Harry Whittaker
The Last Days

Chapter 8 - The Two Witnesses

It is with reluctance that the writer has to begin by an assertion of belief that the standard Christadelphian expositions of Revelation 11 are inadequate. “The second woe (about the two witnesses) is past; and behold, the third woe (which is explicitly about the resurrection and the kingdom) cometh quickly” (v. 14). Such language requires that the vision of the two witnesses have reference to the Last Days. Any other interpretation is at best only a partial or anticipatory fulfilment.

Here, as in all the rest of Revelation, the safest principle of interpretation to follow is to seek the guidance afforded by allowing Scripture to explain Scripture, rather than by exploring the byways of religious and political history for an adequate set of correspondences. Throughout this chapter the method will be that of Biblical exposition, although only in a sketchy fashion, for what Eureka II, chapter 11, spends half a million words on, the present allocation is two thousand.

The vision begins with instructions to measure the temple of God. It is a spiritual temple composed of men and women, as the words “even them that worship therein” plainly imply. “But the court which is without the temple leave out (i.e. excommunicate; see RVm) . . . for it is given unto the Gentiles, and the holy city shall they tread under foot”. These words connect so directly with the familiar words of Jesus that the meaning is plain: “and
Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).

There is here, then, a symbolic picture of Israel cast off and the new temple of Jesus Christ appointed in place of that which has been given over to destruction.

The “forty and two months”, which is the exact equivalent of the 3½ “times” mentioned elsewhere in Daniel and Revelation is now seen to represent “the times of the Gentiles”. Whatever chronological application may be assigned to these words through history, the present writer is persuaded (see chapter 5) that this “forty and two months” also indicates a literal period of 3½ years in the Last Days during which the great crises of human and divine purposes will be resolved.

It is during this period of 1260 days (v. 3) that the two witnesses do their prophesying. The identification of these witnesses as the people of Israel will be fully established from Biblical evidence as this study proceeds. For the present it will be sufficient to remind readers of the familiar words in Isaiah 43 “Bring . . . forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf people that have ears . . . Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant (Israel) whom I have chosen” (vv. 8, 10). Blind in reading their own Scriptures, and deaf to the claims of their own Messiah, through long centuries Israel has continued as God’s unmistakeable testimony to the world.

Why two witnesses? To represent Law and Prophets surely — as the ensuing verses also require — so as to emphasize that the chief witness of this blind and deaf nation has been through the Word of Light and Truth of which they have been the custodians. Also, it is “at the mouth of two or three witnesses that every word (of God, as well as of man) shall be established”.

The reference in verse 4 to “two olive trees and candlesticks standing before the God of the Land” takes the reader back to Zechariah 4, where (in its primary meaning) the vision spoke of the beginnings of a new temple about to be raised in Jerusalem when Israel were returned from captivity. This pointedly suggests that the witnesses signify Israel returned to the Land from another captivity, soon to rise to the glory of God a new spiritual temple.

The signs, which accompany their witnessing, are designed to suggest Moses and Elijah. Fire out of their mouth,[5] devouring their enemies and the restraining of the rain of heaven for 32 years both echo the ministry of Elijah (2 Kings 1:10, 12; James 5:16, 17). Turning water into blood, and smiting the earth with all its plagues was, of course, the work of Moses.

But it is not to be assumed that these signs and judgements are to be brought literally upon their enemies by the Jews in the Last Days (though indeed a good case could be made for taking this as representing Israel’s power over Arab enemies in recent wars). Preferably the words should be taken as indicating God’s judgements on the persecutors of Israel on the basis of the principle: “Him that curseth thee, I will curse”. Such passages as the following chime in with this view: “Therefore I have hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth” (Hosea 6:5); “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down and to destroy and to throw down and to plant and to build” (Jeremiah 1 10); “Behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them” (Jeremiah 5: 14).

The beast which makes war with the witnesses and kills them (v. 7) may safely be interpreted as the great enemy of Israel in the Last Days by whom the Land is invaded. Revelation 17:11-14 may suggest (but here one moves warily and without dogmatism) Arab confederacy with Russian leadership and inspiration. Certainly the rest of this vision harmonizes well with such a conclusion.

The dead body of the witnesses lying in the street of the great city for 3½ days must indicate the utter desolation, over a period of 3½ years, of the new National Home so laboriously re-established by Jewry.

Every detail here, by its Biblical associations, points to such a conclusion. The “great city where also their Lord was crucified” identifies Jerusalem. And an impressive array of Scriptures (Isaiah 1:9, 10 and 3: 8, 9; Jeremiah 23: 14; Deuteronomy 32:32; Ezekiel 23: 3, 4, 8, 19) connects both Sodom and Egypt with the spiritual character of God’s own people “called Sodom and Egypt”.

How appropriate is the close correspondence between the experiences of the witnesses, as described here, and the experience of Jesus whom the Jews still reject. Both have their witness ignored or rejected. For both there is violent death in Jerusalem, to the great rejoicing of their enemies. Both experience a resurrection at a time of earthquake and also ascension to heaven in the Shekinah Cloud of Glory.

As already suggested, the 32 days’ exposure of the bodies probably represents a period of 3½ years—not so much because “a year for a day” is an established principle in Bible prophecy, though there are two clear-cut examples of it available: Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:5, 6; but because this 3½ year period has entered into the prophecy twice already (w. 2, 3), and also because to have said “they shall see their dead bodies three years and a half” would have been to import into the prophecy too big an element of unreality.
What dead bodies would lie exposed anywhere for 32 years?

To disallow the entombment of a dead body is the height of indignity and insult. Thus is suggested the contumely and wretchedness, which is to come upon Israel in what, more than at any period in their history, will be “the time of Jacob’s trouble”. “And they that dwell in the Land (i.e. their bitter Arab enemies) shall rejoice over them and make merry, because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt in the Land’’[6] (v. 10).

Ishmael was ever a mocker of Isaac, especially in times of misfortune, and since recent history has made the Jews more than ever a smoke in the nose and a thorn in the side of every Arab in and around Palestine, this vindictiveness will know no limit when for the last time Arab gloats over Jew. It is now appropriate to bring together an astonishing series of allusions made in Revelation 11 to Psalm 79:

Psalm 79
Revelation 11
v. 1 The heathen (Gentiles) are come into thine inheritance, thy holy city have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem in heaps.
v. 2 The court without the temple is given to the Gentiles, and the holy city shall they tread underfoot.
v. 2 The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat to the fowls of heaven.
v. 8 And their dead body shall lie in the street of the great city.
v. 2 the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth.
v. 7 the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them.
v. 3 and there was none to bury them.
v. 9 and they shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
v. 4 We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us.
v. 10 And they that dwell in the Land shall rejoice over them and make merry, and shall send gifts to one another.
v. 6 Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen.
v. 12 Render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom.
v. 18 And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come . . . and shouldest destroy them that destroy the Land (by the Seven Vials— “all plagues” v. 6).
v. 13 So we thy people the sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever.
v. 17 We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty . . . because thou hast taken to thee thy great power and hast reigned.

From a correspondence so plainly established, certain conclusions follow:

  1. The two witnesses represent the nation of Israel in the Land (yet more confirmatory evidence for this conclusion is available).
  2. The death of the witnesses represents (temporary) extinction of Israel as an organized nation, but not an utter end of all the Jews in the Land: “Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee”—and compare verse 4. Readers may care to trace the half-dozen resemblances between Lamentations 2 and Revelation 11 and find the above conclusions reinforced.
The most striking point of all now follows: “And after three days and a half the breath of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet” (v. 11). What is this but a repetition of the familiar “Valley of Dry Bones” prophecy? — “So I prophesied as he commanded me and the breath (v. 5: breath of Life: LXX[7]) came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (Ezekiel 37 :10). The verbal coincidences with the Septuagint text are very striking. And since there is no argument about the reference of Ezekiel 37 to the people of Israel (see v. 11 there), ought not the same conclusion to be equally secure in Revelation 11?

The ascension of the witnesses is, of course, not to be understood literally. It probably symbolizes the repentance of Israel, as shattered by the destruction of all their hopes centred in their national home, they respond in desperation to the appeals and exhortations of Messiah’s forerunner, the “Elijah” of Malachi 4:5.

At different times much study of the Book of Revelation has been befogged by a mistaken insistence that “heaven” means “political ascendancy”, whereas the constant testimony of Revelation itself is that what is seen or described as taking place in “heaven” concerns those who hold covenant-relation with God, and are associated with the heavenly sanctuary described in chapters 4, 5. Events concerning those not in the divine covenant appear as taking place on the earth. Such passages as 15 :l, 2and 19:1 and7:15 and6:4, 8, 9,10,13,14 become very luminous when studied from this point of view. There are many other examples.

Appropriately, then, in Revelation 11 the witnesses represent at first the Jews in their condition of unbelief and therefore on the “earth”. The inbreathing of the spirit or breath of God means their spiritual re-awakening and therefore, again appropriately, they are now transferred to the heavenly sphere.

“What shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead” wrote Paul. Accordingly the third woe — a woe to their enemies — “cometh quickly”. This seventh trumpet is the last trump, which announces resurrection and the transfer of the kingdoms of men to our Lord and his Christ. When, and
only when, Israel say: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord”, will they see him whom they pierced.

Thus the entire vision, when interpreted by the Bible rather than by history, is seen to harmonize with—and indeed to summarize—the main conclusion reached in earlier chapters in the present series.

[5] The singular indicates a community and not two individuals. So also does the singular "carcase" (not carcases) in the Greek text of v. 8.
[6] In both Old Testament and New Testament the word for "earth" also means "land"; and vice versa.
[7] LXX=Septuagint version.

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