Chapter 18

The Two Witnesses

INTRODUCTION

God never sends destruction upon a people without warning them through his prophets. The Old Testament is filled with accounts where warnings were sent to the Jewish nation or a heathen nation due to the evil in them.

Josephus wrote that prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, a man walked up and down the streets, prophesying the coming events.

Should we expect God not to send a literal warning via literal prophets prior to the greatest destruction that will ever befall the earth?

Should they not only come with God’s word but also with power, with signs and wonders if need be?

SCRIPTURE

The two witnesses

Rev. 11:1 I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, "Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. 2But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.

3And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth." 4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.

6These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

7Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. 8Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.

9For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10The 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.

11But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.

13At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

COMMENTARY

First we need to determine, is this segment of the Revelation vision primarily literal or primarily symbolic?

We easily recognize that no explanation is given by either the angel or John. The reader is expected to understand it within the context of Revelation.

Secondly, when we look at the words used: "two witnesses", "men", "bodies", "they went up to heaven", "prophets", "witnessing" in a place that is named descriptively twice, we can see that the preponderance of evidence suggests a more literal interpretation and fulfillment.

First, let’s look at the prelude.

John is given a measuring rod and told to measure the temple and count the worshippers there. Prior to John seeing the vision (c. 95 A.D.), the Roman armies had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The temple hasn’t been rebuilt over the ensuing centuries, so we can’t apply the measurements of a literal temple in Jerusalem to our day either.

Nevertheless, John is told to count and to measure. Sometimes in Scripture, such as for the temple in Ezekiel 40, 42, and the dimensions of the New Jerusalem of Rev. 21, measurements are done in a vision, yet return real values.

The term "measuring rod" is used in a literal sense to derive actual measurements and counts. See Ezek. 40:3, 5; Ezek. 42:16-19; Rev. 11:1; Rev. 21:15

This is in contrast to the terms "measuring line" or "plumb-line" which are frequently used to measure intangible qualities, such as honesty, justice, mercy.

Isa. 28:17 I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line; hail will sweep away your refuge, the lie, and water will overflow your hiding place.

Isa. 34:11 The desert owl and screech owl will possess it; the great owl and the raven will nest there. God will stretch out over Edom the measuring line of chaos and the plumb line of desolation.

Lam. 2:8 The LORD determined to tear down the wall around the Daughter of Zion. He stretched out a measuring line and did not withhold his hand from destroying. He made ramparts and walls lament; together they wasted away.

John is told to count the worshippers there. God has a chosen specific number of people that will be in his kingdom. God knows who are his. The martyrs under the altar in Rev. 6:9-11 are told to wait "until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed."

The implication of these verses is that the counting to be done is a count returning the number of God's people.

I would have liked to have known the number of worshippers that God has chosen, wouldn't you? But John didn't record this information for us.

Let’s look again at the two prophets witnessing here:

3And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth." 4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.

6These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

Let's look at each segment in detail. Who are these two witnesses? Zechariah gives us a parallel view.

Zech. 4:1 Then the angel who talked with me returned and wakened me, as a man is wakened from his sleep. 2He asked me, "What do you see?"

I answered, "I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top and seven lights on it, with seven channels to the lights. 3Also there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left."

4I asked the angel who talked with me, "What are these, my lord?" 5He answered, "Do you not know what these are?" "No, my lord," I replied.

6So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: `Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty. 7"What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of `God bless it! God bless it!'"

8Then the word of the LORD came to me: 9"The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you. 10"Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel."

We quickly recognize that Zechariah's vision is primarily symbolic, as the subjects of the sentences describing the vision are symbols representing literal entities. Furthermore, note that the angel explains the symbols to Zechariah.

The lampstand symbol more closely parallels the lampstand symbol in the first chapter of Revelation than the commonly used comparison with Psalms 119:105. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path." KJV

Rev. 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Rev. 2:5 [To the leader and the church at Ephesus] Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

The lampstands of Revelation 1 and the following messages represented churches. The churches were to bear witness of Jesus and God. God worked through them to shine light to the world.

In Zechariah's vision, the lampstand clearly represented Zerubbabel, the leader of the Israelites that had returned from Babylonian exile. God calls him by name four times. God was empowering Zerubbabel through God's Spirit to accomplish the tasks that were before him. Zerubbabel was to be an instrument of light and a witness to his people of what God can do through one filled with the Spirit of God.

Let's look further at the passage. Zechariah is satisfied with the lampstand explanation so he doesn't pursue that further, but he really wants to know what the olive trees are feeding oil to the lampstand.

11Then I asked the angel, "What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?" 12Again I asked him, "What are these two olive branches beside the two gold pipes that pour out golden oil?" 13He replied, "Do you not know what these are?" "No, my lord," I said. 14So he said, "These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth."

Note Zechariah asks twice for an explanation of the two olive tree symbols.

The angel responds, "These are the two who are anointed to serve the Lord of all the earth." Unfortunately, the angel leaves much unsaid about these two.

However, it seems that God has anointed two beings, to serve Him in witnessing and empowering his prophets. While possibly angelic in origin, most likely these two anointed beings are of human nature like most of the prophets before them. Some interpreters label them "Elijah" and "Moses" after the two powerful, spirit filled prophets of the Lord who were taken up into heaven. 2 Kings 2:11, Jude 9. It is not necessary to conclusively identify them as time will reveal them. No matter who or what they are, the two witnesses come to earth to bear strong messages to the nations.

It seems consistent, though we needn't force the issue, that the two witnesses of Revelation are the same as the two entities anointed to serve the Lord in Zechariah's vision.

""These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

How long do they witness?

"And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth."

Since we are dealing with a primarily literal vision, we must use the day for a day, year for a year rule. The 1,260 days, equals 42 months equals 3˝ literal years.

This makes sense as for two prophets to be witnessing literally for 1260 years would be beyond the realm of believability.

What happens to those who try to stop them or harm them?

5 "If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die."

These two witnesses have power, like Elijah and Moses did, to call fire down upon anyone who taunts, disrespects or seeks to harm them.

Let’s look at these fascinating parallel accounts in the Old Testament:

2Kgs. 1:9 Then the king [Ahaziah] sent to Elijah a captain with his company of fifty men. The captain went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, "Man of God, the king says, `Come down!'"

10 Elijah answered the captain, "If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!" Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men.

11 At this the king sent to Elijah another captain with his fifty men. The captain said to him, "Man of God, this is what the king says, `Come down at once!'" 12 "If I am a man of God," Elijah replied, "may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!" Then the fire of God fell from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men.

13 So the king sent a third captain with his fifty men. This third captain went up and fell on his knees before Elijah. "Man of God," he begged, "please have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men, your servants! 14 See, fire has fallen from heaven and consumed the first two captains and all their men. But now have respect for my life!" 15 The angel of the LORD said to Elijah, "Go down with him; do not be afraid of him." So Elijah got up and went down with him to the king.

Moses also prophesied the unnatural death of Korah, Dathan and Abiram in Num. 16:28-35. These were Levites and Reubenites who challenged God's choice of Moses and Aaron. Fire came from God and consumed the 250 co-conspirators.

Num. 16:28 Then Moses said, "This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: 29If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt."

31 As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah's men and all their possessions. 33 They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community. 34At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, "The earth is going to swallow us too!"

35 And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense.

What do they witness of?

The two witnesses bear the message of lament and mourning and woe (hence the sackcloth) that we studied in the previous chapter. They pronounce the judgments and the wrath of God, the plagues on the world as foretold elsewhere in Revelation.

6 "These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want."

We have seen in the seven-trumpet plague sequence, as well as the seven last plagues, water turning to blood. We have seen other plagues as well, including those spoken of in the seven seal sequence. The two witnesses simply bear the news already foretold in Revelation (and likely much more) to an obstinate and rebellious world.

The two witnesses prophesy of no rain for the 3˝ years they are prophesying, which of course, comes true. The earth is turned into a tinderbox, ready for the first of the seven trumpets. Remember that in the first of the seven trumpets, all the green grass (perhaps brown grass might have been more accurate?) is burned up along with a third of the trees.

This 3˝ period closely follows that contained in the story of Elijah and King Ahab and the time of no rain. You can find this fascinating story in 1 Kings 17 & 18. Read it some time in its entirety, but let's look at some highlights here.

1Kgs. 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word."

After that Elijah left for several years, and then reappeared at God's direction to King Ahab. He told the King,

1Kgs. 18:19 "Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." 20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing.

The false prophets of Baal prepared their sacrifice and danced around it all day without any result.

1Kgs. 18:30 Then Elijah said to all the people, "Come here to me." They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the LORD, which was in ruins.

Elijah prepared the sacrifice and thoroughly soaked it with water.

1Kgs. 18:36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again."

38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD --he is God! The LORD --he is God!"

Revelation tells of a similar test, between God and the loyalty of His people, and Satan, and his people.

The false prophet, which we haven't studied yet, who works in support of the Beast, is also permitted to work miracles and to cause fire to fall from heaven in the full sight of men. (see Rev. 13:13).  I call this contest, "The Clash of The Titans!"

While the duration of Elijah's time of no rain is not told in the Old Testament, we find the answer in a quotation from Jesus, as well as in the book of James.

Luke 4:25  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.

James 5:16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Isn't that remarkable? Three and a half years. The literal time periods of the 3˝ years of no rain that occurred due to Elijah's prophecy and that occurring from the two witnesses' prophecy are identical! Coincidence? More like God's dependable consistency.

Even the period of famine during King David's reign, occurring due to King Saul's attempted genocide of the Gibeonites in breach of an oath sworn before the Lord lasted for 3 years.

2 Samuel 21: 1 During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

Now it is entirely possible that the drought will be localized to one or more regions of the earth, yet on a much grander scale than the one foretold by Elijah. Perhaps it will cover an entire continent. It may also be global in nature. Can you imagine the famine in the land, and the need to ration food to those who obtain some sort of approval by the government?

The witnesses prophecy of the coming plagues which happen during their time of prophesying. Their words primarily report on what God has already said would happen in His Word, including turning the seas and fresh water to blood (in the 2nd of the last plagues).

How do they finally meet their demise?

7Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. 8Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.

As we shall see later on, the beast from the Abyss is the same as the destroying Angel of the Abyss, Satan incarnate. Satan appears dramatically in the 5th of the Trumpet plagues after the balls of fire (hail and fire, blazing mountain, falling star, etc.) strike the earth. Yet he will not have power over these two witnesses until the time for their testimony is completed. Then he will attack them, overpower them, and kill them.

Where the two witnesses' bodies lie is easily determined by the multiple descriptions provided, including Sodom, Egypt (Cush), and "where also their Lord was crucified."

Amos 9:7 "Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites [Egyptians]?" declares the LORD."

The only city in the Bible called Sodom by God, other than the original Sodom, is found in Isaiah 1:8-10. (The term "Daughter of Zion" refers to Jerusalem.)

Isa. 1:8 The Daughter of Zion is left like a shelter in a vineyard, like a hut in a field of melons, like a city under siege. 9Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah. 10 Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!

God is calling Jerusalem Sodom and Gomorrah because of its wickedness. And that neatly coincides with the last identifier "where also their Lord was crucified."

The two witnesses are without a doubt killed in Jerusalem. It should be noted that the Bible doesn’t say that their entire ministry is spent in Jerusalem (though it may be predominantly there), but the two witnesses are killed in it.

Let’s look at what the rebellious world does with the bodies of these two prophets.

9For three and a half days, men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10The 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.

Since this is a primarily literal prophecy, the 3˝ days are literal days. Again, this is a reasonable duration. If their bodies were to lie exposed for 3˝ years, that would be unreasonable.

The rebellious world is happy. They feel their supernatural leader/hero/Satan incarnate has killed off the cause of their problems. Everything the prophets said came true, and the world hasn’t been able to do anything about it. Any time someone had tried to stop the witnesses, fire would fall from heaven on them. So the world is happy when this supernatural being, Satan, finally gets rid of the two witnesses. Unfortunately, the world is not prepared for what happens next.

11But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.

The two witnesses are resurrected and ascend to heaven. Imagine the astonishment of the world when they see God’s prophets vindicated. What hope that will provide to God’s faithful servants who are eagerly awaiting Christ’s return, and the hope of the resurrection for their loved ones who have died in Christ?

13At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

At the very hour the two witnesses literally ascend to heaven, there is an earthquake in that city, which we know is Jerusalem. The power of God is again demonstrated. The number 7000 may have some significance, since it is a multiple of the complete perfect number seven. It also may be indicative of the seven thousand years from transgression until the earth is made new. However, we must use some caution in not trying to symbolize away this number. Take it literally.

Now some may ask, but aren’t the two witnesses the Old and New Testament? Couldn’t they be the Bible and the Holy Spirit? Couldn’t they be the Law (Pentateuch) and the Prophets (as in sections of the Old Testament)?

Let’s see how those fit into the entire prophecy.

Could the Bible and its two testaments prophecy of drought, plagues and water turning to blood? Yes, they could. But let's continue on.

Fire would have to be called from heaven on everyone who tries to harm the Bible or its two Testaments. That would be a bit of a stretch since many people through the ages have tried and succeeded in destroying God’s Word (at least temporarily) and they haven't had fire fall from heaven on them like that which fell on the captains and their fifties mentioned earlier.

Could the beast from the Abyss, Satan, literally overpower and kill the Bible and its Testaments and let their bodies lie in Jerusalem? I’m not aware of how that could happen without getting really creative in the interpretation.

Was post revolution France really the "beast from the Abyss" that through its civil laws "killed" the Bible? Does that interpretation really fit into the rest of Revelation’s sequence of events? Where was the earthquake that at that hour destroyed the city that had just revoked the laws that had previously condemned the Bible. Does Paris meet the three tests of location pointing to Jerusalem? Was there a time of 3˝ years of no rain around this time?  In fact, did a goddess of "reason" as was uplifted even last 3˝ years before it was discarded?  If we apply the term "beast from the Abyss" to the French Revolution, then does that fit with the other usage of that term in Revelation 17:8?

The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.

Could people gloat over the Bible’s demise by gazing on its killed pages?

Could life come back into the Bible’s pages and people see them ascending into heaven? Would that send hope throughout the waiting saints?

With respect to those who have held other views, I trust the aforementioned verses has stimulated your thoughts. God has made understanding the two witnesses simple. Let’s not symbolize away the powerful literal prophecies that God has given to us to strengthen and encourage His people.

All the events foretold as happening to the two witnesses could easily happen to human prophets. Let’s let them be such. The future will reveal who they are, and where their prophetic ministry will take place.

As the waiting saints look forward to Jesus Christ's coming, we can know when we see or hear about these two witnesses that The End is soon to come.

Take courage, oh watchers,
Be courageous, be strong
Be loyal, be obedient.
Hold on to the testimony of Jesus and keep His commandments!
Our redemption draweth nigh!

One final note, I believe that the throwing down of the censor by Jesus, ending probation for the world, will take place during the 3˝ years that the two witnesses are prophesying. I believe the 3˝ years of their testimony includes the time of tribulation and the time when the Mark of the Beast is in effect. Given the duration of the plagues and using some reasonable time spans, suggests that the sequence of the 14 plagues will last about 12 months.

That gives the world approximately 2.5 years of warning from the two witnesses, time to repent, to turn to God, to seek His face and His forgiveness for their sins.

How gracious of God, how loving, how kind and merciful.

Yet, how many will turn to God? How many will turn away from Him? Only God knows the final count!

 

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