The Two Witnesses (2)

When they complete their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the bottomless pit will declare war against them, and he will conquer them and kill them. And their bodies will lie in the main street of Jerusalem, the city that is figuratively called “Sodom” and “Egypt,” the city where their Lord was crucified. And for three and a half days, all peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will stare at their bodies. No one will be allowed to bury them. All the people who belong to this world will gloat over them and give presents to each other to celebrate the death of the two prophets who had tormented them.”
Revelation 11:7-10 NLT

John’s vision continues. It was much like a video or film, moving from one scene to the next. So the two witnesses brought their prophecies to the people for three and a half years, and no-one could touch them. The vision doesn’t say to what extent their gifts were used and how much grief was caused to the sinful and wicked people of that time but I can just imagine them underpinning their prophetic words by turning the local reservoir into blood. Or bringing on a resurgence of Covid or some other plagues to the population. Stopping the rain would not have been much of a blessing either. And we read in verse ten, that the people had a big party when the devil killed the witnesses. They gloated, gave presents to each other and felt a great sense of relief that their torment had ended – for now. But notice that it wasn’t just the inhabitants of Jerusalem that were happy about the death of the witnesses. This became global news, with parties everywhere. 

Today’s verses start with the message that their testimonies had come to an end. We pilgrims need to make use of the age in which we live, because there will come a time when our testimonies, our messages of hope, will not be required any more. Our messages will be complete. And we read that God then allowed the “beast that comes up out of the bottomless pit” to kill them. It wasn’t a trivial task, it seems, because it involved a war, not just a murder. In the vision, their bodies are just allowed to lie in the street. But who was this “beast”? it can only have been the devil himself. Mankind at that time couldn’t touch the witnesses because they were too powerful and God protected them. And that protection would have continued, even with the devil’s attacks, but their tasks were complete. The bodies were allowed to lie there for three and a half days, which perhaps indicated the lack of respect offered them by the locals. You can just imagine people from all over jetting in to have a look, such was their notoriety with the global population. A damning indictment of mankind at that time.

In his vision, John pulled no punches in his naming of Jerusalem. Jesus wept over this city, but here we are seeing it renamed as Sodom and Egypt. What happened in the city of Sodom? It was destroyed because of the extreme immorality that occurred there. And to the Jews, the country of Egypt would represent their time of slavery. So it seems Jerusalem because a city corrupted by, and in league with, the devil. People living there were enslaved in a place of immorality. John made special mention that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, an act that the devil thought was a win for him, but soon found it was him who was the loser.

To us pilgrims, we must always be on our guards, because the devil will always seek to corrupt and enslave us. And he gets very upset if we continue to share our testimonies with those around us. We must constantly pray for God’s protection over our lives and families. 

Dear God. We don’t really have any idea what this time will be like. But we’re so grateful that You have everything under control. Amen.

The Gifts (1)

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:11-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is an important part of Paul’s letter, both to his readers in Ephesus and to Christians today. The first thing is that Christ, through His love and concern for His followers, gave important “gifts” to resource His future Bride, the church. These “gifts” for the Ephesian church were Spirit-filled men who each had a specific job to do in building up the church. The job titles listed – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – dovetailed together to form a support and training function, not just a leadership structure, for the health and development of this body of believers. But these “gifts” are timeless. They were not just for the early Church but instead portrayed a model for all the churches that were to follow in the ages to come. And so we Christians, regardless of where we are in our spiritual pilgrimage, should prick up our spiritual ears. We should look out for these special people, who Christ, in His divine wisdom, could see would be required. And while we are looking around us, we should take careful note of verse 12. These five “gifts” – the men and women who were and are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – were not supposed to do the work of the church themselves while the punters sat in the pews. Their role was to train up the church members to do the work God was asking them to do. You see, we each have a role to play in building up the church, “the body of Christ”. We cannot abdicate our own responsibilities and expect the minister to do everything.

So what is our role in building up the church? It is the same for us today as it was for the Ephesian church all those years ago. We all have a job description, which involves outward-looking responsibilities for evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:19), and also involves being unified with our fellow believers and the Christian community as a whole, as we can see from several verses in this Epistle. We must spend time reading the Word and praying, for our own spiritual health. Spending time with our wonderful Heavenly Father, sharing and communicating. Enjoying His presence in our lives.

But why do we need these “gifts” of men and women, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? Paul suggested they are there for “equipping” and “building”. Their individual Holy Spirit – led giftings are necessary to train us well for our roles. These men and women are pilgrims with a specific calling. Men and women who are further down the road of life than us, and who have many things to share for our benefit. We’ll look at their particular roles on another day. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people by giving them the tools and training they need “to do His work”. Our responsibility is to gain, through them, maturity, measuring up to Christ’s standards.

It is sad that after two years of lockdowns and social restrictions, many churches, at least in the UK, have become much smaller, dwindling in membership. Some people in these congregations have become used to attending virtual meetings on-line, or have decided that they prefer to spend their Sabbaths doing something else. But we cannot be Christians in splendid isolation; Jesus’ plan was for His followers to meet together. “They worshipped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—” (Acts 2:46). Two key words here in this verse are “together” and “shared”. Through meeting together we encourage one another, but we can also enjoy the input from Christ’s “gifts”, training and helping us. Cheering us on as Christ’s representatives for the work of His service.

God in His love and wisdom gave gifts to the church. We need them to equip and encourage us in our spiritual pilgrimage. And as we do God’s work in this sad, sinful and war-torn world we bring our messages of hope to the hopeless, communicating Christ’s concern for the lost all the better because of His gifts. Worth a big “thank You, Jesus”?