Knowing How You Are Going to Die
Let’s all pretend that we are alone and God asks us a question…
“Alan, do you want to know when and how you are going to die?”
How would you answer?
Let’s just assume you answer yes…and God tells you something like…
When a blood-red moon rises over the carriage, a crow will be given the right to preach for two periods of time, then as a fish is, you will die.
Immediately, God concludes, “It’s been good talking to you, bye!”
How would you feel? I mean, our Lord is trustworthy and you have been told how you are going to die. However, do you actually know how the time and method you’ll enter eternity?
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the “extras” that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
Preaching to Kids
Okay, before we continue…let’s review my three rules of preaching to children. Anyone remember them?
- Use simple words.
- Keep it short.
- See #1 and #2.
Those are important because today’s sermon is “Anthony’s Sermon on the Two Witnesses.” Last I checked, Anthony was still a child…so we’ll try to follow those guidelines. Kids, keep me honest. 🙂
The Scripture in Question
Before I can answer Anthony’s question about who the two witnesses are, we have to hop into the Bible and read about them. Let’s turn to Revelation 11:1-14:
11 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 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. 6 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. 7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 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. 9 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, 10 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. 11 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. 12 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. 13 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.
14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.
What was my first rule of preaching to children? Use simple words, right?
How did those 14 verses fair? Not so good.
Just like God in the hypothetical situation I imagined to start this sermon, we’re told a lot about something in the end times…but, at least on the surface, we really still know absolutely nothing about what is happening.
But we have to remember a couple things:
First, Revelation is frequently symbolic, so it would make sense if this passage is heavily symbolic versus speaking of two literal witnesses.
Second, to those who heard this just after it was written, it may have made a ton of sense. Think about how confused a non-native English speaker from another country can get when we use slang. People in our community understand what exactly what we are saying, but foreigners might be scratching their heads. We are “foreigners” to the first century world, and unless a “local” explains things to us, we will be scratching our heads.
We Don’t Know
Anthony, do you recall how I answered your question about who the two witnesses were the first time you asked it, through Cisco, over a text?
I basically said, “We don’t know.”
I stand by that, but how about I share a few theories…and then three things we do know about the end times? Is that fair?
Let’s start with what The ESV Study Bible says:
11:3—14 Scripture requires two witnesses to confirm testimony (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16). The two witnesses here may symbolize the saints, as the parallel between Rev. 11:7 and 13:7 suggests. Wearing the sackcloth of repentance (cf. Isa. 37:1—2; Jonah 3:5; Matt. 11:21) to symbolize their message, they prophesy while the holy city suffers trampling (Rev. 11:2), the Messiah’s mother is nourished in the wilderness (12:6, 14), and the beast wields its authority (13:5). Some scholars believe that these are two actual individuals who will appear at the end of history.1
That quick passage suggests that the two witness are either:
- A symbol of the church (saints)
- Two actual people
The way it is written implies they think it is the former. How about this instead from Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary?:
3. Without any warning, my two witnesses make their appearance. As a result of the divine gift they will prophesy for 1,260 days (for the period see on v. 2). Their identity is not completely clear. Some think of Moses and Elijah, who would suit verses 5—6 very well. They are referred to in an oracle of hope at the end of the Old Testament (Mal. 4:4—5), and they appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:3). Other suggestions are Elijah and Elisha, Enoch and Elijah (who both ascended to heaven supernaturally), the Law and the Prophets, the Law and the Gospel, the Old Testament and the New. There is no shortage of suggestions. The context seems to demand something directly associated with the church, and in view of verse 7 perhaps we should think particularly of the martyrs.2
- This info adds the following options:
- Moses and Elijah
- Elijah and Elisha
- Enoch and Elijah
- The Law and the Prophets
- The Law and the Gospel
- The Old Testament and the New
- Something directly associated with the church
As they point out…”There is no shortage of suggestions.”
So Anthony, and everyone listening, I stand by my…”We don’t know.” In this case, God has told us something using symbols we do not understand…we are foreigners who do not have a local to explain it to us.
But, more importantly, Anthony…if someone tells you they know for sure who the two witnesses are, run away from them. Some people get caught up in trying to explain every word of the Bible, when, in reality, sometimes you just need to say, “We don’t know.” Anything else is taking the role of God upon yourself. Some things only God knows…and I would suggest that based on what we have available about the two witnesses in the 21 century, only God knows who they are (or, more likely in my opinion, what they symbolize).
What We Do Know
What was the second rule of preaching to children? That’s right, “keep it short.” If I don’t stop soon, I’ll be breaking that rule…so let’s wrap up by talking about three things we actually do know about the end times.
14 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1-4).
#1 thing we know about the end times?
Jesus will return…for you.
Now, that’s good news!
Now let’s turn to 1 Thesalonnians 5:1-3:
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
#2 thing we know about the end times?
He will come suddenly…so be prepared.
And finally, let’s take a look at Matthew 24:23-27:
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
#3 thing we know about the end times?
When He comes, you’ll see Him…so don’t be fooled.
Anthony, I am sorry that I cannot tell you who the two witnesses are…but I’ve given you a lot of options. Personally, I’m pretty sure they are symbols versus two real people, and I think there is a good chance that somehow the symbol is connected to the church…for example members or martyrs.
But I think what we do know is more important anyway:
- Jesus will return…for you.
- He will come suddenly…so be prepared.
- When He comes, you’ll see Him…so don’t be fooled.
To quote Scripture one more time…Revelation 22:20 to be specific:
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
1Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2478). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
2Morris, L. (1987). Revelation: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 20, pp. 143—144). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.