April 11, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy XLVII: Divine Double-Barrel: Cartridge #1

The Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:1-6)

When it comes to the two witnesses, some commentators interpret the whole chapter in a dispensational or futurist understanding of Revelation, verses into the time of tribulation immediately preceding Christ’s second coming. Some commentators interpret the whole chapter in a more thorough-going literal manner than others. Typically, the temple and the altar are taken as referring to a literal restored temple in the literal “holy city” of Jerusalem.

“Those worshiping in it..." are a remnant believing ethnic Jews. The measuring of temple, altar, and worshipers  indicates that they will be physically protected by God,  though there are differing interpretations of this.

Some modified futurists relegate the narrative to the future, like view above, but understand the descriptions figuratively.  The images of the sanctuary, the altar, and the worshipers refer to those within ethnic Israel whose salvation is secured at the end of history by the “measuring.” The outer court and the holy city represent Jewish unbelievers, whose salvation will not be secured. Both groups will undergo persecution and suffering for about forty-two months.

Another position is similar but does not relegate the scene to the future. It identifies the outer court with the professing but apostate church, which will be deceived and will align itself with unbelieving persecutors of the true, spiritual Israel. 

In this passage the significance of the measuring means that their salvation is secured, despite physical harm that they suffer. The number of the “forty-two months” is either literal or figurative for the eschatological period of tribulation repeatedly prophesied by Daniel (7:25; 9:27; etc.).

Why some of the periods in Daniel and Revelation are not stated with precisely the same formula is not clear.  But the exact number “forty-two” here and in Revelation 13:5 is probably intended to recall Elijah’s ministry of judgment, which is expressed the same way, and Israel’s wilderness wandering, which included forty-two encampments or forty-two years. 

The pattern of the narration of the witnesses’ career in 11:3–12 is intended as an imitation of Christ’s life if one looks closely. There is a proclamation and signs that end up resulting in profound demonic opposition and or persecution (John 15:20). There is violent death in the city where Christ was crucified. The world looks on its victim (Rev. 1:7) and more or less celebrates the death. The witnesses are raised and vindicated by ascension in the sky. Ironically these also mimic or parallel the prophets of Moses and Elijah also point to this pattern and are a typology of Christ also. All points to Christ. This is so correlated that frankly, it has to be more than coincidence. It shows all the signs of a pattern or plan.

The Holy City could be taken literally or figuratively based upon interpretive school of thought. “The holy city” in 11:2 likely refers to some aspect of the heavenly Jerusalem, since the other occurrences in Revelation of the phrase (21:2, 10; 22:19) refer to the heavenly Jerusalem. If “the holy city” is the persecuted true people of God, then it is not difficult to understand the outer court, which was certainly no less profane than the city in general, as also representing true believers. That the city is to be measured in 21:15 shows its close identification with the Temple in Ezekiel. Believers on earth are members and representatives of the heavenly Jerusalem. The symbolic aspect of the portrayal comes to the fore in that John is certainly not saying that part of the material temple building is to be picked up and thrown outside. 

The Witnesses Themselves

As for the witnesses themselves in this passage, they may or may not be two individual prophets, whether Moses and Elijah, Enoch and Elijah, and so on. They may actually represent the whole community of faith, whose primary function is to be a prophetic witness. Just as John the Baptist was not a literal reappearance of Elijah, but came “in the spirit and power of Elijah”, so to these witnesses are not literally Moses and Elijah reincarnated as reincarnation is not Biblical. These witnesses are patterned after these two Old Testament figures. The witnesses are called “lamp stands” because their word is like a light in the darkness.

The witnesses have a prophetic mantle of these two prophets. It is improbable that the witnesses represent both the church throughout the age, and then two individual prophets who are to come at the end of the age.
The OT had prophesied that the entire eschatological community of God’s people would receive the Spirit’s gift of prophecy (Joel 2:28–32). The early Christian community understood that Joel’s prophecy had begun fulfillment in their midst (Acts 2:17–21). This prophetic gift would be the means by which the entire church would “witness” to the whole world (Acts 1:8).The idea that the witnesses is a community identification is further bolstered by the following thoughts.

The witnesses are called “two lampstands” in Revelation 11:4, this is the same identification as the churches in Revelation 1-3.  The explicit identification of the lampstands in Rev. 1:20: “the seven lampstands are the seven churches” is pretty much irrefutable. It is unlikely that the lampstands are different here than that of chapter 1 because it is the pattern of prophecy all throughout Scripture that, once an object is identified or alluded to as something, it does not change, whether it be literal or metaphor. In other words, if the prophet compared lampstands to a church, that’s what it means in later prophecies from the same prophet. Just as the lampstands there are identified as “a kingdom and priests,” as is the entire church in 5:10. In Revelation 11:4 associates the witnesses with kingly and priestly functions also

“The beast will make war with them and overcome them.” This is Daniel 7:21 in rerun, where the last evil kingdom prophesied by Daniel persecutes not an individual but the nation of Israel. The two witnesses prophesy for three and a half years, the same length of time that “the holy city,” “the woman,” and “those tabernacling in heaven” are to be oppressed. If these texts speak of the persecution of a community, then it is plausible to identify the witnesses likewise. If the image of an individual woman signifies the community of faith existing during the three and a half years, then the image of two individual prophets might also represent the same reality during the same time period (similarly an individual harlot represents the ungodly community in later chapters of Revelation. A final hint that these prophets may not be two individuals comes from observing that the powers of both Moses AND Elijah are attributed to BOTH the two witnesses equally, and not divided among them. 

In essence they are identical prophetic twins. They are a divine double-barrel for an unbelieving world.

Based on this interpretation the obvious question will arise: “Why are there two witnesses instead of seven to match number of the lampstands/churches? The number two is from the OT law requiring at least two witnesses as a just basis for judging an offense as noted numerous places like: Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6 & 19:15, Matthew 18:16,  Luke 10:1–24,  etc. I believe it is for this reason God sometimes sends two angels to announce judgment, to execute judgment, or to validate the truth. The witnesses are clothed in sackcloth which appears to be mourning over the judgment that their message brings. The stress on judgment is also apparent from the witnesses’ judicial relationship to their persecutors and from the fact that their prophetic task is not evangelistic in intent even though there may be some that repent. The text is not clear on this.

It should be mentioned that lampstands in the tabernacle and the temple were in the presence of God, and the light that emanated from them apparently represented the presence of God…the same with the lamps/lampstand in Zechariah 4:2–5. I believe the same is true of our two witnesses whoever they may be. They are indeed in the presence of God and they will be ultimately illuminating men of the things to come...mostly judgment if they refuse to repent.

Though they may suffer and even die, they will invincibly and successfully carry out the spiritual mission for which they have been “measured” and commissioned “when they complete their testimony”.  As can be expect since it is the focal point of all of history, their witness focuses on the redemptive history of Jesus his death, resurrection, and sovereignty. The world’s rejection of Jesus’ testimony lays the basis for the witnesses rejection and the future judgment. 

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