Question: “Who are the two witnesses in the book of Revelation?”
In Revelation 11:3–12 a description is given of two individuals who were to help accomplish God’s work during a time of great tribulation. AD 66 – 70 would be of particular interest to study historically.
If the details of the Revelation are not pressed for a literal interpretation, an understanding of the narrative will be easier. Much of the Revelation is symbolic, and so was written in the special style of apocalyptic literature.
Jesus spoke of great tribulation to come to Israel in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. John saw in vision form what Jesus prophesied in AD 30. History records that what Jesus said would happen, in broad terms, John saw would happen in a vision, and history confirms that what Jesus said, and what John saw, did happen.
The two main messages of the Revelation are established:
Any false prophet, meaning any religion that hurts the Church shall be destroyed. Did Judaism persecute the Church? After AD 70 the religious leaders of Israel were in no position to hurt the Church in the same way as Saul of Tarsus had once done. Did Caesar rise up to persecute and oppress the saints? Did Caesar demand emperor worship? That would cease.
Will any Beast of a Government persecute the Church? It shall be destroyed. By way of interpretation, Nero, the Beast of Revelation 13, whose number was 666, died a suicide on 9 June AD 68.
By way of application, the Beast of a Communist Government which took over Russia in 1917, and persecuted the Church, was to be destroyed. The saints cried, “How long, O Lord?” And the Lord said, not long, and in 1989 there was the breakup of the Soviet Union. Today, the Church is growing again in Russia.
There is an ebb and flow of persecution and triumph through Church history, but the principle remains. The Church will triumph against all odds. The Church is not destined for failure, or apostasy, or some Laodicean age. That is an unworthy view of the Church.
In whatever way the two witlessness of Revelation 11 are viewed, it must not be forgotten that the teaching of the Revelation by way of INTERPRETATION belongs to the early Church, while, by way of APPLICATION, the great principles of the narrative remain.
I suspect the seven local churches in Asia which initially received the Revelation of St. John would have been able to identify the two witnesses of Chapter 11 immediately.
Two thousand years later, the Church cannot be so sure of their identify. Nor can Dispensational theologians be dogmatic that the two witnesses are literal, and futuristic, and will return to earth only to be killed.
It is an interesting theory, but the next event on the prophetic calendar is the return of Jesus who will bring forth all that are in the grave in a general resurrection, destroy the heavens and earth, and make them new, and rule and reign for ever and ever. Amen.
Do not forget history, as the attempt is made to fit these guys into a teaching, historical, understanding of the larger part of the Apocalypse.
“I will appoint my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth” (verse 3).
The Following Main Points Come from GotQuestions.com which is Sympathetic to Dispensational Theology. The “Considerations” and Conclusion are Mine (SEM).
Nowhere does the Bible identify these two witnesses by name, although people through the years have speculated.
Now that is an understatement. (SEM)
The two witnesses in Revelation are said to have miraculous powers to accompany their message (Revelation 11:6), and no one was to be able to stop them in their work (verse 5).
At the end of their ministry, when they have said all they needed to say, the Beast was to kill them and the wicked world would rejoice, allowing the bodies of the fallen prophets to lie in the streets (verses 7–10).
Three and a half days later, however, God’s two witnesses will be resurrected, and, in full view of their enemies, ascend to heaven (verses 11–12).
There are three primary theories on the identity of the two witnesses in Revelation:
Candidates 1: Moses and Elijah
Candidates 2: Enoch and Elijah
Candidates 3: Two Unknown Believers whom God Called to be His witnesses
Moses and Elijah are seen as possibilities for the two witnesses due to the specific miracles that John says the witnesses will perform.
The witnesses will have the power to turn water into blood (Revelation 11:6), which duplicates a famous miracle of Moses (Exodus 7).
The witnesses will have the power to destroy their enemies with fire (Revelation 11:5), which corresponds to an event in Elijah’s life (2 Kings 1).
Also giving strength to this view is the fact that Moses and Elijah both appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:3–4).
Further, Jewish tradition expects Moses and Elijah to return, based on the prophecy of Elijah’s coming in Malachi 4:5 and God’s promise to raise up a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18), which some Jews believe necessitates Moses’ return.
Despite Jewish tradition and expectations, Jesus said the prophesy of Elijah, according to Malachi, was fulfilled in John the Baptist. “But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise, shall also the Son of man suffer of them” (Matt. 17:12).
Maybe Elijah is not ready for a “third” round trip to planet earth. But, who knows? So, the speculation continues. (SEM)
Enoch and Elijah are seen as possibilities for the two witnesses because of the unique circumstances surrounding their exit from the world.
Enoch and Elijah, as far as we know, are the only two individuals whom God has taken directly to heaven without experiencing death (Genesis 5:23; 2 Kings 2:11).
Proponents of this view point to Hebrews 9:27, which says that all men are appointed to die once.
Of course, Paul did write, ““Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep [die], but we shall all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51), so that point is weakened. (SEM)
The fact that neither Enoch nor Elijah has yet experienced death seems to qualify them for the job of the two witnesses, who will be killed when their job is done. In addition, both Enoch and Elijah were prophets who pronounced God’s judgment (1 Kings 17:1; Jude 1:14–15).
I am sure Enoch and Elijah will do what God tells them to do in their heavenly state, but it does seem extravagant to bring them back to earth to get killed. Interesting though. (SEM)
Two unknowns are seen as possibilities for the two witnesses because of the lack of specificity in Revelation 11.
Scripture does not identify the two witnesses by name, and no well-known person is associated with their coming.
God is perfectly capable of taking two “ordinary” believers and enabling them to perform the same signs and wonders that Moses and Elijah did.
There is nothing in Revelation 11 that requires us to assume a “famous” identity for the two witnesses.
There is an interesting passage in Zechariah 4 that gives us a prototype of the two witnesses of Revelation.
Zechariah has a vision in which he sees a solid gold lampstand. On top is a bowl of oil, and an olive tree stands on each side (verses 3–4).
The lampstand gives its light without human maintenance, being constantly supplied by the olive oil flowing from the trees into the bowl.
God’s message to Zechariah was that God’s work (rebuilding the temple) would be accomplished “not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” (verse 6).
That is good. The spiritual realities of the symbolism of an apocalyptic style of writing in Zechariah is recognized. Perhaps spiritual realities can be found in the symbolism of the Revelation without pressing for something to be literal. (SEM)
Zechariah asks about the meaning of the olive trees and the branches supplying the oil, and the angel who speaks to him says, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:14, ESV).
In other words, God’s power to sustain His work is flowing through two individuals set apart for the task. In Zechariah’s context, these two individuals are Joshua (the current high priest) and Zerubbabel (the current governor of Judah).
We can also see a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ here, as the Messiah would combine the offices of priest and king. Then we come to Revelation 14:4. In the description of the two witnesses, John says, “They are ‘the two olive trees’ and the two lampstands, and ‘they stand before the Lord of the earth.’” John quotes from Zechariah 4.
The two witnesses of Revelation, like Joshua and Zerubbabel, will have God’s power flowing through them to accomplish God’s work.
So, who are the two witnesses of Revelation?
Again, the Bible does not say.
The identity of the two witnesses is not an issue Christians should be dogmatic about.
What Christians can agree upon are the many spiritual truths found in the Revelation to comfort, guide, instruct, and bless the Church.
It is likely that two literal persons are not in view here, but rather personified representatives of two functions of the church. John employs symbolic language and plainly says so in Revelation 11:4 as he writes, “these are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.”
Let the New Testament Interpret Itself
Allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, we find that these symbols employed by John are a re-interpretation of Zechariah 4:2-3 and 6:11-13. In Zechariah, the two olive trees represent the king [Zerubbabel] and the high priest [Joshua]. For John, it may be that the two-witnesses / olive trees represent the priesthood and the kingship that God has bestowed upon the church. John has already taught that the Lord has, “made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). John has already taught that the Church is a Lamp stand in a dark world (Rev. 1:12, 20; 2:5).
As a Lamp stand, the Church is empowered with the Holy Spirit to be a prophetic witness (Rev. 4:5; 5:6) cf. (Zech. 4:6). The church, like the two witnesses, is under the special protection of God so that no one can hurt it in the final analysis (Rev. 11:5).
Anyone who tries will be devoured in the same manner that Elijah destroyed the messengers of an idolatrous king (2 Kings 1:2-17 cf. Jer. 5:14). As the Church is under Divine protection, and enabled with the power of the word to defend herself, so the Church pronounces judgment, just as Moses pronounced judgment upon Egypt (cf. 11:6 to Ex. 7:14-19).