Revelation 11

Chapter 11

Now Ezekiel 40-42 becomes the background. John continues to be active within his vision, being given a measuring rod (perhaps by the angel) and told to get up (presumably he was sitting) and measure the temple and its altar and the worshippers. No doubt, as in a dream, John does this without literally moving but feeling as if actually there and active. The question is whether John is measuring the temple in Jerusalem (if it was still standing) or its heavenly counterpart. The note "of those who worship there" tells us we should have the entire company of the people of God in mind from chapter 7, implying heaven is the focus. The mentioned of the "altar" confirms this as the only one mentioned so far is the heavenly one. Moreover 11v19 explicitly focuses on the temple as in heaven contrasting it with the destruction taking place on the earth (11v18). This being so, the "court outside the temple" may refer to the earth and the temple to the heavenly holy places pictured in the literal temple (Heb 9v24). Alternatively, the court may refer more specifically to the church (either faithful or apostate) on earth under the power of the nations. We should therefore reject literalistic interpretations that look to a rebuilding of the temple in the last days.
     The court may be based upon "the court of the Gentiles" in Herod's temple that the nations could access, but with a barrier threatening death if they ventured further into the temple. If so it must refer to unbelievers or apostates who have no access to the heavenlies. Alternatively it may be that given to true worshippers in Ezekiel 40-48, equating it with the holy city of believers beings trampled on (v2b). Both are possible and the main point is not affected either way. But John is to "cast out" (lit.) the court and not measure it. To my mind this dismissive language implies it must denote the unbelieving world or apostate Christians (3v16, 21v8) and so not the the court of Ezekiel - especially as measuring implies a certainty of salvation and so completeness to the construction of God's spiritual temple (21v15-22). The court is therefore not part of what is holy in being given over to "the nations" - ie. Gentiles as a euphemism for unbelievers. It should make every one of us determined to be a true worshipper in the heavenly temple.
     The jump to the nations trampling the holy city is odd if the temple is that in Jerusalem, for how could they trample Jerusalem and dominate the outer court without impinging on the holy places? Certainly Jesus taught that from AD70 "Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Lk 21v24, Dan 8v13). However, with every other use in this book "holy city" denotes the church (21v2) and so should be seen that way here. The literal trampling of Jerusalem that continues in our day is therefore a picture of the trampling of the church. Paralleling chapter 7 where the worshippers in the temple are sealed rather than measured, the point is that despite the church being trampled whilst on earth, it's salvation is secure and number fixed. And it's prayers ascending with incense from the altar are heard.
     We learn now that the time of it being "trampled" will be 42 months which is 3.5 years. This is the time (1), times (1+1) and half a time (0.5) of Daniel 12v7 - a figurative period (from the crucifixion or the destruction of Jerusalem – either of which could describe the “end of sacrifice” cf. Dan 9v27, 12v11) describing a limited time until the end during which evil will reign. The 42 seems to have been chosen, because it was the time of judgment under Elijah (Lk 4v24, cf. Jam 5v17, Rev 11v6) and Israel's time between the Exodus and the promised land (42 encampments and possibly 42 years, cf. trumpets patterned on the plagues of Egypt). In the cultural mindset of the Jew, the period was also the time of persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes. And it is possible this is a literal time of intense persecution just before Christ returns. But our understanding of v1-2 and the background in Daniel strongly implies this period is not to be taken literally but refers to the time spanning the two comings of Christ in which the church is persecuted. We will see this confirmed in chapter 12.

Excursus: The figurative language of Revelation

As so often, literal events become figures as the flood, exodus etc do in the poetry of the Psalms. Although such figures can be fulfilled literally too as Jesus 40 days in the desert and 3 days in the earth, Revelation is a highly symbolic vision, so we cannot assume that in the book unless it is explicit or confirmed by scripture of a less symbolic genre. What we need to consider are the literal truths these things point to, keeping an open mind as to whether or not they will have a more literal fulfilment. Nevertheless, elsewhere we read of heaven as paradise and of the new creation, and we see this hope as the whole trajectory of salvation history, so we can be confident in taking these things more literally.

     v3: Here we arrive at another much debated point: Who are the two witnesses. So many possibilities are argued that we must be cautious of dogmatism. However, I find Beale’s reasoning the most convincing. They represent the church in preaching the gospel. (1) They are clearly likened to Moses and Elijah (v6), but both are likened to both, implying they are not this pair resurrected. (2) The one individual who is prophesying in context is John, who is one of the church (10v11). (3) But they are to prophesy throughout the period the church will be trampled on, and in the book it is the church that testifies or “witnesses” – and is persecuted for it (1v2, 2v13, 6v9). (4) The witnesses are likened to two lampstands that stand before the Lord. In Revelation these are clearly churches (1v20), but it is all who have come through the tribulation that stand before him in heaven (7v9). (5) The witnesses are also at the same time two olive trees, which are an image for Israel as the people of God who bear fruit (Rom 11v17), but also trees that feed the lampstands with oil so that they light up – just as the preaching of the gospel feeds the church with its light. (6) Most compelling is the Old Testament background in Zechariah 4. It pictures one lampstand fed by two olive trees who are “the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord.” They are Zerubbabel and Joshua, the anointed king and High Priest who represent and lead Israel in a way that causes it to shine as it rebuilds the temple. Intriguingly now in Revelation, these two trees are equated with the lampstands. They are one and the same. So the fact there are two witnesses may not simply be because two were required for valid testimony in court, but because they reflect the people of God in Christ as those who rule over the earth as kings and speak God’s words as priests (1v6, 3v21, 5v10). This is why, as they are trampled on for their priestly testimony they have power to call down judgments on the earth (11v6, cf. 2v26-27). (7) The beast makes "war" on the witnesses implying they are a group of individuals like the saints of Daniel 7v19. (8) The fact that those of all people groups gaze on their bodies implies the same. They comprise believers throughout the world.
     We see now that the one speaking must be God or Christ, for it is he who gives the witnesses their authority to prophecy as Christ did before ascending to heaven. We learn three things about their message: (1) It is God’s word as all prophecy is. The church should preach nothing else. (2) Contrary to much contemporary preaching, it is a message of doom marked by the sackcloth of mourning. As we have seen it must include the terrible reality of coming judgment and the need to repent. It would be good for every preacher and evangelist to picture themselves in sackcloth as they speak! (3) It will last 1260 days, which is 42 months of 30 days each. In other words, the church will bear witness the entire time God’s people are trampled on – which is the entire church age (cf. chapter 12).
     v5: We need to think hard about the following. We're told if "anyone" at all would harm the witnesses (witnessing church) fire "pours" from their mouth and consumes their opponents. Like the sword in Jesus mouth representing judgment, this must mean that every act of hostility in response to the gospel preached provokes God's judgment - whether in this life or on the last day. "Fire" represents God's wrath and picks up Elijah calling down fire on his tormentors. "Anyone" is repeated as am encouragement that justice really will be done to all who have harmed those reading. Such action warrants "from."
     v6 obviously likens the witnesses to Elijah whose prayers meant a drought of 3.5 years and Moses who used plagues to show the Lord was God. We are not told the witnesses will bring these things but that they have power to as often as they desire. The point is that the church is no less able than these most famous spokesmen of God, and God is no less with the church. These words could only encourage persecuted believers to pray for justice just as those under the altar as seal 5 was opened. And we shouldn't soften what's said. Jesus taught that faith like a grain of mustard seed could move mountains and that "nothing" was therefore impossible for his disciples. The problem is lack of faith, false motives or disconnect with the will of God in our prayers. What we are learning then is that the types of temporal judgments mentioned with trumpets 1-4 could come at any time in response to prayers caught of with the altar of incense (8v3-5). How many of the providence at work in our world today might be seen in this way?
     v7: We now look to the time just preceding the end and the seventh trumpet. It is when the witnesses will have completed the testifying God had ordained for them. At that time "the beast" will appear. Daniel 7v21 is the background. This is a king or ruler (Dan 7v19) who will war against the saints until God intervenes (v7, cf. Dan 7v21). He is the anti-Christ of 1 John 2v18, 4v3 and the "man of lawlessness" (2 Thess 2v3-4). His nature as the "anti" Christ may be hinted at in him "rising" as Christ did, though from the earlier abyss (17v8, 20v2-3). Yet because he is a king we cannot equate him with Satan, but rather conclude that he (or she) will be Satanic - serving him (chapters 13-17 reveal this will be a reappearance of one week rules like the most tyrannical Caesar of John's day - the first assistance of the beast). The note of war doesn't mean God's people will fight back, only that they will be conquered. Moreover, as the witnesses are figurative their killing doesn't mean every believer is literally killed, but that the church becomes lifeless in its witnessing because of the violence and oppression against it. And so it will remain lifeless for a 3.5 days - again, the number that denotes a particular time evil is allowed to reign. This contrasts the years of the 1260 days (3.5 years) of witness, showing the beast's apparent victory is small and brief. 
     The figurative language continues. Obviously the whole church can't be in one street of one city. Every other use of "great city" in Revelation refers to Babylon - that we will see is Rome as a paradigm of wicked society. So all three descriptions here are symbolic as we are explicitly told. It is called Sodom, no doubt for its wickedness and coming destruction, Egypt because of its oppression of God's people who will be rescued from it, and the place the saints' Lord was crucified because he was killed by wicked society just as we are being told his witnesses will be. Is possible that verse 8 refers to Jerusalem rather than worldwide society, in which case using the ten ascribed to Babylon is a way of highlighting its corruption as with Sodom and Egypt. However, although figurative, "holy city" is the phrase for Jerusalem in v2. Whatever the case, this section should encourage believers in a distressing time if persecution that they are following Christ.
     The universal nature of the city seems confirmed by those from all people groups gazing on the witnesses. They are "those who dwell on the earth" (v10). It also contrasts the redeemed being from these same groups. In other words the gospel has split the world in two.
     Not all will rejoice so spitefully."Some" from throughout the world will however take delight in looking at the seemingly defeated church in its humiliation. Perhaps like an army refusing to bury its enemy out of spite, refusing the witnesses burial stresses the world's hostility. It may also refer to them not turning from this hostility as would be done after a body is removed, nor refusing any dignified end to the church's witness. "The street" brings home the image of the bodies left exposed and humiliated for all to see. What this leads to is rejoicing and celebration marked by giving gifts. And the reason is how the witnesses tormented these people throughout the earth.
     The nature of that torment is unclear. Certainly it could refer to the cutting nature the gospel that is the smell of death and convicts of sin. We see in every age how Christians are despised because of the discomfort their lives and words bring those following sin. However, in the wider book and immediate context torment is to do with judgment. The delight at the witnesses death may therefore be because they are longer calling down temporal judgments on their oppressors - or perhaps telling their oppressors that their trials are judgments. The irony of course is that greater torments are about to come.
     v11: And now Christ’s victory. These witnesses follow his path. Having been dead (unable to witness) for 3.5 days they rise from the dead and then ascend into heaven. The “breath of life” alludes to that which raises the dead bones in Ezekiel 37, ready to inhabit the long awaited kingdom. In the same breath of the Spirit that raises OT saints in fulfilment of Ezekiel 37, the church will be raised too. The “standing” of the witness emphasizes full restoration of health. And the result like that of the soldiers at the tomb, is “great fear” on the peoples who have been looking on. As with the soldiers this doesn’t necessarily imply repentance, but fear at the supernatural nature of what is going on – and its implications, not least in that they rejoiced in the death of the witnesses.
     We should perhaps see the “loud voice” that then speaks as Christ or an archangel (1 Thess 4v16). Its loudness stresses its authority. And it calls the redeemed to “come up” to heaven, to safety. Like Jesus himself they ascend in a cloud, representing God’s presence – but as their enemies look on (cf. 1 Thess 4v16-17). Because they are in their resurrection bodies and judgment is about to take place, this doesn’t mean they are raising to inhabit heaven – but to meet the Lord in the air, ready for the judgment and populating of the renewed earth.
     This should all be great encouragement to the witnessing church. They have the unsurpassable privilege of following the path of Christ himself in bringing salvation to others. And it is to God’s glory that by the Spirit of Christ they are ready to do that. So they should not be surprised by hostility not the seeming defeat of the church towards the end. The cross seemed like a defeat too. Rather, they can endure for the joy set before them – the knowledge that they are safe in Christ, and at his word they will rise, ascend, and rest forevermore with him and with all who have gone before them.
     v13: “At that hour” can describe a general period as well as the actual moment. But given the earthquake as Jesus rose, we might expect it at the same time. And this is the last temporal sign before the final judgment (v18) – the same linguistically and in timing as that of 6v12 and 16v18. If the city represents wicked society, then the earthquake somehow impacts a tenth of the world order (cf. Ezek 38v19-20, Zech 14v15). This could simply speak of upheaval in the world order denoted by the city or a literal earthquake impacting a massive portion of the earth. In the light of other numbers throughout the book, the 7000 killed denotes a massive and complete number of those destined to die by that means. As the Jews commonly held there were 70 nations, it could also be seen as a tenth of the massive number from all the nations (70,000). But the result is intriguing. It seems “the rest” – those left on earth glorify God, meaning that they acknowledge his fearsome greatness. This cannot refer to the witnessing church that has already ascended. So it seems to imply a last minute response to the Lord by those remaining. Glorifying God is always positive in the book, and this response is exactly the one the world are called to through the gospel in 14v7. This is confirmed by the background in Zechariah 14v16, and the fact that the destruction is equated with “God’s wrath” suggesting its survivors were not under wrath. So where the judgments failed to bring repentance, these events did (9v20-21). If so, God’s determination of who dies in the earthquake and is unable to respond implies his leaving these people so that by these means they would respond – a means then of working out his election. We should note that we cannot be certain of this. The glorifying God could mean little more than a last minute cry of terror in the realization of his reality as 9v20-21. And the fact that the redeemed have risen and ascended already might this.

Excursus: What will happen when Christ returns?

A number of things seem clear. It will take place when the church seems as good as dead under persecution, although its members may well still seek to witness. 1 Thessalonians 4 speaks in a literal sense of hearing a command of Christ or an archangel, and a trumpet heralding victory and the end. With it Christ will come to end the persecution. He will be on a cloud, and probably come to the Mount of Olives, but in a way that is evident to all – no doubt by the environmental signs that will accompany it (Zech 14v4-5). With him will be the spirits of those who have died in faith, possibly residing in a descending city. They will be reunited with glorified resurrection bodies that will be seen to come up out of the ground to them. Believers alive at the time will then rise up and join them, having their bodies transformed into glorified bodies in a twinkling of an eye. It seems this will be followed by a massive earthquake with its source at the Mount of Olives that will kill a huge number. Many if not all those who remain may then repent – or at least acknowledge God in a non-salvific way.
     The chronology of what follows is somewhat unclear. Dead unbelievers will also be raised to join the unbelievers alive at the time. It seems they must then join believers for the judgment in heaven – or perhaps in the new Jerusalem where Christ’s throne is, as we are told that it is at this moment that the earth and sky (heaven) will pass away (Rev 20v11, cf. Matt 25v31). The sense is that Christ will somehow bring the created order as we know it to an end with fire. This may wholly destroy it, but the language of Revelation is figurative. So it may just decimate it. The meek will inherit this earth. Indeed, the fire on earth could result from the earthquake (20v9, 2 Pet 3v7, 10, 12, 2 Thess 1v7).
     Judgment will then take place overseen by Christ, but assisted by believers. For many the result will be certain, as those who have previously been in the inter-mediate state will already have experienced a foretaste of their fate. In some way that is evident to those there, the wicked will be condemned to an experience of hell that fits their deeds and the redeemed publicly acquitted by theirs as being those of faith in Christ. However long this might take, it could simply be done by a separation of the two groups (Matt 25v32). The revelation of our actual deeds is limited to their being seen in our ultimate destiny or the extent to which their results lasts into eternity (1 Cor 3v13-15). The note of more detailed revealing refers to revealing the gospel not our deeds (Matt 10v26-27, cf. Lk 12v2-3).
     In some way the condemned will then be sent to hell leaving the justified in the new Jerusalem. They may witness the re-creation of the new heaven and earth around them or simply find it has been done. Like Jesus’ resurrection body, they will be recognizable but more glorious. And marvelling at it all, God’s people, perhaps in the new Jerusalem itself, will descend to the new earth in great joy to live forevermore.

     v14: This earthquake must be the second woe as they are against the oppressors of God's people. The brief overview of the church's witness through history is not included in this woe, but leads to and explains it. We are told nothing more of the third except that it is "soon." On context it must be the final judgment and destruction as each woe comes with each of the final three trumpets (8v13). We have concluded that the 7 trumpets are subsumed within the 7th seal, and so we have been waiting with a degree of longing for this as with the last few seconds until the clock strikes a time.
     v15: With the seventh trumpet (and so third woe) come more loud voices from heaven - a significant pronouncement. These might be the previous voices together. But they speak of God and Christ. The note of "the kingdom of the world" implies what we've thought so far - "the city" (Babylon) and the response to the witnesses is a worldwide one not localised in Rome. We might say it is "the kingdom of the world" as opposed to that of Christ - the world order that the nations of the world embraced and served just as nations embraced and served Babylon and then Rome. It's a world order that towards the end would be governed by a particularly evil ruler - the beast. This is confirmed by Jeremiah 51v25 (referring to Babylon) being the background to destroying the destroyers (v18). The OT Babylon is the paradigm for this worldwide kingdom under evil.
     Yet with the seventh trumpet it "becomes" the kingdom of God (our Lord) and his Christ (cf. Ps 2, Dan 7). Like any kingdom it is an entity that can be ruled by different rulers and in different ways. From the fall, it has been ruled by sinful human beings influenced to varying degrees by Satan. But here we see the Lord and the Lamb as victors who have reclaimed it, usurping its evil ruler and establishing their good and life-giving rule. And so "he" shall reign forever - "he" seeming to imply Lord and Christ are one despite being two; and "forever," that nothing will ever usurp their rule again. The kingdom, which is an earthly one, will always remain.
     v16: It's fitting the elders as representatives of the redeemed are the first to respond. Falling on their faces is no doubt an expression of submission to the new ruler, but also of reverence before his might and sheer relief and thankfulness. Our own response on reading these things should be the same. Their worship implies all this by way of their response. God is praised as "Lord Almighty" as it is by his great power that he has begun to reign, utilising the elements to vanquishing his enemies as in Egypt and imprisoning them forever. His unchanging eternality is also noted as he will reign forever. But there is no mention of him being “one to come” as elsewhere, for he has now “come.” And he is just as we see him in Christ and always will be, forever ruling in righteousness and justice, ensuring the joy of his subjects.
     v18: Again we see it was “the nations” that raged, not just the inhabitants of one city. This rage spanned the church age, but was most severe when the nations were gathered together by the beast (v7). But “God’s wrath” then came by way of the earthquake and destruction it wreaked. This stresses its severity. It cannot simply be an earthquake that kills a literal 7000. Figures far greater are regularly killed by disasters. It seems to denote all who at that time were under wrath and to be condemned. Indeed, “wrath” elsewhere in the books always refers to the final judgment, so we must see the wrath that concludes history an initial aspect of it, like the first gusts of a storm.
     With the coming of God’s this wrath is the time for judgment more generally. The earthquake was simply a precursor to something far more terrible for the wicked. All the “dead” are to be judged as outlined in chapter 20. And it will mean two possibilities: For “the prophets” who served God and “the saints” (lit. holy ones) and those who “fear his name” it is a time of reward. Being sandwiched between comments on judgment stresses what they are saved from and what they are saved by. These groups could all the same people. However in context, “prophets” are the witnesses (11v3, cf. 16v6, 18v24, 22v9) and so may denote those within the church who preach. “Saints” would then refer to the redeemed as a whole, and those who “fear” may be both (19v5) or the group in verse 13. Whatever the sense, all God’s people will be rewarded – whether “small” and seemingly insignificant in life or great. What encouragement to every one of us. The wider NT speaks of degrees of reward in seeing the fruits of our labours in glory, and this is hinted at in Revelation (22v12). However its focus is on the simple “reward” will of course be that promised to all who conquer in the 7 letters. The alternate possibility in judgment however is that of “destroying the destroyers of the earth” (cf. Jer 51v25). As so often in scripture it stresses God’s wrath will mean justice – an eye for an eye. As Jesus said stressed, it is as we do to others that it will be done to us. And so those who have destroyed “the earth” – its inhabitants and its resources, will themselves be destroyed. This is a sobering hint that hell cannot possibly mean immediate annihilation, for sinners must experience something of what they have inflicted on others.

     v19: We now find ourselves back at the temple implying John was visual outside it (11v1). Now it is "opened." It's unlikely this is to stress access as the redeemed have already been pictured there. Perhaps it is to stress God readying himself for judgment. The ark is seen which is strange as we've seen God's throne previously. This may be to stress the portability of God's throne as the ark symbolised his presence going into battle. The storm with earthquake and hail picks up Sinai and Egypt, again as images of God's holiness and wrath - as if breaking out of heaven. It should terrify.