Revelation 10-11:18: The Witnesses of God

REV 10-11:18  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 12
With the tenth chapter we reach a pause in the prophecy of the seven trumpet judgments in order that there may be brought before us the ways of God in maintaining a witness for Christ in connection with the earth during the solemn period of the sixth trumpet, or second woe, judgment. This parenthetical portion closes with the statement in chapter 11:14 that “the second woe is past; and behold the third woe comes quickly.” This surely indicates that the events described in this portion take place during the second woe, and are immediately followed by the third woe, or seventh trumpet judgment. From the details given in this passage we shall see that the events recorded take place during the period of three and a half years that immediately precede the coming of Christ to claim His earthly kingdom.
The passage opens with a vision of a “mighty angel come down from heaven.” From the description that follows we shall surely be right in concluding that in this mighty angel we have a presentation of Christ. He is clothed with a cloud that so often, in Scripture, betokens the Divine Presence. The rainbow that in chapter 4:3 was seen round about the throne is now upon the head of this angel, and sets forth that this is the One through whom God's covenant of mercy with the earth will be carried out. His face like the sun reminds us that in this Person all the glory of God will be set forth and supreme authority displayed. His feet as pillars of fire would indicate that He is treading a path of holy judgment against sin.
In His hand He held “a little book open.” From the verses that follow we may infer that the open book refers to the prophecies of the Old Testament, which have been plainly revealed, in contrast to the book with the seven seals that foretells things not disclosed in Old Testament days.
The angel set His right foot upon the sea, and His left foot on the earth. Symbolically, the sea is often used in Scripture to set forth the mass of nations in an uncivilized state, while the earth speaks of the ordered portion of the world that has had the light of God, whether in Judaism or Christendom, and therefore the portion of the world to which prophecy especially applies. We are thus led on to the time when Christ will publicly assert His rights over the whole world.
The loud voice and the seven thunders tell us that the rights of Christ will be made good through judgments that none can evade, though John is not allowed to disclose the voices of the seven thunders.
Christ, represented by the strong angel, who already has asserted His claim to the whole world, now swears by Him that liveth forever and ever, and who has created all things, that the time is at hand when He will enter upon His earthly inheritance—there will be “no longer delay” (JND). The seventh trumpet will introduce the final judgments, end the mystery of God, and bring in the blessings of the kingdom according to the glad tidings delivered to His servants the prophets (JND). The mystery of God in this passage refers to the fact that for long ages God has not publicly intervened in the affairs of men. The wickedness of men has grown unchecked by any public display on the part of God. Men have been allowed to gratify their lusts, attain their ambitions, to increase in their rebellion against God and persecution of His people. During the ages God's people have been tortured on the rack, banished from their homes, and martyred at the stake, and God, it might seem, has not interfered. All this—which has been called the silence of God—is a great mystery. It is not, however, inexplicable, for a “mystery” in Scripture is not something which cannot be explained, but something which is only known to the initiated. During the time of the mystery of God, believers have had the open book of prophecy foretelling the time of blessing that will come when God publicly intervenes. Thus the lamp of prophecy has illumined the darkness of the ages and the believer has been initiated into the mind of God. When, however, the Lord Jesus publicly intervenes, taking possession of the kingdoms of this world, the mystery of God will be finished. The judgment of the wicked and the blessings of the kingdom, known to the believer, will be fulfilled and manifest to the world.
The closing incident of chapter 10 is deeply significant and full of instruction. John is told to take the little open book and “eat it up,” and that, so doing, he would find it bitter to his belly, but sweet as honey in his mouth. Does this not set forth the fact that the truth of all that God is to bring in—the unfolding of coming glories—is indeed sweet to our taste, but it involves the setting aside of the flesh, and the utter judgment of all that the flesh lusts after? We have to discover that as believers the flesh is still in us, and hence the truth, however sweet to the taste, involves bitter exercises as it discovers to us the true character of our own hearts. It is necessary not only that we should judge the world around us, but that we also should judge the flesh within us; for if we judge ourselves we shall not be judged. When we have judged the flesh the Lord can use us as witnesses to others, even as John, having passed through these exercises, is told, “Thou must prophesy again as to peoples, and nations, and tongues, and many kings.” Isaiah, in his day, had to learn the bitterness of his own visions. In chapter 6 he sees a vision of the whole earth filled with the glory of the LORD. Surely a sweet foretaste of blessing and glory to come: but immediately he says, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips.” This is the bitter exercise that the word produces as it discovers to him the character of his own heart. But when all is owned he at once finds it is met by a coal from off the altar. So when we discover and own what we are, we find that all has been met by the One that died for us. Having been cleansed by sacrifice Isaiah is the very one that the LORD can send with a message to others (Isa. 6:3-103And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. 4And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 5Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. 6Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 7And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. 8Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. 9And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. 10Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. (Isaiah 6:3‑10)).
Having been prepared for service, a reed is given to John, and he is told to “measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.” The mention of the temple and the holy city clearly shows that the events foretold in this portion of the Revelation have their center in Jerusalem, and are in connection with the nation of Israel.
As a symbol the temple sets forth the dwelling place of God, and the altar the way of approach to God on the ground of sacrifice. Measuring would seem to set forth that the man of God is to take account of all that God has reserved for Himself as having His approval. Does not this action, and the figures used, tell us that during the time of these judgments God will have His people whom He delights to own as drawing near to Him in worship?
The court was not to be measured setting forth the fact that at this time the Gentiles will be allowed to tread under foot the holy city for three and a half years. It is clear, then, that during the closing period of the times of the Gentiles, while God reserves to Himself a godly remnant, the mass of the Jewish nation will be given over to the violence of the Gentiles, who will tread under foot their city. During this time the world will return to pagan savagery and corruption, and like the dogs and swine will trample under foot all that is “holy,” and, as the following verses show, will rend the people of God (Matt. 7:66Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. (Matthew 7:6)). So Peter warns us that in the last days men will act like the dog that returns to its vomit, and the sow to her wallowing in the mire (2 Peter 2:2222But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire. (2 Peter 2:22)).
The mention of the forty-two months, or three and a half years, at once connects the Revelation made to John with the prophecies of Daniel. In the ninth chapter of Daniel, verses 24-27, we read of a period of seventy weeks, at the end of which everlasting righteousness under the reign of Christ will be established. We are then told that these weeks would commence with the command to rebuild Jerusalem, which we know was in the reign of Cyrus. Further we learn that after seven weeks and sixty-two weeks the Messiah would be cut off. It is evident then that each day of these weeks represents one year and that the first sixty-nine weeks of years were completed at the crucifixion of Christ. This leaves one week of seven years yet to be fulfilled. At the commencement of this last seven years Daniel tells us that the leader of the Roman Empire will enter into a covenant with the Jews for seven years, and in the midst of the seven years will cause the Jewish sacrifice to cease. In the seventh chapter of Daniel we further learn from verse 25 that he will wear out the saints of the Most High and think to change times and laws during this period of “a time and times and the dividing of time,” in other words, for three and a half years.
It is this last week of seven years that is brought before us in the Revelation, and more especially the last half of this week. Thus, in this passage, we learn that during this period not only the opposition of the Gentiles against God's ancient people will come to a head, but during this same time God will raise up two outstanding witnesses in accord with the principle of Scripture that “out of the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.” Being clothed in sackcloth may show that their message is one that calls aloud for repentance. In this case the period of three and a half years is stated in days, possibly to emphasize the fact that the witness will be daily.
The figures used to set forth the character of these witnesses are similar to those used in the fourth chapter of the prophet Zechariah. From this passage it becomes clear that the olive tree indicates that these witnesses are anointed by the Holy Spirit to “stand before the Lord of the whole earth” (compare Zech. 4:1414Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth. (Zechariah 4:14) with Rev. 11:44These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. (Revelation 11:4)). As candlesticks they become witnesses before men. Their testimony is to the Lord who has claimed the sea and the earth and is about to establish His kingdom. In the day when those that dwell on the earth are seeking to claim the world for themselves, God will have His witnesses that testify that He is “the Lord of the earth.”
This witness will call forth intense opposition from the enemy which will be met by acts of Divine power. The two witnesses will be empowered to shut the heavens that it rain not during the days of their prophecy, even as Elijah acted in his day (1 Kings 17:11And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. (1 Kings 17:1)); and as Moses smote Egypt with plagues, so again will these witnesses to the Lord of the earth “smite the earth with all plagues.”
Today God's people witness to the God of heaven in His sovereign grace saving sinners for heaven, through faith in Christ. Therefore, no outward signs of judgment accompany their witness. In the coming days of these witnesses, God will be giving testimony to the coming reign of Christ on earth, to be introduced by judgments that will clear the inheritance of evil. In consistency with this testimony solemn signs of coming judgment are given.
At the end of the three and a half years, when the testimony of the two witnesses is finished, the beast, which we learn a little later is the head of the revived Roman Empire, will be allowed to overcome and kill them. Their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city, the moral condition of which in these last days will be so utterly degraded that it is likened to Sodom with its gross immorality, and Egypt with its idolatry and worldliness.
Then we are reminded that this appalling condition is the outcome of the greatest of all sins, for this great city is “where also their Lord was crucified.”
In accord with the revelation to John, the Lord when on earth warned His disciples that the condition of the world immediately preceding His appearing will be one of violence and corruption as in the days before the flood, and of gross filthiness, as in the day of Lot when judgment from heaven fell upon Sodom. As we see the increasing violence, corruption, lust, and godlessness that mark the lands that have so long had the light of Christianity do we not discern how all is preparing for the terrible crisis of evil described in these verses?
If the Gentiles joined with the Jews in crucifying the Lord, we cannot be surprised to learn that all the world will unite in expressing their hatred and contempt of the witnesses to the Lord, by leaving their dead bodies unburied.
Further, we are told that there will be a distinct class, described as those “that dwell upon the earth,” who not only leave their bodies exposed to insult but will “rejoice over them,” “make merry,” and “send gifts to one another.” These earth dwellers, whose one aim, like the rich man of Luke 12, is to eat, drink, and be merry without any thought of God or the future, find the testimony of these two witnesses a perfect torment to them, and rejoice when, as they judge, they are overcome and forever silenced.
However, the rejoicing of the world will be short-lived, for at the end of three and a half days God will intervene, and in the sight of the people will raise up His witnesses, and they will hear a great voice from heaven that will call them to “Come up hither.”
God's witnesses having been rejected there is nothing left for man but judgment. Witness is borne to this solemn fact by a great earthquake in which seven thousand men are slain. For the moment men are terrified and will give glory “to the God of heaven.” The testimony of the two witnesses was to “the Lord of the earth,” thus asserting the title of Christ to the earth. Alas I though in a moment of terror men may admit there is a God in heaven, they will not submit to the Lord of the earth. Nevertheless, God has determined “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth” (Phil. 2:1010That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; (Philippians 2:10)).
We thus learn from this deeply solemn passage that the closing events of this age will have their center in Jerusalem and take place during a period of three and a half years. Further, we are told, that during the great tribulation of these last days there will be a God-fearing remnant, and amongst them two outstanding witnesses, whose testimony will be accompanied by mighty acts of power that will bring plagues upon men. Opposed to the people of God, and in contrast to them, there will be a great company of earth dwellers led by two preeminently wicked men—the head of the Roman Empire and the Antichrist (Rev. whose opposition will be accompanied by “the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thess. 2:99Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, (2 Thessalonians 2:9)).
The solemn events brought before us in chapters 10-11:13 ends the period of the second woe and prepares the way for the establishment of the kingdom of Christ, brought before us in the third woe by the sounding of the trumpet of the seventh angel.
With the sounding of the seventh trumpet we are carried from earth to heaven to hear great voices in heaven announcing the glad tidings that “The kingdom of the world of our Lord and of His Christ is come, and He shall reign to the ages of ages.” The great day will at last come when the government of this world will pass into the hands of the Lord Jesus. All heaven rejoices at the announcement, and the saints, represented by the Twenty-four elders, worship with thanksgiving to God.
How solemn that the introduction of this reign of blessedness will be a “woe” upon the earth dwellers who have rejected Christ and His witnesses. The reign that brings in everlasting blessing to the people of God will mean everlasting woe to the haters of God and His Christ. They see in this solemn announcement that at last the time has come when the wrath of the nations against Christ and His people, will be met by the wrath of God.
Then, too, “the time of the dead to be judged” will come. May this not refer to the martyred saints as in Revelation 14:1313And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them. (Revelation 14:13), who will be recompensed for the sufferings they have endured at the hands of men? Further, in the days of Christ's reign, God's servants, prophets, saints, and all that have feared God's Name throughout the ages, both small and great, will receive their reward, while those who have destroyed the earth will themselves be destroyed.