REVELATION 10 AND 11
Revelation 11: 1, 2
Revelation 11: 3 and 4
Revelation 11: 5 and 6
Revelation 11: 7-12
Revelation 11: 13, 14
“There is one vision among the many scenes in the book of Revelation that recurs to me again and again; I will see it before my eyes; I would almost say: it haunts me. It is the image – in chapter 11 – of the two witnesses, prophesying on the streets of the big city…”
The following ‘devotions’, or rather sermons, were delivered at Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Dehra Dun, India, during the academic year 2006-07.
They were held during the daily morning devotions in the campus chapel.
We lived together in the ‘PTS family’ in warm fellowship in those days: colleagues, students – all of them friends, brothers and sisters. The atmosphere was greatly stimulating for preaching.
I hope that they, as well as others, will benefit from these sermons now that they appear on the internet.
It should be kept in mind that the sermons address mainly theological students, who were preparing for a ministry of the Word in some position in the church.
The hyms indicated were sung after the sermon and the following prayer, at the end of the meeting. The range of hymns that could be chosen from was limited. The lyrics were projected on the wall by an overhead projector, but few tunes were familiar to the campus community. Hymns were chosen from the Trinity Hymnal – old edition (Philadelphia: Great Commission Publications, 1962; referred to as ‘TH’) – and a number of hymns that were available on transparency sheets.
Scripture reading id.
Hymn: Go, labor on. TH 496. Suggested tune: Truro.
There is one vision among the many in the book of Revelation – or maybe I should rather say: one scene in this extended vision – that recurs to me again and again; I will see it before my eyes; I would almost say: it haunts me.
It is the image – in chapter 11 – of the two witnesses, prophesying on the streets of the big city. And then, as they have been killed, their corpses, lying there, on the road surface; remaining there; they are not respectfully taken away and buried – the silent terror: nobody is allowed to pay them the last honour, however some people might have wanted to.
And I want to share this with you – in a series of messages – because I feel that it’s you, these two prophets. Or, at least, you are going to be that; many of you; those of you who will minister the word of God, and may be in danger, threatened, persecuted… You will be afraid; but you will not stop bringing the message; even in the police station, you will not deny your Lord.
This morning, I start with the introduction, the prologue to this vision: chapter 10. Or, maybe we should rather call these two chapters, 10 and 11, a diptych. In this chapter 10, the apostle John gets the assignment to prophesy again. And then, in the next chapter, we see that prophesying is being done. In the vision, the persons change – first, it is John the apostle himself, then, afterwards, it is two anonymous witnesses, but I think that does not matter much.
So, this chapter 10 says:
1. Even towards the end.
2. Respecting a secret.
3. Facing the consequences.
A mighty angel appears. In fact, no other angel in the book of Revelation – and there are many, appearing on the scene – no other angel is pictured with so many attributes of power, of being a representative of God himself. (I want to deal with this chapter 10 only once, so I cannot go into details.)
And his word is equally mighty; solemn; an oath: “There will be no more delay!” So, that means: the very end is very near now.
True, the whole book of Revelation is about the last days. But even so, this angel announces the very end, the last day; or, at least: the last event; the one that concludes history.
We are used to call this ‘the last judgment’ (the ultimate judgment, as I say in eschatology class). And a judgment it is; more so than we would probable like it to be. Disaster strikes. This book is full of it, but all prophecy is; in the Old Testament; in Jesus’ extended message on the last days… Disaster, as a punishment of the divine Judge; the execution of his verdict.
[The mighty angel announcing it “planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land”. This judgment will come over land and sea, over the whole earth. The sea was, in the world of the seven churches (unlike in India) the realm of much traffic, trade, a source of jobs, income and wealth. Nobody will escape, even though he may fly to America to make his fortune there.]
Yet, in these words of the prominent angel, it is not just called a judgment. He says: “In the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets”.
A mystery it is. Not only judgment, not only destruction, but also renewal: restoration of the people of God, neglected and almost forgotten on earth; and an entirely new earth for them to live in, a new heaven even for them to be close to their God. All of this has been announced by the prophets, from Old Testament times.
It is a mystery. It was written on a scroll, in a book, sealed with seven seals. One by one, the seals have been broken by the only one who was able, entitled to do so: the Lamb, who is Lord. The mystery has been unveiled. And every time a seal was broken, trouble became visible: war, with all its terrible consequences.
Then, seven angels have appeared with seven trumpets. The mystery has been made public, it has been solemnly announced to the world, with a sound that nobody could overhear; the message of the king. Six angels have blown their trumpets already. And every time, a plague strikes the earth. The environment has been devastated; the earth has become almost uninhabitable.
And yet, even now – it is expressed more extensively than anywhere else, right before, at the end of chapter 9 – “The rest of mankind, that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent… They did not stop worshipping demons…”, and so on!
Now, the seventh angel is going to blow the trumpet soon. And then, the seven angels with the seven bowls of God’s wrath will pour their bowls out on the earth: the judgment will be executed. The very end has approached!
Now, we cannot locate this in time. That’s what we, in Western Europe, are inclined to do. Christianity has been on the rise for several centuries; during a number of subsequent centuries, it has been flourishing – the ‘Christian West’ – and now it is declining; now we are in the very last days. That’s not right; I think you will understand. This was relevant when John received this message, and it is now; in the West as well as in the two-thirds world. We are not calculating or speculating or imagining – anyway, somehow, the very end has approached.
And now, the scroll is handed down to John: Go, take it… The mystery of Christ, with the seals now broken, the message revealed – it has to be proclaimed. The commandment is given: Prophesy! Again, even now!
Why? Has there not been enough prophecy yet? The prophets of the Old Testament have prophesied already, “about many peoples, nations, languages and kings”. And then, in the New Testament, the gospel of Christ has been preached all over the earth, by the apostles, Paul, Peter and the others, so many preachers. It has been proclaimed even to kings and presidents, politicians and high officials. That, again, can be called, in a sense, prophecy. John, the apostle, who is addressed here – he has spent an entire, long lifetime in spreading the gospel; now he has become very old. Churches have been established, the seven churches and many, many others. They are being persecuted now. They are looking forward to the end! How long, Lord? Come!
Is this a time to prophesy? Isn’t this rather a time as Isaiah once prophesied: “Go, my people, enter your rooms / and shut the doors behind you; / hide yourselves for a little while / until his wrath has passed by”?
“You must prophesy again…!” Lord, it is dangerous! We will be persecuted, or we will die in an earthquake or a bomb-blast, or both! And, moreover, it is waste of time and energy; waste of love; it is throwing pearls to pigs!
Yet, even now, the angel hands the scroll, the book, down to the apostle. Yes, prophesy, even now. Friends, this commandment comes to us today. Even the very last and most corrupt politician, and the very last and most fanatical jihadi, has to hear the message: Jesus is Lord.
Then, we have to respect a secret.
This time, I don’t mean the mystery of Christ, which has been revealed and has to be proclaimed. I mean the secret of the seven thunderbolts.
Wouldn’t you like to know what they said? Why are we told that they spoke, and then the content is not written down? What sense does it make?
When we hear the thunder roaring, we realize our frailty; we realize how vulnerable and perishable we are. Everybody does, even now that, scientifically spoken, we know how it comes about. After all, even scientists are mere humans. This is a voice from above. The voice of the Lord: “The voice of the Lord is powerful… majestic (Psalm 29)… It breaks the cedars… in pieces… It strikes with flashes of lightning… It twists the oaks / and strips the forests bare”.
Once… twice… Seven in a row! You are like bowled over!
John has understood. One apostle conveys to us: There is more to it than I am allowed to tell. You are not to know everything about God’s judgment, about his final sentence.
You know everything you need to know. You know what it is about. You know how to escape the judgment. You know everything you have to convey in your message.
But you don’t know everything. You don’t comprehend everything. Even in the last prophecy, there remains a secret. It is God’s message, it is God’s judgment. It is too great for us. We are only small humans.
We cannot make a time-table of God’s judgment, or a handbook. It is not for suspense novels or action movies. It is not for just shivering in your arm-chair in the safe enclosure of a middle-class apartment. Nor is it for just theological debates in well-organized conferences – or, for that matter, in seminaries – with breaks and meals in time.
It remains a matter of life and death between God and man – God, speaking with a thundering voice, and man in his frailty and bareness. It is really devastating, even in your own earthly existence!
Give honour to God! He will pass the ultimate sentence; he only will reveal his final secret: the message of the seven thunderbolts.
This way only, we can properly speak about it, and prophesy, and warn others; be prepared, and prepare others.
Then, we have to face the consequences.
“It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth…” That’s the way the word of God is praised in those two psalms in praise of God’s law, Psalm 19 and 119: Your word is as sweet as honey. I like to speak it. You like to give your testimony. You long to go for a ministry of the word.
“…But when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour”. All of us know how sick and weak and miserable you feel with an upset stomach – even if it lasts only a few hours.
That’s the consequence, when you speak the word of God. They will argue with you about it; they will answer back; they will make fun of you; they will sue you; they will isolate you; they will harm you. In chapter 11, we will hear more about the consequences. We know about persecution. This is the way all the prophets have suffered. This is the way our Lord himself has suffered.
The angel had put it the other way round: “It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey”.
Will we still have ourselves comforted that way? Lying on your bed, or spending time in the bathroom… “But it tasted good!”
You may doubt it. But we are left no choice. “You must prophesy again!” When you do, you won’t want to let it down. God’s angel is not teasing you. You won’t want to give up. You cannot but confess. Yes, the word is good.
Revelation 11: 1, 2.
Scripture reading: Rev. 10: 8- 11: 4.
Closing hymn: A mighty fortress is our God.
Dehra Dun, PTS Chapel, September 2006.
John, the apostle, never expresses how upset he is by everything he sees in his vision: all those judgments and disasters. Daniel, the prophet, does once: he was sick three days; but John doesn’t. This is difficult for me to understand. How could he stand a – how long? – four-hours-or-more movie full of woe on one Sunday, and write it down afterwards?
But he does write that he gets an upset stomach after he has swallowed the book of God, the book of his policy; the contents of which he will have to prophesy again.
And that’s quite understandable when we consider the circumstances he will have to face when prophesying. Before we turn to the prophets, or witnesses, themselves, and their message, we have to consider those circumstances. They are described in the first two verses of chapter 11; this morning I will confine myself to these two verses.
They are not just the introduction. Rather, they are the stage, and it is being set here.
John is actively involved in it. That is unusual in this Revelation; but here, it happens twice: first he has eaten the book; now a measuring rod is handed over to him, and he is told: “Go and measure…” We are not told that he does this. And then, the passage on the two witnesses itself is not even a vision; it is spoken as a prophecy; although the language in which this is done, is vivid and expressive to the point of becoming a vision.
Here only, John does not just see something, but he has to touch and feel. Not a measuring tape, but a rod: solid, and requiring space, to be handled with care and skill. With this rod in his hand, he gets this scene to write down.
There he stands, powerless. He has to surrender the whole area around him to hostile and brutal forces. The whole city; even the outer courts of the temple itself they will trample on.
That is the situation in which the two prophets will have to act.
What is meant by this city? As often, especially in the case of this book, commentaries will confuse you with various suggestions and speculations. But it cannot be one particular city. Jerusalem is no longer the holy city; by this time, the temple has already been destroyed. True, this city has features of Jerusalem. But it is rather a visionary city, the summary of so many cities all over the world; the centers of human activity: Jerusalem, New York and Mumbai, all in one; including, for that matter, Dehra Dun. That’s the stage of the prophets’ activity.
It will be occupied! That is more than bomb-blasts. However frightening today’s terrorism may be – either the perpetrators get killed in their very act, or they will flee and hide. Authorities will remain in charge, and – yes, there will be grief and fear, but even so, the city goes back to everyday life, even the next day.
Occupation is different. Enemies will capture the city and enter it and wield their power rudely. Soldiers will march through the streets; or, as an unruly army, with their boots and guns with bayonets they will enter your house and rob you of your TV, your two-wheeler, and other valuables. Leaders and executives will be removed from office and replaced by incompetent and indifferent foreigners who will never listen to your complaints, never lodge an FIR, but only scorn you.
The Gentiles! Still, they are there. After apostles and missionaries have preached the gospel of Christ, and churches have been established, Christianity will turn out not to have conquered the world. Quite the contrary, they have remained a small minority only; or, at least, a minor force. The Gentiles come – characteristically, in this book, this is basically the same as in that much-discussed chapter 20: the nations are gathered for battle and surround the holy city. The picture is different; the emphasis of the message is different; but it is basically the same action. And then, chapter 13 (mainly) is a vision of the unfolding of the hostile force.
Their action is directed especially against the Christians; against God himself, and his servants. They will establish their own schools where they teach their worldview. They will occupy the radio- and TV-stations and broadcast the news and views and propaganda of the new order. Worship groups, even in private houses, will be dispelled. Evangelists will be taken in police custody and brought to trial.
For 42 months! The designated period has a symbolical meaning. It is related to the prophecies of Daniel. This period is mentioned more often in this book, in various ways. I won’t go into the symbolism now. But we may imagine it literally also: a very long time for the occupation of a city; one month after the other. There appears to be no end to the looting and harassment.
In this situation, in this city, the prophets have to go around and tell their message. No wonder we will get sick of it; realizing that – even as we continue the ministry unharmed ourselves – our wives, back home with the small children, will be harassed, and not dare to lock the door at night for fear that when the enemies come back, they will kick it open and smash it.
But somewhere in this city – even the Gentiles know, for it is right behind the outer courts where they go without any reverence – are the halls, a section of the temple, which can be called the inner sanctuary. There is the throne of God. There is the altar – the golden altar of incense, the altar of prayer. There his people worship him – his New Testament people, who have free and unlimited access to this inner sanctuary; to the throne of grace.
This area John has to measure. That means: this area is reserved. This area God has kept entirely for himself. No Gentile will ever enter this space: he can’t; he is kept outside. Not just because it is sacred; but because it is protected; protected, as it were, with an iron wall.
John has to measure it including the worshipers there. (NIV has inserted: ‘count’; apparently because they felt it cannot properly be said that people are ‘measured’.) They are safe there; they are protected by God’s own mighty protection.
In PTS terms: barbarians have settled in the hostels and the apartments; officers who have nothing to do with the seminary occupy the offices, in the classrooms cursing and swearing is heard, but the chapel remains safe; here we are unharmed.
You might hardly notice when roaming around in this city, but God reigns. He is the One on the throne. He is in control. That is basic; that is what this chapter starts with. The outer court, it says, ‘has been given’ to the Gentiles. Note that word: ‘given’. We hear it often in this book. ‘It was given to him…’ Those seemingly almost almighty Gentiles in reality can only have, and use, and trample on, what God has given them. They can only be high and mighty, and rude and mean and corrupt, as far is it is given to them. Given – not allowed, not granted, not even condoned; just left to them.
God protects his worshipers in his sanctuary. He does not need a wall of defense; no armed guard, or snipers on the pinnacle.
He does not need cooperative officers in the city, or a be’nevolent government, or Christian politicians. Sometimes they may be there, and they may do a lot of good. But even if they are removed from office, or lose the elections, he is still in control, to protect those who are his. He does not even need a Christian school, if it is not available, or not even allowed by those in power. He does not need a Christian culture. So many things that are really highly desirable, he can do without.
One thing is essential: the fellowship, and the communication, between him and his people; the ministry of reconciliation, to which they respond in faith. That is what he protects; it will go on, all those months, uninterrupted, un-attacked, unthreatened.
True, this does not mean that, in reality, enemies of Christ will never disturb a worship service and do the worshipers harm. Actually, that happens again and again.
But is does mean that your wife is safe, back home, with the children, worshiping God, praying to him. In the deepest sense, they are safe. So are you – for the prophets are also worshipers in the sanctuary.
This is basic. This is what this chapter starts with. All the way, during these terrible days of duty, prophesying in the occupied city – all the way you are backed by those at home, praying for you, and by him who answers these prayers.
Whatever happens, however sick John may feel, confronting this hostile world with God’s message – he has this rod in his hand.
This is going on right now, here, in Dehra Dun, as well as in many other cities around the world. For, as I said, the city in this vision, or this prophecy, is a summary of so many cities.
You may not immediately recognize this. This city is called the holy city. You would not call Dehra Dun, or Mumbai or Delhi, a holy city. And we have no temple building, or church building, like this.
But… yes, a centre of worship is here. God is here – let me express it in the words of Psalm 22, in my Dutch translation and in a footnote in the NIV – “Enthroned on the praises of Israel”. Jesus Christ has come here, in his gospel; he reigns in the hearts and lives of his church, by his Spirit. God has established his kingdom here; he has revealed that he is King.
The worship centre is his. And the courts around it, where the Gentiles pass by indifferently, are his.
The city is occupied. True. As soon as you leave the campus, after the worship service, or during free hours, there are the shops – in many of them, on Sundays, business is going on as usual – and the autos, where incense is burnt in front of the images of other gods. The city is full of the billboards of the modern gods: the gods of human power and craft, the god of prosperity – he may no longer be called Baal, but he is still the same; he may not be a living god, but he is still very much relevant, lord of the lives of countless Indians and others in the globalizing world.
But nonetheless, it is the holy city; God’s city, even though it may be extremely difficult to perceive that. However it is being desecrated, and spoiled and messed up – still he claims it: It is mine! “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” – his enemies cannot expropriate it, or dethrone him, or expel him.
This holy city – now temporarily occupied – is the stage where you are called to act: to prophesy.
Whenever you go out for ministry, in weekends, or longer periods in other places, maybe your home town – realize this. You worship – you have approached the throne of grace. When you leave the sanctuary and go out for ministry, keep the throne in mind, and the One who is sitting on it. Realize this mystery: this city, this area, this plain, these hills are his.
You may feel, in most areas of India and other countries, that his reign, after twenty centuries of mission and preaching in this country, has even just started. In many homes and public places you may not be welcome; he may not be welcome. But even so, it is his realm; he has dominion here.
You, as his witnesses, will have to convey this message; you have to stand up for this claim. Yes, it will be a tough job. But the case is strong; it is unbeatable.
Revelation 11: 3 and 4.
Scripture Reading: Zechariah 4.
Closing Hymn: I’m not ashamed to own my Lord. TH 429.
Tune: My hope rests firm on Jesus Christ.
I feel sorry for these two people – in the centre of that big city. True, they have special powers, which are described in the following verses, v. 5 and 6. But even so… they are so terribly lonely.
Two people… two witnesses. Imagine: hundreds and hundreds of people are passing by at Clock Tower, most of them with their eyes, wide open, focused on the shops at Rajpur Road and Paltan Bazar. The traffic roars past to Chakrata Road and direction Gandhi Road. O.k, they did not have motorized vehicles at the New Testament time, but… the carts continuously rumble along on the cobble stones. Two witnesses – who will listen to them? Who will pay any attention to them? They are pitiful – more than that, they are even ridiculous.
These two witnesses is the church reduced to its absolute minimum. Again, don’t get confused by many commentaries; keep cool when they discuss who they are. They are not even one Moses, the other Elijah; true, both of them together remind of these Old Testament prophets, but not each of them separately. We are now in the New Testament, in the last days. Neither fill in Luther and Calvin, or you will end up with Chacko and Chellaiah.
No, this is a summary of the church. We understand this symbolically, according to the character of so many visions: ‘symbol’, literally, originally, in Greek, means: summary. A summary of the church in the New Testament, under the aspect of its mission to the world. In verse 1, we also saw the church symbolized, but then as the worshipping church. Here we see the church in its outreach, its evangelism; fulfilling its ‘Great Commission’, with the least possible number of workers. As I said before, when we began this series: This is about you, in your ministry in some area in South-Asia; you will often feel lonely.
‘Witnesses’ you are called. That means that you bear witness to the facts; the facts of the gospel; the facts of Jesus Christ – his death and resurrection. You testify: This is what God has done.
Witness is given in court. A lawsuit is going on. Remember what we found earlier: God has a cause against the world; against the Gentiles. This is the ‘holy city’; he is on the throne; this world is his. And the Gentiles occupy it, neglecting his claims, stating their counter-claims on their billboards and in their TV propaganda, their rallies and their schools; they occupy the government offices; they defile the streets and the backrooms with their filth.
Obscene gods in the holy city – it is a very serious case indeed. And, over against those hundreds of politicians and gurus and their followers, over against those demonstrations marching through the main streets, there are two witnesses to sue them. They bear witness to the facts: One has come to cleanse this city; to re-dedicate it to its proper destination, to consecrate it to its legal, divine owner!
What is the testimony we have to give in this world, friends? Giving your testimony – that has come to mean, in our understanding: telling what God has done to you personally; the circumstances in which you were led to accept Christ as Lord. But that is something different. When we hear a ‘testimony’ in this sense, we may sympathize with the speaker; we make be thankful together with her. But we may also have our reservations, for example: We should not assume that this is a usual way God works in the life of those he calls; many will not go through an experience like that; or: This does not show a mature way of communicating with God; it cannot be commended to others.
But a witness in God’s case does give evidence of the facts that are relevant to all, to the whole world. He testifies to the essentials that are unquestionable. What God did to the world in Christ – that has legal consequences for everybody, and whoever ignores it will be found guilty. “Two witnesses”: “On the basis of the witness of two (or three), every case will be established”. The cause will be decided. The verdict will follow: conviction, or acquittal. God will judge the world according to your message.
The witnesses are called to ‘prophesy’. Again this is a word surrounded by many misunderstandings. Let us always start with this proper understanding: prophesying is speaking the word of God.
It does not necessarily mean that you have got a special, ‘supernatural’ revelation from God; you, personally, something that nobody else has got. You know that a certain type of prophets in the Old Testament are severely rebuked because they said: “I had a dream! I had a dream!” while they had not; or because they said: “Thus says the LORD”, while he had not spoken to them and they rather conveyed just their own ideas; they were exposed as impostors. Still, the same occurs today. How can they tell that in intuition of theirs is from God? We know that God has given his ultimate revelation in Christ to all of us, in his word, so that we all have knowledge and can assess and can check what is said.
Then, a real prophet has come to be considered as somebody who will bang the desk with his fist, often in rebuke, usually making you feel guilty, and always making you feel inadequate. In the 1970s, the prophecy of the church came to mean that the church had to make political statements, prophesying against the government, about weapons of mass destruction, or about the uplifting of the poor, or about the environment, without consideration for the intricacies of politics.
But then, prophesying is speaking the word of God. It should be done carefully, studying what he has really said, considering what it actually means, and in which way it is relevant for today. It requires knowledge and wisdom. And it should be done in a way that all who listen to it will be edified.
Who is qualified to do this? “I will”, says God, the Lord, or the Spirit – “I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy”. It is not sufficient that you feel a spontaneous drive to speak to others. You need to be called – inward calling, and outward calling. That is what the Lord does: he invests his two witnesses, his church – as a whole, together, in the way, by its organs, persons are called to an office – he invests his church with authority.
“To prophesy (…) clothed in sackcloth!” No, that is not just the rugged clothing of Elijah, and John the Baptist, the clothing of camel hair, of those who live in solitude in the desert and don’t have opportunities for repair at hand. Sackcloth is the clothing of mourning. O, what a misery! O, what devastation! O, what have we done! Sackcloth is an expression of repentance. Gentiles may sometimes understand that even better than the people of God themselves: in Nineveh, when Jonah prophesied there, in response the people and even the cattle were covered with sackcloth.
Sackcloth accompanies fasting and prayer. Sackcloth accompanies a lament. You remember how often Old Testament prophecies, even about the Gentiles, sound as a lament? By the way, you won’t skip them in your devotions, will you? Anyway, Rev. Wilko’s Prophets Class won’t. Yes, judgment is prophesied. It is really terrible what people will have to suffer – because they have committed such terrible crimes. But so often, the prophets won’t mock at them, but rather recite a lament on them. They express their sympathy with their plight. And then: it is prophecy! Maybe the people will yet listen… I can’t do better than quote the Nineveh government’s proclamation: “Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish”.
Friends, sympathize with your congregation when prophesying; even when you have to rebuke them. Have pity on somebody whom you have to counsel and who has committed serious sin – yes, you will have to, even though it is a Christian; maybe even in prison. Weep with him, or her: “O friend, what a mess you are in! Let us call on God! Urgently!” Fast and pray with him; with her.
Yes, friends, that will be your message, often, when you reach out to the people in the city; to the Gentiles passing by Clock Tower. Yes, there is hope in your message; hope for those who call on God. But it is not advertising. You are not wooing people to come to church because it is so attractive. You convey the claim of the holy One! You will say: O, what a mess you have made of your life, of everything he gave you, of the place he gave you in his world to live and enjoy! What an opportunities you have failed, spending the best years of your life worshiping false gods! What violence awaits you, as you have treated your fellow-countrymen that way!
You will be scorned! Sure! …By all these people passing by the displays of goods in the shops or loading their ‘purchases in their middle-class cars. You will feel ridiculous.
1260 days! That is: all those 42 months of occupation of the holy city. Day by day. Everyday anew it will be relevant. And everyday you will get a new opportunity. Everyday God will use you anew. Those people have to know! A law court session is going on, and on! The Lord will not allow you to be eliminated before you have finished your entire ministry.
But 1260 days! How will you manage?
Because you have been called. And you know: whoever the Lord calls, he will also enable to fulfil his ministry. You have been authorized. You have been equipped by the Holy Spirit. This is expressed in verse 4: “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth”.
Peculiarly, the explanation of the vision, this time, contains a new visionary element that, in its turn, needs explanation. This is really a book for readers, and students, of Scripture.
Let’s start with the last clause. Standing before somebody – that means, in Old Testament language: you are his servant, ready to go where he wants you to go and fulfil his commands.
Standing before the Lord of the earth is a tremendous honour. It is invisible while you are ministering in the city; it is hardly imaginable. You have the position of an archangel. You are a minister in the cabinet of the Most High.
“…The two olive trees and the two lampstands…” We recognize the imagery of Zechariah’s vision as we read it. But let’s realize how it has developed.
A lampstand was standing in the tabernacle, and later in the temple, in front of the throne of the Lord. It says: he is there, he is at home. Like when the light is switched on in your house. You can find him there; he can host you; he may receive you. But those with evil purposes had better stay away. It’s less likely that you will suffer burglary if the light is switched on in your house. The Lord is there, in his sanctuary; he is at home.
Olive oil is the fuel of the lamp. So, priests have to fill the lamps daily with fresh oil.
But in Zechariah’s vision, there are two olive trees standing at both sides of the lampstand. The oil flows continually directly from the trees to the lamps. This is the word of God: Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit! A lamp is burning before God: Zerubbabel, his anointed one, the son of David. He will build a temple for God. And he is being supplied with oil directly so as to burn continually, independently, on his own!
Now, the two olive trees and the two lampstands are moving – God’s witnesses, his representatives, his cabinet ministers, into the city, towards the people living there and going about their business. Not by might nor by power, but by God’s Spirit! Not by great numbers of witnesses, armies marching across the world and conquering it. Two witnesses only. They stand up for God’s claim on this city and his cause against those people. They spread God’s light. They testify: God is there, at home, in the centre of this city, behind those walls you will never cross. You should take him into account! These two witnesses are continually fed by the Holy Spirit. They can speak: they know. They are confident: they are fuelled. It is not stated that they flare up, let alone that they flash flashes of lightning; but they shine. They can continue to speak up for their testimony, to fulfil their calling, day by day.
Do you hear them, and see them? Will you be one of them?
Revelation 11: 5 and 6.
Scripture reading 2 Kings 1: 2-17.
Closing hymn: O Lord, how are my foes increased! (Psalm 3). TH 469.
Tune: Our God, our help in ages past.
I am pretty sure that you would never do a thing like this; these awful things these two witnesses are authorized to, and empowered to. You would not even think of it.
O.k., I am not downplaying your indignation and anguish when you have just been preaching the gospel and you are taken in police custody; or your rage when, in a clash of communal violence, your brother is killed just because you and your family are Christians. I have never gone through anything like this, but you are more likely to get hurt; and I sympathize with you. You may feel that, in some cases, you can fight to protect your family (as was debated on Reformation Day).
But we know what the Lord has said: Love your enemies. Don’t revenge yourself, but ….
We would not even think of ‘striking the earth with …’ We would never want it. Quite the contrary: when an earthquake takes place, or a tsunami, we will be horrified ourselves; we will sympathize with those afflicted; we will pray for them; we will collect money for relief and reconstruction. Some of us may even volunteer to go there ourselves to help on the spot.
We may even have our reservations about the Bible passage itself as we read it; about what Elijah did. It is the first story that is referred to in these verses in the book of Revelation; and it is the least familiar one (that’s why I have requested to read it); least familiar maybe because it is the most offensive one. O.k., everybody would fear this prophet. But this appears to be not just an act of self-defense, but rather an excess of self-defense. And that is prohibited even in civil law (at least in my country). After all, drought or another natural disaster may be about the weather and statistics, but this is about fifty men; about fifty families losing the husband and father, and mothers their sons; and another fifty. Why would this prophet not be willing to suffer, to be taken captive because of his ministry? Many prophets, even in the Old Testament, have become martyrs.
But then – let us consider the other references first. The next one is again about the history of Elijah. He came to King Ahab and prophesied a drought. It came and lasted for three years. This was not just a natural disaster. This was an answer, a prophetic answer, to Ahab’s wickedness, even more serious than that of former kings: he allowed his foreign wife to introduce the worship of her god Baal; idol-worship. This was God’s answer. It had been announced, as a warning, in the Law of Moses. And then, Elijah had prayed about it, as we read in the letter of James.
The third reference is to the plagues in Egypt. We know that Moses announced them only after God’s commandment. Again we read that he prayed about it. And again, these were not just natural disasters. This happened in a communication process, an argument between God and Pharaoh the king of Egypt. God had said (by Moses): “Let my people go!” Pharaoh answered: “No! Why should I?” God announced these afflictions beforehand, again and again; but Pharaoh would not be impressed. He would, only, once they happened; not in the beginning, but during the later and more serious disasters. He would ask: “Please pray for me, that this torment may end; it is too awful!” And Moses would pray, and it would end. Once we realize this, we may feel less appalled. Yes, we will be impressed by God’s power, his sternness; his holiness. But we will understand his cause: Israel is my people! Israel is my firstborn son! If you don’t let my firstborn son go… Yes, God had a controversy with Pharaoh; and we will have to admit that he has had much patience, hardly imaginable patience, with him. Those plagues were words of God; arguments in his controversy with Pharaoh. They underlined his claim, his demand. Pharaoh should have thought again: Maybe I’d better listen to this God, and take his claim seriously, and give in!
So, this is not about a cruel God, who strikes innocent people with natural disasters, arbitrarily every now and then. These afflictions are steps in a communication process, underlining his word, his prophecy – emphasizing it, enforcing it – understandable for all who hear and listen and don’t neglect that word. So that they may think again, and respond, and repent.
When we understand these verses in Revelation 11 in this way, we will not feel that embarrassed by them any more, or even offended. Rather, we will feel empowered as God’s witnesses, his prophets.
“If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies…” This is not literally about fire-spitting, which is a showman’s entertainment trick. We will understand from Elijah’s story: the prophet says: “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men”; and then the fire comes. It is an act of prophecy. This is the way Christ himself will act, in the end: The Lord Jesus will overthrow the lawless one with the breath of his mouth”. That is a spoken verdict; justice is administered.
This is not an act of personal revenge, or even personal protection. Elijah stands up for his prophetic ministry; he stands up for the word of God who sent him. It is despised by the king, Ahaziah. His father Ahab, at least, for all his wickedness and idol worship, had had some reverence for the prophetic word; but Ahaziah hasn’t. So, this is about the word of God: can it be overruled, by intimidating the one who speaks it?
The next two examples mentioned have the same purport. Three possible measures – horrible, I admit – reinforce each other, conveying the same message.
This does not allow you to revenge yourself. No, but you are Christ’s witnesses; just his servants; his representatives. In your ministry, you are empowered. You are – in the first place – protected – yes, let us be quite clear: you have the power to protect yourself against anyone who wants to harm you in your ministry.
Personally, you may suffer. But the world will experience – and it has experienced, from the first centuries of church history – for every Christian you kill because of his confession of Christ, his refusal to disown him – for every Christian you kill, ten or even hundred will rise and confess him and carry his word on, all over the world!
As long as your Lord wants you to prophesy, to give evidence to the facts of his death and resurrection, his rule and the salvation he brings – all these 1260 days, you will be protected that way. His prophets will speak. Many of their enemies will die, but they will continue to speak; every day, until the very last.
And – in the second place – God enforces his word. Again, let us take this literally: you are authorized, you are empowered, to emphasize the word of the Lord, the word he assigned you to speak; to reinforce it; to enforce it. You can show its power. Yes, it is true! It is serious! You, people, Gentiles, world, you had better pay attention to it, and comply with it!
I don’t think you will easily find this mentioned in any book on evangelism in the PTS library or available in any evangelical book fair; any book on how to win people over by your message; or how to be an attractive and growing church.
Now, it is not stated in this passage that the two witnesses will actually use this power.
But the question I want to ask you – I think I have to, from this passage – is this: How seriously do you take your message; the message of your Lord, as you speak it yourself, in your sermons and your outreach and your leading small group bible studies? How seriously do you convey it?
Salvation is in Christ! In Christ alone! Turn to him! Call on his name! How do you think you will be happy if you continue to worship false gods! Ganesh(a) will leave you poor and destitute, and the beauty you expected from Lakshmi will fade away! Economic growth will not protect your country from crises and disaster. Your consumerism will lead to empty lives. And how can you expect, when inciting communal mistrust and competing with other groups, neglecting their interests, and scorning and oppressing your fellow-countrymen – how can you expect to live in peace? As the chorus at the end of the book of Isaiah says: The wicked have no peace. Peace is in Christ alone; he is the only one who can reconcile you even with one another. The inheritance he promises is the only prosperity that will truly last.
Do you preach, and teach, that way? To start with: do you realize this, applying it to yourself, to your own expectations and desires and aspirations? Do you believe in Christ that seriously, and consistently? I guess you realize your own weakness. And then, you will convey it to others, in a sympathizing way – as we discussed last time –, clothed with sackcloth: O, how your aspirations and desires have wandered away and gone astray and led you nowhere! Really, disaster will strike you, and you will end up in destruction, if you don’t turn to Christ!
When you speak like that, people may not be willing to listen; they may not be interested; but they will experience that it is true. In some way or other – as we read in the next verses – they will feel tormented. In the course of the centuries of Christian preaching, in the course of these 1260 days, many have experienced.
Let me conclude with the story of a pastor in a rural area somewhere in the Netherlands. In this area, it was usual that, on Saturday nights, young people would drive to the nearby town, right after getting their driving license, together with their friends, spend some hours in cafes, drinking beer, usually too much, and then drive home, late at night, and even compete with one another who would drive fastest. The youth of the church would do this just like the youth of liberal churches and the unchurched. The pastor had mentioned this from time to time in his sermon – “Do not get drunk on wine… Instead, be filled with the Spirit!”, warning seriously against the risks of alcohol, the ruin it causes in people’s lives; but to no avail; the young people would sit in church and listen and next Saturdays go on as usual.
One Sunday again, the pastor had warned that Christians should abstain from getting drunk, and alluded to the habits of the young people (he used to do it carefully, as he did not want to offend them and even their parents too much). Four weeks later, one of these young people, driving home after some glasses of beer, got a serious accident and died on the spot.
As you can imagine, there was shock and grief in the family and in the whole community, old and young alike, including the pastor; of course, he had never meant anything like this, let alone wanted it to happen. But now, the congregation remembered the pastor’s recent sermon, and started reflecting on it, and even talking about it among themselves.
God’s word has power; the word you speak. It is serious. It will be enforced. You are empowered, as his prophets. Do you really want this power?
Revelation 11: 7-12.
Scripture reading: 2 Corinthians 4: 7-18.
Closing hymn: “Take up your cross” (TH 507). Tune: Truro (LM).
You are blessed that you don’t live in the West. Over there, there is an overwhelming feeling that Christianity is in decline. It started in Europe, and it has also come up in America: modernism is rising, and biblical faith is losing. Secularization is irreversible; people, especially young people, are just leaving the church. In the past, Christianity ruled; the emperor converted (that was great indeed); for many centuries, governments and authorities used to be Christian, or at least, Christianity shaped society and culture, but now – since the Enlightenment or the invention of film and TV or whatever, now we are in the very last days; look, the two witnesses will lie dead on the streets of the big ungodly city.
When I was young, I have felt bad because of this perception I noticed around me, in the serious reformed environment where I grew up. I felt it fell short of hope and that it would suffocate any idealism in the youth – even my generation. And I hope you will not be affected by American premillennialism, which harbours basically the same pessimism about the present – just adding something peculiar we cannot discuss now.
I also feel that it is not a proper exegesis of this passage; I even challenge a certain hermeneutics behind it.
In the first place, this passage must have made sense even in the time that John saw this vision, the end of the first century. We cannot say that now only, after twenty centuries, we are, or will be, in the ‘very’ last days.
In the second place, we ought to continue reading; not focussing just on the first verses, 7-10, however moving they may be, but also believe in the passage on the witnesses’ resurrection and ascension.
In India, although the gospel came here in certain parts of the country very early in church history, there is a feeling of freshness about it. Your faith, and the doctrine you are studying here, is new and exciting and full of relevance and promise to anybody you will be reaching out to; so you feel; that motivates you, and many Western Christians would be envious of you because of that.
You, as you will be called as witnesses of Christ to prophecy in his name, and will do so faithfully – you are, and you will be, one with him in his death and glorification; and the unbelievers will notice that. That is the basic proposition of my message; so you can allow your thoughts to wander away now; you know what it is about.
You will hardly suppose that any evangelist, after having become a martyr, will rise from the dead on this earth and ascend to heaven.
But: even in all trials, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8). “… “We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (same chapter).
This is not only something about the future. Paul, the apostle, applies it to his own life, to his ministry; we read it – and we know how much he has suffered because of the name of Jesus.
But even then, at the same time, in this ministry career with all its trials, it is God’s purpose that people will come to know, and understand, that he has a message and a faith and a hope that surpasses all of it. Even if he appears to be on the way to death – and indeed, he must have been martyred; anyway, he suffered as a servant of Christ and in unity with him – even so he is in reality on the way of life, now, at present, and for the future; full of hope and inner zest of life – even when bodily afflicted. And it is his ministry that people will notice that, even if, for the time being, they just shrug their shoulders about him and his message.
He is a prince royal, on the way to the throne, to the reign together with his Master. Even now, he shares in his victory and his glory.
That is Paul, but so are the two witnesses in our passage; so are you.
O, how glad the people will be, once the witnesses are killed; once they are silenced; how relieved!
Those prophets have really tormented them! Their message has hurt them! They have said: (1) Democracy will not save you from the inner human hatred! And then, terrorism struck. (2) Your middle-class life-style will not really make you happy! And then, many marriages ended up in divorce and loneliness with children suffering. (3) Find a spouse in a decent way and be faithful to her / to him! And then, they contracted sexually transmitted diseases, even aids. (4) Speak the truth, be sincere towards one another! And then, deceiving their colleagues and relatives and their constituencies, in the end they would find themselves deceived and betrayed.
It was utterly irritating indeed! It was enraging! Once those voices have been silenced, it will be a great celebration! Let’s party!
They will gaze at the dead bodies. There they lie, in “the street”, the main street, at Clock Tower, at Connaught Place – the evidence of their faithfulness in their ministry: there they have prophesied. In the centre of the city – you see that it is a symbol, a summary of the utter wickedness (Sodom), hostility and oppression of God’s people (Egypt), and hatred and rejection of the Lord himself (…”Where also their Lord was crucified”).
It will be an excess of disgusting celebration. It even surpasses the hatred towards Jesus: burial is denied to them. Gazing at the dead bodies contributes to the general delight. There may be some who have more decency and pity and want to bury them – but then, the general wickedness will turn out to be tyrannical: it is not allowed. The whole world has become one in the end – no conflicts anymore between rich and poor countries; between rogue-states that supported terrorism and decent democracies; all of them are one in the delight at the occasion of the death of the prophets. It is a morbid super-Diwali; a world-Diwali.
This will happen only at the end: “…When they have finished their testimony”. “The beast that comes up from the Abyss” has not been mentioned yet; apparently, it is clear what is meant; Christians lived in cities – as we read in the letters to the congregations in chapter 2 and 3 – “…Where Satan has his throne”. And it will be explained afterwards, in the following chapters. Satan – with all his hatred, his persecution, his violence, he will always be too late. The preaching of the gospel has been carried out throughout history, till the very end.
We may feel: why did the Lord take away this man, or this woman, so early? Such a promising life! He, or she, so gifted, with so many talents, could have done so much more good for the church and in reaching out to others! But – even so – the ministry of the Lords servants will be fulfilled.
Even their dead bodies still prophesy, “…for three and a half days”, even longer than their Lord was in the grave – although, in the general celebration, nobody notices it anymore –: This is what you have done to those who told you the truth.
But then – did you realize that we were just hearing a prophecy? Subtly, hardly perceptible, it changes again into a vision. “After the three and a half days”, suddenly – o shock! – “A breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet…”
This is their ultimate justification. They are resurrected, just like their Lord was. About him, it is said: he “…Was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead”. That Easter day, God said (as it were) with a thundering voice, what the people should have perceived and acknowledged all the time: Yes, this is my Son! In everything he said, and did, and claimed to be, in my name, he was right!
Same with his witnesses, who have been faithful to the end: Everything they said in my name, in the name of Jesus Christ, all these prophecies you detested, you scorned, you ignored or at least tried to ignore – all this was right! It is the verdict of the heavenly court: They have won the case! They were, and are, my servants, and I will not disown them, I recognize them as such in all eternity! They are conquerors! And those who put them to death have lost!
“…And terror struck those who saw them”. Do you remember the panic and confusion among the Jewish leaders on the Easter day, when they found out, receiving the report from the Roman soldiers, that a glorious angel had appeared and the grave had been opened? How they concluded that the body had disappeared? They did not bring it out into publicity; they wriggled to cover it up.
This time, that is impossible. The witnesses surpass their Lord in the publicity of their resurrection. Jesus is Lord! – …that was the summary of their message. And that is what they radiate now. Nobody can deny it, or ignore it anymore. They are alive!
That is going on now, friends. Nobody can ignore the inner life, the life of Christ, in his faithful witnesses; the glory of their message by which they live themselves; the treasure in those jars of clay. For every Christian who is martyred, ten or even hundred will rise and confess him and carry his word on, all over the world! Yes, the Christian lives they lived, their faithfulness, their sincerity and integrity, their peacefulness – “Peace and truth are in Christ alone!” – however people pretend to ignore it, or deny they need it – it can never be wiped out; it is written with eternal, living ink.
All humanity will be shocked. Do you remember how embarrassed and desperate the Jewish leaders were when the apostles preached in the name of Christ, after his resurrection, and brought the charge against them: “You killed the author of life!” This time, the more so; all humanity will have to realize: imagine – all those allegations these prophets made to our life-style and our society were true! We have killed the prophets of the true life, the witnesses of the living One! Those martyrs – they are alive!
“Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them: “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud”. In unity with their Lord, they ascend to heaven; they are exalted above all the earth.
Basically, this is the same message as in chapter 20 – that endlessly discussed and misunderstood passage on the so-called millennium, the thousand years’ reign: “They reigned with Christ…” It was prophesied already in Daniel 7: The son of man came; he was given authority and glory and sovereign power; and “Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High”. And in 2 Timothy 2 (on both parts of the exaltation): “If we died with him, / we will also live with him. / If we endure, / we will also reign with him”.
So, friends, this passage is not a prophecy of ultimate secularization, the triumph of modernity and the end of Christianity. It is an encouragement to Christ’s witnesses of their unassailable life, and unbeatable power. Yes, it is about martyrdom, but at the same time about eternal and unshakable victory. It is not a prophecy of a future event, maybe imminent, ultimately, after many centuries, whether anxious or sensational. It is a vision of the mystery of our eternal unity with Christ, even in our frail and mortal bodies.
Revelation 11: 13, 14.
Scripture reading: Revelation 11: 7-14.
Closing Hymn: The ends of all the earth shall hear. TH 295.
Tune: How good it is to thank the Lord. TH 535.
This is the last time I am going to speak to you on this section of Revelation. As I said right in the beginning: I feel that this section is about you. You are those two witnesses. You who will go out – as you are called – on the streets of the big city, proclaiming God’s Word: his claim that the world is his and that people should turn to him. Martyrs will be among you; your kind of people. But the life of Christ will be apparent in your mortal bodies.
In this last message, I am happy to speak about the fruit of your preaching – that is what these two verses are about.
The fruit of your preaching – it is a turning point in the book of Revelation, these two verses. Or, rather – as there is no reversal of the plan of God – a striking curve.
It is the more striking when we have, for orientation, a look on the map of the book first. Verse 14 leads us to this orientation: this is the transition from the second to the third woe.
The three woes are the three last trumpets. As more often, in a line of seven, the first four are similar; they form a unity; and then, from the fifth onwards, the line gains momentum.
The blowing of a trumpet is, seven times, a public announcement. The book of the plan of God, his policy, is opened when the seven seals are broken. Then the plan is proclaimed by the seven trumpets: warnings of the final judgment – which comes, in the end, in the seven bowls being poured out.
Mind: all these things can not be measured by any common human measure. It cannot be expressed in years or centuries or whatever. Through the ages, Christians have been encouraged by these prophecies, and kept alert.
We are now in the section of the sixth trumpet – the second woe. Woe – that means: You will feel bad! Harm will strike you! It is a cry that frightens you. Woe! – time and again; the world will live in fear. And, indeed, this time, when this trumpet is blown, one third of mankind is killed by various plagues at a time. And – the rest of mankind did not repent.
Two times already, we heard this cry! And… the third woe is coming soon! That is final! That is the ultimate destruction!
But… still, even now, two witnesses have preached – living evidence of God’s presence, his truth!
And… it bears fruit!
Rays of grace in woes.
“Where is God when it hurts?” That is the eloquent title of one of countless books that try to answer that question.
Again and again I hear you testify to the answer: God is with me; the Spirit of Christ is with me; He was, all the way.
Most people, however, will not understand. They expect their god to bring peace and prosperity only; wealth, even.
The book of Revelation is quite clear. Maybe that’s why many find it so difficult to understand. God is there, in heaven, sitting on the throne; the Lamb is there, who was hurt and killed, but he is alive; and below, on earth, one disaster after another strikes. And God is unapologetic about it. He does not say: I am sorry that you are hurt, but I can’t help it. On the contrary, the disasters show an unshakable, even holy order: seven – seven; again and again.
Moreover: we, the two witnesses, ourselves testify to the message implied in those plagues. Remember: they had “power to (…) strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want”.
The people celebrated once they were free from hearing anymore that peace is in Christ alone… and then, they continued to preach hate and violence. They enjoyed their newly developing life-style addictions without being reminded of dedication to God and temperance in earthly pleasures.
Now, yet once more, a calamity hits the city – that city, you remember, occupied by the Gentiles, who defy God and neglect his sanctuary –: an earthquake! A tenth of the city collapsed… Do you hear the sirens of the police and fire engines and ambulance? Do you see the pyres erected for the casualties? Seven thousand – a large and full number! And many more injured; and homeless… We will all be afflicted. We won’t be unmoved under the suffering of the world, will we? We will all feel hurt. Among the victims, there will be close relatives. We will cry, together with the others.
Yet, even now… Do you notice…? ‘One tenth of the city…’ – the previous plagues were far more devastating! Right from the beginning, when the seven seals were opened, one fourth of the population was killed in wars and the misery that came along with them! And when the trumpets were blown, one third of the earth is afflicted; one third of nature devastated…
Now: one tenth… After all, the disaster is not nearly as serious as those preceding!
Maybe you feel it is a bit cynical to state that in these circumstances. But let’s realize: for all the other inhabitants of the city, the sun rises anew the next day. Still, they can start to clear the rubble and to rebuild…!
Where is God when you survive?! This question may not be as currently asked. But it is all the more relevant. Where is God when you drive an ambulance to the hospital; or when you recover from your wounds and return home; or when you hug a relative you had feared dead?
You may say: Nobody will feel just cheerful after such a tragedy. Sure; that’s not stated. But… it has a purpose. God has a purpose in sparing nine tenth of the populace. He, who cannot be blamed when a fourth, or a third, of the inhabitants of the earth are killed; he is righteous, he is holy, all the same – he reveals his grace…!
“…The survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God in heaven”.
You may well wonder whether this is seriously meant. These Gentiles, never repenting, killing the faithful witnesses and celebrating while they watch their corpses – have they really converted? It’s hardly imaginable. Or do they admit with teeth-gnashing that God is too powerful for them?
When you compare with other occurrences of this expression in the book of Revelation, you will see that it is seriously meant…! All these people acknowledge God as the One who really reigns!
Still, that does not mean that a mass conversion takes place and all these people will be saved. Let’s realize: the Bible aims at our salvation – ours, the readers’ and hearers’; it does not always inform us of the salvation of the persons who occur in it. Do you know about the Ninivites at Jonah’s time?
God will receive glory and honour! That is the ultimate goal. That is public; that is what will be seen.
Praise is not always just joyful. Here, apparently, it is not. But it is heartfelt awe. These people are terrified; they are awe-struck.
It is not seen before, in the whole historical drama of this book; it is not seen afterwards either. Again and again it is just stated that the inhabitants of the earth did not repent. Here, apparently, they do!
History goes on! These people get ready to see the church from within – something they had never done before – the church as it really is, as the mystery it is: the woman who gives birth to the child – the child that will reign (chapter 12): “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven” – it does not say (as so often): “I saw”, but: “It was seen”; by many; in public. They see Christ, God’s great gift to his glorious and weak people. They get prepared to face the third woe: Satan, defeated in heaven, hurled down on earth, and deploying his last and full force (chapter 13) – convulsively, a terrible agony of death. They get prepared to face the ultimate judgment.
For once, they repent! They didn’t after so many plagues. But they do, now that they have heard the testimony of the two faithful witnesses. They didn’t respond, all those 1260 days; they even gloated over their death; but now, afterwards, they remember. And they acknowledge: Yes, it was true, this unbearable witness! After all, those two prophets were right. They are alive, raised from the dead! The new life God has given them is apparent. They are justified, taken up in heaven; they are victors; they glory!
That is what God was after, when he spared nine tenth of the city and its inhabitants. He wanted to receive glory and honour and praise.
That is really grace! Not just sparing people’s lives, but: compelling them to respond to his word. “My word will not return empty, / but will accomplish what I desire / and achieve the purpose for which I sent it”.
It is the word spoken by his faithful witnesses. The word they have laboured for; they were faithful to until death.
It is the fruit of your labour, friends. When you will proclaim the word of God faithfully, all of your lifetime – even though you may never see the result you are so badly longing for… When you remain faithful until death – not only will you be safe with your Lord, but your labour will bear fruit. Your fiercest enemies, those who were after your life, who tortured you, who ridiculed you – they will give honour to God.