Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/Revelation/Chapter 11
The Two Witnesses
- 1And there was given me a reed like a rod, and the angel stood, saying, “Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship therein, 2but the court which is outside the temple leave out, and measure it not, for it is given to the Gentiles, and they will tread the holy city under foot forty-two months.”
"...forty-two months" (3½ years or 1,260 days), see note on 13:5 . It defines the length of time that the "holy city" will undergo hardship. This time frame is also observed in Daniel 12:11.
This passage may have its roots in Ezekiel 40-48, in which measuring also plays a very important role. However, this passage is not just a commentary, reference, or play on those chapters of Ezekiel. It likely deals with the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. Whether or not it is about the past or the future depends on what date the Book of Revelation was written, which of course cannot fully be ascertained. Passages such as these support a date after 70 A.D., since they seem to describe the destruction of the temple.
Significance of measuring:
1) Necessary before rebuilding and restoring – This would make sense after the destruction of the temple in 70AD. On the other hand, why would John want to prepare to rebuild the old temple when a new earth is being created?
2) Assessed for destruction – This would make sense only in the unlikely event that this book was written prior to 70AD.
3) Setting aside some parts to be protected – This does not fit well with the idea that all are subject to the divine judgments before this portion in the book. The theme includes the notion that everyone, including Christians, will suffer to some degree.
4) Protection from spiritual harm – If the temple here does not signify the physical building but rather the group worshipping, this could refer to keeping believers spiritually safe. The temple is symbolic of all God's followers, not only a structure to worship in. This metaphorical interpretation is consistent with 3:12 and 13:6.
The measuring rod has a connection to Ezekiel 40:3:
"He took me there, and behold, there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze. He had a line of flax and a measuring rod in his hand, and he stood in the gateway" (KJV).
"Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship therein" is an explanatory command of what John is supposed to measure on earth. He is supposed to measure the temple, the altar (which is located in the holy place), and "those who worship therein" = the counting of prients worshipping near the altar.
John is to proceed to measure the altar. Since the altar of incense is located in the holy place, which is part of the building that houses the holy of holies, this altar is more than likely the altar of burnt offerings. It (in the Herodian temple) was located in the court of the priests, which is the next area one sees when leaving the building that houses the holy of holies.
- 3“And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy 1,260 days clothed in sackcloth.”
Commentary: While the two witnesses are unnamed, some commentaries have suggested some possible identities. Two of these interpretations include Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-11) or Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18) and Elijah. Even though John does not explain who these witnesses are, he does bring the reader's attention to their attire. They are said to be wearing sackcloth. This gives the reader a clue of the prophecies will entail. Attire made of sackcloth is usually indicative of a state of mourning (rf. Gen. 37:34). For they were faithful teachers of the Lord despite their trials. All who despise these witnesses and the teachers of the Lord will experience eternal death in hell rather than eternal life in Heaven. This chapter of Revelation gives hope to Christians, that even during times when the antichristians try to take over, there will be some holding firm to their ground (the witnesses)
The 1,260 days (3½ years) in this verse appears to be the same time period as the forty-two months of the preceding verse.
- 4“These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.”
Commentary: The olive trees reveal yet one more clue about the identity of the two witnesses. It is also a reference to Zechariah 4:14’s mentioning of the two anointed witnesses standing by the Lord of the entire earth. However, the iditity of the two witnesses is not revealed completely. Quite possibly, John recognized these witnesses as prophetic characters but did not know or did not have the ability to know their names, identity and character. The two candlesticks, or lampstands is this verse’s second clue about the identity of the two witnesses. It refers to Zechariah 4:11-13.
Zechariah 4:11-14, Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?” And I answered the second time and said to him, “What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” So he answered me, saying, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.”
- 5“And if anyone hurts them, fire proceeds out of their mouths and devours their enemies, and if anyone hurts them, he must in this manner be killed.”
Commentary: Those that would try to harm them are identified at the enemies of the two witnesses. Whether or not the fire is literal or symbolic has often been debated. It may be that the fire which will proceed forth from their mouths is the Word of God. God's word has been previously compared or associated with fire in the Bible as evidenced by Jeremiah 23:29 and Ps. 119:105. It could very well be literal fire, as John describes the fire devouring the enemies and "killing" them.
- 6“These have power to shut heaven, so that it does not rain in the days of their prophecy, and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.”
Commentary: It is important to note that these two witness have been given to authority to induce plagues. Verse 6 seems to indicate that these plagues include, though are not explicitly restricted to, natural phenomenon. It has been suggested that the two witness are or at least allude to Moses and Elijah.
- 7“And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, and will overcome them, and kill them.”
Commentary: "And when they have finished their testimony" refers back to the 1260 days, or three and a half years, in Revelation 11:3. Because of these witnesses, many people will come to Jesus Christ because they were openly giving their testimony. "The beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit" refers back to the fourth scroll and the beasts that are introduced there. It is very important to John that readers understand how dangerous and bad the beasts are. While it may be hard to fathom, the beast here is not an animal, but a kingdom, or man, of course this may be figurative language that will tempt the people a final time before the judgement. "Will make war against them" is interesting because war is not typically thought of as one against two, but the power of the two witnesses is greater than that of the beast's armies. Therefore, the beast has to use every possible way to defeat the witnesses. "And will overcome them, and kill them" is the result of three and a half years of desiring this outcome. Having tormented the people without mercy, permission is possibly granted the beast to kill the witnesses. Satan is in the body of the Beast, or AntiChrist, and will kill them at the midpoint of the 7-year period.
Modern readers may associate the "bottomless pit" with Hell. This would be an error since the ancient Hebrew conception of the universe did not have a modern perception of a fiery hell deep in the earth. Although, there are elements in Revelation where hell begins to enter the picture, the ancient Hebrew conception would have been one that had Sheol directly underneath the earth and then under Sheol was the 'great deep'. Sheol is unlike hell because both the righteous and the unrighteous are sent after they die there to wait for the resurrection of the dead. Sheol might be translated 'the pit', the 'great abyss', or the 'grave' leading us to believe that the bottomless pit described here is not hell in a modern conception but a dark, slimy, pit, where both the righteous and unrighteous awaited the end times.
- 8“And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.”
Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, which makes Sodom and Egypt a dysphemism for Jerusalem. The two witnesses will serve, as Christ did, as a public display for all to see. In other words, Jerusalem is a place of slavery, oppression, and immorality. Witherington postulates without citation that John may have seen pilgrims to Jerusalem somehow corrupted by the city.
- 9“And the people, kindreds, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three and a half days, and will not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.”
An unburied body was considered a soul's worst fate - the body becoming not animated life but meat - in the levantine tradition, as seen in Isiah 5.25 and Psalms 2.30.
For three and a half days the world will be celebrating the deaths of the witnesses because through their deaths, the judgments from Heaven fell onto the Earth.
- 10“And they that dwell upon the earth will rejoice over them, and make merry, and will send gifts one to another, because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.”
Commentary: Those that have survived the opening of the seals and the judgement will rejoice because they have overcome the trials and tribulations. They will also rejoice by sending gifts to one another. The two prophets that came were a torment to those who lived sinful lives on earth and were blamed for the problems that the sin had caused on the Earth.
- 11“And after three and a half days the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet, and great fear fell upon them which saw them.”
Commentary: This could be referring to the first resurrection of martyrs, which we learn more Chapter 20. Just as Jesus rose from the dead after 3 days, these two prophets receive eternal life from the Holy Spirit. And, just like Jesus, their bodies will be raised after 3 days. This will be a rude awakening for the world because everyone will think that they are dead, but they will live after 3 days.
- 12“And they heard a great voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up hither.’ And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them.”
Commentary: The ascension of the two witnesses into heaven mirrors the story of Elijah being caught up into heaven in 2 Kings 2:11. By including the detail that the enemies of the witnesses watch the ascension, the author of the Book of Revelation is reiterating a point found repeatedly in the text: Evil does not really conquer Good, it wins temporary victories that further God's plans for the world. While it is true that the forces of the beast are able to overcome and kill God's two witnesses, the enemies of the witnesses, those who refuse to believe and worship God, are themselves witnesses to God's power and ability to grant a life beyond death for faith and loyalty.
- 13“And the same hour there was a great earthquake and a tenth of the city fell, and in the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the remainder were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
The death of seven thousand can be interpreted as a reversal of the events in 1 Kings 19.18, when god promises Elisha that seven thousand godfearing Israelites will be spared a vengeful death, while the rest will be killed as punishment for praying to Baal. Combined with the knowledge that only a tenth of the city is demolished while the rest are saved, the fate of Jerusalem, at least in this verse, is a relatively tame one.
- 14“The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe comes quickly.”
The promise of a third woe is not answered in chapter 11. Instead, this ominous setup leads into a hymn of praise.
The Seventh Trumpet
- 15And the seventh angel sounded, and there were great voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.”
Commentary: This is signifying that after the seventh trumpet (God's complete number and presumably the last of God's plagues on the earth) and in the end of all things, the Lord and Christ will reign over the earthly kingdom and make it his own. The voices in heaven can be seen as rejoicing because they have been waiting for this day for quite some time.
- 16And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces and worshipped God, 17saying, “We give you thanks, O Lord God Almighty, who is, and was, and is to come, because you have taken to yourself your great power, and have reigned.”
Commentary: Notice in this verse that God has become of reality, he is no longer "was, is, and is to come".
- 18And the nations were angry, and your wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that you should reward your servants the prophets, and the saints, and those who fear your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth.
Commentary: This is basically describing the scene that has just happened. Because of God's wrath, the people and non-believers of the world became angry at him, but since most of them have died, they are all going to be judged. At the same time, God is rewarding all the believers of the world with everlasting life in heaven. The last phrase is just reiterating the fact that God is punishing the sinners of the world particularly those who were a force of destruction in the world.
- 19And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of his covenant was seen in his temple, and there were lightnings, voices, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.
Commentary: The ark of the covenant, which according to the Torah was used to house the original stones upon which God wrote the Ten Commandments, symbolizes law and judgment. Before the destruction of the temple in 70 CE the ark of the covenant was housed in the holiest of holies which was the innermost chamber of the temple which only the high priest was allowed to enter. After the destruction of the temple the ark became lost, something which would have been of great concern to Jews and some Christians. The fact that the ark is described in being in the heavenly temple instead of the earthly one might be an indication that the date of Revelation is after the destruction of the temple. This is the time of God’s judgment upon the Earth. Like the seventh seal, the seventh trumpet is not an end, but a new beginning. When it is sounded, yet another series of seven catastrophic judgments begins. These are the seven bowls which are poured out on the earth by seven angels coming out of the heavenly temple. But before the bowls are poured out, John is shown several things which further shed light on the events of the end.
- Witherington, Ben. Revelation. Cambridge University Press, 2003.