30 AD – 70 AD: “The Crimson Thread Remained Crimson”


In about 30 AD, Jesus said something to the scribes, Pharisees, and people of Jerusalem which must have been earth-shattering to His audience at the time: “See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38).  This mirrors what happened in the days of Jeremiah: “I have forsaken My house, I have left My heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hands of her enemies” (Jer. 12:7).

Notice that Jesus didn’t say the temple belonged to His Father, but instead He referred to it as “your” house (speaking to the people of Jerusalem). As we will see, even secular history provides a stark depiction of the desolation of the temple and the once holy city of Jerusalem during the next 40 years, before they were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Talmud is an important text within Rabbinic Judaism, made up of both oral teachings and interpretations of these teachings. The earlier collection is known as the Jerusalem Talmud and the later collection, compiled between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD, is known as the Babylonian Talmud. Both of them have fascinating things to say about the 40 year period between Jesus’ ascension and the temple’s destruction in 70 AD:

[1] Jerusalem Talmud:

“Forty years before the destruction of the Temple, the western light went out, the crimson thread remained crimson, and the lot for the Lord always came up in the left hand. They would close the gates of the Temple by night and get up in the morning and find them wide open” (Jacob Neusner, The Yerushalmi, p.156-157). 

[2] Babylonian Talmud:

“Our rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ‘For the Lord’ did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the western most light shine; and the doors of the Hekel [Temple] would open by themselves” (Soncino version, Yoma 39b).

The Crimson Thread

There was a Jewish tradition tied to the Day of Atonement, when a scapegoat bearing the sins of the people would be released into the wilderness (see Leviticus 16). Of course, for those who trust in Jesus, this ritual no longer bore any meaning after 30 AD, as Jesus took our sins upon Himself on the cross. According to the Babylonian Talmud, though, the scapegoat would wear a crimson (red)-colored strap, and it would become white once it reached the wilderness, indicating that God had forgiven their sins:

“How do we know that a crimson-colored strap is tied to the head of the goat that is sent to [the wilderness]? Because it is said, ‘If your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow’ (Isa. 1:18). By a miracle, this crimson-colored strap turned white, thus showing the people the people that they were forgiven of their sins. Rabbi Ishmael says, ‘Now did they not have any other sign? There was a crimson thread tied to the door of the sanctuary. When the goat had reached the wilderness, the thread would turn white…'” (Tractate Shabbat Folio 86a).

This miracle took place every year, it was said, but not after 30 AD. It was clear that this ritual was no longer acceptable to the Lord, because Jesus was the acceptable sacrifice: “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

The Western Light Didn’t Shine

There were seven lamps on the Menorah in the temple, with the westernmost lamp being the most important. Every day the other six lamps would be lit from the Western Lamp. For a long time, it burned continuously, which was seen as a miracle. It was known for being a perpetual fire. However, from 30 – 70 AD it went out every single day. As Ernest Martin explains:

“This ‘western lamp’ was to be kept lit at all times. For that reason, the priests kept extra reservoirs of olive oil and other implements in ready supply to make sure that the ‘western lamp’ (under all circumstances) would stay lit. But what happened in the forty years from the very year Messiah said the physical Temple would be destroyed? Every night for forty years the western lamp went out, and this in spite of the priests each evening preparing in a special way the western lamp so that it would remain constantly burning all night!”

(Ernest Martin, “The Significance of the Year CE 30,” 1994; as quoted in “The Coming Messiah” by Mark E. Jeffries, p. 86

For the believer, this light was unnecessary, for Jesus is the light of the world and so are His followers:

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life‘” (John 8:12).

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

The Lot Did Not Come Up in the Right Hand

Each year on the Day of Atonement, one goat was chosen “for the Lord” and the other to be the “Azazel” (the scapegoat sent into the wilderness). They were chosen by lot, as the priest would reach both hands into an urn, selecting both a white stone and a black stone and placing them on the heads of the two goats. The people always hoped that the white stone (“for the Lord”) would be in the priest’s right hand, and this happened about half the time (as one would expect).

During the 40 years between 30 – 70 AD, however, the white stone never once turned up in the right hand of the priest. It turned up in the left hand every single time. Perhaps the significance of this is that Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2; see also Acts 2:34, Ephesians 1:20, Heb. 1:3). 

The Temple Doors Opened By Themselves

Both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds also spoke of the temple gates opening by themselves each night between 30 – 70 AD. According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Sota 6:3), Jewish leaders knew this was a sign of impending doom for the temple:

“Said Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai to the Temple, ‘O Temple, why do you frighten us? We know that you will end up destroyed. For it has been said, “Open your doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour your cedars” (Zechariah 11:1).'”

Jesus had prophesied that the temple’s downfall would take place in His own generation (Matthew 24:1-34, Mark 13:1-30, Luke 21:5-32). Scripture also reveals that God’s temple is Jesus and His followers, both individually and corporately:

“Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days? But He was speaking of the temple of His body'” (John 2:19-21).

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Corinthians 3:16).

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (I Corinthians 6:19).

For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people‘” (II Corinthians 6:16).

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

The Christian Zionist movement is excited over the prospect of a rebuilt temple in modern Jerusalem, with some Christian organizations even raising large amounts of money to see it happen. No Biblical prophecy says this must happen, and since Christians are God’s temple it’s odd, to say the least, to see Christians on the edge of their seats watching for it to happen. God’s people, wherever we dwell in the world, are His dwelling place. For a deeper study on how God made His dwelling place in the new Jerusalem instead of earthly Jerusalem, see these two posts: [1] Jerusalem, a Dwelling Place of Demons and [2] New Jerusalem, God’s Dwelling Place.

Revelation Chapter 11


REVELATION 11

Dave: October 8, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 11

[Notes from Adam were added on November 3rd and 8th, with Dave’s permission, and are in maroon font.]

Verses 1-2: The Two Witnesses
1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

David Chilton comments: “Measuring is a symbolic action used in scripture to ‘divide between the holy and the profane’ and thus to indicate divine protection from destruction (see Ezek. 22:26; 40-43; Zech. 2:1-5; cf. Jer. 10:16; 51:19; Rev. 21:15-16)” [Source: Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), p. 220]. Some preterists find this text to be one of the strongest indications of an early date. Examples of this can be seen in the following quotes taken from the Preterist Archive:

[1] Johannes Friedrich Bleek (1870): “As to the time of writing, there are several statements which indicate this with tolerable clearness, and to which we have already referred. In the first division (ch. xi. 1-14)… Jerusalem and the temple are spoken of as still standing.” (An Introduction to the New Testament, 2:226.)
[2] James M. Macdonald (1877):
“It is difficult to see how language could more clearly point to Jerusalem, and to Jerusalem as it was before its overthrow.”, (The Life and Writings of St John , p. 159.)
[3] Bernhard Weiss (1889): “The time of the Apocalypse is also definitely fixed by the fact that according to the prophecy in chap. xi. it was manifestly written before the destruction of Jerusalem, which in xi. 1 is only anticipated.” (Bernhard Weiss, A Manual of Introduction to the New Testament, 2:82; 1889.)
[4] John A.T. Robinson (1976): “It is indeed generally agreed that this passage must bespeak a pre-70 situation.. There seems therefore no reason why the oracle should not have been uttered by a Christian prophet as the doom of the city drew nigh.” (Redating the New Testament pp.. 240-242).
[5] Kenneth Gentry (1998): “If John wrote about literal Jerusalem (“where also their Lord was crucified”)  twenty-five years after the destruction of the literal Temple (as per the evangelically formulated late date argument), it would seem most improbable that he would speak of the Temple as if it were still standing. The symbol would be confusing in its blatant anachronism. The Temple is required to be standing for the symbolical action of the vision to have any meaning. John uses the future tense when he speaks of the nations’ treading down the city. As just stated, this is not a reminiscence of a past event, but rather a future expectation.” (Before Jerusalem Fell, p.175)

David S. Clark (1989) is also quoted in this regard by Steve Gregg (p. 222): “Here is so plainly the destruction of Jerusalem that it could hardly be put in plainer words. It seems evident that there is no getting away from the fact that here we are dealing with the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70,–that all that John has said hitherto was leading up to this great fact,–that here we have the culmination of these prophetic seals, and this is where the first half of the book lands us.”

• If Revelation was written in 95 AD, then what temple is being referred to here? Herod’s temple had been long destroyed.
• If the temple here is referring to a temple that is “future” (as futurists believe), why would such a temple be necessary in light of the work of Christ and the new covenant that has replaced temple sacrifices? See Hebrews 9-10. If a new temple is necessary and said to be the “temple of God” in Rev 11:1, this would dangerously minimize the work of Christ.
• Rev 11:2 says that the holy city will be “trampled” for 42 months. This prophecy is remarkably similar to the one spoken by Jesus in Luke 21:24, where it is said that “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” And Luke 21:24 is commonly believed to be referring to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
• The “holy city” is Jerusalem as described in 11:8 [see below].
• 42 months is the length of time that historians say the Roman army attacked and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. This 42 months covers the period from February 67 AD – August 70 AD, that is, from the time that Rome declared war on Israel (and Vespasian marched into Judea, Galilee, and on toward Jerusalem) until Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed. From Scripture we know that Jerusalem had been known historically as “the holy city” (Nehemiah 11:1; Isaiah 48:2, 52:1; Daniel 9:24; Matthew 4:5; Matthew 27:53), and this was still its historic designation despite the fact that Jesus had pronounced it desolate (Matt. 23:38). In 1851, Moses Stuart (Professor at Andover Theological Seminary) made the following remarks concerning Revelation 11:2 and the trampling of the holy city for 42 months, his point being that the mention of “the holy city” also referred to Israel as a whole:

“Jerusalem, as being the metropolis, is, as often in the Old Testament, made the symbol or representative of the whole country or nation. The reader needs only to be reminded, how often Zion and Jerusalem stand, in prophetic language, as the representatives of the Jewish government, polity, land, and nation, in order to accede to the position, that the capitals in the Apocalypse are to be considered as the symbols of the country and of the government to which they belong.

“When John therefore predicts, in Rev. 11:2, that “the holy city shall be trodden under foot 42 months,” this of course involves the idea, that the country of which the holy city is the capital, is also trodden under foot. To make their way to the capital, a foreign enemy, coming (as the Romans did) from the north, must have overrun a great portion of Palestine antecedently to the capture of Jerusalem. The prediction of course includes both, inasmuch as the holy city is made the representative of the country at large.”

Source: Moses Stuart, Hints on the Interpretation of Prophecy, New York: Van Nostrand and Terrett, pp. 115-116; available online at http://www.preteristarchive.com/Books/pdf/1851_stuart_hints_interpretation.pdf

Discussion item: read Luke 21:5-33
• My ESV Bible heading, and the accompanying explanation, claim that verses 20-24 refer to AD 70. If so, how could the rest of the text refer to a future “end times”?
• Could the entire passage refer to AD 70?
• What is the significance of verse 32 to the issue?

I have to admit that for some time I’ve been a bit perplexed over the language used in verses 1-2. I can see the basis for saying that this passage is written as if the Second Temple was still standing when John received his vision (and I believe it was), yet the use of the phrase “temple of God” seems to indicate that the Church is also being referred to here (cf. Eph. 2:11-22; II Cor. 6:16; I Cor. 3:16, 6:19). Therefore it may be that John was (symbolically) measuring the Church which would be trampled (persecuted) for 42 months (see Rev. 13:5-7). Given the similarity between this passage and Luke 21:24, the physical temple was also probably being alluded to. It may be that both ideas were being spoken of in this case (more will be said on this later in this post).

David Chilton may be on to something, then, as in the quote above he referred to a division between the holy and the profane. That may very well be what John is seeing contrasted here. In other words, the desolate physical temple (cf. Matthew 23:38) would soon disappear, and only God’s holy temple (His people) would remain standing (cf. Hebrews 8:13, 12:18-29). I also appreciate what David Lowman (a Presbyterian pastor in Colorado) has said concerning these things:

The measuring of the Temple is patterned, like so much of the book of Revelation, after the book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel we are shown an angel of the Lord measuring the Temple representing the future for Jerusalem and God’s Holy people after a return from exile. Conversely, John measures the temple to determine its soon coming destruction and its being ‘trampled’ for 42 months…

What John does, though, is give us a beautiful, symbolic picture of God’s preserving work, for only the outer courts of the Temple are seen as being trampled, while the Temple Proper (Holy Place and Holy of Holies) is preserved. This would be God’s remnant preserved through the soon coming wrath and destruction. The physical Temple faced the wrath of God and His judgment, but His true Temple – the Church – survived and thrived amidst the persecution and tribulation…

God here, in this interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets, is once again showing His protection of His people. He has measured them out and has determined to protect them through the 3 1/2 year time of judgment set against apostate Israel and the physical representation of the old and obsolete Covenant, the Temple.

Kenneth Gentry (p. 174) writes in a similar manner, saying that “the measuring of the Temple is for the preservation of its innermost aspects, i.e., the…altar, and worshippers within (Rev. 11:1).” He adds,

This seems to refer to the inner-spiritual idea of the Temple in the New Covenant era that supercedes the material Temple of the Old Covenant era. Thus, while judgment is about to be brought upon Israel, Jerusalem, and the literal Temple complex, this prophecy speaks also of the preservation of God’s new Temple, the Church…that had its birth in and was originally headquartered at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 8:1; 15:2). Notice that after the holocaust, the altar is seen in heaven (Rev. 11:18), whence Christ’s kingdom originates (John 18:36; Heb. 1:3) and where Christians have their citizenship (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1, 2).

The external court of the Temple complex, however, is not “measured”; it is “cast out”… All the Israelites who refuse the new priesthood of baptism are cast out and their Temple destroyed. The Temple is not destined for preservation, “for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months” (v. 2). The prior prophecy of Christ (Matt. 24:2) absolutely prohibits any expectation of even a partial preservation of the literal Temple. Thus, John reveals both the prophetic certainty of the material Temple’s destruction and the fact of the preservation of His true Temple, His Church, His New Covenant people, His new priesthood [As such, Rev. 11:1, 2 functions in the same way as the “sealing of the 144,000” passage in Rev. 7]. The proper understanding of the passage requires a mixture of the figurative-symbolic and the literal-historical.

Steve Gregg (p. 220) adds these helpful notes,

As at the end of chapter 10, where John’s eating of the book repeats Ezekiel’s action of centuries earlier, here in chapter 11 John is told to do something else that also has a precedent in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 40-47 a man measures the temple with a measuring rod. In Revelation 11 John himself is given a reed for the same purpose. In both cases, the action depicts the defining of the true spiritual temple in view of the impending destruction of the physical structure in Jerusalem (by Babylonians in Ezekiel’s day, by Romans in John’s).

Verses 3-6: 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire…

The two witnesses
• There is all sorts of speculation about the identity of the two witnesses amongst preterists, futurists, and everyone else!
• The reference to the two olive trees and two lampstands is from Zechariah 4:11-14. There the reference is to the high priest, Joshua, and the governor, Zerubbabel. (Read Zech 4)
What do we know about the two witnesses from the text?
• They prophesy for 1260 days (vs. 3)
• They are clothed in sackcloth (vs. 3) (Why? Perhaps because their message is one of impending destruction)
• They have power to harm their adversaries (vs. 5)
• They have power over nature and to strike the earth with plagues (vs. 6)
• They are overcome and killed by the beast in God’s time (vs. 7)
• Their dead bodies will lie in Jerusalem for 3 ½ days (vs. 9)
• Their death will be celebrated (vs. 10)
• They have been a “torment” to those on the earth (vs. 10) How and why?
• God will make them alive again after 3 ½ days! (vs. 11)
• They are taken up to heaven on a cloud! (vs. 12)
• A deadly earthquake fell on the city after their departure (vs. 13)

Explanations given for the identity of the two witnesses:
• Religious and Civic authority (represented by the high priest and governor of Zech 4)
• Moses and Elijah returning to earth
• Elijah and Enoch returning to earth
• James and Peter
• Two people that God raised up for the role

Kenneth Gentry has the following to say regarding their identity and significance:

(1) This is recognized on all hands to be one of the more difficult identifications in Revelation.
(2) Somehow these witnesses relate to Moses and Elijah in that imagery from their ministries appear in the passage (water to blood and drought, v6).
(3) They also related to Zechariah’s prophecy of the gold lampstand and two olive trees in Zech 4:2-3, which speak of the rebuilding of the OT temple under Joshua (priest) and Zerubbabel (governor).
(4) In both allusions we have reference to the original founding of Israel as a nation and the re-establishment of it after the Babylonian exile.
(5) Thus, the two witnesses represent the founding of a new order for Israel upon the ruins of the old, earthly Israel. This is the church of Jesus Christ. Remember: Jesus said he will take the kingdom from Israel and give it to a nation bearing the fruit thereof. (Mt 21:43). Despite the persecution of Christianity it shall arise from apparent defeat.

Tony Denton (www.asiteforthelord.com) offers these interesting thoughts:

Under the Mosaic law, two witnesses were necessary to put any man to death; so, in that sense, God was providing two witnesses against Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple. These two witnesses would prophesy against Jerusalem and warn the people for 3.5 years.

Not only did sackcloth represent great sadness at an impending disaster due to sin, but also it (typically made of camel’s hair) was traditionally worn by prophets (like John the Immerser); perhaps this was because prophets were practically always warning of these disasters.

The two witnesses comprise one set of two olive trees and one set of two lampstands. So what or who do these trees and stands represent? Briefly…

This is derived from Zechariah 4:1-12 where the reader finds that one olive tree represents the anointed king David, and the other represents the anointed priest Aaron—thus king and priest; the idea here seems to be that Christ’s church (made up of Christians who were/are both kings and priests, Rev. 5:10) would be witnesses of God against Judaism. And…

We already know that individual congregations of the church universal were represented to John as lampstands (Rev. 1:20), they who shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15).

James MacDonald, in his 1877 book The Life and Writings of St. John, was of the opinion that we don’t have a historical record of the activity of the two witnesses during the Roman-Jewish War because the historians we rely on from that time were either Jewish (Josephus) or Roman (e.g. Tacitus), and none were Christian:

If we had a Christian history extant, as we have a Pagan one by Tacitus and a Jewish one by Josephus, giving an account of what occurred within that devoted city during that awful period of its history, then we might trace out more distinctly the prophesying of the two witnesses. The great body of Christians, warned by the signs given them by their Lord, according to ancient testimony, appear to have left Palestine on its invasion by the Romans . . . . But it was the will of God that a competent number of witnesses for Christ should remain to preach the Gospel to the very last moment to their deluded, miserable countrymen. It may have been part of their work to reiterate the prophecies respecting the destruction of the city, the temple, and commonwealth… The olive-trees, fresh and vigorous, keep the lamps constantly supplied with oil. These witnesses, amidst the darkness which has settled round Jerusalem, give a steady and unfailing light… If these two prophets were the only Christians in Jerusalem, as both were killed, there was no one to make a record or report in the case, and we have here therefore an example of a prophecy which contains at the same time the only history or notice of the events by which it was fulfilled… There seems to be a peculiar fitness in these witnesses for Christ, men endowed with the highest supernatural gifts, standing to the last in the forsaken city, prophesying its doom, and lamenting over what was once so dear to God (pp. 161-162)

Moses Stuart (Professor of Andover Theological Seminary), in his 1851 work Hints on the Interpretation of Prophecy, saw a significance in the number of witnesses chosen by God to prophesy during this time of judgment upon apostate Israel. He remarks, “Two witnesses, and but two, are specified, as we may naturally suppose, because, ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter is established.'” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 19:15 (cf. II Cor. 13:1).

Although history doesn’t seem to record the activities of two witnesses as some might expect if this is a past event (and if it is assumed that they are merely individuals), Josephus does record some interesting details regarding the activity of one man, whose behavior shows that he functioned very much as a prophet in the city of Jerusalem. The following excerpt is taken from a term paper I wrote a few months ago:

Jesus, the son of Ananus and a common Roman citizen, came to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem during a time of great peace and prosperity and began to cry out, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” He continued to do this for seven years and five months, day and night, in all the lanes of the city, crying out the loudest during the festivals. He was often whipped until his bones were bare, but witnesses say he never shed a tear, only crying out at every lash, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” He was dismissed by the Roman Procurator as a madman… [In April 70 AD he was] killed by a large stone flung from one of the Roman engines… Just before he was struck, he cried out with great force, “Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house! Woe, woe to myself also!”

In verse 6 we read that the two witnesses have the power to strike “the earth” with every kind of plague. Is their ministry worldwide or local? In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.

Verse 8: We know that Jerusalem is being spoken of because it is said that this is “where their Lord was crucified.” The following details also come from my same term paper:

It’s worth noting that “Revelation 11:8 suggests that Jerusalem’s streets were intact at the time of John’s writing” (Kenneth Gentry, 1998, p. 236) because the dead bodies of the two witnesses were to lie there for several days. If John wrote this in 95 or 96 AD, Jerusalem would have been a wasteland. As Kathleen M. Kenyon remarked [Jerusalem: Excavating 3000 Years of History, 1967, p. 185], “It was two centuries or more [after 70 AD] before human activity began once more to make its mark in the whole area of ancient Jerusalem.” It’s also significant in Revelation 11:8 that Jerusalem is called “the great city.” This is the same title given to Babylon the Great on at least six occasions (17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21).

To be called “Sodom,” of course, is not a compliment. When Isaiah was instructed to prophesy against Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:10), he called the Israelites by the same name because of their apostasy. It would make sense for John to speak of apostate Jerusalem, once known as the holy city, as Sodom, Babylon, and a harlot. Todd Dennis writes, “The image of the unfaithful wife, the harlot, was often used of Israel in the OT. Israel is repeatedly called the wife of God (Jer. 2:2, 3:14, Is. 54:5). But she was an unfaithful wife (Jer. 3:20, Hos. 1:2, Ez. 6:9, Ez. 16, Is. 50:1) behaving as a prostitute (Jer. 3:1-2).

Luke is very clear that Jerusalem was to be the place where Jesus would be crucified. In his account of the Transfiguration, Luke says, “Then behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).

Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 171) notes that Jerusalem was great in not only its “covenantal-redemptive [i.e. spiritual] signficance,” but also because of its historical fame. He quotes the Roman historian Tacitus who refers to Jerusalem as “a famous city” (Histories 5:2). Gentry adds,

Jerusalem housed a Temple that, according to Tacitus “was famous beyond all other works of men.” Another Roman historian, Pliny, said of Jerusalem that it was “by far the most famous city of the ancient Orient.” According to Josephus, a certain Agatharchides spoke of Jerusalem thus: “There are a people called Jews, who dwell in a city the strongest of all other cities, which the inhabitants call Jerusalem.” Appian called it “the great city Jerusalem.” …More important, however, is the covenantal significance of Jerusalem. The obvious role of Jerusalem in the history of the covenant should merit it such greatness… Josephus sadly extols Jerusalem’s lost glory after its destruction: “This was the end which Jerusalem came to be the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificance, and of mighty fame among all mankind (Wars 7:1:1)… And where is not that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation, which was fortified by so many walls round about, which had so many fortresses and large towers to defend it, which could hardly contain the instruments prepared for the war, and which had so many tens of thousands of men to fight for it? Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations” (Wars 7:8:7).

Verses 9-12: Here we read that the dead bodies of the witnesses would lie unburied in the streets of the great city, Jerusalem, for “three and a half days,” before “a breath of life from God” enters them and they’re caught up to heaven in a cloud. A very natural explanation for “those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations” (verse 9) being present in Jerusalem to see these dead bodies is that this would take place during one of the annual festivals. As an example of this, Luke says that on the Day of Pentecost “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Some of these nations are listed in Acts 2:9-11.

In several places Josephus speaks of dead bodies being left unburied in Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War (Wars 4.5.2, 4.6.1, 4.6.3, and 5.13.1). Josephus says this about the death of Niger of Peres which took place in Jerusalem:

“Nor did Niger of Peres escape their hands; he had been a man of great valor in their war with the Romans… he besought them to grant him a burial; but as they had threatened him beforehand not to grant him any spot of earth for a grave, which he chiefly desired of them, so did they slay him [without permitting him to be buried]. Now when they were slaying him, he made this imprecation upon them, that they might undergo both famine and pestilence in this war, and besides all that, they might come to the mutual slaughter of one another; all which imprecations God confirmed against these impious men, and was what came most justly upon them, when not long afterward. they tasted of their own madness in their mutual seditions one against another” (Wars 4.6.1).

In Wars 4.6.3 Josephus describes the fate of many Jews who “deserted every day, and fled away from the zealots, although their flight was very difficult, since they [the Zealots] had guarded every passage out of the city, and slew every one that was caught at them, as taking it for granted they were going over to the Romans.” Josephus adds this:

“Along all the roads also vast numbers of dead bodies lay in heaps, and even many of those that were so zealous in deserting at length chose rather to perish within the city; for the hopes of burial made death in their own city appear of the two less terrible to them. But these zealots came at last to that degree of barbarity, as not to bestow a burial either on those slain in the city, or on those that lay along the roads; but as if they had made an agreement to cancel both the laws of their country and the laws of nature, and, at the same time that they defiled men with their wicked actions, they would pollute the Divinity itself also, they left the dead bodies to putrefy under the sun; and the same punishment was allotted to such as buried any as to those that deserted, which was no other than death; while he that granted the favor of a grave to another would presently stand in need of a grave himself.”

Verse 13: We are told that a great earthquake takes place, causing a tenth of the city of Jerusalem [identified as such in verse 8] to fall, and 7000 to be killed as a direct result of the earthquake. This is said to occur in the same hour as the end of the ministry of the two witnesses. This account from Josephus, (said to take place during the first half of 68 AD, appears to be the fulfillment of this event:

There broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming (Wars 4:4:5). [Taking advantage of the noise of the storm, some of the Jewish zealots cut the bars of the temple gates with temple saws, allowing the Idumaeans to come in and join them in slaughtering some of the people]. The din from all quarters was rendered more terrific by the howling of the storm. And by daybreak they saw 8,500 dead bodies there (Wars 4:4:7-4:5:1).

Josephus does not attribute a certain number of deaths to the earthquake, and a certain number of deaths to the warfare which took place, but only notes that a total of 8500 dead bodies were discovered the morning after this earthquake. This is remarkably close to the Biblical account. Estimates of Jerusalem’s population prior to its destruction (at non-feast times) range as high as 200,000. This number in 68 AD, however, should have been lower considering that the Christians had fled and the city was in the throes of civil war. Josephus then records that the Idumaeans and the Jewish zealots succeeded in killing Ananus the high priest and his next-in-command, Jesus son of Gamalas (also known as Joshua), showing them much dishonor:

“Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial. I should not make a mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city [when the Jews] beheld their high priest, the captain of their salvation, butchered in the heart of Jerusalem” (Wars 4:5:2).

This is not to suggest that Ananus and Joshua were the two witnesses, but it sheds further light on verse 9 which indicates that the two witnesses were also not to be buried (cf. Psalm 79:1-4, where very similar conditions were described by Asaph).

Verses 14-15: 14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come. The Seventh Trumpet 15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

There is much discussion about the meaning of v. 15. Within the Preterist view, in what way can it be said that “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of His Christ”? One response is that, with the trampling of the great city and the destruction of the temple, the kingdom of God is clearly shown that it is not a “national theocracy” limited to the Jewish people. The kingdom of Christ is available to all people (as demonstrated by Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles). The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46) is most interesting in this regard. It speaks of the pattern of national Israel and its religious leaders throughout the Old Testament in killing God’s prophets and servants. At last they killed God’s Son, Jesus. When Jesus asked what would be done to the tenants of this vineyard, the chief priests, elders, and Pharisees (vss. 23, 45) rightfully answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruit in their seasons” (verse 41). Jesus then speaks of their rejection of Him (verse 42), and declares that the kingdom of God would be taken away from national Israel “and given to a people producing its fruits” (verse 43).

Who is this people? Of course, it’s the Church, made up of Jewish and Gentile believers, among whom there is no distinction made (Galatians 3:28, 5:6, 6:15; Colossians 3:11; I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 2:13-17). When did this happen, though, that the kingdom was taken away from national Israel and given exclusively to the Church? It can be said that this transaction took place at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection, even at Pentecost when the Church was born. However, the physical manifestation of national Israel being taken out of the way, and the final consumation of the Jewish age, took place when Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed in 70 AD. It’s quite possible that this event was on Jesus’ mind when He said, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (verse 45). The old covenant was in the process of vanishing away when Hebrews was written (see Heb. 8:13), but at this time it completely vanished away, and remains no more. Now to the Church belongs the kingdom (cf. Daniel 7:13-27).

In the Futurist view, the proclamation in verse 15 heralds the return of Christ and the end of the world. They point to verse 18 as the commencement of the final judgment.

Verse 19: As we saw in Rev. 4:5 and 8:5, the cosmic phenomena in verse 19 mirrors the phenomena that occurred when Moses delivered the Law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16). The significance of this parallel is that Jerusalem’s destruction (along with the temple) completed the transition from Judaism (the Old Covenant) to the New Covenant.

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Our study of Revelation 11 (Part 2: Historicist View) continues here. Our Revelation 12 study can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.