The Two Witnesses Killed by the Beast (Revelation 11:3-13)


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here. In the previous post, “The Gentiles Trampled Jerusalem for 42 Months,” we looked at Revelation 11:1-2 and concluded that the Gentiles mentioned in those verses were not the Romans. Instead they were the Zealots, the Galileans, and the Idumeans who trampled Jerusalem from 66-70 AD. The rest of our study on Revelation 11 will cover:

Verse 3 – the two witnesses prophesying for 1260 days (3.5 years)
Verse 4 – their identity as two olive trees and two lampstands
Verses 5-6 – their ability to escape harm and cause plagues
Verse 7 – the beast killing the two witnesses
Verses 8-9 – the two witnesses lying dead and unburied in Jerusalem
Verse 10 – their enemies rejoicing
Verse 13 – an earthquake taking place in Jerusalem

This series is about “the beast,” which, in this chapter, is only mentioned in verse 7. We will examine more than verse 7, however, because it’s necessary to look at the greater context of this verse. This will help us to validate the identity of the beast and to better understand his actions.

Having seen that it was the Zealots and the Idumeans who trampled Jerusalem for 3.5 years (42 months), we also see in Revelation 11:3 that God gave power to His two witnesses to prophesy for 3.5 years (1260 days). These time periods were identical in length, but did they begin and end at the same time? I don’t believe they did, and I will propose that they only halfway overlapped as in the following diagram:

revelation-11-timeline

I’ve developed a series of case studies comparing the works of Josephus and the book of Revelation. As the chart in that analysis shows, it would be very fitting for the events of Revelation 11 to have taken place in early 68 AD.

Revelation 11:4

In Revelation 11:4, the two witnesses are identified as “the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.” As many scholars have recognized, this description draws on Zechariah’s “Vision of the Lampstand and Olive Trees”:

Now the angel who talked with me came back and wakened me, as a man who is wakened out of sleep. And he said to me, ‘What do you see?’ So I said, ‘I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left.’ … Then I answered and said to him, ‘What are these two olive trees…?’ So he said, ‘These are the two anointed ones, who stand before the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:1-3, 11, 14).

This vision came on the heels of Zechariah’s “Vision of the High Priest,” concerning the high priest, Joshua (Zechariah 3), who served alongside the governor, Zerubbabel (Zech. 4). As Albert Barnes said in his 1834 commentary on Revelation 11:4,

“This representation, that the ministers of religion “stand before the Lord,” is one that is not uncommon in the Bible. Thus it is said of the priests and Levites: ‘The Lord separated the tribe of Levi, to stand before the Lord, to minister unto him, and to bless his name,’ Deuteronomy 10:8; compare Deuteronomy 18:7. The same thing is said of the prophets, as in the cases of Elijah and Elisha: ‘As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand,’ 1 Kings 17:1; also, 1 Kings 18:152 Kings 3:142 Kings 5:16; compare Jeremiah 15:19. The representation is that they ministered, as it were, constantly in his presence and under his eye.”

In Zechariah’s vision, he saw one lampstand (Zech. 4:2). In Revelation 1:12 John saw seven lampstands, which he was told were the seven churches (Rev. 1:20). Here in Rev. 11:4 there were two lampstands, the two witnesses.

Ananus ben Ananus and Jesus ben Gamaliel

I would like to propose that the two witnesses were two first century high priests, Ananus ben Ananus and Jesus ben Gamaliel (also known as Joshua). According to Josephus, they led the peace movement in Jerusalem when the Zealots were determined to rebel and incite war with the Romans, hoping to gain full independence for Israel. As we will see, their roles, deaths, the aftermath of their deaths, and the timing of their deaths line up with a number of details John saw in Revelation 11. Here is a short summary of these two men.

1. Ananus: The appointment of Ananus as high priest is recorded in Antiquities 20.9.1. He was appointed in 62 AD. Josephus called him “the ancientest of the high priests” and “a very prudent man” (Wars 4.3.7), “a prodigious lover of liberty” who “preferred peace above all things,” and “a shrewd man in speaking and persuading the people” (Wars 4.5.2). Ironically, in December 66 AD he was appointed as a general over Jerusalem, one of 10 generals appointed to prepare for war with Rome (Wars 2.20.3). A long speech given by Ananus against the Zealots is recorded in Wars 4.3.10.

2. Jesus: The appointment of Jesus as high priest is recorded in Antiquities 20.9.4. He was appointed in 63 or 64 AD, but only for about a year (Ant. 20.9.7). From that time on, Josephus said, Jerusalem was “greatly disordered” and “all things grew worse and worse” (Ant. 20.9.4). Josephus referred to Jesus as “a friend and companion” (Life 41.204), and called him “the eldest of the high priests next to Ananus.” Josephus added that “although he was inferior to [Ananus] upon the comparison, he was superior to the rest” (Wars 4.5.2). Jesus also gave a long speech against the Zealots, which is recorded in Wars 4.4.3.

The Zealot Temple Siege

Ananus and Jesus were both killed at the same time during the Zealot Temple Siege of February-March 68 AD. This siege took place after the Zealots appointed a fake high priest, Phannias, who “did not well know what the high priesthood was” (Wars 4.3.6-8), and he unworthily presided over that post until Jerusalem was destroyed. In a sense, Ananus and Jesus represented the final lampstands, the final oil-bearing olive trees, of the temple before it was destroyed.

Phannias was a fraud, and the people of Jerusalem finally had enough of the Zealots. Ananus and Jesus led them in an uprising:

“And now the people could no longer bear the insolence of this procedure, but did altogether run zealously, in order to overthrow that tyranny… The best esteemed also of the high priests, Jesus the son of Gamalas, and Ananus the son of Ananus, when they were at their assemblies, bitterly reproached the people for their sloth, and excited them against the zealots…” (Wars 4.3.9).

In his speech (Wars 4.3.10), Ananus said that he would lead the people in an all-or-nothing attack against the Zealots, and that he would not spare his own body in that effort. In that battle, Ananus and his followers actually gained the upper hand against the Zealots, forcing them into the inner temple and gaining control of the rest of the city (Wars 4.3.12). Ananus then chose 6000 armed men to keep the Zealots surrounded and under guard. Unfortunately, as we will see, this strategy came undone because of the trickery of John Levi of Gischala (Wars 4.3.13-14).

Revelation 11:5-6

In Revelation 11:5 we read that fire would proceed out of the mouths of the two witnesses to devour their enemies who would try to harm them. Compare this to what Jeremiah was told:

Because you speak this word, behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them” (Jeremiah 5:14).

For more on God’s word being like a fire, and having the power to “slay” people, see Jeremiah 23:29 and Hosea 6:5.

Revelation 11:6 says that the two witnesses would “have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy…” Note that during the days of Elijah “it did not rain for three years and six months” (James 5:17; Luke 4:25). This matches the duration of time that the two witnesses would prophesy (Rev. 11:3). During the Roman siege in 70 AD, Josephus gave a speech to the Zealots in which he mentioned that the springs of water were “almost dried up” while Jerusalem was in the hands of the Zealots, but suddenly had more than enough water once the Romans arrived. This indicates that there was a lack of rain during the time that the Zealots controlled Jerusalem:

“…and as for Titus, those springs that were formerly almost dried up when they were under your power since he is come, run more plentifully than they did before; accordingly, you know that Siloam, as well as all the other springs that were without the city, did so far fail, that water was sold by distinct measures; whereas they now have such a great quantity of water for your enemies, as is sufficient not only for drink both for themselves and their cattle, but for watering their gardens also” (Wars 5.9.4.409-410).

Josephus said that Ananus had “the mastery of those that opposed his designs, or were for the war” (Wars 4.5.2). Josephus didn’t give many details about how he mastered his opponents, but this indicates that Ananus remained untouchable for a significant period of time even while the Zealots had their way in Jerusalem.

Revelation 11:7-9

Revelation 11:7-9 says this about the two witnesses:

Now when they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three and a half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into the graves.

Here “the beast” is mentioned for the very first time in the book of Revelation. (As we discussed in the previous post, it seems evident that John expected his readers to be familiar with Daniel’s description of the fourth beast in Daniel 7.) Here is also the first mention of “the great city” (later mentioned in Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18-19, 21). “The great city” is clearly defined as Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was crucified (e.g. Luke 9:31).

It’s significant that the beast oversees the deaths of the two witnesses in Jerusalem. This has a bearing on whether the beast was Roman, as many suppose, or Jewish, which is the view I’m presenting in this series. As we saw in our study of Daniel, the Romans were not in Jerusalem from August 66 AD until April 70 AD, except for a few days in November 66 AD when Cestius Gallus led a failed attack on the city. If the events of Revelation 11 took place anytime between late 66 AD and the spring of 70 AD, the beast that overcame the two witnesses was Jewish, not Roman. The events which I believe fulfilled this prophecy took place in February-March 68 AD.

In February 68 AD, Ananus urged the people of Jerusalem to oppose the lawless Jewish Zealots who had taken over the temple as “blood-shedding villains.” John Levi of Gischala was a Zealot leader who had recently come to Jerusalem, but he pretended to be on the side of Ananus and was invited to be an ambassador to the Zealots (Wars 4.3.13). John quickly betrayed him and falsely claimed that Ananus had invited the Roman general Vespasian to conquer Jerusalem (Wars 4.3.14).

In response, the Zealot leaders Eleazar ben Simon and Zacharias ben Phalek requested help from the Idumeans, who lived south of Judea. The Zealots told the Idumeans that “unless they would come immediately to their assistance… the city would be in the power of the Romans.” Even though the Zealots were trapped in the inner temple, they somehow managed to sneak out two messengers to deliver this message to the Idumeans (Wars 4.4.2-3). In fulfillment of Revelation 9:13-16, the Idumeans quickly prepared an army of 20,000 directed by four commanders (Wars 4.4.2):

“Now these [Idumean] rulers were greatly surprised at the contents of the letter, and at what those that came with it further told them; whereupon they ran about the nation like madmen, and made proclamation that the people should come to war; so a multitude was suddenly got together, sooner indeed than the time appointed in the proclamation, and everybody caught up their arms, in order to maintain the liberty of their metropolis; and twenty thousand of them were put into battle-array, and came to Jerusalem, under four commanders, John, and Jacob the son of Sosas; and besides these were Simon, the son of Cathlas, and Phineas, the son of Clusothus.”

When the Idumeans came to Jerusalem, at first Ananus’ guards prevented them from coming into the city. Jesus gave a speech in which he denied that anyone had betrayed Jerusalem to the Romans. He invited the Idumeans to help deliver the city from the real enemies, the Zealots, but the Idumeans were not persuaded (Wars 4.4.3-4).

In the midst of a terrible storm and an earthquake that night, most of the guards were allowed to go home and some of the Zealots managed to come out of the temple and use saws to cut through the gates. This allowed the Idumeans to enter the city, and the Zealots joined them in slaughtering the guards (Wars 4.5.1). The next day the Idumeans, working on behalf of the Zealots, hunted down and killed Ananus and Jesus, who had long tormented the Zealots by opposing their war and working for peace:

“[The Idumeans] sought for the high priests, and…went with the greatest zeal against them; and as soon as they caught them they slew them, and then standing upon their dead bodies, in way of jest, upbraided Ananus with his kindness to the people, and Jesus with his speech made to them from the wall. Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial… I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city… He…preferred peace above all things; …he was a shrewd man in speaking and persuading the people, and had already gotten the mastery of those that opposed his designs, or were for the war… And this at last was the end of Ananus and Jesus” (Wars 4.5.2).

So John and Josephus both described two individuals in Jerusalem who were hated, basically invincible for a while, finally killed, and not allowed to be buried.

Revelation 11:10 (Festival of Purim?)

Revelation 11:10 describes the reaction of those who were glad to be rid of the two witnesses:

And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.”

The word “earth,” as we discussed earlier, often means “land,” i.e. the land of Israel. This is certainly the case here, as the two witnesses were based in, and killed in, Jerusalem.

In the previous verse we read that “peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations” would see the dead bodies of the two witnesses. Why was there such a diverse population at that time? Was it because it took place during a festival, when Jews from various nations would be gathered in Jerusalem? If so, the description in verse 10 sounds like the festival of Purim:

“Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, who was plotting to kill all the Jews. This took place in the ancient Persian Empire… The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing. Based on the conclusions of the Scroll of Esther (Esther 9:22): “…that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.” Purim is therefore celebrated among Jews by: Exchanging reciprocal gifts of food and drink… Eating a celebratory meal… Other customs include drinking wine or any other alcoholic beverage, wearing of masks and costumes, and public celebration (Wikipedia: Purim).

The deaths of Ananus and Jesus are commonly said to have taken place in February or March 68 AD. The Fast of Esther and Purim are typically celebrated from the 13th – 16th of Adar. In the year 68 AD, the last day of Adar was March 22nd, according to our modern calendar (“The Jewish war: a new tr.,” p. 191). Therefore, since each Jewish month was 29 or 30 days, we can know that the Fast of Esther and Purim took place around March 4-7 in 68 AD.

It appears that when the Zealots celebrated Purim in March 68 AD, they not only celebrated the deliverance from Haman that took place in Esther’s day, but they also celebrated being free from Ananus and Jesus and all their efforts to oppose the Zealots and achieve peace with Rome.  After all, they believed the lie told by John of Gischala – that Ananus had invited Vespasian to capture Jerusalem, and that Ananus intended for them all to be captured by the Romans.

A short while later, another Zealot leader, Simon Bar Giora, found out that Ananus was dead. He was at Masada because Ananus had previously driven him away from Acrabattene, a toparchy of Judea, because of his tyranny there (Wars 2.22.1-2). When Simon “heard of the death of Ananus, he…went into the mountainous part of the country. So he proclaimed liberty to those in slavery, and a reward to those already free, and got together a set of wicked men from all quarters” (Wars 4.9.3). This is just one example of how the Zealots behaved as if they were free of the “torments” of Ananus and Jesus.

Revelation 11:11-12

Now after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them” (Revelation 11:11-12).

At this time, I don’t have much insight into what these verses mean or how they may fit the narrative described above (or any narrative described by Josephus or any other first century historian). Does this simply mean that heaven validated their message of peace? Did Ananus and Jesus embrace the gospel and become followers of Christ (something Josephus wouldn’t have mentioned)? I hope to gain insight on these verses in the future. In the meantime, those who read this are invited to share any insight you may have.

Revelation 11:13

Revelation 11:13 reads this way:

In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand men were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.”

In Wars 4.4.5 Josephus described an earthquake that took place the night the Idumeans broke into Jerusalem, the day before Ananus and Jesus were killed:

“[F]or there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake… anyone would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.”

That same night the Idumeans slaughtered those who had prevented them from coming in:

“The zealots also joined in the shouts raised by the Idumeans; and the storm itself rendered the cry more terrible; nor did the Idumeans spare anybody; for as they are naturally a most barbarous and bloody nation, and had been distressed by the tempest, they made use of their weapons against those that had shut the gates against them… Now there was at present neither any place for flight, nor any hope of preservation; but as they were driven one upon another in heaps, so were they slain… And now the outer temple was all of it overflowed with blood; and that day, as it came on, they saw eight thousand five hundred dead bodies there” (Wars 4.5.1).

Did 7000 die in the earthquake, and another 1500 die by the swords of the Idumeans? In any case, John’s prediction of 7000 deaths is very close to the 8500 deaths mentioned by Josephus. Furthermore, this earthquake and the deaths of Ananus and Jesus were less than 24 hours apart, certainly qualifying as taking place “in the same hour.”

Typically, estimates of Jerusalem’s population in the first century range from 30,000 to 100,000 people, so it’s very reasonable to conclude that 7000 deaths in 68 AD represented a tenth of the city falling. Even if the normal population was closer to 30,000, it would have been higher at the time of that earthquake if it took place around the festival of Purim. This was a minor festival, so the population may have doubled, but it wouldn’t have swollen to 250,000 or more as it would during the major festivals.

Jerusalem Took a Turn for the Worse

The deaths of Ananus and Jesus marked a significant turning point for Jerusalem, according to Josephus:

“I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city… to say all in a word, if Ananus had survived they had certainly compounded matters… And the Jews had then put abundance of delays in the way of the Romans, if they had had such a general as he was” (Wars 4.5.2).

After their deaths, the Zealots and the Idumeans “fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats.” Others endured “terrible torments” before finally meeting their deaths. At least 12,000 died in that massacre (Wars 4.5.3).

Then one of the Zealots told the Idumeans that they had been tricked, and that Ananus and the high priests never did plot to betray Jerusalem to the Romans. So the Idumeans regretted their actions, saw “the horrid barbarity of [the Zealots who] had invited them,” and they left Jerusalem (Wars 4.5.5). The Zealots, no longer hindered by the high priests or even the Idumeans, then increased their wickedness:

“[T]he zealots grew more insolent, not as deserted by their confederates, but as freed from such men as might hinder their designs, and put some stop to their wickedness. Accordingly they made no longer any delay, nor took any deliberation in their enormous practices, but made use of the shortest methods for all their executions, and what they had once resolved upon, they put in practice sooner than anyone could imagine…” (Wars 4.6.1).

In summary, Ananus and Jesus were two former high priests, and the most prominent of the high priests during the Jewish-Roman War. As such, they fit the Old Testament imagery of olive trees and lampstands representing those who stood before the Lord in the service of the temple. Until the time of their deaths, they were immune to the harm that their enemies wanted to inflict upon them. They gave speeches predicting the destruction that would come to Jerusalem because of the Zealots and due to the rejection of their message of peace. Jerusalem experienced a drought during that time. They were killed by the Zealots (and their cohorts, the Idumeans) just as the Zealots gained full control of the city. They were not allowed to be buried, and their enemies rejoiced over their deaths. This happened at the same time as an earthquake and the deaths of 8500 people.

In the next post we will begin to look at Revelation 13.

All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.

Revelation Chapter 11


REVELATION 11

Dave: October 8, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 11

[Notes from Adam were added on November 3rd and 8th, with Dave’s permission, and are in maroon font.]

Verses 1-2: The Two Witnesses
1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

David Chilton comments: “Measuring is a symbolic action used in scripture to ‘divide between the holy and the profane’ and thus to indicate divine protection from destruction (see Ezek. 22:26; 40-43; Zech. 2:1-5; cf. Jer. 10:16; 51:19; Rev. 21:15-16)” [Source: Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), p. 220]. Some preterists find this text to be one of the strongest indications of an early date. Examples of this can be seen in the following quotes taken from the Preterist Archive:

[1] Johannes Friedrich Bleek (1870): “As to the time of writing, there are several statements which indicate this with tolerable clearness, and to which we have already referred. In the first division (ch. xi. 1-14)… Jerusalem and the temple are spoken of as still standing.” (An Introduction to the New Testament, 2:226.)
[2] James M. Macdonald (1877):
“It is difficult to see how language could more clearly point to Jerusalem, and to Jerusalem as it was before its overthrow.”, (The Life and Writings of St John , p. 159.)
[3] Bernhard Weiss (1889): “The time of the Apocalypse is also definitely fixed by the fact that according to the prophecy in chap. xi. it was manifestly written before the destruction of Jerusalem, which in xi. 1 is only anticipated.” (Bernhard Weiss, A Manual of Introduction to the New Testament, 2:82; 1889.)
[4] John A.T. Robinson (1976): “It is indeed generally agreed that this passage must bespeak a pre-70 situation.. There seems therefore no reason why the oracle should not have been uttered by a Christian prophet as the doom of the city drew nigh.” (Redating the New Testament pp.. 240-242).
[5] Kenneth Gentry (1998): “If John wrote about literal Jerusalem (“where also their Lord was crucified”)  twenty-five years after the destruction of the literal Temple (as per the evangelically formulated late date argument), it would seem most improbable that he would speak of the Temple as if it were still standing. The symbol would be confusing in its blatant anachronism. The Temple is required to be standing for the symbolical action of the vision to have any meaning. John uses the future tense when he speaks of the nations’ treading down the city. As just stated, this is not a reminiscence of a past event, but rather a future expectation.” (Before Jerusalem Fell, p.175)

David S. Clark (1989) is also quoted in this regard by Steve Gregg (p. 222): “Here is so plainly the destruction of Jerusalem that it could hardly be put in plainer words. It seems evident that there is no getting away from the fact that here we are dealing with the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70,–that all that John has said hitherto was leading up to this great fact,–that here we have the culmination of these prophetic seals, and this is where the first half of the book lands us.”

• If Revelation was written in 95 AD, then what temple is being referred to here? Herod’s temple had been long destroyed.
• If the temple here is referring to a temple that is “future” (as futurists believe), why would such a temple be necessary in light of the work of Christ and the new covenant that has replaced temple sacrifices? See Hebrews 9-10. If a new temple is necessary and said to be the “temple of God” in Rev 11:1, this would dangerously minimize the work of Christ.
• Rev 11:2 says that the holy city will be “trampled” for 42 months. This prophecy is remarkably similar to the one spoken by Jesus in Luke 21:24, where it is said that “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” And Luke 21:24 is commonly believed to be referring to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
• The “holy city” is Jerusalem as described in 11:8 [see below].
• 42 months is the length of time that historians say the Roman army attacked and destroyed the city of Jerusalem. This 42 months covers the period from February 67 AD – August 70 AD, that is, from the time that Rome declared war on Israel (and Vespasian marched into Judea, Galilee, and on toward Jerusalem) until Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed. From Scripture we know that Jerusalem had been known historically as “the holy city” (Nehemiah 11:1; Isaiah 48:2, 52:1; Daniel 9:24; Matthew 4:5; Matthew 27:53), and this was still its historic designation despite the fact that Jesus had pronounced it desolate (Matt. 23:38). In 1851, Moses Stuart (Professor at Andover Theological Seminary) made the following remarks concerning Revelation 11:2 and the trampling of the holy city for 42 months, his point being that the mention of “the holy city” also referred to Israel as a whole:

“Jerusalem, as being the metropolis, is, as often in the Old Testament, made the symbol or representative of the whole country or nation. The reader needs only to be reminded, how often Zion and Jerusalem stand, in prophetic language, as the representatives of the Jewish government, polity, land, and nation, in order to accede to the position, that the capitals in the Apocalypse are to be considered as the symbols of the country and of the government to which they belong.

“When John therefore predicts, in Rev. 11:2, that “the holy city shall be trodden under foot 42 months,” this of course involves the idea, that the country of which the holy city is the capital, is also trodden under foot. To make their way to the capital, a foreign enemy, coming (as the Romans did) from the north, must have overrun a great portion of Palestine antecedently to the capture of Jerusalem. The prediction of course includes both, inasmuch as the holy city is made the representative of the country at large.”

Source: Moses Stuart, Hints on the Interpretation of Prophecy, New York: Van Nostrand and Terrett, pp. 115-116; available online at http://www.preteristarchive.com/Books/pdf/1851_stuart_hints_interpretation.pdf

Discussion item: read Luke 21:5-33
• My ESV Bible heading, and the accompanying explanation, claim that verses 20-24 refer to AD 70. If so, how could the rest of the text refer to a future “end times”?
• Could the entire passage refer to AD 70?
• What is the significance of verse 32 to the issue?

I have to admit that for some time I’ve been a bit perplexed over the language used in verses 1-2. I can see the basis for saying that this passage is written as if the Second Temple was still standing when John received his vision (and I believe it was), yet the use of the phrase “temple of God” seems to indicate that the Church is also being referred to here (cf. Eph. 2:11-22; II Cor. 6:16; I Cor. 3:16, 6:19). Therefore it may be that John was (symbolically) measuring the Church which would be trampled (persecuted) for 42 months (see Rev. 13:5-7). Given the similarity between this passage and Luke 21:24, the physical temple was also probably being alluded to. It may be that both ideas were being spoken of in this case (more will be said on this later in this post).

David Chilton may be on to something, then, as in the quote above he referred to a division between the holy and the profane. That may very well be what John is seeing contrasted here. In other words, the desolate physical temple (cf. Matthew 23:38) would soon disappear, and only God’s holy temple (His people) would remain standing (cf. Hebrews 8:13, 12:18-29). I also appreciate what David Lowman (a Presbyterian pastor in Colorado) has said concerning these things:

The measuring of the Temple is patterned, like so much of the book of Revelation, after the book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel we are shown an angel of the Lord measuring the Temple representing the future for Jerusalem and God’s Holy people after a return from exile. Conversely, John measures the temple to determine its soon coming destruction and its being ‘trampled’ for 42 months…

What John does, though, is give us a beautiful, symbolic picture of God’s preserving work, for only the outer courts of the Temple are seen as being trampled, while the Temple Proper (Holy Place and Holy of Holies) is preserved. This would be God’s remnant preserved through the soon coming wrath and destruction. The physical Temple faced the wrath of God and His judgment, but His true Temple – the Church – survived and thrived amidst the persecution and tribulation…

God here, in this interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpets, is once again showing His protection of His people. He has measured them out and has determined to protect them through the 3 1/2 year time of judgment set against apostate Israel and the physical representation of the old and obsolete Covenant, the Temple.

Kenneth Gentry (p. 174) writes in a similar manner, saying that “the measuring of the Temple is for the preservation of its innermost aspects, i.e., the…altar, and worshippers within (Rev. 11:1).” He adds,

This seems to refer to the inner-spiritual idea of the Temple in the New Covenant era that supercedes the material Temple of the Old Covenant era. Thus, while judgment is about to be brought upon Israel, Jerusalem, and the literal Temple complex, this prophecy speaks also of the preservation of God’s new Temple, the Church…that had its birth in and was originally headquartered at Jerusalem (Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 8:1; 15:2). Notice that after the holocaust, the altar is seen in heaven (Rev. 11:18), whence Christ’s kingdom originates (John 18:36; Heb. 1:3) and where Christians have their citizenship (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1, 2).

The external court of the Temple complex, however, is not “measured”; it is “cast out”… All the Israelites who refuse the new priesthood of baptism are cast out and their Temple destroyed. The Temple is not destined for preservation, “for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months” (v. 2). The prior prophecy of Christ (Matt. 24:2) absolutely prohibits any expectation of even a partial preservation of the literal Temple. Thus, John reveals both the prophetic certainty of the material Temple’s destruction and the fact of the preservation of His true Temple, His Church, His New Covenant people, His new priesthood [As such, Rev. 11:1, 2 functions in the same way as the “sealing of the 144,000” passage in Rev. 7]. The proper understanding of the passage requires a mixture of the figurative-symbolic and the literal-historical.

Steve Gregg (p. 220) adds these helpful notes,

As at the end of chapter 10, where John’s eating of the book repeats Ezekiel’s action of centuries earlier, here in chapter 11 John is told to do something else that also has a precedent in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 40-47 a man measures the temple with a measuring rod. In Revelation 11 John himself is given a reed for the same purpose. In both cases, the action depicts the defining of the true spiritual temple in view of the impending destruction of the physical structure in Jerusalem (by Babylonians in Ezekiel’s day, by Romans in John’s).

Verses 3-6: 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire…

The two witnesses
• There is all sorts of speculation about the identity of the two witnesses amongst preterists, futurists, and everyone else!
• The reference to the two olive trees and two lampstands is from Zechariah 4:11-14. There the reference is to the high priest, Joshua, and the governor, Zerubbabel. (Read Zech 4)
What do we know about the two witnesses from the text?
• They prophesy for 1260 days (vs. 3)
• They are clothed in sackcloth (vs. 3) (Why? Perhaps because their message is one of impending destruction)
• They have power to harm their adversaries (vs. 5)
• They have power over nature and to strike the earth with plagues (vs. 6)
• They are overcome and killed by the beast in God’s time (vs. 7)
• Their dead bodies will lie in Jerusalem for 3 ½ days (vs. 9)
• Their death will be celebrated (vs. 10)
• They have been a “torment” to those on the earth (vs. 10) How and why?
• God will make them alive again after 3 ½ days! (vs. 11)
• They are taken up to heaven on a cloud! (vs. 12)
• A deadly earthquake fell on the city after their departure (vs. 13)

Explanations given for the identity of the two witnesses:
• Religious and Civic authority (represented by the high priest and governor of Zech 4)
• Moses and Elijah returning to earth
• Elijah and Enoch returning to earth
• James and Peter
• Two people that God raised up for the role

Kenneth Gentry has the following to say regarding their identity and significance:

(1) This is recognized on all hands to be one of the more difficult identifications in Revelation.
(2) Somehow these witnesses relate to Moses and Elijah in that imagery from their ministries appear in the passage (water to blood and drought, v6).
(3) They also related to Zechariah’s prophecy of the gold lampstand and two olive trees in Zech 4:2-3, which speak of the rebuilding of the OT temple under Joshua (priest) and Zerubbabel (governor).
(4) In both allusions we have reference to the original founding of Israel as a nation and the re-establishment of it after the Babylonian exile.
(5) Thus, the two witnesses represent the founding of a new order for Israel upon the ruins of the old, earthly Israel. This is the church of Jesus Christ. Remember: Jesus said he will take the kingdom from Israel and give it to a nation bearing the fruit thereof. (Mt 21:43). Despite the persecution of Christianity it shall arise from apparent defeat.

Tony Denton (www.asiteforthelord.com) offers these interesting thoughts:

Under the Mosaic law, two witnesses were necessary to put any man to death; so, in that sense, God was providing two witnesses against Judah, Jerusalem, and the Temple. These two witnesses would prophesy against Jerusalem and warn the people for 3.5 years.

Not only did sackcloth represent great sadness at an impending disaster due to sin, but also it (typically made of camel’s hair) was traditionally worn by prophets (like John the Immerser); perhaps this was because prophets were practically always warning of these disasters.

The two witnesses comprise one set of two olive trees and one set of two lampstands. So what or who do these trees and stands represent? Briefly…

This is derived from Zechariah 4:1-12 where the reader finds that one olive tree represents the anointed king David, and the other represents the anointed priest Aaron—thus king and priest; the idea here seems to be that Christ’s church (made up of Christians who were/are both kings and priests, Rev. 5:10) would be witnesses of God against Judaism. And…

We already know that individual congregations of the church universal were represented to John as lampstands (Rev. 1:20), they who shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:15).

James MacDonald, in his 1877 book The Life and Writings of St. John, was of the opinion that we don’t have a historical record of the activity of the two witnesses during the Roman-Jewish War because the historians we rely on from that time were either Jewish (Josephus) or Roman (e.g. Tacitus), and none were Christian:

If we had a Christian history extant, as we have a Pagan one by Tacitus and a Jewish one by Josephus, giving an account of what occurred within that devoted city during that awful period of its history, then we might trace out more distinctly the prophesying of the two witnesses. The great body of Christians, warned by the signs given them by their Lord, according to ancient testimony, appear to have left Palestine on its invasion by the Romans . . . . But it was the will of God that a competent number of witnesses for Christ should remain to preach the Gospel to the very last moment to their deluded, miserable countrymen. It may have been part of their work to reiterate the prophecies respecting the destruction of the city, the temple, and commonwealth… The olive-trees, fresh and vigorous, keep the lamps constantly supplied with oil. These witnesses, amidst the darkness which has settled round Jerusalem, give a steady and unfailing light… If these two prophets were the only Christians in Jerusalem, as both were killed, there was no one to make a record or report in the case, and we have here therefore an example of a prophecy which contains at the same time the only history or notice of the events by which it was fulfilled… There seems to be a peculiar fitness in these witnesses for Christ, men endowed with the highest supernatural gifts, standing to the last in the forsaken city, prophesying its doom, and lamenting over what was once so dear to God (pp. 161-162)

Moses Stuart (Professor of Andover Theological Seminary), in his 1851 work Hints on the Interpretation of Prophecy, saw a significance in the number of witnesses chosen by God to prophesy during this time of judgment upon apostate Israel. He remarks, “Two witnesses, and but two, are specified, as we may naturally suppose, because, ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter is established.'” This is a reference to Deuteronomy 19:15 (cf. II Cor. 13:1).

Although history doesn’t seem to record the activities of two witnesses as some might expect if this is a past event (and if it is assumed that they are merely individuals), Josephus does record some interesting details regarding the activity of one man, whose behavior shows that he functioned very much as a prophet in the city of Jerusalem. The following excerpt is taken from a term paper I wrote a few months ago:

Jesus, the son of Ananus and a common Roman citizen, came to the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem during a time of great peace and prosperity and began to cry out, “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the holy house, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, and a voice against this whole people!” He continued to do this for seven years and five months, day and night, in all the lanes of the city, crying out the loudest during the festivals. He was often whipped until his bones were bare, but witnesses say he never shed a tear, only crying out at every lash, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” He was dismissed by the Roman Procurator as a madman… [In April 70 AD he was] killed by a large stone flung from one of the Roman engines… Just before he was struck, he cried out with great force, “Woe, woe to the city again, and to the people, and to the holy house! Woe, woe to myself also!”

In verse 6 we read that the two witnesses have the power to strike “the earth” with every kind of plague. Is their ministry worldwide or local? In our study of Revelation so far, we have suggested that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.

Verse 8: We know that Jerusalem is being spoken of because it is said that this is “where their Lord was crucified.” The following details also come from my same term paper:

It’s worth noting that “Revelation 11:8 suggests that Jerusalem’s streets were intact at the time of John’s writing” (Kenneth Gentry, 1998, p. 236) because the dead bodies of the two witnesses were to lie there for several days. If John wrote this in 95 or 96 AD, Jerusalem would have been a wasteland. As Kathleen M. Kenyon remarked [Jerusalem: Excavating 3000 Years of History, 1967, p. 185], “It was two centuries or more [after 70 AD] before human activity began once more to make its mark in the whole area of ancient Jerusalem.” It’s also significant in Revelation 11:8 that Jerusalem is called “the great city.” This is the same title given to Babylon the Great on at least six occasions (17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21).

To be called “Sodom,” of course, is not a compliment. When Isaiah was instructed to prophesy against Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:10), he called the Israelites by the same name because of their apostasy. It would make sense for John to speak of apostate Jerusalem, once known as the holy city, as Sodom, Babylon, and a harlot. Todd Dennis writes, “The image of the unfaithful wife, the harlot, was often used of Israel in the OT. Israel is repeatedly called the wife of God (Jer. 2:2, 3:14, Is. 54:5). But she was an unfaithful wife (Jer. 3:20, Hos. 1:2, Ez. 6:9, Ez. 16, Is. 50:1) behaving as a prostitute (Jer. 3:1-2).

Luke is very clear that Jerusalem was to be the place where Jesus would be crucified. In his account of the Transfiguration, Luke says, “Then behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).

Kenneth Gentry (Before Jerusalem Fell, p. 171) notes that Jerusalem was great in not only its “covenantal-redemptive [i.e. spiritual] signficance,” but also because of its historical fame. He quotes the Roman historian Tacitus who refers to Jerusalem as “a famous city” (Histories 5:2). Gentry adds,

Jerusalem housed a Temple that, according to Tacitus “was famous beyond all other works of men.” Another Roman historian, Pliny, said of Jerusalem that it was “by far the most famous city of the ancient Orient.” According to Josephus, a certain Agatharchides spoke of Jerusalem thus: “There are a people called Jews, who dwell in a city the strongest of all other cities, which the inhabitants call Jerusalem.” Appian called it “the great city Jerusalem.” …More important, however, is the covenantal significance of Jerusalem. The obvious role of Jerusalem in the history of the covenant should merit it such greatness… Josephus sadly extols Jerusalem’s lost glory after its destruction: “This was the end which Jerusalem came to be the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificance, and of mighty fame among all mankind (Wars 7:1:1)… And where is not that great city, the metropolis of the Jewish nation, which was fortified by so many walls round about, which had so many fortresses and large towers to defend it, which could hardly contain the instruments prepared for the war, and which had so many tens of thousands of men to fight for it? Where is this city that was believed to have God himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations” (Wars 7:8:7).

Verses 9-12: Here we read that the dead bodies of the witnesses would lie unburied in the streets of the great city, Jerusalem, for “three and a half days,” before “a breath of life from God” enters them and they’re caught up to heaven in a cloud. A very natural explanation for “those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations” (verse 9) being present in Jerusalem to see these dead bodies is that this would take place during one of the annual festivals. As an example of this, Luke says that on the Day of Pentecost “there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Some of these nations are listed in Acts 2:9-11.

In several places Josephus speaks of dead bodies being left unburied in Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War (Wars 4.5.2, 4.6.1, 4.6.3, and 5.13.1). Josephus says this about the death of Niger of Peres which took place in Jerusalem:

“Nor did Niger of Peres escape their hands; he had been a man of great valor in their war with the Romans… he besought them to grant him a burial; but as they had threatened him beforehand not to grant him any spot of earth for a grave, which he chiefly desired of them, so did they slay him [without permitting him to be buried]. Now when they were slaying him, he made this imprecation upon them, that they might undergo both famine and pestilence in this war, and besides all that, they might come to the mutual slaughter of one another; all which imprecations God confirmed against these impious men, and was what came most justly upon them, when not long afterward. they tasted of their own madness in their mutual seditions one against another” (Wars 4.6.1).

In Wars 4.6.3 Josephus describes the fate of many Jews who “deserted every day, and fled away from the zealots, although their flight was very difficult, since they [the Zealots] had guarded every passage out of the city, and slew every one that was caught at them, as taking it for granted they were going over to the Romans.” Josephus adds this:

“Along all the roads also vast numbers of dead bodies lay in heaps, and even many of those that were so zealous in deserting at length chose rather to perish within the city; for the hopes of burial made death in their own city appear of the two less terrible to them. But these zealots came at last to that degree of barbarity, as not to bestow a burial either on those slain in the city, or on those that lay along the roads; but as if they had made an agreement to cancel both the laws of their country and the laws of nature, and, at the same time that they defiled men with their wicked actions, they would pollute the Divinity itself also, they left the dead bodies to putrefy under the sun; and the same punishment was allotted to such as buried any as to those that deserted, which was no other than death; while he that granted the favor of a grave to another would presently stand in need of a grave himself.”

Verse 13: We are told that a great earthquake takes place, causing a tenth of the city of Jerusalem [identified as such in verse 8] to fall, and 7000 to be killed as a direct result of the earthquake. This is said to occur in the same hour as the end of the ministry of the two witnesses. This account from Josephus, (said to take place during the first half of 68 AD, appears to be the fulfillment of this event:

There broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming (Wars 4:4:5). [Taking advantage of the noise of the storm, some of the Jewish zealots cut the bars of the temple gates with temple saws, allowing the Idumaeans to come in and join them in slaughtering some of the people]. The din from all quarters was rendered more terrific by the howling of the storm. And by daybreak they saw 8,500 dead bodies there (Wars 4:4:7-4:5:1).

Josephus does not attribute a certain number of deaths to the earthquake, and a certain number of deaths to the warfare which took place, but only notes that a total of 8500 dead bodies were discovered the morning after this earthquake. This is remarkably close to the Biblical account. Estimates of Jerusalem’s population prior to its destruction (at non-feast times) range as high as 200,000. This number in 68 AD, however, should have been lower considering that the Christians had fled and the city was in the throes of civil war. Josephus then records that the Idumaeans and the Jewish zealots succeeded in killing Ananus the high priest and his next-in-command, Jesus son of Gamalas (also known as Joshua), showing them much dishonor:

“Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial. I should not make a mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city [when the Jews] beheld their high priest, the captain of their salvation, butchered in the heart of Jerusalem” (Wars 4:5:2).

This is not to suggest that Ananus and Joshua were the two witnesses, but it sheds further light on verse 9 which indicates that the two witnesses were also not to be buried (cf. Psalm 79:1-4, where very similar conditions were described by Asaph).

Verses 14-15: 14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come. The Seventh Trumpet 15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign. 18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

There is much discussion about the meaning of v. 15. Within the Preterist view, in what way can it be said that “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of His Christ”? One response is that, with the trampling of the great city and the destruction of the temple, the kingdom of God is clearly shown that it is not a “national theocracy” limited to the Jewish people. The kingdom of Christ is available to all people (as demonstrated by Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles). The Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46) is most interesting in this regard. It speaks of the pattern of national Israel and its religious leaders throughout the Old Testament in killing God’s prophets and servants. At last they killed God’s Son, Jesus. When Jesus asked what would be done to the tenants of this vineyard, the chief priests, elders, and Pharisees (vss. 23, 45) rightfully answered, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruit in their seasons” (verse 41). Jesus then speaks of their rejection of Him (verse 42), and declares that the kingdom of God would be taken away from national Israel “and given to a people producing its fruits” (verse 43).

Who is this people? Of course, it’s the Church, made up of Jewish and Gentile believers, among whom there is no distinction made (Galatians 3:28, 5:6, 6:15; Colossians 3:11; I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 2:13-17). When did this happen, though, that the kingdom was taken away from national Israel and given exclusively to the Church? It can be said that this transaction took place at the time of Christ’s death and resurrection, even at Pentecost when the Church was born. However, the physical manifestation of national Israel being taken out of the way, and the final consumation of the Jewish age, took place when Jerusalem and the Second Temple were destroyed in 70 AD. It’s quite possible that this event was on Jesus’ mind when He said, “And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (verse 45). The old covenant was in the process of vanishing away when Hebrews was written (see Heb. 8:13), but at this time it completely vanished away, and remains no more. Now to the Church belongs the kingdom (cf. Daniel 7:13-27).

In the Futurist view, the proclamation in verse 15 heralds the return of Christ and the end of the world. They point to verse 18 as the commencement of the final judgment.

Verse 19: As we saw in Rev. 4:5 and 8:5, the cosmic phenomena in verse 19 mirrors the phenomena that occurred when Moses delivered the Law to the Israelites on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16). The significance of this parallel is that Jerusalem’s destruction (along with the temple) completed the transition from Judaism (the Old Covenant) to the New Covenant.

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Our study of Revelation 11 (Part 2: Historicist View) continues here. Our Revelation 12 study 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.