Revelation 11 (Part 2: Historicist View)


Scripture text for this study: Revelation 11:1-13

This post was created on December 6th (but backdated to November 2nd so that it’s not out of order) to supplement Dave’s previous post on Revelation 11. This is a summary of Sam Storms’ views on this chapter—at least up through verse 13. Sam Storms, by the way, is a Historicist in his interpretation of the book of Revelation. His study of Rev. 11 takes up two separate posts on his website, so I have taken a summary of both posts and placed them below under the labels of “PART 1” and “PART 2,” respectively. A source link is given at the end of each part. While not a Historicist myself per se, I feel there is plenty of valuable information in Sam’s study, as well as much that I’m able to agree with him on.

Adding this information to the previous post would have made it too long; thus the decision to create a second post. Dave’s earlier post can be seen here.


Verses 1-2: Aside from the partial-preterist view of this passage which formed the primary basis for Dave’s post, Sam Storms articulates several other positions. He summarizes the “traditional dispensational, pretribulational (or futurist) interpretation” in this way:

[It] is that the temple is the literal structure to be rebuilt in or just before the tribulation period at the close of history. [For John Walvoord, the] worshipers are faithful, believing Jews of the tribulation period who will have reinstituted the sacrifices and rituals of the Mosaic economy. Their activity, however, will be terminated by the Beast who will bring desolation to the temple service and subject the holy city of Jerusalem to severe affliction for the last (literal) 3 ½ years (or 42 months) of the (literal) 7 year tribulation period.

If this is an accurate representation of this view, how sad that “faithful believers” are seen reverting back to the types and shadows which pointed the way to the cross, and this more than 2000 years after Christ came the first time as Messiah, Savior, and Redeemer. How any true believer could reinstitute these sacrifices and rituals, if given the opportunity to do so, is almost beyond comprehension. It seems more tragic than verbally denying one’s faith when sentenced to die by the blade of a guillotine.

Storms moves to the position of George Ladd, who was a Historic Premillennialist. For Ladd, Revelation 11:1-13 is “descriptive of the preservation and salvation of the Jewish people as portrayed in Romans 11:25-27.” He says, “The most natural meaning of Jerusalem is that it stands for the Jewish people.” Ladd sees “a contrast between a faithful remnant of believing Israelites who, in contrast to the city as a whole will be trodden down by the nations, i.e., they will fall under the divine judgment because they have become spiritually apostate.”

Sam Storms’ own position is this:

[All of Revelation 11:1-13] describes symbolically the mission and fate of the Church during the present inter-advent age, culminating in the final period of opposition and persecution by the Beast. On this view, the temple or sanctuary, together with the altar and the worshipers, stands for the church as God’s people (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:5). The Greek word translated ‘temple’ is naos which without exception in Revelation refers to the present heavenly temple (7:15; 11:19; 14:15,17; 15:5-6,8; 16:1,17) or to the temple of God’s presence in the age to come (3:12; 7:15; 21:22). Thus the people of God, the members of God’s temple in heaven, are referred to in their existence on earth as ‘the temple of God.’

Regarding verse 2, Storms adds:

The measuring of the temple speaks of spiritual preservation from God’s wrath, but not from physical persecution and martyrdom. The people of God are sustained and protected in their faith while suffering greatly at the hands of the Beast. Thus this ‘measuring’ is equivalent to the ‘sealing’ of chapter seven and the ‘worshipers’ in 11:1 are the same as the ‘144,000’ in 7:4 (see 2 Sam. 8:2b; Isa. 28:16-17; Jer. 31:38-40; Ezek. 40:1-6; 42:20; Zech. 1:16; for OT examples of ‘measuring’ as ‘protection’; for the notion of destruction see 2 Sam. 8:2a; 2 Kings 21:13; Amos 7:7-9; Isa. 34:11; Lam. 2:8)…

Storms then, speaking for himself, says some things regarding verse 2 which I find myself agreeing with more and more:

Some say this is descriptive of the church’s experience viewed from two different perspectives. The church is spiritually protected from God’s wrath (the inner sanctuary) but is physically oppressed by pagan forces (outer court). According to this view the holy city must be yet another symbolic designation of the church. In Revelation “city” (polis) is used four times of the future heavenly city, the New Jerusalem (3:12; 21:2, 10; 22:19). This is similar to what we read in Hebrews 11:10; 12:22; and 13:14. The people of God on earth are members and representatives of the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Gal. 4:26). I believe this is also the meaning of the “beloved city” in Rev. 20:9.

But is it plausible to believe that the temple, the altar, the outer court, and the holy city, here in 11:1-2, all refer figuratively or symbolically to the church, i.e., the believing community of God’s people now on earth? Yes! Let us remember that in Rev. 3:12 the church, the believing community of God’s people now on earth, are promised that they will be “a pillar in the temple” of God. They will have written on them the name of God and “the name of the city” of God, “the New Jerusalem”!

Verses 3-13: George Ladd saw the two witnesses as two latter day prophets who would minister during “the final calamitous days of the tribulation period,” and whose “resurrection and ascension (11:11-12) are not literal but symbolic of the spiritual restoration or conversion of the nation Israel, spoken of in Ezek. 37 and again in Rom. 11:25-27.”

John Walvoord and other Futurists are open to the two witnesses being “individuals who are characterized in their persons and ministries by the elements and activities of [Moses and Elijah] as recorded in the OT narratives.”

Sam Storms says, “The two witnesses are not real or historical individuals, but symbolize the Church in its missionary and prophetic role during the present age and particularly at the close of history.”



Verses 3-4: Continuing on with his discussion of the two witnesses, Sam Storms lists numerous possibilities which have been suggested for their identity. The following are several of the suggestions which are beyond the usual ones:

[1] Peter and Paul – Some point to the martyrdom of these two apostles and the tradition that Nero prohibited their burial (cf. Rev. 11:19).
[2] The OT and the NT – Or more likely, the Law (represented by Moses) and the Prophets (represented by Elijah).
[3] The Word of God and the testimony of Jesus – See Strand (AUSS 19 [1981], 127-35.

Storms further comments,

[T]hey are called “two olive trees and two lampstands” (11:4), the latter of which clearly reminds us of the lampstands in Rev. 1:12, 20; 2:1 which Jesus says represent the churches. Says Bauckham, “if the seven lampstands [in 1:20] are churches, so must be the two lampstands. But it would be better to say that, if the seven lampstands are representative of the whole church, since seven is the number of completeness, the two lampstands stand for the church in its role of witness, according to the well-known biblical requirement that evidence be accepted only on the testimony of two witnesses (Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15; cf. Matt. 18:16; John 5:31; 8:17; 15:26-27; Acts 5:32; 2 Cor. 13:1; Heb. 10:28; 1 Tim. 5:19). They are not part of the church, but the whole church insofar as it fulfills its role as faithful witness” (274). This probably explains why there are “two” lampstands here instead of one as in Zech. 4.

Storms notes that Leon Morris suggests another plausible explanation for why there are two witnesses spoken of here:

As John has spoken of seven churches only two of which (Smyrna and Philadelphia) are not blameworthy, it is tempting to think of the two witnesses as standing for that part of the church which is faithful. Perhaps he has the martyrs in mind.

Storms then makes the point that the language of verse 7 (“the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them…”) is a clear echo of “Dan. 7:21 where the objects of persecution are collectively the people of God.” This is a good point, and it also echoes Rev. 13:5, which says, “Also it [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.” This reference is also to the people of God in a collective sense, so why wouldn’t it be the same in Rev. 11:7?

Storms also references Greg Beale, who says, “[T]he corporate interpretation is pointed to by the statement in vv. 9-13 that the entire world of unbelievers will see the defeat and resurrection of the witnesses. This means that the witnesses are visible throughout the earth.” [If this has a first-century fulfillment, we can think in terms of the Roman Empire (cf. Luke 2:1, Acts 2:5), rather than globally. We might also limit the scope of “the earth” to Israel/Palestine, since that seems to be the usage of this phrase in other passages (See, for example, the post on Revelation 1, where we examined the phrase “tribes of the earth” in verse 7, which is often thought to be worldwide in scope. When this prophecy is compared, though, to its counterpart in Zechariah 12:10-14, it’s clear that every one of those tribes belongs to the land of Israel).]

Regarding the two witnesses being clothed in sackcloth (verse 3), Storms adds this study note:

Sackcloth…was a dark-colored fabric made of goat hair or camel hair and was worn in the OT for any one of several reasons: (1) as a sign of individual mourning or national distress (Gen. 37:34; 2 Sam. 3:31; Lam. 2:10; Esther 4:1; Ps. 30:11; Isa. 15:3; 22:12; Joel 1:13; Amos 8:10); (2) as a sign of submission when supplicating people or offering prayers to God (1 Kings 20:31-32; Jer. 4:8; 6:26; Dan. 9:23); (3) as an expression of repentance and sorrow for sin (1 Kings 22:27-29; 2 Kings 19:1-2; 1 Chron. 21:16; Neh. 9:1; Ps. 35:13; Jonah 3:5-8; or (4) as the clothing of prophets as they anticipated a coming judgment (Isa. 50:3; cf. Rev. 6:12).

Verses 5-6: Regarding the fire which comes out of the mouths of the witnesses, Storms says,

That “fire” should proceed “out of their mouths” points again to the symbolic nature of both the witnesses and the ministry they are described as fulfilling. In Rev. 1:16; 19:15,21, Jesus is portrayed as judging his enemies by means of a “sharp sword proceeding from his mouth” (cf. 2:16). This is clearly a metaphor of the effect and fruit of his spoken word, whether it be of judgment or blessing (cf. John 12:48 (“the word I spoke is what will judge him on the last day”). We read of this same imagery in Jer. 5:14, “Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, ‘Because you have spoken this word, behold I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it will consume them’” (cf. also Ps. 18:13).

Storms, without being dogmatic, suggests that the witnesses have the power to shut the sky, turn water into blood, etc. in the sense that God responds with judgment on an unbelieving world which disregarded their witness:

But precisely what is meant, practically speaking, by the imagery of the church, through her ministry, stopping the rain, turning water into blood, and smiting the earth with plagues? Is the idea that God will, in response to the preaching, praying, and prophesying of the church, pour out his judgments on an unbelieving world? Beale suggests that “the church’s prophetic declaration of God’s truth concerning the gospel, including the message of final judgment, unleashes torments toward those who remain ultimately impenitent” (584). See also 11:10 where the two witnesses are described as having “tormented” the earth-dwellers. Is the torment equal to the trumpet judgments? Is the church and its ministry one of the means by which the seal, trumpet, and bowl judgments are poured out? Is the torment psychological in nature, as, for example, when Paul preached to Felix and provoked this response: “And as he [Paul] was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time, I will summon you’” (Acts 24:25)? The church not only brings comfort, consolation, and joy to the repentant, it also brings discomfort, conviction, and consternation to those who continue to resist the truth of the gospel.

Verses 7-10: At the mention of the phrase “when they have finished their testimony,” Storms now sees the end of history as being in view. Also, quoting Beale, he sees that “the beast’s spirit has stood behind the earthly persecutors throughout history, and at the end he will manifest himself openly to defeat the church finally.” However, the beast is conquered by the faithfulness of the martyrs it puts to death. Storms speculates that the “great city” of verse 8 is Rome, a matter on which I personally don’t agree with him (much more will be said on this point in our study on chapters 17-18).

Verses 11-13: Storms believes that the portrayal of resurrection here “is an echo of Ezek. 37:5 and 10, where we read of God’s restoration of Israel out of the Babylonian exile. The nation in exile is described as corpses of which only dry bones remain: ‘Thus says the Lord God to these bones, “Behold I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life”… So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life, and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.’”

[That’s an interesting connection! Ezekiel 36:26-28 and 37:15-27 are especially reminiscent of Jeremiah’s picture of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; cf. Hebrews 8:6-13, Ephesians 2:11-22). These passages surround the text being alluded to here. That being the case, and considering how much we’ve seen by way of the Old Covenant being contrasted with the New Covenant, how are we to understand the imagery of believers receiving a breath of life and being called up to heaven in the sight of their enemies? Is this also a picture of the final transition from one covenant to the other, where the kingdom of God has been taken from national Israel and given exclusively to the body of Christ, completely divorced from temple-based Judaism (Matt. 21:33-46, Daniel 7:13-27, Hebrews 8:13)? Without taking away from that question, is this also a portrayal of the Church having overcome a time of great persecution through her faithfulness even in the face of martyrdom?]

Beale, on the other hand, maintains “that this scene is simply a symbolic portrayal of vindication. He writes: ‘The acceptance of the witnesses into the cloud [v. 12] shows the divine approval since the cloud…in the OT was representative of God’s presence either in judgment or in commissioning his prophetic servants.’”

Regarding the seven thousand killed in the earthquake (verse 13), Storms speculates:

If the two witnesses are linked to the ministry of Elijah, the 7,000 who die may be the just equivalent of the 7,000 faithful who “did not bow the knee to Baal” (cf. Rom. 11:4).

This marks the end of Sam Storm’s commentary on Revelation 11. He does not appear to deal with verses 14-19.



Our study of Revelation 12 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

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