Revelation Part 23
2 Corinthians 10:1-6
THE Tale of 2 Cities
As I mentioned last time – there is little question Revelation 11is one of the most – if not THE most – debated chapter in the entire book.
And you are all to be commended for sticking with me through the first part of this chapter last week, because there was a LOT there to try and unpack in interpreting the symbols.
Fortunately, the rest of the chapter is NOT as symbol laden and will end up very clear. But there is still one more symbol we need to deal with this morning. And if we can get this, it will make the whole rest of the book much more understandable. In fact, much of the point of the book of Revelation rests on it. So please bear with me just a bit longer in doing some hard work – I promise you it will pay off.
Before we even get into the immediate text – let’s stop at the “You Are Here” sign to get our bearings and then forge on ahead.
You will recall that there are a series of 7’s that we are right in the middle of.
There were the 7 churches in 2-3.
The 7 seals on the scroll Jesus opened in Chs. 5-8 – Which scroll contains the complete plan of God in bringing final judgment upon sin and final reward for those in Christ by saving faith. The opening of those seals gave us an overview of the plan.
That was followed by introducing 7 trumpets. A series of announcements or proclamations that expanded on some aspects of what we saw when the seals were opened – and are meant to serve as a period of warning or a cosmic heads up that the end is really coming. The blowing of the trumpets goes from Ch. 8-11.
The period of time in which these warnings are declared will ultimately come to an end, and then there will be 7 bowls of wrath. Another word picture to say simply that judgment won’t just be talked or warned about any more, but actually carried out.
Well at this point in our study, we are in the midst of the 6th trumpet or warning which was begun in 9:13.
And as we’ve seen, this group of warnings have been dire indeed.
The Church. So far in ch. 11 we’ve seen that God marks out His people to keep and protect them spiritually, indicating the Believer cannot lose his or her salvation even though there will be times of severe persecution for some in the Church. Times when many who profess saving faith in Jesus will lose their lives in martyrdom.
A symbolic 42 months.
The 2 Witnesses. In fact, there will come a point in history when for all intents and purposes, it will appear as if the ministry of the Church in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the call to lives lived according to God’s standards and not those of the world or the culture – will be snuffed out. But that will only be for a short time – for then the Church will rise again supernaturally.
The more you think about those pictures, the clearer they become.
But there is one more detail we need to tease out to get the full picture. And I want to be sure you know WHY I think we are to interpret this symbol a certain way – and that we don’t just assign meaning to these symbols without Biblical or textual warrant.
Let’s look at the text: Revelation 11:3–8 “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.”
What about this city referred to in vs. 8, and why does it matter?
It matters because how you interpret this symbol, has a lot to do with how you look at the entire remainder of the book.
And on the surface, it is very common to take the phrase “where their Lord was crucified” – to simply mean Jerusalem as the defining idea. And therefore to say Jerusalem is also “the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt.”
If that interpretation is correct, then what we’ve looked at so far has to be completely revised and the entire chapter looked at as a scene which must unfold on the literal streets of geographical Jerusalem. And if that’s so, the 2 prophets are 2 human personages. There is a literal rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem. These 2 prophets literally shoot fire out of their mouths to consume their enemies, and literally bring all sorts of plagues on the earth. Now without question – it is POSSIBLE for all of that to happen as literal. But the question is – is that what the passage is actually teaching?
I think we established Biblically why we should not take the previous portions as literal last week. If you weren’t with us for that, I would encourage you to go on line and listen to it. But what about this part – what about the city?
Once again, we have to look more closely at the text itself, and other portions of Scripture to put it all together.
We have to ask ourselves: What are the clues both in the immediate text, and the rest of the Bible? There are 4 I think are most helpful.
- Mixed metaphors. As we’ve seen already in this book, sometimes the metaphors or pictures are mixed, so as to give fuller explanation. You remember that Jesus is depicted BOTH as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah AND the Lamb slain for our sin, in the space of only 2 verses in Ch. 5. Then again how in Ch. 7 the 144,000 and the great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, tribe, peoples and languages, standing before the throne, were one and the same. And last week in vs. 4 how the 2 prophets are referred to both as the 2 olive trees and the 2 lampstands which stand before the Lord.
So here, we have to take note that the “great city” where Jesus was crucified is also called Sodom, and Egypt. 4 descriptors that have to be taken together to arrive at a clear understanding.
2. The use of the term “the Great City”. The 2nd clue grows out of the mixed metaphors. In the 7 other uses of this term in Revelation, each time it unambiguously refers to Rome. This is decisive in my view.
3. Calling the City “Sodom.” We have no Biblical precedent for Jerusalem ever being called Sodom. The closest we come is Isa. 11 – but there the reference is the people of Israel in their sin, not Jerusalem. So equating Sodom with Jerusalem has no Biblical basis. It is obviously symbolic of something.
4. Calling the city “Egypt”. Egypt obviously isn’t a city. But throughout the OT it IS used as a type for “The World.” You have God’s people, the Israelites, and you have the world outside of Israel. And Egypt gets used as the quintessential way of expressing that idea. Morals, values, worship, all apart from God’s revelation and influence.
So, what do we do with all of this? How do we put it together and what does it mean?
If we take all 4 designations together I think the clearest option is this: For the first readers, Rome would be the obvious choice.
But not Rome merely as a geographical place – but Rome as a picture of the world – just like Egypt. Rome as a “symbol of all of civilization against God.” (Carson) And when it is all said and done, the combined actions of an apostate Israel in league with the World empire of the day crucified Jesus in geographical Jerusalem; but in the larger sense, in the kingdom or city of this world, versus the kingdom or city of God.
For a people who had only known the experience of living in the great City States of the ancient world – this makes perfect sense. Babel was a city/state. And it represented mankind as a group, rebelling against God. Babylon was a great city/state. Sparta was a great city/state. Tyre and Sidon in the Bible were city/states. And Rome was, according to the book of Daniel to be the last great city/state. So when you spoke of Rome, you spoke not just of the city, but of the empire as a whole. And from that picture God now reveals that He views – and want US to view – the whole of existence as the bifurcation between The City of Man or Humankind and the City of God.
In fact, it was this chapter that formed the impetus behind St. Augustine’s famous book: The City of God.
For what will appear later is that in opposition to this “Great City” – the City of God, God united with all of His redeemed will come down out of Heaven and be permanently joined with earth.
Rome as both the city, and the empire under which these first readers were oppressed. And it was a City and an Empire which was antithetical to everything Christians believed and taught and lived by.
So yes, geographically, Jesus died in Jerusalem, but under the authority of Rome, which was morally as bankrupt as Sodom and as antithetical to God’s people as Egypt – wanting to enslave God’s people to serve the state rather than Him, for its own enrichment and denying the God of the Bible at every turn. All of these are being mixed together into one picture:
The World (the City of Humankind) vs.
The City of God – God with His redeemed people.
Why was this important for the 1st readers and why is it important for us? And let me tell you – this is as current and relevant to the Church in America today as it was to them in the Roman empire.
The “Great City” being Rome, it would be the natural instinct of the Jews to see the Roman empire as their chief problem – especially since the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. by Titus.
It would also be the natural instinct of the Christians to see the Roman empire as their chief problem, especially given current persecutions and even the present exile of John to Patmos. And in the coming days when persecutions WILL increase for them, as they did historically – Christians looked at the Roman government and would be tempted to say: That is our great enemy, that is the great evil – ROME! And given some other references further on in the book – that view would seem to be justified. Especially when Rome is further linked in the book to Babylon the Great, The Great Whore, etc.
The natural tendency would be to see the Roman empire as their chief problem rather than this present fallen World under the sway of Satan. The very same way so many Christians today think the Government is our real problem, when in fact it is the World system which ours – and every other government – bows to. The world’s values and morality and mentality – apart from Christ.
Again, Egypt is consistently used as a metaphor for the world in the Bible – or humanity in opposition to God’s rule. Sodom is used similarly. And Jerusalem, having rejected Jesus as Messiah and crucifying Him WITH Rome – the symbolism becomes that Jesus came into the World, this present world system, and both its secular and its religious branches rejected and murdered Him.
He was crucified in this world. This world as a system built upon human governance and autonomy as opposed to submission to God’s rule in Christ. And so it is that the World will rejoice when the Church seems to be snuffed out. Some from Peoples and Tribes and Languages and Nations. A picture once again of the World.
All of this boils down to one crucial point.
Because we do not see that it is worldliness as opposed to Christ’s rule that is our real problem, we will think we can solve our societal problems by simply fixing government.
And when this happens, The Gospel is soon eclipsed by political and social activism. And Biblical, Spirit empowered holiness is eclipsed by moralism. And we will completely miss what it is that is really going on around us.
We will forget: 2 Corinthians 10:3–5 “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Christian, our battle isn’t political.
It isn’t economic.
It isn’t even moral.
Our battle is spiritual.
And our only weapons are the proclamation of and lived committed to – Gospel truth!
We don’t need to secure more voter registrations, as good as that may be in itself – for it is of NO power in THIS battle. For this, we need Biblical truth that can destroy arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God! Only in this way can we take thoughts captive to Christ. Preach and live the Gospel. In other words: We must BE the TWO WITNESSES.
And so this chapter ends with a renewed vision of THE end. How will all of the moral, criminal, military, economic and social crises of this earth be met? Only in the return of Jesus Christ, and the kingdom of this world becoming the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ – reigning for ever and ever.
So this chapter ends with its own application – where we want to end today – turning our eyes toward the promise of the fulfillment of all Christ reveals in this book. The 7th trumpet is the final announcement of all of this.
How are we to apply what we’ve seen here? Revelation 11:17–19
- THANKSGIVING: Despite all the trials and tribulations and dire things to come. 15-17
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.”
Because all of it leads to His reign. And there can be no greater blessing than to live in perfect union with the One who died for us, and whose Kingdom is the manifestation of love, grace, beauty, holiness, unity and wonder. And the utter absence of all pain, woe, discomfort, sorrow, despair, injustice, abuse, hatred, violence, sickness, disease and death.
- JUSTICE: Final and absolute justice. 18
“18 The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”
I watched a documentary recently on a bizarre crime that took place in Erie PA in 2003. A man there robbed a bank – claiming to be forced to do so while wearing a collar bomb around his neck. The man later died and the man who actually fabricated the bomb died of cancer years later having never been charged. Some say he got away with his crime. It is true he eluded human justice – but one of the core themes of the Revelation is that while men MAY elude human justice, NO ONE can avoid God’s ultimate justice. As Romans 3:23 reminds us: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – which places us in need of reconciliation to God – which the Bible shows us can only be had through faith in the substitutionary death of Jesus for our sins on the Cross. Apart from the grace to be had there – each will have to stand before the unwaveringly holy God and will receive full, true, eternal and absolute justice for our sins. It is why we preach the Gospel! We do not want anyone to have to face that end. We want all to have the benefit of the grace that each of us have already found in the Gospel.
And not just justice for all who seemed to have escaped it in this life – reward of unimaginable glory for those who have put their hope in Christ Jesus, His substitutionary death on Cavalry – and the promise of eternal life with Him.
- FAITHFULNESS: 19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.
God will exert all of His omnipotence to remain faithful to His covenant promises to all who are His. And we are to live filled with the confidence that His faithfulness cannot fail and will deliver all He has promised – no matter what it takes.
Romans 8:31–32 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”