The Two Witnesses
In chapter 11 of Revelation, we are introduced to two witnesses. God gives these two witnesses power to prophecy for 1260 years, but whilst doing so, they are clothed in sackcloth. If anyone ‘hurts’ these two witnesses, they have power to ‘devour’ the perpetrators with fire. During the 1260 years, they also have power to ‘shut’ heaven so that it does not ‘rain’ and they have power to turn water to blood and to smite the earth with plagues as often as they want to. At the end of the 1250 years ‘the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit’ makes war upon these two witnesses and kills them. The people of the earth will rejoice that the two witnesses are slain, however, after three and a half days the two witnesses come back to life again. This resurrection of the two witnesses, created great fear amongst those who previously mocked their dead bodies. Then their enemies see the two witnesses were commanded to ascend to heaven, after which there was a great earthquake and 7000 people perished in the earthquake. To understand this extraordinary narrative we need to understand, first of all, who these two witnesses are.
Olive Trees and Candlesticks
We do not need to speculate over the identity of the two witnesses, because John is told, that the two witnesses are:
These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth. Rev. 11:4.
Once again, we have a typical and antitypical connection and correspondence here. The type comes from one of the visions of the prophet Zechariah (chapter 4). Zechariah was shown a candlestick and two olive trees. Zechariah does not know what these represent, so he asks the angel communicating with him for an explanation. The angel tells Zechariah, that the vision is a message concerning the rebuilding of the temple under the direction of Zerubbabel. It would appear that Zechariah is very impressed by the two olive trees, and is eager to know who/what they are, because he asks the same question twice. It would appear that the angel, is surprised by Zechariah’s ignorance, perhaps this is why he does not answer immediately, perhaps the angel is contemplating how to answer Zechariah’s question. Therefore, the angel initially replies, “Knowest thou not what these be?” (Zech. 4:13). Since Zechariah confirms his quandary by answering, “No, my lord” the angel finally tells him that the two olive trees are:
The two anointed ones, that stand by the Lord of the whole earth. Zech. 4:14.
If we were to tweak out the subtle inferences and nuances of this exchange between Zachariah and the angel, we could interpret/paraphrase the exchange thus:
Zechariah describes his introduction to the vision, as like, a man being roused out of sleep, in other words, roused out of spiritual slumber. The angel assumes that Zechariah, being a man of God, will understand what he is being shown. Therefore, the angel is surprised that Zechariah does not comprehend, who the two olive trees are. Therefore, the angel first tries to prompt Zechariah. The angel is saying, “Hey, Zechariah, wake up, surely you, of all people, should know who these two olive trees are.” However, Zechariah maintains his ignorance and the angel relents and finally tells him who the two olive trees are. Paraphrase of Zech. 4.
Why does the angel insist that Zechariah should know who the two olive trees are? It is because the two, standing before the Lord of the earth, are the two cherubim (angels) standing on each side of the ark of the covenant, which is a representation of the throne of God, as illustrated in the most holy place of the sanctuary/temple on earth. If Zechariah was not in his spiritual slumber, he would have made the connection, because the Holy Spirit would have revealed it to him.
Zechariah, asked about the two olive trees, but he did not ask about the candlestick. Perhaps he already knew what the candlestick represented. Perhaps the Holy Spirit had already inspired his mind to connect all the relevant Scripture such as:
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Ps 119:105.
Here we are told that the Word of God is a lamp. The purpose of a lamp is to provide light. This is what the Word of God provides, it provides light, so that feet can find firm foundation and the path is clearly illuminated and followed. This was the purpose of the candlestick in the sanctuary. The whole sanctuary service is a portrayal of the plan of salvation. The candlestick’s role was to shed ‘light’ on the plan of salvation. The same purpose is indicated whenever candlesticks are used in Bible prophecy (such as Jesus, walking among the candlesticks, see Revelation chapters 1-3).
Zechariah was shown the relationship between the two olive trees and the candlestick. The candlestick had seven bowls (the candlestick in the sanctuary was seven headed), the bowls were connected to the olive trees by pipes and oil flowed from the olive trees, through the pipes, into the bowls. Obviously, it was the oil that provided the fuel for the light.
Oil in used biblically as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. For example, when Jesus was explaining what His purpose was, in His hometown of Nazareth, He quoted Isaiah, indicating that His earthly role was a fulfillment of prophecy:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. Lu. 4:18.
Biblical anointing was always done with oil (olive oil). Notice that the Spirit and the anointing are connected. The evidence that the Spirit has been given is because the recipient has been anointed with oil. Just as oil is poured out upon the recipient in a biblical anointing, so too, oil is used as a symbol for the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. This is also taught in the parable of the Ten Virgins. Five had adequate oil and five did not. This means that five had the influence of the Holy Spirit and five did not.
Once we know that anointing and oil, represents the presence of the Holy Spirit, we also know that ‘the two anointed ones’ standing before the throne, must be instruments of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the oil flowing from these ‘anointed ones’ must be the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, flows into the candlestick, which we already know is the Word of God. Therefore, we can conclude that the final result is the written Word of God – the Bible. This conclusion is confirmed elsewhere in Scripture, such as:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God… 2 Tim. 3:16.
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. 2 Pet. 1:21.
Then the LORD put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. Jer. 1:9.
The Bible tells the same stories in many different ways, hoping that we might understand at least one of the telling. The vision given to Zechariah, as recorded in chapter 4, is simply a more detailed and elaborate and symbolic manner, whereby we are told how God’s Word is given to mankind.
There is one more detail that needs to be clarified. In John’s vision he sees two candlesticks, but in Zechariah’s vision he only sees one candlestick. This is not a discrepancy. We already know that the candlesticks are a symbolic representation of the Word of God. The reason why Zechariah sees only one candlestick, is because in his time there was only one candlestick – the Old Testament. John sees two candlesticks because in his time there are two candlesticks – the Old and the New Testaments. Therefore, the two olive trees and the two candlesticks that John sees are the Old and New Testaments. The Holy Spirit tells the same story in different ways; therefore, we have our conclusion confirmed by Ellen White:
The two witnesses represent the Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament. Both are important testimonies to the origin and perpetuity of the law of God. Both are witnesses also to the plan of salvation. The types, sacrifices, and prophecies of the Old Testament point forward to a Saviour to come. The Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament tell of a Saviour who has come in the exact manner foretold by type and prophecy.
The Two Witnesses During the 1260 Years
We already know that the Two Witnesses prophesy for 1260 years, we are also told the consequences for discounting or opposing their testimony:
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. Rev. 11:5.
During the 1260 years of persecution, there were many that ‘hurt’ them. There was great opposition generated against the Two Witnesses throughout the entire 1260 years. For example, the Bible was kept locked up in a language (Latin) that the people did not understand. If anyone, such as the Waldenses translated and distributed the Bible, they were to be attacked and exterminated. Historians have estimated that a minimum of 60 million people were killed during the 1260 years because of their religious beliefs. This is why the prophesy says that the Two Witnesses prophesied “clothed in sackcloth” – because sackcloth is a symbol for death and mourning. It is also stated that during the 1260 years the Two witnesses have:
These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will. Rev. 11:6.
The powers bestowed on the Two Witnesses, include the power to withhold the rain, the power to turn water into blood and to smite the earth with plagues. Here, in this instance, we have another example of type and antitype. The ‘withholding of the rain’ type occurred when Elijah confronted Ahab and Jezebel, over who was the true God (see 1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17, 18). The ‘turning water into blood’ and ‘smiting the earth with plagues’ types occurred when Moses confronted Pharoah in Egypt (see Exodus chapters 7-12). These types had partial antitype fulfillments during the 1260 years, but the ultimate and final antitypical fulfillments, will take place at the end of the history of this world (see Revelation chapters 16 & 20).
The prophesy does not say, that the Two Witnesses, do shut heaven and prevent the rain from falling, turn water to blood and send plagues. What is does say is that they have power to do these things. This suggests that they have the discretion to do these things. In other words, if circumstances require that they do these things, then they have the power to do them. Which also means if circumstances do not require them to do these things, then they will refrain from doing so. This ‘discretionary power’ gives us an insight into why the Old and New Testaments are called the ‘Two Witnesses.’ They are called the ‘Two Witnesses’ because it is the Word of God that judges us – it is the Word of God that testifies against us. When Paul was explaining true righteousness to the Roman believers, he wrote:
For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law. Rom. 2:12.
After stating that we are judged by the law, Paul carries on to explain, that only the “doers of the law shall be justified before God” (Rom. 2 :13). Paul is simply reiterating what Jesus taught, when He said that the saved will be exclusively those “that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:22; cf. Matt. 12:50; Jn. 7:17; Eph. 5:17; Ps.40:8, 143:10). Jesus goes on to explain, that many will be so deluded on this point, that they will complain that they have worked hard for the good of the Kingdom, therefore they should also be saved. To which Jesus replies to them, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23).
How do we know what the will of God is? Answer: the Word of God. The whole purpose of the Two Witnesses’ is to inform us what the will of the father is. We are told what the problem is – we are told what the solution is. This is how the Two Witnesses ‘testify’ – it is all written down. Then the Father commissions, those who understand these things to go forth and ‘testify’ verbally. What is also written down is the consequences for refusing to listen and living outside of the will of the Father. These consequences include, ‘fire proceeding out of their mouths’ – ‘withholding the rain’ – ‘turning water to blood’ and ‘ smiting the earth with plagues.’
The Wrath of God
The religious market place does not like emphasizing the wrath of God. The religious market place prefers to focus on the grace and mercy of God. But Scripture clearly informs us about the consequences of ignoring or opposing the will of God. On one occasion when Moses met the LORD on Mt. Sinai, God declared His name (character) to Moses, by saying:
The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. Ex. 34:6, 7. cf. Nahum 1:3.
In this announcement God is telling Moses who He is and what His governmental policy is. God tells Moses (and us) that His purpose is to shower mankind with loving kindness, grace and mercy, but this does not mean that the guilty will go free. God will not allow evil to go unpunished. Scripture is full of instances, where it is clearly spelt out. that there are severe consequences for those who are rebellious, disobedient, sinful and evil (see Isa. 13:11, 26:21; Lu. 12:47; Rom. 1:18, 2:8; etc. etc.). In addition, there are many examples in Scripture of God exercising judgment and punishment on mankind, such as Noah’s flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the 10 plagues of Egypt, withholding the rain, when Elijah confronted Ahab and Jezebel etc. – these are all instances of God’s wrath against rebellion and evil.
The principles of God’s governance policy, and examples of this policy, are all laid out clearly in His Word (the Two Witnesses). Therefore, we are all judged by the Word. In our earthly judicial systems, when the guilty are arrested and arraigned in court, they are judged by the law of the land. In the same manner, in God’s judicial system we are judged by His Word (the Bible, the Two Witnesses). Therefore, it is this judicial system that is in operation, when it is stated that the Two Witnesses can punish with fire, blood, plagues and withholding rain etc.
The reason why the Two Witnesses have the power to administer the wrath of God in the context of Revelation 11, is because the whole world is going to suffer the consequences of the evil committed during the 1260 years, in the form of the French Revolution.
The two witnesses are the Old and New Testaments. During the 1260 years a war has been waged against the Two Witnesses and the people of God, who preserved the Word and proclaimed it. Because the war against the Two Witnesses, had denied a knowledge of the will of God, to the nations and people, much evil, of all kinds, had been committed. The result of this accumulated evil and guilt, is going to have severe consequences. These accumulated consequences are inevitable, because the people have been degraded and they have lost their moral compass. The people are in this condition, of degradation, because they have been denied the light and the rain (the Holy Spirit). The result will be the atrocities of the French Revolution.
However, the French Revolution is just an interim consequence – the ultimate and final consequences will be meted out in the last judgment. This is when ‘fire proceeding out of the mouth of the Two Witnesses’ will no longer be symbolic but literal (see Rev. 20: 7-15).