Sunday, March 16, 2014

REVELATION 11:3-14 THE MYSTERIOUS TWO WITNESSES #1

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  4:12What 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 [1].  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.[2] 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 !




[1] See also  Psalm 52:8 where David speaks of himself  as being an olive tree flourishing in the house of God , and  Romans 11:13ff  where  Paul speaks of  the status  of God’s elect as olive trees
[2] See Isaiah  42:6; 58:10; 60:3

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