Note: This essay discusses the Two Witness from the viewpoint of Revelation 11. The two witnesses in Revelation are actually a picture taken from Zechariah 4 which is discussed here.
By this point in Revelation many of the historicist commentators have either largely given up or tied themselves into increasingly intricate knots. The reason is that these verses contain lots of high quality detail that simply cannot be readily spiritualized away into references to the state of the Christian church. The pre-tribulation commentators have a far simpler time as they have far less interpretation to attempt. In this essay I aim to lay out a very straightforward exposition of these verses that I hope will help those that read it.
In the opening two verses we find John given a rod to measure a temple. As Adam Clark and John Wesley point out this strongly suggests a real physical temple. Wesley also suggests agreeing with Matthew Henry that this temple is similar to the one Ezekiel saw. Certainly the idea of measuring it with a rod seems to be compatible. But this interpretation completely ignores verse two that says that the holy city is going to be trampled under foot for three and a half years. In fact Ez 44 makes is clear that there will be no pollution of either the sanctuary of the people within it. We know that in later chapters this sanctuary gets heavily polluted, so it is not Ezekiel's millennial temple.
What we have here is a temple built by the Jewish nation as part of a pact with the 'prince that shall come' of Daniel 9. As part of this deal the Jews are clearly to accommodate the gentiles a little, which is why the outer court is provided.
I suggest the key to the measuring is the seen in the detail that it is not simply the building to be measured, but also those that dwell inside. During the first half of the tribulation there is to be a revival of the Jewish religion; in the latter half of the tribulation the truth of that religion is going to be measured through persecution. It is this fact that is being noted here.
The next interesting issue becomes the identity of the two witnesses. That they are men and not angels is shown from their mortality and resurrection. Most pre-tribulation commentators are agreed on the identity of the first: he is Elijah. There are a number of reasons for this identification:
The second is more problematic. Many plump for Moses. The main arguments for are his predisposition for turning water into blood, his experience in harassing the Egyptians with plagues, and his accompaniment of Elijah on the mount of transfiguration. However I think the second witness is not Moses: it is Enoch for the following reasons: -
Who ever they were they clearly have a clear path to witness for God for forty-two months. There will be some that try to prevent the witness but they will have the power to continue.
Their eventual demise appears to come at the hand of the beast although it is clearly specified that this only happens when their testimony is complete.
The beast rising from the abyss can be interpreted in many ways but I believe Rev 13:2 gives the clue. The beast from the sea will be seen to have a deadly wound that has been healed. I suggest that at some point towards the end of the first half of the tribulation he receives this deadly wound. This could be some 'normal' assassination attempt or it could even have been a wound inflicted by these two witnesses. But then I believe this beast rises from the dead. Either he does not have genuine life as he arises (as only God can give that) or his death didn't quite happen and this is a fake. Arisen from the dead and energized by Satan this beast then mounts an assault on the two witnesses; and God allows him to win.
The commentators again disagree on the identity of the great city offering Rome, Babylon, mystery Babylon and Jerusalem as alternatives. As we are told it was the city our Lord was crucified in the latter is the only viable alternative. In some ways this makes it even more startling that Spiritually it speaks of corruption (Sodom) and worldliness (Egypt).
That the world gloats over the victory is clear from the passage. One point of verse 9 I cannot resist pointing out. For years the commentators pointed out that it would be impossible for everyone to watch two bodies lying in Jerusalem. Of course we now have TV so this is easy. If only we would learn that Revelation is going to make good simple sense once we wait long enough to see it happen.
I love the detail in the timing. You could image people getting a little nervous around the third day. They would have known that the Lord rose on the third day and they might have been concerned that the witnesses would to. But they didn't. Twelve hours into the fourth day everyone would be convinced of victory: and then the witnesses are raised and called into heaven. This has finality about it. They could have gone on witnessing; but that phase is now past.
The final trumpet, or final woe, is almost a complete anticlimax or a resounding finale dependant entirely upon your faith. To an external observer, and most of the earth would have been externally observing, the seventh trumpet went with a whimper. Nothing happened. The trumpet sounded and there were no thunderstorms or earthquakes. Nothing.
From the point of view of the elders and indeed the rest of the multitude in heaven the job was now over. God had finished his declaration and therefore it was as if the result had already been accomplished. The wording is past tense: 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our God' (italics mine).
After the celebration the temple of God in heaven is opened so that the contents can be seen. There is then a collection of events upon earth although we are not told of any devastation being caused.
I think we have seen that looking ahead this chapter is fairly easy to explain even if one or two details cannot be asserted dogmatically this side of the event. In closing I would like to go back to the beginning. Remember the rod. The temple and those in were being measured. In some ways they have an advantage over us. By this time our measurement will be complete. We will have our rewards. Let us serve our Lord now remembering that the eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the evil and the good.