The American landscape is breathtakingly beautiful. America is known for her Midwestern plains, two extensive coastlines, the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountains, along with the great lakes. Teddy Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman, helped to preserve our land and heritage by establishing the National Park Service. Years before Roosevelt, Yellowstone became the first national park being signed into law by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. This past year the National Parks almost had 80 million visitors to their various parks across the nation. Today, there is an even greater interest in protecting the American landscape from over-development and pollution. America wants her precious land to be preserved for future generations.
I have had the privilege to visit several national parks and have driven from coast to coast. We have a beautiful nation. One of my favorite things to look at as I travel is church buildings. My wife often laughs at how easily it is for a church building to turn my head. As communities continue to grow and space diminishes, developers need to maximize space, so they are building taller and taller buildings. However, if you drive through smaller towns throughout the Northeast, Midwest and South, you will see shorter, different skyline: ones with a cross. The church steeple used to be the center of the American skyline as it pointed people to heaven. American architecture communicated its values of being people of faith. This is not unique to America but was adopted by English architecture from our first settlers. How do we preserve that heritage?
Two years ago, China’s government started to dechristianize the skyline of the city of Wenzhou, known as China’s Jerusalem. The Government did not want crosses at the top of the skyline. China forcibly removed 400 crosses from the skyline as a clear symbol of their secular principles. The America has not forcibly removed the cross but simply merely marginalized it. Driving force of the American culture is the economy. Church steeples have been replaced with skyscrapers. In a growing secular age, how will the church preserve the message of the cross? How will the church continue to point people to heaven amidst a hostile, secular culture?
The American government wants to preserve the most precious land while Christians want to preserve our most precious message. We are stewards of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must strive to preserve the message of the cross regardless of its reception. Our task of preservation was no different for the seven churches of Asia in the 1st century. They, like we, worked to proclaim the glory of God in Christ to a secular, hostile nation. As we think about our glorious yet challenging task, we must never forget the God who works on our behalf.
The Measuring of the Church
Revelation 11 is one of the most controversial and widely debated chapters in the all of John’s apocalypse. I will not provide all the various interpretations of this text, but what I believe it to mean and what it means to us today. Revelation 11:1-2, “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, 2 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.” John continues to participate in this vision. Remember this vision is an interlude between the sixth and the seventh trumpet. John was given a measuring rod and was told to measure three things: the temple of God, the alter and those who worship there. As we have seen in recent chapters, Revelation 11 is written with the backdrop Ezekiel 40-48.
There have been numerous interpretations of this measuring from very literal to more figurative. Beale writes, “In Ezekiel, measuring secured both the inner and outer courts against the contamination of Israel’s former “abominations,” namely, unbelievers worshiping false gods in the sanctuary and priests participating in idol worship in the sanctuary (44:8–10).” John is likely drawing on Ezekiel here to show that God’s measuring is a promise of protection from spiritual danger. John is not referring to the literal temple of Jerusalem but the New Testament temple of the people of God. Jesus was the temple of God during his earthly ministry. After the resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit came to bring life to individuals forming them into the temple of God. The NT often refers to the church as the “temple” as in 1 Cor. 3:16–17, “you yourselves are God’s temple,” and 2 Cor. 6:16, “we are the temple of the living God.” One may also look at Ephesians. 2:19–22, Hebrews 3:6 or 1 Peter 2:5. Following the New Testament tradition, I believe John is referring to the whole church rather than Jewish believers or even subset of the church.
Another interpretative key for me is that John does not only measure the temple but the worshippers there. He is not referring to the bricks and mortar of the temple, but the people of God. The altar is measured to show that God’s people are called to be living sacrifices to him (Romans 12:1). God’s presence with his people will protect them, but his protection does not mean there will not be persecution and physical harm. We have already seen that God said that there will be more martyrs before the end comes (Revelation 6:11). When John is told not to measure the outer court, God is communicating that unbelievers will persecute the church. This has already been the case in the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 2-3). Jesus exhorted them to conquer meaning hold fast to him amidst persecution. This is what the church has always done, but we continue to do this knowing that God will carry us safely into his heavenly kingdom.
John is told that the holy city will be trampled for 42 months. Most numbers are symbolic or figurative in Revelation. What is the significance of 42 months? The same number is Revelation 13:5 in the time allotted to the beast to exercise authority over the earth. 42 months is equivalent to 1,260 days. 42 times 30 equals 1,260 or 3 ½ years. This is a reference to Daniel 7:25 who says that the people of God will be worn out by those who oppress them for 3 ½ years or a time, times, and a half of time. The number should not be taken literally but more symbolically as a period of intense persecution where evil reigns. If seven is the number of perfection where righteousness reigns, half of seven or 3 ½ is a time where wickedness reigns. The wicked will reign for a time and persecute church, but God will keep his people.
Consider Jesus words to Peter in Luke 22:31, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Jesus knew Peter was going to fall away for a season, but his faith would not fail because of the power of God. No one can snatch a believer from God’s hand. (John 10) The good work he begins, he will carry to the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6)
Or consider the Apostle Paul when he was alone at his first defense, he said, “The Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil dead and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever Amen.” (2 Timothy 4:16-18) Paul was beheaded. Peter was crucified upside down. Stephen was stoned. And all of them were kept by Christ. Do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. (Luke 12:4). Friend, God will keep you. God will sustain you.
The Message of the Church
As the church faces persecution, she must continue her role in proclaiming the message of the kingdom. Revelation 11:3-6,
3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 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. 6 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.
There has been much debate on who are the two witnesses. There are two broad camps of identifying these two witnesses. Either they are two literal end-time individuals, or they are symbolic figures representing the whole church. There are biblical reasons for both, but I believe these two witnesses represent the whole church for 5 primary reasons.
First, the entire church is called to exercise her prophetic ministry of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. (Luke 24:47). The message of repentance can be seen in the two witnesses clothed in sackcloth picturing a mourning of sin. The message of the church has always and will always be repentance. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ. If you are here today and have never trusted in Christ, we would be failing in our responsibility if we did not plead with you to repent. As you will see later in his chapter, only those who know Christ will experience a blessed resurrection.
Second, two witnesses were necessary in the Old Testament in rightly judging against an offense. The two witnesses, ie the church, have been granted God’s authority to validate and announce judgment on the world.
Third, the reference of two olive trees and the two lampstands is from Zechariah 4. Both Zechariah and Joshua were called olive trees representing the two-fold function of God’s people in Exodus 19 where the nation of Israel would be a kingdom and priests for God. John describes the church as a kingdom of priests in Revelation emphasizing that all believers are both priests and kings (Rev. 1:6; 5:10: 20:6). It also appears that there is no distinction between these two witnesses in Revelation 11:4, “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” They are both called olive trees and lampstands rather than one being one and the one being the other.
Fourth, the olive tree and the lampstands also are corporate in nature as they symbolize how the church is filled with the Holy Spirit, the olive trees, and a light unto the world, the lampstands. Although it is possible there are two literal figures that represent this idea, the whole church is called to be a light of the world as they witness the resurrection through the power of the Holy Spirit. The dominate theme in the book of Acts is how the church is called to witness unto to Christ. Mounce aptly writes, “By these two metaphors John is emphasizing a truth concerning the church that has always been true but is especially appropriate in times of persecution—that the power and authority for effective witness lie in the Spirit of God.” In referencing the Olive trees, John is communicating Zechariah 4:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
Fifth, the picture of the rest of the text is that the beast wages war against the witnesses and kills them. It appears from the text that it is far more than merely two bodies but a great number of slain Christians (cf. Rev. 13:7). The celebration of the wicked for their victory of their whole church makes more sense in the context of the passage especially as people from every people and language and nations will view the bodies.
The language in verse 5 and 6 giving these two witnesses or the church the power to speak with fire from their mouth and to shut the sky and to have power over the waters would also be symbolic. The church has been given authority by God to speak true judgments against the world. The Old Testament parallels of Elijah and Moses serve as a type of judgment that is to come. Jeremiah 5:14, “Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts: “Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them.” Jeremiah’s words used against the nations when they would not repent.
The prophetic ministries of Elijah and Moses are in view here serving as a forerunner to the ministry of the church. What is the ministry of the church? We are called to proclaim the message of salvation and judgment in Jesus Christ, not by might but by the Spirit, says the Lord. How is the church fulfilling her role? Are we proclaiming salvation and judgment? It is easy to preach salvation through Christ while it is hard to preach judgment without him. Salvation always comes through judgment. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. (Hebrews 9:22) Jesus was judged and took God’s wrath, so we could be saved. God will save the righteous and judge the wicked.
Church, when you share Christ do you talk about the judgment that is coming? Or are you shrinking back from the whole counsel of God? Too many Christians apologize for God’s judgment against sin. We must not apologize but continue as his light to the world proclaiming salvation in Christ and judgment without him.
Friend, if you have not yet trusted in Christ, do not delay. He desires to save you. He wants to give you himself. His life for yours. But you must turn from trusting in yourself to trusting in Christ for salvation. Turn from sin to Christ. Reject your idols and run to Jesus.
The Massacre of the Church
The wrath of the beast will come upon the church. He will unleash death and destruction on the saints. Revelation 11:7-10,
7 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, 8 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. 9 For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.
Jesus promised the world will hate his people because it hatted him. The church is the aroma of death to those who are perishing. The church is that nagging reminder to the world of their need to repent.
The church completes her testimony. She finishes her proclamation and then is destroyed. Those who dwell on the appear to have the final victory. They are killed, and their bodies are not buried a sign of great disrespect in the first century. This is to happen in the great city that is called Sodom and Egypt. The reference to where the Lord was crucified has led many people to believe the great city to be Jerusalem while textually the great city has also been Rome thus far in the book. I agree with Mounce who writes,
The inclusion of a reference to the crucifixion is not to identify a geographical location but to illustrate the response of paganism to righteousness. The great city is “every city and no city. It is civilized man in organized community.” Spiritually (or allegorically) it is “Sodom and Egypt.” Sodom refers to the depths of moral degradation (cf. Gen 19:4–11), and Egypt is a symbol of oppression and slavery. The great city in which the martyred church lies dead is the world under the wicked and oppressive sway of Antichrist.
This is the city of man that stands against the city of God to borrow Augustine’s language. This should be a reminder to all of us not to seek the praise of the world.
About forty years ago, Christians started to refer to themselves as evangelicals or those who believe and prioritize the gospel. It is hard to understand who an evangelical is today as moral compromise is so prevalent in the church. We should just call ourselves what we always have been: Fundamentalist. We are those who hold to the fundamental doctrines of the church. We believe there is one way to heaven: through Jesus Christ our Lord. We believe God hates sin. We believe in biblical marriage and sexuality. The world will never love us until we compromise our fundamentals values. Let embrace who we are in Christ.
The world will hate us and eventually take our lives and they will celebrate our demise until…
The Resurrection of the Church
The church will rise from the dead. The church will face physical harm and experience the harsh treatment this world has to offer. Jesus was put to death. Paul and Peter were put to death. Some of us may be put to death. And yet, we will rise. Revelation 11:11-14,
11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.
God will breathe life into our bodies and will rise. God’s breathe brings life. This is the final fulfilment of Ezekiel 37 when God breathes life into those dry bones. Christians we always interpret life on the resurrection. There is a future promise of hope that is as sure as the rising of the sun.
A great earthquake will come and kill many of those in the cities. It is said that seven thousand people were killed in that earthquake, either a literal number or (and probably most likely) the full number of wicked. And yet, not all will perish. There will be some, or as the text says, ‘the rest’ who understand their place against God and in terror turn to give him glory. This may be a reference to the large turning of the wicked to God. God’s wrath will come on those who do not repent, but his kindness and patience extend to the end. Turn to Christ. Give him glory and live.
In the face of all our trials, all our failing health, all our broken lives, all our sinful disobedience, all our relational strife, all our persecutions and insults, let us remember that great is our reward in heaven because God has promised us a resurrection. Never define the success of life without the resurrection of Christ. D. Martin Lloyd Jones aptly reminds us,
There is a resurrection after death. Let this never be forgotten. The life that we live here in the flesh is not all…The trumpet shall one day sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. All that are in the graves shall hear Christ’s voice and come forth–those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of damnation. This is one of the great foundation truths of the Christian religion. Let us cling to it firmly, and never let it go.
The Reign of the Church
The seventh trumpet finally sounds, and God fully and finally vindicates his people. Let our hearts rejoice in the victory of Christ and give thanks to Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, and who will reward his saints both great and small. Revelation 11:15-19,
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying,
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
and begun to reign.
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.”
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.
Beloved, the nations will rage, God’s wrath will come. Saints are rewarded with the reign of Christ. Let us live everyday with an eye on that day when, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” Amen, Come Lord Jesus.
 Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 561). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
Observation taken from Thomas Schreiner’s sermon on this text that can be found here: http://www.credomag.com/2012/10/26/protected-persecuted-vindicated-revelation-111-19/ accessed 2.10.2018
 Schreiner, Tom. (Sermon)