Revelation 11 – Part Three

At the end of yesterday’s post, we saw that God’s two witnesses (symbolising his church-on-mission) ended up suffering the same fate that Jesus himself did: killed in Jerusalem. Their bodies weren’t even buried, adding to the shame, and their enemies gloated over their destruction. (A bit like the gloating that happens in some quarters these days whenever Christians take a hit.) But… just like that weird story about Elijah and Enoch, and more importantly, just like Jesus… that isn’t the end of the story.

Rev 11:11 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.

The breath of life entered them, recalling Ezekiel’s prophecy to the dry bones. This is worth reading:

Ezekiel 37:4-6, 11-14 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”… Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

Here in Revelation, the language of the return from exile in Babylon is being used about the church’s future. Just as God brought back his people from exile – back to life from the dead, as it were – so the church will be brought back to life by God’s power.

Revelation 11:12 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.

Yesterday, we saw the church’s suffering being described in terms of Jesus’ suffering. Now, we see the church’s “resurrection” experience being described like Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. The point is: just as we share in his suffering, shame, and weakness, so too we share in his victory, vindication, and strength.

And the power that accompanies this causes many to respond in fear and repentance:

Rev 11:13 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.

 

Do you see the contrast between chapter 9? There, judgement without testimony results in the survivors remaining in their rebellion (9:20-21). Now, judgement happens and the survivors repent. What has changed? The testimony of the church. It makes a difference.

And did you notice the numbers? A tenth of the city is destroyed – 7,000 people. And the rest are won over to God’s side. This is a deliberate reference to the experience of Elijah, where a small minority – 7,000 people – remained faithful to God, not bowing their knee to idols. Here, we have reverse-Elijah: the minority (7,000 who oppose God) are killed, but the vast majority repent.

Now this is not a prediction that 90% of the world will be converted. This would suddenly mean taking numbers literally where they are symbolic everywhere else in Revelation. Like the other symbolic exaggerations, this simply conveys an optimistic picture of how many in this world will respond to God’s message. Both to his judgements and to the interpretation of these judgements by his faithful witnesses.

To think about

Do we exhibit this kind of optimism in the gospel?

We’re often well aware of sharing in Jesus’ suffering. How often do we think about sharing in Jesus’ resurrection, as we faithfully endure? (Revelation isn’t the only place we find this idea. Consult Paul on it in Rom 8:17 and Phil 3:10-11.)

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