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Identifying the Two Witnesses - 28

Beacon Baptist / Gregory N. Barkman
The Truth Network Radio
March 28, 2022 2:00 am

Identifying the Two Witnesses - 28

Beacon Baptist / Gregory N. Barkman

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March 28, 2022 2:00 am

Pastor Mike Karns continues his exposition of the book of Revelation.

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Let me remind you of a significant hermeneutical principle that we must observe if we're going to understand the book of the Revelation or write. It is a visionary picture book that we have before us rather than a literal narrative of future events. If we can keep that in mind, that will help us. If we insist on a literal interpretation, many times we'll find ourselves bewildered and lost in our understanding. Chapter 11 is our consideration tonight.

We're not going to get very far. This chapter and particularly the verses under consideration tonight cannot be understood correctly without consulting the Old Testament references that are referred to in the chapter. We see here a depiction of the church, the church bearing a mighty and powerful testimony during a tumultuous time in this gospel age. God directs and God sustains his church in its prophetic witness of the gospel in a time of increased violence and opposition to the truth, and that is the condition of the world in which we live. That's descriptive of this period of church history. I remember talking to a man who seemed to confine the work of God simply to what he saw within the four walls of the church.

Because this wasn't happening in the church, God wasn't doing anything. And I tried to help this brother to understand that God is building his church, and it's a worldwide global church, and he's gathering his elect from the four corners of the earth. And you might not be seeing it here in this particular place on this particular Sunday, but never fear, God is building his church and God is working. Sometimes we impose what our experience is on the church worldwide and we forget to realize that the vast majority of the church is in perilous times, facing opposition, facing persecution. We have brothers and sisters who are giving their lives for the cause of Christ, and we need to be aware of that. The church, its history is marked by violence and opposition, and oftentimes bloodshed and martyrdom. It was true in John's day. The church was facing persecution, and it is true in our day as well. So tonight my concern is to help us identify the two witnesses that are referred to in verse three. And I will give power to my two witnesses. Let's revisit the first couple of verses.

It's been a couple of weeks, I think, since we looked at that. Verse one and two, John says, Then I was given a reed, like a measuring rod, and the angel stood, saying, Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there, but leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles, and they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. John's given a reed, a measuring rod. I think measuring is a little misleading. He's to mark out, and he's to mark out the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.

To mark out is to set aside, to put parameters around. And we're not to think of the temple in terms of a building. We're to think in New Covenant terms that we are the temple of God. God dwells in us, Christ in us, the hope of glory. And we look for a day, and we long for a day, we're told in Revelation, this wonderful truth. John says, But I saw no temple, he's talking about the New Jerusalem, but I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. Where God will dwell with his people, with no hindrance, no barriers.

What a time to look forward to. But there's a delineation being made. He's to mark out those who are part of the temple of God, the altar, and those who are worshiping there. But he's to leave out, verse 2, the court which is outside the temple. Do not measure, do not mark that part, for it has been given to the Gentiles, and they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. God is guaranteeing the spiritual survival of those who were true and faithful, those who were worshipers of his.

While those who are outside would be trodden underfoot and not enjoy God's protective keeping power. That's all I'm going to say about those first couple of verses. It was important to say something because verse 3 begins, And, and I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.

So let me give you the landscape, what I want to try and do tonight. We're only going to consider the two witnesses. Identify who these two witnesses are.

So it's going to be a bit, I don't think tedious is the right word, but you're going to have to follow because there's a lot here to cover. This chapter, we're just going to consider the two witnesses, but this chapter will tell us four things. It will tell us who they are. It will tell us what they must do.

It will tell us, number three, the opposition they will face. And it will tell us, number four, how and for what purpose they are preserved and destined. That's the rest of chapter 11, but again tonight we're only going to consider the identity of the two witnesses. Notice first with me the personal pronoun that's used in reference to the two witnesses.

I will give power to my two witnesses. Notice the verse doesn't just speak of two witnesses, but of my witnesses. I do not think that this is a reference to the angel speaking in verse one.

Let's look at that again. Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod and the angel stood saying. So there's an angel speaking to John in verse one. But I think the reference to verse three, my witnesses, is a reference to Christ himself who is speaking. I will give power to my two witnesses.

You say, well, how did you get that? Well, I think the construct is similar to what we saw in chapter 10. So let's look back at chapter 10. Verse one, John says, I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven clothed with the cloud and a rainbow was on his head. His face was like the sun and his feet like pillars of fire.

He had a little book open in his hand and he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land. And he cried with a loud voice as when a lion roars. When he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices. So here's an angel, a particular angel. And we speculated that it perhaps is the Archangel Michael, perhaps Gabriel. But it's different than what we see in verse four. Now, when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven. This is not the voice of the angel. He hears a voice from heaven saying to me, seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered and do not write them. So I believe that's Christ, God speaking to John there in verse four.

And I think we have something similar going on here in chapter 11 and verse three because of the personal pronoun. I will give power to my two witnesses. Who would say that?

Who could say that? Christ could say that. He has his witnesses. This designation that is Christ, the head of the church speaking, is reinforced when we consider secondly not only the personal pronoun, but what he actually communicates. I will give power to my witnesses and they will prophesy 1,260 days clothed in sackcloth.

What's he communicating? He's communicating a promise of power to prophesy. Now, the Hebrew construction here, and I'm talking about the grammatical construction of the sentence here, it's a bit awkward, but it puts the emphasis in the right place. So let me give it to you in just the way that it's rendered in the Hebrew.

If you were to take the words and simply translate them in the order in which they're given, this is what you would find. Quote, I will give that my two witnesses shall prophesy 1,203 score days. I will give that my two witnesses shall prophesy 1,203 days.

I will give what? Christ is saying in essence, I will give unto my two witnesses all that they need so that they may not keep silent, but witness for me and my cause in the midst of a world of growing hostility and opposition. That I think is the essence of what is being communicated.

Now, our task from this point forward is to identify who the two witnesses are. What are some of the possible interpretations? Well, let me mention four of them, and there are far, far more than four. There's more than I can count, more than we would have time tonight for me to stand here and say, well, some say this, some see that, some want to believe this. But let's just deal with four possible interpretations. Number one, some see here a literal description of Jerusalem's destruction in the last days. And again, that's going back to verse one and two, verse two. They will tread the holy city underfoot for 42 months.

So, we just have to pause and I think we can dismiss this one rather quickly. What do we say about this? Well, I think without too much controversy, it's easy to establish the fact that at the time that John is writing and giving us this revelation, Jerusalem and its temple have already been destroyed in AD 70. Not just partially destroyed, not that the temple and the altar has been set apart and marked off and protected, and only the outer court has been trampled underfoot.

History tells us that the entire temple mount was destroyed, laid waste. So, it's hard to see how this could be an interpretation of that happening in the future. And it's very difficult to find who the two witnesses would be in that awful destruction.

So, I think that is pretty easy to dismiss. I think you'll find this second interpretation a bit interesting. This interpretation is set forth in reference to the period preceding the Protestant Reformation. This interpretation, held by the Reformers, many of the Reformers, saw the two witnesses as the Bible, the Old and the New Testament. Those are the two witnesses. And this interpretation takes the reference to time, the 1260 days, they take that literal.

That's three and a half years. And this interpretation says that that corresponds to the years of struggle that preceded the Reformation. For a long time, the witness of the Scriptures stood against the corruption of the false church, the Roman Catholic Church.

And that corruption grew and developed and reached its climax. A few years before the official beginning of the Reformation, in 1513, a papal bull, that is an official edict from the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, was issued in an attempt to silence every voice of truth. And the Reformers said that was the death of the two witnesses. That was the death of the Old and the New Testament. But in the fall of 1517, about three and a half years after this papal bull was issued in 1513, Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the castle door in Wittenberg, Germany, the resurrection of truth. What about this being taken to heaven? Well, it's an expression, they believed, of speaking of a sphere of safety where the enemies of truth can silence them no more.

Try as they may, these witnesses are secured by God that they might continue to shine forth and propagate truth. Now you can see how this becomes a rather popular interpretation with the Reformers, who had to fight such a hard and bitter battle over truth, where truth was opposed and there was widespread persecution. However, there's some challenges with that interpretation.

What is that? Well, it's limited to a very small period of church history. And I believe an accurate interpretation here is we're looking at the gospel age.

We're not just confined to a very short period of time. So for that reason and some other reasons, I think this interpretation is compelling in some ways as it is, is lacking. A third interpretation, held by good many in our day, holds to a literal interpretation that we have here. Two witnesses, real people, raised up by God to bear witness, who will be known and I will give power to my two witnesses. They will prophesy 1,260 days clothed in sackcloth. It goes on to say they will be, verse 7, when they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war with them, overcome them and kill them. And as the chapter goes on, there will be a resurrection.

What do we make of this? Well, in Malachi 4, verse 5, we read these words, Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. Why am I bringing up Elijah?

Well, because we're told in verse 6, these two witnesses, they have power to shut heaven so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy. Remember the words of James, chapter 5, verse 17, Elijah was a man with a nature like ours and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. In the New Testament, we find repeated references to Elijah and his coming. The people of Israel, the scribes, especially, clearly expected his return. And in Matthew, chapter 17, let me turn there for a moment.

Matthew 17, I'll get there. In verse 10, we read these words, And his disciples asked him, that is Jesus, saying, Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? Jesus answered and said to them, Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will come and will restore all things.

Let's stop there. That's Elijah. What about these two witnesses?

Elijah would be one. Those that hold this interpretation say, Well, Enoch is the other one. Now, there's no clear reference to Enoch, but Enoch and Elijah were witnesses in a time of general apostasy. They both spoke of judgment. They both were taken into heaven. They will once more witness of the name of the Most High in a time of great apostasy, this interpretation goes. They'll finally be killed by Antichrist, shall be raised from the dead, and shall ascend to heaven all in a literal sense of the word.

Well, what do we say about that? Well, one thing we say is, let's go back and finish reading what Jesus said in Matthew chapter 17 verse 10. His disciples asked him, saying, Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? Jesus answered and said to them, Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already. Uh-oh.

Uh-oh. That kind of blows up that particular interpretation, doesn't it? Elijah has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wish. Likewise, the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands.

Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them of John the Baptist. Jesus is saying that John the Baptist is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Elijah coming. So what do we say about this interpretation? Well, it's hard for me to get my mind around the fact that two men who were translated are in a glorified state in glory are going to come back and take on human flesh again and prophesy and die again and be taken to heaven again.

It just doesn't seem to me to be very plausible. And it's in conflict with Scripture, as I said, because Jesus said, Elijah is John the Baptist. Now, let's go back to Revelation 11 and see if we can get some help in identifying who these two witnesses are. I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy 1,260 days clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. What does verse 4 have to do with verse 3? How does verse 4 help us identify who these two witnesses are?

Well, we're trying to identify who these two witnesses are, and the text of Scripture says in verse 4, these are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. Well, that forces us to go back to Zechariah chapter 4, so let's go back there. Here is a clear reference to Zechariah chapter 4. Zechariah received a portion of his revelation from God in vision, similar to John here in the book of the Revelation. Let's read Zechariah chapter 4.

Let's begin at verse 1. The angel who talked with me came back and wakened me as a man who is wakened out of his sleep, and he said to me, What do you see? So I said, I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps.

Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left. So I answered and spoke to the angel who talked with me, saying, What are these, my Lord? Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, Do you not know what these are?

And I said, No, my Lord. So he answered and said to me, This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain, before Zerubbabel? You should become a plain, and he shall bring forth the capstone with shouts of grace, grace to it. Moreover, the word of the Lord came to me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple. His hands shall also finish it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.

For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoiced to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth. Then I answered and said to him, What are these two olive trees at the right of the lampstand and at its left? And I further answered and said to him, What are these two olive branches that drip into the receptacles of the two golden of the two gold pipes from which the golden oil drains? Then he answered me and said, Do you not know what these are?

And I said, No, my Lord. So he said, These are the two anointed ones who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth. It's obvious that that's what is being referred to there in Revelation chapter 11 and verse 4. It's a reference here to Zachariah. Now, these olive trees.

Well, let's back up. Zachariah receives a vision. He beholds in the vision a candlestick with seven lamps. Above the candlestick, he sees a golden bowl or reservoir that's filled with oil.

Then there are olive trees that are connected with the bowl above the candlestick so that from them, the oil continually pours into the bowl and supplies oil for the lighting of the candlestick. And what is the point there of Zachariah chapter 4? The point is the oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit and the takeaway from the chapter is verse 6. This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, not by might nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.

What's the context back in Revelation chapter 11? Persecution. What is being promised to those who are in the midst of persecution, who are a part of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ?

I will supply everything they need in order to bear testimony in the midst of hostility and persecution, even martyrdom. And it's not by power nor by might, but by my spirit, sayeth the Lord. God is making a promise that He is going to sustain those who are His and keep them regardless of how dark, regardless of how difficult life might be.

That's the promise there. What is meant by the candlestick and what about the olive trees? Well, the candlestick, again, is symbolic language. It's symbolic of the people of God who are shining in their testimony in a world of darkness. You remember there in Revelation, you have to maintain consistency.

As we've learned things, we've got to carry them on in our further study and our understanding. You remember chapter 1, the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand and the seven golden lampstands. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches. So what we have being symbolized here is the church.

Letting its light shine in the midst of a world that's growing darker and darker with more and more hostility and unbelief. Who are the two olive trees? Well, in Zechariah chapter 4 and verse 14, they were the two anointed ones.

Remember that? The two anointed ones, they stand before the Lord of the whole earth. And again, back to Revelation 11. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. In the Old Testament, there was but two who were officially anointed to be servants in the theocracy. They were the king and the priest.

They were the anointed ones. I find it interesting that at the beginning of John's revelation, he says this to us. To him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, this is Revelation 1 and verse 5. Verse 6, and has made us kings and priests to his God and Father. To him be glory and dominion forever and ever.

Amen. New Covenant believers, those who have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ, have been made, according to that verse, kings and priests. We are servants of God. We serve him in the church, in this world. And that's good news, but with that privilege comes serious responsibility because we say, well, who's sufficient for these things? In our natural selves, we're timid, we're fearful, we shy away, we're not quick to be bold for Christ.

What do we say in that context? God says, I will give power to my witnesses. He will supply everything we need in order to stand and identify ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ.

God is saying, I will have my witnesses, my two witnesses, and this is typical language. We're not to be looking for two particular individual people, but they're types. And the anti-types, the fulfillment of that, are New Covenant believers. Those who make up the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. When I say New Covenant believers, that's the age in which we live, it's all believers. Old Covenant believers as well as New Covenant believers. That's who is in mind here.

So, what do we have here? Well, there's a word of warning. And the word of warning is to those who are outside of Christ. Opposition will not have the final say.

Those who are resistant to Christ and His authority, who will not bow the knee, will be judged ultimately. That's the warning. But there's strong encouragement. The candlestick shall shine. God will supply that oil from the olive tree. It's unceasing supply. We'll never have to worry about the power going up.

We'll never have to worry about a power shortage. God is determined that He will have a witness. He's always had a witness. Even in the time of the Reformation when things were very, very, very dark. And there are difficult days ahead.

There is an increased time of departure coming. Paul spoke of that in 2 Thessalonians. He answered that when Pastor Parkman was going through that passage. So, regardless of what the world may say, Christ will have a witness.

The church, those who make up His church are to be faithful. And how we need boldness. How we need to not quench the Spirit, but stay in a place where we're receiving the ministry of the Spirit of God that we might be able to stand in these difficult and dark days.

Here's a lesson here about careful exposition. It's amazing as I studied how many different interpretations there were to who these two witnesses are. And if you just follow the reference to the two witnesses and read the next verse, that will keep you from all kinds of wild speculation. I will give power to my two witnesses and they will prophesy 1,260 days clothed in cloth.

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. If you keep those two verses together, it confines your interpretation. It will keep you from being crazy. Some of the interpretations were just flat out crazy. So I thought, you know, that's a good lesson in our study of Scripture, that we keep our finger in the text and we ask the text of Scripture and we keep studying the Word of God and allow the Word of God to be the interpreter of Scripture.

Well, that's where we are tonight. I'm sure you were listening as I read the contents of chapter 11. I don't know how many of you are reading on ahead and wondering where in the world are we going. What in the world is he going to say about this and what is he going to say about that? Well, to be honest with you, there's some things that I've read.

I'm not sure what I'm going to say about this and what I'm going to say about that. But I promise you, I'm committed to study and trust God and thank you for praying. I talked to Brother Don Theobald on Friday and he asked me if I was preaching on Sunday and I said, I am Sunday night. And he said, what are you preaching? I said, I'm preaching through the book of Revelation.

He went, oh my. He said, I'm in the John Calvin camp. And it took me a minute to think what he meant by the John Calvin camp. Well, that's one book that John Calvin did not write a commentary to.

He didn't go near it. Well, I won't say he didn't go near it, but he didn't offer an exegetical commentary in the book of Revelation and I'm understanding why. But it's a good place to be. It's a good place to be humbled by scripture, to be dependent upon God. I came home encouraged one day after work and I said to Carla, I said, I feel like God gave me special illumination to understand a portion of his word.

I've been frustrated trying to understand this, trying to understand that. And I said, the Bible says that God will illuminate our minds that we might understand the scriptures. That's a promise. That's what he did for the men on the road to Damascus. That's what he does for us.

That's what we're dependent upon. God illuminating our minds so that we might understand the scriptures. It's wonderful to be on the receiving end of that. Have you had that experience? Have you been scratching your head trying to understand what this means? And God by his spirit illuminates your mind and you begin to understand the scriptures. Well, that's cause for rejoicing. That's supernatural. That's God helping you understand his word.

So I was encouraged this week and I trust that you're encouraged and yes, we will. You know, if I could talk to some of these commentators that I'm reading, I would say to them, what you did was not fair. Because oftentimes when they come to a difficult passage, they skip over it.

I read a couple of commentaries that would be three or four pages on the entire 11th chapter. And I'm thinking, now wait a minute here. There's a whole lot more there than what you're dealing with.

Well, let's get on to safer ground. I don't know that we're going to have definitive answers to everything we're going to encounter, but we're trusting God to illuminate our minds that we might understand his word or write. And one of the challenges is, I was saved in a dispensational context. So I am fighting preconceived notions and ideas. I'll take just two or three minutes and explain how God in his kind providence brought me to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The church where we were attending were showing the motion pictures of thief in the night in a distant thunder.

How many have seen those motion pictures? Some of you. We were in the habit of going to church on Sunday morning. Now, I'm not a believer yet, but we're in northwestern Pennsylvania, and it's February, and it's freezing cold. I go out to start the car. The car will not start Sunday morning.

So I take the battery out of the car, take it into the house, thinking I'll get this battery warmed up, and maybe in the afternoon I can put the battery back in. It'll start, and we'll go to church Sunday night. Because they're showing, I don't remember now which one it was, a distant thunder, one of the films. So that's what we did. And the car started, and we went to church.

And there was an evangelistic appeal at the end of the motion picture that was designed to scare the willies out of you. And Carla and I both resisted the evangelistic appeal and went home. We got home. Carla said to me, we shouldn't have left the church tonight.

I said, we're only ten minutes away. Got back in the car, drove back to the church. The pastor was closing up the church.

Talked to him. I started a new job that night, working 11 to 7. And we just saw this motion picture that dramatizes the rapture of the church. I start this new job, 3 o'clock in the morning, I find myself in a corner at a bench on my knees, crying out to God.

And it was a dark corner of that particular shop, and there's not many people working at 3 o'clock in the morning. But when I woke, when I got up off my knees, God had shined the light of his gospel into my heart. And I knew I'd been changed. So all this prophecy stuff has affected our lives. It's a strange providence.

God worked. So you can understand a little bit about my background. And a lot of us have had that background. That's what we've grown up.

That's what we've heard. Anybody else address the book of the revelation from a different theological perspective? And that's what I'm trying to be honest to the scriptures. As I read the scriptures and think about some of the things that are dramatized in those motion pictures, it's, I'm convinced, overstimulated imagination. Let's be sure we're getting our theology from the Word of God, and not from Frank Peretti and the Left Behind series and motion pictures.

All right? We're committed to that, aren't we? Thus saith the Lord. And even those hard places that really make you dig and really make you pray and really make you see God, it's worth the search, it's worth the study, it's worth the effort. Let's pray. Father, thank you for tonight. Thank you for your Word. Thank you for the Spirit of God who illuminates our minds that we might understand the scriptures. Lord, we believe difficult days are ahead for the church in America. And we thank you for the promise that you will supply everything we need to stand faithfully for you. Oh God, help us. We might be bold and unflinching in the hour of difficulty and temptation when hostility rises and darkness increases. Lord, we know not what a day may bring forth, but we read about the persecuted church and we wonder why that hasn't happened here, why that hasn't come here, and yet we believe that perhaps it is coming. So prepare us for that day, our God, that we might stand in that dreadful day and be faithful to you, we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-14 08:21:28 / 2023-05-14 08:35:17 / 14

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