I’m not someone who tends to write about prophecy that often , but that is more because I consider it too important of a subject to deal with flippantly and casually than because of a disinterest in the subject. Today’s sermon discussed (among other subjects) the fact that it has been common for people to consider themselves one of the two witnesses. Most pastors have apparently met a dozen or more people who have claimed to be one of them (don’t worry, I’m not one of them). This puzzles me for a variety of reasons, most notably because the Bible is pretty harsh on self-appointed prophets, and because I do not happen to think that someone would really want to be one of the two witnesses if they really knew what it entailed. The first issue is one that deserves a larger analysis, as the problem of being a self-appointed authority apart from divine commission is a serious problem in the Church of God and gives people all kinds of perverse incentives to seek their own followings and disrespect authority. I feel it necessary to point out this problem at least briefly, although it is one that I wish to discuss in greater detail later. For now, let us just focus on why being one of the two witnesses is not exactly all that it is cracked up to be.
The first place to understand why this is the case is the passage that discusses the two witnesses in the most detail. There are other places one can go (if one wants to discuss the two lampstands in Zechariah and look at the cleaning necessary to become a servant of God), but these require dual meanings of a text and are more doubtful areas to look. It is sufficient to look at the indisputable source to understand why no one in their right mind and in the right spirit would want to be one of the two witnesses. Revelation 11:1-10 reads: “Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire. When they finish their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war against them, overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Then those from the peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations will see their dead bodies three-and-a-half days, and not allow their dead bodies to be put into graves. And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.”
In reading this account, it is clear that those who claim to be two witnesses are likely interested in the power these men have (granted by God) to smite the earth with plagues and stop the rain and so on. Yet putting to one side the lust for power and prestige that often comes with the office of prophet, particularly one of the two witnesses, and the fact that calling fire down from heaven willy nilly is not itself a godly thing to do (see, for example: Luke 9:51-56), there is a lot about this description that would be particularly painful for a godly person to endure. Let us remember that a godly person with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is not going to be someone who enjoys the suffering of others. God does not rejoice in the death of the wicked, and those who are like Him will not rejoice in it either. They will not find enjoyment in starving people and animals and in sending plagues on the earth, and neither will enjoy being isolated and subjects of hatred and ridicule for the whole world. They will not enjoy tormenting others, nor will they appreciate dying at the end of their mission, being denied graves, and having people celebrate their death. All of this is likely to distress a godly person who desires repentance as God does rather than be a badge of pride.
Being a prophet of God has often involved suffering. Because we have the Bible in front of us, and we know how God will reward and praise those who serve Him in such a conspicuous and courageous fashion, it is easy to forget that being a prophet of God is not a glamorous task. For one, God’s prophets, especially in a New Testament context , are part of an institutional framework for the building up for the brethren as a whole. Additionally, even godly prophets dealing with godly audiences give true prophecies that are ignored by the recipients. One only compounds the unhappiness of having one’s words twisted and their intents and purposes entirely disregarded when one is speaking to hostile audiences of unbelievers. It is hard enough to speak awkward and unpleasant matters with those who should be compassionate; to be a prophet to an ungodly people in a time of great trouble and crisis is not something anyone should wish for themselves. We should all prefer a happy and quiet and godly life with loving families, rather than lives of great peril and stress and drama, if we know what is best for us.
For me, one of the most unhappy matters of the fate of the two witnesses is the fact that they do not even get to have their bodies buried but those bodies are left on the street while people celebrate that their tormentors are gone. I know in my life I have felt very unhappy and distressed to have found out (usually indirectly) that I have caused torment to anyone else. As someone who has suffered far more than my fair share of torment, I would hope that no one would want to torment me either, even unintentionally or accidentally. Likewise, as someone who has been horrified by the abuse of dead bodies for entertainment purposes from people who were likely political prisoners (this is, perhaps understandably, an area of great personal sensitivity), I tend to view the refusal to bury bodies but rather make sport of them to be a deep sacrilege. One of the things I look forward to the most when this physical life is over is for death to be a rest from the suffering of life, and for my passing to be honored, even by those who may have been reluctant to honor me in life. I would hope most people would be unhappy to torment others or have their dead bodies subject to such disrespect.
Given the foregoing, it is unlikely that anyone who was a godly person would want to be one of the Two Witnesses. Someone with the Spirit of God in them working with them would not wish to take a title upon oneself that would bring deep trouble and torment to life. Such a person would not relish being isolated and viewed in a hostile way by the outside world, and would be reluctant to use power to harshly treat others, and more desirous that some should repent even at that late and evil hour rather than suffer the measure of God’s wrath. The sort of people who seek power and glory for themselves, who delight in being harsh towards others, and who do not respect authority are precisely the sort of people who are deeply unsuited for this important but very painful and unhappy job. No one who would do it well, and who would be suited for it, would appoint themselves to the job. God knows who He has in mind, and He’s not telling, and that is almost certainly for the best, for now. It is better that we let things be revealed in the time and situation that is best, for we will only err if we try to arrogate God’s freedom to choose whom he wills to suit His purposes by giving ourselves titles we have not been given and should not want.
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