Part 141 - Revelation 11:1-18
Persecution is limited
Revelation 11 is yet another one where it is hard to find any very helpful verse. Gems are hard to come by! Yet this is the concluding chapter of the first part of Revelation and will have been designed to encourage the Christians of those days. And that is the problem: what is largely meaningless for us will have been full of meaning for them. We have to remember that this vision was designed to help and encourage the members of the seven churches and they were in a tricky position. It was clear that considerable persecution was likely to affect them very soon. The comments on Smyrna and Pergamum indicate that the problems had already started in those two cities. So we have to try and read this chapter as if we were them. Not easy, it is widely regarded as the most difficult passage to understand in all this difficult book.
There are many references to the Old Testament in these verses, not always from the bits we are likely to know well either. The prophecy of Zechariah provides the main structure for the vision. It is there (Zechariah 2-4) that we find a man measuring Jerusalem, two witnesses: Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the King, two olive trees and two pipes for the oil lamps. There are also many references in these verses to the writings of other prophets, particularly Ezekiel.
The fundamental question is: who are the two witnesses and why are there two of them. General opinion seems to be that they stand for the Christian church and all its members who are likely to be persecuted in the near future. Why two? Probably to allow reference to the two outstanding prophets: Moses and Elijah. Elijah was taken direct to heaven rather than dying. In spite of the account of his burial in Deuteronomy it was also widely thought that Moses went directly to heaven. Moses was the prophet of words above all else (in spite of what happened in Egypt) and Elijah was the great prophet of action. So they were good models of what the infant churches should be.
Seven years represented an ideal length of time so half that, listed here as 42 months or 1260 days, represented a shortened ideal period, a set short period, not a long one. So for a short and defined period of time the churches would have a significant and successful time of witness in which many would come to faith. Then the beast (Rome, through the emperor) would attack them, persecute them, kill many of them until the whole Christian movement would appear to be dead. Usually when you are dead you are dead but this is the book of Revelation where such logic does not operate! But then they would revive, life would come to them as it did the bones of Ezekiel 37, and they could look forward to golden days of life in heaven and, of course, life on earth.
Here is the gem of this chapter. It looks as though we too in many parts of the world may be facing a period of greater persecution and loss of freedom to witness coming from both secularism and Islam. We too can rely on these things not lasting for ever and eventually there being a great revival when the Spirit wind of God comes back and breathes on the bones of the church to make it once again a mighty force in all the world.
It was said a long time ago that the ‘blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’ and that has proved to be true many times over. It has seldom, or never, been so obvious as what has happened to the Chinese church over the last 70 years. Most onlookers reckoned the communist take over in the 1950s would be the death of the church but when the oppression finally eased in the 1980s it was discovered that the tiny church of the 1950s had grown many times over and was amongst the strongest and most vibrant churches of any country in the world.
How we react to all this will depend very largely on which country we live in. Many of us are fortunate enough to live where these things seem only remotely possible. For a few of us it may well reflect the future for the church in your country, not a prospect to be welcomed, even if the outcome will eventually be good. We are but human and can only reflect the situation we are in and are likely to be in for years ahead.
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