{12}   Visions of Prophesy (Rev 10:111:19)


Part 5. The 7 trumpets (8:1—11:19)

5.6.      INTERLUDE 2: visions of the prophetic role (10:1—11:14)

            5.6.1.   The mighty angel and the little scroll (10:1-11)

            5.6.2.   The 2 witnesses (11:1-14)

5.7.      7th trumpet: announcement of the end (11:15-19)

        The first interlude was between the 6th and the 7th seals. Here is the second interlude between the 6th and the 7th trumpets. There are two visions: the angel with the little book and the two witnesses. These visions instruct the church concerning its role and destiny during the final period of world history. The first vision answers the question “How long?” and the second vision answers the question “What is the task of the Church in these troublous times?”

        PICTURE: John is now back to the earth. He saw a gigantic angel holding a small scroll. The angel declares to the whole world that there will be no more delay in fulfilling God’s plan. Afterwards, John sees in his vision two witnesses killed by demonic forces.


10:1     From ch.4 to ch.9, John has watched the visions unfold from his position in heaven. Now he is back on earth, for the angel comes “down from heaven” and it is from heaven that the voice is heard (vv.4,8). The mighty angel of 5:2 speaks with a loud voice (cf. 10:3) and is connected with the opening of the book of destiny (cf. 10:2); it is quite possible that he is also the one who appears here.

The robe of cloud and the legs like fiery pillars recall the pillar of fire and cloud that gave both protection (Ex 14:19,24) and guidance (Ex 13:21-22) to the children of Israel in their wilderness journey out of Egypt. The rainbow recalls God’s promise through Noah.

10:2     The angel holds a little scroll. In ch.5, the great scroll was fastened with 7 seals, but this scroll lies open. It possibly deals with the destination of God’s people during the final days prior to the end. The angel is of colossal size as he plants his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. It symbolizes his authority over the earth in its entirety.

10:3     The angel’s voice is loud, in proportion to his gigantic size. The Greek verb (mykatai) is commonly used to denote mooing of the cattle suggesting a deep resonance that would demand the attention of those who heard. The voice calls forth a response from the seven thunders. The thunder in Revelation is usually associated with divine retribution (8:5; 11:19; 16:18). A commentator describes it as “premonitions of God’s anger about to burst forth in judgment.”

The voice of the 7 thunders is not just ineligible sounds but articulate speech that can be recorded.

10:4     The voice from heaven would be a voice of authority and could be that of God or Christ. The voice commands John not to write down what the 7 thunders speak. The reason is not clear and there are a few possibilities: [1] The 7 thunders formed another series of warning plagues like the seals and the trumpets. However, because the unbelieving human race will not repent even with another series of plagues, it is useless to record them. [2] The words of the thunders will be enacted in events later recorded in the book so it serves no purpose to duplicate them here. [3] It is something that may be too sacred to be shared (2Co 12:4). [4] It is possible that what the 7 thunders say may disclose facts that should not be known by the church, such as the date of the events.

10:5     In the OT, the lifting of the hand was part of oath-taking (Gen 14:22-23; Dt 32:40).

10:6     The oath is an answer to the question by the martyrs in 6:10: “How long?” There will be no more delay. From this point forward, God will not intervene to give the human race further opportunity to repent. Restraint is to be removed, and the antichrist is to be revealed (2Th 2:3).

God as creator underscores his power to accomplish His designed plan.

10:7     In the NT, the divine purpose in history is a mystery not because it is an unknown, but because it never would have been known if God had not revealed it. The angel declares that with the sounding of the 7th trumpet, God’s whole plan will be brought to its fulfilment. The plan is the realization of the kingdom of God as clearly seen in Rev 11:15. Amos (3:7) asserted, “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets.”

10:8     The same voice from heaven now commands John to take the little scroll from the angel.

10:9     The eating of the little scroll symbolizes the assimilation of the content of the scroll by John before communicating to the others. The consumption of God’s word was described as a delight in Ps 119:103 and Jer 15:16. The little scroll may be: [1] the Word of God, [2] the Gospel, [3] a message of woe, [4] the first 13 verses of ch.11 describing the destination of God’s people during the final days.

10:10   The effect of the scroll on John makes the last possibility listed above more plausible. The scroll is sweet because there will be no delay before the 7th angel blows his trumpet but turns the stomach sour because of the persecution that God’s people must still experience. It tells of two witnesses who are martyred and later resurrected.

10:11   This renewed commission to John of telling the prophesy to the world relates to the prophecies following the 7th trumpet in 11:15. The fourfold classification of peoples, nations, languages, and tribes occurs 5 times in Revelation. Here “tribes” is replaced by “kings”, possibly in view of the 7 kings and 10 kings in ch.17.

11:1     This passage (11:1-14) is uniformly recognized as the most difficult part of the whole book to interpret. The main problem is whether to interpret this passage literally or symbolically. Literally, the two witnesses are two real persons. Symbolically, the two witnesses symbolize the witnessing church during the final period of persecution.

Between the two visions (the mighty angel and the two witnesses), John is asked to measure the temple enclosure but not the outer court. In Ezekiel (ch.40-42), the prophet was commanded to measure the temple in Jerusalem. Here, however, the temple which John measures is not a literal building but the Christian community who worship God (the “worshippers”). The measuring of the temple is a symbolic way of declaring that the temple will be preserved, and that God will give spiritual sanctuary to the faithful believers against the demonic assault of the antichrist. It is not security against physical suffering and death but security against spiritual danger and apostasy.

The reed is a bamboolike cane that grew in the Jordan valley since ancient times. It is long and rigid and is suitable for measuring.

11:2     In the temple of Jerusalem, the outer court was called the court of the Gentiles. Here the outer court of the Christian community can mean: [1] those who outwardly profess to belong to the church but are not true believers, that is, those who have compromised their faith, [2] the physical dimension but not the spiritual dimension (inner court), meaning that the witnessing church may be physically persecuted but the real source of life is protected.

The faithful are to be trampled underfoot by paganism for a period of 42 months (also in 12:14; 13:5). In Dan 8:9-14, the sanctuary is to be trampled underfoot by the little horn for 1,150 days. In Lk 21:24, it is called “the times of the Gentiles”.

11:3     The voice of God tells John that two witnesses will be given power to prophesy for 1,260 days. It is the same period as the 42 months in v.2 when the holy city will be trampled. John did not see all the events around the witnesses in the whole period but simply heard the period declared by the voice. His vision probably started with the events just before their death.

The witnesses are clearly modelled after Moses and Elijah. They have the power, like Elijah, to consume their enemies with fire (2Ki 1:10-12) and to shut up the sky so that it will not rain (1Ki 17:1), and like Moses, they can turn the waters into blood (Ex 7:14-18) and strike the earth with every kind of plague (Ex 8:12). They were the two persons who appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mk 9:4).

There are different possible identities: [1] Two real individuals: Moses and Elijah, Elijah and Enoch (according to Tertullian, because both of them did not die), Elijah and Elisha, Zerubbabel and Joshua (Zec 4:10-12, a golden lampstand and two olive trees representing Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the Jewish governor), James and John, James the apostle and James the Lord’s brother, Peter and Paul. [2] Symbol of the witnessing church in the days before the end of the age. [3] Allegorical representation: the Law (symbolized by Moses) and the Prophets (symbolized by Elijah), the Law and the Gospel, the OT and the NT, Israel and the Church, Israel and the Word of God, the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia (the only two among the 7 churches in ch.2-3 that did not receive any rebuke).

Modern commentators usually subscribe to one of the first two explanations. While these two may appear to be vastly different interpretations, they both demonstrate how God’s witnesses will be persecuted at this time. Even if there are two real persons, the work they do represent what the witnessing church will do at this time. The treatment they receive may represent how God’s people as a whole are treated by the world. While John only sees events around the two witnesses, similar events happen to God’s people elsewhere in the world.

The sackcloth clothing was worn by ancient prophets. It symbolized the call to repentance as sackcloth was the garment of mourning and penitence.

11:4     The witnesses are identified as the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. They are the bearers of divine light. They are also the olive trees that provide the oil that keeps the light alive.

11:5     They are protected by supernatural powers for the period of their prophetic activity. The fire that destroys is similar to the fire around Elijah in 2Ki 1:10-12. It may also symbolize the power of their testimony.

11:6     They also have power to cause supernatural phenomena like those of Moses and Elijah.

11:7     As soon as their ministry has been fulfilled, the witnesses are no longer protected from physical harm. The beast of the Abyss attacks and kills them. This beast is commonly identified as: [1] the antichrist which will be described in detail in ch.13 and ch.17, [2] the little horn that made war with the saints (Dan 7:21)

The verb “attack” in Greek means making war. As it is unnecessary to make war against two individuals, this word may support the interpretation that the witnesses represent a large group. If so, this refers to large scale persecution of God’s people.

11:8     The bodies of the martyred witnesses are left unburied on the broad street of the great city. In Eastern custom, to be deprived of burial was an act of great indignity against the dead.

Although the term “great city” is usually refers to Rome in Revelation (16:19; 17:18; 18:10,16,18,19,21), here it is widely interpreted as Jerusalem. The reason is because of the phrase “their Lord was crucified.” The city also bore the figurative title of Sodom and Egypt. Sodom refers to the depths of moral degradation (Gen 19:4-11) while Egypt is the symbol of oppression and slavery. It assumes the character of Sodom and Egypt because of the domination of the antichrist.

The interpretation will be very different if the two witnesses symbolize the church. The great city can then mean every city and no specific city, perhaps meaning the city of the inhabitants of the earth.

11:9     The witnesses become the scorn of the whole world (again the fourfold divisions). After they witnessed for 3.5 years, they receive contempt from the world for 3.5 days. This is a brief period in comparison.

11:10   When the followers of the beast realize that those who have tormented their conscience are dead, they are overjoyed. They celebrate as if it is a holiday and they congratulate each other by exchanging gifts. Again, the “inhabitants of the earth” designate the pagan world.

11:11   The celebration is cut short. After 3.5 days, God sends the breath of life into the dead bodies of the witnesses and they rise again.

11:12   The witnesses are summoned by a loud voice from heaven and ascend in full view of their enemies. They go up “into” (Gr. eis) heaven, not just ascending to a higher position in the sky. It is the final triumph of the witnesses.

11:13   As the witnesses are taken up into heaven, a great earthquake levels a portion of the city, killing 7,000 people and forcing the rest to acknowledge the majesty of God. Eze 38:19-20 predicted a great earthquake that would precede the end. Zec 14:4 describes how the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west when God returns to crush His enemies. Some think that the terrified survivors in the city, perhaps mostly Jews, truly repented. However, this is not certain as the text did not describe repentance. Also, later, Rev 13:3-4 specifically says that “the whole world was astonished and followed the beast.”

11:14   This verse is a continuation of the action in 9:21 which was the end of the second woe (the 6th trumpet). It marks the end of the interlude.

11:15   The extensive use of the aorist tense (a total of 11 times) in this passage (11:15-19) conveys a sense of absolute certainty about the events that will take place. For this short passage, John again sees what happen in the court of heaven.

When the 7th trumpet is blown, the third woe does not immediately follow. Instead, a great heavenly host declares the final triumph of the kingdom of God and the establishment of His eternal reign. The voices are those of the angels but not the church because the praise is for “our” Lord (God) and “His” (God’s) Christ. For the church, the praise should be “our Lord and our Christ.” Now, the dominion and rule of this world is completely in the hand of God and His Christ who shall reign forever and ever. When Jesus declared in Mt 28:18 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” He possessed all authority de jure (by right or by law) but not yet de facto (in fact) as the world was still under the influence of the devil. Now, Christ’s authority is both de jure and de facto. The singular “He” emphasizes the unity of the joint sovereignty of the Father and the Son.

11:16   The 24 elders (probably an angelic order) appeared the last time in 7:11 where they were prostrate before the throne of God in worship and praise. Now, again, they fall prostrate and worship.

11:17   Previously, the praise to God is for the One who is, who was and who is to come. Here, the “is to come” is omitted because His coming is no longer in the future but now. He has already come and has begun to reign.

11:18   The reign of God is established by a great demonstration of divine wrath against the defiant anger of the world. It is a fitting time for judgment, reward, and destruction.

The judgment anticipated by the elders is carried out in the great white throne scene of 20:11-15. The reward of the faithful is carried out with the coming of the New Jerusalem with the presence of God (21:9-22:5). The destruction is carried in the events in the next few chapters.

A reasonable translation of the sentence on reward would be: “your servants the prophets, and your saints—those who reverence your name, both small and great.” So there are two groups (prophets and saints) who are described as fearing the name of God.

11:19   There are two responses to the hymn of praise in vv.17-18: [1] the appearance of the ark of the covenant representing the rewarding of the faithful, and [2] the cosmic disturbances representing the outpouring of God’s wrath.

The sanctuary that opens to reveal the ark of the covenant is not an earthly temple but the sanctuary of God in heaven. It opens briefly to reveal a heavenly ark, the symbol of God’s faithfulness in fulfilling His covenant promises. In the OT, the ark was a symbol of the abiding presence of God. Here, the ark is “the symbol of the superlatively real, intimate, and perfect fellowship between God and His people.” (Hendriksen)

All five disturbances are symbols of divine anger (6:12; 8:5,7; 11:13; 16:18,21).


        Like the two witnesses, the role of the church is to witness and to proclaim the Gospel until the end. The witnesses even sacifice their lives. Today, many Christians in the world sacificed their lives for the Gospel. We have to ask ourselves two questions: [1] Will we be strong enough to hold on to our faith in the face of death? [2] Compared to those Christians under daily persecutions, why don’t we have the same urgency in proclaiming the Gospel even when we don’t need to encounter the same danger?