The Future Ministry of God’s Two Witnesses
The Future Ministry of God’s Two Witnesses
By Pastor F. M. Riley
3 And I will give power unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
5 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.
6 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.
7 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.
8 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.
9 And they of the people and kindreds and tongues and nations shall see their dead bodies three days and a half, and shall not suffer their dead bodies to be put in graves.
10 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.
11 And after three days and a 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.
12 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.
On May 14, 1948 Israel became a nation again nearly 1,900 years after the Jews had been driven from their homeland and scattered among the nations of the world. Students of Bible prophecy recognized that Israel’s national restoration marked “the beginning of the end” in God’s great plan of the ages. Glory! Since the national restoration of Israel volumes have been written about the various end-time prophecies, particularly as to how they relate to Israel.
In this study it is my desire to share prophetic truth which is familiar to our readers, yet which is seldom studied in depth; the ministry and identity of God’s “two witnesses.” The right understanding of the role of these “two witnesses” in end-time events will clarify other portions of God’s prophetic Word. Let us begin…..
THE FIRST WITNESS
In Malachi 4:5-6 the Lord told the Jews,
“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.”
This portion of Scripture sets forth three important facts:
1. It is clearly stated WHO God will send back to Israel…..”Elijah the prophet.”
2. It is clearly stated WHEN God will send Elijah…..”before the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”
3. It is clearly stated WHY God will send Elijah…..”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.”
Now let’s carefully examine these three statements.
The Scripture plainly states that it will be “Elijah the prophet” that God will send to Israel. It is significant that many religious Jews accept Malachi’s prophecy as literal truth. They actually look for, long for, and believe that Elijah will appear on the world scene before the Messiah arrives. They are expecting the very same Elijah who opposed Ahab and Jezebel, and who was caught up into the heavens in a chariot of fire. Elijah’s literal return is what the Scripture predicts, and there is plenty of Scriptural evidence to believe Malachi’s prophecy will be literally fulfilled.
Some today attempt to deny the literal fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy by claiming that John the Baptist was the fulfillment of the prophecy. They teach that Elijah has already come in the person of John. Let’s just see if the Word of God actually supports such a view.
Facts About John the Baptist
First, let’s notice the birth of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:13-17 we find an angel predicting the birth of John. In verse 17 the angel says,
“And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias [Elijah], 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.”
Notice that it is “in the spirit and power of Elias” [Elijah] that John the Baptist was to go forth. This Scripture no where states that John would be Elijah, or that he would fulfill Malachi’s prophecy. It was only the same “spirit and power” that rested upon Elijah that was to rest upon John. That was the Spirit and power of the Lord. Elijah exercised God’s power during his ministry, 2 kings 2:9. The same power of God was to rest upon John the Baptist during his ministry. To use this Scripture to teach that John was Elijah, and thus fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy, is to teach error. As proof of this statement let’s hear from John himself…..
John 1:19-24 contains the record of the priests and Levites coming to John and specifically asking him, “Who art thou?” “Art thou Elias [Elijah]?” John replied to their question by emphatically stating, “I am not.” Isn’t it strange that some today insist that John was Elijah, in spite of John’s emphatic declaration that he was not Elijah? One would think that a person would surely know who he is. What this suggests is that John was either mentally unbalanced and really didn’t realize that he was actually Elijah, or…..some Bible teachers are spiritually unbalanced due to their lack of serious Bible study. I leave it to our readers to decide whether to believe the inspired Word or the uninspired claims of fallible men.
Second, notice the teaching of Christ Himself concerning John’s ministry in relation to Elijah. In Matthew 11:7-19 the Lord stated, “And if ye will receive it [him], this is Elijah which was for to come.” Did Israel receive John, or his teaching? Not according to the Lord! The Lord Himself clearly stated, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil.” Does this sound like Israel received John?
In Matthew 17:12 the Lord said, “…..Elias [Elijah] 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.” In this passage the Lord clearly stated that John was rejected of Israel, and that He Himself would suffer “of them” like John had suffered. Who put Christ to death? Was it not the unbelieving Jews? And who ultimately put John to death? Was it not a ruler of the Jews? The Lord said that John was Elijah “if” he should be received. John was not received, but rather was rejected and put to death. Therefore John did not fulfill the prophecy of Malachi regarding the coming of Elijah.
Third, let’s let the leaders of Israel themselves testify. In Matthew 21:23-27 the chief priests and elders came to Christ, demanding to know the source of His authority. Christ answered them by asking, “The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?” The Scriptures tell us that they reasoned with themselves, “….saying, if we shall say, From heaven; He will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?” Here is an open admission by the wicked leaders of Israel themselves that they did not receive John the Baptist, neither his message nor the Messiah whom he preached. It is then Scripturally impossible for John the Baptist to have fulfilled Malachi 4:5-6. John the Baptist filled the role of Elijah only for those who received him.
But let our readers keep in mind that Christ did say that Elijah would come. In Matthew 17:11 the Lord said, “…..Elias [Elijah] truly shall first come, and restore all things.” This is recorded a second time in Mark 9:12, “…..Elias [Elijah] verily cometh first, and restoreth all things.” Since John the Baptist was not received, then he did not fulfill Malachi’s prophecy, or this prediction of Christ. The religious Jews are then correct in still expecting the coming of Elijah. We can then conclude that Elijah himself is yet to return to Israel, exactly as prophesied in Malachi.
In Malachi 4:5 the Lord said,
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord:…”
While the term, “the day of the Lord,” always refers to the future seven year Tribulation [and beyond], certain expressions occur in the Scriptures that make it clear that the Tribulation itself is divided into two periods of time.
The Two Hours
For instance, the first half of the Tribulation is referred to as “the hour of temptation,” Revelation 3:10, but the last half of the Tribulation is referred to as “the hour of His judgment,” Revelation 14:7. In other words, the first three and a half years are a time when all of humanity will be tested [peirasmos] to see if they will turn to the Lord in the midst of great catastrophes and plagues that are being poured out upon the earth. The answer to that question is found in Revelation 9:20-21. Because most of humanity will refuse to repent during the first half of the Tribulation, the Lord will then proceed to judge humanity during the last half of the Tribulation, Isaiah 26:21. It is the last half of the Tribulation which would then indeed be “the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”
The Time of Trouble
This truth is again made evident in Daniel 12:1. “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time:…..” By carefully studying the context in which this passage occurs, and by comparing this passage with Revelation 12:7-17, it is evident that this event occurs near or at the middle of the Tribulation. Therefore the “time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation…” will begin at the middle of the Tribulation and extend through the last half of the Trib. And why shouldn’t there be terrible trouble during the last half? Old Satan, the Devil himself, will be literally cast down and limited to the surface of the earth during the last half of the Trib. God have mercy upon those who are still living upon the earth during that terrible time of trouble. See Revelation 12:12 and be warned.
The Abomination of Desolation
Then the Lord Himself clearly stated in Matthew 24:21, in the context of events which follow the setting up of “the abomination of desolation” [verse 15], “For then shall be great tribulation [trouble], such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” The Lord here was speaking about the last half of the Tribulation, for it is at the middle of the Trib that “the image of the beast” is erected in the courtyard of the Jewish Temple, Revelation 13:14-15. This “image of the beast” is “the abomination that maketh desolate,” Daniel 11:31. Compare Mark 13:14-19. When that “abomination” is set up in the courtyard of the Jewish Temple, the Jews will have to flee for their lives, and the whole land of Israel will become “desolate” during the last half of the Tribulation. This is clear enough if folks would just quit “theorizing” and take God’s Word at face value for what it actually and literally says and teaches.
The phrase, “the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” then specifically refers to the last three and a half years of the seven year Tribulation. It will be a time of trouble for the whole world, such as was previously unknown in all of human history, a time in which Almighty God will judge all the unrepentant, incorrigible wicked of the earth. It will be the time when God’s “fury shall come up” in His face, Ezekiel 38:18; Nahum 1:6; Revelation 11:14-19. During that last half of the Tribulation the Lord will pour out great and terrible judgments upon this earth unlike anything ever previously seen or known by mankind. Now keep in mind that Elijah is to be sent back to Israel “before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord…” Therefore it is obvious that Elijah [and the second witness] will be sent back to minister to Israel [and the world] during the first half of the Tribulation.
A Supernatural Ministry
In Revelation 11:1-14 it is recorded that God’s “two witnesses” will minister in the city of Jerusalem. This portion of Scripture sets forth some unusual facts about these “two witnesses” and their ministry. Let’s notice them…..
First, the “two witnesses” are specifically called “two prophets,” 11:10. During the Tribulation these “two prophets” will bear witness of Christ. They will definitely prophesy [preach] about the very soon coming Kingdom of the Lord, 11:3; 11:6. Such a prospect looming on the horizon will certainly be a “torment” to the wicked world planners, 11:10. The “two prophets” will faithfully give testimony for the Lord, 11:7. If these “two witnesses” are to be identified, then we must look among those of the past who were true “prophets” of God.
Second, the “two witnesses” receive and exercise supernatural, miraculous powers from God during their ministry.
1. They are given miraculous, supernatural powers of protection. Those who attempt to hinder or harm the “two witnesses” will be killed by fire issuing right out of the mouths of the “two witnesses.” Doesn’t God say that His Word is “as a fire”? Read Jeremiah 20:9 and 23:29. Doesn’t God’s Word “burn” in the hearts of people when it is faithfully proclaimed? Read Luke 24:32. Yes, I am aware that these are symbolic terms, but what is to stop Almighty God from transforming the spiritual fire of His Word into literal fire, when such is needed to protect His servants? Well…?
2. The “two witnesses” are given miraculous, supernatural powers to shut up the heavens during their ministry, 11:6. Not a drop of rain will fall upon the earth during their ministry. Talk about a drought! Humanity has never seen anything like the worldwide drought that is coming during the first half of the Tribulation. Compare Joel 1:8-20 and be warned.
3. The “two witnesses” will be given miraculous, supernatural powers to turn the waters of the earth into blood, and to smite the earth with various plagues, at anytime they feel that such is needed, 11:6. Wicked men right through the centuries [and even today] have loved to shed blood, especially the blood of God’s people [Habakkuk 1:14-17]. During the Trib the Lord will give them blood to drink, Revelation 8:7-11; 16:4-7.
4. The “two witnesses,” while preaching only in the city of Jerusalem, will be given supernatural power to communicate their message to all the “people and kindreds and tongues and nations” upon the whole earth, 11:9-10. Today millions of wicked people don’t want to hear the message of God, but in that day it will not be stopped. All will hear it! There is no question that the preaching of the “two witnesses” will involve the miraculous, supernatural “gift” of “tongues,” a gift that is often corrupted, misused, and misunderstood today. Everyone on earth in that day, in their own language and dialect, will hear and understand what is being preached by the “two witnesses.” Those who have “hearing ears” [13:9] will repent and be saved, but those wicked souls who don’t want to hear will only be “tormented” [11:10] by the Word. Praise the Lord!
Third, 11:3 tells us that the “two witnesses” will be unusual in their appearance. They will be dressed in “sackcloth.” Such clothing has been discarded by the whole human race today. No one in any nation dresses in “sackcloth” today. But the “two witnesses” will! Sackcloth is a rough material woven from camel’s hair. The Bible gives us numerous instances of it being worn by people as a sign of mourning and repentance, especially by God’s Old Testament prophets as they sought God’s mercy and proclaimed God’s message, calling ancient Israel to repentance before God. What a contrast their clothing will be to the modern clothing of the western nations, which has been adopted by most of the people of the earth today.
Now notice how the past ministry of Elijah perfectly correlates with the future ministry of the “two witnesses.”
The “two witnesses” are to be two prophets who have previously lived and ministered in the past. It is a fact that Elijah was probably the greatest prophet that the Lord ever called to minister to Israel during the Old Testament dispensation, and Malachi 4:5-6 plainly predicts that he is to be sent back to Israel.
The “two witnesses” are miraculously protected by fire during their ministry. Elijah was protected in a similar manner during his ministry, 2 Kings 1:1-18.
The “two witnesses” have power to stop and withhold the rain during their ministry. Elijah also had such power during his ministry, 1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17-18.
The “two witnesses” will turn the waters of the earth into blood, and smite the earth with plagues. Elijah also had such miracle working powers during his ministry. See 1 Kings 17:8-16; 17:17-24, and 18:17-41.
The ministry of the “two witnesses” will be an international ministry. The Lord Himself pointed out that in ancient times Elijah ministered to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews, Luke 4:23-28.
The ministry of the “two witnesses” will be a “torment” to the wicked of the earth, just as the ministry of Elijah was a “torment” to wicked old Ahab and Jezebel, and to their followers, 1 Kings 18:17-18; 18:40; 21:20-24.
Finally, the clothing worn by the “two witnesses” will be sackcloth. That was the same type of clothing worn by Elijah during his ministry, 2 Kings 1:3-8.
The ministry of the “two witnesses” and the ministry of Elijah coincide on every point. There is then sufficient Scriptural evidence to conclude that Elijah himself will be one of the “two witnesses” that the Lord will send back to minister to Israel [and the world] during the first half of the Tribulation.
WHO will God send to Israel? Elijah the prophet. WHEN will God send Elijah back to Israel? During the first half of the coming seven year Tribulation. Now let’s notice WHY God will send him back.
Malachi 4:6 says,
“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.
Isn’t it amazing that some 2,600 years ago Malachi revealed that there would be a “generation gap” in the end of this age? See Micah 7:5-6, Matthew 10:21 and Mark 13:12. And isn’t it amazing that such a generation gap is in existence today?
In order to understand this particular statement of Malachi, and the role that Elijah will play in fulfilling this prophecy, other factors that relate to our study need to be carefully examined. So I call our reader’s attention to…..
When the Lord brought the Israelites into their “promised land” some 3,500 years ago, He had Joshua divide the land among the respective tribes. According to God’s Law the land they were given was to remain the possession of the particular tribe [and family] to whom it was given from generation to generation.
However He did not give the tribe of Levi a portion of land as their inheritance, for doing service for the Lord Himself was to be the inheritance of the Levites. Then from the tribe of Levi the Lord chose Aaron and his descendants to serve as priests. Aaron was chosen as the first “High Priest.” His sons were the first “priests.” According to God’s Law, from that time forward no tribe but the Levites could minister in the Tabernacle [and later in the Temple], and no Levite could serve as a priest or a High Priest, except the descendants of Aaron.
Because of the Law of Inheritance the tribal identity of the Israelites became very important to them. Their genealogical records were carefully recorded and preserved. According to Jewish history, these genealogical records were not only preserved by the respective Jewish families, but copies of them were laid up in the Tabernacle [and later in the Temple]. The importance of such records is emphasized in God’s Word in Ezra 2:59-63, Nehemiah 7:5-65, and several other places in God’s Word.
In the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. the genealogical records that were preserved there were destroyed, and the Jews were driven from their land. With the Jew no longer in his land and the Temple no longer in existence, the genealogical records were of little value to the average Jew. As the centuries passed many Jews assimilated into the Gentile nations into which they had been driven, adopting the languages, customs, politics, names, and sometimes even the religions of those nations. Gradually tribal identity was lost by most of the Jews. Because of this, the average Jew today has little idea and no real proof of their tribal identity.
Such a situation presents a real problem for the religious Jews who want to rebuild the Jewish Temple and restore the ancient worship of the Jewish people. For many years there has been an ever-increasing desire among a remnant of religious Jews to rebuild the Temple. Rabbis in Israel have actually trained young men to offer the sacrifices required by God in His Law. These young men have been carefully selected from families with such names as Cohen, Levi, Gershon, etc., hoping that their names indicate that they are Levites. If so, this would qualify them to serve and minister in a rebuilt Temple. But there is no actual proof that these men are Levites.
Because there are no genealogical records, and therefore no actual proof that such men are Levites, not all religious Jews are willing to accept these men as Levites. The Hasidic [Ultra-Orthodox] Jews have made it clear that they will accept nothing less than absolute proof of tribal identity. They insist that God would never accept their Temple as His “house” unless only Levites served in it, and only a descendant of Aaron served as the High Priest. So this is a major problem for the Jews that must be solved before they can actually rebuild the Temple and again offer sacrifices to Jehovah, the God of Israel, as they did in the ancient past. Now how is this problem to be solved…?
The Antichrist Factor
In Daniel 9:26-27 and 11:21-23 we are told about a deceitful king [the Antichrist] who will rise to power in the last days, and “confirm the covenant with many…” This covenant is referred to six times in Daniel 11:22-32. We do not know every detail agreed upon in this “covenant,” but the Scriptures give us enough information to conclude that this “covenant” will be some sort of “peace” agreement, which apparently will bring “peace” to the Middle East, specifically guaranteeing “peace” to Israel for a period of seven years. That is exactly what the Jews in Israel have desired ever since they became a nation in 1948. The tragedy is that unbelieving Israel really doesn’t understand what problems this forbidden “covenant” [Exodus 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:2] is going to bring upon them. See 1 Thessalonians 5:3. When this “covenant” goes into effect, the Jews will then [and only then] be in a position to rebuild their Temple.
The Scriptures clearly teach that a Temple will be in existence during the Tribulation, Revelation 11:1-2 and 2 Thessalonians 2:4. They also teach that animal sacrifices will once more be offered upon the Temple altar. See Daniel 8:11-14, 9:27, and 11:31.
Therefore we can conclude that the problem of tribal identity will be resolved, and the Levitical priesthood will again function in the Temple. In spite of the objections of some today, God will accept the rebuilt Temple as His “house.” This statement is clearly proven by Revelation 11:1, “…Rise, and measure the temple of God…” Keep in mind that this Scripture, like all Scripture, is inspired of God. This Tribulation Temple will be “the temple of God” whether some folks like it or not. The question then arises, how is all this is to be brought about? How…?
To Restore All Things
It obviously will not be brought about by the Antichrist. The Scriptures imply that the Antichrist will allow the Jews to rebuild their Temple, and perhaps he will even assist them in rebuilding it. But the motive of the Antichrist in allowing the Jews to rebuild the Temple is entirely different than God’s motive in inspiring a remnant of the Jews to rebuild it. The Antichrist intends to use the rebuilt Temple to exalt himself as the object of worship for the Jews and the whole world. But that is not God’s motive! The Antichrist will ultimately be permitted to invade the Temple and sit down upon the mercy seat [throne], boasting that he is God, 2 Thessalonians 2:4. Yet Almighty God is going to upset all the plans of the Antichrist.
In Matthew 17:11 the Lord specifically stated, “Elias [Elijah] truly shall first come, and restore all things.” A similar statement occurs in Mark 9:12. This emphatic statement of the Lord makes it obvious that the major reason Elijah will be sent back to Israel will be to solve the problem of tribal identity, thus making it possible for the Temple to be rebuilt and the ancient worship of the Jews to be restored. The “two witnesses” will divide the Jewish remnant into their respective tribes [Revelation 7:1-8], and will supervise the rebuilding of the Temple.
The fact that a remnant of the Jews will be divided into their respective tribes again right after the beginning of the Tribulation is beyond dispute. Revelation 7:1-8 records the salvation and sealing of 144,000 Jews, 12,000 from each of the twelve tribes listed. Some today would have us believe that the Lord miraculously seals the 144,000 without their ever experiencing His saving grace. Not so! God has only one way of salvation, John 14:6. There is no sealing until there is first a receiving of Christ as Savior. See Ephesians 1:12-14. The fact that the 144,000 are the “first fruits” [the first people saved during the Tribulation] is clearly stated in Revelation 14:4. This verse also tells us how they were saved; by believing on “the Lamb.” Isn’t that how every lost person gets saved? You know it is!
Folks, Elijah was the greatest prophet that God ever sent to Israel during the dispensation of Law, other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It was Elijah who called Israel to repentance when they had gone a whoring after the false gods of Ahab and Jezebel, 1 Kings 18. It was Elijah who “repaired the altar of the Lord that was broken down,” and prayed that God would “turn their hearts back again,” 1 Kings 18:30-37. After Elijah had concluded his simple, humble prayer, “the fire of the Lord fell and consumed” his sacrifice, 1 Kings 18:38. The Lord had accepted his offering on behalf of Israel. Glory!
Who then is better qualified than “Elijah the prophet” to once again call Israel to repentance before God, and “restore all things” pertaining to the ancient worship of the Lord God of Israel? Who is better qualified to supervise and direct the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple than Elijah [and the second “witness”]? And when the Tribulation Temple is rebuilt, who is better qualified to pray the dedicatory prayer than Elijah? And “the fire of the Lord” will once again fall to consume the sacrifice and light the fires of the altar burning before the Temple. Glory! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah!
Folks, this is why “Elijah the prophet” will be sent back to Israel again as one of God’s “two witnesses.” Now let’s see if we can identify…..
THE SECOND WITNESS
The Scriptures clearly reveal that “Elijah the prophet” will be one of the “two witnesses.” But can the second “witness” be identified? Let’s see…..
Many today have come up with various theories [guesses] as to the identity of the second “witness.” By examining these theories, the truth will be much easier to recognize. How much brighter a precious jewel appears when displayed upon a dark background. Even so, the light of God’s truth radiates brilliantly when contrasted with the vain theories of men. Now let’s examine some of these theories…..
The “We Can’t Know” Theory…..I have had folks quote Deuteronomy 29:29 to me, and tell me that since God didn’t reveal the names of the “two witnesses” in Revelation 11 it just isn’t meant for us to know who they are. I choose to disagree! I feel such a statement is only a poor excuse to justify a lack of serious Bible study. In the previous chapter the Scriptures clearly identify “Elijah the prophet” as one of the “two witnesses.” Since God’s inspired Word named one of the “wit