Revelation 10-11. At the end of the age, Gentile nations will again occupy the land of Israel, while 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 cried with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. And as he cried, the seven thunders gave utterance. And at the sound of the seven thunders, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up what the seven thunders have said, 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 no more time would pass, but that in the days of the trumpet to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be 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 even 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, 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 have a message which can be put into words, but we are not told what it is. An obvious one is that the world should tremble, for the sounding of the last trumpet is imminent. Standing on the sea and land and looking towards heaven, the angel swears by him who created land and sea and who has total control over them. 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 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 9:21. Rather, the two witnesses prophesy over the same period as the horrors heralded by 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 who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and said, “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. It was as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made 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) evokes 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 – not an angel – gave Ezekiel a scroll with words of lamentation and woe on both sides. Having eaten it, he was to prophesy to the house of Israel – not to ‘many peoples of foreign speech’ – concerning their immediate future. The ingesting and digesting of the scroll was a metaphorical enactment of what prophecy involved: assimilating the word of God and replicating it on parchment.
John, a Jew, must prophesy about Gentile peoples and kings, concerning a much later time. In contrast to his other visions, he must first eat a little scroll. The angel utters the same oath as does the angel at the end of Daniel’s prophecy (Dan 12:7), suggesting that the scroll 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 draw heavily upon it. Thus John’s role is not so much to prophesy new things as 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. A man-angel showed Ezekiel round the city and temple, measuring as he went. In this way the angel emphasised that the holy city would physically rise again after the foretold 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.
In the Temple rebuilt by Herod, the colonnade surrounding the complex was the ‘Court of the Gentiles’. Non-Jews were allowed thus far onto the site but no further. The Letter to the Hebrews, describing the original design, distinguishes between the innermost ‘Holy of Holies’ (agia agiωn) or sanctuary (naos, the more common term) and the ‘Holy Place’ (agia) in front of it (Heb 9:3-4), the latter symbolising the present age (9:9). In the New Testament, references to the ‘Temple’ are usually to the sanctuary. In John’s vision they always are. The celestial temple is the naos and the ‘court’ the agia, in which the nations can approach God and come to know him through the one who has entered the sanctuary on their behalf. The ‘holy city’ is physical Jerusalem (e.g. Neh 11:1, Matt 4:5), but also the people who have been redeemed and have God in their midst, the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:2). Beyond it, spiritually speaking, is the Gentile city. The nations about whom John has just been told to prophesy will persecute the saints for three and a half years, the ‘time, times and half a time’ that Daniel said the Jews would be in the hands of a king that blasphemes.
Whether the nations will occupy the physical Jerusalem during this time is unclear from this passage. Jesus prophesied that after the Jews had fallen by the sword and been led out of their land captive, Jerusalem would be ‘trodden by the nations until the times of the nations are fulfilled’ (Luke 21:24). The Jews revolted against the Romans in AD 67-70: many were slaughtered, most of the remainder were sold as slaves, and Jerusalem 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. However, some 35% of the population remains Arab, so 1967 cannot signify the absolute end of the ordained period. Gentiles continue to tread the streets of Jerusalem.
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 latter [or 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 they are without ruler or leader.
Isaiah 9:4f, 30:26, 49:21 (and 24-26), 52:1-5:
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 tramping warrior in battle tumult and every 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 wounds inflicted by his blow.
[Prophesying the resurrection of Israel alongside the living:] Then 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 and 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: “Earlier, my people went down into Egypt to sojourn there, and lately the Assyrian 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 30:6-8 (and 9-11):
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 when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all 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, times, and half a time.
And there will be a time of trouble, 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, all these things would be finished.
In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes 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 behalf of my people and my heritage Israel, because they have scattered them among the nations and have divided up my land, and have 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 the Assyrian comes into our land and treads in our citadels. Then we will raise against him 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 the Assyrian when he comes into our land and treads within our borders.
Behold, a day is coming for the Lord, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in your midst. For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. Half of the city shall go out 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. 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 Palestinians who were living there before them also have land rights, and the present land of Israel is only a fraction of that promised to Abraham.
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.
“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 sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, 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 with seven lamps that Moses was instructed to fashion for the tent (tabernacle) of meeting (translated ‘tent of witness’ in the Septuagint). 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). So, in the opening part of Revelation, Jesus walks among the seven gold lampstands of the seven churches. Christians must have oil in their lamp if they are to shine.
Described 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) or with that of the man-angels that visited Sodom before its destruction (Gen 19:11, 24, Luke 17:29). They 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. He charged the disciples who were with him not to tell anyone what they had seen until after 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, born of woman, 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). They will restore Jerusalem as Ezra restored her (Dan 9:25), by teaching from what is written (Neh 8:1-8). They will open up the words that have been sealed (Dan 12:9). They will recall the ten commandments of Moses, including the commandment not to make any image of God – for there is only one divine image. They will warn that the 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). God had told Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among your brothers.” Yeshua, they will explain, was like Moses. In response, many among their listeners ‘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).
Like Moses before Pharaoh, the two prophets have authority before the beast to strike the earth with every kind of plague. Because of telecommunication, the whole earth knows what they are saying. It is they who call down the disasters that come upon the world at the blast of the first four trumpets and the supernatural plagues at the blast of the fifth and sixth trumpets. But mankind does not give up worshipping demons and idols. People do not repent of their murders, witchcraft, carnality and thieving.
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 will gaze at their dead body and refuse to let their bodies be placed in a tomb. And the earth’s inhabitants rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the earth’s inhabitants.
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’ suggests 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). They are the ‘holy city’, rather than physical buildings. What they have been proclaiming is a torment to those who dwell on earth – those who regard the earth rather than heaven as their home. So they are killed, not only in Jerusalem but also in the streets of ‘the great city’, Babylon the Great, representing the cities of the nations (16:19). This is the city outside the holy city (22:15), called ‘Sodom’ because of its homosexuality and ‘Egypt’ because of its idol worship and persecution of the saints. Spiritually, the martyrs are one body, singular, and it is the body of Christ that lies in the streets (Acts 9:5, I Cor 10:17, 12:13). 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 – the word ‘also’ should not be omitted. 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’. The earth’s inhabitants 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 who saw them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Ascend here!” And they ascended to heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them. At that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest became afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.
That the biblical writers counted inclusively, so that Sunday was the third day after Friday, is one of academic theology’s many falsehoods. The Romans counted inclusively (Acts 10:30); the biblical writers counted non-inclusively, in the same way as we do. 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 some time 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 (overlapping with John’s, which began AD 26, and beginning from Luke 4:16, dated to the 7th month of AD 27).
Thus here is the greatest and culminating testimony of the two 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 mouths 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, during which a tenth of Jerusalem is destroyed. Those not killed by it fear God and give him glory: they respond to the gospel (14:7).
‘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, a rattling [or an earthquake], 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 the Lord God: 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 is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: 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 the Lord, 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 place 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 his offspring the land from the wadi of Egypt (close to the present Egyptian/Israeli border) to the river Euphrates (Gen 15:18). The promise is repeated by the prophets numerous times, and reciprocally 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 and make the nation one again. 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 except by the resurrection of the dead? 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, because God foresaw something better (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? God forgive us!
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. 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 (Jer 31:31-34).
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 comes with the last trumpet. It is Jesus Christ 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 have 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 was founded, 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). 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.
The world belongs by right to its Creator, and now the moment has come when he asserts that right.
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). He was distinct from the other destroying angels in that he had a writing case at his waist, apparently to note the names of the mourners in the book of life. Having done that, 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, but death for the other.
‘Corrupters of the earth’ evokes the judgement on the antediluvian world: ‘The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. … All flesh had corrupted its way on the earth’ (Gen 6:11). 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. 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 concluding sentence rounds off the section by repeating what was described immediately before the trumpets, but it looks forward to the time 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 first earthquake (singular, 8:5) corresponded 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.
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)
The ark of the covenant seen in heaven is a reminder that God has pledged himself to save Israel, the living nation. While they are not among the saints taken up to meet the Lord, they are not abandoned.