Here we find ourselves at the second interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets. This interlude has two parts just like the first one. Chapter ten deals with the seven thunders and the little scroll and 11:1-13 reveals the two witnesses. This interlude ends with the announcement that the second woe is over. Another mighty angel came down from heaven and he appears somewhat similar to the huge bronze colossus that stood as a symbol of human power in the harbor of Rhodes for several decades before it was toppled by an earthquake in the late 200’s BC. The statue was still laying there in pieces when John wrote Revelation. This statue was nearly 100 feet tall tall and it represented the sun god Helios. The angel was surrounded by a cloud. This suggests that this angel dwarfed the colossus and by implication, all idols. The rainbow over his head is a reminder that God on the throne is encircled by a rainbow which is a Biblical sign of God’s covenant with humanity. The angel is impressive with a face shining like the sun and feet like pillars of fire. The fact that his face was shinning like the sun may mean he came from the presence of God. Think about Moses when he would come from the tent of meeting and his face shone so brightly he had to cover it. And fire is always a sign of judgement. This angel is holding a small scroll in his hand. It might be small but that doesn’t make it unimportant. It is a critical part of God’s purposes in events still to come before eternity begins. This mighty angel stood with one foot on the dry land and the other on the sea. This is an image of taking possession. A majestic representative of God’s throne is intervening in the affairs of the earth. The angel gave a great shout, like the roar of the lion. When he shouted seven thunders answered.
John was being obedient, ready to write down what the seven thunders said. Revelation reveals God’s intentions in the world without eliminating the mystery of God’s ways. The martyrs didn’t receive an immediate answer to their cries and questions. The meaning of the seventh seal is cloaked in silence and now, the seven thunders are kept secret. We do not know what the seven thunders said because a loud voice, perhaps that of Christ commanded John to seal up what they said. The angel with one foot each on land and sea raised his right hand towards heaven. This would be like taking an oath. It is common today but rare in biblical days. When they made an oath the Jews were very careful not to swear lightly by God’s name. In Matthew 5:33-37Jesus rebuked insincere oath taking. When God swore an oath, He did so in His own name as the highest possible point of reference. Only by the all powerful authority of the eternal Creator can the mighty angel make the declaration about how and when the mystery of God would be finished. After the sounding of the seventh trumpet there will be no more delay in the unfolding of events leading toward Christ’s return. God’s mysterious plan for the world is no surprise. The prophets who served God in the past warned that the day of the Lord would come.
Just like Ezekiel’s experience, the scroll tasted sweet in John’s mouth. The experiences for God’s people would be sweet, including the victory of God’s plan and the vindication of His people. John’s sour stomach resembles the effects of Ezekiel’s hard message for Israel. The process of bringing God’s plan to fruition involves hardship. The events of Ezekiel 2-3 occurred soon before God’s judgement on Judah and Jerusalem and were in effect the prophet’s commission. John may have sensed a similar commission here to prophesy his message of judgement to the world. John’s prophecy about people’s, nations, tongues, and kings may refer to the second woe since there is a focus on the testimony of the two witnesses. Unlike Ezekiel, who prophesied for Israel alone, John must prophesy about or against all the people of the world. There is debate whether “about” or “against” is the best translation. “About” allows for bothpromise and judgement.
Chapter 11:1-13 pictures the willful rejection of God’s continuing call for repentance. The many attempts to silence His witness ultimately fail, and God triumphs. Many attempts have been made to identify the two witnesses of this chapter. Moses and Elijah, who appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration are the most likely people. They represent the law and the prophets. Others have suggested Enoch and Elijah because they did not die but were taken up into heaven. Some believe they are Peter and Paul. And still others think James and John. But, more important than their identities is their role of confirming God’s message by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 17:6) God provides a twofold witness to the world about the impending judgement, making it clear that His word is certain to be fulfilled.
John was given a measuring stick. These were often reeds that grew in abundance along the banks of the Jordan River. Often they reached a height of 20 feet. They grew tall and straight and were lightweight and perfect for measuring. The instructions to measure the temple are reminiscent of Ezekiel’s visions. The Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 AD and many scholars believe these details symbolize God’s precise knowledge and care for His people who belong to Him. They also believe that this is the temple of the tribulation period that will eventually be desecrated. The measuring of those who worship there may mean that those who worship the Lord in the temple will be protected, while unbelieving Gentiles will not. Luke 21:25 prophesies that the Gentiles will tread the holy city underfoot until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. It seems that the period of 42 months is the conclusion of the times of the Gentiles. Gentiles here can also be translated as nations. The outer courtyard in the Jerusalem temple, outside the stone warning fence, was regarded as the place for the gentile nations. John makes a very clear distinction between the people God recognizes and those He does not. The 42 months is equivalent to 1,260 days and three and a half years. It can also be referenced as time, times, and half a time. John uses these time designations repeatedly in this book when persecution is evident and evil appears to dominate the world. God’s people will be secure in Him even though God allows evil forces to persecute them. During the period of persecution God will not abandon the world but will send His two witnesses to proclaim the coming judgement, just as God sent Jonah to Nineveh. The two witnesses wore clothes of burlap. Clothes such as these were symbolic of both mourning and repentance. These two were mourning for the unrepentant world to which they prophesy.
The two witnesses are described as two olive trees and two lamp stands, linking them to the vision in Zechariah 4 of the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth. There the two anointed ones are Zerubbabel and Joshua the priest. The overarching principle for these and all other witnesses for the Lord is that their testimony to the truth is “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit.” Zechariah 4:6. In Psalm 18:8 God is portrayed with fire coming out of His mouth, a picture of judgement on His enemies. Here anyone who tries to harm the two witnesses fire will come from their mouths and consume them. These two witnesses have great power for the time they are given by God. They can prevent rain, identifying them with Elijah whose prayer caused it not to rain for three and a half years. They can also turn the water into blood and strike the earth with plagues. This is a picture of Moses and the plagues in Egypt.
When they finish their testimony the scene changes dramatically. The word finish here is the same word Jesus used on the cross when He said “It is finished.” At this point we encounter the beast for the first time. It is associated with the bottomless pit or abyss and like all enemies of God, the beast engages in war against God’s witnesses and kills them. This is the same bottomless pit that the cloud of smoke and locusts came out of. The bodies of the two witnesses whom the beast killed lay in the street of the great city. Many believe this to be Rome but John also tells us this great city is where the Lord was crucified which points us to Jerusalem. Some look at this as symbolic and is intended to represent the sinful world in which Christ was crucified. Sodom was the prototype for the moral degeneration of this great city. That could point to a number of cities in the world at this time. Egypt here is the reference for rampant idolatry. The evil here is so vindictive that it even desecrates the dead. There was a direct connection between how the Lord was treated by evil forces and the experience of persecuted Christians. For three and a half days all the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations walked by the dead bodies of the two witnesses. These are the ones that judgement will fall on. Leaving people’s bodies out for public display was a way to dishonor them after their death. The Romans left bodies hanging after their crucifixion as a means of disrespect and a warning for others to see. The people of the world, those tied to the evil one will walk past the bodies and they will gloat and celebrate. God’s enemies despise and reject His messengers. Being dead for three and a half days recalls the three and a half year ministry of the two witnesses. But, this is not the end of their ministry. God wasn’t defeated in the death of Jesus and He will not be defeated in the slaughter of His two witnesses. After the three and a half days God breathed life back into the two witnesses and they stood up. This left not a shadow of a doubt about God’s power and might. People were absolutely terrified. It is a powerful experience for sinful humans to face the power of the living God. Not only were they alive but a loud voice from heaven commanded them to “Come up here” and they rose to heaven in a cloud, the same way Jesus ascended and will return, in the clouds.
At the same time there was a great earthquake that destroyed one tenth of the city and 7,000 people died. Earthquakes often accompany key moments in biblical history. The number who died shows that God is involved in judgement. Those who survived were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. Those who survived were forced to acknowledge God’s power and sovereignty over the world. Chapter 11 ends with the blowing of the seventh trumpet. This is also the third woe. Here we see a scene of final judgement and the eternal kingdom. The scene provides a dramatic window into the ultimate Christian hope with God. In the midst of judgement, the reader is reminded of eternity with God. With the blowing of the seventh trumpet there were loud voices in heaven. They were singing a victory hymn. The earth has been transformed into the realm of our Lord and His Christ, who is enthroned as King forever. The 24 elders, representing God’s people confirm God’s victorious enthronement. Their worship acknowledges God’s sovereign rule as the Almighty. They were previously seen as continually worshiping God and the Lord Jesus. Here their thanksgiving to the Lord God Almighty enters a new phase. They praise God’s power and wrath and the corresponding distribution of reward and judgement. This stanza of heavenly thanks seems to reflect on the fulfillment of the great Messianic prophecy in Psalm 2.
We see God described as “the one who is, and who always was.” The other description, “who is to come” no longer applies because in this scene eternity has come and God has begun to reign. The nations were filled with wrath when they refused to do as God commanded. We will see the wrath of the evil one in 12:12 but the divine wrath cannot be rivaled. God will reward His holy people with new life as His children. Fearing God’s name implies accepting who He is. They have responded by faith to the everlasting gospel. The end of the age will be the time to destroy those who have not accepted God’s love. They will go into the lake of fire. This doom of God’s enemies is the third and final woe.
The temple of God here is not the one in verses 1-2. That earthly temple had an outer court given to the Gentiles. This temple is in heaven. Here the ark and the temple are symbols of God’s presence. The earthly ark was the copy of the design of the Ark in heaven. For Israel, the ark represented God’s presence, leadership, and protection while they were in the wilderness and the promised land.
In chapter 13 the evil one is pictured as a dragon. He plots to challenge God’s purposes but is thwarted. Having failed in direct confrontation with God and Christ, he attempts to attack God’s people. There are three brief scenes here. There is the woman and the dragon, elaborations on the war in heaven, and the war on earth. The woman is clothed with the sun. This is interpreted by some as the church, by others as believing Jews, and still others as ethnic Israelites. Many believe she represents God’s people from whom came the Messiah. This woman is marked by God’s glory in contrast to the prostitute who is destined for destruction. The garland of 12 stars is a reference to the twelve tribes of Israel or maybe the 12 apostles. The stars recall Joseph’s dream which signified his preeminence over his brothers. The description of labor and pain before giving birth to the Child who becomes the ruler of the nations may speak specifically of Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, many also believe that this woman has a broader reference. She may represent the believing remnant within the nation or simply the Jewish nation. This may also represent the biblical theme of Israel while waiting to be delivered. The backdrop to this is Genesis 3:15 where we first see the struggle between the evil one and the seed of Eve.
The red dragon represents the evil one. There are varying beliefs as to what the seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns are. The description is very similar to the beast from the sea in 13:1. A diadem is a sign of absolute power but distinguishable from the crown used in most of the rest of the New Testament. This combination could well refer to the evil ones brilliance, power and glory as god of this age. The numbers represent a mix of divine and created powers. Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus embodied the evil ones attempt to devour her baby after it was born. The dragon used his tail to sweep away one third of the stars out of the sky. Many associate this with the rebellion of a third of the angelic host following the evil one. Jesus was the son who was to rule all nations with the rod of iron. And although Jesus was killed by agents of the evil one, He was snatched away from the dragon and raised from the dead. He is caught up to the throne, a picture of the ascension of Christ.
The wilderness here is a place of protection prepared by God for the woman. This reference to God feeding the woman recalls God providing food for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. She will be safe for three and a half years, or 42 months, or 1,260 days. The Christian church must also face its own wilderness. Revelation presents messages of endurance and perseverance in the face of trouble and shows that God provides places places of escape and refuge for His people. Verses 7-9 clarify the dragon’s identity and power. God dispatches Michael, the warrior archangel to confront the dragon and his angels. God does not have to engage in this battle Himself, and the evil one is defeated. The evil ones expulsion to the earth means that the earth becomes his base of operations, and his anger is vented towards the remaining inhabitants of earth. It is very likely that the end times will be the greatest period of spiritual warfare. The heavenly defeat of the evil one is followed by a reference to his earthly setbacks, including the crucifixion of Christ, the verbal witness of believers, and the martyrdom of some of the brethren. All these events precede the coming of the kingdom of God. The evil ones defeat is encouraging for Christians who, like the recipients of Revelation are not afraid to die.
Verse 13 picks up from verse 9. The woman is brought to her place of protection as though she is carried on the wings of a giant Eagle. God will strengthen His people but He does not promise they will escape persecution or death. Even the earth acts as protection for the woman here, swallowing up the flood the evil one brought forth to over take her. The waters of chaos are contained just as they were at creation. This enrages the evil one and he declared war on the rest of her children, here identified as believers, who keep God’s commandments and continue in their testimony for Jesus. It is clear that the evil one is getting desperate because the time is short. The dragon took his stand on the shore of the sea.
The beast rises from the sea and like the dragon it has seven heads and ten horns. The crowns represent its political and military power and indicate that the evil one is the head of this beasts empire. The seven headed beast may well refer to gentile world power as it relates to Israel, especially in the end times. The heads are identified as mountains and mountains are often symbols for kingdoms. The seven heads could be Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, Persia, Rome, and a restored Roman Empire. The beast receives his power and authority from the dragon. The evil one makes the beast a pseudo-deity by giving it his power , throne, and authority. In John’s day Roman emperors claimed divinity. One of the heads is most likely an empire. The thing about the evil one is he often imitates God. Here the beast mimics the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is often connected with Nero. A tradition emerged that Nero was so evil that he either did not really die or he would be reincarnated as another tyrant like Domitian. The beasts seven heads are often linked to the seven hills of Rome and to seven kings. Here the world marveled at the miracle healing of the beast and they worshiped him. This is because the world is convinced that there is no one like him and no one can successfully make war against him.
This beast has four characteristics. He blasphemes God, has authority for a limited time, makes war against God’s people, and rules the world. But God is still in control. The beasts authority extends over all the people of the world. This includes God’s holy people. He is even given authority to conquer them. Those who worshiped the beast received his mark and they are not listed in the Book of Life. This book is the register of all who will receive eternal life, in contrast to those who are destined for the lake of fire. These names have been in the book since the beginning. So the thing is, widespread spiritual delusion and blasphemy as well as martyrdom and persecution should not surprise believers at any point in history. God’s holy people are summoned to endure and remain faithful while experiencing temporary persecution. God will vindicate them.
The rest of chapter 13 brings about another beast. Another here signifies one of the same kind. Their outward appearances are different but they are closely related. This beasts actions here make it clear that he is the false prophet described in 16:13, 19:20, and 20:10. This beast is the third member of the evil trinity. As a high priest of false religion he leads the world into worshiping the first beast and the dragon. This beast had two horns like that of a lamb. This is the only place that lamb does not refer to Christ. The lamb with two horns is an emblem of Jewish worship and religious authority. The beast receives his authority from the dragon too. Here we see how the evil one mimics God. The beast is portrayed as a lamb, the same symbol used to represent Christ. Except, this lamb spoke like a dragon. The image is of a false messiah and the two horns could point to Nero and Domitian. This beast performed miracles like God, making fire flash down to the earth in a show of power. In New Testament times false prophets astounded people with reports of divine visitations and of idols speaking for the gods they represented. These practices involved worship of demons and were prevalent in the Roman emperor cults. Those who refused to conform were put to death. Many Christians were martyred this way.
God never relinquishes ultimate authority. These creatures of evil have been allowed to rebel against God, but they are NOT in control. The evil one performed miracles that deceived the people of the earth, commanded the people to make a statue of the first beast and gave life to the statue so it could speak. Anyone who refused to worship it was killed. The evil one required everyone to be given the mark on the right hand or forehead. This was a mark of ownership. There is no evidence of this practice in the first century so it is assumed to be a counterfeit of the seal in the foreheads of the servants of God found in 7:3. It is also similar tho the branding of slaves. In other words, the beast owns them. The text does not tell us explicitly what the mark is or what it might look like. In both Hebrew and Greek the letters of the alphabet represent numbers which gave names a numerical value. Through the years, as people turned to the Book of Revelation they used this numbering system to point out those who were evil. During WWII people made the names of Mussolini, Hitler and others equal the number 666. The number of the beast is the number of a man: 666. The beast is merely a man, not a god as the signs might suggest. The number six is just short of seven, the number of completeness, and is intensified by using it three times. The number represents supernatural evil. No one could participate in commerce, either buying or selling unless they bore the mark of the beast. This resulted in Christians enduring poverty because they had very little business and they couldn’t sell crops either. Wisdom is needed. John is giving a clue to help his readers solve the meaning of the beasts number. John hides the man’s identity, perhaps because revealing the name would place him and his readers in danger.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W