A more in-depth analysis of the Two Witness

Revelation 11:1-14

Then there was given me a measuring rod like a staff; and someone said, “Get up and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those who worship in it. “Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months. “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty 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 wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way.  These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not 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 plague, as often as they desire.

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them.  And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.  Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb.  And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them. And in 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.

The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.

The two witnesses are a parallel to Zechariah 4, talking about the two lampstands and two olive trees.  The Word of the Lord to Zerubbabel was “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.”  Zechariah does not explicitly identify the two witnesses, although, judging from question that was asked, “Do you not know…?”, and his apparent lack of knowing when perhaps he should, a case could be made that Zechariah himself was one of them.  But, whoever the two witnesses are, their role was plain.  They supplied the supply of oil to the lampstand.  The lamp could have been a type of Zerubbabel, but it is clear that the  power with which it was operated, and the continuous flow of that power, was through the outpouring of the Spirit of Grace, the Holy Spirit, through the function of these two anointed vessels.

Hence, it becomes clear that, in the book of Revelation, that, again, while the identity of these two witnesses is not disclosed, it is through their operation, most likely, through the prophetic Word, such as this Word that John is uttering through his prophecy, that these things will come about according to God’s plan.  Just as God spoke and the world was created, so he establishes his plan to run sure through the prophetic utterance of his chosen prophets throughout history.

We have here, in Revelation 11, several very specific things that John lists with regard to these two people, and their assignment.  Not limiting, they include:

  • Prophecy 1260 days, v3
  • Wear sackcloth, v3
  • Fire from their mouths devours their enemies, v5
  • Power to shut up the sky, turn water to blood, and bring plagues, v6
  • Will be killed by the beast that comes from the pit, v7
  • Their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city (“Sodom”, “Egypt”), v8
  • They will not be permitted to be buried for 3 1/2 days, v9
  • Those in the Earth will celebrate and exchange gifts, v10
  • They will be resurrected, v11
  • Caught up to heaven as their enemies watched, v12
  • A Great Earthquake, 1/10th of the city fell, 7000 died, the rest glorified God, v13

But, this is all that is said about them.  Many attempts have been made to identify these two.  I do not claim to know who these two are.  It seems clear that hypotheses correlating them to the “Law and the Prophets” do not fit with them dying and being resurrected.  Various human candidates seem to fail with regards to the power and specific destruction of the enemies by the fire from their mouths.

It is possible, of course, that the fire from their mouths could be symbolic of either their prophetic word which destroyed them, perhaps, but to continue and to negate the power gift demonstrations listed, the water to blood, skies closed up, and plagues, for the space of 3 1/2 years seems to fall short.  While the futurist will point to this lack as their definite proof that they must the be the only ones correct, I both keep an eye on their position, and continue my search.  Many things, not clear before, become more illuminated over time, and pieces and details that were not well known become discovered over the course of time.

So, while this may be one of the better passages to argue the futurist position, since none of the historical or preterist or symbolic interpretations seem to fit, I choose to continue to make my search.  Many other things seem to fit into the framework I have been working on, including timing, purpose and intent of the letter, and all the rest.  Simply saying “none of it has happened” might seem a convenient answer, but in the study of Daniel, especially, and looking at the history of Babylon through it’s four stages, there appear to be so many missing pieces to this letter to postpone all of these things to a later time.

So, with that, there remains mystery of the identity of these two witnesses.  However, if the framework proposed here is correct, then we can at least limit the range of searching of these two witnesses to a specific time frame.  If the end of Revelation 11 is talking about the final destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, then these witnesses would have, most likely, have fallen into the space immediately before that.  Knowing that, the focus of a search for clues could be made through whatever materials possible, and more light could be gained.  Quite often, much of the information in studies such as this is already available, somewhere, studied out by someone, but it is in the locating of it that the understanding is gained.