Rev. 11:13 – At that moment a violent earthquake took place, a tenth of the city fell, and 7,000 people were killed in the earthquake. The survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14The second woe has passed. Take note: the third woe is coming quickly! (HCSB)
The survivors gave glory to the God of heaven
John writes that the “survivors” of the earthquake are “terrified” and give “glory to the God of heaven” (v. 13). His use of the word “survivors” implies the death of some – perhaps people, human institutions or world systems. Those still alive see the hand of God in these events and are shaken to the bone with fear. Fear of the Lord can be a good thing, starting us on a journey of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Or, it can move us further away from God, motivating us to hide from His presence (Rev. 6:15-17). Or, it can inspire awe, leading us to exclaim, “We have seen incredible things today” (Luke 5:26).
Commentators are divided as to whether the survivors’ fear in this passage drives them to repentance or merely elicits a response designed to appease an angry God. Elsewhere in Revelation, the wicked stubbornly refuse to turn to God despite the clear understanding that God is bringing His judgments to bear on the earth. After the sixth trumpet is sounded, “The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshipping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood … And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts” (Rev. 9:20-21). As the fourth bowl judgment is poured out, the wicked who are burned by fire “blasphemed the name of the God who had the power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give God the glory” (Rev. 16:9). And as the fifth bowl judgment follows, plunging people into darkness, they “gnawed their tongues from pain and blasphemed the God of heaven … yet they did not repent of their actions” (Rev. 16:11).
People may proclaim the name of God in many ways. They may profane it in utter rejection of their Creator. They may beseech Him with it, seeking deliverance from trouble or good favor in a time of need. Or they may call on the name of the Lord in belief and repentance, receiving the gift of eternal life. As John records the cries of the survivors in Revelation 11, it appears they acknowledge Him as the God of heaven, but it is less clear that they do so in humble obeisance. Remember, even the demons believe in God – and shudder (James 2:19).
How do supporters of the four major interpretations of Revelation view the two witnesses we encounter in chapter 11?
- Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – concede the difficulty of interpreting this passage. Citing Zech. 4:11-14, which seems to speak of the high priest Joshua and the governor Zerubbabel, some preterists see the two witnesses as personal representatives of religion and government. Others see the two men as summarizing all the witnesses of the Old Covenant, culminating in the witness of John the Baptist, who is likened to Elijah. Still others state their belief that these two witnesses are James and Peter, both of whom die martyrs’ deaths in Jerusalem (although many argue that Peter died in Rome).
- Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – say the two witnesses represent the Waldenses, Albigenses, and others who stand for Christ during the 1,260 years of the papacy prior to the Reformation. The fire that proceeds from their mouths is not to be taken any more literally than the words of the Lord to Jeremiah: “I am going to make My words become fire in your mouth. These people are the wood, and the fire will consume them” (Jer. 5:14). Further, they argue, all sorts of plagues and other calamities befall those who persecute true believers, therefore John’s words are fulfilled in the lives of the Lord’s faithful witnesses and their papal enemies. Some even argue that there is a continuous shedding of blood recorded along the waterways of Europe during these days.
- Futurists – who say the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – generally understand the two witnesses to be two men who will emerge to prophesy in Jerusalem during the Tribulation. The similarity of their miracles to those of Moses and Elijah lead some to believe these witnesses are indeed these two men, standing for the law and the prophets. Their appearance with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration provides further support of this view. Some, however, argue that the two men are Enoch and Elijah, the only individuals in scripture called into heaven without meeting the universal appointment of death (Heb. 9:27). Not all futurists say these witnesses are two men. Some contend they are symbols of the witnessing church in the last days, while others see a blending of the symbolic and the specific, with two actual men who lead a larger group of witnesses.
- Some idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – argue that the two men symbolize Christ’s witnesses throughout the church age. Though the church is one, the two witnesses support the truthfulness of their testimony, since “the witness of two men is valid” (John 8:17; see Deut. 17:6; 19:15). The witnesses are clothed in sackcloth because they bring a message of repentance. The two olive trees remind us of the high priest Joshua and the governor Zerubbabel (Zech. 4), who are God’s agents of restoration after the exile. The miracles suggest that the power once residing in the law (Moses) and prophets (Elijah) are now given to the church. The deadly fire coming out of the witnesses’ mouths suggests the power of the Word of God; those who oppose it bring swift destruction upon themselves. And while the church age has offered up countless martyrs for the cause of Christ, the church itself is indestructible.
Next: The woman, the dragon, and the child — Rev. 12:1-6