Just as John the Baptist came “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” the two witnesses of Revelation 11 (the Church) arise in the spirit and power of the great prophets of the Old Testament as they bear witness to Jesus (11:3). The witnesses are “standing before the Lord of the earth,” which indicates that judgment will be issued on anyone who harms them physically, economically, or politically, or merely rejects their testimony (11:4-5). The Church is called to share the gospel of salvation and prophetically speak into the issues of the day—even if we are slandered or threatened.
Amazingly, ministry is patterned after the prophetic authority of Elijah and Moses. Elijah’s “power to shut the sky” and Moses’s power “over the plagues” were responses to idolaters who persecuted God’s people. The same is true in Revelation 11:6. The laser-sharp focus of the seals and trumpets is persecution!
Revelation 11:10 tells us that the Christian witness will “torment” some people. Why? How can the gospel, which preaches a message of hope, love, and grace, be taken as a torturous thing, and its message-bearers as deserving of persecution—even death? For some, the good news of Jesus’s reign may incite rage, but for others, it is the power of God unto salvation (1 Cor 1:21-25; Rom 1:16).
“And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified” (Rev 11:7-8). Sodom is not Egypt, Egypt is not Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is neither Sodom nor Egypt. So, what does this “great city” signify? Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem are all places where God’s people suffered great persecution.
It almost feels like John’s been given a fish-eye lens perspective of the symbolic “world-city” filled with “peoples, tribes, languages, and nations” (Rev 11:9). In a positive sense, the Church will complete its role of bearing witness to Christ when it penetrates the city streets of the entire world (Matt 24:14). In a negative sense, the Church will appear to be defeated in the eyes of the world at the very end of history. The picture of their dead bodies lying “in the street of the great city” does not mean that the entire Church will be massacred (Rev 11:9; cf. Matt 24:9; Ps 79). The remnant may be reduced to silence—or perhaps driven underground.
But the world will cheer, “The Church is finally dead! The threat of judgment will not fall on us! Hooray!” The apparent humiliation of Christianity will give the world a reason to party (Rev 11:10). “If those days had not been cut short,” Jesus said, “no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matt 24:21-22). If the Lord does not crash the party at this point, the Church’s witness would be trashed. Silencing the Church on a global scale seems to be a victory for the beast (this is the first mention of him in Revelation and we’ll get to him in chapter 13). Just when the world thinks it has finally stomped out Christianity, the resurrection will complete our witness (Rev 11:11-12)! This is no secret rapture. A world gripped with fear will watch the witnesses ascend to heaven (11:13-14).
That’s when the last trumpet sounds to announce: “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (11:15; cf. 1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16; Matt 24:31)! Jesus is finally coming! How do we know? Notice that chorus sings, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was,” and omits “who is to come”! When the last trumpet sounds, King Jesus will have “taken [his] “great power and begun to reign” (Rev 11:17). He will bust heaven wide open and redeem all that “the destroyers of the earth” tried to destroy (11:18-19).