“Victory Through Suffering”
Series: Understanding The Book Of Revelation
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
First Baptist Church, Henderson KY
- Please open your Bibles to Revelation, chapter 11.
We are continuing our series of messages through the book of Revelation. The Apostle John is in the throne room of heaven and he is seeing visions of the future and He is recording these visions for us. We are now looking at events that will take place during a future time on earth the Bible calls “The Great Tribulation.” Chapter 11 begins with John’s being told to measure the dimensions of a temple and then we read about the coming of two people described as God’s witnesses.
- Stand in honor of the reading of the word of God. We’ll cover the entire chapter this morning, but for now, we’ll read just the first three verses to get us going.
1 Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.
2 “But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.
3 “And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.”
Last Sunday afternoon when we were having our picnic at Audubon Park, many of us were enjoying a spirited game of volleyball. Now I don’t know about you, but when I play a game like volleyball, I get a little competitive. Someone said, “It doesn’t really matter who wins, just as long as we all have fun.” Listen, that may work for you, but I play to win! The most fun I can have is when I’m winning. So, you know, I have to be careful because people may see a side of their pastor with which they’re not too comfortable: “Kill the enemy! Destroy! Win!”
One of favorite ministers is Stephen Brown of Key Life Ministries in Florida. He said a woman in his church came up to him once and said, “You know, a lot of ministers have told us they’re sinners, but you’re the first one we’ve believed!” So I’ve got to be careful. But the truth is, we all like to win. We all love what Jim McKay of ABC’s Wide World of Sports used to call “the thrill of victory” and we hate “the agony of defeat.”
One of the main teaching points of the book of Revelation is that we all win in the end. In spite of the dark forces that rise against God’s people, one day we will all finally and fully enjoy the thrill of victory. So we remember that as we read about this future time of tribulation. While God’s people will be persecuted during this time, it will end in victory, a victory that comes through suffering.
I want us to see three things about God in chapter 11 as we look ahead to this future period of Tribulation. First:
I. God Grants Power to His People (1-6)
The chapter begins with John’s measuring the dimensions of a temple. The context suggests that this temple is a future building that will exist in Jerusalem during the future tribulation period. Most of us know that there is no temple now in Jerusalem. The Bible records two temples of days gone by, the first having been built by Solomon and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 583 BC, and the second having been built by Zerubbabel not too long after that, a temple that was enlarged upon by Herod in Jesus’ day before being destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.
So the Jewish people have not had a temple for 2,000 years. Now as Christians, we know that the temple sacrifices picture the future coming of Jesus Christ, but the Jewish people, as a nation have not embraced Jesus as Messiah, so they continue to look for His coming. And many of the Jews would love to see a third temple rebuilt in the city of Jerusalem.
Other passages of Scripture indicate that a third temple will indeed be built in Jerusalem. Some references that suggest this are Daniel 9:27—along with Matthew 24:15, and 2 Thessalonians 2:4. Now those are just three references. There are many others, but I want to give you just those for now and then share with you my understanding of what those verses teach.
The Bible teaches that a person is coming to this earth called the Antichrist. We’re going to be introduced to him a little later in the chapter. When he comes he will deceive many because he won’t look like we might expect him to look. He will look just like any other human being and he will be a very charismatic and diplomatic leader. This person, the Antichrist, will broker a peace agreement in the Middle East.
Now again, you can read Daniel chapter 9, particularly verse 27, for the background later. Daniel describes in chapter 9 a period of time known as “the 70th week.” This is Daniel’s way of describing a future seven-year period of time. He describes a time when this Antichrist will come and make a treaty or covenant. It is a covenant that apparently allows for the peaceful worship in the temple. Then in the middle of the seven-year period, the Antichrist will bring an abrupt end to the covenant because Daniel 9:27 says “he shall bring and end to sacrifice and offering.” Jesus and Paul interpret this verse later, indicating that the Antichrist will then commit an “abomination” by standing in the temple and demanding that the world worship him as God.
So that’s the background for what we read here in the first two verses of chapter 11. John is measuring a future temple and is told in the latter part of verse two that the Gentiles “will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.” Forty-two months is 3 ½ years. It is the second half of Daniel’s “70th week.” It is the second half of the tribulation period that will be under control of the Antichrist and his followers, described here as Gentiles, lost people who are not following the Lord Jesus Christ.
During this time God says in verse 3 that he will give power to his “two witnesses” and “they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days.” That is another way of referring to 3 ½ years, the second half of Daniel’s “70th week,” the second half of the seven year tribulation period. What else do we read about these two people, these two witnesses?
4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.
5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.
6 These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.
The Old Testament book of Zechariah, particularly chapter 4, gives us the background for these two witnesses, telling us that the olive trees and the lampstands are symbolic of God’s mighty power. An olive tree and the oil from the tree represent the power of light that shines in the darkness. These two witnesses of God’s will shine in the dark world, giving testimony to the greatness of the One True God who has made Himself known to us in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Now the Bible says that if anyone harms these two witnesses that fire will come out of their mouths and will kill them. So these are some powerful witnesses.
A couple Sunday afternoons ago our family was enjoying a Sunday dinner with one of our church families and Nicholas turned to me and just said something out of the blue. He said, “Hey, dad. Can you lay off Revelation for awhile? I’m beginning to get a little startled!” He followed that up with a suggestion. He said, “Preach on Jesus’ feeding the 5,000—something like that.” Revelation can startle us a bit, can’t it?!
Now we’re not going to go into a great deal of speculation as to exactly who these two witnesses are. The Bible does not give us their names. Verse 6, however, does suggest that these two witnesses may be Moses and Elijah, or at least prophets who come in the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah. The Bible says in verse 6 that they have the power to shut heaven so that no rain falls. That reminds us of Elijah. And many Jews looked forward to the coming of Elijah, and today some set a place for Elijah during observation of the Passover. Malachi prophesies that Elijah will come and John the Baptist preached in the spirit and power of Elijah. Then the Bible says in verse 6 that these two witnesses have the power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth will all plagues. That reminds us of Moses back in Egypt during the Exodus. The fact that Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration also suggests that these two superlative witnesses may indeed by Moses and Elijah.
But the point is that God grants power to these two witnesses. He empowers them to carry forth His message. He does the same today. Jesus says in Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power by way of the Holy Spirit and you shall be My witnesses.” God grants power to His people. We saw the power of witnessing earlier in the skit two of our young ladies presented to us. We are given the Great Commission from our Lord Jesus. We are to share the light of the Gospel by the power of God as we shine in this dark world. You are a witness for the Lord this week by the way you live and by the words you speak. Remember that at work, at school, in your family, and in your neighborhood.
God grants power to His people. Number two:
II. God Oversees Persecution of His People (7-14)
7 When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.
We have here the first of 36 references to “the beast” in the book of Revelation. The beast is the Antichrist. You might jot that down somewhere there in the margin of your Bible. The beast will war against them, overcome them, and kill them.
8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified (that’s Jerusalem).
9 Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.
10 And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
So the Antichrist will kill these two witnesses in the city of Jerusalem and then leave their dead bodies out for all to see them for a period of 3 ½ days. This is a sign of humiliation and disgrace as Deuteronomy 21 teaches that a body should be buried at nightfall. The unbelievers of the world from different tongues and nations will see their dead bodies and rejoice over them, in something of a “Satanic Christmas” as verse 10 says they “will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another” because they were tormented by their preaching.
Donald Grey Barnhouse, a minister from an earlier generation, tells of seeing a Christmas card in a store that actually quoted verse 10 on the card. Apparently someone was just looking for a verse that sounded like it might go with Christmas and then put it on the card. Imagine a person getting that Christmas card and then looking up Revelation 11:10 only to find that they were being wished a happy time of celebrating the persecution and death of God’s people!
The unbelievers rejoice because they didn’t like the proclamation of truth coming from these two witnesses. We must remember that God’s word brings conviction. For that reason, people do not always appreciate strong preaching or a strong witness. The word of God cuts through all the stuff on the outside and it forces us to deal with our sin.
11 Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.
12 And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.
13 In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14 The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.
These two witnesses suffer for the Lord and even die for Him. But God is in control. He oversees their persecution. He miraculously resurrects them, giving them life again and raising them up. He then calls them up to heaven and they ascend upwardly while the unbelievers of the earth watch with their mouths open. No sooner do they ascend to heaven before we read that in the same hour there was a great earthquake that results in the death of 7,000 people. The Bible says that many of the unbelievers of the earth “were afraid” and “gave glory to the God of heaven.” Whether this is true conversion, we do not really know. If they weren’t expressing faith in God, they were certainly expressing the fear of God.
The resurrection and ascension of these two witnesses reminds us that God’s people win in the end. Sometimes we go through periods of persecution, but God oversees those periods of time. He’s in control. He’s in charge.
How many of you memorized Deuteronomy 29:29 as I challenged you last week? The first part, in particular, is so encouraging: “The secret things belong unto the Lord, our God.” Things happen to us that we don’t understand, but God does. The secret things belong to Him. He knows why He allows our persecution and suffering.
Jesus says in Mark 8:34, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”
Paul teaches us in Philippians 3:10 that we can know Christ more fully by sharing in “the fellowship of His sufferings.”
Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12-13, “Do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings.”
When you suffer for the Lord Jesus Christ, whether you are being persecuted for your faith, or—in a wider application—whether you are suffering the effects of living in this fallen world with all of its sickness and sorrow, just remember that God oversees your persecution. Just as He ultimately delivered His two witnesses, so will He ultimately deliver you. Remember that if you’re hurting today. You’ll win in the end.
God grants power to His people and God oversees the persecution of His people. Thirdly:
III. God Deserves Praise from His People (15-19)
We read now of the seventh angel who will sound his trumpet, signaling the coming of the final act of judgment, the releasing of the seven bowl judgments we’ll be reading about later. But this sounding of the trumpet signals that the return of the Lord is even closer still. That’s why heaven erupts in praise.
15 Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”
16 And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God,
17 saying: “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.
18 The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth.”
The twenty-four elders, which many believe signify the redeemed people of God, fall before God and worship Him in praise.
This weekend many of our men attended the Promise Keepers worship event in Louisville. There was a time yesterday evening when they called fathers and sons to the front for a time of worship. Matthew and I made our way down to the front and sang and praised God together with what seemed like a thousand men, bowing before God and lifting up hands and singing praise to the One True God. I thought of this passage as we were doing that. There’s something powerful about corporate worship, about collectively giving to God the praise He deserves.
When the twenty-four elders conclude their words of praise the Bible says:
19 Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail.
The Apostle John gets a glimpse of the heavenly temple now. He sees the ark of the covenant, the symbol of God’s presence and God’s promises. It’s a beautiful sight for the believer. It’s a reminder that God is with us and He will never leave us. We’ll win in the end. Though we may suffer, we’ll have victory. We’ll have victory through suffering.
But for the unbeliever the ark of the covenant is not as beautiful a sight. It is a reminder of God’s judgment, judgment symbolized here with “lightnings, noises, thunderings, and earthquake, and great hail.” God is the great Judge of the universe and He will judge our sin.
Conclusion / Invitation:
The suffering, the death, and the resurrection of these two witnesses picture the suffering, the death, and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Son of God came to this world and suffered a death in our place. He took our punishment. He died, and on the third day, He arose.
We’ve got a problem called sin. We sin because we are spiritually dead. That’s why we struggle the way we do. That’s why we have the bad habits we do. That’s why we think the way we do. That’s why we do bad stuff, because of sin. We are spiritually dead and the only way for us to be resurrected is to be identified with the Lord Jesus Christ and share in His benefits.
- Stand for prayer.
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