Sometimes, we just wonder how our witness for Jesus Christ can survive and even thrive. How on earth will the Church of Jesus Christ transition to the next generation in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges from an increasingly hostile secular culture?
I write as an Evangelical who knows that there is so much in my tribe that desperately needs reform. At times, I am tempted to despair. Without going into too much detail - primarily, the church in America must recapture a Biblical understanding of who we are - mainly that we are exiles living in a largely non-Christian - or rather - post-Christian culture. This perspective, as John Piper recently noted - "takes the swagger" out of our influence. It also reminds us that our witness is not dependent on the mustering of political power or cultural dominance -but instead, a way more humble trusting witness. To be clear, I speak of Biblical humility - not so much a hopeless resignation or submission - but of a confident resting sort that knows the source and nature of its true power.
So what does this have to do with Chapter 11 in the Book of Revelation? Well, pretty much everything - since that Chapter and the previous are all about witness and the power that under-girds our witness. We covered a lot yesterday at church in my Sunday message - but there are so many aspects of this chapter that I want to expand upon. But for the sake of brevity - I want to direct our attention to verse 4 of the chapter. I didn't say much about this yesterday. John writes:
"These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth." (Revelation 11:4, English Standard Version).
Right away, any first century Jew like John would know that this is an allusion to two characters which are prominent in another apocalyptic book - the prophecy of Zechariah - specifically in chapter four. The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 are very similar to Zerubbabel and Joshua. Who were they you ask? It is vitally important for a proper understanding of Revelation 11.
Zerubbabel (which means "born in Babylon") was a Persian appointed governor - who was granted authority by the Persian monarch Cyrus the Great to return to the Land with over 40,000 exiles. The dates are roughly between 538 B.C. and 520 B.C. Later, Darius 1 made Zerubbabel the governor and he continues with the effort to rebuild of the Temple. (This is context in a nutshell. As always, I will give more explanation on Sunday - but you have to be there!?.)
So, look at Zerubbabel as a sort of King of Israel - one commentator calls him "a royal representative of God." He was, as a matter of fact, a descendant of the last King of Judah before the exile.
Joshua or Jeshua - who is always mentioned in unison with Zerubbabel was not just a priest. He was THE High Priest.
King and High Priest. This important for the interpretation of Rev. 11.
This is an amazing thing...for these reasons...let me give them to you in a countdown fashion.
1. The visions of Revelation 10 and 11 are a message to John reassuring him that the witness of the Church would continue in the face of his imprisonment and the increasingly hostile persecution by the agents of Rome. The church was growing rapidly and it was now a major threat to the Imperial throne.
2. What John sees in Chapter 11 flows from the vision of Chapter 10 - to they are connected and dependent on each other.
3. The last words to John in Chapter 10 are significant. He is told "you must prophecy..." - then chapter 11 reveals not just one - but two witnesses
4. Rev 19:10 connects prophecy and witness - we are told that "...the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” To prophecy is to give inspired witness of Jesus - this is the essence of the Gospel.
5. Are you with me? Take a deep breath...just a few chapters before- in Revelation 5:10 - that beautiful song - "they fell down before the Lamb and sang a New Song?" What did that song reveal? It says something truly amazing which I believe unlocks Revelation 11 - "You [Jesus] have made them [those purchased by blood by God] from every tribe and language and people and nation - remember Revelation 10? Who was John re-commissioned to prophesy to? Yes! Exactly the same group! - "many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings!"
6. What else do we learn in that Revelation Song of Chapter 5? THAT JESUS HAS MADE US INTO A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS! The New King James translates this as "...made us kings (Zerubbabels) and Priests (Joshuas) to our God!"
This opens Revelation 11 up significantly....enough for now!
I leave you with this for now...more on Sunday, September 15 - see you at the Monrovia Vineyard!
1 Peter 2:9 - New Living Translation
"...for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light."
Zechariah 4:6 - New Living Translation
"Then he said to me, “This is what the LORD says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies."