Turning points. We love them. Or hate them, depending on which way things turn. When things start turning in a favorable way, they are the dawning light of a new day. They possess hope enough to fight on.
D-Day was one such turning point. Thursday, June 6, 1944. Tides turned for the Allied Forces on that day. That Hitler and the Axis Powers had gone from the hunters to the hunted was becoming clear. However, there was still fighting to be done. V-E Day would not be for another eleven months, Wednesday, May 8, 1945.
In many ways I read this chapter, seemingly the contents of the bittersweet “little scroll” of chapter 10, as a similar turning point.
John receives a vision of two witnesses guarded safely through a period of persecution (42 months = 1260 days = 3.5 years = time, times, half a time → were all symbolic ways to depict an indefinite period of trial, based on Daniel 8). However, when that time period is over and their message has been faithfully delivered, protection is lifted and the people of the “great city” of “Sodom” or “Egypt” kill them and leave them for public disgrace. After 3.5 days, the two are resurrected and whisked away to the heavens. At this point the angelic chorus of God’s throne-room breaks into unmatched praise and announcement of a decisive turning point. Now is the time “to destroy the destroyers of the earth” (11:18).
Who exactly are the “two witnesses”? There are many, many interpretations. This may be one of the most contested passages in the book. Almost all see that the two witnesses are described as Elijah (fire devouring enemies, shut up the sky from raining, v.5-6) and Moses (water turned to blood, calling down plagues, v.6), but who or what is being referred to by these figures? If this vision is talking about actual people, I am most drawn to the suggestion that this would be Peter and Paul, both of whom died during the reign of Nero in public ways in Rome (always the “great city” in Revelation, and understandably like the immoral Sodom and tyrannical Egypt, v.8).
Now, fifteen years later, the Jesus movement did not in fact die as one might have expected it to after the persecutions of Nero. Almost as if it were “back from the dead,” as strong as ever before, the tables have turned. There are dark days ahead for the seven churches addressed in this book as Domitian brings a second wave of persecution in Asia Minor, but God will see them safely through this as he did before, at least safely through the second death of martyrdom to the great reward of new life. Rome dealt its death-blow to those brought to Christ by the apostle to the Jews (Peter) and the apostle to the Gentiles (Paul), but death could not keep her down. The fate of the kingdoms of the world is sealed at this point. Victory is in sight. Rome is going down. Rome is now the hunted. Justice is coming. In many ways, what we will see as we keep on reading will be the undoing of the forces of evil opposed to God.
Verse 15 may be one of my favorite verses in the entire Bible:
The seventh angel blew his trumpet, and loud voices were heard from heaven. “Now the kingdom of the world has passed to our Lord and his Messiah,” said the voices, “and he will reign forever and ever.”
There is nothing that God is after more than the redemption of His creation — people and place. This is the New Creation, when this world is rescued from the forces of evil and it becomes the domain of God once again. Here in the middle of the book we are given a glimmer of the glory to come.