Revelation 11 – Part 2

Vv. 3-4

Here we read of two prophets who, I believe, represent or symbolize the prophetic witness to the world of the entire church during the course of the inter-advent age (the 1260 days; see above).

There are several possibilities for who might have served as models for the “two witnesses”, among which I mention:

  • Enoch and Elijah– This view is based on the belief that Enoch (Gen. 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:10-11) were the only two OT figures who did not experience physical death. Thus, theologically speaking, they would be the most likely candidates to return to earth and to complete the ministries which their heavenly translations cut short.
  • Elijah and Jeremiah– A few contend that Elijah and Jeremiah are the two witnesses, for according to one Jewish legend neither did Jeremiah suffer physical death.
  • Joshua and Zerubbabel– Since Rev. 11:3ff. is clearly patterned after Zech. 4:1-14, these two are seen as likely candidates.
  • Peter and Paul– Some point to the martyrdom of these two apostles and the tradition that Nero prohibited their burial (cf. Rev. 11:19).
  • Stephen and James the Just– Again, since both Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and James the Just (martyred in a.d. 62, acc. to Eusebius, Eccles. Hist. 2.23.21-24) were early martyrs, some saw them as likely candidates.
  • James and John, the sons of Zebedee– James was martyred by Herod Agrippa I according to Acts 12:1-2.
  • John the Baptist and Jesus– Since John was regarded by many as the embodiment of Elijah and Jesus as the successor to Moses, they may be the two witnesses.
  • Ananus and Joshua– High priests who were killed by the Idumaeans in 68 a.d., whose bodies were cast out into the street without burial.
  • The OT and the NT– Or more likely, the Law (represented by Moses) and the Prophets (represented by Elijah).
  • The Word of God and the testimony of Jesus– See Strand (AUSS 19 [1981], 127-35.
  • Moses and Elijah– Most believe that these two are the models for the two witnesses. It was Elijah who called down fire from heaven on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:38) and later to consume his enemies (2 Kings 1:10-14; cf. Luke 9:54). In Rev. 11, however, the imagery is changed and the fire proceeds from the mouths of the witnesses. Elijah also prevented rain from falling for 3 ½ years (1 Kings 17:1). Moses was responsible for turning water into blood (Exod. 7:14-24) and for striking the Egyptians with “every sort of plague” (1 Sam. 4:8). And the two appeared together with Jesus on the Mt. of Transfiguration (Mt. 17:3).

 

Clearly, the latter are the most likely models. However, this does not mean that the two witnesses literally are Moses and Elijah.

First of all, the powers of each of these two OT figures are attributed to both of the two witnesses, not divided between them (11:5-6). They are, as Beale notes, “identical prophetic twins” (575).

 

Second, they are called “two olive trees and two lampstands” (11:4), the latter of which clearly reminds us of the lampstands in Rev. 1:12,20; 2:1 which Jesus says represent the churches. Says Bauckham, “if the seven lampstands [in 1:20] are churches, so must be the two lampstands. But it would be better to say that, if the seven lampstands are representative of the whole church, since seven is the number of completeness, the two lampstands stand for the church in its role of witness, according to the well-known biblical requirement that evidence be accepted only on the testimony of two witnesses (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15; cf. Matt. 18:16; John 5:31; 8:17; 15:26-27; Acts 5:32; 2 Cor. 13:1; Heb. 10:28; 1 Tim. 5:19). They are not part of the church, but the whole church insofar as it fulfills its role as faithful witness” (274). This probably explains why there are “two” lampstands here instead of one as in Zech. 4.

 

Third, Leon Morris points to another reason why there are two and why they represent the witness of the church: “As John has spoken of seven churches only two of which (Smyrna and Philadelphia) are not blameworthy, it is tempting to think of the two witnesses as standing for that part of the church which is faithful. Perhaps he has the martyrs in mind” (141).

 

Fourth, 11:7 says that the “beast” will “make war with them, and overcome them and kill them,” language that clearly echoes Dan. 7:21 where the objects of persecution are collectively the people of God.

 

Fifth, “the corporate interpretation is pointed to by the statement in vv. 9-13 that the entire world of unbelievers will see the defeat and resurrection of the witnesses. This means that the witnesses are visible throughout the earth. But this argument has no force for those like [Hal] Lindsey who think that John has in mind an episode that will be seen on worldwide television!” (Beale, 574).

 

They are said to be clothed “in sackcloth” (11:3). Sackcloth (on this, see Aune, 2:611) was a dark-colored fabric made of goat hair or camel hair and was worn in the OT for any one of several reasons: (1) as a sign of individual mourning or national distress (Gen. 37:34; 2 Sam. 3:31; Lam. 2:10; Esther 4:1; Ps. 30:11; Isa. 15:3; 22:12; Joel 1:13; Amos 8:10); (2) as a sign of submission when supplicating people or offering prayers to God (1 Kings 20:31-32; Jer. 4:8; 6:26; Dan. 9:23); (3) as an expression of repentance and sorrow for sin (1 Kings 22:27-29; 2 Kings 19:1-2; 1 Chron. 21:16; Neh. 9:1; Ps. 35:13; Jonah 3:5-8; or (4) as the clothing of prophets as they anticipated a coming judgment (Isa. 50:3; cf. Rev. 6:12).

 

There have been countless individuals in history who have believed themselves to be the two witnesses of Revelation 11. We even had a few show up at our church in Kansas City! Ramsey Michaels mentions two seventeenth-century London tailors named John Reeve and Lodowick Muggleton who laid claim to this honor. A sect developed around them known as the Muggletonians which lasted for three hundred years. “In America, the Shakers identified the witnesses as the male and female aspects of God, linked both to Christ’s first coming (as Jesus of Nazareth) and second coming (as Mother Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers)” (Michaels, 138).

 

Vv. 5-6

 

Several things are said of the witnesses:

 

  • The “harm” noted here (v. 5) is that from which the “witnesses” (church) are protected as a result of their having been “measured” (v. 1). As Beale notes, “they may undergo bodily, economic, political, or social harm, but their eternal covenant status with God will not be affected. . . . Though they may suffer and even die, they will invincibly and successfully carry out the spiritual mission for which they have been ‘measured’ and commissioned” (579).

 

  • That “fire” should proceed “out of their mouths” points again to the symbolic nature of both the witnesses and the ministry they are described as fulfilling. In Rev. 1:16; 19:15, 21, Jesus is portrayed as judging his enemies by means of a “sharp sword proceeding from his mouth” (cf. 2:16). This is clearly a metaphor of the effect and fruit of his spoken word, whether it be of judgment or blessing (cf. John 12:48(“the word I spoke is what will judge him on the last day”). We read of this same imagery in Jer. 5:14, “Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, ‘Because you have spoken this word, behold I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it will consume them’” (cf. also Ps. 18:13).

 

  • The description of their ministry in v. 6 has already been explained above. It is clearly patterned after that of Elijah and Moses.

 

  • But precisely what is meant, practically speaking, by the imagery of the church, through her ministry, stopping the rain, turning water into blood, and smiting the earth with plagues? Is the idea that God will, in response to the preaching, praying, and prophesying of the church, pour out his judgments on an unbelieving world? Beale suggests that “the church’s prophetic declaration of God’s truth concerning the gospel, including the message of final judgment, unleashes torments toward those who remain ultimately impenitent” (584). See also 11:10 where the two witnesses are described as having “tormented” the earth-dwellers. Is the torment equal to the trumpet judgments? Is the church and its ministry one of the means by which the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments are poured out? Is the torment psychological in nature, as, for example, when Paul preached to Felix and provoked this response: “And as he [Paul] was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25)? The church not only brings comfort, consolation, and joy to the repentant, it also brings discomfort, conviction, and consternation to those who continue to resist the truth of the gospel.

 

Vv.7-10

 

The opening words of v. 7 indicate that John is now describing what will occur at the end of history. Clearly, the “measuring” of v. 1 has succeeded in preserving the church and its prophetic witness intact until all has been accomplished.

 

The “beast” is mentioned here for the first time in Revelation, although it appears that John expected his readers to know of whom/what he spoke. Note two things:

 

  • The beast does not now, at the end of history, for the first time ascend from the abyss. The phrase, “that comes up (or ascends) out of the abyss”, focuses on what is characteristic of the beast, most likely throughout the course of the church’s witness during the inter-advent age. “That is, the beast’s spirit has stood behind the earthly persecutors throughout history, and at the end he will manifest himself openly to defeat the church finally” (Beale, 589).

 

  • The beast is said to “make war” with the church and to “overcome them and kill them,” language that echoes Dan. 7:3 and 21 where the “little horn” is said to arise from the “sea” and is “waging war with the saints and overpowering them.” Ironically, though, as we have seen before, in precisely that which seems to constitute the beast’s victory, namely, the physical death of believers, is found his/its ultimate defeat. Believers conquer by being conquered! Ultimate spiritual victory (overcoming) is achieved through faithfulness in the midst of immediate physical defeat. See esp. Rev. 12:11.

 

The description in v. 8 is not intended to suggest that the entire church is destroyed. However, as Wilcock explains, “Scripture does seem to envisage a time (this is the first clear indication of it in Revelation) when at the very end of history an unexampled onslaught will be mounted against the church, and she will to all appearances ‘go under’” (106). It will appear that the public and official witness of the church has been smothered. The previous influence of the church will have diminished and be treated with indignity (which is surely the point of their bodies being left unburied; on the latter see 1 Sam. 17:44, 46; 2 Kings 9:10; Ps. 79:1-5; Isa. 14:19-20; Jer. 8:1-2; 9:22; 16:4-6; 22:19).

 

Is the “great city” in v. 8 literal Jerusalem? Many think so. But this could only be the case if the two witnesses are, in fact, two literal individuals, contrary to what I argued above. In every instance in Revelation where the words “great city” are used they refer to Babylon the Great (Rome?), not Jerusalem (see 16:19; 17:18; 18:10,16,18,19,21; and possibly 14:8). The “great city” is, then, the ungodly world as a whole where earth-dwellers live.

 

This “great city” is “spiritually (pneumatikos) called Sodom and Egypt” [cf. Joel 3:19] (v. 8). Thus the ungodly world is likened not simply to Babylon but to other embodiments and corporate expressions of wickedness in the ancient world. The word “spiritually” indicates “that the city is not to be understood in a literal, earthly manner, but figuratively through spiritual eyes . . . The city is ungodly and is not to be located in any one geographical area but is any ungodly spiritual realm on earth” (Beale, 592).

 

The concluding phrase of v. 8, “where also their Lord was crucified,” has led some to insist that literal Jerusalem is meant. But this phrase modifies the immediately preceding clause (“which is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt”). In other words, Jesus is portrayed as having been crucified in, throughout, and by the ungodly of the entire earth. It is interesting to note that the word translated “where” (hopou) is frequently used in Revelation to introduce symbolic, spiritual geography (not literal locales). See 12:6,14; 14:4; 2:13; 20:10. In other words, the world-city is spiritually like Jerusalem in having turned its back on Jesus, accounting for his crucifixion and its continuing hostility to Him and those who bear witness to his life, death, and resurrection.

 

How can Jesus be described as “their Lord” (v. 8), i.e., as the “Lord” of those who crucified him and persecute his “witnesses”? The word “Lord” is here not intended as implying their salvation, but points to Christ’s sovereign dominion over the whole of the earth. See esp. Rev. 1:5; 17:14; 19:16.

 

The apparent demise of the church will captivate the attention of the unbelieving world, but only for a brief season. The “3 ½ days” of their shame is to be contrasted with their “3 ½ years” of invincible witness (the former to be taken as no more literal than the latter). It may also echo the 3 days Jesus spent in the grave. The point is simply that the “victory” of the beast and his/its followers “is brief and insignificant in comparison to the victorious testimony of the witnesses” (Beale, 595). On the refusal to permit burial, see Ps. 79:3. This is again a powerful symbolic heightening of the indignity to which the unbelieving world subjects the church.

 

In v. 8 the translation “dead bodies” is literally “dead body” (singular). The same is true in v. 9a, whereas in v. 9b the plural “bodies” is used. Why? Perhaps the reason for the change in number is to highlight the corporate nature of the church’s witness. The church is one body throughout the earth, united in its prophetic mission. However, the church is also made up of many witnesses in many nations, hence the plural in 9b. This use of the collective singular in vv. 8-9 would also add weight to the interpretation of the “witnesses” as the church rather than two individual people.

 

The happiness and merriment of the earth-dwellers in v. 10 is due to their belief that the message of the church, which brought them so much discomfort and emotional anguish, has been silenced. Perhaps their joy is due to their belief that the ultimate judgment which the church proclaimed will now never come to pass.

 

Vv. 11-13

 

This portrayal of “resurrection” is an echo of Ezek. 37:5 and 10, where we read of God’s restoration of Israel out of the Babylonian exile. The nation in exile is described as corpses of which only dry bones remain:

 

“Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life’. . . . So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”

 

Some believe that the “resurrection” in 11:11 is literal and refers to the bodily resurrection of the dead in Christ which occurs at the time of the rapture of the church (cf. 1 Thess. 4:16-17), the latter being the focus of 11:12. Others, such as Beale, contend that this scene is simply a symbolic portrayal of vindication. He writes: “The acceptance of the witnesses into the cloud [v. 12] shows the divine approval since the cloud . . . in the OT was representative of God’s presence either in judgment or in commissioning his prophetic servants” (599).

 

Is the “fear” that “fell upon” (v. 11) the earth-dwellers as they “beheld” (v. 12) this event a saving fear, thus descriptive of their repentance (as, for example, in Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 19:5)? Or is it merely the reversal of their joy and merriment (v. 10) as they suddenly realize that they must face the wrath of the God whom the witnesses proclaimed (for “fear” of this sort see 18:10,15; see Ps. 105:38; Exod. 15:16; Jonah 1:10,16)?

 

Four things are said in v. 13 that occurred “in that hour”, i.e., at the time of the vindication and/or resurrection of the church:

 

  • “there was a great earthquake” – Similar terminology occurs in 6:12 (the sixth seal) and 16:18 (seventh bowl) where the last judgment is beginning to unfold.

 

  • “a tenth of the city fell” – Those who believe the “city” is literal Jerusalem have argued that 1/10 of the city would equal 7,000 if Jerusalem’s population was 70,000 in the first century (although Josephus had earlier reckoned the population as closer to 120,000; Ant. 1.22, 197). But see below.

 

  • “seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake” – If the two witnesses are linked to the ministry of Elijah, the 7,000 who die may be the just equivalent of the 7,000 faithful who “did not bow the knee to Baal” (cf. Rom. 11:4).

 

  • “the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven” – “History,” says Morris, “has often seen the church oppressed to the very verge of extinction, but it has always seen it rise again from that verge of death. Each such resurrection strikes consternation into the hearts of the oppressors” (147). The question here is whether this “terror” or “fear” and the subsequent “glorifying” of God describes an expression of saving repentance and faith in the God of heaven.

 

Richard Bauckham insists that it does, and provides the following array of evidence:

 

(1) He points to almost identical terminology in Rev. 14:7 (“fear God and give Him glory”) and Rev. 15:4 (“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name?”), both of which texts have in view saving fear and acknowledgement of God.

 

(2) He also points to Rev. 16:9 where the unrepentant are described in these terms: “they did not repent, so as to give Him glory,” the point being that “to give God glory” is to repent. In fact, in Revelation “to give God glory” always refers positively to a saving response on the part of people (see 4:9; 14:7; 16:9; 19:7).

 

(3) Bauckham also points to the description of God as the “God of heaven”, which he says “is peculiarly appropriate with reference to the acknowledgement by pagans of the one true God the Creator. In the Old Testament,” says Bauckham, “it occurs almost exclusively in non-Israelite contexts (Gen. 24:7; Ps. 136:26 are the only exceptions). It is used by Jews speaking to non-Jews or when they are among non-Jews at a pagan court, or it is used by non-Jews acknowledging the God of Israel as the universal God (2 Chron. 36:23; Ezra 1:2; 5:11-12; 6:9-10; 7:12,21,23; Neh. 1:4-5; 2:4; Dan. 2:18-19,37,44; Jonah 1:9)” (279).

 

(4) Bauckham believes that there is a deliberate contrast between what judgments alone could not do (9:20-21) and what the testimony of the two witnesses does do. “After the judgments of the trumpets, ‘the rest’ (hoi loipoi) do not repent (9:20); after the earthquake which accompanies the vindication of the witnesses, ‘the rest’ (hoi loipoi) do repent (11:13)” (279).

 

(5) There is yet another reason, notes Bauckham, why 11:13 describes the conversion of the lost. He sees here a striking reversal of what is found in Esther 9:19. In the latter, the people of God kill those who threatened them with genocide, as a result of which they (the people of God) celebrate with rejoicing and the exchanging of gifts (Purim). “In Revelation 11, the witnesses, representing the people of God, are slaughtered by the beast, and the nations of the world rejoice and exchange gifts. In Esther, the victory of the people of God involves the slaughter of their enemies. In Revelation, the slaughter of the people of God leads to the conversion of their enemies” (281-82).

 

(6) Bauckham isn’t finished yet. He also believes the numbers “1/10” and “7,000” indicate that the conversion is of the vast majority of the lost, not a paltry few. That is to say, he sees in the events of Rev. 11:11-13 an indication of a great, vast final harvest of souls! His reasoning is as follows. In the OT there are often prophecies of a small faithful remnant being spared when God’s judgment falls on the unrepentant majority. “Such a remnant,” notes Bauckham, “is sometimes described as a tenth part (Amos 5:3; cf. Isa. 6:13, where in its present context the tenth part is the righteous remnant). The figure of seven thousand alludes more specifically to Elijah’s prophetic commission to bring about the judgment of all except the seven thousand faithful Israelites who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:14-18; cf. Rom. 11:2-5). These allusions explain why Revelation rather oddly gives the figures for those who die in the earthquake, rather than for those who survive and are converted (11:13). In a characteristically subtle use of these Old Testament allusions, Revelation reverses the arithmetic. Only a tenth, only seven thousand suffer the judgment, while the remnant (hoi loipoi) who are spared are the nine-tenths. Not the faithful minority, but the faithless majority are spared, so that they may come to repentance and faith. Thanks to the witness of the witnesses, the judgment is actually salvific“”(282-83).

Beale, on the other hand, points to texts in which “fearing God” does not entail saving faith (e.g., Jonah 1:9-10; Micah 7:8-17; cf. 1 Sam. 6:5ff.; Matthew 28:1-4).

 

By Sam Storms