Everyone wants to know: Who are the two witnesses are in Revelation 11? Moses and Elijah? Enoch and Elijah? James and John? Peter and Paul? Gill suggests they are not two individuals, but rather two parties: (1) Gospel ministers and (2) Gospel congregations. To catch his drift, you must understand his prophetic timeline.
Gill’s Prophetic Timeline
As we’ve detailed prior, Gill sees Revelation as “prophetic eras” the church must endure. The church already has passed through the first five trumpet judgments. We currently are under the 6th trumpet, and the 7th trumpet is yet future. In his purview, the church currently is in the Sardis church era, in which true congregations have separated from the Roman Catholic Church and are spreading slowly like leaven.1See Gill’s comments on Rev. 3:4. The rise, fall, and resurrection of the two witnesses will mark the beginning of the “spiritual reign” of Christ and inaugurate the Philadelphia church era, in which the gospel will surge, worldwide, so that the world’s kingdoms will become Christ’s.2See Gill’s comments on Rev. 3:8. To finish out his timeline, there will be a cooling effect during the Laodicean church era, in which the church will become lukewarm just before Christ’s glorious appearance at his second coming.3See Gill’s comments on Rev. 3:14.
In the larger prophetic context, he sees several things happening as history transitions from the Sardis church era to the glorious Philadelphia church era. He lays this out in his chapter entitled, “On the Spiritual Reign of Christ.” One, the two witnesses begin the destruction of antichrist (Rome Pagan and Papal), which allows the gospel to flow unhindered.4John Gill, “On the Spiritual Reign of Christ,” in A Complete Body of Practical Divinity (Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer), 450. Two, the mass conversion of the Jews spoken of in Romans 11 occurs.5Ibid., 451. Three, a worldwide gospel surge occurs in which the elect Gentiles assist the recently converted Jewish nation in a “great spread of the gospel” throughout the earth.6Ibid., 452 The kingdoms of the world will become the kingdoms of our Lord Jesus Christ, though there will be a brief apostacy (the Laodicean church era) just before his glorious appearing.
Since we presently are in the Sardis church era, the two witnesses—Gospel ministers and Gospel congregations—still are bearing testimony to the world; in effect, weakening antichrist by the proclamation of the gospel. He states, “[T]he witnesses have not finished their testimony, they are still prophesying in sackcloth.”7See Gill’s comments on Rev. 11:9. They will be killed, but not literally. Rather, their ability to bear witness will be killed as they are silenced, banished, and isolated by antichrist (Rome Pagan and Papal). Once this occurs, the church on earth will rise victoriously (in the Philadelphia church era) with sweeping conversions that permeate kings, princes, governments, and entire nations.8Gill, “On the Spiritual Reign of Christ,” 452. Gill often calls this period the “latter-day glory” or the “spiritual reign of Christ.”
Again, we are starting to see how Gill’s earlier interpretive decisions cause him difficulties. His decision to see the book as forecasting prophetic eras requires that he spiritualize or allegorize the specific details that don’t fit. Let me provide a few examples.
First, the most natural reading of the two witnesses in Revelation is that they are two persons. Yet, Gill’s earlier interpretive decisions pigeonhole him into naming two historical persons that fit their description. Yet, we find no historical persons who rose up with those powers (over plagues and natural phenomena), much less who died, rose again, and ascended into heaven. This complicates things for him. Therefore, he spiritualizes the two witnesses as two parties. Yet, that only complicates matters more.
Second, neither of the two parties—Gospel ministers and Gospel churches—were killed and rose again. Therefore, he has to redefine the word, “kill,” as “banished” or “silenced.”
Third, their dead bodies lying in the street for three and half days is impossible under Gill’s purview. The days must refer to years. He says, “[I]t will not be possible, that, in so short a time, the news of the slaying of the witnesses should be spread among the inhabitants of the earth.”9Gill, comments on Rev. 11:9.
Fourth, their ascension into heaven, he says, is mystical. It refers to the glorious state of the church in the Philadelphia era.
Fifth, the earthquake which killed 7,000 in Jerusalem (in Rev 11:13) cannot be literal because, historically, we read of no such event in history. Therefore, the earthquake is symbolic for civil upheaval; the 7,000 represents “a certain for an uncertain” number;10See Gill’s comments on Rev. 11:13. and the city is not Jerusalem, but either Rome or Great Britain or France.
All of this is problematic on many levels. Yet, the problem began when Gill took a hard position in chapters 2-3 regarding prophetic history. Once he did that, he had to pinpoint actual historical events—and connect them to textual data points—to justify that decision. The further he got into Revelation, the more that interpretive framework began to collapse. Perhaps the most outlandish is his suggestion that Great Britain is where the two witnesses will lie dead in the street because the Gospel ministers and Gospel churches were most prominent in the northern part of Europe and the antichrist was seeking to silence them.11See Gill’s comments on Rev. 11:1 and 8. Again, Gill seems to take a myopic view, being influenced too much by his own times and historical milieu.
Nevertheless, we’ve made it through the present church era. Now Gill’s perceived exegetical problems will become easier to navigate as the seventh trumpet looks to the future.
|1||See Gill’s comments on Rev. 3:4.|
|2||See Gill’s comments on Rev. 3:8.|
|3||See Gill’s comments on Rev. 3:14.|
|4||John Gill, “On the Spiritual Reign of Christ,” in A Complete Body of Practical Divinity (Paris, AR: The Baptist Standard Bearer), 450.|
|7||See Gill’s comments on Rev. 11:9.|
|8||Gill, “On the Spiritual Reign of Christ,” 452.|
|9||Gill, comments on Rev. 11:9.|
|10||See Gill’s comments on Rev. 11:13.|
|11||See Gill’s comments on Rev. 11:1 and 8.|
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