Who are the two witnesses of Revelation 11 - when do they minister?

 
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Question / Comment -  When do the two witnesses of Revelation 11 minister in the 7 year tribulation? 


It is my conclusion that the "Two End-Time Witnesses" will minister during the 1st half of the final 7 years of this present Age. I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

Thank you for your time,

Alan 

JPN Reply:


Hi Alan,

thanks for the question. It is one that is certainly debated and not as straight forward as it would seem. 

Rev 11:3 "And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth."

Like you, I have always believed that this speaks of the first half of the tribulation. So when your question came in I thought I'd write a reply but decided to look up a couple of Bible teachers that I like and see what they had to say (really for confirmation). They were split on the timing. Hmmm... So I looked up some more. They had different views as well. It got me more interested so I kept looking and what I found is that the belief in the two witnesses being in the 1st half or 2nd half of the tribulation was split right down the middle! And these are all pre-millennial, pre-tribulation Bible teachers that would agree on most topics related to Bible prophecy! For example:

  • The Believers Bible commentary (William MacDonald): "God will raise up two witnesses during the last half of the Tribulation"
  • Revelation: A Complete Commentary (William Newell) "all things considered, I am compelled to believe that the two witnesses will prophesy during the first half of Daniel’s seventieth week."
  • The Revelation of Jesus Christ (John F. Walvoord): "Expositors have differed as to which of the two periods is in view here. From the fact, however, that the two witnesses pour out divine judgments upon the earth and need divine protection lest they be killed, it implies that they are in the latter half of the seven years when awful persecution will afflict the people of God."
  • Commentary on Revelation (J. Vernon McGee): "Is this during the first half or the last half of the Great Tribulation? The first half seems to fit the text more accurately because they testify until the Beast appears, and then they are martyred."
  • Annotated Bible (A. C Gaebelin): "...the great testimony to be given in Jerusalem during the 1,260 days of the great tribulation (last half)"
  • Ironsides Notes on Revelation (H.A Ironside); "It seems clear to me that the 1260 days of verse 3 refers to the first half of the week."

And I could go on.. there were others. Here is the main issue that seems to cause the confusion I believe.

When reading the account straight through in chapter 11 it goes right from discussing the two witnesses and the earthquake that occurs at their resurrection to saying the 2nd woe is past and then announces the 7th trumpet:

Rev 11:7-11 When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. (8) And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. (9) Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. (10) And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. (11) But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God came into them, and they stood on their feet; and great fear fell upon those who were watching them.

Rev 11:14-15 The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly. (15) Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever."

So it sounds like this event occurs near the end of the tribulation (where the second woe is past and the third and final woe, the 7th trumpet that declares that the kingdom of the world HAS BECOME the kingdom of our Lord, is near). 

So do they minister in the 2nd half of the tribulation? Personally, I don't think that is correct for the following reasons:

  • We know that the Antichrist is given 3 1/2 years / 42 months / 1260 days / times, time and half a time to have authority (Rev 13:5, Dan 7:25). And not a day more. His reign comes to an end when the Lord returns at the second coming. (Rev 19:19-20, 2 Thes 2:8) So if this 1260 days of Revelation 11:3 is the last half of the tribulation then the day of the witnesses' death is also the day when the Lord Jesus returns at His second coming. That being so, does it make sense that people would be celebrating and sending presents to one another for another three days, over the death of these witnesses, when the battle of Armageddon is going on, the earth is in chaos and the Lord Himself has returned? It doesn't. 
  • It makes more sense I believe that the witnesses are in the first half of the tribulation and, though no one can touch them for 1260 days, the Antichrist "wows" the whole world at the mid point by declaring Himself to be God in the temple and then proving it by killing these "un-killable" witnesses. This would cause people to both worship the Antichrist and celebrate the death of the witnesses.
  • Also we know that these two witnesses are in Jerusalem (Rev 11:8). The last half of the tribulation is the time that the Lord has told the Jews to flee Israel! (Matt 24:15-22, Rev 12:6). It seems better to place them there in the first half of the tribulation (while the people are there) than in the 2nd half when Israel has fled into the wilderness (or those that are obedient have). 
  • It is likely that one of the witnesses is Elijah who has to come again before the great and terrible day of the Lord. Part of his ministry is to cause repentance (Mal 4:6) As the Bible Knowledge Commentary states: "As a result of the ministry of the two witnesses many people will repent, thus uniting the hearts of… fathers with their children. This repentance will mean that they will not experience God’s judgment in the day of the Lord." This makes a lot more sense in the first half of the tribulation before the "full-on" judgment and day of Jacob's trouble occurs. 

So what of the '2nd woe is past' and it's close proximity in the scriptures to the witnesses' death and the 7th trumpet?' 

The three "woes" are declared in Rev 8:13 and are the last three trumpet blasts (trumpets 5, 6 and 7). Each of these are BIG events (hence called 'woes')

Rev 8:13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying in midheaven, saying with a loud voice, "Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, because of the remaining blasts of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound!"

Rev 9:12  The first woe is past; behold, two woes are still coming after these things.

The first 'woe' is over on the 5th trumpet which gives authority to torment mankind for 5 months:

Rev 11:14 The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly.

The second woe is the terrible events of trumpet no 6 which kill a third of mankind, not the earthquake when the witnesses are resurrected. Though the second woe isn't recorded as over till Rev 11:14, I believe this is simply because in between times John was told to 'prophecy again' in Rev 10:11 so he picks up a new theme (that of the temple and the witnesses) which is slotted in between trumpets 6 and 7 in his letter but really is a theme of it's own. In other words what we call Rev 11:1-13 is a parenthesis, a theme of it's own and then it gets back to where it left off... the 2nd woe of the 6th trumpet is over and the last woe, the 7th trumpet is at hand.  

That is how I see it. Could I be wrong? Absolutely... as mentioned above better men than I have disagreed on this! Is there a possibility that the 1260 days of the two witnesses actually goes from half way through the first half to half way through the 2nd half of the tribulation? Yes, it's possible. While it is a fair assumption to make that the 1260 days are the first or the second half of the final 7 years (because of the other scriptures stating that exact same length of time) it is still an "educated" assumption. The Bible doesn't specifically say that it has to be the first or the second. But my understanding is, for the reasons stated above, that it is the first half of the tribulation. 

The good thing is that church age believers won't be here - our hope is in the One who has gone to prepare a place for us and will come again, before God's judgement and wrath, to take us to be where He is!

So who are the two witnesses? 

So while we are speculating and dealing with controversial and debated prophetic scriptures, might as well comment on the identity of the two witnesses! : ) Again, could be wrong... but it seems to me that the Bible is pointing to Elijah and Moses as being the two witnesses. Too many clues point that way IMHO. As mentioned above, we know that Elijah is said to come again at this time:

Mal 4:5-6 "Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. (6) "He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse."

Jesus said that if the people had accepted (Him), then John the Baptist, who had come in the spirit of Elijah, would have fulfilled this... but they rejected Jesus. So Jesus said that Elijah would still come (in the future). (Luke 1:17, Matt 11:14, Mark 9:11-13)

Now when you look at the details concerning the two witnesses you see that it fits exactly with the ministry of Elijah and Moses:

Theme in Rev 11 Picture of Elijah / Moses

Length of ministry: Rev 11:3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth."

Elijah caused drought for the same period - 3 1/2 years (1260 days) 

Jas 5:17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.

Fire: Rev 11:5 If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.

Elijah called fire down upon his enemies

2Ki 1:10 Elijah replied to the captain of fifty, "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty." Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.

Stop rain: Rev 11:6 These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying;

Elijah stopped it from raining

1Ki 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, "As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."

Water into blood: Rev 11:6 and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want.

Moses turned water into blood
Exo 7:20 So Moses and Aaron did even as the LORD had commanded. And he lifted up the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile was turned to blood

Strike with plagues: Rev 11:6 ...and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. Moses performed 10 different plagues upon Egypt (Exodus ch 7-11)

Exo 11:10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of his land.

 

So the length and type of ministry definitely reminds us of Moses and Elijah. These two represent the Old Testament 'law and prophets'. The same two showed up at the Mount of transfiguration (Matt 17:1-6), a picture of His coming Kingdom, and spoke with Jesus. Do I think they will come again? Yes I do. It is possible that the two who come, come in the 'spirit of Elijah and Moses', just as John the Baptist came in the same spirit? It's possible. But I believe it will be those two themselves. 

Anyway, we shall see... from heaven!

All the best. Hope it helps.

Iain.