Responding to Ron Rhodes’ The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy
Debate 5: Ron Rhodes asks, ‘How Are We to Understand the Book of Revelation?’
Rhodes specifically asks: Can We Identify Babylon? Who Are the 144,000, and What Is Their Ministry? Who Are the Two Witnesses?
Firstly, for those who are new to this series, in my previous post, Interpreting Revelation Part 1 – Taking Issue with Futurism, I explained that once the genre of Revelation is identified then the correct method of interpretation can be applied and the original meaning can be established. The questions in this post that Rhodes has put forward are therefore to be considered in the light of Revelation having been determined to be apocalyptic literature, which is filled with figurative language.
Can We Identify Babylon?
Futurists suggest that this will be either a rebuilt Rome or a rebuilt Babylon. However, having determined that Revelation is full of figurative language, why should it be referring to a specific literal place at all? And, furthermore, consider that the text doesn’t speak of it being rebuilt, but of its existence.
When we consider that this book was written to a 1st century audience using apocalyptic terms like dragon, beast, etc., we should ask what they would have understood by the term Babylon in a figurative context. And, in order to understand the figurative meaning behind the term, we need to first understand the literal significance of the term in their minds.
Babylon had been an empire in the Old Testament that had exercised dominion over other nations. They had enforced their worldview, created unfair trade and exploited people. Among those affected were God’s people. In the first century, Rome was doing exactly the same and so it was figuratively referred to as Babylon. It appears in 1 Peter 5:13 where Peter speaks of the church in Rome by calling it the ‘church in Babylon’.
Now, though there’s little doubt that the term Babylon referred to Rome in the book of Revelation, it clearly went beyond Rome too, because this Babylon goes on to exist until it is judged at the end of time. Therefore Babylon should be seen as an continuing world system that was merely being represented by Rome in the 1st Century and that continually exists through various governments and economic systems throughout the ages until it gets destroyed.
Babylon in Revelation is therefore not literally a rebuilt place sometime in the distant future, but an ongoing worldly system manifest in power, wealth and abuse. It’s one of the constant enemies that the Church faces. However, she faces Babylon in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ, who guides His church in the context of it being allowed to exist.
Essentially Jesus tells the Church to “Come out of her”, echoing His words elsewhere in the New Testament like “love not this world” and “where your heart is there your treasure will be also”. Such an interpretation would have been meaningful to a 1st century audience and has been to the Church ever since.
Who Are the 144,000, and What Is Their Ministry?
‘And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred forty-four thousand, sealed out of every tribe of the people of Israel’ (Revelation 7:4).
Because Revelation is comprised of figurative language throughout, we should consider that the numbers are being used symbolically too. In my post, Numerology in The Revelation, I argue that numbers should be considered figuratively if –
- the literature is apocalyptic (a genre that uses symbolic and allegorical language)
- there is clear use of numerology
- numerology is used at the outset
- numbers associated with Biblical numerology are used
- numbers associated with Biblical numerology are used throughout
- only numbers associated with Biblical numerology are used throughout
- credible Biblical meaning is consistently the outcome of interpretation
- multiple cases make chance meaning an impossible explanation
Revelation ticks all of the above, therefore we ought to consider the figurative meaning behind the number 144 000:
12 x 12 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 144, 000
12 = covenant people
10 = quantitative fullness
3 = God
2 = both Old and New Testament eras
‘one hundred forty-four thousand’ – 10 x 10 x 10 (or 103) x 12 x 12 (or 122) depicts the fullness (10) of God’s (3) people of both (2) the Old (12) and New (12) Covenant eras.
‘sealed’ – this is not a literal sealing, but is figurative of a spiritual truth.
‘tribe’ – note that this isn’t the traditional tribal list. This suggests meaning behind why some are listed and others omitted. Also of significance is the order in which they appear. Obviously Judah being listed first has meaning. Furthermore, the exact number from each tribe suggests meaning outside of the literal, as some tribes were much larger.
‘Israel’ – figuratively, Israel represents the true people of faith of both Testaments, not the literal people of whom Paul said ‘not all Israel are Israel.’
The 144000 are therefore the people of God of both Testament eras. The original audience would have recognized that they were being included and referred to by this symbolism. And, such an interpretation would have encouraged not only them, but the Church throughout history. This is in contrast to a literal interpretation of 144000 Jews after the Rapture, which clearly is a total misrepresentation that comes from applying a literal method of interpretation to what is clearly figurative language.
Who Are the Two Witnesses?
‘And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth’ (Revelation 11:3-4).
2 = Double witness
- Witnesses = Lampstands = Olive Trees
- Lampstands = Churches
Some allusions to consider:
- Olive Trees = Kingly & Priestly authority (Zerubbabel – governer, Joshua – high priest
- Elijah and Moses at the transfiguration
- Jesus sent disciples out in 2’s
- 2 Churches = Old & New Testament churches
- 2 Churches = Smyrna & Philadelphia as ideal churches
- Two witnesses required to establish truth
- God’s house on foundation of the apostles and prophets
The two witnesses with authority to prophesy are “those who worship in the temple” (Revelation 11:1), i.e. God’s people of both Old and New Testament eras.
This is a far cry from the Futurist view of an actual two persons well beyond the first century church and after the church era, who will be literally killed in Jerusalem and their bodies left in the middle of the street, and the whole world will look upon them via a video gone viral over the Internet. Who then, three days later, will stand up and be taken up to Heaven.
Such a view is based on a wooden literal interpretation in the face of the clear need for figurative interpretation. Its outcome has no relevance to the 7 churches, the audience of the prophecy, or to the Church throughout time.
In contrast, however, the Church in the 1st century would have received comfort from the vision if they saw the slaying and resurrection of the Two Witnesses as a figurative depiction of the Church of the Old and New Testament eras who lay down their lives (not necessarily literally) in service to God. And, we too should receive this comfort and encouragement in our service of the Lord.
Responses To Ron Rhodes’ ‘The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy’:
- Bible Prophecy: Literal or Allegorical
- Toppling Dispensationalism
- Israel is Saved or Judged, not Replaced or Distinct
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? – PART 1
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 2 – Israel
- The Signs of the Times – Do Current Signs Point to Prophetic Fulfillment? PART 3 – Middle East, European Union, Globalism?
- The Signs of the Times – Is America in Bible Prophecy?
- The Signs of the Times – Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur? PART 1 – Israel regathered from Many Nations
- The Signs of the Times – Can We Know When the Ezekiel Invasion Will Occur? PART 2 – Russians and Muslims to Invade Israel on Horseback?
- When Will The Rapture Occur?
- Taking Issue with Futurism – Interpreting Revelation Part 1
- Daniel’s Seventieth Week and the Book of Revelation – Interpreting Revelation Part 2
- Babylon, the 144000 and The Two Witnesses – Interpreting Revelation – Part 3
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 1
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 2
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 3
- Who is the Antichrist? – Part 4
- The Millennium
- Prophetic Events and Their Timing