The Way It Happened

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

Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. … men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. … The second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.

//Revelation and the Gospels all indicate that the Messianic age is either upon us or just around the corner. In part II of this series, I introduced the two witnesses as a type of Moses and Elijah, how these two figures were expected to return and herald the arrival of the Messiah, and how the Gospels portray this as having happened. Revelation’s wording seems to confirm this; the death of these two witnesses corresponds to the time in which Revelation switches from past tense to future tense.

But if the witnesses have already arrived, who are they? One obvious answer is John the Baptist, who is referred to multiple times in the Gospels as the new Elijah. Even Jesus makes this association. However, if you believe Revelation was written by the same author, or at least the same community, as the Gospel of John, then we have a problem, because in this Gospel, John the Baptist flat out denies that he is Elijah. He also denies he is “the prophet,” the Moses-like second figure.

Who, then, does Revelation have in mind for the two witnesses? Maybe James and John, the two “sons of thunder?” They seem to fit the image. But whoever John meant his “Moses and Elijah” to be, the early church would likely think first of Peter and Paul, the two most prominent and animated leaders spearheading the Christian movement.  They are also the two apostles known for performing miracles. When both leaders died nearly simultaneously under the reign of Nero (the beast of the Abyss; see Revelation 13:18, it would surely bring catastrophic effects upon the church. Peter was crucified, Paul beheaded.

Tradition suggests Paul’s grave sits beside the Ostian Road, Peter’s in the Vatican, but the Romans usually merely abandoned their crucifixion victims on the cross for the dogs to pull down or buried them in a shallow grave, which the dogs would then dig up.  Therefore, they may have left both bodies lying by the road for a time, as Revelation indicates.  I don’t know how or when the tradition evolved that their bodies lay unburied, but in the sixth century, John Malalas vouches, “Nero ordered that the bodies of the holy apostles should not be handed over for burial, but should remain unburied.”

Are Peter and Paul the reincarnation of Moses and Elijah, then?


  1. Hi Lee,
    This is a very interesting topic and I like your info. Have you had a chance to read about the Two Witnesses in chapters 9, 16, 17a, and 17b, at: The Preterist Post? I like the charts :)

  2. The preterist post website presentation about 2 witnesses begins here:

  3. Thanks for the link, Riley! Yes, the Preterist Post analysis is well thought out and definitely well presented!

  4. Hello Riley, good to hear your thoughts. The Preterist post was well done. The analysis was as The Dubious pointed out, well thought out and well presented.

    One thing that I found of interest and points to much, for me, that is going on in talking about Revelations. In the first two paragraphs the writer says, “attempt” and “seems”. Many have “attempted” to make sense of what Revelation “seems” to say to them. I find for myself a danger in the attempt, because if I come to rely on what seems to be right. I am then neither grounded in faith or knowledge. If I am not going to have faith, then having knowledge would be nice. Having neither seems to be a bad result, but I do not know. So, I will just believe.

    Still it is quite interesting. Thanks both to you Riley and the Dubious for providing this forum.

  5. Hey, it’s that Tim guy again! I’m still trying to figure you out. Maybe I can describe your definition of “faith” as something like this: Enjoy theological debate, smile at the seeming contradictions in the Bible, speculate as desired about how it all fits in today’s scientific world, and at the end of the day, set the fun & games aside knowing that none of it has anything to do whatsoever with your personal walk with God. Sounds healthy to me.

  6. Hello Lee, it is good to chat again. You are mostly correct and maybe totally. I am just not sure about what you mean by “smile”. From my way of looking at the “seeming contradictions” that I have so far taken the time to look at. I have at this time either not agreed that it is a contradiction or (I can not think of one to fit this possibility at this time.) I am unsure about what the meaning is.

    The end of the last sentence of yours is great. “at the end of the day, set the fun & games aside knowing that none of it has anything to do whatsoever with your personal walk with God. ” That is what I believe it means to walk with God by faith. I do not believe it is possible to walk successfully with God without faith. If anyones faith is shaky their walk with God will be correspondingly difficult.

    Of course not to contradict myself, but instead add to the meaning. It does matter how we walk with God, to Him and to us our walk should matter.

  7. I take as an example our discussion about when Jesus died. In John, he dies before the Passover, and in the synoptics, he eats the Passover meal with his disciples.

    You are correct; you have not agreed that it is a contradiction. This is (I assume) because it doesn’t disturb you enough for you to look into what John means by a High Sabbath, or John’s theology of the slain lamb, or the sacrilege of eating a passover meal before Passover, or any of the other ways Christians attempt to reconcile the two stories. You may find it fun to speculate, but these issues just don’t matter to you; you’re happy “living by faith” (trusting that, somehow, the contradictions don’t really exist) instead of adjusting your beliefs. Why? Because, like every religious person in every religion, you’ve found God. What does some goofy scholar matter, when you’ve found God?

    And I’m not criticizing; I’m applauding. It seems healthy to me to keep faith separate from fact, to not mix critical reading of the scriptures with your walk with God.

  8. Lee said, “And I’m not criticizing; I’m applauding. It seems healthy to me to keep faith separate from fact, to not mix critical reading of the scriptures with your walk with God.”

    If what you are saying here is truly what you believe. Then it is also saying that you are not healthy.

  9. :) Perhaps I’m not, my friend! That is too deep a discussion for this forum, though.

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