Revelation 11 and the Source of our Missional Confidence

Monday Sermon Reflection

(For the message from Sunday, June 27, 2021: “Two Witnesses: Immortal Till the Work is Done.” You can view this sermon by clicking HERE.)

We picked up in our sermon series through the book of Revelation yesterday in 11:1-14. As we journey through this apocalyptic vision, we are once again confronted with a passage that is anything other than easy to interpret. Gerald highlighted this well when he presented 15 different interpretations of just who these two witnesses are that hold the focus of these verses. FIFTEEN different views, all by men who are scholars and love Jesus. While seeking the proper interpretation is certainly not a worthless endeavor, I am thankful that Pastor Gerald focused more on the effect that this passage should have on the church rather than overemphasizing his preferred interpretation. However, he did share that his personal leanings as to the identity of these two witnesses are based on a connection with the book of Zechariah, particularly chapters 3 and 4, which leads him to prefer the idea that these two witnesses can be identified as Joshua and Zerubbabel. As always, I so appreciate his humility in balancing a brief presentation of his own leanings with the recognition that we simply cannot be too dogmatic in our specific conclusions.

The focus in the sermon, however, had to do with our own identity as witnesses in light of this aspect of John’s vision. And as we see this scene play out, a few key ideas should bring great comfort to God’s people as we participate in the mission for which he has purchased us.

We are safe in Christ.

“In this world you will face tribulation (trouble),” Jesus says to his disciples in John 16:33, before comforting them in the reminder to “take heart; I have overcome the world.” We continually need to be reminded of this key truth: True safety is only found in Jesus. Revelation 11 offers such a reminder. Although we may struggle to understand what the imagery of this temple from verses 1-2, the point is clearly presented. Those who are in Christ are protected and safe. Those who are outside of Christ can find no safety from his judgment and wrath towards sin. This is one of the hard truths of the gospel: There is a distinction between those who are in a place of safety and those who are in a place of destruction. Jesus is the difference.

Concerning these two witnesses who encounter an onslaught of persecution and ultimately are killed because of their message, Gerald proclaimed, “They are bold because they are at rest!” Are we able to say the same about ourselves? Is that true of us? Are our souls so at rest in King Jesus that we can be bold in our witness of him, bold in our love for others despite their response towards us, bold in our speaking the Word into lives that are alienated from him, bold in our going for his glory with reckless abandon?

Are our souls so at rest in King Jesus that we can be bold in our witness of him, bold in our love for others despite their response towards us, bold in our speaking the Word into lives that are alienated from him, bold in our going for his glory with reckless abandon?

We are sent by and with the authority of King Jesus.

The basis of this boldness, then, is rooted in the authority of the name that is above every name, King Jesus. It is by his authority and in his authority that these two witnesses are sent and fulfill their mission. First we see that these two witnesses are sent by his authority. Their mission is carried out in full submission to the King. What they do, what they proclaim, and how they respond is all in complete obedience to him. Everything they do and say are as his emissaries, acting as ambassadors of his Kingdom and will. Second, they are sent in, or with, his authority. This should harken us back to the Great Commission that Jesus has given to all of his disciples. We too are sent by his authority but also in his authority to fulfill that commission.

I believe, as Gerald indicated on Sunday, that when the Scriptures speak of the fire that pours from their mouths and consumes their foes, that is not to be taken as a literal fire, but instead the heat of God’s Word and his truth. This too is a picture of the ultimate authority of that Word. When we speak that Word into our own culture and into the lives of others it always contains this same heat of truth. As stewards of his Word we are not to attempt in any way to cool that truth as it confronts sin in every life and in every culture.

HOWEVER, there is a balance that is shown in the posture of the two witnesses that we must not miss! As they breathe the heat of God’s Word out they do so from a posture of brokenness and humility (in sackcloth). I’ve thought a lot about this posture of the witnesses. I’ve been convicted by the question of my own posture. Do I find myself more angry at the sinfulness I see–specifically at those who participate in it–or broken over it? There is a beautiful line in a song called “Hosanna” that proclaims to God, “break my heart for what breaks yours!” That line always stops me in my tracks when I sing it. Is that true, or is it just lyrics I sometimes sing? Sometimes our wayward, far-too-pharisaical hearts delight more in being angry at sinners than being broken over sin. We seem to have lost an appropriate corporate brokenness over OUR sin that continues to break the shalom of God’s creative purposes. We seem to forget that my sin continues to contribute to that brokenness as well.

Sometimes our wayward, far-too-pharisaical hearts delight more in being angry at sinners than being broken over sin.

Perhaps it would be good for us to instead take up a posture of being angry at my own sin while being broken over the sin I see in the world and the pervasive lostness of those who participate in it. We need to remember that our mission, our message, is one of reconciliation and rescue, not one of condemnation and judgment. The power and authority of the gospel is confrontational. No doubt. And we must not strip those elements from the proclamation of the message. But we go with the power and good news of the gospel because people outside of Christ are condemned already! And the sad reality of this and other passages in this section of Scripture shows that in that condemnation those outside of Christ will seal that condemnation by rejecting his grace and mercy in the darkness of their sin-sick hearts. That should break ours. It should break our hearts enough to desire to point those who are outside of Christ to the hope that can only be found in him through repentance and belief.

But our confidence as we go has nothing to do with our own ability to rescue, nor to bring conviction. It is not found in their ability to respond appropriately. It is rightly placed only in the authority of Jesus to save. It should be placed in the promise of the Word’s authority, remembering that the Word never returns void but always fulfills its purpose. And it should be placed in the power of the Spirit to bring dead people to life through the miracle of regeneration. What is your posture as you take up this mission of God?

We have a sure and steady hope.

The most beautiful aspect of this passage in Revelation 11 is the picture it offers of resurrection! But that resurrection comes after the opposition seems to have its way. Gerald reminded us that “faithful witnesses for Christ must follow his path: opposition, death, and resurrection.” The treatment of these witnesses by a world hostile to their message does not in some way void or threaten God’s sovereignty. In fact, this is one of the reasons why the witnesses can respond boldly in the face of such opposition. The same is true for God’s missional people today. There will be opposition to the faithful proclamation of the gospel. The very gospel truth that offers the only rescue from God’s wrathful judgment will be the very thing that many will hate more than anything else.

One of the most jarring aspects of the world’s rejection to the message of the witnesses is the delight they take in their seeming demise. As the book of Revelation unveils reality to us one of the truths that we are able to see in its fullest forms is the depravity of humanity wrought by sin. Not only is the message rejected, but the messengers are slaughtered–and the people cheer and celebrate. They commemorate the day as a global holiday.

Brothers and sisters, this is the ugly truth of lostness. We should expect no less. Jesus was clear with us that the same world that hated him would hate us. The world will respond violently when his people take the gospel to the ends of the earth, to their communities, and even to their own families. But the glory of the hope to which he has called us is that this violence will not have the last word. Just as these dead bodies were once again filled with life and ascended to be reunited with him, so will our dead bodies be filled with resurrected life and we will be united to live eternally with him in his perfected Kingdom. We will enter into an eternal rest in his presence from both the battle with sin within and the opposition from foes of the gospel without.

This is our hope. It is in this hope that we can lean into our sufferings. It is in this hope that we can deny our natural impulses in the way we respond to that rejection and persecution, and instead be filled with the fruit of the Spirit. It is in this hope that we can offer our lives fully to the mission of God, no matter what it may seem to cost us in this life.

So we are free to not give up on those who (continue to) reject the gospel (and even us!).

So we are free to give lavishly toward the mission that will not fail.

So we are free to offer our own lives to whatever he would choose to do with them for the sake of this Kingdom mission.

So we are free to not despair in the face of opposition.

So we are free to not take personal offense to the rejection of the gospel.

So we are free to experience joy, even in the face of the stiffest persecution and strife.

We have been born again to a living hope! WOW!!

Praying Through This Passage

  • Rejoice in the eternal security you have in Christ!
  • Ask God to break your heart for what breaks his. Ask him for a sense of corporate brokenness that beings with a keen awareness of the sin in your own life that threatens your fellowship with him.
  • Thank God for the atoning work of Christ that has reconciled you to him and for an ever-deepening understanding of all that entails.
  • Thank God for the authority with which he has sent you to pursue and ultimately fulfill the Great Commission!
  • Ask God to help you be overwhelmed by a Revelation 7:9 vision, and to give your life in reckless abandon as you hasten that day!
  • Ask God to help you in the face of opposition to the gospel that you both proclaim and live out, to remember that that opposition and strife will not have the last word. Ask God to replace any anxiety or fear that hinder your heart with confidence in who he is and in the promises of his Word concerning the indestructibility of the gospel!
  • Ask God to illuminate your heart by his Spirit to the truth of the hope to which he has called you.
  • Ask God to cultivate within you a deep, deep trust in him and his promises that can withstand even the stiffest winds of suffering and/or opposition.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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