Rev. 11:7-12 And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. (8) And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. (9) And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. (10) And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth. (11) And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. (12) And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.
Marvelously does the history of the period bear out the symbolic statements of the Apocalyptic vision. Such a gathering of the deputies of “people, and kindreds, and tongues, and nations,” were met together in this city of Rome upon occasion of the Lateran Council held from A.D. 1512-17 under the pontificates of Julius II. and Leo X. One of its principal objects was the total extirpation of heresies; and upon the last named Pope’s accession no time was lost in proceeding against the only heretics supposed to be surviving – the Bohemian Hussites. By a Papal bull these were summoned to appear before the Council at its next session, and the 5th of May 1514 was fixed for that important event.
Thus was the crisis come which was to try the faith of this little remnant of witnesses and exhibit its vitality or death. And would they then face their Lord’s enemies? Would they brave the terrors of death and plead his cause, like many of their noble predecessors, before the Legate and the Anti-christian Council? Alas! No. The day arrived. The Council met. But no officer announced the arrival of deputies from Bohemia to plead before it. Not a whisper was heard from any quarter in support of the long continued heresies. No witness appeared. The orator of the session ascended the pulpit, and, amidst the applause of the assembly, uttered that memorable exclamation of triumph – never heard before or since – “There is an end of resistance to Papal rule and religion: there is none to oppose.” And again, “The whole body of Christendom is now subjected to its Head, i.e., to Thee.” Alas! there was but too much cause of triumph. The witnesses were silent! They were dead! From this day, for three and a half years (i.e., prophetical days), were the maintainers of the truth of Christ to be as dead corpses in the face of apostate Christendom. Let the day be remembered. It was May 5th, 1514.
From the well known and customary punishment of heretics was literally enjoined in an edict issued on that very day for the exclusion of their corpses from burial – the figure taken to signify keeping before the public observation, during that interval, the fact of the death of the witnesses or of the suppression and defeat of all so called heretics. Every means was adopted of preserving the recognition of the fact by the mutual congratulations of the members of the Council – by the making merry and interchange of gifts. And here we have again only to open the page of history in order to see how all this was fulfilled. The magnificent Eastern presents to Leo, the gift; of the golden rose to the king of Portugal, the splendor of the festivities of the cardinals at the close of this Council, unequaled since the days of Rome’s ancient greatness, is specially recorded by the historian of Leo. In fact, the joy of their triumph told most plainly how the memory of past vexation and injury from the testimony of these faithful men of God still troubled and disturbed these dwellers on the Roman earth. Loud indeed were their congratulations, but not long continued.
The next thing we behold is the wonderful Resurrection Of The Witnesses. “And after the three and a half days the breath of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet.”
As to the great event to which this figure applies, history admits of no doubt or hesitation. Never, save in the resurrection of Christ himself, has there been such an instance of the sudden and triumphant resuscitation of his cause and Church from deep depression as was exhibited in the protesting voice of Luther and the burst of the glorious Reformation. The sudden contrast forces itself both on Romish and Protestant writers. One of the former complains: “The fire, ill smothered. at the close of 1513 and 1514 (in allusion to Leo’s Council), was blown up again by Luther’s bellows, and spread its flames far and wide, more than ever before.” A modern writer, Mr. Cunningham, whose prophetical view accords not with ours, thus describes the transition: – “Europe reposed in the deep sleep of spiritual death, under the iron yoke of the Papacy; when, suddenly, the voice of an obscure monk was heard, the sound of which rapidly filled Saxony, Germany, and Europe itself, shaking the very foundations of the Papal power, and arousing men from the lethargy of ages.”
But does the chronology suit? For three days and a half the witnesses were to be looked on as dead. In other words, there was to be an interval of three and a half years between the public recognition of their extinction and their revival. That memorable day of the ninth session of the Lateran Council on which the orator exulted over all extinguished opponents, was, as we have seen, May 5, 1514: the day of Luther’s posting up his theses at Wittenberg (the well known epoch of the Reformation), was October 31, 1517. The interval is precisely, to a day, the period predicted in this wonderful prophecy. Then “the breath of life from God entered into the slain witnesses, and they stood upon their feet!” One hundred years before, the martyr Huss, foretelling from his dungeon the future progress of the Gospel, spoke: – “And I, awakening as it were from the dead and rising from the grave, shall rejoice with exceeding great joy.” Strange that Leo’s successor, Pope Adrian, should have used the like expression: – “The heretics Huss and Jerome are now alive again in the person of Martin Luther.”
“And great fear fell on those that beheld them;” it is not said, on them that killed them. The Council had separated before Luther’s protest appeared. Pope Leo, in his regal palace, treated at first any disturbance arising from so base an origin as a mere passing expression of feeling on the part of the monk of Wittenberg. Not so Tetzel, Eck, and others, who looked on with trepidation. They perceived that the very foundation of the Papal system was assailed, and there was a power in the movement that they could not withstand.
Pope Leo, as we have said in a former lecture, at last realized the danger, and his seven thunders were issued. Need we again to recount how the intrepid Reformer disregarded danger and threats; how Gospel preaching was again resumed, the Romish Church declared apostate, and a pure Reformed Church established with the rod of civil power in various countries of Europe. At each step in its advance, the fear of those who beheld it increased in anxiety; nor was it allayed when, after ten years of opposition, the Reformers united themselves together at Smalcald, under the glorious name of Protestants; a name which, according to its Latin etymology, signifies Witnesses!
Adapted from E B Elliot’s Horae Apocalyptae