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The Two Witnesses - Part 1

Tom Pennington Revelation 11:1-13


I want you to turn tonight as we begin our time, not to the book of Revelation where we will eventually go, but I want you to start with me in 1 Kings 16. 1 Kings 16. We find ourselves in this chapter in the middle of one of the darkest periods in Israel's history. The kingdoms have been divided - the north and south. And in the north, over the ten tribes, is one of the most wicked men in all of Scripture.

1 Kings 16:29: "Now Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel in the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him. It came about, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he married Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went to serve Baal and worshiped him. So he erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal which he built in Samaria. Ahab also made the Asherah. Thus Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him. In his days Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho; he laid its foundations with the loss of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates with the loss of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which He spoke by Joshua the son of Nun."

What the prophet is wanting us to see in these verses is that these were truly the dark days of Israel. These were the darkest days in many regards because, not only did Ahab follow in the footsteps of Jeroboam who set up those alternate worship centers, those idolatrous worship centers in the ten tribes in the north to keep the people from going south to worship in Jerusalem, but in addition to that, he married an idolatrous woman. He married the daughter of Ethbaal, King of the Sidonians, up in the modern era of Lebanon and he began to worship and serve not Yahweh, the God of Israel, but Baal himself. And he actually built an altar for Baal in a temple for Baal, which he built there in Samaria. And it was such a day of disregard for God and His Word that it was in that day that Jericho, which God had said should not be rebuilt, was rebuilt. Those were the times.

What would God do in such times? What would He do when a wicked man and a wicked queen are on the throne of the nation of Israel, the ten tribes in the north? Chapter 1 or chapter 17:1. Here's what God did. "Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, 'As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.'" So, you can just imagine the scene, put on your sanctified imagination for a moment, and here's the palace Samaria, here is Ahab, and here's his wife Jezebel. And they have done away with the worship of Yahweh in the land and, instead, they've sold their people to worship Baal. And one day into the palace and into the palace throne room, comes a man who's a rough and rugged man. And he's introduced to the king. And I'm sure the one who introduced him winced as he said it. He said, "Here is Elijah". And the reason he would have winced is because of what his name means. Elijah means - or in Hebrew, it's Eliyahu - "My God is Yahweh". Can you imagine how that rippled through the palace? My God is Yahweh. And then he says what he says here in verse 1, "As the Lord [Yahweh], the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall neither dew nor rain, except by my word [until I say it'll rain]." What God did was raise up a mighty prophet who would preach to the people, who would rebuke this wicked ruler and his wicked queen, so that God's purposes could be done.

During the second half of the coming seven-year Tribulation, God is going to raise up not one prophet, not one Elijah, but he'll raise up two prophets. And these two men will confront a ruler far more powerful and far more evil than Ahab. They will confront the Antichrist, not the ruler over Samaria, but the ruler over the world. We meet those two witnesses tonight in our study of the book of Revelation, and I invite you now to turn with me to Revelation 11.

Now, just to remind you where we find ourselves. This is just a partial outline of Revelation, but we're looking at the seven-year Tribulation and that begins in chapter 6 and runs through chapter 18. At this point, we find ourselves in the interlude between the sixth and seventh trumpet judgments. This interlude is recorded in chapter 10:1 through chapter 11:14.

Last time, we looked at the little book in chapter 10, the title deed to the earth that has now been fully unrolled. And when John is told to eat it, it's sweet in his mouth, but as he contemplates all that it means, it turns his stomach sour and it nauseates him as he thinks about all that it will mean for the residents of the world.

Tonight, we come to chapter 11. Let's read together the first 13 verses of this chapter. Revelation 11. You read with me, beginning in verse 1.

"Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, 'Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it. Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months. And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty 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 wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not 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 plague, as often as they desire.

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically [or, spiritually literally] is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, 'Come up here.' Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them. And in 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."

During the last three and a half years of the Tribulation, God is going to send two witnesses to preach the gospel to the Jewish people and, because of their ministry, the words of the prophecy in Romans 11 will be fulfilled and all Israel will be saved. Really an amazing passage. So, what does this text teach us about these mysterious prophets? Well, John records three insights here about these two future witnesses and I want to examine them together.

The first thing we learn about them is their prophetic ministry, their prophetic ministry. In verses 1-6 we see the prophetic ministry of God's two witnesses. It begins in verses 1 and 2 by identifying their primary ministry emphasis, their primary ministry focus, and that is the Jewish people.

Now, let me first of all admit to you that there are some who argue that verses 1 and 2 are not part of the paragraph that follows. In other words, they would say that there are two separate visions here. Verses 1 and 2 is one vision, unrelated to the vision that comes in verses 3-13. However, you will notice that verse 3 begins with the word "and", translating the Greek connecting word "kai", which implies that this is a continuation. In addition, these two kinds of visions are actually connected by references to the city of Jerusalem (there's a reference in verse 2 and a reference in verse 8), and to the same period of time (there's one expression in verse 2 and another in verse 3 - 42 months and 1260 days). Not only are these two sections connected, but I would argue, and many others would argue as well, that verses 1 and 2 actually establish the primary focus of the ministry of these two witnesses.

Look at verse 1: "Then there was given me..." "Given" is, you'll notice - "was given" is passive, probably what theologians call a divine passive, meaning God gave it to him. "...a measuring rod..." The Greek word for measuring rod describes a reed that grew in the Jordan Valley. It grew as high as 15 to 20 feet tall. These reeds were often used for measuring because they were very straight, and they were very light. In Ezekiel 42, Ezekiel used the reed that measured nine feet to measure the millennial temple. John says that this reed or measuring rod that he was given, notice, was "like a staff" that was used for walking. In other words, this one was especially heavy and thick and sturdy.

Verse 1: "...and someone said, 'Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it.'" The someone who speaks here is probably the same one who gave him the measuring rod. Who is that? Well, some argue it's the angel in chapter 10. But you remember chapter 10 ends, notice in verse 11 of chapter 10: "And they said to me..." And I noted for you when I was teaching through that, that that's probably a reference actually to God. God, or more likely Christ, is speaking here in verse 1. Why do I say that? Well, look at verse 3: "And I will grant authority to my two witnesses..." And verse 4: "[they] stand before the Lord of the earth." They're my witnesses and they stand before the Lord of the earth. You put the two together and you end up with either God the Father, or more likely, Christ the Son. He's the one who's taking charge. The Father has given this to Him to take back possession of the earth by breaking the seals. So, Christ tells John to get up and measure.

And notice what he's told to measure. First, the temple of God. The temple of God. Now, immediately we are faced with a really important question and that is, how are we going to interpret this chapter? Some - some even that we respect - some of our brothers who are covenantalists, who are all amillennialists, and we appreciate them and enjoy their writings and so forth, they would interpret this chapter figuratively or symbolically. And here's what they say, and I have several commentaries where I read this. They would say that the "temple of God" here is not really the temple of God. It's a figure of speech for the church.

Now, why would they say that? There's nothing - I read this section to you. There's nothing in there that would give you any indication this is somehow symbolic for the church. There's a lot of specific information that seems very literal and very real. Why would you take the view that this is the church? Well, typically those who take this view often do so because theologically they've come to a conclusion, not exegetically, but theologically. They've come to a conclusion that there is no place for Israel in God's future plans. They have concluded that the church completely replaced Israel and therefore anywhere that it seems Israel is in future concepts or plans, it can't be Israel because God's done with Israel. These are again covenantalists, primarily those who are amillennialists, who don't believe there's a future millennium and that all comes back to this idea of replacement theology, that the church has replaced Israel. Although, as you and I read it together, all the linguistic markers in this passage point toward the real city of Jerusalem and the real temple, in their system that can't be what it means. And so, they have to come at it a different way. And so, they say, "Well, you know, in the New Testament, individual Christians are called the temple - in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. And of course, that's true. And they say, "And the entire church is called the temple - 1 Corinthians 3:16-17". And, again, that's true.

But folks, there are far more times in the New Testament when the temple of God is an actual temple. And it's entirely arbitrary to make it something other than an actual temple here. There's nothing in the context that would lead you to conclude that.

And let me just kind of step back for a moment and climb on my little soapbox for a second. The most troubling thing about our brothers, and they are our brothers, who are all amillennialists, is that they consistently change their hermeneutic. They change their principle of interpretation. Let me explain what I mean. In most passages that they come to - you read Paul and you read James and you read the book of Hebrews - they interpret it using a normal hermeneutic. The same hermeneutic that you read when you read anything else. Of course, there're figures of speech. Of course, there are in things you read - normal things that are outside the Bible. But what do you do? You read those normally and there are clues in the context that say, "Okay, this is a metaphor. Okay, this is a simile. This is probably an image of some kind." And you have to interpret it. But you start with the understanding that, unless there are clues in the context, it's to be interpreted normally as it stands. And in many passages, our brothers do that. However, in other passages that contradict their system, they suddenly change hermeneutics. And with no warrant in the passage itself, they spiritualize the meaning. This text is a prime example. The church doesn't appear in this section I just read for you. You saw it. You read it with your own eyes. A normal reading of this chapter leads you to conclude that, although there are symbols and figures of speech, these are real events with real people that happen in a real city, the city of Jerusalem. So, I think you can tell I'm not for that method of interpretation.

The other way to interpret this passage is normally or literally. I don't like the word literally because a lot of people immediately jump on that and go, "You're just literal and you ignore figures of speech." Of course, we don't ignore figures of speech. So, normal is a good word because it means we interpret it the way we would normally interpret any other piece of literature. We wouldn't do this. You wouldn't see this article in your news feed or in the Dallas Morning News and do with this story what they do to it. Why? Because there's no clue that that's what it means. It's arbitrary, and that's the problem. And this is the concern I have, is once you start doing that with a text to Scripture, where does that stop? Why don't you - and I'm not saying they would do this, but all that protects you then is your own ideas, not the text itself. So, there's no evidence in the context to understand this as anything but a real temple dedicated to the worship of God.

In fact, look at verse 2. This temple is in the holy city. And that city is identified down in verse 8, notice, as the city where our Lord was crucified. You tell me, is this a hard problem? What's the city where our Lord was crucified? Jerusalem. That means the temple in verses 1 and 2 is a temple and it's in Jerusalem.

Now, that gets us started. The next question is, what temple? Because when you review Israel's history, you discover that there have been several different temples in their history. The first temple was Solomon's temple, built in the 900s BC and then destroyed in 586 BC by the Babylonians. That was the first temple, Solomon's temple. Then you have the second temple, and you'll hear people talk about the second temple period. Jewish people will talk about the second temple period. The second temple was started by Zerubbabel, completed in 516 BC, and then seriously remodeled as Herod's temple in the first century BC, and it was still being worked on even in Christ's day, completed shortly before it was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans. That's the Second temple. The third temple in Israel's history is a future Tribulation temple (and I'll come back to that), but a future tribulation temple. And then, the fourth temple is the future millennial temple described in Ezekiel 40 to 48. And that's a different discussion for a different time. We will get there.

Now, obviously, when you're in the second half of the Tribulation, the millennial temple doesn't yet exist. So, this has to be, what? This has to be the tribulation temple. This temple will be built as the brainchild of the Antichrist early in the first half of the tribulation. You understand this but today, many Orthodox Jews long to see the temple rebuilt on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. If you've read the news over the last several weeks, you know that this is still the powder keg. It sits at the very center of the Middle East. And that's impossible today. It's impossible for the Jews to rebuild their temple on the Temple Mount because the Muslims currently control the top of the Temple Mount, and they have built one of their most sacred shrines right on top of where the temple stood. You can go in, and I had the privilege to go into the Dome of the Rock and see the carved-out portion of rock where the Ark of the Covenant sat. It fits the box that was the Ark of the Covenant. And the Dome of the Rock sits right there where they believe, from that very rock, Mohammed ascended to heaven. In addition, on the top of that huge Temple Mount platform... And when I say Temple Mount platform, understand that what Herod did was he took, and he built an artificial platform over one of the hills in Jerusalem. Think of it as an up upside-down shoebox. He built this massive platform over one of the hills and it was there on that platform that the temple was built. On top of that huge temple mount, in addition to the Dome of the Rock, today also sets the Al-Aqsa mosque.

So, today it appears like this could never happen. But under the clever plots and political maneuverings of the Antichrist, the future world ruler, the Jews will be allowed to rebuild their temple. He will initiate it as a sign of peace at the beginning of the Tribulation period. Daniel alludes to sacrifices being offered and stopped in Daniel 9:27 and Daniel 12:11. We'll look at those in a moment.

But turn with me to 2 Thessalonians. Paul weighs in on this and is crystal clear that there will be a Tribulation temple. 2 Thessalonians 2:3. He's dealing here with the fact that some had been told that the day of the Lord had already come and they were concerned about that, and so he wants to set the record straight. Verse 3. 2 Thessalonians 2:3: "Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first [what do you mean by that?], and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction..." Here's the Antichrist. And notice how Paul describes him: "who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?" In the short amount of time Paul was in Thessalonika, he taught them eschatology. He taught them about what was coming, including the Antichrist and the Man of Sin. So, you know, some Christians look at prophecy issues and go, "Why bother? I mean, is it really that important?" Well, Paul thought it was. In the very short time he was in Thessalonika, he taught them about these things. But, here, he makes it clear that there will be a temple when Antichrist is ruling.

After this temple is constructed by the Antichrist, the evidence points to the Jewish people increasingly beginning to return to worship there. But at the midpoint of the Tribulation... So, at the beginning of the seven years, he initiates the construction of this temple and it's finished quickly, apparently, and worship begins - the Jewish people begin coming and worshipping. But at the midpoint, at three and a half years into the Tribulation, Antichrist will do the unthinkable. He will not only stop their worship, but he will desecrate the temple with what we just read here in 2 Thessalonians 2, what Daniel and our Lord called "the abomination of desolation". In Daniel 9:27 is where we encounter that. Our Lord mentions it in Matthew 24:15, in the Olivette Discourse.

What is that abomination that makes desolate? It's setting himself up as an object of worship. Again, 2 Thessalonians 2:4 - notice what it says: "who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God." We'll meet this man in more of his escapades in chapter 13.

But the point I want you to see, is that there will be a temple in Jerusalem during the Tribulation, and John is told to measure it. The Greek word used there for temple doesn't refer to the entire temple complex, but to the temple proper, the building that houses the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.

He's also told, back in our text, you'll notice in verse 1, to measure the altar. That could be the golden altar of incense that represents the prayers of God's people in the Holy Place, against the curtain that leads into the Holy of Holies. More likely, it's the brazen altar where sacrifices were offered. It sits in a courtyard just outside the temple building where the Jewish people were allowed to come and worship.

In addition, you'll notice, he's told to measure - or, here, the metaphor sort of changes - to measure or to number or to count "those who worship in it". These must be a remnant of believing Jews who have survived up to this point. Perhaps, many of them were saved earlier in the Tribulation through the ministry of the 144,000 Jewish evangelists. Now, they're true worshippers of God. He says, "Measure these things!" Christ tells John, "Measure the temple, measure the altar, measure the people who worship there."

Now, what's the significance of measuring these things? Clearly, the point was not to get precise measurements of their physical dimensions. Why do we know that? Because there're none here. Nothing is mentioned. We can understand the purpose of John's measuring these things by considering the two Old Testament passages that most influence this passage. They are Ezekiel 40 and Zachariah 2. I'm not going to take you back to those passages but let me tell you what's true in both of those passages.

First of all, in both cases, in Ezekiel 40 and Zachariah 2:1-8, the prophets have a vision of an angel measuring Jerusalem and its temple. In both cases, it happened at a time when the temple had been destroyed by Israel's enemies under God's chastening hand. And in both cases, measuring the temple symbolized not only God's ownership of it, but God ultimate favor returning to it. At the same time, then, it was a pledge. The measuring of the temple in those passages was a pledge or a promise to God's people, that God would rebuild the city and its temple, and He would restore its people to their land, as He had promised. Measuring the city and temple in, listen carefully, in Ezekiel and Zachariah, was not God promising safety in their current circumstances. They didn't have safety in either case. Instead, it was God's promise of ultimate, future restoration. And the same is true here. God promises to restore His people, Israel.

Having been told what to measure, John is then told what not to measure. Verse 2: "Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it..." "Leave out" is a very strong Greek word that literally means to throw out, cast away, or completely exclude. It implies that something is being excluded from God's favor. Because of the reference here to the Gentiles or the nations, the court that he's referring to in verse 2 is likely what was historically called, the Court of the Gentiles. You remember, there was an area immediately surrounding the temple, where the Jewish men could worship. Then there was the court of the women. So, the Jewish people could be in those two areas. And then outside of that area, there was a low wall in Paul's time that had a sign on it that said, you know, Gentiles can't enter beyond this on fear of death. And you had the Court of the Gentiles. And it's likely that's what is being referred to in verse 2.

Now, why was John not to measure that area? Verse 2 says, "...for [because] it has been given to the nations..." "It has been given", again, is a reminder that this will be in God's sovereign purpose. As hard as this will be, this is part of God's plan. He's permitted the Gentiles to seize and to control the outer courts of the temple, along with the rest of Jerusalem. And oh, by the way, this won't be the first time. In fact, it will be one more in a long string and it will be last. In 586 you have Jerusalem's fall to Babylon, the temple was taken and destroyed, trampled down by the Gentiles. In 167 BC, you had the desecration of the city and the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. And it will happen again under the leadership of Antichrist during the future Tribulation. Gentiles will seize and dominate the city.

Verse 2 says, "...and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months." Again, the holy city is described, down in verse 8, as the city where our Lord was crucified. It's Jerusalem. So, the Gentile control of the city of Jerusalem and of the temple area will begin with an event called the "abomination of desolation", as we saw. And at that point, at the midpoint of the seven years, many of the Jewish people, when they see that happen, they will flee the city.

And Jesus told them to flee the city. Turn to Matthew - Matthew 24. Jesus talked about this in what we call the Olivette Discourse because He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, talking about the future. In Matthew 24:15, He says, "Therefore when you see the abomination of desolation which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand) ..." And now we do understand. Paul has made it very clear in 2 Thessalonians 2. He says, "when you that", verse 16, "then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains." He said, "Run! When you see that happen at 3 1/2 years into the Tribulation, when Antichrist sets up an image of himself for worship, and establishes himself as the object of worship, run. Get out of the city. Flee to the wilderness." "Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. Whoever is in the field must not turn back to get his cloak. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath. For then [after that abomination of desolation, after Antichrist sets up a worship site for himself on the temple mount in Jerusalem] there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short."

So, when Antichrist sets himself up as an object of worship, 3 1/2 years into the Tribulation, the Jews will run. And you see this even in Revelation. We'll get there but look at Revelation 12. Here it is used in a sort of image way, and we'll talk about - there're clues in the context of how to interpret this. We don't - we're not making it up. But you'll notice in chapter 12:6 the woman. In this case, the woman is Israel because she's the one who gave birth to the Messiah, earlier in this story. Verse 5: "...she gave birth to a son, a male child, who was rule all the nations..." Verse 6: "Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God, so that there she would be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days." That's 3 1/2 years. That's the second half of the Tribulation. God will preserve and protect His people. So, many of the Jewish people, when Antichrist does what he does, will flee the city. But some of the Jewish people will remain in Israel and even in Jerusalem, and they will bear the full fury of Antichrist's persecution.

Daniel, by the way, references very similar time periods, similar to the 42 months that will come at the end of human history. Look back just with me at Daniel 12. Well, let's go to Daniel. Let's go to two places. Look at Daniel 9. Daniel 9. This is the 70-weeks prophecy, talking about Israel's future. And verse 27 says, "And he [that is Antichrist, in context. You can go back and listen to the series on Daniel] will make a firm covenant with the many for one week [that is, for seven years], but in the middle of the week [3 1/2 years in] he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering [there, again, you have the implication of a temple. He going to end the normal sacrifices]; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction..." That is more vague than our Lord is, or than Paul is, but you get the idea. He's going to do something which ends the worship of God and initiates false worship.

Turn over to chapter 12. Daniel 12:7: "I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, as he raised his right hand and his left toward heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time..." And, again, I worked through that in detail. But properly interpreted in its context, that's clearly looking at 3 1/2 years. "...and as soon as they finish shattering the power of the holy people, all these events will be completed." Go down to verse 11. You see the same time period: "From the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished [there's 3 1/2 years in] and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days [to the very end]." You say, "Now wait a minute. I thought it was 1260 days. What's that extra 30 days for?" Well, as I taught this passage, it's not certain, but it appears that that's the time when the judgment of the nations, described at the end of the Olivette Discourse, happens - over those 30 days.

Then, he adds another set of days. Verse 12: "How blessed is he who keeps waiting and attains to the 1,335 days!" So, let me summarize this passage. There will be 75 days between the second coming and the inauguration of the millennial kingdom. The first 30 days may be for the judgment of the nations. The next 45 days are apparently for the establishment of everything necessary for Jesus' reign, for His kingdom on earth. So that you see this time period in Daniel, you see it in Revelation. Revelation mentions "forty-two" months in chapter 11:2, chapter 13:5. It mentions 1260 days in chapter 11:3, chapter 12:6.

Now, go back to our passage. When you see, in verses 2 and 3, "forty-two months" and "twelve hundred and sixty days", how do you interpret that? Well, again, our amillennialist friends interpret these numbers symbolically. Here are some quotes. One author calls it "an indefinite period of time". Just think about that for a moment. Forty-two months, twelve hundred and sixty days - an indefinite period of time. Another one, very respected commentator, calls this number "a standard symbol for that limited period of time during which evil would be allowed free reign." A symbol. Another author says these numbers simply stand for the time from Jesus' resurrection until His return. Forty-two months? Twelve hundred and sixty days? You see the problem with how you approach and interpret a passage? There's no reason to take these numbers anyway other than an actual period of time consisting of 1260 days, 42 months, 3 1/2 years. And the context and Daniel 9:27 make it likely that these 42 months, these 3 1/2 years, are the second half of the Tribulation. The 42 months before Christ returns in power in the second coming. During that time, the Gentiles will dominate the city of Jerusalem and the outer courts of the temple for that length of time.

But the message here is God is not done with His temple, His city, or His people Israel. That's why He measures them. By having John measure the temple and its worshippers, God is marking them out. God is promising to preserve and restore them. The point of these two verses is to establish the emphasis of the ministry of the two witnesses who are about to be introduced.

Now, can I just stop here and say, when it comes to the Jews, God still has a plan. That's clear in the Old Testament. It's clear in the New Testament. It's clear in Paul and Romans 11. It's clear in Revelation 11.

This passage also reminds us that God has a detailed plan for human history, spelled out in years and months and days and even moments. And, Christian, can I encourage you? The same God who has mapped out human history like that, has also mapped out a detailed plan of your life in years, in months, in days, and in moments. I love Matthew 10:29: "Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? [Sparrow was the smallest bird. A cent was the smallest coinage. Two of them for a cent] And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father." He supervises the fall or death of every single sparrow. Do you really think He doesn't have your life mapped out? So, their primary emphasis of these two witnesses is the Jewish people.

Let's look at their assigned mission. They are witnesses and prophets. Verse 3 says, "And [and remember that 'and' joins this to the measuring that John did in verses 1 and 2] I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy..." In spite of Gentile oppression, God will still get his message out.

Now, whom do these witnesses witness for? Notice verse 3 - "my witnesses". And then down in verse 8, it says the city in which "their Lord was crucified". So, they will witness for their Lord Jesus Christ. There will be two of them because the Old Testament law required two witnesses to validate any truth. Deuteronomy 19:15: "A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed." And so, God sends two witnesses.

Now, again, I hate to keep playing this tune, but it's important for you to know that when you interpret this chapter figuratively, as some do, it doesn't stop. And so, many argue that these two witnesses are not two witnesses. In fact, they're not two individuals at all. They symbolize the church. They argue that, earlier in the book, lampstands, a description that's used in verse 4 of these two men, represents the church, so these two represent the church. Others argue that the Antichrist would not likely make war, verse 7, with just two people. But most often, this approach rests again back on that theological presupposition that the church has replaced Israel, and so these events cannot be about Israel since, in their system, the church has replaced it. Therefore, these two witnesses, they say, must be symbolic, just as the city and the temple must be symbolic. But again, folks, a normal reading of this passage leads to the conclusion: we're talking about two men who will prophesy during the coming Tribulation. The early church fathers took this position, and the context certainly emphasizes this. These two witnesses are two prophets that God will send during the Tribulation.

And notice, their mission is twofold. First of all, in verse 3, we're told that they are witnesses. They will be witnesses for their Lord. They will testify to the person and work of Jesus Christ as Israel's Messiah. I would love to be there to hear that, wouldn't you? I am confident they will use Isaiah 53 because that will be the very words put in the mouth of those who eventually repent when they come to recognize Jesus as their Messiah. They will preach the gospel. They will testify to the person and work of their Lord as the Messiah.

But they're also, not only witnesses here, we're told that they're prophets. Now, at times, prophets preach. They forth-tell. At other times, prophets predict, that is, they foretell. But to be a prophet doesn't necessarily mean you predict the future. The one defining characteristic of a prophet is that he speaks revelation from God. I'm not a prophet. What I'm doing is teaching God's Word. I'm preaching God's Word to you. I don't have any fresh revelation and you should be concerned if I did. Run for the exits if I tell you, "I have a word from God." No, this is our Word from God. But true prophets are given the capacity to speak fresh revelation from God. And that's who these men are. These prophets will preach the need for repentance in light of God's judgments that have already come in the six - in the seven seals and the six trumpets that have come so far. And they'll call for repentance in light of the judgment still to come in the seventh trumpet, in the seven bowl judgments that come in rapid succession, right at the end of the Tribulation.

And they will accompany their preaching and their gospel and their calls for repentance with plagues, just like those Moses performed in Egypt. Notice verse 6: "These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not 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 plague, as often as they desire." By the way, "as often as they desire" doesn't mean that they're whimsical or capricious. It means when they believe it's appropriate, God has given them the power to bring these plagues to bear.

Verse 10. Notice the end of the verse. The reason they celebrate, the world celebrates when these two men die, is because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth by bringing the plagues, just as Moses brought them in Egypt. So, they are witnesses for Jesus Christ.

Can I just remind us that while none of us are prophets, we are called like these two prophets to be witnesses for our Lord, even in difficult times, as they will be. Be loving, be gracious brothers and sisters, but don't let your voice be silenced. You are witnesses for our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, notice, they're assigned time. It's 3 1/2 years. Verse 3 says, "and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days..." Their ministry will begin around the time the Antichrist sets up the abomination of desolation in the temple in Jerusalem, and it will last until nearly the end of the Tribulation. Christ will appoint them to proclaim the message of judgment and the message of salvation during the final 3 1/2 years that lead up to His second coming. This is their ministry.

Notice their ministry attitude. This is the way verse 3 ends. They will do so, Christ says, "clothed in sackcloth". You're familiar with this. This is heavy, coarse cloth that was often worn in the ancient world as a symbol of mourning. Why would there be mourning? Well, think about it. The 1260 days that they will be ministering in Jerusalem will be simultaneous with the Gentiles trampling of the holy city (verse 2) and with the worship of the false Christ across this planet (verse 7). So, we understand why their heart would be heavy, why they would be mourning. They'll wear sackcloth to show their mourning. They will mourn because they know that all the people on this planet who don't repent, will soon be destroyed by God's coming judgment and sent to the Lake of Fire. And they will mourn because the God they served is blasphemed and His Messiah is rejected. And again, beloved, we should mourn for the same reasons because our Lord is rejected, our God is not glorified, and because the people around us will face God's coming judgment if they don't repent.

These two prophets that God will send to Israel during the Tribulation tell us so much about the character of our God. I have a list. We're not going to deal with them all tonight because we're not going to finish this passage tonight. But one of the primary lessons that we learn about God in the sending of these two witnesses is His incredible patience. You know, God has always exercised that patience. It's who He is.

It's who He declared Himself to be in Exodus 34, you remember? He said to Moses, "This is My name. Here's who I am. This is what I'm like." "[I am] ... compassionate and gracious, slow to anger..." "It takes Me a long time to get hot", God says. Aren't you glad? I mean, think about it. God withheld the flood for 120 years after He decided the earth needed to be destroyed, to give time for the preaching of Noah. God, knowing that the Canaanites needed to be destroyed, that they needed to be removed from the land because of the wicked way they were destroying everything around them, sacrificing and burning children, committing incredible acts of evil in the name of worship - God, knowing that, says to Abraham in Genesis 15, "I'm going to send your descendants to Egypt for 400 years because the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet full."

You remember Jesus, in His ministry in AD 30 said, "This city deserves to be destroyed because of how it is abusing God's people. It's devouring widows' houses. And, therefore, not one stone will stand upon another." That was in AD 30. The destruction didn't come until 70 AD. The patience of Christ.

This is exactly what God did in the case of Judah in the Old Testament, during that long period of her rebellion against the Lord. He just kept sending prophets to call the people to repentance, again and again and again. Fast forward to the end. During the darkest hour of human history, during the worst and most tragic time in Israel's long history, God will send two powerful prophets to Jerusalem and to His people. And they will boldly preach the gospel and announce God's coming judgment until just before the seventh trumpet sounds, when they will be murdered. And here's the amazing reality. God will use the preaching and ministry of these two prophets to bring the Jewish people to salvation. Through their preaching, through their ministry, all Israel will be saved. And we'll see how that unfolds next time.

But what I want you to see is the patience of God. God is not one to delay His timeframe, but Peter reminds us that the reason the second coming hasn't happened yet is because of God's patience and His desire to see those whom He's chosen, be called to Himself. God is showing His patience even now by allowing this wicked world we live in to survive. God is slow to anger, and He is a Savior. That's what this is about. Next time we'll look at the identity of these two men and their amazing ministry.

Let's pray together.

[Pastor Tom's prayer is missing from the audio]


The Little Book

Tom Pennington Revelation 10:1-11

The Two Witnesses - Part 1

Tom Pennington Revelation 11:1-13

The Two Witnesses - Part 2

Tom Pennington Revelation 11:1-13

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