Revelation 11:3-14: Empowered ministry.
” And I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.’ 4 They are ‘the two olive trees’ and the two lampstands, and ‘they stand before the Lord of the earth.’5 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. 6 They have power to shut up the heavens 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.7 Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. 8 Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city – which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt – where also their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10 The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.11 But after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.13 At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.14 The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.” NIV
Although some people take these words literally, and imagine that two men will appear on the earth in the very last phase of history, and do all we read here (possibly a reappearance of Moses and Elijah? See Malachi 4:5 & Deuteronomy 18:15); my belief is that the prophets are emblematic of the witness of the church as a whole in the last days. Taken this way we can say the church clearly has:
- An empowered ministry;
- A prayerful ministry;
- A solemn ministry;
- A ministry which entails deep suffering;
- But, ultimately, a successful and a vindicated ministry, with multitudes coming to worship God (13b)
In short, this ministry is cruciform in shape. The book of ‘Revelation’ shows that faithful witness to Christ entails suffering like Him and with Him (8b). In some sense there is always a dying involved that life may be manifested. It means not only pointing to His death and resurrection, but also sharing it (See Philippians 3:10,11).
There is an irony in verse 10. It’s like the world will throw a fiendish and diabolical form of Christmas party – but it will be short lived. The world will dance on the church’s grave, but not for long. There’s going to be a resurrection.
The passage ends on a high note of triumph (13,14), and prepares the way for the climactic and celebratory conclusion to the first half of ‘Revelation’ (15-19). We will get there eventually, but first, we will spend a few more days on the detail of today’s passage. There is so much Old Testament resonance, and we must turn the soil slowly, I think, and see what nuggets we find in it.