Applying Revelation 11: The Two Witnesses


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This is a continuation of Applying Revelation 10: End Time Games.

At the end of Chapter 10, Yahweh was intentionally making John imitate the famous prophet Ezekiel by having him eat a sweet scroll that represented words from God. Now the Ezekiel imitations continue when John is told to go measure the Temple of Yahweh.

Then I was given a measuring stick, and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple of Yahweh and the altar, and count the number of worshipers.” (Rev. 11:1)

This is such an obvious copy of Ezekiel that it’s almost laughable. Today many Christians are taught to focus mainly on the New Testament, which means their familiarity with books like Ezekiel is very low. To appreciate what Yahweh’s doing here, you need to realize that measuring Yahweh’s Temple is to Ezekiel what parting the Red Sea is to Moses: it’s one of the prophet’s signature events. In the 48 chapter book of Ezekiel, the last eight chapters describe a vision in which Ezekiel is given a tour through Yahweh’s glorious Temple in Jerusalem.  For three whole chapters of that vision (40-42) Ezekiel watches an angel going around measuring every detail of Yahweh’s Temple. When you’re not Jewish and you’re not understanding what’s so wow about Yahweh’s Temple, slogging through three chapters of Temple dimensions can feel quite tedious and boring. Yahweh makes such a fuss over Ezekiel recording how many rods and cubits every room, wall, and walkway is that once you get through it all, you just can’t forget it. Your first reaction is, “What on earth was with all that measuring?” From then on, when you think of Ezekiel, you think of the guy who stood around recording Temple measurements. Now here in Revelation, John is handed a measuring rod and told to start measuring the Temple. Adding to the irony is the fact that both Ezekiel and John are asked to get involved in Temple measurements after the real life Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed. Ezekiel doesn’t have his Temple measuring vision until after the Babylonians have burned Yahweh’s actual Temple to the ground. Eventually a second Temple was constructed, only to be utterly demolished by the Romans in AD 70. So both John and Ezekiel are doing their measuring in the context of Divine visions, and the Temples they are measuring are not earthly Temples, but symbolic Temples which are meant to communicate certain principles.

Here in Revelation, Yahweh instructs John to “count the number of worshipers” who are in the Temple’s courtyard. This is Yahweh reminding His people that He is watching over each and every one of them. He doesn’t just view them as a nameless crowd—He pays specific attention to each individual soul. How cool is that?

Now going through similar motions as the greatly admired Ezekiel is really going to make John feel like Prophet Big Stuff. The fact that Yahweh and Jesus have singled him out to take part in this interactive vision is Their way of personally encouraging him and reminding him that even though he’s stuck on some depressing prison island, he’s still able to be a useful instrument to further Their will on earth.

But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months. (Rev. 11:2)

Now in our lesson Know Your Bible Lesson 42: Between the Testaments, we learn that the floor plan of the Temple of John’s day was a gross distortion of Yahweh’s original Tabernacle set up. The Tabernacle that was constructed in Moses’ day was very simple: it was basically a large, two room tent that was set up in the middle of a large courtyard. The courtyard was surrounded by a fence of hanging sheets. Inside that courtyard was where all sincere Yahweh followers were invited to come to worship and have their various sacrifices processed by authorized priests.


It’s very important to realize that the original sacrificial system was not just about sin. It was also about worship. In Know Your Bible Lesson 6: The Sacrificial System, we learn about the most common sacrifices that were offered to God. There were two main sacrifices for sins, and there were two main sacrifices for worship. We also learned that Yahweh allowed for a range of acceptable offerings which meant the poor man could be just as pleasing to Him as the rich man. For example, if you just wanted to do something to show Yahweh how much you loved Him, you could bring Him some simple flatbreads. If you needed to atone for a sin but you couldn’t afford to bring a sheep or a goat, Yahweh accepted a simple bird instead. The poor man’s offerings weren’t considered subpar—God was pleased with all offerings when they were presented with a sincere heart. It’s very important to understand how positive Yahweh’s original system was, for by the time we get to the New Testament, the Jewish leaders have grossly perverted Yahweh’s original system. Even Herod’s Temple—which was a grand remodeling of the Temple constructed in Ezra’s time—was a gross mangling of Yahweh’s original Tabernacle. The original Tabernacle had one simple courtyard in which all worshipers were invited, regardless of gender or ethnicity. But by the time we get to Jesus’ day, we find a court where only Jewish men were allowed, then a court for women and a court for those subpar Gentiles that the Jews felt were so inferior. This idea of banning certain people from coming as close to Yahweh’s physical Presence because of their gender or ethnicity was an outrageous offense to God.


Now the whole point of building the Temple was to improve on the tent Tabernacle that Moses’ crew started off with. King David wanted Yahweh to have a magnificent, gilded Temple—not just some shabby tent set up. Well, Yahweh didn’t feel His tent set up was shabby in any way, but He appreciated David’s sentiment and allowed a Temple to be built that would replace the portable Tabernacle. Notice how here in Revelation, John is told not to measure the outer courtyard of the Temple. Since Yahweh’s original design only had one courtyard where the worshipers would gather, and we know that John sees worshipers in this fictitious Temple, the courtyard being referred to is probably one of the additional courtyards that Herod invented to limit how much access non-Jews could have to the Temple in Jerusalem. It would be like you entering a grand museum today only to be told that you can’t go past the lobby. Ahead of you, you can see a grand showroom where John and other Christians are worshiping God. But you’re stuck out in the lobby and the security guard won’t let you go join everyone else. You then see John look over at you from inside the cool room but he refuses to come out to greet you. This is what’s happening here. Yahweh tells John to stay inside an inner court of His Temple and not go to the outer Gentile court, because that court has been given over to God-haters.

But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations. They will trample the holy city for 42 months. (Rev. 11:2)

The holy city is Jerusalem.  Notice the reference to 42 months. That’s three and a half years. Now let’s look at an interesting passage from Daniel.

“After this period of sixty-two sets of seven, the Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing, and a ruler will arise whose armies will destroy the city and the Temple.” (Dan. 9:26)

Jesus’ death on a cross certainly seemed anticlimactic. Jesus was supposed to save Israel from Roman oppression—He was the glorious Messiah of Yahweh who was going to fix everything. Instead, He was crucified, which was as unoriginal as being gunned down is today. Scores of people were crucified by the Romans, just as scores of people are shot today. But notice how after the Anointed One dies, Yahweh predicts that the city of Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed. Yep, that has certainly been fulfilled here in John’s lifetime. What happens next in our Daniel passage?

“The end will come with a flood, and war and its miseries are decreed from that time to the very end.” (Dan. 9:26)

So, the Temple is destroyed, and shortly afterwards comes some dramatic, drawn out end of the world with all kinds of war and miseries. Yep, that’s what Yahweh has been describing here in Revelation. Let’s read on in Daniel.

“The ruler will make a treaty with the people for a period of one set of seven, but after half this time, he will put an end to the sacrifices and offerings. And as a climax to all his terrible deeds, he will set up a sacrilegious object that causes desecration, until the fate decreed for this defiler is finally poured out on him.” (Dan. 9:27)

Okay, so some evil, God-hating ruler will start off seeming nice, but then he’ll start jamming idolatrous worship down everyone’s throats by insisting that they worship some idol that he comes up with. Guess what we’re going to find popping up here in Revelation? Some evil guy with a bunch of attitude demanding that everyone worship some ugly statue of a beast. But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In real life, the Jews were initially able to strike a bargain with the Romans whereby they were excused from having to participate in certain Roman practices based on religious grounds.  But over time, Jewish-Roman relations became increasingly strained until the Romans finally put an end to sacrifices and offerings by destroying the Temple in Jerusalem.  This period of seven that is mentioned in Daniel represents the whole period of Roman oppression from the Jewish perspective.  That time gets divided into two halves: things are okay for the first 3 1/2 years, but then the second half of that seven is when things are all bad.

Here in Revelation 10, Yahweh says that for three and a half years, the outer courtyard of His symbolic Temple will be ravaged. In other words, evil will abound for a symbolic period of three and a half years as unrepentant rebels run amuck and flaunt their hatred for God. Yahweh is intentionally drawing parallels between the current events in John’s day and the end time prophecies that Yahweh spoke through Daniel.  It’s very obvious to John that he’s living in the midst of that miserable period of 3 1/2 years. When he looks around at his world, he sees evil Domitian demanding that everyone worship his nasty locust god. The Christians are getting butchered for not aligning with their evil emperor’s demands. So what exactly is Yahweh doing in the middle of this crisis? He’s working, of course. He’s calling these rambunctious demon lovers to repent. To give John a creative picture of this, Yahweh suddenly introduces two new figures to our crazy cast of characters: the infamous witnesses.

“And I will give power to My two witnesses, and they will be clothed in sackcloth and will prophesy during those 1,260 days.” (Rev. 11:3)

Notice when these prophets are active: during that period of 3 ½ years when the God haters are fruiting out. Divide 1,260 days by 30 and you get 42 months, which is 3 ½ years.  These aren’t literal numbers.  The 3 ½ years simply indicates some incomplete portion of time, whereas 7 years indicates a period of time that is complete.

Notice how the prophets are dressed in sackcloth: this was a rough burlap type material which we find being referred to all throughout the Bible. Remember that the ancient Jews were a very theatrical people who felt emotions ought to be shared with the world. So when you were really upset about something, you put on some rough and scratchy material—something that would naturally irritate your skin and be uncomfortable to wear. When people see you acting so bizarrely, they get the message that you must be extremely upset about something in order to treat yourself so roughly. Self-harming rituals were all the rage in Bible times, and this practice is still alive and well today, only it comes in different forms. Today we don’t see people walking around in scratchy tunics, but we do hear about them cutting themselves or overdosing. When we hear such things, our first thought is, “Wow, that person must have been pretty upset to do something like that to themselves.” Wearing sackcloth conveyed the same message. When prophets went around in sackcloth, it was an attention getting device that was supposed to prompt people to ask, “Hey, bro, what’s with the scratchy clothes?” Then the prophet would unload some intensely passionate speech about how angry Yahweh was because of the rebellion of His people.

These two prophets in Revelation are acting normally so far: they’re calling attention to themselves with scratchy clothes and putting out the message that God isn’t pleased. But notice how Yahweh refers to them as His witnesses. That is extremely significant language to an Old Covenant Jew, for one of the most critical principles of Yahweh’s Old Covenant judicial system was that before any man could be accused of a crime, there had to be at least two witnesses available to testify against him. Check out these rules that Yahweh laid down way back in Moses’ time:

“One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (Deut. 19:15)

“The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness.” (Deut. 17:6)

Now here in Revelation, Divine judgment is a major theme. The Jewish Christians are freaking out about being so intensely persecuted. A charge has been made by the Christians against the God haters all around them. They want justice to be upheld and their enemies to be destroyed. Judge Yahweh has taken up their case, but before any verdict can be reached, the condemning testimony of at least two witnesses must be gathered. Are things really as bad as the Christians say? Yahweh dispatches two witnesses to find out. These witnesses also function as prophets: calling out for the unsaved to repent. How will the nations respond? Well, before we get into the world’s response, Yahweh gives us this very interesting description of His two witnesses:

These two prophets are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth. If anyone tries to harm them, fire flashes from their mouths and consumes their enemies. This is how anyone who tries to harm them must die. They have power to shut the sky so that no rain will fall for as long as they prophesy. And they have the power to turn the rivers and oceans into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they wish. (Rev. 11:4-6)

Pretend you’re an ancient Jew who has grown up under the Old Covenant. Your mind is filled with stories of famous heroes from the Old Testament. When someone starts talking about a prophet with the power to turn off the rain, who do you think of? Elijah, of course. Everyone knows that Elijah was the guy who spanked rebellious Israel with a drought for three years way back in the time of evil King Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel. Elijah is so famous for his rain control that the apostle James writes in his letter:

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. (Jam. 5:17)

Now let’s ask another question. As an ancient Jew, when you hear about a prophet who can turn water into blood and strike the earth with plagues, what name comes to mind? Moses, of course. Moses is the guy who was Yahweh’s spokesman during those epic ten plagues on Egypt.

So what’s going on here? Why is Yahweh so blatantly identifying these two witnesses as a Moses and Elijah type of team? Because to the Jews, Moses was the embodiment of the Law. Moses wrote the first five books of the Old Testament, also known as the Torah. When the Jews refer to “the Book of Law” in the Bible, they mean the books Moses wrote. All serious Jews see Moses’ writings as God-breathed.

But the Old Testament is longer than five books. How about all of those other revelations from Yahweh which came through the mouths of various humans? That whole bundle of books is what the Jews call “the Prophets”. So what you call the Old Testament, the ancient Jews called the Law and the Prophets. One time Jesus was asked to summarize the entire Old Testament in a single key principle. He answered by saying:

“Love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matt. 22:37-39)

Now to Old Covenant Jews, a lot of Jesus’ teaching sounded far too radical and blasphemous. To these people, Jesus said:

“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17)

This claim was dramatically validated when Jesus caused Elijah and Moses to appear alongside of Him during that famous Transfiguration (see Know Your Bible Lesson 56: A Suicidal Savior & The Transfiguration). When James, John and Peter saw Jesus chitchatting with Moses and Elijah, it was like they were seeing all of their Scriptures saying, “Yep, He’s the Messiah we’ve been predicting for centuries.”

It’s very significant here in Revelation that Yahweh is once again pairing the concept of Old Testament Scriptures with these two powerful witnesses who are calling out to the world. While our Gods certainly do not condone this idolatrous obsession we have with the Bible today, They have always held Their own words up as greatly significant. Where we go astray is by calling idiotic comments by fools like King Solomon “God breathed.” It’s important to realize that Yahweh is not being directly quoted in much of the Old Testament. Statements He makes are interspersed by a lot of filler that human authors added in. That filler contains a lot of really wrong theology about God and foolish interpretations of the things He has said. So when Jesus exalts the testimony of Scripture in the Gospels, He is not saying, “Love the way you guys act like some pile of parchment is a greater authority than I am.” Instead, He’s saying, “Yahweh has already said volumes to you Jews, yet you’re refusing to listen. If you won’t listen to Him through Scriptures, you’re not going to listen to Him through anything else, either.” In telling a parable about a rich man who died and ended up in a nasty section of Hades, Jesus described the rich man asking if another dead man who ended up on the nice side of Hades could be sent back to preach to the rich man’s unbelieving relatives. The rich man’s idea was that a miraculous encounter with a dead man would shock his unbelieving relatives into paying attention. But in the parable, Jesus had the rich man’s request denied with this logic:

“If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” (Lk. 16:31)

Here in Revelation 10, Yahweh is playing on a similar theme. His two Scripture representing witnesses are going around preaching Yahweh’s truths to the world. What do people do when they hear God’s truth? They feel convicted of their sins. This makes them angry, and then they try to shut up the source of their conviction. Well, Yahweh is no fool. He knows that the world will try to assault His speakers of truth, just as the real Moses and Elijah were assaulted in their days, so He arms His witnesses with some supernatural advantages.

If anyone tries to harm them, fire flashes from their mouths and consumes their enemies. This is how anyone who tries to harm them must die. They have power to shut the sky so that no rain will fall for as long as they prophesy. And they have the power to turn the rivers and oceans into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they wish. (Rev. 11:5-6)

Fire that consumes enemies is an Elijah specialty. Many of us have heard the story of Elijah calling down fire on Mt. Carmel—in that case, the fire consumed a lifeless animal corpse. Yet this wasn’t the only time Elijah called down fire from heaven. In 2 Kings 1, the prophet calls down fire two more times, and each time that fire consumes a unit of fifty soldiers and their leader. In both cases, the men who were torched had come to arrest the prophet and haul him off to an evil king.

Now here in Revelation, Yahweh’s two witnesses spew fire from their mouths, they shut off the rain, they turn water into blood, and they produce all kinds of nasty plagues. This is a combination of famous acts of Divine judgment from the Old Testament. When does God start nailing us with death and terrors? When we’re aggressively defying Him. These two witnesses are portrayed as playing a Holy Spirit-type role in the ancient world: they’re convicting souls of truth, calling for repentance, and when they get nothing but flak, they break out some Divinely authorized spankings. In real life, does this mean that we should be expecting two men to someday show up on earth wielding supernatural power? Not at all. Yahweh isn’t speaking to us in this passage, and He isn’t being at all literal. The whole thing is a metaphorical picture demonstrating how Yahweh is reaching out to a rebellious world with a mix of grace and discipline. Once again, He’s showing off how good He is by giving these nasty rebels time to repent of their evil ways before they end up eternally condemned. So how do the rebels react? Is anyone saying “thank You”?

When they complete their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the bottomless pit will declare war against them, and he will conquer them and kill them. (Rev. 11:7)

Here’s another new character: the infamous beast. He comes up out of that bottomless pit that we learned about in Chapter 9—the same pit that leads to the underworld and the abode of all those nasty stinging locust demon creatures. So what’s the point here? Well, God has enemies in both the human and angelic realms. His enemies in both of these realms often align with each other. Here in this metaphorical drama, Yahweh gave His two witnesses the ability to keep their human enemies at bay, but then He let them get killed by a demonic foe who comes out of that pit. But before we get too impressed with this beast, let’s remember who it is that has the key to the pit: Yahweh and Jesus. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus was flaunting His key to Hades at John as He said:

“I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

In Chapter 9, an angel has to be given a key from either Yahweh or Jesus before he can unlock the pit to let the locust swarm out. So this beast isn’t some surprise attack. This beast that attacks God’s prophets and attempts to silence God’s Voice on earth is just another pawn in Yahweh’s perfect plan.

And their bodies will lie in the main street of Jerusalem, the city that is figuratively called “Sodom” and “Egypt,” the city where their Lord was crucified. And for three and a half days, all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will stare at their bodies. No one will be allowed to bury them. All the people who belong to this world will gloat over them and give presents to each other to celebrate the death of the two prophets who had tormented them. (Rev. 11:8-10)

Now in real life, Jesus said that the Old Testament Scriptures testified about Him–that He was the long awaited Messiah.  Jewish Christians have been doing a lot of Old Testament quoting in their efforts to convince others to align with Yahweh’s New Covenant.  But no one’s listening.  The testimony of Christians and all of the commands and prophecies in Scripture are being rejected.  As the worship of demons runs rampant in the Roman Empire, it would seem to the Christians that demons have succeeded in trampling truth to the ground.  In this vision, Yahweh’s enemies in the human realm rush to align with His angelic enemies by celebrating what the beast has done. To not bury a body in this culture was a conscious attempt to try to screw someone up in the afterlife by causing a very traumatic separation between body and soul. This is the ultimate way to say “I hate you and I hope you are miserable for all of eternity.”

Now Jerusalem was the jewel of Israel. It was supposed to be the glorious city of Yahweh, so why is she being given the nasty names of Sodom and Egypt here? Sodom was a super wicked city that Yahweh utterly destroyed back in Abraham’s time. Egypt was the nation who so viciously oppressed the Hebrew slaves after the death of Joseph and up until the time of Moses. These are not nice ways to refer to Jerusalem, but then again, Jerusalem is not being very nice to God. Was she not the site of Jesus’ crucifixion? Has she not gained a reputation as being a slaughterhouse for God’s prophets? As Jesus once lamented:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:37)

So now Yahweh’s two witnesses are lying dead in the streets of a notoriously wicked city. Have God’s enemies really succeeded in triumphing over Him on earth? Of course not. No one ever triumphs over the mighty Yahweh.

But after three and a half days, God breathed life into them, and they stood up! Terror struck all who were staring at them. Then a loud Voice from heaven called to the two prophets, “Come up here!” And they rose to heaven in a cloud as their enemies watched.

At the same time there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed a tenth of the city. Seven thousand people died in that earthquake, and everyone else was terrified and gave glory to the God of Heaven. The second terror is past, but look, the third terror is coming quickly! (Rev. 11:11-14)

The work of the two witnesses is now complete. They’ve gone out into the world and they are now able to attest that the world is utterly wicked and refusing to repent. Remember that before the witnesses were introduced, Yahweh had already gathered His followers into the court of His Temple where they have been sheltered from this chaos. This is a picture of God graciously giving rebels time to come, but then deciding that people have squandered their last opportunity. Based on the grim testimonies of these two witnesses, final judgment can now be passed. A huge earthquake strikes, leveling a section of the city. A ton of people die—notice that seven which signifies completion. Everyone who isn’t killed is filled with reverence for God. At last we’ve come to the end of the second terror, which is all associated with the sixth trumpet blast. There is now one trumpet left to go.

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in Heaven:

“The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.”

The twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones before Yahweh fell with their faces to the ground and worshiped Him. (Rev. 11:15-16)

Our choir of elders from Act 2 is brought back onto the stage to do their usual thing: fall on their faces and worship. After acknowledging the supremacy of both Yahweh and Jesus over the world, Yahweh is exalted with these words:

And they said: “We give thanks to You, Lord Yahweh, the Almighty, the One who is and who always was, for now You have assumed Your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were filled with wrath, but now the time of Your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead and reward Your servants the prophets, as well as Your holy people, and all who fear Your Name, from the least to the greatest. It is time to destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth.” (Rev. 11:17-18)

The wording of this praise song leaves much to be desired. Yahweh hasn’t “begun to reign”—He’s always reigned. The rest of it sounds like the elders are telling Yahweh what to do, but this is God’s way of explaining what’s going to happen next in this wild drama. Notice how the wrath of the world is being trumped by the wrath of God. Humans and demons have had their chance to spit in Yahweh’s face and reject His truth. Now Yahweh will grind them into the dirt.

All three of our Creators are zealous for glory, and here in Revelation we see the spotlight swinging back and forth between Yahweh and Jesus. When the book first started, Jesus was soaking up all the praise. Now the last several chapters have been starring Yahweh. Jesus is awesome. Yahweh is awesome. Do They ever tire of underscoring this point? Nope. Instead of moving on in the plot, the plot is put on hold for yet another moment of Yahweh glorification.

Then, in Heaven, the Temple of Yahweh was opened and the Ark of His Covenant could be seen inside the Temple. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed and roared, and there was an earthquake and a terrible hailstorm. (Rev. 11:19)

The sudden return of the Ark of the Covenant? Can we get anymore Old Covenant? Lightning, thunder, shaking ground—yep, that’s Yahweh’s famous signature combo. Add on a terrible hailstorm—why not? Yahweh chucked hailstorms down on countless people in the Old Testament. Yahweh is awesome, and Yahweh is LOUD—notice the reference to thunder which ROARS. Yahweh is the Almighty King, so naturally He deserves to reside in a grand Temple. In real life, the Temple has been destroyed, but Yahweh is consoling His Jewish audience by recreating an even better Temple here in this fictitious Heaven. It won’t last. By the end of the book, He’ll have thrown out the whole idea of a Temple in Heaven. But for now, it is extremely therapeutic for these Jews to bask in imagery that keeps pounding home the same message: their glorious Yahweh still reigns supreme.

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