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, 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. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 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. 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. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.
Understanding And Applying the Text
John was told to measure the temple before the Gentiles trampled it underfoot. This supports an early dating of the book the Revelation. Both the Temple and Jerusalem had to be standing. If John was to measure it, it had to be. This confirms John wrote the Book of Revelation before 70 AD.
Futurists have a different explanation. They see chapters 4 through 18 as fulfilled in a future seven-year tribulation. So they believe the temple is rebuilt. Or they see it as a spiritual temple.
Is it possible both are correct? Was this prophecy fulfilled in 70AD? And also point to a future fulfillment? There is precedence for many fulfillments of prophecy. Isaiah prophesied about a virgin giving birth. Indeed this happened. His wife bore a son. But a fuller fulfilled came with the birth of Christ. That position has reasonableness to it. But in this case, it is not correct.
Matthew 23:38 says, “See, your house is left to you desolate.” Here, Jesus was lamenting over the destruction of Jerusalem. This is a clear sign the Temple will not be rebuilt.
Why? We no longer need a temple. We no longer need animal sacrifices. We no longer need the Jewish high priest. Christ made the ultimate sacrifice. Christ is our high priest.
The measuring of the Temple was in preparation for its destruction. This symbolism is used throughout the Prophets. Lamentations 2: 7-8 we can understand as an apocalyptic.
“The Lord has scorned his altar, disowned his sanctuary; he has delivered into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they raised a clamor in the house of the LORD as on the day of festival. The LORD determined to lay in ruins the wall of the daughter of Zion; he stretched out the measuring line; he did not restrain his hand from destroying; he caused rampart and wall to lament; they languished together.”
This imagery is also used by Isaiah. 34:11, 28:17, Amos 7:6-9, 2 Kings 21:12-13. The measuring rod is not only a symbol of the destruction of places. It is also the symbol of the destruction of people. 2 Samuel 8:2.
Revelation speaks of Jerusalem’s destruction. “… it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.”
The war against the Jews lasted exactly forty-two (42) months. Nero commissioned Vespasian in February 67. Jerusalem fell in August 70.
Josephus records the events in Jerusalem during its siege. I encourage you to read Josephus War of the Jews. What he describes fits like a glove. He describes a civil war within Jerusalem at the same time the Romans were invading. Josephus tells how, at the outbreak of the Jewish war, the temple became a fortress for insurgents. The Temple was on the high ground. Different factions struggled for the possession of this advantageous ground. The civil war within the city explains why John was not to measure the court outside the temple. Jerusalem was not homogeneous. The Gentiles lived there too. And Israel’s neighbors i.e. Samarian, Tyrians, and Sidonians had already defiled it.
Verse 3 tells us about 2 witnesses. Who are these witnesses? This is a subject of much debate. John tells us but he tells us in symbolic languages. Many partial Preterists believe they were James and Peter. Futurists believe the are some future guys roaming the street of Jerusalem. Of course, this would be during the seven-year tribulation. To me the symbolism is clear. John gives us several markers to point the way.
The two witnesses prophesied for 1260 days. That is 3 and one-half years. That was the length of the Jewish war. The two witnesses wore sackcloth. This indicates they were in mourning. Mosaic Law required two witnesses before a death sentence has issued.
John mentions two witnesses. They will prophesy 1260 days or 42 months. They have the power to turn off the rain. And they have the power to turn the water into blood. They have the power to bring plagues.
This should bring to mind two Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. Moses released the plagues. One of the plagues was when the waters of Egypt turned to blood. Elijah shut the skies so it could not rain.
John tells us who the witnesses were using symbols. They were two olive trees and two lampstands. This is a reference back to Zechariah 4. In Zachariah, the lampstands were the word of the Lord. (Zachariah 4:2-6)
What is the word of the Lord? It is the Law and the prophets. The very thing Moses and Elijah represent. Moses and Elijah were shorthand for the Law and the prophets. Moses represents the law. Elijah represents the prophets. This was and is a common understanding.
When Christians witnessed to the Jews, they did not have the New Testament. They used the Law and the prophets. It was through the Law and the Prophets they convinced many Jews Jesus was the Christ.
So, the Law and the prophets were the two witnesses. They were witnesses against the Jewish people. The Jews had not kept their covenant with God. So, judgment was coming to them.
The beast made war and killed the witnesses. We will see that the Beast is the spiritual power behind the Roman emperor.
But in what way were the Law and the Prophets killed? When Rome destroyed Jerusalem the Jews felt everything they believed in failed. The Jews were no longer God’s mouthpiece. They no longer revealed God’s will to the world. And while the Law and the Prophets were dead the world rejoices in its sin.
But “a breath of life from God entered them” and the two witnesses arose. God called them back to heaven. And “there was a great earthquake.” In apocalyptic language, earthquakes represent a demolition or transfer of authority. The Law and the prophets were in heaven but they still sound through the church. The voices of the two witnesses transferred to the Church. So the Law and the prophets continue to sound God’s voice today.