The current war between Israel and Hamas, focused on the Gaza strip, with so much destruction and bloodshed, is one that Bible students will want to try to understand from a Biblical point of view. ie. Does Bible prophecy speak about these events at all? And if so, do these events indicate a closeness of the return of Jesus?

There are plenty of Bible prophecies that speak about the dischord between Israel and her neighbours, including the Palestinians. The prophecies all use the ancient names of Israel’s neighbours but we can still connect them to modern day nations. For example the Old Testament Philistines are an equivalent to the modern Palestinians living in the Gaza strip. Ammon and Moab are the territory of modern Jordan. Edom and Ishmael are more likely to relate to Saudi Arabia, Assyria/Babylon is Iraq, Persia is Iran and so on.

Looking again at Revelation 11

However, whilst I believe that all the Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s neighbours and their interaction with Israel have a last day fulfilment too, that’s not what I want to write about at this point. Instead, I’d like to take a look at Revelation 11 – accepting of course that my suggestions here are based on a particular view of Revelation that I hold, which is not the traditional Christadelphian view.

The chapter introduces us to 2 witnesses about whom John is told “And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth” (v3). It is not immediately clear who these 2 witnesses are but the next verse helps – “These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth.” This immediately takes us back to Zechariah 4 where the prophet has a vision of a lampstand fed by 2 olive trees. The vision relates to the people of Israel, back in their land and being encouraged to rebuild their temple, by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah and their leaders Zerubabbel and Jeshua. The close connection between Zechariah 4 and John’s vision in Revelation 11 strongly suggests that the 2 olive trees / lampstands John is told about also relate to the people of Israel.

Detail of the vision

What interests me particularly about this vision is what John is told about the 2 witnesses:

v3 – They prophesy for 1260 days – a 3 1/2 year period; and they do so clothed in sackcloth

v5 – They are extremely violent: “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.”

v6 – They have significant power over their enemies: “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.”

Of course, the imagery used, of preventing rain, turning waters to blood and smiting the earth with plagues, reminds us of Moses and Elijah, 2 great witnesses for God amongst the nation of Israel in the past. And for a long time I thought that these 2 witnesses in Revelation 11 must also be as Godly as the Old Testament prophets. But that need not necessarily be the case. Israel are God’s witnesses (Isaiah 43) whether they are doing God’s will or not. Their very existence as a nation today is testimony that there is a God.

Fulfilled before our eyes

When I look again at these verses then, and see in the 2 witnesses a prophecy about Israel, God’s witnesses (but not because of their Godly behaviour), then what I see is potentially a prophecy of the very times we are living in now.

In 2023 we see a nation whose witnessing is done ‘clothed in sackcloth’ – that is, they are in mourning; exactly the state of the nation since October 7th

Yet at the same time they are a nation violently wreaking havoc against their enemies – as v5 says, they deal out death to any who would harm them. The relative death tolls between Israel and the Palestinians during October and November bear out this approach.

And finally, v6 tells of witnesses who are able to withhold water from their enemies and who can pour our plagues on their enemies whenever they wish.

The whole description of what is going on with the 2 witnesses in Revelation 11 seems to fit very closely with the events we are seeing take place before our eyes currently.

What comes next?

The important bit, though, for me, is to see how this situation develops.

v7 tells us that after this 3 1/2 year period of their ‘witnessing’ ends, the beast arises, makes war on them and kills them. Their dead bodies lie in the streets of spiritual Sodom and Egypt (more links to Old Testament prophecies), which in case we don’t where John is talking about he spells it out ‘where also our Lord was crucified’. This clarification that the 2 witnesses ‘dead bodies’ lie in the streets of none other than Jerusalem is confirmation, should we need it, that the witnesses are the nation of Israel.

v9 – those who ‘dwell on the earth’ rejoice over the dead bodies, because the witnesses had tormented them. Bear in mind that ‘earth’ = ‘the land’, meaning the land of Israel in many passages, and this verse may well be a picture of Palestinians in the land rejoicing because their nemesis, the nation of Israel, have finally been defeated and removed as a source of torment.

It’s not the end for Israel

But only 3.5 days after this overthrow of the witnesses by the beast, their ‘resurrection’ takes place, and they ascend to heaven (v11-12). This is not a literal resurrection and ascension we are being told about, but rather a spiritual resurrection: the nation who have been so unrepentant for 2000 years, when faced with annihilation, finally turn to God in their distress and go through the spiritual awakening that Ezekiel prophesied about in Ezekiel 37. When we read “The breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet” we almost want to add to the end ‘an exceeding great army’ (Ezekiel 37 v 10). The ascension that John sees is the point where this remnant of Israel, who have become spiritually alive at last, enter into a covenant relationship with God, and as with so many other groups of elect that we meet in Revelation, they find their place in the very presence of God.

These events very much set the scene for the conclusion of the 6th trumpet and the swift progression to the 7th – ‘The second woe is past. Behold, the third woe is coming quickly. Then the seventh angel sounded: And there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (v14-15).

A summary

The point is, then, that the events we are seeing take place currently, between Israel and the Palestinians, may very well be the fulfilment of the 2 witnesses vision in Revelation 11 – a vision which starts with witnesses who can torment and destroy their enemies at will, albeit whilst in mourning themselves. But the tables are turned when the beast comes on the scene, overwhelms and kills the witnesses. This leads ultimately to their spiritual resurrection and ascension to a place of covenant relationship with God; all of which brings about the sounding of the 7th trumpet and the establishment of God’s kingdom.

Stirring times indeed.

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