************ Sermon on Revelation 11:7-14 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 2, 2008
The Two Witnesses - Part II
It has been seven weeks since we last looked at the Revelation of Jesus Christ. So, let me remind you of where we are at. We are at the second interlude or intermission. Back in Revelation 7, we saw the first interlude between the sixth and seventh seal judgments. In Revelation 10-11:14 we see the second interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments.
Remember what we saw last time? We saw, in Revelation 11:1-2, that Christians are set apart by God and are persecuted by those who are not part of the church. We also saw, in Revelation 11:3-6, that the 42 months of persecution is exactly as long as the 1,260 days of witnessing – telling us that Christians are persecuted because of their witness to the Gospel. And yet, because of the power of the Spirit, we also saw that the church cannot be silenced in giving testimony to the Gospel.
Today, we look at Revelation 11:7-14. What do we see? In verses 7-10, we see the church's persecution. And, in verses 11-13, we see the church's victory.
I The Church's Persecution
A We need to ask five questions as we look at the church's persecution in Revelation 11:7-10: when, what, where, who, why?
First, the when. The persecution of the church that is described in Revelation 11, when will it occur? Look at verse 7: "Now when they have finished their testimony ..."
Isn't that a little strange? "When they have finished their testimony"? I thought the church was never done with its testimony. Didn't Jesus tell us to be His witnesses to the end of the age (Mt 28:20)? Didn't we learn in Revelation 11:1-6 that the church's witness is exactly as long as the world's persecution? Isn't witnessing something that we are to do during the entire time between Christ's two comings?
What is going on here? It is obvious, isn't it? Aren't we being told that the viewpoint of Revelation 11:7-14 is that the end of the age has come? Aren't we being told that God's purpose has been achieved? Aren't we being told that Jesus is about to return? Aren't we being told this is part of God's plan and on His calendar?
Think of what this says about the church's witness. The church's witness is not cut short, it is never cut short, by the persecution of the world. As we learned last time, because of the power of the Spirit, the church cannot be silenced in giving testimony to the Gospel. The attack of Revelation 11 takes place when the church is done with her work of witness. The church literally proclaims Jesus' death until He comes again.
B That brings us to the second question: what? What is going to happen? Or more specifically, what is going to happen to the church as represented by the two witnesses? Look at verse 7:
(Rev 11:7) Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.
The beast from the Abyss does three things: attack, overpower, kill. This is the language of warfare. In fact, the Greek word for "attack" is translated as "make war" in Revelation 12:17 where we read that "the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring." The beast does the same thing as the dragon – makes war on the witnessing church in order to overpower and kill. The goal of the beast: the destruction of the church, the annihilation of the church, the extermination of the church in order to stop the church's witness – not realizing that according to the plan of God the church's work is already done.
At the time the Revelation was written, the church was driven underground in many places. She was forced into hiding. She worshiped in the catacombs. As it was at the start of the age, so will it be at the end of the age – the church will once again be driven underground. Don't we see that already in many places? Don't we see that already in China, India, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iran, and elsewhere? Does this mean the end is near? Maybe, but don't forget, we are still a witnessing church! So, the end is not here yet.
What else is going to happen? Look at what verses 8-9 tells us about the two witnesses:
(Rev 11:8-9) Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (9) For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial."Their bodies will lie in the street ... refuse them burial ... gloat over them." Big deal," you might think. "Who cares what happens to the body after death?" In that time and place this was a big deal. The biggest indignity of the Ancient World was to be denied burial after death. This was a sign of ultimate shame and degradation. Do you remember what happened to wicked Queen Jezebel when she was thrown out the window and killed (2 Kings 9:33)? Nothing! According to the will of God, Jezebel's body was left in the street and devoured by dogs (1 Kings 1:23; 2 Kings 9:10; 2 Kings 9:36-37). She was refused burial. This is what will happen to the church when her work of witnessing is done.
Notice what else happens: "The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts" (Rev 11:10). Party time. Victory celebrations. Ticker tape parades. All because the two witnesses are dead. All because the church has been driven underground.
C Did you notice where this will happen? This is the third question. Listen to verse 8:
(Rev 11:8) Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.We are given four geographical markers: "great city ... Sodom ... Egypt ... where also their Lord was crucified."
"Great city." Throughout the Revelation, the great city is Babylon – a city and kingdom that kept God's people in captivity (Rev 16:19; 17:18; 18:10; 18:16; 18:18-19; 18:21).
"Sodom." The name alone sends shivers down the spine of every Christian because it represents the foulest kind of ungodliness.
"Egypt." This is not a city but a country. It is the place where God's people were oppressed.
"Where also their Lord was crucified." That can only mean Jerusalem – the city that rejected its own Messiah.
Put this all together: Babylon, Sodom, Egypt, Jerusalem. Places of captivity, evil, oppression, rejection. Do you see what they represent? They represent the kingdoms of this world in their hostility to God and the Gospel. John mentions Babylon, Sodom, Egypt, Jerusalem; but he could also have mentioned New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Moscow, Bejing, New Delhi. In fact, John wants you to name the city or the country or the place of your choice.
Go back to verse 2. Remember the city mentioned there? John mentions the "holy city." As I told you last time, this is the church – the church that witnesses to the Gospel and recognizes the rule of God. This is the city of God.
So what do we see? We see the city of God and the city of this world. Think about this. Charles Dickens wrote "A Tale of Two Cities." We see that 1800 years before Dickens, John also wrote a tale of two cities. But, you know, as we go further in the Revelation, we see other sets of two: two women, two marks, two worlds, two eternities. Two, two, two, two. Why two? Why not three, or four, or five? To remind us, that when it comes right down to it, each of us has only two choices: either we are for God and Jesus or we are for the beast and the dragon and the Satan they represent.
At the end of time, when the time for witnessing is finished, those who are for God and Jesus and the Gospel will be attacked and overpowered and killed by the cities of this world.
D The fourth question: who? Who will do this to the church? Revelation 11 introduces us to "the beast that comes up from the Abyss" (Rev 11:7).
I want you to notice two things. First, the beast comes from the Abyss. We first saw the Abyss in Revelation 9. At that time, I told you to imagine a giant cave, a great underground pit, with a narrow opening at the top that is locked. The Abyss is the place from which the beast emerges (Rev 11 & 17). The Abyss is the place where the dragon is confined for a thousand years (Rev 20). The Abyss is the abode of Satan and his demons. The Abyss is the exact opposite of heaven's throne room that we see in Revelation 4 & 5. The Abyss is a horrible place, a terrifying place, because even demons dread going there (Lk 8:31). And, get this, the Abyss is only opened at the command of and by the permission of God (Rev 9:1). So, it is God Who permits the beast to come crawling out of the Abyss in order to attack and overpower and kill.
Second, the beast is a significant figure in the Revelation so it is surprising that John doesn't tell us more about him. Who is he? What is he? What does he do? John tells us nothing. There is a reason, of course. John doesn't bother to tell his readers anything about the beast because his readers already know all about him. John's readers already know all about the beast because they know their Bibles; more specifically, they know the Old Testament and Daniel 7. Remember Daniel's vision of four fierce beasts? The fourth beast is especially fierce.
(Dan 7:25) He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times and half a time.This is the beast that John has in mind in Revelation 11.
So what is the beast? He is Antichrist. There have been many Antichrists throughout history; there are Antichrists today. But the beast is the final and ultimate Antichrist. He comes from the Abyss, the abode of Satan and the dragon. He hates God and Christ and the church.
E Why? This is the fifth question. Why does the beast attack the church? Look at the last line of verse 10: "because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth." How did the two witnesses do this (remember, they represent the church)? Were they like the Jesuits of the counter Reformation who physically tortured those who turned away from Roman Catholicism? Were they sadistic tormenters, like a cat with a mouse? Were they obnoxious to unbelievers? Of course not! All that they did was preach the Gospel of Christ. All that they did was stand up for what is right. All that they did was tell people to repent and believe. This torments and annoys and afflicts the world.
This is not unique to the time of Revelation 11. Nor is this unique to the time of the Roman Empire. Do you remember what King Ahab of Israel called the prophet Elijah? He called Elijah the "troubler of Israel" (1 Kings 18:17). What did Elijah do? He dared to proclaim the Word of the Lord. He dared to call the king to repent. He dared to stand against evil.
This is something we also find today. As you all know, we have an election in two days. As Christians, we are in favor of Proposition 4, known as Sarah's Law, which says parents need to be notified before a teenaged girl can have an abortion – though, of course, we want to go further and outlaw abortion. As Christians, we are in favor of Proposition 8, which says only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. The world hates us for this. We have signs on the church lawn that have been ripped out a couple of times now. The faithful preaching of the Gospel always arouses opposition. In fact, we should be very concerned if the world feels comfortable around the church and the Gospel she proclaims – because that probably means we are not doing our calling. Like Elijah, witnesses to Jesus are viewed as trouble makers.
II The Church's Victory
A What will happen to the church when her work of witnessing is done? She will be attacked and left for dead as the world gloats and throws a party because the "troubler of Israel" has been silenced. But – and this a very big but – the joy is premature, it is short-lived, it lasts for only "three and a half days." Listen to verse 11:
(Rev 11:11) But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet ...
"Three and a half days." We have seen this number before. Back in verses 2 and 3 we see that the church's witness lasts for three and a half years, or 42 months, or 1,260 days. Compared to the time of the church's witness, the time of the beast's triumph is very brief. That is the message here.
"Three and a half days." This reminds us of another death. The Pharisees gloated over the crucifixion and death of Jesus. But their joy was also premature and short-lived because on the third day Jesus arose from the grave. We are being told that the church is like Jesus. Like Jesus, she is left for dead. And, like Jesus, she is raised from the dead.
B Do you know where verse 11 comes from? It is taken directly from that tremendous vision of Ezekiel 37. Remember the vision? Ezekiel is shown a valley of dry bones. Ezekiel is told to prophesy to the dry bones. So he prophesied and bones came together, and tendons and flesh and skin appeared on them (Ezek 37:7-8). Then Ezekiel prophesied again "and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up" (Ezek 37:10). Compare this to Revelation 11:
(Rev 11:11) But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet ..."Three and a half days." The world's joy indeed is short-lived. The church will rise like all of those skeletons in Ezekiel's valley of dry bones.
C Not only does the church arise like a body from the dead, but listen to what else happens:
(Rev 11:12) Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on."They went up to heaven in a cloud." Does that sound familiar? It should. That is the way Jesus went up into heaven – on a cloud. So, the church goes up just like Jesus went up. The church follows Jesus and is like Jesus. The church follows Jesus in His witness – remember, He is the "faithful and true witness" (Rev 3:14). The church follows Him in His resurrection. The church follows Him in His ascension.
D What about those who are not part of the church? What about the men and women of the world, the followers of the beast, who gloat and party over the corpse of the church? What happens to them when they see the church rising from the dead and rising into heaven? What happens to them when they see the Father overturning the world's verdict against the church in the same way as He overturned the world's verdict against the Son?
Notice verse 11: when the church stands like Ezekiel's dry bones "terror struck them." When they church goes up to heaven "their enemies looked on." Nothing is hidden from them. No secrets. They see it all – the witness, the resurrection, the ascension, the imitation of Jesus.
And, then, an earthquake. Remember what we have said about earthquakes? In the Bible, earthquakes are a sign of judgment (cf Rev 6:12; 8:5). Now, listen to verse 13:
(Rev 11:13) At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.Let me repeat the last sentence: "the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven." The two key responses: fear and glory. The same language is used elsewhere in the Revelation of Jesus Christ as a response to the Gospel (Rev 14:6-7; 16:8-9). To fear and glorify God means to repent and believe.
Now, follow me here, this is very important. The church is raised like a corpse. The church arises into heaven. And unbelievers repent of their sin and believe in Jesus! God does the great reversal, the Father overturns the verdict of the world, and the world repents and believes. Or, as verse 15 puts it, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ" (Rev 11:15).
The church suffers persecution. The church experiences victory. That is what we see in Revelation 11.
Maybe you wonder why God's plan follows this path? Why does God allow the church to suffer like Jesus? Here is the answer: so that the unrepentant world may repent of their sin and believe in Jesus.
As Christians, we follow the Lamb wherever He goes. He witnesses, we witness. He is persecuted, we are persecuted. He dies, we die. He arises, we arise. He ascends, we ascend. But God's goal is the saving of many souls.
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