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Texts to Read for This Week: Rev. 11:3–6; Zech. 4:14; Rev. 12:5, 6, 14, 15; Dan. 7:25; Isa. 54:17; Ps. 119:89; Rev. 11:15–18.

Opening Question: “What happens to a person or even a whole society when the word of God is suppressed or ignored?”

The opening scripture passage for this week is Revelation 11:3-6, a selection of verses that speaks of two witnesses that will prophecy in sackcloth for a period of 1,260 days. Clearly, this is highly symbolic language that has to be interpreted if we are to gain any understanding of what is being spoken about.

Some parts of these verses are rather easy to interpret or derive meaning from. The first is the mention of oil which feeds into the lamp stand. In many places the Holy Spirit is compared to oil (Zech. 4:2, 6), and light is linked to the word of God (Psa. 119:105). So, we may safely conclude that these verses have something to do with the word of God being sustained by the Holy Spirit.

As far as the sackcloth goes, it was, in ancient times, linked to mourning or sorrow. Here it indicates then, that the word from God tended by the Spirit is suffering through a period of adversity. That adversity is said to prevail for a period of 1,260 days. This part is much more complicated and requires more explanation.

This period of 1,260 days is mentioned in several places in the books of Daniel and in Revelation. In some cases, it is talked about as a period in months rather than days – 42 months (Rev. 11:2, 3). It is also designated in Revelation 12 as a “time, times, and half a time.” All these descriptions come out to 1,260 days. There has been lots of discussion about these being 24-hr days or symbolic ones. Seventh-day Adventists have noted that, at least in some cases, days are used to stand for whole years in cases of predictive prophecy. Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6 are two examples of this though there are more evidences that support this idea. For example, Dr. William Shea, chronologist and Old Testament scholar, gives 23 lines of biblical evidence throughout the Old Testament for this principle. Applying this principle would lead to the conclusion that this period of 1,260 days stands for 1,260 actual years. The obvious question then becomes, what period of time would that be? Along with other Protestant interpreters of the past, Adventists have linked this period to the time of Papal supremacy over the western world, a period that begins in 538 AD and ends in 1798 AD. The first date here has significance as the day when the last of the so-called barbarian tribes were driven from Rome leaving the Bishop of Rome to be the most powerful ruler. The last date has significance as the time Napoleon’s general Berthier took the Bishop of Rome captive and moved him to Avignon there by destroying the supremacy of the Roman pontiff.

Protestants have long pointed to that period of time as a time when the Bible was purposely hidden and obscured and kept from the church and public. In its place where the teachings of priests and bishops that were often quite different from what is to be found in the Bible. In fact, those who insisted on reading and interpreting the Bible for themselves, if they could find one, and those who wanted to propagate the scriptures, faced very harsh treatment, sometimes even death.

The end conclusion drawn here is that the opening verses from Revelation 11 are speaking of a time when the Bible and knowledge of the Bible would be suppressed. The two witnesses have been linked to the Old and New Testaments. The period of time is the Middle Ages, a time when the Christian Church came to be under all kinds of teachings that have not proven to be derived from the Bible. Once the Reformation made the Bible public again, people discovered just how far the teachings of the church had drifted from what they read in the Bible.

It is important to note that the Bible was kept alive during this time period but in clandestine ways. There are not a few stories that have come down that put a smile on a person’s face as they reveal that, at certain times, the attempts to suppress the Bible proved to enable its propagation! In the official lesson guide there is a great story told of Wiliam Tyndale who, when on trial for his faith and for his work translating the Bible into English, was asked who aided him the most in his work. To the surprise of everyone, he cited the Bishop of Durham!” Behind this statement was a hidden fact, that in his quest to eradicate the Bible, the Bishop had purchased at rather high cost, all the Bible’s he could get in order to burn them but, in doing that, he generated enough money for Tyndale to print many more!

Reading further in Revelation 11:7-9, the situation gets worse for it states that the two witnesses were killed! This becomes more understandable when one brings to mind that it was the French Revolution that came hard on the heels of the demise of papal power. The government established Reason as the supreme authority in life. With atheism enshrined by the government, the destruction of religion and religious symbols ran rampant. The number of executions and other eliminations of religion and religious people remains legendary in the annals of history. Fortunately, this period lasted only about 3 years!

Revelation 11 goes on to speak of the two witnesses coming to life again. If one follows the line of though being advanced here, that links prophecy to events in history, this coming to life phase would be tied to the Reformation, a time when knowledge of the Bible blossomed. The effects of this are also seen in history, one of them being the development after sometime, of a great desire among Europeans to carry the gospel to the rest of the world.

An important lesson to be drawn from this study is that the word of God may be suppressed, but it will never be eliminated. The Bible is clear that the plan of God will one day be triumphant.

Another thing to contemplate is the effect that accrue to a society where the word of God is suppressed. According to Romans 1, where the word of God is suppressed, a people enter into a downward spiral to where they end up worshipping things they have made with their own hands while attributing divine power to their idols. Conversely, where the truths of God’s word are head and adopted, life improves significantly, both personal life and communal life.

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