Part 024 – The Two witnesses

The Book of REVELATION

A Study

Part 024

The Two Witnesses (Rev.11:1-12)

Three events of the Tribulation period

Revelation chapter eleven opens with introductory remarks concerning the Temple which will be constructed by the Jewish people at the beginning of the Tribulation, following “the man of sin” ratifying a seven-year covenant with “many” in Israel. After building the Temple and establishing the priesthood, “the daily sacrifice” will start and continue until the middle of the Tribulation. But, exactly at the middle of the Tribulation, “the man of sin” will break his covenant, causing the sacrifices to cease, and not only desecrating but destroying the rebuilt Temple. This “transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot” will continue till the end of the Tribulation. Then the “cleansing of the sanctuary” will occur at the full end of the Tribulation.

The three periods of time during the Tribulation

In this respect, let us look at Dan.8:13, 14 and Dan.9:24-27. Three periods of time are involved here: (1) The time taken to rebuild the Temple, establish the priesthood and begin offering sacrifices, (2) The time referred to by “the daily sacrifice” and this has to do with the time during which sacrifices will be offered in the rebuilt temple [from the time they begin until the middle of the Tribulation period] and (3) The time referred to by “the transgression of desolation” and this has to do with the time following “the man of sin” breaking the covenant, causing sacrifices to cease; this will start in the exact middle of the Tribulation and continue throughout the second half of the Tribulation. During this period of 3½ years, there will no longer be sacrifices, because the Temple will have been destroyed and all the Jewish people scattered among the nations. And “the cleansing of the sanctuary” will occur at the full end of the Tribulation period. As given in Dan.8:13, 14, the total time taken for (2) and (3) is ‘two thousand three hundred days.’ So the time taken for (1), that is, the time taken to rebuild the Temple, establish the priesthood and begin offering sacrifices is the total 7-year Tribulation period, minus ‘two thousand three hundred days.’ That is 7 X 12 X 30 – 2300 = 2520 – 2300 = 220 days. And (2), the time for which “daily sacrifice” will be carried out = 3½ years minus 220 = 3½ X 12X 30 – 220 = 1260 – 220 = 1040 days. Then (3), “the transgression of desolation,” the time for which there will no longer be sacrifices is the complete second half of the Tribulation period = 3½ years = 42 months = 1260 days.

The time of the ministry of the two witnesses

From the above discussion, we can see clearly that during the first half of the Tribulation, the Temple will be rebuilt in 220 days and then the sacrifices will continue for 1040 days. And during the second half of the Tribulation, the Jews will be driven out of their land and severely persecuted by the Gentile nations. This is what the Lord Jesus foretold in the Olivet Discourses (Matt.24:3-31; Mark 13:4-27; Luke 21:7-28). These verses have to do with a time when “all things which are written may be fulfilled” and the time when Jerusalem is going to be “trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled (Luke 21:22, 24). The ministry of the two witnesses cannot occur during the second half of the Tribulation because there would be no Jews in Jerusalem or the surrounding area during that time. Their ministry can occur only during the first half of the tribulation, for their ministry will be to the Jewish people, and will be centered in Jerusalem.

The visions of Zechariah

This is more clearly evident from how they are first described in Rev.11:4, “These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.” This is a reference drawn from one of the eight visions recorded in the Book of Zechariah (Zech.4:1-14). As stated in the beginning verses of the Book of Zechariah (Zech.1:1-6), the subject matter of this Book as well as that of these eight visions is: Israel’s disobedience, the result of this disobedience, the call for repentance and that which will occur following Israel’s repentance. Israel’s past disobedience resulted in the Times of the Gentiles. And during the Times of the Gentiles, Israel will not only reap the consequences of her actions, but also will ultimately be brought to the place of repentance. God will use Gentile persecution to bring Israel to repentance, but He will also subsequently judge the Gentiles because of this persecution (Gen.12:3). Only after that will Israel occupy her proper place at the head of the nations, with their Messiah ruling over and blessing all the nations through Israel in final fulfillment of Gen.22:16-18; Exo.19:5, 6.

Future events after the fulfillment of Zechariah’s visions

Then, immediately after the last vision, Zechariah calls attention to the crowning of Joshua the high priest. This foreshadows future events surrounding the crowning of the Lord Jesus, Who will then be the great King-Priest in Jerusalem. After that, Zechariah refers to “the man whose name is The BRANCH,” which is followed by a reference to the building of the temple (Zech.6:11-13). And this foreshadows the building of the Millennial Temple by the Messiah Himself, following Israel’s restoration, in that future day.

The ministry of the two witnesses

Comparing Rev.11:4 with the fifth vision of Zechariah (Zech.4:1-14), we can understand that the ministry of the two witnesses will have to do with the same subject matter of all the eight visions: the Jewish people, their past disobedience, the result of this disobedience, the call for repentance and that which will occur following Israel’s repentance. These two witnesses will be the ones directly responsible for the conversion of the 144,000 Jews who will minister worldwide during the last half of the Tribulation. At the beginning of the Tribulation, there will not be even a single saved individual on the earth. The whole church, consisting of all those who are saved would have been caught up (raptured, 1Thess.4:16, 17) just before the beginning of the Tribulation. Therefore these two witnesses had to be sent from heaven to earth with a specific message to the Jews centered in Jerusalem. Their ministry will be for exactly 1260 days, the first 3½ years of the Tribulation. They will possess supernatural protection and will exhibit supernatural powers (Rev.11:5, 6). There is a point when the two witnesses will have finished their testimony (Rev.11:7), which may very well have to do with the last of the 144,000 being saved and sealed (Rev.7:1-8). They will appear and begin their ministry at or about the time when the “man of sin” makes his covenant with “many” in Israel, and their ministry will end exactly 3½ years later when this man breaks his covenant. Both times run concurrently for 3½ years, which is 1260 days or 42 months (Rev.11:2, 3; Dan.7:25; Rev.13:5).

Supernatural signs performed by the two witnesses

The identity of these two witnesses is not given in Scripture. Supernatural signs were associated with their ministry (Rev.11:5, 6). In the Old Testament, only at two different times individuals were empowered to perform such supernatural signs.  First, it happened during the time of Moses and his successor Joshua, when the kingdom was being offered to Israel. And second, it happened during the time of Elijah and his successor Elisha, when the kingdom was going to be taken from Israel. In the New Testament also, only at two different times individuals were empowered to perform such supernatural signs.  First, it happened during the time of the Lord Jesus and His apostles, when the kingdom of the heavens was being offered to the Jewish people, as we see in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts. And second, it will happen during the future Tribulation, when God resumes His dealing with the Jewish people and restores them to the kingdom.

The identity of the two witnesses

After understanding the ministry of the two witnesses after the preceding fashion, and knowing that Moses and Elijah appeared when the Lord Jesus was transfigured on the mount in Matt.17:3, and knowing God will send Elijah back sometime during the Tribulation (Mal.4:5, 6), it would probably still be best to leave attempted identities of the two witnesses alone. Scripture refers to them as “two witnesses.” God has deemed that sufficient, and so should we.

The end of the ministry of the two witnesses

At or about the time when the man of sin breaks his testimony with “many” in Israel, the two witnesses will finish their testimony. Then their supernatural protection will be removed and the man of sin, the beast of Rev.13, will be allowed to kill them (Rev.11:7). Their dead bodies will lie unburied in the streets of Jerusalem for three and a half days. People of all nations will see their dead bodies and will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two witnesses tormented those who dwell on the earth (Rev.11:8-10). The Beast will seemingly have obtained victory over the two individuals, after breaking his covenant with the Jewish people, entering into the Temple, and declaring himself to be God. The Beast will at this time, attempt to swiftly destroy all the Jewish people (Matt.24:15-26; Mark 13:14-23; Luke 21:20-24; 2Thess.2:3, 4; Rev.13:1-3). No wonder, the entire world will begin to follow after and worship the Beast when all these things come to happen at the same time (Rev.13:4-8).

Resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses

But, after three and a half days, matters will suddenly change. The breath of life from God will enter the bodies of two witnesses, and they will stand on their feet, and great fear will fall on all those who see them. But the ministry of these two witnesses will have been finished and they will hear a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here” and will simply ascend to heaven in a cloud in front of the eyes of their enemies (Rev.11:11, 12).