Today’s reading is full of symbolism and imagery; there are also similarities between today’s reading and chapter seven. Both of these readings focus on the faithful. In chapter seven they were numbered (144,000) and countless (the great multitude). Here, in chapter 11, the followers of the Lamb are depicted as the temple of God. John is given a rod and asked to measure the temple, the altar and those that worshipping there. The point in both chapters is that God’s followers are distinct from the unrighteous during the time of persecution and tribulation symbolised by the 42 months. They are held; their ultimate destiny has been decided by God and though there is the bitterness of persecution (11:7) there is the sweetness of the conversion of the nations through the faithful witnesses. (11:13)
The time frame of 42 months is common in both Daniel and Revelation. It can also be written as three and a half years, 1260 days or even a ‘time, times and half a time’. The background of this period is found in the suffering of the Jewish people caused by the Greek/Syrian tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes who famously sacrificed a pig to Zeus in the Temple. He desecrated the temple and forbade the worship of God there for three and a bit years 168-165 BC, in an attempt to force the Jews to abandon their religion and rituals. In the book of Revelation it symbolises a limited period of unrestrained wickedness, cut short by God’s mercy.
The language and symbolism in our reading today is almost entirely taken from Zechariah 4. In that chapter we see the temple (Zech 4:9), two witnesses (Zech 4:14), two olive trees (Zech 4:3) and a solid gold lampstand (Zech 4:2).
By comparing Zechariah 4 with what we know so far in Revelation we can make some assumptions: the candlesticks are likely to represent the people of God, both Jew and Gentile; the two olive trees likely symbolise the Word of the Lord, both the Old and New Testaments; finally, the Two Witnesses likely narrate the story of the Church’s prophetic ministry to the world.
The life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Two Witnesses, parallels the life, death and resurrection of the faithful Church. (11:3-13). A church that stands, loves and proclaims God’s words even under extreme pressure. It may feel small but is held by God, and it is victorious, not by might or power but by God’s Spirit. (Zechariah 4:6)
As representatives of every believer who has witnessed for Jesus Christ, the two final, faithful witnesses are a picture of invincibility and vulnerability. They win, they lose, they win again. Truth remains victorious, even though human channels fail. Their message—and God’s plan—march on in spite of death, for even death is a defeated foe.
We seldom face the possibility of death when we share our faith. Why should Satan threaten our lives when fear of embarrassment or rejection is enough to keep us silent? But if Jesus has truly changed our lives, we will find a way to let others know.
Have those near you heard what Jesus has done for you?
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
“A breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet” (Rev 11:11)
Father, I simply ask that you would breathe on me that I might be your witness in all the places I find myself today; that I might be fearless, bold and loving. In Jesus name. Amen.
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