The Two Witnesses
The two witnesses will prophesy for 1260 days (Rev 11:3). What is the ministry of the two witnesses? Will they prophesy during the first or second half of the Tribulation Period? Is it possible to determine who the two witnesses could be?
The Ministry of the Two Witnesses
Zechariah refers to two olive trees, to two anointed ones that stand beside the Lord of the whole earth (Zech 4:3, 14). In Revelation 11:4, the two witnesses are described as the ‘two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth’. The situation is similar but not quite the same: in Zechariah 4:2 and 4:11 there is only one lampstand, but in Revelation 11:4 there are two lampstands (cf. Hocking 2014:379). It appears that the two witnesses of Revelation 11 will have a ministry similar to what Joshua and Zerubbabel had in the days of Zechariah (see Zech 4:3). When the Jewish remnant returned from Babylon, God used Joshua and Zerubbabel as two witnesses to call Israel back to God and to restore the Jews to their land (cf. Thomas 1995:89). God gave Joshua and Zerubbabel the authority to sacrifice on an altar even before the temple had been rebuilt (Whitcomb 2011). The two witnesses will similarly minister in the Tribulation Period, probably on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and with God’s protection (cf. Rev 11:5).
God will give authority to the two witnesses to prophesy for 1260 days in the Tribulation period (Rev 11:3). The two witnesses will be clothed in sackcloth, implying that they will call upon people to repent of sin and to turn to God (cf. Rev 11:3). People will want to do harm to the witnesses, but God will give them the power to protect themselves (cf. Rev 11:5). “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zech 4:6b). The authority that God will give to the two witnesses is reminiscent of what happened in the ministries of Moses and Elijah:
- The two witnesses will devour their enemies with fire proceeding from their mouths (Rev 11:5a). Previously, God destroyed the enemies of Elijah with fire from heaven (2 Ki 1:9–15).
- The two witnesses will have the power to shut heaven so that no rain will fall in the days of their prophecy, which will be 1260 days, or 3,5 years (Rev 11:6a). 1 Kings 17:1–7 and James 5:17 record that Elijah prayed, and it did not rain for 3,5 years, or 1260 days.
- The two witnesses will also have power to turn waters into blood and to strike the earth with all kinds of plagues as often as they desire (Rev 11:6b). This is something which God performed through Moses in Egypt, turning water into blood and striking the earth with plagues (cf. Ex 7:17–11:10).
At a specific stage in history, the testimony of the two witnesses will be completed (Rev 11:7a). Only then will the antichrist be able to kill them, but God will raise the two witnesses from the dead after 3,5 days and take them to heaven (Rev 11:11–12).
When will the Two Witnesses Minister?
The two witnesses are likely to perform their ministry during the first half of the Tribulation Period and complete it in the middle of the Tribulation Period (cf. Fruchtenbaum 2004:231). The antichrist will not ascend from the bottomless pit at the end of the second half of the Tribulation Period, but rather he will emerge from the abyss in the middle of the Tribulation Period — and then kill the two witnesses (cf. Rev 11:7). This implies that the two witnesses will perform their ministry during the first half of the Tribulation Period. Further, shortly after the death of the two witnesses, the antichrist will enter the temple in Jerusalem, pretend to be God (2 Thes 2:4), and when the Jews see the abomination of desolation standing in the temple, then those in Jerusalem and Judea must immediately flee to the mountains (cf. Mat 24:15–22). It would be strange if the two witnesses did not flee from Jerusalem as well — again suggesting that the ministry of the two witnesses will take place during the first half of the Tribulation Period.
If the two witnesses were to perform their ministry during the second half of the Tribulation Period, the implication is that the antichrist will kill them at the end of the Tribulation Period and that people will then give gifts to each other (cf. Rev 11:9–10). However, the battle of Armageddon will take place at the end of the second half of the Tribulation Period and, when Christ returns, then He will cast the antichrist into the lake of fire (cf. Rev 19:20). Then there will not be any celebration for the murder of the two witnesses. Furthermore, the antichrist will rule as a tyrant over the earth during the second half of the Tribulation Period. During that time period, people will ask, “Who is able to make war against him [the antichrist]?” (Rev 13:4b). Whitcomb (2011) rightly states that if the two witnesses minister during the second half of the Tribulation Period — and God will give them the authority to devour their enemies with fire — then this question cannot reasonably be asked at that stage.
For the above reasons, I believe the two witnesses will perform their ministry during the first half of the Tribulation Period.
Who are the Two Witnesses?
The Bible does not say who the two witnesses of Revelation 11 will be. Much of what the two witnesses will do in the future reminds one of what Elijah and Moses did in the past. Furthermore, Moses and Elijah were with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, probably as representatives of the Law and the Prophets (cf. Mat 17:1–8). There is no doubt that “Elijah is coming first, and will restore all things” in Israel (Mat 17:11) — for John the Baptist did not restore all things (Scholtz 2016:9). The last prophecy of Malachi is clear, but perhaps one should also emphasize verse 4: ‘Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse’ (Mal 4:4–6). If I must speculate, then my speculation is that Moses and Elijah will be the two witnesses.
The two witnesses will play an important role in the end times. They will prophesy in Jerusalem (Rev 11:8) for 1260 days, probably from the Temple Mount. They will call on Israel and the nations to repent, for the kingdom of heaven will then be near (cf. Mat 4:17; 24:14). It is possible that the two witnesses’ proclamation of the gospel will lead to the salvation of the 144 000 Jewish men who will likewise proclaim the gospel of the kingdom during the Tribulation Period (cf. Mat 10:16–42; 24:14; McClain 1959:458). Only when the two witnesses have completed their testimony will the antichrist be able to kill them, but 3,5 days later God will raise the two witnesses from the dead and they will ascend into heaven.
Fruchtenbaum, A.G., 2004, The Footsteps of the Messiah, Ariel Ministries, Tustin.
Hocking, D., 2014, The Book of Revelation: Understanding the Future, Hope For Today Publications, Tustin.
McClain, A.J., 1959, The Greatness of the Kingdom, BMH Books, Winona Lake.
Scholtz, J.J., 2016a, ‘One Messiah, Two Advents, Three Forerunners: The Chiastic Structure of Matthew 11:2–17:13’, In die Skriflig 50(1), a2125. Available at: https://indieskriflig.org.za/index.php/skriflig/article/view/2125/3818
Thomas, R.L., 1992, Revelation 1–7: An Exegetical Commentary, Moody Press, Chicago.
Whitcomb, J.C., 2011, ‘The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11’, The Pre–Trib Research Centre. Available at: www.pre-trib.org/articles/dr-john-whitcomb/message/the-two-witnesses-first-or-second-half-of-the-tribulation/read
Woods, A.M., 2019, ‘Not by Might nor Power’, Sugar Land Bible Church.
Sermon available at: https://slbc.org/sermon/revelation-032-not-by-might-nor-power/
Thanks to photographer Ocean Ng for sharing their work on Unsplash.