Revelation 11 is a prophetic chapter, which allows us to play with ideas again. Although Douglas Adams – a cynical atheist – chose ’42’ as a silly answer to “life, the universe, and everything,” it has a coded meaning in Revelation 11. It signifies the era of civilization after the coming of Jesus – the era in which the Most High completes his process of healing the world through the religions given to the Gentiles (Christianity and Islam). That accomplishment – first celebrated in Revelation 7 – is celebrated again after the sounding of the seventh trumpet. We should heed to warnings in particular: honor his scripture, and care for the earth.
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams took on the ultimate question: “What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?” Now the question isn’t normally asked that way. Normally we ask “What is the meaning of life?” Wise people have tried to answer this question for a long time.
Of course they failed, as anyone would know after watching Fox News and MSNBC on the same night. People can’t agree on hardly anything, much less the meaning of life.
In his writing, Adams side-stepped the problem by having the Earth annihilated by an alien race that wanted to build a space expressway through the solar system. The movie adaptation finds a happier answer: meaning is found in romantic love.
But romantic love wasn’t the answer offered in Adams’ book. The answer was “42.” Adams intended for this to be ridiculous. The origin of the answer leads one to wonder, though. Having written the question into his story, Adams was gardening while waiting for a good (and silly) answer to come to mind. Out of the blue, he heard a voice announce that the answer should be “42.”
Now given this silly answer, the story advances with the idea that the massive computer that calculated the answer designed the Earth as an even bigger computer that would calculate the question. But that’s not fair. The question was already asked. It was “What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?”
But we shouldn’t take Adams too seriously. He’s an entertainer.
If we haven’t found the meaning of life, I guess that the next best thing is to know the future. That certainly helped Noah, and I wouldn’t mind knowing which stocks to pick. Atheists and the faithful seem to agree on the importance of knowing the future. Atheists honor science, which uses mathematics to predict the future. The faithful turn to prophetic scripture.
For Christians, Revelation has a special fascination. In Revelation 4, John is called to heaven with these words:
“Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this.”
[NIV Rev. 4:1]
As we learned in the introduction to this series (In Over His Head), this was the intention of the Most High, but John has so many questions in his mind – questions about suffering that he asked every day. In the presence of All Truth, those questions brought him many answers – though the answers might have been beyond his understanding.
Most of the knowledge recorded in books 4-9 was concerned with the ancient past – events that occurred millions or billions of years ago. Revelation 10 is concerned events in Eden about 7000 years ago, making it “breaking news” compared to everything else. But now we are expecting the sounding of the seventh trumpet, which will end the seventh day of creation. That hasn’t happened yet. So we expect what follows to be about John’s future, just as the angel’s journey to grace in Revelation 7 was concerned with the future. Indeed, at the end of Revelation 10, John is told
“You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”
[NIV Rev. 10:11]
Looking back at Revelation 5, we see that this was exactly as was said in the prophesy of the Lamb’s work. These repetitions are important, because John’s vision walks through time over several paths. The repetitions allow is to see where the paths cross.
But back to Revelation 11.
John has received the command of the Most High, and is set immediately to work. He is told to walk among the Chosen People:
“Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshippers.”
[NIV Rev. 11:1]
The Most High uses John to find the faithful among the Hebrews. Among the Gentiles, another way must be found:
They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days.
[NIV Rev. 11:3]
Now every time angels start talking about months and days, we have to wonder how to translate to human terms. But the months and days are actually the same: 42 months is 1,260 days.
What is clear is the power of these witnesses. Their words burn those that try to harm them, and they have the power to bring drought and plagues. Among God’s prophets, we know that Moses and Elijah had these powers. But I don’t believe that these witnesses are specific people. Rather, they represent spirits that have many lives, just as the 144,000 have led many lives as animals and people.
What would we expect of people inspired by the witnesses? To bring the evidence of God’s presence to every generation. They refresh our faith. They sustain our religions.
Now among the Gentiles, God has given us two religions: Christianity and Islam. This is how they are related: God set out through the Hebrews to create a people that could bring love into the world. That effort took thousands of years until Jesus was born. The people’s spiritual progress birthed first a tribe in Jacob, then a culture in Moses, and finally a nation under David.
Jesus announces the end of that journey. No longer will law or nation be the standard of loyalty – rather, people will be joined by love. But what of the rest of the world, those that had no knowledge of the Torah? Would they also have to spend thousands of years learning to love?
That is the purpose of the Qu’ran: it summarizes the path followed by the Hebrews as a journey that can be accomplished in a few generations. In part, that is possible because the descriptions of the Holy Men are concerned with their inner nature – not on their worldly accomplishments. Where the Torah celebrates the political power of our Biblical heroes, the Qu’ran shows us their hearts.
So if the Torah, the Gospels and the Qu’ran are one teaching, why do their followers argue with each other?
No living being can overcome the two witnesses, so evil itself arises against them:
Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them.
[NIV Rev. 11:7]
In Revelation 9, the angel of the Abyss is named: Abaddon in Hebrew, and Apollyon in Greek – both meaning “Destruction” in English. This was the last of the beings released from the scroll of seven seals. Its work is seen in the militant fanaticism that infects both Islam and Christianity. Fanaticism that once justified the Muslim conquest and the Christian Crusades, and in our day the bombings of innocent civilians in our public places.
Given that John is in heaven looking down upon these events on Earth, we might conclude that the Spirit of Jesus and Muhammad, living on in the Gospels and the Qu’ran, will be forced out of the world. Worse: when their words are not excluded, they will be turned to destructive ends. This outcome pleases some:
The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.
[NIV Rev. 11:10]
Then something wondrous happens:
But after three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those that saw them.
[NIV Rev. 11:11]
Something happens to prove the truth of scripture – something that also proves the falseness of the doctrine of destruction. People will realize that they have made a terrible mistake – a mistake that could cost them eternity. What could that be?
Fortunately, John had similar questions, and answers will begin to be revealed in Revelation 12. For now, we must finish with the story of the seven trumpets. The seventh trumpet sounds, and we find ourselves again with the twenty-four elders, hearing proclamations very similar to those made at the end of Revelation 7. The two paths through history have met at the end of the story.
In those words, I find two things to emphasize. The first makes clear that our responsibility involves more than other people:
The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants…and for destroying those who destroy the earth.
[NIV Rev. 11:18]
Clearly, Adam and Eve were given stewardship of the earth – not dominion over it. We must take that responsibility seriously. In our day, we see the opposite: our abuse of our sacred home is causing the seventh of the great extinction episodes, this one progressing faster than any other before it.
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened.
[NIV Rev. 11:19]
The temple can only be the throne of Revelation 4, surrounded by the sea of glass. This is exciting, but is it something that we should desire? For it comes with fearsome effects: lightning, thunder, an earthquake, and a hailstorm.
We’ll have to wait to find out, for Revelation 12 backs up again to take another run through history.
But at least we can answer this: the number 42 arises in Revelation 11 because it is the history of religion. Every religion is a practice that brings love into the world through men. Because we received love on the sixth day of creation, the number of Man is six. The number of God is seven, for as proclaimed by Christ in Revelation 10, the Most High completes his work on the seventh day of creation.
If religion causes God’s will to be multiplied through men, then as numbers that would be six times seven – or forty-two. So might Adams’ little voice – the voice that suggested ‘42’ as the answer to “life, the universe, and everything” – have been the Holy Spirit turning the words of an atheist entertainer to the purpose of restoring religion?
As for the ’42 months’ or ‘1260 days’ in Revelation 12? Who knows for certain? I still can’t figure out how the angels keep time. But that number appears again and again – sometimes as three and a half years, sometimes as three and a half days, and sometimes as “a time, times, and half a time.” (I can imagine the angels talking: “No, John, not months! Lets try again. No, John, not years. Nope, not days either. Egad! I guess ‘times’ is as close as we’re going to get.”) Rather than thinking of these references as coming one after another, we might think of the “42 months” as an era – something like the “100 Years War” in the history of Europe. As I offered above, I read it as the era of Civilization after Jesus.
Let’s summarize today’s study.
In Revelation 11, John first seeks the faithful among the Hebrews. Then he sees the power sent by the Most High to bring faith to the Gentiles. Two witnesses – the spirits that guard the Gospels and the Qu’ran – force the angel of destruction to rise against them directly. John foresees that when the message of faith is corrupted by destruction, the Most High will restore it by prove the truth of his scripture.
Then the seventh trumpet is sounded to announce the final era of extinction – the extinctions that we are causing today. The heavenly temple opens, bringing forth the judgment of the Most High. With the end of the trumpets, we again hear the elders praising God as they did in Revelation 7. While fearsome to his enemies, the faithful can expect him to:
…[reward] your servants and prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great.
[NIV Rev. 11:18]