John's Second Commission and the Two Witnesses
When we come to chapters 10-15, we come to the second interlude in Revelation. Remember that the seals and the trumpets follow the same format of first presenting the first six in the series (6 seals and 6 trumpets), second presenting an extended interlude, and third presenting the seventh in the series. Of the 2 interludes, this is the longer. It primarily deals with (1) John receiving his second commission to preach God's judgment upon the nations, (2) the measuring of the Temple and the success of the Christian witness, (3) the conflict between the woman and the dragon, and (4) the conflict between the beast and God's people.
Just a side note before we look at these passages. Beginning with this interlude, John's position moves from heaven to earth. We will see this clearly as we discuss the little book given to John and as John himself gives definite places where he's located. I hate to continue referring to this; however, many who believe in the rapture occurring in Rev. 4:1 insist that John remains in heaven at all times after 4:1. They know that if John ever leaves heaven, then the Christians were not raptured in Rev. 4:1. John cannot just represent Christians in 4:1; either he represents them all the time or not at all.
JOHN'S SECOND COMMISSION (10:1-11)
At this point in Revelation, John sees a strong angel coming down out of heaven, clothed with a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, with feet of fire, and with a face shining like the sun. John is piling description upon description in order to portray the angel as a being of great magnificence and glory. In his hand is a little book which is already open. He places his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land in order to emphasize that his message is meant for the entire world and not just for some small portion of it. He then cries out with a loud voice which resembles that of a roaring lion. Such a voice would strike fear into the heart of all who heard it. This angel is dangerous. Fortunately, for Christians he is dangerous on their behalf; unfortunately for non-Christians, he is dangerously against them. He cries out with this menacing voice because of the judgment upon the world that he is proclaiming. As he cries out, the heavens utter 7 peals of thunder. Like other instances of thunder in Revelation, these peals of thunder serve as warning to all of creation that God is about to pour out His wrath upon the world. Many times before a storm hits us with full fury, we see lightning in the distance accompanied by thunder. Lightning and thunder warn us that the storm is about to hit. So here, the thunder tells us that the storm is about to hit. It is going to hit with a fury the world has never experienced before. John proceeds to write down the contents of the peals of thunder; however, God (the voice from heaven) commands him to refrain from writing it down. Why? Because there is to be no more delay with God's judgment. Taking time to write down the contents of the peals of thunder would take time. In God's opinion, He's given mankind every chance to repent. Now all that time is past. Now it is only time for judgment and wrath.
The angel then takes the pose of the witness in a court about to swear an oath--he raises his right hand and swore by the God of all creation that God is not going to delay any longer pouring out His wrath. Once the seventh trumpet is sounded, God's final wrath will pour out upon all mankind. (Note that the angel appeals to God's position as creator as being the reason God has the right to pour out wrath. Since God created the world and mankind, He has the right to do with it anything he wishes--save it or destroy it. Well, God has chosen to pour out wrath upon His creation if it persists in rebelling against Him. That time has come!) Once the 7th trumpet sounds, God will pour out bowl after bowl of His wrath. There will be no interlude between the 6th and 7th bowls. They will all follow each other in rapid succession.
At this point, the voice from heaven (God?) instructs John to go to the angel standing on the sea and on the land, and to take the little book out of his left hand. When John takes the book from the angel's left hand, the angel commands John to eat it, all the while knowing that it will taste sweet in the mouth but bitter in the stomach. When John eats the little book, it tastes sweet in his mouth but bitter in his stomach as the angel had predicted. Then an unidentified group (they) commands John to prophesy again concerning many peoples, nations, tongues and kings.
This last paragraph requires some explanation. First, why did the little book taste sweet in the mouth but bitter in the belly, and second, what is the significance of John prophesying concerning many peoples, etc.? First, the book tastes sweet in the mouth because proclaiming or teaching God's Word is always a wonderful experience. No matter what the content of God's message, the person who delivers that message senses God's presence in a wonderful way. For example, even though God gave Jeremiah a message of woe and destruction to preach against the nation of Judah (~600 BC), he stillclaimed that he delighted in speaking God's message. On the other hand, the book tasted bitter in the stomach because of the contents of the message. Even though it was God's message, it was still a message of destruction. God's people were going to suffer tremendous persecution in the days ahead; the enemies of God's people were going to experience wrath like the world has never witnessed. Preaching the message is a bitter experience because even though the enemies of God's people deserved what was coming, it was still natural for any human being to recoil in horror at what God was going to do to them. Most of us should take the stance--"But by the grace of God there go I." Although God had commissioned John at the beginning of Revelation, He re-commissions him here to finish the task God had earlier assigned to him.
Why a re-commissioning service? Probably to reassure John because of dark days which lie ahead. Every time I went to a church as a minister, I went believing God had called me there. God just gives me a general impression that this is what He desires. When FBC Corsicana was calling me to serve here, I went to a little room in my house so that I could be by myself while they were voting. As the church was voting, I asked the Lord if this was what He really wanted. I'll never forget that impression from Him telling me this was what He wanted and that everything was going to turn out fine. Whenever times get hard at church, God reminds me of this experience. This impression from the Lord gets ministers through a lot of troubled times. It will sustain John through his darkest moments also.
Second, note that the message is to tongues, races, peoples, and kings. The book of Revelation concerns God's dealings primarily with nations. While it is true that Christians do experience persecution at the hands of individuals, Revelation is concerned about the persecution nations launch against Christians. The Antichrist is not operating on his own but is using the machinery of state to persecute God's people. As such, Revelation concerns God's dealings with nations. Throughout the rest of the book, John will focus on the Antichrist and the nations he convinces to assist him in his attack against God's people.
MEASURING THE TEMPLE (11:1-2)
Next, a rod which serves as a type of measuring stick is given to John with the instructions from an unidentified voice to measure the Temple, the altar within it, and those who worship within it. (Again, the only way for John to measure this is by being on earth). The only part of the Temple not to be measured is the Court of the Gentiles (the outer court which wrapped around the entire structure.
According to the practice in Jesus' day, everybody regardless of race could enter the Court of the Gentiles; normally, those entering this Temple were associated with the worship of God but had not fully committed themselves to being God's people. On the other hand, only God's people could enter the Court of the Women and beyond--the area described by John as the Temple, the altar, and its worshippers. By emphasizing that John was to measure only the Temple proper, God was saying that He was going to protect only His people during this time of great wrath. Whereas God's wrath would fall upon unbelievers, especially those who follow the Antichrist, God would protect His people. Measuring the Temple serves the same purpose as sealing God's people in Rev. 7--the protection of God's people.
Notice though that John was not supposed to measure the outer court; instead, it was going to suffer devastation during this time--devastation most likely at the hands of the Antichrist and at the hands of God's wrath. Who makes up this outer court? They are people associated with God's people but are not really a part of God's people. Paul warns about a coming apostasy of the church--a falling away (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3). These people will claim to be God's people--Christians, and yet they are not. They will be led astray by the delusions of the Antichrist and therefore suffer his wrath because the Antichrist will ultimately turn even against those who follow him (Rev. 17:16). Not only will they suffer at his hand, the holy city itself will suffer because of him. This will occur for a period of 42 months, that is, 3 1/2 years. (The significance of the 3 1/2 we will discuss later).
What is this holy city? It would seem strange to consider this city to be anything except the city of Jerusalem which in turn would represent the Jews. What is so strange about all of this is that the Jews were the ones who led in the persecution of the Christians. They constantly informed against the Christians to the Romans in John's day. They actually thought that they were ingratiating themselves to the Romans; however, they too came to experience Rome's wrath. In 125 AD when Bar Cochba led the Jews in rebellion against Rome, the Romans once more completely decimated the city. They leveled it and completely destroyed its holy sites. The emperor Hadrian constructed pagan temples over Calvary and the Temple Mound (by doing this he did us the invaluable service of forever labeling the site of the church of the Holy Sepulcher as the site of Jesus' crucifixion). Rome's wrath was so great against the Jews that she forbade them ever to enter Jerusalem again. It was not until the Muslim conquest ~500 years later that they were ever able to reenter the Holy City.
As was true 2000 years ago will be true in the future again. Even today there is serious hostility of the Jews against Christians. Once more the Jews will be deceived by the Antichrist and will suffer terribly at his hands.
THE TWO WITNESSES (11:3-14)
During a 3 1/2 period, 2 witnesses will come and testify about Jesus before a group of people in a city mystically called Sodom and Egypt where our Lord was crucified. These 2 witnesses are powerful. If anybody attempts to destroy them, fire shoots from their mouths and destroys their enemies. They have the power to turn water into blood and to shut up the skies to prevent rain. John identifies them as the 2 olive trees and 2 lampstands of Zechariah which stand before the Lord of the earth. After 3 1/2 years have passed, the beast will come up out of the abyss (the realm of the demonic) and will destroy the 2 witnesses--how long it takes him to destroy them John does not say; we'll probe this a little deeper in Rev. 13. In an act of utter desecration and humiliation, the beast and the rest of the world leave the bodies of the 2 witnesses exposed. The world rejoices over the destruction of the 2 witnesses because they had made life miserable for them. They are so happy that they even send gifts to one another in commemoration of the beast's victory over the 2 witnesses. After 3 1/2 days though, a voice from heaven summons the 2 witnesses; they rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. At this point, an earthquake rips through the Holy City, destroying 1/10 of the city and killing 1/10 of its inhabitants (7,000--reflective of the population of Jerusalem during John's day). The rest glorify God. Then the 7th angel sounds his trumpet; all is over.
What all does this mean? Again we need to be careful here because the Book of Revelation abounds in symbols. If you get literal here, then are you going to get literal when John claims that the Beast of chapter 13 has the body of a leopard, feet of a bear, etc.? The most we can say absolutely is that for an indefinite amount of time (3 1/2 years-- 3 1/2 is the symbol of indefiniteness and incompleteness--the witnessing will not last forever), witness about Jesus Christ will be proclaimed to the Jews. This will be a strong witness for Jesus Christ. If you want to water down Christians, make life comfortable for them. On the other hand, if you want to revitalize Christians, persecute them. Well, God's people are going to suffer tremendous persecution, and yet it will only serve to strengthen them. Their power is so great that it can be likened to their shutting up heaven and turning water into blood.
The Jews will resist this witness and even applaud the victory the Antichrist achieves over this witness to Jesus Christ. This victory is short-lived though because witness about Jesus Christ is always victorious. (Note that whereas the witnesses are dead 3 1/2 units of time--another example of incompleteness because they will not always be dead, the unit of time is measured in days and not years. In other words, it is a much shorter amount of time than the time the 2 witnesses witnessed.) Dark days loom ahead for God's people; however, they will ultimately succeed. Their success will result in a significant number of Jews turning to Jesus Christ.
Now some are going to latch upon certain elements of this to try to prove certain theories about Revelation. For example, doesn't it seem to teach that the 2 witnesses just might be Christians whose "rapture" leads to the salvation of the Jewish people? If so, then this rapture occurs at least 3 1/2 years into the tribulation. This would support a mid-trib rapture. Also, remember that John here does not indicate how long it takes for the Beast to defeat the 2 witnesses. He may just give us this clue later in Revelation 13.
Rather, it would seem to indicate that God's people will witness to Jesus Christ for an indefinite amount of time (3 1/2 in Revelation stands for incompleteness as opposed to completeness for the number 7). Antichrist will seem to gain the upper hand in his battle with God's people. The Jews will even rejoice in their seeming demise; however, after this period is over and the Antichrist has seemed to snuff out Christian witness, this witness will be thoroughly vindicated in the eyes of the Jews leading to massive repentance and conversion on their part. After their salvation (at the end of the Tribulation), the 7th Trumpet is blown and the end comes. This seems to harmonize with Paul's prediction (Rom. 11:25-27) that at the end of time, God will once more move upon the Jewish people, leading them to the saving knowledge of His Son.
THE SEVENTH TRUMPET (11:15-19)
After this episode, the 7th angel sounds his trumpet. Instead of massive destruction as we were expecting, we hear a voice: "Now the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ." The fact is that the kingdom of the world has not yet become the kingdom of our Lord and Christ at this point. This awaits the 7 bowls of wrath and the second coming of Jesus Christ; however, they are about to hit with full force and come in rapid succession. The truth is that it is as good as done at this point. It is not a matter of "if the kingdom of this world is going to become the kingdom of our Lord" but a matter of "when" it will become that kingdom.