by Greg Monroe on May 1, 2013
This article is an example of the “Historicist” method of apocalyptic interpretation. It’s not like the “Preterist’ method, which says all the book of Revelation’s prophecy was fulfilled in the first century. Nor is it like the current popular “Futurist” method that places Revelation’s prophetic events at the end of time.
The “Historicist” understands Revelation to be a revealing of events, people, and places that cover the continuous span of time from the past through the future. It is the school of thought that Protestants used up until the last 150 years or so.
Today, the movies, the books, and the preaching on most of the Christian TV networks portray the end-time two witnesses as Elijah and Moses. That literally can’t be the case though. For both have eternal life in glorified bodies. Therefore, they can’t be the ones that are killed, lying dead in the street as scripture describes.
The Bible itself, line upon line, precept upon precept, tells the true story. It accurately explains who these two figures represent. The two witnesses are the Word of God: the Old and New Testaments.
About the Old Testament scriptures, Jesus said, “It is they that bear witness to Me.” John 5: 39. Of the New Testament, it of course outlines the gospel. Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations…” (Italics mine) Matthew 24: 14.
Furthermore, in Revelation 11: 4, it’s said that the witnesses are “the two olive trees and two lampstands which stand before the Lord of the earth.” In Bible days, the primary source of fuel for lamps were olive trees. Psalm 119: 105 says that the olive oil lamp is symbolic of the Bible. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”
“I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11: 3.
It is during a period of forty-two prophetic months of persecution – actually 1260 years – that the two stood in sackcloth as witnesses to the truth. (42 prophetic months x 30 biblical days in a month = 1260 days. Using the prophetic day-for-a-year principle from Ezekiel 4: 6 and Numbers 14: 34, 1260 days = 1260 years.)
There are two biblical representations for wearing sackcloth. Firstly, during a time of repentance (Jonah 3: 5-9; Matthew 11: 21). Secondly, during a time of persecution, the loss of a loved one, or physical suffering (Job 16: 15).
For a period of 1260 years of inflicted spiritual blindness (including the dark ages); Bible prohibition in the hands of laymen; physical torture; and even murder; God’s two witnesses (the Bible) stood mourning in sackcloth. Yet they continued to prophesy the pure and simple message of “justified by faith only.” Also, as part of the message, was a call to repent from the terrible atrocities against God’s people.
During that period, the Roman church was one of the major perpetrators that killed and tortured those who had possession of a Bible, and/or those who dared believe the Bible over the church’s teaching.
Repentance was the farthest thing on the persecutor’s minds. In fact, Revelation 11: 10, says that those upset by the message of the two witnesses rejoiced over the harm they, the perpetrators, were causing to fall upon God’s faithful people. The verse goes on to say there was even merriment and gift giving among the persecutors.
One historical example is the infamous episode called the St. Bartholomew Massacre (August 24, 1572). Thousands of French Protestants were dragged from their beds and killed.
When the news reached Rome, there was much celebration. The cardinal of Lorraine rewarded the news bearer with a reward of a thousand crowns. Steeple bells rang; bonfires burned; and the Vatican even had a medal struck to commemorate the massacre.
In the book by Henry White, The Massacre of St. Bartholomew (1871), is this bit of revelation. Charles, the French king, listened to a French priest’s sermon who spoke of “that day so full of happiness and joy, when the most holy father received the news, and went in solemn state to render thanks to God…”
1260 years, as mentioned, is the time frame in which the two witnesses testify. 538 A.D. starts this period. It is the date at which the papacy gained undisputed authority when the last of the opposing Arian kingdoms lost control over Rome. Catholic supremacy in Rome then became a reality.
The papacy was then able to fully implement the prerogatives given to it in an earlier decree by Emperor Justinian. The decree had declared the papacy to have supremacy over all Christian churches. The Roman church’s height of power lasted to 1798 when Pope Pius VI was captured and taken to France and imprisoned by Napoleon’s General Berthier.
538 A.D. to 1798 equals 1260 years. During that period, an estimated 50-70 million believers who disagreed with the Roman church by holding to the testimony of Scripture were killed.
Power to Send Plagues and Fire
If anyone hurt the two witnesses, according to Revelation 11: 5, 6; they would be hurt by the witnesses sending fire and plagues. Understanding of what this means is found in Revelation 22: 18. “Everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book.”
It is God’s Word that has the power to bring plagues. That’s corroborated in Revelation 11: 6. “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.” That’s a direct reference and example of God’s Word being responsible for directing Moses and Elijah to bring plagues and drought upon the earth (Exodus 7: 20; 1 Kings 17: 1).
The two witnesses (God’s Word) have the power to call down upon their enemies the same plagues that first fell on Egypt, as well as any of the plagues in the book of Revelation.
As the result of the persecutors’ attempt to substitute the light of the Bible with their own light, there have been many plagues (with more to come), many wars, much bloodshed.
The fire spoken of in Revelation 11: 5 is in the future. Those who persist in coming against the witness of Scripture will be destroyed in the lake of fire (Revelation 20: 15).
A Beast Rises From the Bottomless Pit
“When they (the two witnesses) have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war against them, and overcome them and kill them” Revelation 11: 7.
The Bible explains a beast as a power or kingdom (Daniel 7: 17, 23). This nation, then, would have to be a power that seeks to destroy the Scriptures near the end of 1798. The nation that manifested this power at that time was France. Among the Western European nations, France, along with papal Rome, was a major persecutor that was against God’s Word.
From 1793 to 1798, during the French Revolution, the power of atheism was particularly popular in France. Religion was shunned, even forbidden. Bibles were thrown into the streets and became fuel for bonfires throughout the country.
The Age of Reason was established. In this way, the two witnesses were “killed” and lay dead in the street for 3-1/2 prophetic days (Revelation 11: 8, 9), which again, due to the day-for-a-year formula, translates to 3-1/2 literal years.
The Great City
“And their bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified.” Revelation 11: 8.
This doesn’t refer to a literal city. Many commentators identify the “great city” as symbolic, keeping it within the context of figuratively representing France as the beast power. This isn’t unusual. For instance, Revelation 18: 10 represents Babylon – a country – as a city.
The expression “where also our Lord was crucified” is a spiritual figure of speech that’s really saying “killing the Word of God.”
In line with that, when there is a turning away from the truth of God’s Word, Hebrews 6: 6 says “they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold Him up to contempt.”
Sodom is symbolic of moral degradation.
Egypt is symbolic for both defying God’s commands and the denial of God’s existence. For example, Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice…? I know not the Lord.” Exodus 5: 2.
The spiritual condition and attitude of both Sodom and Egypt were characteristics found in France’s leaders.
“Now after 3-1/2 days (years), the breath of life from God entered them, and they (the witnesses) stood on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them.” Revelation 11: 11
On January 21, 1793, the French Assembly voted and abolished religion in France. However, the vote was overturned and religion reinstated on June 10, 1796. That’s a period of 3-1/2 years, after which time it was decided that reason alone doesn’t work.
During the 3-1/2 years of the witnesses’ death, scores of the country’s most scholarly and talented citizens – teachers, businessmen, artisans, politicians – were killed, or left the country as a result of their faith. Leadership to govern the country was sorely needed.
Seeing how God’s Word prevailed in France, reverence for the Bible was restored in many other nations.
A Great Earthquake
“In the same hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. In the earthquake, seven thousand people were killed, and the rest were afraid and gave glory to the God of heaven…” Revelation 11: 13, 14.
This too is seen by some commentators as figurative. The earthquake is identified as the upheaval of crime and destruction that shook the nation of France toward the close of the 18th century. (The number seven throughout the Bible symbolizes completeness. In this instance, it represents the totality of the thousands affected by the figurative earthquake.)
The Age of Reason came to be branded by others around the world as an example of what can happen when a nation turns from God. That acknowledgement opened the door to the Word being revived.
The Witnesses’ Ascension to Heaven
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them (the witnesses), ‘Come up here.’ And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud and their enemies beheld them..” Revelation 11: 12.
The British Society was formed in 1804. The American Bible Society was formed in 1816. Since those times, the Bible has been made available to those who couldn’t afford it before. Throughout the world, the Bible was brought back to life after being suppressed.
God’s two witnesses – the Old and New Testaments – did indeed rise to the heavens. Their content is broadcast on TV and radio frequencies via satellites in the sky.