And I will deliver to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred sixty days, having been wrapped around in sackcloth.

These are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks who have been standing before the Lord of the earth.

But if someone is wanting to do wrong to them, fire comes forth out of their mouths and devours their enemies, and if someone would be wanting to do wrong to them, in this very way they must be to put to death.

These have authority to close the sky in order that rain would not rain in the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every plague as often as they are wanting to.

Revelation 11:3-6
Beati in Apocalipsin libri duodecim | By Illustrators of Beato de LiébanaPublic Domain

Characteristics of God’s Two Witnesses

As I read about these two witnesses, I kept a running list of their descriptions:

  • There are two witnesses.
  • They will have the power to prophesy.
  • God supplies them, or delivers to them.
  • Their ministry has a definite beginning and end, exactly 1,260 days.
  • Their appearance is as distinctive as John the Baptist’s was—they would be wrapped in sackcloth. I know there is symbolic meaning in sackcloth, just as there was symbolic meaning in the Baptist’s attire. The prophet Elijah was instantly recognizable by his hairiness and leather belt. Likewise, the Baptist was instantly recognizable by his camel’s hair clothing and leather belt. His peculiar garb tacitly conveyed connection to Elijah, who had been prophesied to return in order to announce the Messiah. Jesus confirmed that connection when He said, “he is Elijah who is to come.”
  • They have been standing in the Lord’s presence for an undisclosed amount of time.
  • These two witness are called olive trees and lampstands, both highly symbolic scriptural metaphors.
  • They will have the ability to spew fire from their mouths.
  • This fire-throwing ability will be lethal to their targets, conjuring up an image of instant inferno.
  • This fire is God’s provision for the witnesses to not only defend themselves but to execute those who would injure them. In fact, God explains that if anyone wants to harm these two prophets, then this is precisely how they should be put to death.
  • God will also give these two witnesses three dreadful supernatural abilities. They will be able to (1) stop the sky from producing rain; (2) turn any body of water into blood; (3) cause any kind of plague to arise, throughout the earth, whenever they so choose.

Who or what did John mean for us to see in these two prophesying witnesses?


Expositors who research church history to understand Revelation point out that God has had true witnesses in every age, but in the centuries leading up to the Reformation, that body of true believers became very small.

God’s True Witnesses

  • The Waldenses (founded by Peter Waldo, c. 1173) and the Albigenses (rooted in the Cathars of the eighth century).
  • John Wycliffe (c. 1328 – 31 December 1384) and his translation of the Bible into English.
  • Jan Hus (c. 1370 – 6 July 1415) and his Bohemian Brethren movement (which became the Moravian Church).
  • Hus’s associate Jerome of Prague (1379 – 30 May 1416).

Historicists view God’s true witnesses being anointed by God’s particular calling and Spirit, with authority and even supernatural ability to prophesy throughout the 1,260 years between the rise of the Roman Church and the commencement of the Reformation.

Fire and Rain

Interpreters see this power in the same way Jeremiah was given to understand it:

Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts:
Because you have spoken this word,
I am now making my words in your mouth a fire
    and this people wood, and the fire shall devour them.

Jeremiah 5:14 (NRSV)

The fire of God’s word would ignite people’s minds and hearts, scorching them with conviction.

In the same way, “rain” connotes the word of God, withheld until the convicting fire has prompted repentance and reformation.


May my teaching drop like the rain,
    my speech condense like the dew,
like gentle rain on grass,
    like showers on new growth.

Deuteronomy 32:2 (NRSV)


For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-11 (NRSV)


Every time the Roman Church persecuted God’s true witnesses, calamities would follow—natural disasters, wars, costly defeats, and setbacks. Historicist scholars see a sacred synchronicity as God’s answers to the cries of the martyrs, dying at the hands of the Roman Church.


Wars that embroiled such Catholic nations as Italy, Spain, and France could be allegorically described as rivers and oceans of blood flowing from those swept into the battles.

Château d’Angers; Angers; Pays de la Loire, Maine-et-Loire; France; Tenture de l’Apocalypse; no 30, Les deux témoins; Cultural heritage; Cultural heritage|Tapestry; Europeana; Europe|France|Angers; Hennequin de Bruges (Jan Bondol en flamand); connu également sous les noms de Jean de Bruges ou de Jean de Bondol ou encore Jean de Bandol;;; Ref.: PMa_ANG026_F_Angers


For commentators concentrating on the Jewish War, the two witnesses present a conundrum. Were they two actual individuals? Did they represent two groups of people? Perhaps as olive trees and lampstands, they stand for two inseparable truths, or concepts, or approaches to God.

What preterist interpreters do agree on is the intent of the witnesses. They were to deliver the testimony of Jesus Christ to first century Jewish leadership and community living in Jerusalem, the temple elite, and the Judean population. Those who repudiated the Gospel and their Messiah would bring upon themselves the righteous judgment of God.

Olive Trees and Lampstands

A passage from Zechariah initially describing the high priest Joshua and the governor Zerubbabel possibly sheds light on John’s description.

Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?” 

And a second time I said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees that pour out the oilthrough the two golden pipes?” 

He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said,

“These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”

Zechariah 4:11-14 (NRSV, emphases mine)

Moses and Elijah

However, in John’s Apocalypse, their divine authority and supernatural powers perhaps point to Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets. Both had appeared with Jesus during His transfiguration and the law and prophets testified to the coming Messiah, fulfilled in Jesus.

… beginning with Moses and all the prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

Luke 24:27 (NRSV, emphases mine)


  • Moses prophesied of a prophet like him who would be raised up to lead the people—fulfilled in Jesus.
  • Jesus leads us in an exodus out of captivity and enslavement to sin and into our promised inheritance with Him in glory.
  • In Moses’s own story, the one who came after him was Joshua. Now Jesus (whose name in Hebrew is “Joshua”) is the true successor to Moses.


John the Baptist

Other expositors take this analogy one step further, pointing to John the Baptist as the last among the Old Testament prophets. He wore a camel hair garment, much like sackcloth, and his preaching lit up the countryside like wildfire.

Peter and James

Possibly, Peter and James were the two witnesses. They

  • had divine authority and miraculous powers.
  • witnessed Jesus’s ministry, death, and resurrection.
  • preached a message of woe to those who rejected Christ (hence sackcloth).
  • died violently.
  • were raised up into heaven (participate in the resurrection of believers).
CND899113 Ms. 28/1378 fol.66v The Two Witnesses Evangelizing the World, from ‘Histoire extraite de la Bible et Apocalypse’ (vellum) by French School, (15th century); Musee Conde, Chantilly, France; ( “Histoire extraite de la Bible et Apocalypse”. Les Deux témoins évangélisant le monde (ms. 28/1378 fol. 66 vÇ÷). PE7100 ) | By AnonymousPublic Domain

The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg

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