Revelation 10-11. Placed between the sixth and the seventh trumpets, this section parallels, both thematically and chronologically, the section about the 144,000 servants of God between the sixth and seventh seals. 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.
Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in cloud, and the rainbow on his head, and his face like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire, and holding in his hand, open, a little scroll. 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 voices. And as the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven say, “Seal up 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 heaven and what is in it, the land and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there will be no more delay, but in the days of the trumpet to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God was also fulfilled, as he announced to his servants the prophets.
When John saw Jesus Christ at the beginning of the book, he hardly recognised him. The Jesus he saw was so terrifying, and so different from the one he knew in his youth, that he fell at his feet as if dead. 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. Similar uncertainty arises in relation to the angel at 14:14.
The seven thunders carry a verbal message. Although we are not told what it is, the angel’s cry evokes what Hosea said concerning the northern kingdom of Israel (11:10f):
Behind Yahweh they will walk.
Like a lion he will roar, 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 thunders are his roar (Job 37:4, Ps 18:3). The suppression of their message signifies that God will not be issuing any more warnings. The angel swears by the one who created all things that the long-hidden mystery of the gospel (Eph 3:9) 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 with its two trillion galaxies arose from a singularity the size of a pea, that consciousness and 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 uncritically. But God is God, and his purpose will be fulfilled. The unexpected past tense, ‘was fulfilled’, accentuates the suddenness and inevitability.
Straddling sea and land and swearing by the God who lives forever, the angel is the same as the one who announced to Daniel that all the wonders revealed to him, including the resurrection of his people, would be accomplished when the shattering of their power came to an end (Dan 12:6f). This is when the mystery of God’s kingdom will be realised.
The seventh trumpet is not blown until 11:15. The announcement that time has run out indicates that the three and a half years in which the two witnesses prophesy, encompassed by 10:8-11.14, do not follow the period of the six trumpets of chapter 9 but rather fall within that period. 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 had 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 (biblion) recalls the ministry of Ezekiel, which began with a vision of God similar to that at the beginning of John’s prophecy. After the vision, personally gave him a scroll filled with words of lamentation and woe: the content was bitter, but in his mouth it was sweet as honey. Having eaten it, Ezekiel prophesied to the house of Israel concerning their immediate future. The ingesting and digesting of the scroll metaphorically enacted what prophecy was: assimilating and speaking the word of God and recording it on parchment.
John, a Jew, must prophesy about ‘many peoples of foreign speech’ at a much later time. The link with the end of Daniel’s prophecy suggests that the scroll here is Daniel’s relatively short book. The book was to remain sealed until the time of the end (Dan 12:4); now it is open. Its subject is the future history of the Jews insofar as it interacts with Gentile peoples and kings, and Revelation 11-13 draws heavily upon it. John’s role is not to prophesy anything new but 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 there, 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 a temple, including an altar for sacrifice. A man-angel showed Ezekiel round the temple, and as he went he measured each part, to emphasise in specific, physical terms that Jerusalem would recover from its destruction in 586 BC. God would set his throne there and dwell with the people of Israel forever. John is to understand that, despite Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70, 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, 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, whose pattern the earthly buildings copied. Just as there is now only one altar, so there is only one sanctuary, and those redeemed by the blood of Jesus worship there (Heb 10:19-22). The court outside the sanctuary represents Jerusalem on earth, the ‘holy city’ (as in Neh 11:1, Matt 4:5). The nations concerning whom John has been told to prophesy will occupy Jerusalem for three and a half years, the ‘time, times and half a time’ for which Daniel was told a blaspheming king would oppress the Jews, until his dominion was taken away and the kingdom given to them.
Near the end of his ministry Jesus said 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 their land. The encirclement of Jerusalem would be a sign that its devastation or desolation (eremωsis means both) 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). He was referring to the revolt against the Romans in AD 67-70. Many were slaughtered, others were deported and sold as slaves, Jerusalem was 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 came under Jewish control. In 1967, following another war, Israel took over the eastern part, except the Temple Mount, which remained in Muslim hands. Some 35% of Jerusalem’s population is still Arab.
‘All that is written’ is possibly a reference to Ezekiel’s prophecy that the city would be besieged and destroyed, once to punish 390 years of iniquity on the part of Israel, and once to punish 40 years of iniquity on the part of Judah (Ezek 4). The second occasion related to the city’s fall at the hand of the Romans. Likewise Zechariah prophesied (13:8f):
In the whole land, declares Yahweh,
two thirds shall be cut off and perish,
and one third be left.
And I will put this third through the fire,
and refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
The two thirds were those who died or were exiled in the Jewish-Roman Wars of AD 67-73 and 132-135; the other third was the Jewish Church.
All that accepted, the interpretation is not without its problems. ‘Vengeance’ (Heb. naqam) is a key word in Old Testament prophecy, and refers primarily to the retribution God would exact on his enemies in the last days; Ezekiel does not apply it to the siege of AD 70. Whatever is meant by ‘all that is written’, many prophecies concerning the final period remain unfulfilled. Jesus had foretold the events of AD 70, moreover, on an earlier occasion (Luke 19:41-44). Was he just repeating the warning (also in Luke 21:6)? ‘Trodden’ (from pateω) is another key word. While it links with ‘trampled’ in Daniel 7:7 (from katapateω) and hence with the destruction by the Romans, it also links with the vision here in Revelation 11. 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). Likewise, ‘times’ verbally links with the ‘time, times and half a time’ in Daniel 7, Daniel 12 and Revelation 12, again referring to the end. Finally, Jesus made a point of saying that women who were pregnant or nursed infants would be particularly likely to suffer. In the parallel account in Matthew and Mark this warning specifically relates to the tribulation immediately before his return. For these reasons, it seems better to interpret Luke 21:20-24 as having a double reference: both to the period AD 70-1967 and to a second occupation of Jerusalem at the end of the age. Both are associated with desolation (Matt 23:38, Matt 24:15).
That the land will come under Gentile occupation before the Messiah returns is clear from many Old Testament prophecies.
Deuteronomy 4:30, 32:36:
When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the 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, 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 warrior’s boot in the tumult and garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
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? Why has every face turned pale? Alas! That day is so great, there is none like it. It is a time of distress for Jacob; yet he shall be saved out of it. And it shall come to pass in that day, declares Yahweh of hosts, that I will break the yoke from off your neck and burst your bonds, and foreigners will no more make a slave of him.
Ezekiel 34:12, 27:
As a shepherd seeks out his flock 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 have been 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 forever 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.
In those days and at that time, 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.
He will be our peace when Assyria [Iraq] comes into our land and treads in our citadels. Then we will raise against him [the invader] seven shepherds and eight leaders, and they shall shepherd [rule] the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod at its entrances. And he will deliver us from Assyria when he comes into our land and treads within our borders.
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.
So it is in the light of these prophecies that we read (Mark 13:14-20):
“But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judaea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the rooftop not go down into the house or enter his house to take anything out, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. Alas for women who are pregnant, and for those who have infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of creation that God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no flesh would be saved. But for the sake of the elect whom he chose, he shortened the days.
The Jews were expelled from their land because they had rejected their Messiah (Luke 19:44). They have still 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 them from rebuilding the Temple before he comes. 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 self-styled Islamic State of Iraq and Syria treated Yazidis and Christians in our own day, they will sell the Jews into slavery, kill them, rape them, dispossess them and send them out of their land. Western nations will be unwilling or unable to intervene (Isa 63:5).
“And I will commission my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sack- cloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire issues from their mouth and consumes their enemies; if anyone would harm them, thus 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 evoke the one lampstand and two olive trees that Zechariah saw after seeming to wake from sleep. In design the lampstand was the same as the gold menorah in the outer part of the Tabernacle. 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). Surrounded by darkness, the Church too is the light of the world (Matt 5:14), and depends on him for light. Christians must have oil in their lamp if they are to shine.
The two witnesses are dressed in the garb of mourning (Joel 1:13). They seem to be individuals rather than the whole Church. 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 represent 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, and initially, like the rest of Israel, they did not see his glory (cf. Zech 4:1, 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 in the person of John the Baptist (another double reference): not that John was a reincarnation of Elijah but that he had come with his spirit and with his 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 prevented rain from falling on the land during 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 (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 (Luke 3:17). 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, having authority to shut the sky, and like Moses before Pharaoh, having authority to poison the waters and strike the earth with every kind of plague (cf. I Sam 4:8). As in Malachi 4:6, ‘earth’ could mean ‘land’ or the whole planet. The context of the holy city primarily suggests the land, for the purpose of the plagues is to force the beast to let the Jews go. However, 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. 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 Satanic individual who leads an alliance of ten national leaders (Dan 7:24-25). ‘Make war’ implies (but cf. Rev 2:16) 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 and 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 homosexuality 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 10:17, 12:13) that lies in the street, singular, of the city, singular. They suffer as the twelve apostles did, of whom all but one were martyred. Some will be crucified, as Christians were in the time of Nero; 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 up 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. Seven thousand individuals were killed in the earthquake, and the rest became afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.
That the biblical writers all counted inclusively, so that Sunday was the third day after Friday, is one of academic theology’s many falsehoods. The Greeks and Romans counted inclusively (Luke 9:28, Acts 10:30); the Hebrew writers counted non-inclusively (Matt 17:1, Mark 9:2), in the same way as we do. Thus the 40.5 years of David’s reign were rounded down to 40 years, not up to 41 (II Sam 5:4f); Jehoichin’s reign of 3 months 10 days was rounded down to three months (II Ki 24:8, II Chr 36:9), and the 11.25 years of Jehoiakim’s reign, from about September 609 to about December 598, was rounded down to 11 years (II Ki 23:36) (Robinson 1991). 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 3 April, AD 30, and bodily 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 countless 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. At the time of Jesus’ descent into Hades an earthquake split the rocks; another earthquake occurred when he rose from the dead and the bodies of the saints in Jerusalem rose with him out of their tombs. So now, with the resurrection of the martyrs, an earthquake shakes Jerusalem. Those not killed by it fear God and give him glory: they respond to the gospel and repent (14:7, 15:9).
‘A breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet. The words bring to mind Ezekiel’s description of the resurrection of the whole house of Israel:
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, an earthquake [LXX: seismos], and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man [or Adam], and say to the breath, Thus says 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)
God at last fulfils his four-thousand-year-old covenant with Abraham to give to his offspring the land from the wadi of Egypt (close to the present Egyptian/Israeli border) to the river Euphrates (Gen 15:18), briefly and imperfectly fulfilled under Solomon inasmuch as all the kings in the region accepted his suzerainty (II Chr 8:3f, 9:26). The prophets repeat the promise numerous times, and the psalms express the hope of resurrection to the land numerous times. He will fuse together the tribes of the northern kingdom and the tribes of the southern kingdom to make them one again (Jer 3:18, Ezek 11:14-17, 37:22). He will roar like a lion, 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)? 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’ are all the same word, Hebrew ruach. The same word is used for 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 prophets is a sign to Israel that their forefathers are also 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 trumpet 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 year (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. He will give them of his Spirit and write his law on their hearts (Deut 30:6, Jer 31:31-34).
The title ‘God of heaven’ was commonly used in polytheistic societies to designate the supreme deity whose throne was in heaven, the father of the pantheon. He was worshipped as such in Uruk before Inana – the original sacred prostitute – took over his temple just before Babylon was founded. Biblical occurrences of the title are therefore mostly where the speaker is a Gentile or speaking to Gentiles (e.g. Ezra 1:2). Men on earth finally acknowledge his existence.
The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is coming speedily.
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. Although the three and a half years come to an end after the second woe, we are not told when the period begins; it could be earlier in the trumpet sequence. The third woe is Jesus Christ. He is expressly said to come ‘speedily’ three times before this oblique 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.”
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 bringing to corruption the corrupters of the earth.”
There can be only one ruler of the world. Although divided, the world is one kingdom, and it belongs by right 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)
The wheat is gathered into his barn. Believers will not escape the heat, 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. 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, I Cor 3:15, 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.”
The seventh angel is the ‘man clothed in linen’ that Ezekiel saw putting a mark on those who grieved over Jerusalem’s abominations (Ezek 9). 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 of people, death for another.
‘Of our Lord and of his Christ’ maintains the distinction between God and his anointed (cf. Rev 12:10, 12:17), except that here ‘Lord’ refers to God himself. The Lord God Almighty reigns, and he decides ‘the hour, the day, the month and the year’ of his taking up his rule, but the throne is shared.
‘Prophets’, distinct from ‘saints’, refers to the 144,000. ‘Wages’ (misthos) conveys the idea of an employment contract, though ‘reward’ fits some contexts better (e.g. Matt 5:12). ‘Corrupters of the earth’ evokes the judgement on 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 animal species to extinction. By our sexual promiscuity we have desecrated the image of God. The Lord God is outraged. He will make the earth a desolation and purge it of its desecrators.
Then the temple of God in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen in his temple. And there was lightning, sounds, thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
The trumpets section is rounded off with a vision similar to that which introduces it (8:5). On being opened, the temple reveals the ark of the covenant. At 15:5, we return to the same moment and the temple is opened 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’ (cf. 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 gathered his people and brought 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, 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.