Friday, March 31, 2017

Resisting Trump with Revelation (18)

The Seven Trumpets 3 (8:2-11:19)

The Seal Cycle brought readers to the point of judgment. Those opposed to God sought death or protection from his wrath. This cycle was an exposé of what was really going on in history beneath the surface. The dreadful Four Horsemen are loose and riding, martyrs are crying for justice, and the specter of judgment haunts everyone and every project opposed to God.

The Trumpet Cycle displays various kinds and intensities of judgment at work in the world. In particular we learn that there are spiritual powers at work as well as human evil deeds. God is sovereign over all this judgment though not directly responsible. Other agents, human and beyond-human, are granted freedom to wage their rebellions against God without compromising God’s sovereignty. Indeed, it is precisely because God is utterly sovereign that his creatures have freedom at all.

Between the sixth and seventh Seals is an interlude concerning the church and what is true of it as it moves through history. Sealed by God and thus secure, the church can carry out its mission with confidence and courage.

Likewise, an interlude exists between the sixth and seventh Trumpets. Again its subject is the church. In ch.10 the mission of the church is to “prophesy” to the world about the good news of the gospel of Messiah/King Jesus. This gospel, the announcement that the world’s rightful ruler has come and claimed his throne, is controversial and offensive to a world set on ruling itself and maintaining its own sovereignty. The call to the church to prophesy, then, is a call to suffer, and perhaps even die, for this commission.

[The first “woe” (or “alas”) was the fifth Trumpet blast (8:1). The sixth trumpet blast and this interlude are the second “woe” or (“alas”; 11:14).]

Interlude (11:1-14)

John is given a “measuring rod” to measure the temple, the altar, and worshipers gathered there. This suggests some form of protection since the outer courts of this temple are not to be measured but remain vulnerable to the assaults of the nations. This sense of protection is parallel to the sealing of the people of God in the first interlude in ch.7.

If the usual dating of Revelation in the last decade of the first century is accurate the actual Temple in Jerusalem lies in ruins and has for well over a decade. The Temple John sees in this vision must be something else. And that must be the church, as is common in the New Testament (1 Cor.3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor.6:16; Eph.2:21; 1 Pet. 2:5).

The church rests under God’s protection during its ministry of prophesying and the push back from the world it will receive. Not physical protection from harm, of course, but ultimate protection from the spiritual forces that seek to undo them (see v.7 on the “beast”).

John introduces a new symbol at this point. He calls the duration of the nation’s despoiling the “outer court” of the Temple and the city “forty-two months” (v.2). V.3 converts this period to days, 1,260 (42x30). We find an annual computation of this time period as three and a half years is given in 12:14. These time periods all refer to the same period, that between the resurrection of Christ and his return in glory. The time of the church’s ministry of prophesying. The church age.

In this age God gives authority to “two witnesses” to prophesy repentance (that’s the significance of “sackcloth.” The good news that God has acted in Christ to reclaim and restore his rebellious creatures is the word they bear. And this vision portends negative reaction, but not wholly so as we shall soon see.

Surprisingly, the next verse transforms these two witnesses into “two olive trees” and “two lampstands.” The latter we have already met in 1:20 where we are told they are churches. Presumably the “olive trees” represent the same thing. And working back from the known (“lampstands” = churches), the “two witnesses” must represent the churches too.

Olive trees” comes from the prophet Zechariah in ch.4. There two olive trees stand beside one lampstand and symbolize the power of the Spirit God will give to Zerubbabel before whom even great mountains will be overcome (Zech.4:6-7). Zerubbael and Joshua are the two olive trees, the Lord’s anointed ones who stand by him (Zech. 4:14). The lampstands may be dual to match the olive trees but likely their duality reflects the Old Testament’s insistence that truth is verified by at least two witnesses (Dt.17:6; 19:15; Jn.8:17).1

Equipped with the Spirit and authorized by God, and their witness/weapon the gospel (v.5) - the foundation of the church’s witness - these two witnesses act in Mosaic and Elijahanic style (v.6) to contest idolatry and make the name of the Lord known to the world.

Agents of God’s word, which is judgment and mercy in service of God’s love (as we have seen), the church encounters a new foe - a beast from the bottomless pit (v.7). This figure, presumably loosed by the fallen star we met when the fifth Trumpet sounded (9:1), will later figure more prominently in John’s vision (ch.13). Here, though, he emerges as the one who appears to squelch the church’s witness by killing it (v.7). However, this murderous rampage does not squelch the church’s witness. Notice the two witnesses “finished their testimony” before the Beast can touch them. Ironically, the display of their dead bodies for 3 ½ days2 for their faithful witness “in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (v.8) patterns their deaths after Jesus which includes them in his resurrection and vindication. The people of the world think the Beast has won this struggle because it seems the gospel they preached had been silenced.

The 3 ½ days John sees is a variation of the 3 ½ years John will introduce in the next chapter as another numeration of the period between Christ’s death and resurrection aligned with the three days Christ was in the tomb. After this brief period of death’s seeming triumph over the church, it like its Lord was raised by God. And those who persecuted it were terrified (v.11). And God calls the church to come up to him – a symbol of their victory after all (v.12).

And here we meet the positive effect of the church’s message hinted at above. Darrell Johnson aptly calls this “reversed arithmetic.”3 It may not seem so at first glance. 1/10 of the city where the witness died and were raised, 7000 people are felled in a great earthquake. Even though the rest “give glory to the God of heaven” (v.13), that’s still a lot of carnage. But listen to Johnson:

“All the numbers in the book of Revelation are symbols: one-tenth and seven thousand. Symbols of what? Symbols of mercy! Remember, John is steeped in the Old Testament. One-tenth, seven thousand. Sounds awful. And it is. But John is doing gospel here. All we need to do is the math:
            · Isaiah 6:13: God will save one-tenth, nine-tenths will fall. Revelation 11:13: one-tenth falls.
· Amos 5:3: God says a city of one thousand will have one hundred left and a city of 100 will have ten left – one tenth saved, nine-tenths fall. Revelation 11:13: one-tenth falls. John says nine-tenths are saved, only one-tenth falls. Revelation 11:13: seven thousand die.
· 1 Kings 19:18: Elijah bemoans the fact that only seven thousand are left. Revelation 11:13: John says only seven thousand die, and sixty-three thousand are left!
Do you see what Jesus has shown John? He has reversed the arithmetic. Not one-tenth saved, nine-tenths destroyed; but nine-tenths are saved! Not seven thousand left and the rest lost; but sixty-three thousand are saved!”4

And this is the result of the church’s witness and living out the truth of their faith with coherence, urgency, and integrity.

Thus ends the second “woe” (suitably interpreted by the reversal of images entailed in the great reversal of images of the Lion/Lamb in ch.5.

The Seventh Trumpet (11:15-19)

The seventh Seal parallels the seventh Trumpet. The former brought the world to judgment with those opposed to God seeking death or protection from God. The latter brings heavenly acclaim and the announcement that God’s kingdom has come and he reigns. The martyrs have their justice and vindication (“rewarded,” v.18). The creation too is recompensed for atrocities imposed on it by “those who destroy the earth” (v.18). The old world has passed away into its redemption and transformation – the new creation of Rev.21-22.

The first time the twenty-four elders sing is in ch.4 in worship acclaiming the Creator. Here is the last time they sing in Revelation. This time acclaiming God as the one who has taken his reign having defeated all his enemies. When John gives us a picture of their defeat in chs.21-22, though, we may have surprises in store!

And that’s why we have so much of the story remaining even though here we seem to have reached the end. What’s more to be said? Plenty, as we shall see.
1 Leon Morris, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992), 144 suggests this might refer to the two of the seven churches that Jesus addresses in chs.2-3 that receive only commendation for their ministry. This seems a bit far-fetched to me.
2 An abomination for Jews who required that corpses be buried before sunset on the day of their death.
3 Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, 209.
4 Johnson, Discipleship on the Edge, 208-209.

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