July 26, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts around 22:00 in the audio file.
Or, Being on the Wrong Side of Prophecy
At a certain point, trying to be winsome is worthless. I believe in trying to be winsome, trying to demonstrate that something is attractive or appealing, because Solomon said it was wise. Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness (Proverbs 16:21, 23), and words seasoned with salt increase desire and can be used to change another’s mind (see Colossians 4:6). There come times, however, when it would take an act of God to get someone to realize how dangerous it is to be on the wrong side of prophecy.
In Revelation 11 God raises up two witnesses who prophecy for three and a half years, witnesses who cause nuisance and aggravation among the earth-dwellers (see verse 10) that provoke assaults. For forty-two months the witnesses are given power by God not only to stand before Him as the Lord of the earth (verse 4), and to make powerful testimony as lampstands in a dark place, they also withstand those who desire to harm them. Fire comes from their mouths and consumes their foes (verse 5). They call for dry skies and bloody waters and pray for plagues as often as they desire (verse 6). They are invincible, for as long as God wants.
Verses 7-14 finish this second vision before the seventh trumpet and the third woe.
I have already made a case for why I think the “holy city” in verse 2 is Jerusalem, which we’ll see with a different description in verse 8. It makes sense to me that the “temple of God and the altar” in verse 1 describe a temple-building in Jerusalem, a temple such as Ezekiel prophesied would be rebuilt in the latter days by believing Israelites. “Those who worship there” are converted Jews, likely among those sealed in chapter 7. The temple is not an analogy of the church, and neither are the two witnesses a different analogy for the church, though the church is a witness to the world.
It takes more than an ordinary mob to deal with the powerful testimony of these two witnesses.
An otherworldly type of character is introduced (I don’t think he’s on the 2020 Scorecard).
7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.
It must be said that the conquering and killing of these witnesses only comes when they have finished their testimony. God decides when they are done. It bears a similarity to God’s answer about the numbers of martyrs filling up (6:11); the witnesses will get out every word they have been appointed to proclaim.
Only then will the beast that rises from the bottomless pit…make war on them. The beast appears for the first time in the Apocalypse, and has a part on Revelation’s stage 35 more times before his end in the lake of fire (20:10). Since he is named alongside the “dragon,” and the dragon is called the serpent, also called Satan, the beast is not the devil. We’ll see much more about the best in chapter 13, where he is healed of a mortal wound and world worships him, but for now, we learn where he comes from and where his loyalties lie. As with the locust, he comes straight from the pit, from the netherworld. He does hellish work.
That work on earth is warlike. Some argue against the witnesses being two men because you don’t make war against (or “attack” NIV) individuals. But what kind of force does one need if fire comes out of the enemy’s mouth? Plus, we aren’t introduced to other “troops.” There is no army of beasts, no Uglies. God allows the beast to conquer them and kill them.
More than just dead, they are dehumanized and degraded: their dead bodies will lie in the street. Refusal to bury the dead added insult to indignity.
As you’d expect by now, some interpreters don’t think it means what it says.
“The picture of the witnesses’ bodies lying on the ‘street of the great city’ probably does not indicate literally that the entire church will be exterminated so that it cannot bear witness any longer. Rather it emphasizes by hyperbole that the true church will seem defeated in its role of witness, will appear small and insignificant, … At the time thus portrayed the church’s public influence will not be felt as formerly because persecution will have grown more severe and the church will have been reduced to a remnant—not been completely annihilated but driven underground.” (Beale)
It is at least ironic to say that the death of these witnesses means that the church has gone underground when the bodies of the witnesses are specifically said not to be buried and gazed on by the world.
There’s no good reason for the rest of verse 8 unless there is a actual location to consider. The street, out in the open and in public view, is in the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt. The “great city” could be a reference to Rome, also known as “Babylon the great,” and it surely is Rome in a number of places to come in Revelation (for example, 16:19; 18:10 and others). That this city is spiritually connected with unnatural unrighteousness (Sodom) and oppressive persecution against the righteous (Egypt) likewise recommends some pagan place. But the last phrase makes it clear: where their Lord was crucified. This is Jerusalem (see also Jeremiah 22:8).
Imagine hearing for over three years the thing you hated to hear. Imagine waking up one morning to find out that your nightmare was over. You would throw a party.
9 For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.
This is not a block party, it is a global glee-party with peoples and tribes and languages and nations. The whole world sees. Some have argued that this virtually requires the witnesses to be the church, since how else could all types of people have a look? But again, if the witnesses are actually the church, what does it look like for the church to be “dead”? Does “dead” just mean quiet? If the whole church is martyred, and we’re actually talking about the bodies of dead believers, what was the clue that we’re now talking about physical things? If these are bodies of the church, why can’t they be the bodies of the two witnesses, like the verse says? And, isn’t it possible that God knew about things like CNN (who claim that their mission is “To Inform, Engage and Empower the World” ha!).
The mob keeps the bodies from being buried; they are glad at the destruction. Those who dwell on the earth, the earth-dwellers, those for whom the earth holds all the answers, will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents. This has become a religious holiday, a celebration event. There isn’t a lot of time to shop, because it won’t last that long, but there is such relief. One commentator wrote that their their delight was “fiendish and childish” (Thomas). The world hates them so much. The whole image has the feel of a Bacchanalian frenzy.
These two prophets had been a torment to them. The testimony of the prophets was so powerful that there were no safe spaces. Every message hit home and triggered grief and anger. Think of when Ahab called Elijah the “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17).
Like I said, the good times were short.
11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.
It seems like this would be a black swan event, from an earth-dweller’s perspective. The thing that ends it all is death; isn’t murder the final act? The witnesses were dead. As for torment, it is finished. But what happens now is exactly the supernatural work of God. He raises the dead to life, spiritually, eternally, and bodily.
With a hint at Ezekiel 37 and the valley of the dry bones (a prophecy about Israel), the breath of life from God regenerated the witnesses and they stood on their feet. The timing was very similar to Jesus being dead for three days before His resurrection, but unlike with Jesus, the whole world sees these two alive again.
The response was great fear. How could it be otherwise?
11 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them.
Also similar to Jesus, the witnesses ascend to heaven in a cloud. Unlike Jesus, they are called immediately to heaven, perhaps by the same loud voice at the beginning of chapter 4 that called John to heaven to see the vision, a voice that may be Christ Himself. The command gives what it commands, and as they rise, their enemies watched them. This wasn’t in the “twinkling of an eye.”
If you think that the witnesses symbolize the church, you might take this as the rapture, which would mean that the church is raptured after most of the tribulation. But that doesn’t explain the killing and the laying in the street and the standing on their feet. I mean, it also doesn’t fit with all the rapture fiction where clothes are left in a pile and the Christian bus driver’s bus crashes into the sidewalk.
13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
To go along with the resurrection and the “video evidence,” so to speak, of the witnesses ascending to heaven, there was a great earthquake. The earth quakes at key times in the apocalypse, and Ezekiel 38:19 prophesies a great earthquake in Israel. Here a tenth of the city was destroyed, which either means a tenth, or to some it means a small part. That seven thousand people were killed seems like a reverse remnant of the 7k remnant God told Elijah about (1 Kings 19:18).
The rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. The primary question is whether or not this means that they repented and were saved? Giving glory to God, with intent, usually describes those whose hearts are right. But I’m not convinced that is the best explanation of what’s happening here. Remember Revelation 9:20-21 (and also 16:9) where men would not give up their idolatry and immorality.
In the gospels at least, men saw what Jesus did and were afraid and glorified God and still He did not entrust Himself to them because He knew what was in their hearts. The earth-dwellers have heard too much about God the last three and a half years. Their short break of just half a week let them try to forget the one with whom they have to do. But at this point they have no other explanation than God’s work. They must admit God’s power, and the next thing that happens is more judgment.
14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.
It seems that the two visions between the sixth trumpet, which was the second woe, overlap in time with the trumpets. The seventh trumpet is about to blow.
We must keep going. We are not the two witnesses, but we are witnesses, and we must keep speaking the truth. We must keep trusting God. We must keep giving powerful testimony.
Don’t grow weary in well doing. Those who sow to the flesh will reap what is rotten. They are on the wrong side of hostility between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. If they won’t repent, they will prove themselves to be on the wrong side of prophecy.
We should be blessings to our neighbors. There is also a point at which we are a torment to them.
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)
Is being a torment something to aspire to? Well, in a way, yes. Darkness hates light (John 3:19-20), don’t put yours under a basket (Matthew 5:15).
The safest place for a ship is in the mind of the builder. As soon as he starts purchasing supplies, or putting pieces together, let alone putting in to the water and shoving off from shore, he encounters costs and difficulties and setbacks and criticisms and potential loss. Many who hold our kind of (futurist) eschatology have given examples of a BLM mindset, Bunker Lives Matter.
There are times to be bold underground. There are times to flee persecution. There are other times to assault the gates of hell, and torment the darkness as light. As Bunyan said, if you escape, laugh, if you’re caught, laugh, “for the scales are still in God’s hands.” Live in such a way that unbelievers will have to say, “Yes, his Lord is great.”
Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:34–37, ESV)