The Two Witnesses of Revelation

Drew Berding

Why did God send the two Witnesses of Revelation?
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Rev 11:3-14

“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth1 and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. 6 These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall2 during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood,3 and to strike the earth with every plague4, as often as they desire.

 7 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.5 8 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. 9 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. 10 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.

 11 But after the6 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. 12 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. 13 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.

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

Why study about the Two Witnesses?

The Two Witnesses of Revelation are fascinating to study. God has told us about them for our benefit so let’s learn as much as we can about them. Revelation 1:3 says: “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” When these things come to pass (which they surly will), people will be awed at God’s amazing power.

What do we want to know about them?

There are a lot of questions we can ask about them: Who are they? What will be their authority? When will they prophesy? Why will they prophesy? How long will they prophesy? Will they finish? What will they prophesy? Why are there two Witnesses and not just one? Why are they clothed in sackcloth? Why will they be killed? Who is able to kill them? How long will their bodies lie unburied? Why will people celebrate their deaths? When will they be resurrected? Could they have prophesied during the second half of the Tribulation? What is their resurrection like? What are the results of their resurrection? Are there any other scriptures beside Revelation that refer to the Two Witnesses? What major conclusions can we draw about the Two Witnesses?

Who are they?

Almost every scholar thinks Elijah is one of the Two Witnesses. Elijah seems probable because in 2 Kings 1:9-137 Elijah called down fire from Heaven to kill anyone who tried to kill him just as the Witnesses will do a similar thing in Rev 11:5.8 Similarly, Elijah and the Witnesses have the power to withhold rain and cause plagues.9 Scholars have many suggestions for who the second Witness might be. Among those contenders are Moses and Enoch. This paper makes a case that the second Witness might be Elisha because he continued Elijah’s ministry and even wore his mantle10 which was Elijah’s symbol of authority just like Moses’ staff was his. Although in Rev 11:3 and 6, they are called “witnesses” who “prophesy,” later they are called “prophets” in verse 10.

What will be their authority?

Their authority comes directly from God Himself. They are His messengers as attested by the miracles they do by shutting up the rain, causing plagues, turning water into blood and having fire come out of their mouths to burn up their enemies.

When will they prophesy?

The book of Revelation is not strictly chronological. In Rev 10:1111 John is told to “prophesy again.” The very next thing he writes about is the Two Witnesses. It’s almost like he is saying, “Oh, by the way, I should have mentioned the Two Witnesses.” I think we can make a conclusive argument that they prophesied during the first half of the Tribulation (see below).

Why will they prophesy?

Just before (or as) the Tribulation begins, all believers are raptured to Heaven so there will be no one left to show Israel and the rest of the world that they are ignoring and violating God’s commandments. Therefore the Two Witnesses are needed during the first half of the Tribulation to call people to repentance.12 During the second half of the Tribulation they are not needed since there will be 144,000 Jewish13 evangelists sealed for that purpose.

How long will they prophesy?

According to verse 3 we know exactly how long the Two Witnesses prophesied: “they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” That is exactly 3½ years (using 30 day months).

Will they finish?

It is also clear that they will complete their prophesy and that it will not be cut off prematurely. Verse 7 says, “…they have finished their testimony….” The word “finished” in Greek is “teleo” which means “to finish, to bring to an end, not merely to terminate a thing, but to carry out a thing to the full.”14 Therefore they will prophesy (tell forth God’s truth) their full 1260 days.

What will they prophesy?

They will say the same things that prophets through the ages have prophesied—that the people of Israel are abandoning God, that they are following after a false messiah, and that there will be severe consequences until they turn and repent (See related paper on “Israel’s false messiah”). This is what Elijah and Elisha were saying when they prophesied. What was going on at their time? The apostasy of kings Ahab/Jezebel, Joram, Jehoram and Ahaziah.

Why are there two Witnesses and not just one?

The witnesses are doing more than just prophesying against Israel. They are testifying 15 against Israel like in a court case. Therefore, as it says in Deut 19:15, “…on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.”16

Why are they clothed in sackcloth?

Sackcloth is a sign of mourning/repentance/horror. They are mourning Israel’s apostasy of turning from God to pursue a false messiah.

Why will they be killed?

Rebellious people, who don’t want to obey the prophets, try to eliminate them.17 Israel has been doing that for centuries. 18

Who is able to kill them?

Humans don’t seem able to harm them because of the fire which comes out of the prophets’ mouths. Only the “beast coming up out of the sea” (the antichrist)19 has that power which is derived from the Dragon (Satan).20

When will they be killed?

It is highly probable that they will be killed at the mid-point of the Tribulation:

  • They will be killed “when they have finished their testimony.”21 When will that be? At the end of the first half of the Tribulation.
  • If their bodies are to be left unburied for three-and-one-half years in the street (see arguments below), they must be killed mid-Trib.
  • Remember that their testimony was only needed for the first half of the Tribulation when there were no other witnesses. They are not needed during the second half because there will be 144,000 witnesses (see above).
  • The antichrist comes to full power at mid-Trib. He is the “beast coming up out of the sea.” 22 He is the one that kills them.
  • He (the beast, the false christ) gets his power directly from the dragon (Satan).23 He reinforces his power over the people by killing the “unkillable” Two Witnesses. His power seems irresistible.24

How long will their bodies lie unburied?

Figuring out how long they were dead depends on how you interpret the three-and-a-half days. Are these literal days or are they actually years like everywhere else in Daniel and everywhere else in Revelation?

  • Rev 11:9 says they were dead “three and a half days.”25 26
  • Likewise Rev 11:11 says, “But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them…”
  • However, are these literally 3½ “days” or figurative periods of time?
    • The word translated “days” is the Greek word “hemera” which is a loose, indefinite term meaning “periods of time” or “times”. “The noun appears with numerous meanings, a result of the variety of meanings in OT Hebrew usage.”27 Therefore it does not necessarily mean a period of twenty-four hours. It could readily mean “years.”
    • Anyway, it would be far too coincidental to ignore the use of the precise term “3½” since the apostle John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit chose that specific term.
    • The book of Revelation refers to a period of time equivalent to 3½ years five other times28‑‑‑not counting these two verses:
      • These are all in close proximity to these two verses—in chapters 11, 12 and 13.
      • They surround the subject verses—two before and three after.
      • Therefore it is reasonable to assume that John would be consistent and mean 3½ years with these two verses also.
    • Likewise, in every use of the term “3½” in Daniel, he refers to “years.”
    • Similarly, the apostle Luke in 4:25 refers to 3 years and 6 months.29
    • Furthermore the apostle James in 5:17 refers to 3 years and 6 months.30
    • Therefore, I know of no place in Scripture where 3½ literal days are mentioned, unless it is here in these two verses—which I seriously doubt.
    • What is so significant about “3½” unless he is bringing to mind other places where it refers to 3½ years?
    • In Rev 11:10, John mentions that the people celebrated the Two Witnesses’ deaths and sent gifts to each other:
      • Three and a half literal days seems too short a time for this to occur on a large scale.
      • However, it would make sense if it were a yearly celebration like in Esther 9:27-28 when they celebrated Purim and sent gifts to each other in order to commemorate the salvation of the Jews.31
    • Also, it does not just say “three and a half days”—it says “the three and a half days” with the definite article “the” thus connecting with all the other cases where it meant years.

Therefore the conclusion must be that their bodies lay in the street unburied for three-and-a-half years—not three-and-a-half days. That could only occur during the second half of the Tribulation. Therefore, they must prophesy during the first half of the Tribulation.

Why will people celebrate their deaths?

People will celebrate the Two Witnesses’ deaths because they didn’t want to hear their condemnation and experience their plagues.32

When will they be resurrected?

It is clear when the Two Witnesses will be resurrected. Rev 11:14 states that it is at the end of the second Woe (which is the same thing as Trumpet/Bowl 6) and before the third Woe (which is the same thing as Trumpet/Bowl 7).33

Could they have prophesied during the second half of the Tribulation?

No, for the following reasons:

  • This could only happen if the 3-1/2 referred to literal days rather than years. However, as shown above, everywhere in Scripture (including several references directly adjacent to and surrounding this one), it refers to years—not literal days.
  • Even if they lay unburied three and a half literal days (rather than years), there is not enough time for them to prophesy 1260 days, lay unburied 3-1/2 literal days, and be resurrected—all before the end of Trumpet6/Bowl6/Woe2.
  • This would leave the world without any witness at all during the first half of the Tribulation.

What is their resurrection like?

Rev 11:11-12 describes their resurrection as an accomplished fact:

  • the breath of life from God came into them
  • they stood on their feet
  • great fear fell upon those who were watching them
  • they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.”
  • the two Witnesses went up into heaven in the cloud
  • as their enemies watched them.

What are the results of their resurrection?

Rev 11:13 describes the results:

  • there was a great earthquake
  • a tenth of the city fell
  • seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake
  • the rest were terrified
  • and gave glory to the God of heaven.

Are there any other scriptures beside Revelation that refer to the Two Witnesses?

Other scriptures that mention the Two Witnesses are Zech 4:1-334 and Zech 4:11-14.35 The parallels with Rev 11:4 are obvious.

What major conclusions can we draw about the Two Witnesses?

  • They are sent by God with His authority.
  • They will prophesy against Israel’s apostasy and their following the antichrist.
  • They will prophesy during the first half of the Tribulation.
  • They will be killed by the antichrist himself at the midpoint of the Tribulation.
  • Their bodies will lie unburied during the second three-and-a-half years of the Tribulation.
  • They will be resurrected for all to see at the end of the Tribulation.
  • These things certainly will occur because they are in God’s Word.
  • We had better pay attention.

Photo Attribution: Mor Shani – Unsplash.com

Footnotes

  1. This clearly refers to Elijah in 2 Kings 1:9-13
  2. 1 Kings 17:1, ‘Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”‘
  3. This could refer to Moses in Ex 4:9
  4. This could refer to Moses in Ex 9:14
  5. This sounds like Dan 12:7, “I heard the man dressed in linen, who was above the waters of the river, as he raised his right hand and his left toward heaven, and swore by Him who lives forever that it would be for a time, times, and half a time; and as soon as they finish shattering the power of the holy people, all these events will be completed.”
  6. This is the definite article “the” so this isn’t just referring to a passage of three and a half literal days but it is referring to the specific three and a half years they prophesied.
  7. 2 Kings 1:10, Elijah replied to the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.”
  8. Rev 11:5, “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.”
  9. Rev 11:6, “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.”
  10. 2 Kings 2:13, “He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan.”
  11. Rev 10:11, ‘And they said to me, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”‘
  12. Micah 3:7, “On the other hand I am filled with power —with the Spirit of the Lord —and with justice and courage to make known to Jacob his rebellious act, even to Israel his sin.”
  13. Rev 7:3-4, ‘”…Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads.” 4 And I heard the number of those who were sealed, one hundred and forty-four thousand sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.”‘
  14. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words
  15. Rev 11:7, “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.”
  16. Thanks to Dennis Kizziar for this insight.
  17. Neh 9:26, “But they became disobedient and rebelled against You, and cast Your law behind their backs and killed Your prophets who had admonished them so that they might return to You, and they committed great blasphemies.”
  18. Matt 23:37, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”
  19. Rev 13:1, “Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names. “
  20. Rev 13:2, “And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.”
  21. Rev 11:7, “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.”
  22. Rev 13:1, “Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.”
  23. Rev 13:2, “And the dragon gave him his power and his throne and great authority.”
  24. Rev 13:4, ‘…they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?”‘
  25. Rev 11:9, “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.”
  26. Rev 11:9 also says, “Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations …will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb.” This will fulfill a prophesy from Ps 79:3, “They have poured out their blood like water round about Jerusalem; and there was no one to bury them.”
  27. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament © 1990 by William B. Eerdmans
  28. Rev 11:2, Rev 11:3, Rev 12:6, Rev 12:14 and Rev 13:5
  29. “But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land;”
  30. “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.”
  31. In Rev 11, however, it would be more like an anti-Purim.
  32. Rev 11:3, “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.”
  33. Rev 11:3, “The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.”
  34. Zech 4:1-3, “Then the angel who was speaking with me returned and roused me, as a man who is awakened from his sleep. 2 He said to me, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; 3 also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.”
  35. Zech 4:11-14, ‘Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?” 12 And I answered the second time and said to him, “What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” 13 So he answered me, saying, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” 14 Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.”‘

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NOTE: Bible references unless otherwise stated are from the NASU (New American Standard Updated) copyright the Lockman Foundation.

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