Friday, May 10, 2024

Revelation 11 and The Biblical Power of Two

Deuteronomy 19:15: "One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."

Matthew 18:16 :
"But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'"

2 Corinthians 13:1 (NIV): "Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."

Have you ever considered the Biblical power of 2? God does some of His best work in a combination of complementary pairs. He seems to take two different men, maybe even just a slight overlap of time and stage- but together they have a more magnified effect. Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Ezra and Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah- even more apparent in the New Testament: the disciples are listed in pairs, Peter and John… Jesus sent the disciples out in twos, and Paul was always at his best with a Barnabas or a Timothy. Again, there may be a drastic difference in personalities, skills, or temperament- but God joins these servants together in one divine purpose.

In what I believe is a 2nd interlude in Revelation 11 (that actually parallels the 1st interlude in Revelation 7), John records this vision:

And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

[4] These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. [5] 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. [6] 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. [7] And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, [8] and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. [9] For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, [10] and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. [11] But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. [12] Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. [13] And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

[14] The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come. (Revelation 11:3–14 ESV)

The book of Revelation, with its rich symbolism and imagery, presents the reader with a plethora of interpretive possibilities. One of the enigmatic figures introduced in Revelation 11 is the depiction of two witnesses. While their identity is not explicitly stated, various interpretations have been proposed throughout history. 

I spent some time recently exploring possibilities of the symbolism. From the vision we can summarize principles that have to hold to these possibilities of a powerful pair.

These two may or may not be there at the same time? But here are some of their characteristics....

They are continually fed by truth and forever shine as a light. They have ferocious power to spew fire at threats. The have power prayers (like Elijah) and authority to shut the sky or initiate the plagues of Egypt. Will appear to be defeated by the beast. The corrupt world cheers at their demise, but they also are afraid to bury them because of this uncanny ability of God's to raise up people from the dead. And sure enough after 3 and 1/2 (interesting to me) days they arise to the great fear of the earth dwellers and are called to heaven and an earthquake happens and 1/10 (7,000) die. And this encompasses 'the 2nd woe" of three woe,woe,woes.

A LOT is packed in here.

Symbolic Interpretations:

So let's put on our thinking caps, shall we? Possibilities?

Moses/Elijah One commonly proposed interpretation is that the two witnesses symbolize Moses and Elijah. I tend to heavily lead to this view based on a couple of things- 

Look at how the OT ends- the last chapter of the last Book:

 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.

[5] “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. [6] And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:4–6 ESV) 

Also, the miraculous powers attributed to the witnesses, which parallel the miracles performed by Moses and Elijah in the Old Testament. AND...Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus at the Transfiguration, symbolizing the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

But there are others.....

Old Testament/New Testament Another fun possibility is that the two witnesses represent the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. This interpretation emphasizes the continuity between the two parts of the Bible and their role in bearing witness to God's truth throughout history.

Judaism/Christianity The two witnesses may also symbolize Judaism and Christianity, representing the two primary Abrahamic faiths. Judaism, as the older tradition, represents the covenant God made with Israel, while Christianity represents the new covenant established through Jesus Christ.

Smyrna/Philadelphia In addition to the above interpretations, the two witnesses could symbolize the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia already mentioned in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Smyrna represents the persecuted church, while Philadelphia represents the faithful church. Together, they represent the endurance and faithfulness of the Church throughout history.

Law/Prophets A fundamental interpretation of the two witnesses is that they represent the Law and the Prophets, the two major divisions of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). This interpretation emphasizes the importance of God's revelation through His written word.

Faith/Works This is a weaker idea... but the two witnesses symbolize the balance between faith and action in Christian theology. This interpretation underscores the importance of both belief and practice in the Christian life.

Justice/Mercy .... probably ran this thought experiment dry...

That was fun- we have to be careful with the "symbol, symbol- figurative language" game because this is truth here, and even though symbols can be multi-tiered, we have to be responsible to truth as well.

Non-Symbolic Interpretations:

Elijah/Enoch- neither 'die' in the OT... so they could just re-appear.

OTHER Historical Figures Some scholars suggest that the two witnesses might represent historical figures rather than symbolic pairs. Various names have been proposed throughout history or specific individuals from the early Christian or Jewish communities.

Early Christian Communities Another interpretation posits that the two witnesses symbolize the faithful Christian communities that bear witness to God's truth during times of persecution. In this view, the two witnesses represent the collective testimony of the Church throughout history.

Literal Individuals Some interpretations suggest that the two witnesses will be literal individuals who will appear in the end times to prophesy and perform miracles before the Second Coming of Christ. While their identity is uncertain, some believe they could be two unknown individuals chosen by God for this specific purpose.

Prophetic and Apostolic Witness of the CHURCH: Another non-symbolic interpretation sees the two witnesses as representing the prophetic and apostolic witness of the Church. The prophets and apostles throughout history have testified to the truth of God's word and have been witnesses to His power and authority.

Heavenly Representatives Some believe that the two witnesses are heavenly beings sent by God to fulfill a specific task during the end times. These beings could be angels or other celestial figures chosen by God to bear witness to His power and authority.

End-Time Missionaries Another interpretation is that the two witnesses represent end-time missionaries who will proclaim the Gospel to the world during the tribulation period. In this view, the witnesses will have a specific role in preparing the world for the return of Christ.

Martyred Saints Lastly, some believe that the two witnesses symbolize the martyred saints who have given their lives for their faith throughout history. In this view, the witnesses represent the faithful testimony of all those who have died for their belief in Christ.

Who knows!?....  but it doesn't make me hesitant about this great book- it makes me thirsty for God, it keeps me thinking about Him, and makes me long to see Him. Would I be a witness as bold and impactful as these two powerful pairs?

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