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Commentary on The Book of Revelation 4

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD


The Seventh Seal is Opened.

The First Six Trumpets (8.1 - 9.21).

8.1 ‘And when he opened the seventh seal there followed a silence in Heaven about the space of half an hour.’

The seventh seal is chronologically parallel to the occurrences in the first six seals (as we have noted the sixth seal ends with the second coming and the final judgment. The seventh seal could not follow that). Its content thus occurs at the same time as the events in the first six seals, at the same time as the four horsemen are riding, (and they have ridden throughout history as ‘the beginning of travail’ - Matthew 24.7-8). It helps to explain the meaning of the apocalyptic language in seal 6. We have no reason to doubt, and every reason to believe, that it occurs while the seven churches are on earth.

Here in Revelation we are seeing present history from heaven’s point of view. Dreadful things have happened throughout history and we now discover their source. While they are the result of man’s sinfulness, they are also the result of heavenly activity (compare 2 Kings 6.17).

Each seal in the seven sealed scroll represented different aspects of the activities of men and of the judgments of God. They were opened one after another simply because there was no other way of opening them in a deliberate way, but what was in the seven-sealed book is an overall record of future history from the time of John onwards, seen as a whole, but leading up to the end. Thus most of what is now presented occurs in parallel. The events are to a certain extent overlapping each other.

The silence in Heaven must probably be seen as one of trust and awe in the light of what comes from it. As Jeremiah says in Lamentations, ‘it is good that one should hope and wait in silence for the Lord’s deliverance’ (Lamentations 3.26, compare also Habakkuk 2.20; Zephaniah 1.7; Zechariah 2.13). God’s judgments are about to be revealed in fuller measure, and the prayers of God’s people are reaching their climax and are about to be answered. Thus Heaven waits in expectant and awestruck silence. The opening of the seventh seal results in the sounding of the seven trumpets. So the seven trumpets are contemporary with the seven seals. But whereas the seals are opened directly by the Lamb (including the seventh) indicating Christ's control of the whole of history, the seven trumpets are in the hands of angels. They have a specific part to play in that history without having the overall control given to the Lamb. They are more concerned with the more detailed judgments which take place within the general scheme of things. They do not control all history, they intervene at specific points in that history.

The first five seals referred to man’s activity throughout history at the command of God, the latter fact reminding us that God is always in control. In the same way the first five trumpets represent the more specific direct judgments of God during the same period. History is full of God’s judgments, intended to bring men to repentance. The sixth seal and the sixth and seventh trumpets describe the consummation of the age.

8.2 ‘And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.’

The seven angels are the ones mentioned in 1.4 and 4.5. They have been waiting for this very moment. The blowing of the seven trumpets, like the opening of the seven seals of which they are a part, will cause God’s purposes to go forward. Like the seven seals, the trumpets overlap with each other, so that the events described in one may occur while others are going on, although also to some extent consecutively. They announce publicly God’s next actions. Just as the New Year was inaugurated with the blowing of trumpets and hope for the future (Leviticus 23.24; Numbers 29.1), and the year of Jubilee was inaugurated with trumpets which signalled release and freedom (Leviticus 25.8-10), so each of God’s new actions is inaugurated in the same way. The seven trumpets were given to the angels by God, as the passive tense ‘were given’ suggests. Their being seven indicates the divine completeness of the judgments they cover.

8.3-5 ‘And another angel came and stood over the altar, having a golden censer, and much incense was given to him in order that he should offer it with the prayers of all God’s people (‘all the set apart ones’ or ‘all the saints’) on the golden altar which is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense with the prayers of the God’s people (the set apart ones - the saints) went up before God out of the angel’s hand. And the angel takes the censer and he fills it with the fire of the altar and casts it on the earth. And there follow thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake.’

The angel, who is not identified, stands at the heavenly altar of incense ready to make his offering before God. He is one of many angels with specific tasks to perform. Who he is it is idle to speculate. He is anonymous. He is only important because of the task he performs. The golden altar of incense is before the throne, just as the altar of incense in the Tabernacle was before the veil behind which was the mercy seat, the throne of God. The incense is thus offered directly to God.

The angel is given incense which will amplify the prayers of God’s people as they are offered to God. Such effective prayer is necessary in view of what we learn about the trumpets and the seals. In 5.8 the twenty four elders who act for the church of Christ hold golden bowls full of incense which are the prayers of the saints. This angel’s task is to enhance those prayers with further prayers, and Scripture elsewhere tells us the divine source of those prayers in the Great Intercessor (Romans 8.26, 34; Hebrews 7.25).

The ‘much incense’ given to the angel is to be seen as comprising the intercession of Christ, ‘who ever lives to make intercession for us’ (Romans 8.34), and of the Spirit Who ‘makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered’ (Romans 8.26-27), for what else could boost the prayers of God’s people? If any particular prayers are specifically in John’s mind they are probably those of the souls under the altar in 6.9-10, for these are about to be answered. (This is all of course picture language. It is not recommending the use of incense in churches, nor saying that there are priests in Heaven, it is using Old Testament ceremonies to apply New Testament truths. Prayer, praise and thanksgiving have replaced incense and are actually what is offered).

In Revelation we are constantly reminded that the people of God are praying (5.8; 6.10). They pray that His name may be glorified, that His kingly rule may come and that His will may be done (Matthew 6.10). And Revelation is the fulfilment of those prayers, although possibly not in the way that they expected. As God’s people pray for deliverance so does God continue His acts of judgment which partly bring about those prayers.

Having offered up the incense by burning it in the fire on the altar, thus effectively assisting God’s people, the angel fills the censer with the fire from the altar, which has been used to offer up the prayers of God’s people, and casts it on the earth, thus applying their prayers directly and ensuring their fulfilment. What will now happen on earth is God’s response to the prayers of God’s people. He is about to carry out His righteous judgments. In Ezekiel a similar action is performed by the man clothed with linen who had sealed God’s people to secure their protection (Ezekiel 10.2). In that case it would result in the carrying our of God’s righteous judgments in the devastation of the city of Jerusalem.

We are not to see these ideas as literal. (It is described in earthly terms. There is no need or place for an altar in Heaven for it is essentially spiritual. As the writer to the Hebrews tells us, Jesus Christ is our altar (Hebrews 13.10)). They are intended to assure the people of God that God is constantly aware of their prayers and to assure them that the intercession of Christ and the Holy Spirit is effective on their behalf. They also assure them of the interest of heavenly beings in their needs and problems. The prayers directly in mind are the prayers for assistance in the face of trial, and longings for the fulfilment of God’s purposes. It does not have in mind our prayers for the sorting out of our personal day to day lives, although it does include our prayers for protection from evil.

If we were to take 15.8 literally it is an awesome thought that the above may be the last ‘priestly’ act carried out by angels until the resurrection. The prayers of God’s people for the working out of God’s purposes have been heard, those prayers have been applied on earth, and all that follows in the future will be the working out of the answer to those prayers.

‘There followed thunders, and lightnings, and voices and an earthquake’. As mentioned previously on 4.5 the first three of these indicate something of the glory and mystery of God. They declare that something very important is about to happen. To these are added the earthquake to draw attention to the fact that God’s judgments are in process and that there will be earth shaking events. Earthquakes are depicted in Revelation as indicators and reminders of the judgment of God, and as part of those judgments.

8.6 ‘And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.’

It is possible that the silence in Heaven has been utilised for the purpose of putting into action the prayers of God’s people. All Heaven has waited in awed silence while this task has been performed. The Lord in His holy Temple has been receiving their prayers and Heaven (8.1) and earth (7.1) have waited in silence before Him (compare Habakkuk 2.20 - ‘the Lord is in His holy Temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him’). Now the four angels at the four corners of the earth who will hurt the earth and the sea and the trees will be loosed (7.1).

While the six seals were only indirectly the judgments of God in that they involved the activities of men and nature, these are the more direct judgments which go alongside them, more intensified and more devastating, and yet more restricted in effect. When were they released? In the days of John and onwards.

The ideas behind the consequences of the seven trumpets are based to some extent on the plagues of Exodus 7. Hail and fire mixed with blood compares with the seventh plague (Exodus 9.22 following), the sea becoming blood compares with the first plague, as does the undrinkable water (Exodus 7.17 following), and the darkness which follows the fourth trumpet blast compares with the ninth plague (Exodus 10.21 following), while the locusts parallel Exodus 10.4. Just as God was then preparing for a great deliverance of His people, and to lead them into the land of promise, so now God is seen as preparing a new and greater deliverance for His people and is leading them into the heavenly Promised Land.

It is very probable that we should see the first four trumpets as resulting from the release of the ‘winds’ by the four angels of 7.1. These winds are to be released to carry out their work on earth with devastating consequences. Each releases something which affects a part of mankind. Every occurrence of such events can be seen as the continual working of these ‘winds’ of God.

The First Trumpet Sounds.

8.7 ‘And the first sounded and there followed hail and fire, mingled with blood, and they were cast on the land (or earth), and the third part of the land (or earth) was burnt up, and the third part of the trees were burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.’

The first wind of earth has been released, specifically affecting trees (7.1). In Exodus 9.24 there was ‘hail, and fire mingled with hail’ and plants of the earth were smitten (Exodus 9.31-32), indicating a great storm with hail and lightning and possibly thunderbolts, and the resulting fires burn up trees and vegetation. A similar thing happens here. Compare ‘hailstones and coals of fire’ (Psalm 18.13-14), similarly part of such a great storm. John would seem to have Exodus 9 in mind but replaces ‘hail’ with ‘blood’.

From where does John introduce such an idea? In Ezekiel 38.22 God says of Gog ‘I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood, and I will rain on him and on his hordes and upon the many peoples who are with him an overflowing shower, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone’, John is thus taking these ideas and combining them with Exodus 9. This brings out that the prime significance of ‘blood’ here is death through the storms. Some have seen it as connected with Joel 2.30 which speaks of ‘blood and fire’ in connection with the future, ‘I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood and fire and pillars of smoke’. But in context that more suggests devastation by pillaging armies. It may, however, be seen as also referring to extreme natural phenomena, and may thus have been in John’s mind for Joel 2.30 was connected by the early church with current events (Acts 2.10).

This whole picture suggests a procession of great storms, their devastating effects resulting in pestilence and death, and the mention of fire and brimstone stresses that they are to be seen as a judgment of God. Possibly, but not necessarily (it is apocalyptic language not to be taken literally) to be seen as connected with volcanic action. The mention of blood over against pestilence in Ezekiel refers to ‘death’ and includes the storm’s effects as it causes death and destruction (see also Ezekiel 14.19). Pestilence and death are closely related. The word for ‘death’ is regularly used in the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) to translate the Hebrew word ‘deber’ which means destruction, plague, pestilence (1 Kings 8.37; Jeremiah 14.12).

This whole imagery may also have in mind the phenomenon of red rain which occurred in certain parts of the Mediterranean region. It may, however, be simply apocalyptic imagery suggesting widespread death. Or more probably it is the one seen with the other. There may also be the suggestion in it that they are receiving recompense for the blood of the martyrs which they have shed, their ‘blood’ being seen as poured on them in the judgments coming on them (compare 15.6).

Such great and devastating storms, and huge fires caused by lightning and thunderbolts, burning up swathes of countryside, occurred in John’s time and have occurred through history, and will continue to do so, exacting death tolls sometimes of great magnitude, although not many have reached this magnitude. Here we learn that such storms should be seen in their own way as judgments of God, as the releasing of the winds of earth, a further step towards and reminder of Christ’s Second Coming. There will no doubt be more. Every such severe catastrophe in nature is a pointer to the end. The whole message of Revelation is that however much things seem out of control, God is in control and working His purposes out.

‘And the third part of the earth (or land area) was burnt up, and the third part of the trees were burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up’. This is apocalyptic language to bring out the severity of the situation and is a deliberate increase on ‘the fourth part’ in Revelation 6.8, stressing an even greater increase in death and devastation through these great fires and storms in the areas where they occur. However, it is in merciful contrast with the ‘two thirds’ of Zechariah 13.8 which applied to those who smite the shepherd and scatter the sheep, for they claimed to be God’s people and were therefore liable to greater punishment. Thus here justice is seen as tempered with mercy.

God would have been justified in destroying all, but he limits it to a third. Nature and man are both seen as controlled by God. It may be seen as occurring over time, with the devastation not all occurring at once. The mention of the destruction of trees and grass stresses that there will be resulting shortages for both man and beast. The ‘third part of the earth’, or it could equally be translated ‘of the land’, has in mind ‘the earth’ as known to John, not the whole world as we know it, and probably even means ‘of the land where the storms occur’. It indicates great devastation. But although the devastation is great, it is not necessarily worldwide. Within its sphere it is widespread and devastating. The word for ‘earth’ can also equally mean ‘land area’ (their concept of ‘the earth’ was different from ours). The mention of the fraction reminds us that God is allowing a powerful warning but has not yet determined to destroy the whole.

There have been such apocalyptic moments in history when particularly awful natural phenomena have caused devastating consequences on a huge scale, and in a lesser way such ‘natural’ phenomena as typhoons and hurricanes occur regularly. But we obtain hints of worse from ancient writings and from scientific studies. Any one of these, or all, could be in mind here. Revelation presents us with a pattern of suffering and woes which mankind must constantly face and is assuring us that they do not mean that things are out of control. They come and they go, but God’s purposes go forward and His people are not forgotten.

The Second Trumpet Sounds.

8.8-9 ‘And the second angel sounded and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea, and the third part of the sea became blood, and the third part of creatures which were in the sea died, those that had life, and the third part of the ships were destroyed.’

The second wind of heaven affects the sea (see 7.1). We are not told which sea is involved, (‘in Spirit’ John could be anywhere) but the description may be of a meteor or asteroid crashing to earth producing great devastation and even changing the colour of the sea. Because it hits the sea its worst effects are avoided, but it still causes great devastation around it. The sea was always seen by the Israelites as an enemy, for they had few ports and little to do with it.

This is possibly not seen as being as widespread as the first disasters, for it affects only one sea, but it is deeper in intensity. God’s judgments are sometimes widespread, and sometimes deeper in intensity. Whether such an event which meets all these criteria has specifically happened in history we may not be able to identify (so much of history is a blank to us), but we do know of devastation caused by meteors and other spatial objects, some of which have caused quite considerable devastation, and there are early records of such events. Once again ‘the third part’ is apocalyptic language for great devastation.

Speaking of the 6th century AD Roger of Wendover (13th century AD) refers to a catastrophe that was exceedingly widespread, probably caused by the effects of a comet breaking up in space or an asteroid, as follows, ‘a comet in Gaul so vast that the whole sky seemed on fire. In the same year there dropped real blood from the clouds --- and a dreadful mortality ensued’. While almost certainly exaggerated, the language has similarities with our passage. Such events have occurred, fortunately relatively rarely, throughout history, including in the twentieth century in, for example, Siberia.

John himself is thinking of a relatively short period for these activities, for he could not foresee the time that would elapse before Christ’s Second Coming. These things were to ‘soon come about’ and there can be no question but that things which could be interpreted as them were experienced in John’s day. But God’s perspective is different. He sees history as a whole. John is again saying that when such devastating things happen the Christian can be aware that it is not a sign that God has forgotten us. Rather He allows them in order to remind men of the even more devastating judgment to come.

On the other hand, the idea of ‘stars’ (heavenly lights of one kind or another) falling from heaven and causing devastation are known in other apocalyptic literature (e.g. the Book of Enoch mentioned by Jude (1.14)) and there they represent fallen angels. Indeed, the king of Babylon, who made great claims to deity was pictured as the Day-star, falling from heaven which suggests a similar background (Isaiah 14.12). It may thus be that that is the idea here, and that a powerful fallen angel is seen as carrying out what is written here.

If it is a fallen angel and not a specific natural catastrophe that is in mind it could again mean the angel does his work over a period of time. Fallen angels are a feature of Revelation and pictured as falling stars (9.1-2; 12.4). (In Daniel 10 they are constantly at work throughout history). As these first four trumpets connect with the four angels at the corners of the earth (7.1) this may well be so. But the deliberate avoiding of the word ‘star’ suggests that in this case John may well be talking only of natural phenomena (in contrast with the third trumpet to follow).

The Third Trumpet Sounds.

8.10-11 ‘And the third angel sounded and there fell from heaven a great star, burning like a torch, and it fell on the third part of the rivers, and on the fountains of the waters, and the name of the star is called Wormwood, and many men died of the waters because they were made bitter.’

The third wind of heaven affects the land (the earth) (7.1). In Jeremiah 9.13-15 God declared of those who had forsaken His law and walked in the way of Balaam (compare Revelation 3.14), ‘Behold I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink’ and in Jeremiah 15.6 God declares of the false prophets of Jerusalem, ‘I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall’. Thus the partaking of wormwood is a recognised judgment of God because men have forsaken His ways.

This was fulfilled in Jeremiah’s case by the taking into exile in Babylon of the people of Judah and Israel, described in Lamentations 3.15 as, ‘He has filled me with bitterness, He has sated me with wormwood’, compare Jeremiah 9.16. Their exile was an exceedingly bitter thing to swallow, and was like drinking wormwood and gall. So this judgment has in mind the punishment of God for disobedience to His law and to His word and the bitter experiences that result. Because people reject His word they will ‘drink’ bitter and deadly water, in other words they will experience bitter things, including death, resulting from heavenly activity.

There may be here an intended contrast with the 7.17 where the fountains of waters of life are spiritual. Thus, as it was with the exiles, the wormwood and bitterness may largely be seen as spiritual and not physical, a bitterness of mind and heart, resulting from bitter experiences. But it is illustrated by the pollution of their water supplies.

As with the second trumpet it is always possible that we have here the fall of a heavenly body and its subsequent effects. Many strange things have happened through history which have been unaccounted for, and some such events as this may therefore have taken place, affecting a good part of a particular area. (It seems very probable that John himself was aware of stories of falling heavenly bodies which caused devastation). But as falling stars are regularly angels in Revelation that must seem more probable here.

Thus it is more likely the case that we are to see in this the activity of a fallen angel, described partly in terms reminiscent of the plagues in Egypt. If this be so it may again be seen as happening over a period of time. That is that a fallen angel comes down and continues to bring about certain effects resulting in bitterness in men’s spirits. John is not thinking of occurrences in the distant future, for he is anticipating the near coming of the Lord. But we who see things from a different perspective are entitled to see things differently, and possibly as something that reoccurs. History is full of this activity of the fallen angel.

Indeed the pollution of rivers and seas is not a phenomenon unknown to modern man. Many countries are now heavily polluted and there have been innumerable deaths as a result. It is an interesting thought that modern industrial society’s greediness and carelessness may be due to supernatural activity. Certainly there is much evil at the heart of modern business activity.

However, we are not the first to pollute the land, and widespread land pollution occurred in John’s day through various means, as well as at other times. But while physical pollution through man’s sinful activities may be in mind, we learn here that it is probably also to be seen as being a result of God’s judgments resulting in distressed souls, as well as in distressed bodies, seen as ‘drinking wormwood’ as in Lamentations. A polluted world should remind us of the pollution in men’s souls, and is allowed by God so as to awaken us to our need for Him.

So the first three trumpets are relatively localised and speak of devastating activities in nature in those areas, including possibly a falling meteor and other natural catastrophes, and angelic activity and heavy pollution of man’s environment, causing bitterness in men’s souls. When these things occur, says John, (and they have occurred numbers of times throughout history) they are to be recognised as part of God’s judgments, as calls to repent and turn back to God, and as reminders that Christ is coming again.

The Fourth Trumpet Sounds.

8.12 ‘And the fourth angel sounded and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars, that the third part of them should be darkened, and the day should not shine for the third part of it, and the night in the same way.’

This directly connects with the description under the sixth seal previously commented on, which see. The language vividly portrays times of uncertainty and distress. Thus while it at first appears that it is the heavens that are affected it is really the earth. It is indicating repercussions on earth. This is confirmed by the fact that this is the fourth wind of earth. It blows on the earth. The descriptions of the heavenly bodies are as seen from earth. A third of the heavenly bodies are blacked out.

The language is partially referring to similar events to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, as it did in Jesus’ discourse (Mark 13.24-25; Matthew 24.29; Luke 21.25), when it would have seemed to the people as though the whole of life had become distorted, and smoke, fire, devastation and horror would affect the view of heavenly phenomena. It certainly there has in mind political and historical activity causing the distress of nations, for Luke emphasised this (21.25). Equally certainly in John’s day nations suffered invasion and counter-invasion, with all their devastating consequences, which may have affected the people so. The deliberate burning of food producing land was a recognised policy with many armies and the rising smoke and flames as large areas of land were devastated would cause distortions in how natural phenomena were seen. It is describing a period when men are at their wit’s end and living in great fear, (not so unusual a phenomenon in history).

It has occurred through the ages. History is sadly strewn with activities of men that have made it seem to those affected as though the very heavens were being affected (it is apocalyptic language). It may deepen as time goes on. But once again we are reminded that it is part of the judgments of God on a sinful world, and a continual call to repent. The whole creation still groans and travails in pain waiting for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8.18-23).

It could also refer to periods when climactic conditions have combined with such events as are described above to cause such phenomena so that nature appears to have run amok. The idea is then of unnatural periods of light and darkness, as in the plague in Egypt. We can compare the darkness at the crucifixion (Mark 15.33). The description is exaggerated for effect and describes things as seen on earth. Political and military activity and signs in nature were all seen as one connected whole in those days, so that physical occurrences and heavenly phenomena were seen together. Once again the ‘third’ signifies large but contained effects. Total judgment is not yet here.

‘The third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars, that the third part of them should be darkened, and the day should not shine for the third part of it, and the night in the same way.’ Note how it is earth that is seen as affected, and the length of days and nights. There is to be darkening on earth, with the length of days and nights being seen as altering. Such things can happen when there are large natural catastrophes. It may indicate the light of sun and moon being diminished as seen from parts of the earth (e.g. by smoke and ashes and cloud).

Proclamation Of The Three Woes.

8.13 ‘And I saw and I heard an eagle, flying in mid heaven, saying with a great voice, ‘Woe, woe, woe for those who dwell on the earth, by reason of the other blasts (Gk: voices) of the trumpets which are yet to sound.’

The eagle flying in Heaven presumably refers to the living creature who was in the form of a flying eagle (4.7). (When a flying eagle is specifically described earlier in the book it is surely unnecessary to look elsewhere). Just as the living creatures were the ones who sent out the four horsemen, so it is one of them who declare the earth’s woes. The last three trumpets are being prepared for, and an indication is given of the awfulness that will result, beside which what has happened before will be as nothing. The woes are upon the ‘earth-dwellers’, a term regularly used in Revelation of non-Christians. The Christians are sealed against them. Eagles are often connected with judgment (Hosea 8.1. See also Deuteronomy 28.49; Jeremiah 4.13; Habakkuk 1.8). which makes the use of the eagle type ‘living creature’ especially relevant.

The fact that the last three trumpets are described as ‘woes’ in contrast with the remainder stresses their awfulness and the fact that supernatural agencies are more fully involved. It is saying that what has been previously described is as nothing compared with what is now about to be described. Here we have an intensification of all that has been described before, but taking the form of direct spiritual attack.

The Fifth Trumpet Sounds - The First Woe.

9.1-2 ‘And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven, fallen to the earth, and the key of the pit of the abyss was given to him. And he opened the pit of the abyss, and smoke from the pit went upwards like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened as a result of the smoke from the pit.’

We are now specifically in the realm of the supernatural. The four winds of earth are doing their work and now the further elements of the spiritual world will also be called on to intervene. What follows is not to be seen visually by mankind, who will only know of it by its effects, although it is seen by John because he is in vision. It is often assumed that such dreadful events have not yet occurred, but such an idea is without foundation. The invisible activity of the powers of evil have occurred right from the beginning (compare Daniel 10). Within limits placed by God Satan has constantly attacked both the world and the church. These descriptions put his attacks in vivid and pictorial terms. Because we are cushioned from them we should not think that they have not happened. And the first began around the time of John and has continued through the centuries.

‘The abyss’ is another term for the place of the dead, for Jesus Himself descended to the abyss (Romans 10.7). It includes the abode of evil spirits, a place which they seek to avoid at all costs (Luke 8.31). It is therefore a general term for the world of the dead and of spirits, both good and bad. In the case of angels it is not a real abyss. Angels are spirits and no physical abyss could restrain them. We are not told that John saw ‘the star’ fall. He describes it as already fallen. This may suggest that he has in mind the words of our Lord, ‘I beheld Satan fallen as lightning from heaven’ (Luke 10.18). It would indicate that the fallen star fell with Satan himself (compare 12.4, 9). What John sees as happening at this point in time is the consequent giving of the key.

That this is our first introduction to Satan in Revelation, apart from in the letters to the churches, is suggested by the fact that this angel is king over the evil spirits (verse 11). Of whom but Satan could this be said? His kingdom is not divided as Jesus made clear. He was now about to be freed from the abyss (compare 20.1-2).

The key of the abyss would only be given to someone very important, just as, in contrast, the keys of death and Hades were given to Jesus. But the angel is anonymous, as is the giver of the key. However we do know that during this age Satan is bound (Mark 3.27 and parallels) even though he is given a certain amount of licence by God to carry out his evil intent on the world through his minions. We must take very seriously Jesus' assurance of the binding of Satan. His words are not to be taken lightly, even though they might not tie in with out own viewpoint. We are also told of the subjection of his most important minions (Colossians 2.15; Ephesians 1.19-21). All were put under His feet as a consequence of His resurrection (Ephesians 1.22), although some were allowed freedom to assault God's people (Ephesians 6.10-13).

The smoke going upwards like the smoke of a furnace parallels Genesis 19.28 where the same description is given of the smoke going up from Sodom and Gomorrah after God’s judgment has come upon them, and we are justified in seeing in it an impending warning. (It is also paralleled in Exodus 19.18 of God’s appearance in fire on Mount Sinai, warning the people of Israel not to enter the Mount). But its primary reference here is to what follows. The rising of a great cloud of locusts was often seen and described in such fashion. (It therefore does not tell us anything about what the abyss consists of e.g. fire). Vast amounts of smoke are seen to rise and are then discerned to be a huge cloud of locust like creatures. Often in the Middle East people have thought there was a great fire as a result of seeing thick smoke in the distance, only for it to turn out to be a vast cloud of locusts. Such a sight struck terror in men’s hearts as they considered the effects.

‘The angel’ may have in mind the one described under the third trumpet in the previous chapter as having fallen from heaven, but in our view this is unlikely. It is merely an indication of a number of fallen angels. Either way the end result is the same. Such angels are servants of Satan. For the idea of the angels as stars see Job 38.7. They are also called ‘the host of heaven’ (1 Kings 22.19; 2 Chronicles 18.18; see also Psalm 148.2; Joshua 5.14), a name given to the heavenly bodies as well (Isaiah 34.4; Jeremiah 33.22; see also Isaiah 40.26; 45.12). They are further called stars in other non-canonical apocalyptic literature, including Enoch (Ethiopian Enoch is quoted by Jude demonstrating that the early church utilised apocalyptic literature, while not on the whole accepting it as part of ‘the word of God’).

This angel, whom we consider is probably ‘the angel of the abyss’ (verse 11), is permitted by God (‘was given the key’) to release evil spirits on the world, although the people of God will have special protection from them (9.4). So God tells John that soon (from his point of view) there is to be a release of powers of evil on the world. The binding of Satan is to be relaxed a little. Compare Revelation 12.12 (‘the ‘short time’ is essentially from God’s viewpoint. Satan does not know how long he has, but like man assumes it to be a short time). In all that happens it is made quite clear that God is over all. Paul has a similar idea in mind in Ephesians 6.10-18 where he describes the armour provided for God’s people, armour that can protect the mind and heart, armour that can divert the fiery darts of the Evil One, armour which is found in salvation and in the effective use of the word of God and prayer. So Paul there sees a multitude of evil spirits at work which aim to make things difficult for God’s people. ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in the spiritual realm’ (Ephesians 6.12). Paul describes the human side of the situation in order to encourage the putting on of the armour of God. Here in Revelation the divine side of God’ protection of His people is found in the seal which is put upon them marking them as His.

‘The sun and the air were darkened as a result of the smoke of the pit’. The darkness is clearly ominous, warning of the dreadful things about to happen. The rulers of the darkness of this world are emerging. Huge clouds of locusts which blotted out the sun regularly brought fear into the hearts of men. In vision John recognises here a greater threat.

9.3-4 ‘And from the smoke locusts came out on the earth, and power was given to them as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was said to them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree but only such men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.’

The description of them as ‘locusts’ connects with the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 10.12) but there the likeness ends. These are not here to devour fields and grain, but to attack men directly like flying scorpions. But the attack is only to be upon such men as are not sealed by God. Thus will men as a whole undergo great spiritual tribulation. The locusts are spiritual foes and will not therefore be visible. Men may well be unaware that these evil spirits are involved in what happens to them.

Again we are not told how widespread this would be. It would not necessarily be worldwide. They are described in terms of scorpions because of the fear in which the scorpion was held (Deuteronomy 8.15; Ezekiel 2.6), almost unseen and then stinging viciously. John’s use of the descriptions of scorpions and serpents (9.19) has in mind that Jesus had given to His own the power to ‘tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the Enemy’ (Luke 10.19). That is why these creatures cannot hurt those who have been sealed, the people of God (Revelation 7.3), they are protected by the power of Christ.

‘It was said to them’. Again the indirect language points to God as the source. These too are, in the final analysis, under God’s control.

9.5-6 ‘And it was given to them that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months; and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. And in those days men will seek death and will not in any circumstances find it, and they shall long to die and death flees from them.’

Scorpion stings are rarely deadly but they are so excessively painful that men so affected wish that they could die. Five months is the life cycle of certain types of locust. The idea would seem to be that during the life cycle of these ‘locusts’ they continue to bring pain and agony to men (not necessarily through one ‘sting’). Even here there is a limit set by God on what these creatures can do (‘it was given to them’) and limits on their time of activity.

It is probable that the anguish is to be seen as spiritual rather than physical, torment in the mind and spirit rather than in the body, although such anguish often produces, or results from, physical consequences. ‘Like the torment of a scorpion’ describes piercing pain which makes a man writhe in anguish. As a result men will want to die, but they will be so ill that they will be unable to find that way out. People with certain illnesses, physical, mental and spiritual, have suffered such torments, and when this occurs on a large scale, as it has for example in the Plagues with their distressing mental and spiritual effects, it may well be seen in these terms. Modern man likes to think he ‘knows’ the causes of illnesses which, at various times especially, plague mankind, but John is saying there is more to some of them than that (compare Luke 13.16). And when spiritual darkness falls on a land the same may be the case. The fact that there is a limit put on the torment is again a sign that God will not allow evil more than a certain amount of scope. All is controlled.

The locusts are now described in more detail and it is clear they are such locusts as have never been, nor ever could be. The passage is heavy in symbolism (they do not really look like this even in the spiritual realm) and we must recognise that they are almost certainly not seen by those they attack. They are described from heaven’s viewpoint. Earth sees nothing. It is just aware of their effects. They are spiritual beings, fallen creatures arising from the abyss where they have been imprisoned (compare 2 Peter 2.4; Jude 1.6), and invisible to mortal eye. It is by their effects that they are known. But John sees them for he is in a visionary state.

9.7-10 ‘And the shapes of the locusts were like horses made ready for war, and on their heads were, as it were, crowns similar to gold, and their faces were like men’s faces. They had hair like the hair of women, and their teeth were like the teeth of lions. And they had breastplates as it were breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to war. And they have tails like scorpions, and stings. And in their tails is their power to hurt men for five months.’

The locusts, invisible to mankind, are a mixture of strength and false piety. Their pseudo-golden crowns imitate the twenty four elders, their pseudo men’s faces imitate the living creatures, long hair on men would be connected with the dedication to God of the Nazarites (Numbers 6.5). Thus they represent the anti-Heaven and their dedication is to Satan. But really they are like fearsome war horses, they have lions’ teeth, they wear breastplates as of iron, they sound like the rushing of chariots and they have the sting of scorpions. In other words they have great power, are belligerent and are damaging to man.

‘Like horses made ready for war --- like the sound of chariots, of many horses rushing to war’. This picture has in mind Joel 2.4-5, where Joel is speaking of a fearsome race, probably of locusts, who will invade Jerusalem. It is a symbol of fierce attack.

For ‘the teeth of lions’, compare Joel 1.6. Joel is there describing the invasion of the ‘people’ who would cause the earth to quake, the heavens to tremble, the sun and moon to be darkened and the stars to withdraw their shining (Joel 2.10). Here they are changed into equally fearsome spiritual assailants.

‘Crowns similar to gold, their faces like men’s faces’. This is in contrast to the genuine ‘crowns of gold’ of the elders (4.4) and the face of a man of the living creature (4.7). Their crowns are sham and their faces imitational. They are not the real thing.

‘As it were a breastplate of iron’, a demonstration of strength and destruction, in contrast with the breastplate of righteousness (Isaiah 59.17; Ephesians 6.14). They are hard, unloving creatures.

Stated not to be exact descriptions they demonstrate that these creatures are not earthly, and mimic what God offers, while not enjoying the real thing. What they have is fading and unreal. But this does not mean that we can ignore the great danger they represent. We should thank God that His people are protected from them. In all this symbolism we are to see something fierce, and yet inadequate, strong, and yet held in restraint, vicious and without pity, but pitiful, attacking men’s minds and thoughts and bringing them to agony and despair.

They may also be responsible for dreadful physical ailments, compare the woman whom Satan ‘bound’ for eighteen years (Luke 13.16), and the mental ailments that produced such men as Hitler and other mass killers. As mentioned they are almost certainly invisible to us and the description is highly symbolic.

We are told by Peter that even in his day the Devil stalked around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5.8), having in mind the persecutors and accusers of Christians. This similar description stresses that he has many minions who stalk around on his behalf. Peter knew it as happening in his time. It happens too today. Those who do not bear the seal of God have reason to fear their activity. There is no reason for limiting these activities to ‘the end days’ except in so far as the whole Christian era is the end days.

9.11 ‘They have over them as king the angel of the abyss. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon (‘Destroyer’).’

The king of these evil spirits is surely released with them, for as they go forth they have their king over them. 'They have as king over them' confirms this suggestion, otherwise why mention him. For the title given to him confirms his destructive tendencies.

‘Abaddon, meaning ‘destruction’, occurs six times in the Old Testament (Job 26.6; 28.22; 31.12; Psalm 88.11; Proverbs 15.11; 27.20) as a synonym for Sheol (the grave, the place of the dead), or of Death. It is the ultimate destruction. Here it is surely used of the prince of Death. The fact that he is the king of the evil spirits suggests that it is Satan himself and this is supported by a further mention of his release in 20.3. With him was released the final manifestation of the Beast (17.8). To suggest that he was not released when his subjects clearly were is simply to prevaricate.

The Greek means ‘the one who destroys’. (This drawing attention to the Hebrew or Greek is typical of John (John 5.2; 19.13, 17, 20; 20.16)). This again points to Satan. The Evil One is in fact described by a number of names in Revelation. He is called the Serpent (drakon), Satan (the adversary), Diabolos ( the accuser), and here Apollyon/Abaddon (destruction). Those who follow him go to destruction. But the fact that Jesus descended to ‘the abyss’, to be raised from there (Roman 10.7), warns against making the abyss specific to evil spirits and fallen angels. It is the land of the dead, the land of emptiness, the place of darkness and imprisonment. It includes the place in which the fallen angels are ‘bound’. The fact that Jesus ‘descended’ there does not mean that there is a world below peopled by some kind of ghosts. It is described as ‘below’ because graves are below the surface. Apart from that it is ‘below’ only in spiritual terms, i.e. a retrograde place. As angels could not be held in a physical abyss it is not a physical place. Rather it indicates a place where spiritual beings are restricted by God.

But why is he called 'the angel of the abyss'? This was probably because he was the most prominent angel there, and possibly also in order to identify him with the one chained in the abyss in 20.1-2.

9.12 ‘The first woe is past, behold there come two more woes hereafter.’

As with the seals, while the first five are concurrent, the sixth leads up to the end of time. (The seventh is the end of time, the last trump). Thus while the first woe is concurrent with what goes before, the second and third finalise history. The awfulness of the first woe is brought out in this warning, and what more woeful than Satanic activity? But there is further emphasis on the awfulness of the next two woes.

The Sixth Trumpet Sounds - The Second Woe.

9.13-14 ‘And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the horns of the golden altar which is before God, one saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “loose the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates”.’

The voice comes from the horns of the golden altar. This altar is the altar of incense from which the prayers of God’s people are offered to God (8.3). Thus it is essentially the voice of the people’s prayers that has been heard. The altar is ‘before God’, where previously it was ‘before the veil’ (Exodus 30.6). This is because the veil has been removed in Christ (Hebrews 10.20).

‘Loose the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates’. These are not the same as any previously mentioned for they are ‘bound’ and need releasing. In all this we see that the powers of evil have been bound by Christ (Mark 3.27 and parallels) and that their release is dependent on His will, and in accordance with His purpose.

The mention of the River Euphrates suggests the sphere of their operations which is the Mesopotamian region. Compare Jeremiah 46.6, 10 which refers to a previous ‘day of the Lord’ (v.10) when Nebuchadrezzar, king of Babylon smote the Egyptians at the River Euphrates (46.2,13, 26)). It is beyond the border of the land which God had intended for His people Israel (Genesis 15.18; Deuteronomy 1.7; 11.24; Joshua 1.4), the land which was once conquered by David (2 Samuel 8.3). The language in Jeremiah 46.10 is very reminiscent of the final days of the Lord’s vengeance, but is specifically stated to refer to the days of Pharaoh Necho and King Nebuchadrezzar. (How careful we must be in handling the word of God). It could, however, be seen as a pattern of what is to come, as history repeats itself, for God is unchanging, and to some extent so is man.

9.15 ‘And the four angels were loosed who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, that they should kill the third part of men.’

God’s timing is always exact. Here it is fixed with computer like precision, to the very hour, with the aim of releasing on the earth at that point in time four murderous angels who had been prepared for this very purpose. Their aim was the slaughter of ‘the third part of men’, in other words a sizeable minority. There is only one definite article with respect to ‘the hour and day and month and year’, stressing that the four elements of time must be seen together as indicating the defining moment, detailed step by step. They are to have their hour. The slaughter is to be considerable, ‘the third part of men’ in that region. We are not told how long they would be operating. The aim was rather to bring out the evil forces at work against the world, and to bring out that God had them under control, only allowing their release on His timing.

The area in question has always been noted for its bloody wars. In John’s day the Parthian menace lay beyond those borders, ever threatening the security of the Roman Empire. Later it would be the centre of the hordes of Islam, and they continue today with different Muslim nations and terrorists ever active in bloodshed, whilst the whole restlessness of the area makes it a growing threat as they develop nuclear weapons and germ and chemical warfare and suicide terrorists. It has erupted again and again with horrific consequences. It is constantly erupting today. Thus the area of the River Euphrates has regularly produced something like this, and we can see in it the activity of Satanic forces.

But as this second woe (and sixth trumpet) is connected with chapters 10 & 11 which deal with the last days of the age and the summing up of God’s purposes, it may well be seen as an intensification of the fifth trumpet occurring in the final period leading up to the end (compare the sixth seal and the sixth bowl, both precursors of the end).

9.16-19 ‘And the numbers of the armies of the horsemen was two hundred million, I heard the number of them. And this is how I saw the horses in the vision, and those who sat on them, they have breastplates as of fire and of hyacinth and of brimstone, and the heads of the horses are as the heads of lions, and out of their mouths proceeds fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three plagues were the third part of men killed, by the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which proceeds from their mouths, for the power of the horses is in their mouth and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents and have heads and with them they hurt.’

The four angels were clearly able to call on a multitude of assistants, possibly demons. We are not told the source from which they came, but they have been held back until the right time came. They may well have been released from the Abyss (9.1-11). Like the previous horsemen these have tails which hurt. Whether the tails really had heads, or simply some appendage which enabled them to hurt men, is difficult to tell, but the point is that they were dangerous both in front and behind, and there were two hundred million of them (although they would spread out over a wide area). The likeness of their tails to serpents’ heads connects them with the Great Serpent (12.9). In having dangerous tails they parallel the flying scorpion-locusts. So these evil spirits, presumably from the abyss, are released under the four fallen angels. And their purpose, unlike that of the scorpion-locusts, is to cause wholesale bloodshed as well as spiritual distress. Once again we are not to see these evil spirits as being seen by men. Men will only be aware of their effects as they see the carnage and distress round about them, wrought by men under the influence of evil spirits. The problem before the Flood (widespread demon possession) is again raising its ugly head. Men alive at the time will see nothing of these creatures, but John is allowed to see the real cause of the bloodshed and distress. We notice that God does not carry out the carnage. Evil angels (and evil men whom they utilise) are sufficient cause.

‘Two hundred million’ (twice ten thousand times ten thousand) - John was aware of the vastness of the number. He assures his readers ‘I heard the number of them’ - to emphasise the size of the vast armies released. We remember how in the days of Jesus one man was possessed by a host, a ‘legion’ of such evil spirits (Mark 5.9; Luke 8.30).

The evil warriors have ‘breastplates of fire and hyacinth (smoke) and brimstone’. This was the appearance of the breastplates in the vision, projecting the awfulness of these creatures. Fire and smoke is paralleled with brimstone partly to bring out the difference between the pure fire which speaks of God and the hellish fire in mind here. Brimstone is always a symbol of terrible judgment (Genesis 19.24; Deuteronomy 29.23; Psalm 11.6; Isaiah 30.33; 34.9; Ezekiel 38.22; Luke 17.29; Revelation 14.10; 19.20; 20.10; 21.8). ‘Hyacinth’ is a blue colour. Here it represents smoke. So the combination seen is of an unearthly red, blue and yellow representing creatures from the abyss.

The horses have ‘heads of lions’, this depicts their fierceness. They only purpose death. ‘From their mouths proceed fire and smoke and brimstone’, probably from the mouths of the horses, paralleling the breastplates of their riders, underlining the hellish nature of the visitation. Note how ‘smoke’ has now replaced ‘hyacinth’ in the trilogy. Thus the hyacinth spoke of smokiness.

From the mouths of these horses issues only destruction (verse 18), brought about by the fire, smoke and brimstone. They bring no hope for man. They are the opposite of the One from whose mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, which had a positive purpose and did offer hope as well as judgment (19.15). We must not take these pictures literally. No sharp-two edged sword will really come out of the mouth of the Son of Man. It speaks of a spiritual reality. Thus the same principle applies here. The spiritual effect of these evil creatures will be destructive

‘Their tails are like serpents and have heads, and with them they hurt’. So like the scorpion locusts these creatures’ horses hurt viciously with their tails, suggesting the causing of spiritual distress and torment. Death proceeds from their mouths and great distress from their tails, as they incite mankind to evil. Their tails have heads of serpents which bite and bring misery. In other words the activity of these creatures is both deadly and spiritually distressing. They will be responsible for widespread slaughter. The last century has seen slaughter on a massive scale, partly at the hands of the Kaiser and a demon-possessed Hitler. This may well have been caused by these evil creatures. But what we can be certain of is that they cannot directly ‘hurt’ those who have the seal of God on their foreheads. They come from the very gates of Hades, but they will not prevail against those who belong to Christ (Matthew 16.18), although no doubt they can produce conditions that result in the deaths of many of them. The seal saves from the wrath of God not the wrath of men. We are again reminded of Jesus' words, ‘behold I give you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you’ (Luke 10.19). Spiritually God’s people are safe. But physically they will have to face tribulation (John 16.33).

9.20 ‘And the rest of mankind who were not killed with these plagues did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood, which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk, and they did not repent of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.’

The purpose of all God’s judgments before the end is to bring men to repentance. All these troubles which come on mankind are intended to make them consider their ways and repent. But in spite of the wholesale slaughter, they have hardened their hearts and will not do so. This is not to deny that some repent. It is an overall generalisation. It is saying that as a whole this was true of the rest of mankind. The description of idolatry is taken mainly from Daniel 5.23, where it is emphasised that it prevents men from glorifying ‘the God Who gave them breath and in Whose hands are all their ways’. So anything that prevents men from this may be included within the description. Paul pointed out that ‘the things which the Gentiles sacrifice (to idols) they sacrifice to demons and not to God (1 Corinthians 10.20). John agrees.

In our day when sorcery, magic, ouija boards, planchettes, crystal gazing, contacts with spirits, witchcraft, Satanism, etc. are on the increase these words are very apposite. They also take in the large parts of the world where idolatry still abounds. Note that ‘demon worship’ comes first in the condemnation. The very evil spirits that men seek to contact and honour will be their destroyers. The sad thing is that the modern penchant for books on magic and sorcery, seemingly harmless in itself, is preparing the foundation for a further increase in this kind of thing, and it is thus unwise to participate in it, and it can even, for that reason, be considered evil. But we note that sexual misbehaviour and theft are also included in the denunciation. However man hurts his fellowman, for that he will be judged.

There is now a break in the text before the sounding of the seventh trumpet so that further explanation of what is going on can be introduced. As we have seen most of what has been described happened, at least to some extent, in John’s day and has happened again and again in history. Man’s repeated sinfulness results in repeated problems. Every generation is a reminder that Christ is coming. It may be that they will reoccur in greater measure as the end of the age approaches, for man has not changed and has more and more terrible weapons at his disposal. Atomic, bacterial and chemical warfare could produce much of what is described here on a huge scale, and the time may be soon. There are already nations building up reserves of these weapons and many are centred around the Euphrates.

The Strong Angel Declares that God’s Time has Come - John is Commanded to Prophesy to Kings and Nations (10.1-11).

10.1 ‘And I saw another strong angel coming down out of heaven arrayed with a cloud, and the rainbow was on his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire.’

The effects of the sixth trumpet have not yet ceased (see 11.14), and it is during this time that the angel declares that there will be delay no longer (10.6), for the third woe is coming, and it is the final judgment of God. The measuring of 'the Temple' and the witness of the Two Witnesses occurs as part of this period (11.1-13). The Angel of the Abyss has been released, but now we have here ‘another strong angel’ in apposition.

‘Another’ may contrast with the angel of the Abyss but it is more likely a reference to the angel in 5.2 who asked about the opening of the seals. The ‘strong angels’ are probably the ‘chief princes’ (Daniel 10.13), the seven spirits before the throne. This one may be Gabriel ( Michael is an archangel (Jude 1.9)), but their names are not important for they must not draw attention away from the Son of Man, the Lamb.

The description of the angel is somewhat similar to that of the Son of Man in chapter 1. Face like the sun, legs like pillars of fire. (What a contrast to the demons). But this displays the angel’s splendour and glory, it is not sufficient for identification. Compare for example the angel in Daniel 10.6, who was another strong angel, but not the Son of God for he needed help against the angel prince of Persia (10.13).

‘Arrayed with a cloud’ draws attention to his specific splendour, for the cloud is a means of shielding such glory (Exodus 19.16; 24.16; 40.34 and often). However it may also connect with the rainbow on his head, for God promised that when He saw ‘the rainbow in the clouds’ He would remember His covenant not to blot out all living creatures. So in the light of events we may see this as God renewing that promise. He will not blot out the whole earth. What follows may be awful, but it will be tempered with mercy.

10.2-3 ‘And he had in his hand a small scroll open, and he set his right foot on the sea and his left on the earth, and he cried with a great voice like a lion roars, and when he cried the seven thunders uttered their voices.’

We have here a good example as to how time has become irrelevant in the visions of John. He moves from one time sphere to another in vision without any difficulty. Here he seemingly moves on to the time of the end when ‘there will be time no longer’.

The angel is clearly huge and powerful for he bestrides land and sea, demonstrating mastery over both (compare Deuteronomy 11.24). It also demonstrates that he is taking possession in the name of God. The picture is vivid. When the lion is hungry it puts back its head and roars to strike fear into the animal kingdom. This strong angel, having taken possession of land and sea, roars, and heaven and earth tremble (compare Joel 3.16; Jeremiah 25.30-31), and his roar is accompanied by the voices of the seven thunders.

Thunders connected with voices occur in Revelation 4.5; 8.5; and 11.19. (6.1 and 14.2 refer only to voices that sound like thunder and can therefore be discounted). Thus the thunders are connected with special moments related to the judgments of God on earth, the opening of the seven seals (4.5), the sounding of the seven trumpets (8.5) and the opening of the Temple in Heaven for the final pouring out of the seven bowls of the wrath of God (11.19 with 16.1). So the voices of the seven thunders, the divinely perfect and ultimate in thunders, express the severity of what the scroll contains, and relate to the three sets of seven. These are the final stages of all that the seals, trumpets and bowls represent.

There is an interesting contrast between this angel who bestrides land and sea, and the red serpent (drakon) who stands on the sand of the sea. Whilst Satan is mightier (even the Archangel Michael dare not himself accuse him – Jude 1.9) what he can do is restricted by God.

‘A small scroll open’. There must be no danger of mistaking this scroll for the one sealed with seven seals so it is said to be a comparatively ‘small’ one. Ezekiel was given a scroll containing ‘lamentations and mournings and woe’ and he had to eat it and it was in his mouth as honey for sweetness (Ezekiel 6.9-7.2). John has to do the same with this scroll and it has the same consequences except that this one is then bitter to the stomach. Thus the content is similar to that of Ezekiel’s, except harder to bear. It speaks of lamentation, mournings and woe. The eating of the scroll means devouring its contents. So John, having ‘eaten it’ must ‘prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings’ as he will do in coming chapters (10.11).

10.3c-4 ‘The seven thunders uttered their voices , and when the seven thunders uttered their voices I was about to write, and I heard a voice from Heaven saying, “Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered and do not write them”.’

It is clear from this verse that John has been recording his visions as he saw them, but this time he is told to desist. In Isaiah 29.11 God declares Israel to be in a spirit of deep sleep so that even their eyes, the prophets, are ‘closed’. All vision has become to them as the words of a scroll that is sealed, that none can understand. Here the world is seen to be in the same state. Their state is such that they will not listen to what the thunders say, so the words of the thunders are sealed. God will not speak to those who will not hear.

This compares with the reason why the Lord spoke in parables, so that those who claim to ‘see’, but will not respond, might not perceive (Matthew 13.13; Mark 4.11-12; Luke 8.10). So this is a pregnant way of saying that as the world is deaf to all God’s pleadings, God withholds His voice. What the seven thunders said was addressed to mankind and not to His people, and is kept secret until the end. (Although Paul in 2 Corinthians 12.4 speaks of being caught up into Paradise and hearing unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter, it is doubtful if that is the case here. This is speaking of judgments so devastating that their description is withheld).

10.5-7 ‘And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the earth lifted up his right hand to Heaven and swore by him who lives for ever and ever, who created the heaven and the things that are in it, and the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, that there shall no longer be delay. But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets.’

Compare the man clothed in linen in Daniel 12.7 who raises both right hand and left hand and swears by Him Who lives for ever. He too forecasts the end. So the hardness of men’s hearts means that God will no longer delay. God’s longsuffering is now at an end (2 Peter 3.9). He Who lives for ever and ever and created all things, to whom vast ages are but a trifle, will wait no longer. The angel’s stance is itself a declaration of the final takeover. All of heaven, earth and sea belongs to the God Who created it, and now He will take possession of His own.

The mention of the mystery of God revealed to the prophets brings to mind the words of Amos, ‘surely the Lord will do nothing unless he reveals his secret to his servants the prophets’ (Amos 3.7). God had revealed to the Old Testament prophets what he would do, but it was in veiled form for they could not have understood the whole, it was a ‘mystery’ to be more fully revealed. They knew it would be glorious. They knew it would bring in the triumph of God. They were aware of it as ‘good tidings’. But they were not fully aware of the implications.

It was a mystery which Jesus Christ, the greatest Prophet of all, and the great New Testament prophets, Paul and the other Apostles and prophets, were able to more fully reveal in their proclamation of ‘the good tidings of the Gospel’. (The early church saw prophecy as continued in their midst). As Paul puts it ‘Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, in accordance with the revelation of the mystery, which has been kept in silence through times eternal but is now made clear and open, even by means of the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the Eternal God’ (Romans 16.25-26). What they revealed of what the earlier prophets originally declared will now be brought to completion.

‘There will be time (or delay) no longer.’ Time is to be allowed no longer God has reached the end of His longsuffering. Thus there will no longer be delay.

10.8-11 ‘And the voice which I heard from Heaven, I heard again speaking to me and saying, “Go, take the scroll which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth”. And I went to the angel telling him that he should give me the small scroll, and he says to me’ “Take it, and eat it up. And it will make your stomach bitter but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey”. And I took the small scroll from the angel’s hand, and ate it up, and it was in my mouth sweet as honey, and when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And they say to me, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations, and tongues and kings”.’

John was told that he had to take the scroll from the angel and eat it. In other words he was to devour its contents (it is an open scroll). The scroll was sweet to him because it declared the doings of God, but when it was devoured it was bitter because of the awfulness of its message. Whether he did actually eat it or whether the eating of it was simply a way of describing his devouring of its contents does not really matter. What mattered was that he did ‘devour’ its contents and the effect it had on him. John does not find the words of judgment easy to declare. No preacher should preach the judgment of God easily, he should always be aware of a certain unhappiness in what he has to proclaim. When men declare the judgments of God too glibly or too harshly they have become unworthy messengers. (For further on the small scroll see on verse 2).

‘They say to me’. The voice from Heaven and the strong angel both stress to him his mission. They understand his feelings, but urge him to be faithful and strong. As we move into the second part of the book we will find his prophecies concerning these peoples and nations, and tongues and kings, for many are involved in his words.

The Measuring of the Sanctuary and the Two Witnesses (11.1-14).

It is significant that these events take place within the second ‘woe’ when wholesale death pervades the Middle East (11.14). They describe God’s final plea to both physical Israel and those of the nations in Jerusalem to turn to Him in the final days of the age, a plea which meets with at least partial success. John knows that before the end God will show special concern for His rejected people Israel as the times of the Gentiles come to a close.

11.1-2 ‘And there was given to me a reed like a rod with one saying, “Rise, and measure the sanctuary (naos) of God, and the altar, and those who worship in it. And the court which is outside the sanctuary leave out and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations, and they will tread the holy city under foot for forty two months”.

We note that John is told to measure ‘the sanctuary of God’. But no mention is made of him actually seeing a Temple. Nothing physical is described, and no Temple has previously been mentioned except the Temple of which His people are pillars (3.12), which is clearly a heavenly Temple.

This can be compared with a similar measuring with a measuring reed of a Temple, which occurs in Ezekiel 40.3 onwards. There a man ‘whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze’ measured a heavenly Temple, which was situated on a high mountain away from Jerusalem, and an earthly altar (43.13) which connected with it. The Temple would be ‘the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet where I will dwell among the children of Israel for ever’ (43.7). The vision and the measurement was an indication that God was there, giving Israel another chance. If they were ‘ashamed of their iniquities’ and truly repented they could approach the heavenly Temple through the earthly altar. But ‘no alien, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh shall enter my sanctuary’ (44.9). Only the true people of God would be able to enter there (notice the exclusion of the uncircumcised in heart). This was a Temple only for the pure in heart.

That Temple was intended to be a source of blessing and life to all, bringing life where there was death. From the door of that house would run out ever increasing waters (Ezekiel 47), waters to the ankles, waters to the knees, waters to the loins, and waters to swim in (too deep to stand in). On the banks of this river would grow very many trees, and the waters would continue until they reached the Dead Sea (47.8) which would become a place for fish to swim in. Everything will live where the river comes, although a few places will be preserved as of old to yield their salt (47.11). The trees would be continually fruitful, producing new fruit every month, and their leaves would be for healing (47.12).

But that Temple was heavenly. It never became a physical reality on earth, except in a smaller Temple which was a shadow of it, for the people never proved worthy. Thus it was transferred to heaven, the heavenly Temple, wherein was the Lamb Who was slain, and in which were offered the prayers of the people of God. As the writer to the Hebrews described it, ‘the true Tabernacle, which the Lord pitched and not man’ (Hebrews 8.2), ‘the greater and more perfect Tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation’ (Hebrews 9.11).

But there was still a Temple on earth for Jesus, speaking in the context of the Temple, spoke of ‘the Temple of His body’ (John 2.21). He was revealing that He had come to replace the Temple. In effect to be a new Temple. The purpose of the Temple was to provide a means of access to God through sacrifices and prayer. Jesus revealed that He was the new means of access to God. His offering of Himself replaced the Temple sacrifices, and His intercession for His people replaced the ministry of the priests (compare Hebrews 10.19-23). He, and those who became His by response to Him, would thus form the new Temple of God on earth (1 Corinthians 3.16; 2 Corinthians 6.16; Ephesians 2.22). It was from Him, and from His people that the rivers of living water would flow out to the world (John 7.38). So the prospective Temple in Ezekiel becomes a reality in the living church on earth and in the heavenly Temple above, the latter only proving temporary before being replaced by God Himself (Revelation 21.22).

In Zechariah 2.1 we also have an example of a man, this time with a measuring line in his hand (Ezekiel had both reed and line), who is to measure Jerusalem as a sign of its future prosperity (2.4). So such measuring is a guarantee of the future prosperity of the sanctuary.

The measuring of the sanctuary therefore is a sign of God’s care for it and a guarantee of its place in the future purposes of God.

But what sanctuary is this, then, which John has to measure? That it cannot be a literal earthly Temple comes out in that:

  • 1). The Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed as Jesus foretold. No mention has been made anywhere in Revelation of a subsequent literal Temple.
  • 2). This Temple, if it were to be a literal one, could not possibly be the centre of worship for solely true worshippers. Such a Temple would have within it people with a mixture of attitudes of mind and heart, some true some false, which is not the picture being conveyed here. Furthermore it would be run by priests of Israel according to Old Testament practises. Such an idea would be foreign to the principles applied in the letter to the Hebrews. There we are told that Christ has been once offered to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9.28), so that there can be no more a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10.26). No truly spiritual Temple (which is required here) could be raised up.
  • 3). The worshippers in this Temple are clearly true worshippers, the ‘true Israel’. In John’s eyes this must signify the church of Christ (Romans 11.12-24; Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22; 1 Peter 2.9). The whole idea of the vision is that that which is inside is pure compared with what is outside. It is measured and therefore part of God’s proposed purpose.
  • 4). A literal Temple could not realistically be divided in this manner. The Gentile invaders (‘trodden down’ signifies invaders) would not stay outside the sanctuary for three and a half years. The myth of the inviolability of the Temple was one that had destroyed Israel twice, it is hardly likely to have been repeated by John. One of the most moving things about the destruction of the Temple in 70AD was the way its defenders believed, even when Jerusalem was taken, that God would not allow the Temple to be desecrated, so that they fought to the last minute awaiting His deliverance, and then possibly set fire to it in order to avoid its desecration. But God did not act and does not so act. Thus the picture is not to be taken literally. Like much in Revelation it is symbolic. Only the church of Christ are promised that their destruction will be prevented by God (‘for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened’ (Matthew 24.22)).
  • 5). The only Temple known in Revelation is heavenly (3.12; 7.15; 11.19; 14.15-17; 15.5-8; 16.1; 16.17). It would be strange therefore if another actual physical Temple were suddenly introduced as being built as a permanent structure on earth.
  • 6). Jesus Himself revealed that the Temple would be replaced by Him as the true Temple (John 2.19).

To what sanctuary then does the angel refer? The New Testament knows of only one Temple of God, the church of Christ. That the church is God’s new Temple comes out regularly throughout the New Testament, and it is visualised as one Temple made up of many parts. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6.16, ‘We are the Temple (naos) of the living God, even as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people”.’ And in Ephesians 2.21, in a passage with connections with Revelation 21.14 through the words ‘the foundation of the Apostles’, Paul sees that Temple in the process of building, ‘in whom each several building, fitly framed together, grows into a holy Temple (naos) in the Lord, in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit’.

So it is the church as a whole which is the sanctuary of God, and each member of the church is part of that sanctuary. In it they worship together. In 1 Corinthians 3.16-17 Paul declares, ‘Do you not know that you are a sanctuary (naos) of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the Temple of God, God will destroy him, for the Temple of God, which you are, is holy’. Thus he can argue, ‘What! Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have of God, and you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6.19). To Christians there was only one sanctuary (naos) of God, His people.

So the fact that the sanctuary (‘naos’) is to be measured ties in with this teaching of Paul’s, confirming that what is to be measured is God’s own true people. This is confirmed by the fact that both the sanctuary ‘and the altar’ are mentioned. The altar is mentioned because underneath ‘the altar’ are the souls of those who have been martyred for Christ (Revelation 6.9-11). Whilst they are in Heaven they are seen as part of this Temple which is not yet in the heavenly Temple. They are still one with the church on earth, enjoying their ‘rest’ before the resurrection. It is significant that both the sanctuary and altar were also measured by Ezekiel. But there were no instructions to build the Temple, only the altar.

This is why in this sanctuary in Revelation there can be no ‘court of the Gentiles’, no outer court, for it houses the true Israel of God (see commentary on Revelation 7.4) which is neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3.28; Galatians 6.16; Colossians 3.11; 1 Corinthians 10.32; Ephesians 3.6), and all who would be part of it must cease to be part of ‘the nations’ (1 Corinthians 10.32). The distinction has been cancelled out in Christ. No outer court is now needed for in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female (Galatians 3.28). The courts of the Gentiles and of the women are not required.

In the future ‘overcomers’ will become pillars in the heavenly Temple (Revelation 3.12), but meanwhile they make up the earthly Temple. The measuring thus indicates their separation to God and their distinctiveness from the world, and gives them assurance that God has prepared then for what is to come.

And like Ezekiel’s Temple out of it would flow rivers of living water (John 7.38). This demonstrates that the church on earth represents Ezekiel’s heavenly Temple, in as far as its building was not seen as fulfilled in the second Temple built by Zerubbabel. The latter Temple did to some extent send out life to the world in the spreading of the Law and the Prophets and the acceptance of proselytes into the faith of Israel, but it was not until the church became God’s Temple that rivers of living water flowed out from the Temple to the world in such measure.

Ezekiel’s Temple was a heavenly ‘ideal’ Temple, which came down on the mountain well away from Jerusalem as God revealed by it that His presence was once more in Israel. It was ‘approachable’ through the earthly altar set up in Jerusalem, but the second Temple was only a shadow of it. The latter fulfilled the aim of a new Temple for Israel, but failed to achieve its potential. The church on earth partly fulfils the spiritual consequences of that heavenly Temple and was successful but temporary, for the new Heaven and the new earth will finally fulfil its potential as the dwelling place of God with His people.

This is why John sees the final actualising of that Temple in the new Heaven and the new earth. For the river of lifegiving water, with its healing in the leaves of trees (although in Revelation there is an improvement for it is the tree of life), is located by John in the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21.1 - 22.7 which is the bride of Christ. That has become the dwelling place of God, His greater Temple (for no literal Temple will be needed there (21.22)). That is where Ezekiel’s Temple will finally rest. But meanwhile it is represented on earth by the church, the people of God. In the context of this chapter the church in Jerusalem is foremost in mind, but as a microcosm of the whole church.

We note that this description of the measuring of the Temple and the altar in Revelation 11.1-2 follows immediately the declaration that there will be delay no longer. So we must see in the measurement of it, as with the Temple in Ezekiel, recognition of its acceptability to God as His dwelling place among His people as they face their final hour. Just as Ezekiel saw the heavenly Temple come down to earth, in vision, so does John here, but he is reinterpreting the vision of Ezekiel. In both cases it is to result in something far more than just a Temple, a life-giving stream which produces spiritual healing for the nations (Revelation 22.1-2).

That is why in John’s vision only the sanctuary is to be measured, and those who worship in it. This is the true church in Jerusalem. They belong to God as a royal priesthood. They alone are satisfactory to God. The ‘outer court’, including the Holy City, is to be handed over to the unrepentant nations. The only part that earthly Israel can have at this stage if they are outside of Christ is with the nations. These are the times of the Gentiles. While the church of Christ prove to be overcomers, the Holy City itself is given to the nations (it is a spiritual Sodom – 11.8). This clearly stresses that it is the church which God considers to be important in the final days, not any idea of ‘Jerusalem’ as a chosen city. That is given to the nations. A new Holy City will come into its own in the new Heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21.2).

‘And the Holy City they (the nations) will tread under foot for forty two months’. Only the sanctuary and altar, the people of God, are preserved by God, the remainder of the Holy City is handed over to the nations. This thought would horrify the soul of any Jew. The treading down of Jerusalem is always a sign that God is no longer dealing with Israel there (Luke 21.24 - and compare how in Ezekiel God deserts the Temple prior to its destruction, which He guarantees).

‘For forty two months’. It should be noted that John gives the time in months when dealing with the enemies of God and in days when dealing with the people of God. Thus months are used in Revelation 9.5, 10; 11.2; 13.5 while days are used in 2.10; 11.3, 9, 11; 12.6. The forty two months are the same as the 1260 days, taking 30 days to the month, a regular approximation used in ancient days. ‘A time and times and half a time’ means a similar thing here (12.14). The reason for the difference in usage is to emphasise that God watches over His own day by day.

Three and a half years is looked on in Scripture as a period of trial and testing under the protection of God. Elijah the prophet prayed for God to withhold rain and this occurred for three years (1 Kings 18.1 with 17.1) which, following the six months of dry weather preceding the drought (the Mediterranean summer) brought it to three years and six months. The New Testament interprets this as a period of ‘three years and six months’ (Luke 4.25; James 5.17). So three and a half years had early come to signify a time of judgment, persecution and want. During this period Elijah was guided by God to places where he would be provided for.

A similar period of ‘a time, times and half a time’ is a feature of the prophecy of Daniel (7.25), but there it probably indicates ‘a period of less than seven years’. It refers to the period when the ‘little horn’, a fierce, conquering king, attacks ‘the saints of the most High’ and seeks to ‘change times and law’. This is followed by the judgment and the setting up of the everlasting kingdom (7.26-27).

In Daniel 9.27 we also have reference to the last half of Daniel’s seventieth seven when ‘the sacrifice and oblation will cease’ (in Christian terms true worship will be forbidden), and a desolator arrives on the wing of abominations, but three and a half years is not specifically mentioned and it is questionable whether the ‘seven’ means seven years.

Some refer to Daniel 12.11, where a period of ‘one thousand two hundred and ninety days’ occurs ‘from the time that the continual burnt offering will be taken away, and the abomination that makes desolate is set up’, connected also with a period of one thousand three hundred and thirty five days (verse 12), both approximately three and a half years. But those probably refer to the abomination committed by Antiochus Epiphanes. It does, however, demonstrate that the period points to a period of trial for the people of God.

In Daniel 12.7 it refers to the time when the man clothed in linen held up his right hand and left hand to heaven and swore by Him Who lives for ever that it shall be for a time, times and half a time, ‘and when they have made an end of breaking in pieces the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished’. Thus in all these cases it is a period of tribulation for the people of God, as well as being a period of desolation for the world, but it is not necessarily referring to the same period. Note that in Revelation ‘the sanctuary’ is not to be violated. That is because it refers to the true people of God not to a literal Temple. The desolator can, and does, seek to destroy it, but he cannot enter its heart. It is inviolate. Not a hair of its head will perish (Luke 21.18).

But while this reference in Revelation to forty two months (and 1260 days, and a time times and half a time) is probably to some extent a connecting point with the prophecies of Daniel, John deliberately uses different terminology from Daniel. Daniel neither specifically mentions forty two months nor one thousand two hundred and sixty days. Thus there is no direct connection. The failure by John to make the time the same as prophesied in Daniel must be recognised. He could so easily have done so, for Daniel does mention 1290 days and 1335 days to show that the people of God survive the three and a half years and come through it. John is therefore using the concept of the ‘three and a half years’, and the significance that lies behind it, in his own distinctive way.

The main connecting point between Daniel and Revelation as far as verbal parallel is concerned is the ‘time, times and half a time’ (used in both), which John sees and interprets as three and a half years (1260 days) (Revelation 12.14 compare 6) in line with his use of three and a half years. But while John is here referring to a period when the people of God will suffer tribulation, as Elijah did, he is not referring it to a period at the end of time.

In Revelation 13.5 he also uses the idea to depict another period of tribulation which he refers to his own day. He is not slavishly following Daniel. The period of ‘three and a half years’ regularly signifies a period of particularly trouble, but such occur through history. There is not only one ‘three and a half years’. The idea occurs a number of times indicating special periods of attack on God’s people, but it is not necessarily the same period timewise each time. Its significance as half of a ‘seven’ indicates its lack of divine perfection.

However the reference in Revelation 11 does gain significance from Daniel, and in Revelation signifies the final three and a half years before the end. As in Daniel the official, open worship of God will cease and the people of Christ will be driven underground, with the authorities under the beast from the abyss seeking to destroy them. History repeats itself.

So, to summarise. The church of God, and especially the church in Jerusalem, are measured by God as preparing them for what lies ahead. By this they are shown to be His dwelling place, His sanctuary, and under His protection. As against them the nations will in the final days tread down Jerusalem. Those who dwell in Jerusalem, other than the church, will thus be without protection and subject to the iron hand of the nations. They are outside the protecting hand of God. However, as we shall see, He still seeks to bring them within His purposes.

11.3-4 ‘And I will give to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for a thousand, two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the Lord of the earth.’

Over the period (three and a half years) when the Holy City is trodden down by the Gentiles ‘two witnesses’ will arise to testify on God’s behalf. They arrive without introduction as though the previous verse had been speaking of them. This must count strongly as their symbolising in some way the true church of God, and especially the church in Jerusalem at that time. More precisely it represents the leaders of that church, of whom two will possibly be prominent, as representing the church as a whole.

Later we will see that the ‘two witnesses’ are preserved until the end of the one thousand two hundred and sixty days, i.e. the forty two months (v.7). There have been times in history when prominent leaders have survived against all the odds for a given period, even in the times of severe persecution, so that we should not be surprised at this thought (we could consider how Jesus Himself was able to continue His ministry despite the continual efforts of the authorities to destroy Him) although it may be that the ‘two witnesses’ represent a continuing testimony, with the personalities within the leadership being replaced as martrydoms occur. It indicates that God is active, and that while He allows His people to be persecuted and martyred, it is not because He is unable to protect them.

So in the end the two witnesses represent a section of the Jerusalem church who are preserved, possibly seen as headed by two ‘prophets’. This would parallel the seven churches which are also to be seen as both seven individual churches and as the whole church. We can compare how in Daniel a whole people are regularly spoken of in terms of their king. New Testament prophets came next after the apostles in their standing in the church (Ephesians 2.20). They were highly esteemed and approved of by Paul (1 Corinthians 14.3-5). Thus at the date this was written ‘two prophets’ could be seen as summing up the witness of the church after the Apostolic era. But the special emphasis here is on that witness as borne in Jerusalem prior to Christ’s return, and God is able to raise up prophetic men in any era.

The Two Witnesses.

11.4 ‘These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the Lord of the whole earth.’

The two olive trees appear in Zechariah 4.3 and are ‘ the sons of oil (anointed ones) who stand by the Lord of the whole earth’ (4.14). There they refer to Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the Prince, both anointed for their roles in accordance with the laws of Israel. So here are two similar leaders set apart by God as His servants in a time of crisis.

Joshua had his filthy garments removed and was clothed with rich apparel and had a fair turban set on his head (Zechariah 3.3-5). This turban is described in Exodus 28.36-38. It bears the words ‘holy to the Lord’ on a plate of gold and means that the High Priest is, especially through the sacrificial system, bearing the iniquity of the people in such a way as ensures the acceptability of their gifts and offerings. Later a crown (or crowns) of gold and silver is set on his head (6.11). Both turban and crown designate him as the Branch who will build the Temple of the Lord (Zechariah 3.8 with 6.12), which he did.

Zerubbabel is the one who will prevail ‘not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord’ (Zechariah 4.6). He has laid the foundations of the house of the Lord and he will finish it (4.9). They are thus two selected men of God whose purpose is to establish the house of God as a witness to the nations.

The imagery in Zechariah is remarkably similar to imagery in Revelation, where what is applied to the individuals in Zechariah is applied to all the redeemed. In Revelation the redeemed washed their garments and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (7.14), compared with the removal of Joshua’s filthy apparel, and the overcomer will receive a crown (2.10) similarly to Joshua, and will be arrayed in white garments (3.5). In Revelation white always replaces the jewelled splendour of the Old Testament. Wisdom and virtue are seen as far above rubies (Job 28.18; Proverbs 3.15; 8.11; 31.10). Thus the robes are white and the stone containing the name is white (2.17).

So Joshua is a ‘type’ of the redeemed. Furthermore, as the New Testament constantly makes clear, it is the redeemed who receive the power of the Spirit. So again Zerubbabel is typical of the redeemed. Thus we may see the two witnesses in Revelation as two representatives of the people of God in Jerusalem, yet representing in themselves the whole church, whose responsibility it is to establish the sanctuary of God (the church of Christ) as a witness to Jerusalem and to the nations.

The witnesses are also ‘two lampstands’. In Revelation 1 the seven lampstands represent the seven churches, the new Temple of God, the complete church, who are God’s witnesses and light to the world, and each lampstand represents a particular church. In Zechariah 4 the sevenfold lampstand represents the God of Israel feeding the two sons of oil and also Israel with its function to rebuild the Temple, again as a witness to the world. The lampstands therefore represent the whole true people of God. So the two witnesses stand at the forefront as fulfilling the witness of the church and of true Israel. (That the two witnesses can be both leaders of the church and the whole church compares with how Daniel could speak of kings while including in the word the nations that lay behind the kings).

‘I WILL GIVE to my two witnesses’ - this remarkable change of expression from ‘it was given’ emphasises God’s deep personal concern for His witnesses. Again and again in Revelation we have seen ‘there was given’ (the phrase appears thirteen times in the book). The activity was God’s but described impersonally. But to these two witnesses God gives directly. God is actively involved. This brings out the vital nature of their ministry. And what will He give? He will provide them with all that they need to complete their task, including the Spirit’s power (as with Zerubbabel).

‘Two witnesses’. The testimony of two witnesses was required before a legal verdict could be given (Deuteronomy 19.15). These witnesses therefore are symbolic of a satisfactory and complete witness. In Genesis 19 we learn that when God would judge Sodom and Gomorrha he sent two angels to judge whether the cities were worthy of destruction. When they had assessed the situation they arranged for the deliverance of all who would listen (Lot and his family) and they then returned and gave their verdict to God and the cities were then destroyed. These are almost certainly symbolically in mind here (11.8). But there is no reason to think that in Revelation they are angels, which is why they are connected with the two olive trees and the two lampstands. So the ‘two witnesses’ here are all those who bear testimony to God and bear witness against the sins of men, especially as represented by two effective leaders or ‘prophets’ (verse 10).

As we will have cause to see the two witnesses are also intended to represent Moses and Elijah, who themselves represented and summed up the Law and the prophets, and who as such testified of Jesus at His transfiguration, and ‘spoke of His decease which He would accomplish at Jerusalem’ (Luke 9.30-31) a decease which is firmly in mind here (verse 8). So ‘Moses’ and ‘Elijah’ will again testify of Him, not literally, but through like-minded representatives in Jerusalem, who utilise the Law and the Prophets (similarly to the way that John the Baptiser was ‘the Elijah that was to come’).

So the church and its leaders will give its testimony in these final days in the face of persecution and will suffer opposition and tribulation. John is again seeking to bolster up the church in the face of tribulation to come.

‘Clothed in sackcloth’. This was the rough garment of hair associated with prophets (Zechariah 13.4; 2 Kings 1.8; Mark 1.6). It also signified grief and distress (e.g. Genesis 37.34; 2 Samuel 3.31). David clothed himself and the people in sackcloth when he was seeking to divert God’s judgment (1 Chronicles 21.16), and the spiritual leaders of the people were to lie in sackcloth when offerings to God were not forthcoming because of famine (Joel 1.13). Thus it denotes humility, earnestness in prayer and grief over sin. These witnesses then, either spiritually, or through physically wearing sackcloth, are examples of humility, earnestness in prayer and grief over sin.

11.5 ‘And if anyone desires to hurt them fire comes from their mouth and devours their enemies, and if any man will desire to hurt them, in this manner must he be killed.’

This is not to be taken literally. The fire that comes from their mouths is like the two-edged sword coming from the mouth of the Son of Man, a pictorial image of a spiritual reality. John has in mind here the words of God in Jeremiah, ‘Is not my word like a fire?’ (Jeremiah 23.29). A similar picture was used of the unconverted Paul when it was said, ‘Saul was breathing threatening and slaughter against the saints’ (Acts 9.1). It speaks of powerful words producing powerful effects, possibly even in bringing fire down from Heaven like Elijah (2 Kings 1.10). Compare how God will ‘consume with the breath of His mouth’ the Lawless one (2 Thessalonians 2.8). So we are told that the words of these witnesses will be effective and powerful against those who oppose them. We can compare with this 2 Kings 1.10, 12 where lightning struck the men sent to arrest Elijah at his fiery words (see Luke 9.54 which shows that this was a favourite concept of John in his early days).

‘If any man desires to hurt them --- if any man will desire to hurt them’. The first is actual, the second prospective. When men stand up against them to bring about their downfall, or seek to plot their downfall, their words will be powerful against such men both now and in the future. This double promise does seem to suggest an ongoing situation with possibly different individuals in mind. It is possible that as one is martyred another is seen as taking his place so that the ‘two witnesses’ remain. Alternately it may be that we are to see two individuals who are continually preserved by God. For the whole idea we can compare Moses standing against Pharaoh, and Elijah, followed by Elisha, standing against Ahab and Jezebel, who are both probably in John’s mind. Both succeeded against all odds.

‘If any man desires to hurt them fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies’. Had it not been for its use of the Son of Man (chapter 1) and the Word (chapter 19) John could have used the picture of a sharp two-edged sword, which would have meant a similar thing. But the mention of pure fire from their mouths is in contrast with the fire, smoke and brimstone from the mouths of the evil spirits (9.14-21). What this is promising is that their words will be pure and effective in confounding those who come against them. The repetition stresses the truth, and continuity, of the promise. There are examples in Acts where words of strong rebuke led to deaths (Acts 5.1-11), and we have already mentioned the case of Elijah. The witnesses certainly need God’s protection for they are against powerful enemies. Jesus Himself also used strong words to defend His position until His hour was come, and they will do the same. Their witness is powerfully effective.

No doubt these witnesses received a lot of the blame for the effects of the activities of the evil spirits in 9.14-21. From the mouths of the evil spirits too came fire, but also smoke and brimstone. But there the words and actions were not pure and God-like but devilish and evil. The church of God often gets tainted with the activities of false religion.

11.6 ‘These have the power to shut the heaven so that it will not rain during the days of their prophecy, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to smite the earth with every plague as often as they will desire.’

It is not said that they do this. These examples are given to demonstrate that these witnesses are prophets in the mould of Elijah and Moses, and if necessary can call on similar powers. It was Elijah who prayed and shut the heavens (1 Kings 17.1; James 5.17). It was Moses who turned water into blood (Exodus 7.19) and smote the earth with plagues.

But we are not to think that we actually have here Moses and Elijah. Jesus Himself spoke of John the Baptiser as the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11.14; Mark 9.13), demonstrating that the promise of Malachi 4.5 should not be taken pedantically. Here we have the church and its leaders who are carrying on the witness of Moses and Elijah.

Jesus said of John the Baptiser ‘If you are willing to receive it, this is Elijah who is to come’ (Matthew 11.14). This is perfectly clear, but it is surprising how many students of prophecy are not willing to receive it because it does not fit their preconceptions. The Elijah of Malachi 4.5 HAS already come. We have Jesus word for it. These two witnesses are not therefore specifically fulfilling that prophecy. But how easily and subtly we can, if we are not careful, make the Scripture say what we want it to say in order build up a satisfactory picture or to fit a literalistic viewpoint, a danger to us all.

There is possibly in this passage also a contrast with the work of evil angels and spirits. They also bring famine on the world (8.7). They also turn water into blood (8.8). They also smite the earth with plagues (9.18). God wants us to know that, if they wish to, He and His people have the power to do the same even though they may not use it.

James points this out in his letter when he states firmly that the church is powerful through prayer. ‘The supplication of a righteous man avails greatly in its working’, he says, and gives this very example of the withholding of rain by Elijah (James 5.16-17). The early church was not as afraid of such miracles as we are. Thus there is no difficulty in John seeing a future (to him) church in Jerusalem effectively having such powers available for use, especially through their anointed leaders, and possibly although not necessarily using them.

However, it is noteworthy that there have been rare times when miracles of one sort or another have abounded. The time of Moses was one, the time of Elijah and Elisha another and the time of Jesus and His apostles a third. Miracles do not just happen at random. So these words in Revelation may suggest that in the end days the same will apply. But even then they will not be at random. The witnesses will not misuse their powers. They will only use them as God commands. Unlike the beast, their aim is not wholesale slaughter.

11.7 ‘And when they will have finished their testimony the Beast that comes from the abyss will make war against them, and overcome them, and kill them.’

In Revelation there are two contrasting Beasts, the one who arises from the sea (13.1), an earthly empire arising from the nations, and the one who arises out of the abyss (17.8 compare 9.11), who more closely represents Satan himself, the monster serpent (12. 3, 9). Yet they are all really one for Satan is the power behind them all. Here we see the Beast from the abyss (see chapter 17), representing him whom even Michael the archangel had problems dealing with (Jude 1.9). No wonder the witnesses need special powers!

But he has to stand by until they have finished their testimony. Until their work is done these witnesses are protected (possibly, but not necessarily the individuals. It could be the two witnesses in what they represent that are protected). Then, however, he ‘makes war with them’, ‘overcomes’ the overcomers, and kills them. We can reverently compare how he had to wait before he was able to attack Jesus Christ Himself until ‘His hour had come’. The word ‘overcome’ is sardonic. This is the outward appearance. But they are not really overcome, only killed. They have in fact themselves overcome in the only sense that matters at all. The divine preservation of the ‘two witnesses’ does indicate that God will keep alive the witness of His church and their leaders until their witness is complete.

Elsewhere we read that the earthly Beast makes war with the saints to overcome them (13.7 compare Daniel 7.21), as does Satan, the ‘monster’ (12.17 compare verse 9). So these witnesses are being paralleled with the church of Christ, who also share similar persecution through the centuries. Some will perish in that tribulation (7.14). The two witnesses represent the element who will for a time be preserved. However, the church know that God's people are sealed and therefore, in the last analysis, untouchable, and some must die and some must be preserved until the end. There are different limits that God puts on what Satan is allowed to do.

11.8 ‘And their dead bodies lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.’

Here the city in mind is clearly identified as Jerusalem. It is the place where the Lord was crucified. John could not have made it plainer. It is a clear indication of how God sees Jerusalem at this point. He sees it as a place of sexual perversion (Sodom - Genesis 19; Jeremiah 23.14; Jude 1.7) and of idolatry and worldly aggrandisement (Egypt - see below), the very sins God had especially warned the seven churches against in readiness for this day. The people were guilty of following the ways of the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan (Leviticus 18.3). They were in direct disobedience to God, in contrast with the witnesses and the church of Christ. They prefer idolatry (Nehemiah 9.18; Ezekiel 23.3 with 7 ), and the luxuries of Egypt to the Lord’s fare (Numbers 11.5-6), for they honour the Beast who demands the one (13.4, 12) and provides the other (13.17).

For Jerusalem as ‘the great city’ brought to humiliation see Jeremiah 22.8. For Israel as Sodom, apart from the holy remnant, see Isaiah 1.9. How far this idolatry will be literal, and how far spiritual idolatry, only time will tell. Religious artefacts can soon become idols as witness the brazen serpent of Moses (2 Kings 18.4).

‘Their dead bodies lie in the street’. No one is permitted to bury them. They are exposed to total shame just as Christ was. Psalm 79.1-4 is illustrative of this episode and is probably in John’s mind. ‘Oh God, the nations are come to your inheritance, your holy sanctuary have they defiled. They have laid Jerusalem in heaps. The dead bodies of your servants they have given to be food to the fowls of heaven, the flesh of your saints to the beasts of the earth --- there was none to bury them. We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to those who are round about us’. It is probable we are to see here the last remnants of the church in Jerusalem. One by one they have been hunted down, but these, with their two prophets, had been preserved for the task they were given. Now they too have been put to death.

11.9 ‘And from among the peoples and tribes and languages and nations do men look on their dead bodies for three days and a half, and do not allow their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb.’

These ‘peoples and tribes and languages and nations’ are in direct and deliberate contrast with the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (5.9), and the faithful servants of Christ out of every nation, and of all tribes and peoples and tongues (7.9) who come from the same source. They thus have no excuse for their behaviour, for their compatriots have responded to Christ. It was to them that John was to prophesy (10.11). Their behaviour is inhumane and abominable, and is shown to be even worse in the next verse, but there is no limit on man’s behaviour when he seeks revenge on those who make him feel uncomfortable.

When he speaks of many peoples and nations John may have thought in terms of people gathering to Jerusalem for the feasts, or he may have had in mind the armies of the nations who were treading it down. But he intends us to see Jerusalem as a microcosm of the whole earth, just as the church in Jerusalem is the microcosm of the whole church. (He could never have dreamed of television and computers and things yet to be invented). The three and a half days clearly parallels the three and a half years. God allows the crowds to enjoy, a day of shame for every year of the ministry they have rejected. That is all they have.

11.10 ‘And those who dwell on the earth rejoice over them and make merry, and they will send gifts to one another because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on earth.’

Those whose hearts are on earthly things, the earth dwellers, throw parties and celebrate. At last they are free of these men who had made them feel so guilty, who had tormented their consciences. They happily send gifts to each other (compare Nehemiah 8.12; Esther 9.19) to demonstrate their relief. Their ‘tormentors’ have been dealt with. The world hates having its conscience tormented by the people of God. Possibly there is some thought in the use of this word that the torments of the evil spirits in 9.5-6, 14-21 may also have been laid at the door of the two witnesses (the passage is especially connected with the second woe (11.14)). So they celebrate their triumph. But as Job reminds us so succintly ‘the triumphing of the wicked is short’ (Job 20.5).

11.11-12 ‘And after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered into them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them, and they heard a great voice from Heaven saying to them, “Come up here!”. And they went up into Heaven in the cloud, and their enemies saw the whole thing (literally - ‘beheld them’).’

The bodies of the remaining people of God lay exposed in the streets, including their two outstanding prophets who represented them, but then something amazing happens. ‘The breath of life from God entered into them and they stood on their feet’. The language of verse 11 echoes Ezekiel 37.10, especially the LXX. The surprise at the raising of Lazarus kept Jerusalem agog, but compared with this it was as nothing. All the partying immediately ceases. The impossible has happened. The dead bodies have come alive again. But only to be carried up into Heaven in a cloud as Jesus was in His ascension (Acts 1.9). There can really be no doubt that this is describing what is often called ‘the Rapture of the saints’, when the dead in Christ rise first and then those who are alive and remain are transformed and meet the Lord oin the air. Jesus has come for His own. John was allowed up into heaven temporarily (4.1), their entry is permanent. There is great stress on the fact that what is described is what was seen by the spectators, and we are made aware of the awe that it produced.

This is not a separate rapture. John is encapsulating what is happening to the whole church in terms of what happens to the church in Jerusalem. Around the world similar things are happening. Paul describes it differently. ‘The Lord himself will descend from Heaven with a shout (‘come up hither’), with the voice of the Archangel, and the trump of God. And indeed the last trumpet now sounds (verse 15)). And the dead in Christ will rise first. (This is pictured in the raising of these witnesses). Then we who are alive and remain will together with them be caught up in the clouds (the witnesses are carried up in a cloud) to meet the Lord in the air. So shall we ever be with the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 4.16-17). But all this is not made known to the watchers. They see only what is before them. In other cities similar things will be experienced.

11.13 ‘And in that hour there was a great earthquake and the tenth part of the city fell and seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the remainder were terrified and gave glory to the God of Heaven.’

Now that God’s people have been taken up the world faces the judgment of God. There will be delay no longer. The immediate effect of this is the great earthquake, in which God takes His tithe of one tenth of the city, the firstfruits for judgment. And seven thousand people die. This latter number parallels the number of the remnant in the time of Elijah (1 Kings 19.18). (Elijah lies behind many references in Revelation; compare 13.13 for the anti-Elijah; the references to three and a half years; the description of the two witnesses in ch. 11; etc). Thus this ‘seven thousand’ is a reminder of the remnant whom they have been attacking. God’s remnant have been put to death by the people of Jerusalem, now God claims a life for a life. The numbers are round numbers and not to be taken exactly, as with all large numbers in Revelation.

The remainder, in fear, ‘give glory to the God of Heaven’. It is doubtful if this is the language of conversion. Rather in what they face they have to acknowledge God’s remote greatness but their hearts are still far from Him. It is not a response of faith. Compare how in 16.10 men blaspheme the God of Heaven. The title is used of man’s instinctive reaction to God as the unknown. Jerusalem is a religious city, which explains the differing response to what occurs, but that does not necessarily go far enough. Submission to Christ is required and they have rejected the testimony of the witnesses.

11.14 ‘The second woe is past. Behold the third woe comes quickly.’

In Revelation 22.7, 12, 20 it is Christ Who ‘comes quickly’, and we find here that the same applies to the third woe. For that final woe for mankind is indeed the arrival of the Judge of all the earth, as Heaven now declares (verse 18). While it is a joy for the people of God, for those who dwell on earth it is the final woe, and they can only plead to the mountains and the rocks to hide them from the wrath of Him Who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (6.16).

11.15 ‘And the seventh angel sounded, and there followed great voices in Heaven, and they said, “The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever”.’

Thus is declared the final hour. This is the seventh and last trumpet (compare 1 Corinthians 15.52). The church is raptured, the king's authority is recognised even by unbelievers, and He will now immediately exert His authority and judge the world. ‘The kingdom of the world’ is now His. The kings of the earth, and the rulers, took counsel against the Lord and against His Christ (anointed one)’ (Psalm 2.2). But God could only laugh at their puny efforts (Psalm 2.4) and now He will ‘speak to them in His wrath and vex them with His sore displeasure’ (Psalm 2.5), having set His king on His holy hill of Zion (2.6). The Lord now ‘sits as king for ever, He has prepared his throne for judgment’ (Psalm 8.7).

It would not have been possible in John’s earlier description of the rapture to include the sound of the trumpet, for there we had what those in Jerusalem heard and saw and there is no suggestion that the last trumpet would be heard by man. Man hears the voice from Heaven, but the trumpet sounds in Heaven declaring the final fulfilment of the purposes of God. John therefore now immediately introduces it to connect it with what has gone before.

The resurrection has been seen from earth’s point of view, now it is declared from Heaven’s point of view. The third woe is declared, the trumpet sounds, the dead are raised and the church is raptured, an example of which we have seen, and then, in that hour, the third woe actually comes, the judgment, which is carried out on those who dwell on earth. Then they will weep and gnash their teeth for they can no longer hide from His face.

11.16-17 ‘And the twenty four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying, “We give thanks Oh Lord God, the Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and enforced your reign (reigned - aorist ingressive)”.’

We note that there is no longer a mention of ‘is to come’ (1.8; 4.8) for He has come, and it is now the end of time. He has taken His great power and enforced His reign. He has of course previously been reigning in Heaven and on earth in the hearts of His people who have submitted to His kingly rule. Now His reign over mankind as a whole is enforced, expressed in His final acts of judgment. The twenty four elders may well worship. Their task is complete and the redeemed church is in Heaven. In 1.5 He had been declared to be 'the ruler of the kings of the earth'. Now His kingship is enforced.

11.18 ‘And the nations were angry, and your wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged, and the time to give their reward to your servants the prophets and to the saints and to those who fear your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.’

Now God reigns His judgment begins. The nations were angry against God, for they were facing many trials and blamed God rather than themselves, now they will face the anger of God in return, His anger at sin. The time has come for both the dead and the living to be judged.

Along with the righteous the unrighteous have also been raised so that they may face that judgment. ‘The Lord reigns, let the people tremble, he dwells between the cherubim, let the earth be moved’ (Psalm 99.1). But it is also the time when His people receive their rewards for faithful service (Romans 14.10-12; 1 Corinthians 3.10-15; 4.5). Especially mentioned with honour are the prophets. This must have special reference to the ‘two prophets’ who bore faithful witness in Jerusalem (why else are the prophets singled out?). But along with them will be God’s people (the saints) and the God-fearers (Acts 10.2, 35; Romans 2.14-16), those who before the spread of the Gospel responded to God and believed in Him. And in contrast, those who destroyed the earth will be destroyed.

11.19 ‘And the Temple of God in Heaven was opened and in His temple was seen the ark of the covenant, and there followed lightnings and voices and thunders and an earthquake and great hail.’

Nothing is secret any longer. Heaven is opened and made known to earth. The ark of the covenant represents the throne of God, set between the cherubim, where God had taken His power and reigns, and within it is His covenant with His people and the world, which include the ten commandments by which the world will be judged (Exodus 25.21 with 31.18). To His own the sight is one of great joy. To His enemies it is one of great fear. Now indeed will they cry ‘hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of His wrath has come, and who will be able to stand?’ (6.16-17). Just as the first vision of judgment (the seven seals) ended with the coming of Christ at the end of chapter 6, so the second vision of judgment ends with the coming of Christ here.

‘And there followed lightnings and voices and thunders and an earthquake and great hail’. This refrain, which signals great events about to take place, is constantly repeated and constantly grows (see 4.5; 8.5; 11.19). In 8.5 the earthquake was added (and is repeated in 16.18). Now is further added the great hail (compare Psalm 18.10-13; Ezekiel 13.13; 38.22; Isaiah 30.30; Exodus 9.24). The earthquake took the tenth part (11.13) now the great hail will take the rest. It is a symbol of judgment, sweeping away ‘the refuge of lies’ (Isaiah 28.17). It is a symbol of the approach of God (Psalm 18.10-13). The great hail is also described as taking place at the end of the seven bowls (or vials) (16.21), demonstrating that the seven bowls do not follow chronologically but end also at this point. It is part of the approach of the King as he comes to bring the world to judgment, having raised the dead and raptured His own.

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