Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Revelation 11, God's Two Witnesses

This chapter is the first of several in which John revisits the first half of the tribulation and shown, in more detail, events and characters not revealed to him earlier.

v.1-2 "Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood saying, 'Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months,"

Israel's future temple is in view here. But there are two temples in Israel’s future, so we need to make a distinction, look at God’s word to explain the meaning for the measuring, and then determine which temple is in view here.

The first yet-future temple concerns the Tribulation. According to Daniel, the nation Israel, in a treaty it signs with the head of a confederation of European nations during the first half of the tribulation, will be allowed to rebuild a Jerusalem temple in which it can worship and conduct sacrificial offerings according to the Mosaic Law (Dan.9:27). However, during this time God will neither accept Israel's sacrifices, nor will He inhabit their temple (Isa.66:3,4). Moreover, according to Daniel, the Antichrist, after three and a half years, will break the treaty, subsequently overthrow Jerusalem and desecrate the temple (Dan.9:27).

The second yet-future temple is constructed for the Millennium. But unlike the tribulation temple, God shall inhabit and fill it with His glory, and it shall be the dwelling place of the Lord (Ez.43:5-7).

For the “measuring”, we'll consider two other times it was mandated. The prophet Ezekiel watched a measurement of the millennial temple and Zechariah saw a measurement of the city of Jerusalem. And in both instances, the measuring was in anticipation of the Lord’s dwelling amongst His people, and thereby signified a preparation for it (Ez.40-48; Zech.2:1-5). So it was with John. He was instructed to measure in anticipation of the Lord's Coming to make it ready for the King.

What John measures concerns that which must be cleansed in the first yet-future Tribulation temple in anticipation for the second temple that ultimately becomes the dwelling place of our Lord during the Millennium.

Okay, now let's look at what John is told to measure.
  1. The "temple of God” - This would consist of the "inner court" of the temple, where the Holy Place and Holy of Holies are located
  2. The "altar" - This is a furnishing located inside the Holy Place where incense is burned to symbolize the prayers of the people
  3. "Those who worship there” - The Jews. Showing them as separated unto God, but with hearts that must be prepared by judgment that they might become the true Israel.
On the other hand, John is strictly forbidden from measuring the court outside the temple, which speaks of the "outer court" outside the Holy place of the temple. God has not separated it unto Himself, but instead has given it to the Gentiles to tread underfoot for forty-two months (three and a half years), or the entire second half of the Tribulation.

v.3-4 'And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.' These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth."

These “two witnesses” are extremely intriguing characters that appear suddenly and mysteriously in Jerusalem at the start of the Tribulation, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Jews, and with power to perform miracles reminiscent of the Old Testament prophets.

"These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth." This means to show that these chosen men of God will do their work on earth in the power of the Holy Spirit (see—Zech.4). “And they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days…” They will preach for a period of three and a half years, or in their case, during the entire first half of the Tribulation. “…clothed in sackcloth” They'll preach in heavy affliction about the impending severe judgment of God (check--Ps.35:13; Isa.50:3).

Okay, who are they?

Most commentators agree one will be the ancient prophet Elijah for three reasons: Elijah was prophesied to return before the day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5,6); which even the Jews regard (John 1:21; Matt.16:13,14). Their ability to stop the rain (v.6) is similar to that of Elijah (I Kings 17:1). Because Elijah was carried in a chariot of fire into heaven alive and never died (2 Kings 2:9-11) seems to indicate that his ministry is yet unfulfilled.

Commentators are more divided about the second witness. Some say Enoch, one of the Bible’s earliest men of great faith, who was also taken into heaven alive (see Jude 14; Heb.11:5; Gen.5:24). Others suggest Zerubabel, the ancient head of the tribe of Judah, because of his connection to Zechariah’s prophecy about the two olive trees (Zech.4:6-9). And some say Moses because he associated himself with "the prophet" God would raise up amongst Israel (Deu.18:15-18). The power given the witnesses to turn water into blood is similar to that given to Moses (Ex.7:17). Despite the fact that Moses did die, a mystery surrounds his burial (Deu.34:5-6), along with a strange struggle that later ensued over his body (see—Jude 9).

My personal notion is that Elijah and Moses are the two witnesses. Plus all the other arguments, Elijah and Moses are indelibly linked in several ways: It was Moses and Elijah that appeared with Jesus in His transfiguration (Matt.17:1-8); and given that their ministry is to Israel, what two men better represent the “law” and the “prophets” than Moses and Elijah?

v.5-7 "And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire. Now when they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them and kill them."

God will make these two men invincible. Throughout the entire three and a half years of their ministry, nothing or no one will be able to harm or hinder them. They'll be able to roam freely throughout all of Israel (or throughout the world for that matter) without fear of reprisal from terrorists, assassins, or any other enemy (including Antichrist himself). They'll have the ability to draw fire from heaven and devour anyone who attempts to harm them. They'll possess a supernatural power that enables them to stop the rain, turn water into blood, and otherwise to strike the earth with plagues as often as they feel it's required to enforce the credibility of their message. Plus, they're guaranteed to finish their ministry before God allows Antichrist to overcome and kill them.

v.8-13 "And their bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three and a half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. Now after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, 'Come up here.' And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them. In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand men were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven."

The world will become insanely ecstatic when these two prophets are murdered. After being tormented by their message for three and a half years, when the world sees their bodies openly displayed in the streets of Jerusalem people will rejoice, make merry, and exchange gifts. It will become a crowning moment for Antichrist, and undoubtedly sets the stage for his siege of Jerusalem and his desolation of the Jewish temple.

Okay, but there’s more.

Three and a half days after their bodies are put on display, while the whole world watches, God will breathe life into the prophets and resurrect them up into heaven. In the same hour, God will cause a great earthquake in Jerusalem that topples a tenth of the city, kills seven thousand people, and leaves the survivors so fearful that they give glory to God. Though their outcry is probably more in the order of the vain acknowledgment given by the magicians in Pharaoh’s court, and not true repentance (check—Ex. 8:19).

v.14-17 "The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly. Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!' And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, 'We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come, because You have taken Your great power and reigned."

This completes the second of three “woes” proclaimed for the inhabitants of the earth (8:13) as the third, the coming of Satan in great wrath (12:12), quickly approaches.

The seventh trumpet is now sounding, and God's eternal plan to do away with evil and to restore all things unto Himself has initiated (see notes—Rev.10:5-7). The centuries old question "When?" no longer remains a mystery, the countdown to the end of this world has at long last begun.

It should be noted that all the judgments yet remaining occur during the last three and a half years allotted to this age, and do usher in the eternal Kingdom of Jesus Christ. The loud response of heaven is the joyful acknowledgment that this time has finally come.

v. 18 'The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth.' "

This gives a vivid account of the world's anger and hostility toward God and all that is His during the second half of Tribulation. According to the Psalmist, this is a time when the nations rage against Christ and His kingdom, His holy religion and all interests of it. When they set themselves against God in open defiance of Him, and counsel together for an unholy war that seeks to unseat His government and break His yoke. (See—Ps.2).

v.19 "Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightenings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail."

The ark of His covenant in open view here in heaven seems to be a reminder that God is a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God who will accomplish all that He has spoken on behalf of Israel. All the symbols of judgment surrounding the arc, the lightenings, noises, thunderings, earthquake, and great hail are probably meant to underscore the remaining judgments God is about to impose for the redemption of His people.

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