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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 11

 

 

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Verse 1-2

‘And there was given to me a reed like a rod with one saying, “Rise, and measure the sanctuary (naos) of God, and the altar, and those who worship in it. And the court which is outside the sanctuary leave out and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations, and they will tread the holy city under foot for forty two months”.

We note that John is told to measure ‘the sanctuary of God’. But no mention is made of him actually seeing a Temple. Nothing physical is described, and no Temple has previously been mentioned except the Temple of which His people are pillars, which is clearly a heavenly Temple.

This can be compared with a similar measuring with a measuring reed of a Temple, which occurs in Ezekiel 40:3 onwards. There a man ‘whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze’ measured a heavenly Temple, which was situated on a high mountain away from Jerusalem, and an earthly altar (Ezekiel 43:13) which connected with it. The Temple would be ‘the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet where I will dwell among the children of Israel for ever’ (Ezekiel 43:7). The vision and the measurement was an indication that God was there, giving Israel another chance. If they were ‘ashamed of their iniquities’ and truly repented they could approach the heavenly Temple through the earthly altar. But ‘no alien, uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh shall enter my sanctuary’ (Ezekiel 44:9). Only the true people of God would be able to enter there (notice the exclusion of the uncircumcised in heart). This was a Temple only for the pure in heart.

That Temple was intended to be a source of blessing and life to all, bringing life where there was death. From the door of that house would run out ever increasing waters (Ezekiel 47), waters to the ankles, waters to the knees, waters to the loins, and waters to swim in (too deep to stand in). On the banks of this river would grow very many trees, and the waters would continue until they reached the Dead Sea (Ezekiel 47:8) which would become a place for fish to swim in. Everything will live where the river comes, although a few places will be preserved as of old to yield their salt (Ezekiel 47:11). The trees would be continually fruitful, producing new fruit every month, and their leaves would be for healing (Ezekiel 47:12).

But that Temple was heavenly. It never became a physical reality on earth, except in a smaller Temple which was a shadow of it, for the people never proved worthy. Thus it was transferred to heaven, the heavenly Temple, wherein was the Lamb Who was slain, and in which were offered the prayers of the people of God.

But there was still a Temple on earth for Jesus, speaking in the context of the Temple, spoke of ‘the Temple of His body’ (John 2:21). He was revealing that He had come to replace the Temple. In effect to be a new Temple. The purpose of the Temple was to provide a means of access to God through sacrifices and prayer. Jesus revealed that He was the new means of access to God. His offering of Himself replaced the Temple sacrifices, and His intercession for His people replaced the ministry of the priests. He, and those who became His by response to Him, would thus form the new Temple of God on earth (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:22). It was from Him, and from His people that the rivers of living water would flow out to the world (John 7:38). So the prospective Temple in Ezekiel becomes a reality in the living church on earth and in the heavenly Temple above, the latter only proving temporary before being replaced by God Himself (Revelation 21:22).

In Zechariah 2:1 we also have an example of a man, this time with a measuring line in his hand (Ezekiel had both reed and line), who is to measure Jerusalem as a sign of its future prosperity (Zechariah 2:4). So such measuring is a guarantee of the future prosperity of the sanctuary.

The measuring of the sanctuary therefore is a sign of God’s care for it and a guarantee of its place in the future purposes of God.

But what sanctuary is this, then, which John has to measure? That it cannot be a literal earthly Temple comes out in that:

1) The Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed as Jesus foretold. No mention has been made anywhere in Revelation of a subsequent literal Temple.

2) This Temple, if it were to be a literal one, could not possibly be the centre of worship for solely true worshippers. Such a Temple would have within it people with a mixture of attitudes of mind and heart, some true some false, which is not the picture being conveyed here. Furthermore it would be run by priests of Israel according to Old Testament practises. Such an idea would be foreign to the principles applied in the letter to the Hebrews. There we are told that Christ has been once offered to bear the sins of many (Hebrews 9:28), so that there can be no more a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:26). No truly spiritual Temple (which is required here) could be raised up.

3) The worshippers in this Temple are clearly true worshippers, the ‘true Israel’. In John’s eyes this must signify the church of Christ. The whole idea of the vision is that that which is inside is pure compared with what is outside. It is measured and therefore part of God’s proposed purpose.

4) A literal Temple could not realistically be divided in this manner. The Gentile invaders (‘trodden down’ signifies invaders) would not stay outside the sanctuary for three and a half years. The myth of the inviolability of the Temple was one that had destroyed Israel twice, it is hardly likely to have been repeated by John. One of the most moving things about the destruction of the Temple in 70AD was the way its defenders believed, even when Jerusalem was taken, that God would not allow the Temple to be desecrated, so that they fought to the last minute awaiting His deliverance. But God did not act and does not so act. Thus the picture is not to be taken literally. Like much in Revelation it is symbolic. Only the church of Christ are promised that their destruction will be prevented by God (‘for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened’ (Matthew 24:22)).

5) The only Temple known in Revelation is heavenly (Revelation 3:12; Revelation 7:15; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 14:15-17; Revelation 15:5-8; Revelation 16:1; Revelation 16:17). It would be strange therefore if another actual physical Temple were suddenly introduced as being built as a permanent structure on earth.

6) Jesus Himself revealed that the Temple would be replaced by Him as the true Temple (John 2:19).

To what sanctuary then does the angel refer? The New Testament knows of only one Temple of God, the church of Christ. That the church is God’s new Temple comes out regularly throughout the New Testament, and it is visualised as one Temple made up of many parts. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:16, ‘We are the Temple (naos) of the living God, even as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people”.’ And in Ephesians 2:21, in a passage with connections with Revelation 21:14 through the words ‘the foundation of the Apostles’, Paul sees that Temple in the process of building, ‘in whom each several building, fitly framed together, grows into a holy Temple (naos) in the Lord, in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit’.

So it is the church as a whole which is the sanctuary of God, and each member of the church is part of that sanctuary. In it they worship together. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Paul declares, ‘Do you not know that you are a sanctuary (naos) of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the Temple of God, God will destroy him, for the Temple of God, which you are, is holy’. Thus he can argue, ‘What! Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have of God, and you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19). To Christians there was only one sanctuary (naos) of God, His people.

So the fact that the sanctuary (‘naos’) is to be measured ties in with this teaching of Paul’s, confirming that what is to be measured is God’s own true people. This is confirmed by the fact that both the sanctuary ‘and the altar’ are mentioned. The altar is mentioned because underneath ‘the altar’ are the souls of those who have been martyred for Christ (Revelation 6:9-11). As they are not yet in Heaven they are seen as part of this Temple which is not yet in the heavenly Temple. They are still one with the church on earth, enjoying their ‘rest’ before the resurrection. It is significant that both the sanctuary and altar were also measured by Ezekiel. But there were no instructions to build the Temple, only the altar.

This is why in this sanctuary in Revelation there can be no ‘court of the Gentiles’, no outer court, for it houses the true Israel of God (see commentary on Revelation 7:4) which is neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:28; Galatians 6:16; Colossians 3:11; 1 Corinthians 10:32; Ephesians 3:6), and all who would be part of it must cease to be part of ‘the nations’ (1 Corinthians 10:32). The distinction has been cancelled out in Christ. No outer court is now needed for in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female (Galatians 3:28). The courts of the Gentiles and of the women are not required.

In the future ‘overcomers’ will become pillars in the heavenly Temple (Revelation 3:12), but meanwhile they make up the earthly Temple. The measuring thus indicates their separation to God and their distinctiveness from the world, and gives them assurance that God has prepared then for what is to come.

And like Ezekiel’s Temple out of it would flow rivers of living water (John 7:38). This demonstrates that the church on earth represents Ezekiel’s Temple, in as far as its building was not seen as fulfilled in the second Temple built by Zerubbabel. The latter Temple did to some extent send out life to the world in the spreading of the Law and the Prophets and the acceptance of proselytes into the faith of Israel, but it was not until the church became God’s Temple that rivers of living water flowed out from the Temple to the world in such measure.

Ezekiel’s Temple was a heavenly ‘ideal’ Temple, which came down on the mountain well away from Jerusalem as God revealed by it that His presence was once more in Israel. It was ‘approachable’ through the earthly altar set up in Jerusalem, but the second Temple was only a shadow of it. The latter fulfilled the aim of a new Temple for Israel, but failed to achieve its potential. The church on earth partly fulfils the spiritual consequences of that heavenly Temple and was successful but temporary, for the new Heaven and the new earth will finally fulfil its potential as the dwelling place of God with His people.

This is why John sees the final actualising of that Temple in the new Heaven and the new earth. For the river of lifegiving water, with its healing in the leaves of trees (although in Revelation there is an improvement for it is the tree of life), is located by John in the new Jerusalem of Revelation 21:1 to Revelation 22:7 which is the bride of Christ. That has become the dwelling place of God, His greater Temple (for no literal Temple will be needed there (Revelation 21:22)). That is where Ezekiel’s Temple will finally rest. But meanwhile it is represented on earth by the church, the people of God. In the context of this chapter the church in Jerusalem is foremost in mind, but as a microcosm of the whole church.

We note that this description of the measuring of the Temple and the altar in Revelation 11:1-2 follows immediately the declaration that there will be delay no longer. So we must see in the measurement of it, as with the Temple in Ezekiel, recognition of its acceptability to God as His dwelling place among His people as they face their final hour. Just as Ezekiel saw the heavenly Temple come down to earth, in vision, so does John here, but he is reinterpreting the vision of Ezekiel. In both cases it is to result in something far more than just a Temple, a life-giving stream which produces spiritual healing for the nations (Revelation 22:1-2).

That is why in John’s vision only the sanctuary is to be measured, and those who worship in it. This is the true church in Jerusalem. They belong to God as a royal priesthood. They alone are satisfactory to God. The ‘outer court’, including the Holy City, is to be handed over to the unrepentant nations. The only part that earthly Israel can have at this stage if they are outside of Christ is with the nations. These are the times of the Gentiles. While the church of Christ prove to be overcomers, the Holy City itself is given to the nations. This clearly stresses that it is the church which God considers to be important in the final days, not any idea of ‘Jerusalem’ as a chosen city. That is given to the nations. A new Holy City will come into its own in the new Heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:2).

‘And the Holy City they (the nations) will tread under foot for forty two months’. Only the sanctuary and altar, the people of God, are preserved by God, the remainder of the Holy City is handed over to the nations. This thought would horrify the soul of any Jew. The treading down of Jerusalem is always a sign that God is no longer dealing with Israel there (Luke 21:24 - and compare how in Ezekiel God deserts the Temple prior to its destruction, which He guarantees).

‘For forty two months’. It should be noted that John gives the time in months when dealing with the enemies of God and in days when dealing with the people of God. Thus months are used in Revelation 9:5; Revelation 9:10; Revelation 11:2; Revelation 13:5 while days are used in Revelation 2:10; Revelation 11:3; Revelation 11:9; Revelation 11:11; Revelation 12:6. The forty two months are the same as the 1260 days, taking 30 days to the month, a regular approximation used in ancient days. ‘A time and times and half a time’ means a similar thing here (Revelation 12:14). The reason for the difference in usage is to emphasise that God watches over His own day by day.

Three and a half years is looked on in Scripture as a period of trial and testing under the protection of God. Elijah the prophet prayed for God to withhold rain and this occurred for three years (1 Kings 18:1 with Revelation 17:1) which, following the six months of dry weather preceding the drought (the Mediterranean summer) brought it to three years and six months. The New Testament interprets this as a period of ‘three years and six months’ (Luke 4:25; James 5:17). So three and a half years had early come to signify a time of judgment, persecution and want. During this period Elijah was guided by God to places where he would be provided for.

A similar period of ‘a time, times and half a time’ is a feature of the prophecy of Daniel (Daniel 7:25), but there it probably indicates ‘a period of less than seven years’. It refers to the period when the ‘little horn’, a fierce, conquering king, attacks ‘the saints of the most High’ and seeks to ‘change times and law’. This is followed by the judgment and the setting up of the everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:26-27).

In Daniel 9:27 we also have reference to the last half of Daniel’s seventieth seven when ‘the sacrifice and oblation will cease’ (in Christian terms true worship will be forbidden), and a desolator arrives on the wing of abominations, but three and a half years is not specifically mentioned and it is questionable whether the ‘seven’ means seven years.

Some refer to Daniel 12:11, where a period of ‘one thousand two hundred and ninety days’ occurs ‘from the time that the continual burnt offering will be taken away, and the abomination that makes desolate is set up’, connected also with a period of one thousand three hundred and thirty five days (Revelation 11:12), both approximately three and a half years. But those probably refer to the abomination committed by Antiochus Epiphanes. It does, however, demonstrate that the period points to a period of trial for the people of God.

In Daniel 12:7 it refers to the time when the man clothed in linen held up his right hand and left hand to heaven and swore by Him Who lives for ever that it shall be for a time, times and half a time, ‘and when they have made an end of breaking in pieces the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished’. Thus in all these cases it is a period of tribulation for the people of God, as well as being a period of desolation for the world, but it is not necessarily referring to the same period. Note that in Revelation ‘the sanctuary’ is not to be violated. That is because it refers to the true people of God not to a literal Temple. The desolator can, and does, seek to destroy it, but he cannot enter its heart. It is inviolate. Not a hair of its head will perish (Luke 21:18).

But while this reference in Revelation to forty two months (and 1260 days, and a time times and half a time) is probably to some extent a connecting point with the prophecies of Daniel, John deliberately uses different terminology. Daniel neither specifically mentions forty two months nor one thousand two hundred and sixty days. Thus there is no direct connection. The failure by John to make the time the same as prophesied in Daniel must be recognised. He could so easily have done so, for Daniel does mention 1290 days and 1335 days to show that the people of God survive the three and a half years and come through it. John is therefore using the concept of the ‘three and a half years’, and the significance that lies behind it, in his own distinctive way.

The main connecting point between Daniel and Revelation as far as verbal parallel is concerned is the ‘time, times and half a time’ (used in both), which John sees and interprets as three and a half years (1260 days) (Revelation 12:14 compare 6) in line with his use of three and a half years. But while John is here referring to a period when the people of God will suffer tribulation, as Elijah did, he is not referring it to a period at the end of time.

In Revelation 13:5 he also uses the idea to depict another period of tribulation which he refers to his own day. He is not slavishly following Daniel. The period of ‘three and a half years’ regularly signifies a period of particularly trouble, but such occur through history. There is not only one ‘three and a half years’. The idea occurs a number of times indicating special periods of attack on God’s people, but it is not necessarily the same period timewise each time. Its significance as half of a ‘seven’ indicates its lack of divine perfection.

However the reference in Revelation 11 does gain significance from Daniel, and in Revelation signifies the final three and a half years before the end. As in Daniel the official, open worship of God will cease and the people of Christ will be driven underground, with the authorities under the beast from the abyss seeking to destroy them. History repeats itself.

So, to summarise. The church of God, and especially the church in Jerusalem, are measured by God as preparing them for what lies ahead. By this they are shown to be His dwelling place, His sanctuary, and under His protection. As against them the nations will in the final days tread down Jerusalem. Those who dwell in Jerusalem, other than the church, will thus be without protection and subject to the iron hand of the nations. They are outside the protecting hand of God. However, as we shall see, He still seeks to bring them within His purposes.


Verses 1-14

The Measuring of the Sanctuary and the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-14).

It is significant that these events take place within the second ‘woe’ when wholesale death pervades the Middle East (Revelation 11:14). They describe God’s final plea to both physical Israel and those of the nations in Jerusalem to turn to Him in the final days of the age, a plea which meets with at least partial success. John knows that before the end God will show special concern for His rejected people Israel as the times of the Gentiles come to a close.


Verse 3-4

‘And I will give to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for a thousand, two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the Lord of the earth.’

Over the period (three and a half years) when the Holy City is trodden down by the Gentiles ‘two witnesses’ will arise to testify on God’s behalf. They arrive without introduction as though the previous verse had been speaking of them. This must count strongly as their symbolising in some way the true church of God, and especially the church in Jerusalem at that time. More precisely it represents the leaders of that church, of whom two will possibly be prominent, as representing the church as a whole.

Later we will see that the ‘two witnesses’ are preserved until the end of the one thousand two hundred and sixty days, i.e. the forty two months (v. 7). There have been times in history when prominent leaders have survived against all the odds for a given period, even in the times of severe persecution, so that we should not be surprised at this thought (we could consider how Jesus Himself was able to continue His ministry despite the continual efforts of the authorities to destroy Him) although it may be that the ‘two witnesses’ represent a continuing testimony, with the personalities within the leadership being replaced as martrydoms occur. It indicates that God is active, and that while He allows His people to be persecuted and martyred, it is not because He is unable to protect them.

So in the end the two witnesses represent a section of the Jerusalem church who are preserved, possibly seen as headed by two ‘prophets’. This would parallel the seven churches which are also to be seen as both seven individual churches and as the whole church. We can compare how in Daniel a whole people are regularly spoken of in terms of their king. New Testament prophets came next after the apostles in their standing in the church (Ephesians 2:20). They were highly esteemed and approved of by Paul (1 Corinthians 14:3-5). Thus at the date this was written ‘two prophets’ could be seen as summing up the witness of the church after the Apostolic era. But the special emphasis here is on that witness as borne in Jerusalem prior to Christ’s return, and God is able to raise up prophetic men in any era.


Verse 4

The Two Witnesses.

‘These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the Lord of the whole earth.’

The two olive trees appear in Zechariah 4:3 and are ‘ the sons of oil (anointed ones) who stand by the Lord of the whole earth’ (Zechariah 4:14). There they refer to Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the Prince, both anointed for their roles in accordance with the laws of Israel. So here are two similar leaders set apart by God as His servants in a time of crisis.

Joshua had his filthy garments removed and was clothed with rich apparel and had a fair turban set on his head (Zechariah 3:3-5). This turban is described in Exodus 28:36-38. It bears the words ‘holy to the Lord’ on a plate of gold and means that the High Priest is, especially through the sacrificial system, bearing the iniquity of the people in such a way as ensures the acceptability of their gifts and offerings. Later a crown (or crowns) of gold and silver is set on his head (Zechariah 6:11). Both turban and crown designate him as the Branch who will build the Temple of the Lord (Zechariah 3:8 with Revelation 6:12).

Zerubbabel is the one who will prevail ‘not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord’ (Zechariah 4:6). He has laid the foundations of the house of the Lord and he will finish it (Zechariah 4:9). They are thus two selected men of God whose purpose is to establish the house of God as a witness to the nations.

The imagery in Zechariah is remarkably similar to imagery in Revelation, where what is applied to the individuals in Zechariah is applied to all the redeemed. In Revelation the redeemed washed their garments and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14), compared with the removal of Joshua’s filthy apparel, and the overcomer will receive a crown (Revelation 2:10) similarly to Joshua, and will be arrayed in white garments (Revelation 3:5). In Revelation white always replaces the jewelled splendour of the Old Testament. Wisdom and virtue are seen as far above rubies (Job 28:18; Proverbs 3:15; Proverbs 8:11; Proverbs 31:10). Thus the robes are white and the stone containing the name is white (Revelation 2:17).

So Joshua is a ‘type’ of the redeemed. Furthermore, as the New Testament constantly makes clear, it is the redeemed who receive the power of the Spirit. So again Zerubbabel is typical of the redeemed. Thus we may see the two witnesses in Revelation as two representatives of the people of God in Jerusalem, yet representing in themselves the whole church, whose responsibility it is to establish the sanctuary of God (the church of Christ) as a witness to Jerusalem and to the nations.

The witnesses are also ‘two lampstands’. In Revelation 1 the seven lampstands represent the seven churches, the new Temple of God, the complete church, who are God’s witnesses and light to the world, and each lampstand represents a particular church. In Zechariah 4 the sevenfold lampstand represents the God of Israel feeding the two sons of oil and also Israel with its function to rebuild the Temple, again as a witness to the world. The lampstands therefore represent the whole true people of God. So the two witnesses stand at the forefront as fulfilling the witness of the church and of true Israel. (That the two witnesses can be both leaders of the church and the whole church compares with how Daniel could speak of kings while including in the word the nations that lay behind the kings).

‘I WILL GIVE to my two witnesses’ - this remarkable change of expression from ‘it was given’ emphasises God’s deep personal concern for His witnesses. Again and again in Revelation we have seen ‘there was given’ (the phrase appears thirteen times in the book). The activity was God’s but described impersonally. But to these two witnesses God gives directly. God is actively involved. This brings out the vital nature of their ministry. And what will He give? He will provide them with all that they need to complete their task, including the Spirit’s power (as with Zerubbabel).

‘Two witnesses’. The testimony of two witnesses was required before a legal verdict could be given (Deuteronomy 19:15). These witnesses therefore are symbolic of a satisfactory and complete witness. In Genesis 19 we learn that when God would judge Sodom and Gomorrha he sent two angels to judge whether the cities were worthy of destruction. When they had assessed the situation they arranged for the deliverance of all who would listen (Lot and his family) and they then returned and gave their verdict to God and the cities were then destroyed. These are almost certainly symbolically in mind here (Revelation 11:8). But there is no reason to think that in Revelation they are angels, which is why they are connected with the two olive trees and the two lampstands. So the ‘two witnesses’ here are all those who bear testimony to God and bear witness against the sins of men, especially as represented by two effective leaders or ‘prophets’ (Revelation 11:10).

As we will have cause to see the two witnesses are also intended to represent Moses and Elijah, who themselves represented and summed up the Law and the prophets, and who as such testified of Jesus at His transfiguration, and ‘spoke of His decease which He would accomplish at Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:30-31) a decease which is firmly in mind here (Revelation 11:8). So ‘Moses’ and ‘Elijah’ will again testify of Him, not literally, but through like-minded representatives in Jerusalem, who utilise the Law and the Prophets (similarly to the way that John the Baptiser was ‘the Elijah that was to come’).

So the church and its leaders will give its testimony in these final days in the face of persecution and will suffer opposition and tribulation. John is again seeking to bolster up the church in the face of tribulation to come.

‘Clothed in sackcloth’. This was the rough garment of hair associated with prophets (Zechariah 13:4; 2 Kings 1:8; Mark 1:6). It also signified grief and distress (e.g. Genesis 37:34; 2 Samuel 3:31). David clothed himself and the people in sackcloth when he was seeking to divert God’s judgment (1 Chronicles 21:16), and the spiritual leaders of the people were to lie in sackcloth when offerings to God were not forthcoming because of famine (Joel 1:13). Thus it denotes humility, earnestness in prayer and grief over sin. These witnesses then, either spiritually, or through physically wearing sackcloth, are examples of humility, earnestness in prayer and grief over sin.


Verse 5

‘And if anyone desires to hurt them fire comes from their mouth and devours their enemies, and if any man will desire to hurt them, in this manner must he be killed.’

This is not to be taken literally. The fire that comes from their mouths is like the two-edged sword coming from the mouth of the Son of Man, a pictorial image of a spiritual reality. John has in mind here the words of God in Jeremiah, ‘Is not my word like a fire?’ (Jeremiah 23:29). A similar picture was used of the unconverted Paul when it was said, ‘Saul was breathing threatening and slaughter against the saints’ (Acts 9:1). It speaks of powerful words producing powerful effects, possibly even in bringing fire down from Heaven like Elijah (2 Kings 1:10). Compare how God will ‘consume with the breath of His mouth’ the Lawless one (2 Thessalonians 2:8). So we are told that the words of these witnesses will be effective and powerful against those who oppose them. We can compare with this 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12 where lightning struck the men sent to arrest Elijah at his fiery words (see Luke 9:54 which shows that this was a favourite concept of John in his early days).

‘If any man desires to hurt them --- if any man will desire to hurt them’. The first is actual, the second prospective. When men stand up against them to bring about their downfall, or seek to plot their downfall, their words will be powerful against such men both now and in the future. This double promise does seem to suggest an ongoing situation with possibly different individuals in mind. It is possible that as one is martyred another is seen as taking his place so that the ‘two witnesses’ remain. Alternately it may be that we are to see two individuals who are continually preserved by God. For the whole idea we can compare Moses standing against Pharaoh, and Elijah, followed by Elisha, standing against Ahab and Jezebel, who are both probably in John’s mind. Both succeeded against all odds.

‘If any man desires to hurt them fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies’. Had it not been for its use of the Son of Man (chapter 1) and the Word (chapter 19) John could have used the picture of a sharp two-edged sword, which would have meant a similar thing. But the mention of pure fire from their mouths is in contrast with the fire, smoke and brimstone from the mouths of the evil spirits (Revelation 9:14-21). What this is promising is that their words will be pure and effective in confounding those who come against them. The repetition stresses the truth, and continuity, of the promise. There are examples in Acts where words of strong rebuke led to deaths (Acts 5:1-11), and we have already mentioned the case of Elijah. The witnesses certainly need God’s protection for they are against powerful enemies. Jesus Himself also used strong words to defend His position until His hour was come, and they will do the same. Their witness is powerfully effective.

No doubt these witnesses received a lot of the blame for the effects of the activities of the evil spirits in Revelation 9:14-21. From the mouths of the evil spirits too came fire, but also smoke and brimstone. But there the words and actions were not pure and God-like but devilish and evil. The church of God often gets tainted with the activities of false religion.


Verse 6

‘These have the power to shut the heaven so that it will not rain during the days of their prophecy, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to smite the earth with every plague as often as they will desire.’

It is not said that they do this. These examples are given to demonstrate that these witnesses are prophets in the mould of Elijah and Moses, and if necessary can call on similar powers. It was Elijah who prayed and shut the heavens (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17). It was Moses who turned water into blood (Exodus 7:19) and smote the earth with plagues.

But we are not to think that we actually have here Moses and Elijah. Jesus Himself spoke of John the Baptiser as the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14; Mark 9:13), demonstrating that the promise of Malachi 4:5 should not be taken pedantically. Here we have the church and its leaders who are carrying on the witness of Moses and Elijah.

(Jesus said of John the Baptiser ‘If you are willing to receive it, this is Elijah who is to come’ (Matthew 11:14). This is perfectly clear, but it is surprising how many students of prophecy are not willing to receive it because it does not fit their preconceptions. The Elijah of Malachi 4:5 HAS already come. We have Jesus word for it. These two witnesses are not therefore specifically fulfilling that prophecy. But how easily and subtly we can, if we are not careful, make the Scripture say what we want it to say in order build up a satisfactory picture or to fit a literalistic viewpoint, a danger to us all.

There is possibly in this passage also a contrast with the work of evil angels and spirits. They also bring famine on the world (Revelation 8:7). They also turn water into blood (Revelation 8:8). They also smite the earth with plagues (Revelation 9:18). God wants us to know that, if they wish, He and His people have the power to do the same even though they may not use it.

James points this out in his letter when he states firmly that the church is powerful through prayer. ‘The supplication of a righteous man avails greatly in its working’, he says, and gives this very example of the withholding of rain by Elijah (James 5:16-17). The early church was not as afraid of such miracles as we are. Thus there is no difficulty in John seeing a future (to him) church in Jerusalem effectively having such powers available for use, especially through their anointed leaders, and possibly although not necessarily using them.

However, it is noteworthy that there have been rare times when miracles of one sort or another have abounded. The time of Moses was one, the time of Elijah and Elisha another and the time of Jesus and His apostles a third. Miracles do not just happen at random. So these words in Revelation may suggest that in the end days the same will apply. But even then they will not be at random. The witnesses will not misuse their powers. They will only use them as God commands. Unlike the beast, their aim is not wholesale slaughter.


Verse 7

‘And when they will have finished their testimony the Beast that comes from the abyss will make war against them, and overcome them, and kill them.’

In Revelation there are two contrasting Beasts, the one who arises from the sea (Revelation 13:1), an earthly empire arising from the nations, and the one who arises out of the abyss (Revelation 17:8 compare Revelation 9:11), who more closely represents Satan himself, the monster (chapter 12). Yet they are all really one for Satan is the power behind them all. Here we see the Beast from the abyss (see chapter 17), representing him whom even Michael the archangel had problems dealing with (Jude 1:9). No wonder the witnesses need special powers!

But he has to stand by until they have finished their testimony. Until their work is done these witnesses are protected (possibly, but not necessarily the individuals. It could be the two witnesses in what they represent that are protected). Then, however, he ‘makes war with them’, ‘overcomes’ the overcomers, and kills them. We can reverently compare how he had to wait before he was able to attack Jesus Christ Himself until ‘His hour had come’. The word ‘overcome’ is sardonic. This is the outward appearance. But they are not really overcome, only killed. They have in fact themselves overcome in the only sense that matters at all. The divine preservation of the ‘two witnesses’ does indicate that God will keep alive the witness of His church and their leaders until their witness is complete.

Elsewhere we read that the earthly Beast makes war with the saints to overcome them (Revelation 13:7 compare Daniel 7:21), as does Satan, the ‘monster’ (Revelation 12:17 compare Revelation 11:9). So these witnesses are being paralleled with the church of Christ, who also share similar persecution through the centuries. Some will perish in that tribulation (Revelation 7:14). The two witnesses represent the element who will for a time be preserved. However, the church know that they are sealed and therefore, in the last analysis, untouchable, and some must die and some must be preserved until the end. There are different limits that God puts on what Satan is allowed to do.


Verse 8

‘And their dead bodies lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.’

Here the city in mind is clearly identified as Jerusalem. It is the place where the Lord was crucified. John could not have made it plainer. It is a clear indication of how God sees Jerusalem at this point. He sees it as a place of sexual perversion (Sodom - Genesis 19; Jeremiah 23:14; Jude 1:7) and of idolatry and worldly aggrandisement (Egypt - see below), the very sins God had especially warned the seven churches against in readiness for this day. The people were guilty of following the ways of the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan (Leviticus 18:3). They were in direct disobedience to God, in contrast with the witnesses and the church of Christ. They prefer idolatry (Nehemiah 9:18; Ezekiel 23:3 with 7 ), and the luxuries of Egypt to the Lord’s fare (Numbers 11:5-6), for they honour the Beast who demands the one (Revelation 13:4; Revelation 13:12) and provides the other (Revelation 13:17).

For Jerusalem as ‘the great city’ brought to humiliation see Jeremiah 22:8. For Israel as Sodom, apart from the holy remnant, see Isaiah 1:9. How far this idolatry will be literal, and how far spiritual idolatry, only time will tell. Religious artefacts can soon become idols as witness the brazen serpent of Moses (2 Kings 18:4).

‘Their dead bodies lie in the street’. No one is permitted to bury them. They are exposed to total shame just as Christ was. Psalms 79:1-4 is illustrative of this episode and is probably in John’s mind. ‘Oh God, the nations are come to your inheritance, your holy sanctuary have they defiled. They have laid Jerusalem in heaps. The dead bodies of your servants they have given to be food to the fowls of heaven, the flesh of your saints to the beasts of the earth --- there was none to bury them. We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and derision to those who are round about us’. It is probable we are to see here the last remnants of the church in Jerusalem. One by one they have been hunted down, but these, with their two prophets, had been preserved for the task they were given. Now they too have been put to death.


Verse 9

‘And from among the peoples and tribes and languages and nations do men look on their dead bodies for three days and a half, and do not allow their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb.’

These ‘peoples and tribes and languages and nations’ are in direct and deliberate contrast with the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Revelation 5:9), and the faithful servants of Christ out of every nation, and of all tribes and peoples and tongues (Revelation 7:9) who come from the same source. They thus have no excuse, for their compatriots have responded to Christ. It was to them that John was to prophesy (Revelation 10:11). Their behaviour is inhumane and abominable, and is shown to be even worse in the next verse, but there is no limit on man’s behaviour when he seeks revenge on those who make him feel uncomfortable.

When he speaks of many peoples and nations John may have thought in terms of people gathering to Jerusalem for the feasts, or he may have had in mind the armies of the nations who were treading it down. But he intends us to see Jerusalem as a microcosm of the whole earth, just as the church in Jerusalem is the microcosm of the whole church. (He could never have dreamed of television and computers and things yet to be invented). The three and a half days clearly parallels the three and a half years. God allows the crowds to enjoy, a day of shame for every year of the ministry they have rejected. That is all they have.


Verse 10

‘And those who dwell on the earth rejoice over them and make merry, and they will send gifts to one another because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on earth.’

Those whose hearts are on earthly things, the earth dwellers, throw parties and celebrate. At last they are free of these men who had made them feel so guilty, who had tormented their consciences. They happily send gifts to each other (compare Nehemiah 8:12; Esther 9:19) to demonstrate their relief. Their ‘tormentors’ have been dealt with. The world hates having its conscience tormented by the people of God. Possibly there is some thought in the use of this word that the torments of the evil spirits in Revelation 9:5-6; Revelation 9:14-21 may also have been laid at the door of the two witnesses (the passage is especially connected with the second woe (Revelation 11:14)). So they celebrate their triumph. But as Job reminds us succintly ‘the triumphing of the wicked is short’ (Job 20:5).


Verse 11-12

‘And after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered into them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them, and they heard a great voice from Heaven saying to them, “Come up here!”. And they went up into Heaven in the cloud, and their enemies saw the whole thing (literally - ‘beheld them’).’

The bodies of the remaining people of God lay exposed in the streets, including their two outstanding prophets who represented them, but then something amazing happens. ‘The breath of life from God entered into them and they stood on their feet’. The language of Revelation 11:11 echoes Ezekiel 37:10, especially the LXX. The surprise at the raising of Lazarus kept Jerusalem agog, but compared with this it was as nothing. All the partying immediately ceases. The impossible has happened. The dead bodies have come alive again. But only to be carried up into Heaven in a cloud as Jesus was in His ascension (Acts 1:9). There can really be no doubt that this is describing what is often called ‘the Rapture of the saints’. Jesus has come for His own. John was allowed up into heaven temporarily (Revelation 4:1), their entry is permanent. There is great stress on the fact that what is described is what was seen by the spectators, and we are made aware of the awe that it produced.

This is not a separate rapture. John is encapsulating what is happening to the whole church in terms of what happens to the church in Jerusalem. Around the world similar things are happening. Paul describes it differently. ‘The Lord himself will descend from Heaven with a shout (‘come up hither’), with the voice of the Archangel, and the trump of God. And indeed the last trumpet now sounds (Revelation 11:15)). And the dead in Christ will rise first. (This is pictured in the raising of these witnesses). Then we who are alive and remain will together with them be caught up in the clouds (the witnesses are carried up in a cloud) to meet the Lord in the air. So shall we ever be with the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). But all this is not made known to the watchers. They see only what is before them. In other cities similar things will be experienced.


Verse 13

‘And in that hour there was a great earthquake and the tenth part of the city fell and seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the remainder were terrified and gave glory to the God of Heaven.’

Now that God’s people have been taken up the world faces the judgment of God. There will be delay no longer. The immediate effect of this is the great earthquake, in which God takes His tithe of one tenth of the city, the firstfruits for judgment. And seven thousand people die. This latter number parallels the number of the remnant in the time of Elijah (1 Kings 19:18). (Elijah lies behind many references in Revelation; compare Revelation 13:13 for the anti-Elijah). Thus this ‘seven thousand’ is a reminder of the remnant whom they have been attacking. God’s remnant have been put to death by the people of Jerusalem, now God claims a life for a life. The numbers are round numbers and not to be taken exactly, as with all large numbers in Revelation.

The remainder, in fear, ‘give glory to the God of Heaven’. It is doubtful if this is the language of conversion. Rather in what they face they have to acknowledge God’s remote greatness but their hearts are still far from Him. It is not a response of faith. Compare how in Revelation 16:10 men blaspheme the God of Heaven. The title is used of man’s instinctive reaction to God as the unknown. Jerusalem is a religious city, which explains the differing response to what occurs, but that does not necessarily go far enough. Submission to Christ is required and they have rejected the testimony of the witnesses.


Verse 14

‘The second woe is past. Behold the third woe comes quickly.’

In Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:12; Revelation 22:20 it is Christ Who ‘comes quickly’, and we find here that the same applies to the third woe. For that final woe for mankind is indeed the arrival of the Judge of all the earth, as Heaven now declares (Revelation 11:18). While it is a joy for the people of God, for those who dwell on earth it is the final woe, and they can only plead to the mountains and the rocks to hide them from the wrath of Him Who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb (Revelation 6:16).


Verse 15

‘And the seventh angel sounded, and there followed great voices in Heaven, and they said, “The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever”.’

Thus is declared the final hour. This is the seventh and last trumpet (compare 1 Corinthians 15:52). The church is raptured, the king is crowned and will now immediately exert His authority and judge the world. ‘The kingdom of the world’ is now His. The kings of the earth, and the rulers, took counsel against the Lord and against His Christ (anointed one)’ (Psalms 2:2). But God could only laugh at their puny efforts (Psalms 2:4) and now He will ‘speak to them in His wrath and vex them with His sore displeasure’ (Psalms 2:5), having set His king on His holy hill of Zion (Revelation 2:6). The Lord now ‘sits as king for ever, He has prepared his throne for judgment’ (Psalms 8:7).

It would not have been possible in John’s earlier description of the rapture to include the sound of the trumpet, for there we had what those in Jerusalem heard and saw and there is no suggestion that the last trumpet would be heard by man. Man hears the voice from Heaven, but the trumpet sounds in Heaven declaring the final fulfilment of the purposes of God. John therefore now immediately introduces it to connect it with what has gone before.

The resurrection has been seen from earth’s point of view, now it is declared from Heaven’s point of view. The third woe is declared, the trumpet sounds, the dead are raised and the church is raptured, an example of which we have seen, and then, in that hour, the third woe actually comes, the judgment, which is carried out on those who dwell on earth. Then they will weep and gnash their teeth for they can no longer hide from His face.


Verse 16-17

‘And the twenty four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying, “We give thanks Oh Lord God, the Almighty, who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and enforced your reign (reigned - aorist ingressive)”.’

We note that there is no longer a mention of ‘is to come’ (Revelation 1:8; Revelation 4:8) for He has come, and it is now the end of time. He has taken His great power and enforced His reign. He has of course previously been reigning in Heaven and in the hearts of His people. Now His reign over mankind as a whole is enforced, expressed in His final acts of judgment. The twenty four elders may well worship. Their task is complete and the redeemed church is in Heaven.


Verse 18

‘And the nations were angry, and your wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged, and the time to give their reward to your servants the prophets and to the saints and to those who fear your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.’

Now God reigns His judgment begins. The nations were angry against God, for they were facing many trials and blamed God rather than themselves, now they will face the anger of God in return, His anger at sin. The time has come for both the dead and the living to be judged.

Along with the righteous the unrighteous have also been raised so that they may face that judgment. ‘The Lord reigns, let the people tremble, he dwells between the cherubim, let the earth be moved’ (Psalms 99:1). But it is also the time when His people receive their rewards for faithful service (Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 1 Corinthians 4:5). Especially mentioned with honour are the prophets. This must have special reference to the ‘two prophets’ who bore faithful witness in Jerusalem (why else are the prophets singled out?). But along with them will be God’s people (the saints) and the God-fearers (Acts 10:2; Acts 10:35; Romans 2:14-16), those who before the spread of the Gospel responded to God and believed in Him. And in contrast, those who destroyed the earth will be destroyed.


Verse 19

‘And the Temple of God in Heaven was opened and in His temple was seen the ark of the covenant, and there followed lightnings and voices and thunders and an earthquake and great hail.’

Nothing is secret any longer. Heaven is opened and made known to earth. The ark of the covenant represents the throne of God, set between the cherubim, where God had taken His power and reigns, and within it is His covenant with His people and the world, which include the ten commandments by which the world will be judged (Exodus 25:21 with Exodus 31:18). To His own the sight is one of great joy. To His enemies it is one of great fear. Now indeed will they cry ‘hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of His wrath has come, and who will be able to stand?’ (Revelation 6:16-17). Just as the first vision of judgment (the seven seals) ended with the coming of Christ at the end of chapter 6, so the second vision of judgment ends with the coming of Christ here.

‘And there followed lightnings and voices and thunders and an earthquake and great hail’. This refrain, which signals great events about to take place, is constantly repeated and constantly grows (see Revelation 4:5; Revelation 8:5; Revelation 11:19). In Revelation 8:5 the earthquake was added (and is repeated in Revelation 16:18). Now is further added the great hail (compare Psalms 18:10-13; Ezekiel 13:13; Ezekiel 38:22; Isaiah 30:30; Exodus 9:24). The earthquake took the tenth part (Revelation 11:13) now the great hail will take the rest. It is a symbol of judgment, sweeping away ‘the refuge of lies’ (Isaiah 28:17), and of the approach of God (Psalms 18:10-13). The great hail is also described as taking place at the end of the seven bowls (or vials) (Revelation 16:21), demonstrating that the seven bowls do not follow chronologically but end also at this point. It is part of the approach of the King as he comes to bring the world to judgment, having raised the dead and raptured His own.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 11:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/revelation-11.html. 2013.

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