Revelation 10-11 is another particularly odd series of interludes. Much like the interlude of the Church between the 6th and 7th seal, our 6th and 7th trumpets are separated by an extended and seemingly detached vision.
Chapter ten opens with an angelic messenger, clearly reflective of but not Christ himself (who is never called an angel), offering John a scroll. John is told to eat the scroll. This symbolism is fairly clear, John has to absorb the message being given to him, make it a part of who he is. And because it is God’s word it is sweet. There is a goodness and satisfaction in following God’s design and there is a special power and goodness in God’s words.
But John again differentiates himself from typical apocalypses. The scroll is also bitter. John isn’t receiving just any word from God but a word of judgment, destruction and desolation. John is a follower of the slaughtered Lamb, Jesus is at the center of everything he does. To play a part, even at God’s command, in such a painful series of events is traumatic and difficult. John doesn’t want to be a part of the violence and destruction around him, the words turn his stomach, make him sick. But he continues on.
The strange lines about the sealed thunder, for all that they inspire speculation are actually intended for the opposite. Much like Jesus’ own “No one will know the day or the hour” or talking about the kingdom of God coming like “a thief in the night,” John is reminding us not to get too hung up on intricate calendaresque knowledge of God’s plan. It also seems to suggest a divine impatience. The thunders, based on the logic so far, should likely be another series of 7 woes (maybe even #4 of seven sets). But God is bigger than the numerological conventions of Apocalypse. Things will unfold on God’s schedule and God has just bumped up the time frame.
The measuring of the temple is probably an image intended to represent the church community. God doesn’t pull the church out of trial and struggle rapture style but does mark them to endure through the worst of it. The trampling of the Gentile court could represent either the unprotected nature of the outside world or, if it is intended to represent a segment of the church, could represent the limited success God would allow the world in persecuting the churches. While Rome has the power to kill and imprison some, they are ultimately held back from destroying God’s people.
The number of 42 months (which is 1260 days) is also 3 ½ years. This is half of 7, the number for completion. This is an indeterminate time period which will not go on forever. We see this same symbolism in the 3 ½ days of the witnesses’ death. Neither will last forever, but will eventually be overturned.
The two witnesses are less clear than a lot of Revelation imagery. They could represent the Law and the Prophets, embodied in Moses and Elijah. This would make a lot of sense as they were both considered the pinnacles of prophetic ministry and the specific signs mentioned (water to blood, plagues, drought and heavenly fire) are all associated with the two of them. They could also be literal future witnesses who will continue the prophetic ministry.
All that being said, it seems most likely that they are another embodied image for the Church. Their story sounds a lot like what we see in Acts. A people filled with God’s spirit to go proclaim God’s will to the world with miraculous acts and holy words. A group which seems sometimes supernaturally invincible (like Peter and Paul’s miraculous prison escapes). But eventually die for what they believe (like Stephen, James and eventually Peter and Paul themselves). They look like the OT prophets because God is empowering them to be new prophets, continuing God’s model of prophecy. These witnesses are a glimpse of past successes and present suffering for the churches. The church is currently at the dead and shamed part of this story. But God is ultimately promising to reverse their misfortune, restoring and resurrecting them to show God’s glory. They will be vindicated through bodily resurrection and miraculous renewal.
This is also our first glimpse of the beast(s). We’ll be spending most of chapters 12-15 with them so we’ll hold off for now.
And out of nowhere John closes his long parenthetical story, blaring the seventh trumpet. At the seventh seal we received only ominous silence. Now we hear distant victory songs, sung by the heavenly choirs. We’re getting closer and closer to the end. But we’re still not there yet. God has warned us that the next series will be the last.