"... tribulation brings about perseverance, and perseverance proven character, and proven character hope: and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us ..." (Romans 5:3-5)
We have by now learned that we - as Christians, i.e., as the church of God - are going to go through the Tribulation – and that God is perfectly able to sustain us in that Tribulation as we behold and reflect Him in our spirits. We now turn to deal with the following matters:
God's purpose for us in the Tribulation.
The Two Witnesses
Before we begin, however, there is something very important that we should note regarding the matter of tribulation: tribulation reveals what is already formed in us; it does not add anything new to us.
Oswald Chambers once wrote, "We are in danger of forgetting that we cannot do what God does, and that God will not do what we can do. We cannot save ourselves nor sanctify ourselves, God does that; but God will not give us good habits, He will not give us character, He will not make us walk aright. We have to do all that ourselves, we have to work out (i.e., develop) the salvation God has worked in (us) ..."
Remember how we develop "good habits," good character," etc. - it is by beholding and reflecting Christ in our spirit; specifically, the Word says: "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass [mirror] the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Corinthians 3:18).
If we are not in the process of "developing good habits and good character" it is because we have not been "beholding Christ in our spirit."
We must also bear in mind that the term "from glory to glory" implies that the process of transformation that is occurring in us takes time; it does not happen overnight. Again, please review Chapter 4.
What Chambers was saying is that if we fail to take advantage of those opportunities now to "develop our salvation" [i.e., to bring it to maturity, to develop Christian character in ourselves, to have Christ's life actually worked out in us (Phil. 2:12)] then we will fail when a real crisis (test) finally comes.
Many of us, nonetheless, continue to think that if God gives the call, we will somehow or other rise to the occasion. We imagine that we will be OK; sadly, however, the crisis (test) will only reveal what has already been developed in our lives as Christian character - it will not add anything new into us. If we have not risen to the occasion before in the little things of life - we will surely fail when the real test comes. All that a crisis (test) does is reveal what we are already made of. If we have yielded to temptation and weakness before in the little things, we will yield to temptation and weakness in the big things. If we are not in God's will in the things that are nearest to us, when the crisis (test) comes, instead of being revealed as ready, we will be revealed as unready. A crisis reveals character that has already been formed - it does not in itself create new character.
The Bible says that someday our Christian character is going to be put to the test - that the time will come in all of our lives that pretense will have to yield to reality; when what we are really made out of will be dragged out into the open for all to see, and we will be revealed for what we really are. If we have not "practiced the presence of God" in our lives, if we have not learned to yield ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit, if we have not taken the time to study the Word of God and know for sure what it really is all about, if we have not been living a sanctified life in the circumstances that we are presently in, if we have not been instant in prayer in the little things, then the crisis (test) will reveal all that!
If you say now, "I have no time for prayer now, I have no time now to practice the presence of Christ, it's so impractical to yield to Christ in this or that business decision now - but when the time comes, I will do it," our answer to you, sadly, is "No you won't!"
Many people think of David as a man of faith, and that when he went out to face Goliath, he relied on that faith to get him through - and that certainly is true. But what so many Christians fail to see is that the faith David had was not a blind faith - it was a faith that had been well developed.
His faith was a developed faith - and it was in the strength of that developed faith that he went out to face Goliath. David had developed his faith years before as a youth tending his father's sheep on the back side of the desert - out of the way where no one saw. He had tested it against a lion and a bear - and he had prevailed. When he finally met Goliath, then, he was simply walking in the way he had been moving all of his life. The path of faith he relied on when he faced Goliath was a well worn path - he knew it well. He was ready for Goliath. It was not blind faith that saw him through, it was developed faith. The story is recounted in First Samuel. The Bible says,
"And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying ... Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God? And when the words were heard which David spake, they rehearsed them before Saul: and he sent for him. And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd's bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. (1 Sam. 17:26-51)
Let us, therefore, develop our faith now, while there is yet time - for soon our test will come, and our faith will be revealed for what it really is - either to honor or to dishonor:
The word, "Judgment," conjures up fantasies of old, bent, black robed figures glowering down with solemn, pitiless faces from lofty heights; cavernous halls with high ceilings and polished marble floors; echoing footsteps and hushed whisperings. It is a word around which swirls vague feelings of sorrow and distress, dread and foreboding, alarm and fright. And always, there is about the word a gloomy and oppressive pallor; a dull, aching sense of impending doom.
The Scriptures anticipate a day of coming judgment - one that will make men's hearts stop beating in fear and their blood run cold with terror. The Bible refers to it over 150 times in both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, the Psalmist writes:
"... for He cometh [this Judge, who flies on the wings of the wind with fire in His eyes and darkness under His feet; whose pavilion round about Him is dark waters and thick clouds (Psalm 18:8-12)], for He cometh to judge the earth: He shall judge the world with [pure] righteousness, and the people with [absolute] truth." (Psalm 96:13)
And in the New Testament, Paul exclaims:
"... He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world..." (Acts 17:31).
In the vernacular, or common language of the people, this day of horror has been referred to as Judgment Day - and perhaps even more to the point, as Doomsday. Its anticipation has always struck fear in the hearts of men and women. Indeed, so great has been man's dread of Judgment Day that in the year 999 a paralyzing terror gripped all of Europe in anticipation of the turn of the Millennium. It was commonly believed by prince and peasant alike that Judgment Day was New Years Day, 1000 A.D. The ordinary cares of life were given up. The land was left untilled. Houses and buildings of every type were allowed to fall into disrepair. Throngs of common people slept in the porches and in the shadows of holy buildings and churches. Kings and emperors begged to be admitted to monasteries. A wild and uncontrollable dread and sense of foreboding seized the entire continent.
And make no mistakes about it, that same terror is still alive - lurking just beneath our Twenty-First Century veneer of sophistication and science. It comes to us when we are alone - at night; it's in our music, our movies, our art. It is a phantom that defies the scientist's efforts to dislodge it, and the psychologist's attempts to explain it away.
But beyond our fears, beyond our foreboding, what does the word "judgment" really mean? Judgment is the act of DECLARING the worth of something, of ANNOUNCING its value. We do it every day, in countless ways. When we shop, we make judgments as to which foods are best for us, which coats are warmer for the winter, what car is best suited for our needs, where we should live, the house we should live in - all these decisions are or will be products of a judgment we have made or will make. And all these judgments (which have been manifested or DECLARED in our purchases) were preceded by some form or process of TESTING.
True, the testing may have only occurred in our minds at a very rudimentary level, but it occurred nonetheless. The judgments or decisions (which is another word for judgment) that were made as to which products to purchase were the results of that testing. A JUDGMENT IS ALWAYS PRECEDED BY SOME FORM OF TESTING.
The word, "Tribulation," means test. It is derived from the Latin word Tribune. A Tribune in ancient Rome was a magistrate or judge appointed to hear civil and criminal proceedings. It is the word from which our modern English word, "Tribunal," is derived - which means a seat of judgment. This is the exact sense that the translators of the King James version of the Bible were trying to con-vey when they translated the Greek word, Thlipsis, as Tribulation in Revelation 7:14. As with the Latin word, Tribulum, the Greek word, Thlipsis, means pressure and stress applied to an object for the purpose of testing.
This brings us to the matter of the Tribulation. The word, "Tribulation," means test. It is derived from the Latin word, Tribulum, which means to press and subject to stress as in a test. But the word means more - it means to SEVERELY test, to press to the point of ANGUISH - much as a test pilot tests an experimental plane and presses it to its very limits of toleration.
The Roman word, Tribune, is also derived from the Latin word Tribulum. A Tribune in ancient Rome was a magistrate or judge appointed to hear civil and criminal proceedings. It is the word from which our modern English word, "Tribunal," is derived - which means a seat of judgment. In all these instances, the word Tribulum (from which, once again, the English word "Tribulation" is derived) had a legal sense attached to it. It meant - in the sense that is appropriate here - pressure and stress applied to an object in order to test it. This is the exact sense that the translators of the King James version of the Bible were trying to convey when they translated the Greek word, Thlipsis, as Tribulation in Revelation 7:14. As with the Latin word, Tribulum, the Greek word, Thlipsis, means pressure and stress applied to an object for the purpose of testing. It is this sense, then, of the word, "Tribulation," which the translators of the King James version of the Bible wished to convey to the readers - A TIME OF TESTING!! This is substantiated by Revelation 3:10 when Jesus referred to the Tribulation as "the hour of testing."
It goes without saying that in any test the presence of witnesses is paramount. They are required to OBSERVE and RECORD the results of the test.
These observations and recordings, carefully compiled and documented, are then used as the basis of later JUDGMENTS (or decisions).
In a criminal case in a court of law, the judgment of the judge is preceded by a test of the evidence which has been compiled against the accused. It is on the basis of this test that the judge will make his decision as to the guilt or innocence of the accused.
The process is known as a trial - which really means test. Once again, throughout the entire proceeding, WITNESSES are called forth to give evidence as to the guilt or innocence of the accused.
These witnesses are people who saw or who can give FIRSTHAND accounts (or TESTIMONY) as to the guilt or innocence of the accused.
Hear-say or second and third-hand evidence (gossip) is not admissible as evidence. The witnesses can introduce into evidence only that which they have knowledge of on a FIRSTHAND basis; the evidence they are giving must be evidence that they saw IN PERSON.
This brings us to the matter of why the Church is to be a part of this process: the answer is twofold. The paramount reason is that the church is to be subpoenaed as a "witness" against this world and its present world-ruler or Kosmokrator.
ONE'S SALVATION IS NOT IN QUESTION HERE
Oh, you're surprised that the Church will be a part of this process? Well, be assured, dear Christian, your salvation is secure - it is not in question! Nothing can pluck you out of the Father's hand. Paul writes: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:35,38-39)
There is, however, a second reason - one which is almost as important as the first, and one which is absolutely vital to the accomplishment of the first - for if the church is to testify against the world and the things of this world, it is necessary that it be shown to be not a part of the world - that it be once and for all separated from the world. And because of this separation (or "manifestation"), just and seeking men everywhere will be drawn to Christianity and the Lord Jesus Christ, producing even in such a time, the "Great Harvest of the Lamb. This is what all creation is waiting for. Paul writes:
"For [even the whole] creation ... waits expectantly and longs earnestly for God's sons [the Church] to be made known - waits for the REVEALING, the DISCLOSURE of their sonship." (Romans 8:19, Zondervan, the Amplified Bible )
The King James version translates it in this way:
"For the earnest expectation of the ... [creation] waiteth for the MANIFESTATION of the sons of God." (Romans 8:19)
And the NASB version translates it this way:
"For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the REVEALING of the sons of God." (Romans 8:19)
In this Paul is saying that the whole universe is waiting for something to happen insofar as the Church is concerned. It is waiting for the church to be "REVEALED," "DISCLOSED," "MANIFESTED."
These are interesting words that Paul has chosen to use with regard to the Church. In a back-handed way, what Paul is really saying is that the Church has been hidden and obscured in this present dispensation (age).
What? But hasn't the Church always been with us? Can't we see it all about us? In the hundreds and thousands of church buildings that seem sometimes to all but surround us? In the proliferation of a now almost countless number of Christian TV and radio stations? In the new manifestation of Christian political power in such organizations as the Christian Coalition, the Traditional Values Coalition, Christian Voice, etc.
But do all these church buildings, all this Christian activity, all these people claiming to be Christian and born-again really represent the Church? If they do, then God help us. Was the Thirty Years War - which made the streets of Europe run red with blood four hundred years ago - really a Christian activity? What about the Inquisition? What about Jim Jones and the Jonestown Suicides? What about all this?
Andrew Miller, the well-known and godly Church historian, wrote in the last century:
"We must always bear in mind when reading what is called a history of the Church, that from the days of the apostles until now, there have been TWO DISTINCT and widely different classes of persons in the professing Church: the merely nominal, and the real - the true, and the false. This was predicted: 'For I know this', says the apostle, 'that after my departure [death] shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them'. (Acts 20) His second Epistle [letter] to Timothy is also full of warnings ... as to the various forms of evil which were then but too plainly manifest ...Andrew Miller
"... Some historians have not taken into account this sad mixture of evil vessels with the good - of true Christians and false. They have not themselves been spiritual-minded men. Hence they have rather made it their chief object to record the many unchristian and wicked ways of mere professors [those who said they were Christians, but were not]. They have dwelt at great length, and with great minuteness, on the heresies that have troubled the Church - on the abuses that have disgraced it. Much rather would we endeavor to trace, all down through the long dark pages of history, the SILVER LINE OF GOD'S GRACE IN TRUE CHRISTIANS; though at times the alloy so predominates that the pure ore is scarcely perceptible.
"[But] God has never left us without witness. He has had His loved and cherished, though HIDDEN ones, in all ages and in all places. No eye but His could see the seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed their knees to the image of Baal, in the days of Ahab and Jezebel. And tens of thousands, we doubt not, even from the darkest days of Christianity, will be found at last in the "Glorious Church," which Christ will present to Himself, on the long-looked-for day of His nuptial glory ..."
Jesus himself, speaking in a prophetic parable concerning this condition of the Church, said:
"The kingdom of heaven [the Church] may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
"But while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares also among the wheat, and went away.
"And the slaves of the landowner came and said to him, Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?
"And he said to them, An enemy has done this! And the slaves said to him, Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?
"But he said, No; lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them.
"Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn. "Then He left the multitudes, and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.
"And He answered and said, The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one;
"And the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels.
"Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. "And will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
"Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear." (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43)
Now in connection with the parable above, it is interesting to note how the harvest was carried out in the ancient world and how the wheat [the good seed] was separated from the tares and the chaff [the bad seed]. BOTH WERE HARVESTED TOGETHER! Then through a process of winnowing, the wheat was separated from the tares and the chaff. The process of winnowing was accomplished in this manner: first, the harvest was crushed and spread out on a large floor; then workers took shovels and threw the harvest into the air by the shovel-full. The tares and chaff, being lighter than the kernels of wheat, were blown away by the wind, usually into another bin, while the kernels of wheat, being heavier, fell again to the threshing floor. In this way the wheat was separated from the tares and the chaff. The chaff and tares, being good for nothing, were then gathered together and burned, while the wheat was gathered together, bundled and stored in the barn.
Now it is important to note in this process, that the wheat itself is not being tested at all. Wheat is wheat!! Tares are tares!! There is nothing in this process which is meant to test the quality of the wheat. Neither is there anything in this process that the wheat is supposed to do. The wheat is required to do nothing. Works are not involved!! The wheat needs to do only one thing - be what it is inherently - wheat. The process is a SEPARATING PROCESS. It is not a process of works. The purpose of the entire process is quite simple: to separate, and by separating to MANIFEST or DISCLOSE, or REVEAL (Romans 8:19) the wheat from the tares and the chaff.
"Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock be cut off from the fold, And there be no heard in the stalls -
"YET I WILL REJOICE IN THE LORD, I WILL JOY IN THE GOD OF MY SALVATION."
What we call today the Church is surely a mixture of wheat and tares - good seed and bad seed.
In a day when it has become so popular - even fashionable - to be referred to as "born-again" that political figures [whom the Bible calls the basest or lowest of people (Daniel 4:17)] refer to themselves as "born-again" to get votes, there certainly can be no doubt concerning this matter.
Yes, there is a winnowing coming! John the Baptist, speaking prophetically, said of it:
"I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me [i.e., in the "end of days"] is mightier than I ...
"His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff [tares] with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:11-12)
And how will He accomplish this winnowing? By the Tribulation! The Tribulation is to be the great winnowing of God spoken of by John the Baptist! And what will this winnowing accomplish? A great separation between those who truly love Christ and those who merely claim to love Him, but whose hearts are far away. This is the EXACT context in which John uttered his prophecy:
"Then Jerusalem [i.e., the entire Jewish religious community], all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him [John]
"And were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.
"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matthew 3:5-7)
John the Baptist was a forerunner, a precursor to Jesus. His work was a work of separation - to separate the hypocrite from the believer, the wheat from the chaff, the Pharisees and the Sadducees from those in Israel who genuinely longed for the Messiah. So also with Jesus in the work of the Tribulation - to which John specifically pointed in this prophecy.
The work of tribulation is first and foremost a SEPARATING work. Specifically, it separates those who merely profess Christianity from those who truly believe. This is important. The work of tribulation - in the first instance - is a work directed not at separating the atheist from the believer, or the idolater from those who worship the one true God (idolaters and atheists are people who obviously and openly are not Christians), or any other such thing; but rather it is a work SPECIFICALLY directed at separating those who claim to be Christian (out of convention or advantage) from those who truly are. And this is precisely the work of tribulation in the Parable of the Sower. Concerning those who accept Christianity and profess it superficially for material advantage, Jesus had this to say:
"But he who received the seed [Gospel] on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy;
"Yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when TRIBULATION or PERSECUTION arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles [other translations say 'wither away']." (Matthew 13:20-21)
Yes, tribulation SEPARATES, but there is another more sublime work of tribulation; and this work of tribulation is not a separating work, but a purifying work directed not at the hypocrite, but at the believer. This work elevates, ennobles, glorifies, and transforms the believer. Paul says:
"... but we also EXULT in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)
Indeed, tribulation is the gate through which all true believers must pass into the kingdom of heaven; transformation is impossible without it. The Bible says:
"And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, 'We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God'." (Acts 14:21-22)
And again, the Bible - speaking of those saints who through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (during the Great Tribulation) have been translated to the very throne of God - says:
"After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands ...
"Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?
"And I said to him, Sir, you know. So he said to me, THESE ARE THE ONES WHO COME OUT OF THE GREAT TRIBULATION, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9,13-14)
The Bible says:
"There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was BLAMELESS, UPRIGHT, fearing God, and turning away from evil. "Now there was a day when the sons of God [angles] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. "And the Lord said to Satan, 'From where do you come'? Then Satan answered the Lord and said, 'From roaming about on the earth and walking around on it'. "And the Lord said to Satan, 'Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a BLAMELESS, UPRIGHT man, fearing God and turning away from evil'. "Then Satan answered the Lord, 'Does Job fear God for nothing? [Why shouldn't he respect you since you take care of him so well?] "'Hast Thou not made a hedge about him [haven't you put a wall around him to protect him from me?] and his house [his family] and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. "'But put forth Thy hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse Thee to Thy face'." [but take away the wall and let me at him, and he will hate you] "The Lord said to Satan, 'BEHOLD, ALL THAT HE HAS IS IN YOUR POWER ...'" (Job 1:1, 6-12)
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job, and that man was BLAMELESS, UPRIGHT, fearing God, and turning away from evil.
Why does God allow his servants to suffer? Why does God allow Satan access to them? Why does God allow tribulation to enter their lives? Many in today's Church, of course, deny that God does - but this is obviously not what the Scriptures say. But these same people would retort that God only allows suffering when there is sin - and, apparently, this is what Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, Job's friends, said about Job during his sufferings: that Job was suffering because there was "hidden sin" in Job's life, and that this was the only reason that God would allow such suffering in one of his servants.
But God was greatly angered by such thinking:
"And it came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, 'My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. "'Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has'." (Job 42:7-8)
GOD WAS GLORIFIED IN JOB!! Satan had said that Job loved God only because of the "things" God bestowed upon him. What a terrible thing to say. It is the curse of wealth. How does a rich man ever know that he is truly loved? The sad truth is, he doesn't so long as he retains his wealth. But should he lose it, then he will find out. Great crowds of people followed Jesus so long as he fed them and healed them of their diseases. But when tribulation arose because of the Word He spoke, the crowds disappeared. Oh, to be loved because of who you are, and not just because of the "things" you have! This is the love that God desires from those who follow Him. It is the love that Ruth gave to Naomi, and this even after Naomi had asked Ruth to depart from her because she [Naomi] had nothing further to give Ruth - she no longer possessed any "things" with which to "purchase" Ruth's love:
"But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. "'Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me'." (Ruth 1:16-17)
The Lord is looking for such to follow Him - those who will follow after Him long after the "things" are gone, the crowds have left, the popularity faded; when the clothes are tattered and torn, there is no food on the table, and persecution rages all around. These are the disciples of Jesus - with such people one can repose trust and friendship, true love is here to be found!
These are the disciples who can say with the prophet Habakkuk:
"Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock be cut off from the fold, And there be no heard in the stalls - "YET I WILL REJOICE IN THE LORD, I WILL JOY IN THE GOD OF MY SALVATION." (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
It is in this kind of love that the TRUE Church will be "revealed," "disclosed," "manifested" (Romans 8:19)! It is this kind of love which will expose the hypocrites for what they really are. It is this kind of love which will separate the wheat from the tares. And it is only in tribulation that this love is truly revealed in all of its splendor and peerless beauty. In this, God's glory can find rest; in this the presence of God securely dwells.
"Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world [Gk. Kosmos] is the enemy of God."
We have been discussing God's purpose in the Tribulation - and to a large extent we have discussed this matter in relation to the church; but it is not the church that constitutes the actual focal point of the Tribulation, but the world. It is not the church that is being "tried" [remember here, that's what the word "tribulation" (or Tribulum) means] and "judged," it is the world. And so we now turn our attention to this matter.
The word "world" (Gk., kosmos) is used in three ways in the New Testament:
First, it means the MATERIAL WORLD (Acts 17:14; Matt. 13:35; John 1:10; Mark 16:15).
Second, it means THE INHABITANTS OF THE WORLD as a whole (John 1:10; 3:16; 12:19; 17:21) - THE WHOLE RACE OF MAN ALIENATED FROM GOD AND HOSTILE TO THE CAUSE OF CHRIST (Heb. 11:38; John 14:17; 14:27; 15:18).
Third, it means the whole circle of WORLDLY goods, endowments, riches, advantages, pleasures, which though hollow and fleeting, stir our desires and seduce us from God, so that they are obstacles to the cause of Christ (I John 3:17; Matt. 16:26; I Cor 2:12; 3:19, 7:31; Titus 2:12; II Peter 1:4; 2:20; I John 2:15-17; James 1:27).
The Bible calls the world (as described above) - and this is very, very serious - the,
"ENEMY of God."
It equates the world with "DARKNESS."
The Bible tells us that the world is the enemy of God; specifically, it says:
"Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? WHOSOEVER THEREFORE WILL BE A FRIEND OF THE WORLD IS THE ENEMY OF GOD." (James 4:4)
As we just suggested, that's serious, that's very serious - and very frightening! Are you a friend of this world? Is the world a friend of yours? If so, GOD IS YOUR ENEMY! - and that's not a good thing. Jesus said:
"I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.
"But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." (Luke 12:4-5)
The Bible also equates the world with DARKNESS. Specifically, the Bible says:
"And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and MEN LOVED DARKNESS [i.e., the world] rather than light, because their deeds were evil." (John 3:19)
And that's not all! The Bible goes on to say -
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the DARKNESS OF THIS WORLD, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph. 6:12)
"I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not ABIDE IN DARKNESS [i.e., should not abide in the world]." (John 12:46)
And again -
"Then spake Jesus unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me SHALL NOT WALK IN DARKNESS [i.e., should not have his "living" and "being" in darkness], but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12)
And, finally, John writes,
"In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and THE DARKNESS [i.e., the world] COMPREHENDED IT NOT." (John 1:4-5)
Moreover, the word kosmos implies that behind the world there is a mind - the "PRINCE OF THIS WORLD" - which gives order and arrangement to it. He is the KOSMOKRATER or world-ruler - a word which, however, appears only once, and is used in the plural of his lieutenants: "the WORLD RULERS OF THIS DARKNESS." (Eph. 6:12) The Bible says:
"The WHOLE world [kosmos] lieth in the evil one [i.e., the WHOLE world is under the control of Satan]." (John 5:19)
The world [kosmos] is Satan's grand creation, and he has directed all of his strength and ingenuity into causing it to flourish. To what end? To capture man's allegiance and draw him to himself. Satan has one object - to establish his own dominion in human hearts worldwide!
Now we cannot stress this fact enough: Satan controls the WHOLE world (kosmos). Not just part of the world, but the WHOLE world.
That's why the Scriptures say that to be "a friend of the world is to be the enemy of Christ." This includes both the "good" and the "bad" of this world; both the "ugly" and the "beautiful" - and it is for this reason that I rather suspect that most Christians have a difficult time differentiating between what is "of the world" and what is "of God." They are unable to grasp the fact that BOTH the "good" and the "bad" of this world are of Satan. Christians confuse "worldliness" with "carnality" (i.e., the "bad" of this world - e.g., lust, lewdness, eroticism, sensuality, etc. - and even such mundane things as watching TV, going to the movies, listening to "rock and roll" music, etc.) - and, as a result, they naively think that if they avoid carnality everything will be okay.
They fail to recognize that the "world" (Gk. kosmos) which the Bible has in mind is much more than that; that it encompasses ALL that is of this life and of this present world; everything: both the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the sweet and the bitter - i.e., all those goods, endowments, riches, advantages, pleasures, etc. which, though hollow and fleeting, stir our desires and make us feel "at home" and "comfortable" in (with) this life.
Moreover, the Bible's use of the word kosmos indicates that it has more than just the material world in view; that it's view of the "world" encompasses abstract things as well which have spiritual and moral value (e.g., I Cor 2:12, "the spirit of the world;" 3:19, "the wisdom of this world;" 7:31, "the fashion of this world;" Titus 2:12, "worldly lusts;" 2 Peter 1:14, "the corruption that is in the world;" 2:20, "the defilements of the world;" I John 2:16, 17, "all that is in the world, the lust ... the vainglory ... passeth away;" etc.).
There are no exceptions - both the "good" and the bad," the "spiritual" and the "material" are included, and it is, therefore, futile for those who think that asceticism is a way out; a special means or path to holiness and purity, and that if they somehow or other avoid the material things of this life, they will escape the lusts thereof. Nothing could be further from the truth. Asceticism is just another road to corruption - and a very uncomfortable one at that.
Why? Because when Adam sinned, he brought ALL the world - again, the "good" and the "bad," the "material" as well as the "abstract" - under the curse of sin. As a result, and regardless of the differing guises in which the world may from time to time present itself (and no matter how it tries to hide its real character), it is IMPLACABLY hostile to God. The Bible is very clear on this matter: I Corinthians 1:21 says that the world "knows not God" - and more than that, John 14:17 says that it is not even capable of receiving (i.e., competent or able to comprehend) "the Spirit of Christ." Indeed, John 15:18 says that the world "HATES" Christ. John puts it this way:
"If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (John 2:15)
And so at last we begin to understand the unbreachable chasm that separates the "Kingdom of God" from the "Kingdom of this World." There can be no truce between these two kingdoms; no possibility for a "negotiated settlement" (i.e., peace) between them, or - put another way - the "world" (on the one hand) and Christ (on the other hand). One is either "of Christ," or "of the world." There is no middle ground, no "moderate" position. (John 8:23)
Hence, Jesus says,
"My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36)
In other words, no one who has his "living" or "being" in the world can be made a "living" stone in Christ's building (i.e., His church). I repeat: the "Kingdom of God" has nothing to do with the "Kingdom of this World."
The Bible - in describing the people of God - says:
"For they look for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." (Heb 11:10)
In this great passage of Scripture (Hebrews, chapter 11), Paul describes in unmistakable terms the attitude towards the world which all those who wish to serve God must have if they are to please Him; there's no ambiguity here; no equivocation; no avoidance; no attempt at evasion. Paul declares that all those who wish to serve God must consider the world as alien territory, and they themselves as only "sojourners" in it - people who are merely transiting through it on their way to another land - a heavenly country whose "builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:10); and that while here on earth, there is a necessity laid upon them to continually remind themselves of their "alien status" by -
"... confessing (both in word and in the way they live) that they are strangers (foreigners) and pilgrims (travelers, wanderers, wayfarers) on the earth ..." (Heb. 11:13)
The Bible says that they must not only accept this fact, they must "embrace" it; they must be "persuaded" (convinced) by it, and by doing so to demonstrate that they are actively -
"... seeking another country ... a better country, that is, an heavenly (one)." (Heb. 11:14) "... wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them (a heavenly) city." (Heb. 11:16)
And there is more: not only are we to consider ourselves as aliens to this world, we are also to consider ourselves as DEAD to the world. There is no way that the world can have any effect on a dead man. If you are dead to the world, you are safe from the world. No Christian can serve God and still be "alive" to this world. The "THINGS" of this world will always keep him back. We must be able to say with the Apostle Paul:
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
That's what BAPTISM is all about. When you chose to be baptized, you made a pledge that you would conduct your life as if you were DEAD to the world, but alive unto Christ. If Christ says, "Go," you will go; if Christ says, "Come," you will come. You will be as James and John when Christ called them:
"And when he [i.e., Christ] had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.
"And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him." (Mark 1:19-20)
Neither John nor James hesitated. They didn't ask Christ, What about our father? What about our fishing business? They just went! Or like Matthew sitting at the receipt of customs:
"And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him." (Matthew 9:9)
Matthew IMMEDIATELY left his "receipt of customs" and followed Jesus.
We must have that attitude that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had when she said to the angel,
"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her." (Luke 1:38)
She didn't protest to the angel that by obeying him people would question her virginity; that they would, no doubt, call her a prostitute when they discerned that she was pregnant - seeing that she was not married; that she was running the very grave risk of being stoned to death. She simply obeyed.
Are you able to do this? Are you able to say with Mary, "Be it unto me according to thy word." If you are still "alive to the world," you will NEVER be able to do it - no matter how hard you try.
The Bible says:
"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his DEATH?
"Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
"For if we have been planted [buried] together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection." (Romans 6:3-5)
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his DEATH? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death ...
Clearly, James and John and Matthew and Mary had set their minds on the "things above," not on the "things of this world." That's what ALL of Christ's servants MUST do if they are to get anywhere with Christ. The Bible says:
"Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
"FOR YE ARE DEAD [to the world], and your life is hid with Christ in God.
"When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." (Col. 3:2-4)
"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (John 3:5)
The two [that is to say, baptism (being born of water) and being "born again" of the Spirit] are equated in the Scriptures. You can't have one without the other. If you are truly "born again" you will consider yourself DEAD to the world. If you are not DEAD to the world, then your salvation stands in jeopardy.
The Bible says that as Christians we have been -
"... delivered ... from the power of darkness, and ... TRANSLATED ... into the kingdom of God's dear Son ..." (Col. 1:13)
What a wonderful and precious thing - and so, with countless others of like mind, we can sing:
Now that is very important! - to be able to sing with the saints of God, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through ..." And to be able to say that "we have been delivered ... from the power of darkness, and ... TRANSLATED ... into the kingdom of God's dear Son ..." (Col. 1:13)
Dear brothers and sisters: the world is gong to be "tried" and "judged," and you don't want to be around when that happens. The Bible says,
"He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness ..." (Acts 17:31)
God help you if on that day you are still "ALIVE" unto the world.
We have learned that the word "Tribulation" means TEST; that the world is going to be "tested" or put "on trial" and that to this end witnesses are gong to be called against the accused, i.e., the WORLD.
A witness is someone who attests to a fact, who gives evidence. Moreover, the testimony which is given must be based on a FIRSTHAND account - it cannot be based on what someone else said (hear-say).
In a legal sense, a witness is a person called upon to OBSERVE a legal transaction in order to testify concerning it, especially if it is later called into question; he is required to be present at the transaction, HE MUST OBSERVE IT PERSONALLY.
In criminal cases, a witness is someone who can give first-hand evidence as to the guilt or innocence of the accused.
There is, however, a strict demand that God places on the use of witnesses – specifically, there must be TWO witnesses regarding the matter at hand; the Bible says:
"A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed." (Deut. 19:15)
"On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness." (Deut. 17:6)
"[Jesus said] even in your law it has been written, that the testimony of two men is true." (John 8:17)
"... but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness." (Numbers 35:30)
Throughout the Scriptures, and permeating all of God's dealings with man, God has adhered to an iron-clad principle that He Himself laid down: THAT NO MATTER BEFORE THE LAW SHALL BE ESTABLISHED WITHOUT THE TESTIMONY OF TWO WITNESSES. This principle is central to all of God's dealings with man. There were two tables of testimony (the law) in the Ark of the Covenant; two cherubim that covered the Ark; two witnesses were necessary for a fair trial; the disciples were named in pairs and sent out two by two - not that they might keep each other company (as some naively suppose), but that the testimony of the one could be substantiated by the testimony of the other according to the Law; AND FINALLY, TWO WITNESSES SHALL TESTIFY DURING THE TRIBULATION (the Seventieth Week).
The prophetic Scriptures have been written as parables, a puzzle. Their meaning has been shrouded in a mystery, a seemingly impenetrable haze.
Why? - to protect them from those against whom their message is directed: from governments, peoples, and organizations; and most especially, to protect them from the false religious leaders of today's apostate church, who - if they truly knew what had been written - would destroy the Scriptures if they could. As it is written:
"Therefore I [Jesus] speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear nor do they understand.
"And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, 'You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive ...' " (Matthew 13: 13-14)
Why? - to protect them from those against whom their message is directed: from governments, peoples, and organizations; and most especially, to protect them from the false religious leaders of today's apostate church, who - if they truly knew what had been written - would destroy the Scriptures if they could.
But parables are surely clever devices, for while their purpose is to obscure truth from some, at the same time their purpose is to reveal truth to others. To some the prophetic Scriptures will always remain an enigma, while to those called according to His purpose, they are a cipher which, with study (II Tim. 2:15), can be unraveled:
"And the disciples came and said to Him, 'Why do You speak to them in parables'? And He answered and said to them, 'To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted'." (Matthew 13:10-11)
The prophetic Scriptures have been written as parables, a puzzle. Their meaning has been shrouded in a mystery, a seemingly impenetrable haze.
With all this in mind, let's look now at the mystery of the Two Witnesses. And we will begin by looking at the reference to them in Revelation 11:
"Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.
"But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city under foot for forty-two months. [3-1/2years]
"And I will give power to my TWO WITNESSES and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days [3-1/2 years], clothed in sackcloth.
"These are the TWO OLIVE TREES and the TWO LAMPSTANDS standing before the God of the earth."
The Scripture continues:
"And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.
"These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire'.
"Now when they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.
"And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
"Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three and a half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.
"And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
"Now after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.
"And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, 'Come up here'. And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.
"In the same hour there was a great earthquake seven thousand men were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of Heaven.
"The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.
"Then the seventh angel sounded: and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever'!
"And the twenty-four elders who are before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshipped God, saying:
"We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, The One who is and who was and who is to come, Because You have taken Your great power and reigned.
"The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth'.
"Then the temple of God was opened in heaven, and the ark of His covenant was seen in His temple. And there were lightnings, noises, thunderings, an earthquake, and great hail." (Revelation 11)
We have already seen that the Tribulation is a test - a trial; mankind and the nations of the earth are to be judged. Witnesses are to be called (subpoenaed) to observe, record, and give evidence as to the test results so there will be no question at a later date as to the veracity of the test. The question naturally arises, then, who are these witnesses upon whom so much rests? It's a puzzle. Certain Christians have attempted to answer the puzzle by contending that these two witnesses are Moses and Elijah (some say Moses and Enoch or Elijah and Enoch) who shall come back to earth and testify in the city of Jerusalem for 3-1/2 years, breathing fire from their mouths like human torches. But such an interpretation borders on the absurd and is unreasonable, and the Scriptures are neither absurd nor unreasonable. Moreover, such an interpretation makes a mockery of the evidence which is presented in the chapter. It's a mystery, a puzzle, a cipher - a PARABLE - the purpose of which is to obscure the meaning from those against whom it is directed, so that:
"... You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive ..." (Matthew 13:14)
With all this in mind, let's look now at the mystery of the Two Witnesses.
The Scripture indicates that these Two Witnesses have power over the whole earth and their presence extends evidently to every continent and land (Rev. 11:6). Now is such a thing possible for two single individuals? Not even the angels have such power. Only God - and He alone - is omnipresent, that is to say, capable of being everywhere at once. Even Christ, though Himself God, confined Himself to the limitations of humanity and restricted His presence during His earthly ministry to just one location at one given time, just as you or I are so restricted (and the angels for that matter also). Indeed, those living in Rome, Spain, Gaul (France), Britain, Germany, etc., never heard of Christ or knew of His presence during His time here on earth. Only later, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in acting through the agency of the apostles and disciples (the Church), did these lands and peoples hear of Jesus Christ. Could two single human beings (or angels, for that matter) extend their presence beyond the limits that even Christ imposed upon Himself during His own earthly sojourn? Could their human (or angelic) presence be translated from the finite to the infinite? If the answer is no - which it obviously must be - how then can we account for the apparent omnipresence of the Two Witnesses?
And more, what does one REASONABLY do with that portion of the Scripture cited above which says that when the Two Witnesses desire to injure anyone, "fire goeth forth out of their mouth." Can anyone reasonably suppose that literal fire will issue forth from their mouths? If this is so, then one should apply such reasoning equally across the board and make the same supposition with regard to the references in Scripture which state that a sword will issue forth from Christ's mouth (Rev. 1:16). Such reasoning on the face of it is absurd, and - as we have already indicated - the Scriptures are neither unreasonable nor absurd. If such statements were made in any other piece of literature, they would, on the face of it, be judged allegorical. The Bible must be read in the same fashion! The Bible is speaking in parables.
You answer, "Well, God can do anything!" Yes, He can. But more often than not, He works within the limitations of His own Law. You say again, "God has, on occasion, set His Law aside in order to intervene directly in the affairs of man, such as when He made the sun to stand still for Moses." Yes, that's true, again - though one is still forced to admit that it borders on the ridiculous to picture two human beings (Elijah and Moses) walking about the streets of Jerusalem breathing fire out of their mouths like human torches. But NEVER has He shared His divine essence with any of His creation - and that's exactly what He would have to do in order to grant the quality of omnipresence to these Two Witnesses.
Moreover, Revelation 11:7 states that:
"... the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit [Antichrist] will make war against them [the Two Witnesses], overcome them, and kill them ..." (Revelation 11:7).
Once again, certain Christians have attempted to interpret this verse as meaning that the Antichrist will seize the Two Witnesses in the city of Jerusalem (where they will be preaching) and murder them. But is this an adequate explanation? It hardly seems so.
Let's examine this verse in greater detail, for we know from the context that Antichrist does something to them, but exactly what, we are not yet sure. The verse says that he makes war with them. The interpretation we have just examined has watered the word war down in latitude to murder. Now, while both war and murder are heinous in themselves, their scope is vastly different! The word war implies killing on a huge scale, while the word murder implies killing on a much more limited scale.
The Greek word for murder is phoneuo and means killing in the same sense that the word murder means in the English language, usually the criminal killing of a single isolated individual (or, rarely, individuals, plural). But that is specifically NOT the GREEK word that is used here. So, whatever it is that Antichrist does to the Two Witnesses, it is much more than this.
Let's continue our examination by looking at the actual Greek word for war. There are two words for war in the Greek language - mache and polemos. The word mache means battle, while the word polemos means war. Their meaning is the same, but, once again, their scope is vastly different. A battle is a single isolated engagement between two opposing armies which - though it can be terribly intense in and of itself - is still limited in time and space, while polemos is a whole SERIES of battles fought over a much longer period of time and over a much greater stretch of territory. While the scope of killing implied by mache is obviously much greater than what is implied by the word phoneuo, the scope of slaughter implied by polemos is that much greater still than that which is implied by mache. These distinctions are observed by Trench [New Testament Synonyms], Thayer [Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament], and Vincent [Word Studies in the New Testament].
POLEMOS IS THE WORD USED IN REVELATION 11:7. Even if the word mache had been the one used in connection with the Two Witnesses, the use of that word in connection with two single human beings would have been rendered unintelligible. But to use the word polemos in reference to the murder of two single individuals in the city of Jerusalem is akin to using a nuclear bomb to kill a gnat. It renders it impossible - it's sheer idiocy.
But let's continue. How should we understand the passage:
"And their dead bodies [the dead bodies of the Two Witnesses] will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually [which in this sense is better translated as "allegorically" (NEB)] is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
"Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies ..." (Revelation 11:8-9a)
Once again, there are certain Christians who interpret this passage as meaning that Moses and Elijah will be killed in the city of Jerusalem, and that through the medium of television all the peoples of the world will see their dead bodies in the city and will rejoice over their murder. But is this an adequate explanation? No, it does not appear to be so; it breaks down at several points. And more than that, in this specific instance, the passage is clearly called ALLEGORICAL.
Let's look at the evidence. The above interpretation says that the Two Witnesses will be murdered in the city of Jerusalem. But the name of Jerusalem is not mentioned. The reference given is simply to "... that great city" which, allegorically, is called "Sodom and Egypt."
But never once - in all of Scripture - is Jerusalem referred to as "great," let alone as "Sodom and Egypt." The King James and the New King James version of the Bible mistranslated the words in Revelation 21:10 as that "great city, New Jerusalem." But the Revised, Emphasized and the New American Standard Bible correctly render the same phrase as that "holy city..." The word "great" does not appear in the older Greek manuscripts, in reference to Jerusalem, only the word Holy.
Thus, while Jerusalem is referred to as the "Chosen City" (II Chron. 6:6), the "City of Peace" [which is its meaning], the "Holy City" (Neh. 11:1, Rev. 21:10), the "Throne of the Lord" (Jer. 3:17), the "City of Truth" (Zech. 8:3), the "City of the Great King" (Matt. 5:35), and the "City of the Living God" (Heb. 12:22), it is never referred to as a "great city." Indeed, Psalm 122:3 says that Jerusalem is a small, compact city - a city limited in space and area. Jerusalem has never derived its prominence because it was one of the great cities of the earth - a Babylon, a Ninevah, a Rome, a Paris, a London, or a New York; rather, it is because Jerusalem is a "holy city" that its fame is known throughout the earth. Why then would God here (in Revelation 11:8) refer to "Holy Jerusalem" as "great?"
But you say, "the passage refers to the city where Jesus was crucified - and clearly He was crucified in Jerusalem!" But Jesus was NOT crucified in the city of Jerusalem at all. The Scripture is quite clear about this! All the Gospel accounts are extraordinarily careful to point out the fact that Jesus was crucified OUTSIDE the city walls at a place called Calvary or Golgotha, a place close to Jerusalem, but definitely OUTSIDE the city proper! [Please see Davis, Dictionary of the Bible, Baker, pg. 110.]
After the Passover meal Judas led a contingent of soldiers to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus (1). From there Jesus was led to Annas (location unknown), who sent him to his son-in-law Caiaphas, the high priest (2). The Jewish leaders then appealed to the Roman governor Pilate to have Jesus put to death (3). Luke records that Pilate sent Jesus to Herod Antipas (4), who questioned Jesus but returned him to Pilate without rendering any judgment (5). Pilate then sent Jesus to be crucified at Golgotha (6). VERY OBVIOUSLY, GOLGATHA LAY OUTSIDE THE CITY WALLS OF JERUSALEM which are shown in this picture as a dotted line.
This is substantiated by Hebrews 13:11-12:
"For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, ARE BURNED OUTSIDE THE CAMP.
"Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood suffered [was crucified] outside the gate [Jerusalem]." (Hebrews 13:11-12)
The reference, then to "that great city which ALLEGORICALLY (NEB) is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified ..." could not possibly be to Jerusalem. This is no small point, and neither is the Scripture playing games with us here. It's a puzzle! A cipher! A parable!
It seems then that on every point the interpretation which makes the Two Witnesses merely two single human beings (or even angles) breaks down and collapses into ruin when examined closely. Then, who are these Two Witnesses?
Who, then, are these Two Witnesses? Now, before we begin our inquiry, there are certain rules with which we must agree. Parables are puzzles - ciphers. They must be decoded. But in decoding a cipher, we must stay within the bounds of Scripture and reason. Parables are never unreasonable. They do not demand illogical conclusions such as the perception of the Two Witnesses as human torches breathing fire from their mouths. With this in mind, let's start.
Parables are puzzles - ciphers. They must be decoded. But in decoding a cipher, we must stay within the bounds of Scripture and reason. Parables are never unreasonable. They do not demand illogical conclusions such as the perception of the Two Witnesses as human torches breathing fire from their mouths.
Let's begin our examination by inquiring into the apparent omnipresence of the Two Witnesses during the Tribulation. They appear to be everywhere at once. Yet we know that it's not possible for any creature to possess the divine quality of omnipresence - so we seem to have reached an impasse. This means then that the Two Witnesses could not possibly be two single human beings; neither could they be angels, for even the angels do not possess omnipresence. It's a puzzle, it's a cipher.
But again, the answer is not all that difficult. Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge concerning the Bible knows that the Bible has a lot to say about another kind of being, another kind of entity; God calls these entities by name and refers to them as "beloved." They are two in number and they are CORPORATE beings:
Now what is a corporate being? A corporate being is a body or group of people united together in a common cause. The everyday business corporation is an example of a corporate being - for instance, General Motors. General Motors is composed of thousands of single human beings united together to build automobiles. All the members of General Motors work as a team, and they all work under one authority. Furthermore, General Motors (like all CORPORATIONS) is not limited in time and space as is a single human being; it is, in a very real sense, OMNIPRESENT! Moreover - unlike a single human being whose activities can be carried on only in one place and at one time - its activities are GLOBAL. It exists simultaneously in Detroit, New York, and San Francisco; in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. It makes automobiles on one continent and sells them on another, and it does all this simultaneously from city to city, nation to nation, continent to continent. Its members come and go, live and die, but General Motors just continues on. Moreover, the laws of the United States treat General Motors as if it were a citizen like any other citizen. It is a "Corporate PERSON." It even possesses all the protection afforded to you and me as citizens by the Constitution. It can sue and be sued at a court of law; it can buy and own property; it can sell property. And all this is as true in any other country as it is here in the United States.
Business corporations derive their existence from man - specifically from the nations in which they are chartered. Indeed, nations themselves are another type of corporate being - though much broader in scope. The number and variety of corporations, CORPORATE BEINGS or CORPORATE PERSONS, are staggering. There are nations, from Uganda to China, and from France to Italy; there are business corporations from General Motors to IBM, and from Nissan to Standard Oil; there are farm trusts, charity trusts, hospitals, and so on, and so on. It's almost endless.
And in all these instances, these CORPORATE PERSONS are the creations of man - EXCEPT FOR TWO: ISRAEL AND THE CHURCH! Israel and the Church stand alone! For they, and they alone, derive their existence from God! For what business corporation, or for that matter, nation, can say with Israel:
"Look down from heaven, and see from Your habitation, holy and glorious. ...
"Doubtless You are our Father, ... You, O Lord, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name." (Isaiah 63:15-16)
And again, to what other nation or corporate person did God ever say:
"... For I am a Father to Israel, ... "Hear the word of the Lord, O nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say,
"He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock.
"For the Lord has redeemed Jacob [Israel], and ransomed him from the hand of one stronger than he." (Jeremiah 31:9-11)
And to what corporation of man did Christ ever say [as He does to the Church] that it is,
"... His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:23)
"... Christ ... loved the church and gave Himself up for her;
"that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
"that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.
"... for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church ..." (Ephesians 5:25-27, 29)
Moreover, these divine corporate beings are referred to SPECIFICALLY as God's witnesses. To Israel, God says:
"But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.
"Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled ... Let them bring out their witnesses ...
"'[But] YOU ARE MY WITNESSES', says the Lord, 'And My servant whom I have chosen' ..." (Isaiah 43:1,9-10)
And to the Church, He says:
"... and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
Finally, let's examine the two objects to which the Two Witnesses are compared:
(1) The OLIVE TREE.
(2) The LAMPSTAND [Candlestick].
These are code words. Ciphers. But ciphers for what? Again, it's really not all that difficult.
Almost all biblical scholars agree that the term "Olive Tree" is a Scriptural reference, not to a single individual such as Moses or Elijah, but to a whole people and nation - a CORPORATE being or person - Israel (Romans 11).
The same is true with the term, "Lampstand." It is common knowledge in the church that the term "Lampstand" is a Biblical reference to the Church. In fact, in the book of Revelation, the seven Churches (Revelation 1-3) are all represented by a lampstand.
Finally, the Scriptures, as if to emphasize further the corporate nature of the Two Witnesses, represent each single witness with two objects, not one. Why? Why should not the one witness be represented by just one lampstand, and the other witness by just one olive tree? The reason, again, is simple. The number "two" in this case signifies PLURALITY and indicates that the Scripture has in mind here two CORPORATE or PLURAL beings rather than single individuals.
If we once see the Two Witnesses as CORPORATE PERSONS - ISRAEL and the CHURCH - than the entire puzzle falls into place. The cipher is solved.
While it was ridiculous to speak of the Beast (Antichrist) making war (polemos) against two individual saints, such in not the case if these Two Witnesses are Israel and the Church - for both Israel (including those Jews in the Dispersion) and the church (especially the latter) are world-wide in their reach, touching in their presence every continent and every nation.
And while it bordered on the absurd to speak of fire coming out of the mouths of two single individuals, like dragons in a fairy tale or human torches at the circus, one can with J.P. Lange (in his Commentaries on the Holy Scriptures), apprehend that fire now as the fire of judgment:
"When they [the Two Witnesses] desire to injure anyone, fire goeth out of their mouth. This can of course only be spiritual fire; just as the sword issuing forth from the mouth of the Lord. Nevertheless, it is the fire of judgment; it devoureth their enemies."
It is like the fire of judgment that devoured Ananias and Sapphira, his wife:
"But Peter said, 'Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit' ... "And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and ... [died]; and great fear came upon all who heard of it." (Acts 5:3, 5)
Moreover, the difficulty which we encountered with regard to the references to the great city which "allegorically" is called "Sodom and Egypt" is cleared up. While Jerusalem is NEVER referred to as "great" in the Holy Scriptures, there is such a city to which this adjective is appended over and over again:
"... mystery, 'BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH'."
"While Jerusalem cannot be supposed to be this city ... another collective city, Babylon, might easily correspond."
The term "great city" must then have reference not to "holy Jerusalem," but "Babylon the Great," for within Babylon are both the beauty of Egypt and the wretchedness of Sodom. Both Egypt and Sodom constitute the "make-up" of Babylon; Egypt with its treasure, civilization, art, education, etc; and Sodom with its sin - both are a part of Babylon the Great. It is here, in the streets of Babylon in its empire-wide sense, that the Two Witnesses shall lie; and it is here in the streets of Babylon - where false and apostate religion has always thrived - that the Lord of Glory was crucified.
Jesus was NOT crucified in the city of Jerusalem at all. The Scripture is quite clear about this! All the Gospel accounts are extraordinarily careful to point out the fact that Jesus was crucified OUTSIDE the city walls at a place called Calvary or Golgotha, a place close to Jerusalem, but definitely OUTSIDE the city proper!
The existence side-by-side of Sodom and Egypt has always been the hallmark of Babylon the Great - i.e., the world - and most especially Western Civilization. Violence, corruption, and bloodshed coupled with luxury, a refined culture, and a love of art and music: this is the "coupling" of Sodom and Egypt spoken of in chapter eleven of the book of Revelation. The immorality and sensuous intellectuality of Athens is an example. A parallel is also easily discernible in the descriptions of ancient Rome given by Tacitus, Juvenal and others in the time of the Caesars. For then the whole society was utterly corrupted, the temples were merely mad excuses for houses of prostitution, and that in the name of their religions; the streets were filled with violence, and the sport of the day consisted of the gleeful slaughter of thousands in the Coliseum for the amusement of the citizens of Rome. And yet, in the midst of this vice, immorality, gluttony, and cruelty there prevailed in the company of magnificent splendor a high appreciation of music, sculpture, and art, generally, as well as a refined taste for literature and especially poetry.
Nor were the times of Leo the Tenth (Pope 1513-1521) much different, or of Paris during the Jacobins, Berlin in the 1920s, and New York and San Francisco even today. Lange continues:
"It is most significantly said: their corpses lie in the streets of the great city ... The great city itself is called Sodom and Egypt ... There, adds the Seer [prophet], their Lord was crucified. The crucifixion of Christ was itself the result of a coalition of ... [Sodom and Egypt] ... Their corpses lie there ...[for] three days and a half. And precisely this fact is a cause of delight to those who dwell on the Earth ... They rejoice over the apparent destruction of the Two Witnesses; they hold feasts and contemplate further festivities; mutual greetings, in the way of presents or compliments, are exchanged ... The reason for all this is as follows: these two prophets tormented them that dwell upon the earth."
There is nothing so tormenting to the minds of unrighteous men than to be confronted with pure and unsullied righteousness in the midst of their own vile, hateful, and loathsome wickedness. Why? Because - deep down in their hidden parts, in the deeper recesses of their souls - they know right from wrong! They can hide it, sublimate it, bury it, and put it out of sight in the frenzy of their lusts. But when confronted with it in others, it is torture!
"... because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.
"Professing to be wise, they became fools ...
"Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them [in sexual sin].
"For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator ...
"... being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil [fornication] ...
"... although they know the ordinances of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them." (Romans 1:19, 22, 24, 25, 29, 32)
They cannot abide righteousness in others; they cannot stand to be in the presence of righteous men. And they will do one of two things when confronted with such a situation: they will first of all seek to subvert them - to bring them down to their level. And, oh, the joy and happiness, the pleasure and delight when they are successful. The laughter! The slap on the back! The assurances that, "it wasn't all that bad, now, was it? You're still alive, aren't you? Lightning didn't strike you? And wasn't it fun!"
But when unsuccessful, oh, the hatred! the hostility! Murder and slaughter enter the heart, and death is the only answer of the unrighteous to the righteous who refuses to be subverted. This was the answer of the Roman state to Peter and Paul, to Ignatius and Polycarp; it was the answer of the Apostate Catholic Church to Huss and Jerome; it was the answer of the Nazi state to Bonhoffer. And so it will be the answer of Babylon the Great to the Two Witnesses.
In addition to the references to the "Two Witnesses" in Revelation 11, there are additional references to them in the Scriptures; one is found in Daniel 12 and it substantiates Revelation 11. It reads as follows:
"... and there will be a time of anguish for God's people greater than any previous suffering in their history [i.e., the Tribulation] ...
"And those who are wise - the people of God [Israel and the church] - shall shine as brightly as the sun's brilliance [because of the purging effects of persecution and tribulation], and those who turn many to righteousness will glitter like stars forever [because of their righteousness and testimony].
"Then I, Daniel, looked and saw TWO MEN [lit. persons, the Two Witnesses] on each bank of the river. And one of them [one of the Two Witnesses] asked the man in linen robes [Christ] who was standing now above the river [hovering over it]. 'How long will it be before the terrors end'? [i.e., the terrors of the last half of the Tribulation].
"He [i.e., Christ]replied, with both hands lifted to heaven ... that they will not end until three and a half years [i.e., the last half of the tribulation; other translations read "time, times, and half a time"] after the power of God's people [Israel and the church] has been crushed.
"I heard what he said, but I didn't understand what he meant, so I said, 'Sir, how will this come out'?
"But He said, 'Go now, Daniel, for what I have said is not to be understood until the time of the end [i.e., until the latter days].
"'Many shall be purified by great trials and persecutions. But the wicked shall continue in their wickedness, and none of them will understand. Only those who are willing to learn will know what it means'." (Daniel 12:6-10)
"Then I Daniel, looked and saw TWO MEN [lit. persons, the Two Witnesses] on each bank of the river. And one of them [one of the Two Witnesses] asked the man in linen robes [Christ] who was standing now above the river [hovering over it], 'How long will it be before the terrors end'? [i.e., the terrors of the last half of the Tribulation]. He [i.e., Christ] replied, with both hands lifted to heaven ... that they will not end until three and a half years [i.e., the last half of the tribulation; other translations read "time, times, and half a time"] after the power of God's people [Israel and the church] has been crushed."
Finally, coded - but very specific - references to the "Two Witnesses" are made insofar as the "marking out" or "sealing" of the "saints of God" during the last half of the Seventieth Week.
Immediately after the Abomination of Desolation - and just prior to the blowing of the seven trumpets (which signifies the beginning of the second half of the Tribulation and the supernatural events which pertain to it) - the "saints of God" are sealed. Why? - to protect them from the supernatural events of this period.
The sealing of God's servants directly concerns the passages of Scripture which deal with the so-called "144,000." There is perhaps no other group of verses around which so much misunderstanding and confusion swirl than those verses which deal with the 144,000 of Revelation 7:1-8 and Revelation 14:1-7. It is a sad commentary on all of us in the Christian community that so much "elitism" has resulted from false interpretations concerning the message of these passages of Scripture. It is of the utmost importance, therefore, that once again we recognize that these Scriptures - like the Scriptures which dealt with the Two Witnesses, etc. - have been written in code, their message hidden in a parable or a cipher.
The first important fact that we should note with regard to these passages is that the 144,000 of Revelation 7 are different from the 144,000 of Revelation 14. WE ARE DEALING WITH TWO DIFFERENT GROUPS. In comparing the 144,000 of Revelation 14 with the 144,000 of Revelation 7, Kelly writes that the group in Revelation 14 is:
"... a remnant, not merely sealed as the servants of God [like a similar band out of the twelve tribes of Israel in chapter vii (7)], but brought into association with the Lamb in Zion, that is, with GOD'S ROYAL PURPOSE IN GRACE ..."
In commenting on Kelley, Pentecost writes:
"It is ... held that those in chapter 7 are on earth and these [in chapter 14] in heaven, making Mt. Zion the heavenly city, New Jerusalem. Those in chapter fourteen are said to be identified with the Lamb and those in chapter seven are not. Those in chapter seven are "sealed" but those in chapter fourteen have "the Father's name written in their foreheads."
One group is heavenly, the other earthly; one group "... follows the Lamb whithersoever he goeth," the second group is numbered exclusively from the twelve tribes of Israel. Thus, there can be no doubt as to their identity: the 144,000 of Revelation 7 being Israel, and the 144,00 of Revelation 14 being the Church.