Well, we're continuing our study in the book of the Revelation that we've been sojourning in. I want to begin tonight by speaking to you about three areas of ministry that God has assigned to the church. All three start with an E, so they're fairly easy to remember and they have a direction to them. The first is exaltation.
It has a vertical dimension to it. And the church exists to glorify and honor God, to exalt Him, to worship Him. And we are mindful of that when we come together as a church, to offer praise and worship and direct our hearts toward Him. So if we can think first of exaltation. Think number two of evangelization.
That has a horizontal focus, but it's outward. We've been called to evangelize the lost, and yet even more than that, to make disciples of all nations. So it's the outreach of the church, the focus of the church, of taking the gospel to the world. So exaltation, evangelization. And then a third is pointing inward and it's edification, where we come together to strengthen one another, to build one another up and engage ourselves as a body of Christ. Obey the one another commandments. See people build up in the most holy faith. So exaltation, evangelization, and edification. As we're considering the church here in our study, the book of the Revelation, as we come here to chapter 11.
The church is facing intense persecution. John has been exiled to the island of Patmos, and he says this in Revelation 1 verse 9. I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. John's an old man. John's contemporaries have all died a martyr's death. The church has faced persecution and John is writing for a number of reasons, but one reason he's writing is to strengthen the church, to fortify the church, to encourage the church to persevere and to endure and to look to Christ as they endure persecution. Persecution from the Roman Empire, the demand to bow the knee to Caesar. And the church says we cannot do that. We will not do that.
Whatever the consequences are to that civil disobedience, we will accept it. So John is writing to encourage the church in the midst of persecution. Now let's pick up in verse...so tonight my message is about the church.
Seven realities related to the church and its ministry in the world. Verse three says, this is...notice with me, let me back up to verse one. 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 42 months and I will give power.
So this is...notice what John says. He's received this from the Lord and he's giving instruction. I will give power to my two witnesses. These two witnesses are later identified in verse 10 as two prophets. And a question immediately comes to mind.
Are we to think of two individual men that will come on the scene and carry on a ministry of prophecy? Or is this symbolic language? Is this to be understood spiritually?
Is it representative? And there's a couple of clues, in fact there's three, that I think inform us and help us to know which direction we should take. Number one is that our primary hermeneutic as we've been studying here is that we're to understand this revelation that's been given to us representatively or symbolically, that if we insist on a literal interpretation we are going to be befuddled, we are going to be confused, we are going to lose our way. Right from the very beginning the church is referred to as lampstands. Now if we're going to insist that the church is a lampstand, no it's figurative language.
So that's the first thing. Number two, we have in the context here of chapter 11, verse 8 is referring to the dead bodies of these two witnesses. Their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt. So again, we're to understand that portion spiritually, not literally. And number three, he says, I will give power to my two witnesses. Verse 4 says, these are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. What is the antecedent to these of verse 4? Well the antecedent to these in verse 4 are the two witnesses. So I find it difficult to insist on a literal interpretation that we have here two individuals that are going to come on the scene and carry on a prophetic ministry.
No, it says these are the two olive trees. Now that's going to take us back to Zechariah. So will you turn with me to Zechariah chapter 4?
And we are attempting to identify these two witnesses. And while you're turning here, let me say a word about Zechariah just to provide a little bit of context. Zechariah is a prophet and in 536 B.C. there were a remnant of Jews who had returned to Jerusalem to reestablish the city.
While they were there, they encountered opposition, difficulty, and they were given to weariness and 16 years have gone by with very little progress being made. God reveals truth to Zechariah through eight visions. One of the visions is recorded here. He receives this vision for the purpose of encouraging those who have come back to the city to persevere, to look to God for power, look to God for enablement. That's the purpose of his writing.
Now follow with me. We're observing the similar language that we're finding in Revelation. John's audience would have made the connection to Zechariah. We don't think that way.
Our minds aren't wired that way, but we need to understand what's going on here. Now this is again Zechariah 4. Now the angel who talked with me came back and wakened me as a man who was waking out of his sleep and he said to me, what do you see? So I said, I'm looking and there is a lamp stand 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 shall 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 hand 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 rejoices, for these seven rejoice 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 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. Now that's, you need to hear that language and see that back in Revelation chapter 11. The two witnesses are said to be two lampstands. Remember in Revelation chapter 1 and verse 20, and throughout the seven letters to the churches, the lampstands refer symbolically to the seven churches. Now that picture or that vision that Zechariah had is two olive trees, one on one side and one on the left, and a huge reservoir or bowl.
And olive oil was continually dripping in and filling this reservoir and from this reservoir were pipings that went to the lampstands. And what God is saying to Zechariah in the midst of this going back to Jerusalem to reestablish the city, the people had lost energy and had become confused and discouraged. And what is being communicated to Zechariah is verse 6, not by might nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord of hosts. That God is going to provide everything that's necessary for them to fulfill what he has assigned for them to do.
This isn't a work that's accomplished by the strength of men, it's God's work and God will supply everything that's needed. Now, back to Revelation chapter 11. The question we have now are, why two witnesses? Why does it single out two witnesses? Don't turn there, I'm just going to read one verse to you and then explain what this verse means in this context. This is Deuteronomy 17 verse 6. It says, whosoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses. He shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness. So two witnesses were required to validate truth, to establish authority. And we're told that God's going to, these are the two, back to Revelation 11, these are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. Now think with me, when God revealed himself on this earth, how did he do that?
In what context did he do that? When he sent angels to Sodom, how many angels did he send? Two. Two angels to pronounce judgment on Sodom. When he certified the historical event of the resurrection, he sent two angels to the tomb to validate, to verify the truthfulness of it. In Luke chapter 10 and verse 1, Jesus sent them out two by two.
So I think that's what is to be understood here. The emphasis of two witnesses speaks of the church in its evangelistic calling. Even in the midst of persecution and threat, the church is not to abdicate that role nor that responsibility.
So these seven aspects related to the church, number one, we've considered the identification of the church, the identification of the church. Now, I've read behind some men who teach that these are two individuals, perhaps Elijah, perhaps Moses, those men who appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration. But I read behind more men who are taking the view that I'm taking tonight. So I'm not going to break fellowship with anybody who says, well, I just don't agree with you. I think these are two individual people. We're going to get along fine.
Tonight we'll get along fine. But for my purposes tonight, we're talking about the church, the church, and we've identified the church as we've seen these two witnesses. It is the visible church in the world that we're thinking about here. Number two, I want you to think with me about the purpose of the church.
That's why I started with those three emphases, exaltation, evangelization, and edification. What is the purpose of the church in the world? It is to bear witness, to prophesy in the midst of a world that is growing more and more hostile and opposed to our gospel, to our Savior, to our God, to the Word of God.
It is the church's main responsibility toward the world, to bear witness of the truth. When we see prophesy or prophets, we tend to think of that special office that God had. But when we are speaking the truth, we are prophesying truth. We're speaking truth.
We're not speaking about the future. There's an aspect of prophecy that is simply declaring truth. And as we live in the world, there is an active aspect to it and there's a passive aspect to it. Active involvement is opening our mouth and speaking truth when God opens a door for us, being bold in that regard.
But there's a passive aspect as well and that is bearing up under the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Persecution comes. What do we do? Do we run and hide? Do we fail to acknowledge that we're a Christian?
No, it's how we respond to the world. We have a passive approach. And in our response, we are bearing witness that God is worth our pain and discomfort and even our death if it comes to that. Our allegiance is to Him and to Him alone.
So there's that passive aspect. So the identification of the church, the purpose of the church. Number three, the power of the church, the power of the church. Notice with me verse three. And I will give power, I will give power to my two witnesses. Not just any witness, but God says this voice from heaven, my witnesses, my two witnesses.
They represent Him. And He says, the Bible says, God gives power and authority to His church. I will give power to my two witnesses and they will prophesy. And we're going to need power. We're going to need that authority because it's not something that's going to come naturally. It's not something we're going to enter into without divine enablement.
Why is that? Because we will be called to do this in a time similar to these prophets that are being alluded to there in verse six. These have power to shut heaven so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy. Who's being referred to there? Elijah, 1 Kings chapter 17. He went to Ahab and he said to Ahab, it's not going to rain for three and a half years. How was that message received?
Not well. He was enemy number one. And we're being told here that we're to carry on this ministry of prophesying, speaking truth, defending truth, standing up against opposition in days similar to what Elijah endured. And not just Elijah, but who else is being referred to? These have power to shut heaven so that no rain falls in the days of the prophecy. And they have power over waters to turn them to blood and to strike the earth with all plagues as often as they desire. When Moses stood before Pharaoh of Egypt and Moses turned the water into blood, he wasn't a popular person either.
There was persecution, there was enslavement, there was Pharaoh and his army that was opposing God and God's man, Moses. But God promises power. In fact, we won't go back there to Zachariah, but think again with me about that picture.
Two olive trees, a huge bowl, piping that's going to the candlesticks that they might illuminate and bear light and shed light in the darkness of this world. And the picture is that God is going to provide a perpetual supply of oil, whatever is needed for His church to bear witness of Him in this world of growing hostility, He's going to provide that. And that's our encouragement.
And that's what is being communicated here. So the power of the church. Think with me about the posture of the church. What posture should we have? Should we be like a Jonah who reluctantly went to Nineveh and proclaimed judgment unless they repent? No, that's not to be our posture. Verse 3, I will give power to my two witnesses and they will prophesy 1,260 days clothed in sackcloth.
Clothed in sackcloth. Going in humility, going in brokenness, bearing the word of God weeping over the sin that we see about us. That's what's being communicated. Grief and absolute total dependence upon God to sustain us and to empower and to intervene in the lives of the people that we're carrying this message to. Bearing a message of impending judgment, calling the world to repentance and the seeking after of God. So we've seen the identification of the church, the purpose of the church, the power of the church, the posture of the church. Verse 5, look with me concerning the protection of the church.
The protection of the church. This prophetic ministry, our witnessing in this world is to be carried out in the context of great hostility, danger, persecution. Notice verse 5, and if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.
We're going to be carrying on this ministry in the context of enemies. And they're not our enemies, they're God's enemies. They're opposed to him. They're opposed to his rule. They're opposed to his word.
But there's promise here of protection. If anyone wants to harm them, then there will be those who will want to harm them. What is meant by fire proceeding from their mouth? You see again, if we're given to a literal interpretation, we've got fire breathing prophets running around.
No, that's not what is being conveyed here. Jeremiah chapter 5 and verse 14, listen to this. Therefore, thus says the Lord God of hosts, this is to Jeremiah, because you speak this word, behold, I will make my words in your mouth fire. And this people would, and it shall devour them.
Wow. The prophetic word through the mouth of Jeremiah will have an impact, will have a powerful impact. And those who reject it, God says, I'll turn them to wood.
The words that come out of your mouth will be like fire, and it will devour them. Take that back to Revelation chapter 11. If anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies, in the same way that God said it would happen in Jeremiah's day. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. This is the prophetic word of judgment for the enemies of God.
We've seen what? The identification of the church, the purpose of the church, the power of the church, the posture of the church, the protection of the church. Notice with me number six, the opposition of the church.
The opposition of the church, number seven. When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three and a half days and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. Folks, from John's day all the way through church history to our present day, believers have and are and will endure persecution for their testimony and for their faithfulness to Christ and His cause.
What is opposition? It's hard for us to understand God's ways and God's purposes in allowing evil to triumph, but that's what's happening. For a brief time, and there have been periods in church history where this has happened, brief times where evil triumphed over good, where darkness prevailed over light, and where error succeeded over truth. All the whole world, worldly-minded opposers to God's truth, while that's all happening, are having a party and rejoicing. Again, I don't think we're talking about two individual people lying dead in the streets. We're talking about truth, falling in the streets and being trampled upon, truth becoming a casualty of man's war against God.
And if you don't think that's a possibility, open your eyes at what's going on in our world. There are very few places where truth, the Word of God, is valued and esteemed. It's ridiculed.
And if they could, they'd just as soon be trampled in the streets, lie dead in the streets. So what is the lesson for us? And from the mention of Sodom and Egypt and the great city that's referred to there in verse 8, their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Sodom. What are we to think about Sodom? Sodom calls to mind moral depravity and rebellion against God.
Egypt calls to mind bondage and oppression. The great city is Jerusalem. What was the great city Jerusalem guilty of? Killing the king, killing Jesus.
And it is intent on killing those who bear witness of him. So we see a manifestation for the world's contempt and its utter hatred for the Word of God and its faithful messengers and for its faithful churches. It's hard for us to think of depravity manifesting itself in such a way that the enemies of God and of His Word and of His Gospel being so gleeful that they would add further shame and contempt, not allow dead bodies to be buried, lie in the streets. But hasn't that happened in church history? Haven't martyrs been denied the decency of a burial, left exposed to the elements, burned at the stake, fed to the lions, and all the while the enemies rejoicing, making merry, gleeful over it?
That manifestation of depravity is chilling, isn't it? So what should be our attitude? What should be our attitude? Well, our attitude should be in line with what Jesus said in Luke chapter 12 and verse 4, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that no more, there is no more that they can do.
What did John say early on in this Revelation chapter 2? He said, He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches, chapter 2 and verse 11, He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. People fear death, and when I say that, they fear the first death.
Lost people don't fear the second death, and that's eternal separation from God forever and ever and ever. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches, He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death. I did not choose seven things to speak to about the church tonight, it just fell out that way.
The identification of the church, the purpose of the church, the power of the church, the posture of the church, the protection of the church, the opposition of the church, but number seven, the success of the church, the success of the church. The Word of God will be preached, and it will be heard throughout the world before men are permitted to silence it. Notice again verse 7. When they finish their testimony, when they finish their testimony, God will not permit anyone to silence them, us, the church, until their witness is completed and God's purpose accomplished.
I have profited from Donald Johnson's devotional commentary on Revelation. It's entitled Victory in Jesus, and he says this at this point, Though the devil would have the gospel flames extinguished, God will see that His Word is preserved, empowered, and sustained until its appointed work is done. When they finish their testimony, they were invincible until they finished the work that God assigned for them to do. Nothing was going to hurt them.
Nothing was going to stop them. Notice over in chapter 13, verse 7, we see something similar. This is related to the beast. It was granted to him, that is, to the beast, to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation. It was granted to him. Well, granted to him by whom? By our sovereign God. So whatever power the beast has, it's limited.
It is constrained by the purposes that God has for it. It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them, and authority was given him. In other words, he didn't have that authority on his own. It had to be granted to him.
It had been given to him. Now remember Paul's words in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 and verse 3. Paul said, let no one deceive you by any means for that day.
What day? The second coming. It will not come unless the falling away comes first and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition.
It's necessary. It's a necessary aspect in the display of God's future revelation. So just before the second coming, we are to expect a violent crisis that will bring conflict and persecution. And unless those days be shortened, Jesus said, that the elect wouldn't even survive. So what is the task of the church?
Well, we're on the victor's side. Nothing's going to hinder God's purposes. He's going to build his church and the gates of hell are not going to prevail against it.
God has purposes in allowing persecution. So what should be our posture? What should we be committed to?
Well, remember where we started. Exaltation, evangelization, and edification. I think this is calling the church to evangelization. The task of the church during this final period of world history is to maintain its witness, even in the midst of terrible persecution and opposition and hostility. We need to be fortified. We need to be strengthened.
We need to have resolve. And as we're praying for our missionary family, we need to be praying likewise for them. This is not a time for weak-kneed Christians. This is a time to be strengthened and emboldened and fortified, so that we might be steadfast in what God has called us to. Well, Lord willing, we will pick up in verse 11 of chapter 11, next Lord's Day.
Let's pray. Father, how we thank you for your word and for its instruction. We pray, our God, that you will use your word to equip us, to strengthen us, to embolden us, that we might be all that you would have us be in this world that is growing darker and more hostile to you and your gospel. Strengthen us in the inner man and help us that we may be steadfast, unmovable, and confounding in the things of the Lord. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
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