The first part of that week is the time of the great tribulation. But after the time of the great tribulation, after the church has been dead and her testimony has ceased for some time, Christ shall cause a certain revival. A spirit of life entered into them from God, and they stood upon their feet once more. A voice comes from heaven, and calls them up thither, and, they ascend into heaven in a cloud. At the same time an earthquake, a terrible earthquake, is felt, which destroyed a large part of the city, but which undoubtedly at the same time accompanies the resurrection of the saints. And the church has been delivered. In other words, before the time of the end, while the Antichrist and the Gog and Magog are still on earth, the church, shall be taken away from her shame and persecution and terrible suffering. The living saints shall be changed. Those that have died shall be raised. And the church of Christ shall be glorified. The days have been shortened for the elects’ sake.
In regard to the power of the Antichrist that still remains behind, the text tells us that one tenth of its power is destroyed. That is evidently the meaning of the destruction which is caused by the earthquake. One tenth part of the city is destroyed, and seven thousand people are killed. Ten is, as we have remarked before, the symbolic number which indicates the power that is given to the Antichrist by the decree of God. He has ten horns, has dominion over ten kingdoms,—all of which indicates that he has just as much power as God allows him. But now one tenth of his dominion is destroyed. Jerusalem at large, the holy city, that is spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, has, of course, developed into the power of the Antichrist and has served him in the culmination of his power. One tenth of that power is now taken away, that is, just as much as is in harmony with his existence. To take one tenth of his power and his dominion away simply means that he is definitely curtailed, so that he will not be able to maintain himself as Antichrist. And this is for a purpose. For a time they acknowledge the glory of God, just as Nebuchadnezzar would when he was witness of the power and glory of God. To a definite conversion it does not come. The time for conversion is now past. It is only a time for judgment. For the witness of the Word has been taken away, and the church is already in heaven. Terrible things shall still take place. Battles shall be fought between Antichrist and Gog and Magog, and the church shall be no more in tribulation. The time of her tribulation is past, and with Christ she reigns in glory, till she shall return with Him to judgment.
This, then, is the general picture we receive from this chapter and from other parts of Scripture. The true church, endowed with power and light from on high, will witness of the truth and of Christ throughout this dispensation. When the testimony is finished, the Antichrist will be allowed to develop and persecute the church. The time of the great tribulation shall follow, of which Scripture has warned us so frequently. But that time of great tribulation is to be cut short. At the darkest hour Christ shall deliver His church. History shall be continued for a while, with Antichrist and Gog and Magog as the inhabitants of the earth, till Christ shall come to judge with His church and shall establish His glorious kingdom forevermore. Now we are still in the twelve hundred and sixty days. We must still witness. Perhaps the days of tribulation will come soon. It seems as if we are fast becoming prepared for these days. But still the testimony is not finished. Still therefore it is the calling of the church and its ministry to witness. And the purpose of this picture is to spur us on to be faithful even unto the end, that no one may take our crown. And on the other hand, the people pf God; may be comforted by the fact that Christ shall not leave them alone, but that even the days shall be shortened for the elects’ sake.
The Blowing of the Seventh Trumpet
14. The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly.
15. 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.
16. And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God,
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
In order to gain a true understanding of this part of the book of Revelation it is of the utmost importance that we bear in mind the general character of the chapter in which it occurs. We have said that in this chapter we have a picture of the general course of history, of the history of the church in the midst of the world in the present dispensation, and that too, with a view to the end. It really covers the entire history. From that point of view, the book of Revelation might have closed with this chapter. But we must remember that it is only a general picture, a picture that gives us very general outlines. And the details of that picture shall be presented to us in the chapters that follow. It might be called the general program that is to be worked out in the succeeding chapters, or, if you please, the general index of the book from here on. In it we found a general characterization of the condition of the church in this world. The temple was measured, and we found that the distinction was made between the holy city at large, the outer court, and the real holy place with its worshippers,—a distinction which we found to be applicable to the condition of the church in the new dispensation. There is always a Christendom in the general sense of the word, including all that belong to nominal Christianity in the outward sense, all that have been baptized in the name of the Triune God. But within this largest circle of Christianity there is, in the first place, the false church, that does no more adhere to the Christ, but tramples the blood of atonement under foot. And in the second place, within the same sphere of Christianity in general there is also the show church, that enters with the true people of God in the sanctuary, but that does not worship with them in spirit and in truth. And finally, there is the true church, the body of the true believers, that are implanted into Christ by a true and living faith. And this distinction will become more plain, will be emphasized, toward the time of the end in such a way that the show church of hypocrites will fall away and identify themselves with the false church, the enemies of Christ, and ultimately ally themselves with the power of Antichrist.
We found in this chapter a general picture of the calling and work of the true church in the midst of the world. They must be and are witnesses for Christ. They are the two witnesses. The believers, the church and its ministers, the servants of God, will witness throughout this dispensation, even to the time of the end. They prophesy not only in the midst of the world that does not know the Christ and the gospel, but prophesy also against the wickedness of the false church, in the midst of which they exist as a living testimony. We found that over against these enemies their word becomes a fire, consuming the enemy, so that he cannot prevail against them in the spiritual sense. We found that these two witnesses perform wonders; even as Elijah and Moses of old, they shut the heaven with their spiritual power; turn the waters into blood, and have power to strike the earth with every plague. You will remember how we explained that all of this must be taken in the most literal sense of the word, as applying to the church of the new dispensation.
Finally, we found in this chapter a general indication of the final rise of the Antichrist, the beast that comes up out of the abyss. He oppresses the church. He persecutes the believers that witness against him and that perform these wonders. He kills some of them undoubtedly and succeeds in declaring the entire church of Christ dead, so that their testimony is silenced and they are the object of greatest scorn and contempt, as is expressed in the figure of their bodies lying unburied in the streets of Jerusalem for three days and a half. But we also find a general picture of the final victory, or rather, of the ultimate deliverance of the church. The days are shortened for their sake. They are raised, changed, and taken to heaven even before the time of the end and before the seventh trumpet will play the greatest havoc with the enemies of Christ and His kingdom. And now it is in that same general sense of the word that in the passage we are about to discuss we meet with the picture of the seventh trumpet.
In the fourteenth verse of this chapter, the first verse of the passage we are now discussing, we read: “The second woe is past; and, behold, the third woe cometh quickly.” This fact has led many interpreters to believe that all that is told us in chapter nine, verse 12, to eleven, verse 13, belongs to the second woe. You will remember that the eagle that flew in mid-heaven announced a three-fold woe, evidently corresponding with the three last trumpets. These last three trumpets, therefore, may very appropriately be called the woe trumpets. Now it is very evident from the text that the first woe, or the fifth trumpet, simply includes the plague of the locusts. All are agreed in this respect. But there is difference of opinion with regard to the second woe, or the sixth trumpet. There are interpreters who maintain that it includes all that is told us in chapter nine, verse 12, to eleven, verse 13, as I said above. According to this view, it includes the setting at liberty of the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates and all the deadly destruction caused by this. It includes, in the second place, all that is told us in chapter ten of the angel that stands on the sea and on the land and, of the open book John must swallow. And it includes, in the third place, all we have thus far discussed of the eleventh chapter: the measuring of the, temple, the witnessing of the two prophets, the rise of the Antichrist, and the deliverance of the church. But as we have already indicated in our discussion, we cannot agree with this and that for the simple reason that there is nothing woeful in chapter ten and in chapter eleven, verses 1 to 13, for the world. The woe trumpets evidently mean to cause woe not to the church but to the world. And from this point of view the last-mentioned portion cannot be classed together with chapter nine, verses 13 to 21, which speaks of the sixth trumpet. And therefore, our conception is that the second woe is recorded in chapter nine, verses 13 to 21, where the sixth trumpet ends. Then in chapter ten we have an interlude, assuring the people of God that the mighty Christ shall surely bring the kingdom and perfect it. And in the eleventh chapter we have a general picture of what will be described in detail in future chapters in connection with the seventh trumpet, or the third woe. That seventh trumpet, or third woe, John now announces and pictures in general terms. And therefore, immediately before this seventh trumpet he announces that the third woe cometh quickly.