Who Are the Two Witnesses of Revelation? #163 #Endtimes #Lastdays

Hello friends and happy Tuesday. As you all may remember, we are following the Bible reading plan devised by our old friend Robert Murray M’Cheyne, of Dundee Scotland, a mighty young man of God who died in the 1800s. Love his Bible reading plan, but every now and then I have some questions about it. Questions I suppose I’ll have to wait until eternity to have an answer to. For instance, today’s question would be: SEVEN chapters?! That seems like a high number, Brother M’Cheyne. I know some of those Psalms chapters are short, but 7 chapters is a lot. Not that I’m complaining at all – the more the merrier, when it comes to the Bible – I’m just pointing out that 7 is our new record for chapters read in a day. Speaking of those seven, they are: Deuteronomy 13, 14, Psalms 99-101, Isaiah 41 and Revelation 11.

In Revelation 11, we are introduced to two more mysterious figures. I’m not sure you’ve noticed, but Revelation is packed with more mysterious figures per page than an Agatha Christie novel. Today’s mysterious figures seem to stand out above the rest, at least in terms of how debated their identities are. Here is how the are introduced:

I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for 1,260 days, dressed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and consumes their enemies; if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. They have authority to close up the sky so that it does not rain during the days of their prophecy. They also have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every plague whenever they want.

Revelation 11:4-6

Unfortunately for us – and for those who would seek to deduce the identify of the two witnesses, they are not introduced with a lot of background or detail. Much like Elijah’s introduction, they are just all of the sudden on the scene and prophesying. Who are they? What do they do? Why does the earth hold a sort of faux Christmas party around the globe when they are killed? Well – let’s read and find out!

Okay, so maybe we now have more questions than answers – welcome to the book of Revelation! The two witnesses are fascinating figures. They prophesy in sackcloth for approximately 3.5 years (remembering that a year was considered 360 days when the New Testament was written.) They can spew fire out of their mouths at their enemies. They have the power to make it stop raining AND they have the power to turn the water to blood AND strike the waters with plagues (whenever they want to!) After 3.5 years – when they finish their testimony – a beast will come out of the abyss and wage war on them, killing them in Jerusalem, and their bodies will be displayed for 3.5 days, denied burial. The people of the earth – who will be utterly fed up with the two witnesses by this point – will be so elated at their death, that they will celebrate and send each other gifts. After 3.5 days, God will resurrect them, and they will be called up to Heaven while their enemies are gawking and watching in amazement. And then comes a great earthquake that will shake the city of Jerusalem and kill 7000 people.

Now you might see why Revelation was one of my favorite Bible books as a youngling – never a dull moment. I sure didn’t understand it, but boy oh boy was it exciting. How literal should we take the book of Revelation? That’s a great question – there is obviously a great amount of figurative language in the book, as evidenced by vs. 8 when John tells us that the city where the witnesses die is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, but is obviously Jerusalem. To be frank, I believe part of Revelation is figurative/symbolic and part is literal, and I rarely know exactly where to draw that line. I do believe, if I have to speculate, that the two witnesses are literally two people that will come at some point in the future. So – WHO are they? Guesses have abounded over the years: Moses, John the Baptist, Elijah, Enoch, etc. Fortunately, we have some clues. They are vague and difficult to interpret rightly, but they are clues nonetheless. Our first clue comes in vs. 4, and it is obviously intended to be a clue:

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

Revelation 11:4

There are three chapters in the Bible that mention olive oil/trees and lampstands in the same place. Exodus 27:20 tells us that the lampstand in the tabernacle is to be an oil burning lamp that should be fueled by olive oil. I believe this is a clue. Zechariah 4 offers even more illumination:

The angel who was speaking with me then returned and roused me as one awakened out of sleep. He asked me, “What do you see?”I replied, “I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl at the top. The lampstand also has seven lamps at the top with seven spouts for each of the lamps. There are also two olive trees beside it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”….11 I asked him, “What are the two olive trees on the right and left of the lampstand?” 12 And I questioned him further, “What are the two streams of the olive trees, from which the golden oil is pouring through the two golden conduits?” 13 Then he inquired of me, “Don’t you know what these are?” “No, my lord,” I replied.14 “These are the two anointed ones,” he said, “who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”

Zechariah 4:1-3 and 11-14

Very obviously, Revelation 11 is referring back to Zechariah 4. The two witnesses are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth. (compare that with Revelation 11:4) Great – mystery solved…oh wait, actually we haven’t solved anything yet, but maybe we are on track. It appears – maybe! – that the two anointed ones that Zechariah 4 is discussing could be Joshua son of Yehozadak and Zerubbabel. Joshua was a high priest, and Zerubbabel a governmental leader who led the people in the rebuilding of the temple after the Jewish exile. I should also note that Joshua/Yeshua has the same Hebrew name as Jesus/Yeshua, and this might be significant.

We have a couple of other clues also.

They have authority to close up the sky so that it does not rain during the days of their prophecy. They also have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every plague whenever they want.

Revelation 11:6

Closing up the sky so that it doesn’t rain sure seems reminiscent of Elijah and plagues and turning water to blood reminds one of Moses. Surely this is intentional also, and is one of the reasons that many people think that the two witnesses will be Moses and Elijah. (Another point in favor of this view is the transfiguration, in which Jesus met with Moses and Elijah while He was transfigured.)

Probably the leading theory as to the identity of the two witnesses is Moses and Elijah. Probably the second most prevalent theory is Elijah and Enoch, and we can turn to Michael Houdmann from Gotquestions to explain the reasoning behind this pair:

Enoch and Elijah are seen as possibilities for the two witnesses because of the unique circumstances surrounding their exit from the world. Enoch and Elijah, as far as we know, are the only two individuals whom God has taken directly to heaven without experiencing death (Genesis 5:232 Kings 2:11). Proponents of this view point to Hebrews 9:27, which says that all men are appointed to die once. The fact that neither Enoch nor Elijah has yet experienced death seems to qualify them for the job of the two witnesses, who will be killed when their job is done. In addition, both Enoch and Elijah were prophets who pronounced God’s judgment (1 Kings 17:1Jude 1:14–15).

Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/two-witnesses.html

 

The early church father Augustine favored the Elijah/Enoch solution, but there are other theories too. Primasius, bishop of the church in the 500s, Oecuminious, also from the 500s and the theologian Tyconius from the 300s all believed that the two witnesses referred to the church and the two testaments of the Bible:

“These are those who stand,” it says, not those who shall stand as though they were not able to stand. In the two lampstands he signifies the church, which is fortified by the protection of the two Testaments

William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 160.


While he had said that “you must prophesy again,” here it is that “I will grant to my two witnesses and they will prophesy.” As there he spoke of John, here of the two witnesses, that is, of the church that preaches and prophesies on the basis of the two Testaments

William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 159.

 

The two witnesses symbolize as well the two Testaments by which God governs and rules his church

William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 157. Tyconius

The two witnesses are said to be two olive trees and two lampstands, for they represent the one church, which is formed from the two peoples of the Jews and the Gentiles

William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 157. Oecuminious

 

Caesarius of Arles, a bishop of the 400s-500s, also believed similarly, writing:

Were anyone to harm the church, the prayers of the church would consume them, either that they might be corrected or that they might be punished

William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 157.

In contrast, Victorinus, writing in the late 200s, believed it would be:

it will be Jeremiah who along with Elijah returns to announce the Lord’s coming

William C. Weinrich, ed., Revelation, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 157.

Ultimately, I believe that the two witnesses will NOT be Moses and Elijah or Elijah and Enoch, or even Joshua and Zerubbabel. This is due to the fact that Revelation 11 very clearly refers to multiple Scriptures in giving us clues to the identity of the two witnesses which lead to more than two people. Some of the clues point to Joshua and Zerubbabel, some to Moses and Elijah, and I believe this is very intentional. John is telling us that NEITHER of these pairs will be the two witnesses, but the two witnesses will be like them. I believe it is likely then that the two witnesses will be similar to a John the Baptist situation in that JTB came in the spirit and power of Elijah, but was not himself Elijah. The two witnesses could come in the spirit and power of Moses/Elijah (etc) but not be literally incarnations of those two people. It is also worth noting, as a further clue, that Moses and Zerubbabel were both political leaders of the people and Elijah and Joshua the high priest were both religious leaders of the people. This might be an inconsequential coincidence, but it could also be a clue and point to the possibility that one of the witnesses could be a civil leader and one could be a spiritual leader.

Well, we haven’t fully solved the mystery, but considering this is one of the most enduring mysteries of christendom, I suppose it is arrogance to think we’d have a shot at it.


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