You sometimes find stories in unexpected places. I have to say Revelation is apparently an unexpected place to find Israel for the majority of Christian scholars who study Revelation. They find the church in everything-Revelation in ways that should be a little embarrassing to them. The word bias is supposed to be something scholars seek to minimize. Yet as I read otherwise excellent works on Revelation by Christian evangelical and critical scholars, I find few, other than dispensationalists, who consider that the author may have been a Jew recasting the vision of Israel’s prophets to include the story of the nations. Instead, I find that nearly all see Revelation as the story of the nations replacing the story of Israel.
Revelation 11 is one of those places where you see Israel’s story turn up in an unexpected place.
The author, writing to his audience in Asia minor, definitely locates them in the center of the action. They are the ones who must persevere as events in history always follow the pattern of the end of the age. They did not know that 2,000 years later we would still be waiting for the eschaton. But no matter, since every age has its beast empires and persecutions and signs of hope as well. Revelation is, in my view, about the end of the age, but the patterns in it occur continuously throughout history as well.
So, in this very contemporary book aimed at giving its readers center stage in the redemption drama, enter again the story of Israel (in many places throughout the book). Revelation 11 is the turning point, the removal of the last barrier to the coming of the King. This is why we read in vs. 15:
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ [Messiah].
“Has become” is the language of arrival, it has just become the kingdom. It has just arrived. And what immediately preceded the turning of this age to the age of the kingdom?
The answer is so simple and so related to other texts in the canon of scripture and yet so understated in the interpretations of the scholars.
What has just happened before the kingdom’s arrival is the repentance of Jerusalem:
a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
What did Yeshua say? “You [Jerusalem] will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes’” (Matt. 23:39). What did Zechariah say?
I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born. . . . On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness. -Zechariah 12:10; 13:1
So, I say we see Israel’s story in Revelation 11. The central narrative thread of the Bible is the promise to Abraham’s descendants to be a blessing to the whole world. The renewal of Israel is the turning point. And we should be more surprised if the Jewish author or Revelation denied this than if he affirmed it.
Nonetheless, I must contrast two ways of seeing the story of Revelation 11. There is the way of most Christian scholarship and there is the way of Israel’s story.
The Story of Revelation 11 in Much Contemporary Scholarship
John is told to measure the temple, a figure for the church [people of God].
The inner courts [the faithful in the church] will be protected while the outer courts [the compromisers] will be trampled on by Gentiles.
Two witnesses [figures for the witnessing church] will call for repentance, but the world will mock them.
God will resurrect the witnesses [revive his church] and the world will see.
The wicked city [every city] will mock, and yet a change will happen when many see the church revived.
Some [in every city] will give glory to God after judgments and the revival of the church.
The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our God and Messiah.
The Story of Revelation 11 as Israel’s Familiar Story
The temple [literal, in Jerusalem] is measured as in Ezekiel and Zechariah.
Two witnesses [Elijah] come before Messiah [just as tradition and Malachi say it will happen].
Elijah [two witnesses] is despised at first, just as is the pattern in Israel’s history.
Jerusalem [the city] is denounced as being like Sodom and Egypt [just as many times before in the prophets].
After many signs, the one that finally begins to persuade is bodily resurrection [the traditional Jewish hope for the Age to Come].
An earthquake [a standard prophetic judgment on Jerusalem] is the final persuader for Jerusalem to give God glory at last.
With Jerusalem chastened and renewed, the last barrier to Messiah’s kingdom is removed.
The heavens prepare for the descent of the King.