Revelation 10:8-11:14. 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.
The edible scroll recalls the ministry of Ezekiel, which began with a vision of God similar to that at the beginning of John’s prophecy. Following the vision Ezekiel was given a scroll with words of lamentation and woe written on both sides. Having eaten it, he had to prophesy to the house of Israel concerning their immediate future. Here John has to prophesy about Gentile peoples and kings, concerning a time much later in history.
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 temple and city, measuring as he went. In this way the angel emphasised that a physical temple and city would arise again after the foretold destruction. God would set his throne there, and he 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 in AD 70, the vision seen by Ezekiel will yet come to pass.
In the rebuilt Temple, the colonnade surrounding the complex was the ‘Court of the Gentiles’. Non-Jews were allowed thus far onto the holy site but no further. In the Letter to the Hebrews, describing the original design, the distinction is 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 redeemed people of God, the new Jerusalem, with God in their midst (Rev 21:2). Beyond the holy city, spiritually speaking, is the Gentile city. The nations about whom John has just been told to prophesy will persecute the saints who are the new Jerusalem for 42 months.
Whether they will also occupy the physical holy city during this time is unclear from this passage. Jesus prophesied that after the Jews had fallen by the edge of the sword and been led captive among the nations, Jerusalem would be ‘trodden by the nations until the times of the nations are fulfilled’ (Luke 21:24). He was presaging the Jews’ revolt against the Romans in AD 70: many were slaughtered, most of the remainder were sold as slaves and Jerusalem was devastated. Thereafter it was occupied and ruled by non-Jews until 1967 when the new state of Israel defeated its Arab neighbours in war and took back the city. However, some 35% of the population remains Arab, and therefore 1967 cannot be taken as 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 – as it did in the reign of Hezekiah – before the Messiah returns is clear from many Old Testament prophecies:
The Jews were expelled from their land because they had rejected their Messiah. They have still not accepted their Messiah, 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 their 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 so-called 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. The occupation will last ‘a time, times, and half a time’, possibly the 1335 days referred to at the end of the book of Daniel.
The olive trees and lampstands recall the one lampstand and two olive trees that Zechariah saw after seeming to awake from sleep. The lampstand had the same design as the gold menorah with seven lamps that Moses was instructed to fashion for the Tabernacle (Ex 25:31-40), the tent of meeting or (as translated in the Septuagint and Acts 7:44) tent of witness. 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 because of the oil that flows from the Father and the Son, the Church is also the light of the world (Matt 5:14). So, in the opening part of Revelation, John sees Jesus among the seven gold lampstands of the seven churches. Christians must have oil in their lamp if they are to shine.
Witnessing to who he was, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus when he was transfigured, when his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light (Matt 17:2). Jesus told his disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until after he had risen from the dead. Somewhat perplexed, they asked him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He confirmed the scribes’ understanding. “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 in the spirit and power of that prophet (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 Moses and Elijah. They will restore Jerusalem much 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 carved image – for there is only one image of God. They will reconcile fathers to their children. They will warn that the Messiah is coming to clear his threshing floor, to gather the wheat into his barn and to burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17). Moses, a prophet as well as a law-giver, foreshadowed a greater prophet. God had told him, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among your brothers.” Yeshua, they will point out, was like Moses in many ways. In response, many among their listeners ‘shall 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).
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.
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. Messianic Jews, 13:7) and those who hold to the testimony of Jesus (Christians beyond Palestine who reinforce the testimony of the two witnesses, 12:17). They, people filled with the Holy Spirit, are the ‘holy city’, rather than physical buildings. What they have been proclaiming is a torment to the inhabitants of the 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). It is the city outside the holy city (22:15), called ‘Sodom’ because of its homosexuality and ‘Egypt’ because of its idol worship and its 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, eleven 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). In whole or in part, this is the ‘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).
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)
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 three 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.
Despite countless funeral sermons to the contrary, the Bible does not teach that believers on death immediately go to heaven. 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 Israel’s saints 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).
The demons released at the fifth trumpet blast, tormenting those who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads (9:1-12), are the first woe. The second woe comes with the sixth trumpet blast: two hundred million demonic horses that somehow, by fire and smoke and sulphur, kill a third of mankind. The third woe comes with the seventh and last trumpet.