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Living in the Age of Signs

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Miracles have always been rare. In all history, there have been three great epics of miraculous signs, and these were separated from each other by hundreds of years. The first cluster of miracles was performed by Moses and Joshua. The second cluster was performed by Elijah and Elisha. The third cluster was performed by Jesus and the apostles. The Bible indicates a fourth cluster is coming during the Tribulation, which will be performed by the two witnesses described in Revelation 11.

As we study miracles, it is important to distinguish them from providence. Providence uses nature to accomplish its end. Examples of providence include a gust of wind that blows a wayward ship back on course or the mist that concealed General George Washington as he crossed the Delaware. Miracles are different from providence because they defy nature—a shepherd's staff that becomes a snake or fire that falls from heaven rather than rising from the ground. Biblical miracles are obvious and spectacular whereas an act of providence is often subtle.

Miracles are events of supernatural power with a supernatural source. They involve power over demons, power over nature, power over matter, and power over death. Their purpose is to validate the one who performs the miracle as a messenger from God. Ultimately, they validate God Himself. As the Creator of nature, God exists outside of natural laws and boundaries. By revealing God's transcendence, miracles call mankind to repentance and worship.

When the two witnesses of Revelation 11 appear during the Tribulation, their miracles will recall earlier miracles and share the same purpose: they will warn a fallen world of God's wrath and coming judgment.

Plagues

Most people who have even a casual knowledge of the Bible associate plagues with Moses and Egypt. The Tribulation witnesses will inflict the world with similar, but even more far–reaching, plagues. They will be empowered "to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire" (Revelation 11:6, emphasis added). In ancient Egypt, God relented each time the pharaoh pled with Him. During the Tribulation, Scripture indicates the witnesses will wield complete control over the plagues, which will take on three forms:

  1. The plague of death. The witnesses will upset the Antichrist's followers so deeply that many will want them dead. God will give the witnesses power to defend themselves by annihilating those who would hurt them. "If anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies" (Revelation 11:5).

    Elijah is best known for calling down fire from heaven (1 Kings 18:37–38; 2 Kings 1:10–12). God will equip His Tribulation witnesses with the same tool, but this time it will flow from their mouths.

  2. The plague of drought. These two witnesses will have the power "to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy" (Revelation 11:6). Revelation 11:3 informs us that the witnesses will prophesy for 1,260 days. This means the drought will last for three–and–a–half years, just like the drought of Elijah's time. "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months" (James 5:17; see also 1 Kings 17–18).

    When God wants to get our attention, He often strikes our pocketbooks first. Ancient Israel depended on farming. Elijah's drought devastated their economy and demanded their dependence on God. During the Tribulation, the Antichrist will control the global economy. The witnesses' drought will defy his power, damage his economy, and draw some of his citizens to repentance.

  3. The plague of disease. Like Moses in his confrontation with Egypt's pharaoh, the two witnesses will "have power over waters to turn them to blood" (Revelation 11:6). This plague corresponds with the second trumpet of Revelation 8. "Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed" (verses 8–9). The contaminated water will cause epidemics of disease.

Protection

The witnesses will be the only earthly obstacle to the Antichrist's regime, and they will have many enemies. As opposition intensifies, attempts will be made on their lives. But the same plague that will bring death to their adversaries will guard the lives of the two witnesses. Their ministry is so vital in the Tribulation period, God will make them immortal until their work is done. No one will be able to harm them before their testimony is complete.

When I was a young pastor, a mentor shared this with me, "God's man, in the center of God's will, is immortal until God is done with him." That is true for all of us, but many of us don't realize it. If the Church today really believed that, we would transform the world. God's Tribulation witnesses will have that kind of confidence because His protection over them will be unmistakable.

Preservation

At the midpoint of the Tribulation period, when the two witnesses have completed God's mission, He will finally allow the Antichrist to destroy them. "When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them" (Revelation 11:7). Their murder will greatly expand the Antichrist's power and popularity. People will be so glad to be free of the witnesses' plagues and preaching that they will rejoice over their deaths and give each other gifts (Revelation 11:10), exposing the extreme wickedness of their hearts.

The witnesses' bodies will be displayed and defiled in the streets of Jerusalem for three–and–a–half days. Then two miraculous events will cut the Antichrist's festivities short. Here is what Scripture says:

Now after the three–and–a–half days the breath of life from God entered [the witnesses], and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 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. (Revelation 11:11–12)

Once more, the witnesses will work to jar their enemies out of unbelief and into repentance by displaying God's power. With the technology available today, it will be possible for these miracles to be viewed by a worldwide audience.

Purpose

We must remember that these two witnesses will not perform their miracles out of spite or unkindness. Their purpose will be to awaken the people to their sinfulness and move them to repentance and belief. All the discomfort and displeasure these men bring to the world through their preaching and their plagues will be minor compared to the suffering of those who ignore their message. The end of their ministry will mark the beginning of the end for all God's enemies.

Daily Devotions

Today's Devotion: The Labyrinth of Life

The Krubera Cave in the Arabika Massif is one of the world’s largest caves. It’s so deep, so beautiful, and so complex that only skilled cavers can descend to its subterranean depths. It contains rivers, lakes, springs, and pits descending deep into the earth—a labyrinth of wonder, filled with deadly charms.

The same God who created the intricate interiors of earth also designed the mysterious blueprint of our life. Sometimes the mysteries appear deep and dark. But when we give our life to Christ, it’s as though a switch is flipped on, flooding the way with light. The Lord knows every twist and turn, every rock and river. When we don’t know the way, we needn’t worry. He does, and He will lead us. Even the darkness will become light around us.

This is the theme of Psalm 139—the Lord knows the way through the labyrinth of life. Our finite minds will never fully grasp God’s complex blueprints, but as we seek His will, He will lead us.

How precious also are thy thoughts, O gracious God, to me! And in their sum how passing great and numberless they be!
The Scottish Metrical Psalter (Psalm 139:17)

It has been said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but it is also a form of deception. Satan's fall from heaven was fueled by his desire to be like God (Isaiah 14:13–14). Since then he has counterfeited God's power in order to deceive mankind. As the Battle of Armageddon draws near, Satan's trickery will include imitation of God's signs and prophecies. The Old Testament prophet Elijah will return, but there will also be an impostor.

We need to understand some details of Elijah's past ministry and future return to distinguish the end–times impostor from the authentic prophet of God.

Elijah's Historical Ministry

After ancient Israel split into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom quickly slid into immorality and practiced idolatry. Scripture tells us this moral decline was led by the nation's kings. The seventh king of the north, Ahab, violated every principle God had ever given him—he institutionalized pagan worship and allowed his pagan wife to slaughter God's prophets. During Ahab's reign, God called Elijah out of obscurity to lead the nation out of depravity. Elijah performed miracles, proclaimed God's truth, prompted repentance, and is even prophesied to return.

Elijah used fire from heaven to rekindle Israel's faith by praying in front of all the people and asking God to send fire. When the fire of the Lord fell from heaven, the Israelites fell on their faces and worshiped God. During the Tribulation, Satan will emulate Elijah's miracle of fire and anticipated return to trick people into worshiping the Antichrist.

First Kings 18:36–38 describes Elijah's miracle:

Elijah the prophet came near and said, "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again."

Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench.

Malachi 4:5–6 foretells Elijah's return:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

The False Prophet's Counterfeit Ministry

The False Prophet described in Revelation 13:11–18 will deceive people into believing he is Elijah by counterfeiting Elijah's miracle. Verse 13 says, "[The False Prophet] performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men." Anyone familiar with Malachi's prophecy, particularly Jews, will immediately draw a connection to Elijah when they see the False Prophet's supernatural fire. However, he will receive his power from Satan rather than God.

This points to an important truth: Miraculous signs are not necessarily from God. That is why 1 John 4:1 tells us, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world."

Elijah's miracle caused people to worship Almighty God, but the False Prophet's signs will cause people to worship the Antichrist. In Matthew 7:16–20, Jesus instructs us to evaluate the fruit of a prophet's ministry—to consider the results. James describes desirable, godly fruit this way: "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:17–18). The Antichrist will be none of these. After promising peace, he will make war with the saints and blaspheme God (Revelation 13:5–7). Elijah led Israel out of idolatry; the False Prophet will lead people into it.

Elijah's Future Ministry

The False Prophet will not be Elijah reincarnated, but Elijah will return according to Malachi's prophecy. Revelation 11 describes two witnesses who will preach to the world after the Rapture. After the Church is taken away, God will raise up 144,000 new believers and appoint the two witnesses to preach the Gospel and God's judgment to everyone who is left to hear it. Through these witnesses, God will continue to provide opportunities for people to place their faith in Him right up until the end of the world.

Most scholars believe one of the two witnesses will be Elijah. Consider these similarities:

  • The witnesses will ascend to heaven while they are alive (2 Kings 2:11; Revelation 11:12).

  • The witnesses will prevent rain from falling (1 Kings 17:1; Revelation 11:6).

  • The witnesses will employ fire in their ministry (2 Kings 1:10; Revelation 11:5).

  • The witnesses will minister for three years and six months, which mirrors the length of Elijah's drought (1 Kings 17:1; Revelation 11:3).

These two witnesses are symbolized as olive trees and lampstands (Revelation 11:4), which mirrors a description found in the book of Zechariah:

There is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left (4:2–3).

The lampstand symbolizes the seven–branched lampstand that stood in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31–40). Its bowl held enough oil to keep the seven lamps burning. The nearby olive trees continuously dripped olive oil into the bowl to keep the lamps lit. Olive oil represents the Holy Spirit, who has always been the power behind God's ministry to mankind. In the dark days of the Tribulation, the two witnesses will shine the light of their testimony through the power of the Holy Spirit.

From beginning to end, the Bible tells the story of God's love for humanity. It weaves threads throughout the annals of history that testify to His unchanging nature, His unfailing love, His unfathomable grace, and His unescapable judgment. Elijah's ministry is one of these threads. The same God who rained down fire on Mount Carmel will ignite the ministry of His two end–times witnesses as they offer a final olive branch to the world before its King returns in judgment.

Complete audio message as heard at Shadow Mountain Community Church

The Two Witnesses

Complete audio message as heard at Shadow Mountain Community Church

God always sends forerunners to warn of judgments on sin. For the first three-and-one-half years of the Tribulation, two prophets of God will call Israel and the world to repent of ungodliness. Their ministry miracles will be surpassed only by the miracle of their resurrection and ascension. Covers Revelation 11:1-14.

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