According to William Barclay, the eleventh chapter of Revelation “is at one and the same time the most difficult and the most important chapter in the Revelation” (2:65). This chapter is part of that second interval or parenthesis (10:1-11:13) which concludes with the sounding of the seventh trumpet (third woe). This particular judgment covers the rest of Daniel’s Seventieth Week and anticipates the return of Christ and the setting up of His kingdom.
John was given a rod and told to measure the temple and altar, but to exclude the outer court as it was to be given to the Gentiles (nations) to be trampled under foot for forty-two months or the last three-and-one-half years of the seven-year tribulation period. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus warned: “And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” The “Times of the Gentiles” began under the rule of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 606 B.C. and will end with the return of Christ at His Second Advent. Note also that the restored temple mentioned here in Revelation chapter eleven would be the same one that the Antichrist or beast enters and desecrates in the midst of the tribulation week (Matthew 24:15; 2 Thess. 2:4).
The two witnesses will prophesy for a period of 1,260 days or 42 months. Some believe this will take place in the first half of the tribulation period, whereas, some Bible scholars view the two witnesses as prophesying in the last half of Daniel’s Seventieth Week. I believe that the 144,000 Jews will be converted through the preaching of these two witnesses during the first half of the tribulation period. The preaching of the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 24:14) by the 144,000 will result in the salvation of the blood-washed multitude of Gentile believers (Rev. 7:9-17) who attribute their salvation to God and the Lamb and are a direct result of the ministry of these 144,000 Jewish missionaries.
The “two olive trees” mentioned in verse four are described in Zechariah chapters four and five and portray Zerubbabel and Joshua, the governor and high priest who were anointed by the Holy Spirit to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple after the Babylonian captivity. Clarence Larkin comments: “Zerubbabel and Joshua are types of the ‘TWO WITNESSES’ whose work it will be to proclaim that the time has come to rebuild Jerusalem and re-establish the Temple worship, for the ‘KINGDOM OF HEAVEN’ is at hand” (87).
But who is this dynamic duo that witness during the tribulation hour? Some believe they are the church, some the two testaments of the Bible, and others think they represent the law and the gospel. But these two individuals speak and perform miracles and are killed by the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit. After lying in the streets of Jerusalem for three and one-half days without burial, they are then brought back to life and ascend to heaven in a cloud of glory.
Those who hold a literal view believe that the two witnesses are either Enoch and Elijah or Moses and Elijah. John Walvoord has a different view in that he states: “It seems far preferable to regard these two witnesses as two prophets who will be raised up from among those who turn to Christ in the time following the rapture” (179). Merrill F. Unger adds: “Although the two witnesses are commonly identified as Moses and Enoch or Moses and Elijah, such identifications are unlikely since both of the witnesses are killed and resurrected, something which could not be true of these OT prophets as glorified men (Mt 17:3). These witnesses are evidently two members of the latter-day remnant” (661). These are points that are well taken, and ones which we must answer, but first let’s take a closer look at each of the individuals that we’ve discussed above.
Some view Enoch as a likely candidate for one of the two witnesses in that he never died before he was translated to be with God. This would, of course, be in line with the general rule of Hebrews 9:27: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” But we must remember that this is a general rule of Scripture and not necessarily binding to all of God’s Word. Many were resuscitated in the Old and New Testament only to die again (1 Kgs. 17:17-22; 2 Kgs. 4:32-35; 2 Kgs. 13:20, 21; Matt. 9:23-25; Luke 7:11-15; John 11:43, 44; Acts 9:36-40). In fact, there will be one generation of believers that will not experience death. They will be raptured out before the Antichrist arises and the tribulation hour begins (1 Thess. 4:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:51-52).
Enoch was a Gentile; therefore, many believe that he would not represent Israel during this time period. Actually Enoch better typifies the church in that he was translated before the flood, which is a picture of the judgment of God during the tribulation. Moses and his family represent the Jewish remnant that will be sealed and preserved during this final holocaust to form the nucleus of a new society in the millennial kingdom.
Elijah is the most likely of those we have discussed so far as being one of the two witnesses. He was translated without dying (2 Kgs. 2:1-11), although we found that this wasn’t necessarily a criterion for being one of the two witnesses. He commanded the rain to be withheld for three and one-half years (1 Kgs. 17:1; Luke 4:25; James 5:17-18). He performed many miracles and was predicted to return before the day of the Lord to prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming (Mal. 3:1-3; 4:5-6).
Yet many argue that John the Baptist fulfilled what Jesus spoke concerning Elijah in Matthew 11:14 and Matthew 17:12. Lehman Strauss comments: “But the objectors to Elijah being one of the witnesses have evidently failed to see that Christ’s statement that John was Elijah was based on a contingency, namely, ‘if ye will receive it’ [the kingdom] (Matthew 11:14). But they rejected the offered kingdom (Matthew 17:12), therefore John is excluded from being the one to fulfill the prophecy” (215). Therefore if the Jews had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their Messiah, then John the Baptist would have been Elijah and Jesus would have returned at that time to set up the impending kingdom spoken of by all the Old Testament prophets. The kingdom was then postponed by their failure to recognize Jesus as their Messiah. The Holy Spirit is now gathering His bride (the church during this dispensation of grace) while the bridegroom is in the “far country” waiting to return. The last opportunity for the Jews to have received the kingdom was in the seventh chapter of The Acts of the Apostles where we see the Lord Jesus “standing” ready to return to take possession of the kingdom. By their stoning of Stephen the Jews forfeited their last opportunity to fulfill their long-awaited dreams and desires.
The second most prominent choice for one of the two witnesses is Moses. He was the one who turned the water into blood (Ex. 7:14-18) and smote the earth with plagues. It was Elijah the greatest of the Old Testament prophets and Moses the supreme lawgiver who appeared to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:4).
After the two witnesses have finished their witness for 1,260 days the beast, who has now gained worldwide control, will kill them and allow their bodies to lie in the streets of Jerusalem for three and one-half-days. J. Vernon McGee notes: “It is likened unto Sodom by Isaiah (see Isa. 1:10). It is called Egypt because the world has entered into every fiber of its life—social and political. It is conclusively identified as Jerusalem by the sad designation, ‘where also their Lord was crucified’”(5:982). The world will celebrate the deaths of these two prophets who had tormented them by sending gifts to one another.
Not too many years ago Bible scholars wondered how people from all over the world would be able to view these two witnesses lying dead in the streets of Jerusalem. This is one of the many signs that we are living in the last days and are the “generation” that will witness the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only in our time has this been possible.
After three and one-half days the world will be startled when the two witnesses stand on their feet and are beckoned from heaven by a great voice saying, “Come up hither” (Rev. 11:12). The two witnesses then ascend to heaven in a cloud, which causes great fear to fall upon all those who have witnessed the event. Just as no one was able to hinder the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, none will hinder the two witnesses from completing their task. This is a great comfort today for those who are obedient servants of God in that we are immortal until our work is done.
This parenthetical section between the sixth and seventh trumpet closes with a great earthquake in the city of Jerusalem, which causes a tenth part of it to fall and seven thousand prominent men to be killed. In light of these events a remnant of those remaining give glory to the God of heaven. This does not guarantee their salvation, only that they acknowledge the power of God.
By this point over one-half of the population of the world has been decimated during the tribulation through the seal and trumpet judgments alone. There is little wonder that Jesus stated: “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matt. 24:22).