11 “But after three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet. Great fear came over those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven say to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies watched them. 13 At that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed by the earthquake, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
Read this week’s full text, Revelation 11:1-14
For those of us that regularly enjoy movies, books, television series—really, any form of entertainment in which some kind of narrative is involved—one element is always integral to how we remember and internalize the plot: the ending. But, good endings are not made in the conclusion; they are built from the beginnings and development of the story, a house that can only be as stable as the foundation upon it was built.
No doubt, the foundation of the biblical narrative is the story of creation and the medium of expression is God’s mouth: God speaks creation into existence, breathes life into humanity, declares covenant and promise, expresses love to us repeatedly through prophets, and ultimately fulfills this promise in God’s Word becoming flesh.
So, when we come upon the book of Revelation, the beginning of the end, we should not be surprised to see two witnesses: just as God created two of us to attest to the goodness of creation’s beginning, God has chosen to preserve two of us in the end to testify to the summation of God’s providence in creation. These two are neither described nor defined: we are not given their genders, their race, their social status, their nationality, their political identifiers. But, this should not be unexpected: summation of our narrative which brings Creation together with God must mean the annihilation of things that keep us apart.
God offers them the companionship of Eve and Adam, a promise like Abraham, authority like Deborah, the fire of Elijah, control of the plagues of Moses. They are a summation of many that have come before them. And like many before them—Eve, Adam, Abraham, David, Moses—they perish, in the face of “the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit.”
Although it has been known by other names and given other faces, we have seen this character in the narrative before: it is the slave drivers and pharaoh in Egypt, it is the army of Saul chasing and pursing the destruction of God’s chosen in David, it is the religious authority figures and adversaries that demanded the death of Jesus, the serpent from the Garden that has returned once again to destroy those who stand witness to God’s word.
And it succeeds. For three and a half days, death is victorious. Violence, suffering, pain, vengeance—they are given their day. The witnesses are silenced, and in their silence, their enemies speak: the inhabitants of the earth “gloat” over their deaths, happy to see their demise. But, once again, we have seen this scene before: the people of Israel under Moses, the kingdom of Israel under David, the struggle between Isaiah and God’s people. God speaks through messengers, we want them silenced, punished, and out of the picture. God’s words spoken through others are a mirror, and we rarely like what we see.
But, the ending is quite literally a breath of fresh air: God breathed the Spirit into humanity and breathed us into beginning and now God breathes life into the two witnesses in the face of death, to face the end. The witnesses are carried up to heaven, and “the second woe has passed. The third woe is coming soon.” God continually speaking for us, breathing life into us, taking the threads of our weakness and weaving a narrative of strength, taking our weapon of choice, death, and transforming it into life. This is the ending that God has built, one of things being made new.
And this ending is only a beginning.