The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11

Just who are those two witnesses in Revelation 11? Who are those two “olive trees” and “lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth?” Well, some say literally there will be two specific men/witnesses at the end of the age. Others say similarly that these are two prophets who prophesy during the rapture. On the allegorical side, some have suggested that these two are the Law and the Prophets, or something like that.

I agree with the commentators who say that the witnesses symbolize the church (Beale, Mounce, Hendriksen, etc). This is a good quote from Hendriksen: “These witnesses symbolize the church militant bearing testimony through its ministers and missionaries throughout the present dispensation [age].” (More Than Conquerors [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1940], 155). Or shorter, Bauckham: “Two individuals here represent the church in its faithful witness to the world” (The Theology of the Book of Revelation [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993], 84).

Beale gives excellent reasons why this interpretation fits well:

1) The witnesses are called ‘two lampstands,’ similar to Rev 1.20, where John explicitly calls the churches lampstands.

2) By comparing Rev 11.7 and Dan 7.21 (clearly John alludes to Daniel here), Daniel notes that persecution is aimed not at a few individuals, but corporate Israel.

3) In Rev 11.9-13, the entire world will see the defeat and resurrection of the witnesses – this means that the witnesses are visible throughout the earth – around the globe.

4) The two witnesses prophesy for 3.5 years, the same length of time other followers of Christ are oppressed (11.2, 12.6, 14; 13.6). Especially relevant is chapter 12, where the woman fled persecution for the same amount of time. Beale notes that the woman and the two witnesses signify the same thing: the corporate people of God, the church.

5) Elsewhere in Revelation, the entire community of believers is identified as the source of the testimony to/of Jesus (6.9, 12.11, 17; 19.10, 20.4).

6) Finally, note that the powers of Moses and Elijah (11.6, for example) are attributed to both of the witnesses, not split between them. “They are identical prophetic twins.”

Beale quotes taken from his commentary on Revelation (Grand Rapid: Eerdmans, 1999), 574-5.

See also Dennis Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb, (Phillipsburg: P&R, 2001), 170-1; he compares 11.7 and 13.7 to make the same point as the above named authors.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

13 thoughts on “The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11”

  1. Who are the Two Witnesses?

    Let’s make a comparison between the two witnesses with the saints of the most High –

    The Two Witnesses

    The two witnesses will receive God-given power.
    They will have this power for 3 ½ years (Re.11:3).
    After they have finished their testimony, after the 3 ½ years of power, the beast will make war against them, and he will overcome them, and he will kill them (Re.11:7).

    The saints of the most High

    War will be made with the saints of the most High (Dan.7:21, Dan.7:25).
    The mighty and holy people will be destroyed (Dan.8:24).
    Those who do not worship the image of the beast will be killed (Re.13:15).
    It will take 3 ½ years to accomplish to scatter the power of the holy people (Dan.12:7).

    Patricia (ndbpsa ©) Bible Prophecy on the Web
    Author of the self-study aid, The Book of Revelation Explained © 1982

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  2. You’ve just made a case for the destruction of the corporate church by Satan as a just punishment by the will of God.

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  3. Additionally, John doesn’t allude to Daniel but is interpreting and expounding upon the book of Daniel which was written for us, not a nation of B.C. Israelis.

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  4. Danielj,

    Nope. Shane just made a case for the apostasy (or apparent defeat of the church) at the end of the age (seeming to be killed because the world hates it, but being resurrected when Christ returns). Where do you find this to be a judgment of God against the church?

    This is a thematic parallel to 2 Thess 3 (the apostasy of the Man of Lawlessness, in the temple w/ false signs & wonders/God giving them over) and Revelation 20 (Satan being released at the end of the thousand years and re-deceiving the nations, which were un-deceived by the millennium).

    Defend your assertion, sir.

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  5. KBennet,

    Don’t you think utilizing the language of death implies that the slaying of the two witnesses requires total apostasy? After all what is the Great Earthly city they lie in? What is the Babylon of Revelation but a total, global, apostate church?

    The parallels in Scripture are sundry. Speaking of the Man of Lawlessness, in 2 Thess. 2:4 Scripture delimits his rule:

    “who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he, as god sitteth (rules) in the Temple of God (What could that be?), shewing himself that he is god.”

    (seeming to be killed because the world hates it, but being resurrected when Christ returns)

    I’m not trying to imply that the invisible Church could ever be defeated or suffer apostasy. That is an indefensible assertion. How can any elect person become apostate?

    It isn’t killed by the World but by the “Church” itself like it always has been from Moses to the Prophets to Christ to the Reformation.

    29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 “So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
    34 “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 “Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
    37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!

    Eventually, He that holds down and restrains (2 Thess 2:6-7) will no longer restrained and the Beast will be released from the Bottomless pit and trample the Saints and the Power of the Holy People through signs and lying wonders. Does that sound like the World doing the damage, or the false church? That, my friends, is the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel the Prophet. Satan, ruling through False Prophets, in the Holy Temple.

    All the “nations” were still deceived during the Millenium, only those saved within the nations (or those who appeared such) were undeceived. So when Satan comes he will deceive the church? It will be a tribulation so great that the elect would be deceived if possible and you want to tell me it will not be total corporate apostasy?

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  6. Many times the world over the external and visible church has been small or appeared defeated, this Great Tribulation will be much different and it will end in the consummation as has been stated.

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  7. Where do you find this to be a judgment of God against the church?

    God repeatedly states that in various forums throughout the entire Bible. She becomes the Harlot that sits on many waters and is judged by God for Her unfaithfulness.

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  8. “The picture of the witnesses’ bodies lying on the ’street of the great city’ probably does not indicate literally that the entire church will be exterminated so that it cannot bear witness any longer. Rather it emphasizes by hyperbole that the true church will seem defeated in its role of witness, will appear small and insignificant, and will be treated with indignity. Indeed, nonburial was an indignity in the biblical world

    Probably… Not literally…

    You aren’t certain? I think it means what it says! I also like how you appeal to traditions of the ancient world to interpret Scripture. What does the Bible say? How does the Bible define non-burial? It doesn’t say anything like “seem defeated,” it says LYING DEAD.

    They have FINISHED their testimony. The 144,000 are SEALED and no more will be sealed. See Ezekiel. The people of the City are sealed by God and then the killing and judgment begins. No more Salvation, no more God being near and called upon, only judgment remains.

    All you people with seminary degrees…. It saddens me.

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  9. CALVIN ON THE “VISIBLE” CHURCH

    Church Visibility

    The hinges on which the controversy turns are these: first, in their contending that the form of the Church is always visible and apparent; and, secondly, in their placing this form in the see of the Church of Rome and its hierarchy. We, on the contrary, maintain, both that the Church may exist without any apparent form, and, moreover, that the form is not ascertained by that external splendour which they foolishly admire, but by a very different mark, namely, by the pure preaching of the word of God, and the due administration of the sacraments.

    They make an outcry whenever the Church cannot be pointed to with the finger. But how oft was it the fate of the Church among the Jews to be so defaced that no comeliness appeared?

    What do we suppose to have been the splendid form when Elijah complained that he was left alone? (1 Kings XIX:14) How long after the advent of Christ did it lie hid without form? How often since has it been so oppressed by wars, seditions, and heresies, that it was nowhere seen in splendour?

    Had they lived at that time, would they have believed there was any Church?

    But Elijah learned that there remained seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal; nor ought we to doubt that Christ has always reigned on earth ever since he ascended to heaven. Had the faithful at that time required some discernible form, must they not have forthwith given way to despondency? And, indeed, Hilary accounted it a very great fault in his day, that men were so possessed with a foolish admiration of Episcopal dignity as not to perceive the deadly hydra lurking under that mask. His words are (Cont. Auxentium),

    “One advice I give: Beware of Antichrist; for, unhappily, a love of walls has seized you; unhappily, the Church of God which you venerate exists in houses and buildings; unhappily, under these you find the name of peace. Is it doubtful that in these Antichrist will have his seat? Safer to me are mountains, and woods, and lakes, and dungeons, and whirlpools; since in these prophets, dwelling or immersed, did prophesy.”

    And what is it at the present day that the world venerates in its
    horned bishops, unless that it imagines those who are seen presiding
    over celebrated cities to be holy prelates of religion? Away, then,
    with this absurd mode of judging! Let us rather reverently admit,
    that as God alone knows who are his, so He may sometimes withdraw
    the external manifestation of his Church from the view of men.

    This, I allow, is a fearful punishment which God sends on the earth; but if the wickedness of men so deserves, why do we strive to oppose the just vengeance of God? It was thus that God, in past ages, punished the ingratitude of men ; for after they had refused to obey His truth, and had extinguished His light, He allowed them, when blinded by sense, both to be deluded by lying vanities and plunged in thick darkness, so that no face of a true Church appeared. Meanwhile, however, though His own people were dispersed and concealed amidst errors and darkness, He saved them from destruction. No wonder; for He knew how to preserve them even in the confusion of Babylon and the flame of the fiery furnace.

    But as to the wish that the form of the Church should be ascertained by some kind of vain pomp, how perilous it is I will briefly indicate, rather than explain, that I may not exceed all bounds.

    What they say is, that the Pontiff, who holds the apostolic see, and the priests who are anointed and consecrated by him, provided they have the insignia of fillets and mitres, represent the Church, and ought to be considered as in the place of the Church, and therefore cannot err. Why so? because they are pastors of the Church, and consecrated to the Lord. And were not Aaron and other prefects of Israel pastors? But Aaron and his sons, though already set apart to the priesthood, erred notwithstanding when they made the calf (Exodus XXXII:4). Why, according to this view, should not the four hundred prophets who lied to Ahab represent the Church? (1 Kings XXII:ll, &c.) The Church, however, stood on the side of Micaiah. He was alone, indeed, and despised, but from his mouth the truth proceeded. Did not the prophets also exhibit both the name and face of the Church, when, with one accord, they rose up against Jeremiah, and with menaces boasted of it as a thing impossible that the law should perish from the priest, or counsel from the wise, or the word from the prophet? (Jer. XVIII:18). In opposition to the whole body of the prophets Jeremiah is sent alone to declare from the Lord (Jer. IV:9),. that a time would come when the law would perish from the priest, counsel from the wise, and the word from the prophet. Was not like splendour displayed in that council when the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees assembled to consult how they might put Jesus to death? Let them go, then, and cling to the external mask, while they make Christ and all the prophets of God schismatics, and, on the other hand, make Satan’s ministers the organs of the Holy Spirit!

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  10. Ok, I will buy it and read it with an open mind and heart.

    You and I know that I don’t mean the “if the literal makes sense, then seek no other,” and I know most of you would disagree. However, I don’t think I have lobbied for any particular hermeneutic that you can ‘formally’ disagree with.

    I’m know I’m quoting the line liberally, and that is because I’m not a postmillenial, Rushdoony ditto-head. I’m amil just like all Reformed people should be. Or are you postmil at this blog? If I’m not mistaken this and a few others are in opposition to the gentlemen over at IronInk, but I get confused. Two kingdoms theology and all that jazz. It is hard to keep up when you work 60 hours a week.

    I think you’ll find that some people with “seminary degrees” actually do have something intelligent to say.

    I know a lot of you are more intelligent then me but studying systematic theology doesn’t open one’s eyes. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. I grew up around your types. I went to the same Calvary Chapels, I saw the smart kids get Reformed, I’ve been to a few URC churches. I just think the degree chasers get carried away sometimes. I read your blogs and a lot of you sneer with contempt upon us laymen like your secular counterparts in the university.

    So, in Beale’s/your hermeneutic it is acceptable to factor in the temporary culture in understanding the Scripture?

    The Bible doesn’t seem to imply “seems defeated” and being trampled underfoot and lying dead seem pretty clear to me, but I suppose I will check back in after I’ve completed Beale’s commentary.

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  11. I believe the Two Witnesses are not individuals, but are nations. Specifically the USA and Britain. They have been called to be Gods Witnesses for several hundreds of years now spreading Gods word and pursose all over the world. But their time is almost up. They will soon be attacked and destroyed, Lying figuratively dead for 3 1/2 years during which time they will undergo severe hardship. And no one will help them But God will once again pick them up and the world will tremble because they know and understand the military might these two countries can and will exert. They will become Gods BattleAxe.

    Some have said the Church is, or contains the Witnesses. I disagree. Typically the Church is portrayed as a Woman

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  12. I had a dream one morning about this, the Two Witnesses. I dreamed that they were nations which had supported the Church and had encouraged the spread of the Gospel throughout the world. I had not expected this. At all!!
    But the two nations were the US and Britain. However, due to their national sin their time was up. They are to be destroyed and figuratively lie dead for 3 1/2 years. After that time of severe national/Christian persecution(tribulation?) (and the loss of tens of millions of lives) they will repent. God will once again lift them up and put them on their feet, at which time “the world will tremble” They will become Gods Battle-axe (Jer 51:20)

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