Who are the "two witnesses"?


Over the years, there has been much speculation about the identify of the “two witnesses.” Some fanciful and some down-right ridiculous concepts have been advanced, and there have been people at all times–it seems–claiming that they are one of the “two witnesses”, or that they know who they are.

The truth is that it has not been revealed yet who the two witnesses will be–and we strongly hold that those who may believe that THEY ARE the two witnesses are misled and are misleading others.

Some claim today, thereby inadvertently adopting the opinion of some confused Catholic “church fathers,” that the two witnesses are or will be ancient Moses and ancient Elijah or ancient Enoch, who will either be resurrected from the dead, or who have been kept alive for thousands of years in a state of “limbo”–not really being alive, and not really being dead, either. Apparently, this latter concept is alluded to in the uninspired Book of Enoch–a Jewish legend and fairy tale which has correctly been rejected as part of the inspired Word of God. Others feel that the two witnesses are two angels. However, there is absolutely NO indication in the Bible that any of these foregoing human ideas are accurate.

Let us carefully review what we CAN safely say about the two witnesses, by just reviewing God’s revealed Scripture. Everything beyond that belongs in the realm of speculation, which is not revealed Godly knowledge, but rather human ideas and fabrications.

We read in the 11th chapter of the Book of Revelation that Jerusalem will be occupied by Gentiles for 42 months or 3 1/2 years or 1260 days(Revelation 11:1-3; compare Luke 21:23-24; Daniel 2:44). This Gentile rule will occur under two future political and religious leaders of the final resurrection of the ancient Holy Roman Empire. These political and religious leaders are also referred to in Scripture as the “beast” and the “false prophet” (Daniel 11:45; 2 Thessalonians 2:4).

We are told in Scripture that during that future time of Jerusalem’s occupation, “two witnesses” will prophesy for 1260 days or 3 1/2 years (compare Revelation 11:3). This will apparently happen at the same time when certain Church members will be at a “place of safety” here on earth to be protected from the beast and the false prophet (compare Revelation 12:14). The time frame for the testimony of the two witnesses of 1260 days or 3 1/2 years corresponds with “a time and times and half a time” or 3 1/2 years in Revelation 12:14, describing the duration of stay of Church members at the place of safety (Please remember that one year has 360 days according to the Hebrew calendar, and that the term “time” means “year”, compare Daniel 4:16).

These two witnesses are called in Revelation 11:4 “the two olive trees and the two lamp stands.” This is an obvious reference to a passage in Zechariah 4:3, 11-14.

The commentary of JFB points out:

“They are described by symbol as ‘the two olive trees’ and ‘the two candlesticks,’ or lamp-stands, ‘standing before the God of the earth.’ The reference is to Zec. 4:3, Zec. 4:12, where two individuals are meant, Joshua and Zerubbabel, who ministered to the Jewish Church, just as the two olive trees emptied the oil out of themselves into the bowl of the candlestick. So in the final apostasy God will raise up two inspired witnesses to minister encouragement…”

Even though it is true that the book of Zechariah might refer, in one sense, to Joshua and Zerubbabel who were alive at the time of Zechariah’s writing, both the books of Zechariah and of Revelation are primarily prophetic in nature. The fact, then, that it says in both passages that the two witnesses “stand” beside or before the Lord does not mean that they were already alive when Zechariah or John wrote down the visions which they received from God. Since the books of Zechariah and Revelation contain prophecies for our time, they cannot be used to prove that the two witnesses of the end time were alive at the time of Zechariah and John. They cannot be used, either, to prove that the two witnesses are Moses and Enoch or Elijah, whom God kept alive supernaturally in some unexplained way, because we are clearly told that Moses and Enoch DIED (compare Hebrews 11:5, 13, 23-29, 39-40; Deuteronomy 34:7). To postulate that God will resurrect Moses and Enoch or Elijah to physical life again in these endtimes is without any biblical basis whatever.

For the same reason, the statement in the books of Zechariah and of Revelation, that the two witnesses “stand” before God, cannot be used to prove that they are angels. We read in the 11th chapter of the book of Revelation that the beast or military ruler will kill the two witnesses, and that their dead bodies will lie in Jerusalem for 3 ½ days (Revelation 11:7-10). Since they will be killed, they cannot be angels, as angels cannot die (Luke 20:35-36).

Unger’s Bible Handbook points out:

“Although the two witnesses are commonly identified as Moses and Enoch or Moses and Elijah, such identifications are scarcely tenable… These witnesses are evidently two members of the latter-day remnant. They are Christ’s witnesses… Their message is Christ’s lordship over the earth… proclaiming the soon coming of the King of kings to take possession of the earth… they are killed by the beast (head of the revived Roman Empire, Rev. 13:1-10; 17:8)… but not until they have completed their testimony…”

Following their death, they will be resurrected and ascend to heaven in a cloud, at the end of the “second woe,” and at the beginning of the “third” and final “woe,” when the seventh angel sounds (Revelation 11:11-15, 19—compare Revelation 16:17-18; both passages speak about lightnings, noises, thunderings and an earthquake, showing that both passages describe the same event and the same time setting). The resurrection of the two witnesses will take place, then, at the same time as the first resurrection of the just to immortality, when the seventh or last angel sounds (compare 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Matthew 24:30-31). At that time, those who died in Christ will be resurrected to immortality and–together with those in Christ who will still be alive and changed to immortality at that moment–they will ascend “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). This will include the two witnesses who were killed, but who will be resurrected 3 1/2 days later to immortality and who will ascend “to heaven in a cloud” (Revelation 11:11-12) to meet the Lord in the air, together with all the other resurrected and changed saints.

In conclusion, the Bible tells us that at the very end, just prior to the return of Jesus Christ to this earth, two extraordinary human beings will prophesy and warn this world for 3 1/2 years. During the time of their testimony, no one can harm them, as they will have supernatural protection and powers from God. Although the powers described remind us of acts performed by Moses and Elijah, “it is not necessary to assume that John expected them to return literally” (Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 12, page 303). Rather, they will be human beings, sent by God to give this world a last warning, going before the returning Christ “in the spirit and power of Elijah” and Moses (compare Luke 1:17).

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

©2024 Church of the Eternal God