Then, after the three and a half days, a spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet, and great fear fell upon those watching them.
And they heard a great voice from the sky saying to them, “You ascend here,” and they ascended into the sky in the cloud, and their enemies looked on.
Then, in that hour, came a great earthquake, and the tenth of the city fell, and seven thousand names of people were put to death in the earthquake, but on the rest there came a terrible fear and they gave glory to the God of heaven.
“The second woe has gone: Behold, the third woe comes swiftly.”Revelation 11:11-14
As I read these words in Greek (slowly) I could feel this starburst of fascination and horror spreading throughout my chest, with pinpricks all over my head and arms as my hairs stood on end. All I could see were the Greek words, and even my breath stopped.
After three and a half days dead, baking and corrupting in the sun, oils and bodily fluids spreading around their corpses, malodorous stench fanning through the air, buzzing flies, vultures and crows pecking at their rotting flesh … honestly, what stood up when the spirit of life entered into them?
Was it an Ezekiel moment?
Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dry Bones
I prophesied as I had been commanded, and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
I looked, and there were sinews on them,
and flesh had come upon them,
and skin had covered them,
but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me,
“Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”
I prophesied as he commanded me,
and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet,
a vast multitude.Ezekiel 37:7-10 (NRSV, modifications added)
Both in Greek and in Hebrew – something John’s audience would have surely known, as it is similar in Aramaic – the word for “breath,” “wind,” and “spirit” are the same. In Hebrew: רוּחַ | ruach and in Greek: πνεῦμα | pnuema.
The Spirit of Life coming from God is the breath of God, the wind of the Spirit, the Spirit of God. Does not that bring up a swirl of imagery?
The Spirit of Life
The Spirit of God hovering over the void at the beginning of creation—think of the quiet stillness, then the burst of brilliant light.
God breathing life into the newly formed human—imagine as that first human gasped, his eyes fluttering open, awareness dawning on his face.
The breath Jesus blew over His disciples to receive the Holy Spirit—imagine them gasping as well, a new awareness filling them with wonder.
The wind and flames of fire that appeared over the heads of Jesus’s faithful in the upper room—the stillness of their waiting prayer, the whoosh of the mighty wind, their glowing faces staring in astonished amazement at each other, them bursting out of that room filled to the brim and overflowing with the good news of redemption, words tumbling out of them in every known language.
Think of the mighty earth-rocking power that roared like a shockwave from the spiritual realm into the physical realm, bringing these two decaying prophets to their feet.
Imagine the revelers mid-swill, champagne slopping from flutes, confetti still drifting through the air, trumpets mid-blast, dancers mid-step, raucous laughter now caught in their throats. All eyes held captive by the awful scene playing before them. And, before they can run for cover, epic seismic activity, a quake off the Richter scale, every tenth building collapsing in a cloud of dust, shrieks cut short as seven thousand people were crushed to death.
Certainly, John’s audience did not miss the imbrication with Jesus’s death and resurrection.
- Jesus had also lain in His tomb for three days.
- Jesus’s resurrection was accompanied by forceful earthquakes that shook the dead from their graves.
- By rising from the dead, Jesus put all His enemies to shame—both the Sanhedrinists and the dark spiritual forces Jesus had come to break the power of.
- Jesus had, literally, ascended into heaven on a cloud as His followers watched in stunned astonishment.
It is to Jesus’s resurrection body as well as Paul’s description of a resurrected body, that I ultimately turned to for help in visualizing what happened with God’s two raised prophets.
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”
… you do not sow the body that is to be but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen and to each kind of seed its own body…. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun and another glory of the moon and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead.
- What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.
- It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.
- It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.
- It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body.
- If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.
Thus it is written,
- “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
- But it is not the spiritual that is first but the physical and then the spiritual.
- The first man was from the earth, made of dust; the second man is from heaven.
- As one of dust, so are those who are of the dust, and as one of heaven, so are those who are of heaven.
Just as we have borne the image of the one of dust, we will also bear the image of the one of heaven.1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (NRSV, modifications added)
Paul was not the only one to speak of this. John also wrote,
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.
What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.1 John 3:2 (NRSV, modifications added)
Glory to God
What can it mean that whoever was left after yet another sweeping round of disaster and death was filled with the fear of the Lord and gave God glory? Was this a sober moment of sanity? Had the remnant of humanity finally come to their senses? Was this the beginning of wisdom?
Well, there are four distinct views (at least) in how to understand this scene (coming tomorrow).