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The timing of prophecy is often complex, especially in long-term prophecy, because there are usually multiple beginning points and therefore also multiple end points. God does this in order to give a double witness to those called to observe those beginning points in their generation, but also for those called to observe the end points. A single time period might be a coincidence, but when we have multiple beginning and end points, the odds of this being a mere coincidence become extremely low to the point of near impossibility.
The 1,260 years (“days”) has multiple starting points as well. One begins with Justinian’s law code in 529-534 and ends with the French Revolution in 1789-1794. Another begins in 754-756 with Pepin’s donation of land to the church, and ending in 2014-2016 in our time. The interim was not time lost or wasted. As we will see when we study Revelation 13, a new beast was to arise from the earth during this time, a beast which Daniel did not foresee, but John did.
Having two cycles of 1,260 years to observe, we also should take note that because this time is also expressed in terms of 42 months, it is the measure of a prophetic reed (42 handbreadths). Since the holy city was to be trodden down for 42 “months” (42 x 30 years), we can see that a handbreadth is the measure of short-term divine judgment, while a reed is the measure of long-term divine judgment.
Hence, the number 42 is the number of tribulation, based on the number 21, which is the biblical number of “distress” or trouble. The Greek word is thlipsis, often translated “tribulation.” The word was originally used of a particular method of punishment, where a man was laid down and a boulder was slowly lowered onto his body to crush him by the pressure. Although this word picture comes to us from the Greek, it does describe the pressure and distress in Hebrew thought as well.
Essentially, God raised up the little horn to wage war on the saints and to bring tribulation and pressure upon them until the time of the end. In Revelation 13, John added to Daniel’s revelation by telling us that two beasts were to arise, and not just one. The second was to arise when the first received a deadly head wound that was then healed. While the first beast was the religious beast of Rome, the second was a financial beast that would ally itself with the first and give it a further extension of life. This was the Rothschild banking system that arose in 1798, the very year that the pope was taken captive by Napoleon.
And so the beast system, reinforced by the modern banking system, received an extension of life beyond the French Revolution (1789-1794) to the present end points of 2014-2016.
When we examine the long-term time period in the prophecy of the two witnesses, the two witnesses represent companies of saints being opposed and persecuted in the beast’s war against them. In each generation God has raised up leaders, of course, and no doubt these historic leaders may be seen as specific witnesses in their respective times. Yet because they bore witness for only a short time within the framework of a 1,260-year time period, none of these outstanding leaders could possibly be—by themselves—one of the two witnesses, except as types and shadows. They were part of a collective body of saints who were nameless in Daniel 7, but who made names for themselves and were remembered by those who study church history.
The sword of the word proceeded out of their mouths as they spoke divine truth. That sword was effective, as many obtained justification by faith through the death of their flesh (Rom. 6:7). Likewise, it was in their hands to bring the rain of the Holy Spirit in various revivals over the years—typified by Elijah, who called down fire from heaven and also prayed for rain after the 3½ year drought. The literal Old Covenant types and shadows thus found New Covenant fulfillments.
If there are witnesses in each generation of the past, then certainly there must be two witnesses in the final generation of this 1,260-year time frame. In fact, we might expect to see a climactic end in the last generation. However, this does not mean the two witnesses must die in Jerusalem—and certainly not in the vanished city of Sodom, or even in the land of Egypt (Rev. 11:8). John tells us specifically that they die in a spiritual city, of which the old Jerusalem and Sodom are parts.
We must also consider that the two witnesses could be blind to their calling. In other words, they might not know that they were the two witnesses. Isaiah 43:8 tells us that Israel was both blind and deaf, and yet while in captivity they were God’s witnesses (Isaiah 43:10, 12). In that sense, and on that level, the two nations of Israel and Judah were God’s two witnesses, one called to exercise the Dominion Mandate, and the other the Fruitfulness Mandate.
I have already shown how Zech. 4:3 and 11 picture the two witnesses as being olive trees, whose oil would give light in the lampstand. In Jer. 11:16 God tells Israel and Judah, “The Lord called your name “A green olive tree, beautiful in fruit and form.” This comes in the context of God’s criticism of the nations (Judah in particular) for their failure to succeed in their calling.
Obviously, only a small minority among the people of Judah actually bore witness of the truth, since most of them were rebellious against God and knew not the truth. So Paul said in Rom. 11:1-10 that only the remnant of grace was actually “chosen,” and the rest did not obtain the promise. In other words, their genealogy was not what made them “chosen” in the sight of God, but rather their faith and obedience. In Elijah’s day this amounted to a mere 7,000 men (Rom. 11:4), which was a very tiny minority indeed, and Paul relates this to the situation in his own time. The church was a tiny minority of faith-driven men and women coming out of the nation of Judah.
As time passed, even the church itself fell into the same kind of unbelief and rebellion that had befallen Israel and Judah. The remnant of grace remained relatively small among those who called themselves Christians, because only a few really had faith in Jesus Christ, while the majority had faith in the church and in its leaders. Likewise, their faith rested in Old Covenant salvation which was based upon their own decision or vow, rather than in God’s New Covenant vow and in His ability to keep His promise.
Reliance upon the flesh, whatever form this takes, is evidence that one is not part of the remnant of grace and is still in need of a faith upgrade in order to be an inheritor.
In Rev. 11:7 we read that the beast makes war against two witnesses, overcomes them, and kills them. This is also what Dan. 7:21 tells us about the little horn. In Rev. 11:10 their “dead bodies” then are said to lie in the street of this mystical, or spiritual city. Rev. 11:9 and 10 then say,
9 And those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. 10 And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.
Again, this is an overall picture of a lengthy historical period, which is pictured as if speaking about two single individuals. But the 3½ days of death, leading to their resurrection and ascension, gives us a major clue about how to interpret this. It is the same time period as Daniel’s “time, times, and half a time” (Dan. 7:25), as well as John’s 42 months (Rev. 11:2) and 1,260 days (Rev. 11:3), which is 3½ years. The time is the same, but expressed in different ways in order to fit the metaphors.
Throughout each generation, God’s witnesses, testifying of the truth to a hostile world (including the church) were opposed, persecuted, and killed for their unwelcome call to come out of darkness and into the light. Jesus said in John 3:19-21,
19 And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
A good historical example of the rejoicing over the death of the witnesses is mentioned by John Fox in his book, Flood of Light upon the Book of Revelation, p. 79,
“The Bohemians had always been among the staunchest opponents of Rome; but in A.D. 1513 a Papal Bull was issued calling the Bohemians to present their case before the 5th Lateran Council on May 5th, A.D. 1514; but none came. In A.D. 1516 Cardinal A. Pucini said before the Lateran Council: ‘There is an end of resistance to Papal rule and religion; nobody opposes any more’…
“Three and a half years went by; then God did a wonderful thing. His Spirit of strength entered into Martin Luther, who, on October 31st, 1517, brought out his famous ’95 Thesis’ against the doctrines and practices of the Church of Rome, and nailed it up on the door of Wittenburg Church.”
The Roman Church rejoiced prematurely when no one bothered to show up to this Lateran Council. The Bohemian Protestants knew that their word would be rejected, and that they would simply be killed for their witness of the truth. Cardinal Pucini took their absence as a sign that there was no further resistance to church authority—after untold numbers of people had been killed and tortured in the previous Inquisitions. The church seemed to have crushed all resistance.
But then after 3½ years, Martin Luther, a Roman priest, became so disgusted with the practice of paying one’s way into heaven, along with the church doctrine of justification by works, that he wrote out his 95 objections and nailed them to the church door at Wittenburg. Suddenly, dead Protestantism came back to life, and the Roman church was unable to snuff it out.
John’s vision of death, resurrection, and ascension was a vivid metaphor prophesying of the victory given to the overcomers and their message of truth. Rev. 11:12 says,
12 And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies beheld them.
The pattern portrayed here is from the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ Himself. John even mentions “a great earthquake” in the next verse, which parallels the quake felt when Christ was raised from the dead (Matt. 28:2). In other words, John was telling us that the circumstances surrounding Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension were prophetic patterns for the saints in the future.
No doubt we will see yet more of these patterns fulfilled at the actual resurrection of the dead. But even prior to the final fulfillment, we see the two witnesses being raised up in similar fashion on their own level of fulfillment.
Rev. 11:13 concludes this section, saying,
13 And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; and seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
The “city” in question is the same city where the witnesses were killed. It is the oppressive city called Sodom, Egypt, and the earthly Jerusalem. To this list we may add Rome, but it also includes virtually the whole earth that is ruled by the flesh and remains in darkness without the light of the word.
When “a tenth of the city fell,” the context compels us to interpret this in terms of the Roman “city,” that is, not merely the city of Rome itself, but the area of Roman rule. The Protestants who had sprung to life after Martin Luther’s action in 1517 brought a great spiritual earthquake that overthrew a tenth of the people that Rome had controlled up to that time. In fact, just a few years later, in 1536, England broke away entirely when King Henry VIII passed the Act of Supremacy that made him the head of the Church of England, denying papal sovereignty over an entire nation.
In the German states, meanwhile, many rulers also joined the Protestant movement and refused to remain subservient to the popes.
John says that “seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake.” Since this earthquake has hit a spiritual city, it is apparent that the earthquake is not a literal earthquake as well. The number of people killed is equal to the number of the remnant of grace in the days of Elijah (Rom. 11:4). This may be seen in various ways, but to be consistent with the type of death we have already seen from the earlier verses, we should NOT look for 7,000 casualties from collapsed buildings. It is the same kind of death that the two witnesses were causing by calling down the fire of the Holy Spirit upon men. Such death justifies men through the death of the flesh.
Hence, it becomes clear that the 7,000 who die in the collapse of the city represent those called to be part of the remnant of grace. These come to a knowledge of the truth as they are set free from the rule of the great oppressive city. They die to self and are set free from the bondage of the flesh. They are then able to fulfill their callings as the remnant of grace, which, according to Paul, is based upon the sovereign calling of God upon their lives. Rom. 11:5, 6 says,
5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.
The example of “God’s gracious choice” is given earlier in Rom. 9:11, 12, where we read of the birth of Jacob and Esau:
11 for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.”
So we may conclude that when John speaks of the 7,000 “killed” in the collapse of a tenth of the oppressive spiritual city, the event was God’s way of taking His “tithe” by bringing His remnant of grace into the realization of the truth outside of the Roman church. God took personal responsibility to set them free, in order that it might be by grace (God’s decision) rather than waiting for the 7,000 to make their own decision to break free from Rome.
When God intervenes in the affairs of men, it is to fulfill His own vow, which is based on the New Covenant. Hence, He takes responsibility to initiate it and to accomplish the goal. This is the essence of grace.