Who Are the Two Witnesses of Revelation 11?
Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.

1. Interpretive Issues:

There are several interpretive issues related to the two enigmatic individuals mentioned in Revelation 11:

a. The time of their appearance and the duration of their ministry.

b. The nature of the two witnesses: Are they individuals or symbolic representations?

c. The identity of the two witnesses: Does Scripture identify them?

2. Their impressive ministry (Revelation 11:3-12)

a. The description of the witnesses, vs 3-4.

John predicts the rise of two unique witnesses who will proclaim the gospel for 1,260 days, or 3-1/2 years, during the tribulation. They are called “the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks,” reminiscent of Joshua and Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:2, 3,11-14) who were raised up to restore Israel to their land in the power of the spirit.

b. The power of the witnesses, vs 5-6

The two witnesses are endowed with supernatural power to destroy enemies and effect natural judgments. With fire they will be able to destroy their enemies, giving them the means of protection at a time of great peril (2 Ki. 1:10-12). They effect drought like Elijah (1 Ki. 17:1; James 5:17) and turn water into blood like Moses (Ex. 7:19).

c. The martyrdom of the witnesses, vs 7-10

At the end of their ministry God will remove their special protection. The Antichrist will “make war against them and shall...kill them” (v. 7). Their dead bodies will lie in the streets of “the great city...where our Lord was crucified,” an obvious reference to Jerusalem (v. 8). The whole world will observe their unburied corpses and “shall rejoice over them...and shall send gifts one to another” (v. 10).

d. The resurrection of the witnesses, vs 11-12

After three and a half days, God resurrects them and summons them to heaven. At exactly that moment, an earthquake will destroy a tenth part of Jerusalem, killing 7,000 people.

e. The chronology of the witnesses:

It is obvious that the appearance of the two witnesses is future. Their names are not given, thus their ministry must be emphasized which parallels that of Moses and Elijah.

Although Bible teachers differ on the time of their ministry, it seems best to place them in the last three and a half years of the tribulation period. The “42 months” of 11:2 clearly refer to the latter part of the tribulation. Their pouring out of divine judgment relates them to the Great Tribulation. Then, too, their special protection would be unnecessary in the relatively peaceful first half of the tribulation.

Robert Thomas suggests that “A principal reason for this is that the period of ill-treatment by the Gentiles fits the latter half better because of the breaking of the covenant with the Roman prince in the middle of the week (Daniel 9:27)” (Revelation 8-22 An Exegetical Commentary)

3. Their intriguing identity:

Some interpreters understand the two witnesses in a symbolic manner, although consistency demands that they be two actual witnesses, since the two olive trees of Zechariah were historical individuals.

A variety of literal views exist concerning their identity. One prominent view sees them as Moses and Elijah because, like the two Old Testament prophets, the witnesses have power over their enemies and nature. However, similarity of miracles does not prove identity of persons.

Another view sees the two witnesses as Enoch and Elijah who escaped physical death. It is argued that therefore they would have to die (Heb. 9:27). It must be remembered, however, that an entire generation of believers at the time of the rapture will be glorified without tasting death (1 Cor. 15:51; 1 Thess. 4:17).

Perhaps the best position is that the two witnesses are two contemporary individuals, perhaps two outstanding ones of the 144,000. The passage does not demand that these servants of God be previously mentioned in Scripture. Obviously, God could endue with power any two individuals of His choosing to perform the ministry described in the passage. “Who they may be, can be but conjecture, as is best left in the obscurity in which God surrounded them” (William Easton, Gleanings in the Book of Revelation, 83).

4. An invaluable lesson:

These two anonymous witnesses will be invincible until “they shall have finished their testimony” (Rev. 11:7). Like the 144,000 who will be sealed for their protection (Rev. 7:3;14:1), the two witnesses will be impervious to human attacks.

It is comforting to realize that every one of God's witnesses is immortal until his work is done. William R. Newell's observations are to the point: “No servant of God ever encountered such fearful opposition and utter odds as they, yet they finished their testimony. Satan can do nothing without divine permission” (The Book of Revelation, 154).

Dear reader, because of this assurance, let us be faithful and fervent in our witness, expecting the Lord's enablement and protection as we anticipate His any-moment return.

© Manfred E Kober

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