Rev. 11:7 – When they finish their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, conquer them, and kill them. 8Their dead bodies will lie in the public square of the great city, which is called, prophetically, Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9And representatives from the people, tribes, languages, and nations will view their bodies for three and a half days and not permit their bodies to be put into a tomb. 10Those who live on the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who live on the earth. (HCSB)
The beast will conquer them and kill them
But the witnesses’ time is limited. John notes that when they finish their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, conquer them, and kill them (v. 7). The two witnesses – these two lampstands and olive trees – do not speak the word of the Lord or perform miracles indefinitely. The Lord ordains a time for them to speak and a time to suffer.
It is always this way with God’s witnesses. They are sent for a time, and until that time is fulfilled, no one can shut their mouths or do them harm. Noah preaches for 120 years and God protects him from the wicked, who no doubt mock and threaten him. Elijah prophesies against Ahab and Jezebel, and they cannot silence him until they are dead and the Lord calls His prophet into heaven. Stephen preaches a profound message of judgment and hope, and not even the ambitious young Pharisee Saul can close his mouth until the last word is spoken.
This is not to say that the Lord’s anointed never suffer or find themselves in need, for this often is the case. But it is to say that when Yahweh calls a person to testify on His behalf, that person may be assured that nothing will prevent him or her from accomplishing their task until it is completed.
The same is true of these two witnesses. While they are speaking of the priestly and kingly roles of the Messiah, no one can touch them. Those who merely entertain the thought of doing them harm are consumed by fire from the prophets’ mouths. All those who hear the prophets and rebel must face the very real possibility that they will be consumed by fire, thirst or plague. And when the message has reached the intended ears and the Lord’s work has been fulfilled, then the Lord lifts His hand of protection and allows His witnesses to be slain.
John writes that the beast, who comes up out of the abyss and makes war with them, conquers them and kills them. By saying the beast “makes war,” John may be implying that the witnesses fight back. But our sovereign Lord allows the beast to conquer and then kill His two lampstands. We are not told whether their testimony is received and believed, or simply heard and rejected. But we do know that the wicked of the earth are infuriated by their message and their miracles. They want the two olive trees cut down, the two lampstands toppled. And the beast is able to make it happen.
The beast will “conquer” them, John records. “The irony of using the word ‘conquer’ to speak of the death of the witnesses is that, while it may briefly look like the beast is victorious (Rv 11:11-12), these witnesses, as martyrs, conquered through the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (12:11)” (The Apologetics Study Bible, note on Rev. 11:7, p. 1901).
A gruesome public display
John records that the corpses of the two witnesses lie in the public square – or on the broad street – of the “great city, which is called, prophetically, Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (v. 8). Clearly, this is a reference to Jerusalem, and the Holy Spirit’s choice of certain terms to describe it is revealing. It is “the great city,” the usual way of referring to Babylon the Great in Revelation (for example, 17:18; 18:10). In addition, Jerusalem is likened to Sodom and Egypt, whose people are infamous for their immorality and idolatry. We are being shown just how wicked most inhabitants of the Holy City are at this time. The killing of the two witnesses – which in some ways parallels Jesus’ death – along with the refusal to grant them a proper burial and the exuberant celebration that lasts three and a half days reflect the depravity of the city’s people. The prophet Isaiah long ago compared the apostate Jerusalem of his day to Sodom (Isa. 1:10). The city has a storied history of both faithfulness and corruption.
At the news of the witnesses’ death, representatives from “the peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will view their bodies for three and a half days and not permit their bodies to be put into a tomb” (v. 9). This is a telling statement. While a vast multitude of people from “every nation, tribe, people, and language” stand before the throne and before the Lamb in worship (Rev. 7:9), the same people groups on earth send representatives to gloat over the death of the Lamb’s witnesses. It is thrilling to know that every nation, language, and ethnicity will be represented in heaven, but it’s also sobering to know that no people group is exempt from harboring antichrists who celebrate the perceived extermination of God’s great servants.
Those who exult in the death of the witnesses “gloat over them and celebrate and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who live on the earth” (v. 10). It seems the beast who comes out of the abyss has won a great victory.
The identity of the beast
Who is this beast? This is the first mention in Revelation of an evil beast, although we will see him again. In fact, this beast is mentioned in at least nine other verses in Revelation:
- Rev. 13:1 – “And I saw a beast coming up out of the sea. He had 10 horns and seven heads. On his horns were 10 diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.”
- Rev. 14:9 – “And a third angel followed them and spoke with a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand …’”
- Rev. 14:11 – “… There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or anyone who receives the mark of his name.”
- Rev. 15:2 – “I saw something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had won the victory over the beast, his image, and the number of his name, were standing on the sea of glass with harps from God.”
- Rev. 16:2 – “The first went and poured out his bowl on the earth, and severely painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and who worshiped his image.”
- Rev. 17:3 – “So he carried me away in the Spirit to a desert. I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and 10 horns.”
- Rev. 17:13 – “These have one purpose, and they give their power and authority to the beast.”
- Rev. 19:20 – “But the beast was taken prisoner, and along with him the false prophet, who had performed the signs in his presence. He deceived those who accepted the mark and those who worshiped his image with these signs. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.”
- Rev. 20:10 – “The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
It should be noted that there is a second beast in Revelation: the beast that comes up, not from the abyss or the sea, but from the earth. This beast also is called the false prophet and will be dealt with later.
The Greek word translated “beast” properly means a wild beast. The prophets often spoke of pagan states as terrifying beasts that warred against God’s people (Ps. 87:4; 89:10; Isa. 51:9; Dan. 7:3-8, 16-25). This prompts some commentators to conclude that the beast is ancient Rome, or even that the two beasts are Rome and apostate Israel, who conspire together to kill the last of the Old Testament prophets (John the Baptist) and the Messiah. The rulers, priests, competing religious factions, Roman soldiers, criminals, passersby – all mock and rejoice at Jesus’ death. And for three days they place a guard at His tomb to ensure He remains no threat to their way of life. There is a violent earthquake, however, on the day Jesus dies, and many Old Testament saints are resurrected when Jesus rises from the dead. Jesus appears for 40 days and then is taken up into heaven. So, these events support the view that the beast symbolizes a nation or empire.
Other commentators view the beast as the papal church. Beginning with Pope Innocent III in the 12th century, there is an effort to exterminate every trace of resistance to the pope’s authority.
The third Lateran Council of 1179 leads to a declaration of war against “heretics,” followed in 1231 by the Inquisitions. Just as the scriptures predict that the enemies of the two witnesses will not allow their bodies to be buried, the Roman church, by papal decry, denies burial to those branded as heretics. By 1514, the efforts to silence the witnesses appear successful. There is an announcement that there is “an end of resistance to the Papal rule and religion; opposers there exist no more.” As a result, Pope Leo X and other leaders engage in great festivities. But the Reformation will cut the party short.
Those who take a spiritualist approach to Revelation argue that the beast represents anti-Christian powers in the world that seek to silence the church’s witness. This opposition may be especially intense in the days before Christ’s return, when it would seem the very gates of hades nearly prevail over the church, rendering it a dim, almost unseen light in the world. Jesus will never, of course, permit a complete rout of His Body (Matt. 16:18).
Some futurists contend that there are three beasts. The beast that comes out of the abyss (Rev. 11:7) is Satan. The beast out of the sea is the Antichrist (Rev. 13:1). And the beast out of the land is the false prophet (Rev. 13:11). “This unholy trinity is the satanic counterfeit of the divine Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (John Walvoord, quoted in Revelation: FourViews, p. 235). Other futurists say the beast out of the abyss and the beast out of the sea are one in the same. In any case, these beasts emerge in the coming tribulation. For the first three and a half years they can do no harm to the two witnesses. But then the Lord allows the Antichrist and his followers to make war with the witnesses and kill them. Their dead bodies are on parade for three and a half days, enabling the world’s wicked, with their seared consciences, to gloat over them. The worldwide celebration, broadcast to the world via television, will be dramatically cut short when the two witnesses are raised from the dead.
Whoever this beast is, several truths emerge:
- He comes out of the abyss, a special place where some demons are confined until judgment day. Whether the beast is Satan, a human being, or an institution, he is connected to and empowered by demonic forces.
- God is sovereign over his power and influence. The beast can do nothing to the two witnesses until their ministry is completed and the Lord draws back His restraining hand.
- He hates God and God’s people. As soon as he is able, he wages war against the two witnesses. His violence toward the witnesses exposes a deeper animosity toward Yahweh.
- His victory is hollow. The worldwide celebration that follows the death of the two witnesses is stunningly cut short by their resurrection and ascension into heaven.
- His ultimate destiny is the lake of fire.
There is much in Revelation we may not know with certainty, such as the identity of the two witnesses, or whether the beast is an individual or an institution. But there always are important truths to glean from God’s word. So, as we continue our study, let’s make sure we hold fast to these truths and see the less certain details in their light.
Next: The breath of God entered them (Rev. 11:11-12)