Who are the Two Witnesses? Revelation 11:3-6

After measuring out the temple, God grants authority to two witnesses who will minister during the 42 months (or 1260 days) when the temple is trample by the nations. “Two witnesses” is based on the Jewish law required two witnesses to establish a fact (Num. 35:30, Deut. 17:6). Jesus sent out his disciples two-by-two as witnesses to the villages of Galilee (Mark 6:6-12).

Two Witnesses in Douce Apocalypse, Bodleian ms180

The physical description of the two witnesses is drawn from various Old testament passages. They are clothed in sackcloth. Sackcloth is a coarse cloth usually made of goats’ hair and black in color and was worn as a sign of mourning (Gen 37:34; 2 Sam 3:31).

They are also described as “the two olive trees and the two lampstands.” The background for this description is Zechariah 4. Lampstand here should be understood as a menorah, a synagogue lamp that was used in the temple as well.  It had a single stick in the center with three sets of arcs out from the base, for a total of seven candles. Recall that the description of Christ in chapter one talked about seven lampstands, perhaps there was one menorah with seven lights. The image in Zechariah are identified with the “two who are anointed to serve the Lord.” In the context of Zechariah, these are most likely to be identified with Zerubbabel (the governor) and Joshua (the high priest) of the post-exilic community. One major difference is that while there are two olive trees, there is only one lampstand.

“Fire” destroys their enemies. This is a difficult point to understand since there is no Old Testament reference to fire coming out of anyone to destroy enemies (although Elijah and Elisha both call fire from heaven.) Aune 2:613 lists several extra-biblical references 2 and 3 Enoch, for example.). One possibility is to see this fire as representing the word of God, as in Jeremiah 5:14,  “Because the people have spoken these words, I will make my words in your mouth a fire and these people the wood it consumes.”  In 2 Samuel 22:8-9 God “breathes fire,” a metaphor of judgement, “Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it.”

These two witnesses have the power to withhold rain, cause water to turn to blood, and to strike the earth with plagues during the 3 and a half years of their ministry. The power to cause drought is punitive (Aune 2:615), as with Elijah in 1 Kings 17:1, etc. Turning the water to blood is an allusion to Moses in Exodus 7:14-19), this would also cause famine. The Egyptians were struck with “every kind of plague” (1 Sam 4:8); the implication is that the same types of plagues that were present in Exodus will be available to these two witnesses.

Two Witnesses Ottheinrich folio294rWith this in mind, who are the two witnesses? Daniel K. K. Wong surveyed a bewildering number of suggestions and sorted them into two categories symbolic, corporate and literal interpretations (“The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11” BSac 154 (1997): 344-354). As examples of symbolic interpretations, some scholars have taken these two witnesses as symbols of the law and prophets or the Old and New Testaments. Under the heading of corporate interpretations, scholars often see these two witnesses as the church as witness in the word in the present age. Sometimes the witnesses are seen as believers who suffer martyrdom (Caird, for example).

Literal interpretations of the two witnesses are two prophets active during the final conflagration, the great tribulation. Based in Malachi 4:5-6, there was a Jewish expectation that Elijah would return before the Messiah. In John 1 John the Baptist is asked if he is Elijah. Jesus called John the Baptist “the Elijah that is to come” (Matt 11:14l; 17:10-12). Peter says some think Jesus is Elijah (Matt 16:14; cf. Mark 6:15 the crowds thought that John was Elijah).

Not surprisingly, there are many possible combinations for the identity of the two witnesses. The most common suggestion is Moses and Elijah since the plagues described in Revelation 11 allude to these two Old Testament characters. In addition, they represent the Law and Prophets, as the symbolic interpretations correctly observe. Elijah and Moses met with Jesus at the Transfiguration (Matt 17). Although this is associated with dispensationalist writers (Thomas, Revelation 2:88-89), Greg Beale also sees an allusion to Moses and Elijah, although in his view the text does not anticipate a literal return of Moses and Elijah.

A second common suggestion for the two witnesses is Elijah and Enoch. A second common suggestion for the two witnesses is Elijah and Enoch. this view is at least as old as Augustine. He thought Elijah and Enoch will be killed together at “the end of the world by the Antichrist” (Ep. 193.3, 5; De gen ad litt. 9.5; cited by Aune, 2:617).Aune also draws attention to the Acts of Pilate 25 as representing the view the two witnesses are Enoch and Elijah.

I am Enoch, who pleased God and was removed here by him. And this is Elijah the Tishbite. We shall live until the end of the world. But then we shall be sent by God to withstand Antichrist and to be killed by him. And after three days we shall rise again and be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord.

Since these two characters from the Old Testament ascend to heaven. In Genesis 5 Enoch walked with God and “was no more” and in 2 Kings 2 Elijah is taken to heaven in a fiery chariot in 2 Kings 2. This view also resonates with the belief Elijah would return before the messiah. The Animal Apocalypse implies Enoch would return, although this is far from clear in 1 Enoch 90:31. In 4 Ezra 6:26 “And they shall see the men who were taken up, who from their birth have not tasted death; and the heart of the earth’s inhabitants shall be changed and converted to a different spirit.”

Which view a better interpretation of the two witnesses? Are the two witnesses symbols (either generic or for a corporate group) or two literal people? Wong makes several points that imply that these are literal people. First, the word-group for witness is normally used for persons rather than as a symbol for something. This does not mean that John could not use the term as a symbol here, he consistently used it for people in the rest of Revelation. For example, the word is applied to Jesus and Antipas, in 2:13.

Second, witnesses prophesy, an activity implies a person. The only other place in Revelation where this particular verb is used is in 10:13, where John is told that he must prophecy to many nations. This does not necessarily the two witnesses to be individuals since the corporate interpretations also see a prophetic witness as the key function of the group.

Third, the witnesses are described as speaking (v. 3, 6), they can kill their enemies (v. 5), they are heard, handled and hated (v. 3, 7, 10), have mouths, ears, and feet (5, 11-12), wear sackcloth and have dead bodies (v. 8, 9). However, the beast from the sea in Revelation 13 is described in detail yet no one argues those details imply the beast is literally a multi-headed dragon.

Since the trumpets have been using allusions to the Exodus throughout Revelation 8-9, it seems an allusion to Moses is certain. Given the association of Elijah with the eschatological age, it seems the second witness alludes to him. Although it is always possible John is predicting the literal return of these two characters, it is more likely he is following the same method as the rest of the trumpets. The pattern of the Exodus will be repeated in the future, God will send prophets like Moses and Elijah to call his people out of nations once again.

16 thoughts on “Who are the Two Witnesses? Revelation 11:3-6

  1. John wrote Revelation during the reign of Herod Agrippa I, before Herod beheaded his brother James. John envisioned himself and his brother as the two witnesses, but like most of Revelaltion, it didn’t come to pass.

    Woodrow Nichols

    • Since Herod Agrippa I died in AD 44, it is almost impossible the book of Revelation was written during his reign. Since it addressed to real churches in Asia Minor, it cannot be written before those churches were founded. AD 44 is more or less before the Pauline mission, it will be ten more years at least before you have churches in the locations mentioned in Revelation 2-3.

      Unless you want to say Rev 2-3 is an addition to the book at a later date, but that would difficult since the letters are integrated into the rest of the book.

  2. Isaiah names them 44 ;1-8 .The only place in the Bible two are named & ‘called’ as witnesses!……Maranatha Shalom… old Messianic Jew

    • John Zebedee wrote the Revelation while his brother was still alive in the time of Caligula. He saw himself and his brother James the Great as the two witnesses, corroborated by the fact that they made a power grab while Jesus was still alive, wanting to rule at his right and left hand.

      Woodrow Nichols

    • so Jacob who is Israel and Jesurun who is also Israel will be the two witnesses? Sounds like a riddle to me

  3. The 2 witnesses are gentile believers, and believing Jews. AKA, myrtars. They are one and the same. The angel of revelation 11 tells us who the witnesses are, the 2 lamp stands and olive trees.

  4. Nicolas of antioch started the Gentile churches in Asia and was in open competition with John Zebedee for influence there, referring to his competition as the Nicolaitans. Jezebel from Thyatira was likely Lydia whom Paul converted in Philippi. The later date for the Revelation is false since the RC church needed something that they always could interpret for each age that passed, whereas an early interpretation would have to be classified as false prophecy.

    Woodrow Nichols

  5. The Two Witnesses are men. They are alive right now. That means when their ministry concludes, (upon their deaths), Jesus will return in three days.
    The author of this comment was born to fulfill one of the most powerful prophecies in the Bible. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Daniel 12:4. He sealed up the Bible, I am Un-sealing it!

  6. God’s release of His “Two Witnesses” is not far away!

    Many people believe that the “Two End-Time Witnesses” will be Elijah and Enoch, or Elijah and Moses.

    Enoch, Elijah and Moses in their day fulfilled God’s purposes for them. Throughout history there have been certain generations in which God has “raised up” certain individuals to carry out a specific task for Him. The same will be true for the generation that we are now living in.

    It is important to emphasize strongly the term “raised up.” We find throughout Scripture that the Lord “raised up” His Prophets.
    One very important fact is the fact that there is no place in the Bible that states that the “Two End-Time Witnesses” are sent from Heaven. If that were the case, then it would have been clearly stated in the Bible.

    Also, there is a great misconception that Enoch & Elijah did not experience death. However, that is not true. When an individual dies, their eternal Spirit leaves their physical body. Their physical body is left behind here on Earth and becomes a dead corpse.

    Ecclesiastes 12:7 states that upon death that our body shall return to the Earth as dust from which the body came, and the Spirit which God has breathed into man, shall return to God.

    When God took Enoch & Elijah, only their eternal Spirits went to Paradise, their physical bodies became dead corpses and remained here on Earth. The 34rd Chapter of Deuteronomy states that God Himself buried the physical body of Moses. Therefore, it becomes evident that after God took Enoch & Elijah, that just as He did with Moses, God also buried the physical bodies of Enoch & Elijah here on Earth at locations not revealed to us.

    The Lord is not going to transport 2 individuals from several thousand years ago to minister to a generation that they cannot even identify with. The only way that an individual can identify with a generation, is to experience the times of the generation that they grew up in.

    The Lord will do what HE has always done, which will be to “raise up” 2 individuals from a generation that they were born in, and grew up in, which in this case will be His “Two End-Time Witnesses.”

    Because of the “enormity” of the task that the Lord will assign to the “Two End-Time Witnesses,” that just like Moses, the Lord will first take them through many years of a Spiritual wilderness experience which will be His method of development and training for them.

    The two “End-Time Prophets” will not be newly converted Christians. They will be seasoned Prophets who have withstood the test of time.

    The Bible clearly points out to us that the Lord delights in “raising up” people to fulfill a particular task that He has for them in their generation. Throughout the Bible, God shows us time and time again that He is in the “raising up” business.

    In Matthew 3:9 Jesus told the Jewish people to not look back to Abraham, that God was able to “raise up” stones to fulfill His purposes.

    There is zero doubt in my mind that they are alive at this present time of December, 2017. It is quite possible that at this present time of December, 2017 that they do not even know that the Lord has chosen them to be the “Two End-Time Witnesses.”

    As explained earlier in this article, the “enormity” of the task that the Lord will assign to the “Two End-Time Witnesses” will require that they go through many years of a Spiritual wilderness experience which will be the Lord’s method of development and training for them.

    It is my belief that at the time that the Lord reveals to them that they are the “Two End-Time Witnesses,” that HE will not immediately thrust them into functioning in their role as the “Two End-Time Witnesses.”

    It is my belief that the Lord will likely reveal to them their role as the “Two End-Time Witnesses” a few months in advance or maybe even longer, before being thrust into functioning in their role as the “Two End-Time Witnesses.”

    This unveiling of their assignment from the Lord may be a step by step process of coming to an understanding that they have been chosen for their role as the “Two End-Time Witnesses.”

    It is my belief that the “Two End-Time Witnesses” will need to know their role a few months in advance or maybe even longer in order to fully come to terms that they have been chosen for such an “enormous” task from the Lord.

    Also, they will most likely still need further development and training of a different sort from the Lord before stepping into their role as the “Two End-Time Witnesses.”

    The “Two End-Time Witnesses” will bring forth God’s “message of truth” UNHINDERED in the 1st half of the final 7 years of this present Age.

    In the 2nd half of the final 7 years of this present Age, the Lord will send strong delusion through the false prophet and antichrist so that those who rejected God’s “message of truth” delivered by the “2 Witnesses” in the 1st half of the final years of this present Age, should believe a lie.

    The false prophet and antichrist will be able to accomplish their deception UNHINDERED because the “Two End-Time Witnesses” will have been taken out of the way at the end of their assignment in the 1st half of the final 7 years of this present Age.

    It is very likely that the “Two End-Time Witnesses” will minister independently from one another during their ministry.

    I have also written a couple more documents that go into greater detail about the “Two Witnesses.” If anyone should be interested, email me at: (candy33alan@aol.com) and I will email you the documents.

    • If John Zebedee wrote the Revelation before Herod Agrippa I cut off the head of James Zebedee, then the two brothers were meant to be the two witnesses. Remember they tried to usurp the other 10 Apostles for leadership to be at Jesus’s right and left hand.

      Woodrow Nichols

  7. My name is Alan Finch. In April of 1976, I submitted myself to the Lordship of JESUS CHRIST.

    God’s main mission for the “Two Witnesses” will be that of Preparing the “Bride of Christ” which is made up Believers in Christ (the true Church) for the return of the “Bridegroom,” JESUS CHRIST. This is why that there is no “Pre-Tribulation Rapture.”

    I have put together 3 documents that clearly expounds upon these 2 individuals. “The Two-End Time Witnesses”, “The Two Lampstands & The Two Olive Trees”, “The Message of the Two End-Time Witnesses.”

    These documents are too lengthy to post in the comment section. If anyone is interested in reading these 3 documents, email me at: (candy33alan@aol.com), and I will be more than happy to email you the 3 copies.

  8. They are dressed only in sackcloth , no ashes for forgiveness necessary -they have Jesus precious blood for that. You can see they must be Messianic Jews as All the signs about them are Jewish. They will have the ‘good oil’ of the olive tree[God] & enlightenment of the lampstand[Jesus] to guide them. They will be killed 1260 days after their preaching begins outside satans ABYSS [Rev11;7-8] Synagogue [Ezekiel 8] under the Dome of the Rock in JERUSALEM [the Harlot] where the evil was done to the Prophets of Old [murdered] & where God’s Messiah Son sent to redeem them of the Prophets murders was also tortured & murdered by the Beast[Judah-Matt27;25] -my family sadly-it is the reason God has turned HIS face from us almost 2000years & All that has befallen us since…..repent the time is now at hand…HE Lives
    …..old Messianic Jew.

  9. After reading through your post and what Johnson has to say in the ESV it is still hard to understand who these witnesses are and whether they are to be considered symbols or actually people. I believe with the information that you provide about the word grouping for the witnesses being used more often to describe actual people, and specifically Johns use of this word throughout Revelation meaning a person, and the witnesses prophesying which is also a human characteristic when used in the Bible, and the fact that they are described as doing things as humans do, it is safer to say that this is describing living people. After reading your post and the information written in the study Bible notes I think the best guess would be Moses and Elijah. Johnson explains that the drought described alludes to the drought in Elijah (p.2478) and obviously the blood best describes that in Moses. I also agree that this is probably not Moses and Elijah come back as themselves but more likely that two prophets will appear like them. I think is a great way for readers to understand what is to come. It will help them understand the character of the people better if they can attach it to people they have already read about.

Leave a Reply