The Two Witnesses – Revelation 11:1-13

                In every dispensation of time, God has appointed spokesmen to bring the message of salvation to the world. Before the time of Christ, God used His prophets to bring messages of judgment and of hope. He used men such as Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, and others. God Himself brought the message of salvation to the world through His Son, Jesus. After the ascension of Christ, God used the apostles to proclaim the good news and to usher in the age of the church. Today, God uses His church as the means through which the Gospel message is declared around the world. After the church is raptured, God will use a remnant from Israel that we know as the 144,000 witnesses. During the last half of the tribulation, God will use two very special messengers to give Israel and the unbelieving world one last chance to come to faith in Christ. What we see in all of this is the amazing love of God. It is at the very heart of God that all people would come to repentance. He desires for everyone to be saved. He gives mankind multiple opportunities to get it right. However, as we see in the book of Revelation, those opportunities will soon come to an end.

The Temple. In verses 1-2 there is a description given of John measuring the temple. And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. 2 But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.”[1] The measuring of the temple is most likely the setting apart of Israel for God’s special protection and preservation. “The measuring here denotes exemption from destruction.”[2] MacArthur points out: “The tribulation temple will be built early in the first half of the tribulation under the influence of Antichrist. Many orthodox Jews today dream of rebuilding their temple, but its site is now occupied by the Islamic Dome of the Rock. Because Muslims believe it to be the place from which Muhammad ascended to heaven, it is among the most sacred shrines in the Islamic world. For the Jews to take the site from the Muslims and build their temple there would be unthinkable in today’s political climate. But during the tribulation, under the protection of Antichrist, they will be able to rebuild the temple.”[3] John is commanded to not measure the outer court. The reason for this is because it is tread under foot for forty-two months during the reign of the Antichrist. The last half of the tribulation is the culmination of the ‘times of the Gentiles’, in which Gentile nations have in various ways controlled Jerusalem. That time of Gentile control is coming to an end and this is the reason for John being told to measure the temple.

The two witnesses. It is in this same time period (last 3 ½ years of tribulation) that God will protect all the Israelites in a specific location. This is seen in Revelation 12:6. “And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.”[4] Those who do not go to that place of shelter will face horrifying persecution from the Antichrist. It is during this time that God will bring salvation to Israel through the preaching ministry of two strange men that appear in Jerusalem. These men come to preach the Gospel so that the Jews may be believe in Christ and be protected by God. There are several things we see here about these two witnesses.

First of all notice, their job. Notice what the text says in the first part of verse 3. “And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days…” [5] The job of these two witnesses is to prophesy. The word ‘prophesy’ does not necessarily refer to the predication of future events. However, in this case as well as in other places in the New Testament, the term ‘prophesy’ refers to ‘proclaiming’ or ‘preaching.’ It is the responsibility of these two witnesses to proclaim the message of salvation. Power is given to these two men to preach the gospel. This is the same power that is given to every believer as described in Acts 1:8. All believers in Christ have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses of Jesus to the world. We have been a great commission to ‘go into all the world and preach the gospel.’ Just as the two witnesses seen in the last half of the tribulation, we today living in the age of grace also have a job to do. We are called and empowered by God to preach the gospel.

Secondly, we see their attitude. The latter part of verse 3 reads, clothed in sackcloth.” “Sackcloth was rough, heavy, coarse cloth worn in ancient times as a symbol of mourning, distress, grief, and humility. The two witnesses will put on sackcloth as an object lesson to express their great sorrow for the unbelieving world. They will also mourn because of the desecration of the temple, the oppression of Jerusalem, and the rise of the Antichrist.”[6] This is also a lesson to us today. Our attitude toward the unbelieving world should be one of sorrow. Knowing the future that awaits those who do not come to repentance should drive us to our knees. Knowing their plight should give us a sense of urgency when it comes to spreading the gospel. It should motivate us to involve ourselves in the work of missions. This world needs hope. We have the hope that they need. It is up to us as believers to share with the world the amazing love of God.

Not only do we see their job and attitude, but also notice in verse 4, we see their identity. “These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.”[7] The identity of these two witnesses is something that has been debated for a long time. Notice what the Bible Knowledge Commentary says concerning this issue: “A common interpretation is that they are Moses and Elijah because the judgments inflicted by Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament are similar to those of these two witnesses (11:5–6). Further support is given the identification of Elijah because of the prediction (Mal. 4:5) that he will appear “before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” Christ said this prophecy of Elijah was partially fulfilled in His lifetime (Matt. 17:10–13; Mark 9:11–13; cf. Luke 1:17). And both Moses and Elijah were involved in the transfiguration (Matt. 17:3), which anticipated the Second Coming. But a problem with this suggested identity is that Moses had already died once. Some have identified the two witnesses as Enoch and Elijah inasmuch as they did not die but were translated (cf. Heb. 9:27).While there is room for considerable discussion of these various views, the fact is that the passage does not identify the two witnesses, and they probably do not have historic identification.”[8] The statement that these two witnesses are the ‘two olive trees and two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth’ comes from Zechariah 4:2-14. “The two witnesses in this passage were Joshua the high priest and Zerubbabel the governor. Their connection to the lampstands was that they were empowered by the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the olive oil. In a similar way the two witnesses of Revelation 11 will be empowered by the Holy Spirit.”[9] Through the power of the Holy Spirit, they are indentified with Christ and are called to be His witnesses. The same is true for you and I as believers. The moment that you placed your faith and trust in Jesus for salvation, you were baptized in the Holy Ghost. The baptism of the Holy Ghost identifies us with Christ. We now belong to Jesus. It is no longer I that lives, but it is Jesus that lives in me. Such identification with Christ gives us the boldness and authority to proclaim the gospel message to the world.

Fourthly, we see their power. Notice what it says in verses 5-6. “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. 6 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.”[10] These men are given great power. They are able to perform the miraculous just like Elijah and Moses. Elijah held back rain and Moses turned water into blood. No one can touch them. No one can harm them. Such power to thwart off any attack enables them to continue in their ministry of preaching the gospel. I am sure that Satan will be furious. He will not be able to shut their mouths. You and I have the same power today. We cannot stop the rain or turn water into blood, but we do have the power of the gospel. Satan cannot shut us up. No matter how much the world tries to silent believers, the message of the gospel will prevail. What a wonderful truth! I am always amazed at how the rulers of the world try to stop the message of the Gospel, but they cannot. They may persecute us, they may torture us, they may even kill us; but the Gospel will still go forth!

In verses 7-13 we see their death and resurrection. “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. 8 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. 9 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. 10 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. 11 And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. 12 And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. 13 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.”[11] This is a very remarkable event. Once their mission is complete, they will then be killed by the forces of the Antichrist. The peoples of the earth will rejoice over their deaths. However, just as Jesus rose in three days, so will the two witnesses. The world will stand in awe. The world will see them ascend into heaven. Everyone will then know that these witnesses came from God. At the time of the resurrection and ascension, there will be a great earthquake. Many will die in the earthquake. The remnant will give glory to God. Perhaps, even the unbelieving world will give glory to God in this moment. There will be no doubt to all that God is real and that He means business. The encouragement we see here is that one day; we also will ascend into heaven. Either by death or by the rapture, all believers in Christ will soon see Him. We should take heart and be encouraged that one day it will all be over. No more suffering. No more pain. No more strife. No more persecution. It will all be over soon and we will forever be with the Lord!

[1] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 11:1–2). Bellingham, 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. 229). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] MacArthur, John, Because the time is near. (Moody Publishers. 2007). p. 180

[4] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 12:6). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[5] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 11:3). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[6] MacArthur, John, Because the time is near. (Moody Publishers. 2007). p. 182

[7] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 11:4). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[8] 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.

[9] 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.

[10] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 11:5–6). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[11] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Re 11:7–13). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.


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