Revelation 11 (The Seventh Trumpet)
This chapter starts with a continuation of the interlude between the 6th and 7th trumpet announcement. John had been told to take the message of the little book into his very bowels which contained the blessed hope of the righteous and the bitter prophecies of the impending judgment to be spoken of against the world of the unrighteous. The seventh trumpet will sound in this chapter heralding the final judgment of the Roman Empire. This event will conclude the opening of the seventh seal of the book only Jesus could unlock and reveal.
In looking at all the different characters illustrated in chapter 11, it is helpful to remember who the real characters are in the grand picture. Just like with the locusts in chapter 9 we need to focus on the characteristics more than the characters, the activities more than the actors and keep in mind that this whole thing is written about who is going to overcome and who is going to fall. On one side we have the bad guys ruled over by Satan and on the other side we have the good guys ruled over by God. The good and the bad are at war with each other and there’s really no one else represented in these visions.
The righteous are God, Jesus and various angels. The good institution is the church and the good individuals are the faithful Christians. The bad guys, the unrighteous, are Satan and his followers. The evil institution is the Roman Empire and the evil individuals are its citizens which are unbelievers. The activities are always good vs evil and they are in always in conflict. The weapons used by each side are consistent with their natures. The evil use whatever earthly weapon there is to wield while the good use only spiritual weapons such as the word of God, goodness, kindness, compassion and love. The evil hate the good and they are trying to destroy them with whatever means they can contrive. The good love the evil and they are trying to save them armed with the spiritual weapons of righteousness. From the outside looking in, it looks like a one sided battle in favor of the evil. But on the inside looking out it is a one sided battle in favor of the righteous because on their side, they have the creator, the God of the universe (Romans 8:31). When looking at these visions, one can identify which characters, whether good or evil, are in view and insert them into the proper place, and go a long way toward understanding these visions.
“And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and one said, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.”
Earlier when asked who would be able to stand against the judgment of God, we learned that God’s divine retribution would be held back until all His faithful servants had been sealed in their foreheads (Revelation 7). The time is approaching for the sounding of the seventh trumpet and John is told to measure the temple of God. The temple of God here is representative of the church which is the collection of the redeemed, illustrated here by “them that worship therein“. The alter is the one beneath which the souls of the slain cried out for justice in Revelation 6:9-10. The entire sum of the saved is in view here and John has been told to measure them. He is not measuring objects, rather he is taking the measure of the people represented by the objects in the vision. With the final judgment in sight, John has been instructed to see for himself how many of the souls had been sealed.
“And the court which is without the temple leave without, and measure it not; for it hath been given unto the nations: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.”
The temple in verse one was representative of the church, therefore those who are not within the temple are not in the church and they are not to be included with the number of the redeemed in any way. The church is referred to in the NT epistles as the “temple of God” (1 Corinthians 3:16). There is a contrast drawn here between those who are saved in the temple and those who are not saved being outside the temple.
The area outside the temple is populated by the nations of the earth and they persecuted the church and treaded it under foot for forty two months. This period of time is 3 1/2 years as is also the ‘thousand two hundred and threescore days” in the following verse. The number 3 1/2 is half of 7 which symbolizes the perfection of God on earth. The number 3 1/2 symbolizes that which is incomplete therefore the nations of the earth were not allowed to trample the church underfoot until it was destroyed.
“And I will give unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.”
Keeping in mind who the good characters are and what they are doing we can know that these two witnesses represent the church which is prophesying for the period of time allowed for the nations of the earth to trample them underfoot. These two witnesses compared with the ones sent out by Jesus in pairs (Luke 10:1) are the living saints on earth of the group of those represented as the “temple of God“. While the saints on earth are being persecuted, they are teaching, preaching and trying to reach the lost. They were trying to save the very ones that were trying to kill them.
“These are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks, standing before the Lord of the earth.”
This is an explanation of who the two witnesses were. The number two represented strength and confirmation in the minds of the 1st century Christians. The two witnesses in verse 11 are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks. Their characteristics were the bearers of food and of the light of righteousness standing before the Lord of the earth. These are the living saints of God on earth carrying out the duties of carrying the gospel message to the lost.
The Lord of the earth they are standing before is interesting. Is this the evil influences of Satan they are pictured as, standing in opposition to face to face? Or is this God they are standing before, pictured as standing together in opposition to the influences of evil? There is sufficient evidence to build a case in support of either view. Of importance is that the people represented in this vision are standing for good and standing in opposition to evil. If that there is no doubt.
“And if any man desireth to hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth and devoureth their enemies; and if any man shall desire to hurt them, in this manner must he be killed.”
The saints on earth are in view in this vision. Obviously literal fire does not come from the mouth of Christians. This figure draws its meaning from the words spoken by God to Jeremiah in 5:14, “Wherefore thus saith the LORD God of hosts, Because ye speak this word, behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.” The image here is of power which is for the protection of the saints and the conquest of their enemies. The fire coming out of the mouths of the witnesses is the condemnation of sin and the judgment of God on the unrighteous. we also see here the fate of those who would oppress the saints.
“These have the power to shut the heaven, that it rain not during the days of their prophecy: and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they shall desire.”
Again we see the imagery of the power of the saints being drawn from old testament figures. Elijah prayed for a drought that lasted “three years and six months” (Luke 4:25, James 5:17), and Moses turned the water in Egypt to blood (Exodus 7:20). It is interesting that the drought of Elijah lasted the exact same period of time that the holy city would be trodden underfoot and period of time that the two witnesses would prophecy. All of these figures of divine retribution were seen in the old testament and refer to God’s judgment on the Roman Empire. The Jewish Christians familiar with the ancient prophets would associate these things with the plagues they inflicted on their oppressors by the power of God. God was answering their prayers and they knew the difficulties that were befalling the Roman Empire were a direct result of God’s intervention on their behalf.
“And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them.”
And here starts some of the grimmest prophecy of John’s vision so far. The Christians, represented as the two witnesses, who were trying to bring those who were their bitterest mortal enemies to Christ were going to suffer heavy casualties. We will see more of this beast that cometh up out of the abyss later on, but for now it is obvious this is the enemy of the Christians who is making war against them. And sadly, the suffering Christians are being told that they will be overcome and suffer greatly.
“And their dead bodies (lie) in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.”
Scholars are divided on whether this is a reference to Jerusalem or not. Certainly Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. History records that no Christians were killed in Jerusalem when it was destroyed by the Roman Empire. The internal evidence of Revelation places the dating of its writing during the reign of Vespasian who was the emperor at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem was a response from the Roman Empire against a Jewish revolt, not against the Christians. Of significance here is the fact that regardless of when Jerusalem was destroyed in relation to the writing of Revelation, the things which must shortly come to pass certainly did have to occur after Jerusalem was destroyed. This vision cannot be about Jerusalem because by the time it happened, Jerusalem did not even exist. It was so totally destroyed that no Christians would have even been living in what was left of it. This conflict is not between the Romans and the Jews. It is between the Romans and the Christians, therefore this cannot be a reference to old Jerusalem because it did not exist at the time. Therefore in the minds of the first readers, this “great city” would have to be Rome. When unraveling the figurative language, something that could not have been cannot be what is represented in John’s visions.
The words “great city” occur in Revelation 10 times in the King James translation. In all other instances it is in reference to the Roman Empire which was ruled from the “great city” of Rome, often times referred to as Babylon in Revelation. Never was old Jerusalem referred to as a “great city”. In fact, old Jerusalem is never directly mentioned in Revelation. The only mention of Jerusalem in Revelation is in reference to the new Jerusalem. This is a significant clue to take into consideration on whether Revelation was written before or after the destruction of Jerusalem. If Revelation were written before AD 70, then why was old Jerusalem never mentioned? Why would Jesus Christ address 7 existing churches in Asia and neglect even a passing word to the church in Jerusalem if it existed?
“And from among the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations do (men) look upon their dead bodies three days and a half, and suffer not their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb.”
People from all over the Roman Empire and beyond saw the dead bodies of the slain Christians. This was not a local event in a single city. This was something much larger for all the peoples and tribes and tongues of the world to be witness too. This image of worldwide persecution is another reason why the “great city” in verse 8 cannot be old Jerusalem. It must be in reference to the Roman Empire where Jesus Christ was indeed crucified. The Roman Empire is represented by the capitol city of Rome and is therefore why it was referred to the city where Jesus Christ was crucified.
The slain Christians did not even get so much as a decent burial. They were left to serve as public displays for all who would see and know of their fate and why. It’s almost like a demonstration of what awaits those who refuse to bow down and worship the emperor. This went on for the same amount of time that the church represented as the “two witnesses” testified of Jesus to the lost.
“And they that dwell on the earth rejoice over them, and make merry; and they shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwell on the earth.”
The oppressors of the Christians who tried to utterly destroy them from the face of the earth were quite happy with themselves. They celebrated among themselves over their apparent victory over the Christians who tormented them with the warnings of God’s judgment upon their evil activities. They got tired of hearing about it. Those Christians were doing their jobs. They were warning the lost, they were letting them know what was in store for them despite the obvious danger to themselves for doing it.
It is heart wrenching to consider that these valiant Christians were so persecuted that their enemies actually thought they had finally overcome them once and for all. It must have been horrendous for the saints of God in those days. They were being persecuted to the death and their persecutors were celebrating it.
“And after the three days and a half the breath of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them that beheld them.”
The two witnesses which represent the saints on earth which collectively make up the church appeared for a time to have been destroyed. Where the church may have been stamped out in one area of the empire, it rose up in another, or back in the same place it was before. The church, which is simply a collection of God’s people, could not be destroyed completely and those who thought so were greatly distressed when they saw it rise up again. The individual saints were not resurrected. The dead martyrs remained dead. God’s collective people are in view in this vision. The Christians who received John’s letter would know that many of them would die but they were reassured that the church would live on. This is important information for the oppressed Christians indeed. Think about how concerned they must have been for their children. To die the death of a martyr is horrible in and of itself, but the greatest agony of all to a parent who is martyred is to leave their children unprotected and unsupported. Yes there are many of them who are going to die, but take comfort because Satan is not going to win, the church will go on and your children will not be left without hope. The greatest hope the Christian can ever have is in Christ and as long as this hope exists, there can be no ultimate defeat.
“And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they went up into heaven in the cloud; and their enemies beheld them.”
Here is the reward of the faithful Christians who die in the persecution. They will not remain dead, rather they will ascend into heaven in the end, glorified in the sight of their enemies. What a comfort this must have been to the oppressed saints. Keeping in mind that Revelation is written to them specifically and not to their enemies, this is a picture of their final destiny. They are being reassured that they will ascend into heaven to be with God the Father forever.
“And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell; and there were killed in the earthquake seven thousand persons: and the rest were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
Earthquakes and other natural calamities have been set up to represent God’s judgment on the enemies of righteousness earlier in the Revelation. This earthquake which destroyed part of the city is a partial judgment. The enemies of righteousness were not utterly obliterated. The seven thousand persons killed would be the total destruction of God’s enemies in the part of the city that fell. The city is likely more than just the city of Rome, representing the entire Roman Empire ruled from the world-city of Rome.
The survivors who were not in the parts of the empire that fell started to recognize the power of God and of truth. Paganism was unable to defeat the Christians and was starting to lose its grip as people were scared and starting to see the power of the God of the Christians. This does not mean a wholesale repentance and conversion to God, rather a weakening of paganism as people realized their manmade gods were useless and incapable of helping them. The Christians had been persecuted to the point that they all but disappeared from sight, yet the plagues went on, the earthquakes continued, the problems which was tearing the empire down bit by bit continued.
This is evidence that at the core, the enemies of Christianity really knew they were at fault. They see the Christians loving their enemies, doing good to all, proclaiming righteousness everywhere they went and going to their deaths for what they believed in. How can that many people die for their beliefs and not leave an impression on their enemies? Killing them did not defeat them, they came back, oppressing them did not work, they simply tried to love everyone to the truth. The enemies of the Christians do not have to know God in order to recognize that He exists and is behind them. Most people know when they are doing evil regardless of what the masses of humanity around them might be doing. People take comfort and security in numbers and those who persecuted the Christians were no different. But way down deep inside, they knew they were wrong and this is why they hated the Christians so much.
“The second Woe is past: behold, the third Woe cometh quickly.”
Before the fifth angel sounded his trumpet we have the pronouncement of three woes upon the inhabitants of the earth, each one associated with the sounding of a trumpet (Revelation 8:13). The first of the three woes which was heralded by the fifth trumpet was the plagues of disease which accompany the kind of decadent lifestyles the Romans were living which struck them from within the empire (Revelation 9:1-11). Then following in verse 12 of chapter nine we read, “One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter“. The second woe which was heralded by the sixth trumpet was the nation enemies of the Roman Empire which struck them from without Revelation 9:13-21. And then from Revelation 10:1 to now is a buildup to what is about to happen, “but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets” (Revelation 10:7). We see God’s swift retribution during this period, the bittersweet message that John took into his bowels and the instruction that he still had more to prophecy before all the people of the earth. And then in chapter 11 we see the power of the saints over their enemies, the death of many of the saints and the appearance of the victory of evil over the Christians for a short period of time in various places. we need to keep in mind that this is not a linear step by step progression, rather it is indicative of what was going on across the entire empire over a period of time. Then in the days when the seventh trumpet begins to sound the mystery of God is now apparent to the saints as given to the prophets. The good tidings is the gospel, the good news, the way of redemption from sin and the ultimate victory of the righteous over the unrighteous.
It is significant to the understanding of the following elements of John’s vision to take note of the text. The third woe comes quickly on the heels of the second woe. There is no long period of time in view in this vision. The final woe which occurs concurrently with the sounding of the seventh trumpet is upon them.
“And the seventh angel sounded; and there followed great voices in heaven, and they said, The kingdom of the world is become (the kingdom) of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
At long last, the seventh angel sounds. The immediate focus of the book of Revelation is directed at the first century Christians following up to the downfall of the Roman Empire in the following years. The kingdom of the world being the Roman Empire in the minds of the first readers has been overtaken by God and His Son and He shall rule it forever. For many hundreds of years God has punished and afflicted the empire, breaking it down, piece by piece and now in the end when all who have been saved have come to Christ and there remains no further prospects, the empire is thrown down and becomes the property of the victor. That is what normally happens when an empire is overthrown, especially in those times. To the victor go the spoils of war, and so to God went the kingdom of the world. This was a way of illustrating to the first readers, the final and ultimate defeat of their enemies and the everlasting reign of the champion of the righteous.
The application we can make for today is that we today are still faced with a parallel of the events leading up to the end of the kingdom of the world we see today. For the Christians living under the rule of the Roman Empire, the final trumpet has sounded. For us, Christ is reigning from His throne in heaven just like He was in the first, second and third century and our seventh trump is yet to sound. For us, the perception of the world is that it is in charge of its own destiny, but we know better than that. The same eternal God that overthrew the evil Roman Empire is still at work today. In the end at the sound of the final trump, all the kingdoms of the world will have been overthrown and Christ who is reigning from Heaven will deliver His eternal kingdom back to the Father and all those who have overcome throughout all the ages will receive their eternal home in glory with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
“And the four and twenty elders, who sit before God on their thrones, fell upon their faces and worshipped God,”
These are the same 24 elders that we saw in the beginning of this vision. They fall on their faces and worship God when they see His great plan come to its final stage and the kingdom of the earth who oppressed their brothers and sisters in Christ have finally been overthrown.
“saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who art and who wast; because thou hast taken thy great power, and didst reign.”
The thanks they give is gratitude expressed for all that God had done for them. The plan of redemption upon which their hopes rested, the deliverance of them to eternal life despite the efforts of their enemies and the final triumph of God over the evil forces of Satan. So many saints had died in the great persecution, but they were victorious anyway. So much blood had been spilled but the rewards for those who overcome are eternal. And the 24 elders thanked God for coming through and doing what He promised.
“And the nations were wroth, and thy wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged, and (the time) to give their reward to thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to them that fear thy name, the small and the great; and to destroy them that destroy the earth.”
The nations of the world were angry with the Christians and tried to destroy them all, but then God’s wrath came and the dead were all rewarded according to their deeds. Notice this is being described in the past tense. This signifies that the sounding of the seventh trumpet is so sure, so certain that it is depicted by inspiration as having already occurred.
It is significant here to note that God placed the blame for the destruction of the earth upon the unrighteous. As we learned earlier God’s retribution on the empire was handed out in the form of destructive natural disasters upon the earth. The blame for this is placed squarely on the heads of the enemies of God. All of the earthquakes, storms, famines, floods and other plagues which afflicted the Roman Empire were their own fault and those who brought this destruction upon the earth are going to be destroyed.
Natural disasters have not stopped. We still have them today. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, droughts, heat, famine, floods, disease are running rampant over the earth. The same God who wrought all this destruction on the Roman Empire is still reigning in heaven today. All of these horrible events which result in enormous losses of life and property are the results of sin and those who are responsible for this today are going to be destroyed just like the ones in the Roman Empire were. We see the parallels of what went on at that time all around us today on a worldwide scale. It would take a blind and foolish individual indeed not to recognize this and draw the obvious conclusions.
When we hear of a horrendous natural disaster where hundreds of thousands of people die and we hear people cry out in mental anguish over the devastation and death, and we see the suffering of those who survived and we hear people question the existence and mercy of an all powerful God, we can take what we learn from Revelation and give people those answers. And the remedy today is the same as it was in the first, second and third centuries. Repent and turn to God and His righteousness.
“And there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven; and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant; and there followed lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail.”
This vision started with the throne room of God opened for view and it ends the same way. The Roman Empire is gone but God’s throne room is still standing, still visible in the vision and still open. The ark of the covenant in the tabernacle and in Solomon’s temple was where the tables containing God’s covenant with His people was kept. The image of the ark in this vision assured the readers that God’s covenant was close to Him and He would honor it.
The lightnings, thunders, voices and other things that accompanied the throne scene are the same as they were in Revelation 4:5. This is representative of the power of God on His throne. John was told he still had more prophecy to write down in Revelation 10:11. The throne is still open, the voices are still coming forth, there is more yet to come. In the vision following this, we will see the same good characters and the same evil ones, the same conflict with the same results but with more details and more information. This is evidence that the events represented by the seven trumpets were not occurring in a linear timeline but were happening concurrent with one another across the empire. Chapter 11 closes with the kingdom of earth being overthrown and God and His faithful emerging triumphant but the scenes are going to be revisited in the chapters to come. This repeating imagery is an application we can draw to our circumstances today. The events we have studied in this vision can be compared to historical events that have occurred throughout the Christian age. Even today, we who are righteous can study these visions and read our history and see them being re-enacted over and over again. How many nations will be overthrown before mankind as a whole finally wakes up and sees that His own evil lifestyle is what perpetuated all the misery. Where is the kingdom of God headed today and what will be the state of things when the last trump sounds for all?
And I was given a measuring stick and told to go count the number of the faithful. But I was told not to measure those outside the church because they have been given over to the world and they will oppress my holy saints for a period of time. And during this time of persecution, my poor oppressed saints will witness to them and try to teach them the error of their ways.
And they will warn those who harm them of God’s judgment. They will be warned that death awaits those who kill God’s saints and that plagues will be sent upon the earth on behalf of His faithful children. And when their testimony is finished the Roman Empire which ascended up out of the bottomless pit will wage war with them and try to destroy them all from the face of the earth and will prevail over the church for a space of time. The dead bodies of God’s saints will be seen throughout the empire and they won’t even get decent burials. Their enemies will rejoice and celebrate because they think they have rid themselves of those who condemned their evil ways for so long.
But after a period of time the Christians reappeared and their enemies saw them again and there followed a great earthquake which destroyed a large portion of the empire and many people died from it. Those who survived saw the destruction and realized that the God of the Christians was behind them and the reappearance of the church. This second woe is past and now the third one follows quickly.
Then seventh angel sounded and it was announced in heaven that the empire had fallen and was no longer in the possession of the enemies of the Christians. Then the twenty four elders which sat before God on His throne fell prostrate on their faces saying, “Thank you Lord God almighty, who lives forever, because you have taken over the evil empire with your great power and have reigned as our King. The nations were angry with us and persecuted us greatly but now your wrath has at last come and your enemies are judged and your children who are your saints and fear your name both small and great are rewarded. And now you shall destroy those who are really responsible for the destruction that has plagued the earth.”
And the throne room of God was opened in heaven, and God had with Him the promises of His covenant with His children and He spoke with great power of more things which will be.