The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 78

The Days of Their Prophecy

     This will be the situation when the tribulation period nears its midpoint.  The Israelis’ enjoyment of their freedom will be brief, and the Gentiles are soon to drive them out of their temple and city once more.  For another forty-two months, Jerusalem must be trodden down of the Gentiles before their judgment would come and the times of the Gentiles be finished.

Revelation 11:3.     And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.

     The mighty angel appears suddenly to change the subject, speaking of “my two witnesses.”  The assertion that these two witnesses are peculiarly His witnesses is further proof that the angel is Christ.  Furthermore their witness was to be in the form of prophecy.  They were true prophets, speaking by divine revelation under the authority of Christ and the duration of their prophetic testimony was set at 1260 days, corresponding to forty-two months of thirty days, or three-and-a-half years.

     They are obviously prophets of judgment.  The mohair sackcloth which serves them as clothing has for ages symbolized suffering and grief.  Furthermore their prophecy is clearly worldwide in scope, with people everywhere aware of their message of warning and doom.  They preach to both Jew and Gentile.  In fact, this two-fold division of mankind is probably why there are two witnesses, and why they are suddenly introduced at this point in the narrative. John is himself to prophesy concerning both Jews and Gentiles, and the witnesses are prophesying against both Jews and Gentiles.  The burden of both sets of prophecies concerns the imminent judgments, first on the Jews, finally on the Gentiles.  The duration of their prophecy is given in terms of days, probably to emphasize that they are not once-a-week preachers.  Every single day, for three-and-a-half years, their testimony of judgment to come is conveyed to a rebellious and resentful world.

     The identity of the two witnesses has been a matter of much speculation.  Many have suggested that they represent the Law and the Prophets, but both the narrative and the context show clearly that they are real men who speak and perform miracles and then die and rise again.  Many commentators conclude that they are two great future prophets whom God calls in the last days but whose names are unimportant and therefore unrevealed.  This is a possibility, but seems unlikely in view of Christ’s special identification of them as “my” witnesses, as though they were somehow known to Him and serving Him long before.  The reference to Zechariah’s prophecy of the olive trees and candlesticks (verse 4) suggests the same.

     That they are men, however, and not angels is obvious from the fact that they die.  The most likely conclusion is that they are two of God’s faithful witnesses from former ages, sent back to witness again in the final age.

     This is strongly supported by the remarkable prophecy concerning Elijah: “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” (Malachi 4:5, 6).  This prophecy is all the more remarkable in that it contains the very last words of the Old Testament.

     Some assume that this prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist but John the Baptist himself denied it.  “And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not” (John 1:21).  John did indeed come “in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke 1:17), but he was not Elias, and his coming did not fulfill Malachi’s prophecy.  Jesus Himself confirmed this.  “Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.” (Matthew 17:11).

     Elijah was taken into heaven without dying (2 Kings 2:11).  God must have had a reason for such a remarkable action; Elijah was no more deserving of such a privilege than many other saints before and since.  Evidently, God had a ministry for Elijah which required that he still remain living in his natural body.  There he has remained ever since, awaiting the time at the end of the age when he would return to earth to complete his prophetic mission to the people of Israel just “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”

     But if Elijah is one of the witnesses, who is the other?  The majority of commentators believe it is Moses, primarily because Moses appeared with Elijah on the mount of transfiguration (Matthew 17:3), and also because both Moses and Elijah had called forth miracles from heaven in the form of plagues on God’s enemies and could effectively represent both the Law and the Prophets.

     However, there do seem to be serious problems with this solution.  Moses was not taken into heaven as Elijah was, but died and was buried (Deuteronomy 34:5, 6).  The appearance of Moses with Elijah on the mountain was not an actual physical descent from heaven but was merely a “vision” (Matthew 17:9).  Despite the mysterious reference to Michael’s dispute with Satan over Moses’ body (Jude 9), it is likely that Moses’ spirit, like all others who died before Calvary, was in Sheol, at least until the time of Christ’s resurrection.

     The greatest problem, however, with the assumption that Moses is one of the witnesses is that this would mean Moses would die twice, which would contradict Hebrews 9:27: “It is appointed unto men once to die.”  Furthermore, both Moses and Elijah were prophets to Israel, whereas the two witnesses of Revelation 11 are prophets of judgment to the whole world, both Jew and Gentile.

     All of these considerations point clearly to the great antediluvian patriarch Enoch as the second of the two witnesses.  Enoch is the only other man in all human history, besides Elijah, who was taken directly into heaven in his natural body without dying.  “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death” (Hebrews 11:5).  Neither he nor Elijah were given immortal bodies when they were translated, however, because it was necessary for Christ first to die for their sins and rise again.  “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 23).

     Thus Enoch and Elijah have been waiting in heaven in their natural bodies through all the intervening ages since their respective translations.  Therefore, although we cannot be absolutely certain, it does seem most probable that these are Christ’s two witnesses, sent to earth again in the last days to complete their prophetic testimonies to an ungodly world just before Christ returns.  Enoch’s testimony, given to the antediluvians, could well be the essence of his message to the world in the tribulation period: “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (Jude 14, 15).

     Enoch and Elijah are uniquely appropriate selections for this peculiar ministry in the last days.  For approximately the first 2,000 years of human history (Adam to Abraham), God was dealing with the world of mankind as a whole.  For approximately the second 2,000 years of history (Abraham to Christ), He was dealing primarily with the chosen nation Israel.  It is significant that Enoch’s prophetic ministry was to the first group and that he preached and was translated during about the middle of the “Gentile” (or “nations”) epoch of history.  Elijah’s ministry was to Israel, and he preached and was translated at about the middle of the period from Abraham to Calvary.

     The third major period of history is the Church Age, also about 2,000 years in duration, during which the members of Christ’s Church, through the prophetic written Word, preach to both Jews and Gentiles.  This age is terminated by the rapture of the Church.  During the tribulation, with the Church no longer on earth, God will send back His two greatest prophets of the two former ages to renew and to complete their respective testimonies to Gentiles and Jews, proclaiming to the whole ungodly world the mighty judgments of God.  After living in their natural flesh in heaven for an average of over three-and-a-half thousand years, they will preach again on earth for a final three-and-a-half years, and then finally be put to death for three-and-a-half days.

Revelation 11:4.     These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

     Here is another intriguing evidence that these two witnesses have been living in former ages.  They are said also to have been “standing before God” back in the days of Zechariah.

     Zechariah had been granted a series of remarkable visions, which evidently had a twofold application, first to the current project of temple rebuilding and second to the end times.  In Zechariah’s time (between the times of Ezra and Nehemiah), the rebuilding of the temple, though authorized in the days of Ezra, was languishing and Zechariah’s mission was to encourage Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the high priest to proceed with the task.

     One of these visions was of a golden candlestick (or lampstand) with seven lamps, flanked by two olive trees yielding golden oil for the lamps.  The olive trees were interpreted as “the two anointed ones [or “the ones with the oil”], that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:14).  The phraseology is obviously the same.  Thus the two witnesses were “standing before” or “standing by” the Lord long before John’s time.

     These two great men were peculiarly men accustomed to being in God’s presence.  When they were on earth before, it was said that Enoch “walked with God” (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah first introduced himself thus: “As the Lord of Israel liveth, before whom I stand” (1 Kings 17:1).  They have continued close in His presence throughout the ages.  They had been specially anointed as God’s prophets to the nations and the chosen nation, respectively, and their concern for their responsibilities has been no less immediate and passionate in heaven than it had been on earth.

     Zechariah had seen them in a vision as two mighty olive trees, each bearing an especially strong and fruitful “branch” which perpetually emptied its golden oil into a golden bowl on the apex of a golden lampstand, from which coursed the oil through seven pipes to the seven lamps on the lampstand.  The whole apparatus thus symbolized the divine Light to and through the chosen nation Israel, all energized by the Spirit of God.  The message to Joshua (same name as “Jesus”) was that the blessing and power for the nation must be received through “my servant the BRANCH” (Zechariah 3:8) which, in turn, was the name of the man who would ultimately build the eternal temple and would be both its priest and king (Zechariah 6:12, 13).  The message to Zerubbabel was that all this would come “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit” (Zechariah 4:6), as symbolized by the flowing oil.  The branch is Christ, the oil is the Spirit, but both were conveyed, as it were, to Israel by the two anointed ones, said specifically by the Lord to be represented by Zechariah’s two olive trees, and also by the two witnesses here in Revelation 11.

     But the witnesses also were called “the two candlesticks” as well as “the two olive trees,” whereas in Zechariah there was only one candlestick.  The reason probably is that one candlestick represents Enoch’s witness to the nations, the other Elijah’s witness to Israel.

     The Lord Jesus Christ called them “my two witnesses,” indicating that these bore a special relationship to Him which was not shared by other witnesses.  These were the two that had stood by Him for long ages, sharing His great concern and love for those who loved Him, but also sharing His wrath against those who despised and rejected Him.

     They had stood by Him in the days of their flesh, in the midst of their own ungoly generations.  After their translation to heaven, they stood by the Lord in His dealings with their brethren through the centuries, with just this intriguing glimpse provided for us here in Zechariah’s vision: “These are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:14).  Note that, even though the immediate situation was concerned only with Israel (thus there was only one candlestick in the vision), it was still important for Zechariah’s hearers to remember that God was Lord of the whole earth.

     Although it is obviously speculation, it seems possible that they may even have stood by Him when He came to earth, or at least at the climax of that visit when He died and rose again.  On the morning of the empty tomb, it is remarkable that there were two men standing by.  “And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.  And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments” (Luke 24:3, 4).

     Similarly there were two men standing by at His ascension back to heaven.  “And while they looked stedfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel” (Acts 1:10).

     The time had finally come, however, when Christ’s two faithful witnesses must return to earth to “finish their testimony” (verse 7).  They had stood by Him: now, surely, He would stand by them.

Revelation 11:5.     And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.

     Like the 144,000 Israelite witnesses (Revelation 7:3; 8:4) these two chief witnesses will be protected from all harm during the three-and-a-half years of their testimony.  Their daily pronouncements of condemnation and warning, in addition to the miracles of judgment which they called forth on the earth, will make them feared and hated above all men before them, and many attempts will be made on their lives.  But they will be invulnerable and, furthermore, they will have the power to slay their enemies merely by a spoken word as though a consuming fire were leaping from their tongues.  Such power is manifest otherwise only by Christ Himself (2 Thessalonians 2:8; Revelation 2:16; 19:15).  Furthermore, in whatever manner anyone seeks to hurt them, he himself will be slain by an analogous judgment.

     Elijah, in fact, had been able long before to call down fire from heaven with his spoken word (1 Kings 18:37, 38; 2 Kings 1:10, 12), and had been invulnerable then as well.  He was recognized, in his day, as the one who summoned “the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof” (2 Kings 2:12). 

Revelation 11:6.     These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy; and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.

     Not only do the two prophets have miraculous power to defend themselves against all enemies, but also to call forth great plagues on the earth.  First of all, they call for the greatest drought ever experienced on earth.  The “days of their prophecy” are “a thousand, two hundred and threescore days” (verse 3), so it will “rain not” for three-and-a-half years.  As Elijah had called for a three-and-a-half year drought in the land of Israel (James 5:17), so now he and his fellow prophet inflict the same on the whole world.

     Such a drought obviously will generate worldwide famine.  This seems clearly to correspond to the judgment already described under the third seal, right at the beginning of the tribulation (Revelation 6:5, 6).

     This fact is one indication that the three-and-a-half year period of the prophecy of the two witnesses corresponds to the first half of the tribulation.  More significantly, the forty-two month period of Gentile tyranny over the holy city (Revelation 11:2) and of absolute rule by the beast (Revelation 13:5) apparently becomes possible only by the execution of the two witnesses by the beast (Revelation 11:7).  As long as the witnesses exercise such power over both men and nature, it is impossible for the beast to acquire absolute world power.  Thus it seems necessary to conclude that John is here being given a retrospective view of the ministry of the witnesses, from the chronological standpoint of the middle of the tribulation.  As a matter of fact, each of the sub-histories of these parenthetical chapters (11, 12, and 13) will be seen to begin with a retrospective review of the background events leading up to the midtribulation turning-point, then to continue with a preview of events yet future.

     Almost simultaneous with the beginning of the drought, was the restraint of the world’s atmospheric circulation (Revelation 7:1).  Such a combination of meteorologic phenomena will result in a gradual reestablishment of the prediluvian waters above the firmament, and thus help to prepare the world for the idyllic environment of the millennium.

     Note also that the ability of the prophets to turn waters into blood corresponds to the judgments of the first and second trumpets (Revelation 8:7-9).  In fact, they were also responsible for “smiting the earth with all plagues.”

     All the seal judgments and the trumpet judgments were also called “plagues” in the summary statement of Revelation 9:20.  Since the two witnesses were empowered to smite the earth with all plagues, it is evident that, as far as the earth-dwellers were concerned, the judgments through which the earth had been passing had been directly caused by the imprecations of the witnesses.

     Thus the various plagues had both a heavenly cause and an earthly cause.  John had seen the horsemen and angels and other emissaries of judgment sent forth from heaven.  Now he learns that they had also been announced on earth by the two witnesses.  These two prophets were Christ’s witnesses, still in perfect harmony on earth with His will in heaven.  Whatever they asked on earth was done for them in heaven (Matthew 18:19).

     No wonder the ungodly men and women on earth had come to fear and hate these witnesses with such intensity.  Right from the first, they had been told that the plagues had been sent as punishment from God for their wickedness and continuing rebellion against Christ.

     It is, of course, difficult for us to understand how these two prophets could live for 3,000 and 4,000 years, respectively, in heaven in their natural bodies without dying.  Furthermore, how could they get there and return from there in bodies controlled by the normal gravitational forces that control all matter in our existing space-time cosmos?  We can perhaps understand in part how angelic bodies, or resurrection bodies, could do this, since they are not controlled by such forces, but how can natural material bodies be transported from earth to heaven (wherever that is) in any reasonable time?  As a matter of fact, science does not yet understand gravity itself.

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