Text: Rev 11:1-14
OT Text: Ezekiel 40:1-6, 43:1-10
Featured Verse: Rev 11:4-5 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes.
Main Idea: God shows his protection of the witness of the church through the measuring of the temple.
[We are continuing with the interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpet.]
Ok. I think that this might be the chapter that finally puts some people over the edge. A person sets out to read through the book. There are lots of strange images, but also lots of things we can intuitively grasp. (Letters to churches, worship in heaven, etc.) This section however, seems to be impossible to decipher at first glance. Personally, I am pretty familiar with Revelation, but when rereading this passage I found myself thinking - what is going on here?
Let's start by stepping back from the details to look at what we know. First, the temple is measured. Then two witnesses give bold testimony. At first they seem to be unbreakable. Then the beast (who will be introduced more fully in chapter 13) conquers them and they lie in the streets before being resurrected. Then the city is shaken.
The first question to ask is: What is the temple?
The answer to this will determine the direction we take for the rest of the section. If the temple is meant to be understood physically and literally, then either this section has to refer to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, or it has to look forward to a time when the temple is rebuilt, because there is not temple now.* However, if the reference to the temple is meant to be symbolic, then it can refer to the entire church age, because the church is the temple. Here are several arguments which favor reading this as a symbolic temple - representing the people of God.
1.) The book is already highly symbolic, and in many places John explicitly interprets things in symbolic ways. (lampstands = churches.)
2.) The OT background for the measuring of the temple is Ezekiel 40-43. In those chapters, the reference is not to the first temple (which had been destroyed in 586 BC), nor to the 2nd temple (which was rebuilt after the return from exile and continued until 70 AD.) Rather it is clearly to a (symbolic) temple which will be rebuilt by God at the end of history. Therefore, it would seem to be best to regard this temple in a similar manner.
3.) Jesus, himself, spoke of his body being the true temple, not the physical building. Now, as the Body of Christ, Christians are the temple because God dwells in them. The rest of the NT speaks of the Church as being (symbolically) the temple of God. (1 Peter 2:4, Eph 2:20-22, 1 Cor 3:16-17, 2 Cor 6:16.)
4.) All other references in the book of Revelation to the temple are describing the ideal heavenly temple, not a physical building on earth. (7:15, 11:19, 14:15-17, 15:5-8, 16:1, 16:17)
5.) Finally, the book is addressed to seven churches in Asia Minor. Given the NT de-emphasis on the physical temple and the practical matter that they lived very far from Jerusalem and would be largely unaffected by the events there, it seems hard to understand how the destruction of the temple in 70 AD would relate to them.
6.) The presence of lampstands in verse 4 is a reference to Zechariah 4. John has already interpreted the lampstands as being churches. So, interpreting the temple as a reference to the church makes sense also.
If the temple (and the lampstands) are symbolic, then it makes sense to continue with a symbolic reading of the passage as much as possible. Rather than try to elaborate and defend each point (which would make this a book and not a blog entry) I will simply offer a consistently symbolic interpretation in the space below.
Conclusion and Application
Reading this passage symbolically renders a meaningful interpretation which is harmonious with other parts of the book of Revelation and with other NT theology. In this way of reading it:
The measuring of the temple represents God's protection over his people. She is known intimately by God and prepared for his presence in it. (A presence which will be fully realized in chapters 21-22.) The two witnesses are modeled after the two great OT prophets and demonstrate some of their notable traits. (11:6) For example, Moses turned water into blood (Ex 7:17-25) and Elijah stopped the rain with a prayer (1 Kings 17-18.) They represent the faithful witness of the entire church, that is the new temple of God.
It also seems best to understand the lengths of time in this passage as being symbolic. Because seven represents wholeness or completeness in the book of Revelation, seven years would represent the complete scope of redemptive history. The Bible thinks of time hinging on the death and resurrection of Jesus. The time before Jesus is "the former days" and the time after Jesus is the "latter days" or "last days".** Splitting seven years in half would bring 3.5 years, 42 months, or (roughly) 1,260 days.*** These lengths of time are used to represent the age of the church, or the time between the resurrection and the return of Jesus.
What we see in this vision is a partial protection. Because the saints are sealed (chapter 7) their souls are safe in God. They also experience a partial physical protection. Their souls are secure in God, but their bodies are safe until they have completed their testimony. (11:7) The measuring of the inner court of the temple while the outer court is trampled seems to be a pictorial representation of this reality.
However, at the end of the church age the beast will achieve an apparent victory. The two witnesses will be killed. But this apparent victory will last a comparatively short time (only 3.5 days compared to 3.5 years of protection.) Many scholars think that this points to a great persecution of the church before the return of Christ, a truth that seems to be presented elsewhere in the Bible. However, God will get the final victory. The church (two witnesses) will be raised up and exalted, while the earthly city will be shaken.
In short, God will guard our souls, even in the face of death. Death cannot defeat us. And while God does not promise to protect his people from all physical harm, he can completely protect us while we continue our mission of faithful witness. As one missionary once said, "we are immortal until we have completed the work that God has given to us."
*The Preterist View of Revelation holds that the book is mostly about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Futurist View (generally what people are most familiar with in regard to Revelation) looks to nearly all of the events in chapters 6-22 as happening in the future.
**The NT writers believed that they were living in the last days (Acts 2:17 and Heb 1:1-2.) Paul seems to refer to the writings of the OT as things written in the "former days." (Rom 15:4)
*** The expression "time, times, and half a time" is also used in both Revelation 12:14 and Daniel (7:25 & 12:7) to describe a similar period of time.