The Apocalypse week 7
The Two witnesses
Key Text: Revelation 11:1-14
“it’s always darkest before the dawn” is a great encouraging statement to those going through tough times. However, the problem is that we still have to endure the darkness right ?We still have to wait for the dawn, and in the midst of darkness showing its hand the dawn often seems too far away.
It seems that when the first rays of light are seen darkness is right there waiting to rise up again and try and squash the light.
These current elections, and all the fall out of this week, that we have been through have been a great example of this. We have a glimmer of hope on the horizon. People feeling like democracy is working again in SA and then this week happens; and its seems that the tenderpreneurship and state capture has been ramped up to even greater levels.
Now in our context it might mean hard economic times. To the churches of the Revelation evil making a last stand; or striking back mean lives lost and starvation etc.
It is to this context we read our passage tonight Revelation 11:1-14. Again, I have to stress the inherent mystery of the book of revelation. It is images and stories that convey a mysterious truth. The temptation is to read this passage a future event that is to come over the message that is being conveyed to the church and to us.
So let’s read.
Revelation 11New International Version (NIV)
The Two Witnesses
11 I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. 2 But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. 3 And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 They are “the two olive trees”and the two lampstands, and “they stand before the Lord of the earth.”[a]5 If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. 6 They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.
7 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. 8 Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city—which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt—where also their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial.10 The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.
11 But after the three and a half days the breath[b] of life from God entered them,and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.
13 At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
14 The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.
We see a passage like this and are again confused and dismayed by what we read; however again like last week John has spoken in three images that we will look at tonight.
And these images when placed together bring great hope!
So let us look at the first of these images;
1. The Temple
We see this chapter start with this interesting introduction to John to measure out the temple. Which again has old testament roots in Ezekiel 40 and Zechariah 2.
This cannot mean the earthly temple. First Revelation was written at least 20 years after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem; added to this the early church had long come to the understanding that they were the temple of God and the Spirit dwelled in them (which was the teaching of the Apostles). It cannot be the heavenly temple either as we have been given a picture of this earlier and this is not related to this.
John is showing us that this is the church; interestingly that it will be trampled upon for 3 and a half years which is half of seven (seven being the number of perfection). It intrinsically connected to the Daniel vision. Now how you interpret this depends on your view of Revelation. There is a lack of consensus of this in scholarly thought. However, where I stand it seems to be a symbolic understanding that the people of God (the Church) will be abused for half seven; which means a small amount of time in light of perfect time. They will be abused by the world.
More to this image is that God is preparing His temple (the church to tabernacle with them or come and dwell with them). This is understood by John measuring it out.
Church God is preparing us to worship Him forever even as we meet, even when we face opposition!
This leads us to the next image;
2. The Two Witnesses
These two witnesses are the prophetic witness of to the nations; typified by Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament. John did not mean that Elijah and Moses were coming back to preach; that would be to misunderstand the type of language being used in Revelation.
No he means that the church will go out preaching in the same spirit (or tradition of Moses and Elijah) men against empires; with only the word of God! He wanted the reader to link back to the Biblical narrative of Moses and Pharaoh and Elijah and King Ahab. Men empowered by God and His power set against empires and rulers.
To this John says that they will be clothed in sackcloth showing that gospel ministry is a ministry of suffering and denial.
Now we see that God empowers these two (the symbolic church) with wonders and his own protection. However, the beast comes up and attacks these two and kills them.
Now John hasn’t given us clarity who this beast is yet (this is simply the introduction), however we will learn that it is demonic empire (or the system of this world)(or Rome).
This story John tells is the reality of martyrdom throughout the ages of the church. Again this number is used 3 and a half times to show that there will be an incomplete time of suffering unto death for the church or the church will never be wiped out through death and suffering.
Empires and rulers will always push down and destroy the work of the gospel; because at the core of empire is rule and at the heart of the gospel is surrender. We have seen this already in our series; however, the world and its systems will be against our way; the gospel way; because this world is not our world; their systems are not our systems; so we stand against them and preach! We declare of the love of God and the wrath of God united in the cross of Jesus Christ.
The witnesses are defeated by the beast and killed; however, only after they have finished their testimony. Church around the world and throughout time people have died because of their testimony of Jesus. And we might face opposition even to the point of death because of the message of Jesus Christ. This is the reality of the gospel; we have to come to terms with this or we will never catch the importance of what God is doing!
All this leads to the final image:
3. The City
John goes to length to discuss the “City” he says it is figuratively Sodom and Egypt where their Lord was crucified.
There is a knee jerk reaction to say that this has to be Jerusalem because of the “where they also crucified their Lord.” I think this is a good interpretation; however, within that connection is both the Jewish system that drove Christ to the cross as well as Rome who gave the order so there is a broader context to the understanding.
To me it is the Spiritual reality that caused men to hate those who preach the gospel and those who crucified Christ. A blend of secular and religious world-views that hates the truth of God.
To me it is what causes hate in men to kill and destroy those who preach the gospel.
We see in this passage is that they appear to win; they crucified Christ; they killed the witnesses; they kill the church and they martyr those who stand up for Jesus.
They celebrate in the destruction of those who witness against the world and witness for God. But at the darkest moment; at the point of loss and defeat. After the three and a half days (or the short time), God intervenes; and breathes life into them and rescues them to Himself. This echoes of the cross; and of every martyr of history. God clutches them to himself from death and brings victory from this.
We see the next scene is a great earthquake and seven thousand are killed one 10th of the city destroyed; the rest…
They were terrified and gave glory to God in heaven. I see a hope in this; that out of the ministry of the martyr of a suffering church there is hope; God brings light in the midst of evil raising its hand.
Although some were destroyed; more gave glory to God. 9/10ths of the city gave glory to God!
And church this is the reality. It was an early church father Tertullian who wrote that “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Or where people are willing to stand for the truth and stand up for God and his gospel to the point of death the church expands. Because God is working there; bringing life from death; glory from humiliation.
The Cross is the ultimate example of this; the cross at first seems like the ultimate humiliation and defeat and yet is the greatest victory and the glory of God!
The challenge is not to allow the setbacks that will come the way of the gospel work to dishearten us. God is at work.
Even when things look dead; even Saturday; Sunday is coming God is bringing life. We live in a world that is increasingly becoming alienated with the message of truth from Scripture. A world where everything is okay; where truth is diluted for relativism. A world that rejects us before we speak and hates us because of our affiliation to Christ. And it is in this world church that God is still at work.
In the midst of death God is not done. I kind of connect this somewhat to what is happening in our country; there was another surge of – what I am going to call – evil as people in power react to the people of this land saying no more! And in this we see evil play its hand; things will get darker before they get brighter. But church I want to encourage you specifically; God is not done! Even when things look dead; God is not done!
Our task is simply to trust Him; to trust Him with our salvation; to trust Him with our futures and to trust Him with our lives! To the point of death! We are to go out and be the prophetic voice; empowered by God pushing through suffering to bring the message of hope! Because when all seems lost; when evil seems to have won; Jesus walks out the tomb! The two witnesses receive the breath of God and come back to life!