Revelation Part 22
1 + 42 + 2 = Victory!
John Newton once began a sermon with this short poem – I take it as my own prayer today as we enter this very difficult passage:
1 Now, Lord, inspire the preacher’s heart,
And teach his tongue to speak;
Food to the hungry soul impart,
And cordials to the weak.
2 Furnish us all with light and pow’rs
To walk in wisdom’s ways;
So shall the benefit be ours,
And thou shalt have the praise.
There is little question, that this chapter in particular is one of the most – if not THE most – debated chapter in the entire book of Revelation.
If you are coming at this book with a grid already in mind, ANY grid, you will look for some foundational concept of that grid in this chapter.
As we’ve seen so far, untangling what is symbolic and what is quite literal in this book is sometimes hard to unpack. That remains true here. Just which aspects of this portion fall into which of those categories is especially challenging.
Nevertheless, by time we are done this morning, I hope once more to tease out the main points which can be useful for suffering Christians in all ages, no matter which end-times scheme one might hold.
As we’ll see, there are 3 things which stand out in the passage that deserve our special attention and which then translate into the practical applications we’ll end up considering:
I. Measuring The Temple (1 & 2)
II. Forty two months (2 & 3)
III. Two Witnesses (3-13)
Fortunately, all 3 of these have clear precedents in Scripture.
Measuring – whether it be a people or in this case the Temple – is something already encountered in a number of OT references.
The significance of 42 months would have had an immediate connection for the first Jewish readers, that we need to dig out of Daniel and the historical records of the inter-testamental period.
And the 2 Witnesses could have several connections: 1. In Jewish law, two witnesses were always required for major judgments. 2. More likely though, in the 7 letters to the Churches in chs. 2-3, only two had no issue of compromise: 2:7-13 Smyrna – The Satanically persecuted church. 3:7-13 Philadelphia – The un-influential but ENDURING church. This I believe gives us a direct textual tie in helping us understand what’s being said there. Thus, these witnesses represent the uncompromising church. This will get teased out as we see the ministry of the witnesses.
So it is, my understanding of this portion parallels that of Don Carson when he writes about it this way: “the temple is the church, the two witnesses are that part of the church that must suffer martyrdom as they bear witness, and the great city represents this fallen world order, civilizations that finally are utterly alien to God and his will and are climaxed in destruction all the way to the very end when the witnesses, in fact, are justified before them.” D. A. Carson, “Revelation—Part 15,” in D. A. Carson Sermon Library (Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, 2016), Re 11.
Let’s look at them individually then.
I. Measuring The Temple (1-2): “Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months.”
Measuring some-ones, or some-thing in this way is not new in Scripture. In the other places where we see this same idea it is always with one of two purposes in mind: Measuring for protection (like sealing the saints in the ch. 9) or for judgment. The way we might use the phrase – taking the measure of a man – or the measure of a situation. So, we get this understanding from the prior use of this figure of speech in some OT passages.
Before we look at those though we need to ask ourselves just what temple this is that is being referred to here. And there are 3 main schools of thought on that.
1. Some think that this temple must be the temple which was standing in Jerusalem during Jesus’ lifetime – Herod’s temple. And from that, they argue this book must have been written before that temple was destroyed as it was in 70 C.E. When we began our study we took time to establish why this book was almost certainly written in the mid to late 90’s C.E., which would rule out that interpretation right out of the gate.
2. Perhaps the most common view in American Evangelicalism is that this is a reconstructed temple – one they are looking to see rebuilt in Jerusalem sometime in the future. Perhaps even in our lifetime. Hence many keep an eagle eye on events in the middle east and on Jerusalem especially for indications that such a rebuilding might be right around the corner, and a sign of Jesus’ soon return. We need to keep in mind that for that to happen, the Temple would need to be rebuilt on the site of what is currently occupied by the Mosque of Omar – for Sunni Muslims, the 3rd most holy site in Islam.
3. This is not referring to a literal physical temple at all, but instead is a picture of the Church – a picture reiterated later in Revelation as the Church and the New Jerusalem seem to be intertwined. I.e. a “spiritual” temple.
The 3rd one in my view has the most Biblical support, since in the NT era, we are introduced to the Church now being considered the temple of God. Let me give you 3 references: 1 Cor. 3:16–17 “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
Eph. 2:19–22 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
1 Peter 2:4–5 “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
These would seem to indicate that the Tabernacle Moses erected in the wilderness and the later Temple – were meant to be types and shadows of the final reality of God dwelling with and IN His people in a more complete sense in the Church AS God’s redeemed people. The idea is not going back to some physical edifice, as it is the edifices being ways of understanding the union of God with those redeemed by the blood of Christ. We’ll see this later in the book in a much more complete picture.
That said, let’s go back to Biblical examples of this sort of measuring.
2 Kings 21 – God says He will stretch out a measuring line over Jerusalem to take stock of what it’s punishment for idolatry should be.
Lamentations reiterates that idea, as does Amos 7. Then in Hab. 3 measuring is used in judging the whole earth.
But in Ezek. 40-48 and Zech. 1-2, the image is God measuring His Temple, His people and Jerusalem so as to pour out blessing on them.
Which image seems to fit most rightly here, as the text notes that John is instructed to take the measure of the Temple – and, that in part, some of that Temple – or as the 1st century readers would have thought of it, the Temple complex with the Temple proper and its courtyards – will be trampled under foot for a period of time. In other wards – some of God’s people will suffer great persecution, even martyrdom, and others not. Which has been the case throughout the ages and will remain so until Jesus returns. This is where the 42 months comes in.
II. Forty two months (2-3): “but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
If I were to simply say to you “9/11”, virtually everyone here born before say 1995 would immediately picture the twin towers of the World Trade Center being brought down by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. Most of you would even remember where you were or what you were doing the moment you heard of the attack.
Some events that happen historically become so ingrained in a culture, that a simple reference like “9/11” needs no explanation – but refer to such a massive shared experience, that they conjure up all sorts of memories, feelings, etc.
“The Depression” was like that to my Mom, or say “Viet Nam” to so many. “Watergate” or one meeting their “Waterloo” are similar.
And there is little question that 42 months, or 1,260 days (based on a 360 day Jewish year), or time, times and ½ a time – 3.5 years – would immediately bring to mind an event or era that was so woven into the fabric of the Jewish identity as to instantly evoke a common picture or understanding.
The connection here is with the book of Daniel and what happened in fulfilling some of the prophecies given to him back during the Babylonian captivity.
In Daniel 8, Daniel receives a vision that shows him how the Medo-Persian empire – which was at that moment the most important world power – was to be conquered by Greece. And that when the Grecian empire dissolved, it would break into 4 separate segments – 2 of which are expanded upon in the following chapters: The Ptolemaic and the Seleucid empires. The Ptolemies centered in Egypt – the kings of the South as they are called there – south of Israel; and the Seleucids – the kings of the North headquartered to the north of Israel in what we would call Syria today – with Israel being the monkey in the middle between them. Each fighting the other for control of Israel’s territory.
The worst of all the Seleucid kings was Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a rabid anti-Jew. When he gained control over Israel, he outlawed virtually anything having to do with Jewish worship. In trying to eradicate the Jewish religion altogether, he made most infractions capital offences: Owing a part of the Jewish Bible, practicing any of its rights or even just observing the Sabbath.
Around 167 B.C.E., a Seleucid emissary was passing through a village where an old priest by the name of Mattaniah refused to pay homage to him. In fact, he killed the guy. The priest had several sons, one whose name was Judas and who was nick-named in the Semitic, Judas Maccabaeus – or Judas the Hammer – who took this moment to start a bloody rebellion against the Seleucids which eventually won back Jewish control over their territory for the first time in nearly 200 hundred years. It was both a time of severe persecution, savage battle and then finally amazing victory. And it lasted – 1260 days or 42 months or 3-1/2 years.
So it is as Don Carson writes on this point this idea of 42 months: “came to be identified with a period of extreme suffering that would only last for a period of time and then it stopped… it’s an acute period of time, and then you cut it off.” D. A. Carson, “Revelation—Part 15,” in D. A. Carson Sermon Library (Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, 2016), Re 11.
So if we follow this train of thought, what we have is the Church, marked out by God and protected inwardly or spiritually, but also suffering severe persecution outwardly and being trampled down by the World for a period of time which will eventually give way to victory. And during which time 2 witnesses will be prophesying on the earth. Which then leads us to ask, who or what are these 2 witnesses, and what do they do?
III. Two Witnesses (3-13): Who or what are these witnesses? The text gives us our best clue. Revelation 11:4 “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.”
Again, a wide variety of opinions are available here. If we see these as 2 literal personages, then the ones most often suggested are Elijah and Moses, or Elijah and Enoch – from the OT.
Elijah because he is prophesied to come in some way before Christ does, and also that he did not die but went to heaven in a fiery chariot per 2 Kings 2. Though that seems to be fulfilled in John the Baptizer. (Matt. 11:14)
Moses because he is the foremost of the OT prophets and performed some of the miracles we seem to see mirrored in this passage. And also, that though the Bible says he died, God took him and buried him but no one saw him die or ever located his grave.
Or Enoch, because as Genesis 5 says, he prophesied and then evidently went to heaven without dying.
How do we decide? I think the clue is in the text itself. “These two are the 2 olive trees,” is an obvious allusion to Zech. 4 where after the Babylonian exile, Joshua a high priest and Zerubbabel the Jewish governor are pictured as the 2 sources keeping the lamp of God’s presence burning in the rebuilding of that temple.
But the designation of these 2 as being the “two lampstands” takes us right back to chs. 2-3 where in the 7 letters to the Churches – or the 7 lamp-stands as they are called there – only two churches had no issue of compromise: 2:7-13 Smyrna – The Satanically persecuted church. 3:7-13 Philadelphia – The un-influential but ENDURING church.
In other words, the 2 Witnesses – I believe are the Church still preaching the Gospel of justification by faith in Christ’s finished work on Calvary alone – and living lives changed by the Spirit: The uncompromised preaching of the Word, and uncompromised lives lived in the power of the Holy Spirit as opposed to the culture of the World.
In truth, nothing more vexes and invites the world’s wrath than the exclusive claims of the Gospel of salvation by the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross ALONE, and lives lived by the power of the Spirit while rejecting the values of this world in living unto Christ instead of fame, money and pleasure. These are the two most stinging rebukes to this present world system and inflict the most discomfort on all who reject them. Hence, they invite the most virulent wrath of the World.
That fire pours from the Witness’s mouths is figurative, just like the sword in Jesus’ mouth in 1:16, or the fire, smoke and sulfur that came out of the mouths of the demonic hoards in ch. 9. And it is nothing less than the Church having the authority to announce what is sin as God declares it, and the certain coming of final judgment upon that sin. Those who reject the warning will suffer death apart from Christ as a result. It is akin to 2 Cor. 2:15-16 “For we (the Church and the Gospel we preach)are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?”
In shutting up the heavens – We see that the Church cannot bless sin but is duty bound to announce God’s opposition to it. No rain: Speaks to the fact that we cannot pronounce blessing on anything God’s Word calls sin. We cannot approve the fallen World’s morality. We take seriously God’s Word when it says “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” Isa. 5:20
(7-10) How the world will rejoice when it imagines the Church of Jesus Christ is no more. But that delusion will not last long. Every time some dictator or Gospel resistant power has thought it has persecuted the Church out of existence, it has risen again and again against all odds – supernaturally. And it will be so up to the very end.
What then are we to take away from all of this?
- PERSECUTION & PERSEVERANCE. Since the coming of Jesus, some parts of the Church have suffered persecution and trampling by its enemies – but God has taken the measure of His people – and the Church will persevere, survive and thrive. Now as we grow closer to Jesus’ return, this will no doubt take on a global reality under the rise of the antiChrist. But it has in some capacity been happening throughout Church history in various parts of the world. One thinks immediately of China or other oppressive governments, and even regionally – like some of the new legislative restrictions in California. And of course, this dynamic also applies personally. Believer, God has taken your measure. You might well suffer severely in the breakdown of your body and opposition in life of all kinds which the Enemy will attempt to capitalize on to threaten your spiritual life as well. But He will keep you! He has taken your measure. As Paul noted in 2 Cor. 4:7-18. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. 13 Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
- GOSPEL & HOLINESS. The call to the church in every age and under all circumstances is the 2-fold call to remain uncompromising on Biblical truth – especially the Gospel of grace in the substitutionary death of Jesus on the Cross, and uncompromising on lives lived seeking out the holiness of God rather than capitulating to the World’s or the Culture’s morality and standards. Sin is what He calls sin, and righteousness is only what He calls righteousness. Those don’t change with time, trends, culture or personal opinion.
- SUPERNATURAL VICTORY. Even in those times and places when it seems the World has extinguished the light of the Gospel God has always raised it up again. And this will be true no matter how dark the coming days may be.
I recently watched a documentary on the wild account of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the brand of mysticism he brought to Antelope Oregon in the 1980’s. Buying 65,000 acres in Oregon they sought to establish an entire city there based on the furthest thing from Biblical Christianity you can get. After raids and deportations and arrests for attempted murder and a host of other crimes, the compound was abandoned. Only to be purchased a few years later by a wealthy benefactor who then donated the property to Young Life. And in the place where they once sought to extinguish Christ – lives are being brought to the saving knowledge of Jesus every day.
And that is how the history of this present world system will end. Though the Church will undergo persecutions and attempts to put out the light of the Gospel in every quarter, Christ will keep His Bride. There will always be those who in the face of all persecution continue to preach the Gospel and live for Jesus rather than for themselves and this present world even unto death. And one day, when it seems as though the Church has been extinguished altogether, it will rise by the power of the Spirit and the entire world system will give way to Jesus’ rule reign for ever and ever. It is only our 42 months.
In the words once again at the end of this marvelous book: Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.