Two Witnesses

SYNOPSIS:  Having been prepared in the “measuring” of the sanctuary, the Two Witnesses carry out their prophetic witness to the “inhabitants of the earth" - Revelation 11:3-14

Northern Lights, Iceland - Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash
By Jonatan Pie on Unsplash
In its mission to prophesy to the nations, the church is represented in this passage by the "Two Witnesses" who engage in prophetic witness before the “inhabitants of the earth.” Their ministry continues for a period of “twelve hundred and sixty days” or forty-two months - Until they are slain by the "Beast that will ascend from the Abyss."
  • (Revelation 11:3-6) – “And I will give unto my two witnesses that they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, arrayed in sackcloth. These are the two olive-trees and the two lampstands, which before the Lord of the earth do stand. And, if any one upon them chooseth to inflict injury, fire cometh forth out of their mouth and devoureth their enemies; and, if anyone shall choose upon them to inflict injury, thus, must he be slain. These have authority to shut heaven in order that no rain be moistening in the days of their prophesying; and authority have they over the waters to be turning them into blood and to smite the land with any manner of plague, as often as they will.” - (The Emphasized Bible).
Two of the characteristics Revelation assigns to the "Two Witnesses" link them to the preceding paragraphs about the commissioning of John and the measuring of the sanctuary - (Revelation 10:11, 11:1-2).
  • First, the two are sent “to prophesy,” just as John was tasked to "prophesy" to nations and kings.
  • Second, they are to do so for "twelve hundred and sixty days."
The commission given to John by the "mighty angel" in the preceding chapter was presented from the heavenly perspective in the measuring of the sanctuary. The book next portrays how it will unfold on the earth in the vision of the Two Witnesses - They prophesy to the nations and kings for a set period during which they are not killed. However, they also endure persecution - This is why they wear “sackcloth” as they prophesy.

At the end of this period, the "Two Witnesses" suffer a violent death at the hands of the “inhabitants of the earth” instigated by the "Beast that ascends from the Abyss." Their deaths correspond to the incident when the "outer court" of the sanctuary was handed over “to be trampled by the nations forty-two months.”

The reiteration of the three and one half-year figure from the book of Daniel links the "Two Witnesses" to the "measuring of the sanctuary" - (Forty-two months and twelve hundred sixty days are mathematical equivalents). The images of the "measuring of the sanctuary" and the "Two Witnesses" show two sides of the same coin - (Daniel 7:25-27 – “A season, seasons, and a dividing of seasons”).

The vision of the "Two Witnesses" is part of the series of seven trumpets and its three “woes” pronounced upon the “inhabitants of the earth” when the fifth trumpet sounded. The prophetic "word" of the "witnesses" causes “fire” and other “plagues” that provide verbal links to the first six trumpet plagues. That is to say, the "plagues” result from the prophetic "word" of the "Two Witnesses."

In the vision, Revelation weaves in imagery from the prophetic careers of Elijah and Moses. At the word of Elijah, fire fell from heaven to consume a company sent to fetch him. Later, when he prayed, it did not rain on for three and a half years - (1 King 17:1, 2 Kings 1:10-12, James 5:17).
Likewise, the "Two Witnesses" have the “power to shut the heaven that it rain not during the days of their prophecy.” And like Moses in Egypt, they have the authority to turn the waters into blood and “to smite the earth with every plague.”
There are two and only two "witnesses." This may accord with the principle that “at the mouth of two witnesses shall the matter be established; however, more telling is how the two speak as one. The fire unleashed by their "word," singular, issues from their “mouth,” also singular. When they are killed, their “body,” singular, lies in the street. The same judgments issue from either "witness" - Both command the rains to cease and the waters to turn into blood  - (Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15).

The background from the Exodus story is used throughout the series of seven trumpets. Together, Moses and Aaron represented Israel before Pharaoh and, by their word, the ten plagues were unleashed that destroyed the Egyptian economy and exposed her gods as false.

Verse 4 alludes to a vision from the book of Zechariah in which the prophet saw a golden "lampstand" holding seven lamps, and with "two olive trees," one on either side of the "lampstand." The prophet heard a voice declare - “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says Yahweh of hosts” - (Zechariah 4:2-14).

The two "olive trees" provided oil to the lamps. Zechariah was told that the image symbolized two anointed ones who stood before the Lord of the whole earth. In the first vision of John, he saw seven “lampstands” that represented the seven churches of Asia. Therefore, assuming Revelation is consistent with its symbolism, the "Two Witnesses" also represent churches, or perhaps collectively, the entire church.
Thus, what the "Two Witnesses" achieve by their prophetic "word" is the very task given to the seven churches of Asia by the Risen Jesus - To bear faithful witness to kings and nations.
By the collective word of the "Two Witnesses", fire falls, “waters turn into blood,” and the earth is “smitten with every plague.” Likewise, the second trumpet produced a great "mountain burning with fire that was cast into the sea," and “the third part of the sea became blood.”

The "Two Witnesses" are authorized “to smite the earth with any manner of plague.” Likewise, at the end of the sixth trumpet, men not killed by these “plagues repented not of their work.” Like Pharoah in Egypt, the "inhabitants of the earth" only hardened their hearts further in reaction to the plagues. The verbal links demonstrate that the plagues unleashed by the first six trumpet blasts were caused by the prophetic ministry of the "Two Witnesses" - (Revelation 8:7-9:20).

When men attempt “to harm” (adikeō) the "Two Witnesses," fire issues (ekporeuomai) from their mouth to consume them. The locust-like creatures released from the Abyss were not “to harm” (adikeō) any man that had “the seal of God on their foreheads.” Under the sixth trumpet, out of the mouths of horses “issued” (ekporeuomai) fire, smoke, and brimstone by which a third of men were killed. Again, the plagues were unleashed according to the word of the "Two Witnesses" - (Revelation 9:1-18).

The order of events in the sevenfold series of trumpet blasts is literary, not chronological. The “plagues” implemented at the word of the "Two Witnesses" correspond to the “plagues” of the first six trumpets. The words and actions of the "Two Witnesses" determine the timing and severity of the judgments unleashed by the first six trumpets.

The ministry of the "Two Witnessescoincides with the period during which the first six trumpets inflict their respective plagues on the “inhabitants of the earth.” At the end of the trumpet series, the "death" of the "Two Witnesses" triggers the sounding of the last trumpet, the third and final “woe” - (Revelation 11:13-14).

Beast Ascends from the Abyss
  • (Revelation 11:7) - “And as soon as they have completed their witnessing, the wild-beast that is to come up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them, and slay them” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The Abyss was introduced to the reader by the fifth trumpet, the same pit from which a horde of locust-like monsters previously ascended. Repeatedly in Revelation, the Abyss is the source of satanic personalities and mischief.

Abyss - Photo by Shawn Appel on Unsplash
Photo by Shawn Appel on Unsplash

The image of the “
beast that will ascend from the Abyss” corresponds to the vision of the Beast that “ascends from the sea” in the next chapter - (Revelation 9:1-2, 13:1-2, 17:8, 20:1-3, 20:7-10).

The present passage uses language from the book of Daniel to portray the martyrdom of the "Two Witnesses" - “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them.” The language from Daniel will be employed again in the description of the war of the Beast against the “saints” - (Daniel 7:21, Revelation 11:7, 13:7).

The "Beast" is not authorized to ascend and kill the "Two Witnesses" until “they have finished (teleō) their testimony.” Just as the word of the "Two Witnesses" caused a great many plagues, so the "Beast" cannot ascend to slay them until they complete their prophetic ministry (“You must prophesy to nations and kings”). This statement is a link to several later passages in Revelation; for example:
  • (Revelation 10:7) – “But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he has declared to his servants the prophets.”
  • (Revelation 17:17) – “For God put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree and give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God are finished.”
  • (Revelation 20:3) – “And cast him into the Abyss and shut him up…until the thousand years should be finished, then he must be loosed a little season…And when the thousand years are finished Satan shall be loosed out of his prison.”
The “second woe” does not end or the “third woe” begin until the mission of the "Two Witnesses" has been completed, just as John was told when he received the “little scroll” - (Revelation 10:7 – “It behoveth thee again to prophesy against peoples and nations and tongues, and many kings”).

Only when the word of their “testimony” is finished do final victory and judgment unfold. But the completion of the task also means the "ascent of the Beast from the Abyss." This may correspond to the release of Satan "from the Abyss" at the end of the thousand years when he launches his final "war against the saints" - (Revelation 11:14-19, 20:7-10).

The "Two Witnesses" are killed by the "Beast" because of their “testimony,” a significant term in Revelation. For example, John found himself on the isle of Patmos for “the word of his testimony” - And the book of Revelation IS the “testimony of Jesus Christ” - (Revelation 1:1, 1:8-9).

Similarly, in Chapter 12, the “brethren” overcame the Dragon “by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, even they loved not their lives unto the death.” This refers to their martyrdom. When he was defeated and expelled from the heavenly courts, the enraged Dragon went off to “make war with the remnant of the woman’s seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Thus, in several different ways, the book of Revelation portrays a final assault against the churches of Jesus by Satan and his earthly vassals - (Revelation 12:11, 12:17).

Death of the Witnesses
  • (Revelation 11:8-13) - “And their dead bodies [lie] upon the broadway of the great city, the which is called spiritually, Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord also was crucified. And [some] of the peoples, and tribes, and tongues, and nations see their dead bodies three days and a half; and their dead bodies do they not suffer to be put into a tomb. And they who are dwelling upon the earth rejoice over them and make merry and gifts will they send one to another — because these two prophets tormented them that were dwelling upon the earth. And after [the] three days and a half, a spirit of life from God entered within them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them who were beholding them. And they heard a loud voice out of heaven, saying unto them — Come up hither! And they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies beheld them. And in that hour, there came to be a great earthquake; and the tenth of the city fell, and there were slain in the earthquake names of men — seven thousand. And the rest became greatly afraid and gave glory unto the God of heaven” – (The Emphasized Bible).
The city “spiritually called Sodom and Egypt, where the Lord was crucified” clarifies that neither the language nor the geographic location is literal. Further, Egypt was a nation, not a city. This identification with Egypt continues the imagery from the story of Israel’s exodus which lies behind the series of seven trumpets.

Technically, Jesus was killed outside the walls of Jerusalem, and by Roman authorities. Later, the book of Revelation declares that all the shed blood of the prophets and saints is found in “Babylon,” the end-time world city - (Revelation 18:24).

A “tenth of the great city fell.” This clause identifies the city. Elsewhere, "Babylon" is called repeatedly the “great city” that is destined to “fall,” in contrast to the “holy city” that is trampled by the Gentiles during the same period - (“Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city” – Revelation 11:2, 14:8, 14:20, 16:19, 17:18, 18:16-21).

The trampling of the “holy city” is the same reality as the "war of the Beast" against the "Two Witnesses." The witnesses ARE the “holy city” - They represent the court that was “cast outside” to be trampled by the Gentiles. Likewise, after the thousand years are "completed," Satan gathers the nations from across the earth to attack “the camp of the saints, the beloved city” - (Revelation 20:9-10).

The residents of the “great city” rejoice over the deaths of the "Two Witnesses" because “these two prophets tormented the inhabitants of the earth.” The same verb rendered “torment” here was employed previously in the fifth trumpet when it was given to the locusts to “torment the inhabitants of the earth five months” - (Revelation 9:5).

The "Two Witnesses" are labeled “prophets” who were sent to “prophesy” to the “inhabitants of the earth.” This they must do until they finish their testimony. Previously, John was told that “in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he begins to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, just he declared to his prophets” - (Revelation 10:7, 11:14).

The “body,” singular, of the "Two Witnesses" will lie unburied on the streets of the "great city" for “three days and a half.” Presumably, this echoes the three days that Jesus spent in the grave before his resurrection. Likewise, the "Two Witnesses" follow the same path as the sacrificial Lamb.

And they that dwell on the earth rejoice over them and make merry.” The connotation is the same as that heard at the end of the sixth trumpet when “the rest of men not killed by these plagues repented not.” Rather than repent in response to the "word of the Two Witnesses," the "inhabitants of the earth" rejoice over their death - (Revelation 9:20).
The book of Revelation now pulls the threads together from the stories of Egypt, Elijah, and the entry of Israel into the promised land of Canaan, only in a very ironic fashion.
In the tenth plague of Egypt, the angel of death killed the firstborn throughout the land, however, now it is the "corpse" of the "Two Witnesses" that lies dead throughout the “great city,” which is spiritually called "Egypt" - (Exodus 11:1-10).

Before Israel departed Egypt, the Egyptians gave them gifts of gold and jewels, whereas now, in the “great city,” the residents exchange gifts and rejoice over the "death of the Two Witnesses."

When he complained of being isolated, Elijah was told that God had reserved seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal. When a tenth part of the “great city” falls, seven thousand men are killed. However, the rest became fearful and give glory to God.

Elisha witnessed Elijah being taken up into heaven in a whirlwind. He cried out, then saw Elijah no more. In contrast, when the “inhabitants of the earth” see the "Two Witnesses" raised to heaven, they fear and "give glory to God" - (1 Kings 19:18, 2 Kings 2:11).

Israel’s conquest of Jericho paints the image of the fall of the "great city," imagery hinted at by the seven trumpet blasts. Israel was commanded to march around the city once each day for six days while led by seven priests bearing rams horns. On the seventh day, Israel marched around Jericho seven times, the priests blew their horns, the people shouted, and the “wall of the city fell down flat” - (Joshua 6:1-10).

The fall of the “great” end-time "city," "Babylon," when the time arrives to sound the seventh trumpet, parallels the seventh bowl of wrath in Chapter 16. When the final bowl was poured out, a great earthquake divided “the great cityBabylon the great” into three parts - The cities of the nations fell, and a great hailstorm struck men so that they blasphemed God. The series of seven trumpets and seven bowls of wrath both end with the overthrow of end-time "Babylon" - (Revelation 16:17-21).
  • (Revelation 11:14) – “The second Woe is past, behold, the third Woe comes quickly.”
The stage is now set for the final trumpet to sound - The series culminates in the final victory of the Lamb over the kingdoms of the earth. The Tabernacle that was measured and sealed from the outside world will appear once more, only opened for all Creation to behold - (Revelation 11:15-19).

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