How to witness until the end - Revelation 11:1-19

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the Riverside Church service on 29th November 2015.

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What would you say to a rugby player who always complained that his shorts got muddy after a game? Or a boxer who always complained that he got punched when in the ring? These people need to reset their expectations.

 

What should Christians expect as we live for and speak for Jesus in this time period before he returns again?

 

We saw from Revelation chapter 10 that we have a powerful message to communicate. How will the world respond to us when we speak this and live out the implications of the message before their eyes?

 

This is what we are told in Revelation chapter 11.

 

  • Remember this is vision not video
  • The imagery is mainly taken from the Old Testament

 

With this in mind let me show you what God’s people can expect to experience and what they are expected to do before Jesus returns.

 

  • God’s people can expect to suffer (Vs 1-2)
  • God’s people are expected to speak (Vs 3-6)
  • God’s people will be silenced (Vs 7-11)
  • God’s people will be successful (Vs 12-19)

 

First, God’s people can expect to suffer (Vs 1-2)

 

Look at verse 1. Read verses 1-2.

 

 

 

The temple in the NT is a way of referring to the people of God. For example in 1 Corinthians 3:16, Paul says,  “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?”

 

The idea of measuring is taken from the end of the book of Ezekiel. Here it is a way of communicating that God knows exactly who his people are and that he will protect them from ultimate spiritual harm.

 

Why exclude the outer court? In the physical temple that Jesus walked in there was an outer court. This is where those of non-Jewish original gathered. But now with the coming of Jesus there is no division between Jew and Gentile. All are now one in Jesus Christ. There is no need for that outer court.

 

Why do God’s people need protected? They must be in danger from something.

 

That’s what we do. We protect things and people when they are under threat. Whether it’s our skin protected by sun screen or our Sovereign protected by the security - if something is in danger we try and protect it.

 

That’s the big lesson here. God protects his people from spiritual harm.

 

The danger they face is spelled out at the end of verse 2. The Gentiles (or nations/unbelievers) will trample on the holy city for 42 months. I think the holy city is another way of referring to the people of God. Just as the physical Jerusalem was trampled by the Romans so the spiritual Jerusalem can expect to experience persecution from the world.

 

 

Why 42 months? It is a symbolic number. But what is it symbolic of? It comes from Daniel chapter 7 where we discover that the people of God were persecuted for a time, times and half a time. This is 3.5 years. 42 months. 1260 days. This originally referred to a 3.5 year period when the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanies IV persecuted the Jewish people in Jerusalem. It become symbolic of a time of perfection experienced by God’s people.

 

What are we to learn? We should expect to suffer for being a Christian.

 

Being a Christian now does not eliminate suffer and bring material blessing in abundance. It will bring more because we will experience hardship not only from a broken world but also as we live and speak for Jesus.

 

Rico Tice in his book Honest Evangelism says, “Many people really don’t like the gospel. Sometimes they express that politely, sometimes not politely at all; but they don’t like it. This shouldn’t really surprise us. Think how incendiary much of what we believe is. We believe Jesus is the only way to know God. We believe the cross is the only way to be forgiven. We believe that one day, everyone will be judged. So if you are going to talk to people about Jesus, you are going to get hurt. It is going to sever some relationships. It is going to provoke people. Not every time, and depending on our circumstances, friendship groups, workplaces and so on, our experiences will vary, but we will face reject enough of the time to give us second thoughts…We’re wired to assume that if we’re getting hit, something’s gone wrong. And so whenever I tell someone the gospel message, and get hit, there’s a temptation either to stop saying anything, or to change what I’m saying.”

 

 

 

Second, God’s people are expected to speak (Vs 3-6)

 

In verse 3, John is still talking about God’s people but notice how he refers to them now. Verse 3. Read verse 3.

 

God’s people are referred to as witnesses. Those who testify about the Lord Jesus Christ to the world around them, wherever they are.

 

Why two? Reminds me of Jesus sending out his disciples two by two. This is mission language.

 

Why 1260 days? Throughout the period of the church, we have a task to do.

 

Why in sack cloth? That’s the clothing of repentance. It speaks of the message we proclaim. We do not affirm people are okay as they are. They are loved by God in spite of who they are but only saved as they repent. And then they are gloriously transformed.

 

In verse 4, the two witnesses are described as the two olive trees and two lamp stands. This is a reference to Zechariah 4. It is a reminder that the church is filled by the Spirit to enable it to do this task of speaking for Jesus.

 

What are we to make of verses 5 and 6? Fire from their mouths? Shut up the heavens? Power to turn the waters into blood and strike the earth with every type of plague?

 

This is vision language. It reminds us of two OT messengers of God - Elijah and Moses.

 

We may not be able to do these literal things. But we have a message that is utterly powerful to bring salvation. We must never forget this.

What are we to learn? In this time period, although God’s people will suffer, we are also expected to speak. But there is great power in our puny words.

 

Third, God’s people will be silenced (Vs 7-11)

 

Most of the sections we read in Revelation describe what life is like all through history until Jesus returns. But occasionally the fast forward button is pressed. We get a glimpse of what it will be like just before Jesus appears. That’s what I think we are being shown in this section of Revelation chapter 11.

 

Let me show you a few reasons why.

 

Look at verse 7. Read verse 7. It’s at the end of their testimony. Satan launches a massive attack on the church. Kills them off. The global silence of the church.

 

But it won’t be for long! Look at verse 9. Read verses 9-10. Only three and a half days. A very short time.

 

But then something extraordinary happens. Look at verse 11. Read verse 11.

 

From out of nowhere the church is witnessing again. From the ash heap of history the church is alive and kicking again.

 

What can we learn from this?

 

This is about the end of history but there are principles that can apply before then.

 

We mustn’t judge the success of God’s message by the numbers of people who are professing faith in a particular area.

We should grieve at the lack of gospel fruit but remember that God remains calm and in control. We must never forget the picture of God we were shown in Revelation chapter 4.

 

Also, God has a habit of reviving his church in different parts of the world, when all seems lost. Think of communist China.

 

Fourth, God’s people will be successful (Vs 12-19)

 

I’ve grouped these verses because they all relate to events that take place at the return of Christ.

 

You’ll see from verse 12 that the people of God are called up to meet Jesus in the sky. This is what is described by Paul in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4.

 

The severe earthquake mentioned in verse 13 refers to cataclysmic disturbances in the created world. Something similar has been mentioned in Revelation 6:12-14.

 

Notice what we are told after the sounding of the 7th trumpet. Look at verse 15. Read verse 15.

 

Now sees the perfect kingdom of Jesus coming in all its splendour.

 

This is what we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer.

 

What’s your take on the banning of the Lord’s Prayer in cinemas? I’m glad. I don’t want any religion to be able to advertise. It really is the family prayer for believers and we devalue it if we say anyone can pray it without reference to Jesus. A relationship with God is not easy - it took Jesus’ death on the cross to give us access to the Father. Moreover, the Lord’s Prayer is offensive when we understand it.

 

Here at the end of Revelation is a vivid description of the Lord’s Prayer fulfilled perfectly. The time has come to judge the dead. To remove those who hate Christ. For those who love Christ to enjoy a perfect world.

 

Believer - look to this end and realise that this is ultimately what it means to be successful.

We must allow this definition to cast its shadow back through all we do.

 

In summary

 

What can we expect to experience and what are we expected to do as we wait for Jesus to return?

 

  • God’s people can expect to suffer
  • God’s people are expected to speak
  • God’s people will be silenced
  • God’s people will be successful

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