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A unique earthquake

January 21, 2011

Earthquakes are not usually predictable, but the book of Revelation contains several predictions of earthquakes. In one of these predictions, the precise number of people slain by the earthquake is given; 7,000. And it occurs just before the seventh trumpet. It is when the corpses of the two witnesses come to life, and ascend to heaven.

Revelation 11:11-13
And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.
And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.
And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.

What city is meant? Is it the holy city of verse 2, which is trampled by Gentiles for 42 months? Or the “great city,” which is mystical Babylon? In the prophecy, the holy city is the heavenly city, and the temple also; both represent the saints. [Revelation 11:19] These stand in contrast to the world.
The city where the corpses of the two witnesses are exposed is called spiritually “Sodom,” and “Egypt.” These labels designate worldly human society, outside the holy city, as Jerusalem represents the saints. Jesus was crucified “without the gate.”

I suggest the two witnesses described in this chapter represent the word of God, and the Spirit. E. W. Hengstenberg, who seems to have supposed the city where the earthquake occurs to be Jerusalem, wondered how an earthquake could lead people to repentance. He wrote: [1]

No one viewing Judaism as our author did, could possibly think of it as having such noble powers of life slumbering in it, as that so comparatively mild a judgment should have sufficed to set them free-that the fall of the tenth part of the city and the death of the tenth part of the inhabitants should have had the effect of “terrifying the rest, and leading them to give glory to the God of heaven.” Such powers of life, according to the view taken in the Apocalypse, grow only out of Christ’s blood and redemption. For Satan’s synagogue tribulation is as fruitless as for the heathen, and even more so. It can only produce rage in such characters, the dark zealot-spirit.

This remarkable earthquake occurs when the two corpses come back to life, and ascend to heaven in a cloud. In the earthquake, 7,000 are slain. Young’s version reads: “killed in the earthquake were names of men-seven thousands.”

The phrase “names of men” occurs in Acts 1:15, where it refers to the number of the disciples; “the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty.” It also occurs in the message to the church at Sardis, in Revelation:

Revelation 3:4
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.

The use of the phrase “names of men” elsewhere in the New Testament suggests those affected by this earthquake are saints! And that is also true of the number, 7,000. Paul wrote:

Romans 11:1-4
I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.
God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying,
Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.
But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.

The number 7,000 is associated with the number of the faithful remnant, who had not bowed the knee to Baal, in the time of Elijah. [1 Kings 19:18] And there are other things in the chapter that allude to the story of Elijah: the heaven’s being shut, and the duration of the ministry of the two witnesses, which is 1,260 days. Elijah prayed that it would not rain, and there was none for three years and six months.

This is all rather strange, unless the “earthquake” of verse 13 is something other than a literal one. Since the “city” is symbolic of the worldly society, the earthquake has no specific location. And, why would John record the number of deaths in a literal earthquake? There is no point; a prophecy about a future earthquake is of little value, unless it also tells us how people may save themselves from destruction! Other earthquakes have taken many more lives, often killing tens or hundreds of thousands. And, what is it about this earthquake, that causes men to give glory to God afterwards? Other earthquakes, such as the great Lisbon earthquake of 1 November 1755, which killed tens of thousands, had the opposite effect on philosophers of the Enlightenment.

In prophecy, “earth” and “sea” are often symbolic; the “earth opens her mouth” in Revelation 12:16, and swallows up a “flood” that the serpent spews out of his mouth to carry away the woman, who represents the church. The serpent is not a literal serpent; the woman is not a literal woman; the water of the flood is not literal water, and the “earth” in this chapter is obviously symbolic too, as is heaven. The earth is one of the things in the prophecy that requires interpretation.

The word “earth” can be rendered “land.” And that land here may represent the promised land, and the spiritual inheritance of the saints.

If the “flood from the mouth of the serpent” is a flood of flawed interpretations, and false teachings; all these would be “swallowed up” when the saints discover the truth; this is one of the things that Jesus promised. [John 16:13] Only the truth can swallow up the serpent’s flood.

The earthquake of Revelation 11:13 may be similar. The “land” represents the revelations of God, and so an “earthquake” could picture a major shake-up in our understanding of the scriptures, especially of prophecy. In that case, the number of those who are “slain” may indeed refer to the faithful remnant. But they are not “slain” in a literal sense, but in a spiritual or metaphorical way. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” [John 12:24] He seemed to refer to a spiritual death; the death of our old human nature. Jesus also said, “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” [John 11:26] The word “die” is meant in another sense. Obviously Christians still grow old and die in the flesh. Paul explained it:

Romans 8:13
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

Paul taught that we need to “mortify,” or put to death, the deeds of the flesh.

Colossians 3:5
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

I suggest that in the great earthquake described in John’s prophecy, the 7,000 who are “slain” are those who believe the message of the gospel, and the scriptures, and respond by yielding to Christ; they are the saints. This fits the description given of the church, the bride and wife of the Lamb, in Revelation 19.

Revelation 19:7-9
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

She is “arrayed in fine linen, clean and white,” implying that the saints will understand the message of prophecy. The above interpretation, that those “slain” by the earthquake are the saints, shortly before the seventh trumpet and the resurrection, also explains the dilemma that was pointed out by Hengstenberg.

References

1. E. W. Hengstenberg, The Revelation of St John: expounded for those who search the Scriptures, Volume 1. 1852. pp. 497-519.
http://books.google.ca/books?id=b5UXAAAAYAAJ

 

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