God’s Two Witnesses
September 30th, 1962 @ 10:50 AM
GOD’S TWO WITNESSES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-30-62 10:50 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message from the Book of the Revelation, chapter 11, beginning at verse 3 [Revelation 113], entitled God’s Two Witnesses.
As you know, we have an early service at 8:15 o’clock. And since we have come to the Revelation, because of the expressed wish of our people to be able to listen to the exposition of this Apocalypse, I have tried to preach the same sermon, to bring the same exposition at both hours. Now to my great disappointment, I have found that I could conclude just one half of the prepared message this morning. So we will attempt to do no more than that at this hour. There is not time. It would take a full hour, and usually I have from thirty to forty minutes. So the message this morning is introductory. It is one-half of the exposition. And the second half will be delivered next Sunday morning.
I try to hasten up these sermons through the Bible. We have been at it now for seventeen years. And it looks as though the Lord’s going to come for us, or we are all going to be translated to heaven ourselves before I get through.
When you go to the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, the ceiling is painted by Michelangelo. When he started over here, the figures were very small. But as he progressed through the long time it took him to paint the chapel ceiling, when he got over here, the figures are enormous. They’re gigantic. And every time he drew one, it got a little bigger and little bigger and little bigger until finally it came into gigantic proportions. Well, that’s exactly the way I am in preaching through the Bible. I preached through the Book of Genesis in about a month. When I got to Isaiah, I was taking about two months. When I got to Matthew, I took two years. I preached a solid year according to the way I’m doing now, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews. And we’re going to be in the Revelation the rest of our lives. I struggle—I struggle to condense what it is that we ought to say as we read these passages—and then let’s take time.
Now let’s read the text. The eleventh chapter of the Book of the Revelation from verses 3 to 13:
And I will give power unto My two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.
These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.
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.
These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But 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.
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.
And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
Now the first part of this sermon concerns the astonishing, extraordinary, amazing delineation of these two witnesses! First, there is nothing like that in record, secular or profane. Never were there ever two witnesses like these two. They have a capacity and an ableness beyond anything the world has ever seen. And God does with them what He has never done with any other prophet or speaker or preacher in the whole recorded history of this world. They are the only two who are able, until their witness is finished and until the time comes for them to be martyred, they only are able to withstand the terrible inroads and persecution and violent waste of the beast. They alone have that unusual gift and power to confront their enemies and to do it in triumph and victory. Out of all of the prophets and apostles and witnesses in recorded history, there is nothing like this. Nothing!
Another extraordinary thing about it: in this Revelation, every vision is seen by the apostle John. And he writes down what he saw, and he writes down what he heard [Revelation 1:19]—all except this. John does not see these two witnesses. They are spoken of [Revelation 11:1, 3]. They are described by the mighty angel who came down from heaven in chapter 10, who lifted up his hand and in the name of the Lord Christ claimed all creation for God [Revelation 10:1-2, 5-6]. It is that mighty angel representative of Christ who described these two witnesses. John doesn’t see them.
Another thing that is extraordinary and unusual: they live in an altogether different age, era, time, dispensation from our own. There is nothing in their attitude and in their ministry like we are taught in this present Christian age of grace and mercy and love and forgiveness. Now you look at that. If any man, thelō–“wishes,” “desires,” “wants”—if any man, thelō to hurt them, “fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devourerth their enemies.” And if any man—thelō, again—if he has a desire or even a will, or a wish to hurt them, he must in that fiery manner be destroyed [Revelation 11:5]. These witnesses, it says, in verse 10, torment the Christ-rejecters of the earth [Revelation 11:10]. How amazingly different from the example that our Lord gave us and taught for us, in this age, in this dispensation, and so faithfully followed by His apostles and disciples!
That’s why I had you read out of the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-729], this morning from the fifth, the first chapter of that message. Our Lord said, “If a man smite you on one cheek, turn the other [Matthew 5:39]. If a man compel you to go a mile, go with him twain [Matthew 5:41]. If he at law sues you for your coat, give him your cloak also [Matthew 5:40]. Bless those that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and minister to those who despitefully use you” [Matthew 5:44]. And the apostle Paul reiterated and repeated and echoed that same spirit of love and grace toward these who are our enemies. “My brethren, beloved,” he says, “avenge not yourselves, but give place unto wrath [Romans 12:19]. And if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirsts, give him to drink” [Romans 12:20].
And that was acted out in the ministry of our Lord and of His apostles. Our Savior said, “I have [twelve] legions of angels at My command” [Matthew 26:53], but He refused to use them, and without resistance, He bowed His head before the awful blows of those who destroyed Him [Matthew 26:54-56]. For He said, “I came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” [Luke 9:56]. When Stephen was stoned to death, he prayed for his enemies [Acts 7:59-60]. James was beheaded by the sword [Acts 12:1-2]; and Paul and Silas were placed in the innermost dungeons [Acts 16:23-24]; and Polycarp was burned at the stake; and Antipas was destroyed in death as a martyr of Christ [Revelation 2:13]; not a one of them resisting. But you live in a different world here. For these two witnesses of God, if any enemy even desires to hurt them, wishes to harm or molest them, “fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemy” [Revelation 11:5].
This is the same kind of a thing you have in the days of the old theocracy. When Jeroboam I, built his golden idolatrous calves at Bethel and Dan, there came from Judah an unnamed prophet of God who denounced the idolatry. And as he was denouncing it, Jeroboam the king put forth his right hand to seize the prophet. And when he did so, his right hand withered and he could not draw it back [1 Kings 13:1-4].
Same kind of a thing that happened in the days of Elijah the Tishbite: Ahaziah, the son of Ahab and Jezebel, succeeded to the kingdom. And he proposed to arrest Elijah, the man of God. And when he sent the captain of the band of fifty to take Elijah, Elijah commanded fire to fall down from heaven and it burned up the captain and burned up his fifty soldiers. And the same thing happened again [2 Kings 1:8-14]. It’s that kind of a world. It’s that kind of an age. It’s that kind of a dispensation in which these two witnesses represent God [Revelation 11:3].
Now when you carefully study the Book, you will find both of those things in the ministry of Christ. You’ll find both of those things as inevitable corollaries, concomitants, repercussions of the ministry of our Lord. The two great chapters in the Book of the Psalms that describe the passion and suffering of Jesus are Psalms 22 and 69. And both of those psalms are framed exactly alike. The first part of both of them describes the sufferings of Jesus. Then beginning at the identical verse, at verse 22, in both of those psalms, there is described the result of the suffering of our Savior, only the results are diametrically opposite. In Psalm 22, from which psalm the Gospel writers quote as they describe the crucifixion of our Lord, in Psalm 22, after the description of the suffering of Jesus [Psalm 22:1-21], there follows, beginning at verse 22, verse after verse after verse, describing the goodness, and the grace, and the mercy, and the forgiveness. Then the blessings and the praise that flows from the wounds of our Lord—People are saved; people praise God; people preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth. And they shall declare His righteousness to a people that shall yet be born, that Jesus hath done this” [Psalm 22:22-31]. What a marvelous and beautiful and precious thing, these gifts that flow from the wounds and tears and blood of Jesus!
Now when you turn to Psalm 69, and begin at verse 22 [Psalm 69:22], ah, the judgment and the vengeance and the reckoning of the wrath of God against those who spurn God’s Son, and who wounded the Lord’s anointed, and who destroyed Christ, God’s Messiah. Oh! It’s an exact opposite. Now in Psalm 69 that psalm, the last description of our Lord:
· Verse 21, “They gave me gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” [Psalm 69:21]. The first part of it describes the suffering of Christ and is quoted in the Gospels.
· Now you look at verse 22 here. “Let their table become a snare before them” [Psalm 69:22].
· Verse 23: “Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not” [Psalm 69:23].
· Verse 24: “Pour out Thine indignation upon them, and let Thy wrathful anger take hold of them” [Psalm 69:24].
· Verse 27: “Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into Thy righteousness” [Psalm 69:27].
· Verse 28: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous” [Psalm 69:28].
And on and on and on!
That is always the double corollary that follows the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God. And that follows what Christ hath done in this earth. In this day, and in this age, it is full of grace, and invitation, and mercy, and forgiveness. “Come, come to Jesus.” And if a man says, “No, I despise the Lord.” And, “No, I’ll not give Him the devotion of my heart and the love of my soul,” he can walk out that door there or he can walk out this door here with impunity. There’ll be no judgment upon him. There’ll be no wrath. There’ll be no fire to burn and consume. He’ll walk right out that door and down that street unmolested and unharmed. That’s now. That’s the day of grace in which we live. This is the hour of the Lord’s love and mercy.
But oh, my soul, there is coming another day! There is coming another hour. There is coming another age. There is coming another dispensation. And in that day and in that hour and in that dispensation, the wrath and the judgment of Almighty God shall confront every Christ rejecting sinner. That’s what you have here in the days of these two witnesses [Revelation 11:3-13]. This is the hour of judgment. This is the hour of God’s cleansing and purging His earth. And this is an hour when men shall face the day of the awful wrath of Almighty God. Oh, how your souls tremble when you read these things! O Lord, these who say no to the preacher, no to the invitation, no to the Spirit of grace, who tread under foot the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified as an unholy thing, who do despite for all that God has done to reach our sinful and lost souls [Hebrews 10:29]—oh, the judgment that lies ahead! Our souls tremble in the presence of God. That’s this day. That’s this hour. That’s this age. That’s this dispensation. This is the wrath and the judgment of Almighty God.
Now another startling and unusual and extraordinary thing about these two witnesses: with all that is said about them, unlike any other that God hath ever raised up in the story and the annuals of history, yet they are unnamed [Revelation 11:3]. We do not know who they are, and how the interpreters and expositors of the book have tried to identify them! So many times an interpreter will say these two witnesses are Enoch and Elijah. And they base that identification upon one verse. In Hebrews 9:27; that ninth chapter from which I preached so long, it closes with this word: “For as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment: So Christ shall come” [Hebrews 9:27-28], and then the concluding sentence: “As it is appointed unto men once to die” [Hebrews 9:27]. So these interpreters look through the Bible and find two men who never died, Enoch [Genesis 5:24] and Elijah [2 Kings 2:11]. They were translated to heaven without death. And these two witnesses are slain by the beast [Revelation 11:7]. So they conclude that these two witnesses are Enoch and Elijah, sent back to earth, who are slain, and therefore, fulfill that scripture that all men must die [Hebrews 9:27].
Now that is a very weak identification because all men are not going to die to begin with. That is a generalization. All mankind as they live their lives; all mankind falls into the grave. That is so true. But there is going to be one generation that will never taste death. We who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall be caught up together with those resurrected in the clouds to be ever with the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. Or as Paul said again in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: “We shall not all sleep, we shall not all fall into death, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye at the last trump.” So we’re not all going to die. And to base an interpretation upon that Scripture as identifying these witnesses [Revelation 11:3] with Enoch and Elijah is not quite according to the Word of the Lord to me.
And another thing about them; their miracles are according to the power of Moses and Elijah. “These hath power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy” [Revelation 11:6]. That sounds like Elijah [1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17]. “And they have power over waters to turn them to blood and to smite the earth with all plagues” [Revelation 11:6]. That sounds like Moses [Exodus 7:14-12:30].
Now beyond the identification of Enoch and Elijah or Moses and Elijah, oh, the maze of these suggestions and hypotheses and theories and endless, endless identifications! For example, if you are a spiritualizer, you will read that passage [Revelation 11:3] and you’ll say those two great witnesses are the Old Testament and the New Testament. And if you are a historical interpreter of this Revelation, you’ll try to say those two witnesses were the Waldenses and the Albigenses. Or you might say they are John Huss and Jerome of Prague. And it just goes on, and imagination might run riot. There is no man who knows who those two witnesses are. We do not know and we shall never know until we see them, until they come into this earth.
I only have one suggestion to make about their identification and it is this. From every syllable that is written here in the Word, they are men. They are persons. For example, “I will give power unto My two witnesses” [Revelation 11:3]. The word for witness is martyr, in Greek martus. And those who witness to God so often seal their witness with their blood that finally the word came to mean in English one who is murdered for God; a martyr. But the Greek word martyr, martus referred to one who witnesses for God, who stands up to testify for the Lord. Now that word is used ten times in the New Testament and the corollary Hebrew word is used fifty times in the Old Testament. And in every instance it refers to a person. He is a martyr, a martus, a witness. Every time it is personal.
Same thing about the word propheteuō: “And they shall propheteuō a thousand two hundred and threescore days” [Revelation 11:3]. They shall prophesy. That word is used more than a hundred times in the Bible, and without exception, every time, except one in metonymy, in metonymic use, every time it refers to a person. Somebody prophesied. And then another thing in that same verse: they are clothed in sackcloth [Revelation 11:3]. That always, and it’s many times used in the Bible, that always refers to a person. It would be hard to see an impersonal object or instrument like a Bible clothed in sackcloth. Undoubtedly, they are people. They are the witnesses of God [Revelation 11:3]. And we don’t know who they are. We have to wait and see.
All right, another astonishing and extraordinary thing about them; their resurrection and their ascension is beheld by the people of this earth [Revelation 11:11-12]. Now it is not an extraordinary thing that they are raised from the dead. Our Lord was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. The saints of the Old Testament who were buried around Jerusalem, they were raised from the dead after His resurrection [Matthew 27:52-53]. And some of these days, all of us shall be raised from the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]. That’s not extraordinary—not according to the Word of God. But what is extraordinary and unusual is this: this is the only instance where such a thing is ever wrought before mortal, human eye, where enemies and people looked at it [Revelation 11:11-12].
When our Lord was raised from the dead, no mortal eye saw Him. No one saw Jesus emerge from the tomb. And when our Lord was ascended up into glory, a few disciples were there to look upon Him [Luke 24:49-51; Acts 1:8-11], but His enemies never saw Him. There is no hint that this world will see our translation. When we are caught up into glory, when we are raptured to heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17], there is no other presentation in the Bible but that it is secretly done. The Lord comes like a thief to steal away His pearl of price [1 Thessalonians 5:2; Matthew 13:45-46], His jewels in the earth, we who are the shine and the diadem of His crown. Two of us working in a mill; one taken just like this, and the other left [Luke 17:35]. Two sleeping in a bed; one taken, and the other left [Luke 17:34]. Two working in a field; one taken, and the other left [Luke 17:36]. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump [1 Corinthians 15:52], it is done suddenly, furtively, secretly, quietly [1 Thessalonians 5:2]. It is done immediately, faster than the recognition of an eye. But here, it is done openly and boldly and emphatically. In the eleventh verse it says that they saw them when they were raised from the dead [Revelation 11:11]. And in the twelfth verse it says: “And when they ascended up to heaven . . . their enemies beheld them” [Revelation 11:12].
And there’s another unusual thing here. You have it translated here “They ascended up in heaven in a cloud” [Revelation 11:12]. That is very emphatic. They ascended up into heaven, en tē nephelē, in the cloud, a designated vehicle of God.” The Lord sent His golden chariots down for them, the shekinah of heaven, and they were caught up before the gaze of men, an astonishing and amazing thing! [Revelation 11:12].
Then another, and I must quit for the time is already gone. Then another line of the vision—all of this is proleptic, it’s before the time. “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ariseth out of the bottomless pit shall overcome them and slay them” [Revelation 11:7]. The beast does not appear until the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 13:1], and we’re here at the beginning of the eleventh chapter [Revelation 11:1-3]. This points to the first perspicuity, and the extraordinary unusualness, and God’s amazing importance, that He surrounds the witness and the testimony of these two unnamed servants of God [Revelation 11:3]. And their witness covers the entire great tribulation period, the last three and half years [Daniel 9:27; Revelation 7:14]. And yet, we’ve not even come to it yet. The Lord took out of that great and final judgment of God in this earth, the Lord took out the story of the witness of those two servants of God [Revelation 11:3-13]. And He wrote it beforehand. And He followed the entire period with them. And He set them forth isn’t that an amazing life of glory and unction and power before the gaze of the world.
And what does it mean? That’s the sermon next Sunday morning. And may the Lord bless this to us as we search the Holy Word, as we read these sacred Scriptures, and as God shall speak to our hearts His message for our day, for our time, and what we are to expect when He pulls aside the veil of the future.
O Lord, that we might be ready, our souls prepared, whether today or this evening, whether in the morning’s dawn, or whether at the end of the life, whether now or a thousand years from now. As God knows my heart, Lord, so come. So come. Amen [Revelation 22:20].
And that’s our invitation in the name of Christ, in His grace and love, for you today. You, somebody you give his heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]. Somebody you put your life with us in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25]. A family you, “Pastor, this is my wife. These are our children. All of us are coming.” Or a couple you, or one somebody, as God shall say the word, shall open the door, shall lead in the way, while we sing this song, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.