************ Sermon on Revelation 11:1-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 14, 2008
"The Two Witnesses"
We are finding out that lots of people hate Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice-President nominee. Why? Because Sarah Palin has a Down's Syndrome baby. Sarah Palin actually chose to give birth to her imperfect baby even though she found out his genetic condition. She would NOT kill him – only love him. This is a baby that feminists and the left believe should have been aborted. If you are an extreme feminist or leftist, you would say Sarah Palin has chosen not to partake of the ultimate sacrament: abortion. And, to make it doubly worse, Palin has not chosen abortion either for herself or her pregnant teenaged daughter.
Why has Palin chosen against abortion? Because she is a born-again Christian who knows abortion is wrong. Or, to put it another way, Palin has chosen against abortion on account of the Gospel. So, because of the Gospel of Christ, she is hated and reviled and despised.
Is this anything new? Think of what is faced by Christians in Myanmar, India, Indonesia, China, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and many other places: church buildings are being burned down, pastors are being imprisoned, Bibles are being confiscated, converts to the Christian faith are being killed, children are being taken away.
Is this anything new? Think of what was faced by the Christians of Asia Minor at the end of the first century. For the sake of the Gospel, they lost their place in the trade guild and their ability to work, they lost their homes, they faced hardship and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger and sword. Many became Gospel martyrs.
Which leads me to a conclusion that is taught in tonight's Scripture reading: Christian witnessing involves persecution; it involves sacrifice. If you are a faithful Christian today, you may lose your spouse, your family, your friends, your job, a hoped for promotion, economic security. You may experience hate instead of love, slander instead of respect, frowns instead of smiles. However, it comes, Jesus tells us – and the history of the church shows us – that faithful witnessing brings persecution.
Remember where we are at in the Revelation? We are at the second interlude. The first interlude was between the sixth and seventh seal judgments. The second interlude is between the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments. As with the first interlude, our attention is shifted from those being judged to the people of God.
Remember, the Revelation is a book to be seen, to be imagined in 3-D. That being the case, we can break Revelation 11 into four pictures or scenes – maybe I should say four video clips. First, in verses 1-2, we see the church separated from the world. Second, in verses 3-6, we see the church's witness. Third, in verses 7-10, we see the church's persecution. Fourth, in verses 11-13, we see the church's victory. We will look at the first two scenes today and we will look at the last two scenes the next time we look at the Revelation.
I The Church Separated from the World
A Our Scripture reading starts with the Ancient World's tape measure:
(Rev 11:1-2) I 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. (2) But 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.
I want you to notice, as I pointed out last time, that we are now at a new phase of the transmission process. Up to this point, John has only been a passive observer of the Revelation – he simply records what he sees and hears. But now he is an active participant. Remember how, at the end of chapter 10, John is told to take the scroll and eat it? At that point, John became a participant in the Revelation. Now, we see him further as a participant: "I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, 'Go and measure ...'"
B What does John measure? John is told to measure the Temple of God, the altar, and the number of worshipers.
Is John being told to measure a literal Temple? We need to remember that the Revelation is apocalyptic literature – which means it is full of symbols and pictures.
So, what is this Temple that John is told to measure? The New Testament teaches that the Temple is now the church. I think of the words of the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth:
(1Cor 3:16-17) 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.I also think of the words of Peter:
(2Cor 6:16) 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."
(1Pt 2:4-5) As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-- (5) you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.What is the Temple John is told to measure? It is the church, joined by faith to Christ.
What is the altar John is told to measure? Some say it is the bronze altar, the altar of sacrifice. But Jesus, as you know, was sacrificed once for all – no further sacrifice or altar is needed. Let me ask you, where else have we seen an altar in the Revelation? In Revelation 6, we see the souls of the Gospel martyrs under heaven's altar. In Revelation 8, we see an angel of God using the altar to mix the pleasing smell of incense with the prayers of the saints. Remember what the Gospel martyrs are praying? They cry out, "How long ...?" This is the altar John is told to measure – the altar where incense is mixed with the prayers of the Gospel martyrs.
Who are the worshipers John is told to count? Let me ask you, didn't we see the worshipers in the first interlude, in Revelation 7? There, the worshipers are the 144,000 – that is, the servants of God who are marked as belonging to God and protected by God. And, they are also a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.
C John was told to measure the temple, the altar, the worshipers. What exactly does this mean? The imagery comes from Zechariah 2 and Ezekiel 40ff. Please turn with me to Zechariah (pg 1474):
(Zech 2:1-5) Then I looked up--and there before me was a man with a measuring line in his hand! (2) I asked, "Where are you going?" He answered me, "To measure Jerusalem, to find out how wide and how long it is." (3) Then the angel who was speaking to me left, and another angel came to meet him (4) and said to him: "Run, tell that young man, 'Jerusalem will be a city without walls because of the great number of men and livestock in it. (5) And I myself will be a wall of fire around it,' declares the LORD, 'and I will be its glory within.'"Notice, the angel measures what is surrounded by God's protecting fire.
Ezekiel has a similar vision. Turn there with me and follow me (pg 1351):
(Ezek 40:1-4) In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the fall of the city--on that very day the hand of the LORD was upon me and he took me there. (2) In visions of God he took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city. (3) He took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. (4) The man said to me, "Son of man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the house of Israel everything you see."What did Ezekiel see? Verse 5, verse 6, verse 8, verse 10, verse 11, verse 13 all use the same phrase. Do you see it? Over and over again, Ezekiel tells us "he measured ... he measured ... he measured ... he measured ..." Ezekiel watched as the angel measured the east gate, the outer court, the north gate, the south gate, the gates to the inner court, the rooms for preparing sacrifices, the rooms for the priests, the walls, and so on ... The Temple and everything in the Temple was measured.
John is told to do the same kind of measuring: "Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there" (Rev 11:1). Why? What is the purpose of the measuring?
Last week, the Visalia Times Delta had a story about two neighbors. When they measured their lots they discovered a mistake had been made – one of the neighbors had land that belonged to the other neighbor.Likewise, John is told to measure in order to identify what belongs to God. What is measured belongs to God! Remember, the Temple is the church of God. The altar is the prayers of the saints to God. The worshipers are the crowd of people that belong to God and are protected by God. It all belongs to God.
You measure to show what is yours.
D There are limitations to the measuring. Notice what John is told NOT to measure:
(Rev 11:2) But 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.
Remember what is measured in Ezekiel and Zechariah? What is measured is what belongs to God! What is measured is the church. And, what is not measured is outside the church – the outer court which belongs to the heathen, unbelieving Gentiles.
Do you see what is going on? John is being told to distinguish between those inside the church and those outside the church. What a clear difference there is. Those inside the church belong to God and are protected by God. Those outside the church "trample on the holy city for 42 months." What John is telling us, is that the Gentiles persecute the church. Now we see why the church needs to be measured off as belonging to God; now we see why God's protecting fire surrounds the church. Because surrounding the church are those who hate her and despise even as they hate and despise her Lord.
Those outside the church "trample on the holy city for 42 months." How are we to understand the "42 months"? Does this mean the persecution is limited in time? As you know, numbers are important in the Revelation. They are symbolic. So, for instance, seven is the number of fullness and completeness. The 144,000 represents all the people of God of both the Old and New Testament periods. The number 42 is the same way. Every Jew listening to the Revelation recognized its significance.
The number 42 is significant to the Jews because of Judas Maccabeus, who led the Jewish people in recapturing their temple from Syrian occupying forces in 164 B.C. The revolt started in 167 B.C. and was ended with the rededication of the Temple in the Feast of Hanukkah. Take note of how long the time of revolt and suffering lasted: 42 months or 3.5 years or 1260 days or what Scripture calls "time, times, and half a time" (Dan 7:25; 12:7; Rev 12:14). In Scripture, 42 months stands for a time of intense suffering that is brought to a sudden end.
In Revelation 1 already, John tells us that right now is the time of intense suffering for the church of Jesus Christ (Rev 1:9). Right now, the time between Christ's two comings, is the time of persecution. It is a time of intense suffering that comes to a sudden end because of Christ's return.
II The Church's Witness
A Notice how verse 3 starts – with the word "and." The word "and" joins verse 2 to verse 3. What is the connection? Listen to the two verses together:
(Rev 11:2-3) But 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.Do you hear the connection? The Gentiles will trample on the holy city for 42 months. The two witnesses will prophesy for 1,260 days. Remember what I said – that 42 months and 3.5 years and 1,260 days and "time, times, and half a time" are all different ways of saying the same thing? So, the time of intense suffering is exactly as long as the time of prophesy.
But we can say more. The time of intense suffering is caused by the time of prophesy. Gospel witness arouses persecution. That is what John is telling us. The church witnesses and the world persecutes. The church witnesses and the world persecutes. The church witnesses and the world persecutes. Or, as I said in my introduction, Christian witnessing involves persecution; it involves sacrifice. But didn't John say this already in Revelation 1? There, John says he was suffering on Patmos because of the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus (Rev 1:9).
B Notice the use of the personal pronoun in verse 3. "And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy ..." Who is speaking? It is the same voice John hears in chapter 10 – the voice from heaven in verse 4, verse 8, and verse 11. Obviously, this is the voice of God.
We see God is appointing someone to prophesy. But, what does it mean to prophesy? "Prophesy" means different things in different contexts. What does it mean here? We notice two important words that help explain prophesy: "witnesses" in verse 3 and "testimony" in verse 7. Isn't this the language of the courtroom? There are witnesses. They give testimony. In the courtroom of the world, the Gospel witnesses give testimony.
You know what the witnesses say – at least I hope you know. They give witness to the full counsel of God, to the complete Gospel message. They say that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and deserve God's everlasting judgment. They say that no one can save themselves. They say that only through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is there the gift of eternal life for all who believe.
Do you see why the two witnesses are "clothed in sackcloth", why they wear clothes of mourning? Their testimony is Good News and joyful news if you believe in Jesus and the Gospel. But it is horrible news if you reject Christ and the Gospel.
There is no way to present this Gospel message in a non-offensive way. All those who believe they are basically good are offended. All those who believe there are many pathways to eternal life are offended. All those who think sin is not so bad are offended. All those who don't believe in hell and the judgment of God are offended. All those who believe God is only a God of love are offended. All those who believe this life is all there is are offended. To be a faithful witness to the Gospel means hostility and persecution.
C Who are the two witnesses? Verse 4 gives us a hint as to who they are:
(Rev 11:4) These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.We have come across lampstands before. In Revelation 1-3 we are told about seven lampstands. The lampstands represent the seven churches of Asia Minor who, in turn, represent all the church of all ages. Don't forget, the purpose of a lampstand is to give light. So, the two witnesses are the church. But we need to ask why there are only two lampstands. Why only two and not seven?
Remember, John is using the language of the courtroom. There are two witnesses. They give testimony. Now tell me, in both the Old and New Testaments, how many witnesses are required to establish that evidence is reliable? Let me tell you: two or three (Deut 17:6; Mt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1; Heb 10:28). So, when Jesus sent out the seventy-two, how did He send them? Didn't He send them in thirty-six groups of two (Lk 10)? In the courtroom of the world, the two witnesses represent the church giving testimony to Jesus.
Look at verse 4. The two witnesses are likened to two olive trees. This is taken from Zechariah 4 and refers to Joshua the priest and Zerubbabel the king. A priest ... a king. A priest ... a king. A priest ... a king. Tell me, what image of the church do we keep seeing in the Revelation? Aren't we called a "kingdom and priests" (Rev 1:6; 5:10)?
Who are the two witnesses? Don't they represent the church of Jesus Christ in its role as witness to Jesus Christ?
D This witness is a powerful witness. Look at how verse 3 puts it: "And I will give power to my two witnesses ..." Witnesses ... power. Witnesses ... power. Witnesses ... power.
Doesn't Jesus use almost the same language in the book of Acts?
(Acts 1:8) But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
The power to witness is the power of the Holy Spirit. John says the same thing as Acts, but he does so in apocalyptic language. In this light, consider the two olive trees and the two lampstands of verse 4. What was burned by the lampstands of the Ancient World? Wasn't it olive oil? Two lampstands ... two olive trees. Two lampstands ... two olive trees. Two lampstands ... two olive trees. This image, as I said, comes from Zechariah. The olive trees supply oil – power – to the lampstands. Zechariah didn't understand what this image meant. But God told him:
(Zech 4:6) 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.
John's audience caught the image right away. They knew what John was saying. The two witnesses, representing the church of Jesus Christ, give testimony to Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. And, their voice cannot be silenced. Their voice will not be silenced (cf vs 5-6).
In our second look at the second interlude, what do we see? We see that Christian witnessing involves persecution; it involves sacrifice. And yet, because of the power of the Spirit, the church cannot be silenced in giving testimony to the Gospel.
This, praise God, makes us like Jesus. Filled with the Spirit, He made known the Gospel. He was beaten and whipped and crucified. Remember what Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" (Jn 15:18). "If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (Jn 16:20).
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