Sanctuary and the Two Witnesses

The Tabernacle in the Wilderness
The image is of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, not the Temple building in Jerusalem. This is the picture throughout Revelation. Its features are derived from the wilderness Tabernacle under Moses (13:615:521:3). This sanctuary houses the “ark of the covenant,” which was lost long before the Second Temple was built (11:19).
(Revelation 11:1-2) – “And there was given me a reed like a rod: and one said, Rise and measure the sanctuary of God and the altar, and them that worship in it. And the court which is without the sanctuary cast out and measure it not; for it has been given to the nations: and the holy city will they tread underfoot forty and two months.”

Three things are to be measured:  the sanctuary, the altar and the “them who worship in it.” The Greek term uses naos to refer to the “sanctuary,” not to the entire Tabernacle or Temple structure. Note well Revelation 15:5, “After these things I saw the sanctuary (naos) of the tabernacle (skené) of the testimony in heaven was opened.” This was the inner sanctum just outside the Holy of Holies. Only priests were allowed to enter it to minister.
The “altar” is the golden altar of incense seen at the commencement of the seven trumpets (8:3-5). This was the only altar in the sanctuary in the Tabernacle; the altar of burnt offerings was in the outer court. On it incense was offered to Yahweh in front of the veil covering the Holy of Holies. In Revelation, this “altar” is before God and His throne, not in Jerusalem (8:3-59:1314:1816:7).
In this and the following vision of the two witnesses, the language used echoes verses from the book of Zechariah. The image of a man measuring the sanctuary alludes to Zechariah 2:1-4 where a man with a measuring line is sent “to measure Jerusalem, its breadth and its length.” An angel explained that this act demonstrated that “Jerusalem will be inhabited as villages without walls, by reason of the multitude of men and cattle in it.” In Zechariah the measuring portrays Jerusalem fully populated and without walls, indicating peace.
Another “measuring” is found in the vision of New Jerusalem where an angel measures that city with a golden reed. In New Jerusalem, there is to be no temple, “for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its sanctuary.” The nations and the kings of the earth are in this “city” and its gates are never shut (Revelation 21:15-27).
Them worshipping” in the sanctuary refers not to men on the earth in the old Temple. This group is not accessible to attack by the “nations.” In Revelation 13:6-7 the Beast opens its mouth to blaspheme God, his tabernacle, “even them that dwell in the heaven.” But it carries out such threats by making war on the saints on the earth (“and to overcome them”). The Beast executes his war because “authority was given to him over every nation.”
The court without” refers to the outer court of the Tabernacle in which the people of Israel assembled for worship. It is “cast out,” given over to be trampled by the nations. This parallels the passage from Revelation 13:6-7where it was “given” to the Beast to war against the saints and overcome them.
A second passage echoed here and in the vision of the two witnesses is Daniel 7:19-25, the “little horn” with a “mouth speaking great things” that appeared on the head of the fourth beast. It was “exceedingly terrible with iron teeth and brass nails. It devoured, broke in pieces and trampled the residue with its feet.” This figure “made war with the saints and prevailed against them” (Daniel 7:21).
This last verse from Daniel occurs several times, including in the vision of the two witnesses (11:712:1713:7). The “little horn” would prevail over the saints until “the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.” It symbolized a kingdom that would “devour the whole earth and tread it down.”
The passage from Daniel is the source of Revelation’s chronological figure, “forty-two months,” or the “thousand two hundred and sixty days” in the next verse (11:2-3). The “little horn” sought “to change the times and the law, and they will be given into his hand until a time and times and part of a time.” But the little horn would lose his dominion when judgment came, then the “kingdom will be given to the people of the saints of the Most High: his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him” (Daniel 7:25-27).
To get ahead of ourselves, when the final trumpet sounds a voice declares, “The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign forever and ever…And there was opened the temple of God that is in heaven; and there was seen in his temple the ark of his covenant” (11:15-19). Note also that only then is the Tabernacle in heaven declared “open.”
This same scriptural background is used in the vision of the Beast ascending from the sea (13:1-10). It had several heads, one of which was “smitten to death, and his death-stroke was healed.” To it was given a “mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and authority to continue forty and two months.” This mouth blasphemed God, “his Tabernacle and them that dwell in the heaven. And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.”
The “holy city” is not old Jerusalem in Palestine. That city is nowhere called “holy” in Revelation and likely is not mentioned at all. The only possible reference to Jerusalem is the description of the corpses of the two witnesses lying in the street of the “great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (11:8).
Whatever “great city” is meant, it is not “holy” but comparable to Sodom and Egypt. More likely “great city” refers to end-time “Babylon” (cp. 11:13; 14:8; 16:19; 18:18). The contrast in Revelation is always between two cities: “Babylon” and New Jerusalem.
Elsewhere the “sanctuary” is seen in heaven or the New Jerusalem, not on the earth (3:12; 7:15; 13:614:15-17;  15:5-8; 16:1; 16:17; 21:22), and at the end of the seven trumpets the sanctuary is “opened” in heaven (11:19).
For the church to carry out its task to prophesy to the nations it must be exposed to them and their abuse, thus it is “cast out to be trampled underfoot” for forty-two months. However difficult the period may be, there will be an end to it.
(Revelation 11:3-6) – “And I will give my two witnesses that they will prophesy a thousand two-hundred and sixty days, arrayed in sackcloth. These are the two olive-trees and the two lampstands, which stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone chooses to harm them, fire comes out of their mouth and devours their enemies; and if anyone will choose to harm them, thus must he be slain. These have authority to shut heaven in order that no rain should moisten in the days of their prophesying; and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood and to smite the land with any manner of plague, as often as they will.”
Two things said about the Two Witnesses link them to the preceding sections. They are sent “to prophesy” (10:11), and they do so for twelve hundred and sixty days (11:2). The commission given to John in chapter 10 is seen from a heavenly perspective in the measuring of the sanctuary. How it plays out on the earth is portrayed in the prophetic ministry of the Two Witnesses:  they prophesy to nations and kings.
The reiteration of the three and one half-year figure from Daniel links the Witnesses to the measuring of the temple (forty-two months vs. twelve hundred sixty days are mathematically equivalent [Daniel 7:25]). The two images show two sides of the same coin.
The vision of the Two Witnesses is part of the “woes” declared upon the “inhabitants of the earth.” The Witnesses’ word that causes “fire” and other “plagues” connects their prophetic activities to the first six trumpet plagues upon the “inhabitants of the earth.” The plagues of the first six trumpets are the result of evil men persecuting the Witnesses and the prophetic word of the latter.
Revelation weaves in imagery from the prophetic careers of Elijah and Moses. At the word of Elijah fire fell from heaven to consume a company sent to fetch him (2 Kings 1:10-12). Later, Elijah prayed and it did not rain on for three and a half years (1 King 17:1James 5:17). Likewise, the two witnesses “have the power to shut the heaven that it rain not during the days of their prophecy.” And like Moses in Egypt, the witnesses have the power to turn the waters into blood and “to smite the earth with every plague.”
There are two witnesses, which may accord with the principle that “at the mouth of two witnesses shall the matter be established” (Deuteronomy 17:619:15). But more telling is how they speak as one. The fire unleashed by their word issues from their mouth, singular. When they are killed, their “body,” singular, lies in the street. The same judgments issue from either of the two witnesses. Both command the rains to cease and waters to turn into blood. They do not represent the return of ancient individual prophets, such as Moses and Elijah.
A better explanation is the background from Exodus used throughout the seven trumpets. Moses and Aaron together represented Israel to Pharaoh and by their word the plagues were unleashed that destroyed Egypt’s economy and exposed her gods as false.
Verse 4 alludes to Zechariah 4:2-14 when the prophet saw a golden lamp-stand having seven lamps, and two olive trees, one on either side, and heard a voice declare, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says Yahweh of hosts.” The olive trees provided oil to the lamps. Zechariah was told the image symbolized two anointed ones that stand before the Lord of the whole earth. In John’s first vision seven lampstands represented seven churches (1:20). The Two Witnesses represent churches, or perhaps the entire church. What they do is the very call of the Risen Jesus given previously to the seven churches of Asia.
By the word of the Witnesses, fire falls, “waters turn into blood” and they “smite the earth with every plague.” Similarly, the second trumpet produced a great mountain burning with fire that was cast into the sea, and “the third part of the sea became blood” (8:7-9). They are able “to smite the earth with any manner of plague.” Similarly, at the end of the sixth trumpet men that were not killed with these “plagues repented not of their works” (9:20). In other words, the plagues seen in the previous trumpets were due in part to the prophetic ministry of the Two Witnesses.
When any man attempts “to harm” (adikeō) the Witnesses fire issues (ekporeuomai) from their mouth to devour him. The locust-like creatures released from the Abyss were not “to harm” (adikeō) any man with “the seal of God on their foreheads” (9:4). Under the sixth trumpet out of the mouths of horses “issued” (ekporeuomai) fire, smoke, and brimstone by which a third of men were killed (9:17-18).
The order of events in this sevenfold series is literary, not chronological. The “plagues” implemented at the word of the two witnesses correspond to the “plagues” of the first six trumpets.
The words and actions of the witnesses determine the judgments of the trumpets. The prophetic ministry of the Two Witnesses coincides with the period during which the first six trumpets unleash their plagues; the death and resurrection of the Witnesses trigger the start of the last trumpet or third “woe” (11:13-14).
(Revelation 11:7) - “And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the Abyss will make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them.”
The Abyss was introduced to the reader by the fifth trumpet (9:1-2), a pit from which ascended a horde of locust-like monsters. Repeatedly in Revelation, the Abyss is the source of satanic personalities and mischief (13:1-217:820:1-3, 7-10). The picture here corresponds to that of the Beast ascending from the sea in chapter 13.
This verse uses Daniel 7:21 to portray the martyrdom of the witnesses, “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them.” The passage from Daniel appears again to describe the war of the Beast against the “saints” in Revelation 13:7.
The Beast may not ascend to kill the witnesses until “they have finished (teleō) their testimony.” Just as the word of the Witnesses causes plagues, so the Beast cannot ascend to slay them until they complete their assignment (“you must prophesy to nations and kings”). This may link to several other passages, as follows:
(10:7) – “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he has declared to his servants the prophets.”
(17:17) – “For God put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree and give their kingdom to the Beast, until the words of God are finished.”
(20:3) – “And cast him into the Abyss and shut him up…until the thousand years should be finished, then he must be loosed a little season…And when the thousand years are finished Satan shall be loosed out of his prison.”
The “second woe” does not end or the “third woe” begins until the mission of the Two Witnesses is completed, just as John was told when he received the “little scroll” (10:7). Only when the word of their testimony is finished do final victory and judgment unfold (11:14-19). But the completion of the task also means the ascent of the Beast from the Abyss. This may correspond to the loosing of Satan from the Abyss at the end of the thousand years when he launches a war against the saints.
The Two Witnesses are killed for their “testimony,” a significant term in Revelation. For example, John was on Patmos for “the word of his testimony.” Revelation is the “testimony of Jesus Christ” (1:11:8-9). In chapter 12 the “brethren” overcome the Dragon “by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, even they loved not their lives unto the death” (12:11). The enraged Dragon went to “make war with the remnant of the woman’s seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (12:17).
(Revelation 11:8-13) - “And their dead bodies lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. And from among the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations do men look upon their dead body three days and a half, and suffer not their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. And they that dwell on the earth rejoice over them, and make merry, and they shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwell on the earth. And after the three days and a half the breath of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet, and great fear fell upon them that beheld them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying to them, Come up hither. And they went up into heaven in the cloud; and their enemies beheld them. And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and there were killed in the earthquake seven thousand persons: and the rest were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
The city “spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where the Lord was crucified” clarifies that neither the language nor the geographical location is literal. Further, Egypt is a nation not a city. This identification continues the background from Egypt that lies behind the seven trumpets. Technically, Jesus was killed outside the walls of Jerusalem by Roman authorities. Later Revelation declares that all the shed blood of prophets and saints and of all that were slain upon the earth is in Babylon (Re 18:24).
And a “tenth of the great city fell.” This term identifies the city. Elsewhere Babylon is repeatedly called the “great city” destined to “fall” (“Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city” [14:8; 14:20; 16:19; 17:18; 18:16-21]). She is contrasted with the “holy city” trampled by the Gentiles for the same period (11:2); the trampling of the “holy city” is the same as the Beast’s war against the Two Witnesses. The Witnesses are the “holy city” and the court “cast outside” to be trampled by the Gentiles. Likewise, after the thousand-years Satan gathers the nations across the earth to attack “the camp of the saints, the beloved city” (20:9-10).
The residents of the “great city” rejoice over the deaths of the Witnesses because “these two prophets tormented the inhabitants of the earth.” The same verb for “torment” was already used in the fifth trumpet where it was given to the locusts to “torment the inhabitants of the earth five months” (9:5).
The Two Witnesses are “prophets” sent to “prophesy” to the inhabitants of the earth. This they must do until they finish their testimony. Previously John was told that “in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he begins to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, just he declared to his prophets” (10:711:14).
Their “body,” singular, lies unburied on the streets of the city for “three days and a half.” Presumably, this echoes the days Jesus spent in the grave before his resurrection. The Two Witnesses follow the same path as the sacrificial Lamb.
And they that dwell on the earth rejoice over them and make merry.” The connotation is the same as at the end of the sixth trumpet when “the rest of men not killed by these plagues repented not” (9:20). Rather than repent in response to the word of the Two Witnesses, the inhabitants of the earth rejoice.
Revelation now pulls the threads together from the stories of Egypt, Elijah and Israel’s entry into Canaan, only in an ironic fashion.
In the tenth plague of Egypt, the angel of death killed the firstborn throughout the land (Exodus 11:1-10), but now it is the corpse of the Two Witnesses that lies dead throughout the “great city,” which is spiritually called Egypt.
Before Israel departed Egypt, the Egyptians gave them gifts of gold and jewels (Exodus 11:2), but in the “great city” residents exchange gifts and rejoice over the deaths of the Two Witnesses. When he complained of being isolated Elijah was told that God had reserved seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18).
When a tenth part of the “great city” falls seven thousand men are killed, but the rest become fearful and give glory to God. Elisha witnessed Elijah taken up into heaven, cried out and saw him no more (2 Kings 2:11), whereas when the earth’s inhabitants see the Two Witnesses raised to heaven they fear and give glory to God.
Israel’s conquest of Jericho lies behind the image of the city’s fall, imagery hinted at the start of the seven trumpets series. Israel was commanded to march around the city once each day for six days led by seven priests bearing rams’ horns. On the seventh day Israel marched around seven times, the priests blew their horns, the people shouted and the “wall of the city shall fall down flat” (Joshua 6:1-10).
The fall of the “great city” parallels the seventh bowl of wrath (16:17-21). When the final bowl is poured out a great earthquake divides “the great city, Babylon the great” into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. A great hailstorm fell upon men so that they blasphemed God.
(Revelation 11:14) – “The second Woe is past, behold, the third Woe comes quickly.”
The stage is now set for the final trumpet that will culminate in victory over the kingdoms of the earth, the judgment of the dead and the reward of the righteous. The Tabernacle measured and sealed from the outside world will then appear open for all to behold (11:15-19).



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