The Old Testament ends with the words of the prophet Malachi:
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.
Malachi said, remember the law of Moses, and his prophecy included a promise of an Elijah to come. In the NT, Paul called the law a schoolmaster, that brings us to Christ. [Galatians 3:24] John's prophecy about the two witnesses in Revelation 11 alludes to the same two prophets, Moses and Elijah, who were mentioned by Malachi.
The Jews in the time of Jesus looked for a literal fulfilment of Malachi's prophecy. Some thought that Jesus could be the Elijah who Malachi said would come, but Jesus told his disciples that Elias had come already.
But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
Jesus clearly referred to John the Baptist here. Malachi's prophecy was not about a literal return of Elijah, but about the Spirit that inspired him, and all the prophets. Jesus sent his Spirit to his disciples. The Spirit was in Jesus, as well as in John. The angel in Revelation 19:10 said, "...the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
Moses and Elijah were the two prophets who appeared to the disciples with Jesus, in the vision of the transfiguration.
And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein.
But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.
To measure something could mean determine its weight, or its dimensions, or strength, or may mean simply to describe it. The Church is called a holy temple, Ephesians 2:21. These verses mean describe the Church! This chapter and the two chapters which follow do that. The court without the temple is given to Gentiles, which by interpretation, refers to those who are not genuine believers, or saints. Not all those who claim to be Christians really are, but they are called Gentiles who occupy the court outside the temple of God. This temple is symbolic of the true Church, as is the name "holy city". The holy city and the saints are trodden under the feet of Gentiles. This indicates they are dominated by unbelievers. Is this referring to those who control the various religious denominations?
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
Verse 2 mentions 42 months, and verse 3 mentions 1,260 days. Taking a month as 30 days, the 1,260 days is equal to 42 months. Both of these time periods are references to the "time, times, and a half" which can be interpreted using Daniel's prophecy of the 70 weeks. It refers to the remaining time of the Church when Christ confirms his covenant with believers.
The two witnesses are called two lampstands, and two olive trees,
that stand before the Lord of the earth.
In Zechariah 4,
oil flows from two
olive branches, representing the role of the Spirit of God in the
world. The olive
branches are called "two anointed ones, that stand by the lord of the
The two witnesses are called two olive trees, and they stand before the "lord of the earth", which is mentioned in both Zechariah 4:14 and Revelation 11:4. Who is the lord of the earth? In Genesis 1:26 it is man who is given dominion over God's creatures. The scriptures also mention two trees that were prominent in the Garden of Eden. So this prophecy of the two trees is a theme of several passages in the Bible.
Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord.
Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.
The word of the LORD, and God's Spirit, were identified by Jesus as
things that would "testify" of him, in John's gospel. One who
"testifies" is a "witness."
Jesus identifies the scriptures and the Spirit as things that "testify" of him, so they are two "witnesses". One who "testifies" is a witness.
Search the scriptures, for in them you think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:
11:4 the two
witnesses are called two candlesticks, but in Zechariah 4
only one candlestick
is mentioned. Is that because the Spirit was not yet
The word of God is called a light and a lamp:
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.
The "fire from their mouth" alludes to the fire of God's word, and
the judgment. The lake of fire is a metaphor of the judgment which
awaits their enemies.
The two witnesses are said to shut heaven, so it would not rain, like Elijah did in Israel. I suggest the "rain" mentioned here represents the word of God, and other gifts of God to the church, that ceased after the apostolic era.
These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
The "rain" represents God's word. No further revelations, no new
prophecies, no more scriptures have been written since the days of the
The idea of rain as symbolic of God's word is found in Isaiah.
For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
They "turn the waters to blood." In the plagues during the exodus
from Egypt, waters were turned to blood so the Egyptians could not
drink. The meaning is that the gospel, and many of the promises of God
to his saints, are seen as unpalatable, and so are avoided. Prophecy is
In 2 Kings 3 there is an account of a battle in which the outcome hinged on people mistaking water for blood. The kings of Israel, Judah and Edom went out into the wilderness with their armies in order to punish the king of Moab, who stopped paying tribute to the Israelite king. But they ran short of water. So they called for the prophet Elisha.
Elisha advised them to make ditches in the valley. During the night, the ditches filled up with water. In the morning the Moabite army looked over the valley, and the reflection of the red sky on the water appeared to them like pools of blood.
2 Kings 3:21-23
And when all the Moabites heard that the kings were come up to fight against them, they gathered all that were able to put on armour, and upward, and stood in the border.
And they rose up early in the morning, and the sun shone upon the water, and the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood:
And they said, This is blood: the kings are surely slain, and they have smitten one another: now therefore, Moab, to the spoil.
Assuming there had been a battle, the Moabites approached the camp of the Israelites, expecting to find them wasted, but instead were slaughtered themselves.
Many of those who oppose the gospel and the Bible are much like those unfortunate Moabites, who mistook water for blood. They view the truths of the gospel which Christians accept, as notions unfit for human consumption! The gospel which is as cool, clean, fresh drinking water to believers, is as distasteful as blood to them. Several facts make the scriptures unpalatable for people; the flawed cosmology that resulted from changes made to the OT by the hellenistic king Antiochus IV and his agents in the 2nd century BC is one reason. Another reason is that the scriptures record miracles and prophecies. Yet another is their own lack of imagination, and a literal reading of passages in the Bible that are symbolic, or written in poetic style. For these or several other reasons, many view the Bible and the message of the gospel not as clean, refreshing, life-giving water, but as blood that they cannot bring themselves to drink!
The waters that were turned to blood by Moses in Egypt made them unfit to drink. The scriptures, which are the source for the truth about our salvation through Christ, are considered unfit to be believed by those in the world, just as the Egyptians could not drink the water when Moses turned to into blood.
The two witnesses "smite the earth with all plagues, as often as
they will." These must be the plagues and other events already
specified in the prophecies of scripture. No humans have that power.
Neither does the Jewish state, or the church.
And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.
This is the world's war against the Bible and the Spirit of God; there are several ways that this war is waged. In some countries direct persecution eliminates Christian faith.
In others the state controls religion.
Critical scholarship has destroyed the credibility of the scriptures in the minds of many. False doctrines have also discredited the truth of scripture.
The two witnesses are the scriptures, and the Spirit of God. Moses and Elijah are symbols, Moses representing the scriptures, Elijah the Spirit. The world (represented by the beast from the bottomless pit) makes war against them and kills them. The scriptures have been discredited by the critical scholars of the world, and flawed interpretations, and commercial interests, and "killed". People rejoice over this. They are glad because the two witnesses torment those who dwell on the earth, when they are convicted of sin.
And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.
What is the great city? Not Jerusalem, as Jesus was crucified
"without the gate." [Hebrews 13:12] The "spiritual" name of the city is
Sodom or Egypt, both places from where God's people escaped. This
suggests John refers to mystical Babylon, or the world. And Bibles are
present, in courts, and libraries, and motels, and are studied in many
schools, etc. So they are widely available. Its message has been
ridiculed, and discredited, in books, newsgroups, and on TV for example.
And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
Isn't this describing the present status of the scriptures and the Spirit? Bibles are still studied and discussed in public. They are published and sold in huge numbers, argued about in newsgroups, and they are still used for taking oaths in court. They are like corpses left unburied in the street! But they have been killed, by the beast from the bottomless pit. Critical scholarship kills the scriptures. It attempts to discredit them, and it denies prophecy.
Here is an explanation of the death of the two witnesses and their corpses left lying in the street, from James Burton Coffman's Commentary on the prophecy in Revelation 11.
What is indicated is the attractiveness and acceptability of the witness of the "dead" churches.
"Here is pictured the church accommodating herself to the ways of the world, proclaiming no unpleasant doctrine, demanding no painful sacrifices, and with the world hailing with satisfaction the prospect of an easy yoke and the cheap purchase of both time and eternity." F60
Only this kind of a dead corpse would be allowed indefinitely a favored location on Broadway. Preachers and commentators indicating by every word they write or speak that they do not believe the Bible to be God's word at all have indeed "killed it" of any significance for those who are deceived by them; but do they "bury it" or even allow it to be buried? Certainly not. They continue to devote their lives to writing and talking about it.
"How great is the delusion of the church, when her silver is turned to dross, her wine to water, and when her voice no longer torments them that dwell upon the earth." F61
Many excellent examples of this phenomenon are visible in those scholarly enemies of the New Testament who deny, absolutely, that it is an inspired, divine revelation from God, but who nevertheless devote their whole lives to writing and lecturing about it.
The two quotations that are included here, F60 and F61, are from: Charles H. Roberson, Studies in Revelation (Tyler, Texas: P. D. Wilmeth, P.O. Box 3305, 1957), p. 74 & 75.
But these two witnesses revive, and stand on their feet.
Jesus promised, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled!
Below are comments by Charles D. Alexander in his Revelation Spiritually Understood, on the reviving of the two witnesses.
The spirit of life from God entering into the fallen witnesses so that they stand upon their feet once more to the terror of those who had been rejoicing in their death, has an obvious connection with the prophecy of Ezekiel 37 - the resurrection of the dry bones of the house of Israel after the Babylonian captivity: "Come from the four winds O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live ..." The word used for "breath" here is the same as for Spirit in Genesis 1:2, "The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters ...."
As Ezekiel prophesied "the breath came into them and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army". (chap. 37:10) Compare the words in verse 11 of our chapter in Revelation, "the spirit of life from God entered into them and they stood upon their feet."
As the OT church was given into the hand of the Babylon foe till God's time of deliverance came, so in the history of the Christian Church, the power of this world is often permitted for a season to appear to triumph over the church of Christ, until in the pleasure of God the church is revived and stands upon its feet once more. The same expression, "the Spirit of life" is used by Paul in Romans 8:2 - "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death."
In short we have here the resuscitation of the gospel testimony in the world after it has been apparently extinguished.
The ascending to heaven in a cloud is symbolic of the elevation of the Lord's people and their testimony above the power of this world, and is an emblem of the final triumph of the kingdom of Christ at the end of time when the redeemed church is completed, and exalted with Christ to the eternal throne.
See Revelation 4:1. The voice "Come up hither", is the voice of Christ. The church and her witnesses will "ascend to heaven in a cloud" and their enemies will behold them - seated in glory around the throne, clothed in white raiment and palms in their hands, singing the new song of eternal redemption accomplished. "And there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." The tables are turned and the world's verdict upon Christ's people is reversed. The "ascending to heaven in a cloud" is similar to the ascension of the LORD.
The church needs to acknowledge its spiritually "dead" condition. It is certainly "scattered," as Daniel described in Daniel 12:7: "when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished." Tens of thousands of denominations have fulfilled this.
Prophecy fulfilled, and understood, vindicates the scriptures, and the Spirit of God.
The 1,260 days of the ministry of the two witnesses spans the entire church age, from the first century to now. It is the same as the "time, times, and a half," when the saints are dominated by the "little horn," with "eyes like the eyes of a man," or a human viewpoint. [Daniel 7:25]
It is the period when the saints are scattered. [Daniel 12:7]
It is the time when the holy city is trodden under foot by Gentiles, Revelation 11:2. This holy city is the church. This implies the saints are the "temple" and the true Israel.
It is the time when the church flees to the wilderness where she is nourished. [Revelation 12:6, 14]
It is the last half of the 70th week, the period when Christ confirms his covenant with his church [Daniel 9:26-27]
Below are some of Hengstenberg's comments on the prophecy of the two witnesses. I have broken it up into paragraphs for improved readability.
The Revelation of St John: expounded for those who search the Scriptures, Volume 1, By Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg, p. 479.
The church appears under the symbol of the temple, which for so many centuries was the seat and external representation of the kingdom of God, and hence occurs, otherwise than in vision, in a series of passages in the New Testament as the designation of the church, John ii. 19 ; Mark xiv. 58; Eph. ii. 21, 22; 1 Tim. iii. 15; 2 Cor. vi. 16; 2 Thess. ii. 4; Heb. iii. 6.
The temple proper denotes those, who are deeply filled and penetrated by the spirit of the church, the outer court those, who are only superficially affected. The rising up forms the contrast to the sitting. But both the sitting and the rising belong only to the vision. In the reality, it is the transition from rest to activity, which is denoted by the rising.
The import of the measuring is determined by the opposite throwing out. It is measured as far as the preservation is to go. Where the measuring ceases, there the line of abandoning begins. The figurative representation here rests upon Ezekiel, by whom in ch. xl. the restored temple was measured. The symbolical action here has respect to the preserving of the object represented.
Beside the temple proper, which in the material building at Jerusalem consisted of the Most Holy Place, the residence of God, and the sanctuary, as the ideal abode of believers, the altar also is measured or preserved; and by this we can only understand the altar of burnt offering--comp. on ch. vi. 9. It is here transferred to the temple itself, for the therein can only refer to the temple: measure the temple of God, and the altar (in it), and them that worship in it. This shows that we are here entirely on an ideal territory. In the temple of Jerusalem the altar of burnt-offering stood in the real place of resort to the people, in the outer court; but here it is transferred to their ideal dwelling-place, to the temple itself. The meaning of the altar we learn from ch. vi. 9-11: under the constraining power of love believers present themselves there as a free-will sacrifice to him who has redeemed them with his blood.
Therefore, however hard the world may press, how great soever may be the desolations which it effects in the outworks, still the church remains in existence; the spirit of joyful sacrifice is preserved; true believers continually abide. The court in ver. 2, as contrasted with the temple proper, must not be limited to the outer court, but denotes whatever belonged to the sanctuary beside the temple proper: the without the temple forms a manifest contrast to the within. To designate by the court without those who have not in their souls been penetrated by the spirit of the church, was the more natural, since, according to the phraseology even of the Old Testament, true believers dwell in the house of God, and come into his sanctuary, while the multitude, who are but externally related to the church, only tread the courts--see Isa. i. 12. That the court should be thrown away, and given up to the heathen, stands related to the treading down of the city, as an effect to its cause.
The overflowing of the church by the world brings it to pass, that from many, who have not, shall be taken away even that which they have. Nothing but the strong mound of a firm faith can resist their powerful billows.--The two and forty months contain only an apparent determination of time; as, indeed, all numbers in the Apocalypse have only an ideal signification; they belong not so properly to the chronological, as to the symbolical forum. The common signature of the dominion of the world over the church in the Revelation, resting on the prophecies of Daniel (comp. at ch. xii. 6, xiii. 6), is the three and a half, in which we have only to think of the broken seven, the signature of the church. So that the meaning is here conveyed, that however the world may lift itself up, however it may proudly triumph, it can never attain to anything complete and lasting. These three and a half years return again in different forms; a time, two times, and an half-time, ch. xii. 14, forty and two months, here and in ch. xiii. 5, 1260 days in ch. xii. 6. In the number of the beast also in ch. xiii. 18, the same thing substantially holds as in these numbers. We have here before us a representation, which does not bring into view some particular period of time in the world's history, but the whole course of it, only that towards the end everything realizes itself in a more perfect manner.
Wherever the world is found overflowing the church, from that of which John himself saw the commencement, to the last in ch. xx. 7-9, of which we have now the beginning before our eyes, there the substance of the prophecy always verifies itself anew, there the obligation still remains to those who are affected by the evil, to take it as the ground of consolation and warning to their hearts.
John seems to identify the city with Jerusalem, which of course is a name that is applied to the church in Heb. 12:22-23, but in the same manner that he does with the temple, there is some ambiguity involved, as Jesus "suffered without the gate."
Hengstenberg refers to the "world overflowing the church," which exactly describes the state of things today.
The "land promise" is prominent in the promises God gave to Abraham, and several scholars have said it has a spiritual application to Christians. I think that this idea provides a background and context to the commandment of Jesus, "flee to the mountains" in Matthew 24:16.
Jesus directed these words to "them which be in Judaea," which need not be understood literally because in prophecy, those who are in Judea, may refer not to ethnic Jews, or Palestinians, but the saints, who Paul described as "the circumcision," who are spiritually Israelites, and children of Abraham by faith in Christ. Paul said:
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
The mountains that Jesus referred to are mountains of Israel, and they are symbolic of the revelations of God, including the prophecies, and promises, and the teachings of Jesus in the sermon of the mount.
The land promise made to Abraham and to Israel provides a background for the 7 trumpets in Revelation. Just as the capture of Jericho heralded the Israelites taking possession of their promised land, the prophecy of the seven trumpets of Revelation heralds the saints taking possession of their promised inheritance, which includes an understanding of all the prophecies in the scriptures. Jesus promised his disciples:
Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
The connection between the seven trumpets in Revelation and the seven trumpets that were blown before the capture of Jericho by the Israelites, prior to the destruction of the city, shows that there is also a promised land to be possessed by the church. The literal land that Israel possessed in the time of Joshua was a type and figure of spiritual things promised to those who are in Christ.
The prophecy of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 is located in the midst of the account of the seven trumpets, between the 6th and 7th trumpet. The account of the two witnesses tells of their death, and their remarkable revival. After they are killed, their corpses are exposed in the street, and are subjected to ridicule by the world, for three days and a half. Then, they suddenly revive!
The two witnesses may be identified as the scriptures, and the Spirit, which fit the description given of their role in the prophecy, up to the point that they are considered lifeless, and become topics of scorn and ridicule by their enemies; they have been overcome, and "killed" by the beast from the bottomless pit, which clearly represents Satan. How has this happened? The prophecies of scripture are understood by Christians in terms of the theories of either preterism, or dispensationalism, which are opposite, and each cancels the other, which effectively "kills" the power of the church's witness to God's word! Paul said:
1 Corinthians 14:6-9
6 Now, brethren, if I come unto you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you, except I shall speak to you either by revelation, or by knowledge, or by prophesying, or by doctrine?
7 And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?
8 For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
9 So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.
This is how the church's message seems to the world; an uncertain sound; Christians fighting one another; almost every prophecy is viewed in either one of two ways; it either describes Jews in 70 AD, or Jews in a future seven year tribulation, which the church escapes by being raptured to heaven! Who could have any real confidence in such beliefs?
John's prophecy of the two witnesses has come true; the word and the Spirit are lifeless corpses, but they are not buried. The prophecies of scripture are studied by scholars, and discussed, debated, many books are published about them, but they are rarely understood or believed. Paul spoke of the last days as characterized by people, "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: ... Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." [2 Timothy 3:5, 7]
What remains to be seen is how the two witnesses revive, and ascend to heaven in a cloud. Their revival suggests that theories of preterism and dispensationalism will be abandoned by the saints, in favor of a better system of interpretation of prophecy.
Copyright © 2010, 2011, 2013 by Douglas E. Cox
All Rights Reserved.