In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.2 Timothy 3:12
Thus Paul explains that the Christian life is one of suffering. He spoke similarly in Romans 8:31-36,
What then are we to say about these things?Emphasis added.
If God is for us, who is against us?
He did not even spare His own Son
but offered Him up for us all;
how will He not also with Him grant us everything?
Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
God is the One who justifies.
Who is the one who condemns?
Christ Jesus is the One who died,
but even more, has been raised;
He also is at the right hand of God
and intercedes for us.
Who can separate us from the love of Christ?
Can affliction or anguish or persecution
or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
As it is written:
Because of You
we are being put to death all day long;
we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.
Tertullian (c. 160-230), an early Christian apologist, wrote the following to the “rulers of the Roman Empire”:
Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you; it is rather a temptation to us. The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed. Many of your writers exhort to the courageous bearing of pain and death, as Cicero in the Tusculans, as Seneca in his Chances, as Diogenes, Pyrrhus, Callinicus; and yet their words do not find so many disciples as Christians do, teachers not by words, but by their deeds.Tertullian, “The Apology,” (chapter 50), in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3 (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 55. Emphases in original.
John touches on this topic in Revelation 11:1-14,
Then I was given a measuring reed like a rod, with these words: “Go and measure God’s sanctuary and the altar, and count those who worship there. But exclude the courtyard outside the sanctuary. Don’t measure it, because it is given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for 42 months. I will empower my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and consumes their enemies; if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These men have the power to close up the sky so that it does not rain during the days of their prophecy. They also have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every plague whenever they want.
When they finish their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, conquer them, and kill them. Their dead bodies will lie in the public square of the great city, which prophetically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. And representatives from the peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will view their bodies for three and a half days and not permit their bodies to be put into a tomb. Those who live on the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and send gifts to one another because these two prophets brought judgment to those who live on the earth.
But after 3½ days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet. So great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” They went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies watched them. At that moment a violent earthquake took place, a tenth of the city fell, and 7,000 people were killed in the earthquake. The survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe has passed. Take note: The third woe is coming quickly!
At first glance, this text looks confusing. Two witnesses with magical powers? John is going to measure a sanctuary; what?
By the last few verses, it starts to make more sense. An earthquake. Dead people. The woes are mentioned again. This is the Revelation we know. What in the world is going on at first? And who is this beast?
Well, unfortunately, i’m going to save discussion of the beast for chapter 13. We’ll get there soon. But, hopefully, my introduction already demonstrated the overall point of these verses. This text can be broken into two main sections. The first is verses 1-2, which is then expanded upon in the second, which is verses 3-14. Verses 3-14 can then be broken down into a few smaller units as well.
At the same time, we must remember that the demonic horsemen of 9:13-21, God’s gracious retraction of the thunders in 10:1-11, and today’s passage must all be understood together. Some people are killed by plagues, but God is still allowing people to repent, but the end will come. Woe to those who take God’s grace in vain, neglecting to respond in faith!
Let’s dive into it!
The Security of God’s People (11:1-2)
John is initially commanded to measure the sanctuary. There is similar language in Ezekiel 40:3-42:20 and Zechariah 2:1-5. Specifically, John is told to measure those worshipping in it.
Where is this sanctuary?
Well, interestingly, the word sanctuary appears sixteen times in Revelation (3:12; 7:15; 11:1, 2, 19 [2x]; 14:15, 17; 15:5, 6, 8 [2x]; 16:1, 17; 21:22 [2x]). In several of these occurrences (7:15, 16:17 [context]; 11:19, 14:17, 15:5 [explicitly]) we see that this sanctuary is in heaven. He is told, “Go,” which is more literally “Arise” (the same word used to describe Jesus’ resurrection). This might be used to justify the idea that he is to enter heaven and measure a sanctuary in there. Unfortunately, for this view, verse 2 intimates that wicked people are not to be measured. Since the wicked won’t enter heaven, this sanctuary has to refer to something on earth.
But what could it be?
If we remember back to Revelation 7, we saw the number of God’s people. 144,000. There are three references to measuring rods in Revelation (11:1; 21:15, 16). In Revelation 21:16-17, we read this:
The city is laid out in a square; its length and width are the same. He measured the city with the rod at 12,000 stadia. Its length, width, and height are equal. Then he measured its wall, 144 cubits according to human measurement, which the angel used.Emphasis added.
Other translations will convert these measurements, but the HCSB is incredibly helpful here. John is using them for a reason. They are not to be taken literally. The city is the same as the bride (cf. 21:15), and we know that the bride is the church (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33).
In Revelation 7, we saw that God knew all of His people personally. In Revelation 21, we see that all of God’s people are securely saved in God’s eternal kingdom. Here, in Revelation 11, we see that even despite the church’s current struggles on earth, God wants to reassure His people that He loves them and knows them intimately.
The History of God’s People (11:3-14)
John begins by relating God’s care and concern for His people before delving into a church history summary. The first part is present; the latter two are future.
Their Ministry (3-6)
These verses describe the ministry of the church throughout the years. There are several dots to connect before going forward. First, notice how long these witnesses prophesy: 1260 days; notice what verse 2 said about how long the people of God would be persecuted (“they will trample the holy city”): forty-two months; look back at Daniel 12:7 to see how much time is left in world history: “a time, times, and half a time.” All three of these are the same as saying “three and a half years.” If seven is the number of completion or perfection, then three and a half years is half of the completion of time.
Second, notice the description of these two witnesses in verse 4: “the two olive trees and the two lampstands.” The lampstands point us back to Revelation 1:20-3:22. The lampstands are the churches, and John may mention two because only two were almost entirely positive (Smyrna and Philadelphia). However, it’s also possible that he refers to two because Zechariah 4 mentions two olive trees (verses 3, 11, 14). In Zechariah 4:14, we are given a cryptic identification of these two olive trees:
“These are the two anointed ones,” he said, “who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”
Zechariah doesn’t clarify much, but verse 6 certainly gives us more identifying features. Shutting up the sky is an aspect of Elijah’s ministry. Turning water to blood and striking the land with plagues was part of Moses’ ministry. As such, some think Moses and Elijah will literally return to witness for the Lord before the end of history.
Is this necessary?
Not at all. Moses is representative of the Law, and Elijah is representative of the Prophets. Malachi referred to both being involved before the end of the world (cf. Malachi 4:4-6). God upholds His Law on one side and speaks to us through prophecy on the other side. As such, the church will proclaim the whole counsel of God’s Word throughout the church age.
Verse 5 explains that even though the nations are trampling the holy city the entire time the church is ministering, it is untouchable (until such time as God wills). Even if a Christian is martyred, another one will be reborn to take his or her place. The church will witness for the entirety of the time God allows it to.
Their Martyrdom (7-10)
The church will not minister forever. The time is coming when our time is up. People don’t want to hear our words. They don’t want to listen to the Gospel. They will fight us. Eventually, they will destroy us (but only because God allows it).
When they destroy us, they will be overjoyed. “No more conviction!” “No more religious nuts!” “No more hate speech!” It will be like another Christmas for those who hate Christianity: a time to give one another gifts in celebration.
One final proof that this is talking about the church is that the text literally says, “their dead body” (11:8, 9 [2x]). The church is the body of Christ. We are no longer individuals. If the entire church is martyred simultaneously, our individual deaths aren’t as important as the fact that Christ’s bride was murdered. (As i write that sentence, i get Braveheart vibes.)
Their Miraculous Resurrection (11-14)
However, God is in control, and the sinful–God-hating–world will not have the final word. “Their dead body” lies in the street for three and a half days. (I wonder if this isn’t just another connection to the three and a half years previously mentioned, describing the church age. With this understanding, the church won’t be totally wiped out, and days are used instead of years because when you “fall asleep” [cf. Acts 7:60] time goes by more quickly for the individuals who have been martyred.)
Whether figurative of martyrs only or literal about the entirety of God’s people, God resurrects His people, and then He calls them up. Death doesn’t have the last word for those who believe in Jesus. This verse (Revelation 11:11-12) is the rapture described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, which lends additional weight to the figurative understanding. Paul emphasizes that there will be Christians who are still alive when this happens.
I purposefully left out the last three verses of Romans 8 at the beginning of this post:
. . . we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.Romans 8:36b-39
No, in all these things we are more than victorious
through Him who loved us.
For I am persuaded that not even death or life,
angels or rulers,
things present or things to come, hostile powers,
height or depth, or any other created thing
will have the power to separate us
from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Death doesn’t have the last word for those who belong to God! However, for those who don’t know Jesus, death is the end (cf. Hebrews 9:27).
An earthquake follows the “rapture,” killing 7,000 people in the city. Verse 13 literally says, “And in that hour,” which can refer to any specific period up to an hour. I think it is necessary to connect this earthquake to the earthquake in 11:19. This is especially helpful because verse 14 concludes by saying, “The third woe is coming quickly.”
Those who rejoiced over the death of God’s people will be dumbstruck when they are resurrected and called into heaven. The earthquake will further surprise them, and those who survive will be forced to give glory to God (cf. Philippians 2:11). They will not be saved because 9:21 and 16:9 both explain that people refuse to repent. Additionally, if this earthquake is (as i hold that it is) the one marking the seventh trumpet, then the time to repent and believe has passed once it happens.
The second woe has passed. Take note: The third woe is coming quickly!Revelation 11:14
If you’ve never placed your faith in Jesus Christ, the end is coming sooner than you think. Trust Him today! He will make you a part of His kingdom. He will count you as part of His people. Yes, there will be trouble. Yes, the world system will “torment” you, and it will be worse than the “torment” the church will give you (cf. 11:10). However, there is no worse “torment” than eternity apart from God (cf. Revelation 20:10). Spare yourself that torment by trusting Jesus today! He took the cup of God’s wrath on the cross so that you need never experience it (cf. 14:10).
If you refuse to trust Him, you’re essentially admitting that you want to pay for your sins yourself. If you owed someone money, and someone else offered to pay them back for you, you’d accept it, wouldn’t you? You owe God a debt equal to trillions of dollars. Jesus is willing to pay it if only you believe!
Will you believe?
The second woe has passed. Take note: The third woe is coming quickly!Revelation 11:14
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
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