[Note: This author is a pre-Tribulation rapture believer, and this article reflects that view.]
For many years into my own studies of the Scriptures, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the Two Witnesses were Moses and Elijah. Later on, I came to believe it would be Enoch and Elijah. Then I was introduced to the concept that it was John and Elijah. Finally, I had heard a new theory that the Two Witnesses were actually two angels.
We sure have come a long way since the days of what seemed to be a universally agreed to interpretation of the Moses and Elijah scenario: Moses representing the law and the 10 plagues of Egypt, and Elijah being the other undisputed representative of the two.
So, I decided to tackle this issue for myself and see what I could find. As I have mentioned before, I usually don’t like to consult other commentaries or search other Bible teachers’ studies, as I really enjoy trying to figure things out for myself. This study is no different.
This article was not written in linear fashion. It began with the two major passages of Scripture cited, and the body of the article was written around them as my research progressed.
Using only the Holy Scriptures, and starting with a clean slate, let’s find out where the evidence leads.
The Passage Without Refute?
The following passage is considered the go-to portion of Scripture identifying Elijah as one of the Two Witnesses:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). (Emphasis mine)
Notice that God states that He “will send you Elijah… before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” This is very important: The Two Witnesses have their ministry “during” the day of the Lord, not “before.”
(Please see my article, An Examination of the ‘Day of the Lord’ here https://www.raptureready.com/2020/08/11/an-examination-of-the-day-of-the-lord-by-mark-a-becker/ or https://www.faithwriters.com/article-details.php?id=205363 for a detailed look at what the “Day of the Lord” entails).
Now, let’s examine what this prophecy in Malachi is actually referring to.
What Did Jesus Say?
Jesus, answering his disciples’ questions regarding just this topic, paves the way for us to know how Malachi’s prophecy was to actually be fulfilled:
“And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:10-13). (Emphasis mine)
Is there other Scriptural support for what the Lord had revealed to His disciples?
What Did the Angel of the Lord Say to Zecharias the Priest and Father of John the Baptist?
The answer to this question shows the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy:
“And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:11-17). (Emphasis mine)
Some similarities to note between Elijah and John the Baptist:
Both preached repentance from sins (1 Kings chapter 18 & Mark 1:4).
As we can plainly see, Malachi’s prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist. Therefore, Elijah – based on Malachi’s prophecy alone – is not one of the Two Witnesses. This prophecy has nothing to do with our investigation, so we must move on.
What Does Revelation Say?
Let’s try to analyze the definitive passage on the Two Witnesses’ ministry in Revelation:
“And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
“And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed. These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
“And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and an half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves. And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.
“And after three days and an half the spirit of life from God entered into them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them” (Revelation 11:3-12). (Emphasis mine)
“Fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies” brings to mind the demonic/fallen angel horde of Revelation 9:17-19 where “out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.”
(For more information on this demonic/fallen angel horde, please see my article, Do The Kings of The East Field a 200 Million Man Army? here: https://www.raptureready.com/2020/10/22/do-the-kings-of-the-east-field-a-200-million-man-army-by-mark-a-becker/ or https://www.faithwriters.com/article-details.php?id=206207 ).
In the whole of Scripture, not one time has fire ever proceeded out of the mouth of a man. Elijah called fire down out of heaven (1 Kings 1:10-14), but never a case of a human being spewing out fire from their mouth.
Another interesting item I noticed in this passage is that the Two Witnesses are never mentioned as “men,” let alone Jewish men. The closest their description comes to human is “prophets” as they “prophesy,” and that their “bodies” will lay dead and then rise again. They are referred to only as “these,” “them,” “their,” and “they.”
We should keep these facts in mind as we proceed.
The Greek word for “prophets” in Revelation 11 regarding the Two Witnesses is “prophḗtēs,” with the following definition:
A prophet (4396/prophḗtēs) declares the mind (message) of God, which sometimes predicts the future (foretelling) – and more commonly, speaks forth His message for a particular situation. 4396/prophḗtēs (“a prophet”) then is someone inspired by God to foretell or tell-forth (forthtell) the Word of God. (Biblehub.com).
When we think of “prophets,” we invariably think of human agents of God, speaking on God’s behalf. And while this is most certainly true, we tend to omit angels from the realm of prophet when, in truth, they are just as much a prophet as a human agent would be. From Genesis to Revelation, we have numerous accounts of angels “declar[ing] the mind (message) of God, which sometimes predicts the future (foretelling) – and more commonly, speaks forth His message for a particular situation.”
There is one passage of Scripture I believe we should consider, in light of this thought, when defining who a prophet can be:
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:1-3). (Emphasis mine)
John tells us that it is the spirit’s message that defines a prophet, and that spirit should by tried – whether a man or an angel (as both are spirit beings) – to determine whether the spirit is “of God” or “of antichrist.”
The Olive Tree
One thing that is common knowledge is that the nation of Israel is often compared to an olive tree. The only other passage regarding the olive tree in the Old Testament that caught my eye in my research is below.
The following is from the detailed account of Solomon’s Temple:
“And for the entering of the oracle he made doors of olive tree: the lintel and side posts were a fifth part of the wall. The two doors also were of olive tree; and he carved upon them carvings of cherubims and palm trees and open flowers, and overlaid them with gold, and spread gold upon the cherubims, and upon the palm trees” (1 Kings 6:31-32). (Emphasis mine)
The “oracle” is often translated as “the inner sanctuary” or “the Holy of Holies.”
Notice that the “two doors” were made from the “olive tree.” This is the only other Scripture where I could find a relationship between the number two and the olive tree.
What is interesting is that the two doors were carved with “cherubims.”
Of course, the candlesticks are usually referring to what we commonly call the Menorah, the “lampstand” found in the Tabernacle and Temple located in the Holy Place across from the table of shewbread.
We also know of the seven candlesticks in Revelation, representing the seven churches (Rev. 1:20).
Other verses of importance to consider regarding light and light’s relation to the symbolism of the candlestick(s), or lamp(s), would be:
“This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
God’s first recorded act of creation: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).
“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).
And finally, Paul said that we should, regarding our enemy, not marvel “… for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14b).
Returning to Revelation’s description of the Two Witnesses:
“These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth” reminds us of a passage in Zechariah. Let’s investigate this.
The Prophet Zechariah’s Vision
“And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep. And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.
“So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord? Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it.
“Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also finish it; and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you. For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.
“Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof? And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves? And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:1-14). (Emphasis mine)
In both the Zechariah vision and the Revelation account of the Two Witnesses, we learn they “stand by the Lord of the whole earth (Zechariah 4:14)” and are “standing before the God of the earth (Revelation 11:4).” These are definitely one and the same; but who are they?
Here’s where it starts to get interesting. The phrase “These are the two anointed ones” brings to mind the description of Lucifer (Satan) in Ezekiel’s prophecy of the “prince of Tyrus.” In particular:
“Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire” (Ezekiel 28:14). (Emphasis mine)
I find it fascinating that the Two Witnesses are standing by the Lord/God “of the earth,” and not “heaven” or “heaven and the earth.” Is this a clue?
When we consider what a “witness” is, we understand that witnesses are defined by what they have observed and have firsthand knowledge of. In our case, these Witnesses have knowledge and have observed the Lord/God “of the earth.” This seems to imply that they were there from the beginning of the foundation of the “earth” and, therefore, are witnesses to all that God has done since witnessing that foundation.
This brings my mind back to God’s demand of Job:
“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7). (Emphasis mine)
Scripture reveals that the angels were present when God “laid the foundations of the earth” and “all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Obviously, this was before the fall of Satan and his rebellious host, as “all the sons of God” witnessed God’s creation of the foundation of the earth and “shouted for joy.”
Angels, as we know, are “messengers” and are “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 20:14).
And if that wasn’t enough to consider: “Who [God] maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire” (Psalm 104:4).
Ezekiel’s Living Creatures/Cherubim and Revelation’s Four Living Creatures
The mighty cherubim, or living creatures (Ezekiel 1:5-25 & Ezekiel 10:3-22) that Ezekiel witnessed are very similar to the four living creatures in Revelation 4:6-11. These cherubim, like Satan “the anointed cherub that covereth” (Ezekiel 28:14), seem to be the closest of the angelic hierarchy to the throne of God.
We know the role of the four living creatures from Ezekiel’s visions, but what about the role of some of the others? What was the role and position of Satan (Lucifer), and did he have any cohorts that “covered” or stood by the throne of God?
Can it be that the “two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth” signify these covering cherubim? That at one time, there were three surrounding, or “covering,” cherubim at the throne of God – one to each side of the throne and one (Lucifer) over the throne? That these three angels were the first of God’s creation of the angelic host?
With what we have learned up to this point, we really do have to consider this possibility. This is where we can infer the idea that the two angels that stand by the throne of God and have “witnessed” God’s creation from the foundation of the world might, in the future, take on human form as God’s Two Witnesses.
Some may ask, “Why would God use angels to be His witnesses when human agents could suffice?” This is an honest question and should be reciprocated with a Scriptural answer: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6).
Also, “What is an angel doing in a human body?” Another good question. Remember, humans are spirit beings living in earthly bodies, and angels very often appear in human form. Not to mention the Genesis 6 account.
(For my thoughts on this controversial subject, please see Genesis 6:4 Commentary and Genetics, that can be found here: https://www.faithwriters.com/article-details.php?id=204120 )
So, what do I make of this? Honestly, I don’t know. We just don’t seem to have enough information to state unequivocally and emphatically that this is, in fact, the case. But, in light of what we have learned in this study, it certainly seems possible that the Two Witnesses could be angels in human form.
Some Observations on the Popular Candidates for the Two Witnesses
Moses: Moses died (Deuteronomy 34:1-12). “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this is the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). It would seem outright unfair, and without Biblical precedence, for Moses to have to die twice. I realize that Scripture documents others that had died and were resurrected, but in each case, these were short-lived deaths, and one could reasonably presume their spirits never made it to their final destination.
Enoch and Elijah: As two of the clearest pictures in the Old Testament of the rapture of the church, it would seem more than odd that these two righteous men would need to die. As representatives of saints living on earth at the rapture, it seems clear, at least to me, that they would never need to die. Sure, God can do anything He wants, but He is also a God of order; to me, this would seem to be somewhat out of order, but then again, I’m not God and am in no position to define what His order may or may not be. This is only my observational and logical opinion.
John: The rationale for John being one of the Two Witnesses usually comes from the dialog between Jesus and Peter in John chapter 21. Jesus, in essence, told Peter that he would die a martyr’s death, and Peter, referring to John, asked, “What shall this man do?” Jesus replied, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.” John summarizes this account by adding, “Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?“ (John 21:22-23).
The point I would like to make is this: Even if the Lord supernaturally kept John alive for the last 2,000 years, John most certainly would be taken in the pre-Tribulation rapture of the church and, as all other believers in the body of Christ, wouldn’t be allowed to live during the Tribulation when God’s wrath is being poured out on the world.
If someone had put a “gun to my head” and asked me who the Two Witnesses were before I began researching this article, I would have answered, “Enoch and Elijah.” After examining this issue in-depth and writing this article – with that same “gun to my head” – I would have to answer, “Two angels in human form.” But in both cases, I would have to admit, “I really don’t know for sure.”
The answer to our question, “Can We Know the Identity of the Two Witnesses?” seems to be, “No. Not with unequivocal conclusiveness.”
It does seem that the Scriptural evidence points to the Two Witnesses as being angels in human form, but I’m just not willing to take that leap… yet.
There are a lot of things I don’t know; but one thing I do know is that I don’t know who the Two Witnesses are with absolute certainty. At least I don’t think I do… right now… at this very moment…
Love, grace, mercy, and shalom in Messiah Yeshua, and Maranatha!