Rev.11:1-14 — BUILD UP THE CHURCH
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on July 5th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 11A.
As we start this morning, I want to make sure that we go back over how we are handling the book of Revelation. We are looking at Revelation as a picture that of the Exodus. Why are we doing that? (1) Because the book of Revelation uses so many images that seem to come out of the Exodus – and because the Exodus is the OT picture of God’s deliverance and salvation – so that it seems like God is purposely drawing parallels between the experience of the Exodus (the battle/journey) and this prophecy about the experience of the church. But then, (2) Because when we look at Revelation in this way, there are practical, pastoral applications to our lives right now.
So this morning we are going to look at a passage which uses both Ezekiel and Zechariah background passages. But the greater context is that the church is moving towards the promised land (Ch.19-21), and that we are traveling through this world, contending with the unbelieving nations – calling them to repentance, and that we are battling against spiritual enemies.
Build Up the Church – And in this way be a light to the world.
God’s Witness and Light to the World is the Church (the Two Witnesses): The background passages for the two witnesses is Zechariah 4, in which Zechariah sees a vision of two olive trees pouring olive oil into a golden lamp stand that stays lit with this endless supply of oil. The vision of Zechariah refers to Zerubbabel the Governor and Joshua the High Priest – both of whom are leading the effort to rebuild the Temple of God (the place on earth – OT – where God dwells, is worshipped). They are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth.
God gives the vision to John of two witnesses – lamp stands – olive trees – who stand before God and give testimony about God to all the earth. But these are not Joshua and Zerubbabel – who are dead – nor are they two other individuals – but the context of Zech.4 forces us to see that they represent those who are building the Temple (in NT terms – the church – which is composed of living stones – Eph.2:18ff, 1 Peter 2:4-5).
In other words – the two witnesses are the church. The image of Rev. 11 suggest, based on it’s context from Zechariah 4, that the way the church witnesses is by being built up – not as a physical building – but as the people of God – the body of Christ. Which is not to say that we don’t ever need to share our faith individually – but that the normal way in which the church is a light/lamp stand – is by being a “City on a Hill” rather than by being an individual on a soapbox.
God Pours Out His Spirit and Creates Light as We Live Out Our Faith Together: The image of the lamp stand with the oil pouring into it – creating light – is a picture of how the church functions. While it is true that the preaching of the word and the sharing of our faith are obvious ways of being a light to the world – the Spirit is also poured out and creating light as we build one another up and practice love, grace and truth towards one another.
Specifically: When I decide to love someone in the church – by caring for their needs – helping them move – watching their kids – making a meal… When I decide to forgive an offense committed against me – by someone in the church – or by an enemy or someone outside of the church… When I honestly talk about my spiritual struggle with other people and my need for grace… These things are the inner workings of the city on the hill, that give evidence of the oil of the Holy Spirit – much more than me ranting on a soapbox.
These things cause the light of the Spirit of God to blaze up – and become a testimony and a witness to all who see them.
Conversely, when we are too afraid to honestly talk about our spiritual struggles because our enemy lies and tells us no one will understand… When we are unwilling to forgive or show grace to one another because our enemy lies and tells us that we will be taken advantage of and that evil will come out of our forgiveness… When we come to and go from church not really caring for one another because our enemy has convinced us that the inconvenience of being involved with people is too much – the light produced by the Spirit fades and the church appears to be powerless and just another social club.
Build Up the Church – The Work is Pressing.
The Mission of Being the Church is Immediate: The work of the witnesses last for 1,260 days – while the outer court is trampled by the Gentiles for 42 months. Both of these time frames end up being approximately three and a half years – about the amount of time Christ went around gathering disciples and calling men to himself. The time is symbolic of the limited amount of time that we have to carry out the mission of Christ – to be the light of the world and live out the message of the Gospel.
We see this attitude in Jesus in Jn.9:1-5 ”1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” What does Jesus mean when he says this? Clearly he does not mean that he and the disciples need to hurry – to run from town to town – but that, rather than sitting around and discussing the theology of why the man was born blind (like the disciples want to do) – he needs to work – to help this man and show him the Gospel.
Practically, then, our decisions about how we are going to treat one another – about whether or not to love our enemies – to be servants to one another – about whether or not to speak honestly about our struggle with sin – about whether or not to encourage one another (to say the thing we have meant to say – to give the encouragement we meant to give) and spur one another on to good works – about whether or not to restore our relationships with those whom we are called to love…. Those decisions are pressing. We want to think about them, to wait on them until the time to speak or help is passed. But these things are pressing – the need is immediate and affects the church.
Believe That, Though the Church May Die – God will Raise it to Life.
Hope – Though the Church Faces Opposition – God Has Given Us Power to Do His Work: The two witnesses have startling power – “5If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. 6These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.” The power is, again, symbolic – reminiscent of Elijah on Mt. Carmel who called fire down out of heaven and destroyed the prophets of Baal – who shut up the sky so that it did not rain for 3 years – and reminiscent of Moses who struck the Nile and turned the water to blood.
What is the purpose of this power? As with Moses and Elijah, it is the display of the power of God – part of their testimony to unbelieving people. The passage is not calling us to call fire down from heaven and devour our enemies (which would not fit well with, say, Romans 12), but is showing us that God will – as we prophesy – as we are doing the work of being a light to the world – will protect that witness and overcome those who don’t believe by his power.
In other words, the witness of the church is powerful. God will first, call those who reject and oppose that witness to repentance – and prevent them from harming the witness of the church. But ultimately God will destroy those who oppose the church and do not repent.
Trust – Though the Church May Die – God Will Raise it Back to Life: After the time is up – the beast from the abyss (Satan) comes and murders the two witnesses. They are rejoiced over, publicly humiliated – denied burial. Parties and holidays break out over their death. But then God breathes life into them and they stand up again.
This is a paradigm for the experience of the church – it is a paradigm that looks like the life of Jesus – death- resurrection. The normal life of the church is that it is raised up by God – prophesies about the truth of God as it lives out faith in the face of opposition – after a time it dies and it’s enemies rejoice over it – but then God breathes life back into it – another expression of the church is raised up in its place.
This means that the church can never be made into an unchanging institution – that isn’t how it works – but that it is a living and dying witness of Christ – it is always undergoing change of dying and being raised up. And it is in the context of this changing and living church – into which God breathes new life – that the enemies of God are defeated and that men are overwhelmed and give glory to God – come to faith – believe. And we need to believe that God will sovereignly continue to raise up a witness for himself in the world.
Rev.11:15-19 — THE SEVENTH TRUMPET
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on July 26th, 2009. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Rev 11B.
Review: We are coming to the 7th Trumpet this morning, and I want to take a moment and put it in context with the trumpets that have gone before. The 7 trumpets is an image from the conquest of Jericho – and are symbolic of God’s conquest of the earth. Now that we are at the final trumpet, we need to look back in overview to see the complete picture of God’s spiritual conquest of the world – and our part in that conquest.
Recognize the Scope of This Ministry We Have Been Given.
We Have Been Given the Powerful Work of Prayer: Trumpets 1-4 – Rev.8: There is silence in heaven as God hears the prayers of the saints. Our prayers are offered up with incense and made acceptable and even an enjoyable fragrant offering to God. Our prayers are then mixed with the fire of God’s purposes and cast down to the earth where God speaks them into being with the same kind of power he exercised at Creation.
God uses these prayers – as he did with the trumpets at Jericho – to knock down the strongholds of sin and unbelief, both in our own lives and in the lives of those we pray for. But also, God uses these prayers – as he did with the plagues of Egypt – to create a public witness of his glory in the world – so that we can pray, and in fact are called to pray, globally for situations and ask God to display his glory to nations and people.
We Have Been Shown the Urgency of Our World’s Spiritual Need: Trumpets 5-6 – Rev.9: God shows us what we are up against, (1) the supernaturally destructive nature of idolatry through the image of the locusts… the supernatural power of the idolatry people are enslaved to – the way that idolatry strips away life and what is good – the true nature of idolatry as a destructive plague that deceives people with things like beauty and wealth and power and status. And (2) the impending fearful judgment that awaits those in rebellion against God – whose greatest fears will come upon them. This is the field we work in – these are the people we pray for.
We Have Been Given A Calling and Power to Reach the World: The Interlude – Rev.10-11a: We have been given a calling to (1) Eat the word – digest it’s truth and take it into ourselves – in order to both be changed by the word (divine indigestion), and to prophesy to many nations and peoples. And then (2) We have been called to be the 2 witnesses building the church – (Zech.4) – and as the church to be the lampstand, the city on the hill – to be a witness as we live together in Christian community – to be a witness despite the hostility and rejection of the world – and to invite others to come and join us and to know Christ as well. And we have been given the power of God to carry out this mission – despite the fact that the church keeps dying and being brought back to life as God breathes new life into it.
Believe that God is Reigning Through These Things.
God’s Reign is Proclaimed: Trumpet 7: The final trumpet of conquest is sounded and loud voices from heaven proclaim that something earth shattering has happened. The kingdom of the world – the figurative city of the world, described in Rev.11:8 – “… the great city, which is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified…” – has become the kingdom of our Lord. A takeover has happened. The voices from heaven speak of this takeover as having already been accomplished – but Rev.11:17 makes it clear that – while God’s victory is as certain as though it had already been accomplished – God has begun to take up his great power and reign.
What the 7th trumpet makes clear (and remember the #7 is all about completion and fulfillment) – is that God is going to fulfill his reign – his conquest of the earth through the mission and calling of the church. And what God intends for us to see through these visions of the trumpets is the power and glory and the grandeur of our calling. God intends that we should see both the horrifying plague of idolatry that cannot be overcome by human wisdom – and the supernatural power of God through prayer and the word and our witness as we confront that same idolatry. God intends for us to see both the urgency of the fearful judgment that hangs over the heads of those who rebel – and – the power of prayer to break down the strongholds of sin and unbelief in the lives of the rebellious.
We are being called to believe that God will reign – that he chooses to reign through us as we carry out our work as the church in the world. We are being called to see beyond our experience of this world – to what is actually happening spiritually as we do the work of being the church. We are being called to see the importance of prayer – the work of prayer – the urgency of the lost – the importance of our calling to be a light by loving one another and serving one another in the church – the power of the word to change both our hearts and the hearts of others. But most of all we are being called to see that through these things – even though they may look weak or foolish or inadequate (like blowing trumpets at seemingly impregnable city walls) – God is going to reign as king over this earth.
Give Thanks for What God is Doing in and Through You.
Give Thanks for the Power of God as He Reigns: When the 24 elders see the full effect of the 7 trumpets and hear this final proclamation – they respond with worship and amazement and adoration – because God has taken up his mighty power and has begun to reign. We read this and maybe don’t experience the same excitement because we may not fully understand what it means for God to reign. So let’s spell it out. What does it mean for God to reign? How does God bring glory to himself?
~ By breathing life into the spiritually dead hearts of human beings and making them alive – we talked about this last week in Ps.1/Jn4 – with “Living Water”.
~ By giving human beings the gift of righteousness – the exchange of Jesus’ sinless and holy life – lived out on our behalf – in exchange for our sinful lives.
~ By Jesus laying down his holy life to death and punishment as a substitute for us-
and taking our punishment on himself.
~ By adopting us into his family and making us privileged children of God.
~ By giving us his Holy Spirit so that we begin to desire what is right – to be convicted of sin and hate what is evil – to see and grasp spiritual truth – to have power to love and obey God.
~ By calling out and gathering for himself bodies of believers who live as lights to the world as we practice love and submission and build one another up through encouragement and speaking the truth in love.
~ By redeeming our lives and guiding us like a shepherd – and being acknowledged as our savior and our king.
This is how God reigns over us and shows his true nature – his glory – to us and to the world. This is how God displays his power in us to the world. This is what God is doing – the conquest he wants to have over human beings. This is the reason we are to give thanks.
Give Thanks For the Reward of God to Us: The Elders also recognize – when they see the full effect of the 7 trumpets – that the saints, the prophets, those who reverence the name of God- both great and small – are going to be rewarded by God. The Elders give thanks and praise God – and so should we – because God, who has given us the privilege and gift of salvation – chooses to use us – and then rewards us. God gives us blessing on top of blessing.
We as the church are meant to see – first – how glorious it is to be the church and to fulfill our calling – and second – how kind – how good God has chosen to be towards us. That despite the fact that we are imperfect servants, struggling with sin, struggling to be of use to God, weak even in the use of our gifts. God wants to use us – displays his power through our weakness – and then plans to reward us as though we were glorious successes.
If we believe and understand this, if we think about the goodness and love of God shown towards us through these things – we will give thanks.
Give Thanks that God WIll End the Destruction: Finally, the Elders give thanks that God will destroy those who destroy the earth. The contrast here between those who are rewarded and those who are destroyed, suggests that the Elders are talking about those who bring violence and abuse and hatred and perversion and greed and injustice on the earth – who live for these things and who destroy others as they pursue these things. This is God’s perspective on rebellion – those who rebel against God destroy his good creation – created to be very good – and there is no way around the reality of judgment on those who reject the mercy of Jesus.
But as earlier passages suggest (Rev.4 – where the judge is also the Lamb that was slain) – the time for judgment has come and is now – takes place through the preaching of the Gospel. It is in the face of the Gospel that God chooses to judge. In other words, God is not content or willing to judge apart from the offer of the Gospel of freedom through submission to Jesus. And so the elders give thanks – and we should give thanks also – because destructive evil is being judged – but also because that judgment can now finally happen only in the light of the rejection of the Lamb that was slain and the mercy of God.