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 was 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 on the land, and he cried with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. And as he cried, the seven thunders also gave voice. 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 would be given, but in the days of the trumpet to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would also have been fulfilled, 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 Jesus seems even more distant. It is left for us to recognise who he is, by the enveloping cloud (1:7), ‘the’ rainbow (an attribute of the throne of God, 4:3), the sun-like radiance of his face (1:16), the fire extending even to his feet (as in Ezekiel’s vision), his voice like a roaring lion’s (5:5). The details are not incidental: they allude to the phenomena that will precede and accompany his appearance when he comes down from heaven ‘with a shout of command, with voice of archangel and with trumpet of God’. ‘Mighty angel’ (first at 5:2) seems to be another term for archangel.
The continual cry of God’s suffering people was “How long, O Lord?” Straddling sea and land and swearing by the God who lives for ever, this same angel swore to Daniel that all the wonders revealed to him, including the resurrection, would be accomplished when the shattering of their power had come to an end, and now he says, “There will be no more delay.” The text also evokes Hosea’s words concerning the northern kingdom (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 houses,
As with the seven spirits, the seven thunders are a kind of divine plural rather than successive claps. John is forbidden to disclose the message, apparently because time has run out; the six trumpets of warning have passed and he must mentally seal what he has heard. What the angel cries is also not recorded, but he roars along with the thunder, Father and Son together. As in the gospels, the voice from heaven is the voice of God, which can itself seem like thunder (Ps 18:13, John 12:29).
The mystery of God, which goes back to the Creation, is about to be realised. The world’s wise will continue to assure us that there is no Creator. 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. 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 the Messiah. In the New Testament the word is used variously, but ‘mystery of God’ appears only once elsewhere, referring simply to Christ (Col 2:2). ‘Also’ signifies that in the days (plural) during which the seventh trumpet will sound all remaining prophecy will be fulfilled.
The seventh trumpet is not blown until 11:15. The three and a half years during which the two witnesses prophesy, encompassed by 11.1-14, fall within, not after, the period of the trumpets. Accordingly, while the second ‘woe’ is clearly that of the penultimate trumpet (8:13), the woe does not pass until the end of their prophesying.
And the voice that I heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, “Go, take the little 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 up; 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 up. And it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. And 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 small edible scroll (biblaridion, diminutive of biblion) recalls the ministry of Ezekiel, which began with a vision of the divine glory similar to that inaugurating John’s prophecy. After the vision, Yahweh handed him a scroll filled with lamentation and woe; it was sweet as honey in his mouth, but when he rejoined the exiles to whom he had to deliver the message he experienced bitterness. The ingesting and digesting of the scroll metaphorically enacted what prophecy was: assimilating and speaking the words of God, then writing them down. The same hand now gives John a scroll.
Peoples and nations have already been the subject of chapters 6-7. In this third allusion to Genesis 10-11 ‘kings’ is substituted for ‘tribes’, a reminder that God multiplied man’s language in opposition to the first king. Chapter 11 concerns Jerusalem’s occupation by the nations. Chapter 12 speaks of a Jewish king who will rule all nations. Chapter 13 concerns a Gentile king who will exercise authority over every tribe and language and nation in opposition to his yet-to-come Jewish counterpart. Chapters 15-19 concern the judgement of the nations.
And I was given a rod-like reed, and told, “Rise, and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship in it, and exclude the court outside the temple; do not measure it, for it was given to the nations, and they will tread the holy city for forty-two months.”
Ezekiel, in the last part of his book, saw ‘a structure like a city’ and within it the house of God, including an altar. An angel showed him round the building, and as he went he measured each part, to emphasise in specific, physical terms (as in Jer 31:38-40 and Zech 2:1-5) that Jerusalem would recover from its destruction. God would set his throne and habitation there for ever, in the midst of his people. In AD 70 Jerusalem was destroyed a second time. Despite this apparent negation, John is to understand that the vision seen by Ezekiel will come to pass.
As rebuilt by Herod, the Temple precincts were divided into four courts, collectively known as the holy place or area (hagia). The three nearest the Temple were reserved for the priests, for Jewish men, and for Jewish women. Surrounding them was a court open to the Gentiles. The Temple proper, naos, 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 building, was the hieron.
In Revelation, references to the temple are always to the heavenly dwelling. Just as there is only one altar, so there is only one temple, and those redeemed by the blood of Jesus worship there (Heb 10:19-22). Indeed, they are the temple (I Cor 3:16f), and in the sense of measuring someone by a standard (II Cor 10:12), it is they who are measured. The court outside represents the holy city (Dan 9:24) surrounding the earthly temple area. 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 before his dominion was taken away and the kingdom given to them.
Near the end of his ministry Jesus warned that a day would come when the city would be surrounded by armies and Judaea’s 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 remains in Muslim hands, and more than a third of the population is Arab: Gentiles still tread the city. Another is that Jesus had already foretold the events of AD 70 (Luke 19:41-44). The present 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 those in Judaea should flee to the hills. Whoever is on the rooftop must not go down to take anything out of the house, and whoever is in the field must 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.”
Since the reference to Daniel would have meant nothing to Gentile readers, Luke omits what Jesus said about the abomination of desolation. Instead, he fills the section with details omitted by Matthew. Two elements remain identical: the warning that those living in Judaea should flee to the hills and the warning that women slowed down by their children would be particularly vulnerable.
‘Vengeance’ 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 mock it, and all the nations of the earth will gather against it” (Zech 12:3 LXX, where the verb is katapateω, ‘tread down’; also in the Peshitta text). ‘Times of the nations’ verbally links with the ‘time, times and half a time’ in Daniel 7 and 12 and Revelation 12:14, 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.
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 besides Daniel.
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 give comfort to his servants when he sees that their power is gone and there is no one [to help], bondman or free.
Isaiah 9:4f, 14:3f, 30:26, 49:21 (and 24-26), 52:2-5
Be not afraid of Assyria [Iraq] when he strikes you. … For the yoke of his 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 that Yahweh gives you rest from your pain and your turmoil and the hard labour which was forced 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. And now what have I here?” declares Yahweh, “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. Great is that day; there will be none like it. It is a time of distress for Jacob. But he will 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 when he is among his sheep that are scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all the places where they are 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.
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, and cast lots for my people, and have given a boy to prostitution, and sold a girl for wine to drink.
And he will bring peace when Assyria 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, 14:2f
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.
I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city will be taken and the houses plundered and the women raped. And half of the city will go into exile, but the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city.
The Jews were expelled from their land because they had rejected their Messiah (Luke 19:27, 44, 20:16). 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. Moreover, the Palestinians who were living there before them also have land rights. “The one law shall apply to the native and to 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 his previous vision. In design the lampstand was the same as the gold menorah in the outer part of the Tabernacle, whose seven lamps were like the seven ‘eyes of Yahweh, ranging through all the earth’. But in Revelation there are two lampstands, and the prophets themselves are sources of divine light. When Zechariah asked what the olive trees were, he was told, “These are the two sons of 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 but of deadly effect. They have power comparable to 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 were drowsy, ‘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 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 Elijah’s 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). They will call upon the Jews to wake from their sleep (Zech 4:1, Isa 52:1) and give heed to what is written (Isa 8:20). 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, the one whom they pierced. They will warn that the glorified Messiah is coming to gather the wheat into his barn and burn the chaff with fire. They will open up the words of the book of Daniel. In response, many will hear (Isa 29:18) and ‘purify themselves and be made white and be refined’ (Dan 12:9f). They will be gathered up when the other saints are gathered and sit with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the great banquet in heaven. The remainder will find themselves shut out of the kingdom, banished to the darkness about to envelop the earth (Isa 8:22, Matt 8:12).
The prophets have power over all parts of the natural world. Like Elijah, they have authority to cause drought and, like Moses (I Sam 4:8 confirms the allusion), authority to poison the waters and afflict the earth with multiple plagues. 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 bear down on the beast. On the other hand, some details suggest that the confrontation is being played out on a bigger, even global, stage. The possibilities are not mutually exclusive: Elijah may be speaking primarily to Israel, Moses to the Gentiles. That perhaps 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 corpse will lie on 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 corpse and refuse to let their corpses 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 (Rev 13). The inhabitants of the earth are those who do not worship in heaven’s temple but consider earth their home (cf. 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. The beast is powerless to harm or silence the prophets until their testimony is over. ‘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). Their mission accomplished, the two witnesses in Jerusalem (Luke 13:33) and the 144,000 witnesses in the streets of ‘the great city’ are killed. 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 dead on the city’s one street. 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.
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. And 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: “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 6 April, AD 30, and rose again before dawn on Sunday 9 April. The two and a half days in the grave corresponded to the two and a half years of his ministry, beginning from the year that began in the seventh 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” (Luke 13:32).
The two prophets’ coming back to life completes their testimony. Just as the testimony of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ continued for three and a half years, so does theirs. Just as the Father raised the Son from the grave after two and half days, so he raises 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 do they. Their resurrection attests that their testimony is true, for as with the Lamb, in their mouth no deceit is 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, on 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 with him out of their tombs. Another quake shakes Jerusalem as the martyred witnesses rise. Those not killed by it fear God and glorify him by repenting. The resurrection of other believers, and subsequently of all Israel, is yet to come.
The words ‘A breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet’ 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 accepted their suzerainty (I Chr 13:5, II Chr 7:8, 9:26). The prophets repeat the promise numerous times, the psalms express the hope of resurrection numerous times. He will fuse together the tribes of the northern and southern kingdoms 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, and from Assyria. He will gather the descendants of Israel from among the peoples and bring them back to their land, as Moses himself predicted (Deut 30:1-10). How can the promise be fulfilled for all generations except by such a resurrection? And what can the reversal of their captivity mean but 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 as denotes the spirit of God (Gen 1:2). Without the spirit which God breathes into a child as he knits its parts together in the womb (Job 10:11f) the body is lifeless, just as Adam’s body was lifeless. How can any believer assent to the doctrine that spirit is a form of matter? 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 enshrouding the land at this time? – is a sign to the enslaved and exiled Jews that their forefathers also are about to rise, though the bowls of wrath must come first.
He will raise a signal for the nations
and assemble the outcasts of Israel,
and the dispersed of Judah he will gather
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 [Israelites of 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 on the first day 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, Yahweh declares, 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 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 indwell them through his spirit and write his law on their hearts (Deut 30:6, Jer 31:31-34).
In polytheistic societies the title ‘God of heaven’ designated the supreme deity whose throne was in heaven, father of the pantheon. He was worshipped as such in Uruk before the priestess Inana took over his temple and granted Nimrod kingship as though 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 finally acknowledge his existence.
The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is coming soon.
And the seventh angel blew his trumpet. And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
The first woe was the demonic locusts that emerged from the abyss at the fifth trumpet to torment mankind. The second came with the sixth trumpet: two hundred million demonic horses that killed a third of mankind. The third 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). Whoever is left on the earth will wail.
The seventh angel is The seventh angel is like 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 record their names in the book of life. Then he took burning coals from under God’s throne and scattered them over the city. The day of judgement was life for one group, death for another.
‘Of our Lord and of his Christ’ maintains the distinction between God and his anointed (cf. 12:10, 17). But in contrast to vv. 4 and 8, ‘Lord’ here is God; the Lord God reigns through his anointed. ‘Loud voice’ occurs nine times before this second of Revelation’s three central statements, and nine times after it. Now, just once, the phrase is plural. Having been found worthy to receive all kingship, Christ takes up his rule. The heavens exult.
Ultimately there is only one kingdom, 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 shout of command, with voice of archangel and with 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)
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 of the seven trumpets are examples of what Paul received by way of visions and revelations (II Cor 12:1). Believers will not escape the drought, the famine, the persecution, but on the last day of the present age the living will join the dead in one great resurrection of the righteous. “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice” (Ps 50:5) – by the sacrifice 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 sat 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) – we are slaves who will be paid. ‘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’. 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 accumulated 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. God. Enraged, God 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 followed lightning, and sounds, and thunder, and an earthquake, and great hail.
The trumpets section is rounded off with a vision of the temple reminiscent of the vision which introduced it (8:3-5). 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 let out the angels bearing bowls of wrath. The phenomena are effects of geomagnetic storms 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 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 raging 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 those unconvinced by the two witnesses will not be among the saints taken up to meet the Lord and must live through the tribulation yet to come, they will not be abandoned.