Burning Questions answered
by Rev Colin Le Noury.
Q13. Who are the two witnesses of Revelation 11 and what is their role?
Much speculation and interest has surrounded the identity and role of the persons referred to as 'The Two Witnesses'.
Generally they have been regarded as two charismatic individuals with great oratorial skill with strong spiritual and miraculous powers. They are thought to be destined to arrive on the scene during the Great Tribulation period as God's mouthpiece to the Jewish nation and the world.
But is the general view correct? What should we understand about the Two Witnesses?
In assessing the identities of these men I propose to cover what I consider to be the five most common theories regarding the subject. Our interpretation will, of course, depend on whether or not we accept a Historicist or Futurist viewpoint of prophecy. Combined with this is the matter of whether we take an allegorical or literal interpretation of the passage.
Let us first consider the most widely held Historicist viewpoint. The view suggests that the Two Witnesses are the two lines of Christian witness that prevailed during the Dark Ages of papal rule. The 1260 days are interpreted as 1260 years ending at the beginning of C16 and giving way to the Protestant Reformation. During this period the two lines of witness are said to be the eastern line through the Paulicians and the western line through Augustine, both culminating in the Waldenses.
A very exact interpretation of the resurrection of the Witnesses is explained by reference to the Lateran Council of May 5th, 1514 - said to be the death of the witnesses and the triumph of the papacy. Almost exactly three and a half years later, on October 31st, 1517, Luther nailed his theses on the university door at Wittenberg and sparked off the Reformation - this is said to be the resurrection of the Witnesses.
The rejoicing of the death of the Witnesses in v10 signifies the jubilation in papal ranks following the Lateran council. The Protestant Reformation is equated with 'The spirit of life from God' v.11 which entered the Witnesses causing them to stand on their feet in triumph.
The view sounds feasible on the surface but fails to take into account much of the detail surrounding the role of the Two Witnesses. For example it is difficult to see where the manifestation of divine power as explained in vv. 5-6 fits into the historical account of the two lines of witness, or of the Protestant Reformation.
Furthermore, some who hold this viewpoint will date the beginning of the 1260 years by the decree of the Emperor Phocas in 606 A.D. and see the ending of Roman temporal power in 1866-70 as the close of the prophesied period. On the basis of such a calculation the resurrection of the Witnesses (e.g. the start of the Reformation) took place some three hundred years before the collapse of the enemy. The Historicist views are somewhat confused if not inconsistent at this point.
A second Historicist view sees the Witnesses as the Word of God - the Old and New Testaments reflecting the figure two. The start of the '1260 days' is fixed at 538 A.D. seen as the time of the commencement of papal supremacy. Proponents of this theory then look for an event something like 1260 years later (e.g. 1798) to bring about the fulfillment of the details of the prophecy.
They find what they are looking for in the history of France - a nation known for its persecution of the faithful adherents to the Word of God, i.e. The Hugenots. Much is made of the fact that in 1793 the French Assembly passed a decree forbidding the Bible and countless thousands of copies were burned. Three years later a resolution was introduced to restore toleration of the scripture, this lay on the table for 6 months then passed without a dissenting vote - hence the resurrection of the two witnesses.
As with the previous Historicist view the detail surrounding the role of the Witnesses remains unexplained by this interpretation.
The remaining commonly held views fall into the Futurist school of prophecy and sets the Witnesses firmly in the causing them to stand on their feet in Tribulation period where they are given triumph. 1260 days of testimony for God in the face of the unparalleled evil under the antichrist described in v.7 as 'the beast that ascends from the bottomless pit'.
One interpretation is that the Two Witnesses are the Jews and the church - both said to be God's chosen people. This view obviously fits in with a post-tribulation rapture and sees the church along with the Jews as present during the reign of Antichrist. Quite apart from the timing of the rapture the viewpoint is fundamentally flawed on an important detail. The Two Witnesses are seen to work very closely together and appear to be proclaiming the same message. This has never been the case with Christianity and Judaism, since Christianity sees Jesus Christ as the Messiah who came nearly 2000 years ago whereas Judaism still looks for the Messiah.
Another interpretation suggests that the Two Witnesses who will be active during the Tribulation. The number two is said to reflect adequate testimony.
This writer, however, holds to the fifth viewpoint which is they will be two Jewish evangelists who, along with the 144,000 will be raised up after the rapture of the church to give testimony during the Tribulation.
The reference to the two candlesticks in v.4 seems to suggest two individuals since earlier in the Revelation the candlesticks are said to be the ministers of the churches.
These two individuals will be endued with miraculous power to perform the kind of things associated with Elijah and Moses v.6. Some believe that it will actually be Elijah and Moses but it may simply be that they will be empowered to perform the same acts.
Their role, in keeping with many of the Old Testament prophets, is to proclaim the judgement of God during a time when His wrath is being unmistakably outpoured. In the absence of a raptured church God will make sure that He is not without witness'.
Colin Le Noury