Editor’s note: This sermon was preached in January of 2020, as Covid-19 was just beginning to spread across the world. In this second part of his apocalyptic sermon, Preacher Yang explains that the two witnesses in Revelation represent the church. And as Christ’s body, the church follows in Jesus’s footsteps and must live out the roles of prophet, priest, and king.
This excerpt has been edited, condensed, and rearranged slightly for clarity and length. Part one can be found here.
“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.” Revelation 11:3-6
The Witnesses As Prophet
Verse three says the two witnesses will preach for 1,260 days. The two witnesses bring to mind Elijah and John the Baptist, prophets who preached repentance. There are two prophets to represent the church, not one, because in both the Old and New Testament, all charges must be established by the evidence of two witnesses. Jesus himself said his words are true. But when he was accused of bearing false witness, he said that God the Father was with him and also testified to this truth. In Revelation, these two witnesses point to the church.
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Verse 6 says that, when the witnesses preach, the sky is shut, and there is no rain. The witnesses have authority to turn water into blood and attack the world with disaster. Shutting the sky reminds us of Elijah, and we think of Moses when we see water turned to blood. Both those men were prophets.
The Witnesses As Priest
Verse 4 says there are two olive trees and two lampstands before the Lord. This references a vision from Zechariah 4. God had to explain the vision to Zechariah, who did not understand what he saw. In the original vision, the olive trees point to Zerubbabel and Joshua, the high priest. These two anointed men led the returned exiles and represented Israel to rebuild the temple. The book of Revelation draws us even closer to God’s ultimate purpose. Here, the two olive trees are preserved, representing God’s people.
But in Zechariah 4 and throughout the Old Testament, there was only one lampstand. Yet at the beginning of Revelation, seven lampstands represent seven churches. In the Old Testament, worship happened in one place, as all the people came to Mount Zion to worship. But Christ is the true temple, and God’s Spirit lives in us. We are his temple. We do not have to go to Jerusalem to worship, because we carry the temple with us wherever we go. Wherever saints gather together, they are both the lampstand and the temple. A single lampstand becomes two, which corresponds to the two witnesses.
The Witnesses As King
Verse 5 shows the witnesses can spit fire. The witnesses were not only prophets, they were also powerful [i.e. kingly]. They could spit fire, and burn those who rejected the gospel. These witnesses are not merely for the very last days [the last seven years after a Rapture has occurred]. The witnesses preach for three and a half years, indicating that the church is to preach continuously.
The prophet Jeremiah said, “Behold, I am making my words in your mouth a fire, and this people wood, and the fire shall consume them.” The words of the witnesses attack the world. When the witnesses talk about righteousness and purity, the people of the world cannot stand it. When Pastor Wang Yi releases a joint statement, authorities feel they are burned. When he says leaders need to repent because they are sinful, authorities feel he is spitting fire. This tradition of spitting fire is inherited from the Old Testament.
So, the two witnesses represent prophet, priest, and king. The prophet teaches, worships, and trains disciples in the truth. The priest guards the holiness, love, and beauty of this living community. And the king fulfills the mission God has entrusted to us, to serve and love this world.
Christians Have To Preach The Gospel
I know a preacher who went to seminary overseas and came back to serve in the Three-Self Church. Because he was educated overseas, they did not recognize his education. They said he had to go through the Three-Self seminary again. Once, while preaching in a Three-Self church, he said, “This is a crooked and twisted generation.” When he went back to his seminary, the president of the seminary publicly criticized him, saying a nation under Communism could not be crooked or twisted. This friend recognized that, if he continued, he would have to sell his Lord and his friends. He left the Three-Self church and went to serve in a house church.
The authorities of this world are not the only ones who feel this way before the two witnesses. Revelation 10 talks about a little scroll. The meaning of the scroll is the same as that of the two witnesses. The scroll is the gospel. When you eat it, it’s sweet; but in your stomach, it’s bitter. When we first believe in the Lord, we are excited, joyful, and have real peace. “People can love each other.” With this excitement, we go home to preach the gospel. Our family becomes angry: “Who are you to tell me I am a sinner? I raised you up. I have eaten more salt than you have rice. And you say I am a sinner?”
Your family will persecute you. “You want to tithe? I raised you. How come you never tithe to me?”
When you believe in the gospel, the peace, joy, and glory from God are real, but persecution also comes along with them. Those who are faithful will be persecuted. Jesus predicted that he will turn sons against fathers and mothers against daughters. The gospel you preach is totally different from the worldviews of this world. The destinations are different. You have different value systems, and make different choices.
This passage says that, even to death, Christians have to preach the gospel. God’s word is a double-edged sword, alive and powerful, cutting through joints and able to discern thoughts. The Spirit can explain and make known to us things we cannot understand, including ourselves.
Many churches in Xiamen have recently come under persecution. One church shared their testimony with me. In the last few years, the government has used various means to disperse this church. One woman was a government official, responsible to keep record of their testimonies. Her mother is a believer. Later, this woman came, in tears, to look for the church’s pastor.
“Thank you,” she said. “Because I have had to take notes over the last two years, the gospel has taken hold of my heart. It has been a long time since I have gone to church or read the gospel, but recently there has been a huge disruption in my family. If not for my interactions with you, I would have no faith to face these changes in the family. Now I have determined that I want to be baptized. I want to bring my kids to church.”
We thought our words were useless – but when you faithfully preach the gospel, you preach God’s righteous words. He will prepare people’s hearts.
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 the church in China to follow Jesus and live as prophet, priest, and king in this world.