"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Made Known to John" (Continued)

The End-Time as Seven Trumpets (Rev. 8:2-11:19)

Rev. 8:2-6, Introduction to the Trumpets

2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
3 Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5 Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets made ready to blow them.

The series of trumpets which we are now to examine is structured over the pattern identical to that of the seals. This, plus the similarity in content of the two series, is strong evidence that John still is talking about the end-time rather than proceeding further along the sequence.

There are seven angels who are to do the blowing; these are not the seven spirits of the Holy Spirit as were mentioned earlier. John very likely has in mind the ancient Jewish tradition of seven archangels to whom actual names were given: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Saraqael, and Remiel.

Notice that "the prayers of all God's people" are part of the contents of the golden censer, which, upon being thrown to earth, triggers the end-time traumas. In other words, our prayers and cries for the coming of God's justice--our "How long, O Lord, how long?"--have a real part to play in this judgment's very coming about. Perhaps modern Christians would do well to devote more of their energies to this sort of prayer than to the techniques of our own political crusades, trying, on our own, to make the world be just and righteous.

Rev. 8:7-12, Trumpets 1-4: The Four Plagues

7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were hurled to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
8 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. 9 A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 The name of the star is Worm-wood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter.
12 The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light was darkened; a third of the day was kept from shining, and likewise the night.

The description of the effects of these four trumpets seems to have some parallel with the ten plagues that came upon the Egyptians at the time of the exodus; John uses this frame of reference to draw these trumpets into a true quartet. We have another Picassian portrayal of trauma; that the stars somehow have gotten back into the sky after having fallen to earth earlier should give us no difficulty. Wormwood, by the way, is a plant with a very bitter-tasting root. The note once again of God's restraint and limitation of Evil is made through the reiterated reference to "one third."

Rev. 8:13-9:12, Trumpet 5: The Warrior Locusts

13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew in midheaven, "Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!"
1 And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit; 2 he opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given authority like the authority of scorpioons of the earth. 4 They were told not to damage the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torture them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torture was like the torture of a scorpion when it stings someone. 6 And in those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them.
7 In appearance the locusts were like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8 their hair like women's hair, and their teeth like lions' teeth; 9 they had scales like iron breastplates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing Into battle. 10 They have tails like scorpions, with stingers, and in their tails is their power to harm people for five months. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apoliyon.
12 The first woe has passed. There are still two woes to come.

The customary break following Item 4 is particularly prominent here where an angel appears in order to announce that three "woes" corresponding to the last three trumpets are now to follow. Trumpet 5 will be an intensification over what has gone before; but No. 6 will be raised to an even higher power.

A star that is fallen to earth is given a key with which to open a shaft to the abyss, the underworld. It may be helpful to know that, in ancient times, stars often were identified as being angels. It probably is this tradition John has in mind; and this particular star is likely the angel-king named in verse Rev. 8:11.

Portraying a locust plague as though it were an invasion of war horses had been done earlier by the Old Testament prophet Joel; John is depending upon him. The details of the description might suggest that, if you squint your imagination hard enough, you can see some resemblance between locusts and John's war horses--their antennae are "like women's hair," and their bodies are plated with armor. Whether John is thinking of actual locusts or of super-grotesque locusts the size of horses makes little difference; we aren't to go out hunting for them in any case. These are locusts the way Picasso would paint them, a symbol of trauma and destruction. The "five months" of their assault could represent a "broken" year--thus, an "evil" time--or it could, perhaps more likely, be a traditional way of referring to a fairly long period.

The name of the locusts' king ties them directly into the anti-God world of Evil. Such a spiritual malignity is, in truth, the source of the forces that are chewing up our world.

Rev. 9:13-21, Trumpet 6: The Demonic Calvary

13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar before God, 14 saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, "Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates." 15 So the four angels were released, who had been held ready for the hour, the day, the month, and the year, to kill a third of humankind. 16 The number of the troops of cavalry was two hundred million; I heard their number. 17 And this was how I saw the horses in my vision: the riders wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur; the heads of the horses were like lions' heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths. 18 By these three plagues a third of humankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 19 For the power of the horses is in thelr mouths and in their tails; their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they inflict harm.
20 The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk. 21 And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts.

Item 6, again, represents the ultimate intensification that brings the trauma to its climax and close--and opens the way for the end. In this instance, the movement is from the tormenting of men in Trumpet 5 to the killing of them in Trumpet 6.

The restraining power of God is given particular emphasis; the angels of death are "bound at the great river Euphrates." In Old Testament times, almost all the great devastators of historical Israel--Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians--had come from beyond the Euphrates; so John appropriately takes this eastern territory as the symbolic source of devastation in general. But that the evil angels (and their armies) are bound, that they are loosed only at the permitted moment, and that their power extends only over "a third of mankind"--all these indicate that ultimately God and not the angels is running the show.

Except that no bulls are included, the scene is one that would do credit to Picasso.

Rev. 8:20-21 are particularly important in that they make a point we forecasted but have not actually encountered until now. As John tells us, men do not abjure the gods they created for themselves, nor cease the worship of that which is not God, nor repent of wickednesses--certainly this is to say that these things are what they should have done, what God wanted them to do and was encouraging them to do. So there is a very positive note hidden right here in the midst of what may be John's most terrible scene. Mankind, through its sin, does bring all sorts of evil and horror upon itself. Yet, in the grace of God, that trauma could have a positive effect and outcome--if man would let it work the way God is trying to work it. (And it should be said that you don't have to wait until you see horses of this kind--or even pink elephant--before trauma can have the desired effect. You undoubtedly have enough trauma right now to motivate a real healthy repentance. So why wait? Do it now!)

Rev. 10:1-11:13, The Trumpet Interlude: The Scroll and its Contents

Following Item 6 comes an A-B interlude; and in every case the interlude has to do with the church. The Seal Interlude pictured the makeup and nature of the church. The Trumpet Interlude now will describe the fortunes of the church. And the Bowl Interlude, in its turn, will be an exhortation to the church.

In the Trumpet Interlude, Part A will recount an incident regarding a little scroll whose contents are to be divulged; Part B, apparently, represents the contents as they are divulged.

Rev. 10:1-11, Part A: The Eating of the Scroll

1 And I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. 2 He held a little scroll open in his hand. Setting his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, 3 he gave a great shout, like a lion roaring. And when he shouted, the seven thunders sounded. 4 And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write but I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down. 5 Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and the land raised his right hand to heaven 6 and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it: "There will be no more delay, 7 but in the days when the seventh angel is to blow his trumpet, the mystery of God will be fulfilled, as he announced to his servants the prophets."
8 Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, "Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land." 9 So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, "Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth." 10 So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.
11 Then they said to me, "You must prophesy again about many peoples and nations and languages and kings."

Although John changes a number of details, the main elements of the first part of this vision--the great angel standing above the waters and commanding the sealing of a message are taken from Dan. 12. The concluding part of the vision-namely the eating of the scroll--is based upon Ezek. 3.

The speech of the seven thunders which John starts to transcribe and then is prevented from doing is indeed a puzzler. Aside from a desire to be faithful to his Daniel source, it is difficult to see what significance John intends. It would sound as though he were preparing to do another seven-series; but the other one he does do is "bowls" rather than "thunders," and there is no other mention of seven thunders. John does not tell us enough that we even can begin to guess what the thunders might have said; and that he is divinely commanded not to write it down certainly implies that we are not meant to know and so shouldn't try to guess in any case. This is a passage not to hang up on.

Just the contrary, the angel's words in verses 6-7 are of utmost importance. Many of the older translations present his first words as: "Time shall be no more!" That way, the concept is most difficult, if not entirely impossible. "Time" is nothing more than a measure of the transpiring of change, action, or movement; and to speak of the absence of time must mean that absolutely nothing is happening. And if anything is clear it is that John has no intention of saying, at this stage of the game, that his story is all over, that any and all activity (of God, man, Evil, or whatever) is ready to come to a dead halt. No, the NRSV translation undoubtedly has John's meaning right: "There will be no more delay!"

As we have said, the holding off of the eschaton is a mark of God's grace, his granting men time for repentance. Nevertheless, John insists, the time will come--will have to come--when the whistle blows, "Sorry, time has run out; the ball game is over!" John, decidedly, is not one of these moderns who believe that human history never will involve an accounting but will simply run on forever. For John, that would make history as meaningless as a football game without a termination or final score. And the words that follow in Rev. 10:7 make it certain that, in this Trumpet Series at least, Item 7 does definitely signify the end.

The "little scroll" appearing in this scene almost certainly is not to be identified with the scroll that the Lamb unsealed; and yet there is at least some connection: the contents of this one, too, represent information about the hidden future--in this case, the immediate future of the church rather than the ultimate future of human history. The prophet's eating a scroll and then speaking out its message may seem a rather strange way for God to communicate his word to man; yet this seems to be what both Ezekiel and John had in mind. Probably the intended effect is to stress both the authority and importance of the message.

Rev. 10:11 likely is meant to point directly to Part B and suggest that it be understood as John's speaking forth the scroll he has just been fed.

Rev. 11:1-13, Part B: The Fate of the Church

1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, "Come and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months. 3 And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth.";
4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. 6 They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.
7 When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; 10 and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth.
11 But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here!" And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them. 13 At that moment there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

The contents of the scroll prove to be a vision of the end-time fortunes of the church; it is one of the most important passages in Revelation.

We need to establish first that the church is indeed that of which John is speaking. For one thing, the location of the scene is Jerusalem, the holy city. With this we come to one of the basic elements of John's symmetric symbolism. Jerusalem (and the Zion hill on which it stands) is, for him, the symbolic home of the church. I think he never mentions Jerusalem except in connection with the church. And of course, "the new Jerusalem" is his designation for the home of the perfected, eschatological church. This "Jerusalem," then, is to stand over against "Babylon," the home city of the apostate world. The back-and-forth comparison between the fortunes of "Jerusalem" and "Babylon" will be of utmost significance.

It will be interesting, later, to see how neatly John de-calendarizes (and de-maps) "Babylon"; and although the problem here is a much more tricky one, we will contend that such is precisely what he wants to do with "Jerusalem" as well. There is no good reason why it should be, and there is no evidence in the New Testament that it ever was the case, that the fate of the Christian church depends upon the fate of a particular plot of ground named Jerusalem. One of the striking things about New Testament Christianity, as over against the Old Testament Judaism out of which it was born, is the way it broke free from any geographical ties, from any theological focus on a particular land, city, culture, or people. And it is inconceivable that so totally Christian a thinker as John would move back to tie the outcome of his universal gospel to the fortunes of one particular human city. No, for John, "Jerusalem" identifies an idea rather than any specific place.

In this regard, it is probably deliberate that, although it obviously is Jerusalem John here has in mind, he nowhere explicitly names it as such. He calls it "the holy city" in Rev. 11:2; but in Rev. 11:8--in what would seem to be a conscious effort at "de-mapping"--he calls it "the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified." Jerusalem, yes; but also a Jerusalem that has been freed of any physical, geographical limitations so that it can be located anywhere at any time. Just as Picasso's Guernica is, at one and the same time, both Guernica, Spain, 1937, and also any and every other place where war has wreaked its destruction, so John's Jerusalem is the home of the church, thus to be located wherever the church is located. This present scene can and does take place wherever "Jerusalem" happens to be at the time; and finally, as universal, eschatological event, it will happen when, where, and how God chooses to bring it about.

"Jerusalem" is the locale; the central figure (or figures) is, of course, the two "witnesses." That they are two creates a problem to which we will need to address ourselves; but for the moment, let's concentrate on their common identity rather than their twoness. Notice, first of all, that although they are cited as two, throughout the scene they act, are acted upon, and are described in complete concert. No distinction is made; they are given no individuality; no significance is attributed to their duality.

That the two are identified as "witnesses" is crucial; this is the same Greek "martyr-witness" word with which John has characterized the church and its Christians since the opening of the book. Further, everything said about them and everything they do fits exactly with what John tells us about the church elsewhere.

But why two? Either one witness representing the oneness of the church or twelve witnesses incarnating the church's number would seem more appropriate; but the witnesses are two. One consideration that may have been of decisive weight for John is that much of the imagery of this scene--including the measuring of Jerusalem, the presence of lamp stands (although one rather than two), and two olive trees who are "the two consecrated with oil who attend the Lord of all the earth"--is taken straight from Zech. 2-4. John is following his source; and this may be all that is involved.

Even so, it is quite possible that John also attributed a meaning of his own to the twoness. In his own experience, John would have been aware of a basic duality of the church to which our experience would not alert us. The church of John's day was rather conspicuously divided into congregations of Christians, one group having come out of a Jewish background and the other out of a Gentile background. Although holding a common faith and worshipping a common Lord, their whole style and way of doing things undoubtedly was quite diverse. It seems evident, too, that there was some friction between the two groups. In light of this situation, it may well be that John is using the twoness of these figures to say that the mission of the church wants and needs the witness of both the Jewish and the Gentile Christians. It would be another case of the law of "all twelve," a plea for ecumenicity and the fullness of God's church.

The portion of the account dealing with the measuring of the temple probably depends more directly upon Ezekiel 40ff. than upon Zechariah, for the Zechariah vision speaks of measuring "Jerusalem" rather than the temple itself. The contrast between Ezekiel's and John's treatment is instructive, however, and points in the direction of de-literalizing. Ezekiel proceeds to give page after page of actual dimensions and description of the great, new temple he envisions. John shows no interest in this order of reality at all, speaks rather in terms of the people involved, and follows up the theme of "measuring" only long enough to make a point regarding the fate of the church and not the architecture of any temple.

The old Jewish temple consisted of two distinct areas:

  1. The inner temple--incorporating the altar and other such sacred apparatuses--which was itself of particular holiness and into which were admitted only devout Jews (those bearing God's seal).
  2. The outer court, much less holy, the site of more secular kinds of activity, and open to the public--including Gentiles (the outsiders).

But, we are told, the prophet is to center his attention on the inner temple (the true, loyal church), because the temple itself is to be overrun by the Gentiles (the church by the world) and only the inner temple will be preserved. This situation will last for forty-two months, which is twelve hundred and sixty days, which is three and a half years ("3 1/2" is a broken "7," thus itself the number of Evil and thus, for John, the length of the end-time).

This picture jibes with what John has been telling us all along and what he will continue to tell us. The period of the end-time (from the close of Jesus' earthly career until his parousia) is also the period of the church on earth, the time of her martyr-witness. Her home is "Jerusalem," the holy city; but it is there too "where also her Lord was crucified," a most unholy act. The church does incorporate "an inner temple" which will be preserved through the end-time: but she must also endure the ravaging of her outer courts by the godless world. And of course, John also saw this bi-polarity of holiness and unholiness, fidelity and apostasy, witness and deceit, sovereignty and suffering, in the empirical church of the seven congregations of Asia Minor. So he says, "Don't get upset. This tension is part of God's plan for the end-time and is to be expected. But ... but it is not the whole story of the church; you need to see the outcome!"

And so "Jerusalem" has a very interesting role to play in John's scheme of things. She is the city that obviously belongs on the Good side as over against "Babylon" on the Evil side. But she nevertheless is in the agonizing situation of being the holy city where also her Lord was crucified. She must go through the end-time traumas--and she will not be untouched or uncorrupted by them. Even so, her fate is not at all that of "Babylon," which is to collapse and disappear forever. On the contrary, "Jerusalem"--in spite of trauma and even through trauma--is destined for repentance, resurrection, and redemption until, through God's grace, she is transformed into "the new Jerusalem," the source and center of LIFE.

But during the three and a half years in which she now finds herself, dressed in sackcloth, the symbol of lowliness and humiliation (how many churches have you seen lately that give any appearance of being dressed in sackcloth?), the church is called to make her faithful martyr-witness She is to be an olive tree and a lamp before the Lord. Olive trees bear fruit, lamps give light; who ever has put the mission of the church any more succinctly? As lamp, we are so to live and act and speak that the truth of who Jesus is and what he does will be illuminated to the world. As olive trees, we are to engage in the same ministry of service and reconciliation that Jesus himself pursued. What else is there to say?

Rev. 11:5 calls for special comment, with its reference to fire pouring from the mouths of the witnesses and consuming their enemies. This cannot mean that the church is called to use strong-arm (or even strong-mouth) methods of threat and violence. Such is too out of character with John's total picture and is too directly contrary to the fact that these witnesses even now are on the way to a defenseless martyrdom. John must be wanting to say that God will not allow the witness of these prophets to be cut off before its time. Again it is the principle that the power of Evil is limited and under the restraint of God. The world may be able to bloody the church's head (both through persecution and by seducing her into betraying herself); but the world will never be allowed to stop the church's witness and put her out of the way. "No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" (Jn. 10:18).

Rev. 11:6, pursuing the same line of thought, speaks of two powers which apparently the witnesses possess together. Nevertheless, the power to shut up the rain in the sky points very strongly toward the Old Testament prophet Elijah; and the power of the plagues toward Moses. John very well may have been thinking of Elijah and Moses at this point--and it bothers us not at all. If he is, he is thinking of them as symbols of the church. After all, both are known primarily as leaders of the church (the people of God) who, in situations where they had to stand virtually alone and in the face of great opposition, were wonderfully preserved by God and enabled to accomplish their assigned mission and make the faithful witness. The church should follow an Elijah-Moses model.

But for a moment go the other way, as many commentators do, and put it that, at some time to come--after the Jewish temple is rebuilt--a reincarnated Elijah and Moses are to appear in the actual city of Jerusalem, there to be killed and then resurrected in sight of the citizenry, after which the city will be wracked by an earthquake. Now even if that should happen, it would be an event that has nothing to do with me, nothing to say to me; it would be an event entirely in God's hands and not concerning me one way or another. John's great work becomes nothing more than data for speculative gamesmanship. But read it our way and it becomes God's word to me, God's word involving me as much as it did John's original hearers or it will the generation that happens to stand at the parousia. And it is a word of God that the remainder of the New Testament also confirms as being true!

When the witnesses have completed their testimony--but not before (the timing is in the hands of God)--the beast will rise from the abyss to defeat and kill them. This is the first time the beast (therion) has been introduced to us as beast. He is Antichrist; and though we will see much more of him in the beast role, we already have met him as the first of the four horsemen. The witnesses will lie dead for three and a half days. This period, rather clearly, is the intensification of trauma that closes off the end-time, corresponding to Item 6 in the various seven-series.

"The inhabitants of the earth" gloat over the dead witnesses; and Rev. 11:9 picks up the very phraseology of universalism that John elsewhere has used in reference to God and his victory. We have here, then, a universality of Evil to stand as counterpoint against the universality of the Good. The time comes when apparently Evil has picked up all the chips. It looked that way on Good Friday; it will look that way when the witnesses lie dead; it can look very much that way at any point during the end-time. The difference, of course, is that this is only an apparent universality, at best a momentary universality. True and lasting universality lies solely with God.

At the end of the three and a half days, the breath of life from God comes into the witnesses. The word "breath" is the same Greek word as "spirit"; and it would seem quite proper to read this as a reference to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that is always and ever the life-breath of the church. The witnesses stand upon their feet and ascend to join God.

In case any reader is not getting the parallel, John reminds us in Rev. 11:8 that all this happens in the great city where also their Lord was crucified. Obviously, the experience of the witnesses is to be understood as a reiteration of Jesus' own death and resurrection. The way the church is called to go, the way she is to take through the world of the end-time, is the way Jesus already has gone.

The way of the church is the way of Jesus. John is insistent on this point; he will make it at other places in other ways; he already has made it in the fifth seal when the saints' "How long?" was answered, "When the tally is complete of your brothers also giving themselves to the death in Christ's service." Yet know for a fact that this is not the way the church, in her own wisdom, is inclined to go. The way of the church, as we can observe it, tends more in the direction of organizing for corporate efficiency and power, asserting her own status, mounting crusades, trying to sweep the world off its feet, working to manipulate and dominate society, worrying about her own doctrinal nicety, building more stately mansions. This, while our call is to be the faithful witnesses who give, who expend themselves and allow themselves to be spent, who eschew dreams of power and aggrandizement in order to love their way relentlessly toward martyrdom. This, while the trauma of the times continues to mount and the saints ceaselessly cry, "How long, O Lord? How long?"

How long? It may be that the Lord is waiting for his church, waiting for his church to become the church. Sure as anything, there can't be a resurrection unless someone is willing to die first; if you won't bear the cross, then you can't wear the crown. How long, O Lord? How long?

But in John's picture, with the resurrection of the church, "Jerusalem" goes through her final throes. Many people are lost; but "the rest do homage to the God of heaven." Is that last word meant to suggest repentance--and thus the essential difference between "Jerusalem" and "Babylon"? In any case, Jerusalem continues to exist, exists to come back at the end of the story as the new Jerusalem. Even though what we said about her above is true--tragically true--the church will come through. John knows that; and we must have the faith to know it with him.

Rev. 11:14-19, Trumpet 7: Victory to our God!

14 The second woe has passed. The third woe is coming very soon.
15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord
    and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign forever and ever."
16 Then the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God,
17 Singing,
    "We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty,
    who are and who were,
    "for you have taken your great power
    and begun to reign.
    18 The nations raged,
    but your wrath has come,
    and the time for judging the dead,
    for rewarding your servants the prophets
    and saints and all who fear your name,
    both small and great,
    and for destroying those who destroy the earth."
19 Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his Covenant was seen within his temple there were flashes of lightning rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

The interlude vision has brought us through the church's fortunes of the end-time and up to the end itself. Verse 14 now returns us to the trumpets and announces that we are ready for No. 7--which is the end itself. The two lines of action converge very neatly. The final three trumpets earlier had been characterized as "woes" and are again here. No. 7, I guess, is a woe for those who are not part of the scene, but the scene itself is anything but "woeful."

Earlier, in the Seal Series, we found John reluctant to describe the end itself, presumably because he planned to back off and lead up to it again from another angle. Consequently, Seal 7 pictured only the hush before the end. John's same reluctance shows itself another way here; he still does not actually describe the end but jumps over it and pictures the joyful response attending it. He will back off another time or two before showing us the end for real.

The hymn of Rev. 11:15 makes a precise statement as to what is the basic significance of that point in history which we have been calling "the end": the sovereignty of the world changes hands. Now, of course, John knows and has sufficiently indicated that actually the sovereignty never has been anywhere except with "our Lord and his Messiah." Nevertheless, through the end-time it has appeared as though the forces of Evil were in control. What happens, then, in the "change of hands" is that the true state of affairs finally is revealed for what it always has been.

There is a neat touch in Rev. 11:17. The earlier threefold ascription to God, "who was and is and is to come," now has lost its final term. John sees that it is inappropriate at this point, because the heretofore "coming" God has come. The end (which is the parousia of Christ) is his coming. There is no need to look for God any longer; we see him.

Don't get squeamish over the words in Rev. 11:18: "wrath" and "judging." Above all, hear what John is saying before you decide what those words should imply. In the first place, notice that, most often when John uses words such as these, he is not necessarily talking about people but more likely about "the evil ones," the demons, the horsemen, the Evil Trinity--those entities that represent unmitigated evil, nothing but evil. People, for John, even "bad" people, come off somewhat differently. Yes, people do get seduced by evil, let themselves be used by it, give themselves over to it, are corrupted by it, are guilty of it. Nevertheless, they still are more the victims of Evil than the source of it--and John portrays God's recompense accordingly.

In the second place, take care not to read implications of cruelty, sadism, and vindictiveness into these terms until John forces you to do so. We have a responsibility to interpret each of John's scenes as being consistent with the overall emphasis and character of the book--do this just as long as it is possible to do so.

Finally, it is entirely proper and right for John, at this point, to speak of wrath and judging. In light of the heinous crimes against the church and humanity that John has portrayed, if God now were to ignore what has been going on, he would not be a good God, and history itself would turn out a vicious deceit. "Justice" is a godly, Christian value (built into the Bible from beginning to end) and "justice" does and must involve "wrath"--not vindictiveness, of course, but "just deserts," Evil's getting what it has asked for, tasting a little of what it has dished out. Jesus himself, the one who was love incarnate, easily can be quoted as supporting this principle; judgment and wrath are not contradictory to love but a necessary aspect of it. Those Christians who would like to improve the New Testament by writing this unpleasant aspect out of it are not---as they are inclined to be credited--superior "lovers"; they are sentimentalists who have not experienced or faced up to the real nature of life and the radical character of Evil.

Thus, the concluding line of the passage is very much in place; there must be a time to destroy those who destroy the earth--recalling that John has not been identifying the destroyers primarily as people. But those four horsemen have got to go--otherwise John's entire book is a mockery. Yet notice, too, that neither here nor anywhere in Revelation is there so much as a hint that the Christians are invited to organize themselves to go out and destroy the destroyers. The church--the same church that has declined the martyr-witness role for itself--often has volunteered for the role of destroyer of the destroyers--and always with the same results. Like lopping off ripe dandelions, it accomplishes only the scattering of the evil seed, with the church infesting itself in the process. "How long, O Lord? How long? For only your justice is just, and only you are great and good enough to undertake the destroying of those that destroy the earth!"

Rev. 11:19 is interesting. We see God's temple in heaven. But when we get to the climax of the book and the new Jerusalem, it will be specified that there is no temple, because mankind is living in the direct presence of God. Perhaps the temple here is an indication that, even in heaven, the end-state is not yet achieved; there is more that must happen.

John still is working at de-literalizing. The ark of the covenant had been lost in the Babylonian holocaust some six hundred years before John's time; but the heavenly temple has hung onto its specimen. John himself, of course, is a Christian who has rejected Jewish temple worship; and it is likely that, at the time he was writing, the Jerusalem temple itself already had been destroyed. Also, recall that his previous vision had pictured the desecration of the temple by the Gentiles. Yet, John wants to affirm, although the temple has been outmoded by Christianity and actually destroyed by the Romans, its real significance has not been lost and desecration is not the last word concerning it; it stands in heaven. Although he is very good at portraying trauma and destruction, John is a great believer in the idea that the true values of history will be and are being preserved.

Copyright (c) 1974