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TWO WITNESSES ?
who are they ? what do they do ? what does this teach us ?
what has it to do with Christian Apologetics ?
WHO ARE THE WITNESSES ?*1A
Revelation 11 introduces - or more strictly re-introduces us - to the two witnesses. Who are they ?
The reference to the olive trees (two) and the lampstands standing before the Lord matches only one base, and that is found in Zechariah 4. If you were a Jew in the period when John wrote Revelation, under the power of the Holy Spirit, then in your (compared to now) very limited literature base, and the exceedingly well known book of the Lord, there would not be the slightest difficulty in recognising the allusion in Revelation, which teems with such allusions. It is in one sense a wrap-up work, sealing symbols and indicating the latest reference point for them; and in another, tying up the matters so that NO THING could be added (Revelation 22:18). If you add to THESE THINGS, plagues and not blessing are your privilege, exactly as was the case with the covenant of Moses (Deuteronomy 4:2, , 13:4-5).
The lampstands are to supply oil to the lamps, from the source of the olive tree. In the Revelation case, there are two lampstands, one for each witness it seems. "These," says the text (11:4) are the two olive trees and the two lampstands. In other words, the symbolism of Zechariah, which was in the location of Chs.3-4, addressing the coming Messiah through the dressing up of the high priest in filthy robes, then changed for clean ones, and a turban of presence. This symbolised the sin-bearing saviour to come (as in Isaiah 52-5), as shown in 3:9 where He is seen as the stone on which the inscription of sin, like the handwriting of condemnation for sin, is seen. By this means, He carries off the iniquity in one day, ample and sufficient for all whose sins are inscribed on Him: though as He explained, if any did not BELIEVE it was He, then of course their sin would remain with them, and they would die with it (John 8:24).
Following up on this symbolism for the Messiah is the case of Zerubbabel (4:6ff.), who is to finish the building of the temple. It is he who is to 'bring forth the capstone" with cries to IT, of 'grace, grace!'.
In this process relating to 1) the high
priest in the restoration of
It is important to note that the reference in
the case of Joshua the high priest, is not only to the official himself, but -
"Joshua, the high priest,
You and your companions who sit before you,
For they are a wondrous sign..." (3:8).
This is IN VIEW of the coming Messiah (3:9), the "stone which is laid before Joshua" whose very ordinary status is reviewed in trenchant terms by the dressing up in filthy robes, changed for clean one, leading on to the Saviour on whom the sin is to be inscribed as noted.
Turning back to Revelation 11, our current focus of interest, we find that they are to perform their witness for 42 months. The elaborate symbolism is simple if you know the word of God, as many of the Jews would have done. Daniel in 9:24-27 was introduced by divine revelation to a singular fact. While the Jews in his life-span had been in Babylon for around 70 years, a discipline for chronic rebellion as specified IN ADVANCE by Jeremiah (cf. Isaiah 30:8-9), and the time was about up, Daniel was seeking the Lord with fasting, sackcloth and supplications. In response, he was shown that each of the years - namely 70 - of the exile would be replaced for the extensive review of coming history about to be given, by a SEVEN.
Thus not seventy years, but seventy SEVENS were to come. After 69 of these would be the MESSIAH. In the midst of one week there would be a cutting off of the sacrifices. This was to be followed, as it was, by great devastation (for example, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed in A.D. 70, and Jews forbidden to enter in a succeeding period). With 69 of the 70 gone, and the last action concerning the rejection of the Messiah past, there would be left out of the total, one half seven. That of course is 3 and one half. In years, literally, that is (on a 360 day style year such as you see in the equivalents of Revelation 11:2-3) 3 and one half, in months 42, and in days 1260.
You see all these figures in Revelation. As shown in SMR pp. 959ff., these become symbolical as to size after the death of the Messiah, who declined to quantify the time of His return (Acts 1) when asked. The Messianic seven is at the Father's discretion, and lasts until all the world has heard the gospel and all the requirements are met (Matthew 24:24:14). One of these was the return of the Jews to Jerusalem (Luke 21:24), and that has been met recently (1948,1967).
This is the interesting part of the fact that the 70 lots were of SEVEN, and this number, having been used with great and dramatic precision to show in advance by hundreds of years, the atoning death date of the Messiah (cf. SMR pp. 886ff.), is now in service until the time comes, and its value is to convey the sense of the end, in terms of the post-murder period concerning Christ.
Thus when we see the 1260 and 42 months in Revelation 11, we realise that this is an end-time symbol and signal! In fact, it is to last until the holy City of the Jews, Jerusalem, is no more trodden down by the Gentiles, that is, in their care or control. That is apparently NOW, but the huge international cry against Jerusalem for the Jews, one of the prodigalities of the UN as noted earlier on this site (e.g. The Frantic Millenium and the Peace of Faith Ch.6) means that amongst other things, the TEMPLE site is far from free for the Jews, and is in fact inhabited by a giant mosque of an alien religion (cf. SMR pp. 822ff.). At all events, the time is in the present plan of things, and we are in its immediate vicinity.
Thus if we have any 1900 + year old people,
they would be arithmetically in the right area of age! In other words, we are
dealing not with two individuals at all, but with what has gone on since Christ
and what is to continue to the end of the Age (Luke 21:21-25 makes this
explicit). What has testified, in the symbolic sense that Zerubbabel and Joshua
the high priest did, in this period; and what has followed in what these two
stood for, together ? Theirs were the authoritative and the testimonial phases
of the life of the people of the Old Covenant, those called (in an earlier
phase) "the church in
the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). The New
Testament equivalent is the New Testament Church. It is this which comprises
the "two witnesses" in time duration, in function and in what is to
WHAT DO THEY DO ?
The functions of course focus on TESTIMONY, and in Rev. 12:11, we find of the Christians that "they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death." Him ? the devil, thrown out of heaven and wrathful on earth.
The "fire" from their mouths reminds one, in this symbolical work, of Luke 21:15, of Paul in II Corinthians 10:5, of Titus' instructions in Titus 1:9, 3:10. It relates rather closely no doubt to the express depiction in Acts 2, when a tongue of fire sat on the head of each apostle.
The death may occur in various ways, but the judgment which is constituted by the fire on the enemies, is eternal, when there is no repentance. The plagues (11:6) are allied to the turning of waters to blood, which is precisely what has happened in the last 50 years in this world, where murder and massacre, mayhem and carnage have been vast and constant. The cry of the saints (as in Rev.5) is not only in heaven, and as the Lord hears and answers, following the murders, tortures and imprisonment of His people, this is the form it has taken. Those who live by the sword, die by it. It is rather like the case of Jeremiah in Ch.1, where he is to oversee the rising and falling of nations: AS a prophet, and IN this, that the word of the Lord through him is to be operative in dealing with Israel and the surrounding nations. It is in this sense that the events, including plagues, as prophesied earlier in Revelation (6,16) come. What has the church to do with this ? WHEN it prays for the early coming of Christ (Rev. 22:20), it is praying for the opening of the books, the termination of this Age's history. THAT in turn is filled with precisely the plagues noted, and which have come, do come and are coming.
As to the power regarding rain withholding as
a penalty, we are reminded of James 5, where we learn that Elijah was a man of
"like passions" to ourselves, yet in earnest prayer (in pursuit of
the Lord's direction), he was used to shut and later to open the heavens, in a
divine demonstration to Israel which had grown hard of hearing the word of the
Lord, of the mind of his Creator! So here.
WHAT DOES THIS TEACH US ?
It teaches us that the power of prayer of vast; that the word of the Lord will CERTAINLY be done, that the church of Jesus Christ loves not its own life to death, but continuing anyway, is enabled to perform whatever the testimony requires (as in Rev. 12:11). It is NOT a silent majority, for it is FILLED with testimony and far from being in charge of the things of this world. It continues the flashing beauty of the work of the saints as noted in Hebrews 11, in these two millenia since, and in the rugged courage, constancy of devotion of such men as John Knox, Martin Luther, John Calvin and the Wesleys, Anglicans in the sacrifice of the 1660's, Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer, social reformers, slavery overturners, living sacrifices in jungles, cities and countries both dangerous and backward, fulfilling the testimony of Christ as commanded.
It has brought into being great institutions like Princeton, great arms of prowess in fields academic, physical and among the greatest scientific geniuses of all time like Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Boyle (cf. A Spiritual Potpourri Ch.4, pp. 72ff.). in these two millenia since, and in the rugged courage, constancy of devotion of such men as John Knox, Martin Luther, John Calvin and the Wesleys, Anglicans in the sacrifice of the 1660's, Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer, social reformers, slavery overturners, living sacrifices in jungles, cities and countries both dangerous and backward, fulfilling the testimony of Christ as commanded. It has brought into being great institutions like Princeton, great arms of prowess in fields academic, physical and among the greatest scientific geniuses of all time (cf. A Spiritual Potpourri Ch.4, pp. 72ff.).
It is not a cultural captive, for it is in DIRECT opposition to the prince of this world (as in John 14:30, and Revelation 12). It has the presence of Christ in heart and in the love of Christ, it follows the desire to win and persuade, but well enough knows as did the Master, the Son of God Himself, the tragedies which will certainly follow the continued rejection of the Gospel by this world (John 3:17ff., Luke 19:42). Love rejoices in the truth, and the truth is that if the truth is long enough and implacably enough resisted or rejected, what follows is unlovely. That is the NATURE of it, for where love is denied in terms of some mere enclave of flesh, the very love of God rebuffed, then its absence becomes increasingly intolerable.
It teaches us something else. In II Thessalonians, Paul, like Christ in Matthew 24, speaks of the enormous departure from the faith (cf. II Peter 3, II Timothy 3, I Timothy 4) which is to come. This is coming. It is becoming so apparent that some would like to write the large institutional church off as a passé apparatus. As we have seen in Stepping out for Christ Chs.1, 4, A Spiritual Potpourri 13 and in Repent or Perish 5 and The Frantic Millenium and the Peace of Faith Chs. 1, 6, 7 and 10, with SMR 687ff., 864ff., for example, there has been a vast erosion of the faith in many of the large and settled institutions, a process much multiplied by the sects themselves, leading to an air of indifferentism in many, which acts as an accelerator in the second phase of the process.
Thus when, in Rev. 11:9, we see the 'dead bodies' of the witnesses, just prior to their ascent to the haven of heaven, lying in the streets, a subject of unblushing rejoicing by this world (11:10), we realise the extent of the invasion. It is NOT that the church fails, for it is guaranteed. Matthew 16 shows us the church where Christ as the rock is central - cf. Psalm 62 and Ch. 3 above, pp. 30ff.; its power continues unabated, but not by papal armies or social sanctions. Founded on the only permissible foundation (I Cor. 3:10-11), it is indestructible; but the bodies of its citizens are not! They die in considerable numbers (cf. Rev. 6:11). Persecution becomes vast and implacable (cf. Rev. 13:16ff.).
The imposing social edifice which many churches made, the political power which some have experienced, the financial plumage, all this passes quickly. Persecution mounts to maddened heights, and already it is feverish at many levels (cf. That Magnificent Rock Ch.8, The Other News Appendix 1, and Ch.3 above). Thus we learn to expect an invasion of liberties, an harassment of opportunities, an exclusion in many fields and a deterioration of structural power in SOCIETY as many of the large enterprises in religion in the past, crumble, being taken over by fiddlers, fiascos and wolves. Examples moving, Biblically, in this direction, are noted in the references two paragraphs above.
Thus fearless in the power of the Lord, with answers to every challenge that glorify Him, in apparent weakness, but in undying strength, despite the appalling judgments slotted for the earth, in answer to growing and maddened rebellion, the actual church of BELIEVERS will continue unbowed, enabled to the end; but its social prowess and political clout will die as if it lay in the streets. The example of Paul does not fade (cf. II Cor. 4:7ff., I Cor. 4:9ff.), who found the power and riches of Christ his stability, the source of enterprise and the source of whatever miracle or word was needed for the faith at the time (II Cor. 1:1-11, Ephesians 1:19, Acts 13-16, II Tim. 4:17, Philippians 4:13 cf. Isaiah 33:6).
What courage, what constancy, what originality of re-organisation (always on the Biblical draft lines), what testimony it must now make; and with what spiritual weapons, in the love of Christ, it must wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, giving humbly but irrepressibly the REASON for the faith (I Peter 15), living the LIFE of faith and acting with the SAVOUR of the Lord (I Cor. 2:16), a saviour of life to the dying, who resist to the end the grace of the Lord, and of life of the living, who rejoice in a life which starts now, but continues for ever (I John 5:12-13).
THEN! Are they
not perhaps near to being the three most beautiful words in the Bible, these
which come to the witnesses, the church, from heaven: "COME UP HERE!" (Rev. 11:12)*1 .
They they go as he did (Acts 1). They go to the place prepared, just as, in the
beginning before sin's onset, the earth was the place prepared. The pilgrimage
over, they are then on recall, while the ends of things for the current Age,
unfold. It was the Lord Jesus, the Lamb who ALONE was permitted to take the
scroll of history to come (Revelation 5:2-13), since blessing and glory, and
honour and power are to the Lamb, and the Father who sent Him from heaven, for
ever. With HIM He shares His glory (Isaiah 42:8), since He with the Father is
one God, He who sends and He who is sent (Isaiah 48:16, Hebrews 1, John 1,
5:19-23). What delight to rejoin as adopted children, the Son of God, and to
know express and sure, the very face, the invitation fulfilled, to see God face
to face (Revelation 21-22).
WHAT HAS THIS TO DO WITH CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS,
WITH A REASON FOR THE FAITH ?
<![if !supportLists]>ˇ <![endif]>1) shows us the nature of events concerning the church, and dramatises it so that it is not subject to confusion, hence fortifying the Christian, and verifying once more the word of God as we see just these things, documented on this site, occurring NOW, when they are supposed to occur, in the overall setting (as in SMR Ch.8).
<![if !supportLists]>ˇ <![endif]>2) reminds us of the death time of Christ as highly precise in its prophesy, but the call to heaven time for the saints as deliberately concealed - we are to be READY, in the very schema of precision (cf. Acts 1, and the Lord's statement on this there).
<![if !supportLists]>ˇ <![endif]>3) warns all of the nature of the deadly conflicts to come, and serves an instructive purpose for all to ponder, who see beginning, and in some nations, moving rapidly to maturity, the processes here described. As they ARE deadly it is also verification already.
<![if !supportLists]>ˇ <![endif]>4) focusses the Lord Jesus Christ as the acme, alpha and omega, something highly prominent in the book of Revelation, HE the one who alone can take the scroll of history, to unroll it so that the Age can end; HE who with the Father has eternal glory, and shares His throne (Rev. 22:3), ONE throne! It is all about what He supervises, His protestations, His continuing invitation, "I Jesus have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star. And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!". And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take of the water of life freely" - Rev. 22:16-17.
topic is covered a little differently in Benevolent Brightness or Brothy
Bane 87, End-note 1. The two
together may help a composite picture for some.
*1 It would be unthinkable that the church whose departure is so dramatic (Matthew 24:21ff.), and the subject of such warning (Matthew 24:45ff., 25:1-10), in direct speech and in parable alike, that the church whose presence is so impactive (Matthew 16:16ff., 24:11-14), power so celestially given (Luke 24:49ff., Acts Chs. 1-16), should not be seen to go.
That the departure of the blood-covered (Revelation 1) church should not be mentioned in a book where the seals are loosed concerning what is to come to pass, on the document of coming events, and this by none less than Christ Himself (Rev. 5:4-7), leading to the dénouement where the Word of God in His own Person comes in flaming victory and judgment in the midst of His saints, fresh from the marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:5-9) after many cumulative and carefully calibrated preliminaries in seals, thunders, trumpets and vials : it would be like a time table without a train.
It is precisely here in Rev. 11 and nowhere else, that the reception of the saints occurs, that is to occur; the reception of the saints of God, called at last out of this world, before the judgment arises and arrives as in Rev. 19. In parallel with this, the very designation of the church as just given above, is readily symbolised just as Rev. 11 gives it: active in the furnace, empowered, assaulted, delivered. Small wonder NONE of these things can be added to, NONE of these words reduced (Rev. 22:18ff.). THAT, it would be like someone writing to the newspapers about things which were to take place in a court of law, adding to the words of a judge, duly inscribed and duly pronounced by his own person! or subtracting from them. Such a thing would be pure illusion.