Introduction: The Command to Measure (11:1-2)
There will be a temple in Jerusalem during the tribulation. In the first half of the tribulation, the Jews will make regular sacrifices and offerings in that temple. The Two Witnesses (Revelation 11) At its mid-point, The Beast (Antichrist) will enter the temple, make it his headquarters for ruling the world for the last three and a half years, and demand worship as God (2 Thessalonians 2:4). His actions–just his entering into the temple–will desecrate it and end the holy sacrifices for the last forty-two months of the seventieth week of Daniel:
“He will make a firm covenant with many for one week, but in the middle of the week (‘week’ of seven years), he will put a stop to sacrifice and offering” (Daniel 9:27).
Related: read our article about 666
An angel gives John, one of Jesus’ disciples and the human author of Revelation, “a measuring reed like a rod, along with these instructions: “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar and count those who worship there (11:1).
John probably measures it to approve it. God accepts the inner temple and its worshipers during the first half of the tribulation (forty-two months). He can’t approve of the worship after the midpoint because the Beast desecrates it.
The angel continues his instructions saying, “Exclude the courtyard outside the temple. Don’t measure it, because it is given to the nations (Gentiles), and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months” (11:2). Luke calls this last 42 months of the tribulation the end of the times of the Gentiles, “and Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).
God approves the inner temple during the first forty-two months (1260 days), but the outer courts, the courts where Gentiles were allowed, aren’t. The Gentiles trample the outer courts of the desecrated earthly temple, illustrating that the times of the Gentiles continue until Christ’s return as they trample Jerusalem underfoot.
The Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:3-14)
Though the Gentiles continue their all-out rebellion during the tribulation years, God has compassion for lost humanity. He desires their salvation, their repentance:
“The Lord is not slow concerning His promise, as some count slowness. But He is patient with us, because He does not want any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
The Ministry of the Two Witnesses
Seeking that repentance, God sends His two witnesses to testify for 1260 days during the Great Tribulation. They minister at the same time the False Prophet ministers for the Beast. They do miracles to remind earth dwellers—especially the Jews—of the signs Moses and Elijah performed during their ministry. They also have new powers to overcome their enemies. You might wonder: How will earth dwellers respond to God’s gracious message?
Similarly, God sent the prophet Jonah to Nineveh, asking them to repent or face destruction (Jonah 1:1). Jonah refused to go because he hated the evil Assyrians and knew Nineveh would repent so God would spare them (Jonah 3:1-4:3). But will these evil people repent? Are they even more hard-hearted than the Ninevites?
The two witnesses dressed in sackcloth, which was a Jewish and Biblical way to show sorrow, repentance, and God’s coming judgment. God protects these witnesses and gives them special powers so they can finish their mission (11:5-6):
“If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and consumes their enemies.
- They have the authority to close up the sky so that it does not rain during the days of their prophecy.
- They also have power over the waters to turn them into the blood.
- To strike the earth with every plague whenever they want.
Who are the Two Witnesses?
Moses called down fire along with thunder and hail in one of the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 9:23). Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal by calling down fire to devour the water-soaked sacrifices (1 Kings 18:16-46; 2 Kings 1). So, the historic Moses and Elijah performed similar signs as these two witnesses.
God’s two witnesses can also shut the sky, again like Elijah, so it doesn’t rain when they’re prophesying (1 Kings 18).
And because both Moses and Elijah left this world in unusual ways, many Bible teachers believe God brings back these two, the historical Moses and Elijah, to complete their mission:
God buried Moses, and Satan disputed with the Archangel Michael about Moses’ body (Deuteronomy 34:5-8; Jude 1:9).
Elijah was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:11).
Also, both appeared afterward at Jesus’ transfiguration, and the prophets said Elijah would come before The Day of the Lord (Mark 9:2-13).
Since their time on earth ended uniquely, and the two witnesses parallel their ministry, it’s suggested they may personally return during the tribulation.
But it’s just as likely that God uses two different persons to fulfill roles Moses and Elijah filled during their time on earth. In the same way, Jesus said John the Baptist fulfilled the role of Elijah, whom the prophet Malachi predicted would come to prepare the way for the Messiah at Jesus’ First Advent (Mark 9:11-13).
Imitators of the Two Witnesses
The False Prophet will counterfeit their miracles while exercising Satan’s power (Revelation 13:13-14). Satan can imitate miracles–but only up to a certain point. Pharaoh’s magicians, Jannes and Jambres, counterfeited the first two of the ten plagues in Egypt though they couldn’t copy the rest (Exodus 7:22; 8:7, 16-19). They admitted the remainder could only be done by “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).
God warns people not to follow someone just because they can do miracles; Satan imitates God and His program, especially during the tribulation (2 Corinthians 11:14). God’s people must remain alert because Satan deceives the unwary.
Murder of the Two Witnesses
Once the witnesses complete their mission, the Beast, who comes up from the abyss, kills them. Their message was so painful to earth dwellers that they couldn’t wait to kill them. Now, in a gruesomely joyous but depraved scene, the Beast and his followers savor the moment.
They celebrate while displaying the witnesses’ dead bodies in the streets of Jerusalem for three and a half days. The time was significant because in Jewish thought when someone had been dead three days, enough decay had set in that there was no hope of revival (see John 11:38-39). Comparably, when Jesus raised Lazarus, He purposely delayed His arrival until the fourth day after Lazarus’s death before resurrecting him. Jesus is “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:3-6, 25).
The Beast takes this opportunity to parade his power and terrorize his opponents. He leaves the bodies unburied, which was the ultimate indignity in that culture. Similarly, Jerusalem’s enemies celebrated her destruction by the Babylonians in 586 BC:
“All who pass by … hiss and shake their heads at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, “Is this the city that men call the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?” All your enemies … hiss and gnash their teeth. They say, “We have swallowed her up! Certainly, this is the day we longed for” (Lamentation 2:15-16).
The “bottomless pit” is part of the underworld (the abyss). The demons who possessed the demoniac didn’t want Jesus to send them there (Luke 8:31). It’s the place of the dead and confined evil; smoke comes out when it’s opened (Romans 10:7; Revelation 9:1-11; 11:7; 20:3). And Satan will be bound there in the Millennium.
The Revival of the Two Witnesses (and the End of the Second Woe, the sixth trumpet) (11:11-14)
God’s witnesses were faithful, so in a dramatic scene, God validates them by breathing life into them and calling them into heaven. Just imagine if this complete scene is covered by tv in the future!
Jesus told The Parable of the Tenants to the Jewish leaders to show them how they’ve historically responded to God and His messengers (Mk 12:1-12). The leaders killed God’s Son hoping to obtain His inheritance. Here the Beast (Antichrist) kills God’s witnesses, hoping to defeat God’s purposes and eventually Jesus Himself (19:19).
There are three responses to the witnesses: God’s, heaven’s, and earth dwellers.
When God’s breath entered the witnesses, they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.
Then, in an audible voice, God called them up to heaven (Acts 1:11). They entered heaven in the glory clouds accompanying God’s presence. This was a sure sign of the Beast’s imminent defeat.
God adds another component, an unparalleled earthquake, to the earth dweller’s fear:
“A tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand men were killed in the earthquake, and the remnant were frightened and gave glory to the God of heaven” (11:13).
Giving glory means they recognized that God was the source of these events.
“The second woe is past. Listen, the third woe is coming quickly” (11:14)
The Seventh Trumpet Blown, the Third Woe (11:15-19)
The Double Bar: The Notation Ending a Musical Composition
Once again, loud voices in heaven announce:
“The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (11:15).
Jesus’ return is so close that only the coda remains in this symphony. When John emphasizes the voices in His visions, he says they were loud or many. For emphasis here, he says they were both.
The twenty-four elders, who appeared in chapter four, worshiped God. They referred to Psalm 2, which poetically predicted that God would mock the nations when they raged. The elders praised God:
- For beginning His reign
- For rewarding His servants
- For destroying those who destroy the earth
Then the heavenly temple opened, the ark which remembered God’s faithfulness to His covenants is displayed, and the grand finale is queued:
“And there came lightning, noises, thundering, an earthquake, and great hail.”
At this point, God wants His servants to know.
“There will be no more delay!”
Jesus is returning to reign!