THE MINISTRY OF THE TWO WITNESSES (UNDER GOD’S PROTECTION UNTIL MARTYDOM) PROCLAIMS THE MESSAGE OF COMING JUDGMENT
John Walvoord: Chapter 11 of the Revelation continues the parenthetical section beginning in chapter 10 and extending through chapter 14. With the exception of 11:15-19, introducing the seventh trumpet, the narrative does not advance in these chapters and various topics are presented. In chapter 15, the chronological developments continue as the contents of the seventh trumpet, namely, the seven vials, are manifested. In 11:1-14 there is a continuation of the same subject as in chapter 10.
John MacArthur: So despite the maniacal efforts of Antichrist to destroy Israel, God will measure off Israel to save, preserve, and protect the nation. As Zechariah wrote, two-thirds of Israel will be purged in judgment and the remaining one-third will be saved and enter the glory of Messiah’s earthly kingdom (Zech. 13:8–9). Instrumental in their conversion will be a unique, invincible two-man evangelistic team, which John introduces.
Greg Allen: God, in the most intense time of the outpouring of His wrath on this earth, will not leave Himself without a witness. In fact, He gives the world two outstandingly remarkable witnesses. This section tells us the story of these two powerful witnesses who will minister in His name in His name in an astonishingly dramatic way during that time. It reminds us that God has His set purposes for the times to come—and those purposes will not be thwarted.
I. (:1-2) MEASURING THE TEMPLE BUT NOT THE COURT
A. (:1a) Measuring Stick
“And there was given me a measuring rod like a staff;”
John MacArthur: Kalamos (measuring rod) refers to a reed-like plant that grew in the Jordan Valley to a height of fifteen to twenty feet [others say ten feet long]. It had a stalk that was hollow and lightweight, yet rigid enough to be used as a walking staff (cf. Ezek. 29:6) or to be shaved down into a pen (3 John 13). The stalks, because they were long and lightweight, were ideal for use as measuring rods. In Ezekiel’s vision, an angel used such a rod to measure the millennial temple (Ezek. 40:3–43:17).
Charles Swindoll: Bible scholar Charles Ryrie suggests that the temple mentioned in Revelation 11:1-2 is “the temple that will be built during the Tribulation, in which Jewish worship will be carried on during the first part of that seven-year period and in which, at the midpoint, the man of sin will exalt himself to be worshiped.” In other words, the temple will be rebuilt during a time of unparalleled global tension centered in the Middle East. This is probably why John was given a measuring rod —an implement used in construction.
B. (:1b-2) Measuring Target
“and someone said,”
Is this God or Jesus or a prominent angel?
Tony Garland: Whether the voice is that of an angel or from the throne, the speaker has full divine authority.
- (:1b) What to Measure
“Rise and measure the temple of God,
and the altar,
and those who worship in it.”
Many commentators take the view that the language here for temple is figurative speaking of the people of God who are being protected in some fashion. But why then the distinction between the “temple of God” and “those who worship in it”?
Gordon Fee: Ezekiel is given a picture of a great eschatological temple (chs. 40–43). John is now drawing from that vision, while at the same time looking forward to its final fulfillment (21:15–27), where the New Jerusalem exists without a temple.
John MacArthur: It could have indicated, as on occasion in the Old Testament, that God sometimes marks things out for destruction (e. g., 2 Sam. 8:2; 2 Kings 21:13; Isa. 28:17; Lam. 2:8; Amos 7:7–9, 17). But John’s measuring is better understood as signifying ownership, defining the parameters of God’s possessions (cf. 21:15; Zech. 2:1–5). This measuring signified something good, since what was not measured was evil (v. 2). It is best to see it as God’s measuring off Israel, symbolized by her temple, for salvation and for His special protection, preservation, and favor. The prophecies yet to be given to John will thus distinguish between God’s favor toward Israel and His wrath on the pagan world.
John Walvoord: In Zechariah 2, a man is seen measuring Jerusalem, a scene which evidently portrays God’s divine judgment on the city. Another instance is found in Ezekiel 40, where the Temple of the future kingdom is carefully measured with a reed. Still another instance is Revelation 21, where the new Jerusalem is measured (21:15-17). The act of measuring seems to signify that the area belongs to God in some special way. It is an evaluation of His property.
The Temple here is apparently that which will be in existence during the great tribulation. Originally constructed for the worship of the Jews and the renewal of their ancient sacrifices, during the great tribulation it is desecrated and becomes the home of an idol of the world ruler (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:14-15; Dan. 9:27; 12:11). For this reason it is most significant that John is instructed to measure not only the Temple and the altar but also the worshipers. It is saying in effect that God is the judge of man’s worship and man’s character and that all must give an account to Him. It also implies, inasmuch as the reed is ten feet long, that man comes far short of the divine standard. Even a person very tall would fall short of the ten-foot measuring rod. God is therefore not only claiming ownership by this measurement of the Temple and the altar but demonstrating the shortcomings of the worshipers who do not measure up to His standard.
Sola Scriptura: From the building that houses the holy of holies (naos), John is to proceed to measure the altar. Since the altar of incense is located in the holy place, which is part of the building that houses the holy of holies, this altar is more than likely the altar of burnt offerings. It (in the Herodian temple) was located in the court of the priests, which is the next area one sees when leaving the building that houses the holy of holies.
Buist Fanning: To identify the referent of “the temple of God” in v. 1c, the first step is observing that its outside courtyard “has been given over to the gentiles” (v. 2c), and they “will trample the holy city” (v. 2d) for a period of time (cf. Luke 21:24). This must represent some form of earthly temple. Only by quite a stretch can this be taken as the heavenly temple, somehow defiled by God’s enemies. In addition, the widely held view that “temple” here is figurative in some sense for God’s people (either at the time of the end or throughout the church’s history) seems likewise to be an imposition from other passages rather than a careful engagement with these verses and their Old Testament background. Various symbolic views related to God’s people have been advanced, but they struggle to define the significance of measuring (i.e., protecting) God’s people and who or what is included and excluded from such protection. . .
the vision anticipates an earthly temple that will exist in Jerusalem at the cataclysmic time of future judgment just prior to the return of Christ to earth (i.e., at the time when the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments occur as presented in chs. 6–16; cf. 2 Thess 2:4 that also assumes this scenario). This vision, given to John at a time when Herod’s temple in Jerusalem lay in ruins (AD 90s), symbolizes God’s ownership of the sanctuary and its surroundings and his pledge of its future restoration at the center of national life among a renewed people who will worship him with true hearts. Just as in the Old Testament passages cited above (Ezek 40; Zech 1–2), the reference to “measuring” the temple indicates God’s intent to restore it in the future after the time of chastening that Israel will experience. The time indications in Revelation 11:2c–3 (“forty-two months”; “1,260 days”) lend support to this view, since they correlate with other texts from Daniel (e.g., Dan 7:25; 8:13–14; 9:24–27; 12:1, 11) that point to the period of final “tribulation” immediately preceding Christ’s second coming. These Old Testament texts also contain details often overlooked by spiritualizing or idealist interpretations of Revelation 11:1–2, details reflecting the prophets’ national and geographical focus on Jerusalem and its temple, which are made explicit here in vv. 8 and 13 as well.
Daniel Akin: Now, who are those who worship in this sanctuary? . . . Ladd, who does not anticipate the rebuilding of a literal temple, has a perspective concerning the future of Jewish persons I find compelling and heartily endorse:
[Another] interpretation sees here a prophecy of the preservation and ultimate salvation of the Jewish people. In the day when John wrote, Jerusalem had been long destroyed and the temple laid waste. Just before the conflagration of AD 66–70, the Jewish Christian community had fled from Jerusalem to the city of Pella in Transjordan. This had augmented the hostility of the Jews toward the Jewish Christian community and hastened the complete break between the synagogue and church. The burning question among Jewish Christians was, “Has God rejected his people?” (Rom. 11:1). Paul devoted three whole chapters to this problem and concluded that finally the natural branches (Jews) which had been broken off the olive tree (the people of God) would be grafted back onto the tree; “and so all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). It is difficult to interpret these three chapters symbolically of the church—the spiritual Israel. They teach that literal Israel is yet to be included in spiritual Israel.
Our Lord himself had anticipated this. After his lament over Jerusalem, he asserted, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matt. 23:39). Again, he implied the salvation of Israel when he said, “Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). . . . The prophecy in Revelation 11 is John’s way of predicting the preservation of the Jewish people and their final salvation. (Commentary, 150–51)
- (:2) What Not to Measure
“And leave out the court which is outside the temple,
and do not measure it,”
1) Belongs to the Gentile Nations
“for it has been given to the nations;”
Tony Garland: Regarding the times of the Gentiles — Jeremiah explains the reason the times of the Gentiles will come to an end is so that the nation of Israel will be free to serve God under the Messianic economy of the Millennial Kingdom. It is God’s jealousy over His chosen nation which will bring this about. Woe to the nations who will fail to appreciate God’s zeal for Israel!
“’Therefore do not fear, O My servant Jacob,’ says the LORD, ‘Nor be dismayed, O Israel; for behold, I will save you from afar, and your seed from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return, have rest and be quiet, and no one shall make him afraid. For I am with you,’ says the LORD, ‘to save you; Though I make a full end of all nations where I have scattered you, yet I will not make a complete end of you. But I will correct you in justice, and will not let you go altogether unpunished.’” (Jer. 30:10-11)
S. Lewis Johnson: Now we read in Scripture of the times of the Gentiles. They represent the times from the days of Nebuchadnezzar all the way through to the Second Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ when Jerusalem is no longer what God intended it to be. The times of the Gentiles reach their climax here. The Lord Jesus made reference to them when he said, “Jerusalem shall be trodden under foot by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” We are living in that period of time, and Jerusalem is being trodden under foot. It’s not under the control of the nation Israel to this very day. I know you might thing, “Well do they not have authority over it?” Well, yes authority over it but not over the most important part of it, the place of the temple. And there instead of a temple to the true God, we have a mosque to a false God. So, Jerusalem today is still trodden under foot.
2) Besieged for 42 Months
“and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.”
John Walvoord: Since the Gentiles are said to tread the holy city underfoot only forty-two months, this ill treatment better fits the latter half of the week. If the former half were mentioned, Jerusalem would be trodden underfoot for the entire seven-year period rather than for only forty-two months. The passage seems to anticipate freedom from Gentile dominion after the three and one-half years have run their course, which would mean that the second half of the seven-year period is in view.
The statement that the holy city is under Gentile control is borne out by the prophecy of Christ in Luke 21:24 where He predicted of the people of Israel, “They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” The times of the Gentiles end at the second coming of Christ when Gentile dominion is destroyed and Christ establishes His kingdom. This is predicted in the seventh trumpet revealed later in this chapter. The first two verses then signify that while God is permitting Gentile dominion and persecution of Israel, God Himself will be the judge of her persecutors.
II. (:3-6) MINISTRY OF THE TWO WITNESSES UNDER DIVINE PROTECTION
A. (:3) Description of Their Prophetic Ministry
- Ministry Commissioned by Divine Authority
“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses,”
Some take this as symbolic (e.g. the testimony of the church from the Law and the prophets, the Old and New Testaments, the Word of God coupled with the Spirit of God, etc.); others take a corporate view (e.g. some aspect of the church, believers who suffer martyrdom, combination of Israel and the church, etc.); but two distinct individuals are in view here. Probably these are two future unnamed prophets in the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah, rather than a reintroduction of Moses and Elijah or of Elijah and Enoch.
Buist Fanning: It seems most likely, however, that we should understand the witnesses as unnamed individual spokesmen for God in that future day rather than as representatives of a wide body of Christian prophets bearing witness at that time or of the church in its prophetic role throughout the age. The imagery of vv. 7–12 becomes very unwieldy or even incoherent when read corporately (killed by the beast, bodies lie unburied, etc.).
Daniel Akin: it seems best to see the two witnesses as individuals or a group who come in the spirit of Moses and Elijah to fulfill a specific ministry given to them by God.
John MacArthur: While it is impossible to be dogmatic about the specific identity of these two preachers, there are a number of reasons that suggest that they may be Moses and Elijah.
First, the miracles they will perform (destroying their enemies with fire, withholding rain, turning water into blood, and striking the earth with plagues) are similar to the judgments inflicted in the Old Testament by Moses and Elijah for the purpose of stimulating repentance. Elijah called down fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:10, 12) and pronounced a three-and-one-half-year drought on the land (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17)—the same length as the drought brought by the two witnesses (Rev. 11:6). Moses turned the waters of the Nile into blood (Ex. 7:17–21) and announced the other plagues on Egypt recorded in Exodus chapters 7–12.
Second, both the Old Testament and Jewish tradition expected Moses and Elijah to return in the future. Malachi 4:5 predicted the return of Elijah, and the Jews believed that God’s promise to raise up a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15, 18) necessitated his return (cf. John 1:21; 6:14; 7:40). Jesus’ statement in Matthew 11:14 that “if you are willing to accept it, John [the Baptist] himself is Elijah who was to come” does not necessarily preclude Elijah’s future return. Since the Jews did not accept Jesus, John did not fulfill that prophecy. He came “in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17).
Third, both Moses and Elijah (perhaps representing the Law and the Prophets) appeared with Christ at the Transfiguration, the preview of the Second Coming (Matt. 17:3).
Fourth, both left the earth in unusual ways. Elijah never died, but was transported to heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:11–12), and God supernaturally buried Moses’ body in a secret location (Deut. 34:5–6; Jude 9). The statement of Hebrews 9:27 that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” does not rule out Moses’ return, since there are other rare exceptions to that general statement (such as Lazarus; John 11:14, 38–44).
Since the text does not specifically identify these two preachers, the view defended above, like all other views regarding their identity, must remain speculation.
- Ministry Calling Down Prophetic Judgment
“and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days,”
Sola Scriptura: Revelation 11:3 is the seventh explicit reference to a three and a half year period in the books of Daniel and Revelation. The burden of proof that Revelation 11:3 does not refer to the second half of Daniel’s Seventieth Week lies with those who would argue differently. This question might have been left in the unsolvable category if it were not for the three woes. The strategic placement of the ministry of the two witnesses between woes one and two prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the ministry of the two witnesses must occur during the second half of Daniel’s Seventieth Week. John’s choice to place the details of the ministry of the witnesses in Revelation 11 is logical. The death of the two witnesses coincides with the ed of the Seventieth Week and provides another reason for John to “prophesy against many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”
S. Lewis Johnson: the first coming of our Lord was heralded by John the Baptist. He was the ambassador of the king. It was his task to be the forerunner. It was his task to warn Israel that he was coming, and that judgment also would come if there is no response to the ministry of the king that would come. Well, the same thing is true, in a different way, with reference to the Second Advent of our Lord. Evidently, from the information we have from chapter 11, there will be two witnesses, not simply one like John the Baptist, but two witnesses who will herald the soon coming advent of the king.
- Ministry Cloaked in Mourning and Sorrow for Lack of Repentance
“clothed in sackcloth.”
John MacArthur: Sackcloth was rough, heavy, coarse cloth worn in ancient times as a symbol of mourning, distress, grief, and humility. Jacob put on sackcloth when he thought Joseph had been killed (Gen. 37:34). David ordered the people to wear sackcloth after the murder of Abner (2 Sam. 3:31) and wore it himself during the plague God sent in response to his sin of numbering the people (1 Chron. 21:16). King Jehoram wore sackcloth during the siege of Samaria (2 Kings 6:30), as did King Hezekiah when Jerusalem was attacked (2 Kings 19:1). Job (Job 16:15), Isaiah (Isa. 20:2), and Daniel (Dan. 9:3) also wore sackcloth.
The two witnesses will put on sackcloth as an object lesson to express their great sorrow for the wretched and unbelieving world, racked by God’s judgments, overrun by demon hordes, and populated by wicked, sinful people who refuse to repent. They will also mourn because of the desecration of the temple, the oppression of Jerusalem, and the ascendancy of Antichrist.
S. Lewis Johnson: And so, these individuals are individuals who prophesy in sackcloth. What’s interesting about it, to me, is the fact that the kind of clothes they wear fits the doctrine that they are giving. For they are individuals who are prophesying of judgment, and therefore, consequently of a great deal of mourning. So, they are clothed in a way in which their message itself is underlined. They are not prophets who are clothed in the kinds of clothes you might buy at Brooks Brothers, but in sackcloth because their message is not a message of happiness and joy. It’s rather a message of judgment.
B. (:4) Divine Enablement of Their Ministry = Power of the Holy Spirit
“These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands
that stand before the Lord of the earth.”
John MacArthur: John identifies them merely as the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. That enigmatic description is drawn from Zechariah 4:1–14.
Zechariah’s prophecy looks forward to the restoration of Israel in the Millennium (cf. Zech. 3:8–10). The olive trees and lampstands symbolize the light of revival, since olive oil was commonly used in lamps. The connecting of the lamps to the trees is intended to depict a constant, spontaneous, automatic supply of oil flowing from the olive trees into the lamps. That symbolizes the truth that God will not bring salvation blessing from human power, but by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Zech. 4:6). Like Joshua and Zerubbabel, the two witnesses will lead a spiritual revival of Israel culminating in the building of a temple. Their preaching will be instrumental in Israel’s national conversion (Rev. 11:13; cf. Rom. 11:4–5, 26), and the temple associated with that conversion will be the millennial temple.
Sola Scriptura: John’s audience knew the witnesses as prophetic characters, but did not know their names or unique identities.
Tony Garland: The allusion back to Zechariah’s visions is further proof of the Jewishness of these individuals, but also underscores their function in bringing Israel toward the final restoration seen by Zechariah. The Church Age having come to a close, the focus has shifted back to Israel in preparation of a faithful nation suitable for the Millennial Kingdom to come.
C. (:5) Divine Protection of Their Ministry
- First Image of Protection from Harm
“And if anyone desires to harm them,
fire proceeds out of their mouth and devours their enemies;”
Tony Garland: Although set forth as a conditional statement, the remainder of the passage implies that the vast majority of people strongly oppose their ministry and do desire to harm them, for they rejoice at their eventual death (Rev. 11:10+). In the eyes of the earth dwellers who will hate these witnesses, the ability of the beast to kill them is a testimony to his invincibility. He is seen as a “savior” from these detestable prophets and their defeat no doubt elevates his status before the earth dwellers (Rev. 13:4+). . .
Whether the fire comes directly from their mouths, or whether their words call it forth, it would seem that the unique miraculous authority which attends such a defensive ability is intended to manifest the divine source of their ministry (Num. 10:2; 16:35; Ps. 106:18; Heb. 12:29). The unusual nature of their response to their enemies brings to mind the incident in Numbers where Korah’s household is judged (Num. 16:28-33).
Moses explains that the unusual nature of the judgment serves a specific purpose. It provides unique testimony to the source of the judgment (God) and the authority of Moses as His spokesman. So will this fire-consuming ability testify that God is the one judging the opponents of His two witnesses and that they have His full authority in their ministry. We should also remember the unique period in which these two individuals minister. This is a time in history during which demonic powers are at a peak (Rev. 9:1-2+, Rev 13-19+; Rev 12:12+) and the time of the lawless one, the Antichrist, whose coming “is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish” (2Th. 2:9-10a). These are the days of the false prophet who “performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men” (Rev. 13:13+).These unique historic factors also argue for a completely nonfigurative interpretation because these two witnesses must exhibit miraculous powers which are on a par with, or even superior to, that of the man of sin and his false prophet in an age frequented by demonic manifestations.
- Second Image of Protection from Harm
“and if anyone would desire to harm them,
in this manner he must be killed.”
Daniel Akin: they are untouchable until their work is done. The Baptist missionary to China, Lottie Moon, said, “I have a firm conviction that I am immortal ’til my work is done” (Akin, 10 Who Changed the World, 64). She was right, and that is a truth every servant of God can claim.
D. (:6) Destructive Power of Their Ministry
- Restrain Rainfall
“These have the power to shut up the sky,
in order that rain may not fall during the days of their prophesying;”
Tony Garland: James refers to the similar event in Elijah’s life to underscore the power of prayer in the life of believers. “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months” (Jas. 5:17). Both Jesus and James inform us that the heaven was shut against rain for a period of three years and six months—a period of time matching the days of their (the two witnesses) prophecy: 1,260 days (Rev. 11:3+).
- Transform Waterways into Blood
“and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood,”
- Unleash Variety of Plagues
“and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.”
John MacArthur: In both the Old and the New Testaments, God often used miracles to authenticate His messengers. In the Tribulation time when the world is overrun by supernatural demonic activity, false religion, murder, sexual perversion, and rampant wickedness, the supernatural signs performed by the two witnesses will mark them as true prophets of God.
The extent of their great power will be revealed when they demonstrate power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying. That will greatly intensify the torment people are experiencing. The third trumpet judgment resulted in the poisoning of one-third of the earth’s fresh water supply (8:10–11). Added to that, the three-and-one-half-year drought lasting throughout the 1,260 days of their preaching (v. 3; cf. Luke 4:25; James 5:17) brought by the two witnesses will cause widespread devastation of crops and loss of human and animal life through thirst and starvation.
Further, like Moses the two witnesses will have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. The havoc these two miracle-working preachers will wreak all over the earth will cause them to be hated and feared. People will no doubt search desperately for a way to destroy them, but to no avail. They will be invulnerable and unstoppable for the duration of their ministry.
III. (:7-10) MARTYRDOM AND DESECRATION BY THE BEAST OF THE ABYSS
A. (:7) Martyrdom of the Two Witnesses
“And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them.”
Arthur Pink: This name “the Beast” contrasts the Antichrist from the true Christ as “the Lamb;” and it is a significant fact that by far the great majority of passages where the Lord Jesus is so designated are also found here in the Apocalypse. The “Lamb” is the Saviour of sinners; the “Beast” is the persecutor and slayer of the saints. The “Lamb” calls attention to the gentleness of Christ; the “Beast” tells of the ferocity of the Antichrist. . . Under the Law lambs were ceremonially clean and used in sacrifice, but beasts were unclean and unfit for sacrifices.
John MacArthur: This is the first of thirty-six references in Revelation to the beast and anticipates the more detailed information about him to come in chapters 13 and 17. He is introduced here with emphasis on his origin. He is said to come up out of the abyss, indicating that he is empowered by Satan. Since Satan is depicted as a dragon (12:3, 9), this figure is not Satan. The revelation about him in chapter 13 indicates that the beast is a world ruler (often called Antichrist) who imitates the true Christ, rules over the people of the world, and demands their worship (13:1–8). The abyss is the prison for certain demons. Though he is a man, the beast is energized by the demonic presence and power coming from the abyss. To the great joy and relief of the sinful world, the beast (Antichrist) will finally overcome the two witnesses and kill them (cf. his other successful assaults in 12:17; 13:7).
John Walvoord: As in the case of many other great prophets of God, when their ministry is finished, God permits their enemies to overcome them. According to verse 7, the beast from the bottomless pit, which is none other than Satan himself, makes war against them and overcomes them and kills them. Of interest is the fact that this is the first of thirty-six references in Revelation to the beast (Gr., the„rion), not to be confused with the living creatures of chapter 4. The beast out of the pit is Satan. The beast out of the sea is the world dictator (13:1). The beast out of the land is the false religious leader of that day (13:11). This unholy trinity is the satanic counterfeit of the divine Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
B. (:8-10) Desecration of Dead Bodies
- (:8) Left Lying in the Streets of Jerusalem
“And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city
which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt,
where also their Lord was crucified.”
Buist Fanning: Verse 8 simply continues the focus on Jerusalem that started in vv. 1–2. The larger vision (vv. 1–13) pertains to Jerusalem at the end of the tribulation period, and so we should understand John’s attitude toward Jerusalem as both negative (it will be subjected to severe judgment because of its sinful rejection of Christ) and positive (this is God’s disciplinary punishment leading to its forgiveness and restoration). This explains the mixed description found in vv. 2, 8: “the holy city” and “the great city,” but also “in spiritual terms is called Sodom and Egypt.” The names “Sodom and Egypt” reflect a pattern of evil, labeling Jerusalem as guilty of widespread wickedness like Sodom and of idolatry like Egypt (Deut 29:23; Isa 1:9–10; 3:9; 19:1; Jer 23:14; 49:18; Ezek 20:7; 23:27), both of which God judged severely. For Jerusalem to be the place where Israel’s messiah was crucified (Rev 11:8c) adds to the paradox, but it is understandable that God’s witnesses would complete their ministry there and that Jerusalem would be the locus for judgment and repentance when the witnesses are spectacularly vindicated after three-and-a-half days (vv. 11–13).
Daniel Akin: Jerusalem in this day will be no better than Sodom or Egypt. A Jew hearing this would be shocked, scandalized, angered. Yet her wickedness in that day will approach her wickedness when she crucified the sinless Son of God. These two superlative witnesses will be treated in the same shameful fashion as their Lord. The words of Jesus come to mind at this point: “A slave is not greater than his master” (John 15:20).
John MacArthur: In the ancient world, exposing an enemy’s dead body was the ultimate way of dishonoring and desecrating them. God forbade the Israelites to engage in that practice (Deut. 21:22–23).
S. Lewis Johnson: We have said a number of times that the book of Revelations contains a number of symbols and figures of speech, and here is one which is interpreted for us. “The great city, Sodom and Egypt,” is said to be Sodom and Egypt spiritually. That is, the city of Jerusalem has the characteristics of Sodom and Egypt, wickedness and extreme worldliness. So, the apostle gives us a clue as to how we should read this book, looking for symbols and figures. But when they are particularly explained for us, rejoicing in that, but remembering to that ordinarily, we take this book to be written in the normal sense of the language.
- (:9) Looked Upon as a Humiliating Spectacle and Refused Burial
“And those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations
will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days,
and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb.”
Tony Garland: Not only will their bodies be withheld from burial, but it seems likely they will be proactively protected from disturbance by scavengers, such as birds and dogs which would normally descend upon unguarded carcasses (2K. 9:10; Ps. 79:2; Jer. 7:33; Rev. 19:17-18+). They are prevented from burial and protected from scavengers because they serve as trophies which testify to the power of the beast and the victory of the world over the torment which they delivered at the hand of God. So long as they lie inert on the pavement they provide visual confirmation of the superiority of the beast (Rev. 13:4+).
- (:10) Celebrated as No Longer Bringing Conviction of Soul
a. Party Time
“And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them
and make merry;
and they will send gifts to one another,”
Daniel Akin: they will gloat and celebrate and send gifts (11:10)! A new holiday will be established in order to celebrate the deaths of the two men of God. We can call it “Dead Witnesses Day.” What a stunning indictment of human depravity, wickedness, sinfulness, and evil.
S. Lewis Johnson: The goodness of God, the grace of God, the greatness of God, men may laugh at and may think they have overcome, but in the final analysis, God will overcome their horrible happiness at the apparent defeat of the plans and purposes of God and accomplish his own victory.
b. Peaceful Time
“because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.”
John Walvoord: A righteous prophet is always a torment to a wicked generation. The two witnesses are an obstacle to wickedness, unbelief, and satanic power prevalent in that time. If their ministry is in the time of great tribulation, it is all the more a thorn in the side of the world rulers of that day; and their death symbolizes the silencing of the prophets who announce the doom of those who will not believe in God. The Word of God makes it clear that it is often possible to silence a witness to the truth by death, but such action does not destroy the truth that has been announced. The power of God will be ultimately revealed. If this is at the end of the great tribulation, only a few days remain before Christ comes back in power and great glory.
IV. (:11-13) VINDICATION OF GOD’S TWO WITNESSES AND REACTION OF TERROR
A. (:11) Vindication by Miraculous Resurrection
- Resurrection from the Dead
“And after the three and a half days
the breath of life from God came into them,
and they stood on their feet;”
J. Hampton Keathley, III: “And after three and one half days.” This is long enough for the bodies to have begun to decay. As the Lord did with Lazarus, God waits until there is no question about their death, then suddenly God intervenes.
“The breath of life from God.” “From” is ek meaning “out of.” The very life-giving breath from God Himself is breathed into them (Gen. 2:7) and “they stood on their feet.” “Stood” is an aorist tense and may stress suddenness. They are pictured lying there on the street with the party going on, and then suddenly, they stand up like a man waking up from a nap. What an effect this will have!
“And great fear fell …” “Fell” is also an aorist and stresses the suddenness of the effect. From drunken merry making one moment to soberness and great fear the next. The word “fell” is most graphic, like a wet blanket, they were enveloped in fear. Suddenly now, they begin to realize God was not dead nor defeated; Satan would not be victorious and they were doomed.
- Reaction of Terror
“and great fear fell upon those who were beholding them.”
B. (:12) Vindication by Glorious Ascension
- Glorious Invitation
“And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’”
Buist Fanning: An even greater mark of their vindication by God came about (v. 12a–b) when a commanding “voice from heaven” (cf. 10:4, 8; 14:2, 13) instructed the two to “come up here” (ἀνάβατε ὧδε). John records that they did so immediately, ascending “up into heaven in a cloud.” Here the influence of two typologies that are intermingled in this passage come together in one image: just as a cloud received Christ as he ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9) and as Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kgs 2:11; cf. 1 En. 39:3), so these two prophets are transported visibly to their welcome by God on high in public recognition of their faithful service. This evidence of divine approval is witnessed in this case, however, not by beloved followers but by terrified foes: “Their enemies watched them” (v. 12d; same verb as in v. 11d).
- Glorious Reception
“And they went up into heaven in the cloud,”
Charles Swindoll: The ministry of the two witnesses will certainly leave a profound mark on the lives of those who witness their exploits. Yet as we examine the lives of those prophets, we see that they will have no basis for personal boasting. Everything that sets them apart —their incredible preservation, their miraculous powers, and their convicting preaching —comes from the sovereign hand of God. When their mission ends, their enabling power ends too. But God doesn’t abandon His vessels like disposable shells; instead, He will turn tragedy into triumph, whisking His two fearless witnesses into His heavenly presence.
- Reaction of Terror
“and their enemies beheld them.”
C. (:13) Vindication by Shocking Judgment on the City of Jerusalem by a Great Earthquake
- Shock of Great Earthquake
“And in that hour there was a great earthquake,”
Tony Garland: There are numerous earthquakes during the Tribulation. A previous great earthquake attended the opening of the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12+). As great as this earthquake is, a still greater earthquake—the greatest of all recorded history—is yet to follow at the pouring forth of the seventh bowl judgment (Rev. 16:17+).
In the subsequent earthquake associated with the seventh bowl, Jerusalem is said to be “divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell” (Rev. 16:19+). In this lesser precursor to the final great earthquake, only one tenth of the city falls. Only a portion falls resulting in a relatively lesser death toll in order to provide opportunity for those remaining to respond in repentance and turn to God.
- Slaughter Caused by Great Earthquake
a. Tenth of the City of Jerusalem
“and a tenth of the city fell;”
b. 7,000 People Killed
“and seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake,”
John MacArthur: The term people in the Greek text is literally “names of men.” That unusual phrase may indicate that the seven thousand who were killed were prominent people, perhaps leaders in Antichrist’s world government.
- Reaction of Terror and Glorifying Go
“and the rest were terrified”
b. Glorifying God
“and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
Greg Allen: Humankind will fear greatly and will be forced to give glory to the God who had just borne witness of Himself through these two amazing prophets. But sadly, it does not seem that the people of this world will give Him glory in the sense of repenting of sin. (It may be more like the ‘glory’ that emperor Julian is reputed to have given when, wounded in the Battle of Ctesiphon—and realizing that his death would result in Christianity becoming the religion of the empire—“he filled his hand with blood, flung it into the air and cried, ‘You have won, O Galilean.’ Thus he gave utterance at once to a confession of the victory and to a blasphemy. So infatuated was he” [Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Ch. 20].) It appears that, though giving God glory after this earthquake, their hearts still remain hard and unyielding toward Him—as is evidenced by the warfare they then go on later to make against the Lord Jesus at His return to this earth (Revelation 19:19-21).
(:14) EPILOGUE – THIRD WOE COMING QUICKLY
“The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.”
Thomas Constable: This verse is transitional (cf. Revelation 9:12). It refers to the end of the second woe (the sixth trumpet, Revelation 9:21) and ties this judgment in with the third woe (the seventh trumpet). It clarifies that God interjected the revelations of the mighty angel and the little scroll (Revelation 10:1-11) and the two witnesses (Revelation 11:1-13) into the chronological sequence of trumpet judgments. He did so to give supplementary, encouraging information. The final woe will follow “quickly” (Gr. tachy, “soon,” cf. Revelation 2:16; Revelation 3:11; Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:12; Revelation 22:20), on the heels of the second woe.