The Two Witnesses in Rev 11 Aren’t Who You Think They Are
Even wonder who the Two Witnesses are/were in Revelation 11? I sure do!
Here’s an excerpt from my second book, Revelation: Dawn of this Age, Volume II: Much speculation has come and gone over who these mysterious figures could have been. Unfortunately, a literal reading of their description and actions has gained much consensus and fervor. This has created an anticipation of a cinematic experience to unfold, much like in the days of the Exodus. Others have taken to a literal historical approach, linking them to the apostles Paul and Peter, since both were martyred in Rome around the same time. However, there is another way to interpret these verses, one that I believe is more harmonious with the Scriptures and God’s grand narrative to unite His Bride with His Son.
For those familiar with the Old Testament prophets, you’ll notice that we have a parallel image to the two witnesses in Zechariah 4. There, Zerubbabel and Joshua are interpreted to be those who were standing before the Lord at that time. They were there as Messianic representatives (king and priest) to oversee the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the Temple. The Messianic hope in Zechariah climaxes through chapters 9 to 14 as pictures of Jesus and His eternal kingdom are depicted. However, the word pictures and purpose that John presents here in chapter 11 of Revelation make it clear that these witnesses are not the same ones in Zechariah.
I would like to propose that one of the clues to the identity of these two prophetic figures can be found in Luke 16. This is Jesus’ parable about the rich man and the poor man, Lazarus. It powerfully alludes to the notion that the Law and Prophets bore witness to the people of Israel:
“Then [the rich man who died] said, ‘I beg you therefore, father [Abraham], that you would send [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify (μαρτυρέω, “to bear witness”) to them, lest they also come to this place of torment [Gehenna].’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead [referring to Jesus].’” Luke 16:27-31
The word μαρτυρέω (to bear witness) in Luke 16:28 is the same root word μάρτυς (witness) found in Revelation 11:3, and was common legal language. It is very clear in Luke 16 that the Law and the Prophets, or Moses and Elijah, are witnesses to the Jewish people. In Jesus’ parable, Abraham goes on to says that if they won’t listen to Moses and Elijah, they also won’t listen to Jesus either (v.31, the one who rises from the dead). Therefore, the Law and the Prophets continued to testify to the people of Israel for the 40 years (a generation) between Jesus’ resurrection (30 AD) and the destruction of the Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD.
Additionally, earlier in chapter 16, Jesus said, “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the good news of the kingdom of God is being proclaimed, and everyone with the utmost earnestness and effort is pressing into it for his share in it. Moreover, it is easier for heaven and earth to perish than for the minutest part of the law to fail.” (Luke 16:16-17 WET).
The implication here was that the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) should have prepared the people of Israel for the arrival of the Kingdom of God and it’s King, Jesus, as John the Baptist proclaimed. However, they chose to not give heed to the witnesses’ report. The "failing" of the Law is what it speaks, in other words, what it testifies. The testimony of the Law and the Prophets will not fail because it remains true.
“Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses (κατηγορέω - “to stand on trial”; Legal language) you—Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” John 5:45-47
It should be noted that the word ‘witness’ here, μάρτυς, is also legal verbiage. The connotation of two witnesses was foundational to the Mosaic legal system. And it is from this premise I would like to propose that John was actually writing about Moses and Elijah in Revelation 11. Revelation 11 and John 5 both used legal language as blatant references to the Law of Moses. But how did I arrive at this conclusion? And if this is the case, why have they been summoned, and what is their purpose? Let’s explore some additional supporting Scripture references.
“One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established... And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” Deuteronomy 19:15, 20-21
Two witnesses were required under the Law of Moses in order for someone to have been found guilty of breaching the Law. The book of Revelation in many ways is a legal treaty between Yahweh God and apostate Israel. Jeremiah 3:8 reads, “Because faithless Israel had committed adultery, I gave her a certificate of divorce and sent her away.” And Hosea 2:2 says, “for she (Israel) is not my wife, and I am not her husband”. Therefore, the purpose of the two witnesses were to bring a legal case against apostate Israel for failure to uphold their end of the covenant with Yahweh.
Now, keep in mind that the New Covenant invitation remained open through Jesus. The sins of Israel were forgiven on the cross. But in choosing to pursue justification under the Law, they in fact were choosing to be held liable to the consequences of breaking the Law. It would be like someone having been found innocent for murder, and then still choosing to sit on the electric chair. “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.” Romans 10:2
Since the Law and the Prophets were going to bring a legal case against Israel, this is why we have Moses and Elijah appearing before Jesus:
“As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease [greek word, “exodus”] which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Luke 9:29-31
It is fascinating to see that Jesus actually met with the two witnesses during His earthly ministry! This can even be considered as a sort of commissioning, if you will. This was also an echo back to one of the pivotal prophecies found in the Law of Moses:
“When I [God] have brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey, of which I swore to their fathers [Abraham, Isaac and Jacob], and they have eaten and filled themselves and grown fat, then they will turn to other gods and serve them; and they will provoke Me and break My covenant. Then it shall be, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song [called, “The Song of Moses”] will testify against them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten in the mouths of their descendants… Therefore Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the children of Israel. ” Deuteronomy 31:20-22
Indeed, even on the way to Emmaus Jesus said to his followers, “O dull of perception and slow of heart to be believing in all the things which the prophets spoke, was it not necessary in the nature of the case for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter His glory? And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets He interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Luke 24:25-27 WET.
In light of all that we have read above, I would like to suggest once again that the Law and the Prophets (The Tanakh) were the two witnesses to Israel. Moses and Elijah (Law and the Prophets), continued to testify to Israel (Luke 16:27-31; John 5:45, Matt 23:37) right up until its destruction in 70 AD.
As previously mentioned, Zerubbabel (King) and Joshua (Priest) stood as witnesses to the rebuilding of the Temple in Zechariah. They represented God’s original intent, before the covenant of the Law was cut between God and the Hebrews. “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). This notion is also expressed by Peter (1 Pet 2:9), and alluded to indirectly in Hebrews by the mention of Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God (Heb 7:1).
However, the Hebrews rejected God’s invitation. “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Ex 20:18-19. Therefore they received the covenant of the Law through Moses.
So in juxtaposition to Zerubbabel and Joshua, Moses and Elijah stood as witnesses to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD instead of its rebuilding. For the Tanakh (Law, Prophets, Writings) was the “law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2), and “the power of sin” (1 Cor 15:56). Paul would even say that it the “Law brings wrath” (Rom 4:15), and that the “letter [of the Law] kills” 2 Cor 3:4-6. The refusal of apostate Israel and its religious leaders to embrace the covenant offered by God through His Son meant that they chose to remain bound by the terms and conditions set by the Law of Moses. “Do not think that [Jesus] will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, in whom you have put your hope.” (John 5:45).
A secondary implication of the presence these witnesses is that they observed the adultery apostate Israel had committed, thereby nullifying their marriage contract with God. Repeatedly throughout Ezekiel and here in John’s vision apostate Israel is referred to as a harlot, having been unfaithful to God time and time again. Although Jesus was willing to forgive the woman caught in adultery (John 8:11), the Law of Moses could not. “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such a woman,” the Pharisees declared (John 8:5). Therefore, the harlot was stoned to death by Roman ballistas, carroballists, cheiroballistas and scorpios, all various forms of catapults designed to hurls large and small stones to destroy their enemies.
“But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you.” Deuteronomy 22:20-21
While the Temple was still erected, during the 40 years of trial, Paul wrote to his Jewish listeners that they could divorce themselves from the covenant under Moses by means of death and thus not be found guilty of adultery. This death was figurative in the sense that to be born anew in Christ one first died in the waters of baptism (Rom 7:1-6). And upon the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, the Romans destroyed the copies of the original ketubah (marriage covenant) between Him and Israel, which were the Scrolls of the Law of Moses.
“When an obligation has ceased, the instrument creating it is canceled by the court by being torn or cut crosswise through the date, through the names of the witnesses, or through other important parts of the document. Hence any document which bears such cuts or scissions is invalid, the presumption being that its validity has ceased by a judicial act (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 52, 1; B. B. 168b).”
To conclude, we must understand that John’s Revelation was meant to be given to the Jewish people first in the years leading up to their destruction. Like Ezekiel, John was commissioned (Rev 10:10) to prophesy to the people of Israel. The imagery in John’s visions were deeply Hebraic. The purpose of the witnesses were to part of Yahweh God’s endeavour to provide the Jewish people with context and understanding for their story. The Mosaic Age had come to an end, and with it the Temple system and the city of Jerusalem. And Moses and Elijah testified as to why.
Grace and peace,
Leo De Siqueira