Revelation 11:1-2 Measuring the Temple
1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Come and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample over the holy city for forty-two months.
John is not merely an observer in the receiving of Revelation, but actively is called to participate in symbolic actions that help provide meaning. This measurement of the temple has a close correlation to Ezekiel 40 where the LORD has Ezekiel observe the measurement of the temple to demonstrate that the exile that Ezekiel and his fellow Judeans were a part of would last only for a time. In addition, the period articulated matches the period at the end of Daniel for the duration until the end of the wonders (and persecution) of the people who receive Daniel’s message (which most scholars date late in the time of the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanies IV in the time of the revolt of the Maccabees, roughly 166 BCE). Here is where Daniel asks how long this will last:
Then I, Daniel, looked, and two others appeared, one standing on this bank of the stream and one on the other. One of them said to the man clothed in linen, who was upstream, “How long shall it be until the end of these wonders?” The man clothed in linen, who was upstream, raised his right hand and his left hand toward heaven. And I heard him swear by the one who lives forever that it would be for a time, two times, and half a time, and that when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end, all these things would be accomplished. (Daniel 12: 5-7)
A time, two times, and a half a time is three and a half and when the unit of time is years the forty-two months is three and a half years. This is also the one thousand two hundred and sixty days below (based on a thirty-day month). This extended quotation from Daniel also resonates with the figure of the angel in Revelation 10 who stands on the land and the sea and lifts his hand to the heavens. By combining resonant images of Daniel and Ezekiel, both images of hope during persecution, the act of measuring the temple and the time set aside point to the limited duration of the suffering of the churches hearing this message. Ultimately the God who unveils to John these images will bring an end to the trampling of the holy people of God.
Revelation 11: 3-14 The Witnesses
3 And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth.”4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. 6 They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.
7 When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; 10 and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth.
11 But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. 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 watched them. 13 At that moment there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
14 The second woe has passed. The third woe is coming very soon.
Revelation continues to portray a God who desires for the people to place their trust in God instead of the forces that are opposed to God. Revelation continues its long pause to make a space for witness to the world so that the nations may give glory to God. During this one thousand two hundred sixty-day period we are introduced to the two witnesses that are two olive trees and two lampstands whose mission is to prophesy and proclaim God’s power, might and desires against the forces of the beast and Satan who is behind the beast. These verses foreshadow the larger narrative that will unfold in Revelation 12-13 which symbolically portray the devil and Rome as a dragon and beast respectively.
The identity of the witnesses has been debated and different interpreters have come to different answers about these witnesses. Some interpreters believe that the two witnesses are two concrete individuals who are given this task and specific powers which enable them to carry out this task. These two individuals would have the powers demonstrated by Elijah and Moses previously in scripture. Some have taken the two witnesses to be Elijah and Moses returned, other Elijah and Enoch (since both were bodily brought up into heaven) and others take these two witnesses to stand for the church or a portion of the church. Regardless of who one takes as the witnesses in one’s interpretation the message of the witnesses is clear and like prophets of all times and places they are viewed as a hindrance to the powers that claim to be in control. Eventually the beast (who we will see shortly is a way of representing Rome) acts to eliminate the pesky witnesses and many people rejoice that they have been silenced. Yet, God stands on the side of the witnesses and death is not the final word. The beast and those with the beast can persecute the witnesses of God but the God of Revelation is a God of resurrection. They may know humiliation and even death for a time, two times and a half a time but God will invite them to take their places at God’s kingdom.
The city, unnamed but indicated by what it is prophetically called as well as its location as where the Lord is crucified points to Jerusalem. Like all things in this vision there is a plasticity that has allowed interpreters to point to multiple interpretations but as I lay out my reading I start with the plain sense reading of the place where the witnesses begin their work being in Jerusalem. For me this scene deals with the mission of the whole church, since it is the work of the whole church to witness and to call for all the peoples, language, nations and tribes to turn to God. Are there unique witnesses within the whole? Certainly, but all are called to the vocation of witnesses. There are times where the church’s ability to speak and respond seems dead or powerless but ultimately this is a narrative of God’s power and control, God can resurrect a dead witness or a dead church. For me an interesting part of this narrative is the earthquake and its response: in the earthquake the damage is reduced from previous calamities (from one fourth in the seals, one third in the trumpets but here one tenth) and response is to give glory to God. Again, taking the city as Jerusalem I take this as a suggestive nod towards an acknowledgement by the people of Jerusalem (and by extension Israel) of the sovereignty of God. Even though the church symbolically assumes many of the roles of Israel throughout Revelation I view this portion in line with Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11 about the irrevocable call of God to Israel.
Revelation 11: 15-19 The Final Trumpet
15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.”
16 Then the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 singing,
“We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple; and there were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
The preceding section warns us that the third woe is coming soon and upon the final trumpet blast we are prepared for that final woe to come, and yet we instead see a different perspective on reality. We expect to focus on the earth and the chaos and struggle on the earth but instead we find ourselves focused on heaven and the order and worship and praise going on as the world is declared the kingdom of God. This is a pivotal scene in Revelation because the coming chapters we will see how in multiple symbolic ways the agents who have been at work destroying God’s order and creation are first unmasked and then overthrown. Satan will be banished from heaven; Rome and its heralds will be shown as beasts serving Satan and then later as a prostitute but both Rome and Satan’s power will come to an end. Here we have the announcement that God is now moving towards the earth. The desire of God to be a part of the creation and to dwell among God’s people will no longer wait. God’s time of patient waiting to give space and time for repentance are coming to an end. God’s power is being revealed, God’s covenant with God’s people is being renewed and in heaven there is worship.
Revelation continues to remind its reader that even though chaos may appear to reign on earth that God’s will indeed be done on earth as it is in heaven. The nations may rage but God’s judgment will decide the final victory, those servants who have been oppressed, misused and who have felt powerless will be rewarded. It is a time where the powerful will be brought low and the meek will be lifted up. For the faithful this is a time of celebration and joy while for those who have aligned themselves against God it is an announcement of God’s coming in strength and power.