I mentioned earlier that I was in deep waters trying to explain these things. The waters just keep getting deeper. 🙂
There’s a lot of disagreement among Christians about what this chapter all means. Again, all I can say is my conclusions are tentative, but here’s what I think.
John is given a measuring rod to measure the temple and the altar, and is told to count the worshipers. But he is told to exclude the outer court because it has been given to the Gentiles, and they will trample the Holy city for 42 months.
What is this all about? There seems to be some allusion to Luke 21:24, where Jesus prophesies the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Because of this, many people take it quite literally and say this will happen again in the future. And it might. This would mean, of course, that a new temple would have to be built.
But it’s also possible that this past event is used symbolically for what will happen in the future. That the temple and the Holy city is representative of the people of God (I Corinthians 3:16-17, Revelation 21:2). And that while many will be protected by God, others will be persecuted. This is a theme you see time and again throughout Revelation as we have already seen, and we’ll see it again in chapters 12-13. It’s also something you see in Daniel (7:21, 12:7).
Throughout the next few chapters, and in Daniel, it talks about 1260 days, three and a half years, and a time, times, and half a time. All refer to the same thing. Three and a half years of intense suffering on the part of God’s people. That may be a literal time period. Or it could simply be referring to the fact that the time of suffering is not perfect (7 is a symbol of perfection), but is cut off. And indeed, Jesus talks of the tribulation being cut off for the sake of God’s chosen people. (Matthew 24:22)
Then we see two witnesses testifying to the world God’s judgment and salvation. Again, there is dispute among Christians whether they are literal people or whether they represent the church. I don’t know, but considering that the church is compared to lampstands in chapters 2-3, I think there’s a good chance it refers to the church. That Zechariah refers to two olive trees as both a ruler and a priest (Zechariah 3-4), and that the church plays both roles, (Revelation 1:6, 5:10) only adds to that conviction.
Whoever they are, these two witnesses prophesy, apparently during that three and half years of intense persecution of the church. God protects them for a time, and brings judgment through them, but at the end of that time, the beast, that is, the antichrist kills them. And all the world rejoices. Why? Because of how these witnesses tormented them with their preaching, and the judgment that came because of their prayers. (5-10).
I’m not certain if this refers to all the martyrs who have died for Christ’s sake, or whether this is yet to come. If verse 6 is purely symbolic, evoking memories of Elijah and Moses, then it could represent all the martyrs. If it is to be taken literally, then I’d have to say this is future. Verse 5 would tend to make me think it’s symbolic since I highly doubt fire will literally come out of their mouths to destroy people. Even Elisha (not Elijah) didn’t do that (See 2 Kings 1:9-12)
Anyway, the witnesses lie dead for a time, and then God resurrects them and calls them to heaven in front of all their enemies.
And if these witnesses are symbolic of the church, I tend to think this is referring to the rapture when God calls all the dead in Christ back to life. For we see soon after, the 7th trumpet being blown, and voices calling out,
The kingdom of the world had become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever. (15)
The elders then worship, singing,
We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and your saints, and those who reverence your name, both small and great — and for destroying those who destroy the earth. (17-18)
Then John sees God’s temple in heaven opened and the true ark of the covenant that can never be destroyed. Then judgment falls in a great storm, an earthquake, and a hailstorm.
What do we get from all this? Things will go from bad to worse for God’s people. Jesus warned of this in the gospels. He warned of this in his letters to the 7 churches. And we see it here. Persecution will come. But it will not last forever. It will be cut short. Jesus will come back and when he does, we’ll see salvation.
Justice will come. And if we endure to the end, not only will we be saved, we’ll be greatly rewarded. And every tear we’ve cried will be wiped away.
I know. I’ve already mentioned all this. But this is the theme running throughout Revelation. We’ve seen it earlier. We’ve seen it here. And we will see it again through the final half of this book.
Why does God repeat this over and over? Probably because our suffering will be intense. It will be incredibly difficult to endure. But God wants us to know that it will not be forever.
So as we continue through the rest of this book, look for this theme. For Revelation is not simply meant to give us a peek into the future or to brace us for hardships to come. But it is to give us hope. As Paul once prayed,
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)