Some good news

The short intermission in heaven continues with two events:

  1. John is told to measure the temple of God and the altar.
  2. Two witnesses are appointed to proclaim good news.

The temple in Jerusalem

Revelation 11:1-2

Having been given the additional revelation in the "little scroll" about the final stages of God's judgement, John is now given another practical task: to "measure the temple of God, the altar and those who worship there". Some believe that the temple here will be the one mentioned by Jesus as being in Jerusalem "at the end of the age". (We looked at this in study nineteen.) Others believe that this passage is looking forward to the "new Jerusalem", described in chapter twenty-one. But, because there is no temple in the new Jerusalem, they understand "the temple" to refer to Christ's body - the church. (Revelation 21:22)

The act of measuring something occurs quite frequently in the Bible. Chapters thirty-six to thirty-nine of the book of Exodus describe in intricate, loving detail the measurements, sizes and quantities of the various components that are required to construct the tabernacle in which God is going to make His "home" amongst the people of Israel. Similarly here, the measurement is probably intended to convey God's acceptance and approval of the temple, its altar and those who worship there. It may also indicate God's protection for His people. Those who have been taken up to heaven and have entered the temple of the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb to worship Him there, will be protected spiritually, whilst those outside will face ongoing persecution and suffering. God is a God of love, but He is also a God of justice. We have seen (and will continue to see) just how much He desires that people should turn to Him. He will repeatedly create opportunities for every last person on the planet to hear his offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. He will never force anyone to serve Him and leaves us to make up our own mind. The choice is ours to make. We cannot choose for anyone else, just as they cannot make a choice for us.

Today, the city of Jerusalem is controlled by the state of Israel, but the "Temple Mount" (on which there is presently a mosque and the "Dome of the Rock") is controlled by the Ministry of Awqaf in Jordan. This situation will change during the latter half of the "tribulation". According to what Jesus said, there will be a third temple built in Jerusalem at some point before then and, when Jerusalem is overrun by the antichrist and his followers, they will descrate the temple and make their headquarters there. (Matthew 24:15) At the beginning of the "tribulation", the antichrist will enter into a seven-year contract with the Jewish people but, at the mid-point, he will break it and capture Jerusalem for himself. From there, this "man of peace" will launch the most vicious persecution that the world has known on both Jewish and Christian communities.

This time will make Hitler’s holocaust seem comparatively benign. The Jewish people will have very little time to escape from the clutches of the antichrist. Jesus warned them to be prepared to run for the hills to avoid this persecution. (Matthew 24:15-25) During this awful time, when it seems that the world has rejected God absolutely, a remnant will be left, just as in the days of Elijah, when he complained to God that he was the only one left following Him. God's response then was: "I reserve seven thousand in Israel — all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him". (1 Kings 19:14-18) This remnant will be a witness for Jesus throughout the remaining "tribulation" and will be a constant thorn in the side of the antichrist. He will not be able to achieve his goal of ridding the world of Jews and Christians and the focus of defiance to his plans will be two witnesses, whom God will raise up in Jerusalem itself. There God will give them divine protection for one thousand, two hundred and sixty days - the remainder of the period of "tribulation".

The two witnesses

Revelation 11:3-6

The word "witness" is what the early translators of the New Testament used to translate the Greek word "martyr". It referred to someone who gave testimony of ("witnessed" to) faith in Christ by dying for that faith. The two witnesses given authority by God to proclaim His good news in Jerusalem are dressed in sackcloth - the traditional clothing of a prophet warning of judgement to come and demanding repentance from the people. (Jeremiah 4:8; Matthew 3:4) John links the appearance of the two witnesses to a vision of the prophet, Zechariah, who saw "two olive trees on the right and left" of a lampstand. (Zechariah 4:11-14) These are God's chosen servants who will bring the light of His good news to the world. They will be empowered by the Holy Spirit and will speak on God's behalf.

Just when the antichrist is trying to demonstrate that he has all power on earth, God gives these two witnesses His power. This will be far in excess of anything that the antichrist could hope to have. The witnesses will be able to protect themselves by "breathing fire" on any who try to harm them. They will also have power to prevent rain from falling during the entire time of their stay in Jerusalem, to turn water into blood and to strike the earth with every type of plague. (Revelation 11:3-6) These powers echo those of earlier prophets such as Elijah and Moses. (1 Kings 17:1; Exodus 7:15-24)

Various commentators have suggested that the two witnesses may be people who have previously lived on earth (such as Enoch, Moses, Elijah, Joshua or Zerubbabel). These ideas are speculative and the witnesses may simply be people who are living during this time in the future. Whoever they may be, they will certainly frustrate the antichrist and his forces. In stark terms, they will be literally a "light in the darkness". Even when people are living in the midst of terrible pain and suffering from numerous judgements, there will be voices of hope and honest truthfulness in a swamp of lies and deception.

The death of the witnesses

Revelation 11:7-10

When the two witnesses have completed their task, God will allow the antichrist to overcome the witnesses and kill them. This is the first time in the book that John refers to the antichrist as "the beast that comes up from the Abyss". His demonic nature now becomes very clear as he arranges to make a public spectacle of the bodies of the two witnesses who had, for so long, been able to stand against him. For three and a half days, no burial will be permitted and people throughout the world will gloat and rejoice over this "victory". This is the one and only occasion recorded when there will be any rejoicing during the time of the "tribulation". The prevailing mood is likely to be fear and trepidation at the ongoing and ever-growing violence, accompanied by environmental disasters.

The city where these deaths will take place will be Jerusalem - the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion - although John refers to it as "Sodom" and "Egypt". Sodom is renowned for having been destroyed by God in Abraham's day due to the wickedness of its inhabitants. Abraham's nephew, Lot, had gone to live there and had to be rescued by angels after Abraham made a "deal" with God. (You can read the full story in Genesis 18:16-19:25.) Under the control of the antichrist, it seems that Jerusalem will become equally wicked. In the early part of the Bible, Egypt represented the successful part of the pagan world. It was dominated by idolatry, but derived great wealth from the River Nile and was renowned for its civilisation at that time.

Despite its long history, from the glory days of King David and King Solomon through to the time of Jesus and our own, present day, it seems that Jerusalem will, under the influence of the antichrist, become a cesspit where evil and dissolute living are positively celebrated. It serves as a grim warning of how easily our own lives can change if we turn away from God and devote our time instead to satisfying the "lusts of the flesh"! God does not want us to live outside of His kingdom. Even as Jerusalem begins to slide further into degradation, He sends two witnesses to try and avert disaster. But those living there, choose otherwise.

The resurrection and reward of the witnesses

Revelation 11:11-14

Unfortunately for the beast and his followers, the partying will be premature. To the intense horror of those still celebrating, the two witnesses will suddenly come to life through the power of the Holy Spirit. A loud voice from heaven will be heard and the two prophets will be drawn up to heaven "in a cloud" (in the same way that Jesus Himself - and, much later, the church - were taken up into heaven). Thus God will vindicate His servants and will demonstrate that He alone is in control of all that is going on. Satan’s "beast" will be powerless to do anything. More than that, there will then be a major earthquake, causing a tenth of the city to collapse with enormous loss of life. Those remaining will be brought to their senses in terror and unable to stop themselves giving glory to God.

The seventh trumpet

Revelation 11:15-19

Although the seventh angel now sounds his trumpet, John's focus remains in heaven for the moment because there is a pause for worship. Loud voices proclaim that the long-expected reign of Jesus Christ on earth is about to begin. (Although the past tense is used - "you... have begun to reign" - this is an example of prophetic speech where some future event is regarded as being so absolutely sure to happen, that it is described in the past tense as though the event had already taken place.) Then the twenty-four elders respond by falling prostrate before God with their own words of thanks and praise. Again, they use the past tense, but are probably anticipating what is about to happen. There are echoes in their words of the second psalm where the author sees something similar happening. (Psalm 2:1-6)

It does seem that, in keeping with what King Solomon said in the Old Testament: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again". (Ecclesiastes 1:9) The psalmist was probably writing from his own experience about the way in which people and nations rise up together against God but soon find that they are wholly unable to fight against Him. History is now about to repeat itself as the twenty-four elders describe the current situation in the world, with nations continuing to rebel against God but now having to face His judgements and His justice. What a contrast it is to see the worship that is happening in heaven, even as rebellion, pain and misery characterise the antichrist's reign on earth!

God’s rule is absolute. He has constantly warned people that He is a holy and righteous God. He has encouraged them to escape from the wrath of His justice by turning away from their sin and putting their trust in His Son, Jesus. Now the die is cast. "The time has come for judging the dead and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere [fear] your Name". (Revelation 11:18)

The temple of God

Revelation 11:19

This chapter began with John measuring the temple of God in heaven. Now that temple is opened and John sees within the "ark of the covenant". In the book of Hebrews, chapter nine, the author talks about the first covenant (in Moses' day) with the tabernacle (special tent) where God "lived" amongst His people in the wilderness. The tabernacle contained two rooms: the "Holy Place" and the "Most Holy Place" (or "Holy of Holies"). In the first room was a lampstand and a table on which was placed (each day) consecrated bread. Within the second room was the "ark of the covenant". This was a wooden chest, overlaid with gold, in which were kept a jar containing some of the "manna" (food) provided by God in the wilderness, Aaron's staff and the stone tablets of the covenant.

The author explains that these things were simply copies - representations - of spiritual realities that existed in heaven. (Hebrews 9:24) The items that had been produced in Moses' time did not survive the course of history and were lost. But their spiritual counterparts in heaven suffered no loss and John now sees them in their rightful place within God's temple. The ark of the covenant was also referred to as the "Mercy Seat" because it represented where God Himself appeared as the source of divine mercy. It is the place where Jesus presents His blood as an atonement for all of us - all humanity. This is where we are declared righteous in the sight of God and cleansed from our sins.

In the earthly tabernacle, the high priest was allowed to enter the "Most Holy Place" once a year, in order to sprinkle the blood of a lamb on the "Mercy Seat". This covered the sins of the people and ensured that God continued to be present among them. When Jesus was crucified, He was without sin and was able to enter the heavenly temple to offer His blood as a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. We now have the choice to accept this gift from Jesus - by faith - or not. If we choose to give our lives to Him, we are "born again" of the Spirit of God and become part of His body, the church.

John saw that God's temple will be open to all of us. The "flashes of lightning, crashes of thunder, earthquake and hailstorm" all indicate that God Himself is present in His temple. Are we prepared to take Jesus' hand and enter with Him?

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