Day of the Lord

The book of Revelation has not yet offered us any details about world conditions or the future. Up to this point in the Apocalypse, we still haven’t seen what is to happen during the Lord’s day or crisis at the coming of the Messiah. Chapters four and five of Revelation are a prelude to the book’s real prophetic content. In chapter four, John writes about a vision that placed him in the presence of God.

“I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, `Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this”‘ (Rev. 4:1).

Headquarters of the Universe

The scene of John’s vision is the throne room of heaven. We see this scene several times in Revelation. It signifies God’s absolute authority over his creation (Psalm 47:8). That’s evident from the vision’s content. John sees a brilliant throne with 24 spirit beings, or “elders,” sitting around it. I Chronicles 24 describes the Aaronic priesthood’s 24 divisions, each serving the temple during a set time. The apostle Paul wrote that the temple and its service were an earthly copy of the heavenly reality (Hebrews 8:5). John, in vision, sees the actual throne area and records some important details. Four great spirit beings hover about this throne. John describes these beings as “living creatures.” In front of the throne stands a massive foundation. Revelation calls it a “sea of glass, like crystal” (Rev. 4:6).

The throne area manifests incredible energy. Lightning, thunder and powerful voices issue forth. God the Father sits on the throne. He appears as radiant light, diffused and reflected in all its prismatic beauty through precious jewels. Scripture often pictures God as clothed with dazzling light (Psalm 104:2; I Timothy 6:16). What John sees in vision, then, is nothing short of the seat of government of the entire universe. This scene is important to another theme of Revelation: Man’s present system, with its many corrupt practices, is to be shut down and closed out. Today’s world, inspired by the devil, will be replaced by the Messiah’s just and merciful rule. This theme runs consistently like a thread through the book. Chapter five directs the reader’s attention to those who will be responsible for this change.

John observes God the Father sitting on a throne, holding an important object. “I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll written inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals” (Rev. 5:1). In Roman law, documents were sometimes sealed by seven witnesses. This emphasized that the contents of the documents were certain and true. In the Bible the number seven has the symbolic meaning of completeness (the seven days of creation, for example).

Jesus Opens the Scroll

An unexpected problem appears in John’s vision. No one seems able to open and read the scroll’s contents. John weeps because no one is found worthy. Then an angel proclaims that someone is deserving after all. “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5). The Apocalypse identifies this someone as “a Lamb as though it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). Revelation applies this title to Jesus. John, in his gospel, also has John the Baptist describe Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Peter uses the lamb symbol as well. He said those whom God had called were cleansed from sin. This was accomplished “with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:19).

Isaiah 53:7 also has the same imagery. Here, the then-future sacrifice for sin was pictured as a lamb being led to the slaughter. This same lamb, Revelation tells us, is returning to become ruler of this world as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:11-16). In John’s vision, the Lamb takes “the scroll out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne” (Rev. 5:7).

John then hears many voices praising and glorifying Jesus. Their message is: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood” (Rev. 5:9). Jesus is worthy because of what he did, giving his life for sinning humans. John then sees the glorified Jesus unrolling the scroll and breaking each of its seven seals.

Here we see yet another theme of Revelation. The risen Jesus has the central role in God’s plan. Having offered himself as a sacrifice for sin and brings justice and perfect government to the earth (Philippians 2:5-11). The agent of that change will be the returning Lamb, the Messiah. He will usher in the climactic event described in the visions of Revelation-the kingdoms of the world coming under his rule.

As we shall see, the information on the scroll sealed by seven seals makes up the major portion of the Apocalypse. The book will later dramatize the material through a series of visions. As John experiences the visions, he describes them, and these words become part of the book of Revelation. In chapter one, John pointed out that Jesus Christ was the source of the Revelation and that he would reveal the scenario of the future to John (Rev. 1:1).

The fourth and fifth chapters of Revelation once again highlighted the central position of the risen Jesus. The preliminaries have now been covered. We know to whom the book of Revelation is written. The message is primarily directed to God’s people who have “ears to hear.” God and Jesus Christ are the source for the information in John’s visions. We must properly orient ourselves to the contents of the Apocalypse.

The visions are meant to graphically place the reader on the scene, as a bystander watching the events leading to the day of the Lord and beyond. A motion picture we could title ‘Future World’ now begins. We are in a darkened theater, waiting for the opening scenes.

Suddenly four frightening cinematic images gallop across the screen. They are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Four Horsemen have a symbolic message. They represent four strands of human suffering throughout the centuries. The effects which the horsemen depict continue through time and into the last days. They are followed by two other events to occur during this time-the cry of the martyrs and cosmic disturbances. (Rev. 6:9-17).

All these events fall under six “seals.” They are briefly described in a single chapter of Revelation, the sixth. They are part of a script written on both sides of a scroll (Rev. 5:1). The scroll referred to in Revelation was not the same kind of book we use today, made up of many pages bound together. It was one long sheet of parchment, rolled into a scroll. Words were written on both sides. The Revelation scroll had seven seals that had to be “opened” as a reader proceeded through it.

The Four Horsemen of Revelation

As Jesus (the Lamb) is opening each seal, John is invited to see its contents graphically depicted in a vision. John writes at the beginning of chapter six: “I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals [the first] and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, ‘Come and see’ ” (Rev. 6:1). Each of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is riding a different colored steed. They are a white horse, red horse, black horse and pale horse (Rev. 6:1-8). The horse colors take on specific symbolic meanings, such as red for war. Let’s take a brief look at the four portraits. The white horse is mounted by a rider who “had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer” (Rev. 6:2).

Some have confused this image with the one in Revelation 19, also a rider on a white horse. A quick comparison of chapters six and 19 reveals the two riders have little in common besides riding on white horses. The horse in chapter six, for example, is bent on conquest. The intent of the rider in chapter 19 is to exact divine and just retribution for sin. “He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war” (Rev. 19:11). This rider is called “the Word of God” and “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” (Rev. 19:13,16).

The rider on the white horse in Revelation 19 is unmistakably Jesus, the triumphant Messiah coming to rule the world. Who, then, is the rider of the white horse in Revelation 6? He is accompanied by three other horses. Their riders portray destruction and death.

It would not make sense for this rider to represent the returning Christ who restores peace to earth. The white horse of Revelation 6 represents those who claim they can bring humanity what only the true Messiah-Jesus-is capable of delivering. These impostors seek to conquer and destroy those who disagree with them. The second horseman’s meaning is clear. He is a symbol of war. The red horse has a rider who takes “peace from the earth” and wields a “great sword.” In his wake, people “kill one another” (Rev. 6:4).

A Time of Great Famine

The black horse has a rider with “a pair of scales in his hand.” A voice accompanies the vision. It announces, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine” (Rev. 6:5-6). The denarius was a Roman silver coin and was equal in value to the daily wage of a working man (Matthew 20:2). Anciently, oil and wine were not luxuries. They were basic commodities of life. Grain, new wine and oil was a standard threesome describing the staples of life (Deuteronomy 7:13; 11:14; Hosea 2:8, 22).

We can see that this rider represents hunger and famine. He carries a scale to measure and carefully dole out food. This rider stands for a time when basic goods are sold at greatly inflated prices. There is a scarcity of things to eat. People are told to be careful not to harm precious foodstuffs.

The pale horse has a rider called “Death, and Hades followed with him” (Rev. 6:8). The Greek word for “pale,” chloros, elsewhere in Revelation describes the yellow-green of vegetation (Rev. 8:7; 9:4). It is here used for the telltale and sickly look of death due to a virulent pestilence.

The Four Horsemen bring immense suffering to the human race. John writes, “And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth” (Rev. 6:8).

Jesus’ Olivet Prophecy

That’s all that Revelation tells us about these Four Horsemen. However, Jesus also speaks of the conditions represented by the Four Horsemen. (See Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.) The disciples of Jesus had approached him, asking: “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).

Jesus then outlined the events to occur prior to the end of the age and the return of the Messiah. Most of the occurrences would come before and lead to the singular “sign” of Christ’s return (Matthew 24:30). As does Revelation, the Olivet prophecy contains a story flow relating one event to another in general time order. Notice how Jesus began his outline of world events and how it corresponds to what is written in the book of Revelation.

Jesus told his disciples:

“Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying `I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Mat 24:3-8).

Observe that Christ said there would be:

(1) Individuals falsely usurping his authority and power, masquerading as deliverers and saviors, political and religious;

(2) Wars and rumors of wars;

(3) Famines;

(4) Pestilences and earthquakes.

Wars, of course, sometimes lead to politically induced famines. Famines can lead to pestilences as can natural disasters such as earthquakes.

Notice carefully. The four conditions that Jesus described in Matthew 24 parallel the Four Horsemen visions as described in Revelation 6. These disasters come before and only anticipate or look forward to the last days. Jesus said “The end is not yet” and these are only “the beginning of sorrows.”

Various false saviors have come “in Jesus’ name” throughout the centuries. These may have promised “deliverance” in terms of better religious, political, social or economic conditions. Wars have ravaged humans down through the centuries, and so have famines and disease epidemics.

The Black Death alone killed upwards of one third of the people living in Europe in the 14th century. The worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918 killed twice as many people (perhaps 20 million) as did World War I itself. In more recent times, millions have died or been wounded in just three wars-in Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf region and Kampuchea. As appalling as all these events have been, Jesus said we should not see them as necessarily synonymous with “the last days.” They only give us a hint of what to expect in the end times just prior to Jesus’ second coming.

The Fifth and Sixth Seals

Now we come to the fifth and sixth seals of the book of Revelation. These are also in the sixth chapter. John writes, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held” (Rev. 6:9).

In the Olivet prophecy Jesus also referred to this event described under the fifth seal. He mentioned it immediately after detailing the events of “the beginning of sorrows.” Said Jesus, speaking to his own followers: “They will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake …. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matthew 24:9, 21).

The fifth seal pictures a time of great tribulation-including a martyrdom for religious beliefs. The New Testament, along with Revelation, emphasizes its impact on the spiritual people of God-his own Church.

The cry of the martyrs, found in the fifth seal, represents God’s people who have been “slain for the word of God” throughout the ages (Rev. 6:9). They ask the question God’s people have always asked, especially when undergoing persecution: “How long, 0 Lord, holy and true until You judge and avenge our blood” (verse 10).

The events in the end-time increase to such fever pitch, however, that the existence of the human race itself will be in doubt. Jeremiah wrote of this period and the events that immediately follow. He cried out: “Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; and it is the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jeremiah 30:7). Daniel called it “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation” (Daniel 12:1). It is the same time described by Jesus in Matthew 24:21. This distress would climax in the death of mankind if Christ failed to intervene in human affairs (verse 22).

Immediately after the great tribulation of the fifth seal come cosmic disturbances. John writes: “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth” (Rev. 6:12-13).

Compare this description of the sixth seal with what Jesus said will follow the great tribulation. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29). Both in Revelation and in Matthew 24, these heavenly signs follow the great tribulation.

In the sixth chapter of Revelation, then, we have these six conditions mentioned. Each is described under its own seal: (1) False Christs; (2) Wars; (3) Famines; (4) Disease epidemics; (5) The great tribulation; (6) The heavenly signs or cosmic disturbances. So far, these events parallel those Jesus cited in the Olivet prophecy.

After Heavenly Signs-God’s Wrath

What follows the heavenly signs according to the book of Revelation? The last verse of chapter six tells us, “The great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”

The prophet Joel put the day of God’s wrath into chronological perspective. He wrote, “The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood”-two heavenly signs-“before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31). Here we have an important sequence. The heavenly signs occur immediately after the great tribulation, or Satan’s wrath, and before the day of the Lord.

Disturbing portents in the atmosphere and environment begin shortly before the return of the Messiah. Great earthquakes are striking the earth. These are persistent features of divine visitation in the Bible (Isaiah 2:19; 13:13; 24:17-20; Haggai 2:6). The atmosphere is darkened as sunlight is blocked out. The moon appears blood-red. The “stars”-meteors-fall to the earth. The sky is “receding as a scroll.” The mountains and islands are moved out of their places.

Everyone will be mortally afraid when God’s final wrath or the day of the Lord strikes. People will scream in terror, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” (Rev. 6:16). The “wrath of the Lamb” is an unusual expression-used only once here in Revelation. Elsewhere the Bible calls this time “the wrath of God.”

This wrath of God is a basic theme in the Bible. The “day of the Lord” is a day of wrath and retribution (Isaiah 2:10-21; 13:6-16; Zephaniah 1:14-18). It isn’t spiteful hate, but God’s response to stubbornly unrepented of sin that has caused untold misery and suffering among humans.

The sixth chapter of Revelation then takes us right up to the time when God fully intervenes in the affairs of mankind during the last days. He does this by sending plagues and destruction of increasing severity to our planet. However, God cannot send the full fury of his wrath on the earth before he provides protection for his people. The scene temporarily switches in Revelation to show us what is happening to those who are obedient to him.

The first six seals represented the calamitous events breaking out in the world at large. They showed humanity facing the consequences of its own sinful actions as well as the impending judgment of God.

Chapter seven breaks away to a different scene. It picks up the story of God’s people and answers the question of Revelation 6:17: “His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” John, in vision, now sees the security of the faithful in contrast to a sinful world facing almost total destruction.

Wrath of God Temporarily Restrained

As the seventh chapter of Revelation begins, we find that the wrath of God-the day of the Lord-is temporarily being held up. John sees “four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth” (verse 1).

These winds, from the four directions of the compass, represent the retribution of God. Specifically, the four winds are restrained from blowing on the earth, sea and trees (Rev. 7:1). The first three angels blowing on trumpets will strike these ecological targets (Rev. 8:7-10).

Immediately after the “four winds” vision, John hears another angel say, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads” (Rev. 7:3). This seal leaves “His Father’s name written on their foreheads” (Rev. 14:1).

The prophet Ezekiel experienced a similar vision. He saw human figures in Jerusalem (standing as a symbol for all the tribes of Israel) disturbed over the sins being committed in the city (Ezekiel 9:4). They received “a mark on the forehead.” What does it mean to be “marked” and “sealed”?

Those Who Are “Sealed”

To be “sealed” is a symbolic way of saying that these people are identified as belonging to God. They are “marked” for protection from the afflictions to come. The servants’ “mark” or seal is also to be contrasted, in a vision John will shortly see, with the mark the followers of the “beast” receive. They are branded with the mark of its name (Rev. 14:11; 16:2; 19:20). This singles out and labels such people as the enemies of God.

The 144,000 is the first group to be sealed and protected from what is coming (Rev. 7:38). Who are these individuals? They are the servants of God, the Apocalypse tells us. That means they obey him. That is, they would be the people of God, members of his Church. There is evidence to suggest that these are converted Jews who realize Christ as their Messiah after the temple abomination by the anti-christ.  This is still an area of debate.

In the next vision, John sees a much larger assembly, “a great multitude which no one could number.” They come from “all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues” and they are all “clothed with white robes” (Rev. 7:9).

The innumerable multitude is made up of individuals “who come out of the great tribulation” (Rev. 7:14). If they came “out of” the great tribulation, they must have been in it. The definite article the is used here. The subject is the great tribulation at the close of the age, the one to which Jesus referred (Matthew 24:21). While some of God’s people must suffer through the great tribulation, God protects those who have been sealed from his earth-shattering wrath.

God’s Wrath Begins

We now come to the eighth chapter of Revelation and the opening of the seventh and final seal. John here records another vision. “When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets” (Rev. 8:1-2).

Next, the heavenly host pause for a short time of silence. Perhaps they stop to contemplate what is to come and to review the prayers of God’s people, the saints (Rev. 8:4). It’s a dramatic pause or lull before the final storm of God’s wrath. The trumpet plagues are poised to strike.

Trumpets played a prominent part in events recorded in the Hebrew Bible. They were used to call people together, to move the tribes and to celebrate the festivals. They were also used to sound the alarm in time of war and in the coronation of kings.

Trumpets herald the day of God’s wrath. It is a time of alarm in the world (Zephaniah 1:14-16). Lightning, thunder, great noises and mighty tremors announce the beginning of God’s wrath (Rev. 8:5). The earlier seals depicted the inevitable consequences of human sinfulness. God now directs the trumpet plagues against a world unyielding in its hostility toward him. These trumpet plagues affect a significant portion of earth (Rev. 8:7-12).

These punishments are intended to lead the human race to repentance. Tragically, for the most part humanity refuses to heed (Rev. 9:20). Before Pharaoh would release ancient Israel from captivity, plagues devastated Egypt (Exodus 10:7). In the end time, horrifying events will strike fear in those holding world power. This will result in the release of God’s people as well, freed from the oppressive “beast” that dominates the world.

John sees seven trumpet visions. They constitute the seventh seal. Each trumpet follows the other and represents real world events of the future. These trumpets depict plagues, afflictions or calamities which God will bring on a world that refuses to repent.

We saw that the “great day of God’s wrath” was announced at the end of the sixth seal (Rev. 6:17). These seven trumpets (which comprise the seventh seal) portray events to take place during the day of the Lord. It is the time when God begins to directly assert control over a sinning world.

It will be a time of great confusion. The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah wrote of this time. “The great day of the Lord is near, it comes with speed …. That day is a day of wrath, a day of anguish and affliction, a day of destruction and devastation . . . a day of trumpet and battle-cry over fenced cities and lofty battlements” (Zephaniah 1:14-16).

First Four Trumpet Plagues

The first four trumpet plagues strike the earth itself, creating an ecological catastrophe of global proportions. The visions present stylized scenes in which one third of whatever is struck is destroyed. The first angel’s trumpet sounds. A roaring firestorm destroys one third of the world’s forests and vegetation (Rev. 8:7).

The second angel’s trumpet sounds. John sees “something like a great mountain burning with fire” thrown into the sea. One third of all ocean life dies and a third of all ships are destroyed (Rev. 8:8-9). The third angel’s trumpet sounds. John sees “a great star”-perhaps a meteor-fall from the sky “burning like a torch.” It poisons one third of the world’s water supply (Rev. 8:10-11).

The fourth angel’s trumpet sounds. Great disturbances partially block the light of sun, moon and stars (Rev. 8:12). The final three angelic trumpet soundings are immediately preceded by an announcement. They have come to be known by a special title-the “three woes”-because of their extreme severity. John looks and hears “an angel flying through the midst of heaven.” He cries out, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!” (Rev. 8:13).

The “first woe,” or the fifth trumpet, is described in Revelation 9:1-11. The power that causes the destruction labeled as the “first woe” emerges out of the “bottomless pit.” We see this later interpreted in Revelation 17:8 as a final rebirth of a great empire. This force takes political and military control of a large part of the world. Here’s what John beholds as the fifth angel sounds his trumpet.

A “star” falls from heaven and is given a key to the abyss. “He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. And the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power …. And the shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle . . . and their faces were like the faces of men . . . and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots …. They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. And their power was to hurt men five months” (Rev. 9:1-10).

The fifth trumpet, then, introduces a major cataclysm. It portrays a vast military-political superpower exacting punishment on other nations in war. This superpower’s military forces, however, are led by “the angel of the bottomless pit” (Rev. 9:11). This is a thinly veiled reference to Satan the devil, the unseen ruler of this world (Rev. 12:9).

“One woe is past,” John suddenly hears. “Behold, still two more woes are coming after these things” (Rev. 9:12). The Sixth Trumpet or “Second Woe” Immediately after this angelic statement, John hears the sixth angel sound. What he sees and hears next staggers the imagination: an army of horsemen numbering 200 million (verse 16).

John continues to write: “And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone” (Rev. 9:17). In vision, John sees this army advancing west across the Euphrates river, which runs through the modern-day Middle East nation of Iraq.

The Euphrates river has great symbolic importance in history. It marked in Solomon’s time the boundary between ancient Israel and nations to the east. In 539 B.C., the Medo-Persian king Cyrus diverted the Euphrates river preventing it from running through the center of Babylon. As a result, Cyrus and his troops were able to steal into the city unobserved along the dry riverbed. They surprised and captured the city, bringing down the Babylonian empire.

The 200 million strong army of horsemen John portrayed in Revelation depicts a major invasion from the east, during a world war. This vast horde moves across the Euphrates and toward the Holy Land. One third of the humans alive are killed (verses 15, 18). Apparently what John witnesses is the second stage of a total world war in proportions not known even to the present.

The world’s troubles do not end with chapter nine. One final trumpet plague-the “third woe”-yet remains. John now sees an angel standing with one foot on the land and the other on the water. John then writes the words he hears, that “there should be delay no longer, but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel . . . the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets” (Rev. 10:6-7).

However, before John receives the visions of this seventh angel, he sees other events that need to be recorded. These are things about the history of God’s people and the preaching of the gospel. The coming chapters will summarize the struggle of Satan and his earthly instruments-and the growing intensity of that campaign-to stamp the church and its teachings out of existence. They occur primarily during the tumultuous times of the great tribulation and the wrath of God.

The Two Witnesses

The progression of prophetic events in Revelation is temporarily interrupted after the sixth angel blows his trumpet (the second “woe”) (Rev. 9:13-21). Revelation now gives us two inset chapters. They bring the reader up to date on a very important happening that culminates in the last days. That landmark event is the final and most powerful stage in the preaching of the gospel… the good news of the coming kingdom of God to the world.

In chapter 10, a voice from heaven tells John to take an open book out of the hand of an angel. It instructs him to eat this small, bittersweet volume (Ezek. 2:8-3:3). The leaves are honey to his taste, signifying that the judgments and plan of God are just and righteous. But the digested book causes bitter distress to his stomach. This implies that the world neither accepts God’s judgments nor his call to repentance.

Thus, proclaiming the saving gospel would lead to persecution and, sometimes, to the death of God’s servants. Yet John is told to preach the good news in spite of the possible repercussions. His commission is: “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues and kings” (Rev. 10:11). Prophetically, the two witnesses of Revelation 11 accomplish that same task in the last days.

In vision, John hears an angelic spokesman say the following about these two individuals: “I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy 1260 days” (Rev. 11:3). If we allow a prophetic year to have 12 months of 30 days each, the two witnesses would be carrying out their warning message for 3 1/2 years.

During their witness, the holy city Jerusalem is under the sway of foreign armies. The time of this control is stated as being 42 months (Rev. 13:5). With 12 months equaling a year, this would also give us 3 1/2 years. God must protect his people during this time or they will suffer intense persecution. This period of protection, we are told, lasts for “a time and times and half a time” (Rev. 12:14). A “time” equals one year, so we again have a period of 3 1/2 years: 1 time + 2 times + 1/2 a time.

The supernatural power of God accompanies the preaching of the two witnesses. John writes, “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” (Rev. 11:6).

The two witnesses must exhort people to repent and obey God. They will not be well received either by the citizens of the world or the controlling political-religious authority. Their fate is evident. The two witnesses will be martyred: “The beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them” (Rev. 11:7). For the first time in Revelation we formally meet the major earthly adversary and foe of the Church in the last days. It is “the beast.”

The dead bodies of the martyred two witnesses lie for 3 1/2 days in the streets “of the great city . . . where also our Lord was crucified” (Rev. 11:8). That’s an obvious reference to Jerusalem- a city then, as now, at the center of the world’s attention. Jerusalem is here figuratively called “Sodom” and “Egypt.” This identifies the city as a place of sin, from God’s viewpoint. (See Isaiah 1:10, where Jerusalem is called Sodom.) You can be assured that this event will no doubt be on CNN, MSNBC and FOX news for the world to see.

There are several references in Revelation to another “great city,” called “Babylon, the great” (Rev. 16:19; 17:5). The political-religious power of one “great city,” Babylon, kills the two witnesses in the other “great city.” In the crisis at the close of this age, invaders from outside the Middle East will dominate the city of Jerusalem. However, it is to become the future city of God from whence true religion originates (Isaiah 2:3). By contrast, God will permanently obliterate the seat of false religion-Babylon the great (Isaiah 47:1-11). The nations declare a universal holiday when they learn that the two “tormentors of the world” are dead. The world applauds the death of the two witnesses. They “rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another.” That’s because the hated two witnesses had “tormented” the world by speaking God’s truth and bringing plagues on the earth (Rev. 11:6, 10). The people of the world, however, are about to experience the surprise of their lives.

Resurrection of Righteous Dead

“But, wait! The impossible is happening,” onlookers in Jerusalem say. People are astonished at what they see. The two corpses are suddenly coming back to life. The bodies are stirring-the two witnesses are alive once again! They stand on their feet and hear a loud voice, saying, “Come up here.” They rise into the sky in a cloud, and their enemies see them (Rev. 11:12).

Pictured here is none other than an event heralding the resurrection of the righteous dead. It immediately precedes the seventh and last trump-the next prophetic event Revelation describes (Rev. 11:15). The resurrection is the event during which the righteous dead receive eternal life. The apostle Paul wrote of that time: “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (I Thes 4:16). Imagine the world’s shock as this too is broadcast for the world to see.

In his epistle to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul said the resurrection of the dead would occur: “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible” (I Corinthians 15:52, italics added).

The preaching of the gospel by two witnesses ends just days before that seventh and last trumpet sounds. It announces the pouring out of the final plagues on mankind and the coming of the Messiah. Jesus referred to this event also: “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world”-certainly fulfilled in major part by the two witnesses in great power-“as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

The two witnesses are apparently modeled after Moses and Elijah. They perform signs similar to what Moses and Elijah performed in their day (compare verses 5 and 6 with I Kings 17:1; II Kings 1:10; Exodus 7:14-21).

The Apocalypse also identifies the two witnesses as two olive trees and the two lamp stands before the Lord (Rev. 11:4). Compare this designation with Zechariah’s vision of the two olive trees. They are called “the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:3, 11, 14). Not much else can be said about the identity of these two individuals. As you read this their recorded period of prophesying is yet future.

To keep us moving with the flow of world events as they are vividly described, John inserts a chronological marker in Revelation 11. It connects us directly to the final verse in chapter nine. “Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15). This is the time when the existing age of man’s government comes crashing down.

The Messiah takes over political and religious power. His “wrath has come” (Rev. 11:18). The resurrection of the righteous dead occurs. The 24 heavenly elders announce “that You [Christ] should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great” (Rev. 11:18).

The book of Revelation, however, is not quite ready to describe the final intervention of Jesus in world affairs. We now look at the political and religious powers dominating the world during the “last days” and their war against God’s people.




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