The Ministry of the Witnesses
Tonight’s passage from the book of Revelation is Revelation 11:1-6. This is one of those passages that is surrounded by multiple theories and interpretations. And because this is such a difficult passage, we are not going to be able to look at all of the main theories like I normally like to. But what I do want to do is start off by giving you a refresher course on how I interpret the book of Revelation. While many sincere, respectable Christians have disagreed, I believe that the book of Revelation essentially chronicles literal events that will happen on planet Earth. Now, I do believe that Revelation uses a great deal of symbolism, but so many of the events in Revelation are recorded with so much detail, that I think we have to take them literally.
But believing that the book of Revelation is a literal look at mankind’s future does not mean that it has nothing for us in the here and now. On the contrary, Revelation has been a source of comfort for 100,000,000s of Christians throughout the last two thousand years. It is a book that deals with all of the major themes of the Bible, from suffering to victory, from judgment to grace, and from death to eternal life. So as your pastor, it is my duty to share with you my convictions on what these verses mean not only for our future, but also for our everyday lives. And as I share with you my convictions, please realize that I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet. I could be wrong about my understanding of the book of Revelation. That’s why it is all of your jobs to not only look at the verses for yourselves, but to decide what you believe. I believe that as I prepare sermons, the Holy Spirit guides me and help me along, but that does not mean that everything that comes out of my mouth is inspired. So please, please take time in your busy days to study these verses, and see what God teaches you. With that in mind, let’s look at these verses. We’re in Revelation chapter eleven, and we’re reading the first six verses.
“And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, ‘Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. There are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. And if any man shall hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.”
So much to talk about, and so little time. Let’s pray.
In this passage, you will notice that verses one and two talk about the temple, and then the rest of the verses talk about the two witnesses. But, in my opinion, they are connected in that they both take place in Jerusalem. In these first two verses, John is told to go and measure the dimensions of the temple. He is told to measure the sanctuary, the altar, and the people within the temple. But then, the angel told John not to measure the outer court of the temple, because that is where the Gentiles were. The angel then said that the Gentiles would one day trample over Jerusalem for forty-two months.
So, what do these two verses mean? Personally, I believe that this is a summed-up statement of what will be going on in Jerusalem for the first three and a half years of the Tribulation. Remember, the Tribulation is a seven-year period of time directly before the Second Coming when Christ returns to Earth. When this passage says that the Gentiles will conquer Jerusalem, I believe that this statement is both literal and figurative. The literal part because the armies of the Antichrist will rule over Jerusalem, just as he will the rest of the world. But I believe that it’s also figurative because the spirituality of the Gentiles will reign supreme in Jerusalem. While Jerusalem may be the city that once housed Peter, James, and John; it is by no means a Christian city today, and it will not be during the Tribulation, either. Jerusalem will be a city that is both wicked in and of itself, and ruled by a wicked ruler. But, just like in the days of Elijah, not everyone in Jerusalem will be wicked. In verse one the angel told John to measure not only the temple, but the people inside the temple. Even in these wicked times, there will be true followers of Jesus Christ, even in Jerusalem.
And on Sunday, Sister Nelda asked me where the Bible says that the temple must be rebuilt before Christ comes back. And essentially, it’s not that the Bible says that the temple must be rebuilt, it’s just that the temple is mentioned in much end-times prophecy. The temple is mentioned in Daniel’s end-times prophecy, and Jesus mentions the temple is His end-times prophecy in Matthew twenty-four. And here in Revelation chapter eleven, I believe that John is told to measure the temple that is in Jerusalem. So I don’t know when it will happen, but I do believe that the temple will be rebuilt before Christ comes back. Now, I do not know if the temple will be rebuilt before the Tribulation or during the Tribulation. For all we know, the temple could be rebuilt next year and Christ might not come back for another thousand years! But what I am confident of is that the temple will be present when these things come to pass.
After John learns that Gentiles will rule over Jerusalem for three and a half years during the Tribulation, he learns that during this same period of time, two witnesses will be ministering, although I’m not sure if the witnesses will be on the earth for the entire three and a half years. The Bible says they will minister for 1,260 days. Now, if every month had thirty days, then that would be exactly 3.5 years. But since months are a mix of 28s, 30s, and 31s, the 1,260 doesn’t exactly measure up to 3.5 years. So, if the numbers are literal, then the witnesses will be killed a few weeks before the half-way point through the Tribulation.
Notice that verse four calls the two witnesses olive trees and candlesticks. This is a direct reference to Zechariah chapter four, in which Zechariah calls two men named Zerubbabel and Joshua olive trees. He said that they would be men that would preach repentance to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Do you see the connection? These two men are going to be witnesses that preach repentance to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. So the reference to them being olive trees and candlesticks tells us that they will preach the gospel to the people of Jerusalem.
Now, just like in our world, not everyone loves the guys that stand on street corners and tell us to turn to Christ. Look at what verse five says. “And if any man shall hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.” The way this is worded in the Greek language implies that it’s not so much “if someone tries to hurt them,” but “when someone tries to hurt them.” When someone tries to kill these messengers from God, fire will come out of their mouths and consume them. Now, many people have tried to interpret this fire symbolically, but since we know that they are supernatural witnesses, I see no reason that this could not be a literal fire.
And notice what other kinds of supernatural things these two witnesses can do. Verse six says that these two witnesses can cause the rain to not fall, and they can cause the water to turn to blood. I could be wrong, but it seems like these miracles serve a two-fold purpose. Their first purpose is as a sign of their authority. It they can prove that they are from God, then maybe people will listen when they start talking about Jesus. But I think the second purpose is to judge people for their wickedness. The Bible doesn’t say that they will be healing the blind and raising the dead, does it? No, it says that they have the power to cause droughts and turn water into blood.
And that’s where tonight’s passage stops. The scene is set in a futuristic Jerusalem, complete with a new temple. The city is controlled not only by the armies of the Antichrist, but also by his wicked ideologies. But, in a city surrounded by wickedness, God sends two witnesses to proclaim His gospel to all who will listen. Men will try to kill them, but they will be destroyed by fire. People will have to listen, because they have the power to control the rain and turn water into blood. And I don’t know about you, but these two witnesses raise one big question in my mind. “Who are they?” And like I mentioned at the beginning of our study, there are a lot of theories out there. Some believe that the connection to Zechariah chapter four is completely literal, and that the two witnesses will be Zerubbabel and Joshua (not the same Joshua from the book of Joshua), God will use the same two men in the future that He used when the Israelites returned from the Babylonian captivity. Some people believe that the two witnesses will be Elijah and Enoch. Does anyone here know what important thing Elijah and Enoch have in common? That’s right, they never died. God took them both to Heaven without them having to die. So some believe that because they never died, they are the two witnesses. Others believe that the miracles mentioned in verse six tell us who the two witnesses are. Does anyone know what Old Testament character God allowed to cause a drought that lasted for over three years? That’s right, Elijah. And what Old Testament figure did God allow to turn the water into blood? That’s right, Moses. So since verse six says that the witnesses will turn water into blood and stop it from raining, they must be Moses and Elijah. And still others believe that we’re not even talking about two people. Instead, the two witnesses are symbolic for all Christians that stand up for the message of the gospel.
But when the dust from all of these theories has settled, we still only know what God has revealed to us, and that is that there will be two witnesses in Jerusalem. I believe they will be supernatural, and I believe that there will literally be two of them. And while it’s fun to think of the possibilities, that’s all we know for sure.
And next week, we are going to pick up right here and see what happens next to these two witnesses. But allow me to leave you with one thought before we end our study. In John seventeen, Jesus promised Christians that the world would hate them. The world hated the Apostle Paul. The world hated John Wycliffe because he translated the Bible into the English language. The world hated our forefathers, the Anabaptists, because they believed that it did no good to baptize little babies. They hated the Anabaptists so much that drowned many of them, and said that that was the baptism they deserved. The world hated millions of Christians that accepted Christ in Communist China, Russia, and Cuba. And one day, the world will hate these two men that stand up for the truth of the gospel. My challenge to you tonight is to boldly take your place in the long heritage of men and women that were completely sold out for Jesus Christ. My prayer is that none of us would ever have to choose between life and Christ, but my prayer is that our choice would always be Christ. My challenge is for us as a church, and as individuals, is to never buckle to the pressure to become more worldly. Jesus’ challenge for His church was not to try to make everyone like us. His challenge was to tell them the truth even though they hated us for it. My prayer is that our church would be up to that challenge.
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