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the temple of God, revelation 11:1-2

If lampstands signify churches, a scroll signifies the earth’s title deed, horses signify persecution, trumpets warn, and sealing means shielding and endurance, then what does this temple of God in Revelation 11 signify?

The key lies in the verse preceding chapter 11 in which John was told, “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (Rev 10:11). He is given a rod to “measure,” to evaluate the “many peoples and nations and languages and kings” who are then regarded as “the temple of God” (11:1). The church is God’s temple because it identifies with the true temple, Jesus Christ (John 2:19-22).

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you? … God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17; cf. 2 Cor 6:16; 1 Pet 2:5). We are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:20-22).

The temple of God is both heavenly and earthly; there are believers in heaven and on earth (Rev 11:19; Heb 8:1-2). We are all united in Christ, the true temple. Along with the heavenly temple, the “holy city” will one day come down out of heaven (Rev 21:2, 22). Even so, some aspect of the heavenly Jerusalem is evident on earth. For we “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first born who are enrolled in heaven” (Heb 12:22).

What’s striking about John’s vision is that the “outer court” of God’s temple is not to be measured during a time when it is “given over to the nations” to “trample on” it for “forty-two months” (Rev 11:2; cf. Dan 8:10-14). Those are who are being trampled are not being rejected by God; they are undergoing severe persecution. God’s temple can be trodden but never destroyed. Their souls are protected by the invisible sanctuary in which they dwell.

Throughout the Bible, “forty-two months” or “three and a half years” or “1290 days” or “times, time, and half a time” seem to accentuate a time limit on such amplified hardship (e.g., Dan 7:25; 12:7, 11; Luke 4:25; Ja 5:17; 1 Kings 17-18; cf. Jesus’s reference to the Roman siege of Jerusalem that lasted three and a half years confirms this in Luke 21:20-24). What we’re saying here is that John was prophesying “about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” who “being joined together … into a holy temple in the Lord … by the Spirit” would endure severe tribulation because of their witness (Rev 10:11; Eph 2:20-22). It makes sense that the vision quickly transforms the “trampled” into witnesses (Rev 11:3).

Notice that John identifies the two witnesses as “two olive trees and two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth” to testify (Rev 11:4). Both images offer a clear connection to the lampstand-churches in the seven letters and Zechariah 4. In Zechariah’s vision, there is opposition to finishing the second temple (i.e., “the lampstand” of his day); but there are also two olive trees, “two anointed ones who stand before the Lord of the whole earth” to testify—just like Revelation 11:4 (Zech 4:14). The point in both passages is the same: whatever the resistance, God’s temple will be built, “not by my might, nor power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord, “amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” (Zech 4:6-14).

Jesus sums it up well for us: “I will build my church,” he says, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). He who started this great work will bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day he appears (Phil 1:6).  

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