Two Witnesses Revealed

Table of Contents

Biblical evidence for their identity

In chapter 11 of the book of Revelation, we find an account of two men who will be “witnesses”. These men will prophesy for 1260 days. During that time they will be able to call fire down from heaven, and to cause “plagues” or calamities. The things they say will be just as tormenting to many of the people on earth as the plagues they cause, because they will be speaking truth to a world that does not want to hear truth. What is this all about?

Despite centuries of conjecture and speculation over the identity of the two witnesses of Rev. 11, no universally accepted understanding of the matter has been achieved. Some organized churches have jumped to one conclusion or another about it, fixing that conclusion as a doctrine and then giving it no further consideration. Others have never given it any consideration at all. Most Christians regard it as of no more importance than some obscure prophecy by Obadiah or Nahum. Many individuals, on the other hand, have thought that they would be one of the two witnesses, and some have persuaded others to follow them in that fantasy.

When the two witnesses appear, when they begin their ministry, when they begin to prophesy, the whole world will be forced to pay attention. For six thousand years, our Creator has left his creation mostly on our own, dealing with one physical family in particular, or dealing with scattered individuals that He chooses from each generation to bring into his spiritual family. The rest of the world has never really been spoken to. But one day, God will begin to speak through his two witnesses, and no one on earth will be able to ignore them.

Not that the whole world will be persuaded by them. In the grip of strong delusion (2 Thes. 2:9-11) most of the world will be tormented by the truth (Rev. 11:7-10). Only those whose minds are opened to hear the truth will listen and believe.

When Jesus Christ returns to set up his kingdom on the earth, Israel will be converted. They will know the truth by then, and they will be set free (Jer. 31:33-34). But before that can happen, it will be the two witnesses who will bring them the truth. The two witnesses will speak the words that God gives them to speak, for 1260 days, during the 42 months that foreign powers will rule over Jerusalem (Rev.11:2-3).


The first sign of the start of what is known as the tribulation is when Jerusalem is surrounded by foreign armies (Luke 21:20 to 24). Verse 21 warns the people to flee to safety. This is called a time of “great distress” in verse 23. The next verse shows that the people of Israel will be carried into captivity while the city of Jerusalem is occupied by foreign armies.

It is during this time that the two witnesses will prophesy. We see in Rev. 11:2-3 that they will be prophesying during the 42 months that the city of Jerusalem is overrun by foreign armies. It is when these foreign armies move into Jerusalem that the “abomination of desolation” will be set up. This event is mentioned in Matt. 24:15. Verse 21 calls this the start of “great tribulation”.

There is a direct reference to the work of the two witnesses in this famous Matthew 24 prophecy. The tribulation is described in verses 9 to 16.

Matt 24:9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. (24:10) And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. (24:11) And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. (24:12) And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. (24:13) But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (24:14) And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (24:15) So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), (24:16) then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. (ESV)

NOTE: “testimony” in verse 14 is “witness” in some versions, including the KJV, and is from the same Greek root word as the two “witnesses” in Revelation. It is their responsibility to preach the gospel during that time of great trouble and distress. Others will not be able to do it then.

This is a warning to the people of God about what will happen to them if they are not protected from this tribulation. Verses 4 to 8 show what leads up to this period. From the word “then” in verse 9, the tribulation itself is being described. Enduring to “the end”, in verse 13, means enduring to the end of the tribulation.

We know this is a description of the tribulation because verse 15 warns about being alert to when this tribulation starts, to be ready to flee to safety. Notice the use of the word “so” in verse 15. It means that in order to avoid the things described in verses 9 to 13, we must come under God’s protection.

Verse 14 shows that during the tribulation, before “the end” of it, the gospel will be preached to all nations, “for a witness”. This is the responsibility of the two witnesses. This is not something that we, or anyone else, can do now. Now is not the time for it. This cannot be referring to any preaching of the gospel done now. The whole world will not be reached until the tribulation begins. God is not ready to speak to the whole world yet. He will begin to do so when He speaks through the two witnesses, during the tribulation.

Nor will we have a direct role in the work God will be doing during the tribulation. We are told to watch and pray always, that we may be accounted worthy to escape all the things that will happen during this time of “tribulation” (trouble, distress, suffering, affliction, ordeal) (Luke 21:34-36). So whether we are protected from it, or whether we will suffer through it, or whether we become martyred during that time, it will not be our responsibility to bring the gospel to the whole world. That is to be done, at last, by the two witnesses alone.

So how can two men in Jerusalem speak to the whole world? The simple answer is, “we don’t know yet.” But in an age when worldwide satellite TV and the Internet are available nearly everywhere, perhaps no supernatural explanation is needed.

Two witnesses prophecy

We have examples in the Bible of what it means to prophesy in the sense of actually speaking the very words of God given on the spot. In Numbers 11:24 to 29 we see that Moses would have been pleased if all of God’s people were prophets. Paul says that indeed it is possible for all to be prophets (I Cor. 14:31).

When Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, prophesied (Luke 1:41-45), she spoke words given by God, but expressing her own thoughts and feelings, as well as an understanding given to her at that time. There are many examples of this. Another is found in the same chapter, verses 67 to 79, where her husband Zechariah prophesies in the same way.

The words come from God, but they come through the mind of the prophet or prophetess, not just through their voice. A prophet is given understanding and speaks without error, as long as he allows the Holy Spirit to guide his thoughts. But he speaks from his own heart and his own life experience.

Our world view is shaped by the world view of the society we have grown up in. We have been affected by this world. None of us today have yet been given a full understanding of God’s truth. We know only in part (I Cor. 13:9-10). Much of the knowledge that was given to the people of God’s church in the first century, needed then to build the church and write the Bible, has been lost over the centuries. It appears that each member of God’s church in our age is given a limited measure of understanding. Some understand one part of the truth, while others understand another part of it. A lifetime of study may never give us the same understanding that the men chosen to write the Bible had, and all the men and women of that first generation of Christians who together had a part in establishing God’s church, who witnessed the world into which Jesus Christ was born. But a greater and fuller understanding will come, when the time is right, from the two witnesses, from men who have experienced God’s truth and lived it.

Where are the two witnesses now?

Who, then, are the two witnesses? They are not angels or spirit beings. They are mortal human beings as we are. They can die, and they will (Rev. 11:7-9). But they are not of our generation. How can we know that? Because the Bible tells us who they are. It clearly states the identity of both witnesses, so that there need be no doubt about it. We don’t have to guess anymore. The evidence has always been there, yet the world has not seen it before. It was not given to past generations to know it. It is given to ours, 1900 years after John wrote the book of Revelation, to know in advance, so that we will not be deceived by imposters.

Before explaining the identity of the two witnesses, an important point has to be addressed. Some may think it too strange an idea that God would resurrect to a brief period of mortal life men who have been long dead. Those who understand that the dead in Christ are now asleep, and awaiting a final resurrection to immortal life, may be most reluctant to believe this.

For those who believe in the immortality of the soul, the concept of a resurrection is essentially meaningless. If Christians go immediately to heaven when they die, saints who lived thousands of years ago would still

be alive, and two of those saints could be brought down from heaven for a while. Which two would depend on which church you ask.

Where was Lazarus for the four days that he was dead? To those who understand it, the Bible says plainly that the dead now sleep, awaiting a resurrection. They have not gone anywhere. They aren’t living in another place. They aren’t living at all. Their spirit is in the care of God, ready to be placed in a new body when the right time comes (Eccl.12:7 … I Cor. 15:38).

Do we have, then, even one example of people who have lived their entire lifespan and then been at a later time resurrected for a short while? Yes, we do. In Matt. 27:52-53. When Jesus died, there was a great earthquake which opened the graves of “many” of the “saints”. Then, after Christ was resurrected, they came out of their graves and went into the city, and appeared to many. There have been saints throughout history, in every generation since Abel. This was a resurrection to a brief period of mortal life. If you believe the Bible, you can believe that this really happened. And it is what will happen to the two witnesses. But not for just a little while. It will be for three and a half years.

Who then?

Peter was told in John 21:18-19 how he would die. Peter would live to be an old man, and then would be martyred. He then asked what would happen to the apostle John.

The answer: (John 21:22) Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (ESV)

Brethren who heard of this concluded that John would not die. He did live longer than any of the other apostles. He lived over 60 more years. But he did die. John himself tells us in verse 23 that he would die.

(John 21:23) So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

So what did Jesus mean by this? John says that He did not mean that he would not die. But it is more than an implication; it was taken by the brethren as a direct statement, though they did not understand it perfectly. Notice that verse 23 says “So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die.”

This passage shows that the Christians of that day did not expect the second coming to occur quickly, or even in their own lifetimes. They took this statement very seriously. Jesus had said that John would be alive until the second coming. And he will be. He will be one of the two witnesses. He knew it. He expected it. It will not be a surprise to him. He was prepared for that mission for over sixty years as a Christian, a witness to the whole first-century Church of God, and the changes that occurred in it.

But is it just speculation, that the apostle John will be one of the two witnesses, or does the Bible plainly state it? It states it, as plainly and directly as possible. But it has been obscured and hidden until now. When the Bible was divided into chapters, in some places those artificial divisions split the narrative in a way that hides the truth. This happened between chapters 10 and 11 of Revelation.

Starting at Rev. 10:1, John describes his vision of an angel who brings a “little scroll” from heaven. In verse 3, John hears the voices of seven thunders, and intends to write down what they have said. A voice from heaven tells him not to write it, but to “seal up” what they said. Then the voice tells him (verse 8) to go and take the book from the hand of the angel which “stands upon the sea and upon the earth.” This he does. He does not reveal to us the contents of that scroll. The first time the angel speaks to John is to tell him to eat the scroll (verse 11).

In the vision, he has walked up to the angel and both are now standing. Now continue right through from 10:11 to 11:3. (LITV) “And he said to me, You must again prophesy before peoples and nations and tongues and many kings. And a reed like a staff was given to me, and the angel stood, saying, Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar, and those worshiping in it. And cast aside the outside court of the temple, and do not measure it. For it was given to the nations, and they will trample the holy city forty two months. And I will give to My two witnesses, and they will prophesy a thousand, two hundred and sixty days, dressed in sackcloth.”

John was a very old man at this time. He was a prisoner on the isle of Patmos. He never had a chance to prophesy again to many peoples and nations and tongues and kings. Yet after eating the little scroll, he is immediately told by the angel that he must do so.

Then he is told when and how he will do so – as one of the two witnesses.

That is when the contents of the little scroll will be revealed. Only John can reveal it, because it has become part of him, just as the words spoken by the seven thunders in chapter ten have been sealed up in his memory.
From verse 10:11, “You must again prophesy” to verse 11:3, “they will prophesy” is one continuous narrative.

He is told that he must rise first, before he can “measure the temple of God” (representing a judgement of the Church). Notice that John was not sitting or lying down. He had walked toward the angel, who was standing. Then he was told to rise and measure the temple. He and the angel were at that moment, in vision, walking through the temple. When it says the angel stood, it does not mean that he stood up. The word is used in other places to indicate that someone stands still after walking. See Matt. 20:32, where the whole phrase “stood still” is used for the same word in the KJV (Strong’s #2476). Also Mark 10:49, Luke 7:14, and Acts 8:38.

But can the word rise (Strong’s #1453) actually mean “rise from the dead”? Indeed it can. Matt 12:42, “the men of Nineveh shall rise in judgement”. Matt 27:63, “After three days I will rise again”. Mark 12:26, “As touching the dead, that they rise”. Luke 11:31,”the queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation”. There are other examples, and many more can be found under the words “risen” and “raised” in Strong’s. The word is very often used with this meaning, more often than its other basic meanings, which are exactly the same as the English word rise. (These include awaken from sleep, sit up or stand after lying down, stand up after sitting, lift up to a higher level, build up, come to prominence, etc.)

This Greek word has already been used 77 times with the specific meaning of rising from the dead, before it appears in Rev. 11:1. It is the chapter break between chapters 10 and 11 that obscures the real meaning of verse 11:1.

Now go back to Rev. 1:17,18. When John first saw the glorified Christ, he fell at his feet “as dead”. Then Christ laid his right hand on him and told him, “Fear not … I am he that lives and was dead … and have the keys of hell and of death”.

One of the two witnesses will be the apostle John. His mission will be to the Church of God and to people of all the nations in the world: To show the Church how to make herself ready for the return of Jesus Christ, and to warn the world of what is about to happen, before his return.

The other witness

We found the identity of one witness in the last book of the Greek Bible. To find the identity of the other witness, the place to start is in the last book of the Hebrew Bible. There is a prophecy at the very end of the Hebrew Bible which has a parallel in the book of Luke. This is known as the Elijah prophecy. Actually, it is four brief prophecies combined. Three verses in Malachi, 4:4-6, are paralleled by two verses in Luke, 1:16-17. The prophecies in Luke all refer to John the Baptist personally.

Statement by statement we have:

1. (Luke) And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.
(Malachi) Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgements.
The prophecy is in Luke, with the explanation of it in Malachi.

2. (Malachi) Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
(Luke) And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah.
Prophecy in Malachi, explained in Luke. This one IS the Elijah prophecy.

3. (Malachi) And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers,
(Luke) to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just:
This prophecy is in Malachi, explained in Luke.

4.(Luke) to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
(Malachi) lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
Prophecy in Luke, explained in Malachi.

What we have here is not just one prophecy stated twice, but four prophecies completely interwoven. Let’s take these in order:

1. “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.” John the Baptist did this by preaching repentance and baptism to Jews in Palestine. The parallel in Malachi shows that he preached the law of Moses, turning them toward God by reminding them of the covenant that Israel had made with Him at Horeb (Mount Sinai).

Jesus said, in Luke 16:16, “The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached.” In Matt.11:13 the statement is, “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John”.

John the Baptist was the last of the old covenant prophets (Moses being the first). He proclaimed the coming kingdom of God from that perspective (Matt 3:2) before Christ did so from a new perspective (Matt 4:17 and all of chapter 5, John 5:33-36). John preached that the one whose coming he foretold would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11). His responsibility (Luke 1:77) was to give knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins, but John’s baptism did not include the promise of the Holy Spirit. Years later some of his disciples had never even heard of the Holy Spirit being given (Acts 19:1-3). Those disciples of John actually needed to be baptized a second time (Acts 19:4-6).

2. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” This is an endtime prophecy. Elijah will come before the “day of the Lord”. It can be shown that the tribulation concludes just before the beginning of the “day of the Lord” (Matt 24:29-30). It is during this tribulation that the two witnesses will speak. This prophecy is referring to Christ’s second coming. Luke 1:17 says that John the Baptist would “go before” him in the spirit and power of Elijah. John did go before Christ at his first coming, but not “in the spirit and power of Elijah”.

This is a specific prophecy. The spirit of Elijah is the Spirit of God. Comparing 2Kings 2:15 and 16 shows that the prophets clearly understood that the spirit of Elijah was the Spirit of Yahweh, which is the Holy Spirit. And the power of Elijah? That is the power to perform miracles. Elijah “shut heaven” so that it did not rain for three and a half years. Compare James 5:17,18 and Rev. 11:6. He called down fire from heaven (2Kings 1:9,10) in the same way (by speaking the word) as the two witnesses will do (Rev.11:5), and for the same purpose. The Elijah prophecy in Malachi refers to one of the two witnesses, and his name is John the Baptist. The phrase “the spirit and power of Elijah” in Luke 1:17 is not an “ethereal” statement. It refers to the same kind of power that Elijah had access to. John the Baptist has not yet exercised that power.

3. “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” In these last days (2 Tim.3:1-5), a generation that does not believe we need to obey God has much to learn from the past.

The relationship between parents and children may be a metaphor for the modern tendency to reject long established knowledge and wisdom. “To turn … the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.”

Paul says that in the last days there will be a trend toward even despising those that are good. That is already beginning to happen today. The prediction in Luke that the disobedient will be turned to the wisdom of the just is something we have not seen happen yet. It is destined to happen only shortly before the “resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).

4. “To make ready a people prepared for the Lord”. This prophecy in Luke does not refer to Christ’s first coming but to his second coming. Only the first of these four prophecies was fulfilled by John the Baptist before Christ’s first coming. The other three are yet to be fulfilled. Only a small fraction of the people were “made ready” by the ministry of John the Baptist before Jesus began his ministry in that century. But the whole people of Israel, including the Jews and others, will be made ready to receive Christ at his return (Jer 31:31-34).

Compare “Except those days should be shortened there should no flesh be saved” (Matt. 24:22) with “lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:6).

“But for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened”. It is because of the work of the two witnesses that a people are prepared, and the result is that the curse is avoided, for their sake. John the Baptist’s primary ministry, then, will be to the people of Israel, including the Jews (See Romans, chapter 11.), while the apostle John’s will be to the rest of the world, and in particular the scattered Christians (Rev.10:11).

John the Baptist will be one of the two witnesses. His mission will be to all the people of Israel. To remind them of the law of God, and to prepare them for the return of Christ.

Plainly stated

But if John the Baptist is in fact the “Elijah who is to come” where is that fact explicitly stated? If parallel prophecies in Malachi and Luke are not enough to establish that fact, we may need some plain statements. Is John the Baptist really the Elijah who is to come?

See Matt.17:10-13. The disciples asked Jesus why the scribes say that Elijah “must first come”. They are referring to the Elijah prophecy in Malachi. Jesus answers in these words: (NKJV) “Elijah truly is coming first, and will restore all things”. John has already been beheaded (chapter 14), but the Elijah prophecy has not yet been fulfilled. Then he continues, “But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished. Likewise the Son of Man is also about to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that he spoke unto them of John the Baptist.”

But there is more to that word “likewise” than the suffering, because John the Baptist will “likewise” return in power to prepare the way for Christ’s second coming in power.

The account in Mark 9:11-13 says, And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” (ESV) Notice how Jesus is drawing a parallel between his own life and that of John.

We read in Matt.11:13-15 another plain statement that John is the Elijah who is to come. “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (ESV). Even this translation, “who is to come”, implies a future fulfillment. Some translations make the phrase even more explicit, with “going to come.” John was already in prison when Jesus said this.

Now we have Jesus Christ’s own word that John himself is the Elijah to come. The “Elijah Prophecy” cannot be fulfilled by anyone except John the Baptist, because Christ Himself has stated that John the Baptist is the one to fulfill it. But when John was asked plainly, “Are you Elijah?” (John 1:21) he answered, “I am not”. Was he contradicting Christ? Is this an error in the Bible? No, John was not at that time fulfilling the Elijah prophecy, because it is for a future time. He is the person who is to come to fulfill that prophecy, just as Gabriel said in Luke 1:17, but he was not fulfilling it at that time. He had not yet come in the “power” of Elijah.

When John was asked who he was, he answered that he was the “voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”. This is quoted in four places: Matt.3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, and John 1:23. This is a prophecy by Isaiah, found in Isa. 40:3-5. John is quoted as saying that he is fulfilling this prophecy. But notice that he only gets this far. The whole prophecy is quoted only by Luke. John himself is not quoted there.

There is no record that he himself ever quoted the whole prophecy, which in Luke concludes, “all flesh shall see the Salvation of God”. In our version of Isaiah it says “the glory of the LORD (Yahweh in the Hebrew) shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD (Yahweh) has spoken it”. So the prophecy in Isaiah refers to John calling for the people to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ, in glory, just as he did before the first coming of Christ. In a similar way, Jesus quoted a prophecy of Isaiah (Luke 4:16-21), but only as much of it as He was fulfilling at that time. See Isa. 61:1-9.

John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). Jesus said he was “more than a prophet” (Luke 7:26, Matt 11:9), and that there have been none “greater” than John the Baptist (Matt 11:11, Luke 7:28).

What’s in a name?

Now we come to another proof. When Zechariah was told by Gabriel that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son and that he must call him John, he was reluctant to believe it, and asked for a sign (Luke 1). So he was struck dumb, unable to speak “until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their season” (v.20, NKJV). When it came time to name the boy, Elizabeth said he should be called John. The neighbors and cousins wouldn’t take her word for it. They asked Zechariah, and he wrote on a tablet, “His name is John” (verse 63) “and immediately his mouth was opened” and “he spoke and praised God”. In fact, verse 67 shows that at that time he not only praised God but prophesied. He began to speak in prophecy (verses 67 to 79) as soon as the boy had been named.

The name John in Hebrew is pronounced more like “Yohanan”. Everyone acknowledges that the first syllable is a shortened form of the name Yahweh. But most have not realized that the second part is a form of the verb “ANAH”. (Strong’s #H6030)

In Aramaic, anah is the usual word for “speak.” But in Hebrew it more specifically means to respond, to begin to speak, to bear witness. The whole name John, then, means “Yahweh begins to speak”. Zechariah began to speak words given him by God as soon as the name was confirmed, showing that this IS the meaning intended for the name. Names are important to God. So important in the case of the two witnesses that each of them has been given this same name.

Another thing the two witnesses have in common is that both were cousins of Jesus and very likely grew up with him.

In Mathew 17:11 Jesus says, “Elijah truly shall first come, and restore all things.” So it is John’s mission to prepare the way for Christ’s second coming by restoring “all things.”

In Acts 3:20-21 Peter says, “And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” (KJV)

Together both witnesses will restore all lost truth. This is called “the times of restitution.” That word, “restitution” or “restoration,” refers to all the truth which God has revealed through his prophets. It would include a full explanation of everything that the Bible has always said, but which has never been well understood. The word “restore” in Matt 17:11 is the root word of “restitution” in Acts 3:21. It is the times of restoration (restitution) of “all things which God has spoken.” (Please ignore the comma inserted by the translators in Acts 3:21.) It is Yahweh himself who speaks by his two witnesses. That is how all the lost truth is to be restored.

The Church of God will need to be ready to understand and accept the knowledge and the correction which the two witnesses will offer. It will be their job to prepare not only the church but the whole world for the end of the age. They will preach the gospel of the kingdom to all the world for a witness before Jesus Christ returns. This age can come to an end only when the tribulation has been experienced, and when the two witnesses have witnessed to everyone at that time.

First written by Derek G. Davies in 1993.
Sept. 2001 version, revised Jan. 2013.