This may seem to be an odd reading for the day before Christmas. I did not choose this reading out of the blue. This is an appointed reading in the Lutheran Service Book.
So why this reading? It seems to me this is appropriate because one of the major themes of the book of Revelation is that the Lord will come again. This is also a major theme of this season of Advent.
Additionally, in a more subtle way, the bulk of chapter eleven deals with the current Church age in which Christ is continuously coming to us in His Word. For this reason Saint John is sent with a reed or rod to take the measurements of the Temple of God and its Altar.
Now, if you are paying attention, it does not seem like John actually does any measuring. But he really does. What follows in chapter eleven, verses three through thirteen IS the measurement of the Temple. For what is the new Testament Temple of God except His holy people, the saints? And what else is the proper measurement of the Church besides the Word of God that accurately evaluates all spiritual matters? The Word is the only true judgment of what the Church is and the only norm of faith and doctrine and worship.
The Church, to all outward appearances, may look like a divided, immoral, infighting, wretched beggar. Her voice is often ignored and her influence less and less every year. Within her ranks are horrendous and powerful forces, the kingdom of antichrist, that wages war with the saints. That is why the outer court of the Temple is not measured while the Church is trampled by heathen forces. She seems frail and about to be snuffed out completely at any moment.
But that is not the true measure of her nature, which God reveals to us. The Church is like two witnesses. They are described in terms that sound like Moses and Elijah, but also called olive trees and lamps. The Church, and particularly her faithful teachers, shine brightly with the light of God’s Word. So they spread peace and mercy, health and healing, steadiness, growth, and comfort. The Holy Spirit, who is the oil of gladness, anoints the holy people of God as priests and kings on the earth.
The witnesses are two in number, which seems pathetically small compared to the vast armies of the heathen nations. Yet the power of God is on the side of the witnesses. They are able to call upon fire from heaven and to shut up heaven and turn water to blood, and other plagues. These things are figurative, as Revelation typically is. The fire of God’s judgment strikes the consciences of all who hear teachers and confessors of God’s Word. Those who refuse their testimony will eventually suffer the flames of judgment. The heavens are shut to those who refuse the Gospel of forgiveness, since none whose sins are not forgiven will enter God’s kingdom. Additionally, all the blessings, like the cool rains God sends even on the unrighteous, will become a testimony against them if they do not repent. Bloodshed and death will be their only reward for this life if they do not turn to Christ.
All these plagues are summarized later in Revelation: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.” Indeed, only pain and death and destruction will be the end of those who add to the Word, as if the teachings of men can stand beside or substitute for the pure and holy Scriptures from heaven.
So the faithful confessors, as measured by the Word, are saintly and righteous messengers from God. Yet in the eyes of the world, the witnesses are a torment. Their words pierce the ears and consciences of many, telling them that they are sinners who deserve punishment, and only in Christ is salvation. What arrogance they see in those faithful witnesses! They hated them so much that they could not wait for their deaths! When their deaths come, the sinful world treats it as a holiday of celebration and gift-giving and merriment.
When the antichristian forces, called the beast, makes war on the witnesses, they are overcome and destroyed. How often this has happened, and will again! Christian martyrs of both the old and new Testament eras were often cut down by hateful men. How often they were treated like garbage, their bodies left on the streets or dug up from their graves, or left to hang on crosses to display the victory of the beast (or so they thought)!
But there is always a resurrection to life for those who are faithful to the Lamb. That is not the literal meaning, however, of what John writes here. There is not a visual resurrection and ascension every time a faithful witness falls to the beast. But the beast is amazed that more witnesses keep rising up. Why do these stupid Christians keep bearing witness to Christ when they know what happens to them? Why does the Church not die? Yet the Spirit keeps calling more faithful confessors of the truth in every generation.
This happens in the city spiritually called Sodom and Egypt and Jerusalem, although he does not call it by that name, but “the city where they crucified the Lord.” Keep in mind that this is a spiritual reality, not the literal place names. The spiritual Sodom is the hotbed of sexual immorality and abominations. The spiritual Egypt is the place that enslaves the people of God. The place where they crucified our Lord is where people plot against Christ to destroy Him by persecuting His Body, the Church. So the spiritual city John is talking about is all the antichristian forces, the kingdom of antichrist that always wants to destroy the people of God. But in the same way as when they killed Christ, their victory cannot last long. God allows the forces of satan to rise up so that the bright light of His martyrs can shine out the more brightly, and we can share in our Lord’s sufferings, and the sufferings of the prophets.
God grant us to be such faithful confessors.
And then the end. The mighty voice announces that the Lord is making the kingdom of the world become His kingdom. That means that the nations of the earth will be ended, and only the people of God shall inherit the earth. The enemies will be removed forever, and peace and joy will reign without interruption. Glory be to God!
The twenty-four elders, representing all God’s people in glory, will fall on their faces before Him and worship, saying, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was.” The refrain through the book of Revelation has been that God “is and was and is coming.” But not this verse. “Is coming” is left out, because THEN, that wonderful Day, He will have come, never to be separated at all from His people in any way. That is the last coming, when the Lord Christ draws so near to His people that they see Him face to face. He shall dwell among them. As Christ dwelt among mankind for a few brief years, now the Lord Almighty in all His fullness will live with us.
The elders cry out again, “The nations raged! They did their worst. But Your wrath came, O Lord, and they did not stand a chance. The time of the dead to be judged is here, and you will reward your servants the prophets and saints that fear Your name, both small and great.”
(Small and great – that’s you and me, too!)
Then God destroys the destroyers. The ones who hated will not trouble the saints again. Particularly, satan and death and sin will not trouble you ever again.
Then the Temple of God is opened in heaven, and in it, the Ark of His Covenant is seen. What is this? There are so many things going on at that last Day, only some of which we understand. As we, God’s Temple, held God’s presence and life inside of us, it shall be revealed openly as we shine with the glory of the sons of God. To say it another way, the Lord will no longer be hidden, but walk out of the Holy of holies forever. To say it another way, God will reveal His hidden things, His treasures and mysteries that He has not fully revealed or we have not fully understood. To say it the best way, Jesus Christ, who is the presence of God and the exact image of His glory, will be seen and talk with us and be our comfort and joy forever and ever.
And the lightning and hail and thunder and earthquake are the final expressions of God’s wrath as He puts away forever every evil and pain and sorrow and enemy from His precious people, His saints who are holy in His sight because they are clothed in His Son.
This is the final coming of Christ for you. This will be your eternal joy and peace, so much better than you could ever imagine. He has prepared this for you, and He will not fail.
Come soon, Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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