In the first 14 verses of this chapter we are given a vision of the Lord’s two witnesses who emerge triumphant after a life of faithful witness even as they suffer a brief and apparent defeat.
After John has the vision of the great angel straddling the whole earth with the bittersweet gospel in his hand, he is next told to measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there (v.1) This measuring is similar to that which the prophet Ezekiel was commissioned to do (Eze 40-42), but with a significant difference. In the New Testament we find that the temple of God actually becomes the people of God.
John is next told to exclude the outer court from his measurements because it has been given to the Gentiles, and they will trample on the holy city for 42 months (v.2). During this period, the Gentiles trample the holy city – that is, the people of God are persecuted. When John receives the vision, Jerusalem had already been destroyed.
John’s vision does not concern the temple in Jerusalem made of stone (which was destroyed in AD 70). Rather, his focus is on the temple made of living stones, the people of God from every race, tribe, and tongue, who are becoming the dwelling place for the Lord by his Spirit. One commentator says, the measuring commanded here is an indication to us of the ordered perfection of all God purposes and performs, as the Creator and Restorer of the universe. Its measuring may be taken to mean that God is in control of all that happens to his servants, they are well known in number and name to God.
This brings us to one of the most debated details in the whole of Revelation. What are we to make of this 42-month period of time? It occurs several times in Revelation as 1260 days and time and times and a half time. The background to this numeric symbol is found in Daniel 7:25; 9:24-27; and 12:7. The most popular interpretations of this period have been these:
the second half of the seven-year great Tribulation in which the antichrist rules
a conventional symbol for a limited period of unrestrained wickedness
the whole inter-advent period
We must look to the following verses for a more complete understanding of the meaning of this part of the vision. In vv.3-14 we meet the two witnesses who are raised up and empowered by God for fruitful and effective ministry during this whole persecution-filled 42-month period. They are identified by means of Old Testament imagery. Perhaps we are to be reminded of Moses and Elijah, who appeared with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mar 9:4). These witnesses have the power to shut up the sky so that it does not rain during the time they are prophesying. They also have the power to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want (v.6).
Perhaps the two-ness is not a limited number but rather a symbol of the trustworthiness of their witness (Joh 8:17; Deu 19:15; Luk 1:10; Act 1:8). Certainly the two olive trees and the two lampstands should remind us of the spirit-filled Church called and empowered to preach the gospel in light of all kinds of opposition and persecution, including that of martyrdom (Psa 52:8; Zec 4; Rom 11). For in the Old Testament, the olive tree was often used as a symbol of Israel, and as we have seen, the lampstand signifies the Church.
As the two witnesses continue their effective ministry among the nations, John records a fatal attack from the beast that comes from the abyss (v.7), but only after they have finished their testimony. Satan’s attack does not and cannot alter that which our Father has purposed. The gospel is running through the nations. There will be men and women from every people group populating Heaven. The kingdom of the world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever!
The attack of the beast on the witnesses leads to their death and a brief three-and-a-half day period of gloating, celebrating and gift-giving among the peoples of the great city, here referred to as Sodom and Egypt, which stand for hardened idolatry and rebellion. In the following chapters of Revelation, Rome (Babylon) is identified as the world in rebellion against God and his people (2Co 4:7-9; Jer 5:11,14; Joh 15:18-21).
What seemed to be the death of the witnesses of the Church actually gives rise to her resurrection and glory. But after the three-and-a-half days, a breath of life from God enters them, and they stand on their feet, and terror strikes those who see them (v.11). Should we not think of this three-and-a-half-day apparent triumph for the beast as a reflection of the three days that Jesus spent in apparent defeat after his crucifixion? The beast’s victory is hollow. God’s enemies are startled, humbled, and overwhelmed when he vindicates his servants. How much more so will be the case at the second coming of Jesus when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father?
Perspectives and Relevance
Let us now try to imagine how this vision of the two witnesses would have affected the hearts of John’s original audience. Of what practical and timely importance would this image have been to persecuted Christians in the first century if the 42 months was a reference to something that would happen only thousands of years after their deaths? On the other hand, if the three-and-a-half year period is indeed a reference to the whole interadvent period, the whole age between the two comings of Christ, then we can see great relevance and encouragement not only for Christians of the first century but also for Christians of every century.
As the people of God were known, numbered, loved and protected against all ultimate harm and loss, we are not to develop a bomb-shelter mentality in the face of great opposition and persecution. Our calling never has been to retreat into little Christian ghettos, cocoons, communes, or communities of self-protection and survival. For John’s readers in Asia Minor, there is great encouragement. They are not to fear Rome’s worst assaults. Even though there will be times and places in which it seems that the Church has been silenced and defeated – if not destroyed – the demise is only brief. The blood of the martyr has always proven to be the seed of the Church. Our God is the God of resurrection! Even if the enemies of God have a seasonal laugh at the temporary demise of the witnesses of the gospel, he who sits at the throne on Heaven laughs eternally and most loudly (Psa 2).
What about the Church of every age? What hope, comfort, and courage do we derive from this vision? Our calling is not to waste time trying to run from credit cards with ‘666’ on them. We are not to speculate on who the antichrist is. We are by proclamation and by presence to preach and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ among the nations until Jesus comes back. We the Church are the two witnesses, empowered by God himself. He is the Lord of both miracle and persecution, of both gospel advancement and apparent gospel setbacks. Our calling is not to be successful but to be faithful. This is our Father’s world. None will ultimately thwart his plans. No, we are not to be naïve about life in Sodom and Egypt. God gives us insight about the real world so that we can serve him with confidence and hope as we seek to demonstrate the radical implications of the gospel in our own context of Babylon.
A Common Mission
We are all missionaries. As such, we are to go into every nation of the world and into every sphere of life. A part of our repentance is going to require that we recognize and discard some of our non-biblical thoughts and paradigms about what it means to be a witness and to be involved in ministry.
First of all, let us repent of our pragmatism. The driving question of ministry is not what works. God alone is the one who faithfully applies the saving benefits of Jesus Christ to the lost. It is up to the Lord of the harvest how this mystery is played out. Our calling is merely to declare his glory among the nations. He alone can raise the dead, and he does.
On the other hand, we must be careful not to label some missionary or pastor or gifted layperson a superstar in the Kingdom in terms of great observable fruit. As Paul told the Corinthians, “…What do you have that you didn’t receive as a gift? And if in fact it was a gift, why do you boast as if it weren’t?” (1Co 4:7). God gives talents and gifts, calling and fruit as he sees fit. One plants, another waters, another harvests, but it is God who gives the increase.
Next, we need to repent of separating the ministry of the Word and the ministry of good deeds. God’s grace needs to be communicated by both proclamation and by presence. I think we tend to do a far better job of preaching at people than coming alongside them as conduits of the mercy of our God. Unfortunately also, we tend to think that unless a full-blown presentation of the gospel has been given that we have failed in our calling as witnesses. May God enable us to beautify the truth of the gospel as we manifest the grace of the gospel, even as single rays of the Lord’s light.
Third, we need to be careful not to limit the concept of ministry to what we commonly refer to as spiritual activities. For instance, why is a summer mission trip taken by a business person considered ministry but his or her vocation – what he or she does for many more months of the year – simply referred to as a job? Let us understand that every sphere of life is to reflect the glory and grace of God. All enterprises are not to be graded, distinguished, or valued in terms of the evangelistic opportunities they afford.
For His Glory
God is honoured when we do all things to his glory. This is the essence of what it means to bear witness to his name. As image-bearers of God, we should want to reflect both his genius as Creator and his mercy as Redeemer. If we preach, let us do so with precision and with passion. Do not distort the gospel and do not dishonour the Lord by not preparing your sermon and your heart. And if you are a plumber, then plumb to the glory of God. Putting a little fish sign or a cross on one of the pipes you install will not make the job you performed “Christian”. Indeed, if you did a poor job, please do not put any such sign on your work. God is more honoured by a non-Christian doing a good job than when we, his people, do slipshod or half-hearted work.
One of the first heresies that invaded and affected the first century church was Gnosticism, a Greek worldview that distinguishes all of reality between spirit and matter. The realm of spirit is to be prized while the realm of the material, the created work, is to be denigrated if not despised. Such an unbiblical worldview has led Christians to almost totally disregard the revelation of God as the sovereign Creator and eternal sustainer of all things. We have compartmentalized life into categories that cannot be justified by the Scriptures. The net effect is that the gospel, and Christians, are removed from the public square and from primary contexts in our culture. Christian faith is marginalized and trivialized. What is worse, God is robbed of the glory due his name.
Until Jesus returns, we are to move courageously and expectantly into the world and into the culture where our Lord has placed us. For a day is coming when the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. In light of this hope, let us live well and love well in every sphere of life, all to the glory of God.
Go back and read A Sense of Life-Direction – The Big Picture.
We are greeted in the first verses of this chapter with a wondrous vision of the New Jerusalem; it is the place that Christ has been preparing for his own ever since he returned there after his resurrection.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
It is that city “which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Heb 11:10).
Setting our Sights on the Promise
John 14:1-6 (NKJV)
“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Every believer has the promised hope of living forever in Heaven and sojourning in the New Jerusalem. Since we have been raised to a new life with Christ, we should set our sights on the realities of heaven and let heaven fill our thoughts (Col 3:1-2).
C. S. Lewis wrote: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity, San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001). We Christians yearn for a better place and a better future, nearer to Jesus than we on Earth can ever be. This is that other world that Lewis talks about, and it is eternity in Heaven, the New Jerusalem.
Lewis’s greatest contributions to the argument on desire are found in his works “Mere Christianity” and “The Weight of Glory”. This desire, Lewis argues, resides in each individual and is common to all human experience. It is the want for what he would closely associate with Heaven, or how the believer will experience God in Heaven. In expounding on his major premise, Lewis claims, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.” That is to say that all natural desires correspond to a true satisfaction that can be attained. In the conclusion of his argument, Lewis identifies the satisfaction for this desire as the eternal world, or life with God – the New Jerusalem. In essence, Lewis claims that for the Christian, Heaven is the “natural” or “proper” reward for discipleship. It is Heaven, Lewis argues, that will satisfy the immortal longings given from the Creator. Much of Lewis’s writings entertain notions of what Heaven will entail, but a greater majority of his work focuses on the desire itself.
The words from Colossians encourage us to “set our sights on the realities of heaven and let heaven fill our thoughts”. We should do this, says the apostle Paul. In so arguing, we can’t help but think that this is a difficult Christian practice, for Paul alludes to the struggle he has himself in Romans:
Romans 7:18-19 (ESV)
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
Before detailing what the city is like, John hears a great voice which tells him what we will be like.
Revelation 11:3 (KJV)
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.
God will once again walk and talk with his people directly, intimately, like he walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It will be a continuous relationship and not a periodic dialogue as when God dwelt in the physical tabernacle constructed by the Israelites. It will be a close relationship and no longer simply receiving revelation of his plans through an intermediary priest. It will be even better still than when Emmanuel, “God with us,” tabernacled among us (John 1:14) in the days of his flesh.
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Yet we have the promise of life forevermore in the New Jerusalem! God will wipe our tears and there will be no more sorrow or crying. This is possible only because the Lord Jesus Christ was made the curse for us (Gal 3:13). He “in agony…sweat as it were great drops of blood” as he “carried our sorrows”, then was painfully “wounded for our transgressions” and “buried for our iniquities”. He “poured out his soul unto death” (Luk 22:24; Isa 53:4-5,12). As the physical aspects of the curse had already been purged (2Pe 3:10), so also will all its spiritual aspects, and “there shall be no more curse” (Rev 22:3).
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” …
that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord … the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.
With God’s announcement of the restitution of all things, we know that everything will be renewed, refreshed – as new as the Creation! There will be a new Heaven, a new Earth, and a new Jerusalem; a new name and a new song (Rev 2:17; 3:12; 5:9; 21:1). We imagine that John was so awed by what he had seen that God has to remind him in the second part of verse 5 that it is all real, and that he is to write it all down.
Faithful and True
We read of the faithful and true witness in Revelation 3:14, and the faithful and true rider on the white horse in Revelation 19:11. The faithful and true in Revelation 21:5-6 is God, the beginning and the end, the Creator and Consummator (Col 1:16,20) in the Person of Jesus Christ.
In talking of the great people of faith, the author of Hebrews wrote:
Hebrews 11:13-16 NIV
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
The faithful, those who persevere and have overcome, shall inherit all these new things and live in this better country, the New Jerusalem. The city is prepared as a bride adorned for her husband and John details the abundant beauty of this “bride” in verses 11 to 27, when he is taken to a great mountain, from where he has a better vantage point and can take in the magnificence and splendor of this city that is beyond compare.
What’s in Store in the New Jerusalem
John describes the city as having a square-shaped base, measuring around 12 stadia in man’s measurements (v.17) – 2200 kilometers – and being 2250 to 2400 kilometers in length and width. The height of the city was also the same, making it cube-shaped. Calculating, the city will be larger than the subcontinent of India with an area of at least 1,960,000 up to 2,250,000 square kilometers. Note the astounding height of the cube, which if constructed on this earth would extend far beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and into space. If it were a building with 12-foot stories, it would be 600,000 stories high! The walls were also measured by an angel and shown to John to be 144 cubits – 65 meters – thick.
The description of the glorious holy city is too detailed to admit anything but literal interpretation, though there have been many efforts to spiritualize the verses containing it. There is every reason to believe that John is writing exactly what he saw, and that God means exactly what he says (Rev 22:18-19). The holy city is a literal city on the literal new earth. Assuming that the size of the mansions (Joh 14:2) that Jesus promised prepare for us are each 100 meters in height, length and width, then there will be 10,648 trillion such rooms in the city. This is more than enough for the 107 billion people who have ever lived on earth, per the 2011 estimate by Carl Haub of the nonprofit Population reference Bureau. Henry Morris estimates in the Defender’s Bible, however, that 20 billion redeemed will enter Heaven.
As good as the preparation and presentation of the New Jerusalem are, as wonderful as our communion with God will be, Jesus’s revelation to John offers us even more insight into the kingdom of God to come.
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
We will no longer go to church or prepare ourselves to worship God. Our very existence, our being, is worship and communion with God! The entire Kingdom will be the Church, and the glory we will experience will be greater than the most powerful inspirational gatherings that we have ever participated in or witnessed.
God says that we will no longer depend on nature, or any creation of God, for what we need. God himself is our source of life! God’s glory will be all the light that we need, our way lit not by a creation of God but by God himself! Like much of John’s apocalyptic vision, this aspect of the New Jerusalem is really beyond description or imagination. However, to wrestle with this truth is to catch a tiny glimpse of the wondrous existence that awaits us. No wonder John pronounces a blessing to those who read the Revelation (Rev1:3)!
Today we worry about wars, natural disasters, and criminal violence, but in Heaven there is no danger and no evil. There is no more need for gated and guarded communities, or alarm systems and CCTV. There will be no police, courts, lawyers, soldiers or prisons. The “walls” of our society will have come down, and we will be able to commune not only with God but with all his people. Our relationships will be based on complete liberty and trust, never wondering about their motives or being misunderstood. It will be natural and rewarding to love others without hesitation or limits.
The final great victory is that we will no longer struggle with sin and temptation. Because there is no evil in the New Jerusalem, all we can recall of our present fears, grudges, addictions, and other forms of bondage that we on earth plead with God for years to deliver us from will be gone. The past has been forgiven those who humbly repent and seek God’s face, but in the New Jerusalem it will all have been vanquished eternally! Our transition from pain and suffering into rest (Heb 4) is often the focus of our concept of Heaven (Rev 21:4). But the everlasting presence of the eternal Father and Lamb is much more than this! May his glory ever draw our gaze heavenward!