Revelation 11 Commentary

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v.1-2 “John’s term for ‘temple’ here is naos, the word that in the Greek translation of ancient Israel’s Scripture generally designates the most sacred parts of the temple, not the entire building complex […] Given the whole context of this passage […] the naos represents the church as the faithful remnant of Israel (included grafted-in Gentile Christians).  The trampling of the outer courts then depicts the rule of the evil, one, who misleads the rest of the Jewish people, the end-time remnant who eventually understands and repents (11:8, 13).”[1]

“The most likely symbolic interpretation of the act of measuring here is a promise of preservation, as in the measuring of Jerusalem (Ps. 48:12-13, Zech. 2:1-2) or the temple (Ezek. 40-42, esp. 40:3) […] Most important however, no measurements are given here; this defers the mention of the measuring rod until 21:16, when John begins to measure the gloriously massive new Jerusalem, which is shaped like the Most Holy Place”[2]

vv.2-3 42 months… 1,260 days “These numbers and the phrase ‘a time, times and  half a time’ (12:14), all refer to 3½ years.  They stem from prophecies in Daniel 7:25 and 9:27, prophecies initially fulfilled when Antiochus IV (Epiphanes), king of Syria, subdued Jerusalem for 3 ½ years beginning in 168 B.C.  During this period the temple was desecrated and the Jewish people were ordered to abandon their faith.  Thus, John uses these numbers to symbolize a coming time of intense distress for the church.”[3]

v. 3 Two witnesses “ The two witnesses bring to mind Moses and Elijah, who were able to turn the waters into blood (v.6; see Exodus 7:17), call fire that devours their enemies (v.5; see 2 Kings 1:10) and shut up the sky so that it will not rain (v.6; see 1 Kings 17:1).  Moses and Elijah may represent the Law and the Prophesy , both of which give testimony to Christ (Matt. 17:2-3).  The Hebrew people held that at least two witnesses were needed to establish the truth of legal testimony (Deut. 19:15; John 8:17).”[4]

vv.3-6 “The most common view is that the two witnesses represent the prophetic witness of the church. […] If indeed Revelation presents the two witnesses as the church, the biblical allusions provide a pattern for the church’s prophetic missions:  ‘for those whose witness is greater thing even than Moses’ or Elijah’s and against whom the beast musters greater forces…”[5]

“The witnesses are authorized to prophesy, that is, to speak God’s message by his Spirit and on his behalf, like ancient Israel’s prophets.  They wear sackcloth, a sign of mourning and self-humiliation, often specifically the mourning of repentance.  This contrasts starkly with the gaiety that follows after their deaths (11:10), suggesting that the world would rather enjoy deception than hear unpleasant truth.” [6]

v.4 “The reference to the ‘two olive trees and the two lampstands’ is an allusion to Joshua and Zerubbabel in Zechariah’s vision, who were also said ‘to serve the Lord of all the earth’ (Zech 4:1-6a, 10b-14). The whole import of Zechariah’s vision was to strengthen the two leaders by reminding them of God’s resources and to vindicate them in the eyes of the community as they pursued their God-given tasks. Thus John’s message would be that the witnesses to Christ who cause the church to fulfill her mission to burn as bright lights to the world will not be quenched (cf. Rev 1:20; 2:5).”[7]

v. 5 “Fire is understood symbolically as judgment from God; and since it proceeds from the witnesses’ mouths, we understand that their message of judgment will eventually be fulfilled by God’s power (Gen 19:23 f.; 2Sam 22:9; Ps 97:3). Their Lord gives them immunity from destruction until they complete their confirmation of God’s saving deed in Christ. This assures the people of God that no matter how many of its chosen saints are oppressed and killed, God’s witness to Christ will continue until his purposes are fulfilled.”[8]

vv.7-14 “They die at the Antichrist’s hand, but in their very martyrdom they overcome him.  Cutting-edge witness always demands the threat of suffering, and Christian witness and suffering together must precede the end […] In the final analysis, the saints overcome the world by accepting martyrdom without compromise[…]”[9]

v.8 “’The great city’ (11:8) may refer to the ungodly world as a whole (i.e., Babylon), envisioned in John’s day as Rome; after all, representatives of all peoples suggests the empire.  But the reference to the place of Jesus’ crucifixion presumably specifies Jerusalem […] John’s insight regarding the names of the city is not ‘figuratively…Sodom and Egypt’, but literally, ‘Spiritually’ – that is, by the

Spirit, who inspires prophets to understand God’s revelations […]‘Sodom’ was a prophetic title for Jerusalem that implied its judgment (Isa. 1:9-10; Jer. 23:14, Lam. 4:6)”[10]

v. 9 “That the witnesses lie in the street indicates that they remain unburied, receiving what was considered the most shameful treatment in the ancient world, normally reserved for the most vile of criminals.”[11]

“[…] while death cannot silence the church’s witness (cf. Matt. 16:18), martyrdom frequently accompanies its prophetic ministry.”[12]

“The witnesses are protected for the duration of their ministry (11:5) but die at the end (11:7).  This may provide a way to show that God will preserve his church throughout the age for the sake of their witness, but that as the universal proclamation of the gospel is fulfilled, the world finally appears to crush the church through massive martyrdoms[…]”[13]

“If the two witnesses are the church, they provide a direct model for us […] We must therefore be Spirit-empowered witnesses to the world, ready to pay any cost and utterly dependent on God’s power to accomplish his purposes […] More clearly, like prophetic voices in the Bible, we must sometimes stand virtually alone, if need be, to challenge the wrongs of our day.  Most often we stand as voices for the truth of God’s message in Christ.  By reaching people for Christ and discipling them into mature witnesses (Matt. 28:19-20), we can multiply our impact many times over.”[14]

vv.11-13 “In the end God vindicates his servants in the sight of the very ones who ridiculed them; such vindication is also a frequent biblical pattern (Ps. 23:5), though we do not always live to see it individually.”[15]

“[…] if we believe our Lord’s teaching, we must work to get the church ready for suffering, even martyrdom, if that becomes the necessary price of our witness to those who do not wish to hear (Rev. 2:10; cf. John 12:25-26; 15:18-21).”[16]

v.13 “The earthquake is God’s further sign of the vindication of his servants (cf. 6:12). But unlike the earthquake under the sixth seal, this one produces what appears to be repentance: ‘The survivors … gave glory to the God of heaven.’ The opposite response in 16:9, ‘they refused to repent and glorify him,’ seems to confirm that 11:13 speaks of genuine repentance (cf. 14:7; 15:4). […] Verse 13 shows that even in the midst of judgment, God is active in the world to save those who repent. If there is such hope in the terrible time of final judgment, how much more now! God has not abandoned the human race, regardless of the recurring waves of unbelief.”[17]

v.15-19 “The kingdom ‘of our Lord and of his Christ’ (11:15) probably recalls the language of Psalm 2:2, where the nations challenge them but will ultimately be crushed…”[18]

“The wrath of the nations in 11:18 recalls the raging of the nations against God and his anointed king in Psalm 2:1-2, which is in turn met by God’s wrath (Ps. 2:12).  Here their wrath […]is met by God’s ‘wrath’ on the Day of Judgment (11:18; cf. 6:16).”

“Jewish tradition also emphasized the rewards God would give his people at the time of the end (11:18; cf. 22:12).  Contrary to some Christian attempts to denigrate Jewish tradition, reward is no less a Christian concept, though the works it rewards are impossible apart from the grace experienced in Christ (Matt. 5:11, 46; 6:1; Mark 9:41; 1 Cor. 3:8, 14; 9:17-18; 2 John 8).  Everyone, both righteous and wicked, receive their rewards at this time (Rev. 11:18).”[19]

v.19 “[…] since he is clearly referring to a heavenly temple and ark, which is symbolic of the new covenant established by the death of Christ. As the way into the holiest was barred under the old covenant to all except the high priest, now full and immediate access for all, as well as a perfect redemption, has been secured by Christ’s death (Heb 9:11-12; 10:19-22).”[20]

“In v. 19 the kingdom of God is seen retrospectively as having fully come. Yet its coming will be elaborated in chapters 20 to 22. Prospectively, this sight of the ark of the covenant also prepares us for the following chapters, which concern the faithfulness of God to his covenant people. As the ark of the covenant was the sign to Israel of God’s loyal love throughout their wilderness journeys and battles, so this sign of the new covenant will assure the followers of Christ of his loyal love through their severe trial and the attack by the beast. ‘Flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder’ call our attention to God’s presence and vindication of his people (cf. comments on 6:12; 8:5).”[21]


[1] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 288.

[2] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 289.

[3] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1721.

[4] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1721.

[5]Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 293.

[6] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 294.

[7] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 11:4

[8] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 11:5

[9] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 294.

[10] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 294.

[11] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 295.

[12] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 296.

[13] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 296.

[14]Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 300.

[15]Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 302-303.

[16] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 302.

[17] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 11:13

[18] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 305.

[19]Craig S. Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1960) 305.

[20] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 11:19.

[21] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 11:19.

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