Revelation 11

Revelation

Revelation 11

1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. 11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on 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, and their enemies watched them. 13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.

Calvin Miller once told me about a time in which a man punched him in the face during a pastoral visit. Miller had gone to visit the man, whose children attended the church while he did not. In fact, the man was not a believer. But Calvin Miller used the children’s attendance as an opportunity to talk to their dad.

While visiting the man, the dad explained that he was not a Christian and had no interest in being one, whether his children went or not. Miller pressed the matter, asking the man whether or not he did not feel some responsibility to come to the Lord as his children had and whether or not his heart was not burdened to receive Christ.

The next thing he knew, Miller said, was that he was staring up at the man’s ceiling and could not feel his face. When feeling began to return he could tell that blood was seeping into his beard. The man had punched him right in the face there in his living room.

Miller collected himself and then left.

The next Sunday, the man was sitting on the front pew of the church with his family. He accepted Jesus. He was there every Sunday. He became a great leader in that church.

Now I ask you this question: was Calvin Miller a victim in this story? Was he defeated? Did he lose?

How you answer those questions will determine how you handle Revelation 11 and, indeed, a good bit of the book to come.

We have seen how God seals His children in the time of tribulation. We have seen how he protects them from the judgments that He pours out upon the rebellious world. We have seen how God is able to protect His children in the most frightening of circumstances! But as we move into the time of great tribulation—the “time, times, and half a time”—we will see something else: sometimes that protection takes the form of ultimate spiritual victory even if we are allowed to suffer.

In the great tribulation, the church gets punched in the face by the beast. Blood flows. Martyrs are made. And yet, this does not constitute a defeat for the church, for the people of God. This does not mean that God has abandoned the church. On the contrary, Revelation 11 is going to show us that God, while allowing the church to undergo a measure of persecution, ultimate vindicates us and gives us a victory that is so startling it results in a certain percentage of the world being moved to repentance and to saving faith.

In the great tribulation, the church and its bitter/sweet message will come into great conflict with the fallen world.

Revelation 11 is filled with fascinating and strange and controverted issues. It is very important that we not lose the more obvious point of these verses in the less obvious disputed details.

1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.”

Countless interpretations of this have been offered over the years, from the argument that there will be a literal rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem to the argument that all of this was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. to the argument that this is a reference to the church persecuted by ultimately victorious. I am sympathetic to this last idea, the idea that this reference to the temple that John is supposed to measure is a reference to the church of Jesus on the earth in this time, comprised of both Jews and Gentiles that have accepted Christ. The church is oftentimes referred to in “temple” terminology in the New Testament. Scott Duvall is correct when he writes:

The temple, the altar, and its worshipers represent the Christian community, an interpretation based on the figurative use of “temple” in Revelation (3:12; 7:15; 11:19; 14:15, 17; 15:5–6, 8; 16:1, 17; 21:22), as well as the use of temple as a metaphor for the church in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:16–17; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:19–22; Heb. 3:6; 1 Pet. 2:5).[1]

John is to measure the temple, but not the outer court because it, the outer court, will be given to the nations to trample for forty-two months, which is three-and-one-half years, or a “time, times, and half a time,” the time of great tribulation. In other words, Revelation 11 establishes two truths about the church in the great tribulation:

  • God will be with us. This is the whole point of the temple imagery: God dwells among His people.
  • In the great tribulation the church will undergo a measure of suffering.

Some have proposed that the inner temple that is to be measured represents the soul of the church and the outer court is its body that will be trampled. Meaning, we might experience physical suffering, but ultimately God will give us final victory and will never abandon us. And why will the wrath of Satan come against the church in the great tribulation? Listen:

And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

1260 days is 42 months (with each month being 30 days), or three-and-one-half years. The wrath of the devil will come against the church in the time of great tribulation because of the message we pronounce. The church as a proclaiming body is symbolized in the two witnesses. The two witnesses are usually thought of as being Elijah and Moses, who had appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:3-4. Malachi had prophesied that Elijah would come “before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” in Malachi 4:5. And while Jesus does say that this is fulfilled, in a sense, in John the Baptist, the attributes of the two witnesses in the following verses yet point to Moses and Elijah.

And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.

The “power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall” points to Elijah. The waters turning to blood and plagues point to Moses. Is this literally Moses and Elijah or is this a symbolic way of speaking of the witness of the church at large? Are they representative of the church in a literal way or are they symbols of the church? Scott Duvall observes:

While this passage could refer to two individuals, the number “two” probably comes from the need for two witnesses to constitute valid legal testimony (e.g., Deut. 19:15; 17:6; Num. 35:30; Matt. 18:16; John 8:17; Heb. 10:28).[2]

That is an interesting point, but there is no need to be dogmatic concerning this. Regardless, the two witness speak the truth of the gospel and the nations hate them for it. Even so, they are protected by God. God gives them victory over those who would hurt them.

However, at a certain point, “the beast that rises form the bottomless pit” is allowed to make war on them and to kill them. It is a gruesome scene:

And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.

We will unpack the nature of “the beast” more later on, but, ultimately, this is a picture of the wrath of Satan coming against the witnessing church. The two witnesses are killed and their corpses are exposed “in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.” Normally in Revelation this great wicked city is Rome. And the symbols of “Sodom” (sexual depravity) and “Egypt” (persecution of God’s people) would suggest that here. However, verse 8 adds, “where their Lord was crucified,” which suggests, of course, that Jerusalem is in view. The ESV Study Bible makes an interesting point.

It is likely that John has merged Rome and Jerusalem here into one combined symbol, which would be fitting because Jerusalem was under the domination of Roman rule and because Jerusalem is identified as the capital of the new “unholy Roman Empire,” where the Antichrist himself will establish his rule (cf. Matt. 24:15; 2 Thess. 2:3).[3]

Even so, this might yet be exclusively a reference to Rome, as Gordon Fee argues.

Indeed, John’s own readers would be quick to see this as a referent to Rome, since crucifixion (mentioned here alone in this book) was a singularly Roman form of execution. The fact that “the great city” is now likened to Sodom, the mother of all sexual perversity, and Egypt, the oppressors of God’s people, taken with the rest of the imagery in the book, seems to be conclusive that this imagery points to Rome. And it is imagery John can get away with, since the “inhabitants of the earth” referred to in verse 10, who consider Rome to be the center of their universe, will scarcely recognize the biblical referents.[4]

Here again, dogmatism is not necessary. The point remains: in the great tribulation, the church and its bitter/sweet message will come into great conflict with the fallen world.

The church will get punched in the face in the living room of the fallen world. Blood will flow. Indeed, martyrs will be made and violence will ensue against the people of God. Why? Because of the bitter/sweet message of the Kingdom and the world’s hatred of the Lamb. It is bitter to the world because it is a word of judgment against those who hate God and war against the Lamb, against those who reject Jesus. But it is sweet because it is the offer of forgiveness.

This much seems clear: a church that preaches a message the devil does not hate is a church that is not preaching a full message. Beware the Christian that the devil does not want to punch in the face. Beware the Christian who never offends (just as you should beware the Christian who does nothing but!).

The two witnesses have power and are protected. Yet God, in His wisdom, allows them to suffer and be killed. This is the story of the church throughout her history. But, we may thank God, this is not the whole story!

Yet the ultimate victory of the church is promised and is certain.

What does this mean, the murder of the two witnesses? Does it mean that God has failed His church? Does it mean that the devil wins? No, for next we read:

11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on 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, and their enemies watched them.

There are seemingly countless theories that have been put forth to explain who the two witnesses are, and pages upon pages of ink trying to prove this or that theory have been spilled on the question. The same happens with our efforts to understand their rising again. But this is one of those points where we need simply to rest in the obvious overall point of the passage: the martyred witnesses get up again and are received to God and are therefore not ultimately defeated.

While the church may suffer persecution, God’s vindication of the church stands strong.

The ultimate victory of the church is promised and is certain.

In the late 2nd century, the church father Tertullian wrote one of the most famous sentences ever written in Christian history. He wrote it in his Apologeticus. In Latin it is, “Plures efficimur, quotiens metimur a vobis: semen est sanguis Christianorum.” One translator rendered it, “We spring up in greater numbers the more we are mown down by you: the blood of the Christians is the seed of a new life.” Another translator has rendered it, “We multiply when you reap us. The blood of Christians is seed.” But the most famous rendering of it is as follows:

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.[5]

Read that again.

Sit with that for a while.

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

You cannot defeat Christ’s church because it is Christ’s church.

Death cannot overpower that which has been brought into the very life of the resurrected One.

Martyrdom is not a defeat, nor it is a failure. It is but one more evidence of God’s ultimate victory over death through Jesus.

Let us therefore joyfully and courageously be about the business of Jesus, even in the face of suffering.

The implication is clear enough. Being unable to be defeated, we should live out our victory by joyfully and courageously proclaiming Jesus to the nations even in the face of the threat of physical death. Watch what happens when the two witnesses rise again:

13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.

The enemies of the Lamb see the resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses and then are subject to a “great” and deadly earthquake, such that seven thousand people die. But as a result many turn to God in repentance and faith! They give glory to God!

The death of the witnesses is therefore a door through which greater expansion of the Kingdom advances. Even it was used for the furtherance of God’s glory! The blood of the martyrs really is the seed of the church. And if this is so, this means that in the worst possible times the world should encounter in the church a joyful, courageous, winsome, bold, faithful, unflappable, missionary people who will not stop calling the nations to the Lamb of God, to Jesus!

Danny Akin has pointed to two statements from two great missionaries that capture perfectly this need for us to move forward in gospel power:

The Baptist missionary to China, Lottie Moon, said, “I have a firm conviction that I am immortal ’til my work is done”…The faithful missionary to the Auca Indians, Jim Elliot, had the same conviction as Lottie Moon. In a letter to his parents, he wrote,

Remember you are immortal until your work is done. But don’t let the sands of time get into the eyes of your vision to reach those who still sit in darkness. They simply must hear.[6]

I love that. You are immortal until your work is done. Do not fear death. Do not fear suffering. We will pass into the presence of the God who has overcome all of these things.

Do not fear tribulation. Be of good cheer and courage. Do not become unglued in the midst of uncertain days.

You have a task. It is a privilege to have this task.

Proclaim the message of the Lamb! Call your friends and family to Jesus. Do not waver. Do not give up. Do not stop. Do not tremble. Do not fear. Do not lose heart. Do not abandon faith.

The Lamb is with you.

The Lamb is with us.

We will achieve victory through the conquering Lamb.

 

[1] Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation (Teach the Text Commentary Series) (p. 157). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[2] Duvall, J. Scott, 158.

[3] Crossway Bibles. ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 157019-157022). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

[4] Fee, Gordon D.. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series Book 3) (pp. 141-142). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apologeticus

[6] Exalting Jesus in Revelation (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (pp. 226-227). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

One thought on “Revelation 11

  1. Go Wym!!!!!!!!!!!!, taking up a benevolence offering with each communion observed just almost made me want to jump for joy and on the inside I just busted a round hole in the ceiling plaster and fell down into a daze on the floor………. ouch, that hurt!!!!!!!!!……….. we all have it so good here for now; we, your fans, are just thrilled you remember always those in need. Your most jewish catholic protestant groupie just can’t wait until you get a mutt and name it Tertullian…….. maybe you should get a rescue dog and call it Tert for short…… imagine all the fun you can have with that?…. :-) oops…. all the misunderstandings around that one syllabus……ah, I mean utterance could become a new epic or your first fiction book release…… imagine!…….. or a new children’s gospel story, etc.

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