The fastest way to start a heated argument in many Christian circles is to head to the book of Revelation. End times prophecy and eschatology has often been an item to divide over, with some denominations and churches making it a test of fellowship or orthodoxy. Unfortunately this has driven other churches and believers to stop studying or talking about these things, with many missing out on the blessing promised in the starting verses of this book.
It is my hope that the following study, of only a small portion of the prophecies of Revelation, will be beneficial to all - perhaps prompting each of you to study it even more. Our brief study will begin with Revelation 10:11 and continue through to the end of chapter 11.
We are clearly told that the prophecy which will follow pertains to a wide range of people, nations, languages and rulers. The arbitrary division between chapters ten and eleven must not be used to obscure that the prophecy of chapter eleven clearly is associated with these words. While this statement does not rule out a specific future fulfillment, the language points towards this being a prophecy fulfilled in an overview of an expanded timeframe. It is also possible that the prophecy has both a general and specific fulfillment as seen with some other prophecies of Scriptures. The focus of this study is not to spend a lot of time speculating about some future specifics but to look at the clear application of this prophecy to a telescoped view of history.
Measure - determine the size of God's temple. God's temple on earth is no longer a physical structure as associated with the Old Testament law. The tabernacle and temples of old were merely shadows of what was to come (Hebrews 10:1), namely the temple of God being the very people of God. In New Testament times, the buildings churches meet in are merely gathering places with no particular religious significance other than being an outward (or visible) symbol of the true church.
It should not surprise us that the command to measure God's temple references the altar, with a restated directive to count the worshippers there. Only those who worship at the true altar of God are part of God's holy temple.
Churches can have physical altars galore, at the front of their palatial buildings (and the real question is "why?"), but only those who have found the true spiritual altar of Christ are to be counted in measuring the size of God's temple.
Simply put, the outer court doesn't matter. It is the inward that determines whether a person is a believer in Jesus Christ. On an individual level, the outer court of this spiritual temple is this flesh which is wasting away. Likewise, at a corporate level, the church buildings are earthly structures that also are wasting away.
The religious deceivers of the world are all about this outer court. How they look, how they appear to others externally is their consuming focus. Yet they remain Gentiles, not part of the spiritual family of Abraham. Scriptures are clear that only those who are spiritual descendants of Abraham are recipients of the promise and heirs of salvation.
In the command to determine the size of God's temple comes this permanent exclusion - do not count those on the outside, those who are all about the externals but have never come to the true altar by God's grace. To never count them remains God's righteous decree, as He looks upon the inward.
Consider in this symbolic temple, those that have an appearance of godliness, who stand at the inward side of this outer court, closest to the true worshippers. These religious looking "Gentiles" are often the first to trample on God's holy city, yet self-deceived into thinking they are different from others farther away in this outer court. In fact they are found to be persecuting, hindering, tearing down, mocking, and despising the true residents of God's city who worship at the altar.
Words of comfort are given to the church that this trampling of the outer court is only for a fixed period of time. As was the case with Satan's attack on Job (Job 1:1-2:10), God is sovereign over all of this, restricting what unbelievers can trample and the period of time they appear to be successful.
As the narrative in Relation continues, two witnesses are also given power for the exact same amount of time. [42 months = 3.5 years. 3.5 years x 360 day per year = 1260 days. Hebrew years were based on a lunar calendar of 360 days, not on a solar year of 365.25 days.] For as long as the trampling of the outer court goes on [42 months] God will have His witnesses that will testify against them and offer salvation to all who will believe.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, even following His resurrection, the disciples still had at least some focus on an earthly kingdom and nation. Jesus made clear to them that the times and dates of a terrestrial kingdom were irrelevant (and totally up to God) but that He was going to give them power to be witnesses throughout Israel and the world. The focus was to be spiritual. Yet, even today, many prophetic speculators would rather spend inordinate amounts of time focusing on earthly nations, kingdoms, and places, ignoring or minimizing the greater spiritual message. Returning to our focus on spiritual things, note that it is God's power to save. God uses His people and the preaching and teaching of His word to forth-tell (or prophesy) to the world. For the unbeliever it is a message of foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18) heaping judgment on themselves (2 Peter 2:1), while, in complete contrast, to those who are being saved these are words of life (1 John 1:1)!
Before returning to the power of God which enables these witnesses, John takes a moment to identify them.
"Lampstands" is a defined code-word (or symbolism) in the book of Revelation. Near the beginning of the book John identifies them as part of his vision of heaven and the resurrected Lord.
Leaving little room for other interpretation, Jesus' words proclaim the lampstands to be churches. As to why a lampstand would represent a church requires a journey through the Old Testament as well. During the time of the Mosaic Law, God commanded a lampstand to be made for use in the tabernacle (and later temple).
The items of the earthly tabernacle were all to be representative of things in the true tabernacle of heaven (Hebrews 8:5). This makes the tabernacle lampstand a symbol no less than the ones described by Jesus to John. It should be noted that there was only one lampstand in view during Old Testament times. This lampstand was to be kept burning, dispelling the darkness, from generation to generation.
This lampstand was representative of the only church of their day, the Jewish church. They received the promise, they alone had a covenant with God, and God's salvation was found only among them, unlike all the other nations of the earth (Deuteronomy 10:15).
The image of the lampstand broadens, in the Old Testament, only when God reveals the future, the time beyond the coming of the Messiah, through prophecy. The prophet Zechariah had such a focus. While the people of his day had the immediate rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem in view (following their Babylonian captivity), God reveals much more, pointing to a time after He (the Branch, the Messiah) will live among them. At that time the focus broadens into many nations who will be joined with the Lord and become His people.
With the time frame clearly established as being after the coming of the Messiah, Zechariah's following vision now features the one lampstand but having two sources of oil.
In the days of many nations becoming God's people, there are now two sources of oil for this lampstand. Truly all believers, Jew and Gentile, become part of the one universal (catholic) church. This was a mystery to the Jews who saw themselves unique and separate from the nations. But here, God was showing them that a time was coming when a Gentile church would be joined to this Jewish church.
The lampstand, itself, represents the displayed glory of God. Lampstands can be moved and removed, placed wherever they serve purpose to the one who owns them. God has His lampstand for His purposes, using it to give light to those in darkness, displaying His glory to the world.
The last verse we considered in Zechariah (4:6), emphasized that the power of the lampstands was not earthly but from God. Their proclamation of God's Word is only by the working of the Holy Spirit (Romans 10:14-15). The design of the lampstand, with its' branches, symbolized this power source. Consider the seven-fold spirit of God, which Isaiah prophesied would rest on the Messiah...
Zechariah didn't understand the image of two olive trees in association with this lampstand, so his next action was to ask for explanation.
In response to the future nature of this vision, Zechariah was told that there were two who were anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth. With the coming of the Messiah, the focus would no longer be one nation, but all nations! The olive trees grown by God to fill his lampstand with oil would be two, the Jew and the Gentile. God's lampstand would send the light of His salvation to the ends of the earth. This identical imagery is what is in view in the last verse we considered in Revelation...
With the Bible being progressive revelation, where more is clarified in the New Testament, John's vision now shows the separate (yet unified) nature of specific churches. In Old Testament times, there were not churches (plural) throughout Israel, there was only one church. This was why it was forbidden to worship in the local synagogues, with a universal requirement that all attend to the temple in Jerusalem for their sacrifices (Deuteronomy 16:5-6). Following Christ, there are many gatherings of believers; each called a church (i.e. Romans 16:4, 16). God uses lampstands, plural, in the book of Revelation to show that the church, while one in Him, is many. This is why there were seven lampstands in view in the earliest appearance (Revelation 1:12). Not that any would try and say that there are only seven true churches in the world, but that God was specifically addressing those individual churches - each which was accountable to Him. In this later reference to two lampstands in Revelation (11:4), God was addressing the two great branches of the church, showing the lampstands in parallel to the olive trees to make it clear that they were the prophesied two, namely the Jewish church and the Gentile church.
Knowing that the two witnesses are the two great branches of the church, the next two verses symbolize the very power of God which inhabits His church.
The same God who enabled an Old Testament prophet to call down physical fire from heaven (i.e. 2 Kings 1:10), spiritually gives the church the power to send fire from their mouths to consume their enemies. This symbolism is no different that that used in the Old Testament prophetical book of Jeremiah. When God told him to prophesy impending judgment on the nation this is the symbolic description He begins with...
manner, God's witnesses, the Jewish and Gentile church, proclaim His
coming judgment on all enemies unless they repent. Enemies of the
church are enemies of God and all who remain such will die by fire
The power to shut up the sky is the very power of prayer. We are not to forget that God hears and answers the righteous prayers of His people.
It's worth noting, that by Scriptures, physical famine is not the worst famine that will affect the earth. Far worse is one that we already see signs of in the world around us today. Though there are multitudes of church buildings and stacks of printed Bibles, little of God's word is being heard.
Returning to Revelation, changing waters to blood and striking the earth with plagues is hinged on the words "as often as they want", the limiter to our prayers. As our wants and desires are conformed to our Lord's (Matthew 6:10), God answers our prayers not out of revenge or selfish desires, but as He wills and for His glory. Following the pattern set by Jesus, the church when rejected, though having the power to do so, does not desire to destroy its' enemies.
In the end, the church cries out to the Righteous Judge of all the earth, and leaves the time and means of judgment to Him.
Our primary passage in Revelation now comes to a transition, a coming day when the church will have finished its' testimony to the inhabitants of the earth. The visible church, Jewish and Gentile, will be seen to be overcome by the demonically charged destructive forces of this world. This beast in all probability represents corrupt government who will misuse the authority given to it by God.
Do you think that the death of the visible church is not possible? What would it look like? It would be a world still filled with church buildings and probably even having many people filling them, but the church would no longer take a stand for the truth having been overpowered and killed by embracing the lies of the devil. This would be a so-called church that welcomes all beliefs as equals (as long as you don't say yours is the only way) and a church that has without reservation accepted naturalistic views concerning the origins of life. Most of all, this church would be worshipping a God that it has fashioned in its' own mind regardless of the name; certainly a God who is no better than an idol, incapable of hearing, seeing, acting, and certainly not in sovereign control of all things. From the looks of today, many churches have already begun their dying throes.
The bodies or shells of the church will lie in the streets of the great city, figuratively speaking of the world as described by the following terms, Sodom & Egypt. Sodom represents all nations who will suffer the wrath of God (Romans 9:29 & Jude 7) and Egypt represents all unbelievers still in bondage. This is certainly where our Lord was crucified, on this fallen and sinful planet in the hands of godless men.
Ah, you say, didn't Jesus say that the church will never be defeated? Yes, He did!
This death of the visible church will be in regards to just that, the visible church. The true church of God will always be everything God intends her to be, built up, prepared, and protected by Him (and spanning all the ages). Yet, in this prophesied era, the true church will have ceased to be visible for a brief period of time, God seeing fit to end her witness for a period, with the few true believers having fled the visible church to hide.
The world celebrates every time the church is seen to have fallen. It will certainly celebrate a worldwide visual capitulation of church; the death of those organizations perceived to be worldwide troublemakers because of their claims of exclusivity - that Jesus is the only way (John 14:6). To the world, the message of the church has always been a torment.
Imagine how the world will celebrate when it believes that this stench of death has been removed from the world. I can almost hear the sounds of partying already.
Regarding this brief time (contrast the 3 days to the earlier referenced 1260 days), the shell of the church will still be visible. The dead bodies are merely externals. Why would the world want the external to still be visible? It becomes a monument to what it has now become and makes it easier to celebrate the destruction of what it once was.
It is not impossible and actually highly probable that the true believers will have undergone intense persecution at this time. With the events we see in the news these days, of riots over religion and mobs burning, looting, and killing in the name of their beliefs, a wave of hysteria could easily sweep the world, breaking down into governmentally sanctioned or tolerated societal lawlessness, seeing multitudes of believers slaughtered worldwide for their testimony of Christ. It would be easy to be left with literal dead bodies along with the dead shells of churches that now would only have compromisers to left fill them (who find it easy to deny Jesus as they do not know Him. Matthew 10:32-33).
When speaking of end-times Jesus, Himself, said this...
"Will He find faith on the earth?" speaks only of true faith, for there certainly will be people of faith, even as now we have multitudes having faith in false gods and belief systems. Having "a faith" is not enough; having "the faith" is what Jesus questioned finding on His return, words that would certainly hint at the view John had. While some have tried to say that the answer to Jesus' question will be a resounding "yes," professing that the church will be at its' strongest when Jesus returns, it would make the question virtually redundant. The implied "no" that is better understood to be the answer to Jesus' question certainly parallels another scene in heaven, also found in the book of Revelation, one that even speaks of believers being martyred for their faith.
Continuing with John's panorama of church history, when it looks like things are at their very worst for the church, something incredible happens. These witnesses, the churches that everyone celebrated as dead, by the power of God now stand on their feet. God who builds his church brings it back to life in such a worldwide visible way that all those celebrating its widely hailed demise now are struck with fear. The visible reappearance of believers that had hidden for a time, perhaps even augmented by a number of new believers, but all now motivated and energized by God to appear before the world fearlessly, Jew and Gentile, would certainly be resurrected witnesses. Think of it as one last great revival.
The reemergence of the church would show the world that it cannot control nor eliminate it, even as the world has been unable to destroy God's word throughout history. The world fears anything it cannot control, manipulate or destroy. This resurrected witness would clearly be seen to exist by the very power of God. In our account in Revelation, God's intervention and display of power continues...
The glorious rapture of the church, Jew and Gentile, in the sight of all mankind, solidifies their claim that God is for them. With every believer, including those formerly dead, now ascending into heaven, only the enemies of the church are left to stare in utter disbelief.
The only thing secret about the rapture of God's church is when it will take place (Matthew 24:36-51, 25:13; Mark 13:32-37; Luke 12:46), for it certainly will not be hidden from the eyes of the unbelieving world.
In a parable Jesus used to speak of His return, He warned that imminent justice awaited those who were not true servants...
The beginning of this final judgment on the unbelieving earth, following the removal of all believers, is seen in the next verses of our passage. Be assured that while the church may suffer trials (1 Thessalonians 3:3) and tribulations and persecutions in this world (Mark 10:30), it will not suffer the outpouring of Gods' wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9) which is reserved for those who do not believe.
The book of Revelation certainly gives more detail elsewhere about this outpouring of God's wrath. What needs to be seen here is the reaction to what they have seen, that they "gave glory to the God of heaven." This does not say that they turned from their disbelief to follow Jesus, rather that they acknowledged that it was God who had done all this! In fact, with their hardened hearts, even while acknowledging that God has done it, they would curse Him.
Many a lost person, even now, will acknowledge God's judgment upon them and yet continue on in their sins refusing to repent. Back in chapter eleven, the scene now shifts to heaven, the destination of all believers.
The church now sees the imminent culmination of the kingdom of God when all enemies of Christ are defeated. It certainly will be a cause for thanksgiving and worship! Two groups of 12 are in view regarding the twenty four elders. The first twelve represent the elders of the twelve tribes of Israel, with the second twelve representing the elders of the church, the apostles. As a spiritual representation they again show the equality and combined branches of the Jewish and Gentile churches.
Those enemies have the face of the nations with the salt and light of God's church removed from them. And certainly it would be an angry face.
The time for God's wrath had come, not only the outpouring of such on those remaining on the earth, but subsequently to all who died in their unbelief as well. When God has finished with the unbelieving nations of the earth, the judgment of the living and dead is shortly to come. Eternal destruction awaits all unbelievers versus the eternal reward all believers will experience in the presence of their Lord. Notice also that the destruction of the earth (God's creation) is credited to all unbelievers in contrast to believers who have been credited Christ's righteousness (Romans 4:24).
In this brief piece of the book of Revelation that we have so far studied, John has given us a compressed view of history from his time until the end of time. What message does it give the church? Serve God, proclaim His unchanging word and stand firm as He will accomplish all of this in His timing. The overall message is one of victory in the face of everything that the world throws at us. The end of the Book is the same message found all through it; we win because He has won!
Written by Brent
of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2006