Bible Prophecy in Chronology series (post #12)
In my last post, I finished up the study of the seven Trumpet Judgments that will take place after the seven Seal Judgments in the first half of the tribulation period. However, in order to work in that seventh trumpet judgment and include it with the post, I had to cheat a little bit by jumping from Revelation 9:13-21 (the sixth trumpet judgment) to Revelation 11:15-19 (the seventh trumpet judgment).
This jump makes chapters 10 and 11 each what commentators call a “parenthesis chapter.” That means the chapters veer from the book’s straightforward timeline slightly in order to add in some additional details and important information. We saw this same kind of thing when we studied the seal judgments. The sixth seal judgment comes at the end of chapter 6 and the seventh seal judgment comes at the beginning of chapter 8. This makes chapter 7 a “parenthesis chapter.” In that instance, the parenthesis is used to introduce the 144,000 Jewish evangelists and their martyred tribulation-period converts. Here now, in this second parenthesis, we are introduced to a mighty angel and two prophets whom God calls “my two witnesses.”
We meet the mighty angel in Revelation 10:1-7 as he descends down from heaven to the earth and comes to rest with one foot on the sea and the other one on the land. Having one foot on each represents the claim he is making concerning both sea and land. This angel is impressive enough in appearance for some commentators and prophecy teachers to contend that he is none other than Jesus. To back up this interpretation, they point to the Old Testament instances where Jesus makes preincarnate appearances upon the earth as “The Angel (capital A) of the Lord” (Genesis 16:7-12, Exodus 3:2, Judges 2:1-4, etc.). They also note that this angel is holding an opened book in his hand (Revelation 10:2). Presumably, this “book” would be the now unsealed and opened scroll that Jesus took from God the Father’s hand in Revelation 5:1-7. So, could this actually be Jesus? And could this “book” be that scroll?
My answers are, no and no. You can count me in with all the commentators and prophecy teachers who interpret this angel to be simply that: an angel. There are three good reasons for choosing this side of the debate. First, from the gospel of Matthew to the epistle of Jude there isn’t a single passage where Jesus appears in angelic form. Because of this it seems likely that Him appearing as an angel ceased forever when He took upon Himself human flesh. Second, if this angel is Jesus it means that Jesus will step foot upon the earth again before His actual second coming at the end of the tribulation period. That, of course, just doesn’t fit with the totality of prophecy. Third, the angel raises his hand and swears (takes a vow) by the God who created all things (Revelation 10:5-6). Since Jesus is that God (John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 1:1-2), He could simply swear by Himself if He wanted to take a vow, and He certainly wouldn’t have to speak in third-person to do it. So, as I see it, this angel isn’t Jesus, and any similarity he bears to Jesus can be explained by the close proximity he probably enjoys to Jesus in heaven, just as Moses’ face shown with the glory of the Lord after he spent 40 days and 40 nights with the Lord on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:27-35).
As for the book the angel holds, the Greek word for it is biblaridion, which specifically refers to a small book. This is different from the Greek word for the scroll of Revelation 5:1-7. That word is biblion, which refers to a large book. Furthermore, if the scroll of Revelation 5:1-7 is the title deed to the earth – as most commentators suggest – it seems very odd that John would hear a voice from heaven that tells him to go take the book from the angel’s hand and eat the book (Revelation 10:8-10).
By the way, the idea of eating the word of God symbolizes that the word has become an integral part of your life. The word doesn’t just get inside your ears or your mind; it goes deep down inside you. We find this same kind of language in the prophetic ministries of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 15:16) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 2:7-10, 3:1-3).
But if this book this angel holds isn’t the scroll from Revelation 5:1-7, what is it? It seems to be the record of the events that will play out from that time (Revelation 10:1-7) forward in the tribulation period. You see, at the time this angel descends to the earth, the earth will be right on the cusp of the seventh trumpet judgment, and it is in the days of that trumpet judgment that the “mystery of God” will be “finished” (Revelation 10:7).
Perhaps you’ll recall that I said in my previous post that the seventh trumpet judgment includes everything from the blowing of the trumpet in Revelation 11:15-19 up through Christ’s second coming at the end of the tribulation period in Revelation 19:1-21. In light of this, the role this angel with this book plays is one of descending down to the earth right before the beginning of that seventh judgment and loudly proclaiming that there will be no more delay to the beginning of the events written in the book he holds. Those events will involve the sea and the land, and they will culminate in Christ’s second coming. Think of it this way: With the appearance of this angel and this book, the end game of the tribulation period is now in sight and God is eager for it to happen.
John, for his part, is going to serve as not only a front-row eyewitness but also a court recorder to it all. For one thing, he will see Christ’s magnificent return to establish His kingdom upon the earth. This explains why the little book tasted “as sweet as honey” when he ate it (Revelation 10:10). Before that second coming, though, John will see all the horrific events that will play out in the last three-and-a-half years of the tribulation period. This explains why the little book became “bitter” in his stomach (Revelation 10:10).
But now, with this mighty angel explained, let me get to those two important figures whom God calls “my two witnesses” (Revelation 11:3). I’ll start by giving a list of the ten descriptive facts The Revelation gives us about these men. Then I’ll close this post by offering my opinion as to the actual identities of the men.
Fact #1: The two witnesses will prophecy for 1,260 days in the tribulation period (Revelation 11:3). 1,260 days is three-and-a-half years. Remember that the Jewish calendar, which is the calendar God uses in prophecy, marks years in terms of 360 days, not the 365 we Gentiles know so well. I explained all this in post #4 of this series. So, we know that the two witnesses will have a ministry that lasts three-and-a-half years.
The disagreements start when the question is asked, “When will these three-and-a-half years begin and end?” Many prophecy experts believe the two witnesses will minister during the first half of the tribulation period. Renowned prophecy teacher David Jeremiah even suggests they might be the ones who win the 144,000 Jewish evangelists to Christ at the very beginning of the period.
On the other hand, other prophecy experts place the ministry of the witnesses in the last half of the tribulation period. John Walvoord, who some would consider the 20th century’s most influential teacher of prophecy, argued that it must be the last half because the witnesses need divine protection from the Antichrist lest they be killed by him before their ministry is complete. The Antichrist, you’ll recall, won’t reveal his true colors until the midway point of the period.
As for my take on all this, I side with Walvoord and the others who favor the last half of the period as the answer. Getting even more specific, I believe the two witnesses will begin their ministry just prior to the midway point of the tribulation period and finish it just prior to the end of the period. I base this upon the fact that The Revelation introduces these two men in chapter 11, not chapter 12. That’s significant because virtually everyone agrees that chapter 12 marks the beginning of the last three-and-a-half years of the period.
Fact #2: The two witnesses will be clothed in sackcloth (Revelation 11:3). Sackcloth is rough, coarse cloth that is made from goat or camel hair. Wearing clothing made from it has served as a visible object lesson of humility, suffering, somberness, grief, and mourning for thousands of years (Genesis 37:34). This clothing will set these two witnesses apart as being wildly different from the rest of the world. You don’t get any more “old school” than to do your witnessing and prophesying while wearing sackcloth.
Fact #3: The two witnesses are described as “two olive trees” and “two lampstands” (Revelation 11:4). In the ancient world, lampstands provided light, and the oil from olive trees was used to fuel lampstands. Symbolically speaking, the two witnesses will be lampstands in the sense that they will shine God’s spiritual light into a spiritually dark world. Likewise, the oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit who will empower them to minister. Oil is often used in the Bible to symbolize or typify the Holy Spirit (1 Samuel 16:13, Isaiah 61:1, Acts 10:38, 1 John 2:27, etc.). Lastly, the symbols of olive trees and lampstands undoubtedly relate back to a certain prophecy found in Zechariah 4:1-14.
Fact #4: The two witnesses will be invulnerable until their ministry is completed (Revelation 11:5). These men will have the ability to project some kind of “fire” from their mouths to devour anyone who tries to harm them. It’s hard to say whether or not this “fire” will be literal. In Jeremiah 5:14, God says to Jeremiah, “I will make My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it shall devour them.” Obviously, God’s words in Jeremiah’s mouth weren’t literal fire. So, perhaps the same will be true of the two witnesses. However, I’m not dismissing the possibility that the “fire” will be literal.
Fact #5: The two witnesses will have the power to produce drought, turn waters into blood, and strike the earth with plagues (Revelation 11:6). I can’t come up with any legitimate way to explain all this other than to take it all literally. The Bible tells us that prophets of old such as Moses, Elijah, and Elisha could perform deeds that were astounding or even downright miraculous. In each instance it was actually God who was accomplishing the deed, but that doesn’t completely minimize the fact that He was doing it through the man. Clearly these two witnesses will be prophets in that same vein.
Fact #6: When the two witnesses have finished their testimony, the Antichrist will kill them (Revelation 11:7). Since the Greek word for “witness” is martus, from which we get the word “martyr,” these two men will indeed live up to their title. Their deaths will not occur, however, until their ministry is thoroughly completed. No matter how much they are despised and hated, the Antichrist won’t be able to stop them until day 1,261 of their ministry. And will he kill them himself or merely order others to kill them? We aren’t told, but if he kills them himself that would bolster his reputation enormously as he would become the man who personally killed two prophets no one else had been able to kill.
Fact #7: The dead bodies of the two witnesses will lie unburied in the street of Jerusalem for three-and-half days (Revelation 11:8-9) The Antichrist will loathe the two witnesses so much that he will enjoy seeing their bodies dishonored even in death. Other lost people will despise them as well and thus have no incentive to bury the bodies. That will only leave tribulation-period believers to do the burying, and they won’t dare try such a thing for fear of being killed themselves by the Antichrist.
Fact #8: People from all tribes, tongues, and nations will not only see the dead bodies in the street but also send gifts to one another in celebration over the deaths (Revelation 11:10). When John first penned this bizarre portion of this prophecy, there was no way imaginable for all tribes, tongues, and nations to witness a singular event in Jerusalem. Now, however, with satellite television and the internet such a thing is easy. But why the worldwide celebration over the deaths of the two witnesses? It’s because the two men had “tormented those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 11:10). How had they tormented them? Well, if nothing else, causing it not to rain for three-and-a-half years (Revelation 11:6) won’t win you any popularity contests.
Fact #9: After the three-and-a-half days are finished, God will resurrect the two witnesses and call them up to heaven (Revelation 11:11-12). At the end of the three-and-a-half days, “the breath of life from God” will enter into the two corpses and they will stand up on their feet. As you can imagine, these resurrections will throw terror into all those who see them. The two witnesses will then hear a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here,” after which they will ascend up to heaven in a cloud as their enemies watch.
Fact #10: The resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses will be followed by a great earthquake that strikes Jerusalem (Revelation 11:13). The damage from the quake will leave 7,000 people dead and one-tenth of the city lying in ruins. This earthquake seems to be God’s way of taking revenge upon the city for allowing the bodies of His two witnesses to lie unattended on the street for three-and-a-half days. However, there will be some good that comes out of the catastrophe as the survivors will be struck with great fear and give “glory to the God of heaven.”
Okay, so now that we understand the pertinent facts about the two witnesses, we come to the question, “Who will these men be?” Well, our best interpretation is that they will be two characters from the Old Testament who come back upon the scene to minister again. I won’t say this is the only interpretation concerning their identities, but it is without doubt the most commonly held one. But what two Old Testament characters are we dealing with?
One prime candidate is the prophet Elijah. He had the God-given ability to keep the rain from falling for three-and-a-half years (1 Kings 17:1) and to call fire down from heaven (1 Kings 18:20-38). And have you heard that he never actually died? Instead of dying, he was snatched up one day and taken up into heaven by means of a chariot of fire that was pulled by horses of fire (2 Kings 2:1-11). Then, as if all that isn’t enough, centuries later God spoke to the Jews through the prophet Malachi and said, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5). That term “the great and dreadful day of the Lord” is a reference to the second coming of Christ. Therefore, in view of all this evidence, I agree with those who think that Elijah will be one of the two witnesses.
But what about the other witness? Admittedly, his identification is more disputed. For the most part, though, there are two candidates: Moses and Enoch. Allow me to present the arguments for each man.
Just as the two witnesses will have the power to turn waters into blood, Moses performed that same miracle for the first of the ten plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7:14-25). Likewise, just as the two witnesses will have the power to strike the earth with plagues, Moses certainly leveled Egypt with a whole assortment of them (Exodus chapters 7 through 12). Lastly, when Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him to the top of the so-called Mount of Transfiguration, those three men saw Jesus talking to none other than Elijah and Moses (Matthew 17:1-3, Mark 9:2-6, Luke 9:28-31).
Okay, so all this seems to make an open-and-shut case for Moses as the other witness, doesn’t it? But wait, there’s a flaw with this line of thinking. The flaw is that, unlike Elijah, Moses literally died upon the earth (Deuteronomy 34:1-8). Even though there is an odd little statement in Jude verse 9 about Satan contending with the archangel Michael over the body of Moses, there is no disputing that Moses did in fact die. And why is this such a big deal? It’s a big deal because the Antichrist will kill both of the witnesses, and Hebrews 9:27 says that it is appointed for men to die once. You see, if Moses is indeed one of the two witnesses, he will have to die twice.
So, is this an automatic deal-breaker for Moses as the other witness? Maybe, but maybe not. Truth be told, there have been some people who died twice. That list includes anyone who was ever resurrected back to earthly life. Lazarus is on that list (John 11:1-44). So is Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18-25). So is Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43). So is the son of the widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24). So are a few others. It is probably significant, though, that Moses would be different from the others on the list in that there would be thousands of years between his first death and his resurrection and second death.
And with that we come to Enoch. Like Elijah, Enoch never actually died. Instead, there came a day when God “took him” (Genesis 5:21-24). Furthermore, even though there is no Bible record of Enoch ever performing any miracles, Jude verses 14 and 15 mention a prophecy that he once gave concerning the second coming of Jesus. Isn’t that interesting?
Someone might ask, “But doesn’t the other witness have to be Enoch because, according to Hebrews 9:25, he (like Elijah) owes God a death?” Not necessarily. We shouldn’t forget that at the moment of the Rapture millions of believers will leave this earth and go to heaven without dying (1 Corinthians 15:51-55, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). As a matter of fact, Enoch – an Old Testament believer – is often cited as being a “type” or a “foreshadowing” of the New Testament Christian who is alive on the earth at the moment of the Rapture and gets snatched up to heaven without dying. This means that the theory that Enoch, like Elijah, absolutely has to be one of the two witnesses because he can’t cheat death doesn’t hold water.
Finally, now, with all this information presented, I’ll give you my humble opinion on this question. My best educated guess is that the two witnesses will be Elijah and Enoch. Years ago, when I first started preaching prophecy, I preached the Elijah-and-Moses interpretation. As I’ve gotten older, though, and studied the matter more and more, I’ve now come to believe that it will be Enoch instead of Moses. For me, the crucial piece of evidence is that Moses would become the only person in history to die, wait thousands of years for his resurrection, and then eventually die again. It’s those eons of time between Moses’ two lives that gnaws at me and causes me to side with Enoch. Could I be wrong? Certainly. But at least you have to give me credit for examining the argument from all sides before offering my opinion.
Really, though, I hope you understand that God’s prophetic word doesn’t rise or fall on the identification of the two witnesses. Even if they aren’t Elijah, Enoch, or Moses, it doesn’t change the astounding ministry the two witnesses will have in the tribulation period. How great will their impact be upon the world? All you have to know is that their deaths will create a worldwide celebration in which the lost people will rejoice and send gifts to one another because these two men who “tormented” them are now dead (Revelation 11:10). Trust me, any servants of God who are a big enough thorn in the side of lost people to be considered tormentors and a big enough threat to the Antichrist to have him kill them must make an incalculable impact on the world. Needless to say, we Christians should be excited about getting to meet these men in eternity, whoever they happen to be.