Jesus Wins! – Part 20: Persecuted Witnesses

// Jesus Wins! – Part 20: Persecuted Witnesses

 Jesus Wins! – Part 20: Persecuted Witnesses

 

Rev. 11

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.[1]

Last week we saw the apostle John eat a “little scroll” that tasted as sweet as honey in his mouth but became bitter in his stomach. We heard from the great English Puritan, Thomas Watson, who said, “Until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” We emphasized that true gospel revival only begins in a person, a family, a congregation, or the whole Church when individuals begin to see their idolatry of self-generated happiness for the horrible, bitter, God-rejecting thing it is.

When we give ourselves over to our idols of self-salvation, God may remove his protective hand and let us wander off into the weeds as a lesson to us and to the church. But those sealed into Christ can never lose God’s eternal loyalty love or their citizenship in heaven. The earth-dwellers, however, live in life-long rejection of God who has turned them over to their idols of self-generated happiness. This is their present and eternal judgment. Behind the idols are the demonic forces whispering promises of self-fulfillment and happiness that leave the saved and unsaved alike utterly unfulfilled and completely opposed to the Lord and his people.

That is the greatest reason for of John’s bitter stomach as he digests the Word of God and prophesies it to 1st-century Roman Asia and to you and me today. Not only does every believer contend with their old Adam 1.0 hardware (the sinful flesh), but we also live as wanderers in a wilderness utterly opposed to God and his holy law. The earth-dwellers demand you live as they live, think as they think, and worship at Satan’s altar of self-fulfillment as they do. John and you and I are called to proclaim law and gospel to a world bent on destroying God and his people. To do that, it’s not just our own sin that must be bitter, but all the sin we experience in others also must be bitter. Until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet. Until we compare life among the earth-dwellers to the eternal weight of glory to come, we will never see our struggles for the light and momentary afflictions God says they are (2 Cor. 4:17).

We keep noticing that John paints with Old Testament colors as he gives us the pictures of his visions. In this passage, there are colors of Moses and the Exodus. There are colors of from the life and ministry of the prophet Elijah. There are colors from the book of Daniel. There are colors from the prophecies of Zechariah and from the book of Psalms. God is drawing together Old Testament scripture to point us to his ongoing message of salvation and judgment that began in Genesis 3.

It’s easy to get lost in the details of these strange pictures. So, here’s the bottom line of this passage: John is painting a picture showing that the Church is sealed in order bear loyal witness to the gospel. That enduring gospel witness to the earth-dwellers despite persecution becomes the basis for God’s final judgment upon those who reject the Church’s testimony in favor of their idolatry.[2]

Three basic things happen in Revelation chapter 11. First, John is told to measure the temple in verses 1-2. Second, in verses 3-13, John is told to observe the two witnesses. Finally, from verses 14-19, John hears the 7th trumpet blast and sees the unfolding of the 3rd woe, the final judgment, through the praise of the heavenly elders.

MEASURING THE TEMPLE (11:1-2)

The first part of the passage shows John acting out a parable where he is told to measure the temple. The background is from Ezekiel 40-48 where the prophet watches an angle measure the Lord’s temple. In Ezekiel, the prophet has a vision of a temple God will build in the future. But in Revelation John is shown a temple he (not an angel) can measure. It’s an existing temple. Further, John is told not to measure the outer court. Likely the outer court would be the court of the Gentiles beyond which only Jews could pass. Why would John be told not to measure the Courtyard of the Nations? Paul answered that question in Gal. 3:28-29:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. [3]

The temple John measures is not the by-then-destroyed temple in Jerusalem, but the temple of the Lord Jesus Christ.[4] Paul said in 2 Cor. 6:16 that “we are the temple of the living God….” That is why the temple John measures is under siege by the earth-dwellers. The temple is the place where God dwells with his people. God promised in Lev. 26:12, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”[5]

We are seeing another camera angle of the same plays we watched in the seven seals: God’s people being oppressed by the idol-worshipping earth-dwellers. In the visions of the seven seals, we saw God place his seal on the foreheads of Christ’s people (baptism) before they were oppressed. Now we see God marking out his true temple, his people. “God made a decree that secured the salvation of all people who would become genuine members of the church. Therefore, the measuring has the same meaning as the sealing in 7:3–8.”[6] You will be assaulted by the world, the flesh, and the devil but you are completely secured in Christ Jesus because you are members of a heavenly community temporarily dwelling on earth. God has measured his temple and he possesses the title deed. Only what is measured is secure. None shall trespass upon God’s possession. No earth-dweller who enters the inner temple will be set free from death but that he repents and cries out to Christ.

The earth-dwellers’ assault will last forty-two months (v. 2; 1,260 days, v. 3). Again, the time period is a symbolic painting with Old Testament colors. This was the time of tribulation repeatedly prophesied by Daniel (7:25; 9:27; 12:7, 11–12). Forty-two months was the length of the drought called down on Israel by Elijah. It was also the full number years for Israel’s wilderness experience and the number of their encampments in the wilderness (in keeping with the Exodus theme of the 7 trumpets). It was the length of Jesus’ earthly, public ministry

Revelation 11 is a painting of Psalm 2 where the nations plot together to destroy YHWH and his Messiah. At the end of Acts 4, the disciples gathered after John and Peter were released from prison. They turned Psalm 2 into a prayer of praise to God in the midst of their oppression by those who hated Messiah Jesus and his people. Perhaps it was young John who led that prayer.[7] Now, here he is being reminded that this oppression will not go on through eternity. The 7th trumpet will soon sound. Messiah will return in blessing and judgment to consummate all things to himself. But at no time – from Jesus’ earthly ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension until his return – have Christ’s people ever enjoyed a peaceful relationship with the earth-dwellers.

THE TWO WITNESSES (3-13)

In verse 3, God introduces the two witnesses who will prophesy, or proclaim God’s message of blessing and judgment, for 1,260 days (Daniel’s “time, times, and ½ a time”; 42 months, v. 2).  Forty-two months sounds relatively short. But from the vantage point of the Church under siege, 1,260 sounds like a much longer period. It’s not, of course; but it seems much longer to those living through the never-ending onslaught of the world, the flesh, and the devil day-in and day-out. Sin inside of us is bitter. Sin surrounding us is bitter. But God’s Spirit dwells with us and in us. We are his true temple. His presence makes our afflictions light and momentary compared to the eternal weight of glory.

Who are these two witnesses? Verse 4 tells us, “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.[8] This vision is painted with colors from Zechariah 4, where the prophet sees a large lampstand with seven lamps and two olive trees on either side. The trees supplied the oil for the lamp to burn continuously. The context of the vision was that Zerubbabel, the governor of Jerusalem, and Joshua the high priest (the two witnesses, the two olive trees) would re-build the temple destroyed by Babylon even with the opposition from surrounding idol-worshipping earth-dwellers. They were God’s two empowered witnesses to the City of Man.

Zechariah’s message from God was this, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” [9] That defines for us how to interpret the fire-breathing prophets of Rev. 11 who have the power to cause droughts and plagues like Elijah and Moses. These are metaphors for preaching God’s words of judgment and blessing in the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s message to Zechariah and to John is that God will advance his Kingdom (build his Temple) through the preaching of his Word fueled with a constant supply of power from the Holy Spirit even as the nations rage and plot against Messiah. This is another picture of the holy war: we overcome when we worship and proclaim God’s message in God’s power. Are you doing that? Is your life reflecting trust into God’s promises? Do you live differently, think differently, worship differently from the earth-dwellers or are you worshiping the demonic idols of self-generated happiness that bring only bitterness at the end of the day?

The two witnesses are described as having the prophetic powers of Moses and Elijah and they share the destiny of John the Baptist, and Jesus, and John’s brother James, and Deacon Stephen, and Peter, and Paul, and many others who have been and shall be killed for their witness. Who are they? They are you! Remember, the Mosaic Law required two witnesses as a basis of any judgment (Num. 3:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15). God is telling John that the witness of his saints, his temple, his City of God to the earth-dwellers is the legally-sufficient testimony that will bring the final judgment of the 7th seal, the 7th trumpet, the 7th bowl.

God’s people are his witnesses that live in the same Holy Spirit-given power that enabled Elijah to call down fire and to shut the rain clouds from the land. It’s the same power that enabled Moses to bring curses upon the idol-worshipping Egyptians and further harden their hearts against a God whom they were forced to glorify in terror but refused to worship in submission. So, in verse 13 will the earth-dwellers (10) glorify the God of the earthquake while refusing to submit to his Messiah.

There will be times when God’s witnesses appear so overwhelmed by the earth-dwellers and the demonic forces driving them that the church will seem dead and defeated (7-10). The dark forces will celebrate and exchange gifts in some sad parody of Purim, the Jewish feast day commemorating Queen Ester’s saving of her people from holocaust in Persia. But God will always breathe life into his people. He will never, never, never stop advancing his Kingdom. Think of present-day conditions in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Nigeria, and similar places where God’s people are slaughtered for their faithfulness to Christ. God never leaves a place without his witnesses. They may seem few and defeated, but he will and does raise up more as he batters away at the City of Man.

He continues to batter away at my “kingdom of me” and all the idols of my own making even as he attacks the City of Man and builds the City of God. The beast (7), the worldly power of the City of Man in opposition to Messiah and his people, lives but a short time (42 months, 3 ½ years, 1,260 days). But the Word of the Lord stands forever. This is the picture John paints for us this morning.

GATES OF HELL

In Matt. 16:17-18, Jesus said to Peter:

Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!… I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”.

Why did Jesus respond to Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” in this way? (16:16) Jesus made that statement in the shadow of Mt Hermon at Caesarea-Philippi. Mount Hermon was the place of Jewish legend to which demons were said to have descended and bred with human women to produce a race of evil giants (Gen. 6:1-4). Evil King Jeroboam built a temple to the demon god Baal in the shadow of Mt Hermon. In Jesus’ day, a temple to the demon god Zeus stood at the foot of Mt Hermon. This place was considered the seat of demonic power by the Jews. It was thought to be the gates of hell right in the middle of the Holy Land.

Mt Hermon (not Peter) was the rock upon which Jesus promised to build his church. He planted his people, his temple, his Kingdom right smack dab in front of the demonic gates of hell, side-by-side with temples built to demon idols. Now, here’s the thing about gates. Gates don’t charge the enemy; gates are meant to keep an enemy from overrunning and conquering the city. So, who is the aggressor in Jesus’ picture? Who is the real aggressor in this picture John paints for us this morning? It’s not the devil and his demonic army. It’s not the partying earth-dwellers in the City of Man.

Jesus is not describing the Church fending off the onslaught of evil. Jesus is declaring holy war on Satan’s kingdom, the City of Man. He is promising to bury the earth-dwellers and their demon gods and build his church on top of their crumbled gates!

He batters down the little kingdoms of self in which his people strive to live so that sin becomes bitter to us even as he marches us toward the gates of hell. We fight by worshipping God in Christ Jesus so that Christ becomes sweet. We must and shall win because “Salvation belongs to our God!

When you trust into your own kingdom of self, you are worshipping in the demonic realm where idols promise life they can never deliver and happiness that will ultimately elude you. You are worshipping behind gates that will never hold back Messiah. You can stand and fight and die eternally in a war against God and his Messiah or you can surrender and live the life for which you were created. Give up. Raise your white flag. Open the gates. Trust into the perfect life and sacrificial death of the risen and glorified Christ Jesus right here, right now.

Outside the gates of hell, Jesus’ trumpets are playing El Deguello – the haunting bugle call of no quarter that announces the 7th trumpet, the third woe, the final judgment of a holy God upon everyone who worships everything and anything that is not his Christ. Do not be found within that damned city when Messiah makes his final charge. Come and trust into him. His Spirit calls to you. His Church, the Bride of Christ, testifies to you.

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.[10]

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 11:1–14.

[2] Beale, 556.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ga 3:28–29.

[4] Sinclair Ferguson, Apocalypse Now: The Two Witnesses (Rev. 10) accessed 4/13/18 at: https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=fpc-092307pm

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Lev. 26:12; cited in 2 Co 6:16.

[6] Beale, 560.

[7] Ferguson, op. cit.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 11:4.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Zec 4:6.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 22:17.

By |2018-04-15T23:51:36+00:00April 15th, 2018|blog|0 Comments

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