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"I Grant Authority to My Witnesses" (Revelation 11:1-13)

Revelation: The Time is Near

Christians believe that Jesus Christ rules over us through his word. We meet with Him as His Spirit guides us into the truths of His word. Therefore, we gather to worship by opening Christ’s word to learn how to honor and obey Him.

In 2023, we are on a trek through the last book of the Bible, Revelation, or, more accurately, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. When I last preached (2 weeks ago) we walked through chapter 10. I asked: “Are you ready to represent Jesus Christ in this world every day?”

In chapter 10, John receives a commission from Jesus to serve in this world. It’s a commission that applies to every Christian. It’s in the very last verse of chapter 10, v. 11. Listen to it again.

Revelation 10:11 And I [John] was told [by Jesus], “You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings.”

Jesus sends his people to prophesy, to declare, to speak out, His truth about people all over the world. The truth is: that judgment will come on everyone who does not repent of sin and joyfully embrace Jesus as Lord.

What will it be like to fulfill this commission? What will it be like to represent Jesus in this world? Chapter 11:1-13 answers this question. If Chapter 10 prepared us to represent Jesus, chapter 11 begins by telling us what to expect as we do.

1 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. 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.
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.
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.

This passage tells us about the place where we represent Jesus; the pattern we follow to represent Jesus; the perspective we adopt to represent Jesus; the power we have to represent Jesus; and the promise cling to as we represent Jesus. Let’s look at each one.

The Place Where We Represent Jesus

I begin with place because that’s where Jesus begins. In vv. 1-2, He establishes some boundaries. He gives John a tape measure and commands him to measure the temple, the altar, and the people who worship at the altar. In the ancient world, when a ruler sent officials out to measure some land, he was making the statement that he had completely conquered it and fully dealt with any enemies there. His reign was fully established.

The place where Jesus reigns uncontested and no evil remains unjudged is heaven. We have seen this in several visions in Revelation. The altar stands before the throne of God and the Lamb. The Lamb’s faithful ones worship Him in splendor and contentment. Measure this area. Measure these worshippers. They are home. That’s v. 1

The outer court of the temple and the city is a different story (v. 2). It’s not time to measure these places yet. Here the battle continues. Jesus has given temporary control of these places to the nations, to those who do not belong to Him. His people who live here belong to the holy city, but they are not home yet.

In this vision Christ’s church and all Christians are represented by the two witnesses whom we meet in v. 3. Jesus gives his people authority to prophesy (remember the commission at the end of chapter 10) in this outer place.

The outer place where we represent Jesus is a hostile place; a place where Christians get trampled (v. 2); where people may try to harm them (v. 5); where people celebrate their death (v. 10). Earth dwellers (those who belong to this place) throw a party over the dead bodies of Christ’s witnesses. They refuse to let anyone bury the bodies (v. 9). In that culture, to deny a person a proper burial was an act of humiliation, an expression of shame.

This hostile place is enemy-occupied territory. Jesus permits the nations to take control of it (v. 2). But Satan is their leader (v. 7). He is the beast who rises from the bottomless pit to make war on Christ’s witnesses, to conquer and kill them. He lurks behind all the hostility to Christ’s representatives.

It is a hostile place under enemy control full of all kinds of evil. In v. 8 the headquarters for this world is a great city with a symbolic name, “Sodom and Egypt.” These places are OT symbols for the full spectrum of human sin. At one end of the spectrum, Sodom is the place of unbridled freedom. Anything goes. Satisfy your cravings. No boundaries. Do whatever you want. Do it now. Do it whenever. Live for the moment. Defy all authority. The goal is pleasure. Sodom means intoxication and immorality.

At the other end is Egypt. Egypt is the place of slavery. Slavery of others. Slavery to accomplishment. Slavery to wealth. Egypt is the land of the driven. Pay any price for success. Squeeze every advantage out of people for your gain. Prove yourself. Demand control. Use others. Make a name for yourself. The goal is power. Egypt is domination by discipline.

We can think of extreme examples on both sides. But the two names belong to one city. Most of us harbor a strange and sickening combination of both Sodom and Egypt in our corrupt hearts. We like to disguise or deny that we are citizens of this city.

But, v. 8 concludes, this is where Jesus was crucified. On the cross, by his crucifixion, he took the full force of God’s wrath for the full spectrum of human sin.

Note the last phrase of v. 8. Sodom and Egypt is where “their (the two witnesses) Lord was crucified.” The phrase forces each of us to face two realities and one question. The first reality is that you and I are born as citizens of this great city called Sodom and Egypt. We may sin one direction one day and go the other direction the next. We might favor one kind of sin over another. But we belong to this city.

The second reality is that Jesus was crucified. Not even historians deny this anymore. Christianity is the only religion that worships a God who became an executed criminal. Faithful Christians have always believed that God the Father sent his own Son to this death; that Jesus willingly embraced this death.

This is either the most immoral or the most amazing reality. Jesus came to the city of Sodom and Egypt the land of human sin. He embraced the cruelty of crucifixion to take the place of any sinner who will turn from sin and trust him as Lord and Savior.

There are the two realities. You and I are born as cooperative citizens of a great city that offends God and opposes His people. Jesus Christ was crucified by sinners, for sinners.

Here’s the question from the last phrase of verse 8. Is He your Lord? The verse calls Jesus “their” Lord. He’s Lord of the two witnesses. Is He your Lord? Have you renounced your citizenship in this great city of sin and trusted Jesus Christ to save you? Are you a citizen of the holy city (v. 2). Will you accept shame to represent your Lord?

Don’t be deceived by the response of the earth dwellers in v. 13. They see God’s judgment and are terrified. They give glory to God. But this is not true repentance. This is only the fear of judgment. True repentance treasures Jesus Christ and will gladly give up anything that hinders you from enjoying Him. Is He your Lord?

Those who delight in Jesus continue to live in the great city of Sodom and Egypt, but they have a new Lord. For us, this place we live in now is hostile to holiness. We are not saying that opposition is continuous. Not everyone in this place will try to harm. This vision does not teach that every Christian will be killed. These are symbols.

Earlier we heard Paul in Romans 8:36 quote Psalm 44 and apply it to all Christians,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

This is not literal, at least for most Christians. Rather, it reminds us that those who belong to Christ represent Him in a hostile place, under enemy control, full of temptations to sin.

Think of the pressures that graduates like Addy, Ethan, Jocelyn, and Ashton face as they walk onto a college campus or pursue a profession. Let’s pray for these and the grace they need to know and follow Christ in the new settings where they will live.

No Christian should be shocked to face opposition for our faith. We should expect it. Let’s resist getting defensive. Let’s refuse to feel sorry for ourselves. Let’s not try to be offensive; at the same time, let’s not water down the offense of the gospel. Jesus has given us the authority to represent Him, not misrepresent Him.

The Patterns We Follow to Represent Jesus

So how do we represent Him? What patterns guide us? This passage lays out three. The first is the pattern of the prophets (vv.5-6). John sees the church in this world like the prophets of the OT. He first points to the example of Elijah. The opening of v. 5:

And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes.

And the first part of v. 6,

They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying.

These re-enact Elijah’s ministry. In 2 Kings 1:9-16, Elijah called down fire on armies sent to capture him. In 1 Kings 17-18, he prayed and God held back rain for 3 ½ years (the length of the ministry of Christ’s people in v. 3).

Then, at the end of v. 6, John describes the vision through the example of Moses.

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.

This re-enacts Moses’s encounter with Pharaoh. God used Moses to announce judgment on those who refused to hear and obey His word.

These examples should not cause us to expect literally to breathe fire or poison water. Rather, we follow the prophet’s pattern: Fearlessly announce God’s word and trust him to protect us and punish our enemies at the appropriate time.

V. 7 reminds us that the present time for us is the time for testimony. We witness to God’s truth. The judgments we warn about will come. The judgment is already happening as is pictured in v. 13. God brings an earthquake. 7,000 city dwellers die. But judgment is in God’s hands. It is our duty to testify.

The second pattern is the pattern of pairs. Jesus gives authority to two witnesses just as he gave authority to his disciples and sent them out two-by-two in Luke 10. It’s a reminder that we do not represent Jesus alone. We serve him together.

I fail at this often. Let’s pray for each other and our witness for Jesus in this world. Let’s do hospitality together to reach out to a mutual friend who needs Christ. How great would it be to call up a fellow church member and say, “Let’s go for a walk together and ask the Lord to lead us to someone to talk to about the gospel?” We might be shocked at how God answers that prayer. I’m so thankful that, as I was preparing this message, a member asked me to visit a family member with him and talk about the gospel. We represent Jesus together.

The third pattern emerges as we see this vision in its entirety. Let me summarize it and you tell me if it sounds familiar. Representatives come from God with divine authority. They proclaim God’s word, announcing judgment and offering hope. They face Satanic and human opposition. They are killed and their enemies rejoice. It seems that evil has won. However, on the third day, they come back to life and enter heaven in a cloud.

You know the pattern. It is Christ’s pattern. We as His people have the privilege of living as he did in the world. We speak as He spoke. We serve as He served. We suffer as He suffered. We are people who take up the cross, not the sword. Our goal is not to make sinners conform but to bring sinners to Christ. We are not here to take over the world but to testify to the world. As Peter says, 1 Peter 4:2,

We live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.

Jesus Christ is more than our Pattern. But He is not less than our pattern. Yet, if Christ is a perfect patter+n and we are not perfect people, then what should our attitude be as we represent him in this world?

The Perspective We Adopt to Represent Jesus

What perspective should we adopt as HIs representatives? We could give many answers to the question. But let me focus on just one. It jumps out in v. 3:

“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

Clothed in sackcloth. The clothes of repentance. Christ’s representatives mourn sin. We mourn the coming judgment. We are not here to shake our self-righteous finger at the sinners around us. We do not celebrate when God’s judgment falls. If our God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11) then neither should we. If Jesus had compassion on those who wandered like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36) then we must too.

But we also wear sackcloth for our own sins. The church has often acted as if we belonged to Sodom or Egypt rather than the holy city. We have responded to harrassed and helpless sinners with condemnation rather than compassion. We have committed or condoned sexual and other kinds of abuse. We have promoted or permitted oppression. We have chased worldly reward in the name of Christ. We have failed to be faithful to the gospel.

I’ve noticed that many church websites include a paragraph about what one should wear to the church. It’s a way to address people’s expectations which have changed dramatically over the past fifty years. I read one church’s site this week that was trying to emphasize that they did not have a dress code. It said, “As long as you have clothes on, we’re good.” The proper heart dress code for the church is sackcloth. This must be our perspective.

And yet it seems impossible to carry out this prophetic commission. It calls for us to be both courageous and compassionate at the same time. We announce judgment yet point to Christ as the hope to escape judgment. How can we possibly embody what seems like a contradiction?

The Power We Have to Represent Jesus

This vision points to the power to fulfill Christ’s commission. That power is so beautifully pictured in v. 4. The two witnesses are compared to two olive trees and two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

These symbols come from the OT, from Zechariah. And they are full of meaning. But one obvious truth it pictures is that the olive tree is full of oil to light the lamp on the lampstand. Every believer has the Holy Spirit (the oil) to shine the light of Christ in the darkness of this world. The light that we shine is not our own and we cannot produce the fuel for that light.

Paul commands the church in Ephesians 5 to be filled with the Spirit. Here is a command to obey, but it is a passive command. Allow the Spirit to fill you, to control you. Surrender to the Spirit. This happens as we submit to God’s word and worship Him. We do not drum up the courage we need. We do not gather up our own strength to obey. We consciously, and actively rely on the Holy Spirit to live as Christ in this world. What a glorious paradox.

The Promise We Cling to as We Represent Jesus

Representing Jesus in this world means that we expect a hostile response. The world is not naturally going to embrace a message of judgment. It means living as Christ did, conforming our lives to the pattern of the cross. It means adopting a perspective that grieves over sin, especially our own. It involves a continuous reliance on the Holy Spirit for the power to live in weakness.

And we can endure in this world as Jesus’s representatives because we have hope. We have a promise to which we cling. It is represented in the resurrection of the two witnesses. There is life beyond death. This time of opposition is temporary. It is the three-and-a-half time. There are four references to three-and-a-half in this passage. The number seems to be a symbol of incompleteness, somewhere between nothing and seven, the number of completeness. This time will come to an end when Jesus perfectly completes His eternal kingdom.

Those who belong to Christ know that death is merely the taxi that takes us where we are better than we have ever been. At death, we hear the voice of Jesus say, “Come up here (v. 12).” He takes us to himself. Satan, sin, and the world cannot have the last word. Because Jesus is alive forever, we live in the certainty of our resurrection.

Christ’s representatives can claim everything. Charles Wesley’s words lay out our plans for dying:

Soar we now where Christ has led. Alleluia. Foll’wing our Exalted Head. Alleluia. Made like Him, like Him, we rise. Alleluia. Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia.

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