All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
As I’ve pointed out many times in this commentary, the persecution of Christians is central in this book. To limit this book to a mere seven year period (as premillennialism teaches) is a major mistake when you consider that the persecution of Christians has been continuous throughout the whole Church age — oftentimes of unspeakable persecution, such as the Catholic inquisition where millions of Christians were slaughtered (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs provides a history of that). The great tribulation is now, and has been going on since the early Jerusalem church. Christians throughout the Church age can read this book, and know that it’s a book that is current to their day and is applicable to their day.
Christians who have a premillennial view of Revelation, have to realize that this is not an Old Testament book, nor is it about the nation of Israel. It doesn’t complete the OT, nor does it complete the ethnic nation of Israel. But that’s essentially how premillennialists look at this book. What should be obvious to all students of the Bible is that this is a New Testament book that is every bit about the Church as the other 26 books of the NT. Of course, in the four Gospels, that was a time of transition from the OT to the NT, from Old Covenant to New Covenant, which paved the way for the Christian era. By Pentecost, that transition was complete. With the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, that was the exclamation point! Thus the Church of Christ is in view in all 27 books of the NT.
Therefore, it’s bewildering that Bible teachers approach this book as though they were studying one of the 39 books of the OT, written by one of the OT prophets. There is no sense to this. Whatever gave anyone the idea that the book of Revelation should be separated from the NT canon, and placed at the end of the OT canon? For all intents and purposes, that’s what Premillennialism does.
Does it not make better sense to interpret this book the same way we do the other NT books? Of course it does. Therefore, the book of Revelation has to be interpreted with a NT understanding. When studying any book of the NT, the principle interpretation must come from the rest of the NT. The book of Revelation is no different. The primary avenue for interpreting this book, must come by way of the NT. In other words, it must be interpreted with the teachings of the NT in view. It’s only when we follow that approach that a correct understanding of this book will emerge. If we approach Revelation as though it’s a completion of the OT, a completion of OT Israel, a disastrous interpretation is sure to follow.
The temple of God: The Church
The two witnesses: All believers, who make up the Church.
Death of the Two Witnesses: Beginning of War of Armageddon
Forty-two months / 1260 days: Whole Church age (Christian era, gospel era)
Beast out of the abyss: Satan / Man of sin
Seventh trumpet: Judgment of the world (end of the War of Armageddon), and the Great White Throne Judgment.
Verses 1-14 is the continuation of the sixth trumpet (Rev 9:13-21). What began as a conquest of the world and the uniting of nations, ends in this chapter with a worldwide assault against the Church, which is the beginning of the War of Armageddon. We see the end of this war in the seventh trumpet (verses 15-19).
(Rev 11:1) – 1 And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and one said, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.
“A reed like unto a rod”
“A reed like unto a rod” is used to measure the “temple of God,” which is the Church. It’s only via the gospel of Jesus Christ that people become part of the Church. Thus I believe the “reed” symbolizes the gospel message that identifies (measures) those who are in Christ, who make up the Church.
I believe this symbolizes the sacrificial lives of those in the Church, those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ (Ro 12:1-2).
“temple of God”
If we’re to correctly identify this temple, we have to interpret this passage according to the New Testament. Whether this book was written before or after Jerusalem when the Jewish temple was destroyed, it has no bearing on how we interpret this. While the Jewish temple was still standing, both Paul and Peter made it clear that the true temple of God in the New Covenant is the Church of Christ (1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21; 1 Pet 2:4-10). Jesus Himself prophesied of Jerusalem’s destruction. And so again, it doesn’t matter if this book was written before or after that event. The importance of the Jewish temple is long gone, never again to have a place in the plan of God. Even if a Jewish temple were to be built today, it wouldn’t matter. Its purpose is long past.
Revelation is a NT book, written in the context of the New Covenant, written about and for the people of God in Christ. To revert back to an OT understanding of the temple is contrary to the teachings of the Christian faith. Neither now nor at the time the Apostle John wrote this book, does the Jewish temple have any significance. When God tore the curtain of the temple in two during the crucifixion (Matt 27:51), that ended the significance of the Jewish temple — forever! Paul and Peter and John are all in agreement, who are in agreement with God, who made it emphatically clear that the Jewish temple has no more significance or use in the plan of God. The Jewish temple all along was a type of the true temple in Christ that was to come — which is the Church. Once Christ came and completed His work on the cross, that type was then fulfilled and the OT temple’s usefulness forever ended.
Therefore, the temple in view here in this vision is without a doubt, the Church. Those who “worship in it” are followers of Christ, who make up the Church. The “measuring” of it refers to the identification of the entire number of believers that make up the Church. In other words, the measuring identifies who the true believers are. And again, this would have to cover the whole Christian era up to the return of Christ — indeed, all believers throughout history.
(Rev 11:2) – 2 And the court which is without the temple leave without, and measure it not; for it hath been given unto the nations: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
NET – 2 But do not measure the outer courtyard of the temple; leave it out, because it has been given to the Gentiles, and they will trample on the holy city for forty-two months.
This is all symbolic. The court that is outside the temple is symbolic of those outside of Christ, outside of the Church. “The nations” are the whole world of unbelievers.
The “holy city” is not Jerusalem, but the Church which would become the New Jerusalem of the Eternal Kingdom (Rev 21:1-2). The city of Jerusalem, was thus, a type of the New Jerusalem to come — our eternal dwelling place.
“forty-two months” (vs. 2; 13:5)
“1,260 days” (vs. 3)
“time, times, and half a times” (Dan 7:25; 12:7; Rev 12:14)
In regard to these numbers, there are two things that we have to consider: the symbolism, and Daniel’s 70th week.
Symbolism: The Church is seen as being tread upon or trampled for “42 months.” This timeframe is symbolic. Since we know that the Church is in view here, this has to be symbolic for the entire Church age (Christian era). The 42 months and 1260 days and the times, times, and half a times are all equal to three and a half years, which is half of seven. The number seven, of course, is significant and is used in this book many times, normally symbolic for perfection and/or completion. Thus it’s not a coincidence that these numbers are half of seven. This fact confirms that these numbers are not to be taken literally, but as symbolic for something. The question is, if these numbers are not literal time periods, then how long do they represent? And why? The period of time has already been determined, which is the whole Church age. However, it’s difficult to say why 3.5 years is stated three different ways.
Here is why I believe 3.5 years is used to symbolize the Church age:
Since seven stands for perfection and/or completion, I believe that number is symbolic for the completion of God’s plan for the world, which ushers in God’s perfect and eternal kingdom. Therefore, life in this world throughout the Church age would come short of that, which is symbolized by 3.5 years, which is less than completion or perfection.This symbolism is confirmed by Daniel’s 70th week:
Daniel’s 70th week: This week is symbolic. There are seven days in a week. Thus half of seven is 3.5 days. This 3.5 days refers to the duration of the Church age. Sam Storms provides a great explanation of this week: Daniel’s 70 Weeks, (Dan 9:24-27):
10. How, then, may we understand the contribution of Daniel’s prophecy to the structure and flow of redemptive history?
According to the conclusions reached above, the first half of Daniel’s 70th week runs from the baptism of Jesus to 70 a.d. The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 a.d. is the middle of the week, and the present church age is its latter half. Kline concurs and summarizes as follows:
“When we survey the fulfillment of Gabriel’s prophecy from our vantage point, it appears that the last half of the 70th week is the age of the community of the new covenant, disengaged from the old covenant order with whose closing days its own beginnings overlapped for a generation. In the imagery of the NT Apocalypse, the last half week is the age of the church in the wilderness of the nations for a time, and times, and half a time (Rev. 12:14). Since the 70 weeks are 10 jubilee eras that issue in the last jubilee, the 70th week closes with the angelic trumpeting of the earth’s redemption and the glorious liberty of the children of God. The acceptable year of the Lord which came with Christ will then have fully come.”
In reading Sam Storms full explanation, as I’ve done, it’s easy to see the Church age in the second half of this 70th week of Daniel.
“tread under foot”
The “treading” (‘trampling”) of the Church refers to persecution. Has there ever been a time during the gospel era where Christians have not been persecuted? Obviously not. What we’re seeing in this vision is the culmination of that, as part of the sixth trumpet (vs. 14). It seems reasonable that the closer we get to the return of Christ, the greater the persecution of Christians around the world becomes — since worldwide persecution of Christians would not happen overnight, but would progress gradually and picking up speed and intensity as we get nearer to the final days. We’ll talk more about this when we get to verse 7.
(Rev 11:3) – 3 And I will give unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. 4 These are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks, standing before the Lord of the earth.
NET – 3 And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth. 4 (These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.)
“1260 days” – Symbolic for the entire Church age.
“two candlesticks” (“lampstands” modern translations)
There’s actually no mystery about who the “two witnesses” are. We’re specifically told that they are the “two olive trees” and the “two candlesticks” (lampstands) “that stand before the Lord of the earth,” which is a reference to Zechariah chapter 4. We must take what we learn from there and bring it forward to our text here. Any interpretation that we have regarding these “two witnesses,” must be in light of one’s understanding of that chapter. This is the major clue that we’re given, so we must not ignore it. I’ll quote the whole chapter and place in bold everything pertinent to our discussion. Then I’ll provide commentary within the text:
The context is the rebuilding of the temple and the difficult task of it. This was after the Israelites (of Judah) came out of Babylonian captivity. Zechariah was a prophet and priest. He is the one who received this vision:
(Zech 4:1-3) – 1 The angelic messenger who had been speaking with me then returned and woke me, as a person is wakened from sleep. 4:2 He asked me, “What do you see?” I replied, “I see a menorah of pure gold with a receptacle at the top and seven lamps, with fourteen pipes going to the lamps. 4:3 There are also two olive trees beside it, one on the right of the receptacle and the other on the left.” (NET)
We should understand Zechariah as seeing these “seven lamps” and “two olive trees” inside the temple (Ex 25:31-40; 1 Ki 7:48-51). We have to keep in mind that this vision is in the context of the rebuilding of the temple.
(Zech 4:4-9) – 4 Then I asked the messenger who spoke with me, “What are these, sir?” 5 He replied, “Don’t you know what these are?” So I responded, “No, sir.” 6 Therefore he told me, “These signify the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’says the Lord who rules over all.” 7 “What are you, you great mountain? Because of Zerubbabel you will become a level plain! And he will bring forth the temple capstone with shoutings of ‘Grace! Grace!’ because of this.” 8 Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me as follows: 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundations of this temple, and his hands will complete it.” Then you will know that the Lord who rules over all has sent me to you. (NET)
This was meant to bring encouragement to Zerubbabel, who was tasked (along with Joshua the high priest) with rebuilding the temple as governor of Judah. The Lord’s message to Zerubbabel was that He would oversee and ensure the rebuilding of it Himself, by “His Spirit.” God Himself would provide the enabling grace to “complete” the task. Though it would be an enormous task (a “great mountain”), God would be right there with him and his people throughout the process until it was finished.
(Zech 4:10) – 10 For who dares make light of small beginnings? These seven eyes will joyfully look on the tin tablet in Zerubbabel’s hand. (These are the eyes of the Lord, which constantly range across the whole earth.) (NET)
These seven lamps symbolize the “seven eyes of the Lord,” which are identified as the Holy Spirit in Rev 5:6; 1:4; 3:1; 4:5 in the midst of His people. This is significant because it’s the Holy Spirit who indwells and grows the temple of God in Christ, which is the Church (Eph 2:18-22; 1 Cor 12:4-11; 1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16).
(Zech 4:11-14) – 11 Next I asked the messenger, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the menorah?” 12 Before he could reply I asked again, “What are these two extensions of the olive trees, which are emptying out the golden oil through the two golden pipes?” 13 He replied, “Don’t you know what these are?” And I said, “No, sir.” 14 So he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” (NET)
These “two olive trees” are identified as “the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth,” the very words that are used in verse two of our text in Rev 11. Since the rebuilding of the temple is the context, and since Zerubbabel and Joshua were given the responsibility of rebuilding it (read Haggai), we can be reasonably certain that the “two anointed ones” are these two men.
To understand the significance, Zerubbabel served as a king (governor) and Joshua served as a high priest. Thus they are a type of Christ, who is King of kings and our great High Priest (1 Cor 6:15; Rev 17:14; He 2:17; 3:1; 4:14; 8:1; 9:11). Furthermore, functioning as governor and high priest, it pictures our own position in Christ, for as New Testament believers we have a “holy and royal priesthood” (1 Pe 2:5,9), and reign with Christ in His Kingdom, which is now, throughout the Church age (Rev 1:6; Rev 5:10, Rev 20:4-6).
Finally, these two men represent all believers in Christ as the “two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” This anointing foreshadows our own anointing in Christ (2 Cor 1:21-22; 1 Jn 2:20,27), who also “stands before the Lord of the earth” as His ambassadors, His representatives, His servants.
In conclusion, these “two anointed ones” represent all believers in Christ, who make up the Church — which is the true temple of God in Christ. So we can confidently conclude that the “two witnesses” are all believers in Christ, who make up the Church — which is the true temple of God in Christ (the repeating of the same line for both is on purpose). As followers of Christ, we are His “witnesses” in the world. We are the ones who “stand before the Lord of the earth” as His representatives.
As confirmation of our interpretation, use of the term “cultivated olive tree” of Romans 11, may also be alluding to Zechariah chapter 4, which would relate to our passage here in our text of Rev 11. The two olive trees of Zechariah combines into one cultivated olive tree of Romans 11, which is a tree of life or tree of salvation. All believers – both believing Jews and believing Gentiles – are a part of this tree of life, which is a picture of the Church.
Further confirmation of our interpretation: Again, both the “two olive trees” and the “two candle sticks” (lampstands) are seen in the vision of Zechariah, chapter 4. In that vision, we see two olive trees and seven lampstands. Both are symbolic of the Church of Christ that was to come. Or more specifically, the lampstands represent the Church, and the two olive trees represent all believers who make up the Church. Immediately we see that there are seven lampstands in the Zechariah vision and in Rev 1. However, in this verse (11:4) we see only two. I believe the reason for that is because if we take a careful look at the seven churches of Rev 2-3, we’ll see that there are only two churches that have nothing negative said about them, and that’s the church in Smyrna and the church in Philadelphia. These two churches represent a local assembly as it should be — genuinely faithful. They represent those who “stand before the Lord of the earth” as faithful “witnesses.” Thus they’re representative of what churches are called to be as witnesses for Christ in the world.
However, there’s something else that these two churches have in common that is not mentioned in the context of the other five churches:
Smyrna: “9 I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” ESV (Rev 2:9)
Philadelphia: “9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie–behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you.” ESV (Rev 3:9)
Jesus is revealing something highly significant here as it relates to the identity of the “two witnesses” and the “temple of God” of this chapter (Rev 11). In regard to both churches, Jesus mentions those “who say that they are Jews and are not.” Not only does Jesus have nothing negative to say about either of these two churches, He also alludes to true Israel or New Israel in Christ. A true Jew (of Israel) is not one who says he is just because he is of the physical offspring of Israel (of Abraham), but a true Jew is one who represents Him, those who are in Christ, who are of the spiritual offspring of Abraham, both believing Jews and believing Gentiles:
(Romans 9:6-8) – 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. (ESV)
[also Ro 2:28-29; Ro 4:11-12, 16; Gal 3:6-9,16,19, 26-29; Eph 2:13-16; 1 Pet 2:4-10]
Clearly it’s not a coincidence that Jesus reveals the true Jew of true Israel in the context of these two faithful churches, and doesn’t mention it in the context of the other five, which are not viewed in the same light of faithfulness. A truly faithful local assembly is a reflection of true Israel in Christ, which is the Church.
When we put all this together, I think it’s obvious that the identify of the “temple of God” and the “two witnesses” and the “two olive trees” and the “two candlesticks” of this chapter are all referring to true Israel in Christ, which is the Church (both believing Jews and believing Gentiles).
The idea that the Apostle John is talking about the physical temple building of national Israel, is completely out of harmony with the context of what’s revealed in this book (particularly with what Jesus Himself reveals in the seven churches), and out of harmony with the overall teaching of the NT. Revelation is not an OT book, but a New Testament book, and so the terms of this book need to be interpreted according to a NT understanding.
(Rev 11:5) – 5 And if any man desireth to hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth and devoureth their enemies; and if any man shall desire to hurt them, in this manner must he be killed.
Obviously, the fire coming out of the mouths of the two witnesses is symbolic. In Scripture, fire represents one of three things: judgment (1 Cor 3:13-15; 2 Th 1:8; He 10:26-27; Rev 14:10; 18:8; 19:20; 20:9-15), purifying or purity (Ps 12:6; Is 48:10; Dan 11:3-5; Rev 3:18; and the tongue (Ja 3:5-6). In context, I believe this fire is symbolic of God’s Word of judgment. Jeremiah 5:14 gives us a perfect illustration of what’s going on here with the two witnesses:
(Jer 5:14) – 14 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts: “Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them.
As Christians, we are proclaimers of truth, the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and of judgment. The truth judges the sinful lives of those who hear, and it also reveals the ultimate judgment that awaits those who reject the truth. This is the fire that comes out of our mouths. This is the fire that torments the people of the world (vs. 10). It brings conviction, and rejectors of truth hate hearing it. The truth we proclaim pronounces their eternal death sentence (“killed”). Therefore, they hate Christians and persecute us. We may die physically, but the spiritual death of sinners will result in eternal torment for those who don’t respond to the gospel message in the humility of faith.
In the context of judgment, the protection of Christ’s Church and God’s Word is also in view. The judgment of the one is the protection of the other. Neither God’s people nor His word can ever be defeated, but will live on forever.
(Rev 11:6) – 6 These have the power to shut the heaven, that it rain not during the days of their prophecy: and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they shall desire.
Many Christians believe that the two witnesses are Elijah and Moses. This verse is one of the reasons why they believe that. They believe this describes what they did. However, since we know the two witnesses to be the people of God throughout the Church age, that idea cannot be true.
However, I actually believe that this description does, in fact, have these two prophets in mind. I think that’s obvious. But, I believe they merely symbolize all the people of God, indicating the power that is available to us to do His will. And let’s be clear, it’s God’s power that is referred to here, not our own. The power to carry out God’s plan in the world – as His instruments – is always available to us as needed, and as He sees fit. God’s power is only available to followers of His Son, and that is the point and message of this verse. We have the Creator and Ruler of the universe on our side.
(Rev 11:7) – 7 And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that cometh up out of the abyss shall make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them.
(Matt 24:9-13; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-16)
“when they have finished their testimony”
The “testimony” of the Church is our witness for Christ. It refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ that we proclaim to the world. Thus once the gospel has been preached to all the world (Matt 24:14; Rev 14:6-13), and the last person has received Jesus as Lord and Savior and has become a member of the Elect Church, then our testimony to the world will be “finished.” At that point God will resurrect (both the living and the dead) His people, and then His judgment will fall upon the world with the return of Christ, as King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 19:16).
“the beast that comes up out of the abyss”
Based on Rev 9:1-2 and Rev 20:1-3, 7-10, I believe this “beast” has to be referring to Satan (see commentary Rev 9 and 20). We must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. However, I believe this releasing of Satan in this context is in the form of the “man of sin” (2 Th 2:1-12), because I believe this man of sin will be fully indwelt and controlled by Satan. I also believe this is the “eighth” king of Revelation 17:11. However, I don’t believe that this is the same beast of chapter 13 (commonly believed to be the Antichrist by premillennialists), but rather, the final form of it. Thus, this “beast that comes up out of the abyss,” is the final form of the beast of chapter 13 (same but not the same. Please read commentary on Rev 13:1 and Rev 17:11 for full explanation).
The beast of chapter 13 comes up out of the sea, whereas the beast of this chapter comes up out of the abyss. I believe the sea beast and land beast of chapter 13 are operational in the world throughout the whole Christian era, while the abyss beast comes on the scene shortly before the return of Christ. I further believe that this beast, this “man of sin,” could be the Mahdi or the Twelfth Imam of Islam. Although, quite obviously, I can’t be certain of that. If that’s the way it turns out, he will be the true Antichrist — although the book of Revelation doesn’t refer to him by that name.
When one becomes aware of Islamic prophecy and of the goals of Islam to wipe out everyone who does not accept their religion, and of their goal to rule the world, and as those who are identified as the “kings of the East” (Rev 16:12; 9:14-16), it’s easy to see how he could be the fulfillment of this passage. But again, at this point in time, it’s merely an educated and reasonable guess.
So then, while I agree with premillennialists that there will be an “Antichrist” in the latter days prior to the return of Christ, we disagree on the details. I will discuss this at length when we get to chapters 13 and 17.
Important note: Notice the context that this abyss beast is found in (here and in chapter 17). Both contexts have to do with judgment of Babylon the Great (the great harlot). Read commentary on chapter 17 for more discussion about this.
“shall make war with them, and overcome them and kill them”
As I stated before, this is the completion of the sixth trumpet, which has the persecution and death of Christians in view. Once the beast declares war on Christians worldwide, that will mark the end of the Church’s testimony. That will be the end of the gospel era (Rev 14:6-13), At that point, the beast will “overcome and kill” the followers of Christ. Here John actually refers to this as “war.” I believe this term is significant, as I believe what we’re seeing here is what is commonly referred to as the “War of Armageddon” (Rev 16:16). We see the gathering of this army against God’s people in the following passages:
Rev 13:7 (whole Church age, but final fulfillment here in 11:7)
Rev 14:6-8, 17-20
What we’re seeing in this chapter is the final showdown between the people of Christ and the people of Satan. He and the Christ-rejectors of the world will be defeated in judgment.
The beast (“man of sin”) will gather the world against Christians and seek to eliminate them. This will be a worldwide effort to destroy those of us who oppose what they stand for. Such an organized and widespread plan will likely take years to develop until everything is in place. One can easily see the world moving in that direction now, even in America. Even before the beast (“man of sin”) arrives on the scene, we can expect the world to be already largely anti-Christian. But once he rises to power, he will lead the world in a revolt against the followers of Christ. It may start with outlawing Christianity, where Christians have to go underground, much like what we see in countries today where Christianity is outlawed. From there, they will seek out believers with the purpose of putting them to death, just like we see in countries like North Korea. Thus what we see in North Korea today, will gradually spread worldwide. There’s no doubt that we’re seeing the world becoming more and more anti-Christian today, and it can only get worse, not better.
While there will be a worldwide effort to eliminate Christians, not all will be killed. Rather, this should be understood as a large number of Christians around the world. We will be resurrected (both those who are dead and those who are still alive) before we’re totally eliminated. But make no mistake, just as a large number of Christians are being persecuted and killed for their faith now, so will it be in the latter years before Christ returns, except on a worldwide scale.
(For further discussion see “In Summary”)
(Rev 11:8) – 8 And their dead bodies lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.
NET – 8 Their corpses will lie in the street of the great city that is symbolically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was also crucified.
If the “holy city” is the Church (vs. 2) – and I have no doubts that it is – then everything outside of that would be what’s described here. In other words, this refers to the rest of the world, the world of unbelievers. This is the “great city” (Rev 17:18). We see then, the holy city of believers and the great city of unbelievers depicted here (“great,” as in a great number).
“symbolically called Sodom and Egypt,
Sodom and Egypt symbolize the world.
It’s a safe interpretation that the “dead bodies” of God’s people “laying in the streets,” describes the persecution and death of Christians around the world. Where John says, “where also their Lord was crucified,” this identifies us with the same rejection and death of Christ at the hands of sinners — those who represent the world of unbelievers, outside the “holy city.” In other words, all around the world.
Again, not every Christian will be killed (1 Th 4:15-17; 1 Cor 15:51), but the death of Christians will be on such a worldwide scale, that it warrants the general description that we have in this verse.
(Rev 11:9-12) – 9 And from among the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations do men look upon their dead bodies three days and a half, and suffer not their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. 10 And they that dwell on the earth rejoice over them, and make merry; and they shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwell on the earth. 11 And after the three days and a half the breath of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them that beheld them. 12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they went up into heaven in the cloud; and their enemies beheld them.
Again, this whole passage refers primarily to the latter years prior to the return of Christ.
If these two witnesses are actually two individuals, how could just two people “torment” an entire world? I think it’s unreasonable to suggest that they could. It makes far more sense that these two witnesses represent all believers around the world, both believing Jews and believing Gentiles. As followers of Christ, we represent the truth. The truth exposes the sins of the world. We are opposed to everything the world stands for. The people of the world hate the Christ we follow. Thus the people of the world are “tormented” by us.
“three days and a half” (vss. 9,11)\
As we talked about earlier, this number is half of seven, which is mostly symbolic in this book. This verse is no exception. Since seven is a number that represents perfection and/or completion, half of that number would represent something short of that. Therefore, I believe in this context, the number seven represents eternal life. Therefore, “3.5 days” would represent temporary death, referring to what’s about to happen next, which is the resurrection unto eternal life.
So to be clear, this “3.5 days” is symbolic for a temporary period. We have no way of knowing how long this period will actually be.
NET – 9 For three and a half days those from every people, tribe, nation, and language will look at their corpses, because they will not permit them to be placed in a tomb.
When one considers the history of mass slayings, like the Jews of WWII, I think it’s easy to see what’s meant by this statement. When you have millions of dead bodies, they won’t be going into tombs or graves; there’s too many for that. Plus, you figure they would not want to honor Christians with a formal burial. The bodies, instead, would be gathered up and probably dumped in a giant holes in the ground. You figure it would take a very long time to gather up all the bodies. Therefore, I believe what we’re seeing here is that before the dead bodies of Christians have been completely gathered up, they come back to life from where they lay.
The picture that is presented here, indicates the rapidness in which unbelievers carry out their worldwide assault against Christians. They will move so quickly and so extensively, that their burial would be out of the question, because there will just be too many to deal with. It would take such a long time to eliminate the bodies, that they’re seen as “laying in the streets.” Plus, as verse 10 indicates, the world will want time to “rejoice over them:”
“rejoice over them, and make merry” (vs. 10)
We see here what we already see in the world. We see the rejoicing of Islamic terrorists who take great joy in the suffering and killing of those who don’t believe as they do. The only difference is, prior to the return of Christ, this rejoicing will be worldwide. They will rejoice over the death of Christians, because we “tormented them” with the truth. Thus I think by not burying the bodies, they serve as trophies to rejoice over.
ESV – 11 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. 12 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.
It’s inconceivable to me that this could be anything but the resurrection of God’s people (both the dead and living – 1 Th 4:13-18; 1 Cor 15:50-57). It makes perfect sense that this would occur right after our work on earth is done and the last person is saved. The timing fits. The description of this passage fits that scenario.
So, while the dead bodies of Christians lie in the streets of the world, while the people of the world are rejoicing over their “trophies,” they come back to life via the resurrection. To be clear, since not all Christians will be killed, those who are still alive will also be a part of the resurrection. Many Christians refer to this as being “raptured.” Nevertheless, they’re still included in the resurrection. They both occur at the same time. Both will be changed and given glorified bodies (1 Cor 15:50-54).
While this is the final war between good and evil (Armageddon) and the final victory of good over evil, we’re also seeing the death and resurrection of Christ portrayed through these end-time believers. Their death and resurrection serves as a worldwide picture and reminder of Christ and the sacrifice He made on behalf of the world. Christ’s death and resurrection was the defeat of all sin and evil. The mirror image of that is the death and resurrection of His followers. This is all depicted here by these “two witnesses” (the Church). Therefore, it’s fitting that the world end with a worldwide death and resurrection of the people of Christ as a “witness” against them:
“and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. (vs. 11)
Before God calls up His people, the world will see their dead bodies briefly come back to life and stand before them (resurrection), and then they’ll see them go up into Heaven, along with those believers who are still alive (rapture).
So then, we see the Church age beginning with the death and resurrection of Christ, and the Church age ending with the death and resurrection of the people who represent Him. Again, it serves as a witness against the world.
Once Christians have been resurrected (raptured for those still alive), God will bring judgment on the world when Jesus returns in “great power and glory” as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:11-21). We see this in verses 13-19. That ends the “War of Armageddon.”
Note: Those who believe the Bible teaches a pre-trib rapture, are not going to be prepared for this. They believe God will spare us from tribulation. Tell that to all the Christians around the world who are being tortured and suffering and dying for their faith in Christ now! They would love to be spared via rapture. The fact is, the New Testament doesn’t teach a pre-trib rapture. The rapture is part of the resurrection.
“stood up on their feet” (vs. 11)
A similar event occurred after Christ’s resurrection (Matthew 27:51-53), where many of the Saints rose from the dead and walked among the people.
(Rev 11:13) – 13 And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell; and there were killed in the earthquake seven thousand persons: and the rest were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
We again see the numbers ten and seven. These two numbers are seen so many times and for so many things, that they must be accepted as symbolic. Both numbers are numbers of perfection or completion, as has been demonstrated several times now, and we’re only halfway through the book. With that in mind, we have to consider what these numbers are meant to convey to us. I believe the following explanation is a reasonable interpretation of what is happening in this verse:
“The city” has to be the world of unbelievers, as explained in verse 8. A “tenth part” (not complete) would be a small percentage of the whole (the complete) world — that is, the physical part of the world. Likewise, “seven thousand” (not complete) would be a small percentage of the world’s population (the complete). Therefore, I believe this verse should be understood as the initial outpouring of God’s judgment upon the world, with it’s complete judgment still to come. Again, this earthquake and these deaths will occur at the time of the resurrection. Even if we’re wrong about the meaning of the “tenth part” and the “seven thousand,” it still must be understood as the initial outpouring of God’s judgment. That’s what’s most important to see here.
The “rest” (who didn’t die in the initial judgment) who were “afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven” is not to be understood as repentance, but to awe and fear as a reaction to these events. Perhaps they will recognize the hand of God, but they will not intentionally give glory to God. In other words, they will “give glory to God” in the sense that they will be aware that it’s God’s judgment, and will respond in “fear” of Him — but not to the point of repentance. All believers will be gone by this point.
Once the Christians have been resurrected and the judgment of God falls, there is no “second chance.” Their decision to reject Christ by the time judgment begins to fall, will be final.
In summary, Satan and his army of unbelievers will be gathered against the Christians of the world and will “overcome them” (Rev 11:7; Rev 13:7) — referring to worldwide persecution and slaughter. However, not every Christian in the world will be killed. It’s just that there will be such a worldwide effort to destroy Christians, that a significant number will be killed — so many, in fact, that we’re given a picture of complete annihilation. While Christians will be “overcome” by the world, Christ will ultimately “overcome” the world in judgement (Rev 17:14). Our “overcoming” as Christians is but temporary and is of this world, while the “overcoming” of the world of unbelievers will be forever.
What we see in the world today are many countries where Christianity is outlawed, primarily in Muslim countries. The persecution against Christians is so severe in many of these countries, that large numbers of Christians are dying for their faith. I believe as we get closer to the return of Christ, more and more countries will become anti-Christian, where Christians are severely persecuted for their faith in most countries. I believe that the type of persecution of God’s people that we see in countries like North Korea, Iran, Yemen, and Saudia Arabia today, will eventually spread even to countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia.
In other words, in the closing years leading up to the time of Christ’s return, we’ll see a major outbreak against Christians on a global scale, where Christians will lose their lives in every corner of the world. Again, not all Christians will be killed, but to be understood as a vast number.
So in brief, here’s the picture we’re given here: As the bodies of Christians lay openly around the world, God resurrects them. Those Christians who are not killed, will be raptured at the same time. Then Jesus will return with His people as the conquering King, where Satan and the people of the world are utterly and finally defeated. This finishes the War of Armageddon. This final judgment and war is also seen in the following passages:
[Rev 6:12-17; Rev 14:6-20; Rev 16:12-21; Rev 17:14; Rev 18; Rev 19:11-21; Rev 20:7-10; Ez 38 & 39]
This is followed by the resurrection of the lost and the Great White Throne Judgment ( Rev 20:11-15). Once that great event is over, the redeemed will enter the Eternal Kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-2), which is what we see in the seventh trumpet:
(Rev 11:14) – 14 The second Woe is past: behold, the third Woe cometh quickly.
As mentioned earlier, declaring that the “second woe” is past at this point, tells us that this vision of the two witnesses is actually an extension and the conclusion of the sixth trumpet.
(Rev 11:15) – 15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there followed great voices in heaven, and they said, The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign for ever and ever.
Seventh Trumpet — Judgment, Eternal Kingdom
(Matt 24:27-31,34; Mark 13:24-27,30; Luke 21:25-28,32; Luke 17:24,29-30)
“kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ”
The “kingdom” spoken of here is the Eternal Kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (Rev 21:1-2; 2 Pe 1:11). The Kingdom of Christ is now, which began with His ascension to His throne in Heaven, and continues throughout the Church age. His Kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, which is the Church. However, His kingdom continues on into the Eternal Kingdom, which is its final form.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:25, that Christ “must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet.” King Jesus must reign (over His Church in the context of this world) till all His enemies are destroyed (He 1:3; He 10:12-13). When that has been accomplished, then He will turn the Kingdom over to His Father where they will co-reign in the Eternal Kingdom of the “new heaven and new earth” (1 Cor 15:23-28; Rev 21:22-25; Rev 22:1-5). The present form of Christ’s Kingdom gives way to the final form of His Kingdom.
To be clear, there is no earthly, millennial kingdom — as Premillennialism teaches. We go directly into the Eternal Kingdom upon our resurrection.
(Rev 11:16) – 16 And the four and twenty elders, who sit before God on their thrones, fell upon their faces and worshipped God,
The “twenty-four elders” are representative of the Church, which we discussed in chapter 4.
(Rev 11:17) – 17 saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who art and who wast; because thou hast taken thy great power, and didst reign.
“who art and who wast”
Revelation 1:4,8; 4:8 includes the following phrase: “who is to come.” The reason it’s missing here in this verse is because at this point, Jesus has come! He “did reign” (which is now during the Church age), is past tense, looking back from the perspective of the Eternal Kingdom, mentioned in verse 15. Now in this chapter we see the judgment of the world with the return of Christ, and the beginning of the Eternal Kingdom.
“begun to reign” (ESV, NASB, NET, CSB, NIV)
Regardless of which tense is the actual rendering in the original writing, it doesn’t change anything. If the correct tense is past tense, John is referring to the Kingdom of Christ that is now, which is His Church. If the correct tense is present, then John is referring to the Eternal Kingdom. However, the past tense fits better with what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15, which is the correct order: the Kingdom of Christ, followed by the Judgment, followed by the Eternal kingdom:
(1 Cor 15:22-26) – 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; then they that are Christ’s, at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign, till he hath put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be abolished is death.
If we compare the language of John, it’s as though he were reading this passage from Paul’s book. The language is the same. In fact, John’s description in verses 15-19 is like an expanded view of what Paul describes in that passage. Therefore, the biblical evidence suggests that the likely rendering is “did reign,” and not “has begun to reign.” But to be clear, if the correct rendering is “has begun to reign,” then John is referring to God’s reign in the Eternal Kingdom, which follows the Kingdom of Christ over His Church during the gospel era.
(Rev 11:18) – 18 And the nations were wroth, and thy wrath came, and the time of the dead to be judged, and the time to give their reward to thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and to them that fear thy name, the small and the great; and to destroy them that destroy the earth.
ESV – 18 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.”
“The nations raged”
“time for the dead to be judged”
The nations were “enraged” toward Christ and His followers.
As I’ve already talked about, I believe the nations will become more and more anti-Christian as we get closer to the return of our Lord. Then it will be His time of “wrath” toward them when He “destroys them who destroy the earth” (“judgement”) via wars and pollution and careless waste, etc. This especially refers to those who destroy the earth via false religion.
“and for rewarding your servants”
Also in view in this verse is the “rewarding of God’s servants.” We will be rewarded with everlasting life in His glorious presence, but we’ll also be rewarded for our faithfulness. At that time, we will be forever glad that we lived our lives with eternity in view, instead of for the things of this world. Make no mistake, we will surely be rewarded for our faithfulness in serving Christ our King.
(Rev 11:19) – 19 And there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven; and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant; and there followed lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail.
“temple of God”
“ark of his covenant”
I think the picture we have here is clear: The “temple of God” of the Old Covenant, housed the “ark of his covenant,” which was in the “most holy place” of both the tabernacle (Ex 25:10-22; 26:34) and the temple (1 Kings 8:1-11). It was there that God spoke to Moses (Ex 25:22; 30:36), who stood before God on behalf of the children of Israel (also Aaron Lev 16:2-3,13; Joshua Josh 7:6-13). It signified the presence of God.
Likewise, in the New Covenant, the Church is the temple and dwelling place of God (1 Cor 3:16-17; 2 Cor 6:16). Hence, the vision of the temple and the ark of the covenant is symbolic of that. So, what I believe we have pictured here is the complete Church where God dwells among His people forever and ever. Heaven continues in the Eternal Kingdom. Jeremiah actually prophesied this in Jer. 3:14-18. This prophecy has its fulfillment in the Church of Christ, and continues throughout eternity.
Therefore, the ark of the covenant and the temple of the Old Testament, served as a type and shadow of the spiritual temple of God – which is His Church – where He dwells among His people via Christ, His Son.
There’s something else pictured here that is most important to talk about, and that is the atonement of Christ, without which there would be no Church. “Got Questions” website has a good explanation of the role of the ark of the covenant in regard to the atonement:
The real significance of the Ark of the Covenant was what took place involving the lid of the box, known as the “Mercy Seat.” The term ‘mercy seat’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse, cancel or make atonement for.” It was here that the high priest, only once a year (Leviticus 16), entered the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept and atoned for his sins and the sins of the Israelites. The priest sprinkled blood of a sacrificed animal onto the Mercy Seat to appease the wrath and anger of God for past sins committed. This was the only place in the world where this atonement could take place.
I think it’s also significant that with this seventh trumpet, with all enemies now defeated, and the ark of the covenant prominent in this vision, that we have another Old Testament picture of this in Joshua, chapter 6: With the blast of the seven trumpets on the seventh day, after circling the walls seven times (the priests carrying the ark of the covenant), the walls of Jericho came tumbling down and the enemy defeated. But Rahab and those with her were spared because of their faith. So we see in this event of Joshua 6, seven trumpets, the destruction of Jericho on the seventh day, and the sparing of Rahab and those with her — which pictures believers who are saved out of the destruction and judgment of the world, which is what we see in this chapter of Revelation. Fascinating!
“lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail”
“voices” (sounds, roaring, rumblings)
I would have thought that this is simply for dramatic effect, that God’s plan for the world has finally come to an end. However, in Rev 16:17-21, in the seventh bowl judgment, we have the same description, using the same terms: lightnings, voices, thunders, earthquake, hail. Both the seventh trumpet and the seventh bowl judgment are about the final judgment of the world — which is physical destruction. Therefore, the description here in verse 19 has to be a reference to that.
However, this description is also likely intended for dramatic effect. In other words, it’s figurative language to amplify the severe calamities coming upon the world.
Between all the seals and trumpets and bowls, we get a good, general overview of what takes place throughout the Christian era, from beginning to end.