“Sweet As Honey”
Once again we turn our attention toward the ‘little scroll’ that Jesus held open in His hand. As described in Part 49 of this series, this ketubah lay open in Jesus’ hand because He had been reading the sealed provisions that it contained, which were described in Part 2. These provisions included glorious rewards for those who were obedient to the covenant, but eternal punishment for those that were disobedient and had violated the covenant. And you may also recall that these provisions were based on the Word of God, as found in the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Torah. Given that, when we read that the scroll tasted “sweet” in John’s mouth, we note that the Psalmist said God’s word tasted “sweeter than honey”;
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalms 119:103)
This appears to be the point that John was making, that the word of God tasted sweet in his mouth as he ate the scroll. This symbolism would have been well understood by the Hebrew culture of John’s day, since priests would have their students dab a little honey on the corner of their torah scroll that they were about to study, and then instruct the student to tear off that corner and eat it. This provided an indelible memory for the student, enforcing the point that God’s word would be “sweet” to the taste. It also taught them that only by figuratively consuming the word of God could one make it part of them. However, we have to remember that God’s word also contained bitter judgments against the wicked;
“Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.” (Jeremiah 2:19)
God’s word contains judgments against those that would violate it’s provisions, and therefore the ketubah does as well, since it is based on God’s word. So it’s no surprise that John’s stomach turned “bitter” after ingesting the scroll. The bitterness was a reminder of all of those that would forsake the Lord and be lost for an eternity, and this is the bitterness that John was feeling.
“You Must Prophesy Again”
It seems quite intriguing that John is told he must “prophesy again” immediately after hearing the seven thunders - that only he heard and only can repeat - but right before the account of the two witnesses begins. Rather than being a coincidence, I believe it is quite intentional, and is meant to establish John in a special role that is in our future.
To understand that role, we can look to the Bible for a ‘type’ that would fit what happened to John in this instance, and we find this type in the life of Ezekiel as he began his ministry to Israel. He was shown the same double-sided scroll with the same words of judgment (Ezekiel 2:9-10), and he was told to eat the scroll, which tasted sweet in his mouth (Ezekiel 3:3). But the key to this type is that Ezekiel was then sent to minister to the house of Israel that was in exile;
“Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.” (Ezekiel 3:11)
So, if John is following in Ezekiel’s footsteps as the type would suggest, wouldn’t it make sense that he too would be preaching and prophesying to an Israeli people in exile? I think so. And I personally believe he will perform this role as one of the two witnesses during the tribulation period. But if that doesn’t seem like a logical argument, notice the parallels between Ezekiel’s experience and John’s experience in the Revelation, presuming for a moment that John is one of the two witnesses;
|The Prophet Ezekiel||The Apostle John|
|1/2 of Jerusalem had been exiled||1/2 of Jerusalem will be exiled (Zech 14:2)|
|1/2 of Jerusalem was still in the land||1/2 of Jersusalem will still be in the land|
|Ezekiel saw throne, likeness of God||John saw throne, likeness of God|
|Ezekiel fell facedown||John fell facedown|
|Ezekiel was shown scroll, unrolled||John was shown scroll, unrolled|
|Ezekiel was told to eat the scroll||John was told to eat the scroll|
|The scroll tasted sweet in Ezekiel's mouth||The scroll tasted sweet in John's mouth|
|Ezekiel was told to speak to Israel in exile||Two Witnesses will speak to Israel in exile|
|God made Ezekiel unyielding||God will make Two Witnesses unyielding|
|Ezekiel prophesied the siege of Jerusalem||Two Witnesses prophesy siege of Jerusalem|
|God brought plagues on Israel||Two Witnesses will bring plagues on Israel|
|2/3 perished, 1/3 remained||2/3 will perish, 1/3 will remain (Zech 13:8-9)|
|Believers were 'sealed' before Jerusalem fell||144,000 are 'sealed' before Jerusalem falls|
|Jerusalem fell while some were in exile||Jerusalem will fall while some are in exile|
|Temple was defiled||Temple will be defiled|
|God restored their hearts||God will restore their hearts|
|God returned Israel to their land||God will return Israel to their land|
While this list of comparisons in no way includes all of the potential parallels, it makes the point sufficiently that Ezekiel's past experience may have been the type for John's future experience.....as one of the two witnesses.
“But Exclude The Outer Court”
In this vision, John is given a measuring rod and told to measure the temple and altar, but to “exclude the outer court” because it had been given to the Gentiles. The outer court included all of the area surrounding the actual Temple complex, however the most prominent area for gentiles was actually south of the temple, as shown on the adjacent illustration.
This is an interesting statement relative to the current disposition of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, since there currently is no temple and no altar. However, the measuring rod suggests construction when noted in scripture, so it is likely that John was being shown the future temple just after its construction - the temple where the two witnesses will prophesy for 1,260 days dressed in sackcloth.
When considering where the former temples had been on the temple mount, and where the future temple likely will be built, I would tend to favor the northern conjecture just north of the Dome of the Rock, where the Dome of the Tablets currently exists. This prospective location is seemingly the only place the temple could have existed based on the writings of Josephus, which is another post in itself. But the point is, if the temple was built on the northern third of the mount where the Dome of the Tablets exists, then it’s outer court or Court of the Gentiles to the south of the Temple would include the current Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque. In other words, the outer court has ALREADY been given to the gentiles today, in partial fulfillment of John’s vision.
So, could the temple be far behind? And if so, was John shown a picture of this reality in order to prepare him for his future role as one of the two witnesses? Before you reject this notion, considering the following prophecies contained in scripture.
“If I Want Him To Remain Alive”
The gospel of John contains an interesting passage that is always overlooked in this discussion. To set the scene, the resurrection had already occurred and Jesus was walking with Peter and re-instating him after his three denials. Jesus then tells Peter that he will be martyred in the future. Hearing of this, Peter turns back to look at John, who was walking behind them on the trail, and asks Jesus about John‘s future. Jesus then drops this lightning bolt;
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22)
This statement is largely ignored, but at the very least, it suggested that John would live until Christ’s return. That would be the natural assumption, and the next verse certainly suggests that the other disciples saw it that way;
Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. (John 21:23)
So the disciples clearly understood what Jesus was suggesting. They naturally presumed that John would not die. However, the next part of this verse indicates that John would indeed die, but just not until Christ’s return;
But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:23)
So what are we to make of this? Frankly, it seems to fit the death of the two witnesses perfectly, since the two witnesses will “remain alive” until the time of Christ’s return, but will be killed and then resurrected after 3½ days. (Rev 11:7-11).
At this point, some of you are naturally thinking that John must have died many centuries ago and couldn’t possibly be alive to perform this role. But couldn’t God have kept John alive for the past two thousand years if he wanted to? After all, our bodies were designed to be immortal until sin entered the world. So, is God too small to do such a thing?
Did John Actually Die?
It’s notable that part of the lore of the Apostle John is that some maintain he never died. It was the Roman emperor Domitian that likely banished John to the Isle of Patmos in the Mediterranean Sea, where he then wrote the book of Revelation. Apochryphal traditions state that the Romans attempted to boil him in oil and even poison him, but that in each instance he was saved by the Lord. It seems that the Lord had determined that John would "remain alive" for some reason.
But what I find the most curious is that when John's tomb in Ephesus was exhumed many centuries after his supposed death.....there was no trace of John. Many of the supposed bones of other various apostles have been collected and scattered around the world to various religious and archaeological groups, but not John’s. While English archaeologists have been blamed for their disappearance from his tomb, his bones have never been displayed in England or anywhere else in the world. Additionally, no relics of John appear either. These items would be worth literal fortunes to their owners, and would surely have turned up for display or auction at some point if they existed. But they have not turned up anywhere in the world. In his book ’The Search for the Twelve Apostles’, Dr. William Steuart McBirnie addresses this when he states;
“This is a strange denouement. Some relics of all other Apostles still exist, but the grave of John, which is perhaps the best attested of any Apostolic tomb by history and archaeology, contains no relics, nor are there any historical traces or traditions of what may have become of them!”
This is rather odd, given John’s importance to the church. After his release from Patmos, John returned to live in the city of Ephesus, where he was active in that church. According to tradition, Jerome stated that after returning to Ephesus, John “worn out by old age, died in the ‘sixty-eighth year after our Lord’s passion and was buried near the same city.” Another tradition handed down by Jerome stated that, as an old man, John would have to be carried to the church in the arm’s of his disciples, and would say no more than “Little children, love one another!” There are even more traditions, however I wonder why the circumstances of his death and funeral were never recorded or made public.
Could it be that there was no funeral because John is still alive? I think so. Given his high profile in Ephesus, his death would likely have been recorded, and his tomb certainly would have contained his bones. But I believe the reason that John is still alive is that he has yet to "drink the cup" that Jesus assigned to him.
“Can You Drink The Cup?”
In the gospels, Jesus warned James and John of their future martyrdom when He told them they would “drink the cup” that Jesus himself would have to drink. You may recall that James and John made a special request of Jesus to sit at His right and left hand in heaven, at which time the following conversation ensued;
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” (Mark 10:38-40)
While there is some debate as to what this cup was intended to signify, I think Jesus made it’s intended meaning rather clear with his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before he was arrested and crucified;
He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)
Jesus was obviously asking the Father to find another way for our redemption, if possible, other than His drinking of the cup of God’s wrath (Isaiah 51, Jeremiah 25, Jeremiah 49:12) that was appointed to Him at the cross to cover the sins of the world. And James and John were told that they would drink from this same cup of wrath. In other words, they too would be martyred for their testimony. And that’s exactly what happens to the two witnesses.
So, while we know that James drank this "cup" since his death was recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:2), we also know that John’s death was not. At least, not yet. He certainly did not die as an old man “worn out by old age” as tradition holds, because Jesus himself told us that John would die a Martyr’s death.
“Some Who Are Standing Here…”
One thread that we see running throughout the New Testament is the notion that the disciples believed they would live to see Jesus return to set up His earthly kingdom. And they felt that way because He kept telling them this very thing. So we‘ll now turn our attention to several statements Jesus made that confirmed this point, beginning with the following;
“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:27-28)
This seems fairly straight-forward to me, since the audience “standing here” was clearly the disciples. In essence, Jesus was telling them that some of them would live to see His return. And while the subject of this prophecy is debated somewhat, note that it has three components;
1) Jesus will return in glory with his angels
2) We will be rewarded (Rev 11:18)
3) Jesus will come in His kingdom (Rev 11:15)
This obviously sounds a lot like what we just studied in Revelation 10 and 11, and it should, since it’s a reference to the end of the age when Jesus would return with his angels to gather his saints;
“And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” (Mark 13:27)
This shouldn’t be confused with the transfiguration that is described in Matthew chapter 17, since none of the components of this prophecy were fulfilled with that event. Nor do I believe it should be viewed as His return as seen by John in the Revelation, which some commentators have linked it to. Only John saw that vision, not “some” as would be required. Instead, why not just take the statement literally, and accept that Jesus indicated some of the disciples would live to see His return?
“To the Very End of the Age”
The book of Matthew contains another interesting statement that concerns the longevity of some of the disciples, though it is not generally thought of in this manner. The setting for this passage is after the resurrection of Jesus, where the risen Christ instructs Mary and Mary Magdalene to have the disciples meet him at Galilee. At Galilee Jesus makes this statement to his disciples;
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Today commentators assume that this last sentence must have applied to some distant future generation of the church, not the disciples. After all, it couldn’t possibly apply to a generation of disciples that must have long since passed, right?. But have they? If we analyze the basic grammar used in the sentence, it would seem that Jesus was telling the disciples that they would be evangelizing “to the very end of the age.” But for that to be possible, some of them would have to remain alive to the very end of the age, which dovetails perfectly with the statement Jesus made about John remaining alive "until I return", and also with the statement that some "would not taste death" before they saw Jesus return. But there are even more hints at the longevity of a few from this generation.
“This Generation Will Not Pass Away”
For our next clue, let’s return again to the Olivet Discourse. When Jesus was prophesying about all the things that would happen at the end of the age, he made a statement that was directed specifically at those in Jerusalem at that time, including the disciples;
“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21:32-33)
It is typically thought that the term “this generation” must point to some future generation that will be alive at the time of Christ’s return, since it is naturally thought that everyone from the 1st century must be dead. However, in the 18 times that Jesus used this term is used in the New Testament, He always referred to those alive in Jerusalem and/or Israel at that time. In no other instance did He ever use this term to refer to some distant generation. So why would we presume it refers to a distant generation in this instance?
If it WAS intended to refer to those in Jerusalem at that time - that not all of them would pass away until they saw the return of Jesus - then it means that some of those alive at that time would still be alive today. And since only the disciples were present to hear this statement from Jesus, why not simply take it on it’s surface level, that Jesus was talking to the disciples and telling them that THEY were the part of this generation that would not pass until all these things had happened? Indeed, there is even another clue to this longevity if we look further into this same passage;
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” (Luke 21:34-35)
Christ was issuing a warning to His disciples about an ominous day in the future, a day that can only be associated with the Glorious Appearing when Christ returns for his saints. He was warning the disciples not to be weighed down with their long life, or they may fall victim to temptations and return to being worldly people. He then issued this additional warning about the perils that would lead to that day;
"Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36)
To "stand before the Son of Man" the remaining disciples would have to remain faithful until the end, when I believe two of them will “stand” and lift up their heads for their redemption.
"Stand Up and Lift Up Your Heads.."
Since we’ve been reading from the Olivet Discourse, let’s looks at something rather unusual that it contains, in the book of Luke. After describing the signs in the sun, moon and stars occur that will precede the coming of Jesus to the earth, we then read the following;
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25-28)
I find it very interesting that the Lord would insert “stand up and lift up your heads” into His discourse at this point, right before mentioning their “redemption”. In fact, I find it compelling, since that is the exact thing that the two witnesses will do when they are resurrected;
But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. (Revelation 11:11-12)
In the Olivet discourse we read the following order of events;
1) There will be signs in the sun, moon, stars
2) Jesus will appear
3) The disciples will “stand up"
4) Their redemption will follow
Then, in the Revelation we see the same order with the two witnesses;
1) Signs in the sun, moon, stars (sixth seal)
2) Jesus will appear (Rev 10)
3) The two witnesses stand up
4) They are redeemed
“You Will Not Finish..”
Finally, when Jesus was sending out the Twelve, He made the following statement;
“All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:22-23)
Once again, we find another passage that is highly provocative at the least. This passage suggested to the disciples that they would live to see Jesus, the “Son of Man”, coming again at the time of the end. With that in mind, Jesus then tells them they would “not finish going through the cities of Israel” before that event happened. So obviously, the disciples would have thought that their mission to evangelize Israel would be ongoing until Jesus returned. Why would they believe differently?
In the next post we’ll continue the examination of the identity of the two witnesses, because more surprises lay ahead.