A. Past Blog Posts
- The Four Horsemen (Rev 6:1-8)
- The Fifth and Sixth Seal’s Effects on the Earth (Rev 6: 9-17)
- The 144,000 Are Marked with the Seal of God (Rev 7:1-8)
- God and the Lamb Are Praised (Rev 7:9-17)
- The Lamb Breaks the Seventh Seal (Rev 8:1-5)
- The First Four Trumpets (8:6-13)
- The Fifth Trumpet Brings the First Terror (9:1-12)
- The Sixth Trumpet Brings the Second Terror (9:13-21)
- The Mighty Angel and Little Scroll (Rev 10)
B. Text of Rev 11:1-14
1He gave me something like a measuring rod saying: “Get up and measure the temple of God, altar, and the ones worshipping there. 2But, regarding the courtyard outside of the temple he said to leave it out and don’t measure it because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3I will give my two witnesses power and they will prophesy for 1,260 days while dressed in sackcloth.” 4(These two witnesses are the two olive trees and two lampstands which have been standing before the Lord of the earth.) 5If anyone wants to injure my two witnesses fire will come from their mouths and devour their enemies. If anyone wants to injure them, then it is necessary for that person to die. 6They will have power to shut the heavens so that it will not rain during the time of their prophesy. They will have power over water to turn it into blood and to strike the earth with every plague as often as they want. 7When they finish their testimony the beast which comes up out of the abyss will make war against them, conquer them, and kill them. 8So their dead bodies will lie on the street of the great city which is spiritually called “Sodom” and “Egypt.” It is where our Lord was crucified. 9And people from every people, nation, language, and group will see the dead bodies for three and a half days. Their bodies will lay there because no one will be allowed to put the two witnesses in a tomb. 10As a result, everyone who lives on earth will rejoice over the two witnesses, celebrate, and send gifts to each other because these two witnesses harassed the ones who live on the earth. 11Yet, after three and a half days the breath of life from God went into them. They stood up on their feet and great fear fell on the people who saw the two witnesses. 12Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them: “Come up here.” So they ascended through the clouds into heaven while their enemies watched. 13It was at this time that there was a great earthquake which brought down one-tenth of the city. In the earthquake seven thousand people died. Then the rest of the people were afraid and gave praise to the God of heaven. 14The second woe has passed. Look! The third woe is coming soon. (Rev 11:1-14) 1
Photo Credit: Phillip Medhurst
C. General Remarks about Rev 11:1-14
“During the Great Tribulation Satan will use two men—the Antichrist and the false prophet—to carry out his evil agenda. At the same time, God will raise up two brigh tlights to shine for Him in the darkness. These two men, called the two witnesses, and Revelation 11:3-14 describes their ministry. God will anoint these two special witnesses who will minister on His behalf amid the darkness and devastation. Just as John the Baptist was the forerunner for the Messiah, these two witness will pave the way for His return.” (Hitchcock, The End, 345)
“chapter 11 has been generally acknowledged to be one of the most perplexing sections of the entire book” (Bruce Metzger, Breaking the Code, 68).
“chapter 11 is one of the most difficult to interpret in the entire book” (Walvoord, Revelation, 177).
“People find many books puzzling, but he Bible is often the most puzzling of all. People find many parts of the Bible puzzling, but Revelation is often seen as the most puzzling book of all. And people find Revelation puzzling, but the first half of chapter 11 – the passage now before us – is, for many, the most puzzling part of all.” (Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 97)
“The many interpretations of the two witnesses make this one of the most debated passages in the book and indicate its importance” (Osborne, Revelation, 417).
Before we start to study Rev 11:1-14 I want to start by telling you that I see this as real people, actual places, true events, and literal numbers.
II. SUMMARY OF THE TWO WITNESS’ MINISTRY (11:1-3)
A. Measure the Temple; Count the Worshipers (v. 1)
Καὶ ἐδόθη μοι κάλαμος ὅμοιος ῥάβδῳ, λέγων· ἔγειρε καὶ μέτρησον τὸν ναὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τὸ θυσιαστήριον καὶ τοὺς προσκυνοῦντας ἐν αὐτῷ.
He gave me something like a measuring rod saying: “Get up and measuring the temple of God, altar, and the ones worshiping there.” (Rev 11:1)
1. The Measuring Rod
The literal phrase here is, “And something like a measure rod was given to me, saying.”
This measuring rod is a bamboo like item that grew on the banks of the Jordan river. It could be anywhere between ten feet (Osborne, Revelation, 409) and twenty feet in length (Walter Kaiser and Duane Garrett, eds., “Revelation,” The Archaeological Study Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005], 2059 quoted in Walvoord, Revelation, 178).
This word, ναος, refers to the Temple and its “Holy of Holies.” It does not refer to the outer courtyard that was for the Gentiles. There was no temple in John’s time, therefore this is a future temple. For alternate views see “Common Views on the Temple of Rev 11:-12” below.
3. Why Measure the Temple
Some have said that John is told to measure the temple because it symbolizes God protecting his believers from persecution. However, the better interpretation is that this is a literal future temple that John is told to measure. The act of measuring it suggests that this is a literal temple.
B. The City Trampled for Forty-Two Months (v. 2)
καὶ τὴν αὐλὴν τὴν ἔξωθεν τοῦ ναοῦ ἔκβαλε ἔξωθεν καὶ μὴ αὐτὴν μετρήσῃς, ὅτι ἐδόθη τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, καὶ τὴν πόλιν τὴν ἁγίαν πατήσουσιν μῆνας τεσσεράκοντα [καὶ] δύο.
“But, regarding the courtyard outside of the temple he said to leave it out and don’t measure it because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample the holy city for forty-two months.” (Rev 11:2)
1. Forty-Two Months
It is difficult to interpret whether forty-two months refers to the first half or the second half of the seven years of persecution of Rev 4-19. See comments on Rev 11:3 for more explanation.
2. Explanation of “Gentiles”
The best explanation of “Gentiles” is in contrast to the Jesus believing “Jews” who are worshiping in the temple (Rev 11:1). This definition of Gentiles fits the context and allows for the same meaning in Rev 11:18; 14:8; 19:15; 20:3. Therefore, these Gentiles will be a group in rebellion against God, who will oppress the Jewish believers, and will wreak havoc in Jerusalem during the period just before Christ’s return (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 83-84).
3. Holy City
More will be explained later regarding the identity of the “holy city.” For now, it is sufficient to assume this is Jerusalem.
C. Common Views on the Temple of Revelation 11:1-2
Most people jump straight to the identity of the two witnesses before considering which temple these two witnesses minister at. It is important to start with the correct identification of the temple they minister at before jumping to the identity of the two witnesses.
1. Symbolic of the Church
This is the majority view. In this view the temple of Rev 11:1-2 represents the church and the “outer court” represents the world and all who have been compromised with it. Metzger writes, “John is using symbolic language and speaks of the temple, not as a building, but as God’s people” (Bruce Metzger, Breaking the Code, 69).
In support of this being “symbolic of the church,” other passages in the New Testament refer to believers as God’s temple (1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21; 1 Peter 2:5).
This view is held by Bruce Metzger, Breaking the Code, 68; Osborne, Revelation, 410; Alan Johnson, “Revelation,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition), ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, vol. 13 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006], 681; Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 99; Isaac Asimov, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: Volume Two, The New Testament (Avenel Books, 1981), 547.
However, there are three problems with this view. First, the context and nature of the temple is Jewish, not the Christian “church.” The mention of sanctuary, altar, court of the Gentiles, and holy city implies this is a Jewish culture and meaning, not “Christian.” Second, Rev 11:1-2 describes a “temple” and “people” who worship in it. So, in this view the “temple” is the church, but who are the worshippers? The church by definition includes the people who make it up. So why would there be a “church” used symbolically to describe believers and then a subsequent description of “worshippers?” Third, if the temple refers to the symbolic church, how does John measure the dimensions of an individual body of believers?
2. Heavenly Temple
Some believe this to be a heavenly temple the symbolizes the presence of God. The first among several problems with this view is that later in the same passage John describes the temple of God which is in heaven (Rev 11:19). Second, the temple is present in Rev 7:15, 15:5, 6 along with the tabernacle. Third, how could a heavenly temple be trampled over by feet by the Gentile nations for forty-two months? Fourth, BDAG states that ναός in Rev 11:1 refers to the “temple at Jerusalem.” Fifth, Rev 21:22 states that the heavenly Jerusalem has no temple.
3. Second (Herodian) Temple
Preterists latch on to this view and bring it up any time their AD 65 date is questioned. Preterists view this temple in Rev 11:1-2 as the Herodian second Jewish temple in Jerusalem that was still standing at the time of John’s writing the book of Revelation (because they believe John wrote Revelation in AD 65). Preterists usually cite Luke 21:24 and Rev 11:2 as describing the same event (Jerusalem’s destruction in AD 70).
Yet, there are four problems with this view.
First, Clement of Rome (who wrote in the mid AD 90s) referred to the second temple as if it was still standing:
“Let every one of you, brethren, give thanks to God in his own order, living in all good conscience, with becoming gravity, and not going beyond the rule of the ministry prescribed to him. Not in every place, brethren, are the daily sacrifices offered, or the peace-offerings, or the sin-offerings and the trespass-offerings, but in Jerusalem only. And even there they are not offered in any place, but only at the altar before the temple, that which is offered being first carefully examined by the high priest and the ministers already mentioned. Those, therefore, who do anything beyond that which is agreeable to His will, are punished with death. Ye see, brethren, that the greater the knowledge that has been vouchsafed to us, the greater also is the danger to which we are exposed” (Clement of Rome, “The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers [Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885], 16).
If Clement could write about the temple as if it was still standing, can’t John do the same?
Second, just because Luke 21:24 describes the destruction of Jerusalem does not mean this has to be the same temple in Rev 11:1-2. Luke 21 describes the entire city being destroyed while Rev 11 only describes the temple being destroyed. Rev 11 provides a specific time period while Luke 21 does not.
Third, taking this temple as the second temple involves a mixed hermeneutic. For example, preterists take the inner area of the Temple such as the altar and worshipers as symbolic of the true Temple, the church. But, for the outer parts of the Temple as the literal Herodian Temple. In this manner the Temple is interpreted both symbolically and literally as well as Jewish and Christian. This type of mixed hermeneutic should not be used in Bible exposition and interpretation.
Fourth, Ezek 40-48 describes a future literal temple that an angel will measure. Ezekiel had a vision of a temple that did not exist at the time of his vision; therefore it is likely that John could also have had the same type of vision where he saw a temple that did not exist at the time of his vision.
4. Future, End-Time Temple
Most likely, the correct view is that this is a literal, earthly, future temple that will stand in Jerusalem during the end times. The converted Jewish worshipers (the 144,000 of Rev 7:1-8) are the ones persecuted by the Antichrist for forty-two months and eventually killed by Satan.
This view is favored for three reasons.
- One, a likely conclusion of a literal temple is the ability for someone to measure the temple, altar, and worshipers.
- Two, a literal temple fits the context of the two witnesses described in Rev 11:3-13 who prophesy.
- Third, Daniel and Ezekiel describe a future literal temple. A special emphasis for a large future literal temple in the end times was predicted by Ezekiel. When the Solomonic temple in Jerusalem was burned down by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC, Ezekiel was told about the destruction of the temple in 585 BC (Ezek 33:21). In this pivotal chapter (Ezek 33) his previous prophesies had come to pass and the message of his prophesies changed to the topics of future blessing and restoration. In 573 Ezekiel received a vision of a new temple that has never existed even until today. While there are various interpretations of the temple in Ezekiel being figurative or allegorical, the basis for interpreting this temple in Ezek 40-48 as a literal, future, eschatological temple is best for five reasons. First, Ezek 36-37 describes Israel as a “transformed people restored to a transformed land” (Hitchcock, “Domitianic Date of Revelation,” 125). Second, there are measurements of this future temple which indicate it will be a literal temple just as there were measurements of the past three temples. Third, Ezekiel already described a literal temple in Ezek 8-11 which he prophesied would be destroyed. Evidence for the literal temple are mentioned when Ezekiel described it as having an “inner courtyard” (Ezek 8:3, 16), a “north gate” (Ezek 8:3), a “sanctuary” (Ezek 8:16), “entry room” (Ezek 8:16), “bronze altar” (Ezek 8:16). Ezekiel’s prophesies about a future temple to be restored is a sound conclusion in Ezek 40-48. In the future temple there will be an “inner courtyard” (Ezek 4:27), “entry room” (Ezek 40:48), and “gate” (Ezek 43:4). Fourth, the literary unity of the book of Ezekiel indicates a literal future temple. While God has departed from the temple in Ezek 1-33, it is likely that God will restore and return to the temple in Ezek 40-48. Fifth, Ezek 40-48 matches well with other Old Testment prophesies about a future millennial temple that will include sacrifices in it (Isa 2:3; 56:6-7; Jer 33:18; Joel 3:18; Hag 2:7, 9; Zech 14:16-21).
For more see Hitchcock, “Domtianic Date of Revelation,” 125-129.
Furthermore, it is encouraging to see the tremendous amount of preparation that is currently occurring in Israel to prepare for a future temple. There are nonprofit organizations that are currently preparing vessels and priestly garments for use in the temple. What is most exciting is that plans for the temple have also been created.
Commentators who believe Rev 11:1-2 describes a future rebuilt temple are Hitchcock, “Domtianic Date of Revelation,” 125-129; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 82; Walvoord, Revelation, 178-179.
5. Conclusion on the Temple of Rev 11:1-2
With that said, this does not necessarily mean that the Ezekiel 40-48 temple and the Rev 11:1-2 temple are identical. Instead, it is should be noted that based on Ezek 40-48 it should not be surprising that Rev 11:1-2 describes a future temple not standing at the time of John’s writing. Mark Hitchcock provides a comparison between these two prophets as evidence of future temples that are similar, but different.
- Ezekiel was an OT prophet while John was a NT prophet.
- Ezekiel ate a scroll (Ezek 3:1-3) and John ate a little book (Rev 10:9).
- Ezekiel had a vision (Ezek 40:2) and John too had a vision (Rev 4:1-2).
- Ezekiel saw a future temple even though his contemporary temple had been destroyed twelve years earlier while John saw a future temple even though his contemporary temple had been destroyed twenty-five years earlier. An angel measured the temple as Ezekiel watched and John was commanded to measure the temple.
Based on this evaluation it is possible that the temple in Revel 11:1-2 endures tribulation and desecration while the temple of Ezek 40-48 is in a setting of restoration. This means the Rev 11:1-2 temple is the third Jewish temple that will exist in Jerusalem during the tribulation (Matt 24:15; 2 Thess 2:4). Therefore, the temple in Ezek 40-48 is the fourth Jewish temple that will exist during the Messianic kingdom (Hitchcock, “Domitianic Date of Revelation,” 131-132).
D. The Powerful Two Witnesses (v. 3)
Καὶ δώσω τοῖς δυσὶν μάρτυσίν μου καὶ προφητεύσουσιν ἡμέρας χιλίας διακοσίας ἑξήκοντα περιβεβλημένοι σάκκους.
“I will give my two witnesses power and they will prophesy for 1,260 days while dressed in sackcloth.” (Rev 11:3)
1. Who Gives the Two Witnesses Power?
Revelation 11:1-4 has a couple of places where it is unclear who the speaker is. The first example was in Rev 11:1, “Καὶ ἐδόθη μοι κάλαμος ὅμοιος ῥάβδῳ,” “And he gave me something like a measuring rod.” In that passage it appears to be a what is called a “divine passive” where the speaker is not explicitly stated, but is assumed to be God. The second example is here where it appears that God is the speaker (not Jesus) since this person is referred to as “Lord” in Rev 11:8. Furthermore, God is normally the implied subject of “to give” in the book of Revelation (See Osborne, Revelation, 419, footnote 2).
2. Why Two Witnesses?
There are two witnesses because it confirms the message. To confirm something in the Old Testament there had to be two witnesses to verify legal testimony (Deut 17:6; 19:15; Num 35:30; Heb 10:28). In the New Testament Jesus said you had to have two people to confirm a point of discipline (Matt 18:16) and two people to verify a truth (John 8:17). Paul also mentioned the need for multiple witnesses to validate judgment (2 Cor 13:1; 1 Tim 5:19) (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 87).
3. First Half or Second Half?
The two witnesses minister for the last three and a half years of the tribulation. This is because because Israel will be restored back to the land for three and a half years of peace, which is the first three and a half years. Then, in the last three and a half years the two witnesses need protection while they pour out divine judgements. (Walvoord, Revelation, 179, 181; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 85). This view is held by Mark Hitchcock who provides a great summary for why these two witnesses minister in the latter half of the seven years of Tribulation.
- First, the context of Rev 11:2-3 strongly favors the last half. The two witnesses will minister during the forty-two months that the Temple is being trambled by the Gentiles (Rev 11:2-3).
- Second, the two witnesses experience persecution of the Antichrist. This is seen when the beast which comes up from the pit in Rev 11:7.
- Third, the blowing of the seventh trumpet is announced right after the two witnesses and in that seventh trumpet is appears that the time of Christ’s return is near.
However, some scholars believe the two witnesses minister in the first half of the seven years of the Tribulation: “Note that the two witnesses minister during the first half of the Tribulation (Rev. 11:3; 1,260 days). Jerusalem is then overrun by the Gentiles for forty-two months, the last half of the Tribulation” (Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 598).
4. Clothed in Sackcloth
The meaning of these two witnesses being clothed in sackcloth means they are—as Walvoord states—“prophets of doom” (Walvoord, Revelation, 182). Other examples of people wearing sackcloth as a sign of mourning and sadness are Gen 37:34; Isa 37:1-2; Dan 9:3; Amos 8:7-14; Jonah 3:5-6.
III. DESCRIPTION OF THE TWO WITNESSES (11:4-6)
A. Two Olive Trees and Two Lampstands (v. 4)
οὗτοί εἰσιν αἱ δύο ἐλαῖαι καὶ αἱ δύο λυχνίαι αἱ ἐνώπιον τοῦ κυρίου τῆς γῆς ἑστῶτες.
(These two witnesses are the two olive trees and two lampstands which have been standing before the Lord of the earth.) (Rev 11:4)
Might refer to Zeck 4:1-14. Specifically, in Zech 4:14 the two olive trees are identified by the interpreting angel to be Joshua, the high priest and Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah leader of the temple rebuilding project. Joshua and Zerubbabel (Bruce Metzger, Breaking the Code, 69). Yet, the context of Zeck 4:1-14 is slightly different than Rev 11:1-14 as John Walvoord notes, “The description of the two witnesses as olive trees and lampstands has an Old Testament background (Zech. 4:2–14). The two witnesses in this passage were Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor. Their connection to the lampstands was that they were empowered by the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the olive oil. In a similar way the two witnesses of Revelation 11 will be empowered by the Holy Spirit” (Walvoord, “Revelation,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2, 956).
B. Fire Flashes from Their Mouths (v. 5)
καὶ εἴ τις αὐτοὺς θέλει ἀδικῆσαι πῦρ ἐκπορεύεται ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτῶν καὶ κατεσθίει τοὺς ἐχθροὺς αὐτῶν· καὶ εἴ τις θελήσῃ αὐτοὺς ἀδικῆσαι, οὕτως δεῖ αὐτὸν ἀποκτανθῆναι.
If anyone wants to injure my two witnesses fire will come from their mouths and devour their enemies. If anyone wants to injure them, then it is necessary for that person to die. (Rev 11:5)
The present tense forms in this verse, ἐκπορεύεται – “fire will come” and κατεσθίει – “devour” are what is called a “futuristic present.” This type of present tense verb stresses the certainty that something will happen in the future (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 535-537). Furthermore, the insertion of the Greek term, δεῖ, “it is necessary” implies that God has decreed that people must die if they threaten his two witnesses (Osborne, Revelation, 423). These two witnesses are empowered by God and are operating under his decree.
C. Power Over the Earth (v. 6)
οὗτοι ἔχουσιν τὴν ἐξουσίαν κλεῖσαι τὸν οὐρανόν, ἵνα μὴ ὑετὸς βρέχῃ τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς προφητείας αὐτῶν, καὶ ἐξουσίαν ἔχουσιν ἐπὶ τῶν ὑδάτων στρέφειν αὐτὰ εἰς αἷμα καὶ πατάξαι τὴν γῆν ἐν πάσῃ πληγῇ ὁσάκις ἐὰν θελήσωσιν.
They will have power to shut the heavens so that it will not rain during the time of their prophesy. They will have power over water to turn it into blood and to strike the earth with every plague as often as they want. (Rev 11:6)
Regarding the power of these two witnesses one commentator writes, “These witnesses have a combination of the greatest powers ever given prophets on the earth” (Walvoord, Revelation, 182).
IV. DEATH OF THE TWO WITNESSES (11:7-10)
A. Death Upon Completion (v. 7)
Καὶ ὅταν τελέσωσιν τὴν μαρτυρίαν αὐτῶν, τὸ θηρίον τὸ ἀναβαῖνον ἐκ τῆς ἀβύσσου ποιήσει μετʼ αὐτῶν πόλεμον καὶ νικήσει αὐτοὺς καὶ ἀποκτενεῖ αὐτούς.
When they finish their testimony the beast which comes up out of the abyss will make war against them, conquer them, and kill them. (Rev 11:7)
1. Testimony Finished
After forty-two months there testimony is complete.
2. Identity of the Beast
The beast that comes up out of the bottomless pit is Satan. This is different than the beast that comes up out of the sea in Rev 13:1 which is a world dictator (Walvoord, Revelation, 183). This is also different than the beast that comes up out of the earth in Rev 13:11 which is the false religious leader of that day (Walvoord, Revelation, 183).
In the Greek there is an article on “beast” which might be a connection to a previous oral teaching. Sometimes the Greek article is used to describe something that already has been explained to the reader. This might be an allusion to Dan 7:7-12, 21, 25; Rev 13:7.
An alternate view of the beast is that it is the manifestation of the Roman Empire. Particularly, the beast is the “emperor” of the Roman Empire (Mulholland, Revelation , 496).
Yet another alternate view is that this beast is the “Antichrist” (Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 599).
B. Dead in the Street of Jerusalem (v. 8)
καὶ τὸ πτῶμα αὐτῶν ἐπὶ τῆς πλατείας τῆς πόλεως τῆς μεγάλης, ἥτις καλεῖται πνευματικῶς Σόδομα καὶ Αἴγυπτος, ὅπου καὶ ὁ κύριος αὐτῶν ἐσταυρώθη.
So their dead bodies will lie on the street of the great city which is spiritually called “Sodom” and “Egypt.” It is where our Lord was crucified. (Rev 11:8)
1. The Great City = Jerusalem
The identity of the “Great City” is difficult because elsewhere in the book of Revelation this phrase refers to Babylon (Rev 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21). Yet, the phrase must be Jerusalem in this context because it is the place where the Lord was crucified. Furthermore, the population of the city is 70,000 (Rev 11:13) which would be the population of the city of Jerusalem, not Rome which was much larger. This is Jerusalem (Walvoord, Revelation, 183; Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 84, 94).
2. Spiritually Sodom and Egypt
The word used here for “spiritually” (my translation as well as the KJV 1900, NKJV, AV 1873), “figuratively” (NLT and NIV), “symbolically” (LEB, ESV), “mystically” (NASB95), or “prophetically” (NRSV) is a translation of the Greek word, πνευματικῶς, which is an adverb that has two basic meanings (according to BDAG, 837).
- First, it pertains to transcendent influence. It is often translated in this way as spiritually, in a spiritual manner, in a manner caused by or filled with the Spirit. This use references the inner life of a person. One example is in Ignatious’s letter to the Ephesians 10.3, “μένετε ἐν Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ σαρκικῶς καὶ πνευματικῶς remain in Jesus Christ both in body and in spirit, i.e. w. one’s whole personality.” Another is in Ignatious’s letter to the Smyrneans, “μετὰ τὴν ἀνάστασιν συνέφαγεν αὐτοῖς ὡς σαρκικὸς καίπερ πνευματικῶς ἡνωμένος τῷ πατρί after his resurrection he dined with them as though being in the body although united with the Father spiritually.”
- Second, this word also can pertain to being consistent with transcendent influence. When used this way it is translated as in keeping with the spirit with reference to the divine πνεῦμα. Paul writes in 1 Cor 2:14, “πνευματικῶς ἀνακρίνεται it must be examined in a manner consistent with the (divine) Spirit.” This use is where Rev 11:8 is relevant as is also the place for “ἥτις (i.e. the city of Jerusalem) καλεῖται πνευματικῶς Σόδομα Rv 11:8: if one follows the spiritual (the opp. is σαρκικῶς Just., D. 14, 2) understanding of scripture (cp. Is 1:9f), Jerusalem lies concealed beneath the name Sodom. Something more is involved here than mere allegory or figurative usage.—TW” (BDAG, 837).
With that said, John is being specific about the spiritual condition of the city or is describing what people with “spiritual discernment” say about it (Osborne, Revelation, 427). Using the name, Sodom, symbolizes moral degradation (Gen 19:4-11). Using the name, Egypt, symbolizes oppression and slavery (Exod)
C. Everyone Sees the Dead Bodies (v. 9)
καὶ βλέπουσιν ἐκ τῶν λαῶν καὶ φυλῶν καὶ γλωσσῶν καὶ ἐθνῶν τὸ πτῶμα αὐτῶν ἡμέρας τρεῖς καὶ ἥμισυ καὶ τὰ πτώματα αὐτῶν οὐκ ἀφίουσιν τεθῆναι εἰς μνῆμα.
And people from every people, nation, language, and group will see the dead bodies for three and a half days. Their bodies will lay there because no one will be allowed to put the two witnesses in a tomb. (Rev 11:9)
This same phrase “people from every people, nation, language, and group” is the same phrase as Rev 13:9. Rev 13:5 also mentions forty-two months.
D. Party Time (v. 10)
καὶ οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς χαίρουσιν ἐπʼ αὐτοῖς καὶ εὐφραίνονται καὶ δῶρα πέμψουσιν ἀλλήλοις, ὅτι οὗτοι οἱ δύο προφῆται ἐβασάνισαν τοὺς κατοικοῦντας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς.
As a result, everyone who lives on earth will rejoice over the two witnesses, celebrate, and send gifts to each other because these two witnesses harassed the ones who live on the earth. (Rev 11:10)
The phrase, “everyone who lives on earth,” in Greek refers to those who are left on the earth after the church is raptured (Walvoord, Revelation, 184).
V. RESURRECTION OF THE TWO WITNESSES (11:11-12)
A. Resurrection the Two Witnesses from Death (v. 11)
Καὶ μετὰ τὰς τρεῖς ἡμέρας καὶ ἥμισυ πνεῦμα ζωῆς ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσῆλθεν ἐν αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἔστησαν ἐπὶ τοὺς πόδας αὐτῶν, καὶ φόβος μέγας ἐπέπεσεν ἐπὶ τοὺς θεωροῦντας αὐτούς.
Yet, after three and a half days the breath of life from God went into them. They stood up on their feet and great fear fell on the people who saw the two witnesses. (Rev 11:11)
1. Three and a Half Days
Very few commentaries tackle this phrase. It might have some symbolic meaning, but most likely this is simply a literal length of time that the two witnesses lie in the street of Jerusalem.
The divine “Spirit” is written as a nomen sacrum (sacred name) in three early manuscripts (P47, P115, and א) (Comfort, Manuscripts and Texts of the NT, 409), which indicates that some early scribes believed this was the Holy Spirit doing this work.
Osborne sees this as a direct allusion to the valley of dry bones in Ezek 37. More specifically is the exact same phrase that is in Exek 37:10 as well as Gen 2:7.
3. Literal People or Symbolic of the Church?
Some commentators do not take this as a resurrection of two literal people. Instead, some such as Metzger say that John is using symbolism (not describing historical events) to describe the resurrection of the church (Metzger, Breaking the Code, 69-70). Yet, the correct view is that these are two literal people who God will raise in up in the future.
B. Rise of the Two Witnesses to Heaven (v. 12)
καὶ ἤκουσαν φωνῆς μεγάλης ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ λεγούσης αὐτοῖς· ἀνάβατε ὧδε. καὶ ἀνέβησαν εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐν τῇ νεφέλῃ, καὶ ἐθεώρησαν αὐτοὺς οἱ ἐχθροὶ αὐτῶν.
Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them: “Come up here.” So they ascended through the clouds into heaven while their enemies watched. (Rev 11:12)
1. The Heavenly Voice
This likely is Jesus’s voice (the same as in Rev 4:1) (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 97)
2. The Duration of Rapture versus Ascension
There is a notable difference between the length of time it takes for the rapture to occur and the ascension to occur. The rapture is described as something that will occur suddenly (1 Thess 4:15-18; 5:2-3; Matt 24:30-31). Yet, the ascension described by the two witnesses appears to be something that occurs more slowly as it is watched here in Rev 11:12. It is similar to Christ’s ascension in Acts 1:9.
V. COMMON VIEWS ON THE IDENTITY OF THE TWO WITNESSES
Among the views I have listed below is that these “two witnesses” are not two people, but instead are a group of people. However, the text of Rev 11 leads us to believe that these two witnesses are two real people for two reasons. One, they are described as wearing sackcloth, just as John the Baptist did. Two, they are called the two olive trees and two lampstands which alludes to to men mentioned in the prophecy of Zechariah. Zechariah mentions Joshua (the high priest) and Zerubbabel (the civic leader) and in Zechariah’s mention of these two men he refers to them as a lampstand and olive trees (Zech 4:1-14).
A. Moses and Elijah
What appears to be the most common view on the identity of these two witnesses is that they will be Moses and Elijah (M. Robert Mulholland, “Revelation,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2011), 18:496). This view sees Moses and Elijah as God’s messengers representing the Jewish Christian community until the end of history (C. Marvin Pate, “A Progressive Dispensationalist View of Revelation” in Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by Stanley Gundry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan: 1998), 169-170).
1. Support for this View
- First, the signs and wonders in Rev 11:5-6 match the works and miracles of Moses and Elijah. Elijah called down fire from heaven (1 Kings 1:10) and he shut off rain from heaven (1 Kings 17:1-2). Moses turned water into blood and struck the earth with plagues (Exod 7:14-11:10).
- Second, in addition to their works matching the two witnesses, the prophet Malachi predicted the return of Elijah (Mal 4:5) and Moses predicted a prophet like himself would come in the future (Deut 18:15, 18).
- Third, the two people transfigured with Christ on the Mount of Olives were Moses and Elijah (Matt 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30).
- Fourth, the mysteries of Moses’ death (Deut 34:5-6; Jude 9) and Elijah’s disappearance from the earth (2 Kings 2:11) might corroborate with these two witnesses in the future.
Commentators who accept this view are Osborne, Revelation, 418; Mulholland, Revelation (2011), 496; Hitchcock, The End, 348.
2. Objections to this View
- John the Baptist fulfilled Malachi’s prophesy about the return of Elijah (Matt 11:14; 17:10-13; Mark 9:11-13).
- Moses did die (Deut 34:5-6), which means Moses would have to die twice if he will be one of the witnesses (Heb 9:27).
- While the two witnesses are similar to Moses and Elijah this does not mean they are the same persons (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 89-90).
B. Enoch and Elijah
Similar to the view that the two witnesses will be Moses and Elijah is the view that the two witnesses will be Enoch and Elijah. The basis for this view is that neither of these men died during their life in the Old Testament.
1. Support for this View
- First, the Old Testament is clear that both Enoch (Gen 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) were taken to heaven before their deaths. However, the New Testament also says that all men must die (Heb 9:27) so some believe these two men have to return at some point in the future.
- Second, 1 Enoch 90:31 and 4 Ezra 6:26 refer to a ministry that Enoch and Elijah would have that is similar to the description of the two witnesses in Rev 11:1-13 (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 88).
- Third, some leaders of the early church have believed that the two witnesses would be Enoch and Elijah such as Hippolytus, Tertullian, and “nearly all the church fathers who followed” (Ford, Revelation: Introduction, Translation, and Commentary, Anchor Bible 38 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday), 1777-78, quoted in Osborne, Revelation, 417).
2. Objections to this View
- Not everyone has to die because people who are alive when the LORD returns will not physically die (1 Thes 4:17).
- This means that saints alive at the end of the Tribulation will enter the Millennial Kingdom without ever having to die.
C. Peter and Paul
In my opinion, this view is least likely and I could only find it referenced by the critical and sometimes ignorant interpretations given by Isaac Asimov in his Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, vol. 2, 547. According to Asimov, Peter and Paul are the two witness, the beast which comes up out of the bottomless pit is Nero, and the city is Rome.
D. The Church
Another view of the identity of the two witnesses is that they are the Church. People who hold this view see the two witnesses as the “True Church” and the “Word of God” who faithfully bear testimony (Henry Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, 24th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1965), 721).
1. Support for this View
- Support for this view is based on the idea that the beast would not likely make a war against just two people (Rev 11:7), but instead he would make war against a large army (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 87-88).
- This interpretation is based on the two witnesses being connected to the lampstands (Rev 11:4) as symbols for the church earlier in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:20; 2:1).
Support for this view is from Metzger, Breaking the Code, 70-71; Wright, Revelation for Everyone, 99.
2. Objections to this View
- First, only people can wear burlap or sackcloth (Rev 11:3). The text also leads the reader to believe that these two witnesses will have distinct and individual identities and powers (11:5-6).
- Second, to say that you cannot “wage war” against two people overstates the issue. Ahaziah “made war” against Elijah by sending three companies of fifty soldiers to fight him (2 Kings 1). Throughout the rest of the book of Revelation the beast “makes war” against the saints (12:17; 13:7) as well as Michael and his angels (12:7).
- Lastly, if the two witnesses were the church then it would mean that the church experiences martyrdom; therefore there would be no one left to populate the Millennium.
E. Two Future Prophets Not Yet Known
The most likely conclusion is that these are two future prophets that will rise up which are not identified based on past biblical revelation. Perhaps they will be two people who will be raised up from among those who turn to Christ in the time following the rapture (Walvoord, Revelation, 182).
1. Support for this View
- The first reason that these are two future prophets not yet known is that the text does not tell us their names. Moses and Elijah were iconic figures of the Old Testament. If this is a description of them then John would have told readers.
- Second, there appears no indication to interpret the passage symbolically. For example, when describing the city of Jerusalem in Rev 11:8 it says that Jerusalem is “spiritually” called Jerusalem (my translation as well as the KJV 1900, NKJV, AV 1873, “figuratively” [NLT and NIV], “symbolically” [LEB, ESV], “mystically” [NASB95], or “prophetically” [NRSV]). In this example, the text gives readers a clue that this is not supposed to be the literal countries of Sodom and Egypt. But, instead it described in a spiritual manner as those areas.
- Third, the Greek word used to describe the two witnesses, μαρτυς, is always used of two literal persons in the New Testament (Matt 18:16; Act 1:8; 6:13; 7:58; 13:31; 2 Cor 13:1; 1 Ti 5:19; Hb 10:28; Mt 26:65; Mk 14:63; Rom 1:9; Phil 1:8; 1 Th 2:5, 10; 2 Cor 1:23; 1 Thess 2:10; 1 Ti 6:12; 2 Ti 2:2; Lk 24:48; Ac 1:22; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39; 26:16; 1 Pt 5:1; Ac 22:15; Ac 22:20; Rev 2:13; Rev 17:6 Rev 1:5; 3:14 (BDAG, 619-620).
- Fourth, similar to number three, the meaning of literal persons giving literal prophecies and proclamations (Mt 7:22 ; Act 2:17; 19:6; 21:9; 1 Cor 11:4; 13:9; 14:1, 3–5, 24, 31, 39; Rev 11:3; Matt 26:68; Mk 14:65; Lk 22:64; Matt 11:13; 15:7; Mk 7:6; 1 Pt 1:1; Luke 1:67; Jude 14; Rev 10:11) (BDAG, 890).
- Fifth, some of the general descriptions make sense as activities that literal people do. Things such as being given “power” by God (v. 3), being “clothed” (v. 3), they will “prophesy” (v. 3), if threatened they defend themselves and “consume” their enemies (v. 5), they have ears, mouths, and feet (vv. 3, 5, 11-12), they are killed (v. 7), and their bodies lie in the street (v. 8).
Support for this view is from Christine Joy Tan, “A Futurist View of the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11” Bibliotheca Sacra 171 (October-December 2014): 460-463; Walvoord, Revelation, 182.
2. Objections to this View
Some commentators say that it is unlikely that the beast would wage war against only two people.
VI. A RESUME OF THE TRIBULATION NARRATIVE (11:13-14)
A. A Terrible Earthquake (v. 13)
Καὶ ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ὥρᾳ ἐγένετο σεισμὸς μέγας καὶ τὸ δέκατον τῆς πόλεως ἔπεσεν καὶ ἀπεκτάνθησαν ἐν τῷ σεισμῷ ὀνόματα ἀνθρώπων χιλιάδες ἑπτὰ καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ ἔμφοβοι ἐγένοντο καὶ ἔδωκαν δόξαν τῷ θεῷ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ.
It was at this time that there was a great earthquake which brought down one-tenth of the city. In the earthquake seven thousand people died. Then the rest of the people were afraid and gave praise to the God of heaven. (Rev 11:13)
1. The God of Heaven
This is a clear distinction between the pagan gods and deities that might have been common in John’s time. This phrase, “the God of heaven” is meant to distinguish the true God and is only used one other time in the New Testament (Rev 16:11).
2. Seven Thousand People Die
The literal phrase here is ὀνόματα ἀνθρώπων χιλιάδες ἑπτὰ — “seven thousand names of men” or “names of humans seven thousand.”
B. Second Terror Past, Third Is Coming (v. 14)
Ἡ οὐαὶ ἡ δευτέρα ἀπῆλθεν· ἰδοὺ ἡ οὐαὶ ἡ τρίτη ἔρχεται ταχύ.
The second woe has passed. Look! The third woe is coming soon. (Rev 11:14)
X. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. I must have humility in interpretation.
Revelation 11:1-14 is one of the most difficult passages to understand. With that, while there are various views about who the two witnesses will be, it is important to remember that we are fallible people trying to understand an infallible book. As Bible students we can simply do our best interpret what is said.
B. Sadly, the persecution of the seven years will continue.
If one thing is clear, it is that this world is under Satan’s control to some extent (Chron 21:1; Matt 4:8-9; Luke 10:18; 22:3; John 12:31; 2 Cor 4:4; 11:14; 1 Peter 5:8 1 John 5:19). Satan roams the earth (Job 1:6-8; 2:1-2) and as a result causes injustice and harm to Christians on our earth. While some parts of the book of Revelation are comforting because that persecution goes away, it is important to remember that during the seven years of tribulation Christians will face opposition. There will not be joy and harmony until the new heaven, new earth, and new Jerusalem of Revelation 21-22. Until then, Christians need to maintain a good relationship with each other, to support each other, and be ready to endure persecution and hardship when they come.
C. God is faithful.
While there is persecution that occurs now and in the book of Revelation, Rev 11:1-14 shows that God is faithful and that he will redeem his servants. These two witnesses were appointed by God to do their ministry and God did not forget about them. God resurrected his servants and brought them up to heaven to be with him. In the end, God wins!
D. Focus on orthodox eschatology.
I believe I have shown that the different options of this passage make this difficult to interpret and understand. When coming to difficulty passages it is important to remember the four elements of orthodox eschatology:
- (1) literal, visible return of Christ,
- (2) bodily resurrection,
- (3) final judgment,
- (4) and a literal heaven and literal hell.
When coming to difficulty passages such as Rev 11:-1-14, these four elements of orthodox and traditional interpretation of eschatology are important to remember. Revelation 11:1-14 does not contradict the four elements of orthodox eschatology; therefore different views should be advocated litely and not taught dogmatically.