Rev. 11:1 – Then I was given a measuring reed like a rod, with these words: “Go and measure God’s sanctuary and the altar, and [count] those who worship there. 2But exclude the courtyard outside the sanctuary. Don’t measure it, because it is given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for 42 months.” (HCSB)
Revelation 11 continues the interlude between the second and third woes (the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments), although we are warned at the end of verse 14 that the third woe is coming quickly. John is given a measuring instrument and told to measure the Lord’s sanctuary and altar, but to exclude the courtyard, which is given to the nations (or Gentiles) for a period of time.
He then is told that two witnesses will be empowered for the same length of time. These prophets have the ability to kill their enemies with fire, to prevent rain from falling, and to produce plagues similar to those witnessed in the days of Moses in Egypt. Ultimately, the “beast” who comes up from the abyss will conquer them and kill them. Their bodies will be on public display for three and a half days, prompting a global celebration. But then the Lord will raise them from the dead, call them into heaven, and produce a violent earthquake that kills 7,000 people and terrifies the survivors.
Why is John instructed to measure the sanctuary and the altar? Are these in heaven or on earth? Who are the two witnesses, and why are they compared with olive trees and lampstands? Why do they prevent rain and produce plagues? How does the beast manage to kill them, and why does the Lord breathe life back into them, only to snatch them up into heaven? And what does it mean that the survivors of the earthquake give glory to the God of heaven? Do they repent and become believers?
There is much imagery in these verses – and a great deal of disagreement among scholars as to its meaning. So let’s dig in.