“What are these two witnesses?”
When speaking of the end-time we have particularly in mind that period referred to as the seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy. This is a week of seven years. The first three and a half years will be comparatively peaceful, but it will be a false peace. “For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape” (I Thessalonians 5:3). The last half of the seven years will be that which the Lord called the great tribulation and which, for the elect’s sake, will be shortened to three and a half years. This prophesied week does not have to begin immediately after the rapture of the Church. There could be an interval sufficient for the lining up of the nations, the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, and the setting of the stage for the fulfillment of the prophecies pertaining to the seventieth week. We believe in the imminent, or any moment, coming of Christ for the Church and need not look for signs or for certain conditions that might indicate the soon fulfillment of the prophetic Word. We are looking for one thing only; we are “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
In the eleventh chapter of Revelation the two witnesses appear on the scene. Dean Alford made the statement: “This chapter is undoubtedly one of the most difficult in the whole Apocalypse.” The difficulty with him and with others is due to spiritualizing and reading the Church into the text. Dr. Barnhouse has said something about the book of Revelation that needs to be heeded if we would understand it aright. He writes: “The Holy Spirit sheds a revealing light throughout the whole book the moment we recognize first, its essential Jewishness and second, that it is entirely concerned with the future.” In the opening verses of this chapter John is told to measure the temple, which indicates it has already been rebuilt. That it is to be rebuilt is clearly stated in Scripture. In Matthew 24:15 the Lord referred to “the abomination of desolation, spoken by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” and this does show that a future temple would be desecrated by the Antichrist. Also, in II Thessalonians 2:4 Paul writes that Antichrist would be “sitting in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” According to Daniel 9:27, Israel will have made a covenant with Antichrist giving them safety in the land, control of Jerusalem, and the right to rebuild the temple. This covenant will be broken in the middle of the week with disastrous results. God warned of this in Isaiah 28:18 when He said, “And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it.”
It is at this particular time, with Israel in the land in unbelief and trusting in their covenant with Antichrist, that God raises up in their midst His two messengers. These two witnesses will for three and a half years bear a testimony for God to an unrepentant world. They will be located in Jerusalem but their message will be heard by all the people, kindreds, tongues and nations mentioned in verse nine. There has been much discussion as to who these witnesses are. First of all, they are two persons, although some try to tell us otherwise. We read: “These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth” (verse 4). These words remind us of Zechariah chapter four. There it is the time of Israel’s restoration following their captivity in Babylon and the temple is being rebuilt. The prophet sees a golden candlestick and two olive trees and the context indicates these are Zerubbabel the builder and Joshua the high priest. Then the prophet asks the question: “What are these two olive trees?” and it is said, “These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” In the time of Israel’s future restoration, with the temple being again rebuilt, the two witnesses in that day will be the anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth. Notice the title: The Lord of the whole earth. Satan will be making a final attempt to gain control of the earth, but all his efforts are doomed to failure. When the ministry of the two witnesses is completed and the seventh trumpet is sounded a great cry goes out: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.”
The Scripture is not explicit in identifying the two witnesses so we are told that we cannot be dogmatic. Dr. Bultema used to tell us we could be dogmatic without being dogmatistic. But the Scripture does tell us enough about these two so that this writer is firmly convinced as to their identity. There is agreement among those who seek to identify the witnesses that one of them is Elijah. The Old Testament closes with the statement that Elijah would indeed return before the day of the Lord. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). Some who see Elijah as one of the two pick Enoch as the other. Their main reason is that Elijah and Enoch were two who never died, and since Hebrews 9:27 states it is appointed unto men once to die they must be brought back to suffer death. But a whole generation of saints will have been raptured home to heaven without dying. Also, Lazarus and the other dead who were brought back to life by Jesus and the apostles all died the second time. Further, Hebrews 9:27has nothing whatever to do with physical death. We quote again from Dr. Barnhouse whose remarks express so well the view we have always held. He writes: “The simple fact is that the famous text on death and judgment does not refer to physical death at all. In view of the fact that the context clearly speaks of salvation from eternal death, a paraphrase of the misapplied verse in Hebrews would, in my opinion, read as follows: As it is appointed unto men once, in Adam’s sin, to die spiritually, as a result of which judgment passed upon all the race, because all have sinned, so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many.” And more to the point regarding Enoch we are again reminded that in order to understand the book of Revelation we must recognize its essential Jewishness. What did Enoch ever have to do with the Jewish nation? The answer is absolutely nothing, for he lived many centuries before Abraham, so any attempt to put him in the end-time, when God is dealing again with Israel, is untenable.
The two witnesses, we believe, are Moses and Elijah, and they will be invincible and invulnerable until their testimony is finished. God will give them wondrous powers to carry out their commission. We read: “And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies; and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy; and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.” It was Elijah who called down fire to consume those sent to apprehend him. It was Elijah who prayed and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months, the same time period as this future ministry. It was Moses who turned the waters of Egypt into blood and who called down one plague after another on that land. And it was the two of them, Moses and Elijah, who appeared with the Lord on the mount of transfiguration. Elijah was caught up in a whirlwind when he left this earthly scene and he went up in a body. And there is a bit of a mystery connected with Moses’ body. He died, but he had the Divine Undertaker, for the Scripture says, “So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And he (the Lord) buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor; but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day” (Deuteronomy 34:5-6). Then there is the verse in Jude about Michael the archangel contending with the devil and disputing about the body of Moses. Evidently God wanted Moses’ body for a purpose. The three disciples saw Moses and Elijah in bodily form on the mount, and in that future day they will be in bodily form and witnessing for God in the streets of Jerusalem.
The two witnesses begin their testimony at the beginning of the seventieth week, at a time when the man who is to be the Antichrist is more and more coming to power. At this time he is seen only in his human form and being hailed as a great world leader. We can be sure, though, that Moses and Elijah will be warning the nation Israel of the awful consequences of the alliance they have made with this man, and this will bring his wrath upon them. The fact that Jerusalem is called spiritually Sodom and Egypt indicates the apostate condition of the nation. The clothing of the two witnesses is suggestive of their message, for sackcloth speaks of mourning and repentance. Their message will be similar to that of John the Baptist; a call to repentance because the King is coming, and they will also be preaching the gospel of the kingdom as did John. And just as John pointed people to the Lamb of God, so will they, preaching the cross and salvation through Christ’s shed blood. They will be warning of judgments soon to be visited upon the unrepentant and warning their hearers to flee from the wrath to come. In the main their message will be one of judgment, unlike the message of grace we proclaim today. It is to be further noted that the expectation of those saved during the seventieth week is an earthly kingdom, whereas the destiny of the Church is heavenly. All of this gives further proof that the Church has no part whatever in the tribulation.
In every age the message of God’s servants should concern the person of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible is a wonderful “HIM” book. It is all about Him. In the Old Testament He is typified and prophesied, in the gospels personified, in the epistles magnified, and in Revelation glorified. The two witnesses will preach Christ, His atoning death and resurrection, that He is alive from the dead, the true Messiah, and coming soon to destroy His foes and take His rightful place as King over all the earth. In Luke 24:26-27 Jesus was showing the two disciples on the Emmaus road that in the Scriptures the law and all the prophets spoke of the things concerning Himself. In the end-time Moses and Elijah, as representatives of the law and the prophets, will be speaking of the things concerning Him who is the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah. There is little doubt that attempts will be made to silence them, but they will have miraculous powers to defeat every attack. The wicked king Ahab blamed Elijah for the trouble that had come upon Israel, when it was his own sin and the sin of the nation that was responsible. So the world will blame the two witnesses for all the trouble that has come upon them, unwilling to admit that the trouble and distress is due to their own sin and wickedness. When the witnesses shut heaven that it rain not, and famine is widespread, they will be hated the more; and when they turn into blood the little water that is left, all the earthdwellers will clamor for their destruction. But God’s hand will be upon them and they will be deathless until their testimony is completed. It should encourage us to know that even today the enemy of our souls cannot touch one of the Lord’s children without His permission.
With all the hellish weapons of destruction man has devised, some powerful enough to blow cities off the map, it would seem they would have an easy time in disposing of the two witnesses. But God will have an easier time in bringing all their efforts to nought. When God’s time has come, and not a moment before, He will allow them to be killed. We read: “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast … shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth” (Revelation 11:7-10). These messengers, faithful unto death, will not be given a decent burial, but their bodies will lie in the street. As news of their death spreads around the world and as people look upon the scene by means of television there will be great rejoicing. Thousands will line up in Jerusalem to pass by their bodies and to curse them in death. For three and a half days there will be a great carnival atmosphere with merrymaking and sending of gifts. They are rejoicing because the ones who have troubled them, the ones who have stood in the way of the superman and prevented him from carrying out his grandiose plans for them, are now dead. But suddenly, in the midst of their rejoicing, something happens. Life returns to the two witnesses and they stand upon their feet. The frolic of the worldlings turns to fright and fear. A great voice is heard, saying, “Come up hither,” and the two witnesses ascend up to heaven in a cloud. Sometimes the judgments of God are delayed, but not in this case. “And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand; and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven” (verse 13). And worse judgments are yet to come. That which the Lord called the great tribulation, the great and dreadful day of the Lord, is about to begin.
As always, God has given assurance that His Word will not return unto Him void, and the preaching of the two witnesses will not have been in vain. The remnant referred to in the foregoing verse, who gave glory to the God of heaven, are Jews in Judea and Jerusalem who were converted through the testimony of the two witnesses. With Satan soon to be cast down and with the Antichrist as his tool, these Jews will be forced to flee as the Lord predicted in Matthew 24:15-21. They will be protected by God in their hasty flight and providentially cared for in the wilderness, a sanctuary from the fearful storm raging in the world around. Also, it is doubtless due to the preaching of the witnesses that the 144,000 Israelites among the nations have been converted and made bold. And now, empowered by the Spirit of God, they will refuse to take the mark of the beast and with the seal of God in their foreheads, will go forth as Apostle Pauls to evangelize the Gentile world. The witness of the two faithful warriors has been far from fruitless. Even today, as we consider the brief account of their labors, we are challenged and given fresh courage to stand for God and for Christ even in hard places and under trying circumstances.