Revelation Study – Session 12

Dr. Larry Reynolds

 

In the later part of the 1st century the beginnings of the destruction of Rome could be seen, especially by those who, like John, interpreted such events through eyes of faith.  John saw that the great enemy and persecutor of Christians was not invincible and would not escape the judgment of God.  And throughout Revelation, using graphic symbolic language, natural disasters, internal rottenness, and external invasion are portrayed as instruments used by God to vindicate his oppressed, persecuted people.  This theme can be seen in the series of seven trumpets that comprise act 3 in this great drama of redemption.

 

I’ve mentioned several times that interspersed between and among the various series of sevens (seals/trumpets/signs/bowls/scenes of celebration) that make up much of Revelation are some interludes.  We have already seen in our study an interlude between  the 6th and 7th seals that included two visions:

·        The vision of the 144,000 in 7:1-8 which I believe represent the redeemed of God on earth

·        The vision of the great multitude in 7:9-17 which represent the redeemed of God in heaven

 

In this study we have come to another of these interludes.  It occurs between the 6th and 7th trumpet and is found in chapter 10 and most of chapter 11.  As in the case of the first interlude, this one contains two major visions:

·        10:1-11 – The vision of a strong angel coming down from heaven with a little book in his hand.  This vision is addressed primarily to John.

·        11:1-14 – The vision of the two witnesses and is addressed primarily to the persecuted church.

Before look at some of the details of these two visions, say a word about their purpose.  In the first six trumpets God had warned the people of coming judgments.  It is my position that the judgments being described were primarily the instruments God was using to destroy the Roman Empire that was persecuting His people, but they are also warnings to all people of all times concerning the danger of opposing God.  We saw in chapters 8 & 9:

  • Trumpets 1-4 – God’s judgment through natural disaster…
  • Trumpet 5 – God’s judgment through internal rottenness…
  • Trumpet 6 – God’s judgment through external invasion…

Now, before the sounding of the 7th trumpet that leads to a series of seven signs in chapters 12-15, we have this interlude with two visions designed to answer two questions:

  • How long will Christians have to suffer waiting for God’s judgment to be complete and for vindication?  Chapter 10 deals with that question.
  • What is the task of Christians during the time of tribulation and judgment?  Chapter11 deals with that question.

The primary purpose of this interlude seems to me to be to encourage and sustain the battered saints in their witness as they wait to be vindicated.

 

10:1-11 – THE ANGEL AND THE LITTLE BOOK – This vision answers the question: How long will church have to suffer waiting for God’s judgment to be complete?  Doesn’t give a definitive answer, but does remind reader that will not last forever.  Phrase at end v.6 may be key to understanding this vision – “...there shall be delay no longer.” (KJV says something to the effect that “time will be no more” but doesn’t mean time ends; means time of judgment and along with it the opportunity for repentance ends.)  Want to make few comments about some of the details of this vision:

 

“...strong angel coming down out of heaven...” (v.1) - Disagreement over identity...some say Christ...others point out oath in verse 6 which is based on Christ makes this interpretation un-natural...whatever identity, obvious came from God...”heaven...cloud...rainbow...face like sun...feet like fire...” all emphasize not of this world...

 

“...little book in his hand...” (v.2) – Much debate over what book represents...among ideas presented are:

  • The vision of chapter 11
  • A second Revelation (chapters 12-22)
  • A book of sorrow and woe or the judgments of God much like the book mentioned in Ezekiel 2...
  • Christian Scientists say Mary Eddy Baker’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures...

Any attempt to identity specifically content of book based on speculation...think the book represents God’s word and warnings to those who need to repent...

 

“...placed his right foot on the sea and his left on the land...” (v.2) – Land and sea represent the totality of earth...stresses universality of the message angel came to proclaim...for all the world...

 

“...cried out with a loud voice, as when a lion roars...” (v.3) – Could not be ignored... demanded attention...

 

“…the seven peals of thunder uttered their voices…” – Voice of God sometimes compared to thunder…cf. Psalm 29…John 12:27ff…apparently John heard what was communicated in the seven peals of thunder…was about to write it as was instructed in Rev.1:11…angel forbade him from writing…why?…not sure…may be that wanted John to express this revelation through speaking and not writing…say more about that in moment when we talk about what John was told to do with the little book in the angel’s hand…however, lesson in our not being told immediately what John heard in the peals of thunder…lesson is we don’t know everything about God, God’s ways, and God’s will… our understanding is always incomplete…we know some things because God has revealed, but don’t know everything…and it is presumptuous to think we do…

 

“…lifted up his right hand to heaven and swore…there shall be delay no longer…” (vv.5-6) – As said moment ago, think this is key to this vision…God had been delaying complete judgment…this has been theme throughout this section of Revelation..

  • Chapter 7 where four angels holding back four winds of judgment…
  • Chapters 8 where the natural disaster afflicted only 1/3 of the earth…
  • Chapter 9 where the locusts could sting but not kill and where the great army from the east was allowed to kill only 1/3 of mankind…

Message seems to be God has been holding back full and complete judgment but that holding back would not last forever…

 

“…take it, and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey…” (v.9) – Imagery obviously taken from similar event in Ezekiel 2 & 3…

  • Eating probably symbolizes mastering the content of the book, which I believe is the announcement (via the thunderous voice from heaven) that full, complete judgment is coming…
  • Sweetness probably reference to the joy one experiences at receiving a revelation from God…
  • Bitterness reminds that we should never be joyful about announcing the judgment and condemnation that will fall on people who reject God and God’s people…a real prophet never finds joy in preaching judgment and wrath, even though at times those things must be preached…

 

11:1-13 – MEASURING THE TEMPLE AND THE TWO WITNESSES – William Barclay calls this section “…at one and the same time the most difficult and the most important chapter in Revelation.”  Not sure about most important, but it certainly is at least among the most difficult!

 

Two basic questions must be dealt with before application can be made:

  1. Visions figurative or literal?

·        Futurists hold that the reference to the temple and the two witnesses must be interpreted literally.  They see a reference to an actual re-building of Temple and emergence of two supernatural witnesses near the end of time.

·        Historical Background, with which I am most comfortable, points out the other visions in interlude (and indeed in entire book) are obviously symbolic…in light of that, it is inconsistent to interpret this vision as literally…to understand the meaning must look at the symbolism…

  1. What does the time 42 months, 1260 days, 3 ½ years mean?

·     Futurists – Literally interpreted…actual 3 ½ year period… ½ of a great 7 year tribulation period near the final coming of Christ…

·     Historical Background – Point out that this is a common symbol in Jewish apocalyptic literature…signifies a time of trial and persecution, which is limited in duration…not last forever!!!

 

Draw main lesson from each of this visions:

Temple being measured – God’s people are protected in difficult and perilous times.

·        “Rise and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship in it…” – The temple was measured for special care and protection…cf. Zechariah 2:1-5…not a reference to literal Temple in Jerusalem…when John wrote these words the physical temple and been in ruins for about a quarter of a century…this should not be taken as an indication that physical temple is to be rebuilt…language is symbolic…the true temple of God, the dwelling place of God is the hearts of His people…the church, the new Israel is the temple…cf. I Peter 2:4ff… language here is obviously symbolic…taken familiar figure and spiritualized it….I believe the meaning is that the true spiritual temple, that is the people of God, while it may be persecuted and abused, receives spiritual protection from God…

·        “outer court given to Gentiles” – In literal Temple – outer courts Gentiles…inner sanctuary only Jews.  As Judaism divided people into two groups (Jews/Gentiles) so does Christianity (Christians/non-Christians)

·        “tread under feet the holy city” – While not permitted to destroy church, will be permitted to oppress it for limited period of time…great truth for us…while God doesn’t promise to shield us from all trouble, does promise to protect us from those things which would crush and destroy us…because we belong to Him we are protected…

     

Two witnesses – God’s people not only protected, but will prevail…will win the battle

 

Who are these two witnesses?

·        O.T. and N.T.

·        Christian church and Christian state

·        Christ & John Baptist

·        St. Francis & St. Dominic

·        John Huss & Martin Luther

·        Law & Gospel

·        Jew & Gentile

·        Written Word and spoken Word

·        Moses & Elijah

·        Enoch & Elijah

·        Two literal unknown people

·        Your guess is as good as anyone’s!

C.E. Colton, Revelation Book of Mystery and Hope  - “In order to understand the basic impact of the lesson involved here, it is not necessary that these two witnesses be identified with any specific person or thing.  In fact, it is doubtful that John had in mind here any particular person or persons.”

 

When does or did whatever is symbolized here occur?

·        Futurists – Two witnesses appear at end of time during first half of tribulation after rapture of church from world but before the Second Coming of Jesus…they are martyred…resurrected (One fatal flaw - would have absolutely no meaning to John’s readers)

 

·        Historical Background – Represents the experience of Christians in the first century with truths for Christians of all centuries.  Details of the vision seem to support this.

o       Beginning …gospel preached with remarkable success – vs.4-6…attested by divine power…early church had phenomenal growth…miracles were commonplace and had power to bring evil on those who opposed the gospel…

 

o       Time came when power arose to attempt to crush witness – vs. 7-10 Beast (symbolic of Rome) temporarily successful…case when John wrote the book…Made a spectacle of that the world might ridicule …bodies of martyred Christians often left in public places to discourage others from following the Way……Summers – Doesn’t take much “…imagination to see this as the attitude of the Roman Empire in this period when it seemed that Christianity was being crushed so that it could never rise again…”

 

o       Time came when the progress of the gospel proved that God’s people would prevail  - vs. 11-13 – God’s power enabled Rome to be overthrown and the gospel to flourish…period was just ahead for John’s readers…witnesses received new breath from God, stood on their feet, and were victorious…

Same pattern has been followed time and again in history of the church…times of great progress…followed by times of persecution and set back…followed by times of renewal, new life…and the great hope of this vision is that in spite of powerful spiritual and human enemies and in spite of having to endure some setbacks along the way, in the end God’s people are going to prevail…what an encouraging word that was to the beleaguered Christians suffering under the power of Rome in the later part of the 1st century A.D.

                       

 

 

Comments