Two Witnesses of Revelation 11

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Part Six - The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11

One of the common topics raised in the study of prophetic events is the identity of the two witnesses of Revelation 11. Before we try to identify them, we should take a few moments to review the role they play during the first half of the terrible days of the Tribulation. 

1) Their Ministry (Rev. 11: 3-6): the witnesses have a four-fold ministry to carry out

a. To announce the Coming of the Messiah (Isa. 40:3-5; Mal. 3:1): the OT prophets foretold that when the Lord was about to appear to His people there would be someone sent forth to announce His coming. This was true in the First Coming of the Lord as indicated in Mal. 3:1 and fulfilled in John the Baptist. Note he came announcing that the King and His Kingdom were at hand.

John 1:29-31, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.' I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water." NKJV

Matthew 3:1-3, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'" NKJV

Malachi indicates that there will be two forerunners of Christ. In Malachi 3:1 he declares that a nameless messenger will come to prepare the way of the Lord just before He enters His temple. Later, in Malachi 4:5-6, he indicates that God will send Elijah before the Day of the Lord. Because the people were looking for Elijah as the nameless messenger (3:1), there was some confusion over the identity of John the Baptist. After all, he dressed like Elijah, lived like Elijah and he carried out the work of Elijah. However, he was not Elijah because God knew that Israel would not be ready to receive her Messiah at His First Coming. Thus Malachi indicates that there would be two witnesses for two Comings. We see this understanding in our Lord’s own words.

Matthew 17:10-13, “And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist.” NKJV

Therefore a messenger shall yet come to announce to Israel that the Messiah is about to appear. They need to make sure they are ready for Him.

b. To prepare Israel for the Kingdom (Mal. 4:5-6): Malachi tells us that the forerunner will turn the heart of the fathers and the children. This is consistent with Jesus’ requirement for entrance into the Kingdom. Only those who are born again will have the privilege to enter into the earthly Kingdom of our Lord (Jn. 3:3). It will be these witnesses responsibility to proclaim (prophesy) the gospel of the Kingdom to the whole world for a period of 1260 days. They are the Lamp Stands that give forth God’s light and are called Olive Trees speaking of the source of oil that fuels the lamp stands. Oil in the Scriptures is often symbolic of the Spirit of God.

c. To counter the supernatural work of Satan (Rev. 11:5-6): during the Tribulation, Satan is no longer restrained by the Holy Spirit (2 Thes 2:5-7) and so he will go forth to deceive the nations and to kill those who become believers. To thwart the work of Satan these witnesses will be given divine power to spew forth fire to devour all who will seek to oppose them. 

d. To bring judgment upon the world (Rev. 11:5-6): As in the days of Israel’s slavery in Egypt, the judgments that God sends will not be for His Chosen people but rather against the Gentile nations who have dominated their lives for the last 2700 years. The goal of the judgments or plagues is to play a role in the eventual freedom of Israel so that she might once again be a self governing sovereign nation and people.

2) Their end (Rev. 11:7-13)

When the witnesses’ work is completed, the Antichrist kills both of them publicly before the whole world and there are three days of rejoicing, celebrating, and gift giving. The Antichrist and the people in general are glad to see these tormentors finally done away with. However, God has the final say in this matter as He resurrects them and they ascend into heaven. By doing so God serves notice to the Antichrist and the people who follow him that they have stopped the judgments of God. Far greater ones are yet to follow.

Now we come to the question we started out with. Who are these two witnesses? The Bible does not tell us their names in Revelation so it is possible that they are two unknown individuals that God raises just for the occasion. However, the Scriptures do leave many clues that seem to narrow the identity of the witnesses to two OT prophets: Elijah and Moses. Let us note the following.

1) Both of these men had unusual circumstances concerning their departure from this life. Moses was removed from the presence of Israel and God took his life and buried his body where it could not be found. Jude 9 adds an additional note that makes Moses’ death unique. Satan, for some reason, desires to have the body of Moses and so God sends Michael to fight against Satan to prevent him in his quest. One possible explanation for Satan’s desire for Moses’ body was to try to keep Moses from returning in the Tribulation to thwart his activities.

Elijah likewise had an unusual end. After selecting a successor, Elisha, Elijah crossed over the Jordan to enter into the wilderness. There a fiery chariot ascended from heaven separating Elijah from Elisha and Elijah was then taken up in a Whirlwind, never tasting of death (2 Kings 2:10-18) 

2) The Testimony of Malachi: Malachi, writing the last two verses of the Old Testament, foretold of the coming of Elijah to prepare the way for the Lord’s Coming. As we saw earlier, Jesus also indicated that since the Jews refused to accept Him as their Messiah at His First Coming, Elijah would still come in the future to prepare for His Second Coming (Matt. 17:11). No where in Revelation is Elijah’s name mentioned nor is he identified as such. Since we know that He will be caring out His work of preparing the people during the Tribulation and the dynamic nature of this prophet in the past, the only passage that would fit his ministry would be that of Revelation 11. 

3) The Transfiguration: In Matthew 16:28 Jesus told His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom" NKJV. This declaration is fulfilled in Matt. 17:1-13 when the three closest disciples are present as He is transfigured before them showing the glory of His appearance at His Second Coming. As the Lord is giving these disciples a taste of His Second Coming, Jesus associates two others with that Coming: Moses and Elijah. It would be the logical conclusion that these two OT prophets play a key role in the Second Coming of our Lord and would fit well in Rev. 11.

4) The description of the two witness: In Rev. 11:1-6, the miracles that the two witnesses do are the same as those done through Elijah and Moses. For example, Elijah prayed for a drought which lasted 3½ years. Moses is well known for turning the water into blood and the plagues that fell on Egypt. Also it should be noted that they are clothed in “sackcloth.” Sackcloth is a very coarse garment usually made from animal hair. Note that John the Baptist, who came in the spirit of Elijah was likewise clothed with animal hair (Mt. 3:4) as was Elijah himself (2 Kings 1:8).

5) The ministries of Moses and Elijah: Moses was called of God to deliver Israel from slavery to the Gentiles. This is of course the purpose of the Tribulation as God delivers Israel from the domination of the Gentile nations. Moses would be the perfect candidate to carry this out. Elijah's calling was to get Israel to repent. This too is the focus of the Tribulation and so Elijah would also make a perfect candidate. 

There is only one other candidate that is often suggested in place of Moses and that is Enoch. Enoch did not die for God took him (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5). He like Moses and Elijah had a unique departure from this life. We also know that he preached the coming of the Lord and the need to repent (Jude 14). Those who hold to this position say that Moses died so how could he be raised a second time to die once more? Enoch would not require a resurrection. However we have others in the Bible who tasted of death more than once. Lazarus is probably one of the most famous. There is one additional problem with Enoch as a witness. Enoch lived before Noah and the formation of the nation of Israel through Abraham. It would seem that the witnesses would have a direct connection with the Jewish people through racial and historical heritage.

I believe the Bible’s over all context makes a strong case for Elijah and Moses being the two witnesses of Revelation 11. However, please keep in mind, this is not something crucial to the faith therefore if we encounter others who hold to Enoch or someone else, we should not make this matter something worth arguing or fighting over.