Revelation 11 starts with the measuring of the temple in Jerusalem. This looks like the prophet Ezekiel, bringing God’s plumbline to the temple in Jerusalem, before Babylon’s invasion. It also resembles Jesus, who visited the temple and found it wanting. The criteria Jesus used was that the temple was supposed to be serving the gentiles, but instead it was filled with self-serving. It failed to reflect God’s image, who came to serve the poor and the world.
This passage in Rev 11 is a good indicator of the date in which John wrote the letter. The temple was still standing in Jerusalem, so it must have been before AD 70. In fact, there is no book in the New Testament that testifies of the destruction of the temple as past tense. It would seem from this alone, as well as from other recent scholarship, that the whole cannon of the New Testament was completed before Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70. One would think it unlikely that Jewish styled authors would have been writing after that date, and there is no doubt that all texts in the New Testament were written in Hebrew style, having a full familiarity with the topography and grammar of Hebrew life prior to AD 70.
On this debate, some say that the temple John was measuring in Rev 11 was a symbolic temple, and that John was not meaning to indicate that the actual temple was still standing in Jerusalem at that time. They say it was like the symbolic temple Ezekiel measured in the latter chapters of Ezekiel. Ezekiel spoke of two temples, one that was standing in Jerusalem during Ezekiel’s earlier ministry, which Ezekiel surveyed before its judgement. The latter temple Ezekiel spoke of was symbolic of the new creation. The mention of the temple in Rev 11 was a survey of the temple before its destruction by Rome. This temple at the opening of Rev 11 is not the symbolic new creation “temple.”
John was then told that Jerusalem would be under siege for 42 months. This is 3 and ½ years, and this corresponds to the time of the Roman siege of Jerusalem from AD 66 to AD 70, just prior to the destruction of the temple.
Speculations can be never ending here. Some may even claim the temple in Rev 11 is to be a rebuilt temple in the days still ahead of us. This misconstrues the entire message of Revelation as a futuristic one about Israel. The idea of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem today is a nationalistic idea and it has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. It just breeds old covenant hostility, just like the zealots of Jesus’ day tried to do.
Nothing in the teachings of Jesus, or in the Revelation, or in any other book of the bible, when taken by the meaning when they were written, indicate such an interpretation. For example, when Paul wrote in Thessalonians about the “man of sin” blaspheming in the temple, he was speaking of Rome and the temple standing in Jerusalem in Paul’s own day. Daniel also said nothing of a “futuristic interpretation.” The angel told John this was to happen in his own day.
Next in Rev 11 are the two witnesses. They have authority to witness in the midst of severe persecution, also for 42 months. This chapter is the beginning section in which the work of satan through the beast, the Roman Empire, is described. It was a joint work, with the Roman beast operating in league with the second beast, which we shall see was Jerusalem at that time. Together, these were persecuting the believers. The period for the two witnesses spoken of is 1,260 days, which again is 42 months, or 3 and ½ years.
This 3 and 1/2 years corresponds to the persecution which Nero brought upon the church. In Flavius Josephus’ work, the persecution began when Nero burnt down Rome and blamed the Christians for the fire. This began an empire wide policy of killing Christians. This was the most brutal persecution that Rome ever brought against the church. The 3 and ½ years of this persecution ended when Nero died in AD 68.
So, who were the two witnesses? This text was written in the paradigm of the conflict between Elijah and Jezebel. The contest was, who was the true prophet, the church, or the false prophet of Jerusalem. The false prophet persecuted the church, using Roman power. The two witnesses were the two olive branches, which the opening of Revelation says was the church. The church was the fulfillment of the law and the Prophets, the witnesses of Christ, represented by Moses and Elijah. But these witnesses were fulfilled in the ministry of the church.
It was the church that functioned with the power of Elijah, doing miracles as we see in the book of Acts. They weren’t calling down literal fire, but this was text from Elijah, that was meant to say that God was with them. The fire was the judgement that the people brought upon themselves. This wasn’t a calling for the church to act like Elijah, because we are followers of Christ, called to love our enemies. The meaning in Revelation is that when people hate others and act against them, they bring that harvest of destruction upon themselves. The church throughout that whole generation, and long afterwards, was entirely pacifist in their view and behaviour. Like Jesus, they did not function by the false spirit of revenge upon their enemies.
The two witnesses were slain in Jerusalem, which means the members of the church, like Stephen, James and many others, and all the believers killed outside of Jerusalem, on the behalf of the Jews at that time. That their bodies were seen lying in the streets of Jerusalem, meant that their deaths were to Jerusalem’s blame. This was what Jesus said in Matthew 23, when he said they would go on killing the prophets in the synagogues, until the judgement would come upon them in that generation.
Then the two witnesses were raised up on the third day. This means the church couldn’t be killed. It lived in the resurrection power of Christ, and no matter what satan and the beasts did, the church grew larger and lived in the power and protection of God.
This is what the people marvelled at. They thought they had ridden themselves of the church, but it always came back the more.
Specifically, it says their bodies were raised after 3 and ½ days, and this may correspond also to the end of Neronian/ Jerusalem joint persecution against the church. At the end of this persecution the churched lived, while the beasts were destroyed. The killing of the two witnesses is symbolic of what Jerusalem did to the law and the Prophets, that is, to the prophets themselves and also to their message, the message of God. They killed the message of the law and the Prophets, by their false lives. But through Christ and his self-giving church, the witness of the law and Prophets came to life.
When they rose from the dead, they heard a voice from heaven saying, “Come up here.” This wasn’t a literal ascension, but in that day, this language meant that the church had been given power to rule on earth. They were the Adams and Eves, the meek, which would inherit the earth. Heaven meant the place of dominion over the earth. We see this differently today, but in that day the phrase meant that the church was the true prophet, backed by heaven. It meant that the church, through following the Lamb, and not loving their own lives, even to death, won the contest with the two beasts. They won the same way Jesus won, on the cross.
All the language about the two witnesses in Rev 11 was written through the paradigms of Moses (the plagues of Egypt) and Elijah, representing the law and the Prophets. The text of Rev 11 isn’t literal but shows how the church fulfilled the testimony of the law and Prophets through their gospel message and life.
And so, the two beasts of Rome and Jerusalem, which tried to kill out the church, were defeated in the fall of Jerusalem. The earthquake was the beginning of this fall. Then the trumpet of the seventh angel (the angel of Rev 10) sounded and Jerusalem fell.
The beasts were defeated. The defeat was spelled out later in Revelation, especially in chapters 19 and 20, but here is Rev 11, the foreword was given. The kingdoms of this world became the kingdoms of Christ. The church wins the battle and takes to the nations to renew the creation, as it is today. The destroyer was destroyed, both in the fall of Jerusalem and through the mission of the church throughout the nations.
And here we see the new temple, the second temple of Ezekiel, the new creation. It was seen by John in heaven, but this meant that heaven was renewing the world with Ezekiel’s new temple. Visions of things in heaven meant what heaven was doing throughout the creation, moving from judgement to renewal.