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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Revelation 11

 

 

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Verses 1-19

IN THE OPENING verses of chapter 11, John has not only to see and hear, but to act. He was to measure the temple, the altar and the worshippers with a divinely-given reed. Once again the language is symbolic, for though a measure of length may suit a temple or an altar, it is quite inapplicable to worshippers in a literal sense. The thought seems to be that these three come under divine scrutiny and are taken account of, whilst the outer court is ignored as being under Gentile feet. This indicates, we gather, that God is going to support what is of Himself in the midst of His earthly people, Israel, and also maintain a remnant according to His election, but the “court,” the large outer circle, identified with “the holy city,” is to be defiled for the stated period. We ourselves are now in the “times of the Gentiles,” during which, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). This period has been running since the days of Nebuchadnezzar, but there is to be a specially intense treading under foot of the holy city for these 42 months. The court is not measured so that the hostile powers are given full scope.

But though they act unhinderedly, they are not permitted to pollute without God raising up a witness against them, and verse Revelation 11:3 speaks of this. The witness lasts for 1,260 days, which according to Jewish computation is exactly the 42 months of the previous verse. As to external things, the witnesses were marked by deepest humiliation, expressed by being clothed in sackcloth, but from a spiritual standpoint marked by the shining of a light, which is divinely given and supported. The reference clearly is to Zechariah 4:1-14, only here each witness is symbolized by an olive tree and a candlestick. The olive tree supplies the oil, and the oil feeds the light. God is the God of the earth, and though the holy city is trodden down He has not relinquished His claim to the earth. So before He makes good His claim in irresistible power He maintains His witness in the face of the foe. So much so, that for the time of their testimony they are invulnerable. It is their assailants who die, not they.

Verse Revelation 11:6 shows that these two witnesses have the characteristics of both Elijah and Moses, so evidently they wield immense power. Yet it is not the kind of power we find characterizing believers of this dispensation, who are rather to be “strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness” (Colossians 1:11). In the earliest years, when apostles still wielded miraculous powers, none of them slew men, or shut heaven, or smote the earth with plagues. Such displays of power suit the Old Testament, but not the New. What then shall we deduce from verse Revelation 11:6 ? Simply that here we are no longer in the present dispensation of the grace of the Gospel and the calling out of the Church. We are again on the ground of government and not of grace. It confirms what has been advanced; namely, at this time the Church has been taken to heaven.

The witnesses are invulnerable only until their testimony is completed. Then they are slain under the beast that ascends from the abyss, of whom we get details in Revelation 13:1-18. Their witness was centred in Jerusalem, and there their dead bodies lay. Jerusalem had been called the “holy city” in verse Revelation 11:2 : it is that in the purpose of God. With the slain witnesses lying in its street it is called the “great city,” which from a spiritual point of view is just “Sodom and Egypt.” It is clearly identified by the statement, “where also our Lord was crucified.”

Sodom has become symbolic of the world in its unbridled lust and wickedness, where man degrades himself below the level of the beasts, so that the cry of it arises for God’s intervention in judgment. Egypt symbolizes the world with its magnificent exterior, the supplier of all that ministers to man’s pleasures and fleshly gratification, but withal itself dominated by an idolatry that degrades, and which even enslaves the people of God if they fall under its power. All this may be great in man’s eyes but it certainly is not holy. This is what Jerusalem is to become by the treading under foot of the Gentiles and the domination of the beast from the abyss. In such a city the witnesses die, and the rejoicings over their end are to be great.

Verse Revelation 11:10 mentions, “they that dwell upon the earth,”—the earth-dwellers, of whom we have before spoken. The people generally, according to verse Revelation 11:9, will be glad, but these earth-dwellers rejoice exceedingly and hold high festivity, because the witness of the two prophets “tormented” them. We can quite understand this, for the same kind of thing can be seen today. True witness to Christ in the Gospel is opposed by the careless world, but it arouses specially fierce resentment and repudiation by present-day modernists, whose effort is to degrade the faith of Christ to a mere scheme for earthly improvements, denying its heavenly origin and the heavenly end to which it leads. Its truth they simply cannot abide; it torments them.

The jubilation of the earth-dwellers, and of the persecutors generally, is however to be short-lived. After 3.5 days they rise from death and ascend to heaven in a cloud. Their enemies behold it, so that their triumph is complete. They suffer under the beast, but are caught up to a heavenly portion, not an earthly one. Their going-up presaged the speedy fall of the beast and his satellites.

The question naturally arises: are we to understand these verses as predicting the rise of two actual men, or is it rather that God raises up and maintains, for as long as suits Him, a sufficient and powerful testimony having the characteristics of both Elijah and Moses? We incline to the latter view and that especially because of the symbolic character of the whole book. We think then that they indicate—not a large and abundant testimony; that would be indicated by 3 and not 2—a sufficient testimony, divinely, indeed miraculously, preserved and sustained at this epoch—the darkest in the world’s history since the cross of our Lord. If we are right in this, the witnesses may be identified with, or at least included in, those “beheaded for the witness of Jesus,” in Revelation 20:4, who “lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” The great point of instruction for us today is the way in which God maintains His own testimony and yet terminates it as soon as its work is done. This instruction stands, whichever view of the two witnesses we take.

At the finish of their story the triumph of the two was complete, and this will be the finish of the story for all God’s rejected and persecuted witnesses. They went to heaven; at the same time a great earthquake smote the earth. They ascended; a tenth part of the city that persecuted fell. The Spirit of life from God had entered into them; seven thousand of their foes were plunged into death. Those not slain were filled with fear and compelled to give glory to the God of heaven. It looked as if they were still reluctant to admit Him to be the God of the earth.

This episode concludes the second woe, which is the sixth trumpet, and we are told that the seventh trumpet and third woe follows quickly, for there is to be no longer delay, as we saw in Revelation 10:6. There is therefore hardly any interval between the resurrection and ascension of the witnesses and the final act, which brings man’s day to a close and ushers in the kingdom.

The sounding of the seventh trumpet does not bring to pass some fresh infliction similar to the preceding trumpets. Great voices in heaven proclaim that which is the end of all God’s judgments—the establishment of the kingdom “of our Lord and of His Christ,’’ This phrase reminds us of Psalms 2:2, where, “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed.” This they have done all along, but here their proud opposition is quelled, and the reign of the Lord by His Anointed is established. Once established, His dominion abides. Other Scriptures inform us how the kingdom of a thousand years will end, and the eternal state begin. But the tragic rebellion which is to close the thousand years will not mean any interruption in the reign. Our verse says, “He shall reign for ever and ever.” From this point of view the millennium and the eternal state are considered as one.

Verses Revelation 11:16-18 give us the reaction of the 24 elders—the heavenly saints—to this tremendous climax. The first thing is their worship. Today false professors of religion abound, whose reaction is criticism, when they hear of the kingdom of God, enforced by righteous judgment. They denounce the idea of a God who acts in righteous judgment. In heaven it will provoke not criticism but worship. This is a striking fact.

This merges into thanksgiving. They address God by the names in which He revealed Himself of old as the Governor of men and nations—Jehovah, Elohim, El Shaddai, the Eternal One—nothing before Him; nothing beyond Him, supreme and unchallengeable. He is known to us as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but this name of love and near relationship would not come in suitably here, where His acts in judgment are being proclaimed. His reign in righteous authority, and not His saving grace, is what is now before us.

Verse Revelation 11:18 summarizes in a remarkable way the things that come to pass when God establishes His kingdom. They are not mentioned in chronological order, as we might have been inclined to place them. For instance, the judgment of the dead does not take place till the end of the thousand years, as Revelation 20:12 shows. Our verse states the results achieved, first in wrath, and then in discriminatory judgment, and not the order in which they will be achieved. Each statement is worthy of careful note.

When Jehovah and His Christ take the kingdom to reign for ever and ever, “the nations were angry.” This statement is sufficient to demolish altogether the false idea that the Gospel is going to convert the world, so that the kingdom will be established as the fruit of Gospel effort, and the nations will be delighted to see it! Again, the kingdom will be established as the result of the coming of (God’s wrath. This tells the same tale, and is in agreement with Psalms 2:1-12 also. When the age of the Gospel closes and wrath comes, bringing with it righteous judgment, it will extend over a long period, only ending in “the time of the dead that they should be judged”— the final scene of wrath, as we have just seen.

But then, as well as the outpouring of wrath on manifested evil, there will be a condition of mixture, where discrimination is necessary. This had been predicted by our Lord in Matthew 13:41-43, and here it is fulfilled and accomplished. The prophets, the saints, the God-fearing will have their reward in the glory of the kingdom, whereas the destroyers of the earth will be themselves destroyed.

All sin is destructive in one way or another. As man has become increasingly inventive and wilful, his powers of destruction have increased. In Europe and elsewhere today we see a sample of what is coming. But underlying all these powers of physical and material destruction, now so manifest, there is the propaganda of the destroyer himself—the deceiver, the father of lies. The real root of the terrible mischief is here. The primary destructive force is found in the region of mind, not matter: in false religion false philosophy,- masquerading as science, but really, “science, falsely so called” (1 Timothy 6:20). These false ideas reach into the moral, the political, even the material world, and today they are manifestly leading men, who are intoxicated with them, into uncontrollable violence. “Them that destroy the earth,” under cover of improving conditions, whether materially, socially or religiously, are becoming more and more numerous and powerful.

The establishment of the glorious kingdom of our Lord will mean the destruction of all such. Then at last earth’s golden age will begin.

The last verse of chapter 11 is evidently the preface to the visions that follow, marking a fresh division of the book. Revelation 4:1-11 and Revelation

5 are a magnificent preface to the visions recorded from Revelation 6:1 to Revelation 11:18. There the sign was the rainbow and the throne. Here it is the temple and the ark of His testament. In that the visions deal with God securing a remnant for Himself, whether of Israel or of the Gentiles, and at the same time breaking the pride and power of men in the earth, and finally establishing His kingdom, and what is involved in this is stated succinctly in Revelation 11:18. In this fresh section we are now to cover part of the same ground, but from another view-point.

The ark had been the throne of God in the midst of Israel, and the temple was the shrine for it in the days of the kingdom established through David. All had been desecrated and destroyed on earth, but we are permitted to see that the real things, of which the others were only the shadows, were secured in heaven. David’s greater Son is to be the supreme Ruler, exerting His authority through Israel on earth, and yet more widely through the church, as we shall presently see. God will fulfil and establish His covenant through judgment, hence the opening of the temple is accompanied by judgment, whether directly inflicted from heaven, or generated on earth—lightning, hail, etc., indicates the one; an earthquake indicates the other.

The point in this fresh section seems to be, not so much the establishing of the throne, as the question—Who is going to ascend the throne and thus dominate the earth? There is “that Man whom He hath ordained” (Acts 17:31). But there is also a rival, as we are quickly notified—Satan, represented as a dragon. We shall also see his three chief agents—the two beasts of Revelation 13:1-18, and the harlot of Revelation 17:1-18. We are now to see these rival powers one by one disposed of, and thus the way cleared for Christ to ascend the throne.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 11:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/revelation-11.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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