Who Are the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11?

As the effects of the 6th trumpet continue on earth, there is an interlude in the narrative of Revelation to describe some unusual events.  We are introduced to God’s “two witnesses”:

“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.  And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed.  They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them,  and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.  For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb,  and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.  Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. ”  Revelation 11:3-13

In examining this passage, we note that:

  • They proclaim the gospel for 1260 days as prophets
  • They are clothed in sackcloth – traditionally representing repentance
  • They are two olive trees – they will be Jews
  • They are two lampstands – they will be God’s light, His representatives
  • Fire pours from their mouths and consumes their foes – they are supernaturally empowered against being harmed
  • They have the power to shut the sky (no rain) – this is similar to Elijah in his earthly ministry
  • They have the power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire – this is similar to Moses in his earthly ministry
  • When they have finished their testimony (they have an allotted number of days to prophesy – 1260), the beast that rises from the bottomless pit (an allusion to the resurrected antichrist) will conquor them and kill them – this indicates they have mortal bodies that can die, a very interesting observation since most identify them as resurrected Old Testament saints.  Perhaps in this one instance, God raises these two back to mortality instead of immortality?
  • Their dead bodies will lie in the street for a period of 3.5 days, while people look on and celebrate with parties and the exchange of presents over their deaths.  This is the only instance of celebrations on earth recorded in the book of Revelation.
  • They will be killed in the “great city” where their Lord was crucified – this can be none other than Jerusalem.  We learn that Jerusalem is symbolically called Sodom and Egypt, after sins that are present in it.  [This also provides a clue that the end-times city of Jerusalem is Mystery Babylon, which is also called the “great city”.]
  • After 3.5 days, the breath of life enters their bodies as they are resurrected from the dead, likely to immortality (signalled by the release of energy in the form of an earthquake).
  • God calls them to “Come Up Here”, and they are taken into heaven.

As to their identity, potential candidates include:

  • Two present-age Jews, raised up to be the Two Witnesses (much as John the Baptist functioned as a “type” of Elijah).  The difficulty here is that their ministry presumably begins right after the Church Age ends, but if they are still here then they weren’t Christians – as they would have been raptured.  So how would they know all things in Christ to be able to proclaim them immediately?  Even Paul was taught by Jesus himself (through visions and excursions to the Third Heaven) and the other apostles over a period of a few years before he began his full time ministry.
  • Enoch and Elijah, both of whom never experienced natural deaths but were “raptured” alive to heaven.  Presumably, they were not given resurrection bodies at that time, or they would have preceded Jesus in glorified bodies (which is impossible).  So what exactly happened with their bodies is unclear.  These two might have some validity given that the two witnesses are physically killed on earth when their ministry is over, so perhaps God is sparing their physical bodies exactly for this time and purpose.
  • Moses and Elijah, based on the similarity of the signs and wonders performed by these two witnesses and the earthly ministry of these two prophets.  Together, these would represent the Law and the Prophets.  While Moses died, he did so in good health at a time appointed by God.  Moses was then buried by God in a hidden location, as satan was attempting to steal his body.  Elijah was “raptured” alive to heaven.  Also notable is that these two appeared with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, likely representing the Law and the Prophets there.
  • Zerubbabel and Joshua.  Peter Goodgame, in his book Red Moon Rising, makes a very interesting observation.  In Haggai 2:20-23, the prophet predicts that God will take Zerubabbel and make him “as a signet”, His representative, after He does something else –  “I will shake the heavens and the earth; And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother” (2:21-22).   Joshua comes in when we read the book of Zechariah.  In chapter 3, Zechariah’s vision focuses on Joshua as a high priest, standing before the Lord at the time of his judgment.   We see a beautiful picture of Joshua’s filthy garments (sin) being replaced with clean garments (the righteousness of Christ). In Zechariah chapter 4, he receives a new vision – And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep.  And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it.  And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” … Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?”  And a second time I answered and said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which are beside the two golden pipes from which the golden oil is poured out?”  He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”  (4:1-3, 11-14)  Both Zerubbabel and his partner Joshua played a major part in building the Second Temple following the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, and it appears they may play a major part in building the Third Temple as well.  Goodgame notes, “When Zechariah received this vision the work on the Temple had been restarted and had been going on for four or five months. Zechariah was told that Zerubbabel’s hands would finish the rebuilding of the Temple, and that this would be a sign to Zechariah that his vision was true.  When Zechariah first saw the two olive trees and the two golden pipes he asked what they were. At first he was given a message to give to Zerubbabel, saying that Zerubbabel would have the power to bring down mountains. Then he was told that Zerubbabel would possess the seven eyes of the Lord, which were also associated with Joshua earlier in Zechariah’s vision. Finally he is given the answer for what the olive trees represent when the Lord tells him:“These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”   Joshua and Zerubbabel will be God’s anointed ones. God’s choice of Zerubbabel as a “signet” during the end-times is shown in the last prophecy of Haggai, and Joshua’s resurrection at the time of end, with the “charge” that he is given after his resurrection, is shown in Zechariah chapter three.”

I personally see either Elijah and Enoch, or Elijah and Moses as the two witnesses.  I believe this because the nature of their ministry requires them to be able to boldly proclaim (and thus understand) the Kingdom of God – they can’t be “baby Christians”.  My concern about the view of Joshua and Zerubbabel is based on Zechariah’s vision “I will shake the heavens and the earth; And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother” (2:21-22).  I have previously studied the shaking of the earth and the shaking of the heavens, and the heavens are only shaken at the END of the Day of the Lord.  The rest of the vision also strongly suggests this, as the END of the Day of the Lord is when Jesus overthrows the kingdoms of the earth and makes them as His footstool.  This passage seems to be describing the Battle of Armageddon, at the Second Coming of Christ.  For this reason, perhaps Joshua and Zerubabbel play important roles in the Millennial Kingdom.

Discussion:

Regardless of the identity of the Two Witnesses, Zechariah is clearly given a vision of them in chapter 4- And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep.  And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it.  And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” … Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?”  And a second time I answered and said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which are beside the two golden pipes from which the golden oil is poured out?”  He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”  (4:1-3, 11-14)

The strongest indication for Elijah being one of the witnesses, no matter who he is accompanied by, is based on a passage in Malachi 4:5-6 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”  Orthodox Jews still set a place at the table for Elijah each Passover in anticipation of his future reappearing.  While John the Baptist was a “type” of Elijah, he was in no way connected to the great and awesome Day of the Lord, which is still future.

The two witnesses are given miraculous power to do signs and wonders, similar to Old Testament prophets.  We are told that they are given a ministry of 1260 days.  In a different chapter, we find out that the antichrist is also given a reign of 1260 days.  God is granting the authority in both cases.  It is highly likely that their authorities do NOT overlap, but are consecutive.

The two witnesses will fearlessly proclaim God’s judgment and the need for repentance – that the Kingdom of God is finally, truly, near!  Why will there be such hatred towards them?  Well, at the 6th seal, mankind will have been introduced to that fact that God’s wrath has started to come down on them, and while some repent, many will openly rebel and hate God.  As God’s wrath rains down, people get angrier and angrier at Him.  The compounding factor is that with the removal of the church and the Holy Spirit’s restraining force at the rapture, satan will have introduced his deception.  God’s deluding influence upon those who rejected Him will cause them to believe satan’s lies, despite the truth boldly proclaimed by the two witnesses.  Though humanity will have a knowledge of the truth, they will choose to believe the lie.

When the two witnesses have finished their appointed time of preaching, “the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them.” (Rev 11:7).  Above I noted that this language of coming out of the abyss is highly indicative of the antichrist’s resurrection, which is referred to a few times in the book of Revelation in different ways (a mortal wound that was healed; the beast that was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit; 8th king that is of the 7).

The deceased bodies of the two witnesses will lie in the streets for 3.5 days and people will celebrate their death.  At the end of these 3.5 days, the 2 witnesses will be resurrected and called up into heaven.  John MacArthur, in his book “Because the Time is Near” quotes Luke 16:31 here –“If [unbelievers] do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead”.  An appropriate connection, and incidentally would strengthen the Moses-Elijah candidacy.

I hope you have noticed that we are given a number of clues as to timeline.  God grants authority for specific timeframes, no more, no less.  Thus we have something that looks like this:

2 witnesses:

1260 days  —————————–D — 1263.5 days

—-ongoing ministry ————–death—-resurrection & ascension (completing the 6th trumpet judgment – the 2nd woe)

Beast:

1260 days —————————–AoD—————————–1260 days

signs covenant ———-death-resurrection—-rules as god—–lake of fire

To summarize:

The Beast (or the False Prophet) signs or strengthens a covenant with Israel to kickstart the 70th week of Daniel, which is 2520 days long.  The 2 witnesses are given authority by God to perform their ministry for the first 1260 days.  This ministry likely includes the overseeing of the building of the Third Temple and the instruction of the 144,000 sealed Jews (perhaps leading them to Christ), as well as preaching and teaching Jews in general.

Meanwhile, the Beast is rising to power behind the scenes.  We aren’t told what satan’s deception is, but the Beast may be proclaiming to be the Jewish Messiah?  At some point, the Beast (antichrist) is killed.  We are not told how or when.  We ARE told that he rises out of the abyss (hell) and his mortal wound is healed – he is resurrected.  Also not sure when his resurrection is, but quite possibly at this 1260 day mark into Daniel’s 70th week.  We are told in Revelation 13:3-5:  “One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months.”  

I picture the 2 witnesses preaching righteousness, which angers the world.  However, no one can kill the 2 witnesses, remember?  Fire comes out of their mouths and devours anyone who tries.  So this indicates that quite probably people will try to kill them and fail.  Then suddenly, this “Beast” (at this point just a major world leader, influenced by satan) is killed (by a “mortal head wound”, not sure by whom – maybe even by the two witnesses?  That would surely strengthen what happens next).  The Beast MIRACULOUSLY RISES FROM THE DEAD.  He immediately kills the 2 witnesses, who were thought to be immortal.  The people marvel at this turn of events, rejoice, and pledge allegiance to the beast – who is like him and who can fight against him?  It is at this point that the beast is possessed of satan and sets up the abomination of desolation on the sacrificial altar in the Temple, declaring himself to be “god”.  These events are all connected and likely happen all on the same day – the transfer of authority from the 2 witnesses passes seamlessly onto the Beast as the second half of Daniel’s 70th week begins – the GREAT TRIBULATION.

Main Menu – God’s Mosaic Prophecy Model

A Disclaimer:    The Bible is infallible.  I am not.  Be a Berean – examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!

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