Will Moses and Elijah Come Back?

The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11


In the Left Behind series of novels, millions of people around the world mysteriously disappear in a moment.[ref]Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Left Behind (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1996).[/ref] Following these frightful disappearances, two men, conveniently named Moshe and Eli, suddenly appear in Jerusalem preaching a message of repentance. All attempts to murder them are unsuccessful, and many are converted through them.

“Two Prophets” by Antoon Van Dyck (1599-1641)

In a vision in Revelation 11, the Apostle John sees “two witnesses” “clothed in sackcloth,” and granted authority to prophesy for 1,260 days (11:3). These two witnesses are given supernatural powers to consume their enemies by fire, shut the sky so that no rain may fall during their time of prophesying, turn the waters into blood, and strike the earth with every kind of plague (11:5-6). At the end of 1,260 days, “the beast that rises from the bottomless pit” will be able to kill them, and their dead bodies will “lie in the street of the great city” for three and a half days without a proper burial. Their deaths will cause the whole earth to rejoice, but God will breathe life into them and take them up to heaven. At the time of their ascension into heaven, a great earthquake will destroy a tenth of the city, and 7,000 people will be killed (11:7-13).

Who are these two witnesses with supernatural powers, who are resurrected and ascend into heaven after they are killed? Who are their enemies who want to kill them? Are they past, present, or future personalities? Most evangelicals today have bought into the notion that after a secret Rapture of believers, Moses and Elijah would come back from heaven as the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation 11. This is a result of the obvious connection between the supernatural powers of the two witnesses and those of Moses and Elijah.

Scholars have differed widely in their interpretations of this text. In this paper, I argue that John’s vision of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:1-13 portrays the suffering church in spiritual battle against satanic forces in the present age, and its glorification when Christ comes again at the end of the age. Due to space and time constraints, I focus on the exegesis of 11:1-6, and only briefly discuss 11:7-13. I also include a lengthy investigation of the lampstand and two olive trees of Zechariah 4:2, 3, 6, and 12-14, since these texts are crucial to the identification of Revelation’s two witnesses and their mission.

Will Moses and Elijah Come Again?

Because of differing hermeneutics, scholars have arrived at many different identifications of the two witnesses, but I mention only those which are of significance for this paper. Daniel K. K. Wong, a dispensational premillennialist professor, classifies the identification into three groups[ref]Daniel K. K. Wong, “The Two Witnesses in Revelation 11,” Bibliotheca Sacra 154 (Jul-Sep 1997), 344-47. G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), also has a useful list in 572-3 n. 293.[/ref]:

Symbolic. Scholars in this group, like those in the corporate group, conclude that the two witnesses are not human, but they represent some aspect of the church or Scripture: (1) the Law and the prophets; (2) the Old and New Testament Word of God; (3) the Word and Spirit of God; and (4) the Word and the blood.

Corporate. In this identification, scholars agree with those in the symbolic group that the two witnesses are not human, but represent an assembly of people: (1) the witnessing, militant church; (2) the martyred saints; (3) Israel and the church; and (4) the believing Jewish remnant during the tribulation.

Literal. This category includes all literal, personal, human identifications of the two witnesses mostly proposed by dispensational premillennialists: (1) Old Testament prophets like Enoch, Moses, or Elijah; (2) New Testament apostles John, Peter, James, Paul, or John the Baptist; (3) an Old Testament prophet and a New Testament prophet or apostle; and (4) two unknown persons who will come in the spirit of Moses and Elijah.

Exposition of Revelation 11:1-7

Introduction to the Chapter: This chapter is in an “interlude” or a parenthetical section of the Apocalypse, between the Second Woe or Sixth Trumpet (9:13-21; 11:14) and the Third Woe or Seventh Trumpet (11:15-19). The Seven Trumpets encompass Revelation 8:7-11:19.

The interlude also includes chapter 10, in which a “mighty angel” with a little scroll commands the apostle to “again prophesy about many peoples and nations and languages and kings” (10:11). The 7 Seals, 7 Trumpets, and 7 Bowls form a series of judgment visions, not necessarily in chronological sequence, but in visionary sequence, that is, John is writing the visions as he saw them, not as they are supposed to happen chronologically. The historic Protestant hermeneutic calls for reading each vision as “a different camera angle looking at the same event,” and therefore, the order of visions that John recounts does not necessarily reflect chronological reality. This is what is known as recapitulation, in which the same basic pattern of vision-telling reappears in varied forms and shapes.[ref]Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 201.[/ref] An example of this is the narrative pattern of the Seals, Trumpets, and Bowls: (1) judgments on the natural world and on the people of the earth; (2) an interlude; and (3) the consummation of the judgment with the appearance of God in theophanies.[ref]S. M. Baugh, “Outline of the Seals, Trumpets and Bowls of Revelation,” unpublished handout for NT701 General Epistles and Revelation, Westminster Seminary in California, Fall 2004.[/ref] The importance of recapitulation will be seen later in this paper.

I will discuss in detail verses 1-7 only, then conclude with a short summary of verses 8-13.

Who are the Two Witnesses? “My two witnesses,” dusin martusin mou, are introduced in verse 3. The one introducing them is the allon angelon ischuron (“another mighty, strong angel or messenger”) with a little scroll that has been opened, who possesses visible and audible attributes of God’s theophanies elsewhere in Scripture. He is “coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud (Exod. 13:21-22; Dan. 7:13; Acts 1:9-11), with a rainbow over his head (Ezek. 1:28; Rev. 4:3), his face was like the sun (Rev. 1:16), his legs like pillars of fire (Exod. 14:24)” (10:1-3), with a loud voice that sounded like seven thunders, like a lion roaring (Amos 3:7-8Rev. 5:5), a thunderous voice that shook Mount Sinai
(Exod. 19:18-19; Heb. 12:26). These attributes speak so much of Biblical deity that some scholars believe this strong angel is Christ himself, but others say this is not possible since angelon ischuron in Rev. 5:2 is an angel distinct from the Lamb of God.[ref]Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, A Commentary on Revelation (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001), 157-59.[/ref] But whether it is Christ himself or another divine-like angel representing God, the angel claims the two witnesses as “my two witnesses.”

The dusin martusin preaching the testimony (marturia) of Jesus (1:2, 9) are typical of both “witnesses” and “martyrs.” Witnesses bear testimony of the one whom they represent, like the other offspring of the woman who bore Christ “hold to the testimony of Jesus” (12:17; cf. 19:10). Witnesses also bear testimony under the threat of martyrdom, as is the case for the souls under the altar “who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness (marturian) they had borne” (Rev. 9:6), and the souls in heaven “who had been beheaded for the testimony (marturian) of Jesus and for the word of God” (Rev. 20:4). One who bears testimony to Jesus under the penalty of death, like Antipas, is called ho martus mou ho pistos mou (“my faithful witness” Rev. 2:13), just as Jesus himself is called ho martus ho pistos (the faithful witness” Rev. 1:5).

The two witnesses wear sackcloth because they come to warn the people of the earth of impending judgment for their sins and call for repentance to avert destruction, as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, and other prophets did (Isa. 32:11-14; Jer.6:26; Jonah 3:5; Amos 8:10). Sackcloth in Scripture is associated with mourning for a variety of reasons: death, plea for mercy because of an impending judgment, sorrow for realized judgment, repentance, and humiliation. Black sackcloth also symbolizes death, the reason for which the two witnesses mourn because they know that the people on earth will reject their testimony.

The Lampstands of Zechariah and John: Why are there two witnesses? First, they must conform to the law of two or three witnesses (Deut. 17.6; 19.15; Matt. 18:16; |2 Cor. 13.1; |1 Tim. 5.19) to confirm their testimony. When Jesus sent his disciples on a certain task, he usually sent two of them
(Mark 11:1; 14:13), probably for mutual protection. It is also notable that in sending out the twelve apostles and the seventy-two disciples as missionaries, he sent them out “two by two” (Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1). Second, the two witnesses are identified as “the two olive trees (elaia) and the two lampstands (luchnia) that stand before the Lord of the earth” (Rev. 11:4), an allusion to Zechariah’s vision of one luchnia and two elaia on either side of the lampstand (Zech. 4, LXX).

“The Olive Trees” by Vincent Van Gogh (1889) (click to enlarge)

In Zechariah’s vision, there is one olive tree on the left, and one olive tree on the right of the lampstand (4:3). The two olive trees produce the oil that supply the seven lamps of the lampstand via its two branches, and are identified as the “two sons of oil,”  shenay baney hayyitshar, “who stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (4:12-14), the same language used by John in Revelation 11:4:

Zech. 4:14: These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.
Rev. 11:4: These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

Most of the major English translations have “two anointed ones” instead of “two sons of oil” (KJV, NASB, NIV, RSV). But is “those who are anointed” the intended meaning of “sons of oil”?[ref]So Johnson, in Triumph, 170; David E. Aune in Revelation 6-16, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 52B (Nashville: Nelson, 1998), 612.  Beale, in Revelation, 576-7, Kline, in Glory, 163-6, and Robert H. Mounce, in The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 224, agree with this paper.[/ref] The LXX translates it as uioi tes piotetos (“sons of fatness”), which seems to correlate “oil” and “fatness.” Meredith Kline argues that the oil from the two olive trees does not refer to the oil used for anointing for two reasons: First, hayyitshar (“fresh olive oil”) is used instead of the usual shemen for anointing oil priests and kings (Lev. 8:12; |1 Sam. 16:13). Second, the formula “son of” can also signify a plentiful source of something, e.g., a fertile, lush hill is called ben-shemen “a son of fatness or oil” in Isaiah 5:1. Thus, Zechariah’s identification of the two olive trees as “two sons of oil” suggests that the olive trees are abundant sources of oil that feed the lampstand.[ref]Meredith G. Kline, Glory in Our Midst, A Biblical-Theological Reading of Zechariah’s Night Visions (Overland Park, KS: Two Age Press, 2001), 164.[/ref]

If the two olive trees are sources of oil feeding the lampstand, what then do they signify? Most scholars, reading the “two sons of oil” as “two anointed ones,” identify them as Zerubbabel, the leader of the Israelites in rebuilding the Temple, and Joshua the priest, both of them holding anointed offices. However, Zechariah 4:6 gives a hint of what the two olive trees signify: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Zerubbabel is forewarned by the Lord not to depend on the military strength of the Israelites, but on the Spirit of God—he will be the abundant resource in accomplishing Zerubbabel’s task. The “sons of oil” or the two olive trees then represent the Spirit of God as the hovering Protector and Provider, just as he did in creation (Gen. 1:2), in the Exodus from Egypt as the two pillars (Exod. 13:22), and in the two cherubim hovering over the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant (Exod. 25:20).[ref]Kline, Glory, 165.[/ref] It is also significant that the Spirit of God is linked to the anointing with oil. In 1 Samuel 16:13, the Spirit of the Lord filled David as he was anointed by Samuel. Isaiah also says that the “Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me” (Isa. 61:1).

Zechariah’s lampstand, from the Cervera Bible, Spain, ca. 1300 (click to enlarge)

What about the lampstand?  Earlier in Revelation, John modifies the one luchnia with seven lamps of Zechariah into seven luchnia representing the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 1:20). Again, since the seven lampstands represent the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, and since the two witnesses are also identified as two luchnia in 11:4, the two witnesses then represent the church bearing the testimony of Jesus on earth. But in 11:4, the two witnesses are also equated to the two lampstands and the two olive trees, which means that the lampstands and olive trees are the same in John’s vision. Since the two olive trees represent the Holy Spirit and the two lampstands represent the church, what does it mean that the two witnesses are the two olive trees and the two lampstands at the same time? The answer is that the Holy Spirit indwells, is present in, is manifested in, and does his work through the church, so that he is identified with the church (1 Cor. 3:16; |2 Cor. 6:16).

Using the principle of the New Testament interpreting the Old, and since John’s lampstands represent the church, then Zechariah’s lampstand should also represent the church. Here, a metonymy is used, with one prominent piece of the Temple’s furnishings representing the whole Temple.[ref]Bart B. Bruehler, “Seeing Through the yinim of Zechariah: Understanding Zechariah 4,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 63 (2001), 442.[/ref] The Temple itself represents the nation of Israel, the old covenant people of God, a type of the New Testament church, the new covenant people of God. Paul speaks of the church as the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21). The Protector and Provider of the covenant people of God is the Spirit of God himself.

With this interpretation, the two opening verses of Revelation 11, seemingly disconnected from the rest of the chapter, are marvelously unpacked. John is told to measure the temple of God, its altar, and those who worship in it. But he is prohibited from measuring the outside court because it is reserved to be given over to the Gentiles (Luke 21:24), who will trample the outer court and the holy city for 42 months. Therefore, the portion of the temple and its worshipers that is measured is protected from being trodden under foot by the Gentiles. The outside court represents the “holy city,” the bride of the Lamb, the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2, 22:19). A portion of the temple of God, the church, will be protected from the assault of the beast but the greater part of the temple, the outer court, will be subjected to spiritual persecution, even death, by the Gentiles (Rev. 11:7-8). This is a further expansion of the “sealing” of the “144,000” in Rev. 7:2-8.[ref]Johnson, Triumph, 165-7.[/ref]

Following the first two verses, then, is a vision of what happens to the two witnesses, the militant but persecuted church under the protection of the Spirit, but also exposed to all kinds of physical, social, and spiritual assaults during the time of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24), between the first and second comings of Christ. The church, the “two witnesses” of Acts, starts its testimony only fifty days after Christ’s resurrection (Acts 2:1), when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles and other disciples and empowered them to perform their witnessing mission. The end of their testimony will come when the “gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14) when Jesus comes down from heaven in glory.

“The Plagues of Egypt” by Joseph Turner, ca. 1800 (click to enlarge)

Moses and Elijah Redivivus: The supernatural powers given to the two witnesses are a flashback to the powers of the Old Testament prophets in judgment. Like Elijah, they have the power to consume their enemies with fire, not from heaven, but from their mouths (2 Kgs 1:10-12; Rev. 11:5), and to shut the sky to cause drought
(1 Kgs. 17:1; Rev. 11:6). Elijah is said to have shut the sky and caused famine for three and a half years (Luke 4:25; Jas. 5:17), the same amount of time as 1,260 days or 42 months of Rev. 11:2-3. Like Moses in the Exodus story, they are enabled by God to turn water into blood (Exod. 7:19) and to afflict the earth will all kinds of plagues (Exod. 7-9; Rev. 11:6). This language compels many premillennial scholars to conclude that Moses and Elijah are the two witnesses, presupposing that the two witnesses are literal human beings.

These powers enable them to exact judgment on the inhabitants of the earth for rejecting their testimony. When Jesus sent out the 72 missionaries, he gave them instructions to shake off the dust of their sandals after they left the city, an action practiced by Jews, which meant the removal of what was ceremonially unclean before returning to their own land, lest they should defile it. Thus Jesus was saying to his disciples that the city that rejects him (Acts 13:51; 18:6) has no part in the kingdom of God, and therefore under judgment.[ref]I. Howard Marshall, The Book of Luke, A Commentary on the Greek Text, in The New International Greek Testament Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids : Eerdmans, 1978).[/ref]

The N|umbers 1,260, 42, 3½: Although Revelation is a letter that contains prophecy, it is mostly apocalyptic literature. As an apocalyptic writer, John uses symbols and numbers to paint the course of world history since the Fall of Adam as a struggle between God’s righteous kingdom and Satan’s evil forces (Gen. 3:15). This world war will end only when Christ comes again to establish his kingdom in all its perfection.

The twenty-first century Christian must never read the locusts of Revelation 9:3 as Huey helicopters. Rather, he must go back to the locust plagues in Exodus 10 and Joel 1-2 to understand that ancient agricultural societies see the destruction caused by locusts as a judgment from God. Neither must he understand that a physical chain and bottomless pit can bind a spiritual being like Satan for a thousand years. When the Christian searches other Scripture, he will discover that during Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection, Satan, the “strongman” was bound (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27), and expelled from heaven (Luke 10:17-19; John 12:31-33; cf. Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14). He has no more power to “deceive the nations,” i.e., people en masse (Rev. 20:3).

Numbers, particularly four, seven, ten, twelve, and a thousand, play a significant part in the symbolism of Revelation. Are they to be taken literally? Because of numerous examples of the absurdity of taking numbers in Revelation literally, it is easily seen that symbolism is the normative principle for the use of numbers in the book. A few examples of these literal absurdities are: the four corners and four winds of the earth (7:1); the seven Spirits of God (1:4-5); the Lamb’s seven horns and seven eyes (5:6); the dragon’s seven heads (12:3); the beast’s seven heads and ten horns (13:1); a woman with a crown of twelve stars (12:1). And are we to understand Daniel 7:10’s heavenly court as a million (“a thousand thousands”), or 100 million (“ten thousand times ten thousand”), or as a symbol of an innumerable host? If so, Revelation 9:16’s “twice ten thousand times ten thousand” does not literally mean 200 million troops, but an innumerable company of evil forces, even outnumbering the heavenly host. Accordingly, Revelation 20’s “thousand years” should not be interpreted as a literal thousand years, but as a long period of time.

The time period in which the two witnesses preach to the nations is said to be 1,260 days. This is equal to the time period in three other places in the book: the 42-month period when the Gentiles trample the holy city (11:2); the 42 months when the beast exercises authority and makes war on the saints (13:5); and the 1,260 days during which the two witnesses prophesy (11:3), and the woman is nourished by God in the wilderness (12:6).

Where in the course of world history will the reading place this mysterious time period? John takes the reader to another set of clues in two parallel verses in Revelation 12:

12:6: and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.
12:14: But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.

From these two verses, it is clear that John equates 1,260 days with “a time, and times, and half a time.” If “a time” is a year, and “times” is two years, and “half a time” is half a year, the latter is then equal to 3 ½ years. In the ancient world, a month i|s 30 days, and a year i|s 360 days; hence, 3 ½ years add up to 1,260 days.

This puzzling language is derived from Daniel’s description of the fourth beast in 7:25, which John also uses to describe the blasphemous beast in Revelation 13:6-7:

Daniel 7:25: He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High”¦. And they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.
Revelation 13:5-7: And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months”¦. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them.

Here, John again equates “forty-two months” to “a time, times, and half a time.” Both of these are equal to 3 ½ years or 1,260 days.

It is remarkable that in the history of God’s redemption of his people, the n|umber 42 plays a significant role. Israel spent 42 years wandering in the wilderness after its Exodus from Egypt before it entered the Promised Land[ref]Beale, 647.[/ref]; it took them 42 stages of sojourning to get to Canaan from Egypt (Num. 33:5-49). The Exodus motif is heightened in Revelation’s seven trumpet judgments that replicate the ten plagues in Egypt: hail, fire, water turned to undrinkable blood and bitterness, darkness, and locusts. Just like Moses, the two witnesses also have power to turn water into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague (11:6).

Matthew reckons that there were 42 generations from Abraham to Jesus, so he could show that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan to save his people, starting with the patriarch Abraham. After a figurative six weeks of seven days during which God’s people labor under a heavy load of sin (Matt. 11:28), Jesus is the one who brings God’s people to the land of rest on the Sabbath week.

Furthermore, two historical individuals typify the two witnesses in their 3 ½-year mission. Elijah prophesied in Israel during a 3 ½-year famine and drought (1 Kgs. 17-18; Luke 4:25; Jas. 5:17). Yet even in near-starvation and under threat of death, God preserved him and 7,000 faithful Israelites
(1 Kgs. 19:18). Scholars estimate that Jesus’ earthly ministry also took 3 ½ years to complete.[ref]Beale, 567.[/ref] The ministry of the two witnesses replicates that of Jesus: preaching and miracles result in opposition and persecution (John 15:20; Rev. 11:5-6), and death in the holy city (John 19:30; Rev. 11:7); the world rejoices at their death (Luke 23:35-36;:Rev. 11:10), and is terrified at their resurrection
(Mat. 28:11-15; Rev. 11:11); they ascend to heaven in a cloud (Acts 1:9; Rev. 11:12).

Outside of Scripture, two historical events served to partially fulfill the prophecy in Daniel 7:25 where the time period of 3 ½ years is mentioned. Antiochus Epiphanes, the cruel Syrian king, oppressed Israel for “three years and six months” from 167-164 B.C, massacring tens of thousands of Jews, and desecrating and vandalizing the temple.[ref]Beale, 566, 647. Josephus wrote that Antiochus “spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three years and six months” (The Wars of the Jews, 1:19). And again, “when Antiochus, who was called Epiphanes, lay before this city, and had been guilty of many indignities against God, and our forefathers met him in arms, they then were slain in the battle, this city was plundered by our enemies, and our sanctuary made desolate for three years and six months” (Wars, 5:394).[/ref] These atrocities earned him the title, “abomination of desolation”
(Dan. 9:27). A second partial fulfillment of Daniel 7:25’s 3 ½-year period was the siege of Jerusalem from A.D. 66-70 by the Roman general Titus, culminating in the complete destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, as predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24:15 and Luke 21:20-22.[ref]Beale, 647.[/ref]

From this tapestry of Scripture texts dealing with the end times, the reader is led to the following conclusions:

  • First, all of these time markers refer to the same time period in world history. The mysterious “time, and times, and half a time” is the same as 3 ½ years, or 42 months, or 1,260 days.
  • Second, this time period is characterized by the protection and preservation of God’s people. The two witnesses are given supernatural power and authority for 1,260 days until their mission of prophesying is completed. The woman, her Child, and the rest of her offspring are protected by God from Satanic attacks, and nourished in the wilderness for 1,260 days or 3 ½ years.
  • And third, although God’s people are preserved, they are also under incessant and intensifying attacks by satanic forces until their work is finished. After fulfilling their mission, they are “conquered” by the beast, and even killed.

The identity of the two witnesses can thus be tied into “the holy city” (11:2), “the saints” (13:5; Dan. 7:25), and the woman and her offspring (12:6, 17). This is why the two witnesses cannot be two literal individuals: those who are assaulted but preserved during the time period being analyzed always refer to a community of people, “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (12:17). And although the Syrian king Antiochus and the Roman general Titus partially fulfilled the 3 ½ years of “war on the saints” of God, the war continues unabated””not just for a literal 3 ½ years, but for a figurative 3 ½ years between the first and second comings of Jesus. But when he comes again, the preserved remnant will be triumphantly vindicated!

Jesus himself belies the literal “second coming” of Elijah. When his disciples asked if the scribes were right in saying that Elijah must first come before the Messiah, Jesus replied, “Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him,” referring to John the Baptist (Matt 17:10-13), who was the one who would come in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), thus fulfilling Scripture’s prophecy in Malachi 4:4-6.

The Not-So-Secret Rapture (verses 8-13): After 3-1/2 days, the rejoicing stops and great fear among the people takes over, because the dead bodies of the two witnesses are suddenly resurrected and taken up to heaven (11:12). The breath of the Spirit of God gives them life (Gen. 2:7; Ezek. 37:10), the loud voice of God calls them, and they ascend in a cloud into heaven, just as Jesus ascended to heaven in a cloud (Matt. 24:30-31; 26:64; Acts 1:9; Rev. 12:5; Dan. 7:13). This “rapture” will not be secret, because the people on earth will behold their resurrection and ascension in “great fear” (11:11-12; 1:7), and the thunderous voice of God will be heard (11:12) with “the sound of a trumpet of God”
(1 Thess. 4:16-17; cf. Exod. 19:16; Heb. 12:19). Since the two witnesses represent all the saints, the picture portrayed here is the resurrection of the saints at the Second Coming at the end of this age. It will be a day of rejoicing for the saints, but a day of great torment and fear for the people of the world.


In this paper, I have argued that John’s vision of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:1-13 portrays the church in spiritual battle against Satanic forces during the present age, its glorification in heaven when Christ comes again, and at the same time, the judgment on the unbelieving people on earth. Using the historic Protestant hermeneutic and the symbolic, non-literalistic, and recapitulatory nature of Revelation, I have shown the incongruity of the “consistent” literalistic hermeneutic of dispensational premillennialism in the interpretation of Revelation 11.

On the other hand, this paper suggests that the two witnesses and the two lampstands represent the church, while the two olive trees represent the indwelling, manifestation, and work of the Holy Spirit in the church. The three different forms of the time period of the prophetic mission of the two witnesses””1,260 days, 42 months, and 3-1/2 years””all represent this age between the two advents of Christ. At his Second Coming, Jesus will resurrect the saints and take them up to heaven in glory, and at the same time, execute judgment on the unbelieving world. Zechariah’s vision of the lampstand and of the two olive trees (Zech. 4) is crucial in identifying the two witnesses, the two lampstands, and the two olive trees of Revelation 11.

This understanding of Revelation 11 coheres wholly with the general theme of Revelation: that of a church under attack by satanic forces all throughout its history, but will, in the end, be worshiping in heaven triumphantly because of the protection of God and of the blood of the Lamb. A literal, premillennial, escapist understanding of the text is irrelevant and distant both to the first century and to the present reader, and does not cohere with the encouraging, victorious themes of the whole book.


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