Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 25 - The Two Witnesses (11:1-13)

The best manuscripts have a strange beginning for Revelation 11: “And there was given me a reed like unto a rod saying...” as though the reed were the speaker. Probably there is a characteristic ellipsis here (very common in the gospels, not so common in Revelation), which the other family of manuscripts has interpreted correctly: “(the angel) saying...”

This reed may be a symbol of the Scriptures, which are the criterion by which the constituent parts of the new temple of God are selected. The word “canon” - rule, measure - which is usually employed to describe the inspired writings, is derived ultimately from a Hebrew word that means a rod. So there is certain appropriateness about such an interpretation.


John was bidden: “Rise and measure.” That word “rise” may be regarded as carrying any one of several implications, but the most likely is that at the moment of utterance the apostle was lying on his face before the awe-inspiring vision of the rainbowed angel, by this fact symbolizing also - as Daniel and other prophets had done before him-a death and resurrection which must be his experience before the complete fulfilment of the vision he was to witness. Another possibility is that John is being bidden ascend to heaven to the heavenly sanctuary there (see v. 19).

The measuring of the sanctuary and altar means the inauguration of a new temple consisting of people. The last phrase of v. 1 requires this. “Measure ... them that worship therein.” This is surely an explanation of the command to measure temple and altar, i.e. “Measure the temple of God and the altar, even them that worship therein” - the worshippers are symbolized by temple and altar.

The court that is immediately outside the Sanctuary, that is, the court of the Israelites (to which Gentiles did not normally have access) is now “cast out” (excommunicated; s.w. 3 John 10, Gal. 4:30; John 9:34). This is the symbol of Jewry bereft of fellowship with their God. Such a conclusion is demanded by the following words: “for it is given to the Gentiles, and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.” That the angel is here quoting the words of his Lord cannot be doubted: “And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24)[48]

Here, then, is a prophecy of the rejection of Israel, of summary judgement against Jerusalem, and of the gospel being committed unto others, Gentiles, instead.


Mark 11 provides an interesting commentary on this passage. In the last week of his ministry, to the accompaniment of the eager plaudits of Galilean pilgrims Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as a king. They thought that now surely he would take to himself the title of King of the Jews; now, as Messiah, he would cast out the hated Gentiles and restore the glories of his great ancestor David. But instead of sweeping out the Gentiles and exalting the Jews, he went with angry mien into the temple and cast out the Jews who so defiled his Father’s House; neither would he “suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple,” i.e. through the court of the Gentiles. Instead, Matthew adds here with deep significance: “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (21:14). Thus he exalted despised Gentiles to divine favour and fellowship whilst unspiritual rebellious Israel was thrust away. Revelation 11 uses similar symbolism for a similar purpose.

The language of this passage (11:2) is suggestive. “The holy city shall they tread underfoot” - it is beasts which trample underfoot. So also declares Daniel when prophesying of the same divine judgement (Daniel 8:10). And so also says John here, for within a few verses he makes his first mention of the Beast out of the abyss (v. 7).

The prophecy of the two witnesses, which follows, is a Scripture that has reduced scores of commentators to desperation. Here none may walk confidently. Even so, whilst certain difficulties will remain difficulties, when proper use is made of Biblical allusions in this chapter (a dominant factor which “continuous historic” expositors have studiously neglected here) the general tenor of the passage is discernible - so, at least, one would fain believe.

That these two witnesses represent a community, and not two persons, is indicated by the phrase, used three times, “their dead bodies” (v. 8, 9). For it is to be noted that in two out of the three occurrences the phrase is in the singular (“their dead body”; v. 8, 9a, Gk.); and the third time in the plural (v 9b). This is not inappropriate in symbolic description of a class of people, but would be hopelessly confusing if speaking of two persons.


Next, and of crucial importance for the interpretation of this vision, the Witnesses can be identified as being the Jews. The evidence for this is astonishingly varied and copious, and all of it Biblical. There is no need to rely on what might be fortuitous historical resemblances.

1. Isaiah 44:8: “Have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses.” And again: “Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears ... Ye are my witnesses, said the Lord, and (Israel) my servant whom I have chosen ... I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you, therefore ye are my witnesses, said the Lord, that I am God” (43: 8-12).

2. The symbolism associated with these Witnesses - olive trees and candlesticks - is taken from Zechariah 4:11-14, which describes (in its primary application) the Jews at a time when they were coming back from captivity and making great efforts to re-colonize their Land.

3. Verse 14 is most emphatic: “The second Woe is past; and behold, the third Woe cometh quickly.” Then follows the Seventh Trumpet with its pictures of the Resurrection and the Kingdom. This bridge passage has been a sore trial to those who would anchor Revelation 11 to a period now long past. It requires that the prophecy be given reference to the end of this age.

4. The parallel, already established, with Luke 21:24, 25. There, Jesus goes on without pause to speak of the signs concerning the Last Days: “... and Jerusalcm shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon and in the stars ... etc.” Likewise here, after the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem (in Seals and Trumpets), the vision moves at a leap to the Last Days, and what is to befall the Jews then.

5. The catalogue of miraculous phenomena that afflict their adversaries points clearly to Moses and Elijah.

Fire out of their mouths: compare Elijah bringing fire from heaven; (2 Kings 1: 10, 12);

power to shut heaven that it rain not; compare the three and a half years’ drought according to the word of Elijah (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17);

power to turn waters into blood, the first of the plagues in Egypt;

and to smite the earth with all plagues-the rest of the plagues in Egypt. These references to Moses and Elijah are doubtless intended to recall the Law and the Prophets, the custody of which forms Israel’s supreme witness to the God of Heaven.

6. “And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our (R.V.: their) Lord was crucified.” The word “spiritually” here may mean “so described by the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament,” or it may refer to the spiritual character of “the great city.” The former of these ideas seems to be preferable. But which city is referred to? An impressive array of passages (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. And the concluding phrase: “where also their Lord was crucified,” strongly confirms the identification.

7. Careful reading of Psalm 79 brings to light an impressive series of allusions which are made to it througl1out Revelation 11. The most obvious ones are set out here:

Psalm 79

Revelation 11

The heathen (Gentiles) are come into thine inheritance; thy holy temple have they defiled; they have laid Jerusalem in heaps.
The court without the temple is given to the Gentiles; and the holy city shall they tread under foot.

The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat to the fowls of heaven.
And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city.

The flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth.
The beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them.

And there was none to bury them.
And they shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.

We are become a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us.
And they that dwell on the earth (in the Land) shall rejoice over them and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another.

Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen.
And the nations were angry and thy wrath is come ... that thou shouldest destroy them that destroy the Land (by the Seven Vials) ... all plagues (v. 6).

So we thy people and the sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever.
We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty ... because thou hast taken to thee thy great power and hast reigned.

With such a correspondence so plainly established, two conclusions result:

The two witnesses represent the nation of Israel in the Land.

The death of the witnesses represents (temporary) political extinction of the state of Israel, but not an utter end of all the Jews in the Land: v. 11 “Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee;” and compare verse 4.

8. Confirmation comes from a comparison with another Old Testament passage. Verse 11 continues: “And after three days and an half the spirit (breath) of life from God entered into them and they stood upon their feet.” This is so obviously from Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, that the reader has to restrain himself from concluding the phrase, “they stood upon their feet, an exceeding great army” (37:10). There is strong presumption that since the dry bones, becoming first skeletons, then carcases, and at last living people, represent a resurrection of Israel in the Last Days, so also this resurrection of the two witnesses must have a like significance.

9. Isaiah 5 tells of the vineyard, which God had prepared for His “Beloved.” In spite of much effort and tender care it brought forth only wild grapes. Wherefore, “I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be burnt up (RVm.): I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down ... My people are gone into captivity because they have no knowledge: and their honourable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst ... Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them; and the hills did tremble: and their carcases were as refuse in the midst of the streets (RV).” Then follows a description in vv. 26-30 of how this retribution is to come - nations coming from far, with horses and chariots (the Fifth and Sixth Trumpets!) roaring like lions (the Fifth and Sixth Trumpets!) and all this in a day of unnatural darkness (the Fifth Trumpet!!).

This marked resemblance between Revelation and Isaiah 5 is instructive. It ought at least to establish (if the point still needs to be established), that the two Witnesses are the Jews in the Last Days of God’s indignation against them when their new-born State of Israel, fashioned and cemented with blood, toil, sweat and tears, is seen to crumble in ruins.

This evidence should be sufficient to go on with. Now to the details.


These Witnesses, the Jews, prophesy. How do they prophesy? And what is their message? Isaiah 43, quoted above, answers these questions. They prophesy by their blindness and deafness. It is not the indestructibility of the Jews which makes them Jehovah’s true Witnesses, but their impermeability to His Truth. Through all the centuries, and still in this twentieth, they have remained blind and deaf to the message concerning Jesus, yet to this day they have continued as zealous custodians of a Torah they can make no sense of. Thus they testify to an undiscerning generation of Gentiles in these Last Days that God is, and that He rules in the kingdom of men.

Their prophesying in sackcloth might be symptomatic of the tribulation they have endured in all their history (Amos 8:10; Isaiah 37:1, 2; 50:3; Revelation 6:12); or it might signify the coming judgement, which the new state of Israel certainly heralds.


The witnesses are associated with puzzling symbolism. “These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.” The passage is almost verbatim from Zechariah 4. The essential difference is that here are two candlesticks instead of one. In Zechariah the olive trees are the two leaders, Joshua and Zerubbabel, who headed the return from Babylon. The candlestick there represents the prospective worship of God in the new temple whose foundations were then but newly laid. “Not by (human) might, nor by (human) power (is this work achieved), but by my spirit, saith the Lord” (cp. Revelation 11:11).

It may be asked in what sense can Israel, striving desperately against odds for the consolidation of a Jewish state, be said to fulfil this olive-tree, candlestick imagery? The answer is: At present, not at all. Modern Zionism is cursed with self-reliance. The Jews today are “children in whom is no faith.” And thus it would appear that the interpretation offered is not in accordance with facts. But another reading of Zechariah 4 helps. The candlestick there was symbolic of what lay in the future, the outcome of the efforts then being made to re-establish the temple and its service. Similarly in Revelation the mention of the olive-trees and candlesticks is designed to suggest that the day is not far distant when these witnesses who are now in sackcloth and persecuted will be the very people to lead the rest of the world in the worship and praise of God. Only when they have “ascended up to heaven” (v. 12) - i.e. into “the temple of God in heaven” (v. 19) - will they be able to function as “candlesticks.” “They shall call on my name, and I will hear them; I will say, It is my people, and they shall say, The Lord is my God” (Zechariah 13: 9). “In that day ... I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and supplications” (Zechariah 12:10).

More than this, just as in the primary application of Zechariah 4 there is an intimate connection between the two olive trees and Zerubbabel and Joshua, the prince and priest designate of that troubled time, so also in Revelation 11. When God called Israel out of Egypt, they were intended to be “unto God a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” This divine destiny they never shewed any sign of fulfilling. But today the return of Israel to the land of their fathers is without doubt a forerunner of the glorious era when they will serve God in precisely this way after He has taken away their stony heart and has given them a heart of flesh.

In another way these two olive trees suggest the same idea. In Solomon’s temple the great cherubim were made of olive wood overlaid with gold (1 Kings 6:23). Hence, in the primary application of Zechariah 4 once again, the olive trees would represent the raw material from which the new cherubim for the new temple were to be fashioned. So also, today, the olive trees associated with God’s two witnesses in Revelation 11 represent the community from whom, in due course and through sore travail, the cherubim of glory for God’s eternal temple are to be fashioned.

This interpretation is reinforced by the phrase “the God (Lord) of the whole earth,” for a little concordance investigation will shew that invariably this expression is associated in the Old Testament with the cherubim. Always this is the context (e.g. Joshua 3: 11, 13; Zechariah 6: 5; Psalm 97: 2, 5).


But why two witnesses, and two candlesticks in place of the one in Zechariah 4? It is no easy matter to settle this question satisfactorily. Can it be that here is the same idea as is contained in the words of Ezekiel 37 (a chapter with other pointed links with the two witnesses): “Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph (the Diaspora?) which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah (the Jews in the Land?), and make them one stick and they shall be one in mine hand ... and they shall be no more two nations; neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all” (v. 19, 22). By all means let the reader compare Jeremiah 11:16, 17, which also has a reference to Israel and Judah as an olive tree. In the glorious day foreshadowed here, the gross idolatry, which accentuated division in Israel from the time of Rehoboam, will be gone forever. Then the entire nation will enthusiastically hold up to the world the light of God’s truth and serve with reverence at His sanctuary.


As already mentioned the miraculous phenomena, which afflict the witnesses’ adversaries, are all associated with Moses and Elijah. Taken together they teach one big lesson: “Him that blesseth thee I will bless; and him that curseth thee, I will curse.” “If any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.”

These signs are not to be read as an indication of miraculous powers being vested in Israel in the Last Days. The remarkable powers mentioned are to be seen as the results of Israel’s “witnessing,” not as the punishments that they themselves inflict. To interpret otherwise is to miss completely the force of a graphic Old Testament idiom employed here. Compare the following:

“Therefore have I 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 build and to plant” (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 prophets did none of these things. But they prophesied the inevitability of these judgements. So also with the witnesses.

This having been said, it still remains amazingly apt that during the formative years of the new state of Israel, the Jews have been unceasingly a thorn in the side of their Arab neighbours. The steady success of Israel in spite of constant bitter opposition, the increasing flow of immigrants from scores of countries, the sharp constrict between Jewish advancement and Arab backwardness, and most of all the series of devastating Israeli victories, have served to add even sharper point to the graphic language in Revelation 11:5, 6. In this connection the expression: “as often as they wish,” has great force.


After a description of their witness and its effects comes the story of their destruction by “the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit.” This is a remarkable anticipation of “the beast out of the sea” which is described in chapter 13. Since, as has been demonstrated, this chapter is dealing with events of the Last Days, the beast must be interpreted as being a great enemy of the people of God at that time. Comparison with what is written about the same beast in 17:12-14 makes such a conclusion inevitable. Thus the slaying of the witnesses requires an invasion of Israel and the complete destruction of the new homeland for the Jewish people.

The prophecy goes on to tell how for three and a half days the dead bodies of the witnesses lie around, none being allowed to bury them, and meantime there is much rejoicing and mutual congratulation among their enemies.

The inevitable enquiry arises: How is it that these carcases do not become the prey of ravenous birds, as happens later - appropriately - to the enemies of God’s people (Revelation 19:17-21)? Genesis 15:11 explains. As the covenant sacrifices were guarded by Abram, so now Israel continues to be preserved “for the fathers’ sakes.”


The period of three and a half days probably stands for three and a half years. This suggestion is made, not on the basis of “a year for each day,” but simply from the appropriateness of the imagery employed. 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 three and a half years?

A further reason for this interpretation is that in the symbolism of this vision a close resemblance is being deliberately sought with the experience of Christ.

How appropriate that these two witnesses, a type of the nation which rejected and crucified their Messiah, should here be described in symbol as suffering he same sequence of experiences which were the lot of their Lord. Like him, they are despised and rejected; their witnessing goes for nought. Like him they are slain, raised again to the accompaniment of an earthquake, and ascend to heaven in the Cloud, their enemies being stricken with fear. This resemblance cannot be accidental.

The three and a half days, symbolic of three and a half years, now makes the designed “echo” of the experience of Christ the more realistic. This detail (as will be seen by and by) also links up very suitably with a corresponding prophecy in Daniel.

What is signified by the witnesses being killed but not buried? “They of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations ... do not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves” (v. 9). This seems to imply the overthrow of the state of Israel, but not the utter genocide of its inhabitants. The words suggest pressure brought to bear (by the Western powers?) to save them from utter destruction though not from savage maltreatment. Perhaps there is implication of an attempt at re-settlement elsewhere. Other prophecies (Zechariah 14:2; Isaiah 19:18-20; Joel 3:1-8, 19) paint a similar picture.

What is the relation of this three and a half year period to the forty and two months mentioned earlier in the prophecy (v. 2, 3)? In this very tricky problem, two points seem to be clear enough: (a) The two periods are not the same. One describes the time of the witnesses’ prophesying. The other describes the period of their symbolic “death.” (b) There must be some connection with the time periods of Daniel 7, 9, 12.

The Seventy “Weeks” prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27 seems to be particularly helpful, inasmuch as it specifies two consecutive periods of three and a half “days.” It is easily overlooked that, according to v. 26, Messiah is cut off at the end of the sixty-ninth “week.” Then v. 27 speaks of a final overthrow “in the midst of the (seventieth) week” - RV: “for the half week. “ In The Last Days, Ch. 5, 6, it was argued that this prophecy in Daniel 9 shares the characteristic feature common to the visions of ch. 2, 7, 8, 11, in having a big gap or interval between the main body of the prophecy and its culmination at the Time of the End.

Thus, linking Daniel 9 and Revelation 11 together, there is presented the picture of the People of God having a three and a half year witness and tormenting of their enemies, followed by their devastation by the Beast, and political “death” for a further three years and a half.

If the thesis discussed in the Appendix be accepted, then at the time when the Revelation was given there was still the possibility of this prophecy and these periods having fulfilment round about A.D. 70. This would explain why Daniel 9 speaks of “sanctuary” and “sacrifice.” These were, of course, in being in the First Century. In the Twentieth Century, corresponding devastation of what was the temple area seems to be indicated. Some have gone so far as to take Daniel 9, 12, Joel 2, and other prophecies in a perfectly literal way, insisting in their interpretations on the re-building of the temple in Jerusalem. It is to be hoped that these interpreters are incorrect, or there is surely a much longer lapse of time to the Lord’s Coming than the present world situation seems to warrant.

If this suggestion of three and a half years be accepted, then there is indication here of a lengthy enough occupation of Palestine by the enemy.


In the symbolism, to disallow the entombment of a dead body is the height of indignity and insult. Thus there is suggested the contumely and wretchedness, which is to come upon Israel in w-hat, more than at any period in their history, will be “the time of Jacob’s trouble.” Further, there will be great rejoicing among their enemies who are twice described as “them that dwell on the earth” i.e. “in the Land.” Who are these but the surrounding Arab nations? Ishmael was ever a mocker of Isaac, especially in times of misfortune. It was so in the days of Gideon, and of Hezekiah, and of Zedekiah, and in A.D. 70, and so it assuredly will be again (Judges 6: 1-3; Psalm 83: 3, 4; Obadiah 12; Jeremiah 48:42; Ezekiel 35:10 and 36:2). How appropriate too, are the words: “These two prophets tormented them that dwell in the Land.” The very presence of Jews in Palestine and, even more, of an Israeli state, has been smoke in the nose and a thorn in the side of all Arabs everywhere.


How shall the outcome of the resurrection of the witnesses be understood? “And they ascended up to heaven in the cloud (Acts 1: 9) and their enemies beheld them.” This is not a literal ascension to heaven like that of Jesus, because:

in Revelation heaven signifies the state of fellowship with God and of access to His throne (e.g. 15:1 and 19:1);

“their enemies beheld them,” implies a change of status and forbids the idea of literal ascension.

Hence this detail should be interpreted of the repentance of Israel (though not necessarily of the entire nation), which will probably immediately precede the coming of Christ. There can be little doubt that this ascension of the witnesses is the symbolic “receiving again” of those who for long years have been “cast off. “ The following passages bear on this interesting question:

Isaiah 40:3; Malachi 4:6; Zephaniah 2:3; Zechariah 12:10; Isaiah 59:20, Amos 5:15; Matthew 23:39 and 24:32; Romans 11: 15; Ezekiel 36:25 and 37:23; Acts 3:19 (R.V.); Isaiah 17:7, 8; Psalm 81:13, 14; Deuteronomy 30:1-3; 1 Kings 8:47; Leviticus 26:40-42; Jeremiah 4:12.


The earthquake that ensues “in that same hour” (v. 13) is no doubt to be taken as symbolic. It is a token of the wrath of God (Psalm 18:7; Job 9: 5, 6, Ezekiel 38: 18-20) because His People, now repentant, are used so despitefully. “The tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain names of men seven thousand.” The “city” is now representative of human power and glory (as in chapters 17, 18). The implication is that its (symbolic) population is seventy thousand. This links readily enough with Bible symbolism for the Gentile nations. Always this seems to be the figurative association of the number 70; e.g. Deuteronomy 32:8 (with Genesis 10 and 46); Exodus 15:27 and 24:4, 9 (with Luke 9:1; 10:1); 70 years captivity; 70 weeks prophecy.

The peculiar phrase: “names of men,” is perhaps intended to emphasize that the manifestation of Heaven’s wrath described here has the effect of cowing even the bravest of men (Genesis 11:4; 2 Samuel 23:18). All human pomp and self-confidence now finds its proper level, for this symbolic earthquake is also a literal cataclysm at the coming of the Lord (Isaiah 2:17-21). “The second woe is past, and the third woe cometh quickly,” bringing with it the Resurrection and the Kingdom.

[48] The Greek Aorist: “it was given to the Gentiles”, may be used here with reference to the fact that had already been appointed by the Lord himself in his Olivet prophecy. It is to be noted also that “the times of the Gentiles” are defined here as the final 36 years of Israel’s tribulation.
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