What the Bible says about
God's Two Witnesses
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The angel is obviously speaking for God—they are not the angel's witnesses but God's! We should note the use of the English possessive "My," which suggests both personal ownership and affiliation.
However, the Greek reads more literally, ". . . the two witnesses of me." While this rendering also imparts the idea of possession, it adds a vital element: that the Two Witnesses testify about God Himself. They are God's direct representatives in the crucial last years of man's civilization. And they represent Him, not just in words, but in everything they do during their prophetic ministry.
In other words, these two men are not run-of-the-mill Christians by any means! Not a single word of censure is aimed at them in either Revelation 11 or Zechariah 4. They will be model Christians, followers of Christ and His righteousness to such a degree that when the people of this world observe them, they will see human reproductions of the life of Christ. In much the same way as Jesus represented the Father during His physical life, so will the witnesses represent Jesus during the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord (see John 14:9). While they will not be perfect, they will be men of godly character and virtue.
It is no wonder, then, that they attract the wrath of Satan and the Beast, as well as the hatred of the whole world! Just as Jesus was opposed, mocked, persecuted, and finally killed, so will these men draw the fire of the anti-Christ, end-time population of earth. Thus, Christ endues His two prophets with power to preach, to plague, and to defend themselves against harm (Revelation 11:5). In order to survive their mission during a time of Noachian-type violence, God will give them the tools and protection to reveal Him for a final time as a witness before Christ intervenes in world affairs.
Therefore, we should not be looking necessarily for great signs and wonders being done by two prophets, as that activity will likely be confined to the final three and a half years. By that point, it will be obvious to the enlightened who they are. As Revelation 11:9-10 suggests, by the time they are finished with their work, the whole world will know who they are.
Instead, at this time we need to be looking for Christ-like servants who are fulfilling the type of the two olive trees—feeding the churches through their Holy Spirit-inspired works—and who are focused on "measur[ing] the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there" (Revelation 11:1). They will be intensely laboring to achieve the equipping of the saints (Ephesians 4:12) for the terrifying days to come and the return of Christ.
Who the Two Witnesses are has not yet been revealed, and how long we have to go before the time of their appearance no one knows. However, in looking for them, we need to concentrate on what Scripture reveals so that we might properly identify them. Ecclesiastes 3:11 in the Moffatt version declares how God works in these matters: "He assigned each [thing] to its proper time, but for the mind of man he has appointed mystery, that man may never fathom God's own purpose from beginning to end." God will make them known when their time has come. So, wait and watch!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
God's Two Witnesses
Notice the anthropomorphic language—all the descriptions of human traits and behaviors—of this passage. In verse 3, for instance, the Two Witnesses are clothed in sackcloth. How could this apply to two parts of a book? Most of our Bibles are "clothed," if you will, in leather bindings or cardboard and cloth covers. It takes quite a bit of mental gymnastics to see how one can fit this type of terminology into the idea of the Two Witnesses being the two books of the Old and New Testaments. A person must symbolize away nearly the entire description of them.
Also notice verse 6: "They have power . . . to strike the earth with any plague as often as they wish" (The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips). In other words, these Two Witnesses have the power of volition, or will. They can make decisions, and they can execute them within the scope of the power God has given them. The Old and New Testaments are not animate beings with minds of their own, and as such, those two collections of books cannot express volition. They cannot make decisions, nor can they execute decisions in this sense.
In verse 7, the Two Witnesses die, and they are described as having bodies that lie in the streets of Jerusalem. Admittedly, we can refer symbolically to the death of an idea. We can describe the end of an era as a kind of death and so forth. However, death in this passage does not appear to be metaphoric because God speaks of their bodies lying in the street and remaining unburied. This type of language is not amenable at all to understanding the Two Witnesses as the Old and New Testaments.
Then notice verse 11: "The breath of life from God came into them" (The New Testament by Richmond Lattimore). Are there any known instances of God breathing life into books? The idea of them being the Old and New Testament becomes even more ridiculous when we realize that the Two Witnesses then stand on their feet—this is a real resurrection—and they are translated to heaven!
In verse 10, John actually uses the word "prophets." In Greeks, it is the word prophetes (Strong's 4396), which appears about eighty times in Scripture. This word is always rendered in the King James Version as "prophet" or "prophets." For instance, Jesus uses the word in Matthew 13:57: "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country." There is not one instance where this Greek word refers to the Scriptures; it always refers to a person or to people.
A great deal of other evidence exists as well. For example, Revelation 11:3 tells us that God empowers His Two Witnesses for a limited period of time, 1,260 days. But does God ever set a time limit on the power of His Scriptures? God does not, in fact, set a time limit on the power that He gives His Word. Notice Isaiah 55:10-11:
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
God is saying through an analogy here that, throughout the span of history—or as Solomon would say, "under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:3, 9, 14, etc.)—rain has always worked to produce food for mankind. In like manner throughout that same span of time, throughout all of history under the sun, God's Word has been effective to carry out His purpose. Isaiah 55 places no limitation of 1,260 days or any other. Therefore, Revelation 11:3 cannot refer to a limited period of time when God empowers the Old and New Testaments to be effective because God's Word is always effective.
Let us not belabor the point. A careful textual analysis makes it clear that the preponderance of the language of this passage points to the Two Witnesses being individuals, not collections of books.
Who the Two Witnesses Are Not
If one has any knowledge of the Old Testament, it is plain that this verse points directly to Zechariah 4:14. It is not quite a paraphrase of it, not quite a quotation of it, but it makes a clear reference to it. This is where matters begin to get tricky because Zechariah 4 is not an easy chapter to interpret.
Some commentators say that the Two Witnesses are not men, that they are types of Zerubbabel and Joshua. That is, Zerubbabel represents the state (as he was governor) and Joshua represents religion, the church (as he was high priest). So they say that this means that one representative of the church and one of the state will somehow make a witness for God.
However, for several reasons, it just does not make any sense to think that the Two Witnesses could be anything other than people. For instance, Revelation 11:10 calls them "these two prophets." We think of prophets or prophetesses as men or women—human beings. So the Two Witnesses must be men. Zechariah calls them "anointed ones." We consider "anointed ones" to be consecrated human servants of God, which would mean men.
Revelation 11:7 says that the Two Witnesses will be killed, and verse 8 describes their dead bodies lying in the street—meaning that they have bodies. Although Paul speaks of the church of God as the Body of Christ, the Bible is silent concerning the state being or having a body. Verse 11 prophesies that the Two Witnesses will be resurrected. Will God resurrect a corrupt human state? Hardly.
It is clear that Revelation 11 is describing the work of real people here. The most natural reading and interpretation of this passage is that the Two Witnesses are exactly as the Bible describes them—as two human beings (prophets) with physical bodies, given the power to perform miracles and make this witness for God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part Four)
These verses contain explicit references to types of events, people, and miracles in the Old Testament. This prophecy is constantly looking back to the Old Testament and the prophets and what they did to give us clues about the Two Witnesses. These identifications with the miracles of Elijah and Moses mean that we should look back into the Old Testament for further clues about them.
Certain things, like these miracles, have forced many commentators to conclude that the Two Witnesses will literally be these two prophets, Elijah and Moses. But God has never worked that way! God has never resurrected somebody from far in the past and brought him to a time of which he knew nothing about and given him authority to preach. Every time God acts, He uses someone from that particular time—from that particular era—who has grown up in that milieu, that environment, so that he is prepared for the work that he needs to do. If God is going to be consistent, He will not resurrect Moses and Elijah to do this end-time work. They would be "fish out of water." They would not understand what was happening in the world at the time of the end.
Some have said the Two Witnesses will be Enoch and Elijah because those two were both translated, and their deaths are unrecorded. The Bible does not say how they died, where they were buried, or even how long they lived. In verse 4 is another one, as it specifically compares the Two Witnesses to Zerubbabel and Joshua. It is also said that the Two Witnesses are like John and James, the sons of Zebedee, in having a fiery zeal to do a spectacular work for God.
My view is that the Two Witnesses are actual men of the time, not resurrected saints, not angels from heaven, not prophets brought back after living in heaven for a few thousand years. These are all things that people have thought they might be. However, they will fulfill types, roles, or patterns that God has used in the past to proclaim His Word and to pronounce His judgments.
It is rare that God springs something on us He has not done in the past or that He has not at least alluded to or prophesied about. He is consistent; He works the same way. This consistency is one way that we can have faith in Him because we can always recognize the way He works. We can be suspicious of anything that does not fit God's patterns because His mind is always the same. Malachi 3:6 says that He does not change. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
For instance, God has worked in twos, pairs, or couples, if you will, from the beginning. The ultimate type is the Father and the Son (the Spokesman, the Logos, the One who appears, speaks, and manages affairs). They are the ultimate Dynamic Duo. While the Son is seen or heard, the Father is always there too—giving His guidance and governing from His throne. These pairs always work together to accomplish a goal.
When He created mankind, He created them as a pair—a male and female, and they worked together to build the human family. Married couples today do the same thing on a smaller scale. There are various other pairings in the Bible of prophets, kings, priests, or what have you throughout the Old and New Testaments.
Consider Deuteronomy 19:15: "One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established." God will need two witnesses to convict the world of sin at the time of the end. They will speak the same thing, and they will back it up with miracles and signs. This is the way God works. He follows His own law, and it says that two witnesses are needed. So, He provides them—Two Witnesses at the end time.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part Six)
"Those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies." This really confused commentators up until about 1940 or 1950, because they did not understand how the whole world would be able to see dead bodies in Jerusalem. So, scratching their heads, they thought of it as a mystery. Now we know: Television makes it possible for us to see anything that happens anywhere on earth. With the modern technological advancements over the last half century or so, we have a better grasp on how Bible prophecy will be fulfilled.
The next matter is the phrase "not allow." They do not allow the Two Witnesses' dead bodies to be put into graves, which is the ultimate in disrespect and desecration. Amos 2:1 shows how much God is against this sort of thing, which is why this detail is mentioned in Revelation 11. Amos is summarizing God's judgments on the nations surrounding Israel and Judah:
Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of Moab, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment [meaning, I will punish], because he [the king of Moab] burned the bones of the king of Edom to lime." (Amos 2:1)
The Moabite king evidently exhumed the dead body. Then, in the sight of the defeated Edomites, he burned the bones of one of their kings. To defile the dead is so heinous a crime that God says, "Just for that, I'm going to come and wipe you out." It was a terrible thing for a nation to perpetrate against the king of another nation—despite his being dead for perhaps many years. God is very much against this sort of desecration.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part Seven)
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