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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:God preserves His own in the midst of oppression
Text:Revelation 11:1-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2013-03-05
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


The Time of Oppression

Ps. 9: 1, 4, 5

Ps. 78: 3

Ps. 79: 1, 4, 5

Ps. 68: 1, 8, 12

Ps. 126: 1, 2

 

Scripture reading:       Zechariah 4: 1 – 14; Rev. 11: 1 – 19

Text:                              Rev. 11: 1 – 6 

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

The book Revelation describes to us the entire history of the last days.   The “last days” is the total period between Christ’s first coming and His second coming.   That which Scripture calls “the last days” is the total time-span of the New Testament era.   We are living in the last days; and we have been living in the last days for two thousand years already.

 

Now, this history of the last days, the time between Christ’s first coming and His second coming, is described to us in the book of Revelation seven times over!   

The book Revelation has seven sections, and each section covers the total time between the first and second coming of Christ.

 

When we read the book Revelation we are therefore not dealing with small fragments of history.   You may not think of 70 AD only; neither may you think that it describes some remote future.   Neither may you read the newspaper and conclude that we are now in this or that stage of the last days.   We should not read the book of Revelation as if it describes to us what will happen first and then what will happen next, and then what will happen after this and that.  

Instead, the history – which is seven times described in this book – applies to every generation who are living in New Testament era.

 

When we now turn to chapter 11, we have in this chapter a description of the church and its ministers during the total period of the New Testament era up to the second coming of Christ.   It is a time of great oppression and tribulation – a struggle and a battle that will reach its climax in that short period of the final antichrist.  

 

Our text this morning is one that will reveal to us the seriousness of the time in which we are living, and the seriousness of the struggle in which we find ourselves.  

At the same time our text gives us the assurance that God will preserve His own.   The struggle will be bitter and fierce, but for those who are in Christ the victory is sure.

 

I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme:

God preserves His own in the midst of oppression

 

We will note

1.      That God knows His own

2.      The two witnesses and their witnessing

3.      The power of these witnesses

In the first place we note that…

God knows His own

 

We often find in Scripture that the LORD measures Jerusalem and that He measures the temple.   But its measuring does not always have the same purpose and the same meaning.   When Jerusalem is filled with iniquity and the LORD measures her with the measure line of justice and the plummet of righteousness, then the act of measuring her brings correction, or even destruction:   

“…I will stretch over Jerusalem the measuring line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab; I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.” – 2 Kings 21: 13

In that case the measuring line and the plummet were applied to expose the crookedness of Jerusalem.  In that case Jerusalem was measured out for destruction.   And there are more such passages in Scripture:

“…Behold, the Lord stood on a wall with a plumb line, with a plumb line in His hand.   And the LORD said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?   And I said, ‘A plumb line.’   Then the LORD said: ‘Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore.   The high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste…” – Amos 7: 7 – 9.

 “…I will make justice the measuring line, and righteousness the plummet; the hail will sweep away the refuge of lies…” – Isaiah 28: 17

And there are more such examples.

There were also other instances where the Lord measured Jerusalem and applied the measuring line and plummet in order to rebuild Jerusalem – as in the book of Zechariah.

But, there is also another way of measuring something: not to test it whether it is crooked or straight, nor to rebuild it, but to measure it simply in order to know the size of it.   This is for instance the case when the borders of your property are measured in order to know what belongs to you and what not.  

We may think in this regard of Psalm 16 where David says:

            “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance.”

“The lines have fallen” refer to the allotted portion that has been measured out to him.

That which has been measured out to him, belongs to him.   It is his inheritance.   It is set apart from the rest to be his own.   And it is this kind of measuring that applies here in our text.  

The apostle has to determine the exact size of the temple.  He has to measure it in order to set it apart from the rest.   That which He measures will belong to the LORD; it is the Lord’s inheritance.   And in this way the temple will be distinguished from that which does not belong to the LORD but to the Gentiles.

He says:

 “…I was given a reed like a measuring rod.  And the angel stood, saying, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.   But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles.   And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty two months.”

Yes, the temple has to be measured in order to determine what belongs to the LORD and what belongs to the Gentiles.

But there is also more to it.   The Lord will preserve His own.   That which belongs to Him will not be trampled down or be destroyed.    That, which He measures as His own, will be preserved in the midst of tribulation.

 

But then we read that the court of the temple must not be measured.   Because: it has been given to the Gentiles, and it will be trampled down.

Our translation says: “leave out the court”.   But the Greek puts it a bit stronger: “cast out the court”.   The court is rejected by the Lord.   He does not own it.   It has been given to the Gentiles.

Now, this rejection of the court is striking, because we would naturally think that the temple court belongs to the temple.  

But we have to remember that we are not dealing here with a dead temple made of stones.   The temple is used as a symbol, a picture, of the church.   The apostle also has to measure those who are worshipping in the temple – verse 1.   And in chapter 7 we read that those who worship in the temple before the throne of God are a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues; yet God has counted them and sealed them as His own, and they are all found within His temple – chapter 7: 15.

Those outside the temple are not part of the 144 000, which is a symbolic number for God’s elect.   And although there may be many who enter the temple court and bring sacrifices to the Lord – if they are not found within the temple proper, they must not be measured but be cast out.

We may also note that the New Testament uses two different words for the temple: nao,j and i`ero,n.   The one word, nao,j, refers to the temple proper.   That is: the holy place and the holy of holies.  The other word, i`ero,n, includes the court outside the temple.  

The word for temple that is used here in our text is the word nao,j – that is the temple itself without the court.

 

Now, the altar is mentioned separately.   Our text reads:

 

            “…measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there”. 

 

And immediately we want to know which altar is meant – is it the altar of burnt offering which is found in the court outside the temple?  (See tabernacle: Ex. 40: 33 and temple: compare 2 Chron. 24: 21 with Mt. 23: 35.)   Or is it the altar of incense which is found inside the temple?  

In the previous chapters the altar has been mentioned several times, and each time the altar of incense was meant (6: 9; 8: 3, 5; 9: 13).   Under this altar we saw the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they had – chapter 6: 9

This altar stands before the throne of God, and the incense that is burned on it is mixed with the prayers of the saints.   We read:

 

“…another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar.   He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.   And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.   Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth.   And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake.   So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.” – chapter 8: 3 – 6

 

That means that the judgements and also the blowing of the seven trumpets that follow is God’s response to the prayers of the saints that is offered to Him on the altar of incense; God’s response, also, to the prayers of the martyrs whose souls are seen under this altar of incense.

Also the blowing of the seventh trumpet, which we find here in chapter 11, stand in direct relation to that altar of incense as it was described to us in chapter 8 (compare also 8: 5,6 with 9:13).   God answers the prayers of His saints, and what happens in the following chapters is God’s response to the prayers that was offered on that altar.

 

So then, when he mentions “the altar” we do know which altar is meant: the altar of incense before the throne of God.

 

If we now look at our text once more, it says in verse 1:

 

            “…measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.”

 

The Greek text actually says: “…and those who worship therein.”   That is: those who worship within the temple.

 

We were already told in chapter 7 that this is a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, who come out of the great tribulation, who washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, and:

 

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple…” – Rev. 7: 15

 

Those who are outside the temple should not be counted with them.   Not even those who are in the court around the temple!   Don’t measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles.

 

Nowhere in the Old Testament was the court that surrounds the temple given to the Gentiles.   And therefore some think that the apostle must be speaking of the temple of Herod which had a large court where Jews and Gentiles were allowed.  It was then called the court of the Gentiles, and anyone could enter this court even without the intent to worship.

But our text does not speak of that.   It speaks of God’s temple, the temple proper in which the altar of incense is found, and of the court surrounding it.

 

That makes our text all the more striking, for God is drawing a fine line between that which may seem to be part of His temple, and that which belongs to His temple in reality.   He knows His own very well, and them He will preserve.  

 

When the apostle Paul speaks about the church he uses the word nao,j, which is the temple proper.  He does not use the word i`ero,n, which may include the larger building complex.  No, the church is the house of God, His holy dwelling place.

 

To the church in Corinth he says:

 

            “…you are the temple (nao,j) of God…” – 1 Cor. 3: 16

 

            “…you are the temple (nao,j) of the living God…” – 2 Cor. 6: 16

 

To the church in Ephesus he says the same.   They are a holy temple (nao,j ) in the Lord – Eph. 2: 21

And every time he uses the word nao,j.   The church is the temple proper; and nothing outside of it!

 

It is this same image that is used here in our text.   The temple symbolises the church.  

God distinguishes between those who are in His temple, and those who are not.   Those who remain in the court, those who are not gathered around the throne of God in prayer at the altar of incense, are not measured as His inheritance.   

 

Not only are they not truly part of His church, but they are counted enemies of His church!  They will trample down the holy city.   Those who gather in the court to bring sacrifices to God are not all true believers.   There are also false brethren who act as enemies.   They are in Jerusalem and even in the court of the temple, but spiritually they are Gentiles who trample on everything that is holy.   Although they seem outwardly to be part of the church, they act as Gentiles who profane the court and trample the holy city underfoot.

 

The temple itself will be preserved.   Yes, God’s children may be sorely oppressed, but the Lord will preserve His own.   His temple proper will not be laid waste.

And so this text comes to us as a great comfort: God knows His own and will keep them from destruction.

 

Now, the oppression will last for forty two months.   That is the same as one thousand two hundred and sixty days, or three and a half years – the same duration that is also mentioned in chapter 12.   We noted the meaning of this time span before.   It is the total period of the New Testament era (except for that very short period of the final antichrist that will be directly before Christ’s second coming). 

 

The era of the New Testament is called three and a half years, because it is compared to that dangerous time of temptation and persecution during the reign of king Ahab in which the LORD, for a period of three and a half years (James 5: 17), preserved His own in a wonderful way in the midst of the severe drought that came as a curse on the land.

That “three and a half years”, or “forty two months”, is used as a symbol for God’s preservation in the midst of terrible persecution, temptation and oppression.

 

Yes, the whole New Testament era is called the great tribulation – Rev. 7: 14. 

And it is in this time of great tribulation, the total time of the New Testament, that the two witnesses of the LORD are constantly prophesying.  

 

We note that in the second place…

The two witnesses and their witnessing

 

“And I will give power to my two witnesses, ant they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.   These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.”

 

These two witnesses are described to us as the two olive trees and the two lampstands.   It is a reference to the passage that we read together in Zechariah 4.  

 

You will remember the vision: there was a candlestick with seven lamps, which were supplied with oil by two olive trees.

The prophet Zechariah tells us that the two olive trees and the lampstand are the high priest, Joshua, and the prince, Zerubbabel.  

 

And we are told in Zechariah 4: 14:

 

            “These are the two anointed ones who stand before the Lord of the whole earth.”

 

They are called anointed ones because they were anointed by the LORD, ordained by the LORD, in their offices.   And together these two were building Jerusalem.   And they had to do this, and they did it, not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of the LORD.

The oil also symbolises the anointing with the Spirit who equips them for their office.

And the Lord used these two men in a powerful way – spiritually powerful – to rebuild Jerusalem.

 

Now, the lampstands and the two olive trees, here in our text, refer back to these two “anointed ones” of the LORD.

 

But here they are also called witnesses.   Two witnesses.   And the Lord calls them “My two witnesses.”   They are sent by the Lord Himself.   And He gave them the authority to prophesy.

 

And so they do prophesy.   For one thousand two hundred and sixty days.   That is for almost the entire New Testament era – except for that very short little time directly before Christ’s coming when they will be killed and will lay dead on the streets.   We hope to deal with that in a next sermon.

For now it is enough to know that these two witnesses are the anointed ones who prophesy – that is: the ordained ministers of God’s Word who preaches God’s word – until shortly before Christ’s second coming.

 

They are called two witnesses, because in a case of witnessing one witness is not sufficient to establish a case.  

 

“One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” – Deut. 19: 15.

 

The word witness, in Scripture, is a forensic term.   When Christ calls His twelve apostles witnesses, they are in the first place eyewitnesses.   They testify not about their own experiences.   Scripture calls them eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Christ.   And when they witness, it is not the witness of one man, but a plurality of witnesses.  

And so, because one witness cannot act alone, and since a case can only be established on the witness of at least two, therefore this symbolic number is chosen for the Lord’s witnesses.   As long as we understand that we must not think of two men only, but a multitude of ministers of the Lord throughout the age of the New Testament era.

 

Our translation says, verse 3: 

 

“…I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy…”

 

But you will note that the word power is placed in italics.   That means: the word has been added by the translators.   The Greek simply says:

 

“…I will give to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy…”  

 

The Lord will give them not only the power but also the authority to be His witnesses and to preach His word.  

 

Now, the anointed ones, the ordained ministers of the Lord who receive from the Lord the authority to preach, will do so “clothed in sackcloth”.  

 

Why are the ministers of God’s Word clothed in sackcloth?    Because: they preach repentance, and because they endure much suffering.  

 

Note that not only some of the Lord’s ministers will be in sackcloth, but all His ministers during the whole New Testament era – for as long as they shall preach, they will remain in sackcloth.

 

There are indeed ministers who try to preach without sackcloth, who preaches a popular gospel without repentance, but they are not the Lord’s witnesses.   His witnesses will be clothed in sackcloth for as long as they will prophesy.   That is: during the whole New Testament era they will continue to preach repentance, and they will continue to suffer because of their preaching.

 

The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

 

“Preach the word!   Be ready in season and out of season.   Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.   For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers…But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.” – 2 Tim. 4.

 

It is not only Elijah and John the Baptist who were clothed in sackcloth during their ministry, but spiritually the apostle Paul and Timothy and all the ministers of the Lord has been clothed in sackcloth.   They convinced, rebuked, and exhorted their hearers, with longsuffering and teaching; and they endured afflictions.   And thus it will be to the end.   The apostle Paul says this will even increase to be the case (2 Tim. 3: 1 – 5; 4: 2 – 5).

 

In the last place we note…

The power of these witnesses

 

“…if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies.   And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.” –verse 5.

 

“If anyone wants to harm them…” – that summarises the enmity and strife of all who act against the ministers of the Lord and against their preaching.

The ministers of the LORD will indeed suffer persecution and some may even be killed, and yet their word will be like a fire that devours their enemies.  

 

Again the reference is to a passage from the Old Testament where the prophet Elijah said to the captain of fifty who came to capture him:

 

“If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.”

 

And fire came down from heaven and consumed the captain with his fifty men – 2 Kings 1: 10.

 

When we read here in our text that all the ministers of the LORD will have this power, we must not think of a literal fire that proceeds from their mouth, but rather that the judgements that proceed from their mouth, which are indeed the judgements of the Lord Himself which they have to proclaim, will be a fire that devours those who oppose their message.  

 

We may think in this regard of what the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah:

 

“…Behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.” – Jer. 5: 14

 

Also in this regard the ministry of the Lord’s ministers will not be different in the New Testament era.

 

“These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy…” – verse 6.

 

Again the reference is to the prophet Elijah who said to king Ahab:

 

“…As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.” – 1 Kings 17: 1

 

And we read in James 5: 17 that this lasted for three years and six months.   That is 42 months.   It is the one thousand two hundred and sixty days of our text.   Our text clearly refers back to that incident where no rain fell, except on the word of Elijah, and that it lasted for three and a half years.   And now the whole duration of the New Testament era is symbolically called three and a half years.   In this way the entire New Testament age is compared to that dangerous and perilous time under the king Ahab, where all the prophets were killed and even Elijah was hiding – a time in which the curse of the LORD laid heavy on the land – but also a time in which the Lord provided for His servants in a miraculous way and preserved them.

 

“…and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.” – verse 6.

 

This time the reference is to Moses who turned the waters of Egypt into blood, and the plagues that he brought on Egypt.  

 

Of course it was the Lord who brought these plagues.   Also in this regard the Lord’s minister is only a servant of the Lord, who acts and speaks on His command.

 

How then do the ministers of the Lord bring plagues on the earth during the time of the New Testament?   It is the same plagues that are described here in the book of Revelation.   In fact, whoever preaches this book, also proclaims its plagues; and by proclaiming it, it is also brought down from heaven.

 

It is often said that a minister always has to preach the gospel, and that the gospel is good news, and that a minister therefore always have to bring good news.   But that is over simplifying the Scriptures.   The ministers of the Lord, yes, all the ministers of the Lord, also for the whole duration of the New Testament, will be proclaiming the judgments of the Lord. 

 

That is maybe not the popular image of a New Testament minister – clothed in sackcloth, preaching repentance, and proclaiming the judgments of the Lord – but that is indeed the way in which the Holy Spirit describes the ministers of the Lord here in our text.

 

And those who oppose their message will be devoured by it.

 

They are messengers from God, witnesses of the truth, who have not appointed themselves, but who are the anointed ones who are standing before the God of the earth.   They are His servants who proclaim His Word.   Therefore it will not be possible for anyone to get rid of them.   If anyone wants to harm them, they will be devoured by the words that proceed from the mouth of the Lord’s servants.

 

Dear congregation, the description which the Lord gives us of the New Testament age is indeed very solemn.    It is the last days.   It is a time of in which the church will be persecuted.   And during all this time His servants are found in sackcloth while they proclaim His word; a word that calls to repentance, a word that brings down all kinds of plagues on the earth.   Yes, a word of warning and judgement.  

Moreover it is not a description of some ministers some of the time, but a description of all the ministers of the Lord for the whole duration of the New Testament age.

 

At the same time these words of our text brings great consolation for God’s children.   God has measured His own, and knows His own.   We are His inheritance.   No matter how much His church may be afflicted and oppressed, we are His temple and He will preserve us.  

 

And with regard to the ministry of God’s Word – it may be opposed in every way; but God will grant His church this ministry and will uphold this ministry in the world until they have fulfilled their ministry.   Nothing can stop them, for the word of the Lord will proceed from their mouth like fire.

 

That is the description of the church and its ministers also in the time in which we are living.

It is not a pleasant picture, yet it comforts us, for no matter how the devil may employ all his forces against the church and against its ministers, the church, the temple of the LORD, shall stand, and its ministers continue their ministry until their ministry is fulfilled.

 

Christ is seated at the right hand of God, gathering, defending and preserving a church for Himself, holding His ministers in His hand.  

 

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?   Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?    As it is written:

‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’

Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Rom. 8: 35 – 37).

 

Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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