When it comes to the Book of Revelation, I have found that modern people often struggle with a literal reading of the supernatural. Because such an interpretation seems outlandish, so much of the commentary you’ll find on this book ends up being spent trying to explain the extraordinary things the Apostle John sees in some type of rational way.
For example, instead of the unbelievable ecological destruction of the planet occurring in the first few trumpet judgments being the result of cataclysmic events initiated by God, the descriptions we have of “stars falling from heaven” or “a fiery mountain being thrown into the sea” are seen as modern methods of warfare like scud missiles or nuclear weapons.
And while I completely understand the intellectual need to explain what seems to be crazy (i.e. demon-locusts tormenting men for five months or an alien invasion of 200 million fallen angels eventually killing a third of mankind), my biggest objection to this particular approach is that it fosters a manmade causation for what should be seen as divine.
Understand… During this Great Tribulation, the inhabitants of the earth will be cognitively aware they were experiencing the divine wrath of Almighty God. Case in point, look at the way chapter 9 closes… John says, “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” A refusal to repent implies an active resistance to one’s need for repentance.
In many ways, the Book of Revelation is best understood as a clash between the seen and unseen worlds. While there has always existed a tension between the two, during this time period, the separation of the physical world and the spiritual is no longer necessary. What is evil and holy converge. Darkness is on an irreversible crash course with the Light!
You see I believe during these seven years the supernatural becomes so overt and obvious it’s completely normalized. Rational explanations for the radicle things John records in this book will not be warranted. What we read and interpret as literal will become actual.
Angels are sent to earth to provide divine proclamations to mankind. Demons are loosed to torment humanity for five-months. 144,000 witnesses bear a seal on their foreheads and cannot be killed. Two more witnesses in Jerusalem have the ability to preform signs and wonders. Not to be outdone, the Antichrist and False Prophet can do the same.
My point is that during the Great Tribulation the supernatural which includes interacts with angels and demons will be commonplace — the norm. And because this is the case, as you process what you’re reading, always keep in mind trying to “make sense” of things that are going to happen in an environment totally foreign to our own is not warranted.
With His Church in heaven, for seven years Jesus incrementally removes the veil between this unbelieving, rebellious world and hell — allowing mankind a taste of his eternal destiny. Then, once His judgment is completed and the fate of man sealed, this Tribulational Period will swiftly end as the veil between earth and heaven is removed in Jesus’ Second Coming.
As we will see in the coming weeks, by the end of these seven years, no living person will be left uncertain of the truth or uncommitted. As the undercurrent for all of these judgments, God’s desire is to illustrate for humanity what our eternal decisions really are… You either follow Jesus or you join in Satan’s rebellion. In the end, based upon that sole decision, your destiny will either be heaven or it will be hell. There are no other options.
Revelation 10:1-4, “I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a rainbow was on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire. He had a little book open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars.
When he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices. Now when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them.’”
In the original language this phrase “another mighty angel” indicates this is another angel of the same kind we’ve seen before. On account of the description John provides some have tried to argue this angel is Jesus, but I disagree. While it is true in the Old Testament most of the pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus would reference Him as “The Angel of the Lord,” this particular phraseology never transitions into the New Testament let alone Revelation.
Aside from this, in verse 6, we will see this angel “swear by Him who lives forever and ever.” According to Hebrews 6:13, we read, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself.” Again, the very fact this angel swears by God seems to eliminate any chance of the angel being Jesus.
What we can say of this unnamed angel is that he came from the presence of God (“coming down from heaven”), was powerfully majestic (he was “clothed with a cloud,” had a “rainbow on his head” with a “face like the sun,” and “feet like pillars of fire”), had been given authority (“had a little book open in his hand”), and possessed the dominion to carry forth God’s will on earth (he had “one foot on the sea” and the other “on the land”).
As John watched, he noted how this angel “cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars.” While we don’t have a record of what exactly the angel roared, John does say that in response to his cries “seven thunders uttered their voices.” Because the “voices” of these “seven thunders” was understandable and known by John, we can assume this wasn’t a normal thunder storm. As to what these “seven thunders” are — I have no clue!
To make matters even stranger… John says that “when the seven thunders uttered their voices he was about to write; but heard a voice from heaven” instructing him to “seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and not to write them.” In a book in which John was specifically instructed to write down the things he saw and heard, it’s now strange that in this one instance whatever was being said needed to be struck from the record.
Really the only thing we can derive from this interesting detail is that it positively identifies the “voice” John hears “from heaven” as being that of Jesus. Since it was Jesus who originally instructed John to write what he saw and heard, only Jesus possessed the authority to tell John to now avoid writing something down. In fact, in the next chapter, the same voice will say to John, “I will give power to My two witnesses.”
Revelation 10:5-7, “The angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised up his hand to heaven and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, that there should be delay no longer, but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets.”
It would appear this angel’s core mission was to set the stage for the end. In effect, he’s announcing for everyone to hear that with “the sounding of the seventh angel the mystery of God would be finished.” Everything had been set into motion. “There should be delay no longer.” The end was nigh and the finality of God’s plan was nearing completion.
In the Bible, when you run across this word “the mystery of God,” keep in mind, in a Scriptural context, a “mystery” was not something no one could know, but something no one could possibly know unless God revealed it to them. In a way, a mystery was something only knowable through revelation and not through intuition or investigation.
While the world may not have known God’s plan, this angel makes clear “the mystery” had been “declared to God’s servants the prophets.” This angel is telling the world that (1) the final aspect of God’s plan for earth was about to begin, and (2) God had revealed everything to His prophets who recorded it in the Bible. No one could claim ignorance.
Before we move on, please look back at verse 7… We read, “In the days (plural) of the sounding of the seventh angel.” Again, this is a perfect example of time in heaven relating in non-linear ways on earth. We know a trumpet is blown in heaven and from its blast John records how seven angels pour out seven bowls of judgment onto the earth. The question begs… How many “days” would it take for these thing to play out on earth?
Revelation 10:8-11, “Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said (this is the same voice who told John not to record the seven thunders), ‘Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.’ So I went to the angel and said to him, ‘Give me the little book.’ (Let’s be real that took some brass on the part of John.) And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.’
Then I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. And he said to me, ‘You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.’”
As we seek to make sense of what’s happening, keep in mind, John is not the first person in the Bible to receive such a bizarre instruction. In fact, the eccentric prophet Ezekiel had an almost identical experience. He was given a scroll to eat with the same warning that while it would be “sweet as honey in his mouth” it would turn “bitter” in his “stomach.”
Regarding this “little book” in the possession of this angel, while we aren’t exactly told what was contained in the book itself, contextually we can conclude it had something to do with the remaining portion of the revelation John was about to receive. In the end, what John would record would prove to be bittersweet. Yes, it would end with heaven coming to earth, but earth would first have to descend into the depths of hell for that to happen.
Revelation 11:1-3, “Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.’”
Transitioning into chapter 11 John recounts how he was “given a measuring rod” with the instructions to “measure” three things: “The temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.” Additionally, the one thing John was to avoid measuring was “the court which is outside the temple.” The reason — “It had been given to the Gentiles.”
Historically, we know the first temple had been constructed by King Solomon only to be later destroyed by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The second rose from the ashes of the first when Zerubbabel was granted permission to rebuild the temple by the Persians. Several hundred years later this second temple would be completely renovated and restored to its former glory by Herod the Great only to be destroyed by Titus in 70 AD.
In Ezekiel 40-43, like John, the prophet was given a similar instruction to measure a future temple that will be used by Jesus during His Millennial Reign. In his vision the outer courts were included. It’s likely Ezekiel measures a fourth temple and in this passage John the third — a temple that would be constructed before or during the Tribulation only to be desecrated by the Antichrist when he commits the Abomination of Desolation.
Many scholars view this detail that John should avoid measuring the outer court as an indication some type of agreement will be reached whereby the Jews are allowed to build their temple next to the Dome of the Rock — which currently sits atop the Temple Mount. Having visited the Temple Institute in Jerusalem I can attest there is credence to this idea.
While the existence of this third temple is fascinating, the emphasis of the chapter quickly pivots in verse 3… Jesus tells John, “And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” Let’s take some time and unpack what all we can deduce about these witnesses from the text.
First, during the Great Tribulation, aside from these 144,000 Jewish evangelists positioned across the globe, Jesus will have “two witnesses” or representatives who’s ministry will be centralized in Jerusalem (“the holy city”). This fact will be reinforced in verse 8 when John describes “the great city which spiritually is called Sodom (overrun by immorality) and Egypt (filled with idolatry), where also our Lord was crucified.”
Secondly, in addition to openly and publicly testifying of Jesus as His witnesses, they will also “prophesy.” Basically, these two will act as God’s megaphone to mankind. You see there will be no doubting why these cataclysmic events were taking place on earth. The voice of these two witnesses will make it abundantly clear what was really going on.
Thirdly, because these two witnesses are “clothed in sackcloth” we can reason the substance of their message will be one of repentance similar to that of John the Baptist. Beyond telling people why these things were happening in the world, these two witnesses will also be bringing to the world a message of salvation from sin offered by Jesus!
Fourth, their prophetic ministry will last a specific period of 1,260 days or 3.5 years — exactly half of this seven year period of Tribulation and likely the first half. These witnesses are commissioned by Jesus to fill a role that will only last until a particular point in time. It would seem the angel’s declaration in Revelation 10:6 that “there should be delay no longer” and the ministry and tragic deaths of these two witnesses are intertwined.
Fifth, in order to validate their witness and message, we’re told Jesus gives them supernatural “power” or literally My power. In the next few verses John illustrates how this power manifests… Revelation 11:4-6, “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.”
Regarding this God-given power, these two witness are able to preform signs and wonders akin to some of the Old Testament stories “as often as they desire.” Like Elijah, they are able to reign down fire from heaven as well as hold back the rain from falling. Like Moses, they have the power to turn water into blood and strike the earth with all kinds of plagues.
While up until this point in the Book we’ve seen each of these divine judgments being initiated through an act in the heavenly space, could it be that some of the “plagues” of the trumpet judgments actually coincide with the activities of these two witnesses on earth? I’d say not only is it possible, but in fact highly likely.
I should add that over the course of their 3½ ministry these two witnesses develop some very real opposition. John says, “If anyone wants to harm them (implying there were people who wanted to cause them harm) fire proceeds from their mouths and devours their enemies (again implying these men were facing real enemies seeking them harm).”
It’s interesting what John says of these two witnesses in verse 4… He writes, “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.” It’s likely this reference to “olive trees” indicates they were Jewish just like the 144,000. Furthermore, consistent with what we’ve discussed regarding the imagery, the reference to them being “lampstands” tells us they’d been uniquely position to be God’s light into the darkness.
Revelation 11:7-10, “When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies 3½ days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves (this would have been impossible before the internet and a 24-hour news cycle). And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.”
Recording the scene, John begins this section by saying when “they had finished their testimony.” Again, don’t forget the Lord had designated their ministry to last 1,260 days giving them the power to fend off any assassinations attempts. That said, now that their ministry had run its course and was finished, John sees “the beast” rise up and “kill” these two men. Note: All of the Greek pronouns being used in the text are masculine.
While this happens to be the first mention of “the beast” in the Book of Revelation, over the next several chapters this man will become a central figure. Known in the Bible as the Son of Perdition, Man of Lawlessness, the Little Horn, or just as the Antichrist, this powerful man, we originally saw ride upon the world stage back in the first seal of Revelation 6, is finally able to rid the world of the scourge caused by these two witnesses.
John says in the streets of Jerusalem the Antichrist “will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.” All of this descriptive language paints the picture of a violent and dramatic confrontation likely televised for the entire world to see. No one had been able to silence these two men until this sensational moment the Antichrist kills them himself.
Not only are the “dead bodies” of these two men desecrated by being left to rot in the streets of Jerusalem for 3½ days, but the world community ends up celebrating their deaths by “rejoicing, making merry, and sending gifts to one another.” What’s happening here is so odd this is the only time in the Book we find this word “rejoice.” There is a deep relief these two men are dead. The world exhales and the Antichrist’s popularity soars.
Revelation 11:11-13, “Now after the 3½ days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them. In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
You want to talk about the party coming to a screeching halt! Imagine the scene. After laying in the streets for 3½ days, suddenly their bodies begin to stir and “they stand on their feet.” At this point shocked by what they’re seeing and unsure of what was about to follow, people are completely freaking out. Then they watch as these two men look up and without warning “ascend to heaven.” One moment they were there. The next they were gone!
Soon after (John says “in the same hour”) as people are trying to process and make sense of what all had just happened, Jerusalem is hit with an earthquake that results in a tenth of the city being completely destroyed and 7000 people dying. John adds that those who didn’t perish (“the rest” or remnant) “were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
Revelation 11:14, “The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.”
Before we continue, while I completely reject the position which claims these two witnesses are anything other that two literal men, I do want to acknowledge the reality that copious amounts of time and energy are spent seeking to identify these two witnesses. If you find yourself interested in such matters, based upon the description provided by the Apostle John, the general consensus identifies these two men as being Elijah and Moses.
Beyond that, a solid case can be made for one of the two being the obscure Old Testament character Enoch. Further down the rabbit hole, you can even find a decent argument for Zerubbabel and the High Priest Joshua — read Zechariah 4 for more information.
The more I’ve studied this topic the less convinced I am that it’s any of these men. In fact, the more likely scenario is these two witnesses are not OT saints sent back to earth at all! Instead, I believe they’re likely unnamed men who are raised up by Jesus following the Rapture and commissioned to fill this specific role in God’s plan for the ages.
Here’s why I believe this… Unlike the “seven thunders,” John isn’t omitting the identities of these men because he’s been instructed to keep them a secret. Instead, it’s only logical John doesn’t provide their identities because he doesn’t know their identities! In fact, the one thing we can say for sure is the identities of these two witnesses are not important in any way or Jesus would have revealed them to John who’d then articulate them to us.
From my perspective, if the two witnesses were Elijah and Moses, John would have known and told us. Why? He knew what Elijah and Moses looked like! Don’t forget John had been one of three men who’d seen them both talking with Jesus at the Mount of Transfiguration.
Furthermore, if these two witnesses are actually Old Testament characters, why keep that a secret? For example, if these two men were Moses representing the Law and Elijah the Prophets, don’t you think that would have been such a significant detail regarding the overarching storyline of the Bible that John would have been obligated to mention it?
What about the prophecy in Malachi that said Elijah would return before the Messiah? The simple fact is that an argument can be made that prophecy really spoke about someone coming before Jesus in the “spirit of Elijah” and that it wasn’t actually going to be Elijah himself — this happens to be the argument for the significance of John the Baptist. It’s a stretch to say definitively that Elijah has to return to earth before the Second Coming.
What about the notion that it’s appointed for everyone to die once? People will argue that since Elijah was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot and Enoch walked with God and was taken, these two men need to come back to earth and die a physical death. They’ll apply the same argument to Moses since we don’t know exactly what happened to his body.
And yet, there are a few problems with this… If let’s say that is your perspective, explain to me what happens in the Rapture when “the dead in Christ arise first and then those who are alive and remain are caught up to be with Him in the air?” To be consistent, if everyone has to die, is the Rapture of the Church Jesus killing His Bride in order to take her home?
To be real, there is no debating the reality that Moses died which is problematic for him being one of the two witnesses. Regarding Elijah… Explain how you physically survive a ride in a fiery chariot? While Hebrews 11 confirms Enoch “did not see death” and Jude tells us he was an End Times prophet, if he or Elijah need to return to earth in order to die, what is their present condition in heaven since they haven’t received a glorified body yet?
Again, there is nothing about the text that demands we raise two Old Testament hero's from the dead so that the story makes more sense. Instead, a simple cursory reading says that during the first 3½ years of the Great Tribulation Jesus will commission and empower two Jewish men alive on the earth to be His witnesses in the city of Jerusalem.
Because the entire world hates these men and all that they represent, while untouchable for the duration of their ministry, after the 1260 days, the Antichrist will kill them, the world will rejoice, and then 3½ days later they will be resurrected by God and ascend to glory. At this point the seventh trumpet blasts and we likely begin the second half of Great Tribulation.
In closing, what I do find interesting about the story-arch of these two witnesses is that the world absolutely hated them “because they tormented those who dwell on the earth.” While it’s safe to assume people didn’t appreciate the plagues and judgments brought forth by these men, my guess is the torment they caused ran much deeper than that. You see in the end the world will hate these men for two things: their witness and their message!
Never overlook the fact these men are called the two witnesses. You see the word itself isn’t necessarily active, but the result of a previous activity. A person becomes a witness of Jesus Christ for only one reason… They have an encounter with Jesus that changes them forever. You are a witness or your not! When it was all said and done these two men were deeply despised because they represented Jesus who the world deeply hated.
Aside from this, it was also the message of these two men that prohibited a wicked world from operating with a clean conscious. As we saw at the end of chapter 9, in spite of all the supernatural warnings around them, humanity refused to repent choosing instead to harden in their rebellion against God. Christian, always know a sinful man who is resisting the truth of his sin will alway hate and persecute the truth-speaker.
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