The Two Olive Trees and Two Lampstands
October 7th, 1962 @ 10:50 AM
THE TWO OLIVE TREES AND TWO LAMPSTANDS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-7-62 10:50 a.m.
In our Bible let us turn to the Book of the Revelation, chapter 11. On the radio, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The Two Olive Trees and the Two Lampstands.
In our preaching through the Word of God, after these seventeen years we have come to the eleventh chapter of the Book of the Revelation. After I had been pastor here about a year, I began preaching through the Bible, beginning in Genesis. And we have come to the Apocalypse, and chapter 11.
The sermon this morning is the second part, the conclusion of the sermon that was begun last Sunday morning. It was one – in preparation it was one message. But I had opportunity to, for lack of time, to speak just about half of it. I am sorry for that, because we get a far better idea of the text if we can see it all at one time. I haven’t time even to review last Sunday’s message, we just read the text and then conclude the message. We begin at verse 3:
And I will give power unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
These are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.
And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies,
These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over the waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues,
And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.
And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
But after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood up on their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.
And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.
And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
This is one of the most difficult of all of the passages in the Bible. And certainly, according to some commentators, and certainly as we try to find its truth, it is one of the most difficult passages in the Apocalypse. These two witnesses are beyond anything to be found in the record of humankind. Not in all of the pages of history is there anything like these two witnesses. It is astonishing, the invincible, impregnable power by which they testify to the truth of God. And it is an astonishing thing what happens to them. Now, we come to somewhat to speak of their meaning.
First of all, as they stand to speak – to witness, to testify, to propheteuo, to prophesy – they are clothed in sackcloth [Revelation 11:3]. Sackcloth, as you already know, is a heavy coarse garment woven out of camel’s hair or mohair. And it was worn by the ancients as a sign of sorrow and great mourning. When these two witnesses, therefore, stand clothed in sackcloth, it is a sign of national, of worldwide, of personal, of heavenly mourning. The day is evil and the times are filled with sorrow – sackcloth.
Jacob put on sackcloth when those brethren came and said that his boy Joseph had been slain, apparently by wild beasts. "For is not this his coat of many colors?" [Genesis 37:32-34] They had dipped it in blood [Genesis 38:31]. And when Israel looked upon the beautiful coat, stained with blood, he rent his own garments and put on sackcloth in personal sorrow and mourning over what supposedly was the death of his boy. When David heard of the cruel murder of Abner, the captain of the host, he rent his garments and put on sackcloth, mourning over Abner [2 Samuel 3:31]. In the terrible famine in Samaria, when those two mothers came to the king, they had agreed that in one day, the first mother would boil her son and they’d eat him; and then when that child was devoured, they’d boil this woman’s son and eat him. And this woman had hid her son, and in their altercation they had brought their quarrel to the king of Samaria [2 Kings 6:28-29]. And in desperation, in the terrible famine, the king was seen walking along on the top of the walls; and as he rent his clothes in unspeakable sorrow, the people looked and he wore a garment of sackcloth underneath [2 Kings 6:30].
When Sennacherib, the astute and able military genius of the winged bull of Asshur swept down and carried away northern Israel, he placed his armies around Judah, as a man would hold a vise [Isaiah 36:1]. In blasphemous language, he called upon Hezekiah to capitulate [Isaiah 36:2-20]. And Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord clothed in sackcloth to beseech the mercies of God [Isaiah 37:1]. When Daniel came to confess the sins of Israel, he came clothed in sackcloth [Daniel 9:3]. The day was filled with sorrow and the times were evil and the nations were blaspheming God. And these two witnesses stand in sackcloth to declare the judgments of Almighty God [Revelation 11:3].
Oh, it would be an indescribable scene of misery and agony and tears and despair were it not for the great elective purpose of God in human history! For the next verse, speaks of an elective purpose that God reveals to us, lest in our sorrow and in our tears, and in our national tragedies, we lose hope. "These," says God, "are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands standing before the God of the whole earth" [Revelation 11:4].
Well, I turn back to see what the two olive trees were and the two lampstands were. In the vision of the prophet Zechariah, Zechariah is the prophet of the restoration, of the new hope, of the new world, of the new day. And in his vision, in chapter 3, he sees Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him [Zechariah 3:1]. And Joshua is clothed with filthy garments – though a high priest, still mortal, still sinful, still depraved. And Satan is there to point out the depravity in his heart and the sin in his life, and the filthy garments with which he is clothed as he feigns to serve God [Zechariah 3:3]. But the Lord said to His angel: "Take away the filthy garments from him,and give him a change of raiment, pure and spotless" [Zechariah 3:4]. So God elects Joshua the high priest, to stand before Him and to minister in a new temple that is to be built, with the new Israel that is coming back home, and with a new Judah out of whose loins Christ shall be born. Now, that is a spiritual worship, one lampstand.
In the next chapter is the civil obedience. And the angel said, "What do you see?" And Zechariah said, "I see a candelabra, the seven-branched lampstand with all of its conduits and its multitudinous burners of flame, and by their side, one on the other, I see olive trees" [see Zechariah 4:2, 3]. An olive tree here and an olive tree there. And the oil pours from the olive trees into the lampstands, into the candelabra. And he said, "Lord, what does that mean?" [Zechariah 4:4-5]. And the Lord said, "This is the word of God to Zerubbabel, Not by power, nor by might, but by My burning Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" [Zechariah 4:6]. Then answered I and said, "Then, Lord, what are the two olive trees on either side?" [Zechariah 4:11, 12]. And He answered again and said, "These are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth [Zechariah 4:13-14]. This one is Joshua and this is one is Zerubbabel. They are My ministers and My witnesses in the day of the great restoration."
Then when I turned back and read in the Revelation, these two witnesses, these two witnesses are the two olive trees and the two lampstands, immediately I know where God is [Revelation 11:4]. The candelabra is gone, the multitudinous burners are gone. And these men are not stars. Stars are the preachers of Christ, to minister in His churches [Revelation 1:20]. The candelabra is gone, the lampstand is gone, the churches are gone, the pastors are gone. But these two, the olive trees of God and the lampstands of the Lord – these two are the messengers of God of the great and ultimate and final restoration. God hath purposed for His people a great inheritance – that better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]: a new heaven; a new earth; a holy city as the habitation for God’s saints [Revelation 21:1-3]. And the Lord is preparing in these days of terrible judgment, God is preparing for that great and ultimate and final victory [Revelation 19:11-21]; and its announcement, its harbinger, are these two lampstands – the two lights from God, filled with the holy anointing from above, as they testify to the world of the work and truth of the Lord among mankind; all the earth in their voice, as they deliver God’s message to the whole human race [Revelation 11:3-4].
And what a merciful providential thing God hath done here once again. They are called "my two martyrs" [Revelation 11:3]. The Greek word, as you know, for "witness" is martus. And so often did the witness lay down his life rather than recant, refuse, so often did he seal his testimony with his blood, that the English language took the Greek word for witness, martyr, and made it mean someone who has laid down his life in defense of the faith. So these two witnesses, God hath sent to warn the earth of the judgment by which God shall clear this whole planet of unrighteousness and wrong and sin and Christ-rejecting sinners face that awful and inevitable day. And these two witnesses stand to declare the purposes of God [Revelation 11:3-4].
And in His mercy, God always does that. Before the Lord destroyed the earth by water, he raised up Enoch [Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5] and he raised up Noah [Genesis 6:7-8, 12-14; Hebrews 11:7; 2 Peter 2:5], preachers of righteousness, to warn the people of the judgment to come. Before the Lord destroyed Pharaoh and his armies, he sent Moses to witness, to testify [Exodus 3:10, 5:1, 6:11-13, 7:1-6]. Before God would destroy Nineveh, he sent Jonah! Thank God Nineveh in that day, turned and repented, but the message of Jonah was one of judgment [Jonah 3:1-10]. John the Baptist was sent to warn as our Lord did of the impending judgment of God; "the fan is in His hand, the axe is laid at the root of the tree" [Matthew 3:10; Luke 3:9] – as he speaks to Jerusalem and Judah and to Herod. And the Lord Himself warns of the impending destruction of the city that happened in the following generations [Luke 21:24]. And the apostles spoke to the Roman Empire lest it come under the mighty hand of the wrath of the Almighty God; so here, so here. God always sends the prophet, and He sends the witness, and He sends the preacher, lest a man fall into perdition and damnation without first being warned of the Almighty from heaven. The mercy of God – "My two witnesses" [Revelation 11:3].
And the Lord set them there, the two lampstands and the two olive trees, that they might confirm one another in the faith of the Lord [Revelation1 1:3-4]. There were two angels who testified to the resurrection of our Savior, the Lord Jesus [John 20:12]. There were two men in white to testify of His ascension into heaven [Acts1:9-11]. By the law, and in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, in the Gospel, there must always be two witnesses to confirm the truth [Matthew 18:16]. For the Lord often times sends them two by two. There is Moses and Aaron. There is Joshua and Caleb. There is Zerubbabel and Joshua. There is Peter and John. There is Paul and Silas. There is Timothy and Titus. And when the Lord sent out His twelve apostles, He did it two by two [Mark 6:7]. And when the Lord sent out the seventy, He sent them out two by two [Luke 10:1-3]. So God confirms the testimony of His truth and of His faith in declaring and in sending "My two witnesses" [Revelation 11:3].
And they are invincible until they have finished their testimony. I believe, in the purposes and in the grace and in the invincible sovereignty of God, every man is invincible until his testimony is finished. I do not mean by that that every man shall live to be as old as Abraham or even as Moses. But I do say, according to the Word of the Lord, that our lives are kept in the secure, able, mighty hands of God until our work is done and our task is finished. Sometimes the most able and mighty of all of the ministries that have blessed mankind have been very brief.
· John the Baptist ministered at the most three years.
· Our Lord Jesus ministered at the most three and a half years.
· David Brainerd died when he was twenty-nine.
· Robert Murray M’Cheyne died when he was twenty-nine.
· Henry Martin died when he was thirty-one.
· F. W. Robertson, the incomparable preacher of Briton, died when he was thirty-seven.
It doesn’t mean that the ministry is long and extended. It just means that we are invincible and immortal and impregnable until our testimony is finished. And when a man is in the will of God, and when he is doing God’s work, when he is delivering God’s message, God stands by him to uphold him and to strengthen him. He doesn’t need to worry about tragic accidents. He doesn’t need to think about death. He doesn’t even need to be worried or anxious about himself. God takes care of His servants. And the Spirit of the Lord burns in the heart of a true and faithful witness. So these, even in the terrible beast, they alone in the earth were invincible before him until their testimony was finished. Then, they laid down their lives [Revelation 11:7].
Ah, the evil world! And when the beast slew these two witnesses, they suffered not their bodies to be buried; that the whole earth looked upon their dead bodies for three and a half days [Revelation 11:8-9]. And you know, by the way, even in Central America they have laws in those lands, the day that one dies, he must be buried that day, because in a warm tropical climate the body decomposes immediately. Can you imagine the insult, can you imagine the ignominy, can you imagine the indescribable shame, as these two mighty prophets of God lie in the streets of the great city, turned to filth and corruption and decay? [Revelation 11:9]. According to the law of Deuteronomy, even the worst of criminals must be buried the day he is executed [Deuteronomy 21:23]. And when the Lord Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross and bowed His head and died [John 19:30], they went to Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator and asked that His body might be taken down and buried out of sight lest the land be defiled [John 19:31]. But this evil time and they send gifts to one another because these two prophets bring God’s truth to them, warning of the judgment to come, and they sent presents to one another [Revelation 11:3-4, 10].
Not long ago, I was reading in the life of John Huss, the great preacher of the Reformation in Prague. He was enticed, he was enticed by the Lake Constance mob; ridden around that lake twice. In a little town of Constance they burned him at the stake. Then that night the council met and they had a jubilee celebration, as over the defeat of mortal enemies, because one of God’s great witnesses and one of God’s mighty preachers that day had been burned at the stake.
What evil trial and days! "And they made merry and rejoiced and sent gifts to one another because these two prophets lay out in the streets dead and unburied" [Revelation 11:10]. But there is always a second chapter. There is always another sentence – always! However the apparent triumph of evil in this world, up above and over and beyond there is a sovereign God who reigns. And the issues of life and of death are in His hands, and the imponderables of national destiny pertain to Him. The Lord God looked down from heaven and saw the rejoicing of that evil earth over the slaughter of His two lampstands. And the Lord breathed life into their dead and decaying bodies and they stood on their feet – "and the enemy saw them" [Revelation 11:11]. And the voice was heard from heaven saying, "Come up hither." And they ascended into glory in the cloud, in the shekinah brilliance and burning of the presence of Almighty God – "and their enemies beheld them" [Revelation1 1:12]. There is in that thing a pattern that runs throughout the Word of the Lord. "Every eye shall see Him, and they also who crucified Him: and the tribes and the families of the earth shall wail because of Him" [Revelation 1:7]. For the day shall come, said Paul, "when every tongue shall confess" and "every knee shall bow" before Christ, the Lord God of this universe [Philippians 2:10, 11].
And their enemies beheld them, and they were affrighted [Revelation 11:11, 12]. They were filled with terror and then there was a great earthquake, and seven thousand" [Revelation 11:13]. You have it translated here "seven thousand men" – seven thousand onomaton anthropon, seven thousand men of name, seven thousand men in distinction. I do not know what that ultimately refers to. But seven thousand of the mightiest men of this earth were slain when God spoke and shook this planet and it trembled down from its center to its circumference.
In that awful hour of judgment, men gave glory to the God of heaven [Revelation 11:13]. And yet, once again, that same spiritual truth, in their fear, in their affright, in their terror, they gave glory to God of heaven at a distance, at a distance, at a distance but how different from the man who feels the regenerating Spirit of the Lord Christ in his soul and in his heart. They didn’t repent. They didn’t change. In the next chapters, there they are blaspheming the Lord again. There they are persecuting and decimating and slaying and murdering God’s servants again but in fear, giving glory to God – up there at a distance.
That’s one of the most sorrowful experiences that I have in my personal ministry. I will go see a man; I will go see a man, and he has been through a great fear. Doctor says to him, "You are going to die. Give you two more days, give you a week and you are going to die. You have a severe heart ailment and you are going to die." And I go see him and I talk with him and I will pray with him. And he will say to me, "I tell you, preacher, if I could just get out of this hospital, and if I could live, I will give my life to God. Oh, I have wasted it, but I am going to be a different man when I get up." And in the providence of God, in the goodness of the Lord, I have seen the man get up and be strong again. And then, when I expect him down the aisle to give his life to God, why, he is back as he was before, and he has forgotten his vow. And when I say words of remembrance to him, he extenuates and excuses.
It won’t work. It has got to be in your soul. Just to be scared of God won’t do it. Just to be terrified before the judgment won’t do it. Just to be affrighted at the coming events won’t do it. It has got to be something in your soul that loves the Lord; that will last forever. That will make a new man. It will make a new woman. It will make a new house. It will make a new home. It will create a new destiny. It will create a new life. It’s got to be in the soul, in the heart. If there weren’t any hell, still love Jesus just the same. If there were not any day of judgment, still serve God for the love Him, for the grace of Him, for the mercy of Him, for the kind remembrance of Him; loving God for God’s sake, serving Jesus for Jesus’ sake. Not because I am scared or terrified but because I have got it in my soul. That’s what it is to be saved and to be a Christian.
And that is our invitation to you this day: giving your heart to the Lord Jesus; coming into the fellowship of the assembly of His saints; joining your life with us in the preciousness of this great congregation; somebody you, come. I am going to stand down here to the right side of that communion table. And as I stand there, in the balcony round, there is a stairway at either side, at the front and the back, and there is time and to spare. Come. Come. On this lower floor into the aisle and down to the front, "Preacher, I give you my hand. I give my heart to the Lord." Or, "Here is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming today." Or a couple you, or just one somebody, while we prayerfully, earnestly sing the hymn of appeal, make it today. Make it this morning, while we stand and while we sing.