The Way It Happened

Revelation 11:3-14, The Two Witnesses, I of V

One of the most fascinating passages in Revelation is the beginning of chapter 11, where two witnesses are introduced. I’d like to cover this topic in several parts; let me give just a brief introduction today, starting with the verses about these two men. Here is how the NIV reads:

//… 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.  If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies.  This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die.  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.

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.//

John writes to the seven churches of Asia, and speaks without introduction of God’s two witnesses (often translated not as “witnesses” but as “martyrs”). Who are these two people, and why does John write of them as if they are already well-known to the churches? Over the next few days, I’ll discuss various interpretations, none of which are “wrong,” but all of which are different aspects of the same scripture. Like looking at different colors of a prism as the light shines through. I must caution you, though: It is not light reading.

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