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The Last Days Duncan Heaster  
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12-6 The Two Witnesses

The context of this vision is set by 10:9, where John eats the little book. This must refer back to Jeremiah's enthusiastic 'eating' of the book of the Law when it was found (2 Chron.34:18). He later reflected upon this: " Thy words were found, and I did eat them" (Jer. 15:16) by enthusiastically studying and preaching them. The words John ate were the " seven thunders" which he was told not to record in words (Rev. 10:4), presumably because the final tribulation they described was not to be understood by any generation except the very last one. The taste of the word to John was like honey- indicating the joy and exaltation of spirit which comes from receiving an understanding of the word; yet in reality it was bitter (Rev. 11:10), due to his having to " Prophecy (preach) again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings" (v.11). The reluctance of John, representing us in he last days, to get involved in this world-wide witnessing is hinted at by " Thou must prophecy..." . Such language recalls Jeremiah and the prophets (often initially unwilling also) spreading their message to nations and kings, and also the spirit of first century apostolic preaching. Both these groups did so amidst great persecution; as we will too? John's eating of the book also looks back to Ez.2:8, where Ezekiel had to do this at the beginning of his preaching ministry to an apostate Israel in captivity. This may hint that our latter day preaching to all nations will especially focus upon the Jews among them, and those persecuted Jews within the land itself.

The vision of the two witnesses carries straight on, describing in more detail what 10:8-11 has summarized. The downtreading of the Holy City (literal Jerusalem) will be for 42 months. During that time, the witnesses prophecy for a parallel period of 1,260 days- both periods equivalent to three and a half years (Rev. 11:2,3). The two witnesses may either represent the Jews and the Christians, or two individual leaders of the saints who each concentrate respectively on preaching to Jews or Gentiles. " Fire proceedeth out of their mouth...they have power to shut Heaven...and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues" (11:6). These descriptions have clear reference back to Elijah and Moses- both of whom spoke the word of God during time of great persecution of God's true witnesses.

We have seen that other Scriptures describe a three and a half year period of persecution by the beast. This is matched in Rev. 11 by the three and a half year witnessing in sackcloth, with the power to bring plagues on their enemies. This would equate the witnesses with Moses and the faithful Israelites in Egypt undergoing persecution, at a time when Egypt (cp. the latter day world) was very prosperous (treasure cities etc.). The sackcloth suggests fasting and prayer- for their deliverance through the Lord's return. It has been suggested elsewhere that the second coming is dependent on the intensity of our prayers. To allow the Lord's return to happen, it seems we need this tribulation to vitalize our community's prayer life. In the last days, God’s faithful people will be given a mouth and wisdom which their persecutors will be unable to gainsay nor resist (Lk. 21:15). This evidently alludes to how Moses before Pharaoh was given such a ‘mouth’ (Ex. 4:15). Moses at that time was a type of the faithful remnant of their last days, in their witness against the world during the tribulation. Hence Rev. 11 describes their witness in terms of Moses doing miracles before Pharaoh.

" When they shall have finished their (three and a half year) testimony, the beast...shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them" (11:7)- a final, furious bout of persecution which brings about the destruction of the beast. It is because of this latter day orgy of killing the saints that the woman riding the beast was " drunken with the blood of the saints (the latter day true Christian community?), and (also) with the blood of the martyrs (witnesses- the two particular ones of Rev.11?) of Jesus" (17:6). The witnesses 'testifying' suggests association with their prototype John, who was persecuted for his obedience to and preaching of " the word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev.1:2,9) in the last days before the Lord's 'coming' in AD70. John was encouraged in his tribulation by being given such a deep understanding of prophecy; and his latter day counterparts may be blessed likewise. The " souls under the altar" which we have previously considered were " slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held" (6:9), which cements the link between them and the apostle John's descriptions of his sufferings.

The dragon/ beast made war with the seed of the woman " which keep the commandments (word) of God, and have the testimony (i.e. preaching) of Jesus" (12:17); it was because of " the word of their testimony (i.e. preaching) (that) they loved not their lives unto the death" (12:11), indicating that Rev.12 also has reference to this last day persecution. Interestingly, the Angel says that he is a fellowservant and brother of them " that have the testimony (preaching) of Jesus" (19:10), i.e. the witnesses- as if the Angels who are with the witnesses in the tribulation are so near us that they almost feel our sufferings.

It would seem that the murder of these two witnesses takes place in Jerusalem, which is spiritual Sodom (Is.1:10; 3:1,9; Jer.23:14; Lam.4:6; Ez.16:46-56; Amos 4:11) and Egypt (Ez.23:19-22). This point is clinched by its description as " where also our Lord was crucified" . " They of the people (of Israel?) and kindreds and tongues and nations (those preached to in 10:11) shall see their dead bodies three days (literal ones?) and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves" (11:9). This seems a designed contrast to Stephen, the first martyr for preaching the Christian Gospel, whose body was also stared upon, but who was allowed to be buried. There are a number of similarities in Rev.11 with the events in Sodom. " The God of the earth" of v.4 clearly connects with " Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" in Gen.18:25. The two Angels (cp. the two Angel-supported witnesses) were warned not to abide in the street (cp. Rev.11:8) for fear of violence being done to them; the city is spiritually called Sodom (11:8). These references to Sodom and Egypt, both types of the last days, confirm that Rev.11 also has a latter day application.

The persecution period in which the dead bodies lie in the street lasts three and a half days; this may indicate a final persecution at the end of the three and a half years. This is followed by the resurrection of the witnesses, after a brief period of rejoicing by the world that these people whose Spirit gifts had plagued them were now no more (by all means compare this with the rejoicing of the world in the three days in which Christ lay dead). The witnesses then hear a great voice, and ascend to Heaven in a cloud in the sight of their enemies (11:12). This surely connects with the transporting of the saints through the clouds to meet the Lord, as detailed in 1 Thess.4:15-17. There are also links with Rev.1:7- a shout (cp. 1 Thess.4:16), a cloud, being seen by enemies. We know that Rev.1:7 is concerning the second coming. It is tempting to interpret the great earthquake and repentance of a remnant in 11:13 as referring also to the Lord's coming, accompanied as it will be by a literal earthquake which affects Jerusalem (Zech.14:1-4), heralding the repentance of the Jewish remnant as described in Rom.11. The seventh Angel then sounds, declaring that the Kingdom has come (n.b. " are become- now- the Kingdoms of our Lord" ).

There seem a number of points of contact in Rev.11 with our Lord's sufferings. The great fear that fell upon them who saw the resurrected witnesses recalls the fear of those who saw the risen Lord (Mt.28:4,5,8). Had it not been for Nicodemus' bold request, the Lord's body would have been thrown into Gehenna. Compare this with the bodies being unburied in 11:9, as if to imply they had been crucified. Thus in our sufferings we will really feel crucified with Christ, and therefore have great peace from knowing that if we suffer with Him, we will also reign with Him.

The plaguing of our persecutors as Moses and Aaron plagued Egypt further strengthens the impression that Israel's experience in Egypt is the prototype for the coming tribulation. The world's brief rejoicing at the apparent death of the witnesses corresponds to Egypt's glee that Israel had left and were trapped at the Red Sea. The rejoicing over the slaughtered saints by the nations of the beast in 11:10 is echoed later by the holy apostles and prophets rejoicing over the destruction of Babylon (18:20)- as if the sufferings of the saints are later brought upon their persecutors. This may be the reason why there are such similarities between the seven vials and the seven trumpets, if the vials refer largely to the judgments to come upon the world, and the trumpets to the latter day tribulation of the saints:

Seven Vials      Seven trumpets

16:2                 8:7

16:3                 8:8

16:4                 8:10

16:8                 8:12

16:10               9:1

16:12               9:13

16:17-21          11:15