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But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. Revelation 11:2–4


The Court of the Gentiles


In verse 1 John was instructed to measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. We learned that the temple of God represents the church, the altar is Jesus Christ, and those who worship there are the saved people that make up the church Jesus built.

In verse 2 Jesus tells John not to measure the court that is outside the temple. This court is related to the temple in that it is a wall that surrounds the entire temple separating it from the world outside. There is nothing within this court.

John is told not to measure this outer court because it is given to the Gentiles. Who are the Gentiles? The word Gentiles occurs only one time in the Revelation. By definition we know that a Gentile is not a Jew. We encountered Jews in Revelation 2:9, the letter to the church at Smyrna, and 3:9 the letter to the church at Philadelphia. These are people of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews and are not. We can now identify the Gentiles here in chapter 11 as the synagogue of Satan, or those that claim to be the church but do not have a salvation experience with Jesus Christ.

The outer court represents the visible church-at-large that can be seen with the physical eye. It gives the appearance of being the Christian church. However, hidden within its core is the real temple made up of the servants of our God: those that have come through the altar Jesus Christ, entered the Holy Place and have gone into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies.

The outer court is the place within visible structure of the church where professing Christians that do not have an experience of salvation and are not filled with the presence of God are. As the outer court is empty of anything that pertains to salvation, they are empty of the presence of God even though they might look like the church. Barnes in his Commentary follows this line of thinking.


But the court which is without the temple. Which is outside of the temple proper, and, therefore, which does not strictly appertain to it. There is undoubtedly reference here to the “court of the Gentiles,” as it was called among the Jews—the outer court of the temple to which the Gentiles had access, and within which they were not permitted to go. . . . To an observer, this would seem to be a part of the temple, and the persons there assembled a portion of the true worshippers of God; but it was necessarily neither the one nor the other. In forming an estimate of those who, according to the Hebrew notions, were true worshippers of God, only those would be regarded as such who had the privilege of access to the inner court, and to the altar. In making such an estimate, therefore, those who had no nearer access than that court, would be omitted; that is, they would not be reckoned as necessarily any part of those who were regarded as the people of God.


Spiritual Gentiles


It is the nature of spiritual Gentiles to tread the holy city underfoot. Jesus introduces the term the holy city in reference to the temple of God making the terms synonymous. Hebrews 12:22–24 solidifies the identity of the two: “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven.”

The church Jesus builds contains only those whose names are registered in heaven. Those who worship in the temple are those that have been cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ and are conformed to His righteousness through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual Gentiles take on a profession of Christianity without having been cleansed from sin. In mixing Christianity and sin in their lives they are a synagogue of Satan as we have seen from the letters to the seven churches of Asia.

The influence of spiritual Gentiles treads the church under foot because the inconsistencies of their lives and conduct conflict with the teachings of the gospel. Their sinning Christianity prevents seekers from hearing of and seeing the effects of the atonement in the lives of people. With this, the tendency of the church under their influence is just to add people and give them ritual instead of salvation. Barnes continues with his insight on this:


The phrase “should tread under foot” is derived from warriors and conquerors who tread down their enemies, or trample on the fields of grain. It is rendered in this passage by Dr. Robinson, (Lex.,) “to profane and lay waste.” As applied literally to a city, this would be the true idea; as applied to the church, it would mean that they would have it under their control or in subjection for the specified time, and that the practical effect of that would be to corrupt and prostrate it.


The trampling of the holy city takes place over a period of 42 months. Among commentators and teachers there is the tendency to literalize or to interpret the time references into precise periods of time. There are varying explanations of this 42 months among those that hold to a historical interpretation of the Book of Revelation but none seem to fit a duration of 42 months figuratively or literally.

John has been measuring the church under the symbol of the temple of God so we must keep in mind that all that follows is symbolical. Barnes agrees: “The language clearly is symbolical, and the reference must have been to something pertaining to the church.” In fairness to Barnes, he applies the 42 months to the Reformation but, in my opinion, that is too early in the timeline of this part of the vision. I will explain the 42 months at the end of our study of the sixth trumpet.


The Two Witnesses


Jesus next introduces the two witnesses, who will prophesy for 1260 days clothed in sackcloth. He introduces them as MY witnesses and says that they are “the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.” Who are these witnesses?

What we did not mention in the measurements of the temple of God was the two pillars that stood in front of the Holy Place. These pillars were introduced into the temple by King Solomon when he built the first temple in Jerusalem. 1 Kings 7:21 records the setting up of the pillars:


Then he set up the pillars by the vestibule of the temple; he set up the pillar on the right and called its name Jachin, and he set up the pillar on the left and called its name Boaz. (Also in parallel passage 2 Chronicles 3:17).


The names of the pillars are significant to the identity of the church built by Jesus. The pillar on the right is named Jachin, meaning “Yahweh will establish thy throne forever.” The pillar on the left is named Boaz, meaning “In Yahweh is the king’s strength.”

At first impression it may appear that these names are self-serving on the part of Solomon but it must be remembered that the temple stands as a type of the church. In relation to the church, whose throne is established forever? Hebrews 1:8 tells us it is Jesus, “But to the Son He says: Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom.” In Revelation 4:9–10 we found the four living creatures and the 24 elders worshipping “Him who sits on the throne and lives forever and ever.” Unger in his Bible Dictionary gives us some very important information about these two pillars:


Most important is the fact that each of the shafts of the two pillars is represented as being crowned with an oil basin or a lampstand. . . . With their blazing, smoking wicks, they recalled to worshipers the fiery, cloudy pillar that lead Israel of old through the wilderness.[1]


Zechariah was given a prophecy during the time of the rebuilding the temple under Zerubbabel.


Now the angel who talked with me came back and wakened me, as a man who is wakened out of his sleep. And he said to me, "What do you see?" So I said, "I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left." (Zechariah 4:1–3)


Zechariah asks what these things are and in verse 10 he is told, “They are the eyes of the LORD, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.” Also, they are “the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel”—much like the reed John was given to measure the temple of God. His curiosity still works and he asks what the two olive trees are. The answer is in V 14, “These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth.” Matthew Henry points out that what is translated the two anointed ones in English is actually the two sons of oil in Hebrew. Young’s Literal Translation translates verse 14, “These are the two sons of the oil, who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.” Dr. Henry relates the olive trees to the church:


If by the candlestick we understand the church of the first-born, of true believers, these sons of oil may be meant of Christ and the Spirit, the Redeemer and the Comforter. Christ is not only the Messiah, the Anointed One himself, but he is the good olive to his church; and from his fulness we receive, John 1:16. And the Holy Spirit is the unction or anointing which we have received, 1 John 2:20, 27. From Christ, the olive tree, by the Spirit, the olive branch, all the golden oil of grace is communicated to believers, which keeps their lamps burning, and without a constant supply of which they would soon go out. They stand by the Lord of the whole earth, who is in a special manner the church's Lord; for the Son was to be sent by the Father, and so was the Holy Ghost, in the time appointed, and they stand by him ready to go.


So, who are these two witnesses? Jachin establishes and Boaz strengthens. Christ as the Word of God establishes the faith and is the cause of the atonement that puts people into a right relationship with God by cleansing them from sin. The Holy Spirit is the power of the new birth and the sanctified life that lives out the righteousness of Christ in the lives of believers. Together they stand before the God of the earth to testify of salvation from sin and holiness of life that are the characteristics of the church built by Jesus.


1260 Days?


The two witnesses prophesy for 1260 days. Again, we must recognize that the 1260 days is symbolical not literal.

Also notice that the 42 months of the Gentiles and the 1260 days of the two witnesses are contiguous. That means the days of the two witnesses follow the 42 months of the Gentiles. We create a problem if we literalize these symbols in the terms of actual time. 42 months is 1260 days. If we place these in their contiguous relationship we have two periods of 1260 days which equals a period of 2520 days. Using the prophetic principle of a day for a year, this would be 2520 years. This is obviously impossible.

So, what is the 1260 days? As with the 42 months, I will explain it as we finish the sixth trumpet.


[1] Under, Merril F.  Unger’s Bible Dictionary,  Moody Press: Chicago, IL,  1978 printing,  pg. 547.