THE REVELATION OF CHRIST
Lesson Number 21
THE SEVENTH TRUMPET #3
"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. 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. When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead 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 they 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 people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly. (Revelation 11:3-14, NKJV)
I ever want to keep before you that in this book, God is unveiling His purpose through Jesus Christ. This is not a Divine commentary on the affairs of men, but an elaboration of the reign of the conquering Lamb. It is given for the comfort of suffering saints. At the very threshold of this book, John reminds his readers of this. "I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ . . . " (Rev 1:9). We must not allow ourselves to lose this perspective by being drawn into novel views of the Revelation. The things seen by John involve great Kingdom principles that are fulfilled in world history. They may also be seen at the individual level. The point, however, is not their historical fulfillment, or the realization of them at a personal level. This is food for triumphant faith, written to assure our hearts that the purpose of God is being brought to a precise and predetermined conclusion.
An Effective Reign
The reign of the Lord Jesus is an effective one, with no interruption or cessation. As it is written, "And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end" (Lk 1:33). All opposing powers will be dashed into pieces, that without exception! Daniel was given to see this: " . . . it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Dan 2:44). John is shown the same truth. "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev 11:15).
Not A Simplistic Message
This certain triumph, however, does not take place in a moment of time. The "eternal purpose" of God is being accomplished in a moral arena-one in which choices are made, determination is required, and opposition is realized. Satan, the original and arch-foe of God, institutes an organized effort to overthrow "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." His endeavor is marked by cunningness, remarkable influence, and supernatural strength. He is given power to work seeming havoc upon the earth, causing the death of saints, obscuring the truth of God, and marshaling nations against the Lord and His Christ. Yet, all of His efforts are wrought within the perimeter of Christ's government. Not one hair falls from one head without Divine approval. A single blade of green grass cannot be scorched without authority from the Throne.
The Dichotomy of Experience
Every child of God is the target of Satan's initiative, but is also under the protection and Sovereign watch care of the King. Every congregation of believers is subject to the tactical hatred of the devil, but is also the appointed depository for grace and truth.
Because the purpose of God is so grand, the realm in which it is being accomplished is intense with activity. Friend and foe are present, as well as truth and the lie. The powers of both heaven and the bottomless pit are employed, and the saints of God themselves are involved in the conflict.
Once but a portion of these things is seen, simplistic views of the Kingdom of God and spiritual life will be dashed to the ground. The absurdity of self-centeredness becomes clear. Placing an emphasis upon personal or institutional objectives is foolish in the light of the conflict of the ages! Those who shine the spotlight of attention on social issues have unwittingly sided with the wicked one. Their thoughts have not risen high enough, thus causing the things of this world to be exaggerated.
John wrote during a time of social injustice and political corruption. Yet, he did not write to correct those matters, or mount a reactionary campaign among the faithful. Rather, he joined with the reigning Christ in sustaining the saints, comforting them in tribulation. The glorified and reigning Lamb dominated his vision while he wrote. The outcome of Christ's rule is set before the saints, showing that every opponent will be subdued, and every child of God vindicated and exonerated. How God's people need to hear these things proclaimed to them with power and consistency!
A BRIEF OVERVIEW
The weight of this passage can be appreciated by briefly considering the language therein employed. I review these words with an acute awareness of the proscription of the Almighty concerning distorting the words of this book. "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book; if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person's share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book" (22:18-19, NRSV).
This is an Epoch
We are reading of an epoch-something, from one point of view, that is unusual. Yet, from another view, this is the manner of the Kingdom. The superiority of Divine power is seen. The animosity and corruption of the unregenerate are seen. The aggressiveness of the devil is affirmed. The extremities of the saints experience in the world are seen-both for good and for evil.
The secret to Kingdom effectiveness is declared. "I will give power to My two witnesses."
The testimony of God is sometimes accomplished under less-than-ideal circumstances. "They shall prophesy . . . clothed in sackcloth."
The work presented is being accomplished under the power and care of the Almighty. "These are . . . standing before the God of the earth."
The enemies of God cannot thwart the work of God. " . . . fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies."
There are Divine reprisals for opposing the work of God. "If any man will hurt them., he must in this manner be killed."
There is a participation with the Lord in His government, and that to a remarkable degree. "They have power to shut heaven . . . They . . . have power over waters to turn them to blood . . . They . . . have power to smite the earth with plagues, as often as they will."
When the love of the truth is lost, the world begins to triumph. "The beast . . . shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them."
An animosity exists between the world and the people of God. It is especially made known during their adversity. "They that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them . . . because these two prophets tormented them that dwell upon the earth."
Resurrection power prompts the people and cause of the Lord to rise again. "The Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet."
There is an appointed escape from the enemies of God. "They ascended up into heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them."
Just as the Lord pinpoints the comfort of the saints, so He ministers judgment on His enemies with remarkable precision. "There was a great earthquake . . . the tenth part of the city fell . . . seven thousand men were slain."
In this passage we will behold three marvelous views of the saints of God. Each of these perspectives is consistently developed throughout this book.
The church in conflict and/or degradation. The fact that saints are "kings and priests" does not mean they have no conflict. Neither, indeed, are they to imagine that a state of spiritual deterioration is not possible.
The church being preserved or sustained by the Lord. Regardless of the degree and duration of opposition, those who trust in the Lord will be sustained by Him. They will finish their work.
The church triumphant over all of her enemies. For the saints, all conflict and hardship is temporary. Ultimately, they will triumph over every foe.
All of these perspectives are seen in this unique text. If we can grasp these perspectives, the text will become personal, and minister edification to our hearts. We will thus find it to be a source of rich comfort.POWERFUL WITNESSES
"And I will give power to my two witnesses . . . " (Verse 3a). This is the Lord Jesus speaking. It is He, and He alone, Who ultimately gives power, or authority, that cannot be neutralized by the wicked one. Think of the remarkable references to this aspect of Christ's reign. He promises overcomers he will give them "power over the nations" (2:26). He gave power to the rider on the red horse to take peace from the earth (6:4). Power was given to the rider on the pale horse to bring death over a fourth part of the earth with the sword, hunger, death, and the beasts of the earth (6:8). An invading horde of locusts was given power, but could not hurt those with the seal of God upon them (9:3). All power in heaven and earth has been given to our Lord (Matt 28:18). That is more than the statement of an official theological tenet. This is power that is delegated to His subjects, both good and evil, at the discretion of the King! In this case, heavenly authority is given to those speaking for the exalted Lamb-those who are His oracles.
The idea of powerful witnesses is edifying to the soul. Much of the religion to which we are regularly subjected is powerless. It is unable to minister strength to the faithful or neutralize the power of the enemy. But this is not the case with Christ's witnesses!
When Jesus first sent out the twelve, He gave them power (Mark 6:7). When He sent out the seventy, He also gave them power (Lk 10:9).(1) Before the Lord ascended back into heaven, He told His Apostles they would receive "power" to be His witnesses throughout the world (Acts 1:8). Paul affirmed he had been given "power" to build up the saints of God (2 Cor 13:10). He also confessed he had received "power" to become an effective minister for Jesus (Eph 3:7). This, then, is familiar language-witnesses being given power from heaven. There is no valid Kingdom work for which Divine power is not both required and dispensed!
Remember that all Scripture, and all history as well, are bent around the purpose of God. The Law, with its attendant ceremonies, was a faint reflection of things in the heavenlies (Heb 8:5). Too, history has been orchestrated by the Lord to reflect His own purpose (i.e., Cain and Abel, the Flood, the tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Joseph and Egypt, etc., etc.).
Introduced in the Law
In regard to having two witnesses, the Law affirmed, "Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness . . . One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established" (Deut 17:6; 19;15). In both of these laws, judgment was the point-the accusation of those who had violated the law of God.
In keeping with the Law of Moses, these witnesses are rising in judgment. Remember, the temple, altar, and worshipers are being measured. We are being exposed to a time of judgment. These witnesses are empowered to speak the Divine estimation of things.
Too, their witness is harmonious. Under the Law, those who witnessed against the transgressor were to be in agreement. Differing testimonies were not acceptable. In Christ's trial, particular attention was devoted to this detail-the witnesses against Him could not agree (Mark 14:56-59). When, finally, a twofold witness was produced, they are identified as "false witnesses" (Matt 26:60).
The "two witnesses" of our text are harmonious in their witness, calling down the judgment of God against His enemies. Their ministry includes Fire proceeding out of their mouth and devouring their enemies (11:5), shutting heaven (11:6a), and turning water to blood and smithing the earth with all plagues (11:6b). Theirs is a ministry of judgment.
A Sackcloth Ministry
" . . . and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth" (Verse 3b). Sackcloth is apparel of mourning and woe. When Jacob thought Joseph had been killed, he "put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned" (Gen 37:34). When Abner, Saul's chief military man, died, David commanded the people with him, "gird yourselves with sackcloth, and mourn for Abner" (2 Sam 3:31). In his affliction, Job put on sackcloth and mourned (Job 16:15). There were times when God called for putting on sackcloth and mourning (Isa 22:12; 32:11; Jer 4:8; 6:26; Joel 1:13).
While the Holy City is Trodden
Here is a ministry that takes place while the "Holy City" is being trodden down by the Gentiles, and the approach to God is defiled and corrupted (11:2). This is a ministry like that of the holy prophets, who were empowered to speak against their generation and herald the coming of a better day. It is much like the ministry of Samuel, Elijah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist. It is not a pleasant ministry, but it is a necessary one.
The Duration of Their Ministry
Christ's "two witnesses" are empowered to prophesy over a period described as "a thousand two hundred and threescore days." We have already identified this as a period of spiritual oppression and degradation. It is referred to no less than seven times in Scripture under three figures. In each figure, a time of great difficulty is portrayed.
Forty two months (Rev 11:2; 13:5). Under this period there is oppression-the "Holy City": is trodden under foot, and the beast speaks blasphemies.
1,260 days (Rev 11:3; 12:6). Under this figure, a ministry of judgment occurs, and the people of God are secretly nourished from the face of the serpent.
3-1/2 years (Time, times, and half a time (Dan 7:25; 12:7; Rev 12:13). In this time, the saints are worn out, the power of the holy people is shattered, and the real church is hidden.
First, there is a principle to be seen in this text. Even in a time of spiritual oppression and decline, God does not leave Himself without witnesses! If the church retrogresses, God will raise up witnesses to speak against its wickedness. Such witnesses will not be popular, but they will be necessary.
While the longsuffering of God "waits," He ministers through His witnesses! Such was the case while Noah, the preacher of righteousness, prepared for 120 years for the coming flood. This type of allotment is called "space to repent" (Rev 2:21), and is consistently found throughout history. During such a time, a ministry like that of Jeremiah is instituted. "See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, To root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down, To build and to plant" (Jer 1:10).
Although it does not thoroughly satisfy the text, there is a time in history during which the truth of this text can be seen. It was a time during which the truth was trodden down, and the souls of men were oppressed.
It began in 533 A.D., when Justinian, from the Imperial throne of Rome, declared the Romish Pope to be "Lord of the Church" (D'Aubigne's Reformation, Vol 1, Pg 42). There was an official alliance formed between "the church" and the government. For the first time, but not the last, the world order recognized professed Christendom as good and valid-a condition still sought by undiscerning souls. Imagine! The ungodly ruler of a heathen kingdom sanctions the claims of a spiritual intruder to supremacy over the Lord's body! This was an epoch of significance! Neither Pilate, Herod, nor Nero sanctioned the Lord Jesus and His holy Apostles. At the first, the church was described by outsiders as "this sect . . . that every where it is spoken against" (Acts 28:22). But with the launching of this period (1,260 prophetic days), this was no longer the case. With the welding together of church and state, the treading down of the "Holy City" began! At that point, the "court that is without the Temple" was given over to the Gentiles, who wrought within it all manner of corruption.
A sackcloth ministry now began, as men sought to mingle the truth of God with the wisdom and power of this world. The men of God were led into a ministry that was largely reactionary- a sackcloth ministry.
This period lasted for 1,260 years, or until 1,792. At that time, atheism rose in then dominate France. Napoleon led away the pope (formerly declared "Lord of the Church") captive, and in chains. The French Revolution inducted the era of atheism, where militant war was made against anything termed "Christian." Humanism sprang into prominence, and the sciences replaced the Scriptures as the authority of beginnings.
Corruption of Unparalleled Magnitude
During this time higher criticism, "the attempt to examine the Bible from a purely scholarly point of view" came into prominence, reaching its apex in the nineteenth century. Men now bowed the knee to human reasoning. This period is erroneously called "The Enlightenment." Of it, Grollier's Encyclopedia says the following.
The Enlightenment is a name given by historians to an intellectual movement that was predominant in the Western world during the 18th century. Strongly influenced by the rise of modern science and by the aftermath of the long religious conflict that followed the Reformation, the thinkers of the Enlightenment (called philosophies in France, and Aufklarer in Germany) were committed to secular views based on reason or human understanding only, which they hoped would provide a basis for beneficial changes affecting every area of life and thought. The more extreme and radical of them--Denis Diderot, Claude Adrien Helvetius, Baron d'Holbach, the Marquis de Condorcet, and Julien Offroy de La Mettrie (1709-51)--advocated a philosophical rationalism deriving its methods from science and natural philosophy that would replace religion as the means of knowing nature and destiny of humanity; these men were materialists, pantheists, or atheists. Other enlightened thinkers, such as Pierre Bayle, Voltaire, David Hume, Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, and Immanuel Kant, opposed fanaticism, but were either agnostic or left room for some kind of religious faith.
This age of "enlightenment," according to secular history, came to an end "after the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era" (The Philosophy of Enlightenment by Fritz Koelin). It was during this time that an evil coalition was formed between religion and the world. Ideas sprang into prominence that denied personal affiliation with God through Christ, and the purity of Scripture.
It has reached our time
The ripples of this damnable era have reached into our very time. Today, in Bible Colleges and Seminaries throughout the world, the precise approach to Scripture is being taken that was pioneered by the humanists of the eighteenth century; i.e., "the attempt to examine the Bible from a purely scholarly point of view."
This type of spiritual environment produces at least two results. First, there is an increase in religious corruption. Second, the real witnesses of Christ denounce the decline, throwing down imaginations and every thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.
It is not my purpose to dwell upon this aspect of the Revelation. However, it is important to note that such corruption is duly noted in heaven, and will not go unpunished. Whether it is a Samuel, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, John the Beloved, or Martin Luther, Christ will raise up and empower His witnesses. They will confront spiritual decline with a powerful testimony from heaven. Their ministry will be an effective one!
WHO ARE THE WITNESSES?
There have been numerous attempts to identify these witnesses. Some believe they are Moses and Elijah. Others see them as Enoch and Elijah, neither of which experienced death. We will find, however, that the Spirit approaches their identity quite differently than flesh prefers. It appeals to principle. "These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth" (Verse 4).
Not Enoch, Moses, or Elijah
It should be evident this is not Moses and Elijah, returning to minister under adverse circumstances. This does not mean this is not possible. We do know, however, this righteous pair (Moses and Elijhah) had already appeared on earth to speak with Jesus concerning the death He was to accomplish (Matt 17:3; Lk 9:30-31). Their testimony would not carry unusual weight among men, especially unbelievers (Lk 16:27-30). Too, it is not likely that God would place them again in the arena of suffering, having already delivered them from it. The same reasoning can be applied to the return of Enoch, who, like Elijah, did not "see death."
Specific personalities not the point
It appears to me that specific personalities are not the point in reference. As throughout this book, principles are adduced to be more prominent than historical people are events. This does not exclude the application of the text to specific people and times. It does, however, eliminate this as the primary meaning of the text. The Lord can speak with remarkable specificity, and often does. Here, however, He speaks in the language of typology. "These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth."
In accordance with the Divine manner, the language of the prophets is used. In this case, Zechariah was given the same figure. On the occasion of reference, an angel awakened Zechariah, challenging him with the question, "What do you see?" Looking intently, the prophet replied, "I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left" (Zech 4:1-3). The fact that John is told of "two lampstands" signifies a fuller revelation that the one received by Zechariah.
Zechariah cannot identify significance of the olive trees and lampstand, and therefore asks the angel, "What are these, my lord?" The angel is, so to speak, taken back by the prophet's question. The answer is apparent to the angel, but not to the prophet. "'Do you not know what these are?' And I said, 'No, my lord.'" (Zech 4:5). The angel's answer seems evasive, but it is not. "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' Says the LORD of hosts" (Zech 4:6).
The vision is of a message-a message of Divine support during difficult times. It identifies how the work of the Lord will be accomplished when it seemed impossible for it to be accomplished at all.
The prophet is not satisfied with the answer, still pondering the significance of the olive trees and lampstand. He asks, "What are these two olive trees; at the right of the lampstand and at its left?" (Zech 4:11-12). Once again, the angel answers, "Do you not know what these are?" The prophet replies, "No, my lord" (Zech 4:13).
The answer of the angel reflects a heavenly view. It was satisfactory for Zechariah. "These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth" (Zech 4:14). For the prophet Zechariah, these "anointed ones" were Joshua the High Priest, and Zerubbabael the Governor. Both were appointed by God: the first to administer in things pertaining to God, the second in things concerning civil matters. In the matter before them, however, both were going to join together in the building of the house of the Lord. Through their efforts, as they were strengthened by the Spirit of God, the work and worship of the almighty would be preserved. Their work was to restore the Temple, and reinstitute the worship of God.
The Divine manner
Often, in the beginning of great spiritual epochs, God has used two witnesses to keep spiritual matters alive. There was Moses the prophet, and Aaron the high priest, both standing before the Lord at the time of the exodus (Deut 34:10; Ex 31:10). During the Babylonian captivity, there was Ezekiel the Prophet and Daniel the ruler (Ezek 1:3; Dan 6:1-3).
A key to Zechariah's vision is the declared purpose of the two olive trees. They stood on either side of a single lampstand, provided a constant flow of oil for continual illumination (Zech 4:12). This differs slightly from the vision of John. There is only one lampstand in Zechariah's vision, but two in John's. The difference is the twofold witness of the Apostles AND Prophets in the reign of Christ. Only the lamp of the Old Covenant existed in the time of Zechariah, a shadow of things to come. But in Christ Jesus, there are two lamps-one to bring us to Christ for salvation, and the other to bring us to God for fellowship. More light exists in the Gospel than has ever been realized prior to its proclamation!
Keeping the testimony alive
Here is a depiction of God using sanctified individuals to keep alive His Word and purpose. This is accomplished through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit, as revealed to Zachariah. "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' Says the LORD of hosts" (Zech 4:6).
The witnesses are not specifically identified, because that is not the point. Rather, it is that during this time of spiritual corruption and intense opposition of the wicked one, the Lord will raise up His witnesses. They will faithfully declare His Word, and denounce the pollution the court without the temple.
They stand before God
These "stand before the God of the earth," ministering with an acute awareness of Him and His will. He will sustain them for their work. The people of God are not to concern themselves with whether or not the truth will survive. They are to hold on their way, keeping the faith and cleaving to the Lord with purpose of heart. The Lord will not leave Himself without a witness-not even during a falling away.
A significant period of time
There is one other thing to be seen here. Here is a trial that is of significant length. Truth will appear to be subservient to the lie for a long period of time. Satan will seem to have the dominancy, and God's people will appear inferior and weak. But the saints of God are not to be deceived by the circumstances. The Lamb is on the throne, reigning for the purpose of bringing His Father's purpose to a grand and successful conclusion-and He will do so! Even though there are opponents, there will be witnesses. Even though driven into a wilderness, the church will receive nourishment. Though seemingly invincible, the opponents of the church will face tenacious witnesses that will hold their feet to the fire of Divine judgment! We have received a Kingdom that cannot be moved!
FOR THE TIME, THEY ARE INVINCIBLE
"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" (Verse 5). The point of this section is not the means by which the enemies of God are destroyed. Rather, it is that God's witnesses are invincible until their testimony is finished. This is the same type of circumstance the Apostles experienced. Remember the words of our Lord to the twelve? "And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake. But there shall not an hair of your head perish" (Lk 21:187). Or, the word of the glorified Christ to Paul: " For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee" (Acts 18:10).
All of the Apostles, excluding John, died a martyr's death, seemingly contradicting what was promised. But their death did not come until their work was finished-just as with our Lord! Moses did not die until he had brought the people to the borders of the promised land. John the Baptist did not begin to decrease until the One for Whom he was preparing the way arrived. It was only then-when his ministry was finished-that men could do to him "whatever they wished" (Matt 17:12). Paul was not slain until he had "finished" his course (2 Tim 4:7).
The Spirit now speaks in the language of the prophets, assuring the hearts of suffering believers that they are not the only ones that are appointed to suffer. Those opposing Christ's two witnesses will be devoured by fire. The clear allusion is to the experiences of both Moses and Elijah. At the uprising of Korah against Moses, "there came out a fire from the LORD, and consumed the two hundred and fifty men that offered incense" (Num 16:35; 26;10). Although they sought to interrupt the ministry of Moses, they were not allowed to do so. The other event occurred when king Ahaziah twice sent a group of fifty soldiers to bring Elijah to him. Because of the backslidden condition of Ahaziah, Elijah twice called down fire which consumed two bands of fifty soldiers (2 Kgs 1:10,12).
The Truth has Survived!
In the conquest of the Kingdom of God over the kingdoms of this world, there are lengthy periods of spiritual decline and opposition to God. But the truth of God has survived them all. Whether it is relentless and bloody persecution, the misnamed age of Enlightenment, or the entrance of corruption into the church, the cause of the Lord has ultimately prevailed, and always will.
Power over the elements
"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" (Verse 6). How reminiscent these words are of both Moses and Elijah. Moses turned water into blood, and smote Egypt with all manner of plagues (Ex 7-12). Elijah shut heaven with his prayer, so that it "rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months" (James 5:17). In both cases, the power was exerted in the very presence of their enemies, and in spite of all opposition.
These witnesses are reigning with Christ, for they can "strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire." While they are opposed, and their witness is rejected by most, yet they are ruling with Jesus! Their power is not inhibited by opposition. The very same power that supported Moses and Elijah supports these two witnesses.
The principle declared by this text is this: those who reject the testimony of heaven will not receive benefits from heaven. One man has said, "The dews of Divine grace are withheld from all who scorn them" (Wordsworth). The point is the world's rejection of the witnesses was not without penalty. The benefits of the Gospel cannot be enjoyed when the Gospel itself is rejected.
Jesus described the conditions of the world worsening to the degree of its rejection of the Gospel. His description reminds us of our text in Revelation. "And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many" (Matt 24:6-11).
Wars, rumors of wars, nation rising against nation, persecution, hatred, betrayal, the rise of false prophets - all evidence of heaven being closed! Famines, pestilences, earthquakes - evidence of the earth being smitten! Social agitation, political upheaval, and natural calamity are all evidence of the Divine reaction to unbelief and carnality!
A Consistent Reaction
A perusal of history will find nations that were generally receptive to the Gospel enjoyed times of quietness and prosperity. But it is not so with those nations who spurn the Gospel - who hate God's witnesses! Their's is a tale of woe!
When wicked Ahab and Jezebel were at the helm of the government, there was a grievous famine in the land (1 Kgs 18:2-5). During the time of the mighty prophet Elisha, when his words were despised, there was a "great famine in Samaria"-so grievous people ate their own children (2 Kgs 6:25-31). Egypt fell because of its opposition of the people of God, as well as Babylon, Media and Persia, Greece, and Rome. In modern history, the same may be said of Germany and Russia! When the witnesses of God are not received-i.e., when their testimony must be one of sackcloth-enormous and grievous penalties will be paid!
It is not possible for those who oppose the Lord to ultimately prosper! Thus it is written, "He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Prov 29:1). Sennacherib may boast himself to be somebody, but when he assumes to oppose the people of God, his demise is sure. His entire army was slain by an angel, and he himself was killed by his own sons while he was worshiping an idol (2 Kgs 19:36-37). Herod may appear to have successfully opposed the holy Apostles, even killing James. But when he made an oration, and the people praised him as a god, the angel of the Lord struck him dead (Acts 12:1,21-23). Rome flourished in governmental splendor, but when it rejected the testimony of God, opposing the saints of God, it was brought down to the ground!
There is a consistency of this type of judgment throughout history. Sodom rejected Lot, and was destroyed. Egypt rejected the God of Israel, and was destroyed. When God's witnesses are not received, and must prophesy in sackcloth, judgment is imminent! The same God Who gave them their message, will visit those who reject that message.
What a strong consolation to those who are suffering for Christ! Think of John, exiled on Patmos because of his testimony! It appeared as though his opponents were invincible, but they were not! The saints who were being slain for the word of their testimony appeared to be weak, and subject to heathen governments, but they were not!
We need this word
Our generation needs a good dose of the message of this book. It will bring boldness to the proclaimers of God's truth when they realize those who reject them, if they do not repent, will suffer reappraisal from God. It brings no delight to us to consider this. Rather, it causes bitterness to the belly, as eating the book did to John. But God is for His ministers, and none can effectively be against them! Scripture affirms, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
THE COMPLETION OF THEIR TESTIMONY
"When they finish their testimony . . . " God's witnesses finish their testimony, complete their mission, and fulfill their ministry. This is so because they are "workers together with God" (1 Cor 3:9). Just as no man could hurt Jesus prior to His death (John 7:6-8; Lk 4:29-30), and none could set on Paul in Corinth (Acts 18:10), so it is with all who are ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20). God will protect and enable them!
They Testify For A Long Time
The Holy Spirit revealed the duration of the testimony of these two witnesses: 1,260 days. That is a lengthy time, from one perspective, but not lengthy enough to change the hearts of wicked men! In my opinion, the actual duration of their testimony is not the point, although it does accord with some historical data. The Revelation is not given in an academic manner, nor does it comport with the ordinary manner of foretelling events, times, and places. The point is, these witnesses did not have a pleasant ministry. They prophesied while clothed in sackcloth. Under ordinary circumstances, the preference would be for such a witness to be for a short time. But this is not the case here. They must minister under adverse circumstances for a long time.
The Enemy of Time
Time has beaten down many a professed servant of God. Legion is the name of those who have given up, throwing in the towel when faced with inimical forces. Even mighty Elijah grew faint under opposition, even though it was not for long (1 Kgs 19:10-14). The Apostle Paul also spoke of a time when he, and those with him, "were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life" (2 Cor 1:8).
God does not call us to beds of ease-to ministries that are accompanied by the accolades of men and pleasant circumstances. Most of us must "finish" our testimony in the midst of conflict. If, however, we keep our eye on the goal, and our heart tender toward our Lord, we will be able to complete the work given to us, and finish the race set before us.
The Testimony is Finished!
These witnesses finish their testimony-they complete the lengthy assignment given to them. They finish it while clothed in sackcloth. They finish it when the outer court is excluded from Divine measurement, being given over to those who know not God. They finish it while the Holy City is being trodden down by the Gentiles. They finish it while the opponent of God spews out his venom with apparent success. But they finish it, by the grace of God!
Remember, these two witnesses are the two olive trees that stand by the lampstands. They are the ones that fuel those who shed light in a darkened world. Their persons and ministry is blessed with the Holy Spirit of God, which is to them as the oil was the lampstands.
Through John, Jesus is telling His suffering brethren that although an apostasy comes, it will not thwart His witnesses. The truth will still be declared. Sinners in Zion will still be rebuked. The people of God will still hear God's word, even though its proclaimers are clothed in sackcloth!
The Witnesses Are Overcome
" . . . the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them" (Verse 7). My heart grows heavy when I read this section. This is part of the "bitterness" John experienced in his belly. The consolation is that this does not occur until the testimony of the witnesses is "finished." This passage will help to overthrow simplistic and fanciful views of the work of the Lord. Remember, we are speaking about Christ's witnesses, who have been given power to destroy their enemies, shut heaven, and smite the earth with plagues. Their power, however, lasts only as long as their testimony!
Opposition from Hell
It appears from history that opposition rose from despotic government. But that is the secondary view. John is given to see the real source of oppositions"the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit."
This is the first time "the beast" is mentioned in Revelation. There are thirty-one other references to "the beast" in the rest of the book (13:2, 3, 4, 14, 15, 17, 18; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2, 10,13; 17:7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 19, 20; 20:4, 10). Two different beasts are mentioned: one from the sea (13:1), and one from the earth (13:11). Both are animated by the devil himself, i.,e., "the dragon" (13:2,12).
The introduction of "the beast" in this text paves the way for the remainder of the book. It is a depiction of a Satanic initiative against the people of God. First, it will take the form of political government. Then it will be expressed as a religious empire, organized after the manner of worldly bureaucracy. In this initial appearance, as well as those that follow, the initiative of the devil is being introduced.
The realm from which this opposition is originated is "the bottomless pit," which is the exact opposite as "the heavenly places" (Eph 1:3,20; 2:6). It is the place in which iniquity is spawned, and from which evil is perpetrated.
Controlled by Jesus
The key to the "bottomless pit" is under the control of Jesus, so that it cannot release its corruption at will. This "pit" is mentioned seven times-all in the Revelation (9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1,3). It is described as the source of delusion and torment (9:1,2), presided over by the devil himself, called "Abaddon," or destroyer. This is the aspect of our adversary to which Jesus referred when He said, "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
In our text, "the bottomless pit" is the source of an initiative against the saints of God (11:7). Later, a fierce opponent shall rise from the pit to go to perdition, or condemnation (17:8). Finally, it is a place where Satan is confined for a period, before being loosed for the last time (20:1-3).
Here, then, is a place we desire to be closed. Yet, when the world does not receive a love of the truth, the "bottomless pit" is opened. This is the judgment to which Paul referred. "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thess 2:11-12).
When there is an aggressive spread of religious confusion, or when iniquity abounds, "the bottomless pit" has been opened. This circumstance is usually a judgment from God, incurred because of the hardheartedness of those subjected to the Word of the Lord. From Satan's perspective, however, it is always an effort to remove the truth of God and the people of God from the earth.
"And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them . . . " The war is not initiated until their testimony is completed! Then, however, a Satanic initiative is unleashed against God's witnesses. While the source of the opposition is the "bottomless pit," it will be expressed through people. Just as the witness of God is accomplished through souls empowered by Him, so opposition to that witness comes from people empowered by Satan. Such opposition is always on a timely basis, and is never allowed to be premature.
Seen in Jesus Christ
This principle is seen in our Lord Jesus Christ. Until the time came for His death, men could not touch Him. As He affirmed in the Garden, "When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Lk 22:53). His witness must first be finished, then the bottomless pit was opened, so to speak. The same is seen in the entrance of Satan into Judas. It occurred after Christ's witness has been completed. "And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly" (John 13:27). It was then that the fierce conflict began. Until then, there were only light and inconsequential skirmishes between the Lord and His enemies.
So it is in our text. There was opposition to the two witnesses before the beast ascended out of the bottomless pit. However, that opposition was not effective. The testimony of the witnesses had to be concluded.
Now an initiative is unleashed against the testimony of God! It is aggressive, and will prove to be effective. Historically, such a campaign took place when France declared Christianity illegal, and human reason was elevated to the throne-the age of The Enlightenment. As I understand, this is the solitary time in history when there was a deliberate legislative enactment that abolished all religion. Of it (as already quoted), it is said, "A campaign of dechristianization, marked by a new Revolutionary Calendar computed from Sept. 22, 1792 (1 Vendemiaire, Year I), led to the closing of all churches on 3 Frimaire, Year II (Nov. 23, 1793)" Grolliers Encyclopedia, 1998.
The impact of this "war" has cast a wake reaching into our very time. It is the mother that gave birth to higher and textual criticism, and a purely academic approach to comprehending the Scriptures. Rippling into even Bible Colleges and Seminaries, it has spawned a skeptical view of Scripture that flies under the banner of religious scholarship and textual expertise.
From an historical point of view, the aim of this war was to vaunt human reasoning. From a heavenly point of view, it was the power of hell unleashed to subdue the testimony of God's witnesses. It was a war AGAINST the Word of the Lord. It could NOT begin, however, until its testimony had been "finished."
Jesus' Witnesses Are Overcome and Killed
Here are some of the most lamentable words in all of Scripture. "The beast . . . shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them." Like the death of our blessed Lord, it appeared as though men were stronger than God-that the enemies of the Lord were able to overthrow His purpose. But this is not at all the case! Jesus finished His work before He died! Moses finished his work before he died, and his brother Aaron did as well. Neither Enoch nor Elijah were translated until their work was done. Stephen was not stoned until his work was finished. Nero was powerless to take the lives of Peter and Paul until their testimony was complete! Neither the Son of God nor those abiding in Him will die prematurely! Satan and all of his ministers only flay their arms and stir up harmless dust until the testimony of God's witnesses is finished!
But when the work of the witness is completed, there is no further need for the witness to remain! That is involved in the Pauline expression, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil 1:21). The ONLY purpose for Christ's witnesses was their testimony! Apart from that, there was not real need for them to remain on the earth.
What a refreshing thought! It is only as we prepare to leave that our enemies are granted access to us. The holy Prophets, John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Himself, and the holy Apostles, delivered their testimony faithfully until their work was completed. Only then could the "beast" arise, so to speak.
Allow me to state it another way. It is only when true religion is weak and insipid-when the witnesses have finished their testimony-that the enemies of God make effective war. When the early church was persecuted, "they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). Their testimony had not yet been completed!
The Testimony of Daniel
Daniel spoke of the very thing we are now considering. Here are his words. "I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them" (Dan 7:21). The effects of this despotic power are remarkable. Hear the Word of the Lord. "Because of transgression, an army was given over to the horn to oppose the daily sacrifices; and he cast truth down to the ground. He did all this and prospered . . . His power shall be mighty, but not by his own power; He shall destroy fearfully, And shall prosper and thrive; He shall destroy the mighty, and also the holy people . . . it shall be for a time, times, and half a time; and when the power of the holy people has been completely shattered, all these things shall be finished" (Dan 8:12,24; 12:7).
Time does not allow us to probe this prophecy extensively. Suffice it to say, it may have involved the destruction of Jerusalem, but it is certainly not confined to that judgment. We know this is the case because of the events that follow the effective war of Daniel's "horn." Following his momentary triumph, the kingdom is said to be given over to the saints of the Most High God (Dan 7:18,22,27). His despotic reign was a prelude to an appointed shift of power.
World not worthy
From a high perspective, the testimony of Christ's witnesses was completed, and their enemies granted power over them, because the world was not worthy of them! This view of things is also declared in the book of Hebrews, where believers from the introductory periods of the world are mentioned. A cluster of people are presented that, from all appearance, were dominated by their enemies. Do you remember what was said of them? "Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains" (Heb 11:36-38, NKJV).
In the language of our text, the testimony of these witnesses had been finished. Thus the beast rose from the bottomless pit to make war against them, even killing them.
Jesus has given John a revelation that perfectly comports with the general tenor of Scripture. God still has witnesses. These witnesses are given a testimony to complete. They are invincible until their testimony is finished. When that testimony is finished, there is no further need for them to remain.
God's Ways Are High
Here, the wisdom and ways of God soar beyond the grasp of the finite mind. It is ever true, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa 55:9). One might suppose that it would be best to simply translate the witnesses to heaven when their testimony was completed-like God did with Elijah. Or, at least die a peaceful death like Jacob, Moses, and Aaron. Why should their enemies be granted power to make war against them and kill them? Why should Herod be allowed to behead John the Baptist and James, the brother of John the beloved? Why should the Jewish council be allowed to stone Stephen to death?
It is because God's agenda is broad in its scope. He is doing more than trying (as some would have it) to save people. He is also unveiling to both men and angels the depravity of the natural man. He is showing how hard men can become when they do not receive the love of the truth. The extent of the enmity between the natural man and the spiritual man is revealed in these things. Satan's aggressiveness and power is also revealed. In the last day, when the human race stands before the Living God, the righteousness of the saints and the wickedness of the wicked shall have been sufficiently demonstrated. God will be justified in the condemnation of the wicked, as well as in the justification of the wicked.
Dead in the Great City
"And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified" (Verse 8). Here truth is subject to scorn and unspeakable abuse. Scriptural phrases that speak of such a thing are plentiful. Isaiah said, "Justice is turned back, And righteousness stands afar off; For truth is fallen in the street, And equity cannot enter. So truth fails . . . " (Isa 59:14-15). Jeremiah said, "Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth" (Jer 7:28). Peter declared, "the way of truth will be blasphemed" (2 Pet 2:2). Paul spoke of a condition when "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles" (Rom 2:24), and of a circumstance when the name of God and His doctrine could be "blasphemed" or defamed (1 Tim 6:1; Tit 2:5).
This is a condition in which only the shell of the truth remains, having finished its witness. It is like having the Bible, but lacking the power of God. It is when the text of Scripture is subject to the ridicule of its enemies, and the message of the Gospel is trampled underfoot by the very ones it condemns.
The "dead bodies" of Christ's witnesses lying in the street portrays a most dreadful condition. The Word is judged to be, at best, a mere literary work, containing things unworthy to be believed and embraced by those who think themselves to be wise.
The Great City
For the first time, we are introduced to the "great city." It will be mentioned eight more times in the chapters that follow (14:8; 16:19; 17:18; 18:10,16,18,19,21). It will appear dominate until the final and truly "great city" descends out of heaven from God, when God Himself will take up residency with the redeemed (21:10).
This "great city" is noted for making the nations drink of the "wine of her fornication" (14:8). It is also called "Babylon," and will be made to drink the "wine of the fierceness of the wrath" of God (16:19; 18:10). It is portrayed as having great influence, reigning over the kings of the earth (17:18). This is a spiritual entity noted for flourishing and unusual success (18:16,18,19). Yet, it will be "thrown down" with violence (18:21).
It is as though it were Satan's capital city. Just as Jerusalem was where God placed His name (1 Kgs 11:36; 21:4,7; 2 Chron 6:6; 33:4), "that great city" is where Satan has placed his name. It is a place where his initiatives begin. Just as the Gospel issued out of Jerusalem, so Satan's opposition issues from his "great city." Historically, this city is Rome, from which both political and religious oppression were originated. It was a fountain of corruption, unequaled in its initiative against the Lord and His Christ. But we must not limit this "great city" to Rome, lest we become insensitive to Satanic initiatives in our time. This city will later be called "the mother of harlots" (17:5). Alas, we are still contending with many of her daughters!
Her Spiritual Designation
Jesus told us not to judge according to appearance (John 7:24), and here is an example of the danger of doing so. The truth has been slain, and is lying in the street. It appears as though the enemy has triumphed. But look! This "great city" is revealed from a heavenly point of view. Spiritually, it is both a city and a nation-"Sodom and Egypt." Sodom was noted for its iniquity, and its hatred of a righteous man. Egypt was noted for its enslavement of the people of God. Both were heathen cultures, and both were destroyed by God. The people of God were ill-at-ease in both of them, and God was intolerant of them.
What a dreadful condition-to be likened to Sodom and Egypt! They are chosen as a type of what is evil (Deut 32:32; Isa 1:10; 10:24; 19:3; Ezek 16:46; 20:7). Sodom was noted for its immorality, and Egypt for its idolatry-i.e., false religion. These are twin foes of the truth of God.
The reason for Sodom and Egypt
The existence of this "great city" is the reason why we have the record of Sodom and Egypt. Their presence in the historical record is in order that we might comprehend the manner in which our adversary works. Too, such a place is always consigned to destruction, and cannot be recovered. Both places hated the Word of God. The people of God also had to escape from both places.
Where our Lord was crucified
Some have supposed this to be a reference to Jerusalem. And, indeed, on the surface this does appear to be the case. However, we are told this is a spiritual designation. Were this not the case, you would have the one city where God placed His name being called "Sodom" and "Egypt," a notion exceedingly difficult for me to receive. To my understanding, no such view of the city of Jerusalem is plainly developed in Scripture.
The same "power of darkness" (Lk 22:53) that exerted itself in the crucifixion of Jesus, has been active throughout history in the opposition of the truth. Furthermore, it has tended to take the form of religion in the idolatrous emperor-worship of Rome, or the corruption of papal Rome. The "great city . . . where also our Lord was crucified" is a spiritual city-a citadel of Satanic opposition. In it, the forces of evil unite under the auspices of the devil, just as Herod, Pilate, the high priest, and the people united against Jesus (Acts 4:27-28).
Lying in the Street
The bodies of the witnesses lying in the street provide two possible perspectives. First, the truth of God being subject to scorn and derision. Second, the enemies could not get rid of the witnesses. God's Word still remained before them, though seemingly stripped of its power. Both of these are true.
From one point of view, the enemies of truth gloated in their apparent triumph over God's witnesses. They did not realize they only had power because the testimony of the witnesses was "finished." From another point of view, the witnesses remained, for they would be resurrected soon before the very eyes of their enemies. Truth was not prominent, but neither was it extinct.
Their Bodies Will Be Seen
"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" (Verse 9). The seeming demise of the truth will be public. Throughout the world, it will seem as though God's opponents have triumphed. This has often been the case. In the early days of Samuel, this was also the case, for "there was no open vision" (1 Sam 3:1). It is how things appeared in Elijah's day (1 Kgs 19:10-14). The days of Isaiah and Jeremiah were also so characterized (Isa 59:14; Jer 7:28). In the closing days of Paul's effective ministry, he wrote of a similar condition. "For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:21). Alas, it is a dreadful time when the bodies of God's witnesses lie motionless before the enemies of God-when there is a "form of godliness" that lacks "the power thereof" (2 Tim 3:5).
A Short Time
But this is not the end of the truth! This deadness will last only for a short time-"three-and-a-half days." This is the only section of Scripture where this expression is found. It is not the same as "time, times, and half a time." That is a wording denoting years, not days (Dan 4:16,23,25,32). During this time, the enemies of God did "not allow" the truth to be utterly removed. Apparently thinking to mock the truth of God, using it as a sort of philosophical ball, they kept it in their presence, while giving it no recognition or honor. However, from a higher point of view, God was keeping the witnesses present because more would be heard from them!
The World Is Glad
It is a glad day for Satan's camp when the truth of God appears powerless, posing no threat to them. They think nothing of dead witnesses lying in their streets. It is a living witness that they fear. Consequently, the Holy Spirit paints a most vivid picture of the reaction of the wicked to the suppression of the truth.
Those who dwell on the earth
"And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another . . . "(Verse 10a). When France abolished the Bible and God, Atheism became the law of the state. The decree was made that there would be "no gods but reason and liberty." Famous infidels and skeptics arose who scoffed at Scripture, mocked God, and challenged Divinity to do something. Voltaire and Rousseau led the attack in France. Frederick the Great did the same in Germany. Thomas Paine, Hume, Gibbon, and Holingbroke championed the Satanic cause in England. Thomas Jefferson (noted for being a "naturalist"-that nature is the origin of all things) and Paine (famous for his blasphemous book, "The Age of Reason") did the same in America, exalting reason above revelation. With devilish glee
It is an irrevocable trait of those who "dwell upon the earth" to delight when truth is no longer vibrant and powerful among them. It is ever true, "the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Rom 8:7). I am reminded of the reaction of the "chief priests" when Judas agreed to betray Jesus. "And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money" (Mk 14:11). David said of his enemies, "But in mine adversity they rejoiced" (Psa 35;15).
Such is the character of the enemies of Jesus. They are glad and rejoice when they no longer feel the heat of Divine rebuke, and are not bothered with the penetrating words of Christ's witnesses. In the grip of belief, they shout out, "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us" (Psa 2:3). But their rejoicing is short-lived. As it is written, "He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The LORD shall hold them in derision" (Psa 2:4). The Psalmist prophesied of the exaltation coming Messiah, in spite of the shallow wrath of His enemies. Yet, he enunciated a principle that continues to this very day.
The reason for their joy
The world does not divulge the effect of Christ's witnesses upon them. We must learn never to judge the effect of our words by the response they produce. Take, for example, the testimony of these two witnesses. A worldly reporter would say they wasted their time. After a lengthy period of sackcloth ministry, they are ruthlessly killed, and their bodies lie exposed in the street. Surely, they were not effective in their testimony. But this is not the case at all. They were killed " . . . because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth" (Verse 10b).
Mark it well, the closer one lives to "the earth," the more they are tormented by the words of God. Here is the explanation for the contemporary church's insistence on spiritual brevity, increased entertainment, and less of the Word. It is "tormented" by the Word of the Lord, whereas saints are edified and strengthened by it!
The devil, all of his hosts, and those who are dominated by them, are afflicted by the truth. You may recall when the demons Jesus confronted in the country of the Gadarenes cried out, "Have You come here to torment us before the time?" (Matt 8:29). This is the influence caused by Stephen's words to a devil-dominated council. It is said of them, "When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth" (Acts 7:54).
Those who labor for the Lord must reckon on this reaction among those who reject them. It is still "hard to kick against the pricks" caused by the faithful witnesses of Jesus (Acts 9:5). There are times when the knowledge of this circumstance is almost the only consolation you will receive.
GOD RAISES THE WITNESSES AGAIN
"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" (Verse 11). What a turn of events! The witnesses testified wearing sackcloth for a lengthy period. Upon the completion of their testimony, a power rises from the bottomless pit to kill them. They lie exposed to the derision of the wicked, who suppose they are at last rid of the tormenting word of the witnesses.
There is gladness among those who dwell upon the earth, together with a celebrating exchange of gifts. An unpopular message, a completed work, successful opposition, and derision! From a worldly point of view (which is not a valid alternative) this appeared to be a fruitless endeavor - but it was not. A heavenly gallery of witnesses had seen it all! The enemies of God had felt the tormenting power of a faithful witness.
For three-and-a-half days, the witnesses lie lifeless, their testimony stopped, and their message stilled. The world was not able to get the witnesses out of their site, so set themselves to rejoice in the carcasses. But then something happened -something upon which those who dwell upon the earth had not reckoned.
Suddenly, in strict accord with the will of the Sovereign of the universe, "the breath of life from God entered them." This is life the world cannot extinguish! It is superior to the Satanic animations that occur among the unregenerate. This is regenerative power, experienced by everyone that is in Christ Jesus. As it is written, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8:2). Every soul in Jesus is brought back from death "in trespasses and sins" by this great power (Eph 2:1-3). It is the mighty power of God which "He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come" (Eph 1:20-21). This is nothing less than "the power of His resurrection," for which Paul gladly suffered the loss of all things (Phil 3:8-10).
This power enables Christ's witnesses to recover from the worse the world could deliver! Little wonder Jesus said, "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do" (Lk 12:4). Remember, after Paul was stoned at Lystra and dumped outside the city, "when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city" (Acts 14:19). Until his testimony was finished, the enemies of Christ could not keep His witness down!
The Ability to Come Back!
Resurrection power is the ability to come back-to rise, as it were, from the dead! For Christ's witnesses, the last work is not that of the world, but that which comes from Christ. He really is "the Beginning and the END" (Rev 21:6). Even if Christ's witnesses are "cast down," they cannot be "destroyed" (2 Cor 4:9). Peter may be arrested and incarcerated, but his enemies cannot keep him down until his testimony is "finished," while the one who imprisoned him will be struck dead by the angel of the Lord (Acts 12:6-24).
This truth is a great consolation to those who have "laid down their own necks" for the cause of the King (Rom 16:4).
An Historical Fulfillment
Coincidentally, between three and four years after religion had been supposedly stilled by atheistic France, atheism was repealed by that very country, and Christianity became the religion of the State. I give you the following quotation from Grollier's 1998 encyclopedia. "The Enlightenment came to an end in western Europe after the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era (1789-1815) . . . The skepticism of the philosophies was swept away in the religious revival of the 1790s and early 1800s, and the cultural leadership of the landed aristocracy and professional men who had supported the Enlightenment was eroded by the growth of a new wealthy educated class of businessmen, products of the Industrial Revolution."
What Christian history calls "The Second Great Awakening" took place at this time. The following comments on that awakening are taken from Holman's Bible handbook. "From 1800 until 1850 the churches in America experienced another blaze of revival, which is known as the Second Great Awakening. This movement began with campus revivals in the East, particularly at Yale College under the leadership of Timothy Dwight. On the frontier it took the form of sensational camp meetings such as the one held at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801. Peter Cartwright, a pioneer evangelist and church planter, helped spread the fires of revival throughout the frontier regions of the nation." More information can be added. This will suffice, however, to substantiate that religious awakenings have occurred after an apparent deathblow has been dealt by the world.
In addition, the circulation of Scripture became remarkable at this time. In the nineteenth century an effort was initiated to place the Bible into every written tongue in then world. His witnesses were alive and well!
To this, of course, may be added the many revivals that took place in Scripture, when all seemed hopeless, the faith was subjected to ridicule, and the holy prophets were persecuted. Just to name a few spiritual awakenings.
At Pentecost-Acts 2
This is a precious Kingdom principle that will, if embraced, keep hope alive! Israel came out of Egypt after 430 years (Ex 12:40-41). The dry bones of Ezekiel's valley were resurrected to a great army (Ezek 37). In the Gospel, a man blind from birth was given sight (John 9:2-32), and a man lame for thirty-eight years was made to walk (John 5:5-12). Lazarus came out of the tomb after four days. And the Gospel which we have believed, and by which we are being saved, affirms that Jesus was "raised from the dead" (1 Cor 15:3).
God will not allow the enemies of His people to have the last word!
Fear comes upon the enemy
Fear fell upon the people who thought they had seen an end of the witnesses: "and great fear fell upon them which saw them." It was like the awakening of a valley of dry bones! There came a resurgence of the faith the earth imagined it had subdued! It was frightening to them.
Out of Sight!
"And they 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" (Verse 12). When Jesus had finished His work upon earth, He ascended into heaven in the site of His disciples, who had received His testimony. When these witnesses left, they also ascended into heaven in a cloud, but their enemies saw them.
A "loud voice" summoned them into the realm inaccessible to those "who dwell upon the earth." The idea here is that Christ's witnesses are vindicated before their enemies. There are several examples of this principle in Scripture. Noah's enemies saw the ark. Israel's enemies saw them leave Egypt. Stephen's enemies saw his face shining.
We know from the verses that follow that this is not the end of the world. Consequently, this cannot be a depiction of the resurrection of the righteous. Neither, indeed, can it be the account of a secret rapture, for the enemies of the witnesses behold them ascend into heaven. As with the rest of this book, this is symbolic language. In my understanding, what we have here is not the removal of God's witnesses, but their exaltation.
This is a revival of the truth once rejected. The cause for which the witnesses died, and of which they testified, begins to flourish. The enemies know this is what is occurring, and that is why fear comes upon them. The very thing they rejected, outlawed, and maligned, now begins to dominate. Power returns to the church, truth begins to flourish, and the sackcloth is thrown off! What a glorious picture of the triumph of truth! May we see it in our time also.
A SEVERE REACTION
The Word of God cannot be ultimately suppressed. Any seeming triumph of its enemies is only momentary. Christ's witnesses always rise again! The testimony of God has withstood the fires of burning and the persecution of its speakers. It has passed through the waters of affliction, crossed the deserts of trial, and overcome the mountains of forgetfulness. It is still a mighty lamp, a balm in Gilead, and a beacon to glory. It has outlasted all opposition! It has been ousted from the government, thrown out of the schools, criticized in higher schools of learning, and scoffed at by the rebels of this world. Yet, from time to time, it rises to the consternation of its enemies, and is empowered by the breath of the Almighty! The Spirit of truth is a resurrection Spirit that cannot be held down! Slay the witnesses, and let their bodies lie open in the street. But in due time, the Spirit of life from God will enter them, and truth shall again triumph!
With the exaltation of the witnesses, the earth experiences trouble. Judgment comes when the truth is suppressed, and it also comes when it is exalted! "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" (Verse 13).
This is not a geological disturbance in the world, but a moral and spiritual shaking. It is religious commotion and disruption of thought. This sort of thing preceded the coming of Jesus, in accordance with the prophecy of Haggai. "And I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory, says the LORD of hosts" (Hag 2:7). It is also depicted in the nature of the heavenly Kingdom, which is to "break in pieces and consume" the kingdoms of this world (Dan 2:44).
With the triumph of the Word of God, imaginations and high thoughts are cast down with spiritual violence. That is how powerful the weapons of our warfare are. As it is written, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor 10:4-5).
A Principle to be Seen
There is a principle to be seen here. When the truth is exalted, the lie is cast down. Think how this truth has been inscribed in Kingdom history! When Israel was delivered through the Red Sea, the Egyptians were drowned (Ex 14-15). When Daniel was delivered from the lion's den, his accusers were cast into the den (Dan 6:24). When the three Hebrew children were delivered from the fiery furnace, those casting them in were slain (Dan 3:22). When James was exalted in death, and Peter was exalted in deliverance, Herod was smitten by the angel (Acts 12:2,18ff).
The impact of the resurrection and ascension of the witnesses is immediate: "In the same hour." There is a "great earthquake"-a visitation from God Almighty! The account reminds me of the prophecy of Isaiah against the enemies of the Lord. "You will be punished by the LORD of hosts With thunder and earthquake and great noise, With storm and tempest And the flame of devouring fire" (Isa 29:6, NKJV). It is also sent in vindication of Christ's messengers-much like the earthquake that was produced earlier by the prayers of the saints (Rev 8:4-5).
Whenever God's people come into His focused consideration, whether in their prayers or in their exaltation, the earth suffers reprisals for its mockery of the truth. This kind of language is also used by Ezekiel when he spoke of the judgment of wayward Israel. "For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath I have spoken: Surely in that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel, so that the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field, all creeping things that creep on the earth, and all men who are on the face of the earth shall shake at My presence. The mountains shall be thrown down, the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground" (Ezek 38:19-20).
In short, we have read of the overcoming of the witnesses. Now we read of the fall of their oppressors.
A Tenth Part Falls
This is the language of exactness and precision. Prior to this judgment, the enemies of God had refused to give Him His due (9:20-21). Now, the Lord exacts His due from them. It is as though He takes the tithe from them. The very people who refused to recognize the Lord are now forced to do so, man's free will notwithstanding.
The city will fall by stages, gradually and effectively. The Lord will show angelic hosts, as well as discerning men, that opposing the truth will not go unrequited. This is a significant fall, yet not a total one.
Seven Thousand People Die
I gather this is a significant and complete number. Whether it speaks of possible leaders in the rebellion or not, I do not know. If we marvel that 3,000 died at the giving of the Law, and 3,000 were saved on the day of Pentecost, we should equally marvel that 7,000 are said to die in this judgment. This is a significant sentence. Think of it this way, the beast from the bottomless pit killed two witnesses. The judgment of the Almighty slew 7,000 men! Not only will the wicked reap what they sow, they will reap an exponential harvest!
I think there is a parallel here to the 7,000 reserved men Elijah's day. They could not be forced to bow the knee to Baal, and these 7,000 could not be protected from Divine wrath. In both cases, the Lord had His way, preserving some, and judging others. They were surely mighty men, like the 7,000 Syrians slain by David-men expert in chariot warfare (1 Chron 19:18).
The Rest Are Terrified
A tenth part of the city falls, and seven thousand men are killed. The remaining nine tenths of the "great city," and men that survived the judgment, cease their rejoicing over the dead witnesses. They are now forced to acknowledge their own inferiority, as fear grips their heart.
This reminds me of what happened when Ananias and Sapphira were judged for lying to the Holy Spirit: "and great fear came on all them that heard these things" (Acts 5;5). Suffice it to say, it is far better to receive the testimony of the witnesses.
The Rest Gave Glory to God
This signifies there was repentance. Earlier it is said men "repented not of the works of their hands" (Rev 9:20). Later, we will also read of hardheartedness and spiritual obstinance. "And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory" (Rev 16:9,11).
This is the whole purpose of Divine working-for God to receive glory. We learn in this book that some will never willingly give God glory. This particular text speaks of those who will, under duress sand pain, give Him glory. Let us be numbered among those who give Him glory willingly and instantly-when His witnesses declare His Word.
In my opinion, this text is speaking of a sort of miniature revival
that takes place in the very place where truth was maligned and slain. Such did occur following the French Revolution, and will no doubt occur again in response to coming judgments.
More Is To Come
When once the wrath of God is unleashed, it will not stop until His enemies are ground to powder. Jesus referred to this principle when He said, "And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder" (Matt 21:44). Never doubt it, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
"The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly" (Verse 14). We are still in the judgment of the sixth trumpet. The first woe occurred in Revelation 9:12, at the sounding of the fifth trumpet. In that judgment, strong delusion was sent upon the Lord's enemies. It came because they did not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved. The second woe is sent because men took upon themselves to kill God's witnesses. Even though the witnesses had finished their testimony, men were still judged for siding against them.
There is some mercy in this judgment. Only a tenth part of the city falls, and only 7,000 men are slain. He does not delight in the death of the wicked, even though they are deserving of the same! In the end, no one will be able to charge the Lord with being unjust, or failing to give recalcitrant men sufficient space to repent. All mouths will be stopped as the universe stands before its Lord, to give an account for its deeds.
Let every soul who speaks for God take courage! None should be surprised at opposition of the world. Remember the words of our blessed Lord. "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Again, in explanation of this circumstance, He said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also" (John 15:18-20). There is no acceptable way of avoiding this opposition! If one bears witness for the Lord, particularly one of exposure (i.e., a sackcloth ministry), the world will react with malice and hatred. Often, this will opposition will come from religious peers. But the witness must continue to declare the Word of God, even if asked to do so for a lengthy period of time.
Know, that in due time, the truth will triumph! The spirit of life from God will again energize the Word, either in you or another generation. If Stephen is slain, the Spirit will raise up a Paul. If James is beheaded, Peter and John will carry the torch! But know, that truth will triumph.
Too, the enemies of God have not gone unnoticed. Heaven has logged their wickedness, and in due time the King of all will confront them. Our role is to faithfully hold out the truth, cleaving to the Lord with purpose of heart, and refusing to be silent.
1. The NIV says the Lord sent out "seventy-two." It does provide a footnote that states "Some manuscripts <seventy>; also in verse 17 ." Other versions consistently refer to "seventy," as the KJV does (NKJV, ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, RWB, Darby's, Youngs Literal, BBE, Living Bible, Phillips, Amplified), with only the TEV and NEB preferring "seventy-two." "Seventy" is more in harmony with the foreshadowing group of elders appointed by Moses (Ex 24:1,9; Num 11:16,24-25). The preponderance of authority is on the side of the "seventy."