Editor’s note: This sermon was preached in January of 2020, as Covid-19 was just beginning to spread across the world. This is the last selection from Preacher Yang’s sermon on Revelation. In this excerpt, he reminds the church that she has the power to suffer and even die, because just like Jesus, she will always rise up from death itself. The church must follow in the footsteps of Christ the Savior, and even when persecuted, must daily live out God’s call on her life.
And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on [the two witnesses] and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” Revelation 11:7-13
The Power To Suffer
Verse 7 says the beast will make war on the witnesses, and will conquer and kill them. In the following chapters, this beast represents Satan’s earthly authority, which antagonizes God. Satan will persecute the witnesses because he makes himself into light and righteousness.
When John wrote Revelation, he had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos. In that time, Roman soldiers would surround a meeting place and put an image of Caesar and an incense burner in the courtyard. They would bring the worshipers out, and those who worshiped Caesar were allowed to leave. Those who did not worship Caesar were beheaded. The brutality was beyond our imagination.
In verse 8, Jerusalem, the city where Jesus was crucified, is symbolically called Sodom and Egypt. Sodom was an evil city that did not obey God’s mission and rebelled against him, while Egypt represents the political authorities that persecuted Israel. In Jerusalem, leaders and scribes persecuted Jesus to death. This is symbolic, meaning that from Genesis to Revelation, the church must go through persecution. The church must walk the way of the cross. The war between the two kingdoms has never ceased. Christians should not be deluded to believe there will be utopia on earth. We should set our minds to carry our cross every day.
Verse 9 says that people from all over came to look for three and a half days. The people were happy and even exchanged gifts, representing that light and darkness cannot coexist. You cannot worship both God and idols. In every age, there will be martyrs. The persecution in China is actually not very severe; there is greater persecution under Islam. We have to carry the cross.
If a church belongs to God, she will have the mark of suffering. If a church does not suffer, their lampstand will be put out. Jesus said, “The cup I drink, you will drink. The baptism with which I was baptized, you will be baptized.” The disciples said, “No problem.” They thought it would be taking a bath and drinking soft drinks, but Jesus was talking about the suffering of the cross and the baptism of death. Jesus also says, “A servant is not greater than his master.” The mark of the church is the cross.
Philippians says, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” If you are resurrected, you will be persecuted. Not only in China; also in America. Persecution in different places takes different forms. If you live out the life of Christ, you will be persecuted. Fish that go with the stream are dead, but fish that swim upstream are alive. If you follow the trends of the world and everyone is happy with you, you will not go through persecution, but that also means you do not have the life of Jesus in you. If you belong to Christ, you have resurrection power. You have the power to suffer. This is a truly living church before God.
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The Church Rises Again
In verse 11, after three and a half days, a spirit comes into the bodies of the witnesses, and they are raised from the dead. Through this we see that the church will rise again.
This great reversal takes place over and over again in history as the church rises again and again. In Esther, the day the king was going to kill all the Israelites turned into the day of their victory. During the Constantine period, when Roman persecutions were at the worst, Christianity became the religion of the empire. When the church was corrupted, the monasteries rose, and culture, art, piety, and biblical interpretation were developed there. When the monasteries fell, the Reformation was launched, and it brought the church back to the Bible. During the Enlightenment, people believed faith would be conquered by science, but a new mission movement rose and the two Great Awakenings revived a spiritually stagnant church. When liberalism rose, God raised up fundamentalism to save the faith. When fundamentalism stumbled, evangelicalism came. Evangelicalism declines, but we see the rise of gospel theology and Christ-centered preaching.
In China, in the Cultural Revolution, people thought all churches were eradicated, but they did not know the Cultural Revolution eradicated superstition and faith in Communism. In the 1980s, our hearts were empty, and the church was revived — from 800,000 believers, to tens of millions. Over and over again, the church has risen.
In the last century, Uncle Li was persecuted and imprisoned many years for the sake of the Lord. In the 90s, a religious bureau officer asked him where he learned the skill of preaching. Uncle Li said, “You taught me.”
The officer said, “We are atheists. How did we teach you?”
Uncle Li said, “You persecuted me and locked me up.”
Before he finished, the officer said, “That was long ago, yet you still hold a grudge?”
Li said, “I have never complained. Before persecution, I believed in the Lord, but I only had head knowledge. But when you locked me up, I did not have anyone to rely on. My wife and kids, my brothers and sisters were not with me. I only had one Lord, so I kept praying to him. My religion was no longer theory; it became real. Before, Jesus was far up above; now he is with me every day. This theoretical religion has become my real life experience. When I share my experience, everyone wants to hear. You taught me all of this.”
In verse 12, the two witnesses heard the voice say, “Come up here.” As their enemies watched in shock, there was a great earthquake, a tenth of the city fell, 7,000 people were killed and the rest were terrified. These small numbers – one-tenth and 7,000 – indicate that this is not the final judgment.
Pastor Wang Yi was sentenced to prison for nine years, and some say his case is unpardonable. Like Liu Xiaobo, he could have been locked up until death. But then many problems happened: Xinjiang, the Hong Kong crisis, recession, a trade war with America. The question of human rights is an anxious topic for the ruling authorities of China, so he was only sentenced for nine years. History has many examples like this: we will be persecuted, but we will also be protected. God is still at work.
“We Live Out The Life Of Jesus”
The two witnesses will be raised up. This is the image of the church from the beginning to the end. The church relives the life of Jesus. The church will go through the same things Jesus did: he came to do miracles and preach God’s word, but then he was killed, raised, and finally he ascended to heaven. Whatever Jesus does, the church will follow. We are Christ’s body, and we live out the life of Jesus.
Because of this, when we are persecuted, we preach continuously. We do not stop discipleship training or theological training. We live in communion. We do not stop meeting, even though we are dispersed into small groups. We cannot stop meeting. We worship during prayer meetings and birth celebrations, through Sunday worship, weddings, house-warming parties, or concerts. We continue to support missions and the needs of the marginalized. We must live out the abundant life of Jesus.
As we see how Jesus lived out his life, we will also do likewise; for as God sent Christ, so he sends us. May God give grace to all the churches who are under persecution.
Preacher Yang is the pastor of a house church in Xiamen, China. He received his Master of Divinity from Singapore Theological Seminary.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for God’s grace and life to be poured out on churches across the world experiencing persecution.