The Two Witnesses

Revelation 11:1-13

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
May 2012

We have been studying the Book of Revelation. It is a book that deals with future events (the only prophetic book in the NT). It is a book filled with judgment and death. It mentions demons and plagues falling on people.

It has been fairly negative up to this point, people being tortured by demonic locusts for five months and killed by demonic horsemen. It is a little depressing. We have seen the six seal judgments and the six trumpet judgments.

But people can only take so much destruction and devastation. It gets hard to read, so God gives us a break from these depressing plagues. We had a break last week in Revelation 10 and we will have a break this week as we look at the beginning of chapter 11.

Last week, we saw John playing more of an active role. Up to this point, he has been pretty much a bystander. He has been watching what is going on in heaven and on earth but in chapters 10 & 11 he does some things. What strange things did John do in Revelation 10?

On Revelation 10, we saw a massive angel that comes down from heaven to earth and has this tiny little book in his hand. The book contains some of the prophecies of Revelation. They may cover the rest of the book (chapters 11-22). John took the book and ate it.

That’s strange. John was told to prophecy concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings (10:11). In Revelation 11, John is told to do something else strange – to take a rod which was a measuring stick (we would say a tape measure today) and he was to measure the temple and those who worship in it.

This is one of the most difficult parts of the whole book. Revelation has a reputation as a book that no one can understand. It is a book of mysteries and a book of symbols, a book written in code.

We saw in the first chapter that this is a book that can be understood. It is called the revelation. That word means an unveiling or an uncovering, not a concealing but some things in the book are a little hard to understand and chapter 11 is one of them.

Measuring the Temple

We do not know exactly what the first two verses of the chapter means. There are two main ways to interpret these verses. Some take these verses figuratively. That is the view of many Reformed people but that make absolutely no sense of the text. Others take these words absolutely literally.

That is how dispensationalists read it but that does not make complete sense either. Let’s look at this a little closer. John was told to take a rod and measure three things (the inner court of the temple, the altar and the worshippers) and not to measure one thing (the outer court). What temple was he measuring?

Is this a Spiritual Temple?

Some do not take this literally but figuratively. Revelation uses symbols and the temple is just a symbol for the church. Paul describes the church as a temple. Paul also said that the Corinthians were the temple of God (I Corinthians 3:16-17; II Corinthians 6:16).

The temple is the church. John is commanded to measure the Temple and the altar, and to number the worshippers – not the court of the Gentiles, because it will be trodden by the nations for forty-two months.

This first view believes that Revelation is distinguishing between those who worship in the inner court and those who worship God in the outer court. The inner court represents the true church and the outer court represents the false church, people that claim to be believers but are actually heathen Gentile idolaters.

The point would be that just because you are in the temple doesn’t mean that you are one of God’s people but there is a big problem with this view.

What is the reason that John is not to measure the outer court of the temple? It is going to get trampled. It will be trodden by the nations for forty-two months. What group gets trampled in the Book of Revelation?

Believers will get trampled. The true church will get trampled, not the false church. All who refuse to take the mark of the Beast are persecuted and killed. The Antichrist wages war giants them and he does it for forty-two months (the same period of time) in 13:5-7.

Is this a Literal Temple?

The second view is that this temple is not figurative but literal. It could be measured with a rod. The city is literal. The temple is literal and the worshippers are literal but it does not refer to a temple in the future. It cannot refer to Herod’s Temple, because that temple was destroyed in 70 AD, so there was no temple or altar in Jerusalem for John to measure.

It was destroyed twenty-five years earlier. Most scholars believe Revelation was written around 95 AD. John could not have measured Herod’s Temple and that temple was already measured any way.

We have already seen that John is writing about future events. He is writing about the Tribulation Period, a future period of judgment on earth. Many of the events he describes have never taken place yet (a third of mankind killed by a two hundred million man army). This would be a future Tribulation Temple that John is measuring.

The Jews do not have a temple right now. They had one in the first century – Herod’s Temple but that Temple was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans. The Jews have been without a Temple for nearly 2,000 years now. All that remains of the ancient Temple is the Western Wailing Wall (one of the most sacred sites in Judaism). Orthodox Jews go there to pray every day.

If this describes a Tribulation temple that means that the temple will have to be rebuilt. There will be a temple in the Tribulation Period for the Jews for this to be fulfilled. For the last to thousand years, Jews in have been praying for the temple to be rebuilt.

In fact, there is a group of people in Jerusalem today called the Temple Mount Faithful whose sole purpose is to plan the building of the third Jewish temple.They have the architectural blueprints for the temple to be built, as well as many of the things that go in the temple (incense, menorah, priest garments, vessels of gold and silver, the breastplate of the high priest).

Critics say that there is no way that a Jewish temple will ever be built but at one time there were other critics who said that the Jews would never have a homeland but in 1948 a Jewish state was established in Israel.

Isn’t there a Muslim shrine or monument located on the temple mount right now? Wouldn’t the Dome of the Rock have to be destroyed before a Jewish temple is built (which would never happen)? No one knows for sure if that building is located where the Holy of Holies used to be. It may be where the Dome of the Rock is or it may have been to the north or the south of it. There is room for a Jewish temple to be built right next to it.

But there are some exegetical problems if you take this passage completely literal.

Problems with the Literal Approach

1. John says that the worshipers are to be measured.

The Greek word that he uses means to measure (take the dimensions of something), not to count. Is John supposed to find out how tall the worshipers are?

2. It is inconsistent with the chronology of the Tribulation Period

What is supposed to happen in the middle of the Tribulation? The Antichrist will commit the abomination of desolation “standing in the holy place” (Matthew 24:15). Jesus said that would happen in the Tribulation. II Thessalonians 2:4 says that he will “he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God”.

There are two Greek words for temple. There is the word for the inner temple (ναός) and the whole temple complex. Paul uses the Greek word for the inner sanctuary where the Holy of Holies was located. He says that the Antichrist will go right into the inner sanctuary of the temple and proclaim himself to be God. That is the same place that John was to measure out for protection.

Summary Points

1. There will be a Jewish temple built in Jerusalem in the future.

  • Jesus said that there would be a Tribulation Temple (Matthew 24:15)
  • Paul said that there would be a Tribulation Temple (II Thessalonians 2:4)
  • Daniel said that there would be a Tribulation Temple (Daniel 9:27)
  • John says that there will be a Tribulation Temple in Revelation 11

2. John describes this temple symbolically.

To understand what is going on here, you have to go back to Revelation 7. In Revelation 7, a group of Jews numbered and sealed. Why? It was a sign of protection. What were they protected from? They were protected from the Tribulation plagues. In Revelation 11, we see another group of Jews measured but not all of them.

The measuring (just like the sealing) has to do with protection. The sealing in Revelation 7 protected people for the wrath of God. The measuring in Revelation 7 protected from the wrath of man. Some will be protected from the Antichrist but many will be martyred.

The Two Witnesses

Revelation 11:3-13 describes a very interesting part of the chapter. It describes two very special men who will have a powerful ministry in the future. We are to be witnesses for Christ today (Acts 1:8). Here are two people that God calls “my two witnesses” (11:3) in the Tribulation Period. They will be two witnesses like the world has never seen.

Who are these two men? The text does not say. All we know is that they will have the power of Elijah and Moses. Like Elijah, they will have the power to stop the rain and call fire down from heaven to consume their enemies (I Kings 17:1; 18:41-45). Like Moses they will be able to turn water into blood and strike the earth with plagues (Exodus 7:20; 8:1-12:29).

We do not know for sure if they will actually be Moses and Elijah or just have the spirit of Moses and Elijah. Many believe that they will actually be Elijah and Moses (so Kaiser, Archer, Whitcomb). The OT predicted that one day that Elijah would return to the earth (Malachi 4:5) and the Jews believed that one day Elijah would return (John 1:19). That is a Jewish view. The Jews have a cup for Elijah on the Passover.

What We Know about the Two Witnesses

1.  We know HOW LONG their ministry will last.

It will last 1260 days (11:3). That is three and a half years (about as long as Jesus’ ministry on earth lasted). It will probably take place in the first half of the Tribulation Period.

2. We know WHERE their ministry takes place.

It will take place in Jerusalem. We know that from 11:8. They will have a ministry to the Jews and presumably will be Jewish himself.

3. We know the TYPE of ministry they will have.

God calls them his two witnesses but they are very different from people who witness today. Their methods are a little unorthodox. Missionaries today do not kill people who resist the gospel. Revelation 11:5 says, “If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies”. That doesn’t sound very nice. Jesus taught people to love their enemies but if anyone tries to hurt these two men, they are killed.

These two witnesses will be more than just missionaries. They will not just be evangelists. They will be more than just great preachers or pastors. They will be genuine prophets (fire-breathing prophets). They are given special authority given to them directly by God. A prophet is someone who speaks directly for God and says “Thus says the Lord”.

4. We know how their ministry will END.

After their ministry is over, God will allow them to be attacked, killed and publicly disgraced. Their bodies will be left unburied for three days. That is the worst possible insult you could give a Jew. When they die, people will celebrate. What happened when Osama Bin Laden was killed?

Americans took to the streets. Hundreds of people went into the streets outside the White House and at Ground Zero waving the American flag and celebrating. Is that wrong? Many Christians are confused about this. We should have the heart of God here. There is a right and a wrong response to Osama Bin Laden’s death.

Biblical Response to a Tyrant’s Death

1. We should not celebrate death

God does not delight in torturing people. He does not love to inflict pain and suffering on people. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), even the most wicked person on the planet. God is not sadistic. He does not love to see people die. He does not desire that any should perish. That is Satan, not God.

2. We should celebrate justice

God is infinitely holy and righteous. He hates sin and must punish sin. God is Just, and commands his people to love justice. We are to love justice as God does. We should delight in the execution of justice. The Bible says that “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15). Proverbs 11:10 says, “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy”.

His hands were stained with the blood of thousands of people. We should not feel sorry when a mass murderer is brought to justice but be grateful that justice was served. Some would say that this is just a natural reaction and not a command. Proverbs 11:10 is descriptive, not prescriptive.

That is true but Revelation 18:20 is a command. After Babylon is destroyed the command is given: “Rejoice over her, you heavens! Rejoice, you people of God! Rejoice apostles and prophets! For God has judged her with the judgment she imposed on you.”

In the OT, when a murderer was executed, the judges were to show no pity (Deuteronomy 19:13, 21). They were not to feel sorry for the person but should rejoice in the execution of justice. When these two witnesses die, people will celebrate as well. They will throw a big party. They even give each other gifts. Donald Grey Barnhouse called this “the Devil’s Christmas”

Two Characteristics of Their Ministry

Prophetic Words

1) Their ministry will be verbal.

They will not be silent witnesses. That is what the terms “witness” (11:3), “prophesy” (11:3) and “testimony” (11:7) implies. You say some things. They will do some preaching.

2) Their ministry will be open and public.

This ministry will not be a secret. Everyone will know about their ministry. They will be very conspicuous. They will stand out, even by the way that they will dress, wearing sackcloth. They will not be like some television preachers wearing expensive clothes.

3) Their ministry will be bold and fearless.

They will not be hiding from the Antichrist. These two witnesses will not fear man. Their preaching will be very bold and confrontational. That was the way John the Baptist preached. He called the Pharisees “a brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7). We can learn from their example.

4) Their ministry will be unpopular.

They will preach the gospel. They will preach against sin. We have already studied some of the sins that will be prevalent in the Tribulation Period (9:20-21). They will preach repentance which many today do not preach. They will also preach on the wrath and judgment of God.

They warned people of the hell, the lake of fire that awaits the wicked. Their message will not be popular. It will not be primarily a positive message that makes you feel good. They will not sound like Joel Osteen.

Nor will they sound like Norman Vincent Peale. They will not preach a message of positive thinking. They message will be “turn or burn,” “repent or die”. Many will not like them. Why? People will hate them because of their message and because they will send plagues on people. These two witnesses will torment people (11:10).

Prophetic Acts

These witnesses will not just say some things. They won’t just preach. They will perform miracles. They will have supernatural power. Their ministry will be characterized by signs and wonders. They will be charismatic. Revelation mentions four miraculous powers that they will have.

1) They will have the power over the weather

They will even able to stop the rain (11:6). They will also be able to cause droughts.

2) They will have power over nature.

They will have the power to turn water into blood (11:6).

3) They will have the power over their enemies.

No one will be able to hurt them. If anyone tries to hurt them (and apparently some will try to do this), he or she will be immediately killed. They will be totally invincible and invulnerable. No one can hurt them. John Wesley used to say that he was immortal until his work was done and that idea comes from this verse.

4) They will be able to send plagues on the earth.

They will have the power to strike the earth with EVERY KIND of plagues AS OFTEN AS THEY WANT (11:6). They will be able to do this at will. That is incredible power to perform miracles as will. How would you like to have that kind of power? You would not want to get on their bad side. It would not be a good idea to cross these two witnesses. You might end up with leprosy.

Lessons from the Two Witnesses

1. Our ministry is limited to a short period of time.

The two witnesses did not have fifty years to minister. They only ministered for 1260 days. Sometimes God gives people fifty years to minister but sometimes it is much shorter. We need to make the most of whatever time God gives us to minister.

2. God empowers those that he sends.

God not only called these two witnesses and sent these two witnesses, he empowered them. God equips those he calls and empowers those he sends.

3. He rewards those who are faithful.

These two witnesses not only rise from the dead after three days, this takes place right in front of their enemies and then they ascend into heaven in a cloud (11:12), just as Jesus did (Acts 1:9). Their execution will be followed by their exaltation.

4. There is great value in ministering in pairs.

God will not only sent one witness in the Tribulation Period, he will send two. Jesus sent the Apostles out “two by two” and not “one by one’. If he sent them out one by one, they could have covered more territory.

There is an important principle here. Here we see the power of two. The Bible says “two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9). There are some practical reasons to minister in pairs.

  • It is better to have two in case you get jumped. Two is better than one for safety reasons.
  • It is better to have to in case you get discouraged. If you minister by yourself, there is no one who can encourage you when you are down.
  • It is better to have two to balance you out. Two people can often complement one another. One may be more outgoing and personable and one may have more spiritual discernment.

5. God’s people are often unpopular.

Jesus said, “If the world hated me, it will hate you”. The Apostles were not too popular in their day. Most of them were martyred.

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