Apologetics, End times, Main
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Who are the two end-times witnesses in the Book of Revelation?


Left: a drawing of the two witnesses from the Bamberg Apocalypse (11th century). Right: picture of the two olive trees and lamp stands www.the-tribulation-network.com/Wikipedia

Left: A drawing of the two witnesses from the 11th century Bamberg Apocalypse. Right: picture of the two olive trees and lamp stands http://www.the-tribulation-network.com/Wikipedia

One of the more curious questions about the end-times revolves around the two witnesses mentioned by the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation.

In his vision of the end times, he saw two prophetic witnesses who for a period of time, God will grant special authority (Revelation 11:1-14). They will manifest great power and miracles.

It says an enemy will rise up and kill them and they will lie dead in the streets. People will be so over joyed by their deaths, that some will treat the event as Christmas and send gifts to each other.

The question that has puzzled end-time scholars is who are these two witnesses?

Some have wondered if they are Moses and Elijah as both appeared with Jesus at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:3-4). Some Jews even believed there are Old Testament passages that speak of these two prophets possibly returning —  a prophet like Moses will come (Deuteronomy 18: 15, 18) and Malachi speaks of the spirit of Elijah returning (Malachi 4:5).

Others have speculated they might be Enoch and Elijah as neither experienced physical death (Genesis 5:23; 2 Kings 2:11).

Whoever they are, most believe they are two uniquely called prophets anointed to be a voice for God in the end times. I remember years ago being involved in the Jesus people movement. It was a powerful time in God. Hippies caught up in drugs were radically saved and transformed.

But during that period there was strong emphasis on the Second coming of Christ. And I remember hearing of people who thought they were one of the two end-time prophets or witnesses — maybe it was the drugs, but it certainly wasn’t God. Some even moved to Israel to fulfill their calling.

But as I was looking at this passage a few weeks back another thought came to me about who these two witnesses might be. As with anyone studying the Book of Revelation, I can’t be sure. Time will tell.

I wonder if these two witnesses are none other than Israel and the Church. In fact, this was the position commonly held by older commentators from the 1700s and 1800s such as Mathew Henry.

Here is why I think this. First is the term witness used to describe these two. Both Israel and the Church are called to be witnesses of God.

Speaking to Israel, the prophet Isaiah says:

“You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
So that you may know and believe Me…. (Isaiah 43:10 NASV)

Jesus continued that theme declaring to His disciples, the early church, that they were to be his witnesses in Judea and the outermost parts of the earth:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Secondly John used two symbols to describe these witnesses — olive trees and lamp stands:

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. (Revelation 11:4 NASV)

In Romans 11, Paul used an analogy of two olive trees to describe the relationship between Israel and the church. Israel was the tame olive tree and those Jews who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah were broken off and the gentiles, the wild olive tree, who believed in Christ were grafted into the tame olive tree.

Paul adds though Israel had rejected Christ, there would be a massive accepting of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and they would be grafted back in.

If the two prophets are Israel and the church, this would suggest that this event referred to in Revelation occurs after Israel accepts Christ as the Messiah.

Though there are no clear references to Israel being called a lamp stand, lamp stands do provide light and both Israel and the Church are called to be a light to the world. In Isaiah 49:6, the prophet told Israel they would be a light to the gentile a promise fulfilled in the Church. Jesus told his disciples they are the light of the world, a city set on a hill (Matthew 5:14).

Earlier in the Book of Revelation, in his letters to the seven churches John very clearly describes these churches as lamp stands (Revelation 1: 12, 13, 20).

As we look at this passage, God gives both witnesses a time to flourish and then the two would be attacked and seemingly killed. They would lie on the streets dead. The Bible says the whole world will see this. Some end-times writers point out only modern technology would allow this event to be seen by everyone (v 9).

And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (Revelation 11:8 NASV).

However, it was the reference to the ‘mystical’ Sodom and Egypt that caused me to re-think this passage. Mystical suggests this is a spiritual or symbolic reference.

So what could these two terms be referring to?

The Evangelical church has taken a stand where it will not perform gay marriages nor will it allow openly gay people in places of ministry. So far, based on freedom of religion, governments have accepted that position.

But is there a day coming when the government will force the Evangelical church to change its opinion? Perhaps threatening a loss of its charitable status or even closure, if they do not?

Churches will have a choice to either accept the government mandate or close. It could result in the shuttering of churches across North America and around the world. The phrase “will make war with them” (v 7) implies a prolonged battle. It will not happen all at once — perhaps one state or country at a time.

The mystical street Egypt may refer to the growing threat in the Middle East of extremists such as ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Taliban who are not only persecuting Christians but desiring to obliterate Israel.

John says for three days, the two will lie dead in the street. Though both may look like they are down, the Bible says that God will revive them.

This revival will be so great it will strike fear in the hearts of those who killed them.

11 But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them. (Revelation 11:11 NASV).

The church in its outward form may disappear, but as it has done for centuries when persecuted the church goes underground where it always thrives in both in power and purity. And John says from that buried seed, it will suddenly explode.

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