Rebuild & Renew: The Post-Exilic Books
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1, 2, and 3 John
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David, Life of
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Jesus and the Kingdom
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Sermon on the Mount
#5. By The Blood of the Lamb (Revelation 11-13)
English painter William Blake (1757-1827) was commissioned to illustrate the Book of Revelation. Here is his "The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun" (c1805, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC). Larger picture.
Now we're in the thick of interpreting Revelation. In this week's lesson we'll be considering:
- The identity of the Two Witnesses
- The nature of the Great Tribulation
- What Temple may be present during the Last Days
- The Woman and Male Child
- The Dragon, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet
They're all in these passages. We won't agree on all these identifications, I'm sure. But I hope you'll learn something that makes sense to you in the context of the entire Book of Revelation.
Fortunately, the chief message of this section is not "who is the Antichrist" or "will there be a temple." The real message has to do with being faithful witnesses, even when faced with death. That's what the early church has to teach us twenty-first century Christians who can be silenced with the sneer of peer pressure. We need to learn how to be faithful witnesses to death, so watch as this theme is developed.
The Two Witnesses (11:1-14)
Chapter 11 is difficult to interpret with certainty. There are two popular of views:
- Dispensationalists take the symbols in a literal manner: the temple will actually exist, the two witnesses are two individuals, and the altar will be placed where ancient sacrifices are renewed (Walvoord, Ryrie). This is possible. However, there are elements in this vision which cannot be interpreted literally and demand a symbolic interpretation.
11:1 "Measure." see Ezekiel 40:3; 42:20; Zechariah 2:1-5. A symbol of separating the holy from the common, and therefore protecting from evil. This is the same function of "sealing" in Revelation 7.
"Temple of God"is symbolic for the church, God's people, the true Israel (see 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16-17; Ephesians 2:19-21; 1 Peter 2:5).
11:2 "Court outside the temple," that is, the "Court of the Gentiles," probably represents those who are not the true Israel, perhaps those who are outwardly Christians but not true believers or the unbelieving "Gentile" world.
"Given over to the nations ... for forty-two months."Compare "the times of the Gentiles" (Luke 21:24). The 42 months = 3-1/2 years = 1260 days = "time, times, and half a time." This period of time comes from the prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27. The last week of Daniel's "70 weeks of years" occurs after "an anointed one shall be cut off" (Daniel 9:26), that is, the Messiah is crucified. The final "seven year" period is not literal time, I believe, but symbolic of the "gospel age" and is characterized by the proclamation of the gospel, which includes a period of terrible persecution ("great tribulation") at the very end. (See Revelation 11:2-3; 12:6, 14; 13:5; Daniel 7:25; 9:27; 12:11.) Even though each is referred to as "3-1/2 years," I don't expect them to be the same length in chronological time. Here's how I analyze these two confusing "3-1/2 year" periods:
Gospel Age ("Tribulation")
Church trampled 42 months, 2 witnesses prophecy 1260 days (Revelation 11:2-3)
2 witnesses dead, 3-1/2 days (Revelation 11:9)
Woman in wilderness, church protected to declare gospel, 1260 days. 1X, 2X 1/2X (Revelation 12:6, 14)
War on offspring; beast: authority; church decimated by persecution, 42 months (Revelation 13:5-7)
Mystery of lawlessness at work but restrained (2 Thessalonians 2:7)
The lawless one will be revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:8)
Spirit of antichrist (1 John 2:18b)
Antichrist prevails (1 John 2:18a)
Sacrifice and offering (Daniel 9:27a)
Abomination in temple, desolator (Daniel 9:27b)
Power of holy people (Daniel 12:7a; 1X, 2X, 1/2X).
After shattering of power of holy people. Time after abomination, 1290 days. Total = 1335 days (Daniel 12:7b, 11-12)
"Little Horn" wears out saints 1X, 2X 1/2X (Daniel 7:21-25)
Many identifications have been suggested. I believe they represent the witnessing Church throughout the Gospel Age.
11:3-4 "Two witnesses."
"Two olive trees" (see Zechariah 4:1-14) are symbolic of the oil (Zechariah 4:12) and of the Spirit (Zechariah 4:6) who provides oil to maintain the "two lampstands" (see Revelation 1:20).
So who are these two witnesses? Some think they may be the two faithful witnessing churches of Asia -- Smyrna and Philadelphia. Others see Elijah and Moses. I've heard Billy Graham and Oral Roberts mentioned. But I believe these two witnesses represent the whole witnessing Church. The testimony of at least two witnesses was considered credible in Jewish law. I think the two witnesses indicate the adequacy and credibility of the Church's testimony (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Numbers 35:30).
11:5-6The Church's power over rain and plagues typify Elijah and Moses (prophets and law). The Church's power is considerable (Matthew 16:18-19; 18:18-20; Luke 10:19).
11:7 "The beast that comes up from the Abyss"is of Satanic origin and represents the Antichrist. This is the first of about 35 references in Revelation to the "beast." The term "antichrist" is not used in the Book of Revelation, but only in 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7. However, the concept occurs elsewhere, particularly as the "Man of Lawlessness" in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. He leads a rebellion against God and usurps the place of God, demanding worship. In addition, he performs various signs and wonders (Mark 13:6, 21-22). There is some speculation that the beasts of Revelation picture the Roman system with its "divine" emperor and emperor worship (Duane F. Watson, "Antichrist," DLNT 50-53).
11:8 "Will make war ... conquer them ... and kill them."See Revelation 12:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, 8-10; Daniel 7:21. This is the reign of the Antichrist and the decimation of the church by martyrdom. However, if the "two witnesses" represent two of the seven churches of Asia, then it may indicate that only part of the church is martyred. We know that there will be at least a few Christians left on the earth when Christ comes (Luke 18:8; 1 Corinthians 15:51; etc.). "Night comes when no one can work" (John 9:4).
11:8 "The great city."Some feel this refers to literal Jerusalem "where their Lord was crucified." Others feel this is a reference to "the world" in general, represented by "the great city, Babylon" in Revelation 16 to 18.
11:9 "Three days and a half," a short period compared to the ascendancy of the church for 3-1/2 years = 1260 days.
11:11-13"Come up here." Resurrection and rapture are depicted. See 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:26-27.
Q1. (11:3-12 ) Interpreters disagree upon the identity of the Two Witnesses, but they are certainly strong and brave. What positive characteristics do you see in their actions that we should emulate in our day? What is their reward?
The Seventh Trumpet (11:15-19)
11:15 "Seventh trumpet."This is the last trumpet (see references in my notes under 10:7). Finally, Christ rules on earth and sets up his eternal Messianic kingdom: "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever." Hallelujah!
11:18Now comes the time for "the dead to be judged" and "for rewarding thy servants." This corresponds to the "great white throne judgment" (Revelation 20:11-14) and the "judgment seat of Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10).
The Woman and the Dragon (12:1-13:1a)
Chapter 12 marks a major division. One of the central themes of Revelation is the spiritual warfare between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. In this vision, war in heaven is pictured in "mythological colors" (Ladd) between a great red dragon and a heavenly woman.
The Church's true adversary is revealed. Cast down from heaven, knowing that his time is short, Satan turns in his rage to destroy Christ's Church. Knowing that this is the death struggle of a defeated foe, the Church is strengthened in her resolve to hold fast and to conquer.
12:1 "A woman"represents the whole family of Israel out of which the Messiah is born. She is in fact the Church: the old Israel and the new Israel. See Psalm 104:2; Genesis 37:9; Isaiah 26:17-18. The "moon under her feet" = dominion, the "crown" = royalty.
12:3 "A great red dragon" = "that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan"(verse 9). The "seven heads" may depict the completeness or universality of his usurped sovereignty. The "ten horns" = power, might (see Daniel 7:7, 24) and are later seen to represent ten kings (Revelation 13:1; 17:12).
12:4 "His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to earth."See Daniel 8:10; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6; Isaiah 14:12; Matthew 25:41; Revelation 12:7-9. Does this refer to fallen angels or demons?
12:5 "Male child"= the Messiah. Revelation 19:15; Psalm 2:9.
12:6 "Wilderness."The wilderness is not desolate and foreboding, but symbolic of God's provision for the people of Israel in the Exodus. The idea of nourishment is the key to the symbol. See Deuteronomy 32:11; Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 8:3. Elijah was also fed supernaturally in the wilderness (1 Kings 17:6).
"1260 days,"that is, the period of persecution. (See the chart on my notes on 11:2 above.) Why is the 3-1/2 period used to characterize this Gospel Age? In addition to its use in Daniel, it is reminiscent of the days of Ahab and Elijah when the rain was withheld by the command of God's prophet (see Revelation 11:6; James 5:17; Luke 4:25; 1 Kings 17:1; 18:1). The faithful Old Testament church was persecuted but not destroyed (1 Kings 19:9-18).
12:7 "Michael and his angels."Described as "one of the chief princes" (Daniel 10:13, 21) and an "archangel" (Jude 9), Michael appears as leader of the heavenly host, the protector of God's people (Daniel 12:1). While Gabriel seems to be an angel of proclamation, Michael is a warlike angel in the struggle against Satan.
"The dragon"(= the Devil and Satan, 12:9) and his angels. These angels are probably fallen angels or demons. See references on 12:4.
12:8 "No longer any place for them in heaven."Satan seems to have had access to God as "the accuser of our brethren". See Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7; Zechariah 3:1-10. But since the victory of Christ's full atonement, "Who can bring any charge against God's elect?" (Romans 8:1, 33).
12:9When Satan was "thrown down" from heaven is not stated. This fall was foreseen by Jesus in Luke 10:18. Dispensationalists such as C.C. Ryrie see this as occurring at the middle of the tribulation. More likely, however, this is a heavenly viewpoint symbolic of the victory won by Christ's atonement. See Colossians 2:15 and John 12:31. We need not take these "seven mystic figures" in chronological order, but can see them as "repeating patterns."
12:10 "They have conquered him"by fearless faith in Christ's atoning blood and their unflinching testimony of Jesus. Though they were killed, they were not made to deny their Lord by Satan's worst -- truly they had conquered Satan in their faithful deaths. Here Revelation's theme of faithful witness by the church in times of persecution can be seen with great clarity.
12:13 "When ... he had been thrown down"is the beginning of the persecution of God's people who are yet preserved and protected for the 3-1/2 year period (12:6), which I see as the Gospel Age.
12:14 "Two wings of the great eagle."This is reminiscent of God's provision of escape for Israel from Pharaoh (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11-12).
12:17This verse refers to the period of great tribulation during which Satan is successful in decimating the church, that is, "the rest of her offspring." See 13:7.
Q2. (12:1-17) The vision of the woman and the dragon are heavily symbolic, but comprehensible when you take care to understand. In your own words, what does this vision tell us about the cosmic battle in Jesus' day and in our own? What comfort should we disciples draw from this passage?
Q3. Revelation 12:11 could be considered a theme verse for the book. What does it mean? Who is overcome? In what sense do we have victory if we die in the process? What does the "blood of the Lamb" have to do with this? How does loving our lives prevent spiritual victory today? (See Luke 14:25-27; Matthew 10:37-39.)
The Beast out of the Sea (13:1b-10)
The next vision is of two beasts of satanic origin who bring terrible persecution against the church during the final waning Last Days. See my brief notes on the Antichrist at 11:7 above. The first beast represents the Antichrist, the second the "false prophet."
13:1 "The beast rising out of the sea"is a puppet of Satan. He is the Antichrist who is worshipped as in 2 Thessalonians 2:4. The sea represents nations and their governments (Revelation 17:15; Isaiah 17:12). In John's day the Beast from the Sea would have been identified with Rome. This beast symbolizes the persecuting power of Satan embodied in all the nations and governments of the world through all history. The four beasts of Daniel 7 have been combined into this one beast.
"Ten horns and seven heads"shows his relationship to the red dragon of 12:3. See Daniel 7:7; Revelation 17:10. "A blasphemous name" may reflect the increasing tendency of Roman emperors to assume titles of deity (see 2 Thessalonians 2:4).
13:5-7The second 3-1/2 year period (that is, the shorter 3-1/2 day period of Revelation 11:7-11) follows the revelation of the Antichrist = the Beast, in which the beast is "allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them." See Daniel 7:21-22.
13:8 "The book of life of the Lamb that was slain."See 3:5; 17:8; 20:12; 21:27. The names recorded in this book probably correspond with those who have been sealed.
13:10If one is destined for "captivity," he must be willing to go meekly as a Christian, violent resistance is out of place. But persecution will ultimately be punished with God's "sword" of justice (Matthew 26:52). The Christian will need "endurance" (one of the key words of Revelation) in the midst of persecution and faith that God will finally avenge injustice. See 14:12; Matthew 10:22.
The Beast out of the Earth (13:11-18)
A second beast rises out of the earth and is a servant of the first beast. He is called "the false prophet" (16:13; 19:20; 20:10) and compels people to worship the first beast. He seems to represent organized religion, perhaps reflecting the Roman Imperial priesthood that promoted emperor worship.
13:11 "Another beast which rose out of the earth."See Daniel 7:3, 17.
"Two horns like a lamb ... spoke like a dragon."He is a parody of Christ, the Lamb of God. The first beast represents civil power, satanically inspired; the second beast represents religious power employed to support civil power.
13:14 "Deceives"by signs and miracles. See 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10; Matthew 24:24.
13:16The Mark of the Beast is in contrast to the sealing of God's servants (7:3-4). It will come down to a person either bearing the mark of the beast or the seal of God. There is no middle ground. "The Lord knows those who are his" (2 Timothy 2:19). Religious tattooing was widespread in the ancient world (Mounce).
13:17 "Buy or sell."The mark allows economic freedom. Only those who would rather die than compromise their faith will resist the mark of Antichrist. But there has been a lot of foolishness taught about the Mark of the Beast. I can remember when the USB codes on packages were suspect!
Q4. (13:1-18, optional) The two beasts belong to the period of the ascendancy of the Antichrist at the very end of the Last Days. Together with 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, summarize what have you learned about the Antichrist and the
13:18 "The number of the beast ... is 666."Neither Hebrew or Greek used a system of numbers like the Arabic numerals we use today. In ancient times the letters of the alphabet served as numbers, a practice called gematria. The first nine letters stood for 1 through 9, the next 9 letters for 10 through 90, etc. Thus every name yielded a number. Graffiti from Pompeii reads, for example, "I love her whose number is 545." The Sibylline Oracles 1:325 converts "Jesus" in Greek (IHΣOYΣ) into the number 888 (I = 10, H = 8, Σ = 200, O = 70, y = 400, Σ = 200).
There have been numerous ancient and modern theories, all unconvincing. Almost anything can be done with numbers by clever manipulation and a great deal of foolishness has attended the puzzle of 666. A few examples:
- The numerical total of the Greek title of Emperor Nero is 666 when transliterated into the Hebrew alphabet and the spelling altered slightly.
- The Latin title of the pope, Vicarivs fillii dei (Vicar of the Son of God) = 666 if only the values of the letters of the title which represent Roman numerals are totaled.
- Taking A=6, B= 6+6, C= 6+ 6+ 6, etc., the words "Kissinger" and "Computer" add up to 666.
- If A = 100, B=101, C=102, etc., "Hitler" totals 666.
Some have seen the number as symbolic of the number which falls short of perfection in each of its digits. "This evil trinity apes the Holy Trinity 777, but always falls short and fails" (Torrance). This seems to be part of John's vision which is "sealed up" until those days when the Church needs to recognize the revealed Antichrist.
Chapters 11, 12, and 13 offer different visions and symbolic figures, all of which teach a similar lesson: The faithful, witnessing Church will antagonize enemies in the world, who are, in fact, dupes of Satan and part of a larger cosmic spiritual warfare between Satan and God. Though the Church will have considerable time to bear witness, a time will come when Satan's ascendancy is so great that the Church is seemingly crushed. But even then, Satan does not triumph, because:
"But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony,
for they did not cling to life even in the face of death." (Revelation 12:11, NRSV)
Lord, embolden us as we read Revelation so that we might be willing to bear testimony to you "in season and out of season." Keep us from being intimidated by those who are angered at any mention of God and of Jesus. Help us to avoid being overly obnoxious in our testimony, but not so subtle that our testimony is watered down to the point of being impotent. Give us wisdom. Help us as we prepare for the terrible times that face your Church in the Last Days. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastorjoyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.
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- Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
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