One thing you’ll notice as you read the book of Revelation is that some chapters are chronological and others are parenthetical, happening alongside or at different points of the chronological chapters. Fruchtenbaum says, “Regarding the events of the first half of the tribulation, two things should be noted. First, some events occur in chronological sequence, with one event following the other in order. The seal judgments of chapter 6 and the trumpet judgments of chapters 8-9 fall into this category. Second, other things happen simultaneously with the sequential events. Five such things can be seen as occurring throughout the first half of the tribulation. Two of them begin before the tribulation and continue into and through the first half” (The Footsteps of the Messiah, p. 201). These two events are the ministry of Elijah the prophet and the governmental system of 10 kings/10 kingdoms.
The three other events which occur throughout the first half of the tribulation are the ministry of the 144,000, the ministry of the Two Witnesses, and the one-world religion which precedes the worship of the beast, also known as Ecclesiastical Babylon. This blog post is dedicated to the last two parenthetical events of the first 3.5 years of the tribulation found in Revelation 11 and 17.
The ministry of the Two Witnesses can be found in Revelation 11. Quoting Alford, Walvoord says chapter 11 “is undoubtedly one of the most difficult in the whole Apocalypse” (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 175). Revelation 11:3-6 says, “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1260 days, clothed in sackcloth. these are the two olive trees and the two lamp stands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so, if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire” (NASB1995).
A parallel passage is found in Zechariah 4:1-14. Though speaking of two separate witnesses in another time (Joshua and Zerubbabel), the lampstand and olive trees are symbolic of the ministry of God’s prophets. Describing this same symbolism used in Revelation 11, David Jeremiah says, “it is a picture of the fact that these two witnesses are going to shine in the darkness of the Tribulation and that they will be fueled by the holy oil of the Spirit of God” (Escape the Coming Night: Messages from the Book of Revelation Study Guide, Vol. 2, p. 122). Walvoord says, “Just as Joshua and Zerubbabel ministered to restore Israel to her land and her Lord, so will the two witnesses” (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 179-180).
In observation of Revelation 11:3-6, we learn the location of the Two Witnesses’ ministry is in Jerusalem and the duration of their testimony is 1260 days (3 and a half years). Commentators disagree as to which half of the tribulation this is referring to. Fruchtenbaum, LaHaye, Tsarfati as well as the writers of the Grace New Testament Commentary all believe it is the first half, and I agree. Their ministry is to the Jews, and it is very likely the 144,000 will be saved early on as a result of their testimony. The strongest evidence to me is the structure of chapter 11. Their ministry seems to happen before the 7th trumpet indicating the first half of the tribulation. Amir Tsarfati brings out that their death and resurrection appear to be associated with the second woe, which is the 6th trumpet (Tsarfati, Revealing Revelation, p. 143; Rev. 11:7-14). These clues place the start of their ministry at the beginning of the tribulation and their death and resurrection in the middle, or end of the first half.
As to their identity, disagreement abounds! Some view them to be Moses and Elijah, others view them to be Elijah and Enoch. In my mind, Elijah is definitely a contender as he is prophesied to come before the tribulation starts. But the truth remains that we just don’t know and must guard our speculation. Whoever these Two Witnesses are, they are men raised up by God to prophesy for 1260 days. Walvoord says, “taking the facts furnished, it is evident that these two witnesses have a combination of the greatest powers ever given prophets on earth, and this accounts for their ability to withstand their enemies the entire period of 1260 days” (The Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 180).
The last parenthetical event set to take place during the first half of the tribulation is a one-world religion known as the “great prostitute” or “mystery Babylon.” For the sake of our timeline in discussing the events of the first half of the tribulation, we are jumping to Revelation 17. It is interesting that “Satan chose Babylon, the second most-mentioned city in the Bible, from which to launch his ancient diabolical attack on mankind. There he lied to humanity about God, creation, sin, salvation, moral values, culture, and eternity. His primary objective was [is] to get people to worship and serve him” (LaHaye, Charting the End Times, p. 104). As we get further into our study of the End Times, we will see the significance of Babylon both physically and spiritually. Revelation 17 speaks of the “spiritual” aspect of Babylon representing the one-world religion.
Fruchtenbaum says, “just as there will be two political systems during the tribulation – one during the first half (the ten kings) and one during the second half (the Antichrist) – there will also be two religious systems, one for each half of the tribulation. This passage describes the religious system of the first 3.5 years” (The Footsteps of the Messiah, p. 231). It appears that the one-world religion of the first half turns into the worship of the beast (Antichrist) in the last half. Fruchtenbaum goes on to say, “the harlot represents ‘religion,’ which has a proper use (James 1:26-27), but here has been prostituted for improper use… The word ‘fornication’ is used both of physical unfaithfulness and also of spiritual unfaithfulness” (p. 232).
In Revelation 17:3, John saw the woman sitting “on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns, and blasphemies against God were written all over it” (NLT). The ten horns represent the ten-kingdom rule of the first half of the tribulation. Fruchtenbaum explains that this one-world religion has the “support of civil government during the first half of the tribulation and is able to rule because it is supported by the government” (p. 232). Warren Wiersbe said, “the woman is ‘the great harlot,’ but she is also ‘the mother of harlots.’ The Babylonian system has, in one way or another, given birth to all false religions. She has also seduced men into opposing God and persecuting His servants” (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2, p. 612).
Revelation 17:6 tells us that the woman “was drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” She is responsible for killing a great multitude of Tribulation Saints, including the martyrs under the altar in the fifth seal. Fruchtenbaum says, “what is found in these verses [the entirety of chapter 17] is the final form of religious apostasy, ending in a one world super church” (The Footsteps of the Messiah, p. 232). He goes on to describe this false, super church as “the counterfeit bride of messiah, presented as a prostitute, in contrast with the true bride of Messiah, presented as a pure virgin” (p. 232). Hitchcock says, “Prophecy often uses prostitution, fornication, or adultery to describe idolatry” (The End, p. 368).
“Despite what some may think, it is no small matter that the harlot occupies two long chapters toward the end of the book of Revelation. Walvoord says, ‘the picture of the woman as utterly evil signifies spiritual adultery, portraying those who outwardly and religiously seem to be joined to the true God, but who are untrue to this relationship” (Walvoord, Revelation, p. 244/LaHaye, Exploring Bible Prophecy, p. 534).
The woman “leads the world in the pursuit of false religion whether it be paganism or perverted revealed religion. She is the symbol for a system that reaches back to the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) and extends into the future when it will peak under the regime of the beast” (Hitchcock, The End, p. 368). I believe this has been Satan’s goal all along. We see elements of it all throughout history, and if your eyes are open, you are seeing it today. Satan is the master counterfeiter, but praise God, the Lamb will overcome!
Week 8: Homework Reflections
Days One – Three: The Two Witnesses
- Read Revelation 11:3-6 (we’ll get to the rest of chapter 11 in a future post). List everything you learn about the Two Witnesses.
- How is their clothing described in Revelation 11:3? What occasions did people wear sackcloth in the following verses? Genesis 37:18-36; 2 Samuel 3:31-32; Esther 4:1-4; Jonah 3:5-10; Isaiah 36:13-37:1.
- Read Psalm 30:1-12. What has God done for us as believers according to verses 11-12?
- A parallel passage to Revelation 11:3-6 is found in Zechariah 4:11-14. Read it and note the comparisons. Although this passage is about a different set of witnesses, what similarities do you see?
Day Four: The Great Harlot
- Read Revelation 17:1-13. (Again, for the sake of our timeline of the first 3.5 years of the tribulation, we are only touching on verses 1-13. We will cover the last half of chapter 17 at a later time!)
- From your reading, list everything you learn about the great harlot.
- Read Zechariah 5:5-11. What similarities do you see with Revelation 17:1-13?
Day Five: The One-World Religion & Idolatry
- Last week we saw that satanic idol worship will be prevalent during the tribulation (Revelation 9:20-21). This week we are learning that the one-world religion will be encouraging such things. Idolatry is compared to prostitution and adultery in the Bible. How is idolatry described in the following verses? Jeremiah 2:20-37; 13:24-27; Ezekiel 16:17-19; Hosea 2:2-5.
- We’ll be talking more about Babylon in a later post, but what do you learn about it’s origin in Genesis 11:1-9? How is idolatry expressed in Genesis 11:4?
- How does the “counterfeit bride of messiah” seen in Revelation 17:1-13 contrast with the bride of Christ seen in 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27; and Revelation 19:6-8?