These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. (4-6)
When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. 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. Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. (7-10)
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. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." Then they went up into heaven in the cloud, and their enemies watched them. And in that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (11-13 NASU)
As the tribulation starts, God calls two men into a unique ministry that has parallels to some of the prophets in the Old Testament. They are called to proclaim God’s Word openly and in such a manner that evil people will try to silence them by killing them. Because of the parallels to the past, many believe that these men are reincarnations of the actual prophets.
Some believe that these two have the same spirit as two Old Testament prophets.
Others, who need to symbolize everything in Revelation, say they represent the Church because the Church is persecuted, but can’t be killed. They argue that when they are killed and resurrected the rapture occurs. I’m going to dismiss this theory because there isn’t any parallel in the Christian faith for us to pray for droughts, plagues, or for us to kill our enemies with fire.
And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Heb 9:27-28 NKJV)
The Bible says that Enoch and Elijah didn’t die but were taken up to heaven. It also says that man is destined to die once and then face judgment. Many people therefore say that these two people are Enoch and Elijah coming back so that they also physically die. In these theories, Enoch and Elijah must come back because they have not yet tasted death. They were spared and now must come back to fulfill this Scripture.
"Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse." (Mal 4:5-6 NLT)
The last recorded words in the Old Testament are a promise that God will send Elijah before the end. Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets. Elijah’s purpose is to restore family structure. If it doesn’t happen, God says He will come and curse the land. The scene in Revelation certainly fits this. Paul has described the scene much better than I could.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people. (2 Tim 3:1-5 RSV emphasis mine)
Right in the middle is the key that Elijah is to try to start the process of repentance. Destruction of the family is at the center of the other sins. However, people are not listening to these witnesses and God is withholding the rain. Not only that, but the end is coming soon.
"And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." NASB (Luke 1:16-17)
The angel of the Lord announced that John the Baptist would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. Now the question is, if Jesus came first to bear sin, and will appear a second time to bring physical salvation (Heb 9:28), can we expect Elijah to appear first to spiritually prepare people, and then appear a second time to usher in the physical kingdom of Jesus? If so, then this is a very compelling argument that one of the two witnesses is indeed Elijah or someone with his power and spirit.
He answered, "Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Matt 17:11-13 ESV)
Jesus affirms that Elijah will come again, yet He said that he has already come as John the Baptist. He must come again because there is something still unfulfilled in the prophecies about Elijah. The whole story hasn’t been told yet. What Jesus said of Elijah and John the Baptist doesn’t mean that Elijah must appear physically any more than He meant that John the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah.
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. (James 5:17 NIV)
The two witnesses’ ability to withhold rain is one of the things that Elijah did. This is also used to support the theory that one of the two is indeed Elijah or rather has the same spirit and power. Is it only a coincidence that it didn’t rain for three and a half years and this is also how long the two witnesses are to preach? I don’t think so.
Elijah replied to them, "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty." Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. (2 Kings 1:12 NASU)
Elijah was also able to call down fire from heaven to destroy his enemies. While the two witnesses have the ability to kill their enemies with fire, it comes from their mouths, not from heaven. The similarity is sufficient, however, to add even more credibility to one of the men’s identity as Elijah.
Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: "Because you speak this word, Behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire, And this people wood, And it shall devour them. (Jer 5:14 NKJV)
As prophets spoke the word of God, it burned within those who heard. That is why Christians have such a strong affect on the unsaved. That is why some people cannot stand to be around Christians. The Lord is going to use these men to deliver His final decree to the people of the earth. They will know it is the Word of God just as all will know about their death. Unfortunately, those who gloat over their death have rejected the message.
Identity of the Other Witness
Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus' appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus. (Matt 17:1-3 NLT)
Since Moses appeared in glory on the mountain with Jesus and Elijah, people have argued that the second witness is Moses. The witnesses have the ability to turn water into blood and bring plagues just as Moses did. The case for the second witness being Moses is much less compelling than for one being Elijah. The only case for the second to be Enoch has already been stated. It isn’t very compelling either.
When Moses confronted Pharaoh, it was a time when Pharaoh was in strong control, and people thought he was a god. Magic was rampant as demonstrated by the magicians’ ability to produce some of the miracles that Moses did (Ex 7:11-13).
The coming of the lawless one by the activity of Satan will be with all power and with pretended signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. (2 Thess 2:9-10 RSV)
Some of the impact of the witnesses will be weakened because Satan is able to duplicate turning water into blood as well as other so-called miracles. We see the preparation of this through movies, TV, and even Saturday morning cartoons. Because of the futuristic, spiritualistic movies and TV programs being produced, kids today are being raised in an environment where their imaginations are not limited by physical realities. We have always had this in the realm of fairytales, but the intensity and believability is mounting. Only by becoming a Christian can anyone hope to be able to tell where these powers are truly coming from. In the time of Elijah, it was a time of cruelty and open idol worship. Even though he should have known better, Ahab worshiped Baal. Nobody today would be surprised if the head of a modern nation were to announce that he was a follower of one of the new spirit guides.
Who They Really Are
There is nothing in Rev 11:3-12 that says they are returned prophets or that they have the spirit of O.T. prophets in the same way that John the Baptist was identified. We also need to look more closely at the concept of having a spirit of a previous prophet.
Now it came about when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you." And Elisha said, "Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me." (2 Kings 2:9 NASB)
Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho opposite him saw him, they said, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." … (2 Kings 2:15 NASB)
Elisha was given a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. Now it doesn’t say that Elisha received double of the Holy Spirit but of Elijah’s spirit. It is also interesting to note that the other prophets recognized that the spirit of Elijah was resting on Elisha. This is a strong argument, along with Jesus’ statements, that the spirit of a person can be given to another person. I don’t think that this means that Elijah came and took control of Elisha, because they were very different men. Elisha didn’t show any of the fear that Elijah exhibited when he ran from Jezebel. John the Baptist was not Elijah physically nor did he show the fear that Elijah did. We know when he was born and who his parents were. So it is probable that these witnesses are not actually Elijah and Moses, but because of the types of miracles performed, they have been gifted by God to perform the same types of work in the spirit or character of these prophets.
Now some people still argue that these two are physically returned prophets. They say that just as they returned on the mount when Jesus was transfigured, they will return for 1,260 days to witness. This appears to be the theory in the “Left Behind” series. The problem with this theory is that both will die. This isn’t a problem for Elijah because he never died and conceivably, he could still have an opportunity to die. But for Moses, it would mean a second death which contradicts Heb 9:27. So instead of Moses, some people argue that Enoch is the second witness.
And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him. (Gen 5:24 KJV)
In a long list of people, each is said to have died except Enoch. The difference stands out so much that most people believe that he was essentially raptured. Enoch would make a better choice as the other witness than Moses because he apparently never died. While it makes sense that Moses shouldn’t die twice, we have other cases where people died and were brought to life again (Mark 5:41, Luke 7:14, John 11:44, Acts 9:40). Lazarus was raised and died a second time, therefore there is no problem with Moses being brought back to life and dying again – except for one thing; Moses was in another realm, physically as well as spiritually for thousands of years before he appeared on the mountain. All the other examples were temporary deaths with their mortal bodies, which had not yet decayed to dust, being made alive again. With Moses and Elijah appearing on the mount of transfiguration, and then disappearing, it is clear that neither had their old physical bodies.
Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thess 4:17 KJV)
Another argument against the need for Elijah or Enoch to come back and die is the hope that we all have in being here when Jesus returns. Since we will not all die there is no scriptural requirement for Elijah or Enoch to come back physically just to die. This, however, opens up the whole question of just what does Heb 9:27 mean. It means just what it says. The normal course for most people is to die then face judgment. God has His exceptions in the rapture as well as those whom He brought back to life for a period of time before they died a second time.
The rapture does bring up another difficulty. If it occurs before the two witnesses appear and they are indeed Elijah and Moses, then I think they should have transformed bodies as I alluded to earlier. How could they die again? If the rapture occurs after their witnessing period is over, then it would make sense that they too, would come back to life.
Tom, Dick, or Harry
And he said to me, "What do you see?" I said, "I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left." (Zech 4:2-3 ESV)
Then he said to me, "This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zech 4:6 ESV)
Then he said, "These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth." (Zech 4:14 ESV)
These verses apply to the Spirit of God who is supplying the power and ability for His two servants, Zerubbabel and Jeshua, who rebuilt the temple after the Babylonian captivity. Just as these two were anointed to do the work and were the servants of the Lord of the earth, the two witnesses are doing the work of the Lord of the earth to rebuild the spiritual temple of the Church. This may be very necessary because the rapture has already occurred and there are no spiritually mature people left on earth to take this role of leadership for those who believe and accept Christ during the post rapture period.
The two witnesses could be any Tom, Dick, or Harry. They will be two very ordinary people whom God calls and anoints with power to minister with the same strength and power that Elijah and Moses had. They will be like John the Baptist, who was a unique individual, yet Jesus called him Elijah.
The beast that comes out of the abyss is the only one who can overcome the witnesses. This is a spiritual battle unlike any we have ever seen. There are several references to beasts in the book of Revelation. It’s pretty hard to figure them out and determine who is who. However chapter 17 finally identifies this beast as the Anti-Christ. Since there are many references to the beasts and they start in chapter 13, we’ll try to tie them all together then.
The two witnesses are brought to Jerusalem where they will die together. There isn’t anything in these verses that limit their ministry to Jerusalem until they are killed. Jerusalem is identified because it is where Jesus was crucified. Since it is the birthplace of Christianity, is seems very strange to refer to the city as Sodom and Egypt. This probably indicates that the opposing powers Moses had to deal with in Egypt are now centered in Jerusalem along with the source of all sexual perversions that was centered in Sodom. We are informed by these two figurative names that the capital of sin is now in Jerusalem.
O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
They have given the dead bodies of your servants as food to the birds of the air, the flesh of your saints to the beasts of the earth.
They have poured out blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there is no one to bury the dead.
We are objects of reproach to our neighbors, of scorn and derision to those around us. (Ps 79:1-4 NIV)
This psalm gives an indication of the disgust that accompanies the unburied. It is the ultimate disgrace for someone, after they are dead, to have their body left for animals to feed on. To make it even worse, these will make sure that their bodies are displayed to the whole world. This disgrace demonstrates that the world will then think that their troubles are over because the last thing to prick their conscience has been removed. It is possible that there are no more Christians, the two witnesses are dead, now is the time for sin to reign supreme. All semblance of God’s righteousness has been removed from the earth and the wicked are going to party for three and half days.
They stand before God and He gives them special protection and power for 1,260 days. They use the power so dramatically to point to God and bring punishment on the earth that the beast can no longer put up with it. He is the only one who is given permission to kill them. He does this at the end of the 1,260 days of their ministry. I believe that along with them, there will be a wholesale slaughter of Christians if the rapture doesn’t occur at that time or hasn’t already occurred. It will probably happen much as Haman planned for the Jews to be slaughtered in the book of Esther. The celebration by inhabitants of the earth will be unprecedented.
Some believe that unbelievers will be so joyful that they will publicly broadcast the scene of the bodies in the street on worldwide television and also on the Internet. But then God raises them to life and catches them up in the clouds while the world is watching. It sounds a lot like the rapture and could add to the arguments that the rapture occurs at the middle of the tribulation. In opposition to this argument, the precision that has been provided for us about the events would allow us to pinpoint the date of the rapture if this were true. We would be able to date the rapture by finding out when these two start their ministry. When we see them killed, we would know there would only be three and half days until the rapture. This is a good argument that the rapture isn’t coincidental with the resurrection of these witnesses. However, another possibility is that the rapture has already come and this will be an announcement to the world of what the rapture really was.
\The raising of the witnesses is timed to ensure that the whole world knows what is going on. First, it takes three and a half days. By this time a body would probably start to bloat and smell badly. There will be no doubt that they are absolutely dead before they are raised. Everyone will also be able to hear the voice from heaven. Unlike the rapture, they first stand up on their feet. It won’t be in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor 15:52). Everyone will have time to see it and know exactly what has happened. The earthquake is there to ensure that people know what has happened is from God and God alone. The fear of unbelievers will be very great.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11 KJV)
We will see a fulfillment of this verse as everyone who survives the earthquake gives glory to God. The only problem is that it will still not be a saving knowledge of God.
God calls these two guys to minister in a unique way and we get all tied up in knots trying to figure out who they are. We try to fit them into a scriptural box of our own understanding. The thing that I have learned from this is that God has always provided miraculous exceptions in His Word. These two witnesses are good examples. They could be any or all of the people listed above. God is not limited. In His Word, He has described some things that we will never fully understand until we see Him face to face.
So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. (1 Cor 3:7-9 NASU)
This is more important than knowing who the workers are or when the rapture occurs. Just as these two witnesses are faithful to their calling, even knowing they will die at the hands of the Anti-Christ, let us be faithful to the work to which He has called us.