THE TWO WITNESSES
By Steven M. Collins
- In Revelation 11:1-14, there is a prophecy about two prophets who will emerge on the world scene at the very end of our age. The Bible prophesies that they will wield spiritual powers unprecedented in human history. They will alter the world’s geopolitical situation and astound the nations of the entire world. The Bible calls them the “two witnesses.” They will issue a final warning from God to all nations as this current age comes to a close just prior to the millennial age to be ruled by Jesus Christ. This article will examine this important prophecy in Revelation 11, which receives surprisingly little attention in modern Christian churches. The two witnesses will affect the lives of everyone on the planet; and its time we learn more about them and what they will do.
Events to Precede Their Ministry:
- Revelation 11:1-2 offers some indication of the specific events, which will indicate the arrival of the two witnesses is imminent. The book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John who was told to write in a book that which he saw in a prophetic vision about events at the end of our age (Revelation 1:1-2, 11, 19). Revelation 11:1-2 records that John was given instructions about measuring a “temple of God.” He was not to measure an outer courtyard, which was “given to the Gentiles.” The word “gentiles” comes from the Greek word “ethnos” which literally means “nations.” Revelation 11:2 foretells concerning these “nations” that “…the holy city shall they tread under foot for forty two months.”
- The “holy city” must certainly be Jerusalem, the city in which past temples of God, have been located. That poses a problem because there is currently no temple of God in Jerusalem. This prophecy strongly implies that such a temple will be built before the end of this age. However, since John was told to “measure” aspects of the temple area, this does bring up another possibility based on a biblical precedent. In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, a remnant of the house of Judah returned from captivity to Jerusalem and began to rebuild some of the fallen city and repair the temple. Ezra 3:1-6 states that the returning Jews began offering the burnt offerings of the morning and evening sacrifices even though “…the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.” [Emphasis added.]
- If this precedent repeats itself in the modern world, a modern temple site could be dedicated by the modern Jews/Israelis and morning and evening sacrifices could begin even as the site is “measured” for temple construction to begin. It is difficult to see how a temple could be built given modern Mideast politics, but some kind of comprehensive political settlement could result in the Jews being able to build a new temple in Jerusalem. It is intriguing that Revelation 11:2 states that the “nations” will “tread under foot” the “holy city” for 42 months. This implies that some entity composed of “nations” will have some kind of political jurisdiction over the city of Jerusalem at a future time. Modern geopolitical realities indicate that the UN (the “United Nations”) would likely have a major role in any such multinational settlement. Will a “united ethnos” (i.e. the “United Nations”) be the entity which assumes this jurisdiction over at least a part of the city of Jerusalem? If so, this event appears to trigger the arrival of the two witnesses on the world scene for the very next biblical verse after this event announces the Divine calling of the two witnesses.
The Ministry of the Two Witnesses:
- In Revelation 11:3, God states: “I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophecy [preach] 1260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” The length of the ministry of the two witnesses is 1260 days, which is the length of 42 thirty-day months. Their ministry apparently occurs during the same time period allotted for the city of Jerusalem to be “trodden under foot” by the “nations.” If so, the ministry of the two witnesses will last for the same period of time that the “nations” have some kind of jurisdiction or control over the city of Jerusalem. Notice that this 42 month period is also the same period of time allotted for the prophesied existence of an end-time political entity called the “beast” (Revelation 13:1-7).
- The “beast” power of Revelation 13 (see verse 7) will have authority over all the “ethnos” (the nations), the same “ethnos” that will have some control over the city of Jerusalem in Revelation 11:1-2. It is very likely that the “beast” of Revelation which rules the “ethnos” in the end-time is also the entity acting for the “ethnos” in assuming some control over Jerusalem in Revelation 11:1-2 in the end-time. It seems evident that the two “42 month” periods of time mentioned in Revelation 11:2 and 13:5 are describing the same period of time. If so, the two witnesses will apparently emerge on the world scene just as a “beast” power assumes some form of jurisdiction over part of the city of Jerusalem.
- Revelation 11:3 states the two witnesses will be “clothed in sackcloth.” The term “sackcloth” pictures garments of grieving or mourning (see I Samuel 3:31, Jeremiah 4:8 and many other scriptures). This expression could mean these two prophets will be (A) clothed in literal “sackcloth,” (B) be “clothed” in a spirit of mourning about the ominous message they are required to deliver to the world, or (C) both of the above options.
- Jesus Christ also mentioned the ministry of the two witnesses in his Olivet prophecy. In Matthew 24:14, Jesus stated: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations [the same “ethnos” cited in Revelation 11], and then shall the end come.” [Emphasis added.] This is a parallel prophecy to Revelation 11’s prophecy about the two witnesses. The two witnesses will have a global ministry in the end time, and Jesus foretold that a global ministry will come which will witness that the end of this age and the coming of the kingdom of God is at hand. Revelation 11 foretells that when the two witnesses’ ministry is over, the end of the age quickly comes. Matthew 24 states that when the global witness is over, “the end comes.” The connection is hard to miss. Matthew 24:14 is a reference to the ministry of the two witnesses.
The Two Olive Trees:
- Revelation 11:4 calls the two witnesses “the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.” This prophecy indicates that the prophecy about the two witnesses is directly linked to (or foreshadowed by) a prophecy in Zechariah 3-4 about two individuals called the “two olive trees.” Since Revelation 11 links the two witnesses to information in Zechariah 3-4’s prophecy, a digression into Zechariah’s prophecy is necessary to understand more about the two witnesses.
- The prophecy in Zechariah 3-4 gives the names “Joshua” and “Zerubbabel” to the two men called the “two olive trees” in Zechariah 4:11, and it reveals that they are alive at a time “the foundation of this house” (verse 9) has been laid down. Zechariah and Haggai were two prophets who lived at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 5:1, 6:14), and Zechariah’s prophecy about the “two olive trees” likens them to two of their actual contemporaries who were named Joshua and Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was a political officer and Joshua was a High Priest at that time (Haggai 1:1, 12). Since the two historic figures called the “two olive trees” are referenced in Revelation 11 as types of the two witnesses, it could indicate that one of the two witnesses will have a political background while the other “witness” will have a priestly/ministerial background.
- Zechariah 4:6 states that Zerubbabel’s power will flow from God’s Holy Spirit. This is consistent with Revelation 11:3 that God’s power will energize the two witnesses at the time of their calling. Verse 7 prophesies that a “great mountain” will become “a plain” before Zerubbabel. Mountains are used in prophecies as types of human nations (Isaiah 1:1-4 is one such example). Zerubbabel will be able to turn “a great mountain” (a very powerful nation or alliance of nations) into “a plain.” In other words, God’s power will be so strong in Zerubbabel that the military power of mighty nations (or the “beast” power” of Revelation) will be “leveled” before Zerubbabel. No human military power will be able to stand before the Divine power that will flow through the Two Witnesses. Zerubbabel had been involved in “laying the foundation of the house” (i.e. an earlier Temple) in Zechariah 4:9, which may indicate that one of the two witnesses will be involved with the effort to build a temple of God in Jerusalem in the latter days, and that these efforts will proceed from a time of very humble beginnings (“the day of small things” in Zechariah 4:10). Zerubbabel uses a “plummet,” a tool used in construction measurements. This parallels the fact that the two witnesses will emerge at a time the latter-day temple is being “measured” (Revelation 11:1-2).
- Zechariah 3 is a prophecy about “Joshua,” the other “olive tree” of this prophecy and a type of the other “witness” of Revelation 11. Zechariah 3:1 mentions that Joshua was serving as the high priest in Ezra’s time, and Joshua is personified as being between an “the angel of the Lord” and Satan (who is resisting or opposing him). This “Joshua” is at a nexus of a battle being waged between good and bad angels, but the Lord decides the contest in favor of a good outcome. The Lord rebukes Satan from opposing Joshua any further and then likens Joshua to a “brand plucked from the fire.” Joshua is further depicted as being clothed in “filthy garments” as he “stood before an angel.” A “brand plucked from the fire” pictures a stick or branch that is in the process of being ignited or burned in a fire, but which is “plucked” or rescued from the fire so it is not consumed.
- This “Joshua” does not emerge unscathed from the spiritual contest between good and evil angels which has raged around him. His “filthy garments” indicate he is in a sinful or personally damaged state when he is “plucked from the fire” and rescued by God. In verses 4-5, God removes Joshua’s “iniquity” and he is figuratively given new, clean garments and a fair miter (the clothing of a priest). In other words, this individual is “cleaned up” or “restored” so he can perform the duties assigned to him by God. In verses 6-8, an angel gives Joshua a charge to walk in God’s ways in order to perform the priestly duties assigned to him. This is not the first time that God has chosen a spiritually-damaged or “unfit” individual to serve him in a prophetic capacity. When Isaiah was called to be a prophet, he protested that he was unworthy because he had “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5), and the Apostle Paul had previously been an enemy of God when known by his earlier surname of “Saul” (Acts 8-9).
- Zechariah 4:11-14 describe Joshua and Zerubbabel not only as the “two olive trees,” but also as “the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.” [Emphasis added.] This strongly parallels the role of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 who will serve as two “anointed ones” who will wield Divine power in a global ministry in the latter days. The separate descriptions of “Joshua” and “Zerubbabel” apparently give us clues about some aspects of the lives of the two people who will be called by God to be the two witnesses in the latter days. If not, why would God tell us in Revelation 11 that the two witnesses are the “two olive trees” and then give us specific information in Zechariah 3-4 about the two individuals personified in these roles?
The Power of the Two Witnesses:
- Revelation 11:5-6 prophesies that the two witnesses will wield Divinely-given powers unprecedented in human history. Verse 5 states: “And if any man will hurt them, fire proceeds out of their mouth and devours their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.” [Emphasis added.] This verse describes the miraculous defensive power the two witnesses will be given. The two witnesses will proclaim God’s truths to an unbelieving world which does not welcome their message. The warning message the two witnesses will preach will surely include these elements: (A) the return of Jesus Christ is imminent, (B) the Divine Government of God will soon replace all human governments and (C) that mankind needs to repent of its sins and obey the laws of God. This message will not be popular.
- The governing, multinational entity called the “Beast” power will seek to kill the two witnesses and silence their message. However, for the three and ½ years of their allotted ministry, the two witnesses will be invulnerable to any human attacks and all human weaponry. The above verse indicates that an unknown number of attackers will die trying to harm or kill the two witnesses. Indeed, it states that “any man” seeking to hurt the two witnesses “must” be killed by fire. No human power will be able to stop the ministry of the two witnesses for three and ½ years.
- Their power was also foretold or foreshadowed in other prophecies. Zechariah 4:7 prophesied that before Zerubbabel (a type of one of the two witnesses), a “great mountain” will become “a plain.” A marginal reference in the “Open Bible Edition of the King James Version” notes that “great mountain” could be translated as “military power.” This indicates that even military forces sent to destroy the two witnesses will “become a plain” (i.e. be destroyed).
- Malachi 4:5 prophesies that God will send “Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (i.e. the time setting in which the two witnesses will be called). The “day of the Lord” is the prophesied period of time at the very climax of this age when the Creator personally intervenes in human affairs. It is instructive that this prophecy cites “Elijah” as a type of this warning message which will occur just prior to the end of this age. Elijah performed awesome miracles as God’s power flowed through him. II Kings 1:8-16 relates that an Israelite king sent three separate military contingents of soldiers to seize Elijah. The first two contingents and their captains were annihilated by fire (the same method by which the enemies of the two witnesses will be slain). The third contingent, aware that the two previous military contingents were utterly destroyed by fire when they tried to seize a prophet of God, approached Elijah with respect and deference. Because of their different approach (they meekly “asked” Elijah to come with them to see the king), they lived. Those who wish to survive encounters with the two witnesses might keep this example in mind.
- I Kings 18:20-40 records that Elijah called fire down from heaven to consume a sacrifice during a confrontation with 450 prophets of Baal. This confrontation ended with Elijah also killing the 450 prophets of Baal. Military forces sent to seize Elijah were slain by fire. This is precisely the kind of power that Revelation 11:5 prophesies the two witnesses will wield. It is apparent that the prophecy in Malachi 4 references the two witnesses in Revelation 11 because both the “Elijah” to come at the end of this age and the two witnesses will do the same things.
- The two witnesses will also have offensive power. Revelation 11:6 prophesies they will “have power to shut heaven that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them into blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues as often as they will.” [Emphasis added.] This prophecy states the two witnesses will be able to miraculously intervene in the weather and elements of the earth to plague an unrepentant mankind as often as they will. This kind of power has two biblical precedents. A famous “twosome,” Moses and Aaron, had very similar power to plague the world’s dominant power at that time: Pharaoh’s Egypt. Exodus 7-12 describe the famous smiting of Egypt with a series of plagues which turned water into blood, and used a variety of natural plagues to afflict Egypt. The plagues climaxed with the killing of Egypt’s firstborn all across that nation. Also, Elijah plagued the sinful kingdom of Israel with a deadly drought for three and ½ years (I Kings 17:1-18:46). Revelation 11 prophesies the two witnesses will have the power to plague the world with droughts and it is noteworthy that James 5:17 notes that Elijah’s power to do this lasted for three and ½ years, the same period of time prophesied for the ministry of the two witnesses (Revelation 11:3).
- When the “beast” power assumes some form of jurisdiction over at least part of Jerusalem, the leaders who guide this system will likely think they are on the verge of accomplishing their goal of a world government under their rule. However, when God empowers the two witnesses, all the plans of the “beast” power will be jeopardized (if not outright stopped). The book of Revelation is a prophecy with much symbolism, inset chapters and overlapping narrations about end-time events. For example, Revelation 11 is specifically about the two witnesses, but consider a possible connection to the events described in Revelation 16.
- Revelation 11 prophesies the two witnesses will call down plagues on the earth “as often as they will,” and one of their plagues will turn water into blood. Revelation 16 describes a series of plagues which are poured out on an unrepentant mankind, and one of them turns water into blood all over the earth (verses 3-6). These plagues are even poured out “upon the seat of the beast” himself. Obviously, these plagues are poured out during the 42 months of the beast’s reign for even the beast himself is a recipient of at least some plagues. If the ministry of the two witnesses parallels the 42 months of the beast’s reign and Revelation 11 declares the two witnesses will be “plaguing” an unrepentant mankind, it follows that Revelation 16 describes some of the plagues which the two witnesses will be calling down from heaven upon mankind during the reign of the beast.
The Two Comings of “Elijah”:
- Mentioned above was the prophecy of Malachi 4:5-6 that “Elijah” the prophet would be sent with a warning message “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” The “day of the Lord” will not occur until the very end of this age when Divine intervention occurs and Jesus Christ returns. However, Jesus Christ himself stated that this prophecy had another, previous fulfillment. In both Matthew 11:14 and 17:11-12, Jesus declared that John the Baptist was the “Elijah” who had come on the scène just prior to Jesus Christ’s ministry. Christians need to take this at face value. John the Baptist’s ministry was an earlier fulfillment of this prophecy as well. However, it is equally obvious that the “day of the Lord” did not occur during or immediately after the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. The obvious conclusion is that Malachi 4’s prophecy will have a dual fulfillment. It should also be pointed out that Jesus’ words that John the Baptist (not Elijah) fulfilled a prophecy about “Elijah” confirms that Malachi 4’s prophecy does not mean Elijah himself will be resurrected to reprise his role as a prophet in the latter days. Just as John the Baptist was not the resurrected prophet named Elijah, neither of the two witnesses will be the resurrected Elijah either.
- Interestingly, the two fulfillments of Malachi’s prophecy about “Elijah” foreshadow and predict the nature of each of the comings of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ first coming was as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus submitted to his sufferings and death as submissively as a lamb submitted to its fate as a Passover sacrifice (Exodus 12:1-10). Jesus did not resist his tormentors even though he had the power to call upon “12 legions of angels” to rescue him if he had but asked God the Father to send them (Matthew 26:53). Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the “suffering Messiah” (such as Isaiah 53) in his first coming in a human body which could be slain like a “Passover Lamb” as an atonement for the sins of mankind. Likewise, John the Baptist did no miracles that we know about and was slain by King Herod simply for telling the truth about an adulterous relationship involving the rich and powerful (Matthew 14). Notice that in John the Baptist’s ministry, John’s ministry directly foreshadowed the nature of the later ministry and mission of Jesus Christ. Both would “suffer like lambs” at the hands of the authorities and they would not resist this treatment.
- The second coming of Christ will be awesome and powerful. When he fulfills the prophecies about the “conquering Messiah” at his second coming (Ezekiel 38:18-39:8, Zechariah 14:1-13, etc.), Jesus will come as a conquering king who will assume power over all nations. Revelation 19:11-20 prophesies he will return to “make war” and the “armies of heaven” will follow him and kill a large number of human enemies. Ezekiel 39:2 foretells he will kill 5/6ths of the people in a great military alliance attacking the nations of the latter-day ten tribes of Israel and Revelation 14:14-20 prophesies that Jesus Christ and his returning army will spill an immense amount of blood subduing the earth’s nations and armies. A prophecy in Isaiah 66:15-17 about the coming of the “Conquering Messiah”states it bluntly: “The slain of the Lord will be many.”
- Even as the coming of the first “Elijah,” John the Baptist, reflected and foreshadowed the same submissive nature that would be exhibited by Jesus Christ in his first coming, the coming of the second “Elijah,” the two witnesses, will reflect and foreshadow the miraculous, powerful and conquering nature that will be exhibited by Jesus Christ in his second coming. In each case the preparatory work of “Elijah” exhibits the same characteristics to be manifested by Jesus Christ in both of his comings.
- The two witnesses, as noted above, will wield miraculous and unprecedented power against the nations of the earth during their three and ½ year ministry. An unspecified number of people who seek to harm them will be executed by the Divine power that will flow through them and protect them (Revelation 11:3-6). Their ministry will give mankind a mere foretaste of what will happen when Jesus Christ himself returns at the head of an angelic army to annihilate those who fight against his return. When Jesus Christ returns the second time, no one will be putting him on a cross again. He will be the one slaughtering his enemies. At his second coming, the “twelve legions of angels” (Matthew 26:53) will be unleashed with lethal consequences for all who oppose Jesus’ return. Zechariah 14:12 prophesies that the Lord will smite his enemies with a plague in which the flesh of his enemies will “consume away” off their bones before they even have time to fall over in their deaths. Joel 2:1, another prophecy about the “day of the Lord,” prophesies that a heavenly army (like the one depicted in Revelation 19) will be unleashed which is impervious to weaponry wielded by mere humans (verse 8). These are all parallel prophecies.
- The two witnesses will be the “Elijah” ministry which fulfills Malachi 4’s prophecy about such a ministry just prior to the day of the Lord. Their coming with power and lethal force will be a mere shadow of what Jesus Christ’s return will be like.
Who Might the Two Witnesses Be?
- This writer claims no Divine revelation concerning the identities of the people who will be called by God to perform the roles of the two witnesses in the latter days. Only God knows who he will call to fulfill these very powerful prophetic roles. However, the Bible has several precedents about previous “twosomes” who were called to powerful ministries in the past. It is possible that examining these earlier prophetic “twosomes” will give us more clues regarding who the two witnesses will be.
- Moses and Aaron:
- In the time of the Exodus of the Israelites from ancient Egypt, God called Moses and Aaron to perform the role of two miracle-working prophets. This “twosome” literally plagued the Egyptian empire and its people with the same kinds of plagues that the two witnesses will call down upon latter-day nations (compare Revelation 11:5-6 with Exodus 7-12). Moses and Aaron also confronted an opposing “twosome,” the Egyptian priests of Jannes and Jambres, who also had some miracle-working abilities via demonic empowerment (II Timothy 3:8). It is noteworthy that Paul wrote in II Timothy 3:8 about the confrontation between Jannes and Jambres against Moses and Aaron as Paul was prophesying about conditions in the latter days, the time when the two witnesses will be called (II Timothy 3:1).
- The two witnesses will also contend with an evil “twosome” in the latter days, called the “Beast” and “False Prophet,” who will be empowered to perform miracles via demonic empowerment in the latter days (Revelation 13:11-15, 19:19-20). The parallels between Moses and Aaron and the two witnesses are strong, but they are not perfect comparisons. Jannes and Jambres were both pagan priests in Egypt and Pharaoh was the secular leader, so Moses and Aaron were opposed by three historic figures. The two witnesses will be opposed by a secular leader (the “beast”) and a religious leader (the “false prophet”) in the latter days.
- Moses and Aaron were both Levites, members of the priestly tribe of the Israelites (Exodus 2:1-10). Exodus 4 records that at the time Moses was called to perform his prophetic ministry, he was so reluctant to accept the calling that God actually became angry with Moses for his reluctance to accept and perform his calling. If past is prologue, this may be a harbinger that one of the two witnesses will only reluctantly accept his commission.
Does this parallel indicate the two witnesses will be Levites? We do not know. Genesis 49 is a prophecy about the national characteristics of all the tribes of Israel during the latter days, and verses 5-7 prophesies that the Levites will be “scattered” among the nations of the other tribes of Israel in the latter days. Levi was generally associated with the house of Judah in ancient times, but Genesis 49’s prophecy shows that Levites will be scattered widely among the nations of the tribes of Israel in the latter days. While many Levites living amongst the tribe of Judah (modern Jews/Israelis) may be able to know their ancestry, most Levites in all the other tribes will not even know they are Levites. Therefore, it is impossible to know where all the members of this tribe are now located. If the two witnesses prove to be Levites, it is likely that God will have to make known to them their tribe of origin.
- Elijah and Elisha:
- Since Malachi 4:5 specifically cites “Elijah” as the typology for the mighty prophetic work which God will energize on the earth before “the day of the Lord,” we need to take a very close look at the life and ministry of Elijah for clues about the two witnesses. Elijah and Elisha were a powerful, miracle-working “twosome” called by God during the evil reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel over ancient Israel. While Elijah and Elisha were contemporaries and were sometimes together, they were often apart from each other and had more of a mentor-protégé relationship with Elijah doing the initial work and Elisha finishing it.
- As noted above, Elijah called fire down from heaven and he smote the kingdom of Israel with a three and ½ year drought. This is exactly the kind of miracle that the two witnesses will be able to perform (Revelation 11:6). Elijah also raised the dead on one occasion (I Kings 17:17-24), parted the waters of the Jordan River much as Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea during the Exodus (II Kings 2:8), and rode in a literal, angelic “chariot of fire” as he was visibly carried from the presence of Elisha (II Kings 2: 11).
- Elijah was a man of incredible faith who apparently emerged from complete obscurity with an initial, terrible prophetic pronouncement in I Kings 17:1: “As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand [serve], there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” God backed him up, proving that Elijah was, indeed, a prophet of God that the nations would ignore at their peril. We know nothing about Elijah’s prior background, but subsequent events hint at some possibilities. Elijah was remarkably hardened to human suffering, whether it was his own suffering or the sufferings of others plagued by his pronouncements. As the drought in the kingdom of Israel stretched into years, the streams dried up, people and livestock starved to death or died of thirst. Elijah suffered with the people living in the drought region, even though God miraculously intervened just enough to keep Elijah himself alive.
- Elijah had said there would be no rain except “by his word.” After three and ½ years of extreme suffering all around him, Elijah still exhibited no need to declare an end to the drought and the famine and death it caused. As I Kings 18:1 relates, it was God who was moved to have mercy on the people of Israel, not Elijah. God told Elijah to end the drought. If God had not essentially said to Elijah “Enough is enough, Elijah, it is time to declare an end to this suffering,” who knows how long Elijah would have let the people of Israel continue to suffer. Elijah appears to have been a man whose background included the endurance of much personal suffering as he was remarkably unmoved by either his own suffering or that of the people around him. God may also have intervened to end this drought after three and ½ years in order to allow it to be a direct precedent to the three and ½ ministry of the two witnesses in the latter days.
- When the time came to end the drought, Elijah arranged a contest with the priests of Baal, the false god then worshipped by most Israelites, to see who could call down fire from heaven upon a burnt offering (see I Kings 18:20-46). Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal with dripping sarcasm as they gyrated around the altar and slashed themselves with knives to draw the attentions of their non-existent god. The King James Version of the Bible doesn’t do justice to Elijah’s sarcasm as he mocked them. I’ll cite I Kings 18:27 from the Complete Jewish Bible, translated by David Stern: “Around noon Eliyahu [Elijah] began ridiculing them: ‘Shout louder! After all, he’s a god isn’t he? Maybe he’s daydreaming, or he’s on the potty, or he’s away on a trip. Maybe he’s asleep, and you need to wake him up.’” I actually think even Mr. Stern rendered Elijah’s words a bit delicately. When Elijah mocked Baal’s prophets with the words “Maybe…he’s on the potty,” I think Elijah’s words would have been even more “earthy” if they were translated into the street language of his (or our) time. Elijah was no shrinking violet, and he could use blunt, crude expressions of speech.
- When Elijah’s turn came to call on God for divine fire, he had the crowd soak the sacrifice three times with four carrels of water each time. Can you imagine how valuable that water was in a time when no rain had fallen in three and ½ years? That amounted to 12 barrels of water, one for each of the tribes of Israel. He may have poured out the entire drinking water supply brought for the assembled multitude present at that sacrifice. The God of Israel answered Elijah’s prayer and consumed the sacrifice with fire sent from heaven, shocking the masses into realizing that Elijah’s God really was the true and living God. This shock of the Israelites of Elijah’s time aptly foreshadows the shock that modern evolutionists (and the nations deceived by them) will experience when the miracles of the two witnesses again proves that there really is a true and living God.
- Elijah then had the crowd forcibly restrain the 450 prophets of Baal as he personally “slew them there.” Elijah very likely disemboweled, decapitated and dismembered the 450 false prophets with a sword in assembly-line fashion, immune to their screamed pleas for mercy. Readers who have seen certain movies will be able to visualize specific movie scenes to realize what Elijah did in killing 450 fellow human beings. Those who have seen the Lord of the Rings movies will recall the scenes of Aragorn slashing his way through throngs of orcs and uruks. Those who have seen the recent movie, 300 (about King Leonidas and his Spartans slaughtering thousands of Persians at Thermopylae) can visualize the kind of bloody slaughter Elijah did to the 450 prophets of Baal with his sword. The heroic movie figures of Aragorn and Leonidas did not slaughter people mindlessly for sport or thrills. They slaughtered evil ones in the name of righteousness and truth. So will the two witnesses.
- In sending Elijah to be a prophet, God selected a very tough person! It is instructive that God prophesies that the two witnesses will be like “Elijah” when he sends them out on the world scene with, literally, a license to kill and to plague others “as often as they will.” The ministry of the two witnesses will not be associated with the choir music, incense, candles and soft liturgies people associate with the modern Christian religion. They will be the human instruments of an angry God who is giving mankind a “taste” of what is coming at the hands of Jesus Christ unless the world repents of its sins.
- Elijah was not being cruel when he butchered 450 prophets of Baal. The prophets of Baal were simply “reaping what they sowed.” Baal worship included sacrificing little babies to Baal via human sacrifices. In other words, “snuff” rituals were part of the sadistic and exceptionally-malignant religion of Baal worship. The “prophets of Baal” killed by Elijah were the ones who had carried out these murderously cruel human sacrifices. Since Malachi 4 prophesies that “Elijah” is a model for the warning message at the end of this age and Revelation 11:5-6 prophesies that the two witnesses will kill their enemies and plague the earth with plagues “as often as they will,” those who oppose the two witnesses or who have committed murderous rituals vs. other human beings (abortions and “snuff” films could be two such comparable modern evils) may end up as dead as the 450 prophets of Baal who opposed Elijah.
- After Elijah’s confrontation with the priests of Baal on Mt. Camel (when he called fire down from heaven and personally killed 450 of Baal’s priests), Elijah seemed to experience a sudden “burn out.” After being threatened by Jezebel, he fled to a cave in the Mountain of God perhaps in a state of personal exhaustion. God speaks with Elijah, telling him that Elisha will assume the rest of his ministry, but only after Elijah first anoints new kings over Israel and Syria (see I Kings 19). After doing so, Elijah essentially “retired” from the scene, although God did use him later to send a letter pronouncing a curse upon King Jehoram of Judah (II Chronicles 21:11-20).
- This “burn out” of Elijah is not dissimilar to the experiences of other prophets after they were personally involved with spiritual encounters. Daniel fainted and was sick for days after he had a vision (Daniel 8:27), Zechariah lost consciousness during his prophetic vision and had to be awakened by an angel (Zechariah 4:1), Ezekiel had to be helped back to his feet by an angel during one of his visions (Ezekiel 1:28-2:2), the Apostle John “fell” as one “dead” during his powerful visions (Revelation 1:17), etc. People think that personal encounters with the spirit world are something desirable to boost their religious faith. The scriptures indicate that real visions and spiritual encounters are actually “other world-ish” and “disorienting” experiences from which recipients need time to recover. Elijah’s miraculous experiences for three and ½ years capped by his contest with the prophets of Baal was an unusually prolonged spiritual encounter, so it is understandable that his strength and energies would be exhausted at the end of this period of time. Perhaps the two witnesses will be similarly exhausted after their three and ½ year ministry.
- Elisha and Elijah were together for a short time, after which Elisha ministered in Elijah’s stead with a “double portion” of Elijah’s power (II Kings 2:9-11). Elisha also parted the waters of the Jordan River (II Kings 2:14), raised the dead (II Kings 4), performed a variety of miracles (II Kings 4:38, 6:1-7), healed deadly diseases (II Kings 5:1-19), blinded a military force sent to capture him (II Kings 6:13-23), and intervened in the affairs of nations (II Kings 6:8-12, 8:7-15, 9:1-4. 13:14-20). Even as Revelation 11 prophesies that anyone who tries to harm the two witnesses will be slain, it was lethal to even mock Elisha. Some delinquent youths mocked Elisha and they were all wounded or killed by bears for their disrespect (II Kings 2:23-24). The Spirit of God’s power rested so mightily upon Elisha that a dead man who was placed into Elisha’s sepulcher was resurrected when his corpse touched Elisha’s bones (Ii Kings 13:21).
- Elijah was called a “Tishbite” (I Kings 17:1), a reference to his home town of Tishbe, which was located in the territory of the tribe of Manasseh, one of the “birthright” tribes descended from Joseph. One account indicates the Septuagint’s translators regarded Elijah’s home town as being Jabesh-Gilead, which was also part of Manasseh’s territory. In either case, the evidence indicates that Elijah was a Manassehite. I Kings 19:16 states Elisha was “the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah.” Abelmeholah was, according to Harper’s Bible Dictionary: “a settlement in the Jordan Valley to the south or southeast of Beth-shean. Its exact location is disputed…” A Bible map places Elisha’s hometown within the territory of the tribe of Manasseh, although in Manasseh’s portion west of the Jordan River. Elijah’s hometown was in Manasseh’s territory east of the Jordan River.
- If the two witnesses are called according to this precedent, the two witnesses would be from the latter-day nation linked to Manasseh (see this author’s book, Israel’s Tribes Today, available at the website, www.stevenmcollins.com). Several writers (including this author) who have researched the migrations of the tribes of Israel have concluded that the United States of America was founded as the latter-day nation of Manasseh (see “links” portion of the above website for the other authors). There is contemporary logic to this possibility as the United States is one of the last bastions where the Christian faith has many strong adherents in the nations of the Western world.
- The “Two Sticks” Prophecy:
- Ezekiel 37:15-28 contains the “two sticks” prophecy. It prophesies that at the time the Messiah returns, ancient King David will be resurrected to be king over a reunited house of Israel and house of Judah. These two divisions of the tribes of Israel have been apart from each other since the united monarchy was divided in the reign of Rehoboam, King Solomon’s son. This prophecy confirms that the house of Israel (the northern ten tribes of Israel) and the house of Judah (the southern tribes headed by the tribe of Judah) will remain divided and separate until the Messiah unites them at his Coming. Obviously, Christians see this prophecy as being a prophecy about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
- Since this prophecy is specifically for the time when the end of this age transitions into the Messianic Age (the “Millennium” of Revelation 20:1-4), it would fit the typology of the “two sticks” prophecy if the two witnesses were called from each of the divided houses of Israel. If this typology is fulfilled, one of the two witnesses would be from the nations of the ten tribes of the house of Israel and one would be from the house of Judah. This allows for the possibility that one could be Christian and the other would be Jewish.
- There is a Jewish tradition which involves a prophesied “twosome:” the “Messiah ben Joseph” and the “Messiah ben Judah (or Messiah ben David).” This tradition calls for a “son of Joseph” and a “son of Judah” to fulfill these prophesied roles. A discussion of this tradition can be found in the links at this Orthodox Jewish website: www.britam.org. While Ezekiel 37’s prophecy does not directly link itself to the two witnesses of Revelation 11, the possibility that the typology of Ezekiel 37’s “two sticks” prophecy might be paralleled in the two witnesses’ selection should also be considered.
- Other Possibilities:
- Since we have the statement of Jesus Christ that John the Baptist was a forerunner type of the work of the latter day “Elijah,” another possibility needs to be considered. Just as Elijah and Elisha had successive ministries with some overlapping time, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ had similar ministries. Both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were Jews from the tribe of Judah. If this biblical precedent is followed, both of the two witnesses could be from the tribe of Judah. Also, God is the Creator of all mankind and the New Testament work of the Apostle Paul shows that salvation was made available to non-Israelite Gentiles as well as to Israelites (Acts 10:1-35, Acts 11:1, Colossians 3:11 and many others). What if God decides to call an Israelite and a Gentile to do the work of the two witnesses? There is another biblical twosome to consider. Paul, a member of the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1), became a prominent “twosome” with Barnabas, a Levite (Acts 4:36), for a length of time before they were parted and served God separately (Acts 13:2-15:39).
- God is utterly sovereign, and he will make whatever choice he wishes to make when choosing the two people who will serve as the two witnesses. No human will control or pre-determine God’s choice in the matter. The above discussion is solely for the purpose of examining biblical clues about the characteristics that may be associated with the two witnesses’ lives. God will make his choices evident in due course of time.
- It is clear that if God chooses to act on historical biblical precedents in making his choices re: the two witnesses, he has many options from which to choose. He may even combine some aspects of the above biblical precedents in his ultimate selection. However, Malachi 4’s direct linking of “Elijah” to a prophetic work just prior to the end of this age and Revelation 11’s linking the two “olive trees” of Zechariah 3-4 to the two witnesses require us to give these two precedents especially strong consideration.
Recognizing the Two Witnesses:
- At first the reader might think the two witnesses will easily be recognized. Indeed, they will be recognized by God’s people (“the saints”), regardless of the religious or organizational label upon the individual saints. However, few people on the earth are true believers in either God or the Bible. The vast majority of mankind has not read or accepted the Bible so they will not recognize the two witnesses as being representatives of the Creator God. Revelation 12:9 foretells that Satan will “deceive the whole earth,” and Revelation 13:7 prophesies the beast (i.e. the anti-Christ power) will have dominion over “all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.” Revelation 11:7-10 prophesies that when the two witnesses are finally slain by the beast power, the world will “make merry and send gifts to one another.” The world will celebrate the deaths of the two witnesses! Clearly, few will recognize the two witnesses for what they are, and fewer still will stand with them.
- How will one tell the difference between the two witnesses and the evil and deceptive twosome of the beast and false prophet? Both will be performing miracles and both “twosomes” will be prominent on the world scene. The legitimate two witnesses will be the ones outside the power structure of the nations; whereas, the beast and false prophet will be inside the world governing system. The two witnesses will be the ones plaguing the nations for at least a portion of their three and ½ year ministry. The beast and false prophet will not plague their own world governing system. The two witnesses will be proclaiming the laws of God to a world that does not want to obey them. The beast and false prophet will proclaim a message that requires obedience to the laws of the beast’s earthly system. The two witnesses will be proclaiming the need for repentance. The beast and false prophet will have a message calling for universal conformity to their global system. Also, the legitimate two witnesses will be killed by the evil “twosome” after a three and ½ year ministry, not vice versa.
The Death of the Two Witnesses:
- At the end of their ministry, the two witnesses will be slain by the beast and false prophet (Revelation 11:7). God’s representatives will be slain by the two evil world leaders. Revelation 11:9 prophesies people from all “kindreds, tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies…” This event will undoubtedly be given “wall to wall” coverage on the world’s broadcast, satellite and cable TV networks and the internet. It is only possible to fulfill this prophecy literally if a global televised capacity is in place. That it does exist now is further evidence that our modern world has entered the “latter days” when these prophesies can be fulfilled literally, not allegorically. The two witnesses are aptly named: the word “witnesses” come from the same Greek root word for the word “martyr.”
- Given the immense power that the two witnesses will wield, it is likely that they will die by choosing not to use their supernatural powers at the end of their ministry and by laying down their lives voluntarily in order to fulfill Revelation 11:7’s prophecy. Jesus Christ could have called twelve legions to his rescue with a single word and annihilated the Romans and all his enemies at Golgotha. He chose not to use his power in order to fulfill God’s Divine will and prophecies. I think the two witnesses will make a similar choice, because the satanic power in the beast and false prophet will never be capable of defeating the power of God flowing through the two witnesses.
- Revelation 11:7-10 states the beast and false prophet will “make war” upon the two witnesses and kill them when the two witnesses 3 and ½ year ministry is over. This begs the question: How will people know when that time is approaching? Will their three and ½ year ministry begin when a temple is dedicated in Jerusalem, when they perform their first miracle or at some other time? The Bible doesn’t give us a specific statement to recognize the instant when their ministry begins. The Bible does prophecy they will wield awesome Divine powers, but will they do that from “day one” of their ministry or will the miracles start later on during their ministry? The beast and false prophet will have a very short and hollow “victory.” They will be executed by Jesus Christ when he returns and sentences them to be burnt alive (Revelation 19:11-20). Luke 19:11-27 contains a parable about how Jesus will reward the saints when he returns to the earth after a long absence. This parable also foretells in verse 27 that Jesus will also say: “those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring them hither and slay them before me.” The beast and false prophet will be the foremost ones so sentenced, but they will not be alone. Revelation 19:19-21 relates that the political leaders allied to the beast and false prophet and the armies they command will be killed and their corpses fed to the animals and birds. Ezekiel 39:1-21 parallels this same intervention of God, the slaying of mass numbers of those fighting God and the feeding of their fallen carcasses to the animals and birds.
- Revelation 11:8 foretells the dead bodies of the two witnesses will not be buried, but will be displayed publicly for three and ½ days. It is apparent they will die in the city of Jerusalem as it is the city where “our Lord was crucified.” Since most people will not be aware of biblical prophecy, the beast and false prophet will surely proclaim the death of the two witnesses affirms that they, the beast and false prophet, now rule supreme on the earth. Revelation 11:9-11 indicates that almost everyone on earth will accept their sovereignty and rule. A few will refuse and they will be fiercely persecuted. The remaining believers in God will then either be martyred or Divinely protected as the very next chapter, Revelation 12 explains. Revelation 12:13-17 prophesies that Satan (who energizes the beast and false prophet) will seek to kill the “woman” (a type of God’s people); however, many of God’s people will be miraculously protected for “a time, times and half a time.” Some Christians see this as another three and1/2 year period, but I do not. The word translated “time” or “times” does not literally mean “years.” It simply means three and half segments of “a fixed [period of] time. By itself, this prophetic phrase could indicate three and ½ years, months, weeks or days. However, connecting it to the context of Revelation 11’s prophecy about the two witnesses indicates the correct meaning is “three and ½ days.”
- During the three and ½ years of the two witnesses’ ministry, their superior divine power will be sufficient to protect God’s people on the earth. They can plague anyone who dares to harm God’s people during their ministry. At the end of their ministry, it will be abundantly evident whether people are with or against the two witnesses because those with them will not have been plagued and those resisting them will have been plagued. Those resisting the two witnesses will grow increasingly hateful toward those people not plagued by the two witnesses, and their desire for vengeance will be unleashed when the two witnesses die. Revelation 11:9 prophesies the two witnesses will remain dead for three and ½ days, and it would be in such a time when their power is removed from the world that God’s peoples will need Divine protection. Revelation 12:14 prophesies many will receive that protection for the three and ½ “times” (i.e. “days”) that the two witnesses are dead. Others will not be protected and will be martyred or persecuted by the beast and the false prophet’s followers during that three and ½ day period (Revelation 12:17).
- The beast and false prophet will have to concoct some lies to explain why the two witnesses were able to wield such power for three and ½ years. The masses will gullibly swallow these lies and will celebrate the turn of events (Revelation 11:10). Since the two witnesses will be protected by Divine power from attack and will wield Divine powers for years, perhaps the masses will be deceived into believing a science fiction explanation for their supernatural powers. After all, many science fiction films are based on the common theme of the earth’s people uniting against an “invader from outer space.” Jesus, his saints and his angels will literally be an invading force from the heavens when they come (Matthew 24:27, 30-31, Revelation 19:11-16, compare Isaiah 34:1-4 with Revelation 6:12-14, etc.). It could be an “easy sell” to rationalize the two witnesses’ power by claiming it was provided by some alien intelligence. All nations will oppose Jesus Christ’s army when he returns with his heavenly army a short time later (Revelation 19:19) so the beast and false prophet will likely deceive the world into thinking that the death of the two witnesses indicates that the world can now successfully resist the “alien” power that energized the two witnesses. Whatever lies and deceptions are used, those who join the beast and false prophet in fighting Jesus Christ‘s Divine army when it arrives later will be slain (remember Zechariah 14:12-13, Revelation 19:11-20, Luke 19:27, Ezekiel 39).
- Revelation 11:10 prophesies a great celebration will begin all over the earth after the two witnesses are killed. This global celebration is almost certainly the same time pictured in I Thessalonians 5:2-3 when just prior to the “the day of the Lord” the world is proclaiming the arrival of a time “of peace and safety.” I Thessalonians 5:3 reveals that the world’s expectation of a time of “peace of safety” is short-lived as “sudden destruction” comes upon the earth and they cannot “escape” it. Revelation 11, the prophecy about the two witnesses, agrees. The time of celebration which follows the death of the two witnesses swiftly segues into another “woe” which befalls the earth.
The Resurrection of the Two Witnesses:
- The beast and false prophet refuse to let the bodies of the two witnesses be buried, likely as a testimony to their “victory” over them. It will be easy to air live coverage of their bodies and have live webcams broadcasting pictures of their corpses to the world. After three and ½ days, Revelation 11:11-12 prophesies that the two witnesses will be resurrected and “great fear” will fall on all who see this event. The resurrection of the two witnesses proves that their ministry was, indeed, empowered by the God of the Bible who resurrects them according to his prophesied timetable in the Bible. The two witnesses will surely have been instructing people to wtch for their resurrection three and ½ days after their death. The world will be shocked when it happens.
- When the two witnesses are resurrected in the full view of their enemies and the world, their worldly mission is over. Revelation 11:13 prophesies that within the same hour that the two witnesses are resurrected, a great earthquake will occur which will ruin a tenth of the city (presumably, Jerusalem) and kill 7000 people. This is not likely to be a slaying of 7000 people at random. God will decide where to send that earthquake so he will be deciding which region of the city suffers 7000 dead (plus an unspecified number of wounded casualties). Perhaps God will send the earthquake upon the region of the city where the beast and false prophet have their headquarters set up. The combined effect of these events will convince many to realize the two witnesses’ warnings were true, and they will “give glory” to God.
- This concludes my article about the two witnesses. There are many other prophetic subjects, and some of them are covered in my other article in the “Prophecy” links at this website, www.stevenmcollins.com. Readers are urged to review them as well for a fuller picture of the events prophesied to occur at the end of our age.
- How soon will the two witnesses arrive on the world scene? I do not know, and I doubt any man or woman does know. They will come at the appropriate time that God wants to send them. We do know that they will come during the latter days at the end of our age. Many biblical prophesies about the latter days have been and are being fulfilled in world events all around us. Consider the following examples.
- Zephaniah 2:1-7 prophesied that Judah (the Jews) would establish a nation in the old Promised Land prior to the “day of the Lord.” That was fulfilled in 1948. Daniel 12:4 prophesied “the time of the end” would be characterized by a time when the “many” would be able to “run to and fro.” This was fulfilled with the widespread use of automobiles by the general populations of many nations in the 20th century. Daniel 12:4 also prophesied the “time of the end” would be marked by a knowledge explosion (i.e. “knowledge shall be increased”). This prophecy foretells an exponential increase in mankind’s knowledge as the word “increase” is the same Hebrew word used to describe how the waters “increased” to cover the entire earth during the time in Noah’s time. This increase became possible with the invention of the computer, the internet and numerous other aspects of our “high-tech” society. This prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes to a greater degree every year. Matthew 24:21-22 prophesies a time will come which is so dangerous that “no flesh” would be saved on earth unless Jesus Christ returned to intervene in world events. This prophecy could never literally have been fulfilled until the invention of the nuclear bomb and its first use in 1945. As nuclear bombs were deployed to many times the number needed to destroy all life on earth, the circumstances for fulfilling this prophecy have already been in place for decades.
- The prophecies about the conditions which will characterize the arrival of the latter days of biblical prophecy were fulfilled, literally, in the 20th century and especially after 1945. Readers are referred to my article about “Ezekiel 38-39 and World War III” in the prophecy links of this website, www.stevenmcollins.com, to see that the latter-day alliances of world nations are now exactly in the arrangement prophesied for the latter days. The article on “Captivity to Babylon the Great” also shows the prophesied world economic system called “Babylon the Great” in Revelation 18 is already omnipresent in the world. These many fulfillments of latter day prophesies confirm that the God who authored and inspired the Bible is fulfilling his prophesies exactly as he foretold he would. In Isaiah 41:21-26, God challenges everyone to look at his ability to bring to pass his prophesies as proof that he is real. Psalm 41:1 says: “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.” Before the latter days are concluded, the world will realize what fools the promulgators of evolution were.
- We do not know how much more time we have left before the latter days bring forth the ministry of the two witnesses. The clock is ticking. Their arrival draws near.