I want to offer some thoughts on Revelation ch11 vv1-8
This passage talks about the experience of the church under oppression.
And I'm going to be asking the question; who are "the two witnesses"?
The chapter begins with an echo of one of Ezekiel's visions. Ezekiel was shown an angel measuring out the future Temple of the Lord, and John is now
told to do the same.
Ezekiel's Temple was being measured out because the Lord was going to return to it (Ezekiel ch43 vv1-5).
So the Temple in this chapter is being prepared for the Lord's return? So far, so good.
But there's an exception. The court outside the Temple must be left unmeasured, because it's going to be "given over to the nations", which seems
to be another way of saying that they will "trample over the holy city".
This resembles the prediction made in Luke, that Jerusalem will be "trodden down by the Gentiles (Luke ch21 v24), which may apply to the Roman
conquest of A.D.70.
And both passages can be seen as echoes of Isaiah's complaint, which presumably refers to the Babylonians;
"Thy holy people possessed the sanctuary a little while; our adversaries have trodden it down"- Isaiah ch63 v18
But there's also an echo of a different kind of unwelcome presence;
"Who requires of you this trampling on my courts?"- Isaiah ch1 v12
This is part of God's complaint against his own people, that their lives of immorality and injustice and unfaithfulness have been invalidating their
The implication is that the holy place in this chapter is being overrun in both these ways.
We're told that the "trampling" will last for "forty-two months".
This ties in the event with the Beast, because the Beast is exercising authority (ch13 v5) for the same time-period.
So the "trampling" takes place at the same time as- or is another way of describing- the "war on the saints".
But IF the "war on the saints" belongs to a future time (which is the assumption I've been following),
And IF the "trampling over the holy city" is to be identified with the "war on the saints",
THEN the "trampling" belongs to that future time as well, which means detaching it from the events of A.D.70. It refers to an event
to the Roman conquest, not the conquest itself.
On the assumption that the "trampling" is the "war on the saints", we know what's happening from ch13. The second Beast is compelling people to
receive the Mark, and putting them to death for failing to worship the first Beast.
But we must come back to the point that the Temple proper escapes all this. It was not "given over to the nations", but measured out for God. So
what exactly is meant by this image?
We must consider the New Testament understanding of "the Temple". One of the best explanations comes from Paul, and I can't improve on my summary
in a prevous thread.
He's developing the metaphor that the Christian community is like a building, and then he draws attention to the fact that this "building" has a
"Do you not know that you are God's temple, and that God's Spirit dwells in you?"- 1 Corinthians ch3 v16
(This is "you" in the plural, referring to the local community. The better-known verse about individual bodies comes later in the letter)
In the context, this is part of Paul's campaign against divisiveness. He's about to observe that anyone who breaks up Christian unity is effectively
guilty of demolishing a sacred building.
But the insight has permanent value.
The indwelling of the Spirit within the Christian community itself is enough to make it the true "temple of God".
So the Beast has the ability to persecute the church. He might be able to control the outward structures of the church for his own purposes, as I
suggested once before, and gain co-operation from the leadership and some of the members. He could be "trampling" the church in these different
But all these things are nothing more than the "outer court" of the church. That first verse seems to be telling us that the spiritual core of the
temple would remain intact and untouchable in the faithfulness of believers. It could not be overrun by the Beast, any more than it could be overrun
by the Romans.
They would be refusing to take the Mark.
If Christian meetings, or unapproved Christian meetings, were forbidden, they might be meeting in secret, always wondering which of their "brethren"
could be invited without risking betrayal, always fearing hostile and watchful neighbours. ("They're holding a party next door, and it's too
But there's also a more public response to the Beast, in the appearance of the "two witnesses", given power to prophesy during the same period
(described as "1260 days", but this is just another version of the "forty-two months).
What can we discover about these witnesses?
One set of clues can be found in the power they've got available to them.
When the people disregarded the warnings of Jeremiah, and asserted that the Lord would do nothing and that his word was not in the prophets, the
Lord's respnse was to say to Jeremiah;
"Because they have spoken this word, behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall devour them"-
Jeremiah ch5 v14.
The point being that Jeremiah's warnings of judgement would be vindicated.
That power is visualised in the case of the two witnesses- which implies a similar promise.
Elijah was able, on one occasion, to shut up the sky so that no rain might fall, and so can the witnesses.
Moses was able to turn the waters into blood and bring down plagues, and so can the witnesses (but this is in the middle of the "seven trumpets", so
these things will be happening anyway).
If they have the powers of Moses and Elijah, does this mean that they are, in a literal sense, Moses and Elijah?
I think not, because they're sharing those powers between them (and they're also sharing the power offered to Jeremiah, which is one too many).
I suggest, instead, that these powers are an indirect way of telling us that the two witnesses are resuming the tasks
of Moses and Elijah.
The chief task of Moses was to stand up against the oppression of God's people coming from hostile power.
The chief task of Elijah was to stand up against the temptation of God's people coming from alien religion.
The external danger and the internal danger to the integrity of the community.
The seven churches addressed at the beginning of the book were being warned about the proximity of both kinds of danger.
Similarly the Beast would be offering both kinds of danger, and the situation would require both kinds of witness.
Wearing the sackcloth that indicates mourning and repentance, they would also, presumably, be resuming Jeremiah's warnings of oncoming judgement.
The other important clue is the information that the two witnesses are "the two olive trees and the two lampstands which stand before the Lord of the
The two olive trees appear for the first time in Zechariah, and Zechariah's told to identify them with the two "anointed ones".
For Zecharaiah's purposes, the two "anointed ones" are the king and the high priest. That is to say, they are Zerubbabel and Joshua (though
Zerubbabel can't officially be called the king, because they're now subjects of the Persian empire).
If the two olive trees are "the king and the high priest", what does that mean in the New Testament?
The first obvious answer is that both terms refer to Christ.
But the combination recurs in the scene in heaven found in chs4&5.
The elders around the throne are kings- we know that, because they're wearing crowns.
But they're also priests- we know that because there are twenty-four of them, which is the number of the Old Testament priestly families.
These two details symbolise what they later say about God's people, that Christ has ransomed them and has made them "a kingdom and priests for our
God" ("kings and priests", in some texts and translations).- ch5 v10
This is leading me towards the conclusion that the "two witnesses" are really a symbol of the church at large
in their two-fold status as "kings and priests" in Christ.
and giving the two-fold testimony of Moses and Elijah.
It's very telling that the Greek word for "witness" has become the English word "martyr".
This is the kind of environment where one leads on to the other.
We're told in a later chapter that the Beast would be able to make war on the saints and to overcome them.
v7 adds the word "kill" to that statement.
So if the "witnesses" are drawn from the church at large (which is all I'm suggesting), then the martyrs too will be drawn from the church at
And where is the place where they die?
Allegorically, it is called Sodom or Egypt- a place of sin and persecution.
The place "where their Lord was crucified", taken literally, would mean Jerusalem.
But in the rest of Revelation, the phrase "great city" belongs to Babylon, and therefore to Rome.
So the identification seems to be ambiguous.
One possible solution is to suppose that John's understanding of the "great city" is like John Bunyan's understanding of that "Vanity Fair",
where Christian and Faithful were put on trial. That is to say, it does not indicate any particular city, but rather indicates "the World", seen as
a city. Thus it would be "the World" that crucified the Lord, and "the World" that persecutes his followers.
In any case, if I've already interpreted the two witnesses as "Christians all over the world", the place where they die has to be "all over the
world", if only for logistic reasons.
But the rejoicing of their enemies is premature. We're told by Paul that the "dead in Christ"- implicitly including the previous martyrs- will be
raised from the dead when Christ returns. However, this is not the time- and I don't have the space- for a debate about the timing of these things.
[edit on 29-8-2010 by DISRAELI]