Monday, April 29, 2019

When Heaven and Earth Collide-Revelation 11:15-19

Transitional passages in God’s Word are often glossed over and or hurried through in an effort to get to another major unit, story, or more well-known section. This is unfortunate in that most transitional passages are filled with important data that is helpful as one seeks to understand how God’s message fits together. Today we arrive at such a passage—Revelation 11:15-19. In this passage three important activities take place that successfully carry readers from the trumpet judgments to the bowl judgment and move them from one long pause (Rev. 10-11) to another even longer  interlude (Rev. 12-13). All the while, and quite miraculously, this single passage also foretells some of the most important events/realities to come in the end after two dimensions—heaven and earth—converge. Yikes! Sounds heavy! It is! However, praise be to God that the truth this passage communicates is simple and its calling for each of us is crystal clear.

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1. ACTIVITY #1: A Declaration is Given-11:15

In verse 14, John reveals that “the second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.” The series of “woes” was introduced in 8:13—“then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in mid-heaven saying with a loud voices, ‘Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!’”. The first “woe” was described in 9:1-11 with the plague of a demonic horde that came up out of the earth. The second “woe” appears to have involved the sixth trumpet and its depiction of the large army assembling to wide Israel off the map. The third woe, yet to be seen, will occur at the pouring out of the bowls later. Along with these three woes, it is important to remind ourselves of where we are in the unfolding series of judgments. The reader has been enjoying one of John’s pauses ever since the beginning of chapter 10. Before this John revealed seven seals that were broken and six trumpets that sounded. In chapter 10, John takes a break from this process and in this interlude has a snack (10:1-11) and describes the ministry of the two witnesses (11:1-14). In 11:15 the reader returns to the chronology of events in Revelation with the sounding of the seventh trumpet.

If you will remember back in Revelation 8:1, the breaking of the seventh seal introduced a period of silence in heaven that lasted for “about half an hour.” I argued that this was like taking a deep breath before something major transpires. However, as the angel sounds the seventh trumpet, no such silence is experienced. Instead, there is “a mega-symphony of sound in the seventh trumpet” that introduces the last series of plagues with a bang (Osborne, Revelation, 440).

In a previous illustration I said that silence in a horror movie often indicates that something especially scary is about to take place. This proved to be the case in the trumpets and throughout the ministry of the two witnesses as the God rained down terrifying judgments on the earth as the world appeared to be winning on the earth (persecuting God’s people, and destroying everything good in the world). However, things are beginning to turn around. Though on a very human level the world was on the rise, God has always maintained control and through what remains in the book of Revelation will bring about the ultimate demise of the wicked earth and its rulers. This is punctuated by the series of loud major chords (the loud noises accompanying the announcement of the seventh trumpet) that introduce the climactic series of plagues in this passage that will eventually transpire in the remainder of the book (think the beginning of the final movement of Beethoven’s fifth symphony).
Following the blowing of the seventh trumpet, there is a chorus of “loud voices in heaven” (11:15b). Exactly who these “voices” belong to is unrevealed; but it probably involves a whole host of heavenly beings who are eager to make the declaration that is made in the remainder of verse 15. That these voices come out of heaven is yet another indication of the blending of the heavenly and earthly realms that is indicative of apocalyptic literature. In this passage, as in many others, the two worlds collide and what happens in one dimension necessarily impacts the other.

This apocalyptic theme is solidified in the declaration voiced, especially what is said in the last part of verse 15—“the Kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (11:15c). Though the inauguration of the kingdom will not be revealed until after Revelation 19 and the forever reign of God won’t be realized until even later, the declaration of the voices suggests that these realities are as good as done and nearer than ever before. In other words, “the seventh trumpet triggers an anticipation of the final triumph when the future visible kingdom of God on earth will become a reality, when a transference of power from the heathen nations to God,…will come” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 106). The use of the past tense (aorist) (“has become”) in this context conveys the absolute certainty of these future events (Mounce).

2. ACTIVITY #2: Praises are Offered-11:16-18

After the declaration of verse 15 is made, it is followed by a spontaneous hymn of praise offered by a familiar group—“and the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God” (11:16). It has been a while since the reader has heard from this chorus of worshipers. The last time they surfaced was in 7:13-14 when one of them explained who the multitude was that was introduced in 7:9ff. Before that they were seen worshiping around the throne in chapters 4-5. Their emergence here, like those in chapters 4-5, is in the context of worship. This time, added to their words of praise is a passionate posture—“fell on their faces and worshiped God.” The connotation of the verb used suggests that these worshipers laid prostrate before their God out of reverence and fear (see the similar posture taken in 4:10; 5:8, 14). This posture is made even more emphatic by the addition of “on their faces” (a phrase not yet seen in Revelation). This accentuates the acuity of their reverence before their Lord (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 108).

Accompanying this posture is their petition of praise. First the elders thank God for his coming reign—“’We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because you have taken Your great power and have begun to reign’” (11:17). This praise begins with a robust acknowledgement of God’s superiority (“Lord God”) and power (“the Almighty”). This sophisticated title “Lord God, the Almighty” is the third of nine times this label is employed to speak of God the Father in celebration of his rule over the cosmos and his omnipotence. However, Osborne suggests that the most significant element of what is exclaimed in verse 17 is the change of the threefold formula “who is, who was, and who is to come” (see 1:4, 8; 4:8) to “who are and who were” (i.e. no future aspect). Osborne suggests that this change means that essentially, “there is no more future, for God’s awesome power has acted, and his eternal reign has begun” (Osborne, Revelation, 443). The finality of this phrase is accentuated by the explanatory clause that follows—“because you have taken Your great power and have begun to reign” (11:17). Ultimately this is a pre-celebration of what God is in the process of bringing about in the remainder of what will soon be revealed.

While God’s future and ultimate victory is a cause of praise for the elders, it is a cause of dread for those who belong to the world’s system—“and the nations were enraged…” (11:18a). This is the typical antithetical response one can always expect between the two realms. When heaven rejoices, the world recoils. This is not a new idea.

Psalm 2:1-2-“Why are the nations in an uproar and the people devising vain things? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed,…”

Interestingly, the response from heaven at the rage the earth demonstrates against the idea of God’s final victory is wrath—“and your wrath came and the time came for the dead to be judged” (11:18a). Remember, though these verbs are translated it the past tense, these are future realities acknowledged to be as good as already accomplished. In other words, God will respond to the rage of the nations with wrath and judgment. This is similar to how God responds to the uproar of the nations in Psalm 2.
Psalm 2:4-“He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. Then He will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury…”

Adding insult to the injury of wrath lodged against a deserving world, the elders reveal that “the time to reward Your bond-servants, the prophets, and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great” is nearly at hand. In what will soon take place, the world will receive wrath and judgment while God’s people will be rewarded.

The theology of reward is pervasive in the Scriptures. That the faithful receive a reward is founded on passages like Genesis 15:1-2, 30:18, and Proverbs 11:21 and that God is bringing this reward is confirmed by Isaiah 40:10 and 62:11. Even Jesus taught that there will be a great reward for those who are persecuted for their faith (see Matt. 5:11-12) and that the reward is only for those who are faithful in their conduct (see Matt. 6:1-18). Paul picks up this theme and adds that fire on the day of judgment will test each one’s works and determine whether there is any reward (see 1 Cor. 3:5-15) (Osborne, Revelation, 445). The Apocalypse of John reveals that this much-anticipated reward is at hand for all kinds of God’s people (“bond-servants, prophets, saints, those who fear Your name, great and small”).

The ping-pong match that is this passage’s dualistic structure ends with the anticipation of the destruction of the world—“and to destroy those who destroy the earth” (praise-rage-reward-destruction) (11:18c). Depending on who’s side your on will determine what is experienced in the end—either praise and reward or rage and destruction. Those receiving destruction in this verse are described as those who have brought destruction upon the earth. While several interpretations of who these destroyers are have been offered, it is probably best (especially in lieu of what is about to be described in Revelation 12-13) that the “destroyers” include the beast, the false prophet, Satan and the world system that they run (i.e. “Babylon”-see 19:2). In addition to these destroyers are, perhaps, all who follow their evil regime. Their program of persecution and wickedness has brought destruction to the earth and God will respond by destroying the earth that has already suffered under these influences. Afterward, God will bring about a new heaven and a new earth in its place.  

3. ACTIVITY #3: The Temple is Opened-11:19

Following the declaration of heaven and the song of praise offered by the elders is the opening of the temple—“and the temple of God which is in heaven was opened” (11:19a). Again, these are anticipated realities shared before they take place (essential phenomena precluding existential fruition). The temple will not appear again until Revelation 21:3. That said, it is as good as opened. Symbolically, “this means that after the series (of judgments) has run its course, human beings will enjoy unmediated fellowship with God (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 114).

Accompanying the opening of the temple is the presence of “the ark of His covenant [that] appeared in His temple” (11:19b). Though the ark invokes images of judgment for those unfit to touch it (as it killed people in the Old Testament who brushed up against it even accidentally and brought plagues upon those who illegally possessed it), it also signals God’s gracious presence with his redeemed community (Beale, Revelation, 619). On the Old Testament Day of Atonement, the sacrificial blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat of the ark as a covering for the nation’s sins. This would ensure God’s ongoing presence with his covenant people. This Old Testament process looked ahead to the person and work of Christ whose sacrifice was enough to cover the sins of the world. Here, in Revelation, this ancient image celebrates this process of redemption and highlights those who are able to bask in its ultimate implications. Like so much in this passage, it all depends on which side people find themselves. The ark spells disaster for those outside the community of God and victory and grace for those within the believing community.

After the temple is opened and the ark is found, a grand demonstration of God’s power and authority is observed—“and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm” (11:19c). This is the third of four times the storm theophany has appeared in the book (Rev. 4:5; 8:5; 11:19; 16:18-21). In each case lightning, the roar of a storm, an earthquake, and other phenomena demonstrate the majesty of God and the cosmic activity that will accompany the judgments that bring about the end.

So What?

What is presented as the seventh trumpet sounds is a preview of the ultimate end that everyone in the world can expect. The declaration made, praises sung, and emergence of the temple and the ark together demonstrate that there are only two potential fates that people can expect: praise or rage; reward or judgment; glory in heaven or destruction on the earth. While the minor details of this passage are left mysterious and an interpretation of all of its parts can be debated, one thing is for sure: heaven knows what is coming for God’s people, and as such believers everywhere should respond in two ways. First, they must rest in the hope of their future victory and find peace in the promises yet to be fulfilled. Second they must be on mission, spreading the gospel to those around them who are still a part of the world that will be on the receiving end of the wrath described in this book and in this passage. Our application really is that simple. As people who have a foot in both worlds (the broken world that is and the perfect world that is to come), believers must be vigilant to proclaim the good news to those with no point of reference in heaven so that when heaven and earth collide, as many as possible can enjoy the new heavens and the new earth. When heaven and earth collide, where will you be standing? 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Testimony, Terror, and Triumph- Revelation 11:7-14

What does it mean to live on mission for God? What might we expect if, in our mission, we are made to face trials and tribulation? What happens if we are made to pay the ultimate price in fulfilling God’s calling in our lives? What if, instead of coming right out and answering these questions straightforwardly, the Bible illustrates the answers to these inquiries by means of faithful characters? (What if the greatest among these was celebrated last week during Easter?) Thankfully, as we return to our Revelation series we are provided with a compelling illustration of what it means to live on mission for God, what to expect if, in one’s mission, one is made to face trials and tribulation, and what happens if he/she is made to pay the ultimate price in the process. This is found in John’s description of two stages of the ministry of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:7-14. In this text, the future fulfillment of the witnesses’ ministry provides a hopeful and inspiring example for the church to follow when/if they face worldly pressures today.

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1) STAGE #1: Their Earthly Fate-11:7-10

Having already been introduced to these two witnesses in Revelation 11:1-6 and having made the case that these two witnesses probably consist of Moses and Elijah (representing the Law and the Prophets that testify to Jesus Christ) John moves to disclose two stages of the end of their ministry. The first of these is their earthly fate (revealed in verses 7-10). Understanding the timing of the earthly fate of these two witnesses is crucial. John reveals that their earthly fate will be realized “when they finished their testimony” (11:7) and not a moment sooner. In other words, nothing will stand in the way of these two or silence their message until God decides their ministry of testifying to the things of Christ is complete. Before then, they are virtually untouchable. Remember what John said in verse 3 of chapter 11—“And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way.”

The parallels between these two witnesses and Jesus’ own earthly fate are pervasive. Jesus was also untouchable before the time had come to give up his own life. Premature attempts on his life were met with frustration (Jn. 7:6, 30; 8:20) and nothing happened until God’s predetermined time was reached (Matt. 26:45-46; Mark 14:41-42). The same will be the case for these two witnesses. Nothing will be able to inhibit their ministry until the time God determines. Once again, this reveals God’s sovereignty over the happenings in the apocalypse.

At the time that God has determined and as soon as the special ministry of testifying to Jesus Christ is complete, “the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them” (11:7b). This new character—the beast—has not yet appeared in the book. However, the presence of the definite article (“the”) suggests that John’s readers would have understood who this creature was intended to represent –the Antichrist (Osborne, Revelation, 424). That this is the correct identity of the beast is made clear in Revelation 13:1ff. However, how would the readers have known this was the Antichrist prior to reading ahead to Revelation 13? The answer lies in the ancient text of Daniel 7:7-8-“After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. While I was contemplating the horns, behold, another horn, a little one, came up among them, and three of the first horns were pulled out by the roots before it; and behold, this horn possessed eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth uttering great boasts.” This beast, like the beast of Revelation, ascends from a mysterious place (see the use of the word anabainw in Daniel 7:3 in the LXX and in Revelation 11:7b) and is also said to “make war” against God’s people (much like this beast is shown to here).

What the beast is shown to do to the two witnesses in Revelation 11:7 is also reminiscent of what the beast does in Daniel 7—“will make war with them, and overcome them, and kill them,…” (11:7). This language is also repeated later in Revelation 13:7 “where we are told that when the beast “wages war” and “conquers” [in that context] the saints, he does so only because God allows it (also drawing on Dan. 7:21, 25)” (Osborne, Revelation, 425). God remains in control and yet, in this episode of the unfolding saga, the beast’s attack against the two witnesses results in their physical death.

Following their earthly demise, John reveals that “their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (11:8). Throughout the ancient world, refusing to bury the dead (sometimes a punishment reserved for the worst criminals) was considered the greatest cruelty one could offer. The Jews, who believed that proximity to dead animals and/or people placed one at risk for being ceremonially unclean, would find this especially appalling. Leaving these dead bodies lying in the streets of Jerusalem (their holy city) would have made this even worse! However, the bodies of these two witnesses lying the streets of Jerusalem is illustrative of the state of Jerusalem at this point in the tribulation period. The spiritual darkness that has replaced the promises of peace and prosperity at this point in the unfolding tribulation period is highlighted by references to two pagan historical regions that are invoked to describe God’s holy land—Sodom and Egypt. Comparing Jerusalem to these wicked territories is not new. The Old Testament prophets often compared Jerusalem or Israel with Sodom when God’s people behaved wickedly (Isa. 1:9-10; Jer. 23:14) (Keener, IVP BBC, 750). Also, as Egypt had oppressed Israel, it is not a big stretch to see how Jerusalem in this future period looks more like Pharaoh’s Egypt (under a new maniacal world leader—the Antichrist) than it does David’s kingdom.
John draws another parallel between these two witnesses and Jesus when he says, “where also their Lord was crucified” (11:8b). In both their message (that was all about Christ) and in their death (executed in the same location as Jesus’ crucifixion) these two witnesses in word and deed draw the world’s attention to the person and work of the only one who provides salvation (even in the midst of great tribulation).

During this grotesque wake of sorts on the  streets of Jerusalem, “those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb” (11:9). This macabre spectacle will linger during a time that is parallel to the length of their ministry—3.5 days is complimentary to the 3.5 years they spend testifying. 3 and a half days is also close to the number of days (as understood in the ancient Jewish world) that Jesus laid in the tomb.

If the situation couldn’t get any more disrespectful toward these two witnesses, John reveals “And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because they will send gifts to one another,…” (11:10a). The killing of these two witnesses of God is celebrated almost as though a new and exciting holiday has been introduced—presents are even exchanged! The death of these two representatives of God is like Christmas morning to the wicked world. Why? “Because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth” (11:10b). This probably refers to the plagues and other defensive measure the witnesses used to preserve their own lives and judge opponents during their ministry (see Rev. 11:6). Perceived by the world as torture, the supernatural powers of these two witnesses has been removed from the earth, no longing providing the nuisance to the evil world powers centralized in this part of the world. For this reason, the people of the world rejoice.

Thus concludes John’s presentation of the earthly fate of these two witnesses. However, much like good Friday celebrated a week ago, Revelation 11:7-10 is not the end of the story.  

2) STAGE #2: Their Ultimate Triumph-11:11-14

John continues with the second and final stage of the witnesses’ ministry. Stage 2 stands in stark contrast to the first—“BUT after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; (11:11). The means by which God brings these witnesses back to life appears to be borrowed from Ezekiel 37:5. Appearing in a context that speaks of God’s restoration of Israel out of Babylonian exile (complete with its own parallels to what is taking place in Revelation), this verse reads, “Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life…’” (See Beale, Revelation, 596). In Ezekiel 37, the nation of Israel is compared to a corpse of which only dry bones remain. As these witnesses lie dead in the streets of Jerusalem in Revelation, so too was Israel viewed in the world’s eyes as slain during the Old Testament exile. However, God is said to be able to breath life back into that which is dead and this he does before the world here in Revelation. The contrast of the witnesses’ death and their newfound life is accentuated by the words “laid” in verse 6 and “stood” here in verse 11. These two positions demonstrate the transformation from death to life brought about by the breath of God.

The immediate reaction to this is expected “and great fear fell upon those who were watching them,…” (11:11). The fact that the world is “watching them” suggests that perhaps the death and decay of these two witnesses is plastered everywhere during the end of the tribulation (maybe on the news, streaming live online, etc.) and viewable to all in the known world. Maybe their death, their wake, and now their new life will being covered wall to wall by all of the news outlets of that day.

The fear gripping those watching around the world increases as, I imagine, the viewers at home turn up the volume on their sets and restaurant patrons demand that a manager unmute the big screens as this new development unfolds before their eyes. With the volume now on, “they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them [to two witnesses now risen] ‘Come up here,’ Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them” (11:12). Their being taken up into heaven is similar to Jesus’ own ascension several week’s following his own resurrection. Conspicuous, powerful, and weighty, this demonstrates the lengths to which God will go to call up those who are faithful to him, even/especially if their lives are required.

As dread continues to overwhelm the recent celebrations of the world following the death of these two witnesses, things become even more precarious for those who commemorated the killing of God’s representatives with a new holiday. John continues, “and in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell” (11:13a). There are many earthquakes in Revelation (6:12; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:18) that demonstrate the awesome power of God and the acuity of his judgment. Here, the earthquake seems to be localized to Jerusalem proper—the immediate context in which these witnesses ministered, were killed, and were raised. Even in this judgment against the city that killed his representatives, God shows restraint as only a tenth of the city fell.

Though this is a small fraction, John reveals “seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake…” (11:13b). Just imagine all of this playing out on your favorite 24hr news channel. A dramatic execution, live streaming of the rotting corpses, a couple of resurrections, loud voices from heaven, and a large earthquake with many casualties. It is no wonder that the response of many is recorded as follows: “and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God in heaven” (11:13b). The veracity of the response of the survivors of this earthquake recorded here is dubious, especially since many other earth-dwellers later fail to glorify God (see Rev. 16:9). In fact, this is the only passage in Revelation that even hints at a large-scale conversion of those living in and by the world system before Jesus returns in Revelation 19. Every other text is pessimistic concerning the willingness of those in the world’s system  to repent in the face of divine judgment (see Rev. 9:21) (not the 144,000 or great multitude of Revelation 7). That said, at least here, many survivors of the earthquake give lip service to God and acknowledge his lordship temporarily (see Nebuchadnezzar's claims in Daniel 1-3) (after all, how could they deny it?) (Wilson, Revelation in ZIBBC vol. 4, 316).

So What?

In the two stages of ministry outlined in this passage we witness several things that are important to remember as we await the Lord’s return. First, God’s people will come under attack by those who in the world seek to undermine the testimony of Jesus Christ. John reveals that this will be true of the two witnesses one day in a future tribulation and we know that this is true of many believers in our world today. Second, the fate of God's witnesses is not determined by men, but by the Lord’s sovereign hand. This means that they are invincible until the Father so decides that their ministry is finished. This will be the case for the two witnesses (as nothing harmed them until “they had finished their testimony”) and is the case for those who are on mission for the Lord today. Third, even in death, those who are called of God are granted life. This is seen in the breath of life given to the two witnesses in Revelation and this is also promised to those who are in Christ even now. As Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies,” (John 11:25).

The anticipated example of the two witnesses revealed in the book of Revelation acts as an inspiring model for believers everywhere to follow. However, their example is only inspiring insofar as it parallels the greatest example of all—Jesus Christ. Even he faced pressure while doing the Lord’s work, paid the ultimate price for his mission, and was raised to life in victory thereafter. If this was the destiny of our Lord and Savior and we are his followers, why should we expect anything different?  As Jesus says elsewhere “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:18ff). However, this same Jesus who provides a realistic description of what we can expect says this: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Jesus overcame the world in his resurrection from the dead and promises that same resurrection life to anyone who repents of their former ways and follows him in faith.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Return of the King-John 20:11-18

Last week we took a look at a dark episode in the unfolding saga of Easter—The Fellowship of the Cross—and learned how all ought to respond to their very real problem of sin and death. The repentant thief on the cross illustrated how brokenness and faith before the Lord is met with God’s grace leading to life. However, how this is the case has yet to be revealed. Thankfully, the story didn’t end on Golgotha, but three days later that first Easter morning.

As we continue to use J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy as an analogy, I want to skip ahead to the third installment of this epic tale and draw our attention to The Return of the King. As the hobbit Frodo continues his quest to rid the world of the ring of power, another plot has been unfolding involving Aragorn—a human man—and his ascent to the throne of humankind. Though others have led men and women during this dark period as the throne was left vacant, Aragorn proves through his incredible leadership, calling, and incredible victories in battle that he is the rightful ruler of his people. Eventually, following a battle for the ages, Aragorn and his coalition brings about salvation and peace to all in the kingdom.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and his being raised from the dead three days later demonstrates his rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords. It also reveals that he is the only hope for salvation now and forevermore. Here is what the Bible has to say about the resurrection and its many implications.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4-“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

John 11:25-26-“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die…’”

1 Peter 1:3-“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
This same Jesus, having returned from the dead, will one day return to this earth as the King of all.

Revelation 19:11-16-“And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself.  He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses.  From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.’”

While the risen Jesus will one day have his ultimate victory over all enemies in a future battle that rivals even those conflicts imagined by Tolkien in his epic fantasy, I want to explore what the return of our King Jesus from the dead means for those who turn to him in faith today. This we will do by looking at four phases of a transformation that a friend of Jesus experiences that is brought on by the return of her King in John 20:11-18.


A lot happened on that first Easter morning. Here is a brief look at what took place up to 20:11 in John’s narrative.

John 20:1-10-Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’ So Peter and the other disciple went forth, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead faster than Peter and came to the tomb first; and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in. And so Simon Peter also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. So the disciples went away again to their own homes.”

We join the chaos following the revelation of the empty tomb late and see Mary “standing outside the tomb weeping; “and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb” (20:11). The action of her weeping is described as a continuous stream of loud sobs.  No doubt Mary was driven to this because (as we will soon learn) her worst fears seemed to be confirmed in the absence of Jesus’ body. Abusing or tampering with the dead was considered an abhorrent offense and this is what Mary believes has happened to Jesus. (All the while her greatest joy should have been realized). By this point, the other disciples, following their brief investigation of the empty tomb, have already left. They had already watched their Savior die an excruciating death and now His body was missing!

Left to sob outside the tomb by herself, Mary decides to do some investigating. Some speculate that her sense of grief and loss may have driven her back to the tomb after some time passed in order to find someone or something that could provide answers. Therefore, “she stooped and looked into the tomb”(20:11).

“and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying” (20:12). The tomb is no longer empty. Instead, two heavenly messengers clad in white catch Mary’s attention. These two angelic beings stand alongside Jesus’ resting place as evidence to Mary that God has been at work in some way (as in every situation in which angels are presented in Scripture).

All these heavenly messengers do is ask Mary a simple question, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (20:13a). Though the reason for Mary’s grief might seem obvious, this question is asked to give Mary an opportunity to reflect and put aside her grief with the hopes of putting two and two together (missing body + angelic beings + Jesus’ teaching = ?).

However, unfortunately, Mary is unable to wipe away her tears and add up what she sees and has heard to get the sum of what has happened. Instead, she is so disturbed by the missing body that she replies “because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him” (20:13b). Instead of realizing the greatest joy that Jesus made possible through what He said He would do (rise), Mary along with the disciples assumes the very worst. Blinded by grief, she is unable to remember what Jesus said of Himself and instead believed His body was stolen. 


As she speaks to the angels, someone emerges onto the scene. Suddenly aware of this third presence, Mary “…turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus” (20:14).  If we were to associate her stage of grief at this point, she is at the point of denial—not denying that Jesus was dead (as she was one of the few witnesses of Calvary), but denying that he was now alive. As is common in resurrection narratives, Jesus is not recognized immediately (see 21;4; Luke 24:16; Matt. 28:17). Mary’s failure to recognize Jesus continues this pattern. Neither the stone that had been rolled away, nor the empty tomb, nor the angels inside, nor even the risen Jesus Himself are able to enlighten Mary!

The failure of Mary to recognize Jesus becomes even more dramatic when he begins to question her, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’” (20:15a). Perhaps Jesus’ first question is a mild rebuke, “why should you weep?” or is Jesus’ way of caring for this woman’s deep concern. Either way, Jesus’ second question (“whom are you seeking?”) is asked to direct Mary’s attention away from herself and to Jesus. Knowing the answer to His own question, Jesus wants Mary to articulate her thoughts in order to set up a special revelation.

Mary’s response is predicated on her misunderstanding of who this man is, “…Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away’…” (20:15b). Aside from grave robbers or other mourners, neither of which would have been likely visitors at this hour, gardeners tending to the grounds where the tomb was located would have been the only people around” (Kostenberger, 568). Her guess of this man’s identity could not have been more wrong, for in this moment she is asking the very person she is seeking for the answer to the mystery of the empty tomb!

In Mary’s mind she seems an empty tomb and assumes that Jesus has been stolen. She observes Jesus Himself and assumes that he is a gardener. However, once things are revealed, all that Mary has observed will prove far greater than she could have ever imagined.


In verse 16, Mary is given the clue that answers the riddle, the secret word used to decode the mysterious happenings of the previous hours, and the final piece to the puzzle that pulls the whole picture together. “Jesus says to her, ‘Mary!’…”(20:16a). Though this seems simple enough, when Mary hears her name spoken from Jesus’ lips, she is launched out of grief and into pure ecstasy; she is immediately transported from despair to delight and trades her tears of grief for tears of triumph.

This is evidenced by her response to Jesus, “she turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher)…”(20:16b). Though this word is not wrought with theological significance nor is it a weighty Christological proclamation, it is a familiar term that Mary probably used throughout Jesus’ ministry when she spoke to Him. This specific episode is more about the rekindling of her personal relationship with Jesus than it is about doctrine (at least at this point). With that said, this verse does confirm what Jesus communicated in John 10:3-4, “To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

It is obvious by what Jesus says next that Mary probably rushed toward Him in a tight embrace. Not wanting to lose her Savior again, this knee-jerk reaction resembles what a small child might do when his or her parents come home after a long trip. Here, Mary’s teacher had been gone three days and upon His return she did not want to let Him loose! Her King has arrived and she was not letting go now.

However, Jesus suggests that this is not the time for clinging nor for sentimentalities, “’Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father’” (20:17a).  Jesus assures Mary that He is not going anywhere (at least for now) and she can let go of Him. 

Rather than remain and cling, Jesus calls Mary to use her newfound joy to proclaim the news of His resurrection to others, “but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God’…” (20:17b). Mary’s appointment is incredibly significant as she is not a trained messenger nor a man (as in the ancient world women were not considered credible witnesses). That a woman with a shady past was one of the first to send word of Jesus’ resurrection is compelling evidence of the legitimacy and historicity of this event. Had this story been fabricated, no one would have given the part of first responder to a women given the gender roles and stereotypes of the first century.

The content of the message is simple. In so many words, Jesus wants Mary to tell the other disciples that He had risen and was now in the process of ascending into heaven (something that would take place a few weeks later). He also wants her to tell them that His Father and God is also their Father and God. This statement would have brought incredible hope to the disciples for in it Jesus subtly reveals that the same Father and God who raised Him from the dead is the Father and  God of the disciples.


Mary faithfully answers her commissioning and immediately sets out to complete her assignment, “Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples…”(20:18a). The way this is written almost seems to suggest that Mary was in a continuous state of proclamation as she carried this message to her friends. As the first sent one beyond the empty tomb, Mary is the first missionary. The first to receive this “good news” are Jesus’ close confidants.

After making it to the disciples, Mary shares, “’I have seen the Lord,’ and that He had said these things to her…” (20:18b). Answering the call to be sent, Mary the shared the message she was given to proclaim without fail. 

So What?

In this passage Mary transforms from a grieving friend to an excited witness. What is to blame for this dramatic transition in her life? –the return of herKing from the dead. Once He was dead and now He is alive. Because of this, grieving loners like Mary everywhere can know hope, obtain a mission, find purpose, and joyfully live in this world full of all kinds of life-changing events. However, in order to experience this change, one must take the steps that Mary demonstrates in her odyssey here. First, people must recognize they are grieving loners. Grieving what? The loss of answers, the loss of meaning, the loss of understanding one’s place in the grand scheme of things, and ultimately the loss of a right relationship with God. Once achieved, they must pursue answers to these questions and satisfaction for these needs by becoming concerned investigators of Jesus and the many claims he offered. Thoroughly and honestly vetted, Jesus will inevitably be found alive and well and be understood as God made flesh—the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. When people trust in this, they become children of God and subjects of his kingdom. Faithful subjects will then respond positively to Jesus’ commands, specifically, the commission to go and share the greatest news ever! What is this news? That Jesus was once dead but is now alive! His change gives all the opportunity to transform from grieving loners to excited witnesses. What stage of the journey are you in today? Our King is alive and is coming again! Do you know him? Are you counted as one of his subjects?

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Fellowship of the Cross- Luke 23:39-43

20th century literary genius J. R. R. Tolkien is responsible for one of the most memorable and compelling works of fiction ever produced—the Lord of the Rings. Its many incredible creatures, fantastic worlds, and epic story of good vs. evil has solidified its prominent place in the literary landscape. The first installment of the trilogy—The Fellowship of the Ring—introduces the problem and the people that assemble to solve it. A powerful ring that tempts its possessor with powers untold and unnaturally lofty visions of grandeur has found its way to a hobbit named Frodo. His friend Gandalf, a wizard, learns of its existence and demands that Frodo destroy it the only way possible—journeying to Middle Earth (a place of great darkness, danger, destruction, and certain death) and throwing it into a volcano. To help in this mammoth task, Gandalf assembles what ends up being called the "fellowship of the ring"—a disparate group of elves, dwarfs, men, and more hobbits. This unusual fellowship acts as a support staff and, unfortunately at times, proves to be a cause for great concern. Though the characters couldn’t be more different, they are eventually united by one cause—ridding the world of this ring, even in the face of certain death.

As we examine an even greater epic over the next two weeks, I could not help but draw some connections between Tolkien’s story and what we read in Luke 23:39-43. There, we see an even greater problem than the ring of Lord of the Rings—sin. One man—the God-Man Jesus—has been commissioned to rid the world of its mysterious and far-reaching implications in the only way possible—giving up his life on the cross. This he does, at least in this episode of the epic, alongside a very peculiar fellowship of men—the two criminals hanging on either side of Christ on their own vehicle of torture. The three couldn’t be more different from each other and yet they are united in at least one way—they are facing the ultimate consequence of sin (death) and they are wrestling with the question of how they are going to respond to their precarious situation. Let’s pick up the story and learn from a strange interaction between three parties of a most unusual fellowship that meets above Golgotha in Luke 23:39-43.


Crucifixion was viewed by ancient writers as the cruelest and most barbaric of punishments. Recent historical and archaeological studies have helped bring a more realistic sense of crucifixion’s horrors. Bone fragments of a crucified individual were discovered in 1968 and revealed that his feet were each nailed laterally to the beam. In many cases, both the feet and wrists were nailed to the crossbeam the victims carried. This would have taken place after the victim was stripped of his clothes to increase the humiliation. After being nailed to the crossbeam, it would be raised high enough for the victim’s feet to clear the ground and then placed on a stake. Most guess that Jesus’ cross stood about 7 feet high. This method of execution was designed for one thing, a slow and tortuous death.  Death by crucifixion was a result of loss of blood, exposure, exhaustion, and suffocation, as the victim tried to lift himself to breathe. Sometimes, victims would linger for days in agony! This horrific spectacle even inspired words like “excruciating,” which derives from the Latin excruciatus, “out of the cross.”

Though many tend to focus their attention on Jesus in the center of the Golgotha scene (for good reason), it is important to remember that Christ was one of three currently facing this unthinkable horror. Though the problem of sin had nailed all three to their crossbeams, for Jesus, it was the sin of others, not his own, that had led to this current situation. The same could not be said of the hardened criminal that we hear from first in verse 39ff.  Given the nature of their current predicament, it is no wonder that one of the guilty thieves speaks up and in his rage hurls abuse in the midst of his ever-shallow breaths (Lk. 23:39)—“one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him.”
Though ill-advised in retrospect, one might understand how such a voice could be heard in the midst of agony. The first thief’s voice illustrates one of choices everyone has in a difficult/painful situations—rage.  This is not a voice coming from a heart of brokenness, but a voice offered from a hardened heart bent against God.

In many ways this first thief represents a large sector of humanity. Those who in the face of suffering shake an angry fist at the God they do not even believe in find a sympathizer in this hardened criminal and might even be caught saying what he says here, “Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” (23:39). “Doesn’t God care?” “Why am I hurting down here?” etc.

In the last moments of life and in the midst of incredible pain, people will reach for anything to provide relief, even that which they blaspheme. However, instead of looking to Jesus in real hope of real salvation, this hardened criminal sarcastically questions who Jesus is.

This hellacious cry echoes throughout the generations among those who fail to believe in Jesus Christ. Seeing no way of escape from their death or agony, instead of reaching out to Jesus in faith for salvation, they question Him, His love, His sovereignty, and in their unbelief grasp only at straws.  Calvin says of this raging blasphemer, “this objection is directed against God Himself; just as wicked men, when they do not obtain what they wish, would willingly tear God from heaven. They ought indeed, to be tamed to humility by strokes; but this shows that the wicked heart, which no punishments can bend, is hard like iron.” The voice of rage says, “There is no God, look how much I’m hurting! If there was a God, why would he allow me this pain?” Such people accurately identify the problem of sin, but don’t recognize the hero that has been sent to provide salvation from its grip.


As we continue to observe the unexpected fellowship taking place in this scene, there is a second voice screaming 7 ft. above the ground. The second thief cannot put up with the insistent blaspheming of Jesus while on the cross and instead of holding his tongue or saving his breaths for himself as he too reals in pain on his own cross, he openly rebukes the statements being made on the other side of the skull rock. 

In what this second criminal says, the reader is made aware of another way, the proper way, to view one’s own predicament before Christ. Though in the hardened criminal’s response to pain and agony (brought on by his own sin) one can hear the voice of a raging blasphemer, here the surprising and yet unmistakable voice of reason is heard from a repentant sinner.   

The first words offered by this repentant sinner involve a statement of rebuke. “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” (23:40). In this question, the second thief is hoping that the first recognizes that death is coming soon and it is probably not the best time to be blaspheming an innocent man and the hero sent to save them. Though their present predicament was desperate and difficult, it would not compare to what they would feel before God in judgment. Though they were now experiencing the results of being condemned by the Roman government, they would soon discover what it would feel like to be condemned by the Lord Himself!

Though this rebuke was designed to put the fear of God into this man, there is no evidence that suggests it was successful. Instead, the first criminal’s hard heart was hardened and unfortunately this is the same for many in our world today. Instead of fearing God many distance themselves from him, are hardened, and fall into condemnation.  Any reasonable person would understand that they should most fear the God who can kill body and spirit (Matt. 10:38). However, these are blinded by rage in response to pain and suffering.

On the other hand, the repentant sinner understands that what they are experiencing is exactly what they “deserve.” He acknowledges here that the punishment which was common to all the three was “justly” inflicted on him and his companion. However, the hero in the middle had been dragged to the punishment of death, not by his own crime, but by the cruelty of his enemies and by the sins of the world, -“…And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’…” (Lk. 23:41). This second thief reasonably concludes, in light of his crime, that the punishment he is suffering at present is natural and expected, not surprising or unjust. In fact, failing to be punished in the manner he was currently experiencing would have been a gross injustice. Unlike his companion thief, who believed God was unjust and/or unreal, this man recognizes that the real injustice is being exercised on the man in the middle—the very Man who was sent by God to free people from the grip of sin and the death that it brings.

As alluded to earlier, this man might represent all who reasonably conclude that their present sufferings, agonies, and even anticipated death are a natural result of their own sinful choices, mankind’s depravity, and extant wickedness that infects the entire fallen world. IN many ways, our entire earth is like Tolkien’s Middle Earth—filled with danger, death, and destruction. The difficulty we face in life and the hardships around us ought to be understood as the product of sin in our lives, the lives of others, and in creation itself.  Therefore, what we are experiencing and will experience after death without Christ is not understood as unjust, but the proper penalty assigned to each of us. The only thing we can do in light of this is call upon the Lord in brokenness and desperation and trust that he can and has put an end to the mysteriously powerful ring of sin that is tightly fixed to us all.

After recognizing that Jesus is his only hope, the repentant sinner calls upon Christ saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”  (Lk. 23:42). In this phrase readers everywhere are given one of the most remarkable and striking examples of faith ever recorded! This thief had not been thoroughly educated in the ways of Christ. Instead, he had given himself over to a life of sin and endeavored to rid himself of any sense of right and wrong by endorsing a life of thievery. However, here he suddenly rises higher than all the apostles and other disciples whom the Lord himself had taken time to instruct and adores Christ as King and asks to be invited to His kingdom! This he does while bleeding out and gasping for air on a cross! All credit for such a display of faith must go to the Holy Spirit, who, upon this man’s understanding of his sin and the necessary implications thereof, supplied the grace necessary to make this quantum leap from sin to saving faith.

Those who understand their sin and its effects are those who are broken enough to understand their dependency on Jesus for their salvation. Like this contrite convict, those who place their faith in Jesus Christ are reaching a reasonable conclusion. Jesus is the only means of escaping the sting of death and entering into eternal life. These conclude, “I am responsible for my actions, expect the consequences, and desperately need Jesus to save me.” Such brokenness before Jesus demands the attention of God.


Do not forget that Jesus is suffering under the same excruciating pain these two thieves are experiencing. He too is hanging seven feet above Golgotha and this available redeemer is the third party in the unique fellowship taking place overhead. In His response to what has been said, it is significant to note that Jesus only addresses the second thief and ignores the first. Jesus responds to brokenness and ignores blaspheming rage. In his response to the former, Jesus provides a message of redemption.

To the repentant sinner Jesus says, “truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). This promise reveals that Jesus, though presently humiliated before the onlookers, was still the same powerful Savior of the world who was capable of bringing life out of death and defeating the overwhelming power of sin. The second thief could expect life after death that very day with Jesus in Paradise.

As “paradise” is synonymous with heaven, Jesus makes it clear here that death is not defeat for those who repent and trust in him—it is the beginning of life with God in a more profound way. This is what the second thief could expect following his last breath. In fact, anyone who turns to Jesus, even in the last moments of his/her life, is granted fellowship with Christ for eternity thereafter.

Romans 10:13-“Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Jesus has always been about bestowing grace in response to faith. Here, he provides the grace of eternal life in heaven to a repentant convict at his execution. This same grace is available today to all who call upon Him, expecting to hear the voice of redemption. The voice of redemption says, “This world and its sufferings is not all that there is. Call upon me and know eternal life.”

Interestingly, Jesus is able to offer grace for the thief and the remainder of the world because of His own brokenness. Jesus’ heart broke so much for this dying world destined for hell that He decided to embark on a quest. His quest involved leaving heaven and entering into the mess of this world. Though he endured the darkness, danger, and death for some 30 years or so, he lived a perfect life and as such was a perfect hero. However as with many of the greatest epics, the hero is made to give his life for the sake of others. Jesus’ story is no different, serving as the sacrifice for sin, Jesus gave up his life and died a horrific death so that sin might be dealt a final death blow. As a result, Jesus alone is able to provide salvation and give life to all who turn to him in faith.

So What?

The unusual fellowship of the cross witnessed in this passage illustrates several important things that we ought to consider this Palm Sunday. Like these three, we are on an epic journey that, because of sin, ends in certain death in a dark and dangerous Middle Earth. This predicament affords us two choices. The first is represented by the hardened criminal. To those who speak of God in rage, who do not believe in God or can’t for the life of them believe that anyone would trust in a good God while there is so much pain and suffering, I say this: consider that Jesus’ own heart breaks for the world’s situation. His heart breaks so much that he was willing to journey to the cross and experience the most horrific death imaginable to redeem you out of this mess and into eternal life. He died in the worst possible way and did not deserve any bit of it! We suffer because we are sinful. He suffered though He sinned not!

The second choice is represented by the repentant sinner who realizes his/her guilt and turns to the Lord Jesus in faith for salvation. Oh that you would call upon the Lord this day if you haven’t already!

Those who learn about the cross and her many implications are given the opportunity to join a new fellowship--the fellowship of Jesus Christ. Those of this fellowship identify with Christ's cross and join his quest to bring the message of salvation to the Middle-Earth that we face all around us! To those who have been broken before Christ and in response have reached the reasonable conclusion that only Jesus can give hope in the darkness, I hope and pray that your heart might again break for the world around you as Christ’s does. If our hearts do not break for the world we will not reach the people that need to know Jesus Christ. This is what it means in Luke 9:53 when Jesus says, "and He was saying to them all, 'If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me'." If we fail to, like Christ, selflessly give our ourselves and willing enter the mess around us, this city will not receive the truth it desperately needs and this world and the people therein will continue to suffer under the grip of sin. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Blasts from the Past- Revelation 11:1-6

One of the interesting things about taking breaks is that they afford people with the opportunity to take notice of other things around them. The literary interlude/pause that John takes in Revelation 10-11 is no different. Last week, John made good use of the half-time break of Revelation by having a snack. This week, in Revelation 11:1-6, the apostle is going to describe some of the other phenomena he has seen in the vision God has given him. Though what will be shared in the introductions made in this passage are a bit complicated, the truth that they reveal is simple: God’s plans and promises will endure no matter what stands against it. Praise the Lord!    

See the source image

1) INTRODUCTION #1: Concerning the Temple-11:1-2

As chapter 11 opens, John is still in the midst of the literary interlude/pause that began in 10:1. Nourished by the most unusual snack of chapter 10, John is then “given…a measuring rod like a staff,…” (11:1a). Again, the “divine passive” voice (“was given”) is used to demonstrate that God serves as the impetus behind all of these events taking place in this book. This measuring tool probably refers to a lightweight, hollow reed that was anywhere from 9-20 feet long. In Ezekiel, the prophet used a similar reed for measuring (Ezekiel 42:16-19).

After being handed this tool “someone said, ‘Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it,’…” (11:1b).  Some believe that several Old Testament passages provide some background for these instructions. For instance, Osborne points out that in Ezekiel 40-42, “the measuring of the temple signifies God’s ownership and protection of his people. God is present with his people, and they belong to him. Also, in Zech. 2:1-5 a man with a measuring line goes out to measure Jerusalem in order to indicate God’s protection of the Holy City” (Osborne, Revelation, 409). However, given what follows in this passage and the fact that John is the one measuring the temple, it is unlikely that God’s protection is the meaning of this activity. Others say that 11:3-14 suggests that “measuring” is equal to “forming an opinion.” Since the temple is measured and, according to verse 2, the outer court (of the Gentiles) isn’t, perhaps God is drawing a distinction between his people and that which pleases him and the lost people of a world that is deserving of judgment (Alford). While both of these options might provide some insight into this passage, the best interpretive choice is that this temple and the measurement thereof involves a literal temple that will exist during this future period (the seven-year tribulation). This temple will be erected at the beginning of this seven-year period following a peace agreement with Israel and the world’s leaders (Daniel 9:27).

Daniel 9:27-“And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week (an ancient way of referring to seven years),…”

Once erected, worship will be reestablished at the temple along with many of the rites and sacrifices. For more on this future temple see Daniel 12:11; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 13:14-15.

While the apostle is called to measure the temple itself, John is not asked to include the outer court in his measurements of the complex—“Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it,” (11:2a). This indicates a differentiation between the people of God (who express worship in the temple) and the people of the world (symbolized by the outer unmeasured court of the Gentiles). In the ancient world, the outer court was for the Gentiles. They were not allowed near the center of the temple structure because, at the time, they were deemed ceremonially unclean. Here, that idea applies spiritually to the people of the coming new world order. On the whole, it will be an unbelieving Gentile world in rebellion against God who will oppress the people of God and wreak havoc in Jerusalem in the period just before Christ’s return” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 84).

This idea is reiterated by what is revealed in the rest of verse two. First, John reports that this outer court “has been give to the nations” (11:2b). “Has been given” is not an example of God’ grace (in the sense that God gives a good gift) but rather an example of God’s judgment (in the same what that God is said to “give people over to their sins” in Romans 1). God is allowing the outer court (unmeasured) to be run by the nations while God’s people, at least for a while, are provided refuge in the temple (which is measured).

Also, those worldly leaders and followers of the outer court “will” it says “tread underfoot the holy city for forty two months” (11:2c). If the first reference to the temple is literal (see verse 1) then this reference to the holy city should also be understood in kind. In fact, the New Jerusalem in heaven has no temple in it (Rev. 21:22). Therefore, this city and its temple actually refers to Jerusalem and a newly constructed worship space contained therein. Those left outside in the unmeasured court will tread underfoot this holy place for 42months (3.5years). This refers to the second half of the tribulation period (see Daniel 9:27). Halfway through the covenant that allowed for the building of this temple and relative peace between Israel and her worldly foes, the Antichrist will reveal his true colors as the abomination of desolation and sit in the place of God in this temple, demanding worship and bringing an end to worship of the one true God in this sacred space.

Daniel 9:27b-“but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

That this passage refers to real structures in real places (and is more literal than figurative) is helped along by the advent of the nation of Israel and the emergence organizations like The Temple Institute. The mission statement of this group reads “The Temple Institute is dedicated to all aspects of the Divine commandment for Israel to build a house for G-d's presence, the Holy Temple, on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. The range of the Institute's involvement with this concept includes education, research, activism, and actual preparation. Our goal is firstly, to restore Temple consciousness and reactivate these ‘forgotten’ commandments. We hope that by doing our part, we can participate in the process that will lead to the Holy Temple becoming a reality once more.” What is standing in their way? An Islamic shrine that was constructed in 691-92 AD directly on the site of the second Jewish temple. Many believe that once a peace treaty is signed with world leaders (under a new world government), part of that treaty will include the dismantling of this shrine and the reconstruction of this temple in its place. However, as this passage suggests, this peace is short-lived and interrupted only 3.5 years into the agreement as the Antichrist enters the complex and declares himself God on earth (more on this later).

2) INTRODUCTION #2: Concerning the Witnesses-11:3-6

During this same time the text reads “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses,…” (11:3). Before we delve into the introduction of these new characters, let me remind you of where we are in the unfolding saga of this book and how this pause of Revelation 10-11 fits into it. Earlier in our study I suggested that the mid-point of the tribulation period might fall at the sixth seal (Rev. 6:12ff, immediately before the first interlude of Revelation 7). Though this isn’t a hill to die on, this interpretation, especially in view of Matthew 24’s Olivet Discourse, seems possible. This means that the seven trumpets and the seven bowls all take place during the second three and a half years of the tribulation’s 7-year period. In the pause of Revelation 10-11, John (much as with the pause of Revelation 7) takes us out of the chronology and goes back to describe other things and characters he is seeing or has seen. Therefore, this description of the temple and the two witnesses is placed here as if to help catch the reader up on some of the other phenomena at work during the period of the trumpets and bowls. In other words, during the second half of the tribulation you have the trumpets we’ve already looked at, the bowls yet to come, the desecration of the temple and Jerusalem, and the ministry of these two witnesses.

These two witnesses, according to verse 3, “will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days” (11:3b). The duration is another way of saying 42 months and this time frame, once again, corresponds to the second three and a half year period of the seven year tribulation. The Old Testament required two witnesses as competent legal testimony to secure a conviction (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Therefore, the prophesying ministry of this duo involves a legal ministry of indictment and conviction. In this case, the witnesses are proving the guilt of the world before God. As they are making this case, they are said to be “clothed in sackcloth” (11:3). This was a common way for prophets to dress (see Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8 and John the Baptist in Mark 1:6) when they were mourning for the sins of the nations and for the judgment that would result from such sin.

Though details concerning what the witnesses look like and what they will do are provided, their identity is left a mystery. The closest that the author comes to betraying their identity is saying, “these are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth” (11:4). These details appear to be drawn from Zechariah 4:2-6 where Zechariah is shown a vision of a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. Also, there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on the left. In this vision, the lampstand is the temple and the seven lights are the “eyes of the Lord, which range throughout the earth” (see 2 Chron. 16:9; Zech. 4:10). Earlier in Revelation “seven eyes” is used as a symbol for the Spirit of God (Rev. 5:6). The two olive trees, on the other hand, refer to “the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth (Zech. 4:14) which, in Zechariah, refers to Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor (Osborne, Revelation, 420-21).  Because of the seven lights of the lamp (the eyes of the Lord representing the Spirit of God) and the “anointing” that Joshua and Zerubbabel are said to have received, these two were successful as they were used of overcome their opponents and rebuild the temple in their original context. Here, the same images are used to suggest that these two witnesses are also going to be spiritually empowered in their ministry in and around a future temple during this turbulent tribulation period. But who are these two?

Clues to their identity can be found in demonstrations of their supernatural power—“and if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way…” (11:5). The idea here is that until their prophetic ministry is complete, no one will be able to kill them. In fact, those who seek the death of these prophets will themselves be killed and they will meet their demise by fire. YIKES!  This sounds a lot like the scene of fire destroying God’s enemies in 2 Kings 1 and the conflict between Elijah and the soldiers of King Ahaziah. Ahaziah sent two companies of fifty soldiers each to bring Elijah, and Elijah called down fire from heaven each time to consume these legions.

Not only that, but these two witnesses also “…have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying” (11:6). This again appears to have connections with Elijah. In 1 Kings 17-18 God used Elijah to shut the heavens during the idolatrous reign of Ahab, causing a drought that extended, according to 1 Kings 18:1, three years. However, later, Jewish tradition symbolically represented this as three and a half years in keeping with the apocalyptic message of Daniel 9:27 (see Luke 4:25; James 5:17).

Luke 4:25-“But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months”

James 5:17-“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on earth for three years and six months.”

Not only will these two witnesses be supernaturally protected for 3.5 years, they will cause a 3.5 year drought—it will not rain during their prophetic ministry (much like the case of Elijah in his ministry in the days of Ahab).

Additionally, the text reads that “they have power over the waters to turn them into blood” (11:6b). This special power is similar to how God used Moses in the first Egyptian plague (Exodus 7:20-21). Like the Egyptians of the Old Testament, the Romans in power during John’s day believed that water was a symbol of life. Therefore, this special ability of the two witnesses means that they can turn what the world believes is life-giving into a symbol for death.

Finally, if that wasn’t enough, these two witnesses also possess the power to “strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.” Given all of these clues—fire from heaven, drought, water into blood, and all “kinds of plagues”—the best guess concerning the identity of these two witnesses is probably Elijah and Moses. This makes the best sense given the context of Revelation and what these two men did in their past ministries. Not only that, but these two represent the Law and the Prophets (the Old Testament) and were also seen alongside a transfigured Jesus in Matt. 17:2ff; Mark 9:2ff; and Luke 9:28ff. Inasmuch as the Old Testament testifies to Christ and these two (Moses and Elijah) represent the Old Testament message, these two would make the best candidates available to make the case for Jesus in the tribulation period in and around the temple and judge those who would fight against it.

So What?

These two introductions that John makes in Revelation 11:1-6—of the temple and the witnesses—each illustrate the staying power of the presence of God on the world’s stage. For instance, though the temple was destroyed twice in biblical history and an Islamic shrine now sits where the temple was, this passage demonstrates that God’s presence hasn’t gone anywhere and one day, a very literal symbol of that presence will be reestablished on the world’s stage for God’s people. Also, though the Old Testament figures have been forgotten by many, ignored by others, and their message concerning the coming Christ has been denied by most, one day they will be unleashed again and no one will be able to silence their testimony. Ultimately, efforts to stand in the way of God’s plan are futile. Though many might believe that the world and her philosophies/leaders have the upper hand, God reveals that even in the worst of it, the truth will prevail and his plans will not be thwarted. After all, as 2 Corinthians says in 1:20–“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.” Also as Matthew 5:18 reminds us, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Do you know the enduring truth of God today? Are you living in accordance with the sovereign will of God? I hope so because these are the only things that last into eternity.