Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. (11:7)
The two witnesses were protected while they gave their testimony to the world concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but when they had finished, a beast from the Abyss comes to kill them. You might recall our discussion of the Abyss in chapters 8-9, where we saw that it was a place from which the demonic forces were unleashed upon the earth. In this case, a beast comes up from there… In Revelation, a beast refers to a political power that opposes the church. We will see this developed more in chapter 13, as you might imagine. In John’s day, the Romans were the beast, the political power that opposed the church; there has always been a political power or powers that fill this role, as history shows us, and as our newspapers tell us about today. It would be a mistake in my view, if we took an image like a “beast” and insisted on tying it to one particular person, nation or empire, because at any given time, there are many such persons, nations or empires. For instance, Hitler opposed the church. At the same time, so did Stalin: what did they have in common? They fought each other to the death. In our world, there are many nations that oppose the church, but look carefully; they are different nations, and their opposition is for different reasons.
Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified. (11:8)
This is where I remind you that this is not literal; it’s a vision, thus symbolic. I remind you of this because there is a great temptation to place these events in Jerusalem when we read this verse. We must remember that the two witnesses represent the church and are not two literal individuals, as we covered last time. As a consequence, this cannot refer to a specific place. This “great city” is figuratively called “Sodom and Egypt” and they both have significant Old Testament meanings. Sodom was the ancient city that God destroyed because of its outrageous sin, as you all know. “Sodom” represents the outrageous sin of humans. Egypt, as we have already seen, represents this “world”. This is the same outrageous sin of this world that brought to pass the murder of our Lord Jesus Christ when His “time had come.” Before His time had come, they couldn’t touch him; when the time came, they nailed Him to a cross and He died as a common criminal. So likewise, the two witnesses cannot be touched while they give their testimony about His Gospel, but when their time comes, they are killed.
For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth. (11:9-10)
Their bodies lie out in the streets. All peoples refuse them burial, so great is the contempt they hold for the church and the Gospel. Their deaths are celebrated, people rejoice. The bodies begin to decay, are torn up by dogs… this is a statement of sheer hatred and contempt, but it is not literal. Why the hatred for the church?
It really isn’t the church that they hate; it is the message of the church they hate. The people of much of this world do not want to hear about Jesus, because for them to hear about Jesus means that there are implications to be dealt with, and this world for the most part, would rather not deal with those implications, for as we discussed in the last post, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has both positive and negative implications. On the positive side is God’s mercy and grace, but mercy and grace lead to repentance. On the negative side, rejecting the mercy and grace of God is an act that brings judgment upon the person who rejected mercy and grace, and therein lies the “torment” John speaks of.
The witnesses testify for 1,260 days. They lie in the street for 3 ½ days. As we have already discussed, both of these represent the entire age in which we live, from John’s day until the Lord returns.
Recently a video made the rounds on the internet. It was a video showing the beheading of 50 or so Christian men by ISIS; maybe you’ve seen it. Those responsible for this outrageous act were apparently so proud of themselves; they recorded their crime and posted it for the whole world to see. Some who saw this video mourned, while others celebrated.
The day is coming, and will come, when mourning turns to joy, and celebrating turns to terror, as we will see next time.