Revelation 11:3-4 God’s witnesses will be given special power and authority from God. There are two witnesses because the Bible requires the testimony of two people to confirm a fact or verify truth (Deuteronomy 17:6;Matthew 18:16;2 Corinthians 13:1). The period of their ministry is the last three and one-half years of the Tribulation, when Antichrist’s forces oppress the city of Jerusalem (Revelation 11:2), and many Jews are sheltered in the wilderness (Revelation 12:6).
They are sent as true prophets who condemn sin and proclaim the salvation that is in Messiah Jesus. Sackcloth was the clothing worn by the prophets of old. Sackcloth was rough, heavy, coarse cloth worn as a symbol of mourning, distress, grief, and humility. Jacob put on sackcloth when he thought Joseph had been killed (Genesis 37:34). David ordered the people to wear sackcloth after the murder of Abner (2 Samuel 3:31) and wore it himself during the plague God sent in response to his sin of numbering the people (1 Chronicles 21:16). The witnesses declare a message against the sins of the Jewish people and of the world, a condemning message.
They are assassinated in the city where “their Lord was crucified.” (The Greek actually says “their Lord.”) Revelation 11:4 tells us that they will be like two olive trees and two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. This is a reference to two great Old Testament witnesses for God, Joshua and Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4-5).
There is great debate about who these two witnesses are. Zechariah’s vision had both a near and a far fulfillment (unity and diversity). The historical fulfillment was the rebuilding of the temple after the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian captivity by Joshua the high priest (Zechariah 3:1-10), the religious leader, and Zerubbabel, the political leader.
But Zechariah’s prophecy also looks forward to the restoration of Israel in the Millennium (Zechariah 3:8-10). The olive trees and lamp stands are a picture of the light of revival, since olive oil was used in lamps. The connecting of the lamps to the trees is intended to give the idea of a constant supply of oil flowing from the olive trees into the lamps. This is the idea of the working and power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Zechariah 4:6).
Like Joshua and Zerubbabel, the two witnesses will lead a spiritual revival of Israel culminating in the building of a temple. Their preaching will be instrumental in Israel’s national conversion (Revelation 11:13; cf. Romans 11:4-5, 26). Some believe that the two will be Enoch and Elijah, since Scripture says that it is appointed for men to die once and then comes judgment. However there are many exceptions, such as Lazarus, and many who were resurrected by the Lord in His resurrection.
Still another suggestion is Moses and Elijah. Supporting that idea are the miracles they perform; destroying their enemies with fire, withholding rain, turning water into blood, and striking the earth with plagues, all similar to the judgments brought by them in their ministries.
Elijah called down fire from heaven (2 Kings 1:10,12) and pronounced a three and a half-year drought on the land (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17) the same length as the drought brought by the two witnesses (Revelation 11:6). Moses turned the waters of the Nile into blood (Exodus 7:17-21) and announced the other plagues on Egypt recorded in Exodus 7-12.
Second, both the Old Testament and Jewish tradition expected Moses and Elijah to return in the future.
Malachi 4:5 predicted the return of Elijah, and the Jews believed that God’s promise to raise up a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15,18) necessitated his return (cf. John 1:21;6:14;7:40). Jesus’ statement in Matthew 11:14 that ” if you are willing to accept it, John [the Baptist] himself is Elijah who was to come ” does not necessarily preclude Elijah’s future return. Since the Jews did not accept Jesus, John did not fulfill that prophecy.
He came ” in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord ” (Luke 1:17). Also both Moses and Elijah (representing the Law and the Prophets) appeared with Yeshua on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3). Both also left the earth in unusual ways. Elijah never died, but was transported to heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:11-12), and God supernaturally buried Moses’ body in a secret location (Deuteronomy 34:5-6; Jude 9).
Revelation 11:5-6 The two witnesses possess great power as we have considered the same as that of Elijah and Moses. These powers enable them to gain the attention of the world during their ministry. Like Elijah when he was set upon by those trying to capture him fire will come from his mouth. God has in the past used fire to bring judgment on His enemies (Leviticus 10:2;Numbers 11:1;16:35;Psalm 106:17-18).
God gives them this power so that nothing will hinder their work until it is complete. God often used miracles to confirm His messengers. In the Tribulation when the world is seeing all kinds of supernatural demonic activity, their supernatural signs will mark them as true prophets of God. During their ministry their power will bring drought to the earth. Like Moses they will have the power to turn water into blood. The destruction that their ministry will cause will cause them to be hated and feared. All kinds of attempts will be made to stop them but they will fail until their work is complete. When God calls a person, God empowers him. God will give him whatever power he needs to complete his task.
Revelation 11:7-10 The two witnesses are persecuted and martyred by the beast, that is, the Antichrist. This is the first mention of the beast or Antichrist by name in the book of Revelation. He will come from the devil himself, from the bottomless pit or the Abyss (See notes on Revelation 9). The Antichrist will war against them, he will plot and do all he can to discredit their witness. Then as soon as their testimony is finished, after three and one half years he will be successful and assassinate them.
The success of their ministry is seen in the world’s response to their deaths. Their deaths will become an international affair. The leaders will leave their bodies lying in the streets of Jerusalem for three days. The whole world will witness the scene. After their deaths, their dead bodies will be left to lie as rotting corpses in Jerusalem where they were killed. To expose an enemy’s dead body is the ultimate way of dishonoring and desecrating them. God forbade the Israelites to engage in that practice (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
Gifts will be exchanged among people because they are so pleased to see these two witnesses assassinated. Ironically, this is the only mention in Revelation of rejoicing. The ungodly will be happy because those who declared to them God’s judgments, and tormented them with their power that brought destruction and messages condemning their sin God’s impending judgment and call for repentance are dead.
This could also be pointing to a political plot by the Antichrist and a professional assassin. The gifts would be the payoff of the assassins, probably sizable in that others who attempted to kill them wound up being killed by the witnesses. Think of the impact of this just picture a few of the greatest religious leaders in the world today. Then imagine some world leader murdering them and having so much power that he could leave their bodies lying in the streets for three days.
This gives some idea of the enormous power the Antichrist will have. Is it any wonder then that Jerusalem is called Sodom and Egypt? This is describing the spiritual condition of Jerusalem in the end time. Jerusalem will be as Sodom: a city of worldliness, immorality, and shameful sin; a city who would not receive the messengers of God (Genesis 19:4f) and like Egypt: a nation that enslaved and killed God’s people (Exodus 1:7f).
Who is the Antichrist? Scripture never really uses the term “Antichrist” to refer to the great “man of sin” who is to appear in the end time. It does refer to false teachers as antichrists (1 John 2:22). However, down through the centuries, believers have always referred to the coming “man of sin” as the Antichrist. Why? Because he is to stand so opposed to Christ and fiercely persecute believers. He will be the one man who will be so against Christ that he can actually be called the Antichrist.
Who is the Antichrist? When we look back and think about some of the evil men who have terrorized and massacred millions, the Neros, Hitlers, and Stalins of history. Then think what would have happened if they had been dictators of the whole world. The death of millions would have soared to tens and tens of millions. His horror will be so frightening that one of his names is simply the beast.
Note what Scripture calls him: the abomination of desolation prophesied by both Jesus and Daniel (Daniel 9:27; Matthew 24:15); the man of sin prophesied by Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4); the little horn prophesied by Daniel (Daniel 7:7-8); He is the very embodiment of Satan himself, the man of lawlessness who comes out of the bottomless pit of hell itself (Daniel 7:3); the beast of Revelation (Revelation 17:8); He is the world ruler who will make war against God’s people and slaughter them (Daniel 7:20-21, 25; Revelation 7:9, 13-14); He is the world ruler who will conquer the world (Daniel 7:23; Revelation 17:12-13).
William Barclay describes him well: “Just as the Christ is the Holy One and the Anointed King of God, so Antichrist is the Unholy One and King of all evil. Just as the Christ, the Messiah, is the incarnation of God and goodness, so Antichrist is the incarnation of the Devil and of evil. Just as the Christ is the champion of God, so Antichrist is the champion of every force in the universe which is opposed to God” (The Revelation of John, Vol.2, p.70).
Revelation 11:11-12 The two witnesses are resurrected and caught up to heaven. This will be one of many spectacular events of the last days. The breath of God will be breathed into the dead bodies of these two slain witnesses. They will stand to their feet, and when they do, fear will strike the hearts of all those who see them. The whole world will witness their resurrection as they had witnessed their dead bodies lying in the streets and many Jewish people seem to be affected by what happens (Revelation 11:13).
Imagine the amazement when the two witnesses begin to ascend up into heaven. Some wonder why the two witnesses were not permitted to preach after their resurrection. But signs and wonders do not make the gospel believable, because ” if they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead ” (Luke 16:31). The sight is bound to make an enormous impact upon those who witness it. This what is to happen to believers when Jesus comes. Every believer has the great assurance of being raised and meeting the Lord in the air.
Revelation 11:13-14 The two witnesses are vindicated and there is a great earthquake that will kill seven thousand people. The rest of the Jewish people in Jerusalem become fearful and give glory to the God of heaven. This points strongly to the conversion of the Jewish people, certainly to a great number of them repenting and giving glory to God. This is either the salvation of Israel or one of the great movements toward their national salvation that was prophesied by Paul: that “all Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11:26). On that note, the second parenthesis ends which also ends the second woe which is the end of the 6th trumpet. The seventh trumpet which is the third woe (Revelation 9:12) will soon sound, bringing with it the bowl judgments and the return of Jesus in glory to set up His kingdom.