Posted by: stpowen | November 13, 2012

Revelation Part 7. The Temple Measured, and the Two Witnesses

Luke 10:1. ‘After these things the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them two by two befor His face into every city.’

Matt 24:14.  ‘And the Gospel of the kingdom will be preaced in all the world as a witness to all the nations and then the end will come.’

Before tackling this chapter, on which several different interpretationshave been given, it may be as well to remind ourselves of the pattern of interpretation that I am following and of the point that we have reached.

Revelation is an example of Apocalyptic Literature, a genre that was popular in the centuries around our Lord’s time on earth, but is most unfamiliar today.  It is its nature to be figurative and symbolic.  That does not mean that it is in some code which we need to break, but it does mean that if we attempt to interpret the book absolutely literally, we shall find that the only way to do that is to cast everything into the future, which would have been no help to those for whom the book was written and is impossible to square with the repeated assertion that the time is short (1:1, 3; 22:6).

In my first article, I suggested that Revelation is not a continuous narrative, but a series of pictures of events which continue from its time of writing until the return of Christ.  From 8:2, we have been looking at six of the Seven Trumpets, which are calamities that God sends upon the earth as warnings to its inhabitants to repent.  Only the seventh trumpet, which represents the Return of Christ and the Final Judgement, is yet to sound.  Chapters 10 and 11 constitute an interlude in which we see what the people of God are to be doing while the trumpets are sounding.  In Chapter 10, John is commanded to devour a little scroll which represents the word of God.  Christians are to know the word of God and to find it sweet to their taste before they start to witness.

11:1-2. ‘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, for it has been given to the Gentiles.  And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.”’

We note first that John is given this reed with which he is to measure.  He is not to use human measurements but Divine ones.  In the Old Testament the unit of measurement, the cubit of the Temple was different from the regular cubit, being a hand’s breadth longer (2 Chron. 3:3; Ezek. 40:5).  The purpose of measuring something is to know its limits.  John is to know and distinguish the holy from the profane.

John is instructed to measure the temple and the altar, and to count the worshippers.  I do not believe that the temple that John is to measure is the one that was destroyed in AD 70.  The temple here symbolizes the true Church of God (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16), those who are in Christ Jesus.  The altar symbolizes the place where the blood is shed.  John is to understand the meaning of the atonement.   The worshippers are the 144,000 and the great crowd of chapter 7. These are the true saints of God, for John is told not to measure the outer court, which can only refer to nominal Christians who pay God lip service, but whose hearts are far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Mark 7:6-8).  The true Christians, those who have God’s seal on their foreheads (7:3; 9:4) are measured and therefore known to God.  The ‘gentiles,’ by contrast, are those who will hear the Lord say on the Last Day, “I never know you!” (Matt. 7:23).  Like Cain (1 John 3:12) and like Ishmael (Gal. 4:28-9), the false believers will persecute the true, for, ‘They will trample the Holy City for 42 months.’  The Holy City must be contrasted with the ‘Great city’ of verse 8.  The great city is narrowly earthly Jerusalem  (Gal 4:25) since it is where Christ was crucified, but more broadly it is the world as it is opposed to God, as we shall see.  The Holy City therefore represents the people of God who will be trampled underfoot by the ‘Gentiles’ for a period of time, ‘Until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled’ (Luke 21:24).

So for what duration of time will God’s people be persecuted?  We note that the time is limited by God to ’42 months.’  This is equal to three and a half years, the ‘Time, times and half a time’ of Daniel  12;7 and Rev. 12:14, and also the 1,260 days of Rev. 11:3 and 12:6.  Three and a half years is also the time that the drought lasted in Elijah’s time (James 5:17) when Jezabel ruled in Israel.  So the time that God’s people are persecuted is equal to the time that the witnesses prophecy, equal to the time that the woman dwells in the desert (Chapter 12), equal to the time that God’s people are persecuted (1 Kings 18:4) and equal to the time until all things are fulfilled.  We shall consider these details as we come to them, but it seems clear that the time, as it occurs in Revelation means an unspecified period, known to God, that will be ended by the Return of Christ and the Day of Judgement.  There has scarcely been a time in the past two thousand years when Christians have not been persecuted somewhere in the world, and we should not expect this to change in our time (cf. John 15:18ff).

Verses 2- 3.  ‘And I will give power to My two witnesses, and they will prophesy 1260 days, clothed in sackcloth.  These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.’

So who are these two witnesses?  Various suggestions have been put forward.  Are they the Old and New Testaments?  Law and Grace?  Enoch and Elijah?  Elijah and Moses?  John the Baptist and Jesus?  No, it is none of those; it is the true Church of God that has just been measured.  As usual, the clue is in the Old Testament.  ‘One witness is not enough to convict a man of any crime or offense he may have committed.  A matter must be established by the mouths of two or three witnesses’ (Deut 19:15).  The Lord Jesus sent His disciples out two by two (Luke 10:1), ‘As a witness’ (Matt 24:14).

The Church’s witness is to last 1260 days.  As we have seen, this is a time equal to the 42 months  during which the persecution of God’s people takes place.  So why is the time expressed here in days rather than months?  Because the witness must go on day by day by day; ‘In season and out of season’ (2 Tim. 4:2); whether people will hear it or not (Ezek. 2:3-5).  The witnesses are dressed in sackcloth, the garb of mourners, for they are mourning over the sins of the people.  In Britain today, a clown’s outfit might seem more suitable given some of the forms of evangelism popular in this country, but the scroll that John has eaten is the same one that Ezekiel received, and that one was covered with ‘ lamentation , mourning and woe’ (Ezek. 2:9-10).  The witnesses have a sombre message to proclaim of God’s wrath against sin and of impending judgement.

The witnesses are also ‘The two olive trees and the two lampstands.’  This is a reference to Zech. 4.  The purpose of a lampstand is to give light, and therefore refers to the true Church (Matt. 5:14ff).  The olive trees supply oil to the lampstands and therefore speak of the Holy Spirit who gives power to the Church’s witness.

Verses 5-6.  ‘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 wish.’

Well this would be a good trick, wouldn’t it?  There are two references to Elijah here;  firstly when he called down fire on two troops of soldiers who came to arrest him (2 Kings 1:10, 12).  God will protect His church and its witness if it remains true.  Individual  witnesses may perish, but the witness will remain.  Elijah himself could complain to God;  “The children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword.  I alone am left; and they seek my life to take it” (1 Kings 19:14).  Yet the Lord preserved him until his successor was in place.  The witness went on.  ‘To harm’ in verse five means ‘to silence.’ God reacts to those who seek to harm His Church by casting them into hell.  The second reference is to the drought for which Elijah called (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17).  Interestingly, James tells us that the drought continued for three and a half years, the ‘Time, times and half a time’ of Daniel and Revelation.  Today also, there is a drought, not of water, but of hearing the word of God (Amos 8:11-12) and Christ’s servants must continue their witness before a people who, in general, will not receive it (Acts 28:25-27; Rom. 10:21).  There is also a reference to the first Plague upon Egypt.  God will protect and avenge His servants as they prophesy, and He will validate their testimony.  Notice that the two witnesses have only one mouth.  There is only one Gospel.

Verse 7.  ‘When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them and kill them.’

Until the witnesses have finished their testimony, Satan cannot harm them, for he too is under the dominion of God (cf. Job 1:12; 2:6; Luke 22:31-32).  Someone has rightly said that Christians are immortal until such time as God deems their work for Him complete. We saw in 6:9-11 those who ‘Had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony that they held’ and that there would be more to be slain before the end.  “All these things must come to pass,” said the Lord Jesus, “But the end is not yet” (Matt 23:6).  We need to ask ourselves whether this episode is:  A.  Something that keeps on happening through history, or B. ‘Satan’s little Season,’ so-called after 20:7-8.  That is a time of particular hardship for the Church just before the return of Christ.  My view is that the defeat and resurgence of the Church is something that goes on all through history, though it does seem that there will be a time of particular hardship for God’s people just before our Lord’s second Coming.  It is noteworthy that we are told that the beast ‘ascends’ out of the abyss, and the use of the Present Tense in Greek suggests repeated action.   We shall see as we continue that the defeat and seeming death that we observe here have been the experience of the Church in the past and in many ways is our experience at the present time.

We shall learn more of the beast in Chapter 13, where we shall find that there are actually two of them .  They are servants of Satan and this one comes out of the ‘bottomless pit’ or ‘abyss’ which is whereSatan is confined (20:2-3) and from where he sends out his troops (9:1 -3).  In Daniel 7, no fewer than four beasts arise, representing four kingdoms that have persecuted God’s people.  The fourth is described as particularly dreadful (v. 7).  It has ten horns and makes war upon the saints and defeats them until God pronounces judgement and gives the kingdom to the saints (vs. 19-22).  The ten horns represent ten kingdoms which come and go, and persecution seems to culminate in a ‘little horn’ which arises out of the ten.  The time of persecution is described as ‘a time, times and half a time’ so it does appear that John’s vision is associated with that of Daniel.  There will be persecution right through the age, and Christian witness may seem to be extinguished for a while but will always bounce back.  The persecution will culminate in a most severe repression right at the end, but God will rescue His people and bring the age to a close (cf. Zech 14:1-3; 2 Thes 2:8; Rev 20:7-9).  The message to us is that we should ‘Work….. while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work.’

Vs. 8-10. ‘And their dead bodies 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 will not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.  And those who dwell upon the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because those two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.’

The Church appears utterly defeated.  Christian witness lies dead in the street as an object of contempt.  So it might appear today, with disused chapels and churches being turned into discos, shops, night clubs or mosques, and of course the world just loves it.  We looked at the term ‘Great City’ earlier and saw that it is contrasted with the ‘Holy City’ of verse 2.  It is obviously a reference to earthly Jerusalem to some extent, since that is where our Lord was crucified, and it is a shock to see it compared to Sodom and Egypt.  Sodom was the place where Lot was ‘Oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked’ (2 Peter 2:7ff) and Egypt was where the Lord’s people were in captivity. In Galatians 4:21ff, Paul speaks of ‘Jerusalem that now is’ (in contrast with ‘Jerusalem above’) as the place where those ‘born of the spirit’ are persecuted.  We will also see Babylon, where the Israelites were in exile,  called a great city (18:10).  We can therefore define the Great City as the dwelling place of unbelievers, who have no time for the message of the cross and who wish Christians would leave them alone. They are the ‘inhabitants of the earth,’ in contrast to Christians, whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20).

So it is that these folk are delighted to see Christian witness extinguish and make merry and send each other gifts.  It is a little reminiscent of the typical secular Christmas in Britain where people send each other jolly cards with robins, snowmen and holly on them and give each other presents as if to celebrate the absence of Christ from the earth for another year.  No wonder there is a move to have the festival renamed ‘Wintermas’ or some such abomination, because, for all their hectic celebration of Christmas, these people hate the message of Christ for it is the savour of death to them (2 Cor. 2:14-16).  The idea of a real Christ commanding real repentance torments them.

Verses 11-12.  ‘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 upon those who saw them.  And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Come up here.”  And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.’

Three-and-a-half days is obviously a very short time compared with 1260 days.  There are two possible interpretations here.  Either the Church, after a period of death-like stagnation, experiences revival and the power of God, and the world is amazed and fearful, or this is the rapture of the Church to meet our Lord at His return (1 Thes. 4:16-17).   Perhaps it is both of these.  The Church has regularly declined and been revived through the ages, but there will be a time of particularly severe persecution which will be ended by our Lord’s return (2 Thes 2:8).

Verse 13.  In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell.  In the earthquake, seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.’

The city is the place where the Gentiles trample Christianity underfoot and where our Lord is crucified.  The resurrection of the witnesses strikes the city like an earthquake.  Those who are not slain ‘give glory’ to God.  We read that Achan (Josh. 7:19-20) gave glory to God when he admitted his sin, but his confession came too late to save him.  We have arrived at the return of Christ in glory and judgement, ‘And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him’ (1:7).

The Third Woe (v.14) is indeed the Return of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We move straight into the Seventh Trumpet .  God has finally taken His power to bring Satan’s rebellion to an end.  It is a time of judgement and reward (v.18).

Verse 19.  ‘Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple.  And there were lightening, noises, thundering, an earthquake and great hail.’

The Temple in Revelation signifies the presence of God.  The curtain has been torn in two, and we can see the holiest place and the ark.  We can see that God has kept His covenant  The Seed of the woman has crushed the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15)  Those in Christ have been saved, and now the wicked will be judged according to God’s  law.  The lightening thunder and other happenings are reminiscent of Mt. Sinai (Exod. 19:16).  The Lord has come down in judgement.

This brings to an end the sequence that started at 8:2.  In Chapter 12 we shall see a completely different view of the time between our Lord’s ascension and return.  This one told of the trumpets of God’s warning; the next will cover Satan’s devices.

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