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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Revelation 11

Introduction

CHAP. XI.

The two witnesses prophesy: they have power to shut heaven, that it rain not: the beast shall fight against them; and kill them: they lie unburied, and, after three days and an half, rise again. The second woe is past. The seventh trumpet soundeth.

Anno Domini 96.

Verse 1

Revelation 11:1.— From this to the nineteenth chapter, we have the third and longest period of this prophesy, distinguished by the seven vials, as the former periods were by seven trumpets, and seven seals. As this is a period much more extensive than either of the foregoing, it seems to have a more full and copious description; and the state of it is represented by several prophetic images; as by measuring the temple; by the prophesy of two witnesses; by the vision of a woman flying into the wilderness; ch. Revelation 11:12 : the representation of one wild beast rising out of the sea, and of another coming out of the earth; ch. 13. So that there are two distinct representations of the state of the church during this period; and another representation of the persecuting power from whence this afflicted state of the church should proceed: and in the end of this, as in each period, we have a representation of the church's deliverance out of its afflicted state. In particular, the afflictions of the church are to end with this period in the most happy and glorious state of peace and prosperity, of truth, purity, and protection; and are not to be renewed in a very short time by a new period of troubles and afflictions to try the faith and patience of the saints, as in the former periods. It appears therefore, that the representation of the two witnesses, of the woman in the wilderness, and of the beast, are several exhibitions of the same time or period, in different views. The time for the witnesses to prophesy in sackcloth, is a thousand two hundred and threescore days, ch. Revelation 11:3. The woman is nourished in her place in the wilderness for a time, and times, and half a time, or three years and a half; equal to one thousand two hundred and sixty days, according to the ancient year of three hundred and sixty days; and so the prophesy itself interprets it, Revelation 11:6. It is further observed concerning the period of the beast, that power was given to him to continue forty and two months, a time equal to three years and a half, or one thousand two hundred and sixty days. These are therefore to be looked upon as different descriptions of the same period, for the more distinct explication of the prophesy, and the greater certainty of its true meaning. The days in question must be interpreted of years, as is not only agreeable to the general style of prophesy, but to the plan of the particular prophesy before us. The order of the prophesies of this book shews, that these one thousand two hundred and sixty days contain the whole time of the third period, or all the time wherein the witnesses prophesy, the woman is in the wilderness, and the beast has power given unto him; that is, all the time of the last state of the church's sufferings, to that glorious state of the church, when Satan shall be shut up in the bottomless pit for a thousand years. In this period the seven vials of God's wrath are to be poured out, and all the historical events that relate to them accomplished. This period is to last till the mystery of God shall be finished: these events are too many, and the times in which they are to be accomplished too long, to be comprised within one thousand two hundred and sixty natural days. The order of the periods shews, that this third is not to begin until the two former are passed; until the nations which had destroyed the Roman empire had divided it among themselves; till the imperial government of Rome was passed away, as the preceding forms of government were before it; and till another form should be established in Rome, which, on some accounts, should be called the seventh; and, on others, the eighth form of government: when Rome, once the powerful mistress of the world, after she had lost her dominion, and, as it seemed, without hope of recovery, should be restored to power and empire again, which was to continue during the one thousand two hundred and sixty days of this period, and then to be utterly overthrown, and never to rise again. Now, as a great variety of concurrent circumstances shew the beginning of this period to have been about the year 756, when the popes were invested with the temporal dominion of Rome, in which only time the several descriptions of this period do all exactly agree, the one thousand two hundred and sixty days of this prophesy are to last so long as this dominion is to continue: which seems evidently to shew, that we are not to understand one thousand two hundred and sixty natural days as the time of this period, but so many prophetic days, or years. See the following notes. See also the Appendix for other views of this subject.

And the angel stood, saying, That is, the angel mentioned in the foregoing chapter, whom some commentators interpret of Luther. In the former part of this chapter, from the 1st to the 14th verse, says Bishop Newton, are exhibited the contents of the little book mentioned in the preceding chapter. In this verse St. John is commanded to measure the inner court,—the temple of God, &c. to shew, that, during all this period, there were some true Christians who conformed to the rule and measure of God's worship. This measuring might allude more particularly to the reformation from popery, which fell out under this sixth trumpet; and one of the moral causes of it was, the Othmans taking Constantinople, which occasioned the Greek fugitives to bring their books with them into the more western parts of Europe, and proved the happy cause of the revival of learning; as the revival of learning opened men's eyes, and proved the happy occasion of the reformation. But, though the inner court, which includes the smaller number, was measured, yet the outer court, which implies the far greater part, was left out, (Revelation 11:2.) and rejected, as being in the possession of Christians only in name, but Gentiles in worship and practice who profaned it with heathenish superstition and idolatry: And they shall tread under foot the holy city; they shall trample upon and tyrannize over the church for the space of forty and two months.

Verse 3

Revelation 11:3. I will give power unto my two witnesses, &c.— The sacred writer assures us that God would raise up some true and faithful witnesses, to preach and protest against the innovations mentioned in the preceding verse: and there were Protestants long before ever the name came into use. Of these witnesses there should be, though but a small, yet a competent number; and it was a sufficient reason for making them two witnesses, because that number is required by the law, Deu 19:15 and approved by the gospel, Mat 18:16 and upon former occasions, two have often been joined in commission, as Moses and Aaron in Egypt; Elijah and Elisha in the apostacy of the ten tribes; and it is observable also, that the principal reformers have usually appeared in pairs; the Waldenses and Albigenses; John Huss and Jerome of Prague; Luther and Calvin; Cranmer and Ridley, and their followers: not that (I conceive) any two particular men, or two particular churches, were intended by this prophesy; but only that there should be some in every age who should bear witness to the truth. They should not be discouraged, even by persecution and oppression; but, though clothed with sack-cloth, and living in a mourning and afflicted state, should yet prophesy; should yet preach the sincere word of God, and denounce the divine judgments against the reigning idolatry and wickedness. And this they should continue to do, as long as the grand corruption itself lasted;—for a space of a thousand two hundred and threescore days. It is the same space of time with the forty and two months, Revelation 11:2. For forty and two months, consisting each of thirty days, are equal to a thousand two hundred and threescore days, or years in the prophetic style; and a thousand two hundred and threescore years, (as we have seen before in Daniel 12:11-12.) is the period assigned for the tyranny and idolatry of the church of Rome. A character is then given of those witnesses, and of the power and effect of their preaching; Revelation 11:4-6. These are the two olive-trees, &c. that is, "They, like Zerubbabel and Joshua, Zechariah 4:0 are the great instructors and enlighteners of the church." Fire proceeded out of their mouths, &c. (Revelation 11:5.) that is, "they are like unto Moses and Elijah, (Numbers 16:2; 2 Kings 1:02 Kings 1:0; 2 Kings 1:0.) who called for fire upon the enemies of Jehovah." But their fire was real; this is symbolical, and proceeds out of the mouths of the witnesses, denouncing the divine vengeance on the corrupters and opposers of true religion; much in the same manner as it was said to Jeremiah, ch. Revelation 5:14. I will make my words in thy mouth fire, &c. It is added by St. John, These have power to shut heaven, &c. Rev 11:6 that is, "They are like Elijah, who foretold a want of rain in the days of Ahab, 1 Kings 17:1.James 5:17; James 5:17 and it rained not by the space of three years and six months; which, mystically understood, is the same space of time as the forty and two months, Rev 11:2 and the thousand two hundred and threescore days, Rev 11:3 which were allotted for the prophesying of the witnesses." During this time the divine protection and blessing shall be withheld from those men who neglect and despise their preaching and doctrine. They have also power over the waters, &c. Rev 11:6 that is, they are like Moses and Aaron, who inflicted plagues on Egypt; and they may be said to smite the earth with the plagues which they denounce; as, in scripture language, the prophets are often said to do those things, which they declare and foretel. But it is most highly probable, that these particulars will receive a more literal accomplishment, when the plagues of God, and the vials of his wrath, (ch. 16) shall be poured outupon men, in consequence of their having so long resisted the testimony of the witnesses.

Verses 7-12

Revelation 11:7-12. When they shall have finished, &c.— Or, When they shall be about to finish their testimony, the wild beast that ascendeth out of the abyss, &c. After the description of the witnesses, their power and offices, follows a prediction of those things that shall befal them at the latter end of their ministry: and their passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, are copied from our Saviour's, who is emphatically styled, The faithful and true Witness, ch. Rev 3:14 but with this difference, that his were real, theirs are figurative and mystical. When they shall be about finishing their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the abyss,—the tyrannical power of Rome, (of which we shall see more hereafter,) shall make war, &c. Revelation 11:7. The beast, indeed, shall make war against them all the time that they are performing their ministry, but, when they shall be near finishing it, he shall so make war against them as to overcome them, and kill them. They shall be subdued and suppressed; be degraded from all power and authority; be deprived of all offices and functions, and be politically dead, if not naturally so. In this low and abject state they shall lie some time, Rev 11:8 in the street of the great city,—in some conspicuous place within the jurisdiction of Rome, which spiritually is called Sodom, for corruption of manners; and Egypt, for tyranny and oppression of the people of God; where also our Lord was crucified, spiritually, being crucified afresh in the sufferings of his faithful martyrs. Nay, to shew the greater indignity and cruelty to the martyrs, their dead bodies shall not only be publicly exposed, (Revelation 11:9.) but they shall be denied even the common privilege of burial: and their enemies shall rejoice and insult over them, Rev 11:10 and shall send mutual presents and congratulations one to another, for their deliverance from these tormentors, whose life and doctrine were a continual reproach to them. But after three days and a half, Rev 11:11 that is, in the prophetic style, after three years and a half, (for no less time is requisite for all these transactions,) they shall be raised again by the Spirit of God, and, Rev 11:12 shall ascend up to heaven: they shall not only be restored to their pristine state, but shall be further promoted to dignity and honour: and that by a great voice from heaven;—by the voice of public authority. At the same hour there shall be a great earthquake,—there shall be great commotions in the world; and the tenth part of the city shall fall, as an omen and earnest of a still greater fall: and seven thousand names of men, or seven thousand men of name, shall be slain, and the remainder in their fright shall acknowledge the great power of God. Some interpreters are of opinion, that this prophesy of the death and resurrection of the witnesses received its completion in the case of John Huss and Jerome of Prague; others refer it to the Protestants of the league of Smalcald. Some again think it applicable to the horrid massacre of the Protestants at Paris, and other cities of France, in the year 1572: others imagined, that the persecution carried on by Lewis XIV. against the Protestants of France, in the year 1685, would be the last persecution. And others again apply it to the poor Protestants in the vallies of Piedmont, imprisoned, murdered, or banished, in the year 1686. In all these cases there may be some resemblance before us, of the death and resurrection of the witnesses: but though these instances sufficientlyanswer in some respects, yet they are deficient in others; and particularly in this, that they are none of them the last persecution: others have been since, and probably will be again. Besides, as the two witnesses are designed to be the representatives of the Protestants in general, so the persecution must be general too. We are now living under the sixth trumpet; and the empire of the Euphratean horsemen, or Othmans, is still subsisting: the beast is still reigning, and the witnesses are still, in some times and places more, in some less, prophesying in sackcloth. It will not be till toward the end of this testimony, and the end seems to be yet at some distance, that the great victory and triumph of the beast, and the suppression, resurrection, and exaltation of the witnesses, will take effect. When all these things shall be accomplished, then the sixth trumpet will end; then the second woe shall be past, Rev 11:14 the Othman empire shall be broken in the same manner that Ezekiel (Ezekiel 38-39) and Daniel (Daniel 11:44-45.) have predicted; the sufferings of the witnesses shall cease, and they shall be raised and exalted above their enemies: and when the second woe shall be thus past, behold the third woe, or total destruction of the beast, cometh quickly: some time intervened between the first and second woes; but upon the ceasing of the second, the third shall commence immediately. It appears then, that the greater part of this prophesy relating to the witnesses, remains yet to be fulfilled. But possibly some may question whether any part of it has been fulfilled; whether there have been any such persons as the witnesses; any true and faithful servants of Jesus Christ, who have in every age professed doctrines contrary to those maintained by the Pope and church of Rome? The truth of the fact may be made appear by an historical deduction; and it can be proved, that there have constantly been such witnesses, from the seventh century down to the reformation, during the most flourishing period of Popery. Those who are desirous of seeing this deduction, may find it in Flaccius Illyricus, in the Centuriators of Magdeburg, in Usher, in Alix, in Spanheim, in Calmet, in Mosheim, and in all the ecclesiastical writers.

Verses 15-18

Revelation 11:15-18. The seventh angel sounded, &c.— At the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the third woe commences; which is rather implied than expressed, as it will be described more fully hereafter. The third woe brought on the inhabitants of the earth, is the ruin and downfal ofthe antichristian kingdom; and then, and not till then, according to the heavenly chorus, the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of the Lord, &c. St. John is rapt and hurried away, as it were, to a view of the happy millennium, without considering the steps preceding and concluding to it. At the same time the four and twenty elders, or the ministers of the church, Rev 11:16-18 are represented as praising and glorifying God, for manifesting his power and kingdom more than he had done before: they give likewise an intimation of some succeeding events; as, the anger of the nations, Gog and Magog, ch. Rev 20:8 and the wrath of God, displayed in their destruction, ch. Rev 20:9 and the rewarding of all the good, as well as punishing of the wicked, Revelation 11:12, &c. Here we have only a summary account of the circumstances and occurrences of the seventh trumpet; but the particulars will be dilated and enlarged upon hereafter. Thus are we arrived at the consummation of all things, through a series of prophesies, extending from the apostle's days to the end of the world. It is this series which has been our clue, to conduct us in our interpretation of these prophesies; and though some of them are dark and obscure, considered in themselves, yet they receive light from others, preceding and following. Altogether they are, as it were, a chain of prophesies, whereof one link depends on and supports another. If any parts remain yet obscure and unsatisfactory, they may perhaps be cleared up by what the apostle himself has added by way of explanation. See the Appendix for other views of this subject

Verse 19

Revelation 11:19. And the temple of God, &c.— Bishop Newton, with Grotius, is of opinion, that this verse should introduce the twelfth chapter, as it appears to begin a new subject: it is much in the same spirit with the vision of Isaiah, (ch. Revelation 6:1.) and of our divine prophet, ch. Revelation 4:1-2. The temple of God was opened in heaven, &c. that is, more open discoveries were now made, and the mystery of God was revealed to the prophet. Lightnings and voices, &c. are the usual concomitants of the divine presence, and especially at giving new laws and new revelations: see Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:25.Revelation 4:5; Revelation 4:5; Rev 8:5 and with as much reason they are made in this place the signs and preludes of the revelations and judgments which are to follow. It is no just objection, that a new subject is supposed to begin with the conjunction and; for this is frequent in the style of the Hebrews; some books, as Numbers, Joshua, and the two books of Samuel, &c. begin with the Hebrew particle ו, vau, or and.

Inferences.—Long has the court of God's temple been trodden under foot by the Gentiles, and a party of very corrupt and degenerate Christians (if they at all deserve the name, though they proudly arrogate to themselves the title of the Catholic church) been introducing and countenancing all the fopperies and absurdities of pagan superstition, as well as more than the horrors of pagan cruelty, so as indeed to have disgraced not the gospel alone, but human nature itself. A wise and gracious Providence hath raised up witnesses for the truth in all ages; and it is a signal honour to bear a faithful and courageous testimony against these enormous corruptions, though it were unto bonds and imprisonment, and even at the expence of life. Those noble and heroic confessors God hath remarkably supported; and even when they have been in a state of mourning and oppression, they have borne their testimony and prophesied; their prayers have been remembered before God, and many have been smitten, who injured and oppressed them. But, notwithstanding this, the beast continued his war upon the saints, and their oppressions increased, until, in many places, they have been cast down, and trodden in the dust, and their blood hath been poured out like water on the earth. Thus has the great city, the metropolis of the world, once faithful and celebrated, become even as Sodom and Egypt, or even as Jerusalem, where Christ himself, our divine Master, was crucified. Thus have the enemies of the truth triumphed over the servants of the Lord, and have erected trophies of their victory. But, thanks be to God, their triumph shall not be perpetual; Christ our Redeemer will revive his expiring cause, in a manner as glorious and wonderful as a resurrection from the dead: he will glorify his faithful people; he will cause the earth to tremble, and shake down the towers of the enemy; and when the first and second woes are past, will bring upon them a third and more terrible woe. In the faith of this triumphal event let us rejoice; and let us consider it as approaching, when the seventh angel shall sound, and when all the kingdoms of the earth shall become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ. Let our prayers do all that the most earnest prayers can do, towards promoting this great event. O Lord God Almighty, who art, and art to come, we beseech thee to take to thyself thy great power and reign; for the proudest of the enemies who oppose thy kingdom reign, and even live, only by thy permission. Overbear, by thy superior rebuke, the rage of the angry nations; and give patience to thy afflicted servants, that they may never resign the hope of the reward, which thou wilt at length confer upon thy faithful people,—not only on the prophets, and most eminent and distinguished of the saints, but on all those that fear thy glorious and tremendous name; on the small, as well as on the great; when the destroyers of the church, and of the earth, shall be destroyed together. Amen.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, A general description is given of the state both of the true and the antichristian church during 1260 years, from the time that the temporal power of the Pope arose, about 756.

1. St. John is commanded to measure the temple of God, and the altar, and the worshippers; for, in the worst of times, and the darkest days, God would still maintain his own cause; and all his servants who would improve the light bestowed upon them, should be preserved from the general apostacy. The outer court he may not measure; that is left to the Gentiles, to those who indeed profess to bear the Christian name, but by the idolatry, superstitions, and frauds which they encourage and maintain, are returned in reality to the worship of Paganism, Popery being Heathenism revived: and during forty-two months, or 1260 years, these Gentile Papists shall tread the holy city under foot, and exercise their tyrannical government over the professors of the Christian name.
2. During the prevalence of the antichristian tyranny, God will not leave the world without warning, nor the corrupters of his worship without witness; a succession of faithful ministers shall arise, a few indeed, here spoken of but as two, and clothed in sackcloth, deeply affected with the miseries of the church, and the persecutions of the faithful. These are the two olive trees, &c. like Zerubbabel and Joshua (Zechariah 4:6-14.), whom God will supply with the continual influences of his grace, and endue with light and zeal to remonstrate against the corruptions of the antichristian church. And if any attempt to hurt them, the word of the Lord, which proceedeth out of their mouths as fire, denounces spiritual and eternal death upon them. These have power, like Elijah, to shut up heaven, and to bring the heaviest plagues, like those of Egypt, on their enemies; even the spiritual plagues of a famine of the word, obduracy of heart, and all the dreadful judgments which, in answer to their prayers, God will inflict on their persecutors, and which they denounce upon them, not from a spirit of revenge, but for the vindication of God's injured honour.

3. The witnesses shall be slain, while they are performing their testimony, though God will always raise up others, and avenge their blood on their persecutors; and their dead bodies shall be forbidden burial, and be insulted in the streets of that great city, spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified, Rome papal being as notorious for filthiness as Sodom, and, like Egypt, the cruel oppressor of God's people, and red with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus, which is, as it were, afresh to crucify him.

Some suppose that this slaying of the witnesses by the antichristian beast and his adherents, is yet to come; and that the three days and a half, refer not to the time and times and half times, or 1260 years, the whole period of popery, but to some more dreadful persecution, and general prevalence of the power of antichrist, which, towards the close of this period, will be permitted; and that for a short space the inhabitants of the papal countries will congratulate each other, as if they had now finally triumphed over those who troubled their consciences with remonstrances against their impieties, idolatries, and all their abominations. See the Annotations and the Appendix.

4. After three days and an half, at the close of the period of 1260 years, the witnesses are miraculously raised to life, to the terror of their enemies; not the same persons, but others, endued with their spirit, boldness, and zeal; and God, in testimony of his approbation, caught them up to heaven in the sight of their enemies, not literally, but figuratively; he exalted them to a state of eminent dignity and safety, above all the malice of their foes: and thereupon a great earthquake shook down a great part of the city of the beast, and seven thousand men were slain; a vast number of his dependants and abettors, men of note and influence, fell, and his jurisdiction was in part demolished; while the remnant, affrighted by these prodigies, renounced their idolatries and superstitions, and, converted to the faith of Jesus, glorified God. Note; (1.) The enemies of God's witnessing servants shall one day, with confusion, behold their exaltation, and know that God hath sent them. (2.) When God's judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants thereof should learn righteousness; and they who fly to God for refuge, and give him glory, shall be saved from fear of evil.

2nd, The seventh trumpet sounds, and lo, the third and the last woe is denounced, when the Mahometan and papal powers, the Eastern and Western antichrists, are to be utterly destroyed. On which,
1. Loud acclamations of joy fill all the courts of heaven; the wished for time is come, when Jesus shall erect his throne, and all nations shall bow before the sceptre of his grace, owning him as their rightful King, who shall reign over his faithful saints for ever and ever. And for this, the four-and-twenty elders pour forth their thanks to the Lord, and, in humble adoration, prostrate themselves before his throne, ascribing praise to the eternal and almighty Jesus, that he hath now signally made bare his arm, avenging the deaths of his martyred servants, and, in return for the indignation shewn by the antichristian persecutors, has poured forth his vials of wrath upon them; while his faithful ministers and people now receive their glorious reward; they see their foes become their foot-stool; and enjoy peace, comfort, mutual communion, and free liberty of all gospel ordinances, in their highest purity. And every gracious soul, looking forward to this happy season, cannot but pray that God would hasten it in his good time.
2. The temple of God was opened in heaven; the exercise of the true evangelical worship was now restored; and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament, intimating the peculiar manifestations of God's presence to all his people, the boldness they will have to approach the holiest of all, and the sweet communion which they shall enjoy with the Lord, seeing him, as it were, face to face.

3. And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail, as if the dissolution of all things was at hand; intimating the entire demolition of all the church's enemies. Note; Though the struggle be long and sharp, the gospel shall be finally triumphant, and the truth at last prevail over all opposition.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Revelation 11". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/revelation-11.html. 1801-1803.