Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 11:3–7

Revelation 11:3–7
And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth. 4 (These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.) 5 If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes out of their mouths and completely consumes their enemies. If anyone wants to harm them, they must be killed this way. 6 These two have the power to close up the sky so that it does not rain during the time they are prophesying. They have power to turn the waters to blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague whenever they want. 7 When they have completed their testimony, the beast that comes up from the abyss will make war on them and conquer them and kill them.
(NET Bible)

Revelation 10–11: The interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets

Some things in life are hard, but they have to be done. Did you ever hold your small child while they squirmed in fear before getting a vaccination? How many times have you struggled through a comprehensive final exam? When have you been forced to be brave through awful conditions and wished for an alternative?

Jesus knew what lay ahead for him; but he went to Jerusalem anyway. Are we following him?

Robert Mounce explains how Revelation 10–11 function within Revelation as a whole:

With the close of chapter 9 six of the seven trumpets have sounded. Once again we encounter an interlude of two related visions — the angel with the little book (10:1–11) and the two witnesses (11:1–13). These interludes are not so much pauses in a sequence of events as they are literary devices by which the church is instructed concerning its role and destiny during the final period of world history.[1]

Grant Osborne[2] points out that in the prior biblical context (9:20–21) the judgments failed to bring about repentance. As a result, the scroll (10:2) will provide a more effective strategy for achieving the conversion of the nations.

Revelation 10 opens (10:1–7) with the appearance of the most awesome of all the angels described in the book of Revelation. Though part of his mighty announcement is sealed (10:4), he gives John a “little scroll” (10:2), which John is to internalize before revealing it to us (10:9–11). Concerning the scroll, Osborne says, “It too tells the divine plan for the end of the age, and now John is to be shown how that plan relates to the saints that are still on the earth.”[3] This plan will include both witness to the wicked world (the sweet taste of 10:10) and martyrdom (the bitter taste of 10:10).

Craig Keener describes Revelation 11 by saying, “This section is perhaps the most difficult passage to interpret in the entire book of Revelation.”[4] While I will offer some possible interpretations, it is reasonable to think that we do not better understand chapter 11 because the words spoken by the seven thunders (10:4) were sealed up and not written down. Keener shows insight when he says, “The concealment of the meaning of the seven thunders reminds us that God knows far more about the future than he tells us.”[5] God’s selective concealment of many details also suggests that trying to construct a precise timeline of future events is not the intended use of Revelation’s visions.

Clearing the fog of Revelation 11, Mounce[6] wisely counsels us that its figurative language does not make the underlying prophetic events any less real. Symbolism is not the enemy of facts. With this underlying reality in mind, we next consider the metaphors of 11:1–13.

To understand the metaphor of measuring the temple (11:1–2), it is necessary to realize that the image draws on Ezek. 40–42 and Zech. 2:1–5, which involve God’s ownership and protection for his people. We should expect the same themes to guide our interpretation of Rev. 11:1–2.

However, that understanding does not deliver us from deciding whether the temple (11:1) is literal or figurative. Since no temple presently stands in Jerusalem, a literal temple would require that a temple be rebuilt on Temple Mount after the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine, was torn down. Those objections to an earthly temple are not insurmountable, but they are problems.

The Greek noun naos is used for temple in 11:1. Throughout the book of Revelation naos refers to the heavenly temple rather than either the earthly temple built by Solomon or the one built by Herod. It is hard to credit that 11:1 would prove an exception.

Note carefully that John is also commanded to measure “the ones who worship there” (11:1). So, these people belong to God and are under his protection in some form. But who are they?

Keener says: “In early Christian literature . . . the temple regularly symbolizes Christians, both Jewish and Gentile (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:18–22; 1 Pet. 2:5). This is also what the temple symbolizes elsewhere in Revelation (Rev. 3:12; 13:6); not surprisingly, this is the more common scholarly interpretation of this temple today.”[7]

The triumph of the Lamb will also be the triumph of his followers, just as 11:15–19 relate.

Protection within opposition

Standing up for Christ has never been a cost-free proposition, and it will be life-threatening during the period just before Christ’s return. Whether we will face those choices is disputed, but certainly some Christians will do so. Are you committed to be an overcomer?

When I took the mortal risk of heart bypass surgery, it was the first time I had to weigh my life against the needed benefits. Many casual Christians do not realize that their commitment to Christ is a life-or-death choice with risks. Unlike Jesus, we may not face certain death due to our witness, but there is no guarantee. What is certain is that Christ will reward us for overcoming!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. Ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997) 199.

[2] Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002) 391.

[3] Osborne, Revelation, 395.

[4] Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 287.

[5] Keener, Revelation, 281.

[6] Mounce, Revelation, 212.

[7] Keener, Revelation, 288.