Dr. Richard L. Strauss
March 4, 1979
More than 2500 years ago, the prophet Ezekiel spoke to God's rebellious people Israel, who were even then suffering captivity in Babylon for their sins. He told about the time that was coming when God would purge the nation Israel by suffering. I'd like you to turn to Ezekiel 20, starting with verse 34. God is speaking through the prophet Ezekiel and He says, "I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand" (Ezekiel 20:34a).
He's looking beyond they day when they'll return from Babylonian captivity to a far distant future restoration. He says in verse 35, "And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face." And in verse 37 He says, "I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me" (Ezekiel 20:37-38).
God promised to remove sin and sinners from His chosen people by means of judgment. Jeremiah prophesied of that future restoration as well in Jeremiah 30:3. "'For behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord, 'that I will bring back from captivity My people Israel and Judah,' says the Lord. 'And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.'"
Drop down to Jeremiah 30:5, "For thus says the Lord, 'We have heard a voice of trembling, Of fear, and not of peace. Ask now, and see, Whether a man is ever in labor with child?" The judgment in that day will be so severe that it will seem like even men are travailing with child. "Why do I see every man with his hands on his loins, like a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness? Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it; it is even the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be saved out of it" (Jeremiah 30:5-7). The time of Jacob's trouble. God promised to the nation Israel great tribulation.
While we have noted the presence of the nation Israel in our study of the book of Revelation thus far, we have likewise noticed that the tribulation described will be suffered by men of all nations, particularly wicked Gentile peoples. However, when we reach Chapter 11, God begins to focus in on the nation of Israel, and they begin to assume a prominent role. We must admit that God is once again dealing with His ancient people. And when we get to Chapter 12, we shall understand clearly why God called the Great Tribulation "the time of Jacob's trouble." We'll see it in all of its fullness. We're moving in that direction in chapter 11. It becomes obvious to us when we see the first major event of chapter 11, which is the measuring of the temple.
1. The Measuring of the Temple
Now the temple is primarily a Jewish thing. That's where the Jewish people came together to worship God. The fact that our attention is riveted to this temple in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 11 indicates that suddenly Israel is gaining prominence during this time of tribulation.
a. The Request
The chapter opens as the Apostle John, in a vision, is given a measuring rod: a reed which was generally about 10 feet long. The angel tells him to measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship in it.
Now, Revelation chapters 6 through 19 deal primarily with a period of time known as the Great Tribulation, the last three and a half years of the seven-year period known as Daniel's Seventieth Week. And John is commanded to take a measure of the temple, we assume that the temple will be standing.
It is not standing today. There is a mosque called The Dome of the Rock standing in the place where the Old Testament temple once stood. But in these days to come, a temple will be there. I don't know how it's going to get there. I don't know what's going to happen to the Dome of the Rock. I don't know what kind of international events will take place that will permit the nation Israel to build their temple on what is probably the second-most holy place in all of Islam. But there will be a temple in that place in that day.
The important thing is this: Why measure it? What does all this mean? Take a rod and measure the temple of God.
It reminds us of another Old Testament scene in the book of Zechariah. Turn to Zechariah 2. These references are getting tougher to find, I know!
"Then I raised my eyes and looked, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand. So I said, 'Where are you going?' And he said to me, 'To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length'" (Zechariah 2:1-2). "'Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls, because of the multitude of men and livestock in it. For I,' says the Lord, 'will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst'" (Zechariah 2:4-5).
It doesn't look like it's going to be inhabited from the looks of things in Zechariah's day; it's all broken down. It's burned. It's rubble. But God says, "It's going to be inhabited and I'm going to be its protection because this is My city."
Verse 12 says, "And the Lord will take possession of Judah as His inheritance in the Holy Land, and will again choose Jerusalem."
God says, "That's my city." The measuring rod seems to be a symbol of ownership. "Go measure this city because I own it and I want to see what's mine."
Turn back to Ezekiel again, chapter 40. The prophet Ezekiel also saw a man with a measuring reed in his hand.
"He took me there, and behold, there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze. He had a line of flax and a measuring rod in his hand, and he stood in the gateway" (Ezekiel 40:3).
As we read on for the next three chapters, we find out that this is a temple that will exist in the Millennium: Christ's thousand year reign on earth. It's one that shall arise after the Tribulation temple. We learn that this, too, is God's temple because we read, "And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east" (Ezekiel 43:4). You see, this will be God's temple; His glory shall be revealed there. Measuring is a mark of ownership.
Now come back to that Tribulation temple in Revelation 11. There is going to be some doubt in the minds of believers in that day as to whether this is really God's temple. The prophet Daniel tells us that the prince that shall come, who is in reality the Antichrist, is going to cause the sacrifice and oblation in that temple to cease, and desecrate that holy place with an abominable thing (Daniel 9:26-27). Jesus said that when that abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel would stand in the holy place--that's part of the temple--they would know that Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:15, 21) was at hand. The Apostle Paul explains in even greater detail what Daniel and Jesus both alluded to. He speaks of the man of sin, the son of perdition, "who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:4). It is possible that when he himself is not there, his image, spoken of in Revelation 13:15, will remain there for the idolatrous inhabitants of the earth to worship. Could this really be God's temple?
"Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship in it" (Revelation 11:1). In spite of what those believing Jews who visit the temple to worship God might think, that temple is the Lord's. He is still on the throne, working out His own purposes in the affairs of men.
b. The Restriction
Notice in verse 2, John is forbidden to measure the outer court, which is the court of the Gentiles.
"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" (Revelation 11:2).
This is probably another indication that God is once more dealing with the nation Israel. He is not so much concerned about the Gentiles in that day as He is His ancient people Israel. He is beginning the purging process that will remove the rebels so that the nation that remains is a believing nation who has faith in His Son.
Notice the mention in this verse of forty-two months (referred to also in Revelation 13:5). That's a familiar period of time. It's the same period of time which is otherwise referred to as 1260 days (Revelation 11:3; 12:6), and "a time, and times, and half of time" or a year, two years, and half a year (Revelation 12:14, Daniel 7:25; 12:7). Three and a half years, 1260 days, 42 months: It's all the same period of time reckoned by the Old Testament calendar of 360 days in a year. It is during this last half of the tribulation period that the Antichrist pours out his wrath against the Jews. He is going to "wear out the saints of the Most High" (Daniel 7:25). He is going to tread the holy city under foot (Revelation 11:2).
The measuring of the temple. It seems to indicate that we're beginning to focus our attention on the nation Israel in this narrative.
2. The Ministry of the Witnesses
a. The Resources
It is in this context of God's dealing with Israel that we meet the famous two witnesses of the Great Tribulation.
"And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth" (Revelation 11:3).
Who are these two witnesses? Well, for one thing we know that they are prophets, being called such in verse 10, and prophesying in verses 3 and 6. We are not told anything about the content of their message, but in verse 7 it is called a "testimony." We would assume that like prophets before them, they will call on the inhabitants of the earth to repent of their sins and turn to the Lord, that they will testify to the divine source of the judgments that have been falling, that they will testify to the wickedness of men's hearts and warn of greater judgment to come, that they will testify to the person of Jesus Christ and predict His soon return as King of kings. They are God's witnesses. God may well use them to bring many of the nation Israel--and possibly many Gentiles--to Himself during this horrible time of suffering on earth, just as He'll use the 144,000 witnesses we met in chapter 7, and whom we'll meet again in this book.
Who are the two witnesses? I wish I knew. Frankly, we're not told who they are.
There are Bible commentators who have claimed that they are Moses and Elijah. That could be. I can find some good Biblical evidence to support that. For one thing, they have powers like Moses and Elijah. You will note in verse 6 that they have power to shut heaven, that it rained not in the days of their prophecy. This is exactly what Elijah did, and incidentally the length of time of drought under Elijah's ministry is the identical length of time these two witnesses testify, three and a half years (see James 5:17-18). Notice, secondly, that they have the power to turn the waters to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will. It was Moses through whom God poured out plagues like these upon the Egyptians.
Support for the idea that one is Elijah is found in the prophecy that Elijah will come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord (Malachai 4:5). Additional evidence for Moses and Elijah is their presence together at the transfiguration in Matthew 17:3, an event which prefigured Christ's coming in glory.
Then again, there are other Bible commentators who insist that the two witnesses are Elijah and Enoch, since they were the only two men who were translated into heaven without dying. They say they must come back to the earth to die because the Scripture says it is appointed unto man once to die (Hebrews 9:27). That's a pretty good reason, too.
I don't know who they are. I don't like to be too dogmatic about things in the Scripture that are not clearly told to us. They may be two living men of that day who come to minister in the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah, and to fulfill that ministry that was predicted of Elijah in Malachai 4. Had the people repented during Jesus' days on the earth, John the Baptist would have been the fulfillment of that prophecy. Jesus Himself said that (Matthew 7:14).
Let's not be too dogmatic. Their identity is not the important matter. In the passage itself the emphasis is on their resources. In verse 4 they are called two olive trees and two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. John's mind must have immediately turned back to Zechariah 4, where the prophet saw a lampstand and two olive trees by it. The lampstand signified the witness Joshua the high priest, and Zerubbabel the godly political leader of the day, who were bearing before the restored remnant of Israel. "These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth" (Zechariah 4:14). The source of their power was the two olive trees. The olive trees were the source of the oil that kept the lamps burning. Oil is consistently used in the Scripture as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. So it was that the angel who explained the meaning of this vision to Zechariah could say in verse 6, "This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, 'Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord of Hosts."
The two witnesses of Revelation 11 likewise are lampstands, bearing the light of the Lord in the darkest days the earth will ever know. That light is kept burning by the power of the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the two olive trees. God is their strength and power. All their resources find their origin in Him.
And look at those resources again for a moment. While the inhabitants of the earth will long to destroy them, they will not be able to harm them in any way. Whoever tries will be devoured by fire that proceeds out of their mouths (Revelation 11:5). By their supernatural power, they continue to pour out judgment upon the earth, adding suffering to suffering for the rebellious and ungodly inhabitants of the earth.
b. The Ruthlessness
Now let's look at the ruthlessness of the people of the earth.
"When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. 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. 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. 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" (Revelation 11:7-10).
The protection God affords them does not last indefinitely. When their ministry is over, when they have testified as long as God wants them to testify, then the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them (verse 7). Whether the beast is Satan or merely Satan's representative, I am not sure. What we are told is that finally he is permitted by God to destroy the two witnesses, but not until their testimony is finished.
Isn't it reassuring to know that nothing can touch the child of God until he is finished his work for God? This is no excuse for taking careless and unnecessary chances, but it is a consolation to know that we are immortal until the Lord is finished His work with us.
But will you notice the inhuman and insane ruthlessness with which these witnesses are treated. The wrath of these godless people is so stirred up because of the penetration and convicting ministry of these men, that they let their dead bodies lie in the street of Jerusalem for 3-1/2 days, giving opportunity to all people, kindreds, tongues, and nations to see them and rejoice over their death. There was a day when we would have wondered how such a thing would be possible. You know, 35 years ago [from 1979] we couldn't have imagined how that could be possible. But we can almost visualize the 24-hours-a-day, on-the-spot network coverage beamed around the world by tel-star, so that the sight of these dead bodies is seen everywhere. And men will have something besides the birth of Christ to commercialize. There's going to be a Satanic Christmas-like celebration, and people are going to give gifts to each other, commemorating the death of these two men of God who caused them so much suffering.
c. The Restoration
But God is going to cut the celebration short. It doesn't say so, but I think that the TV cameras will probably be focused right on the bodies lying in the street, when something will happen that will shock the whole world. The spirit of life from God will enter into them, and they shall stand upon their feet. And great fear will fall upon all who see it (Revelation 11:11). And then, maybe with continued world-wide coverage, a voice from heaven is going to cry out, "Come up here." And these two witnesses are going to ascend up to heaven in clouds, while their enemies stare in amazement and disbelief. We have seen in our day almost live coverage of momentous crisis like political assassinations, and these things have been seen the world over. But the most amazing things the world could possibly view are yet to come.
d. The Retribution
The Scripture reveals that the same hour as their ascension into heaven, there will be a great earthquake, and a tenth part of the city will fall, and 7,000 men will be killed (Revelation 11:13). This is the city of Jerusalem, the holy city. But back in verse 8 God called it Sodom, synonymous with immorality of the vilest sort, and Egypt, long a symbol of the world in Scripture. The godlessness of Jerusalem, culminating in the slaying of God's two witnesses, results in divine retribution upon that city. The people who remain are terrified, and while it does not say they turned to God in repentance and faith, it does say at least they acknowledge the God of heaven and glorify Him. John tells us that all this has been part of the second woe, and that the third woe will come quickly.
3. The Manifestation of the Kingdom
a. The Report
When the seventh trumpet sounds in verse 15, the chronological progression of the book resumes. The announcement is made of the imminent return and triumph of Jesus Christ. A whole chorus of voices report as if it has already happened, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" (Revelation 11:15).
Do you remember back in Matthew 4:8, the devil took Christ up into a high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and said, "All these things will I give You, if You will fall down and worship me"? Our Lord refused to take the kingdoms of the world the easy way. He chose to endure the cross, to pay the penalty for the sin of mankind, knowing that only by dealing with sin decisively at the cross could He reign in righteousness. Had He received the kingdoms of this world from Satan, He would have lowered Himself to a position secondary to Satan--and that is exactly what Satan was demanding. But when He provided an eternal redemption from sin at the cross, He terminated Satan's hope of victory and sealed his doom. And while hundreds upon hundreds of years will have elapsed before Christ's victory is complete, it is absolutely assured. His triumphant return to rule and reign is announced in Revelation 11:15. The kingdoms of this world are in His control.
Some will wonder how this report can be made when we still have seven bowl judgments before His actual return. As we pointed out before, just as seven trumpet judgments are part of the seventh seal, so the seven bowl judgments are part of the seventh trumpet. They shall be poured out in rapid succession immediately prior to the Lord's return. The point is that the process is begun whereby the godless earthly powers shall be totally destroyed and the kingdom of Christ established on earth. It is certain. It is soon. It is as good as accomplished. "The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. And He shall reign forever and ever." His 1000 year reign on earth shall usher in the eternal state, and never again will Satan or sinful men rule over the earth. Oh, Satan is going to make a power play at the end of the Millennium, but he will be defeated. He will never rule again.
b. The Response
Such a joyous report is deserving of a fitting response. The 24 elders, representing the church of Jesus Christ, fall down upon their faces in worship, 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" (Revelation 11:17).
These 24 elders realize that great Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in that wondrous report--prophecies like Psalm 2:8-9 where Christ reigns supreme over the nations, prophecies like Daniel 7:13 where the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven, and receives a dominion and glory, and a kingdom "that all people, nations, and languages, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." This is worthy of great adoration, and that is what is given.
c. The Results
The aftermath is not quite so happy for the nations who felt the sting of His wrath against sin. God's Word tells us that they are angry. And well they might be. No one enjoys being defeated and judged. And their anger and bitterness can burn on through eternity. They have chosen to reject God's Son, and God has no recourse but to separate them from Himself forever.
But there are other events attending the return of Christ to reign as outlined in this verse. The dead shall be raised and judged.
Which dead are these? The next statement leads us to believe that John is speaking of the righteous dead only, for he mentions God's servants the prophets who shall be rewarded, and the saints, and them that fear God's name, small and great. When we reach chapter 20 we know that John is talking about the righteous dead only, for the wicked dead are not raised until the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:4-6). And so we have a verse in Revelation 11:18 that clearly tells us when Old Testament saints shall be raised and rewarded: it is at the return of Christ after the Great Tribulation. Daniel 12:1-3 tells us the same thing.
The third result of Christ's return is the destruction of them who have destroyed the earth. This is probably a reference to the Antichrist and all who have followed him. Read Revelation 19:19-21 for a description of this event.
The concluding verse of the chapter gives us a glimpse of the temple of God in heaven, a marked contrast with the temple upon earth which shall be desecrated by the beast and trampled underfoot by his people. This verse has a closer relationship with chapter 12 than with chapter 11. The chapter divisions were not inspired by God and were made up at a later date. So we'll say more about this in our next message. It's enough to say here that there is a temple of God in heaven of which the earthly temple is just a pattern.
Now we see three things here that I need to reinforce as we conclude today. We see Old Testament saints raised and rewarded. Immediately our minds go to 1 Corinthians 3 and 2 Corinthians 5, when we--believers from the age of grace, the church age--shall be raised and rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ. We're taught very clearly what will be the basis of our reward: our works performed by the power of the Holy Spirit and for the glory of the Lord.
I wonder whether the Lord controls your life tonight. I wonder whether you're living for Him and serving Him, for His glory not yours. By His power, not the energy of the flesh. If so, there will be reward.
We saw something about Jesus Christ returning to be King of kings and Lord of lords. One day He's going to rule the earth. There will be no rebellion against His will. But right now, today, He wants to be King of kings and Lord of lords in our lives. Have you let Him? Or are there still those areas in your life where you're quite sure that you're going your own way and doing your own thing and resisting His will? There is no joy on that pathway, Christian. Why not turn to Him and submit to His Lordship in your life?
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
We met some people who rejected Him completely, who are angry and who will suffer eternal torment. There may be some here today in that category. If that's the case, there isn't any reason why you need to go on in that state: lost to God, destined for eternal separation from Him, consigned to the lake of fire. There's no reason at all. God loves you. He sent His Son to die in your place. He offers you forgiveness and everlasting life. Why not trust Him? Why reject Him any longer? Why not open your heart to Him? Let's pray.
Father, thank You for this revelation of things to come. We pray that we may make the application to our own lives. Lord, we ask You that we may serve You for Your glory, that we may crown You Lord of all. We pray that those today who have never put their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior from sin would be willing to acknowledge their own sinfulness and believe that Christ died for them, and open their hearts' door to Him. We ask it for His sake. Amen.
Continue to RV-09B: Jacob's Trouble