The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Chapter 11, introduces two witnesses.
I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will ‘prophecy for 1,260 days clothed in sackcloth’. These men have power to ‘shut up the sky so that it will not rain’ during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to ‘turn the waters into blood’ and to ‘strike the earth with every kind of plague’ as often as they want.
These two witnesses do the following
- prophecy for 1,260 days clothed in sackcloth
- shut up the sky so that it will not rain
- turn the waters into blood
- strike the earth with every kind of plague
The two witnesses are described by the actions which they perform. Just who are they?
To prophecy for 1,260 days (three and a half years) clothed in sackcloth, and shut up the sky so that it will not rain describes the actions of Elijah. And to turn the waters into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague describes the work of Moses.
This type of descriptive language is typical of the Book of Revelation. The Book uses symbols and descriptions throughout. See as an example how Jesus is presented in Revelation 5:6. “I saw ‘a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the centre of the throne’.” Accordingly ‘the Lamb’ represents Jesus.
Elijah prophesied for 1,260 days (three and a half years) clothed in sackcloth (Luke 4:25; James 5:17) and shut up the sky so that it did not rain (1 Kings 17:1; 18:1, 41; Luke 4:25; James 5:17), and Moses turned the waters into blood and struck the earth with plagues (Exodus 7-11). Accordingly the two witnesses represent Moses and Elijah.
Revelation 11:3, 4, 6, 7
3 I will give power to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy for one thousand, two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.
4 They are… standing before the God of the earth.
6 They have power to shut heaven so that it does not rain during the days of their prophecy: and they have power to turn water into blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
7 And when they shall have finished their testimony…
The two are God’s witnesses. They stand before God. They prophesy for a given period of time. They are given power to carry out the actions described in verse 6. There comes a time when their testimony is completed.
Throughout Scripture, there is a clear principle that truth is always to be established before two or three witnesses.
A lone witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin. At the mouth of two or three witnesses let the matter be established.
But if he will not hear you, then take with you one or two more, so that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
2 Corinthians 13:1
…In the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established.
An example of valid witnesses
On one occasion Jesus was addressing the Jews who were persecuting Him. (John 5:16-18, 31-36)
Jesus said that His own witness to Himself was not valid. “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.” (John 5:31)
He called on two other witnesses.
His first witness was John the Baptist. The Jewish leaders were for a time willing to accept the witness of John (John 5:33, 35).
Jesus second witness was His heavenly Father. Through His relationship with the Father, Jesus was able to perform many miracles. Jesus’ miracles gave witness that the Father was with Him and that Jesus was blessed by God.
John 5:31-33; 36
31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.
32 There is another that bears witness of me; and I know that his witness of me is true.
33 You sent to John, and he witnessed to the truth.
34 But my testimony is not from man, but I say these things that you might be saved.
35 John was a bright and shining light, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light.
36 But I have a greater witness than that of John, for the work which the Father has given me to finish, this I do, and this bears witness that the Father has sent me.
Moses and Elijah
Two witnesses stand before God (Revelation 11:3, 4). These are Moses who died and was resurrected, and Elijah who ascended to heaven without seeing death.
Their appearance in heaven is connected with the sanctuary (Revelation 11:1, 2).
The sanctuary setting of Revelation 11, wherein is seen the temple, altar, worshipers, and candlesticks (Revelation 11:1, 4) implies that the two witnesses have a part in Jesus’ ministry. The book of Hebrews also clearly describes Jesus’ ministry in heaven. ‘Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence’ (Hebrews 9:24).
The ministries of Moses and Elijah on earth are examples of the ministry of God during the Christian era. There is seen a twofold approach. Moses’ earthly ministry was to bring God’s people from Egypt into the Promised Land. Elijah’s earthly ministry was to restore true worship among God’s wayward people.
The ministry of the church likewise is twofold.
In the power of God —
- to bring God’s people from the world into the heavenly Promised Land
- to restore true worship among God’s people
The world at large may reject this ministry. But every true worker for God will cherish this calling.
This brief summary partially relates the significance of the witness of Moses and Elijah relative to the witness of the Christian church.
Bear in mind however that Revelation 11 presents a much wider focus than that which we’ve extracted for the purpose of this study. The focus of Revelation 11 is on the work of God towards all people on earth. God is providing a twofold ministry. Firstly, God is delivering a people to the Promised Land. Secondly, He is calling for reformation within His own congregation that they may be true to Him.
By the majority though, sadly this witness is rejected. (Revelation 11:7-10)
The identical view — that God is calling for repentance and reformation — is presented in the Old Testament Scriptures. See below.
Book of Malachi
The closing chapter of the Old Testament (Malachi 4) consists of an appeal for reformation.
In Malachi 4:1-3 is a description of the judgement in the last day,
— verse 4 calls attention to the work of Moses,
— and verses 5 and 6 describe the continuing work of Elijah.
The language throughout is dramatic.
Malachi 4:1, 4-6
1 “Surely the day is coming which will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble,” says the Lord Almighty.
4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.”
5 “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah prior to ‘the great and dreadful day of the Lord.’
6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and totally destroy.”
These are sobering words. They call us to action. It is God Himself who speaks this prophetic message, therefore it is doubly important that we take heed. God makes it abundantly clear that the ministries of Moses and Elijah are crucial and relevant until the end of history.
This message concludes the last prophetic book of the Old Testament.
Witnesses on the mountain
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus had these witnesses.
There was Moses.
There was Elijah.
They were talking with Jesus. (Matthew 17:3)
There was God.
God spoke from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5)
In the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established. (2 Corinthians 13:1)
Witnesses in heaven
Moses and Elijah continue to be Christ’s witnesses. They now stand in the very presence of God. (Revelation 11:3-6)