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Friday, November 25, 2011

Two Witnesses of Revelation

After a discussion on Revelation Chapter 11, I discovered that once again, I seem to have a dissident view of the book of Revelation. Others seem to believe that the Two Witnesses mentioned in the chapter are two specific individuals to appear at the end of days, but I think they are probably symbolic of the church's entire ministry of witness from the first coming of Christ to his second advent.

In the interest of avoiding lengthy quotes, the reader is invited to have a copy of the Bible at hand, and refer to the various points cited.

This chapter has numerous references and allusions to other portions of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments:

1. The man with a measuring rod (reed)—Ezek. 40:3

This continues an allusion to Ezekiel which begins in Rev. 10:9-11, in which John, like Ezekiel, is made to eat a scroll, which is sweet in his mouth and bitter in his stomach (cf. Ezk. 2:8-3:2).

2. Temple and Holy City to be trod underfoot by the Gentiles for 3.5 years--This echoes Jesus' own Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 and 25.

3. Two witnesses – Christ sent out his disciples by twos. (Lk. 10:1).

4. Two Olive Trees—Zech 4:3-7. These stand before a golden lampstand, as if to provide it with oil. Their message is, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of Hosts" (Zech 4:6). This has been the witness of believers both before and since the coming of Jesus Christ.

5. Shutting Heaven—This refers to the ministry of Elijah, who may be taken as the archetype of the Old Testament prophets: I Kgs. 17:1 refers to his predicting drought on the land of Israel.

6. Killing fire—also Elijah (I Kgs. 1:1-16)

7. Smiting the Earth with plagues – cf.,, Moses, in Exodus.

8. Killing the Prophets—cf., Jesus own lament over Jerusalem (Mt. 23:37-39).

9. Egypt—House of bondage and oppression (Dt. 5:6; Ex. 20:2).

10. Sodom – City of great wickedness (Gen. 18:20,21).

11. The song of the elders in Rev. 11:16-18 refers to the coming of the day of general resurrection and judgment, as in Paul's Thessalonian letters.

I gladly note kinship with William Hendricksen, who, in More than Conquerors, his study of the book of Revelation, and with Robert L. Reymond's study of eschatology in his A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith. Both view the current portion as a part of the third of seven visions that make up the book of revelation.

The portion speaks of a trying, difficult time for the Christian church. This, perhaps, is why many evangelical commentators assign it to a special period called The Great Tribulation, which is supposed to occur just before Jesus' return to raise the believing dead and establish the millennial kingdom. However, the passage surely had some relevance for believers during John's own time (Irenaeus of Lyons, a former disciple of John's) tells us that the book was written when the emperor Domitian was persecuting the church. It may also refer to the time just prior to the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-70 A.D., when the Jewish Christians left Jerusalem to avoid the siege that was about to begin.

Also, Jesus' warned his disciples that they would face the hostility of the world because they would testify against its sins and call people to repentance and faith. The Gospel has never entered any society without initially encountering hostility. Hence, it can be said that the church's witness is like prophets who "torment" their hearers with words the hearers do not wish to hear.

But God also gives his church relief, which is what is meant by the two witnesses being raised up after their enemies kill them. Someone once said that the Christian faith is an anvil that has worn out many a hammer. It has had persecutors who have come and gone, yet, somehow, it always rises again.

The verses 7-9 also speak of "the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified." This may speak of the actual city of Jerusalem. It is a warning that the place and society which God has raised up to be His witness and to exhibit faith and righteousness, may turn evil, and become "salt that has lost its savor" (cf.Mark 9:50). This is also a warning to the church (as are the seven letters which begin the book of Revelation) to maintain its witness.

So, what will our response to the witness of the "two witnesses" be? Will we love our sins, or will we repent and accept the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross for us (Rev. 11:8), and hence participate in the resurrection of Christ, and the one to come which he promises?

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