This post offers a possible interpretation of Revelation 11:3-12 and a way of seeing the significance of this passage in discussions about the events of the end of the age.
The first time you read through the eleventh chapter of Revelation and read the account of the two witnesses (11:3-12), there will be confusion and mystery. Pretty much guaranteed. What do these two witnesses symbolize and what is the significance of the events that occur in this passage? Where does this take place? When does this take place? How are we to interpret this section of Scripture? I have explored these questions over the course of the last year as I have carefully studied the end-times passages in the Bible, and an understanding of this passage has slowly emerged.
The exegesis that follows will show the meaning of the events at the end of the age. In another post, I will also demonstrate that the persecution of the two witnesses at the end of the age closely parallels the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus in His earthly ministry.
EXEGESIS SHOWING THE MEANING OF PASSAGE
Revelation 11:3-6 – The two witnesses represent the faithful church proclaiming the gospel at the end of the age[i] in the face of persecution and opposition. Note that the two witnesses prophesy (proclaim the gospel) for 1,260 days.[ii] The faithful church is the rightful place where the gospel is proclaimed. The church is the outpost of gospel witness in every location where it exists, giving testimony to Jesus in that place. The two witnesses are called the “two olive trees” (11:4), which are the trees of Jew and Gentile together in the church, according to Romans 11:17-24. The church is the true olive tree. During the days of their prophesying (11:6), they “shut up the sky so that rain will not fall” and they “strike the earth with every plague.” This is a reference to the church’s authority with the word of God, that the church has all the authority of Moses and Elijah, the Law and the prophets. So, again, the two witnesses are the faithful church during the tribulation.
Revelation 11:7 –
When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them and overcome them and kill them. – Rev. 11:7
First, notice that the two witnesses (the faithful church) “finish their testimony.” There will come a time when the faithful church has accomplished the mission given to her by her King, a time when all the elect have been gathered in, when “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). The church has fulfilled its purpose and has finished its testimony. Only then will the beast be allowed to overcome and kill the church.
“The beast” here is the same beast mentioned in other parts of Revelation. This is THE beast, the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, the second person of the evil trinity. He is allowed to make war on the faithful church and to overcome them and kill them. This event occurs at the very end of the 42 months*. The beast has overcome and killed a significant portion of the visible church, such that the church appears utterly defeated.
Revelation 11:8-10 – There is much imagery in these three verses. The faithful church (“the two prophets” in 11:10) is visibly seen as dead (“their dead bodies will lie in the street;” “dead bodies” is mentioned three times in these verses for emphasis). Peoples and tribes and tongues and nations (the world of the unrighteous) will rejoice and celebrate (11:10) as they “look at their dead bodies for three and a half days” (11:9). The beast appears to have destroyed the church, and the world rejoices and celebrates for three and a half days. Is all lost? Has the church been annihilated? Has evil triumphed?
Revelation 11:11 – This verse is carefully worded to ensure that it alludes to Ezekiel 37:10. After the dead bodies of the two witnesses lie in the street of the great city for three and a half days (Rev. 11:11), “the breath of life from God came into them.” This is certainly pointing to the Resurrection that is described in Ezekiel 37:10: “So I prophesied, and the breath of life came into them.” After this, “they stood on their feet” (Rev. 11:11), which again refers back to Ezekiel 37:10, for there we read, “they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” What is occurring in Revelation 11:11 is the Resurrection of the dead in Christ that was foreshadowed in Ezekiel 37. Then “great fear fell upon all those who were watching them.” Well, I guess so! The reason great fear fell upon them is that they realize this sudden turn of events spells their doom. The church appeared to be safely annihilated and the beast had won the battle. Then suddenly the world’s victims rise from the dead. The people of the world realize their doom is sealed.
Revelation 11:12 – After the Resurrection, “they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here!’” The loud voice calls to mind 1 Thessalonians 4:16, when there will be “a shout with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God.” These two verses are certainly describing the same event. “Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them” (Rev. 11:12). Again, John writes the verse to remind the reader of other New Testament passages. We can see clear parallels to Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1:9, where “He (Jesus) was lifted up while they (the disciples) were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.” Also, in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, we read that “we will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” What we see, then, in this verse is the ascension of the glorified saints after their Resurrection.
The faithful church will prophesy for (relatively literal) 1,260 days in the face of fierce opposition during the tribulation at the very end of the age. When they have accomplished their mission and the preaching of the gospel has gathered in all the elect, the beast will be allowed to kill a large portion of the visible faithful church. The world will rejoice and celebrate since it seems that evil and the beast have had the final victory. The church appears dead and Christ has been defeated. But then, when all appears lost, Christ’s church is resurrected with glorified bodies and stands on its feet as a great army. These ascend to meet Christ in the air in preparation for the final battle and the slaughter of all the unrighteous.
Next time, we will look at how this parallels Christ’s earthly ministry.
SDG rmb 11/01/2021 #449
[i] This proclamation occurs during the 42 months*, the relatively literal period of time between the “thousand years” and the Last Day. Refer to my book, The Last Act of the Drama, for these definitions.
[ii] Note that 1,260 days is the equivalent of forty-two months, and is equivalent to “time, times, and half a time.” A combination of these three expressions appear five times in Revelation 11-13. Elsewhere I refer to this time period as the 42 months*.