The End of the World: “The View from Afar” – Revelation 11

It was the 1970’s, and the rage in the Universities across America was educating new teachers for what was now known as a “Social Science” curriculum. New Math was showing its first graduates – and its first deficits. The so-called “Dr. Spock effect” was truly being felt as new teachers who were trained to believe that children grow up better in “less discipline oriented” and “more reasoned approach” began replacing the more rigid “old school“ teachers of American youth. Two perspectives began to emerge and profoundly clash – an older and a younger look at the way forward. Our nation had been born in struggle and based on advocacy – the ability to argue one’s position. The open teaching format advocated in my youth has now seen its outworking. In fact, forty years later, our perspective may be a bit different. We live in a surreal world, where the hippies of the sixties that once thumbed their noses at the establishment, now run the very corporations that drive our economy. Those who once sprawled out on blankets at Woodstock now occupy chairs in company board rooms. All we can say as we lose the color of our hair (and perhaps our hair itself) is: “The times they are a’ changin’!”

Out of the textbooks of that era, Claude Levi-Strauss’ book The View from Afar occupies a special place in the world of now aging textbook series. It was an avant garde social science set on anthropology and physical sciences, deeply rooted in naturalism – the notion that no single Creator was involved in our history, and no single purpose exists for our story. The world has always wanted to believe they were the god of their own destiny – and they were their own rule makers. Now it was codified in a textbook series, and youth were educated to believe that it therefore must be true.

There are two perspectives – two world views that affect decision making all around us today – naturalism and revelation cosmogony. They provide different ideas about how we came to be, why we are here, and what our destiny will be. The assumptions drawn from those world views seep into everything from economic and social policy to public education. The two perspectives are more responsible, in my view, for the deepening gap in American society than a simplistic red state and blue state divide – some of these ideas are the REASON for the color of those states, and the platforms and policies of political leaders of today.

This isn’t a message on POLITICS, but rather a message on PERSPECTIVES, drawn from a story of two views of the end of the world. I don’t intend to spend as long pummeling the end of naturalism, though our text does this convincingly well. Instead I will push through the first half of Revelation 11 – where God’s judgment of those who foolishly clung to their own man made religion of naturalism played out. I will press to a place that I hope will leave every believer that looks at the passage closely with tingling with anticipation and excitement. This is a story about two kinds of celebration, and two kinds of people that participate in them. It is a story about two perspectives on the Tribulation judgment – and the God who will bring it about.

Key Principle: God’s finish for human history will reacted to by men in two very different ways.

While lost men rage against God’s attempts to reach them and His right to judge them, God’s people celebrate His bringing all things to an end in a singular TRUTH – He truly is the Master of all. The chorus of Heaven does not celebrate man’s fall – but God’s ascendance to an unchallenged right to tell the truth about the universe and His mastery of it. All lies will be stripped bare, and God will open the eyes of all men to His majesty.

The View: John was told to look at two scenes and measure what God was doing:

The Apostle was given an instruction that showed him something many of us have never stopped to consider. He saw the two ENDINGS of man. John was told to look carefully – to “measure” it. Revelation 11:1 Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it. 2 “Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.

Did you ever get to the carpet store and try to guess at the size of the room? When we MEASURE something, we take out a standardized devise and look intently at the place. We don’t guess and we don’t round up or down – we get precise and careful about our observation. That is what John was supposed to do – MEASURE what was shown him. What he saw was a temple of God – apparently in operation on earth (because it was “trampled down by the Gentiles” for a time).

He looked carefully, and what he saw was a place of worship in Jerusalem at the site of the Temple, functioning in a way familiar to a Jew of the first century. He saw a great outer court – just as the Temple of Herod the Great had when John was a young man. It was by far the most vast court, mostly open to the sky (with the exception of its porches) and could hold thousands of men and women. The difference in this vision from that Temple was the court was not simply “occupied” by Gentiles – it was CONTROLLED by them for a three and one half year period. It is as though the holiest place to the Lord God was compromised in some way – allowing Gentiles to dominate in a way that was not at all familiar. As he mused about this, God called his attention to the streets of Jerusalem, to see two very important witnesses that God provided to reach people with a message of His forgiveness and love…

Scene One: God sent a way of escape to a scarred and floundering planet – two important witnesses (Rev. 11:3-14).

John’s attention fell on two witnesses because he couldn’t figure out why or how Gentiles were dominating part of God’s Temple. He heard a voice that put the scene into perspective…  11:3 “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

This picture made sense to John in a way that it may not be quickly apparent to you. Let me explain. What John saw was two men that witnessed prophetically for God during the Tribulation for three and one half years – the time that the Gentiles dominated the outer court of the Temple. They were described as olive trees and lampstands. If you are familiar with the fourteen chapters of Zechariah, as I know the students that studied the passage this week with me are, the image is simple.

Zechariah is a book that straddled the return of the Jewish people to the land of their ancestors from Babylon, during three waves of return over a 94 year period from 538 to 444 BCE. The first wave was that of Sheshbazaar and Zerubbabel under King Cyrus’ decree in 538 BCE (Ezra 1-6). The next wave of return was that of Ezra (Ezra 7-10), and the final one was that of Nehemiah (recorded in the Book of Nehemiah 444 BCE). When Zerubbabel came in that first wave, the people worked for a time on the Temple to rebuild it, but by 520 BCE they had stopped. A combination of internal issues like apathy and discouragement, coupled with external struggles of intimidation and governmental delay brought the project to a halt. In Ezra 5:1, God raised up two prophets: Haggai (whose name means “festal”) and Zechariah (or “Yahweh remembers”).

Zechariah is a book with two major parts. The first part was a series of visions about the present days of his time – and the need to see things from God’s perspective to renew passion for His Temple and its completion, found in Zechariah 1-6. The second part, written about 38 years later and found in Zechariah 9-14, told of Messiah – His first coming in 9-11 and His second coming in 12-14. The picture of the lampstands and olive trees was taken from the chapter four, amod the GET BACK TO BUILDING THE TEMPLE section. It was designed to encourage the leader that God would accomplish something by empowering a work that could not be done without Him. It is from this section that we read these words in Zechariah 4:6 “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.

We need not look at Zechariah 4 in detail for this study. Suffice it to say that God’s vision to Zechariah was to bring a message of assurance to the Jewish people and their leader to complete the task using the empowering of God’s Spirit. It was a time when they felt DEEPLY INADEQUATE for the task they were charged to complete – and God said that He would supply the OLIVE OIL – a shout out to His Spirit – to keep them empowered.

Since we have left Revelation 11, you may be lost. It seems that God sent to empowered two very special prophets to encourage the Jewish people at a time when their Temple was not completely theirs – an awkward rendering – but the best we can do. What did these two do and who are they? I am glad you asked. The passage in Revelation continues: 11:5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. 6 These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.

They are two men – that is clear. They have God’s enabling to defend themselves with FIRE. They are weather faucets for the clouds of Heaven, and they can turn water into blood, and bring out a bag of plagues that will keep people from getting too sassy with them. Even to the casual observer, they appear to be Moses and Elijah – just by the description of their works. What is even more interesting is they may be ACTUALLY Elijah and Moses. God seemed to have some reason to take special care of their bodies at the end of their respective lives on earth. In the case of Elijah, he got that special chariot ride (2 Kings 2:12ff). For Moses, he died and was buried at Mt. Nebo (Dt. 34) but there was a demonic fight for his body (Jude 1:9). Jude tells us: “9 But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

Now, I like Moses as much as the next guy, but what could you do with his used body? Satan evidently had plans, but so did God! We may well have evidence that the two witnesses are Elijah and Moses, back again. Why not a resurrected body – a 2.0 body like from 1 Corinthians 15? Simple, their assignment is to come back and DIE again – something you cannot do in a resurrection 2.0 body. Take a look:

Revelation 11:7 When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. 8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9 Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. 10 And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

Now we see the truth that John needed to carefully consider. Men that have decided there is not God, HATE those who desire to proclaim the truth of that God. They do not WANT a moral measure in their lives. They do not DESIRE a relationship with a CREATOR. They want a perverted freedom – a sense that they can do what they want any way they want – and be right with the cosmos. The problem is, they don’t want the TRUTH.

Three days pass – and God pulled out of His back pocket a “thousands of years old” story of third day turnarounds. Dead and laying on the street – a scene repeated a thousand times and burned into the consciousness of everyone on earth as only CNN can do… they GOT UP! Take a look:  Revelation 11:11 But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them.

All celebrations over the final defeat of the God of the Hebrews, put off since the time of Haman in ancient Persia, were shut down. The Christmas like scenes of gift giving turned to horror, as the people that were so smug, so in control, got interrupted by the God of Heaven once more. The irony of another “Third Day” story from Jerusalem emboldened the believers of that time. The two champions arose, and Jerusalem stood speechless as the men floated upward, and a terrible earthquake set in.

Revelation 11:12 And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13 And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14 The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.

John stood back and saw where all the posturing, mocking and defiance of mankind brought them – to ruin and sadness. Mocking was turned to mourning. In the face of a deteriorating planet, with agonizing pain and clenched fists – lost man chose not to accept directions to Heaven’s gates – because they brought with them the constraints of morality and a personal God.

Scene Two: Heaven rejoiced at the truth – His unchallenged reign was to begin!

Oh, but John wasn’t left in gloom. The call to eat the scrolls and continue to tell the truth of God’s greatness amid the Tribulation was buttressed by another view of Heaven. Just as John saw the end of naturalism and rebellion, the visions he was instructed to measure showed him something else – the open mouths of praise that marked believers that saw God’s absolute justice and un-paralleled splendor.

The room was electric. No performance of Handel’s Messiah could ever match the choir that sang the mighty words that day: 11:15 Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” The words echoed on and on and on…just as Handel heard them generations later.

These words should bring enormous JOY to those of us who have followed Jesus. Let me unfold the story using a bit of poetic license…

From long before there was time, Yahweh’s presence filled all that was. At some moment, He had a thought – He decided to make a world… and so He did. He called on His Son – and told Him that it was His work to perform. The Son knew it would bring JOY to His Father – so He began to whip up a universe. It was filled with creatures – millions of them! They were made in elegant varieties – Cherubim to sit below the Father’s throne… Seraphim to guard above the throne and cry out the greatness of His Father. An archangel was created, and ranks filled with angels.. the Heavenly Host. The Father was overjoyed with the new world.

Time passed… perhaps ions… when one day a great tragedy struck. A cherub from beside the throne desired to take that throne from the Father. He was beautiful and cunning, and a third part of the Heavens believed he was able to dislodge the Father from His precipice. A failed plot began that split Heaven. The Son watched with confidence as the Father – the Magnificent Ruler of all – decided rather than to react – to tell a story. The angels drew near. The Father beckoned – and again the Son began His work. Another universe – one much more varied than the first was made. Color, texture, taste, light and sound – all were woven into this new tapestry and offered from the Son to the Father – from the Father to his servants. Angelic eyes opened wide.

Thousands and tens of thousands of lights were hung in the fabric of the new universe, as the angelic touched the heavens and sang at the wonders they saw! Around the lights were flung planets – all in swirls of color and beauty… all according to the plan the Father made to set His Divine story. Then the Son delighted as one small rock in space was given water and earth – and from them was drawn animals and trees, mountains and meadows. God then beckoned His Son to create another wonder – and man was formed from the dust of the Garden. He was the keeper of this new small world – and as this page of the story of the Father began –the angels watched in wonder… with no clue of what lay on the page beneath.

God’s enemy – that Fallen Cherub – was allowed access to take up residence on that new little world. He was allowed to tempt and draw in the new creation, to take hold and dominate his world. He was allowed to take the Son’s beautiful dawn and darken it. Light colors were altered – and a dark curtain descended, the once ordered and beautiful page was a scribbled mess. Yet the Father did nothing. Man had fallen – and His world was now in the hands of the Prince of Darkness. Man languished under the brutal strain of his new master. He cried for help. Yet, the Father eased back in the throne and Heaven waited…tension mounted in the angel’s ranks. Then, after a time, the Father called the Son. He told Him the time had come to reveal His story. He promised to save man from the grasp of darkness. Only the Son was able to really comprehend what would bring back His Father’s honor to the whole host of Heaven – so the plan was set in place. Heaven’s ranks and hell’s hoards had no idea what was coming next.

A Savior was promised to man – that was clear enough. But how? A light was to shatter the hold of darkness. He would be born both of woman’s pain and of Heaven’s glory. He was the Wonderful One – the Word of Life – the Witness of the Father. All eyes in the universe were laid on Him as the Son took up His new post in the story’s marvelous next frame. From eternity to time He fell. Immortal took on flesh. Promise took on the mantle of a common physique. The Vine began to yield branches. The door began to open. Hearts of men were tugged by the long missed sound of Heaven’s truth  – the Words of life spoken through the lips of this seed of David.

Time passed… and the enemy grew impatient with the Savior’s voice. The Truth became the subject of a great lie. Darkness crept in to envelope the light… A beating. A mock trial. Crushing blow upon crushing blow. Nails. A Savior rejected and in agony – writhing pain. His eyes closed, His voice raised to the Father. “Forgive them, they do not know what they have done! It is finished”…and the story was wrecked. Angels awaited the Father’s command to rescue – but no command came. – they could not understand. A dark night passed on earth, and Heaven was restless to see a resolution to the Father’s tale. Another night… a third morning. The Father smiled. A wave of His hand and the dead body of the Son was alive! He was awakened from the tomb and the stone was rolled back. The Prince of Life conquered death… and from His new life He drew in a breath from earth’s mists for a last few moments.

Before leaving the earth, the Gentle Shepherd began to gather His flock. He took them from every nation, and drew them into the vast family of those who chose to walk away from the dark lord into the light of the Morningstar. One after another was called. Rooms of the Father’s mansions were filled with them – the Redeemed of the ages. The magnificent work of the Father, born through the peril and pain of the Son was unfolded until the last words were spoken.

Here we are in our story. The room of Heaven is bound up in the Glory of the Redeemer. The vast choirs of Heaven together with those whose lives have been redeemed begin to sing of the saving work of this Rock of Defense, their Deliverer. They know the Bread of Life – for He was fed to the hungry, and they were filled. The enemy’s once unchallenged hold on the kingdoms of the earth is now broken – and inch by inch, the ground is pulled from his clutches by a force that is stronger than anything that adversary can muster. The truth is more powerful than the lie….the Light more powerful than the darkness. Cold is blanketed in warmth. Heaven knows it. Earth feels a sense of anticipation.

The choir’s voices are raised in that room because of the Magnificent One, the Savior… the Son. The choir’s tones are lofty, because they must reach the precipice on which the Magnificent Father sits, above the crystal sea. The choir echoes the words…  It is Done! The kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of His Anointed One. His reign shall once again be unchallenged in the skies. Oh, hear their music! Listen to their words! The end of man is the beginning of Heaven. The end of the enemy’s rule is the beginning of a walk – hand in hand – with the Father of all… because of the Savior. Heaven knows it well. Listen to their words:

11:16  And the twenty-four elders, who sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying, “We give You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power and have begun to reign.

Yes, Heaven knew God’s love, but they also knew something else. They knew that the darkness that still lay over many on the earth had stirred and twirled into a foam of rage. They wanted NOTHING to do with this Savior. Their song reminds:

11:18 “And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” 19 And the temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple, and there were flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm.

There it is… the whole story. God unfolded on earth and across the universe a take to show the angelic host of Heaven WHO HE IS. His rebellious creation should learn of Him as He redeems another rebellious creation. Angels should see the story of man and learn… Judgment opposes the mutineer. The insurgent will meet his match.

The end of the passage is highlighted the truth – not everyone will respond to the Savior the same way. Some harden when the King comes into the room. They will not yield to Him. They want NOTHING to do with His presence or His power. They want to do what THEY want to do. Yet – they will meet Him. They WILL know WHO He is.

Others, like many who hear these words today – LONG to meet Him. They KNOW of His love, and long for His Power to be made clear. They await the song yet to be sung… and they tune their voices. God’s finish for human history will reacted to by men in two very different ways… How will YOU finish? It depends on whether you see Him as an obstacle to your happiness, or the key to it.