Let the Word Speak!

Vision 2: The Seven Trumpets

The first vision and the second vision parallel each other in structure to underscore the meaning — how God will bring his faithful followers through the tribulation. Both visions start with a reassuring scene in heaven, both deal with how the tribulation affects Christians, both cluster the first four events together, and both have an interlude between the sixth and seventh events that promises God’s protection to his people.

Throughout this vision are many parallels to the Exodus account, where Moses called down plagues on the Egyptians to convince the Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. This account has a strong description of the tribulations brough about as a result of the trumpet soundings, but unlike the Exodus account, there is a strong sense of hope for Christians.

Opening scene in heaven (8:2 – 8:6)

2 And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.

The Greek identifies these angels as a specific set of seven, which Jewish tradition identifies as the archangels. These seven are identified by name in apocryphal literature, and are those of the highest order of angels.

This sounding of the trumpet was widely understood to be the sign that the end of time had arrived. Isaiah 27:12-13 promises that at the trumpet, the Lord will gather up his people one by one to come “home” and worship him in Jerusalem. In Joel 2:1-2, the writer calls for the trumpet to sound in warning that the day of the Lord is coming, “ a day of darkness and gloom,” and the proper response of the people in verse 12 is to “return to Me with all your heart.” Jesus teaches in Matthew 24:31that the Son of Man “will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds.” Paul, both in 1 Corinthians 15:52 and in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, teaches the early church that “the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven…”

3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; …

The word for “censer” has as its root the same Greek word for frankincense, as in the gifts of the Magi, clearly intended for worshipping God.

Worship in heaven is the perfect worship, after which worship on earth is an imitation. Heaven is seen as the model from which the Jewish temple was copied, complete with the altar of incense and the altar of sacrifice (the one referenced in the fifth seal), with the Throne, rather than the Holy of Holies, as the focus of worship. The act of worship in heaven, as on earth, involves both praise of God and prayers to God.

… and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.

The incense was “added unto the prayers” (an alternate translation) to “package them” for God, the same idea that Paul portrays in Romans 8:26 when he teaches that the Holy Spirit “helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.

These prayers have power, because they are an essential part of bringing about the purification of God’s people.

5 And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices [rumblings], and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.

The action of the angel here uses the same verb as when the Lamb took the scroll from the hand of God — purposeful, forceful, confident action. This confident action, picking up the incense holder that had been set aside, concluded the offering of prayers to God, since the prayers were answered and God had given the order to proceed.

The image of fire from the altar has been interpreted in many ways, often as expressing God’s wrath. I think the more relevant image is of God’s love for his people and his purification and setting aside of his people, just as in the first vision, God’s seal was placed on his followers. See Isaiah 6:6-8 where Isaiah was forgiven, purified and set aside for God’s work when an angel touched his lips with a coal from the altar in heaven. The imagery of burning coals from God’s altar for the purification of God’s people was also used in Ezekiel chapter 10. I also think of the thunder, rumblings, lightning, and earthquake as the power of God on the earth, as it was on Mt. Sinai when God wrote for Moses the ten commandments.

Wall provides another parallel to this passage in the story of Elijah’s competition with the prophets of Baal, which concluded in 1 Kings 18:36-39. The prophets of Baal had tried for hours to call down fire from heaven for their altar, with no success. Elijah soaked his altar in water, then prayed that God would send down fire to prove that He was lord of all. God answered this prayer with a mighty fire that burned up the water with the sacrifice. Wall considers the prayers of the saints in this passage to be a continuation of the prayers at the fifth seal previous, asking for God to show His power to the unbelieving peoples, and the act of hurling the censer down to earth to be the vivid answer to those prayers.

6 And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.

Because of the prayers of the saints, God’s plan can be carried out! Just as we should never underestimate God’s power and God’s love, we should never underestimate the importance of our prayers to God or how God will choose to answer our prayers.

The first four trumpets (8:7 – 8:12)

In the context of the whole vision, and because the Christians are not singled out for these tribulations, these trumpets are bringing judgement to the entire world. The purpose of these judgements, as earlier, is to bring unbelievers into belief in the all-powerful Creator and the Lamb of sacrificial love.

What we have in these four trumpets is a completeness in God’s warning to the earth, with plagues affecting the lands, the salt water, the fresh water, and the sky. There are strong similarities to some of the plagues that Moses called down on Egypt, the dominant nation of that time, to convince the Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave, so we should interpret in these trumpets warnings the purpose of God to call his people to their heavenly home.

In the context of the numerology of Revelation, it seems odd when thinking of Moses in Egypt to identify the “ten” plagues. In Revelation terms, “ten” is a multiplier or amplifier, and doesn’t have any meaning of its own. However, the Egyptians would have understood “ten” very differently, and these were the audience to whom God was speaking! Egyptians interpreted “ten” as a sign of completeness (like “seven” in Revelation), so that the ten plagues demonstrated the complete authority of the God of Moses and the Hebrews.

7 The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: (better, “the storm flung itself on the earth”) and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.

Trumpets were a sound of warning, a sound of a notice to follow, particularly the sound to pay attention to the “message” to follow.

In the seventh plague, described in Exodus 9:22-26, God caused a heavy hail mixed with thunder and fire to fall on Egypt, killing cattle, people, plants, and anything else outside.

Notice the repetition of three items burned for emphasis. The fact of one-third of things being destroyed sends a message of warning — a third of something was significant enough to demonstrate power, but power restrained for a purpose.

There is also an escalation of the story line during this retelling, which was an expected literary device of the time. In the first vision, the last of the four horsemen was allowed to bring death to a fourth of the earth (6:8). Here in the second vision, the fraction increases to a third.

8 And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;
9 And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.

Barclay paraphrases this as “what I can only call a great mountain.” This imagery may have been an obvious reference to the first century hearers of the massive volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79.

In the the first plague, described in Exodus 7:17-24, God turns the water of the Nile into blood, and all the fish die, and the people have to dig wells to get drinking water.

10 And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;
11 And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

This third trumpet also mirrors the first plague mentioned above. The Revelation account distinguishes between fresh water and salt water, based on a culture dominated by seaports. In Exodus, the people of Egypt lived on the fresh water Nile river, so the one plague affected their drinking water, their source of food, and their transportation. There is also a strong parallel to this event given in Jeremiah 9:13-18. God promises punishment to those who had forsaken the law by “feeding this people with wormwood and giving them poisonous water to drink.”

Wormwood is a bitter herb, closely related to sagebrush in the western United States. In the first century, the specific plant called apsinthos was used in making bitter alcoholic beverages, and this plant is still used today to make some brands of vermouth. The meaning in Revelation goes back to the Old Testament connotations for wormwood, based on the Hebrew word laanah, which was closely related to the word “curse” or “calamity,” and when used literally, referred to either the wormwood plant or the poisonous hemlock plant. This word is used first in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 29:18, where those people in the nation of Israel that would deceive and lead the faithful into sin are called a “root sprouting poisonous and bitter growth.”

12 And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.

In the ninth plague, described in Exodus 10:21-23, God caused an intense darkness “that can be felt” that stayed over the Egyptians for three days, but that did not affect the place where the Israelites lived. It isn’t clear in Revelation whether the light is dimmed by a third, or that the sun, moon, and stars are eclipsed for a third of every day and night, but that really isn’t significant to the message that John brings and the parallel he uses with these first four trumpets.

The eagle proclaims three woes (8:13)

13 And I beheld, and heard an angel [eagle] flying through the midst of heaven [midheaven], saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!

While the KJV translates this creature as an “angel”, almost all modern translations consider this to be an eagle, an earthly creature rather than a heavenly creature. The eagle was the strongest of birds, sometimes used as a symbol of vengeance. (InDeuteronomy 28:47-50, the eagle brings punishment to Israel if they disobeyed. In Habakkuk 1:5-8, those who bring destruction will be as swift as eagles in surprising sinners.) The word “midheaven” literally means where the sun is at noon, so it is used here and two later times in Revelation to mean in the center of the sky where all the world can see and hear.

The “inhabiters” on earth are called katoikeo in the Greek, those who reside permanently, in contrast to the “sojourning” Christians. John uses this eagle to subdivide the twelve trumpets into the first four, with tribulations from natural forces, and the three remaining trumpets, the “three woes,” that include tribulations from demonic forces. This escalation of tribulations is also illustrated by doubling (locust and war horses have power in both heads and tails, army of two million).

There is also a finality in the three woes, because they close with the final judgement and the new Heaven and Earth. In our vernacular, “three strikes and you’re out!”

The fifth trumpet – locust (9:1-9:12)

1 And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.

This “fallen star” is most likely the same being as the star named Wormwood of the third trumpet, and he will later be identified in this passage as the Destroyer. Some interpret this person as Satan, the “fallen angel.” I disagree with that interpretation, because the Destroyer operates under God’s directive, while Satan, always the Deceiver, fights against it.

This bottomless pit was thought to be an underworld below Hades, where demons were kept. In Luke 8:31, Jesus talks with the “legion” of demons possessing a man, and they ask that they be sent into a herd of pigs, rather than be sent back to the abyss. With that interpretation, first Century believers would have understood that God locked the demons away from earth, but he gave the key to the abyss to the fallen star.

2 And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.
3 And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
4 And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.

The normal problem with a swarm of locust, as in the eighth plague Moses called on Egypt (Exodus 10:12-15) is that they ate every plant. In this case, however, the target is people rather than plants, emphasized by the “authority of scorpions,” which were considered as bad an enemy to man as snakes. The parallel to the Egyptian plague continues with the setting aside of God’s people from the effect of the locust.

5 And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.

The normal life expectancy of locust were five months, born in the spring and dying at the end of the summer. However, we know John better than to leave this number with a biological interpretation! The number “five” usually means a “small amount,” somewhat similar to our “handful.” Uses of the number five in Jesus’ parables include five talents placed in the care of a servant, and two sets of five bridesmaids watching for the groom.

Notice the repetition of the limits God imposes on these demonic locusts — God gives the key to the fallen angel, and the locust are limited in how long they can torture, in who they can attack, and are forbidden from eating what would be their natural foods. God is allowing this evil for a purpose — and God is in full control of circumstances that horrify us!

6 And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.

This circumstance has parallels in the Hebrew literature, also. See Job 3:20-26 and Jeremiah 8:3 for references to not finding relief in death.

7 And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; …

This tribulation, and the imagery that John calls into our sight, closely follows the judgement for unfaithful Judah given in the first two chapters of Joel. Joel foretells in the first chapter that the locust will eat everything, and in chapter two, expands this vision of destruction by describing demonic war horses, with fire going before them and behind them. The appearance of a locust is similar enough to a horse that one German word for locust, Heupferd, literally means “hay-horse,” and an Italian word for locust, cavaletta, means “a little horse.”

… and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.
8 And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.

What they wore were not actually crowns of gold, but what looked like victors wreaths made of something that looked like gold. The human resemblance of the locusts’ faces stressed intelligence and intent, adding terror to this demonic plague. They had hair as long as a woman’s hair might be, but the phrase distinguishes that this hair is not gender-specific. Lions’ teeth indicated a voraciousness to this torment.

9 And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.

The thorax (midsection) of the locust was as solid as iron. Again see Joel 2:6-9 for the unstoppable onrush of demonic war horses into battle — the image, just like swarms of locust, was of an invasion impossible to stop.

10 And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.

The Greek text actually states that these locust had the power to harm people similar to the harm caused by the stinging tails of scorpions. The Greek does not actually say where the stingers were located, but that point really isn’t significant. Locusts with stinging tails fits the pattern — the war horses to come in the sixth trumpet have tails that are like snakes, so that the horses can attack people from both the front and the back.

11 And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, [meaning “Destruction”] but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon [meaning “Destroyer”].

There is an interesting contrast here with Proverbs 30:27, where it is noted that the locust have no king!

The Hebrew name Abaddon appears in Job 26:6, Psalms 88:11, and Proverbs 15:11, and in each of these cases, it refers to a location, as another word for Hades. The fallen star Wormwood is here revealed to be an angel in charge of the bottomless pit. This description parallels the fourth horseman Death and his companion, Hades, in the first vision. This also parallels the tenth plague of Moses against the Egyptians, with the death of firstborn sons (Exodus 11:4-8). The Lord carries out this plague, but in Exodus 12:23, God assures Moses that he “will not suffer the destroyer (shawkhath) to come” to those houses marked by the Passover lamb’s blood.

There also may be an intended reference in the name “Apollyon” to Emperor Domitian, who claimed to be a reincarnation of the Roman god Apollo. If so, this was an “inside” reference, for Romans would not have confused the two names. Rather than a “destroyer,” they thought of Apollo as the god of the sun, and associated him with music, poetry, prophetic oracles, and healing.

12 One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.

Strike one!

The sixth trumpet – army (9:13-9:19)

13 And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,

The four horns were at the corners of the incense altar in heaven.

14 Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.

The similarity of the four angels to the first horseman is found in geography — the Euphrates River was the border between the Roman Empire and the Parthian Empire. The fact of four angels leading the cavalry also parallels the set of four horsemen. The word “release” is the same primitive Greek word luo that was used in 5:2 and 5:5 to “break” the seals, and is used elsewhere in the New Testament to mean undoing sandals, untying a donkey, and pardoning a prisoner. Morris and Lindsey interpret by “release” that these were fallen angels, Satan’s followers, forbidden to act by God until the right time. Instead, I agree with Wall and Barclay, who interpret these angels as servants of God, similar to Wormwood, kept in reserve for this purpose. In either event, the sameness of the Greek verb for the seals and these bound angels emphasizes the parallel of God’s will unfolding on earth.

15 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.

This time, there are four angels instead of one, indicating the source of the death included earthly evil no longer kept in restraint. This earthly root may also be why those with God’s mark aren’t spared from this tribulation, although Wall believes the marking of the believers in the fifth trumpet still applies. In any event, God restrains the killing to a third, and God has purposed the exact time this is to take place, down to a specific hour, so this tribulation is still a “warning shot.” God escalates his efforts to reach lost people from the fifth trumpet to the sixth, to the point where I believe God allows his followers to be killed — and join the celebration in heaven — so as to provide yet one more opportunity to call unbelievers to repent.

16 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.

This count, 200 million, is an incredible number, far exceeding the number of people in the world at that time, and beyond John’s ability to estimate, thus he had to be told. This number derived from the number in Revelation 5:11, where the number of angels in heaven was literally in Hebrew “ten thousand times ten thousand.” This was correctly translated into English as “thousands upon thousands.” In the case of this army, John doubles that earlier number, so 2 x 10,000 x 10,000 = 200,000,000.

17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth [sapphire], and brimstone [sulfur]: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
19 For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.

Notice the reference “in my vision” — John almost never reminds the audience that this is a vision, unlike Daniel and other apocryphal texts that continually reference the vision. At this point, with this image, John wanted to be certain that the symbolic meaning was understood, that the literal imagery didn’t interfere.

By this point, the duality in the images in the fifth trumpet and the sixth trumpet are clear, down to the double-ended animals torturing and killing a third of humanity.

The people reject God (9:20-9:21)

20 And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:
21 Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

This is the crucial point of the entire vision. Why did God allow the locust and the army? It was one more attempt to give humanity every opportunity to repent, but many people would not. So many people did not repent in the time of John the Baptist, or of Jesus, or from the preachings of Peter, Paul, Apollos, Barnabus, James, or any of their contemporary evangelists. God still goes to extraordinary lengths to get people to turn from the destruction of sin.

The First Interlude; the Mighty Angel

The proclamation (10:1 – 10:7)

1 And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire:

A “mighty angel” first plays a role in Revelation in 5:1, as the one calling for one worthy to open the scroll. A “mighty angel” also appears in Revelation 18:21, throwing a giant millstone in the sea to represent how Babylon would be destroyed. Both of these two “mighty angel” roles, and the role here, sound very much like deeds of the prophets, making statements or actions to carry an important message from God.

This specific mighty angel was coming straight from the presence of God, and given awesome powers directly from God. The cloud in which the angel came was an indication of the presence of God, the rainbow indicated God’s grace, the face shining like the sun was exactly how Moses’ face was after being given the Ten Commandments, and the pillars of fire described God’s presence on earth, just as the evidence of God with the Hebrews in the wilderness had been the pillar of fire. The image is also very similar to Christ as described in chapter 1, but later on, we’ll see that this angel has to appeal for power from above.

2 And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth,

Because of the scroll, Van Kampen believes this “mighty angel” (but not the others) is Christ. Because only the Lamb was worthy to open the scroll of the seven seals, the one holding this open scroll should also be Jesus. However, the word for scroll used here is diminutive, a “scroll-ette,” to distinguish it in scope and power from the Lamb’s scroll.

The significance of where the angel’s feet were located is that the angel spans land and sea, encompassing all earth with this universal message. This was also a large angel! Scholars do not place any significance in where specifically the right foot or the left foot was located, however.

3 And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices.
4 And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.

John apparently understood the words spoken in the “great shout,” in contrast to our understanding of a “roar” as just noise. The Greek expresses “the seven thunders” as a specific entity that the listeners would have immediately recognized. While we today aren’t completely certain, we think “the seven thunders” are a reference to the mighty “voice of the Lord” mentioned in praise seven times in Psalm 29. As such, the marvelous words that John were not allowed to write down was a dialog between God and His messenger.

The parallel to “sealing up” what was said is similar to Daniel 12:4, where the activity Daniel was told happen at the end time are to be sealed up until that time. There is a parallel in 2 Corinthians 12:3-4, where Paul was taken up to heaven and heard things that “no mortal is permitted to repeat.” In addition to understanding the prophetic precedent, first century Christians would have also identified in the sealed words an added measure of authority and honor given to John by being allowed to hear these words. They also would have affirmed in the limits of what John could say that we are dependent on God to guide our pathway — we need to develop our faith by following God in faith when we do not know what the future holds, rather than demanding that God tell us everything.

5 And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven,
6 And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, …

To Robertson, this oath proves that this is an angel, not Jesus. Notice the three-fold emphasis of creation, showing God’s all-encompassing view, rather than an earthly view (which would have been four-fold). Now for what the angel has to say:

… that there should be time no longer:
7 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.

”The mystery of God” means the whole purpose of God in human history, as in Paul’s use of the phrase in 1 Corinthians 2:1 and again in Colossians 2:2. Amos 3:7 reminds that “the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.”

The little scroll (10:8 – 10:11)

8 And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth.

This voice was the same one in verse 4 that told John not to write the words from the seven thunders down.

9 And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey.
10 And I [immediately] took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter.

Barclay points out that John is told by the voice to take the scroll, and even when John asked the angel to give it to him, the angel countered that John should take it. God’s word and calling is never forced on us, even though it is always for our best! We must act – we must reach out and take it ourselves.

The idea of eating a scroll strikes a strong parallel between John and Ezekiel – both were exiles and both were calling their people to hold on to God under duress. In Ezekiel 2:2-3:3, Ezekiel is taken up in the spirit, and brought before God to be given a message, in the form of a scroll, and the scroll tasted as sweet as honey in his mouth. In both instances, eating the scroll takes in, internalizes, the message, moreso than if John and Ezekiel had merely read the scroll. John’s scroll was sweet in his mouth, but bitter in his stomach, indicating both God’s mercy and God’s judgement. Likewise Ezekiel’s scroll contained words of lamentation, mourning, and woe.

11 And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.

The “they” is both the angel and the voice from heaven. This prophesy would appear to be the message from the little scroll, with the same message of God’s work on earth that John has been carrying. The emphasis is on how this message relates to all the earth, emphasized by the four descriptions.

The Second Interlude; the Two Witnesses

The writing style of this next passage (11:1-13) is sufficiently distinct to indicate a break in the flow of Revelation. Some theologians consider differences in the writing style as an indication that this passage was taken from earlier prophetic writing, and doesn’t belong in Revelation. They propose that it has similarity to apocalyptic writings around 50 A.D., which is why the fall of the temple is still considered in the future. However, to me, this passage fits too well into the structure and the message. I agree with Robertson and Morris, who read in the parenthetical nature of this passage that what follows is exactly the message that John took in with the little scroll, which he must declare. What we have is a parable or teaching story, embedded within apocalyptic prophesy.

Measuring the temple (11:1 – 11:2)

1 And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.

The parallel to this passage is in Ezekiel 40:1-44:8, where Ezekiel is taken by God to a “very high mountain,” where a man who “shone like bronze” led him around the temple, measuring as they went with a measuring rod. The purpose of this vision was to demonstrate the attentiveness that Israel should give to God, to gather and preserve those who are true followers, and to condemn the others for not measuring up to God’s standards.

By the way, these measuring rods, or measuring reeds, were similar to bamboo and very tall. The official Hebrew unit of measurement of a “rod” was equal to about nine feet.

2 But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.

The court left out was the court of the Gentiles. Measuring those that are inside, but not those outside, is the same as identifying the faithful, just as counting the 144,000 was a validation of the faithful.

Barclay recounts a critical history lesson that leads to a proper understanding of the impact of this passage on the listeners. Recall that this temple had been destroyed over twenty years before the writing of Revelation, so there was nothing on earth left for John to measure. It is in the Jewish account of this destruction that we learn that the Zealots, Jews fighting to the death to overthrow Roman rule, were driven back again and again by the Roman troops until they were near the Temple. They retreated into the inner court of the temple, hopeful because they believed that God would destroy any Gentile who would dare enter into the temple beyond the outer courts. Their faith was misplaced, and the Roman soldiers marched in and killed all the Zealots and destroyed the temple. This massacre would have been at the forefront of the minds of the first century Christians hearing of the measuring of the inner courts of the temple. The message would have been sobering, with the reminder of the death of the zealots, and to come, the death of the two witnesses. However, the act of John in following God’s order to measure the temple also brings assurance that even in destruction of the temple, God is in control and will protect his people beyond death.

The reference to “holy city” is a little confusing. In this interlude, it doesn’t mean simply Jerusalem as much as it represents the whole world, where God’s holy people sojourn.

The “forty and two months” appears in Daniel 7:25 and 12:7. The same time duration is also called 1260 days in Revelation 11:3 and “time, times and half a time” in Revelation 12:14. It also comes up, as 3 1/2 days rather than years, with the two witnesses. This common time reference, which is half of seven, means a limited duration, a time cut short, that evil holds sway.

Barclay has another interpretation of 3 1/2 years. In 168 B.C., Antiochus Epiphanes, King of Syria, tried to force Greek language, culture, and worship on the Jewish people. For three and a half years, Antiochus defiled the temple, outlawed Jewish beliefs, and killed faithful Jews. Finally, he was driven out of Judah by Judas Maccabaeus, and the temple was cleansed and restored. The Jewish holiday of the Festival of Hanukah came out of this historical victory.

Barclay, and many other scholars, believe the book of Daniel was written around the time of Judas Maccabaeus, and so the “Abomination of the Desolation” and the time period of 3 1/2 years = 42 months = 1260 days are historical references. Many other scholars, however, believe the book was indeed written by a historical Daniel in the sixth century B.C., so that the book foretells accurately about the conquering of Judah by Antiochus. My conclusion: the book of Daniel is even tougher to understand than the book of Revelation!

The two witnesses (11:3 – 11:14)

3 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.

The most significant point of having “two witnesses” is the veracity of this message – Jewish legal statutes, based on Deuteronomy 19:15, required that a charge be brought by two witnesses if it was to be accepted as the truth. Notice that their attire, sackcloth, fit their message.

The Greek wording indicates that these witnesses were two famous persons, in line with Van Kampen’s identification of these as Elijah and Moses. The argument for Moses and Elijah seems obvious. The powers to be given them are references to works of Moses and Elijah on earth. The transfiguration of Jesus, given in Matthew 17:1-8, has him talking with Moses and Elijah. Likewise, Malachi 4:5 says that “I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” This is another case of “near – far” prophesy, for Jesus teaches his disciples after the transfiguration that Elijah had already come, in the person of John the Baptist. He also taught that just as John was killed, so would he be killed, and so will these two witnesses be killed.

Moses and Elijah both were famous for being irritating messengers of God, just as these two witnesses are later said to “torment” the people! Moses continually faced down the Pharaoh. Elijah the Tishbite (a “foreigner” from Gilead) was a constant irritant to King Ahab and King Ahaziah of Samaria.

4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

In Zechariah 4:1-14, the lampstand is Israel, and the two olive trees are the high priest Joshua and faithful King Zerubbabel. These two led the effort to reestablish the temple once the Jews had been released from exile in Babylon, as in Ezra 5:1-2.Their message is one of restoration, and of a call to the exiled Jews to repent and consider the temple that God will create for them. However, in mixing the references between Elijah & Moses and Zerubbabel & Joshua, and using reference to lampstands, as were used in chapters 1 – 3, the message of the parable is that the witnesses are representative of all God’s followers.

5 And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.

The significance of this verse is that nothing can stop them from spreading their witness. The fire here is similar to 2 Kings 1:9-12, where wicked King Ahaziah twice sent troops to bring him Elijah, and Elijah called fire from heaven to consume the troops. The repetition in these verses, as in the repetition of Elijah’s fire from heaven, validates the certainty of this protection.

6 These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.

Elijah declared a drought on Israel in 1 Kings 17:1. In Luke 4:25, Jesus identifies the duration of the drought Elijah called forth — as 3 1/2 years! As discussed earlier, Moses turned water into blood in Exodus 7:20.

7 And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.

This is apparently the same beast, the Antichrist, that will appear in 13:1 and 17:8, but we’ll review the background and role of the Antichrist in more detail when we study chapter 13.

The certain murder of the two prophets is troubling, just as when the martyrs cried to God at the fifth seal, and God responded that more believers needed to be killed for their faith. In Daniel chapter 7, which prophesies about the Antichrist beast, also describes that the beast “made war with the holy ones and was prevailing over them.” The early Christians needed to know that persecution was not a sign that God had lost control, but that persecution was part of the plan.

However, we can’t stop our understanding of the murder of the two witnesses without recognizing that their time had come! The Greek word translated “finished” means that their work had reached it end or its aim. Only when God had seen that they had “run the good race,” in Paul’s analogy, did God see fit to take them home.

8 And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.

Judah is called Sodom in both Isaiah 1:10 and Ezekiel 16:46. The name “Egypt” is not applied to Israel or Jerusalem in the Old Testament, but it is an obvious symbol of slavery and oppression from the days of Moses. The city is condemned for sinfulness, for oppression of the faithful, and specifically for putting to death God’s Son then and the two witnesses now.

9 And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
10 And they that dwell upon the earth [”inhabitants”, not “sojourners”] shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.

The custom of the time was for a person’s body to be buried the same day as the death, so leaving a body without burial was a serious indignity. Here the Greek phrase for “inhabitants of the earth” appears again, meaning non-believers. Gift giving was a common practice of celebration, which the Jewish people may have picked up when they were in exile in Babylon, since the practice is described in Nehemiah 8:9-12 and Esther 9:18-23. In our modern vernacular, this was a “Hallmark moment” – a man-made reason for celebration.

11 And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.

As modern day Christians, our first thoughts are probably to the resurrection of Jesus, but there are many other Old Testament examples of ordinary men being brought back to life as a demonstration of God’s power, as was intended in this passage. The reference to the “Spirit of life” could also be translated as God’s “breath of life”, which brought life to Adam in Genesis 2:7. The same phrase is used again applying to all life on earth in Genesis 6:17. A better parallel to this passage is Ezekiel 37:1-14, where the vision of dried bones coming to life is a promise of God for his people. There is even a story in 2 Kings 13:21, where as Elisha is being buried, a marauding band of Moabites threw a dead man in the same grave with Elisha, and that dead man came back to life. (May marauding bands of Moabites stay far away from your funeral…)

12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.

While Christ rose to heaven viewed by his friends, and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) was taken up with just Elisha watching, these two witnesses are taken up in full view of a crowd of enemies. Also like Elijah and like Jesus, they were taken in a cloud. This is also similar to the rapture Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.

This resurrection marks the end of the power of the Antichrist and of evil on the earth. Just as Jesus’ resurrection conquered death, so does this resurrection show a victory, and this victory is marked by immediate progress to the seventh trumpet.

13 And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men [literally “the names of men”] seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.

These 7,000 killed are more specifically identified than other groups in Revelation. This identification is indicated by the Greek word onomata, which is used in Revelation 3:4 (”yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes”) and Acts 1:15 (”together, the crown numbered about 120 names”). The point here is different from the warnings that were given when a fraction of people were killed — this wording makes it more specific, more purposeful, and more frightening.

Did these people actually become followers? Was this salvation? I believe so, because the only way to give glory to God is to turn from sin and follow Him. This salvation would be in keeping with God’s whole purpose for these activities.

14 The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly.

The third “woe” is the second coming of Christ, and the final judgement.

The fanfare (11:15 – 11:18)

15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, …

Notice the contrast to the seventh seal in vision one, which was followed by silence! This is part of the story telling, as each repetition reveals more of the final victory.

… saying, The kingdoms of this world are [better translated “did”] become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ [”Messiah”]; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
16 And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God,
17 Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.

This is as close as John wants to take us for now to the celebration for all eternity — like at the end of the seven seals, he teases us, gives us a little more detail, but leaves us hanging, ready to go back and tell the story one more time.

The KJV inserts the three-fold recognition (”was”, “is”, “is to come”), so apparently the translators assumed part of the text had been lost, and that this passage should parallel the three-fold description in Revelation 1:4, 1:8, and 4:8. Modern translations translate this passage correctly from the Greek manuscripts as simply “who are and who were,” for there is no more need at the final victory to praise the One who will come, because He has already come.

18 And the nations were angry [raged], and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy [corrupt] the earth.

God’s response to evil is measured and appropriate, shown in the choice of Greek words for “raged” and “wrath,” both of which have the same root. The word for “reward” can also be translated “to give what is due,” and likely references the parable of the workers in Matthew 20:1-16 with the “reward” to the workers given at the end of the day.

There is a play on words with the Greek diaphtheirai, which means “to destroy.” This word is translated correctly in 1 Timothy 6:5 as part of the phrase “corrupted in mind.” So, while the meaning is “destroyed those who corrupted the earth,” the poetry of the line is met with “destroyed those who destroyed the earth,” as translated in the KJV.

Application for today

Marva Dawn identifies a common thread between the two interludes after the sixth seal and the two interludes after the sixth trumpet. In both, the first of the interludes (the four angels holding the winds and the mighty angel) answer the human plea of “how long?,” but the second interludes (the gathering of martyrs in heaven and the two witnesses) answer the more important question of what God’s people should be doing in the mean time. This core principle commands us, in Dawn’s words, “to wait because of who God is, even when things don’t change.”

Dawn includes a modern illustration of this spiritual patience in a work by a favorite composer of mine, Olivier Messaien. While in a German concentration camp, he and several other prisoners were allowed to play damaged musical instruments that were in the camp, including a violin, a cello, a clarinet, and a piano. Messaien wrote a piece of music for this unusual instrumentation called Quatuor pour la fin du temps, or “Quartet for the End of Time.” In secular terms, it is a marvelous example of the triumph of the human spirit over heinous circumstances.

The (translated) names for the movements of this piece show the inspiration and hope in this piece:

  • Crystalline Liturgy
  • Vocalise for the Angel Who Announce the End of Time
  • The Abyss of the Birds
  • Interlude
  • Praise to the Eternity of Jesus
  • Dance of the Fury for the Seven Trumpets
  • Tangles of Rainbows for the Angel Who Announces the End of Time
  • Praise to the Immortality of Jesus

I did not know until I read Dawn’s book that Messaien used this passage as the inspiration for his piece. In doing so, he grasped the hope of Christ in the despair of a prison camp, seized the lesson of acting for God even while waiting for God to conquer Nazi evil, and delivered a powerful testimony of God’s love and eternal victory.

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