The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11

It has been said that Revelation is the most biblical of books, as it alludes to stories and teaching from right across both Old and New Testaments of the Bible through its use of imagery, words and phrases. It’s worth also reminding ourselves that, in keeping with its genre of apocalyptic literature, the book of Revelation is loaded with pictures, which are just that – pictures that convey a meaningful message.

So, my reflections on the two witnesses of Revelation 11:1-14 result from reading the passage and being reminded of other parts of the Bible.

Here are my reflections, followed by some thoughts on how this peculiar passage speaks to us today. I hope it resonates with you. I welcome your thoughts.

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Measure the temple, count the worshipper. But do not measure the outer court, given to the Gentiles to be trampled upon.

  • The faithful people of God, those in the temple of God, those who overcome by continuing to follow Jesus under pressure – these are marked out, preserved and not overcome by the forces that would trample down all in its domain. (See 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2:4-5.).
  • Those outside the temple, in the courts, will inevitably be trampled by priorities, pressures and oppression of the powers of this world and this age. Instead of overcoming in the midst of pressure, they will be conformed and overcome by it.
  • See Matthew 5:13, especially in the context of witness and faithfulness to Jesus – “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

The two witnesses, which are the two olive trees and two lampstands:

  • Two because that’s the number of witness (see Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16).
  • Lampstands because they represent the church (see Revelation 1-3).
  • Olive trees because they were anointed by the Holy Spirit and for the task (see Zechariah 4).
  • Olive trees because they represent the multiethnic church of Jews and ingrafted gentiles (see Romans 11).

Fire comes from their mouth and consumes their enemies:

  • The Holy Spirit, symbolised by fire, will give the witnesses of Jesus the words to say that no one can resist (see Acts 2:1-4 and Mark 13:11; also Luke 21:12-15).
  • Mark. 13:11: “Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.”
  • Luke. 21:12–15: “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.”

Drought and plagues:

  • These all allude to Elijah’s and Moses’ ministry to deliver people out of slavery to the world system and powers, and to call people to wholehearted faithfulness to God (see Exodus 7-12 and 1 Kings 17-18).

Finished their testimony, killed, left unburied, resurrected, taken up to heaven:

  • These witnesses follow the way of Jesus, the faithful witness and the firstborn from among the dead (Revelation 1:5) – through witness, suffering and death (carrying our cross and losing our life for the sake of Jesus and the gospel; see Mark 8:34-38), and resurrection (vindication; (see Romans 1:4 and 1 Timothy 3:16).
  • Jesus body was placed in a tomb (see Mark 15:46), these witnesses’ bodies were not placed in a tomb.
  • Jesus’ followers witnessed Jesus being taken up into heaven (see Mark 16:19). These witnesses’ enemies witnessed them being taken up into heaven.

Gave glory to God in heaven:

  • Despite all the plagues before (Revelation 9:20-21) and after (Revelation 16:8-11,21) this section in Revelation – the economic and natural consequences of living apart from God and in opposition to God’s ways – those suffering these consequences did not turn God; in fact some cursed him instead.
  • Only when the followers of Jesus testify, suffer for their faithful witness to Jesus Christ and are vindicated by God, do the people glorify God.

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Some Christian thought leaders call this the cruciform shape of Christian witness, i.e. the cross-shaped way of life that Jesus modelled and calls us into.

This is seen, for example, in the life and death of: Stephen in Acts 6, arguably a catalyst for the conversion of Paul the apostle; the many Christians killed in Romans coliseums for refusing to bow to Empire; the blood of the Martyrs of the English reformation; Jim Elliott and the five missionaries killed for their missionary endeavours in Ecuador.

All these suffered loss of life, but the history of the progression of Christian witness is also full of stories of those who died to self and carried the cross in order to love Christ by loving others, such as: Corrie ten Boom, holocaust-survivor who forgave the Nazi leaders and concentration camp guards who had effectively taken the lives of her family members; Elisabeth Elliott, who later spent two years as a missionary to the tribe members who killed her husband, Jim; Daniel MacArthur and Ashers Bakery, who with great dignity and at personal cost refused an order promoting a political message that cut across their conscience; and a whole host of more ordinary examples of self-sacrificing love in order to be faithful to Christ Jesus in word and in action.

The apostles Paul, Peter, James and John all spoke of this cross-shaped way of life and witness, helpfully applying it to a few different contexts.

2 Cor. 4:8–12: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

1 Pet. 4:12–14: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

James. 5:10–11: “Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.“

1 John. 3:16–18: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

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In summary, I’m suggesting that, in harmony with the rest of the New Testament, the two witnesses of Revelation 11 call us to faithfully follow the way of Christ Jesus in cross-shaped, self-sacrificial love and witness.

I’ll leave you with these words of Jesus that speak of self-sacrificing love, especially within the family of God, and the link to effective witness.

John 15:12–13: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

John 13:14-15,34-35: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. … A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

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So over to you. What do you think?

I welcome your thoughts on my reflections and application. What resonates with you? What doesn’t?

Also, are there any stories that inspire you? Any thoughts on how to live this way?

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One Response to “The Two Witnesses of Revelation 11”

  1. profoundlypk Says:

    I’m pleased to read this blog excerpt on the two witnesses of Revelation 11 by Anglican Minister, theologian and prolific blogger, Rev. Ian Paul. Published on 26th November 2018, it succinctly echoes my reflections on the passage. Here is the relevant extract:

    “…in an extended prophetic narrative in chapter 11: the bodies of the ‘two witnesses’ will ‘lie in the public square of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified’ (11.8). … The crucifixion is therefore here described as exemplary: just as Jesus suffered and died on the cross, so his faithful followers, bearing prophetic witness after the pattern of Moses and Elijah, will also suffer and be killed. But like their Lord, they too will experience the victory of resurrection life in defiance of their enemies, and this will lead some to repentance (11.11–12).

    https://www.psephizo.com/revelation/where-is-the-cross-found-in-the-book-of-revelation/

    Like

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