Friday, November 26
Revelation 6:1-17: The opening of the first four seals brings forth four horses, variously colored in a way reminiscent of Zechariah 1:8-11; 6:1-7, though in Revelation the attention is directed more to the riders than to the horses.
The first, the mounted archer on the white horse, symbolizes invasion and war. The mounted archers contemporary with John were the Parthian warriors to the eastern border of the Roman Empire (verses 1-2), on the far side of the Euphrates (cf. 9:14; 16:12).
The second rider, which is like unto it, rides a red horse symbolic of bloodshed and fire. Whereas the first horseman carried a bow, the second carries a sword (verse 4). War invariably leads to famine and starvation, symbolized in the third horse, a black one, whose rider carries a scales to measure the scant remaining food (verses 5-6).
Green, the color of the fourth horse, is the color of white human flesh at the beginning of decay. The rider of this horse, therefore, is named Death, which perhaps is a metaphor for plague (verse 8), as in the common expression “black death” to mean bubonic plague. With war, famine, and disease, the populace is dying too fast to be buried; their rotting corpses are left for the beasts of the field. For this combination of evils, compare our text to Luke 21:9-11.
All these afflictions were visited on the world that John knew. In A.D. 62 the Roman legions were defeated by the Parthians to the east (cf. Tacitus, Annals 15.13-17), and there were shortages of food, such as those recorded in The Acts of the Apostles and in Suetonius’s Lives of the Caesars (“Domitian” 7). In addition, there were earthquakes, such as those in Asia Minor itself in A.D. 60 (cf. Tacitus, Annals 14.27), volcanic eruptions, such as Vesuvius (cf. Pliny, Letters 6.16), civil war in Rome following the suicide of Nero in 68, and the war in Judea that culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. All of these events, John is telling us, were the subjects of the Sacred Scroll opened by the Lamb. That is to say, they are all the fulfillment of prophecies in the final times.
Besides the evils that afflict the people of the world, John knows of a special harm visited on Christians. After his description of the four horsemen, therefore, he speaks of the bloody persecution endured by believers (verses 9-11). Their blood (in the biblical idiom, their “souls,” because the soul is in the blood, according to Leviticus 17:11) has run down the side of the altar of sacrifice and pools at its base. They are martyrs, which is the Greek word for “witnesses.” Like the blood of Abel, their blood cries out to God, “How long?” (Compare Isaiah 6:11; Zechariah 1:12; Habakkuk 1:2; Daniel 8:13; 12:6)
The vengeance for which they pray is not a personal vindictiveness (for Christians always forgive their enemies and wish them no harm; this is an absolute rule, allowing no exceptions), but a petition for the fulfilling of God’s righteous historical purposes.
They must wait, however, until the full measure of the martyrs is completed (compare Hebrews 11:40). Their white robes signify their participation in eternal life (cf. 7:13-17). The opening of the sixth seal declares those things that precede the end of the world and the final vindication of the saints.
First come the perturbations of the earth (verses 12-14), and then the effects on human beings (verses 15-17). The sequence of these afflictions follows the order of creation in Genesis 1: namely, (1) earth, (2) sun, (3) moon, (4) stars, (5) firmament, (6) land, (7) man. What John sees, then, is a kind of de-creation, a reversal of what God established— the collapse of the universe.
In the opening of the fifth, sixth, and seventh seals, we also detect the same four colors that accompanied the first four seals: thus, fifth seal, white robes; sixth seal, red moon and black sun; seventh seal, the green grass.
There is a great irony in the image of the “wrath of the Lamb.” Indeed, a wrathful lamb is unimaginable except to the enemies of God. The wrath, of course, does not come from the Lamb who shed His blood for the world’s redemption and who hates nothing that He has made. The wrath comes, rather, from within the enemies themselves, who insist on seeing God as an enemy.
Saturday, November 27
Revelation 7:1-17: The two visions in this chapter still pertain to the sixth seal. The opening of the first six seals has unleashed enormous sufferings on the earth, so prior to the opening of the seventh the vision of St. John faces the question, “Who shall stand? Who will be able to endure? Who will persevere to the end?” And John’s answer is, “the servants of God.”
Prior to the releasing of the final tribulation, therefore, the servants of God must be sealed. Their number, 144,000, is a massive combination of the perfect number twelve (3 x 4, or the divine number 3 multiplied by the human number 4; that is to say, the multiplied combination of God and man) multiplied to a gross and then multiplied again by a thousand. That is to say, a very big number that no man can count to (verse 9; cf. Genesis 15:5).
The final preservation of God’s elect was foreshadowed in their deliverance at the time of the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Because of a prophecy that told them all to flee (cf. Eusebius, Church History 3.5.3), no Christians were in Jerusalem when the city came under siege. Although up to a million Jews perished during the horrors of that siege and downfall, not one of them was a Christian. The physical deliverance of those Christians thus became the symbol of the spiritual deliverance of God’s elect in the final tribulation. (And this latter deliverance is spiritual, not physical. There is no suggestion in the Book of Revelation that believers will be “raptured” away and spared the sufferings of the rest of the earth. Indeed, Revelation has a great deal to say about the sufferings of Christians during the final times.)
In order to be spiritually spared, they must be sealed. This sealing of God’s servants is done with the mark of the “tau,” the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Ezekiel 9:1-7), which at that time was still cruciform. That is to say, God’s servants are sealed with the Sign of the Cross on their foreheads, which in fact was very early part of the rite of baptism (cf. Tertullian, Against Marcion 3.22). To be thus sealed was a sign that Christians belonged to God (cf. Isaiah 44:5; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Galatians 6:17; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; John 6:27). This sealing with the mark of the true Paschal Lamb fulfilled the promise contained in that earlier marking of Israel with the sacrificial blood of its type (Exodus 12:21-23). Both Ezekiel and Exodus are important for the understanding of this seal. Ezekiel’s reference was to the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., of which everyone was aware who saw the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The passage in Exodus 12 had to do with the last of the ten plagues visited upon Egypt, the slaying of the firstborn sons. This sealing in Revelation, then, involves a new Exodus, in which God’s people will be delivered, not left to share in the sin of the earthly Jerusalem.
Beginning with an “amen” by which they respond to the acclamation of the saints in verse 10, the angels now join their voices in the praise of God (verse 11).
In John’s perspective, this vision is simultaneously past, present, and future. Inasmuch as the vision already contains fulfillment, its verbal tense is past. The “great tribulation,” moreover, has already started (for it is simultaneous with the “last times”), and therefore the present verbal tense, the ongoing perspective, is likewise proper. But inasmuch as there are still events to come (quickly!), John’s view is also directed toward the future.
One of the elders clarifies for the seer the identity of those clad in white robes (6:11; 7:9). They have already passed through the great tribulation, he tells John (verse 14; cf. Daniel 12:1; Mark 13:19), a description suggesting that the great tribulation, at least from their perspective, is already past. Yet, that tribulation itself will not be narrated until 13:7-10.
They are called “martyrs,” but this designation should be interpreted in a broader theological perspective that regards the call to martyrdom as implicit in the very nature of baptism. Indeed, from earliest times the white robe has been associated with baptism, that rite by which believers are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Christians do not receive their white robes in heaven; on the contrary, they will not even be admitted to heaven unless they are already wearing those white robes (22:14). To wear the white robe means to live “in the blood” (Romans 3:25; 5:9; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13; Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:2,19; 1 John 1:7).
The true servants of God, moreover, are engaged in His unceasing worship (verse 15; 21:5; 22:5); thus, they share already in the life of heaven. In the final two verses of this chapter the verbs return to the future tense, indicating that there still remains an unfulfilled history through which God’s servants must pass. The image also shifts from the Lamb to the Shepherd, both images being essential to a complete Christology.
Sunday, November 28
Revelation 8:1-13: The number four is the traditional human number; thus, man divides his world into four directions: a front, a back, and two sides. He speaks of “four winds,” the “four corners of the earth,” and so forth. The divine number is three, because it is perceived to be the most stable. The triangle is the only stable geometric figure, the angles of which cannot be altered without changing the length of its sides. Similarly, the tripod is the only completely stable object to stand on a plane; anyone sitting on a wobbly chair knows that chairs seem to prefer three legs to four!
Any combination of three and four, therefore, represents the union of God and man, which is perfection. Thus, the multiplication of three and four yields the sacred number twelve, which appears in many contexts in Holy Scripture, including the Book of Revelation. If three and four are added, the resultant sacred number is seven. The symbolic use of both numbers, twelve and seven (one being the number of months in the year, and the other being the number of days in the week), is found ubiquitously in Holy Scripture.
The number seven, in fact, provides an important structural element throughout much of Revelation. Thus, there were seven letters to seven churches (Chapters 2 and 3), followed by a scroll with seven seals that needed to be opened. The opening of that seventh seal, in turn, will introduce the seven trumpets, which will be followed by seven bowls of plagues.
In the present text, the immediate response to the opening of the seventh seal is silence in heaven for thirty minutes (verse 1), while the angels with the seven trumpets prepare themselves (verses 2,6), and the throne room is ritually incensed (verse 3). The silence that accompanies the incensing provides a time for prayers to be offered, the ascending of which is symbolized in the rising incense smoke (cf. Luke 1:9-10; Exodus 30:1-9; Talmud, “Tamid” 3.1). In the temple ritual of Israel, it is likely that thirty minutes was required for the priest to make the rounds of the temple with his censer, though it sometimes took longer (cf. Luke 1:21).
We should also observe here that the altar of incense is the only altar in heaven (6:9; 9:13; 14:18; 16:7); there is no altar of holocausts in heaven because the purpose of that altar in Israel’s ancient temple was fulfilled by the Cross, where the definitive Sacrifice was offered for the sins of the world.
The trumpets, moreover, will be sounded by the seven “angels of the Presence” (cf. Tobit 12:15; Luke 1:19). The trumpets themselves are best understood in two points of reference: First, there were seven trumpets sounded in the procession around the walls of Jericho in Joshua 6. It is useful to bear in mind that the Ark of the Covenant was borne at the end of that procession, after the seven trumpets. Similarly, at the end of the sounding of the seventh trumpet in the Book of Revelation, the Ark of the Covenant will once again appear (cf. 11:15,19).
Second, that event of the fall of Jericho was given a constant liturgical expression in the ritual of the Jerusalem temple by the sounding of the trumpets (1 Chronicles 15:24; Nehemiah 12:4-42). Almost any time anything of significance happened in the worship at the temple, such as prayers, sacrifices, and so forth, the trumpets were sounded. Thus, the blare of the trumpet symbolized Israel’s constant and sustained worship of God. This is also the function of the trumpets here in Revelation 8.
The blowing of the seven trumpets parallels the opening of the seven seals in several close particulars. Thus, the first four trumpets form a unified whole (verses 7-12), as did the first four seals (6:1-8). As in the case of the fifth and sixth seals (6:9-17), the fifth and sixth trumpets will be expressed in a longer and separate narrative (9:1-21). Finally, a pair of visions will precede the sounding of the seventh trumpet (10:1—11:14), as another pair preceded the opening of the seventh seal (7:1-17).
In addition, by introducing various plagues upon the earth, the seven trumpets find another extensive parallel in the seven bowls of plague that will follow them. Finally, let us note that the plagues visited on the earth at the sounding of the trumpets, like the plagues visited on Egypt, do not touch those who, having been sealed, belong to God.
Monday, November 29
Revelation 9:1-12: The first four trumpets produced plagues that resembled the seventh, first, and ninth plagues of Egypt (Exodus 9:22-26; 7:20-21; 10:21). These plagues, prompted by the trumpets, affect only the physical and astrophysical world, not human beings—at least not directly. The final three, described by the heavenly eagle as “woes,” afflict mankind directly (8:13).
The image of a fallen star already appeared in 8:10-11. Now another star falls in response to the fifth trumpet (verse 1; cf. Isaiah 14:12-20). This star opens the bottomless pit, from which arises a hellish smoke (verse 2; cf. 8:12) that contrasts with the incense smoke of prayer. The abyss represents existence without the worship of God — the theological term for which is “hell.” As John watches, a massive swarm of locusts takes form within that hellish cloud (verse 3), reminiscent of Egypt’s eighth plague (Exodus 10:12-15). Unlike those former locusts, however, these locusts attack men themselves, not plant life (verse 4). Their activity is limited to five months, which is roughly the normal life span of locusts. Indeed, this may be the only feature in which these particular locusts in Revelation resemble any other locusts in the world. These are not your usual, run-of-the-mill locusts (verses 8-10). They are satanic locusts, denizens of the abyss, who afflict men with despair. They deceptively have human faces (verse 7), but they represent a worse than human evil. Their king is called “Abaddon,” which is the Old Testament’s personification of the underworld, or grave. It literally means “destruction” (cf. Job 26:6; 31:12). John translates this name into Greek as Apollyon, meaning “destroyer” (verse 11). It is possible that John intends here a word play on the name “’Apollo,” which name, according to Aeschylus (Agamemnon 1082), comes from the verb apoluein, “to destroy.” We may bear in mind, in this respect, that the Emperor Domitian, not a man easily outdone, it must be said, with respect to a high self-opinion, proclaimed himself a manifestation of Apollo. (There is simply no evil as evil as official, government-sanctioned evil.) The torture inflicted by these followers of Abaddon is spiritual, not physical, and the Christians, sealed with the sign of the Living God, are exempt from it.
Tuesday, November 30
Psalm 5: In traditions of worship among Christians, both East and West, this psalm is favored in the morning. The propriety for this is suggested in an early verse: “My voice will You hear in the morning; in the morning will I stand before You and keep watch.”
The Hebrew verb (‘arak), translated here as “stand,” bears the root sense of “setting in order.” Used without direct object here, it is very succinct, so succinct that English translators have sometimes felt the need to expand on it. Thus, the KJV paraphrases it as “I direct my prayer unto Thee,” and the NIV as “I lay my requests before You.”
The translations of this word into the Greek (parastesomai ) and Latin (astabo) versions used in the Christian liturgical traditions better preserve the original sense of simply standing in proper order in the presence of God. To this is added a certain note of vigilance, “keep watch.” These two verbs, to take one’s stand and to keep watch, set the tone for how to begin the day of prayer.
It is important that this tone be set early in the morning, the hour of rising. Over and over the psalms speak of prayer as the day’s first task: “Rise up, my glory; awaken, lute and harp; I myself will awaken the dawn—I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning—In the morning shall my prayer come before You—To show forth Your loving kindness in the morning” and so forth. This early morning prayer is also mentioned elsewhere in Holy Scripture (Exodus 29:39, 40; Leviticus 6:12; Numbers 28:4; Daniel 6:10; Mark 1:35, etc.) and across a wide area by several early Christian sources (Hippolytus in Rome, Origen and Clement in Egypt, Tertullian and Cyprian in Latin Africa, Basil in Cappadocia, and so forth). The spirit of this morning prayer was well summed up by the Book of Wisdom: “ . . . to make it known that one must rise before the sun to give You thanks, and must pray to You at the dawning of the light” (16:28).
It is clear that the proper praying of the psalms is related to a certain regular and disciplined style of life. The Christian, by preference, rises early and stands in vigilance in the presence of God. When the sun rises, it shines on the believer already at prayer. This is normally how the day begins. It is also the essential meaning of those later lines in the psalm: “I will enter into Your house in the multitude of Your mercies; in the fear of You will I bow myself down toward Your holy temple.” To pray is to enter the house of God.
The context for this worship, nonetheless, is still the life of struggle with evil. When the Christian rises, it is always on the battlefield. Thus, most verses of this psalm explicitly refer to the workers of iniquity, and the psalmist prays fervently against them: “Destroy them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions, for they have rebelled against You.”
“They have rebelled against You,” the psalm says. Sin is abhorrent to God. He not only loves justice; He also hates iniquity. “Fools shall not stand in Your presence,” our psalm goes on, “You hate all workers of iniquity.” When the psalmist prays for the destruction of the wicked, this is not his personal sentiment, so to speak. It is not a prayer of private vindictiveness but of foundational justice. It is a plea that God vindicate His own moral order. When Jesus refused to “pray for the world” (John 17:9), He was recognizing the existence of those who, willfully unrepentant and deliberately hard of heart, have placed themselves beyond hope. Inveterate sinning against the light—unrepented evil—does exist in human hearts, and God hates it. He hates it vehemently. Jesus on the Cross had not one word to say to the blasphemous, unrepentant thief.
Some modern Christians are tempted to see in such sentiments only a lamentable vestige of Old Testament negativity and judgmentalism, now appropriately surpassed by a New Testament emphasis on God’s mercy and compassion. The idea is abroad these days that, whereas the Old Testament God was a no-nonsense Divinity, the God of the New Testament is quite a bit more tolerant.
Such an idea would have surprised the Apostles. Romans 3:10–18, for instance, which is a mélange of various psalm verses describing the evil of sin, cites a rather violent line from our present psalm with reference to evildoers: “Their throat is an open sepulcher.” Indeed, the descriptions of sin in Romans 1 and 3 make a good commentary on many verses of Psalm 5.
Similarly, when the Wisdom of Solomon says that “equally hateful to God are the ungodly man and his ungodliness” (14:9), its thesis is hard to distinguish from certain verses in the New Testament, such as “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23; cf. 25:41) and “You hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev. 2:6; cf. 21:8; 22:15). The loving mercy of God must never be thought of or described in ways suggesting that Christianity is less morally serious than Judaism. The moral sentiments of the psalms are, in this respect, Christian sentiments, and they are highly appropriate in Christian prayer.
Wednesday, December 1
Revelation 9:13-21: To the citizens of the Roman Empire the Euphrates River was a symbol analogous to the “Iron Curtain” of the Cold War era, that is, a border beyond which the enemy world lay massively in menace (verse 14). The enemy in their case was the Parthian army, whose most memorable feature was its cavalry of archers. Guiding their mounts with their knees, and thus leaving both hands free, those fearsome Parthian horsemen could shoot arrows very quickly in all directions, including to the rear. This is perhaps the point of reference for John’s image of horses that bite with both their mouths and their tails (verse 19). By such means, says John, God will further chastise those who persecute His people.
Many details of this vision evoked by the sixth trumpet have striking parallels in Ezekiel 38-39. Fierce as it was, however, the Parthian army was never as fearsome as that described by John (verses 17-18). This is the army of hell, whose immense reserves are superior to all merely human forces. The number given by John, “two hundred million” (verse 16), would certainly constitute the largest army ever assembled. To gain something of its magnitude, we may bear in mind that Alexander the Great captured everything from the Danube to the Indus with an army of a hundred-thousand.
The army that John sees, like the army of locusts summoned by the previous trumpet, comes right out of hell. Both of these invaders, the locusts and the horsemen, are sent to encourage men to repentance, but men’s hearts, like the heart of Pharaoh, are hardened. The idolatries listed in verse 20 are the root of the other moral evils listed in verse 21. This relationship of idolatry to moral evil is identical to that in Romans 1:21-32 and Ephesians 5:6.
Luke 23:50-56: Luke’s account of Jesus’ burial, at the end of the Gospel, contains certain parallels with his infancy narratives, near the beginning of the Gospel.
First, of course, a Joseph is prominent in each story. Second, in each account the naked, helpless body of Jesus is decently wrapped (2:7, 12; 23:53).
Third, Luke’s portrayal of Joseph of Arimathea is strikingly similar to his description of Simeon, who welcomed the newborn Jesus on His first visit to the temple (2:25). Thus, both stories begin with “and behold” (kai idou). Both men are called “just” (dikaios), and both are said to be “waiting.” Simeon is “waiting for the Consolation of Israel,” and Joseph is “waiting for the Kingdom of God.” This complex set of parallels establishes a literary inclusion in the Lukan structure.
Thursday, December 2
Revelation 10:1-11: Just as there was a double interrupting narrative immediately prior to the opening of the seventh seal, so a pair of visions will now precede the sounding of the seventh trumpet: the angel holding the little scroll, and the two faithful witnesses.
In the first of these, John is struck by the angel’s numinous character, at once bright and obscure. The angel’s body is clothed in a cloud, reminiscent of the cloud of the divine presence during ancient Israel’s desert journey and the cloud associated with the tabernacle of the divine presence. The face of the angel, on the other hand, has the luminosity of the sun. Nonetheless, the very fierceness of his countenance is tempered by the rainbow arching over his head, a reminder of the eternal covenant between God and creation in Genesis 9. The angel’s legs are pillars of fire, an image also reminiscent of the Exodus. His voice is like the roaring of a lion (verse 3), which is echoed by the seven thunders from Psalm 29 (Greek and Latin 28).
With one foot on the earth, one foot on the sea, and his hand into the air, the angel touches, as it were, all three aspects of physical creation: solid, liquid, and gas (verse 5). Moreover, all three of these components are mentioned in his oath (verse 6; Exodus 20:4,11), in which he swears that God’s secret purpose (to mysterion) in history will not be delayed of fulfillment.
The scroll the angel holds is smaller than the scroll in Chapter 5, suggesting that its message may be less universal. Indeed, the message of that scroll is not directed to the world, but to the community of faith (verses 8-11). It is not read but eaten; John absorbs its message into himself. He assimilates the Word that he might then give expression to it. In this respect he imitates the prophet Ezekiel (2:9—3:4).
Luke 24:1-12: Among the figures with whom Christians gather round the empty Tomb in paschal season, there is a special prominence pertaining to the Myrrhbearers, those women disciples who shouldered their newly purchased spices and came to anoint the body of Jesus. They formed the first “women’s guild” of the Church, one might say, and they had just done duty a couple of days earlier at the foot of the Cross. Excluded from the public “official list” of the Resurrection eyewitnesses (preserved in 1 Corinthians 15:5–8), these women are nonetheless featured with distinction in the narratives of Pascha morning in all four canonical Gospels. Only a few of them we know by name: Mary Magdalene, “the other Mary” (manifestly a kinswoman of the Mother of Jesus, because she is “the mother of James and Joses”—Matthew 27:56; 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10), Salome (Zebedee’s wife), Joanna.
Now there is a certain kind of “practical” person, an efficiency expert, who does not much appreciate what the Myrrhbearers were up to. Had he encountered them on the road that morning, he might well have asked them, “Just what good do you think you are going to accomplish?” Anointing a dead body, after all, does not make good business sense. It achieves nothing very practical. It is the sort of activity that fails to contribute to the Gross National Product. Except for its very small influence on the myrrh market, spice trading, and nard futures, it barely shows up on the Dow Industrials. It has no measurable results. The corpses thus anointed cannot be interviewed to ascertain if they are satisfied with the product, or which brand they prefer, or whether they would recommend it to their neighbors. Anointing dead bodies resists a quantitative analysis.
Over and against this quantitative point of view stands the completely unproductive, uneconomical, inefficient assessment of the ointment-pouring scene at Bethany: “She has done what she could” (Mark 14:8). In that assessment of the thing, we arrive very near the heart of the Gospel. Quite simply: We do what we can. We do not attempt to measure what we do, certainly not by its perceived results. We act solely out of love, letting God alone determine whether we have “loved much” (Luke 7:47). The final quality of our lives will not be assessed by what we have accomplished, but by our love (1 Corinthians 13:24). Only the God who reads the heart can put a value on that love.
Prominent in the midst of the Church, then, are those Myrrhbearers who came that morning loaded down with their spices and without the foggiest idea how they were going to enter a sealed tomb guarded by a massive stone. What an exercise in inefficiency, lack of cost analysis, and failure in planning. As it turned out, they could not even find a body to anoint. All that myrrh, just going to waste.
Friday, December 3
Revelation 11:1-10: In our reading of the Book of Revelation thus far we have encountered the Danielic expression, “a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 12:7). If we substitute the word “year” for “time,” the meaning of the expression is clear: “three and a half years,” or forty-two months, or (following the Hebrew calendar of thirty days per month) twelve-hundred and sixty days. In the Book of Daniel this was the length of time during which the Jerusalem temple was violated by Antiochus Epiphanes IV (Daniel 9:27).
Similarly here in Revelation it is the symbolic length of time of severe trial and the apparent triumph of evil (verses 2-3; 12:6; 13:5). John’s contemporaries must also have been struck by the fact that the Roman siege of Jerusalem also lasted three and a half years, from A.D. 67-70. In the present chapter this length of time refers to the persecution of the Christian Church, of which Jerusalem’s temple was a type and foreshadowing.
There is found within the Christian Church, however, an inner court, as it were, a deep interior dimension that the forces of evil cannot trample. This inviolability is conferred by being sealed with the sign of the living God. It asserts that believers are not to fear those who can kill the body but can do no more, because there yet remains an inner court that is off-limits to the invader and defiler. This is the inner court of which John is told to take the measure (cf. Ezekiel 40:1-4; Zechariah 2:1-2), a measuring that he will narrate later (21:15-17).
The literary background of John’s vision of the two witnesses is Zechariah 4:1-3,11-14, where the prophet has in mind the anointed ruler Zerubbabel and the anointed priest Jeshua, the two men who preserved the worship in God’s house that they rebuilt between 520 and 516. Those two figures represented royalty (for Zerubbabel was a descendent of David) and priesthood (for Jeshua was a descendent of Aaron), which are two essential aspects of the life in Christ (cf. Revelation 1:6; 5:10).
“Two” witnesses are required, of course, this being the minimum number required in order “to make the case” (Deuteronomy 19:15). But the two witnesses in this chapter of Revelation are the heirs, not only to Zerubbabel and Jeshua, but also to Moses and Elijah. It was the first of these who afflicted Egypt with plagues, and the second who closed up heaven for three and a half years (cf. Luke 4:25; James 5:17). This is John’s way of asserting that the Christian Church, in her royal priesthood, continues also the prophetic war against false gods. She will destroy God’s enemies by fire (verse 5), as did Moses (Numbers 16:35) and Elijah (2 Kings 1:9-12).
When the monster from the abyss kills these two servants of God (verse 7), the forces of evil seem to have triumphed (verse 10), but they will be carried up to heaven, again like Moses (Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.48) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11), because the victorious Lamb has the final word.