“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11)
“And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.”
We now have the first mention of a beast in Revelation. In Scripture, beasts are persecuting political powers. In the popular mind, the beast and the antichrist are the same nefarious figure at the end of the world—but they are really quite distinct. A modern beast would be a figure like Stalin or Mao. A modern antichrist would be a false teacher . . . a mild liberal theologian who denies the Incarnation.
This beast ascends out of the Abyss, showing that his political force and authority are given to him by the underworld. He attacks the two witnesses, but is only allowed to do this after they have “finished their testimony.” With regard to the preceding verses, I argued that these were not two literal witnesses, but rather represented the chain of prophets throughout the Old Testament era. They came in the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah. Part of the reason for not taking them as two literal prophets can be found in the wording of this section. First, it says that the beast “makes war” against them. This is an odd expression if we are talking about two men. Wars occur between armies. And second, in verses 8-9, the expression their dead bodies occurs three times. In the first two of these instances, the literal expression is singular—their dead body. This would indicate some sort of corporate body.
They testify for a long time—three and a half years. Their enemies exult over their dead bodies for a short time—three and a half days. The city where they died is identified as Jerusalem—where the Lord was crucified. Jerusalem is the graveyard of prophets. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee” (Matt. 23:37a). But graveyard is not quite the right expression because in this instance the malevolence of the God-haters is seen in how they deny burial to the witnesses, and how they rejoice and make merry over their death.The once beautiful city had not just undergone mission drift, but rather mission reversal. The people of God had become the anti-people of God.The book of Revelation is about the divorce and final putting away of Jerusalem. God’s rejection of her can be seen in the language used. This city, the city where Jesus was crucified, can be identified with her true spiritual names—that is, Sodom and Egypt. The once beautiful city had not just undergone mission drift, but rather mission reversal. The people of God had become the anti-people of God. Israel is identified with Sodom in the Old Testament (Is. 1:10). And here in Revelation, the plagues of Egypt were rained down upon Israel (Rev. 8:6-12; 16:2-12)
Spite and vindictiveness are the hallmark of persecutors. They would not allow the witnesses to be buried, and they rejoiced over their carcasses. Unfortunately, this kind of malice has not been unknown in the history of the church. The ashes of Huss were thrown in the Lake of Constance. The bones of Wycliff were dug up and thrown into the river. The book of Revelation was largely fulfilled in the first century, but the fundamental spiritual realities have not changed.