Jesus, through the angel speaking to the apostle John, identifies who the Two Witnesses are. To the unenlightened, this sounds like little more than further symbolic claptrap. However, to those who use God's Spirit, which imparts the mind of Christ to His disciples (I Corinthians 2:16), it is a lighted, flashing arrow pointing back to the prophecy found in Zechariah 4.
Zechariah 4:14, in summing up the prophecy, parallels Revelation 11:4: "So [the angel] said, 'These [olive trees] are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth." Clearly, the Two Witnesses and their work are revealed in the two olive trees, but understanding this heavily symbolic description takes some effort.
In Zechariah 4:2, the angel describes a strange golden lampstand, somewhat like a menorah—a seven-branched candelabra—but with a large bowl on top. This lampstand features a central pole, on top of which is the bowl, and from it, perhaps in seven different directions, extend seven arms or branches, each ending in a lamp. Further, seven pipes or tubes run to each of the seven lamps from the large bowl on top. Verse 3 informs us that the two olive trees stand to the right and left of the bowl.
A similar vision is given to the apostle John in Revelation 1:12-13. In it, the resurrected Jesus Christ replaces the central pole, and the seven lampstands are arrayed around Him, much like the seven lamps. Christ Himself interprets the vision, saying that the seven lampstands are the seven churches (verse 20). However, in this vision, the olive trees are not to be found—they appear separately in Revelation 11. Here, the bowl, too, is missing.
Zechariah has no idea what he is seeing, so he asks for clarification. Through the angel, God gives His answer: "This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6). Zerubbabel, a type of Christ, had been given the work of building the Temple after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon. God's answer to Zechariah is that His work is done through His Spirit.
Applying this to the vision, we are to see that the oil that drains from the bowl into the seven lamps represents God's Spirit manifested in works (I Corinthians 12:7-11). We never see the Holy Spirit, since it is invisible to the eye, but we see the works done through it (John 3:8).
On this aspect of the prophecy of Zechariah 4, the Kiel and Delitzsch commentary asserts: "Oil . . . is used in the Scriptures as a symbol of the Spirit of God, not in its transcendent essence, but so far as it works in the world, and is indwelling in the church." Simply put, oil signifies God's Spirit in its visible works rather than in its pure form.
Jesus declares an important principle in John 6:63, "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." One of the primary vehicles of the work of God's Spirit is words—spoken or written. The Bible is inspired by God's Spirit (II Timothy 3:16; II Peter 1:21), and it is a composition of words—God's words, prophets' words, and apostles' words. In the same way, the primary job of an anointed servant of God is to speak or write words to convict people of God's truth. In the speaking or writing of words, he witnesses for God and accomplishes a work.
In the case of the Two Witnesses, the two anointed ones, this connection becomes critical. Zechariah 4:12 literally reads, "What are the two olive clusters which through the two golden pipes empty out of themselves the golden oil?" It is an illustration of the olive trees emptying oil into the bowl! How can these two men—prophets though they are—supply the seven churches with oil? Because the oil is not God's Spirit in pure form but Spirit-inspired works, probably in the form of words—teaching, instruction.
If this is so, the Two Witnesses provide a massive amount of spiritual instruction to the seven churches just before the end.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
God's Two Witnesses
This verse tells us that these two are the two olive trees and the two lampstands "standing before the God of the earth." Why are they described as "the two lampstands"? Timing is vital to understanding this. Revelation 10 and 11 are internally chronological. At this time, the seven thunders have ceased, and the Two Witnesses have been raised up. They are the sole effort God has going as far as witnessing, preaching, and proclaiming His way on the earth.
What does a lamp do? It gives light (Matthew 5:14-16). What are the Two Witnesses doing at this time? Revelation 11:4 says that they are the two lampstands that stand before the God of the whole earth. What are they doing? They are lighting the whole house, as it says in Matthew 5. What is the house? Who comprises the house of God? The church! The two olive trees put their oil in the reservoir, and it feeds the whole church - to do what? To make light! At this time, though, the church is hidden in a Place of Safety, and not even Satan can get to them, as far as we know. We know that certainly no men can get to them.
So, we could say that the church's light is at that time under a basket. Who is left to be light to the world? The Two Witnesses! They are, at this point, the two lampstands. All the eyes of the world will be drawn toward these two prophets. They are the only ones that will be doing good works at that time; they are the only ones that will be publicly glorifying God in heaven.
That is why they are called the two lampstands. They are the only ones remaining to shine spiritually during Jacob's trouble and the Day of the Lord. They will be, in effect, raising Cain all over the world. The whole world hates them, and they will rejoice when these two are dead - because they cannot stand the fact that these two shine so brightly for God.
At this point, the seven churches are out of the picture, so the lampstands cannot represent churches. They picture these two bright lights for God. Not only will they be supplying the church with oil, but they will also be shining brightly as witnesses to the world as a result of the good works that they do.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part 5)
This verse gives the biblical identification of the Two Witnesses, and it is quite interesting. It is inserted here as if we should know who these Two Witnesses are already. They are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before God. It is as if Jesus is saying, "Don't you read your Bible? Haven't you read Zechariah 4?" Obviously, that is what He is referring to—specifically Zechariah 4:14, where almost the exact same thing is written. In answer to Zechariah's question, the angel says:
These are the two anointed ones, who stand beside the Lord of the whole earth. (Zechariah 4:14)
One could say, "Well, I'll just go to Zechariah 4 and find out who these two characters are." However, that is where it becomes tricky because Zechariah 4 is in no way easy to figure out.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part 3)
This is the temper of patience. It enables a person to plod determinedly on. It may not be spectacular, but such a person will go on toward perfection. This quality will have to be part of the makeup of the Two Witnesses. God has clearly prophesied of three-and-a-half years of their lives being filled with great confrontation, persecution, and at its end a shamefully undeserved and public death!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience
In Revelation 11, during the Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord, John describes the Two Witnesses as having God-given power to witness and, if need be, call fire down from heaven to destroy their enemies. While they preach God's last warning to the human and demonic powers of earth just before the final Trumpet sounds, God gives them supernatural protection.
Before the start of their 3½-year commission, the Two Witnesses will already have been witnessing by their example and through their preaching. They will already be producing good works. God will inspire them to utter a specific message directed at the descendants of Israel and the rest of the world, indicting the world of sin.
Revelation 11:3 says:
And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.
The word "power" is not in the Greek text, which simply reads, "I will give to my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy. . . ." Paraphrased, God says, "I will grant to My Two Witnesses the right or power of prophesying during the time specified." Translators must add a word like "power," "privilege," "opportunity," or "boldness" to complete the sense in English.
The meaning is not that God would send two witnesses to prophesy, but that they are existing witnesses who receive additional gifts and powers. During that time God will give them the privilege and the strength to proclaim the truth that they will be commissioned to communicate as His "witnesses" to mankind.
The phrase "and they will prophecy" does not necessarily mean that they would predict future events, but that they would proclaim the truth as God had revealed it. The indication here is that the Two Witnesses would publicly preach or maintain the truth before the world.
God promises protection to those who obey Him, provided it is His will. Some of the faithful are given the spiritual strength to be martyred, and others are protected from such unpleasantness. God decides for His own purpose how He wants us to represent Him. Revelation 11:5 describes part of God's witness protection program, "If anyone wants to harm [the Two Witnesses], fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies." Christ is reliable and true. Not a hair of our head is affected without His approval.
Martin G. Collins
'You Are My Witnesses...'
If one has any knowledge of the Old Testament, it is plain that this verse points directly to Zechariah 4:14. It is not quite a paraphrase of it, not quite a quotation of it, but it makes a clear reference to it. This is where matters begin to get tricky because Zechariah 4 is not an easy chapter to interpret.
Some commentators say that the Two Witnesses are not men, that they are types of Zerubbabel and Joshua. That is, Zerubbabel represents the state (as he was governor) and Joshua represents religion, the church (as he was high priest). So they say that this means that one representative of the church and one of the state will somehow make a witness for God.
However, for several reasons, it just does not make any sense to think that the Two Witnesses could be anything other than people. For instance, Revelation 11:10 calls them "these two prophets." We think of prophets or prophetesses as men or women—human beings. So the Two Witnesses must be men. Zechariah calls them "anointed ones." We consider "anointed ones" to be consecrated human servants of God, which would mean men.
Revelation 11:7 says that the Two Witnesses will be killed, and verse 8 describes their dead bodies lying in the street—meaning that they have bodies. Although Paul speaks of the church of God as the Body of Christ, the Bible is silent concerning the state being or having a body. Verse 11 prophesies that the Two Witnesses will be resurrected. Will God resurrect a corrupt human state? Hardly.
It is clear that Revelation 11 is describing the work of real people here. The most natural reading and interpretation of this passage is that the Two Witnesses are exactly as the Bible describes them—as two human beings (prophets) with physical bodies, given the power to perform miracles and make this witness for God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part 4)
All the inset chapters are introduced in a significant way: by an angel coming down from heaven or a spectacular and unusual vision of someone or something, such as a woman clothed with the sun, moon, and stars or a Beast rising up out of the ocean.
Chapter 11, however, does not begin this way because it is not the beginning of the inset. The inset actually begins in Revelation 10:1 where the spectacular vision occurs. Chapter 10 does not follow chapter 9 in time sequence anymore than the material in chapter 11 does. Chapter 11 merely continues the vision begun in chapter 10.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 10 and the Laodicean Church
Notice the anthropomorphic language—all the descriptions of human traits and behaviors—of this passage. In verse 3, for instance, the Two Witnesses are clothed in sackcloth. How could this apply to two parts of a book? Most of our Bibles are "clothed," if you will, in leather bindings or cardboard and cloth covers. It takes quite a bit of mental gymnastics to see how one can fit this type of terminology into the idea of the Two Witnesses being the two books of the Old and New Testaments. A person must symbolize away nearly the entire description of them.
Also notice verse 6: "They have power . . . to strike the earth with any plague as often as they wish" (The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips). In other words, these Two Witnesses have the power of volition, or will. They can make decisions, and they can execute them within the scope of the power God has given them. The Old and New Testaments are not animate beings with minds of their own, and as such, those two collections of books cannot express volition. They cannot make decisions, nor can they execute decisions in this sense.
In verse 7, the Two Witnesses die, and they are described as having bodies that lie in the streets of Jerusalem. Admittedly, we can refer symbolically to the death of an idea. We can describe the end of an era as a kind of death and so forth. However, death in this passage does not appear to be metaphoric because God speaks of their bodies lying in the street and remaining unburied. This type of language is not amenable at all to understanding the Two Witnesses as the Old and New Testaments.
Then notice verse 11: "The breath of life from God came into them" (The New Testament by Richmond Lattimore). Are there any known instances of God breathing life into books? The idea of them being the Old and New Testament becomes even more ridiculous when we realize that the Two Witnesses then stand on their feet—this is a real resurrection—and they are translated to heaven!
In verse 10, John actually uses the word "prophets." In Greeks, it is the word prophetes (Strong's 4396), which appears about eighty times in Scripture. This word is always rendered in the King James Version as "prophet" or "prophets." For instance, Jesus uses the word in Matthew 13:57: "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country." There is not one instance where this Greek word refers to the Scriptures; it always refers to a person or to people.
A great deal of other evidence exists as well. For example, Revelation 11:3 tells us that God empowers His Two Witnesses for a limited period of time, 1,260 days. But does God ever set a time limit on the power of His Scriptures? God does not, in fact, set a time limit on the power that He gives His Word. Notice Isaiah 55:10-11:
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
God is saying through an analogy here that, throughout the span of history—or as Solomon would say, "under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:3, 9, 14, etc.)—rain has always worked to produce food for mankind. In like manner throughout that same span of time, throughout all of history under the sun, God's Word has been effective to carry out His purpose. Isaiah 55 places no limitation of 1,260 days or any other. Therefore, Revelation 11:3 cannot refer to a limited period of time when God empowers the Old and New Testaments to be effective because God's Word is always effective.
Let us not belabor the point. A careful textual analysis makes it clear that the preponderance of the language of this passage points to the Two Witnesses being individuals, not collections of books.
Who the Two Witnesses Are Not
The primary texts on the Two Witnesses are Revelation 11 and Zechariah 4. What does not fit the facts and implications of these two prophetic passages we can discard as highly speculative and not worth serious consideration except in dismissal. Some people have asserted truly wild ideas about these two prophets, but we will see that they derive from their own imaginations rather than from the Bible.
First, the Two Witnesses will not be crazed, unstable individuals. Nothing in the Bible—much less these two passages—suggests that God ever uses people of unsound minds to accomplish a major work for Him. The apostle Paul tells us that God's Spirit in us is not "of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7). While some of God's prophets had personal problems and were commanded to do some strange things to get God's point across in symbolic ways—Ezekiel comes to mind—they were far from being lunatics. They were different from the world around them because they believed God and did His will, but they were quite sane and rational.
Second, they will not be anything other than men. We can take this on two levels. Some have suggested that the Two Witnesses are entities like the Old and New Testaments, Israel and the church, the Jews and the Gentiles, or even the Philadelphia and Laodicean eras of the church! However, Revelation 11 is quite clear that the Two Witnesses are "prophets" (verse 10), that they can be killed (verse 7), that they have bodies (verses 8-9), and that the breath of life enters them upon resurrection (verse 11). The literal meaning of these details is the best interpretation, leading to the conclusion that they are people, not things.
The other level is gender, a touchy subject in these inclusive times. Many have tried to hold the door open for a woman to fill the role of one of the Two Witnesses, but the language in the primary passages is overwhelmingly masculine (except where the natural gender of the languages demands it). Additionally, the pronouns are consistently masculine plural, as is the word "prophets" in Revelation 11:10.
Although it can be argued that the masculine is the Greek default gender for groups of mixed gender, the biblical pattern reveals that it is far more likely that God would choose two men to shoulder the burden of this final work. In addition, the allusions to types within the two primary passages are to men: Moses, Elijah, Joshua, and Zerubbabel. This is not to say that a woman could not do this work, but that the preponderance of Scripture argues against God choosing a woman to do it.
Third, the Two Witnesses will not be resurrected saints from the past, such as the aforementioned Moses and Elijah or perhaps Enoch. These three are often cited as candidates because the Bible describes their deaths so mysteriously, as if they are not really dead but in heaven waiting for God to send them back as His witnesses in the end time. There is no indication in the primary passages even to suggest this. So much time has passed since their lifetimes that it is ridiculous to think that anyone on earth today would even know who they are!
Besides, Hebrews 9:27 and the rest of New Testament theology, as well as God's consistent patterns, challenge this view. Except for Jesus, all the dead await the resurrection. In addition, God has never used a servant in two separate times. Jesus Himself tells us, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets [in Scripture], neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31).
Fourth, and finally, they will be neither unconverted nor recently converted people. In other words, they will be baptized members of God's church and probably ordained ministers. Again, God's pattern in working to bring His plan to fruition reveals that the Two Witnesses will come from among His people, just as the prophets came from Israel and the apostles were chosen from among His disciples. The apostle Paul may seem to be a glaring exception to this rule, but even he was required to undergo a three-year period of instruction before he was sent out to fulfill his expansive calling (see Galatians 1:16-18). Due to their mission's magnitude, the Two Witnesses will likewise be prepared for it over an extended period beforehand.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
God's Two Witnesses
Revelation 11 is inset material. The only possible period of time when the Two Witnesses could testify is during the three and a half years that precede Christ's return—the time of the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord.
Most of this period of time has already been covered by chapters 6 (the fifth and sixth seals) and 8-9 (the trumpet plagues). Chapter 11 clarifies what has already occurred in the narrative, answering how people can possibly be converted during the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. The answer is that they are hearing a message thundered by the Two Witnesses! Revelation 7:9-17 suggests that by their preaching, an innumerable multitude will be converted.
The information is given in a digression—an inset chapter— from the main story flow. Inset chapters clarify what is happening within the time sequence.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 10 and the Laodicean Church
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Revelation 11:4:
Song of Solomon 5:1-10