Revelation 11
Benson Commentary
And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.
Revelation 11:1-2. And there was given me — By Christ, as appears from Revelation 11:3; a reed — As there was shown to Ezekiel, whose vision bore a great resemblance to this, Eze 40:-43. And the angel — Which had spoken to me before; stood by me, saying, Rise — Probably he was sitting to write; and measure the temple of God and the altar — The house and the inner court where the altar stood, in which the priests worshipped God and performed the duties of their office, and into which such as offered private sacrifices for themselves were admitted. A proper representation of the church of God and his true worship, and of such as were true worshippers of him. The reason, it seems, of St. John’s being commanded to measure the inner court and the temple was, to show that during all this period there were some true Christians, who conformed to the rule and measure of God’s word and worship. “Measuring the servants of God is equivalent to sealing them. The unmeasured tenants of the outer court, and the unsealed men throughout the Roman empire, are alike the votaries of the apostacy; while they that were measured and they that were sealed, are the saints who refused to be partakers of its abominations.” — Faber, vol. 2. p. 53. This measuring might allude more particularly to the Reformation from popery, which took place under the sixth trumpet. And one of the moral causes of it was the Othman’s taking Constantinople, which occasioned the Greek fugitives to bring their books with them into the more western parts of Europe, and proved the happy cause of the revival of learning; as the revival of learning opened men’s eyes, and proved the happy occasion of the Reformation. But though the inner court, which includes the smaller number, was measured, yet the outer court, which implies the far greater part, was left out, (Revelation 11:2,) and rejected, as being in the possession of those who were Christians only in name, but Gentiles in worship and practice, who profaned it with heathenish superstition and idolatry; and they shall tread under foot the holy city — They shall trample upon and tyrannise over the church of Christ, which shall be filled with idolaters, infidels, and hypocrites, possessing its most eminent and lucrative places, while true Christians are oppressed in a grievous manner; and that for the space of forty and two months, or twelve hundred and sixty days, thirty days being included in a month, the same period with that afterward termed a time, times, and a half time; that is, a year, two years, and half a year, or three years and a half, according to the ancient year of three hundred and sixty days, all which are prophetic numbers; so that twelve hundred and sixty days are twelve hundred and sixty years. Now it plainly appears from the predictions both of Daniel and St. John, that this period of persecution and trouble has no connection with the persecutions which the church endured from the pagan Roman emperors. We are, however, according to the same prophecies, to look for the promoters of it within the limits of the old Roman empire; and since that empire had embraced Christianity previous to its division into ten kingdoms, the little horn, which symbolizes one of these persecuting powers, and which is represented as being contemporary with the ten kingdoms, must be nominally Christian. And this is no other than the apostate Church of Rome, so minutely described by St. Paul, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, as well as by Daniel and St. John. And the two latter specify with much exactness the era from which the computation of the twelve hundred and sixty years is to be made. Daniel directs us to date them from the time when the saints were, by some public act of the state, delivered into the hand of the little horn: and St. John, in a similar manner, teaches us to date them from the time when the woman, the true church, fled into the wilderness from the face of the serpent; when the mystic city of God began to be trampled under foot by a new race of Gentiles, or idolaters; when the great Roman beast, which had been slain by the preaching of the gospel, revived in its bestial character, by setting up an idolatrous spiritual tyrant in the church; and when the witnesses began to prophesy in sackcloth. A date which, as Mr. Faber justly observes, can have no connection with the mere acquisition of a temporal principality by the pope, but must evidently be the year in which the bishop of Rome was constituted supreme head of the church, with the proud title of bishop of bishops: for, by such an act, the whole church was formally given, by the head of the Roman empire, into the hand of the little horn. This was the year 606, when the reigning emperor, Phocas, the representative of the sixth head of the beast, declared Pope Boniface to be universal bishop; at which time, the saints being delivered into his hand, the twelve hundred and sixty years of the apostacy, in its public and dominant capacity, commenced.

But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
Revelation 11:3-6. And I will give power unto my two witnesses — Here God promises to raise up some true and faithful witnesses to preach and protest against the innovations and inventions which he foresaw would corrupt Christianity, especially in the western parts of Europe. “Of these witnesses,” says Bishop Newton, “there should be, though but a small, yet a competent number; and it was a sufficient reason for making them two witnesses, because that is the number required by the law, and approved by the gospel, Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; and upon former occasions two have often been joined in commission, as Moses and Aaron in Egypt, Elijah and Elisha in the apostacy of the ten tribes, and Zerubbabel and Joshua after the Babylonish captivity, to whom these witnesses are particularly compared. Our Saviour himself sent forth his disciples, (Luke 10:1,) two and two; and it hath been observed also that the principal reformers have usually appeared, as it were, in pairs; as the Waldenses and Albigenses, John Huss and Jerome of Prague, Luther and Calvin, Cranmer and Ridley, and their followers. Not that I conceive that any two particular men, or two particular churches, were intended by this prophecy; but only that there should be some in every age, though but a few in number, who should bear witness to the truth, and declare against the iniquity and idolatry of their times. They should not be discouraged even by persecution and oppression, but, though clothed in sackcloth, and living in a mourning and afflicted state, should yet prophesy — Should yet preach the sincere word of God, and denounce the divine judgments against the reigning idolatry and wickedness: and this they should continue to do, as long as the grand corruption itself should last, for the space of twelve hundred and sixty days, which is the same space of time with the forty and two months, before mentioned, the period assigned for the tyranny and idolatry of the Church of Rome. The witnesses, therefore, cannot be any two men, or any two churches, but must be a succession of men, and a succession of churches.”

A character is then given of these witnesses, and of the power and effect of their preaching. These are the two olive-trees, and the two candlesticks, &c., Revelation 11:4 — That is, they, like Zerubbabel and Joshua, (Zechariah 4.,) are the great instructers and enlighteners of the church. Fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies, Revelation 11:5 — That is, they are like unto Moses and Elijah, (Numbers 16.; 2 Kings 1.,) who called for fire upon their adversaries. But their fire was real, this is symbolical, and proceedeth out of the mouth of the witnesses, denouncing the divine vengeance on the corrupters and opposers of true religion; much in the same manner as it was said to Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 5:14,) I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not, &c., Revelation 11:6 — That is, they are like Elijah, who foretold a want of rain in the days of Ahab, (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17,) and it rained not on the earth for the space of three years and six months, which, mystically understood, is the same space of time as the forty and two months, and the twelve hundred and sixty days, which are allotted for the prophesying of the witnesses. During this time the divine protection and blessing shall be withheld from those men who neglect and despise their preaching and doctrine. They have also power over the waters, &c. — That is, they are like Moses and Aaron, who inflicted these plagues on Egypt; and they may be said to smite the earth with the plagues which they denounce; for, in Scripture language, the prophets are often said to do those things which they declare and foretel. But it is most highly probable that these particulars will receive a more literal accomplishment when the plagues of God, and the vials of his wrath (chap. 16.) shall be fully poured out upon men, in consequence of their having so long resisted the testimony of the witnesses. Their cause and the cause of truth will finally be avenged on all their enemies.

These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.
These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.
Revelation 11:7-14. When they shall have finished their testimony, &c. — After the description of the power and office of the witnesses, follows a prediction of those things which shall befall them at the latter end of their ministry; and their passion, death, resurrection, and ascension, are copied from our Saviour’s, who is emphatically styled, (Revelation 3:14,) the faithful and true Witness; but with this difference, that his were real, theirs are figurative and mystical. And when they shall have finished — Οταν τελεσωσι, when they shall be about finishing their testimony, Revelation 11:7; the beast that ascendeth out of the abyss — The tyrannical power of Rome, of which we shall hear more hereafter; shall make war against them, and shall overcome and kill them — The beast indeed shall make war against them all the time that they are performing their ministry; but when they shall be near finishing it, he shall so make war against them as to overcome them, and kill them. They shall be subdued and suppressed, be degraded from all power and authority, be deprived of all offices and functions, and be politically dead, if not naturally so. In this low and abject state they shall lie some time, (Revelation 11:8,) in the street of the great city — In some conspicuous place within the jurisdiction of Rome; which spiritually is called Sodom — For corruption of manners; and Egypt — For tyranny and oppression of the people of God; where also our Lord was crucified spiritually — Being crucified afresh in the sufferings of his faithful martyrs. Nay, to show the greater indignity and cruelty to the martyrs, their dead bodies shall not only be publicly exposed, (Revelation 11:9,) but they shall be denied even the common privilege of burial, which is the case of many Protestants in Popish countries; and their enemies shall rejoice and insult over them, (Revelation 11:10,) and shall send mutual presents and congratulations one to another for their deliverance from these tormentors, whose life and doctrine were a continual reproach to them. But after three days and a half, (Revelation 11:11,) that is, in the prophetic style, after three years and a half, for no less time is requisite for all these transactions, they shall be raised again by the Spirit of God; and (Revelation 11:12) shall ascend up to heaven — They shall not only be restored to their pristine state, but shall be further promoted to dignity and honour; and that by a great voice from heaven — By the voice of public authority. At the same hour there shall be a great earthquake — There shall be commotions in the world; and the tenth part of the city shall fall — As an omen and earnest of a still greater fall; and seven thousand names of men, or seven thousand men of name, shall be slain; and the remainder, in their fright and fear, shall acknowledge the great power of God.

Some interpreters are of opinion that this prophecy, of the death and resurrection of the witnesses, received its completion in the case of John Huss and Jerome of Prague, who were two faithful witnesses and martyrs of the blessed Jesus, being condemned to death, and afterward burned for heresy, by the council of Constance. Others refer this prophecy to the Protestants of the league of Smalcald, who were entirely routed by the Emperor Charles V. in the battle of Mulburg, on the 24th of April, 1547, when the two great champions of the Protestants, John Frederic, elector of Saxony, was taken prisoner, and the landgrave of Hesse was forced to surrender himself, and to beg pardon of the emperor. Protestantism was then in a manner suppressed, and the mass restored. The witnesses were dead, but not buried; and the Papists rejoiced over them, and made merry, and sent gifts one to another. But this joy and triumph of theirs were of no very long continuance; for in the space of about three years and a half, the Protestants were raised again at Magdeburg, and defeated and took the duke of Mecklenburg prisoner, in December, 1550. From that time their affairs changed for the better almost every day; success attended their arms and councils; and the emperor was obliged, by the treaty of Passau, to allow them the free exercise of their religion, and to readmit them into the imperial chamber, from which they had, ever since the victory of Mulburg, been excluded. Here was indeed a great earthquake — A great commotion; in which many thousands were slain, and the tenth part of the city fell — A great part of the German empire renounced the authority, and abandoned the communion of the Church of Rome.

Some again may think this prophecy very applicable to the horrid massacre of the Protestants at Paris, and in other cities of France, begun on the memorable eve of St. Bartholomew’s day, 1572. According to the best authors there were slain thirty or forty thousand Huguenots in a few days; and among them, without doubt, many true witnesses and faithful martyrs of Jesus Christ. Their dead bodies lay in the streets of the great city; one of the greatest cities of Europe; for they were not suffered to be buried, being the bodies of heretics; but were dragged through the street, or thrown into the river, or hung upon gibbets, and exposed to public infamy. Great rejoicings too were made in the courts of France, Rome, and Spain; they went in procession to the churches, they returned public thanks to God, they sang Te Deums, they celebrated jubilees, they struck medals; and it was enacted that St. Bartholomew’s day should ever afterward be kept with double pomp and solemnity. But neither was this joy of long continuance; for in little more than three years and a half Henry III., who succeeded his brother Charles, entered into a treaty with the Huguenots, which was concluded and published on the 14th of May, 1576, whereby all the former sentences against them were reversed, and the free and open exercise of their religion was granted to them; they were to be admitted to all honours, dignities, and offices, as well as the Papists. But others again apply this prophecy to the poor Protestants in the valleys of Piedmont, who by a cruel edict of their sovereign the duke of Savoy, instigated by the French king, were imprisoned and murdered, or banished in the latter end of the year 1686. They were kindly received and succoured by the Protestant states; and after a while, secretly entering Savoy with their swords in their hands, they regained their ancient possessions with great slaughter of their enemies; and the duke himself, having then left the French interest, granted them a full pardon; and re-established them, by another edict, signed June 4, 1690, just three years and a half after their total dissipation. Bishop Lloyd not only understood the prophecy in this manner, but, what is very remarkable, made the application even before the event took place, as Mr. Whiston relates; and upon this ground encouraged a refugee minister, of the Vaudois, whose name was Jordan, to return home; and returning, he heard the joyful news of the deliverance and restitution of his country. These were indeed most barbarous persecutions of the Protestants, both in France and Savoy; and at the same time Popery here in England was advanced to the throne, and threatened an utter subversion of our religion and liberties; but in a little more than three years and a half, a happy deliverance was wrought by the glorious revolution. Connected with the witnesses in the valleys of Piedmont, and agreeing in their leading doctrines, in opposition to the Church of Rome, were those called Lollards in England; and many in other countries embraced the same doctrines in those times, and preached or professed them at the hazard of their lives; and great numbers were burned, or put to death in the most cruel manner, for so doing. “The visible assemblies,” says Gibbon, “of the Albigeois were extirpated by fire and sword; and the bleeding remnant escaped by flight, concealment, or catholic conformity. But the invincible spirit which they had kindled still lived and breathed in the western world. In the state, in the church, and even in the cloister, a latent succession was preserved of the disciples of St. Paul, who protested against the tyranny of Rome, embraced the Bible as the rule of faith, and purified their creed from all the visions of the Gnostic theology. The struggles of Wickliffe in England, and of Huss in Bohemia, were premature and ineffectual; but the names of Zuinglius, Luther, and Calvin, are pronounced with gratitude as the deliverers of nations.” A striking testimony this from an enemy of Christianity, to the fulfilment of the divine predictions. At length, “Luther arose, and the Reformation took place; since which time the same testimony to the truth of Christ, and against the errors of antichrist, hath been maintained. Nor does it appear that the term is yet expired; the witnesses are not indeed at present exposed to such terrible sufferings as in former times; but,” as Mr. Scott observes, and as Bishop Newton and many other eminent divines have believed, “those scenes may be reacted before long, for what any man can foreknow; and they have abundant cause to prophesy in sackcloth, on account of the declined state of religion even in the Protestant churches.”

And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.
And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.
And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly.
And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
Revelation 11:15-18. And the seventh angel sounded, &c. — With the sounding of this angel, the third wo commences, which is rather implied than expressed, as it will be described more fully hereafter. The third wo brought on the inhabitants of the earth, is the ruin and downfall of the antichristian kingdom: and then, and not till then, according to the heavenly chorus, the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever — St. John is rapt and hurried away as it were to a view of the happy millennium, without considering the steps preceding and conducting to it. At the same time, the four and twenty elders — Or the ministers of the church, (Revelation 11:16-18,)

are represented as praising and glorifying God, for manifesting his power and kingdom more than he had done before. They give likewise an intimation of some succeeding events, as the anger of the nations, Gog and Magog, (Revelation 20:8,) and the wrath of God, displayed in their destruction, (Revelation 20:9,) and the rewarding of all the good, small and great, as well as the punishing of the wicked. Here we have only a summary account of the circumstances and occurrences of the seventh trumpet, but the particulars will be dilated and enlarged upon hereafter. And thus are we arrived at the consummation of all things, through a series of prophecies, extending from the apostle’s days to the end of the world. It is this series which has been our clew to conduct us in our interpretation of these prophecies: and though some of them may be dark and obscure, considered in themselves, yet they receive light and illustration from others preceding and following. All together, they are, as it were, a chain of prophecies, whereof one link depends on and supports another. If any parts remain yet obscure and unsatisfactory, they may perhaps be cleared up by what the apostle himself hath added by way of explanation.

And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God,
Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.
And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.
And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament: and there were lightnings, and voices, and thunderings, and an earthquake, and great hail.
Revelation 11:19. And the temple of God — Bishop Newton and Grotius think that this verse should introduce chap. 12., as it appears to begin a new subject. It is somewhat like the beginning of Isaiah’s vision, (Revelation 6:1,) I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, &c. And like the beginning of St. John’s prophetic vision, (Revelation 4:1-2,) I looked, and behold a door was opened in heaven, &c. This is much in the same spirit; and the temple of God was opened in heaven, &c. — That is, more open discoveries were now made, and the mystery of God was revealed to the prophet. And there were lightnings and voices, &c. — These are the usual concomitants of the divine presence, and especially at giving new laws and new revelations: see Exodus 20:16, &c.; Revelation 4:5; Revelation 8:5. And with as much reason they are made, in this place, the signs and preludes of the revelations and judgments which are to follow. It is no just objection that a new subject is supposed to begin with the conjunction and, for this is frequent in the style of the Hebrews; some books, as Numbers, Joshua, the two books of Samuel, and others, begin with וvau, or and; and the same objection would hold against beginning the division with the first verse of the next chapter.

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Revelation 10
Top of Page
Top of Page