Mud on the Wall: Brainstorming the Apocalypse (XLVIII)

May 24, 2010

I have not blogged for several days, having been in California for my middle child’s college graduation.  As a result of the jet-lagged travel, along with preaching yesterday, my gray matter is not yet working at 100% efficiency, in spite of sleeping almost 12 hours last might.

So, rather that jump right back into the next subject beyond where I last posted, I am today going to write on a “softball” subject—at least for me.  That topic is the use/meaning of the figures that equate to three and a half years in Revelation 12:6, 14 and 13:5.  (I have already posted on the use of the wording for three and a half years in 11:2, 3.)

Here is each of those verses:

“The woman fled into the wilderness, where she had a place prepared by God, to be fed there for 1,260 days” (12:6, HCSB).

“The woman was given two wings of a great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent’s presence to her place in the wilderness, where she was fed for a time, times, and half a time” (12:14).

“A mouth was given to him [i.e., the first beast of ch. 13] to speak boasts and blasphemies.  He was also given authority to act for 42 months” (13:5).

In my view, the time periods spoken of in all three verses are the same three and a half years.  The first two verses, in complementary ideas, tell of the same focus within that three a half years: God’s protection of a group depicted as a Jewish woman from the devil’s onslaught.  The final verse speaks of what the devil has going on elsewhere on earth at the same time “the woman” is under God’s protection: the devil’s masterpiece, the first beast—who had been introduced briefly in 11:7, is consolidating his reign of terror.

Let’s look at each briefly.  I will, however, explain the progressive clarification that develops from the first to the second to the third.

As we consider 12:6, the first question that must be asked is, “Who is the woman?”  Without  going into great detail (which I will do moreso in my next post), the context is fairly clearly depicting a Jewish woman, with part of the preceding context obviously speaking of Mary giving birth to Jesus, the Messiah.  Since Mary was a believer, that is a key element here (i.e., this is not just a Jewish woman; it’s a Jewish woman who believes Jesus is the Messiah).

The reason this is very important to notice is that there are actually interpreters who believe that, at the end of the age, the Jews will be protected by the Lord, irrespective of their unbelief.  I find that an exegetical stretch that only a kind of evangelical Zionism that does not think Israel can do any wrong, no matter what, would take.

But, if “the woman” is composed of believing Jews—and this is the second natural question to ask at this point, where do they come from?  There are only two answers I can think of in the earlier part of the Book of Revelation: the 144,000 in 7:4-8 and those in Jerusalem (see 11:8) who respond by fearing God and giving Him glory in 11:13 (see the wording of the “eternal gospel” in 14:6-7).  Since 11:13 is the closer of the two, and since there is no explanation in the immediately succeeding context of what happens to that group, it seems the more likely explanation—especially since there is a separate passage on where things go for the 144,000 in 14:1-5.

The next natural question is, “Why is the wording ‘1,260 days’ used in 12:6?”  The most obvious answer is that it causes the reader to think of the two witnesses, who were protected by the Lord for “1,260 days” in 11:3.

Now, this parallel could conceivably go either of two ways: 1) that God is just as capable of protecting a large group of new believers (i.e., 12:6) as He is to protect His two witnesses (i.e., 11:3)—which I think is the correct perspective; or 2) that both passages are speaking of the same group—which is a much more highly spiritualized perspective, completely ignoring the significant differences between the two contexts.

So, to be clear: as I understand it, the two witnesses are protected by God for the first three and a half years of the seven-year Great Tribulation period.  At the end of that time, the divine protection is lifted.  The beast is allowed to kill the two witnesses, who are then resurrected and ascend to heaven.  That sets in motion the events that produce the mass conversion of many Jews—and perhaps some Gentiles also—who are the ones depicted as “the woman” in 12:6.

That brings us to 12:14, which essentially repeats 12:6, with two notable differences: 1) 12:14 provides detail on how “the woman” is transported to the wilderness, where God protects her; and 2) in 12:14, the wording for three and a half years is “a times, times, and half a time.”

I will discuss the former more a couple of posts down the line.  So, the question remaining is “Why does the wording for three and a half years change from 12:6 to 12:14?”

My best guess is that it is designed to call to mind that same wording in Daniel 7:25 and 12:7.  The initially odd thing about that observation is that both of those contexts speak of that three and a half year period as being a time when “the saints” are handed over to the beast—12:7 says the saints are “shattered.”  But, hold it now—doesn’t Revelation 12:14 say that “the (Jewish) woman” is protected by the Lord for that period of time?  What are we to make of this apparent contradiction?

In my understanding, the answer to that question is found in the succeeding context of 13:5.  You see, 13:7 tells us that the beast is allowed (i.e., mysterious divine permission) to “wage war” and “conquer” (i.e., persecute and kill—an ironic take on the wording in 12:11) “the saints.”  According to 13:5, this would be taking place in the period of the second three and a half years of the Great Tribulation.

But, how could that be, you have every right to ask, given that 12:6 and 12:4 have told us that the Lord is protecting the Jewish believers during the second half of the Great Tribulation?  It can be because “the saints” in 13:7 are not Jewish.  They are the group referred to as “the rest of the [the woman’s] offspring” in 12:17, where it says that the dragon, who is the power behind the beast’s throne, turns away from the woman to pursue an unprotected group “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony about Jesus.”

Where does this group come from?  Even though the innumerable multitude “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” had already been taken to heaven in 7:9, there are many from “the peoples, tribes, languages, and nations” (11:9) watching the resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses.  This sounds very much like the group to whom the final climactic proclamation of the “eternal gospel”—intriguingly, the only use of euangelion in the Apocalypse—is preached.

But, you may protest, is not that group also referred to as “the inhabitants of the earth” (HCSB) in 14:6?  The answer is both yes and no.  You see, the Greek here—tous kathemenous epi tes ges—can be translated that way.  However, the fact that the Greek phraseology of the other uses in the book translated “the inhabitants of the earth” (aka “the earth-dwellers”; tous katoikountas epi tes ges) is subtly different is likely not just a small change for merely stylistic reasons.

So, what are we to make of the different terminology?  The word kathemai, which can mean “to live in,” more commonly means “to sit, sit on,” while the verb katoikeo most naturally means “to live in, inhabit.”  That leads me to think that the group(s) mentioned in 11:9 and 14:6 may look like the “earth-dwellers,” but the surface appearance is deceiving.  They are capable of responding to the proclamation of the gospel, unlike the real “earth-dwellers,” which13:8 and 17:8 tells the reader, in no uncertain terms, are the non-elect.

So, there’s a little bit of a shock, based on how most readers would naturally take Daniel 7:25 and 12:7.  However, given the way that Acts and the Epistles use “saints” to refer to Gentiles, perhaps we should not be surprised at all.

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