April 12, 2012

Apocalypse Prophecy XLVIII: Divine Double-Barrel: Cartridge #2

The Second Divine Blast

The witnesses will inflict spiritual punishments by means of their continuing witness during persecution because God has given them the  “authority” to execute the punishments. Their “authority” is patterned after the prophetic authority by which Elijah and Moses carried out their punitive tasks  against their opponents. These two witnesses appear to be the fulfillment of the OT and Jewish expectation that the prophets Moses and Elijah were to come again before the end of history to  restore Israel and to judge the ungodly.

Indeed, in Mark 9:4–7 Elijah and Moses appear in order to witness to God’s declaration that Jesus is God’s Son. “My two witnesses” of Rev. 11:3 likely has these two figures in mind. The allusions to the two prophets may imply that the witnesses testify to what the Law (represented by Moses) and the Prophets (represented by Elijah) ultimately pointed to (a la Romans 3:21)

The plagues from the two witnesse were not intended to induce repentance but are to be actual punishments of kings who were hardened and intractable.  The fire unleashed from the witnesses’ mouths in further confirms their connection with Elijah, whose prophetic ministry of judgment was attested by fire descending from heaven.  Just as Elijah’s ministry ends with Israel not repenting or departing from their sins, so too we will see the same with the witnesses at the end of the age. The torments anticipate the last judgment and harden the wicked people’s sinful stance, making them ever more deserving of the punishment they’ll receive. These punishments primarily appear as if they will affect the spiritual realm of a person, especially in terms of ravaging the conscience.

The plagues will have the effect of “tormenting” the minds of unbelievers by reminding them of their hopelessness and spiritual plight, which results in forms of depression. The narratives of the first six trumpets and of the witnesses both conclude with a specific percentage of unbelievers being killed and those that will be remaining will continue in their reprobate manner, unmoved in their unrepentance (v. 13).

The two prophets announce the gospel and woe, but it is actually the trumpet angels who enact the punishment by unleashing demonic judgments.

It is in chapter 11 that persecutors of the church appear to defeat the visible church at the end of their witness in Revelation 11:7–10. The church will have completed its role of bearing witness to Christ before the world and will appear defeated. This will happen immediately before Christ’s second coming
and the final vindication of all the saints.

Again, the idea of a collective of “witnesses” is validated further from Revelation 19–20. In 20:8–10 the beast will wage a final “war” against “the camp of the saints and the beloved city.” This persecution by antagonistic earthly authorities described in Rev. 11:7 takes place for “forty-two months,” as v 2 implied.

Interestingly, the language of “the beast arising from the abyss” alludes to his actual earthly appearance at the end of the church age, when he will attempt to exterminate the church but will himself be destroyed by Christ at the Parousia. The beast will expose himself for the slaughter.The description of “the beast arising from the abyss” in refers to his final onslaught against the saints directly preceding his own ultimate demise. It will be his last ditch effort but it will be in vain.

To all outward appearances the church will appeared to have been destroyed but there will be a continued existence of a small church is pointed to by other references in the Apocalypse to a small community of believers undergoing persecution in the period immediately preceding the final judgment in Matthew 24:15-22, 37–39. The fact is this,the parallels in Revelation and the Gospels are frightening, they indicate that if God did not defeat the church’s persecutors at this point, the church would actually be annihilated.

This therefore means that in 11:8 the ungodly world in general is designated by the metaphor of “the great city,” Babylon.  As I will mention in a later post Old Testament prophets typically speak of Babylon as the region in which God’s people lived as aliens in exile under ungodly regimes, where, that is, they were tempted to compromise their faith with pagan state religion and were persecuted if they did not compromise. It is as if Babylon (geographically) and the idea of Babylon (worldly/philosophically) is ground zero for demonic activity in this world.

The world “city” then as mentioned in Revelation 11 is spiritually like Jerusalem, which had become like other ungodly nations, and even worse, by killing Christ, therefore persecution is the main characteristic of the city and the name of its game in history. In John’s time “the great city” would’ve referred to Rome since it was the center of the ungodly world that persecuted and killed Christ and persecuated and killed God’s people. Who this will be in the end of age remains to be seen. The one thing I am absolutely sure of is it will be ungodly and demonic…that describes just about every nation now on earth including the United States. We are not what we once were and we are moving away from what we were faster by the hour. Therefore, the world is characterized by persecution of Christ and Christ’s followers. Therefore the city can be viewed as:

  • Rome
  • Jerusalem in general
  • Unbelieving Jerusalem
  • An antagonistic world
  • The apostate church
As for our poor slain witness, the three-and-a-half-day period during which the bodies are observed lying in the street seems to evoke imagery of the period Christ was in the tomb even though that was only three days not three and a half. The short “three and a half days” is also intended to be a contrast to the long “three and a half years.” This contrast is meant to emphasize that Antichrist’s victory is brief and insignificant in comparison to the victorious testimony of the witnesses. The ungodly onlookers “do not permit the bodies to be buried” and this suggests severe persecution. This awful godless lot of persecutors express joyful scorn at the shameful deaths of the witnesses of God further condemning themselves.

We then see a dramatic turnaround in this story that parallels Jesus Himself and the narrative of Scripture as a whole. God causes His people to triumph by restoring them from apparent defeat and He will then execute final judgment of the oppressors of God’s people. God restores the witnesses to himself after their defeat (apparent) at the end of the church age. His restoration consists in an overturning their condition of death. The deliverance in 11:11–12 could be literal resurrection from the dead. At the least, the ascent of the witnesses figuratively affirms a final, decisive deliverance and vindication of God’s people at the end of time.

Since Ezekiel prophesies the restoration of an entire faithful nation to God, John quite possibly could be seeing the fulfillment in all the faithful of the church, and not merely in two faithful individuals - if the two witnesses are symbolic persons, then both their martyrdom and their exaltation should be
understood symbolically anyway.

There is a reversal of the rejoicing and gladness over  the witnesses’ demise that turns to painful alarm in the church’s “enemies” because of the unexpected deliverance  of their godly opponents. Here the earth-dwellers’ fear is like that of the Egyptians when they beheld the unexpected plagues and the Israelites’ deliverance. The “great fear fell on them” Revelation 11:11 parallels Psalm 105:38 retelling of the Exodus story from the Egyptian point of view. The same description based on the Red Sea deliverance is applied to the ungodly inhabitants of the promised land who were to have fear and trembling fall on them because of the utterly amazing deliverance of the Israelites through the sea and the realization of their own impending doom.

To me it is clear this wordage is not accidental and neither are the parallels to the Exodus due to the things already addressed to this point in this series of posts.

If the descriptions around this chapter are indeed about the corporate church and the two witnesses are the corporate church here…we may be dealing with a rapture. People ask me how I account for 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 in my interpretation of the End Times if I do not subscribe to premillenialism anymore and herein is where part of my answer may reside as I am no more sure than anyone else is when it comes to the end of the age. If the description of the “two witnesses” is indeed the corporate church which it very well might be, this narrative goes on we see something peculiar in the deliverance of the witnesses.

Revelation 11:11-13 ~ 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.

If it’s possible that verse 11 could be a literal description, as with references elsewhere to the literal
bodily rapture than we see a distinct parallel here with 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

A voice, God’s voice calls the church up to heaven in a loud cry or command (1 Thess. 4:16–17). If we have here the literal rapture here, then the rapture occurs for the whole church after, not before, they have suffered the tribulation.  Therefore this would be at least a Mid-Tribulation to Late Tribulation Rapture.  It also says in Revelation 11:11 that “the Spirit … entered” the two witness/prophets.

Of course I am purely speculating at this point so I will cease and desist as I just do not know for sure.

The acceptance of the witnesses into the cloud shows the God’s approval, since the cloud in the OT was
representative of God’s presence either in judgment or in commissioning his prophetic servants.

The persecutors are now plagued by “fear” because they will now come to the awful realization that the prophets’ announcement of judgment was not just empty promises but will come to pass. Imagine the sinking feelings in their stomachs. The judgment of which the witnesses spoke starts immediately after the wicked see the vindication of those they have judged and treated wrongly. There will be earthquakes and other cosmic phenomena manifest in Old Testament theophanies or arrival of God into our temporal and physical realm.

The Seventh Trumpet: God Establishes The Kingdom & Executes His Judgment

The seventh trumpet of 11:15–19 seems to be a more  severe woe than the fifth and sixth trumpets, since it represents the climactic final judgment, the time when all  the unbelieving dead are judged and destroyed (v 18).  Its brief and concise ending may be accounted that the final judgment is a decisive event not taking long at all. If 11:15–19 is the seventh trumpet, then it most certainly must be also be the third woe or Revelation 11:14’s statement that “the third woe is coming quickly” So…if the “third woe” is the seventh trumpet. John hears “great voices” resounding in heaven when the seventh
trumpet sounds. The voices might be from angels but probably are the heavenly multitude of saints martyred

The voices proclaim: “The Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ has come” because the enemies of the kingdom have all been defeated and judged. God now takes to himself the rule that formerly he permitted Satan to have over the world since Genesis. The seventh trumpet, like the seventh seal and the seventh bowl end history as we understand it. The twenty-four elders around God’s throne fall down and worship him in response. God is addressed in a threefold divine manner. He is the God of past (“who was”), present (“who is”), and future (“who is coming”). This threefold divine name is used in the Old Testament and Jewish writings in contexts describing the sovereign Lord of all of known history and beyond it.

In verse 19, another bell of the final judgment is struck. The closing “lightnings, sounds, thunders, earthquake, and great hail” has already been a repeated indicator of the last act of judgment. Here the series of cosmic events comes from the innermost part of God’s heavenly temple.  The appearance of the ark signals not only judgment but also God’s presence with his redeemed community again and his provision of grace by atonement.

At the consummation God dwells with his people in a more complete and intense manner than previously, as indicated by the observation that the curtain that has separated the ark from the rest of the temple and from the people is now gone and has been so since the rending of it in the Second Temple upon Jesus’ death at His first advent.

Praise His Holy and Righteous name.

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