Three-year-old Colton Burpo had a near-death experience (NDE) while on the operating table. When it was over, he described his “three minutes in heaven” in vivid detail, including encounters with Samson, John the Baptist, and Jesus, who had sea-blue eyes and owned a rainbow-colored horse.
Colton’s father, a Wesleyan pastor, believes the lad’s experience was real because he shared it with “the simple conviction of an eyewitness.”
You may read Colton’s story in Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, which ruled the best-seller list for 44 weeks. Millions of people have devoured the book and watched the youngster’s appearances on TV shows.
Less popular but equally intriguing are books about NDEs in which people “die” for brief periods and experience the horrors of hell. To Hell and Back by cardiologist Maurice Rollins, for example, tells us that hellish NDEs have to be recorded and verified immediately after the person “returns” or the horrifying memories will be repressed.
In any case, stories like Colton’s appeal to our desire to know more about the afterlife.
Rev. 11:3 – I will empower my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth. 4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and consumes their enemies; if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. 6These men have the power to close the sky so that it does not rain during the days of their prophecy. They also have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with any plague whenever they want.
My two witnesses
In verse 3 we are introduced to God’s two witnesses, who dress in sackcloth and prophesy for 1,260 days. They are described as “the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” They are able to consume their enemies with fire from their mouths. They have the power to prevent rain during the days of their ministry, as well as the authority to turn the waters to blood and to strike the earth with plagues. The identity of these two witnesses is a matter of much debate among commentators. Noted biblical scholar Henry “Dean” Alford once said the 11th chapter of Revelation is the most difficult to interpret in all of the Apocalypse of John, and no doubt the identity of these two witnesses contributes to the difficulty.
There are many views.
Rev. 8:10-11 – The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water. 11The name of the star is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood. So, many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter (HCSB).
It fell on a third
John records that the star Wormwood falls on a third of the rivers and springs of water, causing a third of the waters to become bitter. Scholars are divided as to whether the fractions used in Revelation are to be interpreted literally or figuratively. Making all of the fractions in these judgments add up is a daunting challenge and may not be necessary, according to those who argue that terms such as “a third” simply are literary or rabbinical devices to mean some portion but not the whole. Why, then, doesn’t John just avoid fractions altogether? More to the point, why doesn’t the Author of scripture, the Holy Spirit, be more explicit?
Those who read Revelation literally argue that the fractions are indeed explicit. One-third means one-third. Others, however, remind us that Revelation is apocalyptic, a form of writing that is figurative by design. In any case, it’s interesting to note that the first four trumpet judgments impact one-third of the environment: a third of the earth, a third of the trees, a third of the sea, a third of the living creatures in the sea, a third of the rivers and springs of water, and a third of the sun, moon and stars; the only exception is “all of the green grass” in the first trumpet judgment. Whether the term “a third” is to be taken literally or figuratively, it no doubt means a substantial portion but not all. The Lord is speaking clearly in these judgments, but also is extending His mercy to any who will repent.
In this third trumpet judgment, the star falls on a third of the rivers and springs of water so they become undrinkable. If this is to be taken literally, consider the impact: “The National Geographic Society lists about 100 principal rivers in the world, ranging in length from the Amazon (4,000 miles long) to the Rio de la Plata (150 miles long). The U.S. Geological Survey reports thirty large rivers in the United States, beginning with the mighty Mississippi (3,710 miles long). One third of these rivers, and their sources, will become so bitterly polluted that drinking their water could produce death” (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Rev. 8:7).
If we read this judgment figuratively – in other words, that it applies to society in general or to the church – Matthew Henry provides this insight: “What effect it [the false ideals of leaders] had upon them [the populace or the church]; it turned those springs and streams into wormwood, made them very bitter, that men were poisoned by them; either the laws, which are springs of civil liberty, and property, and safety, were poisoned by arbitrary power, or the doctrines of the gospel, the springs of spiritual life, refreshment, and vigour to the souls of men, were so corrupted and embittered by a mixture of dangerous errors that the souls of men found their ruin where they sought for their refreshment” (Rev. 8:7-13).
David Stern, in the Jewish New Testament Commentary, offers this balanced approach to the judgments in Revelation: “If these verses in Revelation are to be understood literally, then, since God uses nature to accomplish his purposes, one can imagine asteroids plunging into the earth, other materials from outer space darkening the skies and infecting the water, and heat flashes setting fire to the vegetation; and one can seek scientific explanations for such phenomena. But if these are graphic but figurative ways of describing God’s judgment and the terror it will evoke, such speculations and researches are irrelevant. There are intelligent, well-informed God-fearing New Testament scholars taking each approach” (p. 815).
So many of the people died
But how may we accept a figurative approach to this judgment when John writes plainly that “many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter” (v. 11)? No doubt, a literal rendering of this passage makes sense; if a third of the world’s fresh water supply is poisoned, a large number of people who rely on that water to sustain life will drink it and die.
If, however, one approaches these verses symbolically, death may be seen in a number of ways. For example, corrupt political leaders often kill their rivals, enslave their people and wage war against their enemies, so that people, societies, and basic human rights are destroyed. Or consider that false teachers in the church, as agents of Satan, demolish sound doctrine, resulting in spiritual death for those kept from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). At the same time, false teachers may stunt the spiritual growth of believers as they exploit them with “the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). As a result, the faith of many withers; local churches die; once-universally held truths – like the virgin birth of Jesus, His deity, and His physical resurrection – become powerless myths and legends.
Physical death is tragic, but other deaths may be far worse.
Four major views of the third trumpet
How do supporters of the four major interpretations of Revelation view the third trumpet?
- Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – say the turning of fresh water into undrinkable water may be the result of rotting corpses in the Sea of Galilee during the Jewish War of 66-70 A.D. Others, however, see parallels between the imagery John uses and the implied threat God makes to ancient Israel after delivering the nation from Egyptian bondage. Just as the healing of bitter waters at Marah are symbolic of the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt, the Lord warns the Israelites that if they violate their covenant with God they are to expect plagues similar to those used to crush Egypt (Deut. 28:59-60). By combining these Old Testament allusions, John may be pointing out the fact that Israel is apostate and has become like Egypt. As a result, the nation will be destroyed.
- Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – tend to view the “great star” as Attilla the Hun, who emerges as suddenly as a blazing meteor. He and his 800,000 men decimate the regions of the Rhine, upper Danube and Po Rivers. In the Italian Alps, they shed so much blood as to pollute the waters that have their springs there, according to Steve Gregg in Revelation: Four Views (p. 160). By some estimates, 300,000 corpses lay in the rivers so that those who drink from the putrid waters contract diseases and die.
- Futurists – who argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – are divided. Some hold to a literal understanding in which a blazing heavenly object pollutes much of the world’s drinking water, while others contend that John is referring to some future leader – perhaps the pope, or the Antichrist, or even Satan.
- Some idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – say John is referring to all the ways in which God uses the inland waters, including floods and water-borne epidemics, to warn sinners to repent. Others say that perhaps the waters symbolize the many ways people satisfy their needs, such as industry and commerce; if so, then the blazing star is God’s way of disrupting man’s efforts to rule his own destiny. The turning of pure waters bitter perhaps reflects the fact that God, in the Old Testament, refers to Himself as “the fountain of living waters” and rebukes His people with forsaking Him for idols, thus polluting their worship. When people prefer the putrid waters of idolatry to the fountain of living waters, they should expect to receive the consequences.
Next: The fourth trumpet – Revelation 8:12-13
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapter 12 likely takes place during the reign of Ahaz, Judah’s wicked king.
Isa. 12:2: Indeed, God is my salvation. I will trust Him and not be afraid. Because Yah, the Lord, is my strength and my song, He has become my salvation.
Isaiah recites a song of praise that God’s people will sing when the Messiah accomplishes His mission.
Isaiah’s song of praise is similar to the song Moses and the Israelites sang when God delivered them from bondage in Egypt (Ex. 15:1-21).
Thanksgiving to the Lord (Isa. 12:1-3)
Isaiah uses the phrase “on that day” 48 times in his prophetic writings, often to emphasize the certainty of God’s pending judgment. But he uses this common phrase twice in Isaiah 12, in verses 1 and 4, to preview days in which God’s anger is set aside and His compassion is brought to the forefront. These are days in which His people will exalt Him with praise, thanksgiving, and celebration.
The idea of salvation (v. 2) in the Jewish mind is tied to the feast of tabernacles. The reference in verse 3 to joyfully drawing water from the springs of salvation reminds the people of the ceremony practiced each day of the feast in which water is drawn from the Pool of Siloam, and it foreshadows the day when Jesus would stand, on the final day of the feast, and proclaim, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink” (John 7:37). “As the Jew was reminded by the feast of tabernacles of his wanderings in tents in the wilderness, so the Jew-Gentile Church to come shall call to mind, with thanksgiving, the various past ways whereby God has at last brought them to the heavenly ‘city of habitation’ (Ps. 107)” (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 12:2).
Some may wonder how to reconcile the concept of a loving God with Isaiah’s depiction of the Lord as angry. Matthew Henry comments, “Though God may for a time be angry with his people, yet his anger shall at length be turned away; it endures but for a moment, nor will he contend for ever. By Jesus Christ, the root of Jesse, God’s anger against mankind was turned away; for he is our peace…The turning away of God’s anger, and the return of his comforts to us, ought to be the matter of our joyful thankful praises” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 12:1).
Testimony to the world (Isa. 12:4-6)
The saved remnant of Israel will thank the Lord for what He has done and call upon one another to tell the world about His greatness. Isaiah previews several acts of worship that will flow from the hearts of his redeemed Jewish brothers, who will say:
- “Give thanks to the Lord; proclaim His name!”
- “Celebrate His deeds among the peoples.”
- “Declare that His name is exalted.”
- “Sing to the Lord, for He has done great things.”
- “Let this be known throughout the earth.”
- “Cry out and sing, citizen of Zion, for the Holy One of Israel is among you in His greatness.”
“Chapter 12 is a fitting climax to the contrast between the fall of the Assyrian Empire, which was threatening Judah in Isaiah’s day, and the rise of God’s glorious kingdom, which will certainly come. Eventually all the world will know of God’s truth” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1058).
Gary V. Smith comments that in this short hymn of praise “worship and evangelism are connected at the hip … For worship to become evangelical it has to be done outside of the four walls of a church, where non-believers can hear God’s praise” (The New American Commentary, Isaiah 1-39, p. 284).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips
Your text on Yom Kippur says the Ark of the Covenant was never recovered after the captivity. Is there any record that it was taken into captivity or destroyed?
According to the Jewish Virtual Library (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org), what happened to the ark after the captivity is unknown and has been debated for centuries. It is unlikely the Babylonians took it because the detailed lists of what they took make no mention of the Ark. “According to some sources, Josiah, one of the final kings to reign in the First Temple period, learned of the impending invasion of the Babylonians and hid the Ark. Where he hid it is also questionable – according to one midrash, he dug a hole under the wood storehouse on the Temple Mount and buried it there (Yoma 53b). Another account says that Solomon foresaw the eventual destruction of the Temple, and set aside a cave near the Dead Sea, in which Josiah eventually hid the Ark (Maimonides, Laws of the Temple, 4:1).”
Some Ethiopian Christians claim they have the Ark today. In Axum, Ethiopia, it is widely believed that the Ark is being held in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion, guarded by a monk known as the “Keeper of the Ark.” According to the Axum Christian community, they acquired the Ark during the reign of Solomon, when his son Menelik, whose mother was the Queen of Sheba, stole the Ark after a visit to Jerusalem. The claim has been impossible to verify, for no one but the monk is allowed into his tent.
A more plausible claim is that of archaeologist Leen Ritmeyer, who has conducted research on the Temple Mount and inside the Dome of the Rock. He claims to have found the spot on the Mount where the Holy of Holies was located during the First Temple period. In the center of that spot is a section of bedrock cut out in dimensions that may match those of the Ark as reported in Exodus. Based on his findings, Ritmeyer has postulated that the Ark may be buried deep inside the Temple Mount. However, it is unlikely that excavation will be allowed on the Mount any time soon by the Muslim or Israeli authorities.
All the feasts are mandated in the Pentateuch, supposedly written by Moses. What is your view concerning the historicity of Moses and the Fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), and more generally the first part of the Old Testament?
While there are some who believe the Bible should be read as literature rather than Scripture, and some scholars who deny the historical truth of Gen. 1-11, it may be best for us to look at how Jesus felt about the Fathers and the Old Testament. For example:
- Jesus referred to Moses as the author of the Pentateuch (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:46; 7:19 and others). Also, Moses appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Elijah and Jesus (Matt. 17:3).
- Throughout the Gospels, Jesus quoted richly from the Old Testament, especially in regard to the Messianic prophecies.
- He spoke of Adam and Eve as real persons (Matt. 19:3-6)
- He talked about the worldwide flood in the days of Noah as a historical fact (Matt. 24:37-38).
- He compared His physical resurrection to the reality of Jonah’s three-day experience in the belly of the great fish (Matt. 12:38-40).
- He made numerous references to Abraham as a real person (Matt. 8:11; 22:32; Luke 3:8; 13:28; 16:19-31; John 8:58).
- His disciples staked His claim of being Messiah, in part, to His lineage, which included Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38).
What life application should we take into our lives from the feasts? Understanding that they point to the return of Christ, and that some churches even celebrate these with the Jewish people, how can or do the feasts or the knowledge of them fit into our worship practices today?
It seems to me that the Western church has largely lost the “Jewishness” of the Scriptures. A systematic teaching of the feasts would strengthen the faith of believers as they see God’s hand in human history, and they may serve to convince unbelievers of the amazing prophetic truths of Scripture.
In addition, worship services and sermons devoted to the feasts in the spring and fall may help all of us reconnect with the fact that God’s Anointed One came to us through God’s chosen people, the Jews. One great opportunity that exists now is the Lord’s Supper, which was instituted during the Passover. What a great opportunity to teach Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Also, baptism gives us the opportunity to talk about Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits.
On a personal level, I know I have become much more aware of the imminent return of Christ in the fall, and I watch with anticipation for Trumpets, when the dead in Christ shall rise first, and then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
There are other Jewish feasts besides the seven we have studied. What can you tell us about Purim and Hanukkah, for example?
Purim commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination, thanks to the heroic acts of Esther, a Jewish woman chosen as Persia’s queen. Her story is told in the book of Esther. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar, which usually falls in March. The word “Purim” means “lots” and refers to the lottery that the evil Persian leader Haman used to choose a date for the massacre of all Jews. Haman’s sinister plot against the Jews was thwarted when Queen Esther, at the urging of her cousin Mordecai, risked death by revealing the plot to King Ahasuerus. The Jewish people were saved, and Haman was put to death. Purim is a joyous celebration preceded by a fast, which commemorates Esther’s three days of fasting in preparation for her meeting with the king. Observant Jews read the book of Esther, enjoy food and drink, and make gifts to charity.
Hanukkah (also spelled Hanukka, Chanuka and Chanukah) is one of the most joyous times of the Jewish year. The people remember the miraculous military victory of the small, ill-equipped Jewish army over the ruling Greek Syrians, who had banned the Jewish religion and desecrated the Temple. In addition, they celebrate the miracle of the small cruse of consecrated oil that burned for eight days in the Temple’s menorah. As a result, Hanukkah is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, which normally falls in December. It also is known as the festival of lights. Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting a menorah for eight nights; eating foods fried in oil, especially potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts; and playing with a dreidel, a four-sided top. Many non-Jews – and even some Jews – equate this holiday with Christmas, adopting many of the Christmas customs such as gift-giving and adorning the house in festive decorations.
Neither Purim nor Hanukkah are “appointed times” or “holy convocations” in Scripture. Nevertheless, they play important roles in Jewish history and modern custom.