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Who are the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11?

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By David Sheldon

Last Updated: March 08, 2023

In Revelation 11, we find two of God’s anointed men referred to as the two witnesses. Before we delve into who these two witnesses are, we should understand the scene.

The chapter opens with John being instructed to take a rod and measure the inner court of the Temple. He is to leave the outer court, the court of the Gentiles, unmeasured. What is the purpose of this measuring?

In the Old Testament, God used measuring as a symbol of preserving His people. For instance, it was God’s way of keeping guard of His people in Jerusalem (Zechariah 2:1-5) and maintaining true worship in the Temple (Ezekiel 40-43). Measuring was also used to symbolize disaster/ judgments (2 Kings 21:10-15). It meant God was going to bring His judgments, but He would also protect His people.

In the same way, John’s measuring of the inner court in Revelation 11 represents God’s safeguarding His people during the end times, with those outside of the temple being given over for judgment/destruction.

Enter the two witnesses. They come onto the scene to “carry out” this measurement – meaning their job is to proclaim this message of preservation/judgment.

What Do the Two Witnesses Do?

God has, in the past, clearly anointed hand-picked leaders for His work and purposes. These two witnesses are no exception. God grants them His authority for a specific task.

And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth….These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying;…power over the waters turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague….” Revelation 11:3-6 NASB

These two witnesses prophesy a message of both salvation and judgment for a specified period of 1,260 days. They are clothed in sackcloth as a symbol of mourning and a call to repentance. Why are they called olive trees and lampstands (vs 4)?

In Zechariah 4, we find similar imagery. These two olive trees are “the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:14). Here it is referring to Joshua, High Priest, and Zerubbabel, governor of Judah. They are commissioned by God to go “not by might nor by power but by My Spirit” says the Lord. They are types of the two witnesses we find in Revelation.

The two witnesses in Revelation are also specially commissioned to carry out the “will of the Lord of the whole earth.” As two olive trees and two lampstands, they have the flow of the olive oil (authority of the Holy Spirit) and they are the vessels of light (lampstands of God’s truth) for their God ordained ministry. They do this with accompanying signs. They have authority to shut off rain, turn the waters into blood, and send plagues. Their message is a sharp weapon against their enemies (fire comes out of their mouths). It will be torment for those who refuse to listen (Revelation 11:10b).

Unfortunately, fallen mankind rejects the two witnesses (and really God!) because they don’t “believe” in such a God who could send His judgments! They are too rebellious to the true God to admit they are wrong and repent!

Two witnesses in Revelation 11 are two olive trees

Who are the Two Witnesses?

So who might these two witnesses be? Their ministry is similar to that of Moses and Elijah. Moses was the instrument for turning waters into blood and bringing all kinds of plagues upon Egypt (Exodus 7-11). Elijah called down fire (1 Kings 18:20-40) and shut up the skies to cause a drought and famine (1 Kings 17:1-7). Both Moses and Elijah appeared at the Transfiguration of Jesus – talking with the Lord (Matthew 17:1-3)! They showed up once already after they were gone from the earth. Could they show up again?

Some Jewish people believe Elijah would appear in the future based upon Malachi 4:5 (cf. Mark 9:11-13; Matthew 11:7-14), while a prophet like Moses would come again (Deuteronomy 18:18 cf. John 6:14; John 7:40). Some theologians have determined both of the two witnesses will be men of the time that are simply types of Moses and Elijah. Still others believe the two witnesses are Enoch and Elijah because they did not die but were taken to heaven (Genesis 5:23; 2 Kings 2:11). Whoever these two witnesses might be, they show up at the right time!

When Do The Two Witnesses Prophesy?

It says the two witnesses prophesy for 1,260 days (vs 3). At what point in time is this? It likely corresponds with the 7 year tribulation period at the end of the age because it is broken into two 3½ year time periods – or 1,260 days (Daniel 9:27). (Also see Seventy Weeks of Daniel) But is it the first part or the second part?

If it is the second half of the tribulation, there is a problem. The end of the tribulation is the day of Christ’s return. The two witnesses are killed at the end of their prophesying, which would be the same day as Christ’s second coming. God’s global judgments would have already been poured out over the whole earth and Christ would have already defeated His (and their) enemies. There would be no point in them being raised back to life 3½ days later. So is it more plausible they prophesy during the first half of the tribulation?

As the Antichrist and ten kings come into world power at the beginning of the tribulation, the world will definitely need to hear the Word of the Lord proclaimed. For the two witnesses to show up at this time to prophesy that God’s judgments are at the door seems likely. And, when the beast kills them at the end of their 1,260 days of prophesying, God breathes life into them after 3½ days to display His power! Although they were a torment to the world, some end up fearing and giving glory to God (Revelation 11:11, Revelation 11:13)! God preserved (measured) some people through the testimony of the two witnesses and the display of His power!

To conclude, soon after the testimony of the two witnesses, during the final 3½ years of the tribulation, rebellious Jerusalem (where their Lord was crucified – Revelation 11:8) will be trampled under foot by the Antichrist (those people represented by the outer court not measured for protection). But God’s people are protected and preserved for true worship of the living God (See also Revelation 12:6) in fulfillment of the measuring of the inner court!

5 Reasons Why Revelation is Hard to Understand

There are several reasons why the Book of Revelation is hard to understand. Grasping these five should give confidence to keep reading & studying the book!

The Beast from the Earth Part 2: The Image and Mark

The Beast from the Earth in Revelation 13 is one of three main players in the global system at the end of this age, along with the Beast from the Sea and the Great Harlot.

The Beast From the Sea Part 3: The Antichrist

The Beast from the Sea is one of three main players in the final world kingdom. Its leader is the Antichrist. He has several defining characteristics and doings.

The Beast From the Earth Part 1: The False Prophet

The Beast from the Earth is a prominent player in the final world system. There are several facets to it including a leader (The False Prophet), mark, & image.

Who are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

We must correctly understand the four horsemen of the apocalypse in order to properly understand the rest of Revelation. Who are they and what is their mission?

Is Revelation in Chronological Order?

Revelation is more of a montage. Some of the chapters are in chronological order, but many overlap each other. Our charts give a visual explanation of this.

When and Where Will the Antichrist First be Seen?

2 Thessalonians 2:3 states specifically that the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist, will be revealed in the end times. Scripture tells us the circumstances.

What are the Trumpets and Bowls of Revelation?

The trumpets and bowls found in Revelation are specific events of God’s judgments that will take place at the end of the age. They are very similar to each other.

Is the Rapture of the Church Found in Revelation 4?

Some believe John’s experience in Revelation 4:1-2 is representative of the rapture of the church before the seven year tribulation period. Is this the case?

When Was Revelation Written?

It was towards the end of Domitian’s reign that John received the vision. We could surmise about 91-96 A.D. And he wrote Revelation while he was still on the island of Patmos.

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