Some chapters in Revelation can get very technical as we attempt to make meaning of all of the images. This is one of those chapters. So if you feel like I am not covering everything then you might want to check out Jim McGuiggan’s book on Revelation which we are using as a resource for the blog or ask me a follow up question in the comments (which we always encourage you to do).
There will be a number of times in the coming chapters that you will notice a time reference expressed as 42 months or 1260 days or 3 1/2 years or time, times and a half a time. These are all the same time reference. Remember again that in apocalyptic literature we should assume that everything is symbolic unless we have a reason to believe it is literal. Here are some of the occasions when this time reference will be used:
- Revelation 13:5 – It is the period of the beast’s authority.
- Revelation 11:2 – It is the period of the Holy City being trodden under foot.
- Revelation 11:3 – It is the period during which the witnesses prophesy.
- Revelation 12:6, 14 – It is the period the Woman is nourished in the wilderness.
- Daniel 7:25 – It is the period the “little horn” persecutes the saints.
Based on these occurrences, this time reference should indicate a period of time when the church is going to be persecuted, and yet protected. However, it is not referencing a length of time, but rather the state of affairs during that period of time. Even though they will be victimized and go through a period of suffering, God remains in control and watches over them. They will ultimately be victorious. Additionally, there is some thought that 3 1/2 is also a “broken 7” which would indicate incompleteness or something partial or temporary. It is a Biblical way of reminding Christians in suffering that “This too shall pass.”
Revelation 11 then talks about the measuring of the Temple. It’s important to know that the part of the Temple that is measured is the inner sanctuary and not the entire building. Also, the Gentile court that is referenced is the same court where Jesus overturned the money changers tables because of their lack of concern for God’s Temple and also the Gentiles who worshiped there. As such, this discussion of the measuring of the Temple only makes sense when read figuratively (no surprise) and understood to mean that those who truly worship God (the Church) will be protected and that those who do not are in danger of judgment. The holy is separated from the profane.
Then, once the time of persecution of the saints begins (the 42 months), we read of the two witnesses who wear sack cloth and continue to prophesy to all the people of the earth throughout the period of persecution (1260 days). They are the two olive trees and two lampstands. This is a reference to Zechariah 4, where the two olive trees represent Zerubbabel, the civil and political leader at the time, and Joshua, the religious and priestly leader at that time. In Revelation, these two witness then represent the church and Christians who we know are a royal priesthood. We are reading here about Christians who refused to be cowed by suffering or persecution but who continue to proclaim the Gospel to the world. We are told that Satan will attack them and kill them, but that their bodies will not remain dead. God’s breath of life will enter them, they will stand on their own feet and the world will be terrified of them as they go to live with God. What great comfort and power this would give to people who were undergoing persecution, that they could continue to boldly proclaim the Gospel in the face of suffering, knowing that even death could not hold them down. God would restore their life and give them the victory when it looked like all was lost.
The remainder of the chapter is given to the blowing of the seventh trumpet. As this trumpet is sounded, the time for partial judgments and warnings has ended. The seventh trumpet contains the seven bowls and the seven bowls are filled with God’s wrath which will now be fully poured out upon the earth. And yet, this pouring out of wrath is met, not with horror, but with the thanksgiving and praise of the twenty-four elders surrounding the throne of God. This judgment is part of God putting things back the way they belong. Those who were faithful will be rewarded. Those who were opposing God will be punished. Things are made right and those who have been waiting for God’s rightness to be restored to the earth celebrate. What other response could there be to God’s fixing of things?
But the fixing will take some work. And it won’t be easy. It will be messy. But God is in control and He’s going to do the hard messy work of it all while his people praise Him.