THE TWO WITNESSES (Part I)
Of the dozens of remarkable prophetic visions experienced by John, author of the book of Revelation, one of the most fascinating is found in the first fourteen verses of Chapter 11. Most Bible commentators simply refer to this passage under the heading of, The Two Witnesses. In the previous Eye of Prophecy articles entitled, The False Prophet (Parts I and II), we introduced these two witnesses who are also referred to as prophets; and we identified them as Moses and Elijah, who will take on the False Prophet and his boss, the Antichrist.
Moses and Elijah are the most popular and logical choices; but are they, indeed, the two witnesses? What is the nature and extent of Biblical evidence to support these selections over other Old Testament prophets or over two modern-day men whom God might choose? And, what is the practical significance of identifying these two prophets as Moses and Elijah? In other words, what difference will it make who they are? Let’s see if we can answer those questions, thereby, elevating your interest and excitement for the return of our Lord to an even higher level!
Although Revelation Chapter 11 is, by far, the most well-known passage—to some the only source—that announces the incredible arrival and accomplishments of these two men, there is another mysterious Biblical scene that first introduces these mighty prophets of God. Hundreds of years earlier, the prophet Zechariah presents a startling portrait of these two men, by referring to them as “two olive trees,” and then explaining that the two trees, “…represent the two heavenly beings who stand in the court of the Lord of all the earth.” Let’s read Zechariah’s intriguing description:
“Then the angel who had been talking with me returned and woke me, as though I had been asleep. ‘What do you see now?’ he asked. I answered, ‘I see a solid gold lampstand with a bowl of oil on top of it … And I see two olive trees, one on each side of the bowl.’ Then I asked the angel, ‘What are these, my lord? What do they mean?’” (Zechariah 4: 1-4).
Note: The angel, who is the Lord (pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ, because Zechariah addresses him as Lord), doesn’t actually answer Zechariah’s specific question; instead the Lord talks about Zerubbabel and the Temple. So once again Zechariah inquires:
“Then I asked the angel, ‘What are these two olive trees on each side of the lampstand, and what are the two olive branches that pour out golden oil through two gold tubes?’ ‘Don’t you know?’ he asked. ‘No, my lord,’ I replied. Then he said to me, ‘They represent the two heavenly beings who stand in the court of the Lord of all the earth’” (Zechariah 4: 11-14).
Why or how can we match these two olive trees with the two witnesses of Revelation 11? And why did the angel designate these two men as heavenly beings? And not just heavenly beings, but “the two heavenly beings.”
Comparing Zechariah 4 with Revelation 11
Now let’s read a portion of Revelation 11 to verify that the two witnesses or prophets are, in fact, one and the same as the two heavenly beings described in Zechariah. “And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will be clothed in burlap and will prophesy during those 1260 days. These two prophets are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth” (Revelation 11: 3-4).
First, the terminology of olive trees and lampstands in Revelation precisely fits the descriptive language used by Zechariah. Secondly, the angel in Revelation is telling John that these two men, are “the two olive trees and the two lampstands…” with a reliable contextual and grammatical deduction that the men are the two olive trees, meaning the two men (heavenly beings) alluded to by Zechariah, in one of the many end-times prophecies recorded by Zechariah. The is a definite article that refers to something or someone already identified, presuming to exist, and separated from any and all other similar objects or people. To support what I’m saying, let’s refer to Webster’s Dictionary for one of several definitions and uses of “the.”
“Used as a function word to indicate that a following noun or noun equivalent is definite or has been previously specified by context or by circumstance … to indicate that a noun is a unique or a particular member of its class.” (Italics for emphasis).
Secondly, if the two prophets of Revelation had not already been referenced in Scripture, then John would have said: “These two prophets are two olive trees and two lampstands…” And, he probably would not have even used the modifier two; because if these prophets of Revelation were being introduced for the first time, it would be misleading to utilize the definite article or the adjective two. But John doesn’t say that; rather he states, “The two olive trees and the two lampstands.” Do you see the difference?
Thirdly, both passages declare that these two men (called heavenly beings, witnesses, prophets) “stand before the Lord of all the earth.” Prior to Revelation 11, where else in Scripture do we find a reference to anyone standing before the Lord of all the earth? Nowhere else in Scripture do we find two men or beings or anyone else standing before the Lord of all the earth, except in Zechariah Chapter 4. The significance of this: It further narrows down and links the two passages one with the other, to the point that it would be extremely difficult not to make a connection. In fact, it would be a huge oversight … tantamount to literary neglect if no correlation was made.
Revelation Chapter 11 uses the same symbolic analogy as does Zechariah by referring to the two witnesses/prophets as olive trees. However, Revelation also tells us that the prophets are “two lampstands.” Although Zechariah employs the symbolism of a lampstand, he doesn’t metaphorically call these two men lampstands. Does that create a problem with the otherwise clear premise that Zechariah and Revelation are referring to the same two people? No, I don’t believe it is an issue. Why? Because, as will be explained in just a short while, the use of the terms olive trees and lampstands are, in fact, symbolic … meaning they are allegorical representations of (in this case) real people. Those (two) real people are called: witnesses and prophets in Revelation and heavenly beings in Zechariah.
As most readers know: any time symbolism through metaphor or simile or hyperbole is used in literature or language, its fundamental purpose is to enhance or magnify the impact of the person, place, or thing … the subject of the sentence or passage. In other words, lampstand and olive trees help us to better grasp the character, function, and purpose of who they represent.
Some Bible commentators identify the two olive trees in Zechariah as Zerubbabel and Jeshua; however, there is a problem with this application. First, Jeshua isn’t even mentioned in the Zechariah Chapter 4 vision. Rather Jeshua is introduced in a completely different scene as found in Zechariah Chapter 3, with a different meaning and future application. One that involves none other than God’s, “servant, the Branch” who will, “remove the sins of this land (Israel) in a single day” (Zechariah 3: 8-9). The Branch is none other than Messiah (Jesus).
Next, Zechariah Chapter 4 references only Zerubbabel (not Jeshua), but it doesn’t say that Zerubbabel is an olive tree (one of the two olives trees). The Lord didn’t speak about Zerubbabel as a symbolic representation of the two heavenly beings; rather the Lord spoke to Zerubbabel. And the subject of this message specifically concerned the rebuilding of the second temple.
Lastly, neither Jeshua nor Zerubbabel were Old Testament prophets, as prophets are characterized and defined in the Bible.
Why is this mysterious term heavenly beings utilized? I say, mysterious, because nowhere else in the Bible do we find this term used, precisely as we find it in this passage from Zechariah.
What the two heavenly beings are not.
They are not angels. Again, nowhere in Scripture do we find angels actually described as or called heavenly beings. Certainly, they are special beings created by God and their primary residence is with God in heaven, but angels are angels; not some enigmatic “heavenly being” such as identified by the angel in this very unique circumstance recorded by Zechariah. And, angels are never referred to symbolically as lampstands or olive trees, which is the allegorical description found in both Zechariah 4 and Revelation 11. In Zechariah, we are then told that the olive trees/branches symbolically represent the two heavenly beings. In Revelation these two olive trees and lampstands (same descriptive analogy used in Zechariah) are, in fact, the two witnesses or prophets. Although they have various functions, such as ministering and protective spirits, angels are simply referred to as angels (God’s messengers) throughout Scripture.
Nor are these heavenly beings two of the four living beings or two of the twenty-four elders that John saw in his first vision after being summoned to heaven by Christ, who spoke to John and said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must happen after this” (Revelation 4:1). Instantly John saw a throne in heaven, and the one sitting on the throne, “…was as brilliant as gemstones—like jasper and carnelian. And the glow of an emerald circled his throne like a rainbow. Twenty-four thrones surrounded him, and twenty-four elders sat on them” (Revelation 4:3-4). John continues with this spectacular vision: “…In the center and around the throne were four living beings, each covered with eyes, front and back” (Verse 6). After John presents more details as to the appearance of these four living beings, he tells us, “…Day after day and night after night they keep on saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty—the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come” (Verse 8).
There are twenty-four elders and four living beings, whereas there are two heavenly beings in Zechariah. There would be no reason whatsoever for two of the twenty-four elders or two of the four living beings to also be the two heavenly beings … the term used in Zechariah. Nor is there any designation of the living beings and elders representing lampstands or olive trees.
Incidentally, most Bible scholars (I concur) accurately explain the imagery of the lampstand as representing light, which is the truth of God’s majestic plan of salvation for mankind that produces light and life for everyone who places their trust in the crucified and resurrected Son of God. Moreover, the branches of the olive trees that produce oil represent (power and presence of) the Holy Spirit. Thus, these two heavenly beings (witnesses, prophets) will proclaim the truth of God and do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. The heavenly role/purpose of the four living beings and the twenty-four elders are varied as depicted in Revelation, but they are not prophets or heavenly beings who stand before the Lord of the earth, as such. Though they are obviously endowed with power and position, neither the four-living beings nor the twenty-four elders perform miracles as do the two witnesses/prophets who are referred to as heavenly beings in Zechariah.
Not only is the enigmatic description of these two men (by process of elimination and by default they must be men) unique but so is the fact that they stand before “the Lord of the earth.” Once again we see a title that is not used of God or Jesus much at all in Scripture. Often we read about the Lord of Hosts or as the NLT translates it, “The Lord of Heavens Armies,” but Zechariah says the two heavenly beings stand in the presence of the Lord of all the Earth. Why the distinction between the normal language that our Lord is the Lord of Heaven (which he certainly is) and the Lord of the Earth—which he also certainly is although he has given Satan temporary limited authority to rule over the earth, i.e. the world system of godless governments down through the ages.
More Comparative Evidence
Once again, many students of Scripture and Bible prophecy are convinced that the two witnesses of Revelation 11 are and will be Moses and Elijah. And, I heartily agree. By far the most common—and often the only—reason given is because of the supernatural similarity between the power given to and miracles performed by Moses in his time and Elijah in his time, and the two prophets of Revelation. Moreover, Old Testament prophets would sometimes prophesy in burlap clothing, which Revelation 11 tells us is worn by the two witnesses. A modern-day man would not wear burlap. And if he did, while preaching the truth of God, most would consider him as an imposter, trying to mimic Old Testament prophets. But if Moses and Elijah actually appeared (in burlap), well … a lot more people will listen and take heed!
Let’s read again about the colossal feats ascribed to these two witnesses: “These two prophets are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of all the earth. If anyone tries to harm them, fire flashes from their mouths and consumes their enemies. This is how anyone who tries to harm them must die. They have the power to shut the sky so that no rain will fall for as long as they prophesy. And they have the power to turn the rivers and oceans into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they wish” (Revelation 11: 4-6).
Let’s look at the extraordinary correlations between this passage and the accomplishments of Moses and Elijah. And in so doing, to remember the purpose behind these marvelous demonstrations of authority: to get the attention of those being afflicted, ultimately for their own good. With the end result of listening to God, acknowledging his sovereignty, and doing what must be done. Such as turning—from destructive, ungodly behavior as described in Revelation during the Great Tribulation, i.e. sorcery, thefts, sexual immorality, and murders—to the true and living God and His Messiah, Christ Jesus. (See Revelation 9:20-21).But also, to demonstrate the awesome power of the true and living God and His Messiah toward and against those who arrogantly defy their Creator by vainly making themselves equal with God—by creating their own morality and serving their own gods, which most often are themselves.
– Nearly all who have read or heard about the ten miraculous plagues that God inflicted on the Egyptians through Moses, know about the first one: turning the Nile River into blood. During a 3 ½ year display of dynamic and dramatic power, not just one river will be polluted by blood, but several/many, “rivers and oceans” will be contaminated by the two Revelation prophets.
– Nine more plagues followed in the Exodus story, each more devastating than the former, until all the firstborn male children, including Pharaoh’s child, died in a single night. Revelation 11 tells us that these two prophets (most likely Moses in this case) will, “…strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they wish.” Thus, instead of a few weeks of successive plagues during the softening of Pharaoh’s ever-hardening heart, Moses (and Elijah) will dispense plagues for 3 ½ years!
– Please refer to I Kings Chapter 18 for the astounding confrontation between Elijah and 850 so-called prophets hired by Ahab and Jezebel to lead the Hebrews away from God and toward false, non-existent gods such as Baal. Many know the story. But to condense this amazing incident for purpose of this article, suffice to say that the prophets of Baal could no more persuade Baal to consume the prepared sacrifice with fire than could Ahab or Jezebel themselves. When it was Elijah’s turn, he simply prayed a short prayer to the Lord, and God completely consumed the sacrifice; thus validating Elijah’s bold claim that the God of Israel was the only true and living God.
– Let’s read the shocking results: “Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, ‘The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God’” (I Kings 18: 38-39).
Another supernatural comparison between Moses/Elijah and the two prophets can be made: Pharaoh had the power, opportunity, and means to have Moses and Aaron put to death at any time during the sequence of plagues, but he didn’t. More like, he couldn’t! Why? Because God divinely protected Moses as his chosen prophet/witness to Pharaoh.
Likewise, with Elijah. At any point in time, Ahab could have ordered Elijah killed. In fact, both he and his wicked wife, Jezebel, had been vainly searching for Elijah to do just that—kill him. Instead, Ahab allowed Elijah not only to go through with this great test/demonstration as to who exactly was God and who was not; but Ahab also stood by while at least 400 prophets of Baal were slain by Elijah and the people who turned back to God.
Compare the sovereign protection of Moses and Elijah to the two witnesses. As indicated earlier, the two prophets of Revelation who are the same two heavenly beings of Zechariah, are indestructible until their God-given mission is accomplished.
Do you see what’s happening here? For all intents and purposes, these two mighty men of God will be untouchable by the False Prophet and the Antichrist, until their 3 ½ years of proclaiming God’s truth is finished. Then, and only then, will God allow the beast of Revelation (Nero) to kill them. But even that won’t be anything close to permanent, as confirmed by a spectacular event 3 ½ days later.
(That gives a whole new meaning to a Witness protection program! Sorry, I couldn’t resist the analogy).
“But after three and a half days, God breathed life into them, and they stood up! Terror struck all who were staring at them. Then a loud voice from heaven called to the two prophets, ‘Come up here!’ And they rose to heaven in a cloud as their enemies watched. At the same time there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed a tenth of the city (Jerusalem). Seven thousand people died in that earthquake and everyone else was terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven” (Revelation 11: 11-13).
So, too with Moses. He survived Pharaoh’s wrath and certain destruction (along with the Israelites who faithfully followed him and God) at the Red Sea … by God splitting the sea into dry land. He survived forty dangerous years in the harsh Judean wilderness, and forty days and nights without food on Mt. Sinai (twice, or was it three times?). He died directly at the hands of his loving God at the ripe old age of 120; yet the circumstances surrounding his death and burial are still a mystery to this day. (More on that in next week’s article).
So, too with Elijah. He not only was spared providentially from Jezebel’s decree of death for him, he was told by the Lord that 7,000 others in Israel also followed the Lord, who had, “…never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” (I Kings 19:18); to assure Elijah that he was not alone … nor the last true prophet in Israel at the time. Strange or ironic that 7,000 will die in the earthquake immediately after the two prophets are raised from the dead, 3 ½ days after they are murdered by Antichrist. Undoubtedly many, if not all, of these 7,000 who die had already taken the mark of the beast and/or had bowed to the statue of the beast. And it takes the prophets 3 ½ years to, “complete their testimony” (Rev. 11:7), approximately the same amount of time Elijah stopped the rain in Israel.
We have forty days that Elijah also fasted; then later God spoke to him on the very spot where Moses fasted and received the Ten Commandments, Mt. Sinai. Who else fasted for forty days and nights in the Judean wilderness several hundreds of years later? Too easy of a question: Messiah Yeshua. Another easy question: Who was it that met and spoke with Jesus on another mountaintop in Israel? Answer: None other than Moses and Elijah!
Things to Ponder
There’s more! But you’ll need to wait until next week’s article to discover extra amazing things about Elijah and Moses. Scriptural facts that will (1) further validate them as the two witnesses of Revelation. (2) Provide near irrefutable evidence that they alone are qualified to be the heavenly beings who witness and prophesy for the Lord during the Great Tribulation. In doing so, we’ll examine in more depth why they are referred to as heavenly beings and why they stand before the Lord of the earth.
Just a sampling: Elijah and Moses appeared with Christ in bodily form! They were not spirits. Keep that in mind as we continue this captivating back to the future journey. (Next week).