Revelation 11-12 • Israel in the Great Tribulation

Introduction

In chapters 11 and 12 we’re definitely treading on Jewish ground. We see the Jewish temple (11:1-2), Jerusalem (11:8), the ark of the covenant (11:19), the ruling Messiah (12:5), the angel Michael (12:7) and Satan’s persecution of the Jews. (12:17) These are not allegories or spiritualizations of the Church, but literally applied to the nation Israel. It’s one of the scriptural proofs that in the Last Days God’s favor turns back to His chosen people, most likely to fill the gap when the Church proper has been removed and separated from “those who dwell on the earth”.

Read 11:1-4

Q: So what is implicit in v.1-4? What will have to happen that has yet to take place?

A: The temple will be rebuilt and Israel as a nation will once again begin to worship Yahweh. You really can’t measure (the temple) what isn’t there yet.

Q: To what do both “forty-two months” and “twelve hundred and sixty days” refer to?

A: They’re both equivalents of 3-1/2 years.

Point: The final week of years is often described as two 3-1/2 year halves, some things ascribed to the first half, but most of the major activities to the second half.

Q: What event undoubtedly marks the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half of the final week of years?

A: The “abomination of desolation”. The Antichrist will break his covenant with Israel and take possession of the temple area in order to set himself up as a god to be worshiped. (See 2 Thess. 2; Dan. 9:27; Mt. 24:15)

Q: What does it mean to measure something?

A: It’s a symbolic action that not only goes back to Ezekiel 40-41 and Zechariah 2, but to the conquest of Canaan recorded in Joshua. To measure something means to claim it.

Point: Although the forces of Satan have taken over the rebuilt temple, Christ will claim it again and restore it to His people.

Q: Who is being alluded to in v.4?

A: Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest in Zechariah 4-5. These two men were God’s servants for reclaiming and rebuilding the temple and the nation after the Babylonian Captivity. Both the Two Witnesses and Joshua and Zerubbabel are referenced by the same terms, so the primary Scriptures we need to study to understand the Two Witnesses are those pertaining to Joshua and Zerubbabel.

Point: The problem is that EVERYONE, both Jew and Gentile alike, is misusing the temple and the things associated with the worship of God. There’s not only the worship of a false god in the person of the Antichrist, but the Jews have only returned to the ways of the Old Covenant, yet to embrace the New Covenant through Christ.

Read 11:5-6

Q: Why do many scholars believe that the two witnesses are Moses and Elijah?

A: Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ during the Transfiguration (Mt. 17:3) and the signs listed in these verses are all signs which were performed by Moses and Elijah.

Point: Whether this is the literal reappearance of Moses and Elijah or two witnesses coming “in the spirit of” Moses and Elijah, studying the lives and ministries of Moses and Elijah greatly aids in understanding the purpose and ministry of these two witnesses. What they do, however, is related far more to Moses and Aaron battling Pharaoh and his magicians.

Q: How do we know for sure, however, that these are NOT Moses and Elijah?

A: The Apostle John is the only human alive who actually met Moses and Elijah on the Mt. of Transfiguration, therefore he would recognize the literal figures. The primary scriptural connection must first be ascribed to Joshua and Zerubbabel.

Q: How did Christ rule out the possibility that one of this final pair could be Elijah?

A: Because while coming down from the Mt. of Transfiguration, Jesus specifically said that John the Baptist fulfilled Elijah's mission in the First Coming, but someone like him would come in the course of the Second Coming "to restore all things". (Mt. 17:9-13) The partial success in the First Coming will experience a complete experience in the Second Coming where Israel is concerned.

Q: But what is the thing they’re going to do which is actually far greater than performing signs and wonders?

A: Their ministry in described in v.6 as “the days of their prophesying”. In fact, in v.10 they’re directly described as “prophets”. Their greater work is preaching the Word of God – the signs and wonders merely follow and confirm the greater ministry of the Word.

Point: God always has a faithful remnant dedicated to preaching His Word even in the most difficult and overwhelming of circumstances. Jews in particular would be sensitive of prophets who combine Old Testament types of signs and wonders with a New Testament message.

Read 11:7-10

Q: What is probably the greater spiritual message contained in this description of the persecution of the two witnesses’ ministry? What is Jerusalem, and by inference the rest of Israel, called?

A: In v.8 Jerusalem is called “Sodom and Egypt”. These are two Old Testament symbols of rejecting God and living according to one’s own ways and desires. They express spiritual unfaithfulness.

Point: It’s not merely that the Antichrist will be present and active and working against God’s messengers, but that Israel herself will be so spiritually backslidden that they won’t fully receive the message of His messengers either.

Q: How is the rest of the world described spiritually?

A: They’re described as “those who dwell on the earth”. (v.10) It’s the repeated reference used throughout Revelation to describe those rejecting God’s Word and ways.

Q: What is yet another confirmation that neither of these witnesses is the Second Coming fulfillment of Elijah?

A: Jesus stipulated Elijah would return "to restore all things", and these figures "tormented those who dwell on the earth".

Point: This “Satanic Christmas” celebration is actually an expression of the spiritual problems existing among everyone during this time. When the messengers are gone, they celebrate because they think they’re no longer responsible for not doing anything with what they heard, both Jew and Gentile alike. Because the messengers are gone, they think they’re no longer liable for the message.

Read 11:11-14

Q: What is significant about the number “three and a half”? What might it be alluding to?

A: Most people state that Christ’s ministry on earth lasted for 3 years, but it was actually 3-1/2. So there are many parallels to Christ seen in the ministry of these witnesses to include their death, resurrection, and the way in which they ascend into heaven.

Q: What is the greater spiritual accomplishment of God’s messengers?

A: Back in v.4, they were witnesses to the “Lord of the earth”. By the time their ministry is finished, they are acknowledged witnesses in v.13 to “the God of heaven”. They get even God’s enemies to acknowledge that He is God of both heaven and earth.

Point: As with all signs and wonders in the Bible, they point to a greater spiritual message to be accepted than merely the signs and wonders themselves.

Read 11:15-19

Q: So is this the point at which Christ gains control of the world?

A: Think of it more like the “beginning of the end”. That specific point of control does not come until Rev. 19:11 or so. This is the formal declaration of events to come.

Point: What is happening might be called a milestone, a delineation between general judgment and the actual wrath of God. It’s like the plagues brought about to free Israel from Egypt – the first few were experienced by everyone as a testimony of God’s authority and judgment, but then the later ones only experienced by those upon whom God’s wrath had come because of continued unbelief.

Q: This is the third time we’ve witnessed heavenly praise. How does this compare/contrast to the other times?

  1. In Rev. 4:10-11 Christ was praised as the Creator.
  2. In Rev. 5:8-10 Christ was praised as the Redeemer.
  3. Here Christ is praised as the King and Judge.

Point: They combine to form the whole picture of Christ as He brings together the fulfillment of all things together in these final days.

Q: How does v.18 serve as a basic outline for what we can expect to happen in the last 3-1/2 years of the final week of years?

  1. And the nations were enraged…” The nations will openly display their hatred for Christ and His people. (See Ps. 2; Ps. 83; Joel 3:9-13)
  2. “…Your wrath came…” There is a significant difference between God using signs and wonders to support a message of repentance and the wrath of God come in final judgment for rejecting that message.
  3. “…the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants…” Everyone’s deeds will be judged, but whereas the saints will be judged to determine their reward, the wicked will be judged to death for their sin. These two groups are contrasted by their labels as “those who fear Your name” as opposed to “those who destroy the earth”.

Q: How does chapter 11 close quite differently than it opened?

A: Whereas it opened with the temple on earth, it closes with the temple in heaven.

Q: What might be significant about “flashes of lightning and sounds and peal of thunder”?

A: It’s the same as they were used previously in Rev. 4:5 coming from the throne and in Rev. 8:5 coming from the altar, they’re warnings of the coming storm.

Q: Why would we expect to see the ark of the covenant again accompanied by these signs and thundering?

A: The ark is the symbol of both God’s presence and covenant. Just as there were signs and thundering accompanying the giving of the Law through Moses on Sinai, so they again accompany God’s final judgment for breaking His Law.

Point: When the rapture will occur is greatly debated. Those who take a “pre-Tribulation” stand believe the church will avoid what they call The Tribulation (the entire last week of years)) completely; those subscribing to a “post-Tribulation” stance believe the church will go through the entire 7 years; and those opting for a “mid-Tribulation” position believe the church will share in part but not all of it. Walk with the Word prefers to describe its beliefs as “Intra-Seal”, meaning that the Church will be extracted before God’s judgments turn from being demonstrations of His power and authority to actually executing His wrath. Biblically speaking, everyone falls under judgment, but only the wicked incur God’s wrath.

Read 12:1-6

Q: So what is the greater meaning of the woman?

A: It’s a picture of Israel, just as in the Old Testament Israel is often referred to as a woman and mother. (See Is. 54:5; Jer. 3:6-10.) It describes one of the themes running throughout the entire Bible that the Messiah would come specifically through a seedline of Israel and that one of the reasons Satan is always at war with Israel is to extinguish that seedline.

Q: What is the greater meaning of the dragon?

A: If we sneak a peek down at v.9, it states plainly that the dragon “is called the devil and Satan”. References in Rev. 13:1 and 17:3 indicate that the heads, horns, and crowns refer to the Beast (Antichrist).

Point: The symbolism provided here is a reminder of the greater meaning of all human history both in terms of the spiritual struggles between heaven and hell and as they will ultimately come to completion in the end. Everything that happens on earth, although it will be physically real, is also a reflection of issues in the spiritual realm.

Read 12:7-12

Q: What is particularly telling about the fact that Michael is mentioned by name?

A: We know from Scripture that he is the archangel assigned to protect Israel. (See Dan. 10:13; 10:21; 12:1; Jude 9.) Therefore what is being revisited here is the age-old persecution of literal Israel, not a spiritual substitute for it.

Q: What does Michael’s name mean? How does it contrast to Satan’s intentions?

A: “Michael” means “who is like God?” It is a kind of answer to Satan’s desire, “I will make myself like the Most High!” (See Is. 14:14.)

Q: What does it mean when he is called “the devil and Satan” in v.9?

A: “The devil” means “accuser” and “Satan” means “adversary”. They describe the dual aspects of his work as the enemy.

Q: Why might it be significant that Satan is described as either a “dragon” (v.7) or a “serpent” (v.9)?

A: Whenever Satan is described as a serpent it goes back to the garden when he deceived Eve and expresses when he’s working to destroy God’s people through deception; when he’s described as a dragon it expresses how he works to openly destroy God’s people through persecution.

Q: How is it that God’s people overcome Satan spiritually as the accuser and adversary and physically as the serpent and the dragon?

Point: It wasn’t just knowledge alone or simply “believing”, but putting into practice the admonition to “pick up your cross daily and follow Me”. These are the characteristics of those who are described as “bond-servants”.

Read 12:13-17

Q: So what is being described here?

A: Since Satan can no longer accuse God’s people before God in heaven, he will seek to persecute them on earth. His primary target is Israel since he failed to kill the woman’s Son so he tries to exterminate all of her remaining seed.

Point: Every historic instance of Anti-Semitism has been and will be Satanic in its origin.

Q: Now some scholars say that the reference to being given “the two wings of the great eagle” is a reference to the role of the United States. How can we determine what the biblical meaning of “the wings of an eagle”?

A: We determine the meaning by examining it as used in other places in Scripture:

In other words, it always describes God’s supernatural protection of the believing remnant of His people.

Q: Why would Israel’s escape “into the wilderness” actually be something we’d expect?

A: Again, because it is spoken of in other places in Scripture such as Is. 26:20-27:13 and Dan. 11:41. It specifically states that His people will take refuge in places like Edom, Moab, and Ammon. Jesus Himself in the Olivet Discourse advises that those living in Israel who become witnesses of these events flee in this manner. (Mt. 24:16-21).

Q: What is different about the war that is now taking place?

A: It’s now a dual war wherein God is warring against the unbelieving world and Satan is making war on God’s people. It’s no wonder Jesus said…

“Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.

— Matthew 24:22

Q: What do you suppose the symbolism of the water and the flood represent?

A: Often in Scripture great bodies of water are a symbol of all the Gentile nations of the world. It most likely represents how Satan will use everyone possible to persecute Israel during this final 3-1/2 year period.

Q: What is a sure way to avoid this persecution?

A: According to v.17, don’t be someone who “keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus”.

Point: The Great Tribulation has as much to do judging everyone for their treatment of Israel in regards to corporate sin as it does for holding everyone accountable to God’s judgment for personal sin.

Overall Application

There are several practical lessons to be learned here: