Refusing Burial for the Two Witnesses

20 Oct
Sacred Ground - 1

from Google Images

The beast in Revelation 11:7 will not permit “their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb.” This implies that efforts by friends of the witnesses would be made to bury them, and those efforts would be denied. The question then arises, does this mean their bodies shall lay outside the tombs and in the street for 3 ½ days or 3 ½ years, as the case may be prophetically understood?[1] I don’t believe the sense is that they would not be allowed to be laid in tombs. Rather, the sense seems to be that they wouldn’t be permitted to be buried in the sacred ground of their fathers (cp. 1Kings 13:22).

The context of Revelation 11:9 is such that the witnesses prophesied under persecution, and they were threatened, and efforts were made to silence them but to no avail, until their ministry had been fulfilled (cp. Revelation 11:7). Therefore, because they were faithful to the Gospel that had been committed unto them, they were refused proper internment by the Jewish authorities.

Christians have been known to practice something similar to this, if one’s denomination considered its cemeteries sacred ground. Permission to bury one’s loved one there was denied, if that one was not a member of that denomination, even though the spouse was a member and could be or was buried in the cemetery in question. There have even been cases where denominations cooperated for a time, but when a quarrel developed, the dead of one group were dug up and removed from the ground that had suddenly become unclean and reburied in sacred soil elsewhere.[2]

I believe it is in this context that we need to understand the denial for the proper internment of the witnesses. Otherwise, if their bodies were literally and publically exposed in the ‘street’ of Jerusalem, that would make the city, itself, unclean according to the Law (Deuteronomy 21:1-9, 23-24; Numbers 35:33-34). Moreover, the fact that John records the Angel saying: they “will lie in the street of the great city” implies that the whole matter must be understood metaphorically, because the great city (Jerusalem) has more than one street.

Moreover, the fact that “Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations” would see them (Revelation 11:9) doesn’t indicate it would be done through television, as a few modern scholars believe and teach. Rather, it means that those unbelieving Jews in the nations, where the witnesses had gone to preach the Gospel, would rejoice together with the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem over hearing the witnesses were dead. They would have a feast and send portions to one another (Revelation 11:10; cp. Esther 9:18-19, 22). Such a thing was all part of ancient Jewish custom.

After 3 ½ days, or, rather, 3 ½ years, because it should be understood prophetically, the witnesses were resurrected at the return of Jesus, for the trump (the 7th Trumpet – see Revelation 11:15) would sound and the dead in Christ would be raised, incorruptible (1Corinthians 15:52). This was when the witnesses were raised up and caught up to heaven to be with the Lord (Revelation 11:11-12).

Again, I don’t believe this Scripture (Revelation 11:12) should be taken literally. Rather, it should be taken in the same sense that the enemies of the Gospel would see Jesus coming in the clouds to judge Jerusalem and the Temple. No one, literally, saw him, but they did “see” his promised judgment coming to pass (Matthew 23:31-36; 24:30) before their very eyes. Similarly, the enemies of the dead witnesses would “see” them rise from the dead and ascend into heaven, when they witnessed the fulfillment of the Gospel that the witnesses preached, coming to pass before their very eyes in the person of Titus surrounding Jerusalem (Luke 21:20-24).

When this occurred, something odd happened. The remnant became afraid and gave glory to God (Revelation 11:13). What does this mean, and who is the remnant? When Israel destroyed Jericho, rather than being blessed they came under a curse. This was because Aiken didn’t appreciate what God had done through Israel and thought to take the glory himself. When he was found out, Joshua asked him to confess his deed and give glory to God (Joshua 7:19), so Aiken repented and confessed his sin. He was executed, but he gave glory to God. What does this mean in light of Revelation 11:13? Well, these people certainly couldn’t be those who had drawn Israel away from God and kept them from entering the Kingdom of God (cp. Revelation 9:20). Rather, I believe these were those who renounced Jesus under the pressure of persecution and fell away (Matthew 24:9-12). These, I believe, are those who were part of that great departure from the faith (2Thessalonians 2:3), but in the light of the fulfillment of the Gospel’s prediction of judgment upon the wicked, they repented, but were, nevertheless, made to experience the fate of those who rejected Christ (Matthew 18:32-34; Luke 19:20-24; cp. Matthew 25:30).

At the conclusion of the Angel’s testimony (cp. Revelation 11:1-3 and following), there was a great earthquake (Revelation 11:13), just as there was at the conclusion of the Angel’s duties as High Priest in Revelation 8:3-5. Earthquakes in Scripture often indicate the presence of God (cp. Exodus 19:16-20). Thus, the Apocalypse is showing us that God was in the judgment sent out against those who had rejected Jesus as the Lord’s Prophet, who was like Moses (cp. Deuteronomy 18:18-20), just as they had rejected him as their High Priest (Revelation 8:3-5; cp. Psalm 110:4). We shall see later in the Apocalypse that judgment finally came in the form of Jesus operating out of his office as Messiah, King of kings and Lord of lords. The second woe is now passed (cp. Revelation 8:13), and the third comes with the blowing of the seventh trumpet (Revelation 11:14).


[1] “The half day lends a certain support to the “year-day” hypothesis—that 3½ years are meant.” See Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, and I quite agree with this interpretation.

[2] Such a case developed between Lutherans and Reformed groups who had cooperated with one another in a Union Church in Numidia, Pennsylvania, but a quarrel developed between the two groups, and the Lutherans built a building across the street and removed their dead from the Union / Reformed cemetery and reburied them across the street. My wife is descended from families, coming from both sides of that quarrel.

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Posted by on October 20, 2019 in Apocalypse, Book of Revelation


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