An Exegetical Commentary
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 31 May 2011; Revised 3 March 2014
Scripture: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found here. The Revelation Scripture text is taken from the NASB (1977 Edition) and unless otherwise indicated other Scripture quotations are from the NASB 1995 Updated Edition. Other Bible versions are also quoted. Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. Most versions can be accessed on the Internet.
Ancient Sources: Unless otherwise indicated references to the Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Works by early church fathers are available online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library or Early Christian Writings. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which was in use by Jews by the mid-2nd century BC. The LXX with English translation may be found here. Citations for Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, are from The Works of Flavius Josephus (c. 75-99 A.D.). Online.
Grammar: Unless otherwise noted the meaning of Greek words is from Walter Bauer, W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1957), and the meaning of Hebrew words is from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1981), abbreviated as "BDB." Explanation of grammatical abbreviations and a pronunciation guide for New Testament Greek may be found here.
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Jewish nature of the apostolic canon and its central figure I use the terms Tanakh (Old Testament), Besekh (New Testament), Torah (Law), Yeshua (Jesus), and Messiah (Christ).
Measurement of the Temple (11:1-2)
1― Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it.
Then there was given me a measuring rod: Grk. kalamos is an old word for a growing reed (Matt 11:7), which grew in immense brakes in the Jordan Valley (Robertson). In normal usage kalamos indicates a reed that was often used for measuring with a Hebrew unit of measure equaling six cubits. A cubit was 17 to 18 inches long based on the length of the forearm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. The measuring rod of Ezekiel (Ezek 40:5) was about 10 feet long (Johnson). like a staff: Grk. rabdos means a rod, staff or stick. Rabdos was also used to refer to a ruler’s scepter and a stick used as a means of punishment. The qualification “like a staff” may indicate that the rod was an ordinary wooden stick in contrast with the golden rod used by the angel to measure the New Jerusalem (21:15).
and someone said: The phrase indicates that John was not clear who issued the instruction, whether the Father, Yeshua, or an angelic representative. "Get up: Grk. egeirō, pres. act. imp., to wake or rouse and used principally in reference to sleeping persons. The word can also mean "to come." The verbal command to “get up” may seem unnecessary, but perhaps there was some time interval between the visions of Chapter Ten and this chapter and John had been asleep. Fully awake John is surprisingly told to measure the temple of God. and measure: Grk. metreō means to take the dimensions of something. In the ancient world measuring was accomplished for shorter lengths by the reed cane (Ezek 40:2ff.) or, for longer distances, with a rope line (1 Kgs 7:23; Isa 44:13) (Johnson).
the temple of God: Grk. naos refers generally in the apostolic writings to the temple in Jerusalem. Naos designates the sanctuary proper in contrast to hieros, which includes the outer courts (Mark 11:11). In Revelation only naos is used. The Greek phrase ton naon tou thēou, “the temple of God,” occurs three other times in the apostolic writings and refers to the temple in Jerusalem. In Matthew 26:61 Yeshua is accused of plotting to destroy the temple. In 1 Corinthians 3:17 Paul refers to the actual temple in Jerusalem to make his comparison to the church in verse 16. In 1 Thessalonians 2:4 the Antichrist is prophesied to sit in “the temple of God.” and the altar: Grk. thusiastērion refers to the place where offerings or sacrifices are presented (Rienecker).
The temple mentioned here has been variously interpreted, since there are both literal and figurative uses of the word in Scripture. There were three temples in Jerusalem’s history, the first one being built under King Solomon (1 Kgs 5-8). The second temple was built under Zerubbabel (Hag 1-2; Ezra 3:4-13), and the third was a rebuilt temple under King Herod (Matt 21:12; 24:1-2). There are three figurative uses in the apostolic writings of the word translated “temple” in this verse – a person’s physical body is likened to a temple (John 2:19, 21; 1 Cor 6:19), a believer’s household is described as a temple (1 Cor 3:16) and the corporate people of God are likewise a temple of God (2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21). See 1:4 on “churches.”
Scholars who take the spiritual approach consider the temple here to be Christianity and the “outer court” to be Judaism (Earle). However, The evidence favors taking the reference to the temple in this verse in a literal sense. There are no interpretative statements by the Lord or an angel indicating that this temple is symbolic. Certainly there is spiritual meaning to John’s narrative, but even when Yeshua used the figure of His body as a temple (Mark 14:58) the contrast was based on the literal temple built by Herod. Moreover, if the word “temple” is to be taken symbolically, then the rest of the words that denote substantive aspects of the vision (such as “rod,” “court” and “altar”) would likewise have to be symbols, thereby reducing the instruction to an allegory and all sense would be lost. (See Baron’s comment in Interpreting Revelation on the deficiency of the spiritual approach.)
Since the temple mentioned in this verse seems to be located in Jerusalem, the dating of Revelation impacts its identification. The preterist view is that John was told to measure Herod’s temple, which would have had to occur before the temple’s destruction in AD 70 by the Roman General Titus. On the other hand, if John was imprisoned during Domitian’s reign, as the church fathers attest, then the decision has to be made whether to treat this temple as symbolic or as a literal future temple that will be built before the Lord returns. Many futurists favor the latter view. Indeed, Jews are preparing to build another temple in Jerusalem. David Brickner, Executive Director of Jews for Jesus, reported in 1999 that Jewish groups have set up yeshivas to educate and train priests for the day that the Temple is restored and that many Arab homes in the Old City of Jerusalem near the Temple Mount have been purchased in anticipation of an extensive building project. Another group, the Temple Mount Faithful, have cut a massive 4.5-ton limestone cornerstone to be ready to commence building at any moment (Brickner 62f).
While John was commanded to measure the temple, he offers no narrative of having performed any measurement. In contrast Ezekiel and Zechariah reported detailed incidents of measuring, both by a heavenly visitor, simply identified as “a man” (Ezek 40:3f; Zech 2:2). Ezekiel describes the visit of a man who measured every part of the temple (Ezek 40–43), then the area allotted to the Lord, including the city of Jerusalem (Ezek 45; 48:30-35), then a great river that flowed from the temple (Ezek 47:1-12) and finally the territory divided into allotments for the twelve tribes (Ezek 47:13 - 48:29). Ezekiel did not recognize the temple as the one he had left when taken into captivity by the Babylonians (Ezek 40:2), and indeed it has never been built. God’s design for His future temple, then, will probably conform to the detailed measurements provided to Ezekiel. Zechariah also met an angel that measured Jerusalem and predicted that “Jerusalem will be inhabited without walls because of the multitude of men and cattle within it” (Zech 2:1-4; cf. Ezek 38:11), which had not been fulfilled when Revelation was written.
John may have been stunned by the directive. Measuring a massive temple by one man with a stick seems highly impractical. Moreover God and the Jews already knew the measurements of Herod’s temple, so why conduct measuring? Measuring a building or a city that is yet to be built is no doubt a symbolic act much like the symbolic acts carried out by various biblical prophets (Isaiah – Isa 20:2-5; Ezekiel – Ezek 12:1-7; and Agabus - Acts 21:10-11). In common usage a construction worker measures to prepare something to fit or to confirm that some aspect of work conforms to the plan. God is concerned about exacting conformity to His will (cf. Matt 5:48; Rom 8:29). Stern suggests that measuring symbolizes reserving a city either for preservation (Zech 2:1-5) or for destruction (2 Kgs 21:12-14; Isa 34:11; Lam 2:8). The preservation or destruction would then be the result of whether the object measured conforms to the divine design. Baron comments that the measuring is “to mark the space it is to occupy in its restored condition, and the plan on which it is to be arranged” (57). In other words, the measuring is for surveying purposes and represents the absolute certainty that the temple and city will be restored and enlarged on the site selected.
and those who worship in it: The ones worshipping would presumptively be Jews, but the phrase may specifically refer to the priests who approve and offer the sacrifices of the people. (See 4:10 on “worship.”) At any rate, so much attention is paid to the temple issue that this one phrase is often overlooked. In the Gospel accounts Yeshua frequently “measured” the priests, Levites, Pharisees, Sadducees and various other people and found their spiritual and moral character to fall short of divine expectations. And, Yeshua began the Revelation to John by “measuring” the congregations of Asia Minor with more negative than positive results. This is a sobering thought. What if the Lord came to modern congregations during their worship and measured those within. Would the measuring result in commendation or condemnation?
2― “Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.
Leave out: Grk. ballō, aor. act. imp., to throw out, to cast out. The word is used here in the sense of “to exclude,” i.e., exclude it from the sanctuary though the other courts are included (Rienecker). the court: Grk. aulē refers to the uncovered yard outside the house. There were usually two, one between the door and the street, called the outer court, the other the inner court surrounded by the buildings. This court is the outer court as is evident from the phrase “outside the temple” (Robertson).
do not measure it: The instruction of this verse offers valuable detail that with the historical record argues against the preterist interpretation. John is told not to measure the court that is outside the temple. The temple complex when Yeshua walked the earth had four courts. Outside of the sanctuary area was the Court of the Gentiles beyond which Gentiles could not enter on pain of death. The Court of the Gentiles was paved with the finest variegated marble and according to Jewish tradition formed a square of 750 feet. The name of the court is derived from the fact that it was open to all—Jews or Gentiles—provided they observed the prescribed rules of decorum and reverence. It was also in this area that the business of selling sacrificial animals had encroached.
The commercial practice in the Temple precincts so offended Yeshua that He twice overturned the tables of the money-changers and drove them from His Father’s house, the first time in the first year of his ministry (John 2:14) and the second time in the last year of his ministry (Matt 21:12). The reason Yeshua gave for such drastic action was because the court was supposed to have been a place of “prayer for all the peoples” (Isa 56:7). Beyond the Court of the Gentiles the sanctuary area included three courts in succession: the Court of the Women, the Court of the Israelites and the Court of the Priests, which further limited proximity to the Holy of Holies (Edersheim 23).
for it has been given to the nations: The phrase implies that while the Jews control the area beginning at the inner court, the Gentiles will do as they please in the outer court. Johnson argues (unconvincingly) that nowhere in Revelation does “nations” mean exclusively Gentiles, but includes Jews. The fact remains that during the first century, Jews used the term “nations” to refer strictly to Gentiles and there is no reason to believe that Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, would use the term in any other fashion to John, the Jewish apostle. Even though Jews did use the Court of the Gentiles of Herod’s temple the context does not require including Jews in the term “nations.” There would be no point in saying that the property is being given to its owner.
The phrase “it has been given” represents a prophetic fait accompli. This statement argues for a rebuilt temple in the last days prior to the Second Coming. A rebuilt temple is not an impossibility, but obviously only an extraordinary series of events could bring it about. While the idea of a a rebuilt temple energizes Evangelical Christians anticipating a pre-tribulation rapture, the fact remains that there is no divine directive in Scripture for the Jews to rebuild the temple. The Israelis are not anticipating the return of Messiah Yeshua. Even if the Israelis could build a temple their unbelief in Messiah Yeshua and the lack of the Sh'khinah glory of God in the temple (cf. Ezek 43:1-5) would make it an abomination. Herod's temple was destroyed because Israel's leaders refused to recognize their Messiah (Luke 19:44).
According to the Talmud the shekinah glory of God left the Temple forty years prior to its destruction in A.D. 70 (Yoma 39b), which coincides with the moment that Yeshua died on the cross and the veil into the Holy of Holies was torn in two (Mark 15:32). How should we expect God to react to a new temple built by unbelieving Israelis? John was informed that judgment would fall on it through the occupation of a foreign army (cf. Zech 14:2). The prophet Ezekiel explained that there would be no sanctuary with the glory of God until the Davidic prince was installed. In fact, God will provide the holy house (Ezek 37:24-38).
and they will tread: Grk. pateō means to trample with contempt (Robertson). under foot the holy city: The designation of "holy city" is given to both the earthly Jerusalem (Neh 11:1; Isa 48:2; 52:1; Dan 9:24; Matt 4:5; 27:53) and the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 21:2). Yeshua had prophesied that the Gentiles would "tread under foot" or trample Jerusalem “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). However, the wicked cannot trample on the heavenly city. The “times of the Gentiles” at least began in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the temple (Sevener 3), not AD 70 Stern dates the beginning as the Assyrian conquest of Israel (140). Yeshua had also prophesied that the Romans would lay siege to Jerusalem and bring such desolation on the temple that not one stone would be left upon another (Luke 19:43f). In AD 66 the Jews revolted against increasingly oppressive Roman rule, and they managed to hold on to Jerusalem in the face of siege until 70.
In that year, Titus, son of the Roman emperor Vespasian, captured the city and destroyed the entire Temple complex, not just the outer court. According to Josephus the city and temple were so upheaved and dug up, that it was difficult to believe it had ever been inhabited (Wars of the Jews, VII, 1:1). The city suffered almost complete destruction during the Bar Kokhba rebellion led by Simon Ben Kosiba (AD 132-135), following which the Jews were banished from the city. Gentile rulers retained control over Jerusalem and the holy land until 1948 when the United Nations approved the establishment of Israel as an independent state. After the Six-Day War in 1967, the entire city of Jerusalem was finally back under Jewish control, which some consider the end of the “times of the Gentiles” (Stern 141). Some date the fulfillment from Israel’s 1980 proclamation that Jerusalem is a united city under Israeli sovereignty, but others will not consider the prophecy fulfilled until the Muslims no longer control the Temple Mount.
for forty-two months: The reference to 42 months, the first mention in Revelation of a 3½-year period (cf. 11:3, 12:14 and 13:5-7), points to a future time when Jerusalem will once again be subjected to the indignities of Gentile occupation. Based on the events associated with each of the ways the 3½-year period is expressed, the reign of the beast, the triumph of the Gentiles over the Jews, the prophetic ministry of the two witnesses and the woman’s sojourn in the wilderness are probably concurrent events, but if not they substantially overlap. Revelation provides only the most general calendar of these various events in relation to one another.
The specific use of “42 months” cannot be taken in any symbolic sense and does not allow the description of “trampling” to cover any period of biblical history or history since then. As Zechariah says, “For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be captured, the houses plundered, the women ravished and half of the city exiled” (Zech 14:2). With overwhelming military might, the Antichrist will force his way into Jerusalem and set up an idolatrous abomination in the temple in fulfillment of Yeshua’ prophecy (Matt 24:15; cf. Dan 9:27; 12:11), forcing the Jews to suspend worship at the site.
Ministry of the Two Witnesses (11:3-6)
3― “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.”
And I will grant authority to my two witnesses: Evidence is confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15; Matt 18:16). and they will prophesy: The construction “I will grant…and they will prophesy” is a Hebrew idiom meaning “I will commission (or give permission to) my two witnesses to prophesy” (Rienecker). This is an important way to test whether a message is from God. Among futurists there is much difference of opinion on the identity of the two witnesses, some taking “witnesses” as symbolic of the [Gentile] Church and Israel or Law and Grace, but the narrative of the chapter speaks in very precise language of two individuals with a God-ordained mission lasting a specific number of days. Those who interpret “witnesses” as individuals are divided over the identification of candidates from biblical history who will return from heaven to fulfill this mission. No one seems to think the individuals will be simply ordinary believers living on earth at the time of the beast and called into service.
for twelve hundred and sixty days: A second reference to a 3½-year period is given, this time in reference to the duration of the ministry of the two witnesses. The precise nature of the number represents God’s sovereign planning in the most minute detail. There will be two witnesses and they will prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, no more and no less (cf. 9:15 on event predestination). The specific number may be significant since the Hebrew calendar allocated 360 days per year whereas the Gregorian calendar totals 365 days. While some interpreters assume that the 42 months of verse two precede the period of the witnesses in this verse (Sevener 77), the two time periods more likely overlap. The Dispensational belief in two separate three and a half year divisions is based on the seventieth week of Daniel 9:27, with the first half being called “the birth pangs” or “the beginnings of sorrows” (cf. Matt 24:8). However, Yeshua did not use the metaphor of “birth pangs” to refer to a definite time period.
The dating of the commencement of their ministry in relation to the beginning of the beast’s reign is not given, but the precise number of days and verse 7 below suggest that their ministry begins before the beast actually starts his reign of terror. Their prophecy apparently does not continue the full period of the one who causes the abomination of desolation, which lasts 1,290 to 1,335 days (Dan 12:11-12).
clothed in sackcloth: The two witnesses do not come in modern clothing, but suitable to their divine mission wear the sackcloth common to biblical prophets (2 Kgs 1:8; Isa 20:2; Zech 13:4). In John’s day sackcloth was a rough cloth made from the hair of a black goat and worn in times of mourning (Mounce). Stern says that believers in Jerusalem have grown used to being presented with candidates claiming to be one of the two witnesses. They appear every few months, often dressed in sackcloth like the ancient prophets and claiming to be in the spirit and power of Elijah. In such circumstances, requiring self-appointed prophets to fulfill literally the signs of the Revelation witnesses is a reasonable test. None have yet produced the miraculous proofs expected of the genuine Elijah and his partner.
4― These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.
These are the two olive trees: Grk. elaia, a tree that bears the olive fruit. The olive tree is a species of a small tree native to the coastal areas of the eastern Mediterranean coastal areas of southeastern Europe, western Asia and northern Africa as well as northern Iran at the south end of the Caspian Sea. Its fruit, also called the olive, is of major agricultural importance in the Mediterranean region as the source of olive oil. References to the olive tree occur 17 times in the Tanakh, first in reference to the bounty promised to Israel in Canaan (Deut 6:11).
However, the olive tree is used figuratively in several instances: (1) in a parable symbolizing a potential leader over Israel (Judg 9:8-9); (2) in Psalm 52:8 inn which David likened himself to an olive tree in the house of God; (3) as a figure of judgment on wicked nations (Isa 17:6; 24:13; Amos 4:9); (4) a figure of the Kingdom of Judah (Jer 11:16) and (5) as symbolic of two anointed ones (Zech 4:3, 11-12), lit. “sons of oil” (Baron 135).
and the two lampstands: Grk. luchnia refers to the stand upon which a luchnos, or lamp, was placed or hung. See the note on 1:12. In the LXX luchnia translates menorah, first mentioned in the Tanakh in reference to the seven-branched golden lampstand used in the tabernacle and temple (Ex 26:35; 2 Chron 28:20; Heb 9:2). "Lampstand" occurs over 40 times in the Tanakh, but the only figurative use is in a vision given to Zechariah of a single lampstand with seven lamps such as the one made for the temple holy place (Zech 4:2, 10).
John is informed that the two witnesses are “the two olive trees and the two lampstands.” Since Israel is described as an olive tree (Jer 11:16) and lampstands symbolize congregations in 1:20, some think the image symbolizes the true Body of Messiah faithfully giving its light in the last days (Mounce). Juster suggests that the two witnesses represent either the activity of apostolic and prophetic gifts exhibited by His people at the end of the age or two specific leaders with these gifts (34). However, the grammar is very precise and the phrase “these are the two” implies previous knowledge by John. He would naturally interpret the symbols in light of their use in the Tanakh, generally, and Zechariah's vision in particular. Since the symbols are only identified as men, John would not assume a totally new meaning that had never occurred before in Scripture.
In the context of Zechariah the two anointed ones are presumptively Joshua, the high priest, and Zerubbabel, the governor (Zech 3–4), but various Jewish midrashic traditions identified the two figures as Aaron and Moses, Aaron and David, Aaron and the Messiah, and Elijah and Moses, the latter pair being the most favored (Stern). Some Christian scholars also favor Elijah and Moses, since they appeared with Yeshua on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-8) and the powers the two witnesses jointly exhibit parallel the miraculous actions of Moses and Elijah during their respective ministries (cf. Ex 7:14-18; 1 Kgs 17:1; 2 Kgs 1:10ff). Any of these solutions, while possible, is problematic.
First, Zechariah's question about the identity of the olive trees and lampstand (Zech 4:11-14) is never answered with the names of the persons. Second, the only ones the Tanakh describes being anointed are priests (Ex 28:41), kings (1 Sam 9:16), prophets (1 Chron 16:22) and angels (Ezek 28:14). Third, Zechariah saw only one lampstand, but John is specifically told there are two lampstands. Differences between how scholars identify the witnesses also hinge on how a general principle of Scripture is treated. John’s narrative reports that the two witnesses die (v. 7) and Scripture asserts, “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Heb 9:27).
The case for Elijah is strongest of the candidates since he apparently did not die but was carried up into heaven by a whirlwind (2 Kgs 2:11). Moreover, God specifically promised “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Mal 4:5). While the ministry of John the Immerser was performed in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17) and fulfilled the prophecy of the coming of Elijah (Matt 17:12), Yeshua asserted that the prophecy had a dual application and pertained to both comings of the Son of God. After John the Immerser had been beheaded Yeshua categorically prophesied, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things” (Matt 17:11). Yeshua obviously did not mean that another symbolic Elijah is coming. In receiving the Revelation John would have fully understood that Elijah must appear in the flesh before the Second Coming of the Messiah.
The identity of the second witness is less certain. In spite of the strong witness of Deuteronomy 34:5-8 that Moses died various Jewish Rabbinic traditions concluded Moses was the second witness (Stern). The appearance of Moses with Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2ff) would lend credence to the idea that together they have an important role in the final revelation of Yeshua, since they discussed the completion of His work on earth (Luke 9:31). Hippolytus (170-236) was perhaps the first to suggest that the second witness would be Enoch (Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, 43), because like Elijah, Enoch did not die (Gen 5:24; Heb 11:5). Henry Morris concurs with this interpretation. In addition, Enoch was a prophet and gave substantially the same type of message to the antediluvian generation that is pertinent to the end of the age (Jude 1:14, 15).
While there is much to commend the nomination of Enoch, other factors should be considered. First, Paul asserted, “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Cor 15:50). Just because no one saw Enoch and Elijah die does not mean that their physical bodies remained unchanged when they entered heaven. Second, many people in biblical history were raised from the dead, only to die again, e.g., the Shunammite’s son (2 Kgs 4:34ff), the widow’s son (Luke 7:14f), Lazarus (John 11:43f), the saints who came out of the tombs after the resurrection of Yeshua (Matt 27:52-53), and Dorcas (Acts 9:40). Hebrews 9:27 may only be referring to the death that brings one before God for judgment. The second witness could then be Moses. In any case, there is no definitive description or further identification of the two witnesses, a detail that was not important enough for the Lord to clarify for our benefit.
that stand before the Lord of the earth: The text also notes that the two witnesses stand before the Lord (also Zech 4:14), probably a reference to heaven. This phrase not only indicates their location at the time of the Revelation to John, but the fact that they are waiting patiently until the time designated for their service. The title “Lord of all the earth” emphasizes that God owns this planet in its entirety and controls all its natural processes, echoing the praise of David, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains” (Ps 24:1). In ancient times Israel’s enemies assumed that Israel’s God was only Lord of the hills (1 Kgs 20:28). In modern times many people would deny the Lord even that much authority. The mention of His authority is significant in this context because the “Lord of all the earth” empowers the two witnesses to adversely affect so much of the earth described in verse 6.
Nothing is said about the area in which the two witnesses live and pursue their prophetic mission. Malachi prophesied that Elijah would come to “restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Mal 4:6), meaning that Elijah will ignite a revival in the land of Israel currently characterized by atheism and secularism. Jews will be reconnected to their spiritual fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and in so doing be led to repentance and acceptance of Yeshua as Messiah. Zechariah prophesied of the day when a fountain will be opened in Jerusalem for sin and for impurity (Zech 13:1). While it would be natural to connect this prophecy with the atonement of Yeshua, Zechariah goes on to say that false prophets who had been pretending to be Elijah will be forced to admit their deceit (Zech 13:4). As a result a third of the population will heed the message and call on the name of the Lord and hear by the witness of the Spirit, “they are My people” (Zech 13:8-9). This is a significant percentage given the fact that currently Messianic Jews comprise an extremely small minority in Israel.
5― And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way.
And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows: Grk. ekporeuomai means “to go out” or “to come out of.” The present tense indicates that fire would come out of their mouth every time someone would seek to harm them (Rienecker). Marshall translates ekporeuomai as “proceeds.” out of their mouth and devours their enemies: "Devours," Grk. katesthiō, means to eat up or down (Robertson).
so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way: The power of the witnesses is reminiscent of Elijah and Moses. Elijah called fire out of heaven to consume soldiers that King Ahaziah had sent to arrest him (2 Kgs 1:10-12). In contrast Yeshua rebuked His disciples for wanting to call down fire on a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54-56). It should be noted, however, that the action of the two witnesses is primarily defensive in nature. While the bombardier beetle can blow fire out of its mouth and some ancient dinosaurs could blow fire out of their mouths (Job 41:18-21), man is not physically equipped to copy this feat and this fire blowing is greater than a circus performer can reproduce.
Some take the passage metaphorically as meaning that the words of a prophet can be like fire (Jer 5:14) in that the prophesying does not evoke repentance but instead a hostility that condemns the hearers to the fires of Hell. Conversely, God could endow these prophets with such ability and so literally fulfill this passage. However, it is more likely that “out of their mouth” is a metaphor meaning that lightning strikes from the sky in response to their words, just as in the case of Elijah (Gundry 43). Reliance on miraculous fire means they do not possess the weapons of this world, but trust in the Lord’s deliverance.
6― These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.
These have the power: Grk. exousia. See 2:26 on "authority." to shut up: Grk. kleiō, aor. act. inf., to shut, lock or bar. the sky: Grk. ouranos. See 3:12 on "heaven." The power to “shut up the sky,” lit. “the heaven” (Marshall), is a phrase that also occurs in Luke 4:25, describing Elijah’s declaration of a divinely imposed drought that lasted 3½ years (1 Kgs 17:1; James 5:17). so that rain will not fall: Since God has the processes of weather on earth under His control, then “the heaven” may also mean God’s abode. Turning waters into blood was one of the divine judgments imposed by Moses (Ex 7:20). The last weapon mentioned is plague, a reference to any kind of affliction or calamity of an injurious nature and in Revelation a manifestation of divine retribution. (See 9:18 on “plague.”) It should be noted that the target of the “beating” is the earth, not people, though people would certainly be adversely affected by the actions of the two witnesses. The afflictions could include the aforementioned withholding of rain and turning waters into blood, but also any sort of environmental or meteorological calamity. as often as they desire: Taken together the list in this verse is meant to illustrate the sort of power the two witnesses are given and the latitude they have in deciding where and when to impose these plagues as punishment or to provide protection.
Martyrdom of the Two Witnesses (11:7-10)
7― When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them.
When they have finished their testimony: Grk. marturia. See 1:2 on “testimony.” The ministry of the witnesses has a particular goal or purpose and only when that purpose has been achieved will the beast be given the power to overcome them. Their “testimony” would likely follow the example of the prophets who chastised Israel for disobedience and called for a thorough repentance. Modern Israel is not unlike their ancestors. Although they may honor those customs uniquely Jewish, by modern surveys many Israelites are secular in morality and values and agnostic in their attitude about God. The witnesses will call the Jews back to the faith of their fathers and proclaim the true Messiah.
the beast: Grk. thērion refers to a wild animal. The “beast,” one of the principal characters of Revelation is introduced. The “beast” from the abyss is never described in detail, as are the creatures from the Pit. The term’s usage in Revelation is clearly intended as a metaphor, sometimes as a corporate identity (13:1; 17:12) and sometimes as an individual personality (13:4-8; 17:11; 19:20), namely the Antichrist. The beast will be the most evil and despotic government in history and easily fulfills the description of Jude 1:10: “But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.”
The individual and government are called “beast” because the worship of the creature is elevated and promoted, specifically of the Antichrist himself (cf. Rom 1:25; 2 Thess 2:4), and all manner of fleshly desire is tolerated (cf. 2 Pet 2:12-14). The archetype for the beast may well be Nebuchadnezzar whose megalomania brought the judgment of God of being reduced to a beast of the field for seven years (Dan 4:28-33). In God’s mercy Nebuchadnezzar recovered from his madness (Dan 4:34-37), but for the coming Antichrist there will be no deliverance. Chapters Thirteen and Seventeen provide more information about the identity, character and activities of the beast, corporate and individual.
that comes up: Grk. anabainō, pres. mid. part., to go up or to ascend and refers to upward movement. out of the abyss: Grk. abussos. See 9:1 on “bottomless pit.” John mentions matter-of-factly that the beast comes up from the abyss. The beast does not merely “come” but “comes up,” further emphasizing the location as corresponding to the bottomless pit at the center of the earth. The fact that the beast comes from the abyss, or the bottomless pit, indicates that he is a demonic spirit who will be released to possess the Antichrist and operate under the power and authority of Satan (13:1-4). Paul received the same revelation concerning origin of the Man of Lawlessness, which is the point of 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7. (See my analysis of this passage in The Rapture Debate.)
It is not likely that the beast from the abyss is a human spirit since that would imply a kind of reincarnation. Morris speculates that since the beast ascends out of the sea in 13:1, then there may be a shaft to the Pit somewhere in the ocean. Daniel, too, was told that the beast ascends from the earth (Dan 7:17). However, it is not likely that demonic spirits are kept imprisoned in Hades by the barrier of earth, but by the power of God.
will make war: Grk. polemos. See 2:16 on “war.” with them, and overcome them and kill them: With all the malevolence of Satan the beast will wage war against the two witnesses, but not until they have finished the work God called them to do. Robertson suggests that the phrase “make war” refers to a single combat. Making war would probably include all the efforts using available military and intelligence resources to track down the two men of God, as well as harassing or harming people that give aid and comfort to the two witnesses. David expressed a similar experience of being an individual target of war (Ps 27:3), both as a fugitive from Saul and from later opponents who organized rebellions to overthrow his rule. These two human witnesses are divinely endowed to represent Yeshua the Messiah and His kingdom, much like David was Israel’s champion, amid many enemies. However, the witnesses, like their Savior, know they must eventually die at the hands of ruthless men, just as millions of saints will perish by the cruel edict of the beast (13:7).
8― And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.
And their dead bodies: Grk. ptōma means a fall, especially of bodies slain in battle, a corpse or carcass. The word here is singular, although in 9b it is plural (Robertson). will lie: There is no verb in the text so “will lie” is supplied. The Greek text reads “and the corpse of them on the open street” (Marshall). in the street: Grk. plateia, main thoroughfare or street, from platus, which means “broad or wide.” Plateia is also used in 21:21 and 22:2 to refer to an area in the New Jerusalem. The assumption by scholars is that the usage of plateia here refers to a wide street (Rienecker), although no city has just a single street. It is more likely that the plateia is intended to convey the Heb. word rehob, which refers to a broad place or plaza in the city (TWOT, II, 841). Every ancient city had a plaza for markets, town assemblies and other gatherings (cf. SS 3:2; Jer 5:1; Dan 9:25; Nah 2:4).
the great city: The agents of the beast are finally able to confront the two witnesses and carry out their hired murder. Even in the face of the beast’s army, the witnesses do not leave the “great city” knowing that with martyrdom their mission will be complete. So, they offer no resistance, no fire, no plagues; and in contempt the assassins leave their lifeless bodies where they are killed so that all may observe the beast’s great triumph. Leaving dead bodies unburied has always been an act of outrage and indignity (1 Kgs 21:24; Jer 8:1-2; 14:16). The minions of the beast are infected with his malice. The actual name of the “great city” is not revealed directly. In biblical times cities were considered great first because of being the seat of power in the region or empire, such as Jerusalem, Nineveh, Babylon, Athens, or Rome. These cities also may be considered great because of their wealth represented in building projects and market-places. The great cities also attracted fortune-hunters and the unemployed seeking opportunity and, thus, swelling the population over towns and villages. By these simple categories many modern cities in the world would be considered great.
Some commentators take the reference to the eight references to “the great city” in Revelation (16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21) as a figurative reference to all the great cities and kingdoms opposed to God, but there is no textual basis for this assumption. which mystically: Grk. pneumatikos means “spiritually” or “pertaining to the Spirit” (Rienecker). Perhaps the idea here is not allegorical, but how the Spirit of God interprets God’s Word for believers. The adverb occurs only twice in the apostolic writings and in 1 Corinthians 2:14 is used of the help of the Holy Spirit in interpreting God’s message (Robertson).
is called Sodom: Grk. Sodoma, one of five “cities of the valley” (Gen 13:12; 19:29) of Abraham's time and a place of Lot's residence (Gen 13:10-12; 14:12; 19:1). Exact locations are unknown, but they were probably situated in the Valley of Siddim (Gen 14:3, 8, 10-11) near the Dead Sea. The city was known for the wickedness of its inhabitants (Gen 18:10) and because of which the city was consumed by a fiery judgment of the Lord in spite of intercession by Abraham (Gen 18:22-32; 19:24). Not even ten righteous men could be found there. and Egypt: Grk. Aiguptos, a land in northeastern Africa, home to one of the earliest civilizations, and an important cultural and political influence on ancient Israel. In contrast to the modern nation, ancient Egypt was confined to the Nile River valley, a long, narrow ribbon of fertile land (the “black land”) surrounded by uninhabitable desert (the “red land”). Egypt proper, from the first cataract of the Nile to the Mediterranean, is some 750 miles long.
Jerusalem is called “this great city” in Jeremiah 22:8 and the spiritual condition then may be contrasted with the condition of the great city as indicated by the term “mystically” in this verse. The great city is likened to Sodom and Egypt. In prophetic literature unfaithful Judah and Jerusalem were referred to as “Sodom” (Isa 1:10; 3:9; Jer 23:14; Lam 4:6; Ezek 16:46) because of their sexual license. In addition, Jerusalem’s leaders often “took the road to Egypt” to seek Egypt’s favor and protection (Isa 30:2f, 7; 31:1; 36:6, 9; Jer 1:18; 42:19), which God regarded as rejecting the security of His covenant.
Failure to trust solely in the Lord God of Israel led to the same sort of idolatry that was common to Egypt. Even in the first century Yeshua accused the unbelieving Jews of being an adulterous generation (Matt 12:39) and violators of God’s Torah (Matt 23:28). Paul likewise accused unbelieving Jews of blaspheming God’s name because, while they professed to follow the Torah, they nonetheless broke its commandments (Rom 2:17-24). Thus, the unbelieving Jerusalem leadership of John’s day could be accused of manifesting all the spiritual darkness of Sodom and Egypt. The same could be said of modern Jerusalem and Israel.
where also their Lord was crucified: Grk. stauroō, aor. pass. ind., to nail to a cross. In the LXX stauroō translates Heb. talah (hang, hang up) in Esther 7:9, which depicts the execution of Haman. The imperative mood of the verb indicates the passionate urgency Yeshua's enemies felt. The verb occurs eight times in this chapter. Crucifixion was not a normal Jewish means of execution, and, in fact, the Torah pronounced a curse on anyone hanged on a tree (Deut 21:23). The Mishnah prescribed four methods of execution—stoning, burning, beheading and strangling (Sanh. 7:1). The cross was a vertical wooden stake with a crossbar, usually shaped more like a “T” than the Christian symbol.
Not only is the great city spiritually like Sodom and Egypt, but its geographical location is given specific definition as the place where the Lord of the two witnesses was crucified. If the two witnesses are historical figures the reference to “their Lord” strongly emphasizes their knowledge of Yeshua as God and Messiah. This verse contains the only mention in Revelation of the method used to kill Yeshua. The reference to the event is made without assigning blame. Skeptics in modern times have alleged that no historical basis exists for the crucifixion, but Jewish, Roman, Greek and Syrian writings in the first and second centuries attest to its occurrence. Josephus, the Jewish historian, left this comment about Yeshua, almost a eulogy:
“Now there was about this time Yeshua, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Ant. XVIII, 3:3)
Tacitus, the Roman historian, left this terse statement of Yeshua’ death:
“Christus, from whom the name [Christian] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” (Annals of Imperial Rome, XV)
The Talmud also spoke of the execution of Yeshua: “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.” (Sanh. 43a)
Crucifixion was not permitted under Jewish law, but the Romans had adopted the method from very early times for capital punishment of non-citizen convicts. Capital crimes requiring this penalty included piracy, highway robbery, assassination, forgery, false testimony, mutiny, high treason, rebellion, desertion by soldiers to the enemy and defamation by a slave against his master. Public crucifixions were common in Roman-occupied Israel. Normally the condemned man carried the crossbar of the stake to the place of execution and there was nailed to it by his wrists and ankles. The stake was then pounded into the ground where he would be left hanging in agonizing pain until he died while loved ones watched in horror and grief. Crucifixion was not a quick death, which may have taken several hours (Kaufman Kohler & Emil G. Hirsch, “Crucifixion,” JE).
There is no modern cultural equivalent to the tortuous death by crucifixion. Since the second century the cross has served as the sign or seal of Christianity and symbolizes the great price paid for redemption. However, for Jews it has always been a symbol of persecution, because under that sign the Church for centuries put thousands of Jews to death (Stern 41). I can certainly understand Stern’s reluctance to use the cross to represent his faith in Yeshua. In fact, the use of the cross by Gentiles as jewelry seems to trivialize the great sacrifice God made on our behalf. The Jewish comedian Lenny Bruce once invited his audience to imagine Gentiles wearing electric chair models around their necks.
Because of the mention of crucifixion most commentators take the mention of the "great city" here as Jerusalem, even though the other usages of this place-name in Revelation refer to the home of the harlot Babylon. While Yeshua was crucified near the city and outside the walls of Jerusalem (John 19:20; Heb 13:12), the particle “where” can have an indefinite meaning and would not exclude Golgotha from the political boundary of the city (cf. Luke 13:33; John 1:28). Moreover, the grammar does not warrant applying “mystically” to the crucifixion, an event of stark reality to the apostles, and Yeshua was certainly not crucified in Rome or Babylon.
A confusing aspect of the city’s identification is that if the divine voice meant Jerusalem, why not plainly say so? The appellation of “great city” is used sparingly in Scripture, e.g., Resen (Gen 10:12), Gibeon (Josh 10:2), and Nineveh (Jon 1:2). In addition, why call Jerusalem “the holy city” in verse two above with all the affection the title historically meant and then change to “the great city” here with every indication of God’s displeasure? And, in the context of the Revelation narrative would there not be only one “great city?” Of course, no ancient city held the trademark on the label “great city” and the defining characteristics are given precisely to distinguish this city from the other mentions of “great city” in Revelation.
The most likely reason for the complex description is that this verse is about more than just geography. Jerusalem did not exist at the time of John’s writing as a dwelling place for Jews, having been destroyed by the Romans. The verse points backwards and forwards. Jerusalem was both a holy city and a great city, yet a city and a people with serious spiritual shortcomings. It was a city and a people that were like Sodom and Egypt for whom the Lord of the two witnesses was crucified - the same kind of people that occupy the Land today and who will benefit from His sacrifice as the two witnesses lead them to repentance and restoration.
9― Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb.
Those from the peoples: Grk. laos means people and may refer to a crowd, people in contrast to their leaders, or people of a particular nation. See the note on 5:9. and tribes: pl. of Grk. phulē, is a grouping based on blood kinship or habitation. See the note on 1:7. Phulē can refer to either the tribes of Israel or the nations of the world. and tongues: pl. of Grk. glossa, languages. This is an archaic translation given that glossa either means the physical organ in the mouth or a distinctive language system unique to a people. Using the former meaning would be nonsensical in the context. and nations: pl. of Grk. ethnos, nations. Ethnos defines a people identified by a distinctive culture or national boundaries. See the note on 2:26. John lists God’s census categories again to describe those looking on the corpses of the witnesses. While those observing the scene might be watching a CNN broadcast, the onlookers are most likely members of the beast’s army, a multi-national force. The military force may be the same one prophesied in Zechariah 14:2 (cf. Rev 16:13-16; 19:19).
will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days: An interesting detail is that the dead bodies lay for three and a half days before they are resurrected. Morris suggests this period symbolizes the three and a half years of rejected testimony (DSB). The time factor may also be intended to parallel the experience of Yeshua, the faithful witness (1:5), since the length of time involved in Yeshua’ arrest, trial, death, burial and resurrection was three days (Mark 9:31).
and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb: Grk. mnēma literally means a ‘sign of remembrance,’ especially for the dead, and in Scripture refers to a grave or tomb. The identification of the observers being military members is strengthened by the fact that they do not permit removal of the dead prophets for placement “in a tomb,” a reference to the typical Jewish burial practice in biblical times. Cremation was not common among ancient Hebrews as it was among Gentile nations. When Stephen was martyred godly men came and buried him (Acts 8:2), but friends of the two witnesses would only be deterred in performing the kindness of a decent burial by the presence of an armed force.
10― And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
And those who dwell on the earth: Grk. gē, earth, humanity, country, land or ground. Stern believes that the reference to “earth,” used twice in the verse, should be translated as “land,” meaning the Land of Israel, and the people being Jews instead of Gentiles, based on the assumption that the “great city” refers to Jerusalem. However, Stern’s emendation is not necessary to support Jerusalem as the location of these events. First, the entire expression “those who dwell on the earth,” which occurs ten times in Revelation (see 3:10 on “dwell.”), always refers to the unbelieving world or those who follow the beast and take his mark. Second, the preposition means “on” the earth, not “in” the land. Third, no prophetic Scripture supports the idea that Jews will celebrate when their greatest prophets in history are murdered by the beast. They will probably have to be restrained from rioting.
will rejoice over them and celebrate: The world takes a perverse joy when a follower of Yeshua is harmed (cf. John 16:20). One can only imagine the immense sense of relief that will come over the beast and his kingdom when the voices and harmful activities of the two witnesses are brought to an end. The citizens will likely believe that their troubles are over and such a victory deserves a celebration. Gift exchanges seem strangely out of place in this context, unless it refers to rewards being paid for information and bonuses paid to the perpetrators of the killing.
because these two prophets: pl. of Grk. prophētēs, a spokesman for God who reveals the divine will and purpose. See the note on 10:7. tormented: Grk. basanizo. See 9:5 on “torment.” Two further comments are made here regarding the witnesses. First, they are “prophets,” referring back to verse 3 where they are given the commission to proclaim the Word of God. They stand in the long line of the historic biblical prophets who not only called the people of God to repentance, but also confronted pagan powers to humble themselves before God. The two prophets are also described as having “tormented” the followers of the beast. The word “tormented,” refers to the exercise of the powers they were given (verse 5 & 6) to defend themselves and to cause ecological harm, although no report is offered of how they tormented their enemies.
Resurrection of the Two Witnesses (11:11-14)
11― But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them.
But after the three and a half days: The two disciples lie dead for a little longer than the Lord Yeshua. the breath: Grk. pneuma can mean blowing, breathing, breath or spirit. of life: Grk. zōē, the state of being alive. from God came into them: Suddenly the Creator God who breathed into Adam’s nostrils the “breath of life” (Gen 2:7) returns the same power to them. The Hebrew idiom “breath of life” (also Gen 6:17; 7:15; Isa 2:22; 42:5; Ezek 37:5) emphasizes that only life can produce life and the first life did not “evolve” from chemical transformation, but from the divine infusion of wind into the first formed animals and man. By the same power the wind of life is miraculously passed on to succeeding generations.
and they stood on their feet: What a shock it will be to everyone looking on when the murdered prophets get up by the power of God. The wind of God that brought life to earth in the beginning is the same power that resurrected Israel from its “grave” of dispersion over the face of the earth (Ezek 37:7-14) and brought back Jews to their homeland. Not only has the life-giving power of God restored the nation of Israel but since then the Spirit has been causing the hearts of Jews to return to their Messiah at an ever increasing rate. Even Jews that grew up indoctrinated in atheism, that “have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory” (Isa 66:19), are now experiencing spiritual resurrection and declaring the glory of the Messiah. Then at the end of the age God will use these two witnesses to bring that the revival to its consummation (Ezek 36:36f).
and great fear: Grk. phobos means fear and in the apostolic writings is sometimes used in the negative sense of alarm, fright or terror and sometimes in the positive sense of reverence or respect due to God or earthly officials. fell upon those who were watching them: The “great fear” of the bystanders is similar to the experience of the soldiers in the garden of Gethsemane who were on guard to prevent the disciples from stealing the Lord’s body. Similar precautions will probably be followed in this instance, but the watching guards are not prepared for God “stealing” the bodies. The straightforward narrative argues against the assumption of some commentators that the two witnesses symbolically represent the Church or Israel or that John merely borrowed from Ezekiel’s account of the rejuvenation of dry bones (Ezek 37:5, 10-12) to offer a spiritual message. To spiritualize one aspect of the report would require applying the same principle to all the words in the passage, which would contradict the account of the “first” resurrection described in 20:5, and imply that the Church or Israel has been dead for three and a half indefinite periods of time. Assuming that symbolism exists where the context offers no support easily diminishes the authenticity of John’s narrative.
12― And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them.
Come up here: There is no “secret rapture” for these witnesses. Just as they had been publicly humiliated, so now they are publicly vindicated, as will be every believer on that "great resurrection morning" (cf. Matt 24:27; 1 Thess 4:17). While Yeshua ascended from the midst of His friends and disciples, the two witnesses may only have their enemies (no doubt in shock) at hand for their miraculous flight toward heaven. Yet, like Yeshua the witnesses ascend into the sky in a cloud (Acts 1:9), further evidence of their divine commission, as well as the presence of God’s power and glory in their lives. The singular “heaven” indicates that the witnesses were translated directly into the heaven of God’s abode and did not transit through outer space.
13― And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
And in that hour there was a great earthquake: Grk. seimos, a violent disturbance connected with natural phenomena, contextually specific (Danker). Here the word refers to an earthquake. See 6:12 on “earthquake.” The temblor is defined as "great," and the verse goes on to describe its lethality and destructiveness. Twice in biblical history Jerusalem experienced an earthquake. Amos mentions an earthquake that occurred in the days of King Uzziah (Amos 1:1), and it must have been so terrible that two centuries later the Lord compares it to the earthquake that will be brought about by the Messiah (Zech 14:4). When Yeshua died an earthquake opened many tombs and saints were resurrected (Matt 27:52).
and a tenth of the city fell: Grk. piptō means to fall (down) from a higher point and includes the idea of falling to pieces, falling to the ground and falling down violently. The specific mention that a tenth of the city fell probably means that a portion of the ground separated and dropped several feet resulting in destruction of all structures located in the area. Another possibility is that a part of the city is built on soft soil or sandy loam, as well as being near a water source, and the earthquake causes liquefaction of the area resulting in total destruction. Most deaths in an earthquake are caused by falling objects, but fires from damaged electrical or gas systems also pose a serious hazard.
seven thousand people: “People” translates onomata anthropon, which means “names of men” (Robertson), which could refer to members of the beast’s army, as well as Jewish residents. were killed in the earthquake: Seven thousand dead make this temblor a significant quake, since only eleven earthquakes in modern history have exceeded this number of fatalities. See the fascinating article, “Deadly History of Earthquakes” (BBC News, UK Edition, 30 March 2004). Identification of the dead is not clear.
the rest were terrified: Grk. emphobos means to be afraid, startled or terrified. and gave glory to the God of heaven: As an immediate consequence of the catastrophe many in the city were scared witless and “gave glory,” which in Revelation is characteristic of the redeemed or the angels. The Hebrew idiom “give glory” means that someone deserves respect, attention and obedience (TWOT, I, 427) and as an act of praise to acknowledge His sovereignty (Shulam 171). (See 4:9 on “give glory.”) Interpreting the “great city” as Jerusalem this verse expresses the final conversion of the Jewish people (Ladd). In contrast the followers of the beast do not “give glory” by repenting of their sins and consequently suffer the judgment of God (cf. 16:9). The restoration efforts of Elijah and the other witness to turn the hearts of Jews back to their spiritual fathers and the Messiah will reap a great harvest (Zech 13:7ff; Mal 4:6) and the 144,000 Israelites (Rev 7:4; 14:1) may be the first fruits of their labors.
Another factor worth considering is that this earthquake may well presage the sign of the Son of Man (a double eclipse) described in Joel 2:30-32 and repeated in Revelation 6:12. The resurrection of the two witnesses and the devastating earthquake will open the spiritual eyes of the Jews and ignite the revival for which the apostle Paul so earnestly prayed (Rom 9:1ff). “And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be delivered; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:32).
14― The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.
The second woe is past: See 8:13 on "woe." The interlude of the little book and the two witnesses is over and John is returned to the revelation of the “woes.” John is told that the second woe, meaning the sixth trumpet, is past, and that the third woe is coming quickly on the heels of the second. The third woe must refer to the seventh trumpet since its sounding is reported in the next verse.
The Seventh Trumpet Sounds (11:15-19)
15― Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”
Then the seventh angel sounded: The all-important seventh and final trumpet pronounces the third woe on the beast’s kingdom and brings to fruition all of God’s plans for salvation and justice. and there were loud voices in heaven, saying: The “loud voices,” probably angels, make the all important declaration of God's kingdom. The kingdom of the world: Grk. kosmos has a variety of uses in the apostolic writings, but in this case likely means the world and everything in it as that which opposes God and is ruined and depraved of character.
has become the kingdom: The verb “has become” points to the time when the kingdom of the world will be supplanted by the reign of the Messiah as foreshadowed in the promise to the Psalmist, “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as your possession” (Ps 2:8). The fulfillment of the petition “thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer is such a certainty that the change to come is described here with a simple past tense verb, a fait accompli (or in common language "a done deal"). It’s like saying that a team has won a game before they’ve even taken the field to play. Between these verses and Chapter Nineteen are the various judgments and other events associated with the overthrow of the wicked world system and the inauguration of the Messiah’s reign. This is why essentially the same cry is heard again in 19:6 (Stern).
of the Lord and of His Christ: lit. “the Lord of us and the Messiah of Him,” which defines the relationship that Yeshua has with the Father and with His people. (See 1:1 on “Christ.”) John conveys the same thought as Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 that Yeshua will subdue all His enemies and present the kingdom to His Father for Him to rule. God the Father holds no symbolic position such as a modern monarch, but is the undisputed Head of State. In the first century Caligula, Nero and Domitian all used the title “Lord,” but Nero especially referred to himself as the “Lord of all the World” (DNTT, II, 511). In reality the kingdom of this world then and now is presided over by the god of this world (1 John 5:19; cf. Matt 4:8f).
and He will reign forever and ever: Unlike individual human governments whose longevity can be measured at most in the hundreds of years, “He shall reign forever and ever,” as the angel declares. The fact that the millennial kingdom of the Messiah is not mentioned does not mean that it is not included (Johnson). After all, once begun the reign of the Messiah will never cease.
The seventh trumpet’s announcement that God’s kingdom has come is the most foreboding from the standpoint of people in the world because it unleashes unimaginable terrors on those who have followed the beast. All world governments and institutional structures, whether education, science, commerce, military, media, health, etc., are part of that one world system. Of course, the Kingdom cannot begin without the gathering of the saints. Yeshua explained the simple plan: “And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven” (Mark 13:27). The gathering and resurrection of the saints (1 Thess 4:16) will be initiated with a “great” trumpet (Matt 24:31).
Yeshua was very clear that all of these highly dramatic events, which are the precursor to establishing His reign on the earth, occur after the great tribulation. Paul added an important detail by saying that the resurrection occurs at the “last trumpet” (1 Cor 15:52), which can only mean that there is more than one trumpet connected with end-time events. Since Revelation is the only apostolic book that identifies more than one trumpet related to end of the age events, then special attention should be given to the last trumpet of Revelation, a trumpet that signals the beginning of the Lord’s reign.
16― And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God,
And the twenty-four elders: Around the throne of God John again sees the twenty-four other thrones occupied by the heavenly elders. (See 4:4 on “elders.”) As in John’s previous experience, the elders immediately fall down or prostrate themselves before the throne of God to express their praise.
17― saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.
We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty: The angels laud God’s greatness by means of various titles and descriptions of His character. In 1:4, 1:8 and 4:8 God is described as "who is, who was, and who is to come." Here the angels leave out the third part, because that which was to come has come. The Lord’s reign has begun. The elders express a similar thought as in verse 15. The address and title “O Lord God, the Almighty” expresses the Hebrew “Adonai Elohim, the Head of heaven’s Armies” (Stern). The title “Lord,” as the Hebrew Adonai, expresses God’s absolute authority to rule and His total control over the life of everyone and everything in His dominion. The designation “God” speaks of the great Creator and Sustainer of the universe and all life. “Almighty” affirms God’s command over His vast angelic army and so He is victorious in every battle. On one occasion Domitian began a letter, which his procurators were to circulate, with the words, “Our Lord God instructs you to do this!” and “Lord God” became his regular title both in writing and conversation (Suetonius 12:13). However, Domitian no doubt realized the truth too late after his death.
You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign: Grk. basileuō, aor. act. ind., to be king or rule. Ladd points out that the Greek tense here is indeed a past tense, but Greek has what is called a ingressive use of the aorist (past) tense which places the emphasis upon the origin of an action with little emphasis upon the time of the act. This explains the translation “have begun to reign.” This usage also explains the translation of the past tense verb “became” in verse 15 above as “has become.”
God is someone who cannot be defeated. In fact, this angelic pronouncement is an apt retort to the overconfident but inane question of people in 13:4 who ask “who is like the beast and who is able to make war with him?” The elders are capable of seeing the big picture and their praise reaffirms to John that God is already reigning, even though humans may doubt the reality because of present circumstances.
18― “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”
And the nations were enraged: After honoring the great God the angels offer the same revelation given in Psalm 2:1-3. The nations and their institutions are diametrically opposed to the rule of God. Since creation Satan has incited the nations into rebellion, and man’s sinful nature has kept it going. People have always resisted God’s commandments being imposed as the standard for morality. And, any suggestion of following God’s ways invariably results in an angry response from the world.
the time came for the dead to be judged and the time to reward Your bond-servants: Retribution and reward are treated as concurrent events. The same activity is illustrated in the “gathering” parables of field, fish and flock where the good and bad are taken at the same time – the parable of the wheat and chaff winnowing (Matt 4:12), the parable of the wheat and tare harvest (Matt 13:24-30), the parable of the dragnet of fish (Matt 13:47-50), and the parable of the judgment of sheep and goats (Matt 25:31-46). Likewise, Yeshua uses the example of Noah to describe how the end of the age will occur. Similar to the pattern in the gathering parables Noah and his family were saved and rewarded for his righteousness while at the exact same time the unbelieving were being destroyed in the global flood (Matt 24:36-41).
the small and the great: The phrase “the small and the great” lit. translates the Greek oi mikroi kai oi megaloi (Marshall). While separately the words can have a wide variety of meanings, put together they form a Hebrew measure of age to include all in a particular group meaning “young and old." The phrase also occurs at 13:16, 19:5, 18 and 20:12. and to destroy: Grk. diaphtheirō, aor. act. inf., to destroy or corrupt (Rienecker). BAG gives the meaning as to spoil or destroy as rust eating into iron or moths that eat clothes. Diaphtheirō can also mean to ruin in the moral sense. those who destroy: Grk. diaphtheirō (see definition above), pres. act. part., lit. “the ones destroying” (Marshall).
the earth: It is interesting that the judgment mentioned here focuses on those who destroy the earth. “To destroy those who destroy the earth” is an example of the proportional punishment mandated in the Torah. God’s standard for punishing crimes has always been an “eye for an eye,” which means that the offender is to be punished to the same degree, but not more, than the offense. Man’s so-called justice has tended to punish too little, too much or not at all.
Morris believes that the judgment is in response to man’s failure to exercise the stewardship of dominion over the earth (Gen 1:28). Instead of caring for the earth, man, through wars and greed, has devastated forests, scorched lands, polluted waters and air, allowed overgrazing, marred the landscape with open pit mines and killed many animals merely for sport. The phrase “destroy the earth” should not be taken literalistically since man does not have the power to destroy the earth in any permanent sense as God who will obliterate the present earth to create the new earth (21:1). All of the harm done by man to the earth’s resources amounts to only a fraction of the devastations wrought by natural calamities. Yet, the earth’s physical processes cleanse and rejuvenate the planet. The population of the earth continues to flourish and life expectancy and the quality of life is far better than the first century.
A second interpretation would view the “destroying” activity of man in a moral sense, as expressed by Isaiah, “The earth is also polluted by its inhabitants, for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant” (Isa 24:5). Human society has been corrupt from the time of Adam’s fall with the sins of the flesh manifested in every nation, and because of this wickedness Isaiah 24 depicts cataclysmic destruction befalling the earth incredibly parallel to the plague of the seventh trumpet. A third interpretation may be derived by translating “earth” as “land,” meaning the Land of Israel.
The Lord set aside Canaan from the beginning for Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob (Gen 17:8, 21:12; 26:3; 28:13-15; Ex 6:8), but over the centuries the land of Israel has been ravaged many times, its rightful owners dispossessed and its resources plundered and pillaged. Of course, the affliction of the Jewish people and their land has sometimes been the result of their own rebellion, but the Lord has punished every nation that ever made itself Israel’s enemy (cf. Gen 12:3). And, in the last days God will fulfill the promise to Zechariah, “And in that day I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (Zech 12:9; cf. Isa 49:25f). It could be that all three interpretations are appropriate to the context of the seventh trumpet.
The servants of God who receive His reward are described in four categories. The first persons listed are the prophets (cf. 18:20; 22:9) and then the saints, which includes the martyrs (cf. 5:8; 8:3-4; 13:7, 10; 16:6; 18:20, 24) and believers in every age (cf. 19:8; 20:9) and may allude to the structure of authority and responsibility found in 1 Corinthians 12:28. The next two categories could apply to all the saints, regardless of position. “Those who fear the Lord” understand the gravity of Yeshua’ words, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body…. …fear the one who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell” (Luke 12:4, 5). Some attempt to water down the meaning of this powerful biblical concept.
Solomon says in Proverbs 8:13 that “the fear of the Lord is to hate evil,” that is, the right fear of the Lord drives the saints to have the same attitude toward evil that God has. But, how does hating evil express a fear of the Lord? It does so in two ways: first, considering God’s hatred of sin the saints don’t want to offend His holiness and force Him to judge them with wrath, and, second, considering His love for lost and dying people, the saints would never want to disappoint and grieve God after He has done so much to provide salvation for them. The fear of the Lord keeps the saint from treating God lightly or assuming that he can violate God’s law with impunity. Finally, the reward recipients are identified as “the small and the great,” a Hebrew measure of age meaning the “young and the old” (Ladd). The phrase is probably a parenthetical comment on “saints” and indicates the redeemed is an inclusive group that spans all age brackets.
19― And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
And the temple of God: Incredible things happen in heaven at the sound of the seventh trumpet. The “temple of God” mentioned here is identified as being in heaven in contrast to the temple of God in 11:1. Some have taken the mention of this temple as symbolic, since the New Jerusalem contains no temple (21:22). However, the Holy City, New Jerusalem, is distinguished in Revelation from heaven as a location, and indeed the New Jerusalem is described as coming down out of heaven (21:2). The word “temple” is the word used to refer to the holy of holies in Herod’s temple, and the simple meaning is that heaven has a temple, but New Jerusalem does not. It could also be that there is not a temple in the sense of a dedicated structure. The Holy City in its entirety is a temple because of being the residence of the Lamb of God.
the ark of His covenant: With the temple open John notices the ark, which has always represented God’s abiding holy presence and His “covenant” or loving relationship with Israel. When the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem they carried off everything in the temple (2 Kgs 25:13-20; 2 Chr 36:18). But, the ark was not on the list of things taken by the Babylonians or returned by Cyrus when the temple vessels were restored (Ezra 1:1-11). There is a Jewish tradition that Jeremiah secretly removed the ark when he was allowed to leave and then hid it in a cave (2 Maccabees 2:4-8).
In the last several years there has been considerable controversy over the supposed “discovery” of the ark in Jerusalem and a number of websites have sprung up on the Internet discussing and debating the issue. The solution would seem to be in this verse. God revealed to John its current location and it is safely kept in heaven. It will no doubt be returned to the restored temple of the millennium reign of the Messiah. Another alternative would be that the ark in heaven is the original and not the copy produced by Moses and the copy was burned when the Babylonians destroyed the temple.
and there were: The appearance of the ark of His covenant in heaven results in startling effects in heaven and on earth. When John first arrived in heaven he was greeted with lightning, sounds and thunder proceeding from the throne (cf. 4:5), but now earthquake and hailstorm would likely remind John of when an angel threw a censer of fire to the earth (cf. 8:5). These disturbances in the meteorological and tectonic systems often occur together with devastating results.
Copyright © 2011-2014 Blaine Robison. All rights reserved.