It is widely held that Revelation 11 is one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the letter. Much of the challenges faced is from the necessity of having to take a clear interpretation on the interpretation of Apocalyptic literature. Once again, the greatest obstacle is determining whether the interpretation should be interpreted…
Vs 1: John receives a measuring stick and is commanded to measure the temple of God, the altar, and them that worship within. This measuring is a symbolic way of declaring God’s preservation of it. This was saying the church (the people of God) will be secure (preserved) against spiritual danger. This was not intended to be protection again physical suffering or death though. God is going to give spiritual sanctuary to the faithful believers against the demonic attacks of the Antichrist.
Vs 2: The outside court would be the court of the Gentiles. One common belief is that this is symbolic of those members of the church who, like the followers of Jezebel (2:20) and Balaam (2:14) that were compromised with the world.
Another more probable interpretation is that the church is going to be given to persecution in the last days. thus, the distinction is a way of pointing up the limitations placed upon pagan hostility. This hostility may physically decimate the witnessing church (two witnesses), but it cannot touch its real source of life (witnesses raised to life). The church will be oppressed, but it will not be destroyed.
1260 days – is forty-two months, “a time, and times, and a half time.” This is a reference to the period of Jewish oppression under Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 – 164 BC. It became a symbol for a limited period of time during which evil will freely reign.
Vs 3 – 6: There are dozens of theories as to who the two witnesses are. However, there is little doubt that they are modeled after Moses and Elijah. They have power like Elijah, consuming enemies with fire and to stop the rain. They are like Moses as they can turn the waters to blood and smite the earth with plagues. Plus, it is a commonly held expectation that both Elijah and Moses would return before the end of the world (Mal. 4:5).
However, the question remains… who are the two witnesses and what do they symbolize in Revelation? It seems unlikely that the two are actual individuals but instead symbolize the witnessing church in the final days before the end. The reason the church is represented by two witnesses comes from the law of Deut. 19:13 which requires a second witness for sufficient testimony. Or it may derive from the two faithful churches mentioned in chapters 2 and 3 who were faithful unto death.
The period of their ministry is the same amount of time assigned to the trampling of the holy city 1,260 days. They are dressed in sackcloth which represents or symbolizes mourning and repentance.
“Two olive trees” and “two lampstands” references the vision recorded of Zechariah 4 indicates the plentifulness of oil and also connects the oil with the Spirit. In Revelation 1 we see the lampstands represents the church. Thus, the witnesses are collective rather than individual and they stand for the church, but since there are only two it is believed that only part of the church is meant.
The witnesses are protected by the supernatural powers for the full time they prophesy. Anyone who tries to harm them will be consumed by the fire that comes from their mouths. The word of the prophets can be like fire. The purpose of this imagery may be to express that during this time God’s servants have the same awesome resources available to them as did Moses and Elijah.
Vs 7 – 14: Once their ministry is fulfilled the witnesses are no longer protected from physical harm. The beast of the abyss declares war on them and emerges victorious. Since they are declaring war it further suggests that the two witnesses are a large group instead of two individuals. This is the last epic battle between the kingdoms of earth and the witnessing church.
The bodies are left unburied on the street of the great city. To be robbed of burial was a great act of disgrace.
“The great city” – Some believe it to be Jerusalem, but it is more commonly believed to be the city of Rome. Spiritually the city is “Sodom and Egypt” which refers to moral depravity and oppression and slavery. So, the great city in which the martyred church lies dead is the world under the wicked and oppressive sway of Antichrist. The dead bodies do not symbolize a spiritually dead church but shows the destiny of the faithful who have held to their convictions until the very end.
The bodies lay in the street for 3 ½ days and this results in a declaration of a holiday where gifts are exchanged and there is celebration from the nations, tribes, and tongues. The world has always shown hostility towards the message of God and the people rejoice because the world looks to have defeated the church.
The celebration is cut short after 3 ½ days when God breathes life into the lifeless witnesses, who proceed to stand on their feet. This results in great fear for the inhabitants of the world. What is interesting is that the death of the martyrs is not what caused great fear among the enemies of God, but it was the resurrection. The resurrection of the church is a sure indication that God possesses ultimate authority over life and death.
A voice from heaven summons the witnesses and they ascend to heaven. This victory of ascension is not a secret rapture, it is open and visible to all. As they are taken to heaven, a great earthquake destroys a portion of the city and 7,000 people are killed. The rest who are left living acknowledge God and his majesty.
Vs 15 – 19: One would expect the seventh trumpet to be followed by the third woe, but instead praise for the final triumph of the kingdom of God and his eternal reign is future and certain. The voices proclaiming praise represent all the hosts of heaven. The twenty-four elders fell on their faces and worshiped God by singing a hymn of thanksgiving.
In response to the hymn, we see the temple in heaven opened and the ark of the covenant was seen. This is not an earthy temple but is God’s temple in heaven. The ark is a symbol of showing God’s faithfulness in keeping and fulfilling his covenant promises. The flashes of lightning, thunder, earthquake and hail all represent God’s judgment.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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