context of this vision is set by 10:9, where John eats the little book.
This must refer back to Jeremiah's enthusiastic 'eating' of the book of
the Law when it was found (2 Chron.34:18). He later reflected upon this:
" Thy words were found, and I did eat them" (Jer. 15:16) by
enthusiastically studying and preaching them. The words John ate were
the " seven thunders" which he was told not to record in words
(Rev. 10:4), presumably because the final tribulation they described was
not to be understood by any generation except the very last one. The taste
of the word to John was like honey- indicating the joy and exaltation
of spirit which comes from receiving an understanding of the word; yet
in reality it was bitter (Rev. 11:10), due to his having to " Prophecy
(preach) again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings"
(v.11). The reluctance of John, representing us in he last days, to get
involved in this world-wide witnessing is hinted at by " Thou must
prophecy..." . Such language recalls Jeremiah and the prophets (often
initially unwilling also) spreading their message to nations and kings,
and also the spirit of first century apostolic preaching. Both these groups
did so amidst great persecution; as we will too? John's eating of the
book also looks back to Ez.2:8, where Ezekiel had to do this at the beginning
of his preaching ministry to an apostate Israel in captivity. This may
hint that our latter day preaching to all nations will especially focus
upon the Jews among them, and those persecuted Jews within the land itself.
The vision of the two
witnesses carries straight on, describing in more detail what 10:8-11
has summarized. The downtreading of the Holy City (literal Jerusalem)
will be for 42 months. During that time, the witnesses prophecy for a
parallel period of 1,260 days- both periods equivalent to three and a
half years (Rev. 11:2,3). The two witnesses may either represent the Jews
and the Christians, or two individual leaders of the saints who each concentrate
respectively on preaching to Jews or Gentiles. " Fire proceedeth
out of their mouth...they have power to shut Heaven...and have power over
waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues"
(11:6). These descriptions have clear reference back to Elijah and Moses-
both of whom spoke the word of God during time of great persecution of
God's true witnesses.
We have seen that other
Scriptures describe a three and a half year period of persecution by the
beast. This is matched in Rev. 11 by the three and a half year witnessing
in sackcloth, with the power to bring plagues on their enemies. This would
equate the witnesses with Moses and the faithful Israelites in Egypt
undergoing persecution, at a time when Egypt
(cp. the latter day world) was very prosperous (treasure cities etc.).
The sackcloth suggests fasting and prayer- for their deliverance through
the Lord's return. It has been suggested elsewhere that the second coming
is dependent on the intensity of our prayers. To allow the Lord's return
to happen, it seems we need this tribulation to vitalize our community's
prayer life. In the last days, God’s faithful people
will be given a mouth and wisdom which their persecutors will be unable
to gainsay nor resist (Lk. 21:15). This evidently alludes to how Moses
before Pharaoh was given such a ‘mouth’ (Ex. 4:15). Moses at that time
was a type of the faithful remnant of their last days, in their witness
against the world during the tribulation. Hence Rev. 11 describes their
witness in terms of Moses doing miracles before Pharaoh.
" When they shall
have finished their (three and a half year) testimony, the beast...shall
make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them" (11:7)-
a final, furious bout of persecution which brings about the destruction
of the beast. It is because of this latter day orgy of killing the saints
that the woman riding the beast was " drunken with the blood of the
saints (the latter day true Christian community?), and (also) with the
blood of the martyrs (witnesses- the two particular ones of Rev.11?) of
Jesus" (17:6). The witnesses 'testifying' suggests association with
their prototype John, who was persecuted for his obedience to and preaching
of " the word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev.1:2,9)
in the last days before the Lord's 'coming' in AD70. John was encouraged
in his tribulation by being given such a deep understanding of prophecy;
and his latter day counterparts may be blessed likewise. The " souls
under the altar" which we have previously considered were "
slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held"
(6:9), which cements the link between them and the apostle John's descriptions
of his sufferings.
The dragon/ beast made
war with the seed of the woman " which keep the commandments (word)
of God, and have the testimony (i.e. preaching) of Jesus" (12:17);
it was because of " the word of their testimony (i.e. preaching)
(that) they loved not their lives unto the death" (12:11), indicating
that Rev.12 also has reference to this last day persecution. Interestingly,
the Angel says that he is a fellowservant and brother of them " that
have the testimony (preaching) of Jesus" (19:10), i.e. the witnesses-
as if the Angels who are with the witnesses in the tribulation are so
near us that they almost feel our sufferings.
It would seem that the
murder of these two witnesses takes place in Jerusalem, which is spiritual
Sodom (Is.1:10; 3:1,9; Jer.23:14; Lam.4:6; Ez.16:46-56; Amos 4:11) and
Egypt (Ez.23:19-22). This point
is clinched by its description as " where also our Lord was crucified"
. " They of the people (of Israel?)
and kindreds and tongues and nations (those preached to in 10:11) shall
see their dead bodies three days (literal ones?) and an half, and shall
not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves" (11:9). This seems
a designed contrast to Stephen, the first martyr for preaching the Christian
Gospel, whose body was also stared upon, but who was allowed to be buried.
There are a number of similarities in Rev.11 with the events in Sodom.
" The God of the earth" of v.4 clearly connects with "
Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" in Gen.18:25. The
two Angels (cp. the two Angel-supported witnesses) were warned not to
abide in the street (cp. Rev.11:8) for fear of violence being done to
them; the city is spiritually called Sodom (11:8). These references to
Sodom and Egypt, both types of
the last days, confirm that Rev.11 also has a latter day application.
The persecution period
in which the dead bodies lie in the street lasts three and a half days;
this may indicate a final persecution at the end of the three and a half
years. This is followed by the resurrection of the witnesses, after a
brief period of rejoicing by the world that these people whose Spirit
gifts had plagued them were now no more (by all means compare this with
the rejoicing of the world in the three days in which Christ lay dead).
The witnesses then hear a great voice, and ascend to Heaven in a cloud
in the sight of their enemies (11:12). This surely connects with the transporting
of the saints through the clouds to meet the Lord, as detailed in 1 Thess.4:15-17.
There are also links with Rev.1:7- a shout (cp. 1 Thess.4:16), a cloud,
being seen by enemies. We know that Rev.1:7 is concerning the second coming.
It is tempting to interpret the great earthquake and repentance of a remnant
in 11:13 as referring also to the Lord's coming, accompanied as it will
be by a literal earthquake which affects Jerusalem (Zech.14:1-4), heralding
the repentance of the Jewish remnant as described in Rom.11. The seventh
Angel then sounds, declaring that the Kingdom has come (n.b. " are
become- now- the Kingdoms of our Lord" ).
There seem a number
of points of contact in Rev.11 with our Lord's sufferings. The great fear
that fell upon them who saw the resurrected witnesses recalls the fear
of those who saw the risen Lord (Mt.28:4,5,8). Had it not been for Nicodemus'
bold request, the Lord's body would have been thrown into Gehenna. Compare
this with the bodies being unburied in 11:9, as if to imply they had been
crucified. Thus in our sufferings we will really feel crucified with Christ,
and therefore have great peace from knowing that if we suffer with Him,
we will also reign with Him.
The plaguing of our
persecutors as Moses and Aaron plagued Egypt
further strengthens the impression that Israel's
experience in Egypt is the prototype
for the coming tribulation. The world's brief rejoicing at the apparent
death of the witnesses corresponds to Egypt's
glee that Israel had left and
were trapped at the Red Sea. The rejoicing over the slaughtered saints
by the nations of the beast in 11:10 is echoed later by the holy apostles
and prophets rejoicing over the destruction of Babylon (18:20)- as if
the sufferings of the saints are later brought upon their persecutors.
This may be the reason why there are such similarities between the seven
vials and the seven trumpets, if the vials refer largely to the judgments
to come upon the world, and the trumpets to the latter day tribulation
of the saints: