Commentary on Revelation 11

Notes (NET Translation)

11:1 Then a measuring rod like a staff was given to me, and I was told, “Get up and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and the ones who worship there.

John is told to measure the ones who worship in the temple of God. It is implausible that human beings would be measured with a rod, therefore we should see the temple as symbolizing the people of God (Rom 12:1-2; 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:5; Rev 3:12). The altar symbolizes the sacrificial calling of Christians, which may entail suffering (6:9-10; 11:3-9). The act of measuring connotes God’s presence and protection (Ezek 40-42). The people of God will be spiritually protected (7:1-8).

Yet it is important to understand what the protection of God means in this context. We know from 6:9–11 that many will be martyred and from 13:7 that God will give the beast “power to make war against the saints and to conquer them.” Therefore, it is clear that God will protect his people not from physical harm but rather from spiritual harm. This is indeed the connotation in the parallels regarding God’s protection of his people (3:10; 7:3–4; 9:4; 12:6, 14, 16). As Beale (1999: 562) points out, this is in keeping with the fulfillment pattern in Ezek. 40–42. There the measuring secured the temple from the abomination of idolatrous worship in its precincts. Here it signifies that God would spiritually protect his people from “contamination with idolatrous influences” (a major problem due to the Nicolaitan cult; cf. 2:2, 6, 14–15, 20–24). Though the church will undergo terrible suffering at the hands of its enemies (11:2; also 6:9–11), God will be with those who “overcome,” and they will emerge victorious. The victory is seen in the parallel 21:15–21, where an angel “measures” the New Jerusalem—“the city, its gates, and its walls.” In chapter 21 there is no excluded outer court, for the time of persecution is over, and God will be present with his people for eternity. Thus, the measuring of the sanctuary here is a “prophetic anticipation” (so Krodel 1989: 220) of the final victory of the church. (Osborne 411–412)

2 But do not measure the outer courtyard of the temple; leave it out, because it has been given to the Gentiles, and they will trample on the holy city for forty-two months.

Elsewhere in Revelation the “holy city” is the heavenly Jerusalem (21:2, 10; 22:19). In 20:9 the “beloved city” refers to an earthly expression of the community of God. Just as the “temple” refers to the people of God so does the “holy city” (21:15-17). Hence the trampling of the holy city refers to the persecution of the saints. The 42 months are not literal but rather figurative for a period of tribulation prophesied by Daniel (7:25; 9:27; 12:7, 11-12). The outer courtyard of the literal Jerusalem Temple was a place for Gentile God-fearers and thus is not necessarily to be viewed negatively.

G. K. Beale interprets the outer courtyard as follows (568-569):

Therefore, the outer court is part of the temple, the community of faith in which God dwells. It is the earthly expression of the temple. That it is an essential part of the temple complex is suggested by the assumption in v 2 that it was formerly under the protection of the temple walls but is now to be “cast out” of that protection. The symbolic aspect of the portrayal comes to the fore in that John is certainly not saying that part of the material temple building is to be picked up and thrown outside. That the outer court is cast out and not measured means that it will not be protected from various forms of earthly harm (physical, economic, social, etc.).

R. H. Mounce continues in the same vein (Kindle Locations 4105-4111):

It is more probable that the outer court refers to the church viewed from a different perspective It is to be excluded and not measured; that is, it is to be given over to persecution in the last days. The distinction between the sanctuary and the outer court is a way of pointing out the limitations placed upon pagan hostility. It may physically decimate the witnessing church (in 11:7 the two witnesses are killed), but it cannot touch its real source of life (the witnesses are raised and ascend to heaven; 11:11-12). Since the measuring of the church is a variant of its being sealed and the trampling of the city is the great tribulation, “we have the paradox that, on the one hand, the community will be sheltered and, on the other hand, the unprotected community will be trampled.”

3 And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth.

The “two witnesses” further symbolize God’s people:

  • 11:4 calls them the “two lampstands” and describes them in priestly terms. In 1:20 the seven lampstands are identified as the seven churches. In 1:6 and 5:10 the church is identified as a kingdom and as priests. Jewish tradition identified Israel as the lampstand of Zech 4:2-3 (Sifre Deut 10; Pesikta Rabbati 7.7; 51.4); thus a corporate view of the symbolism is found in other literature.
  • 11:7 says the beast will make war on them and overcome them. This verse alludes to Dan 7:21 where the last evil kingdom persecutes a nation, not a couple individuals.
  • 11:9-13 says persons “from every people, tribe, nation, and language will look at their corpses”. To the original readers this would imply a global presence, which two individual corpses could not have.
  • The two witnesses will prophesy for three and a half years (1260 days), the same length of time as “the holy city” (11:2), “the woman” (12:6, 14), and “those tabernacling in heaven” (13:6) are oppressed. Since the other texts refer to a community it is most likely the case that “the two witnesses” also refer to a community.
  • Elsewhere in the book the community of believers are the source of “testimony” (bear witness) to Jesus (6:9; 12:11, 17; 19:10; 20:4).
  • The subsequent description of the two witnesses alludes to Moses and Elijah but applies the same characteristics to both witnesses. That the two witnesses are identical suggests they refer to one entity.

The number of witnesses is two because in the OT law at least two witnesses were needed for judging an offense (Num 35:30; Deut 17:6; 19:15; Jn 8:17). Despite persecution God’s people will still be able to prophesy against their persecutors. Sackloth suggests mourning over the judgment that their prophesying will bring.

4 (These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.)

The imagery of this verse alludes to Zech 4. The main point of Zech 4 is that the Second Temple would be completed despite opposition. John adapts that imagery and applies it to the spiritual temple, the people of God. Despite opposition, the people of God will ultimately triumph. That the witnesses stand before the Lord of the earth indicates that they are inspired and commissioned by God.

5 If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes out of their mouths and completely consumes their enemies. If anyone wants to harm them, they must be killed this way.

Anyone who opposes the gospel sets in motion his own judgment. The words spoken by the witnesses are what judges them (Jer 5:14; Jn 12:48). This is symbolized by the fire coming from their mouths (2 Sam 22:9; Ps 18:8; Isa 11:4; 1 En 62:2; 4 Ezra 13:10, 25-39; Pss Sol 17:24-26; Rev 1:16; 19:15, 21).

6 These two have the power to close up the sky so that it does not rain during the time they are prophesying. They have power to turn the waters to blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague whenever they want.

This verse alludes to the prophetic careers of Moses and Elijah (Ex 7:14-25; 8:12; 1 Kgs 11; 17:1-7; 18:1, 41-46; 2 Kgs 1; Sir 48:3; Lk 4:25; Jas 5:17). Since this passage has been figurative so far, we are justified in seeing the judgments of 11:6 as figurative as well.

The church’s prophetic declaration of God’s truth concerning the gospel, including the message of final judgment, unleashes torments toward those who remain ultimately impenitent. The torments anticipate the last judgment and harden the reprobate in their sinful stance, making them ever more ripe for the punishment of the great day. These torments primarily affect the spiritual realm of a person, especially plaguing his or her conscience. This is evident from 11:10, where the earth-dwellers rejoice because of the death of the prophets who “tormented” (ἐβασάνισαν) them. The earlier effect of the prophets’ ministry caused the ungodly to be discouraged over their desperate plight. Perhaps Felix is an example of the kind of torment suffered by the unrighteous when they reject the gospel message: Paul “was discussing righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come,” and Felix had Paul sent away because of fear and resentment of the truth (Acts 24:25). (Beale 584–585)

7 When they have completed their testimony, the beast that comes up from the abyss will make war on them and conquer them and kill them.

This verse need not mean the church will be completely wiped out from the face of the earth. It could be hyperbole to indicate that the church will seem small or insignificant. That the beast comes from the abyss indicates its demonic nature (cf. Rev 9:3-4, 11; 13, 17).

8 Their corpses will lie in the street of the great city that is symbolically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was also crucified.

In the ancient world non-burial was an indignity (Gen 40:19; 1 Sam 17:43-47; 2 Kgs 9:10; Ps 79:1–5; Isa 14:19–20; Jer 8:1–2; 9:22; 16:4–6; 22:19; Tob 1:16-28; 2:1–8; Pss Sol 2:30–31[26–27]; Sib Or 3.634–46; Jub 23:23; Josephus, War 3.8.5-6 §376–84; 4.314–18; 5.33; Philo, De Iosepho 25). This verse highlights the indignity with which the people of God will be treated. Elsewhere in Revelation “the great city” refers to “Babylon the Great” (16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18-19, 21), not Jerusalem. “Babylon” can be symbolically called “Sodom” and “Egypt” because all three locations are associated with the world in opposition to God. “Babylon” is like Sodom in that it will be destroyed in judgment for its sins and like Egypt because it will persecute God’s people. The “great city” should not be understood as a specific geographical location but rather as applying to any ungodly realm. While the phrase “where their Lord was also crucified” seems to identify “the great city” with the literal Jerusalem, it is better, in light of the above observations, to see Jerusalem as associated with the ungodly realm.

The world-city is spiritually like Jerusalem, which had become like other ungodly nations, and even worse, by killing Christ. Persecution is the main characteristic of the city. This allusion to Jerusalem is meant as a climax of the series of spiritual descriptions. In John’s time “the great city” would refer primarily to Rome, and any of its allies, since it was the center of the ungodly empire that persecuted God’s people at that time. In the order of the spiritual descriptions, this term for Rome comes first, and then the order goes on to identify “the great city,” thinking chronologically, with Sodom, then Egypt, and then Jerusalem.

The subject of “they see” in v 9 is people throughout the world and continues the plural antecedent of “their” (αὐτῶν) here in “their Lord was crucified.” Therefore those represented by “their” must be people around the world and cannot be restricted to the inhabitants of literal Jerusalem, either in the past or future, who “crucified their [Israel’s] Lord.” But how could Christ be called the “Lord” of unbelievers? The best approach is to see “where their Lord was crucified” as a general metaphor for unbelieving Israel being applied to the whole world of unbelievers. The essence of the metaphor is the killing of Christ (ascribed to the Jews of Jerusalem in, e.g., 1 Thess. 2:15; Acts 2:36). Therefore, the world is characterized by persecution of Christ’s followers. And Revelation speaks of Christ as Lord not only of Israel but also of the unbelieving world (e.g., 1:5; 17:14; 19:16), so that it is appropriate to think of him here as Lord of the world (cf. esp. 11:15a). (Beale 592–593)

9 For three and a half days those from every people, tribe, nation, and language will look at their corpses, because they will not permit them to be placed in a tomb.

The church will appear defeated for three and a half days after witnessing for three and a half years. While not taking such time periods literally, this symbolizes how the church’s victory is far greater than the apparent victory of the world.

10 And those who live on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate, even sending gifts to each other, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.

As has been stated before, the phrase “those who live on the earth” refers to idolaters, those who trust in some aspect of the world instead of God.

The celebration of the earth’s inhabitants over the death of the witnesses is a perverse counterpart to the Jewish feast of Purim — a “day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other … and gifts to the poor” (Esth 9:19, 22). Some have suggested as another parallel the period between the crucifixion and the resurrection. Of this time Jesus said that the disciples “will weep and mourn while the world rejoices” (John 16:20). (Mounce Kindle Locations 4233-4236)

These insights from elsewhere in the Apocalypse provide a better understanding of why “the earth-dwellers” “rejoice and are glad” and celebrate when the witnesses are defeated. The two prophets preached not only that salvation is in Christ but also that rejection of Christ amounts to idolatry and will be punished by judgment (cf. Acts 17:30–31; 1 Thess. 1:8–10). The judgment includes destruction of the earth in which unbelievers trust (6:12–17; 21:1). The world will not last and consequently will not provide protection against God’s judgment. This declaration of judgment “tormented” the earth-dwellers, since it threatened what they regarded as their ultimate security. The cessation of this announcement meant comfort for the idolaters. Part of their torment came from an actual inauguration of judgment against them (on the nature of the “torment” see on 11:6; 9:5–6). The defeat of the witnesses also meant that the persecutors’ awareness of the beginning form of their own judgment was diminished. They are gleeful because they deduce from the death of the witnesses that the predicted judgment will not occur. (Beale 596)

11 But after three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and tremendous fear seized those who were watching them.

This verse draws on Ezek 37:1-14 and symbolizes the ultimate vindication of the church.

The word for “breath” in Greek is pneuma, which is also the word for “spirit”; thus John is making a deliberate wordplay on the double reality that life is in the breath, while at the same time he surely intends that real life for the believer lies with the indwelling Spirit of God. After all, the imagery in Ezekiel, taken over by John, has to do with the eschatological renewal of the people of God by the Spirit, which the early church found fulfilled in their own coming to life through the experience of the Spirit. Thus, with these words John is offering pregnant imagery both for the resurrection of believers who have died and for the fact that the life of the believer is wholly dependent on the indwelling Holy Spirit. (Fee 153-154)

12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them: “Come up here!” So the two prophets went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies stared at them.

This verse symbolizes the divine approval of the church. It mirrors Elijah’s being taken up to heaven (1 Kgs 2:11) and Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:9, 11). The enemies of the church stare on in fear (11:11) because they now realize that the announcement of judgment prophesied by the church will come to pass.

13 Just then a major earthquake took place and a tenth of the city collapsed; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

As stated in the comments of 11:8, the city represents the ungodly realm. Therefore, this verse mentions a judgment on the ungodly. The seven thousand people may approximate one-tenth of the people in a large city in John’s day. The phrase “the God of heaven” is used to refer to God’s sovereignty (Gen 24:3, 7; 2 Chron 36:23; Ezra 1:2; 5:11; 6:9-10; 7:12, 21; 7:23; Neh 1:4-5; 2:20; Ps 136:26; Dan 2:18–19, 37, 44; 4:37; Jonah 1:9).

After the events of 11:11–13, the survivors ἔμφοβοι ἐγένοντο καὶ ἔδωκαν δόξαν τῷ θεῷ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (emphoboi egenonto kai edōkan doxan tō theō tou ouranou, were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven). At this point, there is a great difference of opinion as to whether this is true repentance or the forced homage of a defeated foe, as in Phil. 2:11, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” The reason for taking this as a true repentance (so Swete; Beckwith; R. Charles; Lohse; Caird; Beasley-Murray; Prigent; Sweet; Giblin 1984: 458; Schüssler Fiorenza; Chilton; Krodel; Roloff; Thomas; Holwerda 1999: 156) lies in the two aspects, fear and giving glory to “the God of heaven.” In 14:6–7 the angel with the “eternal gospel” calls on the earth-dwellers to “fear God and give him glory,” and in 15:4 and 16:9 (see further below) this signifies the offer of salvation. In several places in the OT, the phrase “give glory to God” is used when calling people to repentance (Josh. 7:19; 1 Sam. 6:5; Isa. 42:12; Jer. 13:16). Finally, in 19:5 God’s “slaves” are defined as “those who fear him,” and in 19:7 the great multitude in heaven sings, “Let us … give him glory.”

However, several scholars (Hendriksen, Kiddle, Mounce, Beale; cf. also Giesen) argue that the magicians of Egypt confessed that the plagues had taken place under the “finger of God” (Exod. 8:19) but did not repent, and “fearing God” in the OT sometimes referred to those who were forced to give homage to God (Prov. 1:24–32; Jon. 1:9–10, 16; cf. Acts 12:23 in the NT). In Dan. 4:34 Nebuchadnezzar “honored and glorified” God but both before and after turned to his idols and tried to force the Judeans to join him. Since “the God of heaven” occurs three times in Dan. 4:37 LXX, Beale (1999: 604) argues that this could be an allusion to the Dan. 4 incident and mean that John “is speaking of those who acknowledge God’s heavenly sovereignty but remain unbelievers.” Schnabel (1999: 9) offers four reasons for taking “give glory to God” negatively: (1) In the OT, the phrase often speaks of God’s demanding glory with no reference to conversion (1 Sam. 6:5; Ps. 96:7–8; Isa. 42:12) or even in a judgment context (1 Enoch 62.6–13; 63.2–12); (2) the glorification of God does not result from missionary proclamation but from judgment, so it is a judgment doxology; (3) the Nebuchadnezzar parallel from Dan. 4 was not true repentance; (4) the great earthquake of Rev. 11:13a is a judgment motif. However, the connections within the Apocalypse make it more probable that John is speaking of true repentance here. As argued above (cf. introduction to the seals at 6:1–8:1, and 9:20), one of the themes in the seals, trumpets, and bowls is judgment as part of God’s final offer of repentance to the nations. In 15:4 as the nations “come and worship God,” we read, “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name?” Also, in 16:9 the nations “refused to repent and give glory to him,” and in that context “give glory” means conversion, that is, “they refused to repent and be converted.” Aune (1998a: 628), who argues elsewhere against a repentance motif, calls this “a verbal indication of conversion… . Here in 11:13, giving glory to God is clearly the consequence of repentance, i.e., conversion (Loisy, 216)” (see further the discussion at 14:7). (Osborne 433–435)

14 The second woe has come and gone; the third is coming quickly.

The second woe began back in 9:13-21 with the sixth trumpet blow but it includes 10:1-11:13. The interlude in 10:1-11:13 describes the experience of the church while the earth-dwellers are judged.

15 Then 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 will reign for ever and ever.”

As 10:7 states, the blowing of the seventh trumpet brings about the completion of God’s plans. This is the third woe (8:13; 11:14). The singular pronoun “he” in the phrase “he will reign for ever and ever” indicates the unity of rule had by God (“the Lord”) and Christ.

16 Then the twenty-four elders who are seated on their thrones before God threw themselves down with their faces to the ground and worshiped God 17 with these words: “We give you thanks, Lord God, the All-Powerful, the one who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and begun to reign.

The twenty-four elders were first mentioned in 4:4, where we identified them as angelic representatives of the saints.

The last part of the threefold clause, ὁ ἐρχόμενος (“the one who is coming”), is replaced here by ὅτι εἴληφας τὴν δύναμίν σου τὴν μεγάλην καὶ ἐβασίλευσας (“because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign”). This means that the last part of the triadic name for God is not merely a general reference to his sovereignty over the future but specifically speaks of the end time, when God will break into world history and end it by overthrowing all opposition to his people and setting up his eternal kingdom. Though this had not yet happened in John’s time, the seventh seal vision showed him what would happen at the end. The events about which he now hears are cast in the past tense because they have already happened from the perspective of those offering praise. This change in the formula and the verb tense enforce the thought that this section is narrating the actual establishment of the kingdom and the judgment as the content of the seventh trumpet. The same kind of alteration occurs in 16:5, where the last clause of the formula is changed to “because you have judged these things.” 16:5 stresses the irruptive final judgment and 11:17 the final kingdom. Though God has reigned throughout history, the final kingdom is the reign that he will consummate on earth together with his Son and his people by completely subduing all opposition. (Beale 613)

18 The nations were enraged, but your wrath has come, and the time has come for the dead to be judged, and the time has come to give to your servants, the prophets, their reward, as well as to the saints and to those who revere your name, both small and great, and the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

Presumably the last judgment described in 11:18 will occur before the final establishment of the kingdom of God. The language of this verse implies that the punishment fits the crime. The rage of the nations is met with the wrath of God. Those who destroy the earth will be destroyed (cf. 19:2).

19 Then the temple of God in heaven was opened and the ark of his covenant was visible within his temple. And there were flashes of lightning, roaring, crashes of thunder, an earthquake, and a great hailstorm.

The open temple and the ark of the covenant symbolize God’s presence among his people (Num 10:33-36; Deut 10:8; 1 Sam 4:1–4; 7:1; 1 Kgs 8:6; Rev 21:3, 22).

Finally, and typical of such theophanies both in this book and elsewhere where, God is not/cannot be described; the Divine Presence is indicated by what later peoples came to refer to as “acts of God.” And as before in this narrative, the response to the opening of the “temple in heaven” was both in heaven and on earth. From heaven there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder . . . . This is then followed by the only earthly phenomenon as such, an earthquake . . . . In the present case these “acts of God” are narrated as a kind of divine response to the worship offered by the twenty-four elders, who have just announced that the anticipated time of God’s judgment has in fact come. (Fee 159-160)

The seventh trumpet may be built around a segment from the Song of Moses in Exod. 15:13–18. There God is praised for redeeming his people by “calling them into your holy resting place” (v 13); when “the nations heard” about this deliverance “they became enraged” (ἔθνη … ὠργίσθησαν in Exod. 15:14 LXX, as in Rev. 11:18); in spite of the nations’ rage, God brought his people into his “habitation” and “sanctuary” (Exod. 15:17). So then, it is declared, “the Lord reigns forever and ever” (v 18; see the verbatim parallel in Rev. 11:15). These allusions are an appropriate way to conclude the series of trumpets, since the first six have been modeled on the exodus plagues, which have led up to Exodus 15. Furthermore, the appearance of the ark in Rev. 11:19 after an “earthquake” destroys part of the city (v 13) and before another reference to an “earthquake” (v 19b) calls to mind the fall of Jericho, which marked the successful conclusion of Israel’s entry into the promised land after the exodus and the wilderness wanderings.

Therefore, Rev. 11:15–19 notes the end of the evil world kingdoms and the church’s reward in escalated typological fulfillment of the Exodus-wilderness-Jericho pattern. The sevenfold trumpet pattern of the Jericho episode is another connection. Trumpets were blown on six successive days, and then on the seventh day the trumpet blasts brought the wall down (on this background see further the introductory comments on ch. 8). In that episode the ark followed the trumpet blowers. This suggests further that 11:15–19 forms the content of the seventh trumpet. There are no more half-weeks (cf. 11:2–3, 10–11); the full week of consummation has been reached. (Beale 618–619)

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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