The Two Witnesses
1 An angel gave me a measuring stick and said:
Measure around God's temple. Be sure to include the altar and everyone worshiping there. 2 But don't measure the courtyard outside the temple building. Leave it out. It has been given to those people who don't know God, and they will trample all over the holy city for 42 months. 3My two witnesses will wear sackcloth, while I let them preach for 1,260 days.
4 These two witnesses are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand in the presence of the Lord who rules the earth. 5Any enemy who tries to harm them will be destroyed by the fire that comes out of their mouths. 6 They have the power to lock up the sky and to keep rain from falling while they are prophesying. And whenever they want to, they can turn water to blood and cause all kinds of terrible troubles on earth.
7 After the two witnesses have finished preaching God's message, the beast that lives in the deep pit will come up and fight against them. It will win the battle and kill them. 8 Their bodies will be left lying in the streets of the same great city where their Lord was nailed to a cross. And this city is spiritually like the city of Sodom or the country of Egypt.
9For three and a half days the people of every nation, tribe, language, and race will stare at the bodies of these two witnesses and refuse to let them be buried. 10Everyone on earth will celebrate and be happy. They will give gifts to each other, because of what happened to the two prophets who caused them so much trouble. 11 But three and a half days later, God will breathe life into their bodies. They will stand up, and everyone who sees them will be terrified.
12 The witnesses then heard a loud voice from heaven, saying, “Come up here.” And while their enemies were watching, they were taken up to heaven in a cloud. 13 At that same moment there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed a tenth of the city. Seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were frightened and praised the God who rules in heaven.
14The second horrible thing has now happened! And the third one will be here soon.
The Seventh Trumpet
15 At the sound of the seventh trumpet, loud voices were heard in heaven. They said,
“Now the kingdom
of this world
belongs to our Lord
and to his Chosen One!
And he will rule
forever and ever!”
16Then the 24 elders, who were seated on thrones in God's presence, knelt down and worshiped him. 17They said,
“Lord God All-Powerful,
you are and you were,
and we thank you.
You used your great power
and started ruling.
18 When the nations got angry,
you became angry too!
Now the time has come
for the dead
to be judged.
It is time for you to reward
your servants the prophets
and all your people
who honor your name,
no matter who they are.
It is time to destroy everyone
who has destroyed
19 The door to God's temple in heaven was then opened, and the sacred chest could be seen inside the temple. I saw lightning and heard roars of thunder. The earth trembled and huge hailstones fell to the ground.
So God proposes to redeem his world through the witness of his Church. I know – it’s breath-taking. As we are faithful, God will work. That’s the contract. Now in today’s passage, we read the small print.
There are encouraging things in it. Our witness will have authority, we will be protected and our words will bring change and renewal to others (vv 4-6). But there’s a cost, because there will be suffering as we take upon ourselves the pattern and example of Jesus (vv 7-10). For most of us, ridicule, humiliation, rejection; but for many across the world, physical persecution. We must expect wounds, for we follow a wounded Lord. Yet whatever comes, we are inwardly secure (Matthew 10.28). Is that the meaning of the measuring rod (vs 1, 2)?
But it will all be worthwhile because, as we bear faithful witness, many will repent and turn to God. John’s symbolic arithmetic inverts Elijah’s story of 7,000, a tiny remnant, spared (v 13; see 1 Kings 19:18) Here 7,000 die, and the faithful majority are spared.
We could wish, of course, that none would die. God wishes the same (1Tim 2:4). But he takes seriously our freedom to resist.
Then comes the seventh trumpet which, like the seventh seal, seemed to have gone missing. Its sounding signals devastation for the earth, but from heaven’s perspective there is celebration and loud praise at the establishment of God’s kingdom. This juxtaposition of suffering and rejoicing is difficult and we need to be very careful. God’s victory over his enemies is always a cause for celebration, but it must never be an excuse for triumphalism. Jesus denounced Jerusalem in a voice that was choked with tears (Luke 19.41). No wagging fingers in heaven, only hands lifted in adoration.
Our Father, we thank you that your Kingdom stands and grows forever. Help your Church to bear faithful witness, whatever the cost, and grant us the joy of seeing many brought into the Kingdom. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.