The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11
This past Sunday several of you submitted questions related to the previous week's message on Revelation 11:1-14. As I mentioned at the outset of that message, the passage is one of the most debated in Scripture and has inspired a ton of different interpretations. I wanted to put down in writing a few more thoughts related to the questions that were posed. I think these are important because they will help us as we move forward in the book.
1. Consistency. I believe the best approach to understanding the symbolic, image-based language in Revelation is to be consistent with every passage. Since the book itself gives us plenty of indications that it is using symbolic, representational language, we should approach each passage asking, "What might these images symbolize?" In terms of the passage in question, I think the burden of proof lies with the reader who claims this is pretty much a literal account with a couple symbolic references thrown in. If we turned around and applied that perspective consistently to what we've seen prior to this in Revelation, I believe the result would be even more confusion.
2. Connection. This passage can be divided into two parts (11:1, 2 and 11:3-14), but I think it is important to maintain the connection between both sections. I do not think a literal interpretation of this passage does that very well since neither the present context, nor the book as a whole, shows any concern about a literal temple or a literal city; and a literal approach would have very little relevance for the seven churches to whom this letter/book is addressed. But if 10:1-11:14 is in fact another interlude, like chapter 7, then it fits beautifully as a picture of the divine protection of God's people in the midst of a "trample down" world.
3. Context. The first two points are grounded in the importance of context in interpreting any passage in the Bible. And that has to begin with the book itself (allowing it to have its unique voice), and then looking to the rest of the Bible. The five reasons I gave in my message, for seeing the two witnesses as representing the witnessing church, are grounded in both of these contexts, and any alternative solution should be able to use the context in this same way.
Sometimes (not always) we aren't sold on a particular interpretation because it conflicts with what we've always believed. But we have to make sure we believe what we believe because, using the right tools/approach, everything in the Bible points us in that direction.
I certainly do not have Revelation figured out. I am on this journey with you, learning new things every week. And as this amazing book unfolds before, I definitely reserve the right to adjust certain things here and there. We must do that. But I do believe we are on the right track in terms of the heart of this book; in terms of how God wants to encourage us to endurance, just as He did with those seven churches long ago. I value your feedback. Let's sharpen each other!
For a good overview of the different positions on this chapter, check out these two posts by Sam Storms: