THE TWO WITNESSES OF REVELATION (1)

PMW 2017-072 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

The two witnesses in Rev. 11 have generated much discussion among Revelation enthusiasts. Though they only appear here in John’s forensic drama, they play an important role regarding the temple’s destruction. But debate continues over their identity. In this and my next blog posting, I will present the three leading options on their identity.

Old Testament order

First, the two witnesses may represent the whole Old Testament order (religious and civil) or content (law and prophecy) (Bahnsen; Clark; Chilton). Israel has sinned against the covenant of her God; the whole Old Testament witness stands in judgment against Israel — as per the sermons by Peter (Acts 2:16-36) and Stephen (Acts 7:2-53). Interestingly, Moses and Elijah appear with Christ at the Transfiguration to transfer their authority over to him, who must now be heard (Mt 17:3-5; cp. Heb 1:1-2). The divinely established old covenant order arises anew as a transformed new covenant reality (as per Jer 31:31-34). The whole argument of Hebrews is the transcendent superiority and everlasting permanence of the new covenant in Christ as it supercedes the temporary old covenant embodied in Moses (e.g., Heb 3:1-6; 8:5-13; 9:18-10:10; 10:26-31; 12:21-29).

In the first century Israel grievously sins in rejecting the Messiah in defiance to the prophecies, types, and symbols of the Old Testament (Jn 1:45; 5:39-40; Lk 24:25-27, 44; Ac 24:14; 26:22; 28:23-28). She should have believed the law and the prophets, just as the rich man should have: “Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them…. If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead'” (Lk 16:29, 31). As Philip reports to Nathaniel after meeting Jesus for the first time: “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (Jn 1:45).


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by Ken Gentry

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Paul in his defense against the charges of the Jews argues: “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come” (Ac 26:22). Indeed, Paul’s witness to the Jews was from Moses and the prophets: “So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening” (Ac 28:23). According to Neusner Elijah became for Israel a “model of [the] ideal prophet” as well as “the master interpreter of Torah and the revealer of its hidden meanings” (Jacob Neusner, ed., Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996), 189. See: Mk 1:4-6; Lk 3:7-9; Wars 6:5:3; Origen, Celsus 7:9.)

Tragically, the Jews did not recognize the time of their visitation: “For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:43-44). Thus, Rome’s destroying Israel’s religious and civil system clears the way for the heavenly system of Christianity. This interpretation is not only reasonable and important, but relevant. And it probably at least suggests the broad theological backdrop for the next two related possibilities.

First Century Christianity

Second, the two witnesses may represent first century Christianity as a whole. They may suggest either the “apostles and prophets” as the foundation stones of the church, the new temple of God (Eph 2:19-20; 1Pe 2:5-9) (Terry, 369). Or they may picture Christianity as a nation of “priests and kings,” like Joshua-Zerubbabel (Caird, 134). The new faith is certainly commissioned to take her witness out into the world (Lk 24:48; Ac 1:8; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:3, 41; 13:31) — and meets with opposition from the Jews (Rev 2:9; 3:9; Acts passim).


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The transition from three and one-half years in 11:2 to 1260 days in 11:3 would be due to these time-frames representing different periods, with the awkward measure (counting off 1260 days is more troublesome than counting out 42 months) being a symbolic figure aligned theologically rather than historically with the more literal one. As “great persecution” breaks out against the Christians (Ac 8:1), Saul begins delivering them to Jerusalem authorities to be put to death (Ac 9:1-2). It would appear Christianity would be stamped out. In fact, as Christ warns “unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days shall be cut short” (Mt 24:22). The “week” has been cut short; the perfect number broken in half.

Nevertheless, Christianity serves as a witness to God, arises with new vigor after the destruction of Jerusalem, and is blessed from heaven above. Later we will see the martyrs reigning from heaven (20:4-6). As Poythress notes of such imagery: “Within a visionary framework, such a picture powerfully depicts the idea of a vindication coming through new life” (Vern S. Poythress, “Genre and Hermeneutics in Rev 20:1-6,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36 (March 1993): 48).

To be continued.

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