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.
Rev. 8:10 – The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water. 11The name of the star is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood. So, many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter (HCSB).
A great star fell from heaven
John writes that “a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven.” This star is given the name Wormwood, meaning absinthe, a bitter herb. The word “star” appears 73 times in 69 verses in the Bible (HCSB). Generally, it refers to any luminous heavenly body other than the sun and moon. The vast number of stars speaks to God’s creative power and the magnitude of His blessing. For example, He tells Abram that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars (Gen. 15:5, 22:17, 26:4). Pre-Christian astronomers mapped about 3,000 stars, but scripture indicates a far greater number, confirmed by Galileo at the beginning of telescopic astronomy. Today, we know that our own galaxy, the Milky Way, sports more than 100 billion stars. It takes light 100,000 years to cross it. Billions of other galaxies have been observed, up to 10 billion light years away. The God who created them determines their number and calls them by name (Ps. 147:4).
Throughout human history there has been the temptation to worship the stars, but Yahweh, who is greater than the sum of all creation, calls on us to worship Him alone (Deut. 4:19; Jer. 7:18; Amos 5:26; Acts 7:43). Stars play a vital role as signs in God’s acts of redemption and judgment (Is. 13:10; Eze. 32:7; Dan. 8:10; Joel 2:10, 3:15; Matt. 24:29; Mark 13:25; Luke 21:25; Rev. 6:13, 8:10-12, 9:1).
The star heralding Jesus’ birth is mentioned in Matthew 2. Commentators generally offer three possible explanations: a major comet, a planetary conjunction, or a supernova. The Chinese recorded a tailed comet that was visible for 70 days in 5 B.C. A planetary conjunction occurs when two or more stars appear to stand close to one another, as Jupiter and Saturn did three times in 7 B.C.; the Magi could have seen this as a sign that a significant event was about to occur. A supernova occurs when a star explodes with astonishing brightness – perhaps a million times as bright as the sun – before fading into obscurity. These are rarely seen and would have been a stunning sign in the heavens. One other possible explanation is that the Lord created a special star just for the occasion of His Son’s birth.
“The word ‘star’ is also used metaphorically without astronomical reference, usually to imply dignity, either innate or usurped (Jb. 38:7; Dn. 12:3; Rev. 1:16, 20; 2:1; 3:1; 12:1; 22:16)” (D.R.W. Wood and I.H. Marshall, New Bible Dictionary, 3rd Edition, p. 1132).
But what, or who, is this “star” called Wormwood? The word, in the botanist’s language, is Artemisia absinthium, a plant with silvery, silky haired leaves and drooping yellow flowers, yielding a bitter, dark-green oil used in absinthe. The name the Greeks gave it, absinthion, means undrinkable. The word occurs nine times in eight verses in the Bible (HCSB). In Prov. 5:3-4, Solomon warns his son against the lure of the forbidden woman: Though her “lips drip honey and her words are smoother than oil, in the end she’s as bitter as wormwood, and as sharp as a double-edged sword.” In Jer. 9:15, the God of Israel tells idolatrous Judah, “I am about to feed this people wormwood and give them poisonous water to drink.” A similar declaration is made to the prophets in Jer. 23:15.
The author of Lamentations uses “wormwood” twice to describe his affliction at the hand of God (3:15, 19). In Amos the Lord rebukes those who “turn justice into wormwood” (5:7) and “the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (6:12); some translators in this verse render it “hemlock.” No doubt the word is used to describe bitterness, affliction, remorse or punitive suffering.
So when we get to Rev. 8:11, where the word is used twice, it seems clear that God is sending this bitterness as judgment against those who stubbornly rebel against Him, cling to their idols and persecute the saints. Still, is wormwood the name of a celestial body, or perhaps a meteorite, or an angelic creature?
“Some take this to be a political star, some eminent governor, and they apply it to Augustulus, who was forced to resign the empire to Odoacer, in the year 480. Others take it to be an ecclesiastical star, some eminent person in the church, compared to a burning lamp, and they fix it upon Pelagius, who proved about this time a falling star, and greatly corrupted the churches of Christ” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, Rev. 8:7-13).
Commentators also compare the star to heretics like Arius, a church leader in Alexandria who denies the deity of Christ and becomes the focus of attention at the First Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Emperor Constantine orders the burning of his writings while Arius is yet alive. Still other interpreters see this star as some future Christian leader who poisons the church with false doctrines, resulting in a widespread dearth of spiritual life.
In any case, if Wormwood is a false teacher in the church, he or she turns life-giving spiritual springs into deadly Marahs (see Ex. 15:23). Some argue that the cross of Christ is the fulfillment of the sweetening wood at Marah. Just as Yahweh gives Moses the wood and it absorbs all the bitterness of Marah, the Lord also gives His Son who takes upon Himself the sin of the world, resulting in living water for all who trust in Him. Perhaps Wormwood is a false teacher, or even a false Messiah, who deceives many into believing they can quench their spiritual thirst with waters from the Dead Sea.
Interestingly, just as Moses tosses a piece of wood into the water at Marah to make it drinkable, the wormwood of Revelation 8 makes the sweet waters bitter. This is why some scholars say we should read Rev. 8:10-11 literally, for just as Moses and the people deal with real water in Exodus, so the people suffering under the third trumpet must be experiencing a similar physical thirst.
Next: It fell on a third (Rev. 8:10-11)
Objection 3: The books of the Bible were chosen arbitrarily by councils of men in highly political processes. As a result, they left out some very good books – perhaps some equally inspired writings.
Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, compiled a list of the 27 books we now know as the New Testament in 367 A.D. He also was the first person in the church to use the word “canon,” which comes from the Greek kanon and means measure or rule. The councils of Carthage (393 A.D.) and Hippo (397 A.D.) fixed the final list of New Testament books, but it’s important to note that the question of which books were truly “scripture” was being addressed long before this. Even more important, Christians believe the Holy Spirit, who authored scripture, also managed its preservation and organization (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21).
Four developments prompted the church to act to “close” the canon: 1) heretics began circulating false writings; 2) counterfeit books, falsely written under the name of an apostle, began to appear; 3) Christianity spread to new lands, and missionaries needed to know which books should be translated into the native languages; 4) the edict of Diocletian (A.D. 303) ordered the destruction of the Christians’ sacred writings and threatened death for those who refused; believers needed to know which books were worth dying for.
The early church used a number of criteria in discerning which books belonged in the canon: 1) Evidence/claims of inspiration; 2) apostolic origin (written by an apostle or an associate who preserved the apostle’s teaching), the only exceptions being granted to James and Jude, brothers of Jesus who became followers after His death and resurrection; 3) written while the apostles were still alive; 4) general acceptance and use by the church and in continuous use in worship services; 5) agreement with accepted and undisputed scripture.
What about the Apocrypha, a collection of 14 books of Jewish history and tradition written from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D.? The argument against these books includes the following: 1) The Jews never accepted these books as scripture and did not include them in their Bible; 2) any acceptance the books enjoyed was local and temporary; 3) no major church council included these books in scripture; 4) many of the books contain errors; 5) some books include teachings that contradict scripture; 6) neither Jesus nor the New Testament quoted from the Apocrypha even though they quoted from the Old Testament hundreds of times; 7) the Christian churches that accepted these books did so many centuries after the Canon was closed.
The term “Bible” derives from the Greek word biblion (book); the earliest use of la biblia in the sense of “Bible” is found in 2 Clement 2:14, around 150 A.D.
Next — Objection 4: It’s silly to assume that one book – the Bible – contains all of God’s truth and that other great writings, from the Vedas to the Book of Mormon, do not come from God.