The Two Witnesses - (Revelation 11:3-14)

SYNOPSIS:  Having been prepared in the “measuring” of the sanctuary, the Two Witnesses carry out their prophetic witness to the “inhabitants of the earth.”

Photo by Tina Rolf on Unsplash
By Tina Rolf on Unsplash

The church in its mission to prophesy to nations and kings is now represented by the Two Witnesses who engage in their 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 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 features the book of 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, they 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 in Chapter 10 was seen from a heavenly perspective in the measuring of the sanctuary. How it plays out on the earth is now portrayed in the prophetic ministry of the Two Witnesses:  They prophesy to nations and kings for a period during which they are not killed. However, they endure persecution and attempts to harm them, therefore, they are pictured prophesying in “sackcloth.” At the end of the period, they suffer violent death at the hands of the “inhabitants of the earth.” This corresponds to the measured sanctuary with its outer court given over to the nations “to be trampled 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 temple (forty-two months and twelve hundred sixty days are mathematical equivalents). The images of the measuring of the sanctuary and the ministry of 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 three “woes” declared upon the “inhabitants of the earth.” Their word causes “fire” and other “plagues” that connect their prophetic activities to the first six trumpet plagues inflicted upon the “inhabitants of the earth.” The “plagues” result from the words of the Two Witnesses in reaction to evil men persecuting them.

The book of 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 witnesses. This may accord with the principle that “at the mouth of two witnesses shall the matter be established” (Deuteronomy 17:619:15); however, more telling is how the two speak as one. The fire unleashed by their word issues from their mouth,” singular. When they are killed their “body,” singular, lies in the street. The same judgments issue from either of them. Both command the rains to cease and waters to turn into blood.
The background from the Exodus story is used throughout the seven trumpets. Moses and Aaron together represented Israel to Pharaoh, and, by their word, the plagues were unleashed that destroyed the Egyptian economy and exposed her gods as false.
Verse 4 alludes to Zechariah 4:2-14 when the prophet saw a golden lampstand holding seven lamps, and two olive trees, one on either side of the lampstand, and he heard a voice declare, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says Yahweh of hosts.”

The two olive trees provided oil to the lamps. Zechariah was told that the image symbolized two anointed ones that stand before the Lord of the whole earth. In John’s first vision, seven “lampstands” represented seven churches. The Two Witnesses, therefore, represent churches or, perhaps collectively, the entire church. What they do in their prophetic ministry is the very call that the Risen Jesus gave previously to the seven churches of Asia.

By the word of the Witnesses, fire falls, “waters turn into blood,” and they “smite the earth with every plague.” Similarly, 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.” They are able “to smite the earth with any manner of plague.” Similarly, at the end of the sixth trumpet, men that were not killed with these “plagues repented not of their work.” In other words, the plagues seen in the previous six trumpet blasts were due to the prophetic ministry of the Two Witnesses, at least in part (Revelation 8:7-9:20).

When any man attempts “to harm” (adikeō) the Two Witnesses fire issues (ekporeuomai) from their mouth to devour him. 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 (Revelation 9:1-18).

The order of events in this sevenfold series 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 judgments unleashed by the seven trumpets. Their prophetic ministry coincides with the period during which the first six trumpets inflict their respective plagues on the “inhabitants of the earth.” The death and resurrection of the Two Witnesses will also trigger the start of the last trumpet or the third “woe” (Revelation 11:13-14).

(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, a pit from which ascended a horde of locust-like monsters. Repeatedly in Revelation, the Abyss is the source of satanic personalities and mischief. The image in Chapter 11 of the “beast that will ascend from the Abyss” corresponds to that of the Beast that “ascends from the sea” in Chapter 13. (Revelation 9:1-2, 13:1-217:820:1-3, 20:7-10).

This passage uses Daniel 7:21 to portray the martyrdom of the witnesses, “I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them.” The passage from Daniel appears again in the description of the war of the Beast against the “saints” in Chapter 13 (Revelation 11:7, 13:7).

The Beast may not ascend to kill the Two Witnesses until “they have finished (teleō) their testimony.” Just as the word of the Two Witnesses caused plagues, so the Beast cannot ascend to slay them until they complete their prophetic ministry (“you must prophesy to nations and kings”). This may link to several other passages, as follows:

(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 is 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 loosing of Satan from the Abyss at the end of the thousand years when he launches a war against the saints (Revelation 11:14-19, 20:7-10).

The Two Witnesses are killed for their “testimony,” a significant term in Revelation. For example, John was on Patmos for “the word of his testimony.” Revelation is the “testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:11:8-9).

In Chapter 12, the “brethren” overcome the Dragon “by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of their testimony, even they loved not their lives unto the death.” The enraged Dragon went to “make war with the remnant of the woman’s seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:11, 12:17).

(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 geographical location is literal. Further, Egypt is a nation, not a city. This identification continues the background from the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt that lies behind the seven trumpets.

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

And a “tenth of the great city fell.” This term identifies the city. Elsewhere, Babylon is repeatedly called the “great city” that is destined to “fall,” in contrast to the “holy city” that is trampled by the Gentiles during this 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 as the war of the Beast against the Two Witnesses. The Witnesses are the “holy city” as well as the court that was “cast outside” to be trampled by the Gentiles. Likewise, after the thousand years, Satan will gather the nations across the earth to attack “the camp of the saints, the beloved city” (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 for “torment” was already used in the fifth trumpet where it was given to the locusts to “torment the inhabitants of the earth five months” (Revelation 9:5).

The Two Witnesses are “prophets” 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 10:711:14).

Their “body,” singular, lies unburied on the streets of the city for “three days and a half.” Presumably, this echoes the days that Jesus spent in the grave before his resurrection. 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 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 (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 an ironic fashion.

In the tenth plague of Egypt, the angel of death killed the firstborn throughout the land, but 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, but, now, in the “great city,” residents exchange gifts and rejoice over the deaths 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, but the rest become fearful and give glory to God. Elisha witnessed Elijah taken up into heaven, cried out, then saw him no more, whereas, 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 lies behind the image of the city’s fall, imagery hinted at with the commencement of 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 then blew their horns, the people shouted, and the “wall of the city shall fall down flat” (Joshua 6:1-10).

The fall of the “great” end-time city parallels the seventh bowl of wrath (Revelation 16:17-21). When the final bowl is poured out a great earthquake will divide “the great city, Babylon the great” into three parts, the cities of the nations will fall, and a great hailstorm will fall upon men so that they blaspheme God.

(Revelation 11:14) – “The second Woe is past, behold, the third Woe comes quickly.”

The stage is now set for the final trumpet that will culminate in victory over the kingdoms of the earth. The Tabernacle that is measured and sealed from the outside world will then appear opened for all to behold (Revelation 11:15-19).


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