The Faithful Witnesses – 20

Revelation 11:1-19

A few days ago, January 8, was the 67th anniversary of the death of Jim Elliot and four other young men in the Ecuadorian rainforest, by the Huaorani people. These people were unreached and dangerous. Most people groups who are unreached are so because they are difficult and dangerous to reach. Jim was only 28 years old, and he was speared to death trying to share Christ with these people, along with the four others. Jim is famously quoted as saying, “’He is no fool, who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” You cannot keep your life, why not give it away for the sake of the gospel. What you gain is life that is never ending. Jim was willing to give his life for the sake of being a witness to the gospel of Jesus. He left behind a wife Elisabeth, and a 10-month-old daughter. Three years later his wife would go back to those same people to live and share Christ with them. And those people who once killed those who came to be a witness of Christ to them ended up believing in Christ for themselves.

God has had a faithful witness throughout all generations. In the text for tonight, even though there is much in the details that is uncertain and debated, you can know this: God has his faithful witness, and the gospel prevails. We’re going to see some symbolism like usual, and like usual, there are many different explanations people give to each point. As we have done throughout this whole study of Revelation, we will do again here. We will major on the majors and minor on the minors. At the center of what we will see in this text are two witnesses.

Revelation 11:1-3 – 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, 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. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

Right off the bat, the three major areas in this text that are debated are mentioned (the temple, the time, and the witnesses). Like most things in Revelation, you can either take them symbolically or literally, and whichever way you choose to read the text is how you will interpret it. Just like through all the previous chapters of Revelation, I don’t think I nor anyone else can definitively tell you what these things exactly mean. There have been dozens of different interpretations by great scholars and Bible teachers. What I will do is tell you what some of the major views are and we will again major on the majors. First, right at the beginning we see the temple mentioned.

The temple refers to either the people of God or a literal rebuilt temple.

Those who say the temple here is symbolic and refers to the people of God[1] do so because the New Testament depicts the people of God as the temple (Eph 2:19-21, 1 Pet 2:4-10). The temple has always been about God dwelling with man, not the building itself (Eph 2:22). And since the death of Jesus, God does dwell with man—the Holy Spirit indwells them (1 Cor 3:16). When Jesus breathed his last, the curtain of the temple ripped from top to bottom (Matt 27:51). There was no need for a physical temple because the once for all sacrifice had been made (Heb 10). Another reason is that here John is given a rod to not only measure the temple, like in Ezekiel 40:2-3, but he is to measure “those who worship there.”

It’s interesting to think about how the readers of John’s letter here would have interpreted it. I don’t know fully how they would have understood it, but I do know that most people believe Revelation was written in the 90s AD. The original temple was built by King Solomon and was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. The temple was later rebuilt, which you read about in some of the minor prophets (Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai). But something horrific happens again in Jewish history in between all the books of the New Testament and John’s vision in Revelation. The temple is destroyed again, by the Romans in 70 AD. So, knowing this, the mention of the temple to a Jewish audience would bring about all kinds of emotions. Many of them would remember when it happened. This is only 25 years later. “The burning question among Jewish Christians was, “Has God rejected his people? (Rom 11:1).”[2]

Because of this and some other New Testament passages, others believe this temple to be a literal new temple built on the temple mount in Jerusalem. Right now, all that exists of the old temple is the western wall. And Jews go there to this day and weep and pray, longing for the day the temple will be rebuilt. Because of that, the location is referred to as “the weeping wall.” And what sits on top of the temple mount is not a temple built for worship of God. It is the Dome of the Rock, the oldest existing Muslim structure, which has been there for over a thousand years. To this day, the temple mount is controlled by the Muslims, not the Jews.

There are several New Testament passages that lead people to believe that the temple here is going to be an actual rebuilt temple, specifically Matthew 24:15 and 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4.

Matthew 24:15 – “So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand).”

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.

In this literal view, if a new temple is to be built, and there are Orthodox Jews who are making preparations and seeking to make it happen even now,[3] then the antichrist will set himself up in the temple. So, there are many people (dispensationalists) who are awaiting the rebuilding of the third temple as a sign that the events of Revelation will take place soon or are already taking place.

Next, in these verses, we see a specific time: 42 months or 1,260 says. The time refers to either the church age or a specific 3.5 years.

This number of days comes directly from the prophecies in the book of Daniel. Jim Hamilton explains, “This three-and-a-half-year period interprets what many refer to as ‘Daniel’s seventieth week.’ In Daniel 9:24-27, the angel Gabriel tells Daniel, ‘seventy weeks are decreed about your people’ (v. 24). These ‘weeks’ are seven-year periods.”[4] What is half of seven years? Three and a half years. Many people believe the great tribulation is going to last seven years and will be broken up into two three-and-a-half-year periods. What we’re reading about in these passages would be the second half of the seven years.

Hamilton and others believe these numbers in Revelation are symbolic and “refers to the whole time from Jesus’ death and resurrection until just before he comes.”[5] That means the church age. Whether the temple and the days are symbolic or literal, we can know this: God is in control, with his people, and will protect his people. Though the world outside the temple is given over to the nations and is being trampled on, those within the temple are safe, and God is sending his witnesses. Majority of the rest of this chapter is about these two witnesses. It says about them,

Revelation 11:4-6 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.

Who do you think the two witnesses are? Here’s a list of what people have suggested:

Old Testament and New Testament; the witnessing church; witnessing in general; Elijah and Enoch; Elijah and Moses; Zerubbabel and Joshua; Elijah and Elisha; James and John; Peter and Paul; Law and Prophets; Law and gospel; Israel and the church; Israel and the Word; Churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia; the spirit of Elijah and Moses.[6]

I used to think that they would be Elijah and Enoch simply because neither of them died but were taken up. I think, though, as Danny Akin says, that the two witnesses are “individuals or a group who come in the spirit of Moses and Elijah to fulfill a specific ministry given to them by God.”[7]

The two witnesses refer to specific witnesses that come for a specific purpose.

The olive trees and lampstands mentioned in verse 4 show us that these witnesses will be “bearers of divine light (Matt 5:15-16).”[8] Verse three mentions they will prophesy for three and half years in sackcloth, the garments of grief, humility, mourning, and repentance. “Their power is clearly reminiscent of the ministry of Moses and Elijah (vss. 5-6; see Ex 7:14-18; 8:12; 1 Kg 17:1; 2 Kgs 1:10-14).[9] They come during the great tribulation. It was expected that Moses (Deut 18:18) and Elijah (Mal 4:5; see Matt 11:14) would come at the end of history, and here they are.

Malachi 4:5 – Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.

So, they’re prophesying, which often means they are speaking against the sinfulness of people. It does mention that the place is like Sodom and Egypt, places known for their sinfulness. Sodom is a city that is known for their immorality, sexual sin, and wickedness. Egypt is known for idolatry, oppression, slavery, and suffering. These witnesses are preaching against this also with great signs and wonders, just like Moses and Elijah. And when they are done prophesying, the beast arrives.

Revelation 11:7 – 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…

The beast refers to the antichrist. “This is the first of 36 references to the beast in Revelation. A more detailed description of him is found in chapters 13 and 17. He is clearly the one John calls in his epistles “the antichrist” (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7) and Paul calls the man of sin or “the lawless one” (2 Thess 2:8-9).”[10]

Revelation 11:8-10and 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, 10 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.

It often looks like evil wins. That’s what we see here. These witnesses gave their lives for the message they were proclaiming and who they were proclaiming about and for, Jesus. And we see the true heart of evil come out in verse 10. They, essentially, create a new holiday, like Christmas, to celebrate the death of these witnesses. They exchange presents and all! It says “the earth will rejoice over them.” “This is the only mention of rejoicing in the book of Revelation.”[11] They hate Jesus that much. Jesus tells us it’s the same with us.

John 15:18 – If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.

You will often feel like the world is winning. It seems that way now. Church attendance is falling. The ways of God are mocked and deemed as evil. If you say God’s way is best you are slandered as hating other people, those who don’t follow God’s ways. It often looks like evil wins, and they often think they do. They think they are on the right side of history, and all the Christian bigots are on the wrong side of history. But…God always wins.

Revelation 11:11-1411 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. 13 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. 14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.

Just as Jesus rose from the dead, when evil thought it had won, he raises these two witnesses from the dead, and everyone who once mocked sees. God always has the final say. God will be glorified. God calls you to proclaim him and be his witnesses, no matter the cost. Many people come to Christ, and possibly a great conversion of Jews takes place because of these witnesses. It doesn’t matter what it cost them, they wholeheartedly fulfil their God-ordained purpose.

God protects and honors his faithful witnesses.

These witnesses were protected until they fulfilled their mission, and God even used their death for his greater glory. Jim Hamilton says, “The point of the text is that evil forces may even kill those who belong to God, but God overcomes death and vindicates his people.”[12] I love what the great Southern Baptist missionary to China, Lottie Moon, said. “I have a firm conviction that I am immortal ‘til my work is done.”[13] And who we talked about earlier, Jim Elliot, who gave his life for his faithful witness of Christ, wrote to his parents, “Remember you are immortal until your work is done. But don’t let the sands of time get into the eyes of your vision to reach those who still sit in darkness. They simply must hear.”[14] And here is what their witness leads to…God being glorified, just as it should be.

Revelation 11:15-1915 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.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 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. 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.” 19 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.

God’s kingdom will come, and God will be glorified. That is how all history works out. Remember that. Even when it seems evil is winning or has won.

[1] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997), 215; James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 233.

[2] George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), 150-151.


[4] Hamilton, Jr., Revelation, 234.

[5] Hamilton, Jr., Revelation, 235.

[6] Daniel L. Akin, Exalting Jesus in Revelation, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary (Nashville: B&H, 2016), 202.

[7] Akin, 203.

[8] Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 218.

[9] Akin, Exalting Jesus in Revelation, 203.

[10] Akin, 204.

[11] Akin, 204.

[12] Hamilton, Jr., Revelation, 242.

[13] Daniel L. Akin, Ten Who Changed the World (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 64.

[14] Akin, Ten Who Changed the World, 81.


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