We come, at last, to the end of the great interlude. The great interlude began in 10:1 and now finally concludes in 11:14. The great interlude is set in the midst of the mighty trumpet blasts. We read of the first six trumpet blasts in 8:1–9:21; we read of the seventh trumpet blast in 11:15–19. In between 9:21 and 11:15, in between the first six trumpet blasts and the seventh trumpet blast, is the great interlude; in this great interlude our attention is focused upon the Church. The interlude provides us with a description of the Church. It provides us with a portrait of the Church’s life and identity. It is describing the history of the church, as she lives in the midst of the world, between the first coming of Christ and His return. This is the history of the church. This is our history. We are not spectators sitting in the stands watching the events unfold before our eyes; we are participants in the arena; we are participants in the action. This is the history of the church!
The history of the church can, at times, be quite disturbing, and certainly it is so here. John begins in verses 7–10 with nothing less than the “death” of the Church. “When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them,overcome them, and kill them” (11:7). The Church is the object of Satan’s hatred. The Evil One has his sites on the Church; he pursues the people of God; he seeks to devour the body of Christ; he seeks to tear apart the fellowship of the Spirit. The verse speaks of the beast ascending out of the abyss, making war against the church, overcoming the church, even killing the church. The words are most disturbing. Satan and his minions make war against the church. Satan and his minions overcome the church. Satan and his minions even kill the church. That’s what John is saying, and these things are taking place presently.
Even now Satan and his minions are making war against the Church, overcoming the Church, and even killing the Church. Need I tell you of the attacks to which the Church of Jesus Christ is subject? Need I tell you about the underground church and the persecution she faces in communist countries? Need I tell you of the atrocities that the Church suffers in China? Need I tell you of the persecution under which the Church suffers in Indonesia? Need I tell you of the death of many martyrs in the Philippines? The Evil One has made war against the Church. He appears victorious over the Church. He has even apparently killed the Church, silencing her voice altogether. And we need not simply look abroad; we can look within our own boarders as well. To be sure, in America we do not suffer the atrocities with which the Chinese Christians are familiar; we do not suffer under the persecutions with which the Christians in Indonesia are familiar, we do not suffer the martyrdom with which the Christians in the Philippines are familiar, but we are fooling ourselves if we do not think we are under attack. The attacks of the Evil One are different in our land: here his attacks are subtle and sinister. Here he has gotten the church to become like the world.
Think of the victories he has won: in many churches he has won the battle of worship, where the worship of the church resembles more of Hollywood than it does of Scripture; in many churches he has won the battle of the Lord’s Day, where many Christians think nothing of spending the Lord’s Day as they desire, rather than spending it as God desires; in many churches he has won the battle of the church’s mission, where many Christians are no longer concerned with proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, but with social and political action; in many churches he has won the battle of the mind, where many Christians no longer set their minds on things above, but on the things below.
Even now Satan and his minions are making war against the Church. Even now Satan and his minions are apparently overcoming the Church. Even now Satan and his minions are apparently killing the Church. And in all of this the Church is beingconformed to the image of her dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Was not Jesus Christ subject to the attacks of the Evil One? Was He not overcome? Was He not put to death? The Church of Jesus Christ is being conformed to the image of her Lord and Savior: attacked as Christ was attacked, overcome as Christ was overcome, killed as Christ was killed. The Church of Jesus Christ is being conformed to the image of her Lord in His humiliation and death. That’s the point of verse 7.
The disturbing imagery continues in verse 8: “And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” Here the conformity of the Church to the image of her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is spelled out even more clearly. Was not Christ put on display, and made subject to the abuse and scorn of the world? Were not the forces of evil arrayed against Him? So it is with the Church: she is made subject to the abuse and scorn of the world; the forces of evil are arrayed against her. Her dead body lies in the street; she is not buried; she is not treated with the least bit of courtesy and respect. The Church bears the humiliation of Christ.
That humiliation is spelled out in verse 9, “Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.” That humiliation is further spelled out in verse 10, “And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.” Not only does the world refuse the church burial, but the world rejoices, makes merry, and even sends gifts to one another over the demise of the Church. Was it not so with our Lord? Did not the world rejoice at His death? Did not His enemies make merry at His death? Did not hell itself celebrate His death?
Verses 7–10, then, set before us the Church of Jesus Christ in conformity with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: conformed to Him in His apparent weakness, conformed toHim in His humiliation, conformed to Him in His suffering, conformed to Him in His apparent defeat, conformed to Him in His death. As the Savior was apparently weak, so the Church appears weak. As the Savior was apparently powerless, so the Church appears powerless. As Christ was humiliated, so the Church is humiliated.
And yet there is also a hint of the Church’s power and exaltation, as she is conformed to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We have noted the similarities: as Christ was attacked, so the Church is attacked, as Christ was apparently overcome, so the Church is apparently over-come; as Christ was put to death, so the Church is put to death, as Christ was humiliated, so the Church is humiliated. Now notice one difference. Christ was buried; the two witnesses are not. Christ was buried; the Church is not.
What are we to make of that? Think back to the first Adam, formed from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). After he sinned, the Lord pronounced the appropriate judgment: “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” The wages of sin is death. Adam would die. Adam would return to the dust of the ground. Adam would be buried in the earth.
Not so with the Church! She does not return to the dust of the ground; she is not buried. Why not? Because the Church is conformed to the image of the last Adam, not of the first. The last Adam, Jesus Christ, has suffered the curse in our place. The last Adam, Jesus Christ, has paid the wages of our sin in our place. The last Adam has died in our place. The last Adam was buried, buried in the dust of the ground, in our place. The church is not buried—does not return to the dust of the ground—because Christ the last Adam, has taken our curse, and has been buried in our place. There is no burial for the Church, because death for the Church begins her exaltation: “death puts an end to our sinning, and is our entrance into eternal life!”
All of this, which is suggested to us in verses 7–10, is now made clear in verses 11–12!
First we see the resurrection of the Church in verse 11: “Now after three-and-a-half days the breath oflife from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.” Here is the Church conformed to Christ in His resurrection and exaltation. Here is the Church, finding her identity not in the first Adam, but in the last Adam, Jesus Christ. Here is the Church, rising up as a new Adam in Christ—as a new creation in Christ.
Next we see the ascension of the Church in verse 12: “And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.” Here is the Church conformed to Christ in His ascension and exaltation. The Greek says literally, “they ascended to heaven in the cloud.” What cloud is being referred to here, but the glory-cloud of God’s presence? Here is the Church, conformed to Christ in His ascension.
Herein lies the life of the Church: persecuted, apparently overcome, put to death, but also raised from the dead and ascended into glory. Herein lies the life of the Church: complete conformity to Christ her dear Lord and Savior, who was persecuted, apparently overcome, put to death, but also raised from the dead and ascended into glory. Herein lies the life of the Church: complete conformity to Christ her dear Lord and Savior in His humiliation and in His exaltation. The identity of the Church is Christ Himself. The life of the Church is Christ Himself. This is the identity of the Church even now; this is the life of the Church even now.
That this is the present identity and life of the Church even now is sug-gested by the number 3½. The bodies of the two witnesses lie in the street for 3½ days (verse 9) and then are raised from the dead at the close of the 3½ days (verse 11). Why 3½ days? The number corresponds to the numbers we have already encountered in Revelation 11: the 42 months of verse 2, the 1260 days of verse 3. The numbers are consistent; they are all describing the same period of time, namely, the time between Christ’s first coming and His return: 42 months to underscore the severity of the persecution, 1260 days to underscore the daily witness of the church, 3½ days to underscore the brevity of the humiliation.
The identity and life of the Church presently is Jesus Christ. She is conformed to Him even now both in His humiliation and in His exaltation. Even now the Church appears to be overcome; even now the Church may appear dead; but even now the Church knows the power of the resurrection; even now the Church finds her life in heaven. Even now the life of the Church is hid with Christ in God.
This is emphasized finally in verses 13–14: “in the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven” (verse 13). We read here of an earthquake. This is not the final earthquake, but an earthquake that is symbolic of all earthquakes. All earthquakes are harbingers of the final earthquake, the final shaking of the heavens and the earth. They are sent to warn the world of the final shaking of the heavens and the earth. And only those who by faith have been united to Jesus Christ and thus are members of His body—the Church—will stand, as they cannot be shaken.
That it is still the day of grace is evident from verse 14, “The second woe is past. Behold the third woe is coming quickly.” It is still the day of grace, but that day will not last forever. The third woe is coming quickly.
We shall come, at last, to the end of the great interlude. Indeed, the seventh trumpet is about to sound; the Day of Judgment is at hand.
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan.