GOD’S TWO WITNESSES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-30-62 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled God’s Two Witnesses. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the last book, and in our preaching through the Revelation, we have come to chapter 11. And the last message delivered from the book concerned The Measuring of the Temple of God, which encompasses the first two verses of chapter 11. The sermon this morning begins at verse 3 and continues through verse 13. And if you would like to turn in your Bible, you can easily follow the text and the message, Revelation 11:3-13:
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 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 ariseth 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 an 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.
And after three days and an 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.
This is one of the most extraordinary and unusual of all of the recorded testimonies in the Apocalypse and of all of the things that are revealed in the Word of God. Everything about it is unusual and extraordinary. For example, there was never in record any two witnesses like these two. There is never delineated on the page of sacred story or in secular literature anything comparable to the record that is made here of these two prophets of God.
There are many, many martyrs slain under the reign of the beast, but none of them receive the beginning a tithe of the attention that is given to these two remarkable and unusual witnesses. Another unusual thing about it; all the visions in the Revelation John sees, he looks at them, and he writes them down. He hears the characters speak, and he writes down what they say—all except this one instance. John doesn’t see these two witnesses. They’re not presented to him in a vision. The angel that came down in glorious power from heaven, and in the name of the Lord Christ, lifted his hand and took possession of all creation; it is that representative angel of our Lord who tells John about these two witnesses. John doesn’t see them. The angel tells him about them and describes them and their course of ministry in the earth.
Another unusual and remarkable thing about this passage: evidently, most evidently, we are living here in a time and an era, in an age and a dispensation, altogether different from the age and the time of love and grace and forgiveness in which we are now living. Look at these two prophets. “If any one fellow wishes, desires, to hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies; and if any one fellow wishes, desires, has it in his heart, he would like to hurt them, he must in this manner be killed” [Revelation 11:5].
These prophets torment these, their enemies in the earth, and they burn them up, and they destroy them. That is the exact opposite of everything that we are taught in this present spirit and age of mercy and grace. Our Lord said:
Bless your enemies, and do good to them that persecute you. And if a man smites you on one side of your face, turn the other side of your face. And if he sues you at law to take your coat, give him your cloak also; or compels you to go a mile, go with him two miles.
[Luke 6:27-29, Matthew 5:40-41]
Or, as our great apostle Paul said, “Avenge not yourselves, but give place unto wrath. Therefore if your enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink” [Romans 12:19-20].
That was exemplified in all of the testimony and witness of our Lord and of His apostles. Our Lord was crucified. Yet He said there were at His command twelve legions of angels, but He did not use the power [Matthew 26:53]. He died without resistance [Acts 16:22-23]. Stephen was stoned praying God to forgive his enemies [Acts 7:60]. Paul and Silas were beat without resistance. Polycarp was burned at the stake. Antipas here in the Revelation was put to death [Revelation 2:13]. There is no refusal on the part of God’s apostles or of the Lord Himself to suffer at the hands of His enemies.
But this is an altogether different time, and different age, and different dispensation. This reminds us of the old theocratic rule, like in the days of Jeroboam I who built those golden calves at Bethel and Dan. There came an unnamed prophet and denounced the king as he worshiped at the golden calf. And when that unnamed prophet spake words of denunciation, Jeroboam reached forth his right hand to seize him, and when he did, his right hand withered, and he could not draw it back [1 Kings 13:4]. That’s like this.
Or as it was in the days of Elijah, when Ahaziah, the king of Israel and the successor of Ahab and Jezebel, when he sought to take Elijah, Elijah prayed fire to come down from heaven and it burned up the captain and his fifty men, and did the same thing again [2 Kings 1:10-12].
That’s like it is here. It’s an astonishing and an amazing thing! These two witnesses, who, if a man just has it in his heart to wish to destroy them, fire proceeds out of their mouth and burns them up [Revelation 11:5]: when you look at that closely, you will find those two things in the result of the ministry of our Lord.
The two psalms that especially describe the Passion of our Savior are Psalms 22 and 69. Both of the psalms at the beginning describe the sufferings of our Lord, and both of the psalms are quoted as our Lord dies on the cross. But beginning at verse 22 in both of the psalms, the result of that death of our Lord is diametrically opposite.
In Psalm 22, after the sufferings of our Lord are delineated, beginning at verse 22 there are blessings, blessings, blessings that flow from His sacrifice. And they are delineated here in verse after verse; all of the sweetness, and the goodness, and the praise, and the grace, and the forgiveness, and the love, and the mercies that flow from the sacrifice of our Lord. But when you turn to Psalm 69 and begin at verse 22 there, oh, the curses and the judgments! When you get through describing the sufferings of our Lord at verse 21—“They gave Me gall for My meat; and in My thirst they gave My vinegar to drink”—now when you get through at verse 21 in Psalm 69 describing the sufferings of our Lord, then comes judgment and vengeance upon His adversaries. Starting at verse 22, “Let their table become a snare before them”; verse 23, “Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not”; verse 24, “Pour out Thine indignation upon them, and let Thy wrathful anger take hold of them”; verse 27, “Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into Thy righteousness”; verse 28, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous”; and on and on.
The thing that happens is very apparent. In the sacrifice of our Lord and the pouring out of His life unto death, there comes grace, and love, and mercy, and forgiveness to all who will turn in love, in repentance, in faith, in acceptance, in worship, in praise, in adoration for what Christ hath done. But oh, there is another side to that, and there is another day coming to that!
Now, a man can spurn the overtures of grace with impunity. He can say no to Christ, no to God, no to the preacher, no to the invitation, no to the Holy Spirit, and he can walk out that door with impunity. There’ll be no wrath upon him. There’ll be no judgment upon him. There’ll be no curses upon him. There’ll just be more entreaty, and more waiting, and more appeal, and more hoping and interceding with God that he might turn and be saved. That’s now.
But, there is coming another day, and another hour, and another time, in which the man that has turned down the grace of God and the overtures of His love and mercy, when that man shall face the day of vengeance and of wrath and the judgment of the Almighty! All these things make you tremble. They make you tremble. They make you tremble.
It’s no slight thing for a man to say no to God, to tread underfoot the blood of the covenant wherewith He was sanctified, as an unholy thing, and to do despite to the Spirit of grace [Hebrews 10:29]. To us it may be seemingly a small thing to spurn the tears, and the blood, and the agony, and the sobs, and the cross of our Lord, but not before God! Someday God shall hold that man in account and shall judge him in a day of wrathful vengeance! [Hebrews 10:30-31]. Oh, my soul, my soul! And that’s this day. This is the day of the judgment of Christ-rejecting sinners. And it’s awesome and it’s fearful. But we must hasten. There’s so much.
Another unusual and extraordinary thing about this revelation [Revelation 11:3-4]; you would think that so distinguished and unusual prophets and witnesses of Christ would be named. Who are they? They are unnamed, and not only that, but as I have read and read and read, and studied and studied and studied, I do not think there is any man that has ever lived who can identify these two witnesses. Oh, the attempts that are made to do it! Most of the interpreters will say they are Enoch and Elijah, and the reason they say that is because of one passage of Scripture. Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men once to die,” so, going back into the Old Testament Scriptures, they find that there are two men in the Old Testament Scriptures who never died. One was Enoch [Genesis 5:24], and one was Elijah [2 Kings 2:11]. They were translated to heaven. And they believe just on the basis of that one passage that these two witnesses are Enoch and Elijah who’ve come back to the earth, and here they are slain, and they die according to Hebrews 9:27, that all men must die and face the judgment.
Now, to begin with, the generalization from that text is not true. All men are not going to die. We who are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall never taste of death. First Corinthians 15:52: “We shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump,” just like that. We are all not going to die. The generation of believers who is living when our Lord shall come will never taste of death.
Now, when you look at the passage, the miracles they are able to perform are characteristic of Moses and Elijah. They have “power to shut heaven that it rain not in the days of their prophecy,” that sounds like Elijah, and they have “power over waters to turn them to blood and to smite the earth with all plagues as often as they will” [Revelation 11:6]; that sounds like Moses in the land of Egypt.
Actually, these men cannot be named. We do not know who they are. They are Moses-like in their power. They are Elijah-like in their power. In the spirit and the might, in the anointing and unction from heaven of Moses and Elijah, these two witnesses stand in the earth, but who they are we do not know.
Now, I would suppose, following the text, that they are persons. They are two men. I would think that because, “I will give power unto My two witnesses” [Revelation 11:3]: martus, “witness,” martus. Martus is the Greek word for a man who is willing to lay down his life rather than give up, surrender the faith. So we got it into our English language as a man who lays down his life for his faith, a martyr. The Greek word martyr is a witness.
Now that word is used ten times in the Greek New Testament, and every time it refers to a person. The like word in Hebrew is used fifty times. And every time in the Hebrew it is used to refer to persons. Another thing, “And they shall propheteuo three and a half years” [Hebrews 11:3]. Now that word propheteuo, to prophesy is used more than a hundred times in the Bible, the Old and the New Testaments. And every time it refers to somebody, a man who delivers the message of God.
Then they are described as being “clothed in sackcloth.” And always without exception it is somebody who wears sackcloth. So apparently these two witnesses are two mighty servants of God whom the Lord raises up and whom the Lord presents in unusual power in those tragic and terrible and terrifying days.
All right, another unusual thing about them—look in these verses:
And 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 voice from heaven saying, Come up hither.
And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them.
And not only is it marvelous that these are resurrected—but that’s not a peculiar marvel or an extraordinary marvel, because we are all going to be resurrected and taken up to glory in an immortal body—the unusualness, the extraordinariness about this is that this thing is done publicly, openly. The people look upon it and see it. When our Lord was resurrected, no human eye beheld it. Nobody looked upon it. When Christ emerged out of that tomb, no mortal saw it.
When our Lord was ascended back into glory, only the eyes of a few close and chosen eyes beheld it [Acts 1:9-11]. When our translation comes, when the Lord comes for us, He is coming as a thief, and apparently there is no hint in the Word of God that when we are taken up to be with the Lord any eye shall ever see it. “Two shall be in a field working, one shall just be taken and the other left; two sleeping in a bed, one shall be taken and the other left; two grinding at a mill, one shall be taken” [Luke 17:34-36], just like that, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Nobody shall see it. It just is.
But this is so extraordinarily and unusually different. While the eyes of the wicked of this earth are looking upon their dead bodies, they come to life. They are resurrected! And while their eyes behold it, while their enemies are looking upon them, they ascend in that cloud [Revelation 11:11-12]. And the word nephele, in the “cloud,” in the shekinah glory of God, they ascend up into heaven, and those eyes that hate Christ look upon it and see it. It all is an astonishing thing!
Then one other unusual thing; all of this is proleptic. It happens before the time. “When they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the pit shall make war against them” [Revelation 11:7]. He does not appear until the thirteenth chapter of the Revelation, and yet the whole course of that last three and a half years, called the great tribulation, that whole course is depicted here in this story of the two witnesses, which emphasizes again the extraordinariness, the perspicuity, the unusualness, the emphasis that the Lord placed upon these two mighty representatives of Christ in the earth.
Now what is it that the Lord would have us know here? This is the middle of the prepared sermon, and I have about three minutes. We had better just stop and look at it next Lord’s Day. There’s a great, a tremendous revelation God hath for us in this passage, and I cannot even summarize it in two or three minutes.
So next Lord’s Day, we shall come and see what God means by these two witnesses in the earth; what it means for us today, and what it shall mean in the kingdom and patience of Jesus when the Lord shall take unto Himself His great power and reign in the earth. I do not know why it is I think I can do all this in thirty or forty minutes of time, but I never get away from the hope of being able to do it, and then never have I had an exception but that I’m disappointed in not being able to present it all. God bless the testimony of His Word and God bless our hearts as we read and see what God hath said for us.
Now while we sing our song of appeal, somebody you to give his heart to Jesus, somebody you to put your life with us in the circle of this precious church, a family you: “Preacher, this is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming.” As God would open the door and say the word of appeal, would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?