Many Examples

Imaintain that the most fundamental principle of Bible interpretation is to first and foremost allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. This is especially true when it comes to God’s prophetic Word as we have already discussed, where a pattern is repeated in the character of birth pangs, getting stronger and more frequent until the ultimate and final fulfillment takes place. But it is rare when we cannot find a pattern or explanation within God’s Word itself for what takes place in the Last Days.

For instance, it has been noted by both Jacob Prasch and Harry Ironside that the pattern of Revelation—a seven opening into another seven, along with other key features, is originally present in the Battle of Jericho. (Josh. 6) They marched around the city once a day for six days, but on the seventh day marched seven times—a “seven” opening into another “seven”; there is a similar use of silence, a shout, trumpets sounding, a rescue of a remnant represented by Rahab and her family, and even the presence of two witnesses in the character of the two spies among the list of major similarities. There are the literal-historical lessons to be learned from the account of Jericho, but it also contains a deeper eschatological pattern foreshadowing what will ultimately take place in Revelation with the seal, bowl and trumpet judgments.

This is why it was stated earlier that although Moses and Elijah appear as two witnesses on the Mt. of Transfiguration, it does not automatically mean that they are the literal, final Two Witnesses of Revelation 11 because there are multiple instances of a pair of witnesses throughout Scripture. In order to fully understand the identity and ministry of this final pair, we need to acknowledge the many examples provided.

We can find many more such examples throughout Scripture such as the two cherubim covering the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant, Michael and Gabriel mentioned as the two archangels, or the many pairings we see of such prominent figures such as Paul and Barnabas, Peter and John, etc. There is a pattern of a pair of witnesses which teaches something about the final Two Witnesses to come, but none of these are the first and foremost most important and primary scriptural examples of the Two Witnesses. There is one pair of literal-historical figures, however, who are specifically tied to the ultimate Two Witnesses to come in a direct, scriptural manner like no other., and it is not Moses and Elijah on the Mt. of Transfiguration.

The Strongest Scriptural Connection

3“And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. (Revelation 11:3–4)

11Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right of the lampstand and on its left?” 12And I answered the second time and said to him, “What are the two olive branches which are beside the two golden pipes, which empty the golden oil from themselves?” 13So he answered me, saying, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.” 14Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who are standing by the Lord of the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:11–14)

The final Two Witnesses in Revelation 11 are identified as the “two olive trees”, a designation which took place previously in Scripture in Zechariah 4. Like nearly every person, place and thing mentioned in Revelation, it is rare to not find corresponding counterparts in the rest of Scripture, often not only bearing the exact, same description, but providing an explanation as to the meaning. There are such parallels between the beasts in Revelation and those in Daniel, the plagues in the Exodus account and the last ones to come in Revelation, and many other such things which Scripture connects directly together by parallel accounts with other Scripture. For instance, if you want to know the most important aspects of the character and nature of the Antichrist, learn all you can about Judas. Judas and the Antichrist are the only figures in history who are both called by the same name—“the son of perdition” (Jn. 17:12; 2 Th. 2:3), and who are both not merely demonically possessed, but satanically possessed by Satan himself. (Jn. 13:2, 27; 2 Th. 2:9, Rev. 13:2) Likewise, the only pair of figures in Scripture who are identified in the exact, same way as the Two Witnesses in Revelation are Zerubbabel and Joshua in Zechariah 3-4.

I realize we have devoted a great deal of space to the topic of the Two Witnesses, but we really have only barely scratched the surface on the subject. This book is not intended as an exhaustive treatment on the Two Witnesses, but enough time was needed to be devoted to this issue because of the fact that it is most commonly asserted that Elijah “must” be one of them. The more significant point is that while the appearance of Moses and Elijah on the Mt. of Transfiguration is yet another example of “two witnesses”, they are but one appearance in a sequence of quite a number of such pairings and not uniquely or even specifically designated in Scripture as being THE ultimate Two Witnesses; the most important and direct scriptural connection is attached to Zerubbabel (a political leader directly descended from David) and Joshua (the High Priest directly descended from Aaron).

In this regard they are much more in the character of Moses and Aaron, and further reading about them in Ezra and Zechariah reveals them to be intrinsically involved in the construction of the Second Temple and the reestablishment of its operation in much the same way Moses and Aaron initiated the original priesthood and oversaw the Tabernacle coming into existence. In the same manner that Moses and Aaron provided Israel a new beginning coming out of their Egyptian Captivity, Zerubbabel and Joshua parallel the same kind of new spiritual start for Israel returning from the Babylonian Captivity. It is therefore not beyond reason to expect the final Two Witnesses to be intrinsically involved in the Tribulational Temple to come in some way, especially as it involves ethnic Israel.

But if we wanted to develop a combined, final picture of the Two Witnesses, we would begin by first exhaustively examining what Scripture states about the final, literal pair in Revelation 11 in tandem with whomever they are directly associated by the text, in this case the other pairing identically referred to as “the two olive trees”, before proceeding to supplement our overall understanding with all the additional types of two witnesses throughout the whole of God’s Word subsequent to that starting point. If we were to do so, we would be able to see many commonalities providing insight into the final pair, such as how they are always working in advance of the coming work of God, they often speak to God’s people first, their time of activity or ministry usually overlaps and extends into the next stage of activities to come, they often perform signs or wonders, and they have a very specific message for their particular time, place and circumstance.

When examining Elijah, particularly as he is understood to have come the first time in the person and ministry of John the Baptist, it is easy to see that some of these characteristics are mutually shared, particularly in the way John’s ministry preceded and overlapped that of Christ’s. However, there is a major, glaring issue when it comes to Elijah’s candidacy as one of the Two Witnesses: he never works in tandem with someone else as a unified pair. Neither the ministries nor lives of Elijah, Elisha nor John the Baptist are ever conjoined with anyone else; they always come and work alone. There is no reason—that is, no scriptural hint or indication, that the final “Elijah to come” will break precedent and return for the first time paired with another. None of the many types and examples of the Two Witnesses work apart; none of the iterations of Elijah operate except as lone, single figures. Neither should we expect “Elijah to come” to arrive and function differently.

A Final Point

10And His disciples asked Him, “Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; (Matthew 17:10–11)

5“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. 6He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5–6)

2“Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months. 3And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. 6These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire. 7When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them. (Revelation 11:2–7)

What I have underlined in these passages shows a sharp difference in the ministry and purpose of Elijah from that of the Two Witnesses. While it is true that the Two Witnesses perform signs and wonders, such are carried out in the context of prophecy and testimony, they are designated specifically as “witnesses” because prophesying and testifying is actually their greater role and purpose. This stands in stark contrast to the restoration ministry of Elijah as preliminarily seen at the First Coming in the ministry of John the Baptist. In keeping with the well-established pattern of the whole of God’s Word, the signs of the Two Witnesses are not their primary work in and of itself, but a confirmation of the message. This is the way it was with Moses and Aaron in Egypt as well as Christ’s First Coming to Israel. But in contrast, Elijah’s role is alternatively differentiated as spiritual restoration.

9Those from the peoples and tribes and tongues and nations will look at their dead bodies for three and a half days, and will not permit their dead bodies to be laid in a tomb. 10And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and celebrate; and they will send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth. (Revelation 11:9–10)

In other words, their “prophesy” and “testimony” results in something drastically and completely incompatible with the notion of their working as evangelists who are facilitating a revival. This same term for “tormented”—“basanizo”, is used again in Revelation 14:10 to describe what will ultimately be experienced by anyone who worships the beast and takes his mark (“…and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone…”), and by Satan, the Antichrist and False Prophet when they meet their ultimate fate:

10And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)

I know that it is popularly taught that the 144,000 Israelites sealed in Revelation 7 and 14 are “super evangelists” who will preach the Gospel and lead a worldwide revival after the Church is removed, but that is not actually stated in Scripture—it is an assumption not specifically documented in the text. It is also not unusual to be told that this is also the function of the Two Witnesses, which is likewise offered as taking place after the Rapture of the Church. These ideas have come about because God’s Word is very clear that there is a final, ultimate revival of Israel yet to come when they will finally accept Jesus as their Messiah and God will complete all the as-yet-unfulfilled promises in Scripture, and the assumption is that this is accomplished by one or both of these parties. But the only person specifically assigned this role in Scripture is Elijah, while the role of the Two Witnesses, as discussed, is otherwise focused, and actually described as a torment to those on the earth. As to the 144,000, they are further described in Revelation 14:4 as “first fruits”, the Old Testament way of referring to the first of many more to come, a very biblical term specifically relating to ethnic Israel. It is far more likely that the 144,000 are the beginning of the return of Israel to Christ and not an army of evangelists to the world in general.

The sealing in Revelation 7:4-8, which is directly followed by the Rapture in Revelation 7:9-17, is a necessary milestone to indicate that everything God has promised in His Word is being fulfilled, not just for the onset of “the day of the Lord” when His wrath is poured out on the earth and the kingdom of Antichrist, but the final spiritual restoration of Israel. The prelude of the seals leading up to “the day of the Lord” in the trumpet and bowl judgments indicates that the whole work of God among Israel, the nations and the kingdom of Antichrist are all coming to a unified conclusion as a transition to the Millennial Kingdom. Just as this fell upon John the Baptist to so lead Israel “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Lk. 1:17) at the First Coming, it will ultimately rest again on the “Elijah to come” at the Second Coming.

It is worth noting that commentators across the board seem to focus on someone of an ethnic Jewish background initiating this revival in the wake of the Church’s removal, be they the 144,000 or the Two Witnesses, but practically universally ignore that just as this was the role of John in the character of Elijah in the First Coming, it is the most exegetically plausible solution for the Second Coming, especially since Jesus Himself promised Elijah would come again.

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