The Two Witnesses – Revelation 11

Read the Passage: Revelation 11

Reminder: The book of Revelation is structured around seven parallel sections, each describing the time between Jesus’ first and second comings. These sections can be delineated into chapters 1–3, 4–7, 8–11, 12–14, 15–16, 17–19, and 20–22.

The Temple of God (11:1–2)

After internalizing the gospel message in Rev. 10:8–11, John is given a measuring rod and is told to measure certain parts of the temple of God, including the altar and the worshipers. This event is similar to the ideas described in Ezek. 40–43. The key to comprehending the meaning of this symbolic event is to understand that the temple of God here is not a literal brick and mortar building, but is the people of God, the redeemed throughout all the ages. John has already used such language, equating the church with the temple of God in Rev. 3:12 as he wrote, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.” In fact, the language of the church being the temple of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit, or the household of God is used all throughout the New Testament (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16–17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19–22; 1 Pet. 2:4–5; 4:14–17).

The idea of John measuring the temple of God, given that the temple represents the people of God, may seem strange. Keep in mind, though, that John has already described the church, using Old Testament imagery, as being “numbered” and “sealed” (cf. Rev. 7:4–8). These ideas of being numbered, sealed, or measured all communicate the same concept—that is, the notion that the church is under God’s watch-care, control, and protection. John is told not to measure the court of the Gentiles, for this represents those who are not in relationship with God and thus not protected by Him. So, the picture John presents here, between the sixth and seventh trumpets, is meant to be one of encouragement. God is saying to the persecuted church that while they may be physically harmed by unbelievers and the fallen world, they are spiritually secure and always under God’s watch-care.

The Two Witnesses (11:3–14)

In Rev. 11:3 John introduces two witnesses that prophesy for God for three and one-half years. These two witnesses and the temple of God are one and the same—that is, the two witnesses are the church. Three and one-half years represents the time of an army siege against a walled city. So, John is saying that during the time of worldly persecution of believers, which is continual throughout history, the church will testify of the truth and be protected—indeed, the city will not fall (cf. Matt. 5:14). The church is described as two witnesses, for this represents a biblical quorum necessary for the establishment of truth (cf. Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16). Recall that Jesus, too, sent out His witnesses two by two (cf. Luke 10:1). The language John uses to describe these witnesses draws upon Old Testament imagery and individuals, including Zerubbabel and Joshua (cf. Zech. 4:1–14), Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 5:14), Elijah (cf. 1 Ki. 17:1; 2 Ki. 1:10–12), and Moses (cf. Exod. 7–9).

In John’s description of the church’s witness before the watching world, there are two surprising aspects. First, given the persecution, suffering, and what at times appears to be the defeat of the church, the idea that the church’s testimony is being effective seems counter-intuitive. Yet, we must remember that the Kingdom of God is spreading, people are being saved, and the gospel is advancing. Moreover, as was revealed earlier in this book, God hears the prayers of the saints who are crying out for righteousness and justice (cf. Rev. 5:8; 6:9–11; 8:3–5) and He is currently judging sinners. Second, the fact John describes the near eradication of the church during a flourishing of apostasy and evil at the end of the ages seems disturbing (cf. Rev. 11:7–10). Yet, we must remember the reason for this defeat is “they finished their testimony” (Rev. 11:7) and one day there will be a visible bodily resurrection of believers that will cause God’s all of enemies to bow before Him (cf. Phil. 2:9–11).

The Seventh Trumpet (11:15–19)

Finally, after the encouraging revelation of Rev. 10:1–11:14, John describes the sounding of the seventh trumpet. Just as we saw at the end of John’s first cycle of his narrative of history (cf. Rev. 3:20–22), and at the conclusion of his second cycle (cf. Rev. 7:9–17), so here at the close of the third cycle of John’s story we see God’s triumph over Satan and evil. John writes, “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’” (Rev. 11:15). This is followed by the gathered people of God singing out in praise to God for His character and His acts of righteousness, including His judgment of sinners and salvation of the church (cf. Rev. 11:17–18). The reference to the opening of the heavenly temple in Rev. 11:19 is a reference to access to God’s presence and fulfillment of all of His divine promises recorded in Scripture.

Application Questions:

  1. What parallels are there between the temple of God and the people of God?
  2. What can you do to remind yourself that God is in control of the chaos of life?
  3. What is a proper attitude for believers to have toward the world as they testify of truth?
  4. Why is God long-suffering with unbelievers who persecute the church?
  5. Can you, like the heavenly chorus, praise God for His judgment and salvation?