the previous verses. They are called “two witnesses” (v. 3), “two prophets” (v. 10), and, more figuratively, “two olive trees and the two lampstands who stand before the Lord of the earth” (v. 4). Interpretative suggestions are: two historic figures such as Moses and Elijah (already taught in Jewish tradition) or the apostles Peter and Paul, the church in its witness, Christian martyrs, all the prophets, and the two groups of the Jewish believers and Gentile believers in the church.
Since opinion varies so greatly at this point, it may be wise not to be dogmatic about any one view. Perhaps the best view is the one which sees the two witnesses as representing those in the church who are specially called, like John, to bear a prophetic witness to Christ during the whole age of the church. They also represent those prophets who will be martyred by the beast. Indications that they represent many individuals and not just two are: (1) they are never seen as individuals but do everything together—they prophesy together, suffer together, are killed together, are raised together, and ascend together—and all this is hardly possible for two individuals; (2) the beast makes war on them (v. 7), which is strange if they are merely two individuals; (3) people throughout the whole world view their ignominious deaths (v. 9)—something unlikely if only two individuals are involved; (4) their description as two “lamps” is applied in chs. 1-2 to local churches comprised of many individuals. They are “clothed in sackcloth” because they are prophets (cf. Isa 20:2; Zec 13:4) who call for repentance and humility (Jer 6:26; 49:3; Mt 11:21); this was the most suitable garb for times of distress, grief, danger, crisis, and self-humbling.
4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.
The reference to the “two olive trees and the two lampstands” is an allusion to Joshua and Zerubbabel in Zechariah’s vision, who were also said “to serve the Lord of all the earth” (Zec 4:1-6a, 10b-14). The import of Zechariah’s vision was to strengthen these two leaders by reminding them of God’s resources and to vindicate them in the eyes of the community as they pursued their God-given tasks. Thus John’s message is that the witnesses to Christ who cause the church to fulfill her mission to burn as bright lights to the world will not be quenched (cf. Rev 1:20; 2:5).
Why there should be two olive trees and two lampstands has been variously answered. Some suggest that “two” is the number of required legal witnesses (Nu 35:30; Dt 19:15; cf. Mt 18:16; Lk 10:1-24); others, that two represents the priestly and kingly aspects of the church or the Jewish and Gentile components. Perhaps the dualism was suggested to John by the two olive trees from Zechariah and the two great prophets of the OT who were connected with the coming of the Messiah in Jewish thought, i.e., Moses and Elijah (v. 6; cf. Mt 17:3-4). What Joshua (the high priest) and Zerubbabel (the prince) were to the older community and temple, Jesus Christ is to the new community. He is both anointed Priest and King, and his church reflects this character especially in its Christian prophets (1:6; 5:10; 20:6).
5 If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.
Here the prophets’ divine protection from their enemies is described in terms reminiscent of the former prophets’ protection by God (2Ki 1:10; Jer 5:14). Fire is understood symbolically as judgment from God; and since it proceeds from the witnesses’ mouths, we understand that their message of judgment will eventually be fulfilled by God’s power (Ge 19:23-24; 2Sa 22:9; Ps 97:3). Their Lord gives them immunity from destruction until they complete their confirmation of God’s saving deed in Christ. This assures the people of God that no matter how many chosen saints are oppressed and killed, God’s witness to Christ will continue until his purposes are fulfilled.
6 These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.
The words “power to shut up the sky . . . and power to turn the waters into blood” clearly allude to the ministries of the prophets Elijah and Moses (1Ki 17:1 and Ex 7:17-21). There is, however, no need for the literal reappearing of these two if it is understood that the two witnesses come in the same spirit and function as their predecessors. Thus Luke interprets the significance of John the Baptist as a ministry in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Lk 1:17). The author of Revelation is simply describing the vocation of certain Christian prophets, indicating that some follow in the same tradition as the former prophets of Israel. According to Lk 4:25 and Jas 5:17, Elijah’s prophecy shut up the heaven for “three and a half years,” a curious foreshadowing, perhaps, of the span of time that these prophets witness (i.e., 1,260 days [v. 3]).
Rev. 11.7 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.
When they finish their witness, the witnesses are killed by the beast from the Abyss. This is the first reference to the “beast” (GK G2563) in the book. The abruptness with which it is introduced seems not only to presuppose some knowledge of the beast but also to anticipate what is said of him in chs. 13 and 17. Only here and in 17:8 is the beast described as coming “up from the Abyss” (cf. 9:1), showing his demonic origin. He attacks the prophets (lit., “makes war with them”; cf. 9:7; 12:7, 17; 13:7; 16:14; 19:19; 20:8). This attack possibly reflects Da 7:21 and is again described in 12:17 and 13:7. This is the second and final phase of the dragon’s persecution of the Christian prophets and saints.
8 Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.
John mentions the place of the attack on the witnesses and of their death: “The street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.” This verse is both full of meaning and difficult to interpret. At first glance, John seems to be referring to the actual city of Jerusalem, where Christ died. Yet his terminology implies more than this. The city is called the “great city,” a designation that refers to Babylon throughout the rest of the book (16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18-19, 21). Moreover, John’s use of the word “city” (cf. 3:12) is symbolic. In fact, there are really only two cities in this book, the city of God and the city of Satan, which is later referred to as Babylon. A city may be a metaphor for the total life of a community of people (cf. Heb 11:10; 12:22; 13:14).
Here the “great city” is clearly more than merely Jerusalem, for John says it is “figuratively called Sodom and Egypt.” “Figuratively” (GK G4462) means “spiritually, in a spiritual manner, full of the divine Spirit.” Elsewhere in the NT, this word characterizes that which pertains to the Spirit in contrast to the flesh (1Co 2:14-15; Eph 1:3; 5:19; Col 3:16; 1Pe 2:5; et al.). Thus the spiritually discerning will catch the significance of the threefold designation of this city. It is called “Sodom,” which connotes rebellion against God, the rejection of God’s servants, moral degradation, and the awfulness of divine judgment (cf. Eze 16:49). In Isaiah’s day the rebellious rulers of Jerusalem were called the rulers of Sodom (Isa 1:10; cf. Eze 16:46). The second designation is “Egypt.” Egypt is a country, not a city. It is virtually certain that by John’s day, Egypt had become a symbolic name for anti-theocratic world kingdoms that enslaved Israel. The third designation is “the great city . . . where also their Lord was crucified” (cf. Mt 23:28-31, 37-38; Lk 13:33ff.; 21:20-24).
If, as most commentators believe, John also has Rome in mind in mentioning the “great city,” then there are at least five places all seen by John as one—Babylon, Sodom, Egypt, Jerusalem, and Rome. This one city has become, in the eyes of the spiritually discerning, all places opposed to God and the witness of his servants. Wherever God is opposed and his servants harassed and killed, there is the “great city,” the transhistorical city of Satan, the great mother of prostitutes (cf. 17:1ff.). What can happen to God’s witnesses in any place is what has already happened to their Lord in Jerusalem.
9 For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10 The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.
People from every nation—Jew and Gentile—will “gloat over” their corpses and refuse them the dignity of burial. To have a dead body lie in view of all was the worst humiliation a person could suffer (Ps 79:3). Furthermore, the pagan world will celebrate the destruction of the witnesses and the victory over them by exchanging gifts, a common custom in the Near East (Ne 8:10, 12; Est 9:19, 22). Thus the beast will silence the witness of the church to the glee of the beast-worshiping world. The time of their silence corresponds in days to the time of their witness in years. It denotes only a brief time of triumph for the beast.
Rev. 11.11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.
The witnesses now experience a resurrection and an ascension to heaven following their three-and-one-half-day death. It is generally held that John had Ezekiel’s vision of the restoration of the dry bones in mind (Eze 37:5, 10-12). Just as interpretations of Ezekiel’s vision vary, so interpretations of vv. 11-12 vary. Some hold that the dry bones vision refers to the spiritual quickening of the nation of Israel. Others understand the descriptions to refer to the physical resurrection of the dead. If the two witnesses represent the witness of the church, then physical resurrection and ascension could be in mind. The summons “Come up here,” followed by “they went up to heaven in a cloud,” perhaps points to the Rapture (1Th 4:16-17).
On the other hand, John may be using the figure of physical resurrection to represent the church’s victory over the death blow of the beast. In Ro 11:15 Paul uses the figure of resurrection symbolically to depict a great spiritual revival among the Jews in a future day. Here in v. 12 the reference to the “cloud” (GK G3749) is significant. Normally, the “cloud” depicts God’s power, presence, and glory; this is the only instance in the book where strictly human figures are associated with a cloud. These two witnesses share in Christ’s resurrection, and the cloud is a sign of heaven’s acceptance of their earthly career. Even their enemies see them, just as they will see Christ when he returns with the clouds (1:7). The events of Christ’s return and the ascension of the witnesses seem to be simultaneous. Thus in the two witnesses, John has symbolized the model of all true prophets, taking as a central clue the story of Jesus’ appearance in Jerusalem and describing the common vocation of appearing in the holy city (or temple) in such a way that reaction to their work separates the worshipers of God from the unbelievers.
Rev. 11.13 At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
The earthquake is God’s further sign of the vindication of his servants (cf. 6:12). But unlike the earthquake under the sixth seal, this one produces what appears to be repentance: “The survivors . . . gave glory to the God of heaven.” The opposite response in 16:9, “they refused to repent and glorify him,” seems to confirm that v. 13 here speaks of genuine repentance (cf. 14:7; 15:4). Since the death, resurrection, and ascension of the two witnesses is worldwide in scope (vv. 9-10), we may infer that the earthquake is also symbolic of a world-wide event. Even in the midst of judgment, God is active in the world to save those who repent. If there is such hope in the terrible time of final judgment, how much more now! God has not abandoned the human race. Neither should we!
Rev. 11.14 The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.
All the events from 9:13 to 11:14 fall under the sixth trumpet and are called the second “woe” (see comments on 8:13; 9:12). Since further judgments are mentioned in this chapter, it is natural to see at the sounding of the seventh trumpet (vv. 15-19) the third woe taking place. Its nature is described in the bowl judgments (16:11ff.). Apparently the third woe will come without further delay. Indeed, the seventh trumpet (v. 15) brings us to the final scenes of God’s unfolding mystery (10:7).
4. Sounding of the seventh trumpet (11:15-19)
Rev. 11.15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
The seventh trumpet sounds, and in heaven loud voices proclaim the final triumph of God and Christ over the world. The theme is the kingdom of God and of Christ—a dual kingdom eternal in its duration. The “kingdom” (GK G993) is a main theme of the entire book of Revelation (1:6, 9; 5:10; 11:17; 12:10; 19:6; 20:4; 22:5). This kingdom involves the millennial kingdom and its blending into the eternal kingdom (chs. 20-22). The image suggests the transference of the world empire, once dominated by a usurping power, that has now at length passed into the hands of its true owner and king. The present rulers are Satan, the beast, and the false prophet. The announcement of the reign of the king occurs here, but the final breaking of the enemies’ hold over the world does not occur till the return of Christ (19:11ff.).
Verses 15-18 are reminiscent of Ps 2. The opening portion of this psalm describes the pagan nations and kings set in opposition to God and his Anointed One. Then there follows the establishment of the Son in Zion as the Sovereign of the world and an appeal to the world rulers to put their trust in the Son before his wrath burns. John does not distinguish here between the millennial kingdom of Christ and the eternal kingdom of the Father (but cf. 3:21) as Paul does (1Co 15:24-28). This should be viewed as a difference merely of detail and emphasis, not of basic theology. In John’s view this world becomes the arena for the manifestation of God’s kingdom. While at this point the emphasis is on the future visible establishment of God’s kingdom, that same kingdom is in some real sense now present; and John is participating in it (see 1:9).
16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign.
As the other features in these verses are anticipatory, so the expression “have begun to reign” looks forward to the millennial reign depicted in ch. 20. Significantly, the title of God found earlier in the book, “who is, and who was, and who is to come” (1:8; 4:8), now is “who is and who was.” He has now come! God has taken over the power of the world from Satan (Lk 4:6).
18 The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great — and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
This passage contains a synopsis of the remaining chapters of Revelation. The nations opposed to God and incited by the fury of the dragon (12:12) have brought wrath on God’s people (Ps 2:1-3). For this, God has brought his wrath on the nations (14:7; 16:1ff.; 18:20; 19:19b; 20:11-15). The time (GK G2789) has now come for three further events: the judgment of the dead (20:11-15); the final rewarding of the righteous (21:1-4; 22:3-5); and the final destruction of the destroyers of the earth (Babylon, the beast, the false prophet, and the dragon; 19:2, 11; 20:10).
In Revelation three groups of persons receive rewards: (1) God’s “servants the prophets” (cf. 18:20; 22:9); (2) the “saints” (perhaps the martyrs; cf. 5:8; 8:3-4; 13:7, 10; 16:6; 18:20, 24; or simply believers in every age, cf. 19:8; 20:9); and (3) “those who reverence [God’s] name” (cf. 14:7; 15:4). In whatever way these groups are denoted, it is important to note that in Revelation the prophets are specially singled out (16:6; 18:20, 24; 22:6, 9).
Rev. 11.19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
In the heavenly temple John sees the ark of God’s covenant. In the OT the ark was the chest that God directed Moses to make and place within the holiest room of the tabernacle sanctuary (Ex 25:10-22). He was directed to put in the ark the two tablets of the Decalogue—the documentary basis of God’s redemptive covenant with Israel (Ex 34:28-29). Presumably the ark was destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar burned the temple in 586 B.C., for there was no ark in the second temple. Although the way into the Most Holy Place was barred under the old covenant to all except the high priest, now full and immediate access for all, along with a perfect redemption, has been secured by Christ’s death (Heb 9:11-12; 10:19-22).
In v. 19 the kingdom of God is seen retrospectively as having fully come. Yet its coming will be elaborated in chs. 20-22. Prospectively, this sight of the ark prepares us for the following chapters, which concern the faithfulness of God to his covenant people. As the ark was the sign to Israel of God’s loyal love throughout their desert journeys and battles, so this sign of the new covenant will assure the followers of Christ of his loyal love through their severe trial and attacks by the beast. “Flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder” represent God’s presence and vindication of his people (cf. comment on 6:12; 8:5).