The Two Witnesses

Part 1 – Their Identity

COPYRIGHT © 2006 by James M. Frye

Revised 2012

All scripture quotations are taken from the Authorized King James Bible. Any deviations are not intentional. All underlines, bold and words within brackets are the author's.

 

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How Do We Interpret These Things?

Before we begin the study Revelation chapter eleven and the two witnesses, we need to ask a question. How are these things to be interpreted? Are we to take the two witnesses to represent two literal people, as some people take them? Or are these things symbolic? I believe that a careful reading of the text will show that these things must be understood in a symbolic manner rather than literal/physical manner.

Revelation 11:3-5

3 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.

4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

5 And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.

If one tries to take these symbols literally, then they must believe the following:

1. These two witnesses are two literal trees.

2. They are also two literal candlesticks (how can they be both?).

3. They (together) have only one mouth (the passage says "their mouth"), therefore, they must be joined at the head.

4. Literal fire comes out of their one literal mouth and literally burns people up.

Such an interpretation would be absolute nonsense. But nonetheless, many insist that the two witnesses are two literal people. But they can’t have it both ways. If we interpret the two witnesses to be two LITERAL people, then we must take everything else the passage says about them LITERALLY as well. But as we have seen, such an interpretation would be nonsensical.

It is only when we seek to find the meanings of the symbols used in this passage (witnesses, candlesticks, etc.) that we will then be able to understand what scripture is communicating here.

This is the way that the book of Revelation itself tells us it is to be understood.

Revelation 1:1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John:

Notice the word "signified". The first part of the word signified is the word "sign". These things were “signified” or communicated by way of signs (symbols). In order to understand what the book is saying, we must find the meaning of the symbols (elsewhere in scripture) and then plug those meanings back into the passage. Then, and only then, will we be able to understand what it is saying. It is sort of like the decoder rings that we played with as children. Remember those?

Suppose that we were to set up the following code.

1 = A

2 = B

3 = C

If I were to send you a message that said "312", you wouldn’t think I was sending you a “literal” number. You would understand that it was a code that needed to be interpreted in order to be understood. Once you looked up the meaning of each symbol, you would correctly understand that “312” symbolized the word "cab".

This is the same way that the book of Revelation is written. We dare not take the symbols literally, lest we misinterpret the book. Instead, we find the meaning of those symbols (elsewhere in scripture) and then plug those meanings back into the text. Then, and only then, will we be able to understand the truth the passage is communicating.

Many people mistakenly think that the book of Revelation is speaking of earthly physical calamities, but it is not. It is rather using the symbols of earthly calamities to represent spiritual realities. These are spiritual realities that most of the world will never see nor understand. That is why Jesus could say that He will come as a thief upon people. They will not be watching with spiritual eyes (understanding).

Revelation 16:15 Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.

This isn't talking about literally watching with literal physical eyes (as in earthly calamities one would see with the natural eye) any more than it is talking about literal garments and literal nakedness. Otherwise, who could miss the events described in this book?

Jesus said that people would be going on with their lives as normal right up until the day He comes.

 

Luke 17:26-30

26-27 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all.

28-29 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.

30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed.

Since we know from scripture that Jesus will come immediately after the Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:29-31), then we also know that the Great Tribulation will be a time when most of the world is going about their lives just like normal. That is what Jesus said. This fits perfectly with how the Bible itself tells us the book of Revelation is to be understood. These things are to be understood in a spiritual, symbolic sense rather than a physical one. So, the book of Revelation is not describing physical tragedies, but rather spiritual ones.

Revelation 13:9 If any man have an ear, let him hear.

It takes spiritual ears (not physical ones) to hear what the book of Revelation is saying and to understand its contents. So with this is mind, let us begin to examine the symbols used regarding the two witnesses.

 

1. Candlesticks

As we have seen, the two witnesses cannot be interpreted literally. The book of Revelation is written in symbols. So, in order to understand what the two witnesses represent, we must find the meaning of those symbols elsewhere in scripture. We can then plug those meanings back into the text, in order to understand what is being communicated.

There are four symbols used of the two witnesses in Revelation chapter 11. In this section, we will look at the first one, “candlesticks”.

Revelation 11:4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

The two witnesses are symbolized by two candlesticks. Let's look at this symbol elsewhere in scripture to see what it represents.

Revelation 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.

According to the above verse, candlesticks are used in the book of Revelation to represent churches. The number "seven" is often used in scripture to symbolize "completion". It is used to represent the completeness of whatever is in view.

Revelation 5:6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

Here we see Jesus portrayed as a lamb, which of course represents His being the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). But notice that Christ is symbolized here as a lamb with “seven” horns. In scripture, horns are symbolic of power.

Daniel 8:7 And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with choler against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns: and there was no power in the ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground, and stamped upon him: and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand.

When the ram above has his horns broken, he no longer has any power. So, horns represent power. Since horns represent power and the number seven represents completeness, then the picture of Jesus as a lamb with seven horns represents that Jesus has complete power (and authority).

Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

So, we can see that the number seven represents completeness. The same is true in the symbolism of the seven eyes.

Revelation 5:6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

In prophecy, eyes have to do with seeing.

Zechariah 4:10 For who hath despised the day of small things? for they shall rejoice, and shall see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel with those seven; they are the eyes of the LORD, which run to and fro through the whole earth.

These seven eyes upon the lamb represent that Christ being God is all seeing. He is ever-present and has all (complete) knowledge. The text also refers to "the seven Spirits of God".

Revelation 5:6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

Are there literally seven spirits of God? - Of course not.

Ephesians 4:4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

As we have seen, the number seven is used in scripture to symbolize completeness. The number seven when applied to the one Holy Spirit symbolizes His “complete” work.

So, the seven horns symbolize Christ's complete power and authority. The seven eyes symbolize Christ's complete vision (through being ever-present and having all knowledge). And the seven Spirits of God symbolize the complete work of the Holy Spirit.

The number seven is a symbol that represents completeness. There are a number of "sevens" in the book of Revelation, and each represent the completeness of whatever is in view.

1) 7 churches = The complete church.

2) 7 Seals = A complete unsealing.

3) 7 Trumpets warnings = A complete warning.

4) 7 Vials of wrath = God's complete wrath.

So, in Revelation the seven candlesticks symbolize the complete church everywhere.

But when it comes to the two witnesses, they are represented not by “seven” candlesticks, but by “two” candlesticks.

Revelation 11:4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

So, why are the two witnesses represented by two candlesticks rather than seven? Well, what does the number two represent when it comes to people being witnesses?

Deuteronomy 19:15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.

According to the Old Testament law, for a person to be considered guilty of a crime or sin, there had to be at least two witnesses against him. Referring to this law, Jesus said:

John 8:17 It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true.

So, the number two symbolizes that the testimony of the two witnesses is true. That is why they are symbolized by two candlesticks rather than seven. The focus is upon the truthfulness of their witness.

Often light is used in scripture to symbolize one's witness in the darkness of this world.

John 5:33 Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.

John 5:35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.

The above verses are speaking of John the baptist. His bearing witness to the truth is spoken of as shining a light. It was his witness that was the light. Think of the symbolism of a candlestick for a moment. What does one use a candlestick for?

Matthew 5:14-15 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

One lights a candle to place it upon a candlestick so that it will give light unto all who are in the house. As believers, it is our purpose to witness to the truth. That witness is portrayed symbolically as shining a light. And notice the reference to the candlestick. That is the same symbolism that was used of the two witnesses. They are referred to as two candlesticks. Why candlesticks? - Because their witness shines as a light in the darkness of this world. Why are there two of them? There are two of them because the number two symbolizes that they are bearing witness to the truth.

This is exactly how Jesus sent out His disciples - two by two.

Mark 6:7 And he called unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits;

Luke 10:1 After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.

Jesus sent out both the twelve and the seventy two by two as witnesses in the world. Sending them out two by two was necessary in that two witnesses were required for a witness to be accepted as true. So the number two speaks to the truthfulness of their testimony.

So, what have we seen thus far? The two witnesses in Revelation chapter eleven are symbolized by two candlesticks. They are symbolized by candlesticks because these candlesticks represent their witness shining as a light in the darkness of this world. They are symbolized by “two” candlesticks because the number two symbolizes the truthfulness of their witness. They are bearing witness to the truth. These two witnesses, then, symbolize the testimony of believers unto the truth (God’s word – John 17:17) in the world.

 

2. Olive Trees

 

There are four symbols used in Revelation chapter eleven in regard to the two witnesses. In the previous section, we looked at the first of these four symbols - the two candlesticks. We saw that these two candlesticks are symbolic of the witness of believers shining as a light in the darkness of this world. We also saw that there are two of these candlesticks because the number two speaks of the truthfulness of their testimony (they are bearing witness to the truth). In this section, we will look at another symbol that is used.

The second symbol that is used for the two witnesses is that of two olive trees.

Revelation 11:4 These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.

As we saw at the beginning of this article  , we must search elsewhere in scripture to find out what these symbols represent and then plug those meanings back into the text in order to understand it. This symbolism of the two olive trees leads us to the book of Zechariah.

Zechariah 4:1-3 And the angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep, And said unto me, What seest thou? And I said, I have looked, and behold a candlestick all of gold, with a bowl upon the top of it, and his seven lamps thereon, and seven pipes to the seven lamps, which are upon the top thereof: And two olive trees by it, one upon the right side of the bowl, and the other upon the left side thereof.

Zechariah is given a vision of a candlestick with seven oil lamps. On each side of this candlestick is an olive tree. There is one olive tree on one side, and another olive tree on the other. In total, there are two olive trees. This is the exact same thing that John is writing about in Revelation when he says that the two witnesses are two olive trees.

After Zechariah sees these things, he then goes on to ask what they represent.

Zechariah 4:4-6 So I answered and spake to the angel that talked with me, saying, What are these, my lord? Then the angel that talked with me answered and said unto me, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.

Zerubbabel the governor, along with Joshua (also Jeshua) the high priest, were called of God to rebuild the temple of the Lord that had been destroyed.

Haggai 1:14 And the LORD stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God,

Ezra 3:8 Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD.

This rebuilding of the temple was a type and shadow of the building of the New Testament church - the true temple of God. In the New Testament, believers are told:

2 Corinthians 6:16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

What is the temple of God in the New Testament? It is the people of God. This is what the Old Testament temple only symbolized.

Ephesians 2:19-22 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

1 Peter 2:5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Believers are living stones that make up a living temple in which Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone. The house of God under the New Covenant is the people of God, the church.

1 Timothy 3:15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

This isn't talking about a "church building" but rather God's people who are symbolized as spiritual stones. But how is this house going to be built? Is it to be built by the might and power of men? No, it is going to be built by the Spirit of the Lord.

Zechariah 4:6 Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.

Let's think of an oil lamp for a moment so that we might better understand what is being pictured here. As we saw in the previous section, light is symbolic of the witness of believers to the truth in the darkness of this world. Does the flame of an oil lamp burn by its own power and strength? No, the fuel for that flame is the oil. The oil here is symbolic of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to witness for Christ.

Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

Do you see it? The Holy Spirit, symbolized by the oil in the lamps, is the fuel that empowers our witness. And it is our witness that shines like a light.

Zechariah then goes on to ask further questions regarding this vision.

Zechariah 4:11-12 Then answered I, and said unto him, What are these two olive trees upon the right side of the candlestick and upon the left side thereof? And I answered again, and said unto him, What be these two olive branches which through the two golden pipes empty the golden oil out of themselves?

We see in his further description that the oil is actually coming from the two olive trees through two branches (as pipes) and is emptying the oil into the lamps. Think about it. What kind of oil did they use for lamps back then?

Exodus 27:20 And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring thee pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always.

It was olive oil that was used in the oil lamps. In the first portion of both the tabernacle and later on in the temple, there was a sevenfold candlestick (or lampstand) with oil lamps upon each of its seven branches - three on each side and one in the middle.

Exodus 25:31-32 And thou shalt make a candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work shall the candlestick be made: his shaft, and his branches, his bowls, his knops, and his flowers, shall be of the same. And six branches shall come out of the sides of it; three branches of the candlestick out of the one side, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side:

As we saw, it was olive oil that was used in the oil lamps. In the picture in Zechariah, the oil is flowing from the olive trees (olives grow on olive trees) and is emptying into the lamps. Once again, the oil is symbolic of the Holy Spirit that empowers the light of our witness.

Zechariah 4:13-14 And he answered me and said, Knowest thou not what these be? And I said, No, my lord. Then said he, These are the two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth.

Zechariah is then told, in response to his questions, that these olive trees are "anointed ones". Who are the "anointed ones" under the New Covenant?

2 Corinthians 1:21 Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God;

Under the New Covenant fulfillment of these types and shadows, it is believers who are the anointed ones.

1 John 2:27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.

Again it is believers who are the anointed ones, and this anointing teaches us. Clearly then, this anointing (oil) is symbolic of the Holy Spirit who is our teacher.

John 16:13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.

So, the two olive trees are symbolic of believers (the anointed ones), who are empowered by the oil (the Holy Spirit) to bear witness unto the truth (shine a light) in the darkness of this world. That is the exact same thing that the two candlesticks represented. So we see that both the symbol of the candlesticks and the symbol of the olive trees represent the exact same thing. When we find the meaning of these symbols and then plug them back into the text, we find that both represent the testimony of believers unto the truth of God’s word. We should not be surprised then to learn that the church (the people of God) is represented in Romans by an olive tree.

Romans 11:16-24

16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.

17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.

20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:

21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.

22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.

24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?

In the above passage, we see what many have referred to as the olive tree of faith. The people of God in both the Old and New Testaments are represented here by an olive tree. The branches that were formerly from a wild olive tree but are now grafted into this olive tree are the gentiles who have now come to believe. The branches that were formerly a part of this olive tree but are now broken off are the Jews who do not believe in Jesus Christ.

In our next section, we will look at the two final symbols that are used of the two witnesses.

 

3. Prophets

 

In our previous sections, we looked at two of the symbols that are used in regard to the two witnesses. We saw that both the symbol of the two candlesticks and the symbol of the two olive trees represent the same thing. Both represent the witness of believers in this world. In this section, we will be examining the third term that is used.

The third symbol that is used regarding the two witnesses is that of two prophets.

Revelation 11:10 And they that dwell upon the earth shall rejoice over them, and make merry, and shall send gifts one to another; because these two prophets tormented them that dwelt on the earth.

Why are the two witnesses symbolized as two prophets? They are symbolized by two prophets, because they bear witness to the prophecy of the scriptures.

2 Peter 1:19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:

2 Peter 1:20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

2 Peter 1:21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

What do we, as believers, bear witness to? We did not literally see Jesus with our own eyes, nor did we hear His words with our own ears. But nonetheless, we are called to bear witness for Christ. It is the truth that is recorded in scripture regarding these matters that we are to bear witness to.

John 17:17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.

We bear witness to the word of truth. And in doing so, we are bearing witness to the "prophecy of the scriptures". This is how we are prophets (symbolically).

Revelation 19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

We are called to testify in this world about Jesus Christ, and that testimony is "the spirit of prophecy". This is how believers are prophets. And again we are referred to as "two prophets", because we are testifying unto the truth.

 

 

4. Witnesses

 

The final term that is used to describe the two witnesses is the word "witnesses" itself.

Revelation 11:3 And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.

Once again, as we look at the scriptures, we find that it is believers who are to be witnesses in this world.

Luke 24:47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Luke 24:48 And ye are witnesses of these things.

Luke 24:49 And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.

The disciples were to go forth into all the world and witness about Jesus Christ. But before they could do so, they needed to wait in Jerusalem to "be endued with power from on high".

Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

We looked at this verse previously. Before the disciples could go into the world and bear witness unto Christ, they had to wait to be empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who is symbolized by the oil in the lamps. It is He who provides us with the power and boldness to witness. He is the fuel that provides the power for the light of our witness. Scripture tells us that every true believer has the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

Romans 8:9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

All true believers have the Holy Spirit. And it is the Holy Spirit who empowers them to witness for Christ.

Let's review what we have seen in this study so far. The two witnesses are spoken of by four terms.

1. Candlesticks - The witness of believers shines forth like a light in the darkness of this world.

2. Olive Trees - Believers are the anointed ones empowered by the oil of the Holy Spirit to bear witness.

3. Prophets - Believers bear witness unto the word of prophecy (the scriptures) as they testify of Christ, and that testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

 

4. Witnesses - Believers are witnesses. We are to bear witness unto the truth (symbolized by the number two).

So, we see that all four terms refer to the same thing. So what is the identity of the two witnesses? The two witnesses represent the testimony of believers to the truth of God's word in the darkness of this world.