Revelation 11

The Word Made Fresh

1Then I was handed a staff as a measuring rod and was told, “Come, measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the people who worship there, 2but don’t measure the courtyard outside the temple – it is given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3I will give permission to my two witnesses to wear sackcloth and to prophesy for one thousand, two hundred sixty days.”

4There will be no rain during their days of prophesying. And they have the power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every sort of plague, and to do so as often as they wish. 7When they have finished prophesying, the beast from the bottomless pit will attack them and overcome them and kill them. 8Their dead bodies will lie in the streets of the great city, that is prophetically named Sodom, and Egypt; it is where their Lord was crucified. 9For three and a half days people of every tribe and language and nation will stare at their dead bodies, and refuse to allow them to be placed in a tomb. 10People from around the world will gloat over them and celebrate and trade gifts, because these two prophets had tormented the people who live on the earth.

11But when the three and a half days have passed, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up, and everyone who saw them were terrified. 12Then I heard a loud voice from heaven telling them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched. 13There was a great earthquake at that moment, and a tenth of the city was destroyed. Seven thousand people died in the earthquake, and all the others were terrified, and gave glory to the God of heaven.

14The second woe has passed; the third is coming soon.

15Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and loud voices in heaven were saying,

“The kingdom of the earth has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,
and he will reign forever and ever.”

16Then the twenty-four elders on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God. They sang,

“We give thanks to you, Lord God the Almighty,
who is and has been,
for you have taken your great authority
and have begun to reign.
18The nations raged, but your anger has come,
and it is the time for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets,
and your saints and everyone, small and great,
who respect your name,
and the time to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

19Then the temple of God in heaven was opened and the ark of the covenant was seen within. There were flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and an earthquake, and a heavy hailstorm.


1-2: Having been told that he must prophesy, John is given a measuring rod and is now told to measure the temple and altar and count the worshipers, but not to measure the exterior court. Many scholars believe that the purpose of the measuring is to preserve the temple and the worshipers from the woes and terrors to come. The court is excluded from the measuring; it will be given over to the nations (the Gentile world) for 42 months (3½ years).

3: The two witnesses may be a reference to John the baptizer (see Mark 1:2-4) and Elijah (see Malachi 4:5), both of whom are identified as harbingers of the Messiah’s coming and thus perhaps also harbingers of his return. Many scholars, however, believe it is meant to refer to Elijah and Moses because of the powers they demonstrated in the Old Testament accounts (see verses 6 & 7). The sackcloth is a symbol of grieving, which means that the prophecy of the witnesses will not be a happy one. The 1266 days is equivalent to 42 months according to Jewish reckoning. 1266 days = 42 months = 3½ years. The 3½ years answers to the ancient formula in Daniel: “a time, two times, and half a time” (Daniel 12:7) — a year, two years and half a year.

4-6: The two olive trees and two lampstands represent the two messengers (imagery that comes from Zechariah 4:3, 4:11-14). The two messengers have the power to destroy all who would destroy them, to withhold the rains (something Elijah in particular had the authority to do — I Kings 17:1), to turn water into blood (a la Moses — Exodus 7:20) and to strike the earth with plagues (again, like Moses).

7-10: The beast is one of the forms which identifies the antichrist in apocalyptic literature. John sees that the beast will kill the two messengers and toss their bodies into the streets of Jerusalem. Isaiah was the prophet who referred to Jerusalem as Sodom and Gomorrah (Isaiah 1:9-10). I haven’t found another place where Jerusalem is called Egypt, but it is not difficult to find parallels between the two. The inhabitants of the city are allowed to gloat over the corpses for 3½ days, a symbolic number that is used to refer to an unspecified allotted time.

11-13: The two messengers are resurrected and ascend into heaven in a cloud while the terrified crowds watch. John is using the past tense here even though he is clearly referring to things which he believes have not yet occurred, as if he is so certain of these things that he can speak of them as having already happened. He sees the onlookers being destroyed by an earthquake.

14: Finally, the second woe has passed! The description of it started at Chapter 9, verse 13.

15-18: The seventh trumpet sounds and John hears voices from heaven announcing the eternal reign of Christ. He also sees the twenty-four elders (see 4:4) bowing before God and hears them singing their praise to God for assuming his power and beginning his reign over the nations. The time has come for God to judge the dead, they sing, and to reward his servants and to destroy “those who destroy the earth” – Satan and his minions.

19: John sees the heavenly temple opened, revealing the Ark of the Covenant displayed in terrifying grandeur.


Despite the puzzling and dazzling imagery in Revelation, the simple abiding message is that God has planned the future, and the faithful will participate in it.