Will the true church please stand up

Revelation Revisited post 36

The church is soon to experience the greatest revival ever! It should also expect severe persecution and tribulation.

We have arrived at Chapter 11, the end of the third part of the book of Revelation. As I have previously pointed out, Revelation is divided into seven parts each covering the time between the Cross and the Second Coming of Christ.

Chapter 11 is fascinating from many perspectives because it features a temple, mystical numbers, lamp-stands, and two witnesses who have the power to call down fire from heaven, stop the rain, and turn water into blood. What are we to make of all this? As a starting point, remember that all of Revelation is presented in symbols and these include numbers. Remember too that John often refers to well-known Old Testament events because his original readers would have been steeped in the history of the Jewish people.

The first allusion to Old Testament prophecy is when John is told to measure the Temple and the Altar and to count the worshippers there. Herod’s Temple existed during the time of the early church and it was entered through two courts – the Outer or Great Court and within that, the Inner Court, also known as the Court of the Israelites. Gentiles and unclean Jews were allowed into the Outer Court but only ceremonially pure Jews were allowed to enter the Inner court which contained the Altar of Sacrifice. So, John is instructed to distinguish between Jews and Gentiles in the Temple of God. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 3:16 that the Church is the real Temple of our times when he writes: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (see also Ephesians 2:19-22). The Great Bronze Altar stands as a symbol for the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, the entrance qualification for a Christian (Romans 3:21-26). So, the picture that is emerging is that the church, like Herod’s Temple, will contain both believers and unbelievers. What is more, the unregenerate church ‘members’ will trample on the ‘holy city’, another symbolic reference to the church (Revelation 21:2-3).

The period of the trampling under foot of the believers by the ‘gentiles’ of the church is given as 42 months. Those who take the images and numbers of Revelation literally jump to one of two conclusions:

  • Either John was not writing about the church at all, but about the Temple that was destroyed in 70 AD, or
  • An end-time desecration of the church is in view.

In both interpretations the Great Tribulation of the church would last exactly 42 months. But the number given here is an expression of a very well-known symbolic period of time stated elsewhere in Revelation as 1,260 days or three and a half years, and first found in Daniel 7:25. Seven is a number that occurs throughout the Bible and carries the meaning of completion or perfection. Three and a half years stands for a broken, incomplete period.

So, the true church, consisting of born-again disciples of the Lord Jesus, exists within the ‘churches’ of Christendom and suffers at the hands of those who profess to be Christians but are not. This has always been the case but it will become more obvious and painful as time moves inexorably towards the end-of-days. Jesus told a parable to teach us the reality of this sad situation:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'” (Matthew 13:24-30)

The next few verses of Revelation 11 describe what the real church has always done, but will do with greater power and effectiveness in the years to come when we shall undoubtedly call it ‘Revival’. See if you can trace the powerful descriptions in verses 3 to 6 back to their Old Testament prototypes – till next week…

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