3 Views on the Identity of the 2 Witnesses in Revelation 11

December 7, 2015 — 2 Comments

Among some of the most difficult books of the Bible to understand is the book of Revelation. Among the most difficult chapters of the Bible to understand is Revelation 11 and the two witnesses described in 11:1-13. In this paper there will be a brief exposition of Rev 11:1-13, an explanation of the common views of Rev 11, and then a position for the most likely view.

(This post is part of a series I am sharing on the book of Revelation. Here’s my other post: Why Revelation 3:20 Is an Invitation to Believers.)

3 Options for the Identity of the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11

Photo Credit: Phillip Medhurst Collection

I. A BRIEF EXPOSITION OF REVELATION 11:1-13

Rev 11 is part of the parenthetical section that began in Rev 10:1. This parenthetical section is a brief interlude (signaled by the summary statement of the sixth trumpet in Rev 9:20-21) between the sixth and seventh trumpet. The two witnesses[1] are introduced in Rev 11:3, “I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will be clothed in burlap and will prophesy during those 1,260 days” (NLT).[2] These witnesses are prophesying for 42 months (1,260 days if 30 days are in a month). This is a reference to the 42 months mentioned in verse two as part of the seven year Great Tribulation period. It is important to notice that these are two prophetic voices for the future as indicated by δώσω “I will give” and προφητεθσσιν “they will prophesy.” Who are these two witnesses? Revelation 11 says that they are two olive trees and two lampstands which stand before the Lord of all the earth (11:4). This is a reference to Zerubbabel and Joshua[3] which were mentioned Zech 4:2-14. In this prophesy the two olive trees “represent the two who are anointed to serve the LORD of all the earth.”[4]

If anyone tries to harm these two witnesses fire flashes from their mouths. It consumes their enemies, and those enemies die (11:5, 10). Based on the text the witnesses are sent to prophesy and only inflict harm on others when others try to harm them. The two witnesses will have power to shut the sky so that no rain falls during their prophesies (11:6). Power over the rain and dew has only been exhibited by Elijah (1 Kings 17:1) and God.  Whether heavenly or earthly beings, these two witnesses are given some level of authority over God’s creation. Their power over God’s creation is also seen in how they will have the power to turn rivers and oceans into blood (11:6). The ability to turn water into blood was only seen by Moses and Aaron during their interactions with Pharaoh of Egypt (Exod 7:19-20). Furthermore, the witnesses will be able to strike the earth as often as they want with every kind of plague (11:6).

The main job of these two witnesses will be to prophesy (11:3) and testify (11:7). Once that testimony is complete they will be killed by the beast that comes up out of the bottomless pit (11:7). Because these two witnesses are killed they cannot be God but instead some type of his created being. The beast that comes up out of the bottomless pit is the Antichrist which is mentioned nine other times in Revelation (13:1; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 17:3, 13; 19:20; 20:10).

After the death of the two witnesses their bodies will lie in the main street of Jerusalem for three and a half days (11:8-9a). During those three and a half days all the peoples, tribes, languages, and nations will stare at the bodies of the two witnesses, yet no one will be allowed to bury them (11:9). This indicates that the witnesses have bodies in the physical sense because those bodies will lay in the street and were seen by people (11:8). All the people who belong to this world will gloat over the deaths of the two witnesses by giving presents to each other as a way to celebrate the death of the two witnesses (11:10).

Yet, after those three and a half days God will breathe life into the two witnesses and they will stand up (11:11). When the two witnesses stand up terror strike all the people who were staring at them (11:11). Next a loud voice from heaven will call the two witnesses, “Come up here.” Then the two witnesses will rise to heaven as their enemies watch (11:13).  At the same time there will be a terrible earthquake which destroys 10 percent of the city and 7,000 people will die. Those that do not die will be terrified and gave glory to God of heaven (11:13).

II. 3 COMMON VIEWS ON THE IDENTITY OF THE 2 WITNESSES

A. Moses and Elijah

What appears to be the most common view on the identity of these two witnesses is that they will be Moses and Elijah. [5] This view sees Moses and Elijah as God’s messengers representing the Jewish Christian community until the end of history. [6]

1. Support for this View

The signs and wonders in Rev 11:5-6 do appear to match the works and miracles of Moses and Elijah (as referenced above). Elijah called down fire from heaven (1 Kings 1:10) and he shut off rain from heaven (1 Kings 17:1). Moses turned water into blood and struck the earth with plagues (Exod 7:14-11:10). In addition to their works matching the two witnesses, the prophet Malachi predicted the return of Elijah (Mal 4:5) and Moses predicted a prophet like himself would come in the future (Deut 18:15, 18). Furthermore, as mentioned above, the two people transfigured with Christ on the Mount of Olives were Moses and Elijah (Matt 17:3; Mark 9:4; Luke 9:30). Lastly, the mysteries of Moses’ death (Deut 34:5-6; Jude 9) and Elijah’s disappearance from the earth (2 Kings 2:11) might corroborate with these two witnesses in the future.[7]

2. Objections to this View

John the Baptist fulfilled Malachi’s prophesy about the return of Elijah (Matt 11:14; Mark 9:11-13). Moses did die (Deut 34:5-6), which means Moses would have to die twice if he will be one of the witnesses. While the two witnesses are similar to Moses and Elijah this does not mean they are the same persons.[8]

B. Enoch and Elijah

Similar to the view that the two witnesses will be Moses and Elijah is the view that the two witnesses will be Enoch and Elijah. The basis for this view is that neither of these men died during their life in the Old Testament.

1. Support for this View

The Old Testament is clear that both Enoch (Gen 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11) were taken to heaven before their deaths. However, the New Testament also says that all men must die (Heb 9:27) so some believe these two men have to return at some point in the future. Additionally, 1 Enoch 90:31 and 4 Ezra 6:26 referred to a ministry that Enoch and Elijah would have that is similar to the description of the two witnesses in Rev 11:1-13.[9]

2. Objections to this View

Not everyone has to die because people who are alive when the LORD returns will not physically die (1 Thes 4:17). This means that saints alive at the end of the Tribulation will enter the Millennial Kingdom without ever having to die.[10]

C. The Church

Another view of the identity of the two witnesses is that they are the Church. People who hold this view see the two witnesses as the “True Church” and the “Word of God” who faithfully bear testimony.[11]

1. Support for this View

Support for this view is based on the idea that the beast would not likely make a war against just two people (Rev 11:7), but instead he would make war against a large army.[12] This interpretation is based on the two witnesses being connected to the lampstands (Rev 11:4) as symbols for the church earlier in the book of Revelation (Rev 1:20; 2:1).

2. Objections to this View

First, only people can wear burlap or sackcloth (Rev 11:3). The text also leads the reader to believe that these two witnesses will have distinct and individual identities and powers (11:5-6). Lastly, if the two witnesses were the church then it would mean that the church experiences martyrdom; therefore there would be no one left to populate the Millennium.[13]

III. CONCLUSION ON THE IDENTITY OF THE TWO WITNESSES

While a brief exposition of Rev 11:1-13 has been shared along with the three most popular views of the witnesses’ identities, no conclusion can be provided. While there are connections and allusions of these two witnesses to the 6,500 years of past history in the Bible, there is no clear indication of who these two witnesses will be in the future history. Similar to John Walvood, this author believes, “While there is room for considerable discussion of these various views, the fact is that the passage does not identify the two witnesses, and they probably do not have historic identification.”[14]

Endnotes

[1] A possible connection and support for the idea of two witnesses comes from the requirement of two witnesses for legal testimony in order to secure a conviction according to the Mosaic Law. See Deut 17:6; 19:5; Numb 35:30; cf. Heb 10:28.

[2] For the sake of clarity this author refers to these people beings as “witnesses” throughout this paper. However, they are called “witnesses” only in 11:3, then are called “prophets” in 11:4, 10, 12 according to the New Living Translation.

[3] John Walvood “Revelation” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 956.

[4] Duane Lindsey, “Zechariah” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1556.

[5] M. Robert Mulholland, “Revelation,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2011), 18:496.

[6] C. Marvin Pate, “A Progressive Dispensationalist View of Revelation” in Four Views on the Book of Revelation, edited by Stanley Gundry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan: 1998), 169-170.

[7] Robert Thomas, Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995), 89-90.

[8] Ibid., 89-90.

[9] Ibid., 88.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Henry Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook, 24th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1965), 721.

[12] Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 87-88.

[13] Ibid, 87-88.

[14] John F. Walvood “Revelation” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, 956.

 

RESOURCES I USED IN THIS POST

Halley, Henry. Halley’s Bible Handbook. 24th ed. Grand Rapids, MI: 1965.

Lindsey, F. Duane. “Zechariah.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Marvin Pate, C. Marvin. “A Progressive Dispensationalist View of Revelation.” In Four Views on the Book of Revelation. Edited by Stanley Gundry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan: 1998.

Mulholland, M. Robert. “Revelation.” Vol. 18 of the Cornerstone Biblical Commentary. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2011.

Thomas, Robert. Revelation 8-22: An Exegetical Commentary. Chicago, IL: Moody, 1995.

Walvoord, John F. “Revelation.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Christopher L. Scott

Posts Twitter Facebook Google+

Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I also may have received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

  • Thanks Christopher for putting this together. Keeping it for future reference.

    • Glad it was helpful. Next week I will post on the identity of Babylon in Rev. 17-18.