God will raise up two mighty prophetic witnesses during the tribulation period. They will testify of the true God with incredible power—much like the power of Elijah (1 Kings 17; Malachi 4:5) and Moses (Exodus 7–11).
Two witnesses are important. The Old Testament stipulates that two witnesses are required to confirm a testimony (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; Matthew 18:16; John 8:17; Hebrews 10:28).
In Revelation 11:3-6, we read God’s prophetic promise:
I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire.
The clothing of the two witnesses—made of goat or camel hair—is significant (verse 3). Such garments symbolically express mourning over the world’s wretched condition and lack of repentance. The reference to olive trees and lampstands symbolizes the light of spiritual revival (verse 4).
The two prophets will minister for precisely 1,260 days, which measures out to exactly three-and-a-half years. Scholars debate, however, whether they minister during the first half or the second half of the tribulation period. Most conclude that the two witnesses do their miraculous work during the first three-and-a-half years. The antichrist’s execution of them seems to fit best with other events that will transpire in the middle of the tribulation—such as the antichrist’s exaltation of himself to godhood in defiance of the true God and His witnesses. Moreover, after being dead for three-and-a-half days, the resurrection of the two witnesses would make a much more significant impact on the world in the middle of the tribulation than at the end, when Armageddon is in full swing, just before the second coming of Christ.
Once the two witnesses have completed their ministry, God will sovereignly permit the antichrist (the beast) to execute them (Revelation 11:7). Their bodies will be allowed to lie lifeless in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was figuratively called “Sodom and Egypt” because of its inhabitants’ apostasy and rejection of God. The description of Jerusalem as being no better than Sodom and Egypt was used to show that the once-holy city had become no better than places that were famous for their hatred of the true God and His Word.
Apparently, through the mediums of television and the internet, “the peoples and tribes and languages and nations” will gaze at the dead witnesses for three days. Only modern technology can explain how the entire world will be able to view all of this.
During Bible times, the refusal to bury a corpse was a way of showing contempt (Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Psalm 79:2-3; Acts 14:19). Hence, by leaving the dead bodies in the street, the people of the world render the greatest possible insult to God’s spokesmen. It is equivalent to the people of the world collectively spitting upon the corpses.
The world’s people will have a “Christmas” celebration—exchanging presents—when the witnesses are executed by the antichrist (Revelation 11:10). They will do this because they are relieved that the two prophetic witnesses are no longer around. Based on biblical history, the only prophets people love are dead ones.
After the prophets lie in the street dead for three-and-a-half days, “a breath of life from God” enters them (verse 11; see also Genesis 2:7). Christmas-like celebrations quickly give way to worldwide fear as the lifeless corpses suddenly stand up in full view of live television and internet feeds. Clips of this event will be replayed repeatedly through various media. It will no doubt “go viral” on the internet. The resurrection and ascension of the two witnesses will serve as a giant exclamation point to their prophetic words throughout their three-and-a-half-year ministry. In my mind’s eye, I can picture them resurrecting from the dead and then asking, “Any questions?”
Fast Facts on the Two Witnesses
The two prophetic witnesses will prophesy for 1,260 days (Revelation 11:3). Fire will consume any who try to kill them (verse 5). They will have miraculous powers (verse 6). The antichrist will put them to death when their ministry is complete (verse 7). Their dead bodies will lie in the street (verse 8). People worldwide will celebrate their deaths (verses 9-10). They will resurrect from the dead and ascend into heaven (verses 11-12).
Fast Facts on the Possibility that the Two Witnesses Are Moses and Elijah
The tribulation period—the seventieth week of Daniel—is a period in which God deals with the Jews, just as He did in the first 69 weeks of Daniel. Because Moses and Elijah are the two most influential figures in Jewish history, it would make good sense that they be on the scene during the tribulation period.
Both the Old Testament and Jewish tradition expected Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18) and Elijah (Malachi 4:5) to return in the future. In addition, Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus: “He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him” (Matthew 17:1-3; emphasis added). Their appearance to Jesus shows their centrality. Hence, it stands to reason that they might be on the scene during the future tribulation period.
The miracles portrayed in Revelation 11 are like those previously performed by Moses and Elijah during Old Testament times. The two prophets will have the power to prevent rain, turn water into blood, and afflict human beings with plagues (Revelation 11:5-6). Likewise, Moses turned water into blood (Exodus 7:14-25) and afflicted human beings with plagues (Exodus 9:8-12). As a judgment, Elijah pronounced the following words to a sinful, unrepentant people: “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1).
Both Moses and Elijah left the earth in unusual ways. Elijah never died, but rather, was transported to heaven in a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:11-12). God supernaturally buried Moses’ body in a location unknown to other human beings (Deuteronomy 34:5-6; Jude 9).
Given such factors, some Bible expositors suggest God will send two of His mightiest servants back to earth during the tribulation period. We are reminded of how Moses and Elijah rescued Israel from bondage and idolatry during Old Testament times. They may reappear in the tribulation to warn Israel against succumbing to the false religion of the antichrist and the false prophet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Alternatively, is it possible that the two prophetic witnesses will be Enoch and Elijah?
Some Bible expositors think so. Both Enoch and Elijah were upright men who were raptured to heaven (see Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5; 2 Kings 2:11). Neither one of them experienced death. Both were prophets—one a Gentile (Enoch) and the other a Jew (Elijah). For the first 300 years of church history, the church fathers unanimously held that the two prophets of Revelation 11 would be Enoch and Elijah. So, maybe God will ordain one witness to speak to Jews and the other to speak to Gentiles during the tribulation period.
Is it possible that the two prophetic witnesses might be two entirely new prophets?
It is indeed possible! Those who hold to this view reason that the text would surely identify famous Old Testament personalities if they were to come back. Because they are not identified, the two witnesses may be new prophets whom God specially raises up for ministry during the tribulation period.
- During the tribulation period, God will raise up two mighty prophetic witnesses to testify of the true God with extraordinary power.
- Some believe these witnesses will be Moses and Elijah.
- Others think they will be Enoch and Elijah.
- Still others think they will be two entirely new prophets.
- They will minister for the duration of the first half of the tribulation period.
- The antichrist will then execute them.
- God will resurrect them from the dead, adding credence to everything they professed.
- The two witnesses will be immortal up until God’s chosen day for their deaths. The same is true of you and me. We cannot die until God’s chosen day for us ( Job 14:5; Psalm 139:16). So don’t fear death!
- The tribulation period will be the darkest time in human history. And yet God will continue to shine His light during this period through His two mighty prophets and 144,000 Jewish evangelists. Let’s follow their lead: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Excerpted from Ron Rhodes’ book 40 Days Through Bible Prophecy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2023) pages 113-117.
Ron Rhodes (ThD), president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, is heard regularly on nationwide radio and is the author of The End Times in Chronological Order, The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy, and 40 Days Through Revelation. He periodically teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary and several other seminaries.