Who are the Two Witnesses?

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Part II

The Creation Concept

Measure the temple

42 months

Clothed in sackcloth

They prophesy for 1,260 days

Two olive trees

Two candlesticks

Fire from their mouth

They shut heaven

They turn waters to blood

They smite the earth with all plagues

They are overcome by the beast

The lamps are put out

Their dead bodies lie in the street

Sodom and Egypt

They are not put in graves

Their enemies make merry

They tormented them that dwelt on the earth

They stand on their feet

They ascend to heaven in a cloud

The great earthquake

One tenth of the city falls

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Measure the temple

Revelation 11:1
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.

Measuring the temple with a reed alludes to Ezekiel 40-47, where the prophet Ezekiel is set upon a very high mountain, and he then described the measuring of the temple of God, by an angel. During the process of measuring the temple, the glory of God filled the house of the Lord. [Ezekiel 43:3-5]

Also included in Ezekiel's prophecy about measuring the temple is his description of the wonderful river, that flows forth from the door of the temple, and heals the places where it flows. When it empties into the Dead Sea, the salty waters become healed. [Ezekiel 47:1-12]

42 months

Revelation 11:2
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.

Compare the above verse with the following saying of Jesus:

Luke 21:24
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 forty two months in Revelation 11:2 corresponds to the "times of the Gentiles" in Luke 21:24. Jesus was speaking of the holy city of the saints, rather than the earthly Jerusalem. He referred to the "times" mentioned in Daniel's prophecies, and to Daniel's 70th week. The 70 weeks prophecy specifies an end to "the times of the Gentiles," the time for which a human point of view dominates the saints. The "time, times, and a half" represents the last part of the 70th week, in the 70 weeks of Daniel 9:24-27, and corresponds to the 42 months of Revelation 11:2.

Charles D. Alexander supported the idea that the time periods mentioned in Revelation 11 are symbolic, and refer to the entire history of the church, in his commentary, Revelation Spiritually Understood Part 12.

Alexander wrote:


All the numbers in Revelation are symbolic. They cannot be fitted into the framework of world history, though there are many startling coincidences which embolden the unwary and create an enthusiasm for chronological interpretation. The spiritual interpretation of this great book must be maintained at all costs, for the past history of chronological investigation is strewn with the carcasses of confident predictions which now have no relevance to contemporary events. Historicism has run out of time and has almost disappeared in the vagaries of post-millennialism presently revived by the contemporary situation in Palestine while ignoring the contemporary state of the church and the revival of heathenism. Some day soon, perhaps, many of our friends may awake to the realities of the Latter Day apostasy, and the realisation that the Millennium is past!

If not a measurable period of time in the realm of historical chronology, what then does the figure of 42 months signify? We have already said in a previous chapter that the numbers in Daniel and Revelation of 1260 days, 42 months, 3 ½ years and 'time, times, and half a time' all correspond with each other and are to be interpreted in terms of the most indefinite of them - 'time, times, and half a time'. Thus we are dealing with an indefinite period of time, known only to God and not intended to be measured by man. If it could be measured in advance what consolation would it be for those who were able to calculate that no deliverance was to be expected in their day or perhaps for centuries to come? Or what office would be left to faith, if it could be ascertained that in the period of one's own lifetime all would be consummated and the Lord would return? What becomes of the Saviour's warning that of the day and hour of His return no man knows, nor yet is it a part of the Son's commission from the Father to make it known?


In place of these speculations we find it much more comforting to see all these strange figures in the Apocalypse as being signs of THE BROKEN SEVEN (the 3 ½ years). Seven being the number of divine completeness, and being so used throughout the Apocalypse, the broken seven must relate to judgment and is a warning to the world and an assurance to the people of God of the steadfastness of the divine purposes in commanding a limited period only for the power of this world. The enemy will not endure one day beyond the divine decree.

The 42 months we regard therefore as the whole period of time from Patmos to the Second Advent of our Lord. It began with John's imprisonment, and the Book of Revelation is concerned with that event and the interpretation of it in terms of the prolonged sufferings and probation of the church typified in the afflictions of "John our brother".

During that immense period of time, the church is comforted in the knowledge that the onset and the termination of the 1260 days (and its other numerical equivalents) are fixed by the Lord's sovereign determination. The arbiter of time is the Mighty Angel of chapter 10: the true Michael, the Angel of the Covenant, Christ, the Son of God, the Conqueror of sin, death and hell, the Woman's Seed, the Bruiser of the Serpent's head. It is not for us to know the times and the seasons which forever remain in the Father's own power (Acts 1:7); our part is to preach the Word of God and hold forth the testimony of Christ in a hostile world in which all power appears to be given to the enemies of the kingdom of God.

Clothed in sackcloth

Revelation 11:3
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.

The sackcloth worn by the witnesses alludes to various saints and prophets, such as Job, [Job 16:15]  David, [Psalm 69:11] Isaiah, [Isaiah 20:2] and Daniel, [Daniel 9:3] who all wore sackcloth on occasion.

In 1611 John Napier, who believed the two witnesses to be the Old and New Testaments, interpreted the sackcloth clothing of the witnesses as: "disguised with the obscurity of men's traditions." The sun becoming black as sackcloth in Revelation 6:12 is another figure with this meaning; the sun clothes the woman in heaven in Revelation 12:1. The sun represents the gospel, and the glorious light of the gospel has been turned into darkness because of man's traditions, and flawed interpretations.

They prophesy for 1,260 days

This alludes to Daniel's time, times, and a half. The significance of this is that Daniel 9:27 refers to a time, at the end of the period that his prophecy specified, when "that determined will be poured upon the desolator." What is it that is determined?

Daniel 7:25-26
And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time.
But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.

The influence of the "little horn," with eyes like the eyes of a man, representing the human outlook, must be consumed and destroyed. This human viewpoint dominates the saints for a time, times, and a half, but scripture shows that it will be replaced by the divine viewpoint that is pictured by wings of a great eagle that are given to the woman in Revelation 12:14, who represents the saints who are equipped with the divine perspective provided by a spiritual interpretation of prophecy. This is the "hidden manna" Jesus mentioned in his message to the church of Pergamos. [Revelation 2:17] The literal view is not a "hidden" one.

Daniel 12:7
And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half; and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished.

At the end of the period of a time, times, and an half, the power of the saints has become scattered, which fits the prophecy of the two witnesses, who have become impotent, like corpses lying in the street. Today, the church has become scattered among tens of thousands of sects, cults, and denominations.

Two olive trees

Revelation 11:4
These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

This alludes to the two trees which were in the garden of Eden. The two olive trees are also seen in Zechariah 4:11. Israel is called an olive tree, in Jeremiah 11:16; Hosea 14:6; Romans 11:17.

One of the two trees in the garden of Eden was forbidden to Adam and Eve. Adam represents man, the "lord of the earth." Adam and Eve and their progeny were given "dominion" over all the earth. [Genesis 1:28]

The other tree represents the word of God, which to us, means the scriptures, but to Adam meant the instruction he received from God regarding the forbidden tree. From the scriptures, we obtain the knowledge about good and evil, right and wrong. "For by the law is the knowledge of sin." [Romans 3:20]

Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, and in doing so, they disobeyed, and felt shame and guilt. They learned about sin, and they realized they were naked.

Then, God provided clothes for them, and they were banished from the garden. This was done to deny them access to the tree of life, the Holy Spirit.

Genesis 3:22-24
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

"Fire" and a "sword" are metaphors also used for the scriptures. The word of God is represented by a sword, that goes forth out of the mouth of Christ.

Revelation 1:16
And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.

In the Old Testament, the promised land replaces the Garden of Eden, but on a national scale. A garden was suitable for two people to dwell in, but a much larger area would be needed for a nation. This is the promised land. It was where the two trees would continue to exist.

Two candlesticks

The two trees also have the role of lamps, or candlesticks, in the world, as they provide light, in the spiritual darkness. The Psalmist wrote:

Psalm 119:105
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Fire from their mouth

Revelation 11:5
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.

This alludes to Elijah, [2 Kings 1:10, 12] and Jesus [Luke 3:16; 12:49].

The fire from their mouth is a figure of the words of scripture which warn of the judgment in store for the enemies of the gospel and of the truth.

Jeremiah 5:14
I will make the words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them.

The fire from the mouth of the two witnesses describes the fate of their enemies. Jesus especially warned against speaking evil of the Holy Spirit. He said to the Pharisees who suggested he was casting out demons by the power of Satan:

Matthew 12:31-32
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

The fire represents the metaphorical fire of future judgment, when offenders will be judged by the fire of God's word. Jesus said of this judgment that is to come:

Matthew 13:41-42
The son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

They shut heaven

Revelation 11:6
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.

They shut heaven, so there is no rain for three years and six months. The rain is a figure that was used by Moses, when he compared his words to rain.

Deuteronomy 32:2
My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass.

Their power to shut heaven, so there is no rain, alludes to events in the days of Elijah. [Luke 4:25; James 5:17]

The power of the two witnesses to shut heaven has led some to conclude that one of them must be Elijah, whose coming was foretold in Malachi 4. Elijah "shut heaven," when he prayed that it would not rain, until he gave the word for it. The drought continued in Israel for three years and six months, after which, there was a great rain.

Malachi 4:5-6
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.

Jews in the time of Jesus were expecting Elijah (who they called Elias) to come before the Messiah, but Jesus explained he had come already, alluding to John the Baptist. The spirit of prophecy, which was in John, and in Jesus too, fulfilled Malachi's prophecy.

Amos 8:11 foretold a famine of hearing the word of God.

The "rain" in the prophecy of the two witnesses is not literal rain, but it refers to the word of God, and understanding, or in other words, a spiritual kind of "rain." As well, the rain may represent the gifts of the spirit, that were evident in the early church, and its beneficial effects, described in scripture, such as causing the blossoming of the desert, and producing the fruits of the kingdom of God, healing, and unity of the saints, and such things. These have been lacking in the church; instead we see divisions, and tens of thousands of sects, and cults, and denominations, and much confusion.

They turn waters to blood

This alludes to Moses, [Exodus 7:17; Psalm 105:29] and Elisha [2 Kings 3:23].

The power of the two witnesses to turn the water to blood seems like a dramatic sign, as that was one of the plagues sent when Moses stood before Pharaoh; the waters of the rivers in Egypt became blood. But nothing comparable has occurred in the history of the church. There is another account in the OT of waters appearing like blood, to the enemies of Israel, in the days of Elisha.

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 had 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.

Atheists and skeptics, who reject the gospel, 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 in the modern age, such as the stories of bloody battles of conquest by the Israelite armies when they took possession of the promised land, the flawed cosmology in Genesis, and the flood of Noah, for example.

I suggest that the flawed cosmology evident in Genesis 1 and elsewhere in the Old Testament likely resulted from changes introduced into the manuscripts of the Old Testament, that were initiated by the hellenistic king Antiochus IV, in the 2nd century BC, as foretold by the prophet Daniel. The revisions were supported by hellenized Jews who admired the Greek cosmology. The intent underlying these changes was to make the scriptures conform to the geocentric cosmology of the Greeks.

Another stumblingblock for many is that the scriptures record miracles and prophecies, as such things are denied by modern science.

The literal approach to passages in the Bible that were poetic, and symbolic, contributes to this perception of the gospel as unpalatable, like blood. Thus, many view the Bible, and the message of the gospel, not as refreshing, life-giving water, but as blood that they cannot bring themselves to drink! Jesus referred to the gospel as "living water" (John 4:10). This is the water that has seemed more like blood to many. Like the Moabites, who were Israel's enemies they "see blood," but it is an illusion. What is really there is water.

They smite the earth with all plagues

Their power to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they wish, alludes to all the prophecies of scripture, where the plan of God is outlined; e.g, those of Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Obadiah, Joel, Zechariah, Jesus, John, etc. No humans have this power, which is a strong argument against the identification of the two witnesses with two human individuals or churches as some have proposed.

They are overcome by the beast

Revelation 11:7
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.

The two witnesses are at war with the beast from the pit, which alludes to various enemies of Israel, and of the church; enemies within, and enemies without. Paul said, the enemies of the saints are spiritual in nature.

Ephesians 6:12
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

John Napier interpreted this as picturing the Antichrist who, "rising from the devil, shall strive against them, and shall overcome them and shall deprive them of their spiritual meaning and lively sense."

The two witnesses being overcome by the beast may allude to the story of Samson, who was overcome by the Philistines. Samson lost his strength when he was asleep on the lap of Delila, and she had one of the Philistines cut off his hair. It grew again, after he had been blinded, while he was imprisoned in Gaza.

The lamps are put out

Presumably the two lamps or candlesticks are put out, or become dim, which alludes to Samson, who was seduced, and overcome by the Philistines, who put out both his eyes. [Judges 16:21]

Their dead bodies lie in the street

Revelation 11:8
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.

Their dead bodies left unburied, was paraphrased by John Napier as "their dead letter shall lie as dead carcases." This prophecy may allude to Isaiah 51:23, where Jerusalem is described as a  human body left lying in the street to be trampled by her enemies.

Isaiah 51:23
But I will put it into the hand of them that afflict thee; which have said to thy soul, Bow down, that we may go over: and thou hast laid thy body as the ground, and as the street, to them that went over.

Sodom and Egypt

The city where the corpses of the two witnesses lie is worldly society, or mystical Babylon; Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem. [Hebrews 13:12] Both Sodom and Egypt were places from which God's saints were delivered, and so escaped the judgment that came upon the people who remained.

Their bodies are not put in graves

Revelation 11:9
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.

This alludes to Samson, who was imprisoned in Gaza, and displayed for sport by the Philistines. Three days and a half alludes to Daniel's time, times, and a half, and signifies a brief period at the end of the age.

Not allowing the burial of the dead bodies of the two witnesses is a metaphor. A similar figure is also present in Psalm 79:2.

Psalm 79:2
The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth.

Their enemies make merry

Revelation 11:10
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.

Many people today consider themselves "liberated" from the teachings of scripture which are viewed as outdated. Many have devoted themselves to just having a good time, and making merry, since they are no longer worried about what the Bible says, or God's purpose for their lives. Reports which depict the Bible as untrue, and the church as corrupt or inept, are circulated in the world today with glee. The decline in the influence and authority of the Bible is a cause for rejoicing, because "these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth."

The enemies of the two witnesses making merry alludes to the story of Samson; the Philistines rejoiced, and made merry when Samson was captured and when his strength had gone.

They tormented them that dwelt on the earth

John Napier paraphrased this with: "For these two testaments would have preached against sins and prophesy their destruction and have troubled the glad state of these that dwell in earthly pleasures."

The two witnesses tormenting them that dwelt on the earth may also allude to the story of Samson, who troubled the Philistines, when he set fire to their corn, and vineyards, and olives, and slew 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass.

They stand on their feet

Revelation 11:11
And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them.

The revival of the two witnesses, when they stand on their feet, may allude to events in the lives of Samson, and Elijah, and Jonah, and Jesus. It also parallels Ezekiel's prophecy about the valley of dry bones coming to life, the dry bones representing the church's spiritual condition. [Ezekiel 37:1-14]

Their revival indicates the vindication of scripture, and the saints renewing their faith. Perhaps this involves adopting spiritual interpretations of prophecy, and abandoning literal ones. John Napier paraphrased this as: "the lively spirit of interpretation from God shall quicken them up, and they shall be authorized and set up in estimation, and the fear of God shall come upon the hearts of all men that shall then rightly see & consider them."

The story of Samson tells about the Spirit empowering one of God's servants, at the very time when he was being ridiculed, and mocked by his enemies.

In the story of Elijah, the heavens being shut and there being no rain is all about the Spirit coming into the church. Jesus referred to the famine in Elijah's time, and James too. The point about the story of the two witnesses is that the drought ends, and when they have accomplished their ministry, the heaven is no longer shut, and there is rain. This is implied, because if there was no rain, the drought would continue. And the prophecy specifies that their ministry is accomplished, when they are killed. So after they are killed, the heavens are no longer shut, and the rain is given. This rain, after a drought of three years and six months, is pictured in the events connected with the ministry of Elijah. It was a very dramatic, and powerful rain; the 450 false prophets of Baal and Jezebel were slaughtered too.

Ezekiel foretold the Spirit of God filling the temple, and a river going forth from the temple, and healing the places where it flowed. When the river flowed into the Dead Sea, its waters were healed.

The story of Jonah tells of one of God's servants who prayed to God from the belly of a fish, and was delivered, so he could accomplish his mission to Nineveh, a Gentile city. Those people repented, when they heard Jonah's message. 

Jesus was raised to life again on the third day after he was crucified.

They ascend to heaven in a cloud

Revelation 11:12
And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.

They ascend to heaven in a cloud, which alludes to Jesus, who was taken up to heaven in a cloud, Acts 1:9. The two witnesses will have fulfilled their role in God's plan of redemption, and accomplished all that God had intended. They will have produced a "harvest," like the seed which fell in good ground, in the parable of the sower. The saints are that harvest. The resurrection of the saints will vindicate the scriptures. Isaiah wrote:

Isaiah 55:10-11
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.

What is the cloud? It is not meant literally. Bibles will not some day rise up to the clouds, but the saints are identified with clouds, in several scriptures. [Isaiah 60:8; Daniel 7:13; Zechariah 10:1; Hebrews 12:1; Revelation 1:7]

Just as rain represents the word of God, and rain implies clouds, bright clouds bringing rain picture those who bring the gospel; they contrast with false teachers, who are called "clouds without water, carried about of winds;" [Jude 1:12] and "clouds that are carried with a tempest" [2 Peter 2:17].

The great earthquake

Revelation 11:13
And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.

The 7,000 people killed in an earthquake possibly alludes to the story of Samson. 3,000 Philistines were killed in the collapse of the temple of Dagon, and so he slew more Philistines by his death, than he had during his entire life.

One tenth of the city falls

Natural disasters, and widespread trouble in the world, result in many deaths. Prophecies coming to pass cause fear and dread. [Psalm 79:12; Psalm 105:38]

Copyright © 2010 by Douglas E. Cox
All Rights Reserved.