What do I have to offer You, my God?
My self? A nightmare, this wretched thing that like a silly sheep
has gone this way and that, astray and beyond, and that
just today. This sin-encrusted self is too paltry a thing to offer
my God. Yet it beats with a heart that You have turned
from stone to flesh by the sweet breath of Your Spirit,
an altar made acceptable by the blood of Your Son
where You, O God, Father-Son-Spirit, one God,
holy Trinity, abide to save, rescue, cleanse, protect
this heart of mine to love, adore, worship and praise You.
Of my self I possess no love that is not weak and tainted.
You know, O God. You know, my Father. By Your Word,
flood, melt, devour me with Your love.
Give me the love I thirst to love You with.
For if I cannot love You with Your love
overtaking my self,
O God, I am nothing.
If you asked me which part of the worship service on the Lord’s Day is my favorite, I would have to confess myself torn between three choices: the preaching of the Word, the music and singing of hymns, and the closing benediction or prayer. I suppose the reasons for the first two are obvious.
The symbolism of the “two witnesses” in Revelation 11 has challenged the imagination of many a theologian. But if you go for the clearest and most simple meaning behind the text given its allusions to Moses and Elijah, it is one of the most comforting and emboldening passages for Christians during difficult times.
Revelation 11:3-13 (ESV)
“And I [Jesus] will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
The symbols of the two witnesses, the two olive trees, and the two lampstands actually refer to the same thing: those belonging to Christ Jesus throughout the church age, symbolized by the “1,260 days” or 3½ years. Christians are endowed metaphorically with the power of an Elijah, who called down fire from heaven, and Moses, who decreed plagues on Pharaoh’s Egypt, because Christians are witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which in its rejection brings judgment on the world.
But why is a witnessing Christian represented by two figures, and specifically Moses and Elijah? Perhaps because together they stand for the word of God, the Bible, composed of the two covenants or testaments, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The whole of the Old Testament with its prophecies regarding Jesus is represented by Moses, through whom God gave the Law. The New Testament is represented by Elijah in whose spirit John the Baptist “came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him” (John 1: 7): “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29). It was John who announced the coming of Christ, called the people to repentance, and baptized Him in preparation for His ministry and whose life, death, resurrection, ascension and immanent return the whole of the New Testament bears witness to. In Matthew 11: 13-15, Jesus Himself said,
“For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. “And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
So then, we as the Church, who witness to the Lord Jesus Christ, go not by our own testimony alone but testimony rooted in the Bible. In Luke 24: 45, before Jesus sent His disciples out into all the nations to proclaim the gospel, He first “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” We must pray for the same while spending much labor studying God’s word, and relying not on our own ability but in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
As has happened in various times and places throughout history, the world will rise up against the church and try to stifle the witnessing of the Gospel and will even think it has won, but inevitably, the people of God will rise up and preach the Gospel again and again because they have within them the Holy Spirit of God. And though individual Christians may be killed, as indeed Jesus suffered and died but rose again from the dead, their victory is assured because they will be taken up to heaven to await the final resurrection with the second coming of Christ and the end of the age.
In terrifying times such as these when chaos and evil seem to have the upper hand, our Lord Jesus gives us such a revelation to strengthen our faith, to remind us that He is sovereign, and to encourage us to keep preaching the Gospel, to ourselves, to each other, and to our friends and neighbors. This is not only our calling, it is the supreme honor that we have been given through the Holy Spirit, even as Moses and Elijah in their times.
Most Christians try to avoid the book of Revelation. It’s there, they know it’s there, but the images of beasts and bowls and trumpets and signs are too complicated and unreal to bother with. If this is your view as well, I encourage you to take another look at Revelation.¹ You don’t have to understand the significance of every symbol, beyond recognizing that each series of visions cover the same sweep of history from Christ’s birth to the second coming of Christ and the establishment of the new heavens and the new earth.
It is a revelation given by Jesus Christ, as the apostle John tells us, to strengthen us in our mission of spreading the Gospel and keep us firm in our faith by reminding us that whatever the course of human events, in the end, we will emerge victorious because of the One who is the Alpha and Omega, and holds us firmly in His hand.
Have you ever stood at the edge of a great height and looked down? From the safety of an intervening window, there is a panorama spread out before you. But if you’re standing on a ledge, there is the immediate danger of falling precipitously.
Have you ever wanted to write a letter to your younger self? Not anything complicated. Just a simple note because here you are on the other side of darkness and the sun’s out and there’s so much to look forward to and so much to be grateful for.
I looked back at my younger self today and wished I had lived my life more fully, that is, conscious of God’s presence, as one who is living coram Deo, before the face of God.
I would like to tell her to commit each day to Him, because He’s the author; to give each moment to Him, because His hand is in it; to take each task however trivial and do it as for Him, because He assigned it to me; and to see in the darkness the same glory that I see in the light, because He never leaves or forsakes me.
The words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop them. They were ugly and they came from the very gates of hell as I spit them out at the one I loved most in the world.
They had all the backing of my frustration, my feeling that I had been pushed to the limits of my endurance in an untenable situation. And after they leapt out into the open, I cringed in shame and despair at the pain I had caused, loathing myself, and most of all, feeling crushed by the weakness and frailty of my flesh, my corrupt human nature.
I was unworthy of the beloved standing before me, hurt and disappointed, unworthy of the love that I knew would forgive me the next moment. Worse still, I was unworthy of the Holy Spirit who dwelt in me, having been born again by that same Spirit through God-given faith in Christ Jesus, to whom I had been united.
I knew better. I was committed to a life of holiness through union with Christ. I knew I had been called to
“walk by the Spirit, and . . . not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:16-17)
As part of the body of Christ, the church, had not Christ Himself proclaimed that the very “gates of hell shall not prevail against it”? (Matthew 16:18)
It wasn’t the first time I had failed that day to “walk by the Spirit” and I knew it would not be the last. But each time I did, I was bitterly aware that I cut myself off from the joy and strength of my salvation. My life became brittle and dry without the well-spring of the Holy Spirit’s felt presence, as I had once again grieved Him.
I’ve been reading in the Song of Songs, a book that in my early years seemed utterly irrelevant to the rest of Scripture, but now has taken on a strange fascination. All the overpowering and extreme imagery (neck like a tower of David, hair like a flock of goats, incense and spices, skin like the Bedouin tents of Kedar, watchmen and the city night, gardens, mountains, valleys, fountains and streams), all this phantasmagorical imagery of love now suddenly makes sense in the context of how the Holy Spirit possesses us not just spiritually but in a manner that our senses are attuned to as we are to the smell of myrrh and wine and frankincense or the aromas of the garden and the vistas of the mountains and valleys, all sensations perceivable not just with our hearts but our minds and bodies.
The earthly imagery flooding the Song is, I think, to remind us that these vast and glorious things that we enjoy here on earth are but pale imitations of the wondrous beauty of our God. And ultimately the longing it engenders is almost unbearable especially during those “dark nights of the soul” as John of the Cross wrote in his poetry. I remember getting a book of sermons by Bernard of Clairvaux on the Song of Songs, but putting it aside. Now I want to dig it up and see what he had to say. But I imagine it all boils down to this: Oh Master, let me walk with Thee!