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A. We are paused between the sixth and seventh trumpets, anticipating the final step in the process.
1. In this in-between space, we are given two visions: one of an angel with a little scroll and one of two witnesses. We started the two-witnesses vision last week, and we’ll end it today.
2. The first part (last week) introduced us to the two witnesses, God’s witnessing church during this age, referred to here as the 1260 days or the 42 months, an age in which the wicked world seems to dominate and afflict God’s people, but the witnessing people of God still faithfully proclaim His message because they are protected and empowered by God.
3. The second part (today) talks about what happens at the end of this age, just before the seventh trumpet sounds.
B. Revelation 11:1-6 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.
C. Rev.11:7-13 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.
II. Let’s walk through the passage to see what is going on here.
A. Rev.11:7-8 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.
1. “when they have finished their testimony”
a. First, we see here that at some point, the testimony of the two witnesses ends.
(1) This fits well with what we’ve already seen. Jesus said, “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.” (Matt.24:14). Then there will be a brief time when Satan will be released ending the season of gospel proclamation & provoking unprecedented attack upon the church (Rev.20:7-10).
b. — It says that the saints are killed, and presumably many will be, but two other passages seem to indicate that not all will.
(1) — In Rev.20:8-9 it says that the serpent provokes a great attack upon the camp of the saints – but God intervenes.
(2) — In 1Cor.15:51 Paul tells us that on the last day “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.” So...
(3) I don’t think we should take this to imply that they are wiped out completely.
2. (The beast) And then also in v.7, a new character is introduced to us. Rev.11:7 “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,”
a. We don’t really have time to dive deeply into this, especially since we will need to do so in ch.13, where the beast is mentioned 11 times (then 19 more times through the rest of the book).
b. The beast is not necessarily Satan himself, for they are sometimes distinguished, but he is certainly an agent of Satan, probably in some sense a human one. (See also Daniel 7:3-22.)
3. “the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified”
a. When this was written, Rome was definitely “the great city” of the world. But I don’t think we should be looking for a political explanation for what this city represents.
b. “The great city” in v.8 is clearly in contrast to “the holy city” in v.2. The holy city is the heavenly Jerusalem, the church, the people of God; the great city is the opposite: the world, the ungodly, humanity opposed to God. It is referred to often in Revelation.
c. This great city is analogous to Sodom & Egypt. Why? In both places the saints were persecuted.
d. The world-city is also like Jerusalem, which became even worse than Sodom & Egypt by crucifying the Lord Himself. In all of these, persecution of God’s people is central.
e. The great city is the persecuting world.
B. The death of the two witnesses will spark great celebration in the streets of the city, because finally those tormenting voices will be silenced.
1. Rev.11:9-10 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.
C. Rev.11:11-12 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.
1. When the people of Christ appeared to be as good as dead, the Lord intervened, reviving them in a way which reminds us of God breathing into Ezekiel’s dry bones, bringing a large army to life (Ezek.37). And great fear fell on those who remained and witnessed this spectacle.
2. I don’t think this fear is a believing fear of repentance. Rather, it is the reversal of the rejoicing and celebrating which had been taking place over the death of the witnesses in v.10.
3. Their dancing will be turned to mourning and terror.
4. This is the kind of fear the Egyptians experienced during the ten plagues, and the kind of fear the guards at the tomb experienced at Christ’s resurrection (Matt.28:1-4). This is the kind of fear which Belshazzar experienced in a parallel story in Daniel 5 when his grand party was interrupted by the hand of God, “Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together.” – Daniel 5:6
D. Then God called His resurrected people to come up &, like Jesus, they went to heaven in a cloud.
1. 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.
2. This, it seems, is what is referred to as the rapture, when believers who have died in Christ will be raised up to Christ, followed by their brethren who are still alive.
3. 1Thes.4:16-17 The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
4. Some witnesses are martyred; others live on to the end. But they will all be called to meet the Lord in the air, and to be with Him forever.
5. Thus, God’s people will be vindicated by physical resurrection at the end, as was their Savior.
E. At this point we are told that there was an earthquake in Rev.11:13 “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.”
1. Remember Rev.6:12, “When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood...”
a. The “great earthquake” in 6:12 marked the beginning of the last judgment, just before the seventh seal. Now the “great earthquake” of 11:13 indicates the beginning of the same final judgment, just before the seventh trumpet. Remember that these are cycles which cover the same basic ground.
2. — 7000 killed by the earthquake: vengeance for the 7000 faithful in Elijah’s day – 1Kings 19:18?
3. But what does it mean that “the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven”?
a. Unfortunately, I don’t think this refers to a mass conversion. In the Bible there is no indication of a giant conversion at the end of history or some kind of last-minute “second chance” given.
b. Yes, they will glorify God – but in the sense of Phil.2:10-11, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
c. And like 1Peter 2:12, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
d. M. Wilcock: “This is not the willing worship of love, but the grudging worship of compulsion.”
F. Summary: As I have said before, the best way to understand eschatology is that the church is reliving the life of Christ. Right now she is witnessing and being persecuted, just as Jesus was during the days of His ministry, but a day will come when the persecution will intensify to the point of looking like total annihilation. But then there will be an earthquake, a great victorious resurrection, and an ascension into heaven.
A. What are we to make of this disconcerting celebration?
1. Well, in spite of all Jesus does to procure human salvation, people are so determined to follow their own way that they not only refuse the offer of the gospel, but they attack the messengers.
2. And when their attacks successfully silence the messengers, they celebrate!
3. Silencing the word of God is paradise for the wicked! It is their “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” moment.
4. Moses is dead, we don’t have to listen to the law anymore!
5. Elijah is dead, we don’t have to listen to God’s word anymore!
6. Now we can do whatever we want and not be troubled by conscience or religious morality!
7. We can exploit the earth! We can oppress our enemies! We can indulge our passions! We can do whatever we feel like doing!
8. Jesus is gone, and we don’t have to listen to this gospel stuff anymore!
9. Far from mourning, they are dancing in the street where the bodies of the witnesses lie unburied.
10. Their animosity is not based on a misunderstanding, you know.
11. The gospel divides. The gospel gives life, but the gospel also kills. It condemns those who refuse it. That’s why those who don’t want it also hate it.
a. Though it has the sweet fragrance of life itself for those who have open hearts, for those who don’t, the gospel reminds them of their impending doom. That’s why those who communicate it are said to have the stench of death to those who are perishing (2Cor.2:15-16).
b. No one is impartial when it comes to the gospel. You either love it or you hate it.
c. And when you hate it, you hate those who communicate it. See Mark 13:9-13.
12. The church’s proclamation of the gospel – including the message of judgment – torments those who are not open to it. And when that Voice is finally silenced, it means comfort, relief, ecstasy.
13. But the party doesn’t last very long. After all, it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!
14. So, after 3½ days, the Lord breathes into the two witnesses and they are raised to life again.
15. And their revelry is reversed.
B. It helps us appreciate the hard life of witnesses.
1. A pastor is one who says God to his flock. A Christian is one who says God to the world.
2. As we saw in v.1-2, the place of worship is protected, but the place of witness is not.
3. Do you know about the word ‘martyr’? Originally it meant witness, but it became so common for witnesses to get killed for witnessing, that the word witness came to mean martyr.
4. Revelation doesn’t instruct us about how to witness or what to say. But it does tell us that witnessing is warfare, not against flesh and blood but against powers of darkness, and it does call us to be courageous in it.
5. The witness may be a hero to Christians, but in the world the witness is usually alone, often suspect, unwanted, ignored, even abused.
6. When I get up to preach a sermon, by and large I address a congregation of folks who chose to be there. Our hearts are prepared by singing, Scripture-reading and prayer. The place is quiet and the people attentive.
a. But in the world of witness, things are very different. Many do not want what we have to offer.
b. And just revealing the fact that you are a Christian runs the risk of ruining their positive attitude toward you and forever putting a chip on their shoulder toward you.
7. Being a witness is dangerous business! You often get trampled.
8. In fact, if it weren’t for three things, no one would want to be a witness:
a. The fields are white unto harvest. There are those the Lord has chosen and they’re ready to be brought to life by a Word. All that’s needed is to plant the seed of the Word.
b. God has called us to do it.
c. The Lord is with us in it.
C. Passages like this ought to provoke us to search our own hearts and lives.
1. It is easy for us to moan and groan about how hard it is for Christians today. We ought to keep in mind that, though this may not be the easiest of times, it is certainly not the hardest of times, and probably closer to the easiest than to the hardest. In other words, we should be thankful for the many blessings God has given His church in our day (though it is far from perfect), and for the freedom we enjoy to preach the gospel, and for the abundance of blessing we enjoy in the world.
2. There are places in the world today where there are no upper class or even middle class Christians – not because only poor people convert to Christ, but because of financial persecution. There are places where becoming a Christian means accepting a life of poverty. That could happen to us.
3. Our relationship with the world is destined to fail. In the end, they will turn on us with such cruelty and hatred that the more miserable we are, the more happy they’ll be. This is not just the way it will be at the end, for many it is the way it is right now.
4. We must learn to be content in all circumstances: to stand firm both in revival and in times of severe testing when many will fall away (Paul calls it the apostasy in 2Thes.2:3).
5. Many who claim to be Christians are actually just pleasers. They get their identity and sense of security from being accepted and approved by others. And since they live in the context of Christians, they live to be accepted and approved by the Christians around them.
a. So, they live as Christians – not because they love Jesus in their hearts but because it gives them the approval of others. But, when that time comes when being a Christian means being hated and rejected and ridiculed and humiliated, their faith vanishes.
b. We must choose God over man. If people-pleasing is our #1 goal, how can we be real Christians?
6. We’re supposed to be peacemakers; we’re supposed to live at peace with others as best we can.
a. But we’re not supposed to be peace-expecters. We’re supposed to expect to be hated – not because we are obnoxious, not because we are hard to get along with, but because we have the aroma of Christ, which to the world is the stench of death.
D. What kind of a message is this that it’s worth dying for?
1. Jesus told us that His road would be hard and narrow. And we see it here in this passage.
2. How much would it take for you to do this-or-that?
a. How much would it take for you to be killed, and your dead body left to lie unburied in the street for three and a half days while people rejoice over your death and make merry and exchange presents, because your testimony had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth?
3. And yet people keep signing up! Down through history, there has been a stream of people who witness for Jesus and lose their lives for it.
4. If this life is what you’re living for, it looks crazy, doesn’t it?
5. But in the economy of God, it’s actually the deal of a lifetime! Everybody dies, but only few find the eternal treasure of Christ and eternal life with Him.
6. And who is really in danger?
a. It looks like the Lord’s people are the victims and those who seek to harm them are the dangerous ones. But in a sense the opposite is true. The ones who are truly in danger are the ones who seek to harm the Lord’s people, and the thing which is really dangerous is the message which comes out of the mouths of the Lord’s witnesses.
b. The wicked may get their 3½ days of partying, but they spend eternity in torment.
c. The witnessing believers undergo 3½ days of abuse – though even in that the Lord is with them – but they spend eternity in paradise. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?