Revelation 10-11. Gentiles 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.
And 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 that was open. 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 own voices. And as the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write, and I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal 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 for ever and ever, who created the 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 will be given, but in the days of the trumpet to be sounded by the seventh angel, fulfilled was the mystery of God, as he announced to his servants the prophets.
When John saw Jesus Christ at the beginning of the book, he hardly recognised him, so terrifyingly different was he from the man he knew in his youth. Here he seems still more distant. 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), his voice like a roaring lion’s (5:5), the reference to his right hand (1:16). Even if one prefers not to identify this 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. If he is not Jesus, then Jesus is non-unique.
Straddling sea and land and swearing by the God who lives for ever, the angel is the same who announced to Daniel that the wonders revealed to him, including his people’s resurrection, would be accomplished once the shattering of their power had come to an end (Dan 12:6f). The cry evokes what Hosea wrote concerning the northern kingdom of Israel (11:10f):
Behind Yahweh they will walk.
He will roar like a lion when he roars.
And 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,
The seven (not mentioned before and, as with the seven spirits, a kind of divine plural rather than successive claps) carry a verbal message, which John hears but is forbidden to disclose. They speak at the same time as the angel roars, and complement what he cries. Possibly their message is not recorded because they relate to the Jews’ resurrection and other things must happen first. As in the gospels, the ‘voice from heaven’ is the voice of God, which can seem like thunder (Ps 18:13, John 12:29).
The mystery of the gospel, which goes back to the creation, is about to be realised. The world’s wise men will continue to assure us that there is no such deity. They will continue to maintain that the universe of two trillion galaxies arose from a ‘singularity’ the size of a pea, that the power to move at will can be reduced to the properties of atoms, that DNA is a program without a programmer and therefore, if we do wonder at the wonders of Nature, we must do so unthinkingly. But God is God, and his purpose will be fulfilled. The unexpected past tense, ‘was fulfilled’, accentuates the inevitability, as if it has already happened. In the Old Testament the word ‘mystery’ occurs only in Daniel, and refers to the king of Babylon’s dream about how all human kingdoms would be terminated by the kingdom of God.
The seventh trumpet is not blown until 11:15. The announcement that time has run out indicates that the three and a half years during which the two witnesses prophesy, encompassed by 10:8-11.14, fall within rather than after the period of the six trumpets. Accordingly, while the second ‘woe’ is clearly that of the sixth trumpet (8:13), the woe is not said to have passed until the end of their prophesying (11:14).
And the voice that I 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 says 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 ate 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 (biblaridion, diminutive of biblion) recalls the ministry of Ezekiel, which began with a vision of the glory of Yahweh similar to that at the beginning of John’s prophecy. After the vision, Yahweh’s hand gave him a scroll filled with words of lamentation and woe; it was sweet as honey in his mouth, though he felt bitterness as he left. The ingesting and digesting of the scroll metaphorically enacted what prophecy was: assimilating and speaking the words of God, then writing them down. That same hand now gives John a scroll.
The allusion to the end of Daniel’s book suggests that the contents are related to what was revealed to Daniel. The book was to remain sealed until the time of the end (Dan 12:4); now it is open. Its subject, the future history of the Jews insofar as it interacts with Gentile peoples and kings, is the ground covered by Revelation 11 and13. John’s role is to open up what has already been written.
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 in it, and leave out the court outside the temple; do not measure it, for it is given over to the nations, and they will tread the holy city for forty-two months.”
The distant future was spoken about in the later part of Ezekiel’s book. He saw ‘a structure like a city’ and within it a temple, including an altar. An angel showed Ezekiel round the temple, and as he went he measured each part, to emphasise in specific, physical terms (as also in Jer 31:38-40 and Zech 2:1-5) that Jerusalem would recover from its destruction. God would set his throne and his habitation there for ever, in the midst of his people. In AD 70 Jerusalem was destroyed again. Despite this apparent negation, John is to understand that the vision seen by Ezekiel will come to pass. Therefore he too is to measure the temple.
As rebuilt by Herod, the Temple precincts were divided into four courts, collectively known as the holy place or area (hagia). The three nearest the Temple were reserved for the priests, Jewish men, and Jewish women. Surrounding them was a court open to the Gentiles. The Temple proper was the sanctuary (naos), which consisted of an outer ‘Holy Place’ (hagia) and, behind a curtain, the inner ‘Holy of Holies’ (hagia hagiωn). The Temple as a whole, courts and sanctuary, was the hieron.
In Revelation, references to the temple are always to the heavenly sanctuary (explicitly at 11.19 and 14:17), whose design the earthly building copied. Just as there is only one altar, there is only one sanctuary, and those redeemed by the blood of Jesus worship there (Heb 10:19-22). In the sense of measuring someone by a standard (II Cor 10:12), they too are measured. The court outside the sanctuary represents the ‘holy city’ (Dan 9:24, Matt 4:5). The nations about whom John has been told to prophesy will occupy Jerusalem for three and a half years, the ‘time, times and half a time’ during which Daniel was told a blaspheming king would oppress the Jews, until his dominion was taken away and the kingdom of God given to them.
Near the end of his ministry Jesus warned there would come a time when the city would be surrounded by armies, and its inhabitants fall by the sword and be led captive out of the land. The encirclement of Jerusalem would be a sign that its devastation or desolation (eremωsis can mean either) was near. These would be ‘days of vengeance, to fulfil all that is written’, following which Jerusalem would be ‘trodden by the nations until the times of the nations’ were fulfilled (Luke 21:24). Was this, as some interpret, a reference to the revolt against the Romans in AD 67-70? Many were slaughtered, others were deported and sold as slaves, and Jerusalem laid waste. In the reign of Hadrian the city was rebuilt, from which time the city was ruled by non-Jews until the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, when Israel became a state and the western part of Jerusalem came under Jewish control. In 1967, following another war, Israel took over the eastern part.
But the interpretation has its problems. For one thing, the Temple Mount continues to be in Muslim hands, and more than a third of the population is Arab: Gentiles still tread the city. Another problem is that Jesus had foretold the events of AD 70 some days earlier, as recorded in a previous chapter (Luke 19:41-44). The passage is part of a longer discourse that parallels the discourse in Matthew 24:1-35, and there the subject is the events leading up to his return. In both gospels the discourses consist of five sections, of which the section about Jerusalem is the third. In Matthew’s account:
“So when you see the abomination of desolation, as spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the Holy Place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the rooftop not go down into the house to take anything out, and the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. Alas for those who are pregnant, and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter, or on a sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been shortened, no flesh would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, those days will be shortened.”
The elect, or chosen, are the Jews. Since the allusion to Daniel would have meant nothing to Gentile readers, Luke omits what Jesus said about the abomination of desolation. Instead, he takes the opportunity to include details omitted by Matthew. Nonetheless, two elements are identical, namely the warning that those living in Judaea should flee to the mountains and the warning that women slowed down by their children would be particularly vulnerable.
‘Vengeance’ (Heb. naqam) is a key word in Old Testament prophecy, and refers primarily to the retribution God will exact on his enemies in the last days (e.g. Deut 32:43, Isa 34:8). ‘Trodden’ (from pateω) is another key word. While it links with ‘trampled’ in Daniel 7:7 and hence with the destruction by the Romans, it also links with the vision in this chapter. Speaking about the end, Zechariah 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, where the verb is katapateω, ‘tread down’). Likewise, ‘times’ verbally links with the ‘time, times and half a time’ in Daniel chapters 7 and 12 and Revelation chapter 12, again referring to the end. For these reasons, it seems better to interpret Luke 21:20-24 as referring to a crisis yet to occur.
Jesus states that the events are to fulfil ‘all that is written’. That the land will be resettled but then 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 Yahweh your God and obey his voice.
Yahweh will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.
Isaiah 9:4f, 14:3f, 30:26, 49:21 (and 24-26), 52:2-5:
For the yoke of his [the nation’s] burden and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every marching boot in the tumult and garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
In the day Yahweh gives you rest from your pain and your turmoil and the hard labour which was force foretold d upon you, you will take up this chant concerning the king of Babylon.
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.
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 Yahweh: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says Yahweh, the Lord: “My people went down at first into Egypt to dwell there, and finally Assyria [Iraq] oppressed them. Now therefore what have I here,” declares Yahweh, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers mock,” declares Yahweh, “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, and 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 Yahweh of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off your neck and burst your bonds, and foreigners will no more enslave 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 were scattered, on a day of cloud and thick darkness. … And they shall know that I am Yahweh, 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 tribulation, such as has never 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 for ever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people had finished, all these things would be finished.
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. 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.
And he will bring peace when Assyria [Iraq] comes into our land and treads in our citadels. And we shall raise against him [the invader] seven shepherds and eight leaders, and they will 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.
Zechariah 9:10, 16, 14:1-3:
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim [northern Israel] and the war horse from Jerusalem. … On that day Yahweh their God will save them.
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.
The Jews were expelled from their land because they had rejected their Messiah (Luke 19:44). They still have not accepted him, even though their return in the years up to and after 1948 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 the land. Indeed, he seems to have denied them control of the Temple Mount precisely to prevent the rebuilding of the Temple before he comes. Moreover, the Palestinians who were living there before them also have land rights. “There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you” (Ex 12:49).
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 Christians and Yazidis, they will sell the Jews into slavery, kill them, rape them, lay their cities waste, and send them out of their land. Western nations will be unwilling or unable to intervene (Isa 63:5).
“And I will give to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” 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, and if anyone would harm them, thus must he be killed. These have authority to shut the heaven, so that no rain falls 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 recall the one lampstand and two olive trees that Zechariah saw after waking from the sleep of his previous vision. In design the lampstand was the same as the gold menorah in the outer part of the Tabernacle, its seven lamps being the seven ‘eyes of the Lord, ranging through all the earth’ (Zech 4:10). But in Revelation there are two lampstands, and like the olive trees they symbolise two prophets. 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.”
The two witnesses are dressed in the garb of mourning (Joel 1:13). The fire issuing from their mouths is metaphorical (cf. Acts 2:3) 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, Pharaoh king of Egypt and Ahab king of Israel. They also stand for the Law and the Prophets, which close with these words:
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, its statutes and judgements, that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the day of Yahweh comes, the great and terrible day. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their sons and the hearts of sons to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Moses and Elijah appeared at at Jesus’s transfiguration to bear witness to who he was. The disciples with him felt drowsy, they were ‘heavy with sleep’, and initially, like the rest of Israel, they did not see his glory (cf. Isa 29:10, Jer 31:26). 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 in his spirit and power (Luke 1:17).
So it will happen that two men will appear in the power and spirit of these two prophets. They will bear witness for the same length of time that Elijah stopped rain from falling in 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 (Zech 4:1, 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 gather the wheat into his barn and burn the chaff with fire. In response, ‘many will purify themselves and be made 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 prophets have power over all parts of the natural world. Like Elijah, they have authority to shut the sky, and like Moses, authority to poison the waters and strike the earth with every kind of plague (I Sam 4:8 confirms the reference to Moses). As in Malachi 4:6, ‘earth’ could mean ‘land’ or the whole planet. The context of the holy city suggests land, for the purpose of the plagues is to bring pressure to bear on the beast. On the other hand, some details suggest that the confrontation is being played out on a bigger, if not global, stage. The possibilities are not mutually exclusive: Elijah may be speaking primarily to Israel, Moses to the Gentiles. Perhaps that is why, at the end of Malachi, only Elijah is mentioned as sent to Israel.
And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the abyss will make war on them and conquer 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. And 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 Satan-inspired individual who leads an alliance of ten national leaders (ch. 13). ‘Make war’ implies a campaign against more than two persons; in parallel occurrences of the phrase the people warred against are ‘the saints’ (the Jews, 13:7) and those who bear witness to Jesus (Christians beyond Palestine who reinforce the testimony of the two prophets). The inhabitants of the earth are those who do not worship in heaven’s temple but consider earth their home (John 3:31). Because they refuse to repent, the prophets call forth torments on them, namely the demons released with the fifth and sixth trumpets, and in retaliation the prophets are killed: the two witnesses in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33) and the Christian witnesses, the 144,000, in the streets of ‘the great city’. Gentile-occupied Jerusalem, where Christ was crucified, is part of the archetypal great city. The city is called ‘Sodom’ because of its pride, complacency and homosexuality (Ezek 16:49f) and ‘Egypt’ because of its idol worship and persecution of the saints. The martyrs are spiritually one body, the body of Christ (Acts 9:5, I Cor 12:13) that lies in the street, singular, of the city, singular. Some will be crucified, as Christians were in first-century Judaea (Matt 23:34) and in Nero’s Rome; some will be beheaded (Rev 20:4). Those who are of the earth rejoice, intoxicated by the blood of the martyrs.
And after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood 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, and seven thousand individuals were killed in the earthquake. And the rest became fearful and gave glory to the God of heaven.
It is not true to state that the biblical writers all counted inclusively, so that Sunday was the third day after Friday. The Greeks and Romans counted inclusively (Luke 9:28, Acts 10:30), the Hebrew writers, along with Jesus himself, non-inclusively, as we do (Matt 17:1, Mark 9:2). Thus the 40.5 years of David’s reign were rounded down to 40 years, not up to 41 (II Sam 5:4f); Jehoiachin’s reign of 3 months 10 days was rounded down to 3 months, not up to 4 (II Ki 24:8, II Chr 36:9). Concerning his own resurrection, Christ 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 I will rise” (Matt 27:64, Mark 9:31). ‘On the third day’ (Matt 27:64, Hos 6:2) therefore means on the third day after his death. When the chronology of Passion Week is reconciled with the days of the week corresponding to them in the calendar, it is apparent that he was crucified on the morning of Thursday 4 April (Gregorian), AD 30, and rose again before dawn on Sunday 7 April. The two and a half days in the grave corresponded to the two and a half years of his ministry, beginning from the jubilee year that began in 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).
Thus here is the greatest and culminating testimony of the witnesses, that just as the testimony of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ continued for three and a half years, so did theirs, and just as the Father raised the Son 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 funeral sermons to the contrary, the Bible does not say that believers go to heaven the moment they die. They are raised corporately, at an appointed day, and nature manifests the event. When Jesus rose from the dead, an earthquake split the rocks, and the saints in Jerusalem rose out of their tombs with him. Now another earthquake shakes Jerusalem, as the martyred witnesses rise. Those not killed by it fear God and give him gloryoffs by repenting (14:7, 16:9). The resurrection of other believers, and subsequently of all Israel, is yet to come.
‘A breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet. The words bring to mind Ezekiel’s description of the day when all Israel will rise:
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, an earthquake, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh came upon them, and skin 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 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)
At last God will fulfil his four-thousand-year-old covenant with Abraham to give to his offspring the land from the Nile to the Euphrates (Gen 15:18), briefly fulfilled under David and Solomon inasmuch as all kings in the region accepted their suzerainty (I Chr 13:5, II Chr 7:8, 9:26). The prophets repeat the promise numerous times, and the psalms express the hope of resurrection numerous times. He will fuse together the tribes of the northern kingdom and southern kingdom to make them one again (Jer 3:18, Ezek 11:14-17, 37:22). He will roar like a lion, heaven and earth will quake (Joel 3:16), 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 land. How can the promise be fulfilled for all generations except by such a resurrection? And what can the reversal of their captivity mean but the reversal of their imprisonment in Sheol (Isa 42:7, 49:9, 52:2), as Paul too foresaw (Rom 11:15)? 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.
‘Breath’, ‘wind’ and ‘spirit’ in Ezekiel’s prophecy are all the same word, ruach, the same word as denotes the Spirit of God (Gen 1:2). Without the spirit which God breathes into a child when he knits the parts together in the womb (Job 10:11, Ps 139:13, Eccl 11:5) the body is lifeless, just as Adam’s body was lifeless. How can any believer assent to the doctrine that there is no such thing as spirit? Rising from the dead, will he be content with the reconstitution of flesh and bones? Are we just atoms obeying the laws of physics?
The resurrection of the martyred prophets in ‘the’ cloud – the cloud of God’s presence (e.g. Ex 24:15, I Ki 8:11) – is a sign to the enslaved and exiled Jews that their forefathers also are about to rise, though the seven bowls of wrath must come first.
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 loud 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 Yahweh on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (Isa 27:13)
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. (Matt 24:31)
This is the call prefigured by the sounding of the trumpet in the year of jubilee, on the day of atonement (Lev 25:9), after the trumpets at the start of the month (Lev 23:24). Liberty was to be proclaimed throughout the land.
“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.” (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 bring them into the land (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. Not that the Law will be abrogated, but that he will give them of his Spirit and write his Law on their hearts (Deut 30:6, Jer 31:31-34).
In polytheistic societies the title ‘God of heaven’ commonly designated the supreme deity whose throne was in heaven, father of the pantheon. He was worshipped as such in Uruk (the ‘Erech’ of Gen 10:10) before a priestess called Inana took over his temple and granted Nimrod kingship as if on his behalf. Biblical occurrences of the title are therefore mostly where the speaker is a Gentile or speaking to Gentiles (e.g. Dan 2:37). Men on earth finally acknowledge his existence.
The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is coming soon.
The demons that emerged from the abyss at the fifth trumpet were the first woe. The second woe came with the sixth trumpet: two hundred million demonic horses that, by fire, smoke and sulphur, killed a third of mankind. The third woe is Jesus Christ. Other references to his coming ‘soon’ are explicit: three times before this allusion (2:5, 2:16, 3:11) and three times after (22:7, 22:12, 22:20).
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 for ever and ever.”
‘Of our Lord and of his Christ’ maintains the distinction between God and his anointed (cf. Rev 12:10, 12:17). The Lord God reigns through his anointed, and he decides ‘the hour, the day, the month and the year’ of his taking up his rule. ‘Loud voice’ occurs nine times before this other of Revelation’s two central statements, and nine times after it. Now, just once, the phrase is plural. The heavens exult.
The seventh angel is the ‘man clothed in linen’ that Ezekiel saw putting a mark on those who grieved over Jerusalem’s abominations. 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, death for another.
There can be only one ruler of the world, and by right it belongs to its Creator. The moment arrives when he asserts that right. There will cease to be disputes over who owns Kashmir, or Tibet, or Crimea, or Zimbabwe, or Northern Ireland. His reign begins with the resurrection, before he pours out his wrath.
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)
These references to the last trumpet are examples of what Paul received by way of visions and revelations in advance of John (II Cor 12:1). The wheat is gathered into his barn. Believers will not escape the drought, the famine, the persecution. But on the last day of the present age those who are dead will join with those who are alive in one great resurrection of the righteous. “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice” (Ps 50:5) – the sacrifice that he provided. The long-awaited Bridegroom has come for his Bride. Left behind are those who did not choose eternal life, who said, “There is no God,” “I am not religious,” “I will consider it some other time.” More are left behind than one might assume, including half-hearted believers (Matt 6:24, Rev 3:16). Trumpets have announced the king’s coming. The gospel has been proclaimed to all. It is now too late to remember what friends had told them, “Flee from the wrath to come.”
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 paying the wages of your servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear your name, the small and the great, and for bringing to corruption the corrupters of the earth.”
‘Prophets’ refers to the 144,000, distinct from ‘saints’. ‘Wages’ (misthos) conveys the idea of an employment contract, though ‘reward’ fits some contexts better (e.g. Matt 5:12). ‘Corrupters of the earth’ brings to mind the state of 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). The ‘dia-’ in diaphtherω intensifies the verb 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 species to extinction. By our sexual promiscuity we have desecrated the image of God. The Lord God is outraged. Therefore he will purge the earth of its desecrators.
And 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 great hail.
The trumpets section is rounded off with a vision similar to that which introduces it (8:3-5): a vision of the temple. But instead of the altar we see the ark of the covenant. At 15:5 we return to the same moment, the opening of the temple to release 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 be greater still in the period of wrath. The earthquake in the earlier vision (8:5) corresponds to the earthquake just before the last trumpet (11:13). This second one (11:19) corresponds to the earthquake when the last bowl of God’s anger is poured out (16:18), hence the reference to ‘great hail’ (linking with 16:21). ‘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. (Ps 97:3-5)
According to II Maccabees, Jeremiah removed the ark from the Temple and hid it in a cave on Mount Nebo just beyond the promised land. It was to remain hidden until, in remembrance of his covenant, God should gather his people and bring them into the land. 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 somewhere, just as its counterpart in heaven still exists, a reminder that God has pledged himself eternally to Israel, the living nation as well as the dead. While the remnant of Israel will not be among the saints taken up to meet the Lord and must live through the tribulation of the wrath yet to come, they will not be abandoned.