Questions From Readers
● What is meant by “the great city which is in a spiritual sense called Sodom and Egypt” mentioned at Revelation 11:8?
The “great city” of Revelation 11:8 is Jerusalem, and so Revelation is referring basically to what ancient Jerusalem symbolized.
The eleventh chapter of Revelation presents the apostle John’s vision of “two witnesses” of God. They are mentioned in a context of comments about Jehovah God’s having ‘taken his great power and begun ruling as king.’ Jehovah’s Witnesses understand that to have occurred in 1914 C.E. (Rev. 11:17, 18) The figurative language in Revelation says that the two witnesses are conquered and killed “and their corpses will be on the broad way of the great city which is in a spiritual sense called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was also impaled.”—Rev. 11:8.
That, obviously, meant Jerusalem, for Jesus was condemned to death in Jerusalem and was impaled just outside the walls of that city. Jerusalem’s inhabitants at the time reflected the characteristics of ancient Sodom as well as Egypt. (Compare Isaiah 1:10, 21.) The ancient Egyptians, for example, were satisfied with their own pagan religious practices and they rejected the true God in the days of Moses and the first Passover. Similarly, the Jews of the first century C.E. rejected Jesus “the Lamb of God,” holding instead to their religious traditions. (John 1:29; Matt. 15:3-9; 23:13-26) As Jehovah’s Witnesses have long pointed out, the modern-day counterpart of ancient Jerusalem is Christendom. Most of her members also claim to be worshiping God correctly but, in general, display the same attitude as the Jews who rejected Jesus.
Accordingly, the book “Then Is Finished the Mystery of God” (1969) said, in part: “Because of its religious oppression and enslavement of Jehovah’s own people, unfaithful Jerusalem could ‘in a spiritual sense’ be called Egypt. Just as the first Passover lamb was slain down in Egypt in the prophet Moses’ day, so Jesus Christ, as the antitypical Passover Lamb, was killed at unfaithful Jerusalem.” Then regarding modern times, the book added that “the expression ‘the great city’ must mean the antitypical unfaithful Jerusalem, namely, Christendom.”—Pp. 272, 273.
But why did The Watchtower of May 15, 1977, refer to Revelation 11:8 regarding the worldwide political system that now exists?
Ancient Egypt was an outstanding political power in its time. Ezekiel chapter 31 contains a warning directed to “Pharaoh the king of Egypt and to his crowd.”* In discussing Ezekiel chapter 31, The Watchtower of May 15, 1977, appropriately referred to Revelation 11:8. It did so mainly to show that it is Scripturally correct to attach a spiritual significance to “Egypt.” The literal land of Egypt is not what is meant in the modern antitypical fulfillment of Ezekiel chapter 31. Rather, the application is to the worldwide political system of things of our day. How so? Ancient Egypt was a prominent military power that, like a huge tree, was trying to spread its dominating influence world wide so as to affect all peoples. Comparably, there is today a worldwide political organization that can be likened to a tall cedar on the mountainside of Lebanon, under which many nations take refuge.
So, whereas the context of Revelation 11:8 shows that its modern-day fulfillment is in Christendom specifically, this verse could appropriately be referred to in showing that it is fitting to look for a modern-day spiritual application of the “Egypt” referred to in Ezekiel chapter 31.
In part, Ezekiel 31:3 says: “Look! An Assyrian, a cedar in Lebanon.” It is worth noting that some translations (AV, AS, etc.) here read: “Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon . . .” This had led to the understanding that the huge “tree” pictured ancient Assyria. But “was” is not found in the original Hebrew. And the context shows that the warning was to Pharaoh and his crowd, who is said to resemble “an Assyrian” and also to resemble “a cedar in Lebanon.” Evidently, then, the reference to “an Assyrian” was simply to convey the idea of a great military power, which is what ancient Egypt was.