The Church as We Know It - Destroyed! Never Again Rebuilt.
Revelation 10 and 11
These two chapters conclude a section in Revelation that announces that life on our planet can be pretty frightful. Seven trumpets warn the world of impending judgment by means of a variety of horrific yet limited events: earthquakes, floods, wars, oppression and slavery of all kinds. Yet many ignore the warnings. Chapter 9 ends asserting that much of mankind remains hardened.
A bitter sweet little book
Warnings alone do not change people, but something else does. John sees a bigger than life angel (aren't all angels bigger than life?) holding a little scroll in his hand. It's little because it contains not all of God's thoughts, but only data we need in order to know Him. In other words, the little scroll is God's Word, more particularly, the good news that there is hope through faith in Christ. John was commanded to eat the scroll, an action symbolizing his taking its contents into his mind and heart. But it's a bitter-sweet experience. The gospel assures believers of eternal life but also does two things that create real soul discomfort. The gospel has the effect of opening believers' eyes to sin and corruption in his own heart and all around. That can be painful but not despairing. But further, the gospel condemns those who reject it. Word to John and to us. "Man up! Take the gospel seriously and make it known."
Two images of the God's people
The first is of the temple being measured including the altar and those who worship there. But the outer court is not measured. Measuring symbolizes God's caring attention to his people. That the outer court is not measured tells us that there are those within the number of God's people who are not really His. They are pretenders. God's people will always have among them those who profess the faith and may even behave well, yet are mere pretenders. Not to worry. In good time, God will take care of that.
The second word picture of the church is that of two witnesses. If the first showed us God's people as His dwelling; this picture presents God's people as his instrument for bring change. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. We go in the power of God's Spirit represented by two olive trees and we proclaim God's Word portrayed by the two lamp-stands. Now, anytime two or more come together to accomplish a task there's got to be at least some organization. Times need to be set, division of labor establish, supplies ordered. Can you see that the two witnesses stand for the church organized to proclaim the gospel and challenge evil? As we'll see, the distinction between church as the dwelling of God and church as an agency with a mission is key to understanding what God has in mind.
Drawing the enemies fire
The more successful we are in drawing folks to Jesus, the more infuriated the enemy becomes. The day comes when, in alliance with ungodly worldly powers, Satan finally succeeds in destroying the church. The two witness lie dead, unburied, while the world celebrates. No longer are consciences pricked by the Word of God. No more must folks decide between following God or their own ambitions. But the party lasts only 3 1/2 days, a symbolic very short time compared to the 3 1/2 years.
Now the two witnesses represent the church in its outward organized form. It is this, the organized church, that will be destroyed, not the true people of God. The day comes, then, when followers of Jesus won't have the supports we've come to take for granted: church buildings and Christian education programs, pastors and counselors, publishing houses and mission organizations. Every organized form of the Christian faith will be no more. That's when the true people of God will have an opportunity to demonstrate what God has done in their hearts. For it will be clear that their faith rests on Him rather than on external structures. Now don't get me wrong. The organized church has an important role. When Paul traveled about evangelizing, he didn't consider the job done until he'd organized a church in every city he visited. But perspective is important. The organized church is a means to an end. God intends it to be an agency of comfort, instruction and witness in a darkened world. But the true people of God trust their Savior, no human structure. So one day, perhaps soon, organized Christianity will cease to exist. The world will see God's people standing tall in the utter reliance on Jesus Christ.
The two witnesses robed in sackcloth (think humility) are authorized to proclaim God's truth for 1260 days. The 1260, 42 months, and time, times and a half-time, all indicate a period of about 3 1/2 years. Once again this is symbolic, but symbolic of what?
Do you know any important ministry that lasted about that long? He was baptized in the Jordan, wound up on cross. Rose to life on the 3rd day. That's right. Jesus' own ministry lasted approximately 3 1/2 years. But in Revelation, this period of time covers, not Jesus' ministry, but that of the two witnesses, i.e. God's people at work. That's because our ministry to the world is to be modeled after Christ's: humble, sacrificial, faithful to the Father and confident in His good purposes. Paul spoke of his own work as filling up what was lacking in Christ's. Not that there is anything deficient in Christ's ministry. What Paul means is that he sees his own work as continuing in line with his Master's. So it is with the ministry of the church at large.
Lest we underestimate the effectiveness of the faithful organized church, John sees the two witnesses pulling off rather dramatic feats. They stop the rains as did Elijah and bring about plagues as did Moses. If God did these these things through his prophets of old, He also transforms the most hardened sinner today by the power of the gospel proclaimed by the church.
As already mentioned, the world's celebration turns out to be short-lived. After 3 1/2 days the two witnesses come to life and are called up to heaven. The celebrating world is stunned. Final judgment is postponed no longer.
What John sees in symbol, has already been written about in plain prose. At just the right time the Lord will return. The dead in Christ will rise first. Believers, alive at the time, will join them to meet the Lord in the air. We fall in behind Him as he charges his enemies. They are vanquished in a moment. We then return to a recreated world, the New Heavens and the New Earth.
An analogy of my own
Think of the church as we know it as scaffolding used to erect a magnificent building. When the building is complete, what happens to the scaffolding? So it is with the organized church. It's destruction will reveal the magnificent end product of God redemptive plan: a people whose hearts are bound in love and loyalty to their God's.
But alas! We've become enamored by the scaffolding.