Revelation 11:7-10

Sermon preached on May 12, 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 saw a headline in the news this past week how there was controversy over the burial of the deceased Boston Marathon bomber. One news site reported that Tamerlan Tsarnaev's family in Russia didn't want his body, his widow declined to claim it and then cemeteries are joining in on the refusal. Peter Stefan, the funeral home director in charge of finding a place, told ABC's 'Good Morning America' he has searched for plots but cemeteries in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey have refused give him a burial plot. They finally found a Muslim cemetery in Virginia that allowed him to be buried. But even some Muslim people in that area were upset that they allowed that.

In a way that's understandable. People are so disgusted by his crime that they don't want anything to do with him, even his burial. In our text we have the account of the murder of the two witnesses. The reaction to their death will be something like the reaction to the death of the Marathon terrorist, only worse. Their bodies will lie in the street for three and a half days. People will refuse them burial. They will gloat over them and celebrate by sending each other gifts. They will be filled with glee because the two witnesses are dead.

The passage before us is very sobering. Whether it refers to two actual Christian witnesses in the future or is symbolic of the ministry of the church, or both—it raises many questions that we struggle to answer. Why would God allow His witnesses to be attacked and killed? Why would He allow their dead bodies to lie in the street for 3 ½ days? Why would He allow their enemies to gloat? God's ways are very mysterious.

Yet, even though there are many things here that puzzle us—we are taught important lessons. This morning we are going to look at what the two witnesses teach us about the Christian life, about one of the main reasons we are here on this earth. They show us that

the Christian life is mainly about being a witness for Jesus.

The timing of their death shows us this. Notice the first words of verse 7.

"Now when they have finished their testimony,
the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them,
and overpower and kill them."

When they finished their testimony it was time to die. Their primary purpose for being on earth was to be witnesses for Jesus.

Why are we here in this earth? I think sometimes we Christians take our cues from our society or things like our Declaration of Independence. The second section of the Declaration says that all men,

"are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

The Constitution teaches us that the role of government is to help us secure such rights. The whole idea is that these things are our 'rights'.

Many Christians think of God like that. Happiness, that's what most people want. They think that God exists to make them happy. We want the good things of this life. We want things to go well for us. We want to be comfortable. We want to have enough money. We want to be healthy. We pray for such things. We ask for a certain job, for more money, for good health. We say to God,

"If You give me such things I'll be happy and I'll really be thankful."

There is nothing wrong with praying for such things. Such desires are natural and such things can be wonderful blessings from God.

But do we have a right to such things? Is God obligated to give them to us? A few years ago the book, "
The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life" was very popular in some Christian circles. The book is based on 1 Chronicles 4:10 where Jabez cried out to God,

"Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory!
Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm
so that I will be free from pain."

The book makes a pitch for us to take these words of Jabez and make them our own. We are told to pray this prayer for 30 days and see what happens. It's like it's is a formula for blessing in the Christian life.

But is it? Of course not. It's a good prayer. But when Jesus' disciples came to Him and asked how they ought to pray—Jesus didn't direct them to the prayer of Jabez. The prayer of Jabez is not a balanced model for prayer like the Lord's Prayer is. John Bouwers tells us that thinking of Jabez's prayer like that has dangers. (Christian Renewal, July 2001)

"The danger is that God becomes reduced to the keeper of the storehouses of blessing, and prayer gets reduced to the specific magic words that unlock the doors."

Jabez's prayer is not primarily about God, about His glory. It's about him—his wants and perceived needs. It's a good prayer—and God granted His request—but it's not a balanced prayer. It's not to be the main focus of our prayers.

But look at the two witnesses here.

They are clothed in sackcloth.

Sackcloth is uncomfortable and was a sign of mourning and anguish. The two witnesses mourned because of the sin of the world and because of the judgment that was going to come upon the earth.

This shows us our own earthly happiness is not the chief end of the Christian life. It shows us that mourning is an aspect of the Christian's life. In Romans 9:1-5 we see that Paul was grieved over the fact that so many of his countrymen rejected Jesus. Paul wanted Jesus to be glorified by his fellow Jews.

It also grieved Paul that so many Gentiles were not followers of Jesus. As he wrote in Philippians 3:18

"For, as I have often told you before
and now say again even with tears,
many live as enemies of the cross of Christ."

The glory of Jesus Christ was paramount for Paul.

What is God's purpose for His people?

Why are you here? Why is God delaying in taking you to heaven? The two witnesses are described as 'lampstands'. Earlier in Revelation the seven churches were described as lampstands. In Matthew 5 Jesus told His disciples that they were to be the 'light of the world'. All these things show us that one of the great reasons we are here on this earth is to be witnesses for Jesus. We are here to shine for Jesus.

We all know the answer to the first question of the Shorter Catechism. The question asks,

"What is the chief end of man?"

The answer is:

"Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever."

We know that answer and we pay lip service to it—but do we take time to consider what it means? Yes, we are going to enjoy God forever. We will certainly do that in eternity. Even here in this life, in the midst of many hardships, we enjoy God.

But the first part of the catechism question tells us that our happiness, our well-being, our enjoyment of life—are secondary to a much higher purpose. We are here to glorify God.

What does that mean? For Peter, part of it meant that he was going to endure a horrible death. In John 21:18–19 Jesus said to Peter,

"I tell you the truth, when you were younger
you dressed yourself and went where you wanted;
but when you are old you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you and
lead you where you do not want to go."

John then wrote,

"Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death
by which Peter would glorify God.
Then he said to him, 'Follow me!'"

Peter died for Jesus' glory. He was a great witness for Jesus in His death.

For the apostle Paul living for God's glory meant that he had to suffer all kinds of trials and endure many hardships. When Ananias hesitated to go and place his hands on Paul and heal his blindness, our Lord said to him, (Acts 9:15–16)

"Go! This man is my chosen instrument
to carry my name before the Gentiles
and their kings and before the people of Israel.
I will show him how much
he must suffer for my name."

God's will for Paul was that he suffer for the glory of God's name. A great part of Paul's witness was Him giving glory, honor and praise to God in the midst of suffering.

There are deep theological issues behind these verses and they point us to realities that just didn't exist for Peter and Paul—but for all Christians. These theological issues relate to our union with Christ. For example, in Galatians 2:20 Paul wrote,

"I have been crucified with Christ
and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."

Paul realized that his life wasn't his own. In 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 he wrote,

"You are not your own;
you were bought at a price.
Therefore honor God with your body."

So in Romans 12:1 the apostle Paul could write,

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers,
in view of God's mercy,
to offer your bodies as living sacrifices,
holy and pleasing to God—
this is your spiritual act of worship."

Paul viewed His life as a sacrifice to God. In 2 Timothy 4:6 the apostle Paul compared his life to a drink offering, that was poured out to God. His union with Jesus meant that he was not concerned about his earthly happiness, but with serving Christ and becoming closer to Him. In Philippians 3:10 he wrote,

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection
and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,
becoming like him in his death,"

Paul's life was dedicated to Jesus, to knowing Him in His resurrection and His suffering.

Have you ever wondered why God made life so difficult for so many of His people in the Bible?

Abraham was told to go to a land God would show him, a land that God was going to give him. Yet soon after he arrived there, there was famine in the land.

Or consider the Israelites in Egypt, shortly after Moses came with God's message of deliverance. Before God delivered them, their lives got harder. They had to gather straw as well as make the same number of bricks. God delayed before He brought them out. When they got to the Red Sea, they looked back and saw the Egyptians coming after them.

After they crossed the Red Sea, they went 3 days without finding water. When they found it, it was bitter and they couldn't drink it.

Then when they were in the wilderness, they complained about the lack of variety of their food. In Numbers 11:4–6 we read,

"The rabble with them began to crave other food,
and again the Israelites started wailing and said,
'If only we had meat to eat!
We remember the fish we ate in Egypt
at no cost—also the cucumbers,
melons, leeks, onions and garlic.
But now we have lost our appetite;
we never see anything but this manna!'"

A little later when the spies returned from exploring the promised land, the people rebelled against Moses when they heard that the people of the land were strong and the cities were fortified. We read, (Numbers 14:2–4)

"All the Israelites grumbled
against Moses and Aaron,
and the whole assembly said to them,
'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.'"

It was the same with David. God told him that he was going to be king and anointed him through Samuel—but things got very bad for David for a long time after that. King Saul tried to kill him. Hebrews 11:36–39 describes some of the other Old Testament people of God,

"Some faced jeers and flogging,
while still others were chained and put in prison.
They were stoned; they were sawed in two;
they were put to death by the sword.
They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute,
persecuted and mistreated—
the world was not worthy of them.
They wandered in deserts and mountains,
and in caves and holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith,
yet none of them received
what had been promised."

Why did God treat His people that way?

Of course there were many reasons—to show us (and them) that this earth is not our real home, to show that we owe everything to God, to show that we need to depend on God and Him alone, to purify us and help us to get sin out of our lives.

God's ways often have many purposes. Why did God inflict the plagues on Egypt? One of the most common answers would be so that Pharaoh would let the Israelites go. But there was much more to it. God told Moses before the plagues that Pharaoh would harden his heart and not let the people go. (Exodus 7:3-4) God's glory was involved. He brought the Israelites out of Egypt the way He did, as we read in Romans 9:17,

"For the Scripture says to Pharaoh:
'I raised you up for this very purpose,
that I might display my power in you
and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth."

God's glory was behind it. When the two spies went into the land and met Rahab, Rahab and her people knew all how God was going to give the land to the Israelites, about how they had crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, how God had defeated their enemies. (Joshua 2:10-11) Israel went through difficulties in Egypt so that God's glory would be proclaimed throughout the earth.

So what does all this mean for us?

First of all, it means that

now is the time for your witness.

So often we wish that God would just bless us with good things. We think it would be wonderful if most of our troubles went away and our lives became so much easier.

But we shouldn't think in such terms. Now is the time for you to witness for Jesus and glorify Him in the exact spot and circumstances that God has placed you in.

The time you have to witness here on this earth is short. It's soon going to be over. Be resolved, that while you have life and breath—you are going to be a good witness for Jesus in whatever circumstance He places you.

Secondly, this shows us how wonderful Jesus is.

You can endure the worst of circumstances, the worst of persecution, the worst of suffering—and still rejoice. You can face such things and know that you will triumph. Why? Because you have Jesus. Having Jesus, you have everything that is His because you are a joint-heir with Him. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:21–23,

"All things are yours,
whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas
or the world or life or death
or the present or the future—all are yours,
and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God."

God works in all our circumstances for our good. God sends trials to help us spiritually. We know that Jesus loves us. He died for us. He rose again for us. He is making us holy. Hebrews 12 tells us that we are to endure hardship as disciple. God is preparing us to serve Him better. In James 1:2–4 the Holy Spirit tells us,

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing
of your faith develops perseverance.
Perseverance must finish its work
so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything."

Do you consider it pure joy when you face trials? We don't, do we? That's because we get it all wrong. In 1 Peter 1:6–7 Peter wrote,

"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while
you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that your faith—
of greater worth than gold,
which perishes even though refined by fire—
may be proved genuine and may
result in praise, glory and honor when
Jesus Christ is revealed."

How wonderful that day will be. Your faith will result in God being glorified on the day of Jesus Christ.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,

your only hope of a fulfilling life is to go to Jesus.

Christians suffer. Christians will be killed. But there's nothing like serving Jesus. He makes it so worthwhile.

You, on the other hand, serve someone who hates you and is set on destroying you forever. He'll give you some good things that will make you somewhat happy for a short time. But that's it. Then you'll perish forever. Choose Jesus. Go to Him today.