Understanding The Apocalypse

Revelation 10:11-11:14
Chapter 18

Chapters 11 through 14 are perhaps the most difficult of the entire Revelation to interpret. If one searches the commentaries readily available, it becomes obvious the only thing many of them have in common is their disagreement with each other. Because there are so many different viewpoints, and because this study will more than likely not agree with many of them, a re-stating of the "ground rules" for this study is in order.

The approach used to interpret the Revelation in this study is both literal and dispensational:

By "literal" it is meant that while it is true there is much symbolism used in the Revelation, what is written should first be understood in its common, etymological context. Then, after first understanding the literal meaning and context, it is possible to determine if the intent of the passage is symbolic.

We must also keep in mind, this is a Revelation of supernatural events and when the literal context seems unbelievable, that is part of supernatural. Because a description used is beyond the bounds of contemporary knowledge or reason does not mean it is to be automatically understood as a metaphor.

By "dispensational" it is meant to recognize God is systematic in His dealings with humanity and in particular, Israel, which is His Chosen Nation. God has, from the beginning of human history, revealed Himself to mankind in successive dispensations or economies wherein He requires people to respond to Him in faith.

God has not forgotten or abandoned His promises and prophesies made known in each dispensation or economy. This is especially true concerning Israel. Therefore, the Revelation speaks of the final events in God's program for humanity and for Israel. It tells of fulfilled promises, as well as unbridled evil, judgment and supernatural events.

Though the Revelation is sometimes difficult to understand, it is not impossible if approached openly and systematically. To be open, one must be willing to believe the supernatural events described will come to pass and that God will fulfill every promise He has made. To be systematic, one must interpret the Revelation through the entire body of knowledge revealed in the Holy Scriptures, not allowing the imagination to run wild.

I. The "Key" to a Proper Understanding of Chapters 11 through 14

"And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again about many peoples, and nations and tongues, and kings" (Revelation 10:11).

Certainly, to "prophesy again," John must interrupt his chronological narrative to parenthetically reveal additional information about things he previously discussed. This points to one of the difficulties in understanding the Revelation, that is, knowing when these parenthetical passages occur. Please know! These parentheticals are most easily recognized by the interruption of the chronological sequence of events and the fact they always "prophesy again."

John's obedience to the commandment that he "prophesy again" begins in Revelation 11, where the primary focus of this parenthetic is how the events described will affect the people, nations, races and kingdoms of the world.

John begins to "prophesy again" in Revelation 11, when he passes along information concerning,

II. The Times of the Gentiles

"And there was given me a reed like a rod; and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship in it. But the court, which is outside the temple, leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the nations, and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months" (Revelation 11:1-2).
The words, "the angel stood," found in the King James Version do not appear in many texts. Therefore, a better reading would be, "One said rise." Given the content of what John wrote, it seems more appropriate to believe it is the Lord who talks to John, rather than an angel.

John says first, "And there was given me a reed like a rod" and he was told, "Rise and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship in it."

In Ezekiel 40:3, we read, "...there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed..."

Ezekiel went on to describe how this man measured or surveyed the temple and everything in it. Immediately following this survey, Ezekiel saw the Glory of the Lord come from the East and fill the temple.

Clearly, the measuring of the temple was preparatory to the visitation of God. Perhaps, this measuring was to mark what God claimed for His own. As is the case with real estate, to measure, mark, or survey, is certainly an indicator of ownership and one does not survey and set boundaries on that which he does not own.

Notice, John is instructed to mark the temple (indicating the holy place), the altar (indicating the most holy place), and those who worship in it (indicating Israel, for unto them alone was the law given), as belonging to God.

In contrast to these, the outer court of the temple is not measured because as the text says "...it is given unto the (Gentile) nations..." John is also told, "...the holy city (Jerusalem) shall they (Gentiles) tread under foot forty and two months."

To summarize the information in Revelation 11:1-2: John is given tools and told to survey the temple proper and the nation of Israel. He is told the courtyard of the temple and the City of Jerusalem are to be downtrodden by the Gentiles for 42 months.

Because we know from Ezekiel that God had His temple measured or surveyed to indicate His ownership prior to His Glory filling the temple, we can assume John is told to survey for the same reasons. If this is the case, then we know God will preserve the temple proper and those who worship in it or Israel, throughout the time the City of Jerusalem is downtrodden by the Gentiles.

We also know the length of this Gentile oppression is to be 42 months or 3 1/2 years. This coincides with the timetable given in Daniel 9. From Daniel 9 and Matthew 24, we know the Antichrist will make a seven year peace agreement with Israel at the beginning of the Tribulation. Also, because there is mention of sacrifice and oblation in these texts, we know the temple will be rebuilt and in use during this time. Then, at the midpoint of this peace agreement or after 3 1/2 years, the "Abomination of Desolation" will occur. That is, the Antichrist will enter the temple, proclaim himself to be God and demand that Israel worship him.

This will begin the Great Tribulation, which is a time of judgment on the earth. Israel will be persecuted by the Gentiles, and the Gentiles will suffer the judgments from God foretold in the Revelation.

This Great Tribulation will end with the return of our Lord Jesus Christ in Glory, to fight Israel's battle and establish His Kingdom. In effect, 42 months or 3 1/2 years after the abomination of desolation, the Lord will again visit His temple.

In preparation for His visitation, John is instructed to measure the temple and count the people.

III. The Two Witnesses

"And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth" (Revelation 11:3-4).
The focus of attention is normally on the identities of these two witnesses and many generally agree they are either Enoch and Elijah, or Moses and Elijah.

Enoch and Elijah are thought by some to be the two prophets because they did not suffer physical death, but were translated into heaven. Therefore, the theory is that they must return to go through the death experience in accordance with Hebrews 9:27, which says, "...it is appointed unto men once to die..."

However, this theory is difficult to defend in light of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.

"Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
Those who are born-again and remain on the earth when our Lord comes for His Church will not experience the grave, but will be translated as Enoch and Elijah were. Clearly, death is not a universal appointment. Death and judgment are appointments reserved for those apart from God. For God's people, physical death is a doorway into His presence, as is translation, or the rapture. Therefore, we cannot use the fact these two did not physically die, as proof they must come back to earth and do so.

Also, some people think Moses and Elijah will be the two prophets, because of the similarities between the miracles they performed and the powers given to the two prophets. This too, is difficult to defend for this reason: For Moses to be one of the prophets he would have to again experience physical death. This of course, does not square with Paul's declaration in 1 Corinthians 15:54, "Death is swallowed up in victory." Very simply, death has no further claim on the Child of God who has experienced it. Through the portal of death, the corrupt puts on incorruption and the mortal puts on immortality. Incorruption and immortality do not die.

Who are these two witnesses? According to Revelation 11:4, they are, "...the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth." Clearly, this is symbolic or allegorical language and is probably intended to draw our attention away from speculation concerning the identities of the two witnesses, to an understanding of their purpose and power.

The lampstand is a source of light and light is understood through the Scriptures to represent the illuminating effect of Christ and the gospel, on the minds of humanity.

The olive tree is the source of the oil that fuels the lamp, which provides the light. This speaks of the power of the Holy Spirit who is the true source of power for these two witnesses.

Though we may not know their names, we do know these two witnesses will be empowered by the Holy Spirit and will be the source of illumination in the world, by prophesying "...a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth." Since 1,260 days is 42 months or 3 1/2 years, we have no trouble assigning the ministry of these two prophets to one half of the seven-year Tribulation. The question is, "Which half?"

Many say the ministry of the two prophets occurs during the last half of the Tribulation because the powers they exercise against the nations fit with the judgments described during this period. However, a clue better than their powers exists in Revelation 11:3, concerning the time frame of the prophets' ministries. It is their clothing. Sackcloth is the attire of mourning, not rejoicing. Hence, it is the garb of the doomsday prophet. At this time in human history there can only be two possible categories of prophecies. These are:

(1) Great Tribulation or judgment from God, which will come in the second half of the Tribulation.

(2) The coming of the Lord in Glory, which will conclude the second half of the Tribulation.

For the prophets of God, the coming of the Lord in Glory is a blessed event, not a time for mourning. Surely, they will not dress in sackcloth to proclaim His coming. Most likely, their sackcloth indicates their message is one of judgment to come upon the Nations during the second half of the Tribulation. Therefore the two prophets must appear during the first half of the Tribulation to prophesy of the coming judgment.

Perhaps, it is their message consisting of both light and judgment, which draws the 144,000 Jews and the innumerable Gentile multitudes to faith and repentance, during the first half of the Tribulation.

Keep in mind, the church, which is the organism responsible to proclaim the Gospel of the Grace of God, will no longer be on earth. This also means the Holy Spirit will no longer indwell and empower every Believer as He does today. As under the Old Covenant, He will only come upon individuals in times of special service.

These two witnesses could well be the only source of the Gospel message in the world during this time and if this is the case, when Satan finally succeeds in destroying them, the light or illuminating effect of God's Word will also be taken from the world. This helps explain Revelation 9:21, that says, in spite of the judgments from God humanity will not repent. It is the Word of God, not the judgment of God, which illumines the hearts of humanity.

Today, it is the message of the Gospel of Christ, that alone, has the power to save the souls of humanity. Take the message that Christ died for our sins and rose from the grave away from the Church and there is no power in the Church to bring people to salvation. Therefore, it is a primary focus of Satan and his followers to try diluting and ultimately removing the Gospel message from every corner of the earth and the only thing standing between him and his goal is the Church. Revelation shows the results when the church is taken out of the way and Satan finally succeeds in extinguishing all the messengers of God.

It is important to notice that in spite of much speculation concerning the identities of the two witnesses, they are not clearly identified in the Scriptures. This leads to the conclusion it is more important to focus on their ministries, than on their identities.

As Moses stood against Pharaoh in the power of the Lord, as Elijah stood against the prophets of Baal in the power of the Lord, so will these two witnesses stand against the Nations of the World and the beast who controls them. Not only does God empower them, He also has predetermined the length of their ministries and even the clothing they will wear. These are the final prophets sent from God before He begins to pour out His wrath, during the Great Tribulation.

So important, as a revelation of God's Grace, is their ministry of warning that God will not allow them to be interrupted or halted. Yet, so sure is the coming of the Lord's judgment that He has numbered the days of their ministry.

This demonstrates that although our God is gracious and long-suffering, there is an end to His patience, and times of unrighteousness are always followed by judgment.

IV. The Powers Given to the Two Witnesses

"And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies; and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of the prophecy; and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will" (Revelation 11:5-6).
These powers appear to be given to the witnesses for three reasons:
(1) For personal protection. The ability to devour with fire is in this category. Anyone who tries to hurt the two prophets must be killed in this manner. To be killed with fire from the mouth of a prophet is certainly a supernatural means of execution and it surely indicates supernatural protection of these prophets.

(2) To prove their calling. The stopping of rain and turning water to blood were two of the miracles God used to show Israel that Moses and Elijah were His true prophets.

In Exodus 4, Moses, after receiving his commission from the Lord, who spoke to him out of a burning bush, objected that Israel would not believe God had spoken to him. The Lord then gave Moses three signs with which to convince Israel he was the Deliverer:

[1] His rod would become a serpent.
[2] His hand would become leprous when he placed it in his bosom.
[3] He would turn water into blood. It was this latter sign that convinced Israel. Listen to Exodus 4:9,
"And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land; and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land."
Make no mistake! Israel understands clearly that water turning to blood is the sign of Moses, the Deliverer. The use of this sign does not mean Moses will reappear, but it does speak of deliverance and indicates a servant of God has come with power like Moses.

Also, the witnesses will have the power to stop the rain for the duration of their ministry. We know from Revelation 11:3, these two will prophesy for 3 1/2 years, which is the exact length of time Elijah stopped the rain to get King Ahab's attention.

In Malachi 4:5, God promised Israel, "Behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord." Again, this does not necessarily mean Elijah will personally appear, but only that there will be one to come with the power of Elijah. Surely, the power of the two witnesses to stop the rain as Elijah did, fulfills the promise of Malachi 4:5 and proves they are sent from God.

(3) To execute judgment against the nations opposing them.

We know, following the rapture of the Church the Antichrist will rise to power and make a peace agreement with Israel supposedly lasting seven years. In the middle of this agreement, the Antichrist will betray Israel, by committing the Abomination of Desolation.

To make this peace agreement, evidently this world ruler will have the power to control the nations and keep them from harming Israel. However, at the same time the Antichrist is claiming to protect Israel with his phony peace, the two witnesses from God will also have the ability to protect Israel.

This, because one of the unconditional promises God made to Abraham was that He would bless those who blessed him and curse those who cursed him. This promise was reiterated to Isaac and to Jacob who later became Israel. The Lord will, during the Tribulation, make provisions to keep His promise to Israel by giving His two witnesses the power to smite with plagues, the nations opposing Israel.

Therefore, Israel will have a choice to make. They can accept the unholy alliance with the Antichrist who will make a false promise to protect them, or they can depend on Divine protection through the two prophets God will send.

One of the results of Israel's official decision to enter into an agreement with the Antichrist is presented next.

V. The Deaths of the Two Witnesses

"And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the peoples and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and a half, and shall not permit their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another, because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth" (Revelation 11:7-10).
The Lord will bring the ministries of the two witnesses to a close by allowing the "...beast from the bottomless pit..." or abyss, to kill them.

Such is the history of God's dealings with mankind through His prophets: When their messages are rejected, God allows them to be overcome by their enemies and it becomes a certainty thatjudgment is just around the corner.

Another question arises at this point: Who is this beast out of the abyss? The word "beast" is used often in the Revelation, especially in the King James Version and It is obvious from the context of its usage that sometimes "beast" refers to beings in the presence of God, while at other times it refers to the enemies of our Lord. This occurs because the Greek word, "therion," from which "beast" is translated, can mean, "any created being or living creature other than mankind." Therefore, when we read the word "beast" in the Revelation, we must always explore the context, to determine which beast is meant.

There are three "beasts" of great relevance in the Revelation that are unconditionally the enemies of God and His people. These are:

(1) The "beast from the bottomless pit" or Satan, in Revelation 11:7.
(2) The "beast out of the sea" or the revived Roman Empire, in Revelation 13:1.
(3) The "beast out of the earth" or the Antichrist, in Revelation 13:11.
It is Satan, the "Beast out of the abyss" who will kill the two witnesses from God. This will not happen because Satan has power over God's messengers in his own right, but because God permits it to happen as a consequence of the people rejecting the message, the messengers, and therefore, God, Himself.

Clearly, the spiritual condition of the world at this time can be seen in this passage of Scripture:

The first insight into the existent depravity is the refusal to allow the burial of the messenger's bodies. Against all bounds of decency, and the laws of civilized societies, the bodies of the witnesses will be left to public exhibit, in the streets of the "Great city."

I remember seeing the bodies of our soldiers being dragged through the streets of Bosnia. It made me sick, not because they were personal friends, or even remotely acquainted, but because such actions are an outrage of dignity, civility and decency. Perhaps, it is treatment of this kind that the bodies of the two witnesses will receive in the "Great city."

The "Great city" in this text is without a doubt, Jerusalem. It is reasonable to think the headquarters for the two witnesses will be the city that is both, the location of the Temple and the capital of the nation of Israel. It is also probable Satan will want to demonstrate his victory in the very city that is the headquarters for the two prophets. Beyond this logic, there is the clear statement this is the city where "...our Lord was crucified." Jesus was crucified at Jerusalem.

There is a second clue to the absolute depravity of mankind: The spiritual state of the city of Jerusalem is likened to Sodom and Egypt.

Sodom is representative of absolute immorality and godlessness. Do you remember God promised Abraham, He would not destroy Sodom if He found ten righteous men there? Sadly, when God visited the city, the only desire the people had for Him was the desire fora homosexual relationship. So strong, was their bent toward immorality that they rejected Lot's offer of his two virgin daughters to satisfy their lusts and attacked him, because they said he was judging them. All the while, they continued their depraved homosexual pursuit to have carnal knowledge of God.

There were not ten men in the city of Sodom who were righteous, so God destroyed the city and it forever became the symbol of immorality at its worst. In Revelation 11:8, Jerusalem is likened to Sodom, meaning it has reached the limits of immorality and human depravity.

Egypt represents the bondage of sin. Just as Israel was in bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt and unable to break free on her own, the inhabitants of Jerusalem are again in bondage. This time their taskmaster is Satan and they are enslaved in sin.

A third evidence of human depravity is gleaned from the actions of the people when the two witnesses die. They are glad to see the end of the prophets of God and rejoice in their deaths.

This is because the truths from God are always a torment to the souls and hearts of those who are wallowing in unrighteousness. Their rejoicing to see the end of the proclamation of God's Word is a typical reaction and further evidence they are lost in sins and alienated from the life of God. But the deaths of the two witnesses will be a temporary victory for the forces of evil.

VI. The Resurrection of the Two Witnesses

"And after three days and a half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet, and great fear fell upon them who saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up here. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies beheld them. And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand; and the remnant were terrified, and gave glory to the God of heaven" (Revelation 11:11-13).
After three and one-half days the two witnesses will come back to life, in full view of those who rejoiced over their deaths. Great fear will come over the people as they watch the two prophets ascend into heaven following the command to, "Come up here."

Some have said that this is the rapture of the Church, because of the command, "Come up here." But though the command may be the same, there is at least one great difference in this calling of the two witnesses and the rapture of the Church.

The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:51-51, that we, that is, the Church will "...all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." According to 1 Thessalonians 4:17, this changing involves being "...caught up...in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air."

The rapture of the Church will happen so quickly and be so veiled by the clouds that it will be impossible to see with the human eye. But our text says, the two witnesses will ascend into heaven while their enemies watch them. Therefore, this cannot be an account of the rapture of the church.

Perhaps, the earthquake in Revelation 11:13, indicates the shaking of the very foundations of the earth, when God's last two witnesses are removed from the planet and with them the proclamation of His Word. Even nature is dreading the terrible time of judgment about to be unleashed on the earth.

We know from Revelation 7, the remnant is the 144,000 Jews, 12,000 from each tribe, who will be saved and divinely protected during the Great Tribulation. God will preserve this remnant unto Himself, to welcome their Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, when He returns in Glory to establish His Kingdom on earth.

While they, as all humanity should, stand in fear or terrified at the majesty of God, they are at the same time able to Glorify the God of Heaven with whom they have an everlasting relationship.

This concludes this particular, parenthetical passage and John returns to his chronological account by saying in Revelation 11:14, "The second woe is past and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly."

From "Understanding The Apocalypse"
A book of sermons by Pastor Jim McColloch, Th.M., Th.D.
© Copyright 1994, 1999, 2006