Throughout history the followers of Jesus have been strengthened by the testimony of their fellow believers in the face of persecution. The world has never been a place of comfort and ease for those who refuse to bow their knee to compromise or concession. Throughout history there have been faithful men and women who have felt the inescapable call of God to “preach the Word in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV) regardless of the cost. They have found the courage and strength to be faithful to the call not because of their strength, self-discipline, or determination, but because of their Savior’s willingness to carry the Cross and suffer its shame for their sake. The commitment, faithfulness, and willingness to suffer shame and persecution for the sake of the Gospel has stirred the strength of others and enabled them to take their stand when it was their turn to answer the call.
The great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, once wrote, Oh! I do not wonder that the martyrs died for such a Christ as this! When the love of Christ is shed abroad in our hearts, then we feel that if the stake were present we would stand firmly in the fire to suffer for him who died for us. I know our poor unbelieving hearts would soon begin to quail at the crackling wood and the furious heat. But surely this love would prevail over all our unbelief: Are there any of you who feel that if you follow Christ you must lose by it, lose your station, or lose your reputation? Will you be laughed at, if you leave the world and follow Jesus? Oh! and will you turn aside because of these little things when he would not turn aside, though all the world mocked him, till he could say “It is finished.” No, by the grace of God, let every Christian lift his hands to the Most High God, to the maker of heaven and earth, and let him say within himself, “Now for the love I bear his name, what was my gain I count my loss, I pour contempt on all my shame, and nail my glory to his cross.” (Rev. C.H. Spurgeon, January 30th, 1859, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.) In our Scripture for today we find two witnesses, called by God, empowered by His presence, to fight the good fight and proclaim the Gospel in the face of persecution and death. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Revelation 11:1-14. 1I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. 2But 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 give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5If 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. 6These men have power to shut up the sky 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. 7Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. 8Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10The 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. 11But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12Then 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. 13At 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. 14The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon. (Revelation 11:1-14 NIV) This is a very difficult section of God’s Word for us to understand. I have read the commentaries of many Bible teachers this past week and almost all acknowledge that there are many different ways that this section of Scripture can be understood. There are at least five different schools of thought concerning the interpretation of Revelation 11. I say, “at least,” because there are variations on each of the five major schools of thought. It can get quite confusing. I don’t want to spend too much time examining these various views because I want to spend the bulk of our time focusing on the heart of the teaching of this important section of Scripture, but let’s talk briefly about each interpretation. First, there is the Dispensationalist-Futurist interpretation of Revelation 11. This view holds that the events are to be taken literally and that they are strictly future oriented. The temple and the altar refer to a literal restored temple in Jerusalem. Those who are worshipping are a remnant of converted Jews. The “outer court” is understood as Gentiles who will persecute the remnant and trample Jerusalem for 42 months. Secondly, those who hold a Preterist view also understand Revelation 11 as a literal picture, but where the dispensationalists and preterists differ is their understanding of when the events of Revelation 11 take place. Dispensationalists believe the events will take place in the future while the preterist understand Revelation 11 as already having taken place. The temple and Jerusalem were destroyed in 70 A.D. so preterists believe the events of Revelation 11 could not have happened after that date. The third view of Revelation 11 is a Modified Futurist interpretation. These folks believe that the events of Revelation 11 will take place in the future, but they understand the descriptions of Revelation to be figurative. They also differ from the dispensationalists from the standpoint that they see the description of the sanctuary, altar, and worshippers as those within ethnic Israel and those in the outer court, and the holy city, as representative of Jewish unbelievers. The fourth perspective is very similar to the futurist interpretation except that they do not understand the events of Revelation 11 as future oriented. They see those in the outer court as the professing, but apostate Church. These folks say they believe, but they will be deceived and will side with the unbelieving persecutors of the true Church. They base this on other Scripture from Revelation such as Revelation 2:6; 2:14-16; 2:20-23; 3:1-3; 3:16. The final major school of thought concerning Revelation 11 also understands the Scripture as figurative, but they interpret the outer court as the physical expression of the true, spiritual Church which is vulnerable to harm. These are the major schools of thought concerning Revelation 11, but there are an almost unlimited number of variations on each of these themes. We could literally spend the next several weeks examining and scrutinizing each of the views, but I would rather get to the heart of the message of Revelation 11 so that you and I can be encouraged by God’s Word. I believe that John P. Newport is right when he says that regardless of which interpretation you subscribe to you can be assured of this: History has shown that the belief, frequently expressed by the Jews, that Jerusalem and its Temple could not be taken by Gentile oppressors was false. At the very time that John wrote this book, the city of Jerusalem and the Temple lay in ruins. In contrast to this view, John was certain—and he repeats it in many ways—that the church of Christ is indestructible. God Himself will preserve it in the face of the violent onslaughts of people who would blot it out from existence. This is surely what this little prophecy in chapter 11 is intended by John to convey. It is not a promise that the Christian church will be preserved from suffering. But it is an assurance that the Lord’s people can never perish. In face of this overwhelming pressure from adversaries, this is an important assurance for Christians to receive. (John P. Newport, The Lion and The Lamb, pg. 219) With that said let’s see if we can learn something from our Scripture for today. Take a look at verses 1-2 with me and let’s begin. 1I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. 2But 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. (Revelation 11:1-2 NIV) As I said earlier, this chapter has been understood in so many different ways by so many different students of God’s Word. Let me give you an example of why this is so. Here we see John given a reed, like a measuring rod, so that he could measure the temple of God, the altar, and to count the worshippers. Why is he measuring the temple and altar? Is it for destruction or to demonstrate God’s ownership and protection? You can build your case for either side from arguing Scripture. In 2 Kings 21:13 God stretches out a measuring line over Jerusalem and it is very evident that judgment is coming. On the other hand, we see in Zechariah 2:1-5 that God is measuring out the holy city for the purpose of protection. So, how do we understand the measuring of the temple in Revelation 11, especially when you take into consideration that the temple was no longer standing? If you will remember, the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed in 70 A.D. John wrote Revelation about 95 A.D. while the temple lay in ruins. It could be that John had a vision of a future temple that he was measuring. In a vision it is possible to see things that do not exist any longer. This could be what happened with John. It could also be that John was measuring the temple—the people of God and putting His stamp of ownership on them. The New Testament teaches us that since the death and resurrection of Jesus, God has dwelled in the hearts of His people—we are the temple of the living God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians. 16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV) Again, in 2 Corinthians, we read the same theme repeated once again. 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16 NIV) Last of all, we read in Ephesians 2:19-22 that we, who are Gentiles, are no longer outsiders, but we have joined the people of God. Read along with me. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22 NIV) John is measuring that which belongs to the Lord, he is counting those who belong to the Lord, and he is reminding his readers that God will give spiritual sanctuary to His people. The protection of God wouldn’t ensure their physical safety, but it would secure their eternal destiny! John also says that he was instructed not to measure the “outer court.” This area would be trampled by the Gentiles for 42 months. The “outer court” of Herod’s Temple was separated with a barrier with an inscription that threatened death to any Gentile who would pass beyond the barrier. Many believe that the “outer court” not measured by John stood for those who professed allegiance to Jesus, but who were willing to compromise with the world. Who is the “true Church?” I don’t have a clue and neither do you? Who are those who truly love the Lord and have surrendered their hearts, minds, and souls to the King of all kings? I can’t see into anyone’s heart, but I can encourage everyone who claims Christ as Lord of their life. The determination of who truly belongs to the Lord and who does not is left up to God alone. Jesus told a parable to illustrate my point. In Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus said, 24…”The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; (Matthew 13:24-30 NIV) Let’s go on to John’s description of the two witnesses. In Revelation 11:3-11 we have a description of the two unnamed witnesses. Who are these witnesses? Are they Moses and Elijah? Joshua and Zerubbabel? Are they symbolic of the Law and the Prophets? Could Enoch be one of the witnesses? Those are great questions and each of the suggestions I have just mentioned have been mentioned as possibilities. The two certainly possess attributes that were present in Moses and Elijah. Moses turned the waters of the Nile into blood (Exodus 7:20). Elijah prayed and God shut up the heavens so that it did not rain (1 Kings 17:1). I believe that there are two keys for us in understanding this section of God’s Word. We need to understand first of all that the witnesses are called, commissioned, and empowered by God alone. He has called them. He has given them His message. His purposes for their lives and ministry are secure until their mission is complete. Secondly, the two witnesses are the “two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” The imagery is found in Zechariah 4:1-13 where Zerubbabel, the Jewish governor who served under the Persian king Darius, and Joshua, the high priest, are pictured as two olive trees that stand on either side of the golden lampstand and supply it with oil for burning. Joshua and Zerubbabel don’t understand the vision they have just witnessed of the golden lampstand with lights and the two olive trees so they are told, 6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6 NIV) Joshua and Zerubbabel are told that God works through His chosen leaders, despite their limitations and frailty, despite the bold opposition and antagonistic agitators from outside forces, and God will finish His work through His servants. In Revelation 1:12, 20 John has already likened the seven churches of Asia Minor to seven lampstands. The lampstand is to give light, it is to bear witness to the things of God, and these two witnesses are to share the light of God’s truth with an unbelieving world. You and I, like the two witnesses, are to share the light of God’s truth with an unbelieving world. Despite our own limitations, God will use us to carry out His work. No matter how strong the opposition, God will carry out His work. It may appear that we are losing, that God’s purposes are being thwarted, but God will carry out His work through His people. It’s not our ability, but our availability that God desires. When God gives a mission, He will provide the means! I want you to notice how the two witnesses are dressed. They are wearing sackcloth. The wearing of sackcloth in biblical times represented times of mourning and repentance. The two witnesses are crying out to a lost world and inviting, urging, the people to repent. I’ve learned a great lesson from studying this passage this past week. The sackcloth not only represented repentance, but also mourning. I believe the people of God, called to minister in our world today, have lost this aspect of our missionary call. Today, we have judgmental attitudes towards this lost world, we wear a condemning countenance, but we don’t have a broken heart for those who are lost. In Revelation 11:7 we find that when the witnesses’ mission is complete they are killed by the beast that comes up from the Abyss. This is again one of those segments of Revelation where we can spend a huge amount of time trying to figure out who the beast is and miss the message. Who is the “beast?” Is the beast the Anti-Christ that many believe will come at the end of history? Is he a world power like Domitian, the head of the Roman Empire? I can tell you without a doubt that the beast is the antithesis of the things and character of God. The suffering and dying Catholic priests and Lutheran ministers imprisoned at Dachau said that it was the duty of the Church in every age to identify the beast. Jesus said, 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 NIV) The beast stands in opposition to the people of God, but he can’t do anything without God’s permission. The beast kills the witnesses and their bodies are denied a proper burial. Instead of a funeral the world throws a party because the witnesses, who had tormented them with reminders of God’s sovereignty and coming judgment, were now gone. Or so they thought. We read in verse 11 that “after three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them.” In the very next verse we see that the witnesses are taken to heaven in a cloud. Remember our study last week? Only God or Jesus is ever pictured in God’s Word as coming or going with the clouds. Here, the witnesses are carried to heaven in the cloud of God’s presence. God is with us! He is with us in our life, He is with us in our suffering, He is with us in our death, and He is with us to carry us to our eternal home. What happens next is truly remarkable. Those who had mocked and ridiculed the faithful servants of God, those who had even celebrated their deaths, are now terrified as a horrible earthquake kills 7,000 people. What do they do with their fear? How do they respond? They give glory to God! What a remarkable reaction! This isn’t always the case is it? In Revelation 16:8-9, during the “bowl judgments,” the angel of the Lord pours out the bowl on the sun and the people are scorched with fire. How do they respond to God’s judgment? Read along with me. 8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him. (Revelation 16:8-9 NIV) These refuse to repent. They cursed the name of God. Those who witnessed the resurrection of the two witnesses respond to the horrible earthquake and the death of 7,000 of their fellow citizens by giving glory to God. The wonderful repentance of the people who had turned away from God teaches us that the Church’s purpose is much more than our mere existence. My friends, we must learn the weight of the cross before we can ever truly experience the joy of the resurrection! We are in this world to bear witness to the truth of God, even when our message is rejected. The darker the world becomes the more important it is that we allow the light of our Savior to shine brightly through our lives! How can you and I incorporate this lesson into our daily lives? That’s a great question. First of all, we need to remember that we belong to God. We are on a mission and our mission will be complete because it is not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of God that we work for our King. We need not fear, but we must live in faith as we serve our King. Secondly, we live in a crazy society, a decadent society that is growing darker by the day. If there were ever a time for God’s people in America to stand up and let His light shine—the day has come. We are to stand up in this dark day and with brokenness, share God’s truth, God’s Word with those around us. What will you do today? Will allow the Lord to examine your hearts to see if you are a “light bearer” in this dark world? Will you take your stand and count the costs of discipleship or will you slink back into the shadows and live your life so as to avoid conflict or persecution? If you have never surrendered your life to Jesus, the one who was persecuted and died, yet lives for your sake and mine, then won’t you cry out to Him this very morning. Mike Hays Britton Christian Church 922 NW 91st OKC, OK. 73114 April 30, 2006 firstname.lastname@example.org