In this next vision, before the seventh trumpet sounds, two “Witnesses” appeared. Who or what are they? Before we go there, what is happening when the apostle is commanded to measure the temple and altar of God – excluding the outer court, the court of the Gentiles? This is clearly symbolic – John was seeing a vision of the Jerusalem temple, which might even have already been destroyed in real life (70 AD). Measuring and numbering in scripture usually imply ownership and protection, setting the object apart for holy use by God. (Ezekiel 40:5; 42:20; Zechariah 2:1). Symbolically, the temple of God means the true church, those who are born again of the Spirit of God, being safeguarded from the judgments coming upon the rest of mankind. The ‘outer court’ might possibly refer to those who are outwardly believers but have no genuine faith in Christ.
“Every matter must be established by the testimony of two (or more) witnesses” (Matthew 18:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1; both these quote Deuteronomy 19:15). The gospel needs effective human witness to establish it and the Church is the institution on earth that God has established to do this. Therefore, many commentators propose that these ‘Two Witnesses’ symbolise the true church on earth. Symbolically they are also the ‘Olive Trees’ and ‘Lampstands’ of Zechariah chapter 4, which again symbolise God’s people.
Jesus sent his apostles two by two to preach the gospel (Luke 10:1) as witnesses to the Kingdom. Looking further back, these witnesses represent the ‘church’ of the Old Covenant, the great saints of Hebrews 11, who are represented by Elijah (“power to shut up the heavens so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying”) and Moses (“power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague…”). Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) bear witness to the Messiah, just as the New Testament church does.
Forty-two months is the same as 1,260 days, which is three and a half years. There is huge prophetic significance in the number seven, especially in the Book of Daniel. Daniel 9:27 speaks of seven sets of seven years, followed by 62 sets of seven years, followed by one final set of seven years. This final ‘seven’ is then split in half, to make a period of three and half years. Some commentators reckon that this period is symbolic of the gospel age, between the first and second comings of Christ (i.e., now).
Continuing that theory, the two witnesses (the church?) declare the gospel of the Kingdom for the entire gospel age, whilst being persecuted by the unbelievers. At the end of that period of time – as decreed by God – there will be a much shorter but highly intense period of persecution of the entire church by the entire world, just before Jesus returns. Its leaders will have been slaughtered, its witness prevented, and its power opposed. In effect it will be dead, and no one will even care to give it a decent burial! Many of its members will be literally killed. The world will rejoice! Matthew 24 seems to refer to the same period.
After that short period is over, God himself comes to the rescue and breathes his life into his people, raising them from the dead (just like the first time in Genesis 2:7). “Come up here”, he called, and the church ascends to meet him in the clouds, with their enemies watching on. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Immediately this occurred, the full weight of God’s wrath falls upon the earth and the Seventh Trumpet sounds, introducing the final Judgment. The earth is being reclaimed for righteousness and purged of wickedness. “The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever” (v15). God is now “The One who is and who was” – but no longer “The One who is to come”, because now he has come!
His temple is opened from heaven and the ark of the covenant is revealed, with lightening, thunder, earthquake, and hailstorm. All these symbols of great and final judgment.
EZRA 4, 5 and 6
When GOD fights for you, things go so much better than when you fight your own corner. A man or woman of faith does not always feel the need to defend themselves against criticism and to self-promote, since they know that if they humble themselves before the Lord, He will raise them up. We have a choice on earth: we can either take our reward now, by craving earthly recognition, or we can take a far greater reward later, by committing your destiny to the One who is just and fair. (Mathew 6:1-21).
Those early rebuilders of the temple, having first returned from exile, were opposed quite fiercely by the local Samaritan population in various ways. But they trusted in the Lord, and he vindicated them; it is so much better to receive vindication from Him, than to extract it for yourself. Judah’s opponents were brought in originally by the Assyrian kings from Mesopotamia and Aram (Syria) to care for the land whilst the Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into exile in 722 BC. Therefore, the indigenous population of the region, by the time the Jewish exiles returned from Babylon, was very mixed and awash with foreign gods, idols, and syncretism – the deliberate fusion of religions. They had no problem at all with offering to help out the Jews with yet another ‘god’ (as they saw it), whom they no doubt hoped to absorb into their own systems of worship.
But the Jewish pioneers were wise to this – as we should be – and rejected their ‘kind’ offers of help. (Ezra 4:3). So, the next level of attack was to strike fear into the local builders and also to bribe the planning officials to put hundreds of small legal barriers against the work. But still it continued.
Finally, the Jews’ opponents grasped the nettle and wrote a slanderous letter to the emperor, warning him that Jerusalem had always been a rebellious city (despite the fact that it was the Temple that was being rebuilt) and that it was in his interests to curtail the building work. The worried emperor, of course, complied with their request, which gave them the carte blanche to impose force on the Jewish builders, to bring the work to a grinding halt!
Later on, encouraged by the prophetic words of Haggai and Zechariah, the builders began work again – fearlessly ignoring the threats of their local enemies. The work having started, it attracted the attention of the locals and again they wrote to the King of Persia (a different one this time). Fortunately, the local governor permitted them to continue whilst the message was wending its way to the capital of the empire.
Good news! After a search in the royal archives, a copy of the original edict by Cyrus was discovered. The claims of the Jewish builders were upheld, and the work was permitted to continue. Furthermore, in keeping with Cyrus’ original commands, the Jews’ local opponents were compelled by law to give the builders every assistance and all resources they required! Any interference with the project was punishable by death. The Jews celebrated the Passover with great joy that year, since the Lord had given them incredible joy, by changing the attitude of the emperor to bring the Jews favour in his eyes.