Pastor Scott Andrews | November 20, 2022
Revelation chapter 11. I opened my commentaries on this chapter to be greeted with the following thoughts:
Robert Mounce, the first commentary I usually read as I have found him to be balanced, succinct and clear, wrote in the first line on this chapter, “In turning to the matters in 11:1-14, we come to a passage that is universally recognized as difficult to interpret.” Wow – thanks Bob, that was helpful. Is that as opposed to the rest of the book?
Leon Morris, another faithful biblical scholar writes in the first line of the second paragraph concerning this chapter, “The chapter is extraordinarily difficult to interpret and the most diverse solutions have been proposed.” I couldn’t wait to read on.
Thom Schreiner writes, “These verses are among the most difficult in Revelation, and interpreters differ regarding their meaning.” No kidding Thom.
Greg Beale writes, “There are at least five broad interpretations of these two verses [the first two verses of chapter 11], and variants of each.”
Finally, Grant Osborne who has become one of my favorite commentators, writes, “The many interpretations of the two witnesses make this one of the most debated passages in the book and indicate its importance.”
There you go. All that to say, I come to you today with great trepidation and trembling as I want to faithfully interpret and apply this chapter to us. I found as I continued reading the basic differences in interpretation are systematic. What do I mean? That your system of biblical interpretation guides your understanding of the text. Most will superimpose their system on the text – I do. So for example, if you’re a member of one system, you see an actual rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. If you’re a member of the other system, you see this referring not to an actual temple, but to the church of Jesus Christ. Get that – temple or no temple? Israel or the church? Two actual witnesses breathing out actual fire or the full witness of the church preaching the gospel? And right now, you don’t even know what I’m talking about. Neither do I!
Just kidding. As I have said many times, I will give my best effort to interpret this correctly. If you disagree, that’s fine – many much smarter than I do as well. But here’s what I want you to know. Regardless of your system of interpretation and thereby conclusions regarding this chapter, the nature of interpretation is consistent, and the applications are largely the same. In other words, we arrive at basically the same place.
That’s critically important. I do believe proper interpretation should be the goal – resulting in appropriate applications. But in this case, the general teaching of the text, regardless of the details of interpretation, brings you to the right place. I think. So, now that I’ve prepared you to be amazed, even dazzled, let’s read the text, Revelation 11:1-14.
Remember, John said at the end of chapter 8 there were three woes coming which correspond to the fifth, sixth and seventh trumpets. The first woe is the fifth trumpet which releases the locusts from the bottomless pit which then torment people for five months. The second woe is the sixth trumpet which sees the release of the four fallen angels and their demonic armies, which kill one third of humankind. That sixth trumpet came at the end of chapter 9, where we saw people refusing to repent.
Between the sixth and seventh trumpet is an interlude, just as there was between the sixth and seventh seals. We talked about this last week. The interlude between the seals was made up of two visions – the sealing of the 144,000 and the vision of the worship of heaven which includes a countless multitude of people in white robes, washed white by the blood of the Lamb. Here’s the point – while the three sets of judgments deal primarily with God’s wrath poured out on the earth dwellers – unbelievers who refuse to repent – these interludes deal primarily with believers.
So, the interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets in chapters 10 and 11 deals with believers. In chapter 10 last week, we saw the strong angel descend from heaven and plant his feet on the sea and on the land, communicating God’s total sovereignty over all that is happening. The angel raises his right hand and swears an oath by our eternal Creator, that there will now be delay no longer – the end is eminent. John is then instructed to eat the book held by this strong angel, which was sweet to the taste, as God’s word always is, but bitter in the stomach – likely because the book contained the truths about the judgment of the wicked and the persecution of the righteous.
Bringing us to the second vision of this interlude in chapter 11, which also deals with believers. The point being, what is going on with believers during the day of the Lord – the pouring out of His wrath? Here’s what we see: namely, their spiritual protection and physical persecution, in the midst of their witness. Here’s the outline of the text:
I. Protection and Persecution at the Temple (1-2)
II. The Proclamation (or ministry) of the Two Witnesses (3-13)
III. Completion of the Second Woe, and Announcement of the Third (14)
Look at those first two verses to see what I am suggesting is spiritual protection and physical persecution. John becomes part of this vision just like the last. In the first vision of the interlude in chapter 10, John takes and eats the sweet and sour book. In this one, he is given a measuring rod like a staff – it was a stiff reed up to 20 feet long, and someone – likely either the strong angel or the voice from heaven – told him to measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it.
Here’s the question – what temple? If the book of Revelation was written in the 60s before the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, it would be Herod’s temple. But, as we’ve seen, most agree the book was written in the 90s – after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple – remember, Jesus said there was coming a day when not one stone would be left standing on another. And that happened in 70 AD, and there has never been a temple on the temple mount since – for 2000 years. So when John is told to measure the temple – the question is, what temple? There are several options – but they typically boil down to two choices – you know, based on those two primary systems of theology. One is that in the future, there will be a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. My personal question for that is why? If there is no need of sacrifice, since all those sacrifices pointed to Christ, why a temple? It could be – a return of the Jewish people to Judaism before they are converted to Christianity. But the other thought is that this temple refers to the church, since Christians are called the temple of God in the NT. Consider these verses:
1 Corinthians 3:16 – Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
1 Corinthians 6:19 – Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
2 Corinthians 6:16 – Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God…
Ephesians 2:19-21 – So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fit together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.
1 Peter 2:4-5 – And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Listen, it’s all over the NT – the church has become the temple of God in which He lives by His Spirit. So, as a result of that understanding, some suggest when the temple is here measured, it is speaking of the people of God – Christians who are part of the temple Christ is building called the church. I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it – which is what we see in the book of Revelation – the forces of evil coming against the church, but they will ultimately not prevail.
I lean toward that idea, although if you’re holding out for a physical temple to be rebuilt on the temple mount – that’s fine. Many do. But now notice – it is the temple, the naos, the temple building holding the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place – and the altar, which throughout Revelation points to the altar of incense since there is no longer a need for a brazen altar of sacrifice – and those who worship there who are to be measured. You see, the word for measure can include the idea of counting – so count the people in the holy place who worship God. Oh, and don’t miss – it was the priests who did the work in the naos – the building – and then we remember that we are a kingdom of priests who worship the Lord.
But here’s the point. Why is it – either the church or the physical temple – that is measured or counted? The idea of measuring in this way throughout the OT was for the purpose of ownership and protection. When God has someone measured, it is to claim ownership and provide protection. Interestingly, Ezekiel 40-42 speaks of Ezekiel being brought to Jerusalem in a vision to watch a man, presumably an angel, measure the temple with a rod. Remember, Solomon’s Temple had been destroyed – and the measurements of this temple in Ezekiel don’t match Solomon’s or Herod’s temples. So the question is, which temple is it? Some suggest, like Revelation 11, this is a future physical temple, others suggest it is a temple representing the people of God. The point is, in Ezekiel 43, God’s glory filled the temple. It was measured for His presence and protection.
Back to Revelation 11. I’m suggesting the temple here was measured, along with the true worshipers of God, as God claims ownership and protection. But what kind of protection? I believe it’s spiritual protection, because in verse 2, John is told to not measure the court outside the temple – that is, the court of the Gentiles – for it has been given to the nations, and they will tread under foot the holy city for 42 months. Meaning, they will mistreat the outer courts for a period of 42 months.
Just as we saw in chapter 10 – when the word was sweet in John’s mouth but bitter in his stomach, so also here. Believers who worship the true God will be protected spiritually, but the nations – that is, those who are involved in the idolatrous worship of demons and ultimately the beast – will persecute true followers of God. True believers. Sweet and bitter. For 42 months. That’s three and a half years. Time, times and a half time that we saw last week in the Daniel 12.
Listen, don’t get bogged down. This all gets confusing. But back up and see the big picture. We’re going to see this time frame over and over through the rest of the book of Revelation. It represents, I believe, the second half of the 70th week of Daniel – the seven-year tribulation. The second half of that seven years, or three and a half years, is called the great tribulation, when I think the seven trumpets and seven bowls are actually unleased.
So what happens when these judgments are being unleased on the world? Believers who are present are sealed and protected from God’s wrath – the first interlude – and spiritually protected from the attacks of the beast in the second interlude. But they will not be physically protected, leading us to the two witnesses in verses 3-13. In other words, believers will be seriously opposed by unbelievers – in some cases, leading to martyrdom. Don’t we see rising opposition to the church today?
Verse 3, and I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed is sackcloth. Sackcloth was often the attire of those in mourning or repentance, and so often the attire of prophets as they were calling the people to repentance. Interestingly, the 1260 days is three and one-half years or 42 months. The Jewish month was 30 days, so three and one-half years was 42 months was 1260 days. Got it? Remember – a third pounder is bigger than a quarter pounder.
So for three and a half years – perhaps much or most of the second half of the tribulation or the great tribulation – these two witnesses of God will prophesy or proclaim the truth of God. Likely, the truth of the gospel and the need for repentance. Judgment is coming. Will they be physically protected? Yes – until their job is finished.
Look at verse 4, These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. That should sound familiar. You see, we looked at Zechariah 4 several months ago that talked about two olive trees and one lampstand – John speaks of two, to refer to the two witnesses. John says these are the two lampstands and olive trees that stand before the Lord of the earth. The point in Zechariah and now here is, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” These two, like Joshua and Zerubbabel, will be empowered by the Spirit of God to accomplish the purposes of God.
Of course, the big question is, who are these two witnesses? Some suggest they are Moses and Elijah because of the powers they demonstrate in a couple verses. We also remember Moses and Elijah met Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. We also remember Malachi said that Elijah would come before the great day of the Lord. So Moses and Elijah are good guesses, but in the end, just that – guesses. Besides, John doesn’t name them, so we should probably refrain from doing so.
In verse 5, we see that anyone who opposes them will be killed by fire that flows out of their mouth to destroy their enemies. Again, are these two literal men, and is this literal fire that proceeds for their mouths, and will the drought and plagues of verse 6 be literal? I think so – but some suggest these two – in apocalyptic imagery – represent believers during this time boldly proclaiming the truth of the gospel, which is a message of fiery judgment to those who don’t believe. And they will be opposed, ultimately killed – only to be raised from the dead at the end – representing our coming resurrection.
Which is it? You decide. But my favorite commentator suggested – why can’t it be both – literally two witnesses since Deuteronomy makes a big deal about the necessity of two witnesses to confirm a fact – two witnesses who proclaim the truth of God, who can destroy for a time those who oppose them, who can perform miracles, and who will be killed by the beast – the Antichrist – when he arises? And can they not represent what will happen to faithful believers during this time?
And is it not also true that the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever? So, let’s look through the work of these two, followed by their martyrdom, the world’s celebration, and their resurrection. In verse 6, again, we see they have the power to shut up the sky so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying. This does sound a lot like Elijah, who called for a drought during the reign of Ahab. James 5:17 says it did not rain for – how long? Three years and six months.
Further, they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. That sounds like Moses. The point is, they will cause mayhem – and everyone will know it comes from them.
So, when they finish their testimony which lasts for three and a half years, the beast that comes out of the abyss – that is, the bottomless pit – will appear. We have not yet been introduced to him – but we will meet him in chapter 13 – the Antichrist. We see here he is from the pit and is therefore demonically empowered. By the way, the beast is the Antichrist, the dragon is Satan.
And he will make war with these two and overcome them and kill them. They suffer martyrdom just like many believers have throughout time and will so especially during the time of the end. They will go by the way of the cross. But remember – the beast will ultimately be overthrown by the blood of the Lamb. This is a theme throughout this book – victory is through suffering and death in the way of Christ. Victory through suffering and death. Do not listen to the false prophets and false teachers today who suggest God wants you to be healthy and wealthy and comfortable here. The way of Christ is the way of suffering.
Again – we see their non-burial. It was considered a most offensive, insulting way to treat the dead – leave them exposed to the elements. That’s why in the time of Christ, criminals were not afforded a decent burial – they were simply thrown in a burning trash heap – a place called Gehenna. Here, their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city. Stop right there – what is the great city? Throughout this book, the great city refers to Babylon, which most suggest is another name for Rome. And we remember the greatest oppressors of the Jewish nation and then the Christian faith at this time was Rome. They were the enemy of God. They are symbolic of the world which has opposed Christ, His gospel and His people throughout time.
But here, it is not just the great city, but one that is called mystically – better, spiritually – Sodom and Egypt. Sodom speaks of its immorality; Egypt speaks of its oppression and slavery. This holy city, which is Jerusalem, representative of the world, has become immoral and ungodly. But John goes on – where also their Lord was crucified. Without doubt, we now know these two do their work in Jerusalem – and the sad truth is, even there, the people have become even more opposed to God and His Messiah.
Look at verse 9 – those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations. Remember last week I said that kind of list appears seven times in the book. The first two times it refers to believers coming from every nation and tribe and kindred and tongue. But now, as last week – it speaks of the earth dwellers – the unbelievers – those who oppose God – coming also from every people group on the planet. Because the world is wicked.
In verses 9 and 10, we see these earth dwellers will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days and not permit their bodies to be buried – again, the height of insult and offence. More, verse 10, they will actually celebrate their deaths – they will likely celebrate the deaths of all Christ followers. They will rejoice and give gifts to each other – just like the celebration of Purim when the Jews remembered their deliverance from evil Haman under Mordecai and Esther – so also, these people celebrate their deliverance from these two witnesses.
Verses 11 and 12 – But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them. Stop right there – that’s another OT allusion to Ezekiel – remember, the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37? Same wording – the breath of life from God came into them and they lived. Can you imagine as people have been celebrating the death of these two witnesses for three and a half days – probably in a drunken stupor, exchanging gifts – they are watching – maybe on the internet – and with horror they see these two stand on their feet – and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. No wonder.
Verse 12 – and they heard a loud voice from heaven – who heard? The people watching, or the two witnesses? I think both – because it was a loud voice, which will say, “Come up here.” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud and their enemies watched them. That’s interesting – we have seen over and over, throughout Scripture, a cloud signifies the presence of God. The strong angel came down from heaven clothed in a cloud. We are told when Jesus comes back, He will come in the clouds, and every eye will see Him. I Thessalonians 4, that great rapture passage says:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
Is that what we see happening here – is this the rapture? Some want to suggest some kind of mid-trib rapture position from this text and others. I don’t think that’s what’s happening here because only two go up – and we still find believers in the rest of the book. But it is certainly a great picture of what will happen when Jesus comes back in the clouds with the trump of God and the voice of the archangel, and all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth.
Verse 13 – and in that hour there was a great earthquake – remember, these great earthquakes appear throughout the book which speak of God’s wrath – and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake – which means the city would be about 70,000, about the size of Jerusalem in John’s day.
And the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. Interesting. What does that mean? Does that mean some finally repent and are saved, giving glory to the God of heaven? Or does this simply mean they recognize these two witnesses are from God, that the destruction they experience is the hand of God, and they bow the knee and confess – as Paul said there is coming a day when all will do. I don’t know – if they are repenting to salvation, this is the only place in the book of Revelation where earth dwellers do.
So what do we do with all this today? If you are a believer here today, rest in the assurance that, come what may, you are kept spiritually and eternally secure. So do not be ashamed, be faithful to witness, and God will keep you. But if you are not a believer here today. Several have said to me or my wife, you seem especially burdened by this book. That’s true for two reasons. First, it’s the hardest book I’ve ever taught. Second…