Revealing Revelation – The Two Witnesses Introduced

04Jan11

I have agonized over this post.

I have started, restarted and deleted it several times. This post is about to discuss, by far, the most difficult section of the book of Revelation. This is not just my opinion; it appears to be the general consensus. I have actually had a difficult time finding commentators that have not struggled with this section.

The difficulty, though, is in regards to my constant attempt to keep this blog/book simple and to collect and funnel the differing ideas into an easy to understand format. This has included listing several differing ideas in the same post allowing the reader to decipher the information for themselves and coming to their own conclusions. This difficulty here is in the plethora of ideas and how to simply the formula.

The best option may to take this passage piece by piece and let other commentators speak for themselves. I am pretty confident my prejudices will shine through, but the name of the game here will be options.

Rev 11:3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” 4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.

I will note from the outset that the futurist have the easiest interpretation. They are simply two, literal prophets that will preach repentance, will be killed in the streets and will be miraculously resurrected and ascend into heaven. the end.

But since the time restrictions, thematic limitations and historical, first century focus does not allow for the futurist interpretation and this writing is to promote and defend the Preterist interpretation the focus here will be on those options before us.

The first point to consider is why would the image present two witnesses? Dr. Ralph Bass asks this question in his commentary, “Back to the Future,” and is something i had not considered previous to reading his work. But the question is valid. Why are there not 3, 7, 12 or 24 witnesses? These numbers would seem to suit the apocalyptic language better.

Well, perhaps, since they were there for the purposes prophesying concerning a coming judgment and catastrophe as noted with the Old Testament image of wearing sackcloth while prophesying a coming judgment warning.

So, this coming judgment warning comes as the result of the previous verdict and sentence rendered back in Chapter 5. That sentence was for murder. Most notably the murders of  “all the saints” (Matt 23) and of the Lord Jesus Christ (His blood be on us and our children). But Old Testament law required that for the accusation like murder that would require a capital punishment.

Deut 19:15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.

This may point to strengthening the argument that the crime Israel is being punished for is murder, one that would carry with it the capital punishment of death; the death of a nation.

The second thing to consider is the description of the two witnesses in relation to the lampstands and olive tress. This is another of John’s consistent borrowing from Old Testament imagery. This time from Zechariah.

Zech 4:2 And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. 3And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.

In Zechariah we later learn this is in reference to Joshua and Zerubabel, representing the religious and political leadership of Israel. It is unclear exactly what John may mean by referencing the Zechariah passage, but the reference is hard to miss. What we do know is that Joshua, the High Priest of Zechariah’s time and Zerubabel, the political leader, worked together to try and rebuild the Temple.

Since the two witnesses appear within the context of the measuring of the Temple, the connection should not be missed. But this is where the views diverge and we will explore a couple.

The first is that the two witnesses are representing the work of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Both of their ministries lasted three and half years as the passage dictates and met their fates at the hands of the political leaders of their day.

The second is that it is possibly represented the attempt of the High Priest and the Judean governor as they warned of the coming sacking of the city. This, though, fails to meet the criteria of them being witnesses for God.

Some have argued that this represent the work of the Church symbolically in the city up until it’s destruction in 70 AD. Since at the end there were only a few Church leaders left as the vast majority of Christians escaped as we previously discussed, they would be seen as being represented by a small number like two. The number two, though, would still be sufficient to be witnesses to the acts of murder committed by the defendants.

Finally it has been argued that they represent St. James and St. Peter. Despite the popular view that Peter was killed in Rome, this is based more on legend than on any real historical date. Peter was the leader of the Church in Jerusalem along with James and it only makes since that he actually would have been in Jerusalem continuing to minister to the last breath.

The last two seem to make the most sense, especially as we consider the actions of these witnesses in the following posts.

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