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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Revelation 11

Verses 1-99

The Measuring Angel and the Two Witnesses. Chap. 11 vv. 1 13

1. a reed ] Ezekiel 40:3 ; Zechariah 2:1 .

like unto a rod ] i.e. a walking-staff: probably not as long as the one in Ezek., l.c., but perhaps of six feet: so that it would naturally, when carried, be grasped near the upper end, like a pilgrim’s staff, or a modern alpenstock.

and the angel stood ] These words should be omitted: they are no doubt inserted for grammatical completeness. “There was given unto me a reed like unto a staff, … saying” is of course easily understood to mean, “There was given unto me … he that gave it saying.” It thus is not certain that it is the “mighty angel” of the preceding chapter who speaks in this.

the temple of God ] The word used is not that for the whole “Temple-precinct,” but the “Temple” in the narrowest sense what in the O. T. is called “the house” or “the palace.”

the altar ] Being distinguished from the Temple, we should naturally think of the Altar of Burnt-offering which stood outside it: besides that this was, and the Altar of Incense was not, large enough to be measured by something longer than a foot-rule. But we saw on 6:9 that the Heavenly Temple apparently has no Altar of Burnt-offering distinct from the Altar of Incense: so the question only becomes important if we suppose the earthly Temple to be meant.

Is it then the heavenly or the earthly Temple that St John is bidden to measure? Probably the latter. Without pressing the argument from 10:9, that the seer is now on earth, it is hardly likely that, whereas in Ezekiel, Zechariah, and inf. 21:15 the measurement, not of the Temple only but of the Holy City, is the work of angels, it should here be ascribed to a man. But what is more decisive is, that the whole of this chapter describes God’s rebukes and correcting judgements on the city, the fate of which is connected with that of the Temple here named. This proves that it is the earthly city of God that is meant and therefore probably the literal Jerusalem: for the Christian Church, imperfectly as it realises its divine ideal, does not appear to be dissociated from it in Scriptural typology or prophecy: “Jerusalem which is above … is the Mother of us all,” even now, and even now “our citizenship is in Heaven.”

and them that worship therein ] Lit. in it , not “in them,” i.e. in the Temple, the mention of “the Altar” being parenthetical. But neither the Temple (in the narrower sense) nor the Altar was ordinarily a place of spiritual “worship,” but only of the ritual “service of God.” Therefore the meaning of the Temple and Altar must be to some extent spiritualised: even if the prophecy be concerned with God’s judgements on Jerusalem and the Jewish people, we are not to understand that the actual Temple was to be spared (for we know it was not): but, most probably, that the true Israelites would not be cut off from communion with God, even when their city and the earthly splendours of their Temple were destroyed. Ezekiel 11:16 will thus illustrate the sense of the passage, though there does not appear to be a conscious reference to it.

2. the court which is without the temple ] The words might be translated “the outer court of the Temple.” It must be remembered that “the courts of the Lord’s House” were the ordinary place for the worshippers to assemble, even before the outer and larger “Court of the Gentiles,” with its magnificent colonnades, was added to Herod’s Temple. Probably the latter is thought of, in its assignment to the Gentiles: but the meaning appears to be, that all the courts shall be profaned, up to the walls of the inmost Sanctuary.

leave out ] Hardly a strong enough expression: the original is, “cast out outside.” The sense must be, “leave out for profanation .” This excludes the hypothesis (otherwise not without plausibility) that the measurement of the Temple is for destruction, not for preservation: see 2 Kings 21:13 ; Lamentations 2:8 : and for the destruction being regarded as the work of the prophet, cf. Ezekiel 43:3 .

tread under foot ] So St Luke 21:24 , which is no doubt referred to. Hitherto, the correspondences in this book with that Prophecy of our Lord’s have been closest with St Matthew’s version of it. Varying parallels like these serve to authenticate the reports of His words in the different Gospels shewing that they are to be taken as mutually supplementary, not as more or less inaccurate. Of course, St John did not use our Gospels (though St Matthew’s at least was in existence), but wrote independently from his own recollection.

forty and two months ] So 13:5. This period is apparently identical with the “1260 days” of the next verse, and 12:6: and with the “time, times, and half a time” (i.e. 3½ years) of 12:14. In Daniel 7:25 , Daniel 12:7 we have this last measure of the period given, and the time indicated by Daniel must be either identical with or typical of that indicated by St John. It is to be noted, that in Daniel 12:11 , Daniel 12:12 , we have the period extended to 1290 and 1335 days.

The key to these prophecies, that speak of definite periods of time, is generally sought in Ezekiel 4:6 ; it is supposed that each prophetical “day” stands for a year, and by consequence a “week” is equivalent to seven years, a “month” to 30, and a “year” to 360. This gives an approximately satisfactory explanation of the one prophecy of the “70 weeks” in Daniel 9:0 : they would naturally be understood to extend from b.c. 536 (the decree of Cyrus) to b.c. 5 (the Nativity), a.d. 29 30 (the Crucifixion), and a.d. 70 (the fall of Jerusalem); but the terms in which their beginning and end are described can with a little pressure be applied to b.c. 457 (the decree of Artaxerxes), a.d. 26 (the Baptism of St John), a.d. 29 30, and a.d. 33 possibly the date of the death of St Stephen, and so of the final rejection of the Gospel by the Jews and of the Jewish sacrifices by God. But in no other case has a prophecy been even tolerably interpreted on this principle. If it were admitted in this, we should naturally understand that Jerusalem was to have been restored in a.d. 1330 or at latest 1360 or 1405. Indeed, if the Saracen conquest instead of the Roman were taken as the starting-point, the restoration would not fall due till 1897, and it is humanly speaking quite possible that Palestine may pass into new hands then. But men ought to have learnt by this time to distrust such calculations: as we “know not the day nor the hour,” so we know not the year nor the century. Two or three generations ago a number of independent calculations were made to converge to the year 1866 as the beginning of the end: but in that year nothing considerable happened except the Austrian war, which of all recent wars perhaps had least the character of a war between Christ and Antichrist. It was at worst an instance of the painful and not innocent way in which fallen human nature works out its best desires: the Austrians were technically in the right, while the victory of the Prussians has proved honourable and beneficial to both empires alike.

3. And I will give power ] Better, as in the margin, “I will give to My two Witnesses that they may prophesy” the Hebrew idiom being literally reproduced.

my two witnesses ] The traditional view of these, dating from the second century, is that they are Enoch and Elijah the two prophets who, having (for a time) finished their work on earth, have left it without death: but who, since “it is appointed for all men once to die,” will, as is here revealed, come on earth again, to prophesy and suffer death in the days of Antichrist.

As to Elijah, there seems to be little doubt that this view is true. The prophecy of Malachi 4:5 has indeed received a fulfilment in the mission of the Baptist (St Luke 1:17 ). But St Matthew 17:11 , Matthew 17:12 perhaps implies that this fulfilment is not the final one especially when compared with St John 1:21 . Really the plain sense of these passages seems to be, that Elijah will actually be sent before the second Coming of Christ, as one in his spirit and power was before His first.

But the personality of his colleague is more doubtful. Of Enoch we know so little, that internal evidence hardly applies either way: all we can say is, that he was recognised by popular Jewish belief as a seer of apocalypses, and that his character as a prophet and preacher of repentance is recognised by St Jude. This harmonises well enough with his being intended: but the internal evidence of Scripture itself points rather to Moses and Elijah being the two witnesses. Their names are coupled in the prophecy of Malachi 4:4 , Malachi 4:5 , as well as in the history of the Transfiguration: and v. 6 ascribes to these prophets the plague actually inflicted by Moses, as well as that by Elijah. This modification of the traditional view was first suggested by the abbot Joachim, the great mediæval commentator on this book; but it has found wide acceptance in modern times. It may be observed, that as Elijah is doubtless still living a supernatural life in the body, so Moses must have been raised to such life for the Transfiguration: but he is not necessarily incapable of death, any more than were Lazarus and others who have been raised from the dead.

1260 days ] See on v. 2.

4. the two olive trees &c.] See Zechariah 4:0 passim . There apparently the “two Anointed Ones” are Zerubbabel and Jeshua, or rather perhaps the ideal King and Priest, conceived as types of Him Who is both: perhaps these two Witnesses similarly typify Him as King (cf. Deuteronomy 33:5 ) and Prophet.

5. will hurt them ] I.e. “ wishes ” or “ means to hurt.”

fire proceedeth out of their mouth ] Jeremiah 5:14 is a precedent for the image, 2 Kings 1:10 , &c. for the sense.

6. power to shut heaven ] Like Elijah: over waters , &c. like Moses.

7. the beast ] Here first mentioned: probably that which appears in 13:1, not in 13:11: though neither of them makes his appearance immediately “out of the bottomless pit:” see, however, 17:8. But perhaps it is worth noticing that “the deep” in Romans 10:7 (the word is the same as “the bottomless pit” here) corresponds to “the sea” of Deuteronomy 30:13 .

shall make war against them ] Daniel 7:21 .

8. the street ] For the sing. cf. 21:21, 22:2. The word in fact means a broad street, such as the principal street of a city would be. The modern Italian piazza is the same word; but 22:2 seems to shew that it is a street rather than a square perhaps most accurately a “boulevard” in the modern sense, only running through the city, not round it.

the great city ] Many commentators suppose this to be the Babylon of 14:8 and chaps. 17 sqq. i.e. Rome, whether literally or in an extended sense. But this seems hardly natural. If it were, why is it not called Babylon here, just as in the last verse the beast was called the beast? Besides, here the great majority of the inhabitants repent at God’s judgement: contrast 16:9. The only other possible view is, that this great city is Jerusalem: and with this everything that is said about it seems to agree.

Sodom ] Jerusalem is so called in Isaiah 1:10 , and is likened to Sodom in Ezekiel 16:46 . For the licentiousness of the generation before the fall of Jerusalem, see comm. on Hosea 4:14 : Jos. B. J. IV. ix. 10 suggests a closer likeness.

Egypt ] Jerusalem, it must be admitted, is never so called in the O. T. But New Testament facts made the name appropriate: comparing Acts 2:47 , Acts 2:5 :12, &c. with the Epistle to the Galatians, we see how Jerusalem was at first the refuge of the people of God, from which nevertheless they had at last to escape as from a house of bondage.

our Lord ] Read, their Lord i.e. of the two Witnesses. This clause seems almost certainly to identify “the great city” as Jerusalem: perhaps St John uses the title, as implying that its old one, “the Holy City,” is forfeited. At the same time, if we do suppose the City meant to be Rome, these words can be explained, either by the responsibility of Pilate for the Lord’s death, or on the principle of the beautiful legend, Domine, quo vadis? that the Lord suffered in His Servants.

9. shall see ] Read, see : and so “suffer not” … “rejoice … and make merry,” but “shall send.” The presents seem to make the transition from the prophecy to the narrative a little easier.

three days and a half ] Should probably be “ the three &c.” The half day lends a certain support to the “year-day” hypothesis that 3½ years are meant. But the traditional explanation takes the days literally they rise, not on the third day like their Lord, but on the fourth being like Him, though not equal to Him. Whether the periods named are to be taken literally or no, there seems no reason why we should not follow the traditional view, and understand this chapter as foretelling a sign which shall literally come to pass in the last days. The prophets Moses and Elijah will appear upon earth or at the least two prophets will arise in their “spirit and power:” the scene of their prophecy will be Jerusalem, which will then be re-occupied by the Jewish nation. Antichrist (under whose patronage, it is believed, the restoration of the Jews will have taken place) will raise persecution against them, and kill them: but they will rise from the dead, and then , and not till then, the heart of Israel will turn to the Lord.

12. they heard ] Probably not the two prophets only, but “they that beheld them.”

in a cloud ] Should be “in the cloud” the same, perhaps, that received their Lord out of His Disciples’ sight. Any way, “the cloud” is regarded as a permanently recurring phenomenon, like “the rainbow” in 10:1.

13. of men ] Lit., names of men , as the margin: cf. 3:4, and Acts 1:15 there quoted.

seven thousand ] Possibly this number is taken as approximately a tenth part of the population of Jerusalem. The city, which can never have extensive suburbs, being surrounded by ravines, can never hold a larger permanent population than 70,000; but in its highest prosperity it may have held as many, and perhaps it may again.

gave glory ] Here and in 14:7, 16:9 these words seem to imply the confession of sin , as in Joshua 7:19 , and probably St John 9:24 . It was the predicted work of Elijah to “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers:” this will be fulfilled by his posthumous success, uniting the original stock of God’s People to the branches that now grow out of it (Romans 11:17 , &c.).

the God of heaven ] Seems to have been the way the Jews spoke of their God to heathens, see Jonah 1:9 : Ezra 1:2 (which was probably written under Daniel’s or other Jewish influence), 5:11, 6:10. This accounts for the way that in later times heathens conceived of their religion. Nil praeter nudes et caeli numen adorant (Juv. XIV. 97).

14. The second woe is past ] Having included the plagues inflicted by the two prophets, as well as the invasion of the terrible horsemen of chap. 9.

the third woe ] In what does this consist? Perhaps we are to see the answer in 12:12: but at any rate we have an instance of the way that, throughout this book, the last member of each series of signs disappoints us; we think (cf. 10:7) that the end of all things is come, but instead a new series begins.

The Seventh Trumpet, vv. 15 19. Chap. 12:7 12

15. great voices ] Cf. 16:17.

The kingdoms of this world &c.] Read, The kingdom of the world is become our Lord’s and His Christ’s . The phrase “ His Christ” is founded on the O. T. phrase “the Lord’s Anointed;” cf. St Luke 2:26 .

he shall reign ] Who? Our Lord or His Christ? St John probably would have regarded the question as meaningless, though comparing v. 1 (see note on “therein”) it is not likely that he used the sing, consciously to imply that Christ and His Father are One. It would be more to the point to compare “Christ the Lord” in St Luke 2:11 with “the Lord’s Christ” already quoted.

16. which sat before God &c.] Read, which are before God, who sit upon their thrones .

17. Lord God Almighty ] See on 1:8.

which art, and wast ] Omit and art to come , as in 16:5. It is not, however, likely that any importance is to be attached to the omission of the full expression we had in 1:4, 8, 4:8.

17, 18. thou hast taken … thy wrath is come ] It is hypercritical in the N. T., and in this book particularly, to attempt to distinguish regularly between perfects and simple preterites: but here it is perhaps worth observing that all the verbs (after the first) are in the same tense: “Thou hast taken Thy great power, and didst reign: and the nations were wroth, and Thy wrath came,” &c. Cognate words are used to express the wrath of the nations and of God.

18. destroy them which destroy ] The verb used twice over is ambiguous, and perhaps has a meaning that we should express differently in the two places; as in 1 Corinthians 3:17 . Thus neither the marginal rendering nor the text is wrong.

19. the temple of God ] See on 4:6, 6:9.

the ark of his testament ] Better covenant , as constantly in the O. T.

there were lightnings &c.] So 8:5, 16:18: in all three places, they mark the end of the series of seven signs.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Revelation 11". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/revelation-11.html. 1896.