Question:

Question

Answer:

In the book of Revelation, whom do you say the two witnesses are? I feel that they are Elijah and Enoch since neither of them died a physical death before being taken to heaven. Some are saying it is Moses; but I was of the opinion that mortal man can die only one physical death and since they are "killed" and left dead for 3 1/2 days before being brought back to life, I don't see how Moses could be one of them.


Since John stated that the book of Revelation is written in symbolic language (Revelation 1:1), we have to be careful when reading the book. We have a tendency to be arbitrary with what we assign as literal and what we determine to be symbolic. Even the numbers given can and often do stand for certain concepts. See Biblical Numbers for more details.

In Revelation 11, John is told to measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship. "But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire. When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and -a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. Now after the three-and -a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them. In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven" (Revelation 11:2-13).

Taken as a whole, it leaves your head spinning, but if we look for the symbols that we know, then when we start assembling the picture that is being painted for us in words, we begin to understand the message, even if we don't know all the meanings of every symbol.

One number that is being repeated frequently is 3-1/2 years, which also appears as "time, times, and half a time," 42 months and 1260 days. The number seven represents something that is complete and perfect. Three and a half is half that value and so represents things that are incomplete, uncertain, in a tumult, or is causing discomfort. We see it mentioned a number of times in the Bible:

  • The period of time of the beast's authority and the time he blasphemes (Daniel 7:21)
  • The period of time the saints would be in the beast's hand (Daniel 7:25)
  • The time Jerusalem is trampled (Revelation 11:2)
  • The time the witnesses would prophesy in sackcloth (Revelation 11:3)
  • The time the woman would be protected in the wilderness (Revelation 12:6)
  • The time the woman would be nourished while protected from the serpent (Revelation 12:14)

These periods all refer to the same thing: the time God's saints are persecuted. The church is referred to as the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2) and it is a type of the church (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22-23). This partial period of time would be the period when the church is persecuted by unbelievers and people attempt to corrupt the church from within.

Next, we are told there are two witnesses during this period. Why two? God has always required that truth be established by two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). And the practice is continued in the church (Matthew 18:16; II Corinthians 13:1; I Timothy 5:19). We also see that there are two olive trees and two lampstands. We are told that the two olive trees and the two lampstands are the two witnesses -- in other words, John is telling us that these three symbols: witness, olive tree, and lampstand all represent the same thing.

Earlier in Revelation, we are told that a lampstand represents the church (Revelation 1:20). It can also represent the word of God (Psalm 119:105). Since the church has the duty to uphold the word of God (I Timothy 3:15), the blending of these two ideas make sense.

Likewise, olive oil was used to fuel lamps in the days of the Bible. Olive oil was used to give light. The symbolism of two lampstands and two olive trees are used in a similar, but still different, way in Zechariah's vision (Zechariah 4:2-6, 11-14). Oil is also the fluid used for anointing, to dedicate something or someone toward a purpose.

Sackcloth is what a person dons in a time of misery and distress.

What I believe we have here is a representation of the church and the word of God. "That you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain" (Philippians 2:15-16). The church and the Bible are God's testimony to the world as to God's will. And the fact that the church shortly after the first century would endure a period of intense persecution was prophesied in a number of places (II Thessalonians 2:3-12 is one example).

In the picture presented in Revelation, the enemies of the of the witnesses would be consumed by fire from their mouths. This is similar to Jeremiah's prophecy, "Therefore thus says the LORD God of hosts: "Because you speak this word, behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them."" (Jeremiah 5:14). The witnesses were given authority to stop the rain (and note that Elijah's drought lasted three and a half years), turn water into blood, and to smite the earth with plagues as often as they desired. These allude to the prophets of the Old Testament who displayed God's power, which in turned served as witness to the truth of their words (Hebrews 2:3-4). In other words, through the power of the testimony, there would be success in spreading the gospel.

But at the end of their testimony, the beast comes from the abyss. The beast refers to a king, kingdom, or institution (Daniel 7:3, 17, 23). He wars with the two witnesses and kills them, but not before their testimony is accomplished. Their dead bodies will lie in the street of a great city. The city is called Sodom and Egypt and it is the city where the Lord was crucified. They remain on view for three and a half days without being buried, which is a sign of disrespect and contempt. It too is a period of pain and tumult, but is a shorter period (days instead of years). In that time people will celebrate their death.

Thus we are told that Satan wins a victory through the beast bringing a halt to the spread of the Gospel. The city represents all cities which oppose God: Sodom through the corruption of sin, Egypt through bondage, and Jerusalem who rejected the prophets and killed the Son of God. It is not one particular city, but the concept of people who oppose God and the truth.

But God resurrects His witnesses and the people of the corrupt city are in terror. A voice calls to the witnesses from heaven and their enemies see them depart. I believe this represents the martyred saints who are called to join God. As they depart an earthquake causes a tenth of the city to collapse, killing 7,000 people.

What is being pictured then is that the spread of the Gospel is revived and the evil city is given a significant wound. A tenth indicates a partial or restrained judgment. Seven as we said before means complete or perfect and a thousand is a large and complete number. Thus, 7,000 indicates a complete accounting for the sin of the city.

The remaining people are terrified and give glory to God, but we cannot conclude that these events caused them to turn from their evil and be converted to God.

So, standing back what do we have pictured? The church and the word of God are sent forth during a time of persecution to testify of God's righteousness. It is a period of great difficulty, but there is great success because the Gospel is spread. Satan takes up the offensive and through some institution of the day (I believe the Roman government was the beast) manages to deal the church and the Bible such a terrible blow that it appears he killed them off. But it was only a temporary and shallow victory because the church and the Bible revive and are brought under the protection of heaven where Satan can no longer cause the damage he desires.

What I think we see pictured is the time of the Roman persecution of the church. At its severity, it appeared for a moment to halt the spread of Christianity, but Christianity revived making a mockery of what the Roman government attempted to do.


See also:

Questions and Answers regarding the Terminology in the Bible
Questions and Answers regarding Symbolism
Revelation