Sermon: Christ’s Witnesses – Faithful, Persecuted, Vindicated (Part 2): Revelation 11:3-14

Sermon Text: Revelation 11:3-14

“‘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” (Revelation 11:3–14, ESV).

Introduction

I should remind you that there are three truths that need to be drawn from the text that we are considering today. I will again state all three, just as I did last Sunday,  but then we will return to consider points two and three in detail. Points one was considered thoroughly last Sunday in part one of this sermon.

The first point was this: we must recognize that the job of the church, as we live in this present evil age, is to witness. We are to witness, or testify to the world, concerning Christ, his life, death and resurrection.We are to witness, or testify to the world, concerning the good news that in Christ, through faith in him, there is the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. And we are to witness, or testify to the world, concerning Christ, that he will indeed return, this time not to accomplish salvation, but to rescue those who belong to him and to judge those who do not from amongst the living and the dead. The job of the church is to witness.

The second point is this: the church ought to expect unrelenting, and ever increasing opposition from the unbelieving world. The world – those not given to the Son by the Father – will hate the testimony that they hear from the Christian witnesses. It will be an irritant to them, and they will respond with varying degrees of hostility. That is, unless the Holy Spirit is at work within them, drawing them to repentance. The church ought to expect opposition as she testifies concerning Christ.

Thirdly, recognize that though the church on earth be trampled even to the point of death, she will in the end be preserved, rescued, and vindicated, and the wicked judged.

Notice that these three points can be made only if we understand the “two witness” of verse three, who are called the “two olive trees” and the “two lampstands” in verse 4, to symbolize the church as she fulfills her mission to testify concerning Christ in the world. To make the three points that I have made the witnesses must be understood as symbolizing the church.

Last Sunday I tried to convince you that this is the proper interpretation. I tried to demonstrate that the pre-millennial, pre-tribulational interpretation – the one that so many of us grew up with – the one that says this text will be fulfilled only when two literal individual witness appear sometime in our future – is incorrect. And I also labored to demonstrate that understanding the two witness as symbolic of the church witnessing throughout the church age is perfectly in step with the rest of the book of Revelation, the clear teaching of the New Testament, and also the Old.

I am convinced that the two witnesses of verse 3 symbolize Christ’s church as she is faithful to witness, and I hope that I succeeded in convincing you. Honestly, if I did not succeed – if you still hold to that pre-millennial, pre-tribulational, dispensational interpretation – the three points that I have made will seem quite out of place and rather inappropriate to you. You might agree, that these three statements, when considered by themselves, are true statements. But you would not link these propositions up with this text. Instead you would have three different points to draw out of this text. They would go something like this: One, In the future two witnesses will appear. Two, in the future those two witnesses will be persecuted even unto death. And three, in the future those two witnesses will be raised from the dead and vindicated by God. What all of that has to do with you and me today, I am not sure. According to the pre-tribulational view we won’t even be here to see it, for all Christians, they say, will be raptured secretly (though the scriptures never speak of a secret rapture) before these two individuals arrive on the scene. It’s no wonder that I had little desire to preach through the book of Revelation when I understood it according to that pre-tribulational, pre-millennial scheme. Not only did the book make little sense to me, it also seemed to be of little value to the people of God yesterday and today. Of what use was it except to encourage the saints towrads idle speculation concerning the future, which was something Christ explicitly warned against.

But I have come to believe, and hope this is true of you as well, that the book is not only about the future, but that it was given for the church yesterday and today so that all who have ever read it are “Blessed… [to read] aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed… [to] hear, and [to] keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3, ESV).

The church of 100 a.d. is represented here in this text. The church of 1,000 a.d. is represented here in this text. And so too is the church of 2,017. Her mission is the same no mater the year. She is to witness concerning Christ! She is to testify to the world concerning sin, the threat of judgment, and the promise of sins forgiven through faith in Jesus the Christ. Christ gave her this charge through his Apostles, when he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, ESV).

The Job Of The Church Is To Witness

Friends, please recognize that the book of Revelation was written with this purpose in mind: to strengthen the church’s witness in the world. The book reveals what it reveals, not just so that something concerning the future might be revealed, but in order to strengthen the church in her witnessing role. The objective of the book of Revelation is to make the church more faithful to Christ – to encourage her to walk in this world with Jesus as Lord. From the beginning the aim of the book has been to strengthen the church’s witness.

Remember that in the very first verse John refers to himself as a witness: “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness [μαρτυρέω] to the word of God and to the testimony [μαρτυρία] of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Revelation 1:1–2, ESV).

And remember that in 1:4-5 Christ himself is referred to as the faithful witness: “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace… from Jesus Christ the faithful witness [μάρτυς], the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth…” (Revelation 1:4–5, ESV).

In 1:9 John informs us that he had been imprisoned on the island of Patmos because of his witness: “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony [μαρτυρία] of Jesus” (Revelation 1:9, ESV).

In 2:13 a man by the name of Antipas who was a member of the church in Pergamum was commended by Christ for being a faithful witness, even to the point of death. Christ spoke to the church in Pergamum saying, “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness [μάρτυς], who was killed among you, where Satan dwells” (Revelation 2:13, ESV).

And then in the letter to Laodicea Christ is again called the faithful witness. In 3:14 we read, “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness [μάρτυς], the beginning of God’s creation” (Revelation 3:14, ESV).

And do not forget the vision that John saw when the the fifth seal was broken. “When [Christ] opened the fifth seal, [John] saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness [μαρτυρία] they had borne” (Revelation 6:9, ESV).

We should also remember the way that the churches were symbolized at the beginning of the book of Revelation. They were symbolized by seven golden lampstands. What is the function of a lamp except to shine forth light in the darkness? The churches are symbolized by lampstands to indicate that this too is the function of the church, to shine as Christ’s witnesses in the midst of a dark world. Christ spoke to his followers saying,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16, ESV).

The churches were symbolized by lamp stands to make this point: the job of the church is to witness, to shine forth as light in the darkness.

And how many of the seven churches were found faithful? Two were found faithful. Perhaps this is another reason for there there being two witnesses in Revelation 11:3. Perhaps the two witnesses, who are also called two lampstands, are intended to remind us of the two churches out of the seven who were found faithful in their witness to the world.

I’m trying to draw your attention to the fact that the book of Revelation says to the church over and over again, and in a diversity of ways, be faithful unto Christ in this world. Do not compromise. Do not succumb to the temptation. Do not be overrun by false teaching. And do not bend to persecution. Worship God alone through Christ, and testify – witness – concerning the life that is found in him.

Friends, this is our mission. We are to testify concerning Christ in all we do. This applies to us as individual Christ followers. It also applies to us corporately. We are individually and together to testify concerning Christ, his life, death, and resurrection. We are to testify that in him, through faith in him, is found the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.

The Church Ought To Expect Opposition From The Unbelieving World

The second truth that must be drawn from this text is that the church ought to expect unrelenting, and ever increasing opposition from the unbelieving world as she witnesses.

By “unrelenting” I do not mean to say that every Christian will constantly experience persecution. Clearly that is not the case. Nor do I mean that every local congregation church will constantly experience persecution. God, in his mercy, does give peace to his church from time to time and from place to place. By “unrelenting” I mean that the church will be constantly opposed, in one way or anther, by the evil one and those who serve him.

Indeed, that is the picture that is painted here in Revelation 11:4-6. The whole scene is that of conflict between the witnessing church and the unbelieving world. “And if anyone would harm them” the text says “fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed” (Revelation 11:5, ESV).

The language used here is meant to remind us of the ministry of Moses and Elijah. These two men knew what it was like to testify concerning the salvation of God and to be opposed by the unbelieving world at every turn. Just like Moses and Elijah, the church too will “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” (Revelation 11:6, ESV).

God will furnish his people with all that they need to stand in the face of opposition. More than that God has given the church authority and has promised to be with her so that she be used by God as an instrument of judgment upon the ungodly. This is true even if the church seem very weak and the world very strong.

Think of Moses standing before Pharaoh as God’s witness. There is Pharaoh with the wealth and power of mighty nation standing behind him. And there is Moses, a poor shepherd, standing before him with only Arron at his side. When viewed only from a natural perspective we would have to say, “Moses doesn’t stand a chance! He will surely fall!” But Moses stood. It was through him that a kind of salvation was achieved for God’s people. Why? Because, viewed from the supernatural and Biblical perspective, the power and favor of God was with him. So it is for Christ’s witnessing church. She will be opposed by the powers of this world, but she will stand.

Think of Elijah standing before the powerful and wicked king Ahab. “Now Elijah…said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word”(1 Kings 17:1–2, ESV). Viewed from a natural and worldly perspective we would have to say, “Elijah doesn’t stand a chance! He will surely fall!” But Elijah stood. And why did he stand? Because he stood before the Lord, the God of Israel, who lives and act for the glory of his name and the good of his people.

Wherever we find the people of God testifying to the glory of God and of Christ we will find the people of God opposed. That opposition will manifest itself differently, but mark my word, there will be opposition one kind or another. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:24–25, ESV).

When I say the church ought to expect “ever increasing” opposition I do not mean that Christians will face more and more opposition universally with every passing year, but that generally the trajectory will be towards more conflict between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of Christ.

If someone were to ask me the question, “will things get better or worse as human history progresses and the end draws near?” I would say “yes”. Yes, things will get better in that Christ’s kingdom will advance just has he promised it would. But “no” I do not expect to see the transformation of culture leading to some sort of peaceful relationship between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of Christ. The postmillennialists hope for something like this. The Neo-Calvinists (or the Neo-Kuyperians) hope for something like this. They expect to see this world transformed for the good, in one way or another, before Christ returns. I can’t find any evidence for this in the pages of holy scripture. What I see is an unrelenting and ever increasing opposition from the unbelieving world against Christ and his church. On this point I actually think the pre-millennialists have it right.

This passage seems to portray that very thing. In verse 7 we read, “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” (Revelation 11:7–8, ESV).

When will this intense period of persecution take place? It will happen when “they” the witnesses who symbolize the church, “have finished their testimony”. When will the church be done with her testimony? At the end of time.

Jesus put it this way in Matthew 24:14:“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony [μαρτύριον] to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, ESV)

Who will be persecuted? Not two individuals, but the whole church.

And who will persecute? The texts tells us that it will be “the beast that rises from the bottomless pit [who] will make war on them and conquer them and kill them.”

This is interesting because we have not been introduced to this beast yet. The book of Revelation will eventually come to focus upon him, but here we have only a preview. He will be formerly introduced in 13:1. His destruction will be portrayed in 19:19.

Take note of this, friends. This passage that we are now considering is setting us up to understand all that follows in the book of Revelation. Here the witnesses, who represent the church, are persecuted by people, but who is behind it all? In reality the persecution experienced by the church on earth and at the hands of lawless men is inspired by forces in the spiritual realm. It is the dragon, who will be introduced to us in chapter 12, who motivates it all. And the dragon uses three powers – the beast, the false prophet, and the harlot. These four will be introduced one by one starting in chapter 12, and then judged by God, one by one, and in reverse order beginning in chapter 17. Here in chapter 11 we are given an earthly perspective of the church. She is likened to the courtyard of the temple left exposed to the trampling of the nations. She is likened to two witnesses conquered and killed, “their dead bodies [lying] in the street”. But chapters 12 through 19 will show us something of the evil forces that lie behind every particular instance of opposition and persecution experienced by the church in this world.

Where will this persecution take place? The text says it will happen in “the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified” (Revelation 11:8, ESV). Take note of the word “symbolically” which can also be translated “spiritually”. It would incorrect to say that this persecution will be isolated to one particular geographical city. Instead we have reference being made to four cities, and we are explicitly told to understand them symbolically, or spiritually. The four cities are these – Babylon (Babylon is called “the great city” many times later in Revelation),  Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem (which was the city where the Lord was crucified). What do these cities all have in common? They are all locations that had become notorious for their sinfulness and their ill treatment of the people of God. These cities symbolize earthly, sinful, and persecuting world powers. The saints who read this letter in 90 a.d. would have undoubtably thought of Rome.

It is important, I think, to see that this “great city” symbolizes everything that stands in opposition to the “holy city” that was mentioned at the end of verse 2. What we have, then, are two cities – the “holy city”, which symbolizes the church and the kingdom of God, and “the great city”, also called Babylon, Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem. These two cities exist in this world and are diametrically opposed to one another. The “great city” persecutes the “holy city”. The “holy city” will be trampled underfoot. The two witnesses will be killed and left to lie in the streets of “the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.”

The point is this, “the church ought to expect unrelenting, and ever increasing opposition from the unbelieving world as she witnesses.” Brothers and sisters, this is not our home.

The Church Will Be Preserved And Vindicated, And The Wicked Judged

Lastly, recognize that though the church on earth be trampled even to the point of death, she will in the end be preserved, rescued, and vindicated, and the wicked judged.

Verses 9-13 provide us with a glimpse of the resurrection of the just when the Lord returns and also of the beginning of the judgment of the wicked.

Look at verses 9-10:

“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” (Revelation 11:9–10, ESV).

This “three and a half days” symbolizes a period of particularly intense persecution that will come upon God’s people immediately preceding the end of time.

Look at verse 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” (Revelation 11:11, ESV). Here we have a reference to the resurrection of the dead. It is the same event that Paul spoke of in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 saying,

“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:15–16, ESV).

Revelation has already shown us that to die in Christ is really to live. “When [Christ] opened the fifth seal, [John] saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne” (Revelation 6:9, ESV). Here that glorious truth is portrayed, that to “be away from the body… [is to be] at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8, ESV) in the soul. But here in 11:11 we have a picture, not of the souls of deceased saints alive in heaven, but of the resurrection of the body. “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.”It is at the resurrection that the church will be most completely vindicated before her enemies.

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, ESV).

And notice that it is then, at the second coming of Christ, and at the resurrection, that the final judgment will begin.

Look at verse 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” (Revelation 11:13, ESV).

I am not saying that this is the final judgment, only that it is here that the final judgment begins. Here we have a description of what will happen to the wicked who are alive on the earth when the Lord returns. The Lord will return to rescue his bride who will be in tremendous peril, and he will begin to pour out his wrath upon the his enemies.

Revelation will give us many other perspectives on the final judgment in the chapters that follow. Here is but one perspective. When Christ returns he will rescue his bride, and he will judge his enemies. Those who are not killed will be “terrified and give glory to the God of heaven.” This text does not say that they will repent and be saved, for then it will be too late! It only says that they will be “terrified and give glory to the God of heaven.” Indeed Paul has said that in the end, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11, ESV). This is what Revelation 11:13 portrays: the return of Christ, the resurrection of the just, and the beginning of the judgments of God poured out upon the wicked.

Application

Brothers and sisters, let us take just a moment to apply this text before we conclude.

One, I think it is right for us to give thanks to God for the peace we enjoy in this world. It is unusual.

Two, I think it would be good for us to recognize that though we are not currently experiencing overt persecution we are not without opposition.

Three, if we are without opposition I think we should ask ourselves, “am I being a witnesses?” One way to avoid opposition is to compromise in our witness. I am not saying that we should stir up trouble. But if we are faithful to Christ in this world, opposition of one kind or another will likely come. Many churches have compromised in our day. Many Christians have compromised.

Four, it is good for us to think about eschatology. Eschatology (the study of last things) is so important because it sets our trajectory. What we think about the end determines how we go about living today. Two questions come to mind: Do you believe in the resurrection? Do you believe in the final judgment?

Five, proclaim Christ. Testify concerning him in word and in deed.

Sermon: Christ’s Witnesses – Faithful, Persecuted, Vindicated (Part 1): Revelation 11:3-14

Old Testament Reading: Zechariah 4

“And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep. And he said to me, ‘What do you see?’ I said, ‘I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.’ And I said to the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ I said, ‘No, my lord.’ Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. ‘These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.’ Then I said to him, ‘What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?’ And a second time I answered and said to him, ‘What are these two branches of the olive trees, which are beside the two golden pipes from which the golden oil is poured out?’ He said to me, ‘Do you not know what these are?’ I said, ‘No, my lord.’ Then he said, ‘These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth’” (Zechariah 4, ESV).

Sermon Text: Revelation 11:3-14

“‘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” (Revelation 11:3–14, ESV).

Introduction

Let us remember where we are in the book of Revelation. We are still considering the second of two interludes found in this book. Continue reading

Sermon: The Temple of God Measured (Part 2): Revelation 11:1-2

New Testament Reading: Hebrews 9:1–15; 23–28

“Now even the first covenant [that is, the Old Covenant] had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail. These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant… [Hebrews 9:23] Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:1–15; 23–28, ESV).

Sermon Text: Revelation 11:1-2

“Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 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’” (Revelation 11:1–2, ESV).

Introduction

In the previous sermon that I preached on Revelation 11:1-2 the majority of the time was devoted to proving that it is best to take the word “temple” in verse 1 to be a reference, not to a future rebuilt brick and mortal temple in the earthly city of Jerusalem, but to the heavenly temple and all who worship God the Father there through faith in Jesus the Christ in Spirit and in truth.

To put it differently, the measured temple of Revelation 11:1-2 refers to the church of God, purchased by Christ’s blood, and filled with the Holy Spirit, as she worships, not at the earthly Old Covenant temple of stone, which was a copy of the heavenly realities, but at the heavenly temple itself, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24, ESV). Continue reading

Sermon: The Temple of God Measured (Part 1): Revelation 11:1-2

Old Testament Reading: Ezekiel 40:1–6 & Ezekiel 43:1–12

“In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was struck down, on that very day, the hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me to the city. In visions of God he brought me to the land of Israel, and set me down on a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. When he brought me there, behold, there was a man whose appearance was like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand. And he was standing in the gateway. And the man said to me, ‘Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.’ And behold, there was a wall all around the outside of the temple area, and the length of the measuring reed in the man’s hand was six long cubits, each being a cubit and a handbreadth in length. So he measured the thickness of the wall, one reed; and the height, one reed. Then he went into the gateway facing east, going up its steps, and measured the threshold of the gate, one reed deep” (Ezekiel 40:1–6, ESV).

The measuring continues through chapter 42. When we come to chapter 43 we read, “Then he led me to the gate, the gate facing east. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal. And I fell on my face. As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple. While the man was standing beside me, I heard one speaking to me out of the temple, and he said to me, ‘Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever. And the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they, nor their kings, by their whoring and by the dead bodies of their kings at their high places, by setting their threshold by my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them. They have defiled my holy name by their abominations that they have committed, so I have consumed them in my anger. Now let them put away their whoring and the dead bodies of their kings far from me, and I will dwell in their midst forever.’ As for you, son of man, describe to the house of Israel the temple, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and they shall measure the plan. And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make known to them the design of the temple, its arrangement, its exits and its entrances, that is, its whole design; and make known to them as well all its statutes and its whole design and all its laws, and write it down in their sight, so that they may observe all its laws and all its statutes and carry them out. This is the law of the temple: the whole territory on the top of the mountain all around shall be most holy. Behold, this is the law of the temple” (Ezekiel 43:1–12, ESV).

New Testament Reading: Revelation 11:1-2

“Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 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’” (Revelation 11:1–2, ESV).

Introduction

Here is what I believe the proper interpretation of this passage to be: the vision shown to John, of which he becomes a participant as he is “given a measuring rod” and told to “rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there”, symbolizes God’s presence with and protection of his people as they worship and serve him in a troubled world. John being told to “not measure the court outside the temple; [but to] leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months”, symbolizes the fact that God’s people will suffer trials and tribulations in this world in the time between the first and second coming of Christ.

In other words, the temple, its court, and the holy city symbolize the church. The measuring of “the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there” signifies God’s presence, protection and preservation of the church. The leaving out of the court and the holy city to be trampled by the nations signifies the church’s vulnerability in regards to suffering. The church is both secure and vulnerable in this world. This theme pervades the book of Revelation.

Not A Literal Temple, Contrary To Dispensationalism

I’m well aware of the fact that this is not the interpretation that most of you grew up with. Instead most of us were told that this vision will be fulfilled in the future during the last three and a half years of a seven year tribulation. In that time the ethnic Jews, having been regathered in Jerusalem and their temple having been rebuilt (temple is taken to be literal here) will suffer tribulation at the hands of the Gentiles, but will be protected and preserved by God. There are certainly variations within this hyper-literalistic, futuristic, pre-tribulational, pre-millennial, dispensational scheme, but what I have just said gets at the heart of the view. They imagine this text to be only about events in our future, they take the temple to be a literal brick and mortar temple, and they claim that this has nothing to do with Christians, but instead with ethnic Israel.

To put things in a more pejorative way, when reading Revelation 11:1-2 the hyper-literalistic, futuristic, pre-tribulational, pre-millennial, dispensationalist (we are surrounded by them) thinks, “this text had nothing at all to do with the Christians who received this letter from John in the first century, it had nothing at all to do with the Christians who have lived since that time, it has nothing to do with us today, and it will have nothing to do with us for, according to their view, all Christians will be raptured out of this world before this tribulation begins.

This is interpretation is clearly wrong for a number of reasons which I will list briefly:

  1. It is ignores the repeated emphasis in the book of Revelation concerning the of fulfillment of these prophesies being near in time to those who revived the book originally in 90 A.D. There are clearly references in the book to the time of the end which any reader should be able to recognize. That event – the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, final judgment, and the ushering in of the new heavens and new earth – are clearly in our future. But everything else in the book has to do, not with that last day, but with life as we know it now. The book begins and ends with the warning, “for the time is near”(1:3; 22:10) in order to keep us from making the error that the futurists have made.
  2. This view is incorrect in that it ignores the fact that this book had to do with the lives of those who first received it. They were said to be blessed if they kept what was in it. This too is said at the beginning and end of the book (1:3; 22:7) in order to keep the reader from making the error of the futurist who imagines that these prophesies will have only to do with people living in the last three and a half years of human history.
  3. The dispensational view is incorrect because it cannot give a reason for thinking that this passage has to do only with the time of the end. The burden of proof is on them. Where is the gap of time? Why does the say, this will happen a long, long, time from now at the very end of human history. The truth of the matter is that they impose their unbiblical system upon this text, and it cannot hold the weight.
  4. The dispensational view is incorrect because it is clearly out of step with the established meaning of the book of Revelation. The book has to do with how things will go with the people of God in the time between Christ’s first and second comings. First, John was shown visions concerning how things were in his day (the letters to the seven churches). After that he was shown visions concerning how things would be from that day forward (4:1). The visions that followed, with the exception of the ones that clearly depict what will happen on the last day, symbolize in general how things will be in this world for Christ’s followers. This has been demonstrated time and again in this sermon series. The point is that any Christian living at any time and in any place is able to pick up the book of Revelation and say, “I see what is depicted here in the pages of holy scripture at work in the world today. There are wars and rumors of wars, famines, trials and tribulations. The evil one is at work, but God, by his mercy, restrains him. And he keeps those who belong to him.” The hyper-literalistic, dispensational, futurist is not wrong to think that the prophesies of the book of Revelation will be fulfilled in world events. But they are wrong to assume that these prophesies will be fulfilled in one event only, and only in our future. Their interpretation of 11:1-2 as a description of a literal temple to be rebuilt in our future at which ethnic Jews will worship is yet another example of this error. It’s out of step with the meaning of the book of Revelation, which is clearly organized, not chronologically, but involves reputation and recapitulation.
  5. The dispensational view is incorrect because it badly contradicts the clear teaching of the New Testament. We will return to this point in a little bit. For now recognize that the New Testament makes it clear that the Old Covenant with its old forms of worship (centered at the temple) had passed away with the first coming of Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant. Consider these things: In the New Covenant there is no longer a distinction between Jew and Gentile – the dividing wall of hostility has been broken down (Ephesians 2). The true children of Abraham are those, born not according to the flesh, but of the Spirit – they are those who have faith in Christ (John 1, John 8, Romans 9). They are to worship, not on this mountain or that, but in Spirit and truth (John 4). Christ himself declared the physical temple in Jerusalem – the one destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans – to be desolate (Matthew 23:38). Christ himself claimed to be the temple. He tabernacled amongst us in his incarnation (John 1:1, 14), and he said, “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”, referring not to the literal and physical temple, but to his body and to the resurrection. And notice that it is the church that is referred to as the temple throughout the New Testament. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth saying, “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16, ESV). And he says to the individual Christian, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you” (1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV)? And listen to what Peter wrote to Christians: “As you come to him [Jesus], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4–5, ESV). Ironically, the dispensationalist, though obsessed with the thought of a future rebuilt brick and mortar Jewish temple, seems to miss entirely what the New Testament clearly teaches about the temple – that it is no longer physical and earthly, but spiritual and heavenly. The book of Hebrews should make any thought of a literal rebuilt temple and a reinstitution of Old Covenant animal sacrifices unthinkable to the Christians. Why? For the Christ has come who was the fulfillment of those Old Covenant types and shadows. The dispensational scheme is so terribly out of step with the entire New Testament. Their scheme, when put to the test, essentially misses the significance of Christ’s first coming.
  6. The dispensational view of Revelation 11:1-2 is incorrect because it contradicts the clear teaching of the Old Testament too. It is true that the Old Testament prophets spoke often of a restored Israel and a rebuilt temple, but they did so in such a way to make it clear that what was in view was far more glorious, universal, and pure than anything known under the Old Covenant. When we come to the pages of the New Testament they make it exceedingly and undeniably clear that the original intent of the Old Testament prophets was to point forward, first, to the arrival of Jesus the Christ, and through him, to the ushering in of the new heavens and earth at the consummation, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in [Jesus the Christ]” (2 Corinthians 1:20, ESV). Did not Jesus teach his disciples whom he met on the road to Emmaus saying, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25–27, ESV).

The Earthly Temple Pointed To Christ, His Church, And The New Creation

Brothers and sisters, the Old and New Testament scriptures are centered upon Christ, his person and his work. The Old Testament pointed forward to him through promises, prophesies, types and shadows. The New Testament looks back to him, telling of his person and work, applying all that he has accomplished to our lives under the New Covenant. The Old and New Testaments are about Christ’s redeeming work. They describe how it is that God has taken sinful, rebellious, alienated, judgment-deserving humanity and has rescued out it a particular people for his own possession – a people amongst whom he dwells –  a people of whom he can say, “I am their God, and they are my people.”

This phrase is repeated throughout the Old Testament, especially in the prophets as they looked forward to the coming of the Christ, and the establishment of the New Covenant. The phrase, “I will be their God, and they will be my people”, is significant. To put it differently, God promised that the in the days of the New Covenant, all the covenant members “would belong to him, and he to them.”  The phrase, “I will be their God, and they will be my people”, or something close to it, appears in Jeremiah 24:7, 31:33, 32:38, Ezekiel11:20, 37:23, 37:27, and also Zechariah 8:8. The prophets clearly pointed forward to the day when all of the people of the covenant would truly be God’s, and God would be theirs. It is this phrase that the Apostle Paul picks up on in 2 Corinthians 6:16 when he says, “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16, ESV).

Paul picked up the phrase, “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” and applied it, not ethnic Israel, which would run contrary to the rest of the New Testament, but to the church – to all who have faith in Christ, Jew and Gentile alike. He calls the church – those who have faith in Christ – “the temple of God” because they belong to him, and he to them, for he has redeemed them with Christ’s blood, and he dwells in them and with them.

Paul also alluded to another Old Testament passages in that 2 Corinthians 6 text. He says, “for we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them’”. This is a reference to Exodus 29:43-45. There the context is all about the tabernacle, which would later become the temple, and the sacrifices that were to be offered there under the Old Covenant. God said, “There [at the tabernacle] I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God” (Exodus 29:43–45, ESV).

The temple was the place where God dwelt in the midst of his people and was to be worshipped and served. Under the Old Covenant the temple was earthly and physical and was given to the Jews. Under the New Covenant the temple – the place where God dwells with man and is to be worshipped and served – is not earthy and physical, but heavenly, personal, and spiritual. “We are the temple of the living God”, Paul said to the Corinthians. To the Roman church he said, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1, ESV).

The thing that I am laboring to help you see is that the tabernacle and later the temple as it was under the Old Covenant symbolized God’s presence with his people. Everything in the New Testament, and even in the Old, makes it clear that that temple, along with the priesthood and the sacrifices which were offered there, were temporary and typological, pointing forward to a greater reality to be ushered in by a greater priest who had make a greater sacrifice.

When the fullness of time had come God the Son tabernacled amongst us in the incarnation through the person of Jesus Christ. The temple of his body was indeed destroyed as he offered himself up for his people but he was raised on the third day. The veil in the earthly temple was torn in two. He then ascended to the Father, “not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:23–24, ESV). And Jesus the Christ, who is our great High Priest, did not leave us orphans, but has sent the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, which filled the Old Covenant temple with the glory cloud, now fills the church. You are the temple of of the Holy Spirit.

It is interesting, I think, that every time the word “temple” (ναός) is used in Paul’s writings it is used in reference to Christians or to the church, and not to the physical and Jewish temple. Just listen to Paul as he writes to the Ephesian church: “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:11–22, ESV).

Adam was a priest in the garden of Eden. He was to tend that temple where he enjoyed unbroken communion with the living God. The kingdom was offered to Adam there in the garden paradise. He belonged to God, and God belonged to him. He forfeited it.

God promised Adam that he would reestablish his kingship through the seed of the women. That process began to take shape with the calling of Abraham. The promises of God concerning redemption of a people were reiterated to him. From Abrahams loins a savior would come who would bless all the nations of the earth. Also, from Abrahams loins a peculiar nation would come who would belong to God.

That nation was born in the days of Moses as they were lead out of bondage from Egypt and toward the promised land. The Spirit of God was with them from the beginning, guiding them at night by a pillar of fire, and in the day by a pillar of cloud. The glory cloud of the Spirit would eventually come to rest upon the tabernacle and later the temple, filling the most holy place. It was there under Moses that the kingdom of God was prefigured. Everything in it pointed forward to the Christ.

When Jesus was conceived it was by the Spirit. When he began his ministry he was baptized by the Spirit descending upon him like a dove. His message, as well as John’s, was that the kingdom of God was at hand. Christ was filled by the Spirit so that everything he said and did was of the Spirit.When he was raised from the dead it was by the Spirit. Truly, he was the Messiah, which means, the one anointed of God. He was anointed by the Spirit. And when he ascended to the Father what did he do except give the Spirit to those who belong to him. “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34, ESV). He prepared his disciples for this, saying, “And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49, ESV). This was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, for it was then that the Spirit was poured out from on high upon the disciples of Christ for the first time.  It was then that the Spirit filled the New Covenant temple of God.

The kingdom has been offered, promised, prefigured, and inaugurated. When the kingdom is consummated everything will be temple.

Turn with me to Revelation 21:1 where see a vision depicting the consummation. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:1–3, ESV).

Now look at 21:9: “Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed— on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And the one who spoke with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement” (Revelation 21:9–17, ESV).

Look at 21:22: “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:21–27, ESV).

The Ezekiel passage that I read portions from at the beginning of the sermon finds it’s ultimate fulfillment here, not in a physical and earthly temple, but in the new heavens and new earth. The prophet Ezekiel spoke to a people who had been in exile for some time, their temple having been destroyed. God showed Ezekiel a vision of a temple on a high mountain and told him to measure it.  He also described the purity of it’s priests and worship. The promise to the exiles was found in these words from God: “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel forever. And the house of Israel shall no more defile my holy name, neither they, nor their kings, by their whoring and by the dead bodies of their kings at their high places” (Ezekiel 43:7, ESV). In other words, “I’m not done with you Israel. Though you have been disciplined through exile, I will keep my promises to you. I will bring about the redemption of my people, and the promise of a new heavens and new earth.” It is important to notice that very last word’s of Ezekiel’s prophesy are these:  “And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There” (Ezekiel 48:35, ESV).

Please tell me that you can see the progression. Adam and Eve lived in a kind of temple where they enjoyed living in God’s presence. They were kicked out due to their sin. God promised to redeem. Things progressed. In the days of Moses the temple signified God presence amongst his people but in such a way so as to magnify their sin and to point to a coming Savior. The Savior came, being himself anointed by the Spirit and earned the right to give the Spirit. Those who are in him are filled with the Spirit and are individually and collectedly called the temple. In this age, the kingdom being inaugurated but not consummated, God’s temple is in hostile territory. At the consummation only the temple will remain, for “the dwelling place of God [will be] with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

If this is all true, then why would Christians celebrate at the thought of a rebuilt brick and mortar temple where animal sacrifices are preformed? In light of all that the New Testament has to say about Christ, the temple, and the church, why would we celebrate or encourage such a thing? Wouldn’t a rebuilt temple and a return to the Old Covenant forms of worship be a most blatant denial that the Messiah has come. I can’t even begin to understand why Christians would celebrate such a thing. I understand the system – I grew up in a dispensational church. What I’m saying is that the system, when pressed and tested, ends up denying Jesus as the Christ. The Christian who is found rooting for a temple rebuilt by the Jews is really rooting for the Jewish people to continue in their rejection of Jesus as the Christ.

It is far better to understand that the temple and the court that are mentioned in Revelation 11:1-2 symbolize the church.  When John measures the “temple of God and the altar and those who worship there” it symbolizes this truth: God is with his people now as they worship and serve him on earth. He protects and preserves his people spiritually as they live on earth. This corresponds to the sealing of the 144,000 in the interlude between seals six and seven. John being told to “not measure the court outside the temple; [but to] leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months”, symbolizes the fact that God’s people will suffer trials and tribulations in this world.  Symbolized here, then, is the church of God prior to the consummation of all things. Symbolized here is the church of God living in the age between Christ’s first and second comings. This age is marked by tribulation. At the consummation all will be temple, as described in Revelation 21. No longer will the nations trample God’s people underfoot. Until that day, the church will suffer tribulation. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV).

This interpretation is perfectly in step with the way the Old Testament talks about the temple – both the earthly Mosaic temple, and the future, eschatological temple of Ezekiel 40-48. This interpretation is perfectly in step with the way that Jesus spoke about the temple – he claimed to be the true temple, declared it the earthly one to be desolate, and promised to send his Spirit to fill, not the physical temple but his people. This interpretation is perfectly in step with the way that the Apostles of Christ, particularly Peter and Paul, spoke of the temple. “You are the temple of the Holy Spirit”, Paul said. “As you come to [Jesus], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual”, Peter said.  And this is perfectly in step with the way that the book of Revelation speaks about the temple.

The book uses temple imagery and applies to the church from the beginning. The opening vision was that of Christ walking in the midst of seven golden lamp stands. This is the lamp stand that was in the temple. Here it represents the church. To the church in Philadelphia Christ said, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Revelation 3:12, ESV).

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, if you are in Christ, you are God’s temple. His Spirit is you. His Spirt is in us. It is we who are to offer up to God spiritual sacrifices as we live in this world. But we are still in the world, are we not? And in this world we will have tribulation. But God is with us. He is our God, and we are his people. Just as he sojourned with Israel in the wilderness those forty years – a pillar of fire by night, and a pillar of cloud by day – so too he is with us. We have all that we need in Christ Jesus. He is our sanctuary. We are seated with him in the heavenly places. He gives us spiritual manna to eat and spiritual water to drink. He will protect and preserve us until we take full possession of the new heavens and new earth go which it is said, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3–4, ESV). Take comfort in these things, brothers and sisters. And walk faithfully in Christ until that day.

Sermon: A Bittersweet Message To Proclaim: Revelation 10

Old Testament Reading: Ezekiel 2:1–3:15

“’Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.’ And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house. But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.’ And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.’ Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey. And he said to me, ‘Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. For you are not sent to a people of foreign speech and a hard language, but to the house of Israel— not to many peoples of foreign speech and a hard language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to such, they would listen to you. But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.’ Moreover, he said to me, ‘Son of man, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart, and hear with your ears. And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.’ Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake: ‘Blessed be the glory of the Lord from its place!’ It was the sound of the wings of the living creatures as they touched one another, and the sound of the wheels beside them, and the sound of a great earthquake. The Spirit lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness in the heat of my spirit, the hand of the Lord being strong upon me. And I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were dwelling by the Chebar canal, and I sat where they were dwelling. And I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days” (Ezekiel 2:1–3:15, ESV).

New Testament Reading: Revelation 10

“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire. He had a little scroll open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land, and called out with a loud voice, like a lion roaring. When he called out, the seven thunders sounded. And when the seven thunders had sounded, I was about to write, but I heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said, and do not write it down.’ And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land raised his right hand to heaven and swore by him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and what is in it, the earth and what is in it, and the sea and what is in it, that there would be no more delay, but that in the days of the trumpet call to be sounded by the seventh angel, the mystery of God would be fulfilled, just as he announced to his servants the prophets. Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me again, saying, ‘Go, take the scroll that is open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.’ So I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll. And he said to me, ‘Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.’ And I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. It was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it my stomach was made bitter. And I was told, You must again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings’” (Revelation 10, ESV).

Introduction

I hope that by now you are growing accustom to the rhythm of the book of Revelation. The book is highly structured and it is repetitive. Both the structure and the repetition are meaningful.  Continue reading