The Temple & Two Witnesses - Revelation 11:1-14
Prayer: Lord, there is more here than we can take in easily, but please help us to take in what we are able & live out our lives with an understanding that none of these things are confusing or a surprise to you. Lord, as we see trouble all around us in the world help us to look to this book as a book of hope, knowing that no matter what troubles come you are still in control, and knowing that you care about each individual. Amen!
I want to take a moment to remind us where we are in the narrative before we continue. We are within the 3rd & & final & largest portion of the book of Revelation, a portion that started in Chapter 4, the portion that is "after these things" (meta touta). I call this the 3rd portion because that's what the Lord called it in Revelation 1:19 when He told John to write down this book.
Within this portion of Revelation we have already studied about John in the throne room of heaven, the unsealing of the 7-sealed scroll, the 144,000 sealed servants of God, and 5 of the 7 trumpets.
We are currently in the midst of studying the 6th trumpet which started at Revelation 9:13. So far since this trumpet has sounded this is what we've studied: 4 bound angels (fallen) were released in order to kill 1/3 of all remaining mankind with an army of 200 million, a mighty angel with a little scroll stood on the earth and the sea with a scroll, and John obediently took and ate the scroll because God had more for him to prophecy.
This lesson will finish the events surrounding the 6th trumpet, and will complete the second woe - the first woe is associated with the 5th trumpet & there is a third woe yet to come.
Revelation 11:1-2 - John is given a reed to be used as a measuring rod. This might sound strange to us, but there is a bamboo-like reed that grew along the Jordan river that was straight, lightweight, and grew to about 20 feet in height. It was a convenient measuring tool that was commonly used.
John is told to go and measure the temple & altar, and to count the worshipers there. He is specifically told not to measure or count the outer court because it has been given over to the Gentiles (or to the nations) to be trampled for 42 months (3 1/2 years). Is this time frame literal or figurative? I think it's literal, but there are those who don't, enough said.
To give you an idea of size, my NIV Study Bible says in the notes that the outer court is estimated to be about 26 acres in size (if a square would be about 354x354 yards).
A bit of history on the temple, because we have to ask "which temple is this?". Depending on how you count them, there are as few as 3 or as many as 7 temples, so here we go:
- Technically not a temple, the first house for God built was the Tabernacle, an elaborate portable structure built during the time of the Exodus. The plans for which were given to Moses by God.
- Solomon's temple (frequently referred to as the 1st temple). The plans for which were given to David (Solomon's father) by God, the funding provided by David, but David was not allowed by God to build this. David's son Solomon was chosen to build this temple. Said to be more beautiful even than Herod's later very elaborate temple.
- Zerubbabel's temple (referred to as the 2nd temple), built up from the ruins of Solomon's temple upon the Israelite's return from Babylonian Captivity. This was a simple structure, causing those who remembered it's predecessor to weep.
- Herod's temple (still considered the 2nd temple), was an expansion/remodel of Zerubbabel's. This was huge & quite elaborate, it is said that the stones of the temple were covered in Gold Leaf. It was known as one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was torn down after Jerusalem fell in 70 AD, and as prophesied by Jesus not one stone was left on another. It was demolished & burned, some believe this was so the Roman conquerors could take the gold.
- Tribulation Temple (?), since worship has been re-established in the midst of the Tribulation period there is believed to be a temple during that time - probably not the same as Ezekiel's temple (this might possibly be the 3rd temple). In case you think this isn't possible in our day, think twice - there are already plans drawn up for the temple.
- Millennial Temple / Ezekiel's temple (this might be the 3rd, or perhaps the 4th), detailed in the book of Ezekiel, starting in chapter 40, believed to be a temple to be built/rebuilt during the Millenium.
- Temple in Heaven - which is actually the original for which the pattern was set for all the earthly structures.
So, which temple is this? At this point in our narrative John is recording things future to his time on earth, but even at the time of John's writing Herod's temple was already destroyed. So the temple in question is one that is yet to be built in our time (if it's a literal temple), is it Ezekiel's temple? Is it a temple specific to the Tribulation? Good Question!!
Some think it is a temple in heaven. I think this idea doesn't merit consideration simply because the outer court & holy city (Jerusalem) are "trampled" by Gentiles (or nations).
Some think it is a figurative temple, they point to scriptures like Ephesians 2:19-22 which describes a holy temple who's foundation is the apostles & prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone, and built out of the people of God - a temple where God dwells. Though this is a possibility, again the reference to the outer court & holy city being trampled leads me to believe this is not the case.
Getting back to the potential for building a temple today, there are issues that need to be overcome - primarily the Muslim control of the temple mount. In 1967 Israel regained portions of Jerusalem, but not the temple mount. There is a group of devout Jews that have formed the Temple Institute, a group dedicated to rebuilding the temple. They have already made most of the implements needed to reinstate temple worship, have trained up priests to serve in the temple, and have elaborate plans made for the temple buildings themselves. Many point to the Muslim Dome of the Rock as being in the way of a temple being rebuilt, and this is the location that the Temple Institute has chosen as the location of their temple, but this might not be the actual site of the original temple. There are 3 locations on the temple mount that people believe are the original site of the temple:
- Traditional Location - this is the location currently favored by the Temple Institute. This would place the temple squarely on top of the current location of the Dome of the Rock. Some believe that the Dome of the Rock was placed there specifically to obscure the spot where the Ark of the Covenant would have been located, but this is speculation likely brought on by prejudice (more on the history in a moment).
- Northern Conjecture - located to the North of the Traditional Location, would place the Dome of the Rock in the outer court. This location came in style a while back, but fell out of style because of some problems when compared to historical accounts.
- Southern Conjecture - located to the South of the Traditional Location, and a position held by many Bible scholars. Historical information tells us that King Agrippa could see into the area of the sacrifices, this would place the temple toward the south. Also, there is historical information about an aqueduct that fed into the temple, and again this would place the temple on the southern portion of the temple mount - any other location on the temple mount would make it nearly impossible (because of altitude) to get water via aqueduct. If this is the correct location there are no current religious structures in the way of the temple being rebuilt at this site - though I'm sure it would receive objections, especially from the Muslim world.
70 AD - Jerusalem fell, the temple was destroyed.
135 AD - To keep control of the locals the Romans (under Hadrian) demolished the city of Jerusalem & built a roman city on top. At this time a Temple to Jupiter was built over the site of the Jewish Temple.
Jerome - an ancient Historian, noted that an Equestrian Statue of Hadrian was placed over the Holy of Holies (or Most Holy Place).
There is a Temple to Jupiter designed & built in the same timeframe by the same architect in Baalbek Lebanon (which was also under Hadrian). If you lay the plans for that over the current temple mount, you find that some buildings today still reflect the locations of buildings from the Temple to Jupiter. The buildings in that location have been destroyed by earthquakes & rebuilt, they were overrun by Christians in the 3rd century & used for Christian purposes. They were later overrun by Muslims & repurposed for their uses. When you overlay these plans on the current structures it places the Holy of Holies where there currently is a fountain, and at the location of the Southern Conjecture.
Now that we've gotten through the history, why was John asked to measure it? We're not given the measurements, only that he was supposed to measure it. There are a couple of thoughts here, one is that measuring was frequently done for the purpose of protection or preservation - and God may have been indicating his protection or preservation of the worshipers. Another thought is that the measuring is being done for the purpose of reconstruction. In any case we don't know why, we can only guess.
Revelation 11:3-6 - These two witnesses, spoken of in only a handful of verses, have been the subject of much debate. Are the literal? Are they figurative? I'm going to treat them as literal so we don't get hung up to much here, but keep in mind there are those that think they are figurative of Israel & the Church, or of the Old & New Testament.
Who are these witnesses? These are the major views for those who think these are literal people:
- Witness #1: There are many scriptures that point to one of them being Elijah, so most scholars who take this literally have Elijah as one (though it may be one like John the Baptist who comes in the Spirit of Elijah).
- Witness #2: For the second witness there is more argument, here are the possibilities:
- John himself - since he has just eaten the scroll & was told he needed to prophecy. This is one of the weakest positions, and would have John witness his own death (later in the chapter).
- Enoch - the other character besides Elijah that was taken up & never died. Those who think this base it on Hebrews 9:27 which speaks of man being appointed to only die once - yet we know of a couple examples in scripture of people raised from the dead who died again later. The Hebrews passage is really meant to speak against reincarnation.
- Moses - this is based upon his appearance at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17), and upon the powers that are described for the two witnesses (more on that in a bit). Also, along with Elijah, he is believed to have an unfinished ministry.
- Some think these are simply two faithful who have on them the Mantle (Spirit / Power) of Moses & Elijah.
The two have power to prophesy for 1,260 days - again 3 1/2 years, believed to be 1st half of the tribulation. If they have indeed been witnessing for the 1st half of the tribulation then they've been around through all the stuff up to this point (starting at chapter 4). They are clothed in sackcloth - the garb of a prophet & also the garb of the grieving.
They are called the two Olive Trees - perhaps because they represent Israel or the Old Testament. They are also called the two Lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth - perhaps because they represent the true Church (2 of the churches in Revelation 2-3 received no condemnation) or the New Testament.
Their specific powers (other than prophecy):
- Fire at their command to devour their enemies (Elijah) - anyone who wants to harm them must die (v5)
- Shut up the sky so there is no rain (Elijah)
- Turn waters to blood (Moses)
- Variety of Plagues (Moses)
Revelation 11:7-10 - When they have finished - God is protecting them & has appointed not only the period of time they will witness, but the specific time at which they will be attacked & killed. Once their testimony is complete & they have finished the work God sent them to do they are vulnerable, a new creature comes on the scene - the beast from the Abyss, perhaps the one who was in charge of the Abyss. This beast attacks, overpowers, and kills them.
This happens in a city figuratively called Sodom & Egypt, but we know from verse 8 saying "where their Lord was crucified" that this is Jerusalem. Jerusalem is spoken of figuratively in the Old Testament as being Spiritual Sodom (Isaiah 3:8-9 & Jeremiah 23:14) and as being Spiritual Egypt (Ezekiel 23:1-4), I'll let you look up those references for yourself.
They will lie dead in the street of Jerusalem for 3 1/2 days, and everyone in the world (every people, tribe, language, nation) will gaze on them. Until modern-day times we couldn't conceive of this being possible, but in our current digital age we can see news events live around the world. The peoples of the world will refuse to bury them, and instead they will celebrate. There are some even today, and their numbers are growing, who will be so relieved to no longer feel the guilt of the witness of believers that they will celebrate in a manner like our modern-day Christmas (think of the irony). This is the only time in the book of Revelation when the world rejoices.
Revelation 11:11-12 - God will not leave them on the street any longer, after 3 1/2 days He breaths life back into them, they are resurrected in full view of all the people of the earth - and the people of the earth are struck with terror. God then calls these two witnesses up to Himself, they are raptured up to heaven while the world watches.
Revelation 11:13-14 - The witnesses are removed, the sixth trumpet & second woe are completed with a severe earthquake that destroys 1/10th (or a tithe) of the city. Seven thousand are killed as a result of the earthquake in the city, and the survivors give glory to God in the midst of their terror - is this a true repentance on their part? Unknown.
Your Summer-School homework assignment: Before we meet again I'd encourage you to study what we've covered so far on your own. You can use the blog to help you if you'd like: DancingInTheWord.blogspot.com, look for the tab on Revelation. That tab not only contains links to all the lessons we've had so far (this is the 16th) but also gives references to some of the materials I've studied. After you've spent time studying in detail go back through once again and simply read Revelation 1:1-11:14. This assignment should take you all Summer, and will prepare you to continue when we pick back up in the Fall. If along the way you have any questions you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or save them for our first day back in Fall which will be a day for review as well as Q&A.
Prayer: Lord, this book is so thick with imagery and details that it's hard to digest in more than a little nibble at a time, yet at the same time if looked at as a singularity it is a book of purpose & promise & hope. Help us to not loose sight of the message of hope in this book, a message that tells us You are in control, a message that tells us You have already determined the outcome & You will be victorious. We don't know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future! Amen!!