By Gary Vaterlaus
In Revelation 11:3-12 we are introduced to two witnesses, who are described as “the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” We are told that, “they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” The phrase “twelve hundred and sixty days” refers to the second half of the future 7-year period we call The 70th Week of Daniel.
Their clothing of sackcloth would indicate that the content of their message is one of judgment. One wore sackcloth for one of four reasons: (1) a sign of individual mourning or national calamity; (2) a sign of submission to God; (3) an act in concert with repentance; or (4) the garb of prophets announcing judgment (Is. 50:3).
Since they are located in Jerusalem, and their prophesying will continue beyond the rapture of the church, it can be assumed that their main ministry is to oppose and limit Antichrist’s actions against the one-third part of the Jews who are to survive the time of distress (Dan. 12:1, Zech. 13:8).
The witnesses will be given supernatural powers to defend themselves from attack and to smite the earth with plagues. They will “torment those who dwell on the earth” with these plagues – not the normal tactics of evangelists.
After they prophesy and testify for 1,260 days, “the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them”. This is a reference to the Antichrist who will kill the two witnesses on the first day after the close of the 70th Week of Daniel.
Their corpses will lie in the streets of Jerusalem for 3-1/2 days while the world watches and rejoices over their deaths. However, after the 3-1/2 days, they will be resurrected and then ascend up into heaven while their enemies look on.
The identity of these two witnesses has been debated for centuries. Some have said that they represent Elijah and Enoch because these are the only two men recorded in the Bible who did not die, having been taken up to heaven. And since Hebrews 9:27 says that “it is appointed for men to die once,” they must return to earth to die.
Others have identified them as Elijah and Moses. God promised to send Elijah the prophet “before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD” (Mal. 4:5), which we know begins after the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th Week. And it is interesting to note that Elijah and Moses appeared together with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. In this interpretation, Moses is seen as representing the Law and Elijah, the prophets.
Others believe that these two witnesses are not Old Testament individuals, but will be two contemporary men that God supernaturally calls and empowers to minister for Him during this critical time in the history of Israel.
We cannot be dogmatic about their identity, but we can state with confidence that the two witnesses are individuals, specially empowered by God for a specific ministry for a specific length of time during the close of the 70th Week of Daniel.