This chapter is part of the sixth trumpet judgement, the second woe. After John was told that he must prophesy again, chapter 11 opens with a strange request for John to measure the temple, its altar and its worshippers. Before the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, John is given a picture of what will happen in the city of Jerusalem during the tribulation period. The focus is on the ministry of the two witnesses.
The Two Witnesses and the Temple of God
I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshippers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trampled on the Holy City for 42 months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1260 days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. Now, when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the street of the Great City, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on earth. But after three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.
The Measuring of the Temple of God
When studying this chapter two questions will arise. They are:
1. Will Jerusalem once again have a temple?
2. Why did John have to measure the temple, the altar and count the worshippers
At the moment there is preparation happening to rebuild a temple but there are enormous challenges because right now there is a mosque on the temple mount so any effort to build a Jewish temple would be met with great resistance by the Palestinians.
However, the Scriptures seem to imply that a temple will be rebuilt and be in use in Jerusalem during the time of the tribulation. Daniel refers to it in Daniel 9:27, a passage which Jesus refers to in:
So when you see standing in the holy place “the abomination of desolation,” spoken of through the prophet Daniel – let the reader understand – then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.
“The abomination of desolation” refers to a coming world leader who makes a seven-year agreement with Israel but then breaks it midway. The building of a temple is confirmed in Daniel 12:11. This world leader, who initially appears to be on Israel’s side, will eventually desecrate the temple by going into its Holy of holies, which only the high priest is allowed to do. John was told to measure the temple, which is an area that uniquely belongs to God. The measuring of the temple has been recorded as well in Zechariah 2, Ezekiel 40 and Revelation 21. He may have been told to do this in preparation for what is to come: the Gentiles will once again take control of Jerusalem and its holy sites. John is told to count the worshippers. This may refer to the fact that God will protect His people during the takeover of the Gentiles. This takeover will last for forty-two months and will be a time of great trouble and persecution. Jesus predicted that Jerusalem would be in Gentile hands until “the times of the Gentiles” were fulfilled or ended according to Luke 21:24. The times of the Gentiles will end when the Messiah comes at the end of the tribulation to set up His kingdom on earth according to Revelation 20.
The Message of the Two Witnesses
Revelation 11:3 mentions the appearance of two witnesses who will preach and prophesy for 1260 days. This will take place during the first half of the tribulation period. They will wear sackcloth, which speaks of repentance. Their serious message very likely will tell people the need to mourn over their sins and to get right with God.
The Meaning of the Two Witnesses
Revelation 11:4 refers to Zechariah 4. The prophet Zechariah preached a message of repentance to the people of Israel during the days of Babylonian captivity. The two olive trees and the two lampstands refer to Joshua, the religious leader, and Zerubbabel, the political leader who would take the people back to Israel and inspire them to rebuild the fallen ruins of the temple. This historical event points to a future event when the temple will be rebuilt and perhaps these two witnesses will be used to inspire the Jewish people to rebuild the temple. These two witnesses are used by God to bring His message to the world and perhaps even to the nation of Israel during the tribulation period. As for their identity, though various suggestions have been made, the best possible suggestion is that they are Moses and Elijah. Elijah is to appear before the return of the Messiah according to Malachi 4:5-6. John the Baptist had come in the spirit and power of Elijah according to:
And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
If the people of Israel had repented and received the message of the coming King and His Kingdom then John the Baptist would have fulfilled the prophecy concerning Elijah’s ministry before the coming of the Lord according to:
And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.
However, they did not accept Jesus as their Messiah, so we still wait for the return of the Messiah and the coming of the prophet Elijah before His return.
The Protection of the Two Witnesses
God supernaturally protects these two witnesses by giving them extraordinary power. Anyone who wants to harm them will die. Moses had a similar experience according to Numbers 16:35. So did Elijah according to II Kings 1:10-12.
The Power of the Two Witnesses
Their power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying reminds us of the same kind of power that Elijah displayed according to James 5:17-18. which is a reference to I Kings 17 and 18. And it was Moses who struck the water of the river Nile in Egypt so that “the water was changed into blood” according to Exodus 7:20. Furthermore, it was Moses who declared the various plagues over Egypt according to Exodus 7-11.
The Killing of the Two Witnesses
These two witnesses are eventually killed by none other than “the beast.” There are a total thirty-six references to “the beast” in Revelation and this is the first reference. This beast which comes up from the Abyss is very likely this world leader who is energised by satan himself. It is quite amazing that this person is able to kill these two witnesses since they are able to destroy their enemies with fire from their mouths. However, their death happens because it is part of God’s plan and purpose.
Their bodies will be on display in “the great city”. The term “the great city” appears ten times in Revelation: it is used of the New Jerusalem, the heavenly city in Revelation 21:10 as well as the city of Babylon in Revelation 14:8; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 17:18; Revelation 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21. The city described here is the earthly Jerusalem, the place where also our Lord was crucified. It is interesting that Jerusalem is also figuratively called “Sodom and Egypt” during the tribulation period. This may well be because the city will be like Sodom with all its sinfulness and immorality and like Egypt which speaks of oppression and slavery at that time. For three and a half days these bodies will be exposed to the people every where. Today that is possible because of the Internet, TV etc. The world will celebrate their deaths because their message of repentance had tormented them. Hebrews 11:35-38 speaks of the way the prophets of God have been treated in the past and conclude that “the world is not worthy” of them.
The Resurrection of the Two Witnesses
After three and a half days these two witnesses come back alive again. They are then commanded to “come up here”. Their ascension is a very public event and reminds us of Jesus’ ascension into heaven in Acts 1-9. This is followed by a severe earthquake during which time one tenth of the city collapses. As a consequence of the earthquake seven thousand people die. Those who survive give glory to God. This may possibly indicate that at that time a remnant of Jewish people begin to believe in the Lord and give Him glory.
The Third Woe is Coming
Much has happened since the sixth trumpet was blown. It all started in Revelation 9:13 with the invasion of a great army that kills one-third of the human race. Now the announcement comes that the last and seventh trumpet is to be blown. According to Revelation 10:7 it will be that, in the days “when the seventh angel is about to blow his trumpet that the mystery of God will be accomplished.”
The Seventh Trumpet: The Majesty of God and His Plan
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying, “We give thanks to You, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry and Your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets, and Your saints and those who reverence Your name, both small and great – and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” Then God’s temple in heaven was opened and within His temple was seen the ark of His covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
The sounding of the seventh trumpet continues over the last three and a half years of the tribulation period. Its message covers all that takes place during the last half of the tribulation period.
The Extent of His Majesty
God announces that He is taking over. The prophets of the past spoke of the kingdoms of this world being conquered by the kingdom of the Messiah according to Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:14; Zechariah 14:9. The kingdom is jointly held by the Lord and His Christ. One day the Messiah will hand the kingdom over to God the Father according to I Corinthians 15:24.
The Exaltation of His Majesty
In response the twenty-four elders fall on their faces as recognition of the greatness of God and their humility before Him. They give thanks to God that he will reign over the entire earth. They point out that in the past nations have been rebellious, which we can read about in Psalm 2:1-6.
In Revelation 19:15b we read that:
“Jesus Christ Himself will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.”
The reference to the judging of the dead reminds us all that we are all accountable to God. One day even the unbelievers of this world will stand before God to be judged according to Revelation 20:11-15. John then speaks of those who will be rewarded according to Matthew 25:21-23, 34-40; Hebrews 6:10; Revelation 22:12. But God will punish unbelievers for what they have done as we can see from II Thessalonians 1:8-9.
The Expression of His Majesty
God’s temple is opened.
In Revelation 15:5-6 we read:
“After this, I looked and in heaven the temple, that is, the tabernacle of the Testimony, was opened. Out of the Temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues. They were dressed in clean, shining linen and wore golden sashes round their chests.”
In Hebrews 8 and 9 we read that the earthly temple was a copy of the heavenly temple. In the New Jerusalem there will be no temple according to Revelation 21:22.
The ark of His covenant reminds us of His abiding Presence. See also Psalm 89. His long-awaited promises are now about to be fulfilled. With the announcing of the last plague there come flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm. They remind us of Revelation 4:5 and Revelation 8:5. These are all signs that God’s judgement has come.
Revelation chapter eleven is a crucial chapter. It marks a dividing point between the first half and the second half of the tribulation period. It reveals that the Jewish people will rebuild the temple in Jerusalem and it reminds us all that God is in control and that the kingdoms of this world are under His direction.