Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Timing of the Snatching Away in Relation to the 70th Week (Part Two)

For part one of this study, click here: http://thathappyexpectation.blogspot.com/2019/05/the-timing-of-snatching-away-in.html

Introduction

As argued in the previous installment of this study, I believe that the snatching away of the body of Christ is going to occur before the 70th week begins. One argument for why I hold to this position depends on the conclusion at which I arrived in my previous study on the imminence of the snatching away, and could be summarily expressed as follows:

1. The events that Christ referred to as “the beginning of pangs” (Matt. 24:8) will coincide with the first half of the 70th week.
2. The snatching away is going to occur before the “beginning of pangs” begin to take place.
3. The snatching away is going to occur before the 70th week begins. 

Although I find this argument convincing enough on its own to warrant belief in a “pre-70th week” snatching away, the main part of my last article consisted of a defense of a separate argument. This argument involves the timing of the unveiling of the man of lawlessness, and could be summarized as follows:

1. The body of Christ is going to be snatched away before the day of the Lord begins.
2. The day of the Lord will begin with the unveiling of the man of lawlessness.
3. The 70th week will begin with the unveiling of the man of lawlessness.
4. The snatching away is going to occur before the 70th week begins.

I further argued that the body of Christ is most likely “the present detainer” referred to by Paul in 2 Thess. 2:6-7 (and that its “coming to be out of the midst” refers to the snatching away of the body of Christ). According to this position, the man of lawlessness cannot be unveiled until after the snatching away occurs. Thus, in conjunction with premise 3, above, we could arrive at the same conclusion via the following argument:

1. The man of lawlessness cannot be unveiled until after the snatching away has occurred.
2. The 70th week will begin with the unveiling of the man of lawlessness.
3. The body of Christ is going to be snatched away before the 70th week begins.

In addition to the arguments presented above, I think there is another route by which one could arrive at the same conclusion concerning the timing of the snatching away in relation to the 70th week. Consider the following argument:

1. The snatching away is going to occur before the “callousness, in part” that has come upon Israel (Romans 11:25) is removed from Israel.
2. God is going to remove this “callousness” from Israel at the start of the 70th week.
3. The snatching away is going to occur before the start of the 70th week.

Although the argument itself is pretty simple and straightforward, the two premises will, of course, need to be defended with scripture in order for the argument to be accepted as scripturally sound. Thus, for the remainder of this article, I’ll try to do just that. I'll begin with the first premise.

Israel’s casting away and the conciliation of the world

In my 2017 article “An Analysis of Paul’s Olive Tree Parable” I argued that, in Romans 11:13-24, the nations are represented as a “wild olive bough” that had been grafted into a “cultivated” olive tree that once belonged exclusively to God’s covenant people, Israel (who, in turn, are represented as multiple “natural” boughs, some of which were “broken off” so that the nations could be “grafted in”). According to this view, it is the nations, collectively, that Paul represented as declaring, “Boughs are broken out that I may be grafted in,” and it is this same personified wild olive bough that Paul warned not to be “haughty,” but to “fear” (and subsequently warned of being “hewn out” of the cultivated olive tree in v. 22).

The truth that I believe Paul was conveying through this imaginary dialogue between himself and a wild olive bough is this: Although the nations, collectively, are presently in a privileged position (having direct access to the promise-based blessing referred to in Galatians 3, apart from the mediation of Israel), this is not a permanent, unchanging state of affairs. The future removal of the wild olive bough from the cultivated olive tree is just as certain as the previous removal of some of the natural boughs. By representing the nations, collectively, as a single wild olive bough, Paul made their inclusion in the cultivated olive tree an “all-or-nothing” state of affairs. Thus, it is simply not possible for any among the nations to be “hewn out of the olive tree” while others remain “grafted in.” Being represented by a single wild olive bough, the nations are either in the cultivated olive tree as a single unit, or they aren’t in it at all.

I further noted that the nations “persisting in the kindness” of God (v. 22) depends on something that the majority of Gentiles don’t even have (i.e., faith), and it is for this reason that the wild olive bough is told by Paul to “fear!” The faith in which the wild olive bough is “standing” is the faith of those among the nations who have been called through Paul’s evangel of the uncircumcision (or who will be called through Paul’s evangel), and who are thus “of faith” and are “being blessed together with believing Abraham.” The fact that there remains some among the nations who have been designated beforehand by God to be called, justified and glorified is what is keeping the entire “wild olive bough” grafted into the cultivated olive tree (rather than suffering God’s “severity” and being “hewn out”). Thus, the “wild olive bough” maintains its present privileged position in the cultivated olive tree by virtue of the fact that there are some among the nations who have faith.

However, when the snatching away of the body of Christ takes place, the faith by which the wild olive bough remains grafted into the cultivated olive tree will vanish from the earth, and there will no longer be any among the nations who are “of faith” (or who will be “of faith”), in the sense of believing the evangel by which a member of the nations can be justified and conciliated to God. And when this faith vanishes from among the Gentile world, the “wild olive bough” will be “hewn out.” All direct access to the promise-based blessing of justification by faith will end for the nations, and – as was the case before Paul’s “administration of the grace of God” began – all blessings for the nations will once again have to come through the mediation of Israel.

We are guaranteed by Paul that, at some point, the unbelieving “boughs which are in accord with nature” will no longer be persisting in unbelief. In Romans 11:25-27, Paul prophesied concerning calloused Israel as follows:

“For I am not willing for you to be ignorant of this secret, brethren, lest you may be passing for prudent among yourselves, that callousness, in part, on Israel has come, until the complement of the nations may be entering. And thus all Israel shall be saved, according as it is written, Arriving out of Zion shall be the Rescuer. He will be turning away irreverence from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them Whenever I should be eliminating their sins.

In other words, the state of affairs that Paul referred to as “callousness, in part, on Israel has come” is to continue until “the complement of the nations may be entering.” What did Paul mean by the “entering” of the “complement of the nations?” By the “complement of the nations” Paul probably had in mind the last of those among the nations who are to believe his evangel and thereby become members of “the ecclesia which is [Christ’s] body” (1 Cor. 12:13, 27-28; Eph. 1:23). If that’s the case, then the “entering” of which Paul spoke in v. 26 above likely refers to believing Gentiles entering into the ecclesia/body of Christ. When the last of those among the nations who have been designated beforehand to become members of the body of Christ believe Paul’s evangel and are justified by faith, the time will come for the removal of the callousness that is “in part, on Israel,” and for the broken-out “natural boughs” to be grafted back into their own, cultivated olive tree. And just as the grafting in of the wild olive bough depended on the prior removal of some of the natural boughs (Rom. 11:19), so the wild olive bough must be hewn out to “make room” for the natural boughs to be re-grafted in. Thus, the completion of the body of Christ and our removal from the earth via the snatching away is what will allow for the resumption of Israel’s “prophetic program,” and must therefore take place before “callousness, in part” is removed from Israel. 

This truth is, I believe, implicitly confirmed by something Paul wrote just before he introduced his olive tree parable. In Romans 11:11-15, we read the following:

What then? What Israel is seeking for, this she did not encounter, yet the chosen encountered it. Now the rest were callousedeven as it is written, God gives them a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing, till this very day.

And David is saying, "Let their table become a trap and a mesh, And a snare and a repayment to them: Darkened be their eyes, not to be observing, And their backs bow together continually.”

I am saying, then, Do they not trip that they should be falling? May it not be coming to that! But in their offense is salvation to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy.

Now if their offense is the world's riches and their discomfiture the nations' riches, how much rather that which fills them! Now to you am I saying, to the nations, in as much as, indeed, then, I am the apostle of the nations, I am glorifying my dispensation, if somehow I should be provoking those of my flesh to jealousy and should be saving some of them. For if their casting away is the conciliation of the world, what will the taking back be if not life from among the dead?

This passage begins with Paul contrasting Israel as a nation (to which he referred simply as “Israel”) with the “chosen” from among the nation (which, in v. 5, we find referred to as “a remnant according to the choice of grace”). After stating that the chosen encountered what Israel did not, Paul then put the focus on the “calloused” and “blinded” state of Israel as a nation (verses 7-10). From the larger context, it’s evident that this calloused condition is one in which Israel had been made insensitive and unreceptive to the truth concerning Jesus’ identity as the Christ and the Son of God. Paul went on to refer to this calloused, “non-remnant” group of Israelites with the words “they” and “their” in the next verses, all the way to v. 15.[1] So, when Paul wrote of “their casting away” in v. 15, he had in view the “casting away” of the majority of Israelites that constituted the nation of Israel in his day. Thus, by the time Paul wrote to the Romans, the majority of Israelites (being “calloused” and in unbelief) had been “cast away” by God.[2] But what did Paul mean by the “casting away” of Israel?

I think the immediate context in which the expression “their casting away” appears informs us of the meaning. Here, again, is Romans 11:7-9: ”What then? What Israel is seeking for, this she did not encounter, yet the chosen encountered it. Now the rest were callousedeven as it is written, God gives them a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing, till this very day.” Based on this context, it’s reasonable to conclude that the “casting away” of Israel is equivalent to God’s bringing “callousness, in part” on the nation – i.e., God’s giving Israel a “spirit of stupor” so that they cannot believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. God “cast away” the nation of Israel when he gave the majority a “spirit of stupor” and made them insensitive and unreceptive to the truth of Jesus’ Messianic identity. But if that’s the case, then the “taking back” of Israel must refer to the removal of this “callousness” and “spirit of stupor,” so that Israel becomes more sensitive and receptive to the truth.

Now, let’s consider the following words of Romans 11:15: ”For if their casting away is the conciliation of the world…” The way in which this is worded indicates that “their casting away” and “the conciliation of the world” are concurrent states of affairs. It also seems evident that the ongoing state of affairs referred to as “the conciliation of the world” presupposes, and depends on, the ongoing state of affairs referred to as “their casting away.” But what did Paul have in mind when he referred to the “conciliation of the world” (or “world-conciliation”)? Based on the immediate context, it seems evident that Paul had in mind the salvation that was going out to people from among the nations. In Rom. 11:11-12 we read, ”But in their offense is salvation to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy. Now if their offense is the world's riches and their discomfiture the nations' riches, how much rather that which fills them!”

When Paul spoke of the “world’s riches” and “the nations’ riches,” he clearly had in mind the same state of affairs. That is, “the world’s riches” is synonymous with “the nations’ riches.” Thus, based on the context, the “conciliation of the world” should best be understood as referring to the same state of affairs involving the world/nations receiving “salvation” and enjoying “riches,” as referred to in verses 11 and 12.

Now, this salvation and “riches” can reasonably be understood as that which involves being justified by faith in Paul’s evangel. Concerning this salvation, Paul wrote the following in Romans 5:1-2: “Being, then, justified by faith, we may be having peace toward God, through our Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom we have the access also, by faith, into this grace in which we stand, and we may be glorying in expectation of the glory of God.” It is our justification – i.e., our being “reckoned righteous” by God – that enables us to “be having peace toward God.” And to have peace toward God is to be (or involves being) conciliated to him. But how are we justified, or reckoned righteous, by God? Ultimately, God’s being able to justify anyone is due to Christ’s death for our sins. Through Christ’s act of obedience, he procured the ultimate justification of all mankind (Rom. 5:12-19). However, only those who believe Paul’s evangel are presently benefiting from what Christ accomplished on behalf of all mankind. That is, only believers are, at present, being reckoned righteous by God. Thus, it is those believing Paul’s evangel who are being conciliated to God. And Paul’s evangel-heralding ministry involved bringing salvation and blessing to anyone who believed, regardless of their ethnic, national or religious background.

Concerning this peace toward God that is available to those who have been justified by faith in Paul’s evangel, we read the following in 2 Cor. 5:18-20: 

“Yet all is of God, Who conciliates us to Himself through Christ, and is giving us the dispensation of the conciliation, how that God was in Christ, conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them, and placing in us the word of the conciliation. For Christ, then, are we ambassadors, as of God entreating through us. We are beseeching for Christ's sake, ‘Be conciliated to God!’ For the One not knowing sin, He makes to be a sin offering for our sakes that we may be becoming God’s righteousness in Him.

Then, in 2 Cor. 6:2 Paul declared, “Lo! Now is a most acceptable era! Lo! Now is a day of salvation!” In this verse Paul was referring to the “era” and (figurative) “day” in which the “word of conciliation” is going forth to the nations, and when those among the nations may still be conciliated to God by believing this “word.” It is this state of affairs that I believe Paul had in view in Romans 11:11-12,15 when he referred to “the world’s riches,” the “nations’ riches” and “the conciliation of the world.” And since it is those who are believing Paul’s evangel who are being conciliated to God, the “conciliation of the world” to which Paul referred in Romans 11:15 is a state of affairs that began when Paul’s evangel began to go forth to the world/nations. Since this time, God has been entreating the world/nations through the heralding of “the word of the conciliation” to “Be conciliated to God!”

Thus, we can understand the “conciliation of the world” of Romans 11:15 and the “most acceptable era”/“day of salvation” of 2 Cor. 6:1-2 to refer to the same state of affairs and period of time. The “conciliation of the world” is, in other words, an administrational state of affairs that belongs distinctly to the present “administration of the grace of God” given to Paul for the nations (Eph. 3:1-2; cf. Acts 20:24). And just as this state of affairs involving world-conciliation depended on the prior “casting away” of Israel (Rom. 11:15), so the “taking back” of Israel (and the resumption of Israel’s “prophetic program”) will require the termination of God’s present, gracious dealings with the nations. Or – to use imagery from Paul’s olive tree parable – just as the grafting in of the “wild olive bough” depended on the prior removal of some of the “natural boughs” (Rom. 11:19), so the re-grafting of the “natural boughs” into their own olive tree will require the prior removal of the “wild olive bough” from its present privileged position in the olive tree.

The snatching away of the body of Christ (and thus the termination of the “most acceptable era” and “day of salvation” referred to in 2 Cor. 6:2) must, therefore, occur before God can begin removing callousness from Israel. When the body of Christ is completed and subsequently removed from the earth (and people from among the nations are no longer being conciliated to God through the “word of conciliation”), the present administration of the grace of God will end, and the “coming indignation” of the day of the Lord will begin.

As a way of summarizing my defense of the first premise, consider the following argument:

1. The time during which the body of Christ is on the earth coincides with the state of affairs that Paul referred to as “the conciliation of the world” in Romans 11:15, and will end with the removal of the body of Christ from the earth.
2.  The “conciliation of the world” and the “taking back” of Israel are mutually exclusive states of affairs (the conciliation of the world can continue for only as long as the “casting away” of Israel remains in effect, and the latter cannot take place until the former ends).
3. The “casting away” of Israel cannot end (and the “taking back” of Israel cannot begin) until after the snatching away of the body of Christ takes place.

But when will the casting away of Israel end? That is, when will God begin removing the “callousness, in part,” that came upon Israel before the present administration of the grace of God began? I believe the final verses in Malachi – in conjunction with what we’re told concerning the prophetic ministry of the “two witnesses” in Revelation 11 – can help us answer this question.

The coming prophetic ministry of Elijah

In Malachi 4:4-6 we read,

“Remember the law of Moses, My servant, which I instructed him in Horeb for all Israel, the statutes and ordinances. Behold, I send to you Elijah, the prophet, before the coming of the great and advent day of Yahweh. And he will restore the heart of the fathers to the sons and the heart of the sons of their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth to its doom.”

In part two of my last study I argued that the “great and advent day of the Lord” refers to the actual day of Christ’s return to earth – i.e., the day on which he “will be seen a second time” (Heb. 9:28). It is this day which will occur immediately after the 70th week ends, and will involve the deliverance of Israel and the defeat of her enemies at that time. It is sometime before this climatic day arrives that the prophet Elijah will be sent by God to minister to Israel. But what does it mean for the heart of the fathers to be restored to the sons, and vice-versa? I submit that this language is figurative, and refers to the bringing about of a spiritual revival among the people of Israel that will consist in a renewal of faith in, and obedience to, the God of Israel (which can only take place when they come to believe that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God).

This understanding finds confirmation from what is said concerning John the Baptist. John’s ministry is prophetically described in Luke 1:16-17 as follows:

“And many of the sons of Israel shall be turning back to the Lord their God. And he shall be coming before in His sight in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn back the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the stubborn to the prudence of the just, to make ready a people formed for the Lord.”

The “children” or “sons” referred to in Malachi 4:5 can be understood as a figurative reference to the “children of Israel,” with the “fathers” being an allusion to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (the godly forefathers of the nation of Israel, and the “just” of Luke 1:17). Understood in this sense, both parties are figuratively represented as being estranged from one another, and in need of reconciliation (with the “fathers” or patriarchs being ashamed of their foolish and wayward “children,” or descendents). As an example of how the patriarchs of Israel can be figuratively represented as being ashamed of (and vexed over) the disobedience of their descendents, consider Isaiah 29:22-24:

Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

‘Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
    no more shall his face grow pale.
     For when he sees his children,
    the work of my hands, in his midst,
    they will sanctify my name;
they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob
    and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
   And those who go astray in spirit will come to understanding,
    and those who murmur will accept instruction.’”

The mutual “heart-turning” that Malachi had in view here is the bringing into harmony the hearts of the wayward people of Israel with the hearts of the faithful and righteous patriarchs, such that they (the generation of Israelites that will be living on the earth when the day of the Lord arrives) will seek to imitate the godly example of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to walk in their ways. When this takes place, the heart of the “fathers” can be figuratively said to “turn” to their descendents in paternal recognition, proudly acknowledging them as their “sons.” In light of this understanding of Malachi 4:5-6, it is highly significant that, in 1 Kings 18:36-37, we read that the prophet Elijah invoked “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel” when seeking to “turn their [the children of Israel’s] heart back again.” It’s also worth mentioning that Elijah ministered in a time of crisis in Israel, when the nation was far from God, and a time that immediately preceded a terrible judgment. So it’s highly appropriate that this prophet (or someone coming “in the spirit and power of Elijah”) be the one to minister to, and restore, the nation of Israel “before the great and fearful day of the Lord.”

But who is this “Elijah” whom God will send to bring about this restoration of Israel prior to the day of the Lord? Although John denied being Elijah (John 1:21), Christ declared to the crowds that, if they were willing to receive him, John would’ve been “Elijah who is about to be coming” (Matt. 11:7, 14-15). In other words, John would have been the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy (and Elijah’s work could’ve been done by John), if Israel had been able to receive him. However, it is evident that this was not meant to be. In Matthew 13:14-15 we read that Christ told his disciples:

“Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Compare with John 12:37-40)

In whose case was Isaiah's prophecy fulfilled when Christ spoke these words? Evidently, in the case of every Israelite except those few to whom Christ was making known the “secrets of the kingdom” (v. 11). Christ’s quotation of Isaiah 6 made known the following inevitability: Israel, as a nation, was going to reject her Messiah. Thus, by the time Christ declared the above words to his disciples (which occurred fairly early in his ministry), “callousness, in part,” had already come upon Israel. God had already given Israel ”a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing.” Only a relatively small number of Israelites – a chosen remnant, beginning with Christ’s twelve disciples – would, during the time of Jesus’ public ministry, embrace him as the Messiah and continue the covenant-confirming program according to which he ministered while on earth. It was this remnant of Israelites from whom Christ did not hide his teaching with parables.

Matthew 17:10-11 makes it clear that the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy was not exhausted by the ministry of John the Baptist: “And His disciples inquire of Him, saying, ‘Why, then, are the scribes saying that Elijah must be coming first?’ Now He, answering, said to them that ‘Elijah is indeed coming, and will be restoring all.’” Notice that Christ agreed with the scribes that the prophecy of Malachi should be interpreted literally, just as the chief priests and scribes had interpreted Micah 5:2 literally when they were asked concerning the birthplace of the Messiah (Matt. 2:3-6). Thus, although there is a sense in which Elijah “came already” in the person of John the Baptist (v. 12), it is equally true that “Elijah is indeed coming, and will be restoring all” (v. 11).

John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah to prepare Israel for the arrival of her Messiah. But the ministry of the Elijah whom Christ said “is indeed coming” will involve the renewal of Israel prior to the return of Christ, before he is “seen a second time” (Heb. 9:28). But what are the implications of this? Since the “callousness, in part” that is presently upon Israel is a condition in which the majority of Israelites are unreceptive to the truth concerning Christ, it can be reasonably concluded that this callousness will have been removed by the time the Elijah who is “indeed coming” has come, since he “will be restoring all.” In other words, it is by virtue of Elijah’s ministry that Israel will be spiritually prepared for the return of her Messiah, but this promised restoration will not be able to begin until the callousness that is on Israel has been removed.

The success of the prophetic ministry of Elijah can therefore be understood as presupposing that the “callousness, in part” which has come upon Israel will have been removed by the time that this prophetic ministry begins. But when, in relation to the 70th week, will this prophetic ministry begin? This question brings us to the subject of the “two witnesses.” In Revelation 11:1-6, we find a fascinating description of a prophetic ministry that will be carried out in the city of Jerusalem at some time during the 70th week:

And a reed like a rod was given me, and one said, "Rouse, measure the temple of God and the altar and those worshiping in it. And the court outside of the temple cast outside, and you should not be measuring it, for it was given to the nations, and the holy city will they be treading forty-two months. And I will be endowing My two witnesses and they will be prophesying a thousand two hundred sixty days, clothed in sackcloth." These are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands which stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone is wanting to injure them, fire is issuing out of their mouth and is devouring their enemies. And if anyone should be wanting to injure them, thus must he be killed. These have authority to lock heaven, that there may be no shower of rain for the days of their prophecy. And they have authority over the waters to be turning them into blood, and to smite the land with every calamity, as often as they will.

And whenever they should be finishing their testimony, the wild beast which is ascending out of the submerged chaos will be doing battle with them and will be conquering them and killing them. And their corpses will be at the square of the great city which, spiritually, is being called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord, also, was crucified. And those out of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations are observing their corpses three days and a half, and they are not letting their corpses be placed into a tomb. And those dwelling on the earth are rejoicing over them and are making merry, and will be sending approach presents to one another, seeing that these two prophets torment those dwelling on the earth.

But what is the identity of these two witnesses? I think it’s significant that, in the closing words of the Hebrew Scriptures, God made reference to both Elijah and Moses (Mal. 4:4-6). Even more significant are the miracles that we’re told will be performed by these two witnesses (Rev. 11:6), as they are the very miracles that were distinct to Elijah (1 Kings 17:1-7; 18:41-46) and Moses (Exodus 7-12; cf. Deut. 34:10-12). We’re also told that anyone attempting to harm the two witnesses will be killed by fire that will issue from their mouth (v. 5). The use of fire to destroy their enemies is also significant, since there are two notable examples of the enemies of both Moses and Elijah being supernaturally destroyed by fire (Numbers 16:35; 2 Kings 1:10-12). It’s also worth noting that both Moses and Elijah are said to have met God at Mount Sinai (Ex. 3:1; 1Ki. 19:8-18). And later – in a vision given to Peter, James and John – these two men (as representative of “the Law and the Prophets”) were seen talking with Christ on a mountain (Mat. 17:1-9).

In light of these considerations, I think it’s reasonable to believe that the two witnesses will, in fact, be Moses and Elijah, resurrected from the dead. However, it must be emphasized that, even if these two witnesses are not literally going to be Elijah and Moses, it could still be said that one or both of them will be ministering “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (just as it was said of John the Baptist). This being the case, it’s reasonable to conclude that the coming prophetic ministry of Elijah (whose prophetic ministry will be on behalf of Israel) will find its fulfillment in the powerful prophetic ministry of these two witnesses. But during what part of the 70th week will these two witnesses be prophesying to Israel? Will it be during the first half of the 70th week, or the second half?

Before we determine this point, it needs to be established that the ”thousand two hundred sixty days” of the two witnesses’ ministry is, in fact, a period of time that will coincide with one of the halves of the 70th week (for there are some who believe that the 1,260 days of their ministry should be understood as a duration of time that is less than the 3 ½ years of which each half of the 70th week will consist). I think there are good reasons for believing that the 1,260 days of the two witnesses’ ministry are equivalent to 3 ½ years, or exactly half of the future 70th week. In Daniel 7:25, we’re told that the future world ruler who will desecrate the temple in the “middle of the week” “shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High…and they shall be given into his hand for a season and two seasons and half a season.” This period of 3 ½ years is again referred to in Daniel 12:7 as an appointed time, two appointed times and half an appointed time,” and is said to end “when the shattering of the hand of the holy people is concluded.” The “shattering of the hand of the holy people” is another reference to Israel being persecuted and “conquered” by the “wild beast” during this time period. And we know from Rev. 13:4-7 that this period of time referred to as “a season and two seasons and half a season” (or “a time, and times and half a time”) refers to a period of exactly 42 months (or 3 ½ years):

And they worship the wild beast, saying, "Who is like the wild beast?" and "Who is able to battle with it?" And to it was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies. And to it was given authority to do what it wills forty-two months. And it opens its mouth in blasphemies toward God, to blaspheme His name and His tabernacle, and those tabernacling in heaven. And to it was given to do battle with the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given to it over every tribe and people and language and nation.

Thus, when we read of “a season and two seasons and half a season” or “a time, times and half a time,” we can conclude that this period of time is equal to a period of forty-two months, or 3 ½ years. We also know that it’s during this same period of time that the “dragon” (Satan) will seek to destroy “the woman” (Israel) and “her seed” (Rev. 12:6, 13-17). Significantly, the period during which Israel will be supernaturally protected from Satan (who will be working through the instrumentality of the man of lawlessness) is referred to as “a season, and seasons, and half a season” or “a time, times and half a time” (Rev. 12:13-17). This is nearly identical language to what we find in Daniel 7:25 and 12:7 (which, again, reveals the time during which the man of lawlessness will “wear out the saints of the Most High”). Thus, when “the woman” flees into the wilderness to escape the persecution of Satan, the Jewish saints represented by the woman will be protected for the entirety of the forty-two months during which the “wild beast” will have “authority to do what it wills,” and will be doing battle “with the saints and to conquer them.” 

Significantly, the same period of time referred to in the above passages is referred to in Rev. 12:6 as “a thousand two hundred sixty days.” Since we know that this period of time is equal to the ”season, and seasons, and half a season” during which the woman will be protected – and since this time period is equal to the time during which the “wild beast” is given authority to do what it wills (and during which time he “shall wear out the saints of the Most High”) – we can conclude that the 1,260 days referred to in Rev. 12:6 is equal to 42 months, or 3 ½ years.

Consider the following argument:

1. The “season, and seasons, and half a season” during which the wild beast will have authority to “wear out the saints of the Most High” (Dan. 7:25; 12:7) is equal to 42 months (Rev. 13:4-7), and is the same duration of time as the “season, and seasons, and half a season” during which Israel will be protected in the wilderness.
2. The “season, and seasons, and half a season” during which Israel will be protected in the wilderness will consist of 1,260 days (Rev. 12:6, 13-17).
3. In Revelation, 1,260 days is equivalent to 42 months (or 3 ½ years).[3]

Having established that the 1,260 days of their prophetic ministry is equivalent to 42 months or 3 ½ years, we now need to determine which half of the 70th week the two ministries will be prophesying for. We know that the “forty-two months” during which the nations will be “treading the holy city” refers to the second half of the 70th week (cf. Luke 21:20-24). But will the two witnesses be prophesying to Israel while the nations are “treading the holy city?” There are at least three reasons why I think this is impossible, and why I believe the prophetic ministry of the two witnesses must occur during the first 3 ½ years of the 70th week:

1. When we understand the prophetic ministry of the two witnesses as the fulfillment of the future prophetic ministry of Elijah (Mal. 4:5-6), we can conclude that the people to whom they will be witnessing will be Israelites. But if Israel is going to be their “target audience” during the 3 ½ years of their prophetic ministry, it wouldn’t make sense for this ministry – which is going to take place in the city of Jerusalem – to cover the second half of the 70th week. By the time that the second half of the 70th week begins, the Jewish remnant dwelling in Judea (and who are represented by “the woman” in Revelation 12) will – in accord with Christ’s warning in Matt. 24:15-16 – have already fled the land of Israel for the mountainous region (or “wilderness”) in which they will be supernaturally protected until Christ returns to earth (Rev. 12:6, 13-16).[4] And any Israelites who fail to escape at this time would be unlikely to receive much – if any – benefit from the ministry of the two witnesses during the time of “great affliction.” On the other hand, a prophetic ministry spanning the first half of the 70th week would be extremely beneficial to Israel. In addition to providing un-calloused Israel with vital information concerning what they must believe and do in order to be saved, it would serve to prepare them for the coming time of great affliction. 

2. Understanding the prophetic ministry of the two witnesses as spanning the second half of the 70th week implies a scenario that is incompatible with the fact that Christ’s return is going to be taking place immediately after the 70th week ends. If the two witnesses begin their ministry at the beginning of the second half of the 70th week, then their death will be occurring on the last day of the 70th week. But this would mean that the corpses of the two witnesses are going to be lying in the street of Jerusalem for approximately three days after Christ has returned, and that the nations are going to be joyfully celebrating their deaths (even going so far as to be giving gifts to each other) for this same period of time. Such a scenario is clearly absurd and impossible. Not only would such blatant wickedness not be tolerated after Christ’s return, but we know that the man of lawlessness and all who will be aligned with him are going to be destroyed on the day of Christ’s return. Moreover, even if we placed the death of the two witnesses a few weeks or months before the end of the 70th week, we would still run into problems. For we know that the final prophesied calamities that will be occurring during the latter part of the 70th week will also be among the most severe (Rev. 16). And it seems highly implausible that the various calamities associated with the “seven bowls” (or even the last of the trumpet-related calamities) could coincide with the joyful, celebratory behavior of the unbelieving earth-dwellers for the 3 ½ days during which the two witnesses will be dead.

3. It was earlier noted how, at the beginning of the second half of the 70th week, the man of lawlessness will be “given authority to do what it wills forty-two months,” and will be using his authority “to do battle with the saints and to conquer them” (Rev. 13:4-7). This is in accord with Daniel 7:25, where it’s revealed that this future world ruler ”shall wear out the saints of the Most High…and they shall be given into his hand for a season and two seasons and half a season” (i.e., for 3 ½ years). We also know that the satanically-inspired persecution of God’s people during the time of “great affliction” will begin with events taking place in the city of Jerusalem, and that it’s here that the man of lawlessness will begin to “do battle with the saints and to conquer them.” The Jewish saints at this time will either be taken into captivity, killed, or forced to flee. In light of this fact, consider the words of Rev. 11:7: “And whenever they [the two witnesses] should be finishing their testimony, the wild beast which is ascending out of the submerged chaos will be doing battle with them and will be conquering them and killing them.”

The implication here is that, as soon as the “wild beast” does battle with the two witnesses, he will conquer them and kill them. Since we know that he begins to do battle with the saints at the beginning of the second half of the 70th week, we can conclude that the two witnesses will be killed at this time (and may likely be the first saints to be killed when the time of great affliction begins). If, on the other hand, their prophetic ministry were to overlap with any part of the second half of the 70th week, it would create a contradictory situation involving two opposing forces who both have the authority to destroy, and not be destroyed by, the other (with the “wild beast” having authority to “do battle with the saints and to conquer them,” and the two witnesses having the authority to destroy with fire “anyone wanting to injure them”). When we understand the ministry of the two witnesses to take place during a different half of the 70th week than that of the saint-conquering reign of the wild beast, such a contradictory situation is avoided.

Based on the above considerations, I believe the most reasonable view is that the 1,260 days during which the two witnesses will be prophesying will constitute the first half of the 70th week. It will be by means of their prophetic ministry that un-calloused Israel will come to believe the truth concerning Jesus’ Messianic identity.

Confirmation from the Olivet Discourse and Revelation

What Christ declared in Matthew 24:4-14 (which is part of his “Olivet Discourse”) can be understood as revealing that many within Israel will have come to believe the truth concerning Jesus’ Messianic identity near the beginning of the 70th week, and that the “callousness, in part,” that is presently upon Israel will have previously been removed. Notice that Christ warned that, at the time when the “beginning of pangs” are occurring, believing Jews would begin to be hated and persecuted by “all of the nations because of [Christ’s] name” (v. 9). Then we’re told that, at this time, “many” – i.e., many Jews – would be “snared” and would begin “giving one another up and hating one another” (v. 10). The “many” who are going to be “snared” at this time can only be among those who will have begun being “hated by all the nations” because of Christ’s name. The “many” will, in other words, be believing Jews.

Christ also warned that, among this general category of Jewish people, “many” would also be deceived by false prophets during this time, and that the love of “many” would be “cooling” (vv. 11-12). Christ couldn’t have been referring to unbelieving Jews being snared and deceived, or to the love of unbelievers “cooling.” Rather, Christ was referring to what would be occurring among those who, like the disciples to whom he spoke, had come to believe the truth concerning Jesus’ Messianic identity. Significantly, the word translated “love” in v. 12 is the term agape. This is the kind of love that believers in Christ are exhorted to have for each other, and which is to be characteristic of all believers (1 John 2:10; 3:10-11, 14, 23; 4:21; etc.).

When Christ went on to declare that “he who endures to the consummation, he shall be saved,” the context-informed implication is that "many" won't endure to the consummation and be saved. In other words, among those un-calloused Jews who are to come to believe the truth concerning Christ (i.e., the “evangel of the kingdom” that Christ said would be “heralded in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations”), only some Jews (i.e., those referred to as the "elect" or "chosen") will be saved. This, again, implies that, early on during the first half of the 70th week, a significant number of Israelites will have come to believe the truth about Jesus’ Messianic identity. We also know from Rev. 7:1-8 and 14:1-5 that there will be 144,000 Jews who will endure to the consummation and be saved (and who may or may not be part of the company of believing Israelites who will flee the land of Judea and be protected in the wilderness during the time of great affliction, as referred to in Rev. 12:6, 13-17). We're also told of a “vast throng” of people (likely Israelites) living outside of the land of Israel who will be saved as well (Rev. 7:9-17). 

Thus, if “many” more un-calloused Jews who come to faith in Christ end up being “snared” and deceived during the first half of the 70th week (and thus fail to endure to the consummation to be saved), then the total number of Jews who will be coming to faith in Christ around the time when the “beginning of pangs” begin to occur could easily constitute the majority of Israelites in the world at that time. And this, again, would presuppose that the "callousness, in part" that is presently upon Israel will have been removed.

 Conclusion

As argued in the first part of this article, I believe the snatching away of the body of Christ is going to occur before the “callousness, in part” that has come upon Israel (Romans 11:25) is removed from Israel. I went on to argue that the future ministry of the “two witnesses” will be the fulfillment of the prophesied ministry of Elijah (who Christ said is going to be “restoring all”). Since we know that these witnesses will be successful at bringing about the needed spiritual restoration of Israel during the time of their ministry, it can be reasonably concluded that the removal of the “callousness” that is preventing the majority of Israelites from believing that Jesus is the Messiah will coincide with the start of their prophetic ministry. Their ministry can, therefore, be understood as presupposing that the “taking back” of Israel (and the end of Israel’s “casting away”) will have taken place. And since the ministry of the two witnesses is going to begin at the start of the 70th week, we can further conclude that the snatching away of the body of Christ must take place before the 70th week begins.



[1] According to Gunn in his “Exegesis of Romans 11:11-24,” “The γάρ that introduces verse 15 signifies that the following section is an explanation of the salvation that is to come to Israel” (https://www.shasta.edu/uploads/1/6/7/0/16705804/romans11v11-24.pdf). But what is the connection between what Paul wrote in verses 13-14 and verse 15? According to some commentaries, Paul’s words in verses 13-14 are to be understood as a digression or parenthetical remark. The Expositor’s Greek Testament, for example, sees verses 13-14 as a digression, and states that it’s in verse 15 that “Paul reverts to the ideas of Romans 11:12” (https://biblehub.com/commentaries/egt/romans/11.htm).

Another understanding of the connection between verses 13-15 is that Paul was providing his readers with his motivation for attempting to save “some” of his kinsmen. Because there is eventually going to be a “taking back” of Israel by God, Paul knew that his efforts to try and save “some” of those belonging to the calloused nation would not be in vain. In view of God’s future purpose for Israel (which will involve “taking back” the nation), God had preserved a remnant in the “current era.” Since Paul knew that not all Israelites had been calloused (but had instead been graciously chosen by God to believe the truth concerning Christ’s identity), he had reason to believe that at least “some” unbelieving Israelites would be receptive to his testimony concerning Christ, and may come to believe the truth and be saved. And given Paul’s own Jewish background and his deep love for his brethren according to the flesh (Romans 9:1-5; 10:1), it’s no surprise that, on the Sabbath, he and Barnabas made it a point to visit the local synagogue of whatever city they were in and testify concerning Christ. 

[2] Based on verses 11 and 14, it’s evident that Paul saw some sort of connection between the “jealousy” to which Israel was being provoked in response to his ministry to the nations, and the salvation of “some” of his brethren according to the flesh. But what was the connection? Paul doesn’t tell us, and there are – not surprisingly – differences of opinion among students of scripture concerning this subject. Perhaps the jealousy to which Paul hoped some Israelites would be provoked was based on their realization that God was bringing salvation and blessing to the nations through his ministry. According to this view, the evidence that Paul’s Gentile-focused ministry was sanctioned and empowered by God would, for some Jews, produce the sort of “positive” jealousy that would lead them to become more receptive to the truth of his evangel.

Another possibility is that the jealousy of which Paul wrote was entirely “negative.” According to this view (which relies on Paul’s quotation of Deut. 32:21 in Romans 10:19), Paul knew that his ministry to the nations had the potential to provoke most Israelites to the sort of jealousy that involves anger and resentment. In the only two instances where we explicitly read of Paul’s ministry provoking Israelites to jealousy, the hostile reaction of the Jews makes it clear that their jealousy is entirely negative (Acts 13:45, 50; 17:5-7). From these examples it seems clear that their “jealousy” did not make them more receptive to what Paul was teaching. But perhaps Paul’s hope was that some Jews would come to understand the jealousy to which Israel was being provoked as being a fulfillment of Deut. 32:21, and would therefore come to see Israel as standing guilty before God, and in need of being brought to repentance. This would then lead those who came to this sobering realization to become more receptive to what Paul was proclaiming concerning Christ.

In any case, what needs to be emphasized here is that Paul clearly did not anticipate the majority of Israelites coming to faith in Christ during the time of his apostolic ministry. And even though it is necessary that this calloused condition be reversed before the kingdom can be restored to Israel, Paul knew that this state of affairs would not end until the “complement of the nations” had entered (Rom. 11:25-28). Until this time came, Paul evidently saw the un-calloused Jewish remnant as God’s pledge that He had not “thrust away His people” (11:1-2), and that the callousness which was (and remains) upon the nation of Israel would not be permanent.

[3] This reveals how God will be measuring time during the final 70th week. Each year will be comprised of exactly 12 months, and each month will be comprised of exactly 30 days. In other words, God will be measuring the final years of this eon according to what the passages of the sun and moon would be in the mechanics of a perfect solar system (in which the earth revolved around the sun every 360 days, and the lunar cycle of the moon would be 30 days). The years of the 70th week will not, therefore, be measured by 365.24219 solar days or by lunar cycles of 29.530589 days. Time will be measured by God in accord with the mathematics and geometry of a circle. This will make the final seven years of this eon shorter in duration than a “typical” seven year period. This way of measuring time is not without historical precedent. In Genesis we’re told that the flood of Noah’s day began on the 17th day of the 2nd month (Gen. 7:11). Exactly five months later (on the 17th day of the 7th month) we’re told that “the flood waters receded and the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat.” This five month span of time is stated twice in Genesis to be 150 days (Gen. 7:24; 8:3). When we divide 150 by 5 we get a total of 30. This means that months were being measured by God at this time as units of time comprised of exactly 30 days (which, again, is according to what the passages of the sun and moon would be in the mechanics of a solar system that reflects the mathematical/geometrical ideal of a circle).

[4] According to Daniel 11:41, the only part of the world over which the man of lawlessness will not have dominion will be the region of “Edom and Moab and the main part of the Ammomites.” It is to this protected area in the mountainous wilderness of southern Jordan that the Jewish remnant referred to in Revelation 12:6-17 will flee, in accord with the exhortation of Christ found in Matthew 24.