Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Witnessing Church

1 Then I (John) was given a measuring stick (rod), and I was told, “Go and measure the Temple (Sanctuary) of God and the altar, and count the number of worshippers. 2 But do not measure the outer courtyard, for it has been turned over to the nations (heathens). They will trample the holy city for 42 months (three and one-half years). 3 And I will give power to My two witnesses, and they will be clothed in burlap and will prophesy during those 1,260 days (42 months or three and one-half years).” 4 These two prophets (witnesses) are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth. 5 If anyone tries to harm (injure) them, fire flashes from their mouths and consumes their enemies. This is how anyone who tries to harm them must die. 6 They (two witnesses) have power to shut the sky so that no rain will fall for as long as they prophesy. And they have the power to turn the rivers and oceans into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they wish. 7 When they complete their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the bottomless pit (Abyss or underworld) will declare war against them, and he will conquer them and kill them. 8 And their (dead) bodies will lie in the main street of Jerusalem, the city that is figuratively called “Sodom” and “Egypt,” the city where their Lord was crucified. 9 And for three and a half days, all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will stare (gaze) at their (dead) bodies. No one will be allowed to bury them. 10 All the people who belong to this world will gloat over them and give presents to each other to celebrate the death of the two prophets who had tormented them. 11 But after three and a half days, God breathed life into them, and they stood up! Terror struck all who were staring at them. 12 Then a loud voice from heaven called to the two prophets, “Come up here!” And they rose to heaven in a cloud as their enemies watched. 13 At the same time there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed a tenth of the city. Seven thousand people died in that earthquake, and everyone else was terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14 The second terror is past, but look, the third terror is coming quickly. 15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices shouting in heaven: “The world has now become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.” 16 The twenty-four elders sitting on their thrones before God fell with their faces to the ground and worshiped Him. 17 And they said, “We give thanks to You, Lord God, the Almighty (Omnipotent), the One who is and who always was, for now You have assumed Your great power and have begun to reign. 18 The nations (heathen) were filled with wrath, but now the time of Your wrath has come. It is time to judge the dead and reward Your servants the prophets, as well as Your holy people, and all who fear (respect, revere) Your Name, from the least to the greatest. It is time to destroy all who have caused destruction on the earth.” 19 Then, in heaven, the Temple (Sanctuary) of God was opened and the Ark of His covenant could be seen inside the Temple. Lightning flashed, thunder crashed and roared, and there was an earthquake and a terrible hailstorm. Revelation 11:1-19 (NLT)

In Revelation 11, John has another strange and difficult vision. Many biblical scholars acknowledge chapter 11 as one of the most perplexing sections of the entire book of Revelation.

In this vision, God gives John a measuring stick or rod to measure the Temple of God, including the inner court where the altar stands, and to count the number of worshippers (Revelation 11:1). However, God tells John not to measure the outer court because God has given the outer courts to the nations (Revelation 11:2). Many biblical interpreters relate John’s vision of measuring the Temple to Ezekiel chapters 40 and 41 and Zechariah 2:1-5 from the Old Testament. John used much of Ezekiel and Zechariah’s prophecies from the Old Testament for his writing of Revelation. Measuring property symbolizes ownership and preservation. Thus, many biblical interpreters see the measuring the Temple as similar to the sealing of the 144,000 in Revelation 7:1-8. Similar to the sealing of God’s people in Revelation chapter 7, God continually preserves, provides, and protects His people who faithfully trusts in Him (Revelation 11:1-14; see also Nahum 1:7).

Interestingly, the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70. Many biblical commentaries believe John’s references to the Temple means the church headed by Jesus Christ (see e.g., Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). In the New Testament, the church is described as God's Temple where God dwells. The Apostle Paul, for example, tells the Corinthian believers, “Do you not know that you are God’s Temple?” (see 1 Corinthians 3:16). Later, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians, “We are the Temple of the living God” (see 2 Corinthians 6:16). Furthermore, according to Apostle Peter, Christians are living stones, built into a spiritual house (see 1 Peter 2:5). Thus, the whole church is growing “into a holy Temple in the Lord” (see Ephesians 2:21). God dwells in the lives and hearts of His people (Jews and Gentiles) who faithfully love and obey Him (see 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Ephesians 2:11, 19-22).

Then, God tells John that He will give power to His two witnesses to prophesy 1,260 days (approximately 42 months or three and one-half years) (Revelation 11:3). The Holy Scriptures call these two witnesses “prophets” (see Revelation 11:3, 6). Many scholars believe God will send His two witnesses before the end of the age. Not only do these two witnesses declare God’s Words, but they also do God’s works and perform miracles of judgment, reminding us of both Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament (Revelation 11:6; see also Exodus 7:14-18; 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 1:1-12). God gives His two witnesses power to shut the skies so that no rain will fall during the three and one-half years like the Prophet Elijah (Revelation 11:6; see also 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 1:10). Also, these two witnesses have power to turn rivers and oceans into blood and to send every kind of plague upon the earth as often as they wish similar to Moses (Revelation 11:6; see also Exodus 7:14-18; Exodus 8:12).

Many biblical commentaries describe these two witnesses as possibly Moses and Elijah, Elijah and Enoch, or Enoch and Moses. There was a tradition in Judaism and Jewish apocalyptic literature that Moses, Elijah, or Enoch will appear on earth just before the Messiah’s arrival (see Malachi 4:5-6). From the Old Testament, neither Enoch, Moses, nor Elijah experienced death (see Genesis 5:21-24; Deuteronomy 34:5-8; 2 Kings 2:10-11; Hebrews 11:5).

When the witnesses complete their testimony, a beast or monster will come out of the bottomless pit (Revelation 11:7). The beast from the underworld or Abyss will declare war against on God’s faithful witnesses and then kill them (Revelation 11:7). Essentially, the witnesses are unbeatable until they have finished God’s mission (see Revelation 11:7-10). For three and a half days, the two faithful witnesses bodies will lay exposed and unburied in the streets of Jerusalem — the very place where the Lord Jesus was crucified (Revelation 11:8-9). Sadly, the people of the earth rejoice and celebrate a “satanic Christmas” by exchanging gifts to one another (Revelation 11:10). After three and a half days, God’s Spirit will revive and give His faithful witnesses life (Revelation 11:11). God takes His two faithful witnesses to heaven while the world watches (Revelation 11:12). The world’s satanic celebration suddenly becomes great fear! Then, God sends a terrible earthquake that levels a tenth of the city, leaving 7,000 dead and the people of the earth will temporarily give God glory (Revelation 11:13).

Significantly, the main point of these witnesses is the symbolism. Many biblical commentaries believe these two witnesses remind God’s people what to do during times of tribulation and suffering. Just as the two witnesses, God’s people must faithfully preach and proclaim God’s message to the world and not withdraw in hiding and separation (see also Matthew 28:18-20). God’s people (the church) must continually give faithful testimony to the world despite persecution and rejection. 

Interestingly, when the seventh angel blew the trumpet, there were loud voices shouting down from heaven, “The Kingdom of this world now belongs to our Lord, and to His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15, TLB). Although Jesus the Son is subjected to His Father (1 Corinthians 15:28), Jesus also shares the eternal rule of God. The singular (“He will reign”) emphasizes the unity and joint sovereignty of God the Father with His Son Jesus.

Loyd, Melton, Ph.D., Senior Professor of New Testament (Due West, SC: Erskine Theological Seminary, 2016).
Metzger, Bruce. Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993).
Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998).
Wiersbe, Warren W. Bible Exposition Commentary –New Testament (Victor Books, 1989).

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