This chapter continues the interlude between the 6th and 7th trumpets. As with the interlude in the seal judgments, there is a picture of God’s protection of his people, the church. God’s people may suffer, but they cannot be separated from God no matter what Satan does. As Paul wrote, “no, in all these things we are more than conquerers through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present northings to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. (Romans 8:37-39) Ultimately, believers will triumph with Christ.
What Paul told us, Jesus shows us through John the apostle, the writer of Revelation. John was given a measuring rod. He was told to measure 3 things: (1) the temple; (2) the altar; and (3) the people who worship there.
This measuring is a symbol of God’s intimate knowledge of his people and his care for them. This is similar to the vision of the 144,000 in the first interlude. God knows his believers on earth and sealed them for their spiritual protection.
There are 2 Old Testament references here. The first is Ezekiel 40. There Ezekiel saw a man measure and describe the city of Jerusalem and the temple. Neither existed in Ezekiel’s time, having been destroyed by the Babylonians. The perfectly square measurements and the layout showed God dwelling with his people and protecting them. It was a picture, not of a physical temple to be built, but of God’s care for the church, ultimately fulfilled in the New Jerusalem we see at the end of Revelation.
The 2nd reference with to Zechariah 2. There a man again measured Jerusalem and declared it would be a city without walls with God as a wall of fire around it. It is a picture of God leading and protecting his people just as he did in the Exodus with the pillar of fire in front of the camp at night.
John was told not only to measure the temple, but the altar. The altar is where sacrifice is made and worship occurs. God shows us he will protect true worship and honor the sacrifices made by those who are faithful to Christ.
Third, John was to measure the worshippers. You cannot really measure a group of people with a rod. This reinforces the symbolism of the measuring. Christ shows us by this he knows his followers and holds them fast. Remember John 10. Jesus said he is the door to the sheepfold and will protect his sheep. He is the shepherd who protects the flock. He said “I know my own”. (John 10:14) Jesus knows us and keeps us.
Remember, though, that the scroll John ate in chapter 10 was sweet in his mouth, but bitter in his stomach. The message of Christ’s protection of his people is sweet. But, hearing of what we will suffer is not as pleasant.
John was told not to measure the court outside the temple. (2) it would be given over to the nations to be trampled. In Revelation, the “nations” means those on earth who oppose Christ and his church. God will allow them to attack the church for a time. The “holy city” is the church. It is a play on the label “the New Jerusalem” which we will see descend from heaven at the end of the book. It is the church.
The time period for this persecution is 42 months. That is 3.5 years. There are some who believe this means there will be a 3.5 year period of persecution. But, since everything else in this vision is symbolic, it is logical to assume this period is also. Since 7 years would be a complete period in God’s timing, half of that represents a period of time cut short by God.
The background for this time period is Daniel 7:25. In Daniel 7, Daniel recorded a vision of 4 beasts. There was a lion, a bear and a leopard. The beasts represented kingdoms that would rise and fall before Christ’s kingdom was established. The lion was Babylon, the bear was Persia and the leopard was Alexander the Great and his Greek kingdom.
But the 4th beast in the vision was terrifying and dreadful and strong, crushing everything before it. Beginning in 7:25, Daniel was given an interpretation. He was especially interested in the terrible 4th beast. This beast, or kingdom, was revealed to rule over the earth and oppose God. It would “wear out the saints of the Most High”. In other words, this is a powerful government that will oppose, harass and persecute the church. This government was allowed to do this for a time, times and half a time. This is the same as 42 months or 3.5 years. at the end of that time, the kingdom is given over to the saints and is everlasting. This is the story told in Revelation 11.
The Bible shows us that the church will experience tribulation during the whole period of the church age. Jesus told that to his disciples. But we know it will intensify toward the end. Paul wrote that Christ will not return until the rebellion comes and man of lawlessness, or man of sin, is revealed. He will oppose God and exalt himself against God and even proclaim himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5).
The Two Witnesses
John is told that authority will be granted to 2 witnesses. The speaker is not identified, but we can assume it is Jesus. He has authority so he can grant it. These 2 witnesses are some type of prophet. They prophesy about the need for repentance in the face of coming the judgment. This is shown by their clothes: they wear sackcloth, the clothing of repentance and morning. When Jonah preached to Nineveh, the king covered himself in sackcloth and called for the whole nation to repent. (Jonah 3)
So, who are these witnesses? Some believe they are 2 literal persons who preach and prophesy immediately before the second coming. But look at how Jesus described them. He said the are the “two olive trees” and the “two lamp stands” that stand before the Lord of the earth. What are the lamp stands? In chapter 1, the lamp stands are the churches. John saw the Lord standing in the midst of 7 lamp stands, signifying Jesus’ presence with the churches.
The two olive trees refers again to Zechariah 4. These two trees supplied endless oil to the lamps in the lampstands. Some believe this referred to Zerubbabel and Joshua. Zerubbabel was the governor and was a descendant of David. Joshua was the high priest. In effect, they were priest and king who lead Israel to restoration. They prefigured the coming Messiah who would be both priest and king. Zechariah was told the two olive trees “are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth”. (Zech. 4:14). Similarly, the two witnesses in Revelation 11 “stand before the Lord of the earth”.
So the witnesses symbolize the church standing for God in the face of governmental opposition, preaching the gospel of repentance and faith in light of the coming judgment.
it could be there are 2 of them because the Bible requires two witnesses to any crime punishable by death. Here these 2 witness and prophesy of coming judgment that leads to death and destruction.
The two witnesses have powers that resemble that of Moses and Elijah. They are like Moses in turning water to blood and striking the earth with plagues. They are like Elijah in having the power to stop rain, shutting up the heavens. They also kill anyone who tries to harm them by fire that comes from their mouth. (5)
But the witnesses are only invincible until they have finished their testimony. This leads us to the appearance of a new entity: the beast that rises from the bottomless pit, or abyss. (7) The beast makes war on the witnesses. (7) This is another indication that the witnesses stand for the church. That is because chapter 13 shows the beast making war on the saints. The language is almost identical. In chapter 11, the beast will make war on them and conquer them and kill them. In chapter 13, the beast made war on the saints and conquered them.
When the witnesses are killed, their bodies are left in the street of the great city. Here we see the first vivid contrast between the city of man and the city of God. The city of man is in rebellion against God. It is called Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem. Sodom was so wicked it was destroyed by God raining down sulfer and fire on it. Egypt was wicked and suffered horrible plagues. Jerusalem rebelled against the Messiah and was destroyed. Later in the book, the city of man will be referred to as Babylon.
So the church looks dead and the state killed it. Rome certainly thought it stamped out Christianity at times. Jerusalem’s leaders killed James and persecuted the church, causing many to flee. The Soviets thought they had extinguished the church, as did the Chinese communists. Many governments today regulate churches. We expect restrictions to increase. And, when the church appears to be defeated, people will rejoice.
But, the church was not dead. After 3.5 days, God revived them. (11) Rejoicing turned to fear. The witnesses stood up, reminding us of Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the bones where people were resurrected into a mighty army. (Ezekiel 37) The rebellious people not only saw the witnesses revived, but taken to heaven. (12) This was accompanied by a great earthquake, killing many people. It was so terrifying, many people began to glorify God.
This is a vision of the resurrection of believers, of the church. A loud voice cried “come up here”. (12) 1 Thessalonians 4:16 says the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel. Their ascension mimics Jesus’ ascension. They went up to heaven in a cloud. Jesus was “lifted up” and a “cloud took him out of their sight”. Acts 1:9.
But those who are not raised to heaven experience great terror at the coming judgment of the enemies of Jesus. Remember the picture of 6:15-16. People attempted to hide from God the Father and from the wrath of the Lamb. We also see that this is the resurrection by what comes next: the 7th trumpet and the scene in heaven.