Judgment & Witness
RevealedPastor Jerry Gillis - October 11, 2015
God intends to use your witness in the world for the sake of calling the world to repentance - not just in the future, but right now.
Community Group Study Notes
- How should the truth that God knows and cares for His own comfort and encourage us? How does this truth impact our tendency to be afraid and anxious when world events seem troubling?
- God wants to use us to be faithful witnesses even in the midst of His judgment. In what ways can we declare(through words) and show (through action) the love and mercy of God to others when life is difficult?
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 1:13)
So I want to remind us about the book that we're reading today, the book of the Revelation. I told you something in chapter one when we began in the first message of this entire series that the first chapter actually proclaims that when we read this Revelation, this prophecy, when we receive it and we embrace it, that we will be blessed. So, I'm reminding you that today what I'm doing is I am helping us together to participate in the blessing of God. Now, part of the reason I'm reminding you of that from the very outset is because we're going to be looking at some heavy things today. We're going to be looking at God and his judgment in the book of Revelation, and so I wanted to remind you from the outset that this was a book that is a blessing.
And I also wanted to remind you that it's a book that's apocalyptic in nature, and if you didn't understand or weren't here when we described what that means, it's a style of literature that actually is full of symbol and full of sign, and that we have to read the book in that vein because if not, we're not reading it for all its worth, because that's the way that God gave it to us - not for us to take it out of its genre but to read it within the context that God gave it to us. And we'll see that today, because there will be a number of things that we'll see that will show up as symbols and signs.
Now, we have a lot of ground to cover today and today's one of those moments where it's almost a gasp when you think about the ground that we're going to cover today. Today, I'm going to summarize eight chapters in the book of Revelation. Go ahead - [gasp]. That's what they did at the first worship gathering. [Gasp]. I feel the same way. I've been looking at it all week so I know what you're talking about. Well the reason I'm doing that is because I want us to see some very specific things and not get so lost in the weeds that we miss the big picture of what's being explained to us in the context of the book of Revelation. I don't want us to get lost in the weeds. I want us to see this from the perspective that I believe God intends for us to be able to see it.
Now, where we left off last week, we left off by seeing the entire worshiping order of everything, everywhere worshiping the Lamb because the lamb was the only one who was worthy to be able to take the scroll from the hand of the Father and be able to open the scroll. It was a lion, pictured as a lion who became a lamb and this was a symbolic picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that's where we left off. But today we open the scroll.
And so, I want us to be able to make our way through, beginning in chapter six, we're actually covering chapter six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, fifteen and sixteen. I know. Some of you are going this is, I'm just putting my pen down right now. I'm going to go back and watch it, you know. You might, and I'm going to have to move quickly because I've got a lot to share, but I think by the time that we get this in our heads, we'll understand what's going on.
You see, here's how this is going to unfold for us. Let me give you a big picture of how this is going to unfold. It's going to unfold because there is a scroll which is the destiny of humanity. It is the purposes and will of God, and the destiny and consummation of everything that is held within this scroll. The scroll has seven seals on it. Seals are to keep something closed so that no one can read from it, right? There are seven seals on the scroll which made everyone in heaven and earth say, "Oh, no, who can open the scroll?" But there was one who was worthy and that is the Lamb and he has the scroll. And so he will open each of the seven seals on the scroll. And corresponding to the opening of each of those seals, there is a judgment.
After that series of judgments, there is another seven series of judgments after that. It is the judgment of what we call the trumpets. Now the trumpets are announcing that the scroll has been unsealed, it has not yet been read but it has been unsealed and the trumpets are announcing that. But with each trumpet blast from each angel is also a corresponding judgment. And then the third sequence of seven judgments is that of the bowls - angels with bowls of wrath that are poured out and this is judgment in it's finality.
So did everybody follow that? There are three sets of sevens. There are seven seals. There are seven trumpets. And there are seven bowls. You remember that the number seven always doesn't just mean simply seven, it often means more than seven in terms of completeness, wholeness, and those kinds of things. So while it is described in those terms with a numerical value, it's trying to describe, this is completeness and corresponding to the will of God. This is God's own perfection being played out in human history.
But there are also, in these chapters that we're looking at, there are also some, what we will call interludes, or breaks in the action. After the sixth seal is opened, there is a break in the action. And after the sixth trumpet is played, there is a break in the action. Those breaks in the action are actually describing the witnessing community of believers in the context of judgment. And we're going to see as you stay with me, we're going to see how those actually work together and how those actually play together in just a few moments.
So let's begin with chapter number six beginning in verse number one. We'll read a lot of this passage. Some of the other passages we'll read in short order and I'll summarize, but we'll read a lot of chapter six. Start with me in verse one.
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, "Come!" Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other. To him was given a large sword. When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come!' I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "Two pounds of wheat for a day's wages, and six pounds of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!" When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, "Come!" I looked, and there before me was a pale hose! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth. When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little while longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been. I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?"
So, here you have the seals that are being opened up, and with the first seal you see a rider on a white horse. Now, I need you to understand as I told you, this is symbolic language. We're talking about apocalyptic language here. We're not talking about actual riders on actual horses that are going to be seen. Is everybody clear with that? That's not what's being described here. It is an image. And you have a rider that is on a white horse and that is an image of conquest that is going on in the world. Maybe oppressive regimes or oppressive nations that are involved in conquest.
Then you have a second horse and notably these first four are called the four horsemen of the apocalypse, right? Some of you have heard that phrase before. This is where it comes from. The second one was riding a fiery red horse, and this was indicative of violence and how there was an absence of peace in the world. And then there was a rider on a black horse, and this was because it talks about all of the various trading of wheat and barley and oil and wine. It talked about kind of the idolization of money and oppressive economic injustice which is what's being described here. And then there's a pale horse and this is indicative of death that occurs in war and in famine and in plagues.
Now some of you hear those things and you think to yourself, man, these don't just sound like judgments, they sound like the responsibility of what humans get when they're involved in sin. Because you know, sin actually has it's own harvest. Sin actually reaps from itself. That when there is a prevalence of sin, sin actually compounds upon itself and produces its own judgment, so to speak. So there have been people that ask sometimes if this passage, is this God's judgment or is this human sin? Yes! It is both. But here's what you need to understand. Sin always precedes judgment. That's what happens in this context.
So God is allowing for sin to operate in some sense, and it is significant what is happening here whether that is through death and disease and war, violence that is rampant, economic injustice. Any of these things sound familiar to you? Do they seem like things that we're waiting on to happen or that are happening? John's readers would have seen these things in real time, understanding that they really are happening. Yes, the intensity may increase in time to come, but these are things that are realities for all of us, and we see the results of sinful humanity even in this context.
Then, when the fifth seal - those are the first four seals and when the fifth seal's opened, there are souls under the altar that are crying out to God, "How long? How long until you bring justice? We've been killed for the testimony of God and for the word of Jesus Christ. How long?" And here's what they're told. They're given a white robe which stands for purity and then they're told to wait because there are others coming just like them. And until they all arrive, the fullness of justice is not going to be fully meted out. It's a startling and sobering kind of reminder.
And then the sixth seal is one that has cosmic signs. Moon turned into blood and stars falling from the sky, heavens receding like a scroll, mountains and islands being removed from their place. This is picture, this is imagery, this is symbolism that's saying to us that the entire social and political order is going to look extraordinarily different. That there is going to be an implosion of what we know as social and structural and political order - as if it is a cosmic event.
So this is what we see with the first of the seals. That's six, and you know that there's seven. We have to skip over chapter seven because that's one of the those breaks in the action that we'll come back to and chapter eight tells us about the seventh seal. Here's what it says. "When the lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour." Just an awestruck - could you imagine all of heaven being awestruck in silence? "And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them."
So here's what you get when you open the seventh seal. The seventh seal gives rise to the seven trumpets. That's what you see. O.k.? What happens with the seven trumpets - I'm not going to read them all, but here's what I'll suggest to you. That the first four of the seven trumpets affect the earth just like the first four of the opening of the seals affects the earth. Do you know why that's the case? Again, there's symbolism all throughout this. Four is the number of the earth. So whenever you are seeing things in fours, typically in the book of Revelation, you are seeing things that are describing the earth. So the first four seals are headed to the earth. The first four of the trumpets are affecting the earth in terms of its judgment.
In fact, when I described to you the living creatures that we saw, and I talked about them being the wholeness of both the animal and the human kingdom, in what? In the earth. How many living creatures were there? Four. What does Revelation talk about when it talks about the whole earth? It says the four corners of the earth. When it talks about the destruction that comes upon the earth that comes from the four winds of the earth. When it's describing all of the people that make up the earth, here's how it's described. Every people, tribe, language, nation. Every time. Maybe in a different order but all four of those every single time. Why? Because four is the number of the earth.
So the first four of the trumpets affect the earth. And here's how that goes. It's consistent, by the way - you'll see this - it's consistent when you were reading, when you begin to read about these trumpet judgments, it's consistent with the plagues that happened in the Exodus. There's similar images that are being born out - there and in the bowl judgments.
So what happens? Well, the first thing that happens with the first trumpet is that hail and fire and blood, all mixed together, basically hit about one-third of the earth, the trees, and the grass and burn them up. Then the second judgment is a fiery mountain - something like a fiery mountain is what the scripture says - so not really a fiery mountain. Something like a fiery mountain goes into the sea and a third of the sea creatures die. Then for the third one there's a star that falls called wormwood - if you've heard that name before from a C.S. Lewis novel, you might recognize it. It means bitter. This star called wormwood falls into the lakes and - a third of the lakes and the rivers and causes the lakes and the rivers to become bitter and as a result some people die. And then a third of the heavenly bodies - the sun, the moon, and the stars - are darkened. And so that a third of the night doesn't have any light because there's no moon, and a third of the day doesn't have light because of the sun.
And then when you get to the fifth, it changes from what's happening on the earth specific, or what's happening to the earth to something much more demonic. Because then an angel falls all the way into the abyss, the Scripture says, and rising out of the abyss in this great billowing smoke is a locust that is more like a monster and a scorpion all put together. If you read the description of this, women's hair, human male face, lion's teeth, wings like thunder - all kinds of descriptions that are going on. Scorpion tail - you just go, what is this? I don't know. But it is a vivid image that is being painted here and what happens with this image?
This particular locust/scorpion/monster image is released in the earth to torment all of those who do not have the mark of God, for five months. Jerry, why five months? What's the symbolism? I really don't know the answer to that question either because we really don't see the number five or five months very often at all in the course of scripture. I do know that five months is roughly the life cycle of a locust. Maybe that's what it's referring to. But the idea here is that this comes upon the earth on all of those who are not marked by God. And they are affected, but they're not killed. They're not allowed to be killed. But they wish they were dead. What kind of judgment is that? I have no idea, but it's not good. It's serious. And I don't know what it is but it's not good.
And then you have the sixth judgment, where you have the angels at the four corners of the river Euphrates that finally release the army to come in from the north. That judgment is an interesting one because the river Euphrates is one that is actually the northern border of Israel, and also is kind of the northern territory border of the Roman empire and if anything, the Roman empire wasn't scared about much, but I'll tell you who they were scared of - the Parthians. And this would have called that image to mind because the Parthians had long hair. They said that they rode on real big beasts and horse and all this kind of stuff and would come in similar to the description that you have in the sixth trumpet. But I'll also remind you that John said he heard how many were mounted up and he said twice ten thousand times ten thousand. I've done the math for you - two hundred million. I don't know if that's another symbolic. I don't know. It's a lot. There is a large force that has marshaled itself and gathered itself for imminent destruction.
All of this is happening on the earth, and basically you have about a third of the people of humanity that are affected and die and listen to what the response is in chapter number nine, verse number twenty. "The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they didn't stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood - idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts."
All of these things - all of the seal judgments, all of the trumpet judgments, and guess what? Those that are remaining without the seal of God on them do not repent. Listen, ladies and gentlemen, judgments alone do not bring repentance and faith. This is something you should pay attention to because I'm going to tell you why this matters soon. Judgments alone do not bring repentance and faith.
So we've had now the series of the seal judgments. We've undone the scroll with the seals. The trumpets are announcing the unveiling of the scroll. And then when you get to chapter fifteen, you actually have the bowls of wrath that are commissioned from the reading of the scroll to be poured out in finality over humanity.
Listen to what it says in Revelation fifteen verse number one. "I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues - last, because with them God's wrath is completed. And then it's chapter sixteen verses one through three. Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, 'Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the earth.' The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image." Notice who that was dealing with - not the people of God. "The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead person, and every living thing in the sea died."
You see, these are not partial judgments like the seals or the trumpet judgments. These are complete and final and total. And do you know what also they're rolling in the picture of? The plagues of Egypt. Those of you who are familiar with the Bible. You remember when Moses was leading the people out of Egypt, right? These are the style, Revelation is fashioned after that idea of the Exodus. Why? Because God is reminding us that there is a new exodus coming where he will care for his people, take them through tribulation and deliver them to a land of promise. This is the picture that we have in the book of Revelation, and these are styled after some of those plagues that we see.
So these judgments that we're reviewing, these three sets of sevens - of seals, of trumpets, and of bowls are progressive and they are cataclysmic, and they are a warning shout to the church, because this is where the letter is being read, right? John sent this as a encyclical letter to the church, and it is a shout to wake up.
But with these judgments, I told you there are also breaks in the action. There are interludes, right? Remember we just discussed that a moment ago? I want us to see what is going on in those too, because we need to figure out once we see all of that, how we put it all together. O.k.?
In the first interlude which happens after the opening of the sixth seal, here's what we read in Revelation chapter seven. "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth", there's your fours again, "holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 'Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.' Then I heard the number." Hold - everybody looking at your Bible or whatever? Then I what? [Heard]. Remember that. "Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel."
Now let me pause here for just a minute. There are really, really godly, great folks who sometimes see the passage of scriptures that we're looking at today a little differently than others. There are godly people that may not see this exactly the same way, and when you're dealing with an apocalyptic book, sometimes that's the case. It's not the easiest thing interpretively to walk through. So I've got a great deal of respect for people who may not see this exactly the same way I do, though I would have some questions for them. And they might have some for me. Given that we're talking about a book of symbol and of sign, I usually begin there instead of end there. Normally in reading the scripture, you read the scripture with plain sense unless you have to deal with the symbol or sign. But when you're reading apocalyptic, you are dealing in almost whole with symbol and sign, and you kind of have to start there and then read plain sense after that.
So when we have this picture of 144,000 we have to ask ourself, o.k., who is that? Well, some systems of belief would say well those are Jews that have been sealed, you know, and that's who they are, because the tribes are listed right after that. These are expressly Jews. I can appreciate that tact. I don't think that's the case. The reason I don't think that's the case is because that's an extraordinarily round number, isn't it? 144,000? You know what that is? Twelve thousand times twelve. Does twelve sound familiar? Twelve is a symbolic number all through, beating through the course of the book of Revelation. It means something to us.
And, when you begin to look at the listing of the tribes, why are there twelve thousand in each of the tribes that come out of those tribes? Why not 11,127? Why not 4,364? They're all 12,000 - round numbers. What is that indicating to us? Well, when you look at the list, the list of the tribes is out of order. Normally when you list the tribes, you would be listing with the oldest of the tribal members first. Reuben. Not this case. Judah is first. Why? Because that is the lineage of the Lion who is also the Lamb. The Lord Jesus. You see what this is, ladies and gentlemen, what I believe it to be and again I hold some things reasonably open-handed when it comes to end times thinking and preaching because I'm not overly dogmatic as to make myself crazy. All right? I hold some things open-handed. But you want to know what I think this is teaching us? This is teaching us that this is a picture of the people of God. The true Israel. The community of believers.
Now, I'll get to something else in just a moment that will help us to see that, I believe. In fact, lets just get to it. In verse number nine, notice what it says because we go right out of this 144,000 - notice what it says in verse number nine. After this I what? After this I what? O.k. - hold on a second. I heard, now I look. Does this sound familiar at all? Do you remember last week, those of you that were here (and those of you who were not, you're getting in trouble on the way out), those of you who were not we talked about this picture of the one who was worthy to open the scroll and the elders said, "Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. And then I looked and I saw a lamb." I heard, Lion. I looked, Lamb. Hmm. But were the Lion and the Lamb the same person? Of course. The Lord Jesus.
So now what you have, I heard the number 144,000 and I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." Then verse thirteen says Then one of the elders asked me, "These in white robes - who are they, and where did they come from?" I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, "they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence, 'Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,' nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.' 'And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.'"
You see this is a picture, ladies and gentlemen, I believe, this 144,000 that we're talking about that he heard of, now he looks and sees a multitude that is innumerable. One is a picture of those who are on the earth, one is a picture of those who are in heaven in real time. Now this is an interesting thing because I think it's just simply two angles looking at the same group of people, the true church of Jesus.
Now, the interesting thing about this is when we begin to look into it, we realize that this is consistent with the actual fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. God promised Abraham, through you, even though you don't have a kid yet, and even though you're really, really old and your wife - also very old - even though you don't have a child, I'm going to rescue the world through you, and I'm going to build a people through you called Israel. And certainly God fulfilled, in the child of promise, God fulfilled that, and it grew into a nation called Israel. But part of the promise was not only that you would be a people called Israel, but that your number would be like the sands of the seashore. You would be innumerable like the stars in the sky. So you've got this promise to Abraham of a people, Israel, and an innumerable number of people that would be grafted into the true Israel through ultimately what the Lion of the tribe of Judah would do on their behalf.
And here, when you look at these angles, 144,000 from the tribes of Israel and the innumerable group of people, you see the promise to Abraham in full picture. You seeing that? All right, some of you are going, nah, I don't see nothing. I don't even know where I'm at. All right, welcome. These are all faithful witnesses, whether you're talking about the 144,000, that picture of the people of God on earth, or you're talking about the picture of the people that are already in heaven, here's what they all are: faithful witnesses. This is the picture. They are all faithful witnesses to the Lord Jesus Christ, and in fact, the souls that are under the altar in the previous chapter there in chapter six, are crying out, how long? And Jesus says, well, there are still more to come. And then we have the picture of chapter seven. Of the people of God on the earth and the people of God in heaven. It's an interesting parallel that you should make note of and understand.
Now, they didn't die just out of their faithfulness to Jesus. They certainly did that, because the fact that they were going to be protected or sealed or one of those things because the angel showed up with the seal of God, right? For this 144,000? The fact that they were sealed doesn't mean that they can't die. In fact, presumably later in the chapter that's kind of the idea. But, they're not dying for nothing. You just don't find that out quite yet. We find it out in just a few minutes. Well, a few chapters.
All right. That's the first interlude that we're talking about. But there's a second interlude that I want us to pay attention to and it begins after the sixth trumpet judgment. And that begins in chapter number ten. Notice what it says in verse one. "Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, 'Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.'"
Now a couple of interesting things are happening here. Number one, the very thing that we said would happen, or that John said did happen in the Revelation is happening now. In chapter number one, here's what he says: he said this is a revelation from God to Jesus, and Jesus gives it to an angel to give to John. That's exactly what you see in chapter ten. This very sequence of events unfolds right before our eyes. John said it would happen in chapter one, that's what we see in chapter ten. God to Jesus to an angel to John.
Now what happens after that? Interestingly enough, he talks about this idea of the seven thunders. What are they? I'm not sure. There you go. How's that? I'm not sure. But here's what I think. Presumably, they are another set of seven judgments. Seven seals, seven trumpets, seven thunders, seven bowls. But then there's a halting of this very thing. Whatever you just heard, don't write this down. So either this is going to be some kind of secretive judgment, or it is going to be a judgment that is rescinded, it seems to me. I hold this with open hands because it's difficult to know exactly what we're talking about.
But upon John hearing that, he is told to take the scroll - I believe the same scroll that we're talking about, the idea of the destiny of humanity - and he takes the scroll and eats it because the angel says there is to be no more delay. So he cancels out the seven thunders and then says there's no more delay. That gives me an idea that it was talking about judgment. Another step in judgment before the final judgment of the bowls. And instead, he says, nope, no more delay. John, you eat the scroll just like Ezekiel was told. John eats the scroll. It's sweet in his mouth and sour in his stomach, and then he is told to prophesy about what is going on. And the first thing that we see, is we see the picture of a temple and we see a story about two witnesses.
Notice what it says in chapter eleven, verse one. I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, "Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth."
By the way, 1,260 days, 42 months, you know how long that is? Thee and a half years. Do you know how long three and a half years are? Half of what number? Now you're following. Who are these people? They are "the two olive trees" and the two lampstands. The two what? Lampstands. Keep that in mind.
And "they stand before the Lord of the earth." If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. Remember what kind of book we're reading, right? We're not talking about dragon people. We're reading an apocalyptic book. It's a book filled with imagery.
This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. They have power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying: and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city - which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt - where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days - what's that half of? Seven. Some from every people, tribe, language and nation - how many of those? Four. Will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth. But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people - how many? Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
This is loaded with imagery and I don't have the time to get into every single solitary symbol here. So what am I going to tell you? All right. Who are the two witnesses? The Scripture doesn't tell us. The Scripture is actually unconcerned with telling us who the two witnesses are. Now there have been whole books written on and whole series written on exactly who these people are. Unfortunately, you can't say that because the Scripture doesn't tell us.
Here's what we do know. We do know that whoever the two witnesses are, that they will minister in the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah. That's what we do know. Because the idea there, the images are being evoked, right? Water that turns to blood. Remember Moses leading his people out of Egypt, right? Plagues. Moses leading his people out of Egypt. Shut up the heavens so it doesn't rain. Elijah. These are clearly invoked, right?
So whoever these people are, are somehow ministering in the spirit of the prophets who were by the way, Elijah and Moses, prophesying to a people that needed to repent. These people, the two witnesses, are doing so in sackcloth. Sackcloth is a symbol for repentance. They are prophesying in sackcloth to see the repentance of the people of God. I'm sorry - the people who do not know God.
Now, what is - who are these two witnesses? I don't know. Are they just two? I don't know. Wait a minute, Jerry. It says that there is two witnesses. Yeah, it says a lot of things in the book of Revelation about singular symbols that represent lots of people. And so I'm going to be very careful here when I say this, but I would suggest to you, I don't think we're talking simply about two people, even though I hold open the possibility that that's what's being spoken of. The truth is, this is John prophesying and he's prophesying in somewhat of story parable form. Giving us a story. The story sounds an awful lot like the witnessing community of believers and how God is going to use them in the world. That ultimately they are causing the world problems because they are glorifying God and people don't want to repent. And then the beast comes and devours them. They die but they don't stay dead because they are caught up to be with God. This sounds an awful lot like the story of the faithful witnessing community of the people of God.
But I don't know. I'm not a hundred percent sure. Nor is anybody. Because we're not told exactly. But I think this is a picture - what are they called? Are they called lampstands? Who else was called lampstands in chapter two and chapter three? The church. They were called lampstands. Honoring from the same place, Zachariah. I have a tendency to believe that this is representative, again, in a different angle and in a different way, the story of the faithful witnessing community of the people of God. Could it be two people that are kind of leading the faithful witnessing community? Sure. Could it be representative of the people of God? Sure. I don't know for sure but it's teaching us about the witness of the people of God at the time of the end and here's what we know: they are greatly impacting the nations and specifically impacting Israel. It talks about the place where this ministry is going on. Presumably, it's Jerusalem because that is the place where the Lord died, but often Sodom and Egypt is applied to the - whenever you hear the word the great city that we just read a moment ago - that's talking about Rome, typically, in Revelation. Almost always. Babylon/Rome. But here it might be referencing Jerusalem. Hard to tell. But, that's the picture that we get.
So what do we do with all of this? I have just covered eight chapters and I have said, here's how the judgments play out, here are the interludes in the judgments. What do we do with all of that? I'm going to unpack it and I'm going to sprint to the finish and you're going to thank me.
Write this down. You want a big idea? You want a big picture here? Here it is. God combines His judgment with our witness to call the world to repentance. That's what we see here. God combines His judgment with our witness to call the world to repentance.
Now here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to sprint like crazy here at the very end, but I want to unpack that statement for you in three simple statements that we can apply and learn and be challenged by, o.k.?
Here's what the first one is: Even in judgment, God is rich in mercy. Because God is using his judgments to call the world to repentance, right? But even in his judgment, he's rich in mercy. Listen very carefully to what I'm about to tell you, because some of you get all upside-down when you're reading Revelation, because you're like I can't believe in a God who's just, you know, judging people and blowing stuff up. I just - I don't know. I'm out. And you talk to people that are the same way.
You've lost the centering vision of Revelation. We were there last week. The centering vision of Revelation is in chapter four and chapter five giving us the true face of God in the Lion who is the Lamb who sacrificed himself willingly so that sinners might be reconciled to God. This is a God who put skin on, came and lived among us and sacrificed himself even though he was sinless. He bore our sins so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. This is the heart of God. Don't lose that. Because the true face of God is a Lion who became a Lamb.
So even in his judgment, God is demonstrating extraordinary mercy. In fact - think about it. Remember I told you that there were three sets of seven judgments, right? There were the seals. There were the trumpets. And there were the bowls, right? Those are the judgments. Listen carefully. There was also one set of judgments, the thunders, that was left out. Do you remember how they went? When we read about the seals, one fourth of the earth was affected. When we read about the trumpets, one third of the earth was affected. He said, there are seven thunders, but he rescinded them presumably, one half of the earth would have been affected. And then the bowls were the finality and totality.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, listen. God is just and he is justified in judging the earth. Here's why. Because this is his good creation, and sin and sinister forces have undermined it and sabotaged it, and as a result creation as we know it and people as we know it cannot flourish in God's good definitive plan. He must judge the root causes of sin and oppressive systems and sinister forces that are causing his creation and all that is in it not to flourish. God is justified in doing that very thing but even in doing that very thing he is showing extraordinary mercy. Why? Because he wants people to know him. He desires for people to know him.
That's why Peter said these words. Listen, second Peter, chapter three. "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." This is his heart. This is his desire. This is what God wants, and even in the midst of his justified judgment, he is showing extraordinary mercy because he desires for people to repent.
But let me show you a second thing. Our witness in the world matters. It matters. Our faithful witness in this world matters. See, we're not just reading about things, oh, maybe by the end, you know I'll be glad to get it together by then and I'll try and, you know, help some people out. No, that's not what we're talking about. This is relevant for us right now. You see, as I told you, judgment by itself doesn't bring repentance and faith. Which I think is part of the reason why God canceled the seven thunders. God knew in advance, but he canceled it. And instead relied on the faithful witness of his people.
You see when you combine, ladies and gentlemen, when you combine God's judgment and faithful witness, then some other things happen and we see that in Revelation eleven. Listen to what it says in Revelation eleven in verse number thirteen. This is after the story of the two witnesses. It says at that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake - listen - and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. When we had the pictures of judgment that were going on with just judgment the scripture says no one repented. They kept doing all the same stuff they were doing - embracing all the silly idols in the kingdoms of this world. Now you've got a combination of the faithful witnessing community of believers combined with the judgment of God and the bible says that they gave glory to God in heaven.
You see, your witness, ladies and gentlemen - it matters greatly. And God is concerned with using it in the now. Some of you are like, well, I'll get it together then. You'll be so deceived and so drunk on the kingdoms of this world that you're never going to do that then. Now. Now. Now is the time to be a faithful witness to Christ. Now. Not, oh, you know then, I don't know, if I'm one of those people. Now. Now is the time.
Let me give you a last thing here from unpacking this big idea. It's this: God knows and cares for His own. This is one of the big picture items that we see here. Even in the midst of all of these judgments, ladies and gentlemen, here's what we see. God taking care of his people. That's what we see through all of this - God taking care of his people. What does it say about that picture, that he heard 144,000 - he said well they're going to be sealed with the seal of God. What does it say about the two witnesses? They were cared for until such a time that their message was proclaimed, right? And then they died.
So, sealing is not a guarantee that you don't die. Sealing is not a guarantee that you don't get persecuted. That's not what it is. Jerry, what is the seal that is upon us? I don't know for sure, because this has a number of different symbols. But I do know this. I do know that the Scripture talks about a seal that we have that is extraordinarily clear and uses the same language. Listen to what it says.
Second Corinthians, chapter one. "It is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." Listen to what Ephesians says in chapter one. "You also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit." And listen to chapter four of Ephesians. "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."
You see ladies and gentlemen, here's the thing. In the midst of everything that happens in the world, if all hell is breaking loose around us, God knows who his own are because he has sealed them with his Spirit. They are his. Here's the thing. If we have been sealed by the Spirit of God, that doesn't mean that we might not face persecution. That does not mean that we might not even be killed for our faith at some point. We hope that's not the case, but that we would be faithful anyway because we are his own and we might be put to death as a result of that if that happened to be the case.
Well, guess what? You have been given a seal that says God knows who you are. You are his no matter what hell comes your way. You're his. And it is a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.
So, if you are sealed for the day of redemption here's what I want to ask you. What are you waiting on? Some of you are just messing around in this life, playing around with the kingdoms of the world and fulfilling all of your lusts instead of being a faithful witness to Christ because God is using your life and desires to use your life to call people to himself. What are you waiting on? Ah, I'm a little bit scared. Well, here's the deal. In this life there will be trouble. But take heart, Jesus says, I have overcome the world and I have sealed you until the day of redemption. I know my own so whatever happens to you I've got you. Whatever happens to you, I've got you and you might join the millions and millions around the throne of God praising but I've got you.
So what are you waiting on? Too busy just, I just want to live life. I just want to suck in all these experiences. Well the experience of trying to mess around on your wife or mess around on your husband? That's an experience to you that compromises the integrity of your belief, that tells the world around you that you've got a different god. I know I've turned into prophet/pastor guy on you but suck it up because this is - listen - this is what the scripture is teaching us.
Some of us need to sober up and become faithful witnesses to Jesus. Because we've been messing around with the world and buying into the kingdoms of the world. We've got a consumeristic mindset. Everything's about ourselves. Our world is a population one, when he's called us to be a faithful witness even to the end of our lives because he's using that in concert with his judgment to call the world to repentance.
So if you think, men, that you're sitting in here and you're like, did I just get called out today? You got called out today. Every man in the building just got called out today. Live for God. Be a man of God. Hey, any dead fish can just float downstream. It takes a man of God to walk against the tide, to love his wife, to love his family, to walk with integrity, to do business like, that would honor Christ. Stop messing around with the world and become a faithful witness. Here's why: because if you don't, what's going to happen is you're going to be so deluded and so deceived and so turned upside-down that you are going to miss it. You're going to miss it. You're going to miss what God has for you, what God wants for you, what God wants to do in your life, and how God wants to use you. You're going to miss it because God has said the vehicle that he is using, not only his judgment, because his judgment can't bring people to repentance on its own. It's not doing that. He's combining that with the faithful witness of the people of God. So he's desiring you, sir, you ma'am, student to be faithful to him because you are a part of his mission that none should perish but that all should come to repentance. This is his great desire.
So, I'm out of gas and I'm out of bullets. Will you allow the picture of God to be shaped in your mind, that you acknowledge that God is all powerful, that God is all holy, that God has a right to judge but that God is also merciful and that God is also loving and that his true face is a Lion so courageous as to self-sacrifice as a Lamb. And would you finally realize that you need to allow God to use your life and to use your witness and stop sitting on the sidelines being a spectator and a consumer. And would you realize, ladies and gentlemen, that if you're Christ's, he knows you and you're sealed. You are secure. Whatever hell breaks out, he's got you.
And if you're here and you don't know Jesus, I'm not talking about you've heard of him. I'm talking about you've turned from your sin and put your faith in him. If you're not in that place let me just say this to you. Before you get so deluded and so deceived that not even absolutely apparent judgment could get your attention I ask you humbly but boldly to turn your life over to Jesus because no one's ever loved you like him. All of this to call you to himself so that you might know him now and forever.
Would you bow your heads a minute. You've been so patient to listen to me for a little longer than I normally talk because I've covered a lot of ground and I'm about to let you go. But if you're here and you've never surrendered your life to Christ, when we dismiss in just a moment, I want you to come by the Fireside Room. It's clearly marked out in the Atrium. Just come in there and just say to them I need to give my life to Christ. They want to show you in the scripture how you can have new life and they want to pray with you about what it means to receive Jesus. I hope you won't leave without doing that, if that's your need.
And Father, for those of us in here who say that we know you, I pray that you would write on our hearts the depth of the reality of how you have empowered us by your Spirit. You have marked us and sealed us. You know we are yours and so God, may we have an abandon to live for you, to be faithful witnesses to you no matter what hell happens in our world, no matter what hell happens in our lives, that we would be faithful to you because you're worthy. You're the one who holds it all in your hands.
So Father, I pray that we would have that rich understanding of the beauty of how sacrificial love, laying itself down for the world can be mirrored in our own lives, God, for the sake of people. And I pray you would call us into the game instead of being spectators and consumers. Father, write this on our hearts and help us to be serious about what it means to follow after you with all of our hearts. We pray in Jesus name, amen.
Love you folks. Have a great week.