"And I will give unto my two witnesses: and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred
and sixty days dressed in sackcloth.
These are the two olive trees and the two candlesticks that stand before the Lord of the
And if any man will hurt them, fire shall come out of their mouths and shall devour their
enemies. And if any man will hurt them, in this manner must he be slain.
These have power to shut Heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and they
have power over waters, to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with all plagues as
often as they will.
And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascends out of the
abyss shall make war against them and shall overcome them and kill them.
And their bodies shall lie in the streets of the great city which is called spiritually, Sodom
and Egypt: where their Lord also was crucified.
And they of the tribes and peoples and tongues and nations shall see their bodies for
three days and a half: and they shall not suffer their bodies to be laid in sepulchres.
And they who dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them and make merry: and shall
send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented them who dwelt upon
And after three days and a half, the spirit of life from God entered into them. And they
stood upon their feet: and great fear fell upon them who saw them.
And they heard a great voice from Heaven, saying to them: Come up hither. And they
went up into Heaven in a cloud: and their enemies saw them.
And at that hour there was made a great earthquake: and the tenth part of the city fell.
And there were slain in the earthquake, names of men, seven thousand: and the rest
were cast into fear and gave glory to the God of Heaven."
(Apocalypse 11: 3-13).
Who are the "Two Witnesses" that St. John describes in these verses from the Apocalypse? In recent years, some critical scholars have seen this passage as being purely allegorical in nature. They see the Two Witnesses not as actual men, but as the political and religious powers of both Israel and the Church. According to this view, evil in the form of anti-Christian beliefs (not an actual person who is the Antichrist) will appear to triumph over the body of Christ and there will be great rejoicing. Eventually, the "Church" will be resurrected and order will be restored.
Unfortunately for its proponents, this theory receives no support from either Sacred Scripture or Tradition. If one examines the writings of the Church Fathers, it becomes clear that what St. John describes is a future event involving two men who are well known to Jews and Christians alike. The Two Witnesses in question are the Patriarch Enoch and the Prophet Elijah, also known as Elias, who will be given the task of evangelizing those Gentiles and Jews who have not yet accepted Christ as the Messiah.
Through a review of Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, the aim of this article is threefold: to demonstrate that the Two Witnesses spoken of by St. John are, in fact, Enoch and Elijah; that both men are still alive and have been translated by God to a paradise where they await the day of their mission; and that God will return them to society to wage war against the Antichrist just prior to the Final Judgment.
Though largely ignored in our day, this body of teaching is of Apostolic origin and has been confirmed by a series of Saints from Irenaeus to Bellarmine. It is the story of the final battle between Good and Evil, and it will lead to the definitive establishment of the New Jerusalem, the City of God.
DEAD OR ALIVE?
Before speaking about the task that will be entrusted to them by God, we must first examine what happened to Enoch and Elijah when they were here among us. Is there any evidence that these men are still alive? Our first clue comes from Sacred Scripture. In the Book of Genesis, a genealogy is given in Chapter 5 that extends from Adam to Noah. In verses 23-24 we are told the following:
And all the years of Enoch were three hundred and sixty five years. And he
walked with God and was seen no more: because God took him.
What is most significant about this passage are the words, "God took him". Throughout this genealogy, the summary of the life of each of the other Patriarchs concludes with the phrase, "and he died". For Enoch, however, the writer seems to indicate that something different happened.
Next, in the Book of Ecclesiasticus, we are given a second tantalizing piece of information. In Chapter 44, verse 16 we read,
Enoch pleased God, and was translated into paradise, that he may give
repentance to the nations.
We are told for the first time in this verse that Enoch is to be given a special mission, but is he to carry out this mission from Heaven or is the paradise spoken of a terrestrial one? St. Paul gives us some solid information in the Book of Hebrews when he states clearly that Enoch has not died:
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death: and he was not
found because God had translated him. For before his translation he had testimony
that he pleased God.
(Hebrews 11: 5)
The fact that Enoch has not yet died will be important in determining where he is. But before we do so, we should consider the disposition of our second Witness - - the Prophet of Carmel, Elijah the Thesbite.
In the Fourth Book of Kings (or 2 Kings as the Protestant versions divide the four historical books into 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings) Elijah and his disciple Elisha are walking along the Jordan River.
The author of the book then says,
And as they went on, walking and talking together, behold a fiery chariot, and
fiery horses parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into Heaven.
(4 Kings 2: 11)
In the Book of Ecclesiasticus we are given more details:
"Who (Elijah) was taken up in a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot of fiery horses. Who
is registered in the judgments of times to appease the wrath of the Lord, to reconcile
the heart of the father to the son and to restore the tribes of Jacob."
(Ecclesiasticus 48: 9-10)
At this point we have a bit of a mystery. We have been told by the authors of Sacred Scripture that Enoch was "translated into paradise" and that Elijah was "taken up by a whirlwind into Heaven". However, St. Paul declares that Enoch is not dead and no mention is made of Elijah's death either. Can these men be in Heaven with the Saints?
Scripture and patristics scholars Fr. Charles Garside, M.A. (1924) and Desmond A. Birch (1996) both comment that since Enoch and Elijah have not died - - and death is necessary to enter into Heaven because of Original Sin - - the two Old Testament figures cannot be in Heaven. 1 (Trial, Tribulation, & Triumph: Before, During, and After Antichrist; Desmond A. Birch;
Queenship Publishing Co.; 1996; Page 465). To determine where Enoch and Elijah are, we must now turn to the Fathers and Doctors of the Church who seem to be in agreement that these men are in an earthly paradise prepared for them by God.
St. Irenaeus (140 - 202 AD) was a student of St. Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of the Apostle John. Because of this, it is reasonable and prudent to believe that what St. Irenaeus tells us is of Apostolic origin. On the whereabouts of Enoch and Elijah, Irenaeus says the following:
"The disciples of the Apostles say that they (Enoch and Elijah) whose living
bodies were taken up from the earth, have been placed in an earthly paradise,
where they will remain until the end of the world." 2 (Ibid, Page 466. Adversus Haereses, Liber 4, Cap. 30).
In speaking of Elijah, Pope St. Gregory the Great (540 - 604 AD) writes:
"Elijah has not evaded death, but put it off. He was raised into this (aerial)
Heaven, in order that he might suddenly be conveyed to some secret region of
the earth, where he might live in great repose of the spirit and the flesh, until he
shall return at the end of the world to pay the debt of death." 3 (The Prophet of Carmel; Fr. Charles B. Garside, M.A.; Carmelite Monastery of Wheeling;
1924; Page 263. Lib. ii, Hom. xxix, in Evang. sec. 5).
Finally, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274 AD) confirms what St. Gregory has said and refines it:
"Ejijah was raised into the aerial, not the empyrean heaven, which is the abode of
the Saints, and in like manner Enoch was carried away to a terrestrial paradise, where
he and Elijah, it is believed, will live together until the coming of the Antichrist." 4 (Ibid, Page 263. Summae, iii, Q. xlix, art. 5).
St. Thomas goes on to say that he believes this paradise to be the Eden of our first parents. This reference to Eden is important because one of the questions raised by critics is how Enoch and Elijah have survived in their mortal bodies for such a long period of time. In answer to this, Fr. Garside states that both St. Augustine and St. Thomas are of the opinion that they have been preserved from death by eating from the Tree of Life. 5 (Ibid, Page 259. Augustine: De Pecc. Mer. c. iii; Aquinas: Comm. in Apocal. xi, 8, s. 1, f.)
Another interesting question that has been asked is whether Enoch and Elijah can still merit since they are still in their bodies and have been denied the Beatific Vision of God while they patiently await the day of their mission. Jesuit theologian Francisco Suarez explains that their ability to merit has been suspended:
(1) Ordinarily God has determined that a man's capacity for meriting is
terminated by his death. In the case of Enoch and Elijah their removal
from the present scene of human action is analagous to death, so far
as meriting is concerned.
(2) They bear this exile with pleasure (not a sense of privation), due to their
charity and conformity to the Divine Will.
(3) They knew when they were being taken up from this world that they would
have a long period to wait, and by their perfect obedience to this decree
they have merited much.
(4) As they will return to the world and suffer for Christ, they will thus obtain an
increase of merit and glory far beyond the detriment incurred from a delay
of the Beatific Vision.
(5) Thus their power of merit is not finally terminated, but only suspended until
they come again to labor and to die. If their merits were to go on accumulating until the end of the world, they would exceed not only those of the
other Saints, but of the Blessed Virgin herself. 6 (Ibid, Pages 262-263).
"BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER"
Thus far, we have been able to show through reason enlightened by faith that Enoch and Elijah are likely still alive and are living in a terrestrial paradise preserved for them by God. But what of their mission? In the Book of the Apocalypse, St. John says that Two Witnesses will return at the end of time to wage war against the Beast. Do Scripture and Tradition have anything to say about this in reference to Enoch and Elijah? Are they the witnesses spoken of by the Evangelist? The answer is yes, and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are emphatic in their analysis of what has been passed down to us through the written and spoken word.
Apart from St. John's account in the Apocalypse, there are four other very important Biblical passages concerning the task of the Two Witnesses. We shall quote them in their order of appearance:
1. Ecclesiasticus 44:16,
"Enoch pleased God, and was translated into paradise, that he might
give repentance to the nations."
2. Ecclesiasticus 48:9-10,
"Who (Elijah) was taken up in a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot of fiery
Who is registered in the judgments of times to appease the wrath
of the Lord, to reconcile the heart of the father to the son and to
restore the tribes of Jacob.".
3. Malachi 4:5-6,
Behold I will send you Elijah the Prophet, before the coming of the
great and terrible day of the Lord.
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the
heart of the children to to the fathers; lest I come, and strike the
earth with anathema."
4. St. Matthew 17:10-12,
"And His disciples asked Him, saying: Why then do the scribes
say that Elijah must come first?
But Jesus answering, said to them: 'Elijah indeed shall come and
restore all things.
But I say to you that Elijah is already come: and they knew him not,
but have done unto him whatsoever they had a mind. So also the
Son of Man shall suffer from them.'"
In regard to this last passage, the Church has taught throughout the centuries that Jesus is speaking about two separate events. When He says that "Elijah has already come", He is referring to St. John the Baptist; when He declares that "Elijah indeed shall come", He is speaking of Elijah the Thesbite. As it was the mission of John the Baptist to herald the first coming of Christ, so it will be the special task of Elijah to herald His second coming. 7 (Ibid, Page 271). But this time there will be two heralds since two different groups of people will be addressed:
The conversion of the Jews is to be the special work of Elijah, and
that of the Gentiles of Enoch; for which purpose these two prophets will
be peculiarly adapted, Enoch, the seventh from Adam, representing the
uncircumcision, and Elijah the circumcision. Enoch was translated that
he may give repentance to the nations, and Elijah that he may restore
the tribes of Israel...The period during which Enoch and Elijah are to
exercise their office is one thousand two hundred and sixty days; a space
of time corresponding with the duration of Christ's public ministry. 8 (Ibid, Pages 274-275).
During this time they will be in direct competition with the Antichrist for the souls of men. The purpose of God in sending them is to strengthen the faith of those who already believe, and to give those who do not one last chance to accept Jesus as the Messiah before the Final Judgment. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church concur:
St. Ephraem (306 - 373 AD)
"And when the Son of Perdition has drawn to his purpose the whole world,
Enoch and Elijah shall be sent that they might confute the Evil One." 9 (Birch, Page 470. Syri, III, Col. 188, Sermo II).
St. Augustine (354 - 430 AD)
"It is a familiar theme in the conversation and heart of the faithful, that in
the last days before the Judgment the Jews shall believe in the true Christ,
that is, our Christ, by means of this great and admirable prophet Elijah, who
shall expound the Law to them. For not without reason do we hope that before
the coming of our Judge and Saviour, Elijah shall come, because we have good
reason to believe that he is now alive. For, as Scripture most distinctly informs
us, he was taken up from this life in a chariot of fire. When, therefore, he is
come, he will give a spiritual explanation of the Law which the Jews at present
understand carnally, and shall thus, "turn the heart of the father to the son",
that is, the heart of the fathers to the children. And the meaning is that the
sons, that is, the Jews, shall understand the Law as the fathers, that is, the
prophets, and among them Moses himself, understood it...that the Jews also,
who had previously hated, should then love the Son who is our Christ." 10 (Ibid, Pages 469-470. The City of God, Book 20, Chapter 29).
St. John Damascene (676 - 749 AD)
"And Enoch and Elijah the Thesbite will be sent and they shall 'turn the
heart of the fathers to the children', that is to say, turn the Synagogue to our
Lord Jesus Christ and the preaching of the Apostles. And they will be
destroyed by the Antichrist." 11 (Ibid, Page 473. De Fide Orthodoxa)
St. Robert Bellarmine (1542 - 1621 AD)
"The third demonstration arises from the coming of Enoch and Elijah, who
live even now and shall live until they come to oppose Antichrist himself, and
to preserve the elect in the faith of Christ, and in the end shall convert the Jews,
and it is certain that this has not yet been fulfilled." 12 (Ibid, Page 475. Liber Tertius, P. 434)
Using the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, Suarez, and Tertullian, Fr. Charles Garside gives us a fascinating analysis of the vision spoken of by St. John in the Book of the Apocalypse. From this we can form a clearer picture of what things will be like when the Two Witnesses take to the field of battle against the Man of Lawlessness:
"The garments in which the two prophets are to be clothed will be sackcloth,
in order to show their austerity and poverty; also, says St. Thomas, to
indicate that the Church in its old age will return to the days of its youth,
when John the Baptist preached in a mantle of camel's hair. They are
described as the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks that stand before
the Lord. The former signifies their compassion, both interior and exterior,
and the latter, the light of their testimony by word and example -- a light which
they never fail to give forth, because, fearless of Antichrist, they stand before
the Lord, even if their bodies fall by death.
They will have immense supernatural powers. They will probably, says
Suarez, not always go together, but will travel separately through the world,
consoling and teaching men by their writings as well as by speech. Some
think they will have disciples to assist them by a kind of Apostolate. At
length, the Antichrist will be allowed by the Will of God to 'make war against
them, overcome them, and kill them'. The place of their martyrdom will be
Jerusalem, 'the great city which is called spiritually Sodom and Egypt, where
their Lord also was crucified'. For three days and a half their bodies shall
lie in the streets to be gazed upon by all classes of men. They shall remain
unburied, as St. Thomas observes, either from fear of Antichrist, or hatred of
Enoch and Elijah, or as a deterrent to those inclined to follow their teaching,
or so that, by being seen dead by all eyes for three and a half days, their
resurrection will be more brilliant and convincing as a miraculous demonstration. While their corpses lie exposed, "they who dwell upon the earth shall
rejoice over them and make merry, and shall send gifts to one another,
because these two prophets tormented them who dwelt upon the earth"; i.e.,
says St. Thomas, they torment the worldly by predicting their future anguish,
and by resisting boldly their iniquity.
The death, resurrection, and ascension of Enoch and Elijah in their glorified
bodies (given to them in advance of the Final Judgment as a special privilege)
will be quickly followed by the ruin of the Antichrist, 'whom the Lord Jesus will
kill with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His
coming' (2 Thess. 2:8). 13 (Garside, Pages 275-278).
This is a far cry from what we are being told by today's exegetes, who view the words of St. John the Evangelist with a symbolic lens. How can such a turnabout be explained?
In his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, Pope St. Pius X makes the following comment about Modernist Scripture scholars:
"To hear them talk about their works on the Sacred Books, in which
they have been able to discover so much that is defective, one would
imagine that before them nobody ever glanced through the pages of
Scripture, whereas the truth is that a whole multitude of Doctors,
infinitely superior to them in genius, in erudition, in sanctity, have sifted
the Sacred Books in every way, and so far from finding imperfections in
them, have thanked God more and more the deeper they have gone into
them, for His divine bounty in having vouchsafed to speak thus to men." 14 (Pacendi Dominici Gregis; Pope St. Pius X; August 9, 1907; N. 34).
What our Holy Father of happy memory describes would seem to be the cause of the defective modern interpretation of St. John's vision and its supporting Biblical passages. As we have seen in this brief study, there is a consistent body of teaching on the Two Witnesses that extends from the Apostles to St. Robert Bellarmine (d. 1621), who was the last Doctor of the Church to make a detailed study of the Antichrist. This teaching, based on Scripture and confirmed by the Oral Tradition of the Church, is that Enoch and Elijah are still alive, that they have been placed in a terrestrial paradise prepared for them by God, and that they will return at the time of the Antichrist to convert the remaining Gentiles and Jews to the Catholic faith. St. Robert Bellarmine is so convinced that this teaching is of Apostolic origin that he says to hold an opposing point of view "is either absolutely heretical, or a serious error very close to heretical". 15 (Birch, Page 476. De Summo Pontifice, P. 434).
For more than three hundred years after his death no one challenged this position.
It is only in the 21st century - - more than 1900 years after our Lord's Ascension - - that modern Scripture scholars brazenly announce that the Fathers and Doctors of the Church are in error. To their rationalist way of thinking, Enoch and Elijah cannot possibly be alive, and the Antichrist cannot be an actual person. It is this Modernist approach to the faith that has led others in recent years to deny the Resurrection of Christ, His true presence in the Blessed Sacrament, the Perpetual Virginity of Mary, the sacrificial nature of the Mass, and a host of other doctrines attested to for centuries by the Magisterium of the Church.
Christ has given us a sure means of knowing what He has publicly revealed; but we must display humility and not fall into the error of believing only those things that can be rationally explained. Faith must play an important role in our lives as Catholics. So as we seek to understand these mysteries, let us look to those who have come before us and have earned the Crown of Victory. Let us humbly submit ourselves to the teaching authority of the Church. And let us ask the Holy Ghost to grant us the grace of holy Wisdom. In this way we shall preserve the deposit of faith in its entirety and stand with Enoch and Elijah at our Lord's right hand as He announces these glorious words on the Last Day:
"Come, you blessed of my Father, possess the Kingdom prepared for
you from the beginning of the world."
(St. Matthew 25:34).