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

This is the second and concluding article on the identity of the two witnesses in Revelation. In this installment, I present my own view and a portion of my evidence for it.

The first view is that the two witnesses may represent the whole Old Testament order (religious and civil) or content (law and prophecy). The second view is that the two witnesses may represent first century Christianity as a whole.

Third, more probably, the two witnesses may represent a small body of Christians (and maybe even precisely two people) remaining in Jerusalem during the Jewish War (Stuart 2:226-27; cites Wetstein, Daubuz, Lowman, and Zegerus). The three and one-half years are now called 1260 days because it “shows that daily, during this whole time” they prophesy (Düsterdieck 11:314). We know from historical records that Jewish Christians in Judea flee to Pella where they escape the War (Eusebius, Eccl Hist 3:6; Epiphanius, Heresies 29:7; De Mensuris et Ponderibus, 15. Cp. 11:1 with 12:6; cf. Mt 10:23; 24:16; Mk 13:14; Lk 21:21). But perhaps a few remain behind and are designated as “two,” the minimum number for a legal witness in court cases. In fact, the Old Testament prophets function as God’s lawyers representing his covenantal demands upon Israel. They present the Lord’s “case” or “legal charge” (Isa 43:26; 45:21; Jer 2:35; Mic 6:1; 7:9; 4:1; 12:2) against the disobedient, covenant-breaking people (Jer 11:7-8; 31:32). The judicial character of Revelation would support this identity.

Caird inadvertently validates this approach while seeking to rebut it: “If the witnesses were two individual Christians, the city in which they died would have to be a city in the narrow, literal sense; and this hypothesis leads, as we have seen, to a reductio ad absurdum” (Caird 138). Contra Caird, I have shown that strong evidence supports the Jerusalem identity. So then, on Caird’s analysis we may expect that the literality of the city entails the literality of the prophets.

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Unfortunately, we do not have historical documents recording the presence of a Christian witness in Jerusalem at this time. This is due to the lack of any Christian eyewitness account of the Jewish War: Josephus was a Jew, not a Christian. We do know, however, that Christ prophesies about the Christian witness to Israel during the era leading up to Jerusalem’s fall (Mt 24:9-13; Mk 13:9-13; Lk 21:12-16). We also discover that later Christians were quite mindful of the significance of Christ’s prophecy regarding the fall of Jerusalem (For instance, see: Barnabas (ca. 100), 16:1ff. Justin Martyr (147), First Apology 32; 47; 53).

Stuart suggests that these two witnesses are “a competent number of divinely commissioned and faithful Christian witnesses, endowed with miraculous powers” who “bear testimony against the corrupt Jews, during the last days of the Commonwealth, respecting their sins” (Stuart 2:226). This will be the perspective of the following exposition, although neither the first (especially) nor second (less likely) possibilities are wholly discounted. After all, as per the first option, Christianity is the continuation of Israel, the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16; see exposition of Rev 12; see also: Gal 3:29; Ro 2:28-29; Php 3:3; 1Pe 2:5, 9). And the second possibility is certainly true: the law and the prophets testify of Christ (Mt 11:13; Lk 24:47; Jn 5:39; Ac 17:2-3; 18:28) while the Jewish social order and national experience typifies him (e.g., Mt 2:15/Hos 11:1; Mt 3:17/Is 42:1; Mt 4:7/Dt 8:2; Mt 21:42/Ps 118:22). Thus, Israel now functions in Revelation as the pagan enemy of God, just as were Egypt before Moses and the Baal-worshipers before Elijah. Interestingly, “the most important Jewish settlement in the Diaspora was in Egypt” during the first century.

As Beagley observes:

Even though we cannot be sure what historical situation John may have had in mind when he wrote his account of the mission and fate of the two witnesses, we get some clues from the sigificant parallels between Revelation 8-11 and Jeremiah 4-6 Throughout that section of Jeremiah there are mentions of a trumpet sounding (4:5, 19, 21; 6:1, 17; cf. the seven trumpets in the Book of Revelation); the heavens are to become black (Jer 4:28 cf. Rev 8:12; 9:2); the prophet’s words are to become a fire which will destroy the people of Judah because of their harlotry and their complacent confidence that Yahweh will take no action against them. Because of all this the nation is to be conquered and taken captive (Jer 5:7-17, especially v 14; cf. Rev 11:5). Jer 6:1-8 warns specifically of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. All this suggests that John’s description of the ministry of the witnesses may well be intended to signify that their message was one of judgment on Jerusalem and the nation of Israel.” (Beagley, 66)”

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Therefore, in this interlude (Rev 10:1-11:14) before the final trumpet (Rev 11:15), God promises to secure the witness of Christ to the world (regarding salvation for all nations) and to the Jews (regarding judgment for covenantal defection). The “strong angel” (Christ) of chapter 10 declares the inclusion of Gentiles by uniting of Jew and Gentile into one body. He immediately reminds John of his commission to prophesy to the “nations” (10:11), as per the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20; Lk 24:47-48)Then he has John measure out a new people from within old Israel, the seed of the ongoing Church (Rev 11:1-2). And finally he commissions “my two witnesses” to testify of the divine nature of Israel’s judgment as God turns to the nations (cp. Mt 8:10-12; 21:43). The inner temple (11:1) — aka “the 144,000” (Rev 7:4-8) — is the beginning of the new phase of the kingdom, it is the very seed of the universal Church (Ro 11:16), the foundation of the rebuilt temple of God (Eph 2:19-20; 1Co 6:15; 1Pe 2:5).



  1. Patricia Watkins September 10, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Dr. Gentry,

    There is yet a 4th interpretation identifying the 2 witnesses that agrees with your assessment of a literal Jerusalem as well as 2 literal individuals being indicated. However, there is nothing in Rev. 11’s context that requires that these 2 were necessarily CHRISTIAN prophetic witnesses.

    These two were identified in Rev. 11:4 as the 2 olive trees and candlesticks “standing before the God of the earth”. This phrase is a dead give-away that these 2 witnesses had been high priests, since that is how Zech. 3:1 and Ezekiel 44:15 described the unique, favored position of the high priesthood. We do have recorded speeches in Josephus of 2 former high priests testifying in Jerusalem to their fellow countrymen, urging them to return to reason in order to spare the temple and the nation from disaster.

    Ananus, son of Annas and Joshua ben Gamaliel were both former high priests, and their restraining influence as leaders of the moderate faction was eliminated when they were murdered and left unburied in the streets of Jerusalem after the Idumean nighttime attack in late AD 67 or early AD 68.

    In Wars 4:4 & 5,Josephus mentioned an earthquake in Jerusalem, (just like the earthquake in Rev. 11:13); then 8,500 dead the morning after the Idumeans broke into the city (similar to the 7,000 slain during the earthquake in Rev. 11:13); then 4 Idumean leaders who brought 2 myriads (20,000) of Idumean warriors with them (like the 4 messengers with 2 myriads of myriads of an army of horsemen in Rev. 9:15-16); also the murder of the 2 former high priests Ananus and Joshua and their being left unburied (as the 2 witnesses were left unburied in Rev. 11:9); and then Ananus’ 1 out of 3 factions in Jerusalem being eliminated (a third part of men killed in Rev. 9:18); and finally, the Zealots rejoicing once they had gotten rid of the 2 leaders who had tried to keep their rebellion in check up to that point (as those dwelling in the earth rejoiced at the death of the 2 witnesses in Rev. 11:10). Josephus lists an additional 12,000 (beyond the 8,500) who were later killed by the Zealots and Idumeans. This total could easily represent when the “10th part of the city fell” in Rev. 11:13. Also, the powers of these 2 witnesses included “no rain” during the time they gave testimony, which actually was duplicated in a drought around Jerusalem during those days when the rebels occupied the city. This was recorded by Josephus in his speech to the Jews found in Wars 5:9,409-410. All these things matched with prophesied literal events which occurred in late AD 67 or early AD 68. (Rev. 9:13-21 is included as part of the 6th trumpet judgment which continues until Rev. 11:14.)

    Symbolically speaking, the death of the 2 former high priests represented the elimination of the formerly-approved Zadok high priesthood. This family of Zadok had enjoyed God’s exclusive selection to stand before Him ever since the post-exilic temple had been established under Joshua of the Zadok line (Ez. 44:9-16). However, once Christ had been established as the ultimate high priest after the different order of Melchizedek at His resurrection and ascension, any competing remnants of the old Zadok priesthood had to be phased out, which is what this symbolism of snuffing out these 2 candlesticks illustrated.

    Once these last 2 former Zadok (Sadducee) high priests were killed, it symbolized “lights out” for the old Jerusalem temple, which was soon to be crushed to the last stone in AD 70.

  2. Kenneth Gentry September 11, 2017 at 7:08 am

    Thanks for reading and interacting. I am very much aware of this view and was tempted by it myself, but found it to be deficient on several grounds.

    (1) The “witness” concept in Revelation is tied to Jesus who is the true witness (1:5; 3:14) and who has witnesses to him in Revelation, who suffer for him (2:13; 17:6). (2) The trajectory of Revelation is very much over against the temple and high priestly system, rather than affirming representatives of it as witnesses to Jesus. (3) In Rev 11 these two witnesses are here called “My witnesses” by Jesus (v. 3). (4) Their destiny is heaven, which is the opposite of the high priestly aristocracy as presented in Rev 11:12. Etc., etc.

    Keep studying!

  3. mateus fonseca January 28, 2019 at 5:40 pm

    Gentry, there is an interesting interpretation made by James Stuart Russel, that the two witnesses were James and Peter …

  4. Kenneth Gentry January 29, 2019 at 7:36 am

    I look at this possibility in my forthcoming Revelation commentary. I admit that Russell presents an impressive argument for the two prophets being James and Peter. But modern scholars date James’ death in 62 and do not indicate any tradition associating Peter’s death with Jerusalem. Thus, this possibility flounders historically.

  5. Jim March 2, 2019 at 11:59 am

    Has anyone looked at Zac.14:1-14?
    It plainly says these are,”These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth” In other words they are Angelic beings.
    Rev 11: 13-14 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth
    “These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.”
    So why does everyone say it is Moses and Elijah? Moses did die and was buried. Elijah did return in spirit thru John the Baptist as Jesus himself said.
    Mal 4:5-6 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD”
    “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
    Matt. 11:11-14 “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
    “And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.”
    Moses was never prophesied to return, just Elijah/Elias.
    So why is Moses then named as one of the two witnesses?
    Neither Moses or Elijah are the “anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth”

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