Jul 20, 2017

Who Are The "Two Witnesses"? II

That Elijah is to be one of the two witnesses is generally acknowledged, at least by those who believe the "two witnesses" are to be interpreted as being individuals, and not as symbols of institutions or groups. But, the second of the two witnesses is not so commonly agreed upon. Some believe that the second of the two will be Enoch. Some believe he will be Moses. But, as stated in our first installment, I believe these to be wrong and that the evidence is rather clear that the other will be the Apostle John. Let me first give some introductory remarks on Revelation chapter eleven by J. A. Seiss, from his well known book "The Apocalypse," and then we will give the evidence he presents for Elijah being one of the two last prophets as foretold in Revelation chapter eleven.

J. A. Seiss, in his commentary of the Book of Revelation, in "The Apocalypse," lays out a good case for Elijah being one of the two witnesses. His book is available on the Internet here. I do not, of course, agree with everything in it. Particularly I disagree with his advocacy of the "pre-tribulation rapture theory," and his attempt to impose that theory on the Book of Revelation. Nevertheless I find his exegesis of Revelation generally very sound.

Before I cite what Seiss says about the prophet Elijah being one of the Two Witnesses, let me first cite what he had to say in his beginning commentary for the eleventh chapter of the Book of Revelation. Seiss wrote in chapter twenty two of his book these words (emphasis mine):

"WE here come upon ground which has been very trying to expositors—the great battleground of conflicting systems, and the burial-ground of many a fond conceit and learned fancy. Alford has given it as his opinion that the chapter on which we now enter “is undoubtedly one of the most difficult in the whole Apocalypse.” On all the prevalent theories for interpreting this Book, he is certainly right in this opinion, and the difficulties of which he complains must remain till those theories are abandoned, and another departure taken."

"If we were to take a description of a horse-mill, and insist on expounding it as a description of a mill-horse, no matter what qualifications we might bring to the task, we would find ourselves continually beset with difficulties and embarrassments which we never could fully overcome. And just so it is with nearly all our commentaries on the Apocalypse. It is not learning, ability, research or ingenuity that is at fault, but an underlying misapprehension of the nature and intention of the record. It is a description of one thing, and they are all the while trying to make it quite another thing. It is an account of the wonders of “The Lord’s Day” — the day of Judgment, and they propose to explain it of “man’s day” — the day of the present dispensation. God gave it as “The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ,” and they seek to interpret it as an apocalypse of human history. This is the great trouble. Nor is it to be wondered that the skin of the lion will not fit the ass, and that the ears of the inferior animal will stick out notwithstanding the most ingenious efforts to cover them."

Well, amen to that! About the fact that the events of the Book of Revelation have to do with "The Lord's Day," and with the "day of judgment," I will have more to say later. But, make no mistake about it, the appearing of the two witness prophets is in conjunction with judgment upon the world in that time called the "hour of trial" and tribulation that is destined to come "upon all the world," upon all those who dwell on the earth.

Seiss continues:

"It would, indeed, be affectation to pretend that there are no difficulties in the way of a satisfactory exposition of this Book, but I am well persuaded that the most of those encountered by our commentators, and which hinder thinking readers from seriously embracing their theories, are imported by themselves, in the primary mistake which wrests the record from its own proper subject, and applies it to another which is at best only remotely and inchoately embraced. Let it be fixed and settled that we here have to do with the scenes of miracle and judgment, and that this chapter relates to those grand and mysterious administrations by which Christ is to take possession of the earth and clear it of usurpers and enemies, and the way is open to understand all, so far as it is possible to comprehend such wonders beforehand."

Again, amen! Further, we may very well be on the verge of this unique period of time! Now, let me skip down in the commentary to the place where Seiss deals directly with the identity of the Two Witnesses. In commenting upon verses 3-4 he writes:

"WHOEVER these witnesses may be, they are the most extraordinary of whom there is any account. Many martyrs perish under the Beast (see Revelation 13:15, 20:4), but none of them receive a tithe of the notice given to these two. Antichrist himself, in all his despicable preeminence and vast dominions does not more conspicuously stand out on the record than they. Nay, in all the earth there are none to cope with him but them. He tramples the world beneath his feet, and they alone are more formidable against him than all other men besides. And this one simple fact is itself sufficient to shake and overthrow forever many of the modern attempts to identify them...These Witnesses are not presented to John in vision. They are described to him by the glorious Angel, who is the Lord Jesus Himself. The account we have of them is not John’s account, as in most other instances in this book, but it is Christ’s account, given in Christ’s own words. But few interpreters have remarked this, though a striking feature of the case, which shows that we here have to do with something altogether extraordinary and special."

These are excellent preliminary remarks. Now let us look at his particular commentary on what is said of these Two Witnesses and how he identifies one of them as the prophet Elijah.

Wrote Seiss:

"These Witnesses are two in number δυσὶν μάρτυσίν. This duality is three times repeated, and is an essential part of the record. As stated by Afford, “no interpretation can be right which does not retain and bring out this dualism.” Why two, we do not fully know. Both the law and the Gospel calls for two witnesses to establish important truth. (Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:16.) God generally sets his heralds and witnesses in pairs, as Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua, Zerubbabel and Jeshua, Peter and John, the twelve and the seventy, “two by two.” And in the trying circumstances here described, two could better uphold and console each other than one, without companionship."

Again, Seiss says:

"These witnesses are persons. Primasius says, though somewhat equivocally, “The Two Witnesses represent the Two Testaments preached by the Christian Church to the world,” and Bede, and Bishop Andrews, and Melchior, and Affelman, and Croly, and Wordsworth, and some others, have taken this view. But it is altogether a mistaken view, necessitated by the embarrassment occasioned by wrong conceptions of the Apocalypse, rejected by the overwhelming majority of interpreters ancient and modern, and utterly irreconcilable with the text. It is not true that the Old and New Testaments are preached to the world only 1260 days, or years, and then end their testimony; — that they are arrayed in sackcloth all the days they are preached; — that fire issues out of their mouths and kills those who will to injure them; — that there is no rain upon the earth during the days of their prophesying, — that they have power over waters to convert them into blood, or at will to smite the earth with plagues; — that they are capable of being killed by man; — or that indignity can be offered them, being dead, by refusing to allow them to be put into a sepulchre. Yet all these things are affirmed of these Witnesses. Nor is either the Old or the New Testament ever called a μάρτυς (martyr - SG) Ten times do we find this word in the New Testament, and in every other place but this, no one questions that it denotes persons. In more than fifty places in the Old Testament, the corresponding Hebrew word denotes persons only. These Witnesses prophesy. This is the work of a person. More than one hundred times does this word προφήτης (prophēteuō-prophesy - SG) occur in the Bible, and never, except once by metonymy, but of persons. These Witnesses wear clothing of sackcloth, of which we read much in the Scriptures, but always of persons. They work miracles and execute judgments, but nothing of the sort is ever predicted of anything but personal agents. Not without the greatest violence to language and fact, therefore, can we regard these Witnesses as other than real persons. The conclusion may be very damaging to some men’s cherished theories, but the integrity of God’s word requires it, and it is impossible to escape it with any just regard to the laws of language and the nature of things."

The fact is, there is no way that these two witness prophets can be interpreted to represent impersonal entities. The things said of these two prophets will not allow such. When I was with the Hardshell Baptists, many of them would affirm that the two witnesses represent "the church and the ministry." But, to try to make the things said of the two witnesses to fit these two groups is not possible, yea, even absurd. You cannot kill the church and the ministry. The church and the ministry do not prophesy, do not call fire down on their enemies, do not clothe themselves in sackcloth, etc. As Seiss said, "not without the greatest violence to language and fact can we regard these Witnesses as other than real persons." That should be an obvious fact to all. Only those who bring preconceived ideas to the text with the intent of making the text conform to those ideas would disagree.

Seiss wrote:

"These witnesses are individuals. No reader of the account, having no preconceived theory to defend, would ever think of taking them for bodies, or successions of people. All the early fathers, from whom we have any testimony on the subject, regarded them as two individual men. Two distinct and conspicuous bodies of witnesses for Christ, all prophesying in sackcloth through 1260 years, or even days, and all dying martyrs, as here represented, expositors have searched in vain to find in the history of the Christian ages. Such bodies of men, with such powers, and with such a history, have never existed. Modern writers have flattered themselves that they have found successions of people scattered through the middle ages, whom they would have us accept as The Two Witnesses of the text; but they have been obliged to purchase their conclusions at the expense of explaining away every distinct feature of the record, doing violence to the facts of history, and super-exalting almost every species of obscure and even heretical sects and sectarists as God’s only acknowledged prophets. This is by far too great a cost at which to accept a theory, which, even if true, would be totally unworthy of a place in so solemn and momentous a book as this Apocalypse. Good and able men have satisfied themselves with it; but, on the same principles of interpretation, there is not a chapter in the Bible, nor a doctrine of our holy religion, which could not be totally explained away."

Very well said! The very truth! I could not have said it better! It deserves little comment. This is why I like Seiss. He is very express and clear, hitting the proverbial nail on the head.

Seiss says next:

"...as these Two Witnesses die subsequent to their prophesying, we are driven to search for some saints in heaven, who never have died."

It is a common belief that the "two witnesses" must be Enoch and Elijah because these two saints did not die. This is why Seiss says what he does here. But, I do not know that such must be a criteria in deciding who is, and who is not, one of these two prophets. Those who believe that Moses is one of the two witnesses would not agree with such a criteria. Moses died, and if he is one of the two, then the criteria is proven false. Besides, there is no text that gives such a criteria in regard to their identity. However, if I am right, and the apostle John is one of the two prophets, along with Elijah, then a good case can be made that John fits such a criteria, as we will see later when we discuss the possibility of John being one of the two. Seiss, and others, assume that Enoch and Elijah are the only two saints who have not suffered physical death. But, as we will see, there is a good foundation for the belief that the apostle John has not died.

Wrote Seiss:

"Nor will our search be a fruitless one. The Scriptures tell of two noted prophets, who have now been thousands of years in heaven, and who, for aught we know to the contrary, are just as capable of death and resurrection as ever; especially if God has so arranged and intended. Need I say more plainly to whom I allude? They are so marvellously distinguished in the Scriptures from all others of the race, that it is at once suggested to the Christian mind who they are. They were, and still are, God’s preeminent witnesses. They were God’s most noted prophets while they sojourned upon earth, and, in the manner of their removal from among men, they are the only witnesses of the kind that God ever gave. One of them lived on the other side of the flood, “and was not, for God took him.” The other was a Jew, of the degenerate times of Ahab and Jezebel, who “went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” The one is ENOCH, the seventh from Adam; the other is ELIJAH, the Tishbite."

The only things to add here are two facts that I have already stated. First, there is no text that says that the two witness prophets have never died. Many infer it from the words of Hebrews 9: 27 which says "it is appointed unto man once to die." It is reasoned that these two witnesses must be two saints who have never died, for if it were otherwise, then it would be affirmed that the two witnesses died twice. But, this is not sound reasoning. First, because all those raised to life in the old testament, and those resurrected during the ministry of Christ, and by the apostles, all died again. They died twice. Therefore the Heb. 9:27 verse does not deny that some men will die more than once. Second, not every saint will even die once. Those who are "alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord" will not die even once. (See I Thess. 4:13-18 & I Cor. 15: 51-58)

Proof That Elijah Is One Of The Two

Seiss wrote:

"Turning back to the ancient prophets, we find this word: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of His coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years. And I will come near to you in judgment For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch...BEHOLD, I WILL SEND YOU ELIJAH THE PROPHET [the Septuagint, Arabic, and old Latin versions read ‘Elijah the Tishbite’] before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 3, 4.)...This is God’s own word — the closing word of the Old Testament. It names Elijah the prophet, even Elijah the Tishbite, and says that God will send him again upon earth, to minister among men as the forerunner of the great and terrible day of the Lord — the day of the final overthrow of all the hosts of the wicked."

The question for us is whether the coming of Elijah relates only to the first coming of Christ and whether John the Baptist fulfilled in toto the prophesy. Of course, just as there are two comings of Christ, so there are two comings of Elijah, as Seiss will affirm. Further, the Malachi passage cannot all be made to apply to the first coming of Christ alone. In fact, it primarily refers to the second coming of Christ. It is generally conceded by Bible scholars that the prophets of the OT did not clearly understand that Messiah would come two times, and often spoke as if all Messiah's work would be the result of one coming. Sometimes, even in one Messianic prophecy, there are things predicted that were not all fulfilled in the first coming, having some of the prophecy fulfilled in the first coming, and some in the second coming.

Wrote Seiss:

"Here, then, we would seem to come upon solid Scriptural ground. If Elijah means Elijah, and the great and terrible day of the Lord is the day of Christ’s final coming in judicial majesty to crush out Satan and his seed, there is no alternative left to believers in God’s word, but to receive the doctrine that Elijah is to come again to prophesy and execute works of judgment upon earth, and just in that period of time to which the Apocalypse assigns these Two Witnesses. Whatever else may be compassed by the prediction, and in whatever narrower circles it may have been fulfilled, if words are not utterly deceitful, and certainty can at all be predicated of God’s very specific promises, this prophecy cannot be considered fulfilled or accomplished in the past, nor until Elijah the Tishbite, in propria persona, returns again to the earth."

Again, Seiss states the case clearly. Elijah will return as a precursor to the second coming of Christ, and the prophecy of the two witnesses is the fulfillment of it.

Wrote Seiss:

"On the mount of Christ’s glorious Transfiguration Elijah appeared. The disciples saw him and knew him. And, as they were coming down from the mount, they asked the Master about this very point, alleging the doctrine of the scribes that “Elias must first come.” And He answered and said unto them: “ELIAS TRULY SHALL FIRST COME, AND RESTORE ALL THINGS.” (Matthew 17:11.) This passage is decisive. “The great Interpreter of prophecy gives right to that interpretation of the prophetic word which the scribes maintained,” says Trench. It cannot refer to John the Baptist, for John was then dead, while every part of it specifically relates to the future. “Elias truly shall come, and shall restore all things.” Besides, the restoration or “restitution of all things” (ἀποκαταστάσεως πάντων), in the which it is affirmed that the coming Elias is to take part, is specifically referred by the Apostle Peter to the time of Christ’s second coming. (Acts 3:19.) In all its terms and relations, therefore, we are compelled to accept this solemn declaration of the Saviour as looking to the future, and meant to set forth what yet awaited fulfilment. John the Baptist is here out of the question, unless indeed he is to come again. Dr. Stier has rightly said: “Whoever, in this answer of Christ, would explain away the manifest and striking confirmation of the fact that a coming of Elias was yet to take place, must do great violence to the words, and will never be able to restrain the future of their form and import so as to be applicable to John the Baptist.”

I certainly do agree with Seiss that "this passage is decisive." Jesus said "Elias truly shall first come and restore all things."

Wrote Seiss:

"But, it may be asked, Did not Christ say in the same connection, that Elias had come already, leaving it to be understood that He spoke of John the Baptist? The answer is, Yes; but in a way entirely distinct from the declaration we have just been considering. Elsewhere also he says of John: “If ye will receive [it, him, or something else] this is Elias, which was for to come.” (Matthew 11:14.) This proves that there is a sense in which John the Baptist was Elias, but certainly not such a sense as that in which the Jews were expecting Elias, nor yet such a sense as that in which He declared, after John was dead: “Elias truly shall first come and restore all things.” John was not the literal Elias. This we are compelled to admit, or else he did not tell the truth; for when the priests and Levites asked him, “Art thou Elias? “he answered, “I AM NOT.” (John 1:21.) And this clear and positive denial is further sustained by the facts

(1) that he did not restore all things as was predicted of Elias, and
(2) that the great and terrible day, which was to be ushered in immediately upon the finishing of the Elijah ministry, did not succeed the ministry of John, but is even yet future.

Again, Seiss argues the case well. John the Baptist was not the literal Elijah, and yet he fulfilled one aspect of the prophecy. In the person of the Baptist Elijah did come. Yet, not as literally as he will come just prior to the arrival of Christ.

Wrote Seiss:

"Whilst, therefore, there is a sense of much importance in which John was Elias, there is another, more literal, and equally important sense, in which he was not Elias, and in which Elias is still to be expected, according to the Saviour's own word."

"There was a twofold ministry embraced in the ancient promise to send Elijah, just as there was a twofold advent in the predictions concerning the Messiah. In neither case did the Old Testament clearly distinguish between these two, but viewed them both as if they were but one. And as the two Messiah-comings are widely separated in time, though belonging to one and the same work, so there are two Elijah-comings, equally separated in time, and equally comprehended in the predictions. Hence, John, as the forerunner of Christ in the first advent, was Elias, that is, he filled the Elijah place, operated in the Elijah spirit and energy, did for that occasion the Elijah work, and so far fulfilled the Elijah promise. As the angel said of him before he was born, he went before Christ “in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke 1:15-17); which implies that he was not Elias himself. The Saviour could, therefore, truly say of him while living, “If ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come, “and so likewise after he was dead,” Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed.” John the Baptist operated in the spirit and energy of Elias, and performed the Elijah mission for the first advent, and so far “was Elias,” but, according to the word of the angel, only the virtual, and not the literal Elias. He could accordingly answer the Jews, who had in mind the literal Elias, that he was not Elias, while yet, in another respect, he was Elias. In him the prediction in Malachi concerning the sending of Elijah had a true and real fulfilment, but only a partial, germinant, preliminary fulfilment, whilst the highest and ultimate fulfilment respects another advent of the Messiah, and the coming of the literal Elijah as the herald of it."

Again, Seiss is "right on." After forty five years of studying this matter, I am fully convinced of the truth as he has here expressed it. Elijah will clearly be one of the two latter day prophets as spoken of in Revelation chapter eleven.

Wrote Seiss:

"Such also is the view which the fathers took of the matter, and so they held and taught on the subject with great unanimity.

Justin Martyr says, “If Scripture compels you to admit two advents, shall we not allow that the word of God has proclaimed that Elijah shall be the precursor of the great and terrible day, that is, of His second advent? Accordingly our Lord in His teachings proclaimed that this very thing would take place, saying, that Elijah would also come. And we know that this shall take place when our Lord Jesus Christ shall come in glory from heaven; whose first manifestation the Spirit of God who was in Elijah preceded as herald in John.”

At this point Seiss cites more of the church fathers who affirm the same truth.

Wrote Seiss:

"And so likewise it was expected and believed, by both Jews and Christians, that the returned Elijah would be accompanied by some other great prophet of the olden time, who was almost uniformly believed to be Enoch."

But, as we will see in the next several installments in this series, Seiss is wrong on Enoch. But, he is not alone. It is the majority view that the two witnesses will be Elijah and Enoch. But, I firmly believe the second of the two witnesses will be the apostle John. The truth is not always held by the majority.

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