Revelation 11: Preservation of God’s People During their Testimony

Revelation 11

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. 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

Image above is from WikiMedia Commons: Artistic depiction of the Solomon’s Temple Sanctuary (Naos).

The Context of Chapter 11 — This chapter is by far the most difficult chapter in Revelation to interpret. The difficulty stems from the presence of “Jewish elements” in it. These apocalyptic images morph from one into another so quickly that one cannot read this chapter like a newspaper account of the future.



Some take a literal view of the chapter and its details. However, the symbols obviously refer to realities beyond literal Old Testament Jews. John uses Jewish elements as symbols for the people of God, both Jews and Gentiles, who are redeemed by the blood of Christ during the entire Church Age. The temple, city, and witnesses are figures used to show the fate of Christ’s church during the last days — the time between the Death-Resurrection-Ascension and the Second Coming of Christ. Note carefully the following: (1) John refers to the Christian Church as God’s kings and priests (Rev. 1:6);
(2) John uses the symbol of a temple (naos = Sanctuary) for the Christian Church (Rev. 3:12).
Therefore, the symbolic view of Chapter 11 is preferred over the literal view for the stated reasons.

Chapter 11 gives us a view into what God’s people will be experiencing as they witness to the Gospel of Christ between His Resurrection-Ascension and Second Coming.

Verses 1-14 — These verses comprise an extended direct quotation from an unstated source. The speaker is simply not identified. John is not a mere spectator to the action described in this scene. As in the last chapter, John becomes a participant.

One realizes from the onset that the chapter is dealing with symbolism and not a literal temple, a literal city, or two literal prophets. The spiritual is represented in terms that first century believers could understand. The OT figures are regularly applied to the NT Church. John is not saying that a literal temple is to be measured. Historical evidence dates the Revelation at ca. A.D. 95. Therefore, Herod’s temple was no longer standing. Scripture does not teach a return to the Jewish sacrifices in the last days. Therefore, there cannot be a restoration of the temple. This would negate the message of the book of Hebrews. (see Hebrews 10.)


Herod’s Temple as imagined in the Holy-land Model of Jerusalem; east at the bottom. Image from Wikimedia Commons. Only the high building in the center was the sanctuary (naos).

The temple naos (inner sanctuary) (and not a temple complex which would be indicated by the Greek word hieron) is symbolic of the true people of God — the Church of Jesus Christ. This chapter records the ministry of the Church in the days from Christ’s Resurrection-Ascension to His Second Coming.

I. God’s people are assured of His protection against eternal harm from the enemy. vss. 1-3

vs. 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…” 

He is given a measuring rod (rhabdos). The act of measuring may indicate that one is marking out a thing for preservation or for destruction. Leon Morris, (p. 145), refers the reader to II Sam. 8:2 for a marking out for destruction and to Ezek. 40:3ff. for a marking out for preservation.


Cubit rod of Egyptian Court Official Maya, 1336–1327 BC (Eighteenth Dynasty) from Wikimedia Commons.

Note that the word “was given” (didômi — in the past tense – aorist) passive voice indicates an implied divine agency. The altar is the incense altar where the worship of the people of God took place inside the temple sanctuary. The worshipers are also marked out for preservation. God is pledging to protect his Church while she carries out her testimony in the world. We should note that the preservation of the Church is promised, but the people of God are not promised preservation from physical harm. 

A Modern Example of Preservation within, but not Exemption from, Suffering

Open DoorsAlthough Vietnam has already lifted its nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, the government still distributes food aid through the local villages to families with meager incomes or those who lost their jobs during the lockdown. But when 18 Christian families—a total of 107 people including senior citizens and children — went to gather their portion, local authorities told them, “You are not the list.”

“When they learned support was coming to their district, they were so happy,” Nguyen* shares. “Instead, the authorities said: ‘You are Christians, and your God shall take care of your family! The government is not responsible for your families!’”

When our partners learned about this injustice, they responded, delivering sacks of rice (55 pounds for each household) to these believers—but even this wasn’t easy. Local authorities soon found out about the distribution at a church member’s home and showed up, demanding they stop and immediately leave the village. Nguyen paints the scene:

“One of our partners, Pastor Foom*, bravely faced the authorities. He stood up to them and said, ‘Our church donated these sacks of rice to help them in this difficult time. Since you could not provide food for them and discriminated against them from receiving aid because they are Christians, our church decided to help them. Why are you stopping us from helping them?’”

Compelled to deliver the aid to the families, Open Doors partners took the sacks of rice to a different village where a believer willingly opened his house to store the aid, despite the risk of interrogation. Representatives of the 18 families discreetly went to the designated home where they finally received the aid. (see Open Doors below; *names changed to protect identity.)

vs. 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.”

The Outer Court — God has no interest in the outer court of the temple, nor in the rest of the city. Ekballô, here rendered “exclude,” is used in an unusual way. Normally, it means “to cast out.” Here it means to “leave out of consideration.” John uses the aorist imperative negated by mê which indicates that the action had not yet began “do not even begin to measure . . . .” The outer court was the court of the gentiles. This was used by those who were not Jews, but who came to worship. The sanctuary (naos) contains the true people of God. The outer court must, then, symbolically contain the heathen. God has protected the true church from destruction. There will be martyrs. But, the Church itself will not be destroyed.

The Gentiles in Chapter 11 — This reference has led many commentators to conclude that the line of demarcation in Rev. 11 is between Jews and Gentiles. However, Alan F. Johnson points out that “Gentiles” (Greek = ethnoi from which we derive our English word “ethnicity”) is regularly used in the same way we use the word “heathen” to describe unbelievers as opposed to Christians.

The reference to “Gentiles” should be interpreted as “unsaved who may or may not be a part of the professing church.” The ”Trampling” of the Holy City — Lk. 21:24 seems to be the background to the trampling under foot of the city. As we have already seen John uses earthly Jerusalem as an illustration of the Church.

Graphs for Revelation 11

Chart Comparing time periods in the book of Revelation



Statue of Antiochus IV of Syria

The Time Periods of Chapter 11 — The 42 months is the period of the Church’s testimony in the world between the Resurrection-Ascension and the Second Coming of Christ. It is interesting to note that our Lord was on earth for 3½ years (42 / 30 day lunar months or 1260 days or a time, times, and half a time.) Also Daniel records this as the time that Antiochus Epiphanes controlled Jerusalem. There is no seven year time period in the book of Revelation. There is no division of the seventieth week of Daniel from the 69 weeks. They form a discrete unit.

vs. 3 “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

The Two Witnesses. The question facing us is, “Are these two literal individuals, or are they symbols of the church?” It is best to view the two witnesses as symbols of the true testimony of the Church in the world during the last days between the Resurrection-Ascension of Christ and His Second Coming. Note the following reasons: (1) in the O.T. two witnesses were required in order to establish a valid testimony (Deut. 17:6); (2) they seem to be “larger than life figures — i.e. Moses and Elijah resurrected.

The Significance of Sackcloth — Sackcloth was worn as a sign of grief and penitence. A prophetic ministry which damns more people to hell than it brings to Christ is cause for mourning and sorrow. We seem to have lost our ability today to mourn over sinners and the lost. 

An early missionary of the Salvation Army wrote General William Booth a letter in which he decried the lack of response to his ministry.

He wrote, “I have tried everything and failed.”

Booth send a terse reply, “Try tears!”

Maybe it’s time for tears in the Western Church!

On to further verses in Chapter 11 next week.

(Commentaries on which I rely without direct quotation) 

Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.

ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from

Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 125).

Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.

Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Open Doors. (2020). Accessed 8 August 2020 from

WikiMedia Commons for Images

© 2020 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved

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