Previously on Decoding the Apocalypse
We continue with our discussion of Vision Two in the Apocalypse (Rev. 4.1–16.21). We began with Vision One, which was a vivid word picture of Jesus, followed by the beginning of Vision Two with its picture of Jesus, being presented as the one who could open the annals of history and reveal the story of the end. Next, we saw the preparation to opening the book with the opening of the first six seals. Then when we thought that the seventh seal would be opened and the end of the age would be revealed, John stood back for a moment and presented a picture-within-a-picture, an interlude, in which he demonstrated in symbolic language, a before and after picture, that suggested that none of the people of God would be lost in a time of great tribulation.
The Seventh Seal 8.1
Now we come to the opening of the seventh seal, and the revelation of the end of the story. There is no woe in the breaking of the seventh seal as there was in the other six seals. The breaking of the seventh seal reveals that there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. Many interpretations of this verse have been offered; now there’s a shocker! It seems best to observe that within the flow and structure of John’s story that we see this moment of silence as the suspense on the part of the heavenly host as they await the telling of the end, the consummation of the kingdom, and the creation of the new heavens and new earth. This moment of silence may echo an unsaid but implied reference to the first creation story in which God spoke things into existence, presumably breaking a silence to speak. Now this present silence awaits his speaking to bring about his new creation.
The Seven Trumpets 8.2-14.20
The seven trumpets constitute the context of the seventh seal. This seems to be John’s pattern. First, the breaking of the six seals in which the gospel goes forward winning its battles, and other activities are presented as what accompanies life throughout history moving toward God’s creation of the new heavens and new earth. When the seventh seal is broken, John expands the view of the end by presenting the blowing of the seven trumpets. So, it would look like this:
- First Seal: The Gospel working in the world and winning victory
- Second Seal: War
- Third Seal: Scarcity
- Fourth Seal: Death
- Fifth Seal: Martyrdom
- Sixth Seal: Cosmic catastrophes bring us down to the end and the establishment of the kingdom of God.
- Seventh Seal: The seven trumpets.
The blowing of the seven trumpets are not a continuation of the story John is presenting. It is as if John is presenting the scene of the end in greater detail. Let’s see how that plays out.
The Six Trumpets 8.2-9.21
At the beginning of the Interlude in Chapter 7, we met four angels. Now we meet seven angels who stand before God who are given seven trumpets. Another angel presents the prayers of the saints to God and it seems in response to the prayers, God answers in judgment. This may be a picture that might disturb the individualistic characteristic of the Western world in which we think that the effort of an individual can change the course of history. We are fed this view often. But, together as a community of believers, we can pray to him who rules his creation and he responds. Of course, this juxtaposition of the sovereignty of God and the prayers of the saints is one of the mysteries of our faith. They must be held in tension, each being true at the same time. Has he chosen it to be this way? His part is not done without our part. Our part is not done without his part. We are partners with God as we live in this present evil age.
The First Trumpet Rev. 8.7
The first trumpet is blown and hail, fire, and blood which destroy a third of the trees and green grass occurs.
The Second Trumpet Rev. 8.8-9
Something like a great mountain afire which turned a third of the oceans to blood and destroyed a third of sea life and ships.
The Third Trumpet Rev. 8.10-11
A star called wormwood fell from heaven and destroyed a third of the world’s fresh water supply.
The Fourth Trumpet Rev. 8.12-13
One third of the natural light is destroyed.
The Fifth Trumpet Rev. 9.1-12
A host of demonic locusts will torture unredeemed humankind for five months which is a round number to indicate a long period of time.
The Sixth Trumpet Rev. 9.13-21
The release of four angels which symbolizes the invasion to destroy a third of humankind.
We must notice that in this series of trumpets, that a third is repeated again and again. This is important as we move forward. So stick it in your cap and we will bring it back later.
Here we see the pattern of John again. First, the six seals, then when you expect the seventh one and the end of the story, John pauses with his picture-within-a-picture interlude. Six trumpets have been blown, and John is at it again. You would expect the seventh trumpet to be blown and the end of the story, but instead, John draws up against the end again and steps back with another break.
Interlude 2: 10.1-11.13
This interlude has two parts to it. The story of the angel and the little book and the measuring of the temple and the two witnesses.
The Angel and the Little Book 10.1-11
Again, we have a symbolic representation of John’s renewed and reinforced prophetic call on the eve of the terrible climax of God’s judgments. This is an echo of the same idea found in Ezekiel 2.8-3.3. John is to appropriate the word before communicating it to others. The little book is a message for the church whose contents are found in 11.1-13. The contents of the little book is sweet because it is a word from God that there will be no further delay of the end. It is bitter because of the fierce Satanic opposition in the last days before the end. You’ve seen the sweet and sour commercials. First, they are sweet, then they are sour. Such is the case here in this picture. BTW: Did you know that there is a candy company who is packaging sweet and sour candy in wrappers where each piece is wrapped in a KJV Bible verse. Wow! Now there’s a way to get more fragmented than we already are with Scripture and get high on sugar at the same time! Do I sound cynical about this? Shouldn’t we be? I have also seen KJV verses in Chinese styled fortune cookies. Now there’s an oxymoron for you!
The Measuring of the Temple and the Two Witnesses 11.1-13
The Measuring of the Temple 11.1-2
Usually, our first thought when we read the word temple may be of the temple in Jerusalem, which is part of the set in which the story of Jesus is played out. So that we may be clear, there are two words for temple in the New Testament. One means the inner shrine of the temple, the other means the whole expanse of the temple including the Gentile court. When John wrote Revelation, the temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed about twenty-five years prior. He uses the word for inner shrine here and not the word for the whole temple.
It is important to remember that when teaching about symbols, we must be consistent with the clear teaching of other parts of Scripture. The measuring of the temple here is clearly symbolic. The question is: Symbolic of what? There are at least three different interpretations of the measuring of the temple:
► A Literal Interpretation
The literal interpretation is a staple of Dispensational writers like the Left Behind Series whose authors devote a chapter to in their book, Are We Living in the End Times? and mentioned it in their first novel in the Left Behind Series (415). Popular TV evangelists like Benny Hinn are reported as openly promoting the rebuilding of the temple. It sometimes appears that these folks are aggressive and eager to help bring about the second coming by the rebuilding of the temple.
This interpretation believes that this is a literal prophecy of the rebuilt temple, which will be rebuilt by the Jewish people who have and will return to Israel. The Jewish nation is often referred to as God’s time clock of prophecy. Just watch the events in Israel and we can know where we are in reference to the end. A popular but somewhat benign view. Which Jews would this prophecy represent? There are three branches of Judaism:
- Reformed: Who are like liberal Protestants.
- Conservative: Who carry out their Jewish duties on the Jewish Day of Atonement.
- Orthodox. Who hold to the rules and regulations of the Old Testament with firm strictness. They are a minority, but very influential.
► A Believing Jewish Remnant
What does the New Testament teach about Israel? Will it be saved as a nation? Will it become a theocratic nation with a rebuilt temple with a restoration of the sacrificial system, the people of God as they were in the Old Testament? Are the promises in the New Testament nationalistic? Romans 9 teaches that Israel rejected the Messiah. Romans 10 teaches that God rejected Israel for not believing. Romans 11 teaches that Israel will be grafted back in to the tree and suggests in hyperbolic form that all Israel will be saved. They will enter salvation the same way as anyone else, through Jesus. I don’t believe that Scripture speaks about a restoration of nationalist Israel.
► Symbolic of the Church
The New Testament often speaks of the church as the temple (shrine) of God as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 3.16.
The problem with the literal view is that there are too many representations of Israel from which to choose. Is the temple rebuilt for the literal Jew so that God can reinstitute the sacrificial system as a way of reclaiming the Jews? That flies in the face of the work of Jesus on the cross. Is it for the believing Jewish remnant? Why, would they need it? Is it the church which is the temple of God? I think this is the better choice.
Forty-Two Months 11.3
The text says that the Gentiles will trample the holy city for forty-two months. The term forty-two months or 1260 days (time, time, and half a time) is a primary reference to the period of the Jewish suffering under Antiochus Epiphanes (164 BC.). This number became a conventional symbol for a limited period of time during which evil would be allowed to have free reign. This simply represents a short period of time of intensified persecution.
The Two Witnesses 11.4-13
The two witnesses are symbolic of the church which is called to witness during the course of the age (the white horse). The church’s primary work is to prophesy. Prophesy can be foretelling or forthtelling. The latter seems to be the implication here. The symbol of sack cloth (Isa. 20.2) suggests the prophet’s dress and the nature of the message was a call for repentance in the face of judgment. The death of the witnesses is physical death. But, the witnesses resurrected suggests that the enemy cannot touch the real source of life. The real source of life cannot be destroyed by the enemy. God sends no other agencies to humankind in the time of earth’s distress than the witness of the church about Jesus. The protection of God does not prevent the church from enduring the cost of bearing witness to Jesus before a rebellious generation. They will learn the weight of the cross and the power of the resurrection. The church has something more important to do than simply survive. The church is placed in the world to bear witness to mankind, even when the witness is resisted with force. The darker the hour, the more need for the church to be what they are called to be: lamps, through which the light of Jesus shines in this present evil age.
The Seventh Trumpet 11.14-19
The contents of the seventh trumpet are found in the seven bowls as the content of the seven trumpets is found in the seventh seal. The trumpet sounds and “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Again, we are at what would appear to be the end of the story, but again John steps back and provides yet another story-within-a-story interlude.
We pause here and will begin with Interlude 3 in our next session.
- What are your thoughts about the His Part and Our Part configuration? Does that help you understand the power of community? How can you implement this suggestion in your own church?
- Does the pattern/structure that I have proposed help you or hinder you in your reading of the Revelation? How? If it helps, how can you translate that into sharing with your friends about the message of this book?
- Why would the mention of forty-two months be an encouragement to the seven churches? How is it an encouragement to your church? How is it an encouragement to you? [Notice “you” are last in the list? We need to think more and more about community as we learn to live in the Story of God.]