Revelation 11:12-13

Sermon preached on June 23, 2013 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

A few weeks ago there were horrible tornados in Oklahoma. The destruction was unbelievable. The Weather Channel showed one house that was totally wrecked. There was nothing left of it except a pile of rubble. You wouldn't think that anyone in that house could have survived. But the family lived through it without injury. I think it was a family of four. It was because they had a tornado shelter. It was a very small underground room, barely enough to fit them all. I think it was located in their garage. When they heard the tornado warning they all crammed into the little room and it saved them. Even though devastation was all around them—they were safe.

It's great to have a place of safety when danger threatens. Oil rig workers in the North Atlantic have special survival suits and boats that they can get into if the rig is in danger of sinking. Hopefully if there is a huge storm and the rig sinks they'll be able to get into their gear and lifeboat and be saved.

When I was in university I worked as a longshoreman and spend a lot of time on the docks. What was interesting about the wharfs was that there was always a ladder or two on them. No one ever swam there. No swimming was allowed. But they had the ladders there, I believe, because if someone fell off the wharf, hopefully he could reach one of them and climb back on the wharf.

When I go fishing in Cape Breton on my vacations I always take a little pole with me for protection. There have been some very aggressive coyotes in the woods and that pole would hopefully give me some protection and help me chase them away. I'd rather have a gun. But they won't let you carry a gun. So I'm reduced to carrying a pole. The pole gives me a small sense of safety

We have all kinds of safety things around us. Wouldn't it be awful to have no protection when danger was at hand? There's a guy who's going to try to walk a tightrope across part of the Grand Canyon today. He's not going to wear a harness or have a safety net. The thing he's worried about is the wind, that suddenly the wind will gust and he'll fall.

The picture we have in our text is like that. There's no safety, no place to hide for those who are not in Jesus. After the two witnesses are caught up into heaven there was a severe earthquake. A tenth of the city collapsed. 7000 people were killed in the earthquake and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to God. It's a picture of terror with no place of safety.

Our text is about some of the horrible things that will happen to those who aren't in Jesus on the last day. These are things that are preliminary to the great judgment and show us that everyone needs to be in Jesus. Those who refuse to believe in Jesus will have the worst possible things happen to them. In our text we see three of those things.

First of all, in verse 12 we are told that

God's enemies will see God's people go up to heaven yet they will have no part in it.

Seeing your enemies triumph can be very discouraging. I imagine it's like having your heart torn out. A few months after 9/11 al-Qaeda released a video of Osama Bin Laden and other of its members celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Towers. The video showed them sitting around a house laughing about how the towers fell. They were jubilant. I found it very difficult to watch that video. To see these terrorist leaders gloating over the deaths of 3000 people was very disheartening.

Our text is about the inhabitants of the earth seeing Christians ascend into heaven. For some, it will be something like that when Haman saw Mordecai exalted in the book of Esther. King Xerxes asked Haman what should be done for the man who the king delights to honor. Haman thought the king was going to honor him and he suggested that that man be given a royal robe that the king has worn, that he ride on a horse that the king has ridden and that one of the most noble princes lead him throughout the city proclaiming before him, (Esther 6:9)

"This is what is done
for the man the king delights to honor!"

The king then told Haman to do that for Mordecai, whom Haman hated. Can you imagine how Haman must have felt? Afterwards Haman rushed home, his head covered with grief. His advisors and his wife said to him,

"Since Mordecai,
before whom your downfall has started,
is of Jewish origin,
you cannot stand against him—
you will surely come to ruin!"

When Mordecai was exalted Haman and his friends knew that Haman was undone. Haman had a feeling of dread and foreboding. He knew that he was doomed.

So too, before their doom, the enemies of Jesus will know this feeling of foreboding. They will know that their doom is coming.

Now if you're not a Christian, you might not be able to relate to Haman and the hatred that he had for the people of God. You also can't relate to the celebration that we read about in our text about the inhabitants of the earth who rejoice when the two witnesses are killed. You don't have any hatred in you toward anyone. So how can this apply to you?

Unfortunately it does. This is because your ultimate allegiance is not with God. Your true nature is one of sin and rebellion against God. You are either for Him or your are against Him. There is no neutrality. You have chosen not to go to Jesus. This means that sin has you. It means that Satan has you. You cannot resist them successfully.

When you see Christians ascend into heaven—you will have a feeling of doom in the sense that you have missed out. You won't have a feeling of foreboding and doom because you hated Christians and see them ascend—but because you're not with them. It could be that you always thought you would be with them—but when you see them taken up and you left behind—you will know it's too late.

This means that if you're not a Christian you need to get right with God now. I don't know if you've ever had a feeling of doom, of hopelessness, of total despair—it's got to be the worst of feeling. Unless you go to Jesus, you will experience the horror of it one day.

The second horrible thing that happens there is a great earthquake with 7000 people killed.

Some Christians believe that the survivors here giving glory to God indicates their repentance and that they are saved. That is certainly possible. But the Old Testament background of Ezekiel 37 and 38 weighs against that. It is about the enemies of God being judged and giving glory to God.

There is probably an allusion here to Ezekiel 38. We saw last week that the coming to life of the two witnesses recalled the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37. Ezekiel 38 refers to a 'great earthquake' which God sent when Gog attempted to exterminate restored Israel. Gog wanted to destroy Israel but God's hot anger was aroused and He sent a great earthquake and all the people trembled at His presence. God executed judgment on them and showed His greatness and holiness. He made Himself known in the sight of many nations so that they would know that He was the Lord.

Micah 7:8-17 describes a similar pattern. These parallels suggest that the fear of the enemies here is not signaling a conversion—but terror at the coming of the Lord.

Not only that, but from other places in Revelation we see that

a great earthquake is associated with the end, the time just before Jesus comes.

At the end of chapter 6 we saw that there was a great earthquake and, (verses 12–14)

"The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair,
the whole moon turned blood red,
and the stars in the sky fell to earth,
as late figs drop from a fig tree
when shaken by a strong wind.
The sky receded like a scroll,
rolling up, and every mountain and island
was removed from its place."

The result is that the kings of the earth, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and free man hid in the rocks and caves, and called to the mountains and rocks, (Revelation 6:16-17)

"Fall on us and hide us from the face of him
who sits on the throne
and from the wrath of the Lamb!
For the great day of their wrath
has come, and who can stand?"

We see the same thing in Revelation 16. We read, (verses 17–21)

"The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air,
and out of the temple came
a loud voice from the throne, saying, 'It is done!'
Then there came flashes of lightning,
rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake.
No earthquake like it has ever occurred
since man has been on earth,
so tremendous was the quake.
The great city split into three parts,
and the cities of the nations collapsed.
God remembered Babylon the Great
and gave her the cup filled
with the wine of the fury of his wrath.
Every island fled away and the mountains
could not be found.
From the sky huge hailstones of about
a hundred pounds each fell upon men.
And they cursed God on account
of the plague of hail,
because the plague was so terrible."

All of these three references are, I believe, referring to the one and same earthquake—the earthquake that occurs just before Jesus comes.

The earthquake leaves the survivors terrified. I believe there are two reasons for this.

First of all, great earthquakes in themselves are terrifying.

As we saw from Revelation 16 this one is the worst of all. Where can you hide in an earthquake? In a thunder and lightning storm you can get in your car and be safe. In a tornado you can get in a tornado shelter and be safe. But in the midst of a great earthquake no place is safe. All sense of safety is gone. The surface of the earth, on which people depend for stability—fails. People are shaken to the core and are terrified.

But secondly, notice that 7000 people are killed in the earthquake. This shows us that God sometimes punishes 'by measure'.

By that I mean that

God sometimes destroys His enemies, not in just a way that fits their crimes, but in a way that people see a connection between their crimes and their punishment.

We've already seen that one of the two witnesses are associated with the Old Testament prophet Elijah. In Elijah's day King Ahab and Queen Jezebel tried to kill all the Lord's people. Yet God reserved 7000 who refused to bow the knee to Baal and those 7000 survived.

Here 7000 are killed in the earthquake. G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation: NIGTC, p. 602)

"The seven thousand killed may signify that a lex talionis penalty has been imposed on the unbelievers. That is, the two witnesses may be identified implicitly with the seven thousand faithful associated with Elijah in the OT. If so, just as the figurative seven thousand faithful witnesses (= the two witnesses) were killed, so must their persecutors be killed (see on 11:5–6 for the initial instance of a punishment being patterned to fit the crime), and this correspondence is expressed by the number."

In other words, God is showing His principle of an eye for an eye. The survivors are terrified because they see God's fitting punishment on those that persecuted the two faithful witnesses.

We need to be very careful how we live. God watches people and it's noteworthy how sometimes He punishes people in a way that fits their crime.

In Acts 12 we read how King Herod was persecuting the church, how he had James killed with the sword and was planning to do the same with Peter. The people of Tyre and Sidon had been quarreling with Herod but asked for an audience and for peace. On the appointed day Herod came in wearing royal robes and delivered a public address to the people. Because the people wanted to please Herod, they shouted, (Acts 12:22)

"This is the voice of a god,
not of a man."

Immediately, because Herod did not give glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down and he was eaten by worms and died.

What poetic justice! He took adulation of a god. He was decked out in royal finery. All the people sang his praises that he was a god. Yet being eaten by worms proved that he was not a god. Such a demise was loathsome, disgusting, revolting, horrifying.

You need to be careful how you live. You need to be careful about what you say. You need to be careful about your attitudes. One of the principles we see from the Bible is that God sometimes gives a measured response like that. Another instance is in Numbers 14. The spies came back from exploring Canaan and 10 of the spies came back with a bad report, saying that they couldn't attack those people because they were giants. The people wept and grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole assembly said to them, (Numbers 14:2–4)

"If only we had died in Egypt!
Or in this desert!
Why is the Lord bringing us to this land
only to let us fall by the sword?
Our wives and children
will be taken as plunder.
Wouldn't it be better for us
to go back to Egypt?'
And they said to each other,
'We should choose a leader
and go back to Egypt."

Notice that they said, "If only we had died… in this desert!" God said to Moses and Aaron, (Numbers 14:26–35)

"How long will this
wicked community grumble against me?
I have heard the complaints
of these grumbling Israelites.
So tell them,
'As surely as I live, declares the Lord,
I will do to you the very things
I heard you say:
In this desert your bodies will fall—
every one of you twenty years old
or more who was counted in the census
and who has grumbled against me.
Not one of you will enter the land
I swore with uplifted hand to make your home,
except Caleb son of Jephunneh
and Joshua son of Nun.
As for your children that you said
would be taken as plunder,
I will bring them in to enjoy the land
you have rejected.
But you—your bodies will fall in this desert.
Your children will be shepherds
here for forty years,
suffering for your unfaithfulness,
until the last of your bodies lies in the desert.
For forty years—
one year for each of the forty days
you explored the land—
you will suffer for your sins and know
what it is like to have me against you.'
I, the Lord, have spoken,
and I will surely do these things
to this whole wicked community,
which has banded together against me.
They will meet their end in this desert;
here they will die.'"

In the tenth of the city and the 7000 being killed, there could have been an eye for an eye retribution. It could be that the survivors saw the fitting, exact retribution on those that persecuted the church. They were terrified because they saw the glory of God displayed in the just retribution on those killed in the earthquake.

They were also filled with terror because they knew that God's coming punishment against them was going to be fitting and righteous. And so in line with Philippians 2 they bow before Jesus and give Him glory.

You who don't know Jesus—you need Him. Only He can deliver you from the punishment that your sins deserve. You need to go to Him down.

We all have to be very careful how we live. God sometimes punishes dramatically, in a way like that of Herod and the people in the wilderness.

We may have cases of this in our day. John Lennon spoke out against Christianity. He said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. He said that Christianity was going to fade and die. Very sadly, a few years later he was shot and killed. Was there a connection between what he said and how he left this world? I don't know for sure. There may have been. It's certainly something to think about and consider. Madalyn Murray O'Hare may be another case.

But it's not other people we should focus on. We always have to be careful with that. Rather, we need to focus on ourselves. You need to ask yourself—what about me? Am I sinning in such a way, with such a high hand that God might come against me and punish me in a way commensurate with my sin? Are your attitudes such that God is so displeased with them that He may send on you punishments related to and fitting for those attitudes?

Lastly, for Christians.

What a Savior you have in Jesus!

You deserve to be among those killed by the earthquake. You deserve to be among those who were terrified. Yet, instead of that, you will be among those who go up to heaven. Praise Jesus. Exalt His name. Trust Him. There is no one like Him!