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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 11

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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The contents of this chapter will be better understood as we proceed with the exposition. In the meantime it is enough to say that we have a second consolatory vision, which stands to that of chap. 10 in much the same relation as does the vision of the palm-bearing multitude in chap. 7 to the sealing there.

Verse 1

Revelation 11:1. A reed was given to the Seer, it is not said by whom, and we are left to infer, as at chap. Revelation 6:2; Revelation 6:4; Revelation 6:8; Revelation 6:11, that it was by one in heaven. The word ‘my’ in Revelation 11:3 may lead us to the thought of the Lord Himself. The reed is for measuring, but it is stronger than a common reed, and is thus more able to effect its purpose: it is like unto a rod. May it not even be a rod of judgment (comp. 1 Corinthians 4:21)? Omitting for the present the import of the measuring, we notice only that the idea is taken from Ezekiel 40:3; Zechariah 2:2. Three things are to be measured. First, the temple of God, meaning not the whole temple-buildings, but the Holy and Most Holy place. Secondly, the altar. This altar, considering where it stands, can only be that of incense, not the brazen altar transferred to another than its own natural position. Upon this altar the prayers of God’s persecuted saints were laid (chap. Revelation 8:3), and it is with the persecuted saints that we have here to do (Revelation 11:7). Thirdly, they that worship therein, that is, in the innermost sanctuary of the temple; while to ‘worship’ is the expression of highest adoration. The last clause alone is a sufficient proof that the three things to be measured are not to be understood literally. How could those who worship in the temple be thus measured with a reed? But, if one of three objects mentioned in the same sentence and in the same way be figurative, the obvious inference is that the other two must be looked at in a similar light. By the ‘temple,’ therefore, it is impossible to understand the literal temple in Jerusalem supposed to be as yet undestroyed. Even although we knew, on other and independent grounds, that the overthrow of the city by the Romans had not yet taken place, it would be entirely out of keeping with the Seer’s method of conception to suppose that he refers to the temple on Mount Moriah. His temple imagery is always drawn not from that building but from the Tabernacle first erected in the wilderness. It is the shrine of the latter not of the former that he has in view, and the word used in the original, however its rendering in English may suggest such associations to us, has no necessary connection with the Temple of Solomon. For a clear proof that this is St. John’s mode of viewing the Naos (i.e the shrine, the ‘temple’ here in question) see the note on Revelation 11:19. As to the import of the measuring there can be little doubt. It is determined, by the contrast of Revelation 11:2, by the measuring of chap. Revelation 21:15-16, and by the analogy of chap. 7, to be for preservation, not, as sometimes imagined, for destruction.

Verse 2

Revelation 11:2. While it shall be thus with the innermost part of the temple-buildings it shall be otherwise with the rest. The court which is without the temple includes every part of the precincts not belonging to the Holy and Most Holy place; and this fact, together with the instruction ‘cast it out,’ shows that it symbolizes not the world but the false members of the Church, the branches of the vine that bear no fruit. These parts of the building are not to be measured: they are to be ‘cast out.’ The expression is important. It is that of John 9:34-35, and implies exclusion from the community of God’s people. The faithless members of the Church, those who have yielded to the power of the world, have been given over to the nations, the nations of chap. Revelation 10:11, of chap. Revelation 20:3. (For contrast see chap. Revelation 2:26.)

Of these nations it is further said, the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. In the words ‘the holy city’ the first allusion is to Jerusalem, but not in a material sense, as if the meaning were that the literal city should be trodden down under the feet of hostile armies. The sense, whatever it be, is metaphorical, as in the case of the ‘temple,’ the ‘altar,’ and the ‘court.’ Jerusalem was the place which God had originally designed to be the residence of His people. In idea and in name it was still that place, but it had been profaned by too many of its citizens. At the time when our Lord knew it, and when its condition became to St. John the mould of the future, it contained both true and false members of the Jewish Church, those who were fulfilling the great end of the economy under which they lived and those who were proving themselves unworthy of their glorious destiny. The counterpart of this in after ages is the outward Christian Church, containing both good and bad members. Glorious things may be said of this city of God; but that with which we have now to do is the entrance of a heathen, of a false, element into her, by means of which the ‘nations’ tread her under foot (comp. Psalms 79:1).

They do this for ‘forty and two months.’ The period thus alluded to meets us again in Revelation 13:5, where it is said of the beast that ‘power was given unto him to continue 40 and 2 months.’ Again we read of ‘1260 days’ (= 42 months of 30 days each) in chap. Revelation 11:3, where the two witnesses prophesy 1260 days, and in chap. Revelation 12:6, where the woman is nourished in the wilderness 1260 days. And once more, in chap. Revelation 12:14 we read of the woman’s being nourished for ‘a time and times and half a time.’ The comparison of the two latter passages proves that the time and times and half a time are equivalent to 1260 days; and we can thus have no doubt left upon our minds that all the three periods are the same. This designation of time is taken from Daniel 7:25 (comp. also Daniel 12:7); and the different numbers must be understood symbolically. The main question is, What do they symbolize? First of all it is obvious that 3 1 /2 must be regarded as the half of 7. It is indeed expressly presented to us in this light in Daniel 9:27 where it is said, ‘and he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week; and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.’ The middle of the week is the half of 7, or 3 1/2. Hence the general meaning may be learned with an approach to certainty. Seven is the number of the covenant with its fulness of peace and joy and glory: three and a half is that number broken, incomplete, looking forward to something else. It symbolizes, therefore, a period of persecution and sorrow, when the covenant seems to be broken, and the promise to fail; when instead of joy there is tribulation, instead of the crown the cross. All the three numbers have essentially the same mystic meaning. Not only, however, is this the case; the considerations now adduced lead to the further conclusion that the three periods referred to denote not three periods of the same length but the same period, and that the change of nomenclature is due to the difference of aspect under which the period is viewed. When ‘months’ are spoken of the prominent idea seems to be that of the rule of evil, when ‘days’ that of the suffering of the good. Thus it will be found that chaps. Revelation 11:2 and Revelation 13:5 on the one hand, and chaps. Revelation 11:3 and Revelation 12:6 on the other, go together. The ‘times’ or years of chap. Revelation 12:6 lead us rather to the thought of God’s preserving care of His Church while evil rules and good suffers. The space of 40 and 2 months is thus identical with that of 1260 days, and both express the whole time of the Church’s militant and suffering condition in the world, the whole time between the First and Second Coming of the Lord. They are the latter half of the week of the prophet Daniel, the ‘middle of the week’ being the point from which the calculation runs.

Verse 3

Revelation 11:3. The voice is continued, and the use of the word my connected with the two witnesses seems to indicate that it is the Lord who speaks, though in all probability by means of the ‘strong angel’ mentioned in chap. Revelation 10:1. The witnesses receive both the words of their prophecy and the power to utter them. The duty of ‘prophesying’ laid upon them is that of proclaiming the truth of God for the instruction or warning of men; while the clothing with sackcloth, a rough cloth of goats ‘or of camels’ hair, reminds us of Elijah and the Baptist (2 Kings 1:8; Matthew 3:4), and indicates the sufferings which the witnesses shall endure in delivering their message (2 Kings 19:1; Psalms 30:11; Isaiah 22:12).

Verse 4

Revelation 11:4. First, the witnesses are described as the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the Lord of the earth. The figure is taken from Zechariah 4:0, with this difference, that there we have only one candlestick with an olive tree on either side of it, while here we have two candlesticks as well as two olive trees. Clear indication is thus given that, whoever the two ‘witnesses’ may be, each combines in himself the functions both of the olive tree and of the candlestick, and that they are not, the one, one of these objects, and the other, the other. They stand ‘before the Lord of the earth,’ before the universal Ruler and King. They too, therefore, must be sought in something universal. Their ‘standing before the Lord’ indicates their acceptance in His sight and their readiness to act for Him (comp. Revelation 7:9; Luke 21:36).

Verse 5

Revelation 11:5. if any man desireth to hurt them fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devonreth their enemies. There can be no doubt that the allusion is to 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12, although literal fire may not be thought of, but rather those ‘words’ of the Lord in the mouth of His prophet of which it is said, ‘I will make them fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them’ (Jeremiah 5:14). In the last half of the verse we have the lex talionis, judgment returning in kind upon the oppressors of the just. These oppressors hurt to the extent of killing, just as the Jews ‘went about to kill Jesus’ in the days of His flesh. As a consequence, in this manner must they be killed.

Verse 6

Revelation 11:6. Not only does fire proceed out of the mouth of the witnesses; they have also the power to shut the heaven that it rain not during the days of their prophecy, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague as often as they shall desire. The allusions are obviously to Elijah and Moses, but the power of the witnesses is described in language far stronger than that of the Old Testament. For three and a half years only was rain kept back by Elijah: the witnesses have power to withhold it during the whole time of their prophecy. Moses had control over the waters of Egypt: they over all waters. The plagues with which Moses could smite were definite in number and limited in range: the witnesses may smite the whole earth with ‘every plague as often as they shall desire.’

Verse 7

Revelation 11:7. That the witnesses have a testimony to deliver has already appeared from the words ‘they shall prophesy’ in Revelation 11:3, and from their coming before us in Revelation 11:4 as fruit-bearing and light-giving. This work they shall accomplish: this witness they shall ‘finish’ in the spirit of Him who cried upon the cross, ‘It is finished:’ and at that moment, as in His case so in theirs, their opponents shall seem to have the victory.

The beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them. This ‘beast’ is without doubt that of Revelation 13:1 and Revelation 17:8, here mentioned by anticipation; and he shall act as the beast in Daniel 7:21.

Verse 8

Revelation 11:8. Their enemies are not satisfied with putting them to death. Dishonour and contumely are heaped upon them after they have been slain. The use of the singular for the plural number in speaking of them in this verse is remarkable, for the true reading is not, as in the Authorised Version, ‘their bodies shall lie’ but their dead body lies. There must be a sense in which the witnesses, though spoken of as two, may be regarded as one. Their dead body lies in the street, in the broad open way, where there are many passers-by to behold the contempt and the profanation (comp. Psalms 79:3). This street belongs to the great city, several characteristics of which are next given. Spiritually it is called Sodom and Egypt, and there also their Lord was crucified. That this city is in the first place Jerusalem not, as many suppose, Rome seems clear from the statement that it is the city in which the Lord was crucified. But the question still arises, What does ‘Jerusalem,’ so spoken of, denote? The literal Jerusalem alone it cannot be, not only because all such names are in the Book of Revelation allegorically used, but also because the city is ‘spiritually,’ that is allegorically, called Sodom and Egypt. Sodom and Egypt, however, were both remarkable for three things, their sinfulness, their oppression of the people of God, and the judgments by which they were overtaken. As these ideas, again, correspond exactly with the course of thought in the present passage, we are justified in thinking that they are the ideas mainly associated in the mind of the Seer with the two names. ‘The great city,’ therefore, is something sinful, persecuting, doomed to judgment. Still further the thought of both Jews and Gentiles must be connected with this city mention of the crucifixion leading us to the one, of Sodom and Egypt to the other. We are thus led to regard ‘the great city’ as a designation for a degenerate Christianity which has submitted to the world.

Verse 9

Revelation 11:9. The spectators mentioned in this verse come from the whole world in its fourfold designation of peoples and tribes and tongues and nations. All look upon the ‘dead body’ of the witnesses without commiseration for the miserable state in which it lies. This they do for three days and a half, not literal days but, according to the analogy of three and a half years, a broken, incomplete, and probably short period. That during this period the world suffers not their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb heightens the picture of contempt and injury (comp. Genesis 23:4; Isaiah 14:19-20).

Verse 10

Revelation 11:10. Even this is not all. They that dwell upon the earth, that is, the ungodly everywhere rejoice and hold high festival over their destruction. In the words used it is impossible to mistake the mocking contrast to God’s holy festival as described in Nehemiah 8:10-12.

Verse 11

Revelation 11:11. The short time of the world’s triumph passes away. Then a spirit of life out of God enters into them, and imparts to them such power that they stand up upon their feet, and strike all beholders with terror.

Verse 12

Revelation 11:12. Nor that alone. They hear a voice summoning them to ascend into heaven in the presence of the same beholders, and they obey. They went up into heaven in the cloud, not in the clouds, or simply in a cloud; but in a distinct and definite cloud, that of the angel of chap. Revelation 10:1, or of Christ in chap. Revelation 14:14-16; and their triumph was witnessed by those who killed them.

Verse 13

Revelation 11:13. And in that hour, that is, at the very moment when the witnesses ascended, judgment fell upon the guilty world. There was a great earthquake, the constant symbol of judgment.

The tenth part of the city fell. The city is without doubt ‘the great city’ of Revelation 11:8; but only a tenth part falls because judgment does not yet descend in all its fullness.

in the earthquake were killed seven thousand persons. The expression in the original for ‘persons’ is remarkable, meaning literally ‘names of men.’ A similar use of the word ‘names’ has already met us at chap. Revelation 3:4, and the usage throws light upon the employment of the word ‘name’ in the writings of St. John. It seems hardly necessary to say that the earthquake, the fall of the tenth part of the city, and the number 7000, must all be regarded as symbolical.

And the rest were affrighted. By ‘the rest’ are to be understood all the ungodly who had not been killed. They are not only ‘affrighted,’ they gave glory to the God of heaven. In what sense, it must be asked, are we to take these words? Do they express, as many imagine, the conversion of the Jews, or, as many others, that of the degenerate Christians of the city? We must answer, Neither. Conversion is not spoken of, and there is nothing to lead us to the thought of Jews. Inasmuch, however, as we are here dealing with inhabitants of Jerusalem, the holy city, it is not improbable that the faithless members of the Church, as distinguished from the faithful witnesses, are in the prophet’s view. Yet he does not behold their conversion. To the change implied in that word the being ‘affrighted’ is not a suitable preliminary; and the whole tone of the passage suggests that, when they who are thus affrighted give glory to the ‘God of heaven’ (comp. chap. Revelation 16:11), they do so from no recognition of His heavenly character as compared with the wickedness of earth, but from the conviction which they have received of the irresistibleness of His power and the terror of His judgments. They are terrified, awed, subdued, but they are not converted. It is possible that conversion may follow, but we are not told that such will be the case. Looking back upon the whole of this difficult passage, one or two questions in connection with it demand an answer.

The first and most important of these is, Who are the two witnesses? Our space will not permit even a slight attempt to discuss the opinions of others. We must content ourselves with saying that it is in the highest degree improbable that these witnesses are either two individuals already known to us, such as Enoch and Elijah, Moses and Elijah, Zerubbabel and Joshua, or two who are yet to arise, and in whom the power of the true Church shall be concentrated. By such an interpretation the number two is understood with a literalness inconsistent with the symbolism of numbers in this book. If, too, we take literally the number of the witnesses, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to show why we should not give a literal interpretation to their prophesying, their miracles, their death, their resurrection, and their ascension into heaven in the presence of their enemies. Their prophesying also, as we have already seen, reaches to the whole earth, for it is that of chap. Revelation 10:11; while the plagues inflicted came upon all the dwellers upon earth (Revelation 11:10). Nor is the time during which the witnesses prophesy less inconsistent with this view. No individuals live through so long a period. It may indeed be at once admitted that, in a manner conformable to the whole structure of the Apocalypse, the Seer starts from the thought of two historical persons. Examples of this kind in sufficient number, and of sufficient importance to justify his resting upon them as the material basis of his prophecy, were not wanting either in the Old Testament or in the history of our Lord. In the former we have Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, Elijah and Elisha, Zerubbabel and Joshua, and even the two pillars in the temple, Jachin and Boaz. In the latter we have our Lord sending forth both his Apostles and the Seventy disciples two by two, together with such a promise as that contained in the words ‘if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 18:19). Although, however, the starting-point may be found in such allusions the Seer certainly passes from the thought of any two individuals whatever to that of all who in any age or land fulfil the idea of witnessing present to his mind. The two witnesses are thus believers who, amidst all the defection of others, remain faithful to their Lord. They are the true Divine seed within the outward Church, the little flock that listens only to the voice of the Good Shepherd and is led astray neither by the world nor hireling shepherds. All the particulars of the description correspond to this view. One other remark may be made. The climax of the Apocalypse is peculiarly observable in the relation of the vision of the Two Witnesses to that of the Palm-bearing Company in chap. 7. The latter speaks only of deliverance from tribulation; the former introduces us to the thought of the action which brings tribulation with it. The faithful in Christ Jesus have advanced from being merely sufferers to being zealous agents in their Master’s cause. They have been executing their commission, uttering their testimony, working their work, warring against their foes. Their position is loftier, nobler, more inspiriting; and their reward is proportioned to their struggle. Commission, work, reward, judgment, everything, in short, is higher than before.

Verse 14

Revelation 11:14. The second woe is past, behold the third woe cometh quickly. At chap. Revelation 8:13 mention was made of three Woes. At chap. Revelation 9:12 the first Woe was said to be past. The sixth trumpet then sounded and was continued to chap. Revelation 9:21. From chap. Revelation 10:1 to chap. Revelation 11:13 we have had consolatory visions, and now in the verse before us the second Woe is declared to be past. The object of the verse, therefore, is to remind us of what we might perhaps have forgotten, that the second woe had closed some time before, but that nothing shall now interrupt the sounding of the seventh trumpet on the coming of the third Woe, he triumph of the Church. In the meantime it is enough to say that the triumph of the Church implies the overthrow of her enemies, and that the greater and more glorious the one the more disastrous and humiliating must be the other. Particulars in these verses still more strikingly illustrating the character of a Woe will be noticed as we proceed with the exposition.

Verse 15

Revelation 11:15. It is difficult to say to whom the great voices spoken of in this verse belong. They can hardly come from angels, or from the four living creatures, or indeed from any created thing. They seem rather a poetic method of giving expression to the fact that those counsels of the Almighty which had been long since taken, but which had been hitherto concealed from every eye but that of faith, were about to go into open execution. The words uttered by the voices are, The kingdom of the world is become the possession of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever. The word ‘kingdom’ used here is to be understood in the sense of ‘dominion over,’ and not in that of all the kingdoms of the world united into one. This dominion is celebrated as given to the Father in the Son and to the Son in the Father; and it shall be theirs for ever and ever, all its enemies being completely overthrown.

Verse 16

Revelation 11:16. The voices in heaven are now answered by the twenty-four Elders, the representatives of the redeemed Church on earth. Enraptured with the prospect before them, these fell upon their faces and worshipped God.

Verse 17

Revelation 11:17. Contains the first part of their song of praise and thanksgiving. In reading, a comma is to be placed after the word Lord, which presents us with the name of Him who has thus triumphed, and brought the troubles of His Church to an end. The name ‘Lord’ is then followed by three appellations as at chap. Revelation 4:8, first. God; secondly, the Almighty; thirdly, which art and which wast, the third clause usually belonging to this last appellative, ‘which is to come,’ being left out because no longer needed: the Lord is come. This part of the song of praise deals with the general statement that the Lord has taken to Him His great power. That power had indeed been always His, but for a time He had permitted His enemies to contend against it. He is to permit this no longer.

Verse 18

Revelation 11:18. contains the second part of the song of praise, defining more accurately, and apparently in three particulars, the precise nature of the moment which had arrived, and of the events which distinguish it. The first of these particulars is, The nations were roused to wrath (comp. Psalms 2:1, and especially Revelation 20:3; Revelation 20:9). Instead of being converted at the last moment, the nations are excited to fiercer rage than ever against God. They are not merely angry against Him; that they had always been. They are roused to a sudden burst of wrath. Such is the true meaning of the original; and, thus looked at, the words before us really form an epitome of chap. Revelation 20:7-9. The second particular is, Thy wrath came, the wrath of God, so much more terrible than that of the nations. The third particular occupies the remainder of the verse, and seems again to be subdivided into three parts (1) The time of the dead to be judged. By ‘the dead’ here we are not to understand all men both good and bad, but simply the latter; the judgment spoken of is not general, it belongs to the wicked alone. This appears from the use of the word ‘judge,’ which is always employed by St. John to indicate only what is due to sin and sinners, as well as from the fact that the ‘giving reward’ immediately described is obviously not a part of the judgment, but an independent member of the group of things here spoken of. ( 2) And to give their reward unto thy servants the prophets, both the saints, and them that fear thy name, the small and the great. Much difficulty has been experienced by commentators in their attempts to arrange these clauses. Without dwelling on the opinions of others, we suggest that the true arrangement is to take the first class mentioned, ‘thy servants the prophets,’ as standing alone at the head of the group, and as including all those classes afterwards referred to. All God’s people are prophets. As we have seen in the previous part of the chapter, they are ‘witnesses’ who ‘prophesy;’ they proclaim the Word of God to a sinful world (comp. Revelation 11:3). These prophets are then divided into two classes, ‘the saints,’ and ‘they that fear God’s name.’ The two classes appear to be mentioned upon the principle of which we have already had several illustrations, that objects are beheld by the Seer in two aspects, the one taken from the sphere of Jewish, the other from that of Gentile, thought. ‘Saints,’ or consecrated ones, was the name for all true Israelites. ‘They that fear God’ was, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles, the appellation constantly applied to Gentile Proselytes. No distinction is indeed drawn between a Jewish and a Gentile portion of the Church. Both are really one, but they may be, and are, viewed under a double aspect. The last clause, ‘the small and the great,’ then applies to all who have been mentioned. While, therefore, the ‘dead’ are ‘judged,’ the children of God, the members of His believing Church, receive their ‘reward.’ (3) And to destroy them which destroy the earth, where the lex talionis is again worthy of notice.

Verse 19

Revelation 11:19. We have here exhibited in act what had just been proclaimed in word (Revelation 11:14-18). As throwing light upon the imagery of Revelation 11:1 and Revelation 11:2 it is important to notice that, when there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven, there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant. The word ‘temple’ is apt to mislead, for we immediately think of the temple on Mount Moriah; but the innermost shrine is alone spoken of in the original, that most Holy Place which belonged not only to the later temple but to the Tabernacle in the wilderness. In the former the ark of God’s covenant could not have been seen, for it had disappeared at the destruction of the first temple, long before the days of St. John. The inference is clear that, although the word ‘temple’ is used, it is really the Tabernacle from which the imagery is obtained. No doubt the temple thus spoken of was ‘in heaven,’ but to the eye of the Seer things in heaven were the type and pattern of the heavenly things on earth; and no one who has entered into his spirit will maintain that, if in this verse the shrine of the Tabernacle be referred to, it is possible to find another and a different reference for the shrine spoken of in the first verse of the chapter. All arguments, therefore, as to the date of the Apocalypse, drawn from the use of the word ‘temple’ in Revelation 11:1, are necessarily unfounded. It is the Tabernacle as it is described in the Law, not a temple of stone existing in his own day, that is in the writer’s view. The ‘ark of God’s covenant’ is the symbol of God’s covenant love to His people; the type of the Incarnate Lord in whose heart the Law of God is laid up, and who is the ‘propitiatory’ (Romans 3:25) or Mercy-seat.

And there followed lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail. We have similar judgments at chap. Revelation 8:5, at the close of the seventh seal, and when preparation was made for the sounding of the trumpets. We shall again meet them in chap. Revelation 16:18, at the close of the seventh bowl. We are now, therefore, at the close of the seventh trumpet, and about to enter upon the seven bowls. It will be observed that these ‘lightnings,’ etc., are only exhibited in heaven. They do not yet fall upon the earth, but are symbols of what is to come .

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 11". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/revelation-11.html. 1879-90.
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