The Land as Covenant Backdrop, Part 3

January 21, 2011

Revelation 11:8-13, 14:6-7—The People and a Fulfilled Promise

By the time the reader arrives at 11:13, the scene becomes surprisingly parallel to the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2.  For example: 1) At Pentecost, there were Jews “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5, HCSB) in Jerusalem, while in Revelation 11:9 “representatives from the peoples, tribes, languages, and nations” (HCSB) came to Jerusalem (v. 8) to see the dead bodies of the two witnesses; 2) The theological turning point in both passages is resurrection and ascension: in the case of Pentecost, Jesus’ (see Peter’s reference in Acts 2:24, 32-33); in Revelation 11, the two witnesses (vv. 11-12); 3) In Acts 2, the response to Peter’s preaching of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus was that many of his hearers were “pierced to the heart” (v. 37), resulting in the repentant faith of 3,000 people (vv. 38, 41).  In Revelation 11, the reader is told that the survivors of the great earthquake following the ascension of the two witnesses to heaven (v. 13a) “were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven” (v. 13b). 

Perhaps you are thinking, “I was following until the part about being terrified and giving glory to God?  How does that parallel the faith of the throng in Acts 2?”

That’s where Revelation 14:6-7 becomes very helpful.  Among many common misconceptions about the Apocalypse is that the gospel is not present.  However, in 14:6, we find the lone use of euangelion (“good news, gospel”) in Revelation:

Then I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having the eternal gospel to announce to the inhabitants of the earth—to every nation, tribe, language, and people (HCSB).

In 11:8, those present at the time of the resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses were “representatives of the peoples, tribes, languages and nations,” the same four groupings who are stated to be the target audience of the “eternal gospel” in 14:6. 

Further, Revelation 14:7a gives the expected response to the announcing of the “eternal gospel” as “Fear God and give Him glory” (HCSB).  But, is the wording here intended to get across the idea that responding to this “gospel” message will actually save a person and get them to heaven?  Apparently so, given that, in the very next chapter, the overcomers standing on a sea of glass in heaven wonder out loud why anyone would not “fear and glorify [God’s] name,” as they had done, before being martyred (15:2, 4; see also 12:11).

With 14:6-7 in mind, is there any reason—other than preconceived theological bias—why the wording in 11:13 (“the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven”) should not be taken as descriptive of repentance/saving faith?[1]  After all, that was the exact response referred to in wonder and praise by the overcomers in heaven in 15:2, 4?

If this reasoning is correct, the question raised at this point is, “Who is it that gets saved in Revelation 11:13?”  The answer would seem to be: 1) at least some Gentiles; and 2) at least a very large group of Jews.

In regard to the first group, Revelation 11:9 speaks of “representatives” from all “nations” being in Jerusalem (v. 8) when the great earthquake hit (v. 13a).  Since only “7,000” people were killed, it must be presumed that a number of these Gentile representatives would have made it through the devastation.  It is just such “survivors” (Gk. hoi loipoi, lit., “the rest, the others, the remaining ones”), as we saw above, who feared God and glorified Him, the expected response to the “eternal gospel.”  Thus, this group of converted Gentiles in chapter 11 is very likely the overcomers seen standing on the sea of glass in heaven in chapter 15. 

But, these Gentiles are hardly the only group in evidence in the context of Revelation 11:13.  After all, this earthquake will be in Jerusalem (11:8).  And, there apparently will be many Jews there at that time, “worshiping” (Gk. proskuneo, the term for temple worship used, e.g., by Paul in Acts 24:11) in the temple that will be standing in that day (Rev. 11:1).[2]  That strongly implies that the remainder of the survivors of the earthquake in 11:13a beyond the representatives of the nations (i.e., Gentiles) will be Jewish.  Thus, it’s hard to get around that what appears to be in view in 11:13b is a mass conversion of Jews.

When this thought registers with a person who knows biblical prophecy much at all, what immediately comes to mind is Romans 11:25b-26a: “A partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved…” (HCSB). 

What must be carefully noted in Romans 11, though, is that the phrase “all Israel” (v. 26a) is used in parallel to the wording “the full number of the Gentiles” (v. 25b).  If that is a correct observation, it implies that, just as not every Gentile has been saved while Israel has been hardened, so not every Jew will be saved when the Lord dispels that hardening (though it will, obviously, be dramatically more than was previously being saved!).

Such an understanding of Romans 11:25-26 fits with an unanswerable question related to Revelation 11:13b: Do other people beyond the earthquake survivors in Jerusalem get saved, also?  There is no way to know biblically.  Having said this, though, it still seems that the best candidate passage in the Apocalypse for the location of the fulfillment of Paul’s prophecy/promise in Romans 11:25-26 is Revelation 11:13: a very large number of Jews in Jerusalem repenting.

[1] This same general reasoning is followed in the recent commentaries of, e.g., Osborne (Revelation, 433-35) and Boxall (The Revelation of Saint John, 167). For my argumentation concerning the relationship between repentance and faith in the New Testament, see A.B. Luter, Jr., “Repentance (NT),” in ABD, V: ?.

[2] There is absolutely no other information given on other Jewish residents of the city or area.  This is puzzling to current readers who have been to Israel, given the secular lifestyle of many—if not most—Jews in Israel today.  However, perhaps the miraculous nature of the three and a half year ministry of the two witnesses in Jerusalem (Rev. 11:3-7) will have made a major impact on many previously hardened hearts of the Jewish onlookers.


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