Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Who are 'My two witnesses' Revelation 11.3

Who are ‘My two witnesses’ In Revelation 11?

There has been much speculation over the centuries about the identity of ‘My two witnesses’ in Revelation 11.3.  How can we discover their identity?

In my previous Blog I explained that there is a Bible Reading Plan in the Bible itself, and this Reading Plan is based on The Triennial Cycle used in Israel in Temple times.  The Triennial Cycle Readings consist of a weekly Torah ‘portion’, a Haftarah ‘portion’, and a Psalm.

The Haftarah ‘portion’, from the Prophets, was selected on its connection to the Torah ‘portion’. This connection was based on the Word and Phrase Associations between the portions will gave a simple indication, or hint, to the subject or theme. 

These Word and Phrase Associations are found by noting the same word used usually in the first two verses of the Torah and Haftarah portions. For example:

Genesis 12.1  - Torah portion:
Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.  

Joshua 24.3  - Haftarah portion:
Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, …..

The Word Association of ‘land’ in these verses indicates that the   subject or theme of the Torah portion is the Promised Land. 

Apart from providing a connecting link between the weekly Triennial Cycle ‘portions’, Word and Phrase Associations are the method by which the Bible commentates on itself.

For example, in Luke 19.10 Jesus said: The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost

There are clear Word and Phrase Associations with Ezekiel 34 in the          underlined words in verses 11 and 16:
34.11    I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.
34.16   I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven

But there is more to the commentary than the initial Word and Phrase          Association.  It was the custom in the first century to use these        Associations to point to the whole passage in which they occur, not just to the specific verses.

Whilst His comment in Luke 19.10 is very encouraging for  Zacchaeus, Jesus had a much wider point to make.  He is giving a hint to the whole of Ezekiel chapter 34 in which there are 3 Prophecies which describe the ‘bad’ shepherds, and what the LORD proposes to do about them:

1. 34.2-3 Thus says the Lord GOD to the shepherds: ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! …You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock.…..

2. 34.10-11 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the Word of the LORD:…Behold, I am against the shepherds, and … I will cause them to cease feeding the sheep, and the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; … 

3. 34.20-23 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD to them: ‘Behold, I Myself will judge between the fat and the lean sheep. .. I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; ….I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them; … 

His listeners were aware of this custom of using a single verse Phrase to refer to a whole passage in the Old Testament….and they knew their Scriptures well.  They must have found His words to Zacchaeus very uncomfortable!

This process of Word and Phrase Association helps us to identify ‘My two witnesses’ . I have numbered, and highlighted in red, 8 Word and Phrase Associations in Revelation 11.2-13:

Revelation 11.3-12:  
I will give power to My two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days,
clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them,

1.  fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These

2. have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they

3. have power over waters to turn them to blood, and

4. to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.
When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will

5. make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.   And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our LORD was crucified.  Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three and a half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because

6. these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.  Now after the three and a half days 

7. the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.   And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here.’ And they

8. ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.

We can match the above 8 highlighted Words and Phrases with the following references in  1 & 2 Kings:

1:  2Kings1.9-12: The king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty men. .. Elijah said to the captain of fifty, ‘If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you …’ And fire came down from heaven.. Then the king sent another captain of fifty … and the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.

2:  1Kings 17.1: Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘The LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.’

3:   2Kings 3.16-25: Elisha said, ‘Thus says the LORD: ‘Make this valley full of ditches….Now it happened in the morning, … the land was filled with water. When … the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood.

4.  2Kings 8.1-6: Elisha spoke to the woman … saying, ‘Arise and go, you and your household, and stay wherever you can; for the LORD has called for a famine, … will come upon the land for seven years.’

5: 2Kings 6.8-14: Now the king of Syria was making war against Israel; So the king of Syria said, ‘Go and see where Elisha is, that I may send and get him.’Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there

6: 1Kings 18:1,17:  The Word of the LORD came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, ‘Go to Ahab, and I will send rain on the earth……When Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him, ‘Is that you, O tormentor of Israel?’

7: 2Kings 13.20-21: … they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.

8:  2Kings 2.11-12:  Suddenly a chariot of fire with horses of fire separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw and cried out, ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!’

The evidence of the Word and Phrase Associations points to the identity of Elijah and Elisha as ‘My two witnesses’.

Friday, 5 July 2013

The Bible Reading Plan in the Bible!

The Bible Reading Plan in the Bible!

Do you read your Bible:
Sometimes, often, or never?
With a Bible Reading Plan to read the whole Bible in a year, or to read the Prophets, or to read the Gospels, or the read the Letters?
In line with your Church’s Lectionary?
Or do you decide what you will read when you read it?

Would you like to read the Bible with the same Bible Reading Plan that Jesus used?   There are clues in the Bible that show us what He read on a weekly basis.

We read in the Book of Nehemiah that when the captives returned from the Exile in Babylon:
All the people gathered together ...and they told Ezra the Scribe to bring the Book of the Torah of Moses… and Ezra read from it ...from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand...and the   Levites...gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.   Nehemiah 8.1-12

Later in the passage quoted from Nehemiah 8 which describes how Ezra read the Torah ‘from morning until  midday’, Nehemiah said to the people:
‘Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD.’    Nehemiah 8.10

The phrase ‘eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions’ was NOT an invitation to have a festive meal, or to make up picnic hampers for those who were not there. 

The clue to the meaning of this phrase is in Exodus:
Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the Elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel...and they ate and drank.    Exodus 24.9-11

Moses and the Elders did not actually ‘eat and drink’ a meal of food.  The phrase is a Hebrew Idiom.  It means that they studied God’s Torah; they learned who He is, and He taught them His instructions about how to live in a relationship with Him. 

When Nehemiah said to the people, ‘eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions’, he was telling them to continue to study the Torah that they had heard Ezra read for six hours that morning, AND to send ‘portions’ of Torah to those who were not there so that they too could benefit from the Torah. 

The question is, What ‘portions’ did they send?
Ezra and the Levites had divided the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, into 154 ‘portions’, so that the whole Torah could be read in manageable passages over a period of three years.  This Bible Reading Plan became known as the Triennial Cycle.

This Triennial Cycle of Readings was the practice in Israel during Temple times, and it consisted of a Torah ‘portion’, a Haftarah ‘portion’, and a Psalm, to be read on each Sabbath of a three year Cycle.  The Triennial Torah Readings are related to the Haftarah and the Psalm by the verbal tally, or Word Association, of related words. The key word in a Torah portion is also the key word in the Haftarah. The Haftarah ‘portion’ is always taken from the Prophets or the Writings. We will look in next week’s Blog at how Word Associations provide a ‘commentary’ on the Bible.

Most Jews today read through the Torah in one year. This is called the Annual Cycle of Readings, and requires people to read several chapters each week which makes the Torah very difficult to absorb in such big ‘chunks’.

Both the Annual and the Triennial Cycle of Readings are interrupted for the Feasts. Since people came up to Jerusalem for the Feasts we should expect to find that each Feast will have Torah portions which relate to the theme of each Feast for each of the three years of the Cycle.  

For example, the theme of Passover is the sacrifice and redemption of the first born.  So we find that in Year 1 the Torah portion at Passover begins at Genesis 4.3, the story of Cain and Abel.  In Year 2 it is Exodus 13, the institution of Passover, and in Year 3, Numbers 9, the second institution of Passover. 

The earliest Biblical source for specifice Triennial Cycle Readings is the narrative in Luke 4:16-21. Jesus returns to his hometown, Nazareth, and on the Sabbath He goes to the synagogue where He is given the Book of Isaiah. Jesus opens the Book and reads the Haftarah portion that begins, ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me…’ from Isaiah 61:1. Following the reading of the Haftarah portion, He gives a teaching:

He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.  He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. When He had opened the book, He found the place (the Haftarah portion) where it was written:
"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD."
Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, (a teaching from His seat) "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing….."

The Haftarah ‘portion’ of Isaiah 61.1 is a designated Haftarah ‘portion’ in the Triennial Cycle, but the passage does NOT occur as a designated ‘portion’ in the Annual Cycle. Therefore, we have the evidence that Jesus followed the Triennial Cycle Readings during His ministry.

In Matthew 5.17 Jesus said that He came ‘to correctly interpret the Torah and the Prophets’.  Therefore, we should find evidence of this in the Gospels. 

In John’s Gospel the main emphasis is on the teaching of Jesus at each Feast, and the Miracles are used to illustrate the teaching discourses. The teaching discourses are given on successive Feasts, and the purpose of each discourse is to show Jesus Himself as the fulfillment of the theme of the Feast. 

Since the Triennial Cycle was built around the Feasts, and John’s Gospel is similarly constructed, we will find that ‘portions’ of John’s Gospel were intended to be added to the Triennial Cycle Readings.  This results in the theme and teaching of each of the Feasts being ‘correctly interpreted’ by Jesus, and it provides the links between His teaching, the Torah portion, the Haftarah portion, and the Psalm. 

Since the Bible is so difficult to understand, and to digest all at once, it seems that God has provided a Bible Reading Plan in the Triennial Cycle Readings that enables us to take a small ‘bite’ of His teaching each week.  In addition, to make it easier for us, He has provided a ‘commentary’ in the Gospels in which Jesus ‘correctly interprets the Torah’.

If you would like to follow the Triennial Cycle Readings, please email me at abigailtrust@hotmail.co.uk, and I will send you the Triennial Cycle Readings Plan. 

In addition, I produce a weekly set of Questions on the Readings which are designed to help discover what the LORD is saying in the Readings…..and I send out the suggested Answers the following week. Let me know if you would like a sample of the weekly Questions and Answers.