Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 27th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
Take our poll

Bible Commentaries
Revelation 11

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors

Verse 1

"And" (Gr. kai) ties this chapter closely to the previous one. John’s first prophetic assignment after receiving his fresh commission was to provide this information.

Again John became an active participant in his vision (cf. Revelation 1:12; Revelation 5:4; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 10:8-10; Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:8). John’s "measuring rod" was probably a lightweight reed (cf. Ezekiel 29:6; Ezekiel 40:5; Ezekiel 42:16-19; Mark 6:8; 3 John 1:13). The person giving the reed and the instructions was probably the strong angel just referred to (Revelation 10:9-11). John received instruction to perform a symbolic act, as many of his prophetic forerunners had done (cf. Isaiah 20:2-5; Ezekiel 12:1-17; Ezekiel 40; Zechariah 2). The act of measuring probably signifies that the temple is God’s possession and that He approves of it. One carefully measures what is his personal property (cf. 2 Samuel 8:2; Ezekiel 40:3 to Ezekiel 42:20). Sometimes measuring in Scripture anticipated judgment (2 Samuel 8:2; 2 Kings 21:13; Isaiah 28:17; Lamentations 2:8; Amos 7:7-9). A few references to measuring involve protection (Jeremiah 31:39; Ezekiel 40:2 to Ezekiel 43:12; Zechariah 1:16; Zechariah 2:1-8), but this can hardly be the connotation here in view of the context (Revelation 11:2). However, since John received instruction not to measure profane areas (Revelation 11:2), this measuring is probably an indication of God’s favor and approval.

"In other words, John’s future prophecies will distinguish between God’s favor toward the sanctuary, the altar, and their worshipers and His disapproval of all that is of Gentile orientation because of their profanation of the holy city for half of the future seventieth week. . . . So the measuring is an object lesson of how entities favored by God will fare during the period of Gentile oppression that lies ahead." [Note: Ibid., pp. 80-81.]

The "temple" (Gr. naos, inner temple) refers to both the holy place and the holy of holies, excluding the courtyards. This is evidently the temple that the Jews will build in Jerusalem before or during the first half (three and a half years) of Daniel’s seventieth week (i.e., the Tribulation; cf. Revelation 11:8; Revelation 13:14-15; Daniel 9:26-27; Daniel 12:11; Matthew 24:15-16; 2 Thessalonians 2:4). [Note: See John F. Walvoord, "Will Israel Build a Temple in Jerusalem?" Bibliotheca Sacra 125:498 (April-June 1968):99-106; Thomas S. McCall, "How Soon the Tribulation Temple?" Bibliotheca Sacra 128:512 (October-December 1971):341-51; and idem, "Problems in Rebuilding the Tribulation Temple," Bibliotheca Sacra 129:513 (January-March 1972):75-80. See also Martin Levin, "Time for a New Temple?" Time, 16 October 1989, pp. 64-65. For refutation of the preterist view that this is the Second Temple, which Titus destroyed in A.D. 70, see Mark L. Hitchcock, "A Critique of the Preterist View of the Temple in Revelation 11:1-2," Bibliotheca Sacra 164:654 (April-June 2007):219-36.] The "altar" probably refers to the brazen altar of sacrifice outside the sanctuary to which non-priests will have access. John was to measure (in the sense of quantifying) the worshippers too. This probably means that God will know or perhaps preserve them. These worshipers evidently represent godly Jews who will worship God in this Tribulation temple (cf. Ezekiel 14:22; Romans 11:4-5; Romans 11:26).

When Jesus Christ returns at the Second Coming He will build a new millennial temple that will replace this Tribulation temple (Ezekiel 40).

Some interpreters who favor a more symbolic understanding of this verse take the temple as a reference to the church (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; 1 Peter 2:5). [Note: E.g., Johnson, pp. 499-502; Mounce, p. 221; and Swete, p. 132.]

"The church will be protected in the coming disaster." [Note: Morris, p. 147.]

However if the temple is the church, who are the worshipers, what is the altar, and why are the Gentiles segregated from it?

Verses 1-2

1. The temple in Jerusalem 11:1-2

Verses 1-14

F. Supplementary revelation of the two witnesses in the Great Tribulation 11:1-14

John recorded the revelation dealing with the two witnesses to inform his readers of the ministries of these important individuals during the Great Tribulation. This section continues the parenthetical revelation begun in Revelation 10:1. It is one of the more difficult chapters to interpret, and students of the book have proposed many different explanations.

Verse 2

"Leave out" (Gr. ekballo, lit. cast out) implies removal from divine favor (cf. Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30; 3 John 1:10). The court outside the temple corresponds to the court to which Gentiles had access in the first century, which lay outside the court into which only Jews could come. The Tribulation temple will evidently have similar courtyards. Not measuring amounts to exclusion from God’s favor as measuring amounts to enjoying His favor (Revelation 11:1). The nations are the Gentiles, specifically hostile, unbelieving Gentiles (cf. Revelation 11:18; Revelation 14:8; Revelation 19:15; Revelation 20:3). These Gentiles will oppress the holy city, which is earthly Jerusalem (cf. Revelation 11:8; Revelation 21:22; Luke 21:24). Others view the reference to the holy city as alluding to the Jewish people. [Note: E.g., Beckwith, p. 588; and Ladd, pp. 152-53.] However if the city is people, who are the people in the city? Some say they are believing Israelites. [Note: E.g., ibid., p. 153.] Others believe the holy city is heavenly Jerusalem. [Note: E.g., Beale, p. 568.]

The 42 months are the last half of the Tribulation since this will be the time when Gentile hostility to the Jews is most intense (cf. Daniel 9:27). The Gentiles will dominate the outer court of the temple and the rest of Jerusalem for 42 months. Anti-Semitism will peak after the Antichrist breaks his covenant with Israel in the middle of Daniel’s seventieth week (Daniel 9:27). This interpretation seems more likely than that 42 months refers to the 42 encampments of Israel in the wilderness, [Note: Ibid., p. 565.] or that they represents a period "of measurable duration." [Note: Morris, p. 147. Beale, pp. 557-59, explained five major interpretations of Revelation 11:1-2.]

Verse 3

Who is speaking in this verse? The speaker seems to be the angel who spoke in Revelation 11:1-2, who here speaks for God (cf. Revelation 11:8).

God did not reveal the identity of the two witnesses. Many commentators believe they will be Moses and Elijah since these men were prophets and performed the kinds of miracles these witnesses will perform (Revelation 11:6). [Note: E.g., Smith, A Revelation . . ., p. 169; Tenney, p. 191; and Barclay, The Revelation . . ., 2:87.] Others believe they will be Enoch and Elijah since God took these men to heaven without dying. [Note: E.g., Seiss, p. 244; and Thomas W. Mackay, "Early Christian Millenarianist Interpretation of the Two Witnesses in John’s Apoclaypse, 11:3-13," in By Study and Also by Faith, pp. 252-65, 310.] Another reason some believe one of these witnesses will be Elijah is Malachi 4:5, which predicts that Elijah will return before Messiah. [Note: E.g., Gundry, p. 94.] Other less literal interpreters think the two witnesses may represent not two individuals but the faithful witness of the church throughout its persecutions. [Note: E.g., Swete, p. 134; Mounce, p. 223; Beasley-Murray, p. 181; Morris, p. 147; Beale, p. 573. See Thomas, Revelation 8-22, pp. 87-89, for a good summary of the arguments pro and con for these three major views.] I agree with those who believe that they will be individuals living at this time rather than former prophets brought back to earth for this ministry (cf. Matthew 11:14). [Note: E.g., Walvoord, The Revelation . . ., p. 179; Pentecost, Things to . . ., p. 308; Newell, pp. 150-51; Ladd, p. 154; Kelly, p. 226; Wilbur Smith, "Revelation," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 1510; Beckwith, p. 595; and Daniel K. K. Wong, "The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11," Bibliotheca Sacra 154:615 (July-September 1997):344-54.]

"Nor again can such allegorical interpretations as the Law and the Prophets, the Law and the Gospel, the Old Testament and the New, be maintained in view of all that follows." [Note: Swete, p. 134.]

They will "prophesy," namely, communicate messages from God. Their ministry will last 1,260 days (i.e., 42 months of 30 days per month, or three and a half years; Daniel 12:11). The fact that John sometimes described the Great Tribulation in terms of days, at other times in months, or at still other times in years is probably just for the sake of literary variety. These various ways of describing the period also support the view that the time period will be three and one-half literal years since all three descriptions describe a period exactly that long by Jewish reckoning. This period also appears to be the Great Tribulation (i.e., the last half of Daniel’s seventieth week), the focus of John’s vision in this chapter. [Note: Ibid., p. 131; Walvoord, The Revelation . . ., p. 182.] Some interpreters, including the early church fathers Victorinus, Hippolytus, and Augustine, believed that the two witnesses would minister in the first half of the Tribulation. [Note: T. F. Glasson, The Revelation of John, p. 70; Newell, pp. 159-60; Johnson, p. 502; Wiersbe, 2:598; and McGee, 5:981; also held this view.] Nonetheless, the context strongly favors the last half of the Tribulation.

The two witnesses will wear "sackcloth," the dress that in biblical times signified approaching judgment and needed repentance (cf. Isaiah 22:12; Jeremiah 4:8; Jeremiah 6:26; Jonah 3:5-6; Jonah 3:8; Matthew 11:21).

Verses 3-6

2. The ministry of the two witnesses 11:3-6

Even though believing Jews will suffer persecution at this time, God will still get His message out. Two witnesses will be especially significant at this time. Valid testimony required two witnesses under the Old Covenant (Deuteronomy 19:15), and both Jesus and the early church sent out emissaries in pairs (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:2; Acts 13:2; Acts 15:39-40).

Verse 4

The ministry of these two witnesses resembles that of Zerubbabel and Joshua who sought to restore Israel after a previous exile (Zechariah 4:2-3; Zechariah 4:11-14). There is only one lampstand in the Zechariah passage, but there are two here representing each of the two witnesses. In the Zechariah passage it is the Holy Spirit who empowered Zerubbabel and Joshua (Zechariah 4:14), and the comparison strongly suggests that these latter-day witnesses will also receive power from Him (cf. Revelation 1:4). They will be God’s anointed servants who bear the light of His truth. They are dependent on the Spirit and speak for God, who controls the whole earth.

Verse 5

These witnesses will be able to protect themselves by calling down fire on their enemies who try to harm them, as Elijah did (cf. 2 Kings 1:10-14). This is probably the meaning rather than that fire will actually proceed from their mouths. No one will be able to kill them until God permits this at the very end of their ministry (Revelation 11:7).

Verse 6

God will also empower them to do other miracles similar to what Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 17:7; 1 Kings 18:1; Luke 4:25; James 5:17) and Moses (Exodus 7:17-21; Exodus 9:14; Exodus 11:10; 1 Samuel 4:8) did. The length of their ministry will be the same as the drought that God sent during Elijah’s day. It will also be for the same purpose, namely, to punish His people for their sins and to lead them to repentance. However the two witnesses will be able to exercise their power whenever they wish, not like Moses who could only perform miracles at God’s specific command.

This will be the fifth period in history when God will enable a few people to do unusually spectacular signs and wonders. The first four periods were the times of Moses and Joshua, of Elijah and Elisha, of Daniel and his three friends, and the time of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry and that of His apostles.

"Here is a fundamental clue to the understanding of biblical prophecy: eschatological events are foreshadowed in historical events." [Note: Ladd, p. 156.]

Verse 7

It is only when they have finished their ministry that God will permit the beast to kill the two witnesses. They will not die prematurely. This is the first of 36 references to "the beast" in Revelation (cf. Daniel 7:21). He is Antichrist, as later passages will show. This verse describes him as having his origin in the abyss, the abode of Satan and his demons (cf. Revelation 9:1-3; Revelation 9:11; Luke 8:31).

Verses 7-10

3. The death of the two witnesses 11:7-10

Verse 8

The beast will add insult to injury by allowing the corpses of the two witnesses to lie in the street unburied. This was the worst indignity that someone could perpetrate on a person in biblical times (cf. Psalms 79:2-3). "Mystically" (Gr. pneumatikos, "spiritually") indicates a comparative rather than a literal meaning. The city will be similar to Sodom and Egypt in that it will be extremely wicked, morally degraded, antagonistic toward God, and oppressive toward God’s people because of Antichrist’s influence. The place of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion identifies this city as Jerusalem (cf. Jeremiah 22:8). Other views are that it is every city that has opposed God’s servants through history, [Note: Mounce, pp. 226-27; Morris, p. 150; Kiddle, p. 199.] Rome, [Note: Swete, p. 138.] or Babylon (cf. Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:1; Revelation 17:5; Revelation 18:10). Since God specified a spiritual understanding of the identity of "the great city" here, it seems reasonable that he also would have specified a spiritual meaning of other entities in the book if He had wanted us to interpret them this way.

Verse 9

Evidently people from all over the world will be able to view the corpses, probably by television. Alternatively people from all these groups (cf. Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9) may be in Jerusalem at this time and will see them. The correspondence of three and a half days to the three and a half years of the Great Tribulation may only be coincidental. Nonetheless it draws attention to the fact that God’s servants will only suffer a short time whereas those under His wrath will suffer much longer.

Verse 10

This is the only instance of rejoicing during the Tribulation recorded in this book. It reflects the widespread wickedness of that day (cf. 1 Kings 18:17; 1 Kings 21:20). Earth-dwellers will celebrate because they do not have to listen to messages from God any longer. This will be the world’s last great Mardi Gras type celebration.

Verse 11

The breath of life from God will revive the witnesses’ dead bodies (cf. Genesis 6:17; Genesis 7:15; Genesis 7:22; 2 Kings 13:20-21; Ezekiel 37:5; Ezekiel 37:10). Their resurrections will terrify onlookers because these God-haters could do no more to silence their enemies than kill them. The use of the prophetic present tense in the verbs in this verse pictures what is future as fact.

Verses 11-13

4. The resurrection of the two witnesses 11:11-13

Verse 12

The witnesses, and probably those beholding them before they ascend, will hear the "voice from heaven." It probably belongs to Jesus Christ (cf. Revelation 4:1). "The cloud" evidently refers to the shekinah in which Jesus Christ ascended (Acts 1:9). Their ascension is also similar to that of Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) and to Christians at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:17). In the case of the two witnesses, their enemies will watch them ascend.

Two writers who believed the witnesses stand for all Christians wrote as follows.

"In the fullest sense this is to be fulfilled in the rapture Paul describes (1 Thes. iv. 17)." [Note: Morris, p. 151.]

"But meanwhile it has been partly anticipated in the sight of the world by the tribute paid to the victims of a persecution, sometimes within a few years after their dishonour and death." [Note: Swete, p. 140.]

Verse 13

Following this ascension an earthquake (cf. Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:5; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:18; Matthew 27:51-52; Matthew 28:2) will destroy 10 percent of Jerusalem and will cause 7,000 people to die. One writer called this number "an obviously generalized figure." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 187.] It may, however, be a round number. Those who will not die will give glory to God. This does not necessarily mean that they will all become believers, though some have concluded they will. [Note: E.g., Thomas, Revelation 8-22, pp. 98-99; and Smith, A Revelation . . ., p. 175.] But they will acknowledge God’s hand in these events at least. [Note: Walvoord, The Revelation . . ., p. 183; Newell, p. 157.] Perhaps they only give glory to God as the demons gave glory to Jesus when He confronted them during His earthly ministry.

Verse 14

5. The end of the second woe 11:14

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.

Verse 15

When the seventh angel sounded, loud voices in heaven announced that the long-expected reign of Jesus Christ over the world would begin soon (Revelation 20:1-10; cf. Psalms 2:2; Isaiah 9:6-7; Ezekiel 21:26-27; Daniel 2:35; Daniel 2:44; Daniel 4:3; Daniel 6:26; Daniel 7:14; Daniel 7:26-27; Zechariah 14:9). "Has become" (Gr. egeneto) is proleptic. [Note: Düsterdieck, pp. 328-29; Robertson, 6:384.] This will happen after the seventh trumpet has run its course. [Note: Charles, 1:294; Kiddle, p. 207.] The loud voices probably belong to the whole host of heaven. "Lord" refers to God the Father.

"Jesus will return and assume the throne of His father David in this future crisis, at which time He will replace the satanically energized sovereignty of world rulers that has prevailed for so long. The whole theme of Revelation is the purging of evil from the world so that it can become the domain of the King of kings (cf. Revelation 19:16). Only a physical kingdom on earth will satisfy this." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 106.]

"He" includes both the Father and His Christ. The earthly reign of Christ will continue in the new heaven and earth when Jesus will turn over control to the Father and "God will be all in all" (Revelation 21:1 to Revelation 22:5; cf. Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:14; Daniel 7:27; 1 Corinthians 15:24; 1 Corinthians 15:27-28).

Verses 15-19

G. The seventh trumpet judgment 11:15-19

John’s revelation continued to unfold future events as God revealed these to him in his vision. The scene John saw next was in heaven. The seventh trumpet judgment did not begin immediately (cf. Revelation 8:1-5), but John received information preparatory to it (Revelation 11:15 to Revelation 15:8).

Verse 16

The 24 elders’ (Revelation 4:10; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 5:14; Revelation 7:13-14) response to this announcement was to fall prostrate before God. Worship in heaven contrasts with rebellion on earth.

Verse 17

The elders thank God for taking His power in hand and finally reigning. This is the only use of eucharisteo, "I give thanks," in Revelation. In the vision God was about to do this. "Lord God, the Almighty" stresses God’s irresistible power and sovereignty, which now become evident. "Who art and who wast" emphasizes God’s uninterrupted existence, which makes His endless rule possible. Until now God had allowed powers hostile to His people to control the earth, but now He will begin to rule directly.

The elders’ statement has led some interpreters to conclude that it signals the beginning of Jesus Christ’s reign. [Note: E.g., Beale, p. 609; and Swete, p. 146.] In view of the events that seem to follow this one and precede the beginning of His reign in chapter 20, a different understanding is preferable. It seems better to regard the elders’ statement as anticipating the inauguration of that reign.

"The event is so certain that throughout this section it is repeatedly spoken of as already having taken place." [Note: Mounce, p. 231.]

Preterist Chilton believed this reign was consummated in A.D. 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. [Note: Chilton, The Days . . ., pp. 290-91.]

Verse 18

The elders continue to anticipate the beginning of Messiah’s rule on earth by foreseeing the raging response of unbelieving Gentiles (cf. Revelation 16:14; Revelation 16:16; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 20:8-9; Psalms 2:1; Psalms 2:5; Psalms 2:12) and the outpouring of God’s holy wrath (cf. Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7; Romans 2:5; Romans 2:8; Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). They also see the judgment of the dead and the rewarding of believers. They not only give thanks that Christ reigns supremely (Revelation 11:17) but that He judges righteously and rewards graciously (Revelation 11:18).

"Although rewards are all of grace (Romans 4:4), they vary according to what each has done (1 Corinthians 3:8)." [Note: Mounce, p. 232.]

"The elders in their song make no attempt to separate the different phases of judgment as they are separated in the closing chapters of Revelation. They simply sing of that future judgment as though it were one event, much on the order of other Scriptures that do not distinguish future judgments from each other (cf. Mark 4:29; John 5:25; John 5:28-29; Acts 17:31; Acts 24:21)." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 8-22, pp. 110-11.]

The elders distinguished two groups of believers: the Old Testament and New Testament prophets, who communicated divine revelation, and the saints, namely, other believers. [Note: See Stanton, Kept from . . ., pp. 65-69.] They further described these saints as even (ascensive use of "and," Gr. kai) those who fear God’s name, both small and great (i.e., all kinds; cf. Revelation 13:16; Revelation 19:5; Revelation 19:18; Revelation 20:12). The elders also anticipated the destruction of the wicked who have been responsible for the divine judgments that have destroyed the earth. John would soon learn of the destruction of some of these destroyers, namely, Babylon, the beast, the false prophet, and Satan.

Verse 19

John then saw the temple in heaven opened (cf. Hebrews 9:23). This chapter opens with the measuring of the temple and closes with the opening of the temple, though in the first case the temple is on earth and in the second it is in heaven. This event, as the others in this pericope, is proleptic (cf. Revelation 15:5). [Note: Düsterdieck, p. 331.] The opening of the temple probably pictures the immediate fellowship with God that believers will enjoy following these judgments. In the temple, John viewed the ark of God’s covenant, the emblem of His faithfulness, presence, and atonement to the Israelites. The last chronological reference to the ark in the Old Testament is in 2 Chronicles 35:3. What happened to it after that is not known. Many scholars believe it perished in Shishak’s invasion, during Manasseh’s apostasy, when Nebuchadnezzar burned the temple in 586 B.C., or during the Babylonian captivity (cf. 1 Kings 14:26; 2 Kings 25:9; 2 Chronicles 33:7; Jeremiah 3:16. Jewish tradition held that Jeremiah hid the ark in a cave on Mt. Sinai (2 Maccabees 2:4-8). There was no ark in the second temple. [Note: Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, 5:219:5.] The "second temple" refers to the temple that Nehemiah built, which Herod the Great modernized, and which later perished in the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. What John saw, however, was not the earthly ark but its heavenly counterpart (cf. Hebrews 9:24). Its appearance in the vision suggests that God would resume dealing with Israel and would soon fulfill His covenant promises to that nation.

As elsewhere, the storm theophany portrays the manifestation of God’s presence (cf. Revelation 4:5; Revelation 16:18; Exodus 19:16-19) and His wrathful judgment (cf. Revelation 8:5; Revelation 10:3; Revelation 16:18). J. Dwight Pentecost believed that the seventh trumpet is the second advent of Jesus Christ to this earth. [Note: Pentecost, Thy Kingdom . . ., p. 300.] The theophany concludes this part of John’s vision that proleptically anticipates the end of the Tribulation judgments and the inauguration of God’s kingdom.

This verse is transitional, concluding the present pericope and introducing what follows.

There is no revelation in this pericope (Revelation 11:15-19) of the judgment announced by the blowing of the seventh trumpet. The record of this judgment appears in chapter 16. There we have a prophecy of seven bowl judgments. It appears that as the seven trumpet judgments were a revelation of the seventh seal judgment, so the seven bowl judgments will be a revelation of the seventh trumpet judgment. [Note: Bullinger, pp. 368-69; Ladd, p. 160.] Consequently the revelation in chapters 12-15 seems to be another insertion of information about this time, the Great Tribulation, not advancing the chronological sequence of events on earth (cf. Revelation 7:1-17 and Revelation 10:1 to Revelation 11:14). The chronological progression resumes again in Revelation 16:1.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 11". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/revelation-11.html. 2012.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile