We come now to this section in Part 2 telling us about the two witnesses and the seventh trumpet. Last week, we heard God’s Word preached about the angel and the scroll. We learn how the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ will be taken to the whole world as a witness to all nations and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). This next section from Chapter 11 continues to illuminate this truth to us. As part of the interlude between the sixth and seven trumpets, John encourages his readers as well us now here its hearers with the event that takes place in the second coming of Christ. His visions show us the picture of the church and her mission to the world and how the defeated enemies of Christ try to destroy the witness of the church but they can only hurt them temporarily. In the end God rescues and protects his people. Christ returns and resurrects his church. This is the summary of the text we will hear preached to us this morning.
So there are several question we need to again answer. For our second sermon point, I grouped them into three sets. First, what is the temple of God and why did John measure it? What does it mean? Second, who are the two witnesses and what is their mission? Third, what are the meaning of these symbolic numbers 1,260 days and 42 months and what happens to the church when Christ again in the end? We will answer all these in our second sermon point about the Two Witnesses and then end with our third sermon point about the Seventh Trumpet next week together with our new section from Revelation chapter 12.
Before we begin, let us pray…
The Two Witnesses
verses 1-14: “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, 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. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 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. 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. 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, 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. 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, 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. 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. 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. 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. The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.”
John was told to measure the altar in the temple of God and its worshipers. Clearly, this points to the church of God triumphant. They are those whom God calls, regenerates, converts, sanctifies, and glorifies. They are God’s elect appointed as God’s heirs of his kingdom both now spiritually demonstrated in the church and in the heavens surrounding God’s throne. Paul calls Christians as temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16). Peter refers to the church as living stones, God’s spiritual house (1 Peter 2:4). I do not have the space to explore this theme in eschatology about the last days mind-set of the apostles but clearly here all three of them are in agreement about the spiritual status of the church now that she entered the last days of this age. Moreover, we can further make the connection of this picture about the church as the temple of God as a prophecy from Ezekiel in his book from chapters 40 to 48. The prophet Ezekiel ends his book detailing for us this new temple God build for the age to come.
Now comparing Ezekiel and Revelation, both Ezekiel and John measures the temple. At the end of Revelation we will still read John’s completion of this task but at this point, only the altar section was measured. The act of measuring symbolizes exactness. This is similar to the perfect numbering of God’s elect (144,00) in Revelation 5. It means God knows the number of the whole elect and no one can snatch them out of his hand. Jesus promised: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me (John 10:28).” This comes was written for us to read from the same John who wrote Revelation. However, as John continues his narration, we discover how the measuring did not extend to the outside court. And according to John, they were given to the nations to destroy but at the same time, two witnesses will prophesy against them. A period of 42 months and 1260 days were specified during for both.
What does this mean? We will discuss the symbolism of the numbers at the end of this second sermon point for now let us first address the destruction of the outside court and the prophesy of the two witnesses.
The temple of God pictures of the whole church but the vision here from John views her in two aspects: triumphant and militant. The triumphant church is in heaven praising God in his throne (Revelation 5). They were martyred for their faith and are now comforted by God with his presence. They are now in heaven awaiting the final destruction of God’s enemies. The militant church, on the other hand, remains here on earth. We battle God’s enemies and fight against their attacks. This is the picture Paul himself speaks about when he exhorts the congregation in Ephesian church to fight the spiritual battle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).” that remains here on earth. This is the context of Paul’s exhortation about wearing the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20). We fight the spiritual battle in this cosmic war against the devil and in the end, we may perish yet after this, we receive the eternal rewards of heaven.
Now in this period of great tribulation and spiritual war remains for us the task of living out the Christian faith as pilgrims in exile living between the two ages. The two witnesses, two lampstands and two olive trees pictures for us the general office of Christians as prophet, priest, and king. Previously, we heard how the number two symbolizes a number short of perfection in heaven but at the same time in a different sense, it portrays for us sufficient testimony here on earth. A witness of two is acceptable in the courts of law. And spiritually it symbolizes the prophetic witness of the church and as believers, it is part of our prophetic office. Moreover, the two lampstands refers to the priestly task in the temple and it is also part of general office of believers. We are also called priest before God offering to him sacrifices of thanksgiving in our praises and in our prayers (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Lastly, we are kings in Christ. We share this calling as pictured to us by the two olive trees which are clearly pictures from Zechariah’s prophecy. They are Joshua and Zerubbabel and there are types of Christ. And they were all fulfilled by Christ who is our final prophet, priest, and king. Then as applied to us by the Holy Spirit, we share this calling to the world in Christ. As explained to us in our Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 12.
Q#32 Why are you called a Christian?
Answer: Because I am a member of Christ by faith and thus share in his anointing, so that I may as prophet confess his name, as priest present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him, and as king fight with a free and good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and hereafter reign with him eternally over all creatures.
This is our mission as the church. It is the task we fulfill as part of the general office of believers in Christ.
So far we completed answering the first two sets of questions. We come now to answer the difficult symbolism of numbers 1,260 days and 42 months. We don’t have the space to discuss the whole of Daniel’s prophesies but it is important for us to now that these numbers come from the angel Gabriel’s prophecy to Daniel. Simply put, Gabriel reveals to Daniel the events that will take place in his lifetime and until the end of age. Like any apocalyptic literature there are a lot details but let me point out important and related events. First, Judah will return to Jerusalem ending their exile. Second, they will restore the temple and wait for the coming of the messiah. Third, the messiah atone of the sins of his people. The third event comes from Daniel 9:27. It reads: “And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering.”
I know this is long but please bear with me. The half of the week, means 3 and 1/2 days. I do not have the space to explain here but to cut it short the days are symbolic. They not exact literal days. Instead, it corresponds to a half period between the weekly sabbath. Now yearly sabbath from Leviticus 25. It calculates a sabbath period in years and in days but the principle remains the same. So the number 3 and 1/2 when calculated in years equates to 42 months. That is 12+12+12+6 = 42 months. Now, how about the 1,260 days? Mathematically, it comes from 42 multiplied by 30. This is now our millennium period. It is the period of great tribulation between the first and second coming of Christ. Like what the angel Gabriel reveals, it is when “he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering.” We now have Christ, our slained lamb beside the throne of God in heaven rules over us eternally. He puts an end to sacrifice and offering.
Before we end the second sermon point, let answer the final question for the day: What happens to the church when Christ again in the end? The devil and his forces persecute the church. Some will suffer death from their hands but in the end, God will resurrect his people. Death as the final enemy will be destroyed. Paul speaks of it in his first letter to the Corinthians, “then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:24-26).” These events belongs to the sixth judgment and reflects the sixth seal which describes the end of the world. In the end, the devil will temporarily silence the witness of the church but only for 3 and 1/2 days (verse 9) and when compared to the 3 and 1/2 year witness of the church that is relatively short. And finally according to the vision of John, “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 (verse 11).” This coincides with the “great earthquake” that ended the world. And similar to the events ending the sixth seal, unbelievers perish and experienced the wrath of the God (verse 13). According to John this is the second woe because the first woe was the fifth trumpet and third woe is the next to come (verse 14).
The second coming of Jesus comes with the final judgment and the general resurrection of all believers.
ZCRC(Imus), we are God’s temple here on earth. As we bring the gospel message of God’s kingdom to this world, we are called to fight this spiritual war against the devil and his forces. We suffer the tribulation this world brings but we know God grants us eternal life and will result to our resurrection from the dead. Let us continue to witness to the nations. May the Lord continue to protect us. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.