The Two Witnesses are impressive end time prophets able to stop the rain, send plagues and survive the Beast and False Prophet who they prophesy against. Understandably, they are the subject of much speculation and even envy today among Christians. Christians alternately believe that they are Enoch and Elijah (who allegedly never died), Moses and Elijah (from the Transfiguration), or even Christians among us today who claim to be them. But are they here and do we need to figure out who they are or worry about what happens if we don’t? Find out why they are not here today and no one in their right mind should want to claim to be the Two Witnesses.
What If You Don't Identify the Two Witnesses?
Over the years I have received a steady stream of questions about the Two Witnesses. After considering those questions and others, I have noticed a trend. There is clear anxiety and worry over the Two Witnesses and other end time prophecy topics.
It's almost as if we tend to view the Book of Revelation as a study guide to the Great Tribulation coming as our "final exam." If we do not learn enough to figure out, say, who the Two Witnesses are or what the mark of the Beast is, we may miss the real prophet, listen to a false prophet, be deceived and lost thereby flunking the exam and suffering through the horrific scenarios Revelation graphically describes to us. This includes being left behind from the rapture, missing the protection of the 144,000 or the Woman or, God forbid, taking the mark of the Beast.
Imagine being saddled with this stressful view and encountering one of several believers on the Internet who come forward claiming to be the Two Witnesses. (Isn't the Internet grand?) Obviously it only compounds the situation. What if we reject them and they turn out to be God's true end time prophets?
The good news is that, as with everything else in the difficult book of Revelation, God does not expect believers to figure out who the Two Witnesses are. It's a prophetic mystery today and when they come, they come. You definitely do not have to fear they have already come or fear rejecting them when they do come. As we shall see, they are not coming for you and I, or to rule over us like head prophets of the modern church.
Let's look at what Revelation says and get the peace from it that we're supposed to have, rather than be stressed about what we do not understand yet or worry about missing out when it comes to pass.
The Two Witnesses' Mission
The first thing to get straight is that the Two Witnesses are not here today any more than the Antichrist or mark of the Beast can be here already. The people who later become them are probably alive already, but they are not in that role yet or under that title. Just like them, their official appearance is directly tied to the future 3½ year, 42 month, 1260 day Great Tribulation:
Revelation 11:3-6 (NKJV) — 3 "And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth."...5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies . And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. 6 These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.
Their job seems to be to counter-program the lies of the Beast and False Prophet for the entire period of their 42 month rule (Rev 13:5). The Two Witnesses are situated in Jerusalem (Rev 11:1-3, 8), the Beast's headquarters (Dan 11:45), for this reason.
Would You Take This Job?
If one considers the above and everything else Revelation shares about the Two Witnesses, it is ironic that some continue to claim to be them. The next time you encounter someone who thinks they are the Two Witnesses, it might be fun to point out what Revelation says is ahead for them:
- A hard and stressful mission for 1260 straight days (Rev 11:3).
- To be hated by everyone, the whole earth (Rev 11:5,10). (Probably the only human friend they will have will be the other witness.)
- The tasks of killing numerous people, causing a 3½-year-long drought, bloodying drinking water, and otherwise plaguing the earth (Rev 11:5-6).
- After all that, a vicious martyrdom in Jerusalem, by Satan himself without a proper burial (Rev 11:7-9) at which everyone else celebrates by giving presents (Rev 11:10). (By the way, in case you were wondering, no, it does not happen anywhere near Christmas time, three days before the Yom Teruah/Day of Trumpets on Tishrei 1, that typically falls in September.)
Plainly, this is a job that not only would no one in their right mind take, but one that few who God has to pick from would even be able to handle mentally without having a nervous breakdown or quitting. In fact, I can imagine the person who God assigns the job to trying to get out of it just as Moses did for the leader of the Exodus role.
Numerous Bible-based Candidates
Certainly it's a relief to rule out bumping into the Two Witnesses in church, on the street, the 'Net or anywhere else before the Great Tribulation starts. You do not have to worry about mistakenly denying or disobeying the real Two Witnesses this side of the Great Tribulation, either.
However, this does not address the problem of all the Bible-based theories you will find on the Internet about future candidates and being asked to consider or accept them by your well-intentioned friends. For example, are the Two Witnesses...:
- Elijah and Enoch: This theory is by far the most popular one. It is based mainly on the argument that these are "the only two men who never died." However, that assumption is easily disproved with one of many plain verses (Heb 11:5, 13).
- Elijah and Moses: This is a much more convincing theory as the miracles that the Two Witnesses do are all ones that Moses and Elijah did. Also these two appeared in the Transfiguration with Jesus when he was glorified and shown as he will be in the Kingdom (Mt 17:3). They will be resurrected and have obvious key top positions under him. The problem here is that they are dead and would require a special resurrection just for this job. There simply is no precedent for this in the Bible. On the contrary, the precedent we have for prophesies of coming prophets always show a new person being raised up for it. When the Malachi 4:5 prophesy of Elijah coming in the last days was fulfilled, it was a new person named John the Baptist. Jesus was "the prophet like unto Moses," not a resurrection of Moses (Acts 3:20-22). We should expect the next and final Elijah as well as the Two Witnesses to again be someone new coming in the spirit of those great prophets, Moses and Elijah.
- Israel and the Christian Church?
- The Old and New Testaments?
The last two theories are allegorical interpretations. These run into difficulty when you consider everything mentioned above about the mission of the Two Witnesses such as being killed and their bodies left in the streets and seen by everyone to much celebration. The allegory has to go very far to work.
Literal, Symbolic, Allegorical...or All the Above?
But does that mean the entire prophecy of the Two Witnesses is literal? Not necessarily. Context must always be considered. As those familiar with my book or website are aware, I do advocate reading Revelation just like the rest of the Bible: as plainly and literally as the context permits or directs. I find that most of Revelation reads quite plainly this way with few exceptions.
As I covered in my article on the 144,000, Revelation does occasionally have truly allegorical passages. The 144,000 men are not literal "virgins," literally "undefiled by women," literally following a literal "Lamb everywhere he goes" (Rev 14:4). Revelation 12 talks about a Woman who is both figurative woman (a constellation of a virgin woman, Virgo) and allegorical woman (she flees on the ground after giving birth to the Messiah, a picture of righteous Israel), but not literal single flesh and blood woman.
Yet for many, the verses on the Two Witnesses require a symbolic interpretation because the literal interpretation seems to present insurmountable difficulties. For example:
- The two witnesses must create real plagues (Rev 11:6): No problem here if you remember that Moses created real plagues, ten of them. Elijah stopped the rain for 3½ years (Jas 5:17). It's nothing new for God's major prophets.
- A real temple must exist in Jerusalem, with sacrifices being offered (Rev 11:1): This is what Daniel's 70th week prophecy predicts (Dan 9:27). Likewise, Paul said the Antichrist would sit in the temple at that time declaring he is God (2Th 2:4)
- There must also be a real temple in heaven containing the ark of the covenant (11:19): Moses was told when he built the tabernacle on earth that he was building a copy of what God showed him from Heaven (Heb 8:5). The angels at the 7th trumpet are shown coming out of a heavenly sanctuary with the last seven plagues (Rev 15:5-8).
- Precisely seven thousand people must be killed in an earthquake (11:13): The Bible is full of many such numbers of deaths that seem exaggerated. God is sovereign and can direct things so that exactly 7000 die or as he made it take exactly Ten Plagues before Pharoah decided of his free will to let his people go (with a little hardening of his heart to help).
- And, fire must come from two human mouths (11:5): This last one may not be literal despite the rest of the descriptions being literal. If we look at it in context, we can see why.
Revelation 11:4-5 (HCSB) — 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 If anyone wants to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and consumes their enemies; if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way.
Just as we saw with the 144,000 above, we have metaphorical and figurative language introduced here for two verses that is difficult to take literally. They are not literal lampstands and candlesticks obviously. (Certainly not both at the same time!) Therefore, perhaps when it says fire comes out of their mouth, it is figurative speech reminiscent of Jeremiah: "I am going to make My words become fire in your mouth. These people are the wood, and the fire will consume them " (Jer 5:14). (Compare also Jesus' return at Armageddon described as having a sword comes out of his mouth to strike the nations also amidst figurative language (Rev 19:15).)
"Depart From Me, I Never Knew you!" - Jesus
Jesus predicted that he will tell many sincere believers to basically "get lost" instead of welcoming them into the Kingdom. So...who are they and what did they miss or do wrong? In this study, get those answers and the one requirement for salvation Jesus taught (that Christianity misses) so that you can make sure you don't hear these dreaded words yourself!
Because, there is no precedent of literal prophet fire-breathing and also because the preceding verse has such clear metaphorical language, I would say the fire is probably not literal unlike the plagues of the next verse and details in following verses.
If it seems unreasonable of God to mix literal, metaphorical, symbolic and allegorical language together in this way, leaving us little chance of knowing how to read it, well, no one said understanding the future in advance was going to come easy or that your life depended on getting it right anyway.
The Two Witnesses are central end time figures who oppose their counterparts of the evil Beast and False Prophet. They are not here now to tell you or I what to do, but come only when their counterparts take over for the Great Tribulation.
Like past fulfillments of promised prophets, someone of the current generation will step into the prophesied role like John the Baptist did, rather than long-dead prophets being given a special resurrection to do it.
However, even if we understand or accept none of this now (or none of this article is correct) it will not affect our chances of being safe when the Two Witnesses come. Here's the simple focus/intent (not understanding) that will determine our chances:
Revelation 14:12 (HCSB) — This demands the perseverance of the saints, who keep God’s commands and their faith in Jesus.”
For more on the two witnesses, see my article on "who will bring them food?"
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Tim is the author of this site (since 1999) and the book Know the Future that explains Revelation literally at last--including the key event of Wormwood (Rev 6-8). To read more from Tim and not miss a single new article, sign up for his free newsletter above.