Sunday, November 04, 2007

Metaphors And Symbolism: The Two Witnesses

Recently, my good friend Mustang from Social Sense opened one of his posts, with a short provocative commentary about John of Patmos, also known as John the Apostle. If I understand him correctly, I think I know what Mustang is trying to say. But to do that, I think you must read his entire essay.

But refuting or supporting his statement is not what I want to do with this post.

There two kinds of writings contained in the Bible, literal and metaphorical. John's writings in the Book of Revelations are the latter. If one reads the metaphorical biblical texts and attempts to make sense of them without some understanding of the literal texts (more specifically the historical accounts contained within), it's close to impossible to gain some level of understanding.

The Book of Daniel, which is said to be (by many biblical scholars) to a companion book to Revelations, was metaphorical. At the end of his writing, he records how he asked God, what was the meaning of the prophecy he had both received and written? Immediately afterward, he tells how God told him to close the book, because it was written for another time, not his. If we understand this simple premise and apply it to all of the prophetic writings, we know that a certain history has to exist before any real sense can be made of these deeply esoteric writings.

The Bible is full of parables. Christ used them, the OT prophets used them, and His apostles used them. Each parable has a meaning, but one must be acutely aware of events that manifest themselves in a concrete manner. Then, and only then, can some reasonable analysis of these deeply veiled words begin.

At the end of my last post, many moons ago, I asked those that cared, to read the entire 11th chapter of Revelations. I also asked that special attention be paid to the two witnesses, described within that passage. But for those that didn't and want a shortcut, here is the part I want to reference:

3And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.

These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed

These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will

And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them

And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified

9And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.

And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.

Most of the denominational world teaches that these will be two men that will perform these deeds and miracles. On the surface, we can see that this not a far fetched idea. Some even go as far as to say that Elijah and Elisha will be resurrected for this purpose in the end days. Knowing that Elijah prayed fire down from the sky, would tend to reinforce that this passage of scripture could be interpreted as literal.

But I assert that this is not a literal possibility.

Knowing some history that took place after John recorded his vision on the Isle of Patmos, I think I can offer a more reasonable explanation of what this passage means.

he Roman Catholic Church (RCC) had not existed in John's day. Their reign started, when Constantine converted to Christianity, probably around 325 AD. Secular history tells us that it grew big and powerful throughout the ensuing centuries. In the deepest and most powerful moments of its existence in Europe, the Bible was not used much. Catholic masses were not extracted from the scriptures, but written by priests using ancient Roman rites and ceremonial texts. They may have contained some scripture in the words used, but they were not the primary text used.

The Bible is made up of the Old and New Testaments. Both were witnesses of Christ. The OT pointed to His future existence on the earth and the NT pointed back at his life, the people He taught and ministered to for 3 1/2 years, and those that accepted his message. The NT was written for people that had consciously chosen to follow Christ and contained historical accounts and lessons for living a Christian life.

Two witnesses that the RCC (in effect) killed, the OT and NT, their bodies lied dead on the street for all to see. The Bible was seen but not used, for centuries in the Roman Church. No one was able to use it for their own edification, because people were taught to trust the RCC clergy and only the clergy, for their salvation.

To understand why I believe this, let's read on:

11And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.

Scriptures not being used, corruption running rampant through the RCC, and suddenly a man named Martin Luther reads one of the four passages which clearly states, "the just shall live by faith". It quickens his mind, it renews his zeal for searching for the truth, and it motivates him to get the message out. More people begin to rediscover the Bible/Two Witnesses. From that point on, the Christian world rediscovered the Bible. Its words came to life again.

None of this had occurred at the time John had recorded his vision. So it only stands to reason, he couldn't have known and understood what these words specifically meant, anymore than Daniel could have. To the reader that has no understanding of the big picture, they are mere poetic prose that have no meaning, And unless the history of the RCC is known, this version I am submitting for consideration will not make sense.

ottom line here:

The Revelation of Christ to John was not written for John's edification, but as in Daniel's case, it was written for people that live in another era. As Daniel did his, John too closed his book. It is my firm belief that Martin Luther reopened it. Could it be for our era this was written?

I'll take any questions.

I cannot offer communion. But I can pass the offering plate. ;)


Mustang said...

Years ago, a man named Frank Snepp wrote a book entitled Decent Interval, a first hand account of the U. S. Embassy and CIA station in Vietnam in the closing days of the war. One can say that Mr. Snepp merely provided us with his perspective, and the events he described were merely his truth — how he perceived what he saw. Similarly, Winston Churchill published a multi-volume work entitled a History of the English-Speaking Peoples, and while we can certainly claim he exuded an ethnocentristic bias, we cannot say that it wasn’t a scholarly work deserving our attention. In both cases, we can specifically point to a passage and say, “According to Snepp . . .” or, “Churchill said . . .” We can’t do that with the Bible, because we don’t know who wrote it, and cannot therefore establish any bona fides with respect to the credibility of authorship. Indeed, our belief is faith-based—but as you can see, this factor diminishes the Bible’s historic significance.

Modern Christians and Jews, as believers, want to believe both the Old and New Testaments. For many, it is an internal struggle between acceptance and common sense. This struggle with self is, I believe, the price we pay for our ability to think and the awesome responsibility that comes with our God-given right to choose our own path. And now, for me personally, I must confess that it is hard to accept the writing of Daniel and John for the same reason that I have strong doubts about the visions of Nostradamus and Mohammed. In the former, the quatrains are so vague as to open themselves up to many possibilities. I think you must admit that his prediction of laying waste to a “great city” could apply to hundreds — even if you confine yourself to modern cities. No one can doubt that London, Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, or any number of other cities could satisfy such predictions. According to some scholars, there have been several men claimed to be the “anti-Christ” in the past 500 years, among them Hitler, bin-Laden, and Saddam Hussein. And now it appears to me that one danger in all of this is that after the little boy cries wolf several times, everyone stops paying attention.

I have heard people say that the greatest trick Satan has ever played on us mortals is to convince us that he doesn’t exist. I disagree. The absolutely greatest trick anyone could play on us is an assurance that there is life after death — that we will be able to take our place with the Lord in heaven. And if it is a hoax, it must certainly be the cruelest ever.

My God is a God of love. He is patient with me, he forgives me when I err, and he is always willing to listen to me (like now) as I share with him my concerns. So, when people rave about beasts, and suffering upon the innocents, and all kinds of horrible visions — I have to conclude that they’re talking about some other god. Plus, my God doesn’t need to scare the crap out of me to get my attention, he only needs to speak to me — and he does this regularly, to caution me against this, or that. Many folks call this “conscience,” but to me, the proof of God is that he is present with us inside us, and our conscience is how he makes Himself known to us.

The stories that frighten people follow a particular style of leadership that has been with us for thousands of years. Invented by the powerful to control the masses, think about all the scary stories you’ve ever heard — Werewolves, vampires, goblins, an anti-Christ, and compare those with medieval statuary of ghastly beasts waiting to pounce on us for high above. Now I suppose there are some people who need that kind of incentive to behave, but most of us don’t. And then, finally, among people who can think (which excludes Muslims), do we truly wonder why religion is dying away? No, my friend—I think it must be the messages of hope eternal that draws us in, and not the fear of mythological beasts. Of course, I could be wrong . . . in which case, I am in deep pooh.

LASunsett said...

//I think it must be the messages of hope eternal that draws us in, and not the fear of mythological beasts.//

This is precisely why I think that the two witnesses mentioned were not necessarily meant to scare anyone, but were meant to be a message of hope.

It's all how we look at it. Is the glass half full or half empty?

God's judgments aren't always in the form of fire and brimstone. They are in the little things. Many many more times than not, they are in those little things we call consequences of our own actions.

I hear what you are saying about the messages of beasts and so-forth, and I do agree with you about interpreting things. But, I also think that the dark things that are mentioned in Daniel, John, Ezekial et al, were misinterpreted by those forces that wanted to scare us all into fitting into the narrow mold, of what they defined, as a Christian.

If we have that hope eternal, as you mention, these things will not scare us. If we understand the true meaning of the metaphorical passages (and not the meanings the corrupt clergy of medieval times gave us), we will not be scared.

Does my theory about the the two witnesses cause fear? To me, it doesn't. But then again, people like you and I aren't easily scared.

Always On Watch said...

I have great difficulty in trying to decipher prophecy. Two reasons:

1. I'm a teacher. I don't have the gift of prophecy or even the gift of understanding it.

2. Many prophecies are deliberately metaphorical. Symbolic. They are open to different interpretations. Could that be God's way of making Himself more personal to us? I know many Christians who would disagree with me on that. But I teach literature, which is often open to multiple interpretations.

Your interpretation of the two witnesses works for me. But what do I know? ;^)

Now, I see the horrible visions to which my friend Mustang refers as tools to bring us into a loving relationship with the Lord. If fear is required to awaken the soul, so be it. Some individuals need fear to get them going.