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The Two Witnesses

May 13th, 2015

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

Revelation 11:3-4

Chapter eleven of Revelation proclaims three events: (1) the measurement of the temple of God, 11:1-2; (2) the two witnesses, 11:3-14; (3) the sounding of the seventh trumpet, 11:15-19. The final verse of the chapter links with the first verse of the chapter about the temple of God, making the chapter an integrated whole. Today we will look at the temple and the two witnesses.

Prophecy is often fulfilled in waves, with several partial fulfillments coming before the complete fulfillment. I have sought to stress this point consistently during this study on Revelation. So we read in 1 John 2:18, “… you have heard that the Antichrist is coming. Even now many antichrists have come…” The partial fulfillment of prophecy through the coming on the scene of “many antichrists,” meaning people of the same character and goal of the Antichrist, who fulfill some of the prophecies about him, but who do not fulfill all the prophecies, does not mean that there will be no Antichrist. He will come in the right time according to the prophecy of scripture.

So often in prophecy we are dealing with patterns, predictable ways that the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged will be fought out. One generation after another experiences very similar spiritual battles, and though some things are different for each century, many things stay the same – more correctly the more important matters remain the same. So as a pattern we can see this passage describes the faithful witnesses through the centuries who speak powerfully for God.

Is there an opportunity for revival in the final days of the earth? This is a question that is often asked. We read, for example, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). And the lament of Christ, “When the Son of man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8) And Paul also said that the day of Christ will not come “unless the falling away comes first” (2 Thes. 2:3), describing a great apostasy of the church.

But despite these prophecies, it is clear from other passages that there is always the opportunity of revival among true believers. If this chapter eleven of Revelation says nothing else, it says that in the darkest times on earth of evil and unbelief there will be powerful preachers who are anointed to proclaim the good news of Christ. Often, in fact, as we study the history of great revivals through the centuries we find that they often came during the darkest and most dismal of times. So the end of the age will be no exception to this.

The Method of Interpretation: As always with Revelation, the question is how to interpret the book. It is apocalyptic literature, the high usage of metaphoric language and symbolic imagery to communicate a message, which must still be interpreted. Yet we must have some bench marks, some standards of those things which are stable and unchanging or we are left with no message at all, or with any message in the universe of ideas we care to give it. So where do we draw the line between the real and the metaphoric and symbolic?

Those who hold to “replacement theology” – that the Church has completely replaced Israel and God has no more plans for the nation of Israel – they will interpret this passage more metaphorically. Those of us who hold to a dispensational view of these matters will interpret them more literally. So for me the temple means the temple, the two witnesses in Jerusalem means two great evangelists who will arise in the last days to proclaim the truth of God.  Other parts of this passage may be metaphoric, but if it is all metaphoric then it loses all real and practical meaning.

Measuring the Temple: John is given a measuring rod, and the scene is reminiscent of Ezekiel 40-45 where the prophesied temple is measured. The temple exists in Jerusalem, as described in other passages, notably Daniel 9:25-26 and 2 Thes. 2:4. Israel will be able to rebuild the temple and use it for a period before they will again be pressured by the Gentile nations. John is told to measure the temple but not the court of the Gentiles, connecting with what we read in Luke 21:24b: “And Jersualem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

The Two Witnesses: Two prophets will arise, and it seems logical to assume that they shall come from converted Israel. There is much prophecy to support these two. Some have speculated tht they will be Enoch and Elijah re-incarnated, since they did not experience death, but it seems unnecessary to insist on this. Another pattern of prophetic fulfillment is seen here, comparing these two to John the Baptist who was an Elijah like prophet preceding the coming of the Lord. Malachi 4:5-6 says:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.

John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy in part (Matthew 17:11-12), yet a pattern is also established and two more Elijah-like prophets will rise in Israel before the return of the Lord – before “the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” which must refer not to His coming in Bethlehem but to His victorious Second Coming.

The will prophesy in sack-cloth – clothes for mourning and repentance – so the remarkable trait of these prophets will be that they will identify with the suffering of the Jewish people and they will be marked by an Ezra-like spirit of repentance.

Their authority will be through the preaching of the Word. “Fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies” (11:5), and I take this as metaphoric of the power of their preaching. But they also are given by God authority to stop rain, to turn water to blood, and to strike plagues on the earth. Yet the center of their ministry is prophesying or preaching the good news of Jesus Christ, calling people to repent and to believe and to follow Him.

“When they finish their testimony” (11:7), these words are important because they show us how God protected them and how He protects all who believe and serve until our mission is completed, then the “Beast out of the bottomless pit” puts them to death. Their bodies will not be lovingly placed in tombs, like Christ’s was, but instead left in the open. The unbelieving world will rejoice over their deaths, but then God shall miraculously raise them to life after three and a half days.

Application for us: The meaning of this passage is not for future generation or only to impress us with interesting prophecies, but to call us now to turn from sin and self and turn to Christ in faith and obedience. It is a call for us to have the same spirit of confidence in the power and efficacy of the Word of God, and to believe it and to share it. Whenever we do, we bring the power of life and the presence of love into this dark and dead world. Not everyone will believe but the only way anyone may have life and truly experience Christ’s life beyond the grave is through faith in Christ.

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