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Observe here, 1. The command given by God to St. John to take a survey of his church, his spiritual temple, consisting of living stones, and built upon the chief corner stone, Jesus Christ. God's faithful and true worshippers are only those whom God will have to be measured, and taken notice of as being his part and portion, his tabernacle in which he will dwell. And, blessed be God! in the worst of times they are measurable; even in times of epidemical degeneracy, and universal apostasy, God has a number to stand up for his name, and to bear witness to his truth.
Observe, 2. That the temple, the altar, and the worshippers therein, are here all joined together, and the command given is, to measure them together. Arise, and measure the temple, the altar, and them that worship therein; intimating, that the true church, and the true worshippers, are ever found together; and by the true worship, and the true worshippers, is the true church ever known; so that if the question be asked, "Where is the true church?" the answer is, where the true altar is; and where the true worship is, there the true church is; that church which will bear God's measuring reed, the scrutiny of the scriptures, and the examination of his holy word; where that worship is found, here the church of God is found.
Observe here, What St. John is forbidden to measure, and commanded to leave out, as no part of the true church, namely, The court which is without the temple; that is, that part of the visible church which is over-run with idolatry and Anti-christian worship, as bad as Gentilism, and accordingly shall by treated as Gentiles, and trodden down under foot as drossy hypocrites: Measure the temple, says God, but not the outward court.
The temple had but few worshippers, the priests only, in comparison of the outward court, where the body of the people was; whence we see that the true church is but small, very small, in comparision of the false and Anti-christian church, and consequently multitude can be no right note of the true church.
Observe farther, That whereas these Gentiles are said to tread under foot the holy city forty-two months, thereby is signified, that they should kill and persecute the true spouse and church of Christ, (called the holy city, in allusion to the earthly Jerusalem,) during the time of Anti-christ's prevalency, shall be but for a limited time, a short time; the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
Observe here, 1. That the church of God during Anti-christ's prevalency, shall not want witnesses or faithful teachers, though removed by persecution into corners.
Observe, 2. By mentioning two only, we may gather the paucity of faithful teachers, during the time of Anti-christ's prevalency; two are a number, but the least of numbers; we must not have our eye upon the multitude, or conclude that it is not truth which is not embraced and practised by the most; the train of Christ is not large, nor are his ways thronged as they ought, few comparatively there be that walk in them. As they, whom he calls forth to be eminently his witnesses, are not many, therefore called two; so they that received their witnesses are but few, for the world wonders after the beast.
Quest. But who and what are these witnesses?
Ans. The whole succession of faithful ministers, martyrs, and confessors, which Almighty God from time to time has raised up in his church to be the assertors and maintainers of divine truth, and to bear their testimony for Christ against all heresies, blasphemies, idolatries, and usurpations, in the time of Anti-christ's reign.
Observe, 3. The proper work of these witnesses declared, it is to instruct the people how to worshop God according to his word and will. The manner of their prophesying is said to be in sackcloth; that is, in much affliction and with great lamentation, bewailing the pollutions of the church, by the overspreadings of idolatry; and the time of their prophesying is said to be a thousand two hundred and threescore days; that is, during the time of Anti-christ's reign, so long the witnesses shall have a mournful time of it; during the whole reign of Anti-christ, God will have a true church, a true ministry, and faithful witnesses, whom, though Anti-christ will fight with, yet he shall never prevail against.
Observe, 4. How God is pleased to own and bear witness to these his witnesses.
1. He calls them his, my two witnesses.
2. He gives them power to prophecy; that is, they have their commission and authority from him, and they are enabled, assisted, and succeeded, by him, in the discharge of their testimony; their resolution and courage is from God, who calls them forth to bear their testimony for him.
Learn hence, That when God calls any of his to a martyr's fire, he does endue them with a martyr's faith; he furnishes his ministers and faithful servants with noble endowments, answerable to their great employments; God evermore gives much grace, where he tries grace much. As the command of God makes every duty necessary, so the assistance of God makes every duty easy, and the reward of God makes every duty and service gainful and advantageous.
Observe here, 1. A double title given by God unto the two witnesses, spoken of in the former verse; they are styled olive-trees and candlesticks. As the olive-tree is always green, so the ministry of these witnesses is lively and efficacious; as the olive is a sign of peace, and the oil that drops from the olive an emblem of grace, so the ministry of these witnesses was a ministry both of grace and peace. Again, they are called olive-trees, because they are to minister oil to the candlesticks, which are to hold out light unto others.
Here note, That the title of candlesticks given to the churches, chap. 1 is here given to the ministers of the church; partly to show the near relation that is between them, and partly to point out the duty that is mutually incumbent upon them; namely, to hold forth the light of truth unto others.
And farther, these candlesticks are said to stand before the God of the earth, signifying their fidelity in the discharge of their duty, as in the presence of God, before whom they stand.
Observe, 2. The efficacy and power of these witnesses' ministry in the certain effects of it. What was said of Elijah and Elisha literally, is applied unto them spiritually.
1. As Elijah brought fire down from heaven, which devoured the enemy, so fire proceeds out of these witnesses' mouth, not by way of imprecation, but by way of denunciation, pronouncing the threatenings and judgments of God against them, continuing in their impenitency.
2. As Elijah had power to shut heaven, so have these witnesses power to do the like during the time of their prophecy; that is, God is provoked for the world's ill treatment of his faithful witnesses to withhold the spiritual rain of the word, and the refreshing doctrine of the gospel, from them.
Again, when it is said that these witnesses have power to turn the waters into blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, there is a manifest allusion to Moses and Aaron, who exercised such a power. Exodus 7 .
Accordingly, God being provoked by the indignities offered to his faithful witnesses, permits the pure doctrine of the gospel to be corrupted, and avenges their cause, by bringing judgments on the world, as Moses did upon Egypt, according to the threatenings denounced by them.
Whence we may learn, what great credit and esteem the faithful witnesses and ministers of Christ are in with God; what power and prerogative is given to them, far surpassing the power of any mortal prince, even a power to open and shut heaven, to turn waters into blood, and to smite the earth: that is, God doth all these things upon a just occasion in vindication of them, and in revenge for the injuries done unto them.
These verses set before us the barbarous usage which the two witnesses should meet with from the antichristian world, for the faithful discharge of their duty; they shall be slain, politically and civilly, say some; deposed, silenced, imprisoned, and laid aside as useless and dead.
Literally, say others, they shall be put to death for the testimony of Jesus, by bloodshed, fire, and faggot. They shall overcome them, that is, in their persons, but not in their cause.
See here the Christian church founded in blood, that of Christ its head; watered with blood, that of his ministers and members. God suffers his sometimes to be actually slain, for his own glory, their honour, and the church's good: but mark the time specified when the witnesses were slain; it was when they had finished their testimony.
Observe, 2. Besides the antichristian cruelty, in killing these witnesses, their barbarous inhumanity, in denying them burial, not suffering some to be buried at all, and digging up the bones of others that had been long buried. The place where this was done is called Sodom and Egypt, and the great city where our Lord was crucified: which, if literally understood, signifies Jerusalem, compared to Sodom for the abominable sins of the Gnostics committed in her; and to Egypt, for oppression: but if mystically understood, Rome, or the Roman empire, is conceived by most Protestants to be here intended by Egypt and Sodom; like Egypt, for idolatry, tyranny, spiritual darkness, obstinacy, and obduracy; like Sodom for uncleanness, yea, worse than Sodom, uncleanness being not only practised but tolerated, yea, allowed publicly, licences being ther given to such public houses, and books written in defence of Sodomy at Rome, where Christ may be said to be crucified in his members as long as this apostate power holds up.
Observe, 3. The great joy and exultation which is here discovered at the slaughter of these witnesses; the antichristian rabble triumph and make merry, rejoice and send gifts, to one another.
Lord! how madly do the wicked rejoice at the death of those men that used their utmost endeavours to have saved them! They that dwell on the earth shall rejoice and make merry.
Observe, 4. The special reason assigned why the members of antichrist's kingdom did thus triumph at the head of the witnesses, and their supposed utter extinction, namely, because the two witnesses tormented them that dwell on the earth; that is, by their public preaching, by their private reproving, by their denouncing of God's judgments against them; for not suffering them to go on quietly and undisturbedly in the ways of sin, they grew very uneasy with them, and rejoiced when they thought the world fully rid of them.
Lord! how does the preaching of thy word, which comforts and supports thy children, which is sweeter to them than the honey, and more esteemed by them than their necessary food, how does the same word preached torment notorious sinners; and, instead of receiving the message, they rage at the messenger, and triumph and dance with Herod, to see that head cut off whose tongue was so bold to tell them of their faults: They rejoiced, because these two prophets that tormented them were slain.
The death of the witnesses was described in the foregoing verses, their resurrection is declared in these. This is understood politically by some, that they who were civilly dead, that is, laid aside as useless, were now politically alive; that is, restored to their public work and employment in the church again, God causing princes and magistrates to own and favour them; and accordingly, by their ascending up into heaven, they understand their re-entering into the church, their re-enjoying their public liberties and gospel privileges, which, in comparison of the low nd sackcloth condition they were in before, was like heaven and earth unto them.
And they ascended in a cloud, that is, gloriously, and their enemies beheld them with an envious eye, because of the work in their hands, which it was not in their power to hinder. Others understand this resurrection (in the manner forementioned) to be meant not of the same spirit and office, restored to the same work, to the admiration of the good, and consternation of the bad; and that the voice of Christ spake to the slain witnesses, saying, Come up hither, that is, into heaven, to receive the reward of your sufferings and services, and others that succeed you in office shall partake of your spirit, and perfect that work which you began and carried on.
Where note, That ofttimes God's faithful witnesses, namely, such magistrates and ministers as have done great things for the church of God, are taken up to heaven before they behold the desired issue, which is left to their successors to see completed.
These words are conceived by interpreters to set forth the great success of the witnesses' ministry after their resurrection; it was accompanied with a mighty earthquake, or a great shaking of the kingdom of antichrist; insomuch that a tenth part of the city fell; that is, many nations and kingdoms under antichrist's tyranny and dominion shook off the yoke, and disowned his jurisdiction, and fell off from him.
Observe farther, What this earthquake and fall produced, namely, a twofold effect.
1. Seven thousand were slain.
2. Others were affrighted, turned from their sins, and gave glory to God.
Behold here the great power of the word of God, and the happy success thereof, to the shaking of antichrist's kingdom, which falls not at once, but by degrees, as it rose. The man of sin is to be consumed with the breath of Christ's mouth at first, which is a gradual death, till at last be be quite abolished by the brightness of his coming.
Upon the whole then we may comfortably conclude, that whatever ground antichrist on the one hand may seem to have gained of late in any place, that yet he is certainly in a deep consumation; nay, far gone in it, and will languish more and more till he draws his last breath: and, on the other hand, whatever clouds may overspread the church of Christ in any place, it will not be long ere they will vanish, and that affairs are moving forward towards the church's highest outward prosperity, and most flourishing condition that she shall ever arrive to on this side of heaven, which is to be under the blessed Millinium, or thousand years, which began probably with the resurrection of the witnesses at the beginning of the Protestant reformation, by the preaching of Luther.
Thus speaks our learned Dr. More, Myst. Inq. p 477. "I doubt not," says he, "but this vision of the resurrection of the witnesses was a prediction of our Protestant reformation, begun at Spires in Germany, Anno 1529, when several German princes and imperial cities made a solemn protestation against the innovations and usurpations of the church of Rome; from whence came the name of Protestants, which continues to this day."
"This therefore," says he, [ mark his inference ]" should make our reformation the more sacred, and keep all persons that wish well to our holy religion, from casting any dirt upon our first reformers, whose names ought to be had in honour, and will be so in the church of God throughout all generations."
An account is here given of the angel's sounding the seventh trumpet, at the beginning of Antichrist's ruin and downfall; St. John heard great acclamations and shoutings in heaven for the victory which Christ by his witnesses had gotten over him, saying, The kingdoms of this world, that is, several kingdoms, or main bodies of kingdoms and nations, are now brought in to acknowledge Christ for their sovereign and lawgiver, who did not so before: but whereas formerly they owned another master, namely, antichrist, now they do especially own and acknowledge Christ, by professing to believe in him, and be coming a pure church to him; and he shall reign for ever and ever. Even under antichrist's reign and tyranny Christ had a kingdom; but he will have a more visible kingdom in the world, and which shall continue without any eclipse by antichrist, or any other, as it suffered before.
This chapter concludes with a doxolgy and solemn thanksgiving in heaven, for the victory which Christ obtained over antichrist here on earth, that is, for the begun victory over him.
Here observe, 1. The persons rendering praises, the four and twenty elders; all the ministers of the church, say some; the whole church, say others, who are said to sit before God; denoting,
1. That they rest from their labours; they walked as pilgrims before, they sit now. Would we with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, sit down in the kingdom of God in heaven? we must with Abraham walk before God in uprightness here on earth, Genesis 17:5.
2. It denotes the honour and dignity unto which they were now advanced; as servants they stood before, as friends they sit now: but upon this great occasion mark their humble gesture, their prostrations and adorations before God, They fell upon their faces and worshipped.
Observe, 2. The ground and occasion of it; what it is which they thus solemnly bless God for, namely, for Christ's victory over his enemies, for assuming to himself his great power, and universal dominion; and because the kingdoms of the world were now become the kingdoms of the Lord, and of his Christ.
For if there be joy in heaven at the conversion of one sinner unto Christ, what is there, suppose we, at the conversion of nations and kingdoms unto Christ: behold here the whole host of heaven, the church triumphant in the New Jerusalem, breaking forth into the highest praises for establishing the public exercise of religion in its purity, never more to be driven into corners, as it was twice before; first by Pagans, next by Pagan Christians.
Observe, 3. The doxology or thanksgiving itself, Lord God Almighty, we give thee thanks for this begun overthrow of Antichrist, which by thy almighty power thou wilt certainly carry on, being always the same, and as able to help thy church as ever, because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.
As if they had said, in the time of antichrist's full power, when thy church was under a bitter and bloody persecution, thy power seemed to be laid aside, and thou seemedst not to reign, having thy power obscured by his tyranny; but now thou showest thyself to be a ruler over all the world, both king of saints and king of nations.
Observe, 4. The indignation and wrath which the friends of antichrist express upon this occasion, Revelation 11:18. The nations were angry, that is, the idolatrous nations; they who formerly persecuted, do now fret because they are overcome; they gnash their teeth at the successful progress of the gospel; and because thy wrath, that is, the time to execute thy wrath, is come, upon all idolaters and false worshippers.
And the time of the dead, that they should be judged and rewarded: that is, the time is now come when those witnesses, which were civilly dead, and accounted as dead by the world, shall revive again; or, the time of the dead, that is, of those that have been slain by Antichrist; the time is come that their blood shall be avenged, and all thy faithful servants and sufferers recompensed and rewarded; particularly thy prophets, whose work being greater, such shall their reward be also.
And all that fear thy name, both small and great; that is, all true believers of a more private capacity, who have cleaved unto Christ's pure and undefiled religion, how obscure soever they have been in the world, none of these shall miss of a recompence, when God's time of rewarding is come; and then he will destroy them which destroy the earth; that is, those bloody persecutors, who destroy the inhabitants of the earth by persecutions, or false doctrines.
Observe, 5. The great blessing which follows upon the downfall of antichrist, Revelation 11:19. The temple of God was opened; alluding to the frequent shutting up of the temple of Jerusalem by idolatrous princes, Ahaz, and others, when the ark, in which the law of God lay, was not seen; but Hezekiah and Josiah, those two reforming princes, opened the temple, and restored the true worship of Almighty God.
In like manner, during antichrist's reign, the temple of God was shut up, his true worship suppressed: but now, since antichrist's falling, the temple is opened, the ark seen, the pure word of God expounded, and a more than ordinary presence of God (of which the ark was a symbol) found in his church. Well might the church then, upon this happy occasion, triumphantly say, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 11". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30