Revelation 10-11. Placed between the sixth and the seventh trumpets, this section parallels, both thematically and chronologically, the section about the 144,000 servants of God between the sixth and seventh seals. At the end of the age, Gentile powers will again occupy the land of Israel, while two prophets teach the Jews about their Messiah and testify against the world. After three and a half years they are killed and rise again.
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in cloud, and the rainbow on his head, and his face like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire, and holding in his hand a little scroll, opened. And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. And he cried with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. And as he cried, the seven thunders raised their voices. And as the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have spoken, and do not write it down.” And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and forever, who created heaven and what is in it, the land and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there will be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God was fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.
John’s book is a revelation of Jesus Christ because he appears so different from the person John knew before or even after the resurrection. Although he wrote that ‘we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us’, on seeing him he falls at his feet, as though dead. Here the Son of God seems still more distant, and it is left for us to recognise who he is: by the clothing of cloud (1:7) and rainbow (‘the’ rainbow of 4:3), the sun-like radiance of his face (1:16), the fire below his waist (1:15, Ezek 1:27, 8:5), his voice like a roaring lion’s (5:5), the reference to his right hand (1:16). Even if one prefers not to identify the mighty angel as the Son of God – but why then go into such detail? – it must be acknowledged that he appears very like him, and that John feels his appearance to be of great significance. Similar uncertainty arises in relation to the angel at 14:14 (and indeed 19:9f).
The seven thunders carry a message which can be put into words. While we are not told what it is, the angel’s cry evokes the words of Hosea concerning the northern kingdom of Israel (11:10f):
After Yahweh they will go;
like a lion he will roar.
When he roars,
his sons will come trembling from the west,
they will come trembling like birds from Egypt
and like doves from the land of Assyria,
and I will settle them in their homes, declares Yahweh.
The thunders are his roar. The suppression of their message signifies that God is not going to issue any more warnings. Standing on the sea and land and looking towards heaven, the angel swears by him who created land and sea and has total control over them that the last trumpet is about to sound. The world’s wise men will continue to assure us that there is no such God. They will continue to maintain that the universe with its two trillion galaxies all arose from a singularity the size of a pea, that life is just a complex organisation of matter, and that its wonders are all natural wonders. But God is God, and his purpose will be fulfilled – the unexpected past tense, ‘was fulfilled’, emphasises the suddenness. The mystery revealed to the prophets is his kingdom on earth, which all history has been moving towards.
The seventh trumpet is not blown until 11:15. The announcement that time has run out indicates that the three and a half years in which the two witnesses prophesy, encompassed by 10:8-11.14, do not follow chronologically from the end of chapter 9. Rather, the witnesses prophesy over the same period as the trumpets. Accordingly, while the second ‘woe’ is clearly that of the sixth trumpet, the woe is not said to have passed until the end of their prophesying (11:14).
And the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and said to him, “Give me the little scroll.” And he said to me, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.” And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. And it was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach became bitter. And he says to me, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”
The edible scroll or book (biblion) recalls the ministry of Ezekiel, which began with a vision of God similar to that at the beginning of John’s prophecy. After the vision, God himself – not an angel – gave Ezekiel a scroll with words of lamentation and woe on both sides: the content was bitter, though sweet in the mouth. After eating it, he was to prophesy to the house of Israel concerning their immediate future. The ingesting and digesting of the scroll metaphorically enacted what prophecy was: assimilating the word of God and replicating it on parchment.
John, a Jew, must prophesy about ‘many peoples of foreign speech’ at a much later time. The angel, Jesus himself, utters the same oath as the angel at the end of Daniel’s prophecy (Dan 12:7), suggesting that the scroll here is Daniel’s relatively short book. The book was to remain sealed until the time of the end (Dan 12:4); now it is opened. Its subject is the future history of the Jews insofar as it interacts with Gentile peoples and kings, and Revelation 11-13 draws heavily upon it. John’s role is not to prophesy anything new but to open up what has already been set down.
And I was given a rod like a staff, and told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will tread the holy city for forty-two months.”
The far future was spoken about in the later part of Ezekiel’s book. He saw a new temple in Jerusalem, including an altar for sacrifice. A man-angel showed Ezekiel round the city and temple, and as he went he measured each part, to emphasise in specific, physical terms that the holy city would rise again after its destruction. God would set his throne there, and would dwell with the children of Israel forever. Zechariah had a similar message (Zech 2). John is to understand that, despite the first destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 586 BC and the second destruction in AD 70, the vision seen by Ezekiel will come to pass.
As rebuilt by Herod, the Temple precincts were divided into four courts, collectively known as the ‘Holy Place’ or holy area (hagia). The three nearest the Temple were those reserved for the priests, Jewish men, and Jewish women. Surrounding them was a court open to Gentiles. The Temple proper, the innermost ‘Holy of Holies’ (hagia hagiωn) or sanctuary (naos, the more common term); the Temple as a whole, courts and sanctuary, was the hieron. Although the design barred the nations from coming close to God and only the high priest could enter the sanctuary, Hebrews explains that Jesus entered the sanctuary on behalf of all, so that all could approach God and know him.
In Revelation, references to the ‘Temple’ are always to the heavenly sanctuary, the pattern that the earthly buildings copied. The ‘holy city’ is Jerusalem, whether the present physical city (e.g. Neh 11:1, Matt 4:5) or the future new Jerusalem, the redeemed people of God (Rev 21:2). The future physical Jerusalem will have a temple (Isa 2:2, Ezek 40). Before then, the nations about whom John has just been told to prophesy will occupy the city for three and a half years, the ‘time, times and half a time’ that Daniel was told a blaspheming king would oppress the Jews before his dominion was taken away and the kingdom permanently restored to them.
Near the end of his ministry Jesus said there would come a time when the city would be surrounded by armies, the Jews would fall by the sword and be led out of their land captive, and Jerusalem would be ‘trodden by the nations until the times of the nations are fulfilled’ (Luke 21:24). This prophecy is generally taken to refer to the Jews’ revolt against the Romans in AD 67-70: many were slaughtered, most of the remainder were deported and sold as slaves, and Jerusalem itself was devastated. Thereafter the city was ruled by non-Jews until the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, when Israel became a state and the western part came under Jewish control. In 1967, following another war, Israel took over the eastern part. Some 35% of Jerusalem’s population is still Arab.
But the interpretation is not without its problems. Firstly, Jesus says that the encirclement of Jerusalem will be a sign that its ‘desolation’ has come near. Here he refers to Daniel 9:27, which speaks of one who ‘makes desolate on the wing of abominations’; that person has yet to appear (see the commentary
on that prophecy). Secondly, Jesus says that these will be ‘days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written’. This is a reference to the ‘day of vengeance’ in Isaiah 34:8, 61:2 and 63:4, again referring to the end of the age. The events of AD 70 cannot be said to have fulfilled all that is written, since many prophecies relating to a final three and a half years remain. Lastly, ‘trodden’ verbally links with the vision here in Revelation, and ‘times’ with the ‘time, times and half a time’ of Daniel 7, 12 and Revelation 12, again referring to the end. The fulfilment of those times will be followed by signs in the heavens and the coming of the Son of Man in power and glory (Luke 21:25-27). Zechariah, speaking about the end, says, “I will make Jerusalem a trampled stone for all the nations: every one that tramples on it will continually mock it, and all the nations of the earth will gather against it” (Zech 12:3 LXX, cf. Isa 52:5). Jesus foretold the events of AD 70 earlier, and in other terms: “The days will come on you [Jerusalem] when your enemies will build a rampart around you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and your children in you, and not leave one stone upon another” (Luke 19:41-44), not even the stones of the Temple (Luke 21:6).
That most of the land will come under Gentile occupation before the Messiah returns is clear from many Old Testament prophecies.
Deuteronomy 4:30, 32:36:
When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the last days, you will return to the Lord your God and obey his voice.
The Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees that their power is gone and there is none [to deliver them], bond or free.
Isaiah 9:4f, 30:26, 49:21 (and 24-26), 52:2-5:
For the yoke of his [the nation’s] burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the warrior in battle tumult and garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
Moreover, the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when the Lord binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wound of his blow.
[Prophesying the resurrection of Israel alongside the living:] You will say in your heart: ‘Who has borne me these? I was bereaved and barren, exiled and put away, but who has brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; from where have these come?’
Shake yourself from the dust, arise, take your seat, O Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter of Zion. For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord God: “My people went down at first into Egypt to dwell there, and finally Assyria [Iraq] oppressed them. Now therefore what have I here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers mock,” declares the Lord, “and all day long my name is blasphemed.”
Jeremiah 30:3, 6-8 (and 9-11):
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will reverse the captivity of my people, Israel and Judah, and bring them back to the land I gave their fathers to possess. … Why then do I see every man with his hands on his stomach like a woman in labour? Why has every face turned pale? Alas! That day is so great, there is none like it. It is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it. And it shall come to pass in that day, declares the Lord of hosts, that I will break the yoke from off your neck and burst your bonds, and foreigners will no more make a slave of him.
Ezekiel 34:12, 27:
As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and bring them into their own land. … And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them.
Daniel 7:21f, 25, 12:1, 7:
As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom. … They will be given into his hand for a time, and times, and half a time.
And there will be a period of distress, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people will be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. … And I heard the man clothed in linen, who was above the waters of the river; he raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven and swore by him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when finally the power of the holy people came to be shattered [cf. Deut 32:36], all these things would be finished.
In those days and at that time, when I reverse the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there on account of my people and my heritage Israel, whom they scattered among the nations. Moreover, they divided up my land, they cast lots for my people, and have traded a boy for a prostitute, and have sold a girl for wine to drink.
He will be our peace when Assyria comes into our land and treads in our citadels. Then we will raise against him [the invader] seven shepherds and eight commanders, and they shall shepherd [rule] the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod at its entrances. And he will deliver us from Assyria when he comes into our land and treads within our borders.
Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when your spoil will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city.
Finally, Mark 13:
“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the rooftop not go down into the house or enter his house to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. Alas for women who are pregnant, and for those who have infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no flesh would be saved. But for the sake of the elect whom he chose, he shortened the days.
The Jews were expelled from their land because they had rejected their Messiah (Luke 19:44). They have still not accepted him, even though their return in the years up to 1948, when the land was not a nation-state, cannot be construed as other than providential, and God was clearly with them in the wars of 1967 and 1973. He has therefore not granted them absolute title to their land. Moreover, the present land of Israel is only a fraction of that promised to Abraham, and the Palestinians who were living there before them also have land rights.
The nations and kings that conquer Israel will be a confederation of Muslim nations. As we have seen in the way the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria treated Yazidis and Christians in our own generation, they will sell the Jews into slavery, kill them, rape them, dispossess them and send them out of their land. Western nations will be unwilling or unable to intervene (Isa 62:5).
“And I will commission my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sack- cloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire issues from their mouth and consumes their enemies; if anyone would harm them, thus he must be killed. They have authority to shut the heaven, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophecy, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they will.”
The olive trees and lampstands evoke the one lampstand and two olive trees that Zechariah saw after seeming to wake from sleep. The lampstand had the same design as the gold menorah that Moses was instructed to fashion for the Tabernacle. The olive trees supplied oil to the lampstand. When Zechariah asked what the olive trees were, he was told, “These are the two sons of new oil that stand by the Lord of all the earth.”
In Zechariah, and as foreshadowed in the Tabernacle, the lampstand is Christ himself. He is the light of the world, giving light to everyone (John 1:9). The seven lamps of the lampstand are the seven ‘eyes of the Lord, which range through all the earth’ (Zech 4:10), just as the seven eyes of the Lamb are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth (Rev 5:6). Shining like a lamp in the darkness, the Church too is the light of the world (Matt 5:14) and depends on him for light. Christians must have oil in their lamp if they are to shine.
Described now as both lampstands and olive trees, and dressed in the garb of mourning (Joel 1:13), the two witnesses appear to be individuals rather than churches. The fire that comes from their mouths is metaphorical, but of deadly effect (Acts 5:9). They have power comparable with that of Moses (Ex 7-10) and Elijah (I Ki 17, II Ki 1), God’s representatives in the two great contests with Satan’s representatives, the Pharaoh of Gentile Egypt and Ahab king of Israel. They also represent the Law and the Prophets, which close with these words:
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and judgements that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus at his transfiguration to bear witness to who he was. The disciples who were with him felt drowsy, and initially, like the rest of Israel, they did not see his glory (cf. Zech 4:1, Isa 29:10). He charged them not to tell anyone what they had seen until he had risen from the dead. Perplexed, they asked him, “Do not the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He confirmed Malachi’s prophecy. “Elijah does come first and he will restore all things.” But it was also true that he had already come, in the person of John the Baptist – not that John was a reincarnation of Elijah but that he had come with his spirit and with his power (Luke 1:17). He ‘came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him’ (John 1:7).
So it will happen that two men will appear in the power and spirit of both these witnesses. They will prophesy for the same length of time that Elijah prevented rain from falling on the land during the reign of Ahab (I Ki 17:1, Luke 4:25, Jas 5:17). They will wake the Jews from their sleep and restore Jerusalem as Ezra restored her (Isa 52:1, Dan 9:25), by teaching from what is written (Neh 8:1-8). They will open up the words of the Book of Daniel (Dan 12:9). They will recall the ten commandments of Moses, including the commandment not to bow down before the image of anything or anyone in heaven or on earth; for there is only one image of God. They will point out the large stone which Joshua set up at Shechem (modern Nablus) as a witness of Israel’s renewal of the covenant, before he dismissed them each to his inheritance (Jos 24:26). God had told Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among your brothers.” Yeshua, they will explain, was that prophet. They will warn that the glorified Messiah is coming to clear his threshing floor, to gather the wheat into his barn and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17). In response, ‘many will purify themselves and make themselves white and be refined’ (Dan 12:10). ‘I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy’ (Zech 12:10). Moses himself looked forward to that time (Deut 30:1-10).
The power of the two prophets encompasses every part of creation (10:6): like Elijah, they have authority to shut the sky, and like Moses before Pharaoh, they have authority to poison the waters and strike the earth with every kind of plague (cf. I Sam 4:8). ‘Earth’ could mean ‘land’, i.e. Palestine, or the whole planet. The context of the holy city suggests the former, the purpose of the plagues being to force the beast to let the Jews go. However, some of the later details suggest that the confrontation is being played out on a global stage, so that it is they who control when the natural disasters of the first four trumpets and the scourges of the last two trumpets will happen. The possibilities are not mutually exclusive: Elijah may be speaking primarily to Israel, Moses to the rest of the world. Perhaps that is why, at the end of Malachi, only Elijah is mentioned as sent to Israel, and why Zechariah sees only one lampstand.
And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the abyss will make war on them and overpower them and kill them, and their body will lie in the street of the great city that spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations look at their dead body and refuse to let their bodies be placed in a tomb. And the inhabitants of the earth rejoice over them and make merry and will send presents to one another, because these two prophets tormented the inhabitants of the earth.
The beast is a Satanic alliance of ten national leaders, led by one particular leader (Dan 7:24-25, Rev 13 and 17). ‘Make war’ implies (but cf. 2:16) a campaign against more than two persons, and in parallel occurrences of the phrase the people warred against are ‘the saints’ (i.e. the Jews, 13:7) and those who bear witness to Jesus (Christians beyond Palestine who reinforce the testimony of the two witnesses, 12:17). Since the gospel does not torment – rather, its object is to repentance – it seems that the prophets have themselves called forth torments on those who dwell on the earth, those who regard the earth rather than heaven as their home (John 3:31), because they refused to repent. Comparison with the Exodus narrative shows we should not shy from the idea. It is because of the plagues they are killed: the two witnesses in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33), the Gentile prophets in the streets of ‘the great city’, the megalopolis later explained as symbolising the cities of the nations (Rev 16:19, 17:18). The physical Jerusalem, distinct from the holy city which is above (21:2), is part of the Gentile-occupied great city, where Christ was crucified. It is called ‘Sodom’ because of its homosexuality and ‘Egypt’ because of its idol worship and persecution of the saints. Likewise, the martyrs are spiritually one body, and it is the body of Christ (Acts 9:5, I Cor 10:17, 12:13) that lies in the street, singular, of the city, singular. They suffer as the twelve apostles did, all but one of whom were martyred. Some will be crucified, even as Christians were crucified in the time of Nero. Some will be beheaded (13:10, 20:4). Amidst the general fear and perplexity they will suffer ‘great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now’. Those who are of the earth rejoice, ‘intoxicated by the blood of the saints and by the blood of the witnesses of Jesus’ (17:6).
And after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those watching them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven say to them, “Come up.” And they ascended to heaven in the cloud, while their enemies watched. At that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand individuals were killed in the earthquake, and the rest became afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.
That the biblical writers all counted inclusively, so that Sunday was the third day after Friday, is one of academic theology’s many falsehoods. The Greeks and Romans counted inclusively (Luke 9:28, Acts 10:30); the Hebrew writers counted non-inclusively (Matt 17:1, Mark 9:2), in the same way as we do. In the Old Testament, this is clear from several examples:
In Samuel 5:4f, for example, 40.5 years is rounded down to 40 years, not up to 41, and in II Kings 24:8 the more precise three months ten days of II Chronicles 36:9 is rounded down to three months. Likewise the 11.25 years of Jehoiakim’s reign, from about September 609 to about December 598, is rounded down in II Kings 23:36 to 11 years.
S.J. Robinson, Journal of the Ancient Chronology Forum 5 (1991/92)
Christ himself was explicit: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40). “After three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31). When the chronology of Passion Week is reconciled with the days of the week corresponding to them in the calendar, it is apparent that Christ was crucified on the morning of Thursday 3 April, AD 30, and bodily rose again before dawn on Sunday 7 April. The two and a half days in the grave corresponded to the approximately two and a half years of his ministry (beginning from Luke 4:16 and dated to the 7th month of AD 27, and overlapping with John’s ministry, which began AD 26). “Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course” (Luke 13:32). “On the third day Yahweh will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people” (Ex 19:11).
Thus here is the greatest and culminating testimony of the witnesses, that just as the testimony of John the Baptist and the Lamb continued for three and a half years, so did theirs, and just as the Father raised Christ from the grave after two and a half days, so he raised them after three and a half days, one day for each year of ministry, and just as Christ ascended to heaven in a cloud, while others looked on, so did they. As with the Lamb, in their mouth no deceit was found (Isa 53:9, Rev 14:5).
Despite countless funeral sermons to the contrary, the Bible does not teach that believers go to heaven the moment they die. The dead are raised corporately, at an appointed day, and nature manifests the event. At the time of Jesus’ descent into Hades an earthquake split the rocks and the tombs were opened, and the bodies of the saints in Jerusalem were raised. So here, with the resurrection of the martyrs, there is an earthquake in Jerusalem. Those not killed by it fear God and give him glory: they respond to the gospel and repent (14:7, 15:9).
‘A breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet. The words bring to mind Ezekiel’s description of the resurrection of the whole house of Israel:
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, an earthquake [LXX: seismos], and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man [or Adam], and say to the breath, Thus says Yahweh the Lord: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, a very, very great army.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope [cf. Jer 29:11] is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says Yahweh the Lord: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am Yahweh, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will set you in your own land.” (Ezek 37:7-14)
God at last fulfils his yet-to-be-fulfilled four-thousand-year-old covenant with Abraham, to give to his offspring the land from the wadi of Egypt (close to the present Egyptian/Israeli border) to the river Euphrates (Gen 15:18). The prophets repeat the promise numerous times, and the psalms express the hope of resurrection to the land numerous times. He will fuse together the tribes of the northern kingdom and the tribes of the southern kingdom to make them one again (Jer 3:18, Ezek 37:22). He will roar like a lion, and his sons will come trembling from the west, from Egypt, from Assyria. He will gather the descendants of Israel from among the peoples and bring them back to their own land. How can the promises be fulfilled for all except by the resurrection of the dead? And what can the reversal of their captivity mean but the reversal of the imprisonment of death (Isa 42:7, 52:2, Eph 4:8)? Jews in the Diaspora have lived and died away from the promised land for two and a half millennia; the northern tribes do not even exist as a distinguishable entity. While they lived, they did not receive what was promised, God having foreseen something better for them (Heb 11:40).
‘Breath’, ‘wind’ and ‘spirit’ are all the same word, ruach. Without the spirit which God breathes into a child when he knits the parts together in the womb (Eccl 11:5, Ps 139:13, Job 31:15) the body is lifeless, just as Adam’s body was lifeless (Gen 2:7). How can any believer assent to the doctrine that there is no such thing as spirit? Will he be content, rising from the dead, with the reconstitution of flesh and bones? Are we just atoms obeying the laws of physics?
The resurrection of the prophets is a sign to Israel that their forefathers are also about to rise. As it is written,
He will raise a signal for the nations
and will assemble the outcasts of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
from the four corners of the earth. (Isa 11:12)
In that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria [Israel, the northern kingdom] and those expelled in the land of Egypt [the Jews of the Diaspora, e.g. Jer 44:8] will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (Isa 27:13)
“I will say to the north, Give up,
and to the south, Do not withhold;
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.” (Isa 43:6f)
“The days are coming, says Yahweh, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As Yahweh lives who brought up the children of Israel from the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As Yahweh lives who brought up the children of Israel from the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will return them to their own land, that I gave to their fathers.” (Jer 16:14f)
Note the sense of being raised in the verb ‘brought up’. ‘From the depths of the earth you will bring me up again’ (Ps 71:20). This is not a prophecy about Jews ‘making aliyah’ at their own initiative. The curse being spent, he himself will lead them (Deut 30:3-5). He will make a new covenant with them, different from the covenant which they broke when they first came out of the wilderness. After this second Exodus he will write his law on their hearts (Deut 30:6, Jer 31:31-34).
‘God of heaven’ was the title commonly used in polytheistic societies to designate the father of the gods, the supreme deity whose throne was in heaven (e.g. Ezra 1:2, John 1:9). In the present context the title suggests the God of those who sojourn in heaven. Men on earth now acknowledge his existence.
The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.
The demons released at the fifth trumpet, tormenting those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads, are the first woe. The second woe comes with the sixth trumpet: two hundred million demonic horses that, by fire and smoke and sulphur, kill a third of mankind. The third woe is Jesus Christ, for it is he who comes ‘quickly’ (Rev 2:16, 3:11, 22:7).
And the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become that of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and forever.”
And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God, the Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and reigned. And the nations were wrathful, and your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear your name, the small and the great, and bringing to corruption the corrupters of the earth.”
We may think that we live in a democracy, and that may be so. But ultimately there is only one ruler. Ever since the first Babylon, when man built a stairway down to the underworld and up to heaven to worship angels in exchange for their power, all the kingdoms of the world and their authority and glory have belonged to Satan (Luke 4:5f, Jn 12:31, II Cor 4:4), together comprising one kingdom. We are not in control of our lives, either individually or collectively. We follow the ‘world’, and the world follows him who deceives and hates it.
But the world belongs by right to its Creator, and the moment arrives when he asserts that right. Living and dead, we all must come before his judgement seat (Rom 14:10, II Cor 5:10). His millennial reign begins now, with the resurrection, even before his wrath is poured out on earth. There is no more delay.
The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of archangel and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them. (I Thes 4:16f)
We shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable and the mortal put on immortality. (I Cor 15:51-53)
He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. … Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one left behind. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one left behind. (Matt 24:31, 40f)
Believers will not escape persecution, nor the heat, the drought or the famine. But those who are dead will join those who are left, in one great resurrection of the just:
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)
The Exodus of God’s children is complete. The elect of Israel and Judah and the elect of the Gentiles will have both been gathered (Isa 55:6, John 10:16). The long-awaited Bridegroom has come for his Bride. Left behind are those who have not chosen eternal life, who said, “There is no God,” “I am not religious,” “I will consider it some other time.” The gospel has been proclaimed to all nations. Trumpets have announced the king’s coming. It is now too late to remember what friends had told them, “Flee from the wrath to come.”
The seventh angel is the ‘man clothed in linen’ that Ezekiel saw putting a mark on those who grieved over Jerusalem’s abominations (Ezek 9). Distinct from the other destroying angels, he had a writing case at his waist, apparently to note the names of the mourners in the book of life. Then he took burning coals from under God’s throne and scattered them over the city. The day of the Lord’s judgement was life for one group of people, death for the other.
‘Our Lord and of his Christ’ maintains the distinction between God and his anointed one (also Rev 12:10). But the pronoun that follows is singular: ‘he’ will reign forever. The title ‘Lord God, the Almighty’ refers to them both. They reign as one.
‘Prophets’, distinct from ‘saints’, refers to the 144,000. ‘Corrupters of the earth’ evokes the judgement on the antediluvian world: ‘The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth filled with violence. … All flesh had corrupted its way on the earth’ (Gen 6:11). ‘Corrupt’ translates diaphtherein, the ‘dia-’ acting to intensify the prime word so as to mean ‘corrupt utterly, in every way’. Worshipping idols and abusing the mandate to subdue the earth and have dominion over the animals, we pollute the oceans, destroy rain-forests, burn up the earth’s coal and oil in a few generations, farm animals in concentration camps as if they were not living beings and drive countless animal species to extinction. By our sexual promiscuity we have desecrated the image of God. God is outraged. He will make the earth a desolation and purge it of its desecrators.
Then the temple of God in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen in his temple. And there was lightning, sounds, thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
The trumpets section is rounded off with a vision similar to that immediately before the trumpets (8:5). The temple is opened to reveal the ark of the covenant. The significance of this becomes clearer when, at 15:5, we return to the same point and the opening of the temple releases the angels with the bowls of wrath. The phenomena are effects of geomagnetic storms and meteoroid showers brought on by coronal mass ejections, which will all be intensified in the time of wrath. The earthquake concluding the first vision (8:5) corresponds to the earthquake just before the last trumpet (11:13). This second one (11:19) occurs when the last bowl of God’s anger is poured out (16:18). ‘Great hail’, referring to the hail that follows the second earthquake, is an addition to the list. ‘He will cause his majestic voice to be heard and his descending arm to be seen, in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire, with cloudburst and storm and hail’ (Isa 30:30).
Fire goes before him
and burns up his adversaries all around.
His lightnings light up the world;
the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before Yahweh,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness
and all the peoples see his glory.
All worshippers of images are put to shame
who make their boast in worthless idols. (Ps 97)
According to II Maccabees, Jeremiah removed the ark of the covenant from the Temple and hid it in a cave on Mount Nebo, just beyond the promised land (Deut 32:49). It was to remain hidden until God gathered his people and showed them his mercy. It was therefore not among the booty that Nebuchadrezzar took from the Temple in 586 BC (II Ki 25:14-16). The ark, we may suppose, still exists, just as its counterpart in heaven still exists, a reminder that God has pledged himself to save Israel, the living nation, and bring them back to their land. While they will not be among the saints taken up to meet the Lord, they will not be abandoned.