Monday, April 6, 2015

The Two Witnesses of the Revelation

I would never claim that the Revelation is an easy book to understand. Some portions are, while others definitely are not. I generally look to the rule of parsimony in interpreting it, i. e., that the simplest interpretation is to be preferred, unless there is evidence to the contrary. By simplest, I do not mean most literal. In fact, I find that those who hold to a generally-literal approach are the ones who go to the greatest hermeneutical acrobatics to force it to fit their chronologies. I usually find that the partial-preterist approach requires the fewest twists and bends to understand the text.

Chapter 11 describes two witnesses from God. Verse 3 tells us, "I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth." Many colorful interpretations have been given regarding the identity of these witnesses. I don't think such efforts are necessary. The Revelation is a revelation of whom? The first verse of the book tells us: "The revelation of Jesus Christ." And where has He referred to two witnesses to Himself? He says (John 5:39), "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me." And, more specifically (Luke 24:27), "Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." And of Him, Philip testifies (John 1:45), "We have found Him of Whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

Recall, also, the accounts of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17: 1-13, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36). While the Apostle John, author of the Revelation, doesn't include the Transfiguration in his Gospel, the Synoptic accounts report that he was present (Matt. 17:1, Mark 9:2, Luke 9:28). And what did he witness? Moses, the writer of the Law, and Elijah, the foremost of the prophets, giving their witness to the Messiahship of Jesus.

So, I would suggest that the reader doesn't have to search the newest book from the prophecy-mongers or today's newspaper to take a guess as to the identity of the witnesses. They are the same witnesses that have been pointing to Him since the first verses of the New Testament.

Consider also the evidence in Revelation 11 itself. Verse 6 tells us, "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." Where have we seen someone associated with the withholding of rain? In I Kings 17:1, Elijah tells Ahab, king of Israel, "As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before Whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word." And who is associated with plagues, such as turning waters to blood? Exodus, starting in chapter 7, describes Moses as the intermediary of God's plagues on Egypt. The plague of blood, specifically, is found in Exodus 7:17-18.  This isn't rocket science. John is using images from the Old Testament which would have been very familiar to his readers. I am saddened that they aren't as familiar to today's popular "bible teachers."

Revelation 11 continues with its account. In verse 7, they are killed, which verse 8 tells us happens in Jerusalem. Then verse 10 tells us, "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." The word translated here as "earth," can also be translated as "land," which I prefer. The people of the land, that is, of the land of Israel, celebrate the silencing of the testimony of the law and the prophets, because they wanted an excuse to reject their Messiah. The Deacon Stephen describes this in his evangelistic sermon in Acts 7. Notice especially verses 52 and 53: "Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, Whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it." By killing the prophets and resisting the Law of Moses, the reprobate among the nation of Israel believed that they avoided the consequences for their unbelief, which is what they celebrate in Revelation 11:10.

Was their scheme successful? Revelation 11:11-13: "But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them [i. e., the witnesses], 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." These verses aren't as clear as the earlier portion. The reference to being received into heaven in a cloud suggests that this portion describes the ascension of Christ (compare Luke 24:51, and Acts 1:9-11), with the signs in the place of the thing signified. Whether there was an earthquake at that time, or possibly that this is a figurative reference, I cannot say.

No comments: