The Final Exodus
by A. Dietrich
Apostasy and the Anti-Church in the Near Future
For the first millennium of Christendom, until the schism between the western (Roman Catholic) and the eastern (East Orthodox) Churches, there was but one Christian church. It was the teaching of this Church that in the last days, “the time would arrive when vast segments of the (Christian) Church would apostacize, when a counter church, formed under Satan’s leadership, would arise and when evil will reign so strongly in the life of mankind that life on earth will become virtually impossible” (Apostasy and Antichrist, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY translated from Russian, 1992, pg 4). Most Christians today would associate this with the time of the “tribulation,” which is spoken of in the biblical books of Daniel, Revelation, and elsewhere.
It is the continuing tradition of numerous Christian denominations that this apostasy will involve the acceptance of a false messianic figure, commonly known as the Antichrist. According to the East Orthodox saint, Zosima, “‘When you hear that the Christ has come to the earth or has appeared on earth, then know that it is Antichrist.'” The coming of the true Christ will be different. “‘It will be neither necessary nor even possible for men to give report to each other of the coming of the Son of God. He will appear suddenly; he will appear in his omnipotence to all men and the whole world at one time'” (Apostasy and Antichrist, pg 29, quoting Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov, in his Works, vol. 4, p. 275).
Those days will be characterized by a climactic struggle for the allegiance of mankind between the seducing lies of the Antichrist and a prophetic witness to God’s truth and love. The discussion below describes some of the events of the tribulation in order to define the nature of God’s true witness to man during those final days and contrast it with the false spirituality offered by the Antichrist. As these days unfold, what is written here will become clearer and clearer.
Depravity Blinds against Warnings
The Bible and Orthodox Christian tradition teach that the Antichrist will be permitted to seduce mankind at large, and this in order to condemn those that refused the truth and “chose wickedness instead.” (2 Thes. 2:10-12) The book of Matthew (Ch. 24:37-40) testifies that as it was in Noah’s day so it will be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man. “They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and (they) knew not until the flood came, and took them all away.”
Apostasy and Antichrist, comments that this parallel to Noah’s time also indicates that, “unrestrained sensuality, lechery, gluttony and drunkenness will become the norm, deadening man’s mind so that even … the troubles which God will send as a warning (famine, earthquakes, plagues and finally the great agony of Antichrist) will create no feeling of fear or remorse in people drunken with their own corruption. … All the Holy Fathers consider the main cause of the rapid captivation of mankind by Antichrist to be . . . submersion in worldly matters. Since spiritual understanding (is) preserved by the true-Orthodox Christians (in contrast to Christians in name only), only the very small proportion of them who will remain true-Orthodox Christians to the last, living a spiritual life in accordance with the rules of the Holy Church, will at that time be in full weaponry and be able to discern all the snares and cunning of Antichrist” (pp.23,34) What these writers are saying in their way is that to have the spiritual discernment needed in these last days we must be applying ourselves in the Christian faith and life under the guidance and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Antichrist Seduces Israel
Antichrist will arise seven years before the return of the true Christ, offering a seven-year covenant of peace. This will be a framework establishing peace for Israel primarily, but its impact will be more far-reaching due to the many alliances and geopolitical interests involved. The Old Testament book of Daniel says that Antichrist will “make a covenant with many” for seven years of peace (Dan. 9:27). The peace of Antichrist does not actually last seven years. Daniel continues that in the midst of that seven years Antichrist will “cause the sacrifice and the oblation (in the temple) to cease” and bring “desolations” (Dan. 9:27; 11:31). This will initiate the greatest time of tribulation the world has ever known; a time that will last approximately three and a half years. So, to be specific, the biblical “great tribulation” lasts only three and a half years and occurs during the second half of the antichrist’s seven-year peace covenant.
But how can the prophecies say that Antichrist initiates a seven-year peace that lasts only three and a half years? Isn’t that contradictory? The solution is that the seven years refers not to the duration of the actual peace that commences, but it indicates that the covenant that is being affirmed is a seven-year plan. Understanding this riddle will help those watching for it to to know when these final years have commenced.
There are other possible clues. It is widely held by students of prophecy that the Jewish temple in Jerusalem will have been rebuilt before the mid-point of the seven-year peace, for at that time Antichrist is said to sit in the holy place of the temple and declare himself to be god. He apparently also causes the temple sacrifices to cease (Dan 12:11) – and so they must have commenced prior. Construction of a Jewish temple and commencement of Orthodox Jewish sacrifices would require agreements between the Aaronic priesthood and whatever other authorities prevail over activities on the temple mount in Jerusalem.
According to Mr. Walid Shoebat, a Muslim convert to Christianity who wrote the book God’s War on Terror (Shoebat and Richardson, 2010), there is an Islamic tradition predicting just this. He says this tradition, “places the ascendancy of the Mahdi (the Muslim Messiah) at the time of a final peace agreement between the Arabs and the Romans (‘Romans’ should be interpreted here as referring to … the West).” He says this agreement, “is said to be mediated specifically through a Jew from the priestly lineage of Aaron. The peace agreement will be made for a period of seven years … ” (God’s War on Terror, pg. 114). He feels that this agreement will likely facilitate the re-building of the temple. This bears great similarity to and in the last point it agrees directly with the East Orthodox Christian tradition. In the readings on the lives of the Saints, the Synaxarion for the feast of Meat-Fare Sunday states: “Antichrist will make every effort so that the Jews will acknowledge him as their promised Messiah. He will succeed in completing the organization of the Jewish government and … the restoration of the temple of Solomon.” (Apostasy and Antichrist pg. 30, paraphrasing the Triodion of the Fast).
Scripture & Tradition say Enoch & Elias Come with Power 7 Years before the End
God does not leave the world without a witness, even during this dark time of Antichrist’s covenant. Antichrist’s deception is challenged by a prophetic witness from God. According to the translators of Apostasy and Antichrist, “Holy Scripture and the Tradition of the Church speak precisely of (two prophets) coming on earth seven years before the end of the world, of their … translation into heaven.” (pg. 30) In the Revelation of John we find, “I will give power to my two witnesses … to shut the heaven so that it will not rain during the days of their prophecy: and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues as often as they will. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them and shall overcome them and kill them” (Rev 11:3-7). If the scripture is to be fulfilled someone must come who will minister, according to this narration in Rev.11. Furthermore, the ministry described falls squarely in the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew bible. That is, these are prophets in the classic Old Testament sense.
Identity of the Two Witnesses
The coming of these “two witnesses” is in itself the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Malachi (Ch 4:5) declared that the Spirit of Elijah must come before the Day to the Lord. Some Christians teach that the two witnesses will be two prophets who had lived during Old Testament times: that God will return them to earth to minister during the time of the antichrist. Some say that God will raise up godly men from within the contemporary church to fulfill this role. Some further teach that this refers to “a two-witness company” of “manifested sons” who arise from within the Church in fulfillment of Revelation 12:1-5 to a godly maturity comparable to the fully matured (in wickedness) company that arises with Antichrist.
Those who teach that contemporary Christians will serve in this way typically couple the teaching with a call to exercise spiritually in order to grow into the “fulness of Christ (Eph. 4.13). This call to struggle for Christian maturity is commendable and is consistent with the exhortation laid out in Ja.5:17 to pray for one another, where it gives Elijah as an example, saying that “Elias was a man of like passions as we . . . who prayed earnestly,” and explaining that his prayers had power to bring plagues, repentance, and healing. This prayerfully empowered Christian witness is precisely the ministry of Elijah that the Bible teaches will prepare mankind for the return of Christ during the final seven years.
To say that full spiritual maturity and empowerment is the calling of all Christians is one thing. It is another to say that an end-time company will rise into that maturity and exercise themselves in a prophetic ministry in the classic Old Testament sense. It remains to be seen who “the two witnesses” will be.
The Two Witnesses Can’t be Prophets?
So to summarize, the original and biblical Christian teaching is that the “Day of the Lord” is to be preceded by the ministry of Elijah and this ministry is fulfilled during the seven years of the Antichrist by the “two witnesses” described in the book of Revelation. These will publicly stand before the Antichrist and the peoples of the world as a witness for God against a coming syncretistic system of iniquity. Ministering in the “Spirit of Elijah” and performing miraculous feats similar to those of Elijah, these witnesses clearly are prophets in the original Hebrew biblical tradition.
Credentials of the Two Witnesses
Some Christian theologies today teach that the canon of scripture was closed because the law and the words of the prophets were fulfilled in the advent of Jesus Christ, and so there can no longer be prophets of God in the Old Testament sense. One holding to such a doctrine might be more comfortable with the idea of two Old Testament prophets returning to fulfill this role than with contemporary Christians rising to such a stature from the ranks of the church. At least these individuals would have already been attested prophets under the Old Testament and could simply continue a prophetic ministry established under that covenant.
Another factor to consider is that these events culminate historical time, and therefore bring mankind to a pivotal deepening in his understanding of himself and of God. Apocalypse refers to the unveiling or revealing of the true nature of God and therefore man and his meaning in time. The two witness, Elijah ministry stands in this pivot announcing the end of the present Christian age and the beginning of the millennial reign of Christ – a time when he will live among mankind openly and physically and his heavenly law will prevail on earth. Prophetic teaching at such a transition can be expected to expand our understanding of the canon (while not contradicting it – no prophetic ministry, not even Jesus’, ever repudiated existing canon; and any ministry to be accepted as prophetic in the Hebrew tradition must prove itself consistent with prior Revelation).
These thoughts might leave one more comfortable with the seemingly unlikely return of two “certified” Old Testament prophets, than with two (or more) modern Christians receiving a special anointing to rise up in a “manifested sonship” ministry. In fact, the traditional teachings of the Christian Church (based on the clear testimony of biblical prophecy recorded before the canon was closed) can put these questions to rest. Let’s look at the story.
Individual Players & Candidates
The primary Biblical reference to the two witnesses is Revelation chapter 11. Here the story reads as though they are two men, not a company, although one may reasonably assume that they would have following. References in the Bible to the Antichrist, including in Rev 11, appear to describe him as an individual man as well, not just as a symbol for a corporate system or cultural group. East Orthodox Christian tradition also takes the two witnesses and this final adversary of Christ as individuals.
Following this model we see Moses and Elijah, who appeared with Jesus when he was transfigured to his heavenly glory before his disciples, and who represent the twin Old Testament pillars of the law and the prophets, seem to be obvious candidates for the two witnesses. A difficulty with this, in the Christian view, is that it would require a reincarnation or resuscitation of the dead followed by a second dieing. The problem is that according to Hebrews (9:27), “it is appointed unto men once to die” (italics mine). Elijah passes this test, for he did not die in Old Testament times, but was taken up in God’s chariot. Moses, however, died and was buried in the land of Moab (Deut.34:6). He would have to be brought back to life to serve, and since Revelation teaches that the two witnesses are slain by the antichrist, he would have to die a second time.
There is, though, a convenient replacement for Moses. The Old Testament reports that prior to the flood of Noah, Enoch “walked with God and was not.” That is, Enoch did not die, but was somehow translated into heaven instead. In support of Enoch’s candidacy is the apocryphal Book of Enoch (very nearly canonized by the early church, and quoted as authoritative in the New Testament by Jude regarding events of antiquity). The book says directly that Enoch will return to earth at the end of time as one of the two witnesses to be martyred in the streets of Jerusalem.
Enoch & Elias Warn During 3.5 Years of Seduction
Orthodox Christian tradition agrees, identifying both the coming end-time prophets with these two Old Testament prophets. According to Apostacy and Antichrist , Tradition teaches that, “The very two who, by the will of God, not having tasted death, were taken into heaven until a certain time, will re-appear on earth before the end of the world in order to fulfill their mission and suffer death. The names of these two holy prophets are Enoch and Elias (Elijah). The Lord will send them into Jerusalem in order to give people in those last days a final and miraculous warning against the deception encompassing them. Without hindrance they will convict all the falsehood of Antichrist for three and a half years (while) he will be preparing himself for the seizure of world power. Not being able at that time to take leave of his appearance of meekness and benevolence even towards his enemies, Antichrist will not be able to hinder or take any sort of violent action against the prophets.” (pg. 30) Another book, Ultimate Things (Dennis E. Engleman, Conciliar Press, Ben Lomond CA, 1995) quotes the Apocalypse of Elijah (a pseudopigraphical work) as saying, “when Elijah and Enoch hear that the shameless one has appeared in the holy place, they will come down and wage war against him saying, ‘Are you not ashamed … ? You are the devil.’ The shameless one will hear, become angry and wage war against them in the marketplace of the great city. He will spend seven days fighting with them and will kill them.” (Ultimate Things, pg. 193)
Church Tradition Teaches Enoch & Elias come 7 Years before End
The translators in Apostasy and Antichrist show that two early-church fathers are emphatic and clear on the identity of the two witnesses, and the nature and time of their ministry.
“St. Ephraim the Syrian (Word on the Coming of the Lord) and St. John the Damascene (A Precise Exposition of the Orthodox Faith) teach definitely that we must understand that the ‘two witnesses’ who are to appear before the end of the world are the Holy Prophets Elias and Enoch. The Tradition of the Holy Church expressed in our Orthodox service books, also speaks for (this) literal understanding. … In the Synaxarion read on Meat Fare Sunday (referred to above) it is said: ‘Seven years before (the end of the world), as Daniel foretold, Enoch and Elias will come preaching to them that they not receive him (Antichrist): Antichrist will torture them and will behead them’ (Triodion of the Great Fast).”
And they continue further,
“In the Menaion (July 20) we read: ‘The Holy Prophet of God Elias was taken up in the flesh in a fiery chariot and is alive even now … and will be seen again in the flesh by mortal men before the Lord’s second coming on the earth. . . . not only as a prophet, but as a martyr. (And,) in the ‘Prologue’ for the same day it is said: ‘Elias will come with Enoch before the second coming of Christ, in order to convict the utter impiety of Antichrist and to comfort the piety of believers.” (Apostasy and Antichrist, pp. 31, 32)
According to Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, by Father Michael Pomazansky (St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina CA, 1997, pg. 337), this is the universal interpretation of the early-church fathers. The two witnesses are Elijah and Enoch; they serve during the first half of Antichrist’s seven-year covenant; and they are martyred and caught up at its mid-point when Antichrist sets up the “abomination of desolation” in the holy place and declares himself to be God.
The Day of the Lord
According to Orthodox Christian tradition then, Elijah and Enoch are the final fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy that the Spirit of Elijah must come before the Day of the Lord. The image in this prophecy is taken from history, when Elijah prophesied in Samaria during the reign of king Ahab. The prophecy also anticipated the then-future John the Baptist, who preached repentance and baptism in Palestine immediately before the public ministry of Jesus Christ at his first advent. The purpose of this prophetic ministry in each of these references was to call men to repentance and faith in light of the immanence of the Kingdom of God (Matt.3:1,2). This will be the nature of the ministry of the two witnesses.
Elijah’s Powers and Purpose: Elijah, Ahab, and Antichrist
Elijah stood against king Ahab, a man who distinguished himself as the most wicked of all the kings of Israel. Ahab went beyond all others in using his God-given throne in Samaria to promote a system of iniquity, ensnaring the people of God in a blend of Yahwehism and Baalism (1Kings 16:30-34). Ahab prefigured the Antichrist who is yet to come. Elijah called upon Ahab to repent, and exhibited the power to pour out God’s chastisement on the realm in order to bring this repentance about (1Kings 17:1). For three and a half years Elijah held back the rain by his prophetic word (Ja.5:17,18). All this he did in a public way, in order that all the people of the realm might see clearly the issues of their error and God’s righteousness. He did this with one goal in mind: that they might repent! (1Kings 18:20-24,37-39)
Comparing this with 2Kings 1:10 demonstrates that Elijah’s prophetic power included calling down fire. In fact he had the power to call down fire on men in defense of his own person. All these –the political/spiritual situation, the exhortation, and the prophetic powers– are elements of the yet future time and ministry that must come before the Lord’s return. When Malachi (4:5) declares that Elijah must come before “the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” he further clarifies (verse 6) that Elijah’s purpose is to change man’s ways (i.e., bring repentance), lest when Christ comes he smite the earth with a curse.
Two Witness Ministry Parallels Elijah, Moses, and Jesus
We look forward to a ministry in which the two witnesses, whoever they are, will be empowered with the Spirit of Elijah. We read in Revelation 11:3 that, “I will give power to My two witnesses and they shall prophesy one thousand and three score days (three and a half years) clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11 makes it clear that they will minister the same way that Elijah did. The context of Revelation 11 (vs. 1,2) and the parallel between Elijah’s ministry before Ahab and the two witnesses before Antichrist lead to the conclusion that this all happens in Jerusalem, the seat of his end-time power.
Plagues for Three and a Half Years; Then Sacrifice and Translation
The details of this story bear amazing parallels not only to Elijah, but to Moses and Jesus as well. In Rev 11:3, quoted above, the two witnesses prophesy for roughly three and a half years. This is the duration of the past ministries of Elijah, who held back the rain for approximately three and a half years (1 Kings 18:1), and of Jesus Christ, whose public ministry was three and a half years. The two witnesses, like the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Moses, will walk in the power to call down fire (Rev 11:5, 2 Kings 1:10, and Ex 9:23); to hold back rain (Rev 11:6 and1 Kings 17:1); to turn waters to blood (Rev 11:6, Ex 7:20); and to “smite the earth with all plagues as often as they will.” Like Elijah they will have power over death that no man may kill them (Rev 11:7 and 1 Kings 17:22). And in a stunning parallel to the ministry of Jesus, at the end of their ministry they voluntarily lay down their lives in martyrdom. They finish their ministry by being slain by the Antichrist; and in three and a half days are raised by God (Rev 11:7,8,12)!
The Death and Catching Up
Since it is clear from Revelation 11:5 that the two witnesses have power to prevent any man that would seek to do them harm, their deaths at the end of their ministry must be voluntary — just as Jesus’ was. This is the ultimate challenge by the power of death. In fact their dead bodies are not allowed burial. Does the Antichrist himself think that Jesus’ body was stolen from the tomb? Nevertheless after three-and-a-half days, in the sight of all and with no possibility for sleight of hand, the two witnesses are brought back to life by God. They stand upon their feet, and are called up to heaven in a cloud. According to the early Church this takes place at the mid-point of the seven years.
Earthquake and Repentance
At this moment there is a great earthquake in Jerusalem (paralleling the earthquake at the time of Jesus’ resurrection: Matt. 28:2, Mark 16:4, Luke 24:2, John 20:1), and finally from the remnant of survivors of the quake comes repentance and faith (vs.11-13). Similarly repentance and faith were the fulfillment and fruit of the past ministry of Elijah, and of Jesus. The entire duration of prophesying and miracles by the two witnesses is purposed to bring this about. Their ministry has all the elements of the prophetic in the classic biblical sense; and in their death and resurrection it is fulfilled.
According to the New Testament the power of the Lord’s resurrection brought many from the graves two thousand years ago. This power is again released by the resurrection of the two witnesses. Scripture teaches that the last enemy to be destroyed is death, and at this moment of victory over the power of death it seems likely that again many will come forth from the graves in and around Jerusalem.
It is tempting to associate this crowning glory of the ministry of the two witnesses with a rapture of the Church as Christ’s power over death and hell bursts forth into the world. What more logical time could there be for the rapture? The ministry of the two witnesses is in complete conformity to, or patterned after, the ministry of Jesus Christ. We see a three-and-a-half year public miracle-working call to repentance ending with death and resurrection. The martyrdom of Jesus involved an earthquake, his resurrection, and the raising of many from the graves. The coming martyrdom of the two witnesses involves an earthquake and their resurrection. The witnesses are themselves revived and caught up into the clouds to be with the Lord; and the corporate eye-twinkling change of the Church occurs the same way. Perhaps many will be raised from the dead at this time.
However, if, as the early Church says, the two witnesses begin their ministering at the start of the seven years, the culmination of their ministry has taken us to their mid-point not their end. It is at the end of the seven years that the Lord returns, the the dead are raised, and all the elect are gathered from around the earth. Perhaps at this mid-point only a portion of the Church, a “manchild company”, in fulfillment of Rev. 12:5, will be caught up with the two witnesses at their resurrection. If so, then these could subsequently be among the elect that will descend from heaven with him when he comes. Revelation 12:1-5 indicates that a “woman clothed with the sun,” travailing to give birth (whom Christian tradition universally regards as referring to the Church), brings forth a “man child” who is caught up to God and his throne. Then in verses 6 and 14, she flees into a place in the wilderness where she is sustained for the next three-and-a-half years and protected from the flood sent after her by the Devil, who also makes war on the remnant of her seed (v.17). This three-and-a-half years seems to be the second half of the seven years of the antichrist.
Witnesses Parallel Moses
We need to look one more time at the ministry of the two witnesses. We have seen some of the parallels with Elijah. But the two witnesses not only have miracle working authority in which they hold back the rain and call down fire; they also call down “all plagues as often as they will” (Rev. 11:6). In calling down a series of plagues before a major world antichrist figure they parallel the ministry of Moses before Pharaoh. Following these events, the translation and catching up to be with the Lord fulfills the hope foreshadowed in the exodus from Egypt. It is leading us to the true and final exodus: escape from a world where death and corruption rule to a heavenly kingdom where death and corruption have fled away.
The Plagues and the Exodus
Moses turned the Nile river to blood; brought frogs, lice, and flies; a murrain on livestock and boils on man and beast. He called down thunder, hail, and fire (Exodus 9:23), locusts, three days of thick darkness (Exodus 10:22), and finally the death of the firstborn of Egypt. These are the so-called ten plagues of Egypt that culminated in the Exodus.
Revelation, chapters 15 and 16, lists a series of seven vials containing seven plagues that are poured out at the end of this age. Such a set of plagues obviously resembles the plagues of Egypt. On examination these plagues can be attributed to the ministry of the two witnesses in chapter 11. The second of the seven vials poured out in chapter 16 made the sea “as the blood of a dead man: and every living thing died in the sea”. The third vial turned the “rivers and fountains of waters” to blood (Rev 16:3,4). These coincide with the actions of the two witnesses described in chapter 11 turning the waters to blood.
The Great Earthquake and Repentance
The series of seven plagues culminates in what seems to be the final earthquake associated with the translation of the two witnesses and possibly with a rapture of the Church. In the last plague a great earthquake is described, “such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.” In this earthquake “the great city was divided into three parts” (Rev.16:17-19 Cf. Isa.13:6). This is either the earthquake at the translation of the two witnesses or at the coming of the Son of Man (Rev.11:11-13); or they are one and the same event. Even though there are differences between Revelation chapters 11 and 16, the descriptions can be seen to expand on each other rather than negate each other. It is in this earthquake that “every island fled away, and the mountains were not found”, (Rev.16:20) a familiar reference to the Lord’s return found in Isa.40:3-5 and Mal.3:1-3. If these two references are the same event, then the two witnesses minister during the second half of the seven years and not the first. This coincides with the Apocalypse of Elijah which says that the two witnesses come forward when antichrist sets the abomination in the holy place and declares himself to be god at the mid-point of his seven year covenant – not at the start of the seven years as the Church fathers generally taught.
End-time Ministry Parallels Moses and Elijah – Culminates in the Lord’s Return
If the translation of the two witnesses is at the moment of the Lord’s return, then this seventh plague earthquake must be part of the culmination of their ministry. The preceding six plagues, two of which have been shown to be specifically linked to their ministry, must be poured out at the power of their word. This is consistent with the historical pattern shown in the ministries of Moses and Elijah before Pharaoh and Ahab. Even if the two witnesses are slain at the mid-point of the seven years, fulfillment of their prophetic utterances could occur after their death.
History’s Final Hour
One conclusion can be drawn at least. biblical prophecy declares that mankind will culminate history with an ungodly, anti-Christian political/spiritual system; and that God will mercifully send a powerful prophetic ministry to show this system for what it is, and to call mankind to repentance from it and to faith in Him.
Apostasy and Antichrist explains that “St. Cyril of Jerusalem and other teachers of the Church refer the prophecy of Daniel (7:23-25) to Antichrist who has to come . . . and who will be the ruler of the Jews.” They say that, “the fathers Irenaeus, Hippolytus and Ambrose of Milan as well as the early Christian writers Jerome and Augustine, mention that Antichrist will be of the Jewish race from the tribe of Dan,” which is also read in the Synaxarion for Meat-fare Sunday (pp. 25, 26, citing Gen. 49:17, Jer. 8:16, and Rev. 7:4-8). They continue that, “just as the Lord revealed Himself publicly as the Messiah by his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and into the temple, so Antichrist will reveal himself as the (false) Messiah expected by the Jews, the monarch of all the world, in his own triumphant ceremony of entering into Jerusalem and taking up his seat in the temple of Jerusalem, which by that time will be restored.” (pp. 26, 27) It describes this public unveiling as the beginning of his public ministry as a world leader and savior of mankind from its social and spiritual malaise. It surmises that this occurs during a world war or some other condition of world-wide ruin, “when man, having endured all the horrors of it, will not see any way out of his calamitous blind alley, because all the means for the resolution of it will be in the hands of a secret society co-acting with Antichrist.” (pp. 27, 28)
Antichrist Calls Ecumenical Council – Promises Protection to Christians, then Cuts off Eucharist
Antichrist will start softly. The above translators cover this ground citing Vladimir Sloviev in his final work, Three Conversations, saying that, “Antichrist, having attained power, will gather some form of ecumenical council with representatives from all religions. In this council (in Jerusalem) Antichrist will offer to unite all into one fold under one pastor. He will turn his main attention to the Christians of all confessions, promising every sort of protection in return for their acknowledgment of his leadership.” (pg. 33) They declare, “The countless sects, like sheep without a shepherd, will gather to Antichrist as to their own pastor in the re-built temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Here the self-styled ‘Christ’ will receive divine worship, seated on the throne of David. At the same time, the Christian sanctuary will be closed and in it will be placed an idol of Antichrist — a lifelike, speaking statue. This was called ‘the abomination of desolation’ by the prophet Daniel. From that time on, the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharist will cease on earth.” (pg. 40) This is the midpoint of the seven-year covenant referred to in Daniel (9:27).
Antichrist Opposed by Christian Witness
While the antichrist rules, the two witnesses will oppose him. The translation continues (pg. 24): “The evangelization of the whole world will be completed with the preaching of the Gospel to the Jews in a restored Israel (Matt. 24:14).” They describe as the agents for this the ministry, death, and catching up of the two witnesses followed by a great earthquake in Jerusalem, and add, “The conversion of the Jews will evoke from Antichrist the most intense malice towards all Christians. Then (will come) the ‘great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time’ (Matt. 24:15-21; Rev. 13:7)” (pg. 39) If they are right, then the two witnesses will have served during the first half of the seven years. Antichrist’s horrible response is to martyr them, and then being free of them, in the act called “the abomination of desolation” (Dan. 12:11, Matt. 24:15) he proclaims himself to be God. This is followed by intense persecution by the Antichrist of all who resist him.
Antichrist begins War against Church when Crowned
Describing the second three-and-a-half years, they continue,
“Once he is received by the Jews and, having become their king, Antichrist will begin his struggle with Christ’s Church. He will strive to repudiate the Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ and will try to destroy his Church and Mysteries, replacing them with himself, claiming to be a god” (pg. 25). And, “Having attained world power, Antichrist will . . . turn to the merciless persecution of all believing Christians who refuse to worship him as a god. (Dan 7:25; Rev 12:13-17; 13:6,7). Open public Christian worship (the Liturgy) will have to cease. Antichrist and his adherents, writes Belyaev, ‘will destroy the books of the Holy Scripture … They will watch so that the Eucharist will not be celebrated anywhere. All the same . . .the word of God will not be silenced (but will be heard) only in hidden places” (pg. 37)
War against the Catacombs Church = Last 3.5 Years
They cite the early-church fathers as saying that,
“In the last days, Satan will be allowed to make war against the saints of God, and the Church (the woman vested in the sun of Revelation 12) will flee away into the wilderness. These will be the very last times and Satan will slay them. The Holy Church will have returned to the catacombs, becoming very small in number of Her members and heavily persecuted. This … will last for three and a half years and will end with the glorious second coming of Christ (Rev 20:7-12)” (pg. 20).
“When the offerings cease in the Church on earth, when all these things come to pass, the second coming of the Lord will follow immediately. … The plagues caused by the two prophets will have ceased and (these) accusers will have vanished from the earth . . . Then, suddenly the vessels of wrath will be poured out upon the followers of Antichrist: sores and boils will afflict those bearing the mark of the beast and the waters of the earth will be turned to blood. … Only the Lord Himself, coming a second time in all his glory, will vanquish him (Mat 24:30,31; 25:31-46; Rev. 1:7; 20:11-15; 21:1-8) (pg 41, 40).
In point of fact, according to scriptures already referenced above, waters turning to blood would likely be in response to the ministry of the two witnesses. It is one of the miracles they are said to perform. Four possibilities come to mind: 1) that they prophesy this and it happens after they die, 2) that it happens a second time, 3) that this refers to the continued effects of the waters having been turned to blood, or 4) that the two witnesses prophesy during the second half to the seven years, which returns us to the difficulty of the “rapture.”
The Rapture and the Last Trump
The American christian teaching popularly called the “rapture of the Church” seems certain to endure into the times of the end. This refers to the catching up in clouds of Christians, both the living and the resurrected dead, who meet the Lord in the air and then descend with him from the heavens. This event temporarily removes the Christian Church from the earth. Many believers in the rapture take this as removing Christians before the seven-years begins. However, in all the events we have seen so far, no removing of the Church at large from the earth, no “rapture” as it is called in America, has occurred which might prevent her suffering the hardships these times will bring. In fact we have seen a catacombs church suffering persecutions during the second half of this time, although this is only a “remnant”. Additionally, according to Fr. Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Christianity teaches that the resurrection of the dead will be “universal and simultaneous both of the righteous and of sinners.” (Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, pp. 339, 340 citing John 5:29) What he is saying is that the dead are not resurrected until all are resurrected together at the end of time. The closest we have seen to a rapture is the catching up of the two witnesses, which according to our evidence occurs at the earliest at the beginning of the second three-and-a-half years. Is it possible that this event sparks the rapture of the Church?
One of the passages most often cited in support of a pre-tribulational rapture is found in the New Testament letters to the Corinthians. 1 Cor.15:51,52, says “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump … the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” This is actually the conclusion of a larger passage (vss. 35-58) defining the morality that derives from the tension between our present mortal frame and our eternal destiny. It speaks of the final transformation into immortality to which Fr. Pomazansky refers. This change comes at the last trump, which is at least generally, if not specifically, when Christ returns. It really does not lend itself to a pre-tribulational rapture.
The similar passage in 1 Thessalonians (4:13-18) is an encouragement to those whose loved ones have died, saying that when the Lord returns he will bring them with him (vs.14). But in this case the passage culminates by saying that the rapture of the Church occurs specifically at his return. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive [and] remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (vss. 16,17) There is nothing in either of these scriptures to indicate a pre-tribulation or pre-antichrist event. Quite the opposite. The events described here seem to occur at the end of the tribulation at the actual moment of Christ’s return.
Jesus Himself said that “the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord,” i.e., his return (He is referring to Joel 2:,11,31), would immediately follow the tribulation The book of Matthew (Ch. 24:29-31) records his words: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be darkened and the moon shall not give her light … And then shall appear the sign of the son of man in the clouds of heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn.”
Verse 31 then continues, adding a second element: “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Reading this in light of Thess. 4:16,17, quoted above, puts the gathering of the elect (the rapture) at the last trump as the moment of the gathering of the Church and of the universal resurrection – and it is after the tribulation. The tribes of earth mourn for they are brought before the great judgment and are proven unjust, and the Church (often depicted as the kingdom of heaven) rejoices in glory, putting off its mortal frame and taking on its incorruptible light. A pre-tribulational reading would require that the Church be caught up into the air at some point before this final return of the Lord, and so at his return descends with him from a temporary vantage point in the physical heavens. This reading is not justified for the Church at large.
To say there is a rapture before or at the mid-point of the seven years, one has to posit at least one of two things. First, the concept of the last trump and the Lord’s return must be interpreted to mean the series of trumpets during the general time of the Lord’s return. This is possible, especially given the plethora of overlapping “seals,” “trumps,” “trumpets,” “vials,” and “plagues” involved in this time. But since it is not the simplest reading, doing so would have to be justified. As we have seen, it is probably not. Second, one must define some form of catching up that is short of and precedes the universal resurrection and final judgment. This is also a possibility, since the two witnesses will be slain and subsequently caught up as early as the mid-point of the seven years, and it is logical to think some others will be resurrected or caught up in sympathetic fashion at the same time as a sort of “manchild company” caught up to heaven before the great tribulation. There are yet more references to consider because these speak of a partial catching up.
One Shall be Taken
The New Testament verses that describe the coming of the Son of man as like the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-42) are often used to support the pre-tribulational rapture theory. In these passages pairs of individuals are depicted as living or working together, when one is taken and the other left. This is interpreted by some to refer to a rapture wherein Christians are snatched up and unbelievers left behind on earth to endure the tribulation. The context of this passage does not justify this reading.
This passage is from the Sermon on the Mount, in which the Lord’s disciples ask Him, “what [shall be] the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3) Following some prefatory remarks, he responds by saying, “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matt. 24:14) That is a general sign of the end, but in his very next words he gives them a specific sign. “When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, … then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains. … For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matt. 24:15,16,21) So the “abomination of desolation” is the sign of the onset of the great tribulation.
The passage (verses 22-26) then describes the tribulation, and summarizes that during this time, “if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here [is] Christ, or there; believe [it] not” (v. 26). Christ is contrasting these siren voices directly to his actual coming. “For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcase (the dead in Christ) is, there will the eagles (those that are alive and remaining) be gathered together.” This is a reference to the gathering of the elect at his coming at the end of the tribulation. It seems to indicate that the dead in Christ are with Christ and the living believers will be gathered to them. He goes on to describe it more clearly.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matt. 24:29-31)
This description of his coming and the gathering of the elect from the four winds is probably the rapture of the elect. It places this event at the end of the tribulation, and culminates the timeline that the Lord gives in answer the question “what will be the sign of thy coming and the end of the world?” (vs. 3)
Following this, from verse 32 to the end of the chapter, Jesus exhorts his followers through several parables and analogies to be watchful and faithful. Verses 36-42 exhort us by making allusion to Noah’s time to keep watch and be ready. He intimates that those caught up in worldly pursuits and failing to enter the ark of God’s grace will be taken away in the “flood” of the events associated with the Lord’s return (v.39). In this image, those taken are taken by a flood, not saved by their Lord. It does not allude to the rapture. He immediately follows this with examples of two people working side-by-side until suddenly one is taken away and the other left (vss. 40,41). The image here is one typical of the ancient middle east, where towns were fortified but the people left them during the day to work in their fields. While in the fields they were subject to attack by enemy marauders. In this metaphor those taken were abducted by an enemy. This is parallel to the image of the flood taking away the unsuspecting, and it does not allude to the rapture. He concludes the exhortation with the analogy of a steward, saying of the evil steward, “The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for [him], and in an hour that he is not aware of, And shall cut him asunder, and appoint [him] his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (vss. 50,51) The images in this exhortation are not images of a “rapture” taking the righteous out of harm’s way. Those taken out in these parables are the wicked and the froward. They are set aside to be burned. Those “left behind” are not left behind in the contemporary sense of not being taken along when we go somewhere; they are the faithful that are preserved and remain in God’s kingdom.
Even though in the above context the reference to one taken is to the unworthy being taken, the image also occurs in Luke, where the word “taken” probably does refer to the rapture. We will look at this passage a little further on. But first we will dig a little further into Matthew.
Matthew 13 also teaches on the theme of the unrighteous being taken from the kingdom before the Lord returns. Here it is taught that the Church is like a field sown with wheat, but in which tares (which look like wheat while growing, but produce a bitter, black, poisonous head of grain when mature) are also growing. God’s solution is to “‘Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.'” (Matt.13:30) Matthew, chapter 16, clarifies that this has an end-time reference. “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works (Matt. 16:27).” Returning to Matthew 13: “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity: And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. … The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 13:41,42,49,50) In Matthew 13, as in Matthew 24, the “taken” are the wicked. It should not be assumed then that every reference to a Christian being taken, even if taken by angels, is a reference to the rapture.
Some read Luke 17:34-37 to say that those taken out of the way are being preserved from devastation. Luke 17 is actually a truncated rendition of Matthew 24. Both passages refer to a specific place and time: to Jerusalem at the start of the tribulation – the moment antichrist perpetrates the “abomination of desolation.” It is the moment to take flight. “In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife.” (Luke 17:31,32) From the discussion above we realize this is the beginning of the great persecution and may be the moment of the martyrdom and catching up of the two witnesses. Revelation (11:11-13) adds that at this time there is an earthquake that destroys a tenth of the city.
Both gospel passages tell us that at this time those who are spiritually prepared must take physical flight. The Matthew passage says to flee Jerusalem or be destroyed in it. The Luke passage says the same thing under the images of Noah entering the ark, Lot fleeing Sodom, and the worker abandoning the field. Both passages say that those failing to enter the ark (by fleeing Jerusalem) will meet destruction.
Luke 17 continues, “I tell you, in that night there shall be two [men] in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two [women] shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two [men] shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. (vss. 34-36) This seems like the moment that the prepared are to flee Jerusalem described in Matthew 24. But in Luke when the disciples ask where those taken are to go, and the Lord answers, “Wheresoever the body [is], thither will the eagles be gathered together.” (v.37) When we saw this in Matthew 24, it referred to Christ’s return after the tribulation and the gathering of his elect – probably the rapture – and it was distinct from the “one taken and the other left.” But in Luke the “one taken and the other left” has multiple meanings: the flight at the midpoint of the 7 years of the antichrist, the persecution that follows it for 3 ½ years, and the in-gathering of the elect at the Lord’s return following the great tribulation. It may also refer to a pre-tribulational rapture of the two witnesses and perhaps other believers with them.
There Will be False Christs
During the tribulation following the abomination of desolation, especially if its commencement coincides with the martyrdom and catching up of the two witnesses, one would expect a great anticipation of the Lord’s immanent return and a great desire for the catching away of the Church. In Luke, the question of where the disappearing are taken is answered with “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.” Neither the nature of the question nor the answer are clear. Matthew teaches that at that time false Christs will be declared to have appeared “here” or “there,” in the “desert” or the “secret chambers, and exhorts us to “believe it not” (Matt. 24:21-26). In Matthew (vvs.23-29) these false claims are thrown into clear contrast with the true coming of Christ: “As the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall the coming of the Son of man be.” The next verse (vs. 28), “For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together,” is less clear, and could make multiple references. We have suggested that it refers to the dead in Christ (the carcase) and those alive and remaining (the eagles) at Christ’s return. But it may also respond to the question of where the false Christs are: “Wheresoever the carcase is, there shall the (vultures) be gathered together.”
Job 39:30 describes the eagles or vultures that feed their young from the carcasses of the battlefield dead. This underscores that the tribulation -the last three and a half years- concludes with the horrible battle of Armageddon, at Christ’s return. During the tribulation the false christs will be calling and gathering their armies to resist Christ when he comes. Jesus is saying not to be deceived by the vultures to go out and follow them and become food for them, but to wait for his return, which will be a descent from heaven seen by all men everywhere at once.
The Woman and the Manchild of Revelation 12
In Revelation chapter 12 the Church is shown as a woman in travail to bear a man child who is to be caught up to God’s throne and to rule; and she is confronted by the great red dragon “having seven heads and ten horns” ready to “devour her child as soon as it was born” (12:1-4). The child is born and caught up to God, and the Church flees into the wilderness where she is fed for a thousand two hundred and sixty days (vs.5,6). Fitting this image to what we’ve seen so far, the child born and caught up to God could be an image of the two witnesses as they rise up and fulfill their prophetic calling. They culminate their ministry by submissing to their own martyrdom, and they are caught up to heaven. Meanwhile, the Church flees to the wilderness. This would seem to refer to the literal flight from Jerusalem by believers living on the earth during the ensuing great tribulation, yet found worthy to remain in the ark of God’s grace.
The Church is sustained in the wilderness for one thousand two hundred sixty days. There is some difficulty in that Daniel (Dan. 12:11) seems to describe the time following the desolating abomination as twelve hundred ninety days, and the New Testament references give twelve hundred and sixty. (Rev 11:2,3, Rev 12:6, and Matt. 24:15). The woman of Revelation 12 is sustained in the wilderness for exactly the duration (one thousand two hundred sixty days) of the ministry of the two witnesses given in Revelation 11:3, and Revelation 11:2 seems to identify the time of the great tribulation (“the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months “) with the ministry of the two witnesses. If so, this would put the two witnesses in the second 3 ½ years, whereas the early Church assigned them the first 3 ½ years.
If, as seems likely, the flight of the Woman is at the midpoint of the seven years then at that time we have both the catching up to the throne of the man-child expressed in the start or end of the ministry of the two witnesses and we have the flight to the wilderness of the Church that bore him. The man-child would be Elijah and Enoch, who at this time either begin their prophetic ministry or are martyred and raised from the dead. This manchild ministry could even include some of their followers; but it would not include the entire company of the Church. Some in the Church will take physical flight to a place prepared for them in the wilderness. The statement “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (vs.11) could refer to either group, or both.
Conclusion: The Witness and the Real Exodus
Any of the scenarios we have described, drawn from the various biblical references involved, clearly define the ministry of the coming two witnesses as a prophetic ministry patterned on the Old Testament prophets. In this ministry, God’s prophets will both call for repentance and will call down plagues in order to substantiate their authority and to bring the repentance about. God will honor and validate their word with plagues upon the wicked, with repentance of the contrite, and finally with a radical exodus of his chosen people from captivity in the mortal trials of this fallen world. This is the ministry, in the spirit of Elijah, of the two witnesses; which will herald the soon coming return of Jesus Christ in that great and terrible day of the Lord, prophesied so long ago.
According to the translators of Apostasy and Antichrist (1992), “Our faith and the facts and events of our time convince us that the ‘great tribulation’ will occur in the near future” (pg. 4).
copyright 2011, Allen C. Dietrich, All Rights Reserved