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Without a doubt one of the most volatile, hotly contested pieces of real estate on planet earth lies in the heart of the city of Jerusalem. It's the 35-acre area known as the Temple Mount, ground zero for the hopes and dreams of the world's three major religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Tradition calls it "the navel of the world, the belly button of the earth."
It was on the Temple Mount that the Jews came for centuries to worship God. First, at Solomon's Temple built around 1,000 B. C. and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. And then at the second temple built by Zerubbabel and later expanded by Herod the Great.
It was in this second temple that Jesus worshiped and taught and cleansed from those who were defiling it. The second temple was magnificent and took over 50 years to construct, but eventually it too was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. And there hasn't been a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount ever since.
Instead, in 691 A.D. the Muslims, who had conquered Jerusalem, built their own sacred shrine on that site and called it the Dome of the Rock. It's a magnificent structure as well made of beautiful Persian tile inscribed with verses from the Koran and capped by a gold dome. In fact, next to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque next to it are the most sacred site in all of Islam.
And there in lies the problem. Who owns the Temple Mount? Does it belong to the Jews or does it belong to the Muslims? For the past nineteen hundred years orthodox Jews have gathered three times a day at the wailing wall, the only remaining wall from that second temple, and have prayed this prayer, "May it be Thy will that the Temple be speedily rebuilt in our days." In the shadow of the Dome of the Rock there has always been a movement, growing in recent years, to remove the Muslim mosques and rebuild the Jewish temple.
One article I read this week said that since 1967 there have been more than a hundred attempts by Jewish extremists to seize or destroy the Dome of the Rock. It is a dicey, delicate situation. And the Bible seems to indicate, in passages such as the one we'll look at this morning, that one day there will be another Jewish temple built on the sacred Temple Mount.
If you have your Bible please turn with me to Revelation 11 as we continue our series called Apocalypse: The Revelation of Jesus Christ with a teaching I've called "The Terminators."
Revelation 11 has been called by the some the most difficult and the most important chapter in the Apocalypse. In many ways it is the hinge in the book, the halfway point in these twenty-two chapters that previews where we're headed from here.
In Revelation 11, the scene once again shifts from heaven back down to earth. Last week, we concluded chapter ten with the holy green giant giving the apostle John the little scroll to eat saying, "You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings." And now this is the prophecy. This is the regurgitated contents of that little scroll.
Look at Revelation 11:1-3, 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. 2But 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. 3And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth."
The chapter opens with John being told to do some very specific things. He's given a reed like a measuring rod and told to measure the temple of God and the altar and to take a head count of those who are worshiping there.
In John's day a reed was like a straight stalk of bamboo. And a rod was actually a Jewish unit of measurement equal to six cubits. The measure of one cubit was the distance from a man's elbow to the tip of his middle finger, about 18 inches in length. So six cubits would be about 9 feet and that was the measurement of a rod. So John is to take a 9-foot stick and measure the temple, but not the outer court.
The Jewish temple had four courtyards. The outer court was for the Gentiles. That was as close as they could get. The next court was for Jewish women. They could get a little closer. The next court was for Jewish men. And then came the courtyard for the priests where sacrifices were made. Apparently this temple that John is to measure is in the holy city. In the Bible there is only one holy city and that's Jerusalem. But as we said earlier, right now there is no temple in Jerusalem. So if we're to understand this passage literally, which many do, then there must be some kind of rebuilt Jewish temple yet to come.
In a museum in Jerusalem, there's actually a model of a rebuilt temple, three times as large as the original temple. The dimensions of it are given in Ezekiel 40-44. In fact, furniture, utensils and priestly garments have already been assembled just waiting for the day when that new temple will be rebuilt.
For 42 months the passages says, which is 3 years, or 1,260 days, which is also 42 months of 30 days each, Jerusalem will be trampled on by Gentiles. This 3 year period could be the first half of the seven year Tribulation. During this time two witnesses will be given power to prophesy. These two witnesses will join the 144,000 Jewish witnesses already commissioned by God in Revelation 7 to take the gospel to the whole world.
But these two witnesses will be different. They are unique. They'll be dressed in sackcloth, which was a common get up in the Old Testament for people in mourning, people who were grieving. And they will point anyone who will listen towards God. And so once again we see the love and grace of God that just won't quit even in the midst of the Tribulation. The good news about Jesus is still going out. It's not too late. God will not give up on anybody until they just flat out give up on him.
Look at verse 4, These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5If 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. 6These 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.
These two witnesses that God plants like olive trees and lampstands in downtown Jerusalem possess some awesome powers. They're like super heroes and they remind us of two Old Testament characters. They have the ability to shut up the sky so it doesn't rain, which is something the prophet Elijah did. In 1 Kings 17:1 we read, Now Elijah the Tishbite said to King Ahab, "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word."
James 5:17 tells us how long that was, Elijah ... prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. That's the same length of time described in this chapter. Interesting!
Fire comes out of their mouths and devours their enemies. Turn or burn" is literally their message. Which again reminds us of Elijah and the fire that came down from heaven and consumed his sacrifice in 1 Kings 18.
They have the power to turn water into blood and trigger any and every kind of plague as often as they want, which reminds us of Moses and his dual with Pharaoh recorded in Exodus. Because of these parallels, some scholars believe that this is a reappearance of Moses and Elijah, sent to earth as a final warning of God's impending judgment. That's possible, but we don't for sure. What we do know is that you don't want to mess with these dudes! They play hardball. They are "the Terminators!" And for a while they're invincible. Incinerating their enemies. But eventually, when their job is done and their mission is accomplished they're overpowered and killed.
Look at verse 7, Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.
After 3 years, perhaps at the mid-point of the Tribulation, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will take out these two incredible witnesses. Remember the beast is that figure on the white horse who arrived on the scene at the beginning of the Tribulation when the first seal was opened. He's the ruler empowered by Satan himself who promises to bring peace to the world, but eventually sets himself up as god to be worshiped. We'll see more of him later.
And after he kills the two witnesses look what happens in verse 8, Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10The 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.
Some have called this the "unholy Christmas," because after the two witnesses are killed by the beast the whole world celebrates by exchanging gifts and gloating over their decomposing bodies. In John's day, the ultimate disgrace in Judaism was not to bury a body before sundown. Funerals were always held the very same day a person died. But these two are left to rot in the Middle Eastern sun.
And now the whole world, perhaps through satellite technology and CNN, is able to see their corpses lying in the Jerusalem streets, the city where Jesus was crucified, and is glad they're gone. That's how evil the world has become. The proclamation of the gospel by these two witnesses was viewed as torment and torture. Which shouldn't surprise us. Prophets of God have always been a source of torment to a wicked generation. That's what got Jesus killed. So it looks like evil has finally triumphed. The beast is stronger than God himself. Or is he?
Look at verse 11, But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12Then 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. 13At 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. 14The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.
God miraculously raises these two witnesses from the dead in front of riveted worldwide audience and takes them up to heaven. And at that very moment a severe earthquake levels a tenth of Jerusalem and kills seven thousand people. And those who survive cry out and give glory to God. That's the second woe. The third is coming soon. And the war between heaven and earth is just beginning.
The chapter ends with the sounding of the seventh trumpet. Look at verse 15, The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever." 16And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17saying: "We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. 18The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great-and for destroying those who destroy the earth."
The end of the chapter takes us back up to heaven again. And we're reminded that no matter how horrible things are down here there is worship in heaven. There is always worship in heaven. And with the blast of the seventh trumpet we have a preview of where the rest of the apocalypse is headed. The time is coming soon for God's kingdom to be established on this earth and for Jesus to reign forever and ever. But it's not going to come without a fight and those who oppose God will eventually be destroyed and those who serve God will eventually be rewarded, both small and great.
Verse 19, 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.
The last verse reveals something very special, using more temple imagery. As we've mentioned already in this series, the Ark of the Covenant was in the holy of holies. It was basically a wooden box covered in gold that contained three things, a gold jar of manna, Aaron's rod that budded and the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. And on the lid of that box were two golden angels, called cherubim, with wings spread over the ark to symbolically protect it.
It was beautiful. The problem was that only one person, the high priest, got to see it and he only saw it one time a year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Ordinary people like us couldn't see it. We couldn't get that close to God. Why? Because the Ark of the Covenant was hidden behind the curtain of the holy of holies and wasn't accessible to ordinary people.
But now, John says, God's temple is going to be opened for all his people, both small and great, to see his glory. There is no curtain any longer that separates God from his people. Right now, anyone of us can be God's friend. Anyone of us can approach God at anytime because our sin has been paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
And there were flashes of lightning and rumblings of thunder and an earthquake and a great hailstorm. All of which would strike fear into the hearts of those who oppose God, but anticipation into the hearts of those who know God and look forward to his glorious appearing.
So in Revelation 11, once again we see God through his two witnesses calling out and inviting anyone and everyone into his kingdom before it is too late. He continues to send his representatives out into a rebellious world to invite people to himself.
Ezekiel 18:32 says, For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!
But sadly some people just don't want what God has to give. They don't want his love and his forgiveness and the life that he offers. Instead, they want to be their own gods and go their own way and in the end God in his grace will give them exactly what they want. But that doesn't keep him from pursuing them and us right up until the end. He is a God worthy of all our worship.