The Two Witnesses

General Expositions

 The Unveiling of Jesus Christ

“And I will be endowing My two witnesses and they will be prophesying a thousand two hundred sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees, and the two lampstands which stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone is wanting to injure them, fire is issuing out of their mouth and is devouring their enemies. And if anyone should be wanting to injure them, thus must he be killed. These have authority to lock heaven, that there may be no shower of rain for the days of their prophecy. And they have authority over the waters to be turning them into blood, and to smite the land with every calamity, as often as they will. And whenever they should be finishing their testimony, the wild beast which is ascending out of the submerged chaos will be doing battle with them and will be conquering them and killing them. And their corpses will be at the square of the great city which, spiritually, is being called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord, also, was crucified. And those out of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations are observing their corpses three days and a half, and they are not letting their corpses be placed into a tomb. And those dwelling on the earth are rejoicing over them and are making merry, and will be sending approach presents to one another, seeing that these two prophets torment those dwelling on the earth. And after the three days and a half the spirit of life out of God entered into them, and they stand on their feet. And great fear falls on those beholding them. And they hear a loud voice out of heaven saying to them, "Ascend here!" And they ascended into heaven in a cloud, and their enemies behold them. And in that hour occurred a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city falls, and there were seven thousand names of the men killed in the earthquake. And the rest became affrighted and give glory to the God of heaven. The second woe passed away. Lo! the third woe is coming swiftly! (Rev.11:3-14)

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GOD has never left Himself without witnesses among mankind. When revelation is silent and men are mute, nature bears a constant testimony to His imperceptible power and divinity. In these days of scientific investigation, the voice of nature is very insistent. Every avenue of knowledge leads up to marvels before which the devout scientist bows his head. He acknowledges, like the wise men of Egypt, “This is the finger of God!” We talk of weight, or gravitation, but no one can explain how matter influences matter without any connecting link. We talk of light, but who knows how it travels? We dissect living tissue, but whence is the vital force? We consider the soul, but cannot even connect it with tangible forms.

And the spirit, with all its Godlike powers, is utterly beyond the range of the faint flicker of scientific thought. Everywhere we look we find that intangible, inscrutable force which testifies to the presence of God’s spirit. There is no explanation of creation but God. Neither is there any reasonable cause for the slightest motion in the universe today but God. The tiniest raindrop and the mightiest orb of space unite in the grand chorus which celebrates His presence and power. Only the blind cannot see God in the works of His hands.

As in nature, so in revelation. The vital power of the Word of God has never been lacking among the sons of Adam. However much it may be opposed, His written revelation works wonders in the midst of men and testifies to the living, loving God. But when the testimony of His Word and His world are rejected, then He makes Himself known by other means. When nature is hushed and revelation silenced, He sends witnesses which must be heard. Such is the situation on earth today. Though science never before was so nearly face to face with the God of nature, its devotees shut Him out of their hearts and lives. Though the Scriptures have never been more widely circulated, never before have they been so strenuously opposed. We are in the apostasy, the time of man’s mightiest fight to force God outside the realm of his perceptions.

The seer Zechariah brings before us a prophetic situation which is very similar to that in which Israel is found at the time of the end. They had returned from Babylon and, as it will be in the future, their first concern was the rebuilding of the temple. The nations were strongly opposed to its restoration. So Yahweh raised up two witnesses, Zerubbabel and Joshua, and the prophet in his vision saw a lampstand fed by two olive trees (Zech.3,4). Here was the power He proposed to use in completing the temple. When Zechariah asked what the lampstand and olive trees signified, he was told, “This is the word of Yahweh to Zerubbabel, saying: ‘Not by valor, nor by vigor, but rather by My spirit, says Yahweh of hosts’ ” (Zech.4:6, CV). This is the key to the testimony of the two witnesses.

God does not come into conflict with His creatures merely to manifest His power and their impotence. That would not be a proper preparation for their ultimate reconciliation. God could wipe all evil from the earth in an instant. The reason He does not do so is that He needs it in reaching the hearts of men. He could destroy the wild beast of the end time at the very beginning of his career. The White Horse Rider could lead forth His army in the middle of the heptad and clear the earth of its usurpers. Instead of this, He gives two witnesses who rehearse, in that brief period, the whole of God’s testimony regarding the kingdom.

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Whether these two witnesses really are Moses and Elijah we are not told. But they give the world the same miraculous evidences of God’s presence and power as Moses did before Pharaoh. They can turn waters into blood (Ex.7:14-21) and smite the earth with every kind of calamity whensoever they will (Rev.11:6). This suggests that the greater exodus of Israel is still future. Egyptian bondage is as nothing compared with the slavery demanded by the great tyrant of that day. Their political deliverance and rebirth as a nation will follow the same portents as those which accompanied their exodus from Egypt. The same God Who gained His great name by breaking Pharaoh’s power of old is manifestly present in the persons of the two witnesses.

Elijah called down fire upon his foes (2 Kings 1:9-12) even as the two witnesses will have power to project fire from their mouths to devour their enemies (Rev.11:5). Besides this they lock heaven for three years and a half just as Elijah did in Israel (1 Kings 17:1). The similarity is so striking that there can be no doubt that the witnesses have the spirit and power of Elijah, the greatest of all the ancient prophets.

Thus the character of the double witness is evident from their acts and from the two great men whom they recall. The man of sin will demand fealty; the antichrist will insist on worship. He will be their emperor and their god. He will be both the Pharaoh and the Baal of that day. Israel must serve and worship him or suffer at his hands. The two witnesses, in the spirit and power of Moses and Elijah, withstand his rule and his religion. In that time of stress, they will enforce, in their narrow sphere, the power of that priest kingdom which Israel will administer when Messiah comes. Judgment from earth and from heaven sustains the testimony to the true God and the right Ruler in the very climax of man’s rebellion.

It will be a most memorable spectacle when the great monarch of all earthly dominion and the undisputed object of nearly all mundane worship is confronted by two men, clothed in sackcloth, without apparent power or influence, calmly defying his authority and dealing out death to all who seek to injure them. They testify boldly to the true God and His Christ and rouse the ire of the wild beast, which has been slain, and whose death stroke was cured (13:3). After it ascends out of the abyss it attacks them and kills them. But this cannot be until their testimony is finished. It lasts exactly twelve hundred and sixty days–three years and a half–and probably nearly corresponds with the last half of the seventieth heptad of Daniel’s seventy “weeks.”

There is much fine food for reflection in this fact. If the most powerful man earth will ever see cannot shorten the testimony of the two witnesses a single day or hour or moment, surely God will see that our time is fulfilled. Men seek to “insure” their lives, but the whole procedure is based on the fact that their death is assured. God’s witnesses may be called on to face many hazards, endangering their health and happiness and threatening their very lives, yet nothing but the divine decree can close the testimony of God’s slave. Each of His saints has his era. We should face the future calmly and confidently. It is not in the hands of our friends. It is not in the hands of our enemies. It is in His hands Who overrules where He does not rule, Who cuts every career to conform to the great purpose of the eons.

The figure of the olive tree is a familiar one to the student of Scripture. It is a symbol of divine illumination. All the light in the tabernacle and temple came from olive oil. Israel, as God’s witness on earth, is figured by an olive tree. This is true of them nationally, quite apart from their apostasy. The root of all revelation must always be Jewish, for the inspired penmen were of that nation. This very Unveiling comes through a Jew. If, for a time, the gentiles are used to dispense the light it contains, that simply gives them a temporary place in the olive tree, until the holy nation is restored to its proper place as God’s witness in the earth.

Let us not be disturbed by the fact that the gentiles will be broken out of the olive tree. It is not a question of salvation but of witness-bearing. It is not concerned with individuals, but nations. On the earth, the nations, as such, have taken Israel’s place temporarily, as witnesses for Him. As a whole they will prove unfaithful to their trust and Israel will be restored to its natural place. Between these two witnessings, when the nations are apostate (the faithful individuals having been removed to their celestial allotment), and before Israel is restored, we have the testimony of the two witnesses. They are especially provided to fill a gap in God’s testimony to the world.

Jerusalem will probably continue to grow in size and importance until, at the time of the end, it will actually become a vast and teeming metropolis. There it is that the two witnesses testify and there they meet their death. A lurid light is thrown upon its development by the names which are applied to it in this connection. Spiritually its condition is like that of Sodom and Egypt (11:8). The pleasure and wisdom of the world will find full sway in the city once devoted to the display of divine wisdom and holy joy. The wisdom that knows not God will change the city into an Egyptian seat of learning, whose savants will withstand Moses as the wise men did of old. But, with human wisdom, goes human depravity. The Jews, who have been the chief promoters of pleasure and vice among the nations, will make Jerusalem a hotbed of iniquity. Sodom’s lowest vices will flourish in the place once dedicated to the most Holy One of Israel.

That the city here referred to is really Jerusalem is evident from the phrase “where their Lord, also, was crucified.” To the contention that He was crucified outside the city, we only need to suggest that the site of Golgotha is already within the limits of the new and greater city. But it is not really necessary to prove that this is Jerusalem for no one can prove that it is any other place. It is not Sodom or Egypt but has their spiritual characteristics. It is important to see that God’s witnesses are killed in the capital of the coming kingdom, and the act is coupled with that greater tragedy so much like it, the crucifixion of their Lord.

In the East, it is the height of indignity to expose the bodies of slain enemies to public gaze. The corpses of God’s witnesses are taken to the public square and lie unburied. No one is allowed to entomb them. They are the scorn and butt of the world’s wit. With all their power to inflict harm, the wild beast was more than a match for them! Now God’s name will be completely blotted out of the earth! Possibly there will be a world holiday and festival to celebrate their death. This is the last of the world’s good times that we read of in Holy Writ. What gory glee is theirs who gloat over the murders that seem to silence the last whisper of divine interference in human affairs!

Early expositors, who did not “spiritualize” everything in this Unveiling, might well stagger at the difficulty presented in the statement that those dwelling on the earth are rejoicing over them, when it all seems to occur within a few days’ time. It certainly gives the impression that, in less than three days, the whole world knows of their death and celebrates it. Until the twentieth century, this was quite impossible. Now it is easily accomplished. The great monarch of that day should be able to communicate directly, by word of mouth, with all nations, all peoples, every individual on earth, and at a moment’s notice.

Through television or other technological means, even the two witnesses themselves, silent in death, may be shown upon a screen in every corner of the habitable earth. In fact, it is not at all impossible that an astonished world will gaze upon them as they are roused from death. Perhaps the very voice of God will be heard in every hamlet, calling them back to life. And then they ascend, the cynosure of every eye on earth! What a “program” that will be!

But a still greater marvel appears in the passage we are pondering. How could the writer of the Unveiling know about television or any such technology? Did not John know that this passage would appear ridiculously impossible? To me, this passage proves that the Writer was a great Scientist. It was inspired by One Who not only fathoms the future but Who knows the capacities of His own creation. Scripture is not “up-to-date” scientifically, but ahead of the times.

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Now comes the closing climax in the testimony of the two witnesses. We are inclined to suppose that their testimony was cut short by death. But, in a very real sense, death itself was a part of their final testimony. At first, it seemed to mark their whole career as false and fruitless. But when their death was utterly beyond denial, for their bodies were subjected to public gaze and they had been dead more than three days, then God gives the supreme proof of His presence and power by raising them and calling them in audible tones to ascend into the clouds of heaven.

Life comes from God alone. All man’s efforts to analyze it have failed. All his endeavors to produce it are futile. The crowning proof that Christ was the Son of God was His power to raise the dead. The prestige of the wild beast is based on his supposed resurrection. His death stroke was cured. He is a startling imitation of the risen Christ. His fame is greatly enhanced by his success in killing the two witnesses. All this is undone in an instant, when the spirit of God vivifies their corpses, and they stand up in view of all. The effect is immeasurably heightened by the voice out of heaven, followed by their ascension.

Great consternation seizes their enemies. It may be that they receive some hint of the awfulness of their position. The very earth seems to shudder at the moral abyss which yawns before the enemies of Yahweh. The earthquake takes a toll of seven thousand. At last God’s marvels begin to affect their hard hearts. The rest become frightened and give glory to the God of heaven.

Thus ends the second woe. It covers the period of the sixth trumpet. It comprises the scourge of the two hundred millions of terrible cavalry, the seven thunders, the seizure of the temple area, and the testimony of the two witnesses. Nothing comparable with these calamities, in scope or intensity, has ever visited the earth. These are the last arguments in God’s great controversy with mankind. His last two witnesses not only testify for God but testify of man that he is a hater of God and thirsts for the blood of all who stand for Him. From the blood of His first witness, righteous Abel, through that of the Faithful Witness Himself, to this final testimony, man manifests himself a murderer in the first degree.

How thankful we should be that the evangel committed to us is in utmost contrast to the testimony of the two witnesses! They call down physical judgments. We invoke spiritual blessings. They spread havoc and death. We dispense grace and life. They faithfully represent an indignant God, in the fury of His wrath. We are ambassadors of peace, heralding the amazing marvel of a suppliant God, Who refuses to be offended, Who is conciliated to all mankind, and Who prays all to be conciliated to Him. The still small voice of a praying God is a far greater marvel than the thunders of His wrath.

A. E. Knoch

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