Witnesses ( Revelation 10-11)

Throughout Revelation, a key theme is that God has sealed, or protected, his people. We have also seen that this does not mean that Christians are guaranteed freedom from suffering. Rather, it means that we are enabled to stand firm and persevere so that we can be faithful witnesses to the Gospel.

What is happening?

The Angel and the Scroll (ch 10)

V1-4 Another angel appears. The description of size, radiance and a roaring voice conveys majestic power.  He speaks to the thunders and they respond.

NB some scholars see the vision of the angel as comparable to Christ but Jesus isn’t introduced as an angel elsewhere and would not need to take an oath. A better fit is with Gabriel (cf Daniel 8:16 and Daniel 12:7).[1]

John is told to keep what they say secret.  This could be because the thunders represent another series of warning judgements[2] and “The adamant decision of the human race not to repent (9:20-21) would render another series useless.”[3]

A more general point would be that we can second guess what we think events and circumstances are trying to tell us. We are not meant to do that but rather we are to listen to clear revelation. This means that we obey Scripture, that the Holy Spirit works in our minds and hearts to apply it to us as we seek guidance and prayerful advice within the body.

V 5-7 The Angel swears an oath. We have the image of a witness. For all the display of strength and majesty, this is essentially what the angels’ task is, to witness to  God’s glory.  He is announcing that the seventh trumpet will sound soon. The 7th trumpet represents the culmination of judgement and the fulfilment of god’s promises. God’s plan is fulfilled in line with the prophecies of Scripture

V 8-10 John is told to take and eat the scroll. It tastes sweet but is sour in his stomach.  In other words, the message is good news but at the same time unsettling/disturbing.

“It is indeed a joy to take the words of God into one’s mouth and to sing his praises. But that same Word when it is proclaimed creates inner tension that is bitter. First it uncovers hidden sins in the closet of one’s heart. Next, the world rejects God’s Word and demonstrates opposition by attacking its messengers. Third, whatever gift God gives his people is always good. Although his people endure oppression and persecution because of his Word. God blesses them by drawing them even closer to himself.”[4]

The imagery of eating a scroll as part of a prophetic commission draws on Ezekiel 2:8-3:3. It indicates the need for John to completely absorb or assimilate the message.[5]

V 11 John is commissioned to prophesy again.

The Two witnesses ch 11 v 1-15

V1-2 John measures the temple. This is more imagery from the  OT (Ezekiel 40-42).   “The measuring of the Temple is symbolic of declaring its preservation.”[6]  Metzger says “Measuring is done in order to build and repair and John is given a measuring rod so that he can restore and revive the church.”[7] Kistemaker says that “Measuring the temple of God symbolizes the knowledge and care God provides for his people.”[8]

The physical Temple will be or already has been destroyed. So the focus is on God’s people the Church as the Temple of God.

God’s Holy City is under judgement.  This is seen literally in historical events include AD 70.  However, Mounce sees this as another metaphorical perspective on the Church. On the one hand measured and protected but on the other still having to go through suffering and persecution.[9]

V 4-6 We now see two witnesses. Again, intentional OT imagery points to Moses and Elijah.  Olive Trees and lampstands (cf Zechariah 4:20=-3).  are also images of Israel -i.e. of God’s people.  They Dressed in “burlap” (NLT) or Hessian  cloth (sack cloth) which is prophetic clothing.

There are two witnesses  because  the emphasis is on the OT concept of the reliability/confirmation of two witnesses (Deut 17:6; 19:15 and cf John 8:17). We are not meant to over allegorise and attempt  to identify separate  witnesses here. The point is that the witness of God’s people by God’s Word is true and reliable whether or not the World listens to it (link to The Big Question). So, the two witnesses probably represent the whole church.[10]

V7-11 The witnesses are killed by a beast from the abyss. Their bodies are left in the streets of Jerusalem for 3.5 days. [11]Note the link between their death and Christ’s crucifixion. The City is Jerusalem but it is also Sodom and Egypt. So on the one hand seen as the City of God’s people but at the same time it is a corrupted city.

Note that their death comes only when their witness is complete. God’s word goes out in its fullness.

V8-14 Their resurrection and ascension is accompanied by the 2nd woe/terror bringing fear, earthquake and death.

The final trumpet (11 v 15-19)

The scene turns to heaven.

Voices including the 24 elders (representing the fullness of God’s people) singing praise.

Note these key things

–          The world is fully under Christ’s reign (v 15)

–          The nations rage and wrath is replaced with God’s wrath -justice (v18)

–          Judgement of the dead means reward for God’s people (v 18)

–          The destruction of destroyers (v 18)

V 19 – The Ark of the Covenant is in view – this represents Atonement

 

 

What is the main application here?

The focus is on faithful witness. Amongst all the terror and judgement, God calls his Church to speak for him.  This does not mean that God’s people by being sealed are given an opt out from suffering. Rather, we God’s church is preserved so that it can be a faithful witness through suffering. Persecution and suffering need not overwhelm us or rob us of our joy, hope and salvation.

We are called to be witnesses. This means that God’s word takes root in our lives. We live it out. This does not mean “Witness and where necessary use words.” Gospel witness always includes words because we must speak about Christ, his death and resurrection. We want people to be pointed to Christ rather than thinking that we are nice, good, kind, brave, moral etc.  However, there must be integrity between our words and actions. What we say should come from the heart and in the context of a faithful life.

This means that as long as we are here, individually, as a local church and as the Universal Church, our ongoing duty is to witness.  It’s no surprise then that when local churches cease to fulfil this role that their candlesticks are removed (Revelation 2-3).  This is also an encouragement to those who are struggling and can’t see a purpose. There is always the purpose of witnessing. It is also good news for older Christians. As long as we are here, God has that purpose, calling us to witness. The job only finishes when we are called home individually or when Christ returns for his Church.

Conclusion

This leaves us with two important questions.

  1. What does it mean for us to be witnesses (together as a church and individually)

 

 

  1. Do you find this easy or hard to do? Why?

[1] See Mounce, Revelation, 201.

[2] Mounce, Revelation, 204.

[3] Mounce, Revelation, 204.

[4] Kistemaker, Revelation, 316.

[5] Mounce, Revelation, 209-210.

[6] Mounce, Revelation, 213.

[7] Metzger, cited in Mounce, Revelation, 213.

[8] Kistemaker, Revelation, 325.

[9] Mounce, Revelation, 214.

[10] Cf Kistemaker, Revelation, 329.

[11] NB – we will explore the imagery of beasts, dragons etc in later chapters.

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