Revelation 10:8-11:14: at the end of the age prophets in Jerusalem – now in the hands of Gentile nations – confront the world, 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’. They were allowed thus far onto the holy site but no further. In John’s vision of the celestial temple and its court, Gentile nations – those about whom he has just been told to prophesy –occupy the holy city for 42 months. 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.
Jesus prophesied that after the Jews had fallen by the edge of the sword and been led captive among the nations, Jerusalem would be ‘trampled 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. More than a decade after this calamity, John’s vision was a prophecy that Jerusalem would again return to Jewish ownership, as implied by this earlier prediction, but thereafter, for three and a half years, again come under Gentile control. The ‘times of the Gentiles’ were not to end until 1967 when the new state of Israel defeated its Arab neighbours in war and took back the city.
Revelation is not alone in indicating that the land will come under Gentile occupation before the Messiah returns. Consider the following passages:
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, as is also signified by the fact that the present land of Israel is only a fraction of that promised to Abraham. Moreover, 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 lampstand and two olive trees that Zechariah saw after seeming to awake from sleep (Zech 4). 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). 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. 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.”
Witnessing to who he was, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus when he was transfigured. At that time there was some discussion of this passage (Mark 9:9-13). 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 given to Moses, including the commandment not to make any carved image. 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 burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (Luke 3:17). Moses was a prophet as well as a law-giver, and foreshadowed a greater prophet. God had told him, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among your brothers.” Accordingly, they will point out that Yeshua 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).
Just like Moses before Pharaoh, the two prophets have authority to strike the earth with every kind of plague. Their message evidently goes beyond Jerusalem; because of telecommunication, the whole earth knows what they are saying. We now see that 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, Rev 13:7) and the Lamb and his companions (Christians, 17:14). Beyond Palestine, the testimony of the two witnesses is reinforced by those who hold to the testimony of Jesus (12:17). They, the people in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, are the ‘holy city’, rather than physical buildings. What they have been proclaiming – the content of this book of revelation (22:18) – is a torment to the world’s inhabitants. So they are killed, not only in Jerusalem but also in the streets of ‘the great city’ or ‘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. John refers to the ‘body’ of the martyrs, singular, because spiritually they are one body, and it is the body of Christ that lies in the streets (Acts 9:5, I Cor 10:17, 12:13). They follow in the footsteps of the twelve apostles, 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 from translations. 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 world’s unredeemed inhabitants rejoice. Babylon the Great is ‘drunk from the blood of the saints and from 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 and a half days, so he raised them, 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 each 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. A tenth of Jerusalem is destroyed in the earthquake, but 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.