Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. “But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. “And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. Revelation 11:1-4 NKJV
Years back I recall taking my family to the theater to watch a movie concerning the end times, which among other things, had two actors who portrayed the two witnesses of Revelation spoken of here in this passage from Revelation. At the time, I found it curious to see how they were dressed, until I read this passage more closely and realized they will be wearing sackcloth for the entire three and one half years. Obviously that detail, as well as their mission on this earth, will make them stand out like sore thumbs in an unbelieving world. Yet that is not the only thing I learned as I studied these two individuals and their ministry.
You see, if you are at all familiar with these two, you understand that they will witness for “one thousand two hundred and sixty days” or three and one half years. Because of that specific timeframe, one of the more enduring debates concerns which half of the tribulation period they will appear in; the first half or the second half. I have read with interest the opinions of many concerning this question and I am sure many of you probably have an opinion as well. So in the interest of preserving feelings of goodwill among the body, let me answer that question as only I can. The correct answer is; neither. Surprised? So was I at first, but a careful reading of this chapter of Revelation will reveal all.
By way of explanation, I first want you to read an excerpt from Jack Kelley’s commentary on the book of Revelation, which can be downloaded free from his website Gracethrufaith.com.
Who Are Those Guys?
There are three primary candidates for their identity; Moses, Elijah and Enoch. Elijah and Enoch are popular choices because they’re the only two in the Old Testament who didn’t die, but were taken into heaven alive. And Moses and Elijah are liked because the powers of the two witnesses are identical to those exercised by Moses in the Plagues of Egypt and Elijah in his contention against idolatry in Israel. Remember, it climaxed in his spectacular defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel with fire from heaven and the end of the 3½-year drought he had earlier proclaimed (1 Kings 17:1, 1 Kings 18:16-46). (You have to read James 5:17 for the duration of the drought.)
Also Moses and Elijah were on the Mt. Of Transfiguration with Jesus and the disciples (Matt.17:1-13) and according to early church tradition were the two men in white who appeared to the disciples following the Lord’s ascension (Acts 1:10-11). And finally, Moses and Elijah are two of the most highly revered figures in all of Israel’s past, more able than anyone else God could send to convey His message. Moses was the Law Giver and Elijah was the greatest of Israel’s Prophets. Their two names are all but synonymous with the Jewish name for their scriptures, the Law and the Prophets.
I believe Enoch’s disappearance before the Great Flood was a special event designed to pre-figure the disappearance of the Church before the Great Tribulation. As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the Coming of the Son of Man. (Matt 24:37) In the days of Noah the world perished in the Flood. They represent those who will perish in the End times judgments. Noah and his family were preserved through the Flood and represent Israel, preserved through the judgments. Enoch was taken alive into Heaven before the Flood, representing the Church who will be taken alive into heaven before the judgments begin. For all these reasons, I hold the Moses and Elijah view.
Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.
But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on.
At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.
The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon. (Rev. 11:7-14)
There’s no question that their bodies will be left where they fall in the streets of Jerusalem, because that’s the city where the Lord was crucified. And through the technology of satellite communications their dead bodies will be visible all over the world.
In Middle Eastern cultures the greatest insult one can convey is to deny burial to one’s enemy. Their deaths prompt the only expression of joy on earth in the entire book. But after 3½ days, symbolic of the length of the Great Tribulation, the two witnesses will hear the same command that John heard in Rev. 4:1, “Come up here!” and will ascend into Heaven in full view of the whole world. Just as the Lord’s command in chapter 4 was a model of the Rapture of the Church, the command here is a model of the resurrection of the Tribulation martyrs.
In the Psalms we read, O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble. They have given the dead bodies of your servants as food to the birds of the air, the flesh of your saints to the beasts of the earth. They have poured out blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there is no one to bury the dead.(Psalm 79:1-3) It’s a clear prophecy of things to come, and it begins in Revelation 11.
By saying that the earthquake survivors gave glory to God, John didn’t mean that they worshiped Him or came to faith in Him. It means that they correctly attributed these miraculous events to Him, like the Egyptian priests did in explaining the cause of the plagues in Exodus 8:19.
Now after the three-and-a-half days the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. And they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they ascended to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies saw them. In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven. The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly. Revelation 11:11-14 NKJV
This is the passage that answers our question about the timing of the two witnesses and their ministry, especially what we are told in verse fourteen. You see, their resurrection occurs between the second and third woes which places it just before the beginning of the bowl, or vial judgments which are the last of the three judgments of Revelation. So the end is close, but not yet here so their ministry must begin shortly before the midpoint, or abomination of desolation and end before Jesus returns at the end of the Great Tribulation.
Considering the state of the world right now, I would not be at all surprised if they are being fitted with their sackcloth as we speak.