Of Antichrist, and His Ruin
by John Bunyan
Fourthly, another sign of the approach of the ruin of Antichrist, is, 'The Slaying of the Witnesses': For the witnesses are to be slain before the fall of Antichrist; and that by the hand of the beast, who shall manage the members of Antichrist, having qualified them before that work, with those qualifications of which you read in the sign foregoing. For what can better fit a generation for such a work, than to be themselves all turned devils, and also succourers of all foul spirits. Wherefore, they must be the wickedest of men that shall do this: the very scum of the nations, and the very vilest of people. Nor is this a new notion: God threatened to give his sanctuary 'into the hands of strangers for a prey, and to the wicked of the earth for a spoil' (Eze 7:21); To robbers, burglars, and they should defile it (verse 22) Again, saith God of his people, 'I will bring the worst of the heathen, and they shall possess their houses.' (verse 24) For the truth is, this work is too bad for men either of reason or conscience to be found in the practice of. The hangman is usually none of the best: The witnesses are also to be slain; but not a man, but a beast must slay them; 'a den of thieves, a hold of foul spirits,' must do it.
That the witnesses must be slain before the fall of Babylon, has been hinted already. Also, that their death is a forerunner of the ruin of Antichrist, has before been touched upon; but in this place I shall a little enlarge.
And therefore I proceed: 'And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people, and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put into graves.' 'And after three days and an half, the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven, saying unto them, Come up hither: And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.' (Rev 11:7-12)
Thus you see their death is before their deliverance. Also their death is to be by the hand of the beast; to wit by the men that have and hold his mark, and that of his image, and that are of the number of his name. You see also that their death is not only a forerunner of their deliverance, but a sign that their deliverance is at the door; since the one is but three days and an half before the other.
And if a short comment upon this text will give a little light to the reader, I shall not count my labour lost.
And when they shall have finished their testimony, when, or about the time they have done their work of witness-bearing for God in the world: When they have made or are making an end of giving their testimony for Christ, and against the witchcrafts, idolatries, sorceries, fornications, thefts, murders, and wickedness of Antichrist: Then and not till then.
'The beast that ascended out of the bottomless pit.' The beast: The power that carrieth and beareth up Antichrist, the mother of harlots: The beast upon which the woman sitteth, and by the heads and horns of which she is protected and defended; he is said to ascend out of the bottomless pit; for that he manifesteth by his doings, that he was born there, and came to [do] the work of the king thereof.
'Shall make war against them.' We read that he made war against them all the time of their prophesying in sackcloth, while they were bearing their testimony against his doing; and that his commission was, That he should have leave to make war so long. (Rev 12:6) But here we read again, that when they had finished their testimony, and so consequently he had run out the time of his first commission for war, he makes war again. So that this war which now he raiseth against them, seems to be another, a new war, and such as is grounded upon other, to wit, new arguments, besides those upon which his first war stood. By his first war, he sought to beat down and overthrow their testimony. (Rev 13:4) By this war he seeketh to overthrow themselves. The first war he made, was grounded upon a vain confidence of his ability to destroy their faith; but this last was grounded upon madness against them, because their testimony had prevailed against him: Wherefore, Torment, wherewith these witnesses by their testimony tormented him and his followers, was the cause of this last war. And this is insinuated when he saith, 'They make merry for their victory over them, because these two prophets,' (to wit, by their testimony,) 'tormented them that dwelt on the earth.' (Rev 11:10)
The beast therefore will make a war against the witnesses all the time of their prophesying in sackcloth, which will be a thousand two hundred and threescore days. (Rev 12:6) In all which time they shall give him the foil, and overcome him by their faith and testimony; and be proclaimed more than conquerors over him, through the Christ that loved them. But now in this second war he overcomes them, 'he overcomes them, and kills them.'
Jezebel for a long time made war against Elias the prophet, seeking to overthrow the worship of God which he maintained, and to establish the religion of Baal: But when she saw that by all she could do she got nothing, but that the prophet got the day of her worship, priests and worshippers (1 Kings 18:30-40), she breaks out into a rage, as one tormented almost to death, and raises a new war; not now against his religion, but his person, and desperately swears by all the gods that she had, That by tomorrow that time the life of the prophet should be as the life of one of her priests whom he had slain for an idolater. (1 Kings 19:2) When the devil sees that he cannot do by argument, he will try if he can by blows.
When Zedekiah, the son of Chenanah, saw that with argument he could not overcome Micaiah, he steps to him, and takes him a box of the ear. (1 Kings 22:24) This new war, is a box of the ear which the beast will give the witnesses, because they overcame him by their faith and testimony, all the time that the first war lasted.
Now how long this second war will last, and what strugglings the witnesses will make before he shall overcome them, I know not: This I know, that the text saith, 'by this war he shall overcome them.'
'And shall overcome them.' Saints are not said to be overcome, when they are imprisoned, banished, and killed for their faithful testimony: No, by these things they overcome. To overcome then, is to get the mastery, to subdue, to turn out of possession, to take and hold captive, to strip the subdued of power and privilege, as is sufficiently manifest both by scripture and reason: 'For of whom a man is overcome, of the same he is brought in bondage.' (2 Peter 2:19)
So then, when he is said to overcome them, it is meant, he shall get the mastery of them, they shall grow faint before him, have no heart or spirit to bear up in their profession against him: Against him, I say, as she did the thousand two hundred and threescore days' war with him; for then they were overcomers, and did bear away the garland.
Nor do I, for my part, wonder at this, when I consider that these witnesses are a succession of good men; and that when Israel came out of Egypt of old, the feeble and weak-handed did come behind. (Deut 25:17-19) It will be the lot therefore of the church, in the latter end of the reign of the beast, to be feeble and weak in their profession, the valiant ones having gone before: These will come, when those that were able have bravely borne their testimony, or when they are upon finishing of that: In comparison of whom, they that come after will be but like eggs to the cocks of the game: wherefore they must needs be crushed, cowed, and overcome. And then will the beast boast himself, as did his type of old, and say, 'My hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped.' (Isa 10:14)
A sad time, and it is to happen to the people that are left, to the latter end of the witness-bearers; and that too when they shall have finished their testimony.
Of this tyranny the cruelty of Amalek was a type; who, as was hinted before, smote the hindermost, the weak: But his judgment is, That 'he shall perish for ever.'
'And shall overcome them.' There are two ways of overcoming; to wit, by power and policy: And perhaps by both these ways they may be overcome. However, overcome they shall be; for so saith the holy word of God; yea, the beast shall overcome them. Wherefore the church of God, at that day, will be under such a cloud as she never was since Christ's day. Now how long they shall thus be held captive before they are brought to execution; whether the beast will ride in triumph while they are in his bonds; or whether he will suddenly kill them; that time, and observation, and experience, must make manifest: But kill them he shall, that's most certain, for so says the Holy Ghost.
'And shall overcome them, and kill them.' In this method therefore God will suffer the beast to proceed with the church of God, after she has sufficiently borne her testimony for him in the world. He shall 'war against them,' but that is not all: He shall overcome them, but that is not all; he 'shall overcome them, and kill them.'
'And kill them.' Of their slaughter also I shall speak a word or two. But first I would note, as all know, that there is a difference to be put betwixt killing and overcoming: For though every one that is killed, is overcome: yet every one that is overcome, is not killed (Acts 21:32): men may be overcome, and yet live (Jer 12:11); but when they are killed, it is otherwise: There may be a cry heard from the mouth of them that are overcome, but not from the mouth of them that are killed (Exo 32:18, Acts 7:34): They that are overcome, may consult their own enlargement, and deliverance; but they that are killed, cannot do so. I do therefore distinguish between killed and overcome, because the text doth so: 'He shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.'
'And kill them.' From these words therefore I will take occasion to inquire,
1. How they are to be considered as to this slaughter.
2. What death they must die to accomplish this prophecy.
FIRST, How they are to be considered?
I answer: Not in a carnal or natural, but in a mystical sense. For, first, they are called witnesses. Secondly, They are put under the number of two: 'My two witnesses.' (Rev 11:3) Both which are to be mystically taken.
First, Because their testimony standeth not in their words only, but in their conversation; yea, in their suffering also: and that is a mystical witness-bearing.
Secondly, They go under the number of two: Not because there were indeed two such men in the world, but because two are a sufficient number to bear witness (Num 35:30, Deut 17:6, 19:15); and God's church, in the most furious heat and rage of Antichrist, has been at least of such a number of professing saints, to proclaim against the beast and his worship in the name of God. To think that there have been two such men in the world, is ridiculous; for these witnesses must continue to give their testimony for God against Antichrist, a thousand two hundred and threescore years. Nor can they scripturally bear this title, My two witnesses, but with respect to their prophesying so long. The witnesses therefore are nothing else but a successive church, or the congregation of God abiding for him against Antichrist, by reason of a continual succession of men that is joined by the special blessing of God unto it.
SECONDLY, What death they must die? I answer, Not a corporeal one, but that which is mystically such. And I choose to understand it thus, because this suiteth best with their state and condition, which is mystical. Besides, thus did they (when they did overcome,) slay their enemies, even with the fire or sword of their mouth: 'If any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.' (Rev 11:5) As therefore they went about to kill their enemies, so their enemies will kill them: But they sought to kill their enemies by their testimony, as to their antichristian spirit, and church-state; and their enemies will kill them, as to their Christian heat and fervency of mind; and also as to their Christian church-state. So that, (at least so I think,) there will be such ruins brought both upon the spirit of Christianity, and the true Christian church-state, before this Antichrist is destroyed, that there will for a time scarce be found a Christian spirit, or a true visible living church of Christ in the world: Nothing but the dead bodies of these will be to be seen of the nations; nor them neither, otherwise than as so many ruinous heaps. For the love that I bear to the church of Christ, I wish, as to this, I may prove a false prophet: But this looks so like the text, and also so like the dispensations of God with his church of old, that I cannot but think it will be so. For the text, I have spoken to that already; wherefore I will now present you with some things that look like parallel cases.
First, When the church was coming out of Egypt, just before they were delivered from Pharaoh, they were in their own eyes, and in the eyes of their enemies, none other than dead: 'It had been better [said they to Moses] for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.' (Exo 14:12) The people said so, Moses feared, and Pharaoh concluded they were all dead men. (Exo 12:33) Also Paul tells us, 'that they were baptized [that is, buried] unto Moses in the cloud, and in the sea.' They were, for the time, to use the expression, a dead church both in the eyes of Pharaoh, in the eyes of Moses, and also in their own.
And 'tis to be taken notice of: As the witnesses in the text were slain but a little before the ruin of Antichrist began; so this church was baptized in the sea but a little before great Pharaoh was drowned there.
Secondly, In the time of Elias, which time also was typical of this, what church was there to be seen in Israel? None but what was under ground, buried in dens, and in caves of the earth: Yea, the prophet could see none, and therefore he cried to God, and said, Lord, they have 'digged down thine altars,' and slain thy prophets, 'and I am left alone, and they seek my life.' (1 Kings 19:14, Rom 11:3) What visible living church was now in the land, I mean, either with reference to a godly spirit for it, or the form and constitution of it? What was, was known to God, but dead to every man alive.
Thirdly, What was the dry bones that we read of in the 37th of Ezekiel, but the church of God, and also a figure of what we are treating of? And why called dry bones, since the people were alive, with their substance, wives, and children; but to shew, that that church of God was now, as to their spirit and church-state, accounted as dead, not only by themselves, but by the king of Babylon, and the nations round about? Babylon then was the valley, and the grave; and the church of God were the bones: Bones without flesh, sinews, or skin; bones exceeding dry; yea so dry and dead were they, that the prophet himself could not tell whether ever they should live again. (Eze 37:1-3)
Now this, as I said, was a state that was not to end with the church of Israel, but to be acted over once again by the beast with the church of the new testament: Yea, it is an easy matter to make their witnesses in this their death, and the church of Israel in this their grave, in many things to symbolize.
Fourthly, Take another instance, or rather comparison, into which the church of God compared herself, when under the king of Babylon's tyranny: And that is, she counted herself as the dung that the beast lets fall to the ground from behind him. And doth this look like a visible church-state? Or has it the smell or savour of such a thing? Nebuchadnezzar (said she) 'hath swallowed me up like a dragon, he hath filled his belly with my delicates, he hath cast me out.' (Jer 51:34) Pray, what would you think of a man, of whom one should tell you, That he was eaten up of a dragon; made to fill the belly of a dragon; and cast out as the dung of a dragon? Would you think that such an one did all this while retain the shape, form, or similitude of a man? Why, thus the church said she was, and thus the church shall be again: For she is once more to be overcome, to be overcome and killed; and that by the beast, the dragon's whelp, of which the king of Babylon was a type. And therefore I conclude the premises; that is, That the beast will kill the church that shall be in the latter days, as to her Christian spiritedness, and her church-state. And I could further add, That if we hold they die corporeally, we must conclude, that their natural body being slain, shall lie three years and an half in the street; yea, that their resurrection shall be corporeal, &c. But why we should think thus, as yet I can see no reason, since the persons are such mystically; the beast mystically so; the street in which they be, mystically such; and the days of their unburied state, to be taken mystically likewise. But we will pass this, and descend to other things.
Fifthly, I will yet add another thing. When Israel was coming out of Babylon; yea, while they were building of the temple of God, which was a figure of our church-state now under the Gospel; they were not only troubled, hindered and molested in their work, but were made for a time to cease, and let the work lie still.
'Now [says the text] when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter [which he sent to forbid the Jews in their work] was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power. Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.' (Ezra 4:23,24)
And I pray, since their temple-worship was a type of a new testament church-state and worship, what doth their causing of that work to cease signify to us, but that we must have a time also to cease as they? And since their temple-work was caused to cease before the house was finished, what face could there be at present thereupon, but that, to look to, it was like some deformed, battered, broken building, or as such an one that was begun by foolish builders? Yea, and since the Jews left off to build God's house at the command of the heathens, what did that bespeak, but that they had lost their spirit, were quashed, and so as to their temple-work, killed, as it were, to all intents and purposes? And thus it will be, a little before the church of God shall be set free from the beast, and all his angels: For these things were writ for our admonition, to show us what shall be done hereafter; yea, and whether we believe or disbelieve hereabout, time will bring it to pass.
I do not question but many good men have writ more largely of this matter: but as I have not seen their books, so I walk not by their rules. If I mistake, the mistakes are only mine; and if I shall merit shame, I alone must bear it.
Some may think they have said enough, when they assert, that for the witnesses to be killed, is, To be dead in law. But I answer, That is not to be overcome. They are here said to be overcome; and that is more than to be dead in law: For a man may be dead in law, and yet not be overcome; and if so, then far enough off from being killed. So then, for as much as they are said to be overcome and killed, it must be more than to be dead in law. Besides, the text supposeth that they had yielded up, as dying men do, their souls, their spirit of life into the hands of God: For it saith concerning them, That at their resurrection, the spirit of life from God entered again into them: Into them, antecedent thereunto. 'and after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet.' (Rev 11:11) thus it was concerning the dry bones, of which mention was made before: 'Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.' (Eze 37:9) And thus much concerning their killing.
Now, as I said, since in death, the body doth not only lie dead, but the spirit of life departs therefrom; it is to shew, that not only their bodies, their church-state, shall die, [for churches are called bodies, (1 Cor 12:27, Eph 3:6, 4:12, 5:23, Col 1:18)] but that spirit of life that acted those bodies, shall be taken up to God. There shall, for a time, be no living visible church of Christ in the world: A church, but no living church, as to church-state: A church in ruins, but not a church in order: Even as there was once a Christ, but no living Christ in the grave; yet the gates of hell shall not prevail to an utter overthrow thereof, no more than they prevailed to an utter overthrow of Christ; but as one did, so shall the other, revive, and rise again, to the utter confusion and destruction of their enemies: Yea, and as Christ, after his resurrection, was, as to this body, more glorious than he was before; so the witnesses, after their resurrection, shall be more spiritual, heavenly, and exact in all their ways, than they were before they were killed. Resurrections are always attended with new additions of glory; and so shall the church of God, as to her church-state, be in the latter days.
But yet the beast shall not altogether have his will, (if that at all was his will) that these witnesses, in this second war, should be conquered to a compliance with Antichrist in his foolish and vain religion: For it is not with dead men to comply; but as they are dead to their own church-state, so they are to his. When the Jews had killed Christ, it was beyond all the art of hell to cause that his body should see corruption; so when the beast has killed the witnesses, he shall not be able to corrupt them with any of his vices.
Hence you find, that not the witnesses, but the dwellers upon the earth were them that danced after the devil's pipe, when he had fulfilled their murder.
Nor doth this murder, as to the fulfilling of it in those nations where the woman sitteth, seem to be a great way off, if all be true that from foreign parts some have said: For what a withdrawing of God and of his Spirit is there already in some of the churches of God! The word worketh not that sound repentance which it was wont to do: Preachers preach for little, but to spend themselves, as men that are wounded do when with groans they let out their life. Where (say some) is the spirit and life of communion? And where that practical holiness that formerly used to be seen in the houses, lives and conversations of professors? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint already; and how long will it be before churches die of the wound that the beast has given them, time must make appear: But die I perceive they must; for if the wound already given will not kill, repeated blows shall.
By all that I have said, I do not deny but that many of the people of God may die corporeally, by the hand of the beast, in this second war that shall be made by him against the witnesses. But should as many more die, that will not prove that that death will be that that by the killing of the witnesses is intended.
Some thing I would bestow upon the reader, for him to carry with him as a memorandum, while he reads this account of things: As,
First, This victory of the beast, is not to be until the witnesses have finished their testimony; and so by all that he shall do, he shall not hinder the revelation of any of the truths that they either were to bring to light, or to confirm by their witness-bearing.
Witnesses are not always bound to speak: There is a time 'to keep silence' (Eccl 3:7), and 'thou shalt be dumb.' (Eze 3:26) But how shall we know when this time is come?
1. When a sufficient testimony has been given for Christ, and against Antichrist, before the God of heaven; for he must be the judge.
2. When her enemies forbear to plead against her by argument, and rather betake themselves to blows. (Matt 10:19)
3. When the spirit of testimony-bearing is taken from the church; for that is not essential to Christianity, but is given and taken away as there is occasion.
4. When testimony-bearing becomes a vain or needless repetition, when they have heard sufficiently of things before. (John 9:27)
Secondly, This victory of the beast shall not invalidate or weaken their testimony; no, not in the eyes of the world; for they will still remember, and have a reverence for it: This is intimated by this, That 'they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations--[that are neither the witnesses, nor they that in the next verse are called the inhabiters, or they that dwell upon the earth,]--shall not suffer their dead bodies to be [buried, or be] put in graves.' (Rev 11:9)
Thirdly, This shall not lengthen the reign and tranquility of the antichristian kingdom; nor frustrate, drive back (or cause to tarry) the glorious freedom and liberty of the saints.
But some may say, This will be a SAD day.
So it will, and gloomy; but it will be but short, and 'the righteous shall have dominion over them next morning.' 'Twill last but three days and an half; nor shall it come, but for the sins of churches and saints, and to hasten the downfall of the kingdom of the beast, and for the sweetening to the church her future mercies. Christ Jesus, our Lord, in answer to the question of his disciples, about the destruction of Jerusalem, presented them with a relation of many sad things; but when he was come even to the hearts of men, and had told them 'that they should fail for fear': He said, 'when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.' (Luke 21:25-28)
'Tis as ordinary as for the light to shine, for God to make black and dismal dispensations, to usher in bright and pleasing [ones]; yea, and the more frightful that is which goes before, the more comforting is that which follows after. Instances in abundance might be given as to this, but at present let this suffice that is here upon the paper before us; namely, the state of the witnesses, with their glorious resurrection.