Today’s passage is Revelation 11:1-19. Many consider this chapter to be the most difficult chapter in the book of Revelation to interpret. Let’s go!
Revelation 11:1-2 (NIV) 1 I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. 2 But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.
On verses 1-2: In John’s vision John receives a reed like a measuring rod and is told to measure the temple of God and the altar as well as to count the worshipers there (v1). John is told not to include the outer court in his measurements, because “it has been given to the Gentiles” who “will trample on the holy city for 42 months” (v2). The holy city is most likely a reference to the city of Jerusalem.
What does this mean? When a person is told by God to measure something in the Bible, often it means that either that person or God (or both) will own and take possession of the thing being measured. For example, “God told Abram to walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you” (Genesis 13:17) This suggests to me that even though the holy city of Jerusalem would appear to be occupied and controlled by “the Gentiles” (in this case a reference for those who do not worship God), God was retaining and preserving the temple of God and ultimately keeping Jerusalem in His control.
What can we learn from this? Does it appear like the enemy has the upper hand and is successfully stealing from you? Know that in the Lord you have an inheritance that cannot be taken away from you. By faith proclaim today that your inheritance in Jesus Christ is secure.
Revelation 11:3-5 (NIV) 3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.
On verses 3-5: For as many days as Jerusalem will be under foreign control (1,260 days, or 42 months, or 3.5 years), two witnesses of the Lord will prophesy. Who exactly are these two witnesses? We will discuss this in more detail in verse 6. In the meantime, John says that these two witnesses are two olive trees and two lampstands that stand before the Lord (v4), an image which may be connected to Zechariah 4 and which probably speaks to the high and respected status of these two witnesses in God’s kingdom. John also says that fire comes from their mouths and devours anyone who tries to harm them (v5). Clearly these two witnesses are powerful figures in God’s kingdom.
Revelation 11:6 (NIV) 6 These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.
On verse 6: Based on this verse, some commentators believe that the two witnesses are Elijah (whose prayers stopped the rain) and Moses (whom God used to turn water into blood and to send plagues to Egypt). Others think that based on Zechariah 4 the two witnesses are Joshua, once the Jewish high priest, and Zerubabbel, once a governor of the Jews. Others think that these two witnesses are not anyone we know from the Old Testament or the New Testament, but that they are simply two witnesses God has raised up who are unknown to us. Whoever they are, it is clear that God has raised up these two witnesses to speak on His behalf during a time of great rebellion and indifference toward God.
What can we learn from this? Just as God was calling John to prophesy for Him (see Revelation 10:11), just as God raised up these two witnesses to prophesy for Him, so God raises up people who are close to Him to speak on His behalf to people who are far from Him.
Revelation 11:7-10 (NIV) 7 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. 8 Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10 The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.
On verses 7-10: Previously smoke that caused the sun and sky to be darkened came out of the Abyss (Revelation 9:2). Then a scary hoard of locusts came out of the Abyss and tortured unbelieving people (9:3-11). Now a beast comes up from the Abyss, attacks, overpowers and kills the two witnesses (v7). Because of all the trouble these two witnesses’ prophesying caused the rebellious people of the earth, the death of the two witnesses is met with gloating and rejoicing by the people of the earth (v10). Similar to how they killed Jesus, the people in Jerusalem treat the bodies of these two witnesses dishonorably, leaving them to lie in the street of Jerusalem without a proper burial (v8-9). Notice that Jerusalem is now figuratively called “Sodom and Egypt”, a title which reflects how godless Jerusalem has become (v8).
What can we learn from this? When you decide to speak on God’s behalf, you will not win many popularity contests. People may even rejoice at your suffering. However, that is only pat of the story, as we will see in the verses that follow.
Revelation 11:11-14 (NIV) 11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. 13 At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14 The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.
On verses 11-14: For 3.5 days the rebellious people of the earth celebrate the death of the Lord’s two witnesses (v9-10). However, at the end of the 3.5 days, God raises the two witnesses back to life again (v11) and brings them up to heaven (v12). A severe earthquake causes one tenth of Jerusalem to collapse and kills 7,000 people, while those who survive turn to God in worship (v13).
What can we learn from this? Here are two lessons I learn from these verses:
No matter how much Satan and the world will want to gloat over the suffering of God’s people and especially the defeat of leaders in God’s kingdom, God and God’s people will always get the last laugh.
Though God’s servants may be treated dishonorably during their lives on earth temporarily, they will be raised up and honoured in heaven forever.
Revelation 9:15-19 (NIV) 15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. 18 The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great– and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.
On verses 15-19: A seventh angel sounds the seventh trumpet, at which point loud voices in heaven proclaim that the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. They also proclaim that Jesus will reign forever (v15). The 24 elders also worship and give thanks to God, proclaiming that the time has come for God to judge the dead, to reward the faithful and to destroy those who like the devil were bent on bringing destruction during their lives on earth (v16-18). As God’s temple in heaven is opened and the ark of His covenant can be seen, lightning, thunder, an earthquake and a hailstorm rock John’s surroundings (v19).
What can we learn from this? The lessons I learned in verses 11-14 also apply here, but in addition I learn the following:
No matter how much destruction and sadness fill the earth, heaven remains a place filled with rejoicing, thanksgiving and worship.
With the temple of God on earth, no one except the high priest could enter the Most Holy Place and see the ark of the covenant (which represents God’s presence). But notice that in the temple of God in heaven, the ark of the covenant can be clearly seen. It goes to show that in heaven, we have full, 100% access to God’s awesome and intimate presence. Jesus Christ and His death on the cross have torn the curtain that once separated us from God’s most holy presence. Now through Jesus nothing can separate us from God anymore.
Heavenly Father, thank You that heaven is a place of constant rejoicing, thanksgiving, worship and praise, where we all have full access to Your awesome presence. Thank You that through Jesus Christ and His shed blood I have become a citizen of heaven and will be there with You one day. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!