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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Revelation 11

 

 

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Verse 1

1. There was given me—By what giver is not said, (as in Revelation 6:11; Revelation 8:2;) doubtless by an invisible yet divine donor, the gift coming visibly as by panoramic spontaneous movement.

A reed—The light-jointed plant that grows in marshy grounds. It was an emblem of feebleness, (Matthew 11:7;) used as a mock sceptre for Jesus, (Matthew 27:29-30;) as an instrument for writing by our John himself. 3 John 1:13.

A rod—A staff for walking; or a rod for chastising; or, probably, here, a sceptre or baton of office, as Aaron’s rod. Hebrews 1:8; Revelation 2:27; Psalms 2:9. This fragile reed, the emblem of a humble Christianity, was yet a sceptre mighty to take a divine measurement of human things. That measurement could be either, as here, severe and critical, or, as in Revelation 21:15, an appreciation of a glorious wonder.

And the angel stood—These words are to be rejected as a false reading. The angel disappears at the close of the last chapter, and the scene changes.

Before the seer appear, (note Revelation 4:11,) in gradual development, the temple or holy house; the altar of incense, which was in it; then the court, which surrounded it; and, finally, the city, which embraced the whole. The main progress is from the less in size to the greater, but from the greater in sacred importance to the less.

Measure— Take a divine and critical estimate of its present value and amount.

Saying—In the Greek (omitting the angel) there is no immediate subject-noun with which this saying agrees, save rod. And some, as Wordsworth, have accordingly made the rod utter the direction and predictions which follow, just as the altar speaks in Revelation 9:13. But even then the saying, no doubt, refers to the invisible giver of the rod.

The saying embraces the predictions, in future tense, to Revelation 11:10; and then, at Revelation 11:11, the seer commences his past tense, yet so commences as, with exquisite skill, to take in the predictions as part of the narrative. The whole could be read in the past tense as one narration.

Rise—Not as if he had been sitting or kneeling, but as moving him to action from the reverie during which the change of scene had taken place.

Temple… altar—The inmost places of the true Church of God.

Them that worship—The true living Church of the saints. The measurement is an authentication of their trueness. The authoritative rod, or sceptre, is also a reed, or pen, that writes a divine endorsement. Happy the Church whom the measuring reed endorses.


Verse 1-2

I. PRELUDE TO THE SEVENTH TRUMPET.

4. Outlined ground-plan of the events of the Seventh Trumpet; that is, of the whole of Revelation 12:1 to Revelation 22:5, Revelation 11:1-13.

a. The mystic Jerusalem=the pure Church, ascertained by measurement, Revelation 11:1-2.

This chapter has been considered the very “cross of interpreters,” so various have been the interpretations. But a careful noting of its various points will, perhaps, clearly show that it is a miniature picture of the great antichristic STRUGGLE of which all of chapters 12-20 are the full portraiture. It is the preparatory programme—the portico to the building, and a small model of its structure.

To discover this we note, first, in Revelation 11:7, an anticipation of the full portraiture of the struggle in the beast, who can be no other than the beast of Revelation 13:1-10. Then, in Revelation 11:2, we have the holy city, or Christic capital, in contrast with the great city, or Babylon, the antichristic capital. We have then a clew of the great coming antithesis. A full tracing thence of the particulars, as we will give them in our notes, will make, perhaps, perfectly clear the fact that all the leading points given at length in the full prophecy of 12-20 will be found to have their correspondent points in this miniature. See tabulation at end of Revelation 11:13.


Verse 2

2. The court—The enclosure, or yard, in which the holy temple stands.

Measure it not—For, though formerly the true Church, it is not now the pure Church, but the apostate. Revelation 11:2.

Is given—By divine judgment on account of apostasy.

Unto the Gentiles—For in the apocalypse Israel is the Christic Church, and the Gentiles are antichristic.

The holy city—Same as the beloved city of Revelation 20:9, of which the holy city of Matthew 27:53 is typical.

And here we may notice the futility of the argument drawn from this phrase to prove that the literal Jerusalem was still standing. It might just as well be argued that the great city of Revelation 11:8—that is, the literal old Babylon, the type of antichrist’s capital—was still standing. It might even be argued, just as reasonably, that the beloved city of Revelation 20:9 was standing at the time of John’s vision.

Tread under foot—In ancient times cities were often built at the base around some high, steep hill, on the summit of which a citadel or strong fort was built. So Athens was built upon the plain surrounding the Acropolis. When the city was attacked in war this citadel furnished the last stronghold for the defenders. The lower city might be trodden under foot by the besiegers, while the citizen soldier firmly held the summit. See note on Revelation 20:9. So here, they that worship held the temple, while the Gentiles trod the city under foot. Few, but faithful, the heroes of the holy Church held the fort during the siege.

Forty and two months—A tolerably long siege for a literal citadel to endure. It is typical of the period when the powers of antichrist tread down the capital of Christ’s kingdom. The symbol appears to be based upon our Lord’s words in Luke 21:24. For the forty-two months see our Introduction on numbers of the apocalypse, and note on Revelation 13:5.

We have now (3-12) the typical picture of heroic Christian martyrdom during the period of apostasy. Even in the midst of the gentilized city there are two unterrified yet dying witnesses. Their number, two, is based on the duality of ministry and church. Yet they are miniatured, or diminished, as two, to signalize their faithfulness and to centralize our sympathy on their heroic loneliness in the midst of apostate surroundings. Deep and glorious is the lesson for the faithful witnesses of the truth amid ages of darkness.


Verse 3

b. The martyr two witnesses=the faithful few, Revelation 11:3-6.

3. Give power—It was to be expected that in the midst of Gentiles these witnesses would hush in silence. Their enemies are thousands, and they are but two. But they have the “gift of power,” and their prophecy will ring through the streets of the city through the whole long, dark period. My— The word implies that the speaker is God, and that these witnesses are claimed as his own. See note Revelation 11:1. Hence this word is incorrectly quoted by Dusterdieck as an instance in which an angel abruptly speaks the words of God as his own, as a precedent for such an interpretation of Revelation 22:10, where see note.

Prophesy—All true preaching is prophecy, for it predicts man’s future destiny, and comes from a divine power. The whole gospel is a solemn prophecy.

Clothed in sackcloth— An emblematic garb, symbolizing humiliation and grief, especially of the repentant kind. Hence it was worn by the prophets who preached repentance to a guilty generation. The garment represented the humiliation which the sins of the age required. It was usually made of coarse hair. and used for sacks, and also for straining out liquids. Elijah and John the Baptist wore sackcloth. 2 Kings 1:8.


Verse 4

4. Two candlesticks—The candlestick, in this book, uniformly represents a church, and the olive trees which supply the oil naturally represent the ministry. Hence the witnesses, as the impersonation of these two bodies, are two. Nothing is more common than the impersonating a collective body in an individual. In this book a nation is a beast, a corrupt church is a harlot. A testifying church and a testifying ministry are two witnesses.

The imagery is based, with free modifications, upon Zechariah 4:2-13. The prophet there sees two candlesticks, (or rather lamps,) into which two olive trees are pouring, through pipes, their golden oil. And these are there said to represent “the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” These two are Joshua, representing the priesthood, and Zerubbabel, representing the nation.

Before the God… earth—Like prime-ministers before their divine Sovereign.


Verse 5

5. And—The imagery of these two verses seems to be based upon the history of Elijah.

Will—Rather, wills, or purposes to.

Fire—In 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12, fire came down from heaven, yet at the words of Elijah’s mouth. The powerful physical images under which the divine judgments following the rejected ministries of the evangelic witnesses need not perplex us. Physical miracles of far more gigantic figure are ascribed to the dragon Revelation 12:4, and to the beast Revelation 13:13-15. When even so sober a commentator as Alford is in profound doubt whether these two witnesses are not two literal men, who will in the future perform these physical miracles, and go through a martyrdom and miraculous resurrection after three days and a half, we are at once amazed and amused. Why not make the beast a real animal and his image a real automaton, by which physical miracles are wrought?

The sacred thought that underlies these physical images is easily disclosed by the ordinary laws of analogy. The fire that proceedeth out of the mouth of the evangelical prophet is forked. That is, it is alternative in its power; it must burn up the man’s sins or burn up his soul. He who hurts the prophets, by damaging the truth he represents, is devoured by that fire. It is the man, and not the sin, that dies. That the wages of rejecting the truth is death is so immutable a law that the speaker gives it an emphatically-repeated utterance.


Verse 6

6. As the individual judgment upon rejection of the gospel prophecy is given in Revelation 11:5, so now we have the public judgments. The firmament of God’s goodness becomes brass, and the genial showers of mercy descend not.

Waters… blood—Nay, the very mercies of God, designed for our life and happiness, are transformed, by the divine judgments, to the very image and essence of curse. The very gospel, the water of life, proves to be the stream of death.

As often as they will—Which will, since they are but the embodiments of divine truth, is simply the expression of God’s law. This absoluteness of their power of inflicting judgments is the absoluteness of the divine justice, not of their personal caprice. And all their power of infliction is simply the power of annunciation, sure to be fulfilled by the divine power. It was thus that Elijah burned up the fifties; and thus that Peter struck Ananias dead. It is thus that the Christian prophet, in the true performance of his duties, slays men and nations. His word kills, because God within the word kills, according to the word. What kills all men is just this word, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”


Verse 7

c. Their destruction by the beast, and resurrection triumph and avenging, Revelation 11:7-13.

7. When they—The martyr witnesses of the apostate period.

Shall… finished—Both individually and collectively. Each individual finishes his testimony and is slain. But, collectively, the entire body represented by the two is slain when the period is completed. The individual death of the two represents or symbolizes the collective death, in series, of the whole. If two represent the whole, then their martyrdom represents the martyrdom of the whole.

The beast—Premonition of the beast of Revelation 13:11-18. And the two witnesses answer to the “killed” of Revelation 11:15. And their martyrdom is type of the collective martyrdoms of the true witnesses through the whole period.


Verse 8

8. The great city—In opposition to the holy city of Revelation 11:2; and so identical with the Babylon of Revelation 14:9, the antichristic capital.

Lie in the street—Picture of most dishonouring exposure. The defeat of the reformation is in its hour of defeat the object of derision through all the ranks of the apostasy.

Spiritually called—The word figurative is the opposite to literal, and the word spiritual, as an epithet for language, is opposed to secular. Secularly the great city is called Babylon, but in the dialect of the spirit it is a Sodom, an Egypt. Babylon is called Sodom as the seat of licentiousness, whose end was to be burned. Revelation 19:3, compared with Genesis 19:28. And is called Egypt, as the cruel oppressor of God’s people, from which they were called to come out, Revelation 18:4.

Where… crucified—Stuart, Gebhardt, and others, consider this clause as demonstrating that Jerusalem is the great city. But, 1. All the references to Jerusalem in the Apocalypse make her a symbol of the holy. She is “the city of God,” Revelation 3:12; “the holy city,”

Revelation 11:2; the “beloved city,” Revelation 20:9; the “holy city,”

Revelation 22:19. And so, also, the Jews and Israel are throughout a type of the true Church. 2. On the other hand, in every case the “great city” is Babylon, Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:18; Revelation 18:16; see also, Revelation 16:19; Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:19. So uniform a use, in both cases, cannot but be decisive. 3. Our Lord was truly crucified, not indeed in the literal and local, but in the mystical or spiritual, “Babylon.” Literal and fallen Jerusalem was within the limits, and part of, that Babylon, as being part of the Roman Empire as belonging to antichrist, and as where Roman hands crucified the Saviour. The also implies that our Lord’s being crucified is viewed as a martyrdom in addition to that of the saints slain in the great city.


Verse 9

9. Three days and an half—A miniature of the forty and two months, or three years and a half of Revelation 11:2; being “a day for a year.” It is an adverse number, the sacred seven broken into two equal parts. The reduction to a miniature amount, corresponds both to the miniature reduction of the witnesses to two, and to the necessary brevity of time for a corpse to lie unburied.


Verse 10

10. Send gifts—As if the day of their death were a festival, a Christmas, or a new-year, when presents are made among friends.

Tormented—Tired, perplexed, or harassed them with a testimony against their sins and dogmas.


Verse 11

11. Spirit, or breath of life; said to be from God, as miraculously descending into their bodies, and producing resurrection.

Fear—A deep and awful transformation of their joy into terror. And the terror of the persecutors was the triumph of the martyrs.


Verse 12

12. Great voice from heavenLife from God gave them their resurrection; a voice from God their ascension.

Hither—Into the presence of God, the highest firmament, the most excellent glory. Note, Revelation 4:11.

In a cloud—Rather in the cloud, the airy region of vapour and dimness.

Enemies beheld them—As crowned with divine approbation and rising in triumph to the blessed abodes.

Alford remarks that “no attempt has been made to explain this ascension by those who interpret the witness figuratively of the Old and New Testament,” as Wordsworth, or as “calling up to political ascendency and power.” We think the figurative “explanation” not only easy and natural in the “attempt,” but in the accomplishment. The imagery, like that in Revelation 11:5, is borrowed from the history of Elijah; whose ascension, like that of these witnesses, was a divine token of endorsement and triumph. It thence stands in perfect analogy with the ascension of the man-child, who mounts to the throne to rule in ever-completing triumph and power over his adversaries, ultimately to put them all under his feet. Note Revelation 12:5. It is, then, correspondent to the triumphant reign of souls in Revelation 20:4, the millennium which takes place in consequence of the victory of the warrior-king Messiah over antichrist, in Revelation 19:11-21. It is true, that the reign of these two martyrs is in glorified bodies rather than in disembodied souls; but that arises from the parallelism with Enoch and Elijah, and is not to be held literally. Their ascension is simply the figure of the triumph and overruling power of the cause for which they suffered. And this correspondence with the reign of martyred “souls,” be it specially noted, is part of the outlined identity of this chapter with the entire predictive history of all that follows in the book.


Verse 13

13. Earthquake—Anticipative image, in miniature, of the overthrow of Babylon, completed at close of chapter 19.

Tenth part… seven thousand—Says Gebhardt, “A city, the tenth part of which is destroyed by an earthquake which slays 7,000 persons, can only be a real city,” that is, not a symbolical city. But the very exactitude of the round numbers ought to have warned the commentator of numerical symbol. No earthquake ever carefully smote down a city to the precise tenth part; so also, that the number of men slain was the cube of ten multiplied by seven. And by Gebhardt’s interpretation this ought to have been the literal fact with the literal Jerusalem. The writer who has not carefully studied the symbolical numbers of the Apocalypse will never attain its true interpretation.

If ten is a symbol of universality, then one tenth indicates that but a minority of the secular dominions of the earth will be plunged into absolute destruction in the great closing contest. As to the number of the slain men, the cube of ten raises our thoughts to a great number, yet limited by the divine seven. The universality of the ten refers to their universal diffusion through the secular world. All these limitations correspond with the fact, that in the final battle, while the destruction is great, yet the survivors are in still greater numbers, consisting of “the nations” of Revelation 19:15; Revelation 20:3; Revelation 20:8, who still remain undestroyed and roll on their generations.

Affrighted—Were filled with salutary fear resulting in their conversion and entrance into the millennial age of Revelation 20:1-6.

Gave glory— From fear to praise.

The God of heaven—Whose spirit of life awakened the witnesses to a resurrection, and whose great voice bid them come by ascension into heaven. It may be rather hinted than explicitly narrated; yet all this hint is a fair miniature of what in chapters 19 and 20 is a full portraiture. And we trust we have made it clear to our readers that this passage (1-13) is an outline sketch of the victorious struggle of Christ with antichrist, of which the coming chapters are prophetic history.

The correspondences of the two appear in the following TABULATION:—

The temple, the true Church. = The mystical temple and Jerusalem, Revelation 14-16. The beast. = The beast, Revelation 13:1.

The two persecuted witnesses. = The saints persecuted by the beast, Revelation 13:7; Revelation 13:16-17.

Slain three days and a half. = Martyred three and a half years, or 1260 days, Revelation 13:5.

Resurrection of witnesses. = Reign of souls of martyrs, Revelation 20:4.

Overthrow of city. = Downfall of Babylon, Revelation 16:19-21.

“Remainder gave glory to God.” = Millennial triumphs, Revelation 20:3-4.


Verse 14

II. THE SEVENTH (third Woe) TRUMPET SOUNDS WARS OF CHRIST AND ANTICHRIST, Revelation 11:14.

14. The second woe—The three woes, announced in Revelation 8:13, are the last three of the seven judgments of the seven trumpets.

Quickly— By a rapid movement of the apocalyptic panorama, symbolizing that the fulfilment comes with a divine rapidity.

The seventh trumpet covers the entire period of consecutive historic prophecy of the book. It forms with its Angelophany and new prophetic inauguration in chap. 10, and its outline and prelude in this eleventh chapter, the entire Third Part of the book. It most properly opens with the present solemn announcements in heaven and earth. The true, clear, divine story is now to be told.

Heavenly voices chant a triumphal anticipation of its contents, 15-19.


Verse 15

15. Great voices in heaven—Alford suggests that these voices were from the four living beings as distinguished from the twenty-four elders.” But that destroys the mysterious beauty of the apostle’s thought, which is, that the voices rolled and reverberated spontaneously through the heavens with no apparent utterer. They were as if the celestial spaces spake them.

Kingdoms—The preferable reading seems to be kingdom, in the singular, of course including the italic repetition of the word inserted by the translators. The world’s kingdom, no longer the devil’s kingdom, has become God’s and his Christ’s kingdom.

Throughout this lofty prelude, the consummation of the entire events of the seventh trumpet is announced as already completed. The utterers take their mental stand-point at the end of the whole history, and contemplate its future completion as already past. This is the prophetic future-preterite; the past tense for the future.

The sounding of the trumpet is of course the signal for the panorama of symbols to move on. The announcement of the heavenly voices utters in one sentence the glorious result of the whole movement, and is the signal for the profound worship and thanksgiving of the elders which follow.


Verse 16

16. Elders—Representatives of the universal Church in heaven and earth. Notes on Revelation 6:4.

Their faces—First rising and then prostrating before God; not even lifting up the face. So profound and so one is their thanksgiving over this sure consummation. The heart of the whole Church of God feels the inexpressible joy of this grand certainty, that the dark problem of the world is solved in the final triumph of good.


Verse 17

17. Hast taken… hast reigned—That is, will take and will reign (future-preterite) in the period signalized by the peal of this seventh trumpet. So glad is the prospect, so sure the final accomplishment, that the spirit of the utterers is transported to the close, and contemplates the battle as already fought and the glorious crown as already won and worn.


Verse 18

18. Nations were angry—On the side of antichrist they will rally in arms against God and the Lamb.

Wrath is come—In the terrible carnage of Revelation 19:11-21, and the fire from heaven of Revelation 20:9.

JudgedRevelation 20:11.


Verse 19

19. To this divine ascription there is given from God a divine response, not uttered to the ear, but shown to the eye. The temple (see note Revelation 4:11) is the same as in Revelation 11:2, but not as same symbol. It here stands, as in Revelation 15:5, (see note,) for the literal temple, and in the holiest of that temple is the testament—divine covenant—by which God pledges himself to his people for the final triumph of good in glory. In answer to the predictive thanksgiving of the elders’ worship, God displays that covenant. He answers not a word, he only shows his pledge; as much as to say, “You see that MYSELF am bound for the consummation you predict.”

Lightnings… hail—All the most powerful elements of nature pour forth their celebration over this pledge of the final glorification of nature with man.

The panorama moves on, and the two great princes of good and of evil appear in antithesis. This is the beginning of the scenic war.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 11:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/revelation-11.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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