To properly understand Jesus’ message through servant John, key things we must keep in mind:
Context – part 2 of interlude, describing nature and work of church during tribulation, time between advents. Parallels description of church given from heaven’s perspective in Chapter 7.
Safety – God far more concerned with our holiness than our healthiness or happiness. True happiness begins with true holiness. Physical well-being related to physical bodies; in big picture, state of soul has eternal consequences, state of body does not. Emphasis is on God’s primary concern, not only concern. Important point is that God will assuredly keep soul safe even when it serves his purpose to not do same for body.
Old Testament foundation – provides basis for understanding and applying imagery and its significance. Three references in this section: temple, time, olive trees and lampstands. Deal with first and last as we come to them in text, digress on short rabbit trail to understand time references.
42 months, 1260 days, 3-1/2 days – basis? meaning? Must first understand Dan. 9:24-27, most particularly v.26-27. From issuing of decree to restore Jerusalem until end of sin and transgression and coming in of everlasting righteousness: 70 weeks or 70 sevens. 69 of those weeks elapse; in middle of 70th week Messiah is cut off, making end to sacrifice. In other words, from decree of Cyrus until Second Coming would be 70 symbolic weeks. At 69-1/2 weeks Messiah would be killed, leaving 1/2 week between Jesus’ crucifixion and his return. Prophetic time viewed as weeks of years: 1/2 week of years = 42 months = 1260 days (360 per year). Where are we? Somewhere in the last 1/2 of 70th week, covering period from Calvary to Consummation.
A. the temple of God v.1-2
1st century Herod’s Temple – building proper housed Holy Place and Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies). immediately outside, in front of Temple porch, Court of Priests including laver and brazen altar (altar of burnt offering), restricted to priests from tribe of Levi. Just outside, Court of Israel, restricted to Jewish men. Through another gate, Court of Women for Jewish women to pray. Three courts plus temple proper within enclosed and raised area; outside was Court of Gentiles, the Nations. Only those in covenant relationship with God allowed to enter inner court area. (Acts 21:28-29)
focus on those who worship – those in the covenant, or in terms used in Chapter 7, the 144,000 who are sealed by God. During this age God’s temple not in Jerusalem but made up of believers:
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:9)
“you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5)
distinction between inside/outside; worshippers/nations; God knows those who are his, even when dispersed throughout world. Contrast not between Jew and Gentile but between saved and lost, those viewed by God as his and everyone else. Another indication that in God’s view, individual destiny known to God and determined before we leave this life. Purpose of final judgment has other purpose than to figure out who goes where.
treatment of holy city/temple by the nations – “temple” and “holy city” (also Mount Zion) terms that stand for the church; White House/Washington/USA, London/Downing Street/United Kingdom; Red Square/Moscow/USSR. During this age, world will “trample with contempt or disdain” – at best, walk on with no regard for value or significance; at worst, grind into ground with intent to destroy. Even though what is expressed outwardly may be less intense/violent, this represents natural attitude of the lost toward God, his message, his people. Preaching of cross is foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23); natural person does not receive things of God (1 Cor. 2:14); smell like death to those perishing (2 Cor. 2:15-16).
B. their mission v.3, 5-6
prophesy – given ministry of proclaiming divine message throughout entire period. Description has elements of both spiritual ministry and courtroom drama – prophesy, witnesses. Sackcloth reminiscent of OT figures showing sorrow and repentance either for themselves or on behalf of others.
necessary for competent legal testimony (Deut. 17:6) – testimony given is true and valid, sufficient to convict of wrongdoing. Gospel message when proclaimed to impenitent does exactly that.
bring an unpopular, controversial message – it’s the message Christ’s church announces that causes reaction by the lost. It is also message of doom, condemnation to those who remain in their sins
by their prayers cause God to act on their behalf – remember scene that introduces trumpet judgments: prayers of saints and response from heaven. (Rev. 8:2-5) Saints prayed, God heard, bad stuff happened on earth. Not a vindictive reaction from God, “plagues” designed to warn unbelievers of worse to come, provide opportunity for turning to God in faith.
C. their identity v.4
two olive trees: king and priest: anointed servants of God (Zech. 4:12, 14); believers in NT church: Rev. 1:6, 5:10 Primary allusion to Zerubbabel and Joshua, governor who oversaw rebuilding of temple and priest who led people in worship. Both portrayed as ones through whom oil of Holy Spirit flowed to provide light from lampstands. In total, a three-fold office: prophet, priest, king; perfectly filled by Lord Jesus, carried out in this age by his ambassadors – those who are kingdom and priests who will reign on earth, by word and deed proclaiming Gospel truth.
two lampstands: representatives of the church (Rev. 1:20) Another way of representing the church; seven lampstands, the church in total throughout the age. Two lampstands: church as comprised of both Jews and Gentiles, wild and cultivated olives; not limited to single lampstand as seen by Zechariah. Important to recognize that prophetic ministry here is very closely connected with church; yes, carried out by individuals but not lone rangers dissociated from a local church. Definitely not intended to affirm those like Harold Camping, et al, who despise local church.
D. their treatment v.7-10
subject to persecution – primarily by political powers allied with Satan, any agent empowered and directed by Satan to attack followers of Christ. Tools used: error within, opposition outside the church. Can come as opposition to church as organization (court decisions, Shouwang Church) or on individual level.
even death – individual churches may die (at least cease to be true church), individual Christians may give lives. For “brief” period, 3-1/2 days, will even appear that Satan has won, church has been overcome.
endure some effects of “plagues” – physical effects only, and only temporary; no spiritual harm, perhaps even spiritual good. Things that come from God can have different results/effects depending on individual and God’s purpose – positive and edifying for his children, negative and punishing for the lost.
cause for rejoicing – no longer tormented by hearing God’s truth. Great city, representative of Satan and world system, delighted they are free from persecution. Mistakenly believe they have won the day, will never need to face judgment or be reminded of it again.
E. their vindication v.11-13
resurrection to eternal life – after brief period of intense warfare, when wicked think they’ve won and church has been destroyed, God calls forth the righteous. Nothing secret about it, in full view of the world God vindicates his witnesses, the church.
occurs in same hour as final judgment – resurrection and great earthquake in same hour, seventh trumpet follows without delay. Earthquake is beginning of the end, serves as final warning to the lost. They acknowledge what is occurring comes from God but as result of fear and not repentance. Probably too late to make eternal difference.
v.14 another reminder that third woe, seventh trumpet, Second Coming will come without delay, without prior warning.
We’re in that period between Calvary and Consummation; even if we don’t know exactly where, it’s 2 millennia closer to Consummation than Calvary. Therefore we must be about work of witnesses – building up saints, proclaiming truth to saint and sinner alike, being used by Holy Spirit to bring light of Gospel to a dark world. This is something God intends to accomplish through Christ’s church just as he has for last 20 centuries. Church growth of genuine kind, adding true disciples to our number, is what will hasten Christ’s return. That will come about in response to labors and prayers of saints.
Regardless of how things appear, saints are securely held in God’s watchful care; he will preserve our souls for all eternity, our bodies are expendable in his service. That means we must be about the work he has given: witnessing (speaking truth in love) and supporting witness of others whether locally in homes or community or through our missions outreach. May God be pleased to use us as channels of blessing to those who are and those who will be our brothers and sisters in the kingdom of Christ.