Olive Tree

In the first two verses of Revelation 11 we were shown that the temple of the Lord, representing the holy people of God, would be spiritually spared and remain safe with God through the coming national judgment. However, it was not going to go well for those who were not the people of God. Revelation 11:2 tells us that the holy city, Jerusalem, would be trampled by the Gentiles for 42 months. This statement parallels Jesus’ words in Luke 21:20-24 where Jesus described the destruction of Jerusalem that the Romans would inflict in 70 AD. Revelation 11 has shown us that the physical Jewish nation was about to be judged for its sinfulness. The rest of the imagery continues in verse 3.

The Two Witnesses (11:3-6)

God grants authority to his two witnesses to prophesy for 1260 days clothed in sackcloth. As we noted in our last lesson, 1260 days is the same as 42 months and a time, times, and half a time. This time marker reveals that it would going a limited time of tribulation, distress, and persecution. Further, the two witnesses are clothed in sackcloth. Sackcloth was used for times of mourning and distress (Job 16:15; Esther 4:1-3; Genesis 37:34; 2 Samuel 3:31). The witnesses are mourning over the judgment message they are preaching. They are mourning for the sins of the nation and the judgment that will result (Joel 1:8; Amos 8:10).

We want to know who the two witnesses are. The next few verses describe who the two witnesses. We are told that the two witnesses are, “The two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” This is a reference to Zechariah 4:2-14. Unfortunately, Zechariah 4 is a difficult text to understand which does not help us much in understand who the two witnesses are in Revelation 11. However, the force of the teaching is that the Spirit of God was going to accomplish his word. The obstacles would be removed and the temple would be rebuilt by the power of God accomplishing the prophecy of God. It is likely that the two anointed ones is referring to the Joshua and Zerubbabel who would be the tools God would use to rebuild the temple. This is the message in Revelation 11:4. The word of God is going to be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit, represented by the two witnesses. Verses 5-6 will give us more clarity about who the two witnesses are.

Verse 5 tells us that recompense will fall upon those who harm the two witnesses. The language is reminiscent of the divine protection God offered to the prophets (2 Kings 1:10; Jeremiah 5:14). When Ahaziah sent his army to take Elijah back to him, Elijah called for fire to come down and the fire consumed the army. The fire pictures judgment against those who resist these two witnesses. Verse 6 reveals who these two witnesses are. The witnesses have the power to shut the sky that no rain may fall while they prophesy and they have the power to turn the waters to blood and strike the earth with plague. The one who was able to shut the sky was Elijah (1 Kings 17:1) and the one who brought the plagues was Moses (Exodus 7:17-21). To match what we were told in verses 4-5 we must see Elijah and Moses representing the Law and the prophets. Remember that we saw that the two olive trees and two lampstands represent the word of the Lord being accomplished through the power of the Spirit of God. The Law and the prophets foretold these events concerning the destruction of the Jewish nation. Moses prophesied these things would happen in Deuteronomy 28:15-68. Notice verses 52-57 particularly.

“They shall besiege you in all your towns, until your high and fortified walls, in which you trusted, come down throughout all your land. And they shall besiege you in all your towns throughout all your land, which the LORD your God has given you. 53 And you shall eat the fruit of your womb, the flesh of your sons and daughters, whom the LORD your God has given you, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemies shall distress you. 54 The man who is the most tender and refined among you will begrudge food to his brother, to the wife he embraces, and to the last of the children whom he has left, 55 so that he will not give to any of them any of the flesh of his children whom he is eating, because he has nothing else left, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in all your towns. 56 The most tender and refined woman among you, who would not venture to set the sole of her foot on the ground because she is so delicate and tender, will begrudge to the husband she embraces, to her son and to her daughter, 57 her afterbirth that comes out from between her feet and her children whom she bears, because lacking everything she will eat them secretly, in the siege and in the distress with which your enemy shall distress you in your towns. (Deuteronomy 28:52–57 ESV)

This description details exactly what happened during the Jerusalem siege by the Romans from 66-70 AD. Daniel prophesied the destruction of the Jewish nation in the vision of the 70 weeks (Daniel 9:24-27). The prophecy concerns the Jews and Jerusalem according to Daniel 9:24, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city.” Notice verse 26 in particular.

And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. (Daniel 9:26 ESV)

Therefore, the two witnesses represent all of God’s servants who are proclaiming the word of the Lord. Notably, the witnesses would includes the prophets and apostles who were prophesying and preaching that the holy city would be trampled. The word of the Lord will be accomplished and the servants of God (the two witnesses) are proclaiming that God’s promises and prophecies will happen. The descriptions that we read about the two witnesses indicate that we are talking about a larger body of God’s servants, not just two people. (1) The beast makes war on the two witnesses (vs. 7). This does not make much sense if the two witnesses are only two individuals. Far better to see the two witnesses as the prophets, apostles, and those who are proclaiming the message of judgment. (2) The world is watching them die, which makes more sense as those who are proclaiming the message of judgment rather than just two individuals. To summarize the point of verses 3-6: the symbol is the message of the Law and the prophets prophesying judgment for the sins of the Jewish nation. The prophets, apostles, and people of God were the ones preaching this message to the Jewish nation.

The Resurrection of the Witnesses (11:7-14)

The beast that rises from the abyss will make war with the two witnesses, conquers them, and kills them. In Revelation 9 we read the locusts being released from the abyss and identified the locusts as the Roman Empire. Now this Roman Empire is described as a beast. Revelation 13 will reveal why the beast imagery is used and we will look at those details when we get to that chapter. For now we simply need to see the Roman Empire as the beast that is the one desolating the Jewish nation. In the desolation of the Jewish nation, the prophets, apostles, and proclaimers of God’s word are going to be killed as well. When the Romans invaded Judea, they desolated over 980 towns, including the great city of Jerusalem. Their bodies are going to lie in the street of the great city that is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.

A couple translations read that the great city is “symbolically called Sodom and Egypt” (ESV, NET). Some translations read “figuratively called Sodom and Egypt” (TNIV, NIV, NLT). A couple translations read “prophetically” (HCSB, NRSV). The NASB reads, “Mystically.” The Greek word pneumatikos, which BAG (p. 685) says means “spiritually, in a spiritual manner, full of the divine Spirit.” Elsewhere in the NT, the word characterizes that which pertains to the Spirit in contrast to the flesh. You can see pneuma in the Greek word which means spirit. The ESV footnote even says that the Greek is “spiritually.” Why the ESV did not simply render the meaning is unknown to me. The NKJV is right to render this literally as, “The great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt.” The spiritual condition of the city is in view. It is not a mystical statement or a prophetic statement. The city in view has the spiritual lack as the city of Sodom and the nation of Egypt.

Which city is in view? Which city is deserving of judgment because of their sins? It is the city where their Lord was crucified. The city where the Lord was crucified was Jerusalem. Jesus our Lord was killed in the city of Jerusalem. Most say that the great city refers to Rome because later in Revelation we read that the great city is identified with Babylon. If Revelation 11:8 had simply said, “The great city,” then I would agree that Rome is in view. However, the text clarifies for us what the great city is. The great city is the same city where their Lord was crucified. This fits what we read in Revelation 11:2 that the holy city, Jerusalem, is in view and the object of God’s wrath. The beast is destroying Jerusalem and in the process the two witnesses are also killed. This is not the first time in scriptures that the physical nation of Israel has been spiritually equated with Sodom and Egypt. Israel is identified spiritually with Sodom in Isaiah 1:9-10, Jeremiah 23:14, and Ezekiel 16:46-49.

But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his evil; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomorrah.” (Jeremiah 23:14 ESV)

Israel was also spiritually identified with Egypt in Ezekiel 23 and Jeremiah 9:26. Notice a couple verses in Ezekiel 23 to see this spiritual identification. In Ezekiel 23:4 we are told that the prophecy is against Samaria and Jerusalem, representing both the northern and southern nations of the divided kingdom of Israel. Thus, Ezekiel prophesied God’s word:

When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister. Yet she increased her whoring, remembering the days of her youth, when she played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses. (Ezekiel 23:18–20 ESV) The prophets spoke of how Israel was returning to its idolatrous ways as they had practiced when they were in Egypt.

The beast is killing the witnesses, that is, the Romans are killing the apostles and those proclaiming God’s word. People from all the nations will gloat over the death of these Christians, refusing to even allow a proper burial for them. For a dead body to lie in view was considered the worst humiliation a person could suffer from his enemies (Psalm 79:3-4). Let us not forget that Christians are not only dying in the great tribulation as the Romans attacked Judea, but Christians are dying throughout the Roman Empire under the rule of Nero. During the years of 66-70 AD is when the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul were killed by Nero. It is during this time that Nero is dipping Christians in wax and lighting them on fire so he could see his gardens. It is during this time that Christians are being dressed in animal clothing to be chased and torn apart by animals for sport. The world has no love for Christians during these years. Revelation 11 is describing all the events that are going on as the physical Jewish nation is receiving its judgment. Killing Christians was no big deal to the world. The ungodly rejoice at seeing the death of God’s people and God’s apostles because they preached to the world a risen Savior who would return in judgment against those who do not repent.

Verses 11-12 reinforce the message of hope for those who overcome. In Revelation 7 we saw the people of God sealed. Though they are killed they are shown standing before the throne, with the Lamb, receiving white robes of victory. The victory is pictured again. The beast is killing the apostles and those who are proclaiming the message of the Law and the prophets. But these slain people of God are pictured as resurrected. They ascend to heaven in a cloud just as Jesus ascended when he went back to the Father in heaven. The word of the Lord is not dead. The word of the Lord is not extinguished or silenced. God’s word continues to be proclaimed. Christianity was not extinguished and those who were killed are victorious as they go up to heaven.

The earthquake is a further sign of God’s vindication of his servants who proclaim the word of the Lord. Just as the great earthquake that occurred at the death of Jesus was God’s vindicating act of Jesus and a message of judgment to the earth, so also this earthquake for the two witnesses. A tenth of the city falls and seven thousand people are killed. For a tenth of the city to fall leading to the dead of seven thousand shows that this is a smaller city being judged. The population of the city of Rome in the first century is estimated to be about 5 million people. The population of Jerusalem in the first century is estimated to be about 70,000 to 100,000. The imagery fits the capture of the city of Jerusalem. Part of the city falls as Rome surrounds Jerusalem. Part of the city was conquered, the part called the newer city that was outside the second wall but inside the third wall. Now the hysteria within Jerusalem begins as the siege wall is built and Jerusalem is about to fall. The people begin to cry out to God in their terror. However, it is too late. The second woe has passed. There is one more woe that is soon to come.

The Seventh Trumpet (11:15-19)

The seventh angel blows his trumpet. Remember what this meant. Go back to Revelation 10:7 and note that when the seventh angel blew his trumpet then all that the prophets had spoken concerning this event would be fulfilled. Remember that this angel was seen in Daniel 12:7 saying that the shattering of the power of the holy people was going to come. The angel in Revelation 11:6-7 says there is no more delay. The shattering of the power of the holy people would take place when the seventh angel sounds the trumpet. The seventh trumpet now sounds. This pictures of the fall of the city of Jerusalem, the judgment against the physical Jewish nation.

The final judgment of the Jewish nation shows the continuing establishment of Christ’s kingdom as Christ conquers all of his enemies. The enemies of Christ’s kingdom have been defeated. Every enemy is being subjected under the feet of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:25). Notice verse 18: The nations rage, but your wrath has come. Time for judgment and time for reward for those who are God’s servants. This imagery recalls Psalm 2:2 where the nations rage against God’s anointed. However, Christ rules over the earth and subjects the nations.

Verse 19 concludes the woe and it is an important image. God has judged. There are flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail. These are images that God has brought final judgment on the nation. God’s temple is seen in heaven, not on the earth. This relates to what we studied in our previous lesson in Hebrews 12:26-28. The things shaken had to be removed so that the things cannot be shaken may remain. Though the physical temple was destroyed, the true temple of God remains in heaven. The true people of God remain. Further, the ark of the covenant is seen in heaven, not on earth. The ark of the covenant represented God’s presence and favor in the Old Testament. Josephus records that the ark of the covenant was not in the second temple (Wars V. 219). The ark had been lost when the Babylonians invaded back in 586 BC. God’s presence was never again pictured with the physical nation or the physical temple in Jerusalem, though it had been rebuilt in 516 BC and was beautified and expanded by Herod at beginning of the first century. The ark of the covenant is pictured within the heavenly temple. God’s presence and favor is with his people, not the physical Jewish nation. God has destroyed another nation that stood in opposition to the people of God.

Lessons:

1.    The preservation of the proclaimers. Revelation 11 emphasizes the work of the two witnesses. We are supposed to be the instruments that proclaim God’s message to the world. God will accomplish his word. We must know his word, explain his word, and teach his word to the world.

2.    Judgment must come against Christ’s enemies.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–27 ESV)

Christ reigns until all enemies are under his feet. Please notice that everything will be put under his feet. He will destroy every rule, every authority, and every power. All things will be subjected and all enemies will be destroyed. Do not be an enemy of Christ. Find favor with him now by receiving the grace he is offering through faith.