Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem
John pictures the two witnesses in terms of Moses and Elijah, who represent the law and the prophets, civil and priestly authority, and the Dominion Mandate and the Fruitfulness Mandate. Yet this revelation is three-dimensional in that Moses and Elijah each represent just half of a full ministry. Joshua fulfilled the second part of Moses’ ministry, and Elisha fulfilled the second part of Elijah’s ministry.
First, Moses was unable to complete his ministry, for he died at the end of the wilderness journey, and Joshua completed the work when he brought Israel into the Promised Land. Elijah too was unable to complete his ministry, for he ran from Jezebel’s threats, but Elisha was then given his mantle along with a double portion of Elijah’s authority in order to complete this prophetic work of restoration.
In Revelation 11 we see a blend of prophecy between Moses and Elijah in the death of the two witnesses, followed by their resurrection and ascension. Moses died (Deut. 34:5), and Elijah ascended (2 Kings 2:11). Hence, the two witnesses die as Moses but also ascend as Elijah. Revelation 11 largely ignores the second part of each of their ministries (i.e., Joshua/Elisha), because the end has not yet come in John’s narrative. This is still technically part of the second woe, which does not end, nor does the third and final woe begin, until Rev. 11:14.
The Witnesses Killed in Jerusalem
We read in Revelation 11:7, 8,
7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. 8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically [or spiritually] is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.
Here we see plainly that John was not speaking literally, but “mystically.” The two witnesses are not literally killed in Jerusalem, as so many have said. Jerusalem is also “Sodom and Egypt,” and it is plain that geographically speaking, Jerusalem is not literally the city of Sodom, nor is it the entire country of Egypt. John was telling us to interpret this spiritually (pneumatikos, from pneuma, “spirit”). So we must follow his instructions and look to a mystical city.
How is Jerusalem the equivalent of Sodom and Egypt? Sodom is known for its wickedness (homosexuality in particular), which God destroyed by fire from heaven. Its manner of judgment is identified with Elijah, who also called down fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:10, 12). Egypt, of course, was judged through Moses. Jerusalem was the place where “their Lord was crucified,” for Jesus was a prophet like Moses (Acts 3:22); but more than that, Jerusalem was the place where all of the prophets were persecuted and killed (Matt. 23:37).
In Luke 13:33 Jesus says, “it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.”
Nonetheless, in the prophetic picture presented by John, Jerusalem has taken on a greater role than just an earthly city. The city is a type of the Old Covenant (Gal. 4:24, 25), pictured as Hagar, and her spiritual children are the children of the flesh (pictured as Ishmael). The earthly Jerusalem cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, for this is reserved for the children of “Sarah,” the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26, 30).
The two cities have a fundamental disagreement in regard to the birthright, for each lays claim to the promises of God and considers its “son” to be chosen. Yet to Paul, the chief evidence settling the question of inheritance is the fact that the children of the earthly Jerusalem persecute the children of the heavenly Jerusalem, even as Ishmael persecuted Isaac in the original story.
Paul well understood this, for he personally had persecuted the children of promise in his former life in Judaism. In Gal. 1:13, 14 he writes,
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
Paul was admitting that he, as a fleshly Jew in Judaism, was not a child of the promise, nor was he a spiritual son of Sarah, as long as he remained attached to the Old Covenant and to the city that it represented. As an unbelieving Jew, having impeccable genealogy in the tribe of Benjamin (Phil. 3:5), he was nonetheless a spiritual Ishmaelite who could not inherit the promises of God. Yet he is also an example of one who had switched mothers by faith in Christ and by adhering to the New Covenant (“Sarah”). Only then was his claim to the inheritance and to the promises of God valid. Only then was he ranked among the “chosen people.”
It is plain, then, that the earthly Jerusalem is not the mother of those who have come to Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, for they are not Ishmaelites, but rather are part of the Isaac company (Gal. 4:28). Yet there are many Christians today who claim Jerusalem-Hagar as their mother and believe strongly that Hagar’s children are the chosen ones. Nothing can be further from the truth. Those who are begotten by flesh are fleshly; those who are begotten by the Spirit are spiritual. Both claim the same Father; but their mother determines the inheritance.
Knowing these things helps us to understand what John meant when he spoke of the two witnesses being killed in “Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.” It is obvious that these witnesses were not killed in (or by) the New Jerusalem. In fact, the entire scene since the start of the chapter has taken place in the outer court which was “given to the nations.” In other words, we are seeing unbelievers or carnal people who are limited to the outer court, and the earthly Jerusalem itself is an extension of that outer court.
Jerusalem is pictured as a city under occupation by unbelievers. Many prophecy teachers assume that these unbelieving people cannot be Jews, but John makes no distinction here between Jews and other people. The distinction is only between fleshly and spiritual, between those who have access to the Holy Place and those limited to the outer court.
In fact, because Jerusalem is linked to Egypt, known as “the house of slavery” (Exodus 13:3), any child of the flesh and anyone who adheres to the Old Covenant (as Paul says) remains “in slavery with her children” (Gal. 4:25). Hence, even as Moses led Israel out of the house of bondage at Passover, so also did Jesus Christ lead the church out of bondage when He died on the cross as the Passover Lamb.
This means that the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, who persecuted the Son of God and then later the church, were playing the role of Pharaoh, not of Israel. Jerusalem was thus Egypt, spiritually speaking. Jerusalem is not the oppressed, but the oppressor. Jerusalem is not the home of the people of God, but of God’s “enemies,” from a legal standpoint.
The law in Lev. 26:40-42 tells us that if the Israelites cast aside the law of God and act with “hostility” against Him, then God would also act with hostility against Israel. In other words, God would treat lawless Israelites as enemies. Isaiah confirms this in Isaiah 63:10,
10 But they [Israel] rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy; He fought against them.
The prophet set forth the hostility of God in Isaiah 29:1-6, where he refers to Jerusalem by the poetic name, Ariel. This name has a double meaning: (1) the lion of God, and (2) the hearth of God.
1 Woe, O Ariel, Ariel the city where David once camped! Add year to year, observe your feasts on schedule. 2 And I will bring distress to Ariel, and she shall be a city of lamenting and mourning; and she shall be like an Ariel [hearth of God, i.e., a place of burning] to me.
During the time of David, the city was the Lion of God; but in later years, after degenerating into lawlessness and apostasy, God became their enemy and treated it as a hearth for burning. What follows is a prophecy showing God’s destruction of Jerusalem. Still addressing the city, God says in Isaiah 29:5, 6,
5 But the multitude of your enemies shall become like fine dust, and the multitude of the ruthless ones like the chaff which blows away; and it shall happen instantly, suddenly. 6 From the Lord of hosts you [Jerusalem] will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise, with whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire.
Many assume that this is about non-Jewish nations fighting against the Jews in Jerusalem at the end of the age. But from the outset, God tells us that He Himself has declared war against the city on account of its lawlessness. In verse 3 God says of Jerusalem, or “Ariel,”
3 And I will camp against you encircling you, and I will set siegeworks against you, and I will raise up battle towers against you.
Therefore, if God indeed raises up foreign nations against Jerusalem, it is clear that God fights on the side of those foreign armies, for He takes credit for laying siege to Jerusalem.
Then we find a very remarkable outcome in this battle. Isaiah 29:7 says,
7 And the multitude of all the nations who wage war against Ariel, even all who wage war against her and her stronghold, and who distress her, shall be like a dream, a vision of the night.
In other words, in regard to all the nations whom God has conscripted in His siege of Jerusalem, the outcome of the war will be like a dream that is described in the next verse.
8 And it will be as when a hungry man dreams—and behold, he is eating; but when he awakens, his hunger is not satisfied, or as when a thirsty man dreams—and behold, he is drinking, but when he awakens, behold, he is faint, and his thirst is not quenched. Thus the multitude of all the nations shall be, who wage war against Mount Zion.
We see here that all of the enemies of God who have waged war against Jerusalem (as God has led them), will have dreams of inheriting the city, but will discover it is all an illusion. When they wake up from their dream, they will find that they are still hungry and thirsty. Today, both Jews and Muslims are fighting over the city of Jerusalem, with Christian Zionists cheering for the Jews. But it is all an illusion, based on the belief that the old city will be the capital of the Kingdom in the age to come. The city is nothing more than a house of bondage that enslaves all who claim it as their mother.
For our purposes, the point of this passage in Isaiah is to show that God’s enemies include all Jews who remain hostile to Jesus Christ and who continue to adhere to the Old Covenant. At the present time both Jews, Muslims, and Christians occupy portions of the old city, and the right to rule the city is still being disputed.
In the end, none of them will be satisfied, for the city itself is under divine judgment. Isaiah 29:5, 6 seems to describe a nuclear explosion that will render the city uninhabitable. In the end, the city will be no one’s inheritance, and it will all seem like a good dream that leaves everyone empty when they awake from sleep.
Perhaps this is how Hagar will be “cast out” (Gal. 4:30).
With this background from the rest of Scripture, we now have the tools to understand the specific prophecy of the two witnesses in the flow of John’s revelation.