Also: Similarities between their work and that of Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist.
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This article takes a closer look at the two witnesses of the book of Revelation – what we can learn in the Bible regarding them and the timing and nature of their mission. Even some similarities between their work and that of Moses, Elijah and John the Baptist, will be considered here.
The two witnesses, two messengers whom God will send on a special mission in the “end time”, are mentioned in Revelation 11. Also Zechariah 4:11–14 with its context appears to be a prophecy related to them.
Here is the only New Testament passage which mentions the two witnesses:
Revelation 11: […] 3 And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees [a] and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; [b] anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. 6 They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain [c] may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, [d] and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, [e] as often as they desire. 7 When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; 10 and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth. 11 But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them. 13 At that moment there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell; seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. (NRSV, note signs added)
Verses 5–6 state that the two witnesses will have some very special powers. Verse 3 shows that they will be active for 1260 days, which is three and a half years. Verse 7: At the end of that period, the “beast” which in those days arises for its last revival, will have those witnesses killed. It appears that this will be among the first things that “beast” will do, when it comes up from its “abyss”.
Please note that the story of the two witnesses is an “insert” in the book of Revelation. In other words: Revelation 11:3–13 is not in “chronological order” in regard to the things mentioned before and after it. A casual reading of the book of Revelation might make the reader think that those witnesses will be active during the time between the trumpets of the sixth and seventh angels, but it is not so. There is more on this, later in this article.
a Verse 4, “olive trees” – compare with Zechariah 4:11–14.
b Verse 5, fire shall consume their foes – compare with what Elijah did, 2 Kings 1:9–12.
c Verse 6, “no rain” – compare with what Elijah did, 1 Kings 17:1 – 18:45.
d Verse 6, turning water to blood – compare with what Moses and Aaron did, Exodus 7:17–21.
e Verse 6, striking with plagues – compare with what Moses and Aaron did, Exodus 7:17 – 12:29.
Again, the book of Revelation shows that when the last revival of the “beast” comes on the scene, it will have the two witnesses killed.
Revelation 11:7 When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them (NRSV)
This will take place shortly before the Time (“day”) of the Lord. Again, the prophecy regarding the 1260 days when the two witnesses will be active, is an “insert” in the book of Revelation. It is not placed “chronologically” in that book.
Some have tried to squeeze in the two witnesses’ work between the trumps of the sixth and seventh angels of the book of Revelation. But, the witnesses will be active for 1260 days, while the time between those two trumps is much shorter.
A closer study of this matter shows that when the seven angels’ trumps begin to be sounded, the two witnesses have already finished their work. The article nta050.htm has more on the different kinds of prophetic trumpets which are mentioned in the Bible.
The two witnesses are called “olive trees” and “lamp-stands”. We read:
Revelation 11: […] 3 And I will grant my two witnesses authority to prophesy for one thousand two hundred sixty days, wearing sackcloth.” 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. (NRSV)
The mention of olive-trees and lamp-stands in Revelation 11:4 probably has a connection with Zechariah 4 which mentions two men who are referred to as “sons of oil”. We read:
Zechariah 4:11 And I answered and said to him, What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand, and on its left? 12 And I answered a second time and said to him, What are the two clusters of olives beside the two golden pipes, emptying the golden oil from themselves? 13 And he spoke to me, saying, Do you not know what these are? And I said, No, my lord. 14 And he said, These are the two sons of fresh oil, [f] who stand by the Lord of the whole earth. (LIT, note sign added)
Verse 11 mentions “olive trees”, and verse 12 “clusters of olives” (some translations have “olive branches”). (Olives are a source of oil.) Verse 14 talks about “two sons of fresh oil”. [f]
Are those two “olive trees” or “olive branches” or “sons of fresh oil” of Zechariah 4:11–14, the same as the two witnesses or “olive trees” of Revelation 11:3–4? It appears that it is so.
Then, consider this: In the Bible, “oil” is sometimes used as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. This leads to the question, will the two witnesses in some way be connected with the distribution of the Holy Spirit?
God’s “first-fruits harvest” here on Earth was reaped in New Testament times. That was the 144000, those who received the Holy Spirit in biblical times, first century CE or earlier. In what we today view as “end time”, there will be another “harvest” for God here on Earth, the great multitude of Revelation 7, an innumerable crowd who will in those still future days turn to God. And, when that “latter harvest” has been formed, it will “reaped”, Revelation 14:14–16. (The following verses, Revelation 14:17–20 which talk about a different reaping, the wrath of God, obviously refer to the “Day of the Lord”.)
(There is also the matter of resurrection. The article nba080.htm has some notes on that subject.)
It appears that the formation of that great multitude may in some way be connected to the two witnesses’ work. – Many people have been subjected to various kinds of confusing dogmas, in regard to such matters as the first-fruits group of 144000 and the great multitude, the “great tribulation”, the trumpets of the “end time”, and so on, but all those things cannot be included here. The article nta030.htm has some notes on the 144000 and the great multitude and the difference between those two groups. The article nta040.htm considers the “great tribulation” of Revelation 7:14. The trumpets matter is studied in the article nta050.htm.
f “Sons of oil”, Zechariah 4:14 – some translations have “two anointed ones”, but the literal meaning of the Hebrew wording appears to be “the two sons of oil”.
The book of Revelation tells us this, regarding the two witnesses:
Revelation 11:6 These have the authority to shut up the heaven, that no rain may rain in the days of their prophecy. […] (LIT)
That is similar to what Elijah did:
1 Kings 17:1 And Elijah the Tishbite, of the sojourners of Gilead, said to Ahab, As Jehovah the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be no dew nor rain these years, except according to my word. (LIT)
There are even other similarities between the two witnesses and Elijah (or Elias, as he is called in the New Testament).
Revelation 11:5 And if any man will hurt them, fire proceeds out of their mouth, and devours their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. (AKJV)
Compare that, with this:
2 Kings 1: […] 9 Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him: and, behold, he sat on the top of an hill. And he spoke to him, You man of God, the king has said, Come down. 10 And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume you and your fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty. 11 Again also he sent to him another captain of fifty with his fifty. And he answered and said to him, O man of God, thus has the king said, Come down quickly. 12 And Elijah answered and said to them, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume you and your fifty. And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty. (AKJV)
2 Kings 2:1 And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. […] 11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. (AKJV)
In a similar way, the two witnesses will be taken up to heaven:
Revelation 11:11 And after three days and a half, the breath of life from God, entered into them, and they stood upon their feet: and great fear fell on those who looked upon them. 12 And they heard a great voice saying to them, from heaven, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies looked on them. (LIT)
Some people are waiting for an “Elijah”. Should we expect two witnesses and an Elijah? Perhaps not. Instead, it may be that the two witnesses will have an “Elijah-like” function. (Several scriptures indicate this. Some of them were quoted above.)
When John the Baptist was already dead, Jesus called him “Elias”. At the same time, he also said that Elias truly shall come. (Elias = Elijah.)
Matthew 17:10 And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? 11 And Jesus answered and said to them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. 12 But I say to you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done to him whatever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. 13 Then the disciples understood that he spoke to them of John the Baptist. (AKJV)
So, even John the Baptist was an “Elijah”. Please note that when Jesus said that “Elias truly shall first come”, John the Baptist was already dead. This indicates that yet another “Elijah” is to come, in what we today view as “end time”, before Jesus returns.
And again, the similarities between the two witnesses’ work and powers, and those of Elijah of the Old Testament, indicate that those witnesses will have an “Elijah”-type of mission.
The article nta020.htm has some notes on Elijah of the Old Testament and John the Baptist and the Elijah or Elias who is mentioned in the New Testament.
Moses and Aaron brought plagues on Egypt. Here is one of them:
Exodus 7:20 And Moses and Aaron did so, as the Lord commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. (AKJV)
Compare that, with this:
Revelation 11:6 These […] have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will. (AKJV)
There were even many other plagues which Moses and Aaron smote Egypt with. (Well, the Lord did, but Moses and Aaron had a part in that.) And then, Revelation 11:6 tells us that the two witnesses will have the power to “smite the earth with all [kinds of] plagues, as often as they will”.
So, there are many similarities between the two witnesses, and Elijah, and Moses and Aaron.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
On the different kinds of prophetic trumpets which are mentioned in the Bible – trumps of God, and those of the seven angels. Also: What did the apostle Paul mean and refer to when he wrote about a “last” trump or blast? → nta050.htm
What does the Bible say about the matter of resurrection? → nba080.htm
Who are the 144000 and the great multitude of Revelation 7? And, who are the first-fruits or virgins of Revelation 14:1–4? → nta030.htm
What does the Bible say about the “great tribulation”? On Matthew 24:21 and Revelation 7:14. → nta040.htm
On Elijah of the Old Testament and John the Baptist and the Elijah or Elias who is mentioned in the New Testament. → nta020.htm
Jesus warned about false prophets, deceivers and deception. He said that many would be deceived. → noa090.htm
The “great white throne judgment” – when will it take place? → nta060.htm
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