Chapter eleven is a very dramatic chapter in the scheme of things to come , and in many ways it is a very important and pivotal chapter. Understanding this chapter helps us to understand the rest of this book.
Last time we considered the first two verses only – and again, these were foundational to our understanding of this chapter . They showed us the position of the true church in the midst of tribulation and an apostate church. We saw that John was to measure the “ temple of God and the altar and those who worship there” (11:1). We noted that this was not the physical temple in Jerusalem since John was writing in about 95 AD and the temple had been destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. Neither was it a future temple to be rebuilt on Mt Moriah in Jerusalem. The same John tells us that Jesus prophesied that this temple would be destroyed (Matt.24:1-2) and abolished, and that true worship was not going to happen in Jerusalem or in any other location , but “ in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:23). This is in anticipation of a much more glorious future in the heavenly city called Jerusalem, where there was no temple, for the temple are the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb (Rev 21:22).
The temple that John was to measure was the “spiritual temple” - the church, the building made up of living stones. We took note of the fact that the holy city and the outer courts of the temple were given to the nations (gentiles) to be trampled upon. Only the sanctuary (Gr. naos) containing the true worshippers was to be measured. The true church is the one that is measured, sealed and known by God. Thus the true church is at the heart of our discussion. If we understand this , we will not find it difficult to understand the rest of the chapter.
Against this background we will now consider the matter of the mysterious two witnesses that are killed and resurrected in this chapter. We will consider this under 5 headings :
1.The time of their witness (11:2,3)
2. Their identity (11:3-6)
3. Their work (11:7-10)
4. Their opposition (11:7-10)
5. Their future (11:11-12)
We shall consider the first 2 points (vv. 3-6) today , and the last three points next time .
1. The Time Frame of their Witness ( 11:2,3)
Before we explore the identity of the two witnesses, we must first identify in which time frame they operate. The time in which these two witnesses are to testify is that period mentioned in verses 2 & 3 . 42 months equals 1260 days ( see 11:3;12:6) and this also equals the “ time, times and a half a time” or 3 ½ years . It is the time in which according to 13:5 , “the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for 42 months.” It is also the same time in which the woman (Christ’s church) is nourished , sustained and preserved by God (see 12:6,14)
So which time frame are we talking about here? This is the period which extends from Christ’s ascension to His descension ( 2nd coming) .
This is the time in which we are now living- the age of the New Testament church. The Lord Jesus spoke of this time in Luke 21:24 when He said that “… Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the gentiles, until the times of the gentiles are fulfilled.” The gentiles or ‘nations’ here refers to mankind in opposition to God. Jerusalem was severely trampled by the gentiles in AD 70 by the Romans, and if you like, Jerusalem is still being spiritually trampled by those who defy the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the time in which the true church has to contend with the broad or nominal church – the church of the city – the church of the outer court-– the hypocritical church- show Christianity – Christianity without substance!
Please note however, that there is a time limit placed on this happening , and we are reminded once again that God is in charge of history .
2. Their Identity ( 11:3-6)
Who are these witnesses? We have already prepared the groundwork for this. The key to their identification has been given. Before we reveal their identity, note:
(i) The two witnesses must arise out of the true church, and they must witness for 1260 days (42 months) “… and I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1260 days , clothed in sackcloth “ (v.3) . The Great commission is given by Jesus for the church in the last days before His second coming : “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you , and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8). Acts is the beginning of the true church as she carries the Word of Jesus into the whole world.
(ii) They are two witnesses: Two is the number of witness (e.g. Deut. 19:15; Jn. 8:17) . Jesus also generally sent out His witnesses in pairs (Mk 6:7 ; Lk 10:1)
(iii) The two witnesses are dressed in sackcloth: this is symbolic of those who have repented and believed . They have been humbled by the truth as it is in Jesus , and they have become like their Lord Jesus “… who though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor…” (2 Cor. 8:9). By their message they urge their hearers to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus . This message which tastes sweet as honey in the mouth (because it is true) , turns bitter in the stomach (because it must be acted upon) (10:10) is the message which must be preached to many peoples , nations , languages and kings (10:11)
But now, what of their identity?
Chapter 11:4 gives us the clue: “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” This is a clear reference to Zechariah 4 . Here the prophet receives a vision of a lampstand with 7 lights on it . Above the lamp he sees a golden bowl filled with oil which feeds the light . On either side is the source of the oil – two olive trees. In Zechariah 4:14, in answer to Zechariah’s question in 4:12 “What are these…?” the answer is given : “ These are the two anointed one’s who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”
What is the meaning of the 2 olive trees ? The olive tree ( apart from being a valuable tree) enjoyed (like the vine and the cedar) wide symbolic usage in Hebrew culture. An olive tree was sometimes used to describe an anointed person that enjoyed the Lord’s favour – hence Zechariah 4:14 . Here we read that these 2 symbolic olive trees are the two anointed ones who stand before the Lord of all the earth. Now in this context it refers to two men: Zerubbabel the prince and Joshua, the high priest . These two servants returned from Babylonian exile to lead Israel and to rebuild the temple. They were indeed olive trees who fed the lampstands – symbolic of Israel. These anointed witnesses of the Old Testament find their counterparts among the true and faithful gospel ministers in our day. These are the olive trees who feed God’s people, God’s church , God’s lampstands and who call them constantly to repentance. Needless to say that such faithful gospel ministers are a thorn in the flesh of the worldly church ( we shall see that next time), but they serve God and the true church throughout the whole earth with their testimony and witness.
They feed the lampstands. The lampstands in the inner sanctuary of the OT were symbolic of the people of God. Israel was thereby reminded that she was meant to be a shining light to the people of this world who are lost in darkness. The church of the N.T. fulfills the same role. The church is provided with light by her Lord Jesus , Who is the light of the world ( Jn 1 :4,5; 8:12) and the church in turn extends that light to the world (Matt 5:14 : “ You are the light of the world . “ Matt 5:16. “Let your light shine “ ) It is significant then that the Lord Jesus is said to walk among his lampstands- which are clearly his churches in Revelation 2 and 3. So the other witness is the true church – the lamp stand of Jesus .
The two witnesses here are then faithful gospel ministers and faithful gospel churches !
SUMMARY AND APPLICATION :
1. The book of Revelation is relevant and up to date and it speaks to our day . I am saying this against the background of some who maintain that from chapter 4 the church is raptured and not involved in the processes described here. If anyone holds to this view they must also admit that from Chapter 4 onwards the book of Revelation is merely of academic interest to the Christian. We, however maintain that all of the book of Revelation, and particularly from Chapter 4 onwards helps us to understand life in this world in these last days. It is encouraging to know that our God is in charge of history!
2. Remember the two great witnesses in this world : true gospel preachers and true gospel churches . Gospel preachers are feeding , equipping , encouraging the people of God- the church – the lampstands . The one supports the other , and together they serve as the true and faithful witness in this world in which the false church and the forces of the anti-Christ would overpower the church- but for God’s intervening power!
3. Remember that gospel churches and gospel preachers are really the great obstacle to Satan’s plans. Who do you think Satan would love to silence presently if he had the opportunity? Gospel preachers and gospel churches! In our next sermon we shall get to this point where we are told that the beast from the abyss will actually succeed to silence these witnesses for a while.
4. Right now, I trust that you have a new appreciation for the work of the true gospel ministry and gospel churches in the world. Pray for gospel ministers . Pray for gospel churches. Make sure that you belong to the church of the inner sanctuary. Make sure that His witness is in your heart, living and working in you until the Lord returns or calls you home. Do not be like the 5 foolish virgins who had no oil to keep their lamps burning (Matt 25 :1-13).
5. Next time we will consider the work , opposition and the future of our witnesses. May God strengthen you in your resolve to find you faithful to His Word and work. Amen !