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Confusion reigns when it comes to interpreting the Book of Revelation, especially over the speculation to the identity of the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11…

And what’s at stake is the entire credibility of the Bible!

written Dr Andrew Corbett pastor of Legana Christian Church in Tasmania, Australia

I was listening to a well-known Texan radio preacher declare that very soon the whole world was going to be thrust into turmoil with the rise of a global dictator (known as the “Anti-christ”, according to this preacher) who will establish a one-world government and begin the greatest era of persecution against Jewish people ever witnessed. I used to regard this type of teaching as irrelevant guess-work, but I now regard this “theology” as incredibly toxic and dangerous. Then to my horror he went on to announce that this dictator would be challenged by two revitalised witnesses who would capture the attention of the whole world by their prophesying and miraculous powers – even being publicly slain then resurrected! There are of course millions of Christians who have innocently accepted this new theology without ever realising that this is an impossible interpretation of Revelation 11.

Firstly, the assumption that Revelation prophesies a world dictator is false. I elaborate on this in my article about the identity of the character behind 666. But I would encourage the reader to consider the text in Revelation 13 and search for any prediction about a “one-world government”. I would also point out to the reader that the Beast from the Sea is not the same beast who numbers people with the 666 seal. I would also invite investigation into the contents of Revelation for the term ‘Anti-christ’ as well as ‘one world government’. Then consider the fact that John the Apostle told his original audience that they could identify the person whose number was 666 via gematria (the adding of the value of each letter in a person’s name). It was well known to the audience of Revelation who this person was. He is identified as the person behind the fifth seal who launches State martyrdom of the Church (Rev. 6:9) and as the ‘sixth’ king in the succession of kings in Revelation 17:10 – that is he is the 6th king of Rome.

The Texan preacher implied that the two witnesses would be Old Testament characters who would miraculously appear in the “last days” to challenge this coming Antichrist. These figures are variously supposed to be Enoch, or Elijah, or even Moses. The Bible identifies these two witnesses as the “two lampstands” or the “two olive trees” (Zechariah 4:3, 10, 11; Revelation 11:4). Rather than assuming that Zechariah was prophesying the return of two pre-existing characters, perhaps we should understand that these were meant to taken as two people yet to come.

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

The context of Zechariah seems to refer to Zerubbabel and Joshua as the two in question.

For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day.
Zech. 3:9

Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ ”
Zech. 4:7

The Lord had previously described Israel as an olive tree (Jer. 11:16) and the two Houses of Israel as His witnesses. Therefore the two witnesses were representatives of the Jews and, because takes place in the covenant (and they are bearing witness for Christ) Christians. This could have either been leaders from Ephraim (Israel) and Judah (the southern tribes) or of the Kingly line and the Priestly line (as indicated in Zechariah).

Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.”
Revelation 11:1

This is one of the clearest indications that Revelation could not have been written in the 90s of the first century. Since the temple and its furnishings were destroyed in A.D. 70 it would have been impossible for John to have measured it in 95AD! Since the prophetic statements about the Romans’ 42 month occupation of Jerusalem (Rev. 11:2) are so accurate, some liberal scholars have dared to suggest that Revelation was actually written in 95AD and was really history dressed up to sound like prophecy! But the jury is back and the A.D. 95 date for Revelation’s authorship is now considered impossible.

The scene of the sounding of the seventh trumpet involves our two witnesses. To some, their identity remains a mystery. Some have suggested that James the Just, the stepbrother of Christ aptly fits the description of at least one of the witnesses. Others have suggested that it refers to Moses and Elijah (since they were present at the Transfiguration of Christ, and performed the miracles ascribed to the two witnesses.) Still others claim that death must be made complete for Enoch and Elijah, so they must be the two witnesses. Again we must tear ourselves away from such speculation and anchor our hermeneutics to the principle of Scripture interprets Scripture.

But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months
Revelation 11:2

The forty-two months is most naturally associated with the historic Roman occupation of Jerusalem which commenced in 66AD. This is supported by the statement in Revelation 13:5 where the Roman Beast speaks against the “Tabernacle” for forty-two months. The twelve hundred and sixty days however, while also equivalent to three and a half years is distinguished from the Gentile occupation of Jerusalem (Rev. 11:3) because this was also the period of time when Rome waged war on the Church (Rev. 12:6). Therefore, we are dealing with the two witnesses ministering during the time of persecution against the Church, not the occupation of Jerusalem

I will be like the dew to Israel;
He shall grow like the lily,
And lengthen his roots like Lebanon.
(6) His branches shall spread;
His beauty shall be like an olivetree,
And his fragrance like Lebanon.
Hosea 14:5-6

Of course, Paul refers to Israel’s being as an Olive Tree as well (Romans 11:17-24). These two witnesses although spoken of as two individuals, represented believers. No empire has to “make war against” two individuals.

When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them.
Revelation 11:7

The Two Witnesses, which are described as the Olive Trees and the Two Lampstands can therefore only be Jewish Christians who were literally witnesses to Christ in the sense of having physically seen Him, and perhaps most importantly being prepared to lay down their lives for Him. It’s this latter aspect of the term witness that is recurring throughout the Book of Revelation. The Greek word for witness is martus from where we get the English word martyr. The Law required that a testimony be established on at least two witnesses.

Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness.
Deuteronomy 17:6

During the three and a half year campaign of State eradication, the Romans thought that they would wipe out the Christians from the Empire.

The event that sparked official persecutions, however, was the fire of Rome, beginning on July 19 of a.d. 64. That holocaust, which lasted for nine days and gutted ten of the fourteen districts of the city, brought untold suffering to a population of about one million. Some of Nero’s enemies circulated a report that he had started the fire. The charge was probably untrue, but Nero diverted attention from himself by making scapegoats out of the Christian community in Rome. The penalty suffered by many of the supposed incendiaries was burning at the stake at night to light the gardens near Nero’s circus in the Vaticanus section of Rome. Some were crucified and others thrown to wild beasts or mad dogs. Paul suffered martyrdom at the hands of Nero; Peter is said to have suffered the same fate.
Howard Frederic Vos, Exploring church history [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1994 by Howard F. Vos.

Thousands of Jewish Christians were martyred in the period between the Day of Pentecost and the Destruction of Jerusalem. This period seems to be described in Revelation as equating to “three and a half days” (half of 7 – a number which symbolically means ‘complete’ – and therefore 3½ means ‘incomplete’) . The two witnesses are described as being dead for three and half days, and particularly in the city where the Lord Himself was killed: Sodom and Egypt.

And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves.
Revelation 11:8-9

This would seem to pinpoint the prophetic arrival of the two witnesses in the past, not our future, because they witness in a Jerusalem where the Temple still exists. At the end of the 1260 day persecution against the Church (AD64 – AD66), the 42 month assault on Jerusalem began (AD66 – AD70). With the beginning of the prophesied terrible Day of the Lord coming upon Jerusalem, the two witnesses would be vindicated. Since 7 represents complete, 3½ thus represents incomplete. Rome had no been able to completely destroy the Church during the time of these two witnesses! 

Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.
Revelation 11:11

Josephus notes that at this time terrible manifestations began-

…for there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continual lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and anyone would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.
The Works of Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter 4, Section 5

I suggest that Biblically, historically, and evidentially, the two witnesses prophesied in the Book of Revelation were the former sceptical opponents of Christ turned Biblical authors, James and Jude. The historical record about the attempted, then complete, martyrdom of James, the Lord’s brother, is uncannily reminiscent of what we are told would happen in Revelation 11. 

 

Because these two witnesses have already come and gone just as Revelation prophesied, there is great danger to the credibility of the preaching of the Gospel to claiming that they are yet future and developing an enitirely fanciful array of speculation to match.

From the ministry of these two witnesses we see that Christ will ultimately triumph despite those who oppose Him. We see that God will and does empower His servants to be witnesses. We also see that faithfulness under pressure matters a lot.

Let’s not be supposing that Christianity is about escaping from this world and leaving its inhabitants “to go to hell”. This is the great danger of the kind of teaching promoted by the Texan radio preacher. On the contrary Christians should be socially engaged, environmentally engaged, politically engaged, and theeologically engaged. We should be a two-fold witness by both fulfilling the Great Commission – preaching the Good News about God’s love through Christ, and carrying out the good works that flow from the Gospel to help the poor, needy, and underprivileged. This would be a great application of the two witnesses of Revelation for today!

Consider that there are two New Testament books written by two men who are eminently qualified as unique witnesses of Christ. They spent at least two decades more with Christ than any of the 12 Disciples. The account of how they died is remarkable and matches what Revelation said about their pending deaths.

 Andrew Corbett, November 15th 2006

————–

The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible, eBook, by Dr. Andrew Corbett

The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible, eBook, by Dr. Andrew Corbett

I have written a fuller explanation of the book of Revelation in my eBook- THE MOST EMBARRASSING BOOK IN THE BIBLE (click here to read a preview).

Amen.

5 Comments

  1. John miller

    I’m sorry but two college degrees and a bible institute stent didn’t help me at all to understand who more than one of your two witnesses would be…I’m ok with the church being one of them…the other is still a mystery. John from Glandorf

    Reply
  2. Luke Wagner

    “Because these two witnesses have already come and gone just as Revelation prophesied, there is great danger to the credibility of the preaching of the Gospel to claiming that they are yet future and developing an enitirely fanciful array of speculation to match.”
    Scripture does not agree with the above statement. Rev 8:13 indicates that three woes are associated with the last three Trumpets, 5-7. The first woe is the opening of the bottomless pit.
    Revelation 9:11-12 KJVS
    [11] And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon. [12] One woe is past; and , behold, there come two woes more hereafter.
    The second woe is the great earthquake in Jerusalem following the resurrection of the two witnesses.
    Revelation 11:13-15 KJVS
    [13] And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven. [14] The second woe is past; and , behold, the third woe cometh quickly. [15] And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
    If you notice, verse 15 is the gathering of the Saints unto the Lord, and the finishing of the mystery of God, Rev 10:7. That mystery is Christ in you the hope of glory, Col 1:27. Study the relevant verses in the NT with the word mystery in them. The mystery of God is the hidden wisdom of God. Back to the woes. The third woe is when Satan is cast down to earth, Rev 12:12, following the man child being caught up to God and His throne, Rev 12:5. Perhaps you can show me in the past when the bottomless pit has been opened. The three woes as they unfold in the book Revelation narrative, demands a literal, linear chronological timeframe in the 8th through 12th chapters. And since the mystery of God being finished at the sounding of the seventh trumpet is associated with the third woe. And the third woe follows quickly after the second, Rev 11:14, how can the two witnesses not be in the future?

    Reply
    • Andrew Corbett

      Thank you Luke for your comment and question. I can see that you love the Scriptures. You will notice that the time-frame references in the first 19 chapters of the Book of Revelation uses language such as, “now”, “at hand”, “this hour”. The original audience of Revelation were told that “with wisdom” they could understand what was written. There is also a strong case to be made, which I do in my book ‘The Most Embarrassing Verse In The Bible’, for Matthew 24 (The Olivet Discourse) parallels Revelation chapters 1 to 19. In this discourse, Christ specifically states that “this generation” will witness the events of what Christ was prophesying.
      There is a good case to be made from history that these three woes have indeed been fulfilled, which I make in my book, ‘The Most Embarrassing Book In The Bible (Understanding The Book of Revelation)’.

      Reply
  3. Luke Wagner

    Andrew, nice to hear from you. I would like your take on this verse.
    Matthew 24:21 KJVS
    [21] For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.
    A question comes to mind concerning this verse in the context of prophecy. Is the great tribulation referred to in the verse pointing to the Roman and Jewish war and the destruction of the Temple in 70AD, or the tribulation yet to come? The verse is talking about the degree of severity exceeding what took place in the past and in the future. Can the verse be used to determine what tribulation it is pointing to? I suppose that depends on the prophetic view of our Lord when he spoke the words. Also Apostle Peter, Paul and Jude warned the elect not to get involved with the growing rebellion towards Rome and urged them to depart Israel,
    2 Peter 2:10 KJVS
    [10] But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they , selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.
    Jude 1:8 KJVS
    [8] Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.

    Reply
    • Andrew Corbett

      Luke, the siege of Jerusalem lasted from 66AD to 70AD which was 42 months, or 1260 days. According to Josephus, 2.7million Jews were slaughtered in Jerusalem alone at this time. He describes the blood from the massacring flowing as high as a horse’s bridle under the gates of Jerusalem. The War on the Jews technically started with the revolt in Caesarea around 65AD, which prompted Nero to order General Cestius in to crush the rebellion which ultimately led to the siege of Jerusalem, but not before all the Christians fled the city when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by the Roman armies. Indeed, Jerusalem had never seen such tribulation as this on this scale previously, or for that matter, since.

      Reply

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