By Jeff Smith | PREVIEW Columnist
The Christian church still has mysteries to solve and things to do before Jesus can return.
We did a puzzle on Thanksgiving once. That meant four of us sitting around a card table and putting the pieces together while we chatted. After the edges and corners, I took the sky pieces, someone else got the sandy beach, someone got the sunset and one did the ocean. I joined two blue pieces with a white stripe and there was the seagull. A dark piece with some red and white matched a brown one with the same and there was the tiny lighthouse on a hill.
The last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, is like that. Its bold pictures and puzzles launch from the first century. It rockets across the troubled story of mankind yet to come and lands with paradise on earth.
It baffles and intrigues, daring us to unlock its secrets. So, to explain an image like a throne, a bowl or a choir, we go find the same symbol in other parts of scripture and see if the pieces fit.
In one passage there are two “witnesses” (Revelation 11:3). They “prophesy,” devour their enemies with fire coming from their mouths, stop the rain and strike the earth with plagues as they choose. They are captured, killed and revive three days later. Then they stand up and go to heaven. Whoa.
So, let’s start with the number two. “Two” points to the major fault lines of mankind; Jew and gentile (culture and religion), slave and free (status) and male and female. Each group of two become “one” in Christ (Gal 3:28). Next the term “witnesses.” In the corrupt court of history, God keeps one or two to tell His side. Isaiah told the Jews they were His “witnesses” (Isaiah 43:10). Jesus told His disciples the same, just before sending them into “all the world” (Mark 16:15). Their goal was to create a people “out of every tribe, tongue and nation” (Revelation 7:9).
The fire burning up their enemies, stopping the rain and striking the earth with plagues comes from the stories of Elijah and Moses, the great prophets of Judaism. Both entered a battle of the gods; Yahweh (the Hebrew God) versus Baal (1Kings 18) and Yahweh versus the gods of Egypt (Exodus 7:1-5). Yahweh wins both times. Then these “prophets” are killed like all prophets (Luke 13:34), but in the manner of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12, Revelation 11:7 20:4). They arise like Christ three days later (Luke 24:2-9). They ascend, or are raptured, like Jesus on the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:9-11). Just as death no longer rules Christ (Romans 6:9), it now no longer rules His people. So death, the last enemy, is destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).
The picture is this: The great themes of scripture will one day come full circle. The Gospel will be preached “in all the world.” The Christian church, drawn from all peoples, tongues, tribes and nations will be “one” (John 17:21). The rift between Jew and gentile Christian will be resolved (Romans 11:11-30). The two faiths will stand side by side with a great power they have yet to receive. They will arrest the gaze of mankind and say, like Elijah, “You see. Now choose.” So, no one will be able to say, “We did not know.” Wow.
Students and scholars still puzzle over these symbols as well as how any single verse lines up with the larger themes of scripture. No small task. Some see these “witnesses” as more of a vanguard and may not refer to all who believe at that time. Some say they are Enoch and Elijah. But putting these verses together in this manner points to a powerful, end-time Christian church that achieves goals worthy of her calling.
That call may not be to fly away at any moment, but to finish all the jobs He gave us.
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