“Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11:1-3
Revelation uses a lot of imagery to teach the church. Revelation 11 is no different and the focus is that the church will suffer greatly in this world. God will protect His church and yet Christians will suffer persecution and even death. But in the end, they have victory because Christ is victorious.
There’s a lot going on in this chapter, but it helps if you understand that both the temple and the two witnesses are a picture of the church.
This temple is the church where God dwells with His people in Word and Sacrament. This is how the church is sustained even in the face of persecution, suffering, and even death. The church will suffer and suffer greatly but it will not ultimately be defeated.
This is the same thing we see with the two witnesses. The two witnesses are representative of the church’s preaching and teaching ministry, that is its prophetic witness to the world. The church calls the world to repentance and proclaims Christ crucified for them.
The two witnesses are even killed in this section. At times the witness of the church will be silenced in an area for a time (and the world will even celebrate this!), but then the church is raised up in that place again just as we see the two witnesses raised up.
The end of the chapter shows the end of all things and the great joy that God’s children will have on that day. The ark of the covenant makes an appearance at the close of the chapter because it is a symbol of God’s presence and shows that His presence and fellowship is possible because of the atonement of Christ.
Martin Luther has some helpful insights into what it means for the church to suffer under the cross. He calls this suffering the seventh mark of the church: Seventh, the holy Christian people are externally recognized by the holy possession of the sacred cross. They must endure every misfortune and persecution, all kinds of trials and evil from the devil, the world, and the flesh (as the Lord’s Prayer indicates) by inward sadness, timidity, fear, outward poverty, contempt, illness, and weakness, in order to become like their head, Christ. And the only reason they must suffer is that they steadfastly adhere to Christ and God’s word, enduring this for the sake of Christ, Matthew 5 [:11], “Blessed are you when men persecute you on my account.” Wherever you see or hear this, you may know that the holy Christian church is there, as Christ says in Matthew 5 [:11–12], “Blessed are you when men revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”…This too is a holy possession whereby the Holy Spirit not only sanctifies his people, but also blesses them.
I've discussed martyrdom on this blog before (see here). This post is a little different. People don't read books much anymore and as much as I would love to change that it's outside my power to do so. However, most people will sit down and enjoy a movie. It's getting harder and harder to recommend movies that are great for the whole family. Thankfully this movie is an exception.
There is an excellent new movie about the martyr Polycarp. It is just called Polycarp and is available here. Now it's not a perfect movie. For instance it has nothing regarding Baptism and the Lord's Supper which would have been a vital part of the Early Church's life. Overlooking that though, there is much to commend here - for the entire family. The best part about this movie is that it shows Christians struggling with how to respond to persecution and martyrdom. This is the main point of the movie and it excels in this. And because it excels in this it is a great encouragement to young and old as we contemplate the possible coming persecution even here in our own country.
If you want to read about Polycarp and his martyrdom check this out.
Dr. William Weinrich has written an outstanding article on martyrdom (linked here - Christian Martyrdom: Some Reflections) and it is well worth your time to read and contemplate. As we live in an increasingly hostile world it is good for us to reflect on what it means to be a martyr.
Here is a preview:
Christians have faced hostility and rejection at some time and in some place ever since the foundation of the Church. Yet special factors, new to our experience, may be mentioned which make the theme of persecution and martyrdom understandable and pastorally necessary at the present time. A recent report of the Vatican on the persecution of Christians throughout the world makes mention of two of these special factors. In part, the report states the following: “Credible research has reached the shocking conclusion that an estimate of more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed because of some relation to their faith every year. Other Christians and other believers are subjected to forced displacement, to the destruction of their places of worship, to rape and to the abduction of their leaders … In addition, in some Western countries where historically the Christian presence has been an integral part of society, a trend emerges that tends to marginalize Christianity in public life, to ignore historic and social contributions and even to restrict the ability of faith communities to carry out social charitable services.”
Groups such as Persecution.org concur with such findings: According to this group, some “two hundred million Christians currently live under persecution.” And the number is rising. Concerning active persecution of Christians, Persecution.org mentions especially places like Africa and the Middle East. In Egypt, the ancient and traditional Coptic Christians face increasing hostility, and according to one observer “what has happened in Iraq and Syria is de facto ethnic cleansing of Christians” (Neil Hicks of Human Rights First).
There are two major threats in the world to Lutheran churches: the rise of an expansionist, jihadist Islam, which is unwilling to give place to Christian communities, and the increasing dominance of Western secular egalitarianism, which claims that traditional Christian thinking and habit are intolerant and discriminatory, and so secularists also are unwilling to tolerate Christian influence in the public square. Those of us who live in Western Europe or in the United States are well aware of the social and even legal forces which intend to define Christian faith as a mere private opinion and rob it of any legitimate public or social role. This is, to be sure, a new phenomenon, and our people are largely ill-prepared for this emerging challenge.
A place for Pastor Packer to post articles, links, and his own thoughts.