March 22, 2015

A Tale of Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-14)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Happy Ever After (Revelation) Topic: Revelation Scripture: Revelation 11:1–11:14

Happy Ever After

A Tale of Two Witnesses
Revelation 11:1-14
(One Mission: I am Not Ashamed )
March 22nd, 2015


I. Sealed and Safe

For some, being sealed and safe represent THE two poles of the Christian experience. As long as you 'accept Jesus into your heart' at one end, and then find yourself in heaven at the other end, that's all that you really need to be concerned about. For some, what happens in between is ultimately neither her not there. As long you've made a decision, and know where you'll be when you die, that's what matters most.

And in some sense, Revelation 7 seems to confirm this. If you recall, Revelation 7 was a kind of interlude, a kind of interruption between the opening of the sixth and seventh seals, the ones that secured the scroll taken from the right hand of God by the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Remember, in chapter 7 we saw a flurry of angels who sealed the servants of God. This was a way of indicating that God's was protecting and preserving His people. And that's exactly what we saw. After this sealing took place, we were immediately transported to God's throneroom, and saw His people there, safe and secure forever and ever.

But that fast-forward kind of format can be misleading. Yes, being sealed by God's grace, and being eternally safe in His presence, those are monumentally important realities. But what happens in between does matter. And Revelation 11 reminds us of that very thing.

Turn there if you haven't already. Revelation 11, looking this morning at verse 1-14.


II. Understanding the Structure

Now we need to know right up front that this is one of the most difficult and debated passages in the entire Bible. So if we want to understand what this is saying, if we want to understand what God has for us here, we need to make sure, as talked about last time, we need to make sure we understand the structure of this section of the Revelation.

When we dig into and dissect chapters 6-11, we find that there is a very similar pattern that emerges between the Seven Seals and the Seven Trumpets. As you can see in this breakdown [figure 1 (at end)], I've labelled those elements A, B, C, D, and E.

As you can see, this morning we are looking at the second half of the second letter B. And just like the first letter B, what we discover in light of this pattern is that this section is in fact another interlude, just like the one we saw in chapter 7. This interlude interrupts the progression of the seven trumpets, specifically between the sixth and seventh trumpets. Now, the fact this is another interlude is going to be very important as we try to make sense of this. So as we move into our passage, let's keep this pattern in mind.


III. The Passage: “Authority to My Two Witnesses” (11:1-14)

Let me just read through the entire passage, and then we can come back and talk about what we're seeing here. Verse 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, [2] 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. [3] And I will grant authority 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. [5] 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. [6] 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. [7] 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, [8] 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. [9] 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.

Alright. Even though you probably have a hundred questions stampeding through your mind, I'd like to suggest that, if we hope to understand what is happening here, there are only two major questions we need to focus on this morning. Now, there will certainly be lots of smaller questions we will need to answer, but these two questions are the major landmarks we need as we navigate through these verses. Here's the first question...


1. Who are These Two Witnesses?

This morning, I'm not going to spend any time talking about all of the different ways that question has been answered. I'm simply going to tell you that I believe those two witnesses represent the Church. Let me give you five reasons, from the context, why I believe these witnesses are symbolic representations of the Church.

Reason #1: The Subject of Both Interludes is God's People. If this section of Revelation follows a similar pattern, then it's reasonable to assume that both interludes have a similar focus. I think we will see that the content of each interlude confirms that.

Reason #2: Angels and Accounting. Not only do both interludes begin with angelic activity, but you may remember that when God's people were sealed in chapter 7, there was then a counting using the language of Israel's tribes.

But here in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 11, John is commanded to measure the Temple of God, it's altar, and those who worship there. So here, we find another kind of counting or measuring, this time using the language of Israel's sanctuary, Israel's worship. And since the outer courts are to be given over, like the rest of the city, to be trampled down by the nations, this measuring must be, once again, a symbol of divine protection.

And we see the connection between this vision of the temple and the two witnesses evident in the timeframe applied to both: “42 months” (11:2) and “1260 days” (11:3). I believe the trampling of the outer courts and city corresponds to the length of the witnesses ministry to those very same nations.

Reason #3: The Church is the Temple of God. Building on that idea of similarity between the two interludes, it makes perfect sense that the image of the Temple here is a symbolic representation of the Church. Why? Because throughout the NT, the Church is called God's Temple (I Corinthians 3:16), the temple of the living God (II Corinthians 6:16), a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:21), and a spiritual house (I Peter 2:5). When John received an wrote down this Revelation in the last decade of the First Century, the Temple in Jerusalem had lain in ruin and rubble for over twenty years. God seems to be saying, “Even though the actual holy city and the actual Temple were trampled down by the nations, I will preserve the spiritual Temple, which is my Church.”

Reason #4: Two Witnesses, Two Olive Trees. In verse 3, the two witnesses are called “the two olives trees and two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” This is a clear reference to Zechariah 4, where the two figures represented by these images are Zerubbabel the ruler from David's line and Joshua the High Priest. Now, we know Jesus fulfilled both of these offices; that He was and is both king and priest. But clearly the two witnesses are not Jesus. So we have to remember that Revelation 1:6, 2:26, 27, and 3:21 have already shown us that God has made us priests, and that we will reign with Jesus. So in one sense, the imagery from Zechariah is a wonderful representation of the Church. And haven't lampstands already been used to symbolize the seven churches?

Reason #5: Declaring War on Two People? Look again at what verse 7 tells us about the actions of the beast who is introduced here: 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...Now if these two witnesses are really just two individuals, the language sounds a little off when it says the beast “will make war” on them. Additionally, flip over and look at another passage about the beast in chapter 13: Also it [the beast] was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. (13:7) Same language, same idea.

So I believe those are five very good arguments from the context for why we should identify these “two witnesses” as a symbolic representation of the Church. Why use this specific imagery? Well remember, Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, both in the case of the Apostles and the seventy-two from Luke 10. Also remember what Jesus said in John 8 about the OT and His minsitry: “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. [18] I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” (John 8:17, 18)

So with that foundation laid, we need to ask and answer our other key question. If we know who the two witnesses are...


2. What Does Their Ministry Tell Us About Our Ministry?

This passage is a story told in symbols. At all times, we need to hold on to Foothold #3...
Revelation was conveyed through symbolic numbers and images.

And I believe the symbolic numbers and images in this passage were powerful reminders for the original readers of this book, the seven churches to whom this letter was addressed. They needed to know that between being sealed and eternally safe in God's presence, there was a work to do. What lies between our day of decision of Christ and the day our death is extremely important. We are to be witnesses.

And of course, I believe what we find here should be powerful reminders for us as well. If you belong to the Church of Jesus, by grace, through faith, then this strange story is your story. It is our story. Way of Grace, carefully and prayerfully consider the three reminders we discover here about being witnesses for Christ.

First, we learn from verses 3-6, that as the Church, we are Authoritative Witnesses.

Just look at the OT language that is being used here in verses 3-6. We've already talked about the olive trees from Zechariah, but also notice the image of fire issuing from their mouths. This goes back to Jeremiah 5:14...

Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts: “Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them.

This is one of the images from this passage the makes it clear we are working here, as we are throughout Revelation, with symbolic imagery. We also see allusions to the ministries of Elijah and Moses, one who shut the sky in Israel, and one who turned the Nile to blood and was used by to strike Egypt with every kind of plague. What does this imagery represent? It is a reminder that as the Church, we have been given authority in regard to God's authoritative word.

And that word is a word about judgment and repentance. Remember, we are still in the midst of the trumpet judgments. Remember how verse 14 points us back to the second “woe” from the end of chapter 9. And as we learned back there, the trumpet judgments were partial judgments; they were warnings. Unfortunately, the closing verses of chapter 9 revealed that the people of the earth did not and/or will not repent in light of these judgments.

But the fact these witnesses wear sackcloth, as we learn in verse 3, is an indication that their message is concerned with repentance. And for those who do not repent, our word must be and can only be a word about God's judgment, about the fire that is waiting for those who resist God and rebel against His goodness and his kingdom.

Second, we also discover here, in verses 7-10, that we are Suffering Witnesses.

Clearly, the beast in verse 7, the people of the “great city”, and “those who dwell on the earth”, all of them hate these two witnesses. And when the beast crushes them, no one is all. Actually, the just the opposite is true. The murder of the two witnesses becomes a kind of holiday, with lots of parties and even gifts being exchanged. And the fact that their bodies are left to rot in the street is another remember of the kind of scorn involved here.

Remember, verse 10 tells us that these witnesses were “a torment” to those who dwell on the earth”. I think this may be a reference to the message of repentance and judgment that the witnesses proclaimed. Remember what Jesus told us about our relationship to the world:

If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:19)

If we belong to Christ, we will suffer. If we are faithful to stand for Christ, to speak of Him, to declare His truth in spite of the world's protests, we will suffer. Think about it: this passage clearly represents the two witnesses as prophets and their work as prophesying, that is, od speaking forth God's word. Jesus made this same connection between suffering and prophets:

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. [12] Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

John's original readers needed to see this connection, and so do we.

Finally, number three, verses 11-13 remind us that we will be Vindicated Witnesses.

There have been and there will be times when an individual or group or government thinks it has snuffed out the Church's flame. But as we see in these closing verses, God will always turn our appartent defeat into an actual victory. Even though the two witnesses were laying dead in the street for three and a half days, God's purposes were not thwarted. In fact, the language of verse 11 may be another clue that we are talking about the church here, not simply two indiviudals. The language of that verse is clealry based on Ezekiel 37:10...

So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Just as God did in 'resurrecting' Israel after her captivity, so too will He always do for His people the church. Jesus did declare: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) And every way and every time the church in vindicated now points to our vindication then, on that day when all the world will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, they will know we belong to Him, and that our message is His message.


IV. In What Order?

As the seven churches received this letter and heard this Revelation, they must have been struck by what Jesus revealed about the order of things. Remember, these were church in which some stood faithfully, even to the point of death, while others compromised, becoming more and more like the world. Think about the order of things that Christ reveals here..

It is either, Endurance > Suffering > Victory, or it is Compromise > 'Victory' > Suffering. There are no other options.

And think for a minute about what the time indicators here teach us. The time for our work and the time of our suffering are both limited. That's what the number three and a half symbolizes. Since it is exactly one-half of seven (the number of perfection or completion), it represents an incomplete or divinely limited time. In this passage we do find three and a half days in regard to the dead bodies of the two witnesses. But we also find 1260 days, which on a lunar calendar, equals three and half years. Forty-two months in verse 2 is also a way of talking about three and a half years.

So when the world pushes back against us and calls our message intolerant, primitive, or foolish, we need to stand firm in the authority God has given us through His word. In the same way, when the world ridicules, marginalizes, and slanders us, we need to be encouraged that such suffering is God's will for us; that it is part of God's purposes. And through it all, we must remember that God is our Vindicator. He will vindicate His word and His people, whenever and however He chooses. We don't need to fight like the world fights in order to somehow vindicate or justify ourselves.

And what will be the end of all this? What will be the result when are faithful to be witnesses for Jesus Christ? The eternal destinies of those around us will be sealed. Look again at verse 13. We read...

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. (11:13)

So when God vindicates our message and ministry, many will be hardened and, sadly, their eternal destruction will be assured. Keep in mind, a tenth is a tithe to God, a tithe of condemnation, and 7,000 is 7 times 1000, which indicates a very large and complete number.

But for others, the vindication of the gospel, however that happens, will mean salvation. Now some commentators do not believe this passage speaks of salvation, only that some will be forced to acknowledge the truth. I do think that will happen in the end, when every knee bows and every tongue confesses what cannot be disputed. But look with me at Revelation 16:9 as we attempt to make sense of the language here at the end of 11:13. We read in 16:9...

They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory. (Revelation 16:9)

So here we see that, in Revelation at least, giving glory to God flows from genuine repentance. That seems to indicate that those in chapter 11, who, when their world was rocked by God's word, feared God and gave Him glory, that they were genuinely converted; that they were truly born again. I think that was meant to be an encouragement to the first readers, and an encouragement to us as well. Even as the trumpets sound, God is at work. Though many will not be sobered when their world is shaken and the earth convulses, the faithful witness of God's people has and will make a difference.

But that's our job, isn't it. To be a witness means first having seen and heard. Is that you? Do you know Jesus? Have you seen and heard the Good News? If you have, live it! Share it! Don't be afraid. Don't compromise. The story of the church in the world is a story of hope and triumph. Yes, we will be conquered for a time. But in the end, the victory is ours in Him, forever and ever.

Figure 1

A. Six Seals (four distinct (re: earth) + two) (6:1-17)
   B. Interlude (7:1-17)
      C. Seventh Seal (8:1) > Seven Trumpets!
         D. Heavenly Temple (8:2-4)
            E. Signs of God's Presence (e.g. thunder, lightning) (8:5)

A. Six Trumpets (four distinct (re: earth) + two “woes”) (8:6-9:21)
   B. Interlude (10:1-11:14)
      C. Seventh Trumpet (11:15-18) > Seven Bowls (not until 15:1)
         D. Heavenly Temple (11:19a)
            E. Signs of God's Presence (e.g. thunder, lightning) (11:19b)


other sermons in this series

Nov 22


Nov 15


I am Coming...Come! (Revelation 22:6-21)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Scripture: Revelation 22:6–21 Series: Happy Ever After (Revelation)

Nov 1