What does the Bible tell us about the future? - Part 9 - Israel – The final days of the tribulation and the two witnesses
The previous part of this study considered the 144,000. A great wonder appears in heaven and, in Revelation chapter 12 verses 1 and 2, we have a woman in celestial purpose. Another wonder occurs in verses 3 to 6, now she is seen in satanic conflict. We see the 144,000 before the tribulation sealed, in chapter 7, and after the tribulation walking with the Lamb, chapter 14. Does the scene of chapter 12 also refer to them during the tribulation? The woman is evidently some aspect of Israel in governmental authority. This is what she is in divine purpose, for this is a wonder in heaven; her position during the tribulation is vastly different. She cries travailing in birth having a man child in her womb. This man child is to rule all nations. I suggest that the nation is preparing to govern but, when the devil sees this, he makes an attack to eliminate the purpose of God for he has his man ready to come forth and take his place in chapter 13.
Because of this, nearly all expositors assume this man child must be the Lord Jesus; but we are in prophecy, not history, and the arguments set forth to make this Christ are both feeble and out of character with Him. The Lord always confronted the devil and defeated Him completely. In the man child being caught up to God and His throne we see that the purpose of God is not cancelled because of the devil’s attacks, but the purpose of God for Israel is now linked with the man on the throne, who will shortly come in power to reign. At this point the devil turns his attention to the woman, who flees into her place in the wilderness, where she is nourished for a ‘time, and times, and half a time’. This being the second half of the tribulation, the tribulation is great. Nothing can harm her as the Lord preserves her, just like the 144,000 at that time. Now, the devil turns his attention to the remnant of her seed in verse 17, and these are evidently the rest of Israel, making a very definite distinction between the woman and others in the nation. This is something to ponder.
Chapters 11 to 13 bring before us events that will take place during the second half of the tribulation. In chapter 11 there are two witnesses; in chapter 12, two wonders; and in chapter 13, two wild beasts.
We are concerned with the two witnesses of chapter 11
The chapter begins with two mourning prophets and ends with a majestic Christ. It is surprising that, in the midst of the reign of the man of sin, God would manifest that what is owned by Him is left out of the measuring of the city. The city is Jerusalem, and what belongs to God, the temple, is reserved for Him even when the Antichrist rules, but the city is trodden under foot in complete subjugation, even during this time of the ascendancy of the man of sin when Satan seems to have gained his desire. Once having ruled the world from Babylon he now has his man in the place that supremely belongs to God, Jerusalem. It is something to know that during the days of this defiance, God is still going to have His witnesses in the midst of satanic darkness. It is the clear teaching of the word of God that God is going to have a witness at the time that Jerusalem is trodden down despite the fact that the trinity of evil seems to be impregnable, and that there will be two who will stand against them during this period of time, and they can do nothing against them. This is not unusual when God is dealing with the nation. Did He not have a Moses in the courts of Pharaoh, and an Elijah that opposed Ahab in days of gross idolatry? There are those who insist that this number is not the real number, as if God does not know this fact, and has written things for our imagination to toy with. Again, there are many who will not accept that these are two in number, and follow Kelly, who advocates that two is the number of testimony, and can be any number – some make this all who bear testimony throughout the tribulation period. 1 Once again, the period is specified, being forty-two months, in other words, 1,260 days, vv. 2, 3. This time period corresponds with the second half of the tribulation and limits the testimony of the two witnesses to that time. Is it not an amazing thing, when we know so much of the awesome power of the Antichrist, that these will stand against him, and he can do nothing to stop their witness for God? Some like Hoste, Newberry and Ironside, make the testimony of the two witnesses to be in the first half of the tribulation. The fact that the time factor that is mentioned in the earlier verses is always linked with the second half of the tribulation settles the matter.
Many have sought to identify who these witnesses are. The plain fact is we are not told who they are; if God wanted us to know He would have revealed it. When scripture is silent it is not for us to go into the realms of speculation. There are features of events carried out in a former day that have caused some to grasp at straws as they make their assumptions.
We see the great power that the Lord has invested them with when they can bring ‘fire that proceedeth out of their mouth’ which of course is Elijah-like, causing some to assume this is Elijah, who in Malachi chapter 4 is said to return at this time. This fire is to consume those who would seek to hurt them. Also, like Elijah, they have power to shut up heaven that it rain not, and like Moses they can turn the waters into blood. I suppose this is what would cause some to put in names where scripture is silent. Others have suggested Enoch as one who is before us, but as he was in the antediluvian period, before Abraham was called out to be the father of the nation and, as this is dealing with Israel in tribulation days, it is hardly likely that God would bring him back to earth to die, especially when he was translated that he should not see death, Heb. 11. 5, and he had no connection with the nation at all.
These two witnesses are impregnable during these 1,260 days. It is evident that the Beast of Revelation chapter 13 will be doing his utmost to eliminate them and their testimony. The fact that they are clothed in sackcloth speaks of the grief that marks them as they feel in their souls the apostasy that has gripped Israel, that the claims of God are not only set aside, but deliberately flouted. John the Baptist was arrayed in the same as he preached repentance; there is no such preaching here, all is too far gone.
They are said to be the two olive trees; the olive brings before us the blessing that God has bestowed upon the nation, Rom. 11. 16-24. There is still hope for some but there are few at this time who will know it. They are also said to be two candlesticks; these would again speak of the testimony that the Lord has put into their hands in Jerusalem’s darkest hour. They are also said to be standing before the God of the whole earth. I recall our very good brother John Riddle bringing before us in ministry that this term simply means, ‘readiness to serve’. These are certainly ready to serve at this time. The days before us are when men will claim despotic rights to the earth, but we are reminded that it still belongs to God who is ‘the God of the earth’.
We now see the torments that they will bring upon men during their ministry. Fire, and waters turned to blood and all plagues will have an effect upon those who oppose God in Jerusalem at that time. Their testimony is not to last until the final day of the tribulation, nor until the Lord comes, though that is but a few days away. The beast will have his mastery over them when their service for God has come to an end. Having withstood the Beast for 1,260 days now he is to make war against them. It seems that a battle will take place, but, unlike that of chapter 19 where the Lord is supreme, the witnesses are killed. They are not allowed to be buried as the world rejoices over them and, as if it is another Christmas or birthday, they send presents and make a party out of it. Such are they who have rejected all that is of God and rejoice when His word is silenced. Like their Lord, they lie but for three-and-a-half days, when the spirit of life returns to them and a positive display of it is seen when they stand on their feet. The world will witness that there is a resurrection and also a rapture. For if it was only the disciples who saw the Lord ascend into heaven the people of the city will witness the power of God in His vindication of His servants. God deals with this unruly mob and an earthquake sees 7,000 of them slain. God is both glorified and vindicated in this.
We listen for the same voice, ‘Come up hither’!
1 If the two witnesses are any number of people as Kelly asserts, can one imagine them all being killed, and then rising before the people, before being raptured?