When various commentaries advise you that this is one of the more challenging passages of Revelations you know you're in for a challenge! Chapter 11:1-14 is packed full of metaphors that are very hard for a contemporary audience to grasp! With this then comes lots of interpretations, which adds to the complexity. The key focus of these verses leans towards the two witnesses, but we also have to tackle the mention of a temple and a measuring reed.
Let's start with some broad interpretations. How do we read when this vision takes place:
A futurist view with a literal temple (currently no temple, which means a new one would need to be built) - a period of tribulation immediately proceeding Christ's return, with God's people being physically protected.
Still a literal view of a temple, but describing the 2nd temple (destroyed in 70AD by the Romans). This means it either puts the date of the book of Revelation earlier than the majority of commentators believe, or it's reminiscent of when the temple was standing.
A futurist view, but this time not a literal physical temple, but rather a figurative sanctuary. A metaphorical sanctuary where believers are distributed in reference to a physical temple, the Jewish in the inner courts and the Gentiles in the outer courts, but still within God's protection.
Still a figurative temple, but this time in the present age, (not futuristic). The metaphorical temple representing the church, again representing Jew and Gentile.
The final option presented is similar, with the positioning of the groups around the metaphorical temple representing the "clean" Jews in the inner courts, with the "unclean" Gentiles, still part of the body of Christ, but restricted to the outer courts.
What are we measuring? The security of God's people. Their salvation with God's protection! Let's move towards the two witnesses.
Imagery again plays a big part in trying to understand these two witnesses. The two olive trees link to Zechariah 4:11-14, pointing to the High Priest Joshua and Zerubbabel. But with other descriptors used, including fire and water into blood, it suggests other Old Testament prophets, including Elijah and Moses. Commentators also pitch Enoch and Elijah, even Moses and Abraham, the law and grace. Both of these later options elude to the church being the two witnesses. While various options are possible, it is highly likely that the Word of God is specifically vague in order to point to the characteristics of various prophets in the Old Testament, but no two in particular. This would suggest that the two witnesses are to represent the church, which then supports this vision taking place in the age of the church rather than a more futurist timeframe. This interpretation also, more importantly, shows us the church's purpose in the world... To witness!
The text does point to the two witnesses, the church, being overpowered and killed by the beast from the abyss (we'll be exploring this in the preceding weeks to come). They will lie in the ungodly world, represented as Sodom and Egypt. The mention of where the witnesses Lord was crucified shows us that Jesus is Lord over the earth, not just His people. After 3 and half days, the church will rise again and following an earthquake, the survivors will give glory to God.
The message to us, the church, from this passage, is that we are blessed and protected by God, during a time of woe. And that our role during our time is to witness to the ungodly world.