Under the symbol of the Two Witnesses the eleventh chapter of the Revelation gives a remarkable prophecy about the amazing circulation of the Bible in this our day, the time of the end.
These Two Witnesses (meaning the Old Testament and the New) are described as having prophesied, or done their appointed work, for 1260 days (or years) while clothed in sackcloth. At the end of this period they are killed and lie unburied for a short time, after which they are resurrected and ascend up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies look on in wonder.
Obviously the entire passage is designed to show the change of status concerning the Holy Scriptures. During long centuries the Written Word of God survived only under dangers and difficulties without number. But in our day it is translated into more than a thousand languages and dialects and is shipped by the ton and the shipload to every corner of the world. From the viewpoint of God and the onlooking universe, this universal spread of the Bible in our day is without doubt the most important event on earth since Calvary and Pentecost.
We need to remember that during the first twenty-five centuries of human history no Bibles existed anywhere, no written revelation of God's will for man. Then slowly, during century after century, divinely inspired writings began to appear.
But until about the middle of the first century after Christ, men had only what we now call the Old Testament. And how scarce and costly were copies! The Old Testament is really a library of many books. Every copy had to be written out by hand in a difficult script, and only by experts especially trained for the work. The addition of the New Testament added to the size of the library and to the expense. For more than another thousand years, until the invention of printing, a complete copy of the Bible would always cost the equivalent of the wages of a skilled man for an entire year, or about what we now pay for a good automobile. Considering the almost universal poverty and ignorance of all times preceding our own, how pitifully few were the copies of the Bible available, and how few could possess a copy for their very own!
We need also to remember that except in very modern times no dictionaries existed in any language to help explain difficult words or phrases. Neither was there such a mental crutch as a concordance to help locate a passage only dimly remembered. These facts, together with the sheer awkwardness and difficulty of handling scrolls or even vellum codices (the latter not available in Old Testament times), make us astounded at the intimate familiarity with ah of the older writings shown by the Apostle John in the Revelation, which is absolutely saturated with quotations and allusions to the prophetic writings of the Old Testament.
But this prophecy about the Two Witnesses foretells a strikingly different state of affairs at the close of the world's history. The last chapter of Daniel foretells that in the time of the end many would be rushing hither and thither, and knowledge would be increased. (Daniel 12:4.) This passage in the Revelation about the Two Witnesses may be considered an enlargement and commentary on one feature of Daniel's text, for it gives what in reality is the most important aspect of Daniel's prophecy, namely, the enormous increase in understanding God's message for mankind and its circulation in printed form among all peoples and in all languages. This global spread of the Bible would be an absolutely unique and unprecedented event in human history.
As we glance back over the history of God's work during the long centuries, we see it characterized by short periods of revival, alternating with long periods of degeneracy and darkness. Contrary to general opinion, the first age of the world was one of great moral and spiritual light. Ellen G. White remarks:
We need to remember that Adam lived to see the ninth generation of his posterity. For hundreds of years seven generations were living contemporaneously on the earth. The long overlapping of the lives of several of the ancient patriarchs both before and after the Flood explains how divine instructions could easily have been passed along from Adam to the family to which Abraham belonged. For example, Shem lived until Abraham was 150 years old. Thus in unbroken line the truth of God could be passed along, and all who desired could know the great promises of God for salvation from sin and the glorious rewards for obedience. They had no Bibles; but the accurate parental teachings, under the blessing of God, were amply sufficient to accomplish the gracious purposes of redemption.
Amid the many voices calling to us today from every side, it is of the utmost importance that we know which to heed. Which are from God, in tune with heaven and all that is good and true and elevating? Which are from the spirit of evil, trying to lead us astray? These problems of choice, involving life or death, press upon every modern individual every waking hour of the day. As the angel said to Daniel, "none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand." (Daniel 12: 10.)
Throughout all ancient times, or at least down to the time of the return from the Babylonian Captivity, the Israelites were always confronted with the problem of choosing between the true prophets of God and the false ones. They had God's Written Word from the time of Moses down; and these holy writings comprised the larger part of what we now call the books of the Old Testament. Down to about the time mentioned, apparently few if any writings of the false prophets had come into common circulation.
But from about the period of the return from exile, numerous secular or spurious writings, which scholars now call apocalyptic, began to multiply; and from thenceforth the seekers for truth had to decide which were from God and which were not. These apocalyptic writings were obviously imitations of such writings as the visions of Daniel, but were they inspired by the same Spirit as were his? Doubtless many people of those days were inclined to class them all together, unable to discern any great difference between them. But then as always these words of Christ were true: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." John 10:27.
By New Testament times these spurious writings had multiplied, and in the post-apostolic period they increased greatly in numbers and in confusing and deceptive appeal. Practically every scrap of literature that has come down to us from the so-called "apostolic fathers" is of this character, a mixture of good and evil.
From those times to our own the people who wish to know the truth have had to discriminate, not so much between true and false living prophets, but between true and false writings. Today enticing voices are heard on the air over radio and television and by every other conceivable means of propaganda. No people in any previous age were ever "so bethump'd with words," good and bad, and obliged constantly to decide between them. How imperative that we keep deciding according to Isaiah 8:20!
When the unclean spirit of tradition and fear is cast out, the modern man boasts of being "free." He claims to have an open mind. The record of Genesis no longer restrains his imagination about the origin of the world; no longer do the thunders of Sinai bother him in matters of ethics or morals. He is strictly on his own, and his "open mind" has only one criterion: whether he likes an idea or dislikes it.
For example, Einstein not only congratulated himself that he was large-minded enough to outgrow the idea of a personal God and to substitute a pantheistic theory, but he then proceeded to discard Newton's cosmology, which implied that the universe must have some sort of center or administrative headquarters, about which all the parts of the universe revolve. So, after explaining away this view, he declared, "We thus free ourselves from the distasteful conception that the material universe ought to possess something of the nature of a center."—The Theory of Relativity, Fourth ed., pp. 106, 107. In other words, Einstein, like so many other moderns, uses his likes and dislikes to decide his views about the universe and its origin and then boasts about being scientific.
In our day every person in public life finds himself bombarded over the radio, through the mails, and by all the other media of modern mass communication by means of which the seven other spirits, worse than the first, seek to enter the vacuum made by the departure of the original occupant. Little wonder that "the power of Satan now to tempt and deceive is tenfold greater than it was in the days of the apostles."—Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 2, p. 277.
Also we need to recognize that certain parts of the Bible are specially for our day, having been timed for the very last part of the last days. Other parts have been of special importance at other times. And we need to discriminate.
To illustrate by what is perhaps an extreme case: Some of the Old Testament chapters consisting of long lists of names may seem of little interest or importance to us, but they were very interesting and important at the time they were written, and they can be of importance again. A. H. Sayce, eminent archaeologist of Oxford, once stated that some of these long lists of names are highly important in the researches of archaeology. They had convinced him and many others of the extreme accuracy of these ancient records and showed that these records must be of heavenly origin.
In the very nature of the case, those divine predictions about the close of human history are now, for our times, of special importance and should have our special attention. When you hear someone belittling such studies as "doctrinal" and not "practical," just breathe a silent prayer, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
"As we near the close of this world's history, the prophecies relating to the last days especially demand our study. The last book of the New Testament Scriptures is full of truth that we need to understand."—Testimonies to Ministers, p. 116.
Again: "When the books of Daniel and Revelation are better understood, believers will have an entirely different religious experience."—ibid., p. 114. And may God grant us such an experience.
Once more: "When we as a people understand what this book [Revelation] means to us, there will be seen among us a great revival."—ibid., p. 113. For this "great revival" let us all study and pray.
"When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth." John 16:13. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." James 1:5.
With these and similar promises before him, a man has no more excuse for remaining ignorant or in perplexity than he has for remaining a sinner. "None of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand." Daniel 12:10.
Read Chapter 11 — The Monster From the Abyss
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