Chapter 11: The End of the Beginning

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of The Book of Revelation


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Chapter Text

The Two Witnesses Against Jerusalem (11:1-14)

  1. And there was given me a reed like a staff; and someone said: Rise and measure the Temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship in it.
  1. And cast out the court that is outside the Temple, and do not measure it; for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the Holy City for forty-two months.
  2. And I will grant authority to My two Witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.
  3. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.
  4. And if anyone desires to harm them, fire proceeds out of their mouth and devours their enemies; and if anyone would desire to harm them, in this manner he must be killed.
  5. These have the power to shut up the sky, in order that rain may not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.
  6. And when they have finished their testimony, the Beast that comes up out of the Abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them.
  7. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the Great City which Spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.
  8. And those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb.
  1. And those who dwell on the Land will rejoice over them and make merry; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the Land.
  2. And after the three and a half days the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were beholding them.
  3. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them: Come up here. And they went up into heaven in the Cloud, and their enemies beheld them.
  4. And in that Day there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the City fell; and seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
  5. The Second Woe is past; the Third Woe, behold, is coming quickly.

1-2      St. John is commanded to measure the Temple of God (literally, the inner sanctuary of the Temple, the holy place), and the altar, and those who worship in it. The imagery is taken from Ezekiel 40-43, where the angelic priest measures the ideal Temple, the New Covenant people of God, the Church (cf. Mark 14:58; John 2:19; 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 3:12). R. J. McKelvey explains how the idea of the Temple is interpreted in the Letter to the Hebrews: “According to the writer to the Hebrews the sanctuary in heaven is the pattern (typos), i.e., the original (cf. Ex. 25:8f.), and the one on earth used by Jewry is a ‘copy and shadow’ (Heb. 8:5, RSV). The heavenly sanctuary is therefore the true sanctuary (Heb. 9:24). It belongs to the people of the new covenant (Heb. 6:19-20). Moreover, the fact that Christ our High Priest is in this sanctuary means that we, although still on earth, already participate in its worship (1O:19ff., 12:22ff.). What is this Temple? The writer supplies a clue when he says that the heavenly sanctuary was cleansed (9:23), i.e. made fit for use (cf. Num. 7:1). The assembly of the firstborn (Heb. 12:23), that is to say, the Church triumphant, is the heavenly Temple.”[1]

That this is St. John’s meaning as well should be clear from what we have already seen, for much of the action in this book has either taken place in, or originated from, the inner sanctuary. Moreover, those who worship at the incense altar in the Holy Place are priests (Ex. 28:43; 29:44): St. John has told us that we are a kingdom of priests (1:6; 5:10; cf. Matt. 27:51; Heb. 10:19-20), and he has shown us God’s people offering up their prayers on the altar of incense (5:8; 6:9-10; 8:3-4).

St. John is to measure the inner court, the Church, but he is to cast out the court that is outside the Temple, and is specifically commanded: Do not measure it. Measuring is a symbolic action used in Scripture to “divide between the holy and the profane” and thus to indicate divine protection from destruction (see Ezek. 22:26; 40-43; Zech. 2:1-5; cf. Jer. 10:16; 51:19; Rev. 21:15-16). “Throughout Scripture the priests are those who measure out the dimensions of the temple of God, the man with the measuring rod of Ezekiel 40ff. being but the most prominent example. Such measuring, like witness-bearing, entails seeing, and is the precondition of judging, as we have seen these in God’s covenant actions in Genesis 1. The priestly aspect of measuring and witnessing can be seen in that it correlates to guarding, because it sets up and establishes boundaries, and bears witness regarding whether or not those boundaries have been observed. We might say that the kingly function has to do with filling, and the priestly with separating, the former with cultivation and the latter with jealousy, propriety, and protection.”[2]

Between the Sixth and Seventh Seals, the 144,000 saints of the True Israel were protected from the coming judgment (7:1-8). That action is paralleled here by St. John’s measuring of the inner court between the sixth and seventh Trumpets, now protecting the True Temple from the outpouring of God’s wrath. The outer court (the “court of the Gentiles”) accordingly represents apostate Israel (cf. Isa. 1:12), which is to be cut off from the number of the faithful Covenant people, God’s dwelling place. St. John, as an authoritative priest of the New Covenant, is commanded to cast out (excommunicate) the unbelievers. This verb (ekballō) is generally used in the Gospels for casting out evil spirits (cf. Mark 1:34, 39; 3:15; 6:13); it is also used for Christ’s ejection of the moneychangers from the Temple (Matt. 21:12; Mark 11:15; John 2:15). Jesus warned that unbelieving Israel as a whole would be cast out from the Church, while believing Gentiles would stream into the Kingdom and receive the blessings promised to the Seed of Abraham:

Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able, once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, “Lord, open up to us!”

And He will answer and say to you, “I do not know where you are from.”

Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets!”

And He will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you are from! Depart from Me, all you evildoers!”

There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out [ekballō]. And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the Table in the Kingdom of God. (Luke 13:24-29; cf. Matt. 8:11-12)

Unbelieving Israel has been excluded from the protective measuring, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months (see Luke 21:24). God guarantees His protection to the Church, but Jerusalem has been delivered up to destruction. Forty-two months (which equals 1,260 days and three and a half years) is taken from Daniel 7:25, where it symbolizes a limited period during which the wicked are triumphant; it also speaks of a period of wrath and judgment due to apostasy, a reminder of the three and a half years of drought between Elijah’s first appearance and the defeat of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 17-18; cf. James 5:17). Whereas seven is used to represent wholeness and completion, three and a half appears to be a broken seven: sadness, death, and destruction (cf. Dan. 9:24; 12:7; Rev. 12:6, 14; 13:5). The periods of time mentioned in the Trumpets section are arranged chiastically, another indication of their symbolic nature:

  1. 11:2 – forty-two months
  2. 11:3 – twelve hundred and sixty days
  3. 11:9 – three and a half days
  4. 11:11 – three and a half days
    B. 12:6 – twelve hundred and sixty days
  5. 13:5 – forty-two months

This kind of imagery is used throughout the Bible.[3] In his Gospel, St. Matthew deliberately goes out of his way to draw our attention to the number forty-two, arranging his list of Christ’s ancestors to add up to it: ”Therefore all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to Christ are fourteen generations” (Matt. 1:17)[4] – all adding up to forty-two, the number of waiting between promise and fulfillment, from bondage to redemption. But now, in the Revelation, the time has been shortened: The Church does not need to wait forty-two generations any longer, but only forty-two months. The message of these verses, therefore, is that the Church will be saved through the coming Tribulation, during which Jerusalem is to be destroyed by an invasion of Gentiles. The end of this period will mean the full establishment of the Kingdom. The passage thus parallels the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24, Mark 13, Luke 21), where Jesus prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem, culminating in the Roman invasion of A.D. 70.[5]

3-4      But before Jerusalem is destroyed, St. John hears further testimony of its guilt, a summary of the apostate history of the City, focusing on its perennial persecution of the prophets. God tells St. John that He has ordained two Witnesses to prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, the number of days in an idealized forty-two months (of thirty days each). This number, therefore, is related (but not identical) to the forty-two months, and continues to express the essential “forty-two-ness” of the period preceding the full establishment of the Kingdom.[6] The Witnesses are clothed in sackcloth, the traditional dress of the prophets from Elijah through John the Baptizer, symbolizing their mourning over national apostasy (2 Kings 1:8; Isa. 20:2; Jon. 3:6; Zech. 13:4; Matt. 3:4; Mark 1:6). Biblical law required two witnesses (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15; Matt. 18:16; cf. Ex. 7:15-25; 8-11; Luke 10:1); the idea is a pervasive theme throughout Biblical prophecy and symbolism. A preliminary conclusion about the two Witnesses, therefore, is that they represent the line of prophets, culminating in John the Baptizer, who bore witness against Jerusalem during the history of Israel.

The two Witnesses are identified as the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. At this point the imagery becomes much more complex. St. John returns again to Zechariah’s prophecy of the lampstand (Zech. 4:1-5; cf. Rev. 1:4, 13, 20; 4:5). The seven lamps on the lampstand are connected to two olive trees (cf. Ps. 52:8; Jer. 11:16), from which flow an unceasing supply of oil, symbolizing the Holy Spirit’s filling and empowering work in the leaders of His covenant people. The meaning of the symbol is summarized in Zechariah 4:6: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts.” The same passage in Zechariah also speaks of two Witnesses, two sons of oil (“anointed ones”), who lead God’s people: Joshua the priest and Zerubbabel the king (Zech. 3-4; cf. Ezra 3, 5-6; Hag. 1-2). In brief, then, Zechariah tells us of an olive tree/lampstand complex representing the officers of the covenant: two Witness-figures who belong to the royal house and the priesthood. The Book of Revelation freely connects all of these, speaking of two shining lampstands which are two oil-filled olive trees, which are also two Witnesses, a king and a priest – all representing the Spirit-inspired prophetic testimony of the Kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6). (A major aspect of St. John’s message, as we have seen, is that the New Covenant Church comes into the full inheritance of the promises as the true Kingdom of priests, the royal priesthood in which “all the LORD’S people are prophets.”) That these Witnesses are members of the Old Covenant rather than the New is shown, among other indications, by their wearing of sackcloth – the dress characteristic of Old Covenant privation rather than New Covenant fullness.

5-6      St. John now speaks of the two Witnesses in terms of the two great witnesses of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah – the Law and the Prophets. If anyone desires to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. In Numbers 16:35, fire came down from heaven at Moses’ word and consumed the false worshipers who had rebelled against him; and, similarly, fire fell from heaven and consumed Elijah’s enemies when he spoke the word (2 Ki. 1:9-12). This becomes a standard symbol for the power of the prophetic Word, as if fire actually proceeds from the mouths of God’s Witnesses. As the Lord said to Jeremiah, “Behold, I am making My words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall consume them” (Jer. 5:14).

Extending the imagery, St. John says that the Witnesses have the power to shut up the sky, in order that rain may not fall during the days of their prophesying, i.e., for the twelve hundred and sixty days (three and a half years) – the same duration of the drought caused by Elijah in 1 Kings 17 (see Luke 4:25; James 5:17). Like Moses (Ex. 7-13), the Witnesses have power over the waters to tum them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.

Both of these prophetic figures pointed beyond themselves to the Greater Prophet, Jesus Christ. The very last message of the Old Testament mentions them together in a prophecy of Christ’s Advent: “Remember the law of Moses My servant…. Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet…. ” (Mal. 4:4-5). Malachi goes on to declare that Elijah’s ministry would be recapitulated in the life of John the Baptizer (Mal. 4:5-6; cf. Matt. 11:14; 17:10-13; Luke 1:15-17). But John, like Elijah, was only a Forerunner, preparing the way for One coming after him, the Firstborn, who would have a double – nay, measureless – portion of the Spirit (cf. Deut. 21:17; 2 Kings 2:9; John 3:27-34). And, like Moses, John was succeeded by a Joshua, Jesus the Conqueror, who would bring the covenant people into their promised inheritance. The two Witnesses, therefore, summarize all the witnesses of the Old Covenant, culminating in the witness of John.

7          Now the scene changes: The Witnesses are – to all appearances – defeated and destroyed. When they have finished their testimony, the Beast that comes up out of the Abyss will make war with them, and overcome and kill them. This is the first mention of the Beast in this book, but St. John certainly seems to expect his readers to understand his reference. Indeed, the Beast theme is a familiar one in Biblical history. In the beginning we are told of how Adam and Eve refused to become “gods” through submission to God,[7] and sought autonomous and ultimate godhood instead. By submitting to a beast (the Serpent) they themselves became “beasts” instead of gods, with the Beast’s mark of rebellion displayed on their foreheads (Gen. 3:19); even in redemption they remained clothed with the skins of beasts (Gen. 3:21).[8] A later picture of the Fall is displayed in the fall of Nebuchadnezzar, who was, like Adam, “the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength, and the glory” (Dan. 2:37). Yet, through pride, through seeking autonomous godhood, he was judged: “And he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws” (Dan. 4:33). Man’s rebellion against God is also imaged by the beasts’ rebellion against man; thus the wicked persecutors of Christ at the crucifixion are called “dogs” and “bulls of Bashan,” and are likened to “a ravening and roaring lion” (Ps. 22:12-13, 16).

Another image of the ”beastliness” of rebellion was contained in the Old Covenant sacrificial/dietary requirements against “unclean” animals, as James Jordan observes: “All unclean animals resemble the serpent in three ways. They eat ‘dirt’ (rotting carrion, manure, garbage). They move in contact with ‘dirt’ (crawling on their bellies, fleshy pads of their feet in touch with the ground, no scales to keep their skin from contact with their watery environment). They revolt against human dominion, killing men or other beasts. Under the symbolism of the Old Covenant, such Satanic beasts represent the Satanic nations (Lev. 20:22-26), for animals are ‘images’ of men.[9] To eat Satanic animals, under the Old Covenant, was to ‘eat’ the Satanic lifestyle, to ‘eat’ death and rebellion.”[10]

The enemy of God and the Church is thus always Beast, in its various historical manifestations. The prophets often spoke of pagan states as terrifying beasts that warred against the Covenant people (Ps. 87:4; 89:10; Isa. 51:9; Dan. 7:3-8, 16-25). All this will be gathered together in St. John’s description of Rome and apostate Israel in Revelation 13. Yet we must remember that these persecuting powers were but the immediate manifestations of the agelong enemy of the Church – the Dragon, who is formally introduced in 12:3,[11] but who was well-known to any Biblically literate person in St. John’s audience. The Christians already knew the ultimate identity of the Beast who arises from the Abyss. It is Leviathan, the Dragon, the Serpent of old, who comes out of his prison in the sea again and again to plague the people of God. The Abyss, the dark, raging Deep, is where Satan and his evil spirits are kept imprisoned except for periodic releases in order to torment men when they commit apostasy.[12] (Note that the legion of evil spirits in the Gadarene demoniac pleaded to be kept out of the Abyss; with divine deception, Jesus sent them into the herd of swine, and the swine rushed headlong into the sea: Luke 8:31-33). The persecution of the Covenant people is never a merely “political” contest, regardless of how evil states attempt to color their wicked actions. It always originates in the pit of hell.

Throughout the history of redemption, the Beast made war against the Church, particularly against its prophetic witnesses. The final example of this in the Old Covenant period is the war of Herod against John the Forerunner, whom he overcame and killed (Mark 6:14-29); and the culmination of this war against the prophets was the murder of Christ, the final Prophet, of whom all the other prophets were images, and whose testimony they bore. Christ was crucified by the collaboration of Roman and Jewish authorities, and this partnership in persecution continued throughout the history of the early Church (see Acts 17:5-8; 1 Thess. 2:14-17).[13]

8-10    The dead bodies of the Old Covenant Witnesses, “from righteous Abel to Zechariah” (Matt. 23:35) lie metaphorically in the street of the Great City which Spiritually [i.e., by the revelation of the Holy Spirit] is called Sodom and Egypt. This City is, of course, Jerusalem; St. John explains that it is where also their Lord was crucified (on Israel as Sodom, see Deut. 29:22-28; 32:32; Isa. 1:10, 21; 3:9; Jer. 23:14; Ezek. 16:46). Commentators are generally unable to find Bible references comparing Israel (or Jerusalem) to Egypt, but this is the old problem of not being able to see the forest for the trees. For the proof is contained in the whole message of the New Testament. Jesus is constantly regarded as the new Moses (Acts 3:20-23; Heb. 3-4), the new Israel (Matt. 2:15), the new Temple (John 1:14; 2:19-21), and in fact a living recapitulation/transcendence of the entire history of the Exodus (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-4).[14] On the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:31), He spoke with Moses and Elijah (another link with this passage), calling His coming death and resurrection in Jerusalem an “Exodus” (the Greek word is exodon). Following from all this is the language of Revelation itself, which speaks of the Egyptian plagues being poured out upon Israel (8:6-12; 16:2-12). The war of the Witnesses with apostate Israel and the pagan states is described in the same terms as the original Exodus from Egypt (cf. also the Cloud and the pillar of fire in 10:1). Jerusalem, the once-holy, now apostate city, has become pagan and perverse, an oppressor of the true Covenant people, joining with the Beast in attacking and killing them. It is Jerusalem that is guilty of the blood of the Old Covenant Witnesses; she is, par excellence, the killer of prophets (Matt. 21:33-43; 23:34-38). In fact, said Jesus, “it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33).

With the death of the Witnesses, their voice of condemnation is silenced; and now those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations regard the Church itself as dead, openly displaying their contempt for God’s people, whose dead bodies lie unburied in the street, under an apparent curse, for they will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb (cf. I Kings 13:20-22; Jer. 8:1-2; 14:16; 16:3-4). The desire for insertion into the Promised Land in death was a central concern to the faithful Witnesses of the Old Covenant, as a pledge of their future resurrection (Gen. 23; 47:29-31; 49:28-33; 50:1-14, 24-26; Ex. 13:19; Josh. 24:32; 1 Sam. 31:7-13; Acts 7:15-16; Heb. 11:22). The oppression of the Kingdom of priests by the heathen was often expressed in these terms:

O God, the nations have invaded Thine inheritance;

They have defiled Thy holy Temple;

They have laid Jerusalem in ruins.

They have given the dead bodies of Thy servants for food to the birds of the heavens,

The flesh of Thy godly ones to the beasts of the earth.

They have poured out their blood like water round about Jerusalem;

And there was no one to bury them. (Ps. 79:1-3)

The irony, however, is that it is now those who dwell on the Land – the Jews themselves (cf. 3:10) – who join with the heathen nations in oppressing the righteous. The apostates of Israel rejoice and make merry; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the Land (cf. Herod’s party, during which John was imprisoned and then beheaded: Matt. 14:3-12). The price of the world’s peace was the annihilation of the prophetic Witness; Israel and the heathen world united in their evil gloating at the destruction of the prophets, whose faithful double witness had tormented the disobedient with conviction of sin, driving them to commit murder (cf. Gen. 4:3-8; 1 John 3:11-12; Acts 7:54-60). Natural enemies were reconciled to each other through their joint participation in the murder of the prophets. This was especially true in their murder of Christ: “Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been at enmity with each other” (Luke 23:12). At Christ’s death all manner of people rejoiced and mocked: the rulers, the priests, the competing religious factions, the Roman soldiers, the servants, the criminals; all joined in celebrating His death (cf. Matt. 27:27-31, 39-44; Mark 15:29-32; Luke 22:63-65; 23:8-12, 35-39); all sided with the Beast against the Lamb (John 19:15). The attempt to destroy the Witnesses seemed to be successful, not only in silencing individual prophets, but in abolishing the Testimony of the Covenant itself. The progressive war against the Word reached its climax with the murder of Christ; this was the ultimate crime that brought on Jerusalem’s destruction. Moses had instructed the people of Israel about the coming Prophet, warning them that they would be cursed if they refused to listen to Him (Deut. 18:15-19); the martyr Stephen quoted this prophecy (Acts 7:37), and concluded:

You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become! (Acts 7:51-52)

For now, the persecutors are victorious, and rejoice for three and a half days. This is no more a literal period than the previous figures of 42 months and 1,260 days. As we have noted, “three and a half” represents a broken seven, a period of sadness and oppression. In each section of Revelation, St. John’s figures harmonize with each other: The Seal-judgments are in fourths, the Trumpet-judgments are in thirds, and the numbers in chapters 11-13 correspond to three and a half (42 months and 1,260 days both equal three and a half years). St. John’s poetic symmetry continues this symbolism: The days during which the righteous are oppressed, their bodies abused, are a three-and-a-half, a time of grief when the wicked are triumphant. Yet the evil time is brief, being limited to a mere three and a half days. Thus several lines of imagery converge here; and St. John has kept the period in general agreement with the three days of Christ’s descent into hell. In His death, the entire Covenant community and its Testimony lie dead in the streets of Jerusalem, under the Curse.

11-12 After the three and a half days, the Witnesses are resurrected: The breath of life from God entered into them in the New Creation (cf. Gen. 2:7; Ezek. 37:1-14; John 20:22) and they stood on their feet (cf. Acts 7:55), causing terror and consternation to their enemies. Great fear came upon those who were beholding them (cf. Acts 2:43; 5:5; 19:17; contrast John 7:13; 12:42; 19:38; 20:19), and with good reason: Through the resurrection of Christ, the Church and her Testimony became unstoppable. In union with Christ in His Ascension to glory (Eph. 2:6), they went up to heaven in the Cloud, and their enemies beheld them.[15] The Witnesses did not survive the persecutions; they died. But in Christ’s resurrection they rose to power and dominion that existed not by might, nor by power, but by God’s Spirit, the very breath of life from God. “We are not the lords of history and do not control its outcome, but we have assurance that there is a lord of history and he controls its outcome. We need a theological interpretation of disaster, one that recognizes that God acts in such events as captivities, defeats, and crucifixions. The Bible can be interpreted as a string of God’s triumphs disguised as disasters.”[16]

St. John draws an important parallel here that should not be missed, for it is close to the heart of the passage’s meaning. The ascension of the Witnesses is described in the same language as that of St. John’s own ascension:

4:1 After these things 1looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first Voice which I had heard, like a trumpet speaking with me, saying: Come up here….

11:11-12 And after the three and a half days… they heard a loud Voice from heaven saying to them: Come up here….

The story of the Two Witnesses is therefore the story of the witnessing Church, which has received the divine command to Come up here and has ascended with Christ into the Cloud of heaven, to the Throne (Eph. 1:20-22; 2:6; Heb. 12:22-24): She now possesses an imperial grant to exercise rule over the ends of the earth, discipling the nations to the obedience of faith (Matt. 28:18-20; Rom. 1:5).

13-14 One of the results of Christ’s ascension, as He foretold, would be the crack of doom for apostate Israel, the shaking of heaven and earth. Scripture connects as one theological Event – the Advent – Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, the outpouring of His Spirit upon the Church in A.D. 30, and the outpouring of His wrath upon Israel in the Holocaust of A.D. 66-70: Thus in that Day there was a great earthquake (cf. Rev. 6:12; Ezek. 38:19-20; Hag. 2:6-7; Zech. 14:5; Matt. 27:51-53; Heb. 12:26-28). Because the triumph of Christ meant the defeat of His enemies, a tenth of the City fell. Actually, the whole City of Jerusalem fell in A.D. 70; but, as we have seen, the Trumpet-judgments do not yet reach the final end of Jerusalem, but (apparently) go only as far as the first siege of Jerusalem, under Cestius. In conformity to the nature of the Trumpet as an alarm, God’s taking a “tithe” of Jerusalem in the first siege was a warning to the City.

For clearly symbolic, Biblical-theological reasons, St. John tells us that seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake. Ultimately, the Earth-and-Heavenquake brought by the New Covenant killed many more than seven thousand. But the number represents the exact reverse of the situation in Elijah’s day. In 1 Kings 19:18, God told Elijah that 7,000 in Israel remained faithful to the covenant. Even then, it was most likely a symbolic number, indicating completeness (seven) multiplied by many (one thousand). In other words, Elijah should not be discouraged, for he was not alone. God’s righteous elect were numerous, and the whole number was present and accounted for. On the other hand, however, they were in the minority. But now, in the New Covenant, the situation is reversed. The latter-day Elijahs, the faithful witnesses in the Church, are not to be dismayed when it seems as if God is destroying all Israel, and the faithful are few in number. For this time it is the apostates, the Baal-worshipers, who are the “seven thousand in Israel.” The tables have been turned. In the Old Testament, only “7000” faithful existed; in the New Testament, only “7000” are wicked. They are destroyed, and the rest – the overwhelming majority – are converted and saved: The rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven – Biblical language for conversion and belief (cf. Josh. 7:19; Isa. 26:9; 42:12; Jer. 13:16; Matt. 5:16; Luke 17:15-19; 18:43; 1 Pet. 2:12; Rev. 14:7; 15:4; 16:9; 19:7; 21:24). The tendency in the New Covenant age is judgment unto salvation.

St. John closes the section of the Sixth Trumpet with these words: The Second Woe is past; behold, the Third Woe is coming quickly. St. John does not tell us explicitly when the Third Woe arrives. Since the First and Second Woes refer to the warnings Israel received in the full-scale demonic attack on the Land (9:1-12) and in the first Roman invasion under Cestius (9:13-20, it is possible to take the Third Woe as the Fall of Jerusalem itself; six Woes (in three pairs) are listed in rapid succession in 18:10, 16, 19. It is more in keeping with St. John’s literary structuring, however, to see the Third Woe as a consequence of the Seventh Trumpet (just as the First and Second Woes correspond to the Fifth and Sixth Trumpets: cf. 8:13; 9:12); the Woe is declared in 12:12, after Michael’s defeat of the Dragon, and continues through the end of Chapter 14, showing the Dragon’s “great wrath” during his “short time” of dominance.

The Seventh Trumpet (11:15-19)

  1. And the seventh angel sounded; and there arose loud voices in heaven, saying,

The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.

  1. And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God,
  2. saying,

We give Thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who art and who wast, because Thou hast taken Thy great power and hast begun to reign.

  1.             And the nations were enraged, and Thy rage came, and the time
    came for the dead to be vindicated, and the time to give their
    reward to Thy servants the prophets and to the saints and to
    those who fear Thy name, the small and the great, and to
    destroy those who destroy the Land.
  2. And the Temple of God in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His Temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.

15       In conformity with the Biblical pattern uniting the ideas of sabbath and consummation, the Trumpet of the seventh angel announces that “the Mystery of God” has been fulfilled and accomplished (cf. 10:6-7). At this point in history God’s plan is made apparent: He has placed Jews and Gentiles on equal footing in the Covenant. The destruction of apostate Israel and the Temple revealed that God had created a new nation, a new Temple, as Jesus had prophesied to the Jewish leaders: “Therefore I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it” (Matt. 21:43). Later, Jesus told his disciples what would be the effect of the destruction of Jerusalem: ”At that time will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven” (Matt. 24:30). Marcellus Kik explains: “The judgment upon Jerusalem was the sign of the fact that the Son of man was reigning in heaven. There has been misunderstanding due to the reading of this verse, as some have thought it “to be ‘a sign in heaven.’ But this is not what the verse says; it says the sign of the Son of Man in heaven. The phrase ‘in heaven’ defines the locality of the Son of Man and not of the sign. A sign was not to appear in the heavens, but the destruction of Jerusalem was to indicate the rule of the Son of Man in heaven.”[17]

Kik continues: “The apostle Paul states in the eleventh chapter of Romans that the fall of the Jews was a blessing to the rest of the world. He speaks of it as the enriching of the Gentiles and the reconciling of the world. The catastrophe of Jerusalem really signalized the beginning of a new and world-wide kingdom, marking the full separation of the Christian Church from legalistic Judaism. The whole system of worship, so closely associated with Jerusalem and the Temple, received, as it were, a death blow from God himself. God was now through with the Old Covenant made at Sinai: holding full sway was the sign of the New Covenant.”[18]

Thus the Kingdom of God, the “Fifth Kingdom” prophesied in Daniel 2, becomes universalized, as the heavenly choir sings: The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever. The final dissociation of Christianity from Judaism means that it is now a worldwide religion. The Kingdom of Christ now begins the process of encompassing and enveloping all kingdoms of the world. The earth will be regenerated. This became clear with the fall of Jerusalem, the sign that Christ had indeed ascended to His heavenly throne and was ruling the nations, pouring out wrath and tribulation upon His enemies at the request of His praying Church. The Roman armies who annihilated Jerusalem, massacring and enslaving its inhabitants, were His armies (Dan. 9:26), fulfilling His Word (Deut. 28:49-68).


In terms of the Biblical calendar, the “seventh trumpet” was sounded on Tishri 1, the first day of the seventh month in the liturgical year, and of the first month in the civil year: Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Trumpets. Ernest L. Martin has pointed out a number of interesting aspects of the Day of Trumpets that bear directly on the significance of the Seventh Trumpet in Revelation: “Before the period of the Exodus in the time of Moses, this was the day which apparently began the biblical year. It also looks like this was the day when many people were advanced one year of life – no matter at what month of the year they were actually born. Notice that the patriarch Noah became 601 years of age ‘in the first month [Tishri], the first day of the month [later to be called the Day of Trumpets]’ (Gen. 8:13). That was the very day when ‘Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and, behold, the face of the ground was dry’ (v. 13). This was not only Noah’s official birthday, it became a new birth for the earth as well…. Even the first day of creation mentioned in Genesis 1:1-5 could be reckoned to this very day…. Since the Autumn apparently commenced all biblical years before the Exodus, and since all the fruit was on the trees ready for Adam and Eve to eat (Gen. 1:29; 2:9,16-17), it suggests that… the first day of creation mentioned in Genesis was also the first of Tishri (at least Moses no doubt intended to give that impression). This means that not only the birthday of the new earth in Noah’s day was what later became the Day of Trumpets, but it

was also the day which ushered in the original creation of the earth.

“…. The majority opinion of Jewish elders (which still dominates the services of the synagogues) was that the Day of Trumpets was the memorial day that commemorated the beginning of the world. Authorized opinion prevailed that the first of Tishri was the first day of Genesis 1:1-5. It ‘came to be regarded as the birthday of the world’ (M’Clintock & Strong, Cyclopaedia, vol. X, p. 568). It was even more than an anniversary of the physical creation. ‘Judaism regards New Year’s Day not merely as an anniversary of creation, but – more importantly – as a renewal of it. This is when the world is reborn’ (Theodor H. Gaster, Festivals of the Jewish Year, p. 109)….

“Each of the Jewish months was officially introduced by the blowing of trumpets (Num. 10:10). Since the festival year (in which all the Mosaic festivals were found) was seven months long, the last month (Tishri) was the last month for a trumpet introduction. This is one of the reasons that the day was called ‘the Day of trumpets.’ The ‘last trump’ in the series was always sounded on this day – so, it was the final trumpets’ day (Lev. 23:24; Num. 29:1).

“This was the exact day that many of the ancient kings and rulers of Judah reckoned as their inauguration day of rule… Indeed, it was customary that the final ceremony in the coronation of kings was the blowing of trumpets. For Solomon: ‘Blow ye the trumpet, and say, God save king Solomon’ (l Kings 1:34). For Jehu: ‘They blew with the trumpets, saying, Jehu is king’ (2 Kings 9:13). At the enthronement of Jehoash: ‘The people of the land rejoiced, and blew with trumpets’ (2 Kings 11:14).”[19]

  1. D. Goulder summarizes the significance of Rosh Hashanah: “New Year is the Jewish equivalent of the Christian Advent: it combines joy at the thought of the ultimate coming of God’s reign with penitence at the thought of the judgment which that reign will bring. It is marked by the blowing of the Shofar (Lev. 23:24), to proclaim the day (kēryxate, Joel 2:15); and by three proper benedictions, the Malkuyot, the Zikronot, and the Shofarot. Each of these comprises ten verses from Scripture: the first on the kingship of God, looking forward to his ultimate reign (e.g. Zech. 14:9); the second on God’s remembering of men’s deeds to judge or reward, and his remembering of his covenant; the third on the blowing of the Shofar, from Sinai to the last trumpet which shall gather the dispersion to Jerusalem.”[20]

All this would naturally be in the minds of St. John and his first-century audience at the mention of the great Seventh Trumpet. Now, he adds a new dimension of symbolism, by showing the Christian significance of Rosh Hashanah, that to which it had always pointed: The Day of Trumpets is the Beginning of the New World, the New Creation, the coronation-day of the King of kings, when He is enthroned as supreme Judge over the whole world. In fact, as we will see in Chapter 12, the significance of Tishri 1 is regarded by St. John – theologically, if not “actually” – as the birthday of Jesus Christ. For now, however, he presents it as the Birthday of the New Creation, the fruit of the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ and His saints.

16-18 The choral declaration of Christ’s universal Lordship and the worldwide triumph of His kingdom is joined by the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God. (Note the architectural reference: The characteristic posture of the teacher/ruler in the New Testament is enthronement; Jesus stood up to read the Scriptures, and sat down to teach, Luke 4:16, 20.) These elders fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: We give Thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty. The verb for give thanks is eucharisteō, used throughout Christian history for the Communion of the Lord’s Body and Blood: The Eucharist. This term acquires its technical meaning very early (cf. Didache 9-10), based on its usage in the New Testament accounts of the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26-27; Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:17, 19; 1 Cor. 11:24). We would be blind indeed not to see it here. For St. John has shown us that the pattern of God’s redemptive action in history is the same as that acted out on every Lord’s Day: The Church, having died and resurrected in Christ (v. 7-11), ascends amid cosmic judgments to heaven at the divine command (v. 12-14). Surrounded by the heavenly host singing praises (v. 15), the Elders fall down before God’s majesty, proclaiming: Eucharistoumen! We give Thanks! (v. 16-17).

The Elders continue the service with a confession of faith, praising the Lord for the inauguration of His Kingdom: Thou hast taken Thy great power and hast begun to reign. It was Christ the Lord who was stirring up the nations of the Roman Empire to do battle against Israel, for Israel had persecuted and slaughtered His saints. Thus the nations were enraged, and Thy rage came, and apostate, persecuting Jerusalem suffers the brunt of both; and the time came for the dead to be vindicated, and the time to give their reward to Thy servants the prophets and to the saints and to those who fear Thy name, the small and the great. This is just a rephrasing of Christ’s statement to Jerusalem in His last public discourse: “That upon you may fall all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the Temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:35-36). God’s servants the prophets (equivalent terms in Revelation: see 1:1; 10:7; 16:6; 18:24; 19:2, 10; cf. Dan. 9:6, 10; Amos 3:7; Zech. 1:6) would be vindicated and rewarded in the coming judgment – not the final judgment at the Last Day, but rather the historical vindication and avenging of the martyred saints, those who had suffered at the hands of ungodly Israel, as Jesus had foretold.[21] Just prior to the fall of Israel, the Apostle Paul had written of the Jews, who were constantly persecuting the Christians, that “wrath has come upon them to the utmost” (1 Thess. 2:16). Now, St. John’s glimpse into the near future shows that as God’s pent-up rage fell in all its fury, the Church rejoiced. Echoing the familiar theme of expulsion from Eden, the song closes with the observation that the destruction of Israel served to destroy those who destroy the Land (cf. Lev. 18:24-30).

19       Here is summed up the theological significance of the fall of Israel: It meant that the Temple of God in heaven was opened (Matt. 27:51; Eph. 2:19-22; Heb. 8:1-6; 9:8). The earthly Temple is gone, and now only the true Temple remains. God’s Temple is revealed to be the Church; and now the ark of His covenant appeared in His Temple, as God’s indwelling presence is manifested there (Eph. 2:22). Technically, a “saint” is someone who has access to the sanctuary, someone with sanctuary privileges. In the New Covenant, we are all saints; we all have access to the Throne (Heb. 4:16; 10:19-25), having ascended in Christ (definitively in His Ascension, progressively each Lord’s Day in worship). In the Old Covenant, the Ten Commandments were “hidden” in the Sanctuary, and no one was allowed in (although God’s revelation was published provisionally by Moses). But now, in the New Covenant, the Mystery has been openly published, and man in Christ has access. With the sounding of the Seventh Trumpet the revelation is complete and definitive; the Mystery is no longer mysterious. St. Paul commended the saints of Rome “to Him who is able to establish you according to my Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the Mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25-26).

For this reason all the meteorological phenomena that had been associated with the Cloud in the Old Covenant revelation (cf. Ps. 18) are now spoken of by St. John in relation to the Church: There were flashes of lightning and voices and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm. In the Church of Jesus Christ the door of heaven has opened up to us. Our sanctification is by means of the Church, through its ministry and sacraments, as St. Irenaeus wrote: “We receive our faith from the Church and keep it safe; and it is as it were a precious deposit stored in a fine vessel, ever renewing its vitality through the Spirit of God, and causing the renewal of the vessel in which it is stored. For this gift of God has been entrusted to the Church, as the breath of life to created man, to the end that all members by receiving it should be made alive. And herein has been bestowed upon us our means of communion with Christ, namely the Holy Spirit, the pledge of immortality, the strengthening of our faith, the ladder by which we ascend to God. For the Apostle says, ‘God has set up in the Church Apostles, prophets, teachers’ [1 Cor. 12:28] and all the other means of the Spirit’s working. But they have no share in this Spirit who do not join in the activity of the Church…. For where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and every kind of grace. The Spirit is truth. Therefore those who have no share in the Spirit are not nourished and given life at their mother’s breast; nor do they enjoy the sparkling fountain that issues from the body of Christ.”[22]

The early Christians who first read the Book of Revelation, especially those of a Jewish background, had to understand that the destruction of Jerusalem would not mean the end of covenant or Kingdom. The fall of old Israel was not “the beginning of the end.” Instead, it was the sign that Christ’s worldwide Kingdom had truly begun, that their Lord was ruling the nations from His heavenly throne, and that the eventual conquest of all nations by the armies of Christ was assured. For these humble, suffering believers, the promised age of the Messiah’s rule had arrived. And what they were about to witness in the fall of Israel was the end of the Beginning.

[1] R. J. McKelvey, “Temple,” in J. D. Douglas, ed., The New Bible Dictionary (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., [1962] 1965), p. 1249.

[2] James B. Jordan, “Rebellion, Tyranny, and Dominion in the Book of Genesis,” in Gary North, ed., Tactics of Christian Resistance, Christianity and Civilization No.3 (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1983), p. 42.

[3] For example, Daniel was told: “From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days. How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days!” (Dan. 12:11-12). These numbers are based on the 430-year period of oppression in Egypt (Ex. 12:40) and the 45 years from bondage to the conquest of the Land (Josh. 14:6-10); the symbols indicate that the coming period of oppression, compared to that in Egypt, will be brief (days as opposed to years), but three times as intense (3 x 430 = 1,290). Those who persevere in faith, however, will attain to the 1,335th day of victory and dominion.

[4] St. Matthew probably chose to divide the genealogy into three groups of fourteen to highlight the name of David, which has a numerical value of 14 in Hebrew. David is the central figure in Christ’s genealogy, and Christ is presented throughout Scripture as the greater David (cf. Acts 2:25-36). In order to arrive at this symmetrical arrangement, however, St. Matthew leaves out three generations between Joram and Uzziah in v. 8 (Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah; cf. 2 Kings 8:25; 11:21; 14:1), and counts Jeconiah twice in v. 11-12. Now, St. Matthew was not stupid: He could add figures correctly (he had been a tax collector!); moreover, he knew that the actual genealogies were available to his readers. But he wrote his Gospel to provide a Christology, not chronology. His list is written to expound the “forty-two-ness” of the period leading up to Christ’s advent, and the “fourteen-ness” of Christ Himself – all revealing the Saviour as “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1).

[5] Interestingly, the Roman siege of Jerusalem under Vespasian and Titus did last a literal three and a half years, from 67 to 70. But the main point of the term is its symbolic significance, which is based on its use in the prophets. As in many other cases, God obviously brought about the historical events in a way that harmonizes with the Biblical symbolism He authored.

[6] For some interesting aspects of the number 1,260 and its relationship to the number of the Beast (666), see comments on 13:18.

[7] The Christian doctrine of deification (cf. Ps. 82:6; John 10:34-36; Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 4:13, 24; Heb. 2:10-13; 12:9-10; 2 Pet. 1:4; 1 John 3:2) is generally known in the Western churches by the terms sanctification and glorification, referring to man’s full inheritance of the image of God. This doctrine (which has absolutely nothing in common with pagan realistic theories of the continuity of being, humanistic notions about man’s “spark of divinity,” or Mormon polytheistic fables regarding human evolution into godhood) is universal throughout the writings of the Church Fathers; see, e.g., Georgios I. Mantzaridis, The Deification of Man: St. Gregory Palamas and the Orthodox Tradition, Liadain Sherrard, trans. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984). St. Athanasius wrote: “The Word is not of things created, but rather is Himself their Creator. For therefore He assumed a created human body, that, having renewed it as its Creator, He might deify it in Himself, and thus bring us all into the Kingdom of heaven through our likeness to Him. For man would not have been deified if joined to a creature, or unless the Son were very God; nor would man have been brought into the Father’s presence, unless He had been His natural and true Word who had put on the body. And as we would not have been delivered from sin and the curse, had not the flesh that the Word assumed been by nature human (for we should have had nothing in common with what is alien to us); so too humanity would not have been deified, if the Word who became flesh had not been by nature derived from the Father and true and proper to Him. For therefore the union was of this kind, that He might unite what is man by nature to Him who naturally belonged to the Godhead, that his salvation and deification might be sure” (Orations Against the Arians, ii.70). He put it more succinctly in a famous statement from his classic work On the Incarnation of the Word of God (54): “The Word was made man in order that we might be made gods.”

[8] Representing the restored image of God, the priests were clothed in vegetables (linen) rather than in animals (wool); they were forbidden to wear the skins of beasts, because they produced sweat (Ezek. 44:17-18; cf. Gen. 3:19). On “judicial godhood” and the clothing of Adam and Eve with skins, see James B. Jordan, “Rebellion, Tyranny, and Dominion in the Book of Genesis,” in Gary North, ed., Christianity and Civilization 3 (1983): Tactics of Christian Resistance, pp. 43-47.

[9] Cf. Prov. 6:6; 26:11; 30:15, 19, 24-31; Dan. 5:21; Ex. 13:2, 13.

[10] James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), p. 122.

[11] Closely related to the Biblical doctrine of the Beast is the Bible’s “dinosaur theology”; for this, see my comments on 12:3.

[12] See above on 9:1-6.

[13] The Beast’s attempt to erase the testimony of God’s witnesses eventually led to its attack on the land of Israel, the birthplace of the Church; Titus supposed that he could destroy Christianity by destroying the Temple in A.D. 70 (see on 17:14). The central religious motive behind the Roman war against the Jews was its deeply rooted hatred for the Christian Church.

[14] The evidence is far too extensive to repeat here, but see Meredith G. Kline, The Structure of Biblical Authority (Eerdmans, 2nd ed., 1975), pp. 183-95; see also Robert D. Brinsmead, The Pattern of Redemptive History (Fallbrook, CA: Verdict Publications, 1979), pp. 23-33.

[15] This bears some similarity to Elijah’s experience, with the major difference that it was his friend, and not his enemies, who saw his ascension (2 Kings 2:9-14).

[16] Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction: Christian Faith and Its Confrontation with American Society (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983), p. 304.

[17] Marcellus Kik, An Eschatology of Victory (Nutley, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1970, p. 137. The common rendering in modern versions of the Bible (“then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky”) simply reflects the unbiblical biases of a few translators and editors. The more literal translation in the King James Version is what the Greek text says. Cf. the discussion in Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 97-105.

[18] Ibid., p. 138.

[19] Ernest L. Martin, The Birth of Christ Recalculated (Pasadena: Foundation for Biblical Research, second ed., 1980), pp. 155ff.

[20] M. D. Goulder, The Evangelists’ Calendar: A Lectionary Explanation of the Development of Scripture (London: SPCK, 1978), pp. 245f.

[21] The word judgment, when used of God’s people, generally signifies vindication and vengeance on their behalf (see 1 Sam. 24:15; 2 Sam. 18:19,31; Ps. 10:18; 26:1; 43:1; Isa. 1:17; Heb. 10:30-39).

[22] St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, iii.xxiv.1; translation by Henry Bettenson, ed., The Early Christian Fathers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956, 1969), p. 83.