Short Shot- About Those Two Witnesses
Needless to say, the mention of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 have caused an endless amount of speculation and theological discussion. Attempts to identify the witnesses are almost endless. They have been identified as “the law and the prophets,” Moses and Elijah, Peter and Paul, and a host of other candidates. This short article does not even attempt to undo that Gordian Knot. Rather, this brief excursus will try to identify the time and framework of their ministry, and in doing so, will demonstrate that the two witnesses completed their ministry in the first century.
I am convinced that the key to identifying the framework and time of the two witnesses is to be found in Revelation itself, both in chapter 11 and in chapter 14.
Of course, one of the primary and inescapable keys to understanding the ministry of the witnesses is that fact that John was told that the Apocalypse was to be fulfilled, shortly and quickly. No amount of verbal (or theological) gymnastics can avoid or mitigate that indisputable fact. See my book, Who Is This Babylon? for an in-depth analysis of the multitudinous time indicators in the book. It is an eye-opening study!
For brevity, here are a few pertinent and important facts about the two witnesses:
✔- The ministry of the witnesses is focused on, or at the very least, found in Jerusalem, the city “where the Lord was crucified.” That is, after all, where they are slain.
✔ The two witnesses are prophets of the Lord.
✔ The two witnesses, like God’s prophets of Old, e.g. Elijah and others, were miraculous endowed with the Spirit of God. They had power to withhold the rain, to call down fire from heaven, to smite the earth with curses.
✔ The witnesses had a time frame for their ministry- forty two months, 1260 days, i.e. time, times and half a time, or, 3 ½ years.
✔ No man could harm the witnesses as they went about their ministry, but, when they had finished their testimony, “the beast that ascends out nof the bottomless pit makes war with them and overcomes them and kills them.” It is evident that the miraculous, protective power of the witnesses was withdrawn or ceased when they completed their ministry.
✔ The witnesses are slain, and their bodies lie in the street of the city where the Lord was crucified, the city spiritually called Sodom and Egypt. Thus, again, we find that the epicenter of their ministry was Jerusalem. This is confirmed by the fact that Jerusalem, significantly, is the only city in all the Bible that was spiritually designated as Sodom (Deuteronomy 32:32 / Isaiah 1:10 / Ezekiel 16:44f).
✔ But, although slain, the witnesses are “resurrected” and taken to heaven. This is their vindication, the very vindication of the martyrs promised in Revelation 6:9f, and that will be discussed in Revelation 14 / 16, 18-19– which would come at the judgment of the great harlot city.
✔ Immediately following their “resurrection” that city guilty of killing them, (in concert with “the beast”)– is judged and destroyed (11:9ff).
With these facts in mind, note now Revelation 14:6ff:
✦ We have a “mighty angel,” which of course would indicate the supernatural power– the miraculous power of the angel.
✦ That angel has a gospel (good news) message: “Fear God, and give glory to Him: for the hour of His judgment has come… Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Consider that the “good news” that the angel proclaims is the impending judgment of Babylon. More on this below.
✦ The beast and Babylon are judged together (v. 10-11).
✦ That judgment comes because “the time of the harvest is come… the harvest of the earth is ripe” (v. 15). The angel declares that “has come (from elthen – perfect tense, cognate of erchomai) the hour (hora) of the judgment Him.” This a powerful and emphatic declaration of the imminence of the judgment.
✦ One like the Son of Man comes on the clouds of heaven and reaps the earth. (What is significant is that verse 13 seems, very clearly, to be a parenthetical interjection. In v. 10-11 we have the declaration of the judgment of the beast and Babylon, and in v. 14f we have the coming of the Son of Man for that judgment. That judgment would come because the cup of sin- the cup full of the blood of the martyrs– was filled up by the blood guilt of Babylon (17:6f). But, verse 13 looks beyond that judgment of v. 10f and 15f, and declares a blessing on all who die in the Lord, “from henceforth.” That “henceforth” is post judgment, post parousia!)
✦ The time of the harvest of the “earth” (ge) occurs at this judgment of Babylon. See my Babylon book for a full discussion of this “harvest” motif. This is patently the harvest indicated by the first fruit resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15:20f.
Let me make several observations and make some points here.
The message of the two witnesses and the message of the mighty angel seems, irrefutably so, to be the same. It is the impending judgment of “the great city” where the Lord was crucified (11:8) / Babylon (14:8). The “great city” is the persecuting city, guilty of all the blood shed on the earth, the blood of the prophets, the blood of the apostles of Christ (Revelation 18:20-24 / 16:6).
The message of the mighty angel is a direct echo of Matthew 24:14– “This gospel of the kingdom must be preached into all the world, as a witness to the nations, then comes the end.” That “gospel” i.e. the good news, to be preached was, just as in Revelation 14, the good news of the imminent judgment of Babylon the great city, the persecutor. See my book, The Gospel of Destruction, for a discussion of how and why the message of the coming destruction of Jerusalem could have been considered “good news.” This was a “good news” (gospel) message that is commonly overlooked.
The two witnesses, and of course the “mighty angel” are endowed with miraculous power. This designation is a powerful echo of Jesus’ promise:
“But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”
And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
We thus see that the promise of the miraculous endowment of gifts of the Spirit was a first century promise made to the apostles.
The Lord confirmed this when he promised the apostles “I am with you to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20)– which pointed to the time of the cessation of those charismatic gifts”- at the end of the Old Covenant Age. This was recognized by men such as Alexander Campbell:
MATTHEW, CHAPTER XXVIII. VERSE 20, PAGE 96 / Alexander Campbell, The Living Oracles, 4th Edition(1835), Critical Notes:
The conclusion of this state."--Sunteleia tou Aionos, "The end of the world."--Com. Ver. This phrase appears generally, if not always, in Matthew, to refer to the end of the Jewish  state. See table of Greek terms on the word Aion. It occurs five times in Matthew, and once in the epistle to the Hebrews, in the plural form--"Once in the end of the world has Christ appeared to put away sin;" that is, in the end of the Jewish state. The consummation of the Jewish state was marked with peculiar characteristics of God's displeasure. "False Christs, wars, famines, pestilences, fearful sights and signs in the heavens," were the harbingers of the sunteleia tou aionos, or consummation of the Jewish state.
We thus have a strictly delimited temporal context for the appearance and the mission- and the message – of the two witnesses. They preached the Gospel of the impending Judgment and destruction of Babylon, the harlot city, that had slain the prophets, Jesus and Jesus’ apostles and prophets.
All of this agrees with Jesus’ prediction that he was coming on the clouds of heaven in power and great glory– in the first century judgment of Old Covenant Jerusalem– the great persecuting city:
Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. “Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors! Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.
Thus, we have several lines of convergence that points us inexorably to the fact that the two witnesses minister and preached in the first century, as heralds of the impending, the imminent coming judgment at the destruction of Babylon, the city where the Lord was crucified. There is literally no justification for ripping that narrative out of that thematic, motival, and temporal context and applying it to our generation, or to some yet future generation.