The Two Witnesses of Revelation

"And I will give power to my two witnesses,
and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands
that stand before the Lord of the earth."
Revelation 11:3-4

The eleventh chapter of the book of Revelation describes the career of the two most powerful saints of the end times, who will appear in Jerusalem in the land of Israel and be empowered by God to speak out against the Antichrist. There has been much speculation over the years as to the identity of these two powerful men of God.

The nature of the plagues that they will cause, done to command the world’s attention, is seen by many as connecting them with the Old Testament saints Moses and Elijah. Revelation describes,

"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."

The plague allowing no rain is similar to the drought that the prophet Elijah caused during the reign of King Ahab (1 Kings 17:1), and the plague turning the waters into blood is similar to the plague Moses caused upon Egypt prior to the Exodus of the Jews (Exodus 7:17-20). The prophet Malachi also predicted that Elijah would appear in Israel prior to the Day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5). For these reasons many scholars theorize that Moses and Elijah will be the two witnesses that are described in Revelation.

Other scholars point to a passage in the book of Hebrews that states that every man is destined to die once, and after that to face the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). It is reasoned that Elijah and Enoch must then be the two witnesses, because these two men did not die, but were raptured up to heaven by God while they were yet alive (Genesis 5:24, 2 Kings 2:11). It is believed that their pre-destined deaths would then come during their ministry as the two witnesses. This is another interesting conjecture, but it ignores the fact that there will be many people at the end of the age who will never experience a physical death. These are the believers who will be raptured to heaven prior to the end-times tribulation. Paul writes that after the resurrection, "we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air," (1 Thessalonians 4:17). This group of believers will never taste of death and so there will be people to whom the statement found in Hebrews does not apply. On the other hand there have been a number of people throughout history, such as Lazarus, who have died a second time after being resurrected through a miracle from God. The passage in Hebrews was not offering evidence that everyone must die only once, but was rather emphasizing the fact that everyone will face judgment after death, countering the false teaching of reincarnation. As such, it does not offer conclusive proof that Elijah and Enoch must reappear to die on the earth as the two witnesses of Revelation.

If not Elijah, Enoch or Moses, then who might the two witnesses of Revelation be? And can a conclusion be reached that is based on solid Biblical evidence, rather than on similarities and conjecture?

This book looks at the end-times events from a unique perspective and offers one of the first comprehensive prophetic models that clearly shows exactly how the end-times tribulation will begin. The prediction found at the end of the book of Haggai is one of the passages that confirms the chronology put forth in this book, and the author was in fact led to it at a time when the majority of this book had already been completed. Here is Haggai’s prophecy once again,

"And again the word of the Lord came unto Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month, saying, Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth; And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother. In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the Lord, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the Lord of hosts." (Haggai 2:20-23 KJV)

Haggai predicted that God would take Zerubbabel and make him as a signet at a time that would include the following events:

1. The shaking of the heavens and the earth.

2. The overthrow of the "throne of kingdoms."

3. The destruction of the strength of the heathen nations.

4. The destruction of an invading army from internal fighting.

All of these events will occur at the very beginning of the end-times tribulation. The Day of the Lord will begin with the shaking of the heavens and the earth as shown after the sixth seal is broken. Babylon, referred to as the ruler over the kings of the earth in Revelation 17:18, is referred to here as the "throne of kingdoms," and is predicted to be overthrown at this same time early in the tribulation.

Magog and other heathen nations will also be destroyed or greatly punished as a result of the first trumpet judgment, and the invaders of the Magog alliance will be struck with madness and internal fighting as shown in Ezekiel 38:21. In the aftermath of these events the final seven years of Daniel’s great prophecy will begin, and at this time Zerubbabel will be made God’s signet.

But before we look at Zerubbabel’s end-times career, we should look at the role he played at the building of the Second Temple after Israel had come out of Babylon, and we should also look at his partner.

The Temple and the City, Joshua and Zerubbabel

In 538 BC the Persian King Cyrus issued the decree allowing for a large number of the Jewish exiles to leave Babylon and return to Israel to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. Two years later, in 536 BC, the Jews succeeded in setting the foundation of the Temple and then they began to build the Temple itself. As the work began many of Israel’s enemies became worried and tried to discourage the builders. Eventually their harassment succeeded, and the work on the Temple stopped for more than a decade until the second year of King Darius of Persia.

This was when the prophet Haggai stepped up to encourage the Jews who were living in Jerusalem to turn back to their task of rebuilding the Temple. The two chapters of the book of Haggai document how he at first scolded the Jews for building comfortable homes for themselves, while God’s house remained unfinished. Then he focused his attention on Zerubbabel, who was the political leader and governor of Judah, and also on Joshua, who was the religious leader and high priest. These two men listened to Haggai and led the Jews to finally finish their job of rebuilding the Temple in the sixth year of Darius. Zerubbabel and Joshua were two men who were very important to God, and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah had much to say about them.

The word of the Lord first came to Haggai on the first day of the sixth month of the second year of King Darius, and it was this message that prompted Zerubbabel and Joshua to lead the people to return to the work on God’s Temple, which then began three days later on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.

Then the word of the Lord again came to Haggai, this time on the twenty-first day of the seventh month of the same year. As the Temple was being built many of the Jews became discouraged and ashamed, because they could see that the Temple they were building would hardly compare to the glory of Solomon’s Temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians many years earlier. Haggai consoled them by telling them that the "desired of all nations" would come and "fill this house with glory," making the glory of the Second Temple "greater than the glory of the former house," (Haggai 2:6-9). This was a prediction that the Messiah would one day enter the Second Temple, which is exactly what Jesus did on many occasions, prior to its destruction in 70 AD.

In the eighth month of the second year of Darius the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, who told the people of Israel that they must never turn their back on God as their forefathers had. Zechariah’s word was heeded as the Temple was being worked on, and the people repented and acknowledged that God always dealt with them justly (Zechariah 1:1-6).

The word of the Lord came again to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, of the second year of King Darius, this time with a message to Israel that they should carefully follow the Lord’s laws, and thus receive His blessings. And finally, the Lord gave His last message to Haggai, His second message on the same day of the twenty-fourth, which was the message that Zerubbabel would be taken by God and set up as God’s signet near the beginning of the end-times tribulation.

On the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month of Darius’ second year, God spoke again to Zechariah and gave him a lengthy vision of the future. This vision was given to Israel as it existed in Zechariah’s day, but it also includes predictions that can only apply to the end-times.

Zechariah was first shown a man riding a red horse, with many other horses behind him, and they are explained as the ones that the Lord has sent throughout the earth. They report to the angel that the world is at rest and in peace, and then the angel asks the Lord how long until Israel will again be blessed, bringing an end to the seventy years of God’s anger. The Lord responds by saying that the Temple will be rebuilt and Jerusalem will again be prosperous and receive God’s blessings.

Next, Zechariah is shown four horns that are explained as the horns that are responsible for scattering the Jews. Four craftsmen, or carpenters, then appear, and God says that their work will counter the work of the horns and the Jews will again be secure.

Zechariah’s vision, as given in chapter two, then focuses on events that concern the end of the age. First, Zechariah is shown a man with a measuring line, who is sent out to measure Jerusalem. An angel predicts that Jerusalem will be without walls, and the Lord says that He will protect her and be its glory within. Then the Lord gives two commands, the first is to flee from the land of the north, and from where they had been scattered to the four winds of heaven, and the second is to flee from the Daughter of Babylon. God then predicts that He will raise His hand against the many nations that have plundered Israel, and that through this act Israel will know their God. The Lord will then dwell in Israel and live among His people, choosing Jerusalem and inheriting Israel and many other nations as well. Chapter two ends with the command, "Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling."

All of these predictions offer allusions to the book of Revelation and to the end-times tribulation:

- The measuring of Jerusalem is similar to the measuring of the Temple in the eleventh chapter of Revelation. It symbolizes God’s choosing of Jerusalem once again, and a return to Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, during which God focuses on the Jews and Jerusalem.

- The prediction that Jerusalem will be prosperous and without walls is similar to Ezekiel’s prophecy that Israel will be a prosperous land without walls prior to the Magog invasion.

- Zechariah writes that Israel will be scattered to the four winds of heaven, which compares to the end-times gathering of Israel "from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other," (Matthew 24:31) that Jesus predicted within His Olivet Discourse. The regathering from ancient Babylon during Zechariah’s time was not a worldwide regathering, but only a regathering from throughout the Mid-East and Mediterranean region.

- The command to flee and escape from the Daughter of Babylon can only be a reference to end-times Babylon, because there was no danger in ancient Babylon from which the Jews were commanded to flee. Jews lived in ancient Babylon safely and continuously even after they were allowed to return to Israel, and they helped to build a flourishing and long-lasting Jewish community. The command to flee from the Daughter of Babylon corresponds to the message in Revelation to those living in end-times Babylon, "Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues." God’s people are warned to flee because Babylon will suffer a very serious divine judgment and He does not want them to be a part of it.

- The hand that God will raise against the nations that plunder Israel, that causes Israel to recognize their God, is also similar to the prophecies of Ezekiel regarding the Magog invasion at the beginning of the tribulation. Ezekiel writes that Magog invades for plunder, and that when God destroys them Israel "will know that I am the Lord their God."

- The final result, when the Lord lives in Jerusalem among Israel and many other nations, is another clear prophecy of the result of the end-times tribulation, when an era of peace and brotherhood will be established.

- The final message of chapter two is a warning to mankind of the approaching Day of the Lord, which will begin when the Lord is roused and shakes the heavens and the earth in His wrath, as described within the sixth seal of Revelation.

The third chapter of Zechariah continues with this end-times theme and it focuses on Joshua the high priest, standing before the Lord at the time of his resurrection and judgment. This is the judgment that every believer will have to face, known theologically as the bema seat of Christ, which is a Greek word for "judgment." The Apostle Paul used the term bema seat, because in his day the bema seat was understood as the place from which athletes were rewarded after completing a race. The judgment of the bema seat is not a judgment of condemnation, because every believer is assured of salvation, it is rather a judgment that focuses on the life of the individual, separating the good works from the bad and making the true worth of each person’s life completely obvious.

This judgment is mentioned several times by the Apostle Paul,

"You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God." (Romans 14:10-12)

"For we must all appear before the judgment [bema] seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." (2 Corinthians 5:10)

This judgment will be one where the believer’s bad works are burned up with fire and completely consumed, leaving only the good works behind. Paul explains,

"[Every man’s] work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames."
(1 Corinthians 3:13-15)

This judgment will occur at the resurrection at the time of the end. Paul writes that the good works of a believer’s life will be rewarded, and this reward is described in many passages as a crown,

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12)

"…the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes…"
(1 Thessalonians 2:19)

"Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:8)

"And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away." (1 Peter 5:4)

Believers will be judged when they are resurrected, which will be at the time of the rapture for most, but for others it will be at the end of the tribulation as given in Revelation 20:4. At the time of the rapture and resurrection there will also be a changing of the body, allegorized by Paul as a change of clothing,

"For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:52-57)

All of these descriptions that relate to the resurrection and judgment of believers are shown in the third chapter of Zechariah, which gives us a picture of Joshua the high priest, who will be raised near the beginning of the tribulation, after the rapture of living believers, to carry out a specific mission upon the earth,

"And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?

Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord stood by.

And the angel of the Lord protested unto Joshua, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If thou wilt walk in my ways, and if thou wilt keep my charge, then thou shalt also judge my house, and shalt also keep my courts, and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by.

Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, thou, and thy fellows that sit before thee: for they are men wondered at: for, behold, I will bring forth my servant the Branch. For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua; upon one stone shall be seven eyes: behold, I will engrave the graving thereof, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day, saith the Lord of hosts, shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree." (KJV)

This vision begins at a time when "the Lord hath chosen Jerusalem," which will be when the 70th Week of Daniel’s prophecy begins, which was a prophecy that was given concerning the Jews and Jerusalem. Prior to the 70th Week Jerusalem is not a part of God’s program, but He will turn back and focus once again on His holy city when the 70th Week begins. This is evidence that Joshua will be raised at the beginning of the 70th Week of Daniel.

Zechariah was shown a scene in heaven during which Satan and the "angel of the Lord" stand beside Joshua. Satan is rebuked, and Joshua is referred to as a "brand plucked out of the fire." Paul wrote that every believer will come through the judgment "as one escaping through the flames." Then Joshua is given new clothes, just as Paul wrote that "the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality." When Joshua’s filthy old clothes are replaced with perfect new clothes the "angel of the Lord" says "Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee." This angel of the Lord is none other than Jesus Christ, because no angel has the authority to forgive sins.

Zechariah was given a vision of heaven at the time of the end, just as it appears in Revelation, and because he lacked understanding he simply referred to Jesus as "the angel of the Lord." After Joshua’s clothes are replaced he is then given a mitre, which can be seen as a type of crown, perhaps signifying his reward for being faithful and passing through the judgment.

After Joshua is resurrected and judged then Jesus gives Joshua a task, commanding him to "keep my charge." Joshua is told that if he is successful then God will give him the authority to "judge my house" and to "keep my courts," and he will also be given a place among "these that stand by." Jesus was referring to the great multitude of raptured saints that will be standing in heaven before God’s throne after the rapture and resurrection, as seen in Revelation after the opening of the sixth seal. If Joshua keeps the "charge" that he is given then he will be given a place with the great multitude. Then a reference is made to Joshua’s "fellows" who "sit before thee," which refers to the twenty-four elders who sit on thrones in heaven surrounding the throne of God. They are indeed men that are "wondered at," and they are also Joshua’s "fellows" because they are a select group of Israel’s saints who minister in heaven today.

A reference is then made to the Messiah Jesus Christ, who is the Branch and the stone with seven eyes, as also described in Revelation 5:6. The Messiah is a stone that was laid before Joshua’s end-times mission, but the Second Coming when the Messiah is brought forth will come after Joshua’s mission. Finally chapter three ends with a reference to the Messianic Kingdom when Israel’s sins will be forgiven and the earth will be at peace.

The nature of Joshua’s mission, which is the "charge" that he is asked to keep, is explained further in chapter four of the book of Zechariah, which returns again to Zerubbabel, Joshua’s partner.

"And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep. And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, And behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.

So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord? Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.

Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.

Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof? And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth." (KJV)

When Zechariah received this vision the work on the Temple had been restarted and had been going on for four or five months. Zechariah was told that Zerubbabel’s hands would finish the rebuilding of the Temple, and that this would be a sign to Zechariah that his vision was true.

When Zechariah first saw the two olive trees and the two golden pipes he asked what they were. At first he was given a message to give to Zerubbabel, saying that Zerubbabel would have the power to bring down mountains. Then he was told that Zerubbabel would possess the seven eyes of the Lord, which were also associated with Joshua earlier in Zechariah’s vision. Finally he is given the answer for what the olive trees represent when the Lord tells him,

"These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth."

Joshua and Zerubbabel will be God’s anointed ones. God’s choice of Zerubbabel as a "signet" during the end-times was shown in the last prophecy of Haggai, and Joshua’s resurrection at the time of end, with the "charge" that he is given after his resurrection, is shown in Zechariah chapter three. However, the mission of Joshua and Zerubbabel, the two olive trees who will rise up after the rapture at the beginning of the 70th Week, is not fully explained until the eleventh chapter of the book of Revelation,

"And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.
These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth…"

When their task is completed they will again be resurrected, this time up off of the streets of Jerusalem, into heaven to take their places among the great multitude of raptured saints who stand before the throne of God, singing songs of praise and glory and worshiping the Creator of the Universe.