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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 11

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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Verses 1-2

Revelation 11:1-2 . “And I was given a rod ( קְנֵה הַמִּדָּה ) like a staff, with the words” ( λέγων by a harsh attraction, cf. LXX of 1 Kings 20:9 , Joshua 2:2 , is left in apposition to the subject implied in ἐδόθη ), “Up (or come = קוּמ ) and measure the temple of God and the altar (of burnt-offering, which stood outside the inner shrine) and (sc. number) those who worship there” ( i.e. , in the inner courts, Revelation 13:6 ; for constr. cf. 2 Samuel 8:3 ). The outer court (Ezekiel 10:5 ) is to be left out of account ( ἐκβ . = “omit” or exclude as unworthy of attention), “for it has been abandoned (or, assigned in the divine counsel) to the heathen, and (indeed) they shall trample on the holy city itself (emphatic by position, = Jerusalem) for two and forty months.” In Asc. Isa. iv. 12 antichrist’s sway lasts for three years, seven months, and twenty-seven days, but three and a half years is the conventional period for the godless persecutor to get the upper hand ( cf. Revelation 13:5 , after Daniel’s “time, and times, and the dividing of time,” i.e. , three and a half years, Daniel 7:25 , Daniel 12:7 ). Originally this broken seven as the period of oppression reflected the Babylonian three and a half winter months ( S. C. 309 f.; Cheyne’s Bible Problems , 111 f.), preceding the festival of Marduk in the vernal equinox, a solstice during which Tiamat reigned supreme. Here it is the stereotyped period of the καιροὶ τῶν ἐθνῶν (Luke 21:24 ), extending to the second advent. μετρήσῃς . To measure is here not a prelude to ruin but a guarantee of preservation and restoration (Zechariah 2:1 f.). Failure to satisfy God’s standard or test means calamity for men. but when he surveys their capacities and needs in peril, it implies protection. As the context implies, this is the idea of the present measuring. It is not to be identified prosaically with “orders given to the Roman soldiers, who were encamped in Jerusalem after its destruction, not to set foot in what had been the Holy of Holies” (Mommsen).

Verse 3

Revelation 11:3 . σάκκους , the simple, archaic garb of prophets, especially appropriate to humiliation (reff.). The faithful prophets who withdraw from the local apostacy to the desert in company with Isaiah ( Asc. Isa. ii. 9 f.) are also clothed in this black hair-cloth. The voice of the divine speaker here “melts imperceptibly into the narrative of the vision” (Alford, cf. Revelation 11:12 ). Contemporary Jewish belief (4 Esd. 6:26) made these “witnesses” (men “who have not tasted death from their birth,” i.e. , Enoch, Elijah) appear before the final judgment and preach successfully, but the only trace of any analogous feature in rabbinical prophecy seems to be the appearance of Moses and Messiah during the course of the Gog and Magog campaign. The reproduction of this oracle, long after its original period in 70 A.D., would be facilitated by the fact that the visions of Ezekiel and Zechariah, upon which it was modelled, both presupposed the fall of the city and temple in ancient Jerusalem (Abbott, pp. 84 88).

Verse 4

Revelation 11:4 . They are further described in the terms applied by Zechariah to the two most prominent religious figures of his day, except that they are compared to two lampstands, not to one which is septiform. The idea is that their authority and influence are derived from God. As in Revelation 11:7 , the function of the two witnesses ( cf. Deuteronomy 17:6 ; Deuteronomy 19:15 ) is defined as “prophecy,” but no details are given.

Verses 5-6

Revelation 11:5-6 . In this description, borrowed from traditional features of Moses and Elijah (whose drought lasted for three and a half years, according to Luke 4:25 ; James 5:17 ), the metaphorical expressions of passages like Jeremiah 5:14 and Sir 48:1 are translated into grim reality (see reff.), as in Slav. En. i. 5 and the thaumaturgic practices chronicled by Athen. iv. 129 D and Lucian ( Philopseud . 12). These are no meek apostles of the Christian faith. To stop rain was equivalent to a punishment for iniquity (Ps. Sol. 17:20 22, En. c. 11, etc.)

Verse 7

Revelation 11:7 . The influence of Hebraic idiom helps to explain ( cf. Revelation 20:7-9 ) the translator’s “transition from futures through presents to preterites” here (Simcox). τελέσωσι (Burton, 203) indicates no uncertainty. When their work is done, they are massacred not till then; like their Lord (Luke 13:31 f.), they are insured by loyalty to their task. The best comment upon this and the following verses, a description coloured by the famous passage in Sap. 2:12 3, 9, is Bunyan’s description of the jury in Vanity Fair and their verdict. This beast “from the abyss” is introduced as a familiar figure an editorial and proleptic reference to the beast “from the abyss” in Revelation 17:8 or from “the sea” (Revelation 13:1 ; the abyss and the sea in Romans 10:7 = Deuteronomy 30:13 ) which was ( cf. Encycl. Rel. and Ethics , i. 53 f.) the haunt and home of daemons (Luke 8:31 , etc.), unless he is identified with the supernatural fiend and foe of Revelation 9:2 ; Revelation 9:11 . (Bruston heroically gets over the difficulty of the beast’s sudden introduction by transferring Revelation 11:1-13 to a place after Revelation 19:1-3 ). The beast wars with the witnesses (here, as in Revelation 9:9 and Revelation 12:17 , Field, on Luke 14:31 , prefers to take πόλεμον = μάχην , a single combat or battle, as occasionally in LXX [ e.g. , 3 Kings 22:34] and Lucian), and vanquishes them, yet it is the city (Revelation 11:13 ) and not he who is punished. The fragmentary character of the source is evident from the fact that we are not told why or how this conflict took place. John presupposed in his readers an acquaintance with the cycle of antichrist traditions according to which the witnesses of God were murdered by the false messiah who, as the abomination of desolation or man of sin , was at feud with all who opposed his worship or disputed his authority.

Verse 8

Revelation 11:8 . God’s servants rejected and cast aside, as so much refuse! See Sam. Agonistes , 667 704. The “great city” is Jerusalem, an identification favoured by ( a ) incidental O.T. comparisons of the Jews to Sodom (Isaiah 11:9 ; Jeremiah 23:14 ; so Asc. Isaiah 3:10 ), ( b ) the Christian editor’s note ὅπου καὶ ὁ κύριος αὐτῶν ἐσταυρώθη , ( c ) a passage like Luke 13:33 , ( d ) the reference in Revelation 16:19 , and ( e ) passages in Appian ( Syr. 50 μεγίστη πόλις Ἱ .), Pliny ( H. N. xiv. 70), Josephus ( Apion , i. 22), and Sib. Or. (ver 154, 226, 413, written before 80 A.D.), all of which confirm this title ( cf. the variant addition μεγάλην in Revelation 21:10 ): it is indeed put beyond doubt by the peculiar antichristtradition upon which the Jewish original was based ( A. C. 19 f., 134 f., E. Bi. i. 179, 180). The obscurity and isolated character of this eschatology, “an exotic growth upon the soil of Judaism” and much more in early Christianity, may be accounted for perhaps by the historical changes in the later situation, which concentrated the antichrist in anti-Roman rather than in anti-Jewish hostility. As yet, however, the seduction of the Jews by a false messiah ( cf. John 5:43 and its patristic interpretation) was quite a reasonable expectation: see the evidence gathered in A. C. 166 f. Victorinus, following the Apocalypse literally (Revelation 11:7 = Revelation 17:11 ), makes Nero redivivus beguile the Jews. The alternative to this theory has won considerable support (especially from Spitta and Wellhausen) upon various grounds; it regards the great city as Rome, where the two prophets are supposed to preach repentance to the heathen world and eventually to be killed. But although this suits some portions of the language well ( e.g. , Revelation 11:13 , conversion to God of heaven ), it is not exegetically necessary; it introduces Rome abruptly (8 c being of course taken as a gloss) and irregularly: nor does it explain the general contour of the oracle as happily as that advocated above. Bruston’s ingenious attempt to take τ . μεγάλης with πλατείας (= Jewish justice) is quite untenable, and the great city is not likely to be a translator’s error (Weyland), גרולה for קדושׁה . πνευματικῶς ( cf. Galatians 4:24 f.) as opposed to σαρκικῶς (“literally,” Just. Mart. Dial. xiv. 231 d ) is “allegorically, or mystically.” καὶ Αἴγυπτος , not as the home of magic ( cf. Blzu’s Altjüd. Zauber-wesen , 39 f.) but as a classical foe of God’s people (and Moses of old?). The connexion with the water-dragon of Revelation 12:15 ( cf. Ezekiel 29:3 ; Ezekiel 32:2 ) is obvious. Philo allegorises E [914] usually as a type of the corporeal and material. ὅπου κ . τ . λ ., no wonder if Christians suffer, after what their Lord had to suffer ( cf. Matthew 10:22-25 ; Matthew 10:28 f.) at the hands of impious men. There is none of the modern’s surprise or indignation at the thought of “Christian blood shed where Christ bled for men”.

[914]. Codex Sangermanensis (sæc. ix.), a Græco-Latin MS., now at St. Petersburg, formerly belonging to the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Its text is largely dependent upon that of D. The Latin version, e (a corrected copy of d), has been printed, but with incomplete accuracy, by Belsheim (18 5).

Verse 9

Revelation 11:9 . Cf. 2 Chronicles 24:19 f., Matthew 23:34 f., Job 1:12 . ἀφίουσιν , for other N.T. assimilations of irreg. to reg. verb (Win. § Revelation 14:16 ; Blass, § 23:7), cf. Mark 1:34 , Luke 11:4 . In Ep. Lugd. the climax of pagan malice is the refusal to let the bodies of the martyrs be buried by their friends. ὑπὸ γὰρ ἀγρίου Θηρὸς ἄγρια καὶ βάρβαρα φῦλα παραχθέντα δυσπαύστως εἶχε . The rendering of burial honours to the dead was a matter of great moment in the ancient world; to be denied pious burial meant ignominy in the memory of this world and penalties in the next. The two witnesses are treated as the murdered high priests, Ananus and Jesus, were handled by the Jewish mob in the seventh decade (Jos. Bell . iv. 5, 2). βλέπουσιν , the onlookers, who evidently sympathise with anti-christ ( cf. on Revelation 16:12 ), include pagans as well as Jews (Andr.). ἡμέρας , κ . τ . λ ., three and a half as the broken seven ( cf. on Revelation 11:2 ) here in days. This trait ( cf. on Revelation 11:12 ) shows that their fate was not originally modelled on that of Jesus.

Verse 10

Revelation 11:10 . So far from laying it to heart that the godly perish, men are hyperbolically represented as congratulating one another on getting rid of these obnoxious prophets with their vexatious words (3) and works (6), which hitherto had baffled opposition (Revelation 11:4-5 ). Another naive Oriental touch is that their victims exchange presents in order to celebrate the festive occasion.

Verse 12

Revelation 11:12 . After being resuscitated, they ascend in a cloud (like Enoch and Jesus) before the eyes of their enemies (unlike Jesus).

Verse 13

Revelation 11:13 . On earthquakes as a punishment for sin, cf. Jos. Ant. ix. 10, 4 = Zechariah 14:5 , and (for Sodom) Amos 4:11 . The beast, as in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 , gets off scatheless in the meantime, though his tools are punished or terrified into reverence (Jonah 3:5-10 ). ὀνόματα ἀ . Briggs ingeniously conjectures that this is a clumsy version of אנשׁי שׁמות = men of name or fame ( cf. 1 Chronicles 5:24 , Numbers 16:2 ). From this point till Revelation 16:19 and Revelation 20:9 Jerusalem seems to be ignored among the wider political oracles, except incidentally at Revelation 14:20 (see note), where another erratic block from the same or a similar cycle of eschatological tradition breaks the surrounding strata of prediction.

The ample and proleptic style of the next passage shows that the author has left his source in order to resume matters with (Revelation 11:14-18 ) the seventh trumpet-blast or third woe, which ushers in the final stage (1 Corinthians 15:52 ) of the divine purpose (10:7 = 12 20). But what immediately follows is, by anticipation, a celestial reflex of the last judgment which is characteristically deferred till “the various underplots of God’s providence” (Alford) are worked out. The announcement of it starts an exultant song of praise in heaven.

Verse 15

Revelation 11:15 . The rout of Satan (Revelation 12:10 and Revelation 20:4-10 ) means the absolute messianic ( ὁ Χ . only in these sections = “messiah” in the eschatological sense) authority of God, as the destruction or submission of paganism ( cf. Revelation 11:13 ) means the true coming of the eschatological βασιλεία ( cf. Revelation 19:1-6 , after Rome’s downfall). The apocalyptic motto is not so much “The Lord reigns,” as “The Lord is to reign”. Meanwhile he overrules, and every preliminary judgment shoots the pious mind forward to anticipate the final triumph. Linguistically τοῦ Χριστοῦ might mean here as in Habakkuk 3:13 God’s chosen people, but the usage of the Apocalypse puts this out of the question. There is no need to delete the words here as a gloss (so, e.g. , Baljon, von Soden, Rauch) or the similar phrase in En. 48:10 (with Dalman).

Verse 17

Revelation 11:17 . ὁ ἐρχόμενος is naturally omitted from this paean; God has already come! The variation of order in Revelation 1:4 and Revelation 1:8 has no occult significance. The phrase Lord God is considered by Philo (on Genesis 7:5 ) specially applicable to seasons of judgment; Lord precedes God , since the former signifies not beneficence but “royal and destructive power”.

Verse 18

Revelation 11:18 . ὠργ . = defiant rage ( cf. Revelation 16:11 ), not the mere terror of Revelation 6:17 , at the messianic ὀργή . The prophets are as usual the most prominent of the ἅγιοι . If the καὶ after ἁγίοις is retained, it is epexegetic (as in Genesis 4:4 , Galatians 6:16 ), not a subtle mark of division between Jewish and Gentile Christians (Vólter) or (in a Jewish source) saints and proselytes. The same interpretation (for φοβ . cf. Introd. § 6) must be chosen, if καὶ is omitted (as, e.g. , by Bousset and Baljon), but the evidence is far too slight to justify the deletion. διαφθ . “When Nero perished by the justest doom/Which ever the destroyer yet destroyed” (Byron). Contrast the exultant tone of this retrospective thanksgiving with the strain of foreboding which is sounded in Revelation 12:12 before the actual conflict.

Verse 19

Revelation 11:19 introduces Revelation 12:1-17 ; all that the prophet can speak of, from his own experience ( cf. Revelation 13:1 ; Revelation 13:11 , εἶδον ), are the two θηρία on earth, but their activity in these latter days is not intelligible except as the result of mysterious movements in heaven. The latter he now outlines ( cf. ὤφθη Revelation 11:19 , Revelation 12:1 ; Revelation 12:3 . By whom?) in order to comfort Christians by the assurance that the divine conqueror of these θηρία was in readiness to intervene. The celestial (contrast Revelation 11:1 ) ναός , presupposed in the scenery of 4 6, is now mentioned for the first time; its opening reveals the long lost κιβωτὸς τῆς διαθήκης , and is accompanied by the usual storm-theophany, marking a decisive moment. Jewish tradition had for long cherished the belief ( cf. on Revelation 2:17 ) that the restoration of the people (gathered by God, cf. Revelation 14:1 f.) in the last days would be accompanied by the disclosure of the sacred box or ark (in a cloud; cf. here the lightning and thunder) which, together with the tabernacle and the altar of incense, had been safely concealed in Mount Nebo. So, e.g. , Abarbanel (on 1 Samuel 4:4 : haec est area quam abscondit ante uastationem templi nostri et haec area futuro termpore adueniente messia nostro manifestabitur). Epiphanius repeats the same rabbinical tradition ( καὶ ἐν ἀναστὰσει πρῶτου ἡ κιβωτὸς ἀναστήσεται ). The underlying idea was that the disappearance of the ark from the holy of holies (Jeremiah 3:16 ; Jeremiah 4:0 Ezra 10:22 ; Jos. Bell .ver 5. 5) was a temporary drawback which had to be righted before the final bliss could be consummated. This legend explains the symbolism of the Jewish Christian prophet. The messianic crisis is really at handl The dawn may be cold and stormy, but it is the dawn of the last day! The spirit and content of the passage are transcendental; it is prosaic to delete ἐν τ . ὀ . (Spitta, and Cheyne in E. Bi. i. 309) and refer the vision to the earthly temple in Jerusalem. Like the author of Hebrews, this writer views heaven under the old ritual categories; besides, the originals of the sacred things were supposed to exist in the heaven of God (Hebrews 8:5 ).

This overture leads up to two sagas (12 and 13) which explain that the present trouble of Christians was simply a final phase of the long antagonism which had begun in heaven and was soon to be ended on earth. It is the writer’s task “not only to announce the future but also (Revelation 1:19 ) to convey a right understanding of that present on which the future depends” (Weiss). Hence the digression or retrospect in Revelation 12:1 f. is only apparent. Hitherto only hints of persecution have been given; now the course, methods, and issues of the campaign are unfolded. The messianic position of Jesus is really the clue to the position of affairs, and it is of the utmost ( μέγα , Revelation 11:1 = weighty and decisive) moment to have all events focussed in the light of the new situation which that position has created. So much is plain. But that the source (or tradition) with its goddess-mother, persecuting dragon, celestial conflict, and menaced child, did not emanate from the prophet himself is evident alike from its style and contents; these show that while it could be domiciled on Jewish Christian soil it was not autochthonous ( cf. Vischer, 19 f.; Gunkel, S. C. 173 f.). The imagery is not native to messianism. It bears traces of adaptation from mythology. Thus, where it would have been apposite to bring in the messiah (Revelation 11:7 ), Michael’s rôle is retained, even by the Christian editor, while the general oriental features of the mother’s divine connexion and her flight, the dragon’s hostility and temporary rout, and the water-flood, are visible through the Jewish transformation of the myth into a sort of allegory of messiah, persecuted by the evil power which he was destined to conquer. “In reality it is the old story of the conflict between light and darkness, order and disorder, transferred to the latter days, and adapted by spiritualisation … to the wants of faithful Jews” (Cheyne, Bible Problems , 80). While the vision represents the messianic adaptation of a sun-myth, it is uncertain what the particular myth was, and whether the vision represents a Jewish source worked over by the prophet. In the latter case, the Christian redactor’s hand is visible perhaps in 4 a and 5 ( πρὸς τ . θ . αὐτοῦ , cf. Revelation 5:6 ), certainly in 11 (which, even apart from the Lamb , interrupts the sequence) and 17 c , if not also in the whole of 10 12. If, in addition to this, the source was originally written in Hebrew, traces of the translator are to be found (so Gunkel, Kohler, and Wellhausen, after Ewald, Bruston, Briggs, and Schmidt) in 2 ( βας . τεκεῖν , cf. 1 Samuel 4:19 חרה ללדת ), 5 ( υἱὸν ἄ . = בן זכר ), 6 ( ὅπου … ἐκεῖ = אשׁר שׁם ), 8 ( κ . οὐκ ἴ . = וְלא ̇ יכל cf. 14 and on Revelation 3:8 ), 9 ( the old serpent = הקרמוני or הכחשׁ הראשׁון ), possibly 10 ( κατήγωρ = קטיגור ), and 12 ( κατέβη , cf. ἐβλήθη of 10 = ירד ). But whether the source was written or not, whether (if written) it was in Greek or not, and whether it was Jewish or Jewish-Christian, the clue to the vision lies in the sphere of comparative religion rather than of literary criticism. Its atmosphere has been tinged by the international myth of a new god challenging and deposing an older, or rather of a divine hero or child menaced at birth a myth which at once reflected the dangers run by the seed sown in the dark earth and also the victory of light (or the god of light) over darkness, or of light in the springtide over the dead winter. The Babylonian myth of Marduk, which lacks any analogous tale of Marduk’s birth, does not correspond so aptly to this vision ( cf. Introd. § 4 b ), as does the well-known crude Egyptian myth (Bousset); Isis is a closer parallel than Ishtar, and still closer perhaps at one point is the κουροτρόφος of Hellenic mythology, who was often represented as uirgo coelestis . But, if any local phase of the myth is to be assumed as having coloured the messianic tradition used by John, that of Leto would be particularly intelligible to Asiatic readers ( cf. , e.g. , Pfleiderer, Early Christ. Conception of Christ , 56 f., after Dieterich’s Abraxas , 117 f.; Maas, Orpheus , 251 f.). The dragon Python vainly persecuted her before the birth of Apollo; but she was caught away to a place of refuge, and her divine child, three days later, returned to slay the monster at Parnassus. This myth of the pregnant and threatened goddess-mother was familiar not only in Delos but throughout the districts, e.g. , of Miletus and Magnesia, where the fugitive goddess was honoured on the local coinage. Coins of Hadrian’s reign associate the myth with Ephesus ( ΦΕϹΙΩΝ ΛΗΤΩ ). At Hierapolis, “the story of the life of these divine personages formed the ritual of the Phrygian religion” ( C. B. P. i. 91 f.); the birth of a god is associated with Laodicea, one coin representing an infant god in the arms of a woman (Persephone); while in the legend of Rhea, as Ramsay points out ( C. B. P. i. 34), Crete and Phrygia are closely allied ( cf. also Sib. Orac. ver. 130 f.). All this points decisively to the Hellenic form of the myth as the immediate source of the symbolic tradition (so, e.g. , J. Weiss, Abbott, 99), though here as elsewhere in the Apocalypse the obscurity which surrounds the relations between Jewish or early Christian eschatology and the ethnic environment renders it difficult to determine the process of the latter’s undoubted influence on the former. Fortunately, this is a matter of subordinate importance. The essential thing is to ascertain not the soil on which such messianic conceptions grew, but the practical religious object to which the Christian prophet, as editor, has freely and naively applied them. His design is to show that the power of Satan on earth is doomed. Experience indeed witnesses (Revelation 11:12-17 ) to his malice and mischief, but the present outburst of persecution is only the last campaign of a foe whose efforts have been already baffled and are soon to be crushed in the inexorable providence of God. The prophet dramatically uses his source or tradition to introduce Satan as a baffled opponent of the messiah ( cf. on Revelation 11:7 ), who is simply making the most of his time (Revelation 11:12 ). Moriturus mordet . Once this cardinal aim of the piece is grasped and the proofs of it are overflowing the accessory details fall into their proper place, just as in the interpretation of the parables. In all such products of the poetical and religious imagination, picturesque items, which were necessary to the completeness and impressiveness of the sketch, are not to be invested with primary significance. Besides, in the case of an old story or tradition which had passed through successive phases, it was inevitable that certain traits should lose much if not all of their meaning. “These ancient traits , fragments of an earlier whole, which lack their proper connexion in the present account, and indeed are scarcely intelligible, as they have been wrested from the thought-sequence of the original writer, reveal to the expert the presence of an earlier form of the story” ( S. C. p. 6.)

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 11". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/revelation-11.html. 1897-1910.
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