Revelation 11:3-10

Sermon preached on May 5, 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.

I love the Boston Celtics. They were beaten by the New York Knicks on Friday and eliminated from the playoffs. I hate the Knicks. There's not one Knick player I like. There's not one thing about the Knicks that I like. I don't like their coach. I don't like their assistant coaches. I don't like their style of play. I don't like their fans. I don't like Woody Allen, Whoopi Goldberg or Spike Lee. You see them on TV at the game cheering inappropriately and excessively when the Knicks happen to make a basket.

I'm just kidding of course. Talk like that puts things in terms of black and white and things like that shouldn't be thought of as being black or white. It's crazy and wrong to think of sports that way. I saw a news article awhile ago about a sports fan in Philadelphia who was attacked and very severely beaten after a game. It was horrible. He was hospitalized and it looked like he would spend months recovering—it was very bad. The only reason he was beaten—he was wearing a jersey of an out of town team—I think it was the New York Rangers.

So the Knicks aren't all bad and we shouldn't see it that way. They have some really good players. I'm sure some of the Knick players are good friends with some of the Celtic players. They probably do things, like basketball schools, together in the summer. The Knicks basketball organization does a lot of good community service and the players help out at soup kitchens during Thanksgiving and other things like that. So even though the Knicks might not be my favorite team, it's quite an exaggeration to put things in black and white terms. Things like that aren't black and white and shouldn't be thought of in such terms.

But sometimes the opposite happens. Some things should be seen in terms of black and white and to view them any other way is wrong. Did you hear some of the comments made by some of the relatives of the Boston Marathon bombers? They seem to be closing their eyes to the evidence and denying that these two boys could be involved in the bombing. One of their aunts, who lives is Toronto said,

"They were such good boys."

She said that the boys had such good reports from their friends, teachers and sports coaches that they had to be framed. I'm not sure why anyone would think you would have to frame two guys who hijack a car, tells the driver that they were the Marathon bombers, and then get involved with a shootout with police. If you were going to frame them I don't think you'd let one of them live.

I don't know if the aunt really believes they are innocent or not, but other people, relatives of people who have committed horrendous crimes—they know that their relatives are guilty, and they still defend them as being 'good'. They won't say it in these words, but basically what they're saying is,

"He killed someone but there's another side to him and we really need to take that other side into consideration. These other things show that he's really a good person."

Of course everyone has a good side to them. Even the worst people that have ever lived have had good sides to them. Hitler loved dogs. He owned numerous German Shepherds. He loved his German shepherd, Blondi which he had with him in his bunker during the last days of his life. I've heard people say that someone who loves animals can't be all bad. That's true. But if you were judging Hitler in terms of his crimes against humanity, you really should see things in black and white. His love of dogs should not even be brought into the picture. He was evil.

The point is that certain things about these people are black or white. They're either guilty of murder or they're not. They've either committed terrorist acts or they haven't. Although many thing about their lives are black, white, or gray, when it comes to their crimes, juries are to determine whether they've committed these crimes or not. With such things it's yes or no and that's the way it should be.

In our text we have a very black and white perspective. In a way it's puzzling. These two witnesses of God, whom God is very pleased with, seem to have some negative things surrounding them. Although they could be faithful witnesses who appear in the future, many commentators see them as representing the church, either in the final days before the second coming or throughout the whole age between Christ's first and second coming. But either way, the perspective that they are viewed in is very negative, as far as their effects on those outside the church. For instance, in verse 5ff we read,

"If anyone tries to harm them,
fire comes from their mouths
and devours their enemies.
This is how anyone who wants
to harm them must die.
These men have power
to shut up the sky so that it will
not rain during the time
they are prophesying;
and they have power to turn
the waters into blood
and to strike the earth with
every kind of plague
as often as they want."

Verse 10 tells us that people will gloat over their bodies and celebrate and send gifts to each other,

"because these two prophets had
tormented those who live on the earth."

In some ways these two witnesses don't seem to fit the mold of what the witness of the church is to be like. Even if you believe that they don't represent the church, that they are two future witnesses, their actions don't seem to fit the mold of what many people think God's witnesses are to be like.

What is the witness of the church to be like?

Are God's two witnesses really to spew fire from their mouths and destroy their enemies?

The disciples James and John wanted to do something very similar to the Samaritan village that refused to accept Jesus. They asked Jesus, (Luke 9:54)

"Lord, do you want us to call fire down
from heaven to destroy them?"

Jesus rebuked them and said,

"You do not know
what kind of spirit you are of,
for the Son of Man did not come
to destroy men's lives,
but to save them."

What we have in our text seems to be contrary to that.

You'll also recall that when they were crucifying Jesus, He said, (Luke 23:34

"Father, forgive them,
for they do not know
what they are doing."

Also when Stephen was being stoned to death, he said, (Acts 7:60)

"Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

They did not call down fire from heaven but asked for forgiveness for their enemies.

In 1 Peter 2:21–23 the apostle told us our duty in the face of persecution. He said,

"To this you were called,
because Christ suffered for you,
leaving you an example,
that you should follow in his steps.
'He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.'
When they hurled their insults at him,
he did not retaliate;
when he suffered, he made no threats.
Instead, he entrusted himself
to him who judges justly."

In Romans 12:14 the apostle Paul wrote,

"Bless those who persecute you;
bless and do not curse."

A few verses later he wrote, (Romans 12:17–20)

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil…
If it is possible,
as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my friends,
but leave room for God's wrath,
for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge;
I will repay,' says the Lord.
On the contrary:
'If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty,
give him something to drink.'"

So what's going on here with these two witnesses? Which example should we follow? Which should it be? Should we be like them in being instruments of destruction toward our enemies or should we be follow the path of love and seek the blessing and salvation of our enemies?

As paradoxical as it may seem, the answer is—both. These two things are not mutually exclusive. We are certainly to follow the example of Jesus and Stephen. We are to love and bless our enemies. As Jesus said in Luke 6:27–29,

"But I tell you who hear me:
Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
If someone strikes you on one cheek,
turn to him the other also.
If someone takes your cloak,
do not stop him from taking your tunic."

That is how we are to live. That is what our behavior and our prayers are to be like.

But there is another way of looking at the effect of the church's message, the message of the two witnesses. Our text looks at it

in terms of judgment on those who do not accept their message.

The preaching of the gospel has one of two effects—it either leads to the conversion or results in judgment. Sometimes people reject the gospel and they are left without excuse—all the remains for them is judgment. Although Hebrews 10:26-27 is dealing with those who have professed Christ and yet deliberately keep on sinning—the judgment pronounced against them is similar to what we see in our text. It says,

"If we deliberately keep on sinning
after we have received
the knowledge of the truth,
no sacrifice for sins is left,
but only a fearful expectation
of judgment and of raging fire
that will consume the enemies of God."

So, too, our text is about judgment on those who reject the message of the two witnesses. The fire out of their mouths and the plagues are not probably not to be thought of as literal, but are symbolic of the judgment that comes upon them as a result of their rejection of the Word of God. There are a number of things in our text that point to this.

Consider, first of all, that there are two witnesses.

In the Old Testament for someone to be convicted of a crime, there had to be at least two witnesses. Deuteronomy 19:15 reads,

"One witness is not enough
to convict a man accused of any crime
or offense he may have committed.
A matter must be established
by the testimony of
two or three witnesses."

We see this principle repeated in many places in the Old Testament and the New Testament. (See Matthew 18:16 and 1 Timothy 5:19.) When people did something terrible, it had to be verified by at least two witnesses. Grant R. Osborne says of the two witnesses of our text, (Revelation, BECNT; p. 420)

"theirs is a legal ministry proving the guilt of the world before God."

Osborne also tells us that the work of the two witnesses parallels,

"the forensic ministry of the Spirit in John 16:8–11."

There Jesus told His disciples that the Spirit would,

"convict the world of guilt in regard
to sin and righteousness and judgment:
in regard to sin,
because men do not believe in me;
in regard to righteousness,
because I am going to the Father,
where you can see me no longer;
and in regard to judgment,
because the prince of this world
now stands condemned."

D. A. Carson writes, (John, PNTC; p. 537)

"Just as Jesus forced a division in the world (15:20) by showing that what it does is evil (7:7; 15:22), so the Paraclete continues this work."

Carson goes on to tell us that the Spirit does so through the witness of Jesus' disciples.

Secondly, note that the fire comes out of their mouths.

This recalls the incident where Elijah called down fire from heaven on the soldiers of King Ahaziah. (2 Kings 1). King Ahaziah send a band of 50 soldiers to seize Elijah. Elijah called down fire from heaven on them.

But note that they don't call down fire from heaven. Fire comes out of their mouths. This calls to mind the picture of Jesus that we saw in Revelation 1:16 where a sharp double-edged sword came out of His mouth. Jesus told the church at Pergamum to repent or He would come to them and fight against them with the sword out of His mouth. In Jeremiah 5:14 God told Jeremiah that because the people rejected His Word and said that no harm would come to them,

"I will make my words
in your mouth a fire
and these people the wood it consumes."

Those that reject their words suffer because of their rejection. So the fire from their mouths is symbolic. It's the Word of God that they've heard and rejected that judges them. They are rendered inexcusable. As we read in Romans 2:5, 8-9,

"But because of your stubbornness
and your unrepentant heart,
you are storing up wrath against yourself
for the day of God's wrath,
when his righteous judgment will be revealed…
for those who are self-seeking
and who reject the truth and follow evil,
there will be wrath and anger.
There will be trouble and distress
for every human being who does evil:"

Grand R. Osborne points out that the two judgments in verse 6, the sky being shut so that it not rain and turning the waters into blood, (Revelation, BECNT; p. 423)

"parallel the plagues of the trumpets and bowls, following the threefold pattern of the heavens, the waters, and the earth in the first four of each."

Michaels (1997: 139–40) suggests that our text is "in effect a transformation of the trumpet judgments, as the two witnesses/people of God become the 'executors of divine judgments.'" (Quoted from Osborne, p. 423)

Now what does all this mean for us?

First of all, this shows us that

there is an aspect of judgment that should be prominent in the witnessing of the church.

These witnesses are clothed in sackcloth. Sackcloth signified mourning. The church is to call the world to repentance. When we went through the book of Acts a few years ago we saw that one of the characteristics of the apostle's preaching was an emphasis both on the necessity of repentance and the judgment to come.

Some of the church growth movement thinks that we should ask the world what they want in a worship service, that we should accommodate them. They tell us to downplay the necessity of repentance and let our message to the world be very 'positive', not negative.

But the two witnesses show us that if we are faithful to Jesus the world will hate us. It is inevitable. It cannot be otherwise. We should expect it. We shouldn't let it bother us. We shouldn't change our message so that they will 'like us'. Faithfulness to Jesus involves preaching the good news, preaching repentance, preaching judgment.

On a personal level, I ask you, is your witness to the world like that of the two witnesses? Do some people hate you because you live like Jesus wants you to?

Secondly, as a Christian

you should be aware of the underlying black and white battle that is taking place.

Yesterday I was talking to J. and she told me in E. that before they arrested Christians and closed the churches, the government appeared very friendly toward the churches. They would tell them that they were going to give them permits and asked them what they needed and then—suddenly Christians found themselves in jail. All the government friendliness was fake. We really shouldn't think that non-Christians are almost like us or that they share the same values. Vern Poythress writes, (The Returning King, p. 129-130)

"The picture given here is extreme, and for good reason. In most of life, when people inspect their conscious motives, they find confusing mixtures. The saints are followers of Christ, but their obedience is flawed and inconsistent. Non-Christians are in rebellion against God, but their rebellion is likewise inconsistent. They are not as bad as they could be, but are restrained in mysterious ways. They find themselves, albeit from wrong motives, admiring and imitating some of the good that they see around them. But this mixture of motives can easily obscure the seriousness of the most fundamental conflict in history, between God and his enemies. Revelation puts the spotlight on this fundamental conflict, and therefore depicts good and evil in black-and-white fashion. The two witnesses are supremely powerful witnesses. Conversely, their opponents are supremely hostile opponents. The dwellers on earth not only want to see the witnesses dead, but unashamedly rejoice and celebrate death, indicating the full hardness of their position (vv. 9-10). Such polarization of allegiance is the reality at a fundamental level. Revelation gives us a look behind the obscuring curtain of civilizing and moderating ploys that conceal our deepest allegiances.""The lesson is a most important one. In your own life, see the deadly conflict and persevere unflinchingly in witness and loyalty to Christ. In the lives of earthlings, see beneath the veneer of pleasantries the deadly opposition that only divine saving power can cure."

The third lesson we should understand from this text is

the incredible impact that the church's witness has on the world.

The world looks down on the church. They think it's irrelevant in today's society. John Lennon once said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus and that Christianity would eventually fade away and die. Today so many people think that Christianity is irrelevant.

Even we Christians sometimes think that. Often Christians see their influence as being very small. We pray and pray and we think that there is no response to our prayers. It seems like we're inconsequential and have no real influence.

But what our text shows us is that Christianity is pivotal and incredibility influential in the history of the world. Fire comes out of the mouths of these witnesses and destroys those who desire to harm them. Plagues come upon the earth and its peoples because people refuse to obey the gospel. The two witnesses here—they determine everything as far as the judgment of the earth dwellers is concerned.

It's not because they have power in themselves, but because they represent Jesus and He rules through them through the preaching of His Word. According to Ephesians 1:22, Jesus has been appointed head over everything,

"for the church,"

Christians, your witness is so important, so influential. Don't discount its value. Your witness changes history, destroys kingdoms—changes everything. As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:3–4,

"For though we live in the world,
we do not wage war as the world does.
The weapons we fight with
are not the weapons of the world.
On the contrary, they have divine power
to demolish strongholds."

John Calvin said that Paul said this to show us,

"that there is nothing in the world so strongly fortified as to be beyond his [God's] power to overthrow."

Vern Poythress says, (The Returning King, p. 129)

"Our total message includes not only good news of salvation in Christ, but also the revelation of God's character, which implies that judgment against evildoers is inevitable. Our message is one of power—power to save and power to punish."

We should realize the great power that Jesus has given us.

Fourthly, for Christians,

how much you owe to Jesus!

If it wasn't for us being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, if it wasn't for God's great mercy to us in Christ, if it wasn't for God's grace to us in Christ—we would be like those who are judged and punished by God by fire and plague.

Why did Jesus save us? Why did He give us such grace? We certainly didn't deserve it. In ourselves we were like the rest. (Ephesians 2:3) It's because of God's love, because of the Father's love, because of the Spirit's love. Christians, love Jesus, praise Him, rejoice in Him!

For those of you who are not Christians—

this shows you how close attention you need to pay to the Word of God.

Today the Word of God is held in little regard. Many people think it's irrelevant to them. They think that they can safely ignore and disobey it. They actually think they will be better off by ignoring it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Word of God to you is nothing less than life or death. Your reaction to the Word will either save you or destroy you. Today you have been confronted with the Word. Are you going to go to Jesus and find life—or are you going to experience the destroying fire that comes from the Word? It's one or the other. There's nothing in-between. Go to Jesus. There's no one like Him, One who loves sinners.