Who is the Woman in Revelation 12?

After John sees the doors to the heavenly temple opened, a great sign appeared in heaven. The vision in Revelation 12 describes a war in heaven followed by a war on earth. The dragon attacks a woman and her child, forcing her to flee into the wilderness for a period of time where she will be protected by God.

Revelation 12 has been described as being “consciously or nor, considered as the center and key to the entire book” (Prigent, Apocalypse 12, 1, cited by Beale 621). The description of the woman is highly symbolic as if John describing with words. This is certainly the case in Revelation 17 although it is less clear in chapter 12.

Woman with Gragon, Bamburg

The first great sign is a pregnant woman “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” The second sign is a “great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems” who makes war in heaven and is cast down to the earth. The description of the great red dragon with multiple heads and crowns is familiar to readers of Daniel. (I plan on discussing the war in heaven in a separate section.)

The woman is clothed in the sun, feet on the moon and has a crown of twelve stars. The number twelve calls to mind the regular use of twelve in the Old Testament for the sons of Jacob and the twelve tribes comprising the nation of Israel. In Genesis 37 the sun and moon represent Jacob and Rachel in Joseph’s dream. Song of Songs 6:10 describes the bride’s beauty as like the moon and sun. Greg Beale surveys a range of rabbinic literature which interprets Song of Songs 6:10 faithful Israel (Beale, Revelation, 625 citing Midrash Rab Exod. 15.6; Num 2.4, Num 9:14).

Who is the woman and her child? As with most things in Revelation, there have been a wide range of views from the Egyptian goddess Isis (the “queen of the cosmos,” (Yarbro Collins, Combat Myth, 71–76) to the American Revolutionary War and Civil War (Alan Johnson, “The Bible and War in America: An Historical Survey,” JETS 28 (1985): 169-181).

The two most common views take the woman as a symbol for either Israel or the church. That the woman represents the church has been a common view in the history of the church. of the woman is that she represents the church, since her offspring are attacked by the power of the beast. Medieval commentators often interpreted the woman as Mary and the child as Christ.

For many writers these are not mutually exclusive. Mounce, for example, observes there is one continuous people of God through redemptive history, so it should not be a surprise the imagery refers to both Israel and the church (Mounce, Revelation, 236). However, since this is a Jewish Christian apocalypse, an emphasis on the Jewish-ness of this image is important.

The woman represents the Jewish people as the persecuted people of God and her child is the Messiah. The metaphor of Israel or Zion as husband to the Lord is common (Hosea 1-3; Isa 54:1-55; Jer 3:20; Ezek 16:8-14). In Isaiah 49 Zion believes she has been abandoned by her husband; her children scattered throughout the word (in the exile). The Lord restores her children (the end of the exile) and tells her to “expand her tents” because so many children will return to her (54:2-8) and her marriage is restored (Isa 62:1-5). Isaiah 62:1-5 may be important for understanding the imagery of Revelation 12. When Zion is restored, she will be given a new name and she will be like a crown of splendor and a royal diadem in the hand of the Lord (Isa 62:3).

The woman gives birth to a son. John describes this child with allusions to several messianic texts from the Old testament. In Isaiah 66:7 Zion goes into labor and gives birth to a son. The time before the messianic ages is often described as birth pangs. For example, Jesus said the non-signs leading up to the final conflagration were birth (Matthew 24:8; cf., Paul. 1 Thessalonians 5:3). The child will “rule all the nations with an iron scepter.” This is clear allusion to Psalm 2:9, a text regularly interpreted as messianic in the Second Temple period.

The child was “snatched up to God and to his throne.” This seems like a clear allusion to the ascension. But there are problems with that interpretation. The child is born, threatened by the dragon, and then immediately snatched to heaven. It seems strange a Christian apocalypse would not make some reference to the cross and resurrection. In addition, this “snatching” rescues from the power of the dragon. After the resurrection, Jesus did not need to be rescued, he had already overcome the powers of evil. It is possible, however, the birth and ascension refer to the totality of Jesus’s mission.

The word translated “caught up” (ESV) or “snatched” (NIV is the aorist passive of ἁρπάζω. The word refers to rescue from danger with the connotation of a sudden, violent pulling away, “in such a way that no resistance is offered” (BDAG). Although Paul the word in 1 Thessalonians 4 17, the catching away of the child in Revelation 12 does not refer to the rapture of the church.

The War of the Dragon – Revelation 12-15

Revelation 12-15 is a major section of the book patterned in the same style as the other three sets of seven in the book (seals, trumpets and bowls). Each unit begins with “and I saw” (καί εἶδον). The seven units have the same 4 + 2 + 1 pattern with a brief interlude between the sixth and seventh unit. The larger section is framed by the word “sign” (σημεῖον) in 12:1, 3 and 15:2. Revelation 11:19 refers to the opening of the doors of the temple, Revelation 15:5-8 refer to the opening of the sanctuary of the tent in heaven.

Opening of the doors of the heavenly temple (11:19)

  • 12:1-18    The War of the Dragon (vs. 1, 3 a great sign, σημεῖον)
  • 13:1-11    The First Beast, from the Sea (καί εἶδον)
  • 13:11-18  The Second Beast, from the Earth (καί εἶδον)
  • 14:1-5      The Lamb and the 144,000 (καί εἶδον)
  • 14:6-13    The Three Angels (καί εἶδον)
  • 14:14-20  The Son of Man’s Harvest of the Earth (καί εἶδον)
  • (Interlude: 15:1, introduction of the seven vials)
  • 15:2-4      The Saint’s Victory over the Beast (καί εἶδον; 15:2, third sign, σημεῖον)

Opening of the sanctuary of the tent in heaven (15:5-8)

This outline is drawn from Greg Beale’s commentary, although I have added the opening of the two heavenly sanctuaries. Craig Koester also considers 11:19-15:4 as a unit describing “the conflict between the Creator and the destroyers of the earth” (Revelation, AB, 523).

Some commentators group chapter 15 with chapter 16 since the pouring of the bowls is introduced in 15:1 and executed in chapter 16. Buist, for example, calls Revelation 12:1-14:20 “Two further interludes” (Revelation, 402). Osborne specifically rejects Beale’s suggestion, observing the phrase “and I saw” (καί εἶδον) is a general formula used often in the book. For Osborne, 15:1-8 parallels the introduction to the trumpets in Revelation 8:2-5 (Revelation, 452, n. 1). Massyngberde Ford takes 11:6-19 as an introduction to seven signs in 12:1-14:20 (the woman, the dragon, the beast of the sea, the beast of the earth, the lamb and virgins, the seven angels (Revelation, AB, 194). For each of her septets, the seventh contains the next set so there are really only six signs.

Dragon and Woman Revelation 12

Regardless of the boundaries and structure of the unit, the main theme of Revelation 12-15 is the source of evil that is tormenting the God’s people. This is the first time John reveals explicitly who is behind the persecution: “that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan” (12:9).

In addition, the nature of the persecution God’s people must endure intensifies. Prior to Revelation 12 demonic activity was implied (6:8 and 9:11), but the devil himself was never mentioned. Revelation 11:7 mentions the beast for the first time, but who or what the beast refers to is not developed until Revelation 13. Those who choose to follow this beast (and receive his mark) will “drink the wine of God’s wrath” (Rev 14:10). Those who refuse the beast’s mark will no longer be able to buy or sell (13:17) and those who are marked by God (14:1) will face persecution and death (13:7). But “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on” (Rev 14:13).

God’s Temple in Heaven and the Ark of his Covenant – Revelation 11:19

At the conclusion of the seventh trumpet, God’s temple in heaven was opened and John saw the ark of his covenant (Rev 11:19). Greg Beale suggested the seventh trumpet was model on the Song of Moses (Exod 15:13-18). If this is the case, then the opening of the temple and appearance of the ark of the covenant would recall God’s glory revealed at Mount Sinai.

Beale suggests this allusion based on 11:18, “the nations raged” (ἔθνη … ὠργίσθησαν). The words are the same in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 15:14 (Revelation, 618). The conclusion to the song of Moses describes God leading Israel out of Egypt and planting them on his own mountain, the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established” (Exod 15:17), following by the statement “the Lord will reign forever and ever” (cf. Rev 11:15).  The “flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail: would also be consistent with an allusion to Mount Sinai (Exod 19:16).

From the 13th century Morgan Bible

This passage may also reflect the “entrance liturgy of Psalm 24. This psalm celebrates the return of the presence of the Lord represented by the ark. Seow suggests it was “sung antiphonally, with those who led the procession and the ‘gatekeepers of the ark’” (cf. 1 Chr 15:23-24; ABD 1: 387). Verses 7-9 call on the gates and doors of the temple to open as the mighty warrior Yahweh returns to his temple. The difference is the Lord is leaving his heavenly temple, presumably to execute the final judgment at the end of the great tribulation since the kingdom of the Lord and of his messiah has come (Rev 11:15).

In the ancient world, temple doors opening by themselves were considered to be sign from the gods (Aune 2:676). Aune reports a Talmudic tradition that for forty years before the destruction of the temple the doors of the temple would open by themselves (b. Yoma 39b). in the context of First Jewish War with Rome, Tacitus lists shrine doors suddenly opening as a prodigy:

Tacitus, Hist. 5.13 Contending hosts were seen meeting in the skies, arms flashed, and suddenly the temple was illumined with fire from the clouds. Of a sudden the doors of the shrine opened and a superhuman voice cried: “The gods are departing”: at the same moment the mighty stir of their going was heard (trans. Clifford H. Moore and John Jackson, LCL 2:197–199).

The most intriguing feature of this verse is the sudden appearance of the “ark of his covenant.” After the ark is installed in the Temple (1 Kings 8), there is little reference to it in the rest of the Old Testament. Ezekiel’s temple does not mention the tables and lampstands, let alone the ark. The ark is only mentioned in this passage Hebrews 9:3-5 in the New Testament.

What happened to the original ark of the covenant? There are a number of suggestions. There is a tradition it was hidden by Josiah (b. Yoma 52b), or Jeremiah. In 4 Baruch (Paraleipomena Jeremiou) Jeremiah asks the Lord what to do about the items used in the temple service before Babylon destroys Jerusalem. The Lord tells Jeremiah to hide them until the coming of the “beloved one”:

4 Baruch 3.10–11  Take them and deliver them to the earth, saying, ‘Hear, earth, the voice of him who created you, who formed you in the abundance of the waters, who sealed you with seven seals in seven periods (of time), and after these things you will receive your fruitful season. 11 Guard the vessels of the (Temple) service until the coming of the beloved one.

In 2 Baruch 6.7 Baruch sees an angel rescue the temple items, including the mercy seat. The angel commands the earth to guard these items until Jerusalem is destroyed:

2 Baruch 6.7 And I saw that he descended in the Holy of Holies and that he took from there the veil, the holy ephod, the mercy seat, the two tables, the holy raiment of the priests, the altar of incense, the forty-eight precious stones with which the priests were clothed, and all the holy vessels of the tabernacle. 8 And he said to the earth with a loud voice: Earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the mighty God, and receive the things which I commit to you, and guard them until the last times, so that you may restore them when you are ordered, so that strangers may not get possession of them. 9 For the time has arrived when Jerusalem will also be delivered up for a time, until the moment that it will be said that it will be restored forever. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up.

As intriguing as speculation of where the ark went before the destruction of the temple in 586 BC, there is almost nothing in the Bible about the Lord rescuing it or a prophet hiding it in Jerusalem (or Ethiopia, or Washington DC). In Revelation 11:19 the point is to show the Lord has left his sanctuary in heaven and is about to render judgment on the nations who rage against his wrath.

Bibliography:  M. Haran, “The Disappearance of the Ark,” IEJ 13 (1963): 46–58.

The Seventh Trumpet – Revelation 11:15-19

When the seventh trumpet sounds, John hears loud voices in heaven declaring the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of the Lord and his Messiah (Christ), and the Lord’s messiah will “forever and ever.”

Four living beasts, Bamberg Apocalypse Bible

Revelation 11:15 states the kingdom “has come.” Aune says this aorist middle verb (ἐγγένετο, from γίνομαι) functions like a prophetic perfect. The verb “has come” is referring to something that has not happened yet but is so certain it can be spoken of as if it had already happened (Aune 2:638). Wallace would call this a proleptic aorist (GGBB 563). As an analogy, your mother announces, “it is time to eat thanksgiving dinner,” but there are several things that happen before you are sitting at the table eating the meal.

This kingdom belongs to “our Lord and of his Christ.” This is a clear statement the real Lord of this world is God, not any human who claims to be lord of this world. This anticipates the increasingly anti-Roman rhetoric beginning with the two beasts in Revelation 13 and culminating in the great whore of Babylon.

The messiah will rule the Lord’s kingdom. Although the word Χριστός is usually translated Christ, it is important to remember the word translates the Hebrew word usually translated messiah or “anointed one.” For example, in the Septuagint, the Lord’s anointed in Psalm 2:2 is מָשִׁיחַ , (māšîaḥ) is translated as Χριστός, a text applied to Jesus in Acts 4:26). This anointed one may be the king of Israel (David, 2 Sam 22:51) or some person chosen by God for a task (Cyrus the Persian, Isaiah 45:1). By the Second Temple Period, the messiah/Christ was used for the coming representative of God who would restore Israel. For example, Psalm of Solomon 18:6, “May God cleanse Israel for the day of mercy with blessing, for the day of election ⌊when he brings up⌋ his anointed one (LES2). In the Odes of Solomon 29:6-11, the writer believes in the “Lord’s Messiah” and considered him to be the Lord. This messiah will “subdue the thoughts of the gentiles and humble the strength of the mighty.”

This messiah will rule forever (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων). This is likely an allusion to Daniel 7:14, but the idea God’s kingdom will never end is found elsewhere (Ps 146:10). In the Second Temple period book the Wisdom of Solomon, the righteous will “govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever” (3:8, NRSV). In Joseph and Asenath “the Lord God will reign as king over them for ever and ever” (19:8).

The jubilation of the seventh trumpet stands in contrast to the seventh seal, silence in heaven for about a half hour. I suggested in an earlier post this silence is a form of worship, so the silence of the seventh seal answered by the noisy worship of the twenty-four elders. The seventh seal, trumpet and bowl each refer to the coming of the messiah, the defeat of the kingdom of man, and the beginning of the Kingdom of God.

The Death of the Two Witnesses – Revelation 11:7-14

After 1260 days of ministry, the “beast that comes from the bottomless pit” will attack and kill the two witnesses. This is the first time Revelation refers to the beast, and it is a bit surprising since the beast is not fully explained until chapter 13. Who is this beast ascending from the bottomless pit?

The Apocalypse of Angers 1373-87

John develops an important image from Daniel describing a progression of human kingdoms as beasts rising from the chaos of the sea. In Daniel 7:3 described four beasts rising from the sea and Revelation 13:1 the beast rises from the sea. Both the fourth beast in Daniel 7:21 and the first beast in Revelation 13 “make war on the saints.”  Revelation 13 describes two beasts, one form the sea and one from the earth.

Daniel 7:3 four great beasts rise from the sea, καὶ τέσσαρα θηρία μεγάλα ἀνέβαινον ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης.

Revelation 11:7 the beast rises from the bottomless pit, τὸ θηρίον τὸ ἀναβαῖνον ἐκ τῆς ἀβύσσου.

Revelation 13:1 John sees a beast (no definite article) rising from the sea, ἐκ τῆς θαλάσσης θηρίον ἀναβαῖνον.

Daniel 7:21 The fourth beast “made war against the saints and overpowered them,” ἐποίει πόλεμον μετὰ τῶν ἁγίων καὶ ἴσχυσεν πρὸς αὐτούς

Revelation 11:7 the beast “will make war against them (the two witnesses) and he will conquer them,” ποιήσει μετʼ αὐτῶν πόλεμον καὶ νικήσει αὐτοὺς

Revelation 13:7 Authority was given to the beast “to make war against the saints and conquer them,” ποιῆσαι πόλεμον μετὰ τῶν ἁγίων καὶ νικῆσαι αὐτούς

Daniel 7 describes an ultimate evil empire which persecutes God’s people and is replaced by the kingdom of God ruled by the Son of Man. For Daniel, this coming kingdom was a future event, one that was still future from the perspective of John. The empire is different (it was the Seleucids, now it is Rome). But the hope for the glorious coming of the Son of Man to rescue God’s people from their suffering and establish a kingdom of peace and justice is the same. The attack on the two witnesses parallels the beginning of the beast’s war against the saints, as will be described in chapter 13. Although the persecution is great, there is a remnant, the church is “completely annihilated but driven underground” (Beale, 590).

What is remarkable is the beast is successful. It kills the two witnesses and conquers the saints. John is clear God’s people will suffer greatly under this powerful empire. This should not be unexpected, many suffered and died at the hand of the Assyria, Babylonian, Seleucid and Roman empires. An ultimate evil empire will therefore cause ultimate suffering and death of God’s people.

Two Witnesses Bamberg ApocalypseThe bodies are not buried. They are left in the streets for three and a half days. Typically Jews buried the dead as quickly as possible since dead bodies are unclean.

The great city in verse 8 must be Jerusalem since it is where Jesus was crucified. However, adding that Jerusalem is “figuratively called Egypt and Sodom” is an odd description. In fact, “figuratively” (NIV) or symbolically (ESV) might be better understood as “prophetically” (NRSV) since the adverb is πνευματικῶς, “being consistent with transcendent influence… more is involved here than mere allegory or figurative usage” (BDAG).

This is a reference to God’s extreme judgment on Sodom and Egypt (rather than their wickedness). Sodom is the ultimate wicked city (Jer 23:14, Ezek 16:46), but also the quintessential judgment of God. Isaiah 1:9 compares a devastated Jerusalem to Sodom; Amos 4:11 compares God’s judgment on some cities as “like Sodom.” It is true Egypt is associated with idolatry and slavery (Isa 19:1; Ezek 29:7), God’s judgment on Egypt in the plagues is a prototype for the judgments in Revelation 8-9. Aune points out prophets often go to Jerusalem to be rejected and killed (2:621).

When the beast kills the two witnesses, the people of the world will gloat over their deaths. In any ancient or modern culture, leaving a body unburied is a deep insult which defiles the place where the body lays. It is possible this is an allusion to Psalm 79:1-3, a lament over the fall of Jerusalem. In that psalm, Jerusalem is in ruins, the temple is defiled by bodies left unburied to be eaten by birds and animals, and blood is poured out over the city. To further dishonor the two witnesses, people of the whole world rejoice and exchange gifts. When Nineveh fell, people clapped their hands and rejoiced (Nahum 3:19). As the news the two witnesses are dead spreads, spontaneous celebrations break out all over the world.

After three and a half days the witnesses will be resurrected and called up to heaven by a great voice (cf., Rev 4:1). Just as the bodies had laid in public view for a time, the resurrection of the two witnesses is in the full view of all the world. Coming to one’s feet is associated with resurrection (2 Kings 13:21, Ezek 37:10). The reaction this resurrection is that a great fear falls upon all who see it. Great fear falls on those who witness God’s judgment on Egypt (Exod 15:16)

For those who are being persecuted by the beast, this resurrection and ascension is a great comfort, providing a hope of resurrection even if they must suffer greatly and die for their testimony.

Who are the Two Witnesses? Revelation 11:3-6

After measuring out the temple, God grants authority to two witnesses who will minister during the 42 months (or 1260 days) when the temple is trample by the nations. “Two witnesses” is based on the Jewish law required two witnesses to establish a fact (Num. 35:30, Deut. 17:6). Jesus sent out his disciples two-by-two as witnesses to the villages of Galilee (Mark 6:6-12).

Two Witnesses in Douce Apocalypse, Bodleian ms180

The physical description of the two witnesses is drawn from various Old testament passages. They are clothed in sackcloth. Sackcloth is a coarse cloth usually made of goats’ hair and black in color and was worn as a sign of mourning (Gen 37:34; 2 Sam 3:31).

They are also described as “the two olive trees and the two lampstands.” The background for this description is Zechariah 4. Lampstand here should be understood as a menorah, a synagogue lamp that was used in the temple as well.  It had a single stick in the center with three sets of arcs out from the base, for a total of seven candles. Recall that the description of Christ in chapter one talked about seven lampstands, perhaps there was one menorah with seven lights. The image in Zechariah are identified with the “two who are anointed to serve the Lord.” In the context of Zechariah, these are most likely to be identified with Zerubbabel (the governor) and Joshua (the high priest) of the post-exilic community. One major difference is that while there are two olive trees, there is only one lampstand.

“Fire” destroys their enemies. This is a difficult point to understand since there is no Old Testament reference to fire coming out of anyone to destroy enemies (although Elijah and Elisha both call fire from heaven.) Aune 2:613 lists several extra-biblical references 2 and 3 Enoch, for example.). One possibility is to see this fire as representing the word of God, as in Jeremiah 5:14,  “Because the people have spoken these words, I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes.”  In 2 Samuel 22:8-9 God “breathes fire,” a metaphor of judgement, “Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it.”

These two witnesses have the power to withhold rain, cause water to turn to blood, and to strike the earth with plagues during the 3 and a half years of their ministry. The power to cause drought is punitive (Aune 2:615), as with Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1, etc. Turning the water to blood is an allusion to Moses in Exodus 7:14-19), this would also cause famine. The Egyptians were struck with “every kind of plague” (1 Sam 4:8); the implication is that the same types of plagues that were present in Exodus will be available to these two witnesses.

Two Witnesses Ottheinrich folio294rWith this in mind, who are the two witnesses? Daniel K. K. Wong surveyed a bewildering number of suggestions and sorted them into two categories symbolic, corporate and literal interpretations (“The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11” BSac 154 (1997): 344-354). As examples of symbolic interpretations, some scholars have taken these two witnesses as symbols of the law and prophets or the Old and New Testaments. Under the heading of corporate interpretations, scholars often see these two witnesses as the church as witness in the word in the present age. Sometimes the witnesses are seen as believers who suffer martyrdom (Caird, for example).

Literal interpretations of the two witnesses are two prophets active during the final conflagration, the great tribulation. Based in Malachi 4:5-6, there was a Jewish expectation that Elijah would return before the Messiah. In John 1 John the Baptist is asked if he is Elijah. Jesus called John the Baptist “the Elijah that is to come” (Matt 11:14l; 17:10-12). Peter says some think Jesus is Elijah (Matt 16:14; cf. Mark 6:15 the crowds thought that John was Elijah).

Not surprisingly, there are many possible combinations for the identity of the two witnesses. The most common suggestion is Moses and Elijah since the plagues described in Revelation 11 allude to these two Old Testament characters. In addition, they represent the Law and Prophets, as the symbolic interpretations correctly observe. Elijah and Moses met with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Matt 17). Although this is associated with dispensationalist writers (Thomas, Revelation 2:88-89), Greg Beale also sees an allusion to Moses and Elijah, although in his view the text does not anticipate a literal return of Moses and Elijah.

A second common suggestion for the two witnesses is Elijah and Enoch. A second common suggestion for the two witnesses is Elijah and Enoch. this view is at least as old as Augustine. He thought Elijah and Enoch will be killed together at “the end of the world by the Antichrist” (Ep. 193.3, 5; De gen ad litt. 9.5; cited by Aune, 2:617).Aune also draws attention to the Acts of Pilate 25 as representing the view the two witnesses are Enoch and Elijah.

I am Enoch, who pleased God and was removed here by him. And this is Elijah the Tishbite. We shall live until the end of the world. But then we shall be sent by God to withstand Antichrist and to be killed by him. And after three days we shall rise again and be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord.

Since these two characters from the Old Testament ascend to heaven. In Genesis 5 Enoch walked with God and “was no more” and in 2 Kings 2 Elijah is taken to heaven in a fiery chariot in 2 Kings 2. This view also resonates with the belief Elijah would return before the messiah. The Animal Apocalypse implies Enoch would return, although this is far from clear in 1 Enoch 90:31. In 4 Ezra 6:26 “And they shall see the men who were taken up, who from their birth have not tasted death; and the heart of the earth’s inhabitants shall be changed and converted to a different spirit.”

Which view a better interpretation of the two witnesses? Are the two witnesses symbols (either generic or for a corporate group) or two literal people? Wong makes several points that imply that these are literal people. First, the word-group for witness is normally used for persons rather than as a symbol for something. This does not mean that John could not use the term as a symbol here, he consistently used it for people in the rest of Revelation. For example, the word is applied to Jesus and Antipas, in 2:13.

Second, witnesses prophesy, an activity implies a person. The only other place in Revelation where this particular verb is used is in 10:13, where John is told that he must prophecy to many nations. This does not necessarily the two witnesses to be individuals since the corporate interpretations also see a prophetic witness as the key function of the group.

Third, the witnesses are described as speaking (v. 3, 6), they can kill their enemies (v. 5), they are heard, handled and hated (v. 3, 7, 10), have mouths, ears, and feet (5, 11-12), wear sackcloth and have dead bodies (v. 8, 9). However, the beast from the sea in Revelation 13 is described in detail yet no one argues those details imply the beast is literally a multi-headed dragon.

Since the trumpets have been using allusions to the Exodus throughout Revelation 8-9, it seems an allusion to Moses is certain. Given the association of Elijah with the eschatological age, it seems the second witness alludes to him. Although it is always possible John is predicting the literal return of these two characters, it is more likely he is following the same method as the rest of the trumpets. The pattern of the Exodus will be repeated in the future, God will send prophets like Moses and Elijah to call his people out of nations once again.

Eating the Little Scroll – Revelation 10:8-11

The mighty angel held a little scroll in his hand (10:2). John is commanded to take this scroll and eat it (10:8-11).  (See also, Books in Apocalyptic.)

Is this little scroll related to the seven-sealed scroll in Revelation 5? In Revelation 5 the Lamb was given a seven-sealed scroll (βίβλος); this is a little scroll (βιβλαρίδιον and βλαρίδιον, the diminutive of βίβλος), although in 10:8 John uses βίβλος for this scroll (in some manuscripts βιβλαρίδιον appears). Beale thinks there is enough similarity to enable the reader to see the scroll as not a “totally different kind of book” from chapter 5, “but only one on a smaller scale… John wants to underscore the fact that this is a “little book” in comparison to the big book of ch. 5, and that it is modeled on that larger book” (Revelation, 545). In both cases the scroll is in the right hand and in both cases, someone takes the scroll from the hand.

domitian holding a scrollThere are, however, serious differences between the two scrolls. The scroll in chapter 5 is written on both sides, sealed with seven seals, and given to the Lamb of God who is the only person in all of creation with the authority to open the scroll.  The content of the scroll is Revelation 6:1-8:1, the seven seals. In Revelation 10, the scroll is already open, and the content of the scroll seems to be the word of God John will prophesy against the nations (v. 11). The identity of the mighty angel is important, since Beale argue the angel is Christ, he can see this scroll as the same: it was given to the Lamb, who opened the scroll, then passed it along to John to reveal to the nations.

Not every scroll in Revelation needs to be the same scroll. Scrolls appear often in Revelation (23 times). In Revelation 1:1 John is commanded to write into a scroll the message to the seven churches. This is clearly not the same scroll as the two-sided scroll in Revelation 5 or this little scroll in chapter 10. Nor are these scrolls the same as the “book of life” in Revelation 20:12.

Eating the scroll is a clear allusion to Ezekiel 2:9-3:3.

Ezekiel 2:9-3:3 Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, 10 which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. 3:1 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.  3 Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.

Ezekiel’s first vision commissions him as a prophet. After seeing a revelation of the glory of God, he is shown a scroll written on both sides and he is told to eat it the scroll. Like Revelation 10, the scroll is “as sweet as honey.” Despite the words of lament and mourning, Ezekiel’s scroll does not turn his stomach bitter. He does have a bitter attitude toward his calling, “I went in bitterness (מַר) in the heat of my spirit” (3:14, the bitterness is omitted in the LXX).  Although the word was sweet as honey to Ezekiel, the message was difficult. This is enough to convince Beale Ezekiel also experiences “sweet as honey” followed by bitterness.

What is the content of this little scroll? There are various attempts in the commentaries to make the content of this scroll the ensuing chapters of Revelation, but this overlooks the function of eating a scroll in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel, the scroll represented God commissioning the prophet to speak his words to God’s people. In Revelation 10:11, after he eats the scroll John is commissioned: “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (ESV).

It is possible to translate the angel’s words as “against the nations,” the use of ἐπί and dative case may reflect the “negative apocalyptic attitude toward the ungodly nations of the world” (Aune 2:773; (BDAG §12). The more neutral “about” (NRSV, ESV, NIV) is possible (BDAG §8). For Aune, the negative sense “against” is “confirmed by the negative character of the Christian witness” in passages like Matthew 10:18, Luke 12:11 and 21:12 in which the disciples are warned they will be witnesses against rulers (ἐπί + dative; Aune 2:574). Beale agrees, “the accent is on judgment of the unrepentant” (554).

It is perhaps significant the next chapter describes the activity of two witnesses who indeed prophesy against the nations and are killed on account of their testimony.