Revelation 10-11: Seven Thunders and Two Witnesses

"And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth."Revelation 11:3

Opening prayer: Father, help us to see these Scriptures as words of hope and encouragement rather than warnings of fire and brimstone. Lord, we want to hear Your sweet voice and know what exactly You would have us do next.

This is a continuation of our series on the Revelation of Jesus the Messiah. If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to study our previous lessons in this series:

We learned from the last lesson that the second half of the 70th week of Daniel will be a time of trouble like the world has never seen. Fire will fall from heaven, and a third of the world's inhabitants will be killed -- either by nuclear war or by fire and brimstone directly sent by God. This will come after 1/4 of the world's population has been killed by war, famine, disease and political oppression. If you do the math, you'll discover that 3/4 times 2/3 equals 6/12 or 1/2. So about 1/2 of the world's present population will be destroyed by events described in our previous lessons.

Today's lesson will discuss two peculiar little chapters: 10 and 11.

Let's begin with Revelation 10, verses 1-4:

And I saw another mighty angel come down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire: 2 And he had in his hand a little book open: and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth, 3 And cried with a loud voice, as a lion roareth: and when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices. 4 And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.

This is a very different scene from any of the previous ones:

But why is John told to NOT write what the thunders said?

Apparently there are some parts of God's plan that He wants to keep secret for now. After all, the enemy of our souls has spent nearly 2000 years trying to distort God's revealed will and encouraging entire denominations to keep their sheep from reading it. All for naught: when the rebellious survivors hear THESE voices, there will be no place to hide and no way to mistake them for anything else.

Let's continue with verses 5-7:

And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, 6 And swore by Him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer; 7 But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as He hath declared to His servants the prophets.

Note that this angel is setting the stage for the seventh angel to sound the seventh trumpet. And when THAT angel sounds, the third woe will strike the earth and the mystery of God will be finished.

What mystery?

To the Apostle Paul, it was a mystery that Gentiles (non-Jewish people) would be receiving the Jewish Messiah with greater enthusiasm than the Messiah's own people. This period of time (we're in it today) is called the time of the Gentiles. We'll see another hint of it in the next chapter.

The last four verses will sound familiar to our Jewish readers:

And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go [and] take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. 9 And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take [it], and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. 10 And I took the little book out of the angel's hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. 11 And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.

In chapters 2 and 3 of the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, the Lord commanded Ezekiel to eat a similar scroll before going to prophesy to Ezekiel's rebellious countrymen. Like Ezekiel, John was commanded to go and prophesy. Unlike Ezekiel, John was called to prophesy to a wider audience: "many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." Like Ezekiel, John found the scroll sweet to the taste. Both men took delight in being obedient to the Lord and rejoiced in speaking His words.

Why did the scroll make John's stomach bitter?

There isn't much Scripture to guide us here, so we must make some educated conjectures. We know from John's pastoral epistles that John had a father's love for his children in the Lord. Like his Lord, John cared for all the sheep entrusted to his care. Like his Lord, John would find that some of the sheep refused to listen to him. And like his Lord, John would be grieved (" belly was bitter") that people he loved would turn away -- to their own destruction.

The first two verses of Revelation Chapter 11 are equally mysterious:

And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. 2 But the court which is outside the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.

Here again, John is commanded to do activities parallel to those of Ezekiel. In chapters 40-42 of Ezekiel, the Lord has the prophet measure out the Temple of the Lord as it will appear during the Lord's reign on earth. In John's case, the Temple is being measured before the Lord's triumphant return to earth. Therefore the angel commands John to measure everything except the outer court, which is being trampled underfoot by the Gentiles. Just for emphasis, John is told that the holy city will be trampled by the Gentiles for 42 months, or 3 1/2 years.

Verses 3-6 give us more insight, and introduce two incredible characters:

And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred [and] threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. 4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. 5 And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. 6 These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.

There's a wealth of information we can glean from these strange verses:

The end of their story is equally strange:

And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. 8 And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. 9 And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. 10 And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth. 11 And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. 12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. 13 And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.

Finally the Lord allows the two prophets to stop. Good thing, too. By now, the earth's population has been reduced by more than half, and the survivors were blaming God and His prophets instead of accepting the responsibility for their sins.

AFTER the two prophets finished their work, "the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit" will kill the prophets. Amazingly, he and his ghastly henchmen just leave their bodies lying in the street. Even more amazingly, this causes great delight among people around the world -- who will undoubtedly have witnessed the entire scenario on satellite TV news broadcasts.

As usual, God has the final word: after 3 1/2 days "the Spirit of life from God entered into them" and they stood to their feet alive and well. They have just experienced their own personal resurrection. The last part of verse 11 is nicely understated: "Great fear fell upon them which saw them." No kidding. These prophets had spent 3 1/2 years withstanding puny human weapons and retaliating with supernatural fire, calling plagues down upon the earth. Imagine how YOU would feel if you were standing anywhere near these guys when they stood up -- what if they started torching everyone in sight?

Fortunately for the bystanders, God has other plans for the two prophets. "Come up here!" And off they go, into the clouds. This was their own private Rapture event.

Before we move onward, let's make one tiny observation:

These prophets FINISHED their testimony. Their ministry had a specific beginning and ending. Until we get to the other side of the Milennium, EVERY work of God through humans will have a specific beginning and an end. Throughout history, God has raised men and women to do mighty works for specific seasons and reasons. Unfortunately, some of us enjoy these mighty works so much that we miss God's cue for us to stop. In my brief lifetime, I've observed several ministries outlast their usefulness. Entire denominations, founded by anointed men and women of God, have been continued by men and women that were neither called nor anointed to do so. In effect, they are taking the Lord's name in vain. My prayer is that you will be sensitive to the Lord's leading in YOUR life and ministry -- hearing His command to GO!, and obeying His command to Stop!

So who is the beast that finally kills the prophets?

We'll study the beast in great detail (more than he deserves) in a future lesson.

Why does God describe Jerusalem as "Sodom and Egypt" in verse 8?

Most people assume the city is Jerusalem because of two phrases: "the great city" and "where also our Lord was crucified." Let's dig a little deeper:

But what about the phrase "where our Lord was crucified?"

Notice the context:

...the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.

The city spiritually is called "Sodom and Egypt," even though it was geographically distinct from both. The city spiritually is called "where also our Lord was crucified." For your homework: Do some research into various "Christian" denominations. Can you find a denomination that claims to spiritually re-enact the crucifixion and suffering of Jesus at every single service? Is that denomination intimately associated with a city? Pray about it -- and research that denomination's history of "tolerance" -- BEFORE you start accusing us of being intolerant. God has many good people in virtually ALL denominations today, but the good ones (including you, perhaps) will be airlifted to safety years before the two witnesses begin their ministry. If the God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians are taken out of ANY denomination, the left-behind folks will be in charge. Don't waste your time defending what your denomination might become in their hands.

Let's finish chapter 11, with verses 14-19:

The second woe is past; and behold, the third woe cometh quickly. 15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become [the kingdoms] of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. 16 And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, 17 Saying, We give Thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because Thou hast taken to Thee Thy great power, and hast reigned. 18 And the nations were angry, and Thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that Thou shouldest give reward unto Thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear Thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth. 19 And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in His temple the ark of His testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.

Finally! The seventh angel gets to sound his trumpet! And notice the heavenly commentary: "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ." You have just witnessed the official beginning of the Day of the Lord, at the end of the Great Tribulation. This Day of the Lord is the third woe to those living on the earth, but will result in the glorious Kingdom of our Lord being established on this earth.

How can this be the END of the Great Tribulation? We're only halfway through the Book!

True, we've got a long ways to go. Just remember that God is showing John the overall picture, one small part at a time. And some of the parts overlap in time.

Time out, teacher! Can you give us an overall timeline for all the tribulation events? I'm getting confused about what happens before what.

Welcome to the club: nobody (including you and me) can know the exact chronology, but we can develop some guidelines by comparing these Scriptures to other prophetic passages. The problem arises because the book of Revelation is arranged by subject, not by strict chronology. Within each chapter or major division, the events are arranged in sequence. But these events might happen before, after, or concurrently with events revealed in later chapters. For example, both the sixth seal of Chapter 6 and the seventh trumpet here in Chapter 11 announce the beginning of the Day of the Lord, at the very end of the Great Tribulation.

Having said that, here are some general guidelines based on material we've already covered:

In upcoming lessons, we will add more significant events to the above outline.

Hey, teacher! I'm not sure I agree with any of your explanations and conclusions.

Good! Click here to see what you should do about that.

The most important thing you can do is to prepare your heart for the return of the Lord. If you do, you will be the recipient of some amazing promises, as explained in our lesson on Raptures and Resurrections.

If you aren't sure if you're ready, please click the "mail-to" link below to send us an e-mail. Explain your concerns and we'll respond as quickly as we can.

Closing Prayer: Lord, help me to prepare my heart so I "may be counted worthy to escape all these things," as Your Son Jesus promised. Amen.

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Hey, teacher! I don't agree with your conclusions!

Good! Please don't be satisfied with ANYBODY's explanation, especially mine. My goal is to spur you on to do further study on your own. In fact, nothing would make me happier than to hear that you were so outraged by my lessons that you spent days studying these Scriptures trying to prove me wrong.

All I ask is one thing: Spend your time studying the Bible. Don't waste your time reading books ABOUT the Bible, except for fun. (Hint: You will save yourself a lot of grief (and money) if you avoid commentaries.) Instead, pray for the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind. Then make up your own lists and charts based on your own personal study of the Bible.

A few study helps are worth purchasing. Look up key words and phrases in your Strong's Concordance and in your Vines' Dictionary of New Testament Words. Get the Greek/English Interlinear text by George Ricker Berry, so you can get a flavor for the word-by-word literal translation of the Greek. Spend the majority of your time studying in the New King James translation, which is generally the most accurate version. (Note: Although the paraphrase versions (Living Bible, NIV) are very readable for the Old Testament and helpful for devotional studies, they are less accurate in the New Testament.) Follow up on the margin notes in your Bible, looking for related passages and concepts. Take everybody's explanations (including mine) with a grain of salt. Click here to return to the conclusion of the lesson.