The Two witnesses is The Bible itself. The Old Testament and the New Testament.
I am a historicist student of Bible Prophecy The persecution of the Papacy was so great that it did not allow The Protestant Reformation to gain a foothold in France So when The French Revolution began, They outlawed the Bible for 3 and a 1/2 years. They became a godless atheistic society who called a street whore the "goddess of Reason" Now a day equals a year in Bible Prophecy, so 3 and a 1/2 literal days equals 3 and 1/2 literal years It also states that they dies in Sodom and Egypt "Where our Lord was crucified. Sodom and Egypt were symbolic for two reasons Sodom for their sexual immorality and lasciviousness and paganism, and Egypt for it's direct defiance of the TRUE God Yahweh "Who is the LORD that I should let Israel go?" The scriptures declared after 3 1/2 days they would be resurrected and taken to Heaven to Never taste death again. Exactly 3 1/2 years after the ban on the Bible, the French Government allowed the Bible to circulate again and thanks to the British Bible Society, The American Bible Society, and the Foreign Bible Society, The Word of God will never be silenced again
Who do you are the Two Witnesses of Rev. 11?
the Law and the Gospel.
or Moshe and Hu (ka-Moshe).
the rule of the Law and Conscience shall be the ones to 'convict' or 'acquit', ...the Jews first then the gentiles.
I read 2 well written articles connecting them to John and Nathan/Bartholomew --
Then the voice that I had heard from heaven spoke to me once more: “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land.” So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.” I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour. Then I was told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.”
I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months. And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. (Revelation 10:8-11:1-3)
Chapters 10 and 11 are not typically tied together when analyzing the Revelation, however there is a very good reason to do just that, since they are intimately related and intended to be read as a unit. So in this post, we’ll examine what John is told to do, and why, and then transition into one of the favorite topics of debate for many eschatology buffs; the potential identity of the two witnesses. And the conclusions indicated in this post will almost certainly run contrary to everything you have ever been taught about this topic.
“Sweet As Honey”
Once again we turn our attention toward the ‘little scroll’ that Jesus held open in His hand. As described in Part 49 of this series, this ketubah lay open in Jesus’ hand because He had been reading the sealed provisions that it contained, which were described in Part 2. These provisions included glorious rewards for those who were obedient to the covenant, but eternal punishment for those that were disobedient and had violated the covenant. And you may also recall that these provisions were based on the Word of God, as found in the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Torah. Given that, when we read that the scroll tasted “sweet” in John’s mouth, we note that the Psalmist said God’s word tasted “sweeter than honey”;
“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalms 119:103)
Honey DripperThis appears to be the point that John was making, that the word of God tasted sweet in his mouth as he ate the scroll. This symbolism would have been well understood by the Hebrew culture of John’s day, since priests would have their students dab a little honey on the corner of their torah scroll that they were about to study, and then instruct the student to tear off that corner and eat it. This provided an indelible memory for the student, enforcing the point that God’s word would be “sweet” to the taste. It also taught them that only by figuratively consuming the word of God could one make it part of them. However, we have to remember that God’s word also contained bitter judgments against the wicked;
“Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the LORD your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty.” (Jeremiah 2:19)
God’s word contains judgments against those that would violate it’s provisions, and therefore the ketubah does as well, since it is based on God’s word. So it’s no surprise that John’s stomach turned “bitter” after ingesting the scroll. The bitterness was a reminder of all of those that would forsake the Lord and be lost for an eternity, and this is the bitterness that John was feeling.
“You Must Prophesy Again”
It seems quite intriguing that John is told he must “prophesy again” immediately after hearing the seven thunders - that only he heard and only can repeat - but right before the account of the two witnesses begins. Rather than being a coincidence, I believe it is quite intentional, and is meant to establish John in a special role that is in our future.
To understand that role, we can look to the Bible for a ‘type’ that would fit what happened to John in this instance, and we find this type in the life of Ezekiel as he began his ministry to Israel. He was shown the same double-sided scroll with the same words of judgment (Ezekiel 2:9-10), and he was told to eat the scroll, which tasted sweet in his mouth (Ezekiel 3:3). But the key to this type is that Ezekiel was then sent to minister to the house of Israel that was in exile;
“Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says,’ whether they listen or fail to listen.” (Ezekiel 3:11)
So, if John is following in Ezekiel’s footsteps as the type would suggest, wouldn’t it make sense that he too would be preaching and prophesying to an Israeli people in exile? I think so. And I personally believe he will perform this role as one of the two witnesses during the tribulation period. But if that doesn’t seem like a logical argument, notice the parallels between Ezekiel’s experience and John’s experience in the Revelation, presuming for a moment that John is one of the two witnesses;
The Prophet Ezekiel The Apostle John
1/2 of Jerusalem had been exiled 1/2 of Jerusalem will be exiled (Zech 14:2)
1/2 of Jerusalem was still in the land 1/2 of Jersusalem will still be in the land
Ezekiel saw throne, likeness of God John saw throne, likeness of God
Ezekiel fell facedown John fell facedown
Ezekiel was shown scroll, unrolled John was shown scroll, unrolled
Ezekiel was told to eat the scroll John was told to eat the scroll
The scroll tasted sweet in Ezekiel's mouth The scroll tasted sweet in John's mouth
Ezekiel was told to speak to Israel in exile Two Witnesses will speak to Israel in exile
God made Ezekiel unyielding God will make Two Witnesses unyielding
Ezekiel prophesied the siege of Jerusalem Two Witnesses prophesy siege of Jerusalem
God brought plagues on Israel Two Witnesses will bring plagues on Israel
2/3 perished, 1/3 remained 2/3 will perish, 1/3 will remain (Zech 13:8-9)
Believers were 'sealed' before Jerusalem fell 144,000 are 'sealed' before Jerusalem falls
Jerusalem fell while some were in exile Jerusalem will fall while some are in exile
Temple was defiled Temple will be defiled
God restored their hearts God will restore their hearts
God returned Israel to their land God will return Israel to their land
While this list of comparisons in no way includes all of the potential parallels, it makes the point sufficiently that Ezekiel's past experience may have been the type for John's future experience.....as one of the two witnesses.
“But Exclude The Outer Court”
Temple DiagramIn this vision, John is given a measuring rod and told to measure the temple and altar, but to “exclude the outer court” because it had been given to the Gentiles. The outer court included all of the area surrounding the actual Temple complex, however the most prominent area for gentiles was actually south of the temple, as shown on the adjacent illustration.
This is an interesting statement relative to the current disposition of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, since there currently is no temple and no altar. However, the measuring rod suggests construction when noted in scripture, so it is likely that John was being shown the future temple just after its construction - the temple where the two witnesses will prophesy for 1,260 days dressed in sackcloth.
When considering where the former temples had been on the temple mount, and where the future temple likely will be built, I would tend to favor the northern conjecture just north of the Dome of the Rock, where the Dome of the Tablets currently exists. This prospective location is seemingly the only place the temple could have existed based on the writings of Josephus, which is another post in itself. But the point is, if the temple was built on the northern third of the mount where the Dome of the Tablets exists, then it’s outer court or Court of the Gentiles to the south of the Temple would include the current Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque. In other words, the outer court has ALREADY been given to the gentiles today, in partial fulfillment of John’s vision.
So, could the temple be far behind? And if so, was John shown a picture of this reality in order to prepare him for his future role as one of the two witnesses? Before you reject this notion, considering the following prophecies contained in scripture.
“If I Want Him To Remain Alive”
The gospel of John contains an interesting passage that is always overlooked in this discussion. To set the scene, the resurrection had already occurred and Jesus was walking with Peter and re-instating him after his three denials. Jesus then tells Peter that he will be martyred in the future. Hearing of this, Peter turns back to look at John, who was walking behind them on the trail, and asks Jesus about John‘s future. Jesus then drops this lightning bolt;
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22)
This statement is largely ignored, but at the very least, it suggested that John would live until Christ’s return. That would be the natural assumption, and the next verse certainly suggests that the other disciples saw it that way;
Because of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. (John 21:23)
So the disciples clearly understood what Jesus was suggesting. They naturally presumed that John would not die. However, the next part of this verse indicates that John would indeed die, but just not until Christ’s return;
But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:23)
So what are we to make of this? Frankly, it seems to fit the death of the two witnesses perfectly, since the two witnesses will “remain alive” until the time of Christ’s return, but will be killed and then resurrected after 3½ days. (Rev 11:7-11).
At this point, some of you are naturally thinking that John must have died many centuries ago and couldn’t possibly be alive to perform this role. But couldn’t God have kept John alive for the past two thousand years if he wanted to? After all, our bodies were designed to be immortal until sin entered the world. So, is God too small to do such a thing?
Did John Actually Die?
It’s notable that part of the lore of the Apostle John is that some maintain he never died. It was the Roman emperor Domitian that likely banished John to the Isle of Patmos in the Mediterranean Sea, where he then wrote the book of Revelation. Apochryphal traditions state that the Romans attempted to boil him in oil and even poison him, but that in each instance he was saved by the Lord. It seems that the Lord had determined that John would "remain alive" for some reason.
Johns TombBut what I find the most curious is that when John's tomb in Ephesus was exhumed many centuries after his supposed death.....there was no trace of John. Many of the supposed bones of other various apostles have been collected and scattered around the world to various religious and archaeological groups, but not John’s. While English archaeologists have been blamed for their disappearance from his tomb, his bones have never been displayed in England or anywhere else in the world. Additionally, no relics of John appear either. These items would be worth literal fortunes to their owners, and would surely have turned up for display or auction at some point if they existed. But they have not turned up anywhere in the world. In his book ’The Search for the Twelve Apostles’, Dr. William Steuart McBirnie addresses this when he states;
“This is a strange denouement. Some relics of all other Apostles still exist, but the grave of John, which is perhaps the best attested of any Apostolic tomb by history and archaeology, contains no relics, nor are there any historical traces or traditions of what may have become of them!”
This is rather odd, given John’s importance to the church. After his release from Patmos, John returned to live in the city of Ephesus, where he was active in that church. According to tradition, Jerome stated that after returning to Ephesus, John “worn out by old age, died in the ‘sixty-eighth year after our Lord’s passion and was buried near the same city.” Another tradition handed down by Jerome stated that, as an old man, John would have to be carried to the church in the arm’s of his disciples, and would say no more than “Little children, love one another!” There are even more traditions, however I wonder why the circumstances of his death and funeral were never recorded or made public.
Could it be that there was no funeral because John is still alive? I think so. Given his high profile in Ephesus, his death would likely have been recorded, and his tomb certainly would have contained his bones. But I believe the reason that John is still alive is that he has yet to "drink the cup" that Jesus assigned to him.
“Can You Drink The Cup?”
In the gospels, Jesus warned James and John of their future martyrdom when He told them they would “drink the cup” that Jesus himself would have to drink. You may recall that James and John made a special request of Jesus to sit at His right and left hand in heaven, at which time the following conversation ensued;
“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” (Mark 10:38-40)
While there is some debate as to what this cup was intended to signify, I think Jesus made it’s intended meaning rather clear with his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before he was arrested and crucified;
Cup of WrathHe went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)
Jesus was obviously asking the Father to find another way for our redemption, if possible, other than His drinking of the cup of God’s wrath (Isaiah 51, Jeremiah 25, Jeremiah 49:12) that was appointed to Him at the cross to cover the sins of the world. And James and John were told that they would drink from this same cup of wrath. In other words, they too would be martyred for their testimony. And that’s exactly what happens to the two witnesses.
So, while we know that James drank this "cup" since his death was recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:2), we also know that John’s death was not. At least, not yet. He certainly did not die as an old man “worn out by old age” as tradition holds, because Jesus himself told us that John would die a Martyr’s death.
“Some Who Are Standing Here…”
One thread that we see running throughout the New Testament is the notion that the disciples believed they would live to see Jesus return to set up His earthly kingdom. And they felt that way because He kept telling them this very thing. So we‘ll now turn our attention to several statements Jesus made that confirmed this point, beginning with the following;
Jesus and Disciples“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:27-28)
This seems fairly straight-forward to me, since the audience “standing here” was clearly the disciples. In essence, Jesus was telling them that some of them would live to see His return. And while the subject of this prophecy is debated somewhat, note that it has three components;
1) Jesus will return in glory with his angels
2) We will be rewarded (Rev 11:18)
3) Jesus will come in His kingdom (Rev 11:15)
This obviously sounds a lot like what we just studied in Revelation 10 and 11, and it should, since it’s a reference to the end of the age when Jesus would return with his angels to gather his saints;
“And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” (Mark 13:27)
This shouldn’t be confused with the transfiguration that is described in Matthew chapter 17, since none of the components of this prophecy were fulfilled with that event. Nor do I believe it should be viewed as His return as seen by John in the Revelation, which some commentators have linked it to. Only John saw that vision, not “some” as would be required. Instead, why not just take the statement literally, and accept that Jesus indicated some of the disciples would live to see His return?
“To the Very End of the Age”
The book of Matthew contains another interesting statement that concerns the longevity of some of the disciples, though it is not generally thought of in this manner. The setting for this passage is after the resurrection of Jesus, where the risen Christ instructs Mary and Mary Magdalene to have the disciples meet him at Galilee. At Galilee Jesus makes this statement to his disciples;
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
Today commentators assume that this last sentence must have applied to some distant future generation of the church, not the disciples. After all, it couldn’t possibly apply to a generation of disciples that must have long since passed, right?. But have they? If we analyze the basic grammar used in the sentence, it would seem that Jesus was telling the disciples that they would be evangelizing “to the very end of the age.” But for that to be possible, some of them would have to remain alive to the very end of the age, which dovetails perfectly with the statement Jesus made about John remaining alive "until I return", and also with the statement that some "would not taste death" before they saw Jesus return. But there are even more hints at the longevity of a few from this generation.
“This Generation Will Not Pass Away”
For our next clue, let’s return again to the Olivet Discourse. When Jesus was prophesying about all the things that would happen at the end of the age, he made a statement that was directed specifically at those in Jerusalem at that time, including the disciples;
“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21:32-33)
It is typically thought that the term “this generation” must point to some future generation that will be alive at the time of Christ’s return, since it is naturally thought that everyone from the 1st century must be dead. However, in the 18 times that Jesus used this term is used in the New Testament, He always referred to those alive in Jerusalem and/or Israel at that time. In no other instance did He ever use this term to refer to some distant generation. So why would we presume it refers to a distant generation in this instance?
If it WAS intended to refer to those in Jerusalem at that time - that not all of them would pass away until they saw the return of Jesus - then it means that some of those alive at that time would still be alive today. And since only the disciples were present to hear this statement from Jesus, why not simply take it on it’s surface level, that Jesus was talking to the disciples and telling them that THEY were the part of this generation that would not pass until all these things had happened? Indeed, there is even another clue to this longevity if we look further into this same passage;
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” (Luke 21:34-35)
Christ was issuing a warning to His disciples about an ominous day in the future, a day that can only be associated with the Glorious Appearing when Christ returns for his saints. He was warning the disciples not to be weighed down with their long life, or they may fall victim to temptations and return to being worldly people. He then issued this additional warning about the perils that would lead to that day;
"Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36)
To "stand before the Son of Man" the remaining disciples would have to remain faithful until the end, when I believe two of them will “stand” and lift up their heads for their redemption.
"Stand Up and Lift Up Your Heads.."
Since we’ve been reading from the Olivet Discourse, let’s looks at something rather unusual that it contains, in the book of Luke. After describing the signs in the sun, moon and stars occur that will precede the coming of Jesus to the earth, we then read the following;
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25-28)
I find it very interesting that the Lord would insert “stand up and lift up your heads” into His discourse at this point, right before mentioning their “redemption”. In fact, I find it compelling, since that is the exact thing that the two witnesses will do when they are resurrected;
But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here.” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. (Revelation 11:11-12)
In the Olivet discourse we read the following order of events;
1) There will be signs in the sun, moon, stars
2) Jesus will appear
3) The disciples will “stand up"
4) Their redemption will follow
Then, in the Revelation we see the same order with the two witnesses;
1) Signs in the sun, moon, stars (sixth seal)
2) Jesus will appear (Rev 10)
3) The two witnesses stand up
4) They are redeemed
“You Will Not Finish..”
Finally, when Jesus was sending out the Twelve, He made the following statement;
“All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:22-23)
Once again, we find another passage that is highly provocative at the least. This passage suggested to the disciples that they would live to see Jesus, the “Son of Man”, coming again at the time of the end. With that in mind, Jesus then tells them they would “not finish going through the cities of Israel” before that event happened. So obviously, the disciples would have thought that their mission to evangelize Israel would be ongoing until Jesus returned. Why would they believe differently?
the 2nd part
Despite the biblical evidence given in the previous post, most will still find it difficult to believe that any of the disciples could still be alive today, and frankly, I understand. But would this really be a difficult thing for God to do? After all, mortal man lived almost a thousand years prior to the great flood, and will also live that long or longer during the millennial age. Plus, we were designed to live for an eternity in these bodies before sin entered the world, and we will live for an eternity in our glorified bodies once we are redeemed at the end of this age. All that is required is the will of the Sustainer.
Unfortunately, our pre-conceived notions of what is 'possible' almost requires that we consider alternate meanings for those prophecies in the previous post. We seemingly just cannot accept the possibility that at least two of the disciples are still alive, so we have to create different meanings for certain prophecies in order to make sense of them.
For instance, Instead of looking at the statement "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?" and seeing John living until the return of Jesus, we interpret this as a sarcastic rebuff to Peter. Why not simply believe that John will really remain alive until Christ returns?
Instead of looking at Jesus’ pronouncement that "you will drink the cup I drink" and seeing John being martyred as Jesus was, we presume that John died a natural death, completely ignoring the fact that Jesus was prophesying about John’s eventual martyrdom.
Instead of looking at the statement "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" and seeing some of the disciples living until the end of the age, we reason this must have been the 'transfiguration' instead (which does not fulfill this prophecy in any case). Why not just believe that some of the disciples would live until Jesus’ return?
Instead of looking at the statement "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" as comforting words directed at the disciples to bolster those remaining during their centuries of ministry on earth, we feel the need to re-direct this statement toward some future generation of saints. Why not just believe what Jesus said, and anticipate that some of the disciples would live to the very end of the age. After all, that’s what they believed.
Instead of looking at the statement "this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened" and seeing the longevity of some of the disciples, we again feel the need to point to some other distant generation. Why not simply take this statement at face value and believe that the generation that included the disciples would not completely pass away until those things happened.
When we look at the statement concerning the two witnesses that "they stood on their feet", we should realize that this could very well be the culmination of Christ’s advice to the disciples, when He said "stand up and lift up your heads" in anticipation of redemption.
Finally, when we read Christ’s statement that "you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes", we assume that they wouldn’t finish because they would die first. Instead, why not simply believe that they will still be doing this when Jesus returns?
If we simply taken these scriptures at their primary, literal meanings, without inserting any pre-conceived notions, then we must allow for the possibility that at least two of the disciples would live to the end of this present age. We don’t need to jump through any scriptural hoops to make them bend and fit into other scenarios that lead to very ‘unfulfilling‘ fulfillments. But if this arguments for John in this role has not persuaded you just yet, there is more.
John, The “Lampstand”
History records that the Apostle John returned to Ephesus after his exile on the isle of Patmos, and that he was a bishop in the church at Ephesus until his supposed death. So, in an interesting twist that may refer to John himself, the letter to the Church at Ephesus in the Revelation reads as follows;
Two Witnesses - John“Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2:5)
The opening chapter of the Revelation makes it plain that a ‘lampstand’ is symbolic for a church. What is interesting here is that the letter to Ephesus is the only letter where a lampstand is mentioned. The other churches were not warned that their lampstands would be removed, so why only Ephesus? Well, this makes perfect sense if we consider that the two witnesses were also considered lampstands by the Lord;
“These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” (Revelation 11:4)
I wonder if the church at Ephesus being told that their witness and lampstand - John - would be removed if they did not repent? Perhaps, particularly since it appears that John was in fact removed from that church, which no longer exists today. But this letter to the church at Ephesus may go even deeper into the imagery of John as one of the witnesses with this final exhortation;
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)
It seems ironic to me that the "tree of life" - the symbolic source of our ultimate immortality - is mentioned here to John’s own church at Ephesus. Could it be that this reference was an additional clue about John’s longevity in this age? Perhaps, perhaps not. But if this sounds too far fetched, just remember the words of our Lord and Sustainer as spoken in Matthew 16:28;
“I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28)
Since the Lord said that "some" who were standing there would not taste death until He returned, then there was at least one other…….
When we go down the list of the remaining disciples, we find either a biblical account of their martyrdom or a tradition pertaining to their martyrdom, so it is thought that all of the disciples passed long ago. But let’s remember that these same traditions also record a supposed natural death for John, in direct contradiction to the biblical clues that say he was to be martyred and the physical evidence (or lack of it) that say this hasn't happened yet. Given this, we should approach these traditions with a certain amount of skepticism, and follow the biblical clues instead. When we do this, there is another disciple that Jesus singled out with some rather provocative statements, and his name was Nathanael (“Gift of God”).
It must be noted that the disciple that John calls Nathanael is likely the disciple that is also known as Bartholomew in the other gospel accounts, and this is almost universally agreed upon by scholars. The Gospel of Matthew pairs Philip and Bartholomew together, while the Gospels of Mark and Luke refer to Bartholomew immediately after referring to Philip. However, John refers to Nathanael as being paired with Philip. Therefore, the circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that this disciple was known by both names.
Having two names was not unusual when reading about God’s anointed. For instance, the Lord gave Simon the additional name Peter, Saul was re-named Paul, Abram was re-named Abraham, and Jacob was given the name Israel, just to name a few. The point is that, in each instance, the Lord provided these new names based on a spiritual truth pertaining to the role that they would fulfill. Therefore, while it quite possible that this was merely Nathanael's surname, it’s also quite possible that it was given to him by the Lord for a reason. But more on that in a few moments.
Assuming that Nathanael was indeed Bartholomew, then we have to point out that the traditions surrounding his supposed death are quite varied and speculative throughout the world. For instance, some traditions claim that he preached the gospel in India, where he brought along a copy of Matthew’s Gospel, written in Hebrew. Others state that he preached in Parthia, or modern day Iran. Another tradition has him preaching in Armenia, where their tradition states he was martyred. Still another tradition has him preaching in Asia Minor, or modern day Turkey, where he escaped death at Hierapolis, the place where his partner Philip was supposedly martyred during the same mission. Another tradition states that he was martyred in Alban, which is modern Derbend in the former Soviet Union. This could correspond with the tradition noted in ‘The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew’ that states he was martyred in Armenia, where he was supposedly placed in a sack and cast into the sea. However this contradicts another account in the ’Apostolic History’ of Abdias that claims he was flayed alive and crucified in India, head downward, by Astyages, the brother of the king (who just happened to be a Christian). But in a Roman Catholic summary called the ‘Lives of the Saints’, we find Bartholomew being flayed alive by King Astyages, who now apparently is not the brother of the king after all, but actually the king himself. Finally, another account describes Bartholomew as being flayed alive before being beheaded.
I think you can see the point here; all of this contradictory information suggests that perhaps nobody knows what really happened to Nathanael/Bartholomew. Some of his relics and bones are supposedly contained in areas of Mesopotamia and Rome, however there seems to be no single credible account of his death. The Bible certainly does not indicate his death, and secular history disagrees and contradicts itself on several counts. So perhaps he wasn’t martyred after all. I presume that this is the case, based on the words of Jesus himself, which point to something Nathanael would most likely only be able to see during the end times. So let’s explore what Jesus told him.
"A True Israelite"
When we read the accounts of the calling of the disciples, there are a few things that scripture calls special attention to, and one of these concerns Nathanael/Bartholomew. In John’s account of Nathanael‘s calling, Nathanael had been sitting under a tree when Phillip came to him to say they had found the Messiah, and of course this story is well known so I won't elaborate. The point here is that when they met, Jesus made an interesting observation about Nathanael that was not repeated to any other disciple;
Nathanaels CallWhen Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” (John 1:47)
Wow. The Lord was obviously pleased with Nathanael, and with this statement, Jesus was declaring his fitness for the priesthood. This notion is confirmed by the book of Malachi, where Levi was held up in a similar way as the example for any would-be messengers of the Lord;
“True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty.” (Malachi 2:6-7)
Notice that only one with “nothing false” in him would qualify to be a “messenger of the LORD Almighty”, or in essence, a priest. Well, isn’t that what the two witnesses will be when they are prophesying for 3½ years during the great tribulation? Of course. They will be messengers of the Lord that will be prophesying to a dying world, and it's during this time that I believe Nathanael/Bartholomew will finally see the fulfillment of a prophecy that Jesus made to him almost two thousand years ago.
"Ascending and Descending"
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:50)
This is what Jesus told Nathanael he would see in the future, and it would be a very strange comment for us to digest if we didn’t have a precedent for it in the Bible. Fortunately we do, in the account of Jacob’s ladder, where we find a perfect picture of what Nathanael was told he would experience in his future.
To set the scene for this comparison, please understand that Jacob was the father of twelve sons that became the twelve tribes of Israel. Therefore, we note throughout the Bible that the nation of Israel is often referred to as ‘Jacob’ interchangeably, since Jacob was renamed ’Israel’ (Gen 32:28) by God.
With that in mind, we note that in the following passage Jacob had just left his land and had fled into the desert to escape the persecution of his brother Esau, who was attempting to kill him. Within this desperation we pick up the following account;
Jacobs LadderJacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:10-15)
This is the only other place in the Bible where angels are seen “ascending and descending” on a stairway, so this is clearly the ‘type’ or the precedent that God is pointing us to in this instance. In fact, there is nothing else in the Bible that can help us understand this moment. In this instance, it appears that the angels were there to provide for Jacob during his time of exile in the wilderness, and this is not mere coincidence, since the same thing will happen with Israel during the Great Tribulation (Rev 12:6,14). And rather than speculate about some other moment in time that is not described by the Bible, I‘m inclined to believe that THIS is when Nathanael will see the fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy.
When God said to Jacob “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land”, we have to understand that while the immediate meaning clearly concerned Jacob’s ordeal, it also telescoped far into the future to the time of the great tribulation and Israel‘s exile. It’s no coincidence then that God has referred to the coming great tribulation as "the time of Jacob’s trouble" (Jer 30:7), because Jacob‘s exile in the desert was the MODEL for this future event. And just as Jacob experienced this supernatural care from the Lord while in the desert, so will Israel experience this supernatural care during their future exile;
The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. (Revelation 12:14)
If ‘the woman’ Israel is to be taken care of, then someone must be taking care of her. That’s where the angels on the stairway come into play, as they will serve Israel during their exile in the desert. In this way, Jacob’s vision is the perfect type for Christ’s words to Nathanael. Consider the following parallels;
Jacob's Ladder 'Type' Great Tribulation / Nathanael
Jacob fled Esau's (Edom's) persecution Israel will flee Edom's persecution
Jacob fled to the desert Israel will flee to the desert
Jacob saw heaven open Israel wil see heaven open
Jacob saw the Lord's ladder Israel will see the Lord's ladder
Jacob saw angels ascending & descending Israel will see angels ascending & descending
Jacob was served by angels Israel will be served by angels
Jacob had God with him Israel will have God with them
Jacob was brought back to his land Israel will be brought back to their land
Jacob would Worship God Israel will worship God
The Bible describes no other event in Nathanael’s life that would be a fulfillment of these words from Jesus. Therefore, the only logical time of this fulfillment would seem to be at the end of the age, where Israel is prophesied to experience the precise conditions that Jacob experienced during his exile. Therefore, the only dots we can seemingly connect, based on scripture alone, is that Nathanael is still alive and well on the planet earth, waiting for this appointed time.
The "Two Olive Trees"
If this is not yet convincing, there is an additional clue about Nathanael that is more subtle, but perhaps just as telling. It was noted earlier that the two witnesses were known as lamp stands, but they were also known as the two "olive trees" that would stand before the Lord;
“These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.” (Revelation 11:4)
On only one other occasion in the Old Testament do we have this same imagery of "two olive trees", and we find it in Zechariah 4:11-14, where the two olive trees were Zerubbabel and Joshua. In Old Testament times, the two olive trees stood for the royal and priestly offices, which God intended to be the source of 'light' for Israel, just as olive trees produced the olives that became the oil for the lampstands or menorahs, which provided the light in the temple.
In this instance, Zerubbabel represented royalty since he was from the line of David, and Joshua was the high priest that represented the priestly office. These two men were responsible for the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, and they were God‘s appointed servants for that time. Of course, this arrangement was altered several times during the diaspora, and was finally terminated once the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.
However, the Temple will be rebuilt in the end times, and it would seem that the two witnesses of the Revelation will fill this same role as the Lord’s appointed ’olive trees’. And while we can easily picture the Apostle John representing the priestly line as the ‘high priest’ of Israel during that time, we can also make a case for Nathanael representing the ‘royal’ office.
Son of Talmai
According to research done by William Steuart McBirnie in his book ‘The Search for the Twelve Apostles’, we find that Nathanel may have been from royal blood. Quoting from his book, we find the following passage about his alternate name Bartholomew;
“As we have seen, his name means ‘son of Tolmai‘, or possibly ‘son of Talmai‘. Now in II Samuel 3:3 there is mention of a Talmai who was king of Geshur, this Talmai had a daughter called Maacah; and this Maacah became the mother of Absalom, whom she bore to David. The suggestion is that it was from this Talmai that Bartholomew was descended, and that, therefore, he was of nothing less than royal lineage.”
When we understand that Zerubbabel was from the line of David and therefore represented the ‘royal’ line of the priesthood, we can see how Bartholomew could also represent the royal line of David if he was descended from Talmai through Maacah. Turning to the scripture referred to by McBirnie, we read the following;
Sons were born to David in Hebron: His firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel; his second, Kileab the son of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; the third, Absalom the son of Maacah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream the son of David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David in Hebron. (2Sa 3:2-5)
This same reference to ‘Talmai’ is also made in chapter 3 of 1 Chronicles under the heading of the ‘Sons of David’, and it’s interesting that both of these accounts highlight that Maacah was the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur. All of the other sons are merely identified by the names of their mothers, but the royalty of Maacah is singled out. And since details like this always have a purpose in the Bible, it leaves us to speculate that perhaps this is singled out in order to identify Bartholomew as the royal lineage within the disciples. This is far from certain, but it's an interesting possibility to consider.
A Son That Suspends the Waters
As mentioned earlier, I have speculated that Nathanael may have been given this new name ’Bartholomew’ by the Lord in order to point toward his future role as one of the two witnesses. While we’ve already seen that this name can mean ‘Son of Talmai’, an alternate meaning of the name Bartholomew reads this way;
“A son that suspends the waters”
DroughtI hope this rings a rather large bell for the reader, since this meaning points directly to something that the two witnesses will do during the time of their testimony; they will 'suspend the waters' when they shut up the sky while they are prophesying;
"These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want." (Revelation 11:6)
At the very least we have to ponder the possibility that Jesus gave Nathanael this name as a symbol of this future plague that the two witnesses will bring during the great tribulation.