Perhaps no passage in Revelation is more controversial than chapter 11. There is a wide diversity of viewpoints regarding the interpretation of this chapter, but most of this occurs because men try to symbolize or spiritualize the city, the temple, and the events that are portrayed here. Once again when the passage is taken in its normal or literal meaning much of the diversity immediately vanishes because the literal method provides a check on the imaginations of men and gives an intelligent understanding of the passage. Unless, of course, one is biased against the supernatural elements of these verses. As John Walvoord writes:
The guiding lines which govern the exposition to follow regard this chapter as a legitimate prophetic utterance in which the terms are taken normally. Hence, the great city of 11:8 is identified as the literal city of Jerusalem. The time periods are taken as literal time periods. The two witnesses are interpreted as two individuals. The three and half days are taken literally. The earthquake is a literal earthquake. The seven thousand men who are slain by the earthquake are seven thousand individuals who die in the catastrophe. The death of the witnesses is literal as are their resurrection and ascension.140
Again it is important to keep in mind that chapter 11:1-13 does not advance the chronological sequence of the prophetic events, but parenthetically describes: (a) the ministries of the two witnesses, which occur over a three-and-a-half-year period, and (b) the spiritual condition of the temple and Jerusalem as it will exist in the Tribulation. With 11:14 and following the last woe and the seventh trumpet are introduced along with heaven’s response because of what this means to the kingdom of God. Not until chapter 15 will the chronological developments continue again, namely the pouring out of the seven vials which constitutes the seventh trumpet and the last woe.
Verse 1. “And there was given me a measuring rod like a staff.” “Measuring rod” is kalamos, “a measuring reed or rod.” This came from a species of cane that grew in the Jordan Valley to a height of 12-20 feet. It was very straight, light, and was cut and used for measuring rods, usually 10 feet long. It was known as the “giant reed.”
“Like a staff.” Staff is rJabdos, a long rod or staff. It was used on a journey, or was carried by a ruler, or by a judge or umpire. In fact, a rJabdoucos was one who carried a rod or staff as an umpire or judge. Here John is no longer merely a witness, he is now to become actively involved, a kind of rJabdoucos to measure or judge the temple for God.
“Arise and measure.” “Measure” is the Greek word metrew and means “to measure either a space, number, or value.” Here it signifies that (a) this all belongs to God, the temple, the altar, and the worship involved, and (b) that he was to measure or judge the value, worth, and character of the standards of the temple and its worship and the people therein.
“Temple” here is naos and refers only to the Holy of Holies, and the Holy Place, part of the whole temple complex, the %ieron, the name used of the entire temple at Jerusalem. It presupposes the rest of the temple areas. But only the priests could serve in the naos.
“Altar” here refers to the brazen altar in the court where others could come to make their sacrifices.
Why is John sent to measure the temple? This is saying in effect that man and his worship are always judged by the standards of God. Further, believers, like John who have that standard, are responsible to judge by that standard in order to avoid apostasy and are to be instruments to turn men to Christ and true worship. Regardless of what man thinks, the only thing that counts is God’s judgment and standard of both our lives and our worship. As mentioned above, note that this measuring reed, the kalamos, was usually 10 feet long—far taller than any man. This suggest to us that our worship and character must come up to God’s standards, or man faces rejection and loss as it occurs here (1 Cor. 3:11-15; 11:17f; Heb. 10:23-39).
Therefore, no matter how beautiful the temple or church building, or the ritual and the priestly garb, or the prayers, or no matter how sincere the worshipper, it must all pass the test of the reed, the kalamas, or the kanwn, the Word of God. Necessary to passing the test is our worship which must be done in faith, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the Scriptures, and in the Spirit (John 4:22-24). Verse 8 will give us God’s evaluation and judgment of the Tribulation system. Ryrie says: “The measuring itself seems to be an act of knowing, claiming or staking out. In this act of John, God is giving assurance that He will take note of those who faithfully worship Him in the Tribulation days.”141
Verse 2. “And leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it is given …”
The outer court refers to the court of the Gentiles. Literally the Greek text says “the court, the outer one of the temple, cast without and do not measure.” We are told three things regarding the temple in verse 2: (a) John is told not to measure this court. (b) It is be left out because it is cast out, totally rejected by God. (c) It has been given to the nations who, in their rebellion to God, will tread under foot the holy city (Jerusalem) for 42 months.
Here we have a contrast. One part of the temple is measured, another part (the court of the Gentiles) is not. It is totally rejected, but why? Both parts are rejected and one part will be reclaimed for God, but not the other. Why? Because it represents the Gentile nations who will invade the holy city during the last half of the Tribulation beginning with the blasphemous actions of the beast (Dan. 9:27; Rev. 13).
One of the problems many have with taking this passage literally is the presence of the temple in Jerusalem. Many scholars believe John’s gospel was written between 85-90 A.D. though some argue for a date before 70 A.D., but this is far from conclusive. If the later date is correct, there has been no Jewish temple in Jerusalem since 70 A.D. To make matters more difficult, the Dome of the Rock presently sits on the temple site, or at least a portion of it. This is a very important place of worship in the Arab world. To tear it down would cause tremendous international complications, and we see evidence of this on a daily basis in the news. But for the temple to be measured in the Tribulation, the temple would have to be rebuilt and the Jews would never build their temple on any other site.
This passage shows us that the Jews will again have a temple in Jerusalem during the Tribulation. The temple will be rebuilt very early in the first half of the Tribulation and the Jews will offer sacrifices there as they did in the time of Christ. So the temple worship of verses 1-2a will occur during the first half of the Tribulation, during the time of the treaty between Israel and the Roman prince, the beast of revived Rome (Dan. 9:27). This is the same temple in which the man of lawlessness, “who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thess. 2:4). The treading under foot the holy city (Jerusalem) for forty-two months occurs in the last half of the Tribulation—the last 42 months (three and a half years). This will begin when the beast breaks his treaty with Israel and desecrates the temple. This is the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet (Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15-21; cf. with Rev. 12:13-14 and 13:1). From this point on Jerusalem will come under siege by the Gentile powers (Zech. 12:2-4; 14:2, 12).
Thus, the strong wording of Revelation 11:2 and the contrast with verse 1 stresses that God rejects this whole religious system because it will be a product of the times of the Gentiles and a false Messiah. It will, however, have another 42 months to operate and then God will establish the true temple.
“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses” (vs. 3a). Literally the Greek simply says “And I shall give to my two witnesses.” What is given is not stated. The idea however, is that whatever is needed to fulfill their task, God will give it, i.e., protection (vs. 5), miraculous power (vs. 5), authoritative and effective testimony (vs. 4), and ultimate deliverance (vss. 11-12).
This reminds us that the Lord always provides the resources necessary to accomplish whatever He sends us to do. Our job is to stay occupied with the Lord and to obey Him. Because of His faithfulness and divine essence, He will supply according to His purposes until our job and His purpose and design for our lives is over (vs. 7). So never worry (Phil. 4:6-7), the LORD will always provide no matter how dark or ugly or how large or small; He supplies against the bite of the mosquito or against the charge of the elephant. We need to constantly remember, “the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Sam. 17:47).
“To my two witnesses.” The text does not simply say “to the two witnesses,” but “to my two witnesses.” “My” is a personal pronoun that emphasizes relationship and fellowship (cf. Acts 1:8). This perhaps implies ownership. We belong to Him and are put here on this earth to serve God. But surely this also reminds us that effective representation of Christ only occurs when men walk in close fellowship with the Lord.
“And they shall prophesy … clothed in sackcloth” (vs. 3b). The words “witness, prophesy, and sackcloth” point us to the nature and character of their ministry. “Witness” is the Greek martus and refers to the witness or testimony of these men to the divine truth of God. “Prophesy” is profhteuw which is related to the verb, profhmi, “to speak forth.” The primary idea of the word was “to speak forth, to herald a message, preach.” Included in this was the element of foretelling or the speaking forth of future events. But the gift of prophecy as found in the early church included with it the direct communication of a divine message from God (1 Cor. 14:29-33). During the Tribulation these undoubtedly will receive direct communication from God as in Old Testament times and with the New Testament apostles and prophets (cf. 2 Pet. 1:20-21; Acts 21:1; Rev. 10:11; 1 Cor. 13:2).
While some disagree with this, many scholars believe this gift is not now active. Men preach and herald the Word, the faith once and for all delivered, and proclaim the prophetic events spoken of in Scripture, but with the completion of the canon of Scripture which was founded on the ministry and prophetic gift of the apostles and prophets of the early church, this gift ceased (cf. Eph. 2:10-22; Jude 3, 20; with 1 Cor. 13:8-13; Heb. 2:3-4).142
“Clothed in sackcloth.” “Clothed” is a perfect passive of periballw meaning “to throw around, about, to clothe.” The passive emphasizes that God caused them to be so dressed because of what it symbolized and the perfect tense (probably an intensive perfect) points to the present state of affairs; this would be their dress throughout their ministry.
“Sackcloth” is sakkos referring to a very coarse, dark cloth, often made of hair and worn like a sack. It expressed mourning, repentance and judgment. Their message will essentially be the message of John the Baptist, that of announcing the coming judgments and calling men to repent.
“For twelve hundred and sixty days.” In Scripture a prophetic year is 360 days. Thus the 1260 days equals three and a half years—exactly half of the seven-year Tribulation. The big question is in which portion of the Tribulation do they minister, the first half, last half, or in a portion of each? Many try to place their ministry in the first half, but there are a number of reasons that seem to favor the last half instead.
(1) Immediately after this teaching regarding their ministry there is the announcement of the third woe and the seventh trumpet (cf. 11:14-15). This seventh trumpet occurs right at the end of the Tribulation and results in the ushering in of the kingdom of God. Though chapter 11 is an interlude, it could imply a natural sequence or relationship and may indicate they minister in the last half.
(2) The two witnesses pour out judgment on any who would attempt to harm them (vs. 5). It would appear that this condition better fits the last half of the Tribulation after the abomination of desolation when the beast is seeking to be worshipped, when there is great anti-Semitism and persecution against all believers.
(3) The hideous acts of verses 9 and 10 also seem to fit better with the character of the last half of the Tribulation with the lawlessness of the beast and his system and the worship of Satan (13:4).
(4) The reaction of men in verse 13 with mankind terrified and giving glory to God also better fits the very end of the Tribulation than the middle or even somewhat later in the seven-year period. During the last half of the Tribulation men will worship the beast and Satan and exclaim “who is like the beast and who is able to make war with him?” (l3:4). This could even be exclaimed after the death of these seemingly invincible prophets who are killed by the beast (11:8). But then, there is their resurrection, the voice from heaven, and the devastating earthquake (11:11-13). After this, those who are left, in terror, give glory to God instead of the beast.
(5) There seems to be a natural sequence and tie between verses 1, 2, and 3. In verses 1 and 2a we see the temple that is to be measured. We know the temple is present in the first half of the Tribulation (Dan. 9:27a). Then in verse 2b we have a reference to the court of the Gentiles and the 42 months (three and one half years), when the nations will tread under foot the city of Jerusalem. We know this occurs in the last half of the Tribulation, after the beast invades Palestine (Dan. 9:27b). Right after this, we then have the mention of the two witnesses who prophesy for 1260 days (three and one half years).
Note that days are used in reference to the two prophets or God’s witnesses, but months are used in connection with the unbelieving Gentile nations (cf. 12:6; 13:5). Why? Because God reckons time with believers on a daily basis, showing concern and care for His own. But not so with the unbelieving world.
Because their miracles are similar to those of Elijah and Moses, and because Malachi 4:5 says “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible Day of the Lord” (Mal. 3:1), some believe one of these must be Elijah because Scripture says Elijah will come again. Thus, they insist these must be identified as literal characters out of the Old Testament. Further, Moses and Elijah were seen with the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration. So many believe and teach the two witness here are Elijah and Moses, who are given bodies and who are brought back to earth. Others see them as Elijah and Enoch who were translated and never saw death.
The big question is are they literally Moses and Elijah (or Elijah and Enoch), or are they two men who will come in the power, spirit, and character of Moses and Elijah, etc., i.e., a virtual Elijah and Moses, but not literally Elijah and Moses?
There are several New Testament passages that bear on this question and shed important light on the problem.143
(1) Luke 1:17 clearly states that John the Baptist, as a forerunner of Christ, would go forth in the spirit and power of Elijah (cf. Mark 1:2-3 with Matt. 3:3), i.e., he was a virtual Elijah.
(2) Matthew 17:10-13 teaches us that Elijah had come and that John the Baptist was that Elijah.
(3) John himself said he was not Elijah, only a voice of one crying in the wilderness to prepare men for Messiah (John 1:21-22). John denied that he was a literal Elijah, though he saw his role as a virtual Elijah doing what the Malachi passage said Elijah would do (Mal. 3:1; 4:6).
(4) Matthew 11:7-14 adds some very interesting light on the whole issue. These verses show that John could have and would have fulfilled the Malachi passage if Israel as a nation had believed and accepted his message. But since they rejected both John and Messiah, another would have to come to fulfill the Malachi prophecy and this would need to occur prior to Christ’s second advent.
Since John could have and would have fulfilled the Malachi passage, it seems obvious the one who will come in the future, will be, like John, one who will come in the spirit and power of Elijah, a virtual Elijah, but not literally Elijah himself. He does not have to be a literal Elijah, or John could not have fulfilled the Malachi passage.
Thus, in Revelation 11, the two witnesses are not literally Elijah and Moses (or Elijah and Enoch), but two men whom God will raise up in the spirit and power of their Old Testament counterparts. They are similar from the standpoint of their ministries, but similarity does not mean identity. Their ministries are similar because they are ministering to Israel and such similarity would carry great significance to the Jews.
Some try to symbolize these two witnesses as movements or powers that occur in some religious sense. But clearly, these two witnesses are specific persons and not symbolical of movements or powers. This is proven by the article used with the word “witnesses” and by the fact that the term “witness” in the New Testament is always used of persons. Further, we must remember that they are not named in the text which would indicate that God does not intend for us to identify them. They are simply two exceptional men whom God will raise up in the Tribulation.
“These are two olive trees and two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (vs. 4). These two figures are taken from Zechariah 4:1-14 in order to emphasize the truth of this Old Testament passage as it will relate to these two witnesses of the Tribulation.
Likewise, in this Old Testament passage there were two witnesses to God’s people: Joshua, the high priest (Zech. 3), and Zerubbabel, the civil leader (Zech. 4). Further, this Old Testament passage occurred in connection with the rebuilding of the temple, which was small by comparison to the temple of Solomon that had been destroyed. This smallness had become a matter of reproach to the people who were looking at things as they appeared (according to sight) rather than spiritually (according to faith) (cf. Zech. 4:10). When Zechariah saw the two olive trees and the lampstand he asked, “What are these my Lord?” The answer given was a word of comfort and encouragement, but also a warning. In verse 6 he is told, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts (armies).”
So in the Tribulation, the temple will be an apostate one, Jerusalem will be like Sodom and Egypt (Rev. 11:8), and the beast will at this time have set up his image in the temple, proclaiming himself as God (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:2-8). Regardless, in times of apostasy and “small things” (Zech. 4:10), when things seem bad, God has His witnesses who operate, not by the power and skill of men, but by the power and might of the Lord of Armies.
The olive tree was a source of olive oil used to fuel lamps in ancient times. The oil speaks of the ministry of the Holy Spirit who is God’s anointing bestowed upon men to enable them for service. The olive oil, then, is the fuel used in the two lamps that enabled them to burn brightly, to shed their light (witness) to a lost and needy world. So likewise, the two witnesses of the Tribulation will operate in the power and might of the Holy Spirit. Their power and effectiveness does not lie in human ability or ingenuity, nor can it be hindered or stopped by the nature of the circumstances. The Lord of Hosts (Armies) would be at work within them.
Now remember, the Tribulation will be back under the Old Testament economy and this includes the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. Indwelling will again be selective to certain believers, rather than universal to all believers as it is today. The universal indwelling of all believers will end at the removal of the church at the rapture and won’t happen again until the Millennium. The fulfillment of Joel 2 to Israel is dependent on turning to Christ and faith (cf. John 14:16-17; 2 Thess. 2:6-7; Joel 2:12-18; 2:28, 32). Joel 2 has been partly fulfilled in the church, but can’t be completely fulfilled to Israel until there has been repentance and restoration.
Their ministry is characterized in conduct by four great miraculous powers: (a) they can kill their enemies with fire; (b) withhold rain for three and a half years; (c) turn water into blood; and (d) bring plagues upon the earth (2 Kings 1:10-15; 1 Kings 17:1f; and Exodus 7-11).
Why these specific miracles? First, they are a means of defense and protection to the two witnesses until their ministry is over (Rev. 11:5). But second, these specific miracles occur because of their significance to Israel. They will be used to turn the hearts of the Jews to the Lord in preparation for the coming King.
“And when they have finished their testimony.” The word “finished” is the Greek telew and means “to finish in the sense of accomplish, complete.” The tense is perfect which looks at their work as accomplished, done, but with continuing results. The results are souls saved and glory to God. They were invincible until their work was done, and then, according to God’s own timing and perfect plan, He allows their termination.
This illustrates the biblical truth, as with Job, Moses, Elijah, Peter, Paul and John, that the believer who is in the will of God need fear no man or system of the world or Satan; no one can shorten our life nor stop our work for the Lord until He Himself is ready. Remember, Revelation 3:7-8, He is the One “who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.” When He puts before us an open door, no one, not even Satan himself can shut the door! Of course men can terminate their own lives or kill their own ministry by personal rebellion, carnality, and regression from the Lord as was the case with Saul and as did some of the Christians at Corinth. But people bring this on themselves by turning away from God and staying out of His plan and grace (1 Cor. 11:30-32; 1 John 5:16-17).
“The beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them.” “The beast” mentioned here is the first of 36 references to one called the beast that will occur from this point on in the book of Revelation. Since chapter 13 describes and develops the beast and his political-religious system in detail, we will wait until then to discuss the beast. Here we are simply told that he is the one who makes war, overcomes, and kills the two witnesses. Their ministry has been diametrically opposed to his purposes, so the beast goes all out to hush their testimony, which he is unable to do until the end.
“That comes up out of the abyss.” Literally, “the beast, the one ascending up out of the abyss.” Walvoord sees this as a reference to Satan since he comes up out of the abyss (cf. Rev. 9). Thus he writes, “The beast out of the pit is Satan. The beast out of the sea is the world dictator (13:1). The beast out of the land is the false religious leader of that Day (13:11).”144 Everywhere else in Revelation, the title, “the beast,” refers either to the world dictator who is the head of the revived Roman empire and the ten nation confederation, or to his system over which he rules. The reference here to the abyss may simply draw attention to the character, nature and source of this ruler’s power and governmental system, i.e., Satan. It does not mean the beast is Satan or a demon, but that he is demon possessed and Satanically inspired. Scott who believes the beast is the revived empire of Rome, writes, “… whilst its historical rise is human, its revival is satanic.”
“Will make war.” “War” is polemos and refers to a military campaign. He will finally make all out warfare against these two witnesses, but he is successful only by divine intervention, and only then at the end of the 1260 days when their work is finished.
“And overcome them.” The verb “overcome” is nikaw meaning “to conquer, overcome.” John uses it of believers in 1 John 5:4-5 and in Revelation 2:7, 17; 3:6, 13 of believers who are overcomers by faith. Because the two witnesses are overcomers in Christ, this victory is only temporary by divine design. It is only an apparent victory, not a real one. God uses their death, as He so often does with believers, to His own purposes and glory. Christ, our Victor and Overcomer, has removed the sting of death. Their death is not the end of their testimony.
In these verses we see that their bodies will be put on public display as a symbol and proof of the beast’s power who has at last been able to kill these invincible witnesses. You might say it is a satanic object lesson to the world, one designed to say, “evil has conquered, Satan has won; Satan’s man is the true God, worship Him.”
“Their dead bodies” is the Greek ptwma, literally, their “fallen corpses.” This implies they are left right where they fall with no burial as the Old Testament Law required or demanded for even the worst of criminals (Deut. 21:22-23). Such an act reflects the total degradation of man under the lawless system of the beast, the man of lawlessness (2 Thess. 2). Their fallen corpses lie in the streets of the great city (Jerusalem) which is mystically called Sodom and Egypt.
“Mystically” is the Greek pneumatikos meaning “spiritually, pertaining to the Spirit”, or “caused by the Spirit.” Jerusalem is called such by the Spirit of God. In Scripture, ‘Egypt’ stands for the world, and ‘Sodom’ for the flesh. The point is the great city is dominated by the world system, by the flesh, and by Satan through the beast. The city has spiritually become totally reprobate along with the rest of the world.
According to verse 9 it is apparent that great throngs of people, people from all over the world, come to view the bodies and see the victory of the beast. Again we see the fiendishness and monstrous rebellion of man in the hardness of his heart against God. I am reminded of Psalm 2:1-6.
1 Why are the nations in an uproar, And the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us tear their fetters apart, And cast away their cords from us!” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, 6 “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.”
“And those who dwell on the earth.” Literally, “those dwelling settled down upon the earth, i.e., the earth dweller.” In John this is practically a technical term for unbelievers, for those totally at home on the earth and devoid of any heavenly hope, concerns, or desires (cf. 3:10, 6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:8).
“Dwell” is katoikew from kata meaning “down” and oikew “to dwell.” It means “to settle down, be at home, live permanently.” It is used of the Lord living in the believer in Ephesians 3:17 and in some MSS of the Holy Spirit in James 4:5. (Other MSS have katoikizw, “to cause to dwell, be at home.”)
“Will rejoice over them and make merry; and they will send gifts.” Here is a kind of hellish Christmas, giving gifts not in celebration of the birth of Christ, but over the death of His two witnesses. “Rejoice” is cairw meaning “to be glad, happy.” “Make merry” is eufrainw, “to make merry at a feast, have a party.” They will have a party and declare a holiday because of their death. The first two verbs (“rejoice” and “make merry”) are in the present tense with the third (“send gifts”) being in the future. Of course, the context shows this is all future, but John uses the present tense (a future present) to draw our attention to the certainty and the continuous nature of the merry making that will go on during the three and a half days.
Ironically this is the only mention of rejoicing on earth in the Tribulation. But their rejoicing will quickly be turned into sorrow, pain, and fear (11:13). Of course such action show they had rejected the message of the two witnesses. This is also indicated by the fact their message caused them much torment.
“Because these two prophets tormented.” Here we see the reason for the fiendish party. “Tormented” is the Greek basanizw, “to torment, torture, to cause severe pain and distress, mentally or physically.” The message of the prophets that could have brought great joy and peace, brought the opposite because they had hardened their hearts against God.
Does this not reminds us that if one continues to reject the Word of God (that gives a peace that passes all understanding and a joy the world can’t give), that same Word, through the hardening of the heart, will bring torture to the soul and joy only over the apparent defeat of God and His people (Heb. 3:7f). O how we need to realize that negative volition to God’s Word is dangerous. The consequences are appalling.
“And after three and one half days.” This is long enough for the bodies to have begun to decay. As the Lord did with Lazarus, God waits until there is no question about their death, then suddenly God intervenes.
“The breath of life from God.” “From” is ek meaning “out of.” The very life-giving breath from God Himself is breathed into them (Gen. 2:7) and “they stood on their feet.” “Stood” is an aorist tense and may stress suddenness. They are pictured lying there on the street with the party going on, and then suddenly, they stand up like a man waking up from a nap. What an effect this will have!
“And great fear fell …” “Fell” is also an aorist and stresses the suddenness of the effect. From drunken merry making one moment to soberness and great fear the next. The word “fell” is most graphic, like a wet blanket, they were enveloped in fear. Suddenly now, they begin to realize God was not dead nor defeated; Satan would not be victorious and they were doomed.
Not only are they resurrected from death, but now, like icing on a cake, God’s voice from heaven is heard and they are taken up in a cloud, perhaps the Shekinah glory of God. Ryrie says: “A crowd will be standing around or filing past their bodies lying in the street. Undoubtedly there will be television coverage. Suddenly they will stand up, a voice (not the announcer’s!) will be heard from heaven; the two witnesses will disappear out of sight in the cloud of glory.145
Walvoord also has an interesting comment here:
Though there are similarities between this event and the rapture of the church, the contrast is also evident. The rapture will take place in a moment, and apparently will not be gradual enough for people to observe. The parallel here is to the ascension of Christ on the Mount of Olives, when the disciples beheld Him ascending into heaven and, like the two witnesses, He was received by a cloud. This is a special act of God addressed to those who reject His grace and designed as a final warning of the supreme power of God over man whether in life or in death. This act of resurrection and catching up into heaven is distinct from any other mentioned in the Bible in that it occurs after the rapture and before the resurrection in chapter 20.146
Now as a further demonstration of God’s power and sovereignty over the beast and his system, and with the effect of the preceding still vivid in their minds, a great earthquake occurs in and around Jerusalem killing 7,000 people. Those who are left become terrified and give glory to God. Perhaps some are saved through this, but the others will simply confess the glory and power of God without repentance, or faith. They are like the fallen angels who believe and know the reality of God, and yet tremble in their confirmed state of rebellion against God. Because of the hardness of their hearts, these will have become confirmed in their unrepentant condition. They have reached the point of no return.
The parenthetical section (10:1-11:13), which elucidated some of the details of the Tribulation, is now completed. In 11:14 we have the announcement that “the second woe is past.” Literally, “has come” with the idea “has come and gone.” Here John again resumes the sequential movement of the book. So the second woe, concluded in chapter 9, is now mentioned as an introduction to the third and final woe. Thus John says, “behold, the third woe is coming quickly.” In 8:13 John was informed that the last three trumpet judgments, there called woes, would be more intense upon the earthdwellers. Now with 11:14 we are told the third woe is coming and quickly.
This is the seventh trumpet that will take us up to the return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom. The picture here (vss. 15-19) is panoramic of the rest of the Tribulation. The stress is on the effects of the seventh trumpet: it ushers in the reign of Christ (cf. vs. 15 with 17). This judgment becomes the greatest woe because it includes the seven bowl judgments though they are not mentioned here. Chapters 12-14 form the third parenthetical section filling in more details of other key events and personages.
In verse 14 we are told the third woe “is coming quickly.” The word “quickly” is the Greek tacu and can mean (a) quickly in the sense of soon, i.e., the end of the age is near, or (b) “quickly” in the sense of “in rapid succession,” i.e., once the seventh trumpet is blown, its judgments will come like trip hammer blows in quick succession, the end will then be near. This last explanation best suits the conditions of the passage.
“And the seventh angel sounded.” The seventh and final trumpet is blown and immediately something happens in heaven; there is an immediate heavenly response.
“And there arose loud voices in heaven.” In contrast to 10:8 and 11:1 where a single voice was heard, now a great choir in heaven is heard praising God for what is about to occur. Note that their voices are “loud.” This stresses the joy and extreme exuberance over what God is going to do through the seventh trumpet.
“The kingdom of the world.” Some manuscripts have kingdoms (plural). If it were plural it would refer to all the kingdoms coming under the reign and authority of Christ. But the best manuscript support is for the singular, “kingdom.”
“Kingdom” (singular) refers to the reign and rule of the entire earth that God intended to be under man’s authority and rule, but was wrested from man by Satan (Heb. 2:5-8). Satan became “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) and “the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working [as a ruling king] in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). There are really only two kingdoms—Satan’s and God’s (cf. Col. 1:13). But through this trumpet and woe, Satan’s kingdom will be totally destroyed and the world will come under the lordship of Christ.
“Has become” is an aorist tense of the verb ginomai and means, “to come to be, become.” The aorist is an ingressive aorist and looks forward to the effects of the seventh trumpet, namely, the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. At this point the seven bowl judgments have yet to be poured out, but they make up the seventh trumpet and will now fall in rapid succession. That they make up the seventh trumpet is clear from the fact that it is the last trumpet that establishes the rule of Christ on earth.
“Of our LORD and of His Christ.” “LORD” is kurios and is here used of Yahweh of the Old Testament and refers to God the Father. “Of His Christ” refers to the Messiah of Old Testament promise and expectation whom the Father would and has sent.
“And He will reign forever …” The millennial reign of Christ will last for only 1,000 years, but the reign of Christ will continue on throughout all eternity in the new heavens and the new earth. So here we have the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies that look forward to the eternal rule of God when God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven (cf. Psalm 2:2-9; Dan. 2:35, 44; 6:26; 7:14, 26-27; Zech. 14:9; Matt. 6:10).
True worship results in action befitting the attitudes of the heart. So here, the 24 elders (the representatives of the church age saints who have already received their crowns and cast them before God) now recognize that it is time, or soon will be, for the reward of Old Testament and Tribulation saints. The coming of the kingdom will be connected with the giving of rewards to the faithful servants of God (Matt. 24:42-25:30). In recognition of God’s faithfulness to His people and the sovereign actions of God, they rise from their thrones (wherein they reign with Christ) and fall on their faces in deep respect and adoration of God. While they reign with Him they recognize that this is all because of who and what God is and what He has accomplished through the Lord Jesus.
In these verses thanksgiving is given for five things. Two are ascriptions of praise to God regarding His person and three are assignments to which God has committed Himself.
First, continual thanks (present tense) for God’s person. “Almighty” is the Greek pantokratwr from pas “all” plus kratew, “to rule, be master, to be strong, mighty.” It means possessing all power and rule. It speaks of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence as the supreme ruler of the universe. Next God is praised for His eternality. In the better manuscripts “who is to come” is here left out. Why? Because, as John looks forward to this point in history, God has come.
Second, thanks is given because at this point in history God will be exercising His complete sovereignty. The elders say “because you have taken your great power.” “Have taken” is the perfect tense of lambanw “to take hold of, possess.” In His immutability God has always possessed omnipotence, but He has not always exercised His absolute authority or power over the earth. Here, at this point, He takes hold of it in the sense that He begins to exercise it absolutely. The perfect tense points to action accomplished with continual results. This stresses that once God so acts it will be permanent and the world will begin to experience the results.
Third, thanks is given because now God truly, through the exercise of His great power, begins to reign. The phrase “and have begun to reign” is an ingressive aorist and denotes the entrance into a state or condition. The Tribulation judgments, as shown previously in chapter 5, represent the first steps of God in beginning to take the reigns of government. This is especially true at this point in the Tribulation because the return of Christ is now so near.
Fourth, thanks for the display of God’s wrath (vs. 18). Here we have the fulfillment of Psalm 2. Just before the return of Christ, as part of the sixth bowl, the armies of the world will be gathered together in the Plain of Esdraelon or the Valley of Decision (Rev. 16:16; Joel 3:14). At this point, as never before, the nations are enraged against one another and against God (Rev. 19:19). But their wrath is impotent against the omnipotence and the holy wrath of God. So John adds “and Your wrath came.” In this context especially, this refers to the final phase of the Tribulation, the seventh trumpet and the seven bowl judgments that are concluded by the personal return of the Lord. “Came” is a culminative aorist and stresses an event or action from the viewpoint of its results or effects. God’s wrath when it comes will overcome the rage of man. It will bring doom and judgment and an end to rebellion.
Fifth, thanks is given for the judgment and reward of Old Testament saints—including Tribulation saints. “And time came for the dead to be judged …” Literally the Greek has “and the time of the dead to be judged and to give the reward to Your bond servants …” This refers to the resurrection, judgment, and reward of Old Testament saints at the end of the Tribulation, Daniel’s 70th week, just prior to the millennial reign. This includes Tribulation saints as well because they are a part of Daniel’s 70th week, which concludes God’s program for Israel before the Millennium (cf. Dan. 9:24 with 12:1-3 and Rev. 20:4-5).
In looking back over verse 18, note that three things are said: (a) “The nations were enraged.” Here we have the reaction of the world in the Tribulation, especially in the last portion at Armageddon. (b) “And Your wrath came.” In the context this particularly speaks of the final out pouring of divine judgment in the seventh trumpet. (c) Literally “and the time of the dead to be judged.” This speaks of the resurrection of Old Testament saints. Now all of these three areas are given further elaboration in the last part of verse 8, but in inverted order.
First, the dead are not only judged, but they are rewarded. These are only Old Testament and Tribulation saints who are resurrected. The context makes this clear. They are “Your bondservants, the prophets,” “saints,” and “those that fear Your name, small and great.” As mentioned above, this fits precisely with Daniel 12:1-3 and Revelation 20:3-4. Unbelievers await the Great White Throne Judgment and the church is already in heaven.
Second, God’s wrath aimed at the enraged nations is taken up in the last part of the verse in the words “to destroy those who destroy the earth.” This refers to the final judgments that are aimed at those living on earth. These will be either killed outright or removed by Christ at the judgments of the Jews and Gentiles that will occur at the end of the Tribulation (Matt. 24:25; Rev. 19).
We should note that this chapter began with the apostate temple on earth, but closes triumphantly with the heavenly temple in view. Again this stresses, as in Isaiah 6, the awesome holiness of God, the basic cause of God’s wrath (Heb. 1:13). Remember, this earthly, apostate temple is desecrated by the beast, but he cannot touch the heavenly temple which reflects God’s perfect righteousness, perfect justice and majesty.
The things seen in the temple are symbolical of: (a) the presence of God by the Shekinah glory which hovered over the mercy seat; (b) the faithfulness of God as evidenced by the contents of the Ark—the Law which guided God’s people, Aaron’s rod, a picture of resurrection, and the pot of manna, a picture of the person of Christ and daily provision; and (c) God’s divine holiness which could not be approached without blood, and spoke of the sacrifice of Christ. All this is seen in heaven to remind the Jews that God is going to fulfill His covenant promises. It is to encourage faith in Christ.
Accompanying the sight of the Ark is lightning, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm all of which are signs of doom and judgment. God in His absolute holiness must deal with the sin and rebellion of man. But before this judgment is poured out in the seven bowls of judgments, the chronological sequence is again interrupted to portray other events and situations that will be in existence during the last half of the Tribulation. This will serve to highlight the dramatic return of Christ as he comes back in the midst of such horrendous conditions.
Apart from the outpourings of the vials, which occur in rapid succession, there is little chronological movement from this point until chapter 19 and the second coming of Christ. Events and situations are now introduced which are concurrent with the seals and the trumpets. These serve to emphasize the dramatic climax of this period in the coming of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.147
142 For support of the cessation of the gift of prophecy, see Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 130, #520, Oct 1973, p. 315; Contemporary Issues in the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit Part IV: Spiritual Gifts Today by John F. Walvoord; Also Bibliotheca Sacra, see Vol 149, #593, Jan 1992 Prophecy Rediscovered? A Review of The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, by Robert L. Thomas.