Revelation 11:1-14 Our Gospel Witness
When we come to this section of Revelation, there are two methods of interpretation. The first interpretation is to take this passage as a description of literal witnesses and events during the Tribulation period. These two witnesses are real prophet-evangelists whose ministry opposes the Antichrist and inspires people to come to Jesus. The second interpretation method is to spiritualize these events. In this case, the two witnesses are representative of the church during the Tribulation period. They represent the Gospel witness of the church during this time.
Personally, I believe in a hybrid view. I believe that Revelation is speaking about two actual witnesses. At the same time, I believe that these witnesses teach us about our Gospel witness as it should be. The witnesses are both descriptive of events and instructive to the church today.
SEVEN TRUTHS ABOUT THE TWO WITNESSES
1. The place of the ministry of the Two Witnesses is the Tribulation temple in Jerusalem. (Revelation 11:1-2)
“Then I was given a measuring reed like a rod, with these words: “Go and measure God’s sanctuary and the altar, and count those who worship there.” (Revelation 11:1, HCSB)
These witnesses complete their work in Jerusalem at the temple. This takes place when the temple will be restored for a short time.
Israel is worshiping again at its restored temple, built under the protection of the Antichrist, whose true character has not yet been revealed.1
“But exclude the courtyard outside the sanctuary. Don’t measure it, because it is given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for 42 months.” (Revelation 11:2, HCSB)
There are three theories about the location of the temple.
1. The Dome of the Rock.
2. 100 meters north of the temple.
Jon Courson makes the following claim about the tribulation temple and how it will be rebuilt:
What is one hundred meters north of the Dome of the Rock? A small gazebo-like structure, below which is the only other place the original bedrock of the temple is exposed. As opposed to the jagged rock in the Dome of the Rock, however, the stone one hundred meters to the north is flat—providing a much more likely setting for the ark of the covenant within the Holy of Holies.
Not only more logical, this site seems more historical. You see, according to the Mishna—the highly esteemed book of Jewish oral traditions—when the priest stood in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he could look through the veil, through the door, and see the Eastern Gate directly before him.
The results of a secret excavation in 1970 confirmed that the original Eastern Gate is directly below the present Eastern Gate. This makes Kauffman’s assertion even more intriguing. For if you stand one hundred meters north of the Dome of the Rock, the Eastern Gate is in plain view.
In addition, when the Muslims built the gazebo-like structure in A.D. 6, they gave it two names: The Dome of the Spirit, and the Dome of the Tablets. Thus, even Islam recognized this site as the spot where the tablets (the Ten Commandments within the ark of the covenant) and the Spirit (the shekinah, chabod, glory of God over the ark of the covenant) had been.
So, according to Kauffman and most scholars, the temple could be rebuilt and the Dome of the Rock would remain standing. But the Dome of the Rock would be in the outer courtyard of the temple.2
Some people have disputed this account. They say that Kaufmann is not an archeologist. Only a true investigation of the land under the Dome of the Rock will verify these claims. Muslims will fight if that happens. However, if these accounts are true, then this shows that the Tribulation temple will be much smaller than the actual temple. The Tribulation temple is different from the one prophesied in Ezekiel 40-48, and it is different from the Herodian temple during the first coming of Jesus.
3. South of the present temple.
At the same time, Paige Patterson notes, the measuring rod or reed marks off the place of God’s protection. God will allow part of the temple to go under the control of the Gentiles. He states:
“The reed employed by the prophet is used to mark off the temple of God, the altar, and the people worshipping there, but John is told not to measure a portion of the temple—the outer court. Obviously, it does not receive the protection of God but is rather given to the Gentiles, who will trample on the holy city and presumably the outer court of the temple for 42 months.”3
Jon Courson notes this historical fact:
During the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israelis launched a preemptive strike against the Arabs and recaptured the city of Jerusalem. General Moshe Dayan could have easily booted the Muslims off the temple mount at this point, saying, “You lost. Too bad.” But he didn’t. In a gesture he himself never fully explained, he let them retain control of the thirty-five-acre parcel. Thus, the outer court of the temple remains “given to the Gentiles” to this day.4
I personally believe that God will allow the Jewish people to build a much smaller temple, one which will not contain the courtyard. The “Gentiles” or “nations” means that an agreement will be made in which part of what used to be the temple will be given over to the Gentiles. An agreement will be made in which Israel will be given just enough to build a tent for a temple. It will be that portion which not under the Dome of the Rock, but which fits perfectly the needs of the Tribulation temple. They will have just enough room to make sacrifices, but only enough room.
“I will empower my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth.”” (Revelation 11:3, HCSB)
WHY ARE THERE JUST TWO WITNESSES?
Craig Keener provides a four reasons5 why two witnesses are listed here:
1. Biblical rules of evidence required a minimum of two witnesses for valid testimony (Deut. 17:6; 19:15).
2. Early Christian witnesses were sent in pairs whenever possible (Mark 6:7; Acts 13:2–4).
3. More important, the allusion to Zerubbabel and Joshua in Zechariah 4 demands two representatives.
4. Finally, the dual nature of the witnesses provides a literary contrast with the two evil leaders in 13:11–12, one of whom also produces fire (13:13).
2. The timing of the ministry of the Two Witnesses will be 3 ½ years. (Revelation 11:3)
“I will empower my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth.”” (Revelation 11:3, HCSB)
In verse three, the timing of the ministry is given as 1,260 days, which is the equivalent of 3½ years. These 3½ years cover the first half of the Tribulation period.6
Revelation never mentions the three-and-a-half-years designation, and Daniel never uses the figure of forty-two months, but the time period is equivalent.7
3. The ministry of the Two Witnesses will be prophetic. (Revelation 11:4-6)
“These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” (Revelation 11:4, HCSB)
There are two main views about these two witnesses. The first is that these two olive trees and lampstands represent two witnesses during the Tribulation. Arnold Fruchtenbaum states:
It is best to take these men to be two Jewish prophets whom God will raise up during the Tribulation itself. They are purely future persons and not two men from the past. The Scriptures clearly teach that Elijah is to return before the Tribulation and will conduct a ministry during the Tribulation. But there is no scriptural warrant to make Elijah one of the Two Witnesses. The Two Witnesses will simply be two Jewish men living in that time whom God will elevate to the office of prophet and will endow with miraculous powers. Their exact identity, then, awaits the Tribulation.8
“If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and consumes their enemies; if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These men have the power 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 blood and to strike the earth with every plague whenever they want.” (Revelation 11:5–6, HCSB)
The second view is that these are two people from the Old Testament. Many views are given, but two are usually proposed. The first set is Elijah and Moses. This is based on the fact that they do four things which are similar as these two Old Testament prophets:
As long as they are ministering, no one can touch them because they have four powers:
1. They can call down fire from heaven.
2. They can shut heaven so it doesn’t rain for 1,260 days (forty-two months).
3. They can turn water into blood.
4. They can smite the earth with plagues.9
4. The Two Witnesses will remind others of the ministry of Jesus Christ. (Revelation 11:7-9)
“When they finish their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, conquer them, and kill them. Their dead bodies will lie in the public square of the great city, which prophetically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. And representatives from the peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will view their bodies for three and a half days and not permit their bodies to be put into a tomb.” (Revelation 11:7–9, HCSB)
After these two witnesses finish their testimony, the Antichrist kills them. Note the parallels to the ministry of Jesus. They prophesy for 3 ½ years. They are killed in Jerusalem, probably near the same location where Jesus died. The “great city” is Jerusalem. In the Old Testament refers to Jerusalem as Sodom and Egypt, only when it sins against God.
Satan learns from the life of Jesus and doesn’t allow these two witnesses to be buried. Instead, leaders from around the world will come to watch these bodies for three and a half days. There will be a public viewing.
5. The world will celebrate the death of the Two Witnesses. (Revelation 11:10)
“Those who live on the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and send gifts to one another because these two prophets brought judgment to those who live on the earth.” (Revelation 11:10, HCSB)
6. The resurrection and ascension of the Two Witnesses will save people during the Tribulation. (Revelation 11:12-13)
“Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” They went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies watched them. At that moment a violent earthquake took place, a tenth of the city fell, and 7,000 people were killed in the earthquake. The survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” (Revelation 11:12–13, HCSB)
Just as the signs and wonders accompanied the death of Jesus, and the apostles, there will be signs and wonders which will follow the ascension of the Two Witnesses. People will come to God not just because of the earthquake. The people will come to God because the earthquake is directly connected to the ascension of the Two Witnesses.
7. A reminder of the need for our Gospel witness. (Revelation 11:14)
“The second woe has passed. Take note: The third woe is coming quickly!” (Revelation 11:14, HCSB)
These witnesses are examples of what you can be in the last days in which we live. You’re to share the gospel with people. Yes, you’ll be beat up emotionally and verbally, ostracized, left out, not invited to the party. But you know what will happen? Three and a half days later, you’ll rise. There will be a spring in your step and joy in your heart as you find yourself soaring emotionally. Truly, gang, there is nothing, nothing, nothing like sharing your faith. Even if you’re put down, beat up, left out, you’ll find yourself revived.
If you feel your relationship with the Lord is stagnant or tedious—witness. I guarantee, like the two witnesses in Revelation 11, you’ll be caught up into heavenly places. Witnessing is the single most important way I have found to see my own faith revived and renewed.10
1 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 598.
2 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1725–1726.
3 Paige Patterson, Revelation, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 39, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 238.
4 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1726.
5 Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 293.
6 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah : A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 231.
7 J. Scott Duvall, Revelation, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 149.
8 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of the Messiah : A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events, Rev. ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 232–233.
9 Chuck Missler, Learn the Bible in 24 Hours® (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002).
10 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1727.