Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XLIV)

May 13, 2010

Most Christians are at least generally aware of the Apostle Paul’s amazing prophecy in Romans 11:25b-26a: “… I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: a partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.  And in this way all Israel will be saved…” (HCSB).  If Israel is taken there in its most natural understanding, as Dr. Peter Richardson’s classic study on that subject concluded should be the case, Paul’s prophecy causes the reader to wonder when the mass(ive) conversion of Jews will take place.  As a “tease” up front, let me just say that I think I’ve found where the point of fulfillment of that prophecy is located in the Book of Revelation.

Now, I’m not the first to consider the possibility of 11:13 being that point.  For example, George Ladd takes essentially the same view, though quite cautiously.  Though a few have ventured a guess in this area, I feel that another angle on this question must be brought forward for discussion: if Romans 11:25-26 is not fulfilled in Revelation 11:13, where else in the Apocalypse could it happen?  Unless Paul was wrong, it has to happen somewhere in connection with the Book of Revelation, right?  Where else are Jewish people even mentioned in the portion of the book describing the end times?

Actually, I’m glad you asked that question because it sets up the lead-in to my discussion of 11:13.  You see, there is one previous passage in Revelation where Jews are mentioned: 7:1-8, where 144,000 Jews are sealed (just before the beginning of the Great Tribulation, in my understanding).  And, interestingly, in the other passage in which the 144,000 are mentioned (i.e., 14:1-5), they are referred to as “first fruits” (Greek aparche; v. 4).  What should we make of that wording?

Well, even though “first fruits” can refer simply to the quality of a sacrifice—meaning more or less “best fruits”—the more common understanding is that the rest of the harvest will not be far behind.  If that is the case, though, where is the remainder of the “harvest” of Jews in Revelation?  Certainly, a harvest is clearly mentioned in 14:14-20.  However, there is nothing Jewish there—at least not in the positive side of the harvest (i.e., 14:14-16).

But, you might ask, how do you get to 11:13 being the proper place to locate “the rest of the harvest?”  Patience—let’s work through what happens in 7:1-8 first.

I’m going to move through what I see there quickly.  The arrangement of 7:4-8 reminds me of the military arrangement of the tribes of Israel at the beginning of Numbers.  That may be what is meant in Ezekiel 37 by the valley of dry bones being animated into “a vast army” (v.10).  If so, it must be noted that the final stage of what happens in the imagery of Ezekiel 37 is that the ruach (Greek pneuma, LXX) enters the bodies (reminiscent of God breathing “the breath of life” into Adam in Gen. 2).  In Ezekiel 37:14, it is fairly clear that ruach/pneuma is referring to the Holy Spirit and that it is referring to the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s version of the New Covenant in the passage just prior to the vision of the valley of dry bones (see 36:26-27).

So, if the fulfillment of Ezekiel 37 happens when the Holy Spirit comes into a “vast army” of Jews, what passage of Scripture looks more like that than Revelation 7:1-8?  (Yes, that was a loud silence.)  And, if the idea of “sealing” in 7:3, 4 echoes the “sealing of the Spirit” Paul discusses in 2 Corinthians 1 and Ephesians 1 and 4, then what we are looking at in the first half of Revelation 7 appears to be the “first fruits” of the fulfillment of Romans 11:25-26.

That brings us to Revelation 11:13.  In the immediately preceding context, the two witnesses are raised from the dead after “three and a half days”—reminding the reader of Jesus’ resurrection—and ascend to heaven—reminding the reader of Jesus’ ascension.  Then, a catastrophic earthquake hits.

Following the resurrection, the observers are first said to be gripped by “great fear” (11:11).  However, after the ascension and the earthquake, the reaction of the survivors is worded this way: “[They] were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven” (v. 13, HCSB).  What is the significance of the latter wording?

As often happens in the Apocalypse, the key to understanding the wording in 11:13 is found later in the book.  In 14:6-7, the response demanded by the proclamation of the “eternal gospel” (the only use of euangelion in Rev., by the way) is to “fear God and give Him glory.”  Thus, the reaction of the multitude in 11:13—which, since it occurs in Jerusalem (11:8), the bulk of those present would be Jewish—appears to what can be theologically termed “saving faith.”

If this analysis of the relevant passages is more or less on target, then it is quite likely that a major “revival” breaks out in Jerusalem—and possibly elsewhere, though the spotlight in Revelation 11 is exclusively on Jerusalem.  This passage, following 7:1-8, appear to describe the fulfillment of the great prophecies in both Ezekiel 37 and Romans 11.

If you adopt that view, though, there is one question that arises immediately that will have to wait for a few posts to be addressed: What happens to all the people saved in 11:13? I’ll let you chew on that one for awhile.

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