The two witnesses are a very popular topic in modern Christian circles. As events unfold around us, we can easily see that the time of the end is upon us, and, as such, many things contained in prophecy are sure to be fulfilled in the not-to-distant future.
Whereas we have, in this series, endeavored to explore the many aspects of the work of the two witnesses, most modern scholars see their work very simply: two prophets, preaching (first at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, then at the rebuilt temple), and breathing fire at their would-be tormentors.
Maybe most importantly, the focus is not so much on what they do, but on who they are. As was recently seen in a vastly popular end-times novel series and subsequent films, conventional wisdom boldly declares, "The two witnesses are Moses and Elijah!"
Moses is often named with Elijah as a probable candidate for one of the two witnesses. It is probable that this is a result of their appearance with Christ at the transfiguration. But is that a valid supposition? Can we know whether these two great, Old Testament prophets will return for mankind's final opportunity to take sides? Are there facts to support or refute this widely excepted statement? Is it even a premise that can be explored?
The Bible does indeed hold the keys to the identity of the two witnesses, and, as we look at each of the individuals often identified with them, and at various basic Scriptural truths, we can get a better understanding of what characteristics are required for this prophecy to be fulfilled.
Moses is near the top of the short list of probable witnesses. One of the greatest and most influential men of faith of all time. As I mentioned above, he was one of only two men who appeared at the mount of transfiguration, making quite an impact on the apostles of our Lord. As I have shown earlier in this series, Moses, with Aaron, are even an allegory of the work of the two witnesses in the last days. Could he be more than just a shadow? Could he be one of the two witnesses himself?
A key to answering this question is actually found, not in their lives and ministries, but in their demise. You see, the Bible discusses death in great detail, and there are fundamental truths that cannot be lightly dismissed.
One such truth is found in Hebrews 9:27, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." Another, found in Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, serves as a testimony to the state of someone that has died. "For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun." Again Paul said, in 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, "Wherefore we labour, that, ... we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad."
These scriptures, with others, show that you are born, you live your life, you die, and then you await the day of judgement. As is evidenced elsewhere in God's word, the exception to this are those that will be alive at the time of Christ's return.
John clearly records the death of the two witnesses in Revelation 11:7-11, "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 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."
It is obvious that the two witnesses' deaths will not be faked. For three and a half days, they will lie dead for all the world to see and rejoice, after which, they are resurrected with all eyes watching. This poses a problem if Moses is one of them.
In Deuteronomy 34:1-7, we find the events surrounding Moses' last days as the leader of God's people. "And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord shewed him all the land ... And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day. And Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated."
Clearly, Moses died. There is no mystery about this fact. He was 120 years old when he died, and he was buried by the Lord Himself. Therefore, as the scriptures declare, Moses is now waiting for the glorious return of Christ, and the time when he shall appear before the Lord to receive his reward according to his works. It is impossible for him to come back as one of the two witnesses, only to be killed and raised yet again. The word of God disqualifies Moses' candidacy. It must be someone else. Someone who has not died.
Anyone who has gone to Sunday School has likely learned of a couple such Bible heroes. One is Elijah, our other widely accepted candidate. The other is Enoch. Could these be the two that are to come? Let us take a look...
Elijah is another commonly accepted candidate for one of the two witnesses. Considering the biblical facts above which remove Moses from the list of potential witnesses, Elijah seems to be safe, since he went to heaven in a chariot of fire and did not die. Or did he? Let us take a look at Elijah's final moments.
"And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. ... And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. ... And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. ... And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him. And they said unto him, Behold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men; let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master: lest peradventure the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley. And he said, Ye shall not send. And when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, Send. They sent therefore fifty men; and they sought three days, but found him not" (2 Ki. 2:1-17).
Contrary to popular Sunday school teaching, a simple examination of this story shows that Elijah did not ride a chariot of fire into heaven. Verses 1 and 11 both show that Elijah was taken by a whirlwind. The chariot's job was to separate Elisha from Elijah, so Elisha would not be caught by the tornado.
Now when Elijah ascended in the whirlwind, did he go to heaven to stand before the Lord? The answer to that question is found in John 3:13, "And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." In Acts 2:34, Peter affirms this truth, "For David is not ascended into the heavens." If he did not go to heaven, where did he go?
What we do know is that Elijah's spirit rested on Elisha. Not on him only, but the angel said of John the Baptist, "He shall go before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elias" (Luke 1:17). This was in fulfillment of Malachi 4:5-6.
So, Elijah was gone, but his spirit was used by God in both Elisha and John to accomplish the Lord's work. According to the Scriptures, one explanation of how it is possible that the spirit of Elijah could be used in such a way is if Elijah were dead. James shows this in James 2:26, "The body without the spirit is dead." That would mean that the tornado took Elijah away and buried him in an undisclosed location. This would connect Moses to Elijah, since we are told that Moses' grave was never found (Deut. 34:6), and likewise Elijah's body (2 Ki. 2:17).
That being true, he would have already met his one-death requirement, and therefore would be ineligible to die as one of the two witnesses of a time yet future. Whereas the Bible explicitly says that Moses died, and that Enoch did not (as we will see in just a moment), it does not, in so many words, so clearly and concisely say what happened to Elijah, the old spiritual "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" notwithstanding.
However, if he never died, as many suppose, then he has already inherited immortality, and cannot die at the hand of the dragon. Subsequently, whether by life or death, he, like Moses, cannot be one of the two witnesses. Well, let us now consider the possibility of Enoch as one of these two last days prophets.
Not much is said about Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam. Of him, the Old Testament records, "Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him" (Gen. 5:21-24).
In fact, more is written about him in the New Testament than in the Old. In Hebrews 11:5, Paul said, "By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God." And Jude gave us some insight into the ministry of Enoch. "And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him" (Jude 1:14,15).
These passages show that Enoch was actually transformed into immortality. Jude mentions that Enoch's message pertained to the coming of our Lord. In that the Lord chose him to be transformed, we can connect his message with his transformation, seeing the future time when those proclaiming the imminent second coming of our Lord and Savior are changed to immortality in a moment in the twinkling of an eye.
That said, Enoch having been changed to immortality by faith, cannot possibly die at the hand of the dragon, seeing as how that would make his faith of none effect.
So, after careful examination of the facts, neither Moses, nor Elijah, nor even Enoch qualify to be the two witnesses. Likewise, no man that has gone "the way of all the earth," having died once already, can be brought back to taste death again. Neither can someone who has been changed to immortality be slain with the martyrdom of the two witnesses. We must therefore look beyond the common teaching that the two witnesses are Old Testament prophets, other biblical heroes, or even angels. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once said, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
Next month, we will summarize what we have learned in this series on the two witnesses, and take one more look at these prophets that shall come before the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.