The Two Witnesses

Posted: January 30, 2011 in Revelation

Revelation 11:1-14, “The Two Witnesses”

Ask yourself a question today: do you trust God?  Do you really trust God in every circumstance?  It’s doubtful that a single person among us (myself included) can give a 100% answer 100% of the time.  There are days all of us have at least a twinge of a doubt when life circumstances fall apart.  Yet it’s when life falls apart that we need to affirm our trust in God the most.  We need to know that even in the most dire of circumstances God is still in control & He’s going to work all things for His good & His glory.  We see a vivid illustration of this in Revelation 11.

In Ch 10, we saw that in the midst of chaos (almost literal examples of Hell-on-earth), God is still in control.  Jesus is the one with authority & victory over the earth & sea – He would be coming soon – and He still had much to share with the world.  Although the scenery of the vision changes, the basic message stays the same as this interlude in the action carries over to Ch 11.  God is still absolutely in control, as shown through the ministry, death, and resurrection of two witnesses.  Though it will appear for a time that God is powerless, God will show Himself to be anything but that as He demonstrates His power & authority in the most visible of ways.  God’s glory will be known – both to the city of Jerusalem & to all the earth.

Revelation 11:1-14 (NKJV)
1 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.

  1. Great indication this is referring to a literal temple.  Obviously the NT shows that the Church is itself the temple of the Holy Spirit…and with the physical temple in Jerusalem destroyed in 70AD, it might be tempting to spiritualize this teaching away into some statement about the Church.  Yet how could the spiritual temple of the Church be physically measured?  The angel’s instructions to John necessitate a literal physical temple – one that can be measured.
    1. Be careful about spiritualizing the text!  Although we must interpret symbolism where symbolism is obvious, when the plain reading is clear, we’ve got to stick with the plain reading of Scripture.  The danger otherwise?  Every one becomes his/her own standard of interpretation.  What might be spiritually obvious to you is not spiritually obvious to someone else…all interpretation becomes subjective & relative at that point.  The primary goal in Biblical interpretation is to determine what GOD wanted the text to say when He inspired it to be written.  That can only be done when we look at the text for what it plainly states.
  2. Prophetically speaking, this is huge.  Keep in mind that the Apostle John received the visions of Revelation while he was on the Isle of Patmos & did not write the book until around 90-95AD.  Historians & the early Church Fathers (primarily Irenaeus) confirm this overwhelmingly.  This means that John wrote the book of Revelation after the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70AD.  For John to write he was to measure the temple was to write of a temple that was still yet-to-be rebuilt.  John was having a vision of a future temple…and he knew it.
    1. Put yourselves into the shoes of the 1st readers of the book of Revelation.  This prophecy would have been astounding!  As a Jew, most people’s hopes were utterly dashed when the Romans tore down the Jerusalem temple brick-by-brick.  Even for those who had faith in Jesus as Lord would have been seriously demoralized by the destruction of the temple, as it would have seemed (at least temporarily) that Rome reigned supreme.  Yet Rome was NOT supreme; God is!  To know that the temple would once again be rebuilt was to assert that God has absolute power over Rome & one day would deal with those who persecuted His own people.
    2. At the same time, there’s a danger that would now exist again that would not exist without a physical temple: people would believe that the blood of bulls & goats would be sufficient for their sin, rather than the blood of Christ Jesus.  The author of Hebrews addresses this directly, showing that it is not possible for the blood of animals to truly take away sin (Hb 10:4); the only sacrifice that is sufficient for us is found in Christ.  By Jesus’ one offering, we are perfected forever (Hb 10:14).  (Your salvation isn’t found in what you can bring to Christ, but only in what Christ has made available to you!) 
    3. It’s natural for us as believers to cheer when the possibility of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem gets closer – but we need to keep the bigger picture in mind: Jesus is better than any temple.  We need to pray that the Jews would find their salvation in the Lord Jesus & surrender themselves to Him as their Lord.
  3. John was told to measure three specific things: (1) the temple of God, (2) the altar, and (3) those who worship there.  Why does someone measure a piece of property that is already built?  In order to gain an assessment of what already belongs to you.  Likewise here – God seems to have John take an assessment of the temple, the altar, and the people who are faithful to Himself.  The instructions John receives are very similar to the instructions to Ezekiel in Eze 40 (another of the many ties between Revelation & Ezekiel).  Just as the man in Ezekiel’s vision measured the temple to give a description of it, so does John measure the temple, the contents, and the people – giving an account to God as to who are His, that it may all receive His protection.

2 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.

  1. John was also specifically told NOT to measure something: the “court which is outside the temple.”  This seems to be a reference to the court of the Gentiles.  The temple was known to have several levels of access.  At the innermost was the Most Holy Place, where only the High Priest could go one time per year on the Day of Atonement.  Then was the Holy Place, where only sanctified priests could minister.  Eventually there was a court of the Israelites, where Jews could bring their animals for sacrifice.  On the farthest outreaches was the court of the Gentiles where the money-changers sat…no Gentile could proceed past that point under penalty of death.  Although there are different archaeological theories, it seems that the current Al-Aqsa mosque & Dome of the Rock sit in what was once the Court of the Gentiles. 
  2. Why shouldn’t John measure it?  Because it was overrun by the Gentiles (the nations), who would have control over the whole of Jerusalem for 3.5 years.  Although the time reference to the Tribulation is plain, scholars differ on whether this is the 1st 3.5 years of the Tribulation, or the last 3.5 years.  Daniel’s prophecies give considerable insight here.  We know that a prince who is to come (Antichrist) is to confirm a covenant with the Jews for one week/7 year period of time (Dan 9:27).  We also know that the worst parts of the Tribulation were to last a “time, times, and half a time” (3.5 years – Dan 12:7) & the abomination of desolation (the act in which the Antichrist desecrates the temple & sets himself up to be worshipped as God – 2 Ths 2:4) was to take place 1,290 days after the daily sacrifice was taken away (roughly 3.5 years – Dan 12:11).  Altogether, it seems that the weight of the prophetic evidence has all of what John is writing about here taking part in the latter half of the Great Tribulation.  For a time, the Jews will dwell in Jerusalem, but the Gentile nations will wrest it from them & dominate the city for 42 months.
    1. That’s a lot of detail…what’s the point?  Simply this: as with many other instances in the Tribulation described in Revelation, things will appear from the outside to be out of control.  Yet nothing is further from the truth.  God has appointed a specific time for the Gentile nations to control Jerusalem – they do so under His watchful eye for a limited time only.  God is truly in control.
  3. Keep in mind this has great significance in current events.  Jerusalem (for the 1st time in several centuries) is technically under the control of the Jewish people.  To be sure – most of these Jews are themselves in rebellion against God & reject Jesus as Lord, but whereas the Palestinian Muslims have much influence in Jerusalem (along with a lot of conflict!), the Jewish state has official political power in the city of Jerusalem.  Apparently, during the time of the Great Tribulation, the Jews will lose control over Jerusalem.  Even though at some point the Jewish temple will have been rebuilt on the actual Temple Mount, the city itself will be taken & overrun by the Gentiles.
  4. Yet God will not be without a witness in Jerusalem – He’ll actually have two.  See vs. 3.

3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.

  1. 1260 days = 3.5 years.  Basically, during the time that the Gentiles overrun the city, God will empower two witnesses to give Him glory.  God actually empowers them in three ways: 1st is the power to testify of God & prophesy.  The whole time.  Day after day, they’ll preach the word of God for 3.5 years.  Clothed in sackcloth (which indicates mourning & grief), they will apparently be preaching judgment & repentance.
  2. Who are the witnesses?  There are many conjectures (which we’ll get to in vs. 6), but they remain unnamed in Revelation.  Some would equate them with the Old & New Testaments or with the OT saints & NT Church, yet by the description in the rest of Ch.11, there can be little doubt that these are two very literal individuals that God will use during the Great Tribulation.  The only identification of the witnesses is what the angel says of them in vs. 4.  They are: (1) two olive trees, and (2) two lampstands that stand before God.
    1. Olive trees: Similar to Zech… Zechariah 4:12-14 (12) And I further answered and said to him, “What are these two olive branches that drip into the receptacles of the two gold pipes from which the golden oil drains?” (13) Then he answered me and said, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” (14) So he said, “These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth.” [] Zechariah’s prophecy found its primary fulfillment in Joshua the priest & Zerubbabel – they were the ones used by God as vessels of His Holy Spirit to accomplish His work (olive oil dripping from the trees).  The reference in Revelation is clear: these two witnesses will provide much the same ministry during the Tribulation time.  God empowers these two people through a special anointing of the Holy Spirit specifically for this ministry. 
    2. Lampstands: a lampstand is also seen in Zech 4, but there it’s obviously a reference to the Holy Spirit.  Here, it seems that the lampstand is a reference to the faith of the witnesses.  The seven golden lampstands of Rev 1 represented the seven churches of Asia (Rev 1:20) – it’s possible that these two witnesses are likened to lampstands in a similar way.  They are representative of the gospel witness among the nations.  Just as Jesus called His Church to be the light of the world (Mt 5:14), so will these witnesses bear the light of Christ among a dark world still in willing rebellion against God.
  3. In a very real way, the Church has this exact same ministry today.  Granted, we will not be present during the days of the Great Tribulation, but we are the witnesses of Jesus Christ today to this generation.  That’s actually the exact term Jesus used of His disciples (and by extension, all of us) prior to returning to Heaven.  Acts 1:8  But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” []  Likewise we’re to be His olive trees – the witnesses of Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit testifying of His grace & salvation.  We are His lampstands – shining the light of Christ into all the world.  We might not preach every day for 1260 days like the 2 witnesses of Revelation, but we ought to proclaim & demonstrate the gospel every opportunity we get.  We live in a lost & dying world that needs to hear the good news (whether they know it or not), & we’ve been given the responsibility to give it to them.

5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner.

  1. God not only gives His power to the witnesses for prophecy; God (2nd) gives His power to the witnesses for protection.  [Like Elijah – 2 Kings 1]  Note the extent of God’s protection here: this applies to “anyone” attempting to harm the witnesses. It doesn’t matter how powerful the onslaught against them or what weapons they use.  No one will be able to harm the witnesses of God unless God allows it…they will be invincible during their ministry, & those who attempt to harm them “must” be killed by the fire of God.
  2. It is so utterly necessary to remember this same thing within the Church today.  Obviously God loves His Church & does not desire that anyone harm us – but no one CAN harm us unless God allows them to do so.  It was no different with Jesus.  Pilate would have had no power over Jesus unless it had been given to Pilate from above (Jn 19:11).  Likewise with us.  Our God is absolutely sovereign.  We find victory in the name of Christ Jesus over the Devil, sin, and death – and the Devil can do nothing against us that the Lord does not allow.  After all, if God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31)  That said, sometimes God DOES allow us to experience times of suffering & trial.  There is a fellowship of suffering with Christ in which we partake when (and only when) God allows it to be so.
    1. This ought to give us extraordinary comfort.  EVERYTHING that comes to us in this life can only come to us through the steadfast fingers of the One who loves us & gave His life for us.  Knowing that although God is not pleased by evil, He nonetheless prepares us to face times of evil & strengthens us during trials of evil is so very comforting.  Just like the parents of toddlers protect their little ones from facing extreme harm, so our God protects us & knows what we will be able to withstand in the name, power, and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He will allow that & no more.

6 These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

  1. 3rd, God gives the witnesses power for proclamation of miracles.  Drought is brought to a world that is already in desperate need of water.  Other water turns to blood in a world that already had 1/3 of the supply bloodied.  Plagues come at the word of the witnesses.
  2.  It’s in this aspect of God’s empowerment that many people begin speculating as to the identity of these witnesses.  We’ve already seen the power of God’s protection in supernatural fire consuming their enemies, like Elijah.  Here, we also see the ability to start droughts…also like Elijah (1 Kings 17).  In addition, the power to turn water to blood & strike the earth with plagues sound remarkably close to what Moses did in the time of the Exodus from Egypt.  We’ve actually already seen Moses & Elijah in the NT, testifying to the coming kingdom of Christ Jesus during the Transfiguration (Mk 9) – it’s possible that this ministry will pick up again during 3.5 years of the Tribulation.
    1. That said, does it HAVE to be Moses & Elijah?  No.  Some speculate it may be Elijah & Enoch due to the fact that neither had a recorded death in Scripture and it’s appointed to man once to die, and then the judgment (Hb 9:27). Yet the rapture has already occurred & multitudes of Christians never died & men like Lazarus had actually died twice (along with those raised from the dead immediately after Jesus’ resurrection).  Surely there are other theories of other identities.  Technically, it doesn’t have to be anyone who’s actually already been identified in the Scripture – we’ll certainly know who they are when we see them.  The point John is making here in Revelation is not so much who they are, but of Whom they testify.  They will testify of the Lord Jesus to all who will hear them – and it’s for that reason the world hates them & attempts to kill them.

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

  1. God extends His sovereign protection over the witnesses for 3.5 years, but there will be a day in which God sovereignly removes that same protection – and the beast from the pit will kill them.  Again, we need to remember that the only power the beast has to kill these two witnesses is the power God allows the beast to have for a time.  This is by God’s divine plan & for God’s glory – as will be demonstrated.
  2. Note when their death comes: “when they finish their testimony.”  These witnesses will have fully completed their ministry – finished testifying of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then (and ONLY then) will God allow them to be killed.  This is the perfect timing of God & His sovereign will at work.  For 3.5 years they would have faithfully preached the gospel, and at the end it will be apparent that people reject it totally.  Their preaching is finished & God allows them to be killed.
  3. Note also where the beast originates: “out of the bottomless pit.”  We’ll hear more about this beast in the coming chapters – but he originates from the same place as the demonic locusts of the 5th trumpet.  There is little doubt this is Antichrist (or perhaps even Satan himself!).  Just as Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth on a glorious mission from God the Father, Antichrist comes from the pit to earth on a demonic mission from Satan.  Part of this mission will include waging war against these witnesses & finally appearing to overcome them after 3.5 years of battle.  Just as with the demonic swarm of locusts & with the demonic 2 million man army, it will appear as if the Devil is reigning victorious on the earth.  The vision of Revelation makes the opposite absolutely clear (God is in control of it all – as seen in the mighty angel of Ch 10 & God’s empowerment over the lives of the witnesses, etc.), but much of the world will think the Devil has the victory & they will take carnal joy in it..

8 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.

  1. Again, there can be little doubt from a plain reading of the text that these witnesses must be two literal people.  Spiritualized groups of people cannot lie dead in a street; only individuals can.
  2. Obviously the reference to the city here is Jerusalem (it’s the place where Jesus was crucified), but why is it referred to here as “Sodom and Egypt”?  Sadly, it’s a reference to the apostasy in the city.  This could perhaps be a reference to the time when the Gentile nations have control over the city – but more likely, the author John is using language his original readers understand as being descriptive of Jerusalem at the time.  Remember that Jerusalem is the city that rejected Jesus as Lord – they are the ones that directly sent Jesus to the cross.  The same city in which Jesus was presented as Messiah (in fulfillment of prophecy) is the city in which Jesus was rejected (in fulfillment of the same prophecy).  What other description could there be for a city that has turned its back on God than Sodom & Egypt?

9 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. 10 And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.

  1. Whether the various people groups are on the ground in Jerusalem, or whether this refers to all the nations all over the earth as they witness the death of God’s prophets on CNN, there will be blasphemous rejoicing.  For 3.5 years they would have endured the prophecy of God regarding the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the need for repentance & forgiveness (the gospel!), and finally they think they would have had victory over God Himself.  Exactly what is seen at the end of Ch 9 carries over into Ch 11 as men & women rejoice in their iniquity & continue in unrepentant rebellion against God.
    1. Please don’t have any misunderstanding regarding the gospel.  What we witness of is truly good news to the world…but they hate it.  We were exactly the same way prior to coming to Christ.  We were happy in our sin & content to live with no care or regard to God’s command, and who was anyone else to tell us differently?  Until the moment we saw Jesus for who He is & humbled ourselves before Him, we (like the rest of the world) loved the darkness & hated the light.  That will be true of people during the days of the Great Tribulation, and is certainly true of people now.  When people mock the gospel now & show their disgust at it – it simply shows they are lost & in need of salvation.
  2. Keep in mind this will look like an utter disgrace in the eyes of the world.  Here are God’s own witnesses & prophets & yet God supposedly wouldn’t even be able to defend them or even see them given a proper burial.  Middle Eastern cultures demand quick burials of the dead (usually within 24 hours); to have carcasses left out in the open on the streets is an utter disgrace & proclamation of disgust.  It’s just one more way the people will attempt to thumb their nose at God in rebellion.
    1. What is so visually illustrated here regarding the rebellion of the world is true regarding ALL sin.  At its core, sin is treason against the Creator God – King of the Universe, putting ourselves upon the throne instead of the only One who rightfully deserves to be there.
  3. What LOOKS to be victory for the world & the Antichrist over God most certainly isn’t.  God makes 3 dramatic moves after the 3.5 days end.  See vs. 11…

11 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.

  1. 1st: Resurrection.  Antichrist’s victory over the witnesses was short-lived!  The two witnesses prophesied for 3.5 years, but they were only dead for 3.5 days.  Just as Jesus bodily rose from the dead after 3 days, the witnesses bodily & visibly rose from the dead after half-a-day more.  This wasn’t a carnival-style “signs & wonders” miracle; this was undeniable physical proof of the hand of God as people saw with their own eyes what happened.
  2. The result?  “Great fear fell on those who saw them.”  Talk about understatement!  They had just spent the last 3.5 years reviling the witnesses & their testimony.  They had just spent the last 3.5 days partying in the street that these guys were dead & that God appeared to be powerless.  Now God has proven Himself to be anything BUT.  You bet they were fearful!
    1. Keep in mind this is a GOOD thing.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7).  Without a proper fear of God, people have little reason to humble themselves to Jesus as Lord.  It’s when we come to the realization that God is truly holy, perfect, powerful, righteous, and worthy to be worshipped, while we are utterly deserving of His wrath & judgment that we come to grips with our need for salvation & grace.  At this point, at least some of the people who had continued in irreverent rebellion against God developed a right “fear” of Him – and that’s a great starting point.

12 And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them.

  1. 2nd: Rapture.  Although this is NOT a reference to the rapture of the Church, the parallels to the rapture is unmistakable here.  Once the proof has gone out to the entire city that the 2 witnesses have been raised from the dead, God takes them up into a cloud in full view of all who were present to see it (not unlike Jesus’ own ascension in Acts 1).  As with other occasions that pointed to the general rapture in the past (Enoch walking with God; Elijah being taken to heaven), this particular rapture is localized, but yet a powerful witness for God’s hand of approval on these people.
  2. There are several distinctions between this event & the rapture of the Church:
    1. The rapture is for all who are alive in Christ Jesus; this event is only for two.
    2. The rapture happens in the twinkling of an eye; this happens slow enough to be witnessed by their enemies.
    3. The rapture happens at the sounding of the trump of God; this happens with a call from heaven.
    4. The rapture very specifically occurs prior to God pouring out His wrath; this happens after much of God’s wrath has already begun.
  3. The bottom line in all of this?  By the time God raises these men from the dead & raptures them to heaven, there can be absolutely no denying the power of God & the truth of His word.  God had been reaching out to the world in rebellion against Him, providing sign after sign, prophecy after prophecy – and all the while mankind rejoiced while they spit in His face & killed His prophets, attempting to deny God His rightful place.  Now there can be no denial; they’ve seen it with their own eyes & many now understand that they are deserving of God’s judgment.

13 In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven.

  1. 3rd: Judgment.  The judgment that was deserved upon the city finally came the very hour the two witnesses were raptured away by God.  10% of Jerusalem is destroyed & 7000 people killed.  Compared to some of the other earthquakes & judgments already listed in Revelation, this seems rather small – but keep in mind that the 7000 dead isn’t a total figure from an entire region or nation; this is 7000 from a single city.  For this to take place within 60 minutes of the resurrection & rapture of the witnesses is a profound signal to the city that God is indeed God & His witnesses were preaching the truth!
  2. Don’t miss out on the wonderful part here: many people come to repentance!

14 The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly.

  1. Getting past the interlude back to the narrative.  6 trumpets have been sounded – the last three were considered “woes.”  The last is about to sound!


To sum up, we basically see God doing three things with the witnesses:

  1. God commissions the witnesses & empowers them. In His grace, God continues to tell the nations of His judgment & warn them to repent & believe the gospel.  His witnesses are empowered for the work, and nothing will stop the message from going forth.
  2. God protects the witnesses, but allows them to suffer & die.  For 3.5 years, nothing & no one can harm the witnesses, but at the precise moment that God is ready, He sovereignly allows them to be killed.  This doesn’t show the power of the beast, but rather the power of the restraining hand of God.
  3. God resurrects the witnesses & brings many to repentance.  When they were raised, people feared – when they were raptured & judgment came, people gave glory to God.  Their repentance came as a direct result of the suffering of the witnesses.


Although the two witnesses are literal people – there’s no doubt that God uses His Church in much of the same way today.  God has commissioned us to be the witnesses of Christ & empowered us for the work…  God sovereignly protects us & when we do suffer, we can be assured that our trial has 1st gone through the fingers of the God who loves us…  The work of God’s power & grace in our own lives will be the very thing He uses to bring many people to repentance.  The world may hate our message, but they cannot deny the work of God as He sustains us & strengthens us.  The trials we face may be the very method God chooses to bring someone else to Christ – and that makes the trial a lot easier to bear.

God’s glory WILL be known – in all circumstances.  You can be confident in entrusting yourself to God!  Romans 8:28  And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. []  If you’re a Christian, you are “the called” – you can trust your God who is sovereign & in control of not just your life, but then entire universe.  He will work things for the good of His glory – and that is a wonderful promise to which we can cling.  What seemed to be tragic for the witnesses was simply the prelude to an outpouring of the power of God.  It’s no different for the Church of Jesus Christ today.

Are you part of the called today?  Have you entrusted yourself to Jesus Christ – or are you one who has continued to love the darkness of your own sin?  Just like God will give the people of the Tribulation every opportunity to repent, He’s giving you that opportunity today.  Don’t waste it.  Don’t continue to shake your fist at God.  He is going to righteously judge every sin – yours is no exception.  But instead of judgment, in His love He offers you grace…the judgment has already been put upon Jesus at the cross.


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