Read Revelation 11
Chapter 11 opens with a rather confusing series of events and numbers that jump out at us with very little context. John is told to measure the Temple of God, though we are not told the results of such a measurement. He is also told to not include the outer court where the Gentiles would be. Given the Old Testament understanding of how the Temple functioned, “outsiders” were not allowed to the inner parts of the temple because they were both unclean and not God’s people.
Ezekiel is asked to do a much similar thing in a vision he has of the restoration of the Temple. In Ezekiel’s vision, God is communicating to Him that eventually, their exile will be over and the Temple, as well as the city of Jerusalem, will be restored. For the people of Israel, this meant that their connection to God would also be restored. John is seeing a similar series of events, however, in the book of Revelation, this is happening on a much greater scale, perhaps as a foreshadowing to the end of Revelation when everything is restored and the dwelling of God is here on earth with humankind. Not including the court of the Gentiles, then, is an indicator that in this time, sadly, there will be those who refuse to acknowledge God. As such, they are excluded from God’s presence.
We are told, however, that the Gentiles (which is a metaphor for anyone who is not included in the people of God) will be loosed on the “holy city” for a period of time. Much of the timeframe imagery comes from the book of Daniel, chapters 7 and 12. In these visions, which are similar in nature and recorded in the same literary style as Revelation, there is a period of time in which the enemies of God will be given a sort of greater liberty to oppress the people of God. Some interpretations indicate that this is a very specific time known as the tribulation and there is speculation about whether or not the church would even be present during it (depending on your view of the rapture). However, Scripture is fairly clear that this time will involve the oppression of God’s people so any interpretation that involves the absence of God’s people is suspect, at best.
There have been many periods of time throughout history where God’s people, whether Israel or the Church, have faced increased persecution and oppression. At the time of John’s writing, persecution of the Church (and of the Jews) was wildly out of control. Scripture does, however, put a time limit on this. While this (or these) period(s) of time are unpleasant, they are also a herald of greater things to come and draw our attention to a greater hope and peace in Jesus Christ.
One of the greatest questions of this chapter is “who are the two witnesses” and “what do they represent?” These two have often been characterized as being similar to the two pillars of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah. For some, this carries with it the representation of both the Law and the Prophets, a summary of the Old Testament. It is also possible that these two represent God’s people both before and after Christ, a sort of Israel and the Church witnessing to God’s love and power. A bit more of a stretch could be Jesus’ testimony to the two greatest commandments, love God and love your neighbor, against which no testimony or blasphemy can stand.
The fire that comes from their mouths is reminiscent of the fire which God used on several occasions in both the story of Moses and that of Elijah, to lead and guide as well as to show power and destroy the enemy. Perhaps this is indicative of the power of the true Gospel testimony that they carry, whoever they are. These two are also given power over creation similar to that carried by Moses (the 10 plagues) and Elijah (drought for many years). Whether or not this means that the two witnesses are indeed Moses and Elijah, I don’t know. Perhaps this imagery is signaling the power of their testimony and God’s power over all things.
Here we are also introduced to the beast for the first time. We will talk about this character more in later chapters, however, it is the first time that we see a major opponent to God’s people, an antichrist figurehead if you will. The beast comes from the Abyss, the same place the demonic legion came from a couple of chapters ago, indicating and confirming its demonic origin. After a given time of protected witnessing, the two witnesses are killed by the beast. Their deaths, however, are not permanent as they experience resurrection by God’s power and then are taken up into God’s presence.
Finally, returning to the trumpet judgments, the seventh and final trumpet is blown and with it comes an announcement that Jesus Christ will reign on the earth forever and ever. At this point, the doors of the Temple that John was measuring swung open and we see the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of the very presence of God. This draws its meaning and imagery not only from the Old Testament tabernacle and temple but also in the event of the Temple curtain being torn in two at the moment of Jesus death. This event indicates that there is no longer a divide between God and humanity because Jesus has bridged that gap through His death and resurrection. He, now, is Lord of all and is the mediator of the covenant of God.