Ministry of Two Witnesses

TWO WITNESSES’ MINISTRYAnd I will give power 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. 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 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. (Revelation 11:3-6)

Who They Are – Perhaps a better translation from the Greek is
the two witnesses of me. These two may have been well known to John. They are described by symbols: “the two olive trees” and “the two lampstands…that stand before the Lord of the earth.” This may be a reference to Zechariah 4:3, 12, where Joshua and Zerubbabel ministered to the Jews. In the final apostasy, God will raise up two inspired witnesses to minister encouragement to the afflicted, yet sealed, remnant.(1)

Some take the witnesses figuratively as symbols of authority (the Law) and power (the Gospel).(2) Other interpretations include: Law and prophets; Old and New Testaments; two faithful churches in Revelation (Smyrna and Philadelphia); Israel and the Church. However, since they are said to die and are resurrected, they seem to be actual people.(3) Also, the words witness and prophesy are usually applied to individuals, not to abstractions (compare Psalms 52:8).(4)

Many in the early Church considered the two witnesses to be Enoch and Elijah.(5) This would avoid the difficulty of the dying a second time, as neither of these two died previously. Still others see the actions of the two witnesses being like those of Moses and Elijah. Moses, who as a witness for God against Pharaoh (considered by some as a type of the anti-Christ), turned water into blood and smote the Egyptians with various other plagues. Elijah was a witness for God during a period of near universal apostasy in Israel. However, God reserved for Himself a remnant of seven thousand like the 144,000 that are sealed in Revelation 7:1–8. Elijah also caused fire to devour the enemy and shut off heaven, so it did not rain. Interestingly, it did not rain for three years and six months, the same period (1260 days) during which the two witnesses in Revelation will prophesy. Additional reasons for believing that the two witnesses will be Elijah and Moses are drawn from Malachi 4:5, 6 (that Elijah will appear “before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes”). In addition, both Moses and Elijah appeared with Christ at the Transfiguration as a foreshadowing of His coming Millennial Kingdom.(6)

While there is room for considerable discussion of these various views, the fact is that the passage does not specifically identify the two witnesses. They may not have any historic identification, being two previously unknown witnesses.(7)

What They Do – The two witnesses minister during the first half (1,260 days) of the Tribulation (Revelation 11:3). Jerusalem is then overrun by the Gentiles for the last half (forty-two months) of the Tribulation. Their witness is related to Israel and the temple. However, the power of God and the Word of God will be outside the temple (“I stand at the door and knock”) and not within as in former ages. Like the temple that Jesus left, this new house will also be left desolate (see Matthew 23:38).

These two men are specifically called prophets (Revelation 11:3, 6), as well as witnesses, which could mean a prophetic ministry in the Old Testament sense of calling the nations to repent and return to the true God of Israel. Not only do these witnesses declare God’s words but they also do God’s works and perform miracles of judgment. Throughout Israel’s history, God sent special messengers to call His people to repentance.(8) These two will display God’s power to unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, and many will be saved through their witness. They will announce to the world the great events to come and will incur the wrath of the Beast and the indignation of his followers. Sinful men have never wanted to hear or obey God’s Word (Revelation 9:20–21). Nevertheless, these two witnesses will be divinely protected until their work is finished. Only then will God allow the Beast to oppose them and slay them. It is unlikely that the anti-Christ could take full possession of the temple until these two prophets were out of his way.(9)

Up Next – The death of the two witnesses.

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References

  1. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 575). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  2. Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation (p. 230). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
  3. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 956). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  4. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 576). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  5. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 576). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  6. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, p. 576). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  7. Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 956). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  8. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 598–599). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  9. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 827). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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