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Unfortunately, we do not have historical documents recording the presence of a Christian witness in Jerusalem at this time.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).
Tagged: Two witnesses
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.
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.
Gentry, there is an interesting interpretation made by James Stuart Russel, that the two witnesses were James and Peter …
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.
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”
What about if the two witnesses are apostles and prophets.Luke 11:49 says This is what God in his wisdom said about you: ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them, but they will kill some and persecute the others.’ After all, the slain lamb means the Lion of Judah, the 144,000 means innumerable multitude. Jesus said in Acts 1, ye shall be my witnesses.
There is no known apostle who was in Jerusalem during the Jewish War.
Thank you for your reply. I understand that they were no known apostles but I as wondering if all has to perfectly fit. For instance Malachi 4 vs 5 & 6 say: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful Day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.” It says before the great and dreadful day hat Elijah will come. Jesus allowed us know this is John the Baptist but that prophecy doesn’t fit in the strictest sense even down to timing. So I mean it could be that the apostles and prophets’ testimony had witnessed to the Jews but they refused and were glad for their persecution and death because as of the time of the temple destruction it seems the ministry of the apostles and prophets was done. There was no apostolic writing during that time and the existence of Christianity was threatened. However, after the temple destruction Christianity thrived. I see the death and resurrection of the two witnesses as parallel to Revelation 20 (those who were beheaded for the gospel and the 1st resurrection). Rev 11:15, The seventh angel declares the victory of the gospel which I think is parallel to the thousand years and parallel to Rev 12:10 after the devil was cast down.
I read the articles, but I still don’t understand why the Moses and Elijah (perhaps representing the testimony of the Law and the Prophets against Israel) interpretation can’t be seen as the best fit.
It seems to me that the mention of shutting up the sky is a reference to Elijah; turning the water into blood and striking the earth with every plague seems to be a reference to Moses; their death seems representative of either the killing of the prophets (including Jesus) or of the rejection thereof; Sodom seems to be tangentially related to Elijah because he is famous for calling fire down out of heaven which is how Sodom was destroyed; Egypt has an obvious relation to Moses; Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus during the Transfiguration (Matt. 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9), which seems tied to the idea of the old passing away and the new and glorified taking its place (which seems similar to both the ending of the Old Covenant Age, and the Jewish authority of the Kingdom of God, and the future resurrection. Not to mention that they are resurrected after three days and Christ’s reign is given in the immediately following verses.
In other words, it seems like this is all tied to the rejection, and murder, of the Messiah who is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets–and is, himself, the Prophet of prophets–followed by His judgement upon them for that crime.
I deeply respect your work in this area, and I am only here to learn. I became a partial-preterist after reading your material, and a postmillennialist, and can credit you with making Revelation and the Olivet Discourse seem much less imperspicuous. Please don’t interpret this as being eristic, and, please, correct me if I misunderstood the articles. I just seek to understand.
The exact historical identity of these figures is extremely difficult to discern, even though John’s OT sources are clear and forthright. As scholars note: “it is clear that the Old Testament models for the two prophets are Elijah and Moses” (Richard Bauckham 1993a: 275). Ben Witherington (158) expresses the problem in identifying them quite well: “the background of these symbols is far clearer than the foreground.”
We must recognize that John employs a (sometimes frustrating!) mix of symbolism and literalism in his highly-wrought, historically-rooted, visionary drama. He weaves the symbolic into the literal — as evident in our very context: the “prophets” (11:10) are “two olive trees and two lampstands” (11:4). Are they really? The city is “spiritually” Sodom and Egypt, but literally “the place where their Lord was crucified” (11:8). This is one of the hazards of apocalyptic prophecy.
Thus, we must understand that in this section of Revelaiton we are entering a portion which is “universally recognized” (Robert Mounce 211) as perhaps the most difficult portion of the book. This is so even among old school dispensationalists who are committed to “plain and simple” literalism (John Walvoord 175). Ch 11 (especially beginning with v 3) is “one of the most difficult in the whole book” (Allisin Trites 1977: 164; Marko Jauhianinen 2002: 507) being “most enigmatic” (Margaret Barker 184; W. Reader, 407), “most perplexing” (Bruce Metzger 68), “most abstruse” (Philip Desprez 242), “most obscure” (Baker 190; John Ben-Daniel 84), “most complex” (Philip Carrington 181; cp. 195), “notoriously difficult” (Baker Encyc. of the Bible 4:1852), “extraordinarily difficult” (Leon Morris 140), “especially complex” (Gordon Fee 146) because of its “insuperable difficulties” (F. W. Farrar 1884: 458–59).
Indeed, it involves such “enormous difficulties (Leon Morris 140) that it presents “some of the most debated material in the whole book” (Ben Witherington 155). Ragner Leivestad well notes that this is “one of the most mysterious sections, which resists all attempts at an explanation.” The problem is so bad that Adam Clarke (6:1005) despairs of interpreting it, complaining: “Those who wish to be amused or bewildered, may have recourse both to ancients and moderns on this subject.” Many other commentators agree as to its great difficulty.
I will try to provide a fuller exposition of this passage and explanation of my understanding in a future post.
Thank you Dr Gentry for all your good work. It has been really helpful. I remember when I started reading the bible seriously on my own and struggled with the rapture theory, I just could not see it. When I told anyone around me, I was treated like a heretic because I could not make a case for my beliefs when people asked me to square it up to the mark of the beast and antichrist. Then I came across your teachings. It was God sent. I did not feel alone anymore and it has helped organize my thoughts regarding eschatology.I pray God continually expands your reach and keep you at peace in Jesus name.
Thank you very much! I do agree with this. I still, even when matters are highly complicated and solutions very tentative, like to hold to the most plausible out of the pool of live options, so to speak. As it stands, so far, I see no more plausible interpretation according to the knowledge that I have (which is very limited). I would love to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each interpretation of this passage and understand how to arrive at a well thought out decision when choosing between the available, plausible, interpretations. I eagerly await your post.
Me and my parents just watched together the first part of your 24-part summary of Revelation last night. Would you happen to have, or know where I can get, a good video or video series on the Olivet Discourse? Also, perhaps, a video or video series on post-millennialism, pre-millennialism, amillenialism? I’ve looked through the “Videos (DVD)” section of your store, but I only see debates there. I love your articles, but my parents will only make use of materials in a video format.
Thanks for your comments.
I don’t know of any video series on the Olivet Discourse. Though I have a DVD debate with Thomas Ice on Matthew 24, which sets dispensationalism over against preteristm: Matthew 24: Past or Future? I have four lectures prepared on the Olivet Discourse that I will be giving in Florida in a few months, Lord willing.
I have a 16-lecture course on Postmillennialism called Postmillennial Lectures. In these lectures I have a section that compares the basic millennial views.
I also have a four part lecture series presenting and defending postmillennialism: Your Hope in God’s World.
Hello Dr. Gentry,
I must say that the road leading to this reply to you has been a circuitous one. After I had finally found time to read your excellent eight-part series about God’s divorce decree to Israel in which you had referenced the two witnesses of Revelation 11, I sent you a quick question as to your take on the identity of the witnesses. You then sent me a link to a two-part blog you had previously written, which was well appreciated, and that subsequently prompted my observations, which follow.
I am intrigued as to your description of them. You come oh so close to embracing them, as you rightly show, as representative of the law and the prophets, which the Scriptures consistently claim. Jesus, the prophesied Messiah of the Old Testament, did fulfill the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). And, since the New Testament writers expound on the teachings of Christ, any argument as to the law and prophets pertaining exclusively to the Old Testament and being therefore either irrelevant or replaced by “apostles and prophets” or “kings and priests,” as some claim, leads to, as you quote Caird, a reductio ad absurdum.
The facts are, as your second reason states, said “apostles and prophets” or “kings and priests” “as the foundation stones of the church, i.e., the new temple of God” are not exclusively a NewTestament concept. They, too, are spelled out in the law and prophets as they trace their roots to the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:1-6), the priestly garments (Exodus 28:9-21; 39:6-14), and Daniel’s prophecy of the stone (the kingdom of God instituted by the King, Jesus, the chief cornerstone) cut from the mountain without hands (Dan. 2:31-45).
The Synoptics speak of Jesus, the cornerstone to whom we, ‘the foundation stones of the church,’ are fitted (Matthew 21:42-44; Mark 12:11-12; Luke 20:17-19). The three gospel writers are all quoting David (Psalm 118:22), just as Peter did before the high priest and religious leaders after he and John were arrested for preaching Christ’s resurrection (Acts 4:1-12), the same Peter whom you quote in 1 Peter 2:5-9 (also in 1:22-24), and Paul at Ephesians 2:19-20 (also Romans 9:30-33; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 3:9-16).
Summing up these first two views, they are one-and-the-same, a continuum, which is why I am baffled by your “more probably” vote for the third. I am baffled because “the two witnesses ‘may’ represent a small body of Christians (and ‘maybe’ even precisely two people) remaining in Jerusalem during the Jewish War” [cites Stuart citing Wetstein et al.]. Then, “…’perhaps’ a few remain behind and are designated as ‘two’….” Yes, I am baffled. Perhaps I misunderstand. I cast my lot with the law and prophets.
I must tell you that I am a fan, and I greatly appreciate your work. It has been instrumental in my understanding of eschatology. And while we do not agree on everything, we do on most.
What I consider the futurist view and the reason it prevails in the marketplace is that the primary errors it has been built upon have not been sufficiently exposed. Those errors are: a. the erroneous mistranslation of a single Greek word of Irenaeus’ statement that the apocalypse, instead of John, was seen in the time of Domitian (Heresies 5.30.3), thereby placing the date of Revelation after AD 70, and b. again, the erroneous mistranslation of a single Greek word by the King James Bible translators in Matthew 24:3, thereby making the Olivet Discourse about the end of the world rather than the end of the age. The KJV has carried said error since 1611. The New King James Version has since corrected it.
First of all, thank you Dr. Gentry for all of your work. I’ve completely changed my eschatology after reading your books and I now have an optimism for Christianity that I didn’t have before. Not to mention Revelation makes a lot more sense now. I had a question though about the 2 witnesses. In Revelation 11:7 it says that the beast will make war with the witnesses AFTER their testimony. The fact that their testimony was during the whole 3.5 years of the Jewish war wouldn’t they have been making war to with the witnesses the whole time of their testimony, and not just after? Im confused with the wording. Thanks again!
Basically this observation (Rev. 11:7) is stating that the beast from the abyss (the Roman beast) will ultimately kill them after they have testified for that period of time. In other words, they will finish their testimony, despite their death resulting from Rome’s military action. In Revelation’s drama, the opposition they endure in the previous 3.5 years is from the Jews.