Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship there,
Nippur cubit, graduated specimen of an ancient measure from Nippur, Mesopotamia (3rd millennium B.C.) – displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul (Turkey).
Chapter 11 gives us the story of the “Two Witnesses”, and offers this strange sequence about the desecrated temple where John is given a measuring rod and told to measure the temple, the altar, and the worshipers.
Verses 1 & 2, like every other verse of Revelation should be taken symbolically, being that at the time of the writing of this book, if we hold to the 90 A.D. view of when it was written by John, the Temple would have been in ruins, including the inner sanctuary. And even if the book of Revelation had been written in the 60’s of A.D., while the Temple was still standing, (as held by other views) the description here doesn’t fit the literal Temple at all anyway. The Temple is often symbolized as referring to “Christians” in the New Testament, including in Revelation, especially in Revelation 3:12, (and possibly in Revelation 13:6). So perhaps it refers here to the church being oppressed during this period, but not corrupted. There are many differences of opinion on these issues.
What’s the point of this measuring rod? And what is this “Temple”, referred to here? Again there have been a number of different views.
Francis Lambert, in the early 1500’s regarded the Temple as “the Church”, and the measuring rod as referring to God’s Word. If you look at possible backgrounds such as in 1 Enoch, the measuring of paradise represented the resurrection of the dead. More relevant, like all passages of Revelation, is the Old Testament background. For example, the measure could mean preservation, as measuring does seem to mean in Zechariah 2:1-2 or in Ezekiel chapters 40 and 41, referring to the Temple. Or it could be calling us to spiritual account, like the measuring that takes place in Amos 7:7-9. In any case, the point seems to be clear, because the symbolic measurements are finally given in Revelation 21:16. Here in chapter 11 we read about a measuring rod, but no measurements are portrayed. But in Revelation 21:16 the New Jerusalem, which is like the Holy of Holies, is the Temple City so to speak, yet needs no literal Temple because God Himself dwells there amidst His people. (So much for that third Temple dispensational teaching.) There in that passage, it’s the huge, massive New Jerusalem. So here it may be saying that the persecuted remnant of this age is the seed of the mighty Kingdom to come, like we see in Jesus’ parables. If the Temple represents the church, then the symbol of a “Man of Perdition” would represent?? Yeah, rebellion in the church; self exaltation. Everything in this book is symbolism pointing to something else. John “signified it” in an allegory, veiling a spiritual message from Jesus within a story, created from Old Testament allusions. It is brilliant. It really is!
but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.
The Temple of John’s focus and allusion here is the eschatological temple of Ezekiel 40-48, not of Solomon’s or the second physical Temple. In Ezekiel, measuring secured both the inner and outer courts against the contamination of Israel’s former “abominations,” namely unbelievers worshiping false gods in the sanctuary, and priests having part in idol worship in the sanctuary.
The point here is that God’s presence preserves the true believers from spiritual corruption, while they’re being harmed physically in their bodies and persecuted. This Temple illustration denotes the pattern of Christ’s cross, in that He appeared defeated, but actually was victorious through His suffering and death, defeating death, hell, and the grave through obedience, humility, and martyrdom. Followers of Christ are victorious in martyrdom as well, whether spiritually dying to the flesh, or even unto faithfully dying physically if need be. This measuring denotes securing the faithful against the outside evil deceptions and tactics of the enemy’s world system, all the while being in the plan of God to allow their physical destruction and suffering to their own glorification. Jesus declared He would glorify no man who hasn’t suffered with Him in like manner, whether in submission of will to God, or literal death at the hands of the enemy.
Serving God according to the Word always brings persecution. Anyone who doesn’t know and experience persecution isn’t obeying God, or doesn’t really know Christ. The world’s outsiders will always trample under foot the blood of Jesus and His holy insiders, as is being portrayed in this verse.
And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them,”
Who are the two witnesses? Some people think it’s the literal return of Moses and Elijah, and some say Enoch and Elijah, because they never “physically” died. But there are a number of different opinions. Looking at some of the scriptural evidence, in following the hermeneutic rule of Revelation: “it is all symbolism”, the most obvious solution here, the two “olive trees”, points the mind to the anointed king and priest in Zechariah 4:11-14. In the context of Zechariah chapters 3 and 4, the anointed king and the priest are Joshua and Zerubbabel working to restore the “trampled city.” John is writing in allusions to Old Testament passages, remember Revelation 1:1? “Symbolize it and write in a book, John!”
Also the lamp-stand that appears here, and in Zechariah 4:2, is burned by the the olive oil that was used to anoint the the kings and priests. But John clearly reapplies this allusion in a different way in Revelation. I have never heard of anyone who believes that the two witnesses here are the literal return of Joshua and Zerubbabel, although it would be no less erring than pulling Moses and Elijah out of context to fill in these two blanks, right? But who in Revelation is likened to a king and a priest? Who make up the kingdom and priests in the Book of Revelation, and what group of people tends to get martyred in the Book of Revelation? Exactly; the true followers of Christ. That’s probably why the majority of scholars think that these passages represent the Church. Well most, except for those who believe the church, who is called to suffer for Christ, gets raptured out before any suffering. Ugh…. That logic reveals the difference in focus, whether self preservation and comfort, or self denial unto death, as is the commission of the real gospel exemplified by Jesus.
BUT…. a possible problem to answer is that there are two of them. Two witnesses? Why two?
Two witnesses represents God’s order laid out in Deuteronomy 17 and 19, where the Lord commands everything to be established in the mouth of two (or three) witnesses, and is further evident with Jesus in how He sent them out in pairs in Mark 6. (Remember this book is an allegorical story presenting spiritual truths.)
“Two” clearly fits the context of Joshua and Zerubbabel as a pair, and two here is contrasting to the two evil leaders in Revelation 13:11-12, where it is speaking of a wicked king and his fire-summoning priest. We see a lot of parallels like this in the Apocalypse, such as the 42 months (3.5 years) of the “Antichrist’s” ministry, contrasting the 3.5 years of Christ’s literal earthly ministry, and so on. An imitation of Christ is being projected. A false church with false prophets bearing a false salvation message.
To briefly address the view of Moses and Elijah returning, this is not an uncommon belief, because early 3rd-5th century theologians like Hyppolytus of Rome, Tertullian, and Jerome all held that time honored view. It doesn’t make them right, but it does show the age of this view. The scriptural allusions John uses to describe these two witnesses uses distinct attributes of both the Moses and Elijah stories. Moses turned the water to blood. Elijah shut up the heavens, sent drought, and ascended into the clouds. So one can see how a literalist’s view could arrive at such a thought. I used to wrongly adhere to “Enoch and Elijah” myself, because they appeared to have “never died.” But to be true to the text, if we are going to take either a literal, or figurative view of the text, we must take it all one way, or all the other. The apocalypse is either all literal or all symbolic. There is no mixing and matching, which is exactly what evangelical pre-tribulation dispensationalists do. And to take the command of Christ in Revelation 1 and apply it tells us that Jesus said for John to wrap the point of the message in symbolism to veil it from those it was not intended for in that day: the enemies of Christ.
But despite the likenesses to Moses and Elijah, these two symbolic witnesses are modified in nature by John. Instead of fire coming from heaven, as Elijah called for, it comes forth from their mouths, which is an allusion from Jeremiah 5:14, which refers to the Word of the Lord consuming the wicked. When we look at the way these two witnesses behave in the passages, we see a contrast in how the world around them behaves. In Revelation 11:3, these two witnesses wear the attire of mourning: sackcloth. Yet the world celebrates in gaiety (vs. 10), cheering on their martyrdom. “The Beast wars with them”, which denotes language of a holy war. True warriors for Christ in Revelation are portrayed as martyrs. Remember Jesus defeated the enemy through humility and martyrdom. True followers will do the same. The most powerful battles are fought in heaven, as seen in Revelation 12, and other places. God’s people are victorious through humility, surrender, and death, just like Jesus portrayed.
and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the Great City that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples, and tribes, and languages, and nations will gaze at their dead bodies, and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.
The location of their death is referred to as the Great City, and also the place where their Lord was crucified, which obviously is Jerusalem. But it is also referred to as Sodom and Egypt spiritually. Sodom, in the Old Testament was sometimes used as a cipher for Jerusalem. Revelation refers to Rome as Babylon, speaks of false prophets and teachers, such as Baal and Jezebel, etc, drawing allusions from the characteristics and natures of certain people and places, so it shouldn’t be surprising that we have symbolic names applied here. Jerusalem is also equated to Egypt in this passage. Egypt was under the plagues that we see represented in the book of Revelation, and the use of Egypt can also point to the whole world system, the Beast, being under judgment. Verse 11 depicts that all nations see the bodies of these martyrs. Notice that what is called the Great City here is called Babylon in Revelation 17:18 and Revelation 18:10-21. The unbelieving Israel portrayed here blends into the world system much like the Judaean persecutors of Jesus, in John’s gospel, represent the “world system” calling for His martyrdom.
The Two Witnesses are portrayed as lying in the streets of this Great City. In antiquity, the vilest criminals were often refused burial. It was considered an atrocity to withhold burial from people, even those who had been executed. Pagan culture believed that the soul could not enter the netherworld before burial, so this would have been considered an extreme punishment, which in this context shows the sheer hatred for the people of God by the world system. Notice in these passages how the people are celebrating the death of these prophets who tormented them with God’s judgments. They celebrate by giving gifts, which is alluding to what we see in the book of Esther where they celebrated by giving gifts after they were delivered from genocide, but here they send gifts in celebration after slaughtering the righteous. John is contrasting the hearts of two polar opposite kingdoms.
But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on 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, and their enemies watched them. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.
Here in chapter 11, God brings judgment that calls the world to attention. And after it all, the world is still unrepentant! A literal view of verses 11-14 could denote the resurrection of the righteous, the call to come up to meet the Messiah in the clouds before their enemies; the single, great earthquake depicted in the seals, vials, and trumpets that levels the very mountains that the enemies of Christ run to, and beg to be crushed beneath to hide them from this moment in having to face the King of Glory.
It is evident that the symbolic two witnesses represent the church and its role as witnesses for Christ, but the symbolism also presents that of what Revelation 4:1 depicts, in the ordination of John’s commission as a prophet. It would represent a call into the divine council room of God, exactly like the non-literal rapture of Ezekiel into God’s council room for his commission as a prophet. When doing textual comparisons, the non-literal view of the commissioning of a prophet is strong. Revelation 4:1-2 is almost identical to this passage in its makeup. That would make the two witnesses being vindicated, the Spirit entering them, and being called up before their enemies. This denotes an approval of their status as God’s prophets. Both views are relevant and accurate.
This “breath of life” allusion is a direct reference from the vision of Ezekiel 37 and what we call the valley of dry bones.
So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
The “great fear fell on them” reference is like that from the Red Sea crossing story of Moses. The fear upon them is in contrast to the rejoicing they had at the killing of God’s people. Now their presumed victory has proven to actually be their eternal defeat, because Jesus has appeared, and they are found on the wrong side of His wrath.
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Proper exegesis of the scripture always puts the first resurrection and the second coming of Christ at the same moment, never separate like in the “pre-tribulation rapture” teaching, a western view that never existed in church history prior to the 19th century, anywhere.
At the seventh (last) trumpet, we see Jesus descending upon the earth and assuming His millennial kingdom. The seventh trumpet, vial, and seal presents the end of human history. These are the third woe.
And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying,
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.
The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
The “destroying the earth” language here goes back to Jeremiah 51, and is almost a direct quote of the Septuagint (Greek translated Old Testament). “Like Babylon of old, which devastated the whole earth…”, this evil empire called the Beast has been devastating the earth as well.
“The ark of the testimony appears in heaven” refers to the Ark of the Covenant. Jewish people naively expected the hidden ark to be restored at the time of the end, so this image functions as a symbol of the restoration. In the Old Testament, the Ark was hidden in the holy of holies, which is now laid bare and revealed for the world to see: the presence of God in person; Yahweh among His people. Remember, it was deadly to see what was inside the Ark, or to touch it. Yet here in this depiction, Jesus is presented as revealing His glory and presence to the world in this time of judgment, as the hills and mountains flee before His face, and His enemies are destroyed by the glory of His appearing. The lightnings and thunders, imagery of His presence along with images of judgment in the quakes and hails, are the final words of these passages.
Nations presented treaties or covenants between one another before deities, and edicts were often displayed in public places. The ark, like the Roman Numen, would often go to war before the people. All of this together is imagery of God revealing Himself in Heaven, and sets us up for more images that we are about to witness in heaven in chapter 12.