A Study of Revelation

Chapter 11

We have two main divisions in Chapter eleven, verses 1-14 concern the “temple of God,” as the conclusion of the sixth trumpet is given, the second division verses 15-18 is the sounding of the 7th trumpet.

To properly understand this chapter we need to know that several of the symbols used have the same basic meaning. The “temple” the “holy city” the “two witnesses” the “two olive trees” the “two lampstands” and the “two prophets,” all represent those people who are faithful to God, the Lord’s church.

Chapter eleven, then, gives us a complete history of the church from its beginning until the time of its ascension to heaven to dwell with God for all eternity. Not all details of history are given, but the major events are clearly outlined.

11:1* ¶ Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it.
2* “Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.

John is given a measuring rod and told to measure the temple of God. The “temple” in the New Testament is the church.

1 Corinthians 3:16
16* ¶ Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

No measurements are given because the “temple” or church is made up of people, not a building or a literal temple. The church can be “measured” in the sense that it is possible to tell exactly who is in the church and who is not. The dividing line between who is inside the church and those outside is God’s Word. Those who are obedient to the gospel are in the church; all others are outside. Therefore in this image the “measuring rod” is the gospel.

The gospel is the exact measurement of the church. It defines the exact boundaries of the church. Not only does it measure the entire church, it measures each individual in the church. Only those individuals who have obeyed the gospel and are continuing to do the appointed works are Christians.

The altar in the book of Revelation symbolizes man’s ability to come directly into God’s presence and communicate with Him and seek atonement for his sins directly to God through prayer. There is no literal “altar” in the church today, but we do have something which accomplishes the same thing the Old Testament altar accomplished, and that is prayer. To measure the altar means, in this case, to determine who can use it. Only those people who are in a covenant relationship with God can commune with him through prayer (1 Pet. 3:12).

John is told not to include the court of the temple in his measurements. This shows that only the true church is to be included. Even though the court is in close proximity, it is not the true church. Since the court is in close proximity to the true church, the court here must represent the dwelling place of those who profess to be Christians and are close to the truth but have never been obedient to God’s law. They have never actually entered into the true church. This is the case in much of what the world calls “Christianity” today. Many profess to know God but have never been completely obedient to His commands, therefore, they are not part of God’s church. The court would also represent the dwelling place of unfaithful members of the church.

3* ¶ “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.”

We will not seek to explain all of the various ideas put forward to explain the identity of the two witnesses, we will simply identify them as a descriptive term referring to the church. This seems to be the best interpretation according to the context of this chapter in consideration of the entire book of Revelation. The church has the responsibility to preach and teach the Word of God today. In this sense the church is the “witness” of God in the world. Jesus spoke of himself as the “faithful and true witness” (Rev. 1:4; 3:14). This indicates he had been faithful in carrying out God’s will. If we as Christians carry out the will of our Lord , we are his faithful witnesses.

Verse 3 states that the two witnesses “will prophesy.” The church has the responsibility to teach the Word of God. God’s children are the ones who prophesy today using and teaching God’s Word, the Bible. God’s church, His people, are His witnesses to all the earth.

The number two is used here to indicate strength. The church is to be a strong witness for Christ. The church on the earth has received power from on high through the Word, and all Christians should be strong witnesses for Christ as we teach that Word throughout the world.

4* These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

This is a continuation of the description of the two witnesses. They are called two olive trees and two candlesticks. Romans 11 gives a vivid description of the church by using the olive tree as a symbol. God’s chosen people under the Old Covenant, the children of Israel, are described as the cultivated olive tree, the gentiles are described as the wild olive tree. The wild olive tree was grafted, contrary to nature, to the cultivated olive tree. When the Gentiles, or the wild olive tree, are obedient to the new law of Christ they are said to be grafted into the cultivated olive tree. Therefore we must understand that the witnesses for Christ are a part of the tree that Paul speaks of in Romans 11.

The two lampstands also refer to the church. Christ stands amongst the 7 golden lampstands in chapter 1. The lampstands represent the church.

All of these descriptions should help us to understand that the subject of this vision is the church. In verses 1 and 2 it is described as the “temple” and the “holy city.” Verses 3 and 4 further describe the church as “witnesses,” “olive trees,” and “lampstands.” In each case there are two which indicates that they have received power from God. They are standing before God, which again shows that these symbols must represent the church because Rev. 7:15 states that Christians are before the throne of God serving him day and night in his temple.

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5* And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way.
God’s protection for his church is shown. God will not allow man to destroy his kingdom. His kingdom will last forever.

Hebrews 12:28
28* Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe;

Man does not possess the power to harm the Kingdom of God.

6* These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.

These witnesses, those who make up the church, have great power upon this earth. This power comes directly from God. We must be careful to remember that we are dealing with symbolic language. Causing the rain to stop, or turning water to blood, causing all types of plagues must be symbolic of the power which Christians possess through the teaching of the Word. If we serve him today and teach his Word we possess the tremendous power in that Word.

7* 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.

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To properly understand verse 7 we must take a look at the sequence of events in Chapter 11

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The above graph gives a complete history of the church from the time of Christ until its ascension to heaven at his second coming. “When they have finished their testimony is NOT a reference to the end of time because later they are to “stand on their feet.” The most likely interpretation of this would be the spreading of the gospel throughout the world during the first century, and after this was completed or “finished,” the beast overcame the church and destroyed it for a period of time.
We will discuss this further in chapter 13.

The beast, Satan, comes up out of the abyss and overcomes the church. The forces of evil which overcome the church are from the devil. Satan uses governments and the apostate church, the great city, to kill the church during the dark ages.

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Verse 7 then is a figurative description of one major event in the history of the church. The gospel was spread throughout the world, and after this was completed, the forces of the devil, manifested in the power of the Roman civil government and the apostate church, make war against the true church and overcome it. This sent the world into the Dark Ages where people were forced to worship according to man’s laws which were contrary to the law of God.

8* 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.

The bodies of these witnesses (the church) are described as lying in the street of the great city. The great city in the book of Revelation symbolizes the apostate church. The true church was overcome by the apostate church and is figuratively described as lying in the street of the great city (the apostate church).

This is where the church was killed, and the people of that city are the ones who rejoice over the church’s death (vs. 10). The great city is described as a “spiritual” Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem. These are symbols of idolatry and spiritual adultery. When one forsakes the true God to worship another god or man, he commits spiritual fornication. The people of the great city, the apostate church, are spiritually immoral, just as the people of Sodom were guilty of physical immorality.

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There is a different doctrine:

The great city is also described as spiritual Egypt. Egypt was the persecutor of God’s people in the Old Testament, just as the great city is the great persecutor of the church during the christian age. Throughout the Dark Ages, the apostate church was responsible for the spiritual deaths of many people, and in many cases even their physical deaths if they did not worship as directed. It was responsible for the death of the true church for a period of time, but it would rise again.

The great city is also described as the place where our Lord was crucified. Christ was killed physically in Jerusalem, but he was killed spiritually in the “great city” (the apostate church). When the witnesses or the true church was killed, Christ was crucified again. He died spiritually at that time, just as he died physically in Jerusalem. To fall away from the true church is to crucify the Son of God again.

Heb. 6:4-6
4* For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
5* and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

9* 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.

The “peoples and tribes and tongues and nations” refers to the vast number of people who are part of the apostate church (great city). These people are happy that the Lord’s church is dead and they desire to keep the bodies in sight so that they can gloat over their death. The apostate church has always claimed to be righteous and worship the true God, yet they worship according to man’s traditions instead of the Word of God. To have the truth of God’s Word taught by the true church would definitely have an adverse affect on the apostate church, therefore, they are happy that the true church was killed.

The bodies of these witnesses were kept out of the grave for a period of 3 1/2 days. In Revelation 3 1/2 is a descriptive number indicating a time of great despair and confusion. “Days” are probably used here to indicate a shorter period of time than 3 1/2 years or 1,260 days which are used in other passages in Revelation to represent the entire Christian age. This 3 1/2 days could be descriptive of the Dark Ages, a time of extreme despair and confusion concerning spiritual matters because the church was, for all practical purposes, nonexistent.

10* And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

This verse illustrates the truth that the two witnesses represent those who teach the truth of the Word of God because the term “prophet” refers to one who proclaims the Word sent form God. Therefore, these two prophets represent Christians who teach the Word of God with power. The Word of God torments the people of the earth who do not believe God’s Word, or who do not want to follow its teaching. The Word of God condemns many of the lifestyles found in our world today. This is why the people of the earth are described as rejoicing and sending gifts to one another because the Word of God was no longer being preached.

11* But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them.

God brings the church back to life! After the Dark Ages men began to translate the Bible into their own languages. In time men began to read and study the Scriptures for themselves. The apostate church began to lose control over men when the Word of God became available to the average man.

In the latter part of the 1700s and early 1800s a Restoration movement began when men like Walter Scott, Barton W. Stone, James Kelly, Thomas and Alexander Campbell and others began to teach that the Bible should be used as the only authority for determining how man should worship God. When they did this they began to preach the same gospel which was preached by Christ and the apostles in the first century. This, in turn, brought the church back to life, and as verse 11 says “they stood on their feet,” or in other words, the church of the Lord was once again teaching and preaching New Testament Christianity but using the Bible as it only creed.

12* And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them.

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As our chart indicates chapter 11 has given us the major events concerning the Lord’s church throughout the Christian age.

The next major event which will affect the church is its ascension to heaven. We do not know when this will happen because no time-table is given. We do know, however, that this event will not change the status of the church in relationship to God.

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1 Cor. 15:24
24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.

13* And in that hour 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.

This is the end of the 6th trumpet. “In that hour” places the events of verse 13 in the same time frame as that of verse 12, or in other words, these events take place at or near the second coming of God. We know when the Kingdom is turned over to God that it is the end of the world.

This great earthquake is a symbolic way of showing that all of man’s institutions, all of man’s power, all of man’s ways will be shaken and destroyed. At the end all men who have opposed God will be shaken, frightened, and will glorify God as never before. The numbers used here are intended to convey the idea of completeness. “7” and “1000” represent ultimate completeness. All men who claim to be divine or spiritual in nature but who actually oppose God, or who do not follow God’s ways, will be slain. This means that God will put down all earthly powers and authority which claim to be spiritual in nature. At that time all men will recognize that God is the only divine being and that all of our worship should be directed toward him, and not toward men who may claim to be divine.

14* ¶ The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.
15* Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”

The sounding of the seventh angel takes us into the time of the final judgment.
We know that at the time that the kingdom of our Lord is handed over to God that it is the end (1 Cor. 15:24).

16* And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God,
17* saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.

These are the same 24 elders we were introduced to in chapter 4. In this verse they fall upon their faces and worship God which supports the idea that they represent the spiritual things of God. As the spiritual kingdom of this world is delivered up to God to live with him eternally the spiritual beings which surround the throne immediately fall down and worship God because of this great event.

One clarification needs to be made here about the phrase “have begun to reign” that is found in some translations. Here is what Green’s Literal Translation says in this verse

Rev. 11:17
17* saying, We thank You, Lord God Almighty, the One who is, and who was, and who is coming, because You took Your great power and reigned.

Christ was able to reign because he took upon himself his great power. According to Romans 1:4 Christ received all power and began his reign over the church when he was resurrected from the dead and ascended to his throne in heaven (cf. Eph. 1:22; Acts 2).

Romans 1:4
4* who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Therefore the idea being expressed in verse 17 is that the 24 elders are giving thanks to Christ because he came to earth, died, and was resurrected, thereby receiving great power and reigning over the church. Because he did this he completed God’s plan for man and provided forgiveness of sins for all who are obedient to his will. Without this supreme sacrifice by our Lord, man could never have been reconciled to God.

18* “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

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This emphasizes the fact that the seventh angel takes us into the time of judgment. At this time, God will judge the living and the dead. He will reward those who have been faithful to him, and he will destroy all who have opposed him. Please notice here that there is no time separation between the second coming and the judgment. There is no 1000 years of man living in bliss upon the earth. When Christ comes the second time man’s eternity will be sealed. There will be no second chance.

19* And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.

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The temple of God always refers to God’s dwelling place. After judgment the eternal dwelling place of God will be opened in heaven and those who have been faithful to him will dwell there eternally.

The ark of his covenant represents the presence of God. The ark rested in the most holy place, the dwelling place of God. When all of this is opened and visible, God’s plan for man will be completed and we will be in our final eternal state.

The lightning and sounds and peals of thunder, the earthquake and hailstorm indicate the final conclusion of all things. They conclude the series of seven trumpets, just as this same type of language concluded the series of the seven seals in 8:5 and the series of seven plagues in 16:18-21. This helps us to see that the series of the seals, trumpets and plagues all cover the same period of time, the gospel age, but describe different events which will take place throughout that age.

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