God’s Temple In Heaven Was Opened
Key Verse 11:19a
“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a great hailstorm.”
This passage is a continuation of the interim between the 6th and 7th trumpet judgment— between the 2nd and 3rd woe that is to come upon the earth. Verses 1-2 say: “I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.” The temple was the place of worship — where sinners came to God and sacrificed offerings to atone for their sins. Jesus clearly taught us that he himself is now the temple when he said: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (Jn.2:19) From that moment on Jesus himself became the temple through whom we can all come to God for the atonement of our sins, and for worship. There is another reference to another temple. As Paul said: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” This Temple is most likely then a symbol of the church— all true believers.
The voice that John heard commanding him to measure the temple of God also told him to exclude the outer court because it has been given to the Gentiles. If the temple is the body of believers who belong to God and to his temple, then perhaps the court of the Gentiles, is the world itself where the Gentiles live. And it seems that God has given it to them for a period of time to do with it as they please. And what they will do with it is not so good. They will trample on it and on all that is within their realm for a specific period of time. The prophet Daniel saw this vision as well and recorded the future event accurately as well. At the time when the 6th woe the Gentiles will ravage the holy city— and the earth for a period of 42 months. The people of the world, who are not found in the temple of God but in the outer courts, will literally destroy the earth with their wickedness as we see in verse 18. God will judge them for remaining dead in their sins and dead to God, and for destroying the earth.
But when we look at verses 1-2, we see that only those who are on the outside will be judged. The others who are in the temple of God will be protected from the final judgment that is coming upon the world. This clear separation between those on the inside of the temple and those in the outer courts has been mentioned several times in the Bible. Jesus once said to his disciples: “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mk.4:11-12) Jesus also told us theses words: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:31-33) Perhaps then this vision is of that time when the Lord will separate his sheep from the goats, putting a hedge of protection around his sheep, and leaving the goats in the outer courts where they will be judged according to his word.
In verse 2, the voice tells John that the period of time that the Gentiles will have to ravage the holy city— the world— will 42 months. There seems to be something special about this number. It measures to about 3 and the half years. We see it as the time when God would allow the people of the world to keep on destroying the world. It is also the same time period— 1260 days, 42 months— where the two witnesses will witness to the world on God’s behalf. We do not know if this time period is symbolic or literal. Some scholars tell us that the number 3.1/2 is an imperfect number equal half of the perfect number 7, indicating incompletion, imperfection or evil. But whatever the number may symbolize, we know that it is a period of time that will come to an end when the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ where he will reign for ever and ever. (16)
Read verses 3-6. “’And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.’ These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 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. These men have power to shut up the sky 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.” It is either during the time when the Gentiles or nations will trample the holy city or a period of time after the trampling is done that our God will give power to two witnesses to prophesy for 31/2 years while clothed in sackcloth. What they will prophesy is not clear, but prophesy is always in conjunction with the living words of God. Since the beginning of time, God has been sending prophets and servants of his word to this world to prepare the world for the coming judgment. Prophesy is no mystery. It is all in the Bible as clear as daylight. And the words have been translated to every known language on the face of this earth. The Word himself— Jesus— came to make his dwelling among us for a period of time. He lived among us, spoke to us of God and of his coming kingdom. With his words, he gave us conviction that we might repent of our sins, and turn to God. With his words, he planted the hope of the coming kingdom of God in our hearts. With his words, he challenged our faith that we might believe in his gospel. With his words, he prophesied his death and resurrection and the coming judgment of God. With the word of prophesy Jesus also promised the coming of the Holy Spirit on all those who believe, and with his words, he spoke through the Apostles and left us a wealth of prophesy “So that men are without excuse” as Paul tells us. (Romans 1:20) The word of prophesy has been fulfilled with precision from the time we have walked on this earth until this very day. We have it. And therefore, no man or woman has an excuse not to believe all that God has done and will do.
What these witnesses will prophesy is not clear, but we know they will prophesy the word of God. And the word of God they will prophesy will not be a word of hope unless that hope is directly related to men’s sincere repentance for their sins, and their sincere desire to put off the old self and to put on the new self which the Holy Spirit brings about for those whose faith turns to Jesus and to his gospel. We do not know what word of prophesy it will be, but we know they are witnesses. Therefore, we also know that they will witness to God and to his majestic glory; they will witness that the devil and all his followers who do evil deeds will be vanquished, and that God Almighty and his Christ and all their followers who live righteous lives will be victors in the end; they will witness according to the word of God that men are by nature sinful and worthy of condemnation, that their lives are contrary to the life God has called all men to live; they will witness that all of the world’s glory, its riches, its lures and idols, and temptations are passing away, and that all those who follow the ways of the world will have to give an accounting for their lives lived in sin and in enmity with God; they will witness that God is gracious and longsuffering, that God is not dead, but alive and patient as he waits to unleash his final judgment on the world. Whatever these witnesses will witness to, it may still be the old old story of Jesus and his love— A love spurned and scorned for the love of flesh and of the world and its desires.
Whatever these witnesses prophesy, we also know that their message will not fare well with the listeners of the earth. According to verses 5 and 6, people will try to harm them for the message they have come to deliver to them. They will hate them for upholding the truth of their message with plagues and with fire and with drought. The people of the world will be so violently opposed to these witnesses that they will try their best to shut them up and destroy them, but they will not be able to, for God’s power was with them for a period of 31/2 years. The people of the nations will rage against them and plot against them but all their plotting will be in vain. (Acts 4:25) People still rage against God’s servants who speak the word of God to a fallen and depraved world. Some people hate the truth, and will not listen to it. Others simply avoid the truth and hide from it in their own ways letting God’s word of life slip right through their fingers. Still others will go out of their way to harm those who speak the truth of God because the truth of God is often piercing to the heart. When the word of God speaks against divorce and marital infidelity, or against the sins of the present age, people get angry and rage against those who dare speak it. Others have also become numb to the truth because their consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. (1 Tim. 4:2) in other words their consciences are dead. They can no longer feel the pangs of guilt or shame, and they have also numbed the fear of God from their hearts. It will be the same and worse on that day when God gives those two witnesses to speak out the words of God to those who will go on living and sinning and defying God while the world around them is slowly experiencing a death of everything that is considered good. They will rage against the witnesses, but will have no power to stop them or subdue them.
Who are these witnesses? Some say that they bear a strong resemblance to Moses and Elijah, for Moses had the power to effect plagues and Elijah had the power to shut the skies from rain. It is really unclear who these witnesses are. We may want to believe that they are Moses and Elijah, but it will not help us see past their identity and to actually see the work of God they were called to do in a world that is unworthy of receiving even such glorious two witnesses. God in his mercy seems to still want to give the people of the world a chance to listen to his word, to repent and to turn to him for salvation. But it was not to happen.
Read verses 7-10. “Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 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.” When the period of 31/2 years had passed and these two witnesses had completed their mission of giving testimony, look at what happens next. A beast that comes up from the pit of hell attacks them and overpowers them and kills them. Its all part of the prophesy, and a crucial part of God’s work to bring an end to all things. In human terms these two witnesses did not deserve what they got for serving the truth of God to the world. But God never promised that those who serve him would necessarily be rewarded in this life. Jesus rather promised that persecution would be the rewards of those who suffer for Jesus’ name and his gospel. How much more was promised to those two witnesses who would come to a post Christian world so totally hostile to God.
Look what happens to them. They are attacked by most likely the devil and they are overpowered by him and he kills them. And when they die such a horrible death at the hands of God’s worst enemy, the people of the world hold a celebration. For them it was like a new Christmas where they even exchanged gifts with each other in celebration of those who had tormented them with the words of God. Apparently, to those who hate God and his Son, any word of prophesy from God is like torment to their souls. They are tormented because the word of God is like a double edged sword to their souls, cutting through as a knife cuts through butter and reveals all the corruption that is on the inside of men’s hearts. So they celebrate. What a picture of perversion. How wicked and corrupt is the human heart when it actually celebrates the death of those who speak truth!
For 31/2 years the witnesses were shielded by God and no one could harm them. But after the period of time, the devil who was held in chains is released for the final judgment of God, and the first thing he does is to kill them. Why? We know that Satan hates the truth and everyone who testifies to the truth. He has turned this world into a cauldron of lies. He poisons people’s minds. He gives them delusions to believe the lie. Please read 2 Thess. 2:5-12. Indeed Jesus called the devil a liar and the father of lies. And his lies are subtle not obvious. He lies by distorting the truth so that the truth appears as a truth when it is nothing but a sinister lie. In the past when men were gullible, he deceived them by giving them idols of wood and stone. But men have grown out of that prehistoric period into the new age of enlightenment where wood and stone idols are passé. These days he deceives people by telling them such things as they want to believe. He lies by telling people, including some Christians as well, that unnatural sexual behavior is natural, that freedom to exploit the body is the most natural thing to do— that it is harmless. And people young and old are falling for this lie. Spiritually speaking, the lies are even more sinister. Satan lies to people making them believe that God is love, and will save everyone, regardless of what they believe or how they live their lives. He tells them that in the end God’s love is bound to save everyone. There are also vicious doctrinal lies floating around ever since the Christian faith was confirmed through the gospels of truth. There is a group on campus promoting a mother God Savior, a second coming of the Lord Jesus, a mother now living here in the USA. Such a lie is obvious. But Satan’s subtle lies come also in the form of a distorted gospel. Paul rebuked the Galatians who were believing a lie that said to them: “Unless you are circumcised you cannot be saved.” The other lies that some churches are fallen to Satan believe is that “unless you are baptized you cannot be saved” or “unless you speak in tongues you cannot possibly have the Holy Spirit”. We must know that the devil and his people hate the truth of God. And the truth of God is simple and stated in the Bible for anyone with a love for truth can clearly see. Satan must have been furious with the witnesses that the first thing he does is to kill them. And the people rejoiced and gave each other gifts. I wonder what’s the use of giving gifts to one another when judgment is hanging over people’s heads!
But the devil and his people will not have the final say. Read verses 11-14. Every man is destined to die one way or another in this world. And every man is destined to rise again to judgment, either to judgment of salvation or a judgment of condemnation. It is not unusual that these two witnesses were given life after a period of 31/2 days, and called to come up to their father God’s protection and glory after they had fulfilled their mission on earth. It is everyone’s destiny to either be gathered to God or gathered to the abyss. Yet there is something glorious about the way they were risen. After a time of gloating over them, after all people of all nations and tongues were given the chance to behold these dead witnesses, they were risen in full view of the masses and called to heaven. People say that if they witness a miracle they would believe, they would turn to God. But I don’t think so. These people witnessed God’s great work of recreation and resurrection yet John tells us in his vision that “terror struck those who saw them.” John also tells us that after the witnesses were risen to heaven, a disaster overtook the holy city and a tenth of the world was destroyed and 7000 people died. And he says that “the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” They did so out of fear and not out of faith. This glory they gave God came too late. They were like the man in Jesus’ parable who snuck into the wedding banquet of the King only to be cast out because he was not properly dressed. Most people do not give attention to being properly dressed. After a moment of disaster or a moment of danger in their lives, they may look to the God of heaven— not their father God— but the God of heaven in terror and give glory to him, only to abandon their convictions soon after. Most people in times of trouble look to God for answers, for help or for comfort. They appear to have faith. But this kind of faith is no faith at all. Faith based on fear is no faith. It is a twitch of conscience that screams at them to truly repent of their sins and turn to God. But soon, after the disaster dissipates or after the danger subsides, people usually return to their old lives. They appease their conscience by sporadic attempts at going to church or an occasional prayer. But they never deeply look to God for the salvation of their souls. But to be dressed properly, one must clothe themselves with the Lord Jesus who alone can dress us through faith in his death and resurrection. Those who repent dress up in gospel faith, they abhor the lie and love the truth. They give glory to God in good times and in bad times. Their faith is not a faith based on fear, but a faith resting on the grace of our Lord Jesus who loved them and gave himself for them. That faith gives glory to God at all times, in every situation.
Read verses 15-19. When the second of three woes, the sixth of the seven trumpet judgments had passed, the seventh angel with the seventh trumpet sounded it, and then came the time all heaven and earth had been waiting for from the beginning of time to the end. It was the time when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.” It was the time when Jesus finally returns to lay claim to all things in heaven and on earth— the time of the coming Savior and the coming of his kingdom. That is why we hear the praise of all those who are at the throne of God and roundabout it. They say: “thank you Lord because you have begun to reign.” It is the time we are all also waiting for. But we need not wait till then for Jesus to reign in our hearts and lives. It is our pleasure and joy as his redeemed people that Jesus reigns in our hearts, that he reigns over our lives, that he shelters us from harm, and that he promises us his salvation and the sharing of his kingdom even now. Look at verse 19 again, “Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant.” The temple of God was open the moment Jesus declared that he himself is the temple through whom men can come back to God. The temple of God was opened the moment Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead. The temple of God into the presence of God was opened the moment the throne of grace was made accessible to those whose faith rests on Jesus. The temple was opened and still open to anyone who professes the name of Jesus and has their hearts on the kingdom of God. But the day will come according to the vision of John, when that temple into God’s presence will be no longer a sure hope, but a reality for God’s people. Until then we must preach the truth, we must witness to Jesus and his gospel. We must be vigilant against idleness and indifference, against our own fears, and we must with faith proclaim the gospel in the mission field which God has placed us. Let us be witnesses as these two witnesses were to the truth wherever we are and go. Amen.