The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 symbolise the church throughout the ages, but most especially in the days in which we live. But note this; the witnessing church these witnesses depict is found within the larger ‘outer court’ of a church made up mostly of members masquerading as true disciples. Note also that the Witnesses represent a revived church, a universal body of believers displaying great spiritual power and vitality. Church history records several great revivals, but I believe that we are soon to experience the greatest of all church revivals… and with it severe tribulation.
The Two Witnesses prophecy for a period of time and then they are ‘killed’ and their witness silenced. How can this be?! Does this foretell a defeated church and a failure of monumental proportions? And why would God not only allow this but, it seems, plan this from the start?
First, we need to consider the nature of the church’s commission. From the very start Jesus has commissioned us to speak and demonstrate a two-fold message to the world but, by and large, we seem to have only grasped half of it. We have always understood the Good News to be, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Yet this most well-known statement by Jesus does not stand in isolation, for He went on to say: ”Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (Verse 18). The New Living Translation translates this as, “those who do not trust him have already been judged for not believing in the only Son of God”. The comprehensively attested biblical declaration is that all human beings are born into this world in a state of spiritual separation from God the Father; dead in the sin of the rebellion of Adam and Eve (Romans 3:23 5:12). This is why Jesus said that “whoever does not believe stands condemned already”.
This is the second part of the Gospel we are commissioned to proclaim… and most of us just don’t like this. It is a most unpopular message, particularly in the 21st century. Most people, except Atheists and Islamics, don’t object so much to the idea that Jesus has sorted out Adam’s error of judgement, but they do object to being told that they already stand condemned and that the remedy to their deathly condition is in and through Jesus Christ alone.
Now, think of how this ‘full’ Gospel sounds in the ears of religious leaders who are trying to unite the whole of Christendom, and to then align this One Church the major world religious systems. This should give you some idea of why the numerically superior professing church would want to silence a revived confessing church.
“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 street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation 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”. (Revelation 11:7-10)
What we need to grasp is this: A Kingdom of God victory is perceived by the world as defeat and self-sacrifice is regarded as pitiable weakness. Yet the truth is just the opposite: self-sacrifice is the ultimate measure of strength and true victory comes through surrender. The key to understanding this in the context of Chapter 11 of the book of Revelation is where it connects with Jesus’ death with the words, “where also their Lord was crucified” (Revelation 11:8). Jesus died, not because He was the victim of worldly power, but because He chose to do so. In his apparent ‘defeat’ on the cross was embedded the greatest victory the cosmos has ever witnessed. This is why Paul quoted from Isaiah 25:8 when he wrote that in the crucifixion “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
This is such an important and misunderstood truth that I want to devote another article to it. In the meanwhile, here is a scenario and a question that highlights an application I will discuss in my next post:
An assistant pastor becomes offended and dissatisfied by his apparent lack of appreciation by the senior pastor and as well as his perceived limited career prospects. He starts to talk to key leaders about how poorly he has been treated, and it soon becomes apparent that he is planning on splitting the church by leaving and taking half of the members with him to plant a new congregation. What should the senior pastor do?