Jul 24, 2017

Who Are The Two Witnesses? IV

In the previous posting the highest proof that the Apostle John was to be one of the two witnesses or prophets of Revelation chapter eleven came from the last verse of chapter ten where the Angel, the Lord Jesus Christ, said to John - "you must prophesy again." It was argued that this has not been fulfilled, but waits fulfillment in the future, at the time when John, along with the prophet Elijah, prophesies from Jerusalem for forty two months clothed in sackcloth. At the close of that posting I summarized the various views of commentators regarding the fulfillment of those words. According to them, when did John "prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings"? In this posting I will begin to cite the commentators who promote those views and to critique each one. Since I have been citing from J. A. Seiss, I will begin with his comments. He wrote (emphasis mine):

"The first thing in the process of this taking possession of the redeemed inheritance is indicated in the change made in the attitude of John. Having beheld the Angel, he is withdrawn from the position of a mere seer and made an actor. A voice from heaven directs him to take the document from the Angel’s hand, to eat it, and so to make it his own by incorporating it with his very being; whilst it is further announced to him: “Thou must prophesy again upon peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings many.” What did this mean? John is not the only one who is to obtain the title to the inheritance. All the meek have it promised to them. Every true Christian is to share it. When the blessed God comes to give it to His redeemed ones, there will be many besides John to receive it. In what capacity then are we to contemplate this calling of John to take, eat, and have vested in him the title-deed to the inheritance? Certainly not in his individual capacity; for then none are ever to inherit but himself, as in him that title finds final lodgment."

I find it ironic that Seiss, who is so insistent upon interpreting the bible, including the Apocalypse, literally, and in taking words in their usual or most basic sense without metaphor or allegory, here deviates from that method of interpretation. Where does he get his authority for not taking the words "you must prophesy again" in their most common ordinary sense, as being applicable to the person of John himself? He does not think that those words apply to John personally, but only as he is a representative or symbol of a larger group. He says that John, in eating the scroll, "is withdrawn from the position of a mere seer and made an actor." Why this insistence? Ought there not to be good reason for making John into a symbol of some larger group, rather than seeing him as being addressed as an individual, and the prophesy relating to him as what relates strictly to him? Seiss says that in John's eating the book and in his prophesying again that "we are to contemplate this...not in his individual capacity." And, his reasoning? "For then," he says, "none are ever to inherit but himself." But, that is only true if 1) we agree that the eating of the little book signifies gaining possession of the earth as an inheritance, and therefore what belongs not to John alone, and 2) if the prophesying again, like obtaining possession of the earth, is also what belongs to all the redeemed. Though in the former case John may act not only for himself, but for all the elect, yet he certainly does not do so in the latter case.

Further, if Christ is addressing John as representing all the redeemed, then the words "you must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings" is applicable to every child of God. The consequences of such an interpretation are absurd. When will king David prophesy again? When will I? Further, not all God's people have prophesied the first time, even once. So, how can they do it "again"?

Seiss continued:

"It is a very common thing, in the delivery of sacred prophecies, for the individual prophet to act in himself what is meant to be understood of those whom he represents. “As remarked long since by Irenaeus, the ancient prophets fulfilled their office of predicting, not merely in the verbal delivery of predictions, but by themselves seeing, hearing, or acting out the things in type, which were afterwards to be seen, heard, or acted out by others in reality — and this whether in real life, or perchance in vision. In all which cases they were to be considered, as they are called in Isaiah and in Zechariah, mophthim,” that is, figurative or representative persons.” And such a representative is St. John in the case before us. He acts the part in the apocalyptic scenes which pertains to the whole body to which he belongs. What is given him in the vision is to be understood as given them, and what he does and experiences is to be understood as done and experienced by them, when the vision becomes reality."

Even if we allow that an "individual prophet" sometimes acts as a representative, so that what is said to him or what he is commanded to do applies not to him alone, it is certainly not the case in Rev. 10: 11 in regard to applying the words "you must prophesy again" to others besides the apostle. As observed already, it is not possible to apply the words "you must prophesy again" to all the redeemed. Further, what warrant does the learned Seiss have for saying that John is a "figurative" person in regards to the words "you must prophesy again"? Again, I say that this is out of habit for Seiss, who often ridiculed figurative interpretations of the Apocalypse. The words spoken to John should be understood as applicable to John alone, UNLESS there is some reason not to do so. That is in accordance with sound hermeneutics. Again, there is no way that we can make the words "you must prophesy again" as applicable to "the whole body" of the saints.

Seiss continued:

"Nor can we be in any doubt as to the persons of whom he is thus the representative. He is an Apostle, and hence a divinely constituted representative of the Church. He is in heaven at the time, and so a representative of the Church thus shown to be in heaven at the time the vision is fulfilled, that is, of the resurrected, translated, and glorified saints. To the whole body of redeemed ones are we therefore to understand this giving of the title-deed of the inheritance to be; in whom also it forever after inheres."

That may indeed be true in John's act of taking and eating the little book, but I hardly see how admitting such gives warrant for making John a figurative or representative man in the words "you must prophesy again." To admit of the one case does not warrant doing so in the latter. Besides, even in John's eating the little book, it still has primary reference to John, and his eating of it is what helps prepare and qualify him for his future mission of "prophesying again" before the whole world as one of the two great prophets who appear at the start of the great tribulation.

Seiss continued:

"But as John receives and eats the little book as the representative of glorified saints, it is as the self-same representative of the self-same saints, that it is said to him: “Thou must prophesy again,” and that it is further commanded him to “Rise and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and those who worship in it.” And if so, then we have the key to the whole case, and there breaks in upon us a glorious light for the right interpretation of this otherwise very difficult passage."

Again, what Seiss here says is just not what one would ordinarily come to believe about the words "you must prophesy again." Further, why does Seiss think that the words must not apply to John alone? What harm is there in taking the words in their common sense? It seems to me that the harm comes in applying the words "you must prophesy again" to every Christian. Such a view forces one to 1) show where every Christian has been a prophet and have prophesied once, and 2) show when and how every Christian will prophesy again in the future.

I certainly do agree with Seiss that the command to John to "rise and measure" is a "key to the whole case," but I certainly do not believe that it is a further proof that the words "you must prophesy again" are applicable to all Christians. Rather, I see it as further proof that the prophesy is applicable to John alone. To John alone we have three "key" statements made. First, the words "take the little book and eat it." Second, "you must prophesy again." Third, "rise and measure the temple of God..." Seiss thinks that each of these commands are as much said to every saint as they were said to John. I think that is wholly unwarranted and begets many absurdities. Also, it violates the literal and normal way of interpreting the words of Scripture, something that Seiss does not generally do himself and concerning which he often warns against.

Actually, the command to John to eat the little book and to measure the temple, altar, and worshippers, is both connected with his coming to prophesy again during the days of judgment as one of the two witnesses.

Seiss continued:

"To prophesy is not simply to foretell future events; but to exercise the functions of a witness for God. In the verses following, the Two Witnesses get their name from their work, and that work is called prophesying." 

Exactly so! The two witnesses work will be to "prophesy," just the very thing that the Lord has just told John that he will do once again! Notice also he admits that it is "in the verses following" the words spoken to John ("you must prophesy again") that there is the foretelling of the prophesying of the two witnesses. Is that not a clue to us? That the fulfillment of the words spoken to John about his prophesying again are connected with the prophesying of the two witnesses?

Seiss continued:

"To declare the will and purpose of God, or to act as His ambassador and mouthpiece, is to fill the office of a prophet. Aaron was to be Moses’ prophet, which is explained to mean that he should be a spokesman and a mouth for Moses. And so, to be the agent or instrument through which God utters Himself to men, whatever may be the nature or the subject of the utterance, is to prophesy. Such witnesses and mouth-pieces Jehovah has always upon earth. The whole Church is such a witness and prophet. In and through it the word of God ever sounds, and the mind and purpose of God ring out into the ears of the world; and even principalities and powers in the heavenly places are being instructed by the Church. Every individual Christian is a confessor of the true God, in whose confession the will and purpose of God in Christ Jesus is testified and proclaimed. No one can become or continue a faithful Christian without this. In so far, then, every genuine Christian is a real prophet. Through him God speaks continually. His whole career on earth as a Christian confessor is a continuous prophesying against the wickedness of the world, of the necessity of godliness, and of the way of salvation in Christ." 

"The whole church is such a witness and prophet"? "Every Christian is a real prophet"? Again, anyone who is familiar with Seiss and have read his complete work on the Book of Revelation, have to be bewildered by such a statement. These statements by Seiss are totally without foundation. Who can believe that every Christian is a prophet? Who can think that a Christian's witnessing to others about the gospel and his confessing Christ is "prophesying"?

Seiss continued:

"But even after the saints have gone from this world, they are still not yet done prophesying. As here said to John, they must prophesy again. After they have been “caught up together to meet the Lord in the air,” and have “put on immortality,” and the day of judgment has progressed to the second woe-trumpet, the Mighty Redeemer having delivered to them the recovered deed to the inheritance, new commissions issue; and from being mere spectators of the ongoing judgment, they become actors in its administrations, and once more assume the office of witnesses for God. And what is involved in this prophesying again, together with its attendants and results, it is the object and intent of this chapter to set before us. Let us, therefore, approach it with due reverence and prayerfulness."

The saints will all "prophesy again" after they are "gone from this world"? When a person reads the words spoken to John that says "you must prophesy again," he thinks that they are to be taken as being addressed to every Christian? And what is it that forces Seiss to interpret the words in such a manner? Is there some grave and dangerous consequences to Christian doctrine to think that the words were intended for John alone?

Since this review of Seiss has taken much space, we will save our investigation of other commentators on the words in dispute till the next posting.

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